Joseph Stalin and the curse of the blue elephant

first_imgSince Stalin’s purges and since the fall of communism, Buryat shamanism has been rediscovered and reinvented, in some ways for the better. To make up for the loss of historical continuity, practitioners have constructed ever more elaborate stories of their origins.Humphrey tells of one modern Buryat who claims descent from 42 shamans on his mother’s side, and from the 12th Dalai Lama and Attila the Hun on his father’s side. All Buryats claim ultimate descent from a sky-god called Father Bald Head, through one of his three daughters, a swan.The Buryat myths have a pleasing ring about them, and they are no more fanciful than the lore of better-known religions. As for the attempt to diminish Stalin’s guilt by blaming his crimes on a blue elephant’s curse, that would not be my own choice of argument. But it makes more sense to me than the claim, heard elsewhere in Russia, that Stalin was a great man whose crimes were not that bad in the first place. Robert Cottrell is Central Europe correspondent for The Economist. The protest comes in response to Latvia’s calls for Russia to reappraise the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which preceded the Second World War and the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States which followed it. “We will give those Balts hell,” one of the organisers promises.Personally, I am disappointed. Not so much because I think the Latvians are right, which I do, but because I would have expected the Buryats to come up with something more picturesque than shouting and vodka.After all, Buryatia is one of the weirdest places on earth, home to a cult of shamanic Buddhism merging pantheist deities and rituals with Buddhist practice. The supreme divinity is the Eternal Blue Sky, beneath which flourish 99 lesser Tengri, or spirits, 44 of them spiteful and 55 good. They include the four Tengri of the compass points, the five Tengri of the wind, the seven Tengri of the thunder, and Erlig Khan the Tengri of the Dead. With a cosmology like that at their back, the Buryats might have managed something more awe-inspiring than a rubber doll for this special occasion. Even if Erlig Khan the Tengri of the Dead is otherwise engaged, one or two of the Tengri of thunder could surely have come and rumbled.On the other hand, perhaps the Buryats’ hearts are not quite in it. Like Latvia, Buryatia suffered terribly under Stalin. Buryats were deported and murdered, their monasteries closed.According to Carolyn Humphrey, a lecturer in anthropology at Cambridge University, Buryat villagers later explained Stalin’s crimes to themselves by means of a myth depicting the Soviet leader as the third reincarnation of a blue elephant which had first lived in ancient India.The elephant was worked to death in the building of a Buddhist temple, without so much as a word of blessing from the local lama. It swore to destroy Buddhism three times in future lives. Stalin was the last of those lives, say the Buryats.Humphrey showed how this myth allowed the Buryats to see Stalin as a wise and even a religious man. He had accumulated great merit in his first life as the blue elephant. He was attacking the Buryats almost despite himself, bound by the elephant’s curse.last_img read more

The Fault in our star: Manny Machado

first_imgMaybe Saturday’s mini-meltdown at the plate, after being called out on strikes was due to the fact that Machado’s coping skills are late to the develop, given the fact that he’s a mere 21-years-and-11-months old.  But how to you explain the multiple smacks to A’s catcher Derek Norris’ head?.  Perhaps Friday night’s incident, when Machado felt he was improperly tagged too roughly by his third base counterpart, Josh Donaldson, was an overreaction from a young and fiery alpha male who just can’t control his own competitiveness.Let’s be honest here–what kind of upstanding human being pops another in the head with a bat and doesn’t so much as glance to see if he’s conscious, angry, happy, or dead?What kind of person actually cracks a smile at the possibility of injuring a fellow competitor?  And, if your answer to those few questions is rooted in a semblance of decency, you have to ask yourself, what kind of player–more importantly–what kind of person is Manny Machado?After nearly being hit by A’s pitcher Fernando Abad in the 8th inning on Sunday, Machado decided to retaliate on the ensuing pitch.  It’s one thing to charge the mound and posture a bit, it’s another to send a nearly three-foot piece of solid lumber dangerously and violently tomahawking through the air.Some die-hard Orioles’ fans, blinded by the brightness of Machado’s ability and value to the franchise and the city’s sports realm, will buy the “it slipped” excuse.  But to anyone with a half-shred of common sense, it only takes one review of the highlight reel to reveal that the bat-fling was certainly not a result of poorly applied pine tar.Since Friday night’s run-in with Donaldson, Machado had an agenda.  He wanted to cause problems in the name of revenge and retaliation; he had the malicious desire to inflict pain no matter what the severity of potential collateral damage.  Alas, the only damage he did was to himself.A current Google search of “Manny Machado” will feature descriptions laced with words like “punk” and “thug.”  Message boards on blogs are calling for his suspension and referring to him in terms that aren’t becoming of one of Major League Baseball’s brightest commodities.  Sports fans have lost respect for a player who barely had enough time to even earn it in the first place.Perhaps that’s just it.  In Baltimore, it’s been easy to fall in love with the idea of Manny Machado.Flashy glove, steady bat, rock-solid fundamentals and instincts to go along with a clean-cut and boyish look–Machado has it all, at least from a physical standpoint.  But the measure of a man and of Baltimore’s own newly-maligned national public enemy, is-and-always-will-be, rooted in character and the maturity to act like a man and carry on like a pro.For now Machado is still a star.  He’ll have chances to fix the faults we’ve witnessed over the past three days.  One way or the other in the coming months and years, Manny is going to be Manny–and for now, there’s no clear-cut answer to what that actually means. Please follow me at @TonyWizTweets Maybe it’s a maturity thing; or maybe it’s just a new type of Manny being Manny situation.Since making his debut in 2012, Manny Machado has been the golden child of the Baltimore sports scene.  Over the last three days, he’s made a strong bid for newly anointed prodigal son.Until this point in his young career, questions surrounding the budding superstar were centered upon whether or not he’s more gifted than Ripken or more fluid than Robinson.  In the wake of his weekend-long mental-meltdown, the questions have more to do with his level or maturity and his makeup as a young man.Certainly not the type of debate and national backlash that anyone in Baltimore–outside of perhaps, Buck Showalter–was prepared to defend.Showalter’s defense of Machado’s actions, especially his statement about Machado “handling it better than someone with experience,” is laughable at best, pitiful at worst.  But that’s a debate for another day.  Today, right now, Machado is center stage–and he will be for the next few days, as Major League Baseball is likely to suspend him for multiple games after reviewing his weekend conduct.Let’s digress, thoughlast_img read more