Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pop History Moment: MILK, MOSCONE SLAIN

On this day in 1978 Dan White - an emotionally unstable and homophobic ex-cop, who'd been gunning for the openly-gay Harvey Milk for years - calmly walked into Milk's office in San Francisco City Hall and finally got him, gunning him down in cold blood; by then he'd already been to the office of Mayor George Moscone, shot and killed him, and reloaded - all without being detected...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketHaving spent several days planning the killings - in which spree he'd also hoped to include Carol Ruth Silver (an outspoken liberal on the city's Board of Supervisors) as well as Willie Brown - White sneaked into City Hall through a basement window to avoid the metal detectors (even going so far as planning to bring extra ammunition with him) then apparently set about his task in a very business-like manner.

At the root of White's ire was the fact that he'd previously resigned his seat on the Board of Supervisors in a fit of pique, then regretted it almost instantly. Moscone hadn't regretted accepting it, though; in fact, he'd already chosen a successor, Don Horanzy. White had long been a thorn in Moscone's side, often voting against progressive initiatives simply out of partisan bias, and the Mayor was said to be glad to get rid of such an obstreperous and divisive individual so easily.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketWhen Dan White later turned himself in to the police (intentionally at the same precinct house where he'd once worked) he denied having acted with premeditation, which blatant lie his old buddies were only too happy to believe. The courts too - which, rather than sentencing him to first-degree murder, charged him instead with voluntary manslaughter due to diminished capacity, citing the rightfully notorious Twinkie defense. Outrage over its use in this instance led to the State of California's outlawing of the diminished capacity defense, in much the same way the Matthew Shepard case led to a widespread banning of the so-called 'homosexual panic defense' a generation later.

Owing to the most specious defense in legal history, when White's slap on the wrist verdict was handed down in May 1979 - the day before what would have been Harvey Milk's 49th birthday - rioting by a mostly gay male mob erupted in San Francisco's Civic Center: windows were smashed in City Hall, parking meters uprooted, and police cars torched. Known as the White Night Riots, they represent the most significant demonstration of outrage ever committed by a gay community, possibly even greater than the Stonewall Riots themselves*; supporters of California's Proposition H8 should consider themselves grateful that we as a community have done some considerable evolution in the three decades since then...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketDan White was paroled in 1984, no doubt having come to terms with what was a fatal ambivalence to butt sex after spending five years of a seven-year stretch at Soledad State Prison; he committed suicide less than two years after his release. While that outcome might have startled White's imaginary nemesis, Milk had been calmly resigned to his own fate; prior to his death, he recorded a will in which he posited that his own death would likely be at the hands of 'somebody who is insecure, terrified, afraid, or very disturbed themselves' - as good a description of Dan White as has ever been made.

Not only are the events of this terrible day recorded in Randy Shilts' must-read memoir The Mayor of Castro Street - reporting which formed the basis for the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk - they're as central to Armistead Maupin's 1982 novel Further Tales of the City and the miniseries spawned by it as they are to Gus Van Sant's instant classic Oscar-bait biopic Milk, in which Harvey Milk is played by Sean Penn and Dan White by Josh Brolin.

*A controversial statement, to be true, but given the massive increase in gay-themed stories being covered in the mainstream media between June 1969 and May 1979, the White Night Riots generated far more attention at the time they occurred than their Manhattan counterparts had, even though the event in San Francisco never would have been possible without the legacy of Stonewall.

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Now Showing - "Bill Nye: Speedwalker"

Birthday wishes go out today to Bill Nye ('The Science Guy') - the former Boeing engineer whose first television exposure was as a cast member on Seattle's iconic late-night sketch show Almost Live!, which he then parlayed into a career as Bill Nye the Science Guy on PBS.

Nye is seen here assaying his most famous early role - that of Speedwalker, who in this exciting episode is racing to save the Kingdome from destruction by a madman (ably played by the voice of John Keister and Bob Nelson)... Of course, Speedwalker's saving of the Kingdome was only temporary; the 25-year-old facility was destroyed by a controlled implosion in March 2000, and has been replaced by Qwest Field on the same site.
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POPnews - November 27th

[Helen Clark and her Labour Party formed three successive governments in New Zealand, serving until defeated at the General Election of November 2008 by John Key's centre-right National Party.]

1095 - Pope Urban II declared the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont.

1295 - The so-called Model Parliament called by King Edward I assembled at Westminster; although Parliament had met semi-regularly more than fifty times since Henry III held the Parliament of Merton at Merton Priory in 1236, the Model Parliament marks the beginning of the involvement of the Commons in that august body.

1703 - The first Eddystone Lighthouse was destroyed by the Great Storm of 1703.

1815 - The Constitution of the Kingdom of Poland was adopted; it was then signed by Russia's Tsar Alexander I under the terms of the Congress of Vienna.

1839 - The American Statistical Association was founded in Boston.

1901 - The US Army War College was established, at Pennsylvania's Carlisle Barracks.

1924 - The first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was held in New York City.

1934 - Notorious bank robber and Public Enemy Number One Baby Face Nelson died in a gun battle, which also resulted in the deaths of FBI agents Herman Hollis and Samuel P. Cowley.

1940 - In Romania the ruling party's Iron Guard arrested and executed over 60 of exiled King Carol II's aides, including former minister Nicolae Iorga.

1942 - The French Navy scuttled its ships and submarines moored at Toulon to keep them out of Nazi hands.

1971 - The Soviet-built Mars 2 probe landed on Mars.

1973 - The United States Senate voted 92 to 3 to confirm Gerald Ford as Vice President of the United States according to protocols set out by the Twenty-fifth Amendment; the House of Representatives confirmed him 387 to 35 on December 6th. Ford was appointed to replace disgraced outgoing Vice President Spiro Agnew.

1975 - The Provisional IRA assassinated Ross McWhirter, after a press conference at which McWhirter had announced a reward for the capture of those responsible for multiple bombings and shootings across England.

1978 - Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk of San Francisco were assassinated by former Supervisor Dan White.

1990 - John Major was chosen leader of Britain's Conservative Party after the ouster of former leader and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

1999 - Helen Clark became the first female Prime Minister of New Zealand as leader of that country's left-leaning Labour Party.

2001 - A hydrogen atmosphere was discovered on the planet Osiris by the Hubble Space Telescope, the first such conditions detected on an exoplanet.

2004 - Pope John Paul II returned the relics of Saint John Chrysostom to the Eastern Orthodox Church.

2005 - The first partial human face transplant was performed - on Isabelle Dinoire by Jean-Michel Dubernard in the French city of Amiens.
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