Is Elon Musk Rasputin or Cosmo Kramer?


How many of us thought we would not live long enough to see the mind-blowing innovations displayed in countless sci-fi movies? How many of us thought we’d live to see portable communication devices that we could put in our pocket? How many of us considered self-driving cars and vision phones where we could see the person on the other end of the line? How many of us thought we’d have a computer in just about every home? How many of us thought with all these wild innovations that defied boundaries that we would all be wearing silver suits while watching TV, mowing the lawn, or doing the dishes in the distant year 2000? If you watched movies or TV during the bygone era, you knew these were the visions of life on Earth in the future.

Photo courtesy of American Conservative

How many of us now laugh when we picture our deceased relatives trying to figure out how to use our current innovative gadgets? Our generation now knows that these sci-fi movies portrayed life in the 2000s correctly in some ways and incorrectly in others, but one thing they were right about is we know more technological innovation than our forebears did. Even the generation below us is more accustomed to life with such innovation than we were. Walk into any junior high in the country and you’ll witness work in robotics that is no longer speculative. You’ll also witness the work they do with computers that belies the fact that they are so accustomed to computers being a facet of human life that they’ve worked through any intimidation they might have had with the machines a decade before junior high. The question now is are we so accustomed to technological innovation that we’re more open to wild, crazy ideas than every generation before us, and are we so open to it that we leave ourselves susceptible to the possibilities of more from an ingenious charlatan?

The early 1900’s were another period of great innovation. Individuals such as Nikola Tesla and Henry Ford were at the forefront of innovations that intimidated most of their populations. How many of them had a difficult time initially conceiving of the extent of man’s capabilities? How many people thought the advancements made in medicine alone bordered on the heretical? How many of them feared that “modern medicine” was coming close to messing with God’s plan when it came to prolonging life? As the people of that era attempted to come to grips with the advancements man was making in the fields of automation and medicine, the image of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam must’ve danced in their head. Over time, the people of this era became more open to mankind’s ability to make life easier and better for their fellow man through advancement, but were they so open to these ideas that they became more susceptible to proclamations of a charlatan?

Some say the time Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin spent on farms in small, obscure parts of Russia may have helped him understand the healing properties of some natural medicines better than most. Some say that he might have learned hypnosis techniques elsewhere in life, and he understood how to employ it before most understood it. Others suggest he may have learned autosuggestion techniques that some farmers used to calm their horses, and that Rasputin may have used one or all of these techniques to calm the nerves of the mother of the young heir to the Russian Empire. Whatever the case was, his ability to alieve the young heir of some of the symptoms of bad case of hemophilia was a cause célèbre in the nation of Russia. Some honored the great achievement, and others were in awe of the possibilities of what Rasputin could achieve. Some also fear him with that rationale. The largely ostracized Russians believed Rasputin displayed mystical powers, God-given powers. They thought he was a chosen one, and the Russian Empire gave him an influential role in the empire as a result. Some say that this precipitated the decline of the Russian Empire, but others say that implosion was inevitable.

Is Elon Musk our nation’s modern day Rasputin? Rasputin cloaked his rise in mystical wonderment, and Musk drapes himself in the speculative questions of what a genius in the field of technological innovation can achieve. Both men also used their newfound status to make wildly ambitious claims to cause the citizens of their nation to hold them in speculative wonder.

Columnist Norm Singleton paints a far less provocative portrait of Musk in his, Elon Musk is the Cosmo Kramer of Crony Capitalism” column. In it, Mr. Singleton details the wildly ambitious ideas Elon Musk and his fictional counterpart relayed to their respective audience. The difference between the two, of course, is that Cosmo Kramer never received the federal grants the taxpayer has given Mr. Musk to pursue his wildly ambitious ideas. Another difference, and one Mr. Singleton does not explore, is that Mr. Musk has achieved some results that have established him as a certified genius. He founded X.com, which later became PayPal. He has an admirable record of accomplishment at SpaceX and Tesla, and he has a list of accomplishments that no one can deny. Singleton’s column does not focus on that list of accomplishment, but it does challenge the current resume of Elon Musk in a manner that no politician dare explore by asking if Musk’s current accomplishments align with the continued, all too generous federal and state grants he receives. Some might argue that Musk is not a charlatan, because of those accomplishments, and because he actually believes in all of his ideas, but Cosmo Kramer believed his ideas too, and so did Rasputin.

Somewhere on the road to technological innovation, someone (likely a politician) convinced us that if our nation is fortunate enough to house a certifiable genius, we’re going to have to pay for the innovations he creates to make our lives easier and better. We’re not talking about paying for the final product of ingenuity at the proverbial cash register either, though there are some on the consumer end who don’t understand that concept. (They think the corporate responsibility suggests that all online innovation should be free.) We’re talking about taxpayers funding the creative process of the bona fide genius. For those who haven’t read as much as I have about the creative process, artists love to talk about it almost as much as they love creating. They love to talk about their influences, the structured method they used to bring their product to life, and the future projects they have in store for us. If someone were to pay these artists for such talk alone, I think most artists would give up the painstaking process of actual creation and opt for the life of describing their process instead.

Filing for government grants has been around for as long as I’ve been alive, and as one who has never filed for a grant, I will admit ignorance on this topic, but I would think that success in field of receiving successive grants requires constant proof of success on the part of the artist. Enter the technological genius. Many consider Elon Musk the rare innovative genius who should not have to worry about pesky concerns like money. Politicians, specifically, appear to believe that Musk should not have to provide continued results for continued money, apparently, for demanding as much from a technological innovator that promises breakthroughs in science, would be tantamount to career suicide for them.

Norm Singleton concludes his piece by saying that the best thing we could do for Elon Musk is to cut off all government funding for his ventures. Those who believe the concept that if we want technological innovation, we’re going to have to pay for the process, have never heard the quote, “The best we’ll ever see from an individual often occurs shortly after they’ve been backed into a corner.” Those who think the removal of financial support damages the creative process might want to go back and read that quote again. The politician who sticks their neck out to remove federal funding from Elon Musk would risk insulting Elon Musk, and Musk’s lobbying group might mortally wound that politician, but that insult might inspire Musk to prove the politician wrong, and that motivation might drive him to pursue greater profits as a result. Cutting him off from all state and federal funding might also force him to be a more traditional CEO, in that he would be more accountable to disgruntled shareholders, more cognizant of his companies’ profit margins, and it might force him to be more of a results-oriented man and less of a theoretical idea man.

I think Mr. Singleton has a great idea, but in order for his idea to work, he would need to find a significant number of politicians who have the fortitude to say no to an established genius in the field of technological innovation. That politician would also have to fight Musk’s powerful lobbying groups and the stigma of the “against science” label. No, Elon Musk carved out an enviable place by being an established genius. He has also developed an enviable formula for all artistic geniuses to follow. Once a person has established themselves as a bona fide genius (no easy feat to be sure) all that genius has to do is develop some ideas for wildly ambitious projects on a semi-annual basis to achieve headlines in major newspapers that no politician can ignore. Their projects may never see the light of day, but they will secure nonstop funding from easily intimidated politicians.

It may be a gross exaggeration to insinuate that the brilliant, innovative Elon Musk might be a charlatan, but when it comes to securing such regular, enormous chunk of the taxpayer’s hard-earned dollars, we the people, and our representatives, should hold the prospective recipient guilty until proven innocent.

I may be alone in this regard now, as those in charge of allocating our tax dollars appear unafraid of defying logic, but I hold an achievement devoid government funding in higher regard. As former president, Calvin Coolidge said shortly before his demise, “I feel I no longer fit in with these times.” Perhaps I no longer fit in with these times, but if an entrepreneur states that his or her project made it to the marketplace based on individual ingenuity and sheer grit, I respect that accomplishment more. I also appreciate the effort it takes to pound the pavement and secure private funding, but the Elon Musk methods of convincing a bunch of politicians to part ways with other people’s money seems far too beneficial to all parties involved and way too easy.

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Rasputin III: Rasputin’s Murder


“They tried stabbing him, poisoning him, beating him, shooting him five times, and they even tried drowning him,” a history teacher said, “but a Russian peasant named Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin refused to die.”

This provocative introduction to a chapter in Russian history left a sophomore class of boys spellbound. The teacher went onto detail how this Russian peasant climbed the ladder of Russia’s otherwise strict class structure to provide some influence on the Romanov empire. The teacher described how Rasputin’s reputation for having mystical, healing powers precipitated an ascension into power in the empire. The teacher also stated that some believed his powers bordered on the supernatural, and how this speculation led some to call him “The Mad Monk”. 

This history teacher, unlike the many I’ve had since, was a gifted storyteller. He laid that provocative description out there, and he spent the rest of the class detailing the life of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin. As interesting as the tale of Rasputin’s rise was to us, we couldn’t wait for him to conclude the provocative “the man that couldn’t be killed” introduction. It sounded like a real life tale of Jason Voorhees, Freddy Kreuger, or any of the 70s/80s horror movies in which the bad guy could not be killed.   

“The truth of Rasputin’s murder,” counters author Joseph T. Fuhrman, “was not as amazing as the mythology that has surrounded it.”

RasputinWhile it may be true that all of the attempts to kill Rasputin occurred in the manner listed above, it is not true, as my history teacher’s verbal commas suggest, that they all occurred on separate occasions.

It is true that Rasputin was stabbed on one occasion, by a woman without a nose, but that did not prove fatal. He was shot at five times in the course of one night, but two of those shots missed, and two of them penetrated locations that would not have been immediately fatal to any other mortal. It is also true that the conspirators, who would take his life on this fatal night, did try to poison Rasputin, but it’s conceivable that they failed give him a lethal amount of that poison. When the poison failed to produce the immediate results they desired, they panicked, and they began shooting at him, and he did survive, but it wasn’t the real life Freddy Krueger/Jason Voorhees-style resurrection we students imagined. It was more about the location of the shots, on Rasputin’s body, than anything supernatural, or mystical. One of the bullets, Fuhrmann notes –citing autopsies performed on Rasputin’s body– passed through Rasputin’s stomach and liver, and another passed through his kidney. Neither of those bullets proved to be fatal, as they wouldn’t have on any other mere mortal, but they would’ve … given enough time.

In the intervening minutes that occurred after the first shot –that went through his stomach and liver– Rasputin did manage to regain his feet and make a move on his assailant, but all Rasputin ended up doing, was grab his assailant’s shoulder and tear an epaulet off his uniform. He did not, as some speculate, reach up and begin choking his assailant. He grabbed his assailant’s shoulder, tore the epaulet off, began grumbling the assailant’s name, and fled into the snowy night.

While attempting to flee, Rasputin was shot at four more times, two missed, one struck him in the back and traveled through the kidney, and he dropped. The other, the fifth and fatal shot, went through his forehead. Some have it that that final shot occurred from a distance, but the autopsies suggest it was delivered execution-style, due to the gun residue located at the entry point on Rasputin’s forehead. Some autopsies suggest that there was water in Rasputin’s lungs that would suggest that he was alive when he hit the water, as his assailants attempted to drown him after the shooting, but Fuhrmann suggests that the greater evidence disputes that notion and suggests that Rasputin was dead before he hit the water. 

As for my history teacher suggesting that they tried beating him to death, the evidence derived from the post-mortem examination suggest that the bumps and bruises Rasputin received all occurred as a result of a beating his body received after death. The execution-style gun blast to the forehead ended the story of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, but the mythology surrounding the man was just starting. 

This idea that Rasputin was difficult to kill speaks to this very human fear we have of how easy it is to kill a person. Movies and TV shows leave the impression that when a person shoots at us, the bullet almost always finds our most delicate and vulnerable locations, and we’re dead within seconds. The same holds true for an attempt to poison another. When we learn that another does not die as quickly as we fear we might in a similar situation, especially when those facts are presented in a provocative ten second introduction, we immediately assign supernatural qualities to their survival.  

Our teacher also told us that Rasputin’s presumed dead body was thrown in the water, with a stone tied to him, and that the Russians dragged the lake and found the ropes and the stone, but they never found Rasputin’s body. This is not true, but it added a necessary ingredient to the “he who never lives can never die” narrative our history teacher was building. I still don’t know if my teacher was such a great storyteller that he wanted to avoid the facts of his narrative, or if he believed what he was telling us, but the captivating details led me to do some research on Rasputin later that night. 

To those of us who love great stories, and the mythology that grows around them, it was disappointing to learn that Rasputin’s body was as vulnerable to those agents that cause death as anyone else’s. We consider it much more interesting to speculate about the differences between history’s good guys, and bad guys, and how history’s bad guys escape that are which the rest of us are more susceptible. On a certain level, we all know that none of this is true, but it’s more interesting, and fun, to speculate and mythologize an otherwise normal, albeit brutal tale regarding one’s demise by leaving out key details.

The Parables of History

“Those that don’t study history, are doomed to repeat it,” George Santayana said to give history teachers a gift that keeps on giving. 

“All right, but I wouldn’t have fallen for that,” a cynical student of history might say, when learning of Santayana’s quote, in conjunction with some of history’s greatest failings. They might use this mindset in response to the Romanovs’ involvement with Rasputin. “We’re not as hyper-religious as those in the Russian Empire were at the turn of the century, so we’re not going to be as vulnerable to a charlatan who states that he knows scripture backwards and forwards, who states he has God’s ear, and thus gains a Svengali-like hold on the minds of the citizens.”

“As opposed to the messages in modern media, history is replete with charlatans, both religious and non,” that history teacher might respond. “It’s also replete with victims who fail to learn from the mistakes made in history and proceed to repeat the same mistakes when the next charlatan comes along with different promises of something bigger and better. If your takeaway from this lesson is that a charlatan follows a uniform code of conduct, or that you can spot a charlatan by spotting a cross in their ensemble, you’re more likely to become one of history’s next victims.”

“How could they have been so stupid?” will still be on the lips, and in the minds, of these cynical students reading through the history of the Romanov Empire, just as it will be when they learn of the lead up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Now that we know the outcome, we can’t help but feel superior to those that ignored, or misread, all that led up to the great deceptions in history.

Are we superior now, after learning history’s lessons, or will future students of history be shaking their heads, and condemning our generation, for missing all of the undeniable signs of inevitability that led to the terrorist attack on 9/11/01? “How did your generation’s leaders fall for all that?” these future students may ask. “There were so many signs. How could they have been so stupid?”

“All I can tell you,” we may say to that member of another generation studying our history, “is that you have the advantage of hindsight. You weren’t there.”

Other than the rise to influence that Grigori Rasputin attained in the Russian Empire, and the healing of Alexis Romanov at the miracle at Spala, Rasputin’s name is etched into history by the manner in which he was murdered, and the mythology that surrounds it.

The Mythology of the Mad Monk

The lone mythology of the murder of the “Mad Monk” that Fuhrmann willing entertains is the idea that the British Secret Intelligence Service (the BSIS) either organized the plot to kill Rasputin, or they encouraged it. He states that what lends this speculation plausibility is the idea that Britain may have believed that Rasputin was influencing Nicholas II to end Russia’s participation in World War I (WWI).

“Rasputin was not doing this,” Fuhrmann writes, “but Britain may not have known this, and Britain needed (WWI adversary) Germany concentrating at least some of their forces on Russia, until the United States would enter the war.” Fuhrmann further states that “Britain’s Military Intelligence, Section Six, (MI6), promised to publish its files on Rasputin’s murder, but it decided to delay it, we can assume, to avoid cooled relations between Moscow and London.”

Those that portray Rasputin as a towering figure that loomed over the Russian Empire may be putting too much weight in the characterizations put forth by Rasputin fans, and those that seek to characterize the man as a monster for the benefit of their monster stories.

Objective reporters report that Rasputin was 5’9”and thin. They will also tell you that he was born an illiterate peasant, and he died having never achieved what observers would call a well-educated background. Those same reporters will concede that he did make the most of that limited education. They will report that far from being detached from tangible possessions, or status, Rasputin accepted and showed off gifts from the Romanovs and their loyalists with child-like glee. Witnesses characterized this glee as similar to that which a dog may display after receiving treats for performing tricks, and like that dog Rasputin never recognized that the treats were laced with unintended condescension. These objective historians will also report that if Rasputin ever towered over the Russian Empire, in the manner some historians suggest, it was dealt a hefty blow when the girl without a nose stabbed him. Those favorable renditions claim that Rasputin recovered, and they leave it at that to further the mythology surrounding him. Rasputin did recover, but it took a considerable amount of time in which Rasputin could be found wounded, sick, frail, and paranoid from that point forward. In the time he spent healing from his wounds, and in the state of mind he was in in the aftermath, Rasputin lost whatever influence he may have had at one time. Even if all of these objective reports are true, it could still be stated that Rasputin achieved a position that was light years above the station his friends and family in Pokrovskoye ever knew.

The Politics of Grigori Rasputin

Reflecting on the life of Grigori Rasputin, some historians suggest that he was nothing more than a “right place, right time” opportunist that wasn’t as proactive in shaping his story as others suggest. Fuhrmann refutes that by stating that Rasputin exhibited a politician’s ability to make connections, and that he was particularly adept at choosing those connections that would prove most conducive to advancing him into an influential position.

He also managed to persuade those in power, in a political manner, to change his name from Rasputin to Rasputin-Novyi, or “New Rasputin”. The modus operandi for doing this, according to Fuhrmann, was that the name Rasputin carried some negative connotations within the Russian Empire of the day. Rasputin further managed, as some “more adept” modern politicians have done, to persuade those in the Empire to deem it “unethical” for anyone to use his true name. Rasputin later stated that it was never his idea to change his name, but Fuhrmann states that the name change was made as a result of Rasputin’s petition to Tsar Nicholas II. Rasputin also managed to have the Tsarista Alexandra refer to Rasputin, in the letters she wrote of him, with a capital ‘H’ on the pronoun him, a convention of the English language most reserve for God. Thus, it could be said, Rasputin did have some hand in manipulating the legacy we know today, in that he knew how to manipulate his perception in ways the modern culture will when they attempt to soften perceptions of criminals and terrorists with more pleasing terms, even if those calculated manipulations tend to appear inconsequential at the time.

Rasputin’s Legacy and the Clash of History with Subjectivity

“If I die, or you abandon me,” Rasputin is reported to have told Nicholas II, “you will lose your son, and your crown in six months.” 

This has been regarded as an ominous prophecy by Rasputin, based on the fact that the Romanov rule would end seventy-five days after Rasputin’s murder. If one dissects the timeline, however, they realize that once the one that plagued the empire was out of the way, the excuses for the failures of the ruling family would be gone too, and the Romanovs would then become the center of the focus for any of Russia’s failures.

Reading through Joseph T. Fuhrmann’s excellent book Rasputin: The Untold Story, the numerous internet sources on the subject, and watching the Rasputin documentaries on Bio and Discovery, one cannot help but realize how much speculation and uncertainty looms over the events that occurred in the life of Grigori Rasputin. The author/researcher needs to choose between the varying versions of the tale of the man’s life, and they have to sift through the varying opinions of those near contradictory versions.  

The question regarding whether Rasputin had any influence on the Russian empire is uniformly accepted, but how much he had is the source of some speculation. Some regard him as an opportunist that seized upon a vulnerable empire, and others suggest that he was a savvy man, in a political sense, in that he manipulated some of the most educated, most influential people of his day as well as any manipulator in history has.

“No figure in modern history has provoked such a mass of sensational and unreliable literature as Grigori Rasputin,” writer Colin Wilson states. “More than a hundred books have been written about him, and not a single one can be accepted as a sober presentation of his personality. There is an enormous amount of material on him, and most of it is full of invention or willful inaccuracy. Rasputin’s life, then, is not ‘history’; it is the clash of history with subjectivity.”

The Beginning: Part I: Rasputin Rises

Fuhrmann, Joseph T. Rasputin: The Untold Story. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.  2013. Print.

http://www.amazon.com/Rasputin-Untold-Joseph-T-Fuhrmann-ebook/dp/B00E9CSSNG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1388534025&sr=8-1&keywords=rasputin

Rasputin II: A Miracle at Spala


“How could they have been so stupid?” students of history say when they learn of the conclusion of some of history’s greatest stories, and her victims. “How could they not have known?”

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, it can lead the observer to believe that they are smarter than the greatest minds in sports, politics, and history. Hindsight can lead us to call the brightest minds and most celebrated figures of history stupid, incompetent, and inept.

“How could the Romanovs have failed to see Rasputin for what he was?” students of history will ask as they page through the history of the Russian Empire, the Romanovs, and their association with the “Mad Monk” Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin. “All the signs were there. Why did they ignore, or fail to grasp the totality of what Rasputin was on about?” 

There may be some moments in their brief history together, where a student of history sympathizes with the Romanovs, but for the most part, they will key in on those moments when the Romanovs proved most vulnerable to the “Mad Monk’s” displays of “other worldly” powers of healing to launch himself into a powerful, and influential, position in the Russian Empire and say, “All right, but I wouldn’t have fallen for that.”

As stated in the previous entry Rasputin I: Rasputin Rises, most historical figures are “right place, right time” opportunists defined by their ability to take advantage of windows of opportunity in their era, and for those that would go on to achieve infamy, the ability to take advantage of people in their most vulnerable moments. Adolf Hitler, it could be said, never would’ve risen to power were it not for the vast vulnerability Germany found itself in, in the aftermath World War I and The Depression, and an illiterate peasant from Pokrovskoye, named Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, may never have risen to historical status were it not for one sick, young child.

A Sick, Young Child

In Joseph T. Fuhrmann’s book Rasputin: The Untold Story, we learn that Rasputin’s window of opportunity occurred when Tsar Nicholas II’s son Alexis suffered a serious attack of hemophilia that began at a hunting preserve in a Russian village called Spala on October 2, 1912.

“This particular attack,” Fuhrmann writes, “was not life-threatening, and Rasputin never “cured” or “healed” the Tsarevich (son of the Tsar) of his hemophilia on this, or any other, occasions. The Tsarevich Alexis Romanov had hemophilia the day he was born, until the day he died.” 

In the space of all of the men of medicine attempting to alleviate Alexis of the pain of the symptoms of this particular attack, however, a peasant from Pokrovskoye stepped forward and did something to provide the boy some temporary relief, and that something that he did would eventually enshrine the name Rasputin in history.

As the author writes numerous times throughout the book, it’s impossible to know with absolute certitude what that something was. We can speculate from accounts witnessed and recorded by friends of the empire, and we can sort through the accounts put forth by family members, and others in the empire, but for the most part we are left to speculate, because the Romanovs were so isolated from even the surrounding communities of the Empire, that all historical accounts of this era can be characterized as speculative. The very idea that Alexis was sick was a state secret that the Romanov family kept hidden from the rest of the country. It is the speculation of what Rasputin did, however, that has made the story of Rasputin so intriguing for so many, for near one-hundred years.

How Did He Do it?

Did Rasputin drug the young Tsarevich to health? Was it an hypnosis technique that Rasputin is purported to have studied throughout the course of his life? Was there some form of auto-suggestion that Rasputin used to manipulate Alexis’ mind in a manner that no one in the age knew, so they assigned supernatural, and/or mystical qualities to Rasputin’s actions? Or, did he, in fact, possess those mystical powers that he claimed to have since childhood, and that he ended up using on the young Tsarevich?

Some claim that Rasputin may have had a friend inside the empire who administered drugs to the young Tsarevich, and that Rasputin knew enough about the effects of the medicine to have its effects coincide with Rasputin’s arrival.

Some claim that an auto-suggestion technique employed by Rasputin, calmed the notorious nerves of the mother, Alexandra, and that she conveyed such assurances to her son Alexis, who then calmed to a degree that his blood calmed and the issue passed. This theory also holds true in modern science when they speak about the power of prayer, the placebo effect, and the psychological belief of healing, that led the young Tsarevich to believe he was healed. If Alexandra believed Rasputin could cure Alexis, and she conveyed this belief onto Alexis, Rasputin’s ability to heal Alexis could prove to be greater than those of all the other doctors involved.

Others suspect that Rasputin benefited from some other form of incidental coincidence, or intended coincidence. Those that suspected Rasputin of intentional coincidence, claim that he may have known more about the illness hemophilia than anyone else in the empire, doctors included, and that he knew the precise time to make an appearance in accordance with a lessening of pain to have “the cure” attributed to his presence.

Others claim that the time Rasputin spent mourning the death of his cousin Dmitry led him to ostracize himself from those in his village, and that he sought the comfort of horses. While gaining the favor of horses, and their owners, Rasputin learned horse whispering techniques to calm horses, and that he employed these tactics to calm the Tsarevich Alexis, and thus relieved him from some of the more painful symptoms of hemophilia.

For his part, “Rasputin never claimed to have worked miracles on the boy.” He kept what modern readers would term a political distance from self-aggrandizement, and he allowed those around the incident to fill in the blanks for him. “He claimed that God, alone, could perform miracles. He insisted that his healings were nothing more than manifestations of God’s will,” and by saying such things Rasputin remained in good stead with the Tsar Nicholas and his wife, Alexandra, that never stated that Rasputin was a saint, or anything more than human, but they did believe that he had spiritual gifts that were made apparent during the miracle at Spala. They also, we can assume, asked the question what’s more important engaging in the debate of Rasputin’s role in the health of their son, or the health of their son? The one thing they knew was that when Rasputin was near their son, he suffered less.

Why was Rasputin Chosen?

Some might speculate that by the time that the incident at Spala occurred, the Romanovs reached a point of desperation, and that they Rasputin as their last, best hope, and that they had little choice in the matter when Rasputin proved to be a healing agent in the years that followed. If it’s true that the Romanovs met Rasputin on a number of occasions prior to the incident at Spala, and as Fuhrmann points out they were afforded a number of opportunities to see “the real” Rasputin firsthand. If that’s true, why did they keep him around? Why was Rasputin afforded the chance to “heal” or “cure” Alexis in the first place? If there were that many men vying for the position of Holy Fool in the Empire, how did a semi-literate peasant from Pokrovskoye rise to the top?

As stated in the previous entry Rasputin I: Rasputin Rises, Rasputin was characterized as an illiterate to semi-literate peasant, with no formal attachments to religion, or formal education, and some would suggest that these characteristics would forever lead to Rasputin and the Romanovs down separate paths. Others would suggest that it was these very characteristics that led Rasputin to gain entrance into the Empire.

As with every aspect of this story, some of the answers of why the Romanovs continued to have some faith in Rasputin lies in conjecture, some in speculation, but knowing human nature the way we do, we can speculate that a “more normal” citizen of St. Petersburg, with “equivalent mystical powers” but a more sensible haircut, and a normal temperament, may not have been regarded for this particular position in a serious manner. We can assume that the Romanovs wanted someone that had a mysterious air about them, someone that looked a little more bedraggled, and wild. They wanted someone who fit their perceptions of what it took to fit the role of Holy Fool in the empire.

Rasputin, as witnesses suggest, often smelled like a goat, his hair was famously unkempt, he did not bathe often, picked his nose in polite company, criticized and seduced women in public, and often had food in his beard, but he also had a “Blazing gaze in his magnetic light colored eyes,” and people stated that he could dilate his eyes at will. Rasputin, it could be said, fit the mold of the “Holy Fool” the Romanovs sought, as if by central casting.

One can also guess that the Romanovs chose Rasputin to stick around, to “heal” their son based on the same unintended condescension that leads some to believe that the uneducated are superior in spiritual mediums, and more in tune with God than those focused on more formal training. The Romanovs were given to the very natural speculation, we all are, that those not attuned to standardized measures of intelligence, are attuned to something different, something greater, and something their more normal citizens would never be able to understand. One can also guess that some degree of privileged guilt caused Alexandra, and Rasputin’s eventual followers, to assign superhuman, spiritual qualities to Rasputin in the same manner the modern day American attaches exotic and spiritual characteristics to children, the indigent, and those with characteristics deemed foreign to our experience. It’s an unintended form of condescension that derives from the guilt of the haves when dealing with the have nots, and if the have nots play it in a strategic manner, as Rasputin did, the process can provide benefits to both parties involved.

Fuhrmann provides the impression that had Tsar Nicholas II been in total control of the interaction between Rasputin and the empire, Rasputin may never have achieved influence he did in the Empire. Nicholas’ philosophy of life, Fuhrmann writes, was guided by the “Classic Russian acceptance of fate (sudba), God’s will, or the force that ruled the cosmos.” Nicholas saw to it that Alexis’ fate was not unnecessarily precipitated, but Nicholas was not one to believe that he, nor any other human, could control fate in any manner. Tsarista Alexandra, however, was not guided by the same beliefs. She was more prone to believe in what she saw as proactive measures. She believed that fate could be controlled, and altered, through prayer, and she believed that what God needed to work his miracles was a spiritual conduit, in the manner she believed a illiterate, bedraggled peasant could best provide, and it was probably Alexandra’s belief that Rasputin fit this somewhat unintended, unspoken, and condescending mold.

Most readers who have had a near-death experience with their child will find some sympathy with Alexandra’s desperation to save, or at least relieve her only son of pain. Readers may extend further sympathies when they learn that Alexandra’s knew her genes caused her son, the Tsarevich Alexis, the heir to the throne, this severe case of hemophilia. They may further sympathize with Alexandra’s desperation after the Empire’s doctors informed her that there was little they could do to ease her son’s suffering. They may sympathize with Alexandra’s desire to keep Rasputin around after the “Miracle at Spala”, and they may forgive her for being so grateful to the man that she ended up allowing him to influence her mind on matters on the empire in a manner she allegedly shared with Tsar Nicholas II to make, but there will be those moments in which the reader, knowing how this story turned out, will say to themselves, “All right, but I wouldn’t have fallen for that.”

Next: Part III: The Fall of Rasputin

Fuhrmann, Joseph T. Rasputin: The Untold Story. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.  2013. Print.

 

Rasputin I: Rasputin Rises


“Do you know that I shall soon die in terrible pain?” Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin is reported to have said, after being stabbed by a girl with no nose, and before being assassinated. “But what can I do? God has sent me to save our dear sovereign and Holy Russia. Despite my terrible sins I am a Christ in miniature.”

At this point in Russian history, the name Rasputin became synonymous with evil. The mere mention of his name caused such suspicious dread among the subjects of the Russian Empire that they dared not pronounce it. They believed, as writer Meriel Buchanan wrote, “That by doing so they brought down ill luck on their heads.” When the inevitable subject arose, they referred to him as ‘The Unmentionable,’ ‘the Nameless One’, and they did so in whispers.

“Reports of Rasputin’s life are not ‘history’; they are the clash of history with subjectivity.” –historian Colin Wilson. 

The manipulative eyes of Grigori Efimovich Rasputin

The manipulative eyes of Grigori Efimovich Rasputin

Whether history or not, the reports of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin would prove to be such a source of speculation and intrigue that they would secure for him an influential role in the Russian Empire, and a place in history. As the prolific English writer and historian Colin Wilson, writes the eye-witness accounts, and second hand reports, are so varied with subjectivity, and agendas, that it’s difficult to know the absolute, irrefutable truth of any of them.

One could say as much with just about every historical figure, but the details of the Rasputin story are so debatable, and so fraught with folklore, that any writer reporting on him should be required to write qualifiers such as “alleged” or “according to sources …” before each report. While that may provide the author of such a piece some latitude in his reporting, it does not provide for very smooth reading. With the idea that every writer wants a compelling read coupled with factual accuracy, the best thing we can do is cite sources, footnote quotes, and provide quality attribution. The author of the book Rasputin: The Untold Story, Joseph T. Fuhrmann does this well without too much distraction. Fuhrmann also lists off some probabilities regarding the various incidents, and their various testimonials, and he attempts to prove, and disprove, them all as possibilities.

There are a number of stories regarding Rasputin’s short life, but three launched him to his current, infamous stature in history. The first, called the Miracle at Spala, occurred in a small village called Spala, in which Rasputin was alleged to have cured the Tsar Nicholas II’s son of hemophilia; the second was Rasputin’s resultant influence over the Tsar Nicholas Romanov’s actions leading up to, and throughout, the portion of World War I Rasputin survived; and the last concerned the alleged reports of Rasputin’s murder.

A Special Child

Some accounts of the Rasputin story –which includes a much talked about movie– state that Rasputin was inspired to become what he became as a result of the death of a twin brother. Fuhrmann, asserts that it was not the death of a twin, or even a brother, named Dmitry, but a cousin named Dmitry, that changed the life of Grigori Rasputin. This would prove to be a minor distinction in that the other retellings match Fuhrmann’s assertion that it was the death of Dmitry that caused Rasputin feelings of depression and alienation that would mark him for the rest of his life. The incident that led to his cousin’s drowning also caused what could be termed a natural speculation in Rasputin regarding why his life had been spared in the incident. This speculation led Rasputin to the unnatural, or supernatural, belief that he had been spared as a result of God’s special purpose for him.

Rasputin’s mother would encourage, or propagate, this speculation, informing Rasputin that he had been endowed with mystical gifts from birth. His mother would claim that a comet rippled across the sky at the moment of his birth on January 10, 1869.

“A shooting star of such magnitude that had always been taken by the God-fearing muzhiks as an omen of some momentous event,” she is quoted as saying.

Fuhrmann writes that there is no record of any comets on the date of Rasputin’s birth.

Rasputin’s mother can be forgiven for such speculation, as Grigori would prove to be the one child of nine, and an alleged other sister, to survive infancy. One could speculate that with such sorrow inflicted upon a young woman, losing seven, perhaps eight children, Rasputin’s mother couldn’t help but assign a certain degree of specialness to the one child who survived the conditions that took the others. The others, who surrounded Rasputin in his youth, should not be afforded the same latitude, for they would encourage the belief that the young Rasputin was gifted with the ability to read minds, and/or “see things that others could not” without the heartache to influence it.

This fervent belief in a grand design for his life, led Rasputin to believe that he was not just special in God’s eye, but that he was so special that he was above God’s judgment.

Fuhrmann asserts that Rasputin’s belief in religion may have been deep, and humble, at one time, but he began to “embrace the dark side, regarding it as a trial sent by God” over time. Rasputin didn’t see temptation as a trial of personal morality, in the manner a mere mortal may, but as a test sent by God to His chosen one. Rasputin made claims that his sexual encounters were sins he took upon himself, to relieve others of such weight.

After having relations with two girls, who happened to be sisters, –one twenty, the other fifteen– Rasputin informed their mother: 

“Now you may feel at peace. The day of salvation has dawned for your daughters.” 

“At least those two girls, (and the other reported sexual conquests) were willing,” writes Fuhrmann, as were the two nuns that Rasputin audaciously kissed publicly, but one girl was not. This girl charged:

“That Rasputin took her to his cellar and raped her.” Rasputin “Told the young girl, at the end of that episode, that there was no sin in what they had done; and that they had simply been celebrating the Holy Trinity.”

Rasputin statements about taking sins upon himself, and the declarations he made after these sexual trysts, may seem ostentatious manipulations to some, and they may have been, but they may have also been influenced by Rasputin’s loose adherence to the beliefs of a Russian sect called Khlysty.

The Khlysty and Sexual Spirituality

Khlysty was an underground, anti-church sect that engaged in sexual trysts as a ritualistic exercise. It involved dancing in a whirling motion until one got so dizzy that they fell to the floor. Once on the floor, the participants were instructed to engage in sexual intercourse with the person closest to them. Their goal, in performing this ritual, was to procure a “transcendental energy flowing through the arc” to achieve a peculiar and extreme religious state. They called this moment a spiritual frenzy that they believed would bring all participants closer to God. They also believed that by attaining the “dark knowledge” of sinning could one know sin, and thus purge it from the heart and be saved.

That Rasputin disavowed any participation in this Khlysty sect throughout his life, may have had something to do with the fact that it was outlawed in Russia at the time. This illegality led to its members being either arrested, or killed, and if Rasputin showed any allegiance to this outlawed sect, it would inhibit his ability to become influential later in life. It may have also had something to do with the fact that Rasputin regarded himself as a leader and not a follower. Rasputin was a member of the Russian Orthodox Church his entire life, but he didn’t view himself as a follower of the religion, but a leader that happened to never be ordained by a church. He would, instead, develop his own following, that some believe was influence by the Khlysty, without, Fuhrmann stipulates, the sexual portion of the Khlysty’s ritual.

This is not to suggest that Rasputin refrained sexual activity with his followers, but he considered that sexual activity to be a more tangential aspect to his religion than did the Khlysty. Rasputin was a married man for much of his life, but he and his wife recognized the adultery, and flagrant sexual activity, as something Rasputin was forced to endure to relieve his followers of the dark knowledge of sin.

The teaching that sexual activity was, at least, a tangential part of the path to learning sin and receiving redemption from its knowledge –coupled with the fact that he gained quite a female following– has led many historians to speculate that his followers, a majority of which were female, may have been attracted to the quality of his leadership by way of his alleged large sexual organ. The theory being that with his endowment Rasputin could provide greater assistance to those female followers seeking to learn the depths of dark knowledge through greater states of ecstasy, and its subsequent spirituality.

The theories abound on whether this holy relic still exists, and if it does, what happened to it. One theory has it that those Russian soldiers that were called to the scene of Rasputin’s murder, stripped the dead carcass of Rasputin’s body bare, soon after death, and began measuring the enormous artifact with a brick. It was then alleged to have been cut off and stolen from the scene by a servant that preserved it in formaldehyde, after which a group of a Russian women then preserved the holy relic in Paris throughout the 1920’s, until it could be displayed, in a proper fashion, in an Erotica Museum in Saint Petersburg where it now rests, and is now regarded with great respect by a group of Rasputin’s devotees. The author Fuhrmann claims that the museum’s explanation, and all other explanations regarding its veracity, have never been proven to satisfaction.

Dispelling the Myths of the Mad Monk

The author goes through many of the debatable aspects of Rasputin’s life to prove the many things that he was not. He cannot be called a “Mad Monk”, for example, because he was never ordained as a monk. He was, at his pinnacle, nothing more than a starets, which was an informal title given by followers to one that advises or teaches. Fuhrmann also points out that Rasputin was not illiterate on the day he died, as many have suggested in a narrative that suggests that he was nothing more than an “illiterate peasant that rose to some of the greatest positions in the Russian Empire”. Fuhrmann writes that Rasputin received no formal education, but he did learn how to read, though never to the point that one regard him as well-educated. Rasputin malevolence was not intentional, or as evil as some have suggested in their attempts to paint him as the monster of their monster stories. He never set out to destroy the Russian Empire, as he loved Russia as much as any of his fellow countrymen. He was just not well-equipped to advise the Russian Empire on their selections of people for powerful positions. The fact that the Romanovs took Rasputin’s advice on such matters, and that that eventuated in the fall of the Russian Empire, is as much the fault of the Romanovs for falling prey to the mystique of Rasputin, as it is Rasputin’s, if not more so.

For all that Rasputin was not, however, the one thing that can be stated about Rasputin, without refutation, is that he was a “right place, right time” mystical charlatan. In Rasputin’s Russia, Ouija boards, mystics, and holy men were nothing new, but when combined that with the strides the rest of the world was making in science and medicine in that era –manipulating God’s power as it were– even the educated class was beginning to wonder how much of a leap it would be for man to now manipulate God’s power in mystical ways. It was the first era in which electricity began to be manipulated in a safe manner; it was the first era in which automobiles began to roll off assembly lines; and it was also an era in which numerous other tremendous leaps in man’s ingenuity with respect to harnessing God’s power for everyday use began to occur. Learned men understood the principles of physics these ingenious men were manipulating, but most of the rest of the world just stood by in silent awe struggling to understand how these incomprehensible leaps could be made in the outside world. So, when Rasputin stepped into this chasm of confusion, at the right place and time in history, to “cure” or “heal” an ailing young boy of his hemophilia, he did so to an awed audience that was just beginning to believe that it wasn’t as far-fetched as previous generations may have believed it to be for one man to harness God’s healing powers.

Next: Part II: A Miracle at Spala

Fuhrmann, Joseph T. Rasputin: The Untold Story. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. 2013. Print.

Manipulation in the Mediums


A friend of mine told me that she wished I had never informed her of the art of manipulation. “I can’t enjoy movies anymore,” she said. “All I think about now, when I watch TV, is how they’re manipulating me into crying, laughing, and shrieking in horror. You’ve ruined it all for me. I see the ritualistic patterns in story lines, I see the emotive expressions of the actors, and the manner in which music cues me into sad and horrific moments. I see how they’re all manipulating my emotions, now, and it’s taken away all the joy I used to have watching simple shows, and I hate you for it!

The manipulative eyes of Grigori Efimovich Rasputin

The manipulative eyes of Grigori Efimovich Rasputin

“I knew they did it.  I’m not a dork!” she said, “I knew that when the sad music started up, I would be crying soon, and when the Jaws music started up, I knew someone was going to be eaten, but I never watched these productions the way you do, until you drilled it into my head, and I hate you for it!”

Every writer, in every genre and medium, has learned that the key to success lies in emotion manipulation.  If you are going to care about a character that we’ve created, we’re going to have to get you to like them before any violation of their sanctity is to occur.  If we’re going to get you crying over their chaos or shrieking in horror at the possibility of their demise, we’re going to have to get you identifying with them on many levels.  It’s the art of manipulation.

One of the most common methods fiction writers employ, to achieve sympathy for our characters, is to divide and conquer. We employ an “us against them” mentality, and we’re always on your side. We hate these bad guys as much as you do, they are our bad guys we’re writing about, and we’re going to defeat them for 300 pages, 30 minutes, or however long it takes you to finish our production. We’re going to feed into your angst in life and get you to hate, belittle, and ostracize our bad guys with us.

You’re one of the good ones, and they’re excessively bad, manipulative, and stupid. You may laugh with appreciation when we’re done telling you how bad they are, and you may scream victoriously when we defeat them for you in our narrative.  We’re the underdogs in life, and we know it.

If we write political fiction, we’ll convince you that the “other” party’s candidate is so stupid that our readers will laugh at them for not knowing the answer to overly simplified questions even you know. Even if you just graduated the fourth grade, and you attained a ‘C’ in History, you’ll know the answer to this simple question, and that will make you feel fantastic. You’ll be one of us from this point forward, and you will proudly march on through the remaining pages of our story to make fun of the guy from the other party, because that guy will be a prominent guy of their party that doesn’t even know the answer that our reader does.

If the reader experiences any confusion over how to react to the bad guys from the other party –don’t worry– we’ll teach you. We will have our characters react to this idiot in a manner that lets you know how to react to all future events that occur in our adventure. You won’t have to think in our production –don’t worry– we’ll do that for you.

Have you ever accidentally cheered on the wrong guy in a production? We’ve all done it. I did it with my nephews the other day, as a joke, and they taught me good. They politely informed me that I was cheering on the wrong guy, but I still didn’t get it, and they lost patience with me. “Well, how do you know who to cheer on?” I asked. “What if you’ve never seen the show before?”

“Look at the teeth,” my nephew responded.

Most writers know that readers don’t have the time, or the patience, to spend a lot of time trying to figure out the difference between good guys and bad guys, so we writers will give them over-simplified, jagged teeth indicators. Jagged-teeth may be an over-simplistic, and near comedic, indicators for adult fare, but we will give our readers something. Some writers will have bad guys smoke cigarettes (filled with tobacco, not canibus, canibus is something good guys smoke). We may have our bad guys express an affinity for a corporation, or some other agreed upon affiliation that is widely impugned in the modern culture, and some of us may even go so far as to have our bad guys sympathize with the Klu Klux Klan. Yes, some of us will depict our bad guys as Klan sympathizers, as a shortcut to jumping through all the normal, and required, hoops of characterization. Everyone hates the simple-minded, bad people in the Klan, so it will be easier for all of us if we depict our bad guys as Klan sympathizers. We’ll find a way to have you sympathizing with our good guy character that just happens to believe the same way we do. Some of us will take the time to properly characterize. Some of us won’t. Some of us just give our bad guys jagged teeth.