Who Are Iraqi & Syrian Archaeologists Blaming for Looting?

Screenshot 2015-10-05 06.51.14Aw, go on–you know the answer. It’s an old answer that fits every situation, particularly in the Islamic world.

That’s right: the Jews!

Yes, they’re using their supersecret Jewish archaeology mind-control powers to … I dunno, force ISIS to destroy the heritage of the middle east. It’s complicated.

The lack of proof is evidence that’s it true, because one thing about those Jews: they’re clever. If you can’t find evidence of anything you say, then you know they did it.

Let’s hear from an insane person:

“The Jews are always looking for antiquities – especially Middle Eastern ones, and particularly Iraqi ones – in order to prove that the Torah is true,” Ali al-Nashmi, the Iraqi archaeologist, said on the pan-Arab Mayadeen television channel earlier this month.

And so they extort, steal, and establish mafia gangs,” he opined.

Al-Nashmi further claimed the “ancient theory” – an apparent reference to the Torah, which he seems to erroneously conflate with the later Babylonian Talmud – is a product of the Jewish exile in Babylon some 2,500 years ago. Jewish adherence to this “theory” of ancient Jewish roots in present-day Iraq – Jews had lived in present-day Iraq since Babylonian times, fleeing only in the 20th century – was “reinforced following the 1897 Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland.”

The Jewish antiquities-stealing “mafia” – whose alleged existence “is why the most prominent archaeologists in the world are Jews,” he adds – is “connected to Jewish capital.”

Mafia gangs? Would that be the Kosher Nostra?

And then there’s this from … Holy Cow, he’s the director of Syria’s Palmyra museum. You know, the city whose ancient treasures were blown to rubble, on camera, by ISIS Jews dressed in ISIS costumes.

Walid Al-As’ad, the director of the Palmyra Museum, spoke to the Mayadeen network in a similar vein, explaining that Jews are driven to “erase the Arab origins of these antiquities” – this time a reference to Syrian artifacts – and “destroy the city [of Palmyra] and wipe it off the face of the Earth, in order to erase the memory of their Babylonian exile,” an exile he said was abetted by archers from Palmyra who served in the army of Chaldean King Nebuchadnezzar II when he destroyed the First Temple and exiled the Jewish elite to Babylon.

A little further down we learn this about Walid- Al-As’ad:

In August, Islamic State jihadists beheaded Walid’s father, Khaled Al-As’ad, and hanged his mutilated body in public. The elder As’ad had served as director of the Palmyra Museum for 40 years until his retirement in 2003, when Walid took over the position.

Good grief. I mean … what do you even say to that? The only tiny sliver of hope for a reasonable explanation is that Walid is saying these things out of fear, even though he’s not currently living in a region controlled by ISIS.

12 Ancient Treasures Destroyed Since 2001

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Shocker: Ray Kurzweil Says CrazyStupid Things

Must be a day that ends in Y.

Used under Creative Commons. Photo by Michael Lutch. Courtesy of Kurzweil Technologies, Inc.

Used under Creative Commons. Photo by Michael Lutch. Courtesy of Kurzweil Technologies, Inc.

Kurzweil has been predicting the “singularity,” a vagueish idea about a moment when transhumanism (aka, technognosticism) powered by teh tech (details to be determined later) and AI makes us all immortal cyborg superstars who can download our complete consciousness and live forever on a hard drive without the sticky limitations of these terrible meat sacks we call our bodies.

Ray Kurzweil is considered smart because he invented some pretty nifty things like optical character recognition and a nice keyboard. Somehow that accomplishment translated into a role as a BS-flinging futurist, so now people nod sagely when he talks demonstrable rot rather than pointing and laughing at this clearly insane prediction, which is always 20 years away even though I’ve been writing about it for years and years.

We can’t even correctly and effectively treat concussions or prescribe antidepressants without trial and error and Kurzweil thinks SCIENCE!(TM) is going to map the area of the brain responsible for, say, mild pique or the touch of ultrasuede, convert it into binary code, upload it to a computer, and reproduce the human experience, all sometime within the next decade or two. Maybe three. But soon!

Yet people still throw money at this guy and line up to hear his daft pronouncements.

Here’s the latest: we’ll all be God! (“Well, not THE God. A god,” to quote Bill Murray.)

“Evolution creates structures and patterns that over time are more complicated, more knowledgeable, more intelligent, more creative, more capable of expressing higher sentiments like being loving,” he said. “So it’s moving in the direction that God has been described as having — these qualities without limit.”

Yes, we are becoming gods.

“Evolution is a spiritual process and makes us more godlike,” was Kurzweil’s conclusion.

Hookay Ray, we’ve got a nice soft room for you right over here. It even gets WiFi! Sometimes. When the aides don’t run the microwave.

The Pope and I

Dawn at the Basilica of Sts Peter and Paul, Philadelphia, where the pope is about to say mass.

Dawn at the Basilica of Sts Peter and Paul, Philadelphia, September 26th, 2015; where the pope is about to say mass.

I don’t want to brag or anything, but I had mass with the pope.

And not some big open air mass. Nope. This was a votive mass for Our Lady, Mother of the Church, in the glorious Basilica of Sts Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. I even got a plenary indulgence for participating. Take that, Martin Luther!

The mass was a perfect ending to an exhausting week that began on Monday, the day before the World Meeting of Families opened, as I trundled around the city squinting at various incredible artifacts for a feature story on special papal exhibits. That was a good start, since I like old things, and I’m gradually becoming one, as my miserable arthritic joints kept reminding me all week.

I’ve written up some of what I experienced in a piece for the National Catholic Register, which deployed me to Philly as part of their coverage team for my writing skills because I live 13 miles away from Philadelphia. (It’s like the Clint Eastwood movie Firefox, where he thinks he’s been hired for a mission because he’s the best pilot, but really it’s just because he fits the special pilot suit.) Here’s a bit of it:

The Seat elevates the man. The man who takes the Seat a living connection to Peter, and thus to Christ. He is Christ’s vicar on earth. Tu es Petrus. Christ left us many gifts, some of them sacramental in that they are a channel of grace, some of them sustaining, such as the preaching of the gospel and the Church. One thing he left us was Peter.

Not Simon. Simon died upside down on the cross. His bones are buried underneath St. Peter’s. Simon is no more.

Jesus didn’t leave us Simon. He left us Peter, and each man in his turn who has taken that Seat has reminded us of that unbroken gift.

Read the whole thing.

It was a tremendous week seeing family and life celebrated, happy nuns, lots of children, a few hundred thousand pilgrims, and a bunch of people I’ve only met online, like Simcha and Damian Fisher with Corrie:

2015-09-25 11.46.26


And Steven Greydanus and I hung out with Pope Francis.2015-09-26 16.40.17

The entire Francismania phenomenon took me by surprise, as I discuss in the Register. I expected crowds, but not the rapturous reception of both the masses and the elite.

I was glad for it all. We don’t have such a surfeit of joy in the world that we can begrudge it when it comes in a white cassock preaching the gospel of Christ to a receptive audience. Soured-faced reactionaries kept tweeting me: but they’re not coming to the church for the right reasons! They think he’s preaching some kind “Who I am to judge to judge” gospel that celebrates recycling, gay marriage, abundant sex, and divorce!

Meh, maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but the gospel was preached attractively and persistently for most of a week, and people responded to it. To those who worry that this is just crowd emotions that will fade quickly, the Bible already has you covered.

“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”

My thought is, “Great, some of those seeds will bring forth grain!”

The critics’ thought is, “Stop wasting all that seed!

Yeah: it doesn’t work that way.

Look, I have may share of concerns about Pope Francis, and I’m perfectly fine with reasonable criticisms of him. I don’t care for the way he’s managed the synods and the kind of people he’s put forward, who are either bad theologians (Kasper) or bad human beings (Danneels). I don’t care if they are Princes of the Church: their role at the synod should be checking coats, not shaping policy at the invitation of the Holy Father.

But is that really the most important thing? Is it? He’s not the quiet, shy professor (my beloved Benedict XVI), but the world’s pastor, trying to bring people aboard the barque so we can administer the medicine of Christ to them.

Too many people were obsessed with parsing his every word and phrase for political meaning. If American politic preoccupations are the primary lens through which you view the Church and the pope’s statements, you’ve failed. Start over.

His message isn’t always easy to hear. Some of his words struck a little too close:

We need to invest our energies not so much in rehearsing the problems of the world around us and the merits of Christianity, but in extending a sincere invitation to young people to be brave and to opt for marriage and the family. Here too, we need a bit of holy parrhesia! A Christianity which “does” little in practice, while incessantly “explaining” its teachings, is dangerously unbalanced. I would even say that it is stuck in a vicious circle.

Yes … that’s me. Guilty. In the chattering class, we chatter. We shouldn’t stop chattering, but we also need to do.

There is far more to the gospel of life than our circular debates and petty obsessions. The gospel is made for people, even sinners who don’t agree with it. Especially them.

As I wrote in the Register:

The outpouring of love for Francis had many sources. Our age is sick, our nation is broken, and the ground seems to be shifting beneath our feet. Then along comes this man, preaching the heart of the gospel, a man whose role recalls the very origins of a faith that changed the world, and is so desperately needed today. He comes to us insisting that we live out Luke 4:18:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and declare a year of the Lord’s favor.”

That’s our priority. And to complain about what words he used or didn’t use about abortion, or the number of times he mentioned the environment, or the presence of a Protestant preacher at a Catholic event (all things people complained about to me) is to miss the point. They’ve forgotten the very fundamentals of our faith in an obsession over the particulars. Particulars are important, but neither Jesus nor the popes ever wanted us to go out and preach canon 1050 & ff.

They want us to preach the gospel.


Here is some of what I wrote last week:

Treasures of Christendom in Philadelphia

Seen in Philly: The Lego Vatican

Pope Francis in New York

Pro-Life Leaders Gather at World Meeting of Families

Rick Warren and Cardinal Sean O’Malley Conclude World Meeting of Families

Pope Francis’ Philly First: Marian Mass With Bishops, Priests, Religious 

There’s also an hour of radio with Mark Shea and I recapping the week.

Peter Among Us

Day 0: World Meeting of Families

I drove into Philadelphia yesterday (Monday) on assignment for the National Catholic Register, so I got an early taste of some of the World Meeting of Families. I spent much of my time trucking around to museums and exhibits for a feature story I’m writing, so most of my cell phones pics are of old things, and I don’t mean the patriarchal hierarchy of our outdated misogynist Church. (If I have to point out that’s a joke, you’re reading the wrong guy.)

Here’s a quick rundown of some Neat Things I Saw. (Click to enlarge.)

Franklin Institute: Lego Vatican!

Franklin Institute: Lego Vatican!

Vatican Splendors is a special exhibit at the Franklin. See my Register story for details.

Vatican Splendors is a special exhibit at the Franklin. See my Register story for details.

The next set of photos is from Vatican Splendors. These are old playing cards that were found mixed into mortar to patch holes in the Sistine Chapel

The next set of photos is from Vatican Splendors. These are old playing cards that were found mixed into mortar to patch holes in the Sistine Chapel

Bernini ceiling cherubs.

Bernini ceiling cherubs.

The cope of St. Charles Borremeo

The cope of St. Charles Borremeo

I was really struck but this unique painting of God the Father raising Christ from the tomb

I was really struck but this unique painting of God the Father raising Christ from the tomb

Special mitre used by Leo XIII

Special mitre used by Leo XIII

Catholics are totally metal.

Catholics are totally metal.

There was some beautiful Japanese Christian art.

There was some beautiful Japanese Christian art.

Savoi Faire is everywhere! Actually, Pope Alexander VIII

Savoi Faire is everywhere! Actually, Pope Alexander VIII

Innocent XI is seriously tired of your nonsense.

Innocent XI is seriously tired of your nonsense.

Dalmatic of St. Pius V

Dalmatic of St. Pius V

Papal throne of Pius XI

Papal throne of Pius XI

A really lovely portrait of Benedict XVI by Igor Babailov

A really lovely portrait of Benedict XVI by Igor Babailov

2015-09-21 10.33.38

Hand cast of St. John Paul II

The fish was thiiiis big. Maquette for momument to Pius XII.

The fish was thiiiis big. Maquette for momument to Pius XII.

Papal swag

Papal swag

After the exhibit I sent to the convention center to pick up my credentials. Pilgrims were already gathering with joyful songs.

2015-09-21 11.10.33

I had lunch at a dazzling preview of the Museum of the Bible, which is accompanied by an excellent exhibit that I talk about my Register piece. I can’t show you any pictures of the exhibit for legal reasons, so here are Lisa Hendey, Pat Gohn, and me at lunch:

2015-09-21 12.15.25

That was about it for day 0. There was no programming, so it was mostly just getting the lay of the land.

Philly is plastered with banners featuring Pope Francis’s face and quotes. The windows downtown are soon to be painted by the exploding heads of atheists who don’t quite grasp the actual meaning of the establishment clause. The despicable Freedom From Religion Foundation has already made a stink, and been ignored like the bag lady yelling at traffic that they are.

People full of joy and love are flooding into a city that bills itself as the City of Brotherly Love, but which is nothing of the sort. I know: I live in its shadow. It’s a wonderful city beset with violence and poverty. We the faithful are the solution, not the problem.

Bishop O’Connell’s Frustrations With Pope Francis

BishopOConnell-255x255On the eve of the pope’s visit to Philadelphia, Bishop David M. O’Connell of the Diocese of Trenton (my bishop) has given a long and candid interview about the challenges and joys of running a diocese in the age of Pope Francis.

He also reveals that he will not be participating in any of the papal events in Philadelphia despite leading a large diocese just across the river. He will, instead, be providing commentary for a local CBS affiliate. In his own commentary welcoming the pope, the Bishop put this down to his recent amputation.

Although my mobility issues will limit my ability to participate in some of the larger and more crowded venues and Masses, I look forward to seeing the Holy Father again as he prays with and speaks to all the bishops of the United States in Washington, D.C.. on Wednesday, September 23.  As during previous papal visits, I will offer some television studio commentary throughout the rest of the Pope’s travels here.  

I’ve met and interviewed Bishop O’Connell and have an immense amount of respect for him. He’s the former president of Catholic University, and an intelligent man with a background in canon law. He does a fine job in this piece of articulating the twin feelings of admiration and unease that many of us have experienced over the last two years.

Here are a few excerpts from the Atlantic City Press story:

Over the course of a more than hour-long interview, however, O’Connell, also spoke candidly and sometimes pointedly about the practical challenges of working for a mercurial, charismatic figure given to spur-of-the-moment initiatives and headline-grabbing, off-the-cuff comments, an approach that sometimes “makes life difficult” for him and his brother bishops in the U.S, he said.

“So far, everybody loves Francis, but there’s no difference in the pew.”

“That’s really where we’re having at times some struggle, some confusion. And he never goes back to clarify. He just puts it out there,” he said.

“He’s a good Jesuit teacher. ‘I’ll throw it out there and let the students figure it out.’ And that’s the way that he approaches things.”

The media frenzy surrounding the pope’s visit, the first time in his life he’s ever set foot in the U.S., would seem to provide the ideal conditions for more of these unscripted exchanges.

“If I had to give the pope advice, I would say to him, ‘Stick to what’s in the paper,’” O’Connell said, referring to the pope’s printed speeches.

“However, that’s not him. And so he’s got to be the pope that he thinks he has to be for the Church, and the Holy Spirit moves him to be for the Church,” O’Connell said.

Earlier this month, Francis made headlines again when he announced reforms aimed at speeding up the process of annulment, which he expects to take effect Dec. 8, the start of a jubilee Year of Mercy. O’Connell, a canon lawyer, says he’s still waiting for more specifics from Rome, but he doesn’t plan on making the process free of charge, as the pope has requested. The diocese currently asks the parties involved for a $700 donation to defray the cost.

“It makes life difficult,” O’Connell said. “You know, there was a time . . . if an encyclical or a pastoral letter or something was coming out from the pope, we would get advance copies of it so that we could read it, so that we could prepare (for) it.

“That doesn’t happen now,” he said. “I’m as surprised at times by some of the announcements as anybody else is. . . . It does make our role a little more difficult when we don’t know what’s going to be said, or we don’t know what to anticipate is going to be said. And so, if your question is, ‘Is this challenging for us as bishops?’ the answer is definitely yes.”

Really, read the whole thing.

Here are some of the bishop’s words of welcome to the Holy Father.

As Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, I have the joyful privilege of extending to our Holy Father Pope Francis a heartfelt word of welcome to the United States of America on behalf of all the clergy, religious and lay faithful of the Diocese.

This is an especially happy occasion since it is the Holy Father’s first trip ever to our country. We hope that these few days will provide Pope Francis with the opportunity to get to know us as we embrace him with much affection and enthusiasm and as we open our minds and hearts to his messages in New York, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.

John McWhorter on the Death of Aramaic

Linguist John McWhorter has an interesting article in The Atlantic on the decline in speakers of Aramaic, once a lingua franca of the Middle East and the language of Jesus:

Today there is no one “Aramaia” where the language is spoken. Its varieties are now used in small, obscure communities spread far apart across Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Armenia, and Georgia. There are also expatriate communities of speakers scattered even further away, in Chicago, as well as Paramus and Teaneck in New Jersey. Another indicator of the language’s gradual dissolution amid political discontinuity is the number of names it goes under nowadays. In many historical sources, the language is referred to as “Chaldean,” after one of the Aramaic-speaking dynasties that ruled Babylon when it was the glittering center of Mesopotamian civilization between the seventh and the fourth centuries B.C.E. Because a Syrian dialect of Aramaic is especially well-preserved in writing and is still used for Christian liturgy in the Middle East, Turkey, and even India, one also hears often of Syriac. Some modern speakers of Aramaic call their variety Assyrian, others Mandaic.

This, part of a digression on language complexity, made me laugh:

Russian, spoken by countless millions, is so horrifically complex that part of me always wonders whether it is an elaborate hoax.

Read the rest.

The Fascinating Story of a Historic Cross at Papal Mass in DC

Screenshot 2015-09-15 11.08.23

When the pope celebrates mass at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC, there will be a fascinating piece of history there with him: an iron cross made for the first mass in the English colonies in 1634.

The Georgetown University site has the story. The cross is believed to have been forged from iron on one of the ships–The Ark or The Dove–that brought Jesuits and settlers from England to St. Clement’s Island in Maryland.

The upright is engraved with the words, “This cross is said to have been brought by the first settlers from England to St. Mary’s.” The crossbar says “Ad perpetuam rei memoriam” (“For the eternal memory of this event”).

The cross was lost for a long time until Fr. Ronald Murphy, a professor of German at Georgetown, starting searching for it in 1989. He finally found it attached to a palette in the south tower of the university’s famous Healy building.

“This cross from England was the cross erected over the first Catholic school in the 13 colonies, at St. Mary’s in Maryland, then at the school at Bohemia Manor, and finally at the first Catholic university in the English New World, Georgetown University,” Murphy notes.

And the cross is about to add another first: it will be at the first mass said by the first Jesuit pope in the United States.

The whole story is worth reading, so check it out, along with the video.

h/t: My wife, GSU ’89.


Chickens! Google! Art!: “O meu primeiro Ovo”

I’m sorry to have left my loyal chicken fancier readers without Chicken Content for so long, so here’s a charming painting that surfaced in my Chrome browser thanks to Google Art Project, which I’ll get to in a moment.

First, the painting: “O meu primeiro Ovo” (“My first egg”) by Portuguese artist José Maria Sousa de Moura Girão, who, according to Google Cultural Institute, “distinguished himself as animalist, especially as interpreter of poultry.” If you’re going to specialize, I guess “interpreter of poultry” is as good as “painter of the same bridge a million times.”

omeuprimeiroovoI love how the other chickens seem to be saying, “Atta girl!” although I think that one peeking around the corner is all like, “I don’t want to be a pie.

Anyway, I’d never have seen the painting or heard of the artist if I didn’t have Google Art Project loaded in Chrome. It’s a little extension that serves up a new piece of art as background each time you open a new tab.

I’ve found artists I’d never have encountered, and it’s a perfect way to make the plain work of the day a little brighter with fresh art delivered right to your eyeballs at randomish intervals. Give it a shot. You can find the extension in the app store.

Here’s another gem served up by Google Art:

Claude Hirst: A Gentleman's Table

Claude Hirst: A Gentleman’s Table

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What’s the Biggest Bombshell in This Week’s Fossil Hominin Discovery?

Headlines were filled this week with news of a new fossil hominin* discovered in South Africa. Named Homo naledi, the new species exhibits an unusual blend of Australopithecus (a hominid genus that may have existed about 4 million years ago) and Homo (the genus that includes modern humans, emerging maybe 2-3 million years ago).

H. naledi hand (Creative Commons)

H. naledi hand (Creative Commons)

It’s an important find that’s being ably covered elsewhere. I’m most impressed with the unusual lack of hysteria in much of the reporting, which is correctly identifying this as a human relative rather than a human ancestor or some kind of “missing link.” We’re not seeing anything like (just to choose one example) the claim that “Lucy” (Australopithecus afarensis) was the “mother of mankind.” A+ to mainstream science journalism this week. Don’t let it go to your heads.

Any fossil hominin discovery is important because there are so few of them. Homo naledi is particularly notable because of the size and nature of the cache. The scientists who discovered the fossils explain:

Until recently, most anthropologists believed that brain size and tool use emerged together with smaller tooth size, higher-quality diet, larger body size and long legs. In this view, transformations in the body in early Homo were tied to changes in behaviour that influenced diet and the brain.

H. naledi shows that these relationships are not what anthropologists expected. It has small teeth and hands that seem to have been effective for toolmaking but also a small brain. It has long legs and humanlike feet but also a shoulder and fingers that seem effective for climbing

Side note: Beware of any attempts to create new “family trees” or timelines based on new discoveries like this. The evidence is very slight and must be filled in with vast amount of speculation, and the timeline of hominin development is always changing based on new data and discoveries. Things I was taught as hard fact as an anthropology student in 1986 are regarded with derision today. We are finding interesting and suggestive fragments, but I doubt we will ever have a complete picture of hominin development

One of the biggest surprises from the find seems to be getting buried, so to speak. That’s probably because the team is being cautious, and I applaud them for it. Clearly, however, they’re excited by what it might mean.

The remains–which included a mix of infants, children, adults, and the elderly–were found in a remote, barely-accessible space called the Dinaledi Chamber, or “Chamber of Stars.” They were not washed there by water, or dragged there by predators. There’s no evidence that these creatures were eaten, and it seems very unlikely that they sought shelter and died there.

So how did they get there?

They appear to have been entombed there, deliberately.

“In examining every other option, we were left with intentional body disposal by H. naledi as the most plausible scenario,” says team leader Lee Berger.

If true, and it seems to match the evidence, that’s a bombshell: a species of hominin this ancient that disposed of their dead. This would make the Dinaledi Chamber the oldest grave ever found, possibly by a couple million years.

There would have been easier ways of disposing of bodies than dragging them deep into this hard-to-reach place. It would be an arduous journey in dark, confined spaces. This could indicate that the dawn of ritual behavior is far earlier than ever suspected.


*Read this for more on the shifting use of hominin/hominid, if you care about that kind of thing. I’ve been reluctant to change because I’m old and think most word shifts are just academics playing games. But in this case the reasoning seems sound.

Apple’s Most Important Tech News: New Emojis!


A unicorn! AYKM? WANT!

Check out the lion. There aren’t enough EEEs in squee!, amIright?


Imagine if Keats had emojis. None of this “foster-child of silence and slow time” guff. Just BOOM!:


And think of all the whimsical ways you can tell people Aunt Flora died:


And then there’s…

emojikabaa…okay, moving on.

Look! A chipmunk!


OMG I can’t even!

Seriously, though: I love emojis. They’re hieroglyphs for the information age. My daughter and I can have entire conversations in them, and now we can talk about the time that Chipmunk and his friend Lion went on pilgrimage to the kaaba. Or that time John Keats killed us for playing ball in the house and breaking his Grecian urn.

Look for them in the iOS 9.1 update.