Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Archive for December 20, 2013

Roza Shanina, a female Soviet sniper who fought in World War II and got 54 confirmed hits. Allied newspapers called her, “the unseen terror of East Prussia.”

“The essence of my happiness is fighting for the happiness of others. It’s strange, why is it that in grammar, the word “happiness” can only be singular? That is counter to its meaning, after all. … If it turns necessary to die for the common happiness, then I’m ready to.” -Roza Shanina


Roza Shanina was a Soviet sniper during World War II, credited with fifty-four confirmed hits, including twelve soldiers during the Battle of Vilnius. Praised for her shooting accuracy, Shanina was capable of precisely hitting moving enemy personnel and making doublets (two target hits by two rounds fired in quick succession). She volunteered to serve as a marksman on the front line.

Allied newspapers described Shanina as “the unseen terror of East Prussia”. She became the first Soviet female sniper to be awarded the Order of Glory and was the first servicewoman of the 3rd Belorussian Front to receive it. Shanina was killed in action during the East Prussian Offensive while shielding the severely wounded commander of an artillery unit.

She was, as the Russians say, a terrifying Nazi slaughtering badass.


Buddhist Monk Thich Quang Duc protests for Buddhist rights by self immolation, 1963.


Basically, in the mid 1950s Ngô Đình Diệm rigged the election in south Vietnam and proclaimed that he was president. The U.S. supported this dude because he was anti-communist. Under his ‘rule’ a bunch of communists were rounded up and killed or imprisoned. Diem was also Catholic and not happy that 90% of Vietnam was Bhuddist. So he instigated a large number of discriminatory policies against Bhuddists, such as forced labor, increased taxes, reduced aid. Stuff like that & worse. Well, the U.S. continued to support this guy because he did what they wanted and they didn’t feel too worried about the religious discrimination. The Vietcong formed and began to start a civil war against Diem and they had a lot of support. Thich Quang Duc was a Bhuddist monk who saw what was happening and he knew it was wrong. He knew that there was no hope for South Vietnam if it remained so divided. He recognized that fighting against his countrymen for peace was absurd. So, in order to make his message ‘we can’t be successful if we persecute one another’ and ‘compassion and sacrifice are better than fighting’ be heard, he volunteered to self immolate in front of the Cambodian embassy in Saigon. His message though, was about the Vietnam war and every other war, it was about conflict, religious equality, acceptance, love, understanding, peace, and proving that he meant what he said, that peace is worth dying for.

Here is what he had to say before his death:

“Before closing my eyes and moving towards the vision of the Buddha, I respectfully plead to President Ngo Dinh Diem to take a mind of compassion towards the people of the nation and implement religious equality to maintain the strength of the homeland eternally. I call the venerables, reverends, members of the sangha and the lay Buddhists to organise in solidarity to make sacrifices to protect Buddhism.”

The BBC page has an excellent witness report: The Death of Thich Quang Duc

Parents march in support of their LGBT kids, New York City, 1974

Amazing how in 1974, when a celebrity or athlete coming out was unthinkable, to have parents in that day and age showing such support for their children. This picture illustrates not only common sense in loving a child who's gay, but also immense courage in that time period.

Amazing how in 1974, when a celebrity or athlete coming out was unthinkable, to have parents in that day and age showing such support for their children. This picture illustrates not only common sense in loving a child who’s gay, but also immense courage in that time period.


Oppression Olympics


Example: comparing the suffering of Native Americans or European Jews. Each group had its own unique challenges and faced its own unique obstacles. Their persecution or repression evolved from vastly different trends and motivations in society. Short of the objective fact that being considered a piece of property and not a human being is one of the most dehumanizing and traumatic acts it is possible to impose on a person, it is better to look at, in my opinion, a broad struggle for equality within an impersonal legal framework supported by variously motivated establishment figures. Otherwise, you risk obscuring the suffering and struggles of one group because group X had it worse.

So, to conclude, certain acts may have been undeniably worse or more repressive, but to compare them to other groups is of dubious merit and risks starting a meaningless and historically irrelevant competition.

Drake Passage, Palmer Peninsula, Antarctica


"I know way too many penguins here right now that I didn't know last winter, who the honk are y'all?"

“I know way too many penguins here right now that I didn’t know last winter, who the honk are y’all?”

Photo by Yva Momatiuk and John Eastcott. The rest of the gallery is pretty awesome as well.

Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan was probably the most well-known scientist of the 1970s and 1980s. He studied extraterrestrial intelligence, advocated for nuclear disarmament, and co-wrote and hosted 'Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.'

Carl Sagan was probably the most well-known scientist of the 1970s and 1980s. He studied extraterrestrial intelligence, advocated for nuclear disarmament, and co-wrote and hosted ‘Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.’

Astronomer Carl Sagan was born on November 9, 1934, in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from the University of Chicago, where he studied planets and explored theories of extraterrestrial intelligence. He was named director of Cornell’s Laboratory for Planetary Studies in 1968 and worked with NASA on several projects. An anti-nuclear activist, Sagan introduced the idea of “nuclear winter” in 1983. He wrote one novel, several books and academic papers and the TV series Cosmos, which was reborn on TV in 2014, before his 1996 death.

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Early Years:

Carl Sagan was born on November 9, 1934, in Brooklyn, New York, the first of two children. Sagan’s interest in astronomy began early on, and when he was five his mother sent him to the library to find books on the stars. Soon after, his parents took him to the New York World’s Fair, where visions of the future piqued his interest further. He also quickly became a fan of the prevalent 1940s science-fiction stories in pulp magazines and was drawn in by reports of flying saucers that suggested extraterrestrial life.

Sagan graduated high school in 1951 at age 16 and headed to the University of Chicago, where experiments he conducted drove his fascination with the possibility of alien life. In 1955 Sagan graduated with a BA in physics, and he took his master’s a year later. Four years later, Sagan moved to California after obtaining a PhD in astronomy and astrophysics, landing at the University of California, Berkeley, as a fellow in astronomy. There, he helped a team develop an infrared radiometer for NASA’s Mariner 2 robotic probe.


Further Work With NASA and Fringe Science:

The 1960s found Sagan at Harvard University and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, where his work centered on the physical conditions of the planets, particularly those of Venus and Jupiter. In 1968 Sagan became the director of Cornell University’s Laboratory for Planetary Studies, and three years later he became a full professor. Working again with NASA, Sagan helped choose where the Viking probes would touch down on Mars and helped craft the messages from Earth that were sent out with the Pioneer and Voyager probes sent beyond our solar system.

While still in his 30s, Sagan began speaking out on a range of fringe issues, issues that would gain him much attention, such as the feasibility of interstellar flight, the idea that aliens visited the Earth thousands of years ago and that creatures resembling “gas bags” live high in Venus’ atmosphere. He also testified before Congress during this period about UFOs, which had captured the minds of the newspaper-reading populous, and proposed terraforming Venus into a habitable world.


The Rare Celebrity Scientist:

In 1968, now a well-known quantity in the scientific realm, Sagan briefly served as a consultant on the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey, although a clash of personalities ensured the gig was short-lived. In the 1970s and 1980s, Sagan was the most well-known scientist in the United States, helped in no small part by the books he wrote. Works such as The Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective (1973), Other Worlds (1975), The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence (1977; Pulitzer Prize winner) and his 1985 novel, Contact (made into a film starring Jodie Foster in 1997), all grabbed the attention of the scientific community and general audiences.


Later Career:

In 1980, Sagan co-founded the Planetary Society, an international nonprofit organization focusing on space exploration, and also launched the hugely influential TV series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which he wrote and hosted. He also wrote a companion book of the same name to accompany the series. Another of his famous works, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994), was the sequel to Cosmos and was inspired by the famous Pale Blue Dot photograph, which shows Earth as a mere speck in space. Sagan uses the Voyager 1 probe photo as a leaping-off point to discus humanity’s place in the vast universe and his vision of the future.

Sagan used his status, both as a celebrity and scientist, to further his political goals, and he undertook a campaign for nuclear disarmament and was a vocal opponent of President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. In 1983 he co-wrote a paper that introduced the concept of “nuclear winter” followed the next year by his co-authored book The Cold and the Dark: The World After Nuclear War.

Over the course of Sagan’s career, he was honored several times, notably receiving NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal (1977, 1981) and the National Academy of Sciences’ Public Welfare Medal (1994), among dozens of others.

He died of pneumonia, a complication of the bone-marrow disease myelodysplasia, on December 20, 1996, at age 62.


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Spectators standing upon couches, tables and chairs to get even a glimpse of the Versailles Treaty being signed, France, 1919

I like the guy on the far left. Keeping it classy with that cane.

I like the guy on the far left. Keeping it classy with that cane.

Here’s Sir James Headlam-Morley’s account on the signing:

“There was very little ceremony or dignity. The plenipotentiaries all walked in casually with the crowd… When they were all seated, the German delegates were brought in; they passed close to me; they looked like prisoners being brought in for sentence… The Gernabs signed first and then all the other delegates… When the signing was finished, the session was closed, and the Germans were escorted out again like prisoners who had received their sentence. Nobody got up or took any notice of them, and there was no suggestion that, the peace having been signed, any change of attitude was to be begun. Looking back, the whole impression seems to me, from a political point of view, to be disastrous… As a matter of fact, what was really being done was not merely to make peace with germany, but to sign the Covenant of the Leage of Nations, but of this no one seemed to think… Just the necessary note of reconciliation, of hope, of a change of view, was entirely wanting.”

Source: Osiander, A. (1995). The States System of Europe, 1640-1990: Peacekeeping and the Conditions of International Stability. New York: Oxford University Press. Page 304.


Nazi rally in the Cathedral of Light c. 1937

Hugo Boss really knew how to do uniforms.

Hugo Boss really knew how to do uniforms.

The sense of pageantry is awe inspiring. I guess that was the whole point. Kinda hard to sell a nation on horrific anti-Semitism and other forms of genocide with a mere town hall meeting.


Buried alive?



Patents are usually not very exciting. In these legal documents, the government outlines the rights a person has over his invention, while the inventor discloses how his invention works. Patent no. 268,693 from 5 December 1882, however, shown here in its original form, is a lot of fun. It concerns a “Device for Indicating Life in Buried Persons,” which was filed under “Coffins: Life Signals” (see the red stamp). Yes, it’s a machine that shouts “Help, I’m not dead!” for you when you are prematurely placed six feet under. The accompanying description, obtained via Google Patents, explains how it works:

“If the person buried should come to life, a motion of his hands will turn the branches of the T-shaped pipe B, upon or near which his hands are placed. […] The cover E will turn and the index will show on the scale that it has been turned. If the person should turn in the coffin or make a violent motion, he will push the pipe B upward and push the cover off the top of the box. A supply of air enters the coffin through the pipe and will keep him alive till help arrives.”

It’s simplicity itself: make a movement in your coffin and a pipe is pushed up, which lets in oxygen and moves a scale on the surface (“above the turf”) so that it indicates that you are, in fact, still alive. Best thing of all? It is recyclable. States the same description: “When the person has been buried a sufficiently long time to insure the certainty of death, the apparatus may be removed”.

Pic: from this government archive; the original patent description is found here.

Female snipers of the Soviet 3rd Shock Army. Bottom Row, left to right: 20, 80, and 83 confirmed kills. Second row: 24, 79, 70. Third row: 70, 89, 89, 83. Top row: 64 and 24 confirmed kills. Germany, May 4, 1945.

775 confirmed kills in one picture

775 confirmed kills in one picture

The deadliest female sniper in the Russian army, Lyudmila Pavlichenko, had over 300 confirmed kills.

tumblr_m8kc0v1bFP1rc7erjo1_500Pavlichenko knew that shooting human beings would be difficult for her and for the first few days on the battlefield she couldn’t bring herself to fire. That all changed that day when a German shot a young Russian soldier near her. “He was such a nice, happy boy,” she said. “And he was killed just next to me. After that, nothing could stop me.”

Russian Soldiers at the Battle of Stalingrad, 1943.

"If we go the other way our government will shoot us"

“If we go the other way our government will shoot us”

This photo was staged for propaganda purposes, like many other Soviet World War II photos. (This photo was made after the encirclement of the German Sixth Army.)