Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Black Hand

"The difference between fact and fiction is that fiction must be believable."--Mark Twain

When looking back at history it's hard to find too many examples of successful conspiracies that didn't accomplish their goals fairly quickly.  Often conspiracy theories have a greater effect on history than conspiracies themselves.  But of course that makes actual conspiracies that lasted over many years and ended up accomplishing what they wanted all the more interesting.

As I was reading The Sleepwalkers, a book about Europe's slide into World War I, I came across the most spectacularly effective conspiracy.  Back around the start of the middle of the 19th century Serbia got its independence from the Ottoman Empire in the Congress of Berlin.  It fought several wars to gain much of the territory it felt was naturally part of Serbia.

During this time there were many groups in Serbia devoted to Serbian expansion.  The main one was the Black Hand, a group formed by Dragutin Dimitrijević, better known as Apis, who had helped assassinate the previous king of Serbia.  Many members of the Serbian government and military were members though notably not the prime minister.  At this point all the Serbs under Ottoman rule had been freed, so there remained only to liberate the Serbs living in Bosnia under the rule of Austria-Hungary.  Well, some of those people were Bosnians or Croats but if you're a Serbian nationalist at this time Croats are just religiously confused Serbs, right?  And who cares about the Muslims.

So the Black Hand went about trying to figure out how to go about getting Bosnia into Serbia.  It would probably take a war but Russia was pretty firmly on Serbia's side and the whole international situation looked pretty good from the Serbian perspective.  Read The Sleepwalkers for more details.

Eventually Apis seized on the idea of assassinating Franz Ferdinand.  Partially this was a way of pushing Serbia and Austria-Hungary into war but if not Franz Ferdinand had been very keen on granting the empire's Slavs more rights and thereby stunting the Bosnian's and Croat's desire for independence.

And so weapons from Serbia made their way to Sarajevo where they were successfully used to kill the archduke.  This started a war, just as intended.  And the system of alliances worked out well for Serbia, as intended.  And after the war Serbia was essentially given all the territory the Black Hand wanted it to have.  So in a way this conspiracy succeeded spectacularly.

But they didn't live to see it.  During WWI the leadership was put on trial over trumped up charges and mostly executed.  So they didn't live to see their success, but they did see the horrendous devastation their war had brought to Serbia.

Links for January

Earlier this month Opportunity completed day 4000 of it's much extended 90 day mission.  When I heard about this I thought about the saddest xkcd comic ever, but I discovered that someone extended the comic to a much more cheerful ending.

Continuing the xkcd theme, remember that comic with the complete solution for Tic-Tac-Toe?  It isn't quite as rigorous but Texas Hold'em has also been solved.

I'm generally pro-nuclear power, so I'm excited by ways to make nuclear power cheaper and safer.

You can argue about most of the discoveries in the European Age of Exporation.  One the one hand the inhabitants clearly already knew about the Americas, Lake Victoria, etc.  On the other hand I don't mind saying that I discovered an excellent Szechuan restaurant recently despite the fact that I'm fairly confident that the owner and cook at the very least had known about it before I did.  Still, there were some places discovered that actually were unknown to anybody else.  And I've got to say, that whole website is just delightful if you like maps.

And speaking of liking maps, here are some amazing aerial photos of New York.

SpaceX launched a rocket!  It brought its cargo to space then fell back to Earth landed on a barge in the middle of the Atlantic.  Then it fell over, oops.  But that's still very impressive and they think they know how to fix what went wrong.

Eearlier this month I attended the Journal Of Imrpobably Reasearch panel at Arisia (they're the same people who give out the Ig Nobel Prizes).  The whole thing was amusing and but sadly not online.  Thankfully I found another amusing thing when I was there reading one of their actual journals before the show started and I can share my favorite paper from it.

Prosecutors almost never indict police officers who kill people in questionable circumstances such as Eric Gardner.  One prosecuter in Arizona did and found that the police had effective ways of retaliating.  Police officers like members of every other group sometimes act in ways that call for criminal sanction and it really worries me that that no longer seems possible in this country.

Microsoft has created some really compelling augmented reality goggles.  They're calling it "holograms" rather than augmented reality which actually makes a lot of sense from a marketing perspective.  What those goggles do is pretty close to Hollywood holograms even if they're totally unrelated to real holograms.

Book review: The Righteous Mind

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion  by Jonathan Haidt is a book about morality.  It's about the wa...