January 15, 1990 — They Might Be Giants release “Flood”

They Might Be Giants’ third studio album, and probably their best known, “Flood” features their single best known song – a cover of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” – as well as “Birdhouse in Your Soul” which was a top ten hit in both the US and UK. It would go on to be their best selling album, achieving platinum status in 2009.

The album as a whole is one of the most consistently excellent of all their albums, and is widely regarded as their best (although that may be something of an artifact of it being the most widely owned of their albums). It would be followed up by “Apollo 18” two years later.

February 6, 1971 – Alan Shepard plays golf on the Moon

The commander of the Apollo 14 mission, Alan Shepard holds several unique distinctions. He is the only member of the Mercury 7 astronauts to have walked on the Moon and also the oldest person to have walked there (in terms of age at the time he did it). His mission was the first to broadcast colour video from the surface of the Moon and made the most accurate landing of all the Apollo missions. And, of course, he is the first man to have hit golf balls (two of them) on the Moon.

Shepard came home to the hero’s welcome that astronauts traditionally received, and was promoted from Captain to Rear-Admiral after the successful completion of his mission. He retired from the US Navy and NASA, becoming a successful businessman, and eventually died from leukemia in 1998, 21 years to the day from Armstrong’s first moon walk.

His golf balls are presumably still somewhere on the lunar surface.

March 7, 1965 — The Selma to Montgomery March begins

The Selma to Montgomery marches were a series of civil rights protests held in Alabama during March 1965. The first of them took place on March 7 of that year, when between a group of 500 and 600 negroes began a march from Selma to Montgomery, the state capitol, with the intention of registering to vote – something legally permitted under the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964, but resisted with every legal means and quite a few extra-legal means in many states, especially in the southern United States.

The march began peacefully, but when the marchers reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which spanned both the Alabama river and the Dallas County line, their path was blocked by state troopers and county policemen, some of them deputised specifically for this task. The police attacked the marches with batons, tear gas and mounted charges. 17 marchers were hospitalised and 50 more treated for lesser injuries. A photograph of Amelia Boynton, beaten unconscious and lying on the road of the bridge, became front page news, and the reaction was swift. President Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King both condemned the violence, as did many others. A second march was held on Tuesday, March 9, and a third on March 21-25. The third march began with around 8000 people, but that number had swelled to 25000 by its final day. In the end, the voting rights of the protesters were upheld by the courts, but the struggle was long and painful.

Bloody Sunday-Alabama police attack.jpeg
By Federal Bureau of Investigation – http://www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/civilrights/cost.htm, Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Purple Toupee — They Might Be Giants

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.

November 25, 1915 — Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity is published

One of the most revolutionary theories of physics of all time, Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity turned the celestial mechanics of Isaac Newton on its head, and set the stage for the quantum mechanical revolution in physics that characterised the Twentieth Century. Along with Heisenberg, Bohr, Schrodinger, Feynmann and others, Einstein’s work changed the way we understand our world, but even in that august company, Einstein is a titan among giants, a man whose name has become a byword for genius.

The General Theory of Relativity resists easy summation. It was created to reconcile various anomalies in Newton’s theory of Universal Gravitation, as well as between Newton and Einstein’s earlier Special Theory of Relativity, and forms an important part of our current understanding of physics, gravitation and cosmology – the Big Bang Theory draws upon it, for example.

Einstein 1921 by F Schmutzer - restoration.jpg
By <a href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/en:Ferdinand_Schmutzer” class=”extiw” title=”w:en:Ferdinand Schmutzer”>Ferdinand Schmutzer</a> – <a rel=”nofollow” class=”external free” href=”http://www.bhm.ch/de/news_04a.cfm?bid=4&amp;jahr=2006″>http://www.bhm.ch/de/news_04a.cfm?bid=4&amp;jahr=2006</a> [<span title=”” class=”plainlinks”><a class=”external text” href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Link_rot”>dead link</a></span>], <a rel=”nofollow” class=”external text” href=”https://web.archive.org/web/20070211064905/http://www.bhm.ch/de/news_04a.cfm?bid=4&amp;jahr=2006″>archived copy</a> (<a rel=”nofollow” class=”external text” href=”https://web.archive.org/web/20071025130813/http://www.bhm.ch/downloads/11_Einstein_1921.jpg”>image</a>), Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

The World’s Address — They Might Be Giants

May 24, 1543 — Copernicus publishes ‘De revolutionibus orbium coelestium’

Technically, this is actually the date of Copernicus’ death, however, since no authoritative dating other than ‘shortly before his death’ exists for the publication of ‘De revolutionibus orbium coelestium‘, I have chosen to use this date.

De revolutionibus orbium coelestium‘, or in English, ‘On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres‘ is the single most famous work regarding the heliocentric theory of the solar system, i.e. the theory that the planets revolve around the Sun. It inspired considerable controversy in its day, which is one reason why Copernicus published it when he did – the historical evidence suggests that it was written between 1510 and 1530 – and effectively disproved the Platonic theory that the sun and planets revolved around the Earth.

circa 380 BCE — Plato writes ‘the Allegory of the Cave’

As per usual with our man Plato, he doesn’t have the courage of his own convictions, and rather than just come out and describe one of the greatest metaphors in the history of Western philosophy, he embeds it in a dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon (Plato’s brother).

The allegory is simple enough: picture a group of people chained in a cave. They face a blank wall, and there is a light source behind them – so that they only things they ever see are the shadows cast by whatever moves between them and the light. Inevitably, they come to ascribe meaning to the shadows they see, and to believe that they are all there is of reality…

…the philosopher, naturally, is a freed prisoner in this analogy: it is his role to describe the true reality to the other prisoners. If you’ve any familiarity with Plato’s work, you’ll recognise here his familiar concepts of Platonic forms (i.e. true and ideal forms) opposed to mundane forms (i.e. the ones in this world).

627 BCE — King Ashurbanipal of Assyria dies

Legend says that he was the only king of Assyria who ever learned to read or write. Be that as it may, it is known that Ashurbanipal gathered one of the world’s greatest libraries of cuneiform tablets in his palace at Nineveh. However, although he was apparently unusually literate, Ashurbanipal was also an unusually cruel king (which is saying something, since Assyria was noted as an unusually cruel realm even in its barbarous day).

When Ashurbanipal died in 627 BCE, strife was already rising in Assyria, and outright civil war soon broke out – in less than two decades after his death, the Neo-Assyrian Empire over which he had ruled – and which had lasted three centuries by that time – was gone, never to returned, subsumed into the Persian Empire and its successor states.

1792 BCE — Hammurabi becomes King of Babylon

Hammurabi is perhaps the best-remembered king of Babylon’s first dynasty. Although he was the sixth of that house, he was the first one to actually be called a king, largely as a result of his military victories, Aside from the simple fact of his kingship, his greatest claim to fame is the Code of Hammurabi.

One of the oldest known written codes of law in the world, it predates Mosaic law (i.e. the Bible) by centuries, and was a direct influence on that code. The code consists of 282 individual laws, and states the punishments for each infraction. The law was revolutionary in three aspects:

  • It was written in the common tongue (Akkadian, in this case) so that any literate citizen could read it.
  • It standardised punishments, ensuring that the law was consistent (albeit rather harsh by modern standards – it is also one of the earliest known examples of the “eye for an eye” principle, which appears to have been intended to limit vengeance to an equitable level.).
  • It is one of the earliest known examples of the presumption of innocence, a cornerstone of our modern legal system today, and required that both sides provide evidence to substantiate their claims.

As a result of Hammurabi’s pivotal role in the history of the law, his likeness is often found in courts and parliaments, as a famed law-giver. In many such depictions, he is the earliest historical figure shown.

2215 BCE — Sargon I of Akkad dies

The first ruler of the Akkadian empire, which covered most of Mesopotamia by the time he was done, Sargon was also the builder of Babylon (which is probably his most lasting mark on history). Sargon’s reign lasted for 56 years, an impressively long figure by the standards of his era.

In Sargon’s later years, much of the conquered territories rose in rebellion, seeing his old age as weakness. Sargon proved them decisively wrong, restoring his rule with considerable bloodshed and brutality. Sargon’s death led to another round of rebellions, naturally, but the Akkadian Empire lived on for nearly another century.