Friday, May 04, 2007

The Top 25 Web Hoaxes and Pranks

Here is a fun article by Steve Bass at Yahoo News. It is titled The Top 25 Web Hoaxes and Pranks. I enjoyed it and many of these are of interest to the history blogosphere. How many non-internet hoaxes from a Millenia or more ago are now the source of serious dissertations?

Take a look at a few highlights. All text below is by the original author.

13. Alien Autopsy at Roswell, New Mexico (1995)

Roswell, New Mexico: ground zero of UFO controversy. It's also where the movie of the Roswell alien autopsy was filmed 60 years ago. The story goes that a UFO crashed at this site, and the U.S. government performed a hush-hush autopsy on the dead alien.In the mid-1990s, unnamed individuals "discovered" the secret film and posted it for the edification of a disinformed public. Looks pretty real, right? Now fast-forward to 2006 and a conspiracy-deflating admission: The movie is a hoax created in 1995 by John Humphreys, the animator famous for Max Headroom, in his apartment in north London....Or was it???

15. Apollo Moon Landing Hoax (1969)

You're aware that we never landed on the moon, right? It was all just an elaborate hoax designed to score Cold War points for the United States against the Soviet Union in a world of falling dominoes. The whole lunar landing thing? It was a video staged at movie studios and top-secret locations.

Okay, you can stop laughing now, but some sites, such as Apollo Reality and Moon Landing, still insist that the Eagle never landed. Of course, enemies of Flat Earthism will point to the Rocket and Space Technology site, which does an in-depth job of debunking the hoax. But true disbelievers should check out this terrific video spoof, complete with outtakes showing lights and cameras.

21. Microsoft Buys Catholic Church (1994)

More than a decade ago, an e-mail press release--from Vatican City, no less--landed in my inbox. Microsoft was announcing that it was in the process of acquiring the Roman Catholic Church in exchange for an unspecified number of shares of Microsoft common stock. The story was a prank, but it sure looked real, circulating for months and perhaps worrying residents of the Holy See.

Just think: If the press release had been true, it might have stopped the Vatican from using Linux. And no, I'm not kidding about the Linux part. Watch this video interview with the woman who helped build the Vatican's Web site.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

James Henderson Blount - American Rebel Separatist

James Henderson Blount was an American Congressman from Georgia. He served in the House of Representatives from 1873 to 1893 and also served as the American Minister to Hawaii. However, he is probably best known for his role in issuing one of gospels of the Hawaiian separatist cause.

Blount was active in the Confederate rebel cause during the American Civil War. He served in the Confederate States Army as a private and later as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Second Georgia Battalion for most of the war. He actively fought to destroy the American Union.

After the war, he eventually entered the Congress of the nation he had sought to destroy. He was repeatedly returned to Congress by the voters of his district in Georgia. He may have then been lost to history as an obscure Congressman had not two events happened almost at the same time. The Hawaiian Revolution toppled the Hawaiian monarchy and Grover Cleveland was elected President of the United States of America.

Grover Cleveland was the first Democrat elected to the presidency after the American Civil War. When he took office in 1885, it had been 24 years since a Democrat had been in the Oval Office. In a bitter election in 1888, he won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College vote to Benjamin Harrison. When he reclaimed the Presidency after the 1892 presidential election, he looked for ways to embarrass the former Harrison Administration.

Late in Harrison's term as President, the Hawaiian Revolution occurred. Local partisans, almost all of which held Hawaiian citizenship, overthrew the Hawaiian Queen. They set up a temporary government and petitioned to be annexed by the United States. President Cleveland flatly rejected their request. Instead, he sent James Henderson Blount to Hawaii to "investigate" the events of the Hawaiian Revolution.

Blount went to Hawaii. Not surprisingly, he came up with a report that satisfied President Cleveland's desire to cast a poor light on the Harrison Administration. If Blount had intended to give a fair account of the events in Hawaii in 1893, he would have interviewed all witnesses that came forward and he would have had each witness swear an oath. He failed to do both. The witnesses were not required to swear an oath and key witnesses who were unlikely to agree with the report Blount intended to issue were ignored.

James Henderson Blount then issued his seemingly preordained and now famous report in 1894. The Blount Report blamed the United States for the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. During the Hawaiian Revolution, American soldiers were asked to land by US Minister Stevens to protect American property in Hawaii. These troops fired no shots, engaged in no battles, occupied not a single Hawaiian government building, and their only impact on the Hawaiian Revolution was the fact that people knew they were present. The local insurgency brought down the Queen. Blount translated this police action by American troops as an illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian government by the USA.

Congress was skeptical of the Blount Report. The party of President Cleveland (the Democrats) also controlled Congress. They held an investigation into the Hawaiian Revolution in 1894. It was bipartisan, swore in witnesses, and interviewed many of the witnesses that Blount choose to ignore. It then issued the Morgan Report which completely repudiated the Blount Report. President Cleveland wisely then dropped the issue of Hawaii. The Republic of Hawaii again petitioned for annexation in 1898 and President McKinley honored the request.

Despite the weight of historical evidence, the Blount Report has taken on a life of its own. The Hawaiian separatist community has copied it endlessly and it is present on the many sites which are making the ridiculous claim of "illegal American occupation." And, as a sign of their bias, these sites always fail to have a copy of the Morgan Report online as well. The citation of only historical data you agree with is a sure sign of a bad historical revisionist.

Unfortunately, in 1993, the US Congress passed a ceremonial act with no force of law apologizing for the American actions in Hawaii in 1893. This act was based on the Blount Report and ignored the Morgan Report entirely. There was little debate as is customary in "national cherry pie day" proclamations but this politically correct but historically challenged edict is now consider yet another part of the Hawaiian separatist gospel. If you think Congress is good at history, go back and check out the Iraq War Resolution in 2003 pointing to weapons of mass destruction. Congress was as accurate as the Turkish Parliament was in declaring that no genocide every happened in Armenia...

James Henderson Blount died in 1903. Little did he know, when he first took up arms against the USA in 1861 to destroy the American Union, that his later political actions would serve as a rallying cry for future generations of American separatists. As unlikely as Hawaiian secession is from the USA, if it ever happens, the Blount Report can be cited a major factor. As other parts of the USA (Texas, Alaska, and all of the former Confederacy) can make similar claims of illegal occupation based on supposed illegal acts of annexation, invasion, or being part of the USA against the will of the citizens, a legal precedent set for Hawaii would ripple throughout the American nation. James Henderson Blount, that obscure rebel and separatist from Georgia, may well have more of an impact on history than he ever imagined.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

History Carnival LII

History Carnival LII is up at Jeremy Boggs's ClioWeb. Thanks for the good work Jeremy. The host for the June 1 edition will be Michael Lorenzen at the American Presidents Blog. Please send nominations to him through the carnival nomination form.

Monday, April 30, 2007

The Last King of Scotland

I finally had a chance to the see The Last King of Scotland last night. This movie was released last year. It won Forest Whitaker an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

The movie follows the adventures of Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan who through a series of adventures winds up on the staff of Idi Amin as his personal physician. He becomes more and more influential and is referred to by Amin's enemies as the White Rat. Garrigan slowly becomes aware of the evil he has become a part of and eventually with help manages to get out of Uganda.

The movie is "loose" history. Obviously, Idi Amin existed, he brutalized Uganda, and much of what is shown happened. However, the Scottish doctor never existed. Garrigan is loosely based on the real "White Rat" who was Englishman Bob Astles. You can read about him in this article titled Uganda's white Rat.

The parts about Amin's love of Scotland are true. He really was fascinated by Scottish history. It was rather disconcerting to see African "highlanders" marching in kilts with bagpipes but that was Uganda in the 70s.

Overall, I really liked this movie. It starts as a fun story with a naive Scottish doctor enjoying power by accident. But it quickly turns dark and it is easy to see how good people can become a part of horrible history. It is clear that the Garrigan character had blood on his hands. He did not mean for it to happen but it happened nonetheless. I think this is a recurring theme of history unfortunately. It is very easy for good people to get caught up in evil without ever meaning to and and most are never given the chance to atone for their actions. If you have not seen this film, I encourage you to watch it. It is worth the effort.