The Greatest Forger

It was perhaps the greatest hoax in art history. Han van Meegeren was an artist with a grudge. Painting in the Netherlands pre World War 2, critics mercilessly panned his exhibitions. One critic described him as “A gifted technician who has made a sort of composite facsimile of the Renaissance school, he has every virtue except originality.” Stung, van Meegreen decided to strike back. He painted a work with flourishes of the style of the great Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, titled it “The Supper at Emmaus”, and submitted it to the prominent critic Abraham Bredius. Bredius took the bait, writing that “It is a wonderful moment in the life of a lover of art when he finds himself suddenly confronted with a hitherto unknown painting by a great master… And what a picture! We have here a – I am inclined to say the – masterpiece of Johannes Vermeer of Delft.”  The art world gasped, the painting was sold for the equivalent of millions of dollars, and displayed in  the Boijmans Gallery in Rotterda.

Han van Meegren planned to expose the forgery at the opening of the Gallery’s 400 Years of European Art exhibition, in which his forgery was given pride of place. His critics would be humiliated and their reputations shattered. Greed, however, got the better of him. Rather than exposing the forgery, he made more, raking in millions more dollars. When the Nazis swept through Europe, he even managed to sell The Supper at Emmaus to them.

This almost proved his undoing.After the war the victorious Allied forces were determined to return the artworks collected by the Nazis to their previous owners. A receipy led two soldiers from the Allied Art Commission to the studio of vm Meegren. They wanted to know from whom van Meegran had bought the artwork. Unwilling to divulge the truth, van Megreen was arrested on charges of treason and faced the death penalty. Confined in prison, facing death, van Megreen had a change of heart. He confessed, but no-one believed him. Experts testified that the work was indeed an original by the Dutch master Vermeer. The only way to prove his innocence was to produce another fake, anfd so he did, spending weeks literally painting for his life!

The final twist to the story is that van Meegren was not only acquitted, but became a national hero, for he had fooled the Nazis, shown them to be the corrupt regime everyone knew they were.

Source: information found in “The forger who fooled the world” The Telegraph, Aug 5, 2006
 

Vice-President of Peas Please

A man received a promotion to the position of Vice President of the company he worked for. The promotion went to his head, and for weeks on end he bragged to anyone and everyone that he was now VP. His bragging came to an abrupt halt when his wife, so embarrassed by his behaviour, said, “Listen Bob, it’s not that big a deal. These days everyone’s a vice president. Why they even have a vice prsident of peas down at the supermarket!”

Somewhat deflated, Bob rang the local supermaket to find out if this was true. “Can I speak to the Vice President of peas please?” he asked, to which the reply came: “of fresh or frozen?”

Source: unknown

The Space Race

On the evening of July 20, 1969 people across the world were huddled around black and white TV sets, breathless as they watched a grainy image. Those who didn’t have TV sets had gone to the homes of neighbours who did. No one wanted to miss what was being shown on the screen. The air was thick with excitement and nervous tension. Then at four minutes to eleven a white suited Neil Armstrong stepped from his spacecraft onto the surface of the moon, uttering the immortal words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Getting to the moon was a phenomenal achievement. It signaled hope that we humans could achieve great things. But from another perspective it signaled the very worst about us. Eight years before Armstrong stepped on the moon the Russians put a guy named Gagarin into a spaceship and launched him into orbit around the earth, the first ever manned space flight. That moment shamed the people of the United States. It was the time of the Cold War and once Gagarin went into space the US was hell bent on beating the Russians to the moon. They redoubled their efforts, the space program became a national priority.

Why? What was so important about being first to the moon? The race to the moon was a race for bragging rights. It was a competition to show which nation had the greatest know-how, which system – Capitalism or Communism – the most advanced technology, the cleverer scientists.

A report to the House Subcommittee on Manned Space Flight of the Committee on Science and Astronautics in 1974 stated that the Apollo moon program cost $25.4 billion, which equates to over $100 billion in today’s (2012) values. Christian rock singer Larry Norman observed in his song the Great American Novel that this occured at a time when the US and the wold were filled with hungry people.

Source: Scott Higgins

The Fall of Rome

The Roman empire was one of the “greatest” to rule the world. For hundreds of years the Romans dominated the Mediterranean, building magnificent cities, roads that remain today and imposing their “peace” upon those they conquered. At the time of Jesus and in the centuries after the power of Rome seemed unassailable.

By the fifth century after Christ the citizens of Rome had enjoyed eight centuries as a superpower. Regaled with tales of victory by their armies in far off places and convinced of their superiority to the barbarian hordes they were convinced their city could never fall. Then in the first decade of the fifth century they awoke to find Alaric, king of the Visigoths, standing at their gates with his army.

What a preposterous man he was thinking Rome would fall to his power! Envoys were sent out to conduct negotiations to have him move away. They began with threats: an attack on Rome would be met by the almighty strength of her innumerable warriors.

Alaric’s reply was simple: “The thicker the grass the more easily scythed.”

The envoys realised Alaric could not be fooled by their empty threats. What then would be the price of his departure. Alaric explained that his soldiers would move through the city taking all the gold, silver and anything else of value that could be moved. They would also take with them every barbarian who had been enslaved.

The envoys became hysterical. “But what would that leave us?” the demanded.

“Your lives” Alaric replied.

And with that Rome’s centuries as an apparently unbeatable superpower came to an end.

 

Source: Story of Rome’s fall found in T. Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilisation (Hodder, 1995)

 

King Canute

King Canute was once ruler of England. The members of his court were continually full of flattery. “You are the greatest man that ever lived…You are the most powerful king of all…Your highness, there is nothing you cannot do, nothing in this world dares disobey you.”

The king was a wise man and he grew tired such foolish speeches. One day as he was walking by the seashore Canute decided to teach them a lesson.

“So you say I am the greatest man in the world?” he asked them.

“O king,” they cried, “there never has been anyone as mighty as you, and there never be anyone so great, ever again!”

“And you say all things obey me?” Canute asked.

“Yes sire” they said. “The world bows before you, and gives you honour.”

“I see,” the king answered. “In that case, bring me my chair, and place it down by the water.”

The servants scrambled to carry Canute’s royal chair over the sands. At his direction they placed it right at the water’s edge.

The King sat down and looked out at the ocean. “I notice the tide is coming in. Do you think it will stop if I give the command?”

“Give the order, O great king, and it will obey,” cried his entourage

“Sea,” cried Canute, “I command you to come no further! Do not dare touch my feet!”

He waited a moment, and a wave rushed up the sand and lapped at his feet.

“How dare you!” Canute shouted. “Ocean, turn back now! I have ordered you to retreat before me, and now you must obey! Go back!”

In came another wave lapping at the king’s feet. Canute remained on his throne throughout the day, screaming at the waves to stop. Yet in they came anyway, until the seat of the throne was covered with water.

Finally Canute turned to his entourage and said, “It seems I do not have quite so much power as you would have me believe. Perhaps now you will remember there is only one King who is all-powerful, and it is he who rules the sea, and holds the ocean in the hollow of his hand. I suggest you reserve your praises for him.”

Get Your Own Dirt

God was once approached by a scientist who said, “Listen God, we’ve decided we don’t need you anymore. These days we can clone people, transplant organs and do all sorts of things that used to be considered miraculous.”

God replied, “Don’t need me huh? How about we put your theory to the test. Why don’t we have a competition to see who can make a human being, say, a male human being.”

The scientist agrees, so God declares they should do it like he did in the good old days when he created Adam.

“Fine” says the scientist as he bends down to scoop up a handful of dirt.”

“Whoa!” says God, shaking his head in disapproval. “Not so fast. You get your own dirt.”

 

Source: unknown

Famous False Predictions

“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” – Popular Mechanics, 1949

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” – Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” – Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” – Western Union internal memo, 1876.

“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” – David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.

“The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.” – A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” – H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.

“I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper.” – Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in “Gone With The Wind.”

“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” – Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.

“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” – Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.

“So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.'” – Apple Computer Inc. founder, Steve Jobs, on attempts to get Atari and H-P interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer.

“Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.” – Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.

“Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.” – Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929.

“Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.” – Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre.

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.” – Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899.

“X-rays will prove to be a hoax” Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society, 1893.

“640K ought to be enough for anybody.” – Bill Gates, 1981

“Unworthy of the attention of practical and scientific men” – British Parliamentary Committee report on Thomas Edison’s electric light bulb

Apollo and Phaeton

Apollo was one of the greatest gods of ancient Greek mythology. One of the stories about him concerns his human son Phaeton. Each morning Phaeton’s mother, Clymene would point out to the boy the rising of the sun and it’s passing through the sky. This was his father Apollo riding a chariot through the sky. However so magnificent were Clymene’s descriptions of Apollo that Phaeton became very conceited, boasting loudly and often of his divine parentage.

Tired of these boasts Phaeton’s playmates urged him to provide proof. Stung by their insults Phaeton learned from his mother how to find Apollo and then set out after the god. When he finally encountered Apollo he timidly entered his presence, and, encouraged by Apollo, poured out his story. As soon as he finished Apollo swore a solemn oath that he would grant his son any proof he wished. He had but to ask.

And ask Phaeton did. He asked permission to drive the sun chariot that very day, sure that his friends would see him and be convinced that Apollo was his father. Apollo was dismayed. Patiently he explained to Phaeton that the four fiery steeds would be beyond Phaeton’s control, that he would kill himself if he tried to drive the chariot. He begged Phaeton to select another proof.

But Phaeton refused to budge from his original request. He wanted to drive the sun chariot, and because Apollo had sworn an oath he could not deny the boy. The hour came when the fiery steeds were ready to go forth. Apollo anointed his son with a cooling oil to protect him from the suns harsh rays, gave him directions, and urged him to watch the steeds with the greatest care, especially to use the whip sparingly as the horses were inclined to be very restive.

Phaeton impatiently listened then leaped into the chariot. For an hour or two he paid heed to his father’s advice and all went well. But, growing overconfident and reckless he drove the horses faster and faster and lost his way. In getting back to course he drove too close to the earth, with disastrous results. The plants shrivelled up, the fountains and rivers went dry, the earth was blackened, and even the people in the land over which he drove were blackened.

Terrified at what he’d done Phaeton drove so far away that all the vegetation which had survived the scorching died on account of the sudden cold.

The people of earth cried out so loudly that the supreme god, Jupiter, was aroused form his sleep. Surveying what had been done he grew furious, took a lightning bolt and hurled it at the conceited Phaeton, killing him instantly.

Phaeton demonstrates the way of foolishness. Refusing to listen to the wiser counsel of others, fools rush headlong on their way, giving little thought to the possible consequences and so often finding themselves stranded in disaster.

 

Source: Reported in Guerber, The Myths of Greece and Rome