Monthly Archives: August 2009

Wolfgang Mozart has a cold…

mozartThe popularity of the 1984 Milos Forman film Amadeus — which was based on the 1979 Peter Shaffer play Amadeus, which was based on the opera Amadeus and Salieri by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, which was based on the short play Amadeus and Salieri by Aleksandr Pushkin — has inspired decades of conspiracy theories and century-spanning amateur CSI work to determine how Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died.

In the film, Mozart dies at 35 after Salieri — jealous of his extraordinary gifts — knowingly works him to exhaustion under the guise of “helping” the composer regain his financial standing. Because Mozart was known for his wild eccentricities even during his own time, some have speculated that he died of mercury poisoning or a chronic condition that would have explained his personality. Others have suspected rheumatic fever, because he suffered from periodic bouts with it, and even trichinosis, because why the fuck not?

Anyway, a group of Dutch researchers descended from their ivory windmill recently to investigate. Their conclusion is that Mozart died from strep throat:

Their new study, reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine, was based on information from official death registers for Vienna in the winter of 1791 that places Mozart’s death in a wider context. He died in Vienna.

“Our findings suggest that Mozart fell victim to an epidemic of strep throat infection that was contracted by many Viennese people in Mozart’s month of death, and that Mozart was one of several persons in that epidemic that developed a deadly kidney complication,” researcher Richard Zegers, of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, told Reuters Health.

Of course the researchers’ findings is not conclusive, since examining Mozart’s body is impossible. Viennese authorities insist Mozart was buried in a common grave, as was the custom of the day.

You are free to believe anything you like about Mozart’s demise. Maybe it was strep throat. Maybe it was trichinosis. Maybe Salieri worked him to death.

Or maybe, just maybe, zombie Galileo took his final revenge.


I guess we’ll never know.

Strep throat may have killed Mozart: study [Reuters]

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The British Government Should be Sorry

Pax Arcana

alan_turingNot since the Royal Academy of Sciences callously rejected my paper titled “Seven Hilarious Things I Saw on the Internet Yesterday” have I been so furious with the British government.

Last week I read a terrific book by Simon Singh called The Code Book, which details the history of cryptography from ancient times through the modern (at least up til 1999, when he wrote the book) computer era. A large part of the book concerns Allied efforts to crack the codes created by the Nazi Enigma machines during World War II. I’ll spare you the details, but basically Enigma machines were like fancy typewriters that used complicated internal wiring and settings to obscure the messages that were sent. Because the machines could be reconfigured in a host of ways, Enigma operators could choose from literally billions of different ciphers each time they sent a message.

Cracking the Enigmas required brilliance on a massive scale. Designing a mechanical electronic machine to automate the process of decrypting millions of words of Nazi radio messages was an accomplishment that was nearly unthinkable — until Alan Turing, a shy young British mathematics professor, did exactly that. Not only did Turing’s work lead directly to the invention of the electronic computer, but it also may have been the singular intelligence achievement of the 20th century.

Good thing he didn’t tell the army he was gay.

Or, as his intelligence colleague Jack Good put it:

“Fortunately the authorities did not know Turing was a homosexual. Otherwise we might have lost the war.”

Of course Turing’s luck didn’t last. In 1952 he was arrested for lewd indecency after accidentally admitting to the police that he’d been having sex with another man while his house was being robbed downstairs. Turing was allowed to avoid jail time by agreeing to take a cocktail of drugs aimed at reducing his sex drive. The chemical castration worked like a charm — he killed himself in 1954 at the age of 41.

Anyway, a group of British scientists has organized a petition calling on the government to apologize for its role in ruining the life of one of its shining lights. Obviously he’s dead now, so it doesn’t really matter one way or the other. But still, British people apologize for everything — I once stabbed a British guy and he apologized for getting blood on my knife. The least they could do is say they’re sorry. Only they shouldn’t use the phrase “No hard feelings,” since that’s kind of what they did the first time.

Campaign to win official apology for Alan Turing [Manchester Evening News]

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Kind of Blue Goes Gray

Pax Arcana

kind_of_blueI’m back from yet another research trip to the New Jersey Shore, and while I’m still months from compiling all the data I collected, I think it’s fair to conclude that yes, I will have another Margarita.

My return coincides perfectly with the 50th anniversary of Kind of Blue, the seminal Miles Davis album that was released on August 17, 1959. According to Fred Kaplan at Slate, the reason Kind of Blue stands out among all the other great jazz albums of the 1950s is that Davis (and his collaborators) were breaking new ground by freeing the musicians from the chords that dominated bebop improvisation:

One night in 1958, Russell sat down with Davis at a piano and laid out his theory’s possibilities—how to link chords, scales, and melodies in almost unlimited combinations. Miles realized this was a way out of bebop’s cul-de-sac. “Man,” he told Russell, “if Bird was alive, this would kill him.”

In an interview that year with critic Nat Hentoff, Miles explained the new approach. “When you go this way,” he said, “you can go on forever. You don’t have to worry about changes, and you can do more with time. It becomes a challenge to see how melodically inventive you are. … I think a movement in jazz is beginning, away from the conventional string of chords and a return to emphasis on melodic rather than harmonic variations. There will be fewer chords but infinite possibilities as to what to do with them.”

Most of us are familiar with Kind of Blue because it’s the one jazz album every white person owns. This is because many of us believe that professing our love of jazz will either endear us to cool black people or get us laid (preferably both). I once gave a ride home to a blond waitress with fake boobs. I had left the radio tuned to NPR earlier in the day, but after midnight the station only played jazz. When I started the car, she said “Oh you like jazz? That’s soooo cool.”

“Yes I do,” I said. “Have you ever heard of Miles Davis?”

Kind of Blue: Why the best-selling jazz album of all time is so great [Slate]


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Opportunity Lost

Fallen Angel

Yeah so I haven’t posted anything here in a while, but I had to take this chance to vent, especially with Pax outta here.  Despite being a fan of both wrestling AND the Insane Clown Posse (yeah, I rule, what of it?), I managed to miss this.  The worst part is, I was actually on vacation when it happened.  Further proof that I suck at life.  Thanks for not taking me Father Scott…now I missed the sex in the air…

Nothing says hardcore like BOUNCY BOXING~!

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Friday Random 10: Abbey Road Edition

Pax Arcana

Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of the iconic photograph of John, Paul, George, and Ringo crossing Abbey Road. The picture was used as the album art on the Abbey Road album, and is a living reminder that British people have always walked in single file. No one knows why.


If Paul McCartney were alive today, I’d ask him about the final words to the album, in which he sings “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Because it seems to me the more love you make, the sleepier you get. Just sayin’.

The Songs:

God Save the Queen — Sex Pistols
You Really Got Me — The Kinks
Broken Face — The Pixies
Sound of Silver — LCD Soundsystem
Take the Fifth — Spoon
Atlas — Battles
Because — The Beatles
Labrythnian Pomp — Of Montreal
Dreamer — Tiny Vipers
Point and Shoot — Yo La Tengo

Bonus Video:

Ring of Fire — Ray Charles (Live on the Johnny Cash Show)

The Rules: The Friday Random 10 is exactly that — random. We open up our iTunes, set the thing on shuffle, and listen to 10 songs. We are not permitted to skip any out of embarrassment or fear of redundancy. Commenters are encouraged to post their own.


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David Lee Roth had his reasons

Pax Arcana

david-lee-rothIn the early 1980s, while Malcolm Jamal Warner was busy making the children of the world cooler, Van Halen was making a reputation for itself as the world’s leader in jackass tour riders.

By now the sight of a superstar band demanding preposterous concessions while on tour is a familiar one. But it all began in 1981 when Van Halen insisted that they be served M&Ms with all the brown ones picked out. The penalty for discovering a single brown M&M was a complete cancellation of the show.

Van Halen’s demand earned them a reputation for petulance. But according to (via Boing Boing), David Lee Roth actually had a good reason for it. Because the Van Halen show required more equipment and technical infrastructure than most venues were used to, the band used the M&M clause to ensure that the venue had done its due diligence. From Roth’s autobiography:

The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function. So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say “Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes … ” And article 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: “There will be no brown M&Ms in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”

So when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl … well, line check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to find a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to destroy just the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.

In a sad, ironic twist, David Lee Roth’s career was finally killed by a brown M&M. In Roth’s defense, I don’t know why the brown one had to hog the spotlight at Skylar’s 8th birthday party. The yellow one that does the jumping splits has all the talent.

Van Halen had good reason to ban brown M&Ms in their concert rider [Boing Boing]

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Our kids are 150% sissier than before

Pax Arcana

Our children are increasingly obese, the sad byproduct of cheap carbohydrates and a sedentary lifestyle. Returning physical education to budget-strapped public schools is one of key efforts in the drive to combat the problem.

But according to this article, that effort is fraught with issues — including a 150% increase in gym class injuries from 1997-2007:

boy_cryingThe study, based on hospital reports of phys ed injuries, was released Monday and appears in the September edition of Pediatrics. It suggests schools should renew their efforts to make gym class safer, said Cheryl Richardson of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education in Reston, Va.

Richardson noted some school districts don’t require teachers to be certified to teach phys ed, particularly at the elementary school level.

“Classroom teachers who aren’t trained in P.E. might not recognize situations that can cause injury,” Richardson said. Certified physical education teachers know where to position themselves, the amount of space children need around them for activities and proper warmup exercises.

Ordinarily this is where I make a snarky joke about the study or its findings or the article itself, but not today. Why? Because there once was a little blond boy who loved gym class more than anything. Then one day he was climbing the knotted rope when an errant kickball hit him in the head. He didn’t fall off the rope, but he was so scared he shit his gym shorts — which were wrapped so tight around his oversized legs that the shit tumbled out of them and fell all the way to the floor below.

The other children screamed and laughed, and the little blond boy with the shit-stained shorts clung to the rope crying and wishing he were somewhere — anywhere! — else. Then one of the other children threw a tennis ball at him and his hands slipped, causing him to slide back down the rope upside down, his knees crashing against the knots as gravity yanked him down to the floor — into the very pile of shit he had inadvertently deposited moments before.

For the rest of the year, the other children called him “Dookie” and rode their bikes past his house and threw tennis balls on his lawn and shouted insults at him.

Things got so bad for the little blond boy that the principal of the school had to hold an assembly where the traveling cast of Free to Be You and Me told the children it was mean to make fun of others. When one of the cast members asked the students if they’d ever been the butt of a joke, a student in the back shouted “NO BUT DOOKIE HAS A JOKE FOR A BUTT!!” The little blond boy sunk down in his seat and cried softly to himself for the rest of the hour.

Do you know who that little boy was?

Seriously — do you know? Because that shit was funny as hell and I’d love to post “Hey Dookie! WANT TO CLIMB SOME ROPES??!!!” on his Facebook page.

Study finds 150 percent rise in student injuries in gym class over 11 years [Newser]

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