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5 Awkward Meetings Between Presidents and Rock Stars

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Ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt invited Frank Sinatra to the White House for tea, presidents have regularly hobnobbed with pop stars. Sometimes, they click immediately. Members of The Allman Brothers Band, for example, have an extensive friendship with fellow Georgian Jimmy Carter and played his campaign stops. Other times, the collisions of these two high-profile worlds—one defined by youth and coolness, the other by decorum and authority—have been a little uncomfortable. Here are five encounters between presidents and music stars that were somewhat awkward.

1. ELVIS BADGERS NIXON FOR A NARC BADGE.

No one in Elvis Presley’s entourage dared questioned the King in his later, more indulgent years. So, in 1970, when Elvis, listless and sullen in his Los Angeles mansion, announced he wanted to go to Washington, D.C., his personal assistant Jerry Schilling hopped on a red-eye flight with him.

Elvis was a collector of honorary police badges, gifts from law enforcement agencies with whom he was friendly. Schilling soon discovered the reason for the trip was to get a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (the precursor to the DEA).

Elvis appealed to the president directly, presenting a handwritten note at the White House gate on the morning of December 21, 1970. He pledged his help fighting anti-establishment sects from the inside. “The drug culture, the hippie elements, the [Students for a Democratic Society], Black Panthers, etc. do not consider me as their enemy,” he wrote to Nixon. “I can and will do more good if I were made a Federal Agent at Large,” he insisted. The note included his hotel and room number. It made its way to aide Egil “Bud” Krogh, a fan, and by noon, Elvis had an appointment in the Oval Office.

According to Krogh’s notes, Elvis restated his support for Nixon and indicated The Beatles as a “force for anti-Americanism.” (They were actually on the same page: Two years later, the Nixon administration tried to deport John Lennon.) Nixon nodded along and stated his concern that Elvis “retain his credibility.”

The meeting ended with a spontaneous hug. Although Nixon never called on Elvis’ services, he did arrange for him to get a narc badge. An aide presented it to him after Presley and his associates ate lunch in the White House cafeteria.

2. GERALD FORD AND GEORGE HARRISON EXCHANGE LAPEL PINS.

In 1974, George Harrison embarked on his first post-Beatles U.S. tour. Attending the November 16 show in Salt Lake City was 22-year-old Jack Ford, whose father assumed the presidency three months earlier following Nixon’s resignation.

On December 13, the Fords welcomed Harrison and his tour mates, including Ravi Shankar and Billy Preston, to the White House. At the time, one of Ford’s major focuses was the WIN (“whip inflation now”) campaign, which encouraged savings and moderate spending habits. Many criticized it for putting the onus on citizens to correct the economy. Alan Greenspan later dubbed WIN “unbelievably stupid.”

Harrison’s saxophonist, Tom Scott, told Rolling Stone in the January 30, 1975 issue (as reprinted in a 2011 issue of Beatlefan) that the president “took us into this little side room where he had all this WIN paraphernalia—posters, watches, sweaters, T-shirts.” It “looked just like the back room at [Harrison’s label] Dark Horse Records, which is loaded with T-shirts and bags and towels.”

Ford took the opportunity to stick a WIN button on Harrison’s lapel. Harrison gave Ford a button of his own, reading “om,” a sacred sound in Indian religions. Harrison also jammed on the White House piano and posed for a picture in Ford’s seat in the Cabinet Room.

3. REAGAN GIVES MICHAEL JACKSON A PUN-TASTIC INTRODUCTION.

The face of music in the ’80s was Michael Jackson. The defining figure of politics that decade was Ronald Reagan. For one afternoon, the two were side-by-side.

On May 14, 1984, Reagan invited Jackson to the White House to present him with the Presidential Public Safety Communication Award for allowing “Beat It” to be used in a public service announcement against drinking and driving.

Always the joker, the 73-year-old president’s introduction included repeated references to Jackson’s work, no doubt the work of a young speechwriter:

“I hope you'll forgive me, but we have quite a few young folks in the White House who all wanted me to give you the same message. They said to tell Michael, ‘Please give some TLC to the PYTs.’ Now I know that sounds a little ‘off the wall,’ but you know what I mean. And, Michael, I have another message from our fans in the Washington, D.C., area. They said, ‘We want you back.’ So when you begin your greatly awaited cross-country tour, will you please be sure to drop off here in the nation's capital?”

Of meeting Jackson, Reagan wrote in his diary that he “was surprised at how shy he is.”

4. GEORGE W. BUSH MISTAKES U2's BONO FOR CHER'S EX-HUSBAND.

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When George W. Bush came into office, Bono, the lead singer of U2, had been advocating the elimination of third-world debt. According to the Guardian, he racked up meetings with officials from the newly installed Bush administration, including Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. He also recruited to the cause evangelical leaders, like Rev. Billy Graham, who were allied with Bush. In fact, it was 80-year-old conservative Senator Jesse Helms who convinced Bush himself to meet with Bono.

Before the singer’s March 2002 appointment in the Oval office, an aide told the president, “Bono’s coming. You do know who he is?’” Bush recalled in a 2015 documentary.

Bush retorted, “Sure, he’s married to Cher.”

Of course, Bono of U2 was not Sonny Bono, the American singer/songwriter who was half of Sonny and Cher, a couple who had been divorced since 1975. Also, though he was politically active, having been elected three times to Congress, Sonny Bono had been dead for four years at the time of the meeting.

Nonetheless, the U2 frontman won him over. Soon, Bush was pushing for a $5 billion aid package, with the singer’s active support. Bono met with Bush on several other occasions and accepted his invitation to speak at the 2006 National Prayer Breakfast.

Hopefully, at some point, someone lent Bush a copy of Achtung Baby.

5. BOB DYLAN IS TOO COOL TO HANG OUT WITH OBAMA.

On February 9, 2010, the White House staged a concert to celebrate the civil rights movement. On the bill were Joan Baez, Jennifer Hudson, John Mellencamp, Smokey Robinson, Natalie Cole, Yolanda Adams, and Bob Dylan.

Dylan didn’t show up for rehearsal or the meet-and-greet before the show.

“He didn't want to take a picture with me,” Obama told Rolling Stone in 2010. “Usually all the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle before the show, but he didn't show up to that.”

Organizers had asked Dylan to play a song, but they were not sure which he would play. When showtime came, Dylan, with a bassist and pianist, went on and performed “The Times They Are A-Changin’." Obama’s first encounter with the musical icon came after the song was finished.

“[He] steps off the stage—I'm sitting right in the front row—comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then leaves," Obama told Rolling Stone. "And that was it—then he left. That was our only interaction with him.”

The president, a fan, was OK with it. “That's how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don't want him to be all cheesin’ and grinnin’ with you.”

Two years later, Dylan returned to the White House and tolerated Obama pinning the Medal of Freedom on him.

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

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That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

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ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

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Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy chomping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

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18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

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