1969 – The Cuyahoga River catches fire. Again.

Between 1868 and 1969, there were thirteen separate fires on the Cuyahoga River, the worst occurring in 1952. It was one of the most polluted watercourses in all of the United States. But the 1969 fire, although not the most damaging, was the one with the most lasting effects. Public outcry over the fire led to the creation of the Clean Water Act, Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and the creation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA).

Water quality on the Cuyahoga has improved, and most of the largest individual sources of pollution have been cleaned up, but the problem remains one that needs guarding against to prevent a recurrence.

Referenced in:
Cuyahoga – R.E.M.
Burn On – Randy Newman
River On Fire – Adam Again

1962 – The first batch of Rainbow Herbicides arrives in Vietnam

Give the US Army some credit: their solution to the fact that they were ill-trained for fighting in jungles was a simple one. They’d simply get rid of the jungle. While there was some earlier testing of herbicides in 1961, it wasn’t until 1962 that large scale deployment of the Rainbow Herbicides – Agents Pink, White, Purple, Green, Blue and (most infamously) Orange – began. Over the course of ten years, until 1971, nearly 20 million gallons of assorted herbicides would be used.

The policy was largely a failure at its stated goal, but it did do wonders for the bottom lines of various military contractors and led to a boom in birth defects among the children of soldiers and civilians exposed to it on both sides in the years to follow the war.

Referenced in:
Orange Crush — R.E.M.

1980 — Ronald Reagan is elected President

The 1980 United States presidential election was among the most bitterly fought of the Twentieth Century. Four years after the electorate had punished them for Watergate and Vietnam, the Republicans roared back into power behind Ronald Reagan, who crushed sitting President Jimmy Carter, winning 44 of the 50 states in the Electoral College. Carter’s defeat set a number of records for a Democratic President – none of them good.

Under Reagan, the United States would spend the 1980s being increasing bellicose and interventionist, just at the time that the USSR was collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions. Domestically, he began the trend of deregulation and globalization that led to such triumphs as the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. His eight years as President are still remembered by Republicans as a golden age, thus disproving the notion that viagra has no psychological side effects.

Referenced in:
Ignoreland — R.E.M.
(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang — Heaven 17

30 BCE — Cleopatra commits suicide

Cleopatra VII, reputedly one of the most beautiful women ever to have lived, was the eleventh and last Ptolemy ruler of Egypt. A cunning politician who had co-ruled with her brothers Ptolemy XIII and XIV until the friction grew to the point where she was deposed and exiled.

She returned to Egypt and reclaimed the throne with the aid of Julius Caesar, with whom she had a son. After the death of Caesar, she manipulated his successors, Octavian and Marc Antony. When the tensions between the two Romans erupted into civil war, she threw in with Antony – who lost the war. Finally, in August 30 BCE, as Octavian invaded Egypt and Antony’s troops defected to the winning side, she and Antony each committed suicide – legend has it that Cleopatra provoked an asp (a poisonous snake native to Egypt) into fatally biting her.

Referenced in:

Man on the Moon – R.E.M.