Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

Reporter

Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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How Did Mozart Die? Let Me Count the Ways...

| Wed Dec. 15, 2010 4:41 PM EST

The real killers (Photo: Carbon NYC/Flickr)The real killers (Photo: Carbon NYC/Flickr)This, via Brainiac, is undoubtedly the best (only?) academic paper you'll read all week. French doctor Lucien Karhausen, fed up with his colleagues' incessant efforts to figure out what killed Mozart, has taken to the pages of British Medical Journal to settle the matter once and for all. Conclusion? Everyone's full of it:

I have identified 140 (sometimes overlapping) possible causes of death, in addition to 85 other conditions. But Mozart died only once.

Among those 225 diagnoses, Karhausen finds 27 unique psychiatric disorders, and enough physical ailments and conspiratorial assailants to kill Rasputin 10 times over. Researchers have based their diagnoses on translation errors, as well as deep and thoughtful analysis of a misidentified skull:

For some, Mozart manifested cachexia or hyperthyroidism, but for others it was obesity or hypothyroidism. Ludendorff, a psychiatrist, and her apostles, claimed in 1936 that Mozart had been murdered by the Jews, the Freemasons, or the Jesuits, and assassination is not excluded by musicologists like Autexier, Carr, and Taboga.

Epic. As MoJo's Dave Gilson noted back in September, researchers have turned the diagnosis of fictional characters into a medical parlor game, explaining, for instance, that Tintin suffered from hormone deficiency and Tiny Tim from distal renal tubular acidosis.

But if anything, it's even more prevalent with historical figures. To wit: Last month, a Cal State, San Bernardino professor released a study arguing that King Tut was killed by a hippo. That came four years after researchers revealed that King Tut died from a double infection of malaria. Prior to that, researchers believed he had heen murdered. To date, no one has dared suggest that Tutenkhamen might still be alive, but it'd certainly be a provocative thesis and as such probably warrants further study.

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California Court Considers Salami, Festivus

| Wed Dec. 15, 2010 9:00 AM EST

There are plenty of flaws with the California criminal justice system; actually, it can be pretty awful. But it's not all bad news. The OC Register reports that earlier this year, an Orange County inmate successfully persuaded a Superior Court judge to accomodate his special religious diet:

Festivus may only come around once a year...but longtime county inmate Malcolm Alarmo King was able to celebrate it three times a day while locked up at the Theo Lacy jail in Orange.

King's quest for a healthier eating option while behind bars ended with a county lawyer forced to research the origin of Festivus and its traditions and a Superior Court judge recognizing the holiday – which lodged its place in pop culture on an episode of "Seinfeld" – as a legitimate religion.

At issue was King's objection to eating salami, which Orange County feeds its inmates. Key quote:

The Sheriff's Department interviewed King about his religious leanings in May. When asked what his religion was, he answered "Healthism."

A couple of quick points here: 1) Salami is horrible. More importantly, 2) this kind of thing actually happens all the time.

Poll: Obama Not a Christian, But Neither is...Glenn Beck!?

| Tue Dec. 14, 2010 9:00 AM EST

Last week I told you about the drama in the Texas speaker's race, where conservative Christian activists have been accused of anti-Semitism for suggesting that incumbent (and Jewish) speaker Joe Straus is not sufficiently Christian. The catch is that this kind of attack is hardly unique to Straus. Here's a new poll from the Christian firm Lifeway Research, which illustrates that pretty well.

Lifeway surveyed 1,000 protestant pastors—liberal and conservative, evangelical and mainline—about the religious views of a handful of well-known politicians and celebrities. The good news is most of the pastors (a supermajority, even!) think Sarah Palin is a Christian. On the other hand, 33 percent of them don't. Obama checks in at 41 percent. And Glenn Beck? Just 27 percent, largely on account of his Mormon faith. That's better than Oprah (19 percent), but not what you might expect from the man who's built a movement (and a bank account) preaching the Christian influence of the Founders.

At the risk of stating the obvious, I'd add that "Protestant pastors" is a fairly specific cohort; actually, it sounds dangerously close to a Mark Penn Microtrends demographic ("station-wagon seminarians," perhaps?). And Lifeway doesn't really get into the details, except to note that liberals are more likely to say everyone's a Christian, and conservatives are more likely to say no one is. But you can see the larger point: Being a "Christian," and being identified as such by others is not mutually inclusive. Politics only magnifies that.

Anti-Sharia Advocates: We've Not Yet Begun to Fight

| Fri Dec. 10, 2010 5:24 PM EST

By now you've probably read about the ongoing legal wrangling over Oklahoma's constitutional amendment to ban Sharia. There are plenty of reasons to pick on Oklahoma, but it turns out the state actually has plenty of allies in the fight against Islamic law. Per USA Today:

Although Oklahoma's law is the first to come under court scrutiny, legislators in at least seven states, including Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah, have proposed similar laws, the National Conference of State Legislatures says.

Key quote:

"It's not an issue in Utah," [state rep. Carl Wimmer] says, "but I wanted to make sure it doesn't become an issue in Utah."

Well, that settles it, then.

In an interesting twist, Wimmer (top left) was ultimately forced to withdraw his bill when he discovered that it would have posed significant barriers to Utah companies conducting business overseas. But he's managed to stay busy in the interim,  introducing legislation to nullify the Affordable Care Act, criminalize miscarriages, and make the Browning 1911 Utah's state gun.

The Bigger Story Behind Anti-Semitism in Texas

| Fri Dec. 10, 2010 7:00 AM EST

It's been an inspired couple of months for Texas conservatives. Gov. Rick Perry launched his national book tour by asserting his right to secede from Social Security; a state representative introduced a bill demanding that President Obama release his birth certificate; another state rep squatted in the capitol for two days and two nights to introduce immigration reform. Oh, and this photo happened. And now, after a historic landslide at the polls last month, Republican activists have taken aim at one of their own: House speaker Joe Straus. Straus is a moderate. He's also Jewish. Maybe you can see where this is headed.

Here's what John Cook, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, told the Texas Observer:

"I want to make sure that a person I'm supporting is going to have my values. It's not anything about Jews and whether I think their religion is right or Muslims and whether I think their religion is right...I got into politics to put Christian conservatives into office. They're the people that do the best jobs over all..."

Cook said his opposition was not about Straus' religion, although he prefers Christian candidates.

"They're some of my best friends," he said of Jews, naming two friends of his. "I'm not bigoted at all; I'm not racist."

Cook's something of a loon, as evidenced by his fantastically oblivious "some of my best friends" defense. But all of the cries of anti-Semitism do sort of seem to be glossing over one very obvious thing: Conservative Christian political activists generally think that being a conservative Christian makes you better qualified to hold public office. That's sort of the point.

To be clear, there's pretty compelling evidence that at least some of Straus' opponents have focused on his Judaism. But if he were a social-justice Catholic, or a moderate main-liner, or a progressive evangelical, he would still face a pretty intense push from conservative activists arguing that he is not a true Christian, or at least not a true conservative Christian. This has been a theme in just about every major contested election for the last few decades, and it's a sentiment that's well entrenched in the conservative movement. That he is literally not a Christian in this case is just a technicality.

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