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

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

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

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

1687 – Isaac Newton publishes The Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica

The Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, or in English, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, is one of the foundational works of modern physics and mathematics.

In addition to being the first major treatise to seek to unify all mathematics since Euclid nearly 2000 years earlier, it built upon the works of Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler and Descartes (to name but a few). Famously, it introduced the laws of gravitation and motion, which formed the basis of classical mechanics for centuries thereafter.

Much of the Principia has stood the test of time fairly well – for the most part, it has been refined rather than replaced. Newton’s work remained supreme in mathematics until the 20th century, when relativity and quantum mechanics began to expose it limitations. And although Newton’s laws fail at these extremes, they are superb approximations at the scale of everyday life (in this case, defined as reaching from the smallest visible objects up to entire solar systems).

Referenced in:

History Lessens — Skyclad
Man on the Moon — R.E.M.

circa 2600 BCE — Gilgamesh becomes King of Uruk

Gilgamesh is the title character of one of the oldest known literary works, the Epic of Gilgamesh, which dates from approximately 2150 BCE. The most complete surviving version of the Epic was recorded on twelve clay tablets in the library of Ashurbanipal, a later Mesopotamian king.

Gilgamesh was the fifth king of Uruk, an early Sumerian realm that encompassed what is now Kuwait and southern Iraq. His parentage was partially divine – he was two thirds god and one third man. As a result of this, he was abnormally strong and long-lived – some sources describe him as immortal. He seems to have been based on actual historical figure, and several details in the Epic appear to derive from historical figures who were his contemporaries. However, despite his reality, it is unlikely that he reigned for the 126 years attributed to him by Sumerian historians.

Referenced in:

The Mesopotamians — They Might Be Giants

1792 BCE — Hammurabi becomes King of Babylon

Hammurabi is perhaps the best-remembered king of Babylon’s first dynasty. Although he was the sixth of that house, he was the first one to actually be called a king, largely as a result of his military victories, Aside from the simple fact of his kingship, his greatest claim to fame is the Code of Hammurabi.

One of the oldest known written codes of law in the world, it predates Mosaic law (i.e. the Bible) by centuries, and was a direct influence on that code. The code consists of 282 individual laws, and states the punishments for each infraction. The law was revolutionary in three aspects:

  • It was written in the common tongue (Akkadian, in this case) so that any literate citizen could read it.
  • It standardised punishments, ensuring that the law was consistent (albeit rather harsh by modern standards – it is also one of the earliest known examples of the “eye for an eye” principle, which appears to have been intended to limit vengeance to an equitable level.).
  • It is one of the earliest known examples of the presumption of innocence, a cornerstone of our modern legal system today, and required that both sides provide evidence to substantiate their claims.

As a result of Hammurabi’s pivotal role in the history of the law, his likeness is often found in courts and parliaments, as a famed law-giver. In many such depictions, he is the earliest historical figure shown.

Referenced in:

The Mesopotamians — They Might Be Giants

1964 – The World’s Fair opens in New York

The 1964 World’s Fair was the second such fair not to be approved of by the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE), the organisation in charge of such fairs. (The first was the previous New York World’s Fair, held in 1939.) There were a number of reasons for this, but the most prominent was the decision of the fair’s organising committee to charge rent to exhibitors.

Nonetheless, the Fair went ahead. Robert Moses, the city planner of New York City, was the main force behind it, and he recruited the architect Victor Gruen to design the site and the buildings (thus ensuring that the Gruen transfer would effect Fair-goers as well as mall-shoppers). Many of the world’s more prominent nations – members of the BIE – did not attend the Fair, but other nations from the developing world more than made up for them. By the time the World’s Fair closed its doors eighteen months later, 51 million visitors had visited.

Referenced in:

Ana Ng — They Might Be Giants