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Tag archive: 1988

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

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

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

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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We’re Watching You

1988: The Stasi employed a work force of 102,000 to monitor a population of 17 million: one secret policeman for every 166 East Germans, compared with one Gestapo official for every 2000 citizens under the Third Reich and one KGB agent for every 5830 people in the Soviet Union. In addition, the Stasi had at least 174,000 regular informers among the population, 10,000 of whom were under the age of 18. There was one Stasi employee or regular informer for every 66 people; if part-time informers were included, the ratio of agents and informers to citizens may have been one to 6.5.

Source: John O. Koehler, Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police (1999), pp. 8–9

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