1958 – The discovery of Nobelium is announced

Nobelium is a trans-uranic element whose atomic number is 102. A radioactive metal, it was first created in April 1958 by a team at the University of California’s Berkeley campus. The members of the team were Albert Ghiorso, Torbjorn Sikkeland, John R. Walton and Glenn Seaborg.

They named the newly discovered element after Alfred Nobel, which may or may not have been intended as a tiny hint to the Nobel Prize Committee. There is some controversy regarding this date, with several different teams claiming to have discovered Nobelium at different times, but this one seems to be the most commonly cited.

Referenced in:
The Fez – The Dead Milkmen

1981 – Bobby Sands dies in the Maze prison

Bobby Sands was 27 years old and a member of the British Parliament when he died in the Maze prison in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. He had spent the last 66 days of his life in a hunger strike, protesting to be declared a political prisoner rather than a regular criminal – his sentence in the Maze was as a result of his actions with the IRA.

In death, Sands became a martyr to the cause of Irish liberation, and attracted sympathetic messages from allies of the IRA all over the world, as well as neutrally aligned governments and media outlets. Perhaps the best summation came from the Hong Kong Standard, which stated that it was ‘sad that successive British governments have failed to end the last of Europe’s religious wars.’ Thirty years and more gone, and that war grinds on.

Referenced in:
The Sign — Eric Bogle

1994 – Michael Fay is caned for vandalism in Singapore

Michael Fay was 18 years old and apparently didn’t realise that laws were different in Singapore from in his native United States. When he was arrested for theft and vandalism (which, to be fair, were crimes back home too), he was astonished to be sentenced to caning.

The actual caning itself was a fairly trivial affair – schoolchildren endured worse in the days of capital punishment on a regular basis – but the outcry was astonishing. Across America, Singapore was denounced for its barbaric legal system. American diplomats requested leniency for Fay, and the Singaporean government reduced the number of cane strokes by a third – from six to four.

Fay was briefly a media sensation, and did fairly well financially from his media appearances, but a later arrest suggests that it he learned little from his experiences.

Referenced in:
Headline News — Weird Al Yankovic