It Was 20 Years Ago Today

de Jamie Lawson

a short-form podcast of history, culture and memory

Episodios

Episode #186: Challenger Disaster

por Jamie Lawson

Thursday, January 28, 2016.  Thirty years ago today, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch, killing the seven astronauts aboard.  I talk about my own memory of that day, the impressions the relentless news coverage left on me, and discuss the lessons of the accident.  Whether those lessons were lasting, I fear is open to question.

For a very thoughtful commentary about the Challenger disaster and the effect it has had on NASA (along with the Apollo 1 disaster before and the Columbia disaster after it), I highly recommend the following from NBC News space analyst James Oberg: NASA has to fight the forgetting

The music for today's show is "Space Frontier," by Morwic, used with most kind permission.  You can find Morwic on his Twitch.tv channel almost every night, composing ambient music in real time with feedback from his audience.  Check it out!

Episode #185 -- Windows 95

por Jamie Lawson

Monday, August 25, 2015. Twenty years ago today, Windows 95 was released to the general public.  I look at the operating system which gave Microsoft a virtual monopoly in the personal computing world, a monopoly which is still largely in place today.

Episode #184 -- The Greenpeace Album

por Jamie Lawson

For Saturday, August 22, 2015.  Thirty years ago this month, A&M Records released a benefit album for Greenpeace. The album cover featured a picture of Greenpeace's flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, which had been sunk in New Zealand a month before.  I talk about the sinking of the ship, some of my own history of environmental activism (it goes back a long ways!) and my attachment to this particular album.

Episode #183 -- Coca-cola Classic

por Jamie Lawson

Tuesday, August 18, 2015.  Thirty years ago this month, the original (well, almost the original) formula of Coca-cola came back to store shelves as Coca-cola Classic.  I take a look at the real reason behind one of the greatest marketing failures of the 20th century, as well as noting how the company's choice in branding the return of "Old Coke" has had a surprising influence on our language.

 

Episode #182 -- Oklahoma City Bombing

por Jamie Lawson

Sunday, April 19, 2015.  Twenty years ago today, a truck bomb destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, taking over 160 lives in the worst domestic terrorism incident in United States history.  I share my own memory of that day, discuss the immediate reactions of the news media, and offer a caution about our perceptions of terrorism in this country.

Special thanks to Joe Medina for his memories of watching CNN that day, and to Gordon Skene of the website Past Daily, for copies of radio newscasts covering the first hours after the bombing.  

 

Episode #181 -- Tokyo Subway Gas Attack

por Jamie Lawson

Friday, March 20, 2015.  Twenty years ago today, a group of religious cultists carried out an attack using sarin nerve gas on the Tokyo subway system.  This attack killed at least a dozen people and injured thousands.  The leader of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, along with many of his followers, are on Japan's death row and could be executed as soon as next month.

I talk about my reactions to the gas attack twenty years ago, and consider why those reactions haven't changed much in the twenty years that have passed.  I also consider why we need to remember events like this, as much as our human nature might drive us to forget.

 

Episode #180 -- Chickenpox Vaccine

por Jamie Lawson

Tuesday, March 17, 2015.  Twenty years ago today, the Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine for varicella (pictured here), the virus which causes chickenpox and shingles.  I talk about the vaccine and a bit about my own experiences with it -- I've had the vaccine, because I never had chickenpox as a kid.  

 

Episode #179 -- Mikhail Gorbachev

por Jamie Lawson

Wednesday, March 11, 2015.  Thirty years ago today, Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union -- and, as it turns out, the last.  Today, I'm taking a step back thirty years to look at what turned out to be one of the most pivotal events of our lifetimes.  There is an entire generation of young adults alive today who have no memory of the Cold War!

 

I also have a shout-out for the womeninpodcasting.org website.

Episode #178 -- Top Quark Discovered

por Jamie Lawson

Monday, March 2, 2015.  Twenty years ago today, scientists at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory announced the discovery of the top quark, the last of the six quarks predicted by current atomic theory.  I talk a little about the top quark, about my own love of science through my life, and how I ended up, quite unexpectedly, with a career in science and technology.

If you would like your very own plushie top quark like the one shown here, you can get them from The Particle Zoo.

I also have one more shout out for the Past Daily website.  They're in the last hours of a fundraiser on which the very existence of the site depends. Please check it out and support the site if you can.

Episode #177 -- Yahoo!

por Jamie Lawson

Sunday, March 1, 2015.  20 years ago today, one of the first big Internet companies, Yahoo! was incorporated.  Yahoo! began as a directory of websites, and back in the day was a useful tool for gathering information from the Web.  I talk about the experience of searching the Web for information when Yahoo! was young, and how the site changed as the Web exploded during the later 1990s.  The image at the right is the Yahoo! logo from 1995.

I also have a shout-out for the website Past Daily, who needs our help to keep doing what they do -- sharing audio from the beginning of the 20th Century to the present day with the world.  Go check them out!

 

Episode #176 -- Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act

por Jamie Lawson

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.

 

Episode #175 -- Northridge Earthquake

por Jamie Lawson

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.

Episode #174 -- 1993 Recap, Memorials

por Jamie Lawson

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.

Episode #173 -- 1993 Recap, Part Two

por Jamie Lawson

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.

Episode #172 -- 1993 Recap, Part One

por Jamie Lawson

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.

Episode #171 -- Trojan Nuclear Plant

por Jamie Lawson

[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.

Episode #170 -- English Premier League

por Jamie Lawson

[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.

First World Trade Center Bombing

por Jamie Lawson

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.

Episode #169 -- Women's World Cup Final

por Jamie Lawson

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.

My 1st Anniversary and the Oakland Hills Firestorm

por Jamie Lawson

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.

Episode #168 -- Bill Clinton Declares

por Jamie Lawson

Monday, October 3, 2011.  Twenty years ago today, Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas announced he was running for President.  This was only a few months before the primaries and caucuses began -- impossibly late, by comparison today.  I take a look at what's different now and offer my opinion about the near-constant state of Presidential campaigns today.

Episode #167 -- The World Wide Web

por Jamie Lawson

Saturday, August 6, 2011.  Twenty years ago today, the very first Web site went online.  Hard to believe, maybe, but true!  Here are a few links to some of the things I talked about in the episode.

Tim Berners-Lee's posting to alt.hypertext announcing the existence of the World Wide Web

Some Internet usage statistics from the Huffington Post and the UK Office for National Statistics

An early version of that very first web page (from the World Wide Web Consortium)

The image is an early version of the World Wide Web logo designed by Robert Caillieau.

Why the 20 Years Ago Podcast Is Coming Back

por Jamie Lawson

I bring a lot of my own memory and experience to the history in “It Was 20 Years Ago Today.”  It’s fascinating because I can look back at events which I knew at the time were world-changing.  But, even more interesting, I can also look at events which were, on the day, not a big deal at all -- yet over the course of time prove to be the heralds of transformation in our lives.  More than perhaps anyone could have imagined.

In August of 1991, there were examples of both kinds of events.  An attempt to overthrow the government of the Soviet Union failed. A physicist at a research lab in Switzerland told a group of computer scientists about a new networking protocol he’d worked out, and a Finnish student told fellow computer nerds about a new operating system he was developing.  

We all knew, I think, that the USSR was on the way out.   A scant four months later, it ceased to exist entirely.  But did anyone even dream of the transformation those two technologies would work on the world?  For one thing, without the World Wide Web and Linux, you wouldn’t be reading these words.

Join me for all of this and more in new editions of “It Was 20 Years Ago Today,” coming this weekend.

June 10, 1991 -- Jaycee Dugard Disappears

por Jamie Lawson

(This is the first of what may become a series of short text postings, on events for which I wasn't able to write and record a complete podcast, for whatever reason. --jamie)

Today is Friday, June 10, 2011.

Twenty years ago today, an 11-year-old girl named Jaycee Dugard was snatched off the street as she was waiting for a school bus, shoved into a car and driven away.  Despite the fact that her abduction was witnessed -- by her stepfather -- and a good description of both the car and the kidnapper was given to the police almost immediately, it wasn't enough.

But unlike so many cases of child abduction, when the victim is found dead -- or never found at all -- Dugard was found.  It took 18 years to do it; for all that time, she had been held prisoner by the couple who abducted her, Phillip and Nancy Garrido.  

I do have some memory about Jaycee Dugard’s disappearance in 1991; it was pretty big news in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time.  As with Michaela Garecht and many others before her, the memory of Jaycee Dugard slowly faded from the awareness of all but a few -- family, friends, perhaps the police.  Theirs was the struggle to come to terms with the idea that she was gone forever, or to keep the hope alive that she would be found some day.

And if this particular posting has a theme, it would be that hope -- hope beyond reason, beyond sense if you like.  Hope that sometimes is lost, sometimes set aside just to cope with the never-ending press of day-to-day life.  Hope that, against all the odds, is rewarded now and then, as it was with Jaycee Dugard.

Just a few weeks ago, the trial of the Garridos ended abruptly when both of them changed their pleas to guilty. Twenty years from now, they will both be still in prison -- and we can hope we will all have forgotten them.

Episode #166 -- NC-17 Movie Rating

por Jamie Lawson

For November 22, 2010.  Twenty years ago today, the city of Kissimmee, Florida put a new proposed ordinance to a vote.  If passed, theaters could not sell tickets for movies with the new NC-17 rating to minors.  I talk about the fate of that proposal, and offer a history of the MPAA's rating system for movies as well as two other ratings systems -- for video games and TV shows -- which have been instituted in the last twenty years.

For a look at the politics behind the MPAA's system as well as its unwritten rules, I highly recommend This Film Is Not Yet Rated (which was itself originally rated NC-17 but surrendered that rating in favor of being released unrated).

Episode #165 -- German Reunification

por Jamie Lawson

Sunday, October 3, 2010. Twenty years ago today, the nations of East Germany and West Germany, separated for 45 years, reunited as one nation.  I take a look at this event, which was the biggest step toward the end of the Cold War to that time, and reflect on how Germany -- and the world -- has changed since then.

 

And We Are Coming Back!

por Jamie Lawson

It was four years ago tomorrow -- on October 3, 2006 -- that the first episode of "It Was 20 Years Ago Today" hit the podcast feed. Tomorrow -- October 3, 2010 -- the show returns with our first new episode since November 2009.

In the coming weeks I'll be looking at an unexpected winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, the origin of one of the Internet's most famous institutions, the end of political eras in the UK and Haiti, the birth of the World Wide Web, and many more.

Join me tomorrow for a look at German reunification, 20 years on.

 

Hiatus Notice

por Jamie Lawson

The "It Was 20 Years Ago Today" podcast is going on an indefinite hiatus.  The show will come back -- right now, though, I can't say exactly when.

I'm making this official, as I am trying to reorganize myself, set my priorities, and admit that there aren't enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do -- let alone do it well.  For a little more about that, and what my big priorities for the new year are, please check out my personal blog, Sailbourne.

I do plan to continue work on the "It Was 20 Years Ago Today" book, compiling the scripts of the first 164 episodes (plus additional episodes that didn't make it to the feed).  When the podcast returns, we'll have a new blog and website.

Watch this space for news and updates, and please be sure to check out my Sailbourne blog and the Ollin Productions website for more on what I'm doing during the hiatus.

Best wishes to all of you for a happy and healthy 2010, and thank you all for your support!

Episode #164 -- "Shot Heard 'Round the World"

por Jamie Lawson

Thursday, November 19, 2009. Twenty years ago today, the US national soccer team qualified for the World Cup tournament, for the first time in forty years. Paul Caligiuri's goal, which won the match for Team USA, quickly became known as "the shot heard 'round the world," and it changed the way Americans looked at soccer.

Click here for a YouTube clip which shows the ESPN SportsCenter coverage of the match, including Caligiuri's goal.


Episode #163 -- "Out of Order"

por Jamie Lawson

Sunday, October 18, 2009.  Anyone in the San Francisco Bay Area who owned a Far Side page-a-day calendar would have found the cartoon for twenty years ago today prescient -- and downright creepy.  I describe that cartoon, and talk about some of the big changes that happened to San Francisco and Oakland's transportation infrastructure as a result of the Loma Prieta earthquake.

Episode #162 -- Loma Prieta Earthquake

por Jamie Lawson

Saturday, October 17, 2009.  5:04 pm.  Twenty years ago today, the Loma Prieta earthquake struck northern California, changing lives and landscapes forever.  I share my memory of the moment the quake struck, and what happened a few minutes later that taught me a very important lesson -- being in the midst of history as it's happening isn't always an adventure.

The SFGate website, online home of the San Francisco Chronicle, has a special section devoted to those fifteen seconds that changed everything.

Episode #161 -- Scott O'Dell

por Jamie Lawson

Thursday, October 15, 2009. Twenty years ago today, author Scott O'Dell died at the age of 91.  I talk about O'Dell, his most famous book, and how his writing (and that of my other favorite books as a kid) influenced my reading interests -- and, by extension, helped inspire this podcast.

Episode #160 -- "One baby's scream"

por Jamie Lawson

Sunday, October 11, 2009.  "It Was 20 Years Ago Today" returns with a recollection of the story that Times Herald-Record columnist Mike Levine published twenty years ago today.  The story, and the problem it illuminates, could have easily been written today.

Mike Levine went on to become the executive editor of the Times Herald-Record before dying far too young in January 2007.  His family and colleagues established a journalism education scholarship in his name, and the first Mike Levine Workshop was held this past spring.

Episode #159 -- Batman

por Jamie Lawson

Tuesday, June 23, 2009. Twenty years ago today, the movie Batman was released, bringing the famous comic book hero to a whole new generation of fans.  I talk about the movie and my own experiences and impressions of Batman, from the Superfriends to "The Killing Joke."

One of the earliest episodes of this show was about this same Batman movie, commemorating the date when the first draft script was written.  Fellow Bat-fanatics who haven't been following this show since day one might enjoy checking it out!


Episode #158 -- Star Trek V

por Jamie Lawson

Tuesday, June 9, 2009. Twenty years ago today, the movie Star Trek V: the Final Frontier was released.  I share a few facts about the fifth of the Trek movies, and relate my experience of watching it for the first (and almost last) time.  I don't remember seeing the poster design depicted here back in the day, but I couldn't resist showing it now, because my answer to the question it poses would most likely be, "To keep the audience from getting up and walking out."

I also refer to a version of the movie given the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" treatment.  This isn't the RiffTrax commentary, but rather a fan film with a Joel, robots and everything, including one unforgettable song, by Seattle filmmaker Ryan K. Johnson.  More information can be found on Ryan's website.