Category Archive 'Mysteries'
05 Aug 2014

Mystery Meat

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James_Bond

Karen and I have been filling up our eReaders with free classics, forgotten novels, new releases, and classic pulp. After re-reading all of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee mysteries, I just started working my way through Ian Fleming’s James Bonds.

You can really feel the passage of time, reading these 60 years on. In Diamonds Are Forever, Bond stays at the Astor Hotel in New York (torn down in 1968). He rejoices that Felix Leiter is taking him to an air-conditioned restaurant: Sardi’s. Back in 1956, not all restaurants were.

Bond’s gracious host Felix proceeds to order Bond a special meal.

“… I’ve taken a chance and ordered you smoked salmon and Brizzola,” said Leiter. “This is one of the best places in town for beef, and Brizzola’s the best cut of that, straight cut across the bone. Roasted and then broiled. Suit you?” …

The smoked salmon was from Nova Scotia, and a poor substitute for the product of Scotland, but the Brizzola was all that Leiter said, so tender that Bond could cut it with a fork.

These days, of course, a fellow can look up Brizzola on the Internet, and not just wonder at Ian Fleming’s savoir faire versus one’s own ignorance.

And one finds that one is not alone in wondering about this mysterious dish.

Peter Morwood writes:

Bond writer Raymond Benson, in The James Bond Bedside Companion describes it as a fictional invention by Fleming. One thing it certainly is not, was the only Italian form of meat with a similar name that I was able to find. Bresaola, though looking and sounding close to Brizzola, is neither roasted nor broiled but air dried and served in thin slices as an antipasto starter or snack.

This could have been on Sardi’s menu along with some other beef main course, and Fleming mixed them up. He did that in several books, with food, wine and even guns (but carried off his mistakes with such verve that these are the Bondian aspects he’s supposed to have been most knowledgeable about!) I suspect we’re back to that fir-cone situation, where Fleming was told something he’d never heard of before, and described it in terms that seemed most familiar to him. …

The Brizzola business of double-cooking made me think of that memorable dinner, not only roasting beef, but broiling it afterwards. One would think that would end up with seriously overcooked meat, but from Bond’s reaction, it clearly did no such thing. More to the point, a consultation of our cookbooks – we have about 400, after the last cull – suggest that “broiling” isn’t just a way to cook food, but also to finish it after another, longer cooking method. You can see the elements falling into place…

Then I encountered an Italian dish called Brasato di Manzo al Barolo, which is beef braised in (very good) red wine, then served in thick slices – tranches, to use the old term. The slices are thick enough to pass under a seriously-hot commercial broiler to produce a burnt, crunchy finish without actually cooking the slice of braised meat any further, and whether this was done to the proper recipe or not, it sounded like a feasible way for a restaurant to put its individual spin on the dish.

Besides describing unfamiliar things in familiar terms, Ian Fleming, bless his little cotton socks, had (according to at least a couple of observers) no head for drink, and as a result his “research meals” for James Bond novels were often something of a mishmash of incorrect or illegible notes. I’ve even seen one source suggesting that Bond’s famous “shaken not stirred” Martini – which apparently contradicts the way in which every martini was made prior to that – was a result of Fleming sampling far too many martinis, getting the method wrong, and then sticking to his guns afterwards. It doesn’t hurt that in his essay How to Write a Thriller he elaborates on how someone going against the grain like that makes for a more interesting character, which works for me. The only place it doesn’t work is that such behaviour makes said character stand out and become memorable – both characteristics that a spy would do well to avoid.

It seemed to me that we’d found at least one likely candidate for “Brizzola.” Diane had other suggestions; that it might originally have been a deliberately-underdone rib roast cut between the ribs into individual portions like really large T-bone steaks, and finished on or under a grill. Alternately, it could have been a London broil sliced and finished in the same way, which is what I did to a fine piece of rump steak the other night, for my birthday dinner.

The meat had been marinating since Monday in olive oil, red wine, red wine vinegar, oregano, cracked pepper and crushed garlic. It was then slow roasted, frequently basted with the marinade, then cut into four thick slices and whizzed under the grill. Luckily our kitchen cooker has a very enthusiastic grill, if it’s allowed to preheat properly, so the end result was delicious.

And yes, you can cut it with a fork…!

DiamondsAreForever

19 Jul 2014

Helicopter Look at Siberian Crater

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IFL Science:

Russian scientists got their first look inside the mysterious crater in Yamal, Siberia on Wednesday, July 16, while the Siberian Times took a helicopter ride to get another look down into the hole.

Based off of the original video of the crater, it was estimated that the crater could have been up to 80 meters wide. However, Andrey Plekhanov of the State Scientific Centre of Arctic Research told The Siberian Times that the hole is about 30 meters wide and the outer portion that includes the soil emission is around 60 meters in diameter. The researchers were also able to get their first look at the icy lake that exists at the bottom of the 70-meters-deep hole. Soil, air, and water samples have been taken in order to help determine the cause.

Preliminary results indicate that the hole was formed within the last two years and satellite data is being examined to try and identify exactly when it first appeared. Plekhanov told the Siberian Times that it was an ejection from within the permafrost, but it was not an explosion as there was not a release of heat.

Some had initially speculated that natural gas had been trapped underground in ice, as the area had been locked in permafrost for thousands of years. However, as the ground thawed and the gas became warmer, the increased pressure may have ejected outward and caused the hole. The summers of 2012 and 2013 were especially warm in the region, but the researchers still have more work to do before naming a specific cause.

I think you can see by the ground coloration that this crater occurred along an underground watercourse.

02 Jul 2014

Mysteries of the Aleppo Codex

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AleppoCodex

Matti Friedman gives a fascinating account of the history, and recent partial theft, of one of the oldest and most valuable books in the world.

The Aleppo Codex, a bound book of approximately 500 parchment pages, was compiled in Tiberias around the year 930 C.E., making it the oldest known copy of the complete Bible. It was moved to Jerusalem, stolen by crusaders in 1099, ransomed by the Jews of Cairo, and studied by the philosopher Maimonides, who declared it the most accurate version of the holy text. It was later taken to Aleppo, Syria, and guarded for six centuries. There it became known as the “Crown of Aleppo.”

In 1947, in a riot that followed the United Nations vote on the partition of Palestine, the codex disappeared, surfacing 10 years later in mysterious circumstances in the new state of Israel. The codex is currently held in the Israel Museum, in the same building as the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is controlled not by the museum, however, but by a prestigious academic body, the Ben-Zvi Institute, founded by Israel’s second president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. Somewhere along the way in the mid-20th century, 200 priceless pages—around 40 percent of the total—went missing. These include the most important pages: the Torah, or Five Books of Moses.

There are two mysteries linked to the codex. The first: How did the book move to Israel from a grotto in Aleppo’s Great Synagogue and effectively become the property of the new state? And the second: How did its missing pages vanish, and where might they be now? …

The official version of the story, propagated by the academics in Israel who control the manuscript, claimed the pages vanished in Aleppo around the time of the 1947 riot. But we know now that the manuscript was seen whole as late as 1952, five years later. The first description of any significant damage to the codex dates, strikingly, only to 1958—after the manuscript reached the Ben-Zvi Institute in Jerusalem.

At around the same time, my investigation found, dozens of valuable books and manuscripts vanished from the library of the same institute. When I approached former officials at the institute with evidence of the other missing books, several went on record saying the man responsible for their disappearance was the institute’s director at the time, Meir Benayahu, a scholar who throughout a long and illustrious career studied, collected, bought, and sold rare Hebrew books. He left his post amid a legal battle over control of the institute in 1970.

Benayahu, who died in 2009, came from a powerful political family with roots in Iraq; he was the son of a Sephardic chief rabbi, Yitzhak Nissim, and brother of a senior Likud cabinet minister, Moshe Nissim. (As was common in those years, Benayahu adopted a more modern and Israeli-sounding last name.) This scandal has long been known in Israel’s small and insular academic world but was never made public. Legal proceedings were avoided at the time thanks to the direct intervention of Israel’s president, Zalman Shazar. Police were never summoned, no charges were filed, and no books were returned. Benayahu’s family denies any wrongdoing and says the accusations against him are a smear campaign aimed at covering up thefts by other people; they have asked, rightly, why no one went to the police at the time. Today Benayahu’s family owns a collection of Hebrew texts that is one of the world’s largest in private hands.

Whatever precisely happened at the Ben-Zvi Institute, the long-buried affair of the institute’s vanished books—whether it is connected or not to the disappearance of the codex pages—is arguably the worst corruption scandal in the history of the Israeli academy.

The Aleppo Codex web-site.

12 Dec 2013

What’s Down There?

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Bertha, the tunnel-boring machine.

A mysterious object is blocking an $80-million tunnel boring machine 60-feet underneath a major American city and nobody has any idea what it is. The Blaze

Is it a boulder or a buried railroad car? Oregon Live

18 Oct 2013

J002E3

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Wikipedia:

J002E3 is the designation given to a supposed asteroid discovered by amateur astronomer Bill Yeung on September 3, 2002. Further examination revealed that the surface appeared to contain the paint used on the Apollo moon rockets. The object is probably the S-IVB third stage of the Apollo 12 Saturn V rocket (serial S-IVB-507).

Via Ratak Monodosico.

12 Oct 2013

Barn Ornament

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Down in Somerset County, next Saturday, the John Henry Mellot auction company will be holding an estate auction at a local farm.

Since they posted a photo of this round object mounted decoratively at the gable of the barn, I expect it will probably be for sale.

I’m not actually looking to own one of these myself, but I am curious as to what is the identity of this large, obviously antique, article of agricultural technology?

24 Aug 2013

Female Memorial Figure

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Female sculpture from Zentralfriedhof Cemetery, Simmering, Vienna (click on picture for larger image)

My curiosity is insatiable once provoked, and I’ve just wasted more than a hour trying to figure out whose memorial this very charming statue ornaments, and what is intended by the image of a classically-draped Bernini-esque female figure, kneeling, long hair hanging down, wringing her hands over a peculiar Art Noveau jewelry box or miniature model of a theater. Are we to take it that the soul or anima of the deceased is housed in this rock-crystal-windowed casket and the lady is imploring for it to come back to life?

A statue of this quality and interest is bound to be photographed more than once, and sure enough, I found more details at least, here and here. But none of the photographers can be bothered to identify the deceased party being memorialized, the sculptor, or what exactly is supposed to be going on. Imagine my frustration.

Via Fred Lapides (who means to say “Memento Mori”).

01 Jul 2013

Manchester Museum Statue Rotates in its Case

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ABC News:

An ancient Egyptian statue in a British museum has sparked debate after it was captured on video seemingly rotating on its own.

The 10-inch tall statue of Neb-senu has been on display at the Manchester Museum in Manchester, England, for 80 years but it was only recently that museum staff noticed the statue moving.

“Most Egyptologists are not superstitious people. I wondered who had changed the object’s position without telling me,” the museum’s curator, Campbell Price, told the U.K.’s Sun. “But the next time I looked, it was facing in another direction–and a day later had yet another orientation.”

With his curiosity piqued, Price returned the statue of the Egyptian idol to its original position in a locked glass case and set up a camera to film the statue over an 11-hour period. The resulting time-lapse video, Price says, shows the statue moving on its own.

Other experts attribute the rotation to a more scientific reasoning, such as subtle vibrations that cause the statue to move.

“The statue only seems to spin during the day when people are in the museum,” Carol Redmount, associate professor of Egyptian archeology at the University of California, Berkeley, told ABC News. “It could have something to do with its individual placement and the individual character of the statue.”

The statue, made from serpentine, shows what is likely an official with “priestly duties,” according to Price, wearing a shoulder-length wig and knee-length kilt.

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Description from the Sun:

This statuette is of an official — probably with priestly duties — and is made from serpentine, a hard stone.

It shows a man, standing with his left foot forward wearing a shoulder-length wig and a knee-length kilt.

Hieroglyphs on the back of the figure spell out a prayer for offerings (“bread, beer and beef”) for the spirit of the man.

The reading of his name is unclear – but may be pronounced “Neb-senu”.

It was donated to the museum by Annie Barlow, of Bolton, in 1933.

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19 May 2013

Coke Recipe Goes For $15M on Ebay

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Time
, May 14:

A Georgia antiques collector is the latest person to claim that he might have found the original recipe for Coca-Cola.

Cliff Kluge and his wife Arlene recently bought a box of letters at an estate sale, and one of the yellowed papers, dated 1943, includes instructions for making cola, according to Atlanta’s WXIA. Kluge thinks it could potentially be the recipe for Coca-Cola and is trying to sell it on eBay; bidding starts at $5 million, but customers can buy it now for $15 million.

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Somebody clearly believed that it was real, as it Sold via “Buy It Now” on May 15th:

On May 8th, 1886, Dr. John Stythe Pemberton, a pharmacist and inventor of medicinal beverages, invented the world’s most famous drink – Coca Cola. Shortly after, he began selling the fountain drink in a nearby Atlanta pharmacy. Concocted in a brass kettle in his back yard, this patent medicine was billed as being able to cure anything from morphine addiction to headaches to impotence.The ingredients, their ratio and the process method of the beverage is one ofthe most closely guarded secrets in the world. To this day, it is said that only two of Coca Cola’s executives know the entire ingredients.

In 1899, Benjamin F. Thomas and Joseph B. Whitehead of Chattanooga, met with Asa Chandler, then President and owner of the Coca Cola Company. They approached him with the idea of bottling the beverage. Until then, Coca Cola was only available as a fountain drink. After much negotiations, Mr. Chandler agreed to grant bottling rights to the two gentleman, for the astronomical fee of $1.00.(He never collected the $1.00, by the way) Thus born was the world’s first Coca Cola Bottling Company, located in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Fast forward 100+ years later to the 21st Century – we were at an estate sale of a deceased, renown Chattanooga chemist, who at one time worked at one of the more prominent chemical companies in the area. There were masses upon masses of personal paperwork at the sale. Curious, we bought several boxes of this paperwork, which yielded some interesting finds. Among those finds is what is offered for sale here – what we believe to be the formula for Coca Cola.

Typed on January 15th, 1943, this single page (front and back) breaks down the formula into exact amounts of specific ingredients to make one gallon of concentrate, which, when combined and processed yields enough to make 16 gallons..

May we make this perfectly clear – we can never guarantee and never claim that this is the actual recipe for Coca Cola. Even if this formula was 100% accurate in every aspect– as mentioned above– there are only two people in the world that can verify it’s accuracy, and I doubt they will be willing to compromise Coca Cola to acknowledge our exactness. That is why we are selling this as a historic artifact.

What I can guarantee is that offered for sale is a single page, hand typed and written, 70+ year old recipe on yellowed paper that was purchased out of an estate of a local chemist in a city that claims the right of being where Coca Cola Bottling originated. Whoever typed this letter back in 1943, had access to the original recipe, and references that fact on the second page – “On page 83 of the Extractor is the original Coca Cola formula(e) which might serve as a source of preparation information.”

Though you’re looking at the “Swiss Cheese” version of that formula, with the ingredients edited out, you will be purchasing the entire recipe to include ingredients, ratios and preparation details. The formula is an interesting read in itself – including the Maywood Chemical Company, now the Stepan Chemical Company, which has the solitary right of decocanizing the coca leaves for Coca Cola. Indeed, until 1903, Coca Cola had an average of 9 milligrams of cocaine in each serving. No wonder it got rid of headaches.

It is to our belief that the interest in this will be so great, that the questions through eBay will be monumental– so we ask “serious inquires only”. I will never reveal any portion of the formula in any shape or form, so don’t waste the energy asking. You may find the “Buy It Now” price exceptionally steep, but it will be a drop in the bucket if this formula rises to the occasion and yields an accurate formula for CocaCola – the most popular drink in the world , with over a billion served daily. A billion plus per day – my goodness.

Update: It’s interesting to see how this is unfolding. According to some news sources, it appears that during World War II (this letter is dated January 15, 1943) Coca Cola was concerned that they were not going to be able to obtain all the ingredients they needed to make the formula – either by war time shortages, or the countries where the ingredients came from were deep in battle and couldn’t meet supply demands. This is pure speculation – the estate we bought this from — this person was a renown chemist — is it possible that this informal letter was written to that chemist to find other avenues to reach the same tasting Coca Cola recipe? Personally, I don’t believe it was written to compromise Coca Cola or the formula. There is no doubt (at least in my mind) that whoever typed the letter had seen the original recipe for Coca Cola, and they reference that on the second page – “On page 83 of the Extractor….” Is it the original recipe? I don’t know, but more evidence and external factors are falling in place to bolster the fact that this could be the original, with an emphasis on the word “could”. Looking at the recipe, it certainly is a lot more complicated than I could have ever imagined.

28 Dec 2012

10 Unsolved Mysteries

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The Voynich Manuscript

Yale’s Bienecke Library’s description:


Written in Central Europe at the end of the 15th or during the 16th century, the origin, language, and date of the Voynich Manuscript—named after the Polish-American antiquarian bookseller, Wilfrid M. Voynich, who acquired it in 1912—are still being debated as vigorously as its puzzling drawings and undeciphered text. Described as a magical or scientific text, nearly every page contains botanical, figurative, and scientific drawings of a provincial but lively character, drawn in ink with vibrant washes in various shades of green, brown, yellow, blue, and red.

Based on the subject matter of the drawings, the contents of the manuscript falls into six sections: 1) botanicals containing drawings of 113 unidentified plant species; 2) astronomical and astrological drawings including astral charts with radiating circles, suns and moons, Zodiac symbols such as fish (Pisces), a bull (Taurus), and an archer (Sagittarius), nude females emerging from pipes or chimneys, and courtly figures; 3) a biological section containing a myriad of drawings of miniature female nudes, most with swelled abdomens, immersed or wading in fluids and oddly interacting with interconnecting tubes and capsules; 4) an elaborate array of nine cosmological medallions, many drawn across several folded folios and depicting possible geographical forms; 5) pharmaceutical drawings of over 100 different species of medicinal herbs and roots portrayed with jars or vessels in red, blue, or green, and 6) continuous pages of text, possibly recipes, with star-like flowers marking each entry in the margins.

I normally avoid linking slide-shows deliberately arranged to extort clicks, but this one has an awfully good list including many unsolved mysteries I had never heard of.

21 Nov 2012

Scientists, For Now, Withholding Big News From Mars

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Mars Rover and scoop marks

NPR:

Scientists working on NASA’s six-wheeled rover on Mars have a problem. But it’s a good problem.

They have some exciting new results from one of the rover’s instruments. On the one hand, they’d like to tell everybody what they found, but on the other, they have to wait because they want to make sure their results are not just some fluke or error in their instrument.

It’s a bind scientists frequently find themselves in, because by their nature, scientists like to share their results. At the same time, they’re cautious because no one likes to make a big announcement and then have to say “never mind.”

The exciting results are coming from an instrument in the rover called SAM. “We’re getting data from SAM as we sit here and speak, and the data looks really interesting,” John Grotzinger, the principal investigator for the rover mission, says during my visit last week to his office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. That’s where data from SAM first arrive on Earth. “The science team is busily chewing away on it as it comes down,” says Grotzinger.

SAM is a kind of miniature chemistry lab. Put a sample of Martian soil or rock or even air inside SAM, and it will tell you what the sample is made of.

Grotzinger says they recently put a soil sample in SAM, and the analysis shows something earthshaking. “This data is gonna be one for the history books. It’s looking really good,” he says.

I’m betting on microbial life.

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Yahoo
quotes a News Agency report of the additional locating by the Mars rover of “a small, bright object.”

NASA officials say the Curiosity rover has made its first scoop of the surface of planet Mars and has detected a bright object on the ground.

Officials said in a news release Monday that they suspect the object might be a part of the six-wheeled rover, but they won’t sample or scoop anymore until they figure out what it is.

The Curiosity has already beamed back pictures of bedrock that suggest a fast-moving stream once flowed on the planet.

The rover landed Aug. 5 and is on a two-year, $2.5 billion mission to study whether microbial life could have existed on Mars in the past.


Cigar band dropped by Captain John Carter, C.S.A.

29 Jun 2012

Caption This

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(click on picture for larger image)

Is that an immature ostrich? Is it looking over a peculiar fence or the headstones in an oriental graveyard? Who knows? I searched 2.1 Billion images on the web (using Tineye) and did not find a source.

It comes from Theo, of course.

27 May 2012

Mystery Photo

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(click on picture for larger image)

I found several thumbnails of this image on British, Swedish, and Chinese web-sites, but could not get to the original postings. I have no idea how Fred Lapides comes up with certain images.

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UPDATE, 5/29:

Commenter Sydney Duodenenum refers us to this Russian video:

21 May 2012

Barack Obama’s Changing Life Story

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Doug Ross tracks the changes to the biography Barack Obama provided, in third person form, to his literary agent.

On June 27, 1998, the website read: [Emphasis added] “BARACK OBAMA was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. He was born in Kenya to an American anthropologist and a Kenyan finance minister, and was raised in Indonesia, Hawaii, and Chicago. His first book is DREAMS FROM MY FATHER: A STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE.”

The Obama entry remained unmodified (e.g., June 6, 2002) until sometime around December 9, 2004, when it was modified to read: “BARACK OBAMA is the junior Democratic senator from Illinois, and was the dynamic keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. He was also the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. He was born in Kenya to an American anthropologist and a Kenyan finance minister, and was raised in Indonesia, Hawaii, and Chicago. His first book, DREAMS FROM MY FATHER: A STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE, is a New York Times bestseller.”

On February 10, 2007, Senator Barack Obama formally announced his candidacy for the Presidency.

On April 3, 2007, the website read: “BARACK OBAMA is the junior Democratic senator from Illinois and was the dynamic keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. He was also the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. He was born in Kenya to an American anthropologist and a Kenyan finance minister and was raised in Indonesia, Hawaii, and Chicago. His first book, DREAMS FROM MY FATHER: A STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE, has been a long time New York Times bestseller.”

Sometime between April 3rd and April 21st, a member of the Obama campaign staff (or Obama himself) noticed the discrepancy in birthplace that would presumably disqualify the Senator from office.

On April 21, 2007, the website read: “BARACK OBAMA is the junior Democratic senator from Illinois and was the dynamic keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. He was also the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. He was born in Hawaii to an American anthropologist and a Kenyan finance minister and was raised in Indonesia, Hawaii, and Chicago. His first book, DREAMS FROM MY FATHER: A STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE, has been a long time New York Times bestseller.”

On June 14, 2007, the website read: “BARACK OBAMA, the junior Democratic senator from Illinois, is currently campaigning to become the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee. He was born in Hawaii to a father who was raised in a small village in Kenya and a mother who grew up in small-town Kansas. Barack’s father eventually returned to Kenya, and Barack grew up with his mother in Hawaii, and for a few years in Indonesia. Later, he moved to New York, where he graduated from Columbia University before moving to Chicago, where he became a community organizer. He went on to earn his law degree from Harvard, where he became the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. His first book, DREAMS FROM MY FATHER: A STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE, has been a long-time New York Times bestseller.”

Old media’s feeble handling of this issue — parroting the laughable assertion that clerical errors caused Obama’s birthplace to be incorrectly listed, when former clients and the agency’s policy itself states that authors provide the biographical briefs — is pathetic.

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Mark Steyn theorizes about the meaning of all the confusion about Obama’s birthplace.

When it comes to conspiracies, I’m an Occam’s Razor man. The more obvious explanation of the variable first line in the eternally shifting sands of Obama’s biography is that, rather than pretending to have been born in Hawaii, he’s spent much of his life pretending to have been born in Kenya. After all, if your first book is an exploration of racial identity and has the working title “Journeys in Black and White,” being born in Hawaii doesn’t really help. It’s entirely irrelevant to the twin pillars of contemporary black grievance — American slavery and European imperialism. To 99.99 percent of people, Hawaii is a luxury-vacation destination and nothing else. Whereas Kenya puts you at the heart of what, in an otherwise notably orderly decolonization process by the British, was a bitter and violent struggle against the white man’s rule. Cool! The composite chicks dig it, and the literary agents.

And where’s the harm in it? Everybody does it — at least in the circles in which Obama hangs. At Harvard Law School, where young Barack was “the first African-American president of The Harvard Law Review,” there’s no end of famous firsts: As The Fordham Law Review reported, “Harvard Law School hired its first woman of color, Elizabeth Warren, in 1995.” …

In 1984, when “Elizabeth Warren — Cherokee” was cooking up a storm, the young Obama was still trying to figure out his name: He’d been “Barry” up till then. According to his recently discovered New York girlfriend, back when she dated him he was “BAR-ack,” emphasis on the first syllable, as in barracks, which is how his dad was known back in Kenya. Later in the Eighties, he decided “BAR-ack” was too British, and modified it to “Ba-RACK.” Some years ago, on Fox News, Bob Beckel criticized me for mispronouncing Barack Obama’s name. My mistake. All I did was say it the way they’ve always said it back in Kenya. But Obama himself didn’t finally decide what his name was or how to say it until he was pushing 30. In the shifting sands of identity, he picked his crabs carefully.

“I suppose he’d had the name ready for a long time, even then,” says Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby. “His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people — his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all. The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. . . . So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end.”

In a postmodern America, the things that Gatsby attempted to fake — an elite schooling — Obama actually had; the things that Gatsby attempted to obscure — the impoverished roots — merely add to Obama’s luster. Gatsby claimed to have gone to Oxford, but nobody knew him there because he never went; Obama had a million bucks’ worth of elite education at Occidental, Columbia, and Harvard Law, and still nobody knew him (“Fox News contacted some 400 of his classmates and found no one who remembered him”). In that sense, Obama out-Gatsbys Gatsby…

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