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The Brutal Ladies Behind Some of History's Biggest Bullies

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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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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0
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Get Your GIFs Ready for This International Public Domain GIF-Making Competition
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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0

Excellent GIF-making skills can serve you beyond material for your clever tweets. Each year, a group of four digital libraries from across the world hosts GIF IT UP, a competition to find the best animated image sourced from public domain images from their archives.

The competition is sponsored by Europeana, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), New Zealand’s DigitalNZ, and the National Library of Australia’s Trove, all of which host millions of public domain works. The requirements are that the source material must be in the public domain, have a 'no known copyright restrictions' statement, or have a Creative Commons license that allows its reuse. The material must also come from one of the sponsored sources. Oh, and judging by the past winners, it helps if it’s a little whimsical.

The image above won the grand prize in 2015. And this was a runner-up in 2016:

via GIPHY

This year’s prizes haven’t been announced yet (although Europeana says there will be a new one for first-time GIF makers), but last year’s grand prize winner got their own Giphoscope, and runners-up got $20 gift cards. (Turns out, there’s not a lot of money in public domain art.)

Not an expert GIFer yet? You can always revisit the audio version of DPLA’s advanced GIF-making tutorial from last year.

The fourth-annual GIF IT UP contest opens to submissions October 1.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images
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The Library of Congress Wants Your Help Identifying World War I-Era Political Cartoons
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Alex Wong/Getty Images

The U.S. government’s official library wants your help. And it involves cartoons.

The Library of Congress just debuted its new digital innovation lab, an initiative that aims to improve upon its massive archives and use them in creative ways. Its first project is Beyond Words, a digitization effort designed to make the research library’s historical newspaper collection more search-friendly. It aims to classify and tag historical images from World War I-era newspapers, identifying political cartoons, comics, illustrations, and photos within old news archives. The images come from newspapers included in Chronicling America, the library’s existing newspaper digitization project.

The tasks involved in Beyond Words are simple, even if you know nothing about the illustrations involved going into it. The Library of Congress just needs people to help mark all the illustrations and cartoons in the scanned newspaper pages, a task that only involves drawing boxes to differentiate the image from the articles around it.

Then there’s transcription, involving typing in the title of the image, the caption, the author, and whether it’s an editorial cartoon, an illustration, a photo, a map, or a comic. The library also needs people to verify the work of others, since it’s a crowd-sourced effort—you just need to make sure the images have been transcribed consistently and accurately.

A pop-up window below an early 20th century newspaper illustration prompts the user to pick the most accurate caption.

Screenshot via labs.loc.gov

The data will eventually be available for download by researchers, and you can explore the already-transcribed images on the Beyond Words site. Everything is in the public domain, so you can remix and use it however you want.

With the new labs.loc.gov, “we are inviting explorers to help crack open digital discoveries and share the collections in new and innovative ways,” Carla Hayden, the library’s head, said in a press release.

Other government archives regularly look to ordinary people to help with the monstrous task of digitizing and categorizing their collections. The National Archives and Records Administration, for instance, has recently crowd-sourced data entry and transcription for vintage photos of life on Native American reservations and declassified government documents to help make their collections more accessible online.

Want to contribute to the Library of Congress’s latest effort? Visit labs.loc.gov.

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