Lava, Ash and Global Winter – WABAC to Krakatoa

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"Where is the WABAC Machine going to take us this time, Mr. Peabody?

“Where is the WABAC Machine going to take us this time, Mr. Peabody?

“Set the WABAC for 1883 Krakatoa, Sherman My Boy.”
“Crack-a-what?”
“Okay then, Vesuvius.”
“Did you mean Venus?”
“Never mind. Go to Wikipedia.”

 

August 26, 1883: Krakatoa

 

(Most Violent Volcanic Eruption in 1,800 Years after Vesuvius)

krakatoaeruption

Way back when…..

On August 26, 1883, the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa began its 2-day eruption that was so massive the its effects were felt around the world.  Krakatoa is also the name of the island the volcano is situated on.  The explosive eruption was so great that 2/3 of the island is no longer there.

Looking past the ash…..

Prior to the eruption, the island was about 9 kilometers long by 5 kilometers wide.  After the eruption, the remaining island was only 3 kilometers long by 5 kilometers wide.  The mighty blast was heard by people as much as 3,000 miles away.  There were 4 main explosions, and the largest explosion alone was the equivalent of 150 Megatons of TNT exploding.  In total, the equivalent of 200 Megatons of TNT exploded.  For comparison’s sake, the Hiroshima atom bomb was the equivalent of 15 to 20 Kilotons of exploding TNT.  Cracked History note: Mega = 1,000,000, whereas Kilo = 1,000.

Since a Megaton is 1,000 times more powerful than a Kiloton, that means the main explosion could have been 10,000 times more powerful than the Little Boy atomic bomb!

The shock wave of the mighty blast circled the earth 7 times and filled the upper atmosphere with volcanic ash.  The sun glowed different colors through the ash, and colorful sunsets were seen for several years afterward.  There was so much ash in the atmosphere that it blocked enough sunlight to affect the climate of the Earth for the following 5 years.

Local islands were covered in ash, and some villages were burned by hot chunks of rock.

At least 36,000 people were killed by the ensuing tsunamis.

Amazingly, this eruption was not the most powerful in human history.

The Vesuvius eruption of 79 A.D. was still more powerful, and the massive eruption of Santorin (Thera) around 1,500 B.C. was several times more powerful!

The big questions are when and where will a volcano erupt again.  It will for sure happen.  As of now the technology to stop such an eruption does not yet exist, so all that can be done is to monitor seismic activity and to try to predict it.  Another thing that can be done is prepare disaster plans for dealing with the aftermath.

Lava, Ash and Global Winter – WABAC to Krakatoa

Before Camera Phones & InstaGram – WABAC to Early Photography

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"Where is the WABAC Machine going to take us this time, Mr. Peabody?

“Where is the WABAC Machine going to take us this time, Mr. Peabody?

“Let’s hit the archives for the work of early photographers, Sherman My Boy.”

 AMAZING PHOTOS FROM THE EARLY DAYS OF PHOTOGRAPHY

The Road to Quirksville

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The 13 Quirkiest Roads You Need To See

Driving can be a little monotonous — the same views for miles, switching lanes just for a change of scenery, constantly checking your rearview mirror to avoid highway hypnosis — but we’ve found a few roads where you’ll find a lot more excitement.

In most cases, you’d be on the edge of your seat, white-knuckle driving, trying to snap photos of your four-wheeled adventure, wishing you were back on that boring, old road you know so well.

The Steepest
baldwin street
Baldwin Street in Dunedin, New Zealand is the world’s steepest residential street,reaching a maximum of 19 degrees.
The Most Dizzying
passo dello stelvio
Passo dello Stelvio in the Ortler Alps in Italy has 48 hairpin turns, an average incline of 7.4% – and 6% is about the maximum for U.S. highways.

 

The Scariest
137892962
Guoliang Tunnel in Hunan, China was chiseled by hand into the Taihang Mountains in the 1970s and is lined with windows to terrifying views. It has a clearance of only 15 feet, a width of 12 feet, and a precipice around every other bend.

 

The Most Confusing
magic roundabout
The Magic Roundabout in Swindon, England consists of five mini-roundabouts arranged in a circle.

 

The Narrowest
parliament street exeter
Exeter, England’s Parliament Street, which dates back to the 1300s, is the narrowest street in the world, measuring less than 25″ at its narrowest point.

 

The Longest
panamerican highway aerial
The Pan-American highway connects the mainland nations of the Americas and is 29,800 miles long. It’s the longest “motorable” road in the world, according to Guinness World Records.

 

The Most Stubborn
83001748
This road just won’t move. The Umeda exit of the Hanshin Expressway in Osaka, Japan runs right through the city’s Gate Tower Building.

 

The Shortest
ebenezer place
With just one house on it, Ebenezer Place in Wick, Caithness, Scotland is the shortest street in the world, measuring just 6.8 ft.

 

The Widest
9 de julio avenue
At almost 460 feet wide including side streets, 9 de Julio Avenue in Buenos Aires, Argentina is the widest street in the world.

 

The Crookedest
lombard street
Had to include the most obvious: Lombard Street in San Francisco. It has 8 switchbacks because the road would have been too steep for most vehicles to traverse otherwise.

 

The Oldest
road to giza
The Road to Giza is the world’s oldest known paved road. At over 4,600 years old, it was used to transport the enormous blocks of basalt for building from the quarries to a lake adjoining the Nile.

 

The Most Dangerous
yungas road
Yungas Road (split into North and South sections), which runs from from La Paz to Coroico in western Bolivia, is nicknamed the Road of Death because of its nearly 2,000-foot drops (without guardrails!) and the countless accidents that have happened on it. The road ranges in elevation from 4000 feet to more than 15,000 feetand is as narrow as 10 feet in some sections.

 

The Best-Connected
atlantic road
The Atlanterhavsveien, also known as the Atlantic Road, is a roughly 5-mile stretch of road on Norway’s west coast that consists of 8 bridges that cross over an archipelago of 8 different islands, which creates an incredibly scenic drive.

 

 

The Road to Quirksville

WABAC to Love – Monroe and Dimaggio

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"Where is the WABAC Machine going to take us this time, Mr. Peabody?

“Where is the WABAC Machine going to take us this time, Mr. Peabody?

“Let’s go to 1954 and witness a love story between a baseball hero and a Hollywood Starlet.”

1954 to 1962: Marilyn and Joe – A Love Story

August 5, 1962: Marilyn and Joe - A Love Story

Unfortunate History

On August 5th, 1962, Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her home of an apparent drug overdose. No definitive cause of death has ever been determined. Suicide could not be conclusively proven, and there were some indications of foul play, murder, or perhaps even a cover-up.

Behind the scenes…

Much has been written about her final days. Although neither the coroner nor the investigators could with certainty say what happened, what is certain is that her death allowed Joe DiMaggio to show to the world his undying devotion and loyalty to her.

Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio married in January of 1954.

Their timing was less than perfect; Joe had recently retired from the New York Yankees as one of the greatest ballplayers of all time, and Marilyn was an up-and-coming studio starlet. Whereas Joe wanted to finally settle down, Marilyn wanted to become a full-fledged Hollywood star.

Joe was an intensely private man, and felt uncomfortable in the Hollywood scene. He wanted Marilyn to leave Hollywood and become a homemaker. He felt the studio heads exploited her and once said, “Can’t you see that those Hollywood swine are using you? You’re nothing to them but a piece of meat.”

Although Marilyn’s Playboy pictorial which had been published a month before their marriage should have been a sign of things to come, Joe could not stand the thought of other men ogling his wife and felt that the revealing outfits she wore in public made her look like a whore. He nearly lost it when she filmed the iconic skirt scene in The Seven Year Itch. The marriage became increasingly volatile as a result of Joe’s jealousy and unhappiness with Marilyn’s decisions, such as interrupting their honeymoon to entertain the troops in Korea, and Marilyn began to feel increasingly controlled and sought comfort in other men’s arms. Joe obsessively followed her around and spied on her. Marilyn could not take it anymore, and they divorced after less than a year of marriage.

Over the next few years, despite Marilyn’s marriage to playwright Arthur Miller, Joe tried to win her back, loaned her money when she needed it and even attended anger management. He did everything to prove his commitment to her. When Marilyn was forcibly institutionalized in 1961 because of her fragile emotional state and drug and alcohol use, he was the only one to come to her aid and rescue her from the clinic after he threatened to tear it down if they did not release her. To help her recover, he then took her on a vacation to Florida. His dedication to her and the stability he provided her did her good. She appreciated his efforts and said, “If it weren’t for Joe, I’d probably have killed myself years ago.”  She was not ready to return to him though.

Joe continued to fear for her mental state and well being, and became especially worried when she began hanging with the wrong crowd; Marilyn was socializing with the infamous Rat Pack and had begun affairs with both President Kennedy and his brother, Robert Kennedy. Her phone was even tapped. To get her out of this mess, he asked her to marry him again; Worn out by Hollywood and scandal, she agreed. On the 2nd of August, he left his job to begin the preparations. The wedding was set for the 8th. Marilyn was found dead on the 5th. Since Marilyn did not have any other family, it was Joe who claimed her body and took over the funeral arrangements. He held the Kennedys responsible for her death and ensured that neither they nor any of Hollywood’s elite attended. At the funeral service, which took place on the day they were supposed to marry, he broke down crying. He then arranged for a bench to be placed in front of her grave for visitors to sit, and, in accordance with her wishes, made arrangements that flowers be regularly delivered to her grave. He kept this up three times a week for the next 20 years. Joe believed that no one could love her as much as he did. She was the one woman he truly loved, and he never got over her death. He grieved her until the day he died and never remarried. He also never spoke publicly or negatively of her, and his final words were, “I’ll finally get to see Marilyn again.”

If a second marriage between the two would have worked out is uncertain. Marilyn obviously had insecurity issues that made her drink, take drugs and look for love with the wrong men. It is a shame, especially since Joe offered her stability. At the beginning of her career she was not ready, and then when she was, she died. This fact makes it all the more tragic.

 

WABAC to Love – Monroe and Dimaggio

WABAC to Way-back Ways

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"Where is the WABAC Machine going to take us this time, Mr. Peabody?

“Where is the WABAC Machine going to take us this time, Mr. Peabody?

“Sherman My Boy, do you remember when you misbehaved yesterday? Well, let’s go back when spanking children was accepted discipline.”

Traditional Parts of Life That No Longer Exist (Or Barely!)

10-Traditional-Parts-of-Life-That-No-Longer-Exist

The Good Old Days?

On July 31, 1970, the British Royal Navy experienced one of the darkest days in their long and glorious history, Black Tot Day.  This episode was the last day the Royal Navy would follow the long tradition of supplying a daily drink of rum to their sailors.  Many military and civilian traditions have fallen by the wayside, some with good riddance, some longingly missed.  Many of these traditions were written down as official policy, and others were just things people usually did.  Some ended with a clear cut finale, and others faded away.  Here we list 10 of those things that used to be a big or noticeable part of life.  What items would you include?

We’ll let you decide………

10. Royal Navy Rum Ration.

As stated above, this cherished tradition went the way of the Dodo in 1970.  In 1655, the Royal Navy switched from a ration of 1 gallon of beer per man per day to a half pint of rum, as beer did not keep very well in non-refrigerated ships.  In 1740 the rum ration was mixed with water and served in 2 portions to prevent drunkenness (the water-rum mix could not be hoarded, it would spoil).  In 1824 the ration was cut to a fourth of a pint.  In 1850 this tradition was again cut in half, down to an eighth of a pint, and officers were eliminated from the ration in 1881.  The Australian Navy had already eliminated the rum ration in 1921, and the Canadian Navy followed suit in 1972.  The last holdout among Commonwealth navies was the New Zealand Navy, which discontinued the practice in 1990.

9.  Latin Mass.

For centuries, the Catholic mass was said in Latin, so Catholics that spoke any language would be familiar with mass no matter where they were.  In 1967 permission was given for mass to be celebrated in the local languages.  Many older Catholics claim to miss this part of church.

8.  Spanking Children.

Both in the home and in schools the use of corporal punishment is a fraction of what it once was.  In the past, slapping or spanking an errant child was not given a second thought.  Nuns in Catholic schools terrified kids with a ruler across the knuckles, and most teachers kept a menacing wooden paddle hanging in the classroom to remind pupils of the consequences of misbehavior.  Today, things have changed so much that kids do not hesitate to call the police if their parents slap or spank them.  Although still legally permitted, striking a child is greatly frowned upon today and extreme care must be taken to avoid being charged with domestic violence.

7.  Mom Stays at Home and Raises Kids.

Closely related to #6, mothers of children often cannot stay home, raise the kids and keep the house.  Single mothers certainly must make a living, and many women today are the primary earner in the family.  Even more frequently, the income from mom’s job is essential to the family budget and both parents work.  From Rosie the Riveter in World War II, to female CEO’s, Mayors, Senators, female participation in the military (combat roles), and the distinct possibility that a woman may be our next president, it can clearly be seen the traditional role of women has changed in a big way.

6.  Traditional Marriage.

Not only did the institution of marriage take a major weakening in the late 20th Century with “living together” replacing formal marriage for many couples, but we are now experiencing a groundswell of support for marriage to be expanded to members of the same sex.  At this time 16 countries recognize same sex marriage, and more have areas where it is allowed.  In the US, 21 states have recognized same-sex marriage, and many more are either contemplating legislation or are in litigation over laws forbidding it.  Another change in the norm is serial marriage, people getting divorced and remarried as if they were trading in a used car for a new one.  Divorce is now legal in every country except the Philippines (and Vatican City if you call that a country).  Married women today frequently do not take the last name of their husband, either keeping their maiden name or making a hyphenated version of both names.

5.  Hazing.

The ordeals that new members of various school organizations used to go through were an accepted part of academic life.  Fraternities, sororities, athletic teams, clubs, marching bands, military academies, all sorts of school organizations had traditions of putting new members through hell in order to cement the bonds of camaraderie.  Unfortunately, these hijinks had led to many cases of physical injury and death, causing anti-hazing rules and laws to be passed.  Initiation ceremonies must now be carefully regulated to prevent injuries or extreme humiliation, and especially non-compliance with the rules.

4.  Radio Dramas.

In the 1920’s through the 1940’s radios became common enough that most families would gather around and listen to radio shows the way they later gathered to watch the television.  Radio dramas such as The Shadow appeared as did other sorts of radio shows that developed loyal audiences.  With television gradually taking over after World War II, by 1960 radio shows were a minor part of Americana.

3.  Flogging.

A common military punishment used to be whipping the offending sailor or soldier, with “flogging” generally meaning the use of a “ca’o’nine tails.”  The US Navy ended flogging in 1850, and the US Army ended flogging in 1861.  The Royal Navy ended the practice in 1879.  The permitted amount of lashes in some cases was as many as 1000, a number sure to result in death or disability.

2.  “Normal” Hair Styles.

For most of the 20th Century women had long hair and men had short hair.  Not only was that the accepted norm, but in school this was strictly enforced.  Boys with long hair were either sent home or given a haircut on the spot by male teachers.  Men with shaved heads were almost considered freaks.  Now of course, it is perfectly normal for men to have shaved heads, traditional type haircuts or long flowing locks.  Women have all the old hairstyles and now are accepted without a second glance if their hair is cropped short or even shaved.

1.  Traditional Men’s and Women’s Clothing.

Back in the day, women wore dresses and skirts, especially to work, school or church.  Until about 1970 it was required for girls to wear skirts or dresses no matter how cold it got, and they had to reach to the knee.  Boys were required to wear dress type pants (no blue jeans) and were not allowed to wear tennis shoes or work shoes in school.  Shirts had to have a collar (button down or polo type shirts) and no T-shirts were allowed.  Laws against “cross dressing” were on the books in most states or cities  Men could have tattoos (but not too many), but women with tattoos were considered loose women or freaks. Any man with an earring before the mid-1970’s was usually assumed to be a homosexual.  Nurses wore traditional caps readily identifying them until the late 1970’s.

 

WABAC to Way-back Ways

Shakespeare-less Lovers

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Top Tenz from WIF

10 Tales of Star-Crossed Lovers Not Written by Shakespeare

 

Do you believe in true love? Are you a romantic fool in constant search of the one thing that so many novels, poems, and films have been dedicated to, or are you one of those people who doesn’t have much faith in love, if any at all, and who mocks the bold “explorers” searching for their one true love?


Regardless of which group you belong to, here are ten love stories that will renew or even reinforce your faith in love. Some of them might be nothing but a creature of mythology or literature while others are probably exaggerated, but the sure thing is that all these stories became immortal in time and part of pop culture due to their deeper message for all humankind: love conquers all.

10. Odysseus and Penelope

odysseus-penelope-lovers

In our modern times very few people would be able to understand the unique bond between Odysseus and Penelope and even fewer who could imitate what they did.

Soon after they got married, Odysseus had to leave Penelope and their infant son to fight as one of Greece’s leaders in the Trojan War and wouldn’t return home for the next 20 years, a period of time in which Penelope was totally faithful to her husband and declined every offer from the 108 suitors who conquered Odysseus’s kingdom.

On the other hand, the mythical king of Ithaca was equally devoted to his true love, and despite following his man’s needs a couple of times, he eventually declined most temptations and decided to return home to his wife and son. A story for all of us to remember that true love is worth waiting for and can beat any distance if there’s hope and faith.

9. Marie and Pierre Curie

marie-pierre-lovers

This is one of the rare cases where the genius and incredible scientific innovations of a couple exceed their great love story, or at least this is how it seems to the average person who mostly knows of the Curies more for their partnership in the scientific field than anything else.

For Pierre Curie it was love at first sight when he first saw Marie when she was still a student in one of the laboratories he directed in the University of Paris, also known as the Sorbonne. After several failed marriage proposals Marie finally said yes and the two got married in 1895 and nothing but death could separate them again. They worked together, discovered polonium and radium together, and won the Nobel Prize for Physics together (1903) only a year before Pierre died.

Marie took his place at the Sorbonne, becoming the first female professor at the University of Paris. She would later become the first person to win a second Nobel Prize (1911), this time for chemistry, and continued to work and experiment in the name of the only man she ever loved as she used to say, until her own death from leukemia in the mid-1930s.

8. Erotokritos and Arethousa

Erotokritos-Arethousa-lovers

Despite not knowing exactly if this is a true story or just a fantasy of the poet Vikentios Kornaros, Erotokritos is a romantic piece of literature that takes place in Athens, and tells us the love story of two youths, Erotokritos and Arethousa. It was written around 1590 but published almost 125 years later in the early years of 17th century, probably in Florence. The world of the poem is that of chivalry and romance that highlights the heroism and bravery of Erotokritos, the faithfulness and loyalty of Arethousa, and that only true love can help us prosper in life and overcome any obstacle.

Possibly inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Erotokritos became part of Greek folklore and inspired many generations and influential poets such as Dionysios Solomos, who later wrote Greece’s national anthem, and Nobel Laureate in Literature, George Seferis.

7. Cleopatra and Mark Antony

antony-cleopatra-lovers

This is possibly the most famous love story in the world behind that of Romeo and Juliet and without a doubt the greatest historically recorded love of all time. The two fell in love at first sight and their love was so great to the point it became a threat to the Roman Empire, which kept losing power and control to Egypt because of the decisions a blinded-by-love Mark Antony made.

Despite all the obstacles and warnings, Mark Anthony and Cleopatra got married and Anthony ended up fighting his own people. According to one version of their story, it is believed that while fighting a battle against the Romans, Antony was informed falsely that Cleopatra was dead and, devastated by this news, took his own life with his sword. When Cleopatra learned of Antony’s death, she took her own life, putting an end to one of the greatest loves that ended in tragedy.

6. Tristan and Isolde

tristan-isolde-lovers

The heartbreaking love story of Tristan and Isolde has been told and retold in various stories and manuscripts. Tristan met the love of his life after traveling to Ireland to ask for the hand of the beautiful princess Isolde in marriage, on behalf of his uncle Mark, king of Cornwall.

On their way back to Cornwall, Tristan and Isolde commit a fatal mistake and drink a magic potion, which produces invincible and eternal love in anyone who tastes it. Despite this, Isolde eventually marries Mark of Cornwall, but cannot help but love Tristan eternally. The love affair continues after the wedding, but when King Mark finally learns about it, he bans Tristan from Cornwall.

Tristan moves to Brittany, marries another woman only because her name, Iseult, reminded him of his true love, Isolde. Despite both of them being married to other people they never managed to get over each other and their sad story ends with Isolde dying on Tristan’s chest in what is one of the saddest love stories of medieval literature.

5. Paris and Helen

paris-helen-lovers

We don’t know if Homer invented the romance between Paris and Helen or greatly exaggerated the facts surrounding what is believed to be the greatest love of antiquity, which led two nations into a catastrophic war. According to the epic poem The Iliad, myth gets mixed with history and gives birth to a tale of the most beautiful woman in the then-known world and wife of the aging King Menelaus of Sparta, and Paris, the young and handsome prince of Troy. When Paris and Helen meet for the first time they feel like they were meant to be together and fall deeply in love. Paris, blinded by love, decides to kidnap her to Troy, which enrages the Greeks.

The campaign of the Greek army and fleet led by Agamemnon, brother of Menelaus, and the war that followed became the reason for the destruction of the kingdom of Troy, and for Helen to return to her rightful husband after so many great warriors, Achilles and Hector among them, died in battle just so that she and Paris could live their romance at any cost.

4. Pyramus and Thisbe

thisbe-lovers

The story of the two young lovers comes from the Middle East and to be more specific, Pyramus was described as the most handsome of all men in Babylonia and Thisbe the most beautiful woman. Just like Romeo and Juliet, they were members of feuding families and for that reason they met secretly and shared a love only they knew about.

In one of their secret meetings near a lake, Thisbe, who was sitting nearby under a tree, saw a lioness with blood on her jaws thirsty for water approaching the lake. She panicked and ran to a cave to hide but unfortunately as she rushed to hide she dropped her veil. When the lion saw the veil, it picked it up and left blood all over it. When Pyramus arrived on the scene and found Thisbe’s bloody veil, he only thought of the worst and shattered by the idea that a wild animal killed Thisbe, he took his sword and stabbed himself in the chest. When Thisbe returns to the meeting place and sees Pyramus lying dead she kills herself with his sword too.

3. Heloise and Abelard

Heloise-Abelard-lovers

In twelfth-century Europe, the norm for your average society was to be as repressed and strict as it gets and a love affair between a theologian and philosopher (Abelard) and his younger student, Heloise, scandalized and challenged Parisian society like never before. The thin line between blind faith and logic was violated and the consequences were about to hit Heloise and Abelard hard, who by the way had been married already. The trigger was when Heloise got pregnant; they both realized that it would not be safe for her to remain in Paris and they fled to Brittany, Abelard’s birthplace.

Heloise’s uncle, Fulbert, canon of Notre Dame and the one who had hired Abelard to be his niece’s tutor, in a scheme to protect her dignity (only in his own mind), was the one who put an end to their love by having his servants castrate Abelard while he slept. Abelard became a monk and dedicated his life to philosophy while the heartbroken Heloise was forced by her uncle to give her child up for adoption and become a nun, even though she remained in love with Abelard, with whom she corresponded for the rest of her life. Their affectionate but sad love letters were later published and continue to touch thousands of people around the world.

2. Salim and Anarkali

Salim-Anarkali-lovers

Salim, son of the Mughal emperor Akbar the Great, loved a beautiful prostitute named Anarkali more than any other woman. He was stunned by her beauty and fell in love with her as soon as he saw her. His father could not accept the fact that his son was in love with a courtesan and did anything in his power to make Anarkali look cheap and fall in the eyes of his beloved son.

When Salim found out about this, he declared war against his father but the emperor’s great army was too much for such a young boy to overcome and he was defeated and sentenced to death.

It was then that Anarkali intervened and renounced her true love to save Salim and became “immortalized” by taking his place by being entombed alive behind a brick wall right in front of Salim’s eyes, who never loved another woman as he did Anarkali to the day he died, as he had promised her.

1. Paolo and Francesca

Paolo-Francesca-lovers

Paolo and Francesca were introduced to the world by the great Dante in his masterpiece the Divine Comedy. A true story that the great Italian writer described in the best possible way with his beautiful prose, Francesca is a young, beautiful woman married to Gianciotto Malatesta, a mean, horrible person who mistreats her daily. Francesca ends up falling in love with Gianciotto’s handsome, kind brother, Paolo, and the two become lovers, sharing a passionate secret affair.

According to Dante their love grows when they discover and read the story of two other great lovers in literature, that of Lancelot and Guinevere. Unfortunately, Gianciotto Malatesta finds out and kills both of them, ending in the most violent, brutal fashion one of the greatest romances the world ever knew.

 

Shakespeare-less Lovers

1/2 Century of Progress – 1964 to 2014

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Robots

10 Things That Are Better Than They Were Fifty Years Ago

We live in an age in which bad news and negativity reigns, making it easy to overlook the positive things that have taken place in our world over the last half century.

Further, one doesn’t need to view the world through rose-colored glasses to see the many things that have transpired over the last few decades all designed to make all our lives easier, safer, and overall less challenging than they were for our forbearers. All one needs to do is compare the present to the fairly recent past to recognize that while there are still things to be depressed about, there are a number of things that have improved dramatically. So what are these “positives” of which I speak? Below are my top ten “things” that have dramatically improved since 1964—and many of which show signs of getting even better in the future—so eat your hearts out, all you purveyors of doom and gloom out there.


10. Automobiles

automobile-64

When one considers the automobiles of yesterday, one can’t help but be astonished at the dramatic improvements we see in the vehicles of today. Consider that the average car in 1964 had no seat belts, air bags, crumple zones, or crash bars, got maybe 12 miles to the gallon, and belched prodigious amounts of toxins in the air, it’s not difficult to see how much safer, fuel efficient, and cleaner cars are today. While one can argue that styling may have been more interesting back then, and no one can deny the mystique the classic muscle cars of the late 60s and early 70s held—and continue to hold for many today—it’s obvious that today’s cars are technological wonders compared to their ancestors. In fact, with GPS navigation, Bluetooth, Sirius radio and a host of other gadgets that come standard with many models, today’s vehicles are veritable spaceships when compared to a 60’s car. Plus, the selection is almost unlimited, with everything from subcompacts to monster trucks being available to the consumer, whereas back then selection was mostly limited to a basic sedan, a station wagon, or a small truck. Further, consumers had only a dozen or so models to choose between back then  whereas today there are literally scores of makes and models to select from (not to mention the emerging hybrid and all electric markets to consider). Yes, today’s cars cost more than cars did fifty years ago, but most vehicles are actually cheaper than their predecessors when one factors in inflation and the cost of a new car as a percentage of average annual income. Finally, with new and even more astonishing technologies on the drawing boards, the future looks even brighter for the venerable automobile—which I believe will continue to play a big part in the 21st century and beyond.

9. Air Travel

airplane-64

I know that in the post 9/11 world, air travel is more of a hassle than it was fifty years ago (when one could walk through security with barely a whimper), but it can’t be denied that travel by air has improved dramatically. First of all, it is cheaper to fly today than at any other time in history. Fifty years ago, airfares were set by the Civil Aeronautics Board, and could often be expensive. For example, a round-trip airline ticket from Miami to New Orleans cost around $130 in 1964—which is about $900 in today’s dollars. By comparison, today you can fly that same route for about $330 (or even cheaper if you’re one to look around for good deals). Second, airliners today are faster, more fuel efficient, and more environmentally friendly than at any time in the past, drastically reducing the amount of particulates they spew into the air, reducing flight duration, and generally making for more comfortable flying. Third, airlines fly to more places than ever before, making practically any point on the planet accessible by air. And, finally, air safety has improved dramatically in the last five decades. How much has it improved? According to statisticians at M.I.T., the death risk for passengers in the United States today is one in 45 million flights. In other words, flying has become so reliable that a traveler could fly every day for an average of 123,000 years before being in a fatal crash. (Compare that to fifty years ago, when there were ten fatal airliner accidents worldwide that left a total of 466 people dead. In 2013, only 195 people perished and this despite the fact that there are ten times as many aircraft flying than there were fifty years ago.) All things considered, travel by air is still your best value and the safest means of travel known to mankind.

8. Electronics

electronics-64

Imagine if you were to go back to 1964. You would probably be watching a black and white television that gets maybe four channels, listening to AM radio, playing vinyl records on your Hi-Fi, and generally making do with a minimum of electronic gadgets. In contrast, today you have iPods, iPhones, personal computers, game stations, massive HD flat screen TVs with 300 cable channels to choose from, GPS tracking, satellite radio, microwaves, and a whole host of other innovations and devices undreamed of fifty years ago. When you consider that your little beat-up, ten year old piece-of-junk PC you can’t even give away has a thousand times more computing power than the largest and most expensive computer in 1964 possessed, you can’t help but be impressed with the strides electronics have taken in just the last thirty years alone. Plus, it’s extraordinarily cheap, especially if you wait a little while after a new device is introduced for the price to tumble (as it invariably will). It’s almost scary to imagine where this revolution will take us in the next fifty years, but if the last fifty has been any indication, get ready to be dazzled!

7. Human Rights

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I know there are still despots and tyrants out there who treat their own populace like cattle, and starvation, disease, and poverty are still concerns in many spots around the world, but when compared to what things were like fifty years ago, only the most hard-core pessimist can fail to see the tremendous improvements that have taken place since then. When one considers that homosexuality was considered a treatable mental illness fifty years ago (at best), women in positions of power were practically unheard of, and three quarters of the world’s population lived at or below poverty level, one can’t help but see improvement. Yes, there is still income inequality in some countries, the rights of women and minorities are still suppressed in some regions of the world, and poverty remains the norm in some of the poorest counties, but the fact is that for most people, things have improved dramatically. Disease and starvation are far less common, more democracies exist than ever before, and—thanks in part to the internet—human rights abuses and atrocities are far less tolerated than in the past. We’re far from achieving anything approaching a utopian world—nor are we likely to anytime in the near future—but it’s hard to deny that there is at least progress being made.

6. Frozen Dinners

frozen-dinners-1964

Before the advent of the microwave some fifty years ago, frozen dinners were dismal affairs whose taste was often indistinguishable from the containers they were packaged in. Plus, it took a good twenty to thirty minutes to heat up most of them, and the selection was very limited and largely unimaginative. Today, in contrast, one can find a veritable smorgasbord of international culinary delights in their freezer that can be prepared in a few minutes, many of which rival the food served in many of the finest restaurants in terms of quality and taste (and, I might add, they are cheaper. Restaurant food can be pricey.) In fact, so good and easy have frozen dinners become that today they comprise many people’s main diet, with most families preparing a meal from prepackaged frozen dinners as often as four times a week. While this has had the unfortunate consequence of making traditional cooking a dying art, it has the benefit in that frozen dinners save the gastrointestinal system of those whose partner or parents are horrible cooks. Further, frozen dinners have also almost single-handedly banished that scourge of the refrigerator and freezer: the dreaded leftover. If that isn’t something to rejoice about, I don’t know is.

5. Movie Special Effects

cgi-1964

Growing up in the sixties, I was often subjected to special effects that could only be described as primordial at best, from a guy in a rubber suit stomping on a model of Tokyo to stop motion animation and rubber spiders on strings. Of course, as a kid, at the time I thought these effects were pretty cool, but when I see these same movies on late night TV today, I can only cringe—or laugh—at how hokey Godzilla looked and how cheesy the first Star Trek episodes were. Today, thanks to CGI (Computer Generated Imagining), we can make astonishingly convincing dinosaurs, dragons, spaceships—even entire ancient cities—that early special effect wizards could only dream of. Some of the best of this stuff is so real, in fact, that one can often have trouble determining reality from good CGI. Unfortunately, as is often the case with all such improvements, there is a down side. Many movies have become so enamored with dazzling effects that they have forgotten how to tell a good story, or they so overdo it that eventually one becomes indifferent and even bored after seeing the same effects a dozen times. Still, when great special effects, good acting, and a compelling story are brought together—as is occasionally the case—the results can be remarkable.

4. Space Travel

space-1964

In 1964, America was still taking its first, unsteady steps into outer space in the little two-man Gemini spacecraft, unsure if its astronauts would survive the next mission. The spacecraft were small, expensive, and dangerous, but they were necessary steps in man’s quest for the stars. Today, in contrast, space travel is almost routine, far more cost effective in terms of cost per pound of payload, and so simple that even civilian companies are getting into the act by offering to fly rich tourists into orbit for the chance to gaze upon the planet from fifty miles up. Of course, none of this would be possible without the dramatic advances made in electronics and rocketry, and space travel is still a risky business, but compared to where it was fifty years ago, it’s no longer that amazing an accomplishment to put a man—or woman, for that matter—into space. Further, this trend will only continue as rocket engines get smaller and more powerful, construction materials become more rugged and cost effective, and the private sector takes over space in much the same way it took over the airline industry almost a century ago. As a result, one day our grandchildren will see spaceflight as no more remarkable a feat than an airline flight from New York to Paris is considered today, and will wonder what all the fuss was about.

3. Fashion

fashion-1964

Fashions come and go, but consider that back in 1964 things were far more ordinary and less flashy than they are today. Back then the average Joe—and Jill—didn’t have a huge selection of styles or materials from which to choose. As a result, men commonly wore suits and leather shoes and women generally wore dresses adorned with bizarre hats of all shapes and sizes. There were not nearly a thousand different brands and kinds of tennis shoes to choose from (there were only KEDS canvas sneakers), patterns were generally limited to stripes, solids, or polka dots, and most clothing was made from cotton, wool, or something in between. In contrast, today the sky’s the limit in terms of fashion choices available to both men and woman, with all the benefits (and consequences) that portends. All the colors of the rainbow in any material you can imagine are readily available, and styles are as varied as each person’s personality type. The only downside is today it can be difficult to pick out the women from the men as clothing styles are largely unisexual, and then there’s that nasty epidemic of ugly tattoos and bizarre body piercings out there to deal with. On second thought, maybe fashion is in a downward spiral after all…

2. Pollution

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I know that concerns over global warming, climate change, the ozone layer and such are all the rage, but it is difficult to maintain that things have not improved dramatically over the last fifty years—especially in the west. During the sixties, smog was bad in most major American and European cities and only promised to get worst as populations continued to grow and more automobiles hit the roads. Further, streams were often dumping grounds for all manner of toxic chemicals, and piles of trash were ubiquitous alongside of roadways, in alleys, and even in nature, which was often looked upon as one great garbage dump. Contrast that with today, with our much more stringent emission standards on both automobiles and industrial plants, the shift towards renewable energy, and strict dumping and waste management standards and smog has become rare in most cities, rivers and lakes are far cleaner, and even littering is becoming less common. Clearly, changing public attitudes, a vigorous recycling infrastructure, and greater environmental awareness have also done much to improve matters. Of course, pollution is still a big problem in some developing countries—in particular China and India—and it is growing worse (at least in some developing nations) but it is only a matter of time before even they are forced to raise air and water quality standards for the good of public safety, portending a cleaner environment in the future.

1. World Peace

peace-1964

I know many people imagine the world to be one big tinderbox just waiting for a match to be thrown, but the fact is the world is a far more peaceful place than it was just fifty years ago. Some may laugh at such apparent naiveté on my part, but consider the facts: between the end of the Second World War in 1945 and thirty years later in 1975, there were no fewer than four Arab-Israeli wars, three wars between India and Pakistan, devastating wars in Korea and Vietnam, major insurgencies in French Indochina, Algeria, and the Belgian Congo, and costly civil wars in Nigeria, Greece, Indonesia, Hungary and Cuba. Further, dictatorships ruled most of South and Latin America, Africa, and Asia, while the shadow of the cold war hovered over the entire world, just waiting for someone to make a mistake, ushering in a nuclear Armageddon. What a difference a few decades have made. With the collapse of communism in Russia and the fall of the Soviet Union, Germany became reunited, the counties of eastern Europe became free, and the danger of nuclear holocaust became greatly diminished. Further, normalization of relations with a once implacable Red China has turned that country from a fierce adversary into a major trading partner, while one by one authoritarian regimes have been supplanted by democracies all around the world. Of course, there are still wars—though they tend to be smaller, shorter in duration, and less destructive affairs than those of the past—and terrorism remains a threat, but it’s hard to deny that the world is not nearly as dangerous a place as it was when I was growing up. Of course, all of that is subject to change without notice, but the threats to peace we see today from countries likeNorth Korea and Iran are mere fleabites compared to the twin dangers Stalinist Russia and Mao’s China posed just a few decades ago. Not peace in our time, perhaps, but steps in the right direction.

 

1/2 Century of Progress – 1964 to 2014

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