Sunday, March 2, 2008

Week in History (March 2 - 8)

March 2, 1863: Congress authorizes standardization of RR tracks at 4 feet 8.5 inches. Why did congress allocate the dimensions at that particular width? Some speculation culled off the internets (as to the veracity of the following claims, it may be said that they originate from the web and are thus by there very nature prone to academic skepticism, but the reading is too much fun to leave out in this post. As well, when the answer has anything to do with the booster rockets at Thiokol, it immediately becomes interesting....for reasons only a few of us understand.)
"The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet 8.5 inches. That's an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used? Because that's the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the US railroads. Whydid the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that's the gauge they used. Why did “they”' use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing. Okay! Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that's the spacing of the wheel ruts. So who built those old rutted roads? The first long distance roads in Europe (and England) were built by Imperial Rome for their legions. The roads have been used ever since. And the ruts? Roman war chariots first made the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels and wagons. Since the chariots were made for, or by Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. Thus, we have the answer to the original question. The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives from the original specification for an Imperial Roman war chariot. Specifications and bureaucracies live forever. So, the next time you are handed a specification and wonder which horse's rear came up with it, you may be exactly right. Because the Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war-horses. And now, the twist to the story. There's an interesting extension to the story about railroad gauges and horses' behinds. When we see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. Thiokol makes the SRBs at their factory at Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs might have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory had to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track is about as wide as two horse’s behinds. So, the major design feature of what is arguably the world's most advanced transportation system was determined by the width of a horse's ass!”
March 2, 1931: Mikhail Gorbachev was born. An hour with Gorbachev and Charlie Rose produced a few interesting moments, though it's hard to find anything much in Mikhail that equates the Reganesque revolutions here in the US.. Perhaps he was nothing more than a doppleganger, a sinsiter form of bilocation parodying the Regan administration. Umm, yea. But this might further elucidate my point....Regan's Evil Empire speech addressed to the 41st annual convention to the National Association of Evangelicals, on March 8, 1983.

March 3, 1934: John Dillinger escaped from the county jail in Crown Point, Indiana.
On March 3, 1934, Dillinger cowed the guards with what he claimed later was a wooden gun he had whittled. He forced them to open the door to his cell, then grabbed two machine guns, locked up the guards and several trustees, and fled.
A documentary on Snake Eyes, the illusive bandit, can be found here.

March 3, 1959: Ira Glass is born. In this thread-bare interview, he confesses his vegetarianism as caused by a chicken stalker, or more precisely, a poultry advocate. Or find him here, as an advocate for the art of storytelling.

March 4, 1925: Inaugural Address of Calvin Coolidge. Here is the text, and here, for the first time on radio, is the Presidential Inauguration. Per the verse...

These results have not occurred by mere chance. They have been secured by a constant and enlightened effort marked by many sacrifices and extending over many generations. We can not continue these brilliant successes in the future, unless we continue to learn from the past. It is necessary to keep the former experiences of our country both at home and abroad continually before us, if we are to have any science of government. If we wish to erect new structures, we must have a definite knowledge of the old foundations. We must realize that human nature is about the most constant thing in the universe and that the essentials of human relationship do not change. We must frequently take our bearings from these fixed stars of our political firmament if we expect to hold a true course. If we examine carefully what we have done, we can determine the more accurately what we can do.

March 5, 1897: Soong May-ling is born, and a year later, Zhou Enlai. Two hero's of the Chinese revolution, though one ended up in Taiwan, while the other stayed on the mainland. Madame Chiang is represented here (without sound), while Zhou is shown announcing the four modernizations.

March 6, 1926: The boy behind the global economy is born, leading to the knighting of post-modern madness. This piece is pro bono for the likes of him.

March 7, 321: Constantine decreed (March 7, 321) dies Solis — day of the sun, "Sunday" — as the Roman day of rest.

March 8, 1917: Senate agrees on rules of cloture:
On March 8, 1917, in a specially called session of the 65th Congress, the Senate agreed to a rule that essentially preserved its tradition of unlimited debate. The rule required a two-thirds majority to end debate and permitted each member to speak for an additional hour after that before voting on final passage. Over the next 46 years, the Senate managed to invoke cloture on only five occasions.
March 8, 1817. Constitution drafted by an organization that chose to call themselves "New York Stock & Exchange Board," later shortening the name to the New York Stock Exchange.
The first central location of the NYSE was a room rented for $200 a month in 1817 located at 40 Wall Street. But the volume of stocks traded had increased sixfold in the years between 1896 and 1901 and a larger space was required to conduct business in the expanding marketplace.[1] Eight New York City architects were invited to participate in a design competition for a new building and the Exchange selected the neoclassic design from architect George B. Post. Demolition of the existing building at 10 Broad Street and the adjacent lots started on 10 May 1901.
If only they had some prescience to foresee the balloon-housing market of 2008. But alas, 2008 will exceed anyones guess, I presume....


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