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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

Virginia is the birthplace of eight U.S. presidents, the most among the states. Seven presidents were born in Ohio, five in New York, four in Massachusetts, and the remaining presidents were from 17 other states. Six states have produced none.

During the Apollo 14 moon mission in 1971, astronaut Alan Shepard brought out a folding 6-iron and drove two golf balls into the lunar distance. He shanked the first drive, but the second traveled about 200 yards. Shepard got the okay of his NASA bosses in advance.

Eleanor Roosevelt was First Lady of the United States from 1933 until 1945. In 1935, she began writing “My Day,” a syndicated newspaper column about issues of the time. The popular column was published six days a week until 1961, when the schedule was changed to every other day due to her failing health. Her last column appeared in 1962, two months before her death.

In days of yore, humans measured time with the clepsydra or water clock. Clepsydra is Greek for water thief. The device measures the flow of water through an opening, and marking on the container show the passage of time.

Two versions existed: one measured outflow, and one measured inflow. Their accuracy was… fair to okay. The pendulum clocks that replaced them in the 1600s were much more accurate.

Clepsydra

The real name of lead singer Bono of the rock band U2 is Paul David Hewson. “Bono,” he says, is derived from the Latin word “bonavox,” which means good voice.

La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles is a seep of natural asphalt. Because the tar preserves the bones of the unlucky animals who died there, La Brea has been a fossil excavation site and a popular tourist attraction since the early 1900s.

“La Brea” is Spanish for “the tar,” so technically, “The La Brea Tar Pits” means “The the tar tar pits.”

When the first president of Israel died in 1952, the Israeli prime minister asked Albert Einstein to become president. Einstein would have to relocate to Israel, but would be free to continue his scientific work. Einstein said he was “deeply moved,” but declined on grounds that he lacked “the natural aptitude and the experience” for the position.

The “Temple of a Million Bottles” in Thailand is a complex of buildings constructed by Buddhist monks to keep beer bottles out of landfills. The original temple was completed in 1986. Today, the site consists of 20 buildings and some 1.5 million bottles. The monks use green and brown bottles for the construction, and they use bottle caps to create mosaics.

Temple

Commercial coffee growers raise two varieties of beans: Robusta and Arabica. Robusta accounts for 30 percent of world production. It is hardier, easier to grow, harsher in taste, and higher in caffeine. The other 70 percent of plants are Arabica, which require more attention, but produce a higher-quality brew.

Robusta is used to make instant coffee, and cheaper brands mix it, to varying degrees, with Arabica. Lesson: check the label and go with Arabica.

When the singer Pink (technically, P!nk) was a young teenager, her friends teased her by saying she looked like Mr. Pink, the character played by Steve Buscemi in Reservoir Dogs. She reacted by embracing the name and later used it professionally. Her real name is Alecia Beth Moore.

In 1960, while performing Verde’s La Forza Del Destino (The Force of Destiny) at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, baritone Leonard Warren suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and dropped dead on the stage.

His last words were the opening lines of an aria that begins “Morir, tremenda cosa,” which means “To die, a momentous thing.”

“The world’s narrowest house” is the Keret House in Warsaw, Poland, built in the four-foot space between two adjacent building. It consists of three levels containing a bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen. The structure is considered an art project because it doesn’t fully meet building codes.

Keret House

 

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Magic Mud

In 1920, in a baseball game with the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians batter Ray Chapman was hit in the head by a pitched ball. Witnesses said Chapman apparently lost sight of the ball, because he made no attempt to move or duck.

Hours later, he died. Chapman is the only major league player ever killed in this manner.

The condition of the ball was considered a factor in Chapman’s death. In those days, pitchers were expected to “break in” new baseballs, which are glossy and slick and hard to grip. Pitchers rubbed the baseballs with anything handy — dirt, mud, spit, tobacco juice, shoe polish. They nicked the leather with blades and roughed it up with sandpaper.

As a result, game balls varied widely in condition. They could be damp. They could wobble in flight. Worse, they tended to be dark and mottled in color, making them harder to see.

After the Chapman incident, Major League Baseball was motivated anew to find a way to season new baseballs without the negative side effects. Nothing surfaced.

Finally, in the late 1930s, a third-base coach for the Philadelphia Athletics, Lena Blackburne, found a solution that wasn’t quite magic, but came close. His method is still used today by every MLB team and most minor league and college teams.

Blackburne grew up in Palmyra, New Jersey, a small town on the Delaware River just north of Philadelphia. He knew from his childhood that the river mud near Palmyra is unique. It has an unusually smooth, creamy, clay-like consistency and holds minimal moisture. He decided to try the mud on a baseball.

Blackburne found that a tiny amount of the river mud — one finger dipped in the stuff — was enough to spread over a baseball and work the magic. The mud seasoned the leather, eliminated the gloss, and slightly roughened the surface, all without discoloring the ball. Baseballs looked the same before and after treatment.

Blackburne’s rubbing mud was an instant hit with the Athletics. Word soon spread around the league, and other teams began asking Blackburne for a supply of the river mud.

At that point, Blackburne officially went into the business of selling Lena Blackburne’s Baseball Rubbing Mud — Baseball’s Magic Mud.

Experts say the mud gets its characteristics from the type and amount of clay in the soil and the chemistry of the river. The Delaware is a “blackwater” river, rich in iron oxide, and it flows through highly acidic soil.

It’s also a fact that mud from anywhere along the river won’t do. Blackburne found that only along about a one-mile stretch of the river do ideal conditions for the rubbing mud exist.

Blackburne kept the location secret. He confided only in his friend John Haas, who became his partner in the business.

The process Blackburne and Haas developed was to collect the mud in buckets, run it through a strainer to remove leaves and other debris, add water, and let it sit in large cans.

Periodically over about six weeks, excess water was drained, and the mud was strained several more times. When no water remained and the mud was perfectly smooth — reduced to the consistency of cold cream or pudding — it was ready to be packaged.

Blackburne and Haas prepared the mud over the fall and winter and were ready to supply the teams the following spring. By the 1950s, every team in baseball was rubbing the magic mud on every baseball.

The mud was a big deal for baseball, but certainly not a money-maker for Blackburne. The market is limited, and a couple of containers will last a team all season. Blackburne’s enterprise was a service to the game and a labor of love.

(Each team needs about two one-pint containers of the mud per year. In 1981, a container sold for $20. The price today is $100. The mud business currently nets about $15,000 to $20,000 per year.)

Blackburne died in 1968 and left the company to Haas. Haas continued the business, still keeping the location secret. When he retired, his son-in-law, Burns Bintliff, took over.

Like Blackburne and Haas, Bintliff ran the mud business in his spare time, holding a job elsewhere to pay the bills. Eventually, he passed the business along to his son Jim, who runs the company today.

Jim Bintliff and his wife Joanne both worked for a small printing company and ran the mud business on the side. Joanne said they were married five years and had two children before Jim finally revealed to her the secret location where the mud is collected.

Eventually, their youngest daughter Rachel is expected to take over the business — if demand for the mud continues.

In 2016, MLB asked the equipment manufacturer Rawlings to develop a ball that didn’t need rubbing mud — a ball that is broken-in and ready to use upon delivery. The rubbing mud, they said, is a hassle for equipment managers, and Mother Nature could decide to stop making it available.

Rawlings continues trying to create a pre-seasoned baseball, but so far has struck out. Pitchers are accustomed to the feel of Lena Blackburne‘s Magic Mud, and the chemists and engineers at Rawlings haven’t been able to replicate that feel to the players’ satisfaction.

Mud is mud,” said Mike Thompson, Chief Marketing Officer at Rawlings. “But, obviously, mud isn’t mud.”

Meanwhile, Jim Bintliff has been working on another angle for the business. The mud, it seems, works just as well on a football. Many NFL teams now place regular orders.

Mud-1

Jim Bintliff at work.

Mud-2

 

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The Questions…

1. The US Postal Service introduced the ZIP code in 1963 and expanded it with the ZIP+4 system in 1983. What does “ZIP” stand for?

2. The Pacific Ocean is the planet’s largest body of water. What percent of Earth’s surface does it cover?

3. After a long career as a womanizer in the 1700s, how did Italian playboy Giacomo Casanova spend his declining years?

4. What do the words gallows, scissors, binoculars, and pliers have in common?

5. Why is a monkey wrench called a monkey wrench?

The Answers…

1. Zone improvement plan.

2. About 30 percent. The Pacific is larger than all of the planet’s land area combined.

3. He became a librarian for Count Ferdinand von Waldstein at a remote castle in Bohemia. Secure and comfortable, but bored by life among the peasants, he kept himself secluded with his fox terriers and wrote his memoirs.

4. They only exist in plural form.

5. No consensus on the origin of the name. The inventor, Loring Coes, patented it in 1841 as a “screw wrench.” It’s possible the term “monkey wrench” evolved because, in those days, a small implement or piece of equipment sometimes was called a monkey. I don’t get it either.

ZIP Code

Monkey wrench

 

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WATERLOO, IOWA — An Iowa man and a wildlife sanctuary are engaged in a legal battle over the custody of an adolescent coyote named Drifter.

Matthew Stokes said he found Drifter last spring after the young coyote became separated from his mother. Stokes said Drifter helps him deal with anxiety and depression, and he obtained a letter from his doctor claiming that Drifter is an emotional support animal.

Recently, when Drifter was roaming loose, a neighbor captured him and took him to the wildlife sanctuary. “This is not an emotional support animal,” said the director, who warned that Drifter will be dangerous when he matures and his predatory instincts kick in. The sanctuary wants to return Drifter to the wild.

As legal proceedings approach, Stokes has applied for a license to keep a dangerous animal and possibly get Drifter classified as an educational animal.

Coyote

CEDAR ISLAND, NORTH CAROLINA — Three cows thought to have died last fall in Hurricane Dorian recently were found living in the Cape Lookout National Seashore on the Outer Banks.

Park staff said the cows had to swim across five miles of open water to get there.

The three survivors were part of a herd of 20 wild cows living on private land on Cedar Island. No trace was found of the other cows or of 28 wild horses that lived with them.

A Park spokesman said the cows survived by foraging on the barrier island’s vegetation.

The cows are not accustomed to humans and flee when people get too close. Eventually, they will be sedated and returned to Cedar Island by boat.

Cows

WAUSAU, WISCONSIN — The Wausau City Council is expected to decriminalize snowball fights within the city limits, tweaking a 1962 ban on throwing dangerous projectiles.

The ban included snowballs to prevent people from throwing them at passing cars, but technically, it also bans snowball fights between mutual combatants. Reacting to a series of news stories making fun of the city, the council is expected to fix that.

In a TV interview, the Wausau police chief said his officers have never enforced the ordinance in cases of friendly play. “A fun snowball fight is a fun snowball fight,” he said.

The chief then turned and nailed the mayor in the back of the head with a snowball.

Snowballs

 

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“Yes, He Did.”

To the surprise of no one, the Senate Republicans orchestrated a bogus impeachment trial, and both articles of impeachment against the Orange Vulgarian were voted down.

To their credit, all 45 Democratic senators and both independent senators voted guilty on the articles. That was the proper and rational thing to do, seeing as how the evidence of Trump’s guilt was clear.

A while back, in one of my periodic diatribes about the neanderthal behavior of today’s right-wingers, I referred to “cynical conservative politicians” who are “beneath contempt with virtually no exceptions.

That statement no longer is accurate. At the impeachment trial, an exception surfaced. A single surprising and notable exception.

At the trial, Mitt Romney had the stones to vote guilty on the first article of impeachment, which charged abuse of power. As the evidence showed, Trump did, indeed, extort the Ukrainian President, trying to get a political favor.

Of the 53 Republicans in the Senate, Romney was the only one with the integrity to cast a guilty vote. The other 52 Republicans fell in line behind Trump, affirming that, yes, they are beneath contempt.

I should mention that Romney voted not guilty on the second article, obstruction of Congress That was disappointing. Trump was guilty of the second article prima facie,having explicitly obstructed Congress in plain sight for all to see. Mitt should have voted his conscience on that one, too.

Still, he deserves praise for showing unexpected class and doing the right thing, in stark contrast to the other 52 Republican senators.

Mitt’s speech explaining his vote was powerful and commendable. This is what he said.

———

The Constitution is at the foundation of our Republic’s success, and we each strive not to lose sight of our promise to defend it. The Constitution established the vehicle of impeachment that has occupied both houses of Congress for these many days. We have labored to faithfully execute our responsibilities to it. We have arrived at different judgments, but I hope we respect each other’s good faith.

The allegations made in the articles of impeachment are very serious. As a Senator-juror, I swore an oath, before God, to exercise “impartial justice.” I am a profoundly religious person. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential.

I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the President, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong.

The House Managers presented evidence supporting their case; the White House counsel disputed that case. In addition, the President’s team presented three defenses: first, that there can be no impeachment without a statutory crime; second, that the Bidens’ conduct justified the President’s actions; and third that the judgment of the President’s actions should be left to the voters. Let me first address each of those defenses.

The historic meaning of the words “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the writings of the Founders and my own reasoned judgment convince me that a president can indeed commit acts against the public trust that are so egregious that while they are not statutory crimes, they would demand removal from office. To maintain that the lack of a codified and comprehensive list of all the outrageous acts that a president might conceivably commit renders Congress powerless to remove a president defies reason.

The President’s counsel noted that Vice President Biden appeared to have a conflict of interest when he undertook an effort to remove the Ukrainian Prosecutor General. If he knew of the exorbitant compensation his son was receiving from a company actually under investigation, the Vice President should have recused himself. While ignoring a conflict of interest is not a crime, it is surely very wrong.

With regards to Hunter Biden, taking excessive advantage of his father’s name is unsavory but also not a crime. Given that in neither the case of the father nor the son was any evidence presented by the President’s counsel that a crime had been committed, the President’s insistence that they be investigated by the Ukrainians is hard to explain other than as a political pursuit.

There is no question in my mind that were their names not Biden, the President would never have done what he did.

The defense argues that the Senate should leave the impeachment decision to the voters. While that logic is appealing to our democratic instincts, it is inconsistent with the Constitution’s requirement that the Senate, not the voters, try the president.

Hamilton explained that the Founders’ decision to invest senators with this obligation rather than leave it to voters was intended to minimize — to the extent possible — the partisan sentiments of the public.

This verdict is ours to render. The people will judge us for how well and faithfully we fulfilled our duty.

The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the President committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a “high crime and misdemeanor.”

Yes, he did.

The President asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival.

The President withheld vital military funds from that government to press it to do so.

The President delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders.

The President’s purpose was personal and political.

Accordingly, the President is guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust.

What he did was not “perfect” — No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security interests, and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.

In the last several weeks, I have received numerous calls and texts. Many demand that, in their words, “I stand with the team.” I can assure you that that thought has been very much on my mind. I support a great deal of what the President has done. I have voted with him 80% of the time. But my promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and biases aside.

Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented, and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.

I am aware that there are people in my party and in my state who will strenuously disapprove of my decision, and in some quarters, I will be vehemently denounced. I am sure to hear abuse from the President and his supporters.

Does anyone seriously believe I would consent to these consequences other than from an inescapable conviction that my oath before God demanded it of me?

I sought to hear testimony from John Bolton not only because I believed he could add context to the charges, but also because I hoped that what he said might raise reasonable doubt and thus remove from me the awful obligation to vote for impeachment.

Like each member of this deliberative body, I love our country. I believe that our Constitution was inspired by Providence. I am convinced that freedom itself is dependent on the strength and vitality of our national character.

As it is with each senator, my vote is an act of conviction. We have come to different conclusions, fellow senators, but I trust we have all followed the dictates of our conscience.

I acknowledge that my verdict will not remove the President from office. The results of this Senate Court will in fact be appealed to a higher court: the judgment of the American people. Voters will make the final decision, just as the President’s lawyers have implored. My vote will likely be in the minority in the Senate.

But irrespective of these things, with my vote, I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability, believing that my country expected it of me.

I will only be one name among many, no more or less, to future generations of Americans who look at the record of this trial. They will note merely that I was among the senators who determined that what the President did was wrong, grievously wrong.

We’re all footnotes, at best, in the annals of history. But in the most powerful nation on earth, the nation conceived in liberty and justice, that is distinction enough for any citizen.

———

Trump and his sycophants will exact their revenge on Romney. It’s in their nature. But Romney will be remembered kindly by history for an admirable display of integrity.

As for Trump, the Republican politicians, and the MAGA crowd, history will remember them as they deserve to be remembered: some mentally unsound, some opportunistic and self-serving, and all beneath contempt.

Romney

 

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Workee

Friends

Visiting

Enjoy

 

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Audacity

Home entertainment-wise, I am seriously behind the times. In this age of streaming via the internet, I still have DirecTV.

I signed up with DirecTV when I moved to Jefferson in 2006. The cost was always too high, but I get the programming I want, and I’m used to it. However, I’m thinking it’s time for a change.

Things started going south a few years ago, when DirecTV was acquired by AT&T.

At the time, I had no opinion about AT&T one way or the other. I can’t recall ever doing business with them.

And, for a year or so after the takeover, nothing changed. My DirecTV service was the same, as was the website, as was the billing system.

Then the tentacles of AT&T began reaching out. My opinion of AT&T quickly formed, and it wasn’t positive.

First, the DirecTV billing system was scrapped, and AT&T took over.

I realize there were business reasons for doing it. The trouble is, the DirecTV billing process was simple and easy, and the AT&T system is complicated and crappy.

To access my monthly statement, I now go to the clunky AT&T website and drill down to DirecTV. My statement is six steps away instead of two. Annoying.

Further, AT&T now has my records, so they pester me constantly with letters and emails, trying to lure me away from Verizon. Annoying.

Last month, however, AT&T crossed the line in a frankly shocking way. I’m still amazed at the audacity.

It started with a phone call that I answered reluctantly. (I was expecting a call from a prospective new lawn guy, and I didn’t know his number, so I picked up.)

The call was from a fellow with an Indian accent who identified himself as from AT&T. He wanted me to add HBO and Showtime to my DirecTV service. He was pushing a special deal where you get $13 off the $30 monthly cost for the first three months.

If I wanted HBO or Showtime, I would have ordered it years ago. I told him no thanks, and I hung up.

The next day, I got an email from AT&T that read, “Thanks for choosing AT&T. Please scroll down to review your DirecTV order details.”

Order details?

What followed was a breakdown of my new DirecTV monthly charges, which included $30 for HBO and Showtime, minus $13 off for three months.

What the — ??

The email also included this friendly paragraph:

You have accepted a 24 MONTH PROGRAMMING AGREEMENT. If you decide to cancel your service early or do not maintain 24 consecutive months of base level programming (priced at $29.99/mo. or above) or qualifying international services bundle, you will be charged an Early Termination Fee (ETF) of $10.00 per month for each month remaining on your 24-month contract (up to $240.00).

It closed with the usual 20 paragraphs of policy and legal stuff.

Boy, was I steamed. AT&T signed me up for service I specifically declined. Did that bonehead on the phone think I wouldn’t notice I was receiving new services? And being charged for it?

Brimming with righteous indignation, I called AT&T Customer Service. After a wait that wasn’t too bad, another guy with an Indian accent came on the line. He was relatively friendly and pleasant, which helped.

I read him parts of the email about the added service. I complained that I had declined the additions, not accepted them. I said I resented the brazenness and chicanery, and I wanted my previous service package restored.

The guy said the phone call indeed is shown in my files, and it indicates that I accepted the new service. BUT, he added quickly when he could tell I was about to explode, it was an easy matter to reverse it and make things right.

He also said someone would look into the “mix-up” because, you know, AT&T is committed to the finest in customer service and all that.

Later that day, I got a follow-up email from AT&T. It was identical to the first, except the HBO and Showtime service had been removed, the new charges were deleted, and the friendly paragraph cited above was gone.

I was, of course, still miffed about being played. Maybe not by AT&T itself, but certainly by that villain who called me.

Then a third email arrived from AT&T, and I was steamed anew. It asked me to rate my recent experience with AT&T Customer Service.

Because the second guy had been a decent sort, I deleted the email instead of unloading on them. But, oh, the audacity.

Word is, AT&T now wants to sell DirecTV because the satellite business has become a dinosaur, and DirecTV is hemorrhaging customers. AT&T has tried to get into streaming with “AT&T TV Now, but without much success.

One possible buyer of DirecTV: Dish Network.

I guess nobody else these days would want to invest in a satellite company.

Cord-cutting

 

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