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11 Pictures Politicians Wish Were Never Taken

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This morning, subscribers to our newsletter read the story of our wildly embarrassing photo shoot in Central Park. Here's the short version: mental_floss has a book coming out next year called BE AMAZING "“ a how-to guide with tips on tasks like starting your own country and traveling through time. The publisher wants a publicity photo of founding _flossers Will and Mangesh, who had a few different ideas for poses. I did not write a word of this book. But since Will lives in Birmingham, I was his stunt double. So Mangesh and I donned Boy Scout outfits "“ including neckerchiefs and green cut-off pants "“ and the resulting pictures will probably keep my future kids from attending decent colleges.

On the bright side, because slipping into a Boy Scout disguise behind a tree in a public park was actually part of my job, these photos can't get me fired. Plus, I have no political ambitions. But many a politician has been stung by the regrettable photo. Our research editor Kara Kovalchik found eleven examples of pictures politicians wish were never taken.

Jimmy Carter and the Killer Swamp Rabbit

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Rabbit.jpgThe year was 1979 "“ not a great one for Jimmy Carter. There was an Energy Crisis and a Crisis of Confidence. And a lesser-known Crisis involving swamp rabbits. From The New York Times: "A 'killer rabbit' penetrated Secret Service security and attacked President Carter on a recent trip to Plains, Ga., according to White House staff members who said that the President beat back the animal with a canoe paddle."

Carter backed off the whole "beat the animal with a paddle" part, explaining that he merely splashed water on the (killer) creature. He ordered a print of the photo, and later an enlargement, to prove his killer rabbit story. "It just played up the Carter flake factor," Carter biographer Douglas Brinkley recalled. "I mean, he had to deal with Russia and the Ayatollah and here he was supposedly fighting off a rabbit." News of the Odd has more.

Read on to see Gerald Ford battle the stairs, the downfall of Gary Hart and Michael Dukakis, and a few improbable handshakes.

Gerald Ford and the Slippery Stairs

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Despite being a college football star, and a gifted athlete throughout his life, this photo left the public with a very different impression of his balance. Here, Gerald Ford does his best impression of Chevy Chase doing his best impression of Gerald Ford, courtesy of UT-Austin.

Gary Hart and the Challenge to Reporters

GaryHart.jpgOn Sunday, May 3, 1987, the Miami Herald published a story claiming "Miami Woman is Linked to Hart." That same weekend, E.J. Dionne had a profile of the then- frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in The New York Times Magazine, which included this infamous challenge by Hart: "Follow me around. I don't care. I'm serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They'd be very bored."

Soon after, the Herald received this photo, which would later appear in the National Enquirer. It was taken aboard a boat hilariously named Monkey Business. Look closely and you'll see "Monkey Business Crew" written on Hart's shirt. He withdrew from the race on May 8th, only to re-enter in December. After receiving only 4% of the vote in the New Hampshire primary, he called it quits for good.

Hart flirted with re-running for President in 2004. The "Miami Woman" was Donna Rice, who went on to write a book called Kids Online: Protecting Your Children in Cyberspace.

Eight more memorable shots...

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Serial killer John Wayne Gacy, active in his local Democratic Party, shaking hands with future First Lady Rosalynn Carter. And we've all seen this Donald Rumsfeld-Saddam Hussein greeting from 1983.
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At left, the Nixon/Presley Summit of 1970, after Elvis requested he be appointed "Federal Agent-at-Large" in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. At right, John Kerry during a 2004 visit to NASA, which reminded many people of...

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...1988 Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis cruising around in a tank. That wasn't nearly as embarrassing as Washington's Mayor Marion Barry, who was caught on tape smoking crack with a prostitute. But after six months in jail, Barry was re-elected "“ first to the city council, then to a second stint as Mayor.

And finally, any discussion of embarrassing photos can't leave out our current Commander in Chief...particularly this first chestnut of the Prez shocking German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a surprise backrub at the G8 Summit "“ a friendly gesture that took on a life of its own in cyberspace.
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What other regrettable political photos are out there? Let us know and we'll do a sequel. Also, if you're interested in receiving our weekly newsletter, the sign-up box is in the left-hand navigation.

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Where Did The Easter Bunny Come From?
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The Easter Bunny is an anthropomorphic, egg-laying rabbit who sneaks into homes the night before Easter to deliver baskets full of colored eggs, toys and chocolate. A wise man once told me that all religions are beautiful and all religions are wacko, but even if you allow for miracles, angels, and pancake Jesus, the Easter Bunny really comes out of left field.

If you go way back, though, the Easter Bunny starts to make a little sense. Spring is the season of rebirth and renewal. Plants return to life after winter dormancy and many animals mate and procreate. Many pagan cultures held spring festivals to celebrate this renewal of life and promote fertility. One of these festivals was in honor of Eostre or Eastre, the goddess of dawn, spring and fertility near and dear to the hearts of the pagans in Northern Europe. Eostre was closely linked to the hare and the egg, both symbols of fertility.

As Christianity spread, it was common for missionaries to practice some good salesmanship by placing pagan ideas and rituals within the context of the Christian faith and turning pagan festivals into Christian holidays (e.g. Christmas). The Eostre festival occurred around the same time as the Christians' celebration of Christ's resurrection, so the two celebrations became one, and with the kind of blending that was going on among the cultures, it would seem only natural that the pagans would bring the hare and egg images with them into their new faith (the hare later became the more common rabbit).

The pagans hung on to the rabbit and eventually it became a part of Christian celebration. We don't know exactly when, but it's first mentioned in German writings from the 1600s. The Germans converted the pagan rabbit image into Oschter Haws, a rabbit that was believed to lay a nest of colored eggs as gifts for good children. (A poll of my Twitter followers reveals that 81% of the people who replied believe the Easter Bunny to be male, based mostly on depictions where it's wearing a bowtie. The male pregnancy and egg-laying mammal aspects are either side effects of trying to lump the rabbit and egg symbols together, or rabbits were just more awesome back then.)

Oschter Haws came to America with Pennsylvania Dutch settlers in the 1700s, and evolved into the Easter Bunny as it became entrenched in American culture. Over time the bunny started bringing chocolate and toys in addition to eggs (the chocolate rabbit began with the Germans, too, when they started making Oschter Haws pastries in the 1800s).

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The Easter Bunny also went with European settlers to Australia—as did actual bunnies. These rabbits, fertile as they are, got a little out of control, so the Aussies regard them as serious pests. The destruction they've caused to habitats is responsible for the major decline of some native animals and causes millions of dollars worth of damage to crops. It is, perhaps, not a great idea to use an invasive species as a symbol for a religious holiday, so Australia has been pushing the Easter Bilby (above, on the right), an endangered marsupial that kind of looks like a bunny if you squint. According to some of our Australian readers, the Easter Bunny is not in danger of going extinct.

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Gregor Smith, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The Men Behind Your Favorite Liquors
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Gregor Smith, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It's hard to walk down the aisle of a liquor store without running across a bottle bearing someone's name. We put them in our cocktails, but how well do we know them? Here's some biographical detail on the men behind your favorite tipples.

1. Captain Morgan

FromSandToGlass, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The Captain wasn't always just the choice of sorority girls looking to blend spiced rum with Diet Coke; in the 17th century he was a feared privateer. Not only did the Welsh pirate marry his own cousin, he ran risky missions for the governor of Jamaica, including capturing some Spanish prisoners in Cuba and sacking Port-au-Prince in Haiti. He then plundered the Cuban coast before holding for ransom the entire city of Portobelo, Panama. He later looted and burned Panama City, but his pillaging career came to an end when Spain and England signed a peace treaty in 1671. Instead of getting in trouble for his high-seas antics, Morgan received knighthood and became the lieutenant governor of Jamaica.

2. Johnnie Walker

Kevin Chang, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Walker, the name behind the world's most popular brand of Scotch whisky, was born in 1805 in Ayrshire, Scotland. When his father died in 1819, Johnnie inherited a trust of a little over 400 pounds, which the trustees invested in a grocery store. Walker grew to become a very successful grocer in the town of Kilmarnock and even sold a whisky, Walker's Kilmarnock Whisky. Johnnie's son Alexander was the one who actually turned the family into famous whisky men, though. Alexander had spent time in Glasgow learning how to blend teas, but he eventually returned to Kilmarnock to take over the grocery from his father. Alexander turned his blending expertise to whisky, and came up with "Old Highland Whisky," which later became Johnnie Walker Black Label.

3. Jack Daniel

LeeRoyal, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Jasper Newton "Jack" Daniel of Tennessee whiskey fame was the descendant of Welsh settlers who came to the United States in the early 19th century. He was born in 1846 or 1850 and was one of 13 children. By 1866 he was distilling whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Unfortunately for the distiller, he had a bit of a temper. One morning in 1911 Daniel showed up for work early and couldn't get his safe open. He flew off the handle and kicked the offending strongbox. The kick was so ferocious that Daniel injured his toe, which then became infected. The infection soon became the blood poisoning that killed the whiskey mogul.

Curious about why your bottle of J.D. also has Lem Motlow listed as the distillery's proprietor? Daniel's own busy life of distilling and safe-kicking kept him from ever finding a wife and siring an heir, so in 1907 he gave the distillery to his beloved nephew Lem Motlow, who had come to work for him as a bookkeeper.

4. Jose Cuervo

Shane R, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 1758, Jose Antonio de Cuervo received a land grant from the King of Spain to start an agave farm in the Jalisco region of Mexico. Jose used his agave plants to make mescal, a popular Mexican liquor. In 1795, King Carlos IV gave the land grant to Cuervo's descendant Jose Maria Guadalupe de Cuervo. Carlos IV also granted the Cuervo family the first license to commercially make tequila, so they built a larger factory on the existing land. The family started packaging their wares in individual bottles in 1880, and in 1900 the booze started going by the brand name Jose Cuervo. The brand is still under the leadership of the original Jose Cuervo's family; current boss Juan-Domingo Beckmann is the sixth generation of Cuervo ancestors to run the company.

5. Jim Beam

Jim Beam, the namesake of the world's best-selling bourbon whiskey, didn't actually start the distillery that now bears his name. His great-grandfather Jacob Beam opened the distillery in 1788 and started selling his first barrels of whiskey in 1795. In those days, the whiskey went by the less-catchy moniker of "Old Tub." Jacob Beam handed down the distillery to his son David Beam, who in turn passed it along to his son David M. Beam, who eventually handed the operation off to his son, Colonel James Beauregard Beam, in 1894. Although he was only 30 years old when he took over the family business, Jim Beam ran the distillery until Prohibition shut him down. Following repeal in 1933, Jim quickly built a distillery and began resurrecting the Old Tub brand, but he also added something new to the company's portfolio: a bourbon simply called Jim Beam.

6. Tanqueray

Adrian Scottow, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

When he was a young boy, Charles Tanqueray's path through life seemed pretty clear. He was the product of three straight generations of Bedfordshire clergymen, so it must have seemed natural to assume that he would take up the cloth himself. Wrong. Instead, he started distilling gin in 1830 in a little plant in London's Bloomsbury district. By 1847, he was shipping his gin to colonies around the British Empire, where many plantation owners and troops had developed a taste for Tanqueray and tonic.

7. Campari

Michael, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Gaspare Campari found his calling quickly. By the time he was 14, he had risen to become a master drink mixer in Turin, and in this capacity he started dabbling with a recipe for an aperitif. When he eventually settled on the perfect mixture, his concoction had over 60 ingredients. In 1860, he founded Gruppo Campari to make his trademark bitters in Milan. Like Colonel Sanders' spice blend, the recipe for Campari is a closely guarded secret supposedly known by only the acting Gruppo Campari chairman, who works with a tiny group of employees to make the concentrate with which alcohol and water are infused to get Campari. The drink is still made from Gaspare Campari's recipe, though, which includes quinine, orange peel, rhubarb, and countless other flavorings.

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