When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1980s

Difficult To Sleep

1989: Where would you hear “The Electric Spanking of War Babies”, by Funkadelic, Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, and “Heaven’s on Fire”, by Kiss, played at maximum volume, 24 hours a day? At the Vatican’s diplomatic mission in Panama City.

When the deposed Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega fled to the safety of the Apostolic Nunciature, American forces brought in loudspeakers and bombarded him and the hapless papal nuncio with non-stop hard rock and heavy metal.

Source: Garret Keizer, The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise (2010), p. 126

Reckless Driving

1988: The tradition whereby the victor in French presidential elections granted an amnesty for recent traffic offences led inadvertently to motorists driving with particular abandon in the months immediately before voting. Greater recklessness meant more road accidents; more road accidents meant more casualties. This was particularly noticeable before the presidential election of April and May 1988. In the last seven months of 1987 and 1988 the number of deaths on France’s roads were almost identical – 6,436 and 6,400 – but the figures for the first five months of each year were 3,425 and 4,077 – an increase of 652 deaths, almost one-fifth, during election year.

Source: Claude Got, La Violence Routière: Les Mensonges Qui Tuent (2008), pp. 57–64

Propitious Moment For Signing

Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and American President Ronald Reagan sign a missile treaty in the East Room of the White House on 8 December 1987

1987: The high point of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit to Washington was the signing, with his American counterpart, Ronald Reagan, of a treaty on intermediate-range missiles. The ceremony took place on 8 December, at quarter to two in the afternoon. The White House was strangely insistent about the timing; it transpired that a Californian astrologer had advised Nancy Reagan (star sign Cancer) of the precise time that her husband (Aquarius) and Gorbachev (Pisces) should sign the agreement.

Source: Christopher Andrew, For the President’s Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush (1995), p. 498

Almost Unbeatable

1986: Between 1980 and his retirement from the sport in 1993, Jahangir Khan dominated squash. The Pakistani player won approximately 825 professional matches and lost 29; he won the British Open 10 times and the World Open six times. His defeat in the final of the World Open in November 1986 was the first time he had lost a match for 5½ years.

Source: Rod Gilmour and Alan Thatcher, Jahangir Khan 555: The Untold Story behind Squash’s Invincible Champion and Sport’s Greatest Unbeaten Run (2016), chap. 9

Nasty New Meaning

1985: In South African townships, the word “necklace” took on a nasty new meaning. No longer referring exclusively to an item of women’s jewellery, from 1985 onwards it also began to mean a rubber tyre forced over the head and shoulders of a collaborator, an informer or a policeman, doused in petrol, and set on fire, resulting in a slow and painful death.

Source: Violence in South Africa: A Variety of Perspectives, ed. Elirea Bornman, René van Eeden and Marie Wentzel (1998), chap. 6

Instead Of A Tip

1984: Phyllis Penzo had worked at Sal’s Pizzeria, in the Yonkers suburb of New York, for 24 years. Since the late 1970s, police detective Robert Cunningham had been a regular customer. They were good friends.

One night, after his usual meal of linguine with clam sauce, Cunningham got Penzo to help him pick the numbers for a $1 state lottery ticket. Instead of tipping the waitress, Cunningham promised her half the prize money if they won.

When the lottery was drawn on 31 March, theirs were the only winning numbers: 7, 9, 21, 28, 29 and 43, with 35 as a supplementary number.

Penzo’s “tip” turned out to be worth $3 million.

Source: The New York Times, 3 April 1984

No Exceptions

American writer William Saroyan

1981: Despite doubting the veracity of “last sayings”, which he regarded as mostly “inventions of the survivors, members of the family, exploiters of truth and falsity”, the American author William Saroyan offered his own contribution shortly before prostate cancer killed him: “Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case.”

Source: Lawrence Lee and Barry Gifford, Saroyan: A Biography (1984), p. 307

Summary Justice

1989: On Christmas Day, deposed Romanian leader Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena, were put on trial for genocide, armed attacks against the people, the destruction of buildings and state institutions, and undermining the national economy. The prosecution offered scant evidence, but it was enough to satisfy the military tribunal. In less than an hour the Ceaușescus were found guilty and sentenced to death. The couple were immediately taken outside and shot.

Source: Peter Siani-Davies, The Romanian Revolution of December 1989 (2005), pp. 136–41

Infinitely Slowly

John Mainstone, of the University of Queensland, photographed in 1990 with the pitch drop experiment

1988: For half a century, John Mainstone oversaw the University of Queensland’s pitch drop experiment, in which pitch – the tarry substance used to make boat seams watertight – dripped infinitely slowly from a funnel into a flask. Set up in 1927, the experiment demonstrated that pitch is not a solid, but an extremely viscous liquid.

Although a drop fell from the funnel only once every decade or so, paradoxically, when this happened, it happened in an instant. One weekend in April 1979, aware that a drop was about to fall, Mainstone kept a close watch on the experiment, but nothing happened, so he went home. When he returned on Monday, the drop had fallen. Nine years later, he was determined to witness the next drop, but briefly abandoned his vigil to go for a cup of tea. When he came back, the drop had fallen.

Source: www.wnycstudios.org/story/
267176-never-quite-now

Out Of Limbo

1987: The antiretroviral drug AZT, developed in the 1960s to combat cancer, proved too toxic for its intended use. After years in pharmaceutical limbo, the drug returned to favour in the 1980s when it was found it could treat HIV and AIDS – appropriate, given that it was first isolated from herring sperm.

Source: Barry D. Schoub, AIDS & HIV in Perspective: A Guide to Understanding the Virus and Its Consequences (1999), pp. 177–9

Easy Peasy

1986: A year after CIA counterintelligence officer Aldrich Ames began betraying secrets to the Soviets, the American spy agency scheduled a lie detector test for him. Although it was only a routine test, it put the wind up Ames.

He got in contact with the KGB and asked them to suggest ways to foil the polygraph. Their advice: “Get a good night’s sleep, and rest, and go into the test rested and relaxed. Be nice to the polygraph examiner, develop a rapport, and be cooperative and try to maintain your calm.”

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Moscow Calling

U.S. President Ronald Reagan

1985: When his hearing aid started playing up during a White House briefing on the Soviet Union, President Ronald Reagan turned to intelligence official Robert Gates, smiled, and said, “My KGB handler must be trying to reach me.”

Source: Robert M. Gates, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War (1996), p. 344

Deceptively Peaceful

1982: The 26 March issue of The Penguin News included articles on Polish sailors jumping ship in the Falklands (the 11 seamen represented “an increase in the population of the Falklands of over one half of one per-cent”), the construction of six houses in Stanley (“the biggest spate of house building that the capital has seen for many years”), and the horticultural society’s annual vegetable and home produce show (entries were “much more numerous” than the previous year). In fact, rather like a parish magazine, except that other articles expressed unease on a topic of wider importance: Argentine claims to the Falklands. The islanders were right to be apprehensive; a week later Argentine troops invaded the islands, which put an end to all that parochial calm.

Source: www.fig.gov.fk/archives/online-
collections/periodicals/penguin-news

Underwater Activity

1981: Animals can sometimes make humans look really stupid.

In October, a Soviet submarine ran aground on rocks close to the naval base at Karlskrona in southern Sweden. This was undeniable evidence of foreign intrusion into Swedish territorial waters, and it made Swedes jumpy.

For the next decade, unidentified submarines were frequently reported along the country’s coastline.

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Defence Of Honour

1980: Under Colombia’s new Legal Code, parents who murdered their daughters, husbands who murdered their wives, and siblings who murdered their sisters could no longer get away with lighter sentences by claiming to have killed in defence of honour.

Source: Las Mujeres en la Historia de Colombia: Tomo 1: Mujeres, Historia y Política, ed. Magdala Velásquez Toro (1995), p. 425

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

“Lawn Chair Larry”

1982: Larry Walters had always wanted to be a pilot, and on 2 July he finally achieved his ambition.

The Los Angeles truck driver bought a bunch of weather balloons, inflated them with helium and tied them to an ordinary garden chair – what the Americans call a lawn chair. He then donned a parachute, strapped himself into the chair and instructed his ground crew to release the cords that tethered his home-made flying machine to the ground.

Walters had expected to rise gently into the sky and to float about at a modest altitude; instead, he zoomed upwards at an alarming speed and drifted into the airspace over Long Beach airport.

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Silver Lining

1981: The economic recession of 1981 to 1982 forced the closure of many steel mills and factories in Pittsburgh and throughout Pennsylvania. This produced a sharp reduction in air pollution. Measured in terms of total suspended particulates, or TSPs, pollution fell by a quarter between 1980 and 1982. The improved air quality led in turn to a decline in infant mortality caused by “internal” causes (respiratory and cardiopulmonary deaths, for example). While the number of births in Pennsylvania increased by roughly 3,000, the number of infant deaths actually decreased: from 1,815 in 1980 to 1,595 in 1982. So, each year, 220 infants lived who, if it hadn’t been for the recession, would have died.

Source: www.nber.org/papers/w7442.pdf

Out Of Step

1980: Each year, regularly, in December, the United Nations General Assembly voted to find “approaches and ways and means” to improve the “effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms”. Given its laudable aims, the resolution garnered overwhelming support: 120 nations voted for it, and one nation voted against, in 1980; 135 nations voted for, and one against, in 1981; 113 for, one against, in 1982; 132 for, one against, in 1983. Each year, regularly, the lone country opposed to the resolution was the United States of America.

Source: www.un.org/en/ga/search/
view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/35/174

Cutting Air Pollution

1989: Mexico City introduced the Hoy No Circula environmental programme to reduce air pollution. Hoy No Circula prohibited most motor vehicles from the city’s streets on one day a week, based on the last digit of their number plates. Vehicles whose number plates ended in 5 or 6, for example, were banned on Mondays.

This restriction, which was vigorously enforced, applied to 2.3 million vehicles, or 460,000 vehicles on each weekday. Obviously, removing this number of vehicles from circulation cut pollution at a stroke.

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