June 14, 1287: Prose and Khans

In 1287, Kublai Khan, on a bit of a tear through Asia, defeated the forces led by princes of Mongolia and Manchuria. Kublai was a grandson of Genghis, another Khan known for being rather hard to get along with. Like his grandfather, Kublai was a holy terror right from infancy when he frequently seized power from fellow toddlers. Eventually, Kublai pushed the Mongol Empire to new heights, creating a unified, militarily powerful China and gaining international attention in the process.

Marco Polo, in the accounts of his travels, made Kublai well-known to western audiences, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge added a romantic aura in the early 19th century with his description of Kublai (Kubla to Coleridge) Khan’s summer cottage at Xanadu:

     In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

     A stately pleasure-dome decree:

     Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

     Through caverns measureless to man

     Down to a sunless sea.

     When the sacred river Alph plunged into that sunless sea it naturally created a great waterfall. In the rush of this waterfall, the voices of Kubla’s ancestors could be heard — that strident, discordant one being Genghis.

 

It turns out that, at social gatherings, as a source of entertainment, conviviality, and good fun, I rank somewhere between a sprig of parsley and a single ice-skate. ~ Dorothy Parker

June 13, 1231: Listen Up, Little Fishes

anthonySt. Anthony of Padua was a medieval saint who gained great fame in Italy for his zealous rooting out of heretics.  As a preaching friar he might be heard to shout: “There are 27 known heretics in the State Department.” But he didn’t just discover heretics; he employed miracles to cure them of their heresy. Most of these miracles involved the use of animals, for he seemed to get along quite well with critters.

     On one occasion, having discovered a person harboring heretical opinions,  Friar Anthony, to convince the heretic of his errant ways, caused the fishes in a nearby lake to lift up their heads and listen to him.  Now unlike Doctor Doolittle who talked to the animals, Friar Anthony preached to them.  And he preached one fine sermon to those attentive fishes.  And when those fishes all shouted “Amen!” at the conclusion of the sermon, that heretic was converted and stayed converted.

Another day,  another heretic (there was no shortage of heretics – still isn’t), Anthony caused the man’s mule, after three days of no food, to kneel down and pray instead of rushing to eat a bundle of hay that was set before it.  Another conversion.

     St. Anthony was also known as a protector of animals (although starving a mule for three days might be considered counter-intuitive) particularly of pigs. A contemporary described him as the universally accepted patron of hogs, frequently having a pig for a companion – possibly because, as a hermit living in a hole in the earth and eating roots, he and the hogs had in common both their diet and their lodging.

     What with his lifestyle and zealousness, he cut short his days, departing on June 13, 1231, at the age of 35, leaving pigs and heretics alike to their own devices.

I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals. ― Winston Churchill

June 12, 1349: If You Outlaw Bows and Arrows . . .

In a letter dated June 12, 1349, England’s King Edward III wrote how the people of his realm, archboth rich and poor, had in previous times exercised their skill at shooting arrows and how that practice had brought honor and profit to the kingdom. But, he continued, that skill had been laid aside in favor of other pursuits. Therefore he commanded sheriffs throughout the realm to proclaim that every able citizen in their leisure time use their bows and arrows, and learn and exercise the art of archery.   And furthermore, they should not in “any manner apply themselves to the throwing of stones, wood, or iron, handball, football, bandyball, cambuck, or cockfighting”  or any other such trivial pursuits (that includes golf).

A hundred years later, Edward IV continued the tradition, decreeing that all Englishmen, other than clergymen or judges, should own  bows their own height, keeping them always ready for use and providing practice for  sons age seven or older. Fines were levied for failing to shoot every Sunday.

Sir Wayne of LaPierre complained that the law did not go far enough, that it lacked a provision that citizens should carry concealed bows and arrows and quivers with more than a ten-arrow capacity.  And a ban on background checks for potential archers, of course.

– – –

I got to dress up in funny clothes and run around New Zealand with a bow and arrow for 18 months, how bad could that be? Orlando Bloom on Lord of the Rings

June 11, 1933: Werewolf? There Wolf.

Actor, comedian, director, screenwriter, author and activist Gene Wilder was born on June 11, 1933.  After his first film role playing a hostage in Bonnie and Clyde, he went on to star in such memorable films as Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, The Producers, Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles.

 

wilderInvention, my dear friends, is 93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation, and 2% butterscotch ripple.” — Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

 

“The clue obviously lies in the word “cheddar.” Let’s see now. Seven letters. Rearranged, they come to, let me see: “Rachedd.” “Dechdar.” “Drechad.” “Chaderd” – hello, chaderd! Unless I’m very much mistaken, chaderd is the Egyptian word meaning “to eat fat.” Now we’re getting somewhere!” Sigerson Holmes in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother

 

“You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. They’re people of the land. The common clay of the New West. You know – morons.”The Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles

 

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“This is a nice boy. This is a good boy. This is a mother’s angel. And I want the world to know once and for all, and without any shame, that we love him. I’m going to teach you. I’m going to show you how to walk, how to speak, how to move, how to think. Together, you and I are going to make the greatest single contribution to science since the creation of fire.” – Dr. Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein

 

wilder2

I’m in pain and I’m wet and I’m still hysterical! – Leo Bloom in The Producers

June 10, 2000: All Together Now, Step to the Right

An air of excitement certainly gripped London on June 10, 2000, as 90,000 people queued up to cross the first new bridge to span the Thames River in over a hundred years, a bridge for pedestrians only, stretching from the Globe Theatre to St. Paul’s Cathedral, aptly named the London Millennium Footbridge. It didn’t take long for the bridge to become more known by its nickname, the Wobbly Bridge.
     Seems the designers had not given enough attention to a phenomenon with the catchy title, synchronous lateral excitation. Even if you’ve never heard of it, it doesn’t sound like anything you’d want to be on a bridge with.
     People, according to engineers, sway when they walk. People walking and swaying cause sideways oscillations in lightweight bridges. These, in turn, cause the people (some two thousand on the bridge at any given time) to sway even more to keep from falling over. And they all sway at the same time. It’s as if two thousand Londoners were doing the tango above the Thames. Result? Wobbly.
     Access to the bridge was limited later in the day, and on June 12 the bridge closed for modifications It reopened in 2002 (with tango forbidden). It was again closed in 2007 because of strong winds and a worry that pedestrians foolish enough to cross might be blown off the bridge.
     The footbridge was not the only British millennial faux pas: a little number called the Millennium Dome elicited this derision from MP Bob Marshall-Andrews: “At worst it is a millennial metaphor for the twentieth century. An age in which all things, like the Dome itself, became disposable. A century in which forest and cities, marriages, animal species, races, religions and even the Earth itself, became ephemeral. What more cynical monument can there be for this totalitarian cocksure fragile age than a vast temporary plastic bowl, erected from the aggregate contribution of the poor through the National Lottery. Despite the spin, it remains a massive pantheon to the human ego . . .”

 

 

 

June 9, 1909: Driving Ms. Ramsey

In 1909, a diminutive 22-year-old housewife from Hackensack, New Jersey, hopped into her dark green, four-cylinder, 30-horsepower Maxwell touring car and headed west. Alice Huyler Ramsey and her companions, two older sisters-in-law and a 16-year-old friend, were beginning a 59-day, 3,600-mile transcontinental odyssey that would end on August 9 in San Francisco, California.

It was an easy journey. After all, 152 miles of the roads were paved. The trip required only 11 tire changes, some new spark plugs and a brake pedal replacement. Most nights they were able to sleep in beds, although on one occasion in Wyoming they shared them with bedbugs.

And they had maps covering part of the journey, although for a good portion of the route they relied on printed guides giving directions using local landmarks that weren’t always that up-to-date.  In one case, they were supposed to make a turn at a yellow house and barn, but it seems the owner, not an automobile enthusiast, had repainted them green.

In Ohio, they reached the breakneck speed of 42 miles per hour.  But in Iowa, they encountered mud and flooded out roads. In Nebraska, a manhunt for a killer. And in Nevada a group of heavily armed Indians, who fortunately were not on the warpath but hunting.

But in the end, Ramsey and her friends arrived to cheering crowds in San Francisco and drove into history, the first woman to drive coast to coast. She was named the “Woman Motorist of the Century” by AAA in 1960.  She repeated the trip another 30 times — in shorter periods of time — before her death on September 10, 1983 at the age of 96.

The buffalo isn’t as dangerous as everyone makes him out to be. Statistics prove that in the United States more Americans are killed in automobile accidents than are killed by buffalo.
Art Buchwald

June 8, 1988: The Eyes of Japan Are Upon You

Japanese carrier All-Nippon Airways announced in 1988 that painting eyeballs on its jets cut bird collisions by 20 percent. The menacing-looking eyes painted on the engine intakes of its jet aircraft frightened away the birds, preventing them from throwing themselves at the plane during takeoff.

This conclusion was drawn after a controlled experiment in which the Japanese domestic

Another misstep: passengers in the rear compartment complained about congestion and lousy meals, passengers up front (ten to a wing) were annoyed by collisions with birds
Another misstep: passengers in the rear compartment complained about congestion and lousy meals, passengers up front (ten to a wing) were annoyed by collisions with birds

airline painted the evil eyes on 26 of its Boeing 747’s and 767’s, leaving the rest of its fleet eyeless. After a year, an average of only one bird had hit each of the eyeballed engines while nine birds struck each unpainted engine.

The airline estimated that the reduction in bird strikes during the testing period reduced the damage to its aircraft from $910,000 to $720,000. Consequently, All-Nippon said it would paint eyes on all its large-body aircraft.

Continuing its program of thinking outside the fuselage to reduce costs, the company in 2009 planned to ask all passengers to use restrooms before boarding. During a four-week test, agents at the gates suggested that passengers use terminal restrooms to relieve themselves before getting on the plane. All-Nippon’s bathroom experiment was a way to cut fuel consumption, thereby resulting in decreased carbon emissions and lower costs. Travelers, however, did not warm up to the plan, finding it embarrassing and offensive. The plan went the way of the eyeballs. Oh yeah, the eyeballs were removed from planes in 2000 because – well, the company didn’t say why – just eye strain, perhaps.

My fear of flying starts as soon as I buckle myself in and then the guy up front mumbles a few unintelligible words then before I know it I’m thrust into the back of my seat by acceleration that seems way too fast and the rest of the trip is an endless nightmare of turbulence, of near misses. And then the cabbie drops me off at the airport. — Dennis Miller

 

Man is flying too fast for a world that is round. Soon he will catch up with himself in a great rear end collision.James Thurber

June 7, 1827: Bees in Their Bonnets

640239 Insect Bumble BeeLocal newspapers reported an amazing altercation in the village of Cargo in Cumberland, England, in 1827, a battle really (or a battle royal), between two opposing hordes – of bees. The home bees, it seems, were happily hived in the village, going about their bee business when, on June 7, a swarm from a neighboring village flew over the garden in which the first hive was situated. Without warning or so much as a by-your-leave, the interlopers darted down upon the hive and completely covered it, then began to enter the hive, pouring into it in such numbers that it soon became as crowded as happy hour at the local pub.

     Then the terrible struggle began. With ear-splitting humming, two armies of combatants rushed forth, besiegers and besieged alike spilling out of the beleaguered hive into the open air. The bee-on-bee battle raged with such fury that the ground below was soon strewn with corpses. Not until the visiting swarm was vanquished and driven away did the battle end. The victors resumed possession of the hive.

The local chronicle did not attempt to explain the motivations involved, but naturalists, adding a scientific perspective, suggested that sometimes bees fight.

 

I pressed down the mental accelerator. The old lemon throbbed fiercely. I got an idea. ― P.G. Wodehouse

June 6, 1971: The Shew Must Go On

Ed Sullivan was to the golden age of television what Google is to searching.  He ruled Sunday night TV for 23 years – from 1948 to his very last broadcast on this day in 1971. Sullivan presented acts from the era’s biggest stars to acrobats, dancing bears, puppets, contortionists, you name it.  Ten thousand in all – if they were entertainers, an appearance on the Sullivan show was their holy grail.

Musical performances from rock to opera were a staple of the program. Even its first broadcast, when it was known as Toast of the Town, made music history as Broadway composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II previewed the score of their upcoming musical, South Pacific. And after that, West Side Story, Cabaret, Man of La Mancha – if it was on Broadway, it was on Sullivan. One of those Broadway musicals, Bye Bye Birdie, was all about making it on the Sullivan show.

Sullivan also chronicled the history of rock and roll from Elvis Presley’s appearance in 1956 through the Supremes, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Doors, the Mamas and the Papas, and on June 6, 1971, the last program, Gladys Knight and the Pips.

When CBS canceled the show, the network let it end with a whimper.  But in the 33 years since cancellation, numerous tribute shows and DVDs have kept Sullivan in the public eye.

dday-620x488Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. — General Dwight D. Eisenhower, June 6, 1944

June 5, 1850, 1878, 1895: Thrice Upon a Time in the West

When the sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico, resigned in 1880, the county appointed Pat Garrett, a former bartender known as something of a gunman to replace him.  Garrett was immediately given the task of apprehending a friend from his saloon keeping days, jail escapee Henry McCarty, aka Henry Antrim, aka William Harrison Bonney, but more widely known as Billy the Kid.

The Kid had supposedly killed 21 men, one for every year of his life, but no one could actually name more than nine.

Later that year, Garrett captured the Kid and his companions at the posh New Mexico spa, Stinking Springs, but the Kid escaped from the Lincoln County Jail, killing his two guards. Garrett learned that the Kid was hiding out at the house of a mutual friend, Pete Maxwell. Late one night, Garrett went to Maxwell’s house while the Kid was sleeping.  Accounts differ as to what happened next. Either the Kid woke up and entered Maxwell’s bedroom, where Garrett, standing in the shadows, shot him as he asked “Who is it?” (“It is I” or even “It’s me,” being the more gentlemanly response). Or Garrett went into Maxwell’s wife’s room and tied her up, and when the Kid walked into her room (for what purpose, we can only guess), Garrett blasted him with a single rifle shot. Either account pretty much tarnished Garrett’s reputation as a straight shooter.

Conspiracy theorists maintain that Billy the Kid was not killed at all and that Garrett staged it all so the Kid could escape. They also insist that Garrett was born (on June 5, 1850) in Kenya.

At about the same time (1878, to be exact) Pancho Villa was born on this same day a bit farther south in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. During the early 20th century, he pretty much ran the state.  He and his supporters played Robin Hood, seizing haciendas and land for distribution to peasants and soldiers. They robbed and commandeered trains, and printed their own money to pay for the 1910-20 revolution.

After Villa’s rather infamous incursion into New Mexico in 1916, U.S. Army General John J. Pershing pursued Villa for nine months unsuccessfully (probably because he refused to ambush him in a lady’s bedroom) before turning his attention to World War I. Villa retired in 1920 on a large estate where he could have spent a gracious hero’s retirement, sipping Margaritas in comfort, had he not decided to get back into politics, whereupon he was assassinated.

A few years later, back in the US, William Boyd (born June 5, 1895), was making a name for himself as a straight shooting, white-hatted good guy, that name being Hopalong Cassidy.  Hoppy, as his friends called him, eschewed the role of  a hard-drinking, rough-living wrangler, opting instead to be the very model of a cowboy hero, one who did not smoke, drink or swear and who always let the bad guy strike the first blow (and never ever ambushed a bad guy in a lady’s bedroom).

Conspiracy theorists maintain that Boyd was not a real cowboy, that Hoppy was a fictional character. They point to the 66 Hopalong Cassidy films and the memorabilia such as watches, comic books, dishes, Topps trading cards, and cowboy outfits as proof.  Next they’ll say he was born in Kenya.

“There’s always a man faster on the draw than you are, and the more you use a gun, the sooner you’re gonna run into that man.” — Gunfight at the O.K. Corral