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January 4th

On this day in 1903 Thomas Edison proved that he was as evil as I’ve always said he is. He electrocuted an elephant to death to prove that his way of providing electricity – DC, direct current – was better than the AC (alternating current) preferred by others, notably, George Westinghouse.

Now, before you read on, I warn you that this is upsetting and if you liked Thomas Edison before because you thought he was a great inventor and blah, then if you read on you will hate him and want to stick electric currents up his dead arse. Right, warning given, on with the hideous bastard story.

Hard to find a happy photo of Topsy, this is her memorial

The elephant in question was called Topsy. She was 28 years old and was owned by Forepaugh Circus. She spent the last years of her life, before the electrocution at Coney Island’s Luna Park. To be fair to Edison, which I’d rather not be, but there you go, Topsy wasn’t chosen for no good reason; she had killed three men in three years and so it was decided she need to be executed. The initial decision made about her death was that she should be hanged, but the American society for the protection of cruelty against animals, (ASPCA) complained that this was unnecessary cruelty, so the plan was put on the back burner.

It’s a shame that the ASPCA didn’t point out that the whole thing was cruel, full stop, period, etc. Topsy had a pretty miserable life, with no space to be a proper elephant and enjoy running about. One of the men she killed was a nasty piece of work who tried to make her eat lit cigarettes. She was killing because the life she had been given was slowly making her lose her mind and she was surrounded by utter bastards who deserved anything she did to them.

When the hanging was ruled out, along came Edison who was in the midst of a “War of Current” with Westinghouse (FFS!)and he said

The life Topsy should have had

he’d kill her with electric. The electric chair had already been used in prisons, so they knew it worked, he just wanted to show them that it worked with his direct current. She was fed carrots containing potassium cyanide before the current was put through he body and thankfully she was dead within seconds. Edison, not happy enough to have killed a beautiful creature, also filmed it and released it as a film called Electrocuting and Elephant, which toured the US and was watched by millions. To think that people get upset about that film about the human caterpillar thing when over a hundred years ago people went to the cinema to watch an elephant being murdered. THE BASTARDS!

Edison went down in history as a great inventor, unless you’re like me and have always wanted to smash his face in, in which case he went down in history as an utter twat. Topsy may have had her revenge though. In 1944 Luna Park burned to the ground and the destruction became known as Topsy’s revenge. In 2003 a belated monument to her was erected at the Coney Island Museum.

 

 

Today is and was the birthday of any number of really dull people who I cannot be bothered to write about. In my defence, I did spend much of last night with the Winter Sickness virus which has left me weak and rather irritable. Also, an awful lot of the people were either:

  • Who are you?
  • Dull beyond belief
  • Slightly interesting like Louis Braille, but how much can you possibly write about a man who invented a way of reading for the blind? Don’t answer that. I’m sure you could come up with loads, but I don’t really care
  • Slightly more interesting like Wat Tyler who lead the Peasants Revolt in olden days, but again, I’m not in a “up with the revolution mood
  • Pretty cool, like Michael Stipe, but again, I’m not in an R.E.M. place right now
  • Blah

"Lovely" birthday cake

There’s no one wicked or evil or who one could happily take the piss out of for several paragraphs and anyway, none of them probably spent last night being sick and ill. To be fair that’s because a lot of them are dead, but that’s merely an excuse.

So, there is no birthday celebration today, because I have deemed that none of them are worth my sadly low energy, so they can go elsewhere if they want to see someone being all “happy birthday!” because they ain’t getting it off me.

Ha!

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January 2nd

On this day in 1791 there was a bit of a massacre in Ohio. At the time Ohio was a country and not a state and people were all starting to move over there because there was a lot of space and as it was in the mid-west, it was less scandalous than places like New York, so those of very little brain could wander off there and be happy worshipping God, snakes and beating their children for having impure thoughts.

Unlike Queen and Spinal Tap, the Wyandot did not like Big Bottomed Girls

That said, they probably didn’t deserve to be massacred, but then neither did the Wyandot Indians deserve to lose their land. All in all it’s a bit of a conundrum when it comes to “whose side should I be on?” To be fair to the Wyandot, they suffered far more in the aftermath as a big war began which was known as the Northwest Indian War. The clue is in the name; it was a war to murder as many Indians as humanly possible.

To be even fairer to the Indians, we need to know what the massacre was called and to understand more about the Wyandot people. The massacre was called The Big Bottom Massacre. The Wyandot people feared large arses and saw them as things that only devil type people had. The Wyandot were a slender and small-arsed tribe. The settlers liked a pie or several and as a result a few of them had rather large backsides.

As a result, on this day, the Wyandot went down to the place where the fattest settlers were staying and murdered 11 men, one woman and two children. From this we can see that the men were the fattest, with only one chunky woman and two chunky children who evidence tells us had a huge Ye Olde McDonald’s habit and were forerunners of kids who eat too many Twinkies and shit like that.

Despite how it may seem, I do not support the murderingof

Wyandot: Please note, no big bottom

overweight people. Far from it. Live and let live is pretty much my raison d’etre, but one has to understand the fear, albeit a bloody stupid one, of the Wyandot. They thought they were being invaded by devils who would kill them in their sleep. As it happens they did end up being murdered in their sleep because they killed the large of arse, so the whole thing is a terrible old mess for all concerned. But, and I do think this is very important, it did give us the wonderfully named Big Bottom Massacre and for that I think we can all be truly grateful.

 

 

 

 

Today was the birthday of Thérèse of Lisieux who went on to die in 1897 and become a saint in 1925.

What was so special about her, you may ask. Or not. Well, she was a sickly sort. She’d been nervy and poorly as a child, joined a convent at the age of 15 and not long after that got TB and died aged 24. But as befits a woman who was to become a saint, she never complained about her suffering and was very Pollyanna about the whole thing. Personally, I think she must have really annoyed some of the other nuns, but we have no record to prove that one way or the other.

Like Ernie Wise, St Theresa had short fat hairy legs

She also said lots of pretty stuff when she was alive, like be nice to other people and you don’t have to do great deeds to be holy, you can do small things as well and that’s just as nice. She was also very tiny due to being ill a lot as a child. Apparently she liked being small because according to her only dwarfs, midgets and children could get into heaven, which indicates that she probably had a strange idea about the entrance of heaven and the ability of taller people to bend over a bit.

She got made into a saint very quickly, probably because people with a cold went along to her grave, said a prayer and oh, my, they stopped sneezing. Or something. Men in the church liked her because she was all tiny and sweet and said things like “Ooh, that book is too hard for my little brain I think I’ll do some embroidery and think about God instead.” [The book in question being “Janet and John add up one plus one.”] In other words, she wasn’t a woman who might kick them in the nuts and tell them to make their own cup of tea.

Since her death and canonisation, she’s been made the patron saint of lots of things, including AIDS. Frankly, given her inability to cure AIDS from beyond the grave, people should be doubting her holiness, but luckily for her, no one has put two and two together yet (they’re still to busy with Janet and John’s One Plus One).

So, happy birthday you little sickly midget. I hope you spend it doing good things like actually curing something rather than faffing about being all “oh what a pretty birdy” like you usually do.

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April 22nd

On this day in 1886 the state of Ohio passed a statute that made seduction unlawful. It was aimed at all men over the age of 18 who were teachers or instructors of women and girls. It didn’t matter if the sex was consensual, they could still be charged and face between two and ten years in prison.

C'mon love, you know you're gagging for it

Ohio wasn’t the only place to have laws against seduction; they existed in other states and in England, where it was a common law or civil wrong. Of course, as with most laws governing issues of sex, it was less about the woman who may have been seduced and more about her status as property.  The seduced woman was nearly always unmarried and she herself could not press suit against her seducer; this role fell to her father. However, if the woman in question was a servant and she had been seduced by her master, her father could not bring suit against him, which only goes to underline that it was all about a woman as chattel and not as a person with rights and feelings of her own.

Various states had differently worded laws against seduction. In Virginia it was illegal for a man to have “an illicit connexion with any unmarried female of previous chaste character”, if he finagled this by promising to marry her. Similarly in New York it was illegal to “under promises of marriage seduce any unmarried female of previous chaste character.” Georgia was more descriptive in its statute which stated that it was unlawful for a man to “seduce a virtuous unmarried female and induce her to yield to his lustful embraces and allow him to have carnal knowledge of her.” Saucy.

There is very little information about these laws, because on the whole they weren’t enforced and when they did come to court judges were loath to convict. In Michigan a man was convicted, probably because there were three counts of seduction against him – the slag – but the appeal court tried very hard to have all the charges thrown out. Two charges were thrown out because the defence argued that the woman in question was no longer virtuous after her first encounter with the man. The other charge was thrown out on the grounds that the woman’s testimony – that they’d gone at it in a buggy – was medically impossible. I’ve never attempted relations in a buggy myself, but I have a feeling it would be more than possible. Clearly the appeal court of Michigan was lacking in imagination.

It does appear that in the US, unlike in the UK, women could bring charges themselves. Some did so in order to coerce their seducer into marriage. On the one hand this is hardly laudable, but on the other, given that they were living in a time when virginity (or at least the appearance of it) was vitally important, if everyone knew a certain gent had had access to your glittering prize, you couldn’t blame a woman for pushing for marriage. A trial in New York turned into a wedding ceremony when the accused proposed to his accuser.

Most of these laws are now – thankfully – defunct, but there was a case brought in 1938 in New Jersey. The accused in this instance

Mug shots of Ole Blue Eyes from the "seduction" arrest

was Frank Sinatra, who was charged with having enticed a woman of good-repute to have sexual intercourse with him by using false promises of marriage. Unfortunately for the woman involved, the case was dropped when it was discovered that she was already married.

In the course of rooting around in this subject, I’ve noted a cultural and historical change in our perceptions of seduction. Whereas in the past the act of seduction has been seen as a male preserve, with the man has seducer and the woman as innocent victim, these days seduction seems to be all about women. Look for images of seduction and you will see semi-clad women, adverts for all sorts of products are often sold to us as something that will seduce our partners or any passing man who takes our fancy. Men are now the objects of seductresses, but they’re not portrayed as innocent, more as waiting for us to get the right seduction recipe brewed up to stir their eager loins. The subjects and objects have changed places, the idea of chattel has all but disappeared, but deep down, it’s still about money: seduce him and he’ll buy you more pretty things to seduce him with. Or something.

Of course we can forget the outdated notions of the old laws and ignore the messages of some of the advertising and, as consenting adults, just have an awful lot of fun with seducing each other, because without all the lies and broken promises it is a rather jolly thing  to do!

Today was the birthday of a woman who could certainly be called a seductress, Bettie Page.

Lovely bum

Page started modelling in about 1950 when she was in her late twenties. Before that she had wanted to be a teacher and then an actress. She had been a good student, graduated high school as her class salutatorian, married, divorced and moved to New York where she met a police officer called Jerry Tibbs who was interested in photography. She modelled for him and her career began.

Bettie quickly became famous, appearing in magazines like Wink, Titter, Eyeful and Beauty Parade. She was uninhibited and was happy to do most anything in her photos. She is famous these days for the many bondage shoots she did; she also starred in some silent stag shorts, either as the dominatrix or the bound slave. These were all female films and there was very little actual nudity and no sex.  In 1955 she was a Playboy centrefold and was voted Miss Pin-up Girl of the World. In short during this period, Bettie was at te top of her career, was well-loved and very successful.

In 1959, much to the chagrin of all who had liked looking at her in the nuddy, Bettie found God in Key West and from that day onwards she never got her kit off for the camera again.  She spent much of the sixties working for Billy Grahamand being all evangelical. In the seventies she was diagnosed with schizophrenia after violent attacks on her landlord. She only became aware of renewed interest in her pin-up career in the late nineties and was still trying to get some recompense for the use of her image in 2008 when she died.

Jungle Bettie

Bettie was interesting. She appealed to both men and women, but she was a silent image that anyone could impose their own fantasies upon. For men she was the smiling kinkstress always ready to try whatever they wanted. For women, I think, she is seen as a strong woman, not afraid to be out and proud about her own sexuality. I don’t think any of us have it quite right. For all the images of Bettie Page that exist, we know so very little about who she really was.

So, happy birthday, nudie laydee evangelist. You’re everywhere and nowhere,baby.

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April 7th

This day in history is a most auspicious one, so it pained me to look through the annals and find events that bored me or stuff about fucktards (hello Savonarola) who we’d already covered and quite frankly had enough of.  Anyway, given that nothing can quite compare to an event that happened at 4am in the Royal Free Hospital in Liverpool Road in 1965, I did uncover something that appears to be completely fictitious, but is too wonderful to consign to the dustbin of made-up history.

And then she hit me right here on the nose!

All around the web, it is stated that on this day in 1926, Mussolini’s Irish wife broke his nose. There is no further detail, because, well Mussolini never had an Irish wife. The terrible bald fucker had two wives, both of them Italian, one discarded and all records of their marriage destroyed because he wanted to pretend he’d never been married to her. The second stuck with him until the end. Neither, as far as history shows us, broke his nose. Perhaps the history of WWII might have played out a bit differently if one or both of them had, preferably on a regular basis.

Of course, I am not advocating mindless violence, but given the circumstances I’m sure they could have found a way to break his nose mindfully. It’s a shame that this story is so clearly a fake, because I can picture it all in my head. Benito at the table complaining that his stupid Irish wife hasn’t cooked the spaghetti properly and all she knows her way around is potatoes and cabbage like a stupid bog-trotting peasant. And up she gets. Small in stature but a mighty

Cover your nose, Benny, the bitch is back!

warrior all the same. Her eyes are green and sending out sparks of anger. Benito is too self-satisfied and stupid to sense the danger. Her hair is loose and a symphony of red and gold and orange and copper and rich sweet-smelling ginger. It seems alive as she moves closer toward her target. He still goads her, he holds up his spaghetti in his fork and mocks her like the pompous wee shite he is. And then she is in front of him, finally he feels a little fear. She is still, but her hair still seems to be moving, her eyes still spark and her nostrils flare. He is silent as she stares him straight in the eye. He gulps. And then it comes. Her fist moves as if in slow-motion but he can’t move away from it. He is rooted to the spot as though his wife has become Medusa and he is turned to stone. And. And. And. BAM! Right in the fucking conk. “Shitehawk” she throws over her shoulder as she walks away. His blood mingles with the tomato sauce and he cries quietly with the pain.

Ah, Maureen McMussolini, where were you when we needed you!

Today is and was the birthday of many a great and grand person. And Russell Crowe. Russell Crowe is one year older than me and I am glad he exists because when I am feeling like a haggard old crone, I look at him and say “thank fuck I look better on it than he does.” The truth is, I look about a million times better than the big fighty git who gets all precious when people say “Oh Russell, why did you do an Irish accent for Robin Hood?” Well, Russell, I’ve seen some of that film and you did do an Irish accent, you great fat lummox. I’ve only seen some of it because I was on a plane and it was so shit I fell asleep. Here’s the thing, on the way out, I’d watched Sex and the City 2, which is one of the worst films ever and an abomination to womankind, but I did not fall asleep. That’s how shit Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood was. He stands as a reminder that however great a day April 7th is, some right shitters were born on this day too (see also David Frost).

Billie as a lovely wee girl

But, let’s move on to the sublime, the beautiful, the troubled, the big old skag head with a voice that could tickle your spine in a way that felt slightly obscene: Billie Holiday. She was born 50 years before I happened down onto the earth and had left it before  I  joined it.

Her life was never easy from the start. Born Eleanora Fagan, her thirteen year old mother was thrown out of her parents’ home for being pregnant. Young Billie was looked after by relatives while her mother worked on the trains. She was troubled, played truant and was in a Catholic reform school for this before the age of 10. She was then released into her mother’s custody to live and work in a restaurant she had bought. At the age of 11, Billie was raped and sent back to the reform school to be kept safe while they waited for the trail to come to court.

And then it all went  a bit more downhill. You all know that she and her mother then lived in brothels, that that’s where Billie started to sing and also to turn tricks as an under age prostitute at $5 a time.  And she learned to drink, to take drugs, to favour men who would beat her and hurt her over men who would love the beautiful soul she was. She went to prison, she came out, she took more drugs and she sang, oh how she sang. Even toward the end when she had all but destroyed her voice with drug and alcohol abuse she still sang and it was more beautiful in its ruin than most people can  hope for in their own version of perfection.

Lady sings the Blues

She died in 1959 and her death was described on sleeve notes by the NY Times journalist, Gilbert Millstein, who had been a narrator at her 1956 Carnegie Hall concerts:

Billie Holiday died in the Metropolitan Hospital, New York, on Friday, July 17, 1959, in the bed in which she had been arrested for illegal possession of narcotics a little more than a month before, as she lay mortally ill; in the room from which a police guard had been removed – by court order – only a few hours before her death, which, like her life, was disorderly and pitiful. She had been strikingly beautiful, but she was wasted physically to a small, grotesque caricature of herself. The worms of every kind of excess – drugs were only one – had eaten her … The likelihood exists that among the last thoughts of this cynical, sentimental, profane, generous and greatly talented woman of 44 was the belief that she was to be arraigned the following morning. She would have been, eventually, although possibly not that quickly. In any case, she removed herself finally from the jurisdiction of any court here below.

She was no lady, but she was Lady Day. Happy birthday my birthday twin. You know how much I’ve always loved you and thrilled to share your birthday, and I’d like you to know that I always will. We’ll both just forget about that cunt, Crowe. He ain’t our sort of peoples.

Oh and she loved dogs too!

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March 25th

On this day in 1911 a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. 146 garment workers died either in the blaze or when they tried to jump from the building. It remains the biggest industrial disaster in NYC and the fourth largest in the whole of the United States. It happened because of graft, corruption and a heinous lack of concern for the safety of the women who worked there. This is what led up to it and what happened on that day.

 

One of the Centennial Memorials

The factory occupied the top three floors of the Asch Building (now the Brown Building) on the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place in Greenwich Village. It was owned by Issac Harris and Max Blanck. The factory was known to be unsafe; there were four elevators to the factory floors, but only one worked. For the workers to get to it they had to file along a long narrow corridor. There were two staircases, but one led to a locked door (to prevent theft) and one led to a door that could only be opened from outside.  The fire escape was narrow and unsafe and it would have taken the workers hours to escape if using it. The factory was also very much a sweatshop. The women there worked long hours for low pay and were packed in tight. Most of them were recent immigrants and few of them spoke English. The safety violations were well-known as were the dangers inherent in garment factories,  but city officials were happy to accept bribes and overlook them. Harris and Blanck, the factory owners, were known to be anti-worker and had played a strong role in strike-breaking in the previous year.

 

On Saturday 25th March 1911, there were 600 workers in the factory along with the owners and their children who were visiting/slumming it. The fire broke out toward the end of the working day at about 4.40pm. What caused the fire is not really known. It started in a rag bin that hadn’t been emptied in months. It may have been a match, an improperly extinguished cigarette, or a spark from a faulty machine. Once the fire started it caught very quickly. The manager tried to put it out using a fire hose, but the hose had

Death

rotted and the valve was rusted shut. There was panic and the women tried to escape. Many ran to the lift which could only take 12 passengers at a time. It made four ascents and descents before the heat and flames led it to break down. 36 workers plunged to their death in the elevator shaft as they desperately tried to escape the flames. More ran to the stairwell, only to find the locked door when they got to the bottom of the stairs; many of these were burned alive. Some went to the fire escape, which buckled under their weight and these fell 100ft to their death on the streets below. It got even worse. Women started jumping from the windows to escape the fire, many fell on fire hoses, delaying the attempts to extinguish the blaze. When the fireman put up their ladders they only reached to the seventh floor and the fire was on the eighth floor. In order to catch the falling women nets were opened to catch them. These broke under the weight of more than one woman jumping into them at a time.

 

It was all over within 20 minutes. 36 people dead in the elevator shaft, 58 dead from jumping or falling, with two who died of their injuries later. The rest of the dead were either burned alive or suffocated by the smoke.  Louis Waldman who would later become a socialist assemblyman for New York State, witnessed the scene and wrote about it many years later:

A few blocks away, the Asch Building at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street was ablaze. When we arrived at the scene, the police had thrown up a cordon around the area and the firemen were helplessly fighting the blaze. The eighth, ninth, and tenth stories of the building were now an enormous roaring cornice of flames.

Word had spread through the East Side, by some magic of terror, that the plant of the Triangle Waist Company was on fire and that several hundred workers were trapped. Horrified and helpless, the crowds — I among them — looked up at the burning building, saw girl after girl appear at the reddened windows, pause for a terrified moment, and then leap to the pavement below, to land as mangled, bloody pulp. This went on for what seemed a ghastly eternity. Occasionally a girl who had hesitated too long was licked by pursuing flames and, screaming with clothing and hair ablaze, plunged like a living torch to the street. Life nets held by the firemen were torn by the impact of the falling bodies.

The emotions of the crowd were indescribable. Women were hysterical, scores fainted; men wept as, in paroxysms of frenzy, they hurled themselves against the police lines.

In the aftermath of this obscenely avoidable tragedy the factory owners were indited for manslaughter. Unsurprisingly they were acquitted. Civil suits were brought against them and they ended up paying out $75 per deceased victim to their surviving family.  This was nothing to them as they had been paid $60,000 by their insurance company or roughly $400 per victim.  Two years later Blanck was arrested for once again blocking a factory door during working hours. He was fined $20.

Some good came of it. The NY State Legislature set up the NY State Factory Investigating Committee.  They NYC Fire Chief identified 200 other factories in New York where a comparable disaster was likely and in 1915 New York’s labour laws were modernised on the back of a report including the investigation into the fire. NY at this time was the most progressive state in the US with regard labour laws.

This year is the centennial of the event and it has been remembered by a gathering of labour activists, historians and artists. The really sad thing is that despite the many good safety checks put in place as a result of this horrific event, a century later it is still possible for employers to escape any real censure for the death of employees  due to a failure to have proper safety procedures in place. Workers have rights, but their employers rights seem to trump theirs. Hopefully we will never again see a day as dark as this one was, but there are still individual cases, in the UK at least, of workers dying for no good reason and no one being held responsible.

 

Today is the birthday of Elton John who has done a lot of great work for charity, blah, blah, blah, irritating git-featured, baldy-bollocked wanker who gets right on my tits.

 

Her Royal Highness, The Queen of Soul

It is also the birthday of Sarah Jessica Parker who men like to abuse by being all “She looks like a horse” and “I don’t even want to have sex with her so why is she famous”. The ripostes to these remarks are “Yeah, ‘cos you’re so handsome. Not!” and “It’s not all about your cock. Fuckhead.”  That said, she did make the utterly execrable Sex and the City 2 which is totally without redeeming qualities and deserved the scathing (“you’re not going to get a rant about this”) review from Mark Kermode. (If you haven’t heard this, do click, it starts out slow and works up into such a wonderfully coherent stream of vitriol, that it brings joy to the heart).

 

However, today is also the birthday of the wonderful, the incomparable, the recently slimmed down, beautifully voiced Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. She was born poor in 1942, she began her recording career with Columbia in 1961 and in 1966 she went with Atlantic and became the enormous success that she still is today.  It’s not possible to listen to her recording of King and Goffin’s (You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman without feeling shivers of pure joy dancing up and down your spine.  She is a wonder, she is a joy, she has won 18 Grammy awards. She is Aretha Louise Franklin. Happy birthday, your majesty, your renewed health is wonderful news for all of us, you are a fine and wonderful woman!

 

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