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The Brutal Ladies Behind Some of History's Biggest Bullies

THE WHITE-BONED DEMON: MAO'S MAIN SQUEEZE Jiang Qing, better known as Madame Mao, was Communist China's answer to Lady Macbeth. A beautiful and ambitious actress, she seduced Mao Zedong when his first wife fell ill. Then, as the leader of the notorious Gang of Four (the political group, not the band), Madame Mao helped spearhead the Cultural Revolution beginning in 1966, during which all Chinese schools were shut down, intellectuals were beaten or murdered, and anyone expressing "bourgeois" attitudes was eliminated. More moderate elements of the government plotted against her, and she became known as the "White-Boned Demon." After Mao died, her enemies arrested her and the other three Gang members. Her death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment, but she took her own life when she was on release for medical reasons in 1991.

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POL POT-STICKER: KHIEU PONNARY You don't get to be the wife of a mass-murdering Cambodian dictator by acting like a timid homemaker. Khieu Ponnary was a revolutionary Communist firebrand for decades in Cambodia before her husband's Khmer Rouge took power in 1975. As Party Secretary of Khampong Thom province, she oversaw the brutal enforcement of party policies that led to countless executions. But like any great tyrant, she began showing signs of insanity. Pol Pot left her for a much younger woman (don't they always?) in 1979, and she spent the remaining years of her life in the care of family members and various mental institutions. She passed away in 2003.

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LADY MACBETH: BEHIND THE STORY (CA. 1007-1060 C.E.) Don't believe the hype. The real Lady Macbeth (the wife of Macbeth, an 11th-century Scottish king) was nothing like the power-hungry she-devil that Shakespeare made her out to be. But it's not all Will's fault. You can blame that on James I, the king of England and Scotland and a friend of the Bard's. In the play, Macbeth is the villain who kills rival king Duncan, but it was really Duncan who should have played the bad guy. By all historical accounts, Duncan was not only an awful king, but also a real jerk. Being a descendent of Duncan, however, James I wanted to preserve the image of his lineage, so he "encouraged" Shakespeare to make Macbeth the villain. If that weren't enough, he also suggested that Will make Lady Macbeth equally evil by depicting her as the scheming mastermind behind Duncan's death. Why? It was just James' way of saying "screw thee" to his wife, Anne of Denmark, with whom he had long been unhappy.

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FAMILY TIES (That Really Bind)
Spending time with family can feel like torture, especially if you've got a tyrant for a dad.

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SAVE THE MUSIC Sometimes a son deserves a slap on the wrist. Saddam Hussein once placed his boy, Uday, in solitary confinement after he'd beaten someone to death for (you guessed it) playing music too loudly. Of course, this wasn't the only time Uday made a murderous mistake. He also "accidentally" took Saddam's valet's life during a late night brawl. The furious Saddam first sentenced his son to death, but later decided instead to exile him to Switzerland for a year after Jordan's King Hussein calmed him down.
THIS BEEF IS MAKING ME THIRSTY Placed terrifyingly close to the cliff's edge in Wick, Scotland, Girnigoe Castle is definitely worth the visit. While it's mainly in ruins today, it still showcases a secret chamber and dungeon, where the 4th Earl of Caithness kept his son imprisoned. And just how strong was this father's love? Clearly, not very. The Earl kept his heir apparent on a strict diet of salted beef, so he'd die mad with thirst.
BAD SEEDS AND THE FAMILY TREE While it's common for tyrants to imprison activists (and their immediate relatives) for being critical of the regime, North Korea's Kim Jong-Il takes it a few steps further—three generations further to be exact. According to Kim, it's important to imprison a dissident's next three generations in order to root out any bad blood or seeds of dissent.

More bully-licious factoids flow from the pen of Christopher A. Smith in mental_floss volume 3, issue 4.

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geography
This 1940 Film on Road Maps Will Make You Appreciate Map Apps Like Never Before
Douglas Grundy, Three Lions/Getty Images
Douglas Grundy, Three Lions/Getty Images

In the modern era, we take for granted having constantly updated, largely accurate maps of just about every road in the world at our fingertips. If you need to find your way through a city or across a country, Google Maps has your back. You no longer have to go out and buy a paper map.

But to appreciate just what a monstrous task making road maps and keeping them updated was in decades past, take a look at this vintage short film, "Caught Mapping," spotted at the Internet Archive by National Geographic.

The 1940 film, produced by the educational and promotional company Jam Handy Organization (which created films for corporations like Chevrolet), spotlights the difficult task of producing and revising maps to keep up with new road construction and repair.

The film is a major booster of the mapmaking industry, and those involved in it come off as near-miracle workers. The process of updating maps involved sending scouts out into the field to drive along every road and note conditions, compare the roads against topographical maps, and confirm mileage figures. Then, those scouts reported back to the draughtsmen responsible for producing revised maps every two weeks. The draughtsmen updated the data on road closures and other changes.

Once those maps were printed, they were "ready to give folks a good steer," as the film's narrator puts it, quietly determining the success of any road trip in the country.

"Presto! and right at their fingertips, modern motorists can have [information] on any road they wish to take." A modern marvel, really.

[h/t National Geographic]

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History
3 Fascinating Items in Abraham Lincoln's Newly Released Archives

The Abraham Lincoln collection in the Library of Congress just got a major boost. The 16th president’s full papers are now entirely available online in full color for the first time, giving you high-resolution access to his letters, campaign materials, speeches, and more.

Lincoln’s papers took a roundabout route to the Library of Congress. After his assassination, Lincoln’s son Robert Todd Lincoln sent the president’s papers to one of the former congressman’s associates in Illinois, Judge David Davis, who worked with Lincoln’s presidential secretaries to organize them. Robert Todd Lincoln gave them to the Library of Congress in 1919, and in 1923, deeded them to the archive, mandating that they be sealed until 21 years after his death. They were opened in 1947.

This isn’t the first time some of these documents have been available online—scanned images of them first appeared on the Library of Congress’s American Memory website in 2001—but this 20,000-document collection provides higher-resolution versions, with new additions and features. Previous papers were uploaded as image scans from microfilm, meaning they weren’t particularly high quality. Now, researchers have better access to the information with scans from the original documents that you can zoom in on and actually read.

There are searchable transcriptions for about 10,000 hand-written documents in the collection, including those written in Lincoln’s hand, along with annotations that provide contextual explanations. Here are three items in the collection not to miss:

1. THE EARLIEST VERSION OF THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION

Lincoln read this early version of the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet in July 1862, telling them he was going to propose freeing slaves held by Confederate rebels. Secretary of State William Seward convinced him that he should wait until there was a major Union victory to announce the proclamation.

2. A LETTER FROM MRS. LINCOLN

In the fall of 1862, Mary Todd Lincoln wrote her husband during her month-long trip to New York and Boston about her dressmaker and confidant, a former slave named Elizabeth Keckley, asking him for money to give to her to buy blankets for escaped slaves, then referred to as “contrabands.”

3. A DRAFT OF THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS

This may be the only copy of Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg address that was drafted before he delivered it. There are five known drafts of the speech, but three were written out for people who requested copies afterward. It’s unclear if one of the other copies was made before or after the speech, but this one was definitely drafted beforehand. It belonged to Nicolay Hay, Lincoln’s secretary, who also helped organize his papers after the president’s death. It differs a little from the speech we’re familiar with, so you should definitely read the transcript. (Click “show text” above the image on the Library of Congress page for the text and annotations.)

You can see all the documents here.

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