June 17, 1972: CREEPs That Go Bump in the Night

It was the middle of the night in June 1972, and while much of the nation slept, something was burglarafoot at a large apartment complex in the Foggy Bottom area of Washington DC. A security guard noticed pieces of tape covering the latch on the locks on several doors, leaving the doors unlocked. He removed the tape, naively thinking nothing of it – the wind maybe?  (He evidently had never read a suspense novel.)  An hour later, he discovered that the locks had been retaped and realized that this was something more than just the wind. He called the police who discovered not just one but five intruders in the offices belonging to the Democratic National Committee.

     The five men were charged with attempted burglary and attempted interception of telephone and other communications. In September, a grand jury indicted them and two other men (E. Howard Hunt, Jr. and G. Gordon Liddy) for conspiracy, burglary, and violation of federal wiretapping laws.

     The men who broke into the office were tried and convicted in early 1973.  An investigation, tied all five men to CREEP. CREEP is the loving acronym applied to the 1972 Committee to Re-elect the President, the President being Richard Milhouse Nixon. Trial judge, John J. Sirica, (who evidently did read suspense novels) suspected a conspiracy involving people at the pinnacles of government.

     In March 1973, James McCord, one of the original gang of five claimed that he was told to plead guilty. He implicated Attorney General John Mitchell and other top Nixon aides, who began to topple like so many Republican dominoes, and the June 17 Watergate robbery quickly escalated into one of the juiciest political scandals of the century.  Although many have tried to top it, none have succeeded.  Until now, perhaps.

 

She fitted into my biggest arm-chair as if it had been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing arm-chairs tight about the hips that season ~ P. G. Wodehouse

May 22, 1856: Senators Will Be Senators

It all started in the Senate chamber in 1856 when Senator Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts Republican, addressed the Senate on the explosive issue of whether Kansas should be admitted to the Union as a slave state or a free state. Three days later on May 22 the “world’s greatest deliberative body” became a donnybrook fair.

In his speech entitled “Crime Against Kansas,” Sumner identified two Democratic senators caneas the principal culprits in this crime—Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina. In a little bit of overkill, Sumner called Douglas to his face a “noise-some, squat, and nameless animal . . . not a proper model for an American senator.”  Andrew Butler, who was not present at the time, received an even more elaborate characterization.  Mocking the South Carolina senator’s image as a chivalrous Southerner, the Massachusetts senator charged him with taking “a mistress . . . who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean,” added Sumner, “the harlot, Slavery.”

Representative Preston Brooks was a fellow South Carolinian to Butler. He read a certain amount of ridicule into the remarks, and he took great umbrage on Butler’s behalf.  In one of the Senate’s most dramatic moments ever, Brooks stormed into the chamber shortly after the Senate had adjourned for the day, where he found Sumner busily attaching his postal frank to copies of his “Crime Against Kansas” speech.

Brooks claimed that if he had believed Sumner to be a gentleman, he might have challenged him to a duel.  Instead, he chose a light cane of the type used to discipline unruly dogs. Moving quickly, Brooks slammed his metal-topped cane onto the unsuspecting Sumner’s head.   As Brooks struck again and again, Sumner rose and staggered helplessly about the chamber, futilely attempting to protect himself.  After a very long minute, it ended with Sumner lying unconscious. As Sumner was carried away, Brooks walked calmly out of the chamber without being detained by the stunned onlookers.  Overnight, both men became heroes in their home states.

Surviving a House censure resolution, Brooks resigned, was immediately reelected, and promptly died at age 37.  Sumner recovered slowly and returned to the Senate, where he remained for another 18 years. But the incident symbolized the breakdown of civility and reason in the capital and serves as a reminder to current legislators to always play nice with one another.

 

It had only one fault. It was kind of lousy. – James Thurber

April 14, 1999: The Future Will Be Better Tomorrow

Fireworks, rock music and chants of “Q2K” punctuated the April 14 announcement by former Vice President Dan Quayle that he was tossing his hat into the Republican ring for the 2000 presidential race. He offered himself as the antidote for “the dishonest decade of Bill Clinton and Al Gore.” He promised to restore integrity, responsibility and more malaprops to the White House.

And he came out swinging against television character Murphy Brown (even though she wasn’t running for anything). She and her ilk contribute to a “poverty of values,” he intoned. “A character who supposedly epitomizes today’s highly intelligent, highly paid, professional woman — mocking the importance of fathers, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another lifestyle choice.”

Quayle’s candidacy was greeted by a thunderous silence. He exited the race a few months later, after finishing eighth in the first Republican straw poll. Maybe too many folks were confused by that Q2K campaign slogan.

In any event, the world was cheated out of future Quayle gems such as these (although W. didn’t do such a bad job either):

If we don’t succeed we run the risk of failure.

Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.

A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls.

It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.

When I have been asked during these last weeks who caused the riots and the killing in L.A., my answer has been direct and simple: Who is to blame for the riots? The rioters are to blame. Who is to blame for the killings? The killers are to blame.

Bank failures are caused by depositors who don’t deposit enough money to cover losses due to mismanagement.

I deserve respect for the things I did not do.

I love California, I practically grew up in Phoenix.

The global importance of the Middle East is that it keeps the Far East and the Near East from encroaching on each other.

I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy – but that could change.

 

March 23, 1925: Making a Monkey Out of a Molehill

On this day in 1925 in the forward-looking State of Tennessee, it became a crime for a teacher in any public school or college to teach any theory that contradicted the Bible’s account of man’s creation. Wouldn’t you know it, within two months, a Dayton, Tennessee, high school science teacher and trouble-maker, John T. Scopes went right on ahead and taught his students that man descended from a lower order of animals, monkeys no less. This was, of course, the infamous theory of evolution.tumblr

Scopes was indicted, and later convicted, in what became known as the Monkey Trial. The trial, broadcast on radio, gained national attention, and brought together two of the biggest names in the nation, William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution and Clarence Darrow for the defense. Bryan chastised evolutionists for teaching children that humans were but one of precisely 35,000 species of mammals and that human beings were descended “not even from American monkeys, but from old world monkeys.” Darrow volunteered his services to the defense because he “realized there was no limit to the mischief that might be accomplished unless the country was aroused to the evil at hand.”

Scopes was fined $100, but the verdict was later overturned. Darrow called the case “the first of its kind since we stopped trying people for witchcraft.” This was almost a hundred years ago. Thank goodness we’ve gained a lot of insight since then.

 

The Game Show That Wouldn’t Die

Beat the Clock made its CBS debut on March 23, 1950, hosted by Bud Collyer. It ran until 1961. It rose from the dead in 1969 as The New Beat the Clock, running until 1974. It reappeared in 1979 as The All-New Beat the Clock, and later as All-New All-Star Beat the Clock.

To win, contestants had to “solve problems” within a certain time limit which was counted down on a madly-ticking giant clock. If they succeeded, they “beat the clock”; if they didn’t, “the clock beat them.”

 

Actress Lily Tomlin poses for a portrait at the Four Seasons Hotel on Friday, March 15, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

March 20, 1854: Deciders Unite

The Whigs didn’t last long as as political party. Formed in the 1830s out of annoyance with Andrew Jackson, they gave us four presidents — William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary republicanTaylor and Millard Fillmore, commonly known by their nickname, Who? (not to be confused with the rock group of the same name). As is the case with many political parties, they had disagreements over tents, finding themselves unable to deal with the concept of big ones, and eventually tore themselves asunder with internal disagreements.

The semi-official date of the party’s actual death was March 20, 1854. On that date, a number of don’t wanna-be Whigs met in Ripon, Wisconsin, and the result of that meeting was the birth of the Republican party. Six years later the Republicans elected their first president, Abraham Lincoln. The South promptly seceded and the Civil War followed. Though the party may have been born out of chaos (the Democrats quickly co-opted chaos as their own guiding principle), the Republicans dominated presidential politics until the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932.

Not surprisingly, a few people have made known their opinions of the party over the years:

Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a Republican. But I repeat myself.  — Harry S. Truman

There are two political truisms: Old people vote and Republicans eat their young. — Eddie Whitlock

Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child. — Dan Quayle

 

March 20, 1922

Born in 1922 in the Bronx, the son of immigrants from Romania and Austria, Carl Reiner is an actor, film director, producer, writer, and comedian. He has won twelve Emmy Awards and a Grammy Award during his long career.Carl_Reiner-1976

His career took off in 1950 when he joined Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, appearing on air in skits and working with writers such as Mel Brooks and Neil Simon.

In 1959, Reiner developed a television pilot based on his experience on the Caesar shows. However, the network didn’t like Reiner in the lead role so, in 1961, it was recast as the hit series The Dick Van Dyke Show, starring Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore. In addition to writing many of the episodes, Reiner occasionally joined the cast as Alan Brady, a temperamental television host. In 1960, on The Steve Allen Show, Reiner teamed with Mel Brooks as the straight man to Brooks’ 2000 Year Old Man character.

He has also appeared in many films including his starring role in The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.

Carl Reiner, Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca and Howie Morris in” The Clock,”  from the Caesar shows:

February 28, 1844: Love Story with Cannons

Cruising down the Potomac on a pleasant day in late winter could serve as the backdrop for romance, despite the fact that your vessel is not a gondola or a sailboat but a U.S. Navy steam frigate, and despite the fact that practically every dignitary in Washington is along for the ride.

uss-princeton-explosion-grangerOkay, not so romantic, but if you’re the President of the United States, recently widowed, and you’ve just proposed marriage to an enchanting 20-year-old, it may be the best you can do. And so it was, that President John Tyler (Tyler Too of Tippecanoe-And fame), was on board the USS Princeton on February 28, 1844, for a demonstration of a fancy new 27,000-pound cannon lovingly called the Peacemaker. Julia Gardiner, whose yes vote the President was seeking, was there with her sister and father David, a wealthy New Yorker. The co-designer of the cannon, John Ericsson, was on board; so was the Secretary of War, other cabinet members, congressmen, political and business dignitaries, reporters and other various hangers on. An intimate little gathering. One can imagine 400 breaths being held in anticipation of Julia’s answer.

But first we must fire that cannon. Designer Ericsson tried to persuade, pleaded with, the ship’s captain not to actually fire the weapon before such a crowd, fearing it had not been adequately tested. The captain, however, was having none of it; he had a big audience and a big gun, and he was going to have a big bang. The Peacemaker was fired, and it made a jolly big noise, much to the delight of the audience who cheered and applauded and yelled for more (perhaps this is how wars are started). Once more, the cannon was fired and once more the giddy observers whooped, then they all headed below for toasts and libations.

The Secretary of War (being the Secretary of War) was too enthused to settle for just two shots (of either kind). He insisted that the cannon be fired once more in the direction of Mount Vernon, as a tribute to George Washington. (At the same time, he was probably counting on hidden fingers — Adams, Jefferson, Madison . . .) The cannon was fired, and the third time was not a charm. Mount Vernon was left standing, but the cannon itself exploded into the worst peacetime disaster in the nation’s short history, killing several on board including a couple of cabinet members and the father of the would-be bride. While others counted the dead left by the explosion, oddsmakers recalculated the President’s chances of getting the desired answer out of Julia.

The ship docked, and in a brilliant display of presidential heroics, Tyler carried Julia off to safety. Her answer was delayed a bit, but it was an affirmative, and later that year, Julia became Mrs. Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.

 

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February 15, 1798: My Congressman Can Lick Your Congressman

Astute readers will remember that back on January 30, 1798, in the U.S. lyonduelHouse of Representatives, the gentleman from Vermont, Matthew Lyon, and the gentleman from Connecticut, Roger Griswold, had a bit of an altercation which involved the latter insulting the former and the former spitting on the latter. Far from letting bygones be, the two men evidently nursed their respective angers until they were bound to boil over again, which they did on the morning of February 15, 1798.

Pandemonium, it is fair to say, broke out when, without a word of warning, Representative Griswold stormed across the chambers to where Lyon sat preoccupied with correspondence of some sort. Cursing him as a “scoundrel,” Griswold pounded the Vermont Republican’s head and shoulders with a thick, hickory walking stick. A witness described the attack:

“I was suddenly, and unsuspectedly interrupted by the sound of a violent blow. I raised my head, and directly before me stood Mr. Griswold laying on blows with all his might upon Mr. Lyon, who seemed to be in the act of rising out of his seat. Lyon made an attempt to catch his cane, but failed — he pressed towards Griswold and endeavored to close with him, but Griswold fell back and continued his blows on the head, shoulder, and arms of Lyon who, protecting his head and face as well as he could, then turned and made for the fireplace and took up the fire tongs. Griswold dropped his stick and seized the tongs with one hand, and the collar of Lyon by the other, in which position they struggled for an instant when Griswold tripped Lyon and threw him on the floor and gave him one or two blows in the face.”

The combatants were separated, and Lyon retreated to the House water table; but Griswold approached him again, and Lyon lunged forward with the fire tongs and initiated a second brawl. As Representative Jonathan Mason commented, the central legislative body of the United States of America had been reduced to “an assembly of Gladiators.” A lesson, perhaps, for today’s legislators, although the House of Representatives has become a place of cooperation and reasoned debate where no harsh words, let alone blows, are ever exchanged.

 

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February 9, 1909: Den of Iniquity

Thanks to descriptions by authors such as Charles Dickens, Arthur Conanopium_den Doyle and Oscar Wilde, the opium den became a sinister staple of 19th century literature — an evil place where degenerates, mostly foreigners, mostly Chinese, lounged around on pillows, smoking their pipes, vacant eyes benumbed by clouds of opium fumes. The stories were far more fanciful than reality, but opium dens did exist and they soon drew the wrath of temperance advocates, missionaries and moral reformers.

In the United States, San Francisco, inspired by a wave of anti-Chinese sentiment, outlawed public opium dens in 1875, as did many other communities with Chinese populations. Smoking opium did, however, remain legal. Then in 1909, the U.S. Congress stepped in.

Never mind that only one in a thousand Americans smoked opium. The State Department determined that an initiative against opium smoking would be useful in opening the door to China, which resented British demands to allow opium trade following the two Opium Wars. An international commission instigated by the U.S. signed a treaty banning the opium trade. As a result, the State Department called on Congress to ban the import of opium for smoking favored by Chinese immigrants. And on February 9, 1909, Congress passed the Opium Exclusion Act, creating the first illegal drug in America and unleashing an army of government agents to chase down smugglers, bust dealers and raid dens. The 100-year War on Drugs had begun.

Smoking Bananas

carmenOn the same day, over in Portugal, nowhere near an opium den, Carmen Miranda was born, immigrating to Brazil as an infant.  Larger than life, but tiny in stature, she stood only 5’1” without her tower of bananas.  Nevertheless, she filled a stage with her Latin energy and machine gun delivery, melodic Brazilian bullets ricocheting everywhere.  She and her samba stormed the United States in 1939 – nightclubs, radio, movies – and by 1945 she was a superstar. In 1955, after filming an appearance on the Jimmy Durante television show, at 46 years of age, she died of a heart attack.

 

People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do. – Isaac Asimov

January 30, 1798: Was That a Yea or a Nay?

The US House of Representatives, known for its deliberative diligence, lyonduelgood comradeship, and decorous behavior, was not always thus. Take for instance the morning of January 30, 1798. Members had just concluded a vote on the impeachment of Tennessee Senator William Blount, and the House had recessed to tally the ballots. Members stood about chatting informally, waiting for the results. One member, Representative Matthew Lyon of Vermont was waxing passionate about another bill before the House. His discussion grew into a bit of a rant about the “malign influence of Connecticut politicians, whom he accused – rather loudly – of hypocrisy and corruption, claiming they “acted in opposition to the interests and opinions of nine-tenths of their constituents.” Nor did the gentleman from Vermont stop there. He charged them with seeking office out of greed for their own power and title, and stifling the opposition through a monopoly of the press. On a roll, he accused the Connecticut Federalists of brainwashing their constituents with opiates, finally punctuating his speech with the boast that were he to go into Connecticut and manage a newspaper there for six months, he could bring about a revolution, and turn the lot of them out of office.

Not surprisingly, given the volume of his oratory, he was heard by one of the very men he disparaged, one Representative Roger Griswold of Connecticut. Griswold fumed, then shouted back, asking Lyon if he would march into Connecticut wearing his wooden sword, a reference to Lyon’s temporary dishonorable discharge from the Continental Army. Lyon either did not hear Griswold’s comment or chose to ignore it. Griswold naturally felt duty-bound to repeat the question at closer range; he approached Lyon, placed his hand on his arm, and repeated the question. Lyon, insulted and embarrassed before his peers, responded as any gentleman would – he spit in Griswold’s face. Without a word, Griswold wiped away the spit and exited the chambers. The Committee of Privileges immediately drew up a formal resolution calling for the expulsion of Matthew Lyon for “a violent attack and gross indecency.”

Will Lyon be expelled? Will Griswold be avenged? Stay tuned.

 

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January 8. 1965: War of the Roses — and Marigolds

Illinois Republican Senator Everett Dirksen waged a perennial campaignmarigold on behalf of a symbol that was, he claimed, as American as the stars and stripes and the American eagle. His campaign began on a wintry January 8, 1965, when there were precious few of those symbols around. Nevertheless, he introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate to make the marigold the American National Flower.

The bill did not pass. Undeterred, he continued to press the case for his favorite flower, bringing up the subject whenever political discussions got too tense for his liking.

Known as the Wizard of Ooze for his oration, he spoke eloquently on behalf of the marigold:

”The marigold is a native of America and can in truth and in fact be called an American flower.

”It is national in character, for it grows and thrives in every one of the 50 states of this nation. It conquers the extremes of temperature. It well withstands the summer sun and the evening chill.

”Its robustness reflects the hardihood and character of the generations who pioneered and built this land into a great nation.

The marigold will continue to march ”through three of the four seasons – through spring, summer and autumn – until at long last the heavy frosts of early winter finally make it fold.”

Although his colleagues never honored him with a declaration of the marigold as national flower, his hometown of Pekin, Illinois did. Shortly after his death in 1969, the town began holding an annual Marigold Festival in his memory. (Pekin now calls itself the “Marigold Capital of the World.”.)

Alas, the campaign for the marigold came to an end during the Reagan administration when the rose was designated the national flower.

January 8, 1946

The kid, like most any kid of 11, wanted a rifle. And just like Ralphie, in A Christmas Story, his protective mother told him he’d shoot his eye out. In the popular film, Ralphie got his rifle in the end. Elvis didn’t.  His mother took him to the Tupelo Hardware Store and bought him a $6.95 guitar. The rest, as they say, is history.

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