Well-Known Facts: On This Day…

This is what tighty whiteys looked like back then. They called them union suits. 

It’s been a while since I did a Well-Known Facts post. I’m sorry that I’ve been slacking on your education. We’re going to start a new feature on Well-Known Facts called On This Day In History.

According to Wikipedia, on June 17th, this happened:

1900 – Boxer Rebellion: Allied naval forces captured the Taku Forts after a brief but bloody battle.

Today, we’re going to talk about the Boxer Rebellion, a.k.a. The Boxer Uprising a.k.a. Yihetuan Movement. The Boxer Rebellion was a violent movement which took place in China towards the end of the Qing dynasty between 1898 and 1900. It was initiated by the Militia United in Righteousness (Yihetuan).

Throughout history, the English have been pretty well known for colonialism. That’s where they “discover” a piece of land, plant a flag, call it theirs and start pillaging and plundering the natural resources they find to send back to England. They either kill all the people already living there or try to “civilise” them.

Back in the late 1800’s, England discovered China and brought their English ways to the lowly Chinese heathens. Among the civilized ways they brought to China were Christianity, slavery, taxes and tighty whiteys, which they called “union suits.”

This is what tighty whiteys looked like back then. They called them union suits.  (www.underwearexpert.com)
This is what tighty whiteys looked like back then.

The Chinese have been around forever. They’re one of the oldest extant cultures on the planet. They didn’t take kindly to the English telling them to use forks and wear tight underwear.

Yuxian, a Manchu who was then prefect of Caozhou and would later become provincial governor, is attributed as saying, “White is an incredibly impractical underwear color.”  Also, “my junk is all bunched up.” The Chinese were quite comfortable with their baggier undies that they called boxers.

As a result of this underwear colonialism, several secret societies formed, including The Big Swords Society and the Righteous and Harmonious Fists or “Boxers United in Righteousness” (Yihequan/I-ho-chuan) in the inland sections of northern coastal province of Shandong.

In 1895, Yuxian officially used The Big Swords to fight bandits. The Big Swords, emboldened by this official support, also attacked their local Catholic rivals and tighty whitey aficionados, who turned to the Church for protection.

The Big Swords responded by attacking Catholic churches and burning them. They saw the church as a source of the oppressive undergarments. As a result of diplomatic pressure in the capital, Yuxian executed several Big Sword leaders, but did not punish anyone else. More secret boxer societies started emerging after this.

Boxer rebeller (wikipedia)
Boxer rebeller wearing boxers

Yuxian’s boxer loyalists gained strength when, in January 1900, the Empress Dowager Cixi, a powerful and charismatic woman who unofficially but effectively controlled the Qing dynasty for 47 years, changed her long policy of suppressing boxers, and issued edicts in their defense, causing protests from foreign powers. “I just don’t like the look of those whiteys.”

Eventually, almost the entire Chinese male population was part of at least one secret boxer society. They weren’t really a secret anymore to anyone but the English. Yuxian arranged a secret boxer meeting in Shandong and leaders from all the secret societies attended.

In Spring 1900, the boxer movement spread rapidly north from Shandong into the countryside near Beijing. On 30 May, British Minister Claude Maxwell MacDonald requested that foreign soldiers come to Beijing to defend, as he called them, the union suit loyalists. “The English are not the only ones who wear tighty whiteys.”

The next day, an international force of 435 navy troops from eight countries (75 French, 75 Russian, 75 British, 60 U.S., 50 German, 40 Italian, 30 Japanese, 30 Austrian) called the Eight-Nation Alliance, disembarked from warships and traveled by train from Dagu (Taku) to Beijing. They set up defensive perimeters around their respective union suit camps.

Troops of the Eight-nation alliance, 1900. (wikipedia)
Troops of the Eight-Nation Alliance, 1900.

On 5 June, the railroad line to Tianjin was cut by the boxer loyalists in the countryside and Beijing was isolated. 11 June, the secretary of the Japanese legation, Sugiyama Akira, was attacked and killed by soldiers of General Dong Fuxiang, who were guarding the southern part of the Beijing walled city.

Things didn’t look good for union loyalists and it only got worse when, on the same day, the German Minister, Clemens von Ketteler, and German soldiers captured a boy wearing boxers and inexplicably executed him. In response, thousands of boxer loyalist burst into the walled city of Beijing and burned many of the churches and cathedrals in the city.

The soldiers at the British Embassy and German Legations shot and killed several boxer loyalist, alienating the Chinese population of the city and nudging the Qing government toward support of boxers.

In Beijing, on 16 June, the Empress Dowager summoned the court for a mass audience and addressed the choices between boxers or seeking a diplomatic solution. In response to a high official who doubted the comfort of boxers, the Empress replied:

Perhaps their magic is not to be relied upon; but can we not rely on the hearts and minds of the people? Today China is extremely weak. We have only the people’s hearts and minds to depend upon. If we cast them aside and lose the people’s hearts, what can we use to sustain the country?

Both sides of the debate at court realized that popular support for boxers in the countryside was almost universal and that suppression would be both difficult and unpopular, especially when foreign troops were on the march.

The event that tilted the Imperial Government irrevocably toward support of boxers and war with the foreign powers was the Eight-Nation Alliance’s attack on the Dagu Forts near Tianjin, on 17 June 1900. They took the Dagu Forts commanding the approaches to Tianjin, and from there brought increasing numbers of troops on shore.

When the Empress Dowager received an ultimatum demanding that China surrender total control over all its military, underwear choices and financial affairs to foreigners, she defiantly stated before the entire Grand Council:

“Now they [the Powers] have started the aggression, and the extinction of our nation is imminent. If we just fold our arms and yield to them, I would have no face to see our ancestors after death. If we must perish, why not fight to the death?”

So, they fought… to the death. In October 1900, after a long war of attrition, a diplomatic solution was sought. Empress Dowager Cixi reluctantly started some reformations despite her previous view on boxers. Both boxers and union suits would be allowed in China. She put her foot down on slavery, taxes and Christianity though.

The Eight-Nation Alliance agreed to the demands of the Empress Dowager, knowing that they would not obey the treaty. They would spread tighty whiteys, slavery and Christianity wherever they damn well pleased. And that’s exactly what they did, which led to the Brassiere Revolution in the 1960s, but that’s a story for another time.

The end.

More Well-Known Facts

Apologies to Wikipedia for severely slaughtering their Boxer Rebellion page.

Well-Known Facts: Healthy Edition

Try not to dream of Ho-Hos.

A lot of you are fat lazy slobs. That’s okay! You’re probably American. It’s tough staying motivated in a country where you can buy 5,000 different kinds of chocolate 24/7. I’m here to help. Today, we’re going to explore some things you can do to lose weight and stay healthy without ruining your lifestyle! Here are 20 low impact things you can do now that will help you lose weight and be healthier:

1. Fart.

Farting uses a lot of energy. If you farted consistently for 6 years and 9 months, you would produce enough gas to create the energy of an atomic bomb.

2. Blink.

Blinking is an exercise. For every blink, you burn 2 calories.

3. Bang your head against a wall.

Banging your head against a wall uses 150 calories an hour.

4. Think really hard.

Thinking doesn’t use as many calories as blinking or banging your head, but it does preoccupy your brain from wanting to eat delicious things.

5. Yell.

If you yelled for 8 years, 7 months and 6 days, you would have produced enough sound energy to heat one cup of coffee.

6. Fidget with your sexy parts.

Everyone knows that sex burns calories. I recommend lots of it. Also, fidgeting can burn 350 calories an hour, so why not burn two birds with one bush and fidget with your sexy parts? Even self-satisfying is self-satisfying.

7. Look from side to side with your eyes.

Especially, while driving. You’re just sitting there anyway, why not exercise your eyes?

8. Lift your eyebrows.

While you’re driving and moving your eyes from side to side, why not raise your eyebrows, too?

9. Hang around larger people.

Weight loss is a psychological battle. Nothing makes you feel thinner than someone who is bigger than you. Ditch all your skinny friends and hang out with the big ones. You’ll feel better in no time.

10. Walk to your car instead of taking a cab.

I know this one might be hard for people who have to park a half block away or less, but try starting small. Instead of taking a cab to your car five times a week, try walking a half block once a week.

11. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Unless you’re on the second floor or higher. We don’t want to put you in danger. Again, start small. Try one step at a time and work your way up. If you don’t have any steps, (hire a contractor to) build some like this guy:

He's taking a well deserved break after walking up 5 whole steps! Image from woodwork343.blog.fc2.com.
He’s taking a break after walking up 5 whole steps!
Image from tedswoodworking.com

12. Be right-handed.

Right-handed people live, on average, nine years longer than left-handed people do. Us lefties are already at a disadvantage. Try being right-handed.

13. Sleep.

A good weight loss regimen should include at least 12-18 hours of sleep a day. The more you sleep, the less you are awake to eat Ho-Hos.

Try not to dream of Ho-Hos.
Try not to dream of Ho-Hos.

14. Drink lots of beverages.

The more you drink, the more you pee. The more you pee, the more you have to get up and walk to the bathroom. And if you’re a female, you do one squat every time you go! If you go to the bathroom 30 times a day, that’s 30 squats. Men, try to do some squats while standing and peeing or something (I’m really not sure what you do in there).

15. Drink coffee.

Studies have found that caffeine increases the rate at which you burn calories. Also, it’s a diuretic, so it will make you have to pee more. Every trip to the bathroom counts! Feel the burn.

16. Listen to really fast heavy metal.

Thrash or speed metal will make you fidget faster, thereby burning more calories!

17. Laugh.

This one sounds obvious, but laughing really is good for you. A good snort can burn up to 100 calories.

18. Do your own chores.

Instead of having your mom bring you dinner in the basement, go up and get it yourself. That trip up and down the stairs will burn a few calories.

19. Fill up on fiber.

Low-carb, high-fiber foods take more time to digest than other foods, leaving you feeling fuller longer and less likely to snack. Go ahead and have that second vest or sofa:

Pretend it's cotton candy.
Pretend it’s cotton candy.

20. Make exaggerated motions.

When you walk, make incredibly exaggerated motions. Swing your arms and take long strides. Try to ignore the looks you will get. No matter what they tell you, you don’t look like a Nazi. This is for your health!

Image of healthy people from Guardian.uk.
Image of healthy people from Guardian.uk.

Guest Post – Well-Known Facts International Edition

1500s world map

As the tied-for-second-place winner of Goldfish’s Mad Libs Spectacular, I thought I’d contribute a leaf to one of her ongoing series and write a little quasi-nonfiction. So, without further ado, let’s spin up that globe and discuss some well-known facts about countries most Westerners would be hard-pressed to pronounce, much less find on a globe.

FACT: Italy leads the world in toilet oppression.

We from North America have been spoiled, in many senses, by the voluminous number of public toilets. Anywhere you go in the States, and to a lesser extent USA Jr. and South of the Border, there are public toilets. You can’t even go to a dumpy public park in Ditchwaterville, Nowherebraska without finding a free pissery.

In Italy, that freedom does not exist.

Ancient Roman toilets in Ostia
Not quite this bad, but close.

Oh, sure, the restrooms are supposedly free. But every single one is overseen by a matronly woman built like a linebacker, who sits at the entrance and shakes would-be excreters down for “tips” (and with a minimum tip often advertised, it’s suspiciously like a cover fee. For the bathroom). Heaven help you if you try to go in without tipping or sneak past while the bathroom centurion is away, for you will unleash a torrent of verbal abuse that will leave you stumbling, ears bleeding, away to quietly pee your pants in shame.

This is why I laugh long and hard when peeps describe Europe as a glorious socialized paradise. It’s all moot if you can’t pee for free!

FACT: Italy is terrible at Italian food.

When I was in Italy, I was salivating at the prospect of some Italian pizza. You could follow the trail of drool through the Rome airport and onto the pickpocket-infested bus line that tourists know as The Wallet Eater. I am a bit of a pizza fanatic; I’ve eaten the dish on four continents and in more countries than most people have ever been to. So even though the Italian pizza I ordered was like 50 euros, I was still giddy with anticipation.

A pizza with pepperoni, onions, and green peppers
Hey, what are those healthful toppings doing on my pizza! I want bread, sauce, mozzarella, and pepperoni, none of that hippie green pepper or purple space onion crap.

What did I get? Basically an ultra-thin flatbread with tomato sauce and a little cheese. It was like someone had unrolled a pizza roll or some devilish Noid had stomped the pie flat. It was un-thick, un-filling, un-sliced, and un-slicable. Compared to the fine pizzas of New York, Chicago, or even Vietnam, it was trash. The one and only exception was the Vatican, whose holy pizza was wholly pizza.

Pope John Paul II speaking ino microphone, 2004
The pope mumbles through a pizza blessing. This was 2 popes ago, but JP the Deuce was in charge of pizza-blessing when I was there.

And that’s the dirty little secret of Italian food: most of it was invented in America. Oh sure, the inventors were first-generation Italian immigrants and used traditional ingredients and even some traditional names. But pizza as we know it was still invented in the Bronx, with the stuff back in Italy a mere back-formation. The same is true of a lot of other dishes. Just like you can’t get a decent fortune cookie in China, because they were invented in San Francisco

FACT: Vietnam is not a communist country.

Yep. Despite the ego-bruising loss of the war to the Communists, who came in red flags a-wavin’, contemporary Vietnam is not-communist enough to make old Uncle Ho spin in his mausoleum. In fact, Vietnam is, bar none, the most capitalist country I’ve ever visited.

The Vietnamese coat of arms, red with gears and wheat ears
I mean, come on. Is this not the most communist coat of arms ever?

Every home has a shop out front selling something. Every. Single. One. You can buy home-cooked food, spare motorbike tires, water bottles full of gasoline, and even ice-cold bottles of Pepsi out of just about anyone’s front porch, especially if said porch opens up onto a road. Fun fact: Vietnam is also the only country in the world where Pepsi reigns supreme and has fully made Coke its bitch. That’s what you get for being nimble and quick when a country opens up to the world after decades of isolation and reeducation, I tell you what.

The entrepreneurial spirit is not limited to people turning their homes into shops, naturally. Vietnamese rivers are filled with fishermen busily hauling their catch to market. Granted, it’s electro-fishing which uses a metal wand hooked up to a car battery to zap fish senseless (cover your eyes, Goldfish!). It’s not green, but it brings in the green. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fine Chinese-style pirate marts, which cultivate vast fields of illegal DVDs and CDs fresh for the harvesting. And that’s not even getting into the combination KFC/bowling alley in Saigon (certified bird-flu free!).

Modern Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) at night
This view of Saigon looks slightly less communist. And yes, even the most diehard communist still calls it Saigon instead of Ho Chi Minh City.

Of course, the government is still highly authoritarian. But if you’re making money and they get their cut, they are happy to let you be as capitalist as you want under the red banner of Uncle Ho. Just don’t be pushing for democracy or anything like that–do things the American way and get rich to bribe officials. That’s change we can believe in.

FACT: Zimbabwe has the most hosed-up money in the world right now.

Huh? What’s that, you say? What’s a Zimbabwe? Is it some kind of fish? Tsk tsk. Zimbabwe is a country in southern Africa with a troubled past. It had its own brand of apartheid going on back in the 60s and 70s, with white folks in charge of everything, but after a rather nasty civil war, things seemed on the upswing. When I visited, the races were living in relative harmony and the country was flush with tourist dollars from people seeing Victoria Falls and giant stone birds. Alas, things started to go south when the prez decided that things like “term limits” and “democracy” were for people without toothbrush mustaches.

So there was a nasty period of the gummint grabbing up everything they wanted and redistributing it to supporters to shore up their base. The only problem was those supporters had no idea of how to run their shiny new misappropriated farms and factories. Oops. So as the only way to get anything was by buying it on the black market or getting it smuggled in, the Zim dollar started going all hyperinflatey.

Invader Zim action figures
Admit it, this is what you thought of when I said “Zim Dollar.”

Hyperinflation isn’t filling your balloon with too much helium; rather, it means the currency falls in value at a stunning rate. For example, when I went to Zimbabwe in the 90s, the exchange rate was 7-8 Zim dollars to 1 US dollar and the inflation rate was 20%. High, but pretty good for Africa. By 2008, the inflation rate was 89,700,000,000,000,000,000,000%. That’s 6.5 sextillion percent, which means the exchange rate was 2,621,984,228 Zim dollars to 1 US dollar. Two trillion, six hundred twenty-one billion, nine-hundred eighty-four thousand, two hundred twenty-eight to one.

Zimbabwe dollar bills from $10 to $100,000,000,000.
These bills were all printed within a year of each other, from $10 to $100,000,000,000. By the end, the top bill was worth 3 US cents.

Yeah. They got rid of their currency after that, meaning that as of today Zimbabwe has no money of its own and uses foreign money (US dollars, etc.) for everything…which people were pretty much doing anyway, considering that toilet paper cost so much that it was cheaper to wipe your bum with trillion-dollar bills. Sadly, the country’s still in an economic hole and the same president presides over it, Adolf-stache and all. Maybe they should try communism–it worked for Vietnam!

The Voyage of the Royal Pudding Cup & HMS Sheepskin Flask

Drawing by Thomas Parker.
Daily post prompt: Read the story of Richard Parker and Tom Dudley. Is what Dudley did defensible? What would you have done?

OK, let’s read the wiki, shall we?

On July 4, 1776, Richard Parker and Tom Dudley set sail from England as part of a fleet of twenty-seven long ships in the name of her majesty Queen Clancy II.[1] Their mission was to search for treasure to fund the August War as the June War against Finlandia[2] had depleted the royal coffers. Parker was captain of HMS Royal Pudding Cup and Dudley captained the HMS Sheepskin Flask.[3]

A sketch of the HMS Sheepskin Flask by Tom Dudley.

The fleet intended to raid the Spanish galleons at the Isthmus of Panama[4] and steal their gold. In early September, over halfway through the voyage, the fleet was ravaged by a superstorm,[5] sinking most of the long ships and tossing the rest hither and yon. When the storm cleared, Parker and Dudley found that they were the only two vessels in the vicinity. They had been blown off course by roughly 17,000 miles and presently found themselves near what is now known as Australia.[6]

A–starting point. B–intended destinationC–approximate route and end point
A–starting point. B–intended destination. C–approximate route and end point.

Parker and Dudley thought they had fallen off the edge of the earth since no one, besides the native inhabitants, had ever been to Australia. The two Englishmen named it Parkdudland.[7] Fortunately, the name did not stick. After many years exploring the continent of Parkdudland, planting flags and naming flowers, the two decided to return to England, navigating by the stars.[8]


Parker and Dudley followed the stars and sailed north for England. After 4,597 days at sea, roughly off the foot of Africa,[9] the two ships encountered a Kraken.[10]

Image from Clash of the Kraken: The Voyage of The Royal Pudding Cup & The HMS Sheepskin Flask, Universal Studios (1981).

The Kraken gave them tea and biscuits. Mr. Kraken was tired of being misunderstood as a horrible sea monster. He had feelings, too. Unfortunately, for the Kraken, Dudley and Parker never made it back to England to tell tale of what a lovely host he was.

In 1980, the Royal Pudding Cup was discovered by divers off of the coast of Belize.[11] In it, were Parker’s meticulous records of the journey and detailed drawings of the Kraken.[12] The HMS Sheepskin Flask’s final resting place still has not been found.

Drawing by Thomas Parker.
Drawing by Richard Parker.

In 1981, Parker and Dudley’s voyage was made into a major Hollywood motion picture called Clash of the Kraken: The Voyage of The Royal Pudding Cup & The HMS Sheepskin Flask[13] (1981) from Universal Studios.[14] It won the Academy Award[15] for Best Special Effects.[16]

I think, if I were in Parker or Dudley’s shoes, I might not have attempted to sail back to England. I probably would have stayed in Parkdudland forever. Then again, had I done that, I never would have met the delightful Kraken nor had an Academy Award winning Hollywood motion picture made of me either, so who knows.

Well-Known Facts: Music Edition

Several non-electric old-timey washboards in an old-timey tub.

Today, class, we are going to discuss music. Music is a form of artistic expression that manifests through sound. Sometimes, it is the cause of spontaneous, often subconscious, physical movement in humans, e.g. dancing, head banging, toe-tapping, moshing or singing along.

The Electric Washboard

As we discussed in Well-Known Facts: American History Edition, Thomas Edison invented time and the electric washboard. In that edition, we discussed time at great length, but we glossed over the electric washboard. The electric washboard was actually the precursor to the electric guitar and is responsible for amplified music as we know it today.

The washboard used for laundry

For a long time, washboards were used pretty much exclusively to wash clothing. Water and soap were placed in a tub and clothing was run up and down against the corrugated surface of a washboard to clean it. Thomas Edison, having just completed inventing time, found that he had a lot of it on his hands. He decided to do something about this clothes washing business. There’s got to be a better way, he thought. After many failed experiments including donkeys, sulfuric acid, lye, manure, gasoline and fire, he finally struck upon the idea of using electricity. By electrically charging particles, he could create an agitator, not unlike the variety used in washing machines today. Here is one of the final versions of Edison’s schematic.

Nobody has ever succeeded in building a prototype from this schematic.

Unfortunately, as you can see, Edison applied current directly to the washboard and tub, which happened to be full of water and resulted in a lot of electrocutions as well as clean clothes. It was Nikola Tesla who took a look at Edison’s incomprehensible schematic and came up with the idea of powering a motor that would operate the agitator. This would result in much less electrocution. Sadly, since Edison held the patent, he got all the credit and money for inventing the electric washboard and Tesla’s involvement is forgotten today.

The washboard as a musical instrument

Before it even became electrified, the washboard was used as a percussion instrument, employing the ribbed metal surface of the cleaning device as a rhythm instrument. For a few years after the invention of the electric washboard, people still played the old-timey, non-electrified versions in jazz, zydeco, skiffle, jug band and old-time music. It wasn’t until Jimi Hendrix came along that people realized the true power of the electric washboard as a musical instrument. Hendrix flipped the washboard upside-down and played with his left hand. He completely changed the way people played the washboard, and even today, he is widely considered to be the greatest electric washboard player in music history. His electric washboard version of the American National Anthem is considered a turning point in American music history.

The Truth In Advertising Act of 1963

There was a time when you could call your band whatever name you chose, but that time ended with the British Invasion. The Beatles ruined everything. Perhaps, it’s more apt to say that a bunch of uptight parents ruined everything. While every single teenage girl in America was going positively nutty for the Beatles, several parents groups got together and formed The Parents For Sane Children Committee (PFSCC) to lobby Congress in the hopes of outlawing this new form of music.

Certain members of the United States Congress, some having teenage daughters themselves, were keen to act, but based on the United States Constitution, the Beatles were allowed to sing as much as they wanted. The best that they could do was invent a loophole. Originally, The Beatles spelled their band name B-E-E-T-L-E-S, as in the insect. Congress and The PFSCC said that there were no actual beetles in the band, and therefore, The Beetles were committing fraud. Congress enacted the Truth In Advertising Act in 1963, which stated that a band name must match the band.

The Beetles, to whom all of this legislation was directed, decided to recruit a new band member named Phil, who looked something like this:

The last member of the Beatles, Phil.

Unfortunately, they forgot to poke holes in the jar in which Phil lived and he died in short order. Instead of recruiting another member, the Beetles decided to change the spelling of their name from the insect to The Beatles because they definitely contained beats. There was nothing that Congress nor the PFSCC could do about it.

Though rarely enforced, the act is still on the books, which is why members of Anthrax carry a little vial of anthrax, several members of Metallica are actually made of metal and The Rolling Stones roll a stone up a hill once a year during the solstice festival in Leeds.

The Beethoven Code

There was a lot of speculation that a code was hidden within DaVinci’s works due to an awful fiction book written about it and an even worse movie adaptation. There has never been any evidence supporting a DaVinci code. However, there is a code hidden in Beethoven’s symphonies. Beethoven, being somewhat of a genius, hid it so well, that it took centuries to crack it. The cipher used to encode Beethoven’s symphonies was so brilliant that the United States Navy still uses it today.

Here is the original of one of Beethoven’s simpler works, Für Elise.

In code, it translates as follows:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as Elise.
Elise, whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
Elise, that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
Elise, that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make Elise.

Granted, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Obviously, Beethoven’s skill is in music, not poetry. This girl of Beethoven’s eats dirt, has “leafy arms” and wears birds for a hat, but I think we can all agree that it is far too structured to be anything but a hidden code. The symmetry of the lines precludes any sort of random coincidence; it is well and truly a poem.  Coincidentally, Für Elise is nearly identical to Joyce Kilmer‘s poem, Trees, written several hundred years later.

That’s all we have time for today. We will return to the subject of music next semester.

This post is part of The Well-Known Facts Series.

FoG’s Completely Different 2011 Year In Review Post


Year In Review posts are so passé and trite and boring, Sidney. Boring. These are so, like, totally everywhere now, but I’ll do one anyway. It will be completely different from everyone else’s, mostly because it is mine.

Post A Day

I started doing The Daily Post‘s Post A Day thing. I did not post every day. Here’s what I did manage to write:

January: 32 posts.
February: 16
March: 10
April: 4 (eek)
May: 20
June: 14
July: 16
August: 10
September: 19
October: 15
November: 10
December: 11

Total posts in 2011: 177

That doesn’t add up to 365.  Even if I’m really bad at math, that doesn’t add up to 365. I’m pretty sure that the month of April has more than 4 days in it.

Still, I probably wouldn’t have written a lot of those posts if it weren’t for the Post A Day thing, so there’s that.

2011s Top 5 Most Popular Posts

You people have some strange taste in reading material:

1. Natural Disasters
Posted February 1, 2011. 2,749 views. Most of those views were in the first two days when this post was promoted to Freshly Pressed.

2. Well-Known Facts: World Record Mammal Edition
Posted July 1, 2011. 2,507 views. This one was really popular for a while due to a ton of people searching for maps of Africa. Feeling guilty about people looking for facts and ending up at my not-so-facts, I took out all of the references to Africa and the views dropped down to a normal level.

3. Are we too dependent on technology?
Posted July 22, 2011. 1,946 views. I’m not quite sure why this one is viewed so often, but a lot of people search for “are we too dependent on technology?” I find it amusing that so many people are using technology to ask if we’re too dependent on technology, but what do I know.

4. Dear Goldfish Part 2
Posted September 29, 2011. 1,503 views. Again, I have a sneaking suspicion that this one is viewed a lot because of people looking for maps of Africa. I have three of them in this post, none of them helpful at all.

5. A Fictional Character I’d Like to Hang Out With
Posted January 12, 2011. 1,292 views. I chose Spider Jerusalem as my fictional character and the people over at WarrenEllis.com appreciated my thoughts on the subject enough to feature this post on their front page.

Top 10 Personal Favorite Posts

In the order that they were written:

Detroit, My First Love.
A love letter to my hometown.

The Zoo.
I don’t write poetry with good reason. That reason being, I suck at it. But I was trying to take a nap one day and The Zoo kept poking at my brain. It wouldn’t let me sleep until I wrote it down. It’s certainly not great, but I’m rather fond of it since it is the only piece of poetry I’ve ever written that doesn’t immediately make me cringe.

The Onion.
This is sort of cheating since this post wasn’t actually written in 2011. It was posted on this blog in 2011 though, so I think it counts. This is a real conversation I had with a friend of mine. Even though I’ve read it a million times at this point, it still makes me laugh every time. Not many things can do that.

The Category of Parades.
A story about how I denigrated someone’s belief in astrology at a dinner party. This is why I shouldn’t attend dinner parties.

On Being Dead.
This post describes my childhood battle with meningitis. I’m not sure it would mean anything to anyone else, but it was cathartic for me to write it.

Furious Spurious Lexis.
The Daily Post told me to make up a word and its definition. I didn’t stop at just one word. Some of these are good and should be used right now.

The Missing Shoe.
A story which I won’t reveal as either fiction or non-fiction. You’ll just have to decide for yourself whether it’s true or not.

The Night That Changed My Life.
Another cathartic story. This one is as true as I can remember.

Well-Known Facts: American History Edition.
My favorite of the Well-Known Facts series. I plan on doing more historical editions in the future. That is, I will write them in the future, not that I plan to write futuristic history. Although, that’s not a bad idea…

Love Letter To Los Angeles.
I love this post for some reason. It makes me want to get in my car and drive around LA. It’s not often that I talk about the city in which I currently reside. I’m probably too close to it to really see it.

New Series

I started a few new series on the blog in 2011. First, there was the Well-Known Facts series, which is as ridiculous as I am. I can’t really remember how this started. I think I was just bored one day and decided to make things up. Anyway, there are nine well-known facts posts now and I’m sure there will be more as I can’t seem to stop the shenanigans.

Then we have Dear Goldfish, a series where I answer search terms that people have used to find their way to this blog. I’ve always been fascinated by the stats page here and I used to write posts about silly search words. Somehow, the search word posts morphed into Dear Goldfish where I throw a question mark on the end of real search terms and answer them as if I’m Dear Abby.

Plus, I continued hating many things in the Things I Hate series. Hate will never die.


I attempted to write a novel in the month of November. I failed. I did write over 15,000 words on a book that didn’t exist in anything other than character sketches and outlines before that, so I’m still pretty proud of myself. My reflections on the process can be found starting here.

Landmarks and Conclusions

• I joined the Atheist Blogroll in 2011.

• One of my posts was Freshly Pressed (featured on the front page of WordPress).

• I broke 300 posts and wrote about the things I learned. I’m currently 40 posts (39 if you count this one) away from 400 posts.

• I wrote and posted six short fiction stories on this blog in 2011.

• I’ve only ever written one post about my cat. Since I got a dog in April, I’ve written three posts. Apparently, I’m a dog person.

• I didn’t read nearly as much in 2011 as I did in 2010.

• I failed at Post A Day. I failed at NaNoWriMo. But I tried both.

• I didn’t post as much this year as I would have liked. I didn’t write as much as I would have liked. But I did write and I did post, so that’s got to count for something, right?

2011 Haiku

And just so that my Year in Review post is completely different from all the rest:

Here is a Haiku.
For every month this year.

First month of the year
Unemployed and so depressed.
non compos mentis

I’m a breadwinner!
Reason to get out of bed
I have got a job.

Another friend died.
Bought lots of ammunition.
Two discrete events.

A curse on your house.
In the form of a puppy.
Gah, total chaos.

Well-Known Facts is born.
The lies and shenanigans
just keep on comin’.

Another birthday.
Meh. Surely feeling older
but not much wiser.

Reconnected with
old friends. I’m not sure why they
found me July.

I do not recall
what happened this month at all.
Must have been special.

Puppy became dog.
Summer turned into autumn.
I hated more things.

The Halloweenies
At my door again. Take some
sweets and go away.

It’s NaNoWriMo.
Fell farther behind each day.
Novel writing FAIL.

Ugh, the holidays.
Don’t you have homes of your own?
Too much social stuff.

More Well-Known Facts

A photograph allegedly taken near where Dr. Peters died c. 1960.

Mr. Alistair Whitnall Penvesey invented window blinds.

Window blinds were invented by Alistair Whitnall Penvesey, who’s eccentricity is well known in all of the UK that is the small English village in which he lived, namely, Winchelsea Levels, England.

Far left, the house from which Whitnall Penvesey peeped and invented.

Whitnall Penvesey, who served as the village brightsmith (a smith who works in shiny metals), spent a great deal of time spying on his neighbors. The problem was, they could see him peeping. He thought long and hard on how he could see without being seen. His original design involved temporarily blinding passersby with polished sheets of gold and silver, but that process relied too much on the angle of the sun and this was in England where the sun is rarely what one could call reliable. After years of unsuccessful attempts to create window coverings in metal, during which nearly everyone in Winchelsea Levels had been blinded, temporarily or otherwise, he devised the lever and slat system of window coverings that we know today. The original slats were made of gold and silver, but due to the cost, eventually, he made them out of wood, much like these:

The originals are, sadly, no longer in existence.

The name, Leveler window blinds, came from the combination of the original intention of his window treatment, to blind, and part of the name of village, Winchelsea Levels. After the patent went public, Mr. Harvey Levol started mass producing them and changed the common spelling from Leveler to Levolor and made them out of other materials like fabric. Whitnall Penvesey’s patent for window blinds made a fortune practically overnight, but it didn’t change his lifestyle at all. Instead, he became a shut-in, living the rest of his days spying on his neighbors in the very same house in which he had invented his blinds.

It rains constantly in Washington state.

There is no natural sunlight in Washington state. They try to downplay the amount of rainfall they get, but really, it would rain all the time if they didn’t import sunshine from Mexico and South America. The North American Free Trade Agreement was passed by persistent lobbying from Washington State. Before NAFTA, Washington had to pay a quarter of their yearly budget on sunshine tariffs. There was a thriving cottage industry in sunshine smuggling. Coyotes smuggled sunshine thousands of miles up the coastline in go-fast boats.

A US Coast Guard helicopter chasing a typical go-fast smuggling boat designed to go fast.

Since 1994 when NAFTA took effect, Washington state has been able to purchase sunshine legally with greatly reduced tariffs. Although, there are still towns in the state known to import illegal sunshine due to its lack of regulation. Coyote go-fast boats can still be seen smuggling sunshine all the way up to Canada, but most of them smuggle humans or drugs these days.

The Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean are one and the same.

All of the oceans on earth actually meet in the middle of the planet, which isn’t solid at all. Centripetal force is the only thing keeping the continents from bumping into each other. Here’s a cross-section of the earth:

The earth with a chunk cut out of it.

This cross-section of the earth reveals four concentric layers. Around the outside, there’s the Earth’s crust, which is composed of either ocean or land mass called the continental crust. The continental crust can be over 40 miles (70 km.) thick, while the oceanic crust leads from the ocean into the mantle. The mantle layer is 1,800 mi (2,890 km) deep and makes up about 84% of the earth’s volume. It consists of viscous liquid that flows slowly on a geological time scale.

At the center of the earth lies a two-part liquid core. The inner core has a radius of roughly 758 mi. (1,220 km.), smaller than the moon, and is 3,200 -3,960 miles (5,150-6,370 km.) below the earth’s surface.

The outer core is an ocean of liquid, 1,429 miles (2,300 km.) deep and 1,800 – 3,200 miles (2,890-5,150 km.) below the earth’s surface. The earth’s rotation makes this ocean flow and swirl, and the movement generates the planet’s magnetic field.

If it weren’t for the slow movement of the mantle and the fact that we can’t hold our breath that long yet, traveling through the earth would be the fastest way to get to the other side. Except for the continental crust, our planet is made entirely of liquid of varying viscosities.

Tolstoy’s original manuscript for the epic novel War and Peace, originally called War, War, and More War, is the longest book ever written.

It took Leo Tolstoy six solid years, doing little else, to write his book. The original scope of the novel was every war in human history in graphic detail. In six years, he had written 36,974 single-spaced, small handwritten pages about all the conflicts in history up to that point. When he was up to date in 1867, he stopped writing. Although, some scholars claim that he kept going and wrote several chapters that took place in the future, but that has yet to be verified. No one has ever seen those chapters of the book.

One of 39K handwritten pages of the original “War, War, and More War” book.

Only one publisher, wanting a book about war, was crazy enough to take an interest in the book. However, it was so ridiculously long that the editor delicately suggested that Tolstoy pick just one war and focus on that. Tolstoy agreed, with the proviso that the rest of the wars he had written about be published eventually. He chose to delineate events leading up to the French invasion of Russia and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Tsarist society from the perspective of five aristocratic families.

The publisher also changed the title from War, War, and More War to War And Peace, explaining that it would sell better if it had a happy ending. Even though Tolstoy only wrote about one war in the final version of War and Peace, the first published edition still had 1,225 pages.

War and Peace is well known as being one of the longest novels ever written, however, in its edited War and Peace form, it is not the longest. Even without the alleged future chapters that are missing, War, War, and More War, the original version which remains unpublished, holds the record for the longest book ever written and the longest book written in the shortest amount of time. No one has ever read the whole thing.

Stonefish are the deadliest fish in the world.

Synanceia, a.k.a. Stonefish, is a genus of fish of the family Synanceiidae whose members are dangerous and even fatal to humans.

If you see this fish, it’s already too late.

Most people think that Stonefish is deadly because of their venom. While it is true that the species have potent neurotoxins secreted from glands at the base of their needle-like dorsal fin spines, they mainly use the toxin to immobilize their prey. The neurotoxins can take days for full effect, but mercifully, Stonefish eat their prey immediately.

However, when a Stonefish encounters a human, it will not only use its neurotoxins on us, but once we are immobilized, it will pick up a stone in a fit of rage and bludgeon us nearly to death with it. Once a human has been injected with neurotoxins and stoned by a Stonefish, it is left for dead. An agonizingly painful death by Stonefish can last for hours, sometimes days.

No one knows exactly why the Stonefish hate humans so much. There are many theories among ichthyologists, but no one knows for sure. The hatred seems to date from prehistoric times. In 1957, ichthyologist Dr. Mark Peters led a research expedition to communicate with Stonefish in the wild. Dr. Peters approached a school of Stonefish with a white flag to try to apologize to them for whatever transgression humanity perpetrated on their family. The Stonefish seem to have interpreted the white flag he was holding as a sign of aggression and injected Dr. Peters with neurotoxin before stoning him.

The remaining members of the expedition were unable to retrieve him. Witnesses say it took him four days to die a painful death. Others say he’s still alive. They claim that there was something unique to Peters’ biochemistry that reacted with the neurotoxin, causing him to become a hybrid of both species. The believers of the Hybrid Theory think that Dr. Peters can bridge the gap between man and fish, and lead to détente between our species. This theory revolves mostly around the following photograph, taken several years after the Peters incident near where it happened.

A 1960 photograph taken near where Dr. Peters was last seen by Abe Patterson.

(Note: this photo has not been authenticated. Some members of the scientific community believe it to be a fake. It is shown here only in the interest of presenting both sides.)

This post is part of The Well-Known Facts Series.

Well-Known Facts Quiz


I discovered that WordPress allows me to do polls. Polls are unscientific collections of anonymous opinions signifying nothing. However, these same polls can be used to quiz you on your knowledge of well-known facts. So, guess what, everyone -IT’S POP QUIZ TIME. This will count towards your final grade. Please take out a No. 2 pencil and a blank sheet of paper to show your work. No talking.

This post is part of The Well-Known Facts Series.

Well-Known Facts: Cliché Edition

A money tree growing on a top secret U.S. military base in Canada.

Have you ever found yourself saying a cliché and wondered how the hell did that come out of my mouth and what does that even mean? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Today, we’re going to discuss the etymology of some well-known idioms.

Money doesn’t grow on trees.

Meaning: You have to work to earn money; it doesn’t come easily or without effort.

Origin: This saying was invented so that people didn’t think that money grew on trees, which it actually does. Here’s a money tree:

A money tree growing on a top secret U.S. military base in Canada.

The reason that nobody knows that money grows on trees is that the government has kept it top secret. If people knew that money actually did grow on trees, it would be bedlam. Nobody would work, nothing would get done, and most likely, there would be rioting on a grand scale.

Etymology: The government knew that outlawing the phrase altogether would be suspicious, so they simply changed it from money grows on trees to money doesn’t grow on trees.

Play favorites.

Meaning: To have a preference for one person or thing over another.

LEFT: Favorites Board Game c 1894. RIGHT: Monopoly Board Game c 1904.

Origin: In the late 1800s, there was a popular board game called Favorites where players would make their way around a board by rolling dice, buying up property, railroads and utilities. As you can see in the image above, the Monopoly game was very similar to Favorites, except that Monopoly had given names to the properties and railroads, and it had player pieces shaped like shoes, top hats and thimbles. Eventually, Hasbro, the makers of Monopoly, bought Favorites, ironically, creating its own monopoly on Favorites board games.

Etymology: Some people still preferred to play the old Favorites game over the new Monopoly and the expression was born.

Many hands make light work.

Meaning: Large tasks are easier when divided among several people.

Origin: Thomas Alva Edison had three or more arms. If it hadn’t been for his extra hand, he might not have perfected the light bulb. Most people assume that he had the standard number of arms since he was very careful not to show the extra in portraits. Below is an extremely rare print of Thomas A. Edison accidentally scratching his head and revealing his third arm.

An extremely rare outtake of Edison showing three arms.

As this is the only known photograph in existence of Edison’s extra arm, we are unsure whether he had only three arms. Some theorize that it is possible that he actually had four arms due to the human body’s propensity for symmetry, but there is no evidence to support it.

Etymology: Originally, the word “light” in the phrase didn’t mean the adjectival sense of easy or requiring little effort, but light as in the noun for a source of illumination, e.g. the light bulb; and “work” didn’t mean labor, but work as in operate or function correctly, i.e. Thomas Edison’s “many hands” made the “light” bulb “work.” Eventually, due to the limited knowledge of Edison’s extra arm(s), the phrase shifted to the meaning we know today.

Like a bull in a china shop.

Meaning: To be clumsy and careless. Out of place.

Origin: In early 1700s France, there was a fine china manufacturer. The original manufacturing facility was just a building on a farm. When the owner’s wife opened a shop in the farmhouse to sell their wares, she put the farm’s bull, Haviland, in charge of sales. Haviland was a very skilled sales-bull and people came from miles around to buy the china. Eventually, due to the popularity of Haviland, the china was shipped all over the world and was considered some of the best fine porcelain that the country had to offer.

Etymology: Contrary to popular belief, Haviland was not clumsy and never once in his more than ten years of service did he ever break anything. This phrase originally meant “delightfully out of place,” but it lost this meaning over time since people assumed that you couldn’t possibly have a bull running china shop without it breaking something.

It’s raining cats and dogs.

Meaning: Pouring rain. A severe storm.

Origin: Contrary to popular lunacy, it has never actually rained cats and dogs. This is complete hogwash. It has, however, rained birds and fish. In Wales in 1654, people from a twenty mile area had irrefutable proof that it had rained birds and ocean fish. For decades, this baffled scientists until Dr. Charles Meteor theorized that what had caused fish and fowl to fall from the sky was not mother nature, but was actually something called the tornado effect.

What a funnel cloud near Wales carrying fish and fowl towards land might look like.

As an intense storm, which he called a funnel cloud, travels through the sky, it has the effect of sucking in anything nearby and indiscriminately ejecting it back out again. Dr. Meteor had invented the tornado, which completely explained the presence of fish and fowl in the skies over Wales. The study of meteorology was born.

Etymology: Nobody quite knows how the saying turned from birds and fish into cats and dogs, but the effect is nearly the same.

This post is part of The Well-Known Facts Series.

Well-Known Facts: American History

NY Central Railroad Station 1914.

The Inventions of Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison of Milan, OH invented time and the electric washboard. Before Edison, all things occurred simultaneously. Dinosaurs roamed the earth at the same time astronauts walked on the moon. Only after the invention of time did things stop happening concurrently. You owe your weekend to Edison. The first few versions of time were, understandably, a little off.  Below are some of Edison’s failed time experiments.

Clockwise: the square clock, the gallon clock, the knot clock, the speed clock, the pressure clock and the compass clock.

Eventually, after failing to measure time in gallons, millimeters, air pressure and Pi, he realized that a new unit of measurement was called for. He struck on the unit we know as minutes and created a clock that measured them in a continuous circle. Once he had determined the number of minutes in a day, hours came naturally enough and an additional, smaller hour hand was added to the minute clock. The unit of measurement known as seconds, which make up a minute, wasn’t invented until two decades later.

Even though Edison considered them all failures, in the process of inventing time, he inadvertently created the calendar, fuel gauge, nautical miles (Knots), miles per gallon (MPG), miles per hour (MPH), the altimeter, the speedometer, the odometer, pressure per square inch (PSI) and the compass.

The Phonoquarter

The original phonograph played quarters instead of records. You could listen to them or spend them on things. It wasn’t until the portable phonograph was invented that records became bigger.

1831 Quarter Phonograph with “Bicycle Built For Two”

They were eventually all pulled from circulation since the records kept skipping. Finding a playable quarter these days is nearly impossible. The only playable one still in existence is at the Smithsonian Institution.


The first process patent issued by the United States Patent Office in 1842 was for toast. Mr. Frederick Brockton of West Higgsville, TN invented the process of toastmaking and patented it. People had to pay him every time they had a slice. Sadly, Mr. Brockton didn’t think to patent the toaster as well. That was patented by Mr. Ralph Higgins of Emery, OH. After a protracted legal battle, Higgins bought out Brockton’s toast patent so that his toaster could make toast. Brockton spent the $1,000 he earned from selling the toast patent on trying to produce electricity through the process of growing broccoli. Even though Brockton held no less than 1,342 patents at the time of his death, none of his other process inventions worked and he died penniless.


The first locomotive was built by Mr. Terence Tucker of Springton, IL. His train could run on any paved or smooth surface without the need for expensive and limiting tracks. At one point, there were more railroad cars running through New York City than there were horses and buggies. Due to their size, this often made commuting awkward.

People complained about the damage to the streets, the constant collisions at intersections, and the number of pedestrians and horses who were crushed under mighty train wheels. The inundation of city trains led to two inventions.

First, the traffic signal was invented. It was originally just a platform built roughly eight feet off the ground with a switch that was flipped at the will of the traffic warden, which of course, led to bribes and corruption charges. At one point, the intersection of Broadway at Fifth Avenue stayed green for three days before a formal complaint was filed and the traffic warden was admonished.

The second invention was Henry Ford’s automobile. Ford saw his invention as a much more practical way to get around town than the bulky locomotive or the smelly horse. The automobile was a mere fraction of the size of the locomotive and seated only four people as opposed to hundreds. Due to the popularity of the automobile, the locomotive was eventually forced out of the city. The federal government enacted laws that all locomotives had to run on railroad tracks. Trains still run on tracks today.

Tucker tried to create his own automobile to compete with Ford, and for a while, he was successful, but he could never make his cars small enough. Unlike his train engines, where massive power was entirely warranted, his cars were overweight, over-sized and overpowered. Most people didn’t need a 1600 horsepower car. Tucker automobiles did find a niche market in people who liked driving unnecessarily gigantic vehicles around. Tuckers are the precursor to the Hummer.

The Country of New Orleans

The city of New Orleans was its own country called New Orleans (sometimes known as New Orleans Land) for nearly a hundred years. After the Franco-Orleans war In 1711–a minor skirmish between the United States and the French-backed Orleanders–France relinquished control of the region, but the United States didn’t take over. For nearly a century, the city of New Orleans was not owned nor governed by either country and was, in essence, a free and independent country until it eventually became a part of The United States during the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The French said they didn’t want our stupid Louisiana anyway, but they really sold it to pay their gambling debts.

Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam, the iconic man telling us all that he wants us for the US Army, was based on a real person, Mr. Samuel Montgomery of Owenstown, VA. However, the familiar version of the poster was far from the first version of produced. The recruitment department of the Army came up with many different versions before they finally found the right Uncle Sam. Here are some of the failures:

Boy Scout Sam.
Mr. Potato Sam.
Slug Sam.
Every Man Sam.
Dog Sam.

As you can see, they tried everything. They had horses, kittens, rainbows and little fuzzy bunnies all pointing in various directions and none of them worked at all. It wasn’t until an intern happened to offhandedly comment how Uncle Sam’s hat would look great on that army dog, that they found the right man for the job. The intern told them them of a man in his hometown called Uncle Sam who had once been in the military and was currently employed at being crazy. Sam would dress up in a blue suit, a red bow tie and a top hat with stars on it (and sometimes a cape), and walk around town pointing at people and telling them they needed to do their patriotic duty. The rest is history:

Uncle Sam calling. This means YOU.

This post is part of The Well-Known Facts Series.