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Posts Tagged ‘History’

The Questions…

1. What is the largest member of the deer family?

2. Of what substance are your fingernails and toenails made?

3. Name the world’s largest island and the world’s longest river.

4. What African country formerly was known as Abyssinia?

5. To what does the Australian term jumbuck refer?

The Answers…

1. The Alaskan moose.

2. Keratin, a strong, tough, fibrous protein. Keratin also is the key material in hair, horns, claws, hooves, feathers, and skin.

3. Greenland and the Amazon River.

4. Ethiopia.

5. A male sheep. Jumbuck is an aboriginal word, origin uncertain.

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Misplaced Power

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961

———

Once again, it’s a Merry Christmas for the defense industry.

The US House and Senate have approved the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, and, as always, the extent of our military spending is obscene. For the military-industrial complex, it means riches beyond the dreams of avarice.

For 2022, the Biden Administration had asked for the breath-taking sum of $753 billion in military spending, the same as our 2021 spending. The House bumped it up to $768 billion, the Senate concurred, and that was that.

Those billions will go toward our spectacularly costly and largely unnecessary military machine; will buy still more jets and tanks and bombs; and will further fatten the defense industry contractors that have been leeching on the taxpayers for lo, these many years.

The US has spent insane sums on the military for decades. Consider our spending for the last 10 years:

The last time the US authorized less than $500 billion in military spending was 2004.

It’s true that the rest of the world lavishes billions on its military, too. But no country comes close to matching us. Here are the world’s 10 leading countries in 2021 military spending:

Our spending was more than that of the other nine countries combined.

Among rational people, one school of thought is not to spend those billions at all. Another is to use it in more worthwhile ways. Considering our many chronic problems, the latter seems a reasonable choice.

Some version of Medicare for All would be a godsend. But that would cost trillions, not billions, and is another conversation. Instead, consider a few other options I’ve read about recently for the best use of our wealth:

For $36 billion a year, we could expand Medicare to include dental, vision, and hearing coverage.

For $80 billion a year, we could make all of our public universities tuition-free.

For $15 billion a year, we could have free, nationwide, publicly-owned broadband.

For $55 billion a year, we could give every working adult in the country 12 weeks of paid family or medical leave annually.

For $150 billion a year, we could create a system of free Pre-K and free childcare for working parents, nationwide.

All pipe dreams, I know. As always, the politicians will continue to serve the military-industrial complex.

In 2022, the Air Force plans to buy 12 more F-15EX jet fighters from Boeing for $1.4 billion. The jets are needed, they say, because the fleet of F-15C fighters is aging.

Only a few scattered politicians in Washington — Democrats, of course — will say no to that.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The Roman emperor Caligula (reigned 37-41 AD) announced that he intended to appoint his horse Incitatus to the position of Roman Consul. However, he was assassinated before making the appointment official. Historians say Caligula was implying that a horse could perform the duties of a politician.

● In 1986, Wimbledon began using yellow tennis balls instead of white because yellow is more visible to TV viewers.

● Mount Everest, at 29,029 feet high, is the world’s tallest mountain, but there’s a catch. Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador, which is only 20,702 feet tall, sits atop a bulge in the earth’s crust and sticks out about 7,000 feet further into space than Everest.

● American Gothic, the famous 1930 painting by Grant Wood, depicts a farmer and his daughter standing in front of a house with a large Gothic-style window. The model for the daughter was Wood’s sister Nan, the model for the farmer was Dr. Byron McKeeby, Wood’s dentist, and the house is a real place Wood spotted in Eldon, Iowa — and which is open to the public today.

● The first crime for which Billy the Kid was arrested and jailed was stealing clothes from a laundry. He escaped jail by climbing up a chimney.

● In 1964, in Gene Roddenberry’s first treatment of the original Star Trek TV series, the story took place aboard the starship S.S. Yorktown commanded by Captain Robert April. By the time the show premiered in 1966, Roddenberry had changed the name of the starship to the Enterprise, and Robert April became Captain Christopher Pike, the predecessor to James T. Kirk.

● Pumpkins are grown on every continent except Antarctica.

● The official national animal of Scotland is the unicorn. Scotland has long considered unicorns to be symbols of power and purity, and they first appeared on royal coats of arms in the 1500s.

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The Questions

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

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

3. Hg is the symbol for what chemical element?

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

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

The Answers…

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

2. A skycap.

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

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

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

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Questions…

1. What color is gamboge?

2. What is the origin of the word cereal?

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

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

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

The Answers…

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

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

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

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

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

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Sylvester Graham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graham submitted to the new regimen and quickly died.

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

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

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

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

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

Sylvester Graham (1794-1851)

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

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

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

● April 12 is National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are scary times for democracy, people.

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

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