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This Day in Revisionist History

January 19:

“Wait, are you telling me you actually sent that? For God’s sake, woman—it was a joke!” – a hysterical Arthur Zimmermann to his secretary Gretchen, after learning that she had just sent a real telegram on its way to Mexico proposing an allied attack on the United States at the height of World War I.

Gretchen Ziegler certainly was a sweetheart. Whatever else may have been uttered about her in the years that would follow that historic morning, she really was an absolute peach. In an attempt to contribute to the war effort, the shapely university student worked part-time for Foreign Secretary of the German Empire Arthur Zimmermann, who was a friend of her father. It was widely agreed that her charming demeanor, calm blue eyes, and silky voice made her especially suited to sit at the desk of so busy and esteemed a man as Zimmermann. And indeed, naïve though she was, Gretchen was not without intelligence, having earned excellent marks in school. Thus it came almost as a complete surprise when, on the morning of January 19, she committed a grave error that would severely alter the course of modern history.

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The Drawing Board: UFOs

Let me set the scene for you: It’s a clear, balmy night in the small town of Roswell, N.M., and the stars are shining as brightly and crisply as I’ve ever seen them—and no, it’s not the first time I’ve ever looked. I’ve made the decision to spend the night here as I make my way to Phoenix. As of this moment, it’s been an ordinary night quite like any other, only for some reason I feel like it’s not taking as long for me to sober up, and I’m not happy about it.

A screaming comes across the sky.

As is always the case when I travel, I’ve got my copy of Gravity’s Rainbow, and I’ve cracked it open for a little reading before bedtime. Strange as it may sound, I’ve never made it past that first sentence, usually due to drunkenness, but as I’ve said, I’m not feeling so drunk tonight. And again I will fail to read on, for as I make my way toward that elusive second sentence I’m suddenly interrupted. An eerie light floods the clouded window pane of the cheap motel room I booked on expedia.com. The light draws closer, and I tremble as the rational part of me recedes as quickly as what little shadow persists beneath the window sill. Continue reading

This Day in Revisionist History

January 12:

“You know she’s in her fifties though, right?” – Sen. Arthur Vandenberg to an overly optimistic Sen. Edwin Broussard, as the two discussed the arrival of the newly elected Hattie Caraway, the country’s first female senator.

Edwin S. Broussard had been involved in politics since he was a boy, where he participated enthusiastically in school government for the same reason anyone does: to meet and impress girls. In his day, as in ours, the so-called student leaders were simply powerless overachievers looking to pass off weak social lives as a passion for “extracurricular activities.” And true to form, Broussard met his female counterpart, a pretty but rather prudish young woman named Marie Patout, and married her at the age of 29. However, being the overachiever that he was, the handsome Broussard continued to engage in widespread “gerrymandering” with a variety of young ladies about the spirited town of New Orleans. So it was for several years until his philandering came to a brief halt when, in 1930, the charismatic son of Louisiana was elected in a special vote to finish the term of his departed brother Robert. After being sworn in, the surprisingly naïve Broussard discovered, much to his chagrin, that there were no women in the Senate. “They’ve had the vote for ten years…what the hell are they doing with it?” he wrote in his journal, which has remained largely unpublished by his heirs due to the lascivious accounts of the Senator’s extensive “pork barreling.” Continue reading

The Drawing Board: Dividing By Zero

If there’s one experience universal to American boyhood, it’s the untraversable chasm between sports and math. Yeah, that is a word. Math and sports have never really seen eye-to-eye, in part because of confusing mixed messages from the disciplines. For example, your coach says, “Give 110% out there,” and your math teacher says “Basketball practice is not an excuse for not doing your homework.” Or your coach says “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” and your math teacher says “Raise your hand if you want to ask a question.” What the hell? If you were anything like me in school, you were a sports guy. So it probably came as a pretty big shock when a 30-something pointdexter who used to go to college tells you that you can’t divide by zero. Yeah, maybe you can’t, nerd, but I know that right now, this is anyone’s game.

Want to see me divide 5 by 0? Talk to any math teacher and he’ll tell you it’s impossible because you can’t take 5 of something and divide it into zero equal groups. Oh really? Check this out: 5 divided by zero is 5. Why? Because I divided it into zero groups, meaning it’s still all there. If you want to get all technical about it, I didn’t really divide at all, so bam—still 5. Does that mean that I can’t divide it? No, it just means that I obviously wouldn’t divide it because it’s already done. That’s like saying you can’t give a bald guy a haircut–although that is true–but it still applies because they’re both unsportsmanlike attitudes. Think of it as a word problem. Divide 5 into zero parts might as well read Don’t divide 5 into any parts. Naturally, then, the answer is five. Now you try telling your sixth grade math teacher Ms. Covington that, and she’ll tell you the same thing she told me: “Raise your hand if you want to ask a question.” Sigh. So you raise your hand, and she calls on you, and then you give her this look like Are you serious? Do I really have to repeat the question? And she just gives you that smug look, so you decide it’s all-out war. “I can divide five by zero, it’s five.” And she goes “No, five divided by one is five.” And you say, “So what? 2 plus 2 is four, that doesn’t mean 3 plus 1 can’t be.” Now she’s a little irritated because you caught her in a lie.

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This Day in Revisionist History

January 5

“Obviously I wouldn’t have done it, but dude, how the f*ck was I supposed to know what drawing and quartering meant?” – a panicked Robert-Francois Damiens replying to his friend Pierre, after being asked why he had tried to kill the king at the risk of so cruel a punishment.

Regicide had always been a very serious crime, and Louis XV a very petty king. And so, in the age in which our unfortunate subject lived, it had been affirmed that the penalty for killing or even attempting to kill the king would be more than a simple hanging. The French parliament had decided that anyone who threatened the king’s life would be killed by “drawing and quartering.” Though parliament did not invent the method, it revived it in a manner of sorts, as no one had committed regicide in nearly 150 years and therefore such a punishment was neither commonly practiced nor widely known throughout France. Several historians attribute the longevity of this punishment to the greater lack of knowledge, positing that the people of France would have almost assuredly opposed the disemboweling and dismemberment of their fellow countrymen. Continue reading

This Day in Revisionist History: Christmas Edition!

December 25:

“Okay, I’m just spit-balling here, but what if we organized some type of Secret Santa?”- the rather feckless Lt. Cecil Farnsworth to his commanding officers during World War I, shortly after combat with the Germans was unofficially suspended in the famous “Christmas Truce.”

Cecil Farnsworth had been an only child, and with no siblings to compete for the affection of his parents he had enjoyed a rather privileged, sheltered childhood, especially when the holidays came around and he was spoiled with presents. But Cecil, if perhaps entitled, was also very generous, wishing to share the gift of Christmas with those around him. And it was this benevolent spirit, long engendered within him, that led to his naïve, entirely inappropriate question in the brief intermission of an otherwise savage battle. Continue reading

This Day in Revisionist History

December 22:

“Wow, talk about déjà vu! Although I still don’t know why you’re not armed, or how you guys talked me into doing this.” – Bernhard “Bernie” Goetz, after rapidly shooting four unarmed black men in a game of paintball several hours after escaping the scene of his subway shootings.

Bernie, Jamal, Deion, Marcus, and Raymond—or the “Jive Five”, as they were known in college—were virtually inseparable. In fact, Bernie’s famous (or perhaps infamous) adventure on the no. 57 subway earlier that day (read it–this whole thing will make a lot more sense if you do) marked the first time in a week that the crew had been separated for more than a few minutes during the day. They all worked together at a bread bakery they had opened just after graduating, a popular local joint by the name of “Baggoetz”, and when a bank statement detailing an unsettled loan repayment was discovered in the back office, they were left with no choice but to send one person out in the middle of the day. Bernie volunteered, telling his best friends only half-jokingly “You know they’ll go easy on a white guy!” He hurriedly finished handing out orders to the long line of customers, apologizing for the delays. He even offered an extra loaf of sourdough to a black man seated in the corner, saying “You look like you could use some bread…here’s another.” Continue reading