When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1980s

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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Blindfolded Monkeys

1988: In his 1973 book A Random Walk down Wall Street, the American economist Burton Malkiel suggested: “A blindfolded monkey throwing darts at a newspaper’s financial pages could select a portfolio that would do just as well as one carefully selected by experts.”

In 1988, The Wall Street Journal decided to put Malkiel’s theory to the test. A list of stocks was fixed to the office wall and journalists – the next best thing to blindfolded monkeys – picked stocks by flinging darts at the list. Investment professionals, representing the experts, selected their portfolio by more conventional means.

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Weapon Of Choice

1987: “And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag . . . and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.”

Three thousand years separated the young shepherd from Arab youths flinging stones at the Israeli Army, but modern Davids were just as particular in their choice of weapon. A German geologist explained: “The young Palestinians have told me that chert is their favourite throwing stone, that it makes the best missile. It’s sharp, hard, and heavy in the hand.”

Sources: I Samuel 17:40; Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot (2012), p. 229

Furniture Removals

1984: Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean won the ice dancing competition at the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. Millions of British television viewers cheered them on. I didn’t watch them; I was on board a long-distance bus from Athens to London that was delayed in Yugoslavia by heavy snow. I didn’t know about Torvill and Dean’s victory until the bus reached London. In fact, because I had lived abroad for the previous few years, it was perhaps the first time I had heard their names. They didn’t sound like a pair of ice dancers, I thought, more like a furniture removal firm.

Source: The Times, 15 February 1984

Fact And Fiction

1982: In 1530, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V granted the Knights of St John the use of the islands of Malta and Gozo in return for a nominal annual rent of a single live Maltese falcon, a subspecies of peregrine falcon renowned for its hunting skills.

Four centuries later, in The Maltese Falcon, the novelist Dashiell Hammett turned this yearly tribute into a jewel-encrusted statuette, which was pursued by a slippery mix of crooks and private eyes.

The real world was every bit as unsavoury as the fictional world. In 1982, or very soon after, hunters shot the last pair of breeding Maltese falcons on the cliffs of Gozo.

Source: Emma Hartley, Did David Hasselhoff End the Cold War?: 50 Facts You Need to Know: Europe (2007), pp. 105–6

No More Peace And Quiet For Berlin Bunnies

The Berlin Wall, looking east at Potzdamer Platz, photographed in November 1975 by Edward Valachovic

1989: Spare a thought for Berlin’s bunnies. For 28 years they flourished in the “death zone” on the East German side of the Berlin Wall. Hopping about, nibbling grass, relaxing in the sun. No speeding cars, no farmers with shotguns, no farmers’ dogs. Until November, when hordes of noisy humans came stomping through rabbit heaven.

Source: The New York Times, 24 November 1989

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-
8fff51f61de3400636ec9af70a2680d8

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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