A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
1758 – Noah Webster, already a celebrated educator when, in 1807, he started collecting words. He kept at it, and 21 years later had 70,000 of them. He put them all in alphabetical order and published them as An American Dictionary of the English Language. The thing that has always intrigued me about dictionaries is that they’re supposed to be the place you look to find the correct spelling of any word. However — and here’s the problem — if you don’t know how to spell a word, how the hell are you supposed to find it in the dictionary?
1854 – Oscar Wilde, the undisputed Godfather of gay men everywhere. His flamboyant style and acerbic wit has set the gay tone for over 100 years, and, to pile on the irony, he did it all during the height of the sexually-repressed Victorian era. He also wrote poems and plays and one good novel. But he is best remembered as the king or queen of the epigram with such delights as:
“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”
“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”
“ I can resist everything except temptation.”
1923 – In one of the most important events in the 20th Century — and I’m not kidding — Walter and his brother Roy formed The Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio. Disney never did much except make movies and make money; however, he did understand a few of things. First of all, he realized that the world was a big place and there was room for his products outside the United States. Secondly, perhaps inadvertently, he recognized that the American Industrial Age was coming to an end and that the country had to change to an Information/entertainment based economy. From the beginning, Disney had a huge effect on the world (Mickey Mouse was always a big hit in Europe and Asia) and, as more information industrialists followed his lead American culture spread into every corner of our planet. Today, Disney owns Information the way past industrialists like Carnegie and Mellon owned steel and aluminum. Furthermore, half of Disney’s revenue comes from foreign markets. Likewise, the American economy is shifting, albeit slowly, away from assembly lines and smokestacks to phone apps and downloads. Second generation companies — like Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook — are dominating the world and generating huge revenues. But it was Disney, more than anyone else, — and there were a lot of them — who took the lead to transform America from the Industrial Age of the 19th Century to the Information Age of the 21st.
1973 – Henry Kissinger of the United States and Le Duc Tho of North Vietnam were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for ending the Vietnam War with the Paris Peace Accords. Giving these two guys the Peace Prize is like giving Lindsay Lohan an award for abstinence. The US and North Vietnam had been slugging it out for years, and immediately after signing the agreement, they just kept right at it. There was no peace, just American disengagement. Two years later, North Vietnam launched a huge offensive which resulted in the Fall of Saigon in May 1975. At least Le Duc Tho had the class not to accept the award.
1793 – Marie Antoinette, the last legitimate queen of France, was taken to the guillotine in Place de la Concorde in Paris and executed. The mob jeered wildly as she stepped up to the blade and burst into song when it whacked off her head. Popular history has never settled on an assessment of Marie Antoinette. Originally, she was seen as an evil influence on a weak King, her husband Louis XVI; later, as a frivolous monarch who lived in extravagance while her people starved. Recently, she’s enjoyed a bit of a renaissance and is now seen as a woman more sinned against than sinning. While Marie was not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, she didn’t have fangs and green saliva, either. Basically, as Queen, in the French Court, Marie Antoinette had no more influence over events than the gardener, and she was killed merely because the mob could get at her. Also, even though she may well have been dumb enough, there is no proof whatsoever that she ever said “Let them eat cake.”
1946 – A whole bunch of Nazis were executed at Nuremburg Prison in Germany. They were, in no particular order, Alfred Rosenberg, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Alfred Jodl, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Wilhelm Keitel, Fritz Sauckel, Arthur Seyss-Inquart and Julius Streicher. Hermann Goering, who was convicted with his buddies, cheated the rope and committed suicide. Martin Bormann, also found guilty, was never actually found. The whole works of them got exactly what they deserved.