Friday, August 30, 2013

The Darien Scheme

In the 17th century, colonialism was the cool thing to do. Everybody in Europe was getting in on it: the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, the English, and even those crafty Swedes! It was like Pokémon Cards or Beanie Babies, only more bloody and with an extra dose of religious fanaticism. If you didn't have a colony to exploit and call your own, you were a loserface. And that's what Scotland was during this time: nothing but a pimple-skinned, four-eyed, mouth-breathing, booger-picking loserface. Sure they tried to get their foot in the New World ground with lame-brain attempts like Nova Scotia in Canada (translated from "New Scotland" in Latin) and Perth Amboy, New Jersey (translated from "The Toxic Runoff from Staten Island Settles Here" in Algonquian), but neither of those remained in Scottish hands for longer than a decade. The men of the highlands needed to get a little ambitious in order to stop the bullying and constant wedgies from the other European nations, and hatched a plan (or scheme, if you will) to become masters of two oceans by taking a crucial point in Central America called the Darien.

Fig.1: William III of England was 
only known as William II in 
Scotland, just to low-ball him a 
little bit.
Scotland's urge to become better economically was really based on its relationship with England. While still two separate countries, Scotland and England shared the same monarch, so they were en route to becoming the cluster that is the United Kingdom. The king in the 1690s, William III (fig.1) didn't much care for the Scottish part of his realm, and only allowed England's overseas exploits to prosper and be adapted into adventure novels. Like a good redheaded Celtic stepchild, Scotland still tried to win their monarch's affection, and presented a plan to build a colony in the Darien (present-day Panama). It would be the perfect spot for a trading post in the Caribbean, especially if some sort of canal was eventually constructed in this Panama region that linked the Atlantic and Pacific. I'd call it a long shot of that ever happening, but that's just me.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Ashoka the Great

Fig.1: You know you're great when your emblem includes multiple lions.
I know there are a lot of rulers out there that are nicknamed "the Great." It's almost like they just give the title away sometimes; I will personally go on a manhunt if I ever seriously hear the words "George W. Bush the Great." But some historic figures are truly deserving of the cognomen (Alexander, Charlemagne, Timur, Peter, Wayne Gretzky) not only for their conquests, but also for the cultural impact they left in the land and/or hockey league they dominated. A little-known and under-appreciated "the Great" tucked away in the forest of ancient history is man named Ashoka, who ruled the Maurya Empire in present-day India. Sure, Ashoka was a beast on the battlefield (and with the ladies, which is a requirement to earn "the Great"), but he is perhaps more revered as a patron of Buddhism, allowing it to become the dominant religion in South and East Asia over the next millennium. Not even Gretzky had that kind of hold over those impressionable Canadians, and that's saying something.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Eureka Rebellion

Think back to the American Revolution. What got the Brits in trouble in the first place? No, besides the gaudy red color of their uniforms. That's right, it was taxes on everything imaginable, from sugar, to tea, to playing cards, to newspapers, to sugary tea-flavored playing cards with news articles on them. The American colonists didn't appreciate being taxed without any representation in Parliament, or at least that was their excuse to get drunk and dump a bunch of tea into the harbor (soon followed by cow-tipping out in Farmer Wittenton's fields). Long story short, the Americans rebelled, and shook off British rule. You'd think they would have learned their lesson, but Britain nearly goofed again in another colony almost a century later: Australia. Yet another instance of "taxation without representation" caused a rebellion that changed the fabric of a quickly-developing nation. Yeah, the rebellion pretty much laid an egg, but details details...

Fig.1: A "Canvas Town" south of Melbourne, where you 
could find all the amenties of the big city, like a butcher, 
a doctor, and at least 57 liquor stores.
In 1851, a man with an unfortunate name, Thomas Hiscock, became very fortunate by discovering gold in Victoria, the southeastern-most colony on the Australian mainland. Sure enough, folks from all over the world migrated to the island or continent or whatever it is to claim a piece of that action, with most settlers camping out in tents throughout Victoria (fig.1). The British government didn't miss a beat either, and created a law that not only made the profits from discovered gold taxable, but also forced people to purchase a £1 monthly permit in order to even be allowed to look for gold. At first this was circumvented by miners pretending to be searching for their lost lucky penny or dog that wandered away from home, but the local magistrates cracked down on this and became rigorous in inspecting everyone's permits. This upset many Australians, old and new, and many banded together into unions in order to protest against this grave injustice...or practice their boomerang skills. One of the two.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Battle of New Orleans

Fig.1: Andrew Jackson failed to check his text messages to see if the war was over.
There are battles that help decide wars, give one side the momentum, or become so significant in the long run that it takes on a life of its own and enters into the national consciousness. And then there are battles that are rather pointless and are actually fought after the peace treaty to end the war is signed. The Battle of New Orleans in the winter of 1814-5 is one of the latter. Despite the fact that the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812 between the United States and the United Kingdom, was signed on Christmas Eve 1814, the soldiers in New Orleans didn't get their copy of USA Today in time, and the major fighting took place on January 8 of the next year. Imagine the look on their faces when they eventually found out the war was over! It really is a fantastic long as you look past the fact that over three thousand people were killed, wounded, or missing. Other than that, what a knee-slapper!

Friday, August 2, 2013


Fig.1: Yes, Charlemagne was so awesome, 
it was believed he was made out of gold.
There are a few people in history that I wholeheartedly admire. Of course there is my ancestor/incarnate Sima Qian, whom I would love to surpass and shame by becoming a better historian than he ever was. There is Hannibal, who showed those cocky Romans a thing or two. There is Lucille Fannybottom, who sewed the first American flag (no matter what people will tell you about some other lady). There's Sean Connery, because, well, he's Sean Connery. Can't get much more awesome than that. But perhaps my all-time hero is the one and only Charlemagne (fig.1), or Charles the Great in non-fancy talk. He took a semi-successful kingdom in present-day France and expanded it to include most of Western Europe; he was crowned the first ever Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope; he encouraged culture, literacy, and art at a time when those things were quickly falling by the wayside; and most importantly, he invented my favorite sport of water polo, and was a master at making wet passes right to the hole set. He made the "Dark Ages" just a little more bright, and that is enough to bring a grateful tear to my eye.