Tag Archives: History

A Brief History of Costa Rica

So it looks like my ambitions of becoming a colonel in some gritty banana republic militia have been squashed. Because it turns out Costa Rica disbanded its army in 1948, making it one of the few nations on Earth to function–even thrive–without a military. That’s terrific for Ticos, but decimated one of my four vacation priorities before the plane even read more »

Boston’s Stupid Government

The first thing you should know about Boston is that its State House, the capital of the entire state of Massachusetts, contains a thing called “the Sacred Cod.” The Sacred Cod is a large fish suspended within its House of Representatives, which is legally or at least traditionally necessary in order for their House to read more »

Boston’s Other History

Boston’s first European inhabitant was a man named William Blaxton, who hated people. Enough to move to Boston. Not that Boston is a bad place—I find it quite charming. But back in 1625 it was just undeveloped swamp. So, after having left England to get away from the English, Blaxton moved to a swamp to read more »

We Probably Overdid it on Witch Executions

I’m beginning to suspect that most of the women we burned at the stake were not actually witches. Even those we properly identified as conjurers can still be divided into subcategories, because not all witches are necessarily evil. There are good witches, like Samantha, from Bewitched, and then there are evil ones, like Janeane Garofalo. read more »

The Truth About Archaeology

There are a dozen reasons you might want to go digging around somebody else’s land with a shovel and a vaguely communicated purpose. If so, spare some hassle and call yourself an “archaeologist.” You can still dink around with a garden trowel in someone’s petunia garden if you want, but uppity neighbors might accuse you read more »

Jeremy Bentham: Not Voting from Beyond the Grave

You may not remember Jeremy Bentham from high school history class, as he never became an American president nor was portrayed by John Wayne in any films. However Bentham has nonetheless influenced you deeply, because he is the founder of Utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is a school of thought asserting that you should base ethical and policy read more »

Corpses of Interest: Tapping the Admiral

In today’s Corpses of Interest segment we learn about Lord Nelson, a British maritime hero whose body was preserved on the way back to London by pickling it in a barrel of brandy. Fair warning: Lord Nelson’s death is heroic, but the mortuary practice which followed it is gross and may even stop you from read more »

Corpses of Interest: John Knox

If you’re a Shakespeare enthusiast, or ardent follower of global parking lot news, you’re aware that archaeologists recently discovered King Richard III’s earthly remains under a parking lot in Leicester. Presumably King Richard (or “Humpback Dicky,” as his friends called him) parked his car at a mall, couldn’t again locate it, and eventually got buried beneath read more »

Bastille Day

Saturday I celebrated Bastille Day by eating snails, sipping a glass of Pinot and sprinting away whenever I spotted a German. July 14th is Bastille Day, the feted national holiday of our friends and allies the French. Why they celebrate Bastille Day is actually something of a mystery to me. As you’ll recall from high read more »

Teddy Roosevelt Didn’t Exist (and Other Interesting Presidential Facts)

Normally for Presidents’ Day I dress up like Abraham Lincoln and wait outside Ford’s Theater with a hip flask trying to start fights with Southerners. Unfortunately this year I left my Lincoln costume in Oklahoma, and so celebrated in a less flashy capacity: learning. I spent today researching America’s various presidents, and herewith share with you some read more »

Why they Put Potatoes on Frederick the Great’s Grave

You might wonder, “Why have all these people been putting potatoes on top of Frederick the Great’s grave?” That’s an excellent question. Before we get to the whole potato-grave thing (presumably why you came to Potsdam), we ought to talk a bit about Prussia first. Pop quiz: What is the only state in the history read more »

Supposedly I Have Cousins Here

German cities generally fall into two categories. “Not-Bombed” and “Rebuilt.” The not-bombed ones are summarily gorgeous. The rebuilt ones are usually pleasant but not terribly interesting– Hanover is a sound example. Der Spiegel has at times posed the question, “Is Hanover Germany’s Most Boring City?” If you lived nearby you would drive there for a nice restaurant read more »

Our Pirates are Gentlemen

Last year I read an article in the New York Times, wherein US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted that the American Navy is larger than the next thirteen navies on the planet combined, eleven of which are our allies or security partners. This is in stark contrast to the American navy at its onset during read more »

Great Grandpa Charlemagne

You wouldn’t guess by looking at it now, but Aachen used to effectively be the capital of Europe. Charlemagne, King of the Franks, was crowned Emperor of the Romans in 800 AD, rebirthing the Western Roman Empire (sort of). Aachen, a spa resort near his home town, became the de facto capital, and the site read more »

The East Wing

I’m glad I attended the White House tour, but it’s evident that the Visitors Services department is run jointly by paranoid CIA operatives and the American Society of Boring Plateware Collectibles. The White House has three basic structural components to it: The West Wing (which gained notoriety through a television show of the same name), read more »

Icelandic Dinner & The Cod Wars

Yet another great feature of iPhones is that you can scope out wikipedia while at a bar after work, allowing you to seem intelligent and well-informed upon meeting an ambassador half an hour later. I did an independent study on Vikings while in college, but was worried something major might have happened in Icelandic affairs read more »

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle is the last in Britain which had to put up with a siege, and there’s a decent chance my ancestors were right there lobbing cannonballs at it. Coincidentally performing the same act I unwittingly did in Oxford three months ago– treason. The city of Sterling, “Gateway to the Highlands,” is the most strategic read more »

Kiss Me, Hardy

The HMS Victory is the oldest ship in the British fleet. It’s never been decommissioned, which means that, in theory, it could still be deployed to Iraq. Not terribly likley, though, as the vessel was first launched in 1765. It’s kept in dry dock at Portsmouth today as a living monument to the Battle of Trafalgar. The Victory was read more »

York

Shambles Gate is now a collection of tea shops and chocolatiers, but if you keep your eyes pealed you can detect its origins. The name comes either from the type of tables butchers used for their wares, or is a mutation of “flesh animals,” also hearkening back to its birth as a street of butchers. read more »