Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"Mississippi Goddam" by Nina Simone

Throughout the 1960s the American South was rocked by an ongoing campaign of terror aimed at blacks; churches and homes were bombed and burned, and the culprits usually got away with it because they were often committed by the very people sworn to investigate such crimes. Either that or a jury of the culprit's peers - twelve white men - couldn't bring themselves to see justice done.

Nina Simone, the fiery singer-songwriter and pianist, wrote the song Mississippi Goddamn to commemorate and excoriate the terrible racism of the times, specifically the murder of Medgar Evers and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.
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Pop History Moment: The 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing

Like so many of the pivotal events in the US Civil Rights movement, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, on this day in 1963 was intended to strike fear into the hearts of the black community...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAt about 10:25 AM that Sunday morning four girls - Addie Mae Collins (aged 14), Denise McNair (11), Carole Robertson (14), and Cynthia Wesley (14) - were killed, and 22 more were injured, when 19 sticks of dynamite hidden in the basement exploded, causing the kind of mayhem and suffering that no one ought to have to live through - and causing significant property damage besides.

Ironically, every one of those bombs backfired into the faces of those who were evil enough to place bombs in a church in the first place, people like Bobby Frank Cherry and Robert Chambliss (both members of that fine, Christian organization the Ku Klux Klan).

Instead of leaving blacks cowed, though, it made them defiant; instead of isolating blacks, it drew their white allies closer, although in certain segments of society it was said that blacks had set the bombs themselves to earn themselves sympathy; certainly that was the opinion of Bull Connor, who was the Chief of Police in Birmingham at the time.

It seems strange to think that there was a time in history when the aims and intentions of the Civil Rights Movement seemed nebulous, so vague that it took events like this to demonstrate the peril entailed in the lives of black Americans. Stranger still is that there were then - as there likely still are today - people who felt that killing was too good for blacks.

Even stranger - and perhaps just as ironic - is the role Southern Baptists now play in hate crimes of their own every day, condemning homosexuals to the same acts of terror their own parishioners had once been.
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Happy Birthday Your Royal Highness

When Spain's Crown Prince Felipe, Prince of Asturias, made up his mind to marry Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano in November 2003 not only did he connect with the Spanish people by marrying a commoner but he also ensured the country had one less working journalist. Smart fellow...

PhotobucketPrincess Letizia, in fact, comes from a long line of journalists: not only her father, Jesús Ortiz Álvarez, but her paternal grandmother, Menchu Álvarez del Valle, worked in media. Her stepmother, Ana Togores, is also a journalist. The moral of the story is, should the Asturias' marriage go south like that of the Duque and Duques de Lugo expect a really awesome expose.

She and the prince have two children - Infantas Leonor and Sofía - and undertake a wide range of public activities both in Spain and overseas on behalf of various charities and the King, Juan Carlos I.
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The Comedy Stylings Of Mr Jimmy Carr

Birthday boy Jimmy Carr has been a ubiquitous presence on British telly for several years now, and shows no signs of declining in ubiquity. The King of the panel and quiz show, not only has he presented Distraction, Your Face or Mine? and 8 Out of 10 Cats, he's guest presented Have I Got News For You as well as appearing on it*, and also appeared on Never Mind The Buzzcocks, QI, TV Heaven, Telly Hell, and Top Gear among possibly thousands of others, including this blog. Further padding his resume are six consecutive instalments of Big Fat Quiz of the Year...

All of which, naturally, I have watched on YouTube as part of an ongoing effort to cram all of British pop culture into my head alongside the American and Canadian stuff I grew up with, before I move on to Australian pop culture immediately prior to suffering the world's first learning-related stroke. So look forward to that.

Jimmy Carr started out, though, as a stand-up comedian; shown above is a clip of his dark humour on Live at the Apollo, complete with trademark rapid-fire pace and deadpan supercilious delivery. Delish!

*During which he flirted outrageously with Tory bigot and old boot
Ann Widdecombe, after which she announced she is permanently boycotting the show - surely grounds for his OBE!

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Happy Birthday Your Royal Highness

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAny day I get to indulge in one of my private (or in this case, not so private) obsessions is a good day. In the case of Prince Harry, though, several obsessions come clattering together into one irresistible, er, package. Sorry... What was I talking about?

Oh yeah. Royalty, cute men, redheads... It's all good.

Anyway, having done my bit over the past years to save him from a fate worse than deployment to Iraq - although he was sent to Afghanistan, he returned to Britain ahead of schedule after the Drudge Report spilled the beans - I feel extra qualified to celebrate his birthday this year.

Good on yer, mate, and many more!
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Remembering... Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Britain's road and rail infrastructure owes a massive debt to that country's greatest engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel; in addition to the massive public works projects he undertook, he was a noted innovator, finding simple solutions to long-standing problems again and again over the course of his too-short life and career.

PhotobucketBrunel's first project was the Thames Tunnel, on which he was appointed his father Sir Marc Isambard Brunel's chief assistant; the year was 1826, and he was just 20. It would take years to join the London boroughs of Rotherhithe and Wapping, and when it opened in March 1843 the tunnel was an instant sensation whose many setbacks would help to perfect the technology which would one day be used to dig the Channel Tunnel.

Brunel built his reputation on bridges: the Royal Albert Bridge, the Windsor Railway Bridge, the Maidenhead Railway Bridge, and the short-lived Hungerford Bridge over the Thames to name just four. His most famous, though, is probably the Clifton Suspension Bridge over the River Severn near Bristol.

For all that he is probably best known, though, for the monumental effort he put into the Great Western Railway; not only did he survey the entire length of the route himself, he made several controversial decisions in order to facilitate it, namely the switch from standard gauge to broad gauge track. Still in service (albeit under another name), the Great Western Railway runs from its terminus at London's Paddington Station to Penzance, with spurs throughout the West Country and South Wales.

Born in April 1806, Isambard Kingdom Brunel died of a stroke on this day in 1859, having left an indelible legacy upon Britain, including his own favourite corner of it, Brunel Manor which, alas, he didn't live to see completed.
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"Take Me Out" by Franz Ferdinand

Birthday wishes go out today to Paul Thomson, drummer for Scottish wunderkinds Franz Ferdinand, whose self-titled debut album spawned a massive hit with Take Me Out. Its super-trippy video was directed by Jonas Odell as an homage to the iconic animations of Terry Gilliam.

In my career as a night porter I once met Franz Ferdinand at the height of their fame; I can report that not only are they super cute in person, they're also wee - but they were perfectly lovely to me. I stored their gear for them in a board room, and even though I didn't get a tip - something about it not being in their tour budget - they all thanked me. When you're the night porter, politeness is worth more than mere money.
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POPnews: September 15th

[The Galápagos Islands are a unique ecosystem of unparalleled beauty - only be careful not to tell anyone or they'll soon have it covered it in condos, golf courses, and mini-malls!]

668 CE - Constans II - ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire - was assassinated in his bath at the Italian town of Syracuse; he was succeeded by the usurper Mezezius (who may have been implicit in the killing), who was in turn dealt with by the rightful heir, Constans' son, who became Constantine IV.

921 CE - Saint Ludmila was murdered at the command of her daughter-in-law Drahomíra in the Czech town of Tetin.  Among St Ludmila's more illustrious offspring is King Wenceslas - the 'Good King' of that famous Christmas carol - who was her grandson.

1440 - Gilles de Rais - the man often cited as the principal inspiration for Charles Perrault's 1697 fairy tale Bluebeard - was finally taken into custody upon an accusation brought against him by the Bishop of Nantes.  No one knows how many children de Rais may have molested and killed in the last eight years of his life, but it could have been hundreds...  He would be burned at the stake on October 26th along with two of his servants who acted as accomplices.

1500 - John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury since January 1479, died; he was succeeded by Thomas Langton, who was consecrated in January 1501.

1762 - An English victory by Lieutenant Colonel William Amherst at the Battle of Signal Hill forced French commander Guillaume de Bellecombe to surrender the Newfoundland capital of St. John's during the French and Indian War.

1789 - The US Department of State was re-named, and given greater powers; although approved by Congress and the Senate on July 21st and signed into law by President George Washington on July 27th, it was originally called the Department of Foreign Affairs. The first Secretary of State was John Jay.

1830 - The world's first intercity passenger railway line, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, opened; on the same day William Huskisson, MP, became the first person to ever die in a railway accident when he was struck by George Stephenson's Rocket and suffered a crushed leg near Newton-le-Willows. He later succumbed to his injuries at the vicarage in Eccles. There is a monument to Huskisson at the place where he was struck.

1835 - The HMS Beagle - with Charles Darwin aboard - arrived at the Galápagos Islands.

1883 - The Bombay Natural History Society was founded in the Indian city of Bombay (now Mumbai.)

1885 - Jumbo, circus impresario P. T. Barnum's famed elephant, was struck by a train and killed in a classification yard in St. Thomas, Ontario; while Jumbo's skeleton was sold to the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, his hide was stuffed and continued touring with Barnum until 1889, during which time he made more money for Barnum than he had before - on account of needing neither a trainer nor feeding.  Jumbo remained on display at Tufts University until he was destroyed by a fire in 1975.

1917 - The first issue of Forbes magazine was published.

1928 - Sir Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered penicillin.

1935 - The Nazi Party's banner - the swastika flag - was adopted as the flag of Germany.

1955 - Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita was published in Paris by Olympia Press; it would finally be published in the United States in 1958 and the United Kingdom in 1959.

1959 - Nikita Khrushchev arrived in the United States, the first time a Soviet official had ever come to the US on an official visit; he stayed for 13 days, during which time he was famously refused entrance to Disneyland. Khrushchev's visit humanized his capitalist enemies, and this change in his attitude may have been as much to blame for the subsequent Sino-Soviet split as Mao's diplomatic arrogance.

1968 - The Soviet Union's Zond 5 spaceship was launched, becoming the first spacecraft to fly around the Moon and safely re-enter the Earth's atmosphere; the Zond 5 was later retrieved from the Indian Ocean, where it splashed down on September 21st.  Its 'biological payload', including several turtles, were unharmed.

1973 - Sweden's King Gustaf VI Adolf died; he was succeeded by his grandson, who has reigned as Carl XVI Gustaf ever since.

1981 - The John Bull became the oldest operable steam locomotive in the world when the Smithsonian Institution operated it under its own power on the 150th anniversary of its first run; it remains on display at the National Museum of American History while a replica is on display at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg.

1982 - The first issue of USA Today went on sale.

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