Your RDA of Irony

Esprit de Corpses

Obituary I

Thanks to Marco Polo’s gossip and Sam Coleridge’s opium dreams, we all know Kublai Khan. Ironically, the Arab World is more familiar with Kublai’s younger brother Hulagu. Hulagu may sound like a dance from the Sixties, but he would not rate highly on Arabic Bandstand. On the other hand, Hulagu was the man whom any American President would want to be. The Mongol commander had to contend with two challenges: terrorists and pacifying Baghdad.

The terrorists were the Assassins, a murderous cult named for its one of its fringe benefits. (The Medicare Drug Prescription program should be so efficient.) The Assassins scanned the social pages of the time to see who was worth extorting and killing. They would have known how to deal with Paris Hilton.

Hulagu scoffed at this boutique approach to terrorism. He found mass-murder more effective and gratifying. Since his big brother lent him an army, Hulagu decided to apply his managerial principles to the Middle East. He first demonstrated his entrepreneurial flair throughout Mesopotamia, massacring everyone who did not immediately surrender. His approach was so impressive that the Assassins decided to surrender. Hulagu killed them in any case, reasoning that they wouldn’t be missed.

Next on his itinerary was the glorious city of Baghdad, the cultural capital of the Moslem world. Hulagu and his army arrived in 1258. Unfortunately for the city, the reigning Caliph was a little slow in surrendering, and Hulagu was pathologically impatient. The city was destroyed. Most of its population was murdered. The city was stripped of everything that would appeal to a Mongol’s sensibilities. The rest was destroyed. The priceless scrolls of Baghdad’s fabled library, the last extant collection of the ancients’ writings, were dumped in the Tigris River. The city was uninhabitable for years.

But Baghdad was definitely pacified.

Hulagu had plans to visit Syria, Palestine and Egypt but Big Brother needed the army for a little family civil war. Baby Brother had to be content being only the Khan of Persia and Mesopotamia. The relative inactivity may have killed him; he died his day in 1265 at the age of 47.

But Baghdad still remembers him.

Obituary II

On this day in 1587, Mary Queen of Scots was subjected to an experiment in sensory deprivation. In one of the BBC’s first science series, “A Ration of Bacon”, host Francis Bacon answered a viewer’s question, “How long can a Stuart live without a head?”

The public was curious as to whether a decapitation would deprive Ms. Stuart of any vital organs. She did have difficulty leaving the scaffold; so her eyes had proved useful. She did not seem to miss her nose, however. Let’s face it: nothing was worth smelling in the 16th century. (From the fifth century until the late nineteenth, western civilization was in The Dank Ages). The absence of taste buds was actually considered an improvement when you are dealing with British food.

So Mary could have enjoyed a long and fairly unencumbered life without a head. Unfortunately, Elizabethan doctors treated decapitations by bleeding the patient. If the shock didn’t kill her, the doctors’ lack of hygiene did.

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