Tag Archives: Britain

Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief” Video highlights

Thanks to everyone who joined us for a night of great music and a show of support for the people of Haiti

Posted by: Audiegrl

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President Obama Signs Legislation

President Obama Signs Legislation Providing Immediate Tax Deductions for Haiti Charitable Contributions January 22, 2010.

President Obama Is Making It Easier for Americans to Support Haiti
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In the days since the earthquake in Haiti, Americans have shown their generosity with millions of dollars in donations. Tonight, President Obama signed a bill into law that makes it easier to give. This legislation will allow taxpayers to receive the tax benefit from donations made to the Haiti effort in this tax season, rather than having to wait until they file their 2010 tax returns next year. Specifically, cash donations to charities for the Haitian relief effort given after January 11 and before March 1 of this year may be treated as if the contribution was made on December 31 of last year so that the contribution can be deducted from 2009 income. This measure applies to monetary donations, not goods or services.


Clinton Bush Haiti Relief FundUNICEFAmerican Red Cross

WFP:  World Food ProgrammePartners In Health Oxfam America
Yéle Haiti

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Giant Cattle To Be Bred Back From Extinction

Posted by: Audiegrl

Aurochs were immortalized in prehistoric cave paintings and admired for their brute strength and “elephantine” size by Julius Caesar

Aurochs

Aurochs are depicted in ochre and charcoal in paintings found on the walls of cave galleries such as those at Lascaux in France Photo: ALAMY


Telegraph.co.uk/Nick Squires~~But despite their having gone the way of the dodo and the woolly mammoth, there are plans to bring the giant animals back to life.

The huge cattle with sweeping horns which once roamed the forests of Europe have not been seen for nearly 400 years.

Now Italian scientists are hoping to use genetic expertise and selective breeding of modern-day wild cattle to recreate the fearsome beasts which weighed around 2,200lb and stood 6.5 feet at the shoulder.

Breeds of large cattle which most closely resemble Bos primigenius, such as Highland cattle and the white Maremma breed from Italy, are being bred with each other in a technique known as “back-breeding“.

At the same time, scientists say they have for the first time created a map of the auroch’s genome, so that they know precisely what type of animal they are trying to replicate.

We were able to analyse auroch DNA from preserved bone material and create a rough map of its genome that should allow us to breed animals nearly identical to aurochs,” said team leader Donato Matassino, head of the Consortium for Experimental Biotechnology in Benevento, in the southern Campania region.

We’ve already made our first round of crosses between three breeds native to Britain, Spain and Italy. Now we just have to wait and see how the calves turn out.

More @ telegraph.co.uk

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BBC Airing Guantánamo Guard/Detainee Reunion

Posted by: Audiegrl

“He would say, ‘you ever listen to Eminem or Dr Dre’ and… I thought how could it be somebody is here who’s doing the same stuff that I do when I’m back home”~~Former Guard Brandon Neely

Brandon Neely, center, was a Guantánamo Bay guard, and Ruhal Ahmed, left, and Shafiq Rasul were prisoners.

Brandon Neely, center, was a Guantánamo Bay guard, and Ruhal Ahmed, left, and Shafiq Rasul were prisoners.

Why would a former Guantanamo Bay prison guard track down two of his former captives – two British men – and agree to fly to London to meet them?

BBC News/Gavin Lee~~”You look different without a cap.”

You look different without the jump suits.”

With those words, an extraordinary reunion gets under way.

The journey of reconciliation began almost a year ago in Huntsville, Texas. Mr Neely, 29, had left the US military in 2005 to become a police officer and was still struggling to come to terms with his time as a guard at Guantanamo.

He felt anger at a number of incidents of abuse he says he witnessed, and guilt over one in particular.

Highly controversial since it opened in 2002, Guantanamo prison was set up by President George Bush in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks to house suspected “terrorists“. But it has been heavily divisive and President Barack Obama has said it has “damaged [America’s] national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda“.

Mr Neely recalls only the good publicity in the US media.

The news would always try to make Guantanamo into this great place,” he says, “like ‘they [prisoners] were treated so great’. No it wasn’t. You know here I was basically just putting innocent people in cages.”

The prisoners arriving on planes, in goggles and jump suits, from Afghanistan were termed by then US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as the “worst of the worst“. But after getting to know some of the English-speaking detainees, Mr Neely started to have doubts all of them were fanatical terrorists.

Mr Neely was 22 when he worked at the camp and left after six months to serve in Iraq. But after quitting the military his doubts about Guantanamo began to crystallize. This led to a spontaneous decision last year to reach out to his former prisoners on Facebook.

Released in 2004, after being held for two years, Mr Rasul and Mr Ahmed and another friend from Tipton had been captured in Afghanistan on suspicion of links to the Taliban. The three said they were beaten by US troops although this was disputed by the US government at the time.

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But what were the pair doing in Afghanistan in 2001?

They explain that, being in their late teens and early twenties at the time, they had made a naive, spontaneous decision to travel for free with an aid convoy weeks before a friend’s wedding, due to take place in Pakistan.

Mr Ahmed admits they had a secret agenda for entering Afghanistan, but it wasn’t to join al-Qaeda.

Aid work was like probably 5% of it. Our main reason was just to go and sightsee really and smoke some dope“.

Does their former prison guard believe them? Yes, says Mr Neely, who says he thinks it was a case of “wrong place, wrong time“.

Both sides are beginning to bond, yet towards the end, Mr Neely has a confession of his own. It threatens to destroy the mood of reconciliation.

He is deeply ashamed of an incident in which he “slammed” an elderly prisoner’s head against the floor.

Mr Neely recalls that he thought he had been under attack because the man kept trying to rise to his feet. But weeks later he discovered the prisoner thought he was being placed on his knees to be executed and believed he was fighting for his life.

Mr Ahmed is speechless, then evidently conflicted as he wrestles in his mind with whether or not he can forgive. Eventually, he says he can.

But should Mr Neely be prosecuted for his actions? Mr Ahmed pauses again.

He’s realized what he did was wrong and he’s living with it and suffering with it and as long as that he knows what he did was wrong. That’s the main thing.”

Afterwards, each say they had genuinely found some sort of closure from meeting. The sense of relief in all their faces speaks volumes, and they leave the meeting closer to one another.

Their story will be featured on the documentary Guantanamo Reunited on BBC Radio 5 live on Thursday 14 January at 2200 BST.

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Christmas Around the World


Christmas Around the WorldChristmas as we know it today is a Victorian invention of the 1860s. Probably the most celebrated holiday in the world, our modern Christmas is a product of hundreds of years of both secular and religious traditions from around the globe.

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Sweden

‘God Jul!’

St. Lucia by Carl Larsson 1908

St. Lucia by Carl Larsson 1908

Most people in Scandinavian countries honor St. Lucia (also known as St. Lucy) each year on December 13. The celebration of St. Lucia Day began in Sweden, but had spread to Denmark and Finland by the mid-19th century.

In these countries, the holiday is considered the beginning of the Christmas season and, as such, is sometimes referred to as “little Yule.” Traditionally, the oldest daughter in each family rises early and wakes each of her family members, dressed in a long, white gown with a red sash, and wearing a crown made of twigs with nine lighted candles. For the day, she is called “Lussi” or “Lussibruden (Lucy bride).” The family then eats breakfast in a room lighted with candles.

The giant Christmas goat in Gavle, Sweden, a centuries-old Scandanavian yule symbol.

The giant Christmas goat in Gavle, Sweden, a centuries-old Scandanavian yule symbol

Any shooting or fishing done on St. Lucia Day was done by torchlight, and people brightly illuminated their homes. At night, men, women, and children would carry torches in a parade. The night would end when everyone threw their torches onto a large pile of straw, creating a huge bonfire. In Finland today, one girl is chosen to serve as the national Lucia and she is honored in a parade in which she is surrounded by torchbearers.

Light is a main theme of St. Lucia Day, as her name, which is derived from the Latin word lux, means light. Her feast day is celebrated near the shortest day of the year, when the sun’s light again begins to strengthen. Lucia lived in Syracuse during the fourth century when persecution of Christians was common. Unfortunately, most of her story has been lost over the years. According to one common legend, Lucia lost her eyes while being tortured by a Diocletian for her Christian beliefs. Others say she may have plucked her own eyes out to protest the poor treatment of Christians. Lucia is the patron saint of the blind.

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Finland

‘Hyvää Joulua!’

1907 Christmas postcard

Families gather and listen to the national “Peace of Christmas” radio broadcast. Hours are spent in the kitchen cooking and baking special treats for the festive season. In Finland the Christmas tree is set up on Christmas Eve. The Christmas festivities are preceded by a visit to the famous steam baths.

Christmas gifts may be given out before or after the dinner. The children do not hang up stockings, but Santa Claus comes in person, often accompanied by as many as half a dozen Christmas elves to distribute the presents.

The celebration of St Lucia Day (13 December) was only introduced to Finland from Sweden in 1950 but has been widely adopted by Finnish families. Additionally, a national Lucia is chosen by public vote from a short list of ten teenage girls and December 13 marks her first official appearance, wearing a long white dress and a crown of lighted candles. Following this she pays visits to Christmas gatherings, hospitals and schools to spread her message of light, hope and charity.

The main dish of the dinner is boiled codfish served snowy white and fluffy, with allspice, boiled potatoes, and cream sauce. The dried cod has been soaked for a week in a lye solution, then in clear water to soften it to the right texture. Also on the menu is roast suckling pig or a roasted fresh ham, mashed potatoes, and vegetables. After dinner the children go to bed while the older people stay up to chat with visitors and drink coffee until about midnight.

Christmas Day services in the churches begin at six in the morning. It is a day for family visits and reunions. In some parts of the country the Star Boys tour the countryside singing Christmas songs. During all these days the people keep wishing each other a “Merry Yule.” It is also customary to visit the gravesites of departed family members.

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Norway

‘Gledelig Jul!’

Traditional Norway Christmas Meal

Traditional Norway Christmas Meal

Norway is the birthplace of the Yule log. The ancient Norse used the Yule log in their celebration of the return of the sun at winter solstice. “Yule” came from the Norse word hweol, meaning wheel. The Norse believed that the sun was a great wheel of fire that rolled towards and then away from the earth. Ever wonder why the family fireplace is such a central part of the typical Christmas scene? This tradition dates back to the Norse Yule log. It is probably also responsible for the popularity of log-shaped cheese, cakes, and desserts during the holidays.

Since ancient times Norwegians have celebrated midwinter with parties and feasts to mark the transition from the dark winter to the light of spring and summer. However, during the 10th century King Haakon decided that the pagan custom of celebrating Jul (Yule) would be moved to 25 December and would celebrate the birth of Jesus. Over the years this has gradually moved from being a pagan festival to being a Christian festival instead. However, many of the traditions have remained.

At 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve the church bells ‘ringe in Julen‘ (ring in Christmas) throughout the country. This is the real start to Christmas celebrations. Most people attend a church and after the service they return home to eat a bowl of porridge with butter, sugar and cinnamon. Before the family sit down to eat this, the tradition is to put out a bowl of porridge for the nisse (gnome)

After the meal the indoor tree is lit and Julenissen arrives with a sack full of gifts from Santa. Julenissen is usually depicted with a long white beard and red stocking cap, wearing knee breeches, hand knitted stockings, a Norwegian sweater and a homespun jacket. This is topped by a heavy fur coat. Once all the presents have been distributed and have been opened everyone sits down for coffee and cakes.

Christmas Day starts with a church service. This is followed by the Christmas Buffet which includes such food as pork, lamb, cold meats, lutefisk, herring, trout, salmon, cheese, fruit, cloudberry cream, flat bread and cakes. This is accompanied by beer and aquavit. The Christmas season finally comes to an end on 13 January when everyone takes down their decorations and trees until December.

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Germany

‘Froehliche Weihnachten!’

Decorating evergreen trees had always been a part of the German winter solstice tradition. The first “Christmas trees” explicitly decorated and named after the Christian holiday, appeared in Strasbourg, in Alsace in the beginning of the 17th century. After 1750, Christmas trees began showing up in other parts of Germany, and even more so after 1771, when Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited Strasbourg and promptly included a Christmas tree is his novel, The Suffering of Young Werther. In the 1820s, the first German immigrants decorated Christmas trees in Pennsylvania. After Germany’s Prince Albert married Queen Victoria, he introduced the Christmas tree tradition to England. In 1848, the first American newspaper carried a picture of a Christmas tree and the custom spread to nearly every home in just a few years.

Children leave letters on their windowsills for Christkind, a winged figure dressed in white robes and a golden crown who distributes gifts. Sometimes the letters are decorated with glue and sprinkled with sugar to make them sparkle.

Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin, Germany

Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin, Germany

Germans make beautiful gingerbread houses and cookies. The German Christmas tree pastry, Christbaumgeback, is a white dough that can be molded into shapes and baked for tree decorations. In parts of Germany, people believe that the Christ Child sends a messenger in Christmas Eve. He appears as an angel in a white robe and crown, bearing gifts. The angel is called Christkind. There is also a Christmas Eve figure called Weihnachtsmann or Christmas Man, he looks like Santa Claus and also brings gifts.

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Mexico

‘Feliz Navidad!’

Las Posadas

Las Posadas

In 1828, the American minister to Mexico, Joel R. Poinsett, brought a red-and-green plant from Mexico to America. As its coloring seemed perfect for the new holiday, the plants, which were called poinsettias after Poinsett, began appearing in greenhouses as early as 1830. In 1870, New York stores began to sell them at Christmas. By 1900, they were a universal symbol of the holiday.

Beginning December 16th, “La Posadas” commemorates the events in the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Each night of the “Posada” a procession led by two children begins.

The children carry a small pine-decorated platform bearing replicas of Joseph and Mary riding a burro. Other members, all with lighted long slender candles, sing the “Litany of the Virgin” as they approach the door of the house assigned to the first “Posada.” Together they chant an old traditional song and awaken the residents of the house to ask for lodging for Mary. Those within the house threaten the company with beatings unless they move on. Again, the company pleads for lodging. When the owner of the house finally learns who his guests are, he jubilantly throws open the doors and bids them welcome. All kneel around the manger scene or “Nacimiento” and offer songs of welcome, Ave Marias and a prayer.

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England

‘Merry Christmas!’

The world's first Christmas card designed by John Calcott Horsley in 1843.

An Englishman named John Calcott Horsley helped to popularize the tradition of sending Christmas greeting cards when he began producing small cards featuring festive scenes and a pre-written holiday greeting in the late 1830s. Newly efficient post offices in England and the United States made the cards nearly overnight sensations. At about the same time, similar cards were being made by R.H. Pease, the first American card maker, in Albany, New York, and Louis Prang, a German who immigrated to America in 1850.

Celtic and Teutonic peoples had long considered mistletoe to have magic powers. It was said to have the ability to heal wounds and increase fertility. Celts hung mistletoe in their homes in order to bring themselves good luck and ward off evil spirits. During holidays in the Victorian era, the English would hang sprigs of mistletoe from ceilings and in doorways. If someone was found standing under the mistletoe, they would be kissed by someone else in the room, behavior not usually demonstrated in Victorian society.

Plum pudding is an English dish dating back to the Middle Ages. Suet, flour, sugar, raisins, nuts, and spices are tied loosely in cloth and boiled until the ingredients are “plum,” meaning they have enlarged enough to fill the cloth. It is then unwrapped, sliced like cake, and topped with cream.

Caroling also began in England. Wandering musicians would travel from town to town visiting castles and homes of the rich. In return for their performance, the musicians hoped to receive a hot meal or money.

Plum Pudding

In the United States and England, children hang stockings on their bedpost or near a fireplace on Christmas Eve, hoping that it will be filled with treats while they sleep. In Scandinavia, similar-minded children leave their shoes on the hearth. This tradition can be traced to legends about Saint Nicholas. One legend tells of three poor sisters who could not marry because they had no money for a dowry. To save them from being sold by their father, St. Nick left each of the three sisters gifts of gold coins. One went down the chimney and landed in a pair of shoes that had been left on the hearth. Another went into a window and into a pair of stockings left hanging by the fire to dry.

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France

‘Joyeux Noël!’

A lavish feast of truffle-scented roast turkey and delicious trimmings from the Burgundy countryside.

A lavish feast of truffle-scented roast turkey and delicious trimmings from the Burgundy countryside.

Christmas has been celebrated for nearly 1500 years in France. In France, Christmas is called Noel. This comes from the French phrase les bonnes nouvelles, which means “the good news” and refers to the gospel.

In southern France, some people burn a log in their homes from Christmas Eve until New Year’s Day. This stems from an ancient tradition in which farmers would use part of the log to ensure good luck for the next year’s harvest.

Whatever their behavior, hopeful French youngsters place slippers or shoes at the fireplace on Christmas Eve. That evening’s special supper called the réveillon features delicacies native to the region, including spun sugar, pâés and pastries. Spun sugar delicacies called sotelties are made to depict miniature castles, Biblical scenes, or exotic birds. Another highlight is bûche de Noël a log shaped cake with chocolate butter cream filling, brown icing and lines that resemble bark. At the stroke of midnight, the sounds of “Oh Holy Night” resound through churches and cathedrals across France.

Christmas market in Strasbourg

Christmas market in Strasbourg

Children alone receive presents on December 25th. Adults wait until New Year’s Day to exchange gifts. Some small presents can be found among the branches of the French Christmas tree.

The santons or little saints made in Provence are the heart of French Noël. These simple manger figures resemble real people in detail and dress. No one is excluded all characters good and bad are created to be included in the French manger scene.

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Italy

‘Buone Natale!’

Midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica

Midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica

Christmas season in Italy is traditionally celebrated December 24-January 6, or Christmas Eve through Epiphany. This follows the pagan season of celebrations that started with Saturnalia, a winter solstice festival, and ended with the Roman New Year, the Calends. However there are lots of Christmas things to see during December prior to Christmas, many starting on December 8, the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception.

Although Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) and giving presents on Christmas are becoming more common, the main day for gift giving is Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas when the three Wise Men gave Baby Jesus their gifts. In Italy, presents are brought by La Befana, who arrives in the night to fill children’s stockings. More about Epiphany and La Befana

Nativity Scene in Siena Italy

Nativity Scene in Siena Italy

Christmas decorations and trees are becoming more popular in Italy. Lights and decorations are often seen starting around December 8, the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, or even the end of November. The main focus of decorations continues to be the presepe, Nativity scene or creche. Almost every church has a presepe and they are often found outdoors in a piazza or public area, too.

Traditionally, a meatless dinner is eaten on Christmas eve with the family, followed by a living nativity scene and midnight mass. In parts of southern Italy a seven fishes dinner is traditionally served on Christmas Eve. Traditional bonfires are often held on Christmas Eve in the main square of town, especially in mountain areas. Dinner on Christmas day is usually meat based.

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Australia

‘Merry Christmas’

Santa arriving at the beach by boat

Santa arriving at the beach by boat

In Australia, the holiday comes in the middle of summer and it’s not unusual for some parts of Australia to hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit on Christmas day.

During the warm and sunny Australian Christmas season, beach time and outdoor barbecues are common. Traditional Christmas day celebrations include family gatherings, exchanging gifts and either a hot meal with ham, turkey, pork or seafood or barbecues.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas houses are decorated; greetings cards sent out; carols sung; Christmas trees installed in homes, schools and public places; and children delight in anticipating a visit from Santa Claus. On Christmas Day family and friends gather to exchange gifts and enjoy special Christmas food.

Many Australians spend Christmas out of doors, going to the beach for the day, or heading to camping grounds for a longer break over the Christmas holiday period. It has become traditional for international visitors who are in Sydney at Christmas time to go to Bondi Beach where up to 40,000 people visit on Christmas Day.

Blandfordia nobilis - Christmas bells

Blandfordia nobilis - Christmas bells

There are many native Australian plants in flower over the Christmas season. A number of these have become known as ‘Christmas plants‘ in various parts of the country, including Christmas bells, Christmas bush and the Christmas orchid.

When Europeans first arrived in Australia they were delighted that they could pick wildflowers resembling bells and bright green foliage covered in red or white flowers to use as Christmas decorations. This was a huge contrast to the bare trees and dormant gardens they had left behind in Europe.

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Czech Republic

‘Vesele Vanoce !’

Christmas market in Prague

Christmas market in Prague

Christmas in the Czech Republic begins with Svatej Nikulas Day, on December 6 and ends with the visit of the Tri Kralu (Three Kings) on January 6. On December 6, Saint Nicholas descends from the sky on a golden cord, accompanied by an angel dressed in white with gifts for the good boys and girls, and a devil named Cert dressed in black, carrying a whip and rattling a chain. As soon as the children hear them coming, they rush to the table and say their prayers. Those who know their prayers are rewarded with a gift; those who do not may feel Cert’s whip!

A twenty-four hour period of strict fast concludes on Christmas Eve when the first star of the night is seen. This star represents the star of Bethlehem. The children are promised that if they fast faithfully they will see golden pigs at supper time. At the beginning of supper, the candles are lit and the pigs appear on the wall and ceiling. The flickering of the candle flames perform the trick, because at the center of the table is the young roasted pig. The supper consists of seven courses and what is left over (there are always leftovers) is fed to the pigs. An extra place is set at the table and left empty for the Christ-child.

Vánocní cukroví - decorated cookies, traditionally eaten at Christmas

Vánocní cukroví - decorated cookies, traditionally eaten at Christmas

The manger scene is ever present in both church and home. These nativity scenes are called Bethlehems, and setting them up is a great family pastime. Usually they are complete villages carved from wood or fashioned from bread dough and then elaborately painted. Carolers carry miniature Bethlehem scenes as they go from house to house giving concerts. After singing, they are invited into the home for a glass of wine and a piece of vanocka, a sweetbread.

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Canada

‘Merry Christmas’

Christmas Lights in Old Montreal

Christmas Lights in Old Montreal

Canada is a country with a great number of immigrant families. Different cultural backgrounds such as French, English, German, Ukrainian, and First Nations come together as one people Canadians. Because of the many different peoples the customs of Christmas are very diverse.

Because of Canada’s strong Anglican and Catholic religious traditions, Christmas Eve is a big celebration. Many famous churches offer special services. The Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal has a 5,772 pipe organ and thousands of worshipers come on Christmas Eve to attend the service and hear the children’s choir.

The Christmas tree is native to the Canadian region. Nova Scotia is named “The Christmas Tree Province” because it produces more than 1.5 million trees each year for eastern Canada and the United States. Trees from this region are shipped as far away as Venezuela. All of the Canadian provinces together produce approximately 6 million Christmas trees every year.

Toronto Santa Claus Parade

Toronto Santa Claus Parade

Our Canadian Christmas tree is decorated with Chicken Bones and Barley Toys, two treats with strange names, but they have meant Christmas to children along Canada’s eastern shores for more than 100 years. Barley toys are tasty animal-shaped candies served either plain or on sticks and made from barley candy. The name barley probably comes from an old children’s game. Chicken Bones is a cinnamon flavored hard candy that is filled with chocolate and is a Christmas favorite in Canada.

Boxing Day, celebrated the day after Christmas, is an important national holiday to Canadians. Traditionally boxing day was a day delivery boys could hope to receive a gratuity from those they served. Today its main significance is a day of sales at stores. Many people use this day to exchange Christmas gifts.

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Greece

‘Kala Christouyenna!’

St. Nicholas is important in Greece as the patron saint of sailors. According to Greek tradition, his clothes are drenched with brine, his beard drips with seawater, and his face is covered with perspiration because he has been working hard against the waves to reach sinking ships and rescue them from the angry sea. To members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, as are most Greek Christians, Christmas ranks second to Easter in the roster of important holidays. Yet there are a number of unique customs associated with Christmas that are uniquely Greek.

On Christmas Eve, village children travel from house to house offering good wishes and singing kalanda, the equivalent of carols. Often the songs are accompanied by small metal triangles and little clay drums. The children are frequently rewarded with sweets and dried fruits.

A Christmas market in Athens, Greece

A Christmas market in Athens, Greece

After 40 days of fasting, the Christmas feast is looked forward to with great anticipation by adults and children alike. Pigs are slaughtered and on almost every table are loaves of christopsomo (“Christ Bread“). This bread is made in large sweet loaves of various shapes and the crusts are engraved and frosted with symbols that in some way that reflects the family’s profession. It is served with dried figs, nuts, and honey.

Christmas morning begins with an early Mass at the Greek Orthodox Church. After the service, Greeks feast on roast turkey stuffed with chestnuts, rice, pine nuts, and a nut cookie called kourambiethes. Baklava, another sweet dessert, is made from layers of phyllo pastry, filled with almonds and cinnamon, and then soaked in lemon syrup.

In almost every home it is traditional to have a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire is suspended across the rim; from that hangs a sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross. A small amount of water is kept in the bowl to keep the basil alive and fresh. Once a day, a family member, usually the mother, dips the cross and basil into some holy water and uses it to sprinkle water in each room of the house. This ritual is believed to keep the Kallikantzaroi away from the house.

Baklava

Baklava

There are a number of beliefs connected with the Kallikantzaroi, which are a species of goblins or spirits who appear only during the 12-day period from Christmas to the Epiphany (January 6). These creatures are believed to emerge from the center of the earth and to slip into people’s house through the chimney. More mischievous than actually evil, the Kallikantzaroi do things like extinguish fires, ride astride people’s backs, braid horses’ tails, and sour the milk. To further repel the undesirable sprites, the hearth is kept burning day and night throughout the twelve days.

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Venezuela

‘Feliz Navidad!’

Christmas in Venezuela is a mixture of religious tradition and sheer fun. Beginning on December 16, many families erect a pesebre in their house, with not only a nativity scene, but a diorama of the entire region with mountains, hills, plains, and valleys. Often this is a work of art into which the head of the family has put many hours, and the pieces become heirlooms to be passed down from generation to generation. One custom dictates that on the first day of the new year, the figure of the Christ child must be lifted from the manger crib and placed in a standing position until the Feast of Cadelaria on February 2nd. Neighbors and friends keep watch to be sure that the tradition is strictly honored. If it is not, the figure of the holy child will be secretly stolen and held for ransom. The ransom is a party that must be given by the people who have been appointed as godparents for the holy child. When the figurine is returned to its original setting, a procession is held which may include fireworks and a band along with much singing and dancing.

In the city of Caracas, Christmas Eve is a popular time and a rather unusual custom occurs shortly after midnight. That is when one of the main streets fills with hundreds of young roller-skaters. Friends and schoolmates skate together until time for a special church service, after which the young people skate home for a breakfast featuring hallacas, a traditional Venezuelan meat pie with a cornmeal crust that is wrapped in banana leaves and boiled.

Venezuelan Pan de jamon

Venezuelan Pan de jamon

There may be no snow for Santa’s sled or chimneys for him to climb down in Venezuela, but artificial Christmas trees, some with artificial snow on their branches, can be adorned with colorful decorations using traditional designs and colors.

A manger scene is the primary decoration in most southern European, Central American, and South American nations. St. Francis of Assisi created the first living nativity in 1224 to help explain the birth of Jesus to his followers.

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Christmas in the Age of Dickens

Christmas as we know it was born in the Victorian era, and Charles Dickens is often credited with contributing to its creation. From 1649-1660, England had been governed as a Commonwealth, led by Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans, who believed that Christmas and several other holidays had come from ancient pagan ceremonies. They tried to cleanse the church and the nation of what they thought were lingering pagan traditions, and in 1644 they actually outlawed the celebration of Christmas in England. In 1660 the Puritans were overthrown, the monarchy was restored with Charles II as king, and a diminished version of the Christmas holiday returned. Great feasting and drinking was done in the name of Christmas in the 18th century, but the nation had lost its spiritual and emotional investment in the season.

Santa Claus from Harper’s Bazaar, December 1867

Santa Claus from Harper’s Bazaar, December 1867

In the 1840s, Dickens produced a series of extremely popular Christmas tales for the purpose of regenerating the true spirit of Christmas.

A Christmas Carol, the first of Dickens’s Christmas Books, is Dickens’s most beloved and widely acclaimed fictional piece, cherished for its simple expression of what relations between human beings should be, at Christmas time and throughout the year. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens gives Scrooge’s nephew these words, which sum up the Christmas spirit this enduring tale has preserved for generations past and generations to come:

I have always thought of Christmas time…as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they were really fellow-passengers to the grave and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.

“Santa Claus”  1895 Library of Congress

“Santa Claus” 1895 Library of Congress

The English Christmas transformed in the mid-1800s, partly as a result of the traditions described in A Christmas Carol. The pre-Victorian-era Christmas was gradually reshaped to reflect the Victorian era’s religious revival and its growing humanitarianism and romanticism. The presence of the Industrial Revolution was felt in a newly-created, large and visible lower class unable to celebrate Christmas with the same luxurious abandon as their wealthier neighbors. The Victorians’ “New Christmas” stressed “the traditional values of neighborliness, charity, and good will” and emphasized the obligation of the rich to the poor.

The New Christmas met with some resistance, however, mostly from Puritans, Quakers and others who disapproved of the mingling of liquor and merriment with a sacred holiday, and who were disturbed by some of the tradition’s origins in pagan ritual. Writing in 1871, G.K. Chesterton provides an insight into the mid-19th century mindset with his claim that:

…in fighting for Christmas [Dickens] was fighting for the old European festival, Pagan and Christian, for that trinity of eating, drinking and praying which to moderns appears irreverent, for the holy day which is really a holiday.

In spite of its detractors, the New Christmas gradually took hold, and the Victorians established many of the customs that are at the center of today’s traditional Christmas celebration. In 1840, when Prince Albert celebrated the holiday at Windsor Castle by presenting his family with the “German” Christmas tree, all of England followed suit. The festival began to focus predominantly on the family, particularly on children. The first Christmas cards appeared in 1843, the year that A Christmas Carol was published. The originally pagan ritual of caroling was revived, gift giving grew in importance, and the traditional Christmas dinner began to take shape.

Christmas Customs in Victorian England

“Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle” wood engraving by J.L. Williams from The Illustrated London News

“Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle” wood engraving by J.L. Williams from The Illustrated London News

Charity: Christmas was a time to remember the less fortunate, and a host of charitable causes stepped up their appeals during the holiday season. Well-to-do individuals often visited poorhouses and other charitable institutions on Christmas Day, when a holiday dinner was served to the residents.

Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, was traditionally the day when servants and tradesmen were paid for services rendered during the year: money was deposited in the Christmas box.

Tree: Christmas trees became popular after an illustration of Victoria, Albert, and their children decorating a Christmas tree was published in The Illustrated London News in 1848. Victorian Christmas trees were elaborately decorated with trinkets such as tin soldiers, dolls, whistles, candies, fruit, nuts, and candles. Many decorations were homemade, and children often helped make garlands and paper decorations.

Beverages:Here we go a-wassailing,” begins a familiar carol. No Victorian Christmas was complete without a Wassail Bowl, a strong mulled punch made of sweetened and spiced ale or wine and garnished with roasted crab apples. Drinking the wassail from the same cup was the fashion.

A Christmas Carol title page

A Christmas Carol title page

Dance: In A Christmas Carol, partygoers at the Fezziwigs’ indulge in spirited dancing, akin to modern day square dancing. Another traditional dance was the Pavon or Pavane, named after the peacock because the movements of the gentlemen in their mantles and the ladies in their long gowns resembled a peacock’s sweeping steps.

Decorations: Then as now, halls were decked with holly, ivy, red berries, and of course, mistletoe. Young sweethearts kissed under the mistletoe and plucked a berry for each kiss.

Spectacles: The annual holiday excursion for families in the Victorian era was to a Christmas pantomime, a fairy tale or other traditional story adapted for the stage with music, spectacle and stock characters.

Christmas revels at prominent noblemen’s dwellings might include masques: short allegorical dramas performed by ladies and gentlemen in elaborate costumes, masks and headdresses, often ending in a formal dance.

Charles Dickens Biography

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens was born in Potsmouth in 1812. When he was 10, his family moved to London. They were very poor and his father was even arrested (when Charles was 12) because of their debts. Charles had to start working – at first in the factory and later in solicitor´s office.

He was always very keen reader and later he also started to write. His first work was published in 1833. He got married in 1836 and in the same year he started working on Pickwick Papers – he finished it a year later. The book was extremely successful and he became well-known. Within seven years he wrote next five novels and created unforgettable characters (as Scrooge from A Christmas Carol). Dickens very often referred to the situation of poor and wanted to improve their social condition. He wrote books as Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Pickwick Papers and A Christmas Carol and was considered to be one of the most famous writers of the 19th century. He was very energetic and remarkable. He had ten children, published his own magazines, traveled a lot and also acted. When he died in 1870, he was working on his 15th novel.

A Christmas Carol Illustrations

John Leech provided eight illustrations, four woodcuts and four hand colored etchings, for A Christmas Carol published in December 1843.


Related Article

Dickens’ A Christmas Carol Meets the 21st Century

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Great Britain: Tamiflu-Resistant Strain of Swine Flu Spreading

Posted by Audiegrl

Resistant strain discovered in Cardiff hospital, prompting concern among health officials

guardian.co.uk/Owen Bowcott—Doctors in Wales have discovered a Tamiflu-resistant strain of swine flu that has been spreading from patient to patient in a Cardiff hospital.

The emergence of an easily transmissible, resistant strain is a worrying development for health officials and appears to be the first documented case in Europe.

Five patients at University Hospital Wales, in Cardiff, were infected and isolated for treatment. All had severe underlying conditions that left them with weakened immune systems. At least three had acquired the infection in hospital.

There have been a handful of reported cases from around the world of Tamiflu-resistant strains of the H1N1 virus. Only one previous case, at a US summer camp, however, involved person-to-person transmission.

The Cardiff patients have been treated with an alternative anti-viral drug. Two have recovered and been discharged and three others remain in hospital, one in intensive care.

Dr Roland Salmon, the director of the communicable disease surveillance center in Wales, said: “The emergence of [H1N1] viruses that are resistant to Tamiflu is not unexpected in patients with serious underlying conditions and suppressed immune systems, who still test positive for the virus despite treatment.

In this case, the resistant strain of swine flu does not appear to be any more severe than the swine flu virus that has been circulating since April.

For the vast majority of people, Tamiflu has proved effective in reducing the severity of illness. Vaccination remains the most effective tool we have in preventing swine flu so I urge people identified as being at risk to look out for their invitation to be vaccinated by their GP surgery.

Any spread of a Tamiflu-resistant strain of the virus into the community would constitute a serious public health concern. The government recently reminded those who caught swine flu to take Tamiflu as a first line of medical defense.

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44-D’s True Crime: Discovery Channel’s Jack the Ripper in America

TrueCrime-490X136

Reviewed by Audiegrl

The greatest serial killer in history has never been named. But what if we are looking in the wrong place?


In 1888, a deranged killer stalked his prey on the streets of east London at night. After 121 years since the murder and mutilation of at least five prostitutes, the case remains unsolved and the true identity of Jack the Ripper has never been known. The world’s greatest criminal investigators have focused on searching for answers in London. However, in the 1890s a series of horrific murders took place across the United States in New York, San Francisco, Galveston and Atlanta, that mirrored the attacks in attacks in the UK. In this one hour special, Discovery Channel’s viewers will witness the new evidence, science and analytical techniques being used to reveal the true identity of Jack the Ripper.

NYPD Cold Case Detective Ed Norris

The Discovery Channel’s documentary, Jack the Ripper in America focuses on Detective Ed Norris, former head of the NYPD Cold Case Unit, who investigates and uncovers new evidence not seen since the time of the murders. In trying to solve the 118 year old murder of New York prostitute Carrie Brown, he begins to note the similarities between her murder and the famous Whitechapel murders in London. Brown’s murderer had a three-stage MO (strangled, penetrating wound, pulled apart) Because of the unusual and gruesome nature of the crime, the press of the day, immediately began asking the question, “Is Jack the Ripper in New York“. Norris sees the same unusual ‘signature‘ in both the London and New York killers. They both kill prostitutes by strangling, cutting the throat, and eviscerating the body. For Norris this indicates that he might be looking at the same killer.

Carrie Brown aka Old Shakespeare

Carrie Brown aka Old Shakespeare

The key in all cold cases is finding the clues missed by the original investigators. Although, Brown was murdered on April 23, 1891, Norris decides to let a new set of eyes look at the evidence. Enter Dr. Jonathan Hayes, the Manhattan Senior Medical Examiner. Dr. Hayes combs through the autopsy report of Carry Brown. He reaches some interesting conclusions, including a special marking on the body, which I won’t reveal here, you’ll have to watch the show. On August 7th, 1891, another unidentified prostitute is murdered with the same MO as Brown, and pulled from the East river. Visiting the New York Municipal Archives, Norris finds that the old newspapers of that time, reveal another shocking detail. The killer actually wrote to the NYPD, before the murder of Carry Brown. His letter is recreated below:

Capt. Ryan,

You think that “Jack the Ripper” is in England, but he is not, I am right here and I expect to kill somebody by Thursday next, and so get ready for me with your pistols, but I have a knife that has done more than your pistols. Next thing you will hear of some woman dead.

Yours truly,

Jack the Ripper

Richard Jones

Detective Norris wants to get into Jack’s head, and walk in his foot steps. He feels that he was an organized killer that took advantage of the conditions of the time: no ambient street lighting, a black curtain of smoke over the city caused by burning low quality coal, and counting on his victims to naturally take him to the dark, secluded places used in the prostitution trade. Norris takes viewers through a summary of the Ripper murders by using re-enactments and walking through the crime scenes. Next, Norris consults London historian Richard Jones, owner of Ripper Walking Tours and author of Uncovering Jack the Ripper’s London. Jones has spent more than two decades investigating the Whitechapel murders. He asks Jones if any of the serious Ripper suspects had ever traveled to the United States after the death of Mary Kelly. Jones provided him with three names: Severin Klosowski, Francis Tumblety, and James Kelly.

Known as the From Hell or Lusk Letter

Norris then consults with Sheila Kurtz, a Forensic Hand Writing Analyst, Master Graphologist and President of Graphology Consulting Group. Kurtz had successfully worked on the Son of Sam case among many others. After reviewing samples of the Ripper’s hand writing, Kurtz identified the writer as a very disturbed individual, who she said, “I wouldn’t want to be in his company“. For additional details on her analysis please visit her blog. The graphic to the left shows the letter was purportedly written in 1888 by Jack the Ripper.

Dr Thomas Bond

Dr. Thomas Bond

Norris then paid a visit to Britain’s National Archives. The archives hold thousands of original documents in the Ripper case. There, Norris discovers a document not previously used in the investigation. A profile of the killer. Sir Robert Anderson, the head of the police Criminal Investigation Departments, asked Dr Thomas Bond, Britain’s top police surgeon in 1888 to examine material connected with the Whitechapel murder investigation. Bond wrote a 19th-century version of a modern day unsub profile, based on personally examining the body of Mary Kelly and reading the autopsy reports on the first four victims. In the report, he describes in detail the type of person they should be investigating. Dr. Bond was sure that all five women had been killed by the same hand, because the throats of all victims had been cut in a similar way and the victims were presumably lying down when murdered. (for additional details on Dr. Bond’s profile, click here to read the report) Norris ultimately uses this 121 year old profile to narrow the three suspects down to one name. James Kelly. In the world of police parlance, Norris says that “Kelly looks good“.

Jack the Ripper victims: Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catharine Eddowes, Mary Kelly

In 1883, James Kelly only one month married, argues with his wife and accuses her of being unfaithful. In a psychotic rage, he uses the methods of strangulation and throat slashing to kill her. Kelly is caught, convicted and sentenced to die by hanging. Then his employer comes forward and explains that he believes Kelly is mentally disturbed. Kelly was then examined by a alienist and committed to the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Kelly’s psychiatric report has been sealed for over 125 years, until Norris examines it.

Broadmoor Old Gate

Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum

In 1863, Broadmoor was the first custom-built asylum to house criminal lunatics. In Broadmoor, Kelly is a outwardly a model prisoner, but at the same time he is secretly planning his escape. Working in the asylum’s carpentry shop, he cunningly uses a piece of medal he carved into a key to aid his escape. In January of 1888, Kelly escaped and just disappeared. At that time a series of stabbings and slashing attacks of women start in London. Three victims: Annie Millwood, (February 25, 1888, stabbed repeatedly, but survived), Ada Wilson, (March 28, 1888, slashed in the throat, but survived), and Martha Tabram, (August 7, 1888, stabbed 23 times, did not survive). Norris feels these are the early attempts of Jack the Ripper, who like many serial killers, escalates and only gets more brutal over time. After these three attacks, the first London Ripper murder occurs. Surprisingly, Kelly was once considered a suspect by London police, but after only minimal checking at his old residence, they simply gave up, and were never able to find him. With the huge amount of pressure they were under, the case against Kelly went cold…

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Astonishingly, in 1927…forty years later, a much older Kelly voluntarily returns to the insane asylum and began to chronicle his travels. A typed copy of Kelly’s confession letter survives in the National Archives, and Norris is the first detective to read it. In the letter, Kelly describes having “problems dealing with society“, and being “overtaken with feelings of envy, jealousy, and malice“. Kelly states, “the thing has been hard because of all kinds of ‘skank’” (a term he uses to refers to women of low moral character) and “I’ve been on the warpath since I left Broadmoor Asylum.” Also in his letter, he admits to traveling to London after his escape, and more interestingly he tells of traveling to the United States and arriving in New York conveniently before the Carrie Brown murder. He was by profession, a trained upholsterer, and would have known quiet a bit about knives and how to use them effectively for the purpose of murder. Kelly also mentioned traveling to many cities in the US before returning to England and admitted that he came to the US many times over a period of 40 years.

USS Zaandam

First Norris wanted to check to make sure that Kelly’s confession matched up with actual travel records of the day. In Britain’s National Maritime Museum, they kept track of every ship that came to the United States. Kelly said he traveled to America aboard an Anglo-German steamer named the Zaandam that sailed from Rotterdam to New York. At the museum, Norris not only confirmed the ship existed, but that it sailed from Rotterdam to New York on October 7, 1890—two years after the last Ripper murder in London (11/88) and months before the April 23, 1891 murder of Carrie Brown in New York. You might be thinking, “How does a ‘wanted man’ get into the United States without detection?” Professor Dan Citrum is an expert in 19th-century immigration and explains how easily it could have been done. Remember this was before Ellis Island was established, so getting in and out of the country was very easy. No drivers licenses, no passports, and no photo id whatsoever. Many people back then, came to this country to start over, and remake themselves and get lost in the huge crowds of New York city. In his confession, Kelly admits to changing his name once his ship arrives to ‘John Miller‘, one of the most common names both then and now. Kelly used his new name like a disguise to blend in and escape police scrutiny.

Knowing from experience that many serial killers travel extensively, to avoid detection, Detective Norris plots the cities Kelly claims to have visited against the murders written about in the newspapers. He begins to see similarities in Ripper-like murders committed in other cities: New York NY, Trenton, NJ, Galveston, TX, New Orleans, LA, Philadelphia, PA, Baltimore, MD, Jackson, CA, San Francisco, CA, Denver, CO. Each of these murders occurred during the time that Kelly, thorough his confession letter, said he was in that city. Even the city newspapers asked the same question “Is this the work of Jack the Ripper” and “Is this the fiend of Whitechapel?” and “Has Jack the Ripper Invaded Texas at Last“. Detective Norris identified twelve murders across five states in just four years…and remember, Kelly was gone for forty years…you can do the math. To read an amazing collection of news reports, please visit Casebook: Jack the Ripper.

Using a asylum photo of Kelly provided by the National Archives, he was able to see what Kelly looked like at age 67. Norris then contacted Steve Mancusi, a NYPD senior forensic artist who has helped solve the most difficult cases for the last 30 years. He wanted Mancusi to use forensic imaging technology normally used for age-progression in missing child cases, but with this case, he wanted him to reverse the effects of aging, to show what Kelly would have looked like in his 30’s. The striking illustration below on the right is based on their findings.

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Both illustrations of Jack the Ripper

The left composite, was drawn based on 118 year old eye-witness accounts of Jack the Ripper in London. They examined different witness statements and used modern day forensics to come up with a portrait of the killer, even indicating what type of hat he wore.

The drawing on the right, is the result of Mancusi shaving 40 years off of James Kelly’s photo at age 67. As you can see, once they added the type of hat mentioned by eye witnesses, the drawings are a very close match.

In the end, there is no doubt in Norris’ mind that he has found Jack the Ripper. We may never know. John Kelly died of natural causes in 1929 inside Broadmoor Asylum and took his secrets to his grave. In my opinion, Jack the Ripper in America was very well done and is a must-see for all forensic buffs and amateur Ripperologists. I’m interested in seeing further research, analysis and discussion of Norris’ theory. Regarding any factual errors in this post, I apologize in advance, and encourage everyone to let me know what needs to be corrected.

Time After Time

On a lighter note, anybody remember the movie “Time After Time” starring Malcolm McDowell, John Warner and Mary Steenburgen? McDowell played H.G. Wells, who uses his time machine to chase his friend, Warner (aka Jack the Ripper) through the streets of modern day (1979) San Francisco. After watching Norris’ documentary, maybe Hollywood’s silly (but entertaining) version of the Ripper story had a sliver of truth to it after all. 😉

The Secret of Prisoner 1167: Was This Man Jack the Ripper? by James Tully


Hat tip and special thanks to Roy Corduroy for his suggestion to add this book to this post. Casebook: Jack the Ripper gives this book a three-starred review:

A triumphant achievement on the part of Jim Tully, well-researched and written. James Kelly is his suspect, a lunatic upholsterer and wife-murderer who is actually in the Guinness book of world records for his escape from Broadmoor asylum. Tully weaves a fascinating story, regardless of your feelings on Kelly as a suspect. Recommended.

Related Articles and Sites

Casebook: Jack the Ripper

Maps of Whitechapel, 1888-1894

Ripperological Preservation Society

Jack the Ripper Tours

Serial Killer Database – Jack the Ripper

The Whitechapel Society

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