Mar 06

History Wednesday: The Central American Footy Fracas

If you live in the United States, you know football is a big, big deal to a lot of people. For some it’s a matter of civic pride. For others, a favorite player. Or perhaps just because it’s a tradition. However no matter how partial fans may be towards their teams, you’ll never see an NFL game devolve into a regional shooting war. American football fans are more civilized than that.

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Although I sometimes wonder about Steelers fans.
Image credit: Steelcityhobbies

The rest of the world is another matter. Their football rivalries – what we silly Americans know as “soccer” – are on another level entirely. If you don’t believe me, wear an Argentine kit in a rough São Paulo neighborhood. If you’re actually foolhardy enough to do this, have your next of kin let me know how it turned out.

With that in mind, today History Wednesday travels back to July 1969. During that month the moon landing was staged at a location near Worland, Wyoming. Also, El Salvador and Honduras fought a brief war against each other, ostensibly over a soccer match. One of these ridiculous statements is actually true.

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And that’s the last time I listen to Alex Jones.

In 1969 neither Honduras nor El Salvador were particularly pleasant places to live for the average person. Both countries were run by right-wing military governments. El Salvador was horribly overcrowded, prompting many to emigrate to neighboring Honduras. However, much of Honduras was owned by a relatively small number of landowners and corporations, notably the United Fruit Company. The Honduran leader, Gen. Oswaldo Lopez Arellano, was both very cozy with United Fruit and decidedly anti-Salvadorian. Together they did their best to push the Salvadorian refugees out of Honduras.

None of this was new. These issues had plagued both countries for most of the 20th Century. Needless to say they weren’t on the best of terms to begin with. In many ways corporate interests supplying America with sweet, sweet tropical fruit were making a bad situation worse.

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Hence the term “banana republic.” Remember that next time you wear those capris.
Image credit: Ed Yourdon

And so with this backdrop Honduras and El Salvador met in the best-of-three semifinal round of the tournament to represent CONCACAF in the 1970 World Cup. The home team won the first two matches in Tegucigalpa and San Salvador respectively. Both games were followed by significant fan-on-fan violence which only served to bring the two nations closer to war. On 26 June 1969, the rubber match was played on neutral turf in Mexico City. El Salvador won in extra time and moved on to the final, which it would later win.

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Haiti clobbered the United States in the other semifinal. Seriously.

The same day El Salvador eliminated Honduras from World Cup contention, citing Tegucigalpa’s treatment of Salvadoran refugees it severed diplomatic relations with its neighbor.

Taking his nation’s win over its hated rival a bit too far, on 14 July 1969 Salvadorian President Gen. Fidel Sanchez Hernandez decided bitches needed to go down. Despite being hilariously ramshackle, comprised mainly of World War II-era Corsairs, P-51 Mustangs and passenger aircraft hastily converted into bombers, that afternoon the Salvadoran Air Force caught the Hondurans by surprise, bombing the Tegucigalpa airport. However El Salvador failed to neutralize the similarly equipped but much larger Honduran Air Force, so Honduras responded by bombing several targets in El Salvador, including the San Salvador airport.

Salvadorian ground troops fared much better. Within hours they captured several western Honduran towns, including the departmental capital of Nueva Ocotepeque. Salvadorian newspapers soon boasted they were within striking distance of Tegucigalpa itself.

Fidel_Sanchez_Hernandez

And they looked damn smooth doing it.

Fearing an invasion of Tegucigalpa, the Honduran government petitioned the Organization of American States to intervene in the matter. With both running low on ammunition, the two sides quickly agreed to a cease-fire, but Salvadorian troops remained in Honduras until early August.

The war’s outcome was inconclusive at best. While El Salvador was the clear winner on the ground, Honduras won the air battle. However, the fallout of the war contributed to continued political instability in Honduras and a brutal civil war which engulfed El Salvador in the 1980s. The border dispute inflamed by the war wasn’t entirely settled until 1992. Today both countries have normalized relations with each other and are relatively stable, although Honduras was the victim of a military coup d’etat as recently as 2009.

Remember this next time your team loses an overtime heartbreaker. It could be worse, a lot worse.

Mar 03

Expired Food

Regarding yesterday’s post, it occurred to me the pronunciation of “x” in Basque is roughly equivalent to “sh” in English. Therefore, I fell into my own double meaning trap by referring to my daughter as “Bitxi.” Crap. And I thought I was so clever too. Well, back to the sandbox with that one.

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In short, no cigar.

Anyway, it was shorter than usual weekend with my daughter. That means I’m back to my slovenly bachelor ways sooner than usual. Coffee and hot sauce days are back again.

I’ve been separated and for the the most part on my own for well over four years now. I also have the cooking skills (or perhaps more correctly, the cooking desire) of a sloth on barbiturates. Any dish more complex than “microwave for two minutes” earns a blithe dismissal. I often get nutrition rather in spite of myself.

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Yeah, buddy.

This is not to say I subsist entirely on takeout. I’m not that rich. Like most people around here, I’m familiar with the neighborhood Albertson’s and Fred Meyer. It’s just that most things I buy are prepared foods. Prepared foods have expiration dates and rarely come in sizes appropriate for one. In other words, I wind up throwing out a lot of expired shit.

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Yes, even the spray cheese expired. I’m such a barbarian.

This is one of two things about me that irritates my daughter to no end. The other being that I never carry change, which inevitably comes up every time we pass a gumball machine. My rebuttal of “We live in a cashless society” brings no relief.

The expired food issue came to a head about a year ago when my daughter attempted to eat expired pudding, “attempted” being the critical term here. She then looked in my refrigerator and announced EVERYTHING I had in there was expired. Turns out she was right. Oops. Expiration dates remain a contentious issue when she’s with me at the Command Center.

I suppose she’d appreciate it if I got a girlfriend (or at least a roommate) who could cook. I’d like that too, actually. Or, maybe I could learn to cook for myself and become the Gordon Ramsay of Idaho.

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HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I’m funny!
Image credit: Dave Pullig

In the meantime, a diet of such culinary delights as frozen chimichangas and chicken nuggets await. Yes, I’m well aware this does nothing for my weight problem. However, barring further freak illness and/or injury I think I’m set to make a return to the gym this week.

Oh, this should be good.

Feb 27

History Wednesday: When Divine Right Goes Wrong

This week History Wednesday takes a slightly a different tack. Unlike Qin Er Shi and Jean-Bedel Bokassa, today’s subject wasn’t a victim of his own greed or stupidity. Through no fault of his own, the problem with Charles II of Spain was that he shouldn’t have been on the world stage to begin with.

In the 17th Century the Hapsburg family ruled large portions of Continental Europe. Like other royal families, they were fond of marrying and having kids with each other to “preserve royal blood” or some shit like that. Now, according to my limited understanding of genetics this isn’t a good idea, as inbreeding is likely to cause, shall we say, problems down the road.

Unfortunately for the Hapsburgs, they didn’t have such sage advice at their disposal. Accordingly over time their dynasty gradually became less like the royal Übermenschen they wanted to be and more like the family in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. And so in 1661 Spain Charles, the Hapsburg’s analogue to Leatherface, was born.

Charles’ genotype was a mess even by royal standards of the day. His father, Philip IV, was married to his niece, which meant Charles’ mother was also his cousin. One relative was both his aunt and grandmother. Another was both his grandmother and great-grandmother. All eight of Charles’ great-grandparents were descendants of the same couple: Philip I of Castile and the aptly-named Joanna the Mad.

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Who was pretty hot. But still, Joanna the Mad ….

By the time Charles was born the Spanish Hapsburgs had an astonishing record of 16 GENERATIONS of inbreeding and a higher stillbirth rate than the peasants they ruled over. When it came to bad genes Charles hit a Yahtzee.

Just looking at the poor guy’s portraits indicates something was seriously wrong with him. From birth Charles was profoundly physically and mentally disabled, unable to chew his own food, unable to walk until age 8, and barely able to speak due to an enlarged tongue. It just got worse from there. By the time he was 35 he was effectively incapacitated.

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Even the artists didn’t give a shit at that point.

Charles became King of Spain basically by surviving infancy. He ascended to the throne in 1665 at the age of three. His mother/cousin, the only slightly more competent Mariana of Austria, served as his regent and de facto ruler for most of his reign. Almost immediately the brinkmanship and jockeying for position to succeed Charles began in every other royal house in Europe as he was not expected to live very long. Nevertheless Charles managed to live into his late 30s, to the surprise of pretty much everyone. Meanwhile Spain’s economy and standing on the world stage, which weren’t all that hot to begin with during Philip’s reign, steadily eroded.

Intensely religious and convinced his disabilities were caused by sorcery, the very few times he acted independently of his handlers usually dealt with issues regarding the church. Charles presided over some of the worst of the Spanish Inquisition, including the 1680 auto da fe during which 21 supposed heretics were burned at the stake.

spanish_inquisition4

Which, in fact, everyone expected.

After Charles’ first wife (and fellow Hapsburg, natch) Marie Louise of Orleans died depressed and childless in 1689, Charles married yet another Hapsburg, Maria Anna of Neuburg, because hey, why not? Perhaps realizing the utter futility of this whole “produce an heir” business, Maria spent most of her time promoting a relative in Austria as Charles’ successor and grabbing whatever wealth she could from the practically bankrupt Spanish monarchy.

As the last surviving Spanish Hapsburg, Charles died what was probably among the most merciful deaths in history in 1700. According to the coroner’s report his body, “contained not a single drop of blood, his heart looked like the size of a grain of pepper, his lungs were corroded, his intestines were putrid and gangrenous, he had a single testicle which was as black as carbon and his head was full of water.”

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Still possible to accomplish, but not recommended.
Image credit: Trekphiler

Charles’ lasting contribution to world history is perhaps the war ignited by the subsequent free-for-all contest for his throne after his death, which eventually involved pretty much the entire Western world.

Feb 24

What’s the Word?

I don’t have my daughter this weekend. There’s nothing on my social calendar either. While this gives me plenty of time to write, it doesn’t do a whole hell of a lot for inspiration.

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Besides, Djoser is a terrible copy editor.

And so once again thoughts drift back to a simpler time. A time when I was still young, vigorous and under the impression a college degree actually meant something in this economy. I was also broke.

I think you see where this is going.

The legend of Thunderbird dates to well before my time. Even so, I never actually got around to trying it. That’s probably just as well. However in my 20s I became somewhat familiar with some of its cousins, especially after I started to seriously question my college degree. Primary among these was a concoction called Olde English 800, also known as OE or 8 Ball. For lack of a better description, this is what you drink when you no longer give a shit.

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And look where Eazy-E is now. Oh wait ….

By the time I got to Philadelphia on those nights when I only had quarters from the change dish I occasionally got St. Ides too. What’s the difference? Um, a different label as far as I could tell. Yeah, I was a straight-up gangsta’ outta south-central.

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For those who don’t get the reference, the 2T is in south-central Idaho.

The real nastiness didn’t hit until I moved to Las Vegas in late 2000. When I was living in an apartment behind Palace Station, I made the unfortunate decision to hit a 7-11 to try this:

wildi

It still gives me the jibblies.

This was without a doubt the worst drinking experience I ever had in Vegas or anywhere else. And this coming from a guy who several years earlier walked back to the hotel from a strip club goosestepping down a high crime area on Las Vegas Boulevard whistling the Hymn of the Soviet Union at the top of his lungs.

I don’t plan on dying boring.

If you want to learn more about this subject, check out Bumwine.com. It’s yet another valuable Internet resource on a subject not many people think about. And for good reason I might add.

Mmm. Devil’s food cookies.

ED NOTE: We here at Superfluous Bloviations no longer engage in these activities. We don’t recommend anyone else doing it either. Seriously. Listening to right wing talk radio or beating yourself with a shovel accomplishes the same thing much more efficiently.

Feb 21

Why I’m Such a Fatass

Until I was 23 or so I had amazing metabolism. I could eat what I wanted. I had great endurance. Most of all, I was never anywhere near fat. As my 20s wore on that tapered off a bit, but I still wasn’t bad.

Then came a horrific bout of depression which has only recently let up. As a result I’m pushing 270 pounds. For the international audience that’s about 123 kg or, um … close to 20 stone. Although I’m tall, this sort of weight is really beginning to look bad on me.

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“I’m Albrecht from Düsseldorf, und I lost 3 stone mit Hydroxycut!”

A few months ago a $10/month gym opened not far from the Command Center. I signed up and started going in. I can just barely make it five minutes on the elliptical, which is particularly embarrassing given that I used to be a cross-country runner. I did better on the weights, but not much. Still, there was reason to be hopeful. I would get to the point where I could run a 5K again, dammit.

Although I’m not spiritual in any sense, I’m beginning to believe forces are conspiring against me to keep me out of the gym. I’ve never endured a series of illnesses and injuries like this in my life.

Not long after I joined the gym I broke my ankle. I thought it was a sprain for three days. I was mistaken.

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It’s not a sprain, y’all.

As one can imagine, that knocked me out of action. Fortunately it wasn’t a serious break, so after a few weeks it was healed to the point where I could start working out again. Huzzah!

Then I got shingles of all things. Well, mother of crap. I’m way too young for that.

Shingles feels like a sunburn that won’t go away. Naturally, I got it on my face which is about the worst possible place to get it. Being somewhat contagious and all, I felt I should stay home out of common courtesy, so I did. There were no lasting ill effects, but there was another couple weeks down the drain.

Then came my annual bout of colds. While it appears I missed the flu this year, hitting the elliptical when hacking up a lung is probably not a good idea. Call that laziness if you must, but I decided to err on the side of caution. There’s another delay.

So this past weekend I was finally getting over my cold, my ankle was feeling fine and the shingles were long gone. I was psyched; it was finally time to go out and make something of myself!

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Well, maybe not THAT psyched.
Image credit: Angela George

Then earlier this week I fell, knocked myself unconscious and possibly bruised my ribs. I was out for the count for at least an hour, so I don’t remember a lot of details.

That earned me a trip to the ER. You may have noticed there was no Superfluous Bloviations post on 19 February. Well, that’s why. It’s a good thing this week’s History Wednesday was already written, or I would have missed that too. I guess I’m out of action for ANOTHER few weeks. Le sigh.

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My head wound looks a lot like Venezuela.

So as I sit here with my forehead crusted over and my right side in pain, I wonder what’s next? Well, circumstances can’t keep me from the 30 minute workout forever. I just hope I don’t lose a limb in the process.

Feb 20

History Wednesday: Bokassa’s Royal Mess

Today’s journey takes us to the 1970s. It was a magical time of polyester, cocaine, four-on-the-floor beats and, um, Ted Nugent. Like many eras, its downfall was marked by a riot in Chicago’s Comiskey Park.

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Not pictured: taste and decorum.
Image credit: Daniel Hartwig

But powder blue leisure suits weren’t the decade’s only atrocity. Located in (oddly enough) central Africa, the Central African Republic became independent from France in 1960. Since then its history has been pretty much FUBAR, even by African standards. On New Year’s Eve 1965, a military coup d’etat led by Col. Jean-Bedel Bokassa overthrew the original government. Bokassa then proceeded to go through the normal post-coup routines: suspend the constitution, dissolve the legislature, promise elections at some undetermined point in the future, enact a “Mitch Miller only” policy on government radio, blah, blah, blah. He also criminalized unemployment for people between 18 and 55 and banned tom-tom playing except on nights and weekends, apparently because excessive percussion creates unrest.

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Miller’s alleged involvement remains controversial.

But Bokassa was just getting warmed up. In March 1972 he declared himself president for life. By 1975 former colonial power France had become Bokassa’s main supporter, a foreign policy decision they would come to bitterly regret. French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing infamously referred to Bokassa as a “friend and family member.” During this period Bokassa was also openly chummy with hall of fame nutty dictator Muammar Gaddafi, even going so far as to rename himself “Salah Eddine Ahmed Bokassa” and convert to Islam to impress his Libyan buddy. Bokassa’s Islamic conversion lasted only a couple months though, as he converted back to Catholicism when it became apparent Gaddafi wasn’t going to help bankroll his country and – more importantly – his bling.

Of course, this was all par for the course in 1970s Africa. Bokassa needed a new angle. So in December 1976 he took his despotism to the next level. Apparently dissatisfied with a candy-ass title like “president for life,” Bokassa declared the CAR a monarchy with himself as emperor. Inspired by Napoleon, in December 1977 Bokassa had himself crowned sovereign of the renamed Central African Empire in a garish ceremony which cost the country more than its entire annual budget, with much of the tab picked up by Bokassa’s BFFs in Paris. Leaders from all over the globe were invited to the coronation. A grand total of zero attended.

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Not pictured: taste and decorum.

Now considered utterly batshit insane by pretty much the rest of the world, perhaps even more so than the fabulously daffy dictator Idi Amin in nearby Uganda, Emperor Bokassa became steadily more unpredictable. Rumors of cannibalism were rampant. Bokassa had long been suspected to personally participate in the beatings and torture of political prisoners and others, but his alleged personal participation in fatally beating elementary school students protesting against paying for government school uniforms (conveniently manufactured by a company owned by one of his wives) was the final straw. In September 1979 French special forces invaded the country’s main airport in the capital city of Bangui and quickly overthrew the erstwhile emperor while he was visiting Gaddafi in Libya. Central Africans celebrated with a good, old-fashioned statue toppling.

That’s right, things got so bad that the FRENCH took it upon themselves to get rid of the guy.

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But in fairness the French can be pretty badass when it suits them.

Several years later, because he had served in the French Army for over 20 years prior to joining the CAR Army, Bokassa was granted asylum and allowed to settle in the Paris suburbs, much to the embarrassment of the French government. Bokassa’s close relationship with Giscard d’Estaing became a campaign issue during the 1981 French presidential election, contributing to Giscard d’Estaing’s loss to Francois Mitterrand.

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“If Mobutu calls, I’m DEFINITELY not here.”

Bokassa returned to the CAR in 1986 and was immediately arrested. Found guilty of most of the charges against him, he was sentenced to death. However, several commutations allowed him to be released after only five years in prison. While he lost his power, his crazy never went away. Towards the end of his life Bokassa claimed to have secret meetings with Pope John Paul II and declared himself the 13th Apostle.

So what does the Central African Republic think of Bokassa now? While many remember him as a crazed dictator, incredibly in December 2010 CAR President Francois Bozize rehabilitated the former emperor, posthumously overturning all of his convictions. Calling Bokassa “a son of the nation recognized by all as a great builder,” Bozize then presented Bokassa’s widow Catherine with a medal. Indeed, given that the CAR has been in almost constant turmoil since Bokassa was deposed, perhaps some really do remember the “good old days” of the empire.

Feb 18

Thoughts on the Drive Home

Today is Presidents’ Day in the United States. Plenty of great sales of the “stack ’em deeper and sell ’em cheaper” variety. That’s what ‘Merika is all about.

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“Now with one-third less arsenic!”

Since I can’t spend the day punking banks by writing checks on dry ice, I suppose I’ll tell y’all about my weekend. Yesterday evening I drove home after a couple days visiting my daughter. The Command Center in Boise is about two hours away from the 2T. It’s a drive I’ve taken all my life. It’s also … how do I put this … desolate as all hell. When driven alone it gives one a lot of time to think.

Yesterday was a clear, crisp Sunday, very much like those I spent in the 2T as a boy. A typical Sunday in those days involved watching whatever PGA Tour event was on TV. To this day golf is the only sport Dad really gives a damn about. At tournament’s end I would resume the rigorous intellectual training which dominated my childhood.

The cultural significance of Hee Haw cannot be understated.

Those days are long gone. Yesterday was spent listening to a mix of Rush and the Cocteau Twins before the CD player in the staff car got too hot. Afterwards I had the radio on the local NPR station, although I understand 89.9 in Boise is not bad either. I’ll have to check it out.

Saturday I went to the movies with my daughter. We went to see Escape from Planet Earth, one of those Pixar-esque animated films. It was a cute enough movie. I’m sure we’ll get it on DVD once it comes out. I just wish I could have seen the end of it. Apparently Magic Valley Cinema 13 has never heard of an uninterruptible power supply. Also apparently they’re not aware every time some tanked-up idjut galoot crashes his 1992 Mercury Tracer into a power pole that parts of the 2T suddenly return to the 14th Century. At least we got free movie tickets out of it.

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But now that I think about it, perhaps the 14th Century in the 2T wasn’t that bad.

In spite of it all my daughter said the weekend was a win. That’s good enough for me.

That night I got a text from Myrtle saying she didn’t want to date anymore. The sorrow I felt was about the same as being told my $1 off coupon at Jack in the Box was no good anymore. For one, this is not the first time this has happened. For another, I wasn’t particularly emotionally involved in the first place. I guess that makes me single again, so… heeey sexy ladies!

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Ada County Style!

By the way, does anyone else have a problem with overheating car CD players? It annoys the shit out of me.

Feb 15

Friday Crap Roundup

When I’m not writing or herding cats, I spent a lot of time on Facebook. There I and a few of my nearly 700 friends often come across the strange, the stupid and the hilarious, in addition to long-debunked rumors and trite, misspelled memes.

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I try to ignore these.

I wouldn’t dream of keeping this stuff to myself, thus the Friday Crap Roundup.

I’ll also respond to comments in this section, assuming I ever get any worth responding to. If you want to contribute or something, leave a comment or friend me on Facebook.

Right, now that the introductions are out of the way let’s move on to the snark.

Motel 6 Never Looked So Good

As fate would have it, the very first FCR item is literally about crap. For the better part of this week over 4,000 people have been stranded without restroom facilities as slowly they make their way to the promised land of Mobile, Alabama. But NASCAR isn’t in Talladega, which is what usually causes this phenomenon.

Nope, this time the culprit is the Carnival Triumph, operated by the same cruise ship company that used to be one of the primary causes of Kathie Lee Gifford exposure on American television. On Sunday morning a fire broke out in the engine room, knocking out propulsion and seriously damaging the sanitation facilities, among other things. For the next few days passengers and crew alike had to endure “urine and feces (streaming) in the halls and down walls.”

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But at least they didn’t have to endure the Black Eyed Peas.
Image credit: Scott L.

This not the first fall-down-go-boom incident involving Carnival Corporation ships in the recent past. In January 2012 the Costa Concordia ran aground off the Italian coast due to captain operator error. The result was 32 deaths and the complete loss of a $570 million ship.

No doubt to the great relief of all (pun possibly intended), the Triumph is now in port. Fortunately unlike the Costa Concordia incident there do not appear to be any deaths or serious injuries. While sincere best wishes are sent to all passengers and crew involved, my 12-year-old self can’t help but find this amusing.

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Pictured: My 12-year-old self.
Image credit: Evan P. Cordes

New this fall on ABC, The Turd Boat! Love (and other things) are in the air. Follow the wacky misadventures of the fun-loving crew as they get themselves into all sorts of messes, both in the literal and figurative sense. Scheduled guest stars this season include Fred Durst, Lindsay Lohan, Rush Limbaugh, Honey Boo Boo and Nickelback! Also, don’t miss Raw Sewage Island immediately following.

Uh huh huh huh m huh huh huh m (ad infinitum).

Of Pot and Pepsi

My friend out Texas way, Michael Fortner, often posts some very interesting items. According to one of his latest posts, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is set to significantly loosen the city’s drug enforcement laws. Specifically, he plans to make possession of small amounts of marijuana about as serious an offense as a parking ticket.

While I’ve tried marijuana in the past, it’s been quite some time since I last inhaled. I never got into it and I doubt I ever will. Even so, I support its legalization. Bloomberg’s decision is a good one.

I have enough vices as it is.

Still, I can’t help but notice this is the same guy who wants to ban large sodas in his fair city. I’m not in favor of banning things in general, so needless to say I find all this rather confusing. It’s not like pot high in riboflavin or anything.

Track of the Week

The Carnival Triumph incident has had this song in my head for days:

Praise the Lard!

Feb 13

History Wednesday: The Sad, Pathetic Tale of Qin Er Shi

As a native Idahoan, I take exception to the implication that the only culture around here is in the yogurt section at Albertson’s. In recognition of that, on Wednesdays Superfluous Bloviations takes a look at people in history way dumber than you.

Today’s journey takes us to ancient China, which made the Great Leap Forward look like Burning Man. Qin Shi Huang, the legendary First Emperor, is not only a truly badass figure in Chinese history, but in ancient history in general. Not only did he unify the country for the first time, he also built the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army and a still-unexcavated tomb which if ever opened will probably make Tutankhamun’s burial site look a like a rundown swap meet. Sure, he was unspeakably cruel and killed hundreds of thousands of his own people in the process, but Qin Shi Huang was a guy who knew how to get shit done. By 211 BCE he was the unquestioned master of a unified Chinese state of 20 million people.

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He also invented cross-country skiing.

When he wasn’t busy beating the ever-loving crap out of ungrateful nobility, Qin Shi Huang obsessively pursued the secret of eternal life. As a result he avoided things associated with death, such as writing a will. On a trip to the eastern reaches of his empire in search of the magic elixir of life Qin Shi Huang suddenly died, reputedly due to ingesting mercury pills intended to make him immortal (go figure). Chancellor Li Si, chief eunuch Zhao Gao and the emperor’s younger son, Huhai, carted the decaying and possibly bio-hazardous corpse home to Xianyang while pretending Qin Shi Huang was still alive. Along the way they concocted a plan to take over the empire.

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Like this, but for two months and involving carts of rotting fish to mask the smell.

Back in Xianyang Fusu, the emperor’s oldest son, was the acknowledged heir apparent. However, the trio would most likely lose their influence, if not more, under his leadership. Their brilliant caper? They forged a letter purportedly from the deceased Qin Shi Huang declaring Huhai heir to the throne and ordering Fusu and and his favorite general to commit suicide. Fusu saw right through this lame plot and had the conspirators killed.

Ha, ha. No. The plan totally worked and Fusu obligingly offed himself. With Fusu out of the way Li and Zhao were able to put the ridiculously pliant Huhai on the throne. What followed were probably the most slapdick three years in the entire five-millennia history of China. Huhai ruled under the name Qin Er Shi, or “Second Emperor,” but it should have been something more like “Fredo of Qin” as the inept new emperor immediately proceeded to drive the family business into the ground.

How much of a screw-up was Qin Er Shi? Well, over 20 centuries later his name is still referenced in a Cantonese expression for an incompetent, spoiled child raised by wealthy parents. Ouch.

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Trust me, you DON’T want this tattoo.

Zhao Gao convinced Qin Er Shi, who was barely out of his teens, that as the “Son of Heaven” he must never speak or show his face in public, which in turn helped to give the eunuch exclusive access to the emperor. Zhao’s influence over the emperor was so strong that Qin Er Shi was effectively a figurehead. In other words, a man with no balls had the emperor by the balls.

Meanwhile through Zhao Gao, Qin Er Shi proceeded to levy trumped up bullshit charges on various out of favor nobles and high-ranking military officials and then put them to death, pretty much for the sheer hell of it. This included three of the emperor’s surviving brothers, who committed suicide rather than face the indignity of certain execution.

Needless to say, with a useful idiot at the helm of a shadowy, brutal regime which only recently subjugated its neighbors, before long the Qin state was engulfed in numerous rebellions. Qin Er Shi, having the leadership skills of a squashed slug, chose to avoid the matter as much as possible. Messengers who brought bad news were immediately put to death. My research suggests 3rd Century BCE messengers were not in favor of being hacked to pieces, so they quickly learned to provide the emperor with good news regardless of whether it was true or not. This gave Qin Er Shi an extremely false sense of security.

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Although in his defense, it’s happened to others.

In 208 BCE, Li Si went to the emperor to ask that funds being used to build a palace be diverted to the military since they were fighting, um, you know, wars and stuff. Perhaps realizing a bit too late that installing a homicidal castrato as the power behind the throne wasn’t a terribly smart idea, Li was rewarded with a rather gruesome execution, ironically via a technique he himself pioneered.

Despite this, Qin Er Shi still had an enormous army left over from the First Emperor’s days of glorious conquest. At first it was able to keep the rebels at bay. Finally in 207 BCE, in a stunning victory at Julu in present-day Hebei Province, an army from the rebel state of Chu no larger than 60,000 defeated a Qin army of 200,000. The Qin general, who still had substantial reserves, fell back and requested supplies and reinforcements from the emperor. Zhao Gao then proceeded to tell Qin Er Shi the general, having the temerity to lose a battle, was obviously disloyal. The emperor denied the general’s request. Soon after, the remaining 200,000 Qin troops were surrounded by rebel forces and forced to surrender. The rebels then proceeded to bury all of them alive lest they become a pain in the ass later.

Realizing his father’s once-massive military had been killed dead and that Zhao Gao had been feeding him a load of crap since day one, Qin Er Shi tried to eliminate the conniving eunuch. But true to form Qin Er Shi managed to screw this up too. Instead of being brought to ancient Chinese justice, Zhao and his minions actually forced the emperor to commit suicide.

Soon after Qin Er Shi’s demise, Fusu’s son Ziying seized the throne and finally managed to liquidate the dickish Zhao Gao. But it was too little, too late. The Qin Dynasty, the first unified Chinese state in history, fell after only 15 years of existence. It was succeeded by the much more intelligent Han Dynasty after four more years of civil war.