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Born today in 1919: Ernie Kovacs


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Low counterparts of things usually high

Low treason

Rebelling against one’s boss or, if a slave, one’s master

Low explosive

An explosive, typically a gunpowder, whose expansion velocity is generally subsonic

Low Holy Days

Celebration periods in the Jewish calendar of secondary importance, such as the Shabbat Hagadol and Yom Rishon Hagadol

Low energy physics

The areas of physics that don’t directly involve atomic-scale dimensions, substantial radioactivity, or relativistic speeds

Low Sierra

The Sierra Nevada region in the western U.S. of medium altitude — 7000–8500 feet (2100–2600 meters) on the east side and 3000–7000 (900–2100) on the west. This is the sole habitat of the celebrated sequoia.

Low C

Low C
The note two octaves below high C or one below middle C, sounding at approximately 130.813 Hz*. Expressed in technical literature as C3, this is also the lowest note on the viola and the banjo.

Low German

Alluding roughly to altitude, the West Germanic languages and dialects spoken in northern Germany and some eastern regions of the Netherlands. Less formally the term can expand to include Dutch and Frisian and their dialects.

Low temperature superconductor

A substance that needs to be cooled to 30 K (-243 °C or -406 °F) or lower to conduct electricity without resistance. In other words, the easier superconductors to procure since any metal will superconduct if you get it cold enough.

Low tension line

Informally, a power line carrying 1000 volts or less. (The high tension Ekibastuz-Kokshetau line in Kazakhstan holds the world’s record at the other extreme, 1.15 million volts.)

Low horse

The figurative position of someone boasting or arrogantly making an assertion, but doing so while intoxicated or relying on faulty information. (Not especially common, but attested at least as far back as 1930.)

Low altar

A secondary, shorter altar in a house of worship placed forward of the main (high) altar. As the officiant can stand between the two and face the congregation, the structure can serve as a kind of lectern. In a temporal context the term can refer to a coffee table or a low-slung chest of drawers.

* Here’s how you arrive at this number: Take the twelfth root of 2, raise it to the 21st power, then divide that result into 440 (the standard frequency of A4). This is because C3 is 21 half steps below A4, and in our 12-tone even-tempered scale each half step multiplies (if going up) or divides (if going down) a frequency by the twelfth root of 2.

Odd, entirely unrelated facts III

A man named Quintus Pompeius Senecio Roscius Murena Coelius Sextus Julius Frontinus Silius Decianus Gaius Julius Eurycles Herculaneus Lucius Vibullius Pius Augustanus Alpinus Bellicus Sollers Julius Aper Ducenius Proculus Rutilianus Rufinus Silius Valens Valerius Niger Claudius Fuscus Saxa Amyntianus Sosius Priscus was appointed Roman consul in 169. His name repeats “Julius” three times and “Silius” twice. He was known as Quintus Pompeius Senecio Sosius Priscus for short.

Peach Melba (peaches served with raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream) and Melba toast were named after legendary soprano Nellie Melba. Born Helen Porter Mitchell, she had chosen her stage name to honor her birthplace of Melbourne, Australia. Melbourne had in turn been named after British Prime Minister William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, whose title referred to Melbourne Hall in Derbyshire, UK.

Ivy Baker Priest
William Windom, great grandfather of actor William Windom, was U.S. Secretary of the Treasury in 1881 and from 1889 to 1891. Ivy Baker Priest, mother of actress Pat Priest (best known for having played Marilyn on The Munsters), was U.S. Treasurer from 1953 to 1961. Ivy Baker Priest appeared as the mystery guest on the TV show What’s My Line? in August 1954. The panelists were blindfolded so they wouldn’t see her signature.

You often see old-time newsreel footage of what was originally represented to be the Titanic departing for America in which there are spooky blobs wiggling around on surfaces where you would expect to see the name of the ship. That’s because all genuine moving footage of the Titanic’s departure and voyage was lost with it along with its cinematographer, first-class passenger William Harbeck. To sidestep that inconvenient detail the newsreel producers of the day took footage of its sister ship Olympic and had someone paint out its name frame-by-frame. It’s theoretically possible that any nitrate film at the wreck site is still physically intact and viewable, should anyone manage to retrieve it.

Two anagrams of “Ronald Wilson Reagan” are “No, darlings, no ERA law” and “insane Anglo warlord.” An anagram of “Reaganomics” is “A con game, sir.”

Kerosene was originally marketed as a substitute for whale oil in lamps. It’s a mixture of molecular chains containing between 6 and 16 atoms of carbon, more or less. Gasoline, whose carbon chains average about 20 per cent shorter, was originally discarded as a worthless byproduct of kerosene production though some was bottled and sold off at the time under the trade name Petrol as an effective — if horrendously dangerous — head lice cure.

Little Hollywood story No. 2

Dancing in front of Hamburger HamletPromotional still from 20th Century Fox (1970)
One busy Friday evening I found myself working the cash register at the Hamburger Hamlet right across from Mann’s Chinese Theater.

To the left you see Rex Reed and Raquel Welch negotiating that very same eatery’s terrazzo steps about eight years earlier, so you can do the math. Back then you had to phone in customers’ credit card numbers to validate them and then do your ka-chunk ka-chunk with a mechanical imprinter. Hamburger Hamlet was founded by actor Harry Lewis (you likely saw him in the film Key Largo as one of Edward G. Robinson’s smirking henchmen who gets killed by Humphrey Bogart) and his wife Marilyn.

Now a week and a half before that, I had thrown in the towel from the strain of that very same job at the Pasadena outlet. The stroke-inducing pace of it, not to mention my inability to scarf down my complimentary dinner fast enough that after a few interruptions to ring up more customers the food would still be there when I ran back, had done me in. The manager said she was sorry that I had quit and all, but that her Hollywood counterpart Omar had no cashier to work that particular night and so could I please, please drive over there and come through for them just this once.

It turned out to be a singular experience.

Like me, Omar had lately arrived from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Small world. Both he and his senior waitress were glad to help out when my work load got out of hand. There was also plenty of bittersweet diversion. A customer started bellowing uncannily like a bull moose in the bar section and police had to be called to help Omar eighty-six him, a garishly made-up woman sat at the counter nursing her coffee and muttering to herself (“They told me I was going to be an actress...” one could speculate) for almost five hours before she left, and at around half-past ten two cars collided just outside on Hollywood Blvd and their drivers exited and started duking it out.

When the disturbance threatened to work its way toward our front door Omar got ready to lock it. At that point I noticed the bottom glass section had been boarded over, which he explained had taken place earlier that week when a potential customer crashed through it an hour after closing time to ask for a hamburger.

Other memories of that same corner linger, like the time the Popeye cast and crew had my VW Rabbit towed away late one night while I was watching their competition Flash Gordon at the Chinese.

I had parked it legally enough on Orange Drive. But to accommodate the limousines shuttling celebrants to the Popeye rap party I knew nothing about, the management installed temporary NO PARKING — TOW AWAY signs along that stretch shortly thereafter while I was inside the theater ogling Ornella Muti.

Choice #1: Run the cutthroat-infested midnight gauntlet twelve blocks northeast to my apartment and then see to getting the car back the next day, likely with added storage fees.

Choice #2: Brave a similarly unnerving trek southward, but this time only ten blocks, to the impound garage. (The facility stood just across an alley from where many of us had produced art for a Star Trek movie, but I was in no mood to reminisce.)

I yielded to #2, plus the eighty-dollar extortion. The attendant leapt between me and the car and did the windmill thing with his arms to make sure I didn’t try to escape with it.

“The untrue contriving eftsoons of another feigned lad”

Edgar the &Aelig;theling
Edgar the Ætheling was one busy beaver.
Timeline mission No. 5 takes us to the Kingdom of England.

First of all, William the Conqueror did not directly succeed his former ally and dinner companion Harold Godwinson. Edmund Ironside’s teenaged grandson Edgar the Ætheling (“throne-worthy”) actually held the strongest genealogical claim to the English throne back when Edward the Confessor died childless in January of 1066. But the committee of Anglo-Saxon nobles known as the Witan adjudged him too young and instead crowned Harold, Edward’s brother-in-law.

It took 71 days for William to kill Harold at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October; subdue Dover, Canterbury, and Winchester; and then hack his way to London to take the crown on Christmas. During that interval the Witan — albeit with waning enthusiasm — recognized Edgar as King.

&Aelig;thelred Unready to Rufus
William took Edgar back with him to Normandy in 1067. Edgar wouldn’t reign over much of anything for the remaining sixty years of his life — though scarcely for lack of trying. Alternating between throne-seeking and running for cover, pledging fealty and then reneging, his peregrinations continued roughly as follows: to Scotland in 1068; England, 1069; Scotland, 1070; Flanders, 1072; Scotland again, 1074; later, back to England; to Sicily and Italy in 1086; Scotland again, 1091; back to Normandy, then England, and finally back to Scotland by 1093; England again, then Scotland in 1097; Jerusalem (Why not?) in 1102; Normandy, 1106; and finally back to Scotland in 1120 to die peacefully around 1126.
Rufus to Henry III
England came very close to crowning its first female sovereign upon the death of Henry I. Henry’s eldest legitimate son, William, had drowned in 1120 when his vessel foundered in the English Channel. Daughter Matilda consequently moved to the front of the line. But when Henry succumbed to his legendary “surfeit of lampreys” in late 1135 Matilda was busy in France and his nephew Stephen of Blois stepped in before her supporters could stop him.

Matilda of
Fanciful portrait of Queen Matilda, whose résumé also includes Holy Roman Empress as she was Henry V of Germany’s widow
Stephen was a usurper, granted, but otherwise a pushover. “When traitors saw that Stephen was a good-humored, kindly, and easygoing man who inflicted no punishment,” the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us, “they committed all manner of horrible crimes.” Stephen had his hands full putting down one rebellion after another, and during a six-month gap you can see in the circle above Matilda’s forces imprisoned him and proclaimed her as Queen. Moneyers of Stephen’s era muddled the legends on their coins to avoid the personal risk of taking sides.

Stephen declared his son Eustace co-regent but outlived him. A similar situation played out with Henry II and his son Henry, Jr., remembered as The Young King. Louis the Lion (later Louis VIII of France) claimed the throne in 1216 while King John still had four months to live; but 10,000 silver marks and other fabulous prizes persuaded him to renounce it in favor of Henry III.
Henry V to Elizabeth I
Skipping forward a couple of centuries we can spot the musical chairs between Henry VI and Edward IV and then the brief showing of Edward V, the elder of the two princes in the Tower of London widely believed to have been murdered by order of usurper Richard III.

In the second circled area we find Henry VII fending off his own insurrectionists. Intrigues against Henry tended to involve pre-Tudor holdovers who hoped to reverse his victory over Richard III at Bosworth Field. Rationales grew out of revisionist scenarios featuring the Tower Princes and/or the Earl of Warwick and other second-stringers. The two standout pretenders were Lambert Simnel and the “feigned lad” of Henry’s description in our title, Perkin Warbeck.

Henry VII
Henry VII
Simnel’s supporters crowned him “Edward VI” in Dublin on 24 May 1487 and passed him off as the 17th Earl of Warwick, whom Richard III had supposedly anointed as his rightful successor. All this was news to Henry who, last he checked, was holding the real 17th Earl of Warwick in the Tower. Henry’s forces trounced Simnel’s on 16 June at the Battle of Stoke Field. Realizing the ten-year-old Simnel was little more than a Yorkist puppet, he pardoned him and gave him a job in the royal kitchen.

Perkin Warbeck fared less well. In 1491 word reached Henry that Richard Duke of York, the younger of the Tower Princes, had somehow survived and vowed to overthrow him. The Royal Army captured Warbeck in Cornwall in 1497. Henry put him and his wife under a kind of honorary house arrest on the palace grounds; but when Warbeck abused that leniency by dusting off his old plot and scheming with the [genuine] Earl of Warwick, Henry hanged them both.
Charles I to George II
The lilac bar highlights the singular moment in English history — late October 1683 to early February 1685 — when eight past, present, and future autocrats lived simultaneously.

Richard Cromwell succeeded his father Oliver as Lord Protector and held the post for almost nine months, but his heart wasn’t in it and he yielded to what ultimately resulted in the Restoration. Since Richard lived to the age of 85, his “career ratio” (time in office divided by total lifespan) hits the lowest of any undisputed English autocrat at 0.008. Henry III, who ascended the throne aged 9 years and 18 days, still holds the highest at 0.861.