Thursday, January 24, 2008

Which African dictator are you?

Which African dictator are you?
created with
You scored as Jean-Bedel Bokassa

Congratulations, you are Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic. You're a cannibal. And you have seventeen wives with over fifty children.

Muammar Gaddafi


Jean-Bedel Bokassa


Charles Taylor


Sani Abacha


Robert Mugabe


Joseph Mobutu


Idi Amin

This is a fun (if disturbing) history quiz. No matter how you answer, the result will probably match you with someone who is less than stellar. However, it may prompt you to do some research on some of these men or the nations they ruled. (By the way, I am not a cannibal but I could go for 17 wives.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Random History

Random History - This site offers history and word origins on random topics, from proms to the history of celebrity. Visitors can peruse random history articles or request new topics.

There are no details on who is creating these articles. Further, the topics selected for articles seem to coincide with search terms which lead to high payoffs for sites using a commercial advertising program such as Google Adsense. This site probably is going to have these sorts of ads once it gets established. There is nothing wrong with that but it does lead to a strange mix of history articles differing greatly from most history sites.

I will withhold judgement on the site for now and link to it. I do like many of the articles currently present. I will monitor it and hope it continues to grow as a quality site.

From the site:

Welcome to! We've created a site full of brief, random histories and word origins just for the closet history buff like you. If you're looking to brush up on a few items of history, learn something new about a random subject, or just wile away some time on the internet learning interesting facts, we are definitely the site for you.

Within the site, you will find histories and word origins on just about every topic you could imagine, but, if you can't find what you're looking for, feel free to request a topic. We'll do our best to provide an accurate, interesting history or word origin on any subject you choose. We currently offer a number of different, interesting histories, including a history of prom and an intriguing history of celebrity. If you are in a more scholarly mood, you can also find a history of water treatment and a history of credit cards, among many other topics. We invite you to take a moment, put up your feet, and satisfy your curiosity at

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Review - Under a Green Sky

I just finished reading Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future. It was written by Peter D. Ward. I found it interesting but somewhat hard to read due to some choices the author made in deciding how to relate the material.

The description of the book notes, "University of Washington paleontologist Peter D. Ward demonstrates in UNDER A GREEN SKY that the ancient past is not just of academic concern. Everyone has heard about how an asteroid did in the dinosaurs, and NASA and other agencies now spend large sums of money tracking so–called near Earth objects. Unfortunately, we may not be protecting ourselves against the likeliest cause of our species' demise. Ward's argument, which has been presented to his peers via several papers in Science, is that all but one of the major extinction events in the history of the world have been brought on by climate change–the same global warming that we are experiencing today. Ward explains how those extinctions happened, and then applies those chilling lessons to the modern day: expect drought, superstorms, poison–belching oceans, mass extinction of much life, and sickly green skies."

What I found most useful and informative of this book is the details of the frequent mass extinctions throughout pre-history. Ward does a good job presenting the evidence and showing how most of them can be directly tied to global warming caused by high carbon dioxide levels in the oceans and atmosphere. He acknowledges that an asteroid hit probably is responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs but he shows how the other recorded mass extinctions have a different cause.

This book is interesting as it lays out a history of evolution and extinction in the past of the planet Earth. Climate changes caused by volcanic activity or the ocean conveyor system have been happening for millions of years. Carbon has been changing the face of life on Earth long before humans every existed. However, Ward makes a strong argument on how current rising carbon dioxide levels are due to human activity and that history may repeat itself with yet another mass extinction of species on Earth in the next several centuries.

The best parts of this book are when Ward describes the hard science behind his argument and gives a description of what he predicts is going to happen unless drastic changes are made. However, much of the book is his recitation of the politics of academia and science. He gives way too much detail on the turf battles between different camps of scientists. I think many readers will give up on this book before they hit the best parts of it in the later chapters. I guess maybe because I work in higher education, I do not find any of his descriptions of ego wars between academics that impact the prevailing paradigms all that shocking or newsworthy. At least in the sciences, evidence can be found to advance the underdogs and change the game. That sure is not the case in literature or history most of the time. I wish Ward had shortened this part of his book and expanded much more on the more interesting and really important parts of the book.

Despite be difficult to read at times, the book is worth reading through. I am sure most will find it educational both for pre-history but the science as well. It is short as well at only 242 pages and only 204 minus references and index which makes the book manageable.

Monday, January 21, 2008

When did the American Civil War end? Disney Does Not Know

I watched the Disney movie National Treasure: Book of Secrets the other day. It was a good (but not great) film I enjoyed watching. However, it had a major historical inaccuracy that was not in any way needed to advance the plot which I found annoying.

President Abraham Lincoln was murdered by southern separatists on April 15th, 1865. Although the war was all but over, fighting continued for several more months. For example, CSA General Johnson did not surrender his troops to General Sherman until June 23rd.

The movie opens with the assassination of President Lincoln by Booth. It shows Ford's Theater, the murder, and aftermath including Booth's infamous quote, "Sic Semper Tyraniss!" as he killed the very unpopular (in the south anyway) Lincoln.

What bothers me is that National Treasure: Book of Secrets opens with the caption, "Five days after the end of the Civil War." This is not correct. The final end date is debated by historians but the war was continuing when Lincoln died even if it was in the last days. Why did the movie makes this false assertion? Why not just note, "In the finals days of the Civil War?"

Yes, it is just a movie. Liberties with history are expected and even OK sometimes. But this error seems pointless. Maybe there really isn't a lost city of gold under Mt. Rushmore either? (Sorry, I don't mean to spoil the movie for anyone.)