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

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Great Wall (of China)
In November 1998, China's Xinhua news agency announced the discovery of a previously unknown segment of the Great Wall of China in the Ordos (Maowusu) Desert in the Hui Autonomous Region of Ningxia, about 700 km (435 miles) west of Beijing. The segment's length is 25 kilometers (15.5 miles).
The current Wall is the amalgamation of fortifications built by various ruling dynasties, especially the Qin and the Ming. Including its branches and extensions, the Wall runs from east China to its west - from Shanhai Pass near the Bo Hai (Gulf of Chihli) to Jiayu Pass in Gansu province - a distance of 7,300 km (4,500 miles). Without its secondary sections, it stretches for 6,700 kilometers (4,163 miles). The Wall's average height is 10 meters and its average width is 5 meters. Only 30% of it is in good repair, according a study published in December 2002 by the China Great Wall Academy. The masonry of the Wall has been eroded by nature and recycled into newer construction by Man.
The wall can be seen from Earth orbit - but not from the moon (according to all astronauts).

Greek Philosophers
There were so many ancient Greek thinkers that virtually every bit of modern knowledge, fact, pseudo-science and counterfact are represented.

Greek mathematician Pythagoras (582-500 BC) postulated that earth is round and that, together with the other planets, it is revolving around a central fire.

Aristarchus, a Greek Astronomer (310-250 BC), was more precise. He suggested that the earth revolves around the sun. He also suggested a correct method to calculate the distance between the two.

Another Greek astronomer, Eratosthenes (276-196 BC), measured the earth's circumference accurately. He used astronomical observations to calculate the difference in latitude between the cities of Syene (now Aswān) and Alexandria, Egypt.

Democritus (460-370 BC) invented the concept of a-toms - minute, invisible, indivisible and indestructible particles, which populate an infinite empty void (kenon).


The guillotine was first put to lethal use on April 25, 1792, at 3:30 PM, in Paris at the Place de Greve on the Right Bank of the Seine. It separated highwayman Nicolas Jacques Pelletier's head from the rest of his body.

The device was perfected - though not invented- by Doctor Joseph Ignace Guillotin (1738 - 1814). The 'e' at the end of the noun is a later, British, addition. Ironically, he belonged to a movement seeking to abolish capital punishment altogether.

Guillotine-like implements were used on delinquents from the nobility in Germany, Italy, Scotland and Persia long before the good doctor's era. Guillotin and German engineer and harpsichord maker, Tobias Schmidt, improved and industrialized it. It was Schmidt who transformed the blade, changing it from round to the familiar form and placing it at an oblique, 45 degree, angle. The process of severing the head - the blade falling, cutting through the tissues and severing the head - took less than half a second. More than 40,000 people were guillotined during the French Revolution and in its immediate aftermath (1789-1795).

Nor was the guillotine abandoned after the French Revolution. As late as 1870, one Leon Berger, an assistant executioner and carpenter, added a spring system, which stopped the mouton at the bottom of the groves, a lock/blocking device at the lunette and a new release mechanism for the blade.

The murderer Hamida Djandoubi was beheaded on September 10, 1977, in Marseilles, France. The guillotine was never used since.

  • Total weight of a Guillotine is about 580 kg

  • The guillotine blade with weight is over 40 kg

  • The heights of the guillotine posts average about 4 meters

  • The guillotine blade drop is about 2.3 meters

  • The falling blades rate of speed is about 7 meters/second

  • The actual beheading was completed in 2/100 of a second

  • The power when the guillotine blade stops at the bottom is 400 kg/square inch


Centuries ago, October 31 was called in England "All Hallows' Eve". People prayed to prepare the souls of the departed for the Catholic All Saints' Day on November 1.


October 31 was also the Celtic New Years' Eve - the "Samhain". On that night, the spirits of the deceased were supposed to possess living bodies before departing to the afterlife.


Pumpkins were not part of Halloween celebrations until late in the 19th century. The Irish and other Europeans actually carved up turnips. Poor immigrants to the USA could not afford turnips and turned to pumpkins instead.
The Tatars were nomad Turkic tribes who conquered a large swathe off current day Russia in the 13th and 14th centuries. Constantly on the move, they placed meat under the saddles of their horses to soften it, the shredded and spiced it and ate the meat raw. Hence the celebrated - and expensive - "Beefsteak (or steak) Tatar".


The tenderized beef crossed over to northern Europe and was especially appreciated in Germany. Immigrants from the German port city of Hamburg brought the "Hamburg steak" (or "Hamburger" - "from Hamburg" in German) to the US in the 19th century.


The term "Hamburger steak" appeared in a menu of Delmonico's in New York dated to 1834. It is mentioned as part of a restaurant menu in the Walla Walla, Washington Union News in 1889 and in Mrs. Rorer's New Cookbook in 1902. Hamburgers cost 15 cents a piece in Ray Croc MacDonald's hamburger chain launched in 1955.

Head Shrinkers
A few tribes in Amazonian Ecuador used to shrink heads as part of their post war rituals. Visit the links below for additional ethnological and anthropological data. 

But what is head shrinking? How is the procedure carried out?

The heads of both men and women were shrunk. The head was severed with a clean cut of the neck. The skin was carefully peeled from the back of the skull forward and preserved. The skull and brain were discarded. The skin was then turned inside out and all the fat was scraped.

A rope was inserted through an incision at the top of the skin. The head was dipped into a pot of boiling water and chinchipi plant juice. It was left to simmer for two hours until the hair is soft and the head shrinks by two thirds to three quarters of its previous size. All the cuts and incisions are sown and the lips are attached to each other with minute bamboo nails. 

Next, the neck is shrunk repeatedly over a few days by inserting hot pebbles and hot sand into the cavity. Scalding stones are also used to massage the face in order to conserve the facial features. Facial hair is singed off and charcoal is applied to the eyes.

The head is smoked, dried, and cured. It is then washed and polished.

A hermaphrodite is someone with both ovaries and testicles (both, in most cases, rather undeveloped). Sometimes the ovaries and testicles are combined into a chimera called ovotestis. Most of these individuals have the chromosomal composition of a woman together with traces of the Y, male, chromosome. All hermaphrodites have a sizable penis, though rarely generate sperm. Hermaphrodites develop breasts during puberty and menstruate. Some hermaphrodites even got pregnant and gave birth.

Hitler, Adolf

According to British intelligence documents declassified  in 1998, Winston Churchill (1874-1965), acting without informing the cabinet, sent agents to Germany to try to assassinate Adolf Hitler (1889-1945). These attempts were codenamed Operation Foxley. The agents almost poisoned Hitler's tea, dipped his uniform in lethal bacteria, blown up his train and shot him during his daily walk.

Hitler survived numerous other assassination attempts by his own people, too.

On December 13, 2002, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) - which represents 38,000 mental health professionals - joined other professional groups in supporting the right of homosexual (gay and lesbian) couples to adopt:


"Research over the past 30 years has consistently demonstrated that children raised by gay or lesbian parents exhibit the same level of emotional, cognitive, social and sexual functioning as children raised by heterosexual parents."


It was only in 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association reversed 100 year-old opinion that gays are mentally ill. In 2000 it came out in favor of same sex unions.
Bees visit 4 million flowers to make one kilo (2 pounds) of honey. The typical bee visits 50-100 flowers in every single trip. Thus, to produce 1 kilo of honey, bees travels a distance equal to 4 times the circumference of the earth. Each American consumes 1 pound (a half kilo) of honey a year.

It takes the lifetime of 12 bees to produce one teaspoon of honey. Bees have been producing honey for 10-12 million years.

Hygiene, Personal

Personal hygiene was rediscovered only in the late 19th century, having been popular in ancient Greece and Rome almost two thousand years before.


Water was considered by the sophisticates - perhaps justly - to be the carrier of disease. Bathing in water was a hazardous exercise. Royalty used milk instead. Others were confined to wet towels or to splashing water from basins on one's face and armpits. The great unwashed utilized public baths, built throughout Europe between the 12th and 17th centuries.

Consider the Spanish Queen Isabella of Castile, of Christopher Columbus fame. She boasted that she had only two baths in her life - at birth and prior to her wedding. But not all royals were so unhygienic. The flushing toilet was the preserve of Queen Elizabeth I. It was invented for her in 1596 by Sir John Harrington, her godson.


New York entrepreneur Joseph C. Gayetty manufactured in 1857 the first pre-moistened bathroom tissues, each embossed with his name. Aptly named British plumber Thomas Crapper redesigned the modern toilet and received a series of related patents between 1861-1904. The Kleenex tissue was not introduced until 1920 and the pop-up box only nine years later.


Prior to the invention of the toilet paper in 1890 by the Scott Paper Company, people used an assortment of objects to wipe clean - most often leaves and corncobs. French royals employed lace, hardy Vikings - wool, Romans resorted to the sponge. The Chinese, ahead of the times in 1391, were the first to use paper sheets.

The word means "of the womb" in Greek. Hysteria was thought to be confined to women who were suffering from some problems with the womb. Hysteria is, indeed, more common among women - probably due to social and cultural expectations and conventions as to how a woman should and does behave. 

Indians (Native Americans, Amerindians)

Native Americans are often cast in the role of victims of White aggression and unbridled avarice-driven or gratuitous violence, especially in the territories known collectively today as the United States. But the first massacre was perpetrated by Indians in the British colony Jamestown, in Virginia in 1622. They slaughtered 347 white men, women and children on that occasion.


Europeans are also accused of importing pathogens, disease causing agents, such as smallpox and measles, malaria and yellow fever. Indigenous people had no immunological resistance to these illnesses as they were never exposed to them.

But recent findings by a team of anthropologists, economists and paleopathologists who have completed a massive study of the health of people living in the Western Hemisphere in the last 7,000 years - suggest that Native American's health was severely run down long before the Europeans delivered the coup de grace.

The researchers analyzed more than 12,500 skeletons - half of them pre-Columbian - from 65 sites in North and South America for evidence of infections, malnutrition and other health problems.

The study - "The Backbone of History: Health and Nutrition in the Western Hemisphere", edited by Dr. Richard H. Steckel and Dr. Jerome C. Rose - discovered that the haleness of Native-Americans declined markedly in the 1000 years before Columbus "discovered" them.

The vast majority of the skeletons showed telltale signs of advanced degenerative joint disease, deteriorating dental health, stature, anemia, arrested tissue development, infections and trauma from injuries. These were attributed by the participants to limited diets and urban congestion. People became shorter and died earlier - on average at age 35 - as the centuries passed.

"Pre-Columbian populations were among the healthiest and the least healthy in our sample," Dr. Steckel and Dr. Rose said. "While pre-Columbian natives may have lived in a disease environment substantially different from that in other parts of the globe, the original inhabitants also brought with them, or evolved with, enough pathogens to create chronic conditions of ill health under conditions of systematic agriculture and urban living."

Moreover, there are signs that diseases hitherto thought to have been introduced by the white explorers were actually indigenous.1,000-year-old Peruvian mummies, for instance, were found to have been infected with tuberculosis in their lungs.


Throughout its history, it was Britain which prided itself for its splendid isolation - ostensibly aloof and detached from the petty squabbles of continental countries across the channel. Yet, the record is held not by the United Kingdom but by the United states. It was established in 1776 - yet the first time an American president ever visited Europe while in office was in 1918. In the wake of the first world war, Woodrow Wilson left Washington to participate in the peace negotiations. He stayed in Europe for 6 months to the great chagrin and consternation of his countrymen.

Israel, economy of

At $105 billion annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Israel's economy is larger than Bulgaria's ($19 billion gross domestic product per year), the Czech Republic (91), Hungary (77), Romania (53), Slovakia (27), Ukraine (47), Kazakhstan (28), Pakistan (72), Singapore (97), Vietnam (35), Argentina (99), Chile (69), Colombia (77), Kenya (10), Nigeria (45), South Africa (101), Algeria (59), Egypt (78), Iraq (26), Jordan (10), Lebanon (19) and dozens of other countries.


Israel's GDP per capita exceeds $15,600 a year. The USA spends $10 billion on foreign aid - $3 billion of which go to Israel. The USA pledged to increase its foreign aid by $5 billion as of next year.


(Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2003)


Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper, who committed his atrocities in September-October 1888, was not the tall, gaunt, gothic, dark figure we all "know" from countless movies.

Actually, he was probably seen more than once shortly before he committed his crimes.

He was described as short, stocky (stout), shabbily dressed (though a gentleman), foreign-looking euphemism for Jewish-looking), and with a moustache. He wore a deerstalker hat (similar to Sherlock Holmes'), wore no cape and carried no cane.

Read more about this elusive figure here

Jesus, Family of

Jesus' mother, Mary, was a virgin before it gave birth to him - and remained a virgin in perpetuity. This is the official (Catholic) doctrine.

But Jesus had brothers and sisters - plenty of siblings.

St. Paul wrote (Galatians 1:18-19):

'Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But of the other apostles saw I none save James the Lord's brother."

This very same James is also the son of one, Alpheus! All the brothers of Jesus are the sons of this Alpheus whose wife's name was ... Mary!

Matthew 1:25:

"And he [Joseph] knew her [Mary] not until she had brought forth her first-born son..."

First-born meaning there were others who followed (second-born, third-born, etc.)

Matthew 13:55-56:

"Is this not the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And his brethren, James and Joses and Simon and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us?"

Mark 6:3 (referring to Jesus):

"Is this not the carpenter, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Judas, and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?"

According to both Matthew and Mark, three women stood by the cross at the crucifixion: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and of Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's children (Salome). Salome was Virgin Mary's sister and, therefore, Jesus' maternal aunt.

John (an eyewitness to the events) identifies Mary as Jesus' mother - but distinguishes her from Mary, wife of Alpheus and two other women (for a total of four women rather than three):

John 19:25: "Now there stood by the cross of Jesus (1) his mother, and (2) his mother's sister, (3) Mary the wife of Cleophas [Alpheus], and (4) Mary Magdalene."

Mary, wife of Alpheus, could not have been the sister of the Virgin Mary, as the Church would have us believe. In Jewish families, two sisters cannot share the same name.

John implies that Mary, mother of Jesus was not the wife of Alpheus, father of James and Joses, and Judas, and Simon, who are identified as the brothers of Jesus by all the other gospels!

Jesus, Year of Birth

Was Jesus born 2002 years ago? Was he born in year zero?


The first year AD was 1 - so, Jesus could not have been born in year zero. The very concept of zero was invented much later.


Numerous historical minutia in the gospels indicate that Jesus must have been born before 4 BC.


For example, He was said to have been born during the reign of King Herod, who died in 4 BC.


Much more here:


Library of Congress

The library of Alexandria was many centuries old when it was devastated by fire in the civil war under the Roman emperor Aurelian in the late 3rd century AD. Its branch was destroyed by Christians in AD 391. This was a traumatic event.

It is little known that the Library of Congress had a similar fate 1500 years later.

On Christmas Eve 1851, the Library of Congress burnt down entirely. More than 35,000 volumes - out of 55,000 - went up in smoke, including two thirds of Thomas Jefferson's invaluable library. It was reconstructed, but nearly 900 volumes (out of 6487 books) are still missing. The fire was caused by faulty chimney flues.

Librarian Meehan wrote to Senator Pearce of Maryland, Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library:

"It is my melancholy duty to inform you that a fire originated in the principal room of the Library of Congress this morning, about half past seven o'clock, and that nearly everything in the room was destroyed before the flames were subdued."

This was the second fire to have devastated this cultural depository.

On August 24, 1814, the Library's core collection of 3,000 volumes was destroyed when the British burned the Capitol, where the Library was housed.

Lili Marlene

"Lili Marlene" was authored by Hans Leip, a 19-year old German soldier in the first world war. It was put to music by Norbert Schultze (1911-2002), a collaborator with the Hitler regime. But contrary to what Hollywood would have us believe, it was not an exclusively Nazi song, crooned in smoke-filled bars in occupied Europe by drunk SS officers.


"Lili Marlene" was played, sung, and broadcast by all the armies in the second world war - the British, the German, in occupied France, and the Americans (Marlene Dietrich). It was translated to 48 languages, including Hebrew, the language of most holocaust survivors. It made it into the Japanese music charts in 1986.

Lindbergh, Charles Augustus

Charles Augustus Lindbergh was the first person to cross the Atlantic in a nonstop flight. This made him an instant celebrity. When, in 1932, his 19-months old son was kidnapped and murdered, the nation was appalled.


Finally, a German carpenter, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, was apprehended and, following a much-publicized trial, executed.


The police chief who arrested Bruno Richard Hauptmann was the father of Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the American forces in the Gulf War in 1991.


The affair had many repercussions, both personal and national.


The Lindberghs, revolted by the media's unrelenting prying, moved to live in Europe in 1935. Lindbergh became a fan of Adolf Hitler and in 1938 received from him a decoration for having praised the German Luftwaffe as superior to all other air forces. In 1939, upon his return to the USA, Lindbergh embarked on a cross-country tour of antiwar and pro-Nazi speeches. Consequently, he was ousted from the air corps reserve and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.

Still, when war broke out, Lindbergh served as a civilian consultant to aircraft manufacturers. Later, the US Army sent him on clandestine missions to the Pacific and Europe. But he never regained his stature in the eyes of the American public.

He won the Pulitzer prize in 1953 for his tome, The Spirit of Saint Louis and died in 1974 in Hawaii.


The kidnapping and gruesome murder of his son prompted lawmakers to pass the Lindbergh Act in 1932. The Encarta: "The statute made it a federal crime, punishable by life imprisonment, to kidnap a person and transport that person to another state. This law was amended in 1934 making conspiracy to commit a kidnapping also a federal crime. In 1968 the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated that section of the Lindbergh Act that gave the jury the power to recommend the death penalty for kidnapping."

Lloyd’s of London

The world's most famous insurance market, Lloyd's of London, started in a coffee house owned by one, Edward Lloyd.

The coffee house was situated on the Thames bank in Tower Street, close to all the maritime and shipping activities.  It was a well known establishment and is mentioned in contemporary documents as early as 1688.

Lloyd himself had nothing to do with insurance.

Lysenko, Trofim Denisovich

Trofim Denisovich Lysenko (1898-1976) was an agronomist. During the reign of Lenin and Stalin years in the Soviet Union, he became the chief proponent of the work of the  self-taught plant breeder Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin (1855-1935) and his brand of Lamarckism - a pre-Darwinian theory of evolution of the species proposed in the French scientist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829). He was appointed as the president (1938-56) of the Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the director (1940-65) of the Institute of Genetics, USSR Academy of Sciences. The leadership of the USSR believed his promises to deliver rapid increases in crop yields.

Lamarck proposed that organisms can inherit traits acquired by their ancestors. The first giraffes stretched their necks to eat leaves on tall trees. Their offspring acquired this elongated neck and the desire to further stretch it. A species with long necks was born.

The Soviet leadership sought an indigenous theory to counter the "capitalistic" works of Mendel and Charles Darwin and to separate evolution from genetics.

Following a speech he gave at a conference in 1948 denouncing Mendelian genetics as "reactionary and decadent", Lysenko rose to prominence. Geneticists who opposed Lysenkoism were dispatched to the gulag as "enemies of the Soviet people". Most confessed to their "errors" in propounding Mendel's and Darwin's teachings - and, consequently, kept their jobs.

No one dared challenge Lysenko until 1964 - 9 years after Stalin died - even when he claimed, between 1948 and 1953, that wheat plants can produce seeds of rye. But, as the Encyclopedia Britannica observes, "he and his followers, however, long retained their degrees, their titles, and their academic positions and remained free to support their aberrant trend in biology."


May Day

Long before the first congress (1889) of the Second International, a socialist gathering, appropriated May 1, it was being celebrated by the Celts. They considered it the day when the supernatural invaded the earthly and placed living things in great jeopardy. To protect their precious livestock, they used to herd it between two bonfires in what became known as the Beltane (or Belltane) festival. The Romans honored the spring goddess Flora on May Day.  

May 1 is still celebrated throughout the countries of the former communist bloc and in many other places in Europe and Asia as a kind of Labor Day while in North America, Labor Day is celebrated in September.


Mayonnaise was invented by the chef of the Duc de Richelieu in 1756. The Duc was in the habit of holding nude dinner parties. Having beaten the British at Port Mahon, he instructed his chef to prepare a culinary feast, replete with a "sauce made of cream and eggs". The terrified chef discovered, at the last moment, that there was no cream in the kitchen. He hurriedly poured olive oil and scrambled it with the eggs. Thus emerged the "Mahonnaise".
The Journal of Environmental Science and Technology published  study according to which 1.6 kilograms of fuel, 72 grams of chemicals and 32 kilograms of water are consumed in the manufacturing of a typical two-gram chip.

A 32-MB RAM microchip requires 630 times its mass to manufacture. Microchip production utilizes 160 times the amount of energy needed to make  mere silicon. Thousands of chemicals are used in the process, some of them highly toxic.


Debunkers of UFO sightings often propose to explain the persistent and recurrent reports as atmospheric phenomena, such as mirages.

UFO enthusiasts counter that "mirages cannot be seen more than 1° above or below the observer's horizon." UFO's are almost always observed high in the sky or even directly above the observer's head (zenith).

Mirages are generated by the bending of light rays when they move across layers in the atmosphere with different temperatures and, thus, densities. Mirages are real and can be photographed.

All mirages contain one regular ("erect") image and one or more mirror ("inverted") images. "Fata Morgana" is a mirage with many interlaced inverted and erect images. It is named after King Arthur's sister, the enchantress (magician-witch) Morgan le Fay.

Other refractive phenomena include looming, towering, sinking, stooping, etc. In looming an object below the horizon is projected into the sky. Objects under the horizon can thus appear to be above it.

And who is right in the UFO debate?

Due to refraction, even under normal atmospheric conditions, we all see objects that are under the astronomical horizon.

How much we see depends on our elevation, the width of the sky between the two horizons, and the distance to the objects, among other variables. Our APPARENT horizon (what we can actually see) and the "real", astronomical horizon (what we would have seen in the absence of refracting atmosphere) are not the same. The difference between them is the "dip". Optics tells us that multiple or inverted images must occur under the astronomical horizon and above the apparent horizon - i.e. within the dip. Theoretically, the dip can be larger than 1 degree. But, practically, on our small planet, with the highest point at 9 kilometers (Mount Everest), and our eyes constructed as they are, and out atmosphere composed as it is - it is impossible to see mirages displaced by more than 1 degree. UFO fans are right after all.

Miss America

Mary Katherine Campbell, the only woman to win the Miss America title twice (1922 and 1923), who was 5-foot-7 and weighed 140 pounds (c. 65 kg.). Norman Rockwell, the painter, was on the panel of judges in 1923.


Campbell died in 1990. She declined offers from Hollywood and Broadway, married, and led a staid life to her death.


The "paper" notes we use to pay for goods and services (which, together with coins, constitute "money" or "tender") are  made of a blend of cotton and linen.

Throughout history, numerous objects served as money: seashells, stones, whales' teeth, cattle and manillas (ornamental jewelry). The word "salary" reflects the fact that Roman soldiers were paid in salt. As recently as 1932, in Tenino, Washington, USA, notes of $1, $5 and $10 denominations were printed on wood.

Money comes in all sizes, shapes and forms. One meter long and half a meter wide copper plates were used in Alaska in the 1850s. They weighed 40 kilograms.

Monsters, Human


Humans made monsters by inhuman treatment abound in literature. In "The Man Who Laughs", published in 1869, the French author, Victor Hugo (1802-1885), described the comprachicos thus:

"The comprachicos (child buyers) were strange and hideous nomads in the 17th century. They made children into sideshow freaks. To succeed in producing a freak one must get hold of him early; a dwarf must be started when he is small. They stunted growth, they mangled features. It was an art/science of inverted orthopedics. Where nature had put a straight glance, this art put a squint. Where nature had put harmony, they put deformity and imperfection. The child was not aware of the mutilation he had suffered. This horrible surgery left traces on his face, not in his mind. During the operation the little patient was unconscious by means of a stupefying magic powder.

In China since time immemorial, they have achieved refinement in a special art and industry: the molding of living man. One takes a child two or three years old and puts them into a grotesquely shaped porcelain vase. It is without cover or bottom, so the head and feet protrude. In the daytime the vase is upright, at night it is laid down so the child can sleep. Thus the child slowly fills the contours of the vase with compressed flesh and twisted bones. This bottled development continues for several years. At a certain point, it becomes an irreparable monster. Then the vase is broken and one has a man in the shape of a pot."

The Kyrgyz writer, Chingiz Aitmatov (or Aytmatov) (1928 - )  recounts in "The Day Lasts More than One Hundred Years" (1980) the legend of the Ana-Beiit cemetery and the zombies known as "mankurts". 

According to tradition, the nomad Zhuan’zhuan, shaved the heads of the younger and more fit prisoners of war and wrapped their skulls in raw camel hide.  The prisoners were then left to shrivel in the desert's scorching sun, without food or water. As the caps shrank around their heads, they perished in terrible agony. The survivors completely lost their memory. Their subsequent submissiveness and loyalty made them ten times more valuable than a regular slave and three times as precious as a free man (in terms of pecuniary damages when accidentally killed).


Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon did invade Britain. During the Irish rebellion of 1798, in September, a sizable French fleet got close to the shore of Ireland but was dispersed by a storm. A part of the flotila went back to France but other French ships landed invading troops on the shores of Ireland and Wales.

These surrendered to superior British forces later on. The costs of the Irish war and Napoleon's impending threat across the channel forced the British government to introduce the first income tax in British history.

Another attempt by the French, in 1804, with 100,000 troops was aborted.


Narcissism is a pattern of traits and behaviors which signify infatuation and obsession with one's self to the exclusion of all others and the egotistic and ruthless pursuit of one's gratification, dominance and ambition.

According to the legend of Narcissus, this Greek boy fell in love with his own reflection in a pond. Presumably, this amply sums up the nature of his namesakes: narcissists. The mythological Narcissus was rejected by the nymph Echo and was punished by Nemesis, Consigned to pine away as he fell in love with his own reflection.

Most narcissists (75%) are men.

NPD is one of a "family" of personality disorders (formerly known as "Cluster B").

Other members: Borderline PD, Antisocial PD and Histrionic PD.

NPD is often diagnosed with other mental health disorders ("co-morbidity") - or with substance abuse, or impulsive and reckless behaviors ("dual diagnosis").

NPD is new (1980) mental health category in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (DSM).

There is only scant research regarding narcissism. But what there is has not demonstrated any ethnic, social, cultural, economic, genetic, or professional predilection to NPD.

It is estimated that 0.7-1% of the general population suffer from NPD.

Pathological narcissism was first described in detail by Freud. Other major contributors are: Klein, Horney, Kohut, Kernberg, Millon, Roningstam, Gunderson, Hare.

The onset of narcissism is in infancy, childhood and early adolescence. It is commonly attributed to childhood abuse and trauma inflicted by parents, authority figures, or even peers.

There is a whole range of narcissistic reactions - from the mild, reactive and transient to the permanent personality disorder.

Narcissists are either "Cerebral" (derive their narcissistic supply from their intelligence or academic achievements) - or "Somatic" (derive their narcissistic supply from their physique, exercise, physical or sexual prowess and "conquests").

Narcissists are either "Classic" - see definition here ( ) - or they are "Compensatory", or "Inverted" - see definitions here: ( ) .

NPD is treated in talk therapy (psychodynamic or cognitive-behavioral). The prognosis for an adult narcissist is poor, though his adaptation to life and to others can improve with treatment. Medication is applied to side-effects and behaviors (such as mood or affect disorders and obsession-compulsion) - usually with some success.


According to the historian Suetonius, Emperor Nero (37-68), fifth Emperor of Rome from AD 54 to 68, was a fan of murder. Clad in disguise, he assaulted passing pedestrians in back alleys, stabbed them repeatedly, and dumped the bodies into the sewer. When he was almost killed by one of his would-be victims, he surrounded himself with armed bodyguards who overcame any unexpected resistance.


Nero's original name was Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. When Agrippina the Younger married her uncle, Emperor Claudius I, she convinced him to adopt the child and he acquired his new name, Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus. Nero married his stepfather's daughter, Octavia. He was declared Emperor at the tender age of 17. Nero promptly had his mother poison Claudius' son, Britannicus - but his first five years were marked by the moderating influence of Burrus, the prefect of the Praetorian Guards, and the philosopher Seneca, his tutor.


Nero abolished the pernicious habit of secret trials, put the affairs of the state at the hands of a nascent bureaucracy, and made the Senate more independent. He forbade bloodshed in public circus contests, abolished capital punishment, reduced taxes and allowed slaves to sue their unjust masters. He initiated competitions in poetry, drama, and athletics. He pardoned plotters and authors of scathing epigrams against him. Claudius, by comparison, has executed 40 Senators for treason. Nero even helped the Jews - a scourge of the Roman empire - and rehabilitated disaster-stricken cities.


But then there was a marked - and mysterious - change for the worse. Nero murdered his mother, who criticized his mistress, whom he later married, having executed Octavia. Burrus died, probably poisoned. Seneca retired to his estate.


Two thirds of Rome burnt to the ground in July 64. Nero was in Antium at the time - 60 kilometers away. He did not burn the city, he did not play the violin, or the lyre while it burnt. It is dubious whether - as Tacitus and Suetonius claim - he blamed the few Christians in Rome for the conflagration, let alone persecuted them.

On the contrary, he sheltered the homeless and rebuilt Rome with strict fire precautions. His contemporaneous notoriety had to do with the fact that he appeared as an actor, lyre player and charioteer in religious dramas all over the empire, sometimes absent from Rome for as long as 15 months at a time.


Following a coup and assassination attempt, he executed 18 of the 41 conspirators - including his beloved Seneca. He kicked his wife to death, murdered Statilia Messalina's husband and wed her and finally - faced with a rebellion of his legions - he fled Rome and committed suicide.
New Economic Policy (NEP)
Mikhail Gorbachev (1931- ) was not the first to introduce Perestroika - the economic liberalization of the communist system along capitalistic lines.


During the Russian civil war (1918-1922) the Bolsheviks implemented what they called "War Communism" (1917-1921), the militarization of the economy. Between 1916 and 1920, industrial output plunged by more than four fifths. Grain harvests in both 1920 and 1921 disastrously dwindled, leading to widespread famine, claiming five million lives. A series of rebellions of sailors broke out, most famously in the Krohnstadt naval base.


To counter the party's loosening grip on power, Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP). Trade was liberalized, as were industrial and agricultural production. Peasants were allowed to sell surplus produce on the open market and taxes were made proportional to net output.


In stark departure from communist ideology, farmers could lease land and hire laborers. The state embarked on an ambitious privatization program of small and medium-size enterprises, though it maintained control of the finance, transportation, heavy industry, and foreign trade sectors (the "commanding heights", as they were called at the time).


In 1921-2, Lenin re-introduced money to re-monetize the economy which consisted of barter, quotas, and centrally issued economic directives. Within less than 7 years, production in many parts of the economy reverted to pre-revolutionary levels. Nor did the NEP die with Lenin. It continued for 4 years after his death in 1924.


But the policy was not without its faults.


NEP was characterized by inflation and the need to cap the prices of non-agricultural goods. Peasants hoarded grain for speculation purposes. A black market in goods was developed by Nepmen - private traders. Communist party General Secretary Joseph Stalin (1879-1953), reinstated agricultural production quotas in 1929, collectivized all arable land, and criminalized private trading in 1930. In 1928, he promulgated the first Five-Year Plan (1928-1932) and central planning replaced market mechanisms. The NEP was dead.

Newton, Isaac

Isaac Newton (1642-1727), the father of modern physics and mathematics, was an avowed and dedicated alchemist, mystic, theologian, and astrologer. He was a bad student and his mother wanted him to become a farmer. He was admitted to Trinity College at Cambridge as a "subsizar" - i.e., on condition that he performs certain domestic services.

The story of the apple is not a legend. It was recounted by Newton himself when he was old. He said the falling apple made him think about the movement of the moon around the earth.


Newton's work was so savagely criticized when it was first published that, fora few years thereafter he ceased publishing altogether.

New World Screwworm Fly

The bestselling thriller "The Dante Club" opens with a particularly gruesome murder committed with an unusual weapon: a very rare insect – the New World Screwworm Fly (Cochliomyia hominivorax).

Hominivorax in Latin means "Man-Eater", the name given to the fly by Dr. Coquerel, the French Imperial Navy medical doctor who discovered it, busy devouring colonists on Devil's Island, in French Guiana, off the coast of Brazil, in 1859.

These are bluish-green flies with three longitudinal black stripes across the thorax. The insect's face is orange-brown.

As opposed to virtually all other types of maggots, these fly's larvae cannot feed on carrion (dead tissue). Instead, they burrow into the live flesh of warm blooded creatures, such as livestock, or humans.

The female mates only once in her lifetime, when she reaches 3-4 days old. Two days later, and during the next 30 days, she lays up to 5000 eggs (usually 2000-3000). These are divided to "lots" of up to 500 eggs per single sitting.

The female deposits the eggs near body orifices with mucous membranes or adjacent to fresh wounds, even the tiniest (such as a tick bite).

The eggs hatch in 12-21 hours. Within the next 24 hours, the tiny maggots embark on their destructive mission.

The Merck Veterinary Manual describes these killing machines thus:

"The parasitic larvae are tapered and have mouth hooks at the narrow end and breathing spiracles at the wide end. Body segments are ringed with spines. Fully grown larvae can be as long as 1.5 cm. Larvae are often identified by their “wood screw” shape and appearance and can be distinguished from the larvae of the facultative myiasis-producing flies by the darkly pigmented tracheal tubes on the dorsal aspect of the posterior end of the third-stage larva. These tubes can be easily visualized through the larval cuticle."

They gnaw their way into their victim, tearing and digesting morsels of tissue and the resulting malodorous, reddish-brown wound fluid as they go along.

As the flesh around them withers, insects whose larvae subsist on carrion are attracted to the writhing organism. The wound becomes a veritable zoo of various kinds of parasitic insects.

Between 5 and 9 days later, the fully developed larvae abandon what is left of the host and fall to the ground (spill over from the wounds) to pupate in the surface soil. Depending on the temperature, this takes anywhere from 7 days to 2 months.

Following massive eradication programs carried out in 1958-9, the insect is to be found only in Central and South America and in some Caribbean islands. Treatment with "smears" containing ronnel and lindane are effective in checking the process and preventing further infection.
The word nightmare is the private name of a medieval female demon that attacked sleeping people. "Mare" means goblin in Old English.

Nobel Prizes
The Nobel prizes are awarded on December 10.

In 1911, the Polish-French scientist, Marie Curie, became the first person to win a second Nobel prize for the discovery of radium & polonium. Her second prize was in Chemistry. She won her first Nobel prize in physics only eight years earlier, in 1903.

Marie Curie was also the first woman to win the prize and

a member of the first couple, together with her husband,

Pierre, to win the coveted award (in 1903).

Linus Pauling won the Nobel prize in chemistry in 1954 and The Nobel prize for Peace in 1962.
Some companies have at least nine lives, it would seem. Nokia was founded in southwestern Finland, in 1865, by a mining engineer, one, Frederik Idestam, as a wood-pulp mill. An eponymous town formed around it. Independently, the Finnish Rubber Works took on the town name in the 1920s, having been established there in 1898.
The Nokia rubber company acquired  Finnish Cable Works - another enterprise located in Nokia since 1912. In 1967, the three became the Nokia Group. In the 1980s, Nokia took over Mobira, Salora, Televa and Luxor of Sweden and became a consumer electronics group - manufacturing televisions and such.


Nokia continued with its acquisitions spree and, in 1987, bought the consumer electronics operations and part of the component business of the German Standard Elektrik Lorenz, the French consumer electronics company Oceanic, and the Swiss cable machinery company Maillefer. It proceeded to become the largest Scandinavian information technology company by digesting Ericsson's data systems division. In 1989, Nokia emerged as a leader in the cable industry in Continental Europe by purchasing the Dutch cable company NKF.


During the 1990s the consolidated group refocused on the mobile phone market and divested all its other businesses.
Number Notation

The United States does not use the metric system. But this is not the only confusing difference between the USA and Europe.

The hierarchy of numbers is universal: million, (milliard), billion, trillion, quadrillion, quintillion, sextillion, septillion, octillion, nonillion, decillion, undecillion, duodecillion, tredecillion, quat(t)uordecillion, uindecillion, sexdecillion, septendecillion, octodecillion, novemdecillion, vigintillion.
In the American system of notation (the short scale), each number is a thousand times the preceding number. Thus, one billion is a thousand times one million and one trillion is a thousand billions. Yet, in the (erstwhile) English, French, and German system (the long scale), each number is a MILLION times the preceding one! Thus, while a vigintillion is written as a 1 followed by 63 zeros by the Americans - it is followed by no less than 120 zeros in Germany!
The United Kingdom and other English-speaking countries have recently reverted (or, should we say "converted") to the short scale (American system).

Googol is universally 1 followed by 100 zeros. Googolplex is 10 to the power of googol.

To exacerbate matters, decimals are written in the form 1.23 in the United States, 1·23 in the United Kingdom, and 1,23 in continental Europe. Thus $14,100 is 14 thousand US dollars in the United States - but only 14 dollars and ten cents in Vienna.



Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), the American President (1829-1837) was much ridiculed for his Bushisms (lack of grasp of the English language). He was - erroneously - "credited" with the creation of the much used OK by spelling "all correct" as "oll korrect."


This apocryphal story competes with yet another anachronism: during the second World War OK (zero+K) meant "zero killed". But OK much preceded the twentieth century, let alone the 1940s. It is found in the March 23, 1839 issue of the Boston Morning Post, for instance, and did, indeed, stand for "Oll Korrect". OK caught on fast. By 1840, it was all over the USA from New York to New Orleans. President Van Buren (1782-1862) used it in his campaign, when it signified "Old Kinderhook", his birthplace in the Hudson Valley.


There are numerous other etymologies attributing OK to a host of other languages, from Native-American to Creole, and to everything from telegraphic signaling to German generals - but they have all been convincingly debunked.

Oil Spills

The largest oil spill in history was in Tobago. The Atlantic Empress spilled 287,000 tons in 1979. Then comes the ABT Summer in Angola (260,000 in 1991), The Castillo de Bellver in South Africa (252,000 in 1983), the Amoco Cadiz in France (223,000 in 1978).


By comparison, the famous Exxon Valdez spill in the United states in 1989 involved only 37,000 tons. The Prestige in Spain in 2002 carried a load of 77,000 tons but most of its sank with it to a depth of 4 kilometers.



Multi-cellular organisms, such as plants and humans, evolved over billions of years. Ancient bacteria infiltrated the first eukaryotic cells - i.e., the first cells with a nucleus. They helped these cells convert food into ATP - the cellular "battery" molecule.
As time passed, these bacteria degenerated. Their remains still occupy the cytoplasm of eukaryotes in the form of "organelles", tiny organs. But these remains contain their own DNA - distinct from the host cell's. They also encompass their own ribosomes - cellular miniature protein factories. So, in a way these organelles - the mitochondria in living creatures and the chloroplasts in plants - are separate organisms. They maintain a symbiotic relationship with cells. They are symbionts.


All the cells in the human body contain mitochondria. Mitochondria are more abundant in cells with heavy energy requirements, like muscle cells.


A third type of such symbiont was recently discovered in the malaria parasite, the Plasmodium falciparum. It is called an apicoplast and is, perhaps, the remains of an alga. It, too, has its own unique genome.

Oscars (Academy Awards)
Ben Hur (1959) and Titanic (1997) won 11 academy awards (Oscars) each.


Gigi (1958) and The Last Emperor (1987) were nominated for 9 awards and won them all.


The Turning Point (1977) and The Color Purple (1985) were nominated for 11 awards each, but didn't win even a single one.


Limelight (1952) by Charlie Chaplin won an Oscar for original dramatic score only in 1973, a year after it was screened in Los Angeles for the first time.


These winners were still shot in black and white. Notice the years: Schindler's List (1993), The Apartment (1960) , Marty (1955), On the Waterfront (1954), From Here to Eternity (1953).


These winners were shot in color. Notice the years: Gone With the Wind (1939), An American in Paris (1951), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).


War and Peace (1968) is the longest film ever to win the Oscar at 7 hours 33 minutes. Gone With the Wind (1939) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962) were each 3 hours and 42 minutes.


Walt Disney - with 26 statues - won the most awards. Alan Menken for music and Denis Muren for visual effects each garnered 8 Oscars.


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