Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Hard Hat Riot of 1970
On this day in 1886, pharmacist John Styth Pemberton first sells a carbonated beverage named Coca-Cola as a patent medicine in his store. Ninety-nine years later, on this day in 1985, the Coca-Cola Company introduces New Coke in one of the most unsuccessful marketing moves of all time... or was it? To this day, rumors persist that the introduction of "New Coke" was nothing more than a diversionary ploy, giving the company a chance to switch out the cane sugar in the classic Coca-Cola recipe for the much cheaper alternative, high fructose corn syrup... which means the classic recipe really did die a sorry death almost 30 years ago. Oh well, at least we "originalists" still have Mexican Coke!

On this day in 1891, Russian-born author, mystic and spear-point of the Theosophical movement Helena Petrovna Blavatsky passes away at the tender age of sixty. In her own time, few would have hazarded a guess as to the tremendous impact her life and work would have on the century to come.

Born on this day in 1911, blues-man Robert Johnson. At some point during his early twenties, Johnson allegedly sold his soul to Satan in exchange for musical virtuosity. With a grand total of twenty-nine songs recorded during a grand total of two sessions, this Mississippi native became the progenitor - via the young working class white men of England who so loved his stuff - of the Blues.  

Thomas Pynchon, one of America's greatest post-war novelists and one of the handful of world-class writers with bona-fide parapolitical credibility, was born in Long Island on this day in 1937. Of his major works, V. is an impressive arrival, The Crying of Lot 49 is a stone hoot, Gravity's Rainbow is an encyclopaedic, mind-bending masterpiece, Vineland is a hippy's delight, Mason & Dixon defies categorization, Against the Day remains mostly unread and Inherent Vice is like The Big Lebowski meets... well... Thomas Pynchon! He remains the only person to ever have a Pulitzer Prize revoked after The Powers That Be decided their panel of judges should never have rewarded such an "unreadable" and "obscene" work of literature. This, of course, was the highest possible compliment those decrepit old fools could have paid it.

On this day in 1970, one of the strangest confrontations in American post-war history takes place in Lower Manhattan when roughly 200 construction workers, allegedly acting on orders from the AFL-CIO, attack a thousand demonstrators protesting the Kent State shootings, the invasion of Cambodia and the Vietnam War. Seventy people are injured and six arrested in the fracas, which was dubbed the Hard Hat Riot by the media of the day. The incident served as a stark underline to the deep, essentially unbridgeable divisions between the Old Left, which was mostly labor-oriented, and the New Left, which focused more intensely on identity politics. This also happens to be one of the main themes in the aforementioned Thomas Pynchon novel Vineland.

On this day in 1980, the World Health Organization announces that the deadly disease of smallpox has been wiped off the face of the Earth… except for a few large boxes of the stuff stored at various bio-weapon labs in the USA and elsewhere, of course.

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