When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

When Grandpa Was a Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

A Popular History of the 20th Century

Digestive Difficulties

1987: Japan’s former agriculture minister Hata Tsutomu told a luncheon on Capitol Hill that the United States should not expect his country to suddenly step up imports of American beef.

Hata cited as “fact” that Japanese people find it more difficult to digest beef as they have longer intestines than Americans. Centuries of eating a diet heavily reliant on grains had lengthened Japanese digestive tracts, Hata claimed; consequently any beef consumed would remain in the intestines longer and be more likely to spoil.

Source: www.apnewsarchive.com/1987/
Stepped-Up-Beef-Imports-Can-t-
Stomach-It-Says-Japanese/id-
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Knock-On Effect

White stork, photographed by Dick Daniels

1986: The meltdown of a nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, in northern Ukraine, released a cloud of radioactivity that affected not only the nearby human population, but also, indirectly, the stork population. Storks hunted for beetles, grasshoppers, frogs and other small prey in cultivated fields and meadows. When the Soviet authorities ordered the evacuation of residents from a wide area around the power plant, the abandoned fields and meadows became overgrown with tall grass, bushes and saplings. These made it difficult for the storks to forage for food, which in turn led to a decline in their numbers.

Source: Bird Census News (2000)

Breaking The Habit

1985: Photographs of the young Fidel Castro showed him, more often than not, with a haze of cigar smoke wafting round his head from the Cohíba between his fingers. The Cuban leader stopped smoking in 1985, 44 years after he started.

Source: Volker Skierka, Fidel Castro: A Biography (2004), pp. 239–40

Nine Lives

1984: Over a five-month period, the Animal Medical Center in New York dealt with 132 cats that had fallen from the city’s windows and roofs.

Wayne Whitney and Cheryl Mehlhaff, who gathered and analyzed data from the clinic, found that the shortest fall was two stories, the average fall 5.5 stories and the longest fall 32 stories. Four of the cats had fallen previously; two cats fell together. Most of the cats fell directly on to concrete but, despite this, 44 of them didn’t need treatment. One-tenth of the cats that did require treatment died, but nine-tenths survived. Treatment was mainly for respiratory problems, facial wounds and bone fractures.

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Nuclear Annihilation Averted

1983: American President Ronald Reagan didn’t mince his words. The previous year, he had predicted that the West would consign Marxism and Leninism to the “ash heap of history”. In March 1983, he labelled the Soviet Union “an evil empire”.

Also in March, Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative, intended to protect the United States from attack by strategic nuclear ballistic missiles. In April, the United States Navy conducted a large fleet exercise in the northern Pacific. An important NATO exercise was planned for Europe in November, around the same time that Pershing II medium-range ballistic missiles were to be deployed in West Germany.

Viewed from Moscow, all this bellicose rhetoric and activity was highly alarming. Was it the prelude to a sneak attack on the Soviet Union?

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“Yellow Rain”

1981: Alexander Haig announced that the United States was in possession of “physical evidence” that the Soviet Union was supplying its Southeast Asian allies with biological warfare agents for military use against their opponents. According to the Secretary of State, the Soviet Union was providing Laos and Vietnam with mycotoxins – poisonous compounds synthesized by fungi.

The “physical evidence”? Hmong villagers, refugees from fighting in Laos, had seen low-flying aircraft spraying what the Hmong called “yellow rain”, an oily liquid that left a residue of yellow spots on leaves, rocks and rooftops. Villagers caught in these chemical showers exhibited symptoms that included blurred vision, breathing difficulties and skin burns. Between 10 and 20 per cent of victims died.

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Change Of Diet

1979: Idi Amin’s increasingly rickety rule of Uganda came to an end. In exile in Saudi Arabia, the deposed dictator put his bloodthirsty, allegedly cannibalistic, ways behind him and became a fruitarian. His appetite for oranges earned him the nickname “Dr. Jaffa”.

Source: Adam Leith Gollner, The Fruit Hunters: A Story of Nature, Adventure, Commerce and Obsession (2009), p. 98

“Damn Me Good”

1978: The October issue of National Geographic magazine carried an article by Francine “Penny” Patterson about Koko, a female gorilla whom Patterson had taught to use sign language. Koko knew the signs for hundreds of words (“smile”, “lollipop”, “belly button”) and was clever enough to combine them in phrases (“damn me good”, “fine animal gorilla”). She had invented some choice insults (“rotten stink”) and was not averse to the occasional lie. When she plumped herself down on a kitchen sink and dislodged it, she blamed Patterson’s assistant Kate Mann: “Kate there bad.”

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Whining And Dining

Official portrait of Prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1955, by Sovandara

1976: While his compatriots had to put up with empty bellies, the former Cambodian monarch Norodom Sihanouk complained that he was running short of the rum needed to create bananes flambées.

Source: Norodom Sihanouk, Prisonnier des Khmers Rouges (1986), p. 155

Final Curtain For Kabuki Actor

1975: On 16 January, the kabuki actor Bandō Mitsugorō VIII died from tetrodotoxin poisoning. The actor, designated a “living national treasure” by the Japanese government, ate four servings of puffer fish livers in the apparent belief that his body would tolerate the highly toxic organs. He was wrong. Hours after the meal in a Kyoto restaurant he died of convulsions and paralysis.

Source: The Japan Times, 17 January 1975

Print by the 19th-century Japanese artist Andō Hiroshige, depicting a puffer fish in front of a yellowtail

“Spherical Bastards”

1974: The Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky, who had posited the existence of neutron stars and dark matter, died at the age of 75. Not the easiest of people to get on with, Zwicky allegedly described his fellow astronomers as “spherical bastards”. Why “spherical”? Because, he said, they were bastards whichever way you looked at them.

Source: Richard Preston, First Light: The Search for the Edge of the Universe (1998), p. 149

Colour Prejudice

1973: In extreme cases, Cushing’s syndrome, caused by hyperactive adrenal glands, can be treated by removal of the glands. Surgery is seldom performed, however, since removal of the glands may in turn cause Nelson’s syndrome, a disorder characterised by darkening of the skin.

When Rita Hoefling, a white woman from Cape Town, began to suffer from Nelson’s syndrome, she became the hapless victim of South Africa’s apartheid system. She was shunned by the white community and even by her own family. After her father died, her mother refused to allow her to attend the funeral: “I do not want to be embarrassed by your black body at Daddy’s grave.”

Source: Armand Marie Leroi, Mutants: On the Form, Varieties and Errors of the Human Body (2003), pp. 263–5

Animal Wisdom

The Duke of Windsor, photographed in 1970

1972: On the evening of 27 May, the Duke of Windsor’s doctor was surprised to see that the duke’s favourite pug, which had seldom left its master’s bed during the previous few weeks, had moved on to the bedroom floor. Early next morning, the duke died.

Source: Michael Bloch, The Secret File of the Duke of Windsor (1989), pp. 425–6

Carrot And Stick

1970: The East German state used a carrot-and-stick approach to nurture athletic excellence among its children. Budding champions were forced to adhere to rigid training regimes and to meet strict sporting and academic targets. Those who succeeded might be rewarded, for example, with the right to have a teddy bear.

Source: Mihir Bose, The Spirit of the Game: How Sport Made the Modern World (2011), p. 243

Long-Haul Flight

1969: Perhaps anticipating the tedium of a long-haul flight, astronaut Neil Armstrong took along as his soundtrack for the trip to the moon Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World”, and Harry Revel’s album Music Out of the Moon.

Source: Andrew Smith, Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth (2005), p. 304

Man Of Few Words

1968: In contrast to the effusive manner of other winners at the Oscar ceremony, the director Alfred Hitchcock ambled into view, took his award, leaned towards the microphone, and simply said:
“Thank you.”

Source: Donald Spoto, The Life of Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side of Genius (1983), p. 499

Chinese Gooseberries

1966: In the middle of the Cold War, New Zealand fruit exporters got round the political touchiness of the name “Chinese gooseberry” by devising a new name: the “kiwi fruit”.

Source: John Ayto, Twentieth Century Words (1999), p. 416

Chinese gooseberries, also known as kiwi fruit, photographed by André Karwath

Nuclear Proliferation For Beginners

Mushroom cloud from the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August 1945, photographed by Charles Levy

1964: The Pentagon, worried about nuclear proliferation, set up a small-scale experiment to find out how easy it would be for a country starting with no relevant expertise to build a nuclear bomb. The Nth Country Project chose two scientists to represent the attempts of the fictitious country to produce such a device. The scientists held doctorates in physics, but, crucially, their knowledge of nuclear physics was limited and they had no access to classified information. After 2½ years, they came up with a feasible design. Their bomb was powerful enough that it would have produced an explosion similar in size to the one dropped on Hiroshima, yet simple enough that it “could have been made by Joe’s Machine Shop downtown”.

Source: The Guardian, 24 June 2003

Black Dog Barbot

1963: They were once close comrades, but by 1963, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, Haiti’s dictatorial president, and Clément Barbot, his thuggish henchman, had become deadly enemies.

Duvalier went gunning for Barbot, and Barbot for Duvalier. Tontons Macoutes combed the shantytowns of Port-au-Prince and the surrounding countryside for Barbot, who responded with bombings and ambushes.

Duvalier’s gunmen thought on one occasion they had trapped Barbot in a hideout. They riddled the house with bullets, but when they kicked down the front door, a black dog ran out. Perhaps Barbot possessed the voodoo power to turn himself into a black dog, Haitians thought, and it was rumoured that Duvalier ordered all black dogs to be shot on sight.

Source: Bernard Diederich and Al Burt, Papa Doc: Haiti and Its Dictator (1970), p. 222

Biology Boffin

1962: Elizabeth II formally opened the Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge. The scientists had constructed models to illustrate the complexities of biological structures. The queen was very attentive. One of her accompanying ladies remarked: “I had no idea that we had all these little coloured balls inside us.”

Source: New Scientist, 31 January 1980

Big Bang

1961: The most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated was the Soviet Union’s Tsar Bomba hydrogen bomb. The device was tested on 30 October, producing an estimated yield of 50 megatons, roughly 3,000 times the size of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of the Second World War.

Source: http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/
Russia/TsarBomba.html

“Wind Of Change”

1960: “The wind of change is blowing through this continent,” British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan told South Africa’s white lawmakers. Belgium relinquished control of the Belgian Congo; in West Africa, a swathe of French colonies gained independence; Britain pulled out of Nigeria. In a single year, Macmillan’s “wind of change” gusted through 17 African nations.

Source: www.france24.com/en/
20100214-1960-year-independence