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Posts Tagged ‘History’

The Questions…

1. What is the world’s largest known living organism?

2. What online service has the most users?

3. The term living room surfaced in the late 1800s. What were living rooms called before then?

4. When sea otters sleep, how do they keep from drifting away from each other?

5. Fireflies (Lampyridae), known for emitting light through the chemical process of bioluminescence, are classified as what type of insect?

The Answers…

1. The largest known organism is a massive network of honey mushroom fungus (Armillaria ostoyae) that occupies about 3.4 square miles in eastern Oregon. It is thought to be 2,400 years old. Locals call it the “humongous fungus.”

2. Facebook, which has an astounding 2.9 billion users. That’s more than the populations of China (1.4 billion) and India (1.3 billion) combined.

3. Mostly, they were called parlors, from the French verb parler (to speak) because that’s where people sat and talked. In the 1500s and 1600s, they sometimes were called drawing roomsshort for withdrawing, in the sense of withdrawing there for privacy.

4. They hold hands.

5. Fireflies are a variety of soft-bodied beetle.

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Thoughts du Jour

Business As Usual

My county school board doesn’t have a very good record. Some years ago, it built new schools in East Jackson County, and — oops — West Jackson grew faster. Then the board built a new county high school for $69 million that — oops — required portable classrooms the day it opened.

The old county high school became the “college and career center.” I’m not sure a career center needs a campus the size of a shopping mall, plus multiple acres of abandoned football, baseball, softball, soccer, basketball, and practice facilities, but it has them anyway.

Then there’s another matter that smells to high heaven. The old high school was a handsome two-tone brick structure. Brick — the stuff that lasts forever and is wonderfully low-maintenance. This is the old high school:

But before the building opened last fall as the career center, the school board had the entire school — all of those attractive and perfectly serviceable brown bricks — painted. All gazillion of them. This is the career center today:

The old high school — excuse me, the career center — is big and sprawling. Painting it took the contractor all summer.

I would love to know which government official that painting contractor is related to.

Survivor

In Montana in June 1876, General George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry was steamrolled in the Battle of the Little Bighorn by warriors of the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes. Five of the regiment’s 12 companies were wiped out. Custer and 273 soldiers died.

Two days after the battle, Comanche, the horse of a slain 7th Cavalry officer, was found in a ditch badly wounded. Comanche was hailed as the sole survivor of the battle, but probably wasn’t. Some 100 cavalry horses are thought to have survived and were claimed by the victors.

Comanche suffered seven bullet wounds, but recovered and became a hero to the 7th Cavalry. The unit commander declared that the horse would live out his life in comfort and “will not be ridden by any person whatsoever, under any circumstances, nor will he be put to any kind of work.”

Comanche lived an easy life at Fort Riley, Kansas, until his death in 1891. For some grotesque reason, his body was stuffed, and, also for some grotesque reason, it remains on display today at the University of Kansas Natural History Museum.

Viral Agent

I avoid zombie movies because the idea of zombies is so trite and silly. People get infected, spazz out, cause chaos, and maybe eat brains. Eventually, an antidote is discovered, or they all get killed, or whatever. So tiresome.

A key concept of most zombie stories is that the victims were exposed to some kind of awful new virus. And it made me wonder if maybe, just maybe, something similar might explain the behavior of today’s Republicans.

Imagine an insidious viral agent that infiltrates the brains of conservatives and causes them to ignore facts, deny science, embrace nutty conspiracy theories, hate black and brown people, admire Nazis, praise dictators, and always vote Republican, thus dooming us to an unending succession of wretched scumbags in public office.

The concept of a medical explanation for right-wing behavior makes sense, except for the part where normal people are immune to the virus. I’m still trying to puzzle that out.

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AUSTIN, TEXAS — A marble bust purchased at a Goodwill store for $35 turned out to be a 2,000-year-old Roman carving.

Antique dealer Laura Young purchased the bust and thought it might be a Victorian garden decoration. She kept it on display in her home while friends at a London auction house tried to trace it.

After several years of research, they identified the bust as depicting Nero Drusus Germanicus, a Roman soldier and politician. The bust had been on display in a German museum prior to World War II. They think a soldier brought it to the US after the war, either having stolen it or purchased it from a looter.

The bust currently is on display at the San Antonia Museum of Art and next year will be returned to Germany. “He needs to go home,” Young said. “he wasn’t supposed to be here.”

Young had a replica of the bust made on a 3D printer to keep for herself.

PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA — The official news outlet of North Korea claims that burritos and hamburgers were invented by Kim Jong-il, the father of current Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.

A North Korean newspaper said Jong-il came up with the idea of “wheat wraps” in 2011, shortly before his death from a heart attack. Some years before that, the newspaper said, Jong-il invented a type of hot sandwich, described as “double bread with meat,” that was the forerunner of the hamburger.

The newspaper described the “wheat wrap” burrito as sort of like a gyro with grated cabbage and carrots — more of a spring roll than a burrito.

Despite North Korea’s claims, the burrito probably originated with vaqueros in northern Mexico in the 1800s. Both Germany and the US say they invented the hamburger, also in the 1800s.

FYI, three generations of Kims have ruled North Korea since it was created after World War II. The first dictator was Kim Il-sung, who ran the country from 1945 until his death in 1994. His son Kim Jong-il took over, died in 2011, and was succeeded by the current wacko Kim Jong-un.

LUBBOCK, TEXAS — When told their luggage was overweight, a couple at Lubbock Airport opened the bag and found their pet chihuahua hiding in a cowboy boot.

The couple was boarding a Southwest flight to Las Vegas when a gate agent told them the bag was five pounds overweight. They had the option of paying a fee or transferring items to their carry-ons. To avoid the fee, they opened the suitcase and discovered their five-pound chihuahua Icky inside.

The gate agent offered to keep Icky until the couple returned from vacation, but they contacted a relative who rushed to the airport and took Icky where she was supposed to be, with the couple’s children and babysitter.

Five years ago, the couple found Icky on a remote Texas road, weak and malnourished. When they took her home, their children said the dog was dirty and “icky,” and the name stuck.

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Freedom of the press, freedom of association, the inviolability of domicile, and all the rest of the rights of man are respected so long as no one tries to use them against the privileged class. On the day they are launched against the privileged, they are overthrown.

Peter Kropotkin

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When stupidity is considered patriotism, it is unsafe to be intelligent.

Isaac Asimov

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Why should we not honestly and candidly investigate the errors and crimes of our ancestors that we may correct, reform, and avoid them?

John Adams

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We are the product of 4.5 billion years of fortuitous, slow biological evolution. There is no reason to think the evolutionary process has stopped. Man is a transitional animal. He is not the climax of creation.

Carl Sagan

Kropotkin

Sagan

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● Russia is massive, extending across eight time zones and bordering 14 other countries. But its economy is puny — roughly equivalent to the combined GDPs of Belgium and the Netherlands.

● The average automobile contains 30,000 parts, counting bolts and screws.

● The main ingredients of the spread Nutella are sugar, cocoa, and hazelnuts. A medium-size jar of Nutella (26 oz.) contains about 97 hazelnuts. Annually, 25 percent of the world’s hazelnut crop is used to manufacture Nutella.

● Europa, the fourth-largest of Jupiter’s 80 known moons, is slightly smaller than Earth’s Moon. Its surface is believed to be largely a crust of ice. Beneath it, scientists now think, is a liquid ocean that holds more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined.

● The first sharks evolved about 400 million years ago, which makes them 50 million years older than the earliest known trees.

● In the card game of whist, and in the game of bridge that evolved from it, a yarborough is a hand of 13 cards with none higher than a nine. The term is named for the 2nd Earl of Yarborough (1809-1897), who regularly bet 1000-1 against being dealt such a hand. He usually won; the probability of being dealt a yarborough is 1 in 1,828.

● The rubber band was invented in 1845 by Stephen Perry of the rubber manufacturer Messers Perry and Co., London.

● Polar bears have two layers of fur: a dense undercoat for insulation and a coarse, protective outer coat. Both layers are colorless. The bears appear white because the hairs are transparent, and they reflect all wavelengths of light instead of absorbing some and manifesting color. Polar bear skin is black, which absorbs sunlight for warmth. Mother Nature is a smart cookie.

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The Questions…

1. What are the names of the three Rice Krispies elves?

2. What is the most valuable residence on earth?

3. Anne Frank and her family were in hiding from 1942 to 1944 in what city?

4. What is the strongest muscle in the human body?

5. What was the duration of the age of the dinosaurs, aka the Mesozoic Era, aka the Age of Reptiles?

The Answers…

1. Snap, Crackle, and Pop.

2. Buckingham Palace in London, which is worth about $5 billion. The palace has been the official royal residence since 1837, when Queen Victoria moved in.

3. Amsterdam.

4. The jaw muscle.

5. Between 150 and 200 million years. The earliest ancestors of humans appeared only six million years ago.

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Pollen and Pollination

Every spring for a couple of weeks, my corner of the world — and probably yours — gets coated in pollen. At the same time, dried-out thingies begin raining down from the oak trees, clumping together and piling up and staining the driveway.

This year, I decided it was past time to identify those mysterious dried-out thingies. I wasn’t prepared for what I discovered.

They are called catkins, and they are the male half of oak tree reproduction. They contain pollen, which is carried by the wind to all the female oak flowers out there. Specifically, the male flowers form in the summer, produce pollen the next spring, die and dry up, and bingo.

The wind can carry the pollen many miles, but only a tiny fraction of the grains will pollinate a female and create an acorn. Further, the vast majority of acorns get eaten by animals and don’t make it to tree-hood. Nature doesn’t do pity.

The yellow coat of pollen on your car, by the way, is from pine trees, not oaks. Grains of pine pollen are large enough to be visible, but too large to bedevil your sinuses; oak and other hardwood pollen is much smaller and is the stuff that makes you sneeze and cough.

You, not me. Pollen doesn’t bother me at all.

The Power of Books

Scientist and science champion Carl Sagan, bless him, had a way with words. In 1995, one year before he died, he published The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. In the book was the following passage.

———

For 99 percent of the tenure of humans on earth, nobody could read or write. The great invention had not yet been made.

Except for firsthand experience, almost everything we knew was passed on by word of mouth. As in the children’s game “Telephone,” over tens and hundreds of generations, information would slowly be distorted and lost.

Books changed all that.

Books, purchasable at low cost, permit us to interrogate the past with high accuracy; to tap the wisdom of our species; to understand the point of view of others, and not just those in power; to contemplate — with the best teachers — the insights painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history.

They allow people long dead to talk inside our heads. Books can accompany us everywhere. Books are patient where we are slow to understand, allow us to go over the hard parts as many times as we wish, and are never critical of our lapses.

Books are key to understanding the world and participating in a democratic society.

———

That wonderful observation, I should note, came in a book.

The Oklahoma Panhandle

You’re no doubt familiar with the Oklahoma Panhandle, that odd strip of land west of the rest of the state, sticking out like the handle of a pan. But do you know the story of its origin? I didn’t either.

When the Republic of Texas declared its independence from Mexico in 1821, the panhandle region was part of Texas. But when Texas applied to enter the Union in 1845, there was a problem. The U.S. prohibited slavery north of the parallel 36°30′ north. The panhandle strip is north thereof.

Texas (sigh) insisted on being a slave state, so it surrendered its claim to the panhandle. For the rest of the century, the area was a no-man’s land between states, the home of assorted cattle ranches, homesteaders, and outlaws. Finally, the panhandle was tacked onto Oklahoma when it became a state in 1907.

The panhandle region is 168 miles east to west and 34 miles north to south. It consists of three minimally-populated rectangular counties, the westernmost of which, Cimarron County, borders Kansas, Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico.

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● When King James V of Scotland died in 1542, his daughter Mary Stuart became Queen of Scotland — at the age of six days old.

● Cheese is the world’s most commonly shoplifted food item.

● Every year, scientists discover about 18,000 new species of plants and animals, half of which are insects.

● In 1887, a partial skeleton of the three-horned dinosaur Triceratops was unearthed by geologist George L. Cannon near Denver. Dinosaurs being a bit of a new concept in those days, Cannon thought the bones were those of an especially large and unusual bison. Only after a third and more complete skeleton was found did Cannon see his mistake.

● The National Park System consists of 423 sites, 63 of which are full-blown National Parks.

Bonasa umbellus, the ruffed grouse, is a game bird native to Canada and the eastern US. Umbellus is Latin for umbrella or sunshade, referring to the bird’s showy neck plumage. Bonasa comes from the Latin words bonus (good)and assum (roasted).

● An ant can lift about 50 times its own weight.

● The word orangutan comes from the Malaysian words orang, meaning “person,” and hutan, meaning “forest.” It usually is translated as “man of the forest.”

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Corruption

Corruption in government — all forms of government at every level — is inevitable. The reason: human nature.

Consider how the world’s major political/economic systems function, in theory.

Communism

Under the doctrine of communism, private ownership is forbidden. Rich big shots do not run things, and the concept of “I’m for me first” is off the table.

Instead, the economy is owned jointly by the people. Government is tasked with overseeing the distribution of resources and making sure everyone is treated fairly and equally.

There is a fatal flaw, however, in that last part about the role of government. No government ever, anywhere, has managed to handle the oversight as intended. For that reason, communism simply never works except in theory.

Nothing says it can’t work. Nothing says government officials can’t do the job. In truth, plenty of people — in all kinds of economic systems — want to do the right thing. But they cannot succeed because too many of their fellow officials use their positions for personal gain or other nefarious reasons. Inevitably, corruption wins.

Socialism

The doctrine of socialism is a sort of communism lite. It is a less fire-breathing, more civilized approach to achieving economic and social equality. Some variations of socialism even tolerate a smidgen of capitalism.

When Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1848, they described communism as a working-class movement designed to dismantle the power structure. As for socialism, Engels dismissed it completely.

He called socialism a middle-class movement touted by “social quacks who, by all manner of tinkering, professed to redress, without any danger to capital and profit, all sorts of social grievances.” Socialists just weren’t bloodthirsty enough for Engels.

Capitalism

Capitalism is equally flawed, and maybe more susceptible to corruption than other political-economic systems. Under American capitalism, the ruling elite have become obscenely rich, and the non-rich fight over the scraps.

Today in the United States, virtually every level of government, local, state, and national, is owned by special interests. Most people who run for public office know perfectly well how the system works, and they intend to use it for personal or political advantage.

Even good people with good intentions know the system is rotten. Maybe they should be admired for their tenacity, but they can’t win. In time, the American form of capitalism will implode and be replaced by… something nasty and authoritarian, most likely.

Every form of governance since the Stone Age, I suspect, eventually succumbed to corruption and was replaced by whatever evolved next.

The Rise of Autocracy

On paper, five nations formally are communist-controlled: China, Cuba, North Korea, Laos, and Vietnam. Russia is by no means a communist country. It’s an ordinary dictatorship that created a toothless, phony opposition and thereby claims to be democratic.

In the six countries aforementioned, de facto dictatorships arose because of the totalitarian power of the governments. All six have flipped from the left wing to the right and are, in fact, more fascistic than communistic.

Which helps explain why conservatives in the US, who for decades have bellowed about the evils of communism, have decided that Putin is a savvy, admirable guy.

You’ve probably heard them say, Well, if Putin wants Ukraine, why should we care? After all, Ukraine was part of Russia once.

It’s true that both countries once were part of the USSR, but things change. Empires rise and fall, and actually, Ukraine was here first. It emerged in the Middle Ages, and at one time, all of Russia was part of it.

But, facts and conservatives, like oil and water, do not mix readily.

Nothing is a bigger turn-on to the average Republican than an autocrat flexing his muscles, The soul of every right-winger craves a dominating father figure.

A corrupt one will do.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The first novel depicting time travel was “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” by Mark Twain, 1889.

● Alexander the Great had a favorite horse, Bucephalus, which meant “ox-head” because of a branding mark depicting the head of an ox. Bucephalus died in battle in 326 BC. Alexander buried him with full honors and founded the city of Bucephala in Pakistan as a memorial.

● All nine species of the flowering plant Datura are poisonous if eaten and can cause fever, hallucinations, psychosis, and even death. Datura also is known as thornapple, jimsonweed, devil’s weed, and hell’s bells.

● In October 1961, the Museum of Modern Art in New York opened an exhibit featuring works by Henri Matisse, and they managed to hang one of them upside down. It remained that way for 47 days until an observant visitor informed MOMA of the error. To be fair, the work in question, “Le Bateau” (the boat) is a simple paper cutout depicting a sailboat and its reflection, so…

● The Akita dog breed originated in Japan in the 1500s. In the past, Akitas were used to hunt elk, bear, and wild boar and often were the companions of samurai warriors.

● In informal use, a jiffy is a rough measure of time that means “real quick” or “right away.” Technically, however, a jiffy is a precise unit of time: how long it takes light to travel one centimeter in a vacuum. The answer, as determined by chemist Gilbert Newton Lewis (1875-1946) in the early 1900s, is one-trillionth of a second.

● C. S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley, and John F. Kennedy all died on November 22, 1963.

● The KattenKabinet is an art museum in Amsterdam dedicated to works that depicts cats. On display are paintings, sketches, sculptures, etc. by Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Rembrandt, and others. The museum was founded in 1990 by Bob Meijer in honor of his cat J. P. Morgan.

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