On Nov. 24, 2004, sign language interpreter Nataliya Dmytruk was presenting a live news broadcast on a state-run Ukrainian television channel when the voice announcer (and her official script) declared that prime minister Viktor Yanukovych had won the recent run-off presidential election, a result widely believed to be fraudulent.
She signed, “I am addressing everybody who is deaf in Ukraine. Our president is Victor Yushchenko. Do not trust the results of the central election committee. They are all lies. … And I am very ashamed to translate such lies to you. Maybe you will see me again.”
Her act emboldened other Ukrainian journalists to stand up against manufactured news accounts and led to another election, in which Yushchenko, the opposition candidate, was declared the winner.
For her stand, Dmytruk received the International John Aubuchon Freedom of the Press Award. “After every broadcast I had to render in sign language, I felt dirty,” she explained later. “I wanted to wash my hands. Without telling anyone, I just went in and did what my conscience told me to do.”
Gerald Ford served as both vice president and president but was elected to neither office.
He was appointed to the vice presidency when Spiro Agnew resigned, and he succeeded Richard Nixon as president.
Letter from Richard Byrd to his son shortly after establishing Marie Byrd Land, Feb. 22, 1929:
I have named a big new land after mommie because mommie is the sweetest finest and nicest and best person in the world. Take good care of her and be awfully sweet to her while I’m away.
I love you my dear boy.
On Jan. 9, 1793, two astonished farmers in Woodbury, N.J., watched a strange craft descend from the sky into their field. An excited Frenchman greeted them in broken English and gave them swigs of wine from a bottle. Unable to make himself understood, he finally presented a document:
The farmers helped the man fold his craft and load it onto a wagon for the trip back to Philadelphia. Before leaving, the Frenchman asked them to certify the time and place of his arrival. These details were important — he was Jean-Pierre Blanchard, and he had just completed the first balloon flight in North America.
Supreme Court justice James Clark McReynolds (1862-1946) was known as “the rudest man in Washington.” In 27 years on the court, his behavior made this seem an understatement.
In choosing law clerks, McReynolds refused to accept “Jews, drinkers, blacks, women, smokers, married or engaged individuals.” A blatant antisemite, he refused to speak to Louis Brandeis, the court’s first Jewish justice, and in 1924 refused even to sit next to him for the court’s annual photo. After urging Herbert Hoover not to “afflict the Court with another Jew,” he pointedly read a newspaper during Benjamin Cardozo’s swearing-in ceremony. “For four thousand years,” he told Oliver Wendell Holmes, “the Lord tried to make something out of the Hebrews, then gave it up as impossible and turned them out to prey on mankind in general — like fleas on the dog, for example.”
McReynolds’ intolerance extended to everyone around him. When justice Harlan Fiske Stone remarked on the dullness of one attorney’s argument, McReynolds returned, “The only duller thing I can think of is to hear you read one of your opinions.” He objected to women’s wearing red nail polish and men’s wearing wristwatches, and he declared tobacco smoke “personally objectionable.” He once tried to defend his impartiality by saying he tried to protect “the poorest darkie in the Georgia backwoods as well as the man of wealth in a mansion on Fifth Avenue.”
Chief justice William Howard Taft called McReynolds “selfish to the last degree,” “fuller of prejudice than any man I have ever known,” and “one who delights in making others uncomfortable.” Even historians seem to hate him. In his biographical dictionary of the court, Timothy L. Hall calls McReynolds “the most boorish man ever to hold a seat there,” and Rebecca S. Shoemaker calls him “irascible and a racist.” He died alone at 84 — in Hall’s words, “unwept-for and unloved.”
In the wall of the north portion of the White House is a bell. On a recent afternoon, President Coolidge pressed this bell repeatedly, scampered quickly away. To the north portico rushed a detail of Secret Service men, to whom the bell’s ringing was a summons to come at once. From a distance, the President watched their confusion, heard them ask the Secret Service man on patrol duty why he had rung the bell, heard the patrolman’s denial of any bell-ringing. After the guards had dispersed, the President stole back, again pressed the button, again trotted away, chuckled as the previous scene repeated itself. Pleased, the President several times repeated his little prank. Eventually the Secret Service detail discovered the source of the false alarms, put in another bell in a spot unknown to the President. When this story became public, persons who question the existence of a presidential sense of humor flouted its accuracy. Yet Richard Jervis, head of the Executive Secret Service detail, vouched solemnly for it.
– Time, Jan. 21, 1929
On Jan. 7, 1941, eleven months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, ambassador Joseph Clark sent this telegram to the U.S. State Department:
A member of the Embassy was told by my ——- colleague that from many quarters, including a Japanese one, he had heard that a surprise mass attack on Pearl Harbor was planned by the Japanese military forces, in case of ‘trouble’ between Japan and the United States; that the attack would involve the use of all the Japanese military facilities.
Grew added, “My colleague said that he was prompted to pass this on because it had come to him from many sources, although the plan seemed fantastic.”
The U.S. did nothing, but it had already demonstrated its myopia. On Sept. 27, 1940, Douglas MacArthur had said, “Japan will never join the Axis.” Japan joined the Axis the next day.
When John Glenn went into orbit aboard Friendship 7 in 1962, mission planners weren’t certain where he’d come down. The most likely sites were Australia, the Atlantic Ocean, and New Guinea, but it might be 72 hours before he could be picked up.
Glenn worried about spending three days among aborigines who had seen a silver man emerge from “a big parachute with a little capsule on the end,” so he took with him a short speech rendered phonetically in several languages. It read:
“I am a stranger. I come in peace. Take me to your leader, and there will be a massive reward for you in eternity.”
On Sept. 13, 1862, members of the 27th Indiana Infantry were awaiting orders on a hillside near Frederick, Md., as Robert E. Lee’s Confederate troops approached from the south. One of the men noticed a package on the ground and discovered three cigars wrapped in a piece of paper. The men were rejoicing in their good fortune when a sergeant noticed writing on the paper — it was headed “Headquarters of the Army of Northern Virginia.”
They had discovered Lee’s battle plan. The orders had been issued to Gen. D.H. Hill, but one of his staff officers had apparently dropped them; Hill received a second copy from Stonewall Jackson and had not realized that the first set had been lost.
The plans passed quickly up the line, and that afternoon Union general George C. McClellan was wiring the president, “I have all the plans of the rebels, and will catch them in their own trap.” The battle of Sept. 17, Antietam, was the bloodiest single day of the Civil War. It repelled the rebel army and permitted Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation from a position of strength.
Lee later told a friend: “I went into Maryland to give battle, and could I have kept Gen. McClellan in ignorance of my position and plans a day or two longer, I would have fought and crushed him.”
In a 1772 letter to Joseph Priestley, Ben Franklin described a method “for arriving at decisions in doubtful cases.” He would divide a sheet of paper into two columns, labeled Pro and Con, and during the course of three or four days record all the motives for and against the idea. Then he’d assign a weight to each consideration. Where he could find arguments, sometimes in combination, that counterbalanced one another, he would strike them out:
Should I enter into business with Mr. Smith?
(This example is from Paul C. Pasles, Benjamin Franklin’s Numbers, 2008.) This exercise would show him where the balance lay, and if after a day or two of further reflection no additional considerations occurred to him, he would come to a decision.
“Though the weight of reasons cannot be taken with the precision of algebraic quantities, yet, when each is thus considered separately and comparatively, and the whole lies before me, I think I can judge better, and am less liable to make a rash step; and in fact I have found great advantage from this kind of equation, in what may be called moral or prudential algebra.”
Section 3 of the 25th amendment permits a U.S. president to transfer his authority voluntarily to his vice president when he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
To date it’s been invoked only three times — in 1985 George H.W. Bush served as acting president while surgeons removed a cancerous polyp from Ronald Reagan’s colon, and in 2002 and 2007 Dick Cheney served while George W. Bush underwent colonoscopies.
So, to date, Section 3 has been invoked only for colon issues. Write your own joke.
The Olympics used to include art competitions. Between 1912 and 1952, medals were awarded in architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture; even the Soviets contributed art to the 1924 Paris games, though they disdained the sporting events as “bourgeois.” An exhibition at the 1932 games drew 384,000 visitors to the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art.
All works had to be inspired by sports; those ranked highest received gold, silver, and bronze medals. The categories included epic literature, chamber music, watercolors, and statuary; the 1928 games even included a competition in town planning.
In two cases champion athletes also won art competitions. Hungarian swimmer Alfréd Hajós, left, who had won two gold medals in Athens in 1896, took home a silver medal for designing a stadium in 1924. And American Walter Winans won gold both as a marksman in 1908 and as a sculptor in 1912.
In 1954 the art competitions were dropped because most of the participants were professionals, which was held to conflict with the ideals of the games. But the Olympic charter still requires hosts to include a cultural program “to promote harmonious relations, mutual understanding and friendship among the participants and others attending the Olympic Games.”
In September 1918, during the closing months of World War I, Everybody’s Magazine published a prophetic article by Eugene P. Lyle. “The War of 1938″ (subtitled “A Terrible Warning Against a Premature Peace”) depicted a future in which the war-weary Allies accepted a peace offer in 1918 rather than pressing the conflict to a decisive victory.
In Lyle’s vision, Germany disarms and pays reparations but immediately begins planning a Prussian “night of consummation.” Her freed merchant fleet begins gathering material with the slogan “Germany must not be merely efficient, but self-sufficient,” and in 1938, at the end of a 20-year debt moratorium, she unleashes a blitzkrieg that sweeps Europe. England is stormed from the air, and her overseas dominions and the United States await a final onslaught in Egypt and India. The article ends:
In all the wretched lexicon of regret there is no word more futile than the ghastly word ‘if.’ It avails nothing, ever, and yet tonight the word is branded deep on the aching heart of humanity — ‘IF we had only seen the thing through in 1918!’
Readers called Lyle an “irresponsible alarmist,” a “sensation monger,” and a muckraker, but many of his fears would be realized. A few years after the armistice Pershing remarked to a friend, “They don’t know they were beaten in Berlin, and it will all have to be done all over again.”
During World War II, Germany prepared a list of 2,820 people to be arrested in a Nazi invasion of Britain. It included:
- Robert Baden-Powell
- Violet Bonham Carter
- Neville Chamberlain
- Winston Churchill
- Noël Coward
- E.M. Forster
- J.B.S. Haldane
- Aldous Huxley
- Ignacy Jan Paderewski
- J.B. Priestley
- Paul Robeson
- Bertrand Russell
- C.P. Snow
- Stephen Spender
- H.G. Wells
- Rebecca West
- Virginia Woolf
When the list was published, Rebecca West cabled Noël Coward: MY DEAR, THE PEOPLE WE SHOULD HAVE BEEN SEEN DEAD WITH.
A U.S. serviceman’s chance of death in battle, per Nicholas Hobbes’ Essential Militaria (2003):
- War of Independence: 2 percent (1 in 50)
- War of 1812: 0.8 percent (1 in 127)
- Indian Wars: 0.9 percent (1 in 106)
- Mexican War: 2.2 percent (1 in 45)
- Civil War: 6.7 percent (1 in 15)
- Spanish-American War: 0.1 percent (1 in 798)
- World War I: 1.1 percent (1 in 89)
- World War II: 1.8 percent (1 in 56)
- Korean War: 0.6 percent (1 in 171)
- Vietnam War: 0.5 percent (1 in 185)
- Persian Gulf War: 0.03 percent (1 in 3,162)
The leaders of Russia have been alternately bald and hairy since 1881.
Lycurgus wrote, “A large head of hair adds beauty to a good face and terror to an ugly one.”
Early in World War I, parrots were placed in the Eiffel Tower to detect the approach of aircraft, which they could hear 20 minutes before they became audible to human ears. Unfortunately, they proved unable to distinguish between German and French planes.
The British navy also briefly tried to train seagulls to perch on enemy periscopes, in hopes they might defecate opportunely and blind the Germans. “For a short while,” writes historian Colin Simpson, “a remote corner of Poole harbor in Dorset was littered with dummy periscopes and hopefully incontinent sea gulls.” Churchill canceled the program.
In 1784, to help pay off debts after the Revolutionary War, North Carolina offered to give Congress 29 million acres of its territory west of the Appalachians. When the legislature rescinded this offer a few months later, the settlers seceded to establish a new state of their own.
“Franklin” failed of joining the union by two votes in the Continental Congress, but it elected officers, convened a legislature, and wrote a constitution. The economy was based largely in barter — John Wheeler Moore’s 1882 School History of North Carolina quotes the officers’ pay:
His Excellency, the Governor, per annum, one thousand deer skins; His Honor, the Chief Justice, five hundred deer skins, or five hundred raccoon skins; the Treasurer of the State, four hundred and fifty raccoon skins; Clerk of the House of Commons, two hundred raccoon skins; members of Assembly, per diem, three raccoon skins.
Things began to fall apart in 1788, when Franklin’s governor tried to place the defenseless state under Spanish rule. North Carolina arrested him, and the last holdouts turned themselves in. The region now belongs to Tennessee.
When Hitler’s army marched into Copenhagen, Niels Bohr had to decide how to safeguard the Nobel medals of James Franck and Max von Laue, which they had entrusted to him. Sending gold out of the country was almost a capital offense, and the physicists’ names were engraved on the medals, making such an attempt doubly risky. Burying the medals seemed uncertain as well. Finally his friend the Hungarian physicist Georg von Hevesy invented a novel solution: He dissolved the medals in a jar of aqua regia, which Bohr left on a shelf in his laboratory while he fled to Sweden.
When he returned in 1945, the jar was still there. Bohr had the gold recovered, and the Nobel Foundation recast it into two medals.
(Chemist Hermann Mark found a way to escape Germany with his money: He used it to buy platinum wire, which he fashioned into coat hangers. Once he had brought these successfully through customs, he sold them to recover the money.)
On a Canadian speaking tour, Winston Churchill found himself sitting next to a Methodist bishop.
A young waitress offered each of them a glass of sherry.
Churchill accepted his, but the bishop said, “Young lady, I’d rather commit adultery than take an intoxicating beverage.”
Churchill said, “Come back, lassie, I didn’t know we had a choice!”
- As Britain prepared for World War I, officers were required to have their swords sharpened.
- Wordsworth’s “The Rainbow” has an average word length of 3.08 letters.
- sin 10° × sin 50° × sin 70° = 1/8
- WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE = I SWEAR HE’S LIKE A LAMP
- “I have always thought that every woman should marry, and no man.” — Benjamin Disraeli
But the sage was not too grave to play a joke on his friends. One day, when they were walking in the park at Wycombe, he said that he could quiet the waves on a small stream which was being whipped by the wind. He went two hundred paces above where the others stood, made some magic passes over the water, and waved his bamboo cane three times in the air. The waves gradually sank and the stream became as smooth as a mirror. After they had marvelled Franklin explained. He carried oil in the hollow joint of his cane, and a few drops of it spreading on the water had caused the miracle.
– Carl Van Doren, Benjamin Franklin, 1938
Herbert Hoover drew this doodle while being interviewed. When he tossed it in a White House wastebasket, a guest retrieved it and asked him to sign it. The guest then sold it to collector Thomas Madigan … who resold it for a substantial sum.
Thereupon the doodle was published in newspapers across the country, often with expert interpretations. “Generally this man is highly efficient, a man who figures things out and who is at his best tackling difficult tasks,” opined one for the Chicago Tribune. Another objected: “It is the normal thing for a man to do — to occupy himself scribbling with a pencil when talking over the telephone or listening to someone. It would be significant if the president did not do this.”
Before it was over, the doodle had been converted into a fabric pattern for children’s rompers, which even Hoover’s granddaughter was said to have worn. If the president had an opinion about all this, he kept it to himself.
When World War I broke out in August 1914, Germany enlisted a large ocean liner, the Cap Trafalgar, to attack British merchant ships around Cape Horn. While at a supply base on Trinidade, it was surprised by the HMS Carmania, a British liner that had been similarly pressed into service by the British navy.
The two enormous ships squared off and fought a murderous sea battle. In the end the Cap Trafalgar sank, and the Carmania limped away to a Brazilian port.
An observer might still have wondered which side won — by an ironic coincidence, the Cap Trafalgar had been disguised as the Carmania and the Carmania as the Cap Trafalgar.