Lesson #416: The Ethiopian Regiment

I’ve read roughly four and a half chapters of the book I’m currently reading. It’s ostensibly about a particular subject, but thusfar that subject has not been discussed even peripherally. But…what I have learned is that the British were shady AF in their dealings with black loyalists after the Revolutionary War.* Also, there was a Loyalist regiment known as the Ethiopian Regiment.

The Ethiopian Regiment had exactly nothing to do with Ethiopia or Ethiopians. At all. The Ethiopian Regiment was a regiment made up of escaped slaves who fought for the British side during the Revolutionary War. But it was called the Ethiopian Regiment for (probably totally racist) reasons.

The regiment was formed by Lord Dunmore, the last royal Governor of Virginia, in November of 1775. The Earl of Dunmore made a declaration that any slave who joined the regiment would be freed. Of course, volunteers first had to survive a war. And also smallpox, which had all but wiped out the regiment by June of 1776. There’s not a lot of information about troop movement, but the Ethiopian Regiment participated in battles in and around Virginia, including a victory at Kemp’s Landing and a humiliating defeat at Great Bridge.

In a fun little bit of dissidence, the Ethiopian Regiment’s uniforms were embroidered with the slogan “Liberty to Slaves”.

Those who survived the war were granted freedom in Nova Scotia, which is how I got here. There’s a very interesting history of blacks in Nova Scotia that reads exactly how you’d expect. Former members of the regiment were given significantly less land than they were promised, white Loyalists (and Nova Scotians who didn’t care one way or the other about who won the war, I guess) were not super thrilled with black people living nearby, and the white people solution to having to see black people was literally to be like, “oh, you don’t love it here? It’s cold? And we gave you the shittiest land we could? You could always go back to Africa. Here! We bought you passage on a ship to Sierra Leone! Go! Be among your people (who may or may not actually be your people, but where we don’t have to see you)!”

For more, see here, here, and here.

*That’s an enormous subject to unpack, and I am not the person to do it.

Lesson #415: The Conch Republic

I’ve lived (nearly) 36 of my (nearly) 38 years under the impression that Key West has always been part of Florida and, consequently, the United States. I have been wrong.

In 1982, members of the Key West government were in a snit and seceded from the US. This is amazing!

The short version of the story is that in an effort to curb the tide of illegal Cuban immigrants and refugees and the influx of drugs (cocaine) from South America, Border Patrol (now CPD) up a checkpoint on the only road off the island and subjected vehicles to searches and their occupants to ID checks. Displeased by this, the mayor of Key West, Dennis Wardlow, called around and got no answers, so reached out to Border Patrol, who were like “none of your business”. This was not the answer Wardlow wanted to hear, and after a Miami judge refused to issue an injunction, Key West seceded on 23 April.

Now, their secession was rather cheeky. Government officials were assigned new job titles (Minister of Underwater Affairs is my favourite), but they were also serious. The Federal government sent monitors in to make sure things didn’t escalate, the US flag was swapped out for that of the Conch Republic, and (now-) Prime Minister Wardlow declared war on the US by breaking stale Cuban bread over the head of a man in a Naval uniform? Because I guess that makes as much sense as anything else in a declaration of war. One minute later, Wardlow surrendered to a US Navy officer and demanded $1 billion in foreign aid, as well as restitution from the US government.

The money was never paid out, but the publicity the stunt attracted effectively forced the government to remove the checkpoint out of Key West.

On the heels of this, Key West began to capitalize on the notoriety. The town has always been reliant on tourism, but after secession, it began issuing passports — including diplomatic passports — and other kitschy things to commemorate their independence, and the town still celebrates independence day every year.

In 1995, there was an “invasion” by a US Army battalion on maneuvers — which was somehow received both with a tongue firmly planted in cheek, but also with some seriousness that prevented the Army from reaching their training ground until they apologized. The Conch Republic’s website lists refers to this episode as “The Great Invasion of ’95”.**

I think the most mind-blowing part of this whole story is the fact that some people somehow used their Conch Republic passports to travel internationally as if they were legitimate documents. But I’m old enough and made frequent enough border crossings to remember how lax pre-9/11 travel was. I could get into and out of Canada with just my green card or my driver’s licence for identification. I could get on an international flight with just my ID. And I remember when that changed in because I was told by the border agent in Texas that after the new year (2006), I’d need to travel with my passport. These days, I often travel with both.*

More here, here, and on the Republic’s own website, here.

*Depending on where I’m going, it’s often easier — though coming back into the US as a citizen with stamps in a non-US passport made my return from Bosnia more snarky than it should have been when I had an American customs officer at the airport in Toronto who took umbrage with the fact that I had an American passport at all if I was going to travel on my Canadian one. He felt I didn’t deserve an American passport and expressed that. In those words. What I wanted to respond was, “well, no one asked you”. But because I wasn’t looking to spend a night at the Toronto airport — though I wouldn’t have…I’d have called my people for a spare bed or couch — what I said was, “well, sir, with all due respect, the Federal government disagrees.”

**All I can think of when I read this is the time the Swiss Army accidentally invaded Liechtenstein after they got lost in bad weather on night maneuvers in 2007, which remains, a decade later, one of my favourite news stories.

Lesson #413: Armed Yachts

As promised, this week we take a look at armed yachts. Because it amuses me when disparate things come together to make a frankenthing.

Sometimes when I look into things, I come out of it feeling like I don’t have a good understanding of what the story is. This is one of those times. I think maybe my understanding of what a yacht is not as fluid as it should be. I also think I’m unclear about who actually owns the yachts, particularly in relation to the Royal Yacht Squadron. All the reading makes it seem like membership in certain yacht clubs — in this particular case, those yacht clubs that are part of the Royal Yacht Squadron — means that one’s vessel may be commandeered by a country’s Navy in times of need. So I guess I own the boat until I don’t, but then I might again? But also, these vessels were staffed in ways that suggest that these yachts were not the size of the boats I’m imagining in my head, so how big were they and what function were they serving in peacetime? I have a lot of unanswered questions.

Anyway, the requisition and use of private yachts in times of war has been used by the American, British, and Canadian Navies. The former two used them in both the First and Second World Wars, the latter in only the Second World War. While the British Navy appear to have operated under a volunteer system — in which a yacht-owner would become a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron, which could commandeer the vessel at any point — the US Navy appears to have bought most their yachts from the previous owners and then retrofitted them with weaponry. The Royal Canadian Navy seems to have done the same, though they had only a small fleet of a dozen armed yachts.

The earliest reference I can find to armed yachts is a tally of yachts belonging to the Royal Yacht clubs in England in 1846, which the authors of The Royal Yacht Squadron estimate had a total of 530 vessels carrying 1500 guns. These yachts were outfitted with guns anywhere from one-and-a-half pounders to nine pounders. Some World War II era American armed yachts were outfitted with .50 caliber guns. That seem like a lot for a yacht, but, as previously mentioned, my yacht knowledge is nil. So, you know, what do I know? Scholars suggest that arming yachts was a remnant of the days of privateers and piracy — which will come full circle later.

I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find out how many of the 700 vessels of the Little Ships of Dunkirk were armed yachts because I felt like that would give me a better grasp of exactly what I was looking at, as far as the size of the vessels. Most of what I found was about the historical accuracy of the use of the Little Ships in the film Dunkirk. I could find only one mention of armed yachts, a record of the sinking of the HMS Narcissus off the coast of Dunkirk on 1 June, 1940.

I can find no information on the Royal Yacht Squadron’s website about whether their vessels are still armed, nor whether vessels belonging to the Royal Yacht Squadron may still be commandeered in times of war.

There is actual art dedicated to armed yachts, in case that sort of thing interests you.

Finally, armed yachts are not a historical blip, though obviously there’s a different context for arming yachts these days.

I just wrote a whole lesson about something I still don’t understand at the end of it. This a. must be how astro- and theoretical physicists feel all the time and b. is why I was never good at bullshitting research papers. This post feels like it’s five separate posts that only vaguely connect together, and nothing is clear at all. This is the point in writing where I’d scrap the entire thing and go back over the research to find a different topic.

Lesson #412: The Shortest War in History

Generally speaking, we’re a fan of conflict around these parts. I guess fan isn’t the right word, exactly, but it makes up literally all of my graduate schooling over three different degree programs. But for all the destruction and resulting problems wars bring with them, they are not always the protracted affairs the likes of say, The Three Hundred and Thirty-Five Years’ War between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly, which accidentally lasted 335 years because everyone forgot they were at war. Case in point, the Anglo-Zanzibar War lasted a total of 38 minutes.

The story is a bit like every story you’ve probably heard about colonial powers attempting to control local rulers in Africa and install men sympathetic to colonial interests. In 1893, with newfound control over Zanzibar* after the signing of the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty, Britain declared Hamad bin Thuwaini Sultan of Zanzibar. Because our man Hamad was pro-British. In 1896, bin Thuwaini died suddenly — most likely because his cousin and successor Khalid bin Barghash poisoned him in order to claim the throne.**

Anyway, after installing himself as his cousin’s successor, bin Barghash went about it like he owned the place, and the British government were a bit, “hang on a moment”. Bin Barhash, undaunted, started amassing his army. By all accounts, the Zanzibaris were surprisingly well armed, though I can find no explanation for how or why this was the case. Meanwhile, Britain were bringing in five warships, mostly as a show of strength, thinking bin Barghash would look at the harbour and think, “this is a spectacularly terrible idea”. Except bin Barghash was fully invested in being the Sultan and instead went, “you’re not actually going to shoot us”, and Britain replied, “well, we don’t want to, but we will“.

When bin Barghash refused to abdicate by 9am on 27 August, 1896, British Men of War positioned in the harbour fired on the palace. By the time the shelling ended 38 minutes later, bin Barghash had escaped out the back door and the 3000 remaining members of his armed forces and civilians yanked down the Sultan’s flag, ending the Anglo-Zanzibar war.

In addition to being the shortest war, it might be the war with the highest death rate per capita. In the course of 38 minutes, 500 Zanzibaris were killed. To give you some perspective, before the civil war began in 2011, the population of Syria was 23 million. At the rate of 500 casualties per 38 minutes, the entire population of Syria would have been wiped out in 1214 days (or a little over three years and four months).

Our friend Khalid bin Barghash got himself to the German consulate — at the time, Germany controlled Tanzania — which secreted him off to Tanzania and refused to extradite him back to Zanzibar. He was eventually captured in 1916 when British Forces went schlepping through East Africa during the First World War. He was exiled on Saint Helena for a while, but died in Zanzibar in 1927, so it’s unclear how much time he was exiled.

I think the most interesting tidbit in this entire thing is that the Zanzibari navy consisted of a single vessel: an armed yacht gifted by Queen Victoria to Hamad bin Thuwaini. Armed. Yacht! Is this a thing? As someone who doesn’t make anything close to yacht money and isn’t pretty or powerful enough to weasel her way in to yacht money circles, my experience with yachts is nil. But it turns out there is a pretty fascinating history of armed yachts, you guys! Join me next week for a look into Commonwealth types arming their yachts.

Back to the topic at hand, there isn’t a lot of solid academic information on the Anglo-Zanzibar War online, but the Wiki page is well-sourced if you’re looking for references. More here and here.

*I’m going to assume that everyone’s knowledge of Zanzibar can be summed up thusly: it’s an island, Freddie Mercury was from there, and there’s a reference to it in a Tenacious D song.

**Lesson 412b: there is no express word for the murder of one’s cousin, despite the fact that there are words for the murder of pretty much everyone else in one’s family. Parricide, which refers to the murder of one’s parents can also apply to other close family members, though I think it rarely does.

Lesson #410: The Winged Hussars

Midweek, my mother texted me a blurb without any context. As she’s wont to do. Just sort of a “here’s a thing”. Credit where it’s due, these things are usually interesting.

This week, it was about the Winged Hussars. This is exactly what it sounds like. Hussars who wore wings into battle.

The Hussars were cavalry units in Eastern and Central Europe* that date to at least the 16th century. Their first mention appears in Polish treasury documents in 1500. They were originally made up of exiled Serbs and Hungarian mercenaries, but, as a rule, most people talking about the Hussars are talking about the Polish-Lithuanian cavalry unit that existed from the 16th to the 18th centuries. After the collective reforms of the Polish king and the Lithuanian Grand Duke in the mid-16th century, the Hussars were considered an elite cavalry shock unit that drew heavily from the Polish nobility.

The Winged Hussars wore wings on their backs. They were wooden frames into which eagle, goose, or ostrich feathers were mounted. The purpose of the wings is unclear. Many historians argue that they were a psychological scare tactic. The wings clattered and the wind rushing through them while at a gallop made a humming noise. Also, they looked pretty badass. Another suggestion is that they helped to protect the soldiers’ backs against enemy weaponry. Another is that the wings served to inoculate the Polish horses to the noisemakers employed by the Ottomans and Tatars.

There aren’t a lot of good sources in English or French available online. A lot of what’s available in English is drawn from the Wikipedia page. But the Wiki page cites a whole slew of academic work in Polish, so if you’re interested, you can read that page here. There’s also this page. Most of what’s available in French is about the French Hussars, which were (and remain) light cavalry regiments that do not have wings.

Random note: I realized in conversation — about the Far East — with a friend and fellow travel junkie today that I know nothing about South American history. Like at all. I often end up learning about European and Ancient religious history because those are my areas of expertise/interest. But I bet the South Americans have some cool stuff going on too. Keep your eyes peeled for some lessons from that part of the world in the coming weeks.

*Though there are currently Hussar units in: Argentina, Canada, Chile, Denmark, France, Ireland, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Peru, Spain, Sweden, the UK, and Venezuela.


Lesson #401 (sort of): Serbia’s Ultras Problem

I turned in my term paper for my Ethnic and Cultural Conflict class today (three days early!). I’m really pleased with how it turned out on its fourth iteration. It began as an examination of football clubs’ interactions as reflections of Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian relations with one another. Then it was how Croatian and Serbian football clubs’ interactions with each other and with European fans is reflective of the overall regional politics. Then it was how football violence in Croatia and Serbia is reflective of each country’s position in Europe. And finally it was what it is…

an explanation of contemporary Serbian politics using four football matches: Croatia/Serbia in March of last year (how Serbia is coping with its lingering resentments and learning to work with its traditional rival); Partizan/Tottenham in September (how the rise of the right is spurring anti-Semitism and homophobia in Serbia); Serbia/Albania in mid-October (how the Kosovo question is affecting Serbia’s relationship with the EU and why its transition has been so slow); and Partizan/Red Star at Halloween (how Serbia is allowing its ultras to destroy it from within).

Short version: all of Serbia’s current political troubles stem from using football ultras groups as paramilitary units during the Homeland and Bosnian Wars.*

It’s 15 pages of awesome. That I had to work for.


…good research will get you everywhere. If I hadn’t done the leg work, paring down enough to get a *good* paper into 15 pages would have been impossible.

*You’re either going to have to trust me on that or do the research yourself. I’ve done the work.

Lesson #400: Yugoslavia’s Dwindling Football League

I’m  writing a paper on how, as Serbia is Europeanized as it moves towards EU membership, football hooliganism is the last outlet for expressing lingering ethno-cultural anger. And I am learning all sorts of interesting stuff about the way football operated in the former Yugoslavia. For example:

Eager to maintain some sense of “normalcy”, and despite the fact that six teams from Croatia (5) and Slovenia (1) had already withdrawn from the league, the Yugoslav League continued the business of football through the first two seasons of the war in Croatia (and the first season of the war in Bosnia) with an ever-dwindling number of teams in its league as teams withdrew — or, in the case of Željezničar Sarajevo, abandoned the league when their stadium was destroyed. The Yugoslav League collapsed after the 1992-93 season.*

I find that fascinating. The article that information comes from also talks about how for the big teams in the top flight, getting to and from matches in the months leading up to the war wasn’t particularly difficult since they could fly from Belgrade to Zagreb, but for second division teams and smaller first tier teams that traveled by bus, getting to away matches in Croatia was a lot of crossing your fingers and hoping no one killed you on the way. Which is mad.

*This comes from Richard Mills’ article, ‘It All Ended in an Unsporting Way’: Serbian Football and the Disintegration of Yugoslavia, 1989-2006.



Lesson #393: Structural Violence

This is (sort of) a cheat. This is a very pared down version of something I have to turn in for class tomorrow. The original version was five pages, which for the purposes of this assignment was way, way too long, but will serve as the backbone for an upcoming paper. This one’s two, which is much more reasonable for what it is — a glossary page for my classmates. On the plus side, I got to play in my vast library of Northern Ireland titles for a bit.

Funnily, I think this is the first time Northern Ireland has ever appeared on this blog. I say funny because when I started this blog, I was doing my PhD on Northern Irish politics, specifically on the Falls Road Curfew as the instigation for the second phase (mass excitement) of revolution. I have to say, it’s been very nice to be back in a program where I can talk about NI and people (well, okay, person…my program director is well versed on the subject, though he’s more into the policy where I’m more into the grit) know, generally, what I’m talking about. I love my friends, they’re great, but they couldn’t possibly care less about Northern Irish politics and/or revolutionary theory. I’m really looking forward to the day we cover NI in my ethnic and cultural conflicts class because the first paragraph of the text talks about it as a religious conflict, which it isn’t. I’m going to have a field day!

Anyway, this is cited differently from my usual posts because it’s all academic-like.


Structural Violence

“The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.” -Dr. Paul Farmer


Structural violence is a term introduced by Johan Galtung in the 1969 article, “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research”.[1]  Generally bereft of physical violence, structural violence is a form of institutionalized, psychological, avoidable, and sometimes unintentional repression that affects a portion of a population, and there is often no one person to blame for it. “There may not be any person who directly harms another person in the structure. The violence is built into the structure and shows up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances” (Galtung 1969).

As a rule, structural violence is instituted to keep power among those who already have it by systematically depriving those underneath of certain needs, thereby creating a system of haves and have-nots and making it difficult, if not impossible, for those suffering under some form of structural violence to raise themselves into a better socioeconomic position. In the current global landscape, this is most often seen in the form of education, medical care, and food, and in many places, structural violence and physical violence are found together.

Many scholars, including Dr. Paul Farmer, Ronald Hill and Justin Rapp, and Yunus Kaya, believe that structural violence is a natural byproduct of globalization, that the influence of the West in developing countries is keeping the rich powerful and the poor systematically repressed. With consideration for many places in post-colonial Africa where structural violence was the modus operandi for hundreds of years, and where dictatorships are still a considerable factor, there is no shortage of examples of this form of repression.

Structural violence may be seen in various forms across all cultures including, on the larger scale:

  • Racism
  • Classism
  • Sexism
  • Nationalism
  • Ethnocentrism

Structural violence on the smaller scale can take the form of:

  • Lack of access to education
  • Lack of access to healthcare
  • Lack of access to food and/or shelter
  • Biased hiring/firing practices
  • Gerrymandering of voting districts
  • Parades
  • Movement restrictions such as travel bans and curfews

In an applied case, the resurgence of violent conflict in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s is directly tied to structural violence. When the period known as The Troubles began, the movement was purely an ideological push for civil rights; the IRA had been disorganized since the failed 1956 border campaigns. When the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) formed in February of 1967, its aim was to tackle the gerrymandering of Catholic voting districts, repeal the Special Powers Act of 1922 — which restricted the use of the Irish tricolour, allowed for internment without trial, and issued a ban on nationalist and republican meetings and parades while allowing unionist and loyalist meetings and parades, including the incendiary July 12th parades, which marched (and still march) through Catholic enclaves of Belfast including the Ardoyne in North Belfast and the Short Strand in East Belfast — the introduction of a compulsory points system to ensure fair allocation of public housing, and the disbanding of the Ulster Special Constabulary (B Specials), an exclusively Protestant quasi-military force.[2]

Later, in 1970, the Catholic community suffered both the mass expulsion of 500 workers from the Harland and Wolff shipyards following a shootout in the Short Strand in late June and an early July curfew in the Lower Falls Road area of West Belfast.  Between 3-5 July, the British Army contained 20,000 people in their homes for 36 hours using barbed wire barricades to block off the area, did a full arms search of each house, arrested 300 men, shot three unarmed civilians dead and ran one over with a tank, and allowed the son of former Prime Minister Brookeborough to tour the area while leaving Westminster MP for the Falls, Gerry Fitt, outside the barricades.[3] Adding insult to injury, it was later discovered that the entire operation had been illegal.

The Falls Road Curfew is the specific event that pushed the Provisional IRA, which had split from the Original IRA over ideological differences the previous December, into its active participation in the conflict. No longer willing to tolerate systematic and — in some cases, physical — violence under the Stormont government and the British military forces, nationalists began to vocalize their support for the civil rights movement and several hundred new republicans joined up with the Provisionals. Prior to the curfew, the Provos counted fewer than 100 men; by the beginning of December, they numbered 800.[4]

Further reading

Paul Farmer  – An Anthropology of Structural Violence. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/382250

Tord Hoivik – The Demography of Structural Violence. http://www.jstor.org/stable/423311


[1]Journal of Peace Research, 6(3), p. 167-191. http://www.jstor.org/stable/422690

[2] Bew, P., & Gillespie, G. (1999). Northern Ireland: A Chronology of the Troubles 1968-1999 (p.1) Dublin: Gill & Macmillan.

[3] Warner, G. (2006). The Falls Road Curfew Revisited. Irish Studies Review, 14(3), 325-342., Coogan, T. (1997). The Troubles: Ireland’s Ordeal 1966-1996 and the Search for Peace (p. 109). Boulder, Colo.: Roberts Rinehart., McKittrick, D., & McVea, D. (2002). Making Sense of the Troubles: The Story of the Conflict in Northern Ireland (p. 62). Chicago: New Amsterdam Books.

[4] Bardon, J. (1994). A History of Ulster (p. 678). Belfast: The Blackstaff Press.

Lesson #390: Protracted Refugees

I was reading an article, recently, about how the UN’s daily food allotment for roughly 450,000 African refugees is 850 calories. That’s not a lot. It’s about a third of what the average American consumes on a daily basis.

This got me to thinking about how long that’s sustainable. Obviously, that’s an untenable situation — because math, science, and common sense say so — and something will have to give, but I was curious about the length of time the average refugee is dependent on UN food resources.

According the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a protracted refugee situation is one in which 25,000 or more people from the same country seek refugee status in another country (or countries) for a period of at least five years. Of the 15 million refugees worldwide, roughly two-thirds are living in protracted situations. But here’s the thing…in 1993, the average length of protracted refugee situations was nine years; by the end of 2003, it was 17 years. Seventeen years. That’s very literally half my life. 17 years stuck in a foreign country, often without the resources or recourse to find employment, or housing, or access to education. I’ve spent more than 17 years of my life being educated by actual institutions. Seventeen years of being stuck in a place with few, if any, options to move, work, and learn is just unfathomable to me.

Anyway, there’s a challenge that exists to go a single day on 850 calories. It’s honestly not that bad if you do it right…I did it for a week and wasn’t any the worse for wear as a result. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it still sucks. But it’s not that bad if you can eat a variety of things. For me, it was a lot of chicken, fresh vegetables, hard boiled eggs, beans, and a lot of spices. No bread or pasta — which aren’t things I eat a lot of anyway, so that wasn’t a huge challenge — no crackers, no pecan butter, no cheese, (mostly) no chocolate, no juice or pop — also fine because apart from limeade, I rarely drink either — and definitely no booze.* Basically no drinks other than water and one glass of chocolate milk a day.** But refugees don’t have access to grocery stores/farmer’s market and fresh fruits and veggies and eggs and lean meats. They have access to lentils, rice, and a spoonful of salt. Every day. If I’d had to do a week of that, there’s barely a sliver of a chance I’d have succeeded — in no small part because unless you put it in jambalaya, I’m not really very keen on rice. I’d encourage you to give the challenge a go, though. If nothing else, it was really interesting to pay that close attention to what I was eating.

For more on protracted refugee situations, including which nationalities are listed among the displaced, see the state department’s website, here. Or Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre’s website, here.

*I find I drink more frequently during the summer — because, as I’ve already noted, everyone knows beer consumed outdoors tastes better than beer consumed indoors and everyone enjoys being out in good weather — but giving it up for the football match was the harder aspect. Beer and football go together and always have. I gave up drinking for five weeks between the end of the Premier League season and the start of the World Cup, and that was fine. I went and hung out on patios for happy hours and to friends’ barbeques and whatnot…no problem. I spend one Sunday 8:30am match not drinking with my footie mates, and it’s two hours of agony. Even with a 4-0 victory for Spurs.

**Because secretly, I’m eight.

Lesson #372: The Right-Hand Man

I’ve mentioned before that sometimes questions will pop into my head for no reason at all and nag me to answer them; I was literally washing my dinner dishes when this question wandered into my brain unprovoked.

Western culture* has a tenet that one’s most loyal and trusted advisor/soldier/business partner is one’s “right-hand man.” But why? My immediate thought was that it’s born of religion because I’ve studied both the Tanakh and the Bible at some length, and I know the lyrics to ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ and ‘Heaven on Their Minds’.** It’s also the most obvious answer because that phrasing shows up nearly three dozen times over both scriptures.***

But it’s not the right answer. It seems those two documents absorbed some combat history.

In all likelihood the concept of the person to your right being the person you trust the most because he’s the person on whom you rely the most (and therefore being your “right-hand man” comes from the phalanx formation. In the phalanx, the person on your right was the one using his shield to protect your entire right side — including, since roughly 85% of the population are right-handed****, your sword hand. This actually raises a whole separate question about where they put lefties. Did they have entire phalanxes of lefties that were mirror images of the right-handed phalanxes? Did they simply train lefties to fight right-handed? If I can find that answer, you can be sure I’ll let you know.


Interestingly, though we generally associate the phalanx with the ancient Greeks — specifically the Spartans if you payed attention in grade 9 World History — the first known depiction of the formation is actually a fragment of the Sumerian Stele of the Vultures, which dates to the 25th century BCE.

You can read more here. Of course, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that there’s no definitive answer to this question and if you google the origins, many, many (most) people submit JESUS! as the answer. Which is fine, if not particularly logical. Just because it appears in scripture doesn’t make it the origin; I choose logic.

*I don’t know enough about Eastern culture to comment on the validity of the idiom there.

**I’d urge you to take those two pieces for what they’re worth.

***1 Kings 2:19, Ezekiel 16:46, Ezekiel 21:22, Zechariah 3:1, 1 Chronicles 6:39, 2 Chronicles 18:18, Psalms 16:8, Psalms 77:10, Psalms 80:17, Psalms 91:7, Psalms 109:6 and 109:31Psalms 110:1 and 110:5 — the first of which is directly referenced in Matthew 22:44, Mark 12:36Luke 20:42, and Acts 2:34, and Hebrews 1:13  — Matthew 26: 64, Mark 14:62, Mark 16:19, Luke 22:69, Acts 2:33,  Acts 5:31, Acts 7:55 and 7:56Romans 8:34Ephesians 1:20, Colossians 3:1, Hebrews 1:3, Hebrews 12:2, and 1 Peter 3:22. Lest you think I just know those offhand, remember I’m really good at finding things and very patient in my research. Also, given that John is our non-synoptic friend, his absence from this list shouldn’t be particularly surprising.

****Though, as with the blue eyes, a disproportionate number of actors are lefties. Pay attention the next time you see an actor writing something onscreen. I promise you more of them will be left-handed than is representative of the actual population.

Lesson #370: Hitler’s Record Collection

I absolutely love this kind of history. In part because I find the way things change hands over time fascinating. Like how a painting by one of the masters gets written off as a forgery and then spends 200 years in someone’s personal collection before being stuffed in an attic. Or how Hitler’s classical record collection wound up in Moscow. But I also find it interesting because I’m a firm believer that you can tell a lot about a person by what books they have, what’s on their iPods, what TV shows/movies they watch religiously, and what football club they cheer for.*

The story itself isn’t particularly exciting. After Hitler’s bunker was captured, a bunch of Russian Intelligence officers took it upon themselves to liberate some of Hitler’s possessions. For strategic sheep purposes or whatever.** Anyway, 60 years later, upon the officer’s death, his daughter came across the records in the attic (naturally).

What I find most interesting in this is the inclusion of the Russian greats like Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky (who wrote my favourite piece of music ever), Borodin, and Rachmaninov (who is responsible for a surprising piece of pop culture), as well as some recordings of other peoples’ work by prominent Jewish artists like Huberman and Schnabel. In case you’ve all forgotten everything you learned in school, Nazism considered both the Jews and the Russians subhuman.

So it turns out that if you’re a brutal dictator spearheading a campaign to rid Europe of all the groups of people you don’t like, you don’t actually have to take your own orders. You can listen to Russians, Jews, and Russian Jews to your heart’s content. Because who is going to complain and to whom?

You can read more here, herehere, and here.

*I like things that are very, very dark. Which you probably should have picked up on by now if you’ve been reading for a while. But also, come to my house, take a look at my library, skim my iPod, and/or have me list off my favourite TV shows for you; you won’t be at all surprised by most of what you see and hear. Except for where Clueless is concerned. It’s the Zdeno Chara of my collection — the outlier that’s going to skew all the rest of the data.

**I love the internet. I literally just googled “strategic sheep” and it came back with exactly what I was looking for. Technology!

Lesson #367: The Lebensborn

As you may or may not have learned in school,* the Germans did some pretty unconscionable things during the Second World War.** Among their more horrible attempts at perfecting a race of tall, blond, blue-eyed*** people was the Lebensborn program.

The Lebensborn program an office within the Schutzstaffe (the SS) and was born of the concept of racial purity and incorporated a two-prong attack, as it were, in perpetuating that purity. It was put in place in 1936 with, according to Heinrich Himmler, the express purpose of:

1. Support[ing] racially, biologically and hereditarily valuable families with many children;

2. Plac[ing] and car[ing] for racially, biologically and hereditarily valuable pregnant women, who, after thorough examination of their and the progenitor’s families by the Race and Settlement Central Bureau of the SS, can be expected to produce equally valuable children;

3. Car[ing] for the children; and

4. Car[ing] for the children’s mothers.****

However — and this is a big however — it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows and taking care of women and children. Though Lebensborn was implemented as a form of social welfare, especially for unmarried women, two of the main modus operandi for the program were a. removal of Polish children (anywhere from 10,000 t0 200,000…all records were destroyed, so there’s no way to come up with an accurate count though the most likely number is somewhere around 20,000) from their parents — though some were orphans — and b. the impregnation of often unwilling, but genetically desirable, women, especially outside of Germany. The Norwegians fared especially poorly in that regard. Though literally all of the German records of the program in Norway were destroyed, the Norwegians, it turns out, kept very good records; according to Eva Simonsen’s article “Into the Open — or Hidden Away?: The Construction of War Children as a Social Category in Post-war Norway and Germany“, while about 8,000 children were counted among the Lebensborn in Germany, there were roughly 12,000 in Norway.

The first clinic opened in Munich in 1936; the first clinic outside of Germany opened in Norway in 1941. It should also probably be noted that the clinics were often housed in homes that had been confiscated from the Jews. All told, there were eventually facilities — though some were merely field offices — in nine countries, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland.

For more, see here, herehere, and here.

*Seriously, I read an article yesterday about a poll done by the Anti-Defamation League that found that nearly half of the world’s population doesn’t know the Holocaust is a thing that happened. To some extent, that makes sense. But half?

**It should go without saying that this doesn’t mean other parties didn’t also do unconscionable things. The Russians, for example, threw under-armed soldiers at the Germans during the Siege of Leningrad and when some of them said, essentially, “f**k this noise!” and opted for desertion, the Russian commanders ordered their troops — who, let’s remember were already dealing with a shortage of ammunition and, if they had a rifle at all, were equipped with a Moson Nagant, which isn’t the easiest weapon in the world to operate when you’re at the shooting range, nevermind being shot at — to shoot any Russian soldiers abandoning their posts in the back. It’s just the the Germans are the best-known offenders.

***Fun story: I have a friend whose ancestry I had just assumed was Scandinavian, because like the overwhelming majority of my Scandinavian (actually Scandinavian, not Scandinavian-descended) friends, he’s very tall, very blond, and very blue-eyed. But it turns out, his family are mostly Austrian. When I expressed my surprise at this last week (my exact words included, “you’re like the poster child for the Volkish Movement” — for more on that, read George L. Mosse’s superlative work, The Crisis of German Ideology), he said, “I know. I’m Hitler’s wet dream.”

****That can be read on page 465 of the 5th volume from the Nuremberg Trials, which can be found here in its entirety.

Lesson #356: The Zamburak

Today’s lesson comes by way of a Rock, Paper, Cynic comic. First off, Rock, Paper, Cynic is awesome and you should read it.*

Moving on…

Holy crap, you guys, camel cavalry! Camel cavalry with mounted cannons!

Technically the comic is incorrect; the zamburak (or zumbooruk) is the mounted cannon, not the camel with the mounted cannon. But the point remains. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of information available on the zamburak.

There’s some etymology here, but there’s not really anything to verify any of the information listed on the Wikipedia page, which is disappointing. The zamburaks were mostly used by the Persians and Indians as light artillery, though the range and accuracy wasn’t particularly good. They were used in combat against the British in the Anglo-Afghan and Anglo-Sikh wars in the 19th centuries, but had been used for centuries before that, at least as far back as the Persian Safavid Empire.

You can read more here. And you can see a LEGO version here.

*This one is still my favourite! It plays to both my love of words and my deep, deep love of dark humour. And if you read French and have a basic understanding of Canadian politics, read this one.

Lesson #330: The Red Cross Donut Wagon

I was out running errands today and when I got back in the car after one of my stops, there was a radio report on from WWII, talking to people serving overseas who were from the city I live in and the surrounding areas. It was so, so odd to listen to, but kind of fascinating. From what I gather, this was done at a base in England on Christmas day, but I don’t know what year, and they couldn’t say what base.

Anyway, one of the women they interviewed was with the Red Cross and stated her position was, “I work the donut wagon.” I figured this was some sort of nickname for some vehicle, so came home and looked it up.

The donut wagon to which she was referring to is…a donut wagon.

Literally, a vehicle that women with the Red Cross drove around, delivering coffee and donuts to the troops.

Sometimes, a donut wagon is just a donut wagon.

There’s one “donut girl”‘s story here and some video from the Netherlands in 1944 here.

Lesson #325: Cambyses II’s Cat Army

A word about my prolonged absence: I have no excuse, really, except that I’ve been focused on other, sometimes (but not always, unless you count plowing through all of Breaking Bad, Friday Night Lights, and Sons of Anarchy as more important) more important, things.

Also, I’ve had no word from Fulham. Evidently, they didn’t think I was being sincere, despite my best efforts at explanation. Anyway, Spurs have shown reasonably well, even without Gareth Bale, so that’s what’s important.*

Moving on…

There are many things I love about history. Not the history you learned about in school because school history — all memorized names, dates, and events to be forgotten as soon as the final has been taken — is the worst. I’m talking about the history that’s interesting.**

As we all know from our grade four history unit on Ancient Egypt, — we all had that, right? — the Egyptians believed in the sanctity of cats. They also lived in an era when there Persians were enjoying a delightful conquering romp through the better part of the known world. Enter Cambyses II, son of Cyrus the Great, who, five years after the epic death of his father, leads the Persian army on a little jaunt to make friends with Egypt.

There’s some pretty Game of Thrones-type political stuff involving powerful people, deposed monarchs, marriage of daughters, trickery, betrayal, and subversive doctors that leads up to the Battle of Pelusium*** in 525 BCE, but by May, Cambyses and the Egyptian Pharoah, Psamtik III, were at war over an insult to Cambyses’ pride (or honor…whatever, there was a slight, and Cambyses didn’t take it well).  It turns out, though, that Cambyses was prepared to completely obliterate the Egyptian army. He brought cats.

Knowing the Egyptians’ veneration of cats, Cambyses had the image of Bastet, the cat goddess, painted on his army’s shields and sent cats (as well as other animals the Egyptians held sacred, including dogs, sheep, and ibexes) out to march ahead of the first wave of soldiers. The Egyptians decided it was better to run screaming to Memphis and hole up there than to anger the Gods by fighting and wound up victims of a vicious rout. According to the historian Ctesias, 50,000 Egyptians were killed.**** Cambyses then wandered on down to Memphis with his troops and laid siege to it until it fell, after which he executed 2,000 of the city’s more important citizens. Psamtik was captured in the aftermath and, by all accounts, treated well, living out his life in Memphis (or jailed in Susa, depending on what you read) under the watchful eye of the Persians — right up until the point where he decided to lead a revolt against his captors, which earned him an execution.

Cambyses defeat of Psamtik ushered in the 27th dynasty, which was overseen by the Persian Shahs from Cambyses’ takeover in 525 BCE and running through Darius II’s overthrow in 404 BCE.

For more information see here and here.

*I just need to record for posterity that during the Northern Ireland/Portugal qualifier in Belfast a few months back, fans chanted “you’re just a cheap Gareth Bale” at Cristiano Ronaldo (of whom I have many things to say, few of them nice), which made me giggle. And then he turned around a scored a hat trick, which did not make me giggle. Other Cristiano Ronaldo hat tricks that didn’t make me giggle include the one he scored in the second leg against Sweden in the World Cup qualifier playoff that knocked Sweden out of the tournament before it even started. Between me and The Swede, that didn’t go over well, though he took it much better than I did.

**To be fair, my version of interesting history and other people’s versions aren’t necessarily the same. I like the chaos, idealism, and aggression aspects. Other people like quilts.

***See Herodus’ The Histories, Volume I, Book II

****See Persica

Lesson #324: Henri Huet’s Death

My best friend is on a press tour in the Middle East right now, which is awesome for him (and for me because, ever since he went to war school a few years back, I’ve been dying for him to go be a war photographer so I can live vicariously through him — his wife is decidedly less enthusiastic about the whole thing). Combat photography is the job I most want to do that is outside of my skill set; I find it fascinating, which, if you’ve been paying attention at all, shouldn’t surprise you.

Anyway, he posted a bunch of photographs from Afghanistan this afternoon, including an image that immediately made me think of this photograph French photojournalist Henri Huet made in Vietnam:

Door Gunner, Vietnam -- Henri Huet

From there, I wound up revisiting One Ride with Yankee Papa 13, the absolutely stunning photoessay Larry Burrows shot for LIFE magazine in March of 1965.*

At some point in my reading, I learned that Henri Huet was killed on the same chopper that killed Burrows (and two other photojournalists) when it went down over Laos in 1971. I have no idea how that piece of information slid through the cracks of my knowledge, but somehow it did. I knew Huet had been killed while working in Vietnam, but the how and where weren’t in my knowledge bank.

If you’re interested in checking out some of Huet’s photographs, see here. I’m quite fond of the shot of the soldiers holding their guns above the water to keep them from getting wet. In the rain. I find it interesting that none of the Guardian’s shots are of his (arguably) most famous subjects, medics James Callahan (left image) and Thomas Cole (right image with the eye patch).

*That essay includes among its shots an image that wasn’t published at the time (but obviously since has been) that is probably my favourite image of all time because it’s gorgeously composed and everything about its contents is wrong.

Lesson #311: Irena Sendler’s Resistance Movement

For someone who studies revolutions, I do an amazing job of neglecting the individual in favour of the larger picture. But sometimes, I get reminded of the individual. Today’s lesson comes on the heels of something my sister-in-law posted on Facebook yesterday. My problem with it wasn’t that it wasn’t accurate (well, it was mostly accurate), it was that it minimized the accomplishments of a single woman into a handful of talking points to argue against Al Gore. I get that that was sort of the purpose of this “let’s list all the awesome SO YOU CAN SEE WHERE THE NOBEL COMMITTEE WENT HORRIBLY WRONG!”* post, but if can’t be timely with your point, at least be thorough.

Irena Sendler was born with rebellion in her genes; her great-grandfather was shipped off to Siberia,** her father — a doctor — spent a lot of time caring for Jews, who, let’s be honest, have never historically been the most popular group of people. While her father’s colleagues shunned the Jewish community, her father embraced them and wound up dead of typhoid in 1917. Due to the financial support of the Jewish community, she was able to attend the University of Warsaw, where she defaced the part of her student card that allowed her to sit on the “Aryan” benches in her classrooms*** after seeing a Jewish friend beaten by a group of nationalists. The university suspended her for three years.

And then there was the war.

As early as the first days of the German occupation of Poland in 1939,**** Sendler and like-minded gentiles were forging papers to help Jewish families escape the country. Before she even joined the resistance movement, Żegota, when it was created in the autumn of 1942 (after mass transports between late July and late September sent somewhere between 250,000 and 300,000 of the ghetto population to Treblinka), Sendler and her co-conspirators had drafted more than 500 false papers.

The ghetto was established in the autumn of 1940. It crammed the entire 400,000 person Jewish population of Warsaw, which was about 30% of the city’s population, into four square kilometres, which was roughly 3% of the city’s area.*****At that time, Irena Sendler was a 30-year-old social worker for the city. This bit of information was crucial to her work. Because she was a social worker (or had false papers stating she was a nurse, depending on what you read), she was able to pass freely in and out of the ghetto under the guise of health checks and delivering medication and vaccines to a population that was particularly susceptible to epidemics (overcrowding will do that) and illnesses related to being in close quarters with corpses (roughly 100,000 Jews starved to death). In December of 1942, Sendler was put in charge of the children’s division of the resistance movement. By that time, there were only around 55,000 Jews remaining in the ghetto.

Using her legal loophole to access the ghetto’s children, Sendler and about 30 collaborators, most of whom were women, managed to get 2500 children out of the ghetto and safely placed with gentile organizations, mostly churches, convents, and orphanages. By her own estimates, getting children from the ghetto to a safe location required no fewer than 12 people be in on the secret. (Hint: that’s a lot.) Not only did she do this, she kept a list of all of them in the hopes of reuniting them with their families after the war, despite the fact that if the list had ever been discovered, it would have meant immediate death (because that’s what the penalty was for giving aid to Jews). In fact, in October of 1943, Sendler was arrested by the Gestapo, who thought she was just a minor part of the conspiracy. She was tortured, though gave up no information, and sentenced to death, but a well-timed bribe allowed other members of the Żegota to secret her away in February of 1944. Her name was added to the list of those executed, and she spent the rest of the war continuing her work with the resistance under an assumed name.

After the war, Sendler retrieved the list — which a colleague hid in her underwear (or armpit, depending on what you read) to keep it from being discovered the night Sendler was arrested and then buried in a jar under an apple tree in a friend’s back yard — in the hopes of reuniting the children with their families. It should be unsurprising to learn that the vast majority of them had no surviving family members.

Irena Sendler was honoured by Yad Vashem as one of the first Righteous Among the Nations in 1965, though the government of Poland refused to let her collect the award until 1983. In 2003, she was awarded Poland’s highest civilian decoration, the Order of the White Eagle. In the end, Irena Sendler helped save more than twice as many people as Oskar Schindler…but she didn’t have a movie made of her life so she’s mostly overlooked. (To be clear, I’m not saying that Schindler was a slouch…saving people is good.) In fact, it seems her story had been mostly lost to archives in Jerusalem until 1999, when a bunch of schoolgirls in Kansas learned, in talking to some of the children she rescued, that she was still alive, went to Warsaw to speak with her and wrote a play about her, that her story gained outside renown.

All of this information can be found here and here. Also in her obituaries (she died in May of 2008) in: The New York Times, The Economist, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The LA Times. There are a slew more, but those five should give you a pretty good indication of what was being said about her at the time of her death. (Incidentally, the NY Times has the information about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising wrong; it took 28 days to quash, not the “more than a month” they state.)

*(six years ago and we’re all obviously still very bitter about it)

**Poland, you’ll remember was part of the Russian Empire.

***This was actually the most interesting part of this lesson for me; classrooms in Poland were segregated before the war. I imagine there wasn’t much need for that segregation after it considering the Nazis wiped out more than 90% of Polish Jews.

****Remember how I mentioned the other day that the number one reason for large-scale killing across all of history was land? This is a perfect example of how a land grab started a war.

*****You’ll get no sources for this because it’s information I know off the top of my head; Warsaw was the first revolution I studied.

Lesson #308: Tomyris’ Epic Quote

The great thing about history is that it’s full of interesting violence. I realize that sounds a bit disingenuous, or at the very least macabre, but there are really only a few constants in history and violence is one of them; people have always killed other people to get their hands on something — usually, at least on the larger killing scale, land — they want. Historically, if you can’t marry your way into it, you kill people for it.

Tomyris was the queen of the Massagatae, a nomadic band of Iranians who occupied pretty much all of Central Asia. Cyrus the Great was the ruler of the Achaemenid Empire (the First Persian Empire), which covered pretty much all of Ancient Near East. As such, Cyrus was the most powerful man on the planet around 550 BCE.* Having already conquered the Median Empire, the Lydian Empire, and the Neo-Babylonian Empire, and with an eye toward literally ruling the world one day, Cyrus and his troops were off fighting with the Massagatae. Eventually, it occurred to Cyrus that, ‘I’d like that lady’s land, but all this fighting is a drag; I’ll ask her to marry me.’ Tomyris declined and sent Cyrus a strongly worded letter suggesting that further advancement into Massagatae territory was ill-advised.

Given that he wanted the land and had superior forces, this was not advice that Cyrus heeded; he and his army kept on fighting.

Fast forwarding past a bit of Cyrus’ military genius and a Massagatae defeat in a first battle that ended with the capture, release, and subsequent honour suicide of Tomyris’ son (and General of the Massagatae army), Spargapises, an enraged Tomyris called for a rematch.

In an epic lesson about the ruthlessness of a warrior queen who has lost her son,  the Persians, despite their superior numbers, suffered heavy casualties and, ultimately, a loss in what turned out to be the bloodiest battle the world had yet seen.

Here’s where it gets awesome: According to the ancient historian Herodotus, Tomyris actively sought out Cyrus’ corpse (although other histories say she killed him herself), beheaded him, crucified his corpse, filled a wine skin with blood, stuffed Cyrus’ head into it and said, “I warned you I would quench your thirst for blood, and so I shall,”** which is possibly the most badass thing anyone has ever said in the history of ever.

The thing is, it’s entirely possible that none of this happened as described. Herodotus wrote all of this nearly 100 years after the fact, and he himself admitted that this was one of many stories he’d heard from credible sources about Cyrus’ death.***

Still, that’s a damn good story.

*He’s not called Cyrus the Great for nothing; he was known for his great respect for the traditions of the people he conquered, his work in the fields of human rights (which sounds counterintuitive, I know), his brilliant understanding of military strategy, and his approach to politics would shape the both the Eastern and Western worlds. 

**See Herodotus’ The Histories

***See Nino Luraghi’s The Historian’s Craft in the Age of Herodotus

Lesson #298: The Speed of Technology

I just read something that made my brain explode.

There were only 69 years separating the Battle of Little Bighorn (in 1876), in which the most advanced weaponry was a breech-loading, 1873 model Springfield rifle, and the first combat use of the atomic bomb (in 1945, in case you missed every history class you were ever meant to attend).

Lesson #283: The Dissolved Nobel Prizes

I read a really interesting article on NPR this afternoon (no need to guess which way my politics lean) about how Niels Bohr’s Institute of Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen dissolved a pair of Nobel medals in order to avoid their “reallocation” by the Nazis.* Fascinating!

As a student of revolution, I’m a bit of a sucker for things being stuck, as it were, to The Man, so this little bit of trivia is right up my alley. Gold, it turns out, is a particularly stable element, so its dissolution is a bit tricky. But when German physicists Max von Laue (1914) and James Franck (1925) sent their medals to the Institute for safekeeping**, and the Nazis annexed Denmark (more or less) in 1940 and went searching for gold, — in this specific instance, gold that had been illegally removed from the Reich (and very obviously since the prizes bore the names of their winners) —  Bohr, with the help of Hungarian chemist Georgy de Hevesy, who won his own Nobel prize in 1943, decided that the best way to keep the Nazis from the prizes was to dissolve the pair in aqua regia, a solution that is three parts hydrochloric acid to one part nitric acid.

By some stroke of luck, when the Nazis arrived and tossed the Institute in search of gold, the aqua regia solution was left alone on some shelf, and, after the war, the gold was extracted from the aqua regia and sent off to Stockholm to be restruck for von Laue and Franck.***

Bohr’s medal (1922, Physics), incidentally, was sold at auction just prior to the Nazi occupation.****

I love stories like this — and history is replete with them. There are always people who find ingenious ways of circumventing governments and doing what is right and I love that.

*Interestingly, this story came from a book I’m waiting to get from paperbackswap.com, which is a BRILLIANT book trading site.

** von Laue was of Jewish descent and Franck was a known dissident.

***For more information see here and here.

****As a mostly unrelated aside, Bohr’s son won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1975. Also, my physicist friends and I have a running joke about how when they win the prize, they’re going to demand a taco dinner because it’s impossible to eat tacos and retain one’s dignity and the image of this is funny to us. In fairness, the idea of a specific one of said friends winning a Nobel Prize is actually a completely real possibility. Not that I expect, if he won, that he’d actually demand a taco dinner.