Friday, August 31

Snake-bit by Her Bosom Buddy

By Art Cashin

On this day in 30 B.C., perhaps the most famous queen in all history pulled an unassisted Kevorkian.  Unproven legend claims she did so by pressing her asp to her bosom.  (If you think that makes her marvelously double jointed, there is something wrong with the lettering on your screen.)

The queen in question was not queen for a day but maybe queen for all history.  Her name was Cleopatra.  Of Greek heritage (one of Alexander the Great's generals, don'tcha know!), as a teenager she married her brother (an old Egyptian dynastic custom).  However, bickering over whom  mom always liked best led to civil war (well....there were no Sally Jessy shows back then).

Said civil war led a certain J. Caesar to assume that Egypt was ripe for the picking.  Noting that said Caesar had a rather large army, the coy Cleopatra tried the batted eyelash maneuver on him.  This of course worked for a while until his health failed (some stabbing pains in the forum, I hear). Said Caesar was succeeded by a Triumvirate (or maybe I got that wrong - it coulda been three guys).

Anyway, one of them was Mark Antony (upon whom Cleo applied the above-mentioned eyelash trick).  Again it worked for a while until the other two guys (under Lepidus and Octavian on your program) figured the queen had too much influence on Mark. They sank his ambitions at a place called Actium.  Then the plot thickened.

Cleo figured Octavian was the new man about town.  But Mark Antony was still in the way. Cleo sent a message to M.A. saying all is lost and I have 86'd myself.  Advise you do same.  Mark Antony complied.  Cleo then sent a message to Octavian saying - Yoo Hoo!  My boyfriend's gone!  Octavian told the messenger that he was preparing a gilded cage in which to parade Cleo through the streets of Rome.  Not being into the zoo thing, Cleo performed the above-mentioned unassisted Kevorkian.

To mark the day, continue to adjust to changing environments but remember it's always critical to watch your asp.

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

Thursday, August 30

Ya' Gotta Dig The English Royals

By Grant Davies

On this day (-5) 527 years ago, a man was buried after being killed in the Battle of Bosworth Field three days earlier. The poor guy was whacked in the head with a poleaxe.

His name was Richard Plantagenet, better known to history buffs as King Richard III.  He was the last English king to die in battle and he was the last of his family line to be king. It seems he was also last in the hearts of his countrymen. Particularly a guy named Henry Tudor.

Henry just happened to be in charge of the other army on that day, and conveniently he became king himself (Henry the VII) as soon as Richie's headache turned fatal. It didn't take long for him to prove what a change in leadership will do for a country. His first official act as new monarch was an order to have Richard's body brought to a town nearby, Leicester, where he had it stripped naked and hung up for all to see. (The indignity of being naked in front of your former subjects is somewhat more tolerable after you're already dead. The hanging of the royal corpse could have been a tad over the top, but maybe that's just me.)

Anyway, the reason we are revisiting this little tale is because, on this day (-5) in this year, Richard's body is being dug up. At least that's what the archaeologists from the University of Leicester will try to do. It seems that his remains have been somehow misplaced for at least a few hundred years, give or take.

That swell guy Henry didn't want anyone to be able to venerate the grave of the likable Richard, so he saw to it that his body didn't get much of a grave-site. In fact, he was buried right there in Leicester instead of London like all of his predecessors. He was interred at the Greyfriars Abbey where he remained until the Abbey was destroyed by another great guy named Henry VIII not too long afterward.

The royal burial place..maybe
The centuries went by, records got lost, people got confused about locations, and the site is now thought to be under a parking lot used by the Leicester City Council.

If they find the remains of the Royal pain in the arse under the blacktop he will be the first one ever dug up. So in that at least, he will be the first, instead of the last.

Background information for this article was gleaned from the fine site The History Blog. You can glean a lot of cool things from there.

Monday, August 27

How Big? You Must Be On Krak!

Image = Wikipedia

By Art Cashin

On this day (-1) in 1883, on a sleepy little island in the Sundra Strait, west of Java, a sleepy little volcano began to stir.  (Actually, the volcano probably got the wake-up call the day before when natives said the ground was so hot they got blisters on their feet.)

Anyway, on this particular Monday morning, between dawn and mid-morning, the volcano (virtually inactive for 200 years) decided to strut its stuff.  And, boy did it ever!  In four convulsive heaves, it produced the greatest explosion in recorded history. The island and the volcano are listed in your history books as Krakatoa.

The eruption was so large; it set off four earthquakes and over fifteen other volcanoes in a 100-mile neighborhood.  The explosion was so great that within four hours windows would break 3000 miles away.  Even ten days later the recently repaired windows would continue to be pelted by rock fragments (Yes folks, the same 3000 miles away). Now, if you were a touch closer, say 500 miles, there were these 100 foot tidal waves. (That's what killed nearly 40,000 people in such a sparsely populated area.)  Not to worry, by the time the tidal waves traveled the thousand of miles to Africa, they were only 10 feet tall.

But then there was the dust.  Krakatoa hurled so much of itself into the sky that the island, virtually twice the size of Manhattan, nearly disappeared.  The temperature of the nearby ocean jumped 50 degrees.  The sky was so dark that for three days there was no sun.  And for five years, as far away as Hawaii, the sunsets were green not red.  And, oh yeah, for the next 25 years from America to Europe, the climate was colder.

To mark the day, stop by the Environmental Lounge and listen to the bartender talk about how man is upsetting Nature's delicate balance.  But don't sip anything with CFC in it.

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

Tuesday, August 21

He Was All Thumbs

By Art Cashin

On this day (+1) in 1905, a 25 year-old kid from Factoryville, PA. caught the thumb of his right hand in a bureau drawer.  Now, since at this time, lots of kids in Factoryville were getting thumbs, fingers and other appendages caught in things like stamping machines, you may wonder why this particular thumb and this particular drawer were of note.
Perhaps the reason was that this kid was no longer working in the Factoryville area but rather in an area of NYC called Coogan's Bluff.  His employer (the N.Y. Giants) hoped the thumb incident would not impact his work (which had been good to date).

His name was Christy Mathewson and he was on his way to a 31 and 8 season (with a rather amazing ERA of 1.27). Giant Manager John McGraw need not have worried however.  That year they probably could have hit "Matty" with a truck and he'd have won anyway. 

He proved that point in the World Series against the Philadelphia Athletics when he virtually won the Series singlehandedly.  He had to pitch 3 games in six days.  Not only did he win them all by shutouts - - he never even let an "A's" player reach 3rd base.  His ERA for the World Series of 1905 - - just 0.00.

And, folklore has it, when it was all over he raised his right hand and gave the "thumbs up" sign.

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

Friday, August 17

Blue Tooth, It's a Heady Invention

By Grant Davies

On this day (-6) in 1942, (that's Aug. 11th to the mathematically lazy among you) a patent was awarded for an idea that later turned into "spread-spectrum communication technology", which is used today in such devices as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi network connections,as well as some cordless and wireless telephones.

The idea was originally proposed to be used in the war effort as a way to make submarine launched radio guided torpedoes difficult or impossible for the enemy to jam, or even detect. The concept was to switch frequencies rapidly and endlessly. Oddly, they called it "Frequency Hopping."

The inventors were George Antheil, a composer, and Hedy Kiesler Markey, an actress. At least that was her current name, she had quite a few in her life due to her six marriages. Her name at birth was Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, but today she is remembered by the name familiar to most, Hedy Lamarr.

That's right, this amazing idea was conceived by "The most beautiful woman in the world", as she was billed during her heyday. Not too many disputed that claim back then. She was a looker for sure. And as it turns out, smart as a whip.

Hedy originally became famous for a role she played in the 1933 Austrian movie "Ecstasy." That role required her to act out an orgasm with the camera trained on her face. In the same movie she ran through the woods naked. Frontal nudity was involved, and for the times, it was more than a little controversial. But for a beautiful woman with a knack for drama, it was just pretend. Her actual life had a lot more drama than most.

Her first husband was an armaments manufacturer, who although partially Jewish, consorted with Nazi industrialists. He was also prone to keep her locked up in his mansion while out trying to buy up every copy of the movie that made her famous. But he did teach her all about armaments and she was already a talented mathematician.

She had other ideas about her life so she hired a maid who resembled her, drugged her into unconsciousness, changed clothes with her, and slipped away. She escaped to Paris where she divorced the nut. A few stops later she ended up in America, adopted the country, changed her name, and became a huge star in Hollywood.

So the next time you use your high tech communication device, think about smart and beautiful women who run through the woods naked as a Blue Tooth, er, Blue Jay. 

Thursday, August 16

Yankees vs Indians - It Was a Killer Game

Image Courtesy of SABR
By Art Cashin

On this day in 1920, something unique in baseball history occurred.  And, while no one knew it at the time, it would change the course of baseball history.

Carl Mays was on the mound for the New York Yankees.  Mays threw a fastball as hard as anyone ever had.  At the plate stood Ray Chapman the Cleveland Indian shortstop.  Ray was a gritty player known for "crowding the plate."

Two other things you should know - it was a dark grey day and at the time the league (thanks to the owners) tended to use the same ball all  game (a money saving gesture....imagine greed influencing the game of baseball).

So, as Chapman leaned over the plate, Mays uncorked one of his sizzlers.  The ball, dirty, damp and grey, was invisible against the sky and the stands.  It struck Ray full speed in the temple.  He was killed and became the first and only fatality in professional baseball history.

The investigating team decided that from then on umpires should carry fresh white balls to put into play.  Thus the balls, no longer wet or mud-caked, became fresher and livelier.  Soon batting averages and RBI's moved up.  In fact, a bandy legged ex-pitcher named Babe Ruth began to hit gobs of home runs (until he set a record of 60 in 1927).  And, the '20's became the golden age of hitters and sluggers. But none of the record books has an asterisk that says "may owe his fame to Ray Chapman."

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

Monday, August 13

Finding the Dakota, It's a Family Affair

Image courtesy of The History Blog
By Grant Davies

On this day in 2012, (yeah I know, that's this year) three teenage hikers found a propeller blade sticking out of the snow.

Okay, let's start over. The actual date of the discovery was July 27th, but "if you're gonna have a hit, ya gotta make it fit" so I changed it to fit our usual starting phrase.

And what's the deal with snow in July? Well, if you're in the Swiss Alps, the month is irrelevant because the snow is omnipresent. Since this story isn't about the hikers, and finding a propeller isn't usually a historical event, I massaged the whole introduction to make it fit. Also, since these kids didn't have the decency to contact this blog first with the story (instead, they called a news station), I have decided to omit their names and ignore them for the remainder of this story. I'm vindictive that way.

The real story is about a plane that crashed in November, 1946, and the remarkable way the people on board survived and were rescued. The whole affair was front page news at the time.

The pilot was Captain Ralph Tate Jr., the plane was a US military transport (C-53 Skytrooper Dakota), and the passengers included a General, a Colonel, their families, three other crewmen, and most importantly, his  mother. An even dozen souls in all. For obvious reasons Ralph was trying to avoid bad weather.

Somewhere near Innsbruck, Switzerland, he and his copilot became directionally disoriented. Pretty soon they were as confused as Scott Walker at a union meeting. They went off course and began to think they were in the French Alps. The situation rapidly deteriorated when they were caught in a downdraft.

To avoid an abrupt meeting with an Alp, Ralph was forced to make a "pancake" landing on a glacier. He pulled it off in a move that would have made Sully Sullenberger proud. And even though the worst injury was a broken leg, the problems were far from over.

It's a tad cold there in November, about -5 degrees Fahrenheit at night, and they had to improvise for warmth and food. They gathered up the box lunches and anything that could be used for blankets. They radioed for help with the power left in the batteries, but the signal was bouncing around the mountains like a yodeler's echo. All the searchers were coming up empty. Two days went by. Just when it looked like they had about one more day to live, Ralph heard a plane above and fired a flare. Luckily, his father saw it.

That's right, his own father, Brigadier General Ralph Tate Sr, was piloting a B-29 overhead while searching for them and was on his way back to base in Munich after thinking he had failed. Tate Sr. fired his own flare in answer. The two were able to exchange only a few words on air before the radio batteries in the downed plane finally gave out.

But the spot was marked and the rescue was on. The ensuing heroics went down in Swiss history. Everyone was saved, and the legendary Swiss Air Rescue Guard Rega was essentially born on that day.

To toast the heroes, hoist a Feldschlösschen. But don't let the Swiss beer make you disoriented, you might end up calling your father for a ride home.

As you might imagine, there is a hellava lot more to the story. But I had to make it fit the spot so if you want to read a great account of the whole story you should read it at The History Blog where I first learned about it. It's a terrific place to find great history. 

Editors note: On April 5th, 2013 we received a comment from a reader, Dave Head, from Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. Dave says that the facts are incorrect in our story in regards to who actually found the Dakota and when. Dave writes about it in the comment section below. Be sure to read it as a follow-up to our story. We have no reason to dispute Dave's version, in fact it seems likely that his source is genuine. We welcome his participation and encourage everyone to help us keep the facts straight. 

Thanks Dave! Cheeky History strives to get it right, but we are only as good as our sources since we don't do any original research. We're glad to have input on any story we write about. And thanks again to The History Blog, they do great work on so much history.

Thursday, August 9

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Image = Wikipedia

By Art Cashin

On this day in 1965, a bunch of workmen were repairing a silo in Arkansas - Searcy, Arkansas to be exact.  So….you say to yourself what's so unusual about guys in Arkansas working in a silo. Didn't we see some of those images in the last election campaign?

Well....this silo was a little different.  No corn!  No wheat!  No alfalfa!  Just a Titan II Missile with nuclear warheads.  Now,  lest  you  think  that your government doesn't care about you - let us assure you that officials at the highest levels ordered that while those guys were welding, hammering and  blow-torching, the multiple atomic warheads would be marginally disarmed.  (Marginally - did he say marginally?  Does that mean…..oh well!  Never mind!)

Anyway, despite the careful controls imposed by your government, somehow a fire broke out in the bottom 1/3 of the silo.  Not to worry the multiple warheads was already "marginally disarmed" (what the heck does that mean anyway??). With the warheads certified "non-worrying" by your government, what could go wrong?  Unfortunately, at the silo command center they began worrying about two small items.

Number 1 - no one had drained the rocket fuel from the missile.  Number 2 - if the fire got real hot, could it "cross short" the wires to other command sites setting off a.....but you already saw that movie. Nonetheless, the fire smoldered and the smoke and heat made concern #1 a problem.  Given the risk/reward analysis (an errant "marginally disarmed" nuclear missile versus sealing the lid and thus, the doom of scores of workers), the commander opted for the latter.

About 50 workers died in the closed silo.  The sealing shut off the oxygen for both the fire and the victims.  Recognizing the damage that might have been done by an explosion in the silo or a random blastoff; a government group found the decision correct.  Correct maybe, but certainly not painless!

And since it was mid "Cold War", it never made it on the TV Expose' shows (oh yeah, I forgot.....back then there were no TV Expose' shows).

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

Wednesday, August 8

What a Difference Six Years Makes

By Grant Davies

On this day in 1968, Richard Nixon was nominated by the Republican Party to be their candidate for the Presidency of the United States. The GOP party faithful were delighted. What a happy day! He went on to win the general election handily. He also went on to distinguish himself as the dope who inspired the phrase "the cover-up is worse than the crime."

His running mate was another dope named Spiro Agnew who went on to distinguish himself as an accomplished extortionist. He was eventually charged with accepting $100,000 in bribes while serving in various offices, including the Vice Presidency. His actual crime was taking hard cash from favor seekers, unlike the more sophisticated politicians of current times who take the payoff in campaign contributions. (Ya' gotta be nuanced, cash is so tacky.) The fool was forced to resign.

But let's fast forward past a few thousand other high crimes and misdemeanors to get to another event that occurred on this day as well.

Yep, you guessed. It was six years later to the day that Nixon nominated himself to become an ex-President. The party faithful wasn't nearly as delighted this time. He went on to distinguish himself as the first President to resign in disgrace. (The resignation part was the main difference between him and the majority of those who disgraced themselves subsequently.)

So six years later he still had that stupid look on his face while he held up double victory signs as he boarded the government helicopter that  flew him into historical oblivion.

PS--Nixon died in April 1994 and the country had a day off for the funeral. To mark the occasion, I decided to play golf with some friends. I scored a hole in one on that day. Maybe I should call him Richard now, instead of Dick.

Monday, August 6

AC, DC - Three Strikes and You're Out

A DC electric chair -
it's the same, but different.

By Art Cashin

On this day in 1890, a piece of Americana began.  And, it being America it had to do with violence, punishment, technology and enterprise.  In Auburn Prison, in New York, a man named William Kemmler (a/k/a Johnny Hart) was the first person executed in the electric chair.  And, as often happens in most American initiatives the first try went bad.  And, all because he made the simple mistake of accidently hitting his mistress, Tillie Zeigler, in the head, with an axe, 12 times.

But America wouldn't be America without partisans to an issue.  And, Kemmler's electrocution had lots of pros and cons.   One activist pushing for the execution was Thomas Alva Edison.  On the other side was his business adversary, George Westinghouse.  And, while the debate was  officially about capital punishment, in America naturally, the basis was commerce.

Edison had the head start in electricity. But his system was direct current (DC). Westinghouse had introduced a challenge with alternating current (AC).  The AC was gaining on Edison.  And, although the original electric chair was developed at Edison's laboratories, the NY Legislature approved an experimental model that used the Westinghouse (AC) method.

But, lest you think that made Westinghouse the winner, recall one more fact.  Both sides wanted folks to put electricity in their homes.  And, nothing could kill that idea easier than newspaper headlines of an electrocution in a chair proving electricity can kill. (Not in my house.)

So, for months, Edison fostered comments that said - - "Kill the Killer!"  And, Westinghouse, whose system was used, feared economic defeat.  So, he fostered vibrant comments to prevent the use of capital punishment.  Perversely, even today, both sides of the capital punishment argument use variations of what the two competitors presented.

In the end, Kemmler was electrocuted - - they had to throw the switch three times - - and in the end AC won out anyway.

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

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