May 12

A Message From the Cats

Hi there. This is Djoser. Lane isn’t back from Wyoming yet, so I’m writing today’s post for him. Yeah, I know I don’t have opposable thumbs and all, but I found this feline voice recognition software on The Pirate Bay which allows me to blog. It’s pretty sweet, and who the hell is going to sue a cat?

Sneferu and I have been chilling this weekend. He even took time out of his busy schedule of dropping things in the toilet to help me clean up around here. I hope Lane appreciates all the work we did.

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I think we did a good job.

Last night we got on Netflix and checked out this movie called Cats & Dogs. Disgusting. Kids’ movie my furry, tabby ass! I can’t believe they let kittens watch this speciesist, canine supremacist filth. Once I’m done here I’m sending a big, nasty hiss to Netflix. If any dogs out there are reading this, you should do the same if you have any sense of shame whatsoever.

This morning we got up early to play some Blinx on Lane’s old Xbox. Sneferu is really, really good at this game. It’s those fast reflexes he has. He made a point to take a picture of my shame after he humiliated me. “Hey, where did you get that camera?” I asked.

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“Don’t worry about it, D. Don’t worry about it.”

I hope Lane gets home soon. The food bowl is almost empty, and Sneferu is not fun to be around when that happens. Frankly the box needs changed too. We’ll definitely bring that to Lane’s attention when he gets in.

I’m starting to get hoarse from all this meowing, trilling and purring, so I’d better wrap this up. Why can’t humans communicate by smell and expression like we do? Oh well. Peace out to all Toms and Mollies worldwide!

May 08

History Wednesday: The Instant Presidency

It might not seem like it if one listens to American mainstream culture, but Mexico has come a long way in the last 25 years or so. While the country continues to face some very serious issues, it has also become a fairly stable multiparty democracy. Indeed, in my humble opinion one which has outpaced most of the former Soviet Bloc nations over the same time period.

This is in spite of being the scene of the shortest tenure of any head of state in recorded history. More on that in a moment.

After declaring independence from Spain in 1810, Mexico endured two absolute monarchies (one of which came courtesy of the Hapsburgs), several disastrous wars and enough outright corruption to make Silvio Berlusconi look like a paragon of honesty.

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This guy lost over half of the country yet still managed to become president … 11 TIMES.

By the turn of the 20th Century Mexico was well into a period known as the Porfiriato, an era of repression dominated by the virtual dictatorship of President Porfirio Diaz, who had effectively been in power since 1876. Although the Porfiriato represented by far Mexico’s longest period of stability to date, it was anything but democratic.

Finally tired of decades of stagnation, the Mexicans overthrew Diaz in 1911 after a ham-handed attempt to hand the aging strongman yet another re-election “victory.” This event sparked what became known as the Mexican Revolution.

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“Wait, did somebody say, ‘stagnation?'”

Anyway, unfortunately for Mexico Diaz’s overthrow soon degenerated into an all-out civil war with multiple competing factions. This is the era which produced Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, who effectively became warlords in the north and south respectively. By the time the dust settled in late 1920 Mexico went through 11 presidents in the space of less than 10 years.

Francisco Madero was the main figure during the early stages of the Mexican Revolution. A liberal reformer strongly influenced by Benito Juarez, Madero became president in late 1911. In the hopes of establishing national unity Madero included pro-Diaz and other conservative figures in his government, who then proceeded to bring reform efforts to a standstill.

In February 1913 forces led by Generals Victoriano Huerta and Felix Diaz (the former president’s nephew) staged a coup d’etat against the Madero government with support from Henry Lane Wilson, the American ambassador. On 19 February Madero was forced to resign and was executed a few days later.

The idea, of course, was to make Huerta the new president. There was just one problem. Huerta wanted everything to be “legal,” but he wasn’t in the presidential line of succession. Well, that’s where our friend Pedro Lascurain comes into the picture.

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“Pedro, we have a little job for you ….”

Under the constitution of the day, as foreign minister Lascurain was fourth in the presidential line of succession. Since Huerta had already forced out the first three – Madero, the vice president and the attorney general – Lascurain was legally entitled to become president, which he did with Huerta’s blessing.

President Lascurain had two items on his agenda: (1) appoint Huerta as interior minister (and therefore next in the line of succession) and, (2) resign. He dutifully accomplished both. Huerta then called a late-night session of the Mexican Congress to validate the move, which they did with Huerta’s soldiers training their guns on them so they didn’t miss the point.

Sources disagree exactly how long Lascurain served as President of the United Mexican States, but it was certainly less than an hour. Perhaps quite wisely, Lascurain left politics immediately afterward.

Huerta then took it upon himself to establish a military dictatorship which made the Diaz regime look like an anarcho-syndicalist commune. Meanwhile in Washington, President Woodrow Wilson – aghast that Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson (no relation) took such a leading role in this mess – recalled the rogue diplomat and demanded Huerta schedule elections. The diplomatic situation quickly deteriorated from there, leading directly to the occupation of Veracruz the following year.

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“Yeah. Thanks a lot.”

Although the Huerta regime lasted less than 18 months before it succumbed to rebel forces, the general – often called El Chacal (“The Jackal”) – remains one of the most vilified figures in Mexican history. As for Lascurain, he quietly spent the rest of his life as an attorney and law school director.

May 04

The Twaddle of Twitter

Although I’ve had an account there for a couple years, I’ve only recently warmed up to Twitter. As a writer, when it comes to social media I prefer the free-form style of Facebook. There are certain things which simply cannot be said in 140 characters.

Still, there are plenty of sophisticated people on Twitter who tweet intelligent things. Indeed, attempting to compose a complete thought – complete with the requisite hashtags and replies – in the space provided can be a worthwhile challenge.

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Especially if you’re not saying, “R U A BELIEBER 2? OMG! LOL ❤ #corporatewhore”

I set my Facebook postings to automatically copy to my Twitter account. Fully 75 percent of my tweets come from that. However I’ll go over to Twitter and post directly there from time to time. I’ll do this especially if I want to reach people who aren’t necessarily on Facebook.

Given my penchant for snark, you may be surprised that those of you who “follow” me find yourselves in very good company. Among others, my followers include the Mayor of Boise, a major news outlet, a former NFL player, members of the Idaho Legislature, published authors and even a United States Senator.

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Flattop and all.

While this is all well and good, the number one reason I’m on Twitter is to advertise SB. You know, get as many eyeballs on the blog as possible. That said, my numbers were, shall we say, lacking. So a couple weeks ago I came across one of those Twitter “follow back” accounts, which is kind of an electronic chain letter, but without the threats of eternal damnation.

It’s also free. As anyone who’s been online for any amount of time knows, “online marketing” is one of three things on the Internet you never, ever pay for.

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The other two, of course, are news and porn.
Image credit: Luke Hollins

So did this little ploy work? Well, sure. Within moments I was getting new followers left and right. Now I’m up to nearly 100! Woo hoo! Yes I know having only 100 followers sucks, but let me have my moment, dammit!

The real problem is I didn’t get a lot of follows from the aforementioned sophisticated people. However, I did get a shitload of followers among 15-year-olds who worship Lil Wayne and communicate in wingdings. That’s OK I suppose, but …

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… let’s just say I’m not reaching my target demographic here.
Image credit: ~psdlab

So, my faithful, sophisticated and snarky SB readers, help a guy out and follow me. My Twitter feed is getting stupider by the day.

May 01

History Wednesday: Taxed, Tanked and Ticked Off

It’s May Day. That means this week’s History Wednesday is effectively obligated to focus on the old Soviet Union, which always made May Day a big deal. You know, parades, speeches, public appearances of Politburo members, and plenty of red flags to go around. It was a good old time.

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Wasn’t it, Товарищ Эасто́я?

Ah, but plenty has been written about May Day already. As for Leonid Brezhnev, he’s about as exciting as a bowl of plastic fruit in a windowless, concrete room. That’s not what I’m going for here.

But what about Russians and vodka? Now there’s a target-rich environment. Let’s do it! Right, so here we go:

When Brezhnev died in 1982 the Soviet economy was basically dead in the water, committed to an arms race it increasingly couldn’t afford and a massive bureaucracy run by dour old men. Brezhnev’s successor as Communist Party general secretary (and therefore as the country’s de facto leader), was one of these old, dour men, Yuri Andropov. The highlight of Andropov’s rule was that he disappeared from public view for months until the Soviets announced his death in 1984.

Andropov’s successor, Konstantin Chernenko, was even less interesting than that.

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*insert static-filled elevator music here*

Chernenko kicked the bucket after only 13 months at the helm. He was followed by someone I bet you’ve heard of: Mikhail Gorbachev. Unlike Andropov and Chernenko, Gorbachev was willing to do something about the ever-growing clusterfuck that was the Soviet economy. He did so by attempting to address the shortcomings of his notoriously boozy culture and increase revenue at the same time. To wit, shortly after taking power he raised the price of vodka and other alcoholic drinks.

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“Дерьмо!”
Image credit: ProhibitOnions

Now in statecraft there are several things you simply don’t do. You don’t barf on the Japanese prime minister. You don’t piss off the King of Spain. And you definitely don’t screw with a Russian’s vodka. The policy had a minimal effect on alcoholism statistics and at the same time cost the government billions of rubles in lost revenue.

It may be tempting to dismiss this as a rookie mistake on Gorbachev’s part, but he really should have known better. Lenin attempted to ban vodka altogether, but that proved to be a miserable failure. It took Uncle Joe Stalin, a guy not exactly known for his commitment to civil liberties, to reverse this policy. As for Gorbachev, he quietly lightened up on his policy a couple years later.

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“Naturally, we will opt for vodka.”

In the grand scheme of things an abortive effort to regulate alcohol nearly 30 years ago may not seem like much, but it was. It’s been theorized that this policy started a chain reaction of unintended consequences which ultimately led to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. In that context, it’s a big freakin’ deal.

It’s important to remember that toppling communism is not what Gorbachev had in mind. What’s more, despite continued international acclaim Gorbachev remains deeply unpopular in Russia. Despite that, attempts to raise vodka prices continue in Russia today.

If you’re so inclined, have a shot of Stoli this May Day. But keep in mind this silly little drink may very well have changed the world.

Apr 26

Friday Crap Roundup XI

It’s another Friday in the 2T, so it’s time to pollute the Internet with another Friday Crap Roundup. Beachy is in a foul mood because some kid trashed a killdeer nest at school today. As for me, it was yet another boring-ass drive down here. At least I got to use the air conditioner today.

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But come Monday, bullies goin’ down.
Image credit: Вasil

This Here’s a Union Blog Now

In terms of finding stuff that’s funny and/or stupid, this week sucked. Maybe I should try harder, or maybe people should try to be funnier and/or stupider.

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Well, this guy opened a library, but who gives a rat’s ass?

Anyway, for lack of material the week’s highlight is that I officially became a union thug. That’s right, I’m now a member of the National Writers Union, which is a local of the United Auto Workers. I figure it’s high time I went out and shopped my skills for income, or something like that. So if you wanna hire me, you know where to find me.

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And no, I don’t get the juxtaposition either. Just go with it.

And Now, a Shameless Plug

Hey! In case you hadn’t heard, you can like me on Facebook. You can even like Djoser and Sneferu now!

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Cute kitties! You can friend cute kitties on Facebook, or something ….

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter as well! Pinterest too, I guess. Can someone explain the appeal of Pinterest to me?

Track of the Week

Ah, what the hell. Let’s take it down another notch to finish the week.

Smooth.

Apr 24

History Wednesday: Kingdoms for Fun and Profit

Back when I wrote about the Deseret alphabet I mentioned in passing a place called Molossia. As it turns out, y’all are somewhat interested in the micronation near Carson City, Nevada. I can tell because the link repeatedly turns up in the “clicks” section of my blog dashboard.

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I can see why. It’s a happening place.
Image credit: Kevin Baugh

That said, today’s History Wednesday isn’t about Molossia or micronations. That story has been covered elsewhere. Although inspired by Molossia, today we’ll take a look at the Kingdom of Sedang, one of the more bizarre chapters in the never-boring history of Southeast Asia.

This story has its roots in the mid-1880s when colonialism was all the rage throughout Europe. After a relatively successful war against China, France established control over the majority of Southeast Asia east of present-day Thailand. They called it “French Indochina.”

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This caused some problems later on, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Anyway, shortly after the Sino-French War in 1888 Chulalongkorn the Great, king of the independent Siam, began claiming lands on his border with French Indochina. Unsurprisingly, this prompted the French to take steps to bolster their claims to the areas in question. Enter a certain Marie-Charles David de Mayrena, a rather sketchy character who owned a plantation in the area. Prior to his involvement in French Indochina, Mayrena worked as an arms dealer. He was suspected of embezzlement back in Metropolitan France. He had also been kicked out of the Dutch East Indies, which we know today as Indonesia.

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In other words, a 19th Century Destro.

Ever the opportunist, Mayrena convinced the Governor-General of French Indochina that he was the perfect guy to negotiate treaties with people in the area who weren’t definitively subjects of the French-controlled Emperor of Annam. Upon arrival he magnanimously negotiated fair treaties to everyone’s benefit.

Heh, no. He totally took advantage of the ambiguous political situation in the immediate area. In June 1888 he was somehow elected by several local tribal leaders as their king. He took the title “Marie the First, King of Sedang.”

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Because nothing says “Vietnam” more than a guy calling himself “King Marie.”
Image credit: Andrew Dinh

Mayrena rather incongruously declared Roman Catholicism Sedang’s state religion despite the fact most of his subjects in present-day central Vietnam were Muslims. Eventually recognizing his demographic error, Mayrena converted to Islam himself and promptly took advantage of the religion’s liberty regarding plural marriages. He also set about to create a flag, print postage stamps and establish a national award, named after himself of course.

Now Mayrena wasn’t the first random foreign dude to take over a distant land on charm and bullshit alone. He was, however, somewhat more pragmatic than some of the others. Much like the leaders of the short-lived Republic of Texas and the even more short-lived California Republic, Mayrena’s Sedang almost immediately resolved to negotiate a union with a stronger power. However unlike Texas and California, Sedang was, shall we say, less than successful.

He first tried his native France, offering the country to them in exchange for “monopoly rights” over the area. He also told the French government that if they weren’t interested, the Prussians might be. Predictably, Paris – infuriated this guy created a kingdom in “their” territory in the first place – passed on his offer.

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As for Prussia’s Bismarck, he reportedly asked if the day’s Wienerschnitzel was properly tenderized.

Next Mayrena tried the British up in Hong Kong. They were similarly disinterested. Finally Mayrena went to Belgium, where he convinced another shady character named Somsy to provide him with money and arms in exchange for mineral rights. Finally fed up with his shit, the French refused Mayrena’s entry into Vietnam upon his return and seized his arms shipment in Singapore. The erstwhile king spent his last days in exile in present-day Malaysia, where he died in November 1890 under mysterious circumstances.

And so that was the end of Sedang, even though today a Canadian group wants to inexplicably revive it. As for Molossia, there may be a story there if I went to visit. Indeed, it’s on my shortlist after my planned junket to Thermopolis.

Apr 10

History Wednesday: A South American Cautionary Tale

You’d be hard-pressed to find a nation with a more bizarre history than Paraguay. I could easily write about it for the next month’s worth of History Wednesday installments. That would get tedious though, and we don’t want that.

Some years ago noted satirist P. J. O’Rourke infamously commented Paraguay is “nowhere and famous for nothing.” O’Rourke eventually recanted his remark. Paraguay may be remote, but it’s definitely not boring.

Today’s journey takes us to 1860s. By this point Paraguay had been independent of Spain for a little over 50 years. Those years were dominated by the dictatorships of Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia – a guy commonly known by the modest title of El Supremo – and Carlos Antonio Lopez, who was primarily interested in beefing up the country’s military. Both Francia and Lopez pursued extremely isolationist foreign policies, which would prove to be very detrimental in the coming years.

In 1862 Lopez died and power passed to his son, Francisco Solano Lopez. Clearly groomed for leadership, without any noteworthy talent or training the younger Lopez became a general when he was 18 and was the country’s vice president by the time he was 30.

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He was also a big Bonaparte fan.

Within a few years of taking power Lopez became embroiled in a dispute with neighboring Brazil over Uruguay. Lopez was an ally of Uruguay’s government at the time, while Brazil’s Emperor Pedro II supported an ongoing revolution there. This came to a head in October 1864, when Brazil invaded Uruguay to support its revolutionary allies.

Two months later, Paraguay retaliated by declaring war on Brazil. A short time later Lopez asked Argentina to allow him to cross their territory to get to Brazil. The Argentinians refused, but Lopez went and did it anyway. Meanwhile, the Brazilians and Uruguayan rebels succeeded in bringing down the pro-Lopez government and set up a Brazilian puppet state there. The result was the Triple Alliance between Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. How … original. The alliance vowed to not only defeat Paraguay, but to crush it so it couldn’t cause problems again.

In other words, a country which endured many years of a repressive, isolationist cult of personality and a massive military buildup found itself ruled by the relatively inexperienced son of the previous leader, who then proceeded to go out of his way to pick fights with much larger powers.

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Sound familiar?
Image credit: petersnoopy

At first things went well for the Paraguayans. They started out with the largest military in Latin America at the time. They also caught all three of their enemies by surprise. Lopez invaded the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Rio Grande do Sul, as well as Argentina’s Corrientes Province. However by summer 1865 the tide began to turn against Lopez after the Brazilians decisively defeated the Paraguayan Navy.

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Seriously. To this day landlocked Paraguay has a navy.

Unfortunately for Paraguay, Lopez didn’t understand the concept of “quit while you’re ahead.” As the war dragged on through the rest of the 1860s, Paraguay’s military might was gradually sapped away by the Triple Alliance’s war of attrition. Both sides employed weapons and tactics similar to those used in the recently-concluded American Civil War, and experienced the same sort of horrific casualties. However unlike the alliance, isolated Paraguay was unable to replenish its resources and munitions.

On New Year’s Day 1869 the alliance captured the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion. Even that didn’t convince Lopez to throw in the towel, who by then was conducing a guerrilla campaign in the mountains northeast of the city. By this point resources were so scarce among the Paraguayans that the few soldiers remaining were occasionally forced to fight unarmed – in the hopes of picking up a firearm from a fallen comrade – as well eat their horses.

Finally on 1 March 1870 Lopez was killed in battle, effectively ending the Paraguayan War. It’s estimated Paraguay lost anywhere between 50 to 90 percent of its population due to war and disease, including the vast majority of the country’s adult males. To put that in perspective, even the grimmest estimates place Cambodia’s national death toll at “only” around 40 percent during the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime.

In addition to the human cost, Paraguay permanently lost a significant amount of its territory. The war also affected the victorious Triple Alliance in unintended ways. Notably, it’s widely believed it helped end slavery in Brazil, as the country was forced to free many to fight.

If Lopez had a redeeming quality, it was his tenacity. Because of this and despite the massive losses inflicted upon Paraguay during his rule, many Paraguayans today consider him a national hero.

Yeah, things have been brutal in the Corazon de America, but they’ve never been boring.

Apr 03

History Wednesday: The Incompetent Traitor

Ah, Norway. Home of cross-country skiing, world-famous fjords, and a black metal scene which makes even the worst excesses of 80s bands such as Van Halen or Mötley Crüe look like Gilligan’s Island. Although technically neutral in World War II, the Norwegian people suffered greatly at the hands of the Nazis. A primary cause was one of their own.

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This guy.
Image credit: David.wintzer

Vidkun Quisling’s career started out innocuously enough, as a respected Norwegian military officer with extensive diplomatic experience. In the early 1930s he served two stints as Minister of Defense in popularly-elected conservative governments. Clearly he would have been much more successful in life had he just left well enough alone. Nevertheless despite being a truly awful politician, Quisling let his ambition get the best of him. As a result he stumbled and bumbled his way to becoming one the most notorious traitors the world has ever seen.

In the 1930s far-right politics were the rage in many parts of Europe. So in May 1933, Quisling and others founded the Nasjonal Samling, or National Unity Party. Clearly inspired by Adolf Hitler’s and Benito Mussolini’s fascist movements, NS attempted to become Norway’s answer to the Nazis, with Quisling establishing relations with the Nazis and the Italian Fascists. He even gave himself the title of Fører. However unlike Hitler’s well-organized machine of evil, the NS proved to be about as effective as the Keystone Kops.

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Presumably with “Yakety Sax” playing in the background.

In sharp contrast to Hitler and the Nazis, Quisling and the NS never enjoyed any appreciable popularity among voters. In Norway’s 1933 election, Nasjonal Samling received a mere 2.5 percent of the vote and failed to elect anyone to the Norwegian parliament, the Storting. Rife with factionalization, by 1935 it appeared the party would quietly fade away.

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You know, kind of like pogs.

Despite Quisling’s virtually nonexistent PR skills and his penchant for pompous, stupid gaffes, he somehow managed to keep the NS afloat, albeit just barely. In the run-up to Norway’s 1936 elections, Quisling boastfully predicted his party would win at least 10 seats in the Storting. In reality, NS performed worse in the polls than it did three years earlier. At this point neither the Norwegians nor Quisling’s supposed allies in Italy and Germany took him seriously.

Norway tried to stay neutral when World War II broke out in 1939, but shit got real for them anyway in April 1940, when the British mined the channel separating the North and Baltic Seas, including Norwegian waters, in an effort to close Axis shipping routes. In response, Germany invaded Norway the following day.

Meanwhile Quisling, who nobody listened to, tried to get everyone to listen to him. In his usual hilariously bombastic style, on 8 April Quisling burst into the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s Oslo studio and proclaimed himself head of a new government with his buddies as ministers. If you took over your local Top 40 pop station and issued a fatwa against Justin Bieber, you’d achieve similar results.

But now that I think about it, you might get some traction out of that.

The Nazis, recognizing some sort of friendly Norwegian government would be advantageous, supported this. King Haakon VII, however, flatly refused to recognize Quisling’s Norwegian government, and the actual Norwegian government voted unanimously to support the king. Quisling attempted to have the legitimate government arrested, but officers simply ignored his orders. Realizing Quisling didn’t have the juice to pull off a coup d’etat, the Nazis brushed him aside and occupied Norway their own damn selves.

However, in NS the Nazis still found a group of useful idiots to help them run the country. The Nazi Reichskommissar Josef Terboven gradually assimilated NS members into the occupation government. Finally in February 1942 the Nazis agreed to let Quisling become “minister-president” of Norway, ostensibly making him the country’s leader. In practice, however, Terboven retained effective control over Norway.

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Quisling did get a sweet office out of the deal, though.

During his three years in “power” Quisling took part in the usual fascist idiom, such as banning Jews from the country and attempting to establish his own cult of personality, going so far as to declare himself a descendant of Odin. He attempted repeatedly to become truly independent from Germany, meeting with Hitler on several occasions for that very reason. As usual, he was ignored. His incompetence as a national leader was further exposed when Norwegian resistance operatives smuggled intelligence on the German V-2 missile from Berlin to Oslo … on Quisling’s own airplane. The intelligence eventually made its way to London.

Deeply despised by his own people, Quisling’s regime, such as it was, came to an end in May 1945. Norwegians responded with unbridled jubilation. King Haakon VII and the legitimate government under Prime Minister Johan Nygaardsvold – who spent the war in exile in London – were restored to power. Quisling was arrested, tried for treason and executed in October 1945. Even before the end of the war “quisling” had become a synonym for “traitor” in several languages. The military officer who just wanted to run the country instead became quite possibly the most hated Scandinavian of the 20th Century.

Today Quisling’s only appreciable support comes from elements of the Norwegian black metal scene. Yeah, he should have left well enough alone.

Mar 29

Friday Crap Roundup VII

I’m back in the 2T for the first time in over a month. Beachy is currently transfixed by a show called Four Weddings on TLC. The fact an eight-year-old is into this is a bit disconcerting. However, given that she shushed me during a Lumber Liquidators commercial, this is evidently the wrong time to ask. I guess now is as good a time as any for the Friday Crap Roundup.

Getting Bombed

Dang, Good Friday indeed. As of this writing Superfluous Bloviations has already doubled its all-time daily hits record. There’s still a good six hours left in the day too. Call me crazy, but I suspect The B-52s fan club found me.

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The Love Shack is full today.

The one vote for Devo is mine. Oh well.

Seeing Red

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or in Oman, or something, you probably noticed the same-sex marriage issue dominated the news this week. I have just south of 700 friends on Facebook at the moment. I estimate about 400 of them changed their avatar this week to this, or a variation thereof:

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I think it pops well.

I find it curious that red – the same color the Republican Party uses – was chosen for this campaign, however I certainly support its aims. Although I personally have little use for marriage, I think it’s wrong to deny it to anyone else. Either make marriage legal for everyone or remove the concept from the state entirely. Anything else is half-assing it.

These are absolutely landmark cases the Supreme Court is considering, but I feel at this point the worst-case scenario decisions only delay the inevitable. Same-sex marriage is here to stay. Twenty years from now we’ll be wondering what the hell the big deal was.

Northern Remains

A few days ago I mentioned in passing another web site I run called the Quebec Nordiques Preservation Society. Earlier this week I was interviewed by The Wall Street Journal of all outlets about it.

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Yes, I’d love to see them back in the NHL. No, I’m not Canadian.

It wasn’t much of an interview. I last worked on the QNPS over eight years ago, and I’m not involved in any of the current efforts to bring the NHL back to Quebec City. Accordingly I very strongly doubt I’ll be quoted in any article. Yet people are still looking at this obvious web leftover from the 90s. Amazing.

Track of the Week

I recently rediscovered this album. It was one of my absolute favorites in high school. Such a shame Sting went all soft rock on us.

Love the bass line.

By the way, if Beachy wants a regatta setting for her wedding, she’d better be prepared to get married in Burley.

Mar 27

History Wednesday: How to Drive the Family Business Into the Ground

If you’ve been paying attention at all, you’ve noticed that most old-timey nation-states in Europe and elsewhere were ruled by dynastic kingdoms, with a son (or sometimes daughter) succeeding the parent. As History Wednesday has pointed out before, successions such as these can lead to giving absolute power to complete incompetents. Today we travel to the 14th Century to examine another one of these yutzes.

The Plantagenet Dynasty came to power in England in 1154. Except during a period in the 1210s when King John had his ass handed to him by both the French and his own nobility, resulting in the Magna Carta, the Plantagenets provided decent leadership in England for the next 150 years or so. In 1272 the English crown passed to Edward I, an imposing figure and a very capable military leader.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Who could have been England’s starting center had James Naismith lived a few centuries earlier.
Image credit: Steve Lipofsky, Basketballphoto.com

Edward was all about conquest. After a series of successful campaigns, by 1285 he had effectively assimilated Wales into his domain. During the latter years of his reign, Edward often faced off against the Scots and their fabled military leader Mel Gibson William Wallace. Although Wallace and his cohorts proved to be excellent fighters, Edward had the last laugh by defeating Wallace at Falkirk and executing him a few years later.

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“Mad Max? Never heard of him.”

Edward died in 1307 and was succeeded by his son, Edward II. Unlike his all-business father, Edward II was all about the lifestyle and bling, caring little for annoyances such as, you know, government. More importantly, he “had so little confidence in himself that he was always in the hands of some favorite who possessed a stronger will than his own.”

While Edward II was heir apparent he became close to a knight from present-day southwestern France named Piers Gaveston. Real, REAL close according to some contemporary chroniclers, if you know what I mean. Edward went out of his way to please him, regardless of how ridiculous or extravagant the request. Gaveston proved to be such a nuisance that shortly before Edward I died he was sent into exile. However, once Edward II became king he immediately recalled Gaveston, made him Earl of Cornwall and arranged a sweet marriage package deal for him.

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And there was much rejoicing.

Unfortunately for Gaveston, none of this sat well with the rest of the English nobility. His earldom was especially resented as it was traditionally reserved for members of the immediate royal family. In addition, Gaveston continued to be an arrogant pain in the ass around just about everyone except Edward. Political maneuvering forced Edward to exile Gaveston in 1308 and again in 1311. Shortly after he returned from his third exile, nobles took matters into their own hands and flat out killed him.

Meanwhile the Scots, who were clearly on the ropes when Edward II became king in 1307, slowly but surely began to bounce back. By 1314, the Scots under their king Robert the Bruce had erased almost all of Edward I’s territorial gains against them. Eager to keep a strategic castle under English control, in June 1314 Edward II slapped together a poorly-trained army and marched north. The resulting Battle of Bannockburn was one of the most epic ass-kickings of the Middle Ages, guaranteeing an independent Scotland for the next 400 years.

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“Haggis and single malts for all!”

Surrounded by suspicious nobility and with his father’s Scottish ambitions in total ruins, Edward II was not in the best of positions to say the least. Even so, towards the end of his reign he took on another favorite who irritated the hell out of everyone, a guy named Hugh Despenser. Depesnser became royal chamberlain in 1318 and with his father (also named Hugh Despenser) proceeded to wreak havoc on the country for the next eight years. While Gaveston was little more than an arrogant ass, the Despensers were straight up tyrants. They engaged in land seizures, torture, corruption and even high seas piracy. As for the king, he simply let them do what they pleased.

Finally even Edward’s wife was done with this crap. In September 1326 Queen Isabella joined forces with the noble Roger Mortimer, raised an army in France and proceeded to invade England. Edward, who by this time had alienated just about everyone in the country, was unable to recruit an army in response. By January 1327 Mortimer and Isabella had de facto control of England. Edward was forced to abdicate and the Despensers were executed. Hugh Despenser the Younger’s demise was particularly gruesome, making a standard draw and quartering look like a deep tissue massage.

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Gibson Wallace got off easy.

Sadly, the truly badass story (pun intended) of Edward’s execution via hot poker up his rectum is likely apocryphal. Even so, he disappears from history after 1327. Mortimer and Isabella ran the country for the next three years until they were removed from power by a young Edward III, who proved to be a far more competent ruler. Contrary to what’s implied in Braveheart, Edward III is not Mel Gibson’s William Wallace’s son.