Wu Zetian

Wu Zetian (武则天, 武則天, 武后, 天后 , 則天皇后, or 則天順聖皇后 depending on who and when you asked) wanted to be Empress (皇帝) of China so badly that she started a dynasty that consisted of just her to do it.  The Zhou (周) Dynasty did not last long, but it made up for it in inter-familial assassinations and jackbooted secret police, so Wu should be proud of her accomplishment regardless.

Wu was born in Lizhou (利州), 625.  As a girl, she preferred reading about history and politics to doing needlepoint, and what aspiring dictatress wouldn’t?  When she was about thirteen, she attracted the attention of Emperor Taizong (唐太宗) of the Tang Dynasty (唐朝), and when he died, she was passed down to his son, Gaozong (唐高宗).  He really took a shine to her, making more and more of his decisions.  Wu was initially allied with Gaozong’s wife against another concubine, but the Empress was later blamed for the murder of Wu’s infant daughter and removed.  The cynical might call this a fortunate tragedy.

As new Empress, Wu’s power increased as Gaozong became more and more sick with a mysterious illness.  It was probably just her luck again.  Luckier still, her political opponents all seemed to be guilty of unspecified crimes and subject to arrest, exile, or worse.  After Gaozong died, even her sons, when they started getting imperial ideas of their own, quickly found out that they were traitors to China and exiled.  Poor Zhongzong (唐中宗) only got to rule for six weeks.

Finally sole ruler of China, Wu was able to do everything she wanted, which seemed to consist of transforming China into a police state that encouraged citizens to secretly inform on each other and which relentlessly arrested, tortured, and killed  anyone suspected of opposing her.  This continued for some decades.

While Confucian experts expressed grudging admiration for her methods, they frowned on her breach of normal gender roles.  If only she’d been born male, her ruthless political machinations and oppression could have made her the ideal Emperor.  As it was, the establishment eventually rallied around Zhongzong, who deposed his mother, re-established the Tang Dynasty.  He ruled weakly for several years (when his wife let him) then died: exactly the kind of strong male leadership the Confucians were looking for. Literally sick of the whole thing, Wu died before she had to see the whole mess play out.

Wu Zetian proved that living in a patriarchal society couldn’t prevent you from becoming a ruthless matriarch, if you really applied yourself and didn’t like your kids that much.


Cleopatra VII, also known as the Cleopatra, knew what she wanted and who to sleep with to get it.  She was born in Egypt, 69 BC.  Cleopatra’s family, the Ptolemies, were Macedonian, and usually made of point of it.  (Once you resort to marrying your siblings, you’ve made your point.)  She was different, actually taking the time to learn Egyptian and claim she was a reincarnation of the goddess Isis, two basic steps towards becoming a woman of the people.

Cleopatra began co-rule of Egypt with her father when she was just fourteen.  She probably didn’t get to do much, but being Queen of one of the oldest civilizations in the world can be a heady experience at any age, and she liked it.  When her father died, she had no intention of sharing with her brother/husband, Ptolemy XIII.  She put her face on the coins until a court plot dethroned her, and she had to leave in a hurry.

Ptolemy managed to get on the bad side of a small figure known as Julius Caesar, however, and lost the Egyptian capital to him.  Cleopatra knew a winner when she saw one and nine months later gave birth to someone she liked to call Caesarion, or “Little Caesar”.  Caesar coincidentally decided about then to support Cleopatra’s bid for the Egyptian throne.  She got it, but only alongside another little Ptolemy, this time XIV. (XIII happened to have drowned in the Nile by then.  One less to worry about, for Cleopatra.)

Cleopatra’s visit to Rome got a bit fouled up when Caesar was assassinated, but it gave her a chance to go home and find Ptolemy XIV filled with poison.  She then had her son made co-ruler, this time one without the creepy incestuous factor.

Searching about the landscape of Roman politics, Cleopatra found another one-true-love in Mark Antony, Caesar’s pal.  She gave birth to twins, and Antony moved in full-time.  Together they conquered enough territory in the East to scare the togas off Rome, and give Octavian Caesar justification to knock down Egypt’s door. There’s some argument about whether she committed suicide via snake or not, when Octavian’s forces came, but the result was the same.  She must have figured that the chances of seducing all three of her age’s most powerful men were pretty slim.

Cleopatra’s life shows us that even Queens can be caught defining themselves through the men they sleep with.  It’s a vicious cycle!


Alcibiades was a great general for whosever side he was on at the time. He had a high opinion of himself and thought everyone else should, too. He was born in Athens around 450 BC. Alcibiades came from an esteemed family, which shows you what that’s worth. He had all the best teachers, too, including Socrates, who saved his life but couldn’t do much else.

When he entered into Athenian politics, there was peace between Athens and Sparta. Whether it was because he didn’t like peace in general or because it wasn’t his peace is disputable, but he set out to wreck the whole thing. This gets you appointed General.
Alcibiades was a great advocate for intervening in foreign wars for profit, which helped launch the Sicilian Expedition. It stunk, and while he was gone, his enemies framed him for sacrilege and condemned him to death. Alcibiades took a trip to Sparta and told them how scary Athens was, and how nice it would be to have a certain talented, cunning, handsome General to keep an eye on the situation for them.

Even after helping to pressure Athens and its allies, the traitor didn’t feel he had the influence in Sparta that he deserved, and having orders for his death given was the last straw. Alcibiades quit the Spartans and went to see what the Persians, Greece’s mortal enemies, had to offer. He did his best to prepare his homeland for Persian conquest, and that was pretty good.

Alcibiades wasn’t immune to homesickness, though, and secretly negotiated with the Athenian military to let him back and have the constitution of the government mutilated to form a new oligarchy. The coup happened, but Alcibiades got left out. The remaining democrats called upon his help as General, promising that he might not have to face up to what he’d done in the immediate future, and Athens began a slow recovery of its democracy.

After further foreign wars, Alcibiades timidly visited Athens for the first time since the Sicilian Expedition, but the Athenians didn’t seem to care as long as he was successfully Generaling. That’s why they fired him again after a losing streak. He left for Phrygia to live with his mistress when he was cornered in his house by Spartan assassins.

The life of Alcibiades shows us that the more sides of conflict you’re on, the more likely you will end up filled with arrows while your house burns down.

Recently Declassified CIA Operations

OPERATION: SUPER SUMMER – This operation, carried out in the summer of 1976, was conducted for the sole purpose of giving the high school students of Wekiva Springs, Florida the best vacation of their lives, completely clandestinely. Success! The summer is remembered by every subject at ratings of “fondly” and above.

OPERATION: DOVE TORNADO – This operation, carried out in 1984, was a field test of the theory that feeding live doves into a tornado funnel would disperse the phenomenon. Partial success. The solution worked, but the number of doves required was judged cost-prohibitive.

OPERATION: FRIEND BALLOON – This operation, carried out in 1956, involved a red balloon which the CIA had bestowed with sentience. It was released in Paris to monitor its behaviour in an urban environment. Failure! The balloon became obsessed with a young boy and began stalking him. It was soon neutralised by CIA agents, but the child carried the resultant phobia of balloons with him for the rest of his life.

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc (or Jeanne d’Arc, en français) led France to victory against the English using the radical strategy of fighting back.  By the time she was born in 1412, her village was surrounded by foreign-controlled land and the French were doing their best to resemble a turtle.  When she was thirteen, she saw a vision of the saints in the sky informing her that she should do something about this personally.

For some reason, the French authorities had their doubts about Joan’s qualifications.  When they took stock of their advantages against the English, however, it turned out that one teenage girl claiming to have been sent by God was all they had, so why not?  They sent her to the siege of Orléans, and tada! there was a French victory.

The French asked Joan if they might have a breather, but she insisted that they could all sleep once they’d been martyred by the English.  On they went, retaking French territory. During her military career, Joan was shot once in the leg with a crossbow bolt, once in the neck with an arrow, and once in the head with a cannonball (the last sustained while scaling a castle wall) none of which seemed to slow her down much.

Finally, they were able to take back Reims, the site of French coronations. The newly -crowned Charles VII decided to pay Joan back by messing with a good thing.  Against her advice, he made some ill-fated truces with the English that ultimately led to her being nabbed off her horse in battle.  She attempted to escape a couple times, the most successful being a nosedive into the mud beneath a seventy-foot tower.

Joan was kept just long enough for a nice little politically motivated religious mock-trial.  They couldn’t quite get enough on her to make the heresy charges stick, so they convicted her for dressing in men’s clothing instead, then set her on fire until she died.

Believe what you want, Joan had a faith that pulled her and France through some pretty bad odds.  It almost offset the faith the English had in burning her to death as a heretic.  This may be why she is venerated both amongst Roman Catholics and Anglicans.

How to Train Your House Panther

The house panther’s natural habitat is the human home. It is estimated that at least 96% of homes in North America are inhabited by a house panther. Your initial reaction may be one of fear. What if the house panther harms you or your loved-ones? Don’t worry! If it had wanted to, it would have mauled you in your sleep long ago. It has instead likely grown a rudimentary fondness and creepy sense of possession towards your household, which will be the basis for your future relationship.

House panthers supplement their normal diet of deer and other large game that has wandered into your home with unattended scraps of meat and small children. If you’ve ever found either gone missing, it was probably a house panther!

A common mistake made by potential house panther owners is to turn on the lights; house panthers react violently to sudden exposure to full lighting. Potential owners are instead advised to develop infravision. Now that you have developed infravision, you will be able to see the heat signature of your house panther, except when it is sneaking silently behind you, which will be most of the time.

The actually training regimen is quite simple. Drill the meanings of these words into your house panther: “no!” “don’t!” “stop!” “get off me!” “for the love of God!” “somebody, anybody!” Even if the house panther doesn’t grasp the complete meanings, it will at least find them amusing.

It is normal for a house panther in training to test its boundaries, usually by trying to kill you. One favourite house panther trick is to add or remove a step to your staircase, causing you to stumble and/or fall to your death in the dark. House panther carpentry is limited to this project.

“Gifts” of dead animals left where you can find them are the sign of a well-trained house panther. If your house panther’s gifts begin to extend to the weak and feeble, rap it on the nose with a rolled newspaper, if you dare.

Now you should have a fully-trained house panther at your command! Here’s hoping for long relationship, which, given the long lifespan of a house panther, should last until your death or such time as you pawn off your home to some unsuspecting sap.

Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher and a bore, which amount to the same thing. In 1724 he was born in Konigsberg, Prussia, and he liked it so much there that he never travelled more than ten miles from it. Instead he lived the life of the mind, which is about eighty-five cubic inches.

Early in his life Kant speculated about things like galaxies being made of stars, and that the solar system might have been formed from a nebula of gas, but he ultimately found these things too useful.  Switching to philosophy, he dedicated himself to bridging the gap between those people who believed nothing and those who believed everything.  Kant argued that reasoning that something should be true was better than finding out if it actually was.  This theory has shaped Western philosophy to this day.

Kant’s most famous contribution to philosophy was the Categorical Imperative. The Categorical Imperative meant either that you should behave as though your actions were to become universal laws, or something else.  He was a little fuzzy on that.

Though he didn’t, as some have said, abhor human company, Kant did isolate himself for a decade, which has to count for something.  Kant never knew of a woman (or man) and why should he have?  He had his Critiques and his identical daily walks.  (That the townsfolk set their clocks by his daily passing is a bit of an exaggeration.  Just because they could didn’t mean that they did.)  He wasn’t unhappy.

The life of Immanuel Kant shows us not much.