It Was 20 Years Ago Today
A daily podcast of history, culture and memory

Saturday, October 25, 2014.  Twenty years ago today, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 became law, and we've been up to our ears in pills for everything ever since.  I look at the intent of the Act, and how because of what it actually allows, its effect has been far different.

Extra special thanks to Marc Rose of FUSE Audio Design for the famous disclaimer, which is straight out of the Act.

 

Direct download: 20yearsago_176_10252014.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 7:43 PM

Friday, January 17, 2014.  Twenty years ago today, an earthquake struck in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles.  It killed 57 people and injured nearly 9000.  I talk about the Northridge Earthquake and consider the question of whether it was "the Big One."

The picture is of a partially collapsed apartment building damaged in the earthquake, of a type which is no longer legal to build in California because of the Northridge quake.

Direct download: 20yearsago_175_011714.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 7:24 AM

In today's episode I remember just a few of the notable people who died in 1993.  They may have been gone for 20 years, but their achievements -- or infamy -- remain.

Direct download: 20yearsago_174_1993recap_memorials.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 5:15 AM

My recap of 1993 continues today with a recollection of some events from the second half of 1993.  I think my space geek is showing just a little -- of the four events I cover here, two are related to NASA and space exploration (the loss of the Mars Observer and the first repair mission for the Hubble Space Telescope).  I also discuss the Battle of Mogadishu (remembered mostly today through the book and film Black Hawk Down) and the Maastricht Treaty, which provided the framework for today's European Union.  The picture at the left is an artist's rendering of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Direct download: 20yearsago_173_1993recap2.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 6:18 AM

Welcome back to "It Was 20 Years Ago Today."  There will be new episodes every day this week!

Before we begin looking back at the events of 1994, I'm offering a recap of a few notable events of 1993.  On today's show I discuss the release of the first Pentium Processor, the hantavirus outbreak in the Four Corners region, and the beginning of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."  The image here is of hantavirus particles.

Direct download: 20yearsago_172_1993recap1.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:05 AM

[This episode was produced for November 3, 2012 and appeared originally on the Society of the Inner Ear program, but had not been posted to the 20 Years Ago feed previously.]

The Trojan Nuclear Power Plant (pictured in its heyday in the 1970s) was shut down on November 3, 1992 after a steam tube leak, and was never restarted.  The plant, which had been in operation for a scant 20 years, was decommissioned and demolished; the only thing that remains on the plant site today is the spent nuclear fuel, stored in casks and waiting for some sort of long term storage.  In this show I talk about the plant, what happened to it, and what are the prospects for nuclear power today in the global warming, post-Fukushima world.

Direct download: 20yearsago_171_110312.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 6:32 AM

[This episode was produced for the week of August 5, 2012, but not posted previously.]

 

Welcome back to the "It Was 20 Years Ago Today" podcast!  I'm beginning to create and post new shows, but first I wanted to post several shows from 2012 which didn't make it to the feed.  We begin with this episode, about the creation of the English Premier League, the top division of the English football (soccer) system.  It is now arguably the most popular professional football league in the world, with fans around the globe.

Direct download: 20yearsago_170_080512.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 5:00 AM

Twenty years ago today, a truck bomb exploded in the underground garage of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.  It destroyed several levels of the garage, killed six people, and injured over a thousand.  The bombing attack was planned and carried out by a group of conspirators led by Ramzi Yousef, a Kuwaiti-born terrorist who trained with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

On that Friday morning (the bomb exploded at 12:17 pm local time, which was 9:17 am on the West Coast), I was at work.  I had just completed my probationary period as an employee of Intel, and was still settling into my new office on the fifth floor of the recently-completed Robert Noyce Building in Santa Clara, California, Intel's headquarters.

I liked to listen to FM radio on headphones while I was working -- the structure of the building was such that AM broadcasts were almost impossible to hear.  Portable CD players were still expensive and skipped if you so much as sneezed on them, the algorithms that would give rise to MP3 sound files were just being defined, and streaming audio on the Internet was, at best, somebody's pipe dream.

Immediately after I learned of the bombing, I became painfully aware that I was working on the fifth floor of the five-story building, I became painfully aware that I was working on the fifth floor of the five-story building, by far the tallest I had ever worked in.  Having visited taller buildings only a few times, it was challenging -- and quite frightening -- to imagine what it must be like to be in one of the upper floors of the World Trade Center buildings.  I tried to get as much news as I could that day.

On the wider scale, I think it was that first World Trade Center bombing that really crystallized the image of the Middle Eastern terrorist as a figure to be feared more than any other in the culture of the United States.  It was not, of course, the first time a Middle Eastern terrorist had struck at Americans.  But it very quickly gained the title of worst terrorist incident on United States soil, and in so doing, gave the American people something to be afraid of, which we had largely lost in the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of global Communism.

Indeed, when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was blown up two years and two months after the World Trade Center bombing, everyone's assumption was that a Middle Eastern terrorist had done it.  There are people who believe to this day that some Middle Eastern group -- most often Iraqi -- was responsible and that Timothy McVeigh was just a patsy.  The fact that McVeigh became known as a "domestic" or "homegrown" terrorist just underscores how pervasive the image of the Middle Eastern terrorist had become.  It is a strange distinction to draw; a distinction akin to “racism” and “reverse racism,” a distinction that should not need to be made.  But we make it anyway.

Category:text recollections -- posted at: 9:01 PM

Wednesday, November 30, 2011.  Twenty years ago today, the USA Women's National Team won the inagural FIFA Women's World Cup tournament.  They have been a dominant force in the women's game ever since.  I talk about the status of women's soccer in the United States since that first big win, why I think the women's game is even better than the men's, and my experience seeing Team USA play right here in Portland a few weeks ago.

The picture is of one of the stars of the present team, Abby Wambach.

Direct download: 20yearsago_169_113011.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:05 AM

20 years ago today, Joe and I were celebrating our first anniversary.  It had been a challenging year, but we'd made it through, and we decided to celebrate by visiting one of our favorite restaurants at the time, the Cardinal diner, for an early supper.  It wasn't far from home, just down the street at the corner of Meridian and Hillsdale Avenues.  (In 1991 it was quite new -- it had a look that nowadays is called "retro" with a lot of brass and red glittery vinyl seating.  It apparently closed sometime last year, more's the pity.)  Just before we left a news report came on the television about a fire in the Oakland hills.

When we returned, no more than two hours later, we turned on the television and the local stations were all broadcasting images that looked like a classical version of Hell -- flames lighting the night sky in blazing ribbons and clouds of luminous smoke; tall trees ablaze from root to crown, and sometimes exploding.  We were watching the Oakland Hills firestorm, an incredible disaster that, before it was finally controlled some 72 hours after it began, destroyed over 3700 homes, killed 25 people and injured some 150.

Many of the awesome (in the original sense of the word) images of that night are still very accessible in my mind's eye, but for those who never saw (or don't remember) the firestorm, the SFGate has put up a small slideshow which captures it and its aftermath.  They also have an article which focuses on one family, their tragedy and recovery.

Over the years since we have occasionally joked about what sort of karma we had, that on our first anniversary the Oakland hills burned up.  There are a fair share of notorious events that have taken place on October 20 in years past: the Saturday Night Massacre, the opening of the HUAC hearings, the Johnny Bright incident.  But a few pretty cool ones too:  The Police played their first US show in 1978; Jacqueline Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis in 1968.  As I say in the show close, every day has a multitude of stories.  October 20, more than maybe any other day in the year, is the day that I go looking for them.

Category:text recollections -- posted at: 11:37 PM