Written by Sam Vaknin
You must login to vote
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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:
"A payre of bodies of black cloth of silver with little skirts (1571), a pair of bodies of sweete lether (1579), a pair of bodies of black velvet lined with canvas stiffened with buckeram (1583), for altering a pair of bodies...the bodies lined with sackecloth and buckram about the skirts with bents covered with fustian, a pair of french bodies of damaske lined with sackcloth, with whales bone to them (1597)"
Victorian women were described by contemporaries as maintaining a 43 centimeters waistline with the aid of whalebone corsets. But period advertisements for corsets cater to waistlines of up to 107 centimeters with an average of 76 centimeters. Wearing a tight corset did constrain blood flow and cause fainting - but there was no shortage of corsets of all sizes.
Corsets dominated fashion between 1555 and 1908 when the first flowing gowns to be worn without a the constraining undergarment were designed. Another twenty years passed before the corset was relegated to history.
The image of the quintessential British gentleman, stoically solving a crossword puzzle while on a train voyage - is etched in our minds. The crossword puzzle appears to be a British institution, as ancient as the monarchy and a lot more rewarding.
The surprising fact is that it was invented only in December 1913.
It was first published as a "word-cross" puzzle in New York of all places - in a Sunday weekly called the "World".
Following a crossword craze launched by a nascent publishing company called "Simon and Schuster" in 1924, the Sunday Express in Britain picked up the American habit. The "New York Times" succumbed and published the first of its renowned crossword puzzles only in 1942.
Cyclopedia of Factoids
Download the FREE First Book of Links and Factoids - hundreds of amazing factoids and links: