Mar 28 2018158 North Korea Part Nine, The DMZ, Assassinations, and the USS Pueblo

During the Cold War, North Korea primarily interacted with South Korea and the United States via building the DMZ, several assassination attempts on South Korean presidents, and the taking of the USS Pueblo, the crew of which are pictured below. Note how they held their fingers when being photographed by their North Korean captors.

Jul 17 2017135 Pad Thai, Nationalism, and Mandatory Hats

Pad Thai is now heavily associated with Thai cuisine, but it’s a relatively modern invention. Noodles were probably imported to Thailand via either China or Vietnam, and the style of cooking of the noodles seems to indicate that it stems from other noodle dishes from southeast China. Noodles in general, and pad Thai in particular, were popularized in the 1930s and 1940s as a way of intentionally giving Thailand a national dish. The prime minister behind reforms, Plaek Phibunsongkhram, also attempted to give his country a militaristic code of valor, fewer vowels, gendered names, and mandatory hats. Of his reforms, pad Thai is the only one that remains.

May 22 2017128 Quest For Thundercows

In 1910 the United States almost imported hippos as a meat animal. Had it done so, the US would have imported the single most dangerous large land animal on Earth and treated it like a cow. HR2361 also known as the American Hippo Bill, would have allocated $250,000 for the importation of hippos and other animals to the US. The bill had the support of former president Theodore Roosevelt, and even the New York Times favored importing hippos, calling it “lake cow bacon.”

Dec 08 2016109 Moose Cavalry

In this episode we tackled one of the major issues of our time: Why haven’t more countries used moose as Cavalry? Sweden tried it. The Soviet Union also tried it. But, the mighty moose has consistently resisted being turned into a weapon of war.

moose-rider

Dec 01 2016108 How Not to Kill Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro, after being in power in Cuba since the 1950s, is finally dead. Castro was known for his long reign as Cuba’s dictator, but he was also known for surviving a large amount of assassination attempts. The most common figure bandied about regarding the total number of attempts on Castro’s life by the U.S. is 634, but that number only comes from a single source. We’ll probably never know, really, how many attempts on his life there were, but some of the most notable examples included a series of unconventional ways to potentially murder someone.

fidelcastro

Apr 28 201678 A Statue of Crazy Horse

If it’s ever completed, South Dakota’s Crazy Horse Memorial will be the largest statue in the world. The gigantic structure will feature the Lakota leader’s face, upper body, and mount, and will dwarf every other monument and memorial on Earth. Crazy Horse’s head and headdress, for instance, will be larger than Mount Rushmore.

If, that is, the work is ever completed. The first blasts to transform Thunderhead Mountain into a memorial were in 1948, and since then, only Crazy Horse’s face has been totally carved. The memorial is also controversial among present-day Lakota, many of whom do not think that blasting into a mountain is the best memorial to Crazy Horse. One person who’d almost certainly opposed to the memorial is Crazy Horse himself. The Lakota leader did not allow himself to be photographed, and turning his image into a statue of epic proportions seemingly runs counter to what the man himself believed in.

Crazy Horse Memorial 2010

Dec 10 201560 The Goose’s Crusade

At the end of the eleventh century, a group of would-be conquerors followed a goose on crusade.

The standard (and almost certainly overly simplistic) narrative of the First Crusade is that, in 1095 Pope Urban II rallied religious leaders at the Council of Clermont to retake the Holy Land. After a few stirring speeches and cries of “deus vult!” (God wills it!) a holy war began. Again, this narrative is almost certainly factually incorrect, but it’s stayed in the popular imagination.

The First Crusade, though, was far more disorganized than its neat and tidy origin myth suggest. Several lords, kings, and independent military leaders operated more or less independently. One of the most notable leaders of what would become known as the People’s Crusade was an itinerant preacher named Peter the Hermit who stirred his followers with tales of apocalypse, end times, and final battles. Among Peter the Hermit’s followers was a group of crusaders who followed a goose, claiming that that bird was speaking to them through the Holy Spirit.

peterthehermit

Sep 24 201549 Destroy All Emus!

1932 was a bad year for farmers in Australia. Hot weather withered grain, because of the Great Depression, promised agricultural subsidies were not forthcoming and, worst of all, there were emus. The large flightless bird devoured Australian grain, prompting the government to go after them with machine guns.

It was called the Emu War, and the emus won.

Emus

Related Links:

Veritable Hokum did a delightful comic about the Emu War. It features an emu in a hat. Emus probably did not wear hats.

Attack on Emus from the Melbourne Argus, 1932.

Jul 23 201540 Prison of the Mind

“Morals reformed – health preserved – industry invigorated instruction diffused – public burthens lightened – Economy seated, as it were, upon a rock – the gordian knot of the Poor-Laws are not cut, but untied – all by a simple idea in Architecture!” Those are the words of Jeremy Bentham, an English philosopher who is now known as one of the founders of utilitarianism. The architecture that he refers to is a proposed prison known as the panopticon, a circular prison that would allow a single guard to see all of the inmates, and the inmates would not know if they were being observed or not. Bentham hoped that, because prisoners would not know whether they were being watched or now, that they would always act as if they were being monitored, and that the panopticon would lead to a gradual change in behavior for those confined within it.

No true panopticons were ever built but several prisons (such as Cuba’s Presidio Modelo, pictured below) were based on the design. The panopticon’s true legacy is as a metaphor, most notably one used by the French philosopher Michel Foucault in his book about power and the history of prisons Discipline and Punish. In a panopticon, the discipline of the prison is not something that comes from chains, whips, or gross application of power. Rather, power and discipline is inscribed upon the mind of those imprisoned.

Presidio Modelo

Related Links:

Bentham’s writings on the Panopticon.

Foucault on the Panopticon from Discipline and Punish.

Jeremy Bentham’s wishes were that his corpse be preserved in a cabinet called an “auto-icon” and viewable by… anyone who wanted to view it. The auto-icon now sits at University College London and you can find more info here and an interactive¬†auto-icon here.

Jul 16 201539 How to Steal the Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa wasn’t always an icon. Before 1911 Leonardo’s painting was certainly known and respected, but it wasn’t yet the most famous, most adored, most duplicated, and most parodied piece of art in the world. It was not yet the symbol and pop culture juggernaut that it is today. What made the Mona Lisa famous its theft at the hands of Vincenzo Peruggia who, along with two accomplices, lifted the painting off of the wall of the Louvre and simply walked out with it. He kept the portrait in a box in his apartment for over two years before attempting to ransom it, and, upon its return, the Mona Lisa went from merely a respected piece of Renaissance art to the single most famous painting in the world.

The image below shows the blank spot left by Peruggia, and the four wall hooks that had previously held the Mona Lisa before its 1911 abduction.

Mona Lisa Wall Hooks