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Saturday, November 1, 2014

10 SCARILY PLAUSIBLE BRITISH INTELLIGENCE CONSPIRACY THEORIES


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10 Scarily Plausible British Intelligence Conspiracy Theories
By Alan Boyle,
Listverse, 1 November2014.

There are no shortage of alleged conspiracies about the British establishment. Some of them are implausible, like the RAF causing mass flooding across the southwest of England. Yet we know pretty much for certain that Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) collected millions of webcam images from Yahoo customers without anyone’s knowledge (and then estimated that 7.1 percent of these were pictures of genitals). Enough cover-ups are proven that it might not be entirely crazy to suggest some of the shakier ones might be true.

10. The Death Of Hilda Murrell

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Photo credit: HildaMurrell.org

On March 21, 1984, Hilda Murrell was kidnapped from her home, driven away in her own car, and murdered. The 78-year-old was found in a field three days later, beaten and stabbed but actually killed by hypothermia.

In 2005, burglar Andrew George was convicted of the murder after a cold case review found his DNA on evidence. Prosecutors said that George, who was 16 at the time, had panicked during a robbery. Yet many think that this story is very far from the truth and that Murrell’s real killers were MI5.

Murrell was a high-profile anti-nuclear campaigner and had been due to address a public committee the day before her body was found. Nuclear power was a key part of Margaret Thatcher’s energy strategy at the time.

Hilda Murrell also had possible access to a very embarrassing secret. In 1982, the British had sunk an Argentinian ship, the Belgrano. The Brits had declared an exclusion zone around the Falkland Islands, and the vessel was outside that zone. Murrell’s nephew was Commander Robert Green, who knew that the ship had also been moving away from the Falklands. That fact didn’t come out until 1985, and the government tried to prosecute the civil servant who revealed it. If Murrell wanted to embarrass the government, that knowledge would’ve done it.

A forensic scientist who worked on the murder case claimed that a second man’s DNA was found under Murrell’s fingernails, but that information was withheld from the jury that convicted Andrew George. One of George’s former cell mates claimed that George said he’d committed the murder at the request of other men. The cell mate wrote down several names that George had told him. When police received those names, they moved George to another prison and told the cell mate not to mention them again.

At the time of the murder, MP Tam Dalyell told the House of Commons that he believed “men of British intelligence” had been responsible. Robert Green also believes that the UK authorities were behind his aunt’s murder. He has moved to New Zealand but claims that he is frequently monitored and harassed by British intelligence. One of Britain’s most prominent human rights lawyers has called for an enquiry into the death. In 2013, a group of 25 MPs signed a motion in agreement, stating there are “serious and substantial doubts about the criminal investigations.”

9. MI5 Founded A Deadly Neo-Nazi Group

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Combat 18 (“18″ standing for “AH,” Adolf Hitler’s initials) is a British neo-Nazi group founded in 1992. The organization began as an offshoot of the far-right British National Party but split off as an even more extreme group. It recruited from any violent fringe group with far-right sympathies and made itself a home for football hooligans. Their profile peaked on February 15, 1995, when they orchestrated a riot in Dublin that led to the cancellation of a football match between England and the Ireland.

There have been claims that the group was actually set up by MI5. One theory suggests that British intelligence wanted to create a magnet for the most extreme parts of the BNP’s members. One member who was convicted of murder in 1998, Charlie Sargent, has been implicated as an MI5 informant.

A case has also been made that C18 was a roundabout way to infiltrate loyalist terror groups operating in Northern Ireland. Many British right-wing groups supported the loyalist cause in theory, but C18 went out of their way to help. In 1993, a member was arrested delivering handguns, and a year later, another was arrested delivering submachine guns and a rocket launcher to the Ulster Defense Association. Officials deny that the close relationship had anything to do with an MI5 honeytrap plot.

8. Death Of “Buster” Crabb

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Lionel “Buster” Crabb was a British diver whose work clearing underwater mines during World War II made him a national hero. Yet he is best remembered for the controversial circumstances surrounding his death.

In the 1950s, Crabb undertook work for the UK intelligence services examining Soviet vessels that docked in the UK. He disappeared on April 19, 1956, during a mission for MI6 to investigate a Russian cruiser docked in Portsmouth Harbour. The Ordzhonokidze had brought the leader of the Communist Party and the Premier of the USSR to England for talks with the British Prime Minister. Crabb attempted three dives and encountered difficulties. He didn’t return from the third.

Authorities tried to hide that any dive had taken place. Police removed pages from the check-in book of a local hotel where Crabb had been staying with his presumed MI6 handler, which only increased suspicions. The British Admiralty made an official announcement that Crabb had been testing diving equipment when he failed to return.

When questioned in parliament, Prime Minister Anthony Eden said, “It would not be in the public interest to disclose the circumstances in which Commander Crabb is presumed to have met his death.” He then added that whatever might have happened had been without the approval of government ministers. Files released in 2006 showed that the intelligence services had been told not to investigate the ships.

A headless body wearing a diving suit that matched Crabb’s turned up 14 months later. Positive identification wasn’t possible, but a coroner stated that the body was almost certainly Crabb’s. Yet the British intelligence services have been subject to much more damning accusations over the death than a spying mission gone wrong. A former diving partner of Crabb, Sydney Knowles, believes that the war hero may have been killed by MI5 for threatening to defect to the USSR.

Knowles said that Crabb had become very bitter about difficulties securing a full-time job, and described his options as “either suicide or bloody Russia.” Knowles reported his friend to MI5 and refused to join him on the Ordzhonokidze dive. Crabb had informed Knowles that he’d been given a new diving partner, and papers that were declassified decades later confirmed that Crabb wasn’t diving alone. Knowles summarized the situation, saying, “Our heroes were our heroes, and we couldn’t have a war hero defecting.”

7. Killing Lumumba

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In 2013, British politician Lord Lea made a controversial claim in a letter to the journal London Review of Books. He said that his friend and fellow lord, Baroness Daphne Park, had admitted to organizing the death of Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Lumumba’s death has long been pinned on the US and Belgium. The DRC gained independence from Belgium on June 30, 1960, with Lumumba as its prime minister. The country’s Katanga province declared independence from the DRC 11 days later, plunging the new state into a violent crisis. Rebellions elsewhere, combined with a passive UN, forced Lumumba to turn to the Soviets for help. The West, spooked, feared a Soviet foothold in resource-rich central Africa. Lumumba had to go.

Daphne Park eventually became controller for the entire Western Hemisphere, making her the highest-ranking woman in British intelligence. In 1960, though, she was a field agent in Congo. The CIA’s man on the ground rejected Langley’s suggestions to kill Lumumba (with snipers and poisoned toothpaste). It wasn’t necessary - Lumumba was given over to Katangan rebels and was killed by firing squad on January 17, 1961.

According to Lord Lea, when he asked Baroness Park about it, she remarked “We did. I organized it.” The Congolese politicians who’d given Lumumba to the Katangans had links to UK intelligence. MI6 haven’t denied the claims - they call them “speculative” - and the files remain firmly shut.

6. The Sinking Of The MS Estonia

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The sinking of the cruise ferry MS Estonia in 1994 killed 852 people, making it one of the worst shipping disasters in history. Investigators found that the disaster was caused by the bow door coming loose in heavy waves and the ship letting in water. The ferry, designed to operate in coastal waters, was not suited to open Baltic Sea conditions.

The Swedish government promised to raise the wreck, which had sunk in international waters, but it changed its mind. In 1995, an agreement was signed by six countries with Baltic coastlines, including Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Denmark, and Russia. Yet there was a seventh signatory, the UK, who didn’t appear to have any connection to the ship at all.

In 2005, a former sea customs officer in Sweden reported that in the weeks leading up to the sinking of the Estonia, he’d received a command to allow certain vehicles to enter the country without being searched. He stopped the vehicles anyway, telling the driver that he was performing a fake search. He opened a few boxes and believed the contents to be military electronics. At the time, Estonia (the country) was being used as a gateway for Western intelligence agencies to smuggle Soviet technology to the West following the breakup of the USSR. Estonia the ship was apparently being used as a carrier.

A report in British magazine New Statesman the same year said that a source within MI6 had confirmed that the British secret service was working with the Swedes to smuggle items. The Russians weren’t happy about it and threatened to sink the ship if activities continued. The Western agencies believed that ship served as a shield and the Russians were bluffing. The Russians weren’t, and they planted a mine on the vessel.

A seaman who survived the sinking later reported hearing a loud bang shortly before the ship toppled over. Investigators from the yard that built the ship also favoured the explosion theory. An American salvage expert, Gregg Bemis, was able to examine the ship briefly in 2000. He sailed from Germany, and his team of divers recovered metal from the hole in the bow. They claim that lab tests suggest that it had been subject to a high-velocity explosion.

The Swedish navy prevented Bemis from completing further dives and issued a warrant for his arrest should he ever set foot in the country. The US State Department also told Bemis to back off from exploring the wreck, while journalists in Russia have faced similar pressure from their government.

5. MI6 Funded An Al-Qaeda Assassination On Gadhafi

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In February 1996, a bomb was planted under a car that was part of Colonel Gadhafi’s motorcade. It was intended to kill the Libyan leader, but he was in another vehicle. Several bodyguards were killed, and a gun battle afterward killed several Islamic extremists. The would-be assassins had links to Al-Qaeda.

The head of the Libyan desk for MI5 at the time was an agent named David Shayler. In 1997, Shayler left the service and leaked information to the press. He was forced to flee to France, and in 1998, he claimed that the plot to kill Gadhafi had been funded by MI6.

In joint meetings with MI6 in the months after the attempt, Shayler said that he learned of an operative codenamed Tunworth. Shayler’s equivalent in MI6 was David Watson, who revealed that they’d channelled £100,000 (US$170,000) to Al-Qaeda. Foreign office ministers denied giving any go-ahead for a murder attempt.

Libya issued an Interpol arrest warrant for Osama Bin Laden in March 1998. In 2002, a pair of experts on French intelligence claimed that the British, in collusion with US intelligence, played down the threat from Al-Qaeda to prevent an arrest. The British also gave asylum to Anas Al-Liby until 2000, when he fled abroad. The French authors claim this was to prevent details of MI6′s involvement in the Gadhafi plot from being revealed in court.

4. Death Of Airey Neave

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Photo credit: The Sun

During World War II, Airey Neave became famous when he performed one of the most spectacular prison escapes of the conflict. He broke out of the infamous Colditz prison and spent four months crossing Europe on foot before finally making it back to Britain. After the war, he became a politician and won a parliament seat in 1953. In the afternoon of March 30, 1979, a car bomb on his vehicle exploded as he was driving from the House of Commons car park.

He was the Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, and the Irish National Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack. Margaret Thatcher came to power later the same year, and Neave had promised a ruthless campaign against Irish nationalists, including capital punishment for terrorism and a shoot-to-kill policy for British forces.

No one was ever prosecuted for the murder. Some people believe that it was actually carried out by, or with help from, MI6 and the CIA. Enoch Powell, a British MP, gave a speech in 1986 claiming that “MI6 and their friends” were behind the death.

The US allegedly favoured a united Ireland. It’s also rumoured that Neave, who’d been involved with military intelligence during the war, had intended to clean out and overhaul MI5 and MI6 should he come into office.

3. The Yvonne Fletcher Deal

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Photo credit: James Gibbon

Policewoman Yvonne Fletcher was shot on April 17, 1984 while policing a protest outside the Libyan embassy in London. The bullet came from inside the embassy. British authorities laid siege to the building for 11 days before the 30 diplomats inside were allowed out to return to Libya. No one has ever been charged with the murder.

The British authorities have been accused of being culpable in multiple ways. Records released in 2014 show that British officials were warned twice by Libya that there would be consequences if the protest went ahead. Other files show that the intelligence services believed that Libya may have had assassins and stocks of weapons at their embassy, smuggled via diplomatic bags. Someone from inside the embassy allegedly told a contractor erecting barriers, “We have guns here today. There is going to be fighting, and we aren’t going to have responsibility for you or the barriers.” No precautions were taken against gunfire.

A 2007 review found adequate evidence to charge two men with conspiracy to murder. Neither of them had diplomatic immunity, and they’d escaped before the embassy was surrounded. According to a former British ambassador to Libya, no action was taken because a deal was made not to pursue prosecution during negotiations for hundreds of millions of pounds worth of trade deals. The foreign office denied making a deal, yet an MP speaking on behalf of the Fletcher family said “I think they deliberately misled us.”

2. Rosemary Nelson


Over 3,500 people were killed by The Troubles in Northern Ireland. Among them was Rosemary Nelson, a lawyer who defended Irish nationalists in high-profile cases. On March 15, 1999, a bomb exploded underneath her car. A loyalist paramilitary group known as the Red Hand Defenders claimed responsibility.

Nelson had been living in danger for some time. She’d received at least seven death threats over the previous two years. Most disturbingly, two of these were alleged to have come from officers of Northern Ireland’s police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). It became public knowledge that RUC officers had made threatening remarks about Nelson to her clients.

After the assassination, immediate accusations arose of collusion by the RUC and other British authorities. Subsequent revelations showed that MI5 had kept a file on Nelson starting in 1994 and had acquired a warrant to tap her phone. The security service sparked controversy in 2006 by requesting legal representation at a public enquiry due to start the following year, including the ability to review and redact documentation.

It’s almost universally acknowledged that the authorities were negligent in offering protection to Nelson. Multiple human rights charities including Amnesty International had criticized the treatment of Nelson while she was still alive. The result of the public enquiry was that there had been no collusion between authorities and the Red Hand Defenders, but rogue individual officers may have helped make the assassination possible. Many are convinced it went even deeper than that.

1. The Overthrow Of Sukarno

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Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, led the independence movement that regained control of the country from the Netherlands in 1949. He spent the next decade and a half plunging the country into chaos, avoiding assassination attempts, and annoying his own army. He took US$1 billion from the US before telling them “to hell with your aid,” and in 1965, he vowed to crush Malaysia.

The growing strength of the Indonesia Communist Party alienated the West further, as did Sukarno’s habit of nationalizing their assets in the country. Sukarno also fell out of favour with the Indonesian army. A general named Suharto took Sukarno into the army’s “care,” and by 1967, he was the country’s dictator. Suharto’s rule saw the deaths of at least 500,000 Indonesians and a deadly war with East Timor, which killed over 230,000 civilians.

A British Foreign Office agent named Norman Reddaway worked with MI6 and GCHQ in Indonesia in the early 1960s. He claims that he was told “to do anything I could do to get rid of Sukarno” and given a budget of £100,000. GCHQ intercepted communications from Sukarno and passed them to his enemies in Suharto’s military. Psychological warfare officers spread propaganda against Sukarno’s rule. The CIA tried to help by creating a fake pornographic film with a Sukarno look-alike, but that didn’t go so well. The British Foreign Office officially denies any involvement in the overthrow.

Top image: The British spy agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Photo: Reuters via RT.

[Source: Listverse. Edited. Top image added.]


NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC'S BEST SPACE PICTURES THIS WEEK XXXII


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Week's Best Space Pictures: Antares Falls, Mars Mystifies, and the Sun Rises
By Dan Vergano,
National Geographic News, 31 October 2014.

A sunrise consoles space station crew after the loss of an unmanned Antares supply rocket, with Mars and the stars offering more consolation.

1. Sun Also Rises

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One day after the loss of an International Space Station supply rocket, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman posted this sublime view of the sunrise on the Earth's horizon.

"Not every day is easy. Yesterday was a tough one," Wiseman said on Twitter, referencing the loss of the Cygnus supply spacecraft aboard the rocket, which was carrying 5,050 pounds (more than 2,260 kilograms) of experiments, equipment, and fuel to the orbiting lab.

The space station has at least four months' worth of food aboard, NASA says, with more supplies on the way.

2. Raining Fire

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A launchpad throws off sparks from burning rocket fuel, in the aftermath of the October 28 explosion of the unmanned Antares rocket. (See "Why NASA Blew Up a Rocket Just After Launch.")

Still under investigation, the explosion occurred in the first seconds of the rocket's launch, after safety officers sent a self-destruct signal to the rocket once they realized its ascent had stalled. (See "40-Year-Old Russian Engine at Heart of Rocket Investigation.")

3. Desert Blooms

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Scattered high points on the bed of Australia's Lake Mackay set off blooms of algae and desert plants baked by the sun, as seen by NASA's Terra spacecraft. The ephemeral salt lake is the second largest lake in Australia.

4. Cosmic Mayhem

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Stars (glowing blue) sprung from their home galaxies fill this Hubble Space Telescope view of Abell 2744, nicknamed Pandora's Cluster.

Belonging to a group of nearly 500 galaxies, the cluster ejected the stars over a period of some six billion years, shredding six galaxies in the process.

5. Lava Soufflé

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An impact crater on Mars poses a puzzle for planetary scientists, seen in this October 29 scene from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The lava inside the crater sits much lower than the lava stream seemingly flowing away from the crater on its northern rim. So how did lava flow uphill over the rim?

Most likely, scientists say, the crater lava rose like a cake in a pan, initially fed by lava flowing into it from the north. As the lava level rose, some of the molten rock spilled back out to the north. Then the crater's lava dome deflated as it cooled, like a fallen soufflé, leaving only the lined crater behind as a mystery.

6. Warring Galaxies

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Hot gas swirls in a purple whirl in this Chandra X-ray Observatory view of the Perseus galaxy cluster.

Turbulence in these gas flows among groups of galaxies likely raises their temperature, forestalling the gas from cooling and condensing to form young stars, suggest Chandra scientists.

7. Between Two Towers

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Photograph by Ladanyi Tamas, TWAN

Saturn and the moon enjoy a close moment over the Hungarian countryside in this shot from photographer Ladanyi Tamas.

Perched between the Fire Tower (left) and Reformed Church in Veszprém, Hungary, the planet approaches the moon moments before it slides behind the lunar disk, an "occultation" of the smaller-seeming ringed world. Nine occultations of Saturn took place in 2014.

Photo gallery by Nicole Werbeck.

[Source: National Geographic News. Edited.]


HEXO+: THE DRONE-DRIVEN FLYING VIDEO CAMERA


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The HEXO+ Drone Is Your Very Own Flying Video Camera
By Nicholas Greene,
The Coolist, 31 October 2014.

I’m of the mind that everything’s better with robots, and the HEXO+ drone is no exception. It’s an aerial hexacopter drone with a built-in camera, designed to capture all of life’s most awesome (and action-packed) moments. It’ll even follow you in order to keep you in the frame, if need be.

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Operating the Hexo+ drone is incredibly simple, too. All you need to do is pull out your smartphone and activate the ‘bot through the companion app. Once you’ve set the parameters regarding how you want it to film, it’ll fly into position, and move around in order to readjust as necessary. Even better, everything the drone’s camera sees is streamed straight to your Smartphone via an interactive feed.

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Assuming you aren’t in the middle of some insane stunt jump while filming’s taking place (I feel like that’s what somewhere around 90% of people are going to use this gadget for), you can modify the camera’s point of view with three simple touch gestures: slide laterally for panning, vertically for height, and pinch for distance. You can choose to shoot from pretty much every angle - no matter what, the camera will do everything necessary to stay focused on its subject.

Once you’ve captured a video with the drone, you can open up a Garageband-like application known as The Director’s Toolkit which allows you to create scenarios and edit video through drag-and-drop controls. Basically, this drone gives you everything you need to create a Hollywood-quality stunt reel.
Awesome, right?

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The whole package is incredibly lightweight and durable, capable of moving at speeds of up to 70 kilometres/hour. It’s compatible with GoPro cameras, and can easily be switched between manual and autonomous flight. Finally, it’s got built-in failsafe software, meaning that if it encounters any problems, you don’t need to worry about scrapping your drone - it’ll figure out a way to land.

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Y’know, the more I write about this, the more I realize the tech behind this drone could have some…incredibly creepy applications. Probably best not to think of those. Let’s just focus on how awesome it is for thrill-seekers, amateur stuntmen/stuntwomen, and athletes. Bringing the HEXO+ drone along means you’ll never miss another adrenaline-filled moment.


Video: HEXO+


All images and video credit: Hexoplus and Kickstarter.

[Source: The Coolist. Edited. Video and some images/links added.]


THE NEW AEROMOBIL 3.0 FLYING CAR


New AeroMobil 3.0 flying car is one really cool transformer
The AeroMobil flying car was unveiled last month. Now there’s this new AeroMobil 3.0, which the manufacturer says is very close to the final product.

New AeroMobil 3.0 flying car is one really cool transformer
By Jesus Diaz,
Sploid, 31 October 2014.

This flying car looks pretty damn cool in both flight and road modes, but especially when it opens up like a transformer. After being certified by the Slovak Federation of Ultra-Light Flying, the AeroMobil 3.0 has started final regular flight-testing this month.

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According to the company, it's very close to the final product now.

The AeroMobil 3.0 is not designed to be a car replacement, of course. It's made for suburban aviation enthusiasts who want reduced costs and being able to store their flying machines in their garages (just like the SkyRunner flying car is made for farmers who need to quickly cover long distances over rugged terrain.) So instead of having a Cessna at the airfield or some ultra-light airplane and a car to move it around, you have this at home and you go to the airfield anytime you want to fly.

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I like the idea of being able to hop around the country using this thingamajig. A flying road trip of sorts. I would still like to get a P-51 Mustang and rent a car wherever I land, but this will do.

The AeroMobil 3.0 prototype is very close to the final product. It is predominantly built from the same materials as the final product, such as advanced composite materials for the body shell, wings, and wheels. It also contains all the main features that will be incorporated into the final product, such as avionics equipment, autopilot and an advanced parachute deployment system.
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[Source: Sploid. Edited.]


AZERBAIJAN: THE LAND OF FIRE


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Azerbaijan: The Land of Fire
By Kaushik,
Amusing Planet, 31 October 2014.

Azerbaijan, located within the South Caspian Sea basin, is among the world's oldest oil producers. The petroleum industry in Azerbaijan produces about 800,000 barrels of oil per day and 1 billion cubic meters of gas per year. There is so much oil and natural gas reserve under the Absheron Peninsula that the ground practically leaks all over.

Throughout Azerbaijan, numerous fires have been burning since antiquity and these were reported on by historical writers such as Marco Polo in the 13th century, and later by the famed writer Alexandre Dumas, who described a Zoroastrian fire temples built around a natural fire. This phenomenon of spontaneous fire caused by gas seepage have given Azerbaijan the moniker "Land of Fire." It also created a cult of fire worshippers - the Zoroastrians, which first appeared in this region over 2,000 years ago before the Islamic rule came into effect. Numerous references to fire can also be found in Azerbaijan’s folklore and culture.

There are at least three places where one can observe Azerbaijan’s famous fires.

1. Yanar Dag

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Yanar Dag, which literally translates to "burning mountain," is a natural gas fire which blazes continuously on a hillside near Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Flames jet out into the air 3 meters from a thin, porous sandstone layer.

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Around this open fireplace the atmosphere is filled with the smell of gas. The naturally occurring fire burns in colourful flames most impressively at dusk, when both tourists and locals can view it from nearby teashops.

2. Ateshgah of Baku

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The Ateshgah of Baku near Baku, off the Greater Caucasus, is another famous site of Azerbaijan’s eternal fires. Ateshgah means “temple of fire.” This pentagonal complex, which has a courtyard surrounded by cells for monks and a tetrapillar-altar in the middle, was built during the 17th and 18th centuries. The fire was once fed by a vent from a subterranean natural gas field located directly beneath the complex, but heavy exploitation of the natural gas reserves in the area during Soviet rule ended the flow of natural gas to the temple and extinguished the holy fire in 1969.

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The temple was converted into a museum soon after the fire went out. Today, the fire that can seen here is fed by mains gas piped from Baku city.

3. Yanar Bulag

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Yanar Bulag or the "burning spring" is located to the city of Astara in southern Azerbaijan. It consist of a metal stand pipe inside a small pavilion through which water comes gurgling out. It looks nothing unusual, but when you light a match and touch the water, the water itself is set ablaze. This occurs due to the water’s high methane content.

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The locals believe the water from the spring has remedial properties, and would often take a drink while the flame is alit. There are always people at the spring who stop by to fill their bottles and carry on their journeys.


Video: Yanar Dag


Article Sources: Wikipedia / Atlas Obscura

Top image: Yanar Dag, the burning mountain, in Azerbaijan. Photo credit.

[Post Source: Amusing Planet. Edited. Video and some links added.]


Friday, October 31, 2014

7 FACTS ABOUT SUGAR THAT MAY SURPRISE YOU


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7 Facts About Sugar That May Surprise You
By
Discovery News, 31 October 2014.

Sure, a spoonful helps the medicine go down, but what else can it do?

1. Americans eat 76.7 pounds of it each year

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According to 2012 statistics compiled by the U.S. Agriculture Department, the keeper of the statistics on America's sweet tooth, the grand total amount of sugar consumed by the average American is 76.7 pounds every year. That breaks down to 22 teaspoons of sugar a day per person.

Much of that comes from unexpected sources, such as in cranberries and Clamato juice, as "Last Week Tonight" host John Oliver pointed out in a recent episode. The total annual figure is down from previous studies that estimated we consume 95 to 100 pounds of sugar each year.

Still, 75 pounds is a lot of sugar.

2. It can make you stupid

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A May 2012 study showed that eating a diet high in fructose over a long period of time can impair your brain's ability to learn and then remember information.

The research, published in the Journal of Physiology was done on rats, but our brains are similar enough to the rodents that the findings extend to humans.

There is hope: the same research found that eating a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids (including salmon and flaxseed oil) can counteract the effect.

3. It doesn't make kids hyper

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This is a tough one to believe if you've witnessed kids near the end of a cake and ice cream party. Sugar sure seems to have a buzzing effect on kids (and adults). But according a 1994 double-blind research study in the New England Journal of Medicine, a sugary diet does not have an adverse effect on the behaviour or cognitive skills of children.

Sugar does, however, change one thing: parents' expectations. Another study by the National Institutes of Health found that after hearing their children had just eaten a lot of sugar, parents were more likely to say their kid was hyperactive - even when the supposed sugar fix was actually a placebo.

4. Brown sugar is no better for you than white

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If it's brown, it's better for you than white, right? Maybe when it comes to rice and, in most cases, bread, but not so much when it comes to sugar.

Brown sugar is actually just refined white sugar with molasses added. While molasses adds a touch more minerals to each spoonful (calcium, potassium, iron and magnesium), those amounts are so scarce they hardly justify the calories.

5. Brown bread can contain more sugar than white bread

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Speaking of brown, brown bread may not always be all that it's made out to be.

Brown bread is, in general, more nutritious than white bread. Brown breads made from whole wheat usually contain more fibre than white bread, as well as higher amounts of important nutrients such as vitamins B-6 and E, magnesium, folic acid, copper, zinc and manganese.

That said, an analysis done by the English newspaper, The Telegraph, found that five of 15 surveyed brown loaves contained a form of added sugar that was not present in white bread loaves. Bread manufacturers explained the added sugar was meant to counteract the "bitter" taste of wholemeal flour. They argued that the added sugar amounts was negligible. Nonetheless, the findings are food for thought.

6. It helps budding flowers compete

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This one is a little complicated - and surprising. It's known that wildflowers generally don't stand a good chance of lasting in a given field of grasses. That's because most grasses grow so aggressively that they quickly outcompete the less hardy newcomers.

One way to change the equation, found a recent study in the Journal of Vegetation Science, is to add sugar to the soil.

The researchers (who were based in Estonia) added 1 kilogram of sugar per square meter every year for 10 years. The sugar, it turns out, lends microbes in the soil a boost, and since microbes, too are competing with the established plants for carbon, the established plants grow more slowly. Since it's generally easier to compete with microbes than with established grassy plants, the sugar treatment leaves room for pretty flowers to take root.

So sprinkle sugar in a grassy field and more wildflowers will grow.

7. It activates our brains like cocaine

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Eating high-sugar foods lights up your brain on an MRI in the same areas that are triggered by cocaine or heroin, according to research by Dr. David Ludwig, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Centre at Boston Children's Hospital.

His findings support earlier research on rats that showed how addictive the sweet stuff can be. A 2007 study in the journal PLOS1 that showed that 94 percent of rats that were allowed to choose between sugar water and cocaine, chose sugar.

Even rats who were addicted to cocaine switched their preference to sugar, once it was offered as a choice.

Top image: Macro photograph of a pile of sugar (saccharose). Credit: Lauri Andler/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Discovery News. Edited. Top image added.]