Inquiring minds etc.

June 3, 2009



One of the curiosities of American history is that no one has ever figured out who was the mother of William Franklin. We know the father well enough – Benjamin Franklin, one of the geniuses of the American Revolution. But Ben wasn’t married to Billy’s mom, and though he took good care of the boy until they split over questions of loyalty or rebellion, the old man never let slip the mother’s name. No scholar has been able to unravel the mystery.

But that’s cheap cheese compared to what the Egyptians are monkeying around with — trying to determine who was the father of King Tutankhamun. That’s been the subject of speculation at least since the king’s tomb was uncovered in 1922, but now Egyptian scholars are using DNA samples from the mummy to narrow the parentage down — presumably to either Akhenaten or Amenhotep III. 




Meanwhile, there has been some controversy over a bust of the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti — a contemporary of King Tut’s — whose reputed good looks have been the source of fascination for centuries. Swiss art historian Henri Stierlin wrote in a book published this spring that the statue is a copy dating only from 1912. Worse yet, German scientists earlier this year speculated that the sculptor of the original bust may have smoothed out creases around the queen’s mouth and straightened out her bumpy nose. 

If these intimate secrets aren’t safe after 3300 years, what chance has Adam Lambert got?



Andy Burnham, the British culture secretary, wants the Office of Communications to investigate whether the television network and the producers of “Britain’s Got Talent” had acted responsibly toward Susan Boyle in the runup to the show’s finals. The implication is that the people behind the show that vaulted Boyle from the obscurity of a Scottish village to the limelight of YouTube should have done a better job of protecting her from the effects of sudden fame.

Burnham made reference to Britain’s broadcast code when he called for a determination that “duty of care” had been exercised with respect to Susan Boyle, who was briefly hospitalized for exhaustion after coming in second in the show’s finals. The Office of Communications doesn’t think the broadcast code covers what happened to Boyle, but Burnham said: “We are living in a world where it is not just about what happens on telly on a Saturday night. There is 360 degree scrutiny, 365 days a year.  We need to look after people, not just around the camera. Broadcasters should always put people’s welfare first.”

This has prompted some bitter responses from readers of The Times of London, some sympathetic to Susan Boyle, some not. Some of the readers were outraged that the government would even think of becoming involved in a trivial, private matter. I liked the comment from Al of Manchester:

The UK is full of cruel people feasting on a diet of bile soaked Tabloid fodder and Reality TV trash. First they jeered and sneered at Susan for not looking like a singer and now they do the same because she not “tough enough to take it”. What a sad place and sad people we’ve become.

And Jessica of Eastbourne:

Can I just say that “they” did not treat Susan any differently than any of the other contestants. Susan was a victim of the throwaway celebrity culture that the UK and the US fawn over so much. If anyone “threw her away” it was the public, and the show’s producers are not as much to blame as we are.

What I loved about the reporting of this story is that after the universal handwringing and public penance over the snickering and eye-rolling when Susan Boyle first appeared on the show, the media couldn’t mention her without pointing out how “dowdy” she is, how unlikely a celebrity she is, or without calling attention again to the fact that she is a “virgin” who has “never been kissed.”