This summer, I visited Manassas, Virginia – the site of First and Second Manassas (also known as the First and Second Battles of Bull Run). As my brother’s operating system shut down that morning and refused to do anything but lie in bed and watch Sesame Street, only my dad and I went.

My first thought upon entering the battlefield was hot-hot-HOT-HOT-HOT!!! Indeed, it was extraordinarily hot – and the high, dry grass of the battlefield (which was, in fact, a field) was home to chiggers – a particularly nasty species of Lyme-disease-carrying tick (also known as Trombicula alfreddugesi, or The Critter Smaller Than Its Own Name).

Then the tour started, and I forgot all about the heat and the chiggers. There, in the middle of that grassy, yellow-green plain, with the sun beating down on our heads and making us squint, I first heard the story of First Manassas. How Confederate soldiers picked blackberries while fighting. How Union soldiers’ families, sure that their side would triumph, brought packed lunches to the site and watched the battle. How, when things looked especially grim for the Confederates, they spotted General Thomas J. Jackson’s Virginian troops standing unbroken, like a stone wall, and facing the Union – an act that earned Jackson the nickname “Stonewall” Jackson.

For the first time in my life, I found myself truly interested in an era of American history: the Civil War. The war between two brothers, the North and the South. The war that would change the course of American history – forever.

This page is my tribute.

Secession Really Really Sucks

April 17, 1861

I stood awkwardly beside Massachusetts’ great wooden desk, watching him frantically scribble away on a piece of paper. Finally, when I could bear the silence no longer, I spoke up.

“Massachusetts, I need to speak to you.”

“Virginia!” Massachusetts exclaimed. “You do not know how pleased I am to see you, really!” Though his smile was bright, the lines around his eyes and mouth betrayed his true state of worry. “Seven Southern states have seceded, and they give no indication of a desire to return to the Union!”

“You surely cannot blame them,” I said, “after Fort Sumter.”

Massachusetts looked at me, surprised. “Have you forgotten who started the violence at Fort Sumter? It was South Carolina, not the Union!”

“The Union held no claim to Fort Sumter. It was on Confederate property, and thus belonged to the Confederates.”

Massachusetts’ eyebrows began to dip into a frown. “Virginia, what are you saying? Do you honestly believe these rebel states are their own country?”

“I see no reason why they should not be,” I said. “Massachusetts… I do not condone a war between the states.”

Massachusetts sighed in relief. “For a single moment, I honestly believed you-”

“However,” I interrupted, hating the effect I knew my next words would have, “I also firmly believe that states, when oppressed, have a right to secede.” Gently, I placed a hand on his shoulder. “I-I am sorry, but I cannot take up arms against my sister states.”

“What are you saying?” Massachusetts asked, his frown deepening. “Are you truly saying that you-”

“As of today – April 17, 1861 – the state of Virginia is no longer part of the Union.”

Massachusetts gaped at me for a moment, his expression equal parts angry and confused. “You- you… what?”

“I seceded,” I said calmly – or rather, with the appearance of calmness, for inside I was roiling with guilt and defensiveness.

“You- Virginia, no! You cannot do that!”

“And yet, Massachusetts,” I said quietly, “I have already done so.”


I stared at Massachusetts in disbelief, cradling my stinging face. “You- you slapped me!”

“How dare you,” Massachusetts hissed. “How dare you upstart Southern states disrupt our Union in this manner!”

“How dare you Northerners crush our rights under your feet!” I shot back. The guilt I had been feeling had completely vanished, to be replaced by blind rage. “As of now, Virginia shall become the eighth state in the Confederacy!”

“There is no such country,” Massachusetts spat, eyes bulging with fury, “as the Confederacy!”

“Deny it if you will,” I said, turning to leave. “It is growing even as you speak.”

“The Union will make sure your little experiment does not succeed!”

“Of course. I presume you’ll be using force? It seems to be the only method of persuasion you Northerners understand.”

Leave!” Massachusetts roared. “Get out!”

“Very well,” I said. “I am going to inform South Carolina of this happy addition to the Confederacy.”

The only response I received was a grunt and the scrape of a chair turning around. As I shut the door behind me, ignoring the brief twinge of guilt that shot through my stomach, I heard an unmistakeable sound coming from the great desk.

The sound of frustrated, broken sobbing.

Political Debate = Fruit Fight

November, 2004

The sun was shining, the sky was a vivid, clear azure, and the grass was green and touched with fresh dew. It would have been a perfect day, if only Vermont wasn’t repeatedly whacking my head with the latest election results.

“Dammit, Virginia, I thought you were smart!” Whack.

Ow! Stop that!”

“Not until you tell me why,” Vermont said through gritted teeth, “your stupid, stupid citizens voted conservative AGAIN!”

“There’s nothing wrong with being conservative!” I yelled back, shielding my face from an especially vicious blow. “It just means that-”

“Your citizens don’t like change,” Vermont said. “If they had it their way, they’d be living in the eighteen thirties, wouldn’t they? Or better yet, the eighteenth century.”

“Of course it doesn’t!”

“Then why,” Vermont asked, “are you wearing a shirt with a quote from The Declaration of Independence?”

I flushed crimson. “The Declaration is timeless! And you’re getting off-topic, anyway.”

“You’re right,” Vermont said thoughtfully, before going back to hitting me.

“Why do you hate conservatism so much?” I gasped.

“It’s backwards!” Vermont cried. “A backwards, ignorant philosophy!”

“What’s a backwards, ignorant philosophy?” Georgia had entered the room, swinging her usual basket of peaches and quirking an eyebrow at Vermont.

Conservatism!” Vermont spat, stabbing a finger at Georgia. “You’re stuck in the nineteenth century, all of you!”


I stared, half amused and half horrified, at the large splat of sugary yellow juice that was currently dripping down Vermont’s forehead. Georgia, eyes flashing, hefted another ripe peach into her palm and drew her arm back.

“Say that again,” she hissed. “I dare you to say that again!”

Vermont’s face was burning red. “You- you threw a fruit at me!” he spluttered incredulously.

Georgia nodded. “And I’m about to throw another one, darling,” she said. “Unless you take that back.”

“Take what back? That you’re all backwards idiots? Yeah, right.”


Vermont growled and started fishing around in his pocket. “Okay, I don’t usually pick fights with girls… but you are so on!”

“Dudes, a fruit fight? Awesome!”

I groaned. As if Vermont and Georgia weren’t acting childish enough. Now California, the six-foot-one three-year-old, had to walk in.

“This is not a fruit fight,” Vermont said stiffly. “This is an exchange of political opinions.”

California blinked. “Is that why you have smashed peaches in your hair?”

Not the point!” Vermont snapped. “California, we have to convince these idiots that they have to vote liberal!”

California shook his head sagely. “Georgia. Virginia. Conservatism is not cool, man. Hey, can I throw fruit now?”

Vermont heaved a dramatic sigh. “California… for the last time, THIS IS NOT A FRUIT FIGH-

He was interrupted by a flying peach, which caught him straight in the nose, causing California to dissolve into snickers. Until he, too, received a face-ful of fruit juice.

“Sorry, guys,” Georgia said sweetly. “But I really don’t appreciate you telling us what to do. Right, Virginia?”

I gave her a thumbs-up from the corner I was currently pressed into.

“We don’t appreciate you acting like idiots!” Vermont screamed. His eyes looked dangerously close to popping out of their sockets.

“Say that again!” Georgia screamed back. “Say it- OW! CALIFORNIA, YOU IDIOT!”

“Sorry,” California said, shrugging. “But the chance was there, man, and it was way too good to pass up.”

“YOU CAN’T JUST GO THROWING ORANGES AT PEOPLE!” Georgia’s expression was murderous, and the vivid orange juice streaming down her forehead did nothing to improve her appearance.




VIRGINIA!” Georgia screeched, turning to me. “Help me out here!”

And that is when I lost it. I took a deep breath, stood up, and grabbed the bowl of wax fruit I kept on my side table.


All three of them stared at me, dumbfounded.


Silence. Dead silence.

“Virginia has a point,” Georgia finally admitted.

Vermont gave me a long look before holding out his hand. “Okay, I shouldn’t have-”

“Beaten me up with the election results because of the way we voted?” I smiled wanly.

“Sorry,” Vermont said. “No harsh feelings?”

I hesitated for a moment before taking his hand and shaking it. “None at all.”

“Great!” California chirped. “Because there’s something I’ve really, really been wanting to tell you guys for the last three minutes.”

“Yeah?” Vermont asked.

“I wanted to tell you,” California said, “this.

Two peeled oranges came hurtling toward us. I managed to duck mine, but Vermont wasn’t quite as lucky. His hit him right in his chin – the only spot on his face that hadn’t been covered with peach juice.

Vermont’s eyes blazed. “I’LL KILL YOU, CALIFORNIA!

California laughed. “Oh, Vermont. All is fair in love, war and political debates.”

I grimaced as I watched Vermont chase California around my room and knock over half my furniture in the process.

“Babies,” Georgia scoffed.

“I think,” I said faintly, “I’m going to vote Liberal in the next presidential election, just so that Vermont won’t go homicidal on me again.”

Maryland’s Identity Crisis

“Virginia? Can you help me, please?”

Maryland was standing in my doorway, biting her lip nervously. One of her tiny hands was fluttering around the tie of her frilly dress, and the other was pulling at a curl of golden hair. I held my breath and kept silent, hoping she’d take the hint and leave.

Of course, being Maryland, she didn’t. Instead, she simply stood there, looking pathetic, until I could take it no longer.

“Yes?” I asked, swiveling around and adjusting my spectacles.

“V-Virginia…” Maryland whispered, tugging her hair even harder. “Can I ask you a question?”

You just did, I almost said, but caught myself just in time. “Shoot.”

“Um… well… I was thinking, you know-”

I fought to keep myself from rolling my eyes. Maryland, thinking? Amazing.

“And, well, I was wondering… Am- am I…” Her voice trailed off, and she flushed a delicate pink.

“Are you?” I prompted.

“Am I Northern or Southern?” she blurted, her cheeks reddening even more. I blinked.


“I mean- well, I don’t know! I asked Georgia, and she said Southern, but then I asked Massachusetts and he said Northern!”

“I really don’t know,” I said. “Look, Maryland, if that’s all you wanted to ask, then-”

Before I could finish my sentence, I found myself being violently shaken by the shoulders.

“You- don’t- understand!” Maryland  shrieked. I gulped. The look in her eyes could only be described as… disturbing.

“I didn’t even take a side in the Civil War!” she continued, shaking me harder. “Oh, Virginia, what if I don’t belong in the Union at all? What if I’m just an outcast?”

“Maryland,” I said as calmly as I could, “every one of us belongs in the Union, you included. Now please stop shaking me.”

Maryland stopped and blinked rapidly. “You- you think so?” she sniffed.

“Absolutely,” I said, looking up at her from my current position on the floor.

“But Virginia-” Maryland started, looking unsure.

California chose that moment to walk in, dripping wet and clutching an oversized umbrella.

“Virginia, man, it’s hella raining out there, I- um, you know you’re lying on the floor, right? And- Maryland…? Am I interrupting something? I can, you know, leave-”

“Wait!” Maryland had gotten that psychotic look in her eyes again – at least this time it was directed at someone else. “California, you have to help me!”

California smiled at her. “Sure, what do you need?”

“I need you,” Maryland said, leaning forward and directing an intense stare at him, “to answer my question.”

California gulped nervously. “Oookay…?”

“Am I Northern… or Southern?”

California stared at her. Maryland stared back.

“Dude… I don’t know,” California finally said, shrugging.

Please!” Maryland hissed, grabbing his shirt collar – no mean feat, considering California’s immense height. California’s eyes widened.

“Seriously, dude, I don’t know… I’m Western, I don’t know how things work out East… Maryland- Maryland, please don’t- Virginia, man, help me out here!”

“Hey, I brought peaches!” Georgia chirped, strolling into the room and swinging a large basket. “They’re- oh my God, Maryland, why are you throttling California? And why is Virginia huddled in the corner?”

Maryland turned to Georgia. “Georgia…” she said faintly. “No one’s answering me…”

Georgia sighed. “Is this about that North-South thing again?”

That’s when Maryland broke down and started sobbing hysterically. “Y-you said I was Southern, but Massachusetts said I’m Northern, and Virginia didn’t know, and California started acting weird!”

Georgia glanced at California, who had evidently found his own corner to huddle in.

“Honey,” Georgia said softly, placing a hand on Maryland’s shoulder, “honestly, it doesn’t matter.”

It matters to me!” Maryland’s death glare was now directed full force on Georgia, who took a few quick steps backward.

“Honey, I’m sure we can figure something out. Why do you want to know so badly? It won’t change a thing…”

“Because!” Maryland wailed. “Everyone else has a national identity! You and Virginia are Southern, California’s Western, there’s the Midwest and the Southwest and the Northwest and I don’t fit in any of them!

“Darling-” Georgia started tentatively, but was abruptly cut off by Delaware, who had just entered the room. Normally I would be irritated – I had never particularly liked Delaware – but now all I felt was relief. If anyone could snap Maryland out of her fit, it would be her brother.

“Virginia, I- Mary? What’s going on?”

Maryland turned her tear-streaked face to Delaware and stared at him for a moment, before breaking into a run and throwing herself into his arms.

“Whoa, sis,” Delaware said, staggering back a little. “What-”

“No one’s answering me!” Maryland yelled. Delaware cocked his head and looked confused.

“What’s your question?”  he asked.

“Am I Northern or Southern?” Maryland asked, lip trembling. “I don’t know my national identity… Delly, how can I be a state if I don’t have a national identity? I should just secede now!”

“Why not be both?” Delaware asked.

Maryland goggled at him. “B-both…?”

“You said you didn’t feel like you belonged, right?” Delaware said, wrapping an arm around his sister’s shoulders. “Well, now you’ll belong double, because you’ll be part of both areas.”

“Yeah!” California said, pumping his fist. “Hella awesome idea, Delaware, man!”

“It’s… not bad,” I admitted. Dammit, why hadn’t I thought of that? My IQ is at least twice Delaware’s…

“Lovely,” Georgia chimed in.

“You-you think so?” Maryland asked. “You think I can be part of… both?”

Delaware nodded. “Absolutely. And don’t you dare talk of secession, Mary, or of not having a ‘national identity.’ You’re just as much a state as I am. And I live right next to you, remember? You don’t have to be Northern, or Southern, or Eastern or Western or anything to be part of the United States.” Gently, he put a finger on Maryland’s chin and propped her face up. “All you have to do is be yourself – Maryland, the seventh state of the United States… and my sister.”

I gaped at Delaware, utterly dumbfounded. He’d always seemed so… slow; where’d he pull a speech like that from? To my left, I heard Georgia clapping softly.

“Hear, hear!” California called. “Here’s to the United States!”

Maryland looked up at her brother through tearstained lashes. “Oh, Delly…” she whispered, before subjecting him to a bone-cracking hug. “You always make me feel better!”

“That’s what I’m here for,” Delaware said, grinning. “Now why don’t we go and get something to eat?”

“Okay,” Maryland said quietly, slipping her hand into his. Georgia, California and I waited until they had disappeared from sight before crawling out of our respective corners.

“Oh, man,” California sighed, brushing a few droplets of sweat from his forehead. “That was some hissy fit, huh?”

“She shook me,” I said. “Maryland actually shook me by the shoulders.”

“Not hard,” California laughed, lightly smacking the back of my head. “No offense, dude, but you’re kind of… little.”

“Hey!” I said, smacking him back. Georgia sighed.

“Guys, do we really want to go through this again? After Maryland-”

Our hands froze, mid-smack.

Maryland,” I said.

“Who’da thought she’d be so… psychotic?” California asked.

“It’s always the quiet ones,” I said, shuddering slightly at the memory of Maryland’s crazed expression.

Always the quiet ones.”


Greetings. My name is Virginia.

Yes, that’s right. Virginia. Site of the first English colony in the New World, tenth state to ratify the Constitution. (Delaware likes rubbing this fact in my face; he was the first, and therefore he is awesome…)

Being one of fifty states can get annoying. Interesting. Exasperating. Sometimes downright creepy (this is usually when Alaska is involved).

But boring? Never.

What ensues is a list of my fellow states’ escapades. I try to avoid getting involved, but somehow… that never really works out.

Operation: Benji! The Postscript

*cough* Yes, dear readers, I promised that there would be no more Operation: Benji! posts, that I was over and done with writing about my failure programming. But! I just had to write one last one, because I just figured out how to write that SETI program. (The one that calculates the Drake Equation, not the duck one.)

See, apparently there’s this nifty class called a Scanner, which can read input from your keyboard. Say you wanted to write a program to hold a conversation with your computer* using the Scanner class. It would probably look something like this:


import java.util.Scanner;

public class IHaveNoLife {

public static void main(String[] args) {

                Scanner hello = new Scanner(;

                System.out.print(“Enter thy name, minion: “);

                String s1 = hello.nextLine();

                System.out.println(“Greetings, puny slave of technology. I see you have found the keyboard. Well done. Anyway, your name is ” + s1 + “, isn’t it? Ho hum. You bore me, lesser being. I am going to leave now.”);




As you can probably tell from this exchange, my computer is extremely humble and submissive.

But anyway, the point is that I’ve learned how to use the Scanner class! Now I can write that SETI program! Then- well, actually, I haven’t really figured out what to do with it once it’s done. Possibly add some ducks.


*Actually, I suggest not doing this particular activity, because from my experience computers are extremely unstable, psychologically delicate creatures who are prone to nervous breakdowns which can only be cured by banana pudding.

Most Interesting Methods of Execution In History


Dear readers, this list is completely from memory. This fact should scare you.

Without further ado…


Though guillotines are very well-known, and were even at one point touted as a humane method of execution, they make this list for a number of reasons.

Number one – they have a history. True, they were popularized by the Committee of Public Safety in the 1790s during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, but they had existed for years beforehand in places such as England, Scotland and Germany. In one case, an impoverished but brilliant carpenter living in Whitechapel, London, built himself a guillotine and used it to hack his own head off. (He was later buried by the side of the road in a shallow, unmarked grave, since suicide was considered an unforgivable sin).

Number two – their humaneness is questionable. One would think that someone would die after having their head chopped off – but actually, it takes a few seconds for the brain to completely shut down. During that span of time, the victim may feel a wave of excruciating pain. Experiments have been carried out to determine exactly how long this period is – one condemned scientist requested one of his friends to call out his name right after his head had been severed, and promised to give some indication if he (the head, that is, not the other guy) heard it. In another case, a murderer was beheaded and, when a scientist called out the murderer’s name, the head was observed to blink. Guesses range from anywhere from two to even ten seconds.



This was especially used during the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries, when the oh-so-gentle government of Britain was trying to “convince” English Roman Catholics to turn Protestant. Those who refused were subject to a variety of persecutions, and some were executed. Among those who were killed was an elderly lady, who was made to lie down with a door on top of her. Boulders were then piled on top of the door till she was crushed to death.


3) SCAPHISM-ed (okay, “scaphism-ed” isn’t strictly a word… but we’ll just have to make do.)

This is an especially gruesome one, put to use in ancient Persia. The victim, when sentenced to scaphism, was forced to ingest milk and honey till they developed severe diarrhea. Faeces, milk and honey were then smeared all over the victim’s body, and the victim was suspended over a body of water. Insects were attracted to the dirt covering the victim, and ended up either eating the victim alive or giving him a lethal infection. I think one word about sums this up: “EWWWW!!!!”



When one thinks of execution methods, hanging is probably the first one that comes to mind. Almost every society has used hanging as a penalty, some more than others – *cough* we’re looking at you here, Britain – but all the same, it deserves a mention here. The duration of a hanging victim’s suffering depended on many factors. Firstly, there was the quality of the rope. If the rope was strong, the victim’s likelihood of hanging to death would be greatly increased. Weak rope tended to break, leaving the victim with an intact neck and a rather painful drop to the wooden scaffold. Secondly, there was the victim’s size – heavier people were likely to drop quicker than lighter ones, and thus be put out of their misery almost immediately with a quick snap of the neck. Light people had to suffer through the agony of being slowly strangled to death.



You’ve probably heard of Bloody Mary Tudor, also known as “that psychotic queen before Elizabeth”. However, there is more to her than that. She was not only the psychotic queen before Elizabeth, she was the psychotic Protestant-burning queen before Elizabeth. England, at the time of Mary’s ascension to the throne, was in the middle of a period of religious turmoil sparked by Henry VIII’s decision to divorce both his wife, Catherine of Aragon, and the Roman Catholic church. His son Edward and daughter Elizabeth were both Protestant, while Mary – his daughter by Catherine of Aragon – was a fanatical Roman Catholic. In an effort to revert England back to the “old religion”, she took to burning Protestant dissenters who refused to convert to Catholicism. Now, as you may imagine, burning alive was a fairly unpleasant, not to mention odoriferous, way to go. The condemned would pray for the smoke to quickly suffocate them, in order to avoid the agony of having to feel their flesh blacken and burn to a crisp. Some prisoners’ families bribed the guards to let them tie bags of gunpowder around the prisoners’ necks, so as to ease their sufferings and grant them a quick (albeit messy) death. This is what happened to two Protestant priests who were condemned by Mary – one of them was killed almost instantly by the fumes, while the other was partially burned before his bag of gunpowder went off and he died.

And that, dear readers, concludes How To Hack People Apart… With Style. You probably shouldn’t read this just before you sleep. Or eat. Especially if your food contains milk or honey.

Operation: Benji! The Conclusion

This, dear readers, is the final installment of the epic Operation: Benji! series. After spending part of my summer trying and failing to learn Java through Eclipse, I have come to the conclusion that my only hope is to do a headstand on my Java Programming book and hope fervently that the rules of osmosis extend to information absorption as well.

Or pay attention in my Java Programming class. That could work too.

So, with no further ado, I say to you:

public class ByeBye {

    public static void main(String[] args) {

System.out.println(“Wish me luck, and many 100-percents on all my tests!”)



Operation: Benji! Day Three

After a long break from programming, I am back and ready to immerse myself in the world of Java, as per Operation: Benji! However, the world of Java does not seem to be eager to have me immerse myself in it. Today when I opened Eclipse and started up my program, I could almost feel the computer sulking at me.

Right now I am trying to figure out my SETI program, which I recently discovered might actually be possible! See, there’s this nifty thing called InputStreamReader, which actually reads keyboard input. It’s amazing!

(Cue Aerosmith: ♫ It’s amaaaaziiing… ♫)

So I immediately created a new class, which I named SETIWouldBeProud, and appropriately public-ed and static-ed and void-ed and main-ed it, added a couple of Strings and args (the latter still reminds me of pirates), and then set about figuring out how to write the program.

Unfortunately, I am a bit hazy on how to actually implement InputStreamReader. Apparently you can’t just type it in. Apparently, you need a whole block of code just to make it work. Something about try { and throws and InputStreamReader = new InputStreamReader(; – the last phrase either enables the computer to read a single character of text or invites aliens from Neptune to camp out in your backyard. It’s not clear.

Huh. Maybe I should tell SETI that their program isn’t coming isn’t coming anytime soon. But I have a nice one with ducks they might like!*


*See Operation: Benji! Day Two for more information.

Operation: Benji! Day Two

As it turns out, dear readers, there is a Java equivalent to raw_input. But it’s really long and ugly and, judging from Eclipse’s reaction when I put that in there, has some sort of personal feud with the compiler. So it looks like my SETI dreams aren’t coming true any longer. :(

On a brighter note, I figured out what an array is. It’s… it’s… dangit, I forgot. Hang on.

(sound of rapid page-flipping)

Ah yes. An array is something you make after public static void main(String[] args) {, which I never get tired of typing. Basically, in an array (no I’m not going to stop bolding that), you create a bunch of new objects and give them some sort of number. I think. For example, you can create an array of seven Ducks:

Duck[0] = new rubberDuck();

Duck[1] = new rubberDuck();

Duck[2] = new rubberDuck();

Duck[3] = new rubberDuck();

Duck[4] = new rubberDuck();

Duck[5] = new rubberDuck();

Duck[6] = new rubberDuck();

Which would then leave you with a heck of a lot of Ducks in your program, which would then leave you with a mostly useless piece of code. (“Hey, Mr. Drake*, sir, I couldn’t figure out how to make that program you wanted me to, but I did make this swell one with ducks!” Yeah, that’d go down well.)

So, in conclusion, dear readers, I hope this short post has been both entertaining and uninformative, because we wouldn’t want you to start actually learning things from this blog, now, would we?

Of course not.


*Frank Drake, one of the main minds behind SETI. I don’t think Sir Francis Drake, sixteenth-century English buccaneer, would work very well in this context.