1971 – Alan Shepard plays golf on the Moon

The commander of the Apollo 14 mission, Alan Shepard holds several unique distinctions. He is the only member of the Mercury 7 astronauts to have walked on the Moon and also the oldest person to have walked there (in terms of age at the time he did it). His mission was the first to broadcast colour video from the surface of the Moon and made the most accurate landing of all the Apollo missions. And, of course, he is the first man to have hit golf balls (two of them) on the Moon.

Shepard came home to the hero’s welcome that astronauts traditionally received, and was promoted from Captain to Rear-Admiral after the successful completion of his mission. He retired from the US Navy and NASA, becoming a successful businessman, and eventually died from leukemia in 1998, 21 years to the day from Armstrong’s first moon walk.

His golf balls are presumably still somewhere on the lunar surface.

Referenced in:

Can’t Keep Johnny Down — They Might Be Giants

1990 — They Might Be Giants release “Flood”

They Might Be Giants’ third studio album, and probably their best known, “Flood” features their single best known song – a cover of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” – as well as “Birdhouse in Your Soul” which was a top ten hit in both the US and UK. It would go on to be their best selling album, achieving platinum status in 2009.

The album as a whole is one of the most consistently excellent of all their albums, and is widely regarded as their best (although that may be something of an artifact of it being the most widely owned of their albums). It would be followed up by “Apollo 18” two years later.

Referenced in:
Theme from Flood — They Might Be Giants

circa 2,300,000 BCE — The ancestors of humanity leave the trees

The earliest known member of the genus Homo, habilis evolved on the savannah of Africa between 2.5 and 2 million years ago. They are believed to have been the earliest part of our evolutionary chain to have been fully bipedal, to have lost (almost all of) the body hair that other primates have, and to have lived entirely on the ground – although possibly still gathering fruit from and seeking shelter in trees, much as we still do.

The reasons for this evolutionary move are many, but some of the more important ones include greater access to water, increased dietary variety and increased use of tools in hunting, which also made defence against predators easier than it had been for their australopithicene ancestors.

circa 2500 BCE — Gilgamesh ends his reign as King of Uruk

Gilgamesh was the king of Uruk for many years, but was not well-loved by his subjects, as he was an oppressive ruler, who insisted of the privilege of sleeping with the young women of the city on their wedding nights. The goddess Arura, seeking to humble Gilgamesh, created a man named Enkidu, who was his opposite in all ways: wild where he was civilised.

Gilgamesh and Enkidu became fast friends, and the two journeyed together from Uruk to the Cedar Forest, where they faced and slew Humbaba. Later, after the gods slew Enkidu, Gilgamesh pleaded for his return, and later journeyed to the underworld to rescue him. Gilgamesh prays to the gods to restore Enkidu’s life, and moved by his humility, they accede.

Referenced in:

The Mesopotamians — They Might Be Giants

1847 – The Independent Treasury Act comes into force

James Knox Polk was the eleventh President of the USA. In 1846, he approved a law restoring the Independent Treasury System, under which government funds were held in the Treasury and not in banks or other financial institutions.

This established independent treasury deposit offices, separate from private or state banks, to receive all government funds. The money belonging to the treasury could thus be separated from the market, ensuring that neither could influence the other. Unfortunately, that turned out not to be how it worked in practice, and the Independent Treasury System was eventually discontinued in 1921.

Referenced in:
James K. Polk – They Might Be Giants

2215 BCE — Sargon I of Akkad dies

The first ruler of the Akkadian empire, which covered most of Mesopotamia by the time he was done, Sargon was also the builder of Babylon (which is probably his most lasting mark on history). Sargon’s reign lasted for 56 years, an impressively long figure by the standards of his era.

In Sargon’s later years, much of the conquered territories rose in rebellion, seeing his old age as weakness. Sargon proved them decisively wrong, restoring his rule with considerable bloodshed and brutality. Sargon’s death led to another round of rebellions, naturally, but the Akkadian Empire lived on for nearly another century.

Referenced in:

The Mesopotamians — They Might Be Giants

1750 BCE — King Hammurabi of Babylon dies

Hammurabi was born in 1792 BCE and became the sixth king of Babylon that same year when his father abdicated. He ruled for his entire life (presumably with a regency at first), and despite the war town nature of Mesopotamia in that era, he is best known for the relative peace of his reign, his public works programs and, of course, his legal code, which is the earliest known one.

When he died, at the ripe old age of 42, he had also expanded the borders of his kingdom enormously, leaving his own son a realm that was more than six times the size of the city state he had inherited, one that stretched from the shores of the Persian Gulf to Mari, hundreds of miles up the Euphrates.

Referenced in:

The Mesopotamians — They Might Be Giants

1845 – The Walker Tariff act is passed by Congress

Largely a repeal of the Black Tariffs put in place in 1842, the Walker Tariff (named for Secretary of the Treasury, Robert J. Walker, its creator), reduced tariffs from 32% to 25%, one of the lowest tariffs in US history. Coinciding as it did with the UK’s repeal of its Corn Laws, it led to an increase in trade between the two nations.

Subsequently, tariffs would be reduced still further in 1857 (to 17%), but then increased back to 26% in 1861 (and again later that year, and in 1865, the latter two increases largely as a result of the expense of the Civil War).

Referenced in:
James K. Polk – They Might Be Giants

627 BCE — King Ashurbanipal of Assyria dies

Legend says that he was the only king of Assyria who ever learned to read or write. Be that as it may, it is known that Ashurbanipal gathered one of the world’s greatest libraries of cuneiform tablets in his palace at Nineveh. However, although he was apparently unusually literate, Ashurbanipal was also an unusually cruel king (which is saying something, since Assyria was noted as an unusually cruel realm even in its barbarous day).

When Ashurbanipal died in 627 BCE, strife was already rising in Assyria, and outright civil war soon broke out – in less than two decades after his death, the Neo-Assyrian Empire over which he had ruled – and which had lasted three centuries by that time – was gone, never to returned, subsumed into the Persian Empire and its successor states.

Referenced in:

The Mesopotamians — They Might Be Giants

668 BCE — Ashurbanipal becomes King of Assyria

When Ashurbanipal inherited the throne of Assyria from his father, Esarhaddon, he also inherited the war between Assyria and the alliance of Egypt and Nubia. Ashurbanipal was a etter general and king than his father, and defeated the Egyptians handily in a series of battles. By 660 BCE, he ruled almost all of the Middle East with the exception of southern Arabia.

Ashurbanipal was renowned for his cruelty to his defeated enemies. It was not enough to take their lands and sell them into slavery (although he did that too), Ashurbanipal was notorious for the sadism and brutality of his tortures – and this in an age where torture was considered more or less normal. Perhaps because of this, he was the last strong ruler of Assyria.

Referenced in:

The Mesopotamians — They Might Be Giants

circa 380 BCE — Plato writes ‘the Allegory of the Cave’

As per usual with our man Plato, he doesn’t have the courage of his own convictions, and rather than just come out and describe one of the greatest metaphors in the history of Western philosophy, he embeds it in a dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon (Plato’s brother).

The allegory is simple enough: picture a group of people chained in a cave. They face a blank wall, and there is a light source behind them – so that they only things they ever see are the shadows cast by whatever moves between them and the light. Inevitably, they come to ascribe meaning to the shadows they see, and to believe that they are all there is of reality…

…the philosopher, naturally, is a freed prisoner in this analogy: it is his role to describe the true reality to the other prisoners. If you’ve any familiarity with Plato’s work, you’ll recognise here his familiar concepts of Platonic forms (i.e. true and ideal forms) opposed to mundane forms (i.e. the ones in this world).

Referenced in:

No One Knows My Pain — The Might Be Giants

Hi, We’re the Replacements

The man known only as “Sir” – singer, songwriter, legend of the silver guitar – was the founding member of the Replacements, the world’s finest They Might Be Giants cover band.

But TMBG material doesn’t work very well with just one guy on the guitar. You need, at very least, an accordionist and a backing singer. Drums, bass and a second guitar are also nice.
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2270 BCE — Sargon becomes King of Akkad

Sargon the Great became the king of Akkad by murdering his predecessor. As king, he led a military conquest of Mesopotamia and neighbouring regions, covering modern Iraq and Kuwait, as well of parts of Iran, Arabia and even Anatolia and Syria, reaching all the way to the Mediterranean coast of the latter. This was the first centrally-controlled multi-ethnic empire in world history.

Sargon’s origin, much like that of Julius Caesar, has been mythologised. In particular, there is a portion of it that describes him as being set adrift upon a river in a basket woven of rushes – a tale strikingly similar to that of Moses (as described in Exodus), and predating the Book of Exodus by around two centuries.

Referenced in:

The Mesopotamians — They Might Be Giants