the man in the mustard coloured suit

Lydia Stahl was a secret agent who worked for Soviet Military Intelligence in New York and Paris.

Lydia Lunch (not Lydia Stahl) found here

She was born Lydia Chkalov in the south of Russia, married a landed baron in the Crimea, divorced him in Constantinople, took her degree of master of arts at Colombia and her doctor of law at the Sorbonne, was a polyglot who spoke English, French, German, Russian, some Finnish, and a few of the little Russian dialects, and had prepared a thesis in Confucuian culture from original sources. 

Confucius found here

In general, her spy work sounded like a dull post graduate course in French land and sea armament figures and French economic policy. As part of her lighter spy work, she also had a lover, Professor Louis Martin, code expert for the French Ministry of the Marine. He decoded in several languages, was a tall white faced, red haired, middle aged scholar whose chief complaint during the seventeen months he was in jail before being tried for espionage and acquitted on a technicality, was that the French jail contained no dictionary in Sanskrit.

French spy found here

Professor Martin lived for five years in a modest Left Bank Paris Hotel. For a man who was a spy, or even for a man who was not, the professor’s clothes were extraordinary: he affected a Wild West sombrero and vivid mustard coloured suits which made him noticeable to the whole neighbourhood, including the corner policeman. Although he supposedly spoke eight living languages, in all those five years he seldom said a word to anyone in the hotel.

image found here

Though working for the Russian government, Lydia was sold out to the French government by a Finnish counterspy working for the Germans.

image found here

Published in: on October 11, 2011 at 7:54 am  Comments (46)  
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don’t let your husband go bike riding alone in San Francisco

Cordelia Botkin was the star of a sensational and lurid murder case in 1898

image found here

Thirty-year-old John P. Dunning had a good life with a comfortable marriage, a young daughter and a job with the Associated Press bureau in San Francisco. However in September 1895, John Dunning’s life would take a dramatic turn when, while taking a leisurely bicycle ride, he spotted an attractive woman sitting on a bench.

image found here

The estranged wife of  Welcome A Botkin, Cordelia Botkin was already 38 years old but still possessed a powerfully seductive charm. During the next two years, Dunning became a frequent guest at the Botkin house on Geary Street. Besides cheating on his wife, and on occasion Cordelia Botkin, Dunning began to drink and lose money at the racetrack. In early 1898, Dunning’s employer, suspecting embezzlement of company funds, fired him. His wife and daughter returned to Delaware to live with family while Dunning moved in with Cordelia who now resided at the Victoria Hotel on Hyde Street.

Hyde St San Francisco found here

Cordelia was thrilled to be living under the same roof with her lover, but her joy was short-lived. Dunning received a reporting assignment to cover the Spanish-American War. Before leaving San Francisco, Dunning had bad news for Cordelia: he missed his wife and daughter. When he completed his assignment, he would rejoin his family in Delaware. The affair was over. Cordelia did not take the news very well. In her mind the affair was not over, not by a long shot.

image found here

Mrs. Dunning began receiving anonymous letters mailed from San Franciso, letters referring to her husband’s affair with an “interesting and pretty woman.” The letters were signed, “A Friend.” In August, Mrs. Dunning received an anonymous note signed, “With love to yourself and baby. Mrs. C.” The note was accompanied by a Cambric handkerchief and a box of chocolates.

chocolate sushi found here

After dinner on August 9, 1898, Elizabeth passed the mystery box of bonbons around to family and friends. A few of those gathered that evening passed up the chocolate while Mrs. Dunning and her sister, Leila Deane, helped themselves to several pieces. That night, everyone who ate the candy became sick. Mrs. Dunning and her sister, having eaten so much of the chocolate, became violently ill.

On August 20 Leila Deane died. The next day Mrs. Dunning passed away. Both women had suffered extremely painful and agonizing deaths. John Dunning, still overseas when he received the news, arrived back in Delaware ten days later. When he saw the anonymous letters, including the note that had come with the chocolates, he simply said, “Cordelia.”

NOT Cordelia Winterbottom found here

The uneaten chocolates were analyzed by a chemist who reported that they had been spiked with arsenic. Autopsies were not performed on the bodies because the physician in charge erroneously believed that the victims’ prolonged vomiting had cleansed their bodies of the poison. When presented with the basic facts of the case, a coroner’s jury ruled that the two women had been poisoned to death by the arsenic-laced candy which had been mailed from San Francisco.

arsenic poisoning found here

Police officers, bearing the key evidence—the candy, the paper it had been wrapped in, and the anonymous writings—boarded a train for San Francisco. The leading investigator, I.W. Lees, had been appointed chief of the San Francisco Police Department the previous year. An innovator, in 1854 Lees became the first American police administrator to regularly photograph arrestees. As a result, the San Francisco Police Department had a large rogues gallery. 

image found here

Because the suspect vehemently proclaimed her innocence, Lees was forced to solve the case the hard way, by conducting a detailed, painstaking investigation. He began by tracing the arsenic to the Owl Drug Store where a clerk had sold arsenic, in June of 1898, to a woman meeting the description of Cordelia Botkin. Lees then questioned an acquaintance of the suspect who told him that Mrs. Botkin had expressed concern about having to sign her name when purchasing arsenic. Lees also spoke to a physician who had been asked by Cordelia to describe the effects of various poisons on the human body.

Owl Drug Store found here

Searching Mrs. Botkin’s room at the Victoria Hotel, he found wrapping paper, bearing a gold seal and a company trademark, that had enclosed the chocolates in the candy box. From this he learned that the bonbons had been purchased from the Haas Candy store. A sales clerk remembered the customer because the woman had wanted half a box as she planned to add her own, homemade chocolate. The clerk’s physical description of this customer matched that of Cordelia Botkin.

image found here

To identify the person who had addressed the mailed package, and penned the anonymous letters as well as the note that accompanied the candy, Lees questioned document examiner Daniel T. Ames, considered the preeminent handwriting man in the country. When Ames analyzed and compared samples of Mrs. Botkin’s handwriting with the questioned documents, he confidently announced that she, to the exclusion of all others, had written the questioned material. Two other document examiners brought into the case agreed with his findings

Bill Gates’ handwriting analysis found here

Amid intense media coverage, the Botkin trial began in early December. Five hundred spectators were lined-up outside the courthouse door. Having pled not guilty, Cordelia Botkin, sat stiffly at the defense table dressed in black , holding a white lace handkerchief. She showed no emotion when the prosecution put John Dunning, a narrow-shouldered man with thinning hair, on the stand. Dunning admitted having an affair with the defendant as well as three other women in San Francisco. 

The defense had no choice but to put Cordelia Botkin on the stand, a move that thrilled the press and the millions of people following the case. Cordelia did not deny that she had purchased arsenic, explaining that she had used the poison to clean a straw hat. Following Botkin’s stint on the stand, the defense rested its case. 

hat cake found here

After four hours of deliberation, the jury returned its verdict: guilty, on two counts of first-degree murder. Cordelia could have been sent to San Quentin Prison to serve her sentence, but the judge, worried what would happen to her there, sent her to the county jail in San Francisco where, in exchange for sexual favors, Cordelia would come and go as she pleased. A few months after sentencing her, the judge saw Cordelia shopping in downtown San Francisco.

While Cordelia shopped, her lawyer appealed her conviction. The appellate court’s overturning of her murder convictions, led to a second, less sensational, trial. Once again, on the strength of the handwriting testimony, Cordelia was convicted and sentenced to life. Cordelia was transfered to San Quentin. On March 7, 1910, at the age of fifty-six, she died. The official cause of death: “Softening of the brain, due to melancholy.”

image found here

yet another French swindler

Alexandre Stavisky was a solemn fellow who got up promptly at nine to start swindling, whose table jokes fell flat before his ministerial guests, and who, though forced for business reasons to have mistresses, loved only his wife.

image found here

“He began his humble career in 1906 by failing as a cafe singer. In succession, during the next nine years, he failed at managing a nightclub, illicit gambling dens, a nude review, a tinned soup company, an electric ice box company, a shyster brokerage desk, and drug running. 

image found at nude review

In the 1930s he managed municipal pawnshops in Bayonne but also moved in financial circles. He sold lots of worthless bonds and financed his “hockshop” on the surety of what he called the emeralds of the late Empress of Germany — which later turned out to be glass.

Empress of Emeralds found here

In 1927, Stavisky was put on trial for fraud for the first time. However, the trial was postponed again and again and he was granted bail 19 times. He probably continued his scams during this time. One judge who claimed to hold secret documents was later found decapitated.

image found here

Faced with exposure in December 1933, Stavisky fled. On 8 January 1934, the police found him in a Chamonix chalet agonizing from a gun wound. Officially Stavisky committed suicide but there was a persistent speculation that police killed him.

image found here

Fourteen Parisian newspapers called it suicide and eight did not. The distance the bullet had traveled led Le Canard enchaîné to propose the tongue-in-cheek theory that he had “a long arm”.

The scandal brought in a remarkable range of personalities from politics, high society and the literary-intellectual elite of Paris. Mistinguett was asked why she had been photographed with Stavisky at a nightclub; Georges Simenon reported on the unfolding affair and Stavisky’s ex-bodyguard threatened him with physical violence; Colette, referring to the inability of any of Stavisky’s high-placed friends to remember him, described the dead con artist as “a man with no face”

Colette found here

warning to wives of diplomats

When Pamela Egremont returned from Peking, she bought back a copy of the following circular to show John Julius Norwich.

Lady Pamela found here

It was typed entirely in capital letters but I can’t bring myself to do that to you. I have left the grammatical errors as they were written

“From the Embassy of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Peking”

This is to inform all missions, especially the wives of other diplomats here in Peking, of the incident surrounding the sudden departure from Peking of the Sierra Leone Ambassador’s wife, Mrs Theresa Malomo Kojo Randall.

How beautiful is Sierra Leone?

Mrs Kojo Randall left suddenly to avoid scandal after her husband caught her with a packet of poison which was supposedly sent to her by her Guinean sweetheart whom she already has a 1 year old son for and from whom the ambassador snatched her away to come to Peking. This is the reason in fact why he did not realise she was already pregnant before. He married her and she had to come and undergo an abortion here in Peking on her arrival.

Terry-Poison found here

The poison was supposed to be used in cooking food for the ambassador to kill him so that Mrs Randall can easily return to her Guinean trader sweetheart in Freetown.

Well informed sources in Freetown said Mrs Randall confessed in Sierra Leone that she was advised to send for and use the poison for her husband by the wife of the First Secretary of the Embassy, Mrs Stella Saquee, who claimed vast experience in using such juju to keep her own husband quiet this is way he does not notice that she sleeps around with a lot of men here in Peking.

All Diplomatic Mission

Peking”

Juju found here

be careful what you wish for

A Letter to The Times written in June 1919

Sir,

Observing reports in several newspapers that prayers are about to be offered up for rain, I venture to suggest that great care be taken in framing the appeal.

this other letter was found here

On the last occasion when this extreme step was resorted to, the resulting downpour was not only sufficient for all immediate needs, but was considerably in excess of what was actually required. The agricultural committee had no sooner been delivered from the drought than they were clamouring for a special interposition to relieve them from the deluge.

Still from The Deluge (1933) found here

Profiting from this experience we ought to be extremely careful to state exactly what we want in precise terms. The Board of Agriculture should draw up a schedule of the exact amount of rainfall required.

Rainfall Shower Head found here

This scheme, though greatly preferable to the haphazard methods previously employed, is in itself only a partial makeshift. What we really should pray for is a general amelioration of the British climate, to ascertain through scientific investigation, the proportion of sunshine and rain best suited to the ripening of British crops.

British crop circle found here

These reforms, when duly embodied in an official volume, could be made the object of sustained appeals by the nation over many years. We should not then be forced to have recourse to such appeals at particular periods, which, since they are unrelated to any general plan, must run the risk of deranging the whole economy of nature… causing reactions of the utmost complexity which it is impossible for us with our limited knowledge to foresee…

Yours very faithfully,

Scorpio*

Winston Churchill found here

* Scorpio was a pen name used by Mr. Winston Churchill

Published in: on September 7, 2011 at 8:06 am  Comments (47)  
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smoked salmon and a black basque

Keith Waterhouse was a British novelist, playwright and newspaper columnist who was the youngest son of a cleaner and an alcoholic door-to-door vegetable salesman.

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In 1994 one of his secretaries, referred to in his columns as his “flame-haired factotum”, gave an interview in which she claimed: “At 1pm he would expect smoked salmon sandwiches and a bottle of champagne, and I had to put on my black basque, suspenders and strippergram gear.” Her claim for unfair dismissal was settled out of court.

image found here

He was also the writer of this wry little piece

And God said unto Noah, Make thee an ark of gopher wood. And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee.

image found here

And Noah said, Sign here, and leavest Thou a deposit.

And the Lord signed there, and left He a deposit.

And Noah was 600 years old when the flood of waters was upon the earth.

And the Lord said unto Noah, Where is the ark, which I commanded thee to build?

And Noah said unto the Lord, I have had three carpenters off ill. The gopher wood supplier hath let me down – yea, even though the gopher wood hath been on order for nigh upon 12 months. The damp-course specialist hath not turned up. What can I do, O Lord ?

One of these Carpenters is unwell

And God said unto Noah, I want that ark finished after seven days and seven nights.

And Noah said, It will be so.

And it was not so.

And the Lord said unto Noah, What seemeth to be the trouble this time?

And Noah said unto the Lord, Mine sub-contractor hath gone bankrupt. The pitch which Thou commandest me to put on the outside and on the inside of the ark hath not arrived, and the plumber hath gone on strike.

Noah rent his garments and said, The glazier departeth on holiday to Majorcayea, even though I offerest him double time. Shem, my son, who helpeth me on the ark side of the business hath formed a pop group with his brothers Ham and Japheth. Lord, I am undone.

Book a holiday in Majorca here

And God said in his wrath, Noah, do not thou mucketh Me about. How can I destroy this earth if thou art incapable of completing the job that thou was contracted to do?

And Noah said, Lo, the contract will be fulfilled.

And Lo, it was not fulfilled.

And Noah said unto the Lord, The gopher wood is definitely in the warehouse. Verily, and the gopher wood supplier waiteth only upon his servant to find the invoices before he delivereth the gopher wood unto me.

And the Lord grew angry and said, Scrubbeth thou round the gopher wood. What about the animals? Where for example, are the giraffes?

baby giraffe found here

And Noah said unto the Lord, They are expected today

And the Lord said unto Noah, How about the unicorns?

And Noah wrung his hands and wept, saying, Lord, Lord, they are a discontinued line. Thou canst not get unicorns for love nor money.

image found here

And God said, Come thou, Noah, I have left with thee a deposit, and thou hast signed a contract. Where are the monkeys, and the bears, and the hippopotami, and the elephants, and the zebras, two of each kind?

image found here

And Noah said unto the Lord, They have been delivered unto the wrong address, but should arriveth on Friday

And God said unto Noah, Thou hast not made an ark of gopher wood, nor hast thou lined it with pitch within and with-out; and of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort hast thou failed to bring into the ark. What sayest thou, Noah?

And Noah kissed the Earth and said, Lord, Lord, thou knowest in thy wisdom what it is like with delivery dates.

And the Lord in his wisdom said, Noah, my son, I knowest. Why else dost thou think I have caused a flood to descend upon the Earth?

Melbourne Flood 1972 found here

the sistrums are tinkling

The following is an extract from a synopsis of Carmen, thoughtfully provided some years ago by the Paris Opera for the benefit of its English and American patrons:

image found here

Carmen is a cigar-makeress from a tabago factory who loves with Don Jose of the mounting guard. Carmen takes a flower from her corsets and lances it to Don Jose (Duet: ‘Talk me of my mother’). There is a noise inside the tabago factory and the revolting cigar-makeress bursts into the stage. Carmen is arrested and Don Jose is ordered to mounting guard her but Carmen subduces him and he lets her escape.

Don Jose found here

ACT 2. The Tavern. Carmen, Frasquita, Mercedes, Zuniga, Morales. Carmen’s aria (‘the sistrums are tinkling’). Enter Escamillio, a balls-fighter. Enter two smugglers (Duet: ‘We have in mind a business’) but Carmen refuses to penetrate because Don Jose has liberated from prison. He just now arrives (Aria: ‘Slop, here who comes!’) but hear are the bugles singing his retreat. Don Jose will leave and draws his sword. Called by carmen shrieks the two smugglers interfere with her but Don Jose is bound to dessert, he will follow into them (final chorus: ‘Opening sky wandering life’)…

one of the 10 most expensive desserts in the world found here

ACT4, a place in Seville. Procession of balls-fighters, the roaring of the balls heard in the arena. Escamillio enters. (Aria and chorus: ‘Toreador, toreador, All hail the balls of a Toreador’.) Enter Don Jose (ARIA: I do not threaten, I besooch you‘.) but Carmen repels himwants to join with Escamillio now chaired by the crowd. Don Jose stabs her (Aria: ‘Oh rupture, rupture, you may arrest me, I did kill der’) he sings ‘Oh my beautiful Carmen, my subductive Carmen…’

Deep fried bull’s balls found here

Anthony writes a reply about what he knows

The following letter* was written by Anthony Henley, Member of Parliament for Southampton from 1727 to 1734, to his constituents who had protested to him about the Excise Bill:

QE2 leaving Southampton found here

Gentlemen,

I received yours and am surprised by your insolence in troubling me about the Excise. You know, what I very well know, that I bought you.

Know What I Mean? found here

And I know, what perhaps you think I don’t know, you are now selling yourselves to Somebody Else; and I know, what you do not know, that I am buying another borough. May God’s curse light upon you all: may your houses be as open and common to all Excise Officers as your wives and daughters were to me, when I stood for your scoundrell corporation.

Magnificent Scoundrel found here

Yours, etc.,

Anthony Henley

(In the previous year, on 31 March, the Weekly Register had noted:

Lady Betty Berkeley, daughter of the Earl of that name, being almost fifteen has thought it time to be married, and ran away last week with Mr Henley, a man noted for his impudence and immorality but a good estate and a beau.)

* originally found in Christmas Crackers by John Julius Norwich

These Luxury Christmas Crackers are priced at £600 ($1000)

worthy of an Oscar

Oscar Levant (1906-1972) was a concert pianist, composer, actor, comedian, radio personality, television host, and bestselling author.

image found here

In 1932 Oscar married Barbara Wooddell, a Ziegfeld Follies showgirl. Walter Winchell wrote in his newspaper column, “Barbara, who is lovely and nice, is marrying Oscar Levant, who isn’t.” Oscar and Barbara were divorced less than nine months after getting married. Oscar said later that, “Besides incompatibility, we hated each other.”

image found here

In 1939 when Oscar married the movie actress June Gale, Walter Winchell wrote, “Oscar Levant, who knows most of the answers, explained that June Gale married him for his beauty, when everybody knows she married him for his theatre passes.”

image found here

In 1938, after an article in the New York Post declared Oscar to be “the wag of Broadway”, and gossip columnist Dorothy Kilgallen devoted a New York Journal piece to “Town Wit – Oscar Levant”, the producers of a new radio show called “Information, Please!” hired Oscar to appear as a guest. The response to Oscar’s spontaneous wit during this program that challenged “experts” to answer questions sent in by listeners was so phenomenal that he was immediately hired to be one of the show’s four regulars.

In 1940 Oscar began to perform in what were called “concerts with comments”, where he preceeded and followed his piano pieces with humorous comments often made at his own expense.  In 1947 Oscar was invited to perform for President Harry Truman in the White House. His recital was attended by eight justices of the Supreme Court, various cabinet officers, congressmen, and senators, and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson. As the Levants were leaving the White House after the recital Oscar turned to his wife and said, “Now I guess we owe them a dinner.”

Harry Truman aged 13 found here

In 1944 Oscar received a draft notice from the army. One of the army’s examiners asked him, “Do you think you can kill?” Oscar replied, “I don’t know about strangers, but friends, yes.” He was sent back to civilian life. 

His caustic repartee occasionally got him into hot water: one television offering, Oscar Levant’s Words About Music, was yanked off the air in 1956 when he commented on a certain starlet’s conversion to Judaism and marriage to a well-known playwright: “Now that Marilyn Monroe is kosher, Arthur Miller can eat her.”

image found here

Among the things that Oscar had a phobia about were any mention of the word “death”, or any word associated with death such as “funeral”, “coffin”, etc.; the numbers 13 and 411 (the hospital room number his mother was in when she died); lemons (which reminded him of the lemon he was awarded in his youth for being the worst dancer at a party); cats (a bad omen); dread of the word “luck” in any connotation, especially when being wished “good luck”; a hatred of the name Sarah (his sister–in–law’s name); and blackbirds (which filled him with terror because they were funereal–looking).

image found here

In July, 1965, Oscar Levant published a volume of random memories titled “The Memoirs of an Amnesiac”. Four weeks after its release it appeared on The New York Times bestseller list. While promoting his book on The Merv Griffin television show, he was asked what he would do if he had his life to live over again. Oscar responded, “I’d talk my parents out of it.”

Some of his more well known quips…..

Of Elizabeth Taylor: “Always a bride, never a bridesmaid.”

image found here

Of Perry Como: “Perry Como’s voice actually comes out of his eyelids.”

Of Debbie Reynolds: “She’s as wistful as an iron foundry.”

Of Grace Kelly: “She just married the first prince who asked her.”

image found here

Of Doris Day: “I knew Doris Day before she became a virgin.”

Of Richard Nixon: “He swings a big mouth and carries a little stick.”

Of Zsa Zsa Gabor: “Zsa Zsa Gabor has learned the secret of perpetual middle age.”

image found here

“Someone once asked me where I lived and I said, ‘On the periphery ‘.”

“I paid thousands of dollars to psychiatrists to forget my childhood.”

“My psychiatrist once said to me, ‘Maybe life isn’t for everyone’.”

“I was thrown out of one mental hospital because I depressed the patients.”

“There is a fine line between genius and insanity, and I have erased that line.”

soul searching

James Kidd was an eccentric copper miner with an interest in the supernatural

James Kidd was no relation to Jimmy the Kid

Kidd mysteriously disappeared in 1949, and was declared legally dead in 1965. Arizona authorities found among his possessions a handwritten will in which the prospector directed that his estate, worth $198,138.53, be used for “research or some scientific proof of a soul of the human body which leaves at death.”

Soul leaving the body found here

Although he boggled at the unusual bequest, Superior Court Probate Judge Robert L. Myers ruled that the will was legitimate, ordered a hearing to find out whether anyone could properly qualify to carry out Kidd’s wish. As the trial got underway, it was apparent that there were plenty of soul-searchers eager to tackle the task. No fewer than 17 organizations and 78 individuals put up the $15 filing fee and were prepared to stake their claims. Among them:

image found here

Nora Higgins, 57, housewife and self-described clairvoyant from Branscomb, Calif., who maintains that the soul has no physical substance but consists of a hazy, tinted form resembling that of the body. At the hearing, she insisted that she had detected Kidd’s soul in the courtroom, “pacing up and down with his hands behind his back, shaking his head at the proceedings.”

Peck in courtroom found here

Another California housewife, Jean Bright, 48, of Encino, who claims to be in constant contact “through my entire nervous system” with a dentist friend who died two years ago. She asks the dentist’s soul yes or no questions about the beyond, Mrs. Bright asserts, and it replies by causing her head either to nod or shake.

amateur dentist found here

William A. Dennis, 64, of Balboa, Calif., a geophysicist who contends that the soul is a center of cosmic vibrations. When the human body is alive, he says, vibrations from the soul give man the power to think and act. When the human body is dead, it is unable to accept or record these vibrations.

image found here

Virat W. Ambudha, 51, a lieutenant colonel in the army of Thailand and author of a book called Increasing Brain Power, who arrived from Bangkok on leave to fight his case, which he based in part on the enigmatic contention that the soul is a “most wonderful, delicate, small thing.”

Dr. Richard Ireland, founder of the University of Life Church in Phoenix, who claims the power to communicate with souls and frequently dons a blindfold to demonstrate his powers of mental telepathy.

image found here

Since the court hearing was announced, Judge Myers, an Episcopalian, has received more than 4,500 letters of advice suggesting proofs for the soul’s existence. Most of them argue that the answer is to be found in the Bible, although a letter from India suggested: “Take a man who is about to die into a small room. All the doors, windows and ventilators should be thoroughly closed so that there is no place for the soul to get out. As soon as the man dies, his soul shall pierce or crack the window glass, thus giving proof of its existence.” Courthouse observers estimate that the hearing will last all summer, but Myers considers himself fortunate in at least one respect: “I don’t have to rule whether or not man has a soul.” That, he explains, is a matter outside his court’s jurisdiction.

image found here