Monday, September 27, 2010

August 25th in History

stylized 16th c. iconographic image of Ivan IV

1530 – Birth of Tsar Ivan IV of Russia, known as Ivan the Terrible in English (d. 1584)  As Grand Prince of Moscow, he expanded Russian borders eastward through military conquest of what had been territory of the Golden Horde.  These included the khanate of Kazan, which encompassed Tatarstan and Bashkortostan; the khanate of Astrakhan; and the Khanate of Sibir, which in English is called Siberia.  These included some of the most northern ethnic groups of Muslim people, making Russia not only more ethnicly diverse but religiously diverse -- and a WHOLE lot larger. Estimates are that Ivan the Terrible expanded Russian borders through military aggression at the rate of 135 square kilometers a day.  This was a sense a reversal of the direction, a push-back, of the conquests of the Golden Horde westward from Mongolia and China that attacked    the eastern slavic region of Rus from the 13th century to the beginning of the 16th century.  Rus was the region which gave it's name to Russia, and Belarus, and included parts of Poland, the Ukraine, and Slovakia. 
Ivan the Terrible was given to violent rages attributed to mental illness; history records he assaulted his daughter in law causing her to miscarry, and that he killed his son and heir (another Ivan) by bashing his head in with his scepter when his son objected to his wife's assault and miscarriage.  After his designated heir was killed, his younger son, Feodor the Bellringer, who history records as mentally retarded.  His name 'bellringer' came from his habit of travelling the country, piously attending many churches, and vigorously ringing the church bells himself.  Governing of the country devolved on his brother in law, Boris Godunov, who had attempted to stop Ivan the Terrible from killing Feodor's older brother.  Feodor's reign ended the Rurik dynasty, which lasted from 862 to 1598.  See my previous post about the 'stans.

1609   Galileo Galilei demonstrates his first telescope to Venetian lawmakers.

1718   Hundreds of French colonists arrived in Louisiana, with some of them settling in present-day New Orleans.

1776   Death of David Hume, Scottish philosopher and historian (b. 1711)

1814  White House is destroyed by British forces during the War of 1812.  Dolly Madison famously escapes just ahead of the arrival of the British with some of the more precious items from the White House, including a famous portrait of George Washington, demonstrating tremendous grace under pressure.

1819    Birth of Allan Pinkerton, American private detective (d. 1884)

Great Moon Hoax illustration
accompanying the 4th of 6 articles
in the New York Sun

1835   The New York Sun perpetrates the Great Moon Hoax.  Preceding Orson Well's sci-fi hoax broadcast War of the Worlds about a martian invasion, the New York Sun circulated a series of six articles claiming to have discovered life and civilization on the moon, attributing the discovery to the famous real life astronomer Sir John Herschel to give it plausibility. The articles purported to be written by a fictional individual, Dr. Andrew Grant, who represented himself to be Herschel's secretary/ personal assistant.  The people he claimed inhabited the moon had bat wings, and there were also unicorns and two-legged tailless beavers, among other novelties.  Authorship of the six articles, which ended with the claim that the new telescope used for the discovery had accidentally set the observatory on fire by acting like a magnifying glass in the sun, is attributed to a reporter, Richard A. Locke, but has never been proven - and he never admitted it.  It is suspected that it was not only a stunt to improve circulation, but also a satire poking fun at actual scientific papers that were ridiculous, like the 1842 paper by Munich Astronomy Professor  Franz von Paula Gruithuisen, who published a paer in 1824 titled ""Discovery of Many Distinct Traces of Lunar Inhabitants, Especially of One of Their Colossal Buildings".  The moon hoax is also thought to be a lampoon of the Rev. Thomas Dick, the "Christian Philosopher", who wrote a book claiming the solar system had more than 21 trillion inhabitants, and that the moon would have - by his precise computation - more than 4,200,000,000 inhabitants.  Rev. Dick's writings were taken very seriously, and were given credence and authority by intellectuals like Ralph Waldo Emerson. The Sun never did print a retraction or an admission this was a hoax. The periodical, the Southern Literary Messenger, had published an Edgar Alan Poe account in June 1835, "The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall", which claimed a man had flown a hot air balloon to the moon, and lived among the 'lunarians' for five years.

The Mars "Face" image
from the side, just a hill

If you think we are too sophisticated to fall for this kind of silliness in our modern era, I give you the hoopla over the supposed face on Mars in contradiction.  In the mid 1970's first Viking I and then Viking II photos showed a geographic feature that some people believed to be a giant carving of a human or human-like head, leading to sensational speculation that this was a remnant of a long lost martian civilization, or an indication of extraterrestrial intelligence, visitations to Earth, etc.  It turned out to be just a hill.  Carl Sagan devoted a chapter about this in his book "The Demon-Haunted World", a book promoting skepticism and critical thinking.

1845   Birth of King Ludwig II of Bavaria aka Mad King Ludwig (same birthday as Ludwig I) (d. 1886)

1894   Shibasaburo Kitasato discovers the infectious agent of the bubonic plague and publishes his findings in The Lancet.  See yesterday's 'day in history', the killing of 6,000 Jews in Mainz, Germany, for supposedly causing the bubonic plague hundreds of years before.

1898   700 Greek civilians, 17 British guards and the British Consul of Crete are killed by a Turkish mob in Heraklion, Greece.  Crete had been the rope in a sort of political tug of war between Greece, the Ottoman Empire of Turkey, and the British, Egypt, and others for centuries, but a major source of uprisings was religious conflict between Christians and Moslems.  In 1913 Crete became an independent kingdom, for less than a year, before ending up a part of Greece again.

1900   Death of Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher (b. 1844)

1912   The Kuomintang, the Chinese nationalist party, is founded.

1913   Birth of Walt Kelly, American cartoonist of the strip Pogo. (d. 1973)

1916  The United States National Park Service is created.

1919   Birth of George Wallace, American politician (d. 1998)

Bond, James Bond

1930   Birth of Sean Connery, Scottish actor, first to portray fictional spy James Bond in film.

1944   World War II: Paris is liberated by the Allies.

1945   Ten days after World War II ends with Japan announcing its surrender, armed supporters of the Communist Party of China kill Baptist missionary John Birch, regarded by some of the American right as the first victim of the Cold War.  His death was the inspiration for the ultra-right wing extremist group, the John Birch Society currently embraced by the Republican Party.

1946   Birth of Charles Ghigna (Father Goose), American poet and children's author

Simmons in Kiss makeup

1948   The House Un-American Activities Committee holds first-ever televised congressional hearing: "Confrontation Day" between Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss.

1949    Birth of Gene Simmons, Israeli-born musician (Kiss)

1950    President Harry Truman orders the US Army to seize control of the nation's railroads to avert a strike.

1956   Death of Alfred Kinsey, American research biologist noted for the Kinsey Report which made the previously taboo discussion of sex less taboo. (b. 1894) Kinsey founded the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, and published the landmark studies, the two Kinsey Reports.  The 2004 movie Kinsey was a biography.  His work dramatically changed the understanding of sex and sexuality by applying the scientific method.

1967   Death of George Lincoln Rockwell, American Nazi Party leader (b. 1918)  Rockwell had been strongly influenced by Senator Joseph McCarthy.  His writings continue to be influential in the political extremist white supremacist movement.  Rockwell was assassinated by one of his own American Nazi party members who shot him to death.

1981   Voyager 2 spacecraft makes its closest approach to Saturn.

1989   Voyager 2 spacecraft makes its closest approach to Neptune, the outermost planet in the Solar System.

1997   Egon Krenz, the former East German leader, is convicted of a shoot-to-kill policy at the Berlin Wall during the Cold War.

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