Save the World 1965

This is an editorial from a Science Magazine from 1965 — almost sixty years ago! The writing on the top is my dad’s. These pages were in the Examined Life, my 27 volumes of journal/scrapbooks I shredded a year or so ago. My dad sent it to my cousin who had just started the University of Chicago to encourage him. My cousin wanted to major in drama, not science. Many years later my cousin found it among his souvenirs and sent it to me.

This writer advocates for an international study and assumes that in the future (by now?) population will be under control and there will no longer be a threat of nuclear war.

His discussion of “systems analysis” intrigues me. My dad was a “systems analyst”. What the heck? Pretty simple, “the process of studying a procedure or business to identify its goal and purposes and create systems and procedures that will efficiently achieve them“. My office mate at San Diego State was a systems analyst who’d actually worked with my dad for the DOD, bizarre coincidence. Many of the people I worked with at the College of Business at San Diego State taught “systems analysis.” I think we are all systems analysts to some extent, continually evaluating our lives to determine what works, what doesn’t, and why, then evaluating changes we can make for a more effective system for whatever.

This is the part that really got me:

Living where I do, water is a constant problem. A 2022 article in the Pueblo CO paper, the Colorado Sun: “22 years of drought in Colorado, rest of the Southwest is worst stretch in 1,200 years, study shows” When that article was published there was no way to know that the winter ahead would bring a LOT of snow:

“This year has offered temporary relief. Much of the Upper Colorado River Basin, which includes Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, saw above-average snowpack, and in some places, it even neared record levels. That’s a boon for farmers, residents of cities, recreators and other water users across the whole basin, which provides water to about 40 million people.”


The flow from this snowpack will be good for animals and will clean channels of overgrown vegetation. This is all great news, but it doesn’t fix anything. It’s like saying, “Well, I got that splinter out” while you’re in the process of building a fence from rough cedar and you’re not wearing gloves.

Actions taken a few years after this editorial was published cleaned up many of the eastern rivers in the United States and made progress cleaning up the Great Lakes. I thought about how I’ve been lucky to live through a historical moment when there has been real improvement in some “systems”. Yay! But on a bigger scale? I don’t know.

I think this guy is right — the first part of the solution would be a careful, a-political systematic evaluation of the, uh, systems. I look at my country I don’t see see systems; I see “deals.” And, as Dael Wolfe pointed out, population control is a major component of any solution, but I don’t see that happening. Back in the day, ZPG or Zero Population Growth was seriously discussed, but I don’t know if it caught on with anyone but me. 😀

In 1965 we were still drinking soda out of bottles and wrapping our sandwiches in waxed paper. Many people had a backyard incinerator, burned their trash, and what couldn’t be burned went into a trash can. A family of four might have a trash can about 1/4 the size of my trash bin.

Not long after, plastics were the new big thing. The other day, leaving the Refuge after walking Teddy, I saw something shiny and orange in the road. I soon saw it was a Gatorade bottle so I stopped and picked it up. I felt, momentarily, smug and superior, but then I realized that while I’m not going to throw plastic bottles out of my car at the Refuge, there are a lot of products where I don’t have a choice, or the choice is impossible for me to make. I guess a lot of the things we live with now will last in some form until infinity, but of course, there is no “until” infinity. 😂

I don’t have any answers, and we’re all living in this world with its continuing problems. It was just interesting to find this article and to find my dad had thought it so important that he cut it out of his precious Science magazine and sent it to my brilliant cousin Greg. And my dad’s words are still true: “The requirement for talent of all kinds is with us.”


Featured photo: My brother and I at Yellowstone National Park in 1965

Homesick for Montana or Something?

I’ve been watching the Ken Burns documentary, Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery. There’s a segment when one of the historians looks like he’s about to break into tears. His chin quivers. His voice wavers. It’s a section in which the Corps is deciding where to stay when they’ve reached the end of the Columbia River, they’re near the ocean, but winter is coming. Rather than the leaders deciding where they’ll go, Lewis and Clark leave it up to an open vote with every member of the party having an equal voice. And “every member of the party” includes the slave, York, and the Shoshoni girl, Sacajawea. The historian is moved with deep admiration for the leaders of that expedition, particularly at that moment. He calls it, “The best of America,” and after saying it will be nearly a hundred years before black men will be able to vote, and even longer before women and Indians will be able to vote, makes the point that the small group of explorers is America’s future.

I grew up with the stories of Lewis and Clark and one of the last small adventures I got to take with my Aunt Jo and Uncle Hank was to Pompey’s Pillar, sandstone monolith beside a natural ford next to the Yellowstone River. The first time I visited this spot it was undeveloped. Even the glass covering over Clark’s inscription wasn’t there. It’s the only place on the expedition’s route where there is hard evidence of the expedition’s passing. William Clark named the outcropping after Sacajawea’s baby — who also traveled with them — and whom the expedition named Pompey (though the Ken Burn’s special calls him “Pomp” — whatever…).

When I went with my aunt and uncle in 2007, the big excitement was a visitor’s center, steps built to the site, a video. As my Aunt Jo said, “It’s pretty uptown now. You won’t recognize it.” The three of us thought something had been lost, and that would be the sense of timelessness the site had before it became a national monument developed into a tourist attraction.

I remembered when I first saw it. I didn’t think much of it, honestly. I was a little girl at the time. It occurred to me that could have been the very reason for the site’s development — beyond protecting it — to make it more interesting to more people. I’m sure a lot of people have gone there without the family historians who always traveled with me (mom, aunts, uncles, etc.). When I was a little older, and interested in history, and filled with the sense of romance of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, I loved the spot. A person could feel how it would have been to happen on that inscrutable block of sandstone. Otherwise, it was a good place to skip stones across the river which my brother and I did, stepsons did, and so did two of the students from Switzerland who’d come to Montana to see the 1989 Great Montana Centennial Cattle Drive. And maybe William Clark himself skipped stones across the river — I cannot imagine that in his day there were fewer flat stones or less temptation. To the best of my memory, on their return trip, Clark had gone down the Yellowstone as part of the additional explorations they undertook on their return trip. I remembered OK, because (thank you Google) the whole story is here in a very interesting post.

Also: thank you everyone for your kind comments on my post yesterday about gaslighting, etc. I appreciate them very much. This hasn’t been fun and I’m not out of the woods, but it’s — like everything — one day at a time. ❤️

PENsive Thoughts…

I spent an hour or so yesterday at the Rio Grande County Museum. I got to look at an extremely cool thing, the hotel register from the early 1880s from the local historic hotel, the Windsor.

When my mom was in school in the 1920s and 30s, the kids sat at desks that had a little hole in the top for an ink bottle. Once she started teaching in the 1940s, her students were using ink pens and sitting at desks like these. She later collected antique ink bottles.

When I was a kid there was a period BEFORE ball point pens came into common usage. People used fountain pens, metal nibbed pens into which an ink cartridge was inserted. No more dipping the pen into an ink bottle. I remember one evening in 1959? or 1960? some friends of my parents came over for dinner. The man owned a stationery store in Englewood, CO, and he brought a handful of ball point pens with him, Lindy pens.

We all tried the ballpoints, and my dad thought something would be lost since they only made ONE line. I cleaned out my dad’s desk when it came to me, and it still had ink bottles and dip pens in the bottom drawers.

At school we were expected to write with a fountain pen because they thought it was the only way we could learn REAL penmanship.

The last present my dad gave me for Christmas before he died was a pen and pencil set with a fountain pen. It’s 50 years old, the nib is split, and there is no way to fill it, but until someone writes my obituary with the technology of the time, it’s staying here.

I’ve used “real” pens like those my parents used in school, but I used them mostly for drawing. They are not easy to use. It’s easy to blot the paper if you don’t drain the ink enough, but if you drain it too much? You have nothing to write with. It’s a, uh, fine line. They come with — and came with — an assortment of different shaped “nibs” with which a person with skill (not me) can do all kinds of things. As a cartoonist, my brother was extremely skilled at using these pens. But…they were steel. Steel nibs weren’t invented or mass produced until the early 19th century (thanks Google). Wow…

As I looked at a few pages of the register, I could imagine people signing the register with the dip pen at the hotel desk. Some of the signatures in the book were beautiful and one of the loveliest came with an argument for itself. ❤️

NOT Broken, Just Slowed Down a Bit

I spent some time at the local museum yesterday talking about plans for the future. Lyndsie, the new director, is doing an amazing job. We talked about Covid — which we’ve both had — and she said she’d joined a support group for people who are still experiencing challenges related to it. I went to their page later and left my small story, just there, like that, in case it resonated with someone. Later a guy commented saying we had been “broken,” “big Pharma” and some other entities were to blame. I didn’t respond because I don’t want to get involved in stupid discussions, but I thought about it. It’s probably natural to look for someone or something to blame, but I don’t think in this case anyone is to blame. If there’s ONE thing we knew for sure about this virus is that it is a virus and it would make people sick. Nobody did that. No wet market in China, not Dr. Fauci, not the CDC, not even the evil Dr. Scarf. Not even the anti-maskers or the anti-vaxxers, illogical though their views might have been (be?). Sometimes things are just bad.

When we read history, we read that the average lifespan back in the day was 40 something. That isn’t even true. It’s an average between the numerous 70+ year olds and the babies who died at birth. When I was studying my own family tree I saw that pretty much everyone who didn’t die in childbirth, birth, or from an epidemic lived into their late 70s and 80s. They blamed God for stuff like the plague and then sought ways to make it up to God for everything, so maybe blame is a human thing we do. In a way it makes more sense to blame God than to blame each other, though. God doesn’t care “Oh you silly humans. I had nothing to do with this.” We have the potential to hurt each other, adding insult to injury.

I think some of it is point of view, too. I don’t feel “broken.” My hip just hurts — some days more, some days less; I feel fatigued more easily (like ever), but my brain is returning. Goethe said that the biggest influence in any of our lives is the time and place in which we are born. Luck. I think he was right, but we don’t like the idea that it’s all pretty random. I just happen to be alive at this moment in time. I just happened to be somewhere where I could catch the virus. It just happened that my unique vulnerabilities caused it to act like it has with me. Nobody “did it to me.” I hope to be able to langlauf this winter, but maybe I won’t be able to. Well, that can be happen from other causes like no snow. Luck.

Yesterday at the museum I enjoyed the new exhibit which is a collection of weird stuff we don’t use any more and which is really hard to recognize. Lyndsie set it up as an interactive exhibit; people can touch the items and explore them. It’s very cool. The lesson from all that is, “We’re wusses.” I KNEW we were wusses, but seeing what our ancestors considered “labor saving devices” brought it home again. Among the items in the exhibit is a VERY old spinning wheel, the kind we saw in kids’ books when we were (well, I was) learning to read. I’m always amazed by that. They got the wool (flax, cotton), spun it into thread on one of these things (or on a hand spool) then wove it into cloth. They did this for thousands of years. Yeah, we all know this, but every once in a while it sinks in, again. I doubt anyone was ever NOT doing something unless they were extremely wealthy, living in opulent mansions with a phalanx of servants bustling about.

A Few Words on the “Dark” Ages

Caveat: This won’t be news to a European.

When I first ventured into the “dark ages” I thought they were actually dark ages, but I was wrong. I soon learned what they really were, an age of urban expansion, technological development, and beautiful art. Before the Destruction of the Icons during the Reformation, churches were brilliantly painted inside with stories from the Bible. Back in the “dark ages,” houses were brightly painted on the outside, somewhat like the buildings in Stein am Rhein in Switzerland. The persistent danger of fires during the high Middle Ages led many cities to enact laws saying buildings had to be made of stone.

Many city buildings had indoor plumbing and the Roman baths were still frequented in cities where the Romans had settled. Bathing mattered to people during the high Middle Ages, the “dark ages.” You can learn about this in a lot of other places, including Barbara Tuchman’s wonderful book, A Distant Mirror.

The years between 1000 ce and (maybe) 1400 ce were amazing. Of course the 14th century brought all kinds of fun to Europe in the form of the plague and the 100 years war, but why split hairs? And, during this long period — mostly during the 13th century — Genghis Khan was busy on his war of empire.

My journey began in Switzerland, just before my second visit. In 1996, I got a book I thought was a joke, How the Irish Saved Civilization. It wasn’t a joke. It was legitimate history about a world I didn’t know anything about. I was enthralled. Being Irish (ha ha) I was proud of “my people” who crossed the Channel in little round leather boats carrying books in to the benighted dark age wilderness of the Rhine Valley. So, in 1997, when I went to Switzerland for the second time I began looking for the Irishman who brought Christianity to the (I thought) backward people living in the Swiss forests. That led me to the town of St. Gallen, the library, to Basel to see the doors of the Cathedral on which is carved events in the life of St. Gall, an Irishman and the patron saint of Switzerland. That was my first peek into the complexity of western civilization and the beginning of my deep appreciation for my own ignorance.

The leader of this expedition was St. Columbanus for whom the publishing and missionary arm of the Catholic Church is named. To add coincidence to this whole amazing story the forest near my childhood home in Nebraska was — is — a community of Columban Fathers.

The adventures of St. Gall and St. Columbanus made me very very very curious about everything — and very amazed and impressed by their travels. St. Gall got sick — pneumonia apparently — and stayed in a spot that is now the beautiful town of St. Gallen. St. Columbanus and the rest of the troupe kept going over the Alps. A monastery was established in Bobbio, Italy.

Legend and fact are intertwined and researchers dispute a lot of what became the “life of St. Gall.” It’s kind of doubtful that Columbanus and his gang “saved civilization,” exactly, but still. St. Gall is said to have had a bear as a companion, legend says he tamed a bear that had been terrorizing the people all around. When St. Gall is depicted, it’s usually with a bear by his side. I relate to that, but my bear is white and is a dog. 😀

Waldemar Januzczak — a British art historian whose name has a superfluity of z’s — has done some wonderful videos for the BBC over the years. My favorite is “The Dark Ages; an Age of Light.” The best history book I know about life in Europe in the Middle Ages is Life in the Middle Ages by Hans-Werner Goetz. My point in this crepitated post is that we just don’t know much about much which is cool; we get to discover stuff, including the fact that it turns out my ancestry isn’t all that Irish. Still, St. Gall opened a whole world to me that I never would have sought. Bless him.

Twittering Historians

This photo gleaned some interest in my Twitter feed and it got me thinking about history. People were genuinely interested in the photo and the people represented, especially young people. Older people chimed in answering questions. The original poster (who looked to be in her 20s) wrote:

  • My older female relatives never went anywhere without wearing a dress, hose and makeup. Gloves and hats were added for church and shopping downtown at the fancy stores.
  • It was a different time, it was 1970 before girls could wear pants to school, you wore your best clothes to travel, we could use a happy middle from the past and now.
  • I remember the first day I wore pants to school. It was so cool. Prior to that we were allowed to wear them under our skirts/dresses if it was below freezing.
  • Back when having a little respect for what other people had to look at wasn’t a concept to be laughed at. Yes, there was a time when it wasn’t always me me me me me me me. Shocking!


It was interesting to read the comments. Many made blanket statements about the era and who had “rights” ‘and who didn’t. Others made social comments on the superiority of the “goodle days.” Many young people mocked the family in the photo or laughed at the care they had put into their appearance JUST to go to the supermarket. Many young people were convinced that this family had gone shopping after church, not knowing that churches stores were closed on Sunday back in the “goodle days.” Others were sure that black people were not allowed in the store based on the fact that the photo shows a white family. Others were sure that the man would not let the woman shop by herself.

A few old people answered sincerely from their own experience in those days. I did. Someone wrote that it was unusual to see a man at the grocery story and I answered that my dad and I did the grocery shopping on Saturdays. This was answered by mild disbelief and comments that my dad must have been a very unusual man. Well, he was, but that wasn’t why he was shopping without my mom.He was shopping without my mom because pushing the cart up and down the aisles in the store was good exercise for him as his multiple sclerosis encroached more and more on his mobility. AND we got to hang out together, just us two, and do something useful for mom who didn’t drive. A lot of women didn’t drive in the “goodle days.” It was very cool to have a mom who did.

I didn’t spend the day reading all the comments this elicited, but I thought about it a lot afterwards, obviously. In my world my brother and I had a freedom and independence I don’t see kids having today, and peer-age friends have said the same thing to me. “When we were kids, we were out the door ‘by mom!'” I got a wrist watch for my 7th birthday so I could come home when they told me to. There were comments about this, too. I don’t remember many times going out with my whole family like this.

One thing I didn’t see mentioned was that supermarkets were comparatively new at this time. Many (most?) people still shopped at corner stores and butchers and bakers and and and. The centralized location for EVERYTHING was a comparatively novel idea. When I was a very small child, my dad came home with whatever mom was going to cook for supper because the butcher was next to the university where he worked. That style of shopping is still alive and well in Europe.

Most interesting to me was that posters were putting together a very useful view of the times depicted in the photo from varied points of view.

One, the questions the future might ask of the past will be based on its view of normal. Two, answers the past might offer the future are based on the limited direct experience of individuals. If the future really cared about life back in the “goodle days” they would have a treasure trove of authentic voices. The challenge I saw was the inability of the future to suspend its opinions and drop the lens of its own moment and perceive that the past was — as is the present — composed of individual people each responding to the imperatives imposed by his/her own life.

But not just that; these grownups had come of age during the Great Depression. The poverty of the Great Depression was pervasive, grueling. The prosperity they were experiencing? My mom even said, “Comb your hair and put on a dress. You don’t want people to think you just walked off the farm.” My mother’s vision of the farm? Flour sack dresses and hand-me-down shoes. The past brings with it the leavings of ITS own past and the blue jeans I wear every day were, in the sixties and seventies, a radical political statement and residue of “the farm.”

Family Thanksgiving, 1959, Three aunts and a cousin, our house in Englewood, CO

Time, Time, Time

History is like science in the sense that it is very difficult to get to the ultimate, absolute, bottom-of, truth about something. Even personal history is layered in emotion and the fallibility of memory. I began to really understand this when I was researching leprosy in medieval times for Martin of Gfenn.

Most people still have the image of hordes of lepers wandering around Europe ringing their bell or rattling their rattle rasping out “Unclean!” as they begged for food. Probably there were a few lepers out there doing this, but in reality there were never many lepers in Europe. Most of them were crusaders returning from the Holy Land where leprosy was endemic. So where did people get this idea? Sir Walter Scott AND the fact that there are a LOT of medieval buildings that were built as leper hospitals scattered across the countryside. I went into this in depth in my gripping four part series on the Medieval Leper which, to my amazement has barely been read by anybody. Go figure! 🙂

The other thing about history is the further back one looks, the less one sees. At the museum in Del Norte, to which I’m somewhat attached, the director — Louise — is always happy to have “provenance,” that is real honest to god factual information about a thing. But even ancient history is getting some of that thanks to science, Carbon 14 dating and even more exciting, DNA. Almost every day I learn something new about something old that paleo anthropologists have discovered from a couple of molars found buried in a cave in an obscure part of the world. And then, there’s this amazing thing, the reconstruction of heads based on DNA and skeletal fragments.

Oscar D Nilsson

The first time I saw this amazing process realized was when I went to the San Diego Museum of Man to see Ötzi, the Iceman. I fell in love with Ötzi the moment he was discovered and was really happy to discover that my DNA Haplogroup is the same as his. It doesn’t matter AT ALL other than adding to the mythology that short mountain dwelling people with arthritis are an ancient band. Ötzi was comparably easy to reconstruct into a 3-D image of himself because he was frozen in a glacier and had most of his parts and his last meal intact, even after 5300 years. His entire being told a library of stories — with provenance.

Family Ties

When I found myself writing fiction that was based on what was known of my family in Switzerland (not much is known; the stories are 98% fiction), I examined my ancestry. I’m not into genealogy, but that was the source of the answers to my questions. Had Rudolf von Lunkhofen had children? Who were they? Where did they live? How about later, during the Reformation in the 16th century? Was the family still there? Who were they? How many? By any remote chance had they been involved in the terrifying events of the time? Were any of them Anabaptists? Then, later, knowing by virtue of my BEING on this continent, that some of them had had to have emigrated, I began looking for THEM.

They were pretty easy to find, even down to the ship on which they sailed — and more.

Luckily, one of my cousins married a Mormon woman, and my mom had been a passionate genealogical researcher in the 1960s, and they’d exchanged information, so the great data base of the Mormon Church had fed into the vast number of places into which one can look for their ancestry. The fantastic Swiss Lexicon told me about my family during the Reformation. I was stunned to learn that two of the Schneebeli brothers had fought in the Second War of Kappel and one of them, the pastor, was killed. As for the rest? I was on my own — within certain parameters — to determine what might have been their lives.

Then, as I cleaned out the boxes in my garage, boxes that I inherited from my mom, I started to photograph (with my phone) pictures I knew I was going to throw out but that I wanted to keep with the thought of uploading them to the pretty extensive family tree I had built on Why did I do that?

For posterity. I did it very consciously for the kids of my cousins and my own niece. The photos — some old photos — are cool and the stories of the people are interesting. I truly love the family I’ve known. I’m proud of them and they interest me. I suspected they might interest the future.

And then came the DNA tests. I did it for fun and learned NOTHING new, but unknown to me, some of my relatives were taking it to. The upshot of that was I was emailed by the daughter of one of my cousins with some sincere and serious questions. I wasn’t as helpful as she might have wished, but at least I showed up on the other end of her messages.

That’s what I wanted. I want them to know those people. So when I find photos, I put them up. Because I knew them (not the very old ones, of course) and have a really amazing memory I feel a kind of responsibility to those people who aren’t here any more to share a bit of them to any of the future who asks. I’m a story teller, after all. ❤

War Memorial in the Back of Beyond

Cold in the back of beyond — single digits but still above 0 F ( +4 F/-15 C), and I didn’t need to let the dogs out at 5 (they weren’t even awake) but I did which means leaving the back door open a little. OH well. It’s cold in the house, but if I’m either surprised or upset, I’m an idiot. You might say, “No, you’re an idiot for leaving the door open,” and I wouldn’t dispute that.

Yesterday I took the little paintings to the Rio Grande County Museum in Del Norte. Incredibly beautiful windy ground-blizzardy day, jewel clear and dazzling. The display turned out to be a couple of lilac branches stuck into some modeling clay. It’s kind of cute, but somewhat unstable.

Trying out the display at home…

The little paintings have their own table in a room that is otherwise reserved for the Rio Grande County Veterans’ stories. Louise Colville, the museum director, has not only put hours of work, but hours of heart into it. On a counter are notebooks that hold the stories of the veterans of all the wars up to (and including) the current fracas. Each veteran has all the pages he/she needs to tell their story. “I had to stop for a while,” she told me yesterday, “it was just too sad.” Many of the pages include photos of grave markers and the obituaries of those who were killed in action.

Now think of this. ALL of WW II has two, slender, three ring binders. WW I has one. There is a Civil War Veteran. The binders are not full to over flowing. Each typed page is placed into a plastic leaf so people can read the stories easily without wrecking the paper. There is so much information in the way the notebooks have been assembled, clearly illustrating how few people have lived here and how precious each person is. This is a database that can’t be Googled. If a kid wanted to research WW II Veterans of Rio Grande County, he or she could find excellent first person sources, but they would have to go to the museum. There are small museums like this one all over America, treasuries of local history, labors of love that are unknown for the most part.

On the wall are some photos — most from Vietnam, naturally, as photos before then might have fallen by the way if they even existed. It was pretty intense. “The only thing that kept my father out of WW II,” said Louise, “was that he was the only son of a farmer.” Her comment made me think about some woman in Denver who, on a Facebook post back in 2016, asked “What’s so damned important about farmers?” I guess they knew the answer to that back in WW II.

As is always the case in the San Luis Valley, we shared stories and opinions. And, small political statement, I’m 100% sure we did not vote the same way in the last major election but I am also 100% sure we agree on most things. I felt again the immense distance between the government in Washington and a tiny county museum in the back of beyond.

The museum is a haven for the objects of the lives of the people who have lived here pretty much since the beginning.

“The earliest settlers here came with the Spanish conquistadors. Their descendants are here in the valley,” Louise tells me, her voice filled with wonderment. I share her wonderment. That bit of history is one of the things that attracted me here in the first place.

An exhibit of clothing at the Rio Grande County Museum

Cult of Personality

One of the the best movies I’ve seen in EVER is The Death of Stalin: A Comedy of Terrors. True, you need a very dark sense of humor. It might even help to deepen your appreciation if you have lived some of your life under totalitarianism. Admittedly, my little venture into totalitarianism was brief and mostly happy, but I definitely got the big picture on what it is and means.

The film shows — in an almost factual way — the last night of Stalin’s life and ensuing events. The focus of the film is on the central committee, its fears, rivalries and corruption. The humor is grimly slapstick. The committee is brilliantly played by a bunch of actors I don’t know and two I do — Michael Palin and Steve Buscemi. The director is Armando Iannucci about whom I know nothing except this film is a masterpiece.

One of the puzzling things to me about history is that the entire burden of stories of atrocities against humanity during the 20th century rests on Hitler, somewhat unfairly. It’s suspected that more than 20 million people were killed under Stalin’s leadership. How could a funny movie be made about this? I’m not going to tell you. The film isn’t for everyone, but I laughed out loud several times.

The Death of Stalin carries a meta-message warning of the dangers of personality cults. Like Chairman Mao, Stalin was a real (not merely hyped) hero and beloved by his people (many? most? some?) but for thirty years, he maintained his power through death lists, sycophantic followers and an ignorant public. One revelatory (and darkly funny) scene shows Stalin lying on the floor unconscious in his Dacha. The committee cannot figure out what to do. When they finally decide to bring in a doctor, one of them says despairingly, “But all of the good doctors are dead or in gulags…”