Thursday, March 7th, 2013

You Won't Believe These Seven Amazing Papal Elections

The Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church are gathering, right now, to start the process of electing the next pope. Exciting stuff, eh? No, not really, to be honest! What will almost certainly happen is that this group of old ecclesiastics, all of whom were chosen by one of the last two popes, will be shut up in the mildly cramped but relatively posh digs of the Apostolic Palace, and will take a few days, tops, to come to a consensus on who the next pope will be. Maybe the winner will be a surprise, and maybe the conclave will end on the first vote for once, or will extend [...]


The One Edit That Would Make 'North By Northwest' Perfect

North By Northwest is fantastic. Can we agree on this? I hope so. If you disagree, you're probably a perfectly nice person, but I'm afraid you are factually incorrect on this point, and I'm not going to deign to argue with you. Sorry. "Propulsive" is a word that has been beaten to death by movie critics, but really, the plot gets underway immediately—Cary Grant is kidnapped less than four minutes after the opening credit sequence ends—and does not really let up for the next two wonderful hours.

As the Oscars draw near, the first in a series about our strong movie opinions, past and present.

Because North By [...]


Love And Other Conspiracies Of "The X-Files"

The best time to get involved in a conspiracy theory is in media res. A really good conspiracy needs years to pile up the evil plans and secret knowledge into a baroque edifice worth caring about. At its beginning, it's just a bunch of people with some sinister ideas, and where's the fun in that?

So I think I got really enthusiastic about "The X-Files" and its ongoing storyline of a human-alien conspiracy precisely because I came into it in the middle. I had seen an episode or two of the first few seasons, enough to get the general gist of the show; but it was only after I moved [...]


My Misbegotten Historical Romance

As National Novel Writing Month gets underway, here's the first in a month-long series about the novels that we started writing but, for whatever reason, never finished.

In the fall of 1998, I was at UC Berkeley, mired in the early stages of a history Ph.D. program that, even in a best-case scenario, would last until 2003 and then spit me out into an increasingly tenuous academic job market—and my performance in grad school so far didn't necessarily promise a best-case scenario. I had few friends and had just had my heart broken rather badly; the latter, thankfully, served as a catalyst for some life reforms. 18 months later, [...]


The Slave Who Circumnavigated The World

Part of a month-long series on terrible trips, great journeys and getting lost.

Here are some geographic and economic realities, as any educated European of the late 1400s would have understood them: The European diet was monotonous and people were willing to pay good money for spices to liven up their meals. Those spices for the most part came from places to the east, lumped together in the European mind as "the Indies." The easy and obvious routes there were blocked by Muslim states that were hostile to Christendom, and that made good money on the spice trade and weren't interested in sharing the profits with Europeans. And [...]


Why All The Unpleasantness Over The House Of Lords?

If you've accidentally stumbled onto the BBC news website while looking for information on when the new "Doctor Who" season is starting, you might have discovered that the government (British for "administration") is in a bit of a spot of bother over plans to reform the House of Lords! And by "bit of a spot of bother" we mean "there is a small but non-negligible chance it might collapse and force early elections." As regular readers will know, this site takes its commitment to Knifecrime Island coverage seriously (including its celebrities) and while your correspondent is not a UK resident, he does like to read obsessively about British [...]


Nicknames For French Kings, In Order

37. "From Overseas" (Louis IV) 36. "The Posthumous" (John I) 35. "The Lazy" (Louis V) 34. "The Young" (Louis VII) 33. "The Stammerer" (Louis II) 32. "The Fat" (Louis VI) 31. "The Bald" (Charles II) 30. "The Short" (Pepin) 29. "The Tall" (Philip V) 28. "The Simple" (Charles III) 27. "The Handsome" (Philip IV, Charles IV) x 26. "The Pious" (Louis I, Robert II) 25. "The Father of the People" (Louis XII) 24. "The Great" (Charlemagne, Louis XIV, Napoleon I) 23. "The Good" (John II)


Giving Bad Advice To Kings

Part of a two-week series on the pull of bad influences in our lives and in the culture.


The highbrow way that most people know about Edward II of England is from Christopher Marlowe's biographical play about him, or from Brecht's stage adaptation or Derek Jarman's film adaptation of the same; the lowbrow way is from Braveheart. Either way, the main thing you probably think you know about him is that he was gay. Leaving aside the question of how sexual desire mapped on to self-identity in the 1300s, there are certainly reasons to believe that he was attracted to men. Snide remarks crop up in many [...]


Roman Emperors, Up To AD 476 And Not Including Usurpers, In Order Of How Hardcore Their Deaths Were

84-65 (tie). Titus (died in AD 81), Nerva (98), Trajan (117), Hadrian (138), Antoninus Pius (161), Marcus Aurelius (180), Septimius Severus (211), Tacitus (276), Constantius I (306), Gallerius (311), Constantine I (337), Constantius II (361), Theodosius I (395), Arcadius (408), Constantius III (421), Honorious (423), Marcian (457), Libius Severus (465), Olybrius (472), Leo I (474): Natural causes.

64. Vespasian (79): Natural causes; quipped "Uh oh, I think I'm becoming a God" as he died.

63. Diocletian (311): Abdicated voluntarily, lived for six more years in his vast palace compound tending to his vegetable gardens before dying of natural causes.

62. Romulus (~500): Forced to abdicate, sent off to [...]