Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘History’

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

In 1909, a portion of Woodward Avenue in Detroit became the first road in the United States to be paved. Woodward Avenue was built in 1805, following the route of an Indian trail between Detroit and Pontiac.

The Tower of London, built in 1066, was used as a prison from 1100 until 1952. Its first prisoner was a financial minister to King Rufus, Ranulf Flambard, who became a scapegoat for the financial crimes of his bosses.

The last prisoners were London mobsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray who, in 1952, refused to report for service in the Royal Fusiliers. They were held in the Tower until they were court-martialed. They were given dishonorable discharges, which probably hurt their feelings real bad.

Virginia was founded in 1607, when Jamestown became the first permanent English settlement. Over the next 200 years, the Commonwealth lost substantial territory as new states were created. Areas that once were part of Virginia now belong to Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

The novel This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald used the words “T-shirt” and “daiquiri” in print for the first time. It also included the first known use of the word “wicked” to mean cool or excellent.

This Side

Delaware Bay, the outlet of the Delaware River between New Jersey and Delaware, is the country’s second-busiest waterway (after the Mississippi River). Its wetlands make it an important breeding site for many aquatic species.

The bay is prime oystering ground and home of the world’s largest concentration of horseshoe crabs. Each spring, thousands of horseshoe crabs come ashore to lay their eggs, which provide food for bird migrations.

Elvis Presley had naturally blond hair that turned sandy brown by the time he was a teenager. When he started singing professionally, he dyed his hair black because he thought it made him look edgy and cool.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the statue of Zeus at Olympia, and the Colossus of Rhodes, also a statue.

In 2007, 100 million people voted and declared the New Seven Wonders of the World to be the Great Wall of China, the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, the ruins of the Incan city of Machu Picchu in Peru, the ruins of the Mayan city of Chichen Itza in Mexico, the ruins of the Arab city of Petra in Jordan, the Roman Colosseum, and the Taj Mahal.

Flamingos are born with gray feathers, but the feathers gradually turn pink because of beta carotene, a natural dye occurring in their diet of brine shrimp, algae, and larvae.

Flamingos

Spain got its name from the Roman word Hispania, which is the Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). The origin and meaning of the word Hispania is unclear.

Some experts think the Romans borrowed the word from an earlier language, and we may never know. Others believe it means “Land where metals are forged,” “Land of the setting sun,” and “Land of rabbits.”

A 150th anniversary is called a sesquicentennial because the Latin prefix sesqui- means “one and a half times.” Likewise, a person given to using long words (by implication, in a pretentious manner) is called a sesquipedalian.

The Roman poet Horace once cautioned young writers to avoid “sesquipedalia verba” — which literally means words a foot and a half long.

A tetrachromat is an organism with four color receptors in the eyes instead of the usual three (trichromat). Four receptors allows more vision on the color spectrum. This abnormality, or superpower, occurs in some fish, birds, insects, and mammals, including humans.

Women are more likely to be tetrachromatic than men. One study found that 50 percent of women and eight percent of men are tetrachromatic to some degree.

A nut is a type of fruit consisting of an edible seed inside an inedible shell. Almonds, pecans, walnuts, etc. all qualify. Peanuts, however, are not nuts. They are legumes, related to beans and peas. Rule to remember: nuts grow on trees, legumes grow underground or on bushes.

Peanuts

 

Read Full Post »

The Bad Old Days

The 1800s has been called the “patent medicine” era, a golden age of quack medications that claimed to relieve a wide range of ailments. They were noted for being sold with sensational claims, but scant evidence that they worked.

Syrup-1

Back then, no laws regulated the sale of medicines or narcotics. The manufacturers weren’t even required to disclose what their products contained. Because government oversight did not yet exist, miracle cures and snake oil remedies flourished.

Sometimes, the patent medicines did no harm. For example, when 7-Up first came on the market, it contained a trace of lithium, a substance known for its mood-stabilizing properties. At the time, 7-Up was sold as a hangover cure, not as a soft drink.

But the amount of lithium in a bottle of 7-Up was teeny-tiny, essentially useless and harmless. (Lithium continued to be added to the product until 1948.)

A similar example: Buffalo Lithium Water was sold as a treatment for “fevers and nervous disorders.” Later, it was found to contain so little lithium that a useful dose would require drinking 150,000 gallons a day.

To be fair, patent medicines occasionally worked, even if accidentally. Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills for Pale People was touted as a cure for paralysis, heart palpitations, sallow complexions, general weakness, and more. The main ingredient was iron, and the pills were an effective treatment for iron deficiency anemia, a common condition in that era.

Syrup-2

Nevertheless, many potions and nostrums of the time were dangerous and often deadly.

A.B.C. Liniment, which promised to relieve pain from sciatica, rheumatism, and lower back pain, was named for its primary ingredients aconite (a plant toxin), belladonna (another toxin, AKA deadly nightshade), and chloroform (a sedative and carcinogen).

Users of the product were regularly poisoned, but likely had no idea what sickened them.

A product called Chlorodyne was invented in the 1840s by a British doctor as a pain-reliever. Decades later, it was marketed as a treatment for diarrhea, insomnia, and migraine headaches.

Chlorodyne was a mixture of tincture of opium, tincture of cannabis, and chloroform. The product relieved pain like a boss, but its use led to countless overdoses and cases of addiction. And again, people often didn’t realize Chlorodyne was the cause.

Sozodont Tooth Powder claimed to “harden and invigorate the gums, purify and perfume the breath and beautify and preserve the teeth from youth to old age.” Not really. Sozodont contained acids, astringents, and abrasives that eroded tooth enamel.

In some cases, the public knew full well what they were getting. Medications were an under-the-table way for proper ladies and gentlemen to get high or tipsy.

Most tragic of all, some mothers of teething babies or infants with colic, often tired and desperate, turned to an especially nasty category of patent medicines: sedatives to stop babies from crying.

Dalby’s Carminative and Godfrey’s Cordial were sold precisely for that purpose. Both products contained opium and led to unknown numbers of poisonings and deaths over the years.

Among the most infamous of the calmatives was Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, a product that did, indeed, stop babies from crying, pretty much instantly, with a combination of morphine and alcohol.

Syrup-3

Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was created in the 1840s by Charlotte Winslow, a pediatric nurse in Bangor, Maine. She used the syrup to treat her own children as well as those in her care.

In 1849, her son-in-law, Jeremiah Curtis, formed a company to market the product. The syrup became popular throughout North America and Britain. By 1868, Curtis reported annual sales of 1.5 million bottles.

Syrup-4

But the syrup easily could be lethal. One fluid ounce contained 65mg of morphine. As little as 5mg of morphine can be fatal to a newborn.

The directions recommended six to 10 drops for newborns, half a teaspoon for a six-month-old, and a full teaspoon for older children — in all cases, three or four times a day. At that dosage, a toddler could get 260mg of morphine in 24 hours.

In other words, a teaspoonful of Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup could kill, depending on the age and health of the child. And, indeed, many children took the syrup and never woke up.

Syrup-5

In truth, science was just beginning to understand the effects of morphine, opium, and other narcotics. Most parents thought of the syrup as a useful, modern remedy, not a dangerous drug.

But deaths occurred regularly, and by the 1880s, many physicians began raising the alarm, calling the syrup and products like it “baby killers.”

Finally, in 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act became law. It required ingredients to be listed, and it enforced purity standards.

In 1911, Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was denounced by the American Medical Association for its lethal history. Soon after, the manufacturer was forced to remove morphine from the product and to remove “soothing” from the name.

The syrup continued to be sold until the 1930s.

It’s impossible to know how many infants and children died from morphine overdoses or the complications of addiction and withdrawal. Most likely, many thousands.

Charlotte Winslow died in 1851, probably unaware of the toll her product was taking.

Her son-in-law, however, lived long enough to be aware of the stories documenting the product’s lethal history. Jeremiah Curtis died a millionaire in 1883.

Many patent medicines from the Bad Old Days were reformulated and are still on the market today.

Originally, Coca-Cola contained a small amount of cocaine and was sold as a cure for impotence and morphine addiction. Later, when the dangers of cocaine were better understood, the drug was quietly dropped from the ingredients.

Although they contained no cringeworthy ingredients, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, and Hire’s Root Beer all made medicinal claims back in the day. Ads for Dr. Pepper said it “aids digestion and restores vim, vigor, and vitality.” Hires claimed it could “purify the blood and make rosy cheeks.”

Carter’s Little Liver Pills began as a cure for “headache, constipation, dyspepsia, and biliousness,” but today is sold simply as a laxative.

Consider this eye-opening statistic: in 1800, 43 percent of children worldwide died before age five. By 1900, the rate was 36 percent. Better, but still appalling.

Today, the rate is four percent, thanks to scientific advancements and government oversight.

Government regulations are a wonderful thing. They protect your vulnerable, unsuspecting self from the consequences of quackery, fakery, deception, cheating, and ignorance. Which is a fine thing for government to be doing.

Corruption in high places no doubt is inevitable. But it’s wrong to vilify government so completely, as the conservative herd is wont to do.

What government needs is sensible guidance — support, protection, and encouragement to be fair and do the right thing for the benefit of us all.

But I digress.

Syrup-6

 

Read Full Post »

Don’t raise your voice. Improve your argument.

— Desmond Tutu

###

Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.

— Marcel Proust

###

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.

— Douglas Adams

###

Those who say it can’t be done should get out of the way of those who are doing it.

— Anne Lamott

Lamott-A

Lamott

Tutu-D

Tutu

 

Read Full Post »

Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

Virginia is the birthplace of eight U.S. presidents, the most among the states. Seven presidents were born in Ohio, five in New York, four in Massachusetts, and the remaining presidents were from 17 other states. Six states have produced none.

During the Apollo 14 moon mission in 1971, astronaut Alan Shepard brought out a folding 6-iron and drove two golf balls into the lunar distance. He shanked the first drive, but the second traveled about 200 yards. Shepard got the okay of his NASA bosses in advance.

Eleanor Roosevelt was First Lady of the United States from 1933 until 1945. In 1935, she began writing “My Day,” a syndicated newspaper column about issues of the time. The popular column was published six days a week until 1961, when the schedule was changed to every other day due to her failing health. Her last column appeared in 1962, two months before her death.

In days of yore, humans measured time with the clepsydra or water clock. Clepsydra is Greek for water thief. The device measures the flow of water through an opening, and marking on the container show the passage of time.

Two versions existed: one measured outflow, and one measured inflow. Their accuracy was… fair to okay. The pendulum clocks that replaced them in the 1600s were much more accurate.

Clepsydra

The real name of lead singer Bono of the rock band U2 is Paul David Hewson. “Bono,” he says, is derived from the Latin word “bonavox,” which means good voice.

La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles is a seep of natural asphalt. Because the tar preserves the bones of the unlucky animals who died there, La Brea has been a fossil excavation site and a popular tourist attraction since the early 1900s.

“La Brea” is Spanish for “the tar,” so technically, “The La Brea Tar Pits” means “The the tar tar pits.”

When the first president of Israel died in 1952, the Israeli prime minister asked Albert Einstein to become president. Einstein would have to relocate to Israel, but would be free to continue his scientific work. Einstein said he was “deeply moved,” but declined on grounds that he lacked “the natural aptitude and the experience” for the position.

The “Temple of a Million Bottles” in Thailand is a complex of buildings constructed by Buddhist monks to keep beer bottles out of landfills. The original temple was completed in 1986. Today, the site consists of 20 buildings and some 1.5 million bottles. The monks use green and brown bottles for the construction, and they use bottle caps to create mosaics.

Temple

Commercial coffee growers raise two varieties of beans: Robusta and Arabica. Robusta accounts for 30 percent of world production. It is hardier, easier to grow, harsher in taste, and higher in caffeine. The other 70 percent of plants are Arabica, which require more attention, but produce a higher-quality brew.

Robusta is used to make instant coffee, and cheaper brands mix it, to varying degrees, with Arabica. Lesson: check the label and go with Arabica.

When the singer Pink (technically, P!nk) was a young teenager, her friends teased her by saying she looked like Mr. Pink, the character played by Steve Buscemi in Reservoir Dogs. She reacted by embracing the name and later used it professionally. Her real name is Alecia Beth Moore.

In 1960, while performing Verde’s La Forza Del Destino (The Force of Destiny) at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, baritone Leonard Warren suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and dropped dead on the stage.

His last words were the opening lines of an aria that begins “Morir, tremenda cosa,” which means “To die, a momentous thing.”

“The world’s narrowest house” is the Keret House in Warsaw, Poland, built in the four-foot space between two adjacent building. It consists of three levels containing a bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen. The structure is considered an art project because it doesn’t fully meet building codes.

Keret House

 

Read Full Post »

The Questions…

1. The US Postal Service introduced the ZIP code in 1963 and expanded it with the ZIP+4 system in 1983. What does “ZIP” stand for?

2. The Pacific Ocean is the planet’s largest body of water. What percent of Earth’s surface does it cover?

3. After a long career as a womanizer in the 1700s, how did Italian playboy Giacomo Casanova spend his declining years?

4. What do the words gallows, scissors, binoculars, and pliers have in common?

5. Why is a monkey wrench called a monkey wrench?

The Answers…

1. Zone improvement plan.

2. About 30 percent. The Pacific is larger than all of the planet’s land area combined.

3. He became a librarian for Count Ferdinand von Waldstein at a remote castle in Bohemia. Secure and comfortable, but bored by life among the peasants, he kept himself secluded with his fox terriers and wrote his memoirs.

4. They only exist in plural form.

5. No consensus on the origin of the name. The inventor, Loring Coes, patented it in 1841 as a “screw wrench.” It’s possible the term “monkey wrench” evolved because, in those days, a small implement or piece of equipment sometimes was called a monkey. I don’t get it either.

ZIP Code

Monkey wrench

 

Read Full Post »

Useless Facts

Imagine that you bored a large hole from the surface of the earth, through the center, and out the other side. According to a physicist, if you jumped into the hole, it would take you about 38 minutes to “fall” to the other side.

During the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1936 and 1937, 11 workers died in falls, and 19 were saved by safety nets. The survivors dubbed themselves the Halfway to Hell Club.

Lemons float in water, but limes sink. The reason: lemons are slightly less dense than water, and limes are slightly more dense.

The practice of carving jack-o’-lanterns originated in Ireland. The Irish began carving them several centuries ago out of turnips and potatoes. Irish immigrants to America applied the technique to pumpkins.

Turnip

The Norse explorer Leif Erikson is the first known European to set foot on continental North America. He landed somewhere on the coast of Newfoundland or Labrador in the year 1000. Erikson made the voyage because an Icelandic merchant told him he had sighted land west of Greenland in 986, but didn’t make landfall.

But there is evidence that Erikson wasn’t the first. When he reached the coast, he rescued two shipwrecked men whom the historic record does not name, but implies were European.

When the Star Trek TV series was in development in the early 1960s, the idea was for the Spock character to be from Mars and to have red skin. By the time filming began, Spock’s heritage was “human-Vulcan,” and his skin was yellow-tinged. The idea of red was dropped because it looked black on a black-and-white TV.

Sean Connery played Agent 007 in the first five James Bond movies, and he wore a toupee in all five. Connery began going bald as a teenager.

The narwhal is a medium-sized, Arctic-dwelling whale notable for (1) its long, unicorn-like tusk and (2) the absence of a dorsal fin. Adult narwhals are 13-18 feet long, not counting the tusk. The tusk is an elongated tooth like those of elephants, walruses, and pigs.

Narwhal

Capoeira is a form of martial art developed in the 1700s by escaped African slaves hiding in the jungles of Brazil. It incorporates a variety of fast, complex kicks and spins similar to acrobatics and dance moves. Capoeira was a highly effective fighting technique, and in the past, the government made its practice a crime. Today. It is Brazil’s official national sport, although soccer is more popular.

The Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina, which has 255 rooms and occupies an estate of 125,000 acres, is the largest residence ever built for a private citizen. It was completed in 1895 as the home of George Washington Vanderbilt II, who needed a way to spend some of his money. It was opened to the public in 1930.

An agelast (adge-uh-lest) is a person who never laughs and seems to have no sense of humor.

Armadillos (from the Spanish for “little armored one”) are small, timid mammals related to anteaters and sloths. They have sharp claws used to dig for insects and to make dens.

The nine-banded armadillo usually seen in the U.S. is about the size of a housecat. The largest species, the giant armadillo, is the size of a small pig. The smallest species, the pink fairy armadillo of central Argentina, is about four inches long and weighs only a few ounces.

Pink fairy armadillo

 

Read Full Post »

The Questions…

1. Whales are classified as either baleen whales, which feed on krill and plankton, or toothed whales, which hunt prey (orcas, dolphins, porpoises). To what land creatures are whales most closely related?

2. Which came first, the band the Rolling Stones or the magazine Rolling Stone?

3. In the mid-1600s, lemonade vendors in Venice began selling a new drink that purported to offer great medicinal benefits. What was it?

4. Which planet in the solar system is the hottest?

5. Pogonophobia is the fear of what?

The Answers…

1. Hippopotamuses.

2. The band was started in 1962, the magazine in 1967. Both are named after the 1948 song “Rollin’ Stone” by Muddy Waters.

3. Coffee, a new sensation from the Muslim world.

4. Venus. Mercury is closer to the sun and gets more direct heat, but it has no atmosphere to hold the heat. Venus has a dense atmosphere of carbon dioxide that traps heat (the greenhouse effect thing). The surface temperature on Venus is a constant 865 degrees F.

5. Beards.

Hippo

Beards

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »