When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

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Millennium Candles

1999: As the year 2000 approached, computer experts warned of the havoc that could be expected from the millennium bug. Inordinate sums were spent to make computers, in the current jargon, “Y2K compliant”. In retrospect, it appears ridiculous and slightly embarrassing, but at the time, fears of widespread dislocation of the world’s computer systems seemed plausible enough.

At the end of December, rumours spread in the Philippines that not only would electronic devices be affected, but even candles and matches. Exactly how this would happen wasn’t clear. Fortunately, getting them blessed by a priest would make them Y2K compliant.

Source: Far Eastern Economic Review, 13 January 2000

Nuclear Test Ban

1998: Britain’s Nuclear Explosions (Prohibition and Inspections) Act 1998 made it illegal to cause a nuclear explosion:

“Any person who knowingly causes a nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for life.”

Source: www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/
1998/7/pdfs/ukpga_19980007_en.pdf

KGB Loses Luggage

1997: President Boris Yeltsin’s security adviser, General Alexander Lebed, admitted that Russia was unable to account for 84 out of 132 KGB nuclear “suitcase bombs”.

Source: Graham Allison, Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe (2004), pp. 9–10

Local Hero

Nobel prizewinner Seamus Heaney, photographed by Sean O’Connor

1995: The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the poet Seamus Heaney. The Irish Farmers Journal ran the story under a proud “Local Boy Makes Good” headline:
Bellaghy celebrates as farmer’s
son wins top literary award

Source: Irish Farmers Journal, 14 October 1995

Rules Of The Game

1994: The rules of the Shell Caribbean Cup football competition produced the ludicrous situation, towards the end of the match between Barbados and Grenada, of the Barbadians deliberately scoring an own goal to tie the game, followed by the Grenadians trying to score at both ends of the pitch, and the Barbadians defending their opponents’ goal as well as their own.

Source: Simon Gardiner et al., Sports Law (2006), pp. 73–4

Perpetual Motion Cat

1993: Cats always fall on their feet.

Toast always lands buttered side down.

So if a slice of buttered toast were strapped to a cat’s back and the cat dropped from height, would the cat land on its feet or on its buttered back?

John Frazee, who submitted this conundrum to the magazine Omni, suggested that the unfortunate feline would hover, spinning, just above the ground. The buttered cat would, in fact, be a perpetual motion device.

Source: Omni, July 1993

Explanatory figures by Greg Williams

Help From On High

U.S. President George H.W. Bush

1992: “Communism died this year,” proclaimed George Bush in his State of the Union address. One month earlier, the Soviet Union had formally ceased to exist. “By the grace of God,” the president told Congress, “America won the Cold War.”

Source: http://millercenter.org/president/
speeches/speech-5531

“The Wrong Kind of Snow”

1991: British Rail regretted to announce, on 11 February, that very cold weather would continue to cause delays and cancellations of commuter services around London for several more days. It wasn’t the amount of snow, explained a BR spokesman, so much as its nature – very dry and fine enough to penetrate the air intakes of trains and to short-circuit their motors.

The spokesman didn’t actually say “the wrong kind of snow,” but newspaper headline writers knew a good paraphrase when they coined one, so the expression stuck.

Source: Terry Gourvish, British Rail 1974–97: From Integration to Privatisation (2002), pp. 274, 613

Snow on the tracks, photographed by Likelife

Common Enemy

1990: Following the murder of Liberian President Samuel Doe in September, Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia tightened its grip around the capital, Monrovia. The NPFL set up checkpoints in the countryside, some adorned with human skulls, some with sinister nicknames, such as No Return.

Doe’s Krahn tribe were renowned monkey hunters. At the God Bless You gate, NPFL fighters enlisted a monkey that could supposedly recognize their common enemy – Krahn tribesmen. Anyone fingered by the monkey was killed on the spot.

Source: Stephen Ellis, The Mask of Anarchy: The Destruction of Liberia and the Religious Dimension of an African Civil War (1999), pp. 89, 116

The End Was Nigh

1989: Whew! That was close! An asteroid measuring an estimated 300 metres across, travelling at 74,000 km/h, came within six hours of slamming into the Earth. The asteroid, named Asclepius, crossed Earth’s orbit and passed within 650,000 kilometres of the planet. A collision with an object of that size, moving at that speed, would have seriously rattled the crockery.

Source: Gerrit L. Verschuur, Impact!: The Threat of Comets and Asteroids (1996), p. 116

Smelly Armpits

1988: Geruchsproben, or smell samples, provided the German Democratic Republic’s secret police with a highly personal way of keeping tabs on citizens.

Based on a theory that everyone possessed a separate, identifiable odour and left traces of that odour on everything that he or she touched, the Stasi built up an extensive collection of smell samples.

Surreptitiously collected garments or pieces of fabric bearing individual odours could then be matched, using trained sniffer dogs, against smells found (for example) at the scene of an illegal meeting.

Source: Anna Funder, Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall (2004), p. 8

Midair Emergency — We’re Out Of Fuel

Air Canada Boeing 767 on the ground at Gimli air force base after its unscheduled landing

1983: The “Gimli glider” was the nickname given to an Air Canada Boeing 767 that made a forced landing at Gimli, in Manitoba, after running out of fuel in midair.

On 23 July, halfway between Montreal and Edmonton, one of the engines of Flight 143 lost power, and shortly after, the other. The pilot put the airliner into a glide and headed for the disused air force base at Gimli.

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Burning Babies

1982: At the Barbir hospital in western Beirut, medical staff treated casualties from the Israeli Army bombardment of Palestinian camps. Some had been hit by phosphorus shells, including 12 members from the same family.

Two 5-day-old twins had already died, but when they were brought into the emergency room, they were still on fire. “I had to take the babies and put them in buckets of water to put out the flames,” Amal Shamaa said. “When I took them out half an hour later, they were still burning. Even in the mortuary, they smouldered for several hours.”

Next morning, when Dr. Shamaa took the corpses out of the mortuary for burial, they again burst into flames.

Source: Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War (1990), pp. 282–3

Omnivorous

1981: A survey of the feeding habits of London foxes found potato peelings in the stomachs of 8.4 per cent of them, birdseed in the stomachs of 1.9 per cent, cooked peas in 1.1 per cent and Chinese takeaways in 0.2 per cent. Nonfood items included rubber bands in 1.6 per cent, cigarette ends in 0.4 per cent and lollipop sticks and shoelaces in 0.2 per cent.

Source: Mammal Review, December 1981

Double Take

1980: The gold medals in the men’s coxless pairs rowing event at the Moscow Olympics were won by identical twins, likewise the silver medals. Bernd and Jörg Landvoigt of East Germany finished in first place, with Nikolai and Yuri Pimenov of the Soviet Union in second.

Source: David Wallechinsky, The Complete Book of the Olympics (2004), p. 19