When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1990s

Limited Contact

1999: Long days working at the office, evenings carousing with male colleagues, and a cultural tendency to leave childcare to women, meant that Japanese fathers spent limited time with their children. In 1999, the average was only 17 minutes per day, although this represented a substantial increase from the 1981 figure of three minutes.

Source: Men, Wage Work and Family, ed. Paula McDonald and Emma Jeanes (2012), p. 22

Knuckle Cracking

1998: Does habitually cracking your knuckles lead long-term to arthritis, or is that an old wives’ tale? Ignoring warnings from a number of old wives – “his mother, several aunts, and, later, his mother-in-law” – Donald Unger conducted an experiment, cracking the knuckles of his left hand, but not his right, at least twice a day.

After keeping up his daily routine for half a century, Unger checked both hands and found no evidence of arthritis. “There is no apparent relationship,” he concluded, “between knuckle cracking and the subsequent development of arthritis of the fingers.”

Source: Arthritis & Rheumatism, May 1998

Finicky Feeders

1997: Dung beetles are finicky feeders. Research in Kuwait by Wasmia Al-Houty and Faten Al-Musalam revealed that the beetles’ favourite is horse dung, which they prefer to the dung of sheep, camels, dogs and foxes. Al-Houty and Al-Musalam referred to earlier research from Australia that also showed a preference for the dung of horses, followed by that of sheep, cattle and kangaroos. (Not many kangaroos in Kuwait.)

Source: Journal of Arid Environments, March 1997

“Gay Bomb”

1994: Wright Laboratory in Ohio suggested an unconventional addition to America’s military arsenal: “strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behavior”. Sprayed on hostile positions, the chemical was intended to arouse affection between enemy personnel rather than aggression towards their American opponents. (“Make love, not war.”) The so-called “gay bomb”, however, appears not to have progressed beyond a written proposal; it never made it on to the drawing board.

Source: www.pinknews.co.uk/2016/05/
05/us-military-considered-making-a-
bomb-to-turn-enemy-soldiers-gay/

Stamping Down Hard

1992: Singapore stamped down on chewing gum: no sales, no imports and, for anyone able to get their hands on some, no spitting it out on the streets and a complete ban from the railway system, with fines or jail terms for lawbreakers.

Source: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
history/events/57a854df-8684-456b-
893a-a303e0041891

Sneaky Tactics

1991: Did Britain’s ambassador to the European Communities really hide under a table, passing notes to Prime Minister John Major, during a leaders-only session at the Maastricht summit? “There’s an element of truth in it,” the ambassador, Sir John Kerr, later admitted. “It all became rather silly, so I went under the table.” Major’s recollection was slightly different. Kerr “crouched beside me at the table . . . trying to make himself as inconspicuous as possible”, he said, but added that the diplomat “crouched beneath the table”.

Sources: www.chu.cam.ac.uk/media/
uploads/files/Kerr.pdf; John Major, The Autobiography (1999), pp. 282–3

Violent Sport

1990: Between 1945 and 1999, 712 fatalities were recorded in the United States among professional, recreational, college and high-school players of American football. In just over half a century there was only one year, 1990, when there were no football-related deaths.

Source: Journal of Athletic Training, September 2001

Clinging On

1999: New York City hospitals recorded 1,791 deaths in the first week of 2000, an increase of 50.9 per cent from the 1,187 deaths during the corresponding period of January 1999 and 46.1 per cent more than the figure of 1,226 for the final week of December 1999. In the absence of bitterly cold weather, an influenza epidemic or some other explanatory factor, experts on ageing surmised that very sick people had simply clung on to life so that they could see in the new millennium.

Source: The New York Times, 15 January 2003

Political Novices

Tony Blair, photographed by Jing Ulrich in 2011

1997: The Labour Party returned to power after 18 years in opposition; not since the middle of the 19th century had an incoming Cabinet possessed so little experience of government. When the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock congratulated Tony Blair on his election victory, the prime minister replied, “OK, wise guy. What do we do now?”

Source: Andrew Rawnsley, Servants of the People: The Inside Story of New Labour (2000), p. 17

“Cows In Sheds”

1996: In Afghanistan, Taliban prohibitions on music, dancing, television, videos, films, keeping pigeons and flying kites applied to both sexes.

Other restrictions applied solely to women: no work outside the home, no school, no university, no leaving home without a male relative, no travelling on the same bus as men, no treatment by male doctors, no brightly coloured clothes, no loud laughter, no cosmetics, no noisy shoes, no white socks.

“Life for women under the Taliban,” complained a woman from Herat, “was no more than being cows in sheds.”

Sources: Rosemarie Skaine, The Women of Afghanistan under the Taliban (2002), pp. 156–60; Christina Lamb, Farewell Kabul: From Afghanistan to a More Dangerous World (2015), p. 414

Possible Crime Scene

1995: Crime writer P.D. James’s first novel wasn’t published until she was 42, but she admitted that death had interested her from an early age. “It fascinated me,” she said. “When I heard, ‘Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,’ I thought, ‘Did he fall or was he pushed?’ ”

Source: The Paris Review, Summer 1995

Warriors In Tights

1994: During the prolonged conflicts in Chechnya, Russian soldiers believed implicitly that their Chechen adversaries were receiving assistance from an unlikely quarter: snipers from the newly independent Baltic states. Female snipers. The women, motivated by love of money and hatred of Russians, were alleged to be members of a biathlon team and could be identified by the white tights they wore.

Source: Questions de Recherche, March 2011

Cool Chronicles

1993: The Black Bible Chronicles translated the scriptures into the language of contemporary black America. “You shouldn’t diss the Almighty’s name,” because, “It ain’t cool and payback’s a monster.” That was the Commandment warning against taking the Lord’s name in vain. “Thou shalt not kill,” became, in the idiom of Detroit and Harlem, “Don’t waste nobody,” and, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” became, “Don’t mess around with someone else’s ol’ man or ol’ lady.”

Source: P.K. McCary, Black Bible Chronicles: Book One: From Genesis to the Promised Land (1993)

Snakes And Ladders

Václav Havel, photographed by Jiří Jiroutek

1990: Caught up in the snakes-and-ladders existence of the East European political dissident, the playwright Václav Havel began 1989 with a prison sentence and ended the year as president of Czechoslovakia. Asked a few months later how he felt to be propelled from prisoner of the state to head of state, Havel said: “If that door over there opened and they came to take me away I would not be at all surprised.”

Source: Michael Zantovsky, Havel: A Life (2014), p. 379

Vexed Question

1998: Ovadia Yosef, one of Israel’s leading rabbis, pronounced on the vexed theological issue of whether Jews should be allowed to pick their noses on the Sabbath. Nose-picking risks dislodging nasal hairs and is therefore similar to shaving or cutting hair – activities forbidden on the Sabbath – but the rabbi ruled that the habit was harmless and permissible.

Source: The Guardian, 12 January 1998

Criminal Genius

1995: Justin Kruger and David Dunning illustrated their article “Unskilled and Unaware of It” with the example of McArthur Wheeler, who robbed two Pittsburgh banks in broad daylight with no obvious attempt at disguise. When arrested shortly afterwards, Wheeler expressed surprise that the lemon juice he had rubbed on his face had failed to make him invisible to surveillance cameras. Why lemon juice? Because lemon juice can be used as invisible ink, so, as any fool knows, rubbing it on the skin obviously makes one’s features invisible. In their article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Kruger and Dunning argued that, not only are the McArthur Wheelers of this world incompetent, but their incompetence means that they don’t realize they are incompetent.

Source: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, December 1999

Nobel Hotspot

Derek Walcott, photographed by Bert Nienhuis in 2008

1992: If braininess were measured in terms of number of Nobel Prize winners relative to size of population, Saint Lucia would have a strong claim to be the world’s brainiest country. The Caribbean island, with a population of less than 150,000, celebrated its first Nobel Prize winner, Arthur Lewis, for economics, in 1979, and its second, Derek Walcott, for literature, in 1992.

Source: Guy Ellis, St Lucia: Helen of the West Indies (2006), pp. 1, 2, 8

Disorientated

NASA photo of cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev

1991: The Soviet cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome for the Mir space station on 18 May. During the 312 days he spent in orbit, communist hardliners staged a short-lived coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, the Commonwealth of Independent States was formed, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics officially ceased to exist. When Krikalev returned to Earth on 25 March 1992, he landed in the newly independent state of Kazakhstan.

Source: Brian Harvey, Russia in Space: The Failed Frontier? (2001), pp. 29–32

Shorter Queues

1990: “I don’t believe all our propaganda about you starving in the West.” The quote, near the end of Robert Carver’s travel book The Accursed Mountains, came from “an intellectual in Leningrad”. “I think you have queues at your shops, like us,” the man said, but “not as long as ours.”

Source: Robert Carver, The Accursed Mountains: Journeys in Albania (1998), p. 330