Friday, October 15, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Death of Mata Hari

Behold, the temptress of the ages: Mata Hari...

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Born Margaretha Zelle in August 1876, by 1903 (when she moved to Paris) she'd already been married, had two children, and contracted syphilis. Once in Paris she parlayed a career as an exotic dancer into life as a high-profile courtesan.

Alas, her taste for men knew no boundaries, at a time when those very same boundaries were being fought for by the same men with whom she shared her bed. Affairs with French, Russian, and German military officers gave France just the distraction it needed to take everyone's mind off of how badly they were losing the war.

She was arrested in March 1917, given one helluva show trial, after which no one was too surprised she was found guilty of treason; on this day in 1917 Mata Hari died at the hands of a firing squad. Documents regarding her imprisonment and death are due to be released by the French government in 2017, at which time the truth about Mata Hari may finally be known...
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In Memoriam: P. G. Wodehouse

In a country well-known for its humourists, P. G. Wodehouse may be the king of them all; over a career as a writer spanning an incredible 70 years (!!!) Wodehouse created many indelible characters of fiction, many of which are still renowned today...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe most famous of these, Jeeves and Wooster, present a subversion of class that is so delicious they've been embraced by hidebound Edwardians and post-ironic Gen Xers alike. Their portrayals on television by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie became instant television classics when they began appearing in 1990.

Sadly, Wodehouse's reputation was one of the foremost casualties of the Second World War; a series of broadcasts made while he was interned by the Nazis in Poland led to accusations by his countrymen of collaboration. Among Wodehouse's most outspoken critics was A. A. Milne; to his defense came Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell.

Following the war, still stung by these accusations, Wodehouse moved to New York City, in whose vicinity he would remain for the rest of his life. He was granted US citizenship in 1955, and thereafter never returned to England.

Born on this day in 1881, when, at the age of 93, he found himself honoured with a knighthood and a waxwork at Madame Tussaud's, he said that he had no ambitions left; he died shortly thereafter, on Valentine's Day 1975.
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Larry Miller Explains "The Five Levels Of Drinking"

Birthday boy Larry Miller has long been one of my favourite comics, chiefly for the insightful brand of comedy he performs; the most famous of his bits is this classic - The Five Stages of Drinking, which he occasionally still hauls out as a party piece and perennial crowd-pleaser...

While he lost out on the plum role of George Costanza to Jason Alexander, Miller did get to voice the Pointy-Haired Boss on Dilbert in addition to many other movie and television roles stretching all the way back to the 1990 film Pretty Woman.

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Pop History Moment: The Rise Of Anwar Sadat

On this day in 1970 Anwar Sadat became President of Egypt, following the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser on September 28th; Sadat was the third to serve in this post following Muhammad Naguib and Nasser, all of whom had participated in the coup to overthrow King Farouk I during the Egyptian Revolution of 1952.

PhotobucketSadat's presidency was remarkable chiefly for the changes undergone by Sadat himself throughout it; although he'd inherited a country demoralized by the loss of the Six-Day War in 1967, and one determined to see itself avenged by means of the October (or Yom Kippur) War in October 1973, for whatever reason Sadat quickly began to see himself as a peacemaker.

Sadat became the first Arab leader to visit Israel in November 1977, during which time he held high-profile meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and addressed the Knesset. For daring to suggest that peace is possible between the Arab world and Israel he'd effectively numbered his days, just as he'd assured his place in history.

It was the Camp David Accords (facilitated by US President Jimmy Carter, and signed in September 1978) that really put Sadat on the world stage as a leader; he and Begin were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts at ending the state of total war that had existed in the Eastern Mediterranean since the creation of Israel in May 1948. For trying to broker peace in the region, Egypt was expelled from the Arab League in 1979, at which time that organization's headquarters were moved from Cairo to Tunis. Despite the all-around condemnation of Egypt by its traditional allies, the treaty signed on that day is still in effect. More extraordinarily, over the years countries such as Jordan and Morocco have also found their peace with Israel in their own ways...

Anwar Sadat was assassinated in October 1981 after a fatwa placed on him by Omar Abdel-Rahman was carried out by a radical cell within the Egyptian army led by Lieutenant Khaled Islambouli; he was temporarily succeeded by Sufi Abu Taleb, following which his Vice President Hosni Mubarak - who remains President of Egypt to this day - took over.

Sadat's killing had come after three years of increasing domestic tension within Egypt, during which time radical elements had carried out a campaign of terror against Western interests. They'd also begun a whispering campaign, suggesting corruption on the part of Sadat and his family. In an effort to contain the protest, Sadat ordered a roundup and imprisonment more than 1500 of the usual suspects - including many Jihad members, intellectuals and activists of all ideological stripes, communists, Nasserists, feminists, Islamists, homosexuals, Coptic Christian clergy, university professors, journalists and members of student groups. All to no avail...

Anwar Sadat was portrayed by Oscar-winner Louis Gossett, Jr. in a 1983 American television miniseries about his life; it wasn't until 2001 that Egypt made its own film, starring Ahmed Zaki, whose portrayal of Sadat has been universally hailed as the best of his career.
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POPnews - October 15th

[In The Great Dictator Charlie Chaplin played Adenoid Hynkel, a European tyrant who disguises his ambition with bigotry; Chaplin's was the first work from a serious artist to decry the rise of National Socialism in Germany, and its effort blazed a trail for subsequent generations of satirists to render the bad-guy impotent by means of mockery - a technique which last worked, to great effect, on Kim Jong-Il in the film Team America: World Police.]

1764 - Edward Gibbon was moved to write his six-volume masterpiece The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire during a stroll amongst the ruins of Rome, apparently.

1815 - Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled for a second time, to Saint Helena - a British holding in the South Atlantic.

1863 - The H. L. Hunley, the first submarine to sink a ship, itself sank during a test, killing its inventor, Horace L. Hunley.

1864 - The Battle of Glasgow was fought during the American Civil War, resulting in the surrender of Glasgow, Missouri - along with the Union garrison of Chester Harding, Jr. - to the Confederate forces of John Bullock Clark, Jr. and Joe Shelby.

1888 - The 'From Hell' letter, apparently sent by Jack the Ripper, was received by investigators; unlike the earlier Dear Boss letter, the Saucy Jack postcard, and their imitators, though, it wasn't signed by him - although most Ripperologists concur that the killer probably did write it.  So, obviously, does writer Alan Moore, whose Ripper-themed comic book series-cum-graphic novel (and the 2001 film starring Johnny Depp derived from it) is entitled From Hell.

1894 - Alfred Dreyfus was arrested for spying, beginning 'L'affaire Dreyfus'.

1928 - The Graf Zeppelin landed in Lakehurst, New Jersey, having completed its first trans-Atlantic flight.

1939 - New York's Glenn H. Curtiss Airport was rededicated by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, giving the place its more familiar name.

1940 - Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator premiered.

1944 - The Arrow Cross Party, which was similar to Hitler's NSDAP, assumed power in Hungary.

1946 - On the eve of the Nuremberg Trials, Hermann Göring committed suicide by taking potassium cyanide.

1951 - I Love Lucy made its television debut.

1956 - Fortran - the first modern computer language - was shared with the coding community for the first time, apparently.

1966 - The Black Panther Party was created by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale.

1970 - Thirty-five construction workers were killed when a section of Melbourne's West Gate Bridge collapsed.

1987 - The Great Storm of 1987 hit France and England.

1989 - Wayne Gretzky became the all-time highest scoring player in NHL history, apparently.

1990 - Mikhail Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

2003 - The Staten Island Ferry Andrew J. Barberi collided with a pier, killing 10 instantly and injuring 71; an eleventh victim would die of her injuries later that year.
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