Sunday, December 26, 2010

Juche's Ill

I would love to do fewer stupid things. If it were simply a matter of choice I could even prioritize the genera of foolish actions I would like to eliminate first. I picture the prioritization as a pyramid-shaped tiering system. At the wide and stable bottom of the structure are paralyzingly embarrassing statements; above that horrifying miscommunication. Somewhere near the top are those actions which involve ignoring dangerous circumstances, and causing potential harm to myself or others.

Nowhere on that pyramid do I picture any members populating a category I could call “mishaps with nuclear weapons”. This is because the only foolish thing I could ever picture myself doing with nuclear weapons is living in a world where people install them onto the tips of missiles, and then point them at other people.

My foolish tiering system is obviously risk-based; the more harm the higher up the pyramid the foolish activity goes. I assume that the structure gets smaller as it goes up because I assume I pay more attention to the more potentially harmful activities and reduce the likelihood of the action taking place. I mitigate the risk more effectively when the consequences become increasingly unacceptable.

Even if the consequences are not phenomenally extreme (like what is possible with nuclear weapons) I will sometimes ask for assistance in deciding on a least-foolish course of action. Since I am an atheist the fact that I do not ask my invisible friends for advice should not be shocking. I might not be an atheist if my invisible friends insisted on giving advice despite the fact that I did not ask.

Some of my corporeal friends give advice that I have not asked for, but most not only wait till asked, but require tenacity to pry it from them. I sometimes appear picky about who I ask for what kind of advice. I have a friend who has been married four times. I would readily ask her for advice on dating, but I might shy away from asking her thoughts on marital harmony.

I have a tendency (that is common amongst academics) to appreciate authority in those whose advice I am receptive to. I like quoting great thinkers and admirable personalities. I have quoted many people whose specific tastes I may not prescribe to, but whose take on a particular topic I find illuminating. I have caught myself quoting “spiritual” leaders when I thought their ideas were worthy with no thought of atibuting them to their flavor of invisible assistants.

Separating the person from the quote is not always easy. Quotes from serial killers sound like they are stained with the blood of their victims; they can suffer a menacing tone lurking in a mundane utterance.

“See you in Disneyland” – Richard Ramirez

Those who are nutso are difficult to use as authorities on anything that is not just nutso. There was a guy who lived in Queens and said he was 700 years old and could fly. This guy was nuts, and it would be very difficult to use his advice on anything.

I'm sitting in a cold basement while I'm writing this, and I've wrapped a blanket around my shoulders for some warmth. When I walked upstairs a couple minutes ago to get a cup of tea AOD remarked: “Look at Dad's cape; maybe he's going to fly!”.

Some claims would be so outrageous that they are dismisable despite the trappings of authority (like a plaid cape) or a history of reasonable thought (you'll just have to take my word on this one). And yet history is littered with people whose claims alone should have made a mockery of anything else they did.

Hong Xiuquan believed that, despite being born over one thousand and eight hundred years after his older brother, he was Jesus Christ's younger brother. He used this as justification to proclaim himself “Heavenly King” over a "Heavenly Kingdom of Transcendent Peace" which included the perks of money, power, and concubines. Like many peaceful kingdoms Hong's needed to generate an armed conflict; they did so against China's Qing dynasty emperor. The resulting 20 million dead people made Hong's one of the bloodiest conflicts in history, but they did not make his claims of family connections any less ridiculous.

A little less than half a decade or before Hong ended his life by poisoning himself another heterodox spiritual man by the name of Choe Je-u received some holy instructions. Choe was on the Korean peninsula and his peaceful paradise on earth was to occur there, and they needed to kill some folk to make their peace. So, despite differencing in geographic and genealogical details, Choe and Hung had a contemporary similarity about their divine missions.

I'm not saying that talking to god is bad (though I might allude to this type of delusion being less than productive at times) but taking instructions from god -especially those that involve killing- is a bad idea. I don't care if god talks with voices in your head, golden plates, funny symbols, holy e-mail, or a staticy telephone call; look for where the message is coming from. If someone you know thinks they have a message from god...well historically this is usually not a good thing.

The reason for not believing in what messages from god tell you is more basal than simply not believing in god. It is motivated by more than just atheism. If someone explains that god came to them in the form of their neighbors dog and told them to kill people I'm going to think that is bat-crap crazy without ever saying something like: “but wait...that can't be true because there is no god”.

It is worse when someone suggests that they are god, or even some divine godish creature. If someone claims that weather is influenced by their own or someone else's moods, I'm not going to be able to hear them very well. Even if thousands of people sing how important and magically divine someone is, I'm just not going to be that into it. Unless they have a big bomb.

The official ideology of North Korea is called “Juche”. There is an official calendar for North Korea called the Juche Calendar, and it was started (Year 1) on April 15th 1912 when Kim Il-sung was born. Kim Jong-il is now lead deity of the Juche cult. Jong-il can apparently change things with his feelings; he certainly can imprison people with his words.

The only other significant religion in North Korea is an offshoot of Choe's divinely-inspired stuff.  In at least one of his autobiographys Kim Jong-il describes in detail how much he admires Choe's Donghak movement.

People call Juche an atheist ideology. This is the problem with identifying ones self in a “not that” category. Some people who are not brain surgeons are gynecologists. More people, like me, are neither (and if I have ever told you I was a gynecologist -for whatever reason- I apologize).

I like to take the higher ground. I am a reasonable person, not just an atheist. I reason through things. I look at sources of claims, and make informed decisions. Atheists simply are not something, and I am something.

So when Kim jong-il announced that he was going to wage a nuclear “Holy War” against South Korea I was not the one you may have heard shouting “See...He Is SO NOT An Atheist!!!”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Two More Years!

It is apparently common knowledge that the world is going to end on December 21st 2012.  What will you wear?

There is admittedly some controversy surrounding this prophesy.  I have also been told that Jesus will return and initiate rapture on the 21st of May 2011, and that the total end of time will take place on the 21st of October 2011.

There are now only

Till the END of the WORLD!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Merry Christmas

The “War On Christmas” (WOC) is apparently in full swing right now. I hear about it several times a day; so far this year I have heard about the WOC more often than I have been wished a “Merry Christmas”. I find it disturbing that there is a war on the most popular of all holidays. That there is a war on a holiday that is so popular that its decorations now herald its celebration before Halloween, and threaten to do to Halloween what they have already done to Thanksgiving. It is shocking to think that any usurper holiday would dare attack the mythically powerful holiday of Christmas.

Who is the attacker? Is New-Years drunkenly stumbling backwards in time and threatening Christmas?

Is it a Trojan horse attack? Have people realized that certain Christmas traditions hearken back to the pagan solstice celebrations that pre-date it? BTW: this year the solstice falls on December 21st (6:38 PM ET and 23:38 UTC).

I have heard of people imploring others to “be thankful” this Christmas. Is the WOC a counter-attack by the slighted pre-Christmas holidays? Is there a holiday insurgency threatening to dethrone Christmas as the pre-eminent Yule-time holiday? Will we be forced to recognize a “holiday’s-council-of-festival-celebration”? That actually sounds appealing to me, but Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.

Imagine my disbelief when I discovered that it is people –not other holidays- that are waging war on Christmas.

Imagine my horror when I was told that I was a prime combatant. That: “You and those people like you are waging a war on Christmas and trying to destroy it for normal people”. As shocked as I was to find out that I was apparently waging a notably competent battle against such an important holiday I took time to endeavor as to how and why I was waging the WOC. Apparently by wishing the offended someone a “Happy Holidays” I was striking a potentially mortal blow.

I prefer the “Happy Holidays” greeting this time of year, but I will be brightly wishing folks a “Happy Christmas” from the 22nd of December till the 26th. The offending HH occurred just after the start of Chanukah, and I actually was thinking more of that “festival of lights” than Christmas when I made the HH remark. I wonder if I would have been seen as such a rabid enemy of Christmas if I had simply wished them a “Happy Chanukah”?

I like the HH greeting as it helps to encompass so many holidays that are crowded into the Yule-season. I have shrunk from my one-time practice of wishing folks a “Merry Solstice” as it misses the preferred name most people who celebrate the solstice use. How do you keep the proper name straight anyway? Is it Amaterasu, or Beiwe, or Brumalia, or Choimus, or Chaomos, or Deygān or Dōngzhì, or Goru, or Hogmanay, or Inti Raymi, or Junkanoo, or John Canoe, or Dzon'ku 'Nu, or Karachun, or Koleda, or Коляда, or Sviatki, or Dazh Boh, or Lá an Dreoilín, or Wren day, or Lenæa, or Lohri, or Lucia, or Feast of St. Lucy, or Makara Sankranti, or Maruaroa o Takurua, or Meán Geimhridh, or Midwinter’s night, or Midvinterblót, or Modranicht, or Modresnach, or Mummer's Day, or Montol, or Perchta, or Rozhanitsa, or Shab-e Chelleh, or Yaldā, or Sanghamitta Day, or Saturnalia, or Chronia, or Şeva Zistanê, or Sol Invictus, or Soyal, or We Tripantu, or Yule, or Jul, or Jól, or Joul, or Joulu, or Jõulud, or Géol, or Geul, or Zagmuk, or Sacaea, or Ziemassvētki? Of course just finding out the right name is a great conversation starter; the meanings and ramifications could lead to coffee, and a thoroughly delightful afternoon. "Happy Holidays", however, has never been taken as a salvo on the winter’s solstice whatever-you-call-it.

OK, so I may not be sensitive enough to figure out how I am attacking Christmas, but why am I doing it, and who are my co-conspirators? It turns out that I am waging the WOC because I am an atheist, and my cohorts in this are all my fellow atheists. It is truly unfortunate that atheists are not an organized group. It is embarrassing to be actively waging a war where I know such a small percentage of my allies. Perhaps we should all get together over a light lunch sometime and casually draw up plans for assassinating the Easter-bunny?

I should point out, at the risk of divulging strategic WOC secrets, that there is disunity on the atheist front. All atheists I know think of the Yule-season as a “great historically-tested time for party(ies)”, and therefore whole-heartedly support the idea of celebration. I myself have erected a Christmas-tree-shaped assemblage of plastic and metal which has been festooned with ornaments and low-power LED lights. If I am to coordinate this WOC thing I am off to a very poor start.

There are others that can be pressed into service as WOC enemies. Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and many others are attractive victims for the theocratical press-gangs. If Christmas is re-defined as a xenophobic celebration of homogeneous religious unity who will have won the WOC?

I think if we toned down the hate-speech we could resolve all this with diplomacy. Perhaps we could call it “Egg-Nog Diplomacy”. We could sit down with some glasses (not big glasses because Egg-Nog is high in fat, and I’m watching my calorie intake) of Egg-Nog (But not the Egg-Nog with alcohol in it because I don’t drink) and just talk it over.

For my fellow atheists I believe this plan will lull "them" into a sense of security, then, come April, the Bunny will never see it coming!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fishing in the East River

Forty six years ago today, at 12:10 PM EST December 11th 1964, a bazooka shell landed in Manhattan’s east river and sent up a “15 foot geyser” of brown river water. Guillermo Novo had purchased the bazooka earlier in the year for $35 from an 8th avenue shop, and had lovingly rebuilt it. Novo lashed the bazooka to a rock filled crate in a weedy lot on the east bank of the East river, and attached it to a “clock-like” timer that would initiate its firing. The bazooka round fell almost 200 yards short of its intended target, which was the 38 story UN headquarters building.

On the inland side of the UN building Molly Gonzales had detached herself from a small group of demonstrators and ran towards the UN headquarters’s front entrance. After she was subdued she explained that she wanted to kill Che Guevara, who was addressing the UN General Assembly at the time, with the seven inch hunting knife she was brandishing.

The explosion had rattled windows in the building and Guevara remarked that the explosion had: “given the whole thing more flavor”. When he found out about the two assassination attempts he replied:

it is better to be killed by a woman with a knife than by a man with a gun" – Che Guevara 11 December 1964.

On October 9th 1967 Che was shot to death by a man with a gun. The half-drunk executioner (a Bolivian Sergeant by the name of Mario Teran) would lose his sight to cataracts over the coming decades. In 2006 Cuban doctors would restore his sight as part of the Cuba-Venezuela Operación Milagro. In 2007 Teran’s son wrote a thank-you editorial to the Cuban doctors in which he stated: “Che returns to win yet another battle.”

Friday, December 10, 2010

Offensive Billboard

Here is a picture of one of the billboards that were erected in several major cities, and which generated national attention. Some people have told me they find this billboard constitutes "Offensive Hate Speech". 

I have not seen one of these in Utah.  Perhaps we are a lost cause here?

Campfire Stories

Four hundred and ninety years ago today, on December 10th 1520, the German priest Martin Luther burned his copy of Pope Leo X’s Papal Bull entitled “Exsurge Domine” just outside the “Elster Gate” of Wittenberg. The Exsurge Domine is not lacking in flowery metaphors, here’s one:

“The wild boar from the forest seeks to destroy it and every wild beast feeds upon it.”
But it was not literary excess that drove Martin Luther to so famously burn it before a crowd of his followers.

Some years before, on Halloween 1517, Matin Luthor had nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg’s All Saints Church. The Exsurge Domine detailed 41 of these “errors” with which the Holy See was not amused. My favorite of which was number 24 on the Exsurge Domine list:

“Christians must be taught to cherish excommunications rather than to fear them.”

Which sounds cool to me.

Martin Luther went on to be famously tried and excommunicated (which I’m sure he cherished) and generally treated badly. The trials had marvelous names like “The Diet of Worms” (25 May 1521). You just don’t get great trial names like that these days.

Martin Luther, as a good priest, was practiced at the art of sublimation. Sublimation is the process of transforming libido into "socially useful" achievements (Freud). In Martin Luther’s case those achievements were spreading rabid anti-Semitic hatred. Up until the Exsurge Domine Martin was almost a defender of German Jews:

“that in our behavior towards them we less resemble Christians than beasts?" -- Martin Luther 1519
Oh what a difference a mean-spirited letter from an Italian in a dress and a meal of worms can make! By 1536 Martin was violently anti-semitic. He was apparently storming around the German countryside proclaiming that: “whoever would help the Jews was doomed to perdition”.

His most famous treatise was published just three years before his death. In a book he titled “Von den Jüden und iren Lügen“ (English: On the Jews and Their Lies) he detailed his arguments for a solution to the Jew problem Germany was having.

"base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth. They are full of the devil's feces ... which they wallow in like swine. The synagogue was a defiled bride, yes, an incorrigible whore and an evil slut ..” -- Martin Luther 1543

He goes on to argue that the Jewish homes be raised, that synagogues and schools be burned, that property be seized, and other bad stuff. The Jews themselves were not only to be rounded up and put into forced labor, but Martin goes on to say “"[w]e are at fault in not slaying them”.

If Martin had just lived another 400 years he would have seen his “solution” put into action. Martin Luther's anti-semitic writings may have been one of the reasons why the church that bore his name as part of the Landeskirchen beat out the evangelical church in the 1930s in their bid to become the official church of the National Socialists.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Revolutionary French

One hundred and five years ago today, on December 9th 1905, the Chamber of Deputies of France (the legislative assembly of the French Parliament) passed Loi du 9 décembre 1905 concernant la séparation des Églises et de l'État (Law on the Separation of the Churches and State). This law codifies a secularization that had been developing in France since its revolution.

    Article premier. - La République assure la liberté de conscience. Elle garantit le libre exercice des cultes sous les seules restrictions édictées ci-après dans l'intérêt de l'ordre public.

    Art. 2.- La République ne reconnaît, ne salarie ni ne subventionne aucun culte. En conséquence, à partir du 1er janvier qui suivra la promulgation de la présente loi, seront supprimées des budgets de l'État, des départements et des communes, toutes dépenses relatives à l'exercice des cultes. Pourront toutefois être inscrites auxdits budgets les dépenses relatives à des services d'aumônerie et destinées à assurer le libre exercice des cultes dans les établissements publics tels que lycées, collèges, écoles, hospices, asiles et prisons. Les établissements publics du culte sont supprimés, sous réserve des dispositions énoncées à l'article 3.

The first sentence of article 2 can be translated into English as: “The Republic does not recognize, pay or subsidize any religion. “. The law itself goes on for several pages to outline the method of establishing a new separation for a country that had not had one before. France had built many churches at public expense, and had many church individuals on public salaries. The separation was a process in France, not a simple establishing of principal like it was in the USA. Some of the articles (like article 11 shown below) are obviously unimportant today, but were probably of great importance when the law was passed.

French: "Les ministres des cultes qui, lors de la promulgation de la présente loi, seront âgés de plus de soixante ans révolus et qui auront, pendant trente ans au moins, rempli des fonctions ecclésiastiques rémunérées par l'État, recevront une pension annuelle et viagère égale aux trois quarts de leur traitement."

English: "The ministers of religion who, during the enactment of this Act, be aged over sixty years of age and who have for thirty years at least, full of ecclesiastical duties paid by the State, will receive an annual pension and annuity equal to three-quarters of their treatment."

If anyone was covered by article 11 they would be over 165 years old today.

There were opponents to the law, and some demonstrations. The Roman Catholic church was quite unhappy with the law, but have seen it as worthwhile, even defendable, in recent years. The Roman Catholic church was so upset by the law that Pope Pius X issued an encyclical titled “Vehementer Nos” where they stated in overflowing prose the Holy See’s displeasure with the law. Here are a couple excerpts from an English translation of the Vehementer Nos:

“Our soul is full of sorrowful solicitude and Our heart overflows with grief, when Our thoughts dwell upon you. How, indeed, could it be otherwise, immediately after the promulgation of that law which, by sundering violently the old ties that linked your nation with the Apostolic See, creates for the Catholic Church in France a situation unworthy of her and ever to be lamented? That is, beyond question, an event of the gravest import, and one that must be deplored by all the right-minded, for it is as disastrous to society as it is to religion.”

“That the State must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error. Based, as it is, on the principle that the State must not recognize any religious cult, it is in the first place guilty of a great injustice to God; for the Creator of man is also the Founder of human societies, and preserves their existence as He preserves our own. We owe Him, therefore, not only a private cult, but a public and social worship to honor Him. Besides, this thesis is an obvious negation of the supernatural order.”

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Thirty years ago today, at 10:50 PM outside of the Dakota apartments in NYC, John Lennon was shot four times in the back.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Blue Marble

Thirty eight years ago today, at 5:39 EST on December 7th 1972, astronauts aboard the Apollo 17 mission would take the famous “Blue Marble” (NASA AS17-148-22727) picture of the earth. Because they were headed towards the sun the entire earth was illuminated at once.

They had blasted off from the earth 5 hours and thirty-six minutes earlier, and had left their parking orbit around the planet they photographed one hour and fifty-four minutes before the picture was taken.

In 2005 NASA would release a composite series of satellite pictures of the earth. These provided much greater detail than the single 70-millimetre Hasselblad camera with an 80-millimetre lens did in 1972. They called the new set “Blue Marble: The Next Generation”.

Apollo 17 was the last manned spaceflight that traveled beyond earth’s orbit. On December 19th 1972 the astronauts of Apollo 17 would set foot on the earth after being the last humans (so far) to venture to the moon.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Lucky Thirteen

One hundred and forty five years ago today, on December 6th 1865, the first amendment to the constitution of the United States of America in over sixty years was adopted into law. The Thirteenth Amendment to the constitution reads as follows:

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

The legislatures of twenty-seven of the union’s thirty-six states needed to ratify the amendment before it would become part of the constitution. Georgia, on December 6th 1865, was the state whose ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment completed the process.

Mississippi, on March 16th 1995, became the last state to ratify the amendment.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Witch's Hammer

Five hundred and twenty six years ago today, on December 5th 1484, Pope Innocent VIII issued the Summis desiderantes affectibus (English: Desiring with supreme ardor). The SDA gave Dominican Inquisitors Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger explicit authority to prosecute witchcraft in Germany.

The Papal Bull describes witchcraft thusly:

"Many persons of both sexes, unmindful of their own salvation and straying from the Catholic Faith, have abandoned themselves to devils, incubi and succubi, and by their incantations, spells, conjurations, and other accursed charms and crafts, enormities and horrid offences, have slain infants yet in the mother's womb, as also the offspring of cattle, have blasted the produce of the earth, the grapes of the vine, the fruits of the trees, nay, men and women, beasts of burthen, herd-beasts, as well as animals of other kinds, vineyards, orchards, meadows, pasture-land, corn, wheat, and all other cereals; these wretches furthermore afflict and torment men and women, beasts of burthen, herd-beasts, as well as animals of other kinds, with terrible and piteous pains and sore diseases, both internal and external; they hinder men from performing the sexual act and women from conceiving, whence husbands cannot know their wives nor wives receive their husbands; over and above this, they blasphemously renounce that Faith which is theirs by the Sacrament of Baptism, and at the instigation of the Enemy of Mankind they do not shrink from committing and perpetrating the foulest abominations and filthiest excesses to the deadly peril of their own souls, whereby they outrage the Divine Majesty and are a cause of scandal and danger to very many (...) the abominations and enormities in question remain unpunished not without open danger to the souls of many and peril of eternal damnation.”

Sprenger and Kramer would collaborate on The Malleus Maleficarum which would be THE book on witchcraft for much of the 16th century.

Sprenger died suddenly in 1494.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Holy Ordinance

Legend has it that seventeen hundred and four years ago today, on December 4th 306, the Great Martyr Barbara was…well…martyred. Now every year on December 4th the “hollloween-like” festival of Eid il-Burbara is conducted to celebrate her martyrdom. Yea! Festival festival!

Saint Barbara is the patron saint of artillerymen, and her blessing is used to create holy ordinance.

She was tortured and abused. She was protected and abandoned. She engaged in anti-pagan remodeling, and was eventually beheaded by her own father. All in all a short unhappy blessed life.

He father was struck by lightning shortly after chopping off Barb’s head; hence the connection with artillery. Several Caribbean voodoo-like groups interpreted the story of Saint Barbara as a mistranslation of activities performed by the lightning god Shango. Shango sounds pretty tough though; I just can’t picture Shango letting himself get tortured for simply adding an extra window to a bath-house.

Unfortunately there are no historical records associated with any of it. So, on Valentine’s day 1969, Pope Paul VI had her removed from the official Roman Catholic calendar when he issued a motu proprio called "Mysterii Paschalis". This pretty much striped her of much of her official saintlyness.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Jamaican Smiles

Thirty four years ago today, on December 3rd 1976, a group of armed gunmen broke into the home of Bob Marley and shot him twice (as well as wounding his wife and manager) before escaping. Marley had been scheduled to play the free “Smile Jamaica” concert in just two days, on the 5th of December.

Jamaica was in the throws of a sputtering civil war centered around the presidential candidacies of Edward Seaga and Michael Manley. Manley was up for re-election and had proclaimed a state of emergency in January of 1976. In June 500 people were arrested in one fell swoop, and accused of trying to overthrow the government. Many of those arrested were prominent members of Edward Seaga’s party. Violence skirmishes and authoritarian reprisals continued long after Manley was re-elected on December 15th.

Marley insisted on going on with the “Smile Jamaica” concert; agreeing to only play one song. Once he got up in front of the crowd of 80,000 he played an entire 90 minute set. The setlist was:

1. War/ No More Trouble/ Get Up Stand Up
2. Crazy Baldhead/ Positive Vibration
3. Smile Jamaica
4. Rat Race
5. TrenchTown Rock
6. Keep on Moving
7. Want More
8. Them Belly Full
9. Jah Live
10. Rastaman Chant
11. Rebel Music
12. So Jah Seh

When asked why he ignored his wounds and played the full set Marley replied: "The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

EF Phone Home

Sixty eight years ago today, on December 2nd 1942, a group of uber-nerds and dignitaries watched as George Weil slowly removed a metal stick from a pile of black bricks. They were all assembled in the unused space underneath a squash court at the University of Chicago. Enrico Fermi, who had won a nobel prize just four years earlier, watched a set of instruments intently. When he was satisfied with what he saw Enrico nodded to Arthur Compton who waited by the phone.

Arthur rang James Conant who was back on the east coast. Using the manual switchboards of the day this could have taken several minutes.

When he finally got James on the phone Arthur said: “The Italian navigator has landed in the New World.”

James replied: “How were the natives?”

Arthur then said: “Everyone landed safe and happy”, and hung up.

Ever since that phonecall humans have known that nuclear weapons are possible.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Strategic Re-assignment

Seventy six years ago today, on December 1st 1934, Leonid Nikolaev strolled into the Smolny Institute, walked up behind Sergei Mironovich Kirov, pulled a 7.62mm Mossin Nagant revolver from his briefcase, and shot Kirov in the back of the neck. Leonid’s apparent plan was to then shoot himself.

Comerade S.A. Platanov was an electrician doing work on the floor of the Smolny Institute where the shooting occurred. Plantanov apparently threw a screwdriver at Leonid with such force that it pinned Leonid’s wrist to the wall. Platanov then subdued Leonid; thus preventing him from shooting himself. Before the end of the year, on December 29th 1934, Leonid would be shot to death by a firing squad.

Leonid was not a very competent assassin. He had tried on October 15th to enter the Smolny Institute with the same revolver in the same briefcase. The guards had searched his briefcase, found the illegal revolver, and detained him. Then, inexplicably, they received special instructions to let Leonid go. They even gave him back his revolver and briefcase for good measure. When Leonid returned on December 1st the regular guards were, inexplicably, off duty.

Strangely enough in late October even the normal personal guards for Kirov had been re-assigned, so Kirov walked the halls escorted only by an associate named Borisev. Borisev and Kirov were strolling together through the halls of the Smolny Institute. Just as they approached the hallway where Leonid waited Borisev stalled to tie his shoelace or something. Kirov continued down the hall, and was as much as 40 yards away when Leonid slipped in behind him with his revolver.

Borisev was interrogated in connection with Kirov’s death. The next day, while being transported to an enhanced interrogation facility, he fell off a truck to his death. Perhaps he tripped on his shoelace?

Leonid had not been very good at much of anything. He was broke, jobless, and irritable. He was described as having “the unmistakable signs of childhood malnutrition”, and he appeared poised to pass that condition onto his infant son Marx. He had been expelled as a party member due to insubordination, and he blamed various institutions of the communist system for his vagrancy.

Despite Leonid’s apparent vision of the Communist party as a coordinated evil entity the communist party of 1934 was fracturing. Martemyan Ryutin had circulated a 200 page document that called for, amongst other reforms, the removal of Stalin. Stalin had called for Ryutin’s execution, but was thwarted by an opposition group that was coalescing behind the very popular Kirov. Kirov was so popular that he had only received 3 negative votes at the 1934 party congress; Stalin received 292 negative votes. Ryutin would only outlive Kirov by a few years. In 1937, when Stalin began his purges in earnest, Ryutin would be one of the first with their backs against the wall.

Kirov was not popular with everyone (besides Leonid). He was a rabid ideologue, and in March of 1919 during the Russian civil war, was responsible for the deaths of over 4,000 individuals. He reportedly would have “bourgeois” who were caught hiding their possessions summarily shot.

Leonid’s malnutrition-addled hatred incited him to regularly proclaim his desire to kill people in positions of authority. It was during one of his tirades that a shadowy unnamed individual gave him the directions to Kirov’s office and the revolver. He also gave him a couple of drinks and some cash too.

After Kirov’s assassination Stalin personally ordered Leonid’s mysterious and shadowy provocateur shot. The nameless individual was apparently executed on these orders, but his name was not released.

In addition to the mystery man Stalin had Leonid’s 85 year old mother, his brothers, his sisters, several cousins, and some other folk for good measure rounded up and executed. Just to even things out Stalin ordered 104 persons who were in jail on unrelated charges at the time of Kirov’s death executed.

Leonid’s infant son was sent to an orphanage and only found to be “rehabilitated” in 2005.