Thursday, August 12, 2010

I'm sure it's some Saint's Day today

But, as I do not write for L'Osservatore Romano nor is this a blog about the Lives of the Saints, we'll move on today.

August 12, 1927 -
The only silent film to win an Oscar for best picture, Wings, opened in NYC on this date.

With the thousands of extras battling on the ground, dozens of airplanes flying around in the sky and hundreds of explosions going off everywhere, the only two injuries on the entire picture were incurred.

August 12, 1939 -
The Bugs Bunny everyone knows takes another step forward when Hare-um Scare-um premiered on this date.

This is the third of four appearances by the rabbit character who later evolved into Bugs Bunny

August 12, 1939 -
Considered one of the highlights of the Golden Age of Hollywood, The Wizard of Oz premiered on this date in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

Since it's release, it is possibly the most-watched film ever made.

August 12, 1941 -
MGM premiered their version of Robert Louis Stevenson's famous novel, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, starring Spencer Tracy, in NYC on this date.

Spencer Tracy's
performance as Hyde was judged by the critics in 1941 to be inadequate, principally because he was not frightening enough. In addition, Tracy was considered "too American" and too "rough" to be believable as an upper-class doctor in Victorian London. He later received an amusing telegram from Fredric March, the star of the 1931 version, who said that his earlier performance as Hyde was always compared favorably with Tracy's. After watching the film, Tracy confided to a friend that he believed his acting career was over.

Today in History:
August 12, 30 BC -
Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, former wife to Julius Caesar and mistress of Marc Anthony, commits suicide by means of venomous snakebite to the mammary gland. (Given the Romans were keeping track of time at this point and were more interested is when the next orgy was - this date is fluid at best.)

... As sweet as balm, as soft as air, as gentle ...

August 12, 1676
Wampanoag chieftain Metacom (or Philip) is killed in a swamp near Mount Hope. Thus ends King Philip's War, the first war between Indians and European settlers.

Unfortunately, the Indians (or Native American, for the PC of you in the crowd) have been on the losing side, for the most part, ever since.

August 12, 1813 -
Austria declared war against Napoleon. An outraged England rushed to France's defense by declaring war against Austria exactly 101 years later.

August 12, 1898 -
The Spanish-American war ended. Spain released Cuba and gave Puerto Rico to the United States. Americans rushed to Puerto Rico in gleeful droves, only to discover that everyone spoke Spanish and there were no luaus or volcanoes.

Their disappointment was profound.

They took Hawaii later that same day.

August 12, 1948 -
Russian schoolteacher Oksana Kosenkina is injured when she jumps out the window of the Soviet Consulate in New York City.

Soviet officials claim they had rescued her from "White Russian" kidnappers, but Kosenkina says she was trying to escape from the Soviets. The US later expels the consul general, and the Soviets close their consulate.

August 12, 1953 -
In Siberia, the Soviet Union successfully tests its first thermonuclear device, based on Andrei Sakharov's fission-fusion "Layer Cake" design: alternating layers of uranium and hydrogen fuel sandwiched together and wrapped around a conventional Atomic Bomb. The fission explosion compresses the hydrogen, causing a fusion reaction.

Hopefully this is no longer a state secret or boy am I in deep trouble.

August 12, 1869 -
In San Francisco, Emperor Norton I issues a stern edict outlawing both the Republican and Democratic political parties. Violators face a prison term of five-to-ten years. Not familiar with Norton I ? Consider, the true story of Emperor Joshua Norton.

Joshua Norton was a businessman in San Francisco in the 1800's. In the 1840's, just before the Gold Rush, he tried to corner the market on rice and failed. He went from being very wealthy to being destitute overnight and the experience completely shattered his reason. A couple of months after this event, he put on a formal admiral's uniform, complete with gold braid and epaulets and strode in to the office of the newspaper. He handed the editor a large, official looking proclamation which stated in quite formal language that, due to popular demand, he hereby declared himself Emperor Norton I of San Francisco, California, and Mexico, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. He bade all his subjects show him loyalty and the other courtesies due a person of such eminent stature.

From the pictures of Emperor Norton, it is immediately apparent that this guy has gone around the bend and ain't coming back. His eyes pointed in different directions, and neither one quite caught straight ahead. His uniform was formal to the point of almost gaudy and, at the same time, it was quite apparent that he and soap were not of regular acquaintance.

The editor, with a rich sense of humor, decided to publish the proclamation on the front page of the newspaper, in all seriousness. The citizens of San Francisco, being what they are, immediately decided that this sounded like a good idea and, by unanimous acclamation, accepted Norton as their Emperor. It is undoubtedly the only time in history they ever had an unanimous vote on anything.

He reigned for about forty years. During that time he ate in all of the finest restaurants and slept in the finest hotels for free -- because he was the Emperor. He had three seats permanently reserved in the front row of the San Francisco opera house -- one for him, and one each for his two dogs. Twice a year he would review the police and fire departments as they paraded by, and then he would make a grand speech to the assembled crowds. He printed his own money, which was accepted in business establishments around San Francisco as legal tender. When bicycles first came out, they got him a bicycle, too, and he looked all the more daft because of it. When one of his dogs died, 10,000 people turned out for the funeral to console their grief-stricken emperor. When the Civil War rolled around, he graciously offered his alliance and military support to Abraham Lincoln, who politely declined.

Make no mistake about it, the Emperor Norton was as good a loony as you have ever run across and I can't help feeling that a man who was that intelligent must have had some idea of just how completely nuts he really was.

Now here's the problem. During his reign as Emperor, Norton came up with three major ideas:

1) He called upon the other leaders of the world to join him in forming a League of Nations where disputes between nations could be resolved peacefully.

2) He suggested that parts of San Francisco Bay be filled in to make more room to build.

3) He proposed that a suspension-span bridge be built across the spot where the Golden Gate stands now. He even laid out a complete design that looks remarkably close to the bridge that was built sixty years after he died. He correctly predicted that only a suspension span bridge would have the strength to span such a large stretch, and the flexibility to stand up under the extreme stress which would be placed on such a structure. He did this at a time when the only suspension bridges ever built were rope bridges in remote parts of Africa.

Of course, when he proposed these ideas, the response was long and uproarious laughter -- the Emperor was up to his old tricks again. In time, all of his ideas became reality.

At the time, no one believed him.

On a personal note:
Happy Birthday Mom

And so it goes.

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