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There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it is going to be a butterfly.

R. Buckminster Fuller

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Do one thing every day that scares you.

Eleanor Roosevelt

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Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.

Mark Twain

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That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.

Aldous Huxley

Fuller

Huxley

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Thoughts du Jour

Know Your Enemy

On the Nile River Delta in 525 BC, Persia defeated the Egyptian army in the Battle of Pelusium. The battle was especially memorable because of the tactics employed by the Persian king.

King Cambyses II of Persia was aware that cats were revered in Egyptian society. Cats were associated with Bastet, the warrior goddess of the sun. Felines were so highly regarded that to kill one was punishable by death. The Egyptians also had high regard for dogs, sheep, and ibises, which also were associated with deities.

When the Persian army attacked, the Egyptians were shocked to see images of cats and Bastet herself painted on the Persian shields. The Persians also released hordes of cats and other animals onto the battlefield as they advanced.

Chaos ensued. The Egyptian soldiers hesitated to strike at the images of Bastet or to harm the animals. Ultimately, they panicked and fled, and the battle was over. Persia controlled Egypt for the next 100 years.

The Cadaver Synod

Italy in the 9th and 10th centuries was a politically unstable mess. Pontiffs by the dozens came and went. Between 896 and 904, Rome had a new pope every year. The turmoil was caused by the lack of a dominant authority figure, which led to constant squabbling among powerful factions and families.

The pontiff from 891 to 896 was Pope Formosus, who, unfortunately for him, had enemies who held grudges. Formosus became pope, died in office, and was buried with appropriate pomp.

Seven months later, Pope Stephen VI, the second pope after Formosus, put Formosus on trial posthumously for perjury and other offenses. The event became known as the Cadaver Synod.

Formosus was exhumed, propped up on a throne in the papal court, and questioned by Pope Stephen. A deacon was assigned to provide answers on behalf of the corpse.

The deceased was found guilty as charged, and all of his papal acts were invalidated. His body was reburied in a graveyard for foreigners, then dug up and dumped into the Tiber River. Take that, Formosus.

A year or so later, a more rational pope annulled the Cadaver Synod, excommunicated seven cardinals involved in the event, and prohibited any more trials of corpses. Alas, his successor promptly reversed those rulings and reinstated Formosus’ conviction.

Philology on Steroids

Author J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973) had a lifelong passion for — or, if you prefer, obsession with — languages. He studied numerous languages, ancient and modern, and, starting at age 13, began constructing languages of his own.

One of the first was a language called Naffarin, which he never publicized or even shared with friends. At an event years later, he gave this sentence as an example of Naffarin:

O Naffarínos cutá vu navru cangor luttos ca vúna tiéranar, dana maga tíer ce vru encá vún’ farta once ya merúta vúna maxt’ amámen.

He defined the word vru as meaning ever, but did not elaborate further.

For his Lord of the Rings novels, Tolkien created in great detail (and shared) 14 Elvish languages, eight languages of men, two Dwarfish languages, and nine assorted other languages — Orkish, Entish, the Black Speech, etc. Each language, mind you, featured its own unique letters/symbols/characters.

Today, programs are available online that automatically translate text of your choice into a variety of Tolkien’s languages, Elvish and otherwise.

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Galileo

Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti de’ Galilei (1564-1642) was an Italian intellectual and polymath known as the father of, among other things, physics, astronomy, and the scientific method.

In his time, the world believed what Aristotle had decreed 1500 years earlier: that Earth stood at the center of the universe, and all other celestial bodies rotated around it. This was the geocentric model.

Science was a fledgling thing in the 1500s, but slowly, it was examining the old beliefs and often calling baloney on them. This did not please the Catholic Church, which saw a threat to its influence. To the church and many common folk, questioning the traditional teachings was blasphemous.

To be clear, Galileo and others who rejected geocentrism didn’t get it right, either. They believed in heliocentrism, which said the sun is at the center of the universe. Not until the 1700s did we figure out that the sun is just an ordinary, unregarded star.

That error aside, Galileo’s achievements were many and impressive. And his ideas were so radical and disruptive that the Catholic Church eventually locked him up for them.

Galileo was born in Pisa, and both of his parents were from prominent families. His father wanted him to pursue the lucrative profession of medicine, but young Galileo was drawn to mathematics and various sciences.

His studies led him to teaching positions in Pisa and Florence and the beginning of a long series of scientific breakthroughs.

As a young man, he invented the thermoscope, a device that measured temperature changes and evolved into the thermometer.

He dropped items of different weights from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, demonstrating that the speed of fall is not proportional to weight, the prevailing wisdom at the time.

He also built a series of refracting telescopes, first of 3x magnification, then 9x, then 30x. The devices immediately became a sensation in the nautical world and gave Galileo a profitable side business.

Observations with his telescopes led him to deduce that the supernovae of 1572, 1691, and 1694 involved distant stars. The Catholic Church was not amused.

Observing the Moon through a telescope, he concluded that the mottled lighting and uneven appearance is caused by craters and mountains. At the time, the surface of the Moon was believed to be smooth.

His telescopes also located four “fixed stars” close to Jupiter. After studying their motion, he correctly declared them to be moons orbiting Jupiter.

The idea of moons orbiting another planet directly contradicted geocentrism. The church fumed.

Galileo concluded that all stars and planets are round. He also said that the Milky Way consisted of so many stars that, as viewed from Earth, they have the appearance of a cloud.

By his 50s and 60s, Galileo had become famous, wealthy, influential, and probably somewhat cocky. But the church and a host of enemies opposed him, and finally, his activism went too far.

In 1616, he was hauled before the church’s dreaded Roman Inquisition — which had been pursuing witches and blasphemers since the 5th Century — to answer for his sacrilegious views. There, he was told he could write about heliocentrism or anything else as personal opinion, but he was ordered to stop teaching heliocentrism as scientific fact.

Galileo agreed, and for a time stayed out of trouble. But only for a time.

Eventually, he wrote a book that featured the account of a fictional geocentrist and heliocentrist making their respective arguments. No surprise, the heliocentrist won easily — and proceeded to refer to the geocentrist as a “simpleton.”

His enemies pounced, claiming the comment was directed at Pope Urban VIII. Galileo vehemently denied it, but the Pope could not allow himself to be subjected to public ridicule. Accordingly, in 1633, the 70-year-old Galileo faced the Inquisition in Rome for a second time.

Galileo faces the music again, 1633. This painting depicts him pushing a bible away.

This time, he was found “suspect of heresy.” His writings, past and future, were banned from publication, and he was placed under house arrest, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Historians point out that the Inquisition generously did not convict Galileo of heresy per se, for which he would have been executed.

During his years under house arrest, Galileo wrote at length, refining and organizing his works of the previous 40 years. But his health steadily declined, and in 1642, he died of heart failure at age 77.

In 1718, the church announced that Galileo’s works could be published, if they were edited to remove the offending heliocentric references.

In 1758, the church modified its Index of Prohibited Books to allow authors, including Galileo, to assert that Earth is not the center of the universe.

Finally, in 1992, 360 years after the fact, Pope John Paul II formally declared that the church was wrong to condemn Galileo and lock him up.

A truly magnanimous gesture. Who says the Catholic Church invented science denial?

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The Questions…

1. Before they formed the Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison were members of what group?

2. In olden times, what was Ethiopia called?

3. What do former presidential candidates Samuel Tilden, Grover Cleveland, Al Gore, and Hillary Clinton have in common?

4. On a standard keyboard, all of the vowels except one are on the top row. Which one is not? No fair peeking.

5. A male donkey is called a jack. What is a female donkey called?

The Answers…

1. The Quarrymen.

2. Abyssinia.

3. All four won the popular vote, but lost in the Electoral College.

4. The letter A is the leftmost key on the second row.

5. A jenny.

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Sins and Virtues

In olden times, all religions had a seriously Old Testament mindset, and the masses were lectured vigorously about the basics: behaviors to avoid and behaviors to emulate.

To codify the message for easier consumption, two handy lists evolved: the “Seven Deadly Sins” and their mirror image, the “Seven Heavenly Virtues.”

Neither list is mentioned in the Bible, but over the centuries, they nonetheless became well known and influential, and they remain so today, dear to the hearts of religious conservatives.

To refresh your memory, the Seven Deadly Sins are pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth.

The Seven Heavenly Virtues are humility, charity, patience, kindness, chastity, temperance, and diligence.

I certainly agree that greed, gluttony, and all that are negative behaviors, and that humility, kindness, etc. are solidly positive. I do not, however, find it necessary to sit people down and explain it to them. Everyone understands basic morality perfectly well by the time they are five.

On the other hand, if folks are not gathered in a group, you can’t pass the collection plate.

The Seven Deadly Sins,” attributed to Hieronymus Bosch, circa 1500.

Aerodynamics

The game of golf as we know it originated in Scotland in the 1500s. It probably evolved from either the Roman game of paganica or the Chinese game of chuiwan, both of which involved using a stick to knock a ball into a hole in the ground.

When the Scottish version arose, golf balls were fashioned by hand of beech wood. They were more or less round, but often were off-balance, making them maddeningly unpredictable in flight.

Sometime in the 1600s, a slight design improvement appeared: a leather ball stuffed with feathers. This version was better balanced and thus less erratic. But a dry ball did not behave like a wet one. Plus, the feathers had to be boiled and softened prior to stuffing, making the process labor-intensive and costly. And still, the balls were round in only a general sense.

In 1848, a Scottish clergyman discovered that the rubbery sap of the sapodilla tree could be heated, placed in a round mold, and allowed to harden into a sphere. With this “gutta percha” ball (translation: Sumatran latex), the mass manufacturing of cheap, reasonably aerodynamic golf balls finally was made possible.

Fifty years later, the sap was replaced by a core of tightly-wrapped rubber thread. Further, someone discovered that adding dimples to the ball improved control of the ball’s trajectory.

Fast forward to the present. The governing bodies of the game closely control the specifications and manufacturing of all golf equipment. Worldwide, an estimated 1.2 billion golf balls are manufactured each year.

Annually, in the US alone, some 300 million golf balls are lost.

Keep Calm

Keep Calm and Carry On is the perfect slogan to be corrupted into memes. I mean, it practically begs to be parodied.

Keep Calm and Carry. Keep Calm and Carry On My Wayward Son. Keep Calm and Carry Hand Sanitizer, Keep Calm and Have a Cupcake. Freak Out and Run.

The slogan originated in 1939 on a motivational poster created by the British Ministry of Information to boost public morale as World War II approached. The idea was to call upon the British self-image of remaining calm and resolute when facing adversity.

Actually, the government designed three posters and was poised to distribute millions of copies if a German attack came. Each poster featured the Tudor crown, a symbol of the state.

Immediately, the government was criticized for wasting money and patronizing the public. Very few of the posters were distributed, and the program soon was canceled. According to one historian, the effort was a “resounding failure” by clueless bureaucrats.

The posters essentially were forgotten until 2000, when copies were discovered in an English bookshop. Only a few original prints were know to have survived until Antiques Roadshow turned up a batch of 15 prints in 2012.

I think the criticism of the project was misplaced. Patronizing? Baloney. To me, the posters seem perfectly “stiff-upper-lip” British. Straight out of a Churchill speech.

The critics should have just, you know, kept calm.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The human nose has about six million scent receptors. A dog’s nose has about 300 million.

● In 1962, Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors set the record for the most points scored by a player in a professional basketball game: 100 points against the New York Knicks.

In 1983, the Detroit Pistons defeated the Denver Nuggets 186-184 in triple overtime. The combined score of 370 points is the most points scored in a single pro game.

● If you drove your car straight up at 60 mph, you would reach “outer space” in about one hour.

● The water of Lake Hillier, a salt water lake on an island off the west coast of Australia, is the color of bubble gum. The cause is a red dye created when algae in the water combine with the salt. Other than the pink color, the water is normal and harmless.

● Gravity varies with mass, so a person weighing 200 pounds on Earth would weigh 505 pounds on Jupiter and 13 pounds on Pluto.

● John Quincy Adams, who was President from 1825 to 1829, kept a daily journal from age 12 until his death at 80. It revealed that during his term as President, he arose each morning between four and five AM, walked two miles around the city, and, when the weather was nice, went skinny-dipping in the Potomac River.

● In the mid-1960s, the CIA launched Project Acoustic Kitty, a plan to implant tiny microphones and transmitters in cats and train them to eavesdrop on the Soviets. After a few years, the agency decided the project was impractical and canceled it. The implants worked fine, but no one could train the cats.

● In the late 1880s, Gustave Eiffel proposed building the Eiffel Tower in Barcelona, Spain, and was told to get lost. He then approached Paris, and the city agreed to let him erect the tower for the 1889 World’s Fair.

The tower was not popular with Parisians, who considered it just plain ugly. One critic called it a “metal asparagus.” After the exposition, it was scheduled to be dismantled and sold for scrap, but it was spared because the French army found it useful as a communications tower.

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Silent Cal

John Calvin Coolidge, Jr. (1872-1933) served as President from 1923 to 1929. He was born in Vermont on July 4, 1872, the only President born on Independence Day.

Like most politicians, Coolidge was a lawyer who got elected to local office, then proceeded to work his way up. In his case, Coolidge went from mayor to state senator to lieutenant governor to governor to vice president to president.

Scholars do not rank Coolidge very high in terms of accomplishments, but he was considered honest and fair-minded. He was a small-government conservative and an advocate of racial equality, a rare combination of beliefs even then.

In 1923, President Warren Harding died of a heart attack. Vice President Coolidge succeeded him and was elected to a full term in 1924.

But as the 1928 election approached, Coolidge announced that he would not seek a second full term. He said the office “takes a heavy toll on those who occupy it and those who are dear to them.” He and his wife Grace returned to Vermont, where he wrote his memoirs and was fond of cruising the Connecticut River in his motorboat.

Coolidge was an effective public speaker, but a quiet person by nature and rather a loner. By contrast, his wife Grace was vivacious and congenial. Soon, Coolidge was given the nickname “Silent Cal.”

In one supposed incident, which Coolidge said never happened, a man seated next to him at dinner said, “I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you.”

“You lose,” Coolidge replied.

Most historians say Coolidge embraced the Silent Cal nickname and his image of stoicism because he believed presidents should be serious and reserved. Others note that he was genuinely withdrawn and became more so when his son died in 1924.

The Coolidges were animal lovers, and at any given time, the White House was home to several pets. In all, they had nine dogs, four cats, and seven birds.

In addition, foreign countries regularly gave them exotic animals as gifts — a black bear, a wallaby, a miniature antelope, and a raccoon. All were given homes at the National Zoo.

One Easter, they were given a group of 13 white Pekin ducklings, which Mrs. Coolidge tried to raise in a White House bathtub. The ducklings soon grew too large for the space, however, so they were sent to live at the zoo.

The President was a cat person, and his favorite feline was Tige — short for Tiger — an orange tabby brought to Washington from the family farm in Vermont. Coolidge often strolled the White House with Tige draped around his neck.

One night in March 1924, Tige slipped out of the White House and disappeared. The next morning, an alarmed Coolidge ordered the staff to search the building and grounds. No luck. Apparently, Tiger had ventured beyond the gates and into the city.

Coolidge had the DC police issue a bulletin to all officers to be on the lookout for the cat. He also sent a Secret Service agent to a local radio station, where an appeal was broadcast, asking the public for information about the missing cat.

Hundreds of people subsequently called the White House, some with tips, some offering to give Coolidge another cat.

Among those who heard the radio broadcast was Edward Bryant, an employee at the Main Navy Building on Constitution Avenue. Arriving at work, he found an orange tabby cat sleeping in a hallway.

As suggested in the radio broadcast, Bryant called out, “Here, Tige!” and the cat ran to him. Bryant hailed a cab and returned Tige to the White House.

After the incident, Coolidge had a collar made for Tige engraved with the message, “My name is Tiger. I live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

In 1928, Coolidge was succeeded as President by his Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover. Coolidge did not have a high opinion of his successor. Once, Coolidge said privately of Hoover, “For six years, that man has given me unsolicited advice, all of it bad.”

Officer Benjamin Fink, a guard at the Main Navy Building, and Tige.

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Tama the Station Master

In January 2007, the manager at the railway station in Kinokawa, Japan, gave the title of Station Master to his cat Tama, with the primary duty of greeting passengers.

At the time, ridership was down. The station was operating with reduced staff, and Wakayama Railway had considered closing the operation. But after Tama was appointed, ridership increased. The company joyfully stepped in, creating a gold name tag for Tama’s collar and designing a special station master’s hat for her.

Thereafter, Tama appeared in the news regularly, usually when she received a promotion or award. Tourists flocked to see her. A ticket booth in the station was converted into her office.

In 2010, Tama’s mother Miiko and sister Chibi were named Assistant Station Masters. In 2012, a deputy named Nitama (“Second Tama”), was appointed.

Tama died in 2015 and was succeeded by Nitama, who remains in office today.

According to a study, Tama generated about one billion yen for the local economy. A newspaper pointed out that she was the only female in a managerial position at Wakayama Railway.

The White Bridge

In 1926 in my adopted town of Jefferson, Georgia, a concrete arch bridge was built across Curry Creek, replacing an old wooden covered bridge. At the time, reinforced concrete was the latest thing in bridges — practical, cheap, and versatile.

Curry Creek Bridge is its official name, but, as I learned when I moved to Jefferson in 2006, the locals call it the White Bridge. I had to accept that description on faith, because the bridge needed a serious cleaning. Like most aging concrete bridges, it was an unsightly, moldy gray. It was, like, the Ugly Bridge.

Finally, late last year, the Highway Department gave the bridge some attention. Structural repairs were made, and the entire thing was sandblasted and stripped of accumulated grime.

When the project was completed and the tarps removed, I drove downtown to see the White Bridge restored to its former glory.

Alas, nine decades of exposure to the elements had taken a toll. Yes, the bridge looks much better, but it isn’t what you’d call white. It’s more the color of a banana (the fruit, not the peel). Or eggnog. Or mayonnaise.

I guess the Mayonnaise Bridge is better than the Ugly Bridge.

Seven Wonders

The ancient Greeks were big on the number seven. To them, seven somehow represented perfection and held the promise of personal enrichment (lucky seven). Hence, when some Greek deep thinkers decided to make a list of the wonders of the world, the list was bound to be seven wonders long.

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

All seven are located in the Mediterranean region, the back yard of the Greeks. The rest of the world? Meh.

The list isn’t official or binding in any way, of course, and over the centuries, it has been modified regularly. Frequent additions were the Roman Colosseum, Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, etc.

In 1997, in an interesting twist, CNN listed the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Named were the Aurora Borealis (northern lights), Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef, Mount Everest, Victoria Falls, Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro Harbor, and the Paricutin volcano in Mexico.

Regarding the last two: the harbor at Rio de Janeiro is the world’s largest natural harbor. It has 130 islands and is ringed by mountains. Paricutin volcano erupted unexpectedly in 1943 in a farmer’s field, grew to 1,400 feet tall, and went dormant in 1952, leaving a cinder cone that is now a popular tourist attraction.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

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The Questions…

1. During WWII, how were the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence safeguarded?

2. What company owns, among other brands, Lamborghini, Audi, Porsche, Bentley, Bugatti, and Ducati?

3. By what name is the painting “La Gioconda” better known?

4. How long is an eon?

5. In parts of Europe, and in many countries that once were part of the British Empire, what is the day after Christmas called?

The Answers…

1. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the documents were moved to the US Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky. After the D-Day landings in 1944, they were returned to Washington, DC.

2. Volkswagen AG.

3. The Mona Lisa. The painting by Leonardo da Vinci is believed to be a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, an Italian noblewoman whose husband, rich businessman Francesco del Giocondo, was a big shot in the Silk Guild.

4. In common usage, an eon usually is an indefinite, very long period of time. In astronomy and geology, however, it is one billion years.

5. “Boxing Day,” which originated eons ago in the UK. It probably is connected to an old tradition of giving gifts to people working service jobs or to the poor. Boxing may refer to a Christmas box given to the needy or to church donation boxes.

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The national parliament of Iceland is the oldest governing assembly in the world. It dates back to 930 AD, when Viking chieftains gathered in an open field to discuss mutual issues. The field was the site of Icelandic government meetings until 1798, when it was moved to Reykjavik and, finally, indoors.

● In 2007, actor Nicolas Cage won an auction for a dinosaur skull, bidding against, among others, Leonardo DiCaprio. Cage paid $276,000 for the skull. A few years later, evidence surfaced that the skull had been stolen from Mongolia, and Cage had to return it. He didn’t get his $276,000 back.

● The letter e is used three times and pronounced three different ways in the word Mercedes.

● In 2005, remains were found in South Dakota of an extra-large cousin of the Velociraptor popularized by the Jurassic Park films. The new cousin, Dakotaraptor, was about 18 feet long and weighed 500 or so pounds. The largest known cousin so far is Utahraptor at about 23 feet long and 600 pounds.

FYI, Velociraptors actually were about the size of a turkey. Spielberg knew that, but he really liked the name Velociraptor.

● Martin Luther King, Jr. was born Michael King, Jr. When he was five, his father changed both of their names to honor Martin Luther, the German theologian who started the Protestant Church in the days of Columbus.

● In 1920, the “American Professional Football Association” was established in Canton, Ohio. Five of the 16 original teams were based in Cleveland. In 1922, the group changed its name to the “National Football League.”

● Pistachio nuts are especially dry and high in fat content — so much so that when the nuts are transported, the temperature, humidity, and air pressure must be carefully controlled to prevent them from over-heating and exploding.

● The Clowns’ Gallery-Museum, a display of clown costumes, memorabilia, and reference material, was founded in 1959 in the basement of Holy Trinity Church in London. Due to the growth of the collection, the museum opened a second location in Somerset in 2007.

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