Episode 90: Take Me Out

Welcome to Interesting If True, the podcast that kills, poorly.

I’m your host this week, Shea, and with me are:

I’m Aaron, and this week I learned that I won’t be leaving here with you… Oh, I know, I won’t be leaving… here… with… you. </Shatner>

This is the story of the most botched successful assassination ever.

We’re gonna start with the most badass-sounding secret society ever, no not the Skull and Bones, the Black Hand!

The Black Hand, I’m a comic and superhero nerd so I get images of a clandestine cult of professional assassins and spies. According to the Elder Scrolls, they are the ruling party of the Dark Brotherhood, a group of elite assassins and spies, pretty much exactly as I picture them. In the real world though, the Black Hand was a Serbian secret terrorist organization that was formed days after Austria annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908 when a group of Serbian ministers and officials met, angry with Austria and planned to win their country back. Well, I guess they started as Narodna Odbrana (National Defense) and a few years later 10 members made a super double secret organization within the National Defense called Ujedinjenje ili Smrt (Union or Death), also known as The Black Hand.

By 1914, there were several hundred members, perhaps as many as 2500. Many members were Serbian army officers. The professed goal of the group was the creation of a Greater Serbia, by use of violence, if necessary. The Black Hand trained guerillas and saboteurs and arranged political murders. The Black Hand was organized at the grassroots level in 3 to 5-member cells. Above them were district committees. Above them, was the Central committee in Belgrade. At the top was the ten-member Executive Committee led, more or less, by Colonial Dragutin Dimitrijevic, (also known as Apis ). Members rarely knew much more than the members of their own cell and one superior above them, to ensure that the group’s leaders would remain secret. New members swore “…before God, on my honor and my life, that I will execute all missions and commands without question. I swear before God, on my honor, and on my life, that I will take all the secrets of this organization into my grave with me.”

If you are as old as Steve, that date might stick out to you because you love watching old World War 1 documentaries. This is the year the first great war starts and if you pay attention to the documentaries you may also remember the Black Hand, the jackasses that started it. If you aren’t an old man really into war documentaries you will recall from high school history the name Franz Ferdinand and how his assassination was the shot heard around the world, you might not know how difficult the shot was to take.

A bit of back history in case you don’t remember anything from high school. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, visited Sarajevo to commemorate Bosnia’s induction into the empire on June 28th, 1914. A group of Serbian rebels learned of his plans and decided to assassinate the archduke to protest Bosnia’s inclusion in the empire, feeling Bosnia should be part of a unified Serbian federal nation instead. The Serbian rebels, of course, were the Black Hand.

The Black Hand, you’d think, would be a competent double super-secret society because they were made up of many Serbian military officers but you’d be wrong. It took 4 attempts and the final was pure luck. There were 7 assassins hired to kill Franz, all were amateurs and at least two had tuberculosis. Why they didn’t use a member with some military background is beyond me… The asses, sorry assassins were each given a gun or a bomb and a small vial of cyanide in case they got caught. Some were given a small amount of training in the month leading up to the visit but not really much more than that.

Franz Ferdinand accepted an invitation from Bosnia’s governor, General Oskar Potoirek, to inspect the army maneuvers being held outside Sarajevo. The Archduke’s role as Inspector General of the Army made the visit logical. It had also been four years since a prominent Hapsburg had made a goodwill visit to Bosnia. The visit would also roughly coincide with his 14th wedding anniversary. While his wife Sophie, not of royal blood, was not permitted to ride in the same car as her royal husband back in Vienna, such taboos did not apply to provincial cities like Sarajevo. During the visit, Sophie would be able to ride beside her husband — a thoughtful anniversary gift, this year I’m gonna just drive my wife around too. Security during the visit was not tight. Franz was a brave man and disliked the presence of secret servicemen. Nor did he like the idea of a cordon of soldiers between the crowd and himself. For the most part, Franz was welcomed warmly by the Bosnians. Sarajevo was not seen as hostile territory. Arrangements were not based on the assumption that the streets were lined with assassins. As it was, only Sarajevo’s hundred and twenty policemen were at work.

At around 10:00 a.m, the royal party left the Philipovic army camp, where Franz had checked out the armies in his sleeves. The motorcade, consisting of six automobiles, was headed for City Hall for a reception. The chosen route was the wide avenue called Appel Quay, which followed the north bank of the River Miljacka. Franz was in the second automobile, it’s top folded down and flying the Hapsburg pennant, he rode with his wife Sophie and General Potoirek.

The morning was sunny and warm. Many of the houses and buildings lining the route were decorated with flags and flowers. Crowds lined the Appel Quay to cheer the imperial couple. Amid the festive crowd, seven young assassins lay in wait. They took up their assigned positions, all but one along the riverside of the Appel Quay.

As the motorcade approached the crowds began to cheer. Franz’s car passed Mehmedbasic, the first assassin; he did nothing. I don’t know why but yeah, the first guy was a big old bust. The next ass in line, Cabrinovic, had more resolve and TB. He took the bomb from his coat pocket, struck the bomb’s percussion cap against a lamppost, took aim, and threw the bomb directly at Franz’s car. In the short time, it took the bomb to sail through the air, many small events took place. The car’s owner, hearing the bomb being struck against the lamp post, though they had suffered a flat tire. “Bravo. Now we’ll have to stop.” The driver, who must have seen the black object flying, did just the opposite — he stepped on the accelerator. As a result, the bomb would not land where intended. Franz, also catching a glimpse of the hurtling package, raised his arm to deflect it away from Sophie.

The bomb glanced off Franz’s arm and bounced off the folded car top, and into the street behind them. The explosion injured about a dozen spectators. The third car was hit with fragments and stalled. Lieutenant Colonel Merizzi received a bad cut to the back of the head. Others in the party received minor cuts. The first and second cars continued on for a few moments then stopped while everyone assessed who was injured and who was not.

Cabrinovic, seeing that his bomb had failed, immediately swallowed his cyanide and jumped into the river. That would be the end of his story if the poison hadn’t been old and the river hadn’t been low… Instead of dying and escaping he mainly busted his ankles and flopped around like a fish while vomiting violently everywhere. He was quickly seized by the crowd and arrested. The motorcade continued on to City Hall, passing the other assassins. Maybe they thought the bomb had worked? I dunno, they dropped the ball as well.

The motorcade made it to city hall and, though upset with having a bomb thrown at him got over it quickly and had a lovely time with the Mayor. After meeting with the Mayor, discussions were held as to whether to change the rest of Franz’s schedule. He did not wish to cancel his visit to the museum and lunch at the Governor’s residence, but he wished to alter his plans to include a visit to Merizzi in the hospital.

The assassins, counting on the bomb to have worked were without a plan and guessed that the Archduke probably was going to change his plans now that his life had been threatened so they decided to take up various other positions along the Appel Quay in case he showed up.

One assassin, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip, hungry from assassinating decides to hit up Moritz Schiller’s delicatessen for a sandwich on Franz Joseph Street which was a few yards from the busy Appel Quay. Gun still loaded in his pocket he decided to grab a seat outside and enjoy the weather with his sandwich.

Franz left City Hall following his change of plans to visit his injured Lieutenant. Only someone had forgotten to tell the driver, normally the injured Lieutenant would have taken care of it. Now on the way, the driver kept to the original plan and followed Appel Quay until he was informed of the change of plans. Not knowing the city very well, the driver turned down an incorrect sidestreet and was stuck, needing to reverse. Normally not too difficult, just shift to reverse and go, but this model of this car was notoriously difficult to shift into reverse so the gears jammed and the driver had to get out and push. Did I mention the road the driver incorrectly turned onto was Franz Joseph St, in fact, they had stopped directly in front of Schiller’s, not five feet from Gavrilo enjoying his sammich.

You can probably guess what happened next, Gavrilo pulled the pistol from his pocket, took a step towards the car, and fired twice. He struck Franz once in the neck and Sophie in the abdomen; both shots would prove fatal. Gavrilo then turned the gun on himself but was mobbed by the crowd. Police had to rescue Gavrilo from the crowd before they could arrest him. He did manage to swallow his poison, but it was from the same batch as the floppy fish bomb guy. So he lived but was violently ill.

The shot heard around the world happened by complete luck outside a small deli on a side street in Sarajevo and was followed by uncontrollable puking and probably shitting. WWI would start exactly a month later on my birthdate, July 28th, 1914.

The best thing about this story is the sheer magnitude of things going wrong for the assassination to go right.

First off, it should have been avoided entirely. Franz ignored warnings that Serbian terrorist group the Black Hand was plotting to assassinate him during his state visit to Sarajevo. Plus, the day of his tour was Serbia’s National Day. Sophie pleaded with him not to go. So why did he? Death was better than humiliation. It was a matter of honor.

And don’t forget, Gavrilo took his shot while Ferdinand’s driver was (manually) pushing the car in reverse down the narrow street where Mortiz’s deli was located. Contrary to popular myth, the car did have a reverse function, though that function was a pain in the ass to use, given how laborious and time-consuming it was. It was easier, therefore, for the driver to push the car, thereby giving Princip the opportunity to realize who was in the car, and ample time to take his shot.

Also, there were 3 assassins that just didn’t pull the trigger. Finally, the bomb that was thrown was an old grenade with a much longer ten-second fuse that the assassin hadn’t expected.

It was a hungry Gavrilo Princip that won the day, ruined the day, with his half-eaten sandwich with cyanide chaser.

Eventually, all the would-be assassins were rounded up and thrown in prison. The harshest punishment was for Gavrilo, the pukey bomber, and a third guy that I guess helped plan but slept in or something. They all got 20 years but none served more than 2 before dying of TB. It was a great time to be alive.

Then it was WWI and that is Steve’s area of expertise… And now back to the beginning of WWIII…

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Oh Your God… It’s Full of Stars

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Astrology. The mass cultural delusion that the Sun’s apparent position relative to arbitrarily defined constellations at the time of your birth somehow affects your personality.

Thanks, Dr. Cooper, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Still, this is a podcast, so I best give it a whirl eh?

Astrology is a big topic, one that I’m sure to come back to, but for now, we’ll keep it light. Light and low hanging, because it was a long week…

It is, essentially, the ancient, esoteric, art of divining knowledge about the world and/or those in it based on observations of celestial events. Historically, this has meant reading stars to predict future events, associating meteors or comets with, usually, evil omens, or choosing to accentuate a likely unpleasant, part of your personality because Mars was leftish of the big dipper. Once considered a scholarly pursuit, it was lumped in within the west at least — the likes of alchemy, divination, clairvoyance, and terrifyingly, medicine.

Broadly, we can say there are three schools of… “thought”?

Western, Hindu (aka Vedic), and Chinese astrology.

Briefly, Chinese astrology often aligns with concepts like yin and yang, the five phases, 10 celestial stems, 12 Earthly Branches, and the shichen. The Chinese zodiac is represented by twelve animals that I’m only familiar with because of Jackie Chan Adventures. I’m sure we’ll come to this later, if only so I can make more jokes about cartoons I used to love that, sadly, don’t quite hold up…

I imagine most of the listeners are familiar with western astrology. It’s the fortune cookie bullshit your crystal-loving aunt can’t shut up about. Think horoscopes and zodiac stuff. Originally, like the others, it was used for divination and healing but by the end of the 19th century, the Scientific Method had been applied to astrology and found it sadly, hilariously, lacking in evidence. It was largely cast aside until a hippy-ass resurgence in the 1960s.

In parts of Asia, and certainly India, it never waned and is still used to gain insights from the stars on topics of health, life choices, and most notably I think, marriage.

This third form of astrology is Hindu, or Vedic, astrology. As I mentioned it’s still going strong and is used in roughly 90% of Indian arranged marriages and 0% of healthy, responsible, adult decision making.

For fun, Shea, your birthday makes you a Leo which, according to astrology-zodiac-signs.com — a source of astrological information exactly as credible as every other — means you’re a born leader, dramatic, creative, and self-confident. You’re also arrogant, stubborn, self-centered, lazy, and inflexible. You like Theatre, holidays, being admired, and “expensive things” but dislike being ignored, facing difficulties, and not being treated like a king. Also, and I swear I’m not just adding this myself (ooooooohohohoohoho, creepy) you like bright colors.

Just for giggles, I am a Gemini according to ot Wikipedia, though my birthday is on the solstice so I’m also cancer occasionally depending on the chart you use… like the one at AZS. Then again, if my family history is any indicator, I will at some point actually become mostly cancer so… who’s to say. Anyway, apparently, I’m loyal, tenacious, and too emotional! Or, I’m Curious, adaptable, and a quick learner. I’m also moody, but in a negative way as opposed to the emotional positive trait I just listed. Or, I’m nervous, inconsistent, and indecisive. I like ark, at-home hobbies, and good food. I dislike strangers, people who criticize my mom, and being ruled by the Moon… apparently… unless it’s the other one, then I like music (ha!), magazines, chatting with strangers, and dislike repetition, routine, and synonyms.

As a Leo your element is Air, so for the rest of this essay, your name is Aang.

I am, according to the most reputable of sources, a water bender!

And because Astrology-Zodiac-Signs.com had a button to match oneself with others based on zodiac… I clicked it. Apparently, we have a mere 30% sexual compatibility — calliente — we barely trust one another, our communication and intellect is a meager 10%. I’ll be mothering you for most of our relationship, which will be short-lived I would think as we expected to share only 1% overlapping values and 35% common interests.

Overall, they give our union a depressing 29% chance of success. Sorry, Emma.

Not sure how it goes if the astrologer reading the young couple already in love, says they’re terrible for each other… though I’m guessing elopement and strained familial relations.

But hey, who’s gonna argue with the stars about a little thing like who you spend the rest of your life with!?

And, if this all sounds absurd, it’s only because you’re paying attention.

Astrology has, of course, been tested and found to be laughably incorrect. It is, more often than not, worse than chance.

One good reason for that is, simply, that constellations were decided upon essentially at random. Hell, some Aboriginal tribes looked a the apparent gaps between the stars to find shapes and meaning — and I’d tell you their names if I felt like watching Cosmos again. But I don’t.

The takeaway is that constellations aren’t. Famously, Orion’s belt — the stellar one, not the MIB pseudo-McGuffin — are nowhere near each other, even in interstellar terms. While line-of-sight perception makes them and other star clusters appear to be near to one another, if you do the sciency science, or look at your phone, you’ll see an off-axis and super-not-to-scale diagram of what I’m talking about. From the point of view of earth, these are all neighbors, but in reality, Bellatrix (243 light-years from Earth) and Alnilam (1360) are more than a thousand light-years apart and have no fucks to give about who you marry.

Also of note is that Betelgeuse is a red giant, and the rest are blue giants or supergiants. In a number of Astrological practices the color of the star matter but nowhere could I find any indication of those colors affecting the meaning of the constellation. So essentially, if you don’t like what red means on Tuesday, look at Orion, and if don’t like what he has to say, focus on the redness of a given star for your greater meaning.

Still, that’s not where the stupid ends by a long shot.

I talked about our birthdays and the meaning we can drive from them… ish. The idea behind a person’s zodiac signs is that the sun was in that constellation when you were born. Or, well, in front of it because the distance is a thing. Each sign occupies the dates for a thirty-degree range along the ecliptic, the sun’s apparent path across Earth. This is stupid.

First, because the constellations are not evenly distributed across the thirty-degree range, that’s just how a year and an arbitrary number of signs divide up. In reality, signs like Scorpio are barely touched while constellations like Ophichus get nearly sixty degrees of overlap and aren’t even considered a sign you can have.

Also, axial tilt.

As it is the reason for the season, it also means that the Earth’s perception of the placement of the stars has changed somewhat in the last 8-ish thousand years.

If you’re super interested there’s a full chart in the show notes, but for now, I’ll just use Shea and me as an example again.

Now, Shea, I said you were Leo according to the accepted astrological dates of 23 July to 22 August, but if we bother to track the stars we’re using for divination using IAU-defined boundaries, you’re actually a Cancer. The 20-day Cancer window is 21 July to 9 August, not 22 June to 22 July as the nutters would like you to believe.

As I mentioned before I’m a Gemini on most astrology charts and a Cancer on some zodiac charts. But if we take stellar drift into account, I’m solidly in the 31 day Gemini range from 20 June to 20 July.

We should run these numbers again!

Oof. Not much better. We have now a 5% sexual compatibility rating. Followed by 25% trust, 70% communication and intellect — which I guess means we have very well worded, smart-guy, untrusting arguments — 10% emotional overlap, 15% shared interest, so I guess we can’t play VR games later, and a total of 21% compatibility.

Not sure if any of that is better or worse. Fortunately, it doesn’t matter.

Obviously, this is all made up, but I’ll close on a study anyway.

Vedic astrology is based on the Vedas, the four Hindu scriptures, which also use the Moon’s planetary position at birth, and you have to tease out which planet, or house, you belong to, or indeed, which ones you find personally meaningful. Controlling for these variables is amazingly difficult, but an initial study was published in April of 2013, by Dr. Jayant Narlikar.

He and his team did a double-blind study in Pune, India which, of course, caused outrage.

Astrologers in the state of Maharashtra were given a random mix of astrological birth charts for two groups of people, 338 members each. The “intelligent” people and “intellectually and developmentally disabled.” Which, woof, gonna leave the ability aside for now.

The astrologers were asked to identify the members of each grouping (one of the main uses for Vedic astrology on the young is a predictor of scholastic success, perhaps even which school you get into). Since Venus was negatively impacted by Saturn’s energy, the results were, as you might expect, essentially no different than a 50/50 chance.

Yep, that was a sentence. And the problem in a nutshell. See the astrologers aren’t just reading the stars, there’s also planet/house energy, moon energy, and retrograding to account for. Apparently.

So Dr. Nagesh Rajopadhye, whose aren’t at The Skeptic has way more details and smart person analysis, much of this comes from. Seriously though, it’s linked, go check out TheSkeptic.org.uk, it’s edited by Micheal Marshal of Skeptics with a K and Be Reasonable fame. Dr. Allice’s articles on cancer and other medical stuff are great!

Anyway. Dr. Rajopadhye did a meta-analysis and attempted to control for all this nuttery. Having once been a practitioner of astrology himself he was uniquely suited to teasing out all the tiny threads of BS an astrologer might use to give themselves an out.

They mixed and matched planets like Mercury, Mars, Venus, and the Moon (I know) for comparisons with the understanding that these planets affected intellect but found no correlation between the IDD group and the “smart” group based on planetary affiliation.

From the article:

Likewise, we tested six other fundamental principles, […] covered traditional Indian astrological beliefs such as a planet in cruel Nakshatra, a planet in a debilitated or enemy zodiac sign, a planet in the 6th, 8th, or 12th house, etc. create negativity in birth chart and lead to adverse effects in life.

We decided to consider the principle valid if the difference between the two groups was greater than 10 percent. This was a very generous test for an astrological principle to passing through, against the expectation that if an astrological principle was true, it should ideally show a difference of at least 40% or more between the two groups

We found that for all the principles we tested there was no significant difference between the two groups, for any of the nine planets. This means that none of the six principles we tested – that planets could have a negative impact on our lives – were shown to have any empirical validity. The same was true for the two negative principles of the houses we tested. None of the 12 houses showed any significant difference in compliance, so regardless of which house is meant to be most important for intelligence, none of them were astrologically more negative.

As part of our testing, in total, we tested 34 entities (all planets, Ascendant, houses, and lords of houses) and 68 parameters (considering negativity and positivity for each entity) but none of them differed beyond 10% between both groups, which shows the actual veracity of Indian astrology.

This set of tests was fairly complete and makes for a good read. Though there is no shortage of other studies and trials. The one thing they all have in common is that if they were double-blinded and/or not run by astrologers, they all showed no reasonable effectiveness. That is, they were at best as good as random chance and in a number of studies worse.

Astrology is silly and letting it make life-altering choices for you is just dumb.

Outro

I’m Shea, and this week I learned that dust is mostly made of human skin cells, therefore Roombas are carnivorous. One day they will rise up and devour us all. Anyway, I’d like to thank all our listeners, supporters, and co-hosts.

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The music for this episode was created by Wayne Jones and was used with permission.

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