Saturday, December 31, 2011

Lost Day in Paradise

Seventeen years ago today, on December 31st 1994, almost 9,000 residents of the nation of Kiribati found themselves in January 1st 1995. For those people the date of December 31st 1994 would never exist.

This was not a natural phenomenon.

The nation of Kirabati consists of some 726 square kilometers of land spread out over 33 million square kilometers of ocean. Half the nation (including the uninhabited Starbuck Island) was on one half of the international data line, and the other half, including the capitol were west of the line. This was somewhat inconvenient, so the line was moved over from the 180th meridian to just east of the 150th meridian.

To put this into perspective New York City is just east of the 75th meridian, and Los Angeles is just east of the 120th meridian.  The date-line was moved two thirds of the distance from LA to NYC, or roughly the distance from LA to Chicago.

Kirabati is one of the least developed nations in the world. Their easternmost island, formerly Caroline Island, became the first location to see the sun on January 1st 2000, and so was the first location headed into the new millennium. Caroline Island was re-named Millennium Island. Caroline Island is home to a large population of potentially endangered Coconut Crabs, and no people.

The residents of Kirabati face the consequences of another potentially important unnatural phenomenon. Since most of the islands are at sea level any significant rise in sea level would make them disappear entirely.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Happy Holodomor

Seventy-nine years ago today, on December 28th 1932, Pavel Petrovich Postyshev called for the installation of New Year trees (Yolka; literally “spruce”) in schools, children's homes, Young Pioneer Palaces, children's clubs, children's theaters and cinemas. The New Year Tree should not be confused with the Christmas tree left up till New Years (or if an artificial tree till Midsummer’s Eve); though they are both similarly decorated. The Yolka had been banned since 1916; first by the Ukrainian Synod because it was seen as German (the enemy in WWI), then by the Russian SFSR because it was “bourgeois and religious”. Resurrecting the tradition invigorated a resurgence of New Years Day celebrations across the USSR. It was party time, and people thought this was a “good thing”.

Pavel was not your typical early 20th century Martha Stewart. Five years before his Yolka letter Pavel had been secretary of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik) in Moscow where he was in charge of propaganda. I think he kept a little of the propaganda flair when he moved to the Ukraine (he would eventually head the Kyiv Oblast) because in 1932 fancy new media items began popping up there.

The first were a series of Agitprop films which depicted peasants as counterrevolutionaries hiding grain and potatoes at the time when workers, who were constructing the “bright future” of socialism, were starving. At the same time (late 1932) Pavel had State police and party brigades scouring the Ukrainian countryside collecting up anything that looked like food. The name Agitprop came from “Department for Agitation and Propaganda”, which was part of the Central and regional committees of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The department was later renamed Ideological Department. People in the Ukraine began to go hungry. In January 1933 Ukraine's borders were sealed in order to prevent Ukrainian peasant from fleeing to other republics. 190,000 people were forcibly stopped at the border.

The depictions of Ukrainian peasants as counterrevolutionaries was not just the product of good character development as Stalin was convinced that the Ukraine was a hotbed of "nationalist deviation". Stalin wanted Pavel to clean this out. Pavel started out strong by ousting 100,000 people from the Ukrainian communist party in his first year there(he would oust another 168,000 by 1938). In order to weaken any popular support for this huge number of defrocked communists Pavel hatched a plan to thin out the Ukrainian population. Eventually the implementation of that plan would be called the Holodomor.

In 1933 the soviets began putting up catchy propaganda posters which read “To eat your own children is a barbarian act”. Over 2,500 people would be convicted of cannibalism during the Holodomor.

From 1937 on a marvelous New Year Tree was erected at the Moscow Palace of Unions. An invitation to the Yolka at the Palace of Unions became a great honor for Soviet children.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Techno Hippies

Nine years ago today, on December 27thy 2002, the lovely Brigitte Boisselier (a Raëlian bishop and CEO of Clonaid) called a press conference in Hollywood Florida. She had died her usually platinum blond hair a light red for the press. The purpose of the conference was to announce that Clonaid had just successfully cloned the first human baby. The baby had been named Eve.

In March of 2001 Clonaid had announced that a woman would become pregnant with a cloned fetus in April, then the Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations raided Clonaid's lab in Nitro, West Virginia. Shortly after the Announcement of the birth in December Korean prosecutors raided the offices of BioFusion Tech; Clonaid's Korean branch. Legislators began climbing overtop one another to outdo the severity of the other’s anti-cloning laws. Some began calling for Eve to be removed from her mother and placed with special guardians. Compliance agencies made it clear that they would be exploring the information Clonaid released for any illegality that might exist. It should have come as no surprise that Clonaid released no additional information; even refusing to identify the mother.

The Raëlian’s that Brigitte was a bishop of are often described as a UFO cult. They were interested in cloning because they saw it as a first step in human immortality. This idea is not inconsistent with their view that extraterrestrials called the Elohim created life on earth as a scientific experiment. From time to time the Elohim have returned to earth to guide the experiment. Most people know these extraterrestrial guiders by names like “Jesus” or “Buddha”.

The Raëlians are officially active on social issues. They support the use of GMO foods, as well as topless rights for women, and they are strongly anti-war.

If the cloning ever hits full output we might be overrun with lovely GMO-corn fed topless techno-hippies. Too bad the world is going to end so soon.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Leftovers

One hundred and sixty five years ago today, on December 26th 1846, a pioneer named Patrick Dolan stripped off his clothes and danced around naked in some fresh Sierra Nevada snow.  After running through the woods for an undocumented length of time he returned to his friends’ party and died.  His friends were hungry so they ate him.  In this way the most famous story of Christmas leftovers in the American West became legend.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Prelude to Civil War

One hundred and eighty-five years ago today, sometime after 10 pm on the Christmas Eve 1826, a group of nine cadets began drinking whiskey-laced eggnog in room 28 of the West Point United States Military Academy’s North Barracks. Before long the party expanded to room 5, and the two gallons of whiskey smuggled into the Academy were gone. Some of the cadets immediately left to procure more whiskey; a trip which would prove successful.

Dozens of drunken cadets on a campus where possession of alcohol could lead to expulsion eventually drew attention; even on Christmas Eve. At around 3am Christmas morning the superintendent of the North Barracks interrupted at least eight cadets in room 5 loudly singing, and very drunk. One of them was named Jefferson Davis.

Attempts to silence the Christmas party eventually sparked a small riot, which was fueled by the timely arrival of the third gallon of whiskey. Twenty people would be court-marshaled, but Jefferson Davis was not amongst them.

Thirty four years and a few months after the eggnog riots Davis would come to the forefront of another uprising against the US. On February 1st 1861 Jefferson Davis would be named president of the then month-old Confederate States of America.