Thursday, September 8, 2011

Home Opener

Northwestern is undefeated after a heartening victory against Boston College despite a complete lack of Dan Persa, who, as we all know, is Chicago's Heisman Candidate Persastrong of Your Greater Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana College Football Programs Near Chicago. I understand that Northwestern is trying desperately to appeal to the Chicago market, but surely this is a slap in the face to to the good city of Evanston.

Evanston has more to be proud of than
being the current home of Chicago's
Persastrong Heisman Candidate. It was also
the home of temperance advocate and
suffragist Frances Willard, shown here in
this 1911 poster by Henrietta Briggs-Wall
creating what appears to be the Village
People of Disenfranchisement

The Wildcats had solid although typically uncomfortable victory led by backup quarterback Kain Colter, freshly arrived from the Northwestern Scrambling Quarterback factory that is located next to factory providing the 'Cats with spindly, jump shooting forwards. Colter ran and passed effectively; his day was marred mainly by a spectacular one-handed Luke Kuechly interception. This was fortunate since Kuechly is a threat not only to to sack a quarterback, but gather a gang of merciless horsemen and sack a quarterback's entire home town, plundering their least fortified grocery stores and taking control of strategically located big box retail outlets-- then I bothered to look it up and saw that Colter is from Denver, which I think is a tall order to sack even for a linebacker as talented as Luke Kuechly, but maybe his band of rough brigands can effectively plunder the city by purchasing unwanted Tim Tebow merchandise at discount bulk prices.

The success of the running game led by Mike Trumpy and Adonis Smith against Boston College's lauded rushing defense was also encouraging. Even the Northwestern defense held firm, shutting down the BC running game in the second half, although they were often victimized by BC's excellent receiver Ifeanyi Momah. On the other hand, if a tall receiver is going to rampage through the Wildcat secondary, I would prefer that he has a name I can shout to the heavens in a blood-curdling cry for vengeance.



The Eastern Illinois Panthers make their way to Chicago's Big Ten Stadium on Saturday for what has become an annual showdown with a Football Championship Subdivision Team. The Panthers suffered through a 2-9 season last year, but have come on strong with a victory over last season's FCS opponent Illinois State. Like Northwestern, Eastern Illinois has a generic cat mascot, although I have to admit I like the sleek design of their logo.

A subtle adjustment to the EIU logo makes it even more menacing

A convincing win over the Panthers would be an excellent way to start the season, but Northwestern rarely denies its fans the thrill of minor cardiac episodes in its non-conference schedule. Given the fact that students are not yet on campus and the Wildcats' typical draw against non-conference foes, expect Northwestern fans to confuse Panther quarterbacks with deafening silence and use cleverly positioned mirrors to confuse the opposing coaching staff, who will be unable to figure out which section of the stadium contains the real crowd.


The East drew Westerners in the nineteenth century for a number of reasons. Many sought their fortunes. Others were drawn by the prospect of adventure in exotic and unknown countries. Still others sought to overthrow the Emir of Afghanistan and carve out their own kingdom in the Hindu Kush.

Ben Macintyre's Josiah the Great: The true story of the man who would be king follows Josiah Harlan from his youth as a Pennsylvania Quaker to Oriental Potentate. As implied by the title, Harlan likely served as an inspiration for the Kipling story "The Man Who Would Be King" about a pair of British soldiers who establish a kingdom in a remote region of Central Asia using their wits, army training, and the mystical arts of the Masonic Order. The story also became John Huston's epic film of the same name starring Michael Caine and Sean Connery. The movie features a top-5 Michael Caine rant, useful for times that you may find yourself in an impromptu Michael Caine impression contest.

Here are three movies that you would incorrectly assume would
be more likely than The Man Who Would Be King to contain
Sean Connery yelling "THE SLUT BIT ME"

Harlan left Philadelphia on a merchant ship bound for India in 1822 prepared to return home and marry a local girl to whom he wrote awful nineteenth century poetry (it is literally flowery in the sense that Harlan, an amateur botanist, seem to base most of his poetic imagery off of plants). But by the time he reached Calcutta, he received word that his betrothed had spurned him and married another man (sample from a poem lamenting the spurning: How strange thought I so fair a flower/Fit ornament for a Lady's bower/Emblem of love in beauty's form/Should in its breast conceal a thorn.) He vowed he would never return to the United States and took up with the East India Company as a war surgeon despite lacking any sort of training in medicine whatsoever. Given that this was 1824, he likely missed out on becoming an expert on which sort of brandy to offer to musket victims or how to dig around inside a person with a blunt, rusty object.

But Harlan soon grew restless and eventually made his way to the border of British India in Ludhiana. Another Ludhiana resident was Shuja Shah, the exiled Emir of Afghanistan who had been deposed in 1809. Harlan decided he would gather a small force of men, travel through Afghanistan, and secure a network of alliances that would enable Shuja Shah to topple Emir Dost Mohammed Khan and take back his throne. He set off in 1827 with a rag-tag group of mercenaries, stopping to threaten local warlords, heal villagers with his amateur medical techniques, and even progress on his mission of intrigue. But his army soon evaporated and Harlan somewhat unsuccessfully disguised himself as a Muslim holy man in order to get to Peshawar. He found supporters in Peshawar and later Kabul, but Shuja Shah's plan came to naught, and Harlan decided to enter into the service of someone with an actual emperor, Maharajah Ranjit Singh of the Sikh Empire.

Harlan wore down rivals with his
glower power

One of the great strengths of Macintyre's book is its fascinating depiction of the politics of Harlan's Central Asian adventures. Harlan's navigation of court intrigue and easy discovery of willing conspirators form a fascinating snapshot of major rivalries. Harlan himself initially sought to overthrow Dost Mohammed for Shuja Shah. He then served as a general in Ranjit Singh's army in a campaign against Dost Mohammed, narrowly avoiding capture by the Emir thanks to a well-timed act of treachery by one of Dost Mohammed's inner circle. He rose in Ranjit Singh's Court to become a provincial governor, but fell out with the Maharajah over a dispute involving allegations of forgery and a failed attempt to galvanize the infirm emperor with a strong electrical current. Harlan fled in 1836 and, swearing revenge, entered the service of Dost Mohammed Khan.

Rival emperors Dost Mohammed Khan (l) and Ranjit Singh. The
one-eyed Ranjit Singh was particularly fond of all sorts of
drunken bacchanalia using a by all accounts foul alcoholic
concoction based on fermented raisins and possibly containing
small quantities of ground pearls.

It was under the service of Dost Mohammad that Harlan became the Prince of Ghor, although to call him a ruler is overstating things. He acquired the kingdom while on a military maneuver to suppress the Uzbek slave trader and head-chopping enthusiast Murad Beg. On the way, he passed through the Hazarajat, where one chief named Mohammed Reffee Beg offered Harlan his kingdom in exchange for training his troops. Harlan drew up an agreement and then left to confront Murad Beg. He returned to Kabul in 1838, just in time for the British invasion of Afghanistan where his emperor was deposed, he lost his title, and his Kabul home became occupied by an impudent British official. He quit Afghanistan in a huff, decrying the evils of the British Empire. He had been Prince of Ghor for about a year.

The British invasion of Kabul brought Harlan in contact with his old enemy, Alexander Burnes. Burnes gained fame for establishing contact with Bokhara and quickly rose through the Company ranks as an expert in Asian intelligence. Their contact was not surprising; despite the enormous scale of Central Asia, Westerners active in the region all seemed to know each other, and Macintyre revels in describing the often headstrong lunatics that sought their fortunes in the East. Another Harlan enemy, for example, was the explorer Charles Masson, who traveled with Harlan on his initial foray into Afghanistan, but abandoned him at the first sign of trouble. Harlan later informed the British authorities that Masson was an army deserter named James Lewis; Masson was then forced to spy for the British. Burnes met a more grisly end. In 1841, a Kabul mob voiced their displeasure with British government by marching to Burnes's residence and tearing him to pieces.

"Bokhara" Burnes in all his glory (l). Harlan got along better with
truly eccentric figures such as Joseph Wolff, a Jewish-born
Christian preacher who wandered the globe as an apostle of various
Christian faiths to often little effect. According to Mcintyre, Wolff
cut such a ridiculous figure that the fearsome Emir of Bokhara,
who was fond of throwing people into pits, spared Wolff because he
could not stop laughing at him. Finally on the right is
Jean-Francois Allard, Ranjit Singh's top foreign general who
Harlan respected, I suspect, because his facial hair was
ridiculous even by nineteenth century general for the Sikh
Empire standards.

Harlan returned to the United States eventually and hatched schemes to secure federal funding to import camels and grapes. When the Civil War broke out, however, Harlan eagerly joined the Union side because his name was Josiah Harlan and there was a little-known law enacted that said if you had a really Civil-Warry name like Josiah Harlan, you had to fight in the Civil War, no exceptions. Harlan's attempts to bring his expert knowledge of telling Afghan soldiers to stab each other unfortunately led to disaster; his officers did not appreciate his haughty attitude and his complete lack of knowledge of modern military tactics, and Harlan faced a court-martial. Though acquitted, Harlan was old and ill and returned home unable to fight. Harlan never returned to Central Asia.


Before last week, I assumed that Coach Fitz was an open book, bereft of guile, gamesmanship, or intrigue, unless the repetition of the phrase "our young men" was some sort of Masonic code. Fitz, however, made Persa's availability before the BC game a mystery, obfuscating his intentions with oblique references to pimp walks. He is again remaining somewhat coy about this week, although it seems fairly clear that Persa will not play, especially considering Colter's heroics last week. Nevertheless, the world of college football is second in skulduggery and plotting only to nineteenth century Central Asian diplomacy to the point where I expect slippery characters like Lane Kiffin or Nick Saban to switch teams at halftime parading jewel-bedecked elephants around the stadium in celebration of their perfidy or someone to leave Happy Valley after unsuccessfully galvanizing Joe Paterno.

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