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Off-Kilter

July 01, 1998

Time to Blow Up Mt. Rushmore?: We cannot tell a lie. George Washington was not America's first president.

Seriously.

It was a guy named John Hanson. In a new book on weird presidential trivia, "White House: Confidential" (Cumberland House), journalists Gregg Stebben and Jim Morris prove that Hanson called the shots before the wig-wearing cherry-tree chopper. They even produce quotes from Washington and Thomas Jefferson acknowledging Hanson as the first president.

How is this possible? It's because Hanson was sworn into office under the Articles of Confederation, which predates the Constitution by eight years (actually, he was the first of seven pre-Washington presidents). Moreover, Hanson apparently did a bang-up job. During his one-year term, the Maryland native launched a postal service, chartered a national bank, created the Treasury Department and--according to some historians--declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.

Hanson also handled the awkward task of shrinking the U.S. Army and informing its soldiers that the government couldn't afford to pay them for work already done. When the militia threatened a coup d'etat, every member of the Continental Congress fled--except Hanson, who stayed behind and negotiated a settlement.

Now, Stebben and Morris say Hanson deserves proper recognition. We vote for putting his face on the dollar bill or renaming the nation's capital Hanson, D.C. But Stebben and Morris are willing to settle for Congress passing a law that orders schools to teach about the "real" first president. Of course, their motives aren't purely historical. If the movement is successful, it could mean another national holiday.

Men Are From Mars, Women Are Also From Mars: For homesick space aliens (and earthlings who plan to leave this planet soon), two University of Wisconsin scientists have published an Earth-Mars wall calendar. Covering the period from December 1999 to February 2002 (which, as you know, is Hestia 12 to Asclepius 13 on Mars), the calendar features eerie illustrations of red planet landscapes and text on how Mars might be colonized in the future.

Living on Mars does have its advantages: a 687-day year (plenty of time to Christmas shop), an extra 37 minutes per day (a boon to snooze-button pushers), no earthquakes and gravity so weak that residents can out-jump Michael Jordan. To order a calendar, send $35 to Mars Calendar, Institute of Implied Science, P.O. Box 45926, Madison, WI 53714.

Cow Impersonator Contest: A Minneapolis ice cream company is looking for humans who can moo like a cow. Call (800) 536-7755 to enter the Kemps Ice Cream Co. "moo-off." The adult winner will receive a year's supply of ice cream; the child winner becomes Kemps' official ice cream taster.

Best Supermarket Tabloid Headline: "Man Electrocuted by Lightning Bugs!" (Weekly World News)

Apparently, a new breed of firefly that gives off 600 volts of electricity is headed north from Central America. Scientists say swarms of the killer bugs will cross the U.S. border sometime in the spring, and "nothing can stop them."

If only President Hanson were alive. He'd know what to do.

* Roy Rivenburg's e-mail address is roy.rivenburg@latimes.com.

Contributor: Wireless Flash News Service

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