August 1, 1981 — “MTV” premieres

On August 1, 1981, at 12:01 a.m., MTV launched with the words “Ladies and gentlemen: rock and roll,” played over footage of the first Space Shuttle launch countdown of Columbia and the launch of Apollo 11. Those words were immediately followed by the original MTV theme song playing over photos of the Apollo 11 moon landing, with the flag featuring MTV’s logo changing various colors, textures, and designs. Appropriately, the very first music video shown on MTV was The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”.

And thus it would remain for the first few years, when MTV took its full name – Music TeleVision – seriously. But try finding a clip on MTV these days – it’s all Real World retreads and Behind The Music rockumentaries now. Well, not all, but enough to make one nostalgic for when MTV played any weird crap they could get their hands on just to fill the hours.

November 22, 1963 — U.S. President John F Kennedy is assassinated

One of the defining events of its era, the assassination of President Kennedy remains a remarkably controversial one, even today. Conspiracy theories abound as to who shot Kennedy and why.

While the official story, that Lee Harvey Oswald did it, with the rifle, in the book depository, is plausible, it is also notably incomplete – there are any number of holes and anomalies in it. The murder of Oswald only two days later, before he could stand trial, has done nothing to quell these uncertainties.

On a symbolic level, the death of Kennedy was the end of an era in many ways. Quite aside from the idealism that he brought to the nation, his death marked a change in the way America saw itself – no longer the lily-white paladin, but more the grim avenger willing do the dirty work no one else would – although in fairness, this change of self-image would take the rest of the decade to be complete.

December 10, 1930 — The Bank of the United States collapses

Although the effects of the Depression had been gaining momentum since Black Tuesday, on October 29, 1929, and several smaller banks had already fallen, the collapse of the Bank of the United States kicked things up a notch or two. The Bank, at that time the third largest bank in New York City (and twenty-eighth in the United States), sent shockwaves through the economy after a run on its savings began at its Bronx branch on December 10, 1930.

The panic that led to the run on the bank caused it to fail when it did (although it quite possibly would have collapsed even without this, although not until months or even years later) – and the collapse of the bank led to runs on other banks, which led to more collapses. The Great Depression deepened after 1930, and in many countries, did not end until the wartime economies of World War Two changed the playing field again.

April 2, 33 CE — Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus

Judas Iscariot is a complex and contradictory character in the gospels. He did betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, repent too late, and commit suicide. But how much did he act from his own volition, and how much in fulfillment of God’s grand design? How much was he an independent actor responsible for his own deeds, and how much was he a puppet dancing on divine strings? The only thing we know for sure is that we’ll never get a straight answer out of any church on the subject.

3874 BCE — Cain murders Abel

It’s not clear exactly when Cain murdered Abel in any biblical chronology I’ve been able to find. Some of them even date it to 4004 BCE, the same year usually given for the Creation of the earth. Which implies that not only were Cain and Abel both full grown men in the space of a single year, but that their mother’s two pregnancies (Cain and Abel were not twins – Cain is the older), also took place in that same year.

Nevertheless, as brothers, they didn’t always get along. This may or may not have had something to do with the notoriously fickle and hard to please deity that they worshiped, or that deity’s changing of the rules on them – Cain presumably would not have made an offering that God (who is, according to the Gospel of Luke, Cain’s grandfather) that God found unacceptable had he known ahead of time that it would be rejected.

Cain responds to his rejection by God by hunting and killing his brother, Abel. (Which makes him sound a little older than >1 – about 16 or so, I would guess.) And then God, not done with the mind games, pretends not to know about it and questions Cain, leading to his infamous declaration that he was “not his brother’s keeper” (which is a rare concession to historical accuracy by the Book of Genesis – cricket had indeed not yet been invented). God curses Cain and exiles him, making him the earliest biblical figure to be set up and knocked down by God.

November 1, 4004 BCE — Adam hides his nakedness from God

Stop me if you heard this one: so, a naive chick is tricked by some snake into eating something she probably shouldn’t have. Suddenly much less naive, she tricks her partner into seeing things her way. We’ve all heard it a million times, right? Except that in this case, the chick is Eve, the snake is better known as the Serpent in the Garden, and her partner, of course, is Adam.

It turns out that eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil tells you that it is evil to be naked, which is why when God (who is elsewhere described as both omniscient and omni-present) comes back, Adam hides from Him, so that God – who has seen him naked as often – if not more often – than any parent has ever seen their child, will not see him naked again.

God, in his infinite forgiveness, expels Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and sets an angel with a flaming sword to stop them from returning.

Anyway, it’s all holy and ineffable, so quit your snickering.