Double Jeopardy

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On Jan. 30, 1835, as Andrew Jackson was departing a U.S. representative’s funeral service at the Capitol, troubled English house painter Richard Lawrence confronted him, drew a pistol from his pocket, pointed it at Jackson’s heart, and pulled the trigger.

“The explosion of the cap was so loud that many persons thought the pistol had fired,” said Sen. Thomas Benton, who heard it from the foot of the steps. It hadn’t — only the cap had exploded.

Realizing the misfire, Lawrence dropped the pistol and drew another of the same make and design from his pocket. He cocked it, aimed it at Jackson’s heart, and pulled the trigger. A second shot reverberated through the rotunda, but again only the cap had exploded. The crowd subdued Lawrence, who was later found to be insane.

The sergeant-at-arms at the Capitol recovered both pistols and found that they had been properly loaded. Meriwether Lewis Randolph found that they had contained “powder of the best quality, & the balls rammed tight,” but “the percussion caps exploded without igniting the powder.” Jack Donelson recapped the pistols and tested them to see if they would fire, and they did, perfectly.

An expert on small arms estimated the odds of two successive misfires of perfectly loaded pistols with high-quality powder at about 125,000 to 1. Benton wrote, “The circumstance made a deep impression upon the public feeling and irresistibly carried many mind to the belief in a superintending Providence, manifested in the extraordinary case of two pistols in succession — so well loaded, so coolly handled, and which afterwards fired with such readiness, force, and precision — missing fire, each in its turn, when leveled eight feet at the President’s heart.”

Presidential Misgivings

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George Washington: “So much is expected, so many untoward circumstances may intervene, that I feel an insuperable diffidence in my own abilities.”

John Adams: “If I were to go over my life again, I would be a shoemaker rather than an American statesman.”

Thomas Jefferson called the presidency “a splendid misery.” He said, “To myself, personally, it brings nothing but unceasing drudgery and daily loss of friends.”

John Quincy Adams called his term “the four most miserable years of my life.”

Andrew Jackson: “I can with truth say mine is a situation of dignified slavery.”

Buchanan to Lincoln: “”If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning [home], you are a happy man indeed.”

Lincoln: “You have heard about the man tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail? A man in the crowd asked how he liked it, and his reply was that if it wasn’t for the honor of the thing, he would rather have walked.”

Ulysses Grant: “I have been the subject of abuse and slander scarcely ever equaled in political history.”

Rutherford B. Hayes, on leaving office: “The escape from bondage into freedom is grateful indeed to my feelings. … The burden, even with my constitutional cheerfulness, has not been a light one. Now I am glad to be a freed man.”

James Garfield: “My God! What is there in this place that a man should ever want to get in it?”

Grover Cleveland: “I believe I shall buy or rent a house near here, where I can go and be away from this cursed constant grind.”

Teddy Roosevelt, to the incoming Taft: “Ha ha! You are making up your Cabinet. I in a lighthearted way have spent the morning testing the rifles for my African trip. Life has its compensations.”

Taft: “I’ll be damned if I am not getting tired of this. It seems to be the profession of a president simply to hear other people talk.”

Taft to Wilson: “I’m glad to be going — this is the lonesomest place in the world.”

Woodrow Wilson: “I never dreamed such loneliness and desolation of heart possible.”

Warren G. Harding: “This White House is a prison. I can’t get away from the men who dog my footsteps. I am in jail.”

Herbert Hoover: “A few hair shirts are part of the wardrobe of every man. The President differs from other men in that he has a much more extensive wardrobe.”

Harry Truman: “Being a president is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.”

Bill Clinton: “Being a president is a lot like running a cemetery: There are a lot of people under you, but nobody’s listening.”

There’ll Always Be an England

From the Daily Telegraph obituary of British Army major Digby Tatham-Warter (1917–1993):

Digby Tatham-Warter, the former company commander, 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, who has died aged 75, was celebrated for leading a bayonet charge at Arnhem in September 1944, sporting an old bowler hat and a tattered umbrella.

During the long, bitter conflict Tatham-Warter strolled around nonchalantly during the heaviest fire. The padre (Fr Egan) recalled that, while he was trying to make his way to visit some wounded in the cellars and had taken temporary shelter from enemy fire, Tatham-Warter came up to him, and said: ‘Don’t worry about the bullets: I’ve got an umbrella.’

Having escorted the padre under his brolly, Tatham-Warter continued visiting the men who were holding the perimeter defences. ‘That thing won’t do you much good,’ commented one of his fellow officers, to which Tatham-Warter replied: ‘But what if it rains?’

Photo ID

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This is the official White House photograph of Bill Clinton. It was taken on Jan. 1, 1993. But Clinton wasn’t inaugurated until Jan. 20. Can this be said, then, to be a photo of President Bill Clinton?

To get an answer to this cosmic question, a reporter called the chairman of the New York University philosophy department, Roy Sorensen. Sorensen said yes.

“Think of it this way,” he said. “A photograph of Clinton does not need to be a photograph of the full spatial extent of his body. Just a representative part of his body will do. The same applies for temporal parts; a photograph of one stage of Clinton is a photograph of Clinton. Even a baby picture of Clinton is a picture of President Clinton.”

(From Sorensen’s A Brief History of the Paradox, 2005.)

Hooverball

http://hoover.archives.gov/education/hooverball.html

Herbert Hoover weighed 200 pounds when he entered the White House in 1929. He couldn’t spare time for golf or tennis, so physician Joel Boone invented a game called Hooverball that could give him a strenuous workout in the minimum time.

On a tennis-like court, two teams of three players throw a 6-pound medicine ball back and forth over an 8-foot net. Sports Illustrated noted, “This cannot be accomplished graciously.” Rules:

  1. The ball is served from the back line.
  2. The ball must be caught in the air and immediately thrown back from the point where it was caught. It cannot be carried or passed.
  3. Points are scored when a team fails to catch the ball, fails to throw it across the net, or throws the ball out of bounds.
  4. A ball caught in the front half of one team’s court must be thrown to the back half of the opponents’ court. If it doesn’t reach the back court, the opponents score a point.
  5. Scoring is exactly like tennis. The serve rotates among one team’s members until a game is won, then passes to the other team.
  6. A ball that hits the line is good.
  7. A player who catches the ball out of bounds can return to the court before throwing it back.
  8. A ball that hits the net but passes over is a live ball.
  9. Teams can make substitutions when the ball is dead.

Hoover played with his friends at 7 a.m. every day, even in snow. The regulars included the president, Boone, Supreme Court justices, Cabinet members, and journalists such as Mark Sullivan and William Hard. Talking shop was forbidden, and after the game they gathered on the White House lawn for juice and coffee.

“The regimen worked well for the president,” writes biographer Glen Jeansonn. “By the end of the term he had firmed up and slimmed down to 179 pounds. … Hoover looked forward to the games and the camaradarie, although he did not like rising quite so early. But the games were energizing and he began each day refreshed and relaxed.”

The Hoover Presidential Foundation, which co-hosts a national championship each year, has a complete set of rules.

Writing History

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James Madison wrote George Washington’s first inaugural address.

Then he wrote the House’s reply to the address.

Then he wrote Washington’s reply to the reply.

“Notwithstanding the conviction I am under of the labour which is imposed upon you by Public Individuals as well as public bodies,” Washington apologized, “yet, as you have began, so I would wish you to finish, the good work in a short reply to the … House … that there may be an accordance in this business.”

“We are in a wilderness without a single footstep to guide us,” Madison wrote to Thomas Jefferson. “Our successors will have an easier task.”

First and Last

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

By coincidence, the first and last British soldiers to be killed in action during World War I lie in graves that face one another.

British Army private John Parr was shot while on a reconnaissance patrol in Belgium on Aug. 21, 1914, 17 days after Britain declared war.

Private George Edwin Ellison was killed on patrol on the outskirts of Mons on Nov. 11, 1918, 90 minutes before the armistice came into effect.

Both are buried in the St. Symphorien military cemetery southeast of Mons, which was lost to the Germans at the start of the war and regained at the very end.

The Balmis Expedition

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Smallpox ravaged the New World for centuries after the Spanish conquest. In 1797 Edward Jenner showed that exposure to the cowpox virus could protect one against the disease, but the problem remained how to transport cowpox across the sea. In 1802 Charles IV of Spain announced a bold plan — 22 orphaned children would be sent by ship; after the first child was inoculated, his skin would exude fluid that could be passed to the next child. By passing the live virus from arm to arm, the children formed a transmission chain that could transport the vaccine in an era before refrigeration and other modern technology was available.

It worked. Over the next 10 years Spain spread the vaccine throughout the New World and to the Philippines, Macao, and China. Oklahoma State University historian Michael M. Smith writes, “These twenty-two innocents formed the most vital element of the most ambitious medical enterprise any government had ever undertaken.” Jenner himself wrote, “I don’t imagine the annals of history furnish an example of philanthropy so noble, so extensive as this.”

Likewise

A charming little scene from mathematical history — in 1615 Gresham College geometry professor Henry Briggs rode the 300 miles from London to Edinburgh to meet John Napier, the discoverer of logarithms. A contemporary witnessed their meeting:

He brings Mr. Briggs up into My Lord’s chamber, where almost one quarter of an hour was spent, each beholding the other with admiration, before one word was spoke: at last Mr. Briggs began. ‘My Lord, I have undertaken this long journey purposely to see your person, and to know by what engine of wit or ingenuity you came first to think of this most excellent help unto Astronomy, viz. the Logarithms: but my Lord, being by you found out, I wonder nobody else found it before, when now being known it appears so easy.’

Their friendship was fast but short-lived: The first tables were published in 1614, and Napier died in 1617, perhaps due to overwork. In his last writings he notes that “owing to our bodily weakness we leave the actual computation of the new canon to others skilled in this kind of work, more particularly to that very learned scholar, my dear friend, Henry Briggs, public Professor of Geometry in London.”