Friday, December 20, 2013

Second Punic War

Fig.1: Long, drawn-out fight scene directed 
by Peter Jackson.
Most of the time when you go see a sequel to one of your favorite films, you end up walking out of the theater saying, "It was alright, but not nearly as good as the original." But then there are those glorious moments where the sequel actually tops its predecessor, allowing you to nerd out and buy a brand new set of action figures (I know that's what I did for Crocodile Dundee II). This was the case for the Second Punic War between the powers of Carthage, based on the African coast in present-day Tunisia, and Rome, based where at least one person you know is currently "studying" abroad. It amplified everything good about the First Punic War: large-scale land battles, cutthroat naval engagements, political intrigue, constant reversals within the chain of command, huge shifts of momentum, and (best of all) nonstop, gratuitous, family-unfriendly violence.  But what the original lacked in overall character development, the sequel came through with one word: Hannibal.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Peter the Great of Russia

Fig.1: The greatest thing about Peter the Great is that 
Johnny Depp could easily play him in a bio-pic.
Every country has a polarizing figure who transforms a nation's fortunes by saying, "And now for something completely different!" In Russia, that figure would be Peter the Great (fig.1). In some ways, he continued Russia's normal routine of expanding their landmass at the expense of ethnic groups who had at least forty different words for "snow." He even waged war against the powers of Sweden and Ottoman Turkey for seaports that weren't clogged with ice all the time, something all Russian sailors and synchronized swimmers could get behind. But Peter becomes controversial because he often looked to that dastardly West for inspiration on how to rule and, even more alarmingly, how his people should act. His obsession for the ways and customs of places like England, France, and Germany frightened his stoically conservative citizens who had been wearing their babushkas the same way forever! While Peter is still considered "Great," many Russians can't help but say that word in the same manner as, "Great, my frostbitten picky toe needs to be amputated!"

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Three Kingdoms of Korea

Korea has enough tension today with two antagonistic states vying for land, ideologies, and latent craziness (you'd think the North would have that last one in the bag, but the South have their moments). But you actually haven't seen anything yet.  If two's company and three's a crowd, people in Korea must have felt pretty claustrophobic for the first seven centuries following the baking of the first doughnut (Anno Doughnutty, or AD for the lazy people out there). The Korean peninsula played host to three different kingdoms during this time, an era that those clever historians dubbed the Three Kingdoms Period. For nearly 700 years, the states of Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla scratched and clawed the living heck out of each other until a victor finally emerged. It was the sort of spectacle that almost makes you glad of Korea's present division, communism and all.

Fig.1: Official Vegas Odds
Goguryeo: 7/2
Baekje: 8/1
Silla: 25/1
Gaya: ∞/1
Even more scary is the fact that they had to whittle it down to just three separate kingdoms. The Gojoseon kingdom, which had supposedly ruled Korea for two millennia under the descendants of a bear-woman, fell apart after a Chinese invasion in 108 BC. Many local rulers then took control, and Korea was cut-up into more unfulfilling slices than an office birthday cake. The super-aggressive rulers of Goguryeo took care of their neighbors in the north, and even snatched up some land from the Han Dynasty in China as they were started to get old and fall apart in the 2nd and 3rd centuries (respect your elders, my butt). Baekje formed as a confederation of tribes near the Han River valley in southwestern Korea. They just wanted to share their resources at the local co-op, living together while holding hands and singing in harmony forever and ever. Freaking hippies. Then there was Silla, who was quite content with their corner of the peninsula, and just wanted to be left to themselves. They demonstrated this by keeping their door closed to any diplomatic relations, and shouting at the other Korean states, "Just leave me alone! I hate you!" There was actually a fourth state in the south, Gaya, but they were relatively insignificant and had their finger in their nose the whole time. And so by the 4th century, the stage was set for the Battle of the Three Kingdoms (fig.1), and each one hoped the odds were ever in their favor.