Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Spanish Armada

Fig.1: Yellow sky during battle, better find a paddle!
Among all the unpredictable things in the world, like the ending of an M. Night Shyamalan movie or whether or not a doughnut is jelly-filled, all are trumped by the unreliability of naval battles. It doesn't matter whether you have the most experienced sailors, best equipped ships, or highest SPF sunscreen; when two navies go at it, you might as well put all of your faith in Poseidon, or maybe even the Snorks. A good example of this is the famous Spanish Armada of 1588, which despite their superior numbers, commanders, and Catholicism, floundered away in the English Channel due to poor tactics and a simple low-pressure system. To this day, the Spanish Armada serves as a metaphor for an over-hyped project which, despite all of the faith put to it, is doomed to fail (a comparison that has been challenged by the Dallas Cowboys since 1996).

Friday, November 22, 2013

Viking Discovery of America

Fig.1: "Dibbs!"
Everyone and their uncle's monkey knows that in fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. But what those sly kindergarten teachers failed to tell you was that around the year ten-hundred, Leif Erikson reached the New World and plundered! That's right, conclusive evidence exists that history's greatest bullies, the Vikings, actually became the first Europeans to discover America (fig.1)! While the old Norse legends had long claimed that great explorers voyaged west and made landfall in a place called "Vinland," it wasn't until the 1960s that crazy people digging in the dirt (a breed commonly known as archaeologists) confirmed these stories through the finding of an old Viking settlement on the Canadian island of Newfoundland. Although no long-term colonization occurred at this time (as other Europeans would conceitedly graciously do 500 years later), this initial journey remains a remarkable feat of Norse ingenuity, curiosity, and insatiability of the desire to find more heads of lob off with their axes.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Queen Ranavalonas of Madagascar

Fig.1: More like Catherine 
the Great Cross-dresser!
Even though those of us with testosterone and Adam's apples don't like to admit it, many kingdoms' best rulers have been of the female variety. Elizabeth I (England), Catherine (Russia), Maria Theresa (Austria), and Zelda (Hyrule) are all great examples of queens that have led their nations to military success, established economic stability, and some have even dressed as a man in order to teach the only decent swordsman in the kingdom various tunes for his ocarina in order to help him on his quest to defeat this really evil ginger guy (that would be Catherine the Great, of course, fig.1). In the case of the African island kingdom of Madagascar, you can argue that their three most notable monarchs have been ladies, and coincidentally, they all had the same name! Well maybe not coincidentally, cause all three took that name while becoming queen, but don't mess up my groove! Ranavalona I (r. 1828-1861), Ranavalona II (r. 1868-1883), and Ranavalona III (1883-1897) were all significant in shaping their country's future in the wake of increasing European jerkiness influence in the region. Their legacy is so great that approximately 10% of Malagasy girls today are named "Ranavalona," with the rest being "Emily" since there has to be at least a billion of them on Earth at one time.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Angkor Wat

Fig.1: The Who Temple of Angkor Wat, located 
behind the Why Garden and the I Don't Know 
We've all seen the Abbott and Costello bit where Abbott visits the Angkor region of Cambodia, and Costello inquires about the specifics of his vacation:

Costello: Which temple did you see in Angkor?
Abbott: Angkor Wat.
Costello: That's what I'm asking you.
Abbott: I'm telling you: Angkor Wat.
Costello: Yes, Angkor what?
Abbott: That's right.

And then it goes downhill from there. Well lost in the hilarity is the fact that Angkor Wat, the object of confusion, is considered the largest religious monument in the world: at over 20 million square feet, it is 12 times larger than the Temple Mount in Israel, can fit about 800 Christ the Redeemer statues from Brazil within its walls, and is approximately 3.8 billion times holier than that Celtic symbol you got tattooed on your lower backside. On top of that, it is the largest tourist attraction in Cambodia, as well as its national symbol, making it akin to the Eiffel Tower in France, the Taj Mahal in India, and practically any old marble piece of crap in Greece.  It is still considered a holy place of worship by Cambodian monks to this day, which I'm sure the million visitors per year does absolutely nothing to diminish.