Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Guilt, Desire, and Love" by James Baldwin

At the dark street corner
where Guilt and Desire
are attempting to stare
each other down
(presently, one of them
will light a cigarette
and glance in the direction
of the abandoned warehouse)
Love came slouching along,
and exploded silence
standing a little apart
but visible anyway
in the yellow, silent, streaming light,
while Guilt and Desire wrangled,
trying not to be overheard
by this trespasser.

Each time Desire looked towards Love,
hoping to find a witness,
Guilt shouted louder
and shook them hips
and the fire of the cigarette
threatened to burn the warehouse down.

Desire actually started across the street,
time after time,
to hear what Love might have to say,
but Guilt flagged down a truckload
of other people
and knelt down in the middle of the street
and, while the truckload of other people
looked away, and swore that they
didn't see nothing
and couldn't testify nohow,
and Love moved out of sight,
Guilt accomplished upon the standing body
of Desire
the momentary, inflammatory soothing
which seals their union
(for ever?)
and creates a mighty traffic problem.
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Remembering... James Baldwin

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketWhenever I'm feeling particularly picked on - or even if I'm having one of my out-and-out victim days - I find it helps me to consider the case of one James Baldwin... Growing up black and gay in the 1930s tends to put any little snit I might find myself in directly into the dumper; I know it's not fashionable to compare oppressions, but come on! As glamourous as they might look to us from this remove, those were some very hard times indeed.

Not only did James Baldwin not hurl himself off the George Washington Bridge (like at least one of his characters - Rufus Scott, in Another Country - did) he turned his hurts inside out all over the printed page, eventually producing the big three - prose, poetry, and plays - in addition to essays and articles by the score.

Born in August 1924, at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, by the time his first novel - Go Tell It on the Mountain - appeared in 1953 that phenomenon was all but forgotten. Over the next thirty years Baldwin wrote Notes of a Native Son, Giovanni's Room, and If Beale Street Could Talk among many others.

He died on this day in 1987.
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"Two Of Hearts" by Stacey Q

Direct from the deepest, darkest recesses of the Pop Culture Institute's 'Whatever Happened To' file, it's birthday baby Stacey Q, with her monster hit from 1986, Two of Hearts...

True, she had more success portraying Cinnamon on the sitcom The Facts of Life than she did as a recording artist, but in this instance we must always remember the maxim, first postulated by George Burns: show business is a hideous bitch goddess.

Still, the lady herself seemed sweet enough; if only her career hadn't gotten caught in the cross-fire of recording industry politics - a proposed sitcom deal following her highly successful appearances opposite Mrs. Garrett's gang was nixed by the label, citing the negative effect it could have on her career. Shortly thereafter, she faded from the public eye, and was never heard from again...

Another victory for the record executives!

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Happy Birthday Colin Mochrie

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn in Kilmarnock, Scotland, on this day in 1957, Colin Mochrie was brought up in Vancouver, where he was class valedictorian at Killarney Secondary School in 1975; Vancouverites, then, can be proud to call Canadian television's Mr. Nice Guy one of their own...

Mochrie first gained prominence on the BBC's Whose Line Is It Anyway?, where his strong improvisational skills and quick wit earned him kudos by the bushel; he was later a fixture on the American version of the show, and even before it went off the air in 2003 Mochrie had begun gradually insinuating himself into Canadian television - which should have, but utterly failed to, give him his start.

From his participation in the long-running news parody show This Hour Has 22 Minutes to sitcoms like Blackfly to game shows like Are You Smarter Than a Canadian 5th Grader? it looks like Canadian television may be poised to begin reversing the brain drain, one massive* brain at a time.

*And massively funny...
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In Memoriam: Sir Winston Churchill

Churchill was definitely a figure of holy reverence in my house growing up; I wasn't more than three or four chapters into his four-volume A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (or was it his six-volume history, The Second World War) when I whole-heartedly succumbed to the family cult.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketNot that the worship of Churchill has been confined to my family; in 2002 more than a million Britons named him the greatest of them to have ever lived in a BBC poll. I even find that, the more I read about him, the more there is to admire - which is not my usual experience with politicians. Similarly, whenever I read about some unlikable quality of his (such as his casual bigotry, his treatment of working class people, or what have you) it's often something timely, whereas when I discover something amazing it's timeless (like leadership ability, creative output, or indomitable spirit). Not only that, as it stands the least of his good traits seem to far outweigh the worst of his bad ones.

In his long Parliamentary career he became the only MP to serve under both Queen Victoria and Elizabeth II, was named Father of the House for his forty years of unbroken service from 1924, refused a dukedom upon his retirement but accepted honorary US citizenship from President John F. Kennedy, and crossed the floor of the House of Commons twice to suit his conscience: from the Conservative bench to the Liberal then back again.

Born on this day in 1874, Churchill first came to public prominence in 1899 during the Second Boer War when, as a journalist, he escaped from the POW camp where he'd been interned. First elected to Parliament in 1900, he later served as Home Secretary (1910), First Lord of the Admiralty during World War I, then held various positions both in and out of office - including Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1924-9 - before serving as Prime Minister, first from 1940-5, then from 1951-5. When he died at the age of 90 in January 1965 - 70 years to the day after his father - he became one of only eight non-royals in British history to have a State Funeral.
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The Late, Great Pierre Berton Rolls A Joint

Expert in all things Canadiana, when Pierre Berton died on this day in 2004 the country lost one of its finest: a journalist, historian, novelist, television and radio personality (not to mention an all-around great guy). I had the great good fortune to shake his hand once after a taping of Vicki Gabereau's TV talk show; it was one of my life's greatest moments.

Though often considered Establishment for the series of popular histories he wrote, those in the know knew that Berton was always one of the good guys. In his later years he came out swinging against Canada Customs and the deplorable bigotry it aimed squarely at Vancouver's gay and lesbian bookstore Little Sister's; once Berton's voice was added to the hubbub of opposition the shock it made helped to create a mighty roar.

A recreational pot smoker for forty years, Berton's sensible usage of the herb puts to bed the myth that cannabis users are worthless burnouts, given how prodigious and esteemed his output was over the same period - namely fifty books in so many years; in addition to countless articles he wrote, lucid interviews he gave, and insightful TV appearances he made on such shows as Front Page Challenge, Berton's twinkling blue eyes could always be counted on to lighten up any room.
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Happy Birthday Joan Ganz Cooney

Armed only with a few of Jim Henson's Muppets and a dream, Joan Ganz Cooney revolutionized the way children were educated, demonstrating in just a few short years the integral part television can play in child literacy and numeracy if used correctly...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1929, Cooney admits to a shy childhood (which she mainly spent reading books) and a happy adolescence.

Proving the formula Luck=Imagination+Timing, Cooney managed to become involved with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting at its inception; as founder of the Children's Television Workshop, Cooney is responsible for the creation of such classic kids shows as the aforementioned Sesame Street and The Electric Company.

Sesame Street
remains the gold standard in children's entertainment; now into its 41st season (it debuted in November 1969, just like me) with more than 4200 episodes to its credit, the show continues to grow and inspire children, bold and shy alike, to build their own happy adolescence.
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Pop History Moment: The Death of Oscar Wilde

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOne story surrounding the death of Oscar Wilde - itself a typically Wildean anecdote - is too good to be true; in fact, it's even better that it is true. As he lay dying in room 16 of the Hôtel d'Alsace in Paris, he quipped: 'Either this wallpaper goes or I do.' It was the sort of ultimatum that only a true aesthete could make, and even in the face of death, beauty mattered most to him.

When Oscar Wilde died, on this day in 1900, it wasn't the decor that killed him, but cerebral meningitis, although his time in jail (1895-7) - first in Pentonville, then in Wandsworth, and finally, most famously, in Reading Prison - had ruined his health.

Today he lies in the Père Lachaise Cemetery, his tomb covered in lipstick traces left by a growing legion of fans, people who have sensibly evolved past the judgemental Victorian hypocrisy which proved his downfall.

The biography of choice remains Richard Ellmann's immensely readable memoir Oscar Wilde; those unwilling or unable to lug around a boat anchor in a slip cover might find Stephen Fry's equally scholarly performance in the 1997 film Wilde more to their liking.
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POPnews - November 30th

[As it snakes its silvery way 42 kilometres (27 miles) across the Niagara Escarpment from Port Colborne on Lake Erie to Port Weller on Lake Ontario it's easy to forget the very practical purpose the Welland Canal serves; although not initially part of the St. Lawrence Seaway, it nevertheless made its fellow engineering marvel possible by allowing shipping a way around the precipitous, if lovely, cataracts of Niagara Falls.  By opening up trade possibilities between Central Canada and the world - and for many decades at that - it made Ontario the engine of the Canadian economy. And, unlike its equally impressive cousin the Erie Canal, it's still in heavy use.]

1700 - At the Battle of Narva a Swedish relief army of 8,500 men under Charles XII, Carl Gustav Rehnskiöld, and Otto Vellingk defeated a much larger Russian siege force commanded by Charles Eugène de Croÿ, Ivan Trubetskoy, Adam Veyde, Boris Sheremetev, Alexander of Imereti, and Avtomon Golovin early in the conflict which came to be known as the Great Northern War.

1718 - Swedish king Charles XII died during a siege of the Norway's Fredriksten fortress.

1783 - A 5.3 magnitude earthquake struck New Jersey.

1786 - Peter Leopold Joseph of Habsburg-Lorraine, Grand Duke of Tuscany and future Holy Roman Emperor, promulgated a penal reform that made his the first country to abolish the death penalty; because of this, November 30 is commemorated by 300 cities around the world as Cities for Life Day.

1824 - At the behest of William Hamilton Merritt, construction began on the Welland Canal.

1829 - The first incarnation of the Welland Canal opened for its trial run; five years to the day after construction began the schooner Annie & Jane made the inaugural trip with the canal's instigator William Hamilton Merritt aboard.

1868 - The inauguration of a statue of Sweden's King Charles XII took place in Stockholm's Kungsträdgården, 159 years after he was exiled to the Ottoman Empire following a crushing defeat at the Battle of Poltava and upon the sesquicentenary of his death; in recent years the statue has been the focal point of neo-Nazi rallies on this date, which clashes with police and members of left-wing groups have shattered the tranquility of the Swedish capital.

1934 - The steam locomotive Flying Scotsman became the first to officially exceed 100mph.

1936 - The Crystal Palace - crown jewel of Sydenham Hill - was destroyed by fire; originally built for the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London's Hyde Park, Joseph Paxton's architectural whimsy of wrought iron and glass was enlarged upon its removal to Penge Common in 1854.

1940 - Lucille Ball married Desi Arnaz in Greenwich, Connecticut.

1943 - At the Tehran Conference US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin agreed to the planned June 1944 invasion of Europe code-named Operation Overlord.

1953 - Edward Mutesa II, the kabaka of Buganda, was deposed and exiled to London by Sir Andrew Cohen, Governor of Uganda.

1954 - In Sylacauga, Alabama, the Hodges Meteorite - itself a fragment of the Sylacauga meteorite - crashed into the home of Ann Elizabeth Hodges and struck her during her afternoon nap, in the only documented case of a human being hit by a rock from space; while badly bruised on one side she walked away from the accident, although a nearby console radio was destroyed.

1961 - Burma's U Thant was elected the third Secretary-General of the United Nations, following the death of his successor, Dag Hammarskjöld, in a plane crash the previous September.

1966 - Barbados gained its independence from the United Kingdom, with Errol Barrow serving as Elizabeth II's last Premier and first Prime Minister there; lowering the Union Flag and raising the Broken Trident on behalf of Her Majesty that day was HRH the Duke of Kent, who also opened the country's Parliament during the same visit.

1967 - Zulfikar Ali Bhutto founded the Pakistan Peoples Party; its previous leader was his daughter Benazir Bhutto, and its current leadership is split between its founder's grandson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and son-in-law Asif Ali Zardari, the country's 12th president.

1999 - In Seattle, protests against the WTO Meeting by anti-globalization protesters caught police unprepared, forcing the cancellation of its opening ceremonies. These events have inspired not only a documentary called Breaking the Spell - shot live during the riot by Tim Lewis, Tim Ream, and Sir Chuck A. Rock - but also the Charlize Theron vehicle Battle in Seattle, directed by her longtime squeeze Stuart Townsend.

2004 - Longtime Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings finally lost, leaving him with $2,520,700 - television's all-time biggest game show haul.

2007 - Leeland Eisenberg entered the presidential campaign office of Hillary Clinton in Rochester, New Hampshire, with a device suspected of being a bomb and held six people hostage for 5 hours.
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Monday, November 29, 2010

"Barrett's Privateers" by Stan Rogers and Friends

The late Stan Rogers* - born on this day in 1949 - was an Ontario boy who caught the Maritime fever in a big way, eventually going so far as to craft songs - including Northwest Passage, The Mary Ellen Carter, and this one, Barrett's Privateers, from his 1976 album Fogarty's Cove - all of which sounded two hundred years old the first time they were played. In the best possible way, of course...

So popular is this modern-day chantey that the Canadian Navy often marches to it, and drinkers around the world are gradually discovering what drinkers in Canada have known for years - no one ever had a more rum drinking companion than a Stan Rogers song.

*He died in June 1983.
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Gratuitous Brunette: Don Cheadle

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When looking for sexy, there are lots of places to look these days, it seems; when looking for sexy with substance, though, look no further than Don Cheadle...

For his Oscar-nominated performance as Paul Rusesabagina in the 2005 film Hotel Rwanda alone Cheadle has earned a permanent place in the Pop Culture Institute's Gratuitous Brunette Hall of Fame; with each new portrayal he moves higher into the firmament, where only stars of the brightest magnitude dwell.

As the films Hamburger Hill (1987) and Colors (1989) aren't the kind normally found on my radar - or at least weren't then - I had to wait to first see him on the ill-starred Golden Girls spin-off The Golden Palace, as long ago as 1992; the films Devil in a Blue Dress, The Rat Pack, and Traffic are on my radar, yet somehow the universe hasn't yet seen fit to show them to me*. Which means my admiration has grown from appearances on shallow talk shows, interviews in glib glossy magazines, and of course Paul Thomas Anderson's 70s paean-cum-porn epic Boogie Nights.

Still, all that is now in the past; in the present there are birthday wishes for Don Cheadle; as for what the future holds, well, only time will tell...

*As for Picket Fences, I swear I used to watch it, and I don't remember seeing him in it... Damn you Tom Skerritt, with your weapons-grade blue eyes and distracting mustache!

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Pop History Moment: The Death of Natalie Wood

The death of Natalie Wood is the first celebrity death I can remember clearly; as I was only 11 at the time, though, I was unfamiliar with much of her work (though I knew who she was), and aside from the inherent tragedy of it in those days I was probably more affected by the death of a pretty lady than a great artist...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOn this day in 1981 Wood and her husband Robert Wagner had moored their yacht The Splendor at Catalina Island; the three were celebrating Thanksgiving with their friend, Christopher Walken - with whom Wood was making a film called Brainstorm - when just before midnight she slipped into the water and drowned.

Stories differ on what happened next; some insist the threesome had been all good cheer as they spent the afternoon ashore. Others claim that Wagner, possibly jealous, argued with Wood either over the attention Walken was giving her, or vice versa.

Whether she was attempting to go ashore via dinghy when she fell into the water, or whether she clung to the dinghy in an attempt to save herself, famed coroner Thomas Noguchi found rubber under Wood's fingernails at the autopsy. He also found that she was drunk (but not overly so) at the time of death, and reasoned that had she not been wearing a heavy coat and sweater she might have survived, as she'd received no head trauma in the fall. In any event, he ruled the death an accidental drowning.

Still, a credible witness (onboard another yacht nearby) reported hearing a woman splashing around in the water for at least a half an hour that night, and also reported that her cries for help were lacklustre at best, so she assumed the woman she heard was just fooling around; only the next day did she learn, along with the world, that it was Natalie Wood she'd heard drowning the previous night.

But wait... You haven't heard the really creepy part yet: Natalie Wood had a lifelong fear of dark water and drowning, following a childhood accident in which she fell into dark water and almost drowned.
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"Take The A Train" by the Duke Ellington Orchestra featuring Billy Strayhorn

In honour of Billy Strayhorn's birthday, and as an essential part of what's shaping up to be a very jazzy day indeed, I'm thrilled to post this clip of the man himself in action...

Here he's given the prestigious encore solo spot at a performance by the Duke Ellington Orchestra; as the big man himself looks admiringly on, Staryhorn makes his delicate way through one of the band's signature numbers, Take the 'A' Train.
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In Memoriam: Billy Strayhorn

Billy Strayhorn was only 16 when he wrote Lush Life, a song filled with the kind of world-weariness normally found in a much more experienced man; then again, being black in a white world (as well as gay in a straight one) could have that effect on a person, especially in the 1930s...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1915, Strayhorn originally wanted to enter the classical music field; that avenue of expression, though, was then strictly segregated - even more than it is now. Instead, he brought a kind of classical expression to jazz when, in 1939, he joined the Duke Ellington Orchestra, at the time the world's foremost purveyors of the form; because of Strayhorn's influence, Ellington's works may one day be studied on a par with Beethoven, Chopin, or Tchaikovsky.

In the more than two decades of their collaboration, Strayhorn's music, lyrics, and arrangements - and in some cases, all three, as with the band's theme song Take the A Train - became famous, while the man himself preferred to stay in the shadows and let his more flamboyant boss take the bows; Strayhorn was even said to have coached Lena Horne, behind the scenes, helping to hone her natural ability with just enough classical technique to define her signature sound. For this reason alone, he's entitled to more kudos than we can ever give him.

Strayhorn's circumspection, naturally, was born out of the homophobia of the times; living openly with Bill Grove, as he did, probably cost Strayhorn a career away from the safe confines of his protector, mentor, and friend Duke Ellington. Yet, in his shy way, Billy blazed two equally important trails...

Before there was a civil rights movement Strayhorn was involved in one; in fact, he was one of a pair of gay men whose vision informed that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (the other being Bayard Rustin), and probably kept the early civil rights movement from being as homophobic as it might otherwise have been. So, too, before there was a gay rights movement, Strayhorn was the one gay man even the most homophobic person could own up to liking, and his modest good nature (as much as his talent) likely made him the most respected gay man of his times.
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Remembering... Cass Gilbert

Although he is most often associated with the many Beaux-Arts gems he contributed to an earlier incarnation of the Manhattan skyline, Cass Gilbert (born this day in 1859) got his start in St. Paul; that city's Minnesota State Capitol (begun in 1895) is considered one of his earliest triumphs.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketYet the whole time he was building palace after palace along Summit Avenue in St. Paul, Gilbert was aware that enduring fame for any American architect could only come from working in one city in particular. It was one such commission, from the city in question - the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in New York - which finally brought him and his firm East.

While Gilbert's first job in the metropolis had been the relatively modest Broadway-Chambers Building at 277 Broadway he soon compiled an impressive series of edifices to his credit; the man many consider to be the 'Father of the Skyscraper' could have asked for no better mother to help birth and nurture his particular vision of urbanism than Manhattan.

Over the next thirty years Gilbert sent one tower after another into the skies over the city, buildings so beautiful that even now, even as they are being crowded out by generic glass towers, they still inspire the same awe they did in the optimistic 1910s and 1920s. Arguably the finest of these is the Woolworth Building (1913), although surely the mammoth New York Life Insurance Building (1926) comes a close second.

Gilbert's last commission - the US Supreme Court building in Washington, DC - was completed a year after his May 1934 death by his son.
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"Feels So Good" by Chuck Mangione

Birthday wishes go out today to jazzy flugelhorn player Chuck Mangione, who in 1978 scored a major hit with Feels So Good; an abbreviated version of the nearly ten minute song went all the way to number 4 in the United States, and today makes an effective short-hand for anyone - from sitcom writers to indie auteurs - seeking to evoke the Seventies with just a few notes.
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POPnews - November 29th

[The animation! That music! Those graphics!]

1777 - When San Jose was founded by José Joaquín Moraga - as el Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe - it was the first civilian settlement, or pueblo, in Alta California.

1781 - On orders of Captain Luke Collingwood the crew of the slave ship Zong murdered 133 sick and dying Africans they were holding captive by dumping them into the sea so that they could later claim the insurance on them; before he could face justice, though, Collingwood died of the disease that had been ravaging the ship throughout the entire voyage.

1807 - The Portuguese Royal Family fled Lisbon for their richest colonial holding - Brazil - a day ahead of the French troops of Napoleon Bonaparte.

1830 - An armed rebellion now known as the November Uprising - which was waged against Russian rule in Poland - began.

1845 - The Sonderbund or 'separate alliance' - formed by the union of Swiss cantons Lucerne, Fribourg, Valais, Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden and Zug - was defeated by the joint forces of the remaining Swiss cantons under General Guillaume-Henri Dufour, ending a 26-day civil war in Switzerland.

1847 - Missionaries Dr Marcus Whitman, his wife Narcissa, and 15 others were killed by Cayuse and Umatilla Indians at the Whitman Massacre, causing the Cayuse War.

1850 - A treaty known as the Punctation of Olmütz was signed in Olmutz (now known as Olomouc) following which Prussia abandoned the Erfurt Union and offered diplomatic capitulation to the Austrian Empire, which then took over the leadership of German Confederation.

1864 - During the Indian Wars Colorado volunteers led by Colonel John Chivington massacred at least 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho noncombatants at the Sand Creek Massacre in the Colorado Territory.

1877 - Thomas Edison demonstrated his new invention, the phonograph, for the first time.

1890 - The Meiji Constitution went into effect in Japan and the country's first Diet convened.

1893 - Ziqiang Institute, today known as Wuhan University, is founded by Zhang Zhidong, governor of Hubei and Hunan Provinces in late Qing Dynasty of China after his memorial to the throne is approved by the Qing Government.

1915 - Fire destroyed most of the buildings on California's Santa Catalina Island.

1944 - The first surgery (on a human) to correct blue baby syndrome was performed by Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas.

1945 - The Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia was declared.

1961 - As part of Project Mercury's Mercury-Atlas 5 mission Enos, a chimpanzee, was launched into space; the spacecraft orbited the Earth twice and splashed-down off the coast of Puerto Rico.

1963 - President Lyndon Johnson appointed Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren to head the Warren Commission, whose investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy produced some interesting results.

1965 - The Canadian Space Agency launched the satellite Alouette 2.

1972 - Nolan Bushnell (co-founder of Atari) released Pong as an arcade game at Andy Capp’s Tavern in Sunnyvale, California.

1975 - Race car driver Graham Hill died when the Piper Aztec aircraft he was piloting clipped some trees while landing at a golf course in north London; also dead in the crash were Embassy Hill team manager Ray Brimble, mechanics Tony Alcock and Terry Richards, up-and-coming driver Tony Brise and designer Andy Smallman.

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Happy Birthday Jon Stewart

The uncanny thing about this bit of stand-up comedy, from 1996, is how relevant it still is today...

Of course, for a shallow guy and noted Jew queen like me, I often watch it because as hot as Jon Stewart is today - and that's still pretty hot - all those years ago he was a) thinner, b) had darker hair, and oh yeah, c) was also that much younger. 34, to be exact... A good age for a man (just like all the other ones).

Damn him, though, if he doesn't make any age look good... As an uppity liberal, I consider it a mark of pride to share his birthday; now if only I can find that big plaster cake for him to jump out of I can get this birthday party started!
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Pop History Moment: Truman Capote's Black and White Ball


On this day in 1966 impish writer and noted star-fucker Truman Capote threw a party for Katharine Graham, publisher of The Washington Post, in the Grand Ballroom of Manhattan's Plaza Hotel*; in the months leading up to the event all of society grew increasingly tense awaiting their invitations. Yet for some of the biggest names in New York, they never came...

Capote was incredibly canny when it came to managing socialites - at least, he was until he published Answered Prayers and all Hell broke loose - and he certainly knew how to get a reaction out of people. For months before the event he held the promise of an invite over the heads of the Social Register's Beautiful People; even as he was helping arguably the most powerful woman in the country to consolidate her power (for which he would ever after take credit) Capote's growing glee in that time came from having the sole power over distributing something to people accustomed to just buying whatever they wanted.

In the wake of the extraordinary success of his masterpiece In Cold Blood Capote added a soupçon of names from the book into the mix, allowing salt of the Earth Kansans involved in the tragedy which befell the Clutter Family to rub shoulders with blue bloods. It's hard to imagine today, but in those days the movers and shakers of politics, media, and the arts only occasionally met; Capote's throwing 540 of them together proved such a success that it made such cross-pollination virtually mandatory thereafter.

*The dress code was both modernist austere - men in black tie, ladies in black and white with fans, and both in masks - and Old World glamourous, which set the fashion establishments of New York and Paris all a-flutter.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pop History Moment: MILK, MOSCONE SLAIN

On this day in 1978 Dan White - an emotionally unstable and homophobic ex-cop, who'd been gunning for the openly-gay Harvey Milk for years - calmly walked into Milk's office in San Francisco City Hall and finally got him, gunning him down in cold blood; by then he'd already been to the office of Mayor George Moscone, shot and killed him, and reloaded - all without being detected...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketHaving spent several days planning the killings - in which spree he'd also hoped to include Carol Ruth Silver (an outspoken liberal on the city's Board of Supervisors) as well as Willie Brown - White sneaked into City Hall through a basement window to avoid the metal detectors (even going so far as planning to bring extra ammunition with him) then apparently set about his task in a very business-like manner.

At the root of White's ire was the fact that he'd previously resigned his seat on the Board of Supervisors in a fit of pique, then regretted it almost instantly. Moscone hadn't regretted accepting it, though; in fact, he'd already chosen a successor, Don Horanzy. White had long been a thorn in Moscone's side, often voting against progressive initiatives simply out of partisan bias, and the Mayor was said to be glad to get rid of such an obstreperous and divisive individual so easily.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketWhen Dan White later turned himself in to the police (intentionally at the same precinct house where he'd once worked) he denied having acted with premeditation, which blatant lie his old buddies were only too happy to believe. The courts too - which, rather than sentencing him to first-degree murder, charged him instead with voluntary manslaughter due to diminished capacity, citing the rightfully notorious Twinkie defense. Outrage over its use in this instance led to the State of California's outlawing of the diminished capacity defense, in much the same way the Matthew Shepard case led to a widespread banning of the so-called 'homosexual panic defense' a generation later.

Owing to the most specious defense in legal history, when White's slap on the wrist verdict was handed down in May 1979 - the day before what would have been Harvey Milk's 49th birthday - rioting by a mostly gay male mob erupted in San Francisco's Civic Center: windows were smashed in City Hall, parking meters uprooted, and police cars torched. Known as the White Night Riots, they represent the most significant demonstration of outrage ever committed by a gay community, possibly even greater than the Stonewall Riots themselves*; supporters of California's Proposition H8 should consider themselves grateful that we as a community have done some considerable evolution in the three decades since then...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketDan White was paroled in 1984, no doubt having come to terms with what was a fatal ambivalence to butt sex after spending five years of a seven-year stretch at Soledad State Prison; he committed suicide less than two years after his release. While that outcome might have startled White's imaginary nemesis, Milk had been calmly resigned to his own fate; prior to his death, he recorded a will in which he posited that his own death would likely be at the hands of 'somebody who is insecure, terrified, afraid, or very disturbed themselves' - as good a description of Dan White as has ever been made.

Not only are the events of this terrible day recorded in Randy Shilts' must-read memoir The Mayor of Castro Street - reporting which formed the basis for the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk - they're as central to Armistead Maupin's 1982 novel Further Tales of the City and the miniseries spawned by it as they are to Gus Van Sant's instant classic Oscar-bait biopic Milk, in which Harvey Milk is played by Sean Penn and Dan White by Josh Brolin.

*A controversial statement, to be true, but given the massive increase in gay-themed stories being covered in the mainstream media between June 1969 and May 1979, the White Night Riots generated far more attention at the time they occurred than their Manhattan counterparts had, even though the event in San Francisco never would have been possible without the legacy of Stonewall.

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Now Showing - "Bill Nye: Speedwalker"

Birthday wishes go out today to Bill Nye ('The Science Guy') - the former Boeing engineer whose first television exposure was as a cast member on Seattle's iconic late-night sketch show Almost Live!, which he then parlayed into a career as Bill Nye the Science Guy on PBS.

Nye is seen here assaying his most famous early role - that of Speedwalker, who in this exciting episode is racing to save the Kingdome from destruction by a madman (ably played by the voice of John Keister and Bob Nelson)... Of course, Speedwalker's saving of the Kingdome was only temporary; the 25-year-old facility was destroyed by a controlled implosion in March 2000, and has been replaced by Qwest Field on the same site.
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POPnews - November 27th

[Helen Clark and her Labour Party formed three successive governments in New Zealand, serving until defeated at the General Election of November 2008 by John Key's centre-right National Party.]

1095 - Pope Urban II declared the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont.

1295 - The so-called Model Parliament called by King Edward I assembled at Westminster; although Parliament had met semi-regularly more than fifty times since Henry III held the Parliament of Merton at Merton Priory in 1236, the Model Parliament marks the beginning of the involvement of the Commons in that august body.

1703 - The first Eddystone Lighthouse was destroyed by the Great Storm of 1703.

1815 - The Constitution of the Kingdom of Poland was adopted; it was then signed by Russia's Tsar Alexander I under the terms of the Congress of Vienna.

1839 - The American Statistical Association was founded in Boston.

1901 - The US Army War College was established, at Pennsylvania's Carlisle Barracks.

1924 - The first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was held in New York City.

1934 - Notorious bank robber and Public Enemy Number One Baby Face Nelson died in a gun battle, which also resulted in the deaths of FBI agents Herman Hollis and Samuel P. Cowley.

1940 - In Romania the ruling party's Iron Guard arrested and executed over 60 of exiled King Carol II's aides, including former minister Nicolae Iorga.

1942 - The French Navy scuttled its ships and submarines moored at Toulon to keep them out of Nazi hands.

1971 - The Soviet-built Mars 2 probe landed on Mars.

1973 - The United States Senate voted 92 to 3 to confirm Gerald Ford as Vice President of the United States according to protocols set out by the Twenty-fifth Amendment; the House of Representatives confirmed him 387 to 35 on December 6th. Ford was appointed to replace disgraced outgoing Vice President Spiro Agnew.

1975 - The Provisional IRA assassinated Ross McWhirter, after a press conference at which McWhirter had announced a reward for the capture of those responsible for multiple bombings and shootings across England.

1978 - Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk of San Francisco were assassinated by former Supervisor Dan White.

1990 - John Major was chosen leader of Britain's Conservative Party after the ouster of former leader and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

1999 - Helen Clark became the first female Prime Minister of New Zealand as leader of that country's left-leaning Labour Party.

2001 - A hydrogen atmosphere was discovered on the planet Osiris by the Hubble Space Telescope, the first such conditions detected on an exoplanet.

2004 - Pope John Paul II returned the relics of Saint John Chrysostom to the Eastern Orthodox Church.

2005 - The first partial human face transplant was performed - on Isabelle Dinoire by Jean-Michel Dubernard in the French city of Amiens.
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Friday, November 26, 2010

Now Showing: "A Boy Named Charlie Brown"

Although I have been scoffed at for saying it in the past, the deeper my research into the Peanuts canon delves the more true it seems... Anyone wishing to know what kind of man Charlie Brown might have grown into need look no further than me for the answer.

The film from which this clip is derived - A Boy Named Charlie Brown - was released December 4th, 1969, six days after I was born; I'm sure I never saw it as a child, so it's message - a particularly harsh although eventually redemptive one for the boy in the title - couldn't have influenced my own view of myself, let alone reinforced the theory I iterated in the previous paragraph.

Yet I cannot watch this without seeing my life in it: the trying, the failing, the persisting... There are even glimpses in my life today of the potential success experienced by the Peanuts gang accruing to me as well. Fortunately I am not as physically alike Charlie Brown as I am spiritually, so I will be able to keep my fingers crossed!
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In Memoriam: Charles M. Schulz


Charles M. Schulz was more than a cartoonist, he was a humanitarian; turning his own childhood hurts into humour, he helped the generations of kids who grew up reading his Peanuts strips to know that they were not alone in their angst, utilizing the unique power of the mass media to do it.

Yet what he leaves out of is work is just as telling as what he includes; the adult presence in the strips is both minimal and incomprehensible*, and the time the gang spends in school is occasional at best and fraught with emotional peril besides. The message imparted by this is that the important lessons learned by kids are in their extra-curricular interactions with each other, be they at the baseball diamond or just in hanging out together. Whether or not I agree with this is neither here nor there, as clearly it was a reflection of the cartoonist's own experience.

Charles Schulz - Sparky, to his friends - was born on this day in 1922, and in the course of his career hand-drew every frame through fifty years' worth of strips by himself, finishing the last just prior to his death in February 2000. Owing to his considerable business savvy, he made the characters he created into television and movie stars, toys and t-shirts and everything else, as well as commercial shills - creating in them a venerable brand which has easily outlived him; thanks to them (and the revenue they still generate) he was able to turn his home in Santa Rosa, California, into the Charles Schulz Museum, which is now a place of pilgrimage for Peanuts fans the world over.

The entire run of Peanuts is being republished, two years at a time with a new book published every six months for twelve-and-a-half years, by Fantagraphics; the fourteen volumes published so far, covering the years 1950-1978 have earned pride of place in the collection of the Pop Culture Institute, and look forward to being joined by their brethren in the fullness of time.

*WAA-waa waa waa, waa-WAA waa-waa waa!

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Remembering... Joey Stefano

Inasmuch as I love porn, I am also the first to accept that its corrosive aspect - plus the veritable bombardment of negative messages it contains* - are as apt to poison its participants, be they creator or consumer, as not. That said, I still love it, and credit porn with preventing any number of disasters, as it has been the only sexual outlet available to me for vast periods of my teenage and adult life.

PhotobucketOne of the models whose body of work best expresses this dichotomy is Joey Stefano; not only is he the quintessential fantasy figure**, off camera his life wasn't at all improved by affiliating with an industry notoriously callous towards those it makes large profits to exploit.

Born on the first day of 1968 in Chester, Pennsylvania, Joey Stefano drifted to New York at the age of fifteen following the death of his father. Supporting himself by prostitution and its related endeavours (namely stripping, which he did at Manhattan's notorious gay burlesque house, the Show Theater) it was there he met gay porn icon Tony Davis, who convinced him to de-camp to Los Angeles and hook up with a then-emerging porn auteur named Chi Chi LaRue; together they would make such gay porn classics as More of a Man and My Cousin Danny.

For awhile Stefano was living the high life... If only his meteoric rise to porn idol hadn't been compounded with an existing drug problem and a self-destructive streak he might have survived it. As it is, the pinnacle of his career came in 1992 when Madonna*** cast him in her 'bend me over the' coffee table book Sex.

Joey Stefano died on this day in 1994; although he was HIV-positive at the time, his body contained elevated amounts of four different drugs, any one of which could have killed him. His story is elegantly told in Charles Isherwood's book Wonder Bread and Ecstasy: The Life and Death of Joey Stefano. Or, to hear about his life in his own words, click here...

*To be fair, though, depending on your perspective those negative messages may merely be read into the medium, rather than inherent in it.
The unprecedented intimacy which porn promises - and the access it offers to super hot guys, the kind who wouldn't give me time of day in real life - is largely to blame for why I love it so much in the first place.

***Herself no stranger to the gay male psyche.

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"Proud Mary" by Ike and Tina Turner

Birthday wishes go out to Tina Turner, shown here performing Proud Mary early in her career alongside her then-husband Ike Turner with the Ike & Tina Turner Revue.

Tina Turner's career, of course, took off in 1984 with the release of her album Private Dancer, but as the video shows would have been legendary without it, based on the power of performances like this.

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"Ain't I A Woman?" by Sojourner Truth

In 1851 a freed slave named Sojourner Truth addressed the Ohio Women's Rights Convention... At the time many of those involved in the cause of female suffrage were unwilling or unable to see that the disenfranchised and oppressed stood a far greater chance at liberty by standing together than apart. Entitled Ain't I a Woman?, the truth spoken by Sojourner Truth on that day - and recorded for posterity by Frances Gage - speaks to us still...

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.
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Sojourner Truth: As Strong As Any Man That Is Now

Whenever I find myself dealing with job dissatisfaction*, I find it helps to consider the plight of slaves... So while its true that slavery to my lifestyle** keeps me coming back for more like the masochist I am, at least I'm able to take my job and shove it without my job shoving back.

PhotobucketBorn a slave in Upstate New York in 1797 with the name Isabella Baumfree, the life of the woman who came to be known as Sojourner Truth ran the usual gamut that attends the life of a slave; when she was bought and sold, repeatedly raped and beaten, denied the man she loved, and had her children taken from her and sold, it was all just another day at work for her.

New York State began the process of emancipation in 1799, a process that would not be complete until 1827; promised her freedom in 1826 by her Master, John Dumont, he reneged on the deal, at which time she escaped. She was taken in by a Quaker couple, Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen, who bought her services and allowed her to live with them until such time as she could go free. While living with them she underwent a religious conversion which would shape the rest of her life.

In 1851 Sojourner Truth made her famous oration at a convention of the Ohio Women's Rights Convention; entitled Ain't I a Woman?, it excoriated the phony chivalry of southern men, whose concern for women was entirely for pretty, young white women. She is also credited with writing the song, The Valiant Soldiers, popular during the Civil War.

Sojourner Truth died on this day in 1883, surrounded by some of the family she was able to reclaim, her words and the works she'd seen to in the last half of her life having assured that the plight of all those in search of equal rights stood a better chance at improvement when those seeking them stood together, rather than apart...

*Just about every waking minute of every day I'm not writing.
**A tiny apartment, a lousy diet, and more books that Carrie Bradshaw has shoes...

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Madame: Our Woman Of The Year

Wayland Flowers - responsible for the flamboyant puppet creation Madame - was born on this day in 1939; between the mid-1960s and his death in October 1988 she was the holy terror of the nightclub circuit, dispensing wit and witticism with a decidedly acerbic sting. This clip comes from the relatively anodyne sitcom Madame's Place, in which Madame is being honoured with a roast. Given that among the roasters is Judy Landers, don't expect anything with the zing of Dean Martin's Man of the Hour.

Recently, comedian Rick Skye has begun performing Madame again, at Resorts Atlantic City - a development heartily endorsed by the Pop Culture Institute; given the popularity of this post since it first appeared in 2008 it's clearly also favoured by our readership as well!

But will a scandal over who actually owns Madame derail her comeback?  Only time - and the courts - will tell...

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy American Thanksgiving


Entitled Freedom from Want - and itself one of Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms paintings, which were inspired by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt's State of the Union address of January 1941, also known as Four Freedoms - this iconic image was first published in The Saturday Evening Post in March 1943.

Over the years this famous feast has been extensively parodied, and yet each satirical rendering has only served to strengthen the sentiments it embodies; it's offered here, first and foremost, to my American readers, in the hopes that the abundance it depicts will accrue to you and yours in the coming year.
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