Sic Semper Semanis

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Story of How Cleopatra

Listen, I don’t know what kind of parties you go to or how often you get to talk about world leaders of ancient times, but if you’re the type of totally not weird person who goes to historical re-enactment toga parties like I am, I don’t have to tell you that you just can’t bring up Cleopatra without starting an argument. I once got into a shouting match with a roommate’s sister because I mentioned that Cleopatra was Greek and not Egyptian. Of course, there was blame on both sides. Cleopatra was not ethnically Egyptian and all of the Ptolemies …continue reading

Ivan the Terrible: Embodiment of the Russian Psyche

I grew up and currently reside in Los Angeles, which is arguably the most culturally diverse city in the entire world. When a poll was taken at my high school, asking which language a student was most likely to speak in any random moment, English came in third, with Korean nipping right at its heels (first was Armenian, second Spanish). My job brings me into close contact with dozens and casual contact with literally thousands of international travelers every week, and up until very recently I lived less than two blocks away from the Walk of Fame, one of the …continue reading

Nicolae Ceausescu: From Gypsy Caravan to Communist Monster

   Eastern Europe holds a sort of fascination for Westerners. Their dark, mysterious forests, their pungent, garlicky food, their deep, powerful superstitions. These countries seem romantic and mysterious – so mysterious that most of us would have trouble pointing them out on a map.    We think of the people of these countries – the countries that so many of our ancestors immigrated away from – and we imagine their bright, colorful clothing and their dark, luxurious body hair. We ask each other, what is up with those guys? Like, seriously. They can’t all be gypsies, can they? Why are …continue reading

Eleanor of Aquitaine: The Kingiest Queen in History

They say that behind every great man is a great woman, and I suppose it’s true about as often as any other cliché, which is sometimes.    I don’t know if anyone has ever come up with an equation, like: “If man’s greatness equals X and woman is standing distance Y behind him, her own greatness may be calculated as Y something something X over 2,” but it is true that greatness cannot happen in a vacuum. Therefore, one’s greatness must be considered in light of their relationships to the people around them. If we choose to assume (and let’s …continue reading

Augustus Caesar: Father of Rome, But Not of Any Viable Heirs

It has been nearly twenty-five years now since Michael Crichton first published his hit best-seller Jurassic Park. For many Americans who read the book, this was our first introduction to the idea of chaos theory – the “scientific” philosophy that all events are interconnected such that, for example, a butterfly flapping its wings in China can start a breeze that will grow and change, dependent on other possibly random events, and finally culminate in a hurricane in Florida. If you’ve read Jurassic Park, you know what I’m talking about. (I don’t think they bothered explaining it in the movie, though.) …continue reading

Boss Tweed: Weaving a Fabric of Lies

William Magear “Boss” Tweed rose to prominence in New York in the mid 1800′s as a member of Tammany Hall, a left-leaning political machine that stayed in operation well into the second half of the twentieth century. You probably don’t remember when every man in America was a member of the Elks Club or the Moose Club or some other random animal that met once a week and had pancake breakfasts every so often because you’re alive right now, but since you’ve probably seen The Flintstones you should have a good idea of what I’m talking about. Anyway, Tammany Hall …continue reading

Queen Ranavalona I : Madagascariffic!

When it comes to power, you can’t have more of it than absolute. Thus, all absolute rulers are created equal. But inevitably, some are created more equal. This week’s dictator hits all the notes for me: she’s obscure, exotic, and completely crazy, and it’s time you learned about her because she was rad as hell. Dear reader, let me present to you Ranavalona, the Insane Queen of Madagascar. Ranavalona was married to the young crown prince of Madagascar more or less against her will right at the beginning of the nineteenth century. This honor was awarded to her when her …continue reading

Augusto Pinochet: The Chilean Dictator That Couldn’t

There are words we are all just used to seeing together: “scrambled eggs,” “late-night television,” “psychotic murderer” – the list goes on and on. We have all heard and read these phrases a million times, to the point where late-night television is only interesting if you’re going to be on it and have to pick something to wear, and psychotic murderers are pretty much not interesting to anybody at all anymore. As a result, we start looking for things that go against expectations – because when something is the opposite of what you think it’s going to be, that makes …continue reading

Jefferson Davis: This Essay is Not Really About Him

The American Civil War was about slavery. Can we all just agree on the as a starting point? The American. Civil. War. Was. About. Slavery. The first time I ever really, truly thought I was smarter than one of my teachers was when I was in high school, and a teacher of mine averred that every war the United States ever fought was about freedom except for the Civil War, which was about money. He was not a history teacher. Thank God. The simple, unavoidable fact is that in 1860, a group of Southern States decided to secede from the …continue reading

Emperor Hirohito: Putting the Land of the Rising Sun to Bed

Did you know that Japan has a government? It’s true! They make laws about how people should live in Japan, and they regulate things like how many Godzilla parts per million can show up in canned octopus before it is declared unsafe, how long schoolgirls’ skirts ought to be, and how many cubic feet go into one of those sleep pods that people use so they don’t have to rent an apartment for when they’re not at work. Japan’s government is a “constitutional monarchy,” which means “the Prime Minister is in charge, and the people vote occasionally, but whenever we …continue reading