Showing posts with label America. Show all posts
Showing posts with label America. Show all posts

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

My favourite photograph and the glacial creep of world evil

The other day the wife was looking at a thread on Reddit. She said, "have a look at these, it's a thread about people's favourite photographs".

Every single one was donkey porn.

Nevertheless, it gave me an idea for something I could potentially address you peasants about, because I was able to quite quickly think of a number of photographs that fit into that category for me.

Every single one is donkey porn.

In fact, they are not. I do not find donkeys particularly appealing sexually. Even really good-looking donkeys with great big gopping arseholes or big wangers or anything. However, a number of the photographs that I thought about instantly are probably just as unappealing to some people, if for slightly less bestial reasons. This is because, as you will all probably be aware, I have rather morbid tastes in things. Or rather, things that are rather morbid hold a particular fascination for me.

And so we come to perhaps my all-time favourite photograph. I think it is one of the most dramatic pictures ever taken, full of action and yet crystallising the last seconds of innocence on a day that changed the world forever. It was taken nearly 50 years ago by Associated Press photographer Ike Altgens in Dallas. It was 12.30 p.m. on Friday 22nd November 1963.

(Click it, it will go bigger)

It mesmerises me. There's an awful lot going on, yet at the same time it is so still. In four seconds time, the President of the United States will be dead. And yet here is the moment just before that, frozen for all time. Some people clearly realise there is something untoward going on, others are still wrapped up in the excitement of seeing Kennedy in the flesh. Every single person in this photograph is about to have the most dramatic story of their lives to tell forever.

As with the majority of the pieces of documentary evidence concerned with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, over the past half-century this photograph has variously been used to definitively establish every single possible argument and theory, particularly those which are diametrically opposed to one another.

From my point of view (as a sane man), I think it very clearly proves that Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin from his window on the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository. All the people concerned with safety surrounding the caravan are looking over their shoulder to that location, having obviously just heard a sharp sound. In the Presidential limousine itself, we are clearly able to see Kennedy and Governor John F. Connolly have both been hit by Oswald's second shot, the one which conspiracy theorists term "the magic bullet".

My particular favourite conspiracy theory surrounding this photograph in particular is The Man In The Doorway. If you look almost immediately behind Kennedy in the limousine, you can see a gaggle of people stood in the entrance to the Texas School Book Depository, probably mostly on their lunch break and deciding to watch the parade. But some have claimed that one of their number is Lee Harvey Oswald, the Book Depository's most famous ever employee, thus establishing his status as the ultimate patsy for the most brazen conspiracy ever perpetrated.

There he is, look!

Could this be the world's most infamous political assassin, making a dramatic last-gasp bid for a not guilty plea? Or is it, as many other researchers have argued, another employee of the Texas School Book Depository? It would certainly seem to make sense, especially as Oswald was otherwise occupied at the time elsewhere in the building. Furthermore, the man in the doorway doesn't half resemble one of Oswald's colleagues, Bill Lovelady:

Compared to the more angular features of Oswald, it does make a compelling case:

However, the beauty of all these conspiracy theories is that they are born out of an inability to find absolutely definitive proof, so everyone can continue to idly speculate for as long as they like. What do you think? Lovelady or Oswald? Let's have another look:

Oh hold on, it can't be, surely? IT IS!

We've seen this face before:

It's Cher, from the front cover of the single Walking In Memphis, the worst ever rendition of the worst song ever written! Thus definitively establishing the link between the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and World Evil.

No room for conspiracy theories there.

Monday, 17 June 2013

The powerful influence that American involvement the Vietnam War had on the history of popular music

America invented popular music. It was on a Tuesday. The entire history of pop can be traced back to traditional American music at the turn of the 20th Century. However, if you read any learned books of learned history, you could be hard-pressed to guess that this is the case. This is all because of The Beatles, who by a trick of fate were born in Liverpool, England instead of Liverpool, Ohio and therefore were not required to fight in the Vietnam war in the 1960s.

That's right, Britain stole a march on popular music in the decade that proved to be the most pivotal in the history of the genre and has scarcely relinquished its primacy ever since. American musicians could very easily have pushed the limits of their creativity just as far as their British contemporaries but as soon as they got a groove going they were legally obligated to go and rain hot death on the Viet Cong. It's hard to reinvent rock 'n' roll music when the hot breath of the American Senate is continually on the back of your neck, noisily wondering why it is that, instead of going electric, you're not busy killing Charlie.

I am always reminded of this state of affairs when I listen to Friends by The Beach Boys, an album which I love. In the title song, there is a line: "I talked your folks out of making you cut off your hair", which I have always believed must be a veiled reference to the continuing US involvement in the Far Eastern conflict. Indeed, I think it could even refer to the youngest of The Beach Boys' Wilson brothers, Carl.

"We've been friends now for so many years, brb raining ideological death war on innocent Asian families"

Carl Wilson was drafted into the US Army aged 20 in 1967 but applied for deferment on the grounds of conscientious objection. After a lengthy battle through the courts, the US Government agreed that Wilson would not have to fight overseas as long as he performed free concerts for hospitals and prisons in lieu of national service.

Fans of The Beach Boys will know that this was a pivotal year in the history of the group. The year before the band had released their seminal Pet Sounds album and headed into 1967 in a creative summit duel with their great contemporaries The Beatles to see who could redefine the terms of pop music forever first. Of course, we now all know that The Beatles released Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in June of that year while The Beach Boys spellbinding and ambitious Smile project collapsed in a fug of mental health problems (Brian Wilson) and in-fighting within the band (Mike Love). They were never really the same force again, especially after the patchy and disappointing Smiley Smile was released that September - a watered down and unfinished collection of what had promised to be the most remarkable songs ever committed to tape.

Having a Sword of Damocles hanging over the continued involvement in the group's activities of one of their number was, of course, by no means the be-all and end-all of what caused the breakdown of the group's position at the absolute vanguard of the pop movement. But there's little doubt in my mind that it would not have helped. Carl Wilson's influence within The Beach Boys was growing rapidly. By 1968 he would be their de facto  leader as big brother Brian drifted off into a world of his own. The idea of this rather gentle soul possibly having to go and destroy world communism was anathema to everyone concerned.

But, and here's the key thing, I can't help but feel that it would actually have been brilliant. For a start, it would have won The Beach Boys a whole new legion of more mature fans and other veterans of foreign wars, flushed with admiration that finally one of these floppy-haired, lily-livered rock 'n' rollers had finally had the balls to stand up to Marx. This could not have served the group badly: their output up to that stage was exceptional enough that any new listener would surely be converted into a fan and, therefore, record sales.

Then there would be the immeasurable impact of Wilson's return to the fold, both from the point of view of publicity but also in terms of his new life experiences informing all sorts of new directions for the band's sound. George Harrison playing sitar with Ravi Shankar would suddenly seem old hat, compared with the sprinkling of genuine Laotian folk music now peppering The Beach Boys albums. Perhaps they could even have roped Lon Nol in on bongos. I can't be the only Beach Boys fan who would absolutely have relished the idea of a now one-legged Carl Wilson, wearing an eyepatch, singing a furious song about the 4 Vietnamese soldiers he bayonetted never solved anything.

Of course, it could just be that they had a friend whose parents wanted them to get a haircut but they talked them out of it.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The busy world of assassination pictures

I want to share three of my all-time favourite pictures with you. I think they are magnificent, not only because of the exceptional technique and draughtsmanship they exhibit but also for what they represent and the significance of the event that each depicts.

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln, 14th April 1865
The assassination of James Garfield, 2nd July 1881
The assassination of William McKinley, 6th September 1901

They are remarkable things, aren't they? Each powerful in its own right, pregnant with the drama of one of those rare occasions where history definitively changed over the course of a moment. Sadly, aside from the picture of the shooting of William McKinley (by which point the United States was averaging a Presidential assassination just under every 20 years, a poor batting average by anybody's standards) which is by T. Dart-Walker, I do not know the identities of the other two artists. Such was the way of it in the days when photography was a luxurious plaything.

The sharp-brained among you will, of course, realise that there's something incomplete about this series. Because to the best of my knowledge, there is no such image of the fourth Presidential assassination in the United States, that of John Kennedy on 22nd November 1963. By then, celluloid had assumed its primacy over the pencil or the engraving, a position which it shows little sign of relinquishing any time soon.

What we are left with instead, of course, is the silent 8mm cinefilm taken by Abraham Zapruder in Dallas that day. There's always a witness to history, argued the Naudet brothers, who inadvertently captured the initial aeroplane strike in New York City on 11th September 2001. Zapruder is perhaps the most famous example of this truism. But oddly, a moving record of the event has proved so much more equivocal than any of these three artist's impressions. Perhaps it is by virtue of the nature of the shooting, by long-distance sniper rather than by the up-close-and-personal approach favoured by John Wilkes Booth, Charles Guiteau or Leon Czolgosz. But common sense states that the more data is available, the easier it should be to draw conclusions from it. The Zapruder film has, in the past fifty years, been used as sure proof of almost every theory, conceivable or otherwise, relating to the Kennedy assassination. It's a peculiar state of affairs.

But it was more from the point of view of completism, however, than in the spirit of providing any definitive proof, that I decided that I needed to finish the set. So today I am proud to unveil the first ever artistic impression of those terrible events in Dallas half a century ago this November. Will it stand the test of time in the same way as the others? Only history can tell.

The assassination of John Kennedy, 22nd November 1963. (Click for bigger)

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The America Project - New Hampshire

New Hampshire (NH) size 9,350 sq.m population 1.3 million

Bordering states Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine (3)
State capital Concord
Most populous city Manchester
Other notable places Berlin, Claremont, Franklin, Rochester, Dover
Notable landmarks and natural features Presidential Range mountains, Canterbury Shaker Village, Lake Winnipesaukee, Strawbery Banke
Statehood 21st June 1788 (9th)

Ten famous Granite Staters
Brooke Astor (socialite and philanthropist; born Portsmouth, 1902-2007)
Dan Brown (author; born Exeter, 1964 -)
Eliza Coupe (actress; born Plymouth, 1981 -)
Paul Michael Levesque (aka Triple H) (professional wrestler; born Nashua, 1969 -)
Bode Miller (skiier; born Easton, 1977 -)
Mandy Moore (actress and singer; born Nashua, 1984 -)
Herman Webster Mudgett (aka Dr. H.H. Holmes) (serial killer; born Gilmanton, 1861-1896)
Franklin Pierce (politician, 14th President of the USA; born Hillsborough, 1804-1869)
Sarah Silverman (comedian and actress; born Bedford, 1970 -)
Earl Tupper (chemist and inventor; born Berlin, 1907-1983)

Three important events

1. New England Hurricane, 21st September 1938

The first hurricane to strike New England in almost 70 years, the New England hurricane of 1938 was a category 3 storm by the time it made landfall in Long Island. Virtually every eastern seaboard State was affected by the storm, and whilst New Hampshire got off lightest in terms of total rainfall, the hurricane destroyed ten bridges in Peterborough and sparked several fires which burned out of control downtown as floodwater prevented firefighting efforts. In total, 13 people died in New Hampshire alone.

2. The Shaggs, 1968

In Fremont, NH there's not a lot going on, so when the mother of sisters Dot, Helen, Betty and Rachel Wiggin had a vision that her daughters were set for global stardom, their father Austin Wiggin knew exactly what to do. This represents the last stage in this story when anyone knew what to do, as the four sisters then formed an unforgettable pop group at Austin's insistence. With Austin's investment, the sisters wrote and played their own songs, culminating in the monumental studio album Philosophy of the World, released in March 1969. The band's unique approach to lyrical construction and sonic structure bewildered a world and the album proved to be their only record. The Shaggs continued to be a popular live act in New Hampshire until Austin's death in 1975 freed them, and everyone, to do other things with their time. Frank Zappa called The Shaggs "better than The Beatles", although thus far he is the only person to do so.

3. Old Man of the Mountain, 3rd May 2003

Like on my curtains, if you looked at Cannon Mountain in the New Hampshire White Mountains from a certain angle you could very clearly see a face in profile. This craggy old rock bastard became known as the Old Man of the Mountains and was quite the local and national celebrity. His image eventually appeared on coins and postage stamps. But as it always must to granite OAPs, death came to the Old Man of the Mountain in May 2003, as generations of freezing and thawing, wind, rain, sun and snow finally saw him collapse. Although he was in fact a big pile of rocks, floral tributes were left at the site. Which was a big pile of rocks.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The America Project - Nevada

Nevada (NV) size 110,567 sq.m population 2.7 million

Bordering states California, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Arizona (5)
State capital Carson City
Most populous city Las Vegas
Other notable places Henderson, Reno, Sunrise Manor, Paradise
Notable landmarks and natural features Las Vegas Strip, Area 51, Mojave Desert, Sierra Nevada mountains, Lake Tahoe, The Hoover Dam
Statehood 31st October 1864 (36th)

Ten famous Nevadans
Andre Agassi (tennis player; born Las Vegas, 1970 -)
M├Ądchen Amick (actress; born Sparks, 1970 -)
Kurt Busch (racing driver; born Vas Vegas, 1978 -)
Glen Charles (TV writer and producer; born Las Vegas, 1943 -)
Brad Dexter (actor; born Goldfield, 1917-2002)
Brandon Flowers (musician; born Henderson, 1981 -)
Jenna Jameson (actress; born Las Vegas, 1974 -)
Jack Kramer (tennis player; born Las Vegas, 1921-2009)
Patricia Nixon (former First Lady and Second Lady of the USA; born Ely, 1912-1993)
Amanda Righetti (actress; born St. George, Utah (raised in Las Vegas); 1983 -)

Three important events

1. Comstock Lode, 1859

The making of Nevada was the discovery of Comstock Lode, the largest deposit of silver ore in the United States. Discovered by enterprising miners with one of their number, Henry T. P. Comstock, lending it his name, it sparked a predictably frenzied silver rush all across the United States. With the surface pickings quickly exhausted, deep cast mining quickly followed. By 1880, nearly 7 million tons of gold and silver had been extracted from the site, making the State wealthier and more desirable than its largely unfarmable and unpromising dusty surroundings  - Nevada is the driest of the fifty States - would immediately suggest.

2. The Northern Club, 1931

Quite contrary to the self-flagellation which gripped the United States following the stock market crash of 1929, Nevada instead looked to mankind's many delicious vices as a guaranteed source of income.  With unemployment skyrocketing and Prohibition still in place, Nevada legalised gambling in 1931. The first licensed "gaming" venue was Northern Club casino in Las Vegas, guaranteeing financial ruin for generations to come. Nevada has never since gone back on its decision, although gambling remains taboo across much of the country to this day - Nevada remains the only State where casino-based gambling is legal throughout - and the gaming industry accounts for over a third of the Nevada's income. A further boost to Nevada's liberal reputation and its coffers is that it is also the only State with legalised prostitution.

3. The shooting of Tupac Shakur, 7th September 1996

A hugely successful and influential figure in the Hip-Hop music scene, Tupac Shakur was also a key player in the East coast - West coast rap wars of the 1990s, during which the United Kingdom remained neutral. Shakur was from New York City but in Nevada for the Mike Tyson - Bruce Sheldon heavyweight boxing match in Las Vegas. Upon leaving the MGM Grand, Shakur was shot four times in a drive-by assault. He was taken to hospital with mortal wounds to his internal organs. He died 6 days later. When his body was cremated, some of the ashes were mixed with marijuana and smoked by Shakur's group, The Outlawz. Which is the way Chelsea Pensioners do it.

Friday, 20 July 2012

The America Project - Nebraska

Nebraska (NE) size 77,420 sq.m population 1.8 million

Bordering states Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri (6)
State capital Lincoln
Most populous city Omaha
Other notable places Bellevue, Grand Island, Kearney, Fremont
Notable landmarks and natural features Scotts Bluff National Monument, Pony Express Historic Trail, Great Plains
Statehood 1st March 1867 (37th)

Ten famous Nebraskans
Fred Astaire (actor and dancer; born Omaha, 1899-1987)
Marlon Brando (actor; born Omaha, 1924-2004)
Dick Cheney (politician, 41st Vice-President of the USA; born Lincoln, 1941 -)
Henry Fonda (actor; born Grand Island, 1905-1982)
Gerald Ford (politician, 38th President of the USA; born Omaha, 1913-2006)
Malcolm X (civil rights leader; born Omaha, 1925-1965)
Marg Helgenberger (actress; born Fremont, 1958 -)
L. Ron Hubbard (author and religious leader; born Tilden, 1911-1986)
Harold Lloyd (actor and comedian; born Burchard, 1893-1971)
Andy Roddick (tennis player; born Omaha, 1982 -)

Three important events

1. Niobrara (1857 - present)

Civic pride is something a lot of people whiffle on about. But if you want to know about real civic pride, look no further than the village of Niobrara, situated in Knox County, north-east Nebraska. Niobrara is the Native American word for "running water", which is some indication as to what happened next. Built next to the Niobrara River, the town flooded repeatedly. In March 1881, the town flooded with six feet of water and by April it had repeated itself on a further two occasions. The damp populace did what anyone would have done: gathering a group of teamsters, jacks, winches, capstans and mules, they shifted the entire village a mile and a half down the road. In 1970, the water table on the rise due to the Gavins Point Dam, the citizens did it again - although this time presumably using more machinery and fewer mules. Niobrara 3 was dedicated on 4th July 1977. It is unclear as to whether the residents fitted casters to their new homes just in case.

2. Lynching of Joe Brown (28th September 1919)

A 41-year old black packing house worker called Joe Brown who suffered from acute rheumatism was accused of assaulting a young white woman called Agnes Loebeck. Brown was arrested and taken to Douglas County Courthouse, Omaha on 28th September. An angry mob of between 5,000 and 15,000 people descended on the scene that night. By 8.30 that evening they had set fire to the building and were preventing the fire brigade from entering the street. The mayor came out to reason with the crowd but he was assaulted and lynched, not coming round until the following week. The mob then stormed the jail. Brown, who protested his innocence throughout, was dragged outside and hanged from a lamppost. He was then shot, stripped naked and his body burnt on a bonfire in the street. The cuddly locals sold pieces of the rope that made Brown's noose for ten cents a pop.

It was a gentler time, the past.

3. Krug Park rollercoaster accident (24th July 1930)

Rollercoasters - now there's something that's great fun. Unless the bolts that hold them together fail, causing structural collapse and their patrons to fall screaming to their deaths. Which is what happened in Krug Park, Omaha on 24th July 1930. The four carriage Big Dipper rollercoaster was whizzing merrily along carrying 23 children and teenagers when it derailed. Gravity did the rest, four being killed and 17 more injured, the other two presumably having had very strong thighs. The following day, rollercoasters were banned in Omaha. Those still seeking thrills in Nebraska's most populous city had to join the Ku Klux Klan instead.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The America Project - Montana

Montana (MT) size 147,165 sq.m population 1 million

Bordering states Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota (4)
State capital Helena
Most populous city Billings
Other notable places Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, Missoula, Kalispell
Notable landmarks and natural features Glacier National Park, Little Bighorn Battlefield Monument, Yellowstone National Park, Beartooth Mountains; Bighorn River
Statehood 8th November 1889 (41st)

Eight famous Montanans
Jeff Ament (musician; born Havre, 1963 -)
Judy Blunt (author and academic; born Malta, 1954 -)
Gary Cooper (actor; born Helena, 1901-1961)
Barbara Ehrenreich (writer; born Butte, 1941 -)
Chet Huntley (journalist and newscaster; born Cardwell, 1911-1974)
David Lynch (writer and director; born Missoula, 1946 -)
Peter Voulkos (artist and ceramicist; born Bozeman 1924-2002)
Lones Wigger (Olympic champion rifle shooter; born Great Falls, 1937-)

Two important events

1. Custer's Last Stand (June 25th 1876)
The most famous of a series of battles which made up the Great Sioux War of 1876 was the battle of the Little Bighorn, which gave everyone a Big Horn and was a particularly chastening blow for one of America's greatest military Generals, George Armstrong Custer. Attacking a huge combined force of Native Americans, the 257-man US 7th Cavalry division was routed within 3 hours, outnumbered for much of the battle by three men to one. General Custer controlled one of three companies charged with attacking the Native Americans at the Bighorn River. His fate has gone down in history and legend because of the completeness of his defeat: every man under his charge that day was killed, leaving no definitive witnesses to his actions or his death. A number of Native fighters laid claim to have fired the fatal shot to Custer's chest. After his death, Custer became a controversial and divisive national hero: to some he was a martyr to the American way of life, to others a reckless leader who sacrificed his troops to a questionable cause.

2. Standing Rock (December 15th 1890)
Chief Sitting Bull was a great holy man of the Ghost Dance movement and leader to the Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux Indians and a leading figure in the Sioux War of 1876. After that conflict, the majority of Montana's Native Americans were rounded up into controlled reservations. Sitting Bull's continued influence over his tribes was a continual concern for the government forces, so when it was suspected he was about to lead a mass escape in December 1890, a warrant was issued for his arrest. At 5.30 a.m. on December 15th, police officers came to collect him, but a skurmish broke out, during which a police officer, Lt. Bullhead was shot by a Sioux. In reply, Bullhead shot Sitting Bull in the chest and another police officer called Red Tomahawk shot Sitting Bull in the head. In the ensuing fight, 6 police officers and 7 Sioux Indians were killed.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

The America Project - Missouri

Missouri (MO) size 69,704 sq.m population 6 million

Bordering states Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee (8)
State capital Jefferson City
Most populous city Kansas City
Other notable places St. Louis, Springfield, Joplin, Cape Giradeau, Columbia
Notable landmarks and natural features Gateway Arch, St. Louis; Goldenrod Showboat, Kampsville; Liberty Memorial, Kansas City
Statehood 10th August 1821 (24th)

Ten famous Missourians
Robert Altman (film director; born Kansas City, 1925-2006)
Maya Angelou (poet and writer; born St. Louis, 1928 -)
Burt Bacharach (composer and songwriter; born Kansas City, 1928 -)
Scott Bakula (actor; born St. Louis, 1954 -)
Chuck Berry (musician; born St. Louis, 1926 -)
Martha Jane Burke (aka Calamity Jane) (frontierswoman; born Princeton, 1852-1903)
Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) (writer and humourist; born Florida, 1835-1910)
Walter Kronkite (journalist and television presenter; born St. Joseph, 1916-2009)
Harry S. Truman (politician, 33rd President of the USA; born Lamar, 1884-1972)
Dick Van Dyke (actor; born West Plains, 1925 -)

Three important events

1. 1838 Mormon War (6th August  - 1st November 1838)
Religion can complicate matters. So when the Church of the Latter Day Saints was formed by Joseph Smith Jr. in 1830 and he announced that, after the impending Second Coming of Christ, the new Zion would be located near Independence, MO, there was bound to be trouble. Members of the Mormon church, believing it was their divinely-ordained destiny to inherit that area of land, became increasingly difficult to reason with - particularly if you happened to be one of that place's current inhabitants. Tensions rose, with Mormons moving into the area and being chased out by anti-Mormon groups, until a blanket expulsion of Mormons was ordered by the governor of Jackson in 1833. Oddly, this served to only inflame things further. Come State Legislature election day in August 1838, several candidates stood on an anti-Mormon footing and mobs were formed to prevent members of the church from voting. Scuffles soon escalated to an arduous 3 month cycle of pitched battles and massacres, until the State managed to regain control and the Mormon church agreed to vacate the disputed lands. 22 people - 21 of them members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints - were killed.

2. Hyatt Regency Walkway collapse (17th July 1981)
During the building of the Kansas City Hyatt Regency there had been some significant structural failures, but this did not dissuade anyone, least not the 1600 people who packed into the atrium to compete in and watch a tea dance contest in July 1981. With dozens of people stood on the suspended walkways, at about 7 p.m. the fourth floor walkway collapsed down onto the second floor, which then itself crashed into the lobby. 111 people were killed instantly and a further 216 hurt, three of whom later succumbed to their injuries. It was the single most catastrophic structural failure in terms of loss of life in the history of the United States up to that time.

3. 2011 Joplin tornado (22nd May 2011)
Missouri is in the United States' tornado alley, but the storm which hit on 22nd May 2011 was particularly savage. Rating at 5 (the highest number) on the Enhanced Fujita Scale (over 200 mph, peaking at between 225 and 250 mph), the twister had multiple vorteces and at its height the funnel of the tornado was a mile wide. It struck at 5:34 p.m. in Joplin itself before crossing Interstate 44 into Jasper County and Newton County, dissipating at 6:12 p.m. In that 38 minute period, it killed 160 people and caused $2.8 billion worth of damage. The storm claimed a further victim during the clean up, as a police officer was struck by lightning. It was the third tornado to hit Joplin since 1971, but by far the strongest - the 2011 Joplin Tornado is the single costliest in US history.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

The America Project - Mississippi

Mississippi (MS) size 48,434 sq.m population 3 million

Bordering states Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama (4)
State capital and most populous city Jackson
Other notable places Gulfport, Biloxi, Tupelo, Greenville, Southaven, Hattiesburg, Meridian
Notable landmarks and natural features Mississippi River, Natchez National Park
Statehood 10th December 1817 (20th)

Ten famous Mississippians
Sam Cooke (singer and songwriter; born Clarksdale, 1931-1964)
Bo Diddley (musician; born McComb, 1928-2008)
Jim Henson (puppeteer and filmmaker; born Greenville, 1936-1990)
Medgar Evers (civil rights activist; born Decatur, 1925-1963)
Morgan Freeman (actor; born Memphis, Tennessee (grew up in Charleston), 1937 -)
James Earl Jones (actor; born Arkabutla, 1931 -)
Elvis Presley (singer, musician and actor; born Tupelo, 1935-1977)
Tennessee Williams (author; born Columbus, 1911-1983)
Oprah Winfrey (actress, producer and television host; born Kosciusko, 1954 -)
Howlin' Wolf (musician; born West Point, 1910-1976)

Three important events

1. Assassination of Medgar Evers (12th June 1963)
Medgar Evers was a civil rights leader, awakened to the cause after returning from active duty in the army during World War II. He was particularly occupied with his campaign for the desegregation of the University of Mississippi. By the time of his death he was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Mississippian secretary. On the night of 12th June, the same day that President Kennedy had delivered a televised address in favour of the civil rights movement, Evers was gunned down with an Enfield rifle after returning home from a meeting with NAACP lawyers. Byron De La Beckwith (a member of the White Citizen's Council) was arrested for the murder, but not convicted of it until 1994, having lived as a free man for the three intervening decades, during which he'd also joined the Ku Klux Klan. Evers' assassination was commemorated in Bob Dylan's song Only A Pawn In Their Game and in Nina Simone's Mississippi Goddamn.

2. Mississippi Freedom Summer (1964)
Mississippi Freedom was a movement to try and get as many black Mississippians as possible to register to vote. Mississippi had the lowest number of registered black voters of any US State, at just 6.7%. The overall effect of the Freedom Summer was a positive one, although it did not run smoothly. The State remained deeply divided on racial issues, an overhang from the Confederacy and the Civil War and was a major base for the Ku Klux Klan. Over the course of the summer, 4 civil rights activists were murdered along with three more black supporters of the cause, in addition to church, house and business burnings, physical attacks and nearly 2000 arrests.

3. Hurricane Camille (17th August 1969)
The Category 5 Hurricane Camille was one of only three storms of that magnitude to make landfall in the United States in the 20th Century. It arrived at the mouth of the Mississippi River on the night of 17th August, with winds gusting up to 190 miles per hour. Combined with heavy rainfall and widespread flooding, virtually everything along the coastal border of Mississippi was completely destroyed. 259 people died and the total cost of the hurricane's damage was $1.42 billion (modern equivalent: $8.51 billion).

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The America Project - Minnesota

Minnesota (MN) size 86,943 sq.m population 5.3 million

Bordering states North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin (4)
State capital Saint Paul
Most populous city Minneapolis
Other notable places Duluth, Rochester, St. Cloud, Winona
Notable landmarks and natural features Eagle Mountain; Lake Superior; Fort Snelling, Hennepin County

Statehood 11th May 1858 (32nd)

Ten famous Minnesotans
BIll Berry (musician; born Duluth, 1958 -)
Ethan Coen (writer and film maker; born St. Louis Falls, 1957 -)
Joel Coen (writer and film maker; born St. Louis Falls, 1954 -)
Bob Dylan (musician, singer and artist; born Hibbing, 1941 -)
Terry Gilliam (cartoonist, animator and film maker; born Medicine Falls, 1940 -)
Tippi Hedren (actress; born New Ulm, 1930 -)
Walter Mondale (politician, 42nd Vice-President of the USA; born Ceylon, 1928 -)
Prince (musician; born Minneapolis, 1958 -)
Winona Ryder (actress; born Olmsted County, 1971 -)
Charles M. Schulz (cartoonist; born Minneapolis, 1922-2000)

Three important events

1. The Dred Scott Decision (1857)
Dred Scott and his wife were kept as slaves by John Emerson, a noted bastard, at Fort Snelling and kept there although it was in a county where slavery had been abolished. On Emerson's death in 1843, Scott was handed down to the next occupier as one of Emerson's possessions. Scott argued that as he had been kept in places which were free territory, he should now no longer be considered a slave. In 1857 the cuddly US Supreme Court considered the case eventually siding with the slave owners. The decision proved controversial and a talking point across the United States. Within years, the American Civil War had ignited.

2. The Dakota War (1862)
The Native Americans have always been well-served by the American government and hardly ever treated like shit at all, so when the Dakota argued that they would all die of starvation without government assistance, the politicians kindly awarded them a 10 mile strip of land to grow food and punch elk in the face on. With crop failures and financial problems, the Dakota were soon forced to sell the northern half of this land. With things getting desperate, four Dakotan men shot a family of white settlers while out hunting. Dakotan elders decided to push on, ramping up the attacks to try and drive the settlers out of their territory. A 6-week long conflict ensued, spreading across the State. 425 Native Americans were put on trial at the conclusion, with 303 sentenced to death. After appeals for clemency from Bishop Henry Whipple, all but 38 of the sentences were commuted to prison terms. On 26th December 1862, these 38 men were hanged in a mass execution at Mananko, which most likely put a crimp on their Christmas. Afterwards, many Dakota were rounded up and forced to live in prison camps, where over 300 died of disease.

3. 3M (1902)
In the 20th Century, Minnesota began to turn away from its traditional industries of milling, textiles and mining and into new forward-looking avenues. Many of America's first computer companies were based in the State, whilst Northwest (now Delta) Airlines was formed at Saint Paul in 1926. One of the more enduring and visible success stories was the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, founded at Two Harbors in 1902. Originally manufacturing sandpaper, the company soon spread out into plastics, resins, adhesives, tape and roofing materials. Now based at Maplewood, MN, 3M have become one of the world's largest manufacturing conglomerates, in 2010 posting a net profit of over $4 billion.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The America Project - Michigan

Michigan (MI) size 97,990 sq.m population 9.9 million

Bordering states Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin (3)
State capital Lansing
Most populous city Detroit
Other notable places Grand Rapids, Warren, Ann Arbor, Flint
Notable landmarks and natural features Porcupine Mountains; Sleeping Bear Dunes; Lake Michigan; Ford Piquette Avenue Plant, Detroit; General Motors Building, Detroit, Hitsville USA, Detroit

Statehood 26th January 1837 (26th)

Ten famous Michiganders
William Boeing (aviation pioneer and businessman; born Detroit, 1881-1956)
Francis Ford Coppola (film director; born Detroit, 1939 -)
Hawley Harvey Crippen (convicted murderer; born Coldwater, 1862-1910)
Leon Czolgosz (Presidential assassin; born Detroit, 1873-1901)
Henry Ford (industrialist; born Dearborn, 1863-1947)
Berry Gordy (record producer and businessman; born Detroit, 1929 -)
Charles Lindbergh (aviator; born Detroit, 1902-1974)
Madonna (singer and actress; born Bay City, 1958 -)
Mitt Romney (businessman and politician; born Detroit, 1947 -)
Stevie Wonder (musician; born Saginaw, 1950 -)

Three important events

1. Model T Ford (August 12th 1908)
The American automotive industry is almost exclusively based around Detroit. In 1903, Olds and Ford both opened factories in the city soon followed by General Motors, whilst Chrysler are based in Auburn Hills. The early leader was Ford, established by Henry Ford, a revolutionary industrialist and peculiarly unsavoury man. Ford did not invent mass production on factory lines, but it's arguable to say that he was one of the people who perfected the system. The thing that set Ford apart in the early years of motoring was 1908's pioneering "car for the great multitude", the Model T. So advanced were the mass production techniques - at their peak a single Model T could be assembled from scratch in just 93 minutes and total daily production approached 10,000 cars - that it was not until 1972 when the Volkwagen Beetle overtook the Model T for the title of the most produced car in history, a full 44 years after Model T production had ceased. The car was cheap, too: in the 1910s, an assembly line worker could buy a car with four month's pay, but by the 1920s the price had dropped to just $290 (equivalent to $3,300 today). As such, the car became ubiquitous across the globe.

2. Motown (April 14th 1960)
Motown records, another form of production line altogether, was formed by Berry Gordy in 1960. Best known for its soul, funk and rhythm and blues records, smash hit after smash hit was produced from its Hitsville USA building on Detroit's West Grand Boulevard. Recording and creation took place round the clock, with the impetus coming from Gordy as well as some of the top writers of the time: Holland-Dozier-Holland, William "Smokey" Robinson and, in time, Marvin Gaye and the precocious Stevie Wonder. By the time the company left for Los Angeles in 1972, they had produced 110 top 10 hits, as black music made the leap into the American mainstream pop charts with acts like Diana Ross and The Supremes, Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Jimmy Ruffin, Mary Wells and Gladys Knight and The Pips.

3. 12th Street Riot (July 23-27 1967)
The 12th Street Riot erupted on 12th Street, Detroit on July 23rd 1967 after a police raid on an unlicenced after-hours drinking hole called The Blind Pig. The running battle between the police and the bar's owners and patrons - over 80 people celebrating the safe return of two locals from the Vietnam war - quickly spread in the tinderbox environment of late 1960s America, becoming a riot that lasted 8 days, claimed 43 lives and caused $25 million worth of damage. To this day it is the third-most destructive riot in the history of the United States. By the second day, Governor George Romney had called in the National Guard, on the third President Lyndon Johnson had sent in the army. By the time the riot subsided, in addition to the 43 dead were 467 injured, 7,231 arrested (the youngest aged just 4) and 2,509 stores and buildings destroyed by fire or looting. It was even worse than a Saturday night in Croydon.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

The America Project - Massachusetts

Massachusetts (MA) size 10,554 sq.m population 6.5 million

Bordering states New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut (5)
State capital & most populous city Boston
Other notable places Worcester, Northampton, Springfield, Lowell, Cape Cod
Notable landmarks and natural features American Antiquarian Society, Worcester; Cole's Hill, Plymouth; Springfield Armoury; Harvard University, Cambridge.

Statehood 6th February 1788 (6th)

Twelve famous Bay Staters
John Adams (politician, 2nd President of the USA; born Braintree (now Quincy), 1735-1826)
John Quincy Adams (politician, 6th President of the USA; born Braintree, 1767-1848)
Susan B. Anthony (social reformer; born Adams, 1820-1906)
George H.W. Bush (politician, 41st President of the USA; born Milton, 1924 -)
Bette Davis (actress; born Lowell, 1908-1989)
Benjamin Franklin (politician, author, social philosopher, inventor and founding father of the USA; born Boston, 1706-1790)
Theodor Seuss Geisel (cartoonist and author; born Springfield, 1904-1991)
John F. Kennedy (politician, 35th President of the USA; born Brookline, 1917-1963)
Jack Lemmon (actor; born Newton, 1925-2001)
Christa McAuliffe (teacher and astronaut; born Boston, 1948-1986)
Donna Summer (singer; born Boston, 1948 -)
James Abbott McNeill Whistler (artist and painter; born Lowell, 1834-1903)

Three important events

1. Boston Tea Party (16th December 1773)
A hotbed of intellectuals, liberals and revolutionaries, Boston played a major part in the American Revolution. With tensions already running high over British taxes on paper and printing, an additional tax - that on tea - became the straw that broke the camel's back. A group of rebels known as the Sons of Liberty snuck on board an East India Company tea ship moored in Boston Harbour during the day of 16th December 1773. Come nightfall, they chucked all the tea into the bay. The British responded with further economic and military punishments for Massachusetts. By 1775 the situation had become a tinderbox, finally ignited by an armed confrontation in Lexington, MA which sparked the War of Independence.

2. The Boston Strangler (1962-1964)
Between 1962 and 1964, 13 women in and around Boston were murdered in their own homes, sexually assaulted and strangled with a silk stocking. There were no signs of forced entry into any of the homes, and panic quickly spread amongst Boston's female inhabitants. The victims were of all ages - the youngest, the final victim Mary Sullivan, was just 19 whilst the oldest, the second victim Mary Mullen, was 85. In October 1964, a man entered a young woman's apartment and raped her but then left. The victim identified her assailant as Albert DeSalvo. Quickly arrested, DeSalvo confessed to a fellow prison inmate to being the Boston Strangler whilst in custody. Tried for the offence, he was sentenced to life inprisonment in 1967. Doubts persist in many quarters, however, that the crimes were committed by DeSalvo or even the work of just one man.

3. September 11th 2001
On Tuesday September 11th 2001, two groups of hijackers boarded planes at Logan International Airport, Boston. American Airlines flight 11 was bound for Los Angeles International and departed at 7.46 a.m.. Half an hour later the Boeing 767 was hijacked by a group of five terrorists led by Mohamed Atta. It was flown into the North Tower of New York City's World Trade Center at 8.46 a.m., killing all 92 people aboard.

United Airlines Flight 175, another Boeing 767 bound for Los Angeles took off from Logan International at 8.14 a.m. At around the same time that AA Flight 11 was striking WTC 1, UA 175 too was hijacked by five men, led by Marwan al-Shehhi, and flown into the World Trade Center's South Tower at 9.03 a.m and killing all 65 people aboard. It was the beginning of the single biggest and most lethal terrorist attack in human history. In all, over 3,000 people lost their lives.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

The America Project - Maryland

Maryland (MD) size 12,407sq.m population 5.8 million

Bordering states Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware (4)
State capital Annapolis
Most populous city Baltimore
Other notable places Hagerstown, Ocean City, Towson, St. Charles
Notable landmarks and natural features Chesapeake Bay, Baltimore Inner Harbor, Backbone Mountain

Statehood 28th April 1788 (7th)

Ten famous Marylanders
Spiro Agnew (politician, 39th Vice-President of the USA; born Baltimore, 1918-1996)
John Wilkes Booth (Presidential assassin; born Bel Air, 1838-1865)
Divine (actor and drag queen; born Towson, 1945-1988)
"Mama" Cass Elliot (singer; born Baltimore, 1941-1974)
Philip Glass (composer; born Baltimore, 1937 -)
Linda Hamilton (actress; born Salisbury, 1956 -)
Dashiell Hammett (author; born Saint Mary's County, 1894-1961)
David Hasselhoff (actor and singer; born Baltimore, 1952 -)
George Herman "Babe" Ruth (baseball player; born Baltimore, 1895-1948)
Frank Zappa (musician and composer; born Baltimore, 1940-1993)

also from Maryland are my friends Sarah (b. 1982) and Jonathan (b. 1985). Hello both!

Three important events

1. Quasi-War (1799)
During the Haitian Revolution, America got a little twitchy about the colonial-minded French naval presence in the Caribbean. As such it commissioned and built its first six warships. One, the USS Constellation, was built and launched out of Baltimore. As tensions between the United States and France grew, the USS Constellation became the first US warship to capture an enemy vessel, L'Insurgent, in 1799. It was later renamed the USS Insurgent where it sank with flying colours in a storm at sea in the West Indies the following autumn.

2. The Great Baltimore Fire (February 7th-8th 1904)
As you may already have guessed, this was a great fire that struck Baltimore in 1904. Starting in the John Hurst and Co. building, It raged for over 30 hours, as a lot of the fire brigades sent to fight the blaze found that their hosepipes didn't attach properly to Baltimore's fire hydrants. 35,000 people were left unemployed by the fire, which destroyed 70 city blocks. It provided major impetus for the standardisation of fire-fighting across the United States, as well as the rebuilding of Baltimore in more flame-retardent materials.

3. Racial integration (1935)
Maryland was the first state to overrule 1896's Plessy vs Ferguson ruling which stipulated separate accomodation for whites and blacks, the 1935 Murray vs Pearson et al ruling demanding the desegregation of the Law School at the University of Maryland. It set an important moral precedent in the civil rights movement, albeit one which had no legal jurisdiction beyond the Maryland State borders.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The America Project - Maine

Generally speaking, the Sundays here on my blog are a dead loss, as I wake up in whatever ditch I fell asleep in and then try and buy a passing stranger's shoes that I may return home to sleep one off. So I came up with the winning idea of resurrecting my America Project for just such eventualities. I am clever. Anyway, on with the show.

Maine (ME) size 35,385 sq.m population 1.3 million

Bordering states New Hampshire, Massachusetts (2)
State capital Augusta
Most populous city Portland
Other notable places Eastport, Fort Fairfield, Bangor, Alfred
Notable landmarks and natural features Moosehead Lake, West Quoddy Head, Old Sow whirlpool, Appalachian Mountains

Statehood 15th March 1820 (23rd)

Ten famous Mainers
Anna Belknap (actress; born Damariscotta, 1972 -)
Myrna Fahey (actress; born Carmel, 1933-1973)
John Ford (film director; born Port Elizabeth, 1894-1973)
Edwin Hall (physicist; born Gorham, 1855-1938)
David E. Kelley (writer and television producer; born Waterville, 1956 -)
Anna Kendrick (actress and singer; born Portland, 1985 -)
Stephen King (author; born Portland, 1947 -)
Judd Nelson (actor; born Portland, 1959 -)
John O'Hurley (actor; born Kittery, 1954 -)
Victoria Rowell (actress; born Portland, 1959 -)

Three important events

1. New Ireland (1779)
Good losers as ever, the lovable colonialist Britons took the American Declaration of Independence with great equanimity and promptly invaded Maine in 1779 with a view to establishing a new colony called New Ireland, to serve as a base for all the British military and a safe harbour for more reinforcements to arrive by sea. The British proved stubborn, too, remaining in New Ireland until two years after the end of hostilities in 1781.

2. Aroostock War (1838-39)
Britain was once again responsible for some funtimes in Maine, although this time there was no actual armed conflict - although over 500 people lost their lives nonetheless. The problem was a dispute as to the exact location of the border between British North America, now Canada, and Maine. Principally because the verdant, forested disputed landscape proved a very tempting proposition for either side. As such, each side believed the other to be sneaking over with an axe and pinching all their trees. With tensions rising and beavers everywhere finding themselves out of a job, in 1830 the King of the Netherlands was even asked to mediate in the dispute. Eventually the US and UK governments stepped in and diplomacy prevailed. The 1842 Webster-Ashburton treaty decreed a border line acceptible to both parties - the USA gaining 7,000 square miles of disputed territory, the British 5,000.

3. Tourism (1850s)
Maine has a very pleasant mild climate and attractive landscape, ideal for the wealthy to swagger about in while all of their American brethren sweat and fart in the broiling sun of the southern and western States. With Maine's population falling significantly in the early 19th century thanks to war and the allure of gold rushes in Ohio and California, it left gaps open for migrant workers and summering tourists. Some of America's most notable families - such as the Bushes and the Rockerfellers - have established holiday retreats in the State.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

What's the time?

In the last week and a bit I've discovered my Achilles Heel. Subtracting the number eight from numbers no larger than 24.

The issue has been with time zones. As you are probably aware, the time where you are isn't necessarily the time where I am. Otherwise it would be dark during the day, like it is in Yorkshire. Over the past week for all sorts of exciting reasons, I've been talking via the wonder that is the internet to people on opposite coasts of America. (Incidentally America, I've not forgotten you, The America Project will continue soon). Whilst I find it eminently possible to figure out what the time must be on the east coast (time difference from UK: 5 hours), working it out for the west coast is completely beyond me. It's probably what gets all the rappers at each other's throats. No wonder they're angry. They don't know what time it is.

Not even a week's worth of practice has done me any good. I'm still completely hopeless. The problem undeniably lies with the old a.m./p.m. shenanigans. But even that's ridiculous and easily circumvented by the ol' 24 hour clock. BUT EVEN THAT DOESN'T WORK FOR ME. I'm pretty glad I've finished school, or else I reckon I'd flunk my SATs with flying colours.

An example. Yesterday it was 8 p.m. So, what time is it in Los Angeles, 8 hours behind the UK? Well, any absolute madman can tell you: It's 12 p.m. noon. So, how - HOW - did I work out that it was 2 p.m.? Well, in truth, I did it by subtracting 8 from 20, using the clever 24 hour clock so beloved of military men. What happened then, however, is my brain interpreted the result (12, in case you were wondering, because I know I must be) as meaning 2 p.m.

Obviously, there's some crossed wire in there. Converting from 24 hour clock back to normal times like people who don't drive tanks and bayonet Zulus use is obviously where the problem arises. But for heaven's sake. I've been going on like this for a WEEK! And I'm pretty sure I'm not alone. Why else would newsrooms and stock exchanges everywhere have their trendy NEW YORK-LONDON-TOKYO clocks all over the walls? It's because counting in base 12 makes no sense, unless you are from (insert name of place here).

Normally I would suggest a deceptively simple and demonstrably stupid solution at this point, but I don't really have one. I'm just throwing this out there in the hope that someone will tell me I'm not alone in this peculiarity. A black hole of mathematics. Dazzling gormlessness.

I am finishing this post at 7.40 a.m., BST. (GMT +1) on Saturday 8th October. The time in Los Angeles is 11.40 p.m on Friday 7th October. In New York it is 2.40 a.m. on Saturday 8th October. And on the moon, a Clanger is pissing himself laughing at me.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The America project - Louisiana

Louisiana (LA) size 52,271 sq.m population 4.5 million

Bordering states Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi (3)
State capital Baton Rouge
Most populous city New Orleans
Other notable places Lafayette, Shreveport, Alexandria, Monroe
Notable landmarks and natural features Mississippi River; Red River; The French Quarter, New Orleans

Statehood 30th April 1812 (18th)

Ten famous Louisianais
Louis Armstrong (musician and singer; born New Orleans, 1901-1971)
Truman Capote (writer; born New Orleans, 1924-1984)
Fats Domino (musician, singer and songwriter; born New Orleans, 1928 -)
Dorothy Lamour (actress; born New Orleans, 1914-1996)
Paul Morphy (chess grandmaster; born New Orleans, 1837-1884)
Lee Harvey Oswald (Presidential assassin; born New Orleans, 1939-1963)
Pauley Perrette (actress and singer; born New Orleans, 1969 -)
Britney Spears (singer and actress; born McComb, Mississippi (raised Kentwood), 1981 -)
Tony Joe White (musician and songwriter; born Oak Grove, 1943 -)
Reece Witherspoon (actress; born New Orleans, 1976 -)

Three important events

1. Louisiana Purchase (1803)
Referring to the territory, rather than just the State, the Louisiana Purchase is one of the more impressive territorial acquisitions in US history. The territory had belonged to Spain up until 1800, when it had been sold back to France with little fanfare. However, in 1801 Napoleon sent an armed force to New Orleans and that great motivating factor in so much of early American history - slavery - reared its ugly head. Fearing that Napoleon would free the slaves in Louisiana and create a chain reaction in other States, the new President Thomas Jefferson began negotiations with France. The territory was eventually exchanged on April 30th at a cost of US$11.25 million plus an additional cancellation of US$3.75 million of French debts. The huge territory - 828,800 square miles and encompassing 15 current US States (Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska, plus parts of North and South Dakota, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, Texas, Wyoming, Colorado and Montana) plus small parts of the now-Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan - worked out at a very reasonable per-acre price of 3 cents.

2. Jim Garrison (1969)
New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison is still the only man to have brought a legal trial in the case of the murder of President John F. Kennedy. Sadly for him, his case was significantly more shaky than the film it inspired - JFK - would have you believe. Believing the Warren Commission report into the assassination to be wanting, Garrison began investigating a conspiracy in New Orleans in 1966. It centred around Lee Harvey Oswald - born in New Orleans and an occasional resident throughout his life - and a noted businessman from the city, Clay Shaw. Garrison's case hinged on the testimony of Perry Russo, an insurance salesman from Baton Rouge, who claimed that he had seen Oswald, a man he claimed was Shaw and David Ferrie, a fanatical anti-communist and some-time military man, discuss the assassination of Kennedy at a party in Shaw's house in the summer of 1963. However, Russo's account failed countless tests, including an FBI polygraph and questioning whilst under the influence of the Sodium Pentathol "truth serum" and Garrison's case was dismissed within an hour of jury deliberation.

3. Hurricane Katrina (29th August 2005)
Hurricane Katrina is the costliest natural disaster ever to befall the United States, as well as one of the most violent on record. It formed on August 23rd 2005, peaking around the 28th and 29th before dissipating a day later. Of all the States affected, the impact on Louisiana was the most deadly as it caused a collapse of the levee system and massive flooding of the low-lying State, causing death and devastation for weeks after the storm. New Orleans was evacuated on 28th August, then decimated by flood waters and winds which peaked at 175 mph. Overall, over 1800 people died as a result of Katrina, nearly 1600 of them in Louisiana. The overall bill for the damage caused is estimated at US$81.2 billion, more that twice the previous high.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The America project - Kentucky

Kentucky (KY) size 40,409 sq.m population 4.3 million

Bordering states Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia (7)
State capital Frankfort
Most populous city Louisville
Other notable places Lexington, Owensboro, Cowington, London
Notable landmarks and natural features The Cumberland Gap, The Jackson Purchase, The East Kentucky Coal Field

Statehood 1st June 1792 (15th)

Ten famous Kentuckians
Muhammad Ali (boxer; born Louisville, 1942 -)
Tod Browning (film director; born Louisville, 1882-1962)
George Clooney (actor; born Lexington, 1961 -)
Johnny Depp (actor and musician; born Owensboro, 1963 -)
Tyson Gay (athlete; born Lexington, 1982 -)
D.W. Griffith (actor, director and Hollywood pioneer; born Crestwood, 1875-1948)
Nicky Hayden (motorcycle racer; born Owensboro, 1981 -)
Abraham Lincoln (politician, 16th President of the United States; born Hardin County, 1809-1865)
Loretta Lynn (singer; born Ashland, 1932 -)
Hunter S. Thompson (author and journalist; born Louisville, 1937-2005)

Three important events

1. The New Madrid Earthquakes (1811-1812)
In mid-December 1811, Kentucky experienced the first of a series of 4 powerful and hugely wide-ranging earthquakes, over a period of two-and-a-half months. Each quake measured between 7 and 8 on the Richter Scale, and represent the most powerful earthquakes ever to hit the eastern continental United States. Tremors were felt as far away as Pennsylvania and Virginia, with the overall effects of the disaster spread over an enormous 50,000 square mile area. The force of the quakes actually diverted the course of the Mississippi River, creating an area known as the Kentucky Bend.

2. Assassination of William Goebel (January 30th 1900)
Northern Kentucky saw a great increase in its immigrant German population around the turn of the 20th century. William Goebel (1856-1900) was one of their foremost civic leaders, becoming a State Senator in 1887 and assuming control of the Kentucky Democratic Party a few years later. In 1895, Goebel took vote counting powers away local officials for future elections and gave them to officials of the Democrat-controlled Assembly. The Republican Party countered by raising an army, and Kentucky started to slide towards civil war. Goebel was shot by a sniper on his way to his Gubernatorial inauguration on January 30th 1900, and although he was successfully sworn in the following day he was mortally wounded and died 4 days later.

3. Ohio River Flood (1937)
Following hot on the heels of the dustbowl and the Great Depression came a huge flood, which eventually affected 4 States. Heavy rainfall and snow in January 1937 saw the Ohio River break its banks in Ohio and Indiana. By January 27th, the devastation had reached Kentucky. Many businesses in Louisville were destroyed, with 70% of the city under waters as high as 57 feet. A few days later the flood waters reached 60 feet at Paducah. The waters didn't start to recede until February 5th, after almost three weeks of continuous flooding in many places. It remains the worst flood in Kentucky's history, causing a combined total of $20 million damage.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The America project - Kansas

Kansas (KS) size 82,277 sq.m population 2.9 million

Bordering states Oklahoma, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri (5)
State capital Topeka
Most populous city Wichita
Other notable places Kansas City, Olathe, Lawrence
Notable landmarks and natural features Kansas River; Pony Express Trail; The World's Largest Ball of Twine (disputed), Cawker City

Statehood 29th January 1861 (34th)

Ten famous Kansans
Roscoe Arbuckle (actor; born Smith Center, 1887-1933)
Erin Brockovich (environmental campaigner; born Lawrence, 1960 -)
Bob Dole (politician; born Russell, 1923 -)
Amelia Earhart (aviator; born Atchinson, 1897-1937)
Dwight Eisenhower (army general and politician, 34th President of the USA; born Denison, Texas (raised in Abilene), 1890-1969)
Maurice Greene (athlete; born Kansas City, 1974 -)
Dennis Hopper (actor and artist; born Dodge City, 1936-2010)
Buster Keaton (actor and filmmaker; born Piqua, 1895-1966)
Charlie Parker (musician; born Kansas City, 1920-1955)
Jess Willard (boxer; born Pottowatomie County, 1881-1968)

Three important events

1. Prohibition (19th February 1881)
The Temperance Movement held great sway in the United States during the late 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries, culminating of course in nationwide Prohibition of alchol between 1920 and 1933. Kansas was the State that led the way, outlawing the hooch on February 19th 1881. The key character to come out of this was Carrie Nation, a fanatical Temperance Movement follower and devoted Christian. She would enforce the newly-passed law by lomping her 6 foot frame from bar to bar, Bible in one hand and a hatchet for destroying beer barrels in the other.

2. The Great Flood (July 1951)
Heavy summer rains in 1951 saw the Kansas River burst its banks at numerous points. The ensuing flood was of Biblical proportions. 17 people died, whilst over half a million were made homeless. At times the flood waters inland reached 8 feet, whilst some rivers saw peak crests almost 3 metres higher than their previous records. To prevent a repeat, Kansas added 15 extra dams to the length of the Kansas River.

3. Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka (May 17th 1954)
A landmark legal decision in the United States, ruling that having seperate schools for black and white students was unconstitutional. The knock-on effect of this ruling - brought by 13 parents from Topeka, led by Oliver L.Brown - was that racial segregation in itself had been deemed illegal in a court of law. The Brown vs The Board of Education of Topeka case is one of the most often-cited in the whole history of the Civil Rights movement.

Monday, 8 August 2011

The America project - Iowa

Iowa (IA) size 56,272 sq.m population 3 million

Bordering states Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois (6)
State capital & Most populous city Des Moines
Other notable places Cedar Rapids, Sioux City, Davenport
Notable landmarks and natural features George M. Verity Towboat, Keokuk; Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, West Branch; Effigy Mounds; Terrace Hill, Des Moines

Statehood 28th December 1846 (29th)

Ten famous Iowans
Cap Anson (baseball player; born Marshalltown, 1852-1922)
Johnny Carson (comedian and television presenter; born Corning, 1925-2005)
"Buffalo" Bill Cody (soldier and hunter; born LeClaire, 1846-1917)
Hill Harper (actor; born Iowa City, 1966 -)
Herbert Hoover (politician, 31st President of the USA; born West Branch, 1874-1964)
Ashton Kutcher (actor; born Cedar Rapids, 1978 -)
Glen Miller (musician and band leader; born Clarinda, 1905-1944)
Kate Mulgrew (actress; born Dubuque, 1955 -)
Conrad Nagel (actor; born Keokuk, 1897-1970)
John Wayne (actor; born Winterset, 1907-1979)

Three important events

1. The New Deal (1933)
The Iowan economy has been largely based on agriculture throughout the State's existence. However, following the Great War, Federal subisides for farmers were withdrawn, causing serious economic problems in a State which was seeing a rapidly increasing immigrant population. As part of President Roosevelt's New Deal, an Iowan called Henry Wallace served as the Secretary for Agriculture and was instrumental in setting up the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which controlled the amount and type of agriculural production in order to increase prosperity. By the 1940s, Norman Borlaug had won a Nobel Prize for his work on plant genomics, developing new strains of rice at the Iowa State University.

2. Mother Mosque (1934)
Iowa is the home to the longest-standing Mosque in the United States. Built in 1934, the Moslem Temple, Cedar Rapids, was the United States' second Mosque, although the first - in Ross, North Dakota - was torn down in the 1970s. In 1996 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

3. The Day the Music Died (3rd February 1959)
The Winter Dance Party series of pioneering rock 'n' roll shows wound a punishingly relentless route all through the midwestern United States in early 1959. The tour bus' heater broke in freezing conditions, even causing the band's drummer to be hospitalised with frostbitten feet in Duluth, Minnesota. The star of the touring party, Buddy Holly, decided after more logistical headaches at the Clear Lake, Iowa show to travel to the next gig - in Moorhead, Minnesota - by chartered light aircraft. Taking off at 12.55 a.m., the plane was last seen descending from view 5 minutes later and was never heard from again. The crash, just outside Clear Lake, took the lives of the 21-year old pilot Roger Peterson, as well as Holly (22), The Big Bopper (28) and 17-year old Richie Valens.


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