Saturday, July 27, 2013

Genpei War

*Note: Because there are quite a few Japanese names in this post, and we English-speakers tend to get all confuzzled with that sort of thing, I will be color-coding some important names to make it easier to follow. If you're colorblind and still can't follow along, sorry...grow some new eyeballs.*

Fig.1: There's really no contest here.
The Hatfields and McCoys. The Capulets and Montagues. The Simpsons and the Huxtables. But none of these family feuds has had as much impact or cost more lives than the Minamoto and the Taira clans in 12th century Japan. Their battle for power and influence over the Emperor during the Heian period led to a five-year civil war known as the Genpei War, which is even a whole year longer than The Simpsons battled The Cosby Show for the ratings in the crucial Thursday 8pm time slot. After the war's conclusion in 1185, the political structure of Japan changed for hundreds of years, and allowed for the emergence of the samurai culture, which is several times better than the cowboy culture (fig.1).

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Fig.1: The all-holy Egyptian pantheon, in an all-holy Egyptian conga line.
History is full of stories of monotheism (the worship of a single god) against the established forces of polytheism (the worship of too many gods to shake a stick at). The Jews in ancient Israel fought for centuries to protect their religion against the polytheist cultures of Assyrians, Persians, and Romans. Roman Emperor Constantine elevated Christianity as the state religion during his reign in the fourth century, creating much strife with the population who followed Roman paganism for hundred of years. The prophet Mohammed fought for and spread the good news of the almighty, infallible religion of Islam against the hedonistic false idols popular in Arabia at that time (there, I played nice, so don't hurt me!). And adherents of Pastafarianism battled hard to make the Flying Spaghetti Monster the one true god over lesser Noodle Monsters such as Linguine, Fettuccine, or (Flying Spaghetti Monster forbid) Macaroni! But perhaps the first (albeit, unsuccessful) instance of this occurring is three thousand years ago in Ancient Egypt, where one crazy pharaoh loved the sun so much, he certainly would have married it if that was an option.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Portuguese Court in Brazil

We are quite used to the story of European nations going out and violently conquering peacefully incorporating territories all over the world as colonies, stealing all of their resources bringing great new technologies to pitiful slums underdeveloped locales, and raping and pillaging befriending the hedonistic savages friendly indigenous communities while enslaving them economically allowing them to participate in the wonderful mercantilist system of the land of jerkfaces motherland. But has there ever been a time where the colony becomes the the motherland, and rules over the entire empire? Surprisingly, yes! Unsurprisingly, it's all thanks to Napoleon!

Fig.1: Queen Maria I of Portugal...with a 
blunt object! Run!
In 1807, Napoleon decided to invade Portugal because a) they had been traditional allies of the United Kingdom, and Napoleon hated everything British (he would automatically change the channel if Doctor Who came on, which, yes, even aired as early as the 19th century), and b) he really just enjoyed invading places, and how hard could Portugal be to take over? Even Portugal knew they wouldn't be that hard to take over, so immediately after Napoleonic French and allied Spanish troops crossed the border, the House of Braganza, the royal family of Portugal, hatched a plan. The regnant of Portugal was Queen Maria I (fig.1), who was at first labeled Maria the Pious, but eventually came to be known as Maria the Mad after reports that she always heard screaming in her head, talked to her dead husband when the room was empty, and claimed that Return of the Jedi was the superior chapter of the original trilogy. As such, her son and heir-apparent, John VI, ruled in her name beginning in 1799. Thus, it was up to him to put together a plan as Napoleon's crack troops marched closer and closer to the capital of Lisbon, and what he came up with was a rather simple idea. Bail!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Betsy Ross

We all know the story of Betsy Ross from second grade. George Washington needed a symbol to bring his young nation together against the tyranny of the British, so he commissioned a seamstress in Philadelphia to create the first American flag, which she does successfully, and all the Patriots rally around the new flag to beat the British and create the best nation on Earth. Amurika! But what most people don't know is that this story didn't come about until nearly a hundred years after the War of Independence, and was told by Betsy's grandson with basically no proof or verified sources except through family tradition and word-of-mouth. Sounds rather suspicious, doesn't it? So who really is this Betsy Ross character? Is there any reason to believe that she really did create the first American flag? And if not, why have we been lied to by our teachers and textbooks all this time?  Miss Lewis, how could you?!  After all the apples we gave you!

Fig.1: I bet that's not even your real hair, 
you lying scoundrel!
First of all, "Betsy" isn't even her real name! She was born Elizabeth Griscom in 1752, one of seventeen children in a prominent Quaker family in Philadelphia (I don't care if "Betsy" is short for "Elizabeth," it still sounds fishy). She was taught to sew at a young age by her great-aunt, Sarah Griscom, which normally isn't pertinent information when writing a mini-biography on someone, but I guess if an individual's possible claim to fame is sewing something, then I should just throw that in there. (Don't worry, I won't be telling you where Genghis Khan learned to sew when I write a history on him, even though it's quite a fascinating story!) During the Revolution, she apparently used this skill to make uniforms and tents for the Continental Army, but with her dubious sewing history, I really need to see embroidery that says "This was stitched by Betsy Ross" in order to even believe that.