Monday, November 14, 2016

Dictator Minute

If you think 2016 was a crap year, try 1933 on for size! What made the 1930s 
so miserable? Dictators!

Not enough people know about dictators, but Dictator Minute aims to fix that. Take a minute every day to learn to learn something new. You'll be glad you did!

8. Dictators Find a Way to Make it Work
Stalin wanted to undertake a massive infrastructure project called the “Byelomorkanal,” a canal that connected the White and Baltic Seas.
Everyone was like, “Yeah, right, Stalin. How’re you going to pay for it? That’ll never happen.”
Stalin outsmarted everyone by arresting everyone, and putting them to work building the Byelomorkanal.

Party Tip

Want to be a hit at parties? Learn more about Stalin’s convict labor.

7. Dictators Love Tall Buildings

Stalin had a nasty shock in 1946 when he realized that “foreigners will come to Moscow, walk around, and there are no skyscrapers.” His reaction was typical of dictators, who find the absence of tall buildings named after themselves intolerable.
In 1947 Stalin marshaled his vast prison labor force and built the seven gothic skyscrapers that would be his architectural legacy. Stalin’s cabinet of serial killers, toadies, and pedophiles lived in some of them, as did the celebrities the dictator favored.
A while back, city boosters tried to get Muscovites to call the buildings “The Seven Sisters.” They were mindful of the crime and corruption associated with Stalin’s name. It didn’t work. These were Stalin’s buildings, not Moscow’s, and the people knew it. Stalinkas is what they are called. They are and always will be Stalin’s buildings.

Party Tip

Want to be a hit at parties? Read more about Stalin’s Buildings.

6. Dictators Don’t Respect People with Disabilities

Hitler believed that people were a lot like racehorses. If two fast, strong racehorses got together, the result would be a really strong, fast, baby racehorse. But pair a racehorse with a slow, stupid donkey? The result of that union would be a less-superior-than-possible animal, and that just would not do.
This is why, years before Hitler’s efforts to exterminate Jews got underway, the program to murder mentally and physically disabled people was already in full swing. Hitler sent teams of “consultants” to hospitals around Germany to identify the disabled and mark them for death in the gas chamber. These unlucky people — around 200,000 of them — were the first of Hitler’s victims. The methods he used to kill them would be the same ones he’d use a few years later on people who, although not disabled, were still not genetically fit enough to keep around.
Hitler did not like disabled people, but it was nothing personal. It was just eugenics.

Party Tip

Want to be a hit at parties? Read more about Hitler and eugenics.

5. Dictators Have Support

Hitler’d been talking about his plans for Jews since way before he became Chancellor. But many German people weren’t too worried. The Jews are a problem, they said. Nobody knows what they’re up to; they can go anywhere and do anything. How do you tell a good one from a bad one? It’s not safe.
Some people hoped the restrictions on the Jews would at least calm the situation down a little. The constant chatter from Jews and their friends about Hitler’s plans for Jews was riling folks up. People were constantly arguing, and anti-Semitic activities were increasing.
Other people said it was a special situation. An emergency. The Jews are attacking us, but our rights are safe. The constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion, they said, right there in Article 136.

Party Tip

Want to be a hit at parties? Read more about the The Nuremburg Laws.

4. Dictators Are Underestimated

Germany’s leaders didn’t take Hitler seriously until it was too late. Establishment politicians thought they could appease him. They believed that if they named him Chancellor of Germany, he’d have no choice but to fall in line with business as usual. They told themselves that others in the government would influence Hitler and mitigate his power.
Instead, wily Hitler gave himself absolute power through the Enabling Act of 1933! Germany’s institutions failed to protect it from a dictator, as many had hoped. Hitler simply passed laws dismantling those institutions.

Party Tip

Want to be a hit at parties? Read more about the Enabling Act of 1933.

3. Dictators Fool the Journalists

Journalist Dorothy Thompson initially thought that Hitler wasn’t a threat. She believed he wanted to be a dictator, but, c’mon. Him? In power? She called him “Little Man”; wrote that he was insignificant. She was convinced the public would see right through him.
“Imagine a would-be dictator setting out to persuade a sovereign people to vote away their rights,” she wrote in 1932.
When Hitler became Chancellor a year later, she changed her tune and tried to warn people. She documented the brutality and terror she saw as the Nazis consolidated their power. But it was too late.
Like most dictators, Hitler did not like to be criticized. In 1934 he revoked Thompson’s credentials and threw her out of Germany.

Party Tip

Want to be a hit at parties? Read more about Dorothy Thompson.

2. Dictators Don’t Like Treaties

After WWI, the Germans had this treaty they had to live with, the Treaty of Versailles?
Lots of Germans hated it. It crushed them economically and made Germany dependent on hostile foreign powers for its survival. It was humiliating and unfair, said many. They called the establishment leaders who signed the treaty criminals and backstabbers.
Hitler also did not like the Treaty of Versailles. He called it “the greatest villainy of the century” in Mein Kampf.
“The millions of German unemployed are the final result of this development,” he said in a speech in 1933. Hitler wanted to get rid of the Treaty of Versailles and, a year after he became Chancellor, he did!

Party Tip

Want to be a hit at parties? Read more about The Treaty of Versailles.

1. Dictators Hold Grudges

“To choose one’s victims, to prepare one’s plans minutely, to slake an implacable vengeance, and then to go to bed — there is nothing sweeter in the world.”
This was Stalin, talking about his hobbies. The “victims” he’s referring to are the ministers and generals he chose to run the Soviet Union.
The turn-over on Stalin’s staff was high, thanks to regular purges. Stalin’s focus on petty grievances and imagined plots in his administration distracted him from the real threat massing on his border: the Nazis.
Stalin’s disorganized, depleted staff was no match for Hitler when he invaded in 1939.

Party Tip

Want to be a hit at parties? Read more about Stalin.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

My Other Hobby

If you think my hobbies are limited to reading about 1930s world history, writing poems to trade magazines, and thinking about maritime disasters, think again. I also enjoy cross stitching.

Here are some of my favorites.

This is the first in what I hope will become a series of safety-icon cross stitches. I call it "Corrosive."

 This one is called "Abu Ghraib." I did it back in 2003, when the story about torture at the notorious prison, where people were kept for years without charges, broke.

Maybe I was thinking something deep about persecution based on religion, but I think I was just struck by the form of the image of the man on the box, wires attached to his outstretched arms.

It seemed archetypal to me back then, like it referenced something more than what it was.

This one is called "Jesus," because it's an image of Jesus.

I'm very sad that I can't find the finished cross-stitch of this pattern.

The pictures and detail I left the same, but instead of the words you see, I substituted "Happen Is Happen" (above the blue flowers) and "Pee Is Pee" (above the beehive)

This was a sort of motto for me for a while. Sadie's dad was a cab driver in NYC for 13 years, and used to tell the story of an Indian cab driver he knew who, whatever befell him, would shrug his shoulders and say "Happen is happen."

If he got mugged? Stiffed? Splashed with filthy water? "Happen is happen."

Then, many years later, I took a rug into the dry cleaners to see if it could be saved. It had been stored in an outbuilding for years and was filthy. The Indian man behind the counter asked me when I brought it in, "Something has peed on this rug?"

"Yes," I said. "A cat." It occurred to me that I really had no idea what had peed on the rug while it was in the outbuilding. Why was I so sure it was a cat? It could have been anything. Would this make a difference? Like, with what kind of chemicals he might use to clean it?

"Actually," I said. "It might not have been a cat. It could have been a dog. Or even a raccoon. Does that make a difference?"

The man patted my hand so kindly and said "Pee is pee." I felt so relieved for some reason, like there was nothing at all to worry about.

So: Happen Is Happen. Pee Is Pee.

Finally, this is my favorite one. I call it "Doxology."

During the time that I was working on this one, I took my co-worker to get a colonoscopy (and it wasn't even Take Your Co-Worker to Get A Colonoscopy Day!).

I had about 3 hours to sit in a waiting room before my friend was done, so I pulled out this project and got to work.

With me in the waiting room were four elderly ladies, probably waiting on their husbands. They were in their late 70s, it seemed like, and as soon as they saw that I, a young whippersnapper, was engaged in a lost womanly art, they became very friendly and talkative.

"Oh, that's so nice, dear," said one of them. "I did not think any young people were interested in that anymore."

"Oh yes," I said. "I love to cross stitch!"

They cooed about this for a while and then another one said, "What is it?"

"The Doxology," I said.

This really got them going. Here is a young person at the gastroenterologist's office, and instead of snapchatting or planning to cohabitate with someone, she's cross-stitching the Doxology! Maybe the world will be OK after all! They all jumped up to come and look, and that's when things went awry.

I have and always have had letter-color synesthesia, a harmless condition where I "see" letters and numbers in color. Here are the results of my synesthesia test, if you don't believe me:

So, technically, I was stitching the Doxology, but instead of representing it using the letters of the prayer, I was doing the colors I see when I look at, think about, or sing it. Like this:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heavenly host
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost

Interestingly, two days ago Merrill was screaming and Sadie turned to me and said "That is such a blue scream." Huh.

That's it! I'll post more as I finish them.