Sic Semper Semanis

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Tale of Babar the Elephant, or, Trunk of Darkness

From Lies My Kindergarten Teacher Told Me

   They say history is written by the winners. In the case of Babar, King of the Elephants, this is certainly true, because the only surviving records of the reign of Babar are the official documentation released by the pro-Babar contingency of the time, and many key details seem to be deliberately (perhaps suspectly?) left vague. Unfortunately, any alternate accounts of Babar’s kingship have been successfully destroyed and stricken from historical record, if indeed they ever existed. What I propose to do in this week’s entry of Dictator of the Week is to examine the accounts of Babar that have …continue reading

Marie Antoinette: Still Getting Too Much Credit, After All These Years

Marie Antoinette wasn’t French. Sorry. I hope you were sitting down for that. Marie Antoinette was the queen of France for twenty-five years, but she was actually from Austria. And I know that that’s a difference that might not mean much to you if you’re an American, because neither of those places has good pizza, but during the late 1700s it was a big deal. Austria and France were competing superpowers, so Austrian people and French people didn’t much care for each other generally. France in particular had a real problem with anybody non-French, and they especially weren’t into anybody …continue reading

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