May 26 • 11:30 PM

Something to talk about

November 28, 2007
Once a week my wife and I take a thirty minute drive to Borders to check out the magazines and look through the latest offerings in audio books, films and explore the sale tables. Needless to say we can easily spend a couple hours over coffee and scones, and come away with a number of additions to our library. I am still working my way through books we purchased several weeks ago and I thought today I would share some information gleaned from the latest publication of the Useless Information Society, a book entitled 'The Book Of Useless Information.'

Item: The average four-year-old child asks more than four hundred questions a day. Needless to say I called my youngest son and father to my grandchildren to check this out and he told me it could possibly be true. And when I told him that children between the ages of two and seven color, on average, for twenty-eight minutes each day he allowed as how that was also quite possible. Considering the grandchildren leave us with three or four hand drawn pictures after each visit I'd have to agree.

I would say they are still in their post modernist stage in so far as these future masterpieces are concerned and eventually their grandmother and I hope one day to emerge from the stick figure stage into more or less real people.

Anyway back to a few more gems of useless information. This "fact" might be filed under 'poetic justice.' According to the book, Peter the Great not only executed his wife's lover but forced her to keep his head preserved in a jar of alcohol in her bedroom. I'm sure there is some kind of moral in there somewhere.

I must confess I've always liked reading this kind of information and often collected bits and pieces for use in my classes. I used to drive my government students nuts with the question, "What is the world's oldest functioning democracy?" The answer is Iceland where, according to 'The Book Of Useless Information.' its people read more books per capita than any other people in the world. I just bet it has something to do with the climate and the long winters in that part of the world.

This kind of information you can usually find as fill to even out newspaper columns and prior to the turn of the 19th Century newspapers were often called tabloids, chronicles or gazettes.But with the invention of teletype started carrying stories from all over, north. east, west, and south at which point they came to be called newspapers. You might also notice that the lead paragraph in most stories carry the basic information of the piece due to the fact that telegraph lines were often cut and reporters wanted to get the most critical information to the paper before that happened.

The longest place name still in use is: Taumatawhakatangihangaoauotameteaturipikakpikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, which is a hill in New Zealand…and no I don't have any idea of how to pronounce it.

Our word for 'sheriff' is derived from feudal England where each shire had a reeve who was the law for that shire, called the shire reeve. The term COP actually means constable on patrol.

Coke is used to clean up blood spills on highways and the first man to distill bourbon whiskey was a Baptist preacher in 1789.

Barbie's full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts. If she were life size she would be 5 feet 9 inches tall, and her measurement would be 33-18-31 ˝.

According to a British law passed in 1845, attempting to commit suicide was a capital offense and offenders could be hanged for trying. So long as both parties are registered blood donors dueling is legal in Paraguay. In Cleveland, Ohio it is illegal to catch mice without a hunting license. It is against the law to stare at the Mayor of Paris and in Arizona it is illegal to hunt camels.

The phrase "the whole nine yards" came from World War II fighter pilots in the Pacific. When arming their planes on the ground the .50 caliber machine gun ammo belts measured exactly twenty seven feet before being loaded into the fuselage. If the pilots fired all their ammo at the target, it got the whole nine yards.

The very first bomb dropped by the Allies on Berlin during World War II killed the only elephant in the Berlin Zoo.

The Hundred Years War actually lasted 116 years.

The main library at Indiana University sinks more than an inch each year because when it was built engineers failed to take into account the weight of all of the books that would occupy the building. The University of Alaska stretches across four time zones.

So there you are a few useful bits of information you can drop into the conversation at the next cocktail party. Just remember that coffee does not help sober you up since in many cases it may actually increase the adverse effects of alcohol. Cheers!

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