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Library of Congress

The Epic Battle Over Congressional Seating

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Library of Congress

During the State of the Union a few weeks ago, I noticed that the members of Congress were sitting on rows of theater-style seating in the House Chamber. In a lot of period movies though, pre-20th century, we see them seated at individual desks. This isn’t just movies taking creative liberties—the House really did have desks at one point, and the change to their modern seating arrangements took 84 years of arguing!

The House Chamber was originally outfitted with an assigned desk for each representative, which provided seating for House sessions and also served as their personal office space. As some Congressmen saw it, though, the desk’s dual functions sometimes got muddied. Some representatives were accused of carrying on all sorts of business and conversation while the House was in session, making too much noise and wasting everyone’s time.

As far back as 1829, the Clerk of the House of Representatives records representatives complaining about the seating situation. That January, Ichabod Bartlett of New Hampshire called the desks a “cause of confusion detrimental to the public business,” but other representatives defended them as a convenience. In 1841, the Clerk noted another complaint and, the following year, the first official attempt to have them removed. William Cost Johnson of Maryland brought a proposition to remove the desks before the House, but it was defeated by a vote of 93 to 74. Five years later, another proposal went nowhere. 

In 1859, a third proposal succeeded—103 to 73—and the desks were set to be removed and replaced with benches at the start of the next year. The victory was short lived. With the new seating arrangement, the New York Herald reported, “the members were thus in closer contact and were more easily impelled by the prevailing passion.”

“As a consequence there was much shaking of fists under noses, much hurling threats of personal violence and much assuming of insulting and defiant attitudes.”

After just 12 weeks, a special seating committee switched the seating back to desks and chairs. 

W. Porcher Miles of South Carolina wrote the minority report for the committee and said the debate over seating was “one of the comfort and convenience of the Members on the one side and the intelligent and expeditious dispatch of the business of the country on the other.”

The main argument for keeping the desks, he said, was also the strongest reason for getting rid of them: the convenient space it gave representatives for writing letters and having conversations. “The first duty of the Representative was to attend the business going on the House,” he wrote, and the desks were clearly getting in the way of that, with “much time lost in repetitions and misunderstandings.”

The setback didn’t stop the desks’ critics, and more proposals to get rid of them came in 1878, 1883, 1899, and 1901. All of them were rejected. 

In 1908, the Cannon House Office Building was completed, providing desks and plenty of office space for members of the House. During the same period, the number of representatives was increasing based on population growth in the country and it was deemed “a physical impossibility to accommodate the larger membership under present conditions.” Another measure to ditch the desks was introduced in 1913, and the seats were finally switched over permanently after almost a century of debate. And they say the wheels of government grind slowly. 

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Animals
Plagued with Rodents, Members of the UK Parliament Demand a Cat
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iStock

Members of the United Kingdom’s Parliament want a cat, but not just for office cuddles: As The Telegraph reports, the Palace of Westminster—the meeting place of Parliament’s two houses, the House of Commons and the House of Lords—is overrun with vermin, and officials have had enough. They think an in-house feline would keep the rodents at bay and defray skyrocketing pest control costs.

Taxpayers in the UK recently had to bear the brunt of a $167,000 pest control bill after palace maintenance projects and office renovations disturbed mice and moths from their slumber. The bill—which was nearly one-third higher than the previous year’s—covered the cost of a full-time pest control technician and 1700 bait stations. That said, some Members of Parliament (MPs) think their problem could be solved the old-fashioned way: by deploying a talented mouser.

MP Penny Mordaunt tried taking matters into her own hands by bringing four cats—including her own pet kitty, Titania—to work. (“A great believer in credible deterrence, I’m applying the principle to the lower ministerial corridor mouse problem,” she tweeted.) This solution didn’t last long, however, as health and safety officials banned the cats from Parliament.

While cats aren’t allowed in Parliament, other government offices reportedly have in-house felines. And now, MPs—who are sick of mice getting into their food, running across desks, and scurrying around in the tearoom—are petitioning for the same luxury.

"This is so UNFAIR,” MP Stella Creasy said recently, according to The Telegraph. “When does Parliament get its own cats? We’ve got loads of mice (and some rats!) after all!" Plus, Creasy points out, a cat in Parliament is “YouTube gold in waiting!"

Animal charity Battersea Dogs & Cats Home wants to help, and says it’s been trying to convince Parliament to adopt a cat since 2014. "Battersea has over 130 years [experience] in re-homing rescue cats, and was the first choice for Downing Street, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Cabinet Office when they sought our mousers to help with their own rogue rodents,” charity head Lindsey Quinlan said in a statement quoted by The Telegraph. “We'd be more than happy to help the Houses of Parliament recruit their own chief mousers to eliminate their pest problem and restore order in the historic corridors of power."

As of now, only assistance and security dogs are allowed on palace premises—but considering that MPs spotted 217 mice alone in the first six months of 2017, top brass may have to reconsider their rules and give elected officials purr-mission to get their own feline office companions.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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Master Sgt. Rose Reynolds, U.S. Air Force, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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Weird
How the U-2 Aircraft Made Area 51 Synonymous With UFOs
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Master Sgt. Rose Reynolds, U.S. Air Force, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Area 51 may be the world’s most famous secret military base. Established on an abandoned airfield in the Nevada desert, the facility has fueled the imaginations of conspiracy theorists scanning the skies for UFOs for decades. But the truth about Area 51’s origins, while secretive, isn’t as thrilling as alien autopsies and flying saucers.

According to Business Insider, the U.S. government intended to build a base where they could test a top-secret military aircraft without drawing attention from civilians or spies. That aircraft, the U-2 plane, needed to fly higher than any other manmade object in the skies. That way it could perform recon missions over the USSR without getting shot down.

Even over the desert, the U-2 didn’t go completely undetected during test flights. Pilots who noticed the craft high above them reported it as an “unidentified flying object.” Not wanting to reveal the true nature of the project, Air Force officials gave flimsy explanations for the sightings pointing to either natural phenomena or weather research. UFO believers were right to think the government was covering something up, they were just wrong about the alien part.

You can get the full story in the video below.

[h/t Business Insider]

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