SEPTEMBER 20, 1839: IT ISN’T RAINING RAIN, YOU KNOW

IT ISN’T RAINING RAIN, YOU KNOW

An English officer, living in Calcutta recorded an unusual phenomenon on September 20, 1839. As he was walking out of doors, it began to rain but it wasn’t raining just rain; it was raining fish. They were small,  just three inches in length, a size you’d throw back but there was no water anywhere nearby to throw them back into. Some fell on hard ground and were killed; others fell on soft grass and were unharmed (of course, they eventually died anyway). Shortly after this event, in a nearby village some 3,000 to 4,000 fish of a different species were found carpeting the ground.

Turns out such showers aren’t really that unusual, and it doesn’t have to be fish. It can rain all sorts of creatures with or without rain rain. According to the folks at Modern Farmer: “Over the years many different animals have reportedly fallen from the sky. Tadpoles over Japan; spiders over Brazil; frogs over Serbia, ancient Egypt and Kansas City; brown worms over Indiana; scarlet worms over Massachusetts; red worms over Sweden; snails over England; a shower of raw meat (thought to be venison or mutton) over Kentucky; blackbirds over Arkansas; eels over Alabama; snakes over Tennessee,” and bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover.

Sometimes the animals survive the fall. Witnesses of raining frogs have described the animals as startled (startled indeed!) and exhibiting rainingcats2normal behavior after the downpour (such as croaking, in both senses of the word).

There have been no reliable reports of an actual cat or dog rainfall — at least without the presence of prodigious amounts of alcohol. The origin of the phrase “raining cats and dogs” remains a mystery of etymology. In 1651, British poet Henry Vaughan referred to a roof that was secure against “dogs and cats rained in shower.” But we have no way of knowing whether he had actually witnessed such a shower. It is curious that he, being a poet, didn’t prefer a phrase such as “frogs and fishes rained in shower” with its superior alliteration.

 

The Only Thing We Have  To Fear Is — Oh My God!

Economists disagree on the major causes of the Panic of 1873. Inflation after the Civil War, speculative investments in railroads, a big trade deficit, property losses from major fires in Boston and Chicago, European economic woes. One economist was rumored to have blamed it all on a great storm of cats and dogs. In any event, on September 20 the New York Stock Exchange closed for the first time in its history and stayed closed for ten days. Panic ensued. Dead cats, dogs, frogs, fishes and investors covered Wall Street, triggering a depression that lasted for another six years.

Going Down: Alice in Donaldland Begins

Alice was growing sleepy, sitting next to her sister who was reading a book. “What’s the use of a book if it can’t get you online?” she muttered to herself. Just as she was beginning to drift off, a large White Rabbit ran by. This was rather remarkable in and of itself but even more so as the Rabbit pulled a watch out of its waist-coat pocket and said “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late. The Queen will tweetstorm me for sure.”

Now wide awake with curiosity, Alice jumped up and chased after the Rabbit, just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit hole. Alice went right down the hole herself, never giving it a thought, and found herself falling. Either the well was very deep or she was falling very slowly, for she had plenty of time to look around. The sides of the hole had become walls, and the walls were covered with pictures. Mostly they were grumpy looking old white men, but among them were many pictures of what seemed to be a Queen. She looked a lot like the grumpy old men except for the royal gown and the royal crown nestled in a strange outcropping of very orange hair. The Queen had big hands and, Alice imagined, a big — Alice didn’t finish the thought for she landed with a thud on the floor of an ornate room. It was an odd room with no windows or doors and above her just the blackness through which she had fallen. Then she spotted a single door that she hadn’t noticed before because it was so tiny, certainly too tiny for her to go through it.

The only furniture in the room was a single table. On the top of the table was a small bottle with a note attached that read: Drink me, if you want to become very small. She took a sip from the bottle and, finding it quite pleasant, finished it off. She waited for something to happen — and waited. Nothing. Finally, she picked up the bottle to see if she could get another drop out of it and saw the other side of the note: I lied. The only way to get small is to keep saying over and over that you are small. It’s like pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, except there are no boots or straps and it’s down rather than up.

Alice sat down in front of the little door and recited “I am small. I am small.” She repeated these words for the longest time until she saw that the little door was getting bigger and bigger. Or was she getting smaller? When the door looked like a normal-sized door she said loudly: “I really am small.”

A sign on the door read: Welcome to Donaldland, Home of Alternate Facts. She opened the door, stepped through and realized that everything on this side was as small as she was, so she felt like her normal size. “I think I’m going to like this place,” she said.

Next Monday: A Dodo in Name Only

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SEPTEMBER 3, 1993: INFINITE MONKEYS

INFINITE MONKEYS

In Stockholm, Sweden, the newspaper Expressen gave five stock analysts and a chimpanzee the equivalent of $1,250 each to make as much money as they could on the stock market in one month.

Mats Jonnerhag, publisher of the newsletter Bourse Insight, turned in a nice performance. His stock portfolio gained $130. Not good enough. The stock-picking chimp (who went by the name Ola) saw the value of his portfolio climb by $190 for an easy victory.

While the stock experts carefully assembled their portfolios using a variety of analytical tools, Ola put aside such things as price/earnings ratios, volatility measures and technical factors in favor of darts, which he tossed at the Stockholm Stock Exchange listings.

Naysayers will no doubt bring up the infinite monkey theorem: that an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters and an infinite amount of time could eventually write the works of Shakespeare. Or the lesser quoted corollary that seven monkeys with seven typewriters in seven weeks could write the Republican Party Platform.

In a reported real-life attempt to prove either of these theories, two chimpanzees and an orangutan were put in a room with three typewriters. By the end of just 24 hours, they had written “jid;lwer fivcjfdoske flfjwlsjfpos p3mzds[sk,43l;cv kdid,ewodkdjss;djelldsd kdjhdps ddodlsps psvvspap39djk3^jh& jfioermcjd,ud3$m kidelqqwerty” Even more amazing: They had used exactly 140 characters which they tweeted (using the orangutan’s twitter account). It went viral.

Getting a Buzz On

Parade-goers lined the streets of Flint, Michigan, on September 3, 1900, the first Labor Day of the new century to witness tbuzzhe debut of a new automobile, the first ever made in that city. It was not created by General Motors as practically every car to follow was. This car was designed and built by Charles Wisner, a county judge by day and an automotive visionary by weekends.

Wisner’s Buzz-Wagon, as his unusual vehicle was lovingly called, was the first of three he designed and built. None ever went into mass production. That was left for the Chevrolets and Buicks that would arrive later. The Chevrolets and Buicks would offer a smoother ride with a lot less noise, and in an unusual departure from the Buzz-Wagon, they would have brakes. The Buzz-Wagon, it seemed, required a sturdy immovable object such as a lamppost or a large building for it to bump into in order to stop.

Fortunately at the Flint Labor Day parade, the immovable object was unnecessary. Much to the amusement of several thousand spectators, the Buzz-Wagon stalled and had to be pushed out of the parade.

 

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AUGUST 25, 1913: WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY

WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY

Starting his career as an anonymous young storyboard artist for Walt Disney Productions on Donald Duck cartoons and other shorts, the cartoonist who would later be compared to everyone from Lewis Carroll and James Joyce to Aesop and Uncle Remus moved to the animation department in 1939. There, during the next five years he contributed to such Disney classics as Pinocchio (Gepetto in the whale), Fantasia (a drunk Bacchus riding a donkey), and Dumbo (the crow sequence).  Walt Kelly was doing pretty well at $100 a week.

During the 40s, Kelly devoted himself more and more to comic book art at Dell. The little possum with whom he is now most closely associated came on the scene in 1943 in Dell’s Animal Comics. Pogo would go on to star in 16 issues of his own comic book and 26 years as a syndicated newspaper comic strip.  Along with Pogo, there were  Albert the Alligator, Churchy LaFemme (a turtle), Howland Owl, Beauregard (Houndog), Porkypine, and Miz Mamzelle Hepzibah (a skunk).

Kelly’s liberal political and social views were rarely disguised as he used the strip to champion the powerless and the oppressed and to satirize political dogmas and figures such as Senator Joseph McCarthy (Simple J. Malarkey, a gun-toting bobcat), Vice President Spiro Agnew, and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Many newspapers dropped Pogo, and others moved it to the editorial page. Walt and Pogo were probably most remembered for their campaign on behalf of the environment and the battle cry: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Walt Kelly died in 1973.

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AUGUST 15, 1935: WILL POWER

WILL POWER

Cowboy, vaudeville performer, humorist, social commentator and motion picture actor, Will Rogers was one of the world’s best-known celebrities in the 1920s and 1930s and adored by the Will-Rogers-StampAmerican people. Known as “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son,” Rogers was born in 1879 to a prominent Cherokee Nation family in Indian Territory (now part of Oklahoma). During his amazing career, he traveled around the world three times, wrote more than 4,000 nationally-syndicated newspaper columns, and starred in 71 movies (a majority of them silent ) and several Broadway productions. He was the top-paid Hollywood movie star at the time, and in 1934, was voted the most popular male actor in Hollywood.

     As a radio broadcaster and political commentator, he was the leading political wit of the Progressive Era.  He called politics “the best show in the world” and described Congress as the “national joke factory.”

     Rogers died on August 15, 1935, with aviator Wiley Post, when their small airplane crashed in Alaska.

Never miss a good chance to shut up.

 

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There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.

 

We can’t all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.

 

When I die, I want to die like my grandfather who died peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming like all the passengers in his car.

 

Will-Rogers-Quotes-1

Ten men in our country could buy the whole world and ten million can’t buy enough to eat.

 

The best way to make a fire with two sticks is to make sure one of them is a match.

AUGUST 14, 1619: THOU SHALT NOT

THOU SHALT NOT

Those folks who think they have it pretty rough in Virginia these days should thank their reactionary stars things are not as they were back in 1619. The very first general assembly got together in Jamestown that year to pass laws that pretty much told everyone how they could and could not behave. The burgesses, as members of the assembly were called, were 30 old white men determined to dictate morality to everybody else, a tradition that hasn’t changed much over the years.

     Nor has the politics. The burgesses passed laws requiring all colonists to attend two religious services every Sunday and to bear arms (pieces, swords, powder and shot) while doing so – just in case religious fervor pushed someone over the edge.  Even those bearing arms were forbidden from gambling, drinking, idleness and “excesses in apparel,” (which probably didn’t mean too much clothing).  Not wishing to overlook any sin they hadn’t thought of, the burgesses also approved a stern enactment against immorality in general. In the eyes of the burgesses, one can imagine, that might cover a lot of territory (and the colonies had lots of territory). The planting of mulberry trees, grapes and hemp was also proscribed, for we all know that that seemingly innocuous flora is the first step on the road to degradation (spelled with a ‘d’ and that rhymes with ‘p’).

     The burgesses had only nice things to say about tobacco however. Colonists were urged to dedicate the times they were not in church to the growing of said crop. The colonists responded with enthusiasm, even to the point of growing tobacco in the streets of Jamestown – 20,000 pounds a year – despite His Royal Stick in the Mud King James calling it “dangerous to the lungs.”

“Adam was but human—this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple’s sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.” ― Mark Twain

JULY 27, 1793: OFF WITH THEIR HEADS

OFF WITH THEIR HEADS

On July 27, 1793, Maximilien Robespierre was elected to the Committee of Public Safety, whose function was to oversee the government of France and protect it against its enemies, foreign and domestic. Exactly one year later, he was removed from office. One day later, his head was removed.

During his year as committee member and president of the National Convention, he came to exercise virtual dictatorial control over the French government and proved himself a bit of a black hat. Faced with the threat of real or imagined civil war and foreign invasion, he inaugurated what was lovingly referred to as the Reign of Terror. He compiled himself a rather lengthy enemies list – some 300,000 suspected enemies made the list and were arrested. At least 10,000 died in prison. Robespierre proved himself mighty handy with a guillotine, executing 17,000 of them as “enemies of France”.

But just as he was getting the guillotine really smoking, the threat of a foreign invasion just up and disappeared, and those who still had their heads formed a coalition to oppose Robespierre and his followers.

And on July 27, 1794, Robespierre and his allies were placed under arrest by the National Assembly. When he received word that the National Convention had declared him an hors-la-loi, he shot himself in la tete but only succeeded in wounding his jaw. Nevertheless troops of the National Convention helped him finish the job the very next day – as French sages often say, live by the guillotine, die by the guillotine.

Fast forward a couple of centuries: Richard M. Nixon had himself an enemies list, though not nearly as long as Robespierre’s.  And his Saturday Night massacre pales by comparison. But on July 27, 1974, didn’t they vote to impeach him anyway. At least, there was no guillotine.

There is only one cure for grey hair. It was invented by a Frenchman. It is called the guillotine. − P.G. Wodehouse

JULY 14, 1789, 1973: BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO

BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO

Every écolier and écolière knows that the breakup of France – Révolution française – began in 1789, its defining moment the storming of the Bastille on the morning of July 14. 1789. This storming_the_bastille[1]medieval fortress in the center of Paris represented royal authority. That the Bastille housed only seven inmates – all with good reason to be there – was unimportant. It was a symbol of the abuses of the absolute monarchy, and the French had had it with monarchs, aristocrats, and pretty much anyone in power. Bring on liberté, égalité, fraternité.   King Louis XVI, exit stage right

 

Bye Bye Don

Another momentous breakup took place on the evening of the same day, nearly 200 years later, in 1973, at Knott’s Berry Farm in California (Knott’s Berry Farm was America’s first theme park and probably the only one devoted to grapes and strawberries and such things). Every schoolgirl and schoolboy knows that the Everly Brothers were one of America’s most successful pop duos, lending their sibling harmony to such hits as “Bye Bye Love”, “All I Have To Do is Dream” and “Wake Up Little Susie”, a franchise that would seemingly go on forever. Well, forever is a long time, and brothers Don and Phil had, by the end of the 1960s pretty much had it with liberté, égalité, fraternité and most definitely with each other.

The defining moment of their breakup came in the middle of their set when the stage manager told the audience that the rest of the show had been canceled because brother Don was “too emotional” to play.  In reality, Brother Don was too drunk to play. His skipped guitar notes and bungled lyrics sent brother Phil into a real snit. Phil smashed his guitar and stormed off stage into a solo career, promising he would “never get on stage with that man again.”

 

Phil and Don reached a sort of detente a decade later.  Louis XVI, on the other hand, was beheaded.

(Phil Everly died in January 2014).

I have no intention of sharing my authority. — King Louis XVI

Death Visits Aunt Agatha, Part 2: A Bargain Is Struck

Monty hated the thought of paying Bridget Berman seventy-five dollars a day to do practically nothing and eat his food in the bargain. What if Aunt Agatha held on for three or four days? No matter how bad she looked, she was a tough old bird. She could rack up a couple hundred dollars while he was in the city.

By the time Monty bit the bullet and finally contacted Bridget Berman, he had already devised a scheme to avoid paying the old hag more than what he considered appropriate remuneration for her services. Emphasizing how sick the old lady was, how she probably wouldn’t make it through the next 24 hours, Monty proposed a flat fee for Bridget’s sitting services. “Ninety dollars,” said Monty, “It’ll be like getting paid time and a half most likely.”

Bridget didn’t trust Monty at all; she assumed right off that he was trying to procure her services on the cheap. But if the old woman were really dying . . . Bridget also hated to pass up something extra for next to nothing. She expressed doubt about the arrangement. “But I will consider it. Mind you, just consider it. First I must see your aunt for myself.” Bridget had watched a good many people check out of this world and felt confident that she could reasonably judge the amount of time a person had left.

Later, as they stood at Aunt Agatha’s bedside, Bridget, after carefully studying the dying woman for several minutes, concluded that here lay one very sick woman and that she had better get an agreement quickly, before Aunt Agatha expired. “I don’t know,” said Bridget, “She doesn’t look all that bad to me. But I understand your situation, and I want to be as agreeable as I possibly can. One hundred and fifty dollars.”

Monty stood silently thinking. Aunt Agatha groaned.

“One twenty-five,” said Bridget.

“You’ll stay until she dies,” said Monty.

“Or until you return,” said Bridget.

“Agreed.”

Ten hours passed. Monty was in the city, Bridget sat bedside, and Aunt Agatha lay there still looking as though the next minute would be her last. Bridget sighed and dozed off. She awoke Saturday morning to find Aunt Agatha just as ill and just as alive as she had been the night before. For eight hours, Bridget stared at the bedridden woman just lying there, continuing to breathe without consideration for others, taking money from Bridget as though she were a common pickpocket.

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JULY 12, 1960: MR. POTATOHEAD WAS NOT AMUSED

MR. POTATOHEAD WAS NOT AMUSED

Two knobs in the lower corners on the front of a plastic cube-like structure, when rotated clockwise or counterclockwise, move a stylus that displaces a metallic powder on the back of a screen, leaving horizontal and vertical lineographic images – in layman’s terms, magic. In the Romneywords of the French inventor, L’ecran Magique. Or in the words of the marketers who made it one of the 100 most memorable and most creative toys of the 20th century, Etch-a-Sketch.

The mechanical drawing toy, which was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998, was first marketed on July 12, 1960, by the Ohio Art Company, timed perfectly to catch the big wave of the Baby Boom. In England, it was known as the DoodleMaster Magic Screen. (There was also the Magna Doodle and the Mystic Writing Pad.)

Although it remained popular throughout the fifty plus years of its existence, the Etch-A-Sketch reached a new notoriety in 2012, when it became a part of the demise of a presidential campaign. The simple plastic rectangular box may have contributed as much to the 2012 election – in influence –  as all the SuperPACs put together. It happened when candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign manager, asked if Romney was boxing himself into ultra-conservative opinions during the primary, answered: “I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch-A-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.”

Trying to contain the brouhaha, the Romney campaign only added to its woes by saying that since the mention of Etch-A-Sketch caused its maker’s stock price to triple, they would next mention Mr. Potatohead.

 

JULY 10, 1984: IN THE AFTERNOON HE HUGGED A TREE

To burnish his environmental creds, President Reagan visited the salt marshes and crabbing grounds of the Chesapeake Bay. There he claimed credit for cleanup efforts in the area, provoking a hue and cry among critics who found his environmental policies wanting.

In a bit of derring-do, the President climbed to the top of a 50-foot observation tower at the Bird_WatchingBlackwater National Wildlife Refuge and made eye contact with two wild bald eagles.

Lunching with a group of Republican Chesapeake Bay fishermen at a Tilghman Island fishing village, Reagan asserted that his efforts to protect the environment were ”one of the best-kept secrets” of his Administration, which indeed they were since no one had been able to find them. The grateful fishermen donated two bushels of crabs to his re-election campaign.

When a reporter asked the President where former EPA head Anne Burford who had resigned amid charges of mismanagement fit into his secret record, press secretary Larry Speakes ordered the lights turned off. Reagan, who was used to being in the dark was unfazed. “My guardian says I can’t talk,” he quipped. Thus, his environmental record remained a closely guarded secret.

Unfortunately for Scott Pruitt who just resigned  as EPA chief, Larry Speakes was not around to turn off the lights.  And Anne Burford’s image just climbed a notch or two (though not of her own doing).

JUNE 26, 1927: LOOK MA, NO HANDS

LOOK MA, NO HANDS

In 1927, thrill-seekers plunked down their quarters to take a ride on the Cyclone, a new attraction at Brooklyn’s Coney Island. Noting the success of the Thunderbolt in 1925 and the Tornado in 1926, Jack and Irving Rosenthal jumped into the roller coaster business to the tune of about $175,000, and the Cyclone was built.   It would take only 700,000 riders to recoup their investment. The Cyclone was built on the site of America’s first roller coaster, known as Switchback Railway, which had opened in 1884.

The Cyclone remained extremely popular through the years and has accumulated its share of legends. One is from 1948, when a coal miner with aphonia, the loss of speaking ability, took a ride. He had not spoken in years, but screamed as the Cyclone plummeted down the first drop, and said “I feel sick” as his train returned to the station, whereupon he fainted.

Statistics were never kept to tell us how many other people got sick on the Cyclone or how many threw up.  And of course there were more serious incidents. Two men were killed in separate incidents during the 1980s, both Darwin Award contenders who felt the need to stand up during the ride. One fell out and the other was whacked by a crossbeam.

The Cyclone began to deteriorate during the 1960s and was shut down in 1969. Two years later, the city of New York bought it for one million dollars. It was condemned a short time later and, in 1972, it was nearly destroyed to make way for an expansion of the New York Aquarium. A “Save the Cyclone” campaign did just that, and it was refurbished and reopened in 1975. The Cyclone was declared a city landmark in 1988 and a National Historic Landmark in 1991.

That quarter ticket now costs nine dollars.

 

TRUE CONFESSIONS: MY DARK DAYS AS A REPUBLICAN

I used to be a Republican.  There, it’s out in the open.  It was a long time ago, and I was too young to see the error of my ways.  At the time, our family was pretty much all Republican – not avid table thumping Republicans, but Republicans all the same.  Truman was a swear word, and we all liked Ike.  Ike was like a grandfather, and my grandmother loved him.

As long as I’m confessing, I might as well admit that I probably would have voted for Nixon over Kennedy.  Fortunately, I was not old enough to vote.  It was a couple of years later  in college that I began to change.  See, the conservatives are right.  Colleges take our respectable fresh-faced Republican youths and teach them unsavory liberal things like literature and philosophy and science.

Honest John

It happened to me, and I never saw it coming.  For a few days, I was just an independent.  But it’s a slippery slope indeed, and the leftward lurch was inevitable.  And by the time I graduated from the halls of propaganda, my mind had been molded into the liberal quagmire it is today.

In the space of time between my Republican innocence and my liberal decadence, I did my mandated military time.  Since I was a Republican and Republicans love guns, I naturally opted for service that dealt with guns.  I joined the artillery because they had big guns, guns they didn’t have to carry over their shoulders.

After my six mouths of basic gun toting, I became a typical weekend warrior spending some miserable hungover Sunday mornings doing my thing for my country.  And every summer I did my two weeks duty, even as I was fast becoming a liberal.   Being an artillery sort of guy, we got into big guns, really big guns during our summer mission.  This really big sucker of a gun we toted was called an Honest John, and I guess it was technically a rocket not a gun.  One summer we got to fire the thing.  Actually we didn’t get to pull a trigger or anything; we just stood around while it was fired.  It was a holy shit moment when that thing took off, like a launch at Cape Canaveral only lots faster.

During the rest of the two weeks, we got to tote the sucker around the woods of Washington, pretending we were in pitched battle with an unseen enemy (probably Mexican rapists and murderers).  For me, the high point of the exercise was the day we camouflaged Honest John so well we couldn’t find it for several hours.

Our Honest John rocket, hidden

Yes, you can see it happening: I was morphing into nasty liberalism, and liberals like nothing better than to hide guns from conservatives.   Sad but true.  I don’t really like guns any more, little or big, or rockets. As Johnny Cash sang:  “Don’t take your rockets to town son, leave your rockets at home, Bill.  Don’t take your rockets to town.”

Or perhaps as Waylon Jennings sang: “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be liberals.”