Back to Home Page

Show current »

Birthday today  
Born today in 1896: General James Doolittle


Mouse-over for titles.

Four articles shown »


Too many Carolingians

Homage to Clovis II
I couldn’t resist the temptation to run my graphic timeline machine (which you’ll recognize from the previous blog entry) on chronological listings of autocrats in past centuries to see what kinds of patterns pop out.

US presidents past, present, and prospective can play hardball but unless they’ve had a very bad day tend to draw the line at intramural murder and kidnapping. Royalty and nobility haven’t always been quite so circumspect — or until the last century have have stood such a fighting chance against serious injury or disease — so let the fun begin. For educational purposes only, of course.

Let’s start with France.

Early French King Streak
Carolingian France shows a logjam of seven simultaneously living kings and future kings between 867 and approximately 882. For reference, you’re seeing the last half of Charlemagne’s 46-year tenure at the top.

From 867 through most of 877 there was Charles II and kings-to-be Louis II and III, Carloman II, Charles the Fat, Odo, and Robert I. By 882 Charles II and Louis II were gone but Charles III the Simple and (possibly — his birth year is a wild guess) Rudolph had come aboard.

Having weathered this entire period, Robert would finally get his chance but reign a scant 352 days before being killed by the forces of his predecessor Charles III. Charles himself lost that battle, though, and spent the rest of his days in a dungeon.
Later French King Streak
Jumping forward eight and a half centuries, here are the last hundred years of the French autocracy. Its other two periods of seven-stacking occurred at that time: 1785-1793 (Louis XVI, the theoretical Louis XVII, Napoleon, Louis XVIII, Charles X, Louis XIX, Louis-Philippe) and 1811-1821 (losing Louis XVI and XVII and gaining Napoleons II and III).

Louis XVI and his family made a break for the Austrian border in June 1791 (Marie Antoinette was a sister of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II) but he was recognized from his portrait on all the coins and hauled back to Paris. He remained king, at least officially, until 21 September 1792; so his “retirement” from that point until his date with the guillotine lasted 122 days.

Louis XVII
Royalists recognized his sole surviving son as Louis XVII. The boy succumbed in captivity to tuberculosis on 8 June, 1795 and chief surgeon Philippe-Jean Pelletan preserved his heart the following day; but for the next couple of generations dozens of claimants came forward as Le dauphin perdu. Some of them spun some pretty good yarns. Over the holiday season of 1999-2000 mitochondrial DNA from Marie Antoinette’s hair and from that heart was compared by two independent laboratories and the samples matched as closely as one would expect between mother and child.

In the second lavender area you can spot the musical chairs between Napoleon, Louis XVIII, and Napoleon II (“King of Rome”). It’s interesting to note that Napoleon’s cumulative exile (2487 days) ran fully two thirds the length of his career as emperor (3709 days). The second Napoleon, twice emperor but both times probably unaware of it, spent the balance of his life in Austria and died at 21 of tuberculosis.

Henry V
Duke of Bordeaux
Count of Chambord
“Henry V”
The gray ellipse indicates the singular moment during the July Revolution of 1830 when, with the encouragement of angry mobs, Charles X abdicated and Louis-Philippe and his supporters took to the throne. Some recognized Charles’s son Louis Antoine as Charles’s successor Louis XIX. In any event the son abdicated some twenty minutes into his own supposed reign in favor of his nephew the Duke of Bordeaux who, until his death in 1883, stood by as pretender Henry V.

Next: The Russian Empire

So many presidents, so little time

Presidents alive at once

Unlikely as it might seem, there have been four separate moments in history during which no fewer than eighteen U.S. presidents — future, sitting, and former — were all living. The first nine presidents of the longest (1479 days) of those streaks are pictured above; the remaining nine, at the bottom of this entry.

Here’s a chart I generated starting on the left side with the 1732 birth of George Washington and extending to 2016 when President Omama’s second term finishes and assuming all four of his current living predecessors stay that way. Green indicates lifespan; blue, terms of office. (Note the two separate blue blocks in Grover “Big Steve” Cleveland’s timeline where he bookended one-termer Benjamin Harrison.)

Lifespans of the U.S. Presidents
The lilac bar highlights that 1479-day period. It extended from Grover Cleveland’s birth on March 18, 1837 to William Henry Harrison’s death on April 4, 1841. The following were alive at that time: John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James Polk, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James “Old Buck” Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, U.S. Grant, Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Alan Arthur, Cleveland himself, and Benjamin Harrison. A touch wider and it would have taken in Madison and McKinley.

The chart yields some other intriguing perspectives. One thing you can see in there, for example, is that when Abraham Lincoln was born (1809) all his future predecessors except George Washington were still alive. Warren G. Harding would be the first U.S. president after Lincoln not to have had a living memory of him.

On a related subject, the following presidential siblings or half-siblings aside from those of Barack Obama and George W. Bush are still with us as I write: Bill Clinton’s half-sister Sharon Lee Pettijohn (born 1941) and brother Roger (1956), George H.W. Bush’s sister Nancy Walker Bush Ellis (1926) and brothers Jonathan James Bush (1931) and William Henry Trotter “Bucky” Bush (1938), Richard Addison Ford (1924), Edward Nixon (1930), and Jean Kennedy Smith (1928).

Presidents alive at once

Odd, entirely unrelated facts II

John B. “Jack” Kelly, Sr, perhaps best remembered nowadays as the father of actress and later Monaco princess Grace Kelly, won three Olympic gold medals for rowing during the 1920s. As a brickwork contractor, he ensured payment by secretly installing a sheet of glass inside his clients’ chimneys to block the draft. When the check cleared he’d have an employee drop a brick down the chimney from the top.

Ja Da
The title song from Arlo Guthrie’s 1967 album (and later 1969 film) “Alice’s Restaurant” exactly parallels, in its phrasing and 8-measure structure, the 1918 song “Ja-Da” by Bob Carleton. If you play them together they harmonize and counterpoint precisely.

Actor Eddie Albert first appeared on television on 6 November 1936 for a live presentation of his 40-minute play “The Love Nest.” The show, also featuring the Ink Spots and comedian Ed Wynn, emanated from Radio City in New York at 346 lines of resolution. (“Green Acres” premiered almost 29 years later on 15 September 1965.)

History’s first charge card transaction took place on 8 February 1950 at Major’s Cabin Grill adjacent to the Empire State Building in New York City. The party consisted of attorney Frank McNamara, loan company executive Ralph Schneider, and press agent Matty Simmons who later founded The National Lampoon. The card was Diner’s Club (#1000).

Author, commentator, spy novelist, and National Review founder William F. Buckley, Jr’s first language as a child was Spanish. His second was French.

Incandescent light bulbs convert only a small fraction of their energy input to light, but that extra energy isn’t necessarily wasted. If the bulbs are indoors and the weather is cool enough for the furnace to run, they simply share some of that burden. Modern LEDs generate virtually no heat, but that can actually be a problem for such applications as traffic lights since during the winter the snow and ice won’t melt off.

Israeli military leader Moshe Dayan was such an enthusiastic archaeology buff he rarely hesitated to help himself to any little treasures he’d come across. Throughout his lifetime he amassed a spectacular collection this way. Shortly after the Six-Day War of 1967 Dayan sneaked alone into a dig near Holon, south of Tel Aviv, to try his luck. The dirt caved in on him, leaving only one hand visible. Children happened onto the hand sometime later and directed rescuers to dig him out.

Little Hollywood story No. 1

Cigar smoker, though not a duck
Back in 1986 I was working at an animation facility in Burbank, California when we got a job to design and shoot a bunch of writhing pink tunnels for the fantasy film Howard the Duck.

I won’t mention names, but a certain concern far north of us in San Rafael had more work than it could comfortably handle at that moment and so farmed this project out to us through our art director on the condition that we keep the whole thing a deep, dark secret and that we expect no screen credit. Plus there would be hell to pay if they could see any “ridging” (superfine stripes caused by equipment vibration or rattle) in the textures on the final product. The code name they instructed us to use for the film was “Huey.”

It was an exasperating effort involving half a dozen of us but we eventually turned out between 20 and 30 tunnel sequences and several of them wound up in the final film. I had high hopes for “Huey” because I remembered the title character as the wry, cigar-chomping, wisecracking waterfowl not entirely dissimilar to Bobby London’s Dirty Duck who appeared regularly in the National Lampoon’s funny pages during the 70s.

Shortly before Howard the Duck was released to the public we were welcomed to attend a screening at the Alfred Hitchcock Theater at Universal City. The room was packed and I was told Stephen Spielberg was in attendance.

Now being perfectly aware of how much blood and sweat go into making a movie — whether it turns out good, bad, or indifferent — I always try to find something to like and appreciate when I watch one. Howard the Duck certainly did have its moments, and I think so even more to this day. But you could hear a pin drop in there at times when it was obvious we were all supposed to be laughing. As we filed out at the end there was a lot of polite murmuring.

The next day at work we were saying things like, “That’s OK, the kids’ll like it!” and “Boy, there was a lot happening in that picture, wasn’t there?” As everyone knows, the film went down in history as a spectacular failure. The trade magazines tried to outdo each other by brandishing headlines like “HOWARD THE DUCK, A NEW BREED OF TURKEY,” “THE DUCK LAYS AN EGG,” and so forth. Rumors even flew that Universal production heads Sid Sheinberg and Frank Price literally got into fisticuffs over who had been more to blame for greenlighting Howard in the first place.

But by far the most entertaining aspect of this, at least to me, was something Michelle Pfeiffer said in a 1990 issue of People magazine: “You know, I look like a duck. I just do. And I’m not the only person who thinks that. It’s the way my mouth sort of curls up or my nose tilts up. I should have played Howard the Duck.”