Tag Archives: history

Maybe it’s not Hitler’s head hole?

The story of Adolph Hitler’s final demise is well-known among the educated elite with whom I lunch and occasionally sup. First he yelled about getting banned from Wikipedia, then he took a cyanide pill and popped a cap through his dome-piece just before the Soviet Army cracked its way into his bunker in Berlin.

The Russians then tossed his body in a pit and burned it. Then buried it. Then unburied it. Then buried it again. Then dug it up again. Then cremated it.

At some point during the burying and unburying, the Russians came across a piece of a skull with a bullet hole in it that seemed to corroborate the facts. At least until recently, when a team of American researchers determined that the skull belonged not to Hitler, but to…

… a woman under 40!!

According to witnesses, the bodies of Hitler and Braun had been wrapped in blankets and carried to the garden just outside the Berlin bunker, placed in a bomb crater, doused with petrol and set ablaze.

But the skull fragment the Russians dug up outside the Führerbunker in 1946 could never have belonged to Hitler. The skull DNA was incontestably female. The only positive physical proof that Hitler had shot himself had suddenly been rendered worthless. The result is a mystery reopened and, for conspiracy theorists the tantalising possibility that Hitler did not die in the bunker.

Once again the mainstream media denigrates people like me as “conspiracy theorists” just for asking the hard questions. Is there a possibility, given this evidence, that Hitler escaped his bunker and fled Germany before the fall of the Reich? Can anyone positively SAY they didn’t see him board a spacecraft in 1962 with Lyndon Johnson and Queen Elizabeth? Is there any way to RULE OUT the possibility that Hitler had a sex change and was artificially inseminated with a Kenyan muslim baby who would then TAKE OVER America? ARE FLUORESCENT LIGHT BULBS REAL OR IS THE GOBBERMENT LISSNING TO EVERY WORRD??????????

Tests on skull fragment cast doubt on Adolf Hitler suicide story [Guardian UK]

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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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Streetfights! Swordsmen! Artists! Scandals! Puns!

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van_goghIf the central thesis of a new book by a pair of art historians is correct, everything you knew about how Vincent Van Gogh lost his ear is wrong.

When we were kids, we were told he cut his own ear off after being jilted by the love of his life. When we were teenagers they finally told us that he was a bit deranged and the “love of his life” was really a local prostitute.

Now it seems the mystery has even deeper and smellier layers of onion [Ed Note — I’m pretty sure I’m using this metaphor incorrectly].

The researchers claim that Van Gogh did not even cut his own ear off. Instead it was severed by…

… his contemporary artist Paul Gaugin!!

Van Gogh and Gauguin’s troubled friendship was legendary. In 1888, Van Gogh persuaded him to come to Arles in the south of France to live with him in the Yellow House he had set up as a “studio of the south”. They spent the autumn painting together before things soured. Just before Christmas, they fell out. Van Gogh, seized by an attack of a metabolic disease became aggressive and was apparently crushed when Gauguin said he was leaving for good.

Kaufmann told the Guardian: “Near the brothel, about 300 metres from the Yellow House, there was a final encounter between them: Vincent might have attacked him, Gauguin wanted to defend himself and to get rid of this ‘madman’. He drew his weapon, made some movement in the direction of Vincent and by that cut off his left ear.” Kaufmann said it was not clear if it was an accident or an aimed hit.

Of course they didn’t have Twitter back then, so we’ll never really know what happened. What we do know is that Van Gogh proceeded to deliver his ear to the brothel with a note that said “Ear you go!” Haha just kidding. It said “Sorry for being so ear-rational!”

Art historians claim Van Gogh’s ear ‘cut off by Gauguin’ [Guardian]


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Mark Antony will have his revenge

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antony_cleopatraZahi Hawass, the flamboyant spokesman for Egypt’s archaelogical treasures and star of 8.1 million History Channel specials, told the press last week that a team of researchers from the Dominican Republic may have found the final resting place of Marc Antony and Cleopatra.

Antony and Cleopatra are famous mainly for being played by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in a 1963 movie, but an in-depth study of the historical record reveals that they were actually humans who existed and did stuff. For example, they almost overthrew the Roman empire and then killed themselves:

Marc Antony and Cleopatra challenged Caesar Augustus for control of the Roman Empire more than two millenia ago. Their armies were defeated and rather than submit to capture, the lovers committed suicide – Marc Antony by his sword, Cleopatra with a poisonous asp.

The Roman historian Plutarch said Caesar allowed the two to be buried together, but their tomb was never found.

Hawass says the preponderance of high status burial sites around a seaside temple, plus coins and a mask with a cleft chin, may indicate that the temple is the final resting place of Antony and Cleopatra. Before long, I assume a bunch of scientists in pith helmets will be creeping down ancient dusty corridors, their flashlights flickering eerily. Then from the inky shadows comes a deathly murmur…

If it’s true don’t leave me all alone out here … Wondering if you’re ever gonna take me there …


Wait, what? That’s not him?

Aw shit. Never mind.

Antony and Cleopatra found final sanctuary in a seaside temple [AP]

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Cavemen were nice


Pax Arcana

Researchers say they have found a skull they say proves that our ancestors cared for deformed children rather than smashing them between rocks or something like that:

“Her/his pathological condition was not an impediment to receiv[ing] the same attention as any other Middle Pleistocene Homo child,” the the team of Spanish researchers write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Hey look, buddy — I don’t know how they do it in Spain, but here in America we don’t consider being gay a deformity.

Oh right.

Anyway, the deformed skull is at least some evidence that early man showed more compassion than his primate ancestors. Even humans outside the nuclear family would have pitched in to help the deformed kid survive:

By reconstructing the skull from a bunch of pieces, the team was able to determine that the child likely suffered from craniosynostosis, a debilitating genetic disorder in which some pieces of the skull fuse too quickly, causing pressure to build in the brain. While they couldn’t tell the exact level of mental retardation likely to result from the malformation, it would have been considerable, requiring large amounts of extra care from the prehistorical human community.

Frankly I don’t know exactly what this means, but I think it explains a lot about Johnny Damon.


The five tools of the pre-modern ballplayer — hunting, gathering, grunting, farting, and throwing like a 10-year-old

Deformed Skull Suggests Human Ancestors Had Compassion [Wired]

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Nefertiti had a great personality

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nefertitiThe famous bust of Nefertiti is one of the world’s sharpest and most captivating images of ancient beauty. Ever since its discovery in 1912, the bust has served as a symbol of the ethereal and elegant queen of the Nile.

However, recent advances in CT technology have allowed researchers to delve deeper into the multiple layers of the bust. What they found may have a lasting impact on our concept on this famous historical touchstone:

Their analysis showed that compared to the outer stucco face, the inner face had less prominent cheekbones, a slight bump on the ridge of the nose, creases around the corner of mouth and cheeks, and less depth at the corners of the eyelids.

The changes were possibly made to make the queen adhere more to the ideals of beauty of the time, the researchers said.

Which is all a nice way of saying that Nefertiti was uglier than a bucket of smashed crabs. I mean seriously, people, that lady could make an onion cry, am I right? SHE COULD HAVE BEEN A TRAVELING WILBURY, IF YOU CATCH MY DRIFT.

“Beauty of the Nile” may have had ancient makeover [Reuters]

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British people giving us fewer reasons to love them

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While their empire disappeared faster than a plate of bubble and squeak at an RAF reunion, the British have always provided the world with a surfeit of  awesomely giggletastic surnames for us to mock.

Who hasn’t chortled at the thought of boarding the tube at Piccadilly and running into old Eton chums like Phineas T. Ramsbottom and Nigel Hornblower?

Bernard Nipplestamp, my old headmaster at the St. Hubbins School for Spry Young Vicars

But unfortunately the age of silly British last names is quickly coming to an end, as some change their names and others run for the border:

A study found the number of people with the name Cock shrank to 785 last year from 3,211 in 1881, those called Balls fell to 1,299 from 2,904 and the number of Deaths were reduced to 605 from 1,133.

People named Smellie decreased by 70 percent, Dafts by 51 percent, Gotobeds by 42 percent, Shufflebottoms by 40 percent, and Cockshotts by 34 percent, said Richard Webber, visiting professor of geography at King’s College, London.

Comparing the popularity of names in Britain from the 1881 census to today, researchers found that the top 6 surnames were exactly the same — Smith, Jones, Williams, Brown, Taylor, and Davies. Asian names like Wang have grown preciptiously during the past few decades.

Oh well. At least we still have the Dutch to make fun of. Isn’t that right, Countess von Fingerplunk?

Britain running out of Cocks [Metro UK]


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Predator X will ruin swimming forever

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Norwegian scientists say they have discovered a prehistoric sea creature whose chomping power was far greater than that of the Tyrannosaurus Rex or just about anything else that ever lived.

The sea creature’s name is Predator X, though its birth name was Alduous Garfinkel before it converted to the Nation of Islam in prison.


To get an idea of the power of the creature’s bite, scientists compared the size of its fossilized jaw to the similarly-shaped jaws of modern alligators. Of course, Predator X was 50 feet long and had a skull the size of a Dodge Durango, so there was math involved:

“The calculation is one of the largest bite forces ever calculated for any creature,” the Museum said of the bite, estimated with the help of evolutionary biologist Greg Erickson from Florida State University.

Predator X’s bite was more than 10 times more powerful than any modern animal and four times the bite of a T-Rex, it said of the fossil, reckoned at 147 million years old.

The creature’s teeth were about a foot long each, meaning you’d basically be swiss cheese before its powerful jaws snapped you into three pieces. I will also take this opportunity to point out that some of our assumptions about which undersea creatures are extinct and which aren’t have been proven wrong in the past. So have fun swimming this summer! It’s going to be hilarious watching from my beachfront bio-pod as you catch a coelacanth only to be eaten by an alligator which is then eaten by a shark which then gets eaten by Predator X.

It’s like the circle of life, only in reverse!

Fossil sea monster’s bite makes T-Rex look feeble [Reuters]

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We’re gonna need more bricks

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nosferatuAn archaeological dig on an island north of Venice, Italy, has uncovered evidence that medieval Italians knew way more about vampires than even the most learned of modern men.

At the site of a mass burial pit on the island, researchers discovered the remains of a woman in her 60s who had been buried around the year 1576. Someone had stuffed a brick in her mouth, which scientists believe was a form of vampire exorcism:

To kill the undead creatures, the stake-in-the-heart method popularized by later literature was not enough: A stone or brick had to be forced into the vampire’s mouth so that it would starve to death, Borrini said.

Some researchers think the rampant fear of vampires was triggered by the reopening of mass graves — a necessity in an age rife with plagues and werewolf attacks. Gravediggers would see decomposing bodies with blood and bile leaking from their mouths and holes were their burial shrouds once covered the bodies’ faces.

Scientists say those were just normal signs of decomposition, but the clever medieval gravediggers and priests knew better. Them dead wasn’t dead!

That’s what is believed to have happened to the woman found on the Lazzaretto island, which was used as a quarantine zone by Venice. Aged around 60, she died of the plague during the epidemic that also claimed the life of the painter Titian.

Much later, someone jammed the brick into her mouth when the grave was reopened. Borrini said that marks and breaks left by blunt instruments on several among more than 100 skeletons found by the archaeologists show that the grave was reused in a later epidemic.

Of course these medieval heroes weren’t right about everything. For one thing, they didn’t realize that vampires can digest certain kinds of bricks — especially those with a higher clay-to-mud ratio. Many medieval scholars also blamed the Jews for plagues and pestilence, which is just plain ridiculous.

Italy dig on Venice island unearths woman’s body with evidence of vampire-slaying ritual [Newser]


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