From historic events and speeches to new-fangled inventions, we’ve been looking at people, places and things that are celebrating their 50th anniversaries in 2013. 1963 was obviously a swingin’ year because it birthed the Rolling Stones, Puff the Magic Dragon, Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra film extravaganza, the first appearance of the Beatles on American television and Dr. Who. Oh, and La Gioconda (more commonly known as the Mona Lisa) went on display in the United States for the first time.
"Fanmail from some flounder?"
Mick, Keith and the other two formed a band in 1962 and played the local clubs, but didn’t land a recording contract until May of 1963, when they signed with Decca Records (on the recommendation of George Harrison, who held no grudges considering that Decca had rejected the Beatles the year before).
"Gee, Mr. Peabody, that's great news for the music industry and the cultural zeitgeist!"
"Well, yes, Sherman, up to a point. However, now we are stuck with the rather unseemly sight of Mick Jagger still shaking his skinny, nearly 70-year old ass to the tune of 'I Can't Get No Satisfaction.' And people still paying to see it."
Meanwhile, that folk-singing trio, Peter, Paul and Mary were busy warbling a tune that has spawned ceaseless debate over the past 50 years. Is “Puff the Magic Dragon” really an ode to weed or merely a fanciful children’s ditty the likes of which Raffi or the Wiggles probably couldn't have come up with on their best day? (Although Tom Chapin might give them a run for their money.) Listen and discuss amongst yourselves (again.)
Dig the braids, Liz, but the shadow's way too much...
One of the most expensive movies ever made (originally budgeted at $2 million, it wound up costing $44 million, which adjusted for inflation, would be $323 million in today's dollars), Cleopatra reeked of scandal before it ever debuted. (Half of the budget was probably spent on Liz Taylor's blue eyeshadow and black eye liner!) This 1963 epic, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, is an historical drama with all the elements: elaborate sets, intricate costumes, name actors, a factual basis, and an overlong script (just over four hours). La Liz wallows in the role of Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen who seduces Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison) in a political move to hold onto her empire. When Caesar is offed by the Roman Senators, Cleopatra turns to Marc Antony (Richard Burton) for his support, enslaving him with her feminine wiles. The film won four Oscars (cinematography, art direction, costumes, and visual effects), wrecked two marriages, launched a tempestuous affair and two more marriages (both between Taylor and Burton) and nearly bankrupted the studio that produced it, 20th Century Fox. But, I'll say this for her, the woman sure knew how to make an entrance.
"Gee, Mr. Peabody, you won't see anything like that in tomorrow's Rose Bowl Parade!"
"No, Sherman, you won't. And although you can't tell it from the video, why was Cleopatra so negative?"
"Gee, Mr. Peabody, I don't know."
"Because she was... the queen of denial."
Before they appeared live on Ed Sullivan in February of 1964, the Beatles were featured on American television on December 7, 1963, via a CBS news featurette on the Fab Four and Britain's Beatlemania.
"Gee, Mr. Peabody, I love that 'sheepdog' hairstyle."
"Yes, Sherman, I've noticed. But I thought the reporter got a bit carried away with that 'sound of the proletariat' reference."
"I know, it's only rock n'roll, but I like it."
"Wrong band, Sherman."
And then there's Dr. Who, the television program first produced by the BBC in 1963. It follows the adventures
of a mysterious time-travelling alien known only as "The Doctor." He's a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, who explores time and space with various companions in his TARDIS, which looks like an old-fashioned British Police Box. Dr. Who is currently the longest-running science-fiction series broadcast on television, spanning twenty-six years on its original run. Over fifty years, the role of the Doctor has been played by eleven actors.
"So, Mr. Peabody, why haven't we run into him on our time travels?"
"Different network, Sherman."
Last post we looked at the serious side of 1963 and the events of the civil rights movement that will mark their 50th anniversaries in the coming year. But since this blog is called "Ridiculous to Sublime," the writer always reserves the right to leap into the lighter side at a moment's notice. So, what do Lamborghinis, zip codes and push button phones have in common? They will also celebrate their golden anniversaries in 2013.
Today we set the controls of the WABAC Machine for a world tour of 1963's inventions and start-ups. Ready, Sherman? Our first stop is Sant'Agata Bolognese, a small community in northern Italy, just outside the city of Bologna, where in May of 1963, Ferruccio Lamborghini built a "large and ultramodern factory" in which to manufacture luxury sportscars. Even though he was the wealthy and successful owner of several businesses, including a tractor manufacturing company, people thought it was absolute "madness" to try to build a car to compete with Ferrari. Well, perhaps. But Lamborghini was a very hands-on owner and out of his belief rose a masterpiece. (We shall know them by their cost.)
"And what became of the rivalry with Ferrari, Mr. Peabody?"
"Well that you may ask, Sherman. Short answer: Ferrari sells more, Lamborghini is faster. But here's a lovely infographic smackdown to explain it all."
Via: Car Insurance List
Next we travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where Robert Moon, a mild-mannered postal inspector (these being the days when the expression "going postal" could be interpreted as sending a letter through the mail, rather than engaging in homicidal behavior) pondered the age-old question of improving mail delivery. In the late 1940's, he actually came up with a three-digit system for a zone improvement plan, hence the acronym ZIP code. He submitted his proposal and it languished for awhile, until some genius rebranded it with more digits. It was finally implemented in 1963 as a five-digit system. Now of course, they are up to nine. (Someday they might even go to eleven...)
As always, there is a downside to these things... without the ZIP Code, we would never have had to suffer through a single episode of "Beverly Hills 90210."
Let's extend our sojourn in Pennsylvania and traverse to the Pittsburgh metropolitan area and the towns of Carnegie and Greensburg, where the touch-tone telephone was introduced. AT&T (American Telephone and Telegraph, back in the day) offered the first public commercial service, for an extra charge. (Of course!) Proto-type push button phones had been around since the 1940's but the Western Electric 1500 model was the first sold to consumers. It featured 10 buttons instead of the standard rotary dial. A 12-button model featuring the * and # keys was introduced soon afterward and replaced the 10-button model. For a look at 17 configurations that didn't make it, check out this article at Mental Floss.
"Golly, Susie, what'll they think of next? Sending messages to someone without even talking?"
"Oh, don't be silly, Bobby. The telegraph is so last Wednesday."
While everyone else seems obsessed with looking back at the best and worst of 2012 (of which there was, I admit, a lot), I suggest we make like Mr. Peabody and set the WABAC Machine to 1963 and take a stroll through all the good, bad and ugly events that will be celebrating their 50th anniversaries in the coming year.
"Set the controls to 1963."
We set the WABAC controls for the territory of the American South and just like that we are at Ground Zero of the Civil Rights Movement. 1963 is a year of pivotal moments in the quest for human rights in the United States, some triumphant and some tragic.
Gantt outside Clemson University
In January, African-American student Harvey Gantt enrolls in Clemson University in South Carolina, which is the last state to hold out again racial integration. In the spring, Birmingham, Alabama becomes the epicenter of demonstrations. On April 16, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is arrested and jailed there during anti-segregation protests. During his confinement, he writes his seminal "Letter from Birmingham Jail," in which he argues that individuals have a moral duty to disobey unjust laws. The following month, Birmingham Commissioner of Public Safety Eugene "Bull" Connor turns his fire hoses and police dogs on black demonstrators. The images of police brutality are televised and published widely, increasing sympathy for the movement throughout the country and across the globe.
LIFE cover of Evers' funeral
The movement suffers a harsh blow with the assassination of Medgar Evers, an activist and field secretary for the NAACP, outside his Mississippi on June 12. At summer’s end, African-American sociologist, historian and civil rights activist, W.E.B. DuBois dies. The very next day, August 28th, the March on Washington takes place and 200,000 participants gather for peaceful protest and to hear King deliver his immortal “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Monument. Just 18 days later, a bomb explodes at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing four young girls attending Sunday school. The church is frequently used for movement meetings. Riots erupt, leading to the
deaths of two more black youths.
In the waning of the year, on November 13, Malcolm X gives a speech in Detroit, Michigan commonly known as the “Message to the grassroots.” In the address, given before the Northern Negro Grassroots Leadership conference, he makes a seminal statement on Black Power and the Civil Rights Movement, defining revolution and arguing in favor of a worldwide union of nonwhites against the powerful and privileged who benefit from white racism.
So there you have it. In 1963, the small sparks of freedom kindled by activists through voter-registration drives, lunch counter sit-ins, and Freedom Rides ignite into a fire which consumes the entire South. Just 50 short years ago...
To read more about it...
Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1958-63
Taylor Branch (Simon and Schuster, 1988)
First book of a trilogy, this Pulitzer Prize winner focuses on Martin Luther King, Jr., and the key moments that defined his rise to the forefront of the civil rights movement in America, from Rosa Parks' arrest in Montgomery to King's imprisonment in Birmingham and his triumphant march on Washington.
Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama
Diane McWhorter (Simon and Schuster, 2001)
A journalist who grew up in Birmingham as a member of one of the city's leading families chronicles the peak of the civil
rights movement, focusing on the African-American freedom fighters who stood firm on issues of civil rights and segregation during the movement's eventful climax.
On the Road to Freedom: a guided tour of the civil rights trail
Charles E. Cobb, Jr. (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2008)
An award-winning black journalist takes a pilgrimage through the sites and landmarks of the civil rights movement as he journeys to key locales that served as a backdrop to important events of the 1960s, traveling around the country to pay tribute to the people, organizations, and events that transformed America.
Stayed tuned for our next episode, in which the WABAC Machine will help us pinpoint some of the lighter events and inventions which will celebrate their golden anniversaries in 2013...
If you plan on seeing Peter Jackson's over-long, overly violent film translation of one-third of Tolkien's children's fantasy this holiday week, here's a cheat-sheet to help you differentiate between all those little, gruff-talking men with beards:
Actor Alec Baldwin as Santa? No, I'm not talking about his voiceover in the recently released kids' flick, Rise of the Guardians, in which he portrays North (alias Santa), an inked-up hulk with a Russian-tinged accent that perhaps reflects a childhood fascination with Rocky and Bullwinkle’s Boris Badenov.
The Hunt for Red December? (courtesy tumblr)
No, I'm talking about a monetary gift he made recently to the Adams Memorial Library in Central Falls, Rhode Island. The library, which was closed for several months in 2011 in the wake of the town's bankruptcy, received an unexpected check for the sum of $5,000 from Baldwin, his second donation in 12 months. “A year ago, Alec’s donation [of $10,000] helped us keep the doors open,” said board President Bruce Kaplan. “This year he’s helping us expand hours of operation and community programming.” The library, which is staffed mainly by volunteers, serves an impoverished community where the median household income is just over $22,000. Per capita income for the city was $10,825. Nearly 26% of families were below the poverty line, including 40% of those under age 18 and 30% of those age 65 or over. In 2010, Central Falls made the national news when the entire faculty and administrative staff of Central Falls High School was fired after the teachers' union refused to accept one of the "No Child Left Behind" options for restructuring
Baldwin, who in the past has garnered as much publicity for his cranky personality, public (and private) rants and tangles with the paparazzi as for his acting roles, has no personal connection to the town or the library.
Benevolence is definitely sexy. So the challenge is on to determine the librarian's favorite pin-up for 2013 (now that we have definitively proven that the world is not ending, at least not yet.) Mr. Gosling, the ball is in your court.
On Friday, December 14th, a 20-year old armed with 3 semi-automatic assault weapons kills 28 people, most of whom were children. Across the world in China, just hours before, as their school day was starting, 22 children are injured by a man wielding a knife.
The mind seeks a rational explanation, the heart searches for something deeper as darkness settles on this traditional season of light, and the spirit remembers why the melancholy carols are the ones that truly move us.
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9, King James Bible)
"Man's nature is not essentially evil. Brute nature has been know to yield to the influence of love. You must never despair of human nature." (Mahatma Gandhi)
"It is necessary for him who lays out a state and arranges laws for it to presuppose that all men are evil and that they are always going to act according to the wickedness of their spirits whenever they have free scope."
"Evil is only good perverted." (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
"We are all born marked for evil." (Charles Baudelaire)
"Since boredom advances and boredom is the root of all evil, no wonder, then, that the world goes backwards, that evil spreads. This can be traced back to the very beginning of the world. The gods were bored; therefore they created human beings." (Soren Kierkegaard)
"I have discovered that all human evil comes from this, man's being unable to sit still in a room." (Blaise Pascal)
"It is by its promise of a sense of power that evil often attracts the weak." (Eric Hoffer)
"Ignorance, the root and stem of all evil." (Plato)
"Entire ignorance is not so terrible or extreme an evil, and is far from being the greatest of all; too much cleverness and too much learning, accompanied with ill bringing-up, are far more fatal." (Plato)
"Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our own table." (W.H. Auden)
In an earlier post, we examined the ancient practice of Chinese footbinding and its modern manifestations within the context of shopping for prom shoes. This has become a popular post, as evidenced by a consistently high number of page visits. I will not speculate upon whether random internet explorers with feet or shoe fetishes stumble upon it while searching for other things. All I know is what my statistics tell me... and I don't think they're lying.
So when I read about a new practice of institutional mutilation of a pedalian nature, I knew I had to comment on it.
Old-fashioned Cinderella procedure
Recall the fairy tale, Cinderella, and its many
variants. The majority of these stories involve a plot twist with a glass or golden slipper or shoe. Cinderella flees the palace ball in such haste that she loses her footware on the staircase or the path. The prince discovers its and vows to wed the girl whose foot will fit. Cinder's nasty stepsisters, bent on snagging the keys to the kingdom and egged on by the cruel stepmom, go so far as to cut off parts of their toes and heels in their attempts to force their large dogs into the tiny shoe.
Well, in an instance of life imitating art... women of a certain ilk are now taking the knife to their toes in order to fit their tootsies into modern instruments of torture known as "shoes." Yes, you read it right: elective, i.e. cosmetic, plastic surgery for their feet.
Modern Cinderella Procedures
Since the phenomenon was first noted in 2003, women are increasingly requesting cosmetic foot procedures -- including shortening their toes, adding collagen to their heels and even completely removing their pinky toe -- in order to better fit into vertigo-inducing 4-, 5- and even 6-inch stilettos. Others opt to lop parts off in order to fit into a smaller size. Apparently, these women do not understand the biomechanical engineering marvels that are their feet: a complex network of 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments and 19 muscles that support over 100,000 pounds of pressure for every mile they traverse. Even small changes can undermine the foot's structural integrity and cause crippling pain, as anyone who has had a wart, a corn, a bunion or plantar fascitis knows all too well. Yet these women are willing to risk infection, nerve damage, foot deformities (from shifting collagen) and worse just to slip their perfectly normal feet into the abnormal shapes designed by Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin. And, the irony of it all is that removing a toe could completely affect a woman's balance, making her even more unstable on those super-high heels.
Obviously most podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons disavow these practices. But as always, there are any number of them on both the East and West coasts who are convinced they are simply helping women "look and feel their best"
This is just another one of those moments when I simply fail to understand my fellow woman.
According to some interpretations of the Mayan calendar, the world (or at least the recording of time) will end on December 21 of this year. But according to ESPN's college football talking butts, I mean heads -- oops, analysts---it already has --when Northern Illinois University's up-by-its-bootstraps football team was selected to play against traditional powerhouse Florida State University in the Orange Bowl. OMG, you would think it was the end of the world as we know it. Well, I feel fine. I have no personal connection to NIU, other than my daughter is good friends with an alumnus and my other daughter attended a speech camp there and I live about 40 minutes away from the cornfields and quadrangles of DeKalb, stomping ground of the Huskies, the newly crowned Mid-American Conference football champs.
NIU All-American Quarterback Jordan Lynch
The Huskies (12-1) polished off Kent State University this past weekend to capture their conference crown with another gritty, heads-up performance that has been their trademark for the past two seasons. As a result of the various polls (AP, Coaches, Harris, etc.), they moved up from #21 in the BCS rankings to #16, thus earning themselves a trip to Miami and bragging rights as the first MAC team to snag a bowl game berth -- and offending the sensibilities of the ESPN elite.
The Huskies take the field.
What a gnashing of teeth there was that day!
David Pollack: "I don't agree with it. I don't think that they should be there."
Jesse Palmer: "I don't think they should get to go."
Kirk Herbstreit: "The fact that Northern Illinois is in the BCS for 2012 is really a sad state for college football. They dont't deserve to be in the BCS this year. Are you kidding me? No one even knew they were playing until the Toledo game two weeks ago."
Kirk Herbstreit -- washed up Ohio State QB
No, you idiots. The Penn State/Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky travesty was really a sad state for college football. The very fact that college football is basically a semi-pro league designed to make money for universities and that its athletes live under different rules than most of the other students who toil on campus (what other high school seniors already know they are admitted to X college in August before their non-athlete pals have even submitted their college applications???) -- that's a really sad state.
Celebrating the MAC trophy
A Cinderella team like NIU making the Orange Bowl is something to celebrate. Okay, so their coach has already moved on to supposedly bigger and better things. That's just another challenge for them to rise above. Seems to me ESPN needs a visit from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future to remember the hopes and dreams of the little guys, the 99% who are sweating it out and putting in the work and hoping that it will all pay off with a break, just one break. Hey, it's just football, guys. Lie back and enjoy it.
I am not one to watch the bowl games. But I think I will be tuned in on this New Year's Day. And for everyone who roots for the underdogs, wherever they may be:
shout it with me:
"I am NIU."
"We are all Huskies now!"
The first Honorary Scrooge of the Month Award goes to Sony/ATV Music for blocking a parody of Michael Jackson's 1983 hit "Beat It" from appearing on YouTube. Local high school students who frequent Lansdowne Public
Library (in Pennsylvania) and serve on its Teen Advisory Board wrote and produced “Read It,” a delightful take-off aimed at inspiring other teens and tweens to just pick up a book or e-reader and take the reading plunge. However, on November 19, just three days after the video made its debut during the dedication of the library’s Ronnie Hawkins Resource Room, they discovered that the performance had been blocked on YouTube by Sony, which administers the copyrights for Jackson's music. As you can imagine, the teens were crushed that all their hard work was going to go unseen.
Heroic librarian Abbe Klebanoff
After a week of intense lobbying of Sony executives and the executor of Michael Jackson's estate by the video’s editor, Abbe Klebanoff, head of public services for the library, the corporation finally relented and acknowledged the video's parody/educational purposes under the Fair Use Act. The video has been restored to YouTube. Who knows, perhaps the fat cat corporate types were visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past and woke up remembering what it was like to young and excited about creating something... or maybe the ghost of the king of pop himself paid them a call. Below you can see what all the fuss was about.
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