WEEKEND BRIEFINGWeekend Potpourri
Dec. 19 - There's finally a light at the end of the tunnel.
December 21 is the Winter Solstice. The Winter Solstice is the time of year when the sun is the furthest away from the Earth. It is therefore a good time to do things you wouldn't want the sun to hear about. The Pagans, for example, wisely celebrate their Yule holiday on the Winter Solstice.
The Winter Solstice also heralds the beginning of winter, which scientists define as "the season that begins on the Winter Solstice."
Most importantly, it marks the point at which days will begin having more rather than less light. I like that. I like it a lot. I haven't started chewing furniture or talking to spirits, but all this Scandinavian darkness certainly has been getting to me. I don't know if the Danes use it, but I've come up with a phrase of my own for describing the brief daily allotment of sunshine we've been receiving the last few weeks: I call it my "lunch hour."
Here comes the sun! May I be cursed with insomnia soon!
Lots of work and Christmas stuff underway, to say nothing of other issues that will have to be deferred for discussion on a later date, so an old-fashioned weekend Almanac follows.
Josif Djugashvili was born in the Gori District of Tiflis Province in Georgia, Imperial Russia, on December 21, 1879. His father was a drunken and often unemployed cobbler, illiterate, and like Josif's mother, Ekaterina, had only been emancipated from serfdom in 1864. Papa Djugashvili was a violent man, and often beat little Josif, whose left arm was permanently injured in a childhood "accident." Josif was also afflicted by small pox at the age of five, scarring his face with a crosshatching of pockmarks.
To say that the cobbler's son had no shoes would be the grossest of understatements.
At the Gori Elementary School, little Joey Djugashvili was unexceptional in terms of grade point average, aptitude, and physical education. His self-esteem was in tatters. He was a moody, sullen boy, but even in the benighted educational environment of nineteenth century Imperial Russia, his teachers knew that beneath his brooding exterior there beat the heart of a wounded, frightened child.
"Joey only needed a little encouragement," one teacher recalled in an interview published shortly before her disappearance. "He'd never speak up in class, but if you took the time to talk to him one-on-one he'd open up like a flower."
Another teacher recalled Djugashvili's difficult home life. "His parents never came to our Meet the Faculty suppers," the pedagogue reflected from his cell not long before his execution. "So I visited his home on several occasions. His mother was not very affectionate, but his father was a brute and a tyrant and would only address him as 'dumb-ass.' You knew even then that the cards were stacked against the poor kid."
His peers taunted him mercilessly at school, and his high school class voted him "most likely to die alone and unloved." But one cannot help but be startled by the Djugashvili staring out from the photograph in his high school yearbook (today's feature photo). The overall look is haunted, but even then there could be seen the galvanization of will, the hardening of determination, that in a few short years the world would learn to know and fear as Josif Stalin.
One can only feel pity for this troubled soul, this poor, sweet child who never wanted anything more than a little love and attention. Even as one watches the same old familiar footage of a laughing Stalin quaffing a martini while marching over a path paved with human skulls, even then if one looks closely one can see the eyes of the child he once was: frightened, sad, and alone.
Was Little Joe truly a wellspring of bloody malevolence, or was he perhaps a victim himself, a frightened and insecure little boy who wanted nothing more than a little approval and a few kind words? It's easy to hold him responsible for the thirty to forty-five million deaths that occurred on his watch, but was it really all his fault? Can we not properly lay some, if not all, of the responsibility for the sins of the son on the deeds of the father?
Perhaps a little love could have gone a long way. Or a little Ritalin. Either way.
The Moron's Almanac hopes that parents everywhere will give their children a little extra love and attention and medication this holiday season, because the world needs another little Joe like I need a samovar up my ass.
On December 20, 1802, the United States bought the Louisiana Territory from France. The wisdom of this purchase was not fully appreciated at first but after Mardi Gras it was warmly embraced. (It was not for nothing that Thomas Jefferson collected beads.)
An Unlikely Pedagogue
Adolf Hitler was released from prison on December 20, 1924, after serving less than one year of his five-year treason sentence. Hitler became a prolific author while in prison, where he penned the infamous political autobiography Mein Kampf ("How I Intend to Enslave or Kill Millions of People Immediately Upon My Release").
Hitler also used his prison time to outline a series of children's books, but sadly they have been lost to history as a result of his having chosen to pursue a path of demonic world conquest instead of pedagogical literature. One can only wonder what sort of success Hitler would have experienced with titles such as The Little Engine That Was Betrayed by Usurous Jewss, Where the Wild Things Are and How to Eliminate Them, and Every Little Aryan Child's Bedtime Book of Insidious Evil and Global Domination.
The pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock on December 21, 1620. Their boat was the Mayflower. They wore black and white clothes with big shiny buckles. They made friends with Squanto and had Thanksgiving.
On December 19, 1562, the French Wars of Religion between the Huguenots and the Catholics began with the Battle of Dreux.
The Huguenots were the merry sailors that sailed as Jason's crew on the Hugo, and French Catholics persecuted them because they carried Golden Fleas. Earlier in 1562, the Duck of Guise had massacred a thousand praying Huguenots while passing through Vassy.
This was considered bad form, even from a Duck, and led to enemies. The "Wars of Religion" lasted for more than thirty years as the Huguenots and Catholics fought to determine for once and for all whose was The One True Faith.
Sadly, the Edict of Nantes granted religious tolerance in 1598 and the question was never settled to anyone's satisfaction. Readers may take solace in the fact that we stand on the brink of a bold new wave of religious wars which will either establish the One True Faith for once and for all or leave the earth in smoldering ruins.
Birthdays and So On
Alyssa Milano turns 31 on December 19. She shares her birthday with Jessica Steen (1965), Jennifer Beals (1963), Daryl Hannah (1960), Robert Urich (1946), Richard Leakey (1944), Cicely Tyson (1933), David Susskind (1920), Edith Piaf (1915), Leonid Brezhnev (1906), Sir William Parry (1790), and Philip V of Spain (1683).
December 20 is the birthday of Anita Baker (1957), Uri Geller (1946), Irene Dunne (1898), Harvey Firestone (1868), Samuel Mudd (1813), and Branch Ricky (1881).
December 21 is the birthday of Florence Griffith Joyner (1959), Chris Evert (1954), Samuel L. Jackson (1948), Frank Zappa (1940), Jane Fonda (1937), Phil Donahue (1935), Paul Winchell (1922), Kurt Waldheim (1918), Joshua Gibson (1911), "Little Joey" Stalin (1879), and Benjamin Disraeli (1804).
The 19th is Separation Day in Anguilla, so don't get too attached to any Anguillans.
Enjoy the weekend!
© 2003, The Moron's Almanac