Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Holy Shit, Yoko Ono!

Yoko Ono

Remember The Beatles? They were this band back in the day. They had one or two songs that topped the charts. Or twenty-seven. They were a pretty big deal. Why'd they break up again?

John and Yoko
I went ahead and answered for you.

Yoko Ono, you say? Well, you're only kind of right. She was part of it, but I wouldn't say she wanted to be. Sure, she followed John Lennon around everywhere he went. She even went to band practices with him, an unprecedented breach of Beatles policy. That was crossing the Rubicon. But do we blame Vercingetorix for Caesar's actions?

Vercingetorix statue
Look it up. History is important.

Of course we don't. And don't worry about not knowing who Vercingetorix is. The important thing to know is that John Lennon was an asshole, and both Yoko Ono and The Beatles were victims of the circumstances.

Now, I'm not going to say John Lennon was the only reason the band broke up. They were growing apart creatively, and they all started wanting different things for their careers. The group had an expiration date, and given how much strain fame places on relationships such as theirs, it's a miracle they lasted as long as they did.

But people blame Yoko Ono, and that doesn't really sit well with me. Because Yoko Ono didn't want to cross the Rubicon and sit in on band practice. She wanted to stick with her own avant-garde and admittedly kind of weird brand of performance and art. But John Lennon wouldn't let her.

The Bed-in for Peace
The handcuffs are probably under the sheets. And not in the fun way.

Evidence came about in the last few years that Yoko Ono didn't follow John Lennon around everywhere, he practically dragged her around on a leash because his jealousy came dangerously close to psychotic levels. She was there, but not by choice. She was Vercingetorix in chains, awaiting Caesar's Triumph. I'll steer clear of that metaphor in the future, I swear.

My point is, just because John Lennon asked everyone to give peace a chance doesn't necessarily mean he practiced it at home. And when you really pay attention, doesn't "I used to be cruel to my woman. I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved. Man, I was mean, but I'm changing my scene and I'm doing the best that I can" kind of sound like something a Lifetime Movie villain would say?

I want to sincerely apologize to fans of The Beatles, but it has to be said. John Lennon was a Lifetime Movie villain, and Yoko Ono was maybe not so bad after all.

Holy shit.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Holy Shit, The Tet Offensive!

First Battle of Saigon

This one time, America got involved in a bit of a kerfuffle over in Vietnam. You may have heard of it. You may have also heard of the Tet Offensive, possibly the most important engagement of the entire conflict. You might not know that, while it ended up being the first step toward a North Vietnamese victory in the war, it was actually a massive tactical victory for America. Here's how it went down.

At the end of 1967, the Johnson administration saw with growing alarm that people were no longer all that keen on sending kids overseas to die needlessly. In response, they announced that the war was going absolutely swimmingly. In fact, one of the top Field Commanders, General Bruce Palmer, Jr., went on record to say, "The Viet Cong has been defeated."
Bruce Palmer, Jr.
Here he is sitting in a completely non-symbolic armchair.

About a month after he waved a proverbial red flag at the hulking behemoth of fate, the Viet Cong shouted a collective "NUH UH!" But with guns. And bombs. And they did this on the first day of the Tet Lunar New Year, a two-day celebration that had been informally set aside as a ceasefire period.

North Vietnam and the Viet Cong guerrillas attacked just about everywhere in the country, sparking the major battles of Hue, Khe Sanh, and Saigon. The goal was to surprise and utterly incapacitate the Allied forces long enough to incite a general uprising among the South Vietnamese, who were not completely thrilled with the country's leadership.
Tet Offensive map
But seriously, everywhere.

What North Vietnam failed to take into consideration was that most of the people who would rise up had already done so. That, and the fact that the Allies were extraordinarily talented at mobility and redeployment, which meant that they could counter just about any attack the Viet Cong could surprise them with.
Marines in Hamo Village
People still died, though. A lot.

By the time the offensive was called off, the Viet Cong were utterly depleted and North Vietnam was looking at an existential crisis. Their casualty rate was somewhere around 50 freaking percent. Party leaders started eyeing each other nervously and waiting for the other shoe to drop. Then they started hearing what the South Vietnamese and Americans were saying.

In the South, people were faced with the stark reality that their government couldn't guarantee any kind of safety, even with the massive weight of the United States behind them. In the U.S., the political blow that North Vietnam dealt cost Johnson his career. When Nixon eventually took the reins, his policy toward the war was "Vietnamization," which basically meant "Y'all are on your own."
Fall of Saigon
No other policy in history will ever be so perfectly illustrated.

Ultimately, North Vietnam's ruinous defeat ended up being their greatest victory. Not only did they kick over the first domino that would lead to the U.S. getting out of their hair, but they removed any potential contention with the Viet Cong after reunification by depleting them and replacing them with North Vietnamese regulars.

You'd think it's what they meant to do all along, but you'd be wrong. Despite the opportunistic propaganda they shouted at the time, North Vietnamese leadership maintains today that the Tet Offensive failed to achieve any of its major objectives. That failure turned the tide of the war to their favor.

Holy shit.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Holy Shit, Earth is Round!


You may have observed in the picture of Earth above that our planet is round and portly. In fact, I'd wager that you've known that for quite some time. If you didn't, you're either obstinately ignorant or certifiably insane. "Silly blog," you're no doubt saying with a hint of derision, "Everyone knows that Christopher Columbus proved the Earth was round when he sailed to America in 1492!" To which I say, "Hah! That asshole?"
Christopher Columbus
Seriously, what an asshole.

No, reader, Christopher Columbus was full of many things, but intelligence was not one of them. When he set sail on his voyage to what he assumed to be India, he wasn't trying to prove that the Earth was round. He was trying to prove that India was way the fuck closer to Europe than it actually is. And he was wrong.

The naysayers that you made fun of in your elementary school play on Columbus day were actually completely right to doubt him. If, by sheer luck, there hadn't been an entire North and South America halfway between Europe and Asia, Columbus and his men would have surely died adrift at sea.
Earth with no Western continents
I've given some thought to what his memorial would look like.

"Now I remember," I hear you backtracking, "It was Copernicus and Galileo who proved the Earth was flat! They went against the church based on astronomy and stuff!"

Nope! I'm afraid that's just as wrong. First of all, the disagreements both men had with the church came well after 1492, and even well after Ferdinand Magellan (or more accurately, his crew) successfully circumnavigated the globe. Second, the disagreement centered on whether the Earth revolved around the sun or vice-versa. It's a pretty interesting debate in itself, but all parties pretty much agreed already that the Earth was round.
Rounder than my luscious curls, even.

So when did the Flat Earth myth die?

Sometime around the 6th Century.


While the idea of a flat Earth may have persisted among the lower classes, most educated people in Western Civilization (and most other civilizations) have been aware of the general shape of the Earth for much, much longer than we collectively imagine.

See, when you pay attention to where the stars are, how shadows work, and how ships seem to sink below the horizon when they get far enough away, it becomes pretty clear to the discerning mind that there's no way in hell this place is flat. As a matter of fact, the Greeks had pretty much figured out the Earth's circumference by 240 B.C, a good 1700 years before Columbus got it drastically wrong.

Holy shit.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Holy Shit, Hospitality!

Bringing in the Boar's Head

No, but seriously. Hospitality. I know it doesn't sound like the kind of thing that could dazzle you into swearing, but there's a long and storied history behind hospitality that makes it one of the most important concepts in Western Civilization. The best place to learn about it is in Greek mythology.

Among the high concepts associated with Zeus was that of Hospitality, or Xenia. If someone in a Greek Myth disrespects hospitality, the King of the Gods considers it a personal affront. Personal affronts to the mightiest of the gods was something the Greeks generally wanted to avoid, since anyone who managed to insult him was guaranteed an exceptionally and creatively severe punishment.

You may have heard of some of the poor suckers who thought it would be no big deal to disrespect a tradition associated with the guy who casually tosses lightning down from Mount Olympus in his spare time.
Zeus on His Chariot
I don't know if you were aware, but not a lot of people can do that. Also, horse penis.

Take Sisyphus. Sisyphus was sent to Tartarus (which is basically Hell) to push a massive boulder up a hill with a rounded top. Every time he crests the hill, the rock rolls down the other side and he's forced to start all over again. Forever. His crime? As a king of Ephyra, he murdered guests and travelers in his home. That's a pretty flagrant violation of Xenia.
Cheer up, little fella. Someday, Camus will make you a metaphor for the human condition.

Tantalus killed his own son. On it's own, filicide was not bad enough to warrant the full brunt of Zeus-style justice. But he also disrespected Xenia by bringing a His-Son Pie to the table of his hosts. And his hosts were the gods.
Jackie Chan.
What the hell is wrong with you?!

Jesus Christ. I mean...why on Earth would he think that was a good idea? You don't just pull a fast one on Zeus. Tantalus was sent to Tartarus for his trouble, where he was placed in an inescapable pool of water next to a low branch full of fruit. Cursed with everlasting hunger and thirst, Tantalus soon learned that every time he reached for the fruit, the branches would rise just above his grasp. When he leaned down to drink, the water level would recede to just below his lips. That's where we get the word "tantalizing."

According to the myths, when Ixion murdered his father-in-law it was the first kinslaying in history. Zeus's response? He invited Ixion to dinner. He figured, "What the Hell Tartarus, right? Everyone makes mistakes." When Ixion arrived, he started making googly eyes at Hera and caressing her under the table.
Commander Shepard
"I can't see how this could end poorly."

Here we have a double whammy. Not only did Ixion dishonor Zeus's favorite virtue, he made Zeus the victim of his crime. For that, he was tied to a winged wheel of fire that will continue spinning ceaselessly until the end of time, causing him thousands of lifetimes of horrible, searing pain. Not because of the murder, because of the hospitality.

Of course, the Greeks didn't have a monopoly on hospitality. Most cultures have similar feelings on the matter. In fact, a compelling argument has been made that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed not so much because of all the butt sex, but because citizens were planning to perform said butt sex forcibly upon angels of the Lord who had just been explicitly granted hospitality by citizens of the two cities. Old Testament God responded with his typical remedy for disrespect.
Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
I love the smell of brimstone in the morning. Smells like...piousness.

The shared moral of these stories is that disrespecting hospitality, historically speaking, is about the same as slapping a god in the face. So...maybe don't kill your guests or anything.

Holy shit.