Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Happy Birthday Tina Fey

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The first female head-writer at Saturday Night Live, Tina Fey was also a standout cast member on that show - combining class and insouciance at the Weekend Update news desk while poking fun of her shortcomings as an actor and impressionist in regular sketches; she shares similar duties in the current NBC sitcom 30 Rock, the single best of its genre in its first run on television today.  

Fey also wrote and co-starred in the 2004 film Mean Girls and the 2008 film Baby Mama (with former SNL and Weekend Update co-star Amy Poehler).  In addition to appearing in The Invention of Lying alongside Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, and Christopher Guest, her most recent foray into cinema has been Shawn Levy's rom-com-gone-wrong Date Night, in which co-starred with fellow NBC stalwart Steve Carell.

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Harry Truman: The Man And His Mountain

With all due respect to geologist David A. Johnston and National Geographic photojournalist Reid Blackburn, probably the most famous victim of the destruction wrought by Mount St. Helens was the keeper of the St. Helens Lodge at nearby Spirit Lake, Harry R. Truman. In the two months prior to the eruption, the 83 year-old Truman became something of a minor celebrity the world over for his determination to remain in his home despite its proximity to the danger zone, at the foot of the mountain. Convinced that the threat of eruption was overexaggerated, he famously stated: 'If the mountain goes, I'm going with it.' Both Truman and the lodge he loved were buried under 46 m (150 feet) of ash and rubble on this day in 1980...

The subject of the book Truman of St. Helens: The Man & His Mountain written by Shirley Rosen, he was later played by Art Carney in the 1981 docu-drama film St. Helens, and had the song Harry Truman written and recorded by Irish band Headgear in his honour. Now the spirit of Spirit Lake, the region's revitalized wilderness are criss-crossed by Truman Trail and Harry's Ridge, which were named for him.
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Pop History Moment: The Eruption of Mount St. Helens

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On this day in 1980 at 8:32 AM Mount St. Helens erupted, triggered by a magnitude 5.1 earthquake beneath the mountain's north slope; in all 57 people were killed that day, while 200 homes, 47 bridges, 24 km (15 miles) of railways and 300 km (185 miles) of highway were destroyed. It was, and remains, the largest volcanic eruption in the contiguous United States in recorded history; the area is now preserved by the US Parks Service as the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

I was living in Chilliwack at the time, and was actually a witness to history when, like millions of others within its earshot, I heard Mount St. Helen's erupt. I'd been laying in bed when I heard what sounded like the lid on the dumpster beneath my bedroom window being dropped; I can remember wondering which of my friends was up so early on a Sunday morning and already messing around. The sound of it woke my parents up and startled our dog so badly she refused to come out from under their bed for an hour. Ten minutes later my mother came into my room and turned on my clock radio; that's when I learned what I'd really heard. While conducting research into this piece I learned that the force of the eruption was equivalent to 27,000 Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapons; no wonder then, despite being more than 200 miles from the blast, that it was so clearly audible where we were.

Later that day I can remember the dusting - literally - of ash on our car. I even asked to borrow my mother's camera and took a picture of it; I had the picture in an album for years, but now I can't find the picture (or the album) anywhere. Fortunately the eruption was more enduringly dramatized in a 1981 TV movie entitled St. Helen's, starring Art Carney as holdout and victim Harry Randall Truman, the owner of the Mount St. Helens Lodge at Spirit Lake and something of a celebrity in the last days of his life; he was among those who died that day after refusing to leave the mountain and his body has never been found. The event is also covered in a book, Truman of St. Helens: The Man & His Mountain, by Shirley Rosen.
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POPnews (US) - May 18th

[Apollo 10 astronauts touched the nose of a large plush Snoopy for luck shortly before blasting off on this day in 1969; turns out America's favourite cartoon beagle provided them with some very good luck indeed, as the mission would set a record for the highest speed ever attained by a manned vehicle - 39,897 km/h (11.08 km/s or 24,791 mph) - during its safe return from the Moon on May 26th.]

1896 - The US Supreme Court ruled 7-1 in Plessy v. Ferguson that the doctrine known as separate but equal was constitutional; the majority opinion - which essentially made racial segregation legal - was written by Justice Henry Billings Brown, with the dissent offered by John Marshall Harlan, while their colleague David Josiah Brewer did not participate. Plessy v. Ferguson remained the law of the land until it was judicially repudiated by the court's decision in favour of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

1917 - Shortly after the United States' entry into the Great War (the previous April 6th) the Selective Service Act of 1917 - drafted by Brigadier-General Hugh Johnson - was passed, creating the Selective Service System and giving the President of the United States (in this case Woodrow Wilson) the power of conscription.

Photobucket1926 - Evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson (shown, at left) disappeared while visiting a beach in Venice, California; 35 days later she stumbled out of the desert near the Mexican resort town of Agua Prieta claiming to have been kidnapped, drugged, tortured, and held for ransom. The story she later told of her 'ordeal' was riddled with inconsistencies, and has never been satisfactorily explained - although it did later inspire a satirical song, The Ballad of Aimee McPherson, which was popularized by that inspired satirical popularizer Pete Seeger.

1927 - 45 people were killed and 58 injured by bombs planted in a school by a disgruntled school-board member in Michigan named Andrew Kehoe in the so-called Bath School Disaster.

1933 - As part of his New Deal reforms of the US economy, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an act creating the Tennessee Valley Authority; the TVA was originally undertaken to provide jobs to a region particularly hard hit by the Great Depression by building a series of facilities to create and distribute hydro-electric power.

1953 - Jackie Cochran became the first woman to break the sound barrier.

1958 - An F-104 Starfighter sets a world speed record of 2,259.82 km/h (1,404.19 mph).

1969 - Apollo 10 was launched; during their mission Thomas P. Stafford, John W. Young, and Eugene A. Cernan orbited the moon. In an interesting note, Charlie Brown and Snoopy were the mission's semi-official mascots, and their creator - venerable Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz - created some artwork for the occasion.

1980 - Mount St. Helens erupted in Washington state, killing 57 people and causing $3 billion in damage.

1992 - Don W. Wilson, the Archivist of the United States, officially announced the ratification of the 27th Amendment to the US Constitution, more than 202 years after it was first submitted to Congress.

1998 - The US Department of Justice and 20 states filed United States v. Microsoft, an antitrust case against spam purveyor and frustration producer Microsoft; the lead prosecutor in the case was Joel I. Klein.
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"Return To Innocence" by Enigma

Birthday wishes go out today to Michael Cretu, the creative powerhouse behind the electronic music project known as Enigma; since 1990 Cretu (along with David Fairstein and Frank Peterson) has been producing what can best be described as 'a thinking person's techno'.

As a follow up to Enigma's Gregorian chant infused debut, MCMXC a.D. - which has sold some 60 million units worldwide to date - 1993's The Cross of Changes spawned the project's biggest single to date, Return to Innocence. The song features vocals by Andreas Harde (known professionally as Angel X) and a sample of an aboriginal Taiwanese chant called Jubilant Drinking Song performed by the husband and wife Amis folk duo of Kuo Ying-nan and Kuo Hsiu-chu - who later sued Virgin Records for credit and received an unspecified financial settlement.

The video for Return to Innocence was shot in Malaga, where Cretu lives, and was inspired by the 1930 Alexander Dovzhenko film Earth.
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POPnews - May 18th

[That the Meiji Restoration was responsible for creating the modern nation of Japan out of the tiny, fractious fiefdoms of the late Edo period via the mighty Empire of Japan is a matter of historical record... The jingoism which marked the 45 years of the Meiji Era (leading to the country's military domination of Asia in the first four decades of the 20th Century as well as its disastrous involvement in World War II which brought all that to an end) though, has only recently begun to be studied by English-language scholars, especially those investigating the reigns of Meiji's successors - his son Emperor Taishō (known in life as Yoshihito) and his grandson Emperor Shōwa (the redoubtable Hirohito). The best of these studies, which comes highly recommended by the Pop Culture Institute, is Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert P. Bix, which is such a thrilling read that hopefully one of these days I'll be smart enough to finish it!]

Photobucket1152 - Henry, Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy, married Eleanor of Aquitaine at Bordeaux Cathedral; the groom was a 19 year-old noble who within two years would become Henry II of England, and the bride a 30 year-old mother of two whose marriage to France's King Louis VII had only recently been annulled - albeit reluctantly - by Pope Eugenius III, for failing to provide her husband with a male heir*.  She would have no such trouble with her new husband, eventually providing him with five sons (and three daughters besides!); which is no surprise since, as we now know, the sex of a baby is determined by the father. Three of those sons - or two-and-a-half, anyway - would go on to serve as Kings of England: Richard I (better known as Richard the Lionheart), the hapless King John, and the pseudo-monarch Henry the Young King.

*At the wedding of Louis and Eleanor, which took place in the same church 15 years earlier, things had been quite different in at least one way - on that day the bride was 15 and the groom 17 - although in both instances she was far savvier than he!

1268 - The crusader state of the Principality of Antioch fell to the forces of Mameluke Sultan Baibars during the Battle of Antioch, sending Bohemond VI into exile and his title into extinction.

1302 - Following the so-called Bruges Matins - a nocturnal massacre of French troops garrisoned in Bruges by members of the local Flemish militia under Pieter de Coninck and Jan Breydel - only a handful of troops and the governor, Jacques de Châtillon, managed to escape with their lives.

1593 - Playwright Thomas Kyd's accusations of heresy against his colleague led to the issuance of an arrest warrant for Christopher Marlowe; two days later Marlowe appeared before the Privy Council to defend himself, and ten days after that he was murdered in mysterious circumstances...

1765 - Fire destroyed as much as one-quarter of Montreal, including 100 homes.

1803 - At the outset of the Napoleonic Wars the United Kingdom revoked the Treaty of Amiens and declared war on France; in all there had been peace between the two nations since March 25th of the previous year - surely a record! - but soon enough the new Prime Minister William Pitt was organizing the Third Coalition in an effort to curb Napoleon's desire to reign over the whole of Europe.

1804 - Napoleon Bonaparte was proclaimed Emperor of the French by the French Senate.

1811 - The Battle of Las Piedras - the first great military triumph in the struggle for Uruguay's independence from Spain - saw a victory by Jose Artigas over Spain's José Posadas.

1848 - The first of Germany's National Assemblies - the Nationalversammlung - met at the Paulskirche in Frankfurt; its existence was both part and result of the March Revolution which united the 39 states of the German Confederacy.

1869 - Japan's Ezo Republic - founded by the remaining supporters of the defeated Tokugawa Shogunate on the island of Hokkaidō - surrendered to the imperial forces of Emperor Meiji, represented by Prime Minister Kuroda Kiyotaka.

1896 - A mass panic known as the Khodynka Tragedy occurred on Khodynka Field in Moscow during the festivities surrounding the coronation of Russia's Tsar Nicholas II, resulting in the deaths of 1,389 people.

1910 - The Earth passed through the tail of Halley's Comet.

1948 - The First Legislative Yuan of the Republic of China officially convened in Nanking.

1959 - The National Liberation Committee of Côte d'Ivoire was founded in Conakry, capital city of Guinea.

1974 - Under the aegis of Project Smiling Buddha, India successfully detonated its first nuclear weapon, becoming the sixth nation to do so.

1980 - Students in South Korea's sixth largest city began demonstrations, calling for democratic reforms; their efforts would bring about the Gwangju Massacre, one of the most brutal events during the dictatorship of Chun Doo-hwan.

1983 - The Irish Government launched a crackdown to defend its radio monopoly, putting Dublin's popular pirate station Radio Nova off the air.

1993 - During anti-EU rioting in the Nørrebro district of Copenhagen - caused by the approval of the four Danish exceptions in that day's Maastricht Treaty referendum - police opened fire against civilians for the first time since World War II, injuring 11 demonstrators by firing a total of 113 bullets against them.

2006 - Nepal's post Loktantra Andolan ('Democracy Movement') government passed a landmark bill curtailing the power of the monarchy and secularizing the Himalayan nation, a crucial step in the process that would eventually see Marxist forces outlaw the stabilizing effects of the monarchy of King Gyanendra.
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