Thursday, March 31, 2011

It's Bunsen burner day

Robert Bunsen, whose name we associate with the burner, was a 19th-century German chemist of some renown. He worked on explosive organic arsenic compounds--leading to the loss of one eye--and, later, on gases from volcanoes, geysers and blast furnaces.

With Gustav Kirchhoff, he contributed to our understanding of the meaning of spectra lines. (He also gained note for not bathing--one woman of polite society remarked that Bunsen was so charming that she would like to kiss him, but she would have to wash him first.)

March 31, 1943 -
Ronald Walken, possibly the most imitated actor in America, was born on this date.

In his over 35 years in film, he has acted in well over 90 films. He rarely turns down a part, under the belief that making movies (whether they turn out good or bad) is always a rewarding experience.

March 31, 1957 -
The original version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, starring Julie Andrews, aired live in color on CBS on this date (only black-and-white kinescopes exist today.)

Cinderella was seen by the largest audience in history at the time of its premiere: 107,000,000 people in the USA, fully 60% of the country’s population at that time.

March 31, 1994 -
Madonna appeared on Late Show with David Letterman on this date. She dropped the f-bomb more than a dozen times, exchanged less- than-friendly barbs with Dave and then stubbornly refused to leave the set.

This made the episode the most censored in American network television talk-show history; it also resulted in some of the highest ratings of Letterman's late-night career.

The extra credit question, who was the musical guest that evening? - Counting Crows.

Today in History:
March 31 1492 -
Ferdinand and Isabel expel all of the Jews from Spain, except those willing to convert to Christianity. Even with the infusions of gold and silver arriving during the 16th century from the Americas, this is an act from which Spain never recovers.

By expelling their merchant and banking class, Jews and Muslims, the country is left ill-equipped to process the new wealth, which ultimately winds up in the coffers of other countries and squandered on disastrous military campaigns.

I guess that didn't quite go the way they had planned.

March 31, 1889 -
The Eiffel Tower as it exists today was built in 1889, but its history dates back to Gallic times.

Documents that have been carbon-dated to roughly 200 B.C. indicate that King Catatonix of the Hellatians decreed, for no apparent reason, the construction of a big tower on the very site where the Eiffel Tower can be found today.

In Caesar’s Reflections on the Garlic Wars, the Roman general reminisces on having found “a curious wooden tower, tall and strange.” Baffled by this peculiar cultural monolith, and never happy to be baffled, he burned it to the ground.

Some four centuries later, with the western Roman Empire in collapse, wild-eyed Gallic nationalists rebuilt the tower using cheese instead of wood. They called it La Grande Fromage, from which we get the expression, The Big Cheese.

During subsequent invasions by and entanglements with Normans, Saxons, Angles, Ostrogoths, Visigoths, and Lolligoths, the Tower was repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt, always for no apparent reason. It had become a sort of habit by now, a national obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Rene Descartes was born on March 31, 1596. Descartes said that he existed because he thought, and although he said it in Latin everyone still had to admit that it looked like Reason had finally entered the world.

Therefore the Franks (who now called themselves the French, primarily to irritate Germany) lost interest in the tower, and at last abandoned the effort.

Unfortunately, in 1870 German chancellor Otto von Bismarck defeated the French army in a Sedan and laid siege to Paris. This made the French lose their heads (see also the French Revolution). They forgot all about Reason and made Gustav Eiffel build a Tower, this time using steel, which was stronger than cheese and not quite as flammable as wood. It stands to this day, a proud monument French culture, without which we would not have Champagne, Camembert, Brigitte Bardot, or Marcel Proust.

March 31, 1959 -
The Dalai Lama is forced to leave Tibet, after the Red Communists (Evil Bastards) make it very unpleasant for him to stay.

He accuses the Chinese of making genocide against the Tibetan people, by systematic destruction of Tibetan culture and execution of thousands of prominent citizens (I guess I'll never be read in China.)

March 31, 1995 -
The president of the Selena Fan Club, Yolanda Saldivar, kills the Tejano music popstar Selena in Corpus Christi, TX. "It just went off, I didn't mean to do it. I didn't mean to kill anybody".

That might be true, but the jury did not believe her. Remember folks, never let a crazy fan with a gun license and bad credit be the head of your fan club.

And so it goes

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