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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

In 1909, a portion of Woodward Avenue in Detroit became the first road in the United States to be paved. Woodward Avenue was built in 1805, following the route of an Indian trail between Detroit and Pontiac.

The Tower of London, built in 1066, was used as a prison from 1100 until 1952. Its first prisoner was a financial minister to King Rufus, Ranulf Flambard, who became a scapegoat for the financial crimes of his bosses.

The last prisoners were London mobsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray who, in 1952, refused to report for service in the Royal Fusiliers. They were held in the Tower until they were court-martialed. They were given dishonorable discharges, which probably hurt their feelings real bad.

Virginia was founded in 1607, when Jamestown became the first permanent English settlement. Over the next 200 years, the Commonwealth lost substantial territory as new states were created. Areas that once were part of Virginia now belong to Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

The novel This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald used the words “T-shirt” and “daiquiri” in print for the first time. It also included the first known use of the word “wicked” to mean cool or excellent.

This Side

Delaware Bay, the outlet of the Delaware River between New Jersey and Delaware, is the country’s second-busiest waterway (after the Mississippi River). Its wetlands make it an important breeding site for many aquatic species.

The bay is prime oystering ground and home of the world’s largest concentration of horseshoe crabs. Each spring, thousands of horseshoe crabs come ashore to lay their eggs, which provide food for bird migrations.

Elvis Presley had naturally blond hair that turned sandy brown by the time he was a teenager. When he started singing professionally, he dyed his hair black because he thought it made him look edgy and cool.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the statue of Zeus at Olympia, and the Colossus of Rhodes, also a statue.

In 2007, 100 million people voted and declared the New Seven Wonders of the World to be the Great Wall of China, the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, the ruins of the Incan city of Machu Picchu in Peru, the ruins of the Mayan city of Chichen Itza in Mexico, the ruins of the Arab city of Petra in Jordan, the Roman Colosseum, and the Taj Mahal.

Flamingos are born with gray feathers, but the feathers gradually turn pink because of beta carotene, a natural dye occurring in their diet of brine shrimp, algae, and larvae.

Flamingos

Spain got its name from the Roman word Hispania, which is the Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). The origin and meaning of the word Hispania is unclear.

Some experts think the Romans borrowed the word from an earlier language, and we may never know. Others believe it means “Land where metals are forged,” “Land of the setting sun,” and “Land of rabbits.”

A 150th anniversary is called a sesquicentennial because the Latin prefix sesqui- means “one and a half times.” Likewise, a person given to using long words (by implication, in a pretentious manner) is called a sesquipedalian.

The Roman poet Horace once cautioned young writers to avoid “sesquipedalia verba” — which literally means words a foot and a half long.

A tetrachromat is an organism with four color receptors in the eyes instead of the usual three (trichromat). Four receptors allows more vision on the color spectrum. This abnormality, or superpower, occurs in some fish, birds, insects, and mammals, including humans.

Women are more likely to be tetrachromatic than men. One study found that 50 percent of women and eight percent of men are tetrachromatic to some degree.

A nut is a type of fruit consisting of an edible seed inside an inedible shell. Almonds, pecans, walnuts, etc. all qualify. Peanuts, however, are not nuts. They are legumes, related to beans and peas. Rule to remember: nuts grow on trees, legumes grow underground or on bushes.

Peanuts

 

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The Questions…

1. The Taser stun gun was developed in 1974 by NASA researcher Jack Cover. “Taser” is an acronym for what?

2. It’s probably no surprise that Americans eat more food on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year. What day comes in second, consumption-wise?

3. What is the longest-running show in Broadway history?

4. For which Granny Smith is the apple named?

5. Who is the Prudence in the 1968 Beatles song “Dear Prudence”?

The Answers…

1. Jack Cover’s childhood hero was the fictional character Tom Swift. Taser is loosely based on the book title Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle. Cover added an A to make TSER less confusing.

2. Super Bowl Sunday.

3. The Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The show opened in 1988 and still is performed eight times a week today.

4. Maria Ann Smith, who operated a fruit farm in Australia with her husband. In 1868, she discovered a “chance seedling” that arose from a pile of discarded apples and propagated it. She died in 1870, but left behind numerous trees for future cultivation. Experts think the Granny Smith is a hybrid of the Paradise apple and the European crab apple.

5. Prudence Farrow, the younger sister of Mia Farrow. The Farrow sisters were in India with the Beatles in 1968 studying Transcendental Meditation. Prudence was so dedicated to practicing TM techniques that she rarely socialized. John Lennon wrote the song to try to get her to lighten up.

TASER

Prudence

 

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Rogues’ Gallery

The word pandemic comes from the Greek words pan, meaning all, and demos, meaning people. I didn’t want to know that either.

———

So… the world is in the grip of a global pandemic that might be our undoing, and we have to depend on the Trump Administration – a veritable rogues’ gallery of corrupt and incompetent villains to save us.

My first thought when Trump got elected was clear and simple, and I’ve expressed it often on this blog: electing this orange gasbag was a tragic mistake, and it will not end well for us. Nothing has happened yet to change my mind.

For God’s sake, take a look at the bunch in charge.

First, of course, there is Donald Trump, self-styled playboy, former TV show host, and a failed businessman, who, as you know, inherited his wealth, lost millions during the 1980s and 90s, filed for bankruptcy several times, and eventually began taking loans from Russian oligarchs. He is, and long has been, owned by Vladimir Putin.

You can count on Trump to boast, bully, and BS his way through any situation he faces. He lacks the skills, qualifications, or temperament to be President, but there he sits.

Then there is Vice President Mike Pence, former congressman from Indiana and former governor of Indiana, whose lone skill is being a professional conservative politician. He was an early supporter of the Tea Party movement and is a long-time opponent of legal abortions.

Pence believes being gay is either a choice or “learned behavior.” He has emerged as the administration’s ass-kisser-in-chief, one of the most appalling sycophants ever.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, another Republican hardliner, has a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee and a zero percent rating from Planned Parenthood.

At his confirmation hearing in 2018, when asked if he could avoid being a “yes man” to Trump, Pompeo said he had been Employee of the Month at Baskin Robbins twice (!?). When Trump personally attacked members of the FBI and the State Department, Pompeo said nothing.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is a former hedge fund manager and investment banker best known for aggressively foreclosing on homeowners. After Sears went bankrupt, the company sued Mnuchin for “asset stripping” during his tenure on the board of directors. Mnuchin’s priorities: weaken the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act and cut corporate taxes.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, another Republican insider, was a senate staffer and later chief of staff at the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank. More recently, he was a lobbyist for the defense contractor Raytheon. Yes, Trump’s Secretary of Defense is a former lobbyist for a defense contractor.

An especially egregious member of the Cabinet is Attorney General William Barr, who, when he was AG to Bush No. 1, convinced Bush to pardon six officials who pulled off Ronald Reagan’s Iran-Contra scheme. Look it up. Barr also pushed to increase the national rate of incarceration.

You may recall, too, that Barr lied to us about the Mueller Report and was held in criminal contempt of Congress for ignoring subpoenas. He is a political hack who has no shame about serving as Trump’s personal lawyer instead of Attorney General.

Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt is a former energy industry lobbyist whose clients included Halliburton and the Independent Petroleum Association of America. Yes, the man charged with protecting America’s natural resources is a former lobbyist for the petroleum industry.

Predictably, Bernhardt has defended the reversals of environmental regulations instituted by the Trump Administration. In 2019, he was caught using national park entrance fees in ways Congress specifically had forbidden.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is another example of the long line of Republican politicians who use their positions to enrich themselves. In 2003, he signed an executive order that prohibited state officials in Georgia from accepting gifts worth more than $25, yet, as governor, he accepted over $25,000 in gifts.

As Governor, he was slapped with ethics complaints 13 times. In 2004, he bought $2 million worth of land near Disney World from a developer he had appointed to Georgia’s economic development board.

Former investment banker and now Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is known as the “King of Bankruptcy.” He was skilled at buying failed companies, stripping them of their remaining assets, and selling off the remnants.

In the 1980s, when Trump’s three Atlantic City casinos faced foreclosure, Ross convinced the bondholders to back off and give Trump more time. In 2018, reports surfaced that his business partners had accused him of stealing $129 million.

Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia, the son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, was an attorney who specialized in helping large corporations fight federal labor and financial regulations. “Suing the Government? Call Scalia” read a 2012 headline in Bloomberg News.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is the former president of the drug manufacturer Eli Lilly and a former lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry. In the 1990s, he spent two years working for Ken Starr on the investigation of the Clintons’ real estate investments (the Whitewater thing).

While at Eli Lilly, Azar tripled the price of insulin. He is an opponent of Obamacare, claiming that the “free market” can best meet the country’s health care needs. Yes, a Big Pharma executive and lobbyist is in charge of Health and Human Services.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson was a successful and respected neurosurgeon until he spazzed out and turned to Republican politics. He quickly proved himself to be an airhead, ill-informed on most subjects.

Carson is the guy who, in 2017, was caught spending $31,000 on a dining set for his office. In 2019, at a meeting about transgender persons in homeless shelters, Carson warned of “big, hairy men” infiltrating women’s shelters.

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao is a veteran Republican politician married to Mitch McConnell. Her father is a Chinese shipping magnate, which creates a spectacular conflict of interest that should get her booted from office. Her department has tried regularly to cut funding for shipping companies that compete with the family business.

In 2018, Politico reported that in her first 14 months in office, Chao had 290 hours of “private” appointments; her underlings said the meetings were labeled private for security reasons.

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette was a top lobbyist for Ford Motor Company and more recently a member of the Louisiana Mineral and Energy Board. Brouillette is a strong believer in the Trump policy of maximizing the use of fossil fuels and rolling back regulations that are bothersome to the oil, coal, and natural gas industries.

The cost of wind power and solar power may be dropping rapidly, but Brouillette, he’s a big fan of fossil fuels. And nuclear power, too.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is so wrong for the job that the Republican-dominated Senate barely confirmed her. The vote was 51-50, with Mike Pence having to break the tie. DeVos is a rich socialite and a seasoned Republican fund-raiser. She made her name among conservatives by advocating charter schools and vouchers and opposing the traditional system of public schools. So, naturally, Trump made her Secretary of Education.

DeVos is married to the former CEO of Amway. Her brother Eric Prince is the former Navy SEAL who founded Blackwater USA, which is its own sordid story.

Another Republican insider, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie worked on Capital Hill for several Republican senators. Raised in North Carolina, Wilkie is dumb enough to have stated publicly that the Confederate cause was “honorable.” He also said people who opposed slavery during the War of Yankee Aggression were “enemies of liberty.”

Wilkie got in trouble at his confirmation hearing for misleading Senators about “lost cause” speeches he gave to the Sons of Confederate Veterans and similar groups.

The acting Director of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, has a background of working for Republican senators and lobbying firms. As Chief of Staff to former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, he was involved in shaping Trump’s repulsive family separation policy.

In February, the State of New York sued the Trump Administration because Wolf is penalizing the state for its “sanctuary” immigration policies.

And don’t forget White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, one of the most rabid conservatives in public life. He is a bomb-throwing tea-partier and a member of the Freedom Caucus. When Hurricane Sandy whacked the eastern seaboard in 2012, he voted against the disaster relief package. He strongly supported the government shutdown of 2013 as a way to get rid of Obamacare.

For years, Meadows’ official biography claimed he held a Bachelor of Arts degree. After that was revealed to be untrue, he changed his bio to read Associate of Arts. Meadows was fined $40,000 by the House Ethics Committee for failing to address sexual harassment allegations in his office.

———

I repeat: the world is in the grip of a global pandemic that might be our undoing, and we have to depend on the Trump Administration – a veritable rogues’ gallery of corrupt and incompetent villains – to save us.

Maybe these are, indeed, the end times.

As I write this, I can hear one of the daily Coronavirus Task Force briefings in progress on the TV set in my living room. Later, I will check CNN or MSNBC to learn what happened and find out what falsehoods Trump spread today.

At the moment, I can vaguely hear Trump’s voice. I assume he is BSing and pontificating about something, careening from thought to thought.

Perhaps he is berating a reporter, or maybe taking a shot at Obama for something. Winging it as usual, stream of consciousness style.

This moron is the President. God help us.

Trump et al

 

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The 1966 song “A Hazy Shade of Winter” by Paul Simon is a poet’s lament about the passing of time and his “manuscripts of unpublished rhyme.” The changing of seasons is a metaphor for the cycle of life, lost opportunities, and all that. Another pretty ballad that is bleak in tone.

Two decades later, The Bangles were asked to contribute a song to the soundtrack of “Less Than Zero,” a movie about drug addiction and wasted lives. The Bangles already performed Simon’s song regularly on stage (shortened to “Hazy Shade of Winter”), so it was the natural choice.

But at the recording session, oddly, their record producer objected to the line “Drinking my vodka and lime.” The Bangles accommodated him by shortening the verse that included itwhich deleted the reference to the poet. These lyrics were cut:

Funny how my memory skips
While looking over manuscripts
Of unpublished rhyme,
Drinking my vodka and lime.

If the deletion irritated Simon, and it probably did, I expect the royalties made up for it. The Bangles’ version was a much bigger hit than the Simon and Garfunkel original.

Bangles

Hazy Shade of Winter

By The Bangles, 1987
Written by Paul Simon

Time, time, time,
See what’s become of me…

Time, time, time,
See what’s become of me
While I looked around
For my possibilities.
I was so hard to please.

Look around.
Leaves are brown,
And the sky
Is a hazy shade of winter.

Hear the Salvation Army band
Down by the riverside.
It’s bound to be a better ride
Than what you’ve got planned.
Carry a cup in your hand.

Look around.
Leaves are brown,
And the sky
Is a hazy shade of winter.

Hang onto your hopes my friend.
That’s an easy thing to say,
But if your hopes should pass away,
Simply pretend
That you can build them again.

Look around.
Grass is high.
Fields are ripe.
It’s the springtime of my life.

Seasons change with their scenery,
Weaving time in a tapestry.
Won’t you stop and remember me.

Look around.
Leaves are brown,
And the sky
Is a hazy shade of winter.

Look around.
Leaves are brown.
There’s a patch of snow on the ground.

Look around.
Leaves are brown.
There’s a patch of snow on the ground.

Look around.
Leaves are brown.
There’s a patch of snow on the ground.

 

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Don’t raise your voice. Improve your argument.

— Desmond Tutu

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Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.

— Marcel Proust

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I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.

— Douglas Adams

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Those who say it can’t be done should get out of the way of those who are doing it.

— Anne Lamott

Lamott-A

Lamott

Tutu-D

Tutu

 

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The Water’s Edge

Over the last few decades, as American politics has devolved from guarded civility into madness, one of the casualties has been the demise of our long-standing agreement that “politics stops at the water’s edge.”

That phrase was coined in 1948 by Sen. Arthur Vandenberg (R-MI), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In the critical years after World War II, Vandenberg believed that the country was best served if President Truman‘s foreign policy had bipartisan support.

Vandenberg was correct that a united front is best for the country. Further, he was smart enough to urge the U.S. to negotiate a western alliance apart from the United Nations, where the USSR could veto things. That alliance turned out to be NATO.

Vandenberg’s analogy of the water’s edge declares that Americans are family. Within the family, we can squabble all we want, but when dealing with other countries, we should close ranks and present a united front. Sort of like a Mafia family. And I mean that in a good way.

Technically, it’s already a felony for a citizen to get involved with a foreign country without permission. The Logan Act, enacted way back in 1799, says this:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

So, the Logan Act prevents you and me from causing trouble. Vandenberg’s concept amounts to etiquette among politicians and political parties in which, for the common good, they agree not to interfere.

I always admired and supported this concept. It was a simple notion, voluntary in nature, enforced only by personal honor and integrity. It reminded us of our common bond, in spite of our differences and disagreements.

Unfortunately, the notion is nonbinding. And, over time, as the conservatives have grown more wild-eyed and psychotic, it has been tossed aside.

In 2009, while on a junket to China, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) told the Chinese that the budget numbers released by the Obama Administration “should not be believed.” Yes, he really did.

In 2015, while Barrack Obama was in talks with Iran about limiting the Iranian nuclear program, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) wrote an open letter to Iran. He warned that the Republican Party opposed the talks, and in the future, just might throw out any agreement reached. Cotton and 46 other Republican senators signed the letter. Yes, they really did.

Being a mere journalism major, I struggle to understand why all 47 of them were not charged with a felony under the Logan Act.

But I digress. For years, most politicians honored the water’s edge concept. In 2012, for example, Obama was in South Korea, and he got caught telling Russia he expected to have more “flexibility” after the election.

His opponent Mitt Romney fired back. “For this president to be looking for greater flexibility, where he doesn’t have to answer to the American people in his relations with Russia, is very, very troubling, very alarming,” Romney said.

To everyone’s surprise, House Speaker John Boehner came to Obama’s defense. “While the president is overseas,” he said, “I think it’s appropriate that people not be critical of him or our country. It was one of the few times I agreed with Boehner on anything.

Anyway, the idea that politics should stop at the water’s edgea sensible, useful, honorable concept — is no more. It was tossed aside by the conservatives, of course. And look at the state of the country today.

Our disgrace of a President is a garden-variety conman with no integrity and even less competence. He also is an outright traitor, openly on Putin’s side and solidly under Putin’s control.

– The Trump Administration is so corrupt, I can smell the stench from my house.

Republican politicians regularly spread false information planted by Russian Intelligence.

Moscow Mitch has bottled up over 400 bills passed by the House, including eight designed to protect American elections from foreign interference.

Fox “News” continues leading the conservative herd by the nose, filtering what they know, controlling what they think, and relieving them of their money.

Conservative politics in our time is almost too over-the-top, too insane to be believed. The right is simply toxic — unashamedly malevolent, aggressive, and mean.

Arthur Vandenberg was a Republican with class. This bunch today is about as classy as Tolkien’s orcs.

Trump and friends

 

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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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