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Posts Tagged ‘Miscellaneous’

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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In America, anybody can be president. That’s one of the risks you take.

Adlai Stevenson

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What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Life is too short to learn German.

Oscar Wilde

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All generalizations are false, including this one.

Mark Twain

Stevenson
Twain

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

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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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I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius, and we’re skeptical.

Arthur C. Clarke

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I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.

Michelangelo

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I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Puritanism — the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

H. L. Mencken

Clarke
Mencken

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Tomato Literacy

My mom once observed that a bad tomato is better than no tomato at all. Mom’s love of tomatoes in any form, but especially fresh tomatoes, was epic.

I like a nice, juicy tomato, too, but I don’t eat the things regularly. Most store-bought tomatoes are awful, and growing my own is too much trouble. Unlike Mom, I believe no tomato at all is better than a bad tomato.

The tomato is an oddity. It’s a berry of the plant Solanum lycopsicum, botanically classified as a fruit, but used as a vegetable.

In case your tomato literacy is lacking, allow me to do some enlightening.

Tomatoes are among the 2,700 species of the nightshade family of flowering plants. Nightshades range from vines to shrubs to trees to ornamentals to a number of food crops — among the latter being tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers.

All nightshades contain alkaloid compounds in varying amounts, manifesting in the form of poisons, stimulants, psychotropic drugs, and medicines. Fortunately, all nightshade food crops contain only trace amounts of alkaloids and are harmless.

That fact, however, did not prevent many Europeans and Americans in olden times from coming to the erroneous conclusion that tomatoes are poisonous. A few hundred years ago, most people believed eating a tomato meant certain death.

Tomatoes originated in Central and South America among the Incas and Aztecs, and Spain introduced tomatoes to Europe in the 1500s. By the time they became known in England, the myth of the poison tomato already had taken hold.

One reason was an influential book by English botanist John Gerard (1545-1612). In the book, Gerard made the scholarly declaration that, yes, eating a tomato will kill you instantly.

As you probably know, science wasn’t very scientific back then — largely a mixture of guesswork, mysticism, and sometimes a dash of religion. But folks at the time didn’t know that. Thus, when the great scientist Gerard said eating a tomato would kill you, most people believed it.

Eventually, of course, the truth came out. The myth was exposed, and slowly, tomatoes were welcomed into society.

A story is told that in 1820, a distinguished citizen of Salem, New Jersey, Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson, played an important role in changing America’s mind about tomatoes.

The story is unsubstantiated, as well as suspiciously apocryphal, but it makes the point with great panache.

The following account is from “The Story of Robert Gibbon Johnson and the Tomato” as preserved by the Salem County Historical Society.

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Col. Johnson announced that he would eat a tomato, also called the wolf peach, Jerusalem apple or love apple, on the steps of the county courthouse at noon. That morning, in 1820, about 2,000 people were jammed into the town square. The spectators began to hoot and jeer.

Then, 15 minutes later, Col. Johnson emerged from his mansion and headed up Market Street towards the Courthouse. The crowd cheered. The fireman’s band struck up a lively tune.

He was a very impressive-looking man as he walked along the street. He was dressed in his usual black suit with white ruffles, black shoes and gloves, tricorn hat, and cane.

At the Courthouse steps he spoke to the crowd about the history of the tomato. He picked a choice one from a basket on the steps and held it up so that it glistened in the sun.

“To help dispel the tall tales, the fantastic fables that you have been hearing and to prove to you that it is not poisonous I am going to eat one right now.”

There was not a sound as the Col. dramatically brought the tomato to his lips and took a bite.

A woman in the crowd screamed and fainted but no one paid her any attention; they were all watching Col. Johnson as he took one bite after another.

He raised both his arms, and again bit into one and then the other. The crowd cheered and the firemen’s band blared a song.

“He’s done it!” they shouted. “He’s still alive!”

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Prior to the event, Johnson’s doctor predicted that “the foolish colonel will foam and froth at the mouth and double over with appendicitis from all the oxalic acid.”

Most of the onlookers, it was said, fully expected Colonel Johnson to drop dead on the spot. Wagers, in fact, were placed on the exact moment of his demise.

And, although the reports are unconfirmed, there was talk that Colonel Johnson himself collected handsomely on a series of side bets.

Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson (1771-1850), soldier, statesman, judge, horticulturalist, historian, and gentleman farmer.

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

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