A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
1920 – Frank Herbert, who wrote the all-time best selling science fiction novel, Dune, in 1965. Dune is an incredible tour de force in league with the sword-and-sorcery epic Lord of the Rings. And, like Lord of the Rings, it sits alone at the top of its genre. Unlike most science fiction writing, which is normally single-cell dystopia, Dune creates an intricate picture of a complete society. It also deals with conflict and frailty, ambition and emotion. Dune is not a one-time week-end read, so set some time aside. Don’t bother with the movie; it’s not very good.
1943 – Chevy Chase. This guy isn’t funny. He used to be funny on Saturday Night Live. He was hilarious in the National Lampoon Vacation movies. But anything else he’s ever touched just isn’t funny. Name one movie that Chevy Chase ever did that’s funny — aside from Three Amigos! (and Steve Martin and Martin Short carried his ass through that one). Deal of the Century? Not funny. Spies Like Us? Not funny. Cops & Robbersons? Not funny. Even Funny Farm isn’t funny, and several of his latest movies haven’t even been released to the public they’re so not funny.
1871 – As you watch Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann punch it out, night after night on television, let me take you back to the Great Chicago Fire which started on this day in 1871. The story goes like this. One night, October 8th actually, Mrs. O’Leary went out to her barn to milk her cow. Stupidly, she set her lantern down on a messy floor of straw. The cow moved away from Mrs. O’Leary and kicked the lantern over. The straw burst into flames. Mrs O’Leary, being an immigrant and unfamiliar with American things like fire, fled the scene rather than put the fire out or call for help. When the fire finally burned itself out, 2 days later, over 200 people were dead, 90,000 were homeless and 4 square miles of central Chicago were a smoldering ruin. In a bitter side note, the O’Leary residence had been spared by the flames. That’s how Michael Ahern a reporter for the Chicago Republican newspaper told the story. What has this got to do with O’Reilly and Olbermann? Quite a bit. Ahern made the story up he lied to sell newspapers. It was widely re-reported across the country at the time and is still taken for the truth in many places. Mrs O’Leary had no defence. She didn’t have a newspaper to tell her side. So the next time O’Reilly or Olbermann or any of those other talking heads start telling you “the truth,” remember Mrs. O’Leary and that journalistic integrity is an oxymoron and always has been.
1956 – Don Larsen of the New York Yankees pitched the one and only perfect game ever thrown in a World Series (not a play-off! a World Series!). There have been only 20 perfect games pitched in all of MLB history. According to Larsen in interviews given after the game, he was quite relaxed through it all — even stepping out of the dugout in the seventh inning stretch to have a cigarette.
1793 – John Hancock, another one of those rich guys who made the American Revolution happen. Hancock took up the revolutionary cause after the Stamp Act. He was described on more than one occasion as a smuggler. In other words, he was bringing goods into the colonies without paying the Stamp tax. No wonder he was a proponent of “No Taxation without Representation.” On the night of April 18th, 1775, the British sent a detachment of soldiers to destroy the guns the American militia had been collecting at Lexington and to arrest Hancock and Samuel Adams. Paul Revere was sent to warn the two men and, on the way, gather the militia. Paul did his job, John and Sam escaped and the British had a revolution on their hands. Hancock was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence, loud and proud so King George could see it. That last bit is actually part of the mythology of the Revolution.
1982 – Fernando Lamas, an actor who was intentionally brought to Hollywood from Argentina to play the “Latin lover” and the “swarthy villain.” He did this very well in a number of movies and then as a guest star on a ton of television shows. He was seriously lampooned by Billy Crystal on Saturday Night Live and the catch-phrase “You look …mahvelous” was everywhere for awhile. Lamas, who obviously had a Spanish accent, once responded with one of the best quotes I’ve ever heard: “When a person has an accent, it means he can speak one more language than you.”