19 July 2005

Stupid non-facts on the Internet

A friend sent me this well-meaning email about some "fun facts." Since I could see a few that were patently false I thought I'd Google someof them. When I did I found that there were hundreds of blogs out there simply repeating the same "facts," but no one who questioned any of them. I then did som REAL research (like, oh, going to an expert on the topic or going to the original source). So here are things you really SHOULD know about that “THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW” email circulating on the internet:

1. Money isn't made out of paper, it's made out of cotton.
“Normal paper--including notebook paper, newspaper, construction paper-- is all made out of cellulose, which comes from trees. The trees are chemically broken down into their individual wood fibers, and the cellulose fibers are chosen and formed into very thin sheets to create paper. Paper money, on the other hand, is made from paper made of rags. Cotton or linen fabric is beaten to create cotton or linen fibers. You have probably heard of "rag paper" or "fine linen writing paper." This is where it comes from. It turns out that rag fibers bond together much more firmly than fibers in regular paper. Rag fibers are basically unaffected by water, whereas cellulose fibers absorb water and come apart when they get wet. So paper money comes through the washer just fine, while cellulose paper comes unglued.” From “How Stuff Works” http://science.howstuffworks.com/question108.htm

2. The Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper.
It was written on parchment. See: http://www.archives.gov/national_archives_experience/charters/treasure/declaration_facts.html

3. The dot over the letter i is called a "tittle".
From the Oxford English Dictionary: “The dot over the letter i; a punctuation mark; a diacritic point over a letter; any one of the Hebrew and Arabic vowel-points and accents; also, a pip on dice.”

4. A raisin dropped in a glass of fresh champagne will bounce up and down continuously from the bottom of the glass to the top.
I can’t find a valid reference for this (anyone want to try the experiment?). I did, however, find one credible-sounding explanation on a personal website: “This is because the carbonation in the drink gets pockets of air stuck in the wrinkles of the raisin, which is light enough to be raised by this air. When it reaches the surface of the champagne, the bubbles pop, and the raisin sinks back to the bottom, starting the cycle over.” From: http://www.angelfire.com/ca6/uselessfacts/science/003.html

5. Susan Lucci is the daughter of Phyllis Diller.
: http://www.soapcentral.com/amc/news/991224-luccidiller.php

6. 40% of McDonald's profits come from the sales of Happy Meals.
But unlikely. It is possible, but according to one Business Week Daily article McDonald’s won’t give out profit breakdown stuff like that. I went through McDonald’s 2004 corporate financial statement http://www.mcdonalds.com/corp/invest/pub/2004_Financial_Report.html and could not find such info. If anyone wants to delve further into McDonald’s profits and does find the answer let me know. And here’s an interesting business article that says Happy Meals are not doing McD’s any good: http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/index.cfm?fa=viewfeature&id=690.

7. 315 entries in Webster's 1996 Dictionary were misspelled.
And unlikely. Most large manuscripts come to the publisher with hundreds of typos in the. Copyeditors are paid to find them. Then Proofreaders are paid to find the ones the copy editors missed. By the time the book goes to print there are probably few if any errors. There are quibbles about stylistic differences (colour or color? theater or theatre?). Sometimes there is an argument to accept a newer slang spelling in a dictionary as common usage as well as the traditional spelling (thru for through, nite for night). It could be that. In the end does it matter? Some reader will point out an error to a publisher (mostly because it gives them a kick to do so) and in the next edition it will be fixed. If this even happened in 1996 it has little relevance to Webster’s as produced today.

8. The 'spot' on 7UP comes from its inventor, who had red eyes. He was albino.
First of all Albino humans generally have blue eyes (albino mice have red eyes). And C. L. Grigg, the founder of 7up, was not an albino. The red dot appears on the label in the 1970s, the original label (the product was invented in 1929) was entirely red. See: http://www.snopes.com/business/names/7up.asp

9. On average, 12 newborns will be given to the wrong parents, daily.
First of all this is an impossible statement. Which hospitals? Which country? Twelve daily of all babies born in the US or in the world? Do the parents know they have the wrong children? If they don’t, and thus don’t report it, then who gathered the data to make this statement—and how?

In point of fact normal hospital procedure is to put a hospital bracelet with the mother’s name on it on a baby’s wrist in the delivery room (it happened that way with all 4 of my kids). Those bracelets don’t come off until baby goes home. You’d have to have a very illiterate group of parents and hospital employees to make this kind of error.

10. Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine are brother and sister.
But hardly news, no one ever made a secret of it. Lots of people in showbiz are related to other people in showbiz.

11. Chocolate affects a dog's heart and nervous system; a few ounces will kill a small sized dog.

True: The theobromine in chocolate can be dangerous to both dogs and cats. See: http://www.snopes.com/critters/crusader/cocoa.htm

12. Orcas (killer whales) kill sharks by torpedoing up into the shark's stomach from underneath, causing the shark to explode.
First of all “exploding sharks”? Come on, people, use some common sense! Orcas do hunt prey of all sizes but they hunt and kill in packs (much like wolves), harrying their prey until it tires and then biting it. See: http://www.cetacea.org/faqs.htm.

13. Most lipstick contains fish scales.
True & False.
Only a few lipsticks contain fish scales. The ones that have “pearlesence” (as in "pearl essence"). See: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/000331.html.

14. Donald Duck comics were banned from Finland because he doesn't wear pants.
Being Finnish, I have to take exception to this. As a matter of fact, DD is the most popular of all Disney characters. Every Christmas day all the Scandinavian TV channels play Disney cartoons from 3-6pm for the children to sit and watch while moms fix Christmas dinners. There is a real story behind this myth--as a budget cut Helsinki stopped buying DD comics for the kids at the youth centers. See: http://www.snopes.com/disney/films/finland.htm. American papers speculated that Donald and Daisy living together without being married had offended the Finns. The irony of that is that in Scandinavian countries most people live together for 2-3 years before getting married to be sure the relationship will work out.

15. Ketchup was sold in the 1830s as medicine.
I can’t find any reference to this as a medicine, although the idea of a 19th century traveling snake-oil salesman putting ketchup in his product is not unlikely. However had any buyer known of it they would also not been fooled b the claim of medicinal qualities as it was well-known as a condiment by the 1800s. It was a sauce often imported from China and Southeast Asia.

The Oxford English Dictionary notes the earliest reference to it in the 1700s, when housewives are encouraged to add it to their stock of condiments. From the OED: “A sauce made from the juice of mushrooms, walnuts, tomatoes, etc., and used as a condiment with meat, fish, or the like. Often with qualification, as mushroom ketchup, etc. [References:] 1711 LOCKYER Acc. Trade India 128 Soy comes in Tubbs from Jappan, and the best Ketchup from Tonquin; yet good of both sorts are made and sold very cheap in China. 1748 MRS. HARRISON House-kpr.'s Pocket-bk. i. (ed. 4) 2, I therefore advise you to lay in a Store of Spices,..neither ought you to be without..Kitchup, or Mushroom Juice. 1817 BYRON Beppo viii, Buy in gross..Ketchup, Soy, Chili~vinegar, and Harvey. 1840 DICKENS Barn. Rudge (1849) 91/1 Some lamb chops (breaded, with plenty of ketchup). 1874 COOKE Fungi 89 One important use to which several..fungi can be applied, is the manufacture of ketchup.”

16. Upper and lower case letters are named 'upper' and 'lower' because in the time when all original print had to be set in individual letters, the upper case' letters were stored in the case on top of the case that stored the smaller, 'lower case' letters.
See: http://www.mediumbold.com/04_thinking/type/letterform/case.html.

17. Leonardo da Vinci could write with one hand and draw with the other at the same time
Da Vinci was ambidextrous. However, we have no evidence that he did left- and right-handed things simultaneously. This is an ongoing assumption that may have been a misinterpretation of the fact that he wrote with his left hand but wrote backwards so that his writing could only be read by holding it up to a mirror. See his bio at: http://www.mos.org/leonardo/bio.html.

18. Because metal was scarce, the Oscars given out during World War! II were made of wood.
But close! “In support of the war effort, the Academy handed out plaster Oscar statuettes during WWII. After the war, winners exchanged the plaster awards for golden statuettes.” From: http://www.oscar.com/legacy/faq/02.html#Q9

19. There are no clocks in Las Vegas gambling casinos.
According to one LV traveler, “There's a reason why casinos don't have clocks or windows and naturally they wanna keep you there long, make you forgetting the time, the longer you are there, the more you might lose.” From http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/North_America/United_States_of_America/Nevada/Las_Vegas-836630/Warnings_or_Dangers-Las_Vegas-Casinos_Gambling-BR-1.html

20. The name Wendy was made up for the book Peter Pan; there was never a recorded Wendy before!
Wendy is a diminutive for Gwendolyn, Gwennyth, and several other early Welsh name variants. What is interesting is that the author of Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie, had a god-daughter named Wendy. See: http://www.wendy.com/wendyweb/history.html.

21. There are no words in the dictionary that rhyme with: orange, purple, and silver!
Though, it depends on what you mean by rhyme. Something like orange is harder to rhyme. End rhyme (the most common rhyme form) takes the last syllable of a word (in orange the would be the “ge” sound) and finds words with similar sounding endings. Orange, thus, rhymes with challenge and lozenge. Try it yourself for these words: http://www.rhymer.com/ .

22. Leonardo Da Vinci invented scissors. Also, it took him 10 years to paint Mona Lisa's lips.
False & False:
Scissors were in common use by Leonardo’s time. “Scissors were invented thousands of years ago (roughly 1500 B.C.) in ancient Egypt. Early scissors have been found in ancient Egyptian ruins. These early scissors were made from one piece of metal (unlike modern scissors, which are made from two cross-blades which pivot around a fulcrum). Modern cross-bladed scissors were invented in ancient Rome (roughly A.D. 100). Early scissors were used by clothes makers and barbers. Scissors were not in common use until much later, in the 1500's (in Europe).” From: http://www.enchantedlearning.com/inventors/indexs.shtml.

As for the Mona Lisa, Da Vinci began it in 1503 and finished it in 1506. See: http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/vinci/joconde/

23. A tiny amount of liquor on a scorpion will make it instantly go mad and sting itself to death.
But unlikely. I couldn’t track this one down yet. But the idea hardly seems logical since the position of the stinger would make this action if not impossible at least anatomically difficult. I sent an email to a scorpion expert at the University of Kentucky asking for more info and he said:

This is an old urban myth, kind of like the thing with the stripes on a wooly worm, but I don't know if anyone has scientifically proven or disproven it one way or the other. This would be a good science project for someone out west!
B. Newton
University of Kentucky Entomology

24. The mask used by Michael Myers in the original "Halloween" was a Captain Kirk mask painted white.
This tidbit is a really good example of why not to trust the internet. The first reference I saw when looking this up confused Halloween with Friday the 13th--and mentioned a hockey goalie mask. Not having any experience with either film myself, I didn't know the difference until a friend pointed it out. (Thanks, Gunther!) I did see the film trailer which showed the clown mask, so originally said this was a "false" fact and referred to the clown and goalie masks. (Should have followed my own rules--internet research rule #1: always go to the original source!) If you go to the films' website at: http://www.halloweenmovies.com/site/lobby.html it says:

  • "The idea was to make him almost humorless, faceless - this sort of pale visage that could resemble a human or not," said Hill. "First came a clown mask, which we all thought was eerie and scary," Wallace told Fangoria. "A clown mask really shakes you up a bit, so we knew we were on solid footing." Then came the Kirk mask. Wallace visited Burt Wheeler's Magic Shop on Hollywood Boulevard. He bought a Captain Kirk mask for $1.98, "widened the eye holes and spray-painted the flesh a bluish white. In the script it said Michael Myers' mask had 'the pale features of a human face' and it truly was spooky looking. It didn't look anything like William Shatner after Tommy got through with it."

Mea culpa!

25. If you have three quarters, four dimes, and four pennies, you have $1.19. You also have the largest amount of money in coins without being able to make change for a dollar.
Do the math. But on an interesting facts scale I gotta say this is pretty useless.

26. By raising your legs slowly and lying on your back, you can’t sink in quicksand.
The less weight you present to the surface of the quicksand the slower the sinking process. Laying flat you present fewer pounds per square inch. The irony is that most quicksand is only a few feet deep. Standing you are simply stuck till you dig yourself out with your hands. See: http://science.howstuffworks.com/quicksand.htm for an ineresting video on how to escape quicksand

27. The phrase "rule of thumb" is derived from an old English law, which stated that you couldn't beat your wife with anything wider than your thumb.
While it was legal to “chastise” a wife in England, there has never been such a stick size law. See: http://dynamic.uoregon.edu/~jjf/essays/ruleofthumb.html

28. The first product Motorola started to develop was a record player for automobiles. At that time, the most known player on the market was the Victrola, so they called themselves Motorola.
Motorola’s goal has always been to promote communications technology, by beginning with car radios, although they did produce a home tabletop phonograph: “Motorola’s role as pioneer, innovator and visionary in mobile communications is well-known. Originally founded as the Galvin Manufacturing Corporation in 1928, Motorola has come a long way since introducing its first product, the battery eliminator.” As for the name, “Galvin Manufacturing Corporation founder Paul V. Galvin created the brand name "Motorola" for the company's new car radio, linking "motor" (motorcar, motion) with the suffix "ola" (sound)” in 1930. See: http://www.motorola.com/content/0,,115-110,00.html.

29. Celery has negative calories! It takes more calories to eat a piece of celery than the celery has in it to begin with. It's the same with apples!
True & False:
Yes on celery: http://www.snopes.com/food/ingredient/celery.asp; no on the apples. Though both are far better for you that that Happy Meal above. . . .

30. Chewing gum while peeling onions will keep you from crying!
It has nothing to do with gum. It is that some people find that if they breathe through their mouths rather than their noses they avoid the problem of the enzyme that causes tearing getting near the sinuses. http://www.ehow.com/tips_13796.html. Me, I close my mouth when chewing anything—wouldn’t work for me or anyone else with manners!

31. The glue on Israeli postage stamps is certified kosher.
“The laws of kashrut do not apply only to actual foods, but to anything that can be ingested. For this reason, Israeli postal stamps use a glue that is certified kosher. (Glue comes from collagen, which is found in the connective tissues of animals - see gelatin for more on that topic).” From: http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node=Kosher

32. Guinness Book of Records holds the record for being the book most often stolen from Public Libraries.
Not even on the list of most frequently checked out! A list-serve for librarians lists the following as the most often stolen:

  • “The Anarchist's Cookbook and The Joy of Sex (and The Joy of Gay Sex)”
  • “anything on Witchcraft/occult (fiction AND nonfiction), Rap and Heavy metal CDs, car/truck repair manuals, GED/ASVAB/post office/police officer(!) study guides”
  • “GED exam books (ARCO, Barron's)”--“anything by or about Jim Morrison. Books about palmistry and the occult . . . Mutual Fund Forecaster and the Wall Street Journal . . . homework support books”
  • “rap music and anything by Led Zeppelin”
  • some of the above “and self-defense books”

From various emails online at: http://lists.webjunction.org/wjlists/publib/1996-May/subject.html#73831

33. Astronauts are not allowed to eat beans before they go into space because passing wind in a space suit damages it
False: They even eat beans while in space. See: http://www.space.gc.ca/asc/eng/kidspace/q&a/living_food.asp

04 July 2005

Why I don't want to put out my flag today. . .

I used to put my American flag out every Flag Day and fly it proudly all summer. Then 9/11 happened. Like others I was stunned. I set my flag to half mast. I was cheered by the flags that began to appear everywhere. I was moved by the outpouring of American unity, of world-wide support and sentiment. All right I was taken aback by the neighbor who taped a row of little plastic flags to a sheet of plywood propped up by two garbage cans at the end of his driveway on which he spray painted (in red, white, and blue) the words: "God Bless America! Nuke Them All!" That was not at all what I thought America stood for.

Then two American citizens who were Sikhs, members of a very peaceful religion who happen to wear beards and turbans that look similar to Osama bin Laden's, were beaten up on a local university campus. I chalked it up to the emotional extremes of the times and hoped it wouldn't happen again. But it did.

Then we invaded Afghanistan and I was confused. Weren't the terrorists who flew those planes on 9/11 mostly from Saudi Arabia? Why Afghanistan? And soon we were gearing up to invade Iraq. . . because of terrorists. . . No, because of nuclear bombs Hussein was going to use on us. . . a preemptive strike (never mind that the only people on the planet who have ever really used atomic weapons on another people was us). . . No wait--no WMDs? He's got chemical weapons (never mind that we gave them to him)? Instead we are bringing democracy to Iraq? How's that work again? We bomb the hell out of them until we can call it a free country and then sell them franchises in McDonalds? Built them some Walmarts?

And "United We Stand" which seemed to mean something back when I was a kid--and which felt real for a while after 9/11--now feels more like "United Stand WE against" all YOU who are poor or gay or black or brown or Asian or immigrants or union or any religion other than Christian or all you who act too frigging liberal for the rest of us good democracy loving (except when we want you to vote OUR way for president) REAL Americans.

So where does that leave me? Well, I used to be proud to be American. Now I am just confused about what American means. And so I'm not waving a flag anymore. Not until we come to our colective senses. If the Patriot Act doesn't let someone lock me up first.

Silly me, I thought it was a free country.

You tell 'em Heather

from Salon.com http://www.salon.com/ent/tv/review/2005/07/04/i_like/

I Like to Watch!

Sing happy birthday to a nation of nasty despots, swarthy heroes and cringing, ineffectual oddballs, from Tommy Hilfiger to Bobby Brown!

By Heather Havrilesky

July 4, 2005 | I believe I can fry!

So many years ago, this great nation of ours was born! It took a lot of blood, sweat and Big Gulps, but those courageous patriots (who were actually traitors to their own homeland, but no matter) fought for what they believed in. And what did they believe in? Freedom! Freedom from op-pres-sion. The freedom to march across tangled forests filled with dirty savages and proclaim, "All these miles of tangled forest are mine! Mine, all mine, baby!"

Imagine the freedom those courageous patriots (who were traitors back home and religious extremists to boot, but no matter) must have felt, as they chopped through those virgin forests, clearing room for their humble log cabins, the first baby steps down the path to a glimmering world of asphalt and strip malls and McMansions! Imagine the freedom those fine men must've felt as they passed out chicken-pox-infected blankies at the local powwow! How proud they must've been, returning home to their chattel and their children and their womenfolk, how proudly they must've spoken of purposely infecting the savage populace with infectious diseases! "And them that's left, we'll drive 'em West! West to the dusty Badlands where corn don't grow near as well, 'cause that's how we roll, yo!"

Today, as you gaze out at that vast and beautiful swath of Outbacks and Targets and Applebee's and Home Depots and Linens 'n' Things that butts up against the back wall of your property, as you peek through the vertical blinds and out the sliding glass doors at the blinking lights of Wal-Mart and Pier I Imports, as you sink your toes into the buttery wall-to-wall carpeting of your glorious one-bedroom condo, remember those extreme religious fanatics and their humble quest to conquer and destroy and strong-arm their way to freedom. And remember, freedom is still on the march! We've still got conquering and destroying and strong-arming to do, if we're going to bring nacho platters and Megaritas and rug and room deodorizers to those quizzical foreign peoples!

Then as now, if there are kneecaps to kick in and heads to blow off and national landmarks to destroy, that's what we'll do to make sure that there's a basket of barbecue chicken wings in every pot, and no man, woman or child grows up without fried food in his belly and piles of worthless shit packed into the closets and shelves and utility rooms of his domicile! God bless this great land of ours! Happy birthday, America, and amen!