Random Facts

So I started doing a “Random Facts” series of posts on my Facebook page. Here are some of the best of them:

– Libertarian economist and radio personality Walter E. Williams grew up in Philadelphia and was a childhood friend of Bill Cosby. Williams knows all the real people the Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids characters are based on, including Weird Harold and “Fat” Albert Robinson. (source)

– Conservative economist and radio personality Thomas Sowell was born in Gastonia, North Carolina and had so few encounters with white people as a child that he did not believe blonde was a real hair color until he was 10 years old. (source)

– Canaries (the birds) were named after the Canary Islands where they were first found. However, the original name of the islands was from Latin: Canariae Insulae, meaning “Island of the Dogs”. So the birds are named after islands which were named after dogs. And although “canary”: can also refer to a shade of yellow, most canary birds are actually green and\or brown.  (source)

– Supermodel Karolina Kurkova has no belly button! She was born with a congenital umbilical hernia, which doctors repaired when she was an infant. The operation left her with no belly button, so in most photo shoots one is added via Photoshop. (source)

– Although This Mortal Coil’s cover of “Song to the Siren” only reached #66 on the UK charts, it remained on the UK indie charts for 101 weeks. This makes it #4 on the list of longest charting UK singles of the 1980s, behind only “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” (131 weeks), “Blue Monday” (186 weeks) and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (195 weeks). (source)

– In 2009, a retired policeman named Geraint Woolford was admitted to Abergale Hospital in north Wales. He ended up in a bed next to another man named Geraint Woolford. The men weren’t related, had never met, were both retired policemen, and were the only two people in the UK named “Geraint Woolford”. (source)

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Quote of the Day

“I was twenty-one years old and working at this local station in the sports department and Mickey Mantle came by as part of a promotional tour. He came into the sports office and wound up sitting there while the PR guy was doing some other stuff. So we’re in this room together, but I’m not going to bother him. He’s Mickey Mantle, right? The office had TV screens with different feeds and games that are going on, but one of the screens had the live feed from Boston Garden. So now it’s like 4:30 p.m., and the lights are not even on at the Garden, but Larry Bird is out there shooting, as is his pregame ritual. He would always be out there three hours before anyone else, shooting a half an hour or an hour by himself. Not even anyone retrieving the ball.

So Mantle sits back and starts watching Bird shooting, and two minutes go by, and I notice Bird hasn’t missed a shot. Two more minutes by, Bird still hasn’t missed a shot. And I see Mantle start to sit up, to get on the edge of his chair and get more and more intently focused on watching this. No joke, Bird has probably taken a hundred shots in a row and not missed one. Mantle is just totally amazed by what he’s seeing, and I’m watching him watch Bird. I’m getting a real kick out of this because I’m seeing this guy, one of the greatest baseball players of all time, watching one of the greatest basketball players of all time, all the while knowing that there are only two people in the world who are are aware of what’s going on now, and it’s me and Mickey Mantle.

I think Bird was shooting for close to ten minutes without missing a shot, and finally Mantle gets to the point where he has to say something. He’s just so amazed by what he’s been seeing that he looks at me and says, ‘This boy doesn’t miss.’ And I looked at him and I said, ‘Yeah, but you’re Mickey Mantle.””

– ESPN Producer Bill Fairweather,
as quoted in Those Guys Have All
The Fun:
Inside the World of ESPN

The Strangest City on Earth

In this History Blog post, I talked about Robert Fortune, the Scot who almost single-handedly made tea the national drink of Great Britain.

The problem that needed solving was this: the British were absolutely mad for Chinese tea. However, the Chinese weren’t interested in any of the goods the British wanted to trade for tea. Instead, they demanded payment in silver. Shipping silver halfway around the world to buy tea wasn’t just risky, it also caused inflation at home, too… as Isaac Newton found out. So the East India Company set up a trade triangle in which British goods were shipped to India and traded for opium – which the Chinese loved. The opium was shipped to China, where it was exchanged for tea, which was shipped back to the UK. And everyone was happy.

Well, everyone except the Chinese government. Needless to say, the Chinese were angry that the British (and French and Americans) were shipping tons of addictive drugs into their country. After several diplomatic attempts failed to find a solution, the Chinese decided to go to war against the Westerners. Which seemed like an easy win: the Chinese had an army of 200,000 to go against Britain’s 19,000 troops. And the Chinese were clearly superior to the European barbarians. How could they lose?

As it turned out, they lost. Badly. China’s sense of racial superiority ran headlong into Britain’s modern weapons and tactics. The war lasted 3 years, 5 months, 1 week and 4 days, and China lost 20,000 men to just 69 for British forces. And in almost every battle, the British played the role of the 1995 Chicago Bulls to China’s [insert your area’s worst high school basketball team here]. And so, on August 29, 1842, representatives of the Qing Empire boarded the HMS Cornwallis (ironic?) and signed the Treaty of Nanking. The treaty gave the British five “treaty ports”, in which they would have considerable autonomy. The Chinese also agreed to pay the British $21 million in silver dollars for various reparations on a three-year installment plan, with 5% interest charged for late payments. The Chinese also gave the British the island of Hong Kong, which will be important later.

The Chinese weren’t happy with the Treaty of Nanking. They tried to ignore it whenever possible, or halfheartedly enforce it when compelled to. In 1844, French officials signed the Treaty of Huangpu and American officials signed the Treaty of Wangxia. These treaties gave French and American traders rights similar to those enjoyed by the British, but with one crucial difference: there was a clause in both treaties whereby they could be renegotiated every 12 years. And, because of China’s lack of enthusiasm for enforcing those treaties, the French and Americans fought for more concessions in 1856 when they came up for renewal. And the British decided that they too wanted to renegotiate the Treaty of Nanking, something the Chinese flat-out refused to do.

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(Mostly) Weird News

– You’ve probably heard this by now, but a school in Beaver County, Pennsylvania was recently put on lockdown… because of the theme song to Will Smith’s Fresh Prince of Bel Air TV show. It seems a receptionist at a local optometrist’s office called the mobile phone of Travis Clawson, a senior at Ambridge Area High School, to confirm an upcoming appointment. Clawson had the Fresh Prince theme as his voicemail greeting. The receptionist, apparently the only American unfamiliar with the song, misinterpreted the line “[s]hooting some b-ball outside of the school” as “shooting them all outside the school”. Panicked, the woman called police, who shut down the school for a half hour and questioned Clawson for three hours. Oooops! (link)

– It could be worse: 18 year-old Alisa Massaro, of Joliet, Illinois, had a necrophilia fetish so bad that she could contain it no longer. Her longtime boyfriend, the 24 year-old Joshua Miner, allegedly hatched a plan in which his friend Bethany McKee, 18, would lure two men to Massaro’s house with promises of “sex and video games”. Miner’s other friend, Adam Landerman (the son of a police officer) assisted. Landerman allegedly “surfed” on the backs of the two dead men, and later (allegedly) joined Miner and Massaro for a three way on top of the corpses. Jesus… what’s wrong with people? (link)

– Thanks to bizarre urban planning, there is a house on Anna Catherine Drive in Orlando that is 50 feet from, and shares a backyard with, a home on Summer Rain Drive. But to actually drive from one house to another takes seven miles of roads. According to Google Maps, the drive takes 20 minutes. (link)

– The FCC has long held dominion over the nation’s telecommunications network. But it has been reluctant to get involved with regulating ISPs, VoIP providers, or any other data-based industries that use IP instead of a traditional circuit-switching network. So AT&T has a cunning plan to convert its entire network to IP-based communication, effectively “de-regulating” itself. The old telephone network, which you helped pay for with your tax dollars, would be dead and buried, and AT&T would be free do… well, so whatever it wanted, and damn the FCC for having the gall to try and stop them. Look, I’m as much of a “free market guy” as they come, but it’s clear that the telcos and cable companies have done a disastrous job with broadband access. America ranks 9th in the world in overall average broadband speed, but we pay an average of $528 a year for the privilege, which ranks us a paltry 21st out of 33 countries in similar speed tiers. Yet the idiots who run Time Warner Cable (which, I realize, is not AT&T) go whining to the North Carolina legislature when a small town like Wilson, NC gets fed up with their slow service and wants to create their own municipal broadband network (result: North Carolina has some of the highest broadband prices in the nation, despite Research Triangle Park being second only to Silicon Valley in the number of tech firms. In fact, Charlotte has the most expensive broadband in the entire country, more than even New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington D.C). And guess what? Time Warner Cable CTO Irene Esteves recently said that consumers “don’t want” gigabit Internet. Well, no, not for $500/month we don’t. But if Google Fiber came to Belmont, NC I can assure Ms Esteves that I’d switch over so fast it’d make her head spin.

– I have no interest in having kids, but this article at the Daily Fail has some interesting info about old wives’ tales about pregnancy and scientific truth (or the lack thereof) about them.

– Did you ever tie a note on a balloon and let it go? It seems like every school kid did when I was young, as a way to teach kids about weather patterns and geography. A kid in England did this not too long ago, and his balloon floated all the way to New South Wales, Australia! That’s 10,545 total miles… neat-o!

– The city of Ixonia, Wisconsin was named at random. It seems that residents couldn’t agree on a name for their new town, so on January 21, 1846, a young resident named Mary Piper drew random letters from a hat. She continued until something approaching a name was formed.

– Interested in medieval embalming practices? Who isn’t? Hot on the heels of the discovery of Richard III’s remains in a parking lot in northern England, a group of French researchers released their report on the heart of England’s Richard I, also known as Richard the Lionheart. It was a custom in Richard’s day for hearts to be removed from bodies and preserved separately from the body. Richard’s heart was apparently wrapped in linen, preserved with mercury, and then soaked in extracts of myrtle, daisy, mint, pine, oak, poplar, plantain and bellflower. The heart was lost for several centuries, then found by accident in 1838. The heart had turned to dust, and it was this dust that was analyzed by the French researchers. They also confirmed that Richard likely died of gangrene, and was not poisoned, as was sometimes rumored. (link)

– Poor Lauren Silberman. She became the first woman to appear at the NFL Combine (a week long “scouting camp” for players who’ve recently left college). I can just imagine her, setting the ball up on the tee… shaking her arms a couple of times to loosen up… doing a couple of small jumps to prepare… then thinking to herself: “Here goes… I’m going to strike at the heart of this male-dominated, patriarchal institution… I’m going to free all my fellow sisters to… DAMMIT!”:

QUICK TAKE: The Bird is (Many) Words

On the last Thursday of every November, millions of American families get together and eat a huge meal. It’s called Thanksgiving, and was originally celebrated by the Pilgrims in honor of their first harvest in 1621. It didn’t become a regular holiday in the United States until the Civil War, when President Abraham Lincoln called for a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” on the last Thursday of November in 1863.

One of the hallmarks of the Thanksgiving meal is a roasted turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), a large bird native to the New World. But why is it called a “turkey”? Does it have anything to do with the country of the same name?


Sort of, yes. Europeans have eaten guineafowl for centuries. These are large birds native to West Africa (which is where Guinea is, and where the gold came from that the British later minted into gold coins also called Guineas). But the English never hunted the birds themselves. The birds were captured in Africa and shipped to Turkey, where merchants sold them on to customers in central Europe. Because they “came from Turkey”, the English called the birds “Turkey fowl” (or “Turkey hen” or “Turkey cock”, if you wanted to be specific).

So when explorers arrived in North America, they saw these huge birds and called them “Turkey fowl”, and later on, just “turkeys”. Although they were wrong – guineafowl and American turkeys are totally different birds – the name stuck.

But it wasn’t just the English who got it wrong. The bird is called turcaí in Irish and twrci in Welsh, both borrowing from the English “turkey”. And in Armenia, Catalonia, France and Israel they’re called “Indian chickens” (as in “India”, not “Native American”). This is also hinted at in Malta, Poland and Turkey, where the bird’s names have allusions to India (in fact, Turks call them hindi).

In Dutch, the word for turkey is kalkoen, meaning “from Calicut” (Calcutta). Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, Finnish and Estonian use some variant of the Dutch, like kalkun, kalkúnn, or kalkon. And, thanks to colonialism, it’s also the word used in Papiamento, the native language of the Lesser Antilles, especially Aruba and Curaçao.

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