5 Powerful People You Didn’t Know Were Related to Bill Gates

culture, history

Chances are good that they’re related to you, too, because of how descent works.  Here are five famous folks who share a common cousin in the Microsoft founder and world-renowned philanthropist.

1.  Diana Spencer, more famously known as Princess Diana.  She’s related to Bill Gates through common ancestors Caleb Fobes and Sara Gager, Gates’ Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandparents and Diana’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandparents, making Bill and Diana 7th cousins, twice removed.

2, 3, and 4. George W. Bush.  Gates’ 7th Great Grandparents, Nathaniel House and Hannah Davenport, are also the 7th Great Grandparents of the 43rd President of the United States, making Gates and Bush 8th cousins.  Bush’s siblings, including presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, are also 8th cousins of Gates, and George H.W. Bush, the 41st president, is Gates’ 7th cousin, once removed.

5. Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Gates’ 8th Great Grandparents are also FDR’s 6th Great Grandparents, making Gates and Roosevelt 7th cousins, twice removed.

Bonus Cousins:  Gates is also related to John Kerry and Richard Nixon.  Use this ancestry list and this cousin chart to see how.

William H. Gates III reacts

The Bill Gates You Don’t Know

culture, history, writing

It’s true that you can now play Oregon Trail for free, in DOS, via the Internet Archive.  It’s also true that before there was a Bill Gates who founded Microsoft, there was Swiftwater Bill Gates of the Klondike Gold Rush, no relation.  Microsoft Bill Gates’ grandfather, also named William Gates, was also a prospector active in the same time and place as Swiftwater, which just goes to show that history wants what history wants.  Read the life story of the other famous Bill Gates, written by his mother-in-law, here.  I bet he would have liked one of those waste-to-water machines.

Click here to see how Mr. Gates is related to Princess Di, the Bushes, FDR, and Richard Nixon.

4 Extinct Prehistoric North American Species Encountered by the Continent’s Ancient Human Settlers

culture, history, science

1. American cheetah:  North America used to have cheetahs, or more accurately, cheetah-like big cats with puma faces. Like the other species on this list, it survived in North America down to the time of human migration to the continent.



2. Speaking of which, it blows my mind to think of Paleoindian populations living alongside the mighty Glyptodon, but that’s apparently exactly what they did, at least for a while.  These armored tanks, relatives of armadillos, anteaters, and sloths, stood close to 5 feet high and 11 feet long.  They are thought to have been eradicated by humanity’s penchant for over-hunting. According to the never-wrong editors of Wikipedia, ancient peoples used Glyptodon shells for shelter.

3. In the 1840s, the U.S. Army thought camels would make good pack animals because deserts.  It didn’t work out because horses are apparently afraid of camels.  That’s not to say the idea was totally without historic or scientific basis.  The Camelops survived in North America until 10000 years ago.

4. Mastodon is often wrongly thought of as a synonym for mammoth, but it turns out the North American mastodon, though closely resembling both mammoths and elephants, is closely related to neither.

Can you imagine a world in which mastodons and glyptodons roamed the American plains down to recent history?  It’s a shame that didn’t happen.  So too the extinction of many other species since 1500.  Just the thought of human beings interacting with these creatures in the first place is outstanding.  I wish they would have left some.

4 Great 90’s Songwriters Not Named Kurt (or Billy)

culture, history, music

A few years ago, Billy Corgan said he and Kurt Cobain were “the top two scribes [of the scene] and everyone else was a distant third.”  I think it’s funny that someone talking about being a great songwriter would refer to himself as a scribe, but Billy Corgan.

Here are four other great 90’s alt-rock songwriters not named Kurt (Billy).

1. Glen Philips.  The lead singer and primary songwriter for Toad the Wet Sprocket. I got to see the reunited Toad this past summer, and they were excellent.  Pick up their compilation of re-recorded greatest hits, All You Want, and be happy: it will be one of the best music purchases you make this year.

2. Jeff Mangum.  While the Smashing Pumpkins gave us The Aeroplane Flies High in 1996, Mangum’s Neutral Milk Hotel gave us In The Aeroplane Over the Sea and invented indie rock as we know it.

3. Stuart Murdoch.  The leader of Belle & Sebastian.  Pick up Push Barman to Open Old Wounds (which Blender called “25 charming tales of shy girls dabbling in photography and bookish boys dabbling in shy girls“) for an exquisite collection of Murdoch’s mid-to-late 90s oeuvre.

4. Noel Gallagher.  Oasis’ two finest, awesomest, greatest albums where recorded right in the middle of the epic mid-90s.  Sure, he borrowed a riff from T-Rex and a melody from a classic 70s Coke commercial, but the strongest songs, of which there are many, are all him.



Mark Cuban Doesn’t Understand How History Works

culture, history, sports, writing
English: Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you believe all the smart mark sports blogs, I’m supposed to hate ESPN First Take and heap specific scorn upon Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith whenever the chance arises.

But I don’t, so I don’t.

I’ve always liked Bayless.  For years, he’s been the only one saying anything substantially different about any of our sports meta-narratives.  I think he’s insightful, keenly intelligent, and a savvy interpreter of the human condition as refracted through the lens of postmodernity in sports. Smith is those things, too, and he’s at his best when meandering through measured, point-by-point analysis, which I find him doing more often, lately, than the almost unwatchable theatrics he’s better known for.

I also tend to like Mark Cuban. Like Bayless, he’s a contrarian by nature, and I’ve admired recent stands he’s taken on things like the looming student credit bubble.  He’s a smart, successful business man with, I’ve assumed, a great command of How These Things Work, These Things being sports communications in the 21st century.  Something he famously helped invent, after all.

So I’m bummed out by the ad hominen attacks he brought to the set of First Take last week.  He accused Bayless and Smith of only ever speaking in generalities and of “never using facts.”  Anyone who has ever seen First Take for more than five minutes knows that Skip and Stephen are addicted to statistics and use them in the manner of historians:  with a recognition that “facts” don’t exist in some kind of pristine vacuum.  Bayless, Smith, and writers in all places in all times use data to establish a particular interpretation of history.  I don’t fault Cuban for having never taking a class in historiography, but that doesn’t make him any less, or any less woefully, wrong about the veracity of facts.  And he’s lying about Bayless and Smith never analyzing data.  It’s as if Cuban believes there are a few factual and true metanarratives floating around out there about LeBron or the Mavericks or sports culture in general, and everything else is “mere” opinion.

When I was in Div School, a took an American History course that was cross-listed with other grad programs and with the undergrad program at Yale.  Having spent almost half of my undergraduate career at Ursinus in advanced history classes, I assumed Yale undergrads would have a firm grasp on the finer points of historiography.

Then one day, a senior-year English major said “But it’s not like there are histories, plural.  There’s, like, what happened.  History is not interpretation.”

How my vaunted view of the mythical Ivy undergrad experience crashed to Earth, much like the cosmologies we were studying at the time.  How could an English major at Yale, and a senior, to boot, fail so epically and so basically?  English gets all the credit for bringing postmodernity from the hinterland of art into academia proper, but there was a little old book by a man named E. H Carr called What Is History? that Cuban and my old classmate would both still do well to read.

History is interpretation, and that’s all it can ever be.  The reasons why should be obvious.   From different vantages, we all see the same object but different facets of it, and we’re all seeing the object, even if we’re not seeing the object as such, the Ideal Form, The Thing In Itself.   History is interpretation, and what is the 24 hours news cycle, or the programming of the World Wide Leader in Sports, if not instant history?

I know Mark Cuban’s not a stupid guy.  I know all the blogheads saying he eviscerated First Take as a concept, and the journalistic integrity of Bayless and Smith specifically, aren’t stupid either.  But they are fundamentally wrong, and so is Cuban.  Where Cuban succeeded was in production.  He boorishly out-bullied the men most often castigated by the sports intelligentsia as boorish bullies and proved himself as the Man with the Largest Contrarian Credential in the room.  Even if he doesn’t understand history, I’m sure Mark Cuban understands irony.  But not always.

Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, and Skip Gates Show That “Finding Your Roots” Is a Great Case for PBS

culture, history, justice, politics

I chanced upon the Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick episode of Finding Your Roots (hosted and written by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) on PBS tonight.  It came across, to me, as very powerful presentation of history, family, religion, freedom, politics, public education, public intellectualism, race, and the synthesis of these in the responsible framing of the American narrative.  This is what PBS does at its best.  And because you fund PBS, you can watch the whole thing here.