Did You Know?

Did You Know?

    I love learning new things, from the latest scientific discovery to the curiosities that make me say, “Hmm.” For example, in 1865, when Teddy Roosevelt was six years old, he watched the funeral procession of Abraham Lincoln in New York City. I find these things fascinating, like the fact that Harvard University is 155 years older than America, having been founded in 1636. That one amazed me. As a side note, Harvard had only 27 presidents in 371 years, until 2007. In that year Drew Gilpin Faust became the first woman to hold that esteemed position.
    Let’s take another look at the sun and moon. You’ve all seen a full moon, and seen the sun behind some clouds. They look about the same size in the sky. During a total lunar eclipse, the disk of the moon completely covers the disk of the sun for a few moments. Because the moon’s orbit isn’t exactly circular, at times the disk doesn’t completely cover the sun, and you can see the brightness in a circle around it: an anular eclipse. But mostly they’re the same size in the sky. That’s because while the sun’s diameter is 400 times that of the moon, it’s also 400 times farther away. Coincidence or divine plan? Neither, actually. When it was formed from the collision of a Mars-sized body and Earth, it was much closer and rotated. At present it’s gravitationally locked, so that we always see the same face, but we are losing the moon at the rate of several inches per year, so we should enjoy it while we can.
    Did you know that America has a goddess? Her name is Columbia, a feminization of Columbus. Washington, D.C. is in the District of Columbia, the district of the goddess. Since 1863 a statue of her has adorned the top of our nation’s capitol building. There was even a law that no building in the city could be higher that her head. Congress had to grant a waiver in 1885 in order to erect the phallic Washington Monument. Her origins are steeped in myth and lore, but this was the historical and poetic name for the young United States. She appeared on our coins, from the St. Gaudens gold dollar, to the Liberty quarter, to the walking Liberty 50 cent piece until the 1960s. She’s the goddess of liberty and freedom, and her historical antecedents can be found in the English Brittania and the French Marianne, which themselves derive from the Roman goddess Libertas.  After 1920 she was replaced as goddess by the Statue of Liberty, which again reflects the archetype.
    You may not be familiar with the name Marni Nixon, who left us in July of 2016, at the age of 86. She was an excellent singer, with a beautiful and bright tone, and she was a dubbing artist. Do you remember the musical “My Fair Lady?” That wasn’t Audrey Hepburn’s voice, it was Marni Nixon’s. It wasn’t Deborah Kerr singing to Yul Brynner in “The King and I,” it was Marni. And in my favorite musical, “West Side Story,” she dubbed the voice of Natalie Wood and some of Rita Moreno’s songs, as well. Dubbing artists never got royalties, that’s just the way it was then. Marni was the first, and then only because the composer, Leonard Bernstein, ceded some of his own royalties to her.
    I just heard of it recently, though it happened in January, 2016. Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, made the game of chess forbidden in Islam. He said it “encourages gambling and is a waste of time” (what, as opposed to religion?). He went on to say it is “a cause of hatred and enmity” (what, as opposed to religion?). The fundamentalists of Islam are no different than those of other religions; the idea of anyone having fun just makes them crazy.
    We all remember the missile strike on a Syrian airfield ordered by our Great Leader in response to a chemical weapons attack. Did you know those Tomahawk cruise missiles are manufactured by the defense contractor Raytheon? And did you know that the Blow Dried Blowhard has stock in Raytheon? That wouldn’t represent any conflict of interest or anything, would it, since Raytheon’s stock went up sharply following the strike? Naturally, the first entirely for-profit presidency benefits daughter Ivanka as well. A Washington Post article in April said that Chinese workers who make her clothing line work about 60 hours per week for about $60 a week. That’s a dollar an hour. And we already knew her father’s clothing line is made in a dozen foreign countries. So much for “America First!”
    Have you ever had problems with your shoelaces becoming untied? I have a pair which, no matter how tightly I reef them down, keep coming untied. At last, now we know the science behind this mystery. Mechanical engineers at UC Berkeley studied the problem, and just published a paper on the subject in Nature. They found that when walking, the combination of the impact of the foot and the acceleration on the shoelace loops equals about 7g’s, roughly the same as an Apollo spacecraft upon reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Both elements –– foot impact and the whipping motion of the shoelaces — are necessary to the process. So I guess loafers or slip-ons are the way to go.
    I like spiders, and think they’re really cool. Now comes a new joint study at the University of Basel, Switzerland, and Lund University in Sweden, that tells us spiders eat between 400 and 800 million tons of food every year. That’s more than the 287 million tons that are the total weight of the 7 billion humans on the planet. It’s okay, though, as long as we don’t kill all the insects they eat. Then they might get hungry for bigger game.
    Dr. Samuel West’s dream is about to come true. The Museum of Failure is due to open this June in Helsingborg, Sweden. It celebrates the idea that bad ideas are essential to future product innovation. There you will find New Coke (one of the worst ideas ever), Crystal Pepsi, “Trump: the Game,” Sony Betamax, Colgate (yes, the toothpaste company) pizza, Bic for Her, and a Harley-Davidson perfume. Google Glass is there too. West said he first conceived the idea during a visit to the Museum of Broken Relationships, in Croatia. I’m going to predict another future entry, Nordstrom’s Barracuda Straight Leg Jeans, which come pre-caked with dirt and grime, only $425. I assume it’s for folks who want to look like they actually work for a living, without leaving to leave their BMWs.
    A PPP (Public Policy Polling) poll in August, 2016 found that 31% of Trump supporters were in favor of building a wall along the Atlantic coast, to keep Muslims from coming in from the Middle East. That’s why there was a March for Science on Earth Day, April 22nd.
    Have you heard of the Wind Phone? It’s in Otsuchi, Japan. and looks like an English phone booth (think Dr. Who), but is white with glass panes, and a shallow dome on top. It was installed in 2010 by Itaru Sasaki, a 70-year-old gardener, after the death of a close cousin. It is a rotary dial phone, and unconnected. In a documentary by NHK, the Japanese media company, Sasaki said he did it “because my thoughts couldn’t be relayed over a regular phone line. I wanted them to be carried on the wind.” The phone booth sits on a grassy hill overlooking the sea. A year after he put it there, the earthquake and tsunami hit Fukushima. Otsuchi, a village of about 1200, is only 135 miles to the North, and lost over a thousand people to the tsunami. The idea of keeping in touch with dead relatives is not that strange in Japan. Word began to spread, and by 2014 over 10,000 people had visited the shrine, to have their voices carried on the wind.
    That’s a good place to leave off. And you learned a few things that maybe you didn’t know.M/p>

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