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Death of Stalin and National Absinthe Day

Well, what’ya know? March. Still winter, still snowing in the Great Lakes, probably. But, the world still turns. This is short today because I have snow to shovel in mid-January, and a schedule to keep.

But 5 March is to be commemorated for many things, among them Henry VII of England commissioning John Cabot to explore the new world on 5 March 1498, which by sheer coincidence would be mapped by Gerardus Mercator, who was born in Belgium on the same day in 1512. And speaking of the world and its shape (sort of), Nicolaus Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus was placed on the Codex of the Vatican’s forbidden works on 5 February 1616. The first American temperance law was passed in Virginia on 5 March 1623. On 5 March 1836, Samuel Colt made his first pistol, the “Texas” model. On 5 March 1933, the NSDAP came out on top in the last German elections before 1954; on the same day, the forerunner of IBM was formed in New York. And today is also Cheese Doodle Day, and National Split Personality Day (for whatever reason). But today we’re going to talk about a monster and some really potent booze.

There’s been a great deal written about Stalin…a great deal more after his 5 March 1853 death. One of the most extraordinary things about his legacy is that he may have lived a few more years if he hadn’t been so feared in his lifetime. After 1950 his physical health was deteriorating, and, according to some, so was his mental state. He spent most of 1950 and 1951 on vacation. In 1952 one of his doctors suggested he retire, which started a purge of the medical profession in the Soviet Union until his death. However, he seemed to realize that he was on his last legs in 1952: his last book, The Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, was an attempt to provide guidance for the Soviet Union after his death.

On 1 March 1953, some of his staff found Stalin on the floor of his cottage, unconscious. No one had seen or heard from him for three days before that, but no one had the courage to knock on his door: he may have had his stroke days earlier, and might have been saved. His surviving children were summoned to his death-couch, witnessing the administration of various medicaments and leeches. Stalin never woke up and died on 5 March 1953. He was embalmed and shown off for three days in Red Square. An autopsy half two and a half months later revealed severe atherosclerosis. There have been rumors that he was assassinated, but he was so sick any such effort would have been pointless, and even paranoid Russia never looked for any potential murderers.

Today is National Absinthe Day in the United States, legalized again in the US in 2007. The National day is 5 March because Pernod, one of several vendors, finalized its label on this day in 2014. Go figure.

Anyway, for those of you who don’t know, absinthe is a thick distilled high-alcohol content spirit made from wormwood and anise, among other things. It was banned in much of the world for some time beginning in the early 20th century, its supposedly addictive and even psychoactive properties being held as dangerous. The stuff is usually poured over sugar on a “spoon” that is more properly called a sieve (see above) and lit, merely to heat it.

Personally, I’ve never had it, but I have seen it consumed, and I have to say…so what? Liquor doesn’t appeal to me much, anyway, and if you have to add sugar just to make it palatable (as aficionados have it), um…what makes it so wonderful?

Eh, different strokes, I guess. Come around and see us at JDBCOM.COM sometime.