40 years, man

An anniversary and a little game I call Equidistant. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

Today is the 40th anniversary of the assassination attempt on President Reagan.

Three other people — a Secret Service agent named Tim McCarthy, a DC police officer named Thomas Delahanty, and Reagan’s press secretary, James Brady — were also wounded, outside the Hilton hotel in Washington, DC.

Forty years, man. If you were alive and old enough to pay attention to things back then, can you believe that number?

Perhaps you’re like me and you’re thinking, “Sure, I was a just little kid back then, but I remember it.”

So, let’s put it another way—just where my mind goes immediately. It’s a mental game I like to play, called, “Equidistant.” It goes like this:

Since the assassination attempt was 40 years ago today, let’s figure out what the equidistant event was, 40 years before that. We come up with 1941, so Pearl Harbor.

Thus, someone who was your age now, on that day in 1981, would have remembered the start of U.S. involvement in World War II at least as vividly, probably more so, as you remember the attempt on Reagan.

Another example: The assassination of JFK had been 18 years earlier. So, think back to the equidistant event, 18 years before today. That’s the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

However vividly you remember that, that’s how vividly someone who was your age in 1981 would have remembered November 22, 1963.

Maybe one more… Sputnik. Start of the Space Race. That was 1957, so 24 years before the attempt.

That’s also about as far back in time now as the O.J. Simpson trial, or when Steve Jobs returned to become CEO of Apple, or when the movie Titanic came out.

So, it’s all history - but not ancient history. Actually, somehow this final example hits me the most: 9/11 is now basically the equidistant event between today and the Reagan attempt.

I realize this is turning into something about me and my perception of time, more than about the anniversary itself.

In fact, I was 10 years old then, and this was probably the first “big world news event” that I remember as it unfolded. If I close my eyes, I can remember it pretty well.

I got off school bus number 20 that afternoon and headed to my friend Larry’s house, since his mom taught CCD on Monday. Most of the kids in my public school class in Rhode Island were Catholic, so it was basically a mini-reunion of the fifth grade.

We walked inside and looked, as always, toward the big, color console TV on the floor. One good thing about CCD that year was that Larry’s family had an Intellivision, so if we got there early we might be able to play a bit.

(My family didn’t even have an Atari 2600 yet. We’d get one that Christmas, but it was still nine months away.)

Anyway, this time: No Intellivision. Reagan had been shot and the news was on.

(The video below is a compendium of the raw feed as it happened that day on ABC News. There’s some blood, so use your discretion in deciding whether to click.)

Of course, the president survived. Less than a month afterward, he addressed a joint session of Congress. His approval ratings soared to 70 percent.

“The people of America got a rare glimpse at somebody without the facade on,” as a Washington Post reporter put it later. “He had the most scripted presidency, and this was its most unscripted day.”

Both the Secret Service agent and the DC police officer recovered, but while Brady lived until 2014, when he died the authorities ruled it was the result of his wounds that day in 1981.

I’d be interested to know how you remember this day—or if you don’t, what’s the first “big news world event” you recall, and how it unfolded. By the way, the equidistant event going forward will be in 2061.

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7 other things worth your time

  • The murder trial of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, charged with killing George Floyd, opened Monday. The trial is being live streamed. (BuzzFeedNews)

  • The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday warned of "impending doom" over rising coronavirus cases, telling the public that even though vaccines are being rolled out quickly, a fourth surge could happen if people don't start taking precautions. (The Hill)

  • Separately, the CDC also extended a moratorium on evictions on Monday just before it was set to expire at the end of March. It will now end on June 30, the organization announced. (People)

  • Florida governor: We won’t be doing vaccine passports here. Also, no liability due to Covid for private businesses. (Orlando Sentinel)

  • Guatemala declared a 15-day state of emergency in swathes of the country to halt a caravan of Honduran migrants expected to depart toward the border between both countries on Tuesday, with the eventual aim of reaching the U.S. (Bloomberg)

  • The U.S. Department of Education says it will erase the federal student loan debts of tens of thousands of borrowers who can no longer work because they have significant disabilities. (MPR)

  • The Twitter account for USSTRATCOM, responsible for, “strategic deterrence, global strike, and operating the Defense Department's Global Information Grid,” posted a cryptic message: “;l;;gmlxzssaw.” Explanation, given in response to a reporter’s FOIA request: A “very young child,” who was apparently the son or daughter of whomever runs the Twitter account, who got ahold of the unattended computer. “Absolutely nothing nefarious occurred, i.e., no hacking of our Twitter account.” (DailyDot, Twitter)


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