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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● In thickness, the earth’s atmosphere is roughly proportional to the skin of an apple.

● The 1985 movie “Back to the Future” was turned down by several Hollywood studios before Universal bought the rights. Disney rejected it specifically because of the scene in which Marty kisses his mother.

● More Samoans live in Los Angeles than in American Samoa.

● In Italian, the word fettuccine means “little ribbons.” Linguini means “little tongues.” Vermicelli means “little worms.” Rotini means “little wheels.” Spaghetti means “strings.” And penne means “pens” (for their resemblance to ink pens).

● Inside the word therein are nine other words, all in proper order without rearranging the letters: the, there, he, in, rein, her, here, ere, and herein. Numerous other words are lurking inside therein if you rearrange the letters — e.g., tree, tin, hit, nit.

● Ketchup originated in China in the 1600s as a condiment made of pickled fish and assorted spices — but no tomatoes. When ketchup reached England in the 1700s, the primary ingredients were mushrooms, shallots, and assorted spices — but still no tomatoes.

A tomato-based version of ketchup finally appeared in the early 1800s. For a time, it was pitched in the U.S. as a cure for rheumatism, jaundice, indigestion. scurvy, and more. It was even sold in pill form. The claims grew steadily more ridiculous until the 1850s, when the medicinal ketchup market collapsed, and ketchup settled down to being solely a condiment again.

● Queen Elizabeth II is said to be an excellent mimic, and she sometimes entertains the family by doing impressions of politicians she has met over the years.

● The world’s smallest known bird is the bee hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae), a native of Cuba. On average, males are 2.2 inches long and weigh .07 ounces. Females are slightly larger and heavier.

● When President Harry Truman was born, his parents couldn’t decide whether his middle name should be Solomon, to honor one grandfather, or Shipp, to honor the other. They finally went with a middle name of just “S” to honor both.

● Psychiatrists and psychologists recognize three levels of mental retardation: severe, moderate, and mild. The severely retarded (called idiots until the 1960s) have IQs between 0 and 25. The moderately retarded (formerly called imbeciles) have IQs between 26 and 50. The mildly retarded (formerly morons) have IQs between 51 and 79. If you score an 80, you’re good to go.

● In 24 hours, a single bacterium in a Petri dish can multiply to one billion.

● Vanilla was first cultivated in Central America in the 1400s. Growing the pods is labor-intensive and costly (only saffron is a more expensive spice), so 95 percent of commercial vanilla is artificially made from the chemical lignin. The world’s leading producer of real vanilla is the island nation of Madagascar.

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Thoughts du Jour

Random observations / recollections / stories…

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Ugly Remark

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, one of my regular hiking buddies was a graphic designer named Sue. She was an avid hiker like me, and a mutual friend hooked us up: a blind date to climb Stone Mountain. We soon fell into a regular thing of hiking in the mountains every few weekends.

Sue and I were very simpatico. I was 20 years her senior, and our relationship was comfortably platonic. She and I were friends for 10 years, and all was well.

At the time, Sue lived in Decatur. I usually met her at her place on a Saturday or Sunday morning, and we would drive north to hike a chosen trail. We spent the long drives and the hours on the trails chatting and laughing and telling stories. Those were fun times.

Of the numerous times Sue and I went hiking together, she got mad at me only once. And I deserved it. It happened one morning as we were leaving her neighborhood. We passed a billboard that read, “I Buy Ugly Houses” and listed a name and phone number.

Clever me, I said, “Hey, maybe you should give that guy a call.” Sue’s house was a couple of decades old, and it indeed qualified as homely.

Sue turned to me and said angrily, “Rocky, you CANNOT call my house ugly! It’s okay for ME to call it ugly, but YOU CAN’T!”

It was the first time I had seen her upset. Which she had every right to be. I apologized, and she calmed down, and normality returned.

Eventually, Sue moved the Asheville, and we lost touch after a year or so. Later, I saw on Facebook that she got married. I miss our hikes. Those were fun times. But that stupid remark still makes me wince.

Sue in 2001.

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Winning Formula

Nancy Drew, the fictional child prodigy and super-sleuth, came on the scene in 1930. She was the creation of publisher Edward Stratemeyer, who struck gold in 1927 when he introduced the Hardy Boys books. Coming up with a female counterpart was practically an obligation.

Stratemeyer truly understood his audience and knew what young readers wanted, and his organization delivered splendidly. Generations of boys and girls have grown up as enthusiastic fans.

Over the years, the Hardy Boys books were published under the pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon, but they were written by a succession of ghostwriters Stratemeyer kept on salary. The Nancy Drew stories also were written by in-house talent, published under the name Carolyn Keene.

Both the Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drew books are still in active publication today, 90 years later.

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Evolution of a Melody

Charles G. Dawes (1865-1951) was a Republican who served as Vice President to Calvin Coolidge from 1925 to 1929. Dawes also was co-winner of the 1925 Nobel Prize for America’s reparations plan after World War I.

Additionally, Dawes as a musician a self-taught pianist and a composer. In 1911, he wrote Melody in A Major, a pleasant tune for piano or violin that became a national hit. It remained popular for years and, while Dawes was VP, was played regularly at official functions.

In 1951, not long after Dawes died, songwriter Carl Sigman added lyrics to the song and called his version It’s All in the Game. Over the next few years, it was widely recorded by prominent artists of the time.

The best known and most popular recording came out in 1958: a livelier pop version by Tommy Edwards. In 2018, it placed number 47 on the Billboard “Hot 100” list of all-time top songs.

You can hear Melody in A Major here.

It’s All in the Game is here.

Dawes probably would approve.

Charles Dawes and Tommy Edwards.

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More random photos I’ve taken over the years that still make me smile.

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Ejected

I’m not one to drink alcohol before the sun goes down, but yesterday afternoon, I poured myself two fingers of brandy to toast the victory of our next President, Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

Donald Trump, the turd in the national punchbowl for four long, grueling, wretched years, soon will be gone.

As thankful as I am for this turn of events, it’s a fact that the punchbowl itself will remain contaminated for a long time.

If you doubt that, consider that 70 million people voted to give Trump a second term in office. 70 million people.

They did it in spite of his blatant treason, his dismal performance, his appalling record, his bungling of everything, including the pandemic, his lying, his cheating, his utter lack of character and decency.

No person of sound mind — nobody — could justify a vote for Trump. The 70 million reasons for doing so simply indicate that those people, all of them, have some kind of mental or emotional abnormality that told them a vote for Trump was okay.

It wasn’t okay. It was perverse.

Those people voted for Trump because of — take your pick — madness, delusion, stupidity, or hate.

In large part, we can thank decades of brainwashing by Fox News and the wingnut conservatives for that.

For a host of reasons, the Trump voters and supporters are damaged people, and they have damaged American society terribly. What further harm they will cause remains to be seen.

What further harm Trump will cause remains to be seen.

I still wonder if Trump and his family might choose to defect to Russia or Saudi Arabia. Trump knows he will face a reckoning, legal and financial, after he leaves office. Even Deutschebank, his only source of funding besides the Russian oligarchs, has plans to call in his loans.

So, think about it, Donald. Maybe defecting is the way to go. You’ll have Putin’s protection, and you can still Tweet from Moscow.

In fact, why wait? Go now, just to be safe. Okay?

Ejected.

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The Questions…

1. Only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World remains largely intact. Which one?

2. What is a parietal eye?

3. What is the best-selling book series of all time?

4. So far, humans have survived on earth for two million years. How long did the dinosaurs last?

5. In 1965, what American vehicle set a record, which still stands, for the most units sold in a single year?

The Answers…

1. The Great Pyramid of Giza.

2. A small, light-sensitive third “eye” atop the head of many reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Its function is to warn of aerial threats. The eye is covered by skin and usually isn’t visible externally. It is present in most lizards, frogs, and sharks.

3. The Harry Potter books. More than 500 million copies of the eight Harry Potter novels have been sold.

4. 150 million years.

5. The Chevrolet Impala. In 1965, GM sold 1,046,514 Impalas. The list price was $3,600.

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In 1880, the renowned French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) was commissioned to create a pair of mighty bronze doors to serve as the entrance to a proposed Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. The museum’s backers wanted the doors to be majestic and dramatic, inasmuch as grandiloquence was in vogue at the time.

Rodin was certainly the right guy in that department, and he delivered. For the project, he chose the theme The Gates of Hell, based on Dante’s epic poem The Inferno. Here is one of Rodin’s early small-scale models.

The centerpiece of the scene, as you see, is a seated nude male, envisioned by Rodin as Dante pondering his poem. The figure was to be centered on the lintel above the doors.

Unfortunately, the project eventually fizzled. The museum was never built, and the doors were temporarily forgotten, although they were highly regarded and were cast some years after Rodin’s death.

But Rodin was a resourceful dude, and he cast and sold many of the figures in the scene individually, most notably the seated male figure that became known as The Thinker.

Initially, Rodin called the figure The Poet, meaning Dante Alighieri. But workers in Rodin’s foundry began referring to the figure as The Thinker. They said the pose reminded them of Michelangelo’s statue at the tomb of Lorenzo de Medici — a work known as Il Pensieroso, which in Italian means the pensive or thoughtful one.

This is Michelangelo’s Il Pensieroso:

To look at the statue, you would think Lorenzo (1492-1519) was quite a grand fellow. He was, indeed, a member of the illustrious Medici family, and his grandfather was known as Lorenzo the Magnificent.

But young Lorenzo was just a ne’er-do-well who died at age 26, “worn out by disease and excess.”

Still, Lorenzo was a Medici, and the family ruled Italy at the time, and they were patrons of Michelangelo, Botticelli, and other luminaries of the artistic world. Lorenzo was a loser, but to the family, his tomb deserved a proper marble statue.

Michelangelo was given the project, and he portrayed Lorenzo as a mighty warrior in battle gear reflecting on unspecified weighty matters. Europeans were big on pondering in those days.

But back to Rodin and The Thinker. Rodin knew that he had hit the jackpot with The Poet/The Thinker. Over the years, he produced a succession of castings in various sizes, some of bronze and some of painted plaster. He preferred the figure to be oversized and elevated, so the viewer looked up at it.

Also, the name The Thinker soon became so popular that Rodin finally adopted it.

Art experts say The Thinker expresses the mental effort and anguish of creativity. Rodin agreed.

“What makes my Thinker think,” he wrote, “is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back, and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes.”

I’ll buy that.

Ten versions of The Thinker were cast in Rodin’s lifetime. Today, 28 large bronze castings are located in museums and public places around the world.

The figure below, cast in 1906, is located in front of the Rodin Museum in Paris. The wording Le Penseur on the base is French for “the thinker.”

Now, in order to write this post, I did the usual Googling to get the details right. But I already knew the general story. Specifically, I schooled myself on the subject in 1960 when I graduated from high school, and my uncle Allan sent me a pair of Thinker bookends.

These days, the bookends are in use in a bookcase dedicated to my outdoorsy and travel books.

As you can observe, Allan’s bookends bear only a superficial resemblance to Rodin’s original. The manufacturer got the pose right, more or less, but the style is totally different, and the craftsmanship is… lacking.

Maybe it’s the hair, but the figure looks like John F. Kennedy, if Kennedy had been Asian.

Anyway, it was obvious back in 1960 that the bookends were of the El Cheapo variety. I remember digging up a photo of Rodin’s Thinker and being surprised at how bad the bookends really were.

I also ended up digging a bit into the backstory. I had to go to the library to do it, mind you, since this happened in olden times — Before Google.

In case you are wondering, I did appreciate Allan’s thoughtfulness, and I harbored no ill thoughts regarding the El Cheapo angle. As evidence of that, consider that the bookends have been in use in my home for 60 years and counting.

They do their job, and they make me smile. Thanks, Allan.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The star Betelgeuse, a red supergiant in the constellation Orion, is 767 million miles in diameter. For scale, Jupiter and Saturn are 480 million miles and 890 million miles from the sun, respectively.

● When Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) was 12, his father died, leaving the family destitute. Young Samuel dropped out of school and took a job. He received no further formal schooling.

● In its natural state, with no artificial coloring, butter is white.

● The funeral scene of the 1981 movie Gandhi employed over 300,000 extras, easily a record.

● If the Borough of Brooklyn were independent of New York City, it would be the third largest city in the United States, following the rest of NYC and Los Angeles.

● When Charles Dickens was writing A Christmas Carol, before he settled on the name of the character Tiny Tim, he tried and rejected the names Small Sam, Little Larry, and Puny Pete.

● In 1967, the International Olympic Committee adopted strict anti-doping regulations. The first participant to be disqualified for drug use was Swedish pentathlete Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

The Swedish team was surging in the pentathlon competition, and Liljenwall was nervous. With the pistol event coming up, he reportedly drank two beers to calm his nerves. He scored well, and Sweden won a Bronze medal, but it was forfeited after Liljenwall failed his drug test.

● The floating dot over the lowercase letters i and j is called a tittle.

● The African continent consists of 28 percent wilderness. North America consists of 38 percent wilderness.

● Since 1996, Australia’s banknotes have been made of a plastic polymer instead of a paper or cotton fiber like most currency. The polymer is cheaper, stronger, and more durable, and it can incorporate added layers of security protections, both visible and machine-readable.

● Alligators can’t move backwards.

● On the flag of the South African nation of Lesotho is the likeness of a mokorotlo, a traditional hat woven from a local grass. Mokorotlos are worn by court officials and are displayed in homes to protect against danger and evil.

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Thoughts du Jour

George

A few years before I retired (from the Advertising Department at Lithonia Lighting), the higher-ups hired a neurotic guy in his 40s I shall refer to here as George. He was brought in as an “account manager,” a sort of liaison to the other departments. George was useless, but the job was unnecessary anyway, so the only harm was the money wasted on his salary.

His eccentricities were many. He was nervous, twitchy, and socially awkward. He was a habitual fingernail biter and eventually began wearing false nails.

He also made strange noises. At random times, a sudden squeak, or sometimes a low moan, would erupt from him. He never acknowledged these peculiar sounds, and I’m not aware if anyone was ever bold enough to inquire.

On one occasion, George discovered a cellophane-wrapped Gaines-Burger® in a pocket of his sport jacket. He spent the next week fretting about it, mystified and confused. It never occurred to him that someone simply put it there as a joke. (The someone was Larry Flowers, the Art Director.)

One day, George emerged from his office in distress, complaining of chest pains. Someone called 911. Our department was deep inside the building, so we sat him in a swivel chair, and I rolled him to the nearest exit to meet the ambulance. He was okay and back at work a few days later.

I don’t remember when or under what circumstances George left the department. But I well remember the false nails, the Gaines-Burger®, the baffling noises, and that wild ride in the swivel chair.

Walking the Dog

One Saturday a while back, I took Jake to Jefferson Middle School for our morning walk. It’s one of the places he can go off-leash. At the south end of the parking lot were several teenagers shooting hoops, so I parked at the north end, and we set out in the opposite direction.

As is his habit, Jake executed a few energetic zoomies around the lawn, then settled down to plodding along, sniffing, and marking the bushes, trees, and poles.

Over the next 20 minutes, we walked the perimeter of the school property. Eventually, we came out from behind the school about 50 yards from the teens — who were, we observed, petting a Golden Retriever that also was off-leash.

Jake came to attention and stared intently at the Golden, thrilled as always to encounter another dog. I clipped the leash to his harness, and we approached the group.

The Golden was not alone. Inching along behind him was a man about my age behind the wheel of a silver Honda. The man was, in fact, walking the dog from the comfort of his car.

It was weird, yes, but reasonably safe. The parking lot is nowhere near traffic, and it was empty at the time, except as described. Also, the dog looked fairly old, probably not inclined to run off.

Jake and the Golden met, and both were super-excited. They inspected each other at length, tails wagging furiously. After I exchanged pleasantries with the humans, we walked on.

Walking your dog with a car. That concept never occurred to me.

On the Mend

Alas, our daily morning walks ended abruptly in late July when Jake somehow broke a toe and spent 10 weeks — 10 weeks! — in a cast and under treatment. I took him to the vet when he began limping and favoring a rear paw, and the x-rays showed a fracture.

Only a toe was involved, but the cast covered half his leg.

“Doc,” I said to the vet, “That cast is huge. I broke a toe once, and they just told me to go home and take it easy. They said it would take care of itself.”

“Yeah,” he said, “but I can’t explain to Jake that he needs to take it easy.”

They sent Jake home wearing a cone of shame, but he paid no attention to the cast, so I got rid of the cone the first day.

Anyway, no daily walks, and the dog door was closed. I was supposed to keep him quiet and minimize the activity.

Fortunately, he adjusted well to the situation. He either walked on all fours, the cast making a clop-clop-clop sound on hard surfaces, or he trotted on three legs, holding the cast aloft like an aircraft with retracted landing gear.

On the other hand, if he saw a cat or a squirrel, he was off in vigorous pursuit (cloppity!-cloppity!-cloppity!).

But the fracture healed, and after seven weeks, the hard cast was replaced by a soft bandage. The vet also okayed our daily walks again. After 10 weeks, the bandage came off, and — knock on wood — all is well. On the final visit, they shaved his foot. It looks like a naked mole rat.

Odds are, he fractured the toe while going out the dog door. He exits the dog door like a speeding bullet if something worth chasing appears in the back yard.

When so doing, he lowers his head so his forehead hits the plastic flap, not his nose. Clever boy.

Well, clever except for fracturing a toe.

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The Questions…

1. What is the oldest active volcano on earth?

2. What are the world’s number one and number two fruit crops?

3. Where and when did the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history occur?

4. What’s the difference between jam and jelly?

5. What do the writer Edgar Allen Poe and the singer Jerry Lee Lewis have in common?

The Answers…

1. Mt. Etna on the island of Sicily. Its first known eruption was in 1500 BC. It has erupted 200 times since then, the most recent being on May 22, 2020.

2. Number one, grapes. Number two, bananas.

3. Galveston, Texas, 1900. Between 8,000 and 12,000 people died.

4. Jam is made by crushing the fruit and adding the gelling agent pectin. Jelly is made by crushing the fruit, discarding the solid parts, and adding pectin.

5. Both married a 13-year-old first cousin.

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Rasta Man

Now and then, I make a run to Big Lots to check the price of dog treats. Dog treats are way overpriced in most places, owing to the fact that people — not me, but too many people — will pay $11.99 for Fido’s chicken-flavored rawhides or mint-infused dental chews and somehow not feel indignant and ripped off.

Anyway, I discovered that Big Lots sometimes has good deals on name-brand treats, so last week, I made one of my periodic trips to the Big Lots in Gainesville.

Approaching the entrance, I noticed a man ahead of me whose attire was especially incongruous and eccentric.

He wore a rastacap, but he was by no stretch the Rastafarian type; he was an elderly white guy who looked to be in his 60s, although he was tall and skinny, which might fit the pattern.

Based on his wispy sideburns, the rastacap was unlikely to be concealing dreadlocks. The cap, I assumed, was a fashion statement.

Well, fashion is the wrong word to use here. In addition to the rastacap, he wore dandelion yellow sweatpants, a blue Adidas hoodie, and red and white running shoes, all of it — cap included — faded and well worn.

Now, everyone has a story, and I know I’m being judgmental here, but personally, I am rather fastidious with regard to my attire. I dress casually, but neatly, and I aspire to a coordinated, tasteful ensemble. That’s just how I roll.

For example, when I wear brown pants, I wear a brown belt, and I choose socks and a shirt of colors harmonious with brown.

When I wear blue or black pants, I select a black belt, plus socks and shirt of complementary colors. (Defined as hues on opposite sides of the color wheel. Look it up.)

Rasta Man’s attire, conversely, was a kaleidoscope of random bits — a jarring and frankly offensive stylistic nightmare. Maybe he dressed in the dark that day. Or while stoned. Or both.

He arrived at the store entrance about 20 feet ahead of me, abruptly stopped, took out his cell phone, and dialed. Best to make that call before you go inside and lose the signal, right?

I heard loud ringing, which indicated he was on speakerphone. A female voice answered and said something unintelligible.

The man tapped on the keypad again, then held the phone aloft, a foot from his right ear. He cocked his ear toward the phone and paused in anticipation.

“Your balance,” said a mechanical female voice from the phone, “is ZERO dollars and FIVE cents.”

Hmmm. Five cents in the bank might explain the condition of his clothing.

Rasta Man pocketed the phone and proceeded into Big Lots.

Undoubtedly to make a cash purchase.

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