Two Oddities

Late last night I was reading Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, a fascinating account of a four year journey to South America, Tahiti, Australia, and other Pacific Ocean locations. In the background the measured tones of a BBC newscaster reiterated the latest news; I’d pause in my reading from time to time and listen if a news item caught my interest.

“Birds falling from the sky in Arkansas”… my ears perked up. It seems that hundreds of red-winged blackbirds inexplicably died and fell near a small town in Arkansas. The fact that there was no immediate explanation of this phenomenon gave free reign to those people who concoct conspiracy theories — within just a few hours I found this surmise on the web:

And what of the conspiracy theories already bubbling up around the dead birds and fish?

The bodies of the Arkansas’ dead birds were hardly cold before Alex Jones and other conspiracy theorists were blaming the government, the most likely explanation being HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program). HAARP is an experimental program conducting research into the ionospheric applications of high atmospheric technological applications, including missile detection, radio transmission, etc. (These are the admitted applications, remember.)

Much of the attention directed at HAARP has been drawn to the program’s IRI (ionospheric research instrument), which is capable of “exciting” certain areas of the atmosphere. The ionosphere, full of electrons, heavily influences the Earth’s electricity and radio transmission. And so HAARP’s research with the IRI has given rise to comparisons to Nikola Tesla’s Death Ray, causing many conspiracy theorists–including Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez—to believe that the IRI can cause earthquakes, storms, power outages, and on and on.

For many, it is not a stretch to assume the dead birds over Beebe, Arkansas were the victim’s of HAARP’s “Death Ray” and maybe even the fish, too.

And now I’ll show you a second oddity. Lately I’ve become fond of the Google books site. The books available there have been scanned, and if they are old enough to be in the public domain a PDF file containing the book’s scanned pages can be downloaded. I enjoy seeing the annotations and underlinings of long-dead readers as well as the original title pages.

I had just downloaded a first edition of a collection of essays by Robert Louis Stevenson, who (in my humble opinion) was one of Britain’s finest prose stylists. I was amused and intrigued to find this sticker affixed to one of the first pages of the volume:

Two years of hard labor?! Perhaps the sticker was a joke of some sort — or maybe Harvard’s library took book theft very seriously!