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History Trivia & Comment: The Fun, The Serious, And The Useless (10/26/2007)

October 26, 2007

On this day in …

– 1774, “The First Continental Congress adjourned in Philadelphia.” … What good does it do us to know when it adjourned without knowing when the gavel fell for the start? Or, give us its most significant proclamation or accomplishment. Without a bit more, this is just useless information.

– 1861, “The Pony Express officially ceased operations.” … This is another one where more context saves this from the dustbin of useless history trivia. For instance, why not add this to the beginning: “Being rendered obsolete by the telegraph, the Pony Express… .” Yes this adds 6 words, but it says something more to those interested in trivial pursuits.

– 1911, “Hall of Fame pro football coach Sid Gillman was born in Minneapolis.” … Again, pretty useless information—but perhaps for a more interesting reason. This came from today’s Chicago Tribune. Doesn’t it seem appropriate, in light of Chicago’s being lampooned as a city nuts over sports, for its Bill Swerskian “Super Fans?”

– 1940, “The P-51 Mustang makes its maiden flight.” … Shouldn’t we say “first flight?” I don’t suggest this out of political correctness, but rather because the subject is a Mustang. Horses don’t take maiden runs, do they?

– 1948, A “killer smog settles into Donora, Pennsylvania.” … I know this was and still is serious business, but doesn’t the entry—with its present tense “settles”—seem like the opening line for a comic book story? The verb instilled in me a vision of a human-shaped fog monster beginning its stomp through Donora.

– 1955, “After the last Allied troops have left the country and following the provisions of the Austrian Independence Treaty, Austria declares its permanent neutrality.” … Wow. 1955?—I had no idea Allied troops remained an entity for so long after World War II. Of course historians, of the U.S. and otherwise, are reminded regularly of events in Berlin in the 1950s. But I never thought of, or was taught that, Berlin’s zone divisions should be thought of as Allied activities in a WWII sense.

– 1962, “In one of the most dramatic verbal confrontations of the Cold War, American U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson asked his Soviet counterpart during a Security Council debate whether the USSR had placed missiles in Cuba.” … Well, I suppose “asking” can be dramatic, if done in pronounced way? The verb just seems inadequate, or at least lacking the appropriate theater for the remembrance at hand.

– 1972, “National security adviser Henry Kissinger declared “peace is at hand” in Vietnam.” … With the benefit of hindsight, shouldn’t “peace” be replaced by “piece?” And with my word replacement suggestion, I couldn’t resist working a little Shel Silverstein in here.

– 2001, “President George W. Bush signed the USA Patriot Act, giving authorities unprecedented ability to search, seize, detain or eavesdrop in their pursuit of possible terrorists.” … Well, I wouldn’t say “unprecedented.” The historian easily finds counterexamples in the actions of Presidents Adams (Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798), Lincoln (suspending habeus corpus during the Civil War), Wilson (Espionage Act of 1917, Sedition Act of 1918), and I’m sure others. If you’re going to vilify a president, at least find worthy historical examples. And don’t tell me that eavesdropping qualifies as new, because that’s only a function of technology.

– 2007, “Apple, Inc. released its sixth verson of Mac OS X, named ‘Leopard.’ ” … “Vers[i]on” was mispelled at the source, a Wikipedia entry. Since this today, doesn’t this qualify as hurried entry of news, or an advertisement, into Wikipedia’s Today section? It sure makes you wonder about the validity of Wikipedia as an open-source encyclopedia.

[Sources: NYT, Wikipedia, Chicago Tribune]


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