Curious Times 

THE BEAST GETS DOWNSIZED

Bad news for television evangelists and heavy metal bands everywhere: It seems that Satan has been deceiving us for the past 2,000 years and the Number of the Beast is not actually 666, but the far less menacing 616. This strange piece of historical revisionism comes from a group of previously unintelligible manuscripts that include fragments of the Book of Revelation and date back to the third century. Using modern technology, Biblical experts have finally been able to translate the manuscripts and their opinion is that the Number of the Beast mentioned in Revelations actually translates as 616. "This is an example of gematria, where numbers are based on the numerical values of letters in people's names," said David Parker, a professor of New Testament textual criticism and paleography. "Early Christians would use numbers to hide the identity of people who they were attacking: 616 refers to the Emperor Caligula." (The Independent UK)

TO DO: KILL HITLER, BUY NEW OUTFIT, GO TO TIME TRAVELER CONVENTION

If you happen to know how to travel through time, there are a bunch of MIT science nerds waiting for you last Saturday, May 7, at the world's first Time Traveler Convention. "Come as you are!" states the invitation at web.mit.edu/adorai/timetraveler, but "bring some sort of proof that you do indeed come from the future, and haven't just dressed like you do." Punch in the coordinates 42:21:36.025°N, 71:05:16.332°W, 8 p.m. EST, May 7, 2005, and don't forget to bring refreshments.

NO SUCH THING AS ZOMBIES?

If you've seen the BBC news report of zombies in Cambodia, rest assured that it's simply a very authentic-looking hoax. The Web page caused a mild panic last month with its report of a new strain of malaria which kills its victims within two days but leaves a parasite in the blood which restarts the victims heart for two hours and causes the newly undead to act in "extremely violent ways." Cool! Check it out at http://65.127.124.62/south_asia/4483241.stm.htm.

NO SUCH THING AS BIGFOOT?

A Manitoba man has managed to cash in after licensing his video of a Sasquatch wandering through the woods in northern Manitoba. The American "news" show A Current Affair paid an undisclosed amount for the 49-second clip of a three-meter tall, dark, humanoid figure. Keep an eye on your local listings for a chance to see a blurry image of the beast nearly 1,000 feet away from the camera. Sounds conclusive! While you wait for the footage to air, you can learn more than you ever wanted to know about Bigfoot at the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization at www.bfro.net.

PUNKS NOT DEAD

The latest craze for bored, violent youth in the UK has been dubbed "Happy Slapping"-committing random acts of assault on unsuspecting victims and filming them with your cell phone. London police have investigated 200 reports of happy slapping in the past six months and suspect that there must be hundreds more which were never reported. The videos of these assaults are then posted on Web forums, where moronic thugs can get their rocks off watching unsuspecting bystanders get punched in the head or pushed to the ground. The forum is also home to some sage advice from fellow Happy Slappers, like this timeless wisdom: "If you feel bored wen ur about an u got a video phone den bitch slap sum norman, innit." (The Guardian)

TORTURE'S NOT JUST FOR HUMANS ANYMORE

A few weeks ago, I shared with you the latest research which has finally proven that farm animals such as cows, pigs and chickens are able to form friendships and feel emotional pain much the same way that humans do. Of course, these studies only focused on the feel-good aspects of the animals' lives, and didn't indicate whether some of the more sinister aspects of the human psyche are also shared by the animal kingdom. Well, here's one clue: A fierce species of Amazonian ants has been observed building elaborate traps in which they physically torture their victims before tearing them limb from limb. According to the scientists studying these ants, the meticulous trap is an engineering marvel and seems to be built specifically for the purpose of torture. After a victim enters the trap, hundreds of ants pin it down, sting it vigorously, and stretch its body out like on a medieval rack. Small insects are then dismembered, but larger insects are sometimes tortured for up to 12 hours before having their limbs torn from their bodies. (BBC)

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