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Posts Tagged ‘History’

The Questions…

1. What is the smallest planet in the solar system?

2. The four carvings on Mt. Rushmore depict Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. Why those four?

3. “Koala bear” is an inaccurate term because the animal isn’t a bear. What is a koala?

4. Milk is a source of calcium and protein, and cow’s milk is the most widely-consumed milk in North America. But another kind of milk is more popular in the rest of the world. What is it?

5. Lego bricks, the plastic construction toys, were created in 1932 by Ole Christiansen, a Danish carpenter. In 2015, Lego was named the “world’s most powerful brand.” Over 600 billion Lego bricks have been manufactured. What is the origin of the word “Lego”?

The Answers…

1. It depends. Of the eight big-league planets, Mercury is the smallest, being about 38 percent the size of Earth. Pluto was the smallest until it was demoted to “dwarf planet.” Of the five dwarf planets we officially recognize these days, the smallest is Ceres at 600 miles in diameter.

2. Gutzon Borglum, the monument’s creator, said Washington represented the birth of the nation, Jefferson the growth, Lincoln the preservation, and Roosevelt the development.

3. The koala is a marsupial. Specifically, an arboreal herbivorous marsupial whose closest relative is the wombat.

4. Goat’s milk.

5. Lego comes from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means “play well.”

Mercury et al

Legos

 

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More poetry that isn’t pretentious and a waste of time…

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November

By Thomas Hood

Hood-t

Thomas Hood (1799-1845)

No sun -- no moon! 
No morn -- no noon -- 
No dawn -- no dusk -- no proper time of day.
 
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease, 
No comfortable feel in any member -- 
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees, 
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! -- 
November!

———

Who Has Seen the Wind?

By Christina Rossetti

Rossetti C

Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

———

Justice

By Langston Hughes

Hughes-L

James Mercer Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

That Justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we black are wise:
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes.

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Hope is the Thing With Feathers

By Emily Dickinson

Dickinson E

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (1830-1886)

“Hope” is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all —

And sweetest — in the Gale — is heard —
And sore must be the storm —
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm —

I’ve heard it in the chillest land —
And on the strangest Sea —
Yet — never — in extremity,
It asked a crumb — of me.

———

The Ploughman’s Life

By Robert Burns

Burns R

Robert Burns (1759-1796)

As I was a-wand’ring ae morning in spring,
I heard a young ploughman sae sweetly to sing;
And as he was singin’, thir words he did say, –
There’s nae life like the ploughman’s in the month o’ sweet May.

The lav’rock* in the morning she’ll rise frae her nest,
And mount i’ the air wi’ the dew on her breast,
And wi’ the merry ploughman she’ll whistle and sing,
And at night she’ll return to her nest back again.

*Skylark.

 

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

The ancient Mayan and Aztec societies of Mexico/Central America used cocoa beans as currency. Cultivation of the beans was controlled to maintain its value as money, and the practice endured for centuries. In Nicaragua in the 1800s, about 100 cocoa beans would buy you a serviceable slave.

In the early 1960s, at age 14, singer-songwriter Billy Joel dropped out of high school and began performing with various bands in New York City. In 1970, before his career took off, he landed a gig in a TV commercial for Bachman Pretzels. Joel played piano in the background while Chubby Checker sang “There’s a new twist in Bachman!” to the tune of his hit song “The Twist.”

All 10 of the highest mountain peaks in the United States are in Alaska. Of the 50 highest U.S. peaks, 14 are in Alaska, 28 are in Colorado, seven are in California, and one is in Washington.

The only known warm-blooded fish is the opah or moonfish. The ability to regulate their bodies at a favorable temperature (about nine degrees warmer than the environment) makes them active predators that can chase down squid and other agile prey.

Opah

In 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes had a telephone installed in the Telegraph Room adjacent to his office. His successors used a telephone located in a foyer just outside the Oval Office. In 1929, Herbert Hoover became the first President to have a phone on his desk.

The Serengeti or Serengeti Plain is a 12,000-square-mile ecosystem in west-central Africa noted for being a relatively undisturbed animal habitat. It is home to over two million wildebeest, half a million gazelles, 5,000 elephants, 4,000 hyenas, and 3,000 lions.

In 1996, Larry Page and Sergey Brin began developing an internet search engine called BackRub. In 1997, they changed the name to Google, a word inspired by the term Googol, which is a name given in the late 1930s to the number 10¹ºº. The term came from the nephew of mathematician Edward Kasner, who was asked for a word to describe an enormous number.

Griffey mania was rampant in 1989 as 19-year-old Ken Griffey, Jr. began his rookie season with the Seattle Mariners. Simultaneously, a marketing firm unveiled the Ken Griffey, Jr. Milk Chocolate Bar, over a million of which were sold in the first year. Ironically, Griffey was allergic to chocolate.

01162321.JPG

The Library of Congress was founded in 1800 inside the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Today, it occupies three buildings on Capitol Hill, plus massive storage facilities in Maryland and Virginia. The LOC houses about 186 million books, maps, films, sound recordings, etc. on 830 miles of shelves. It is the world’s largest library.

St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was a 5th-Century bishop and missionary who is credited with converting Ireland from a Celtic pagan religion to Christianity.

According to Patrick, he was born in Britain and kidnapped by Irish pirates at age 16. He was held in slavery for six years, but escaped and returned to Britain, where he was reunited with his family and became a cleric. Later, after a falling-out with the family, he returned to Ireland.

Baseball great Babe Ruth came up with a novel way to keep cool during the hot summer months: he chilled cabbage leaves in a cooler of ice and put a leaf or two under his baseball cap. The leaves would last a couple of innings before he had to replace them.

Until 2017, the last word in the Oxford English Dictionary was zythum, defined as an unfermented malt beer made in ancient Egypt. The new last word is zyzzyva, a genus of South American weevils. Actually, the word zyzzyva dates back to 1922, so Oxford seems to have dropped the ball here.

Zyzzyva

 

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Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

— Seneca the Younger

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There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart.

— Jane Austen

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I have steadily endeavoured to keep my mind free so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (and I cannot resist forming one on every subject) as soon as facts are shown to be opposed to it.

— Charles Darwin

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People speak sometimes about the “bestial” cruelty of man, but that is terribly unjust and offensive to beasts. No animal could ever be so cruel as a man, so artfully, so artistically cruel.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

« Portrait de Sénèque d'après l'antique » (le Pseudo-Sénèque), b

Seneca

Dostoyevsky F

Dostoyevsky

 

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Demagoguery

Not long after Donald Trump became President (I pause to choke back the bile), he hung a portrait of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office.

ap_17073650295814

No surprise there. Jackson, the seventh President, was a decidedly Trump-like guy. As history shows, he was as deplorable, personally and professionally, as Donald himself.

“Old Hickory” was a self-proclaimed People’s President. He railed against political elites and the establishment. He was vain, arrogant, egotistical, and perpetually angry.

Trump (“Old Bone Spur”) denigrates immigrants and minorities to keep his looney tunes supporters in a lather. Jackson, once a slave trader by profession, vilified Native Americans and confiscated their land to gain the support of European whites coming to America.

The fact is, most Americans of Jackson’s time were okay with systematically removing the tribes and taking their land. It was our “Manifest Destiny.” People admired Jackson for what became known as “rugged individualism.”

With the exception of Donald Trump (“Old Grab ‘Em”), no American President has been a total loser, with a record of all negatives and no positives (“Old Zero”). Jackson was as odious and contemptible as Trump, but still competent as a soldier and politician.

Further, unlike Trump, Jackson was a patriotic American. If Jackson were here today, he would be outraged over Trump’s traitorous collaboration with Russia and kowtowing to Putin. He probably would challenge Trump to a duel.

Jackson beats Trump easily in the competence department, but it is undeniable that a pall of hatefulness and cruelty hangs over his life and career.

(I was referring to Jackson, but okay, Trump too.)

The Slave Trade

Andrew Jackson was born in 1767 to a poor Scotch-Irish family on the border between North and South Carolina (both states claim him). As a young man, he became wealthy as a slave trader. He specialized in purchasing slaves in the upper South and selling them at a profit to the plantations of the lower South.

In 1804, Jackson purchased The Hermitage, a large Nashville cotton plantation that, of course, relied on slave labor. When he bought the property, he owned nine slaves. As he acquired more land, he procured more slaves. By 1829, he owned about 100. By the time he died, he owned 150.

Records show that Jackson beat his slaves regularly. He once had a woman whipped in public for “putting on airs.” Also on record are newspaper ads Jackson placed seeking the return of runaway slaves.

One ad offered an extra $10 for every 100 lashes administered to a 30-year-old runaway named Tom, should he be found. In other words, Jackson offered extra money to have the man killed.

The Native Problem

Jackson was equally harsh with Native Americans. As a major general during the War of 1812, he led a lengthy campaign in Alabama against rebellious Creeks (the Creek War, 1813-14).

The Creek Nation was divided. Many believed resisting the U.S. was futile, but hardliners known as “Red Sticks” allied themselves with the British and fought American expansion.

Jackson defeated the Red Stick faction in 1814 and, citing national security, proceeded to confiscate the land of all Creeks without exception, Red Stick or otherwise.

He became a national hero in 1815 when he led American forces to victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans.

In 1817, supposedly without orders from his superiors, Jackson led his forces in an invasion of Florida, which was under Spanish control. His pretext: the Seminoles were giving refuge to escaped slaves. He captured several Spanish forts and claimed the surrounding territory for the United States.

The Spanish government strongly objected, and many in Congress wanted Jackson to be censured. But the hubbub soon died down, and the U.S. acquired Florida in 1821.

In 1824, Jackson ran for President, but lost to John Quincy Adams. In 1828, he ran against incumbent Adams and won.

The Removal

1828 also was the year gold was discovered in Georgia, much of it on tribal land. That discovery sealed the fate of the tribes in the Southeast. Congress immediately drafted the Indian Removal Act, which Jackson signed in 1830.

Under the act, 46,000 people of the Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Seminole nations were removed from their homelands. Most were force-marched 1,000 miles to Oklahoma. At least 6,000 died of exposure, starvation, and disease.

After the removal, the United States turned over about 25 million acres of confiscated Native American land to white settlers. It was a textbook case of ethnic cleansing.

According to Jackson, the removal was fitting and proper. He said this in a speech to Congress in 1833:

That those tribes cannot exist surrounded by our settlements and in continual contact with our citizens is certain. They have neither the intelligence, the industry, the moral habits, nor the desire of improvement, which are essential to any favorable change in their condition.

Established in the midst of another and superior race, and without appreciating the causes of their inferiority or seeking to control them, they must necessarily yield to the force of circumstances and ere long disappear.

“Alarmed at the Prospect”

Jackson was popular among the common folk, but many of his political contemporaries were concerned about his extremism. During the 1824 election, Thomas Jefferson expressed his misgivings in a letter to Daniel Webster:

I feel much alarmed at the prospect of seeing General Jackson President. He is one of the most unfit men I know of for such a place. He has had very little respect for laws and constitutions, and is, in fact, an able military chief.

His passions are terrible. When I was President of the Senate, he was Senator; and he could never speak on account of the rashness of his feelings. I have seen him attempt it repeatedly, and as often choke with rage. His passions are, no doubt, cooler now; he has been much tried since I knew him, but he is a dangerous man.

During his term as President, Jackson opposed efforts to outlaw slavery in the western territories. He also banned the distribution in the southern states of printed material opposing slavery. He said the abolitionists spreading the material were monsters who should “atone for this wicked attempt with their lives.”

100 Duels

A biographer quoted Jackson as saying, “I was born for a storm, and a calm does not suit me.” As evidence of that, Jackson challenged more than 100 men to a duel.

In Jackson’s time, most duels were a show of bravado and bluster that resulted in no bloodshed, although deaths and wounds certainly occurred. But Jackson did kill one man, Charles Dickinson, a rival plantation owner with whom he had feuded for years.

Allowing Dickinson to shoot first, Jackson suffered a serious chest wound. But he stayed on his feet, took careful aim, and returned fire. Dickinson was mortally wounded.

The Death of Rachel Jackson

If being in a constant state of rage was Jackson’s default condition, the death of his wife Rachel in 1828 certainly amplified it.

The elections of 1824 and 1828 were especially nasty on both sides. Adams supporters liberally publicized Jackson’s unsavory record as a slave trader. The Adams campaign accused Jackson of cannibalizing enemy corpses, called his mother a common prostitute, and claimed his father was a mulatto.

Further, Rachel was attacked as a bigamist based on questions about the legality of her divorce from her first husband. An introverted person, she struggled to hold up under the stress of the campaigns.

Shortly after Jackson was elected President, but before he took office, Rachel began having sharp, recurring pains in her arm and shoulder. They were symptoms of a heart attack that killed her a few days later.

Reportedly, when the undertaker came to prepare Rachel for burial, aides had to pull the grief-stricken Jackson from her body.

Jackson blamed his political opponents for hastening Rachel’s death. At her funeral at The Hermitage on Christmas Eve, he told the mourners, “May God Almighty forgive her murderers. I never can.”

Rachel Jackson

Rachel in 1823.

Lack of Reverence

Some years earlier, Jackson had given Rachel a parrot named Poll. Poll was an African Grey Parrot, an intelligent bird noted for its ability to learn words and mimic sounds. They lack vocal chords, but create sounds by controlling the air they exhale.

After Rachel died, Poll became Jackson’s pet and companion. Poll was said to have an extensive vocabulary.

Jackson served two terms as President and retired to The Hermitage in 1837. He remained influential in national politics, but his health steadily declined. He died in 1845 of heart failure and other ailments.

Poll attended his master’s funeral, but only briefly. Reverend William Norment, the clergyman who presided at the funeral, later wrote:

Before the sermon and while the crowd was gathering, a wicked parrot that was a household pet got excited and commenced swearing so loud and long as to disturb the people and had to be carried from the house.

Norment said the parrot “let loose perfect gusts of cuss words” that left people “horrified and awed at the bird’s lack of reverence.”

I wonder whether Poll learned his pottymouth ways from Rachel or Andrew.

African Grey Parrot

A male African Grey Parrot.

Understandably, the word “demagogue” came to mind as I was writing this post. The website Vocabulary.com defines the word thusly:

Demagogue — A political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular passions and prejudices.

The website’s definition of the word “demagoguery” is masterful.

Demagoguery is a manipulative approach — often associated with dictators and sleazy politicians — that appeals to the worst nature of people. Demagoguery isn’t based on reason, issues, and doing the right thing; it’s based on stirring up fear and hatred to control people. For example, a politician who stirs up a fear of immigrants to distract from other issues is using demagoguery. Demagoguery is one of the most negative aspects of politics, but it’s also one that’s all too common.

Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump: two demagogues at the top of their game.

Trump-Jackson-2

 

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

Shellac is used as a wood primer/sealant and also as a waxy coating on food. Jelly beans are coated with shellac to seal them and make them shiny. It’s also a fact that shellac is a natural substance, not a manufactured material.

Shellac is secreted by female lac bugs (Kerria lacca) in India and Thailand. The insects leave tunnel-like tubes on tree branches. The tubes are scraped off, refined to get rid of bark and stuff, and turned into commercial shellac to coat your jelly beans.

The rhinoceros family has five living species: white rhinos, black rhinos, Sumatran rhinos, Indian rhinos, and Javan rhinos. The first three have two horns, and the last two have one horn.

The Hudson River flows 315 miles from upstate New York south to the Atlantic Ocean. However, the lower Hudson is a tidal estuary, so its direction of flow depends on the tide. On the incoming tide, the Hudson flows back upstream about 160 miles.

The closest living relative of the elephant is the hyrax, a small, rotund mammal native to Africa. Hyraxes resemble plump rabbits with short ears and no tail. Manatees also are related to elephants, but hyraxes are closer kin.

Hyrax

The E Street Band has been Bruce Springsteen’s backing band since 1972. It is so named because the mother of keyboardist David Sancious allowed the band to rehearse in her garage at 1107 E Street in Belmar, New Jersey.

The U.S. two-dollar bill was introduced in 1862 and, in spite of chronic lack of demand, remained in circulation until 1966. It was brought back in 1976 for the Bicentennial and remains in circulation today, even though the public still largely ignores it. Two-dollar bills account for one percent of the U.S. currency in circulation.

The legend of Atlantis, the island nation that fell out of favor with the gods and sank into the sea, originated with Plato. The Greek philosopher used the story as an allegory about the hubris of nations. He said Atlantis began as an advanced utopian society, but the people became greedy and petty, and they paid the price in “one terrible night of fire and earthquakes.”

During its century as a British colony, Barbados had a flag that featured an image of Britannia (the female personification of Britain) holding a trident. When Barbados gained its independence in 1966, it adopted a flag that symbolized the break by depicting only the head of the trident.

Flags

The U.S. Navy decommissioned its last battleship in 1992. Currently, the Navy has 283 ships in active service: 10 aircraft carriers, 9 amphibious assault ships, 22 cruisers, 3 near-shore combat ships, 62 destroyers, 17 frigates, 71 submarines, and 89 support vessels. Oh, and 3,700 aircraft.

The Outerbridge Crossing is one of three vehicular bridges between New Jersey and Staten Island. Opened in 1928, it is named for Eugenius H. Outerbridge, the first chairman of the port authority. It is called a “crossing” because the “Outerbridge Bridge” sounds ridiculous. Most people just call it “the Outerbridge.”

Nebraska native Thurl Ravenscroft (1914-2005) was an accomplished bass singer and voice actor who did his first voice-over as Monstro the whale in the 1940 film Pinocchio. You know Ravenscroft as the voice of Tony the Tiger and for singing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

The Labrador Retriever originated in the 1500s in Newfoundland, not Labrador. Labs are a cross between the Newfoundland breed and the St. Johns water dog. They were called Labradors, I assume, because we already had Newfoundlands.

Labs

 

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

In 1981, Johnny Cash was walking around the exotic animal refuge he maintained at his estate in Tennessee when he was attacked by an ostrich. The normally docile ostrich had recently lost its mate.

Cash fought off the animal with a stick, but suffered five broken ribs and a gaping stomach wound. The painkillers he took as a result led to a two-year relapse into alcohol and amphetamine addiction.

Arachibutyrophobia is the fear of having peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth.

Henry I, son of William the Conqueror, was King of England from 1100 until his death in 1135. Henry had numerous illegitimate children, but only one legitimate son and heir, William. When William drowned at sea in 1120, Henry took a new wife, hoping to have another son.

When that failed, he declared his daughter Matilda to be his heir. That failed, too, when Henry’s nephew Stephen seized the throne. Stephen spent most of his reign (1135-1147) in a civil war with the supporters of Matilda.

The 1983 movie Return of the Jedi was supposed to be called Revenge of the Jedi. George Lucas even released a movie trailer promoting the Revenge title. For whatever reason, he switched to Return at the last minute and saved Revenge for Revenge of the Sith.

Revenge

The first Nobel Peace Prizes were awarded in 1901. The two recipients were Henry Dunant, founder of the Red Cross, and Frédéric Passy, a French economist.

The 1968 film “Krakatoa: East of Java” takes place in the East Indies in 1883, when a volcano on the island of Krakatoa erupted and erased the island. Nit-picking critics pointed out that Krakatoa actually was west of Java.

In his youth, future country singer Conway Twitty (1933-1993) was a talented baseball player. The Philadelphia Phillies tried to sign him, but the Army drafted him first. After his discharge in the 1950s, Twitty became an Elvis-style rock-and-roll singer. In the 1960s, he transitioned to his first love, country music.

Twitty’s real name was Harold Lloyd Jenkins. He took his stage name from the towns of Conway, Arkansas, and Twitty, Texas, which he picked from a road map.

Art critics sometimes weave tapestries of cryptic blather, as when, in 1931, someone described The Persistence of Memory, the surrealist painting by Salvador Dalí, as “an unconscious symbol of the relativity of space and time” inspired by Einstein’s theory of special relativity.

When Dalí was asked about that, he said no, he was inspired by seeing a Camembert cheese melting in the sun.

Persistence

Thomas Jefferson is said to have invented many things, including the swivel chair, the metal plow, the dumbwaiter, a machine to extrude pasta, and a hideaway bed that was hoisted to the ceiling during the day.

In truth, he made improvements to the swivel chair, the plow, and the dumbwaiter, and he brought back a pasta-extruding machine from Europe, but the hideaway bed story is bogus. No bed at Monticello had a hoisting mechanism.

Jefferson did, however, invent the revolving book stand. It was a turntable that could hold five books that swiveled to face the reader.

A cat named Stubbs served as Honorary Mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska, from 1997 until his death in 2017. Stubbs was so named because he had no tail. He was “honorary” mayor because Talkeetna is a historic district, not a town, and thus has no elected mayor.

The first charge card was issued in 1950 by the Diner’s Club in New York City. It listed 27 participating restaurants and 200 cardholders. By the mid-1960s, Diners Club had 1.3 million users.

By then, Visa, MasterCard, and a host of other credit cards had arisen because the concept proved to be so lucrative. Well, duh. Why else would they be in the business?

The National Basketball Association adopted its iconic logo of a running player in 1969. According to the New York branding consultant who designed it, he got the idea from a photo of superstar Jerry West, which the designer said captured the pace and spirit of basketball.

NBA logo

 

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