A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
1952 – Vladimir Putin, the current Tsar of Russia. Putin started out in the KGB, and it shows. However, for all the negative press Putin gets he has established a certain stability in Russia and has restored its economy. This is no minor accomplishment, given what he had to work with when he started.
1959 – Simon Cowell, the smarmy smug bugger who thinks bitchy is witty. He makes his living insulting people who can’t defend themselves. It is the earnest hope of most of the people in this world that somewhere, sometime, when he least expects it somebody is going to jump down off that stage and punch his lights out.
1916 – Corporal Adolf Hitler was wounded by a piece of shrapnel, during an artillery barrage at the Battle of the Somme. Just think of how history would have changed if that British artillery officer had straightened out his aim!
1955 – Allen Ginsberg performed Howl for the first time at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. And with the words “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked….” Ginsberg launched the Beat Generation. With Burroughs’ Naked Lunch and Kerouac’s On the Road the Beats set the tone for the rest of the century. Today the microserfs of Generation Y look with nostalgia on the Beat era as a time of hedonism, sexuality and creativity. No wonder, given the restrictions most contemporary people endure. One of the things that they don’t know about the Beat Era, however, is it was tons of fun.
1849 – Edgar Allan Poe, the author who invented spooky. He wrote stories that are frightening, macabre, gothic and just plain weird. His best known work is a poem “The Raven”, which, when read properly – alone and at night – scares the crap outta ya. He also invented detective fiction with his recurring character C. Auguste Dupin who was not called a detective at the time because that word hadn’t been invented. Poe’s death reads like one of his stories. On September 27th, he left Richmond Virginia to go home to New York and literally disappeared. He was found 6 days later, in the gutter outside a tavern in Baltimore, Maryland. He was dressed in somebody else’s shabby clothes. He was delirious, slipping in and out of consciousness until he died. And in a last twist that he could have written himself, all of his medical records and his death certificate have disappeared.
1956 – Clarence Birdseye, the guy who perfected flash freezing as a method of preserving food. Apparently, he learned this technique while ice fishing with the Inuit in Labrador. It’s a good story that’s actually true. Birdseye artificially reproduced the freezing effects of the Arctic weather, first in a laboratory and then, on a bigger scale, in a factory. There’s not a single guy or university student alive today who doesn’t worship Birdseye for the frozen pizza alone.