News of the Week: Amelia Earhart, the Laughing Alexas, and 100 Years of Mickey Spillane

Mystery Solved! (Again. Probably. Maybe.)

I did some extensive investigation — I used the search box at the top of the site — and I noticed that I do stories on Amelia Earhart’s disappearance almost every year. Someone finds some clue, some item, a mysterious photograph, and then they proclaim that they know what really happened to the aviator and her navigator Fred Noonan. Of course, when those new findings come out, there are just as many people who don’t believe the conclusions and can “prove” those findings are inaccurate.

The latest investigation involves human bones that were found on the island of Nikumaroro in 1940, three years after Earhart and Noonan vanished during their flight. University of Tennessee anthropology professor Richard Jantz says he’s “99 percent” sure that the bones are Earhart’s.

It’s worth noting that the professor didn’t examine the actual bones. Those were lost decades ago. His findings are instead based on the measurements of the bones recorded when they were found in 1940. Back then they were said not to be Earhart’s because others who examined them believed the bones came from a man. But the professor examined pictures of Earhart, and those photos, combined with the dimensions of the bones, convince him they belong to Earhart.

Please come back here next year around this time to hear the latest new findings on Earhart. Actually, you should be coming back here every week, so forget I said that.

The Laughing Alexas

Picture the scene: You’re at home alone, maybe eating dinner (it’s a Lean Cuisine night), the TV is off, and you’re just reading the paper as you eat. Everything is calm and quiet, when all of a sudden, your Amazon Echo starts laughing. You didn’t ask Alexa to laugh, you didn’t tell her a joke, and you didn’t say “Alexa, what is the opposite of crying?” She just randomly LOL’d.

Wouldn’t that make you just a bit uncomfortable?

That’s what’s happening in some homes. Amazon says they’ve figured out why it’s happening, but their explanation — the device thinks you’re telling it “Alexa, laugh,” even if you’ve said no such thing — doesn’t really make any sense. They’ve created a solution, which is to make Alexa reply only if you ask “Alexa, can you laugh?” and the laugh she responds with will be preceded by “Yes, I can laugh.” Of course, this solution doesn’t make much sense to me either, since it was laughing without anything at all being said to her. Maybe Alexa will simply decide to do what she wants. If she doesn’t like you for some reason, she’ll instantly order 25 cases of Funyuns for you and ship it overnight.

It’s not something I’m going to worry about though, since I don’t plan on buying an Echo. I don’t need more women laughing at me.

By the way, feel free to use the Laughing Alexas as the name for your band.

50 Years Ago

1968 was a tumultuous year for many reasons, including the presidential election. In this report from CBS Sunday Morning, John Dickerson looks back at the New Hampshire primary, where Democratic Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota took on another Democrat, President Lyndon Johnson:

100 Years of Mickey Spillane

Mickey Spillane was always a controversial writer. Critics will say his novels include an overabundance of sex and violence, but … well, actually they do. But he was master of what he did: tough, two-fisted pulp novels that are a kick to read. He always said that he wrote for readers, not critics. “What I want to read is the royalty check,” he once said. “I write when I need the money.”

This week marked Spillane’s 100th birthday, and Hard Case Crime has published the last novel that Spillane ever wrote, appropriately titled The Last Stand. And here’s Post Archive Director Jeff Nilsson on Spillane’s career and legacy.

Even fans of detective, noir, and action novels are divided when it comes to Spillane. Is it because he’s not “literary” enough? Is it because he once wrote a novel in two weeks because he needed the money to buy something? Is it because he has sold over 200 million books?

Bill Norris has a good piece at The Daily Beast on why we should reconsider the work of Spillane. I’m more of a Raymond Chandler fan, but I appreciate what Spillane did, and I love his “I’m a writer, not an author” attitude.

Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg

I know that looks like I fell asleep on my computer keyboard, but it’s actually the name of a lake in Webster, Massachusetts. It’s also known as Webster Lake, but that’s not as fun to say as Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg. Here’s a report from WBZ in Boston on the lake and the history of the town, which is named after Daniel Webster and is the birthplace of Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross:

The best part of doing this story is that it forces my editor to have to check the spelling of Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg several times.

RIP Stephen Hawking and Hubert de Givenchy

Stephen Hawking was an acclaimed physicist known for his work on black holes, relativity, and quantum mechanics. He was also the author of many books, including A Brief History of Time and The Grand Design, as well as the subject of the 2014 Oscar-winning movie The Theory of Everything. Hawking died Wednesday at the age of 76.

Since the early 1950s, Hubert de Givenchy designed clothing for some of the most famous women in the world, including Audrey Hepburn, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Grace Kelly, and the Duchess of Windsor. He died Saturday at the age of 91.

Quote of the Week

“Your son’s debt to thank each individual guest is independent of how many stamps you will need to purchase — or how much time it will take him to pen the notes.”

Miss Manners, to a mother wondering if her son, who has messy handwriting, can type his thank-you notes instead

This Week in History

Frankenstein Published (March 11, 1818)

You can read Mary Shelley’s classic horror novel for free at Project Gutenberg, and here’s an interview with the most famous film portrayer of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, Boris Karloff, from the November 3, 1962, issue of the Post.

Albert Einstein Born (March 14, 1879)

It’s fitting, in a way, that Stephen Hawking died on Einstein’s birthday. Here’s a 1929 Post interview with Einstein, in which he talks about why he thinks nationalism is the “measles of mankind,” what he would have done if he hadn’t gone into physics, and why imagination is more important than knowledge.

This Week in Saturday Evening Post History: Commuter Card Game (March 15, 1947)


Commuter Card Game
Constantin Alajalov
March 15, 1947

I used to commute to work on a train every single day. It was somewhat tedious — an hour trip into the city and then an hour back — but in some ways I enjoyed it. I got to read, maybe sleep a little, and talk to the other commuters I saw every day. A card game never broke out, though, as in this Constantin Alájalov cover. The conductor looks enthralled, too. I hope they don’t miss their stops.

Saint Patrick’s Day Recipes

Tomorrow is the day everyone celebrates the patron saint of Ireland, and those celebrations will undoubtedly involve food (and, well, liquid refreshment). Here’s a recipe for a traditional Irish Beef Stew, and here’s one for Irish Guinness Oatmeal Cake. And if you’ve never eaten Spotted Dog, here’s a recipe for that.

If you’re in doubt on what a St. Patrick’s Day food is, just color it green. That makes all food a St. Patrick’s Day food.

Next Week’s Holidays and Events

Spring begins (March 20)

I had to shovel the sidewalk seven times three days ago, but spring supposedly begins on Tuesday.

National Agriculture Day (March 20)

All the cool kids call it Ag Day.

News of the Week: Earhart’s Fate, Emmy Nominations, and the Easiest Iced Coffee

What Really Happened to Amelia Earhart?

Photo allegedly showing Amelia Earhart on a dock
National Archives

That’s a silly question for many people, because they think the answer is rather simple: Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan tried to go around the world in 1937 and crashed into the ocean. But there have been many theories that Earhart and Noonan actually landed their plane in the South Pacific and survived, at least for a while, and either they perished on an island because they were injured and hungry or they were captured by the Japanese and abandoned by the U.S. government. The latter theory got a big boost from a new History Channel special that aired on Sunday.

The evidence that’s getting the most hype is a (supposedly) newly discovered photograph that might show Earhart and Noonan on a dock after their plane landed, and it might even show the plane being towed by a Japanese ship. The special goes through the usual interviews with experts, photo analysis, face and body recognition tests, and interviews with eyewitnesses and officials, but it’s really hard to say if it makes sense or not. While you can watch the special and think that they make a good case, you also have to pay attention to evidence that came to light this week that (might) show that the photo was either taken a couple of years before Earhart and Noonan made their flight or maybe a few years after. And if other experts can’t decide on when the picture was taken, it’s going to remain a mystery for many people.

I’ve gone back and forth on this over the years. I thought I was going to find the History Channel special ridiculous, but a lot of it was convincing. And it wasn’t just that photo. It’s really just another piece of evidence the show presented along with other government documents and eyewitness accounts. But at the same time, the evidence that the photo was taken at a different time is rather compelling too, and no one can really tell who is in the photo anyway.

So, to summarize: Did Earhart and Noonan survive but die of starvation on an island? Yes. And no! Did Earhart and Noonan survive but get captured by the Japanese? Yes. And no! Did they crash into the water and were never found? Possibly!

Emmy Nominations

The nominations for the 69th annual Emmy Awards were announced yesterday morning. You can read a complete list of the nominations here, so let’s talk about what wasn’t nominated.

The biggest snub for me is the same snub that happens every year: The Middle got ignored. I don’t understand how the show and its cast get no love while Modern Family is fawned over every single year (and it got another Outstanding Comedy nom this year). It’s truly one of the great Emmy mysteries of the past 69 years.

Other people and shows not nominated include The Tonight Show (even though The Late ShowThe Late Late ShowFull FrontalJimmy Kimmel Live, Last Week Tonight, and Real Time with Bill Maher were all nominated), Richard Dreyfus for playing Bernie Madoff (Robert DeNiro got a nomination for the other Bernie Madoff movie), and no Outstanding Drama nomination for The Leftovers.

I will mention two people who were nominated because we talked about the show they were nominated for just last week. Both Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange were nominated for Feud: Bette and Joan. Even in 2017, Bette and Joan are going to battle each other.

The Emmy Awards will be broadcast September 17 at 8 p.m. on CBS.

Be a Coffee Achiever!

Every week, it seems that something that was shown to be bad for us is now good for us. This week it’s coffee! Coffee has been shown to be bad for us because of all the caffeine but also good for us because certain compounds in coffee may have an effect on everything from Alzheimer’s to cancer. The latest research shows that people who regularly drink coffee live longer, in general, than people who don’t.

This will be good news for people who actually can’t even function without having at least one cup on the morning, though it must be said it’s not a license to suddenly suck down more Venti Mocha Frappuccinos from Starbucks.

Evil Villains, Fun Stamps

The United States Postal Service is releasing 10 stamps tomorrow featuring villains from various Disney animated films, including Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians, the Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Scar from The Lion King, and Captain Hook from Peter Pan.

The Farmer Who Cloned Wimbledon

I thought I was obsessed with tennis because I have been watching every second of the Wimbledon Championships that are currently going on in England. I do this with almost every tennis tournament, but I don’t think I love it so much that I would take the time to re-create a tournament in my backyard.

But that’s what this guy did. He has fond childhood memories of listening to Wimbledon matches via shortwave radio with his grandfather, so he decided to build a Wimbledon replica on his Iowa farm. And as you can see from the video, he’s not the only one who uses it.

RIP Sheila Michaels, Spencer Johnson, Kenneth Silverman, Nelsan Ellis, Randy Schell, Ji-Tu Cumbuka, and Joe Robinson

Although she didn’t invent it — it was being used in steno books for a while — Sheila Michaels was the person responsible for bringing Ms. into our vocabulary. She died June 22 at the age of 78.

Spencer Johnson was an author who wrote the bestselling business books Who Moved My Cheese? and The One-Minute ManagerHe died Monday at the age of 78.

Kenneth Silverman was an author as well, having written biographies of Cotton Mather, Edgar Allan Poe, Samuel Morse, Harry Houdini, and composer John Cage. He died last Friday at the age of 81.

Nelsan Ellis was a regular on TV shows like Elementary and True Blood and was in movies such as The HelpHe passed away last week at the age of 39.

Randy Schell was an actor whose voice you heard on shows like BlindspotLife in Pieces, and Fear the Walking Dead (a prequel series to The Walking Dead), and in commercials for McDonald’s, Geico, Coca-Cola, Nike, and many other companies. He died Saturday in a skydiving accident. Schell was 64.

Ji-Tu Cumbuka was an actor who had roles in movies like Harlem Nights and Bachelor Party as well as in TV shows like Roots and A Man Called Sloane (he played Robert Conrad’s friend with the steel hand). He died Tuesday at the age of 77.

Joe Robinson played the bad guy that James Bond beats up in the elevator in Diamonds Are Forever. He also had roles in A Kid for Two Farthings and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, and he also taught fighting to many actors. He died July 3 at the age of 90.

This Week in History

Henry David Thoreau Born (July 12, 1817)

Here’s a great piece by Post Archive Director Jeff Nilsson on the Massachusetts philosopher and poet and how he was an unlikely hero in the fight for personal liberty — plus a funny piece about how Thoreau might have responded to the publishing industry of the 1960s.

Live Aid Concerts Held (July 13, 1985)

I’ve always felt a kinship with musician Phil Collins. On the same day he was doing double duty in the all-star mega-concert for charity, taking the Concorde so he could perform in both the London and Philadelphia venues, I was working a double shift at a pizza restaurant. We watched it on the big-screen TV with the customers.

This Week in Saturday Evening Post History: “Billboard Painters” (July 13, 1957)

Billboard Painters
Stevan Dohanos
July 13, 1957

This cover by Stevan Dohanos could be called the sequel to the February 14, 1948, cover Dohanos did for the Post, which depicted the billboard painters working in the middle of winter, dreaming of an escape to a warmer place.

Summer Drinks

According to the weather widget on my computer, it’s only 76 degrees as I type this. But with the humidity factored in, things can only be described as … “gross.” I need something cold.

Here’s a drink named after someone I mentioned above. No, not Phil Collins (I’m not aware of a drink named after the singer); it’s The Amelia, named after Amelia Earhart. I actually found two different recipes for cocktails named after her, but this one seems to have more history behind it, and it’s a variation on the classic Aviation.

And since coffee is so good for us, how about a recipe for an easy iced coffee? You know it’s the truth because it’s actually called Easy Iced Coffee. It’s just a little warm water, instant coffee, sugar, and milk.

I don’t know if this coffee drink will actually help you live longer, but you’ll live long enough to hear the inevitable news that coffee is once again bad for us.

Next Week’s Holidays and Events

Game of Thrones Season Premiere (July 16)

I don’t watch the show (for the entire first season I thought it was called Game of Thornes), but it sure is popular! The seventh season starts Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO.

World Emoji Day (July 17)

This is the day the world celebrates emojis (also known as “every day”). If I cared enough about them to actually use them, right here there would be a little picture of a globe, a calendar, and maybe a yellow smiley face.