Friday, January 21, 2011

The Death of Billy Tipton

PhotobucketDeath has a way of bringing out even the darkest secrets; such was the case when, on this day in 1989, the jazz pianist Billy Tipton died.

Paramedics in Spokane, Washington, trying to revive Tipton discovered that he was technically a she, a fact Tipton had managed to conceal from several long-term live-in lovers and even his step-children.

The life and disguise of Billy Tipton is more fully explored in Diane Wood Middlebrook's book Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton.
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Now Showing - Benny Hill's "How To Meet Beautiful Women"

Born on this day in 1924, Benny Hill may have occupied one of the lower rungs on Britain's comedy ladder, but what his humour lacked in subtlety and sophistication it more than made up for in popularity and laughs. Snobs may turn up their noses, but every so often I like a good cleavage joke, y'know? Plus that bit with the pheasant plume beneath the lady's farthingale is a riot!

At the time of Hill's death in April 1992 he was a national treasure, one whose low-brow antics were nevertheless as beloved as he was... Even more amazing is that they were mainly done without dialogue, which for a writer is both a revelation and a warning...
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Remembering... George Orwell

Although his was was a short life, it occurred in interesting enough times that by the time he died - of tuberculosis, aged 46, on this day in 1950 - George Orwell had managed to leave behind a body of work which blurred the lines between fiction, journalism, and social commentary; while such a phenomenon is de rigeur these days in the 1930s and 1940s it simply wasn't done, and was born out of Orwell's own chafing against authority, which he had shown even as a schoolboy at Eton.

PhotobucketYet despite all this, despite his having written such influential novels as Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, it's his essays for which I am most grateful. One essay in particular - Politics and the English Language - provides the only rules I observe whenever I come to write:
  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive voice where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
The sixth rule especially appeals to me, as it is a rule against rules, and especially the tyranny that rules represent... I don't know that I always (or ever) obey these rules, for in my insecurity I feel the need to write far fancier even than I ought in order to prove that I can, but that sixth rule I would follow to the ends of the Earth.

Whenever I feel badly about having not been able to attend university, a skim through Orwell is enough to cheer me up, for he was as financially unable as am I; yet of all the qualities that make him a good writer (compassion, sensitivity, insight) none of these can be taught in a classroom. Bright, rebellious, bloody-minded - these are the Orwellian qualities I have always sought to encourage in myself; I consider it a singular honour to have even a particle of Orwell's legacy alive in me.
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Pop History Moment: Passage of the Sullivan Ordinance

History is littered with failed attempts at social engineering; just a dozen years before the Temperance movement helped the United States to make the grand-doozy of them all - Prohibition - New York City's aldermen, led by the legendary Timothy 'Big Tim' Sullivan, attempted one of their own - in this case, against smoking...

PhotobucketThe Sullivan Ordinance, passed on this day in 1908 by Messrs. Redmond, Devine, McCann, Reardon, Walsh, Kenny, Mulcahy, Delancey, Gaynor, Schloss and Schneider of the city's Committee on Laws of the Board of Aldermen purported to protect women from the horrors of tobacco (as well as the more grievous sin of being 'unladylike'); Alderman B.W.B. Brown and his colleague Alderman Doull both dissented, citing legal reasons, namely that such a measure was unconstitutional. While the Ordinance wouldn't prohibit women from smoking, it would prevent them from smoking in public, by threatening the licenses of any establishments who served them.

The following day, one Katie Mulcahey was arrested for smoking, and was defiant before a night court judge: 'No man shall dictate to me.' She was fined $5, and when she was unable to pay, sent to jail. She is the only offender of the Sullivan Ordinance in the public record and, having paid her debt to society, fades from history...

Misplaced gallantry was to blame, as usual; the protection of women is typically a two-faced venture anyway, but even given the misogyny of the times, and the fact that efforts by women to protect themselves were generally suppressed, there must have been something greater at play. Big Tim himself died of syphilis in August 1913, and he damn sure didn't catch it from his wife, so you get some kind of an idea how he really felt about protecting women.

In the end it was Hizzoner himself, George B. McClellan Jr, who overturned the ordinance two weeks later; McClellan achieved his greatest renown when, on the following Christmas Eve, he suspended the business licenses of every movie house in the city - which then numbered more than 550 - on the grounds that motion pictures caused moral decay. Some folks, it seems, never learn...
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POPnews - January 21st

[Although it was to be the first of America's nuclear submarines, the then-ultra modern (not to mention ironically monikered) USS Nautilus launched on this day in 1954 was actually the sixth vessel of the US Navy to be named for the cephalopod which has remained so unchanged for millions of years it is known as a living fossil. There's a joke in there somewhere about the Eisenhowers, I'm sure, but try as I might I can't quite find it...]

1118 - Pope Paschal II died; he was succeeded by Gelasius II three days later.

1525 - Switzerland's Anabaptist Movement was born when Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, George Blaurock, and about a dozen others baptized each other in the Z├╝rich home of Manz's mother, breaking a thousand-year tradition of church-state union.

1643 - Dutchman Abel Tasman became the first European to visit Tonga.

1749 - The Verona Philharmonic Theatre was destroyed by fire; it was rebuilt in 1754 and had to be rebuilt again after being destroyed by Allied bombers in February 1945.

1793 - Having been found guilty of treason by the French Convention, France's deposed King Louis XVI went to the guillotine as 'Citizen Louis Capet'.

1861 - Jefferson Davis resigned from the US Senate.

1864 - The Tauranga Campaign started during New Zealand's Maori Wars.

1893 - The Tati Concessions Land, formerly part of Matabeleland, was formally annexed to the Bechuanaland Protectorate which is now Botswana.

1908 - New York City passed the Sullivan Ordinance, which prohibited women from smoking in public; it was later vetoed by the mayor.

1915 - Kiwanis International was founded in Detroit, Michigan.

1919 - Korea's Emperor Gojong of Joseon died; he was succeeded by his son, Sunjong.

1924 - Russian leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin died.

1948 - The Flag of Quebec was adopted and flown for the first time, over the National Assembly; the day is marked annually there as Flag Day.

1950 - Alger Hiss was convicted of perjury.

1954 - First Lady Mamie Eisenhower launched USS Nautilus - the world's first nuclear-powered submarine - at Groton, Connecticut.

1968 - A B-52 bomber crashed near Thule Air Base in Greenland, contaminating the area after its nuclear payload ruptured; one of the four bombs remained unaccounted for after the cleanup operation was complete.

1977 - President Jimmy Carter pardoned Vietnam War draft dodgers.

2002 - The Canadian dollar set an all-time low of 61.79 cents against the US dollar; good times...

2004 - The residence of reporter Juliet O'Neill was searched by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) investigating leaks concerning the ongoing travesty surrounding the unlawful and groundless deportation of Maher Arar to Syria, which resulted in his torture.
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