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Next month marks the centennial of the Easter Rising. To many the day is remembered as the beginning of Irish independence from England. Others see it as the beginning of a destructive conflict that claimed far too many lives.

On April 24th, 1916, around a thousand armed men seized control of buildings in the center of Dublin. They called for an end to British occupation and the establishment of a Free Irish Republic. Led by small groups of Irish separatists commanded by men like James Connelly and Patrick Pearse, the parties had secretly cached arms in preparation for a general uprising. They took up position in the General Post Office where they intended to fight for the liberation of their homeland. Meanwhile, the London government, rejecting any such demands, was making plans to put down yet another in a long series of Irish Rebellions.

Patrick Pearse

Image: Wikipedia

To understand how events led to the Easter Rising, it’s important to step back a bit and look at the history of British rule in Ireland.

In the medieval era, Ireland was divided into a collection of independent kingdoms united by a common language and culture. The Romans who colonized Britain never settled in Ireland, nor did the waves of Germanic invaders who settled in England. As a result, Ireland retained a distinct Celtic identity, different than the Latin and later Germanic influenced culture and language that prevailed in England.

In 1169, the Normans who had seized control of England launched a series of invasions into Ireland, bringing it under the control of the English Crown. While I don’t want to gloss over too much of what happened afterwards, let’s just say that that for almost the next 750 years the English ruled Ireland, first as an independent Kingdom, and starting in 1800 as part of the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.

For most of that time the relationship was a pretty exploitative one. English landowners took control of large Irish Estates where crops and livestock were raised for export back to England. Whereas before the Irish had used the land to support themselves, now they farmed it to enrich landlords back in England while they themselves were forced to subsist largely on potatoes. It was a situation that led to the deaths of over one million Irish people in the 19th century when the potato crops failed. Many allege that the English, who largely regarded the Catholic Irish as backwards savages, didn’t go too far out of their way to help with the situation.

Potato Famine

Image: NPR

Needless to say, the Irish weren’t super thrilled about this arrangement, which is evident when you consider that the Easter rising was something like the 19th major rebellion in Ireland since the Norman invasions. Each time the English stepped in to put the risings down with ruthless efficiency.

So that explains the motivations behind the Easter Rising, but why 1916? Well, if you recall from your history classes, that was right in the middle of WWI, which made 1916 a great time for another crack at independence for a lot of reasons. First, the British had most of their available manpower committed on the continent, so they were pretty distracted. Second the Germans, seeing an opportunity to weaken their enemies, had approached a number of Irish Republican leaders with promises of support. Finally,a lot of people in

Finally,a lot of people in Ireland didn’t like the idea of getting conscripted to fight on the continent. Though conscription wasn’t forced on Ireland until the final year of the war, it was a constant source of anxiety. The first World War was the most devastating conflict up to that point in human history. Men came home shattered by it, physically and mentally.

Understandably, patriotic Irishmen weren’t too excited by the notion of getting their legs shredded by an artillery shell over some god-forsaken patch of mud in Flanders for a government that was oppressing them way more than the Germans ever intended to.

So on Easter 1916, Irish Republicans seized control of several buildings in the Dublin city center. As they moved in they often found themselves fighting other Irishmen who were in favor of the union. At Trinity College the Republicans were repelled by a handful of armed student unionists.

As the sun set the next day, Lord Wimborne, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, declared martial law. Police forces and military units moved in to take back control of the city. By the 26th of April, British forces engaged in heavy fighting on the outskirts of the city with rebel units. As they moved across a bridge into the city, a small unit of just 17 volunteers held them up for most of an afternoon, inflicting over 240 casualties at the cost of four dead. As the day drew to a close, the military units had routed most of the defenders of the city and driven them back towards their positions in the city center.

The police and army made few distinctions between rebels and civilians, arresting men of military age en masse and occasionally summarily executing those they suspected to be rebels.

Artillery was called into position around the last Republican-held position at the post office and, after a few hours of shelling, they surrendered rather than be buried in the rubble. Sporadic resistance continued outside the city, but by the end of the week, the rebellion was over. It seemed to have been a failure. The leaders were in custody and the Union Jack still flew over Dublin.  Total casualties had been close to 500 dead or wounded among the police and military and 318 dead among both Republicans and civilians along with over 2,000 injured. Most of these had come from indiscriminate shelling of the city, large portions of which were now in ruins.

The rebellion put down, the British police moved to arrest those that they held responsible. In all, over 3,000 men were detained, although most were later released. However,90 of the leaders not killed in the fighting, including James Connolly were tried and executed by firing squad.

In Dublin, reactions to the uprising were mixed. There were those who considered it a heroic act of resistance, although it seems there were many who resented the Republicans for the destruction their actions had invited. Robert Holland, who fought in the Rising remembered being “subjected to very ugly remarks and cat-calls from the poorer classes” as he was led into custody.

If anything helped sway opinion towards independence it was the heavy-handed British response to the Rising. Angered by what they saw as an act of betrayal during wartime, the government of the UK gave police and their auxiliary volunteers, which is never a phrase you associate with fair and just policing, a wide latitude when it came to suppressing dissent.

Hogans flying column

Image: Wikipedia

Just three years later, simmering resentment boiled over once more into rebellion, beginning the Irish War of Independence. In many ways, it was the legacy of the Easter Rising that culminated in this conflict, which would see the creation of a free Irish republic in 1922.

This wouldn’t be the end of violence in Ireland, however. While most of Ireland was incorporated into the Republic, the Northern Irish, who were primarily protestant in contrast with the Catholic south and in favor of union with Britain remained as part of the UK. Irish Nationalists, who considered the presence of British Rule anywhere on the island an injustice, formed the Irish Republican Army who carried on a struggle some regard as a guerrilla war and others as blatant terrorism. This period of violence continued into the 1980’s, a time known as “The Troubles”.

In many ways the legacy of Easter 1916 continues to this day, making it one of the most significant days in Irish history.



Almost Like History

The tragic tale of Florence Foster Jenkins, terrible opera singer

Florence Foster Jenkins had a dream. She wanted to be a famous opera singer. The problem was, she couldn’t actually sing.



Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins had a dream. She wanted to be a famous opera singer. The problem was, she couldn’t actually sing.

Well, she could sing. Just not very well. Let’s listen, shall we?

If you can’t watch the video above, let me try to do it justice with a description. It sounded like two sick cats fighting over a tin can full of marbles. It was like a box of accordions being dragged behind a wandering troupe of Vietnamese folk musicians. It was the sound your elderly grandmother makes as she takes a fatal tumble down a flight of stairs.

So how did a woman like that become an opera singer? Well,basically it came down to a large inheritance and a legendary capacity for self-delusion. Not to mention a healthy dose of syphilitic brain damage.

Florence was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 1868. Early on, she discovered a love of music, and was actually something of a child prodigy on the piano. She was so good that she was invited to play at the White House during the Hayes administration.

But, Florence didn’t want to play the piano, she wanted to sing. So, she asked her father if she could go to Europe to study Opera.

Presumably having heard her sing, her father took a long draw on his pipe, worked his lip under what was probably a pretty impressive mustache and said, “No”.

Betrayed, and set on revenge, Florence eloped with a local doctor named Frank Jenkins. Unfortunately for Florence, the good doctor had a predilection for ladies of the evening and contracted a case of Syphilis, which he promptly spread to Florence. This being the 19th century, that wasn’t grounds for a divorce so Florence set out on her own while still legally married to the man whose name she would keep the rest of her life.

Florence made a meager living giving piano lessons until an arm injury stopped her from playing. She and her mother Mary moved to New York where Florence met her second, common-law husband, St. Clair Bayfield in 1909. By this time her Syphilis was doing what Syphilis does and virulently attacking her brain.

In that same year, her wealthy father died, leaving Florence with the funds she needed to bankroll her own singing career. So, that’s just what she did, renting out concert halls to give private recitals. She hand delivered invitations to these recitals, making sure never to invite any critics.

Her performances were marked with mistakes in pitch, timing, and pronunciation of the foreign words that are sort of necessary to pronounce correctly when you’re singing opera. Her accompanist was forced to make frequent adjustments to his playing to account for her tendency to rapidly switch tempo and pitch, which can be heard on the recordings that survive.

Florence became the celebrity she wanted to be, though not for the reason she would have hoped. Word got around the city about her “so bad it’s good” performances and it became something of an inside joke among the New York elite to send friends to a show with purposely vague reviews. One critic wrote that her singing was “like the untrammeled flight of some great bird.”

The ultimate payoff was to go with a friend who expected to hear a lovely rendition of The Magic Flute and then watch the expression of bewilderment on their face as they tried to figure out why such a terrible singer would be giving recitals.

By popular demand, Florence was finally convinced to give a performance at Carnegie Hall at age 76, and tickets quickly sold out. People stood outside waving hundreds of dollars in the air in the hopes of securing entrance to the show. The most valuable seats were in the back where people would fall to their knees behind doubled over in laughter. People advised each other to bring handkerchiefs to shove in their mouths. Others had to be carried out after laughing themselves hysterical.

Meanwhile, Florence took the laughter as adulation rather than derision. As she walked off the stage to raucous applause, she must have thought this moment the culmination of her life-long dreams to sing opera at Carnegie Hall.

The next morning she read the reviews. One critic praised her great range saying, “She can sing anything except notes.” Another said, “It was largely a recital without voice for the tones that Madam Jenkins produced were tiny. Much of her singing was hopelessly lacking any a semblance of pitch but the further a note was from its proper elevation the more the audience laughed and applauded.”

Two days later, Florence suffered a fatal heart attack. Some attribute her demise to the stress of learning what people actually thought of her singing.

Her long-time accompanist, Cosme McMoon, argued that it was unrelated. He stated in an interview that her capacity for self-delusion was such that she could have easily convinced herself that it was the reviewers who were wrong.

Regardless of the truth of the matter, Florence Foster Jenkins probably summed it up best when she said, “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.”

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Almost Like History

The Dwarf Who Became A Giant



Adam Ranier
Adam Ranier

If you’re familiar with Game of Thrones, and its most popular character, you know it can be tough to be a dwarf with all the white walkers and having to murder your father with a crossbow. But it’s probably also tough to be a giant. After all, you have to duck under doors and constantly get asked to pull things off of high shelves.

But it’s probably even tougher to go from one to the other. Luckily, there’s only one person in history who has ever had to go through that. In 1899 a child named Adam Ranier was born in Austria. For most of his life. he was small and sickly. When he was 18, he was evaluated by army physicians after his draft number was called who rejected him after finding that he only measured four and a half feet tall.  He was, technically speaking a dwarf.

But then one day he started growing for some reason. And in the next ten years, he grew to be over seven feet tall, making him the tallest man in the country. But while most people would be pretty excited to discover that they could suddenly dominate their local pick up basketball game, Adam had some pretty severe side effects from his growth spurt.

His spine began to curve significantly, and he lost the vision in his right eye along with the hearing in his left ear. In 1931, two doctors studying him discovered that the source of his incredible growth. They found a large tumor pressing on his pituitary gland, pushing huge amounts of growth hormones into his body. Today the condition is called Acromegaly, and Adam displayed all the symptoms, including unevenly spaced teeth, a pronounced jaw and brow, and unusually large hands and feet. Adam also found that eating was difficult and he began to suffer the effects of a poor diet.

Due to his condition, Adam remained bedridden for much of his life. The doctors performed a surgery that was intended to remove the tumor, but after examining him a few years later they found that he was still growing, which meant that they had been unable to correct the condition. Adam died at a fairly young in 1950 at a height of seven feet and ten inches.

But to this day, Adam Ranier remains the only person who has ever lived as both a dwarf and a giant. It’s a shame that more isn’t known about his life. Though, even at the time, his case attracted a lot of attention in the international press. And the Guinness Book of World Records included an entry on him in 1975. And though he was unfortunate to have to suffer such debilitating physical conditions, at least he will be remembered as unique in the history of mankind.

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Almost Like History

7 weird things we’ve learned through science




Ah, science! Domain of the geeks. I may not have loved you when I was a teenager with other things to think about, like the insane changes in my body, but now that I’m older I have come to be fascinated by your astounding discoveries.

Here’s a look at some of the strangest of natural phenomena—whether in biology, anatomy, archeology, or astronomy. Some of them are too weird too believe… and yet it’s all true!


Thought clouds weigh nothing because they float? Wrong. Clouds weigh millions of tons. Yet they float because they are less dense than the surrounding air and than the rising currents of hot air. That’s why the sky does not fall on our heads dufus!


In this very moment, there are about 100 billion bacteria living in your mouth, and 100 trillion (100,000 billion) in your digestive tract. Oh and there are 25,000 germs walking on each square inch of your cell phone, and 7.2 billion on your kitchen sponge. Bacteria and germs are living beings—that makes your body, phone and kitchen extremely social places! Fortunately, most of these microscopic life forms are harmless and work actively for our mutual benefit.

Mosquitoes Allergy

… But they are not allergic to us, unfortunately. The itch that results from a mosquito bite is simply an immune response from your body. When the insect “bites” you, it in fact sucks your blood through its “trunk” (i.e. its proboscis) while simultaneously injecting substances including an anticoagulant. This helps the blood pass easily through its proboscis and its digestive tract. Itching is not directly caused by the bite or chemicals contained in the mosquito’s proboscis but by the immune response of the body fighting them. Our body releases histamine, a protein involved in many allergic reactions, to fight against parasites. Histamine causes swelling around the bite so that the blood rushes to the affected area, and this has the side effect of itching.


93% of your body mass is actually stardust. Time to start writing poems y’all. Most of the elements that make up your body, like your bones, organs, and muscles are made of various atoms and molecules. And where do you think those atoms and molecules come from? Technically from your mom, but if you trace everything back far enough, these particles come from the stars.


Believe it or not, you have 2 meters of DNA in every cell in your body, which has 10 trillion cells. If we put all that DNA together and made a string out of it, we could tie the string from the Earth to the Moon over 100,000 times!

Giant Dinosaur Stomach

The Sauroposeidon, of the brachiosaur family, is one of the largest dinosaurs ever found. It could reach up to 18 meters in height and weigh up to 60 tons. Naturally, his stomach was the size of a swimming pool. Time for a swim in the dino’s tummy!

Eye Muscles

The muscles in your eyes are the most active ones in your body. According to one study, they actually move more than 100,000 times a day. Does that sound like a lot? Try to count how many times your eyes just moved just to read this paragraph. Now, if only I could do one push-up for every eye-movement!

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