Right Now in Stuff You Missed in History Class

It's easy to look back on the follies of the past and turn up our noses. We would have known that bloodletting was a bad idea. We would have known that phrenology was a crock. One only need glance over the numerous instances of medical quackery throughout history to get that feeling of superiority that inevitably comes with hindsight. And more than anything else, alchemy stands as the ultimate example of wrongheaded scientific theories that we now consider laughable. But, some experts have stopped laughing. According to Stephen Heuser's piece from Boston.com yesterday, the academic world is starting to reconsider alchemy in a more respectful light. No, these experts don't think, as the alchemists did, that we can turn base metals into precious metals. They merely want to give credit where it's due. They want to restore alchemy as having an important role in the history of science.

50 million people died over the course of World War II, and historians often cite it as the bloodiest war in human history. Tune in to learn more about World War II in this podcast from HowStuffWorks.com.

A few weeks ago, podcast listener Rob wrote to us asking if we could address a rumor he heard about why Catholics are banned from meat on Fridays during Lent, but can chow down on all the fish they want. What he heard was that the pope who originally instituted the fish exception had family connections to the fishing industry, and that he did this to boost business. Actually, Rob, I've heard the same thing. In fact, a religion teacher I had in Catholic school told us a similar story as if it were known fact. So, is it? This calls for a good, old-fashioned fact-or-fiction investigation. For one, if the purpose of fish exception was to help the fishing industry, it probably succeeded with flying colors. Originally, Catholics abstained from meat not only during Lenten Fridays, but Fridays throughout the year.

On Fridays, Jane and I address questions from our SYMHC listeners. I've had an e-mail from Hannah tucked away, and I'm thrilled to finally respond. Hannah asked whether Dada was really an antiwar movement. There are dissertations about this topic, but I'll attempt to do it justice in 300 words. In short, yes: Dada was an antiwar movement. Can art can be created independently of the time and political, economic and social conditions in which it's conceived? Smithsonian Magazine says that the word "Dada" can be translated as 'yes, yes' (Rumanian) 'rocking/hobby horse' (French) and loosely interpreted as "foolish naïveté" (German). The movement began in neutral Zurich's Cabaret Voltaire around 1916. According to the National Gallery of Art, this café was a haven for European artists. It was a safe place to respond to the seemingly nonsensical death toll that World War I was incurring.

And it only takes one. Germany is issuing a warrant for a retired autoworker who lives in Ohio, says the Washington Post. John Demjanjuk, who is 88 years old, is charged with being an accessory to the murder of 29,000 people. Allegedly, Demjanjuk was a Nazi guard, or wachmann, at Sobibor, a Jewish concentration camp, during the Holocaust. This doesn't come as a huge surprise, however, as Demjanjuk has been battling the courts for 30 years to keep from being punished for his alleged atrocities. Demjanjuk came to the United States after the war and became a naturalized citizen. According to Timothy McCormack in "The Law of War Crimes," by the late '70s, authorities began proceedings to revoke this citizenship after evidence arose that he was a Nazi at a concentration camp during the war and failed to mention this in his application.

In court today, Bernard Madoff admitted, "As the years went by, I realized this day, and my arrest, would inevitably come." The New York Times reports that during a 75-minute hearing, Madoff apologized and confessed how "sorry and ashamed" he is for swindling nearly $65 billion out of his investors over the course of 20 years. Some of Madoff's victims appeared in court; it's still undetermined whether they'll get any of their investments back. Judge Denny Chin even had to ask the guilty-pleading Madoff to speak louder. Madoff even had to sip water to steady himself. And it's no wonder why he was having trouble holding it together. It seems Madoff thought he could make a pretty penny and then bow out of the Ponzi scheme. "I believed it would end shortly," he said. Interesting choice of words. It's almost like he doesn't believe he was in control of it.

Have you seen the new logos the Obama administration commissioned for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (Tiger)? According to NYTimes.com The Moment Blog, a few design firms collaborated to produce them, one of which (Mode Project) had a hand in designing Obama's campaign sl"O"gan. Mode Project's creative director Steve Juras commented that designing the ARRA logo was an interesting feat because it mustn't seem "governmental," but it must convey "a visible sign of progress" in the fields of energy, health care and education. And the team couldn't get too creative with the Tiger logo because the administration had its own idea: Make it look like a tiger! But just how grrrrrrreat are these logos? President Obama explained, "These emblems are symbols of our commitment to you, the American people" and that they denote tax dollars being spent "wisely."

This week, scholars unveiled what they believe to be the only authentic portrait of Shakespeare done in his lifetime, called the Cobbe portrait, according to our friends over at Discovery News. So wait, if this is true, what are all those pictures that adorn the book covers of his plays? It took a little digging to unravel the story of Shakespeare's likeness throughout the centuries. The portraits of Shakespeare we're familiar with aren't exactly fakes, but they were made after the playwright died in 1616. The most famous of these is the engraving that appears on the First Folio of his plays, which dates back to 1623. There's also a bust that sits in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford made sometime between his death and 1623. The scholar touting the authenticity of the Cobbe painting called them both "dull" compared to this new find, according the the New York Times.

How Typhoid Mary Worked

Historians agree that Typhoid Mary really existed -- but who was she, and how did she come to infect so many people? Tune in and learn more about Typhoid Mary in this podcast from HowStuffWorks.com.

I love visiting historic villages. I like the reproductions of houses with their provincial dirt floors and low ceilings. The town square with the stocks and wandering goats. It's nice being thrust back in time and seeing firsthand how our forefathers spent their days. But if you're wondering how they spent their nights, you may not get that information on the guided walking tour. And that's why I was amused to read Slate's take on Sex Shops in Colonial America. Writer Brian Palmer exposes prostitution in colonial America: the tricks of the trade and the punishment for the purveyor. Did you know that Philadelphia's early red light district was called "Hell Town"? Me, neither.

Lately, angry citizens in cities all over the country have been holding protests against the stimulus package and using tax dollars to bail out people who took on mortgages they found they couldn't afford. In St. Louis, protesters tossed tea in the Mississippi River, according to AHN. Now, they are planning a National Tax Day Tea Party. When I first heard of these anti-stimulus tea parties, they seemed rather silly. However, I'm giving it a second thought after studying up on the original Boston Tea Party this week for a podcast we're preparing on the East India Company (one of my favorite subjects). Today, people are dissing the stimulus tea parties, saying that the modern issue has nothing to do with "taxation without representation." But if you remember from our original podcast on the Boston Tea Party, the historic event didn't exactly have to do with that either.

In what some perceive as a step toward lifting the long-standing embargo against Cuba, the Obama administration is moving to loosen restrictions for trade and travel between the United States and Cuba, according to yesterday's Guardian story. A spending bill coming up for vote this week includes a provision that would allow those with relatives in Cuba to visit every year rather than every three years as well as ease certain trade requirements. The embargo dates back to the rise of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War. This timeline from NPR lays out a helpful chronology of how 10 different presidents have dealt with Cuba since the rise of Castro. The United States imposed an economic embargo on Cuba when Castro took over some American-owned properties in 1960. After the Bay of Pigs disaster and the Cuban Missile Crisis, John F. Kennedy strengthened the embargo and banned Americans from traveling to Cuba.

Was there really a Pied Piper of Hamelin?

Everyone knows the story of the Pied Piper -- but how much of this legend is factual? Learn more about the fact and fiction behind the story of the Pied Piper in this podcast from HowStuffWorks.com.

It's been called the fourth dimension and it's boggled thinkers for millennia. We're talking about time, and just in case you weren't aware of this already, we're losing an hour of it this weekend thanks to Daylight Saving Time (DST). How and when did people come up with this curious system? Believe it or not, Benjamin Franklin first proposed such an idea back in 1784 as a way to cut down on the use of candles. Despite Franklin's foresight, more than a century went by before the idea took hold. First off, it's important to note that countries didn't begin standardizing their time until the development of railroads made it necessary in the 19th century. As the California Energy Commission explains, it took a world war to push countries into adopting a DST system. In an effort to save precious energy resources during World War I, the United States (as well as several other countries) switched to DST.

At age 47, Barack Obama is one of the younger presidents in U.S. history (he's the 5th youngest to be exact). But, according to an article in today's Washington Post, he's starting to age before his time. Judging from recent appearances, it's clear that President Obama's hair is starting to gray significantly. Although it's true that presidents seem to age rather quickly while in office, he's only held the position a mere six weeks. The article points out, however, that the fast-aging process seems to have started as soon as he hit the campaign trail. What is it about being president that has such an effect on the body? This seems like a prime case for the X-Files' Fox Mulder to investigate -- does the Oval Office cause people to experience what he calls "missing time?" In lieu of Mulder's expertise, I came across a video that provides before-and-after pictures as well as a rational (more Scully-like) explanation.

It's happened to me several times: I'll be deep in conversation with a group of friends and the discussion gradually shifts into personal stories about 9/11. Everybody takes a turn to talk about their experiences that day -- where they were, how they found out, what they were thinking at the time. I had heard of similar conversations concerning the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, but because I'm too young to have been around that day, I didn't quite understand it until 9/11 happened. People in the psychology field call this "flashbulb memory," and it refers to the phenomenon of how people retain exceptionally vivid memories about significant, emotional events. Because history is always told from memory and people's flashbulb memories dictate what we know about significant events of the past, historians are understandably interested in the phenomenon. A new study indicates that people tend to remember history-making moments more vividly than personally significant events.

Adolph Hitler's legendary propaganda programs steered public opinion with unprecedented precision. Learn how this massive campaign influenced the average war-time German in this podcast from HowStuffWorks.com.

When the British navy somehow defeated the seemingly invincible Spanish Armada, it emerged as a force to reckoned with, and it held this reputation for centuries to come. According to a BBC News story, recently discovered "superguns" have shed light on the technology used on the British ships during this time. Previously, historians believed that Elizabeth had been using cannon technology similar to that of her father, Henry VIII. That belief had made it difficult to reconcile accounts of how Elizabeth's navy became more successful and more feared than her father's. This technology, according to experts, was years ahead of its time. Instead of using many cannons of various sizes, shapes and roles, a ship equipped with several of these superguns could bombard a distant enemy with rapid fire. And, it's possible these superguns contributed to the unlikely defeat of the Spanish Armada, an event that changed the course of history.

Forget Roswell, JFK, and even 9/11. Holocaust denial is arguably the biggest conspiracy theory ever devised. It's so feared that it's actually been outlawed in several countries. And, since it's been in the news these past few weeks, there's no better time to delve into this extremely sensitive issue. While they were in power in the 1930s and '40s, the Nazis systematically exterminated approximately six million Jewish people using various methods, including gas chambers. This is the widely held belief that most respected scholars adhere to and that we're taught in schools. Holocaust deniers (or, as they prefer, Holocaust revisionists) question the validity of several accepted notions regarding this point of history. Many deny that the Nazis used gas chambers or that they ever had what's called "The Final Solution" -- an official policy that stated their intention to exterminate the Jewish people.

How the Alamo Worked

Legends and lore surround the story of the Alamo. As a result, it can be difficult to separate the fact from fiction. Listen in as our resident historians take a look at the true story of the Alamo in this podcast from HowStuffWorks.com.