When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

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Scaredy Cats

1994: Why the sudden appearance, in Japanese backstreets and alleys, of clusters of plastic bottles filled with water?

To ward off unwanted cats. Householders believed the cats would be frightened by their distorted reflections as they walked past. A sort of feline hall of mirrors.

Source: James M. Vardaman, Jr., and Michiko Sasaki Vardaman, Japan from A to Z: Mysteries of Everyday Life Explained (1995), pp. 19–20

Shrieking Rabbits

1993: During the siege of the compound near Waco, in Texas, occupied by the Branch Davidian religious group, the FBI subjected sect members to the recorded shrieks of dying rabbits.

Source: Garret Keizer, The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise (2010), p. 71

Exhausting The Inexhaustible

1992: The catastrophic collapse of the cod population off the eastern seaboard of Canada forced the government to impose a moratorium on catches.

European sailors who reached Newfoundland at the end of the 15th century found the seas “full of fish which are taken not only with the net but also with a basket”. In 1851, Newfoundland’s display at the Great Exhibition in London dealt solely with the history and manufacture of cod liver oil. Cod sustained the Newfoundland economy, and cod numbers seemed inexhaustible.

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Nothin’ To It

1991: Louisiana’s executioner expressed nonchalance about operating the state’s electric chair: “It’s no different to me executing somebody and goin’ to the refrigerator and getting a beer out of it.”

Source: Wilbert Rideau, In the Place of Justice: A Story of Punishment and Deliverance (2011), p. 220

Dahl Finds Solace

Roald Dahl, photographed in 1982 by Hans van Dijk

1990: In 1962, Roald Dahl’s 7-year-old daughter, Olivia, caught measles. The virus can lead in rare cases to measles encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain that is sometimes fatal. Olivia was one of those rare cases, and the disease was fatal.

Thirty years later, as his own life drew to a close, the children’s author tenderly remembered his dead daughter and drew inspiration from her. “I am not frightened of falling off my perch,” he said. “If Olivia can do it, so can I.”

Source: Donald Sturrock, Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl (2010), pp. 383–8, 560

Internet Acronym

1989: A new Internet acronym: “LOL”, meaning “Laughing Out Loud”, which appeared in the 8 May issue of the computer newsletter FidoNews, between mentions of “exiting” new software (a “Realistic Cake Mixing Simulation” and a “ ‘Fun’ Nuclear War Game”) and an article about UFOs.

Source: www.textfiles.com/fidonet-on-
the-internet/878889/fido0619.txt

Unlucky Number Nine

1988: Ne Win wasn’t the only member of the Burmese military to attach importance to the number nine. The officers who shunted him aside in a coup timed their action for 18 September (1 + 8 = 9; September = 9th month).

Source: Christina Fink, Living Silence: Burma under Military Rule (2001), p. 229

Bad Year In The Air

1985: On the first day of the year, 29 passengers and crew died when an Eastern Air Lines plane flew into the side of a mountain in Bolivia. Six weeks later, an Iberia airliner struck a television antenna near Bilbao, in northern Spain; 148 people died. A terrorist bomb exploded on an Air India jumbo jet over the north Atlantic on 23 June, killing all 329 people on board. On 12 August, in what was shaping up to be a bad year for air accidents, a Japan Airlines jumbo jet on a domestic flight went out of control after its tail sheared off. The aircraft crashed in mountains west of Tokyo; 520 died, four survived. On 12 December, 248 U.S. servicemen, heading home for Christmas, together with eight crew, perished when their Arrow Air plane came down shortly after takeoff from Gander, in Newfoundland. Total fatalities for the year: 2,962.

Source: www.planecrashinfo.com/1985/
1985.htm

Words For Snow

1984: How many words do the Eskimos have for snow? A handful? Dozens? A hundred?

The anthropologist Franz Boas gave four examples in his 1911 Handbook of American Indian Languages. Benjamin Lee Whorf expanded the list to at least seven in a 1940 essay. After that, the number snowballed; by 1984, an editorial in The New York Times was mentioning “100 types” of snow and “100 synonyms” for the white stuff.

So how many words do the Eskimos have for snow? It’s not exactly a trick question, but there are a variety of answers, depending on what you mean by “Eskimo” and “word” and “snow”.

Source: American Anthropologist, June 1986

Williams Bows Out

Tennessee Williams, photographed in happier times by Orlando Fernandez

1983: The American playwright Tennessee Williams bemoaned the downward trajectory of his career “from good reviews, to bad reviews, to no reviews”.

On 25 February, his body was discovered in a New York hotel room, curled on the floor next to the bed. An alphabet of prescription drugs, from Aldomet to Zyloprim, lay on the chest of drawers; capsules of Seconal, a barbiturate, littered the bedclothes; a half-empty glass of red wine stood on the bedside table. Cause of death: the toxic amount of Seconal consumed and not, as some reports suggested, a medicine bottle cap stuck in the throat.

Source: John Lahr, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh (2014), pp. 582–8