There has been an overwhelming response to a few topics we chatted about recently. The palindrome contributions were encouraging, although some of them weren’t palindromes at all. We also discovered where to buy cigarettes quite openly, and more about Marco Polo’s discoveries during his South African leg en route to China. Thanks for that.

Luckless leaders

Over the centuries, leaders have been removed in different ways. Sometimes they’re voted out, sometimes they cede power to their next of kin and bow out. And sometimes they’re simply snuffed out.

Julius Caesar had no chance once the conniving cabal of senators bloodied his toga. Nor did Britain’s ‘warrior queen’ Boudica, when they tied her to a stake and braaied her. Then there’s Marie Antoinette who was pipped at the post, and lost by a head and, of course, Malcolm X (1965), Martin Luther King (1968) and Mahatma Gandhi (1948) who also bit the bullet unexpectedly.

During the 600 years of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, whoever seized the throne on the death of the old Sultan, was permitted/encouraged, to murder all his male relatives to reduce the risk of being overthrown. Charming custom.

American presidents feature quite prominently in the sordid saga of forced removals. In 1881 James Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau who was somewhat peeved that he wasn’t awarded his preferred diplomatic posting. William McKinley took a couple of bullets to the chest in Buffalo (1901), courtesy of a bloke called Leon Czolgosz, who obviously didn’t like him much.

The most recent was JFK, and as usual with heads of state, the dastardly deed was shrouded in intrigue and conspiracy. But let’s have a look at John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s assassin (1865) and what became of him.

Booth (27) was an acclaimed actor back then, so he was thoughtful enough to shoot Abe inside a theatre. He was cheesed-off that the President frowned upon slavery, and showed his displeasure rather dramatically.

Jumping out of the presidential box onto the stage to escape, he then fled on horseback, shouting for some reason in Latin,“Sic semper tyrants!” which means ‘bugger tyrants’. He was avenging the southern slave- owners, he claimed, and among his last words were, “Tell my mother I died for my country” – in case she was confused, maybe? Anyway, it turned out that both he and JFK’s assassin Oswald, were shot dead before going to trial.

So here’s a tip: If you plan to assassinate a President (no names please), tell your mother first, and make sure you don’t get shot yourself. You might be saving a country and in fact the world.

Red lanterns

We all know what people refer to as ‘the world’s oldest profession’ and this may well be true. Ancient records reveal that around 3 000 BCE in Uruk (nowadays Iraq), the first organised luring of men off the streets was organised by Lilith on instruction from the Goddess (whoever she was), for the pleasure of the upper-echelon ladies within the palace. You go, girl!

Throughout the ages, the pros and cons of this activity have bounced about from courtrooms to town squares, and from Congress to shoot-outs in the main street. All this was really a begrudging acceptance and legitimising of its existence and how to control it.

In 1413 for example, a rather stringent law in Amsterdam stated that a woman performing her trade outside the allotted place, and after having received two warnings, would be buried alive. Bit harsh, don’t you think?

Anyway, my main interest was to find out why red lights are associated with dens of dubious repute. Apparently it originated with the pioneering railway workers laying train-tracks across early America. 

Among their tools of the trade, they were issued with red lanterns, so when off-duty they could be located in an emergency. These they left outside the front doors when entering for a spot of horizontal refreshment, and the image spawned the concept of controlled, designated ‘red light districts’ which sprung up all over the western world. So, no – it didn’t originate in Amsterdam.

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