Thursday, September 09, 2010

Bonus Video: "There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)" by Eurythmics

Apropo of the last post, guess what?!  The relatively recent innovation of VEVO has allowed for the embedding of oodles of scrumptious video content, including the above...  So I guess it turns out that some record company executives have decided to enter the digital age after all.  That just leaves the dinosaurs at Warner and EMI to play catch up or risk becoming extinct.

Even though it's technically Dave Stewart's birthday I feel like the one who's been given a present!
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"There Must Be An Angel (Live)" by Eurythmics

Well! Trying to find a Eurythmics video to post here was even harder than finding a Cyndi Lauper video a couple of months ago; it seems that record executives still haven't found it in the dessicated wallets they use for hearts to allow citizen journalists like yours truly to promote their merchandise for free. Come on guys! All I ask for is the occasional embed code now and then, so I have the chance to fawn over the long-since profitable product in your back catalogue. It's not exactly like I'm wallowing in promotional merchandise here like the big boys...

Fortunately the BBC isn't quite such a dragon about hoarding its wealth, and to mark the birthday of David A. Stewart I was able to find this exquisite deconstruction of one of the duo's earliest hits - There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart)* from their 1985 fifth album Be Yourself Tonight - performed live on Parkinson by the birthday boy himself and the always stellar Annie Lennox. Awesome as this is, though, the original video features Stewart tricked out in an actual oodle of Sun King finery; not letting me post that, given the content of this blog, is nothing short of a hate crime. In fact, I think I'll call Strasbourg right now...

*Amazingly, this song was the Eurythmics' only UK #1.
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POPnews (US) - September 9th

[One solution to appalling prison conditions is to improve them; an equally elegant solution - don't break the law so you don't have to go to prison and live in appalling conditions - never seems to occur to anyone. Then again, think of the catastrophic effect a law-abiding populace would have on the robber barons who run the prison industry... Some of them might have to turn to a life of crime! Now wouldn't that be a graceful bit of karma in action?]

1739 - A slave uprising, now known as the Stono Rebellion, erupted near Charleston, South Carolina.

1791 - Although the city of Washington, D.C. was founded in July 1790 under the terms of the Residence Act, the selection and surveying of the exact site was left up to country's first President, George Washington, who personally oversaw this endeavour throughout his two terms in office... The city was named after him on this day by the three commissioners (Thomas Johnson, Daniel Carroll, and David Stuart) he'd selected to assist him. Washington left office in March 1797, and died in December 1799 before seeing his plans brought to much fruition.

1850 - California became the 31st state.

1863 - Having bombarded Chattanooga since August 21st at the outset of the Chickamauga Campaign, John T. Wilder and the Union Army entered the city.

1893 - President Grover Cleveland's wife, First Lady Frances Folsom Cleveland, gave birth to a daughter, Esther, in the White House; not only were the Clevelands the first Presidential couple to be married in the Executive Mansion, Esther (their second child) was the first Presidential child to be born there.

1924 - The Hanapepe Massacre occurred on the Hawai'ian island of Kauai, when police shot and killed 16 Filipino sugar workers for having the temerity to go on strike.

1926 - NBC was founded.

1942 - A Yokosuka E14Y float plane launched from an I-25 Japanese submarine dropped two incendiary bombs on Mount Emily, Oregon; only the area's Lookout Air Raid and favourable weather conditions prevented a major forest fire, which had been the aim of the mission. A second attempt, on September 29th, was similarly unsuccessful; together they represent the sum total of aerial bombardment suffered by the continental United States during World War II. As a testament to the spirit of Oregonians, the float plane's pilot Nobuo Fujita visited the nearest town, Brookings, several times between 1962 and his death in September 1997; in October 1998 his daughter interred some of her father's ashes at the bomb site, which since July 2006 has been on the National Register of Historic Places as the Wheeler Ridge Japanese Bombing Site.

1947 - The first recorded case of a computer bug being found was a moth lodged in a relay of a Harvard Mark II computer at Harvard University.

1956 - Elvis Presley made the first of his three appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show.

1965 - Hurricane Betsy made landfall near New Orleans, Louisiana; 76 died and $1.42 billion in damages were caused. Ironically, this was the same day the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development was established.

1969 - A DC-9, Allegheny Airlines Flight 853, collided with a Piper PA-28 at an altitude of 1082 metres (3,550 feet) and crashed near the Indiana town of Fairland; all passengers and crew on board both planes - 83 in total  - died.

1971 - Rioting erupted in Attica following the death of prisoner George Jackson.

1996 - NHL superstar Mario Lemieux signed a 12-month contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins worth $10 million.

2003 - Boston's Roman Catholic Archdiocese agreed to pay $85 million to 552 people in order to settle sex abuse cases brought on by their clergy, but not before the scandal had toppled the city's archbishop, Bernard Francis Law.

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Happy Birthday Hugh Grant

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In the past I may have been a little hard on my buddy Hugh Grant, but...

Sorry. I just said 'hard-on' and 'Hugh Grant' in the same breath, and had a little Divine Brown moment; so I don't pass out, I should go put my head between someone else's knees.

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"Home" by Michael Buble

Anytime I'm doing battle with job dissatisfaction, this song is never off my iPod; contained within its elegant lyrics and soigné delivery is a certain healing energy. It is sung (and was co-written) by the urbane crooner Michael Bublé - born on this day in 1975 - who has had a permanent place in the CD collection at the Pop Culture Institute ever since the release of his eponymous first album in 2000, at the tail end of the neo-swing craze.

Although he was 'discovered' that year at the wedding of Caroline Mulroney - the father of the bride, our former Prime Minister, introduced Bublé to fellow arch-conservative, David Foster, there - Bublé is known to enjoy the herb and is somewhat notorious as a ladies man.

While American success is proving elusive, Bublé is popular in Australia and the UK, as well as Canada, where especially in Vancouver he is not only a household name but a hometown boy.
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Behind The Brand: Colonel Sanders

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It may just be my selective memory at play here, but it seems to me that when I was a kid in the Seventies*, Kentucky Fried Chicken tasted better than it does now. Part of that notion, no doubt, has much to do with the power of KFC's avuncular Colonel Sanders, who was born on this day in 1890. While he was alive, it seems, the food they sold actually tasted like food.

Of course, Harland Sanders wasn't anything but the corporate spokesman after 1964. For all I know, their vicious agribusiness practices could have been in place even then, which means I'm having another one of my Gen-X paranoid spells. Though he couldn't help but be impressed by the financials of the company he founded, I'm sure he'd recoil in horror at the greasy mutations they've been serving instead of chicken lo these many years.

*That is to say, the Nineteen Seventies, thank you very much!
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The Final Days of William the Conqueror

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Until he was well into his thirties, he'd been known as William the Bastard, which would have motivated anyone to do something so audacious they'd at least get a better sobriquet out of the deal. So he conquered England and made history call the Bastard a King (instead of the current style, which usually gets it the other way round). Thereafter his subjects and especially would-be subjects knew and feared King William I as Guillaume le Conquérant - the one we call William the Conqueror...

He was a gruff man, muscularly built but not handsome, when he landed at Pevensey in October 1066 to claim his crown; 21 years later, he was gruffer, uglier, and now also grotesquely fat when, while laying seige to the French town of Mantes, he fell on the pommel of his saddle and was unhorsed. Having suffered a massive abdominal injury, His Majesty was taken to the convent at St. Gervais near Rouen, where he died on this day in 1087. He was succeeded by his decadent, sybaritic son, who was called William Rufus.

Though he'd exterminated England's 'native'* aristocracy in just four years, in doing so he also coalesced disparate tribes of Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and others into Britons, and left behind a staggering account of his plundered kingdom in the Domesday Book. While he wasn't the first to invade Britain he made sure he would be the last; of the many fortifications he built to this end, the Tower of London remains the finest.

He was buried in St. Stephen's Church in Caen until the French Revolution, at which time his tomb was opened and his bones were scattered; only his femur remains.

*Despite the current furore over asylum seekers, England has always been a popular target for the influx of peoples from all over; at the time of William's coronation on Christmas Day 1066 the so-called English were principally of Scandinavian stock, who themselves had displaced the island's 'native' Celts to Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall in the years after the withdrawal of the Romans in 410 CE.
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Gratuitous Brunette: Goran Višnjić

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBirthday boy Goran Višnjić (pronounced VISH-nyich) is a Croatian actor best known for his role on the long-running medical drama ER in which he plays the smoking hot doctor Luka Kovać. His casting was designed to make us all forget about... You know, what's his name? George something-or-other.

Višnjić also made a memorable appearance in the video for Madonna's haunting ballad The Power of Goodbye in which he played a smoking hot guy; he subsequently leant his smoking hot voice to the character of a bloodthirsty smilodon in the modern classic animated film Ice Age.

He's got such range; he can play a lot of different kinds of smoking hot people or animals. I just wish I knew how he does it...
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In Memoriam: Count Leo Tolstoy

As these things go, I'm just not smart enough to read the novels of Leo Tolstoy (who was born on this day in 1828). I can foresee a day, though - having already read everything else ever printed - when I may finally crack and sit down to a few kilos of the stuff, just to see what all the fuss is about. I'm under no delusion beforehand that I'll understand it; then again, I might surprise myself and wonder why I waited so long...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketI have seen movies based on his novels, however, so I'm not totally ignorant. One of them - Anna Karenina (1935), with Greta Garbo - is among my all-time favourites. If you're in the mood for a lushly photographed love story with the grandmammy of all bummer endings (and a very lean Frederic March in a series of scrummy uniforms), I demand you rent it.

Both an anarchist and a pacifist (which, it turns out, makes an excellent combination), Tolstoy's dissatisfaction with the general phoniness of life - as well as the specific artifice of the aristocracy - sparked in him a passion for both humanism and realism. He tended to avoid the intelligentsia, which is another point in his favour, even though he was obviously very intelligent himself*. Tolstoy was among the first novelists to bring a psychological element to fiction, and in an age when fiction tended to be mawkishly sentimental, his was a bastion of rationalism.

Educated at Kazan, well-traveled both as an Army officer and as a civilian, Tolstoy could be urbane on one hand yet earthy on the other - another winning combo. His impatience with phoniness and pretension led to a very public squabble with a contemporary, Ivan Turgenev, which very nearly caused a duel. While he enjoyed the creature comforts of his status, he also pondered the lives of his serfs and how he could improve their lot, which is really he noblest form of noblesse oblige.

As a shallow dilettante with the attention span of a hummingbird, I feel life is just too short to sit and read a forty page description of a potato (which, in my twisted mind, is why those Russian novels are all so damn long - I mean, how else?) so I've always just avoided them. Also, I'm very wary of translations, which have frequently been responsible for the ruin of many good books, from Don Quixote to Madame Bovary.

Researching this piece, however, seems to have evaporated much of my former reticence. Chiefly responsible, I think, is an anecdote regarding his wife, Sophie, who copied out War and Peace a total of seven times while he was enagaged in writing it. I figure if she could write it out longhand seven times I can read it once.

In addition to novels, Tolstoy also wrote philosophy and travelogues before his death in November 1910.

*In fact, the fact that he was smart probably explains why he avoided them.

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Pop History Moment: Elvis Presley on "The Ed Sullivan Show"

It was the high point of Elvis Presley's break-through year; as many as 60 million people were watching on this day in 1956 when he made his first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Despite his open contempt for Presley, Ed Sullivan couldn't argue with the fact that rock and roll's new poster boy was and would be a ratings grabber. Yet while it wasn't Presley's first television appearance, and Sullivan wasn't even hosting*, magic (and history) were made.

It seems odd to consider (with the benefit of hindsight) that Presley's trademark gyrations were, for a time, considered a greater threat to the security of the US than even the hoary old bogey-man Communism; Presley maintains they were merely to mask the shaking caused by a terrible case of stage fright. Even as parents and preachers furiously denounced him in equal measure, the newly powerful teenage demographic would not be deterred, and lavished their allowances on his records in record numbers. For his part Presley handled the controversy with a soft-spoken gravitas and considerable aplomb - even despite death threats from the Ku Klux Klan**, among others.

The footage of Presley's momentous cultural moment is taken from the 1981 film This is Elvis; the song he performs here is Ready Teddy, with which he opened his second set on that momentous evening.

*Despite the fact that he's shown in the clip, Sullivan was recovering from a near-fatal car accident that night; Oscar-winning actor
Charles Laughton guest hosted. Where Sullivan had vowed to never let Presley onstage in front of a family audience, he was engaged in a bitter ratings rivalry at the time with Steve Allen, and Presley's appearance on The Steve Allen Show in July 1956 had trounced Sullivan in the ratings. Unlike the uptight American Ed Sullivan, the urbane Brit Charles Laughton was an effusive fan of Elvis Presley from the beginning.
**The Klan had targeted Presley because he dared to sing so-called 'n-word music'; needless to say, they didn't say 'n-word'!


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The Death of Chairman Mao

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More than thirty years have passed since the death of Mao Zedong; many of those years - especially, say, the last ten - have not been kind to his memory. Fortunately (for scholars, anyway, if not Mao himself) they've been accurate, which is precisely why they've been so unkind...

As long ago as the 1911 Revolution - which would eventually unseat the last emperor of China's Qing Dynasty, Puyi - Mao had fought against the status quo, eventually allying himself with the National Congress of the Communist Party of China in July 1921, even serving as a commissar on behalf of his home province, Hunan. Over the next few years he would formulate the precepts of Maoism, as elucidated in two works from 1937, On Contradiction and On Practice.

The People's Republic of China was proclaimed in October 1949, and by September 1954 Mao was its Chairman, a title he would hold in one form or another for the rest of his life. His first initiatives in power involved the suppression of dissent and land reform; on his personal order a million or more were killed due to the former, and as many as 5 million in the latter.

During the subsequent Hundred Flowers Campaign, intellectuals and dissenters were encouraged to offer differing viewpoints as to how the country should be run. Hindsight is 20/20 they say, but it should have been evident even with foresight that this was a trap; after several months as many as half a million of China's leading scholars were rounded up and killed.

Which makes, by my count 6.5 million dead in the first decade alone, an effort worthy of Joseph Stalin, whom Mao was known to revere.

By 1958, Mao felt the country was ready for a massive step back; in the dissembling language particular to dictators, he called this the Great Leap Forward, which sought to reintroduce serfdom to China under the hoary rubric of 'collectivization'. Between 20 and 72 million peasants - the same peasants about whom Mao waxed so eloquently - died of starvation in the four years of the campaign. All of which makes for a conservative estimate of, say, 40 million dead...

For all the depravity he aimed at his own countrymen, Stalin could only dream of such numbers.
It was at this point that China could have been made a better place - if only Chairman Mao himself had taken a Great Leap Forward, preferably off a Very Tall Cliff. Alas, he held on to power as villains* will do and instead began to gradually sink into dementia. Largely as a result of Mao's diplomacy, relations between China and the Soviet Union soured, and by the mid-1960s China was as isolated politically in the world as it had been geographically in the 15th Century. Ironically the one bright spot in this time came from a very dark source indeed, namely US President Richard Nixon's groundbreaking visit to China in February 1972 (which had been brokered by Nixon's National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger).

At this time one can almost hear his mind working: What to do, what to do... I know! Let's have a Cultural Revolution. This, the final atrocity of Mao's life, would mark his last decade on Earth.
Entire books have been written on the Cultural Revolution and the various deleterious effects it had on China; they do so better and more calmly than I ever could. Suffice it to say, it did not go well, and I do not approve.

Mao died on this day in 1976, following which an utterly predictable power struggle occurred, with more liberal (called 'right-wing' in China, making them centrist at best) elements in the Party on one side and the hardliners of the Gang of Four on the other. The 'right-wing' - personified by Zhou Enlai and later Deng Xiaoping, won.

Following a show trial in 1981, the Gang of Four - including Madame Mao, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen - were sent to jail, but all were eventually released. She was the first of them die, in 1991, a suicide; the last, Yao Wenyuan, died in December 2005. Since then the cult of personality surrounding Mao Zedong, once dangerous, has dwindled although his portraits still feature prominently at Tiananmen Gate and other places around the country - where scholars must now carefully separate Mao's contribution to the revolution and any 'errors' he may have committed later in life.

*Let alone self-made objects of personality cults...
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POPnews: September 9th

[Perched high atop a volcanic crag which is itself a part of the Stirling Sill geological formation, Stirling Castle has seen at least eight (and as many as sixteen) sieges over the years - the last of these by Bonnie Prince Charlie during the Jacobite Rising in January 1746 - although surely none of them compare to the daily influx of tourists visiting the Scheduled Ancient Monument as guests of Historic Scotland!]

9 CE - Arminius' alliance of six Germanic tribes ambushed and annihilated three Roman legions of Publius Quinctilius Varus in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest.

1379 - The Treaty of Neuberg - which split the Austrian Habsburg lands between the Dukes Albert III and Leopold III - was signed at Neuberg an der Mürz; its signing also brought about a split in the dynasty between Albertinian and Leopoldinian lines.

1493 - The Battle of Krbava field - a decisive defeat during the Croatian struggle against invaders of the Ottoman Empire - saw the army of Ban Mirko Derenčin decimated by those of Bayezid II.

1513 - Scotland's King James IV was defeated (and died) in the Battle of Flodden Field, ending Scotland's involvement in the War of the League of Cambrai.

1543 - Nine-month-old Mary, Queen of Scots, was crowned in the Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle.

1914 - The first entirely mechanized unit in the British Army - the Canadian Automobile Machine Gun Brigade - was created.

1923 - Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Republic of Turkey, established the Republican People's Party (CHP).

1944 - The Fatherland Front led by Kimon Georgiev took power in Bulgaria through a military coup in the capital and armed rebellion in the countryside, following which a new pro-Soviet government was established.

1945 - Following the Second Sino-Japanese War Japan formally surrendered to China.

1948 - Republic Day in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea saw the formal division of Korea into North and South after the withdrawal of colonial rule by the Empire of Japan following its defeat in World War II.

1970 - A British airliner, BOAC Flight 775, was hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and flown to Jordan's Dawson's Field.

1971 - British diplomat Geoffrey Jackson was released from captivity in Uruguay; Jackson had been abducted by Tupamaros guerrillas on January 8th.

1987 - 25 football fans from Liverpool were extradited to Belgium to stand trial for their role in the Heysel stadium disaster.

1988 - Hot on the heels of the so-called Summer of Four Captains, Graham Gooch and seven other members of England's cricket team were refused visas to India owing to their involvement in the so-called South African rebel tour of 1982, effectively canceling their scheduled tour of the subcontinent; an alternative tour, to New Zealand, was also called off in December as South Africa was then facing increasing international censure for its adherence to apartheid.

1990 - During the Batticaloa massacre 184 Tamil civilians were killed by the Sri Lankan Army in that country's eastern Batticaloa District.

1991 - Tajikstan gained its independence from the Soviet Union.

1993 - The Palestine Liberation Organization officially recognized Israel as a legitimate state.

2001 - Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, was assassinated.

2004 - A bomb exploded outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta, killing 11 people.

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