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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● A New Year tradition in Colombia is to wear yellow underwear to ensure a year of happiness. Another is to walk around the block carrying a suitcase, in hopes you will travel a lot.

● The longest golf hole in the world is the third hole at Gunsan Country Club in Gunsan, South Korea. The hole is 1,100 yards long (about .6 miles) and par 7.

● The body of an average adult human has a water content of about 60 percent. Jellyfish are about 95 percent water.

● The desert scenes from five of the first six Star Wars movies were filmed in Tunisia. Most notably, scenes from Luke Skywalker’s home planet Tatooine were shot there. Several of the abandoned film sets have become tourist attractions.

● On September 2, 1666, a fire began in a small London bakery. Firefighters tried to create firebreaks to stop the spread, but high winds fanned the blaze into a firestorm that was unstoppable. By the next day, the Great Fire of London had burned 80 percent of the city.

● Light from the sun reaches the earth in an average of eight minutes, 20 seconds. The time varies according to the distance at the moment, of course.

● Only about 25 percent of babies are born on the due date predicted by the doctor.

● Koalas have fingerprints almost identical to humans, chimps, and gorillas, even though most other marsupials (kangaroos, wombats) have no fingerprints at all.

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Fit for a King

Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, built in the late 1800s by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, is a real-life fairytale/fairyland castle. No surprise, it was the inspiration for the royal castle in the Disney film Sleeping Beauty, as well as for the Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland.

Ludwig built several spiffy castles during his reign and, to his credit, paid for them with his personal fortune, not public funds. But he overreached with Neuschwanstein, and the costs soon had him in serious debt.

After borrowing heavily from relatives and every financial institution that would listen, Ludwig finally asked the Bavarian government to bail him out. His cabinet said no.

Serious rancor ensued. The situation escalated. Eventually, Ludwig was declared mentally ill and unfit to serve. He tried to flee the country, but was caught and detained at a remote estate near Munich.

A few days later, he and one of the doctors who declared him a mental case went for a walk along the shore of a mountain lake. The next morning, both men were found dead in waist-deep water. The doctor’s body showed unexplained signs of head and neck injuries.

The coroner declared Ludwig’s death a suicide by drowning. He said the doctor’s cause of death could not be determined due to lack of evidence. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Neuschwanstein Castle was completed a short time later and was opened to the public. It remains a popular tourist attraction today.

The Holiday Tree

Years ago, when my dad retired, Mom announced her retirement, too — from cooking. At the time, Mom was reassessing her life and making changes she felt were in order. Ergo, for Mom and Dad, a new era of pizza deliveries and eating out began.

Another of her changes concerned the Christmas tree. Mom said she was tired of the annual hassle of spending time decorating it, then, a few weeks later, reversing the process and hauling everything back to the attic. So she decided to leave the tree up permanently.

Thereafter, the Christmas tree became the Holiday Tree. Mom changed the decorations to reflect the seasons and holidays as appropriate.

After Christmas, it became the New Year Tree. Then the Winter Tree. Then the Easter Tree. Then the Springtime Tree. You get the idea.

The tree — artificial, of course — stood in one corner of a large rec room (formerly the carport, which the previous owner had enclosed), so having a six-foot tree in the house was never a problem.

In truth, Mom invested more time and energy in the Holiday Tree than she ever had in ordinary Christmas trees, but she and Dad thoroughly enjoyed it. They especially had fun collecting decorations.

I thought about doing the same thing myself, but decided against it. The hassle factor, you know.

Me at Mom and Dad’s house, Christmas 1998.

Unconventional

In the late 1920s, William M. Marston (1893-1947), a Harvard-educated psychologist, invented a device that measured blood pressure. His wife Elizabeth observed that when she got mad or excited, her blood pressure inevitably increased.

A light bulb came on over William’s head, and he contacted the inventor of the polygraph (lie detector). Result: The blood pressure device became an integral part of the polygraph.

The Marstons were, shall we say, an unconventional couple. Both were dedicated feminists, and, quietly, fans of BDSM. Eventually, the couple invited a like-minded friend, Olive Byrne, to live with them.

William had two children by each woman. Elizabeth pursued her career as an attorney and psychologist while Olive cared for the trio’s four children.

William had dabbled in writing since his college days and had published a series of self-help books. The itch to write later led him to a job at DC Comics as an educational consultant and occasional writer.

In 1941, his affinity for feminism, writing, and the bondage thing led him to create the character Wonder Woman, the first female superhero.

You may be aware that ropes (e.g., the Lasso of Truth) and being tied up are suspiciously regular Wonder Woman themes.

William wrote Wonder Woman stories until his death in 1947. Elizabeth and Olive continued living together until Olive died in 1990 at age 86. Elizabeth died in 1993, age 100.

Stranger than fiction.

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When I was a kid, a few people of our acquaintance, maybe old friends of my parents or distant cousins, wrote annual Christmas letters to update us on events of the previous year. Nothing unusual about that. It’s a fairly common practice.

I remember those missives as being rambling, melodramatic, and bristling with exclamation marks! I also recall the greeting “Dear All” being used, so copies could go to both relatives and friends.

To my recollection, we didn’t hear from the letter-writers again until the next Christmas letter. And, in truth, I haven’t read a Christmas letter in years, since no close relatives wrote the things.

The letter-poem below is satirical, but some people think the author tempers his shots with a touch of fondness; he is more gentle than he could have been because, in general, we perceive the senders’ intentions as being innocent and mostly positive. Fair enough.

As for the origin of “The Christmas Letter,” I found no details, but it was published as early as 1977.

As for the author, it may or may not be John Nelson Morris, a professor of English Literature at Washington University in St. Louis, who died in 1997.

Anyway, to all y’all, Merry Christmas !!!!

———

The Christmas Letter

By John N. Morris

Wherever you are when you receive this letter
I write to say we are still ourselves
in the same place
and hope you are the same.

The dead have died as you know
and will never get better,
and the children are boys and girls
of their several ages and names.

So in closing I send you our love
and hope to hear from you soon.
There is never a time
like the present. It lasts forever
wherever you are. As ever I remain.

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Pix o’ the Day

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

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The Questions…

1. Based on studies of collagen in bones, what two present-day bird species are most closely related to Tyrannosaurus rex?

2. More greeting cards are sold at Christmas than at any other holiday. What holiday is in second place?

3. The first six Star Wars films all were released in the same month. Which month?

4. The explorer Ponce de Leon gave Florida its name in 1513. The word comes from the Spanish florido, which means what?

5. The human population of Australia is 24 million. What is the kangaroo population?

The Answers…

1. Chickens and ostriches.

2. Valentine’s Day.

3. The six films of the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy were released in May. The films of the sequel trilogy, under Disney, were released in December.

4. Flowery.

5. About 44 million. The number has doubled in the last six years. The government wants people to eat more kangaroo meat, but most Aussies are turned off by that. They favor programs to sterilize and relocate the animals.

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Thoughts du Jour

Unpalatable

To understand why the episode was so unsettling, you have to know that I prefer dry red wine. To me, the concept of sweet wine is simply wrong. In fact, I’m not a sweets person. I rarely eat or drink anything sweet.

Years ago, to lose weight, I switched from beer to wine. I began with Cabernet Sauvignon, then decided Merlot was more to my liking, then found Pinot Noir to be more subtle. Pinot Noir became my beverage of choice.

One evening a few weeks ago, I retrieved a bottle of Pinot Noir from the wine cellar (okay, the garage), popped the cork, poured a glass, and retired to my recliner to reflect upon the events of the day, with thoughts of bonding with Jake over some Combos or peanuts.

I raised the glass of Pinot Noir, took a sip — and recoiled in distress. It wasn’t Pinot Noir at all! It was sweet — alarmingly and cloyingly sweet!

I returned to the kitchen and checked the label on the bottle. Zinfandel. I had purchased a bottle of Zinfandel by mistake. Except for uttering an obscenity, I was speechless.

I took several more sips, but, ultimately, I emptied the rest into the sink. Still stinging, I returned to the wine cellar and retrieved a bottle of actual Pinot Noir.

Verify your purchases, people.

Zinfandel: full-bodied and fruity.

Pioneers

The first living things to go into space were fruit flies. In Feb. 1947, several of the little guys rode a V-2 rocket launched from White Sands Missile Range, the purpose being to study the effects of radiation at high altitudes. The fruit flies were recovered alive and well.

In June 1949, a rhesus monkey named Albert II was sent into space aboard a V-2, shortly after Albert I died when the rocket self-destructed on takeoff. Albert II reached space, but the V-2’s parachute failed, and Albert II died on re-entry.

In July 1951, the Soviet Union sent two dogs, Gypsy and Dezik, into space and returned them safely to earth.

In November 1957, the Soviets put a dog named Laika into orbit aboard Sputnik 2. Unfortunately for Laika, a mutt picked up from the streets of Moscow, it was a one-way trip; at the time, the technology didn’t exist to return a spacecraft from orbit. Laika died of hypothermia.

In October 1963, France sent a cat named Félicette on a suborbital flight aboard a Veronique rocket. Félicette was recovered safely after a 15-minute flight and a descent by parachute.

Thank you for your service.

Grooms and Valets

Friends, I am a relatively intelligent guy, and I consider myself attentive and curious. I am, in fact, an information junkie. I’m a major fan of the daily parade of facts and trivia you find online and in the media.

And I regularly pick up information that I’m genuinely surprised is new to me. How, I wonder, did I miss that?

I recently learned, for example, that for several centuries, every European monarch had a personal attendant in charge of overseeing the royal diet, attire, and toilet. Some of the courtiers in question also arranged for ladies to visit the king’s chambers.

Mainly, however, the attendant monitored the king’s meals, saw to his clothing and laundry, and, when the king went to the royal toilet, was available to make conversation and assist with hygiene as needed. In that regard, the degree of assistance provided is said to have varied from country to country and from king to king.

In France, the attendant was called the Valet de Chambre. In England, he was the Groom of the Stool. The positions were in existence from the early 1500s to about 1900.

Naturally, only noblemen and royal insiders were eligible for the job — which, despite certain unpleasant aspects, was highly coveted. Being in intimate contact with the monarchs, the attendants often gained the royal confidence, and many became highly influential at court.

How in the world did I miss that?

Sir William Compton (1482-1528), Groom of the Stool to Henry VIII.

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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…

———

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.

———

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.

———

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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