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Footnotes To Life

Because sometimes we need them to help us understand…

brad-meltzers-decoded-logo-with-history-logoMr. Meltzer,

I appreciate the amusement I get from your series on the History channel. It’s actually quite refreshing to hear such rampantly sarcastic predictions for the future as you put forth in your episode on the end of the world in 2012. I must assume they’re sarcastic, because you make wilder leaps than I do during a game of Assassin’s Creed.

Your logic goes a little something like this. All dogs have four legs, this animal has four legs, therefore this animal is a Bengal Tiger. These leaps of faith do make life interesting, but you seem to take them quite seriously. I don’t want to waste too much time pointing out every error, but I do at least want to point out some of the funniest most egregious.

Let’s start with the survival experts. I should point out a survival expert is an expert in survival, rather than in ancient Mayan predictions. Those you interviewed provided excellent descriptions of what happens after a calamity and excellent explanations of how to prepare for it, but unfortunately, they were a little shaky on whether the Mayan prediction would come true. I understood their confusion though, because they’re survivalists, rather than, you know… historians.

Having said that, I do believe you included one nice gent who said he’d use text messages to notify his followers after all modern infrastructure had crashed. I’m not sure he understood the cell phones would be out as well, because they’re part of the crumbling infrastructure. Either way, it doesn’t matter too much. Anyone he can’t reach via cell phone can Skype in later on.

We should also take a brief look at your predictions about the Black Death. For Europe in the 14th century – you said the 13th century, but it was, in fact, the 14th –this was a terrifying disease. Fortunately, modern medicine and modern sanitation have helped us overcome this terrible disease. I believe the lack of open sewers and an understanding of how disease spreads will lessen both the fear and reach of bubonic plague.

Furthermore, I appreciated your ability to weave a zombie outbreak into something that purports to be a serious documentary. I know nothing sells programs like a bit of undead scaremongering, but there has only been one reported case of zombie-ism in the United States, but that turned out to be a nasty red-wine hangover.

Finally, ending on the note “well, no-one laughed out loud when we mentioned the prediction,” therefore it must be true, is a little assumptive isn’t it? I was under the impression historians needed more evidence than the lack of a guffaw before they passed off a theory as fact. Knowing this would have saved me a lot of time in college.

Oh, by the way, the random jab you got in there about needing to loosen gun control laws because we’ll need them when the apocalypse comes made me laugh out loud. So if you need someone to do that for you next time, I’d be happy to oblige.

Since your program must be an elaborate work of fiction, I think you should include one of the disclaimers they have on Law and Order, stating that any relationship your program has with reality is purely coincidental. Just to prevent any confusion.


A. Concerned Historian



Stupid drivers can't see white lines, that's why they can't park. Photo from Flickr user Roadsidepictures

This is part one of a guide to help us all avoid idiots in everyday life. We’ll start with one of the more common classes of idiot, and that is drivers. There are more idiots on the road than there are in Walmart on Christmas Eve, and they only seem to be multiplying. Roadway idiots come in several different species.

1. Failing to Park Between The Lines

A Geo Metro parked across three spaces is a dead giveaway that it’s driven by this species of complete donkey. The garden-variety driving idiot can’t see while lines across parking spaces, so they’re completely unable to park between them. Unfortunately, dealing with these idiots can be quite a burden. If you’re feeling brave or drive a beater, you can block them in. Just beware they’ll probably hit you on the way out, because, you know, they’re an idiot. The only safe way of avoiding them is to leave the state and only come back once the idiot has left.

2. Driving Slowly in the Outside Lane

A peculiar trait exhibited by this vehicular idiot is driving in the far left lane 20 miles per hour slower than the rest of the traffic. Studies have not adequately determined whether this is a result of the idiot’s complete apathy towards the needs of other drivers, or just a desire to make everyone travel at the his speed, but when your path down the outside lane is blocked by a car moving slower than Jerry Sandusky in a school zone, it’s a clear sign the driver is a complete idiot.

3. Passing For No Advantage.

This idiotic trait is the opposite of the Outside Lane Camper. They wait for the smallest of small gaps in the inside lane, then fly up it, get halfway past and cut over in front of you. They gain one car space in line, give you have a heart attack and force you to slam on the brakes trying to avoid them. Unfortunately, no amount of honking or light flashing deters this behavior, but you can rest easy in the knowledge that you’ll still arrive before they do, because they’re certain to get lost. After all, they’re a complete idiot.

4. Failing To Use Turn Signals

These idiots are camouflaged. They blend in with regular traffic until they suddenly make a turn or lane change with no warning whatsoever. You can often spot one of these people ahead of you when you see several cars suddenly take evasive action as they try to avoid ramming this unique breed of complete idiot, who seems to have forgotten what the left hand stalk on the back of his steering wheel is for.


Look see - they can't keep driving in a straight line! Photo courtesy Wanderinggnome

5. Talking on Their Phone

This breed of idiot is very easy to spot. They’re unable to maintain a straight line, often wandering between lanes while on the highway. They can be quite tricky to avoid, particularly if they’re discussing something complex, like how they dress themselves in the morning. The best way to bring them back to real life is to lay on your horn loudly so the person on the other end of the phone knows they’re behaving like a clown.

6. Driving A Loud Ass Car

These idiots aren’t so much spotted as heard. You can often identify one up to a mile away, because their car sounds like an unsilenced lawnmower whirring towards you at its top speed of 15 miles per hour. Avoid parking near one by examining the tailpipes on the cars around you. If you can see an exhaust you could fit a bowling ball in, you’ve found a loud idiot and you should park somewhere else, or be forever deafened if you happen to return as they are leaving. These idiots struggle to drive correctly because the constant vibration and noise renders them incapable of stopping or starting at a normal speed and staying in the same lane for more than 100 yards. They’re also forced them to race away from a red light as if it were the green flag at the Indy 500.

7. Tailgaiting For No Reason

You can spot one of these idiots because all you’ll see in your rear view mirror is their face. The rest of their car – most notably the hood and lights – is so close to your rear end it’s below your rear windshield. Studies have shown these people sometimes have gritted teeth and a squint, but these expressions are not present in all cases. The behavior is usually exhibited in rush hour traffic when there is someone in front of you and you are unable to go as quickly as the idiot wants.


Seriously... It's like congress has the IQ of a donkey, less that of an elephant.

I have a bumper sticker on my guitar case that says “Politicians and diapers need to be changed for the same reason,” and never have I thought it truer than this weekend. For the third time this year – third time I can remember – Congress pushed funding the rest of the government up to, and in this case beyond, a self-imposed deadline.

Local DC radio station WTOP reported that one politician said there was “nothing to worry about, action is imminent,” in the Senate. Well thanks, ass. You couldn’t stay a little later tonight and get it done before the deadline? No, it’s Friday night and you’re going out for a beer.

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Christmas Parking Lot

A Christmas shopping parking lot, courtesy of Flickr user Mrs. Gemstone

I was working from home today, so at lunch time I visited the store to pick up a few things and, as usual, spent twice as long getting into and out of the parking lot as I needed to. There’s no one person to blame for this parking dysfunction. Pedestrians and drivers seem completely incapable of coexisting without complete confusion. At this time of year it’s even worse, particularly at the mall, because everyone is rushing to get something or stressing about the time they don’t have left before the holidays. To do my part to ease the stress of the holiday season, I’ve come up with five tips to help pedestrians and drivers coexist peacefully inside America’s parking lots.

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Fox News Unemployment Rate Graph

D'oh, forgot to move that last point.

I was in the process of writing a very nasty post about Fox News, and how they are clearly trying to manipulate the American public. However, after some research, it has become clear they are simply the butt of an excellent practical joke perpetrated by someone in their graphics department. In 2009, Fox News decided on a zero tolerance policy for errors in on air reporting. Clearly, such strong words haven’t worked.

My interest was aroused when I saw this recent error involving the unemployment rate. Here’s a link to it on the blog of Washington Post’s writer Erik Wemple. As you can see in the chart above, the most recent months  numbers appear at the same level as the previous month’s numbers, despite a 0.4% drop. In fact, the data point for the 8.6% rate in November is clearly above the point for the 8.8% rate in March. That looked to me like deception in action, so I had some scathing comments for Fox News, insulting their journalistic abilities, devious manipulation techniques and ancestry, until I found a second error.

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Photo from Flickr User ilgiovaneWalter (Sobchak)

Let’s face it, bullshit is pretty prevalent all over the internet. Selling us stuff we don’t need, promising amazing results and promoting useless products that break two days after they ship. These days, it seems even reputable sites are not immune. I was browsing around, something I consider a reputable news outlet, when I found a non-sponsored link to this story on Well, I don’t know about you, but that got my bullshit antenna tingling.

Firstly, have you noticed how many times this story says “weight loss?” Seriously, it’s in almost every sentence. The story has 372 words, and the phrases “weight loss” and “weight-loss” are used a combined total of 11 times. Let me say that again, 11 times in 17 sentences… does that sound like good English or keyword stuffing to me? I’ll tell you – this article is more stuffed than a thanksgiving turkey.

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3. Kay Jewelers

See, a big ol' diamond makes everything better doesn't it you poor, weak woman. </sarcasm>

Since we started on the subject of consumerism yesterday, I figured why not continue today. After all, Kay Jewelers are also raining on my Christmas parade and I’m ready to go stand outside their offices all day singing their damn jingle and I’ll see how they like it.

Let’s face it, my spouse would love me to buy her diamonds every time I have an opportunity to get her a gift, but I’d bet my last dollar she’d be a lot less thrilled when she looked at my credit card statement afterwards. It’s not that I don’t love her, it’s just Christmas is not a “spouse” holiday. The spouse holidays are Valentine’s Day, and anniversaries. For those holidays I would consider a diamond. Please show me to your used diamond lot.

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