The First Book of Factoids First Published on the Links and Factoids Study List

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The First Book of Factoids

First Published on the

Links and Factoids Study List
Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

Editing and Design:

Lidija Rangelovska

Lidija Rangelovska

A Narcissus Publications Imprint, Skopje 2005
Not for Sale! Non-commercial edition.

© 2002, 2005 Copyright Lidija Rangelovska.

All rights reserved. This book, or any part thereof, may not be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission from:

Lidija Rangelovska – write to:
Visit the Author Archive of Dr. Sam Vaknin in "Central Europe Review":
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Philosophical Musings and Essays
Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited
ISBN: 9989-929-40-8



  1. A

  2. B

  3. C

  4. D

  5. E

  6. F

  7. G

  8. H

  9. I-J

  10. K

  11. L

  12. M

  13. N

  14. O

  15. P-Q

  16. R

  17. S

  18. T

  19. U-V-W

  20. X-Y-Z

  21. The Author

  22. About "After the Rain"


Abdication Crisis

The love affair of Edward, Prince of Wales (Edward VIII) and Wallis Simpson in 1936 is the stuff of romantic dramas. Alas, reality was a lot less inspiring. Even as she was being wooed by her regal paramour  - and while still being married to Ernest Aldrich Simpson, who knew of the Prince's attentions and even discussed the adulterous relationship with him - Wallis had an affair with Guy Marcus Trundle, a car salesman.

So reveal documents released in January 2003 by the Public Record Office in the United Kingdom. Trundle is described as a "very charming adventurer, very good looking, well bred and an excellent dancer". He lived at 18 Bruton Street in Mayfair, London (a prestigious address). 


Simpson's first husband was Earl Winfield Spencer. The King met her on January 10, 1931 but was not impressed. Even in the months after May 1934, when he met her for the second time, dined with her and her husband in their London flat and invited them to his country retreat - she did not captivate him. He did take her on a cruise, two years later, unaccompanied by her husband. He tried to introduce her in court, but George V was outraged. Upon his death, the Prince of Wales became King on January 20, 1936. Ernest Simpson - who was having a long-term affair of his own - moved out of the Simpson household in July 1936.


Nor was Wallis the Prince's first American liaison. He contemplated marrying one, Thelma Furness, but then dumped her for Simpson. The British media - though perfectly aware of all the goings-on, reported noting almost until the King's abdication. The European and American press, in contrast, provided extensive coverage of the developing romance.


At first, the King did not wish to marry Simpson, merely to make her his consort by changing the law to allow for a morganatic marriage (of people from different classes, with no rights of inheritance). Simpson herself thought of giving up the marriage. Yet, finally, they got married after the abdication, in France. Though Simpson became the Duchess of Windsor, she could not be addressed as "Her Royal Highness".

Additionally, the King was not allowed by the British government to address the British people and the Empire through the BBC.

The government's constitutional experts wrote:

"If the King disregarded it, constitutional monarchy would cease to exist. The King is bound to accept and act upon the advice of his ministers ... for the King to broadcast in disregard of that advice would be appealing over the heads of his constitutional advisers. "The last time when this happened in English history was when Charles I raised His Standard at the beginning of the Civil War on 22 August 1642."

Edward abdicated from the throne on 11 December 1936, making a different speech.

After having abdicated the throne, in exile, not allowed to return on pain of losing their allowance, the couple visited Adolf Hitler in 1937. Simpson was thrilled to be "entertained by Herr Hitler" but there is no proof of further contacts with the Nazi regime with the exception of a telegram from Edward to Hitler, urging peace. Edward was later appointed Governor of the Bahamas. Recently released FBI files identify Simpson as a Nazi sympathizer, though. The FBI suspected her of having an affair with a leading Nazi and spied on her.


Abraham, the son of Terah, Noah's descendent, and brother of Nahor and Haran, first appears in the Bible in Genesis 11:27. He may have been born in Ur, in today's Iraq, near Nasiryah, around 4000 years ago. His brother, Nahor, definitely was born in Ur and, having fathered Lot, also died in Ur Kasdim (Ur of the Chaldeans). Ur was the capital of S(h)umer but the Kasdim - Khaldeans - did not make it to Ur until 1300 years after the birth of Abraham. Why do the Bible call it Ur Kasdim?

Abraham's family are described as pastoral nomads. Wandering shepherds rarely pitch their tents, proverbial or not, next to metropolises. Terah left Ur only to settle near yet another city, Harran, on the current border between Turkey and Syria. He spent the next 60 years of his life there. Harran is 1200 kilometers off the beaten path to Canaan (today's Israel and Palestine). Why such a diversion?

Scholars suggest that Ur is actually Urfa in Turkey - about 30 kilometers away from Harran. It boasts a cave where Abraham is said to have been born.

SOURCE: Bruce Feiler, Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths and Walking the Bible: A Journey By Land Through the Five Books of Moses.


There are 11,000 species of ants. The oldest ant fossil is more than 90 million years old. Ants are closely related to bees and wasps. They are so numerous that in some habitats - the Amazon forest, for instance - their combined weight is four times the combined weight of all other animals in the area. Ants have brains. The main nerve - similar to our spine - runs along the bottom of the ant's body. Ants smell, taste and touch with their antennas. Their cylinder-like heart pumps colorless blood throughout their body.


Ants digest only liquid food or food rendered liquid with their digestive juices. Ants share digested food with each other. They can carry 15-20 times their body weight.


Only the colony's queen breeds. Unfertilized eggs develop into males. The queen also lives much longer - up to 10 years, compared to worker ants which survive on average 50-150 days and up to 2 years in the tropics.


Some ant varieties create no nests. Instead, worker ants link their legs to form a living fabric on which the queen resides and performs her functions.

The appendix is located at the beginning of the large intestine. Many types of animals have it, including rabbits and rodents. It contains gut associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) involved in recognizing foreign antigens in ingested food. The appendix is also helpful in the maturation of certain white blood cells (B lymphocytes) and antibodies (Immunoglobulin, or IgA). Molecules manufactured in the appendix serve as "traffic guides" and direct lymphocytes to other parts of the body. The appendix is not, therefore, useless, as most people think. It is part of the immune system. The GALT disappears after age 60, though.


The appendix has additional functions. Endocrine cells appear in the appendix of the human fetus and produce biogenic amines and peptide hormones, both instrumental in maintaining bodily homeostasis.


Finally, the appendix is used to replace the "sphincter muscle" in urinary a bladder surgically reconstructed from intestinal tissue (after removal of the original bladder). It also replaces removed ureters, leading urine from the kidney to the bladder.
Armenian Genocide

The Armenian massacres in Turkey started in the 19th century and continued well after the Armenian genocide of 1915 in which some 600,000 Armenians perished. The Armenians were also raided by Kurdish tribesmen on a regular basis. An Ottoman military tribunal, convened between 1919-21, even convicted for the crimes members of the administration of the Young Turks, including cabinet ministers.

Many of the perpetrators fled the country only to return, triumphant, after the establishment of modern Turkey in 1923. The Turkish government today denies that an organized, premeditated genocide ever took place and pegs the number of Armenian fatalities at 200-300,000 at the most.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the Armenians formed guerrilla movements in eastern Van (the Armenakans, in 1885) and in Russia. Radical nationalist parties were established by Russian-Armenian emigrants in 1887 (Hunchak or Henchak, "The Bell") and in 1890 in Georgia (Dashnak or Dashnaktsutyun, "Union"). Mass demonstrations in the Turkish capital (in 1890 and 1895) and armed uprisings followed (in 1894-5). The Dashnaks even invaded Turkey from Russia in 1896 - a demonstrative act which resulted in the slaughter of 50,000 Armenians.

The suppression of these revolts claimed 200,000 Armenian lives. In 1909, in Adana, more than 23,000 Armenians were massacred as the warships of the Great Powers stood idly by. In 1912-3 the Great Powers, led by Russia, pressured Turkey to cease its mistreatment of the Armenians. This intervention was resented by the Ottoman authorities. By 1915, Armenian calls for autonomy were deemed a danger to the disintegrating realm, now at war with Russia.

When the first world war broke, Turkey allied itself with the Germans. All Armenian men aged 20-45 were conscripted to the army as soldiers, soon to be disarmed and serve as pack animals or in menial jobs. When Russian Armenians recruited Turkish Armenians for the anti-Turkish Russian Army of the Caucasus, in April 1915, the elite of the Armenian community was arrested and executed. Between May and June 1915 the Armenian population was deported to Mesopotamia. The deportation followed mass executions.

Many more died from starvation, exposure, dehydration, abuse and outright torture. The survivors - less than 300,000 - were subjected to additional slaughter in Syria. People were beaten with blunt instruments, burnt alive or drowned forcibly. The massacres were carried out by military officers with dictatorial powers, aided by criminals especially released from jails and assigned to their gruesome duties.

Armed resistance in Van province, Mussa Dagh, Shabin Karahisar and Urfa - as well as setbacks in the war - prevented the Turks for deporting the urban Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire's major cities. Today there are less than 60,000 Armenians in Turkey compared to at least 1.8 million in 1910.

Art, Modern
We are all acquainted with the tales - many apocryphal, some real - of how art critiques, curators, collectors and buyers were fooled into purchasing "works of art" created by monkeys. The animals "painted" by dipping their paws in pigments and running to and fro over empty canvasses.


There are numerous such striking examples of the fluidity of what constitutes art and the dubious expertise of art "professionals".


There is no other masterpiece so studied, analyzed and scrutinized as Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Yet, when it was stolen from the Louvre in Paris in 1912, forgers passed 6 replicas as the original, selling them for a fortune. The painting was rediscovered in 1915.


Henri Matisse is revered as the father of Fauvism and of modern painting in general. Yet, one of his more famous tableaux, Le Bateau (The Boat), hung upside down for 2 months in 1961 in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Not one of the art critics, journalists, 116,000 visitors, or curators has noticed it.

Perhaps the most famous case of artistic misjudgment involves Vincent van Gogh whose work has hitherto fetched the highest prices ever paid in auctions. Despite his connections with leading painters, gallery owners, art professors and critics - his brother owned a successful art dealership in Paris - van Gogh sold only one piece while alive: "Red Vineyard at Arles." His brother bought it from him. By the time he died he had painted 750 canvasses and 1600 drawings.
Atlantis (or Atlantica) was described in antiquity as a large island in the sea to the west of the known world (the Western Ocean), near the Pillars of Hercules (the Gibraltar Straits?). It was not, therefore, a part of the known geography of the period. An earthquake was said to have submerged it in the ocean.


It is first mentioned in the dialogs Timaeus and Critias written by the Greek philosopher Plato (428-347 BC). An Egyptian priest was supposed to have described it to the Greek statesman Solon (638-559 BC).

The priest insisted that Atlantis was enormous - bigger than Asia Minor (today, a part of Turkey) and Libya combined. It harbored a technologically advanced civilization, recounted the priest, in the 10th millennium BC (c. 12,000 years ago).


Curiously, he also said that the Atlantians conquered all the lands of antiquity, bar Athens (which only came into existence in the Neolithic period, about 3000 years later).


Arab geographers propagated the story of Atlantis and medieval European authors referred to it as fact.

Current oceanographers, scholars and conspiracy theorists place Atlantis all over the map - from an island in the Aegean Sea (Thera, or Santorini it suffered an earthquake in 1640 BC and housed the flourishing Cycladic civilization), through the Canary Islands to Scandinavia. Considering that many ancient civilizations - such as Troy, long considered a mere fable - were unearthed by archeologists, it is not futile to continue to look for Atlantis.

Automatic Switchboard (Phone Exchange)

Almon B. Strowger, an undertaker in Kansas City, faced unfair competition. The wife of a competing undertaker was an operator at the local (manual) telephone exchange. She re-routed calls to her husband, even when the caller asked for Strowger.

In an effort to get rid of her, Strowger invented the first automatic, electromechanical switchboard and, together with his cousin, produced the first model in 1888. He was granted a patent in 1891.

Strowger joined forces with Joseph B. Harris and Moses A. Meyer to form “Strowger Automatic Telephone Exchange” in October 1891. A year later, the first Strowger exchange was installed with great fanfare at La Porte, Indiana. It had less than 80 subscribers.

Strowger died in 1902 but his company still survives as AG Communications Systems.



Barbie was invented by Ruth Handler in 1959. It was modelled on a minuscule German sex doll called "Lilli". Barbie was the nickname of Ruth's daughter, Barbara. Ruth proceeded to found Mattel with her husband, Elliott. It is now one of the world's largest toy manufacturers (revenues - c. $5 billion annually, a third of which in Barbie sales). More than 1 billion Barbies were sold by 1996. Mattel commemorated this event by manufacturing a "Dream Barbie".
Bathory, Erszebet
If you think that today's serial killers are unsurpassed, try this for size:


In 1611, Countess Erszebet Bathory was tried - though, being a noblewoman, not convicted - in Hungary for slaughtering 612 young girls. The true figure may have been 40-100, though the Countess recorded in her diary more than 610 girls and 50 bodies were found in her estate when it was raided.


The girls were not killed outright. They were kept in a dungeon and repeatedly pierced, prodded, pricked, and cut. The Countess may have bitten chunks of flesh off their bodies while alive. She is said to have bathed and showered in their blood in the mistaken belief that she could thus slow down the aging process.


Her servants were executed, their bodies burnt and their ashes scattered. Being royalty, she was merely confined to her bedroom until she died in 1614.


She was married to a descendant of Vlad Dracula of Bram Stoker fame.


She was notorious as an inhuman sadist long before her hygienic fixation. She once ordered the mouth of a talkative servant sewn. It is rumoured that in her childhood she witnessed a gypsy being sewn into a horse's stomach and left to die.


For a hundred years after her death, by royal decree, mentioning her name in Hungary was a crime.

When President John F. Kennedy sought to impress the Germans in 1961 - then besieged by the Russians - he visited Germany and famously said, in a public speech: "Ich bin ein Berliner". Alas, "Berliner" in German is also a kind of yummy doughnut with jam filling and vanilla icing. This gave rise to the fallacy - adopted even by "The Economist" - that "Berliner" is wrong usage or gaffe.

It is not. "Berliner" in German means "that which belongs to Berlin or of Berlin". The Berlin Wall is the "Berliner Mauer", for instance. Berlinerin is the female form of Berliner. Kennedy was grammatically correct to have said "Ich bin ein Berliner".


The Jews do not include the 27 books of New Testament in their Bible. The factoids below relate to the version of the Bible used by Christians everywhere: Old (39 books) and New Testament. Altogether 1189 chapters (929 of which are in the Old Testament), 31173 verses. The Old Testament contains 592439 words (2728100 letters), the New Testament contains 181253 words (838380 letters). Of the 27 books of the New Testament, 14 were written by St. Paul.


The Bible contains words in Hebrew, Aramaic and Koine Greek.


The Bible is the bestseller of all times. More than 50 copies are still being sold every minute. The Bible is also the most shoplifted book in the world.


According to the Concordance - a compilation of the words and names in the Bible - cats are not mentioned at all. Christians appear only 3 times (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). The words "grandmother" and "eternity" only once each. The Bible records seven suicides and seven different Jeremiahs - but not a single "trinity".


The books of Esther and the Song of Solomon do not contain the word "God". The Jewish codifiers of the Bible almost left them out (i.e., almost declared them apocryphal).


Amen is the word that seals the Bible.


The bobtail squid lives in the shallow waters of the coast of Hawaii. During the day, it is buried deep in the sand. It emerges to hunt at nightfall. Moonlight is its mortal enemy: conveniently for its predators, the squid casts a black and moving shadow. To fend off these risks, the squid emits a blue glow from a "light organ". The luminosity perfectly matches the amount of moonlight filtering through the water, rendering the squid indistinguishable from its light-flooded environs.

To generate the fine tuned radiance, the squid hosts a community of luminescent bacteria called Vibrio fischeri. From the first moments of its life, the squid circulates bacteria-infested seawater through a hollow chamber in its body. Only the Vibrio fischeri cells are caught by the squid's tiny cilia. Henceforth, the squid provides his microscopic "prisoners" with oxygen and amino acids - and they reciprocate with emitted light.

The squid constantly monitors to what extent the night sky is illuminated, using dedicated sensors on the surface of its body. It then adjusts an iris-like "shutter" to release the correct amount of light from his bacterial colony. The squid replaces the hosted vibrios daily.

Still, bacteria multiply ceaselessly. How is a constant level of luminescence maintained as time passes?

Woody Hastings, a microbiologist at the University of Illinois, noticed in the early 1960s that though the bacterial population doubles every 20 minutes - the quantity of luciferase (the light producing enzyme) remains constant for up to five hours. luciferase production resumes only when a certain "critical mass" (quantitative threshold) is attained. This is called "quorum sensing".

Black Death

AIDS has infected hitherto 42 million people, of which perhaps 22 million have died.


The "Black Death" - an epidemic of bubonic plague which ravaged both Europe and the Mediterranean in 1347-1351- killed one quarter to one third of the population - c. 25 million people. This is the equivalent of 250 million today. It took 150 years for the population to recover its pre-epidemic levels.


Scholars believe that the plague emanated from the Middle East through southern Russia, between the Black and the Caspian seas.


Contemporaries did not use the term "Black Death". They called it the "Pestilence" or the "Great Mortality". They regarded it as divine punishment of humanity's sins.

Black Holes
Black holes are extremely dense bodies. Their density and gravitation are so enormous that it was thought nothing - not even electromagnetic radiation such as light - can escape them once caught by their gravitational pull. Hence the "black" in "black holes". This is what laymen and the media know about them.


Yet, the truth is different.


The English physicist Stephen William Hawking proved that in the vicinity of tiny black holes, it is possible for one member of an electron-positron or proton-antiproton pair of particles to escape while the other is hurled towards the singularity (i.e., the center of the black hole). The escaping particle draws energy from the black hole itself and thus "evaporates" it. It is as if the black hole gives off heat, thermal radiation.
Bolivar, Simon
Simon Bolivar (1783-1830) is a Latin American folk hero, revered for having been a revolutionary freedom fighter, a compassionate egalitarian and a successful politician. He is credited with the liberation from Spanish colonial yoke of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, a country named after him. Venezuela's new strongman, Hugo Chavez, renamed his country The Bolivarian republic of Venezuela to reflect the role of his "Bolivarian revolution".


Yet, while alive, Bolivar was a much hated dictator and - at the beginning of his career - a military failure.


His aide and friend, Gen. Daniel O'Leary, an Irish soldier described him so:


"His chest was narrow, his figure slender, his legs particularly thin. His skin was swarthy and rather coarse. His hands and feet were small …a woman might have envied them. His expression, when he was in good humor, was pleasant, but it became terrible when he was aroused. The change was unbelievable."


Bolivar explained his motives:


"I confess this (the coronation of Napoleon in 1804) made me think of my unhappy country and the glory which he would win who should liberate it"


And, later, after a victory against the Spaniards in 1819:


"The triumphal arches, the flowers, the hymns, the acclamations, the wreaths offered and placed upon my head by the hands of lovely maidens, the fiestas, the thousand demonstrations of joy are the least of the gifts that I have received," he wrote. "The greatest and dearest to my heart are the tears, mingled with the rapture of happiness, in which I have been bathed and the embraces with which the multitude have all but crushed me."
Venezuela became independent in 1811 and Bolivar, being a minor - though self-aggrandizing - political figure, had little to do with it. After his first major military defeat, in defending the coastal town of Puerto Cabello against royalist insurgents out to oust the newly independent Venezuela, he advocated the creation of a professional army (in the Cartagena Manifesto). Far from being a revolutionary he, justly, opposed the reliance on guerrilleros and militiamen.


He then reconquered Caracas, Venezuela's capital, at the head of a small army and declared himself a dictator. He made Congress award him the title of El Libertador (the Liberator). The seeds of his personality cult were sown. When he lost Caracas to the royalists in yet another botched campaign, he retreated and captured Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia in December 1814.


After a series of uninterrupted military defeats, Bolivar exiled himself to Jamaica. In a sudden conversion, he published the Jamaica Letter (1815) in which he supported a model of government akin to the British parliamentary system - yet, only following a phase of "guided leadership" (identical to Hitler's "Fuhrerprinzip").


But the self-anointed leader did not hesitate to desert his soldiers and leave them stranded after yet another of his military exploits - an attempt to capture Caracas - unravelled in 1816. He simply defected to Haiti, letting his loyal troops fend for themselves as best they could.


There followed a string of successful - even brilliant - battles and coalitions with local warlords and politicians which culminated in the liberation of Peru. In 1824, Bolivar was declared dictator - or, to be precise, "Emperor" - of Peru and commander in chief of its army. Bolivar liked power and its trappings. In the constitution he composed in 1826, he suggested that the president of Bolivia - the name given to the entire region, except Peru - should be appointed for life and should have the right to choose his successor.


This president - presumably, Bolivar - was described unabashedly by Bolivar himself as:


"The sun which, fixed in its orbit, imparts life to the universe. …Upon him rests our entire order, notwithstanding his lack of powers …a life term president, with the power to choose his successor, is the most sublime inspiration amongst republican regimes."


In a letter to Santander, the Liberator expounded:


"I am convinced, to the very marrow of my bones, that our America can only be ruled through a well-managed, shrewd despotism."


The National Geographic describes how:


"William Tudor, the American consul at Lima, wrote in 1826 of the 'deep hypocrisy' of Bolívar, who allowed himself to be deceived by the 'crawling, despicable flattery of those about him.' Later, John Quincy Adams would define Bolívar's military career as 'despotic and sanguinary' and state baldly that 'he cannot disguise his hankering after a crown.' In Bogotá the U. S. minister and future president, Gen. William Henry Harrison, accused Bolívar of planning to turn Gran Colombia into a monarchy: 'Under the mask of patriotism and attachment to liberty, he has really been preparing the means of investing himself with arbitrary power.' "


When, in 1828, a constitutional convention in Colombia rejected amendments to the constitution that he proposed, Bolivar assumed dictatorial powers in a coup d'etat.

Now, Bolivar was the oppressor. He has murdered, or exiled his political rivals throughout his career. He confiscated church funds and imposed onerous taxes on the populace. Consequently, the "Liberator" faced numerous uprisings and narrowly escaped an assassination attempt. By the time he died he was so despised that the government of Venezuela refused to allow his body onto its soil. It took 12 years of constant petitioning by the family to let his remains be interred in the country that he helped found.

Mary Phelps Jacob - a rich socialite - received the first patent for a bra in 1914. Her corset - replete with whaleback bones was visible under a brand new evening gown she purchased. She used handkerchiefs and ribbon to replace the bones. The bra was born. she sold the patent to  Warner Brothers Corset Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for $1,500. They made $15 million over the next 30 years. Bras were one size fits all until 1928.

An interesting coincidence: one of the forerunners of the bra was patented by a George Phelps in 1875. Other bra-like devices were patented in 1893 and 1889.

During the first world war, in 1917, the US War Industries Board called on women to stop buying metal-rich corsets. Some 28,000 tons of metals were thus made available to the war effort.

Burma (Aung San)

Aung San Suu Kyi is a much revered opposition leader in Myanmar (Burma) (born 1945). She has bravely resisted - and still does - the murderous military regime in her homeland and has won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

Her mother was ambassador to India in the 1960s. She is cherished by all her countrymen.


Moreover, Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of an illustrious figure in Burmese history, a national hero - Aung San, who was murdered in 1947.


Aung San may be a hero to the Burmese but he has collaborated with the Japanese war-crime tainted military machine throughout the second world war - though he conveniently switch allegiances to the winning side five months before the Japanese capitulated.


Aung San raised a Burmese contingent - the "Burma Independence Army" - to assist the Japanese in their invasion of Burma in 1942. He was rewarded with the post of minister of defense in Ba Maw's puppet government (1943-5).

In March 1945, in what amounted to a coup, he opportunistically defected, together with the Burma National Army, to the Allies, and worked closely with the British, whom he hitherto claimed to have been fighting for independence.


When the war was over, he established a private militia, under his commend - the People's Volunteer Organization. He proceeded to negotiate Burma's independence from Britain and its first elections. He was murdered - with his brother and four others - probably by a political opponent, U Saw, in 1947.


Caesarean Section

Legend has it that Julius Caesar was cut out of his mother's womb through the abdomen. In Latin, "caedere" means "to cut".


Caesarean section was mandated in case of the mother's death in the "Roman Law" wrongly attributed to Numa Pompilius, the second of Rome's seven kings (said to have ruled 715-673 BC). Stories during the Renaissance describe "do it yourself" sections by anxious husbands. But the procedure was unknown to midwives and lithotomists (specialist removers of bladder stones). Scipione Mercurio (1540-1615) described the operation in his first text, published in 1596. Four strong assistants had to hold down the writhing mother while the incision was done. Another documented case - a failure - dates back to 1610.


Survival rates were, probably, abysmal. The next mention of the dreaded surgery was in 1793 in Manchester, England. Jane Foster's pelvis was crushed in an accident and then she survived a Caesarean section by one, Dr. James Barlow. The baby was less fortunate.


In the meantime, the French obstetrician Baudeloque published a book describing dozens of cases of successful caesarean section in the previous 50 years. The book was translated to English. 

An Edom, Virginia doctor, Jessee Bennet, recorded in the margin of his copy that he performed a section on his wife thus:
"14 Jany 1794 JB on EB up 9 Feby walked 15 Feby Cured on 1 March." The mother was sedated with laudanum and placed on two planks set across two barrels. While at it, the good doctor removed his wife's ovaries to prevent a recurrence of the ordeal. She lived another 25 years and the baby died at the ripe old age of 77.

Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7. Their "old new year" is a week later, on January 14. It is all Julius Caesar's fault ...


The Romans sometimes neglected to introduce an extra month every two years to amortize the difference between their lunar calendar and the natural solar year. Julius Caesar decreed that the year 46 BC should have 445 days (some historians implausibly say: 443 days) in order to bridge the yawning discrepancy that accumulated over the preceding seven centuries. It was aptly titled the "Year of Confusion".


To "reset" the calendar, Julius Caesar affixed the New Year on January 1 (the day the Senate traditionally convened) and added a day or two to a few months.

He thus gave rise to the Julian Calendar, a latter day rendition of the Aristarchus calendar from 239 BC. After his assassination, the month of Quintilis was renamed Julius (July) in his honor.


The Julian calendar estimated the length of the natural solar year (the time it takes for the earth to make one orbit of the sun) to be 365 days and 6 hours. Every fourth year the extra six hours were collected and added as an extra day to the year, creating a leap year of 366 days.

But the calendar's underlying estimate was off by 11 minutes and 14 seconds. It was longer than the natural solar year. The extra minutes accumulated to one whole day. By 325 AD, the Spring Equinox was arriving on March 21st on the Julian Calendar - instead of March 25.
The First Ecumenical Council met in Nicea in 325 and determined that the date to celebrate Pascha was on the first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the Spring Equinox on March 21st. In other words, it enshrined the Julian calendar's aberration.

Thus, by 1582, the Spring Equinox was arriving on March 11. Half-hearted measures by Popes Paul III and Pius V failed to restore the essential correspondence between the calendar and the seasons.

Pope Gregory XIII decided - in his tenth year in office - to drop 3 leap years every 400 years by specifying that any year whose number ended with 00 must also be evenly divisible by 400 in order to have a 29-day February. 

This would have the effect of bringing the Julian calendar closer to the natural length of the solar year - though an error of 26 seconds per year would still remain.

To calibrate the Julian calendar with the Gregorian one and to move the Spring Equinox back to March 21, 10 days were dropped from the civil calendar in October 1582. Thursday, October 4 was followed by Friday, October 15. People rioted in the streets throughout Europe, convinced that they have been robbed of 10 days.

But this was merely a convenient fiction. The Spring Equinox in the Gregorian calendar was, indeed, celebrated on March 21 in perpetuity. But, according to the Julian calendar, in the 17th century it arrived on March 11th, in the 18th century on March 10th, in the 19th century on March 9th, and in the 20th century on March 8th - 13 days earlier that even the erroneous date adopted by the Nicea Council.

The Gregorian calendar was controversial in Protestant countries. Britain and its colonies adopted it only in 1752. They had to drop 11 days from the civil calendar and move the official new year from March 25 to January 1. For centuries, dates followed by OS ("Old Style") were according to the Julian calendar and dates followed by NS ("New Style") according to the Gregorian one. Sweden adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1753, Japan in 1873, Egypt in 1875, Eastern Europe between 1912 to 1919 and Turkey in 1927. In Russia it was decreed by the (bourgeois) revolutionaries that thirteen days would be omitted from the calendar, the day following January 31, 1918 becoming February 14, 1918.

It was Pope Pius X who, in 1910, changed the beginning of the ecclesiastical year from Christmas Day to January 1, effective from 1911 onwards.

All that time, the Christian Orthodox continued to observe the Julian calendar. In 1923, a Conference of Orthodox Churches in Constantinople reduced the number of leap years every 900 years and attained a discrepancy between the calendar and the natural solar year of merely 2.2 seconds per year.

According to this calendar, the Spring Equinox will regress by one day every 40,000 years.

They, too, had to drop 13 days to bring the Spring Equinox back to March 21st. Hence the gap between December 25 (Gregorian calendar) and January 7 (revised Julian-Orthodox calendar).
Following a series of rebellions, the British North American colonies achieved self-government in 1848. But the economic situation was dire. The colonies, immersed as they were in the 1847 global depression, could no longer rely on protective tariffs once the British repealed the Corn Laws. Famished and disease-stricken Irish immigrants flooded the new state. Young men in Canada West left in droves for the United States due to a shortage of agricultural land.

The 1849 Gold Rush brought tens of thousands of gold diggers from the USA to Canada. Riots erupted in Montreal. A Rebellion Losses Bill, intended to compensate some of the victims of the 1837-38 rebellion, further drained the country's dilapidated resources.

By 1849, many Canadians were clamoring to join the United states. An Annexation Association was founded to promote unification with the prospering southern neighbor. The two versions of an Annexation Manifesto were signed by the entire business community in Montreal and Quebec and by the nationalists, who, contrary to their name, were republicans who preferred the USA to the British crown.
Canada, Invasion of
The U.S. military developed a "Joint Army and Navy Basic War Plan--Red" in the 1920s. The detailed Plan was augmented and amended in the 1930s. It envisioned the invasion of Canada by the United States to hurt the interests of the United Kingdom. Later, the Plan called for the US military to invade Bermuda and Britain's Caribbean assets. Australia and New Zealand were singled out as British allies and enemy powers.


The document was declassified in 1974. It was only the last of many such color-coded contingency plans.

White in Latin is "candicans". Pure white, bright, shining - is "candidus". Hence the English words "candid" and "candidate". The word "candidus" is derived from "candere" - glow, shine, be white, or guileless. Hence the

words candle, incandescent.

Political candidates in Rome wore a chalk-powdered white toga.

Capone, Alphonse (“Al”)
The "fact" that Alphonse ("Al") Capone (1899-1947) evaded justice numerous times and was finally indicted for income tax evasion in 1931 - is untrue. It is a partial myth.


As his FBI file (see link below) makes clear, Capone was apprehended and did time in prison prior to his conviction for tax fraud.


In the 1920s, the FBI was not authorized to investigate gangsters and organized crime.


Capone's first arrest - by the FBI - was for contempt of court. He posted bond and was released.


Then, in May 1929, as the FBI recounts: "Al Capone and his bodyguard were arrested in Philadelphia for carrying concealed deadly weapons. Within 16 hours they had been sentenced to terms of one year each. Capone served his time and was released in nine months for good behavior on March 17, 1930.

On February 28, 1936, Capone was found guilty in Federal Court on the Contempt of Court charge and was sentenced to six months in Cook County Jail. His appeal on that charge was subsequently dismissed."

At first, Capone pleaded guilty to tax evasion charges - but he later changed his plea when the judge informed him that he is not bound by any deals he may have made with the prosecution. In 1931, he was ultimately sentenced to 11 years in prison of which he served more than 7.  

He contracted syphilis which affected his brain and in his last years in seclusion he has mentally regressed to the age of 12.

Car Race
The first car race in the Unites States, sponsored by the Chicago Times-Herald was held in 1895. The contestants drove from Chicago to Waukegan. It was won by James Frank Duryea (1869-1967).

His average speed was a whopping 10 kilometers per hours (7 1/2 MPH). His brother, Charles, lost the race, driving a German Benz.


The Duryea brothers - Charles Edgar and James Frank - were technological pioneers. They invented the first commercial American automobile to run on gasoline in 1893-4 in their bicycle workshop and a loft they rented. In 1895 they established the Duryea Motor Wagon Company. It produced a total of 13 cars and went belly up in 1898.

Frank proceeded to design the prestigious and high standard Stevens-Duryea limousine car. It was very successful. It continued to be manufactured well into the 1920's. Charles competed with his own self-designed three cylinder car manufactured by the Duryea Power Company. In 1914 he gave up business and became an engineering consultant.



The first complete world census was carried out in 1801. The results - China (295 million people), India (131 million), Russia (33 million), France (27 million), Ottoman Empire (21 million), Germany (14 million), Spain (11 million), Britain (10 million), Ireland and the USA (c. 5 million each).

Data for these countries today:

China (1,302,505,000), India (1,047,074,000), Russia (142,881,000), France (59,107,500), Turkey (71,374,700), Germany (81,947,100), Spain (41,197,900), Britain (59,751,900), Ireland (3,917,300), USA (288,212,300).


Chauvinism - excessive and self-aggrandizing promotion of one's group - is named after the hapless Nicolas Chauvin. He served as a soldier under Napoleon. though he witnessed, first hand, the bloody crumbling of the Grande Armee in Waterloo, he continued to praise the invincibility and foresight of his leader. Napoleon himself, touched by such devotion, decorated him and awarded him a pension of 200 francs.

Chauvin was born in Rochefort, France around 1780 or 1790. His 17 battle wounds resulted in disfigurement and mental instability. After the war, he became a laughing stock and was ridiculed in several Vaudeville plays, especially 'La Cocarde Tricolore' (1831). The terms "Chauvinism" first appeared in Arrago's Dictionnaire de la Conversation in 1834.

Chicago (musical)

The musical "Chicago" won 6 Academy awards (Oscars) in March 2003. It is based on the true story of Belva Gaertner and Beulah Annan, two ravishing and witty women murderers who became celebrities in the 1920s. 

When asked what kind of jury she needed, Gaertner responded: "I want worldly men, broad-minded men, men who know what it is to get a bit." She had a gig in a cabaret when she married William Gaertner, her second husband, in 1917. William was convinced from the start that Belva was being unfaithful to him. They both hired gumshoes, who spent their time mostly spying on each other.

In 1923, Walter Law was found dead in his Nash sedan. Belva was involved with him. Her statement to the police read thus: "gin and guns-either one is

bad enough but together they get you in a dickens of a mess, don't they?" She promised to reunite with William if exonerated and the jury rendered a verdict of "not guilty". Later, William divorced her, accusing her of homicidal tendencies.

In 1924, Annan was asked out on a date by Harry Kolstedt, a co-worker. They had a fight and he was killed. In her latest version of the events - she proferred a few - Annan insisted that Harry tried to rape her and that she took his life in self-defense. She was found not guilty and promptly divorced her husband. She died of tuberculosis, in a hospital bed.


Smokers inhale the same amounts of nicotine from regular, light and ultralight cigarettes - 1-2 milligrams per cigarette. They also absorb the same amounts of tar (a group of compounds), regardless of the type of cigarette.


"Light" and "low tar" designate tar and nicotine yields in cigarette smoke as measured by a machine.

The number on the cigarette pack merely reflects the milligrams of nicotine or tar found in cigarette smoke as measured by the machine. It does not relate to the real amount of nicotine per cigarette (between 6-17 milligram). Nor is it the total amount of nicotine in the whole pack.
SOURCE: Preventive Medicine 2003;36:92-98.
Civil War
The Civil War (1861-5) has spawned numerous myths and falsities.


The Republicans did not intend to abolish slavery - just to "contain" it, i.e., limit it to the 15 states where it had already existed. Most of the Democrats accepted this solution.

This led to a schism in the Democratic party. The "fire eaters" left it and established their own pro-secession political organization. Growing constituencies in the south - such as urban immigrants and mountain farmers - opposed slavery as a form of unfair competition. Less than one quarter of southern families owned slaves in 1861. Slave-based, mainly cotton raising, enterprises, were so profitable that slave prices almost doubled in the 1850s. This rendered slaves - as well as land - out of the reach of everyone but the wealthiest citizens.
Cotton represented three fifths of all United States exports in 1860. Southerners, dependent on industrial imports as they were, supported free trade. Northerners were vehement trade protectionists. The federal government derived most of its income from custom duties. Income tax and corporate profit tax were yet to be invented.


The states seceded one by one, following secession conventions and state-wide votes. The Confederacy (Confederate States of America) was born only later. Not all the constituents of the Confederacy seceded at once. Seven - the "core" - seceded between December 20, 1860 and February 1, 1861. They were: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas.

Another four - Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas - joined them only after the attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861. Two - Kentucky and Missouri - seceded but were controlled by the Union's army throughout the war. Maryland and Delaware were slave states but did not secede.


President James Buchanan who preceded Abraham Lincoln, made clear that the federal government would not use force to prevent secession. Secession was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court only in 1869 (in Texas vs. White) - four years after the Civil War ended. New England almost seceded in 1812, during the Anglo-American conflict, in order to protect its trade with Britain.

The constitution of the Confederacy prohibited African slave trade (buying slaves from Africa), though it allowed interstate trade in slaves. The first Confederate capital was in Montgomery, Alabama - not in Richmond, Virginia. The term of office of the Confederate president - Jefferson Davis was the first elected - was six years, not four as was the case in the Union.


Fort Sumter was not the first attack of the Confederacy on the Union. It was preceded by attacks on 11 forts and military installations on Confederate territory.

Lincoln won only 40 percent of the popular vote in 1860. Hence the South's fierce resistance to his abolitionist agenda. In 1864, the Republicans became so unpopular, they had to change their name to the Union Party. Lincoln's vice-president, Johnson, actually was a Democrat and hailed from Tennessee, a seceding state.

He was the only senator from a seceded state to remain in the Senate.

Reconstruction started long before the war ended, in Union-occupied Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Slave tax was an important source of state revenue in the South (up to 60 percent in South Carolina). Emancipation led to near bankruptcy.

The Union states of Connecticut, Minnesota, and Wisconsin refused to pass constitutional amendments to confer suffrage on black males. The Union army consigned black labor gangs to work on the plantations of loyal Southerners and forcibly separated the black workers from their families.

Contrary to myth, nearly two thirds of black families were headed by both parents. Slave marriages were legally meaningless in the antebellum South, though. But nearly 90 percent of slave households remained intact till death or forced separation. The average age of childbirth for women was 20.

Segregation was initiated by blacks. The freedmen lobbied hard and long for separate black churches and educational facilities. Nor was lynching confined to blacks. For instance, a white mob lynched, in September 1862, forty four Union supporters in Gainesville, Texas. Similar events took place in Shelton Laurel, North Carolina. The Ku Klux Klan was the paramilitary arm of the Democratic party in the South, though never officially endorsed by it. It was used to "discipline" the workforce in the plantations - but also targeted Republicans.

The Democrats changed their name after the war to the Conservative Party. By 1877 they have regained power in all formerly Confederate states.


Cocaine, discovered in 1855, was considered by Sigmund Freud to be both a powerful anti-depressant and an aphrodisiac. He recommended it to treat morphine addiction in his tome, “On Coca”, published in 1884. He himself used it for a few years and convinced at least one of his friends to become an addict.

But cocaine was popularly used long before Freud. Spanish discoverers of the New World, such as Amerigo Vespucci, tried it in Peru and reported enthusiastically back home in 1505. Both the Spanish crown and the church taxed coca production and accepted payment in coca leaves.

Cocaine was extensively used in the 19th century in throat and eye surgeries. It was so commonplace, cheap, and popular that it was not banned either by the strict Prussians or by the British in the 1868 Pharmacy Act.

People drank cocaine in wine, in Coca-Cola (hence the name), in patent medicines. Merck was a huge producer of the substance. By the beginning of last century, everyone was snorting cocaine. Celebrities from Thomas Edison to Sarah Bernhart – not to mention Hollywood – extolled the drug’s virtues. Cocaine was banned in the USA only in 1914.
Columbus, Christopher

Columbus was an Italian and lived most of his early life in Portugal, not in Spain. He was born in Genoa, Italy, no one knows when. He did "discover" America, the continent - or, at least, is the first documented European to have done so. His first and second voyages ended in in today's Haiti (the Caribbean) - but on two subsequent trips he visited today's Venezuela, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. He is buried - maybe - in the Dominican Republic.


Though he knew the earth was spherical and not flat, how good a navigator he was is debatable. He was actually looking for a path to India and China when he stumbled across America (named after a later discoverer, Amerigo Vespucci).

Columbus denied to his dying day that he detected a new continent. Indeed, the Spanish royal couple, Ferdinand and Isabella, twice rejected his entreaties for regal finance of his trips before they succumbed to lobbying and the euphoria of the eradication of the Moslem Moors from Granda in January 1492.


He is a deeply controversial figure. He had a son out of wedlock with his mistress. His second, third, and, possibly, fourth trips were financed by property expropriated from Jews exiled from Spain in 1492. He introduced the slave trade - and a host of incurable epidemics - to the Americas.

He gave his approval to the massacring of natives in abandon. Even his own sponsors found his dangerously self-delusional and overweening.
He was arrested in 1500 and sent back to Spain, in chains throughout the voyage (at his insistence). He was forbidden to ever re-enter Hispaniola. He died a well-off but embittered man.

Coma and Persistent Vegetative State

The term "vegetative state" (cortical death) was coined in 1972 by the Scottish neurosurgeon Bryan Jennett and the American neurologist Fred Plum. It refers to the incapacitation of the cerebral cortex either as a result of severe head injury or trauma or as the outcome of an acute or degenerative illness or as a consequence of substance abuse.

Following a 1-2 week phase of coma (profound sleep-like unconsciousness, usually with artificially-sustained respiration), these patients wake up but they remain unaware of themselves and their surroundings. They don't respond or interact with the environment. Their reflexes are still intact, though, so their eyes roam the scene, their limbs move jerkily, and sometimes they are even capable of swallowing and chewing food (or gagging on it). They do react to painful stimuli by withdrawing, groaning, and grimacing - but all other neurological and biochemical hallmarks of pain are missing. Patients in PVS yawn, smile, weep, and laugh - but not in response to external stimuli. They breathe normally and unaided.
There is no way to diagnose PVS, even with the aid of Electroencephalography (EEG), computer tomography (CT) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Actually, the EEG of 25% of all PVS cases is absolutely normal! Cerebral blood flow is evident in the brains of some PVS patients. A typical MRI of a PVS patient shows widespread lesions and wasting of brain tissue - but this is common in other diseases (such as dementia) which do not render the patient unconscious! Moreover, the cerebral cortex continues to function, though at a very depressed level, akin to that of barbiturate anesthesia.
"The vegetative state can be diagnosed according to the following criteria; (1) no evidence of awareness of self or environment and an inability to interact with others; (2) no evidence of sustained, reproducible, purposeful, or voluntary behavioural responses to visual, auditory, tactile, or noxious stimuli; (3) no evidence of language comprehension or expression; (4) intermittent wakefulness manifested by the presence of sleep-wake cycles; (5) sufficiently preserved hypothalamic and brain-stem autonomic function to permit survival with medical and nursing care; (6) bowel and bladder incontinence; and (7) variably preserved cranial-nerve reflexes (pupillary, oculophalic, corneal, vestibulo-ocular, and gag) and spinal reflexes..... A wakeful unconscious state that lasts longer than a few weeks is referred to as a persistent vegetative state."
(Multi-Society Task Force on PVS, Medical Aspects of the Persistent Vegetative State: Second of two parts, New England Journal of Medicine, 330, 22, 1572-1579 (1994)
If the patient does not recover from PVS within 1 month, the prognosis is bad. Patients in PVS survive for years (up to 40 years, though many die in the first 4 years of their condition) as long as they are fed and hydrated. But they very rarely regain consciousness (or the ability to communicate it to others, if they are in a "locked-in" state or syndrome). Even those who do recover within days from this condition remain severely disabled and dependent, both physically and intellectually.

There are around 30,000 patients in PVS in the USA. The numbers are far lower in Europe and Japan, partly due to the reduced incidence of head injuries and because life-prolonging treatments are either administered less frequently (Netherlands) or less vigorously.

Catherine de Médicis, wife of King Henri II of France, hated the thick waists of women attending court receptions.

So, in the 1550s, she introduced the corset (sleeveless "payre of bodies") - an undergarment designed to artificially narrow a woman's waist by up to 30 centimeters and to yield a cylindrical shape with a flat, breastless, torso.

The Elizabethan corset - as opposed to the Victorian one - was comfortable and supported the back. It evolved in Tudor times from the kirtle, stiffened by glue and worn under the gown. Mary Tudor's wardrobe contained these:

"Item for making of one peire of bodies of crymsen satin, Item for making two pairs of bodies for petticoats of crymsen satin, Item for making a pair of bodies for a Verthingall of crymsen Grosgrain."

Queen Elizabeth had these listed in her garderobe:

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