When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Tag archive: United States

Monkey Business

1906: On the afternoon of 16 November, Enrico Caruso was arrested in New York’s Central Park for “annoying” a female visitor to the monkey house.

Monkey business in the monkey house? Clearly, proclaimed the arresting officer. Certainly not, protested Caruso. Did the Italian opera star foist himself on the young lady? Was she the innocent victim of Caruso’s unwanted attentions? Unfortunate woman.

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Criminal Genius

1995: Justin Kruger and David Dunning illustrated their article “Unskilled and Unaware of It” with the example of McArthur Wheeler, who robbed two Pittsburgh banks in broad daylight with no obvious attempt at disguise. When arrested shortly afterwards, Wheeler expressed surprise that the lemon juice he had rubbed on his face had failed to make him invisible to surveillance cameras. Why lemon juice? Because lemon juice can be used as invisible ink, so, as any fool knows, rubbing it on the skin obviously makes one’s features invisible. In their article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Kruger and Dunning argued that, not only are the McArthur Wheelers of this world incompetent, but their incompetence means that they don’t realize they are incompetent.

Source: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, December 1999

Easy Peasy

1986: A year after CIA counterintelligence officer Aldrich Ames began betraying secrets to the Soviets, the American spy agency scheduled a lie detector test for him. Although it was only a routine test, it put the wind up Ames.

He got in contact with the KGB and asked them to suggest ways to foil the polygraph. Their advice: “Get a good night’s sleep, and rest, and go into the test rested and relaxed. Be nice to the polygraph examiner, develop a rapport, and be cooperative and try to maintain your calm.”

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Moscow Calling

U.S. President Ronald Reagan

1985: When his hearing aid started playing up during a White House briefing on the Soviet Union, President Ronald Reagan turned to intelligence official Robert Gates, smiled, and said, “My KGB handler must be trying to reach me.”

Source: Robert M. Gates, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War (1996), p. 344

Starvation Diet

Kurt Gödel, photographed as a student in Vienna in the 1920s

1978: Breakfast, for the mathematician Kurt Gödel, generally consisted of a single egg, one spoonful of tea, or possibly two, and sometimes a little milk or orange juice. For lunch, he usually ate string beans, but never any meat. In the last months of his life, Gödel’s obsessive fear of poisoning meant that he existed on navel oranges, white bread and soup – though he stopped buying soup when the grocery store put up the price by two cents. At the time of his death, from “malnutrition and inanition” resulting from a “personality disturbance”, Gödel’s weight had dropped to 30 kilograms.

Source: John W. Dawson, Jr., Logical Dilemmas: The Life and Work of Kurt Gödel (1997), pp. 248–53

“Beep And Bang”

1968: Besides the thousands of tons of bombs dropped from B-52 Stratofortresses on the Ho Chi Minh Trail (or the Truong Sơn trail, as it was known in Vietnam) to interrupt the movement of North Vietnamese personnel and supplies, the Americans turned to electronic gadgetry (“beep and bang” warfare) and a range of specially designed ordnance.

Toxic defoliants were sprayed on jungle vegetation. Aspirin-sized bombs were intended to burst tyres and to maim foot soldiers. A chemical agent was used to turn soil into grease. There was even a scheme to drop Budweiser beer (of which the North Vietnamese were supposedly very fond) so that drunkenness would impede their movements.

Source: Christopher Robbins, The Ravens: Pilots of the Secret War in Laos (1988), pp. 290–1

Diplomatic Incident

1962: Pakistani mullahs made dire threats against the American ambassador to India, J.K. Galbraith; the windows of the U.S. Consulate in Lahore were broken; a jeep carrying U.S. personnel was overturned. All because of the Galbraith family’s kitten, Ahmed.

The Galbraiths had acquired the kitten during a visit to the Indian state of Gujarat. The children had originally called it Ahmedabad, after its birthplace, but later shortened its name to Ahmed. That was a mistake. Ahmed is one of the many names of the prophet Muhammad, and Muslims consider it offensive to give the name to an animal. Hence the dire threats, broken windows and overturned jeep. The ambassador made soothing noises, which dampened indignation in Pakistan. Changing the kitten’s name to Gujarat also helped.

Source: John Kenneth Galbraith, Ambassador’s Journal: A Personal Account of the Kennedy Years (1969), after p. 586

Strange Bedfellows

Malcolm X, photographed by Ed Ford in 1964

1961: Politics sometimes makes for strange bedfellows. On 28 January, Malcolm X of the black nationalist Nation of Islam and representatives of the white fascist Ku Klux Klan held a clandestine meeting in Atlanta to discuss their shared aim of racial separation.

Source: Bruce Perry, Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America (1991), pp. 358, 503

Ladle Rat Rotten Hut

1956: “Wants pawn term,” in Howard Chace’s version of “Little Red Riding Hood”, there was a “ladle gull” who wore a “putty ladle rat cluck” with a “ladle rat hut”. One morning, the little girl’s mother sent her to her grandmother’s cottage “honor udder site offer florist”. On her way through the forest, “Ladle Rat Rotten Hut” met an enormous wolf and told him she was going to visit her “groin-murder”.

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Nuclear Wasteland

1951: Congressman Albert Gore suggested that the United States might deter any southward advance of communist ground forces in Korea by creating a nuclear no man’s land. Gore proposed that American forces “dehumanize” a belt of land across the peninsula by deliberately contaminating it with radioactive waste.

Source: Jacob Darwin Hamblin, Arming Mother Nature: The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism (2013), pp. 6, 48–9

“A Slogan Is Forever”

1948: A diamond engagement ring is an emblem of the enduring emotional bond between a man and a woman, an expression of their love, a shining symbol of their commitment to each other. If you believe all that claptrap, blame Frances Gerety: she was the Philadelphia advertising copywriter who dreamt up the slogan, “A diamond is forever.”

Source: Cele C. Otnes and Elizabeth H. Pleck, Cinderella Dreams: The Allure of the Lavish Wedding (2003), pp. 63–7

“Avon Calling”

1939: In the 1880s, David McConnell was a salesman in New York State, trudging from door to door, selling books. McConnell’s sales gimmick was a giveaway bottle of perfume. He soon found that his customers preferred his scent to his Shakespeare, so in 1886 he turned his back on literature and set up the California Perfume Company. In 1939, the company was renamed Avon, after the river that runs through Shakespeare’s hometown.

Source: Reader’s Digest Book of Facts (1985), p. 128

No-Show

1934: Alistair Cooke, who had recently begun work as a scriptwriter in Hollywood, married Ruth Emerson. The bridegroom was presumably on time for the ceremony; the bride, as tends to happen, was perhaps a little late; the best man failed to turn up at all. After waiting for an hour, Cooke got one of the guests to stand in. Who was the unreliable best man? Charlie Chaplin.

Source: Nick Clarke, Alistair Cooke: The Biography (2002), p. 114

Book Of The Month

1920: A best-seller from 1920: Theodore Lothrop Stoddard’s The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy, which would surely have featured in the Ku Klux Klan’s book-of-the-month club, if there had been one.

Source: Theodore Lothrop Stoddard, The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy (1920)

On Guard Against 9/11

1909: Ninety years before the 9/11 attacks in the United States, Russia’s political police were sufficiently perceptive to realize that aircraft might be used as terrorist weapons, and began to monitor the activities of aviators, would-be aviators and flying clubs.

Source: Charles A. Ruud, Fontanka 16: The Tsar’s Secret Police (1999), p. 70

Not Just For Eating

1907: In 1870, there were 30,000 orange trees in California; 20 years later, there were 1.1 million. At the start of the 20th century, Californian citrus growers ran the risk of producing more oranges than they could sell, and with recently planted trees set to begin bearing fruit, the problem was likely to worsen.

Growers faced a stark choice – reduce supply or increase demand. So, in 1907, the California Fruit Growers Exchange teamed up with Lord & Thomas advertising agency. The growers adopted the name Sunkist for their produce; the advertisers launched energetic sales campaigns and devised snappy slogans.

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Height Advantage

1996: An intriguing but ultimately meaningless statistic: “practically every president elected in the United States since 1900 was the taller of the two candidates”. Eighteen of the 25 presidential elections in the 20th century were won by the taller of the two main candidates and five by the shorter. In the other two elections, the main opponents were the same height.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Heights_of_presidents_and_presidential_
candidates_of_the_United_States

Nothin’ To It

1991: Louisiana’s executioner expressed nonchalance about operating the state’s electric chair: “It’s no different to me executing somebody and goin’ to the refrigerator and getting a beer out of it.”

Source: Wilbert Rideau, In the Place of Justice: A Story of Punishment and Deliverance (2011), p. 220

Williams Bows Out

Tennessee Williams, photographed in happier times by Orlando Fernandez

1983: The American playwright Tennessee Williams bemoaned the downward trajectory of his career “from good reviews, to bad reviews, to no reviews”.

On 25 February, his body was discovered in a New York hotel room, curled on the floor next to the bed. An alphabet of prescription drugs, from Aldomet to Zyloprim, lay on the chest of drawers; capsules of Seconal, a barbiturate, littered the bedclothes; a half-empty glass of red wine stood on the bedside table. Cause of death: the toxic amount of Seconal consumed and not, as some reports suggested, a medicine bottle cap stuck in the throat.

Source: John Lahr, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh (2014), pp. 582–8

“Lawn Chair Larry”

1982: Larry Walters had always wanted to be a pilot, and on 2 July he finally achieved his ambition.

The Los Angeles truck driver bought a bunch of weather balloons, inflated them with helium and tied them to an ordinary garden chair – what the Americans call a lawn chair. He then donned a parachute, strapped himself into the chair and instructed his ground crew to release the cords that tethered his home-made flying machine to the ground.

Walters had expected to rise gently into the sky and to float about at a modest altitude; instead, he zoomed upwards at an alarming speed and drifted into the airspace over Long Beach airport.

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Silver Lining

1981: The economic recession of 1981 to 1982 forced the closure of many steel mills and factories in Pittsburgh and throughout Pennsylvania. This produced a sharp reduction in air pollution. Measured in terms of total suspended particulates, or TSPs, pollution fell by a quarter between 1980 and 1982. The improved air quality led in turn to a decline in infant mortality caused by “internal” causes (respiratory and cardiopulmonary deaths, for example). While the number of births in Pennsylvania increased by roughly 3,000, the number of infant deaths actually decreased: from 1,815 in 1980 to 1,595 in 1982. So, each year, 220 infants lived who, if it hadn’t been for the recession, would have died.

Source: www.nber.org/papers/w7442.pdf

Out Of Step

1980: Each year, regularly, in December, the United Nations General Assembly voted to find “approaches and ways and means” to improve the “effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms”. Given its laudable aims, the resolution garnered overwhelming support: 120 nations voted for it, and one nation voted against, in 1980; 135 nations voted for, and one against, in 1981; 113 for, one against, in 1982; 132 for, one against, in 1983. Each year, regularly, the lone country opposed to the resolution was the United States of America.

Source: www.un.org/en/ga/search/
view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/35/174

Global Cooling

1975: “There are ominous signs that the earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production,” warned a science story in Newsweek. “The evidence in support of these predictions has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it.” What evidence? A shorter growing season in Britain, drought near the equator, lots of tornadoes in the United States. “The central fact is that after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the earth’s climate seems to be cooling down.”

Source: Newsweek, 28 April 1975

V For Victory

Richard Nixon signals V for victory as he leaves the White House, photographed by Ollie Atkins

1974: Faced with impeachment over the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon resigned the presidency of the United States. Even in utter disgrace, Nixon managed a final act of bravado. As he climbed aboard the helicopter that would whisk him away from the White House, he lifted both arms and stuck out his fingers in a V sign – V for victory.

Source: Stephen E. Ambrose, Nixon: Ruin and Recovery 1973–1990 (1991), p. 445