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Born today in 1928: Planetary scientist Eugene Shoemaker


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The Ex-Presidents Club

Warren G Harding Harding, telling those damn kids to stay off his lawn
The greatest number of current and former US presidents to survive simultaneously has been six. This has happened three times. The first of those (4 March 1861 to 18 January 1862) was Van Buren, Tyler, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, and Lincoln. Next (20 January 1993 to 22 April 1994): Nixon, Ford, Carter, Regan, Bush I, and Clinton. Last (21 January 2001 to 5 June 2004): Ford, Carter, Regan, Clinton, and both Bushes.

When Barack Obama assumes office in January 2009, he will — or at least should — have four living predecessors.

Six times there have been no living ex-presidents. The most recent such interval was between Nixon’s second inauguration on 22 January 1973 and his resignation on 9 August 1974.

Three US presidents have been survived by their mothers: James Polk, James Garfield, and John Kennedy. Kennedy’s maternal grandmother, Mary Josephine Hannon Fitzgerald, also survived him. Only presidents Harding and Kennedy were survived by their fathers.

Popular media-marinated clichés we could all do without (Part II)

True believers

These are people who take something seriously that the reporters think (or their editor wants them to think) is codswallop. Of course all but the very weirdest religions are exempt.

The mother of all [fill in phenomenon or human act of your choice]

Hmm. Why on earth should should we revel in a catch phrase popularized by Saddam Hussein during the first gulf war?

Left [him or her] for dead

How do we know this? In many cases that might have been true, but I’m sure many perpetrators only left their victim for “hurt” or simply scrambled away without giving the matter a second thought.

So many years at hard labor

Under Nazi Germany or in the Soviet Gulag this would certainly have been accurate, but rarely nowadays in the US. Most of our inmates do work in some fashion — making street signs, staffing a call center, or cooking food, say — but not usually at something people would visualize as truly Cool Hand Luke-style hard. More than anything else, we just stress and bore our convicts to death.

Save 20% Off!

This reminds me of things like “minus 50 below zero.” You either save 20%, or you get 20% off.

Obviously this driver has no consideration for the lives of bystanders [heard over cop-cam video of a rough car chase]

Again with the clairvoyance. In many cases the speeding motorist probably tried very, very hard not to hit anybody despite his or her desperation to escape.

Popular media-marinated clichés we could all do without (Part I)

They used the Jaws of Life

Any excuse to trot this out. Why not just say the rescuers cut the victim out of the wreckage, as they would have done in any era, with or without fancy hydraulics?

Watched in horror

Anyone who sees something that came out tragically, or at least might have, is automatically declared to have done this. For all we know, the witnesses may well have been only moderately worried or, if they didn’t properly assess the situation or anticipate an unhappy outcome, quite indifferent or even intrigued.

Common law husband/wife

Always said about someone else, preferably someone missing an alarming percentage of their teeth and/or languishing in a trailer park.

A bus plunged...

When buses accidentally go downward someplace where they’re not supposed to, they always plunge. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that they’re long and skinny, at least remotely like a bathroom plunger save for the rubber cup at the end.

When asked if he or she was a hero, the answer was no

Resolved: If I ever rescue a child from a sewer pipe or jump into the driver’s seat of a loaded bus to keep it from “plunging” somewhere horrible, I’ll say yes, I certainly am a hero. Please print my picture on the front page above the fold and shower me with whatever accolades you have available.

Odd, entirely unrelated facts

Neither birds nor naked mole rats are sensitive to the heat (capsaicin) in chili peppers.

Few people have ever read a real King James bible (1611). The one you normally see is a 1769 modernization of it.

Icelanders like to eat shark meat that’s been fermented for six months. They call it hakarl. In this sense they have something in common with the Japanese, who before the era of modern refrigeration made their sushi this way.

From her roles and persona most people assumed that character actress Nancy Walker was Jewish, but she wasn’t. Also, she was very small at 4′10″ (1.5m) — a fact to which I can attest because she walked past me once on a sidewalk.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has detected a mysterous underwater noise called “the bloop” on several occasions. Researchers say it appears to be biological, but any animal producing it must be many times larger than a blue whale.

Jerome “Curly” Howard of the Three Stooges hated having a shaved head, so each year during the summer hiatus he would let his hair grow out.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s native language was Corsican. He learned French in school beginning at the age of nine.

A tossed penny isn’t perfectly fair. The obverse (“heads”) is slightly heavier so the coin lands with “tails” up about 50.5% of the time.

Actor Khigh Dheigh, best remembered as the North Korean brainwasher in The Manchurian Canidate and recurring arch-criminal Wo Fat in the TV series Hawaii Five-O, wasn’t even Asian. His real name was Kenneth Dickerson, he was born in New Jersey of north African ancestry, and he lived out his retirement years in Arizona.