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September 19th, 2008 fri.
September 19th, 2008

Question: Why does every U.S. Congressional session begin with a benediction?

Yesterday’s Question Answered Below: In Ben Hur movies, What does SPQR mean?
History for 9/19/2008
Birthdays: Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius, Salladin, Hungarian nationalist Leopold Kossuth, Brian Epstein, "Momma" Cass Elliot, Frank Tashlin, Dr. Ferry Porsche- inventor of the Porsche race car, Twiggy– real name Leslie Hornby, William Golding author of The Lord of the Flies, Paul Williams, Adam West is 80, Frances Farmer, David McCallum, Duke Snyder, James Lipton, Jeremy Irons is 60, Jimmy Fallon is 34.

1356-BATTLE OF POITIERS- In the Hundred Years War Edward the "Black Prince" destroyed the French army and captured the French King and Dauphin. French King John II "The Good" was held for ransom in the Tower of London. Once there he found he could have all the benefits of Kingship without any of the stress, so he partied hardy. Even when the Dauphin Charles V got his freedom and started to organize a heroic resistance to the English invasion, John the Good ignored his sons pleas to escape. Some apologist historians say John sacrificed his freedom for the French Nation. Other scholars like Henri Guizot and found the budgets this hostage spent on dwarves, feasts, mistresses and hunting dogs "disgraceful".

1493- Pope Alexander VI had never made it a secret that he had a growing family of children. He wanted to make his son Caesar Borgia a Cardinal at 26 and his daughter Lucretzia a duchess but first there was the problem that they were illegitimate. Well, that’s no problem for the Vicar of Christ! This day he declared them legitimate offspring, of his cousin. Everyone winked at the twisted logic and went along with it.

1580- The family of Miguel de Cervantes ransomed the writer from the Barbary Pirates. He wrote Don Quixote de la Mancha in 1604.

1692- One of the only men convicted in the Salem Witch Trials was executed. Pilgrim Giles Corey had a wooden board laid on top of him and his neighbors piled large stones on top until he was squished to death. At one point his tongue was sticking so grotesquely out of his head that the magistrate pushed it back in with the tip of his cane.

1741- When the Austrian emperor died leaving only a daughter Maria Theresa as heir, the surrounding powers like Prussia and France moved in to carve up her territory, the War of Austrian Succession. Many lascivious jokes and cartoons were made of the symbolic ravishing of the young woman monarch. But Maria Theresa was made of tougher stuff. On this day she went to her Hungarian parliament and in a dramatic piece of political theater holds her infant son aloft and calls for the defense of her family and the Homeland. The Hungarian noblemen go wild and hundreds of drawn swords wave in the air. The people rise en-masse and push out the invaders. Maria Theresa reigns as one of the strongest leaders of the XVIII century.

1777-First Battle of Saratoga, also called Freeman’s Farm- Gen. Johnny Burgoyne's British invasion down the Hudson was stopped. Burgoyne’s plan was to cut the rebel colonies in two with his thrust down from Canada being met from the South by Lord Howe coming up from New York City and another force east from Oswego. But Lord Howe disregarded the plan in favor of another shot at George Washington and Philadelphia. Back in London Lord Charles Germain neglected to write out the necessary orders for Howe to support Burgoyne because he was late to go on his Easter holiday and couldn’t be bothered. And the Oswego force was stopped by colonials using a lunatic hermit named Ute Schuyler who spooked the British allied Indians into deserting. Eastern Indians thought the mentally ill were possessed by Hipi-Manitou spirits and so were bad luck. The net result was Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne's army was alone in the forest, far from supplies and slowly being surrounded by the Americans.

1783- Jacques Montgolfier launches the first hot air balloon in Paris. The first aeronauts were a sheep, duck and rooster. Montgolfier made his fortune in paper. To this day if you get some high quality stationary with a balloon and French flag in the watermark that is Papier Canson et Montgolfier, his company.

1796-President George Washington’s farewell address was first published in Claypools American Daily Advertiser, then reprinted in other papers throughout the country. Washington warned to “avoid entangling foreign alliances and asked for national unity above partisan politics. But party politics had firmly taken root. One opposition paper called Washington’s speech “the last loathings of a sick mind..”

1819- On a beautiful English autumn day poet John Keats was moved to write his Ode to Autumn.

1827- Fight at the Vidalia Sandbar- Famous Mississippi gamblers brawl in which Jim Bowie uses his famous knife to carve up a gang of sore losers who shoot him twice. The Bowie knife may not have been designed by Jim Bowie but by his brother Rezin Bowie, who wanted an intimidating toothpick to brandish after he almost died in an earlier altercation. The Bowie knife was the Saturday night special of the early nineteenth century. In Brahm Stoker's Dracula, Van Helsing doesn't kill the count with a wooden stake but with a Bowie knife.

1876- Melvin Bissell of Grand Rapids Michigan invented his carpet sweeper.

1881- PRESIDENT JAMES GARFIELD DIED- Garfield was shot in the back at Washington rail station by Charles Guiteau on July 2nd.The President lingered these many weeks in agony before finally dying. Garfield might have lived had it not been for all the doctors poking around in his wound without antiseptic conditions. Even inventor Alexander Graham Bell was invited to search for the bullet with a new invented metal detector. James Garfield died of blood poisoning and infection. Interestingly enough, for the two and a half months the President was out of action and Congress was not called into session, yet the U.S.A. ran just fine.

1898- THE RACE TO FASHODA- It is difficult to imagine that the First World War might have begun as Britain vs. France instead of Germany. Since 1832 France and Britain had been competing to see who could build a bigger colonial empire and grab more of the Third World. This "scramble for Africa" reached it's climax with an outrageous race to Fashoda, a small mud fort in the center of Africa. It was critical to Britain's claim to the whole Nile and land lengthwise down from Egypt to Capetown, as well as critical to France's claim widthwise from Atlantic Senegal to East coast Ethiopia. On this day at Fashoda the race climaxed with the French commander Captain Marchand chesthair to chesthair with the British commander General Kitchener, exchanging champagne toasts while cordially threatening to annihilate each other. Both Paris and London threatened war. The French Army, exhausted by the Dreyfus scandal and lack of public support backed down by November. The British offered a compromise to evacuate Egypt as soon as the political situation settled down. They finally left Egypt in 1956. As for the Africans ? No one much cared what they thought. The Dinka people of southern Sudan referred to this period as: "The time the world was spoilt."

1926- THE BIG ONE- Miami Florida was destroyed by a huge Hurricane. The storm stopped a real estate boom in South Florida. SnowBirds up north invested millions in land that turned out to be under water. The Marx Brothers poked fun at the craze in their 1929 film Cocoanuts. As Groucho said:” Florida Folks. Sunshine, Sunshine , now let’s get the auction started before there is a tornado.”

1931- The Marx Brothers comedy “ Monkey Business” premiered.

1936- Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald record “Indian Love Call”. When I’m Calling You, Oooh-ohhoohhh, Ohhhh-ohhh-oohhhhhhh”, etc.

1939- Geli Raubel, Adolf Hitler’s 23 year old niece was found dead with a gunshot wound in the head. Hitler had a passion for his niece that she did not return. It remains a mystery whether she killed herself or was shot and made to look like a suicide. Even though Eva Braun worshipped him years later Adolf admitted Geli was the only woman he ever really loved.

1945- Little Shirley Temple, now all grown up, married actor John Agar, who she met on the set of John Ford's film Fort Apache. The RKO studio turned the marriage into a media circus by inviting 12,000 people. John Ford teased Agar mercilessly, calling him Mr. Temple. John and Shirley divorced within two years. Shirley Temple did a few more small roles, remarried and became a diplomat and John Agar went on to star in a number of sci-fi flicks like 'Tarantula", The Brain from Planet Aurous" and built his own theme dinosaur park by an Arkansas freeway "John Agar's House of Kong'.

1945- Klaus Fuchs, a spy in the British delegation member of the Los Alamos Atomic bomb program, delivered the plans of the plutonium 'Nagasaki" bomb to a courier for Soviet intelligence in Moscow. Just a week ago, one of the ring admitted before he died, that Julius Rosenberg was the go between.

1955- Juan Peron the President of Argentina was overthrown in a military coup.

1961- This is the night Betty and Barney Hill claimed they were picked up by a flying saucer and experimented on. It is one of the more famous abduction stories because it holds up under hypnosis. Hey, what are you planning to do with that anal probe?

1970- The Mary Tyler Moore TV Show premiered.

1985- Mexico City devastated by a large earthquake 8.1 on the Richter scale. The next day the city was rocked again by a 7.5 earthquake. 10,000 people died. Curiously enough 80% of the cities ancient landmarks were undamaged, only modern buildings collapsed. People camped out in Aztec ruins, figuring they’ve stood for centuries and would stand now.

1995- Orville Reddenbacher 'the Popcorn king' died.

2004- Chinese leader Zhang Zhsi Minh resigned his last offices to his successor Hu Zhin Tao. It marks the first peaceful regular transition of power in China since the People’s Republic was declared in 1949.
Yesterday’s Question: In Ben Hur movies, What does SPQR mean?

Answer: Senatus Populsque Romanum- The Senate and the People of Rome. It was inscribed on buildings and carried on the standards of the legions. Today you can see it stamped on Rome’s mailboxes, litter baskets and manhole covers.