Sunday, March 28, 2010

Remembering... Dwight D. Eisenhower

I've published this before, and no doubt I'll publish it again, simply because it needs to be said again and again: the military-industrial complex (a phrase first coined by President Dwight D. Eisenhower) is the only real menace to the progress of peace - having, as it does, a vested interest in seeing that the copious quantities of ordnance and materiel it produces is occasionally destroyed and replaced with more of the same (or preferably more of a slightly better kind) in the name of consumerist fascism.

On this day in 1969 the man who first warned Americans about the military-industrial complex, the 34th President of the United States, passed away at the Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, DC, at the age of 78; upon leaving office in January 1960 Eisenhower made the speech from which the above clip is derived. It was undoubtedly the high point of a decidedly mixed legacy.

While on the one hand a career military man - at one point the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II - it was on his Presidential watch that the ill-considered police action known popularly as the Korean War was ended. A supporter of human rights and instrumental in beginning the process of integrating black and white students in schools across the Nation, he was also behind implementation of In God We Trust as the national motto of the United States in 1956 over the more inclusive E Pluribus Unum.

This single act as President not only breached the sacred separation of Church and State so favoured by the Founders of his nation - a concept which allowed the land of the free and the home of the brave to become just that - but it likely marked the beginning of the end for the American Empire as well. Nothing has caused so much bigotry in the United States over the past half century as Christianity, and people like Matthew Shepard and Lawrence King owe their eventual fates to the hatred inherent in those four vicious little words.
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Pop History Moment: Three Mile Island Melts Down


On this day in 1979, a pump in the reactor cooling system at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island failed, resulting in the evaporation of some contaminated water into the atmosphere and causing a partial nuclear meltdown in the facility's Unit 2, which has been shut down ever since.

Immediate reaction to the accident was hysterical, likely because it had been perfectly timed to coincide with the release of The China Syndrome just twelve days earlier, in which a far worse accident occurred at the fictional Ventana Nuclear Power Plant in California (itself based on both the Santa Susana Field Laboratory - which had melted down in July 1959 - and Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, both in that state).

The film starred Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, and Michael Douglas; following the real-life events near Harrisburg only Jane Fonda became politically active against nuclear power. Still, her agitiating may have had some effect - either that or she timed her activism to coincide perfectly with pre-existing government plans - because there has been no subsequent expansion of nuclear power capabilities in the United States (except in Springfield). Producers of The China Syndrome, unwilling to be seen as capitalizing on the accident, pulled the movie from certain theatres in the area; nonetheless, the movie's timeliness - not to mention its solid acting and story elements - made the film a blockbuster at the box office, earning it 4 Academy Award nominations in the process.

Unlike the far worse events at Chernobyl in April 1986, the 25,000 people living in the vicinity of Three Mile Island have reported no elevated incidence of diseases like cancer in the three decades since the accident, although stress-related illnesses haven't been factored in; physicist Edward Teller claimed to have been the only victim of Three Mile Island when he suffered a heart attack the following May. 'You might say that I was the only one whose health was affected by that reactor near Harrisburg. No, that would be wrong. It was not the reactor. It was Jane Fonda. Reactors are not dangerous,' he said, in a pro-nuclear ad placed in the Wall Street Journal.

More hysterical reaction followed, this time in the form of laughter; in April 1979 Saturday Night Live aired a sketch entitled The Pepsi Syndrome in which President Jimmy Carter (played by Dan Aykroyd) was adversely (or not, depending on your outlook) affected by radiation while touring the accident site at 'Two Mile Island'; that accident had been caused by a technician (played by Bill Murray) carelessly spilled a cola onto his control panel, after which he opined: 'I coulda had a V8!'
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POPnews - March 28th

[The greed of the unions was as much to blame for the fall of James Callaghan and thus the rise of Thatcherism as the ruthlessness of the Conservative leader herself; is it any wonder it took 18 years to elect the next Labour Prime Minister and that he had to abandon the party's traditional principles to do it?]

37 CE - Having only recently succeeded Tiberius Gemellus as Roman Emperor, Caligula accepted the titles of the Principate, which were conferred on him by the Senate.

193 CE - Roman Emperor Pertinax - first to rule during the Year of the Five Emperors - was assassinated by Praetorian Guards after a reign of 87 days; he was succeeded by Didius Julianus, who'd bought the job in an auction, having offered to pay every guard 25,000 sestertii to the 20,000 offered by his nearest rival Titus Flavius Sulpicianus. His reign would be even shorter than that of his predecessor.

364 CE - Roman Emperor Valentinian I appointed his brother Flavius Valens co-emperor.

845 CE - Paris was sacked by a Viking fleet of 120 ships, probably under the leadership of Ragnar Lodbrok, who collected a huge ransom from Charles the Bald - as much as 7,000 pounds of silver - in exchange for leaving.

1285 - Pope Martin IV died; he was succeeded by Honorius IV on April 2nd.

1776 - Juan Bautista de Anza found the site for the Presidio of San Francisco and the Mission San Francisco de Asis.

1802 - Heinrich Wilhelm Matthäus Olbers discovered 2 Pallas, only the second asteroid known to man.

1809 - During the Peninsular War French Imperial troops commanded by Claude Victor defeated those of Spain under Gregorio de la Cuesta at the Battle of Medelin.

1834 - The US Senate censured President Andrew Jackson for his actions in defunding the Second Bank of the United States; his censure was later expunged from the record.

1854 - France and Britain declared war on Russia at the outset of the Crimean War.

1910 - Henri Fabre became the first person to fly a seaplane, the Fabre Hydravion, after taking off from a water runway near the French coastal town of Martigues.

1920 - The Palm Sunday tornado outbreak affected the American Great Lakes region and states of the Deep South, when as many as 38 individual tornadoes formed and wreaked havoc in a single day.

1930 - Constantinople and Angora changed their names to Istanbul and Ankara.

1939 - Nationalist forces led by Generalissimo Francisco Franco conquered Madrid, effectively ending the Spanish Civil War.

Photobucket1941 - Having just completed the manuscript of her final novel Between the Acts, and fearing an imminent nervous breakdown (not her first), novelist Virginia Woolf filled her overcoat pockets with stones and waded into the River Ouse near Monk's House, her home in Rodmell, Sussex; Woolf's body would not be found for three weeks, at which point it was badly decomposed - or 'skeletonized' in the euphemism of the times - after which her remains were cremated and buried in her garden. Woolf had only recently witnessed the destruction of her long-time London home at 46 Gordon Square in Bloomsbury by bombs during the Blitz, as well as the cool reception of her biography of friend Roger Fry. 'I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time...' began the final note she sent to her husband, Leonard Woolf.

1946 - Juan Peron was formally elected President of Argentina by that country's electoral college, having swept to power on February 24th.

1969 - Greek poet and Nobel Prize laureate Giorgos Seferis made a famous statement on the BBC World Service opposing the Greek junta known as the Regime of the Colonels.

1979 - Following the so-called Winter of Discontent, Britain's Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan was defeated by one vote in a Motion of No Confidence - resulting in the dissolution of Parliament and the tendering of his government's resignation to The Queen, who then called a General Election.

1994 - BBC Radio Five Live began broadcasting in the UK.

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