The More Things Change | Issue 18

The More Things Change | Issue 18

5-11 August

This week, technology progresses again, but politics doesn’t.

August 6, 1806: The Holy Roman Empire ceased to exist after nearly 850 years of being neither holy, Roman, nor an empire. It was actually a union of Central European political territories (or something equally complicated) and had enjoyed many centuries of scuffles over the top job and people excommunicating one another. In the end, the last Emperor abdicated because Napoleon was causing a bit too much trouble – a disappointing outcome for such a grandiose name, really.

August 9, 1859: The elevator was patented, and has since become more useful to humanity than might be initially obvious. As well as enabling us to climb as few stairs as possible, these charmingly practical machines were involved in the development of Einstein’s theory of relativity after he started thinking about being weightless in a lift falling down a lift shaft. They’re also twenty times safer than escalators and play gentle music to help calm nervous passengers, which is kind of cute. Perhaps the best thing to come from their existence, though, is “that” Facebook status: “this elevator is so dumb it has a button for the floor I’m already on.” Bless.

August 5, 1914: In the endless quest for safer roads, the first electric traffic light was installed. It had two lights (red and green) and a buzzer that very considerately warned you when it was about to change. Doubtless this was very good for the drivers, but was probably even better for the policemen who no longer had to stand at intersections waving their arms around. Traffic lights, of course, are now in use all over the world: Queenstown has two whole sets.

August 9, 1999: Boris Yeltsin, the first President of Russia, fired his prime minister and – for the fourth time – his entire cabinet. His strange behaviour has been attributed to either “strong medication” or to alcoholism, and sometimes to both. 1999 seems to have been a difficult year for Yeltsin either way, and he resigned that December. The new prime minister was none other than Vladimir Putin, who went on to replace Yeltsin as President, and whose actions since have been about as strange as some of Yeltsin’s. (Oh, those Russians.)

August 10, 2003: A marriage ceremony was performed, and made it into the books because at the time of the wedding the groom was in space. He was on the International Space Station, about 385 kilometres above New Zealand, and the bride was somewhere in Texas. Apparently they’re still married and everything.
This article first appeared in Issue 18, 2013.
Posted 3:50pm Sunday 4th August 2013 by Jessica Bromell.