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Posts Tagged ‘History’

The Questions

1. The logo of which NFL team is a flower?

2. A porter who handles luggage at a railroad station is called a redcap. What is a porter at an airport called?

3. Hg is the symbol for what chemical element?

4. What country is the world’s largest producer of coffee?

5. What and where is the world’s tallest uninterrupted waterfall?

The Answers…

1. The logo of the New Orleans Saints is a fleur-de-lis, a stylized lily associated with the French monarchy. (New Orleans was founded by French colonists in 1718.) Fleur, as you may know, means flower in French, and lis means lily.

2. A skycap.

3. Mercury. The symbol Hg comes from the chemical’s original name, hydragyrum, which means “water-silver” in ancient Greek.

4. Brazil has been number one for 150 years. It produces one-third of the world’s coffee.

5. Angel Falls in Venezuela, which drops 3,212 feet.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The highest cliff on earth is the west face of Mount Thor on Baffin Island, Canada. The face measures 4,101 feet, which is .78 miles.

● The amount of copper on the roof of the Arizona Capitol Building in Phoenix is equivalent to 4,800,000 pennies.

● A person who practices karate is known as a karateka.

● Mexican painter Frida Kahlo was born in Mexico City in 1907 in the family home, which was known as La Casa Azul (the Blue House). She lived in the house on and off for the rest of her life and died there in 1954. Per her wishes, the house was made into a museum.

● The saxophone was patented in 1846 by Antione-Joseph “Adolphe” Sax, a Belgian instrument maker. In all, Sax created 14 variations of the saxophone covering a range of sounds.

● Until the 1700s, adult rabbits were called coneys — from conil, the French word for rabbits (and also the origin of the name Coney Island).

● The only metal that is liquid at room temperature is mercury.

● The world’s smallest known snake is the Barbados thread snake, which was discovered in 2008 on its namesake island in the Caribbean. Adults are about four inches long and the thickness of a spaghetti noodle.

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The Questions…

1. What color is gamboge?

2. What is the origin of the word cereal?

3. Shellbark, shagbark, pignut, mockernut, bitternut, nutmeg, and pecan are varieties of what type of tree?

4. Define the noun argle-bargle, which originated in Scotland in the early 19th century.

5. Which state was the first to ratify the U.S. Constitution?

The Answers…

1. Gamboge is yellow-orange, ranging from deep saffron to mustard yellow. It’s the traditional color used to dye the robes of Buddhist monks. The dye comes from the resin of the gamboge tree in Southeast Asia.

2. Cereal is named for Ceres, the Roman goddess of fertility and agriculture, notably grain crops and other food plants.

3. All are hickory trees, members of the walnut family.

4. Originally, it meant a noisy argument, but it evolved to describe meaningless talk or writing, as in “endless bureaucratic argle-bargle.”

5. Delaware ratified the Constitution on December 7, 1787, five days before Pennsylvania.

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Sylvester Graham

I’ll bet you didn’t know that the graham cracker is named for a crusading American preacher, teetotaler, and vegetarian who neither manufactured the crackers nor profited from them. The story is interesting and rather unexpected.

He was Sylvester Graham, born in Connecticut in 1794, the 17th child of a 70-year-old minister and a mother with serious mental issues — which became overwhelming when the minister died.

Accordingly, young Sylvester was raised by a succession of relatives. In one case, the relative ran a tavern where Sylvester was put to work. Seeing alcohol use up close led him to abstain from using, and to vehemently oppose, booze.

In his late 20s, having worked as a farm hand and a teacher, Graham enrolled at Amherst Academy to become a minister. He was expelled when classmates claimed he “improperly approached a woman.”

Humiliated and devastated, Graham had what was described as a nervous breakdown. He moved to Rhode Island and recovered with the help of a woman he later married. In 1828, he began studying theology privately and found work as an itinerant (traveling) Presbyterian minister.

During this period, Graham became involved in both the temperance movement and vegetarianism. He concluded that eating meat was as bad as drinking alcohol for the body and soul and as detrimental to families and society.

Like most in the temperance movement, Graham believed that sex, physical pleasure, or anything that triggered lust should be avoided. He urged people to eat only plants (as had Adam and Eve), chill out, drink pure water, and avoid impure thoughts. Sex more than once a month, he said, was excessive.

To maintain health and prevent disease, he promoted an austere lifestyle, including sleeping on a hard bed, taking cold baths, and exercising vigorously. The Graham Diet consisted of bland, simple foods — whole grains, fruits, and vegetables — eaten in small quantities twice a day. Meat, alcohol, tobacco, and spices, even black pepper, were forbidden.

Because of fears related to a cholera epidemic sweeping the world at the time, his message resonated with the public, and his notoriety spread.

Graham was troubled by the common practice of using chemical additives in food, especially bread, to hide spoilage odors. He urged people to make their own bread at home from plain, whole-wheat flour, coarsely-ground and unsifted, that contained no spices of other additives.

In 1837, he published Treatise on Bread and Bread-Making and began lecturing in Boston and New York City. In the foreword to the book, he wrote:

Thousands in civic life will, for years, and perhaps for as long as they live, eat the most miserable trash that can be imagined, in the form of bread, and never seem to think that they can possibly have anything better, not even that it is an evil to eat such vile stuff as they do.

I have thought, therefore, that I could hardly do society a better service, than to publish the following treatise on a subject, which, whether people are aware of it or not, is, in reality, of very great importance too the health and comfort of everyone.

Grahamism became a nationwide movement. Soon, various companies were marketing graham flour, graham bread, and graham crackers.

Alas, in the end, Graham violated his own teachings and paid the price.

In 1851, at age 57, he became ill at his home in Massachusetts. His doctor diagnosed the problem as weak blood circulation. To stimulate it, he convinced Graham to eat meat, drink alcohol, and submit to a series of opium enemas.

Graham submitted to the new regimen and quickly died.

Outraged that one of their own had fallen off the wagon so dramatically, vegetarians and members of the temperance movement nationwide denounced and disowned Graham. (Apparently, no one thought of renaming the cracker.)

Sylvester Graham believed that his place in history was secure, and he once predicted that, after his death, his home in Northampton, Massachusetts, would become a national shrine.

That didn’t happen. The house is occupied today by Sylvester’s Restaurant, which is, indeed, named for Graham, but has a decidedly un-Graham-like menu.

Sylvester’s offers a range of rich, lavish homemade breads, awash in spices, that take pains to be the opposite of bland.

It also serves a salad topped with a bacon cheddar cheeseburger patty, a char-grilled hamburger covered with muenster cheese, and tacos.

Sylvester Graham (1794-1851)

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● In 1965, astronaut John Young smuggled a corned beef sandwich aboard the Gemini 3 spacecraft. The sandwich broke apart in the weightless environment and sent crumbs floating around the cabin. Today, astronauts regularly make sandwiches while in orbit, but they use tortillas to solve the crumb problem.

● The average adult cat sleeps 15-20 hours per day. The average adult dog sleeps 12-14 hours per day.

● At the time of his death, Charles Dickers was writing a novel entitled The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Mr. Drood disappears in the story, but Dickens did not get far enough to explain what happened.

● The mammal with the longest lifespan is the bowhead whale, which can live more than 200 years. Bowheads live in Arctic waters and are known for using their massive skulls to break through the ice.

● In 1892, Paul Hubbard, the quarterback of the football team at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, invented the huddle. Gallaudet is a private college for people with hearing impairments, and the players communicated with hand signals. Standing in a tight circle blocked the other team from seeing what was being signed.

● Machine-spun cotton candy was invented in 1897 by a dentist and introduced at the 1904 World’s Fair as “fairy floss.” In 1921, improvements were made to the spinning machine (ironically, by another dentist), and the name “cotton candy” was coined.

● The fastest land animal is the cheetah, which can run at up to 75 mph.

● The world’s smallest known vertebrate is Paedophryne amauensis, a species of frog native to Papua New Guinea. Averaging .3 inches long, the frog was discovered in 2009 by herpetologists from Louisiana State University.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● Olympus Mons, an extinct volcano on Mars, is 16 miles high, almost three times taller than Mt. Everest.

● In the 1970s, future pop star Madonna Ciccone dropped out of college and moved to New York City. She took a job at a Dunkin’ Donuts, but was fired on her first day for squirting jelly filling on a customer.

● April 12 is National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day.

● In 1850, a French violin maker invented the octobass, a stringed instrument designed to produce ultra-low sounds, including sounds that fall below the range of human hearing. The octobass has three strings and is some 12 feet tall. Today, the only octobass not in a museum is owned by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

● In 2013, Russia changed a long-standing law that classified all beverages with less than 10 percent alcohol by volume as soft drinks. The change thus classified beer as an alcoholic beverage in Russia for the first time.

● One teaspoon of healthy soil (e.g., soil enriched with compost) easily can contain six billion microorganisms, doing their thing to decompose organic matter and free up nutrients for reuse. To put six billion in perspective, the current human population of the planet is 7.9 billion.

● Your body contains about 1.3 gallons of blood. Blood cells make a full circuit of your vessels in about one minute.

● The screaming hairy armadillo, so named because it squeals like crazy when handled and is hairier than other armadillos, is native to central and southern South America. It is the smallest of the armadillos, adults being about a foot long. They live in underground burrows and eat plants, bugs, lizards, and an occasional mouse.

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This post is about the nefarious practice of gerrymandering, a form of underhanded nastiness that politicians — mostly, but not exclusively, conservative politicians — have elevated to an art form.

Because I live in the Deep South, which is dominated by diehard “Christian conservatives,” I am saddled with a congressman who, by rational standards, is a deplorable jerk and a genuine threat to democracy.

More about the deplorable jerk directly, but first, as you undoubtedly know, gerrymandering is the manipulation of electoral boundaries to favor one’s political party. The process is dirty, cynical and quite effective.

Gerrymandering is named for Gov. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, who in 1812 created a voting district that benefited his party, the Democratic-Republicans, and was mocked for resembling a salamander.


1812 Boston Globe editorial cartoon satirizing Gov. Gerry’s carefully created voting district.

Today, gerrymandering is so common across the country that it’s almost the norm. I am most familiar with what the GOP has done to the congressional districts of Georgia, so I’ll begin there.

Georgia’s cities are Democratic strongholds, so the Republicans have sabotaged them via strategic gerrymandering. Consider this map of Georgia’s congressional districts.

Atlanta, Athens, Augusta, Savannah, and Columbus once stood as their own congressional districts, but were combined with enough surrounding rural counties to overcome the Democrats’ advantage.

Atlanta was broken into half a dozen different districts. Athens was sliced down the middle, the two halves being absorbed into, and neutered by, the sea of GOP voters in congressional districts 9 and 10.

The fate of Athens is especially galling because the city was, and still is, a liberal bastion. It was not only subjugated by the GOP, but is now represented by two especially wild-eyed and extremist nutjob Republicans.

One of them is my deplorable jerk of a congressman, the district 9 representative, Andrew Clyde.

This is the same Andrew Clyde who famously described the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6 as a “normal tourist visit.”

This is the same Andrew Clyde who was photographed in obvious panic as Trump’s white supremacist goons tried to break into the House chamber while chanting “Hang Mike Pence.”

Clyde is (sigh) the owner of the Clyde Armory, a giant Athens gun store. He got into politics because, well, the opportunity presented itself.

He is a typical bellicose right-winger who toes the party line and has no need to give the issues any thought. He is a textbook example of a conservative whose brain rarely functions at a higher level than reptilian mode.

In March 2020, before Clyde was elected to Congress, the accelerating spread of COVID prompted Athens-Clarke County to issue an emergency order requiring non-essential businesses, including the Clyde Armory, to close temporarily.

Clyde went insane. He flooded the media with hysterical rants, and he sued Athens-Clarke County, claiming the ordinance was unconstitutional and would injure his business irreparably. As if anything known to man could hurt the bottom line of a gun store.

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, and he warned Clyde and his lawyers not to come back to court unless they could demonstrate a better understanding of the issues and the law.

Clyde was elected to Congress handily and took office in January 2021. He won because he is a hidebound conservative and a gun nut, traits that resonate with the local rednecks.

It is ironically fitting, then, that the GOP representative from district 10, Jody Hice, is a long-time “Christian right” preacher and a right-wing radio talk show host.

Hice quit preaching when he ran for Congress, but he still hosts a daily radio program for Let Freedom Ring Ministries, Inc. That worthy organization is “dedicated to keeping America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and values in the mainstream.”

I’m not sure why they included “Judeo” in the motto. “White” would have been more descriptive.

Not long ago, Hice introduced a bill that would allow members of Congress to carry firearms, which probably earned him a donation from the Clyde Armory.

Hice, incidentally, won’t be in Congress much longer. He is running to replace Republican Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia Secretary of State who refused to overturn the 2020 election results. As you recall, Georgia not only went for Biden, but also elected two Democratic senators.

Raffensperger, of course, is now persona non grata with the GOP and probably will lose in the primaries. Hice may well get the job, and will be in charge of Georgia’s electoral system, unless the Democrats can pull off another miracle.

These are scary times for democracy, people.

Two noxious byproducts of gerrymandering: Andrew Clyde and Jody Hice.

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Note: political rant to follow. I have harsh thoughts to express about the lunatic behavior of the conservatives. Proceed at your own risk.

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In a post back in July, I laid into the right-wingers regarding their decline from pesky, petulant whiners into rabid totalitarian nutjobs — in many cases, full-on Nazis — and I questioned whether enough normal people are left in the country to hold back the tide of right-wing lunacy.

It seems to me that, while the numbers are on our side, the capacity of the Republicans to lie and cheat is boundless. They almost certainly will taint the voting systems enough to tilt future election results in their favor to some degree.

The courts have shown a refreshing willingness to slap down the GOP cheating. But the Supreme Court has the final say, and it is now hopelessly conservative and partisan. The odds are poor that the Court will stop the GOP from gaming the voting systems. They will find a way to justify the GOP cheating on a technicality.

What this means is that American democracy is in deep trouble, probably the most serious in our history. In fact, democracy could easily end its run before much longer.

Goodbye to liberal democracy, hello to whatever Dark Side we lurch into in the future.

The conservative mindset was always selfish and mean; that is what defines them. But I think of the Reagan years as when the right wing decided that reality is an unnecessary annoyance.

Ronald Reagan was, in fact, a mere figurehead. In reality, he was a doddering old fool rapidly succumbing to Alzheimer’s. Team Reagan, consisting of Nancy and the boys, was in control, and the team decided the federal government would make an ideal whipping boy. It was brilliant. Reaganism captured the heart and soul of the GOP effortlessly.

You remember the Reagan crowd, which secretly and illegally sold missiles to Iran and secretly and illegally used the money to bankroll right-wing rebels trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua.

FYI, 11 federal officials were convicted of perjury and fraud related to the Iran-Contra scandal. President Bush the elder pardoned them.

The Reagan era gave us still more.

In 1984, the Reagan team rewarded the already rich and comfortable by cutting the maximum tax rate from 70 percent to 28 percent. The loss of revenue was crippling, but the GOP replaced it by imposing the first-ever tax on social security benefits. Rich people 1, working class 0.

Meanwhile, the conservative masses responded to all this with mindless enthusiasm. They were happy to make government a scapegoat and a target of their prejudices while the GOP stabbed them in the back.

It was Morning in America, starring Ronald Reagan and his famous sunny disposition.

The Reagan era gave us even more.

In 1987, Reagan’s FCC scrapped the Fairness Doctrine, which for decades had kept American news organizations from telling lies and pretending they were facts. Disseminate BS, lose your license.

With the Fairness Doctrine eliminated, Fox “News” was born, created to spin the news — to weave a tapestry of propaganda, lies, and BS — in favor of Republican and conservative causes.

Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes probably never dreamed how successful Fox would become. In no time, the network had captured and brainwashed virtually every conservative bonehead in America.

Here was the amazing spectacle of a disingenuous, openly biased right-wing operation convincing its audience that all other news outlets were lying to them, and only Fox was telling the truth. Does the word gullible come to mind?

Two decades later, thanks to that same Fox News audience, we had the equally amazing spectacle of Donald Trump, a human fecal stain, being elected President of the United States.

Make no mistake, supporting Trump, then and now, is an unforgivable failure of morality and decency. Siding with Trump shows that your judgment and character are in question.

Oops, sorry. I meant to say that it shows your judgment and character are in the toilet.

On October 7, 2016, the Access Hollywood tape went public, on which Trump bragged about grabbing women by the private parts. In a sane world, Trump would have been driven into exile in disgrace. But, one month later, half the country — half the country — voted to elect the man President.

If you can look at a person like Trump and say, “Yep, that’s my guy,” you are terribly, deeply sick.

The options to explain how you got that way are limited. Perhaps you are an especially low-wattage bulb. Perhaps you are an evil and twisted human being. Perhaps you have lost touch with reality and need professional help. Perhaps all of the above.

Dozens of times while President, Trump revealed himself to be a literal traitor. He sought and obtained the assistance of Putin and Russia to get elected. He spent four years stealing from us. His term as President was marked by graft and corruption on a mind-boggling scale. Because of his incompetence, 400,000 people died of COVID while he was in office.

Still, on November 8, 2020, half the country — half the country — voted to give him another term as President. Incredible.

On January 6, Trump sent an army of white supremacist thugs to storm the Capitol Building and prevent Congress from certifying Biden as the winner of the November presidential election. This was a naked attempt at a coup, but you can count on one hand how many GOP elected officials objected, or even acknowledged it.

Unfortunately for them, the insurrection was presented on live television and thoroughly documented for posterity. I saw it unfold. You probably did, too.

Consider this for the record:

The conservatives among us, plus virtually all Republican elected officials, want to pretend that January 6 did not happen. These people are deplorable and irredeemable.

Naturally, most also are anti-mask and anti-vax. Will COVID cull the herd by natural selection, or will enough of them survive long enough to steamroll us?

Place your bets.

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When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.

Socrates

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Reading a good book in silence is like eating chocolate for the rest of your life and never getting fat.

Becca Fitzpatrick

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I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

Mark Twain

———

Fascism is cured by reading, and racism is cured by traveling.

Miguel de Unamuno

Socrates

de Unamuno

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Thoughts du Jour

The Klatt Synthesizer

Dennis H. Klatt, Ph.D. (1938-1988) was a computer scientist at MIT who in 1980 developed a synthesizer that converted written words into speech. It was Klatt who gave Stephen Hawking his artificial speaking voice in 1987. The programming for Hawking consisted of 300 individual clips of Dr. Klatt’s own voice.

Klatt worked on the Hawking project while undergoing chemotherapy for throat cancer, which ultimately took his own voice. He died a year later.

Over the years, as the technology improved, Hawking was offered a “better” voice, including a version made to sound like his own, including a British accent. He always declined. He once said, “My late friend Dennis’ voice IS my voice.”

Nesting

One morning recently, I took Jake to the Jefferson Clubhouse for our morning walk. The Clubhouse is in a city park with a pond that is permanent home to several dozen ducks and geese. The birds mostly stay near the pond, but sometimes venture up to the Clubhouse.

Now and then, Jake will lunge at one of them half-heartedly, but he understands the futility of catching an animal that flies and swims.

Next to the Clubhouse entrance is a thick patch of variegated liriope, and as we passed it on the morning in question, Jake came to attention. Suddenly, like an Arctic Fox diving into the snow to snag a hidden lemming, he leapt into the air and landed in the middle of the liriope.

Simultaneously, a large brown duck erupted from the liriope, squawking and flapping frantically. The duck flew away in the direction of the pond, still squawking. Jake sat quietly and followed its trajectory with interest.

After the excitement, Jake returned to the liriope to sniff around. Was another duck concealed there? No, but under the foliage was a nest containing seven or eight eggs. Jake had driven off a nesting mama duck.

The duck, I assumed, would return to the nest in time, and I was right. That afternoon, I stopped at the Clubhouse to check, and there she was, back on the nest.

The gray blotch is the top of her head, facing you. She sits on her nest, four feet from the Clubhouse door, silent, motionless, and almost undetectable. Except by a passing pooch.

Animal Talk

A professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff has found that prairie dogs have a sophisticated communication system, including the ability to warn of predators by species, size, and color.

Animal behaviorist Constantine Slobodchikoff, Ph.D., has established that prairie dogs use both nouns and adjectives and will create new words for novel objects. If someone fires a gun near them, they will remember and avoid the individual.

Slobodchikoff conducted his research by recording the animals’ vocalizations under controlled conditions and playing back the clips at slow speed. In one experiment, he had an assistant walk past a prairie dog town wearing first a yellow shirt, then a blue shirt. In the recording, he pinpointed the place where the vocalizations changed as the animals identified the new color.

The research led the doctor’s team to study communication among other species. They found that paper wasps, which live in small, open-celled nests, can identify each other by facial markings, and each has “friends” they associate with.

In 2008, Slobodchikoff founded the Animal Language Institute so research can be shared.

A purposeful life.

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