Charleston strives to save historic church

Of the many things associated with Charleston, S.C., its magnificent architecture ranks near the top of the list. But that beauty doesn’t come without a price tag.

Case in point historic is St. Andrew’s Church. The downtown Charleston structure, currently leased by Redeemer Presbyterian Church, is being threatened with sale and conversion to a personal residence unless the congregation can come up with $1.6 million.

Church members say they’ve raised or secured $800,000 needed to keep the 1840s building off the seller’s block, according to the Charleston Post and Courier.

“Much of the money was raised from sources tied to the congregation,” according to the publication. “Now, the group plans to expand its tax-deductible pitch to outside the church family, knowing it has until Oct. 31 to make the goal.”

The Greek Revival-style structure, which was built after the great Charleston fire of 1838, was initially known as Wentworth Street Methodist Protestant Church; the original congregation merged with Zion’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1853.

The Church became known as St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in 1936 and the sanctuary was extensively renovated in 1908.

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Baggage check uncovers 600 scorpions

Read the news long enough and you begin to wonder if there are more nut jobs in the world than normal folk.

Once in a blue moon, though, someone special comes along – someone who raises the bar for bizarre behavior.

Today’s candidate is a Chinese man who was found to have more than 600 Manchurian scorpions in his luggage during a routine baggage check after flying into the Italian city of Florence.

Approximately half of the scorpions, which can grow to 2-1/2 inches, were still alive, according to Agence France-Presse.

In all, the unnamed Chinese traveler had 607 Manchurian scorpions, which were packed into plastic boxes with ice, the daily newspaper La Repubblica reported.

The surviving arachnids were sent to a special center while the unnamed Chinese man was charged with keeping dangerous animals.

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Remains of RAF airmen found in German field

The remains of five British airmen have been found nearly 70 years after crashing in a muddy field outside Frankfurt, Germany, during World War II.

The discovery was made possible with the help of an eyewitness who saw the Lancaster bomber crash in April 1943 after returning from a raid on the Skoda armaments works at Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, according to The Telegraph.

It took hours of digging by volunteers to uncover the bomber after Peter Menges, now 83, led them to the site outside the village of Laumersheim, near Frankfurt, where he’d seen the plane crash and explode after being hit by German anti-aircraft fire.

“A Rolls Royce engine and landing gear of the Lancaster bomber was found followed by ‘hundreds’ of fragments of human bones in what would have been the cockpit,” according to The Telegraph.

The bomber was one of three dozen aircraft which didn’t survive the mission that night.

The impact of the crash created a large crater in the ground.

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Ming ceramics to be fished from ocean floor

Porcelain from the Ming Dynasty – prized for its craftsmanship – was sublime in its beauty, particularly the blue-and-white wares that represented state-of-the-art ceramics.

By the 14th century, the Chinese were mass producing fine, translucent, blue and white porcelain, a development made possible by the combination of Chinese techniques and Islamic trade, according to Robert Finlay in his 2010 work, The Pilgrim Art. Cultures of Porcelain in World History.

The latter was crucial because it brought with it cobalt from Persia.

To get an idea of the rarity of cobalt blue, its value was about twice that of gold. This so-called “Islamic Blue,” when combined with the translucent white quality of Chinese porcelain, produced a highly prized product, Finlay added.

And if the head of a Portugal-based marine-archaeology company has his way, the world will be seeing a great deal of original Ming Dynasty-era porcelain in the coming years.

That’s because Nikolaus Graf Sandizell, chief executive of Arqueonautas Worldwide SA, plans to retrieve some 700,000 pieces of fine bowls, dishes and cups that have sat on the bottom of the ocean for the past 400 years.

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A look at San Francisco’s first great quake

For more than a century now, the 7.9 magnitude earthquake that rocked the Bay Area in the early hours of April 18, 1906, has been referred to as the Great San Francisco Earthquake.

Given that the quake and resulting fire killed thousands and destroyed 80 percent of San Francisco, along with nearly all of nearby San Jose and Santa Rosa, the moniker is understandable.

But the term “Great San Francisco Earthquake” had actually in use for nearly 40 years before the 1906 disaster.

That’s because on Oct. 21, 1868, a 7.0 earthquake struck the Bay Area, with its epicenter on the other side of San Francisco Bay, in Hayward.

While it claimed only 30 lives – likely because it struck an area with relatively little population at the time – it left a lasting impact on those who felt it, including one Mark Twain.

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Texas may see sharp drop in cotton in 2013

Projected cotton acreage in Texas – the nation’s largest cotton-growing state – could be down by as much as 20 percent in the near future, experts claim.

The enduring drought that has ravaged the Midwest has resulted in increased grain prices, and that could provide the impetus for Texas farmers to move more of their land out of cotton, which has been bringing a mediocre return, according to Southeast Farm Press.

One Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service economist told the publication he has heard stories about high sorghum prices that could prove tempting to many growers in the coming year.

John Robinson, an AgriLife Extension cotton economist in College Station, said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Texas’ cotton acreage drop down 20 percent, to about 5 million cotton acres next year.

Texas leads the US in cotton production and annually produces about 25 percent of the nation’s entire crop, according to the Texas A&M University cotton growing program.

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Russia touts trillion-carat diamond discovery

It would appear the industrial diamond market may be turned on its head shortly.

After more than 30 years of essentially ignoring a massive diamond deposit – a find whose scale dwarfs anything discovered previously anywhere in the world – Russian scientists have stepped up research on the Popigai Crater, according to Agence France-Presse.

Just how big is the deposit, located in the far north of Siberia? It is believed to hold trillions of carats of diamonds.

By comparison, Russia’s main diamond-mining region of Yakutia has known reserves of 1 billion carats, the wire service reported.

Yet, the impressive discovery has been known in Russia for decades. Soviet scientists uncovered the 60-mile Popigai Crater, left by a huge asteroid in Siberia 35 million years ago, many decades ago.

At the time, the impact zone of the crater revealed “a fine material that was actually super-compressed diamonds caking the permafrost,” according to Agence France-Presse.

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Next up, the seventh seal to be opened …

At some point in the past week, this blog rather inexplicably went over the half-million-view mark.

It took a little less than four years to reach that point, but lest I get too big for my britches I need only remind myself that the Huffington Post racks up the same amount of traffic in just six hours.

On the other hand, the Cotton Boll Conspiracy is absolutely crushing both the Build Your Own Fire-Ant Farm blog and the Musings on Neo-Pelagianism blog in terms of unique visits.

So what I have I learned over these past four years? Judging from the semi-literate scribblings, the obvious contempt for copyright laws in regard to the use of images, and the willy-nilly selection of topics, one might suspect very little.

And one would be right.

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Nazi artillery found in Russian mountains

How remote is the area around Mount Elbrus, located in the western Caucasus Mountain range in Russia, near the border with Georgia?

Recently, five Nazi World War II artillery guns were discovered, along with ammunition and other explosives, where they’d apparently sat undisturbed for the past 70 years.

The guns – 76-mm cannons – are in good condition, according to police in Kalbardino-Balkaria region, the location of Mount Elbrus, the tallest mountain in Europe.

“If they fell into the wrong hands, they could be used as intended,” Elbrus police chief Muslim Bottayev said. Military engineers would soon remove the weapons and ammunition to a safe location.

The German Wehrmacht occupied the area surrounding the mountain from August 1942 to January 1943, during World War II, according to a history of Mount Elbrus.

During the period, a team of German high mountain troops scaled Elbrus, planting a swastika at its peak, according to the Indo-Asian News Service. “Intended as a propaganda coup, the stunt reportedly enraged Hitler, who viewed it as a frivolous diversion of effort.”

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Message in bottle found after 98 years

Nearly a century after being set adrift, a bottle with a message has been recovered in the North Sea.

Andrew Leaper, skipper of the Shetland fishing boat “Copious,” made the discovery back in the spring when hauling in his nets off the coast of Shetland. He recently learned that the message in the bottle had been adrift for 97 years and 309 days.

That surpassed the previous record by more than five years, according to Guinness World Records.

Labeled as drift bottle 646B, the record-breaking bottle contained a postcard asking the finder to write down the date and location of the discovery and return it to the “Director of the Fishery Board for Scotland,” according to DiscoveryNews.

The postcard promised a reward of six pence, the publication added.

The water-tight glass bottle was released on June 10, 1914, by Captain C.H. Brown of the Glasgow School of Navigation.

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