Friday, August 28, 2009

The History Is Funny Store Is Now Open!

I know, two posts in one day after four posts in a year is a little excessive, but I have a funny story to tell you about this very blog, which I guess would make it a (History Is Funny) Is Funny story.

Sunday night I had the TV tuned to "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" for about five minutes. Now, I don't usually watch game shows these days because after an ignominious defeat on a certain show where you have to answer everything in the form of a question, I just get mad. And Sunday's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" was no exception - they were on the million dollar question, which involved identifying Lyndon Johnson's favorite beverage.

Well, obviously I know that. I even blogged about it once. Time it was that my site was on the first page of google results for "LBJ Fresca." In fact, that was still true as of Sunday, a fact I didn't connect until I looked at my site stats and saw that I'd gotten over 1,600 unique page views within an hour or two of that trivia question airing. (Of course, now that this bit of trivia has fallen into game show lore, I'm no longer on the first page of google hits. Oh well. I think I'm still one of the first hits for "Andrew Jackson groin shot". You take your victories where you can get them.)

My supreme moment of idiocy lies in the fact that I've been building a t-shirt shop to go with this blog, and I didn't have a link up on the day I had a moment of dubious internet fame, thus costing me perhaps dozens of sales. It starts to become clear now how I haven't managed to retire before age 30 with my massive piles of game show winnings and/or Nobel Prizes, I know.

I won't make that mistake again. You must all know about the site now: presenting the History Is Funny Store, brought to you by printfection. I have half a dozen designs up so far, with many more to come. I have a couple of the shirts myself and the print quality and shirt quality are excellent. I have kept the prices as low as possible so it feels a little less like highway robbery - I make a buck off of anything I sell here, and that's it.

Happy shopping! Feedback and suggestions are more than welcome.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

As a longtime aficionado of the Kennedy mystique (and I do mean long-time; I had my own copy of the Warren Report when I was nine), I was saddened to learn about the passing of Ted Kennedy this week. Of all the Kennedy brothers, he certainly accomplished the most, even if his legacy is a little bit tarnished by scandal and the looming shadow of two brothers who did something he couldn't compete with - dying young with potential.

My favorite accomplishment of Senator Kennedy's didn't take place on the legislative floor, but at a college where he'd be hard-pressed to find anybody who agreed with him on anything. Kennedy was a good friend of the Reverend Jerry Falwell despite their ideological differences, but when Falwell invited him to speak at Liberty Baptist College (now Liberty University), I don't think anybody really expected him to take him up on it, or if they did, they expected the hard-line liberal to come in fighting. But his speech, known as the "Truth and Tolerance in America" speech, was an eloquent, respectful meditation on the separation of church and state, as well as a call for national unity.

No matter your political ideals or affiliation, his message here is a great read. (And not without a little wry humor.) You can watch the video, see the audio, or read the full text at American Rhetoric.

(The image in this post is Senator Kennedy with my favorite ex-Prez, Jimmy Carter, in 1977. It's from the National Archives via the Carter Library.)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Fun With the LOC Prints and Photographs Collection

Gerald Ford always strikes me as one of the funniest presidents. From Ron "Clam Chowder" Nessen, the first White House staffer to host Saturday Night Live, to pardoning the White House turkey a little bit too late to one of the funniest SNL sketches ever (surprisingly, featuring neither Ron Nessen nor Chevy Chase), something about the man attracts humor.

This week, while browsing the Library of Congress, I found the following morsel of hilarity, amusing for oh so many reasons:

As White House reporters listen raptly and take copious notes, President Ford regales them with a passionately recounted tale of the time he was scouted by the Detroit Lions. Or the time he was on the cover of Cosmo. Or the time he told the entire city of New York to drop dead and New York just had to sit there and take it. I'm not really sure which story it is, but whatever he's saying, President Ford is having a hard time hearing anybody's reactions over the sound of how awesome he is.

But that's not even the funniest part of the photo. Look over there to the left of the president, at the Richard Dreyfuss-looking guy in the shaggy 70s haircut and the disbelieving smirk. He's sure not buying whatever Jerry's selling. Does he look familiar? He should. Subtract those marvelous locks of hair, add some little round glasses, and put a few lines on that smirk:

That's right, it's none other than former vice president Dick Cheney, who served as Ford's chief of staff after Donald Rumsfeld was promoted to secretary of defense in 1975.

For my money, there's nothing more hilarious than outdated photos of a public figure, especially when those photos come from an aesthetically hideous era. It may be why I decided to study history. Here are two more awesome Cheney photos from the Ford years, proving that he basically has one facial expression, and it's smirky:

And now with bonus Donald Rumsfeld!:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

TV shows only I would watch

A particular joy of working where I do is that you learn something new every day.

Today I learned that Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, and two guys in the House of Representatives are roommates when Congress is in session.

I've previously told you about the Supreme Court's very similar arrangement back at the dawn of the 19th Century, and how cohousing SCOTUS would have made the best season of The Real World ever. Now I think it might have some competition. Okay, the partisan squabbling would probably be less brazen given that they're all pretty liberal, but guys, Durbin yelling at everybody for the zillionth time to pay him back for that Costco trip in 1996? Killing rats with a golf club? This could be the highest rated program ever to air on C-SPAN.

Possibly the best line in the whole article: "So we found Chuck [Schumer] living in a basement somewhere."

Friday, January 23, 2009

Now that my Huge Important Work Project is winding down, hopefully I'll have some energy to bring you more funny history.

Today I spent some time reading up on G. Harrold Carswell, Nixon's second failed nominee to the Supreme Court slot left vacant by Abe Fortas in 1970. Carswell was an utterly mediocre judge with an objectionable civil rights record, and he was summarily rejected by the Senate, 51-45. He had his share of supporters, though, especially among Southerners and Republicans.

Senator Roman Hruska of Nebraska said this about Carswell: "There are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they? We can't have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos and stuff like that there."

...yeah. For the highest court in the nation, someone thought we needed to make sure mediocrity is represented. Although now that I think of it, that line of reasoning might go a small distance toward explaining Harriet Miers.

Let's hope our new president likes the idea of having all Brandeises, Frankfurters, and Cardozos, just in case he's got the opportunity to nominate some and stuff like that there.

Friday, November 14, 2008

One-term veep, one-hit wonder

When Joe Biden assumes the office of the vice presidency in January, he will be the first vice president from Delaware, the first Catholic elected to the office, and the first with egregious hair plugs. All of these historic firsts pale in comparison...

(ha! I bet you thought I was going to make some pithy comment about Obama's historic election, didn't you? Well, as awesome as that is, I'm taking this in a totally different direction.) Charles G. Dawes, vice president under Calvin Coolidge, the only vice president to have written a number-one hit song.

Dawes, an amateur musician, committed his "Melody in A Major" to paper over the course of one afternoon in 1912, though it had been stuck in his head for days prior to that. A musician friend secretly took it to a sheet music publisher, and bands across the country added it to their sets. Dawes, hardly a household name at the time, was initially flattered by his tune's success, but then the tune just wouldn't die. He went on to serve as Warren G. Harding's Director of the Budget, and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on post-war reparations in Germany, but the stupid song was still ubiquitous. It didn't fade into obscurity until years after Dawes himself had faded out of the public eye.

Shortly after Dawes's death in 1951, lyricist Carl Sigler resurrected the tune and added the lyrics we know it by today. "It's All in the Game" was put to a shuffling rock-ballad beat and became a number-one hit for Tommy Edwards in 1958. It has since been recorded by everybody from Robert Goulet to the Four Tops. Most recently, Barry Manilow included it on a 2006 covers album.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What's in a name?

Today I randomly stumbled across Wikipedia's list of Secret Service codenames from the mid-50s to the present. President-elect Barack Obama is known as "Renegade." (Which is sort of like "Maverick," but better.) His wife and daughters are called "Renaissance," "Rosebud," and "Radiance."

One guy who clearly must have done something to irritate the Secret Service, though, was Gerald Ford's press secretary, Ron Nessen, who was known to the Secret Service as "Clam Chowder." Come to think of it, dude seems to have had a pretty wicked sense of humor, so maybe he got to pick his own. Nessen was the first political figure to host Saturday Night Live during its first season in 1975. You can read transcripts of some of the sketches in his episode here. Unfortunately Nessen as Jefferson's press secretary in "Press Secretaries Through History" hasn't yet been transcribed.