Teach the Children Well – WIF Edu-tainment

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Things We

Teach Kids

(That Are Wrong)

Childhood is a time of wondrous belief. Children are taught that those who behave well will be rewarded with a visit from a “right jolly old elf” on Christmas Eve. A miraculous bunny visits on Easter, leaving baskets of goodies and hidden eggs, though the relationship between rabbits and eggs remains mysterious. Why a fairy would want the lost teeth of children, exchanging cash for them in the dead of night, is another mystery left largely unexplained, though children dutifully place no longer needed teeth beneath their pillows in expectation of financial reward.

Eventually such beliefs are outgrown, but many of the concepts taught to children are retained into adulthood, erroneously passed on by succeeding generations. Most are harmless, though nonetheless false. Some remain as fables, such as George Washington’s demonstration of honesty after using his new hatchet to remove his father’s prized cherry tree. Others represent simple lack of knowledge, shared with children in schools and at home. Here are 10 examples of things taught to children which remain widely believed, though provably wrong.

10. Camels store water in their humps

Everyone knows camels travel long distances over arid deserts, going days and even weeks without water. Both Bactrian (two humps) and Dromedary (one hump) camels possess the ability to last longer than any other transport animal without resorting to water. Their humps serve as water storage tanks, gradually decreasing in size as the fluid is absorbed by the animal. Camels refill their humps with water when they arrive at a stream or desert oasis, readying to embark on another long trek through wastelands. Or so children were long taught. In truth, a camel’s hump does not store water at all. Camel humps store fat.

The fat allows the animal to remain nourished during long periods between eating, an attribute for which camels are less well-known. As the fat is burned by the animal’s metabolism, the humps sag, replenished when the camel again has access to food. Camels drink massive amounts of water, up to 20 gallons at a time, which is stored in their bloodstream, not in their humps. In truth, a camel’s hump holds little water, and none as storage for long desert journeys.

9. Swallowed chewing gum stays in the stomach for years

Warning children against swallowing chewing gum often contained the veiled threat that said gum remains in the stomach for years, forming a large ball as additional pieces join it. The warning found its way to children largely through teachers who objected to their chewing gum in class. Imagery of digestive tracts clogged with wads of Juicy Fruit or Big Red served to deter such miscreant behavior, or at least it was so hoped. If a child spit out his or her gum, an obvious admission of misbehavior, an opportunity for assertion of authority presented itself. Swallowing the gum denied such opportunity, thus the creation of the myth of giant gumballs in the stomach.

Although some were taught that gum remained in the stomach for up to seven years, it was and is completely false. Gum remains in the stomach no longer than any other food ingested, which depending on individual metabolisms is 30 minutes to two hours. For most healthy people, the stomach is emptied within that time period, which is one reason people often snack between meals. Chewing gum is not intended to be swallowed, but the idea that it remains in the stomach indefinitely, growing into a larger mass, is totally false.

8. China’s Great Wall is the only man-made object visible from space

Teachers describing Ancient Chinese civilization often point out the Great Wall of China as the only man-made object on Earth visible from outer space. NASA disagrees. The wall is not visible from “low Earth orbit,” such as that maintained by the International Space Station, and all manned space missions in history other than those sent to the moon during the Apollo program in the 1960s and 1970s. The Great Wall can be “seen” by cameras and telescopes, but the unaided human eye cannot detect it from space, except under extraordinary viewing conditions, such as backlighting on Earth.

Other man-made structures are visible from space, including of course cities, especially at night when they are lighted. The Spanish greenhouse complex at Almeria, which produces the bulk of the fruits and vegetables sold in Spain and throughout western Europe, is visible. With clear viewing conditions, man-made canals and reservoirs are viewed by astronauts and cosmonauts. They also see the Kennecott Copper Mine, the largest excavation by man to be found anywhere in the world.

7. Most body heat escapes through the head, so wear a hat in winter

This one isn’t limited to children. Until recently, even the US Army instructed its recruits nearly half of their body heat escaped through the head, making the wearing of hats essential in controlling hypothermia. During the 1950s experiments regarding heat loss in humans led to the conclusion that most body heat escaped through the head, though subsequent research indicated the earlier experiments were flawed. The subjects were warmly covered except for their heads, meaning that more heat did escape from the exposed portion of the body.

In the 21st century, researchers discovered the estimates from previous studies were erroneous. More heat escapes from limbs than the head. According to a report in the British Medical Journal, published in 2008, about 7 to 10% of heat loss occurs through the head when it is exposed, rather than the nearly 50% previously believed. Of course, in frigid temperatures, all areas of skin should be covered to protect against frostbite, including the head and face.

6. Raindrops are shaped like tear drops

How and why this myth came into existence is a mystery, but raindrops aren’t generally shaped like teardrops at all. According to NASA, raindrops, as they fall to Earth, are shaped similarly to the top half of a hamburger bun, the bottom flattened by air resistance. They also change shape as they fall, affected by wind, their own mass, impact with other drops, and other factors. The image of teardrop shaped raindrops is reinforced by televised weather reports, and in the artwork drawn by young children, but it is false.

Nor do raindrops depart from clouds in a manner similar to water dripping from a leaking faucet. While lodged in a cloud the drops are globular, held in shape by their own surface tension. They retain the round shape as they begin their journey to the ground, before the other factors cited cause them to flatten on the bottom. The same surface tension which kept them round retains the circular shape of the top until it reaches its destination. Larger drops can even develop a parachute-like shape, but the top remains circular, rather than streamlining into a teardrop shape.

5. Columbus proved the Earth was round

This is one of the earliest distortions of history presented to children in school and entertainment. Christopher Columbus did not set out to prove the world was round, nor did he encounter resistance to his argument from men of science and religion. Nearly all educated people knew the world was round before Columbus set sail in 1492. There were books so describing the Earth at the time, one of which accompanied Columbus on his voyage. Not to mention that, for some today, Columbus proved nothing of the kind, and the Earth is, in fact, flat.

Flat Earthers generally believe the planet is flat, with the North Pole at the center and the outer edges bordered by the ice mass known as Antarctica. Others believe the Earth is flat because the Bible says it is flat, often referring to the “ends of the Earth” (28 times in the King James version). It’s probably safe to say there are more believers in a flat Earth today than there were in the time of Columbus. Even the highly influential churchmen of his day accepted the idea the Earth was spherical. The myth he had to overcome their opposition based on the belief of a flat Earth arose in the 19th century, with the works of Washington Irving and others.

4. Chameleons change color to hide from predators

Chameleons have long been fascinating to children and adults, based on their ability to change color. Children were taught the little lizard changed colors to adapt to their surroundings, in effect camouflaging themselves from predators. They do indeed change color, but not for the reason of hiding from their natural enemies. They change their color to attract the attention of other chameleons, and to regulate their body temperatures, becoming darker when they desire to retain more heat, and brighter to repel high temperatures.

Chameleons change their colors multiple times over the course of a day. If something makes them sense danger they generally darken themselves, while excitement will cause them to brighten. Only male chameleons change color, often to attract females. Their skin contains nanocrystals which they can expand and contract. Changing their shape affects the manner in which they reflect light, creating the change of color, rather than changing the pigmentation of their skin through the release of oils or inks as previously believed.

3. Albert Einstein failed math and was a generally poor student in school

Poorly performing students often hear the assertion that Albert Einstein failed math in elementary school, uttered by students and parents as a means of motivating them. The assertion is supported by websites, biographies, videos, and scores of other sources. It is false. When Ripley’s repeated the myth in its Believe it or Not column, Einstein responded by noting he had mastered integral calculus by the age of 15. He taught himself algebra, beginning at the age of 12. He never failed at math, and why children are taught otherwise is a mystery.

That is, until one considers he applied to enter the Swiss Federal Polytechnical School at Zurich at the age of 17, a year and a half early. He passed the math and science portions of the entrance examination, but failed the sections on history and social sciences. Einstein studied at a trade school for another year before retaking the entrance exam, which he passed. Gradually the failure to pass the entrance examination on the first try morphed into the myth that one of the greatest minds in history failed at basic mathematics in school.

2. Human blood is blue before it is oxygenated

The color of the blood vessels visible through human skin led to the belief, often reinforced by teaching it to children, that blood in veins is blue, while that in arteries is red. The fact that people always bleed red when cut is explained by claiming the exposure of blood to the air immediately oxygenates it — thus the color. The argument is supported by the appearance of veins, which look blue through the skin, an effect of the eyes rather than the blood the veins contain. Human blood is always red.

It is true that blood within arteries, which is oxygenated and on its way to nourish cells throughout the body, is brighter red than that returning to the heart in the veins. The veins appear blue because the light which penetrates the skin to make them visible is on different wave lengths, and the blue light is more successful in penetrating the skin and thus being apparent to the eye. It is an optical illusion, which led to children being incorrectly taught their blood was often blue.

1. It will go on your permanent record

Used as an admonishment to control the behavior of children, it will go on your permanent record applied to a wide range of activities. Failing to turn in homework on time could end up on the permanent record. Skipping classes was a permanent record offense. Failing a fourth grade English quiz could well appear on one’s permanent record, as could disruptive behavior in class. The permanent record loomed over childhood, a foreboding presence, though where it was maintained, and by whom, remained somewhat vague. Nonetheless, the permanent record threatened to bar one from a successful life, despite entries dating from first grade, and even earlier.

There was no permanent record, a fact learned as life evolved, at least for most of the activities which led to the dire warning. Unfortunately, there is one now. Social media and the internet save for posterity whatever is entered there, even after they’ve been deleted by whomever posted the items in the first place. What’s posted is easily found during background checks for employment, for school admissions, and for character checks. A minor indiscretion on social media can indeed become part of the permanent record, maintained in the cloud for all to see.


Teach the Children Well

WIF Edu-tainment

Climate Change For Dummies – WIF Mad Science

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Bizarre “Solutions”

to Climate Change

Fighting climate change – a widely-used euphemism for the ongoing climate catastrophe – is humanity’s biggest priority at this point. Or at least it should be, as most governments of the world are simply not bothered with something that may as well be the end of our species. It’s not even like we have to do impossible things to stop it; many scientists are of the opinion that if we just come together and take certain measures (like stick to treaties like the Paris agreement), we could avert the worst effects of it.

Though in usual human style, we’re busy thinking up other creative (and often outlandish) ways of trying to prevent this calamity, rather than actually joining hands and fixing what we’ve collectively broken. Here are some of the most bizarre potential solutions we’ve come up with to the biggest question facing humanity right now: how do we tackle climate change?

10. Blot Out the Sun

There are some definite reasons as to why things have gotten as bad as they are when it comes to ever-rising global temperatures. One of the biggest is greenhouse emissions. Nearly all industries around the world are responsible for it, and if countries like China look like major contributors to it right now, it’s only because the polluting stages of most developed countries are already in the distant past.

There are other culprits, too, though something that’s definitely not responsible is the existence of the sun. In some weird leap of reason, however, some scientists have concluded that it’s the sun that’s the whole problem, and are now looking for feasible ways to block it in order to cool the Earth down. They’re already planning experiments to inject chemicals into the atmosphere to dim the intensity of its rays, and while many other experts have warned against the adverse effects of literally dimming our primary source of energy, it looks like they’re going ahead with trying it out anyway.

9. Smaller Children

Even if the majority of the pollution and global warming is caused by industries, we all contribute to it in tiny ways. Every one of us has a carbon footprint, no matter how many plastic bottles we give up or online petitions against climate change we sign. Of course, our individual footprints aren’t nearly as large as, say, the oil industry, so as long as we do our part in living sustainable, things should be fine.

For some scientists though, the best way we can reduce our carbon footprint is by reducing the size of people themselves. In a research paper, some scientists argue that genetically engineering our babies to be smaller will go a long way in helping the environment. It seems that they came up with this by solving the incredibly complex ‘big people = big pollution’ equation. It may even work, though we think that there might be better ways of doing this without the whole eugenics vibe.

8. Cow Farts as Fuel

Vegans may be annoying, though they aren’t entirely wrong. The meat industry is actually quite a huge producer of greenhouse emissions, and cutting down on our meat consumption may really help with global warming. Some of the animals bred for consumption produce particularly harmful gases like methane, which is much deadlier than your usual carbon dioxide and such. Take cows, who account for 25 percent of all methane emissions in the world. Instead of cutting down on meat consumption, though, some scientists have come up with what they think is a better way: collecting their farts and using it as fuel.

Despite how ridiculous it sounds, it may just be one of the more sensible options on this list, even if we’re yet able to fully figure out the logistics of how it would work. Argentina has come up with a way to equip its cows with backpacks that collect the farts and convert the methane into fuel powder, which can then be used to power various things on the farm. It may be some time before this plan may actually start yielding results, but it may just be crazy enough to actually work.

7. Build Massive Underwater Walls

The oceans are the focal point in our fight against global warming, as they’re consistently growing warmer due to the rising temperature on the surface. What happens underwater affects us in more ways than we realize, or even yet understand. If we had to find a solution to restore the health of our oceans, we’d probably find ways to dump less plastic and oil into it, and limit our greenhouse emissions to cool the Earth down and stop the now-consistent rise in sea level. Though for the scientists who have given up on those solutions entirely, there’s another possible solution: build enormous walls of concrete underground.

We aren’t just talking about walls you build to keep water out of your farm; these would be gigantic underwater structures – starting from the ocean floor – to stop warm water from going near glaciers to halt their melting, and generally isolate the effects of warming to certain sections of the ocean. Who would build those walls? Robots, of course, as humans still aren’t the best at building structures at the depths we’re talking about.

6. Artificially brighten clouds

One of the most alarming parts of the whole climate change debate is how little time we have to be sitting around and having debates about it in the first place. Scientists have given us till 2050 to cut down our carbon emissions to zero if we’re going to even have a chance at reversing its worst effects. And we have the solutions, suggested by those same scientists, if only we could stick to them.

As we can’t really come together to do that, some scientists have more drastic solutions for the problem, one of them being artificially brightening clouds to reflect more sunlight back into the sky (as dark surfaces absorb the heat). There are many proposed ways to do it, like injecting salt into the clouds, or making whole new clouds of our own.

Yes, we’re talking about the same huge floating things found in the sky around the world, and yes, they realize the enormity of the task. It’s a part of a new type of potential solutions to global warming known as sunlight reflection methods (SRM). This is actually one of the more sensible plans, as others include painting the mountains white – instead of, you know, doing something to maintain the natural white of the ice currently melting off of them – or launching massive mirrors into orbit.

5. Cover Buildings with Slime

Even though industries – like oil and mining – are hugely responsible for climate change, they’re only a part of the problem. Modern civilization is inherently built to take from the Earth to thrive rather than coexisting with it, even though there have been many civilizations in the past that knew how to combine sustainability with economic development. Of course, we can take notes from them and start rearranging how we plan our cities and architecture, or we can find ways to keep them as is, with some modifications.

According to researchers from U.K.’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers, one of those ways is covering our buildings with algae. It’s not a bad idea per se, as it’s not like they’d just throw algae on the side of buildings and hope it sticks. It would be contained in huge tubes running throughout the length of the buildings, and could help by reducing CO2 levels in the air with photosynthesis. It’s obviously too expensive to do right now, and they’re looking into ways they could make it cheaper.

4. Sin Tax on Meat

As we said above, the meat industry is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse emissions in the world, and if something could be done about it, it’d go a long way in our fight against climate change. We’re not exactly asking everyone to go vegan overnight, but rather collectively coming up with more sustainable practices that could help reduce that.

Some of those solutions are more radical than the others, though — one of them being a sort of a sin tax on the consumption of meat, similar to what we have on products like tobacco and alcohol. An investor group called Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return (FAIRR) thinks that governments would start considering this sooner than we expect, and has already started taking measures to invest in more sustainable meat-producing ventures.

Other studies have also suggested a similar tax on meat due to its overwhelming contribution to global warming, and we can’t argue with their reasoning: they tried asking us nicely first.

3. Kill the Camels

Different countries have come up with their own solutions to global warming, each according to how rich they are and how they’re contributing to it. Where countries like India and China are drastically reconsidering the way their industries work, other countries at a higher risk of drowning due to rising sea levels – like Malaysia – have taken to being nicer to other nations, in the hopes that we’d do something about the problem a bit faster.

Australia’s assessment of the situation, on the other hand, is rather focused – they think it’s all because of those pesky camels. In case you didn’t know, yes, Australia has camels. It actually has so many that it sends some to Saudi Arabia whenever they’re a bit short. According to an increasingly-popular opinion in Australia, eradicating camels should solve climate change for the foreseeable future, as they’re one of the biggest producers of methane, and are generally looked down on as pests. While that may be true, if we go by that, we should just kill all the animals in the world, as most of them produce methane. The camels need protection from changing climate as much as we do.

2. Turn CO2 into Rocks

Iceland – and Scandinavia in general – has been particularly worried about climate change, as it’s one of the few countries that will feel its worst effects before most other nations due to its proximity to the Arctic. It’s also one of the more technologically advanced countries in the western world, and has been trying to come up with creative solutions to tackle the problem with the tech that it has.

It may sound a bit weird, though from all the items on this list, it may just end up having the most impact. The University of Iceland – along with a bunch of other researchers – has come up with a way to turn CO2 emissions into rocks, and store them underground so it’s never released back into the air. If you’re asking ‘well why don’t we just do that then’, you should know that it’s not easy to do. It takes CO2 emissions from an industrial facility, mixes it with water and sends it to another facility, which in turn dumps it deep into the Earth. The fizzy liquid mixes with the basalt in the ground, and turns into rocks within a few months, and the technology that can do it is expensive and only proven to be effective at one facility.

1. Resurrecting Animals

If a lot of our efforts to stop climate change are focused on saving the Arctic, it’s because of a more pressing reason beyond maintaining the natural ice cover. It’s believed that a lot of greenhouse gases – worse than what we already have in the atmosphere – are buried deep beneath the Arctic permafrost, and its thawing could release them in the atmosphere, further accelerating global warming.

According to a group of scientists at Harvard, the best way to do that would be by resurrecting the woolly mammoth. The ongoing theory is that the mammoths will do regular mammoth things – like running around, trampling trees and shrubs and generally having a good time – which would help increase the grass cover. Grass, as we know, absorbs less heat than other plants, and could theoretically stop the thawing of the permafrost over a long enough period of time. Though to be honest, we really don’t think we have that long, as mammoth resurrection is still quite a bit in the distant future.


Climate Change For Dummies

WIF Mad Science

Cowboy Confidential – Old West Misconceptions

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Common Misconceptions

About Cowboys

Image result for old west

They’re the guys with the thousand yard stare. The one with six-shooters in their holsters, a broad-brim hat on their heads and enough jagged iron in their guts to break down even the toughest steak. They are the cowboys, and everyone knows they’re the coolest, calmest, most-heroic folk in America history.

 Or are they? What if we were to tell you that the cowboys you think you know are nothing like the real ones? That your mental image of cowboys could do with slightly less stoicism and gunfights… and more camels, examples of poor personal hygiene, and venereal diseases. Here are 10 little-known, crazy facts about the men who really tamed America’s wild west.

10. Most Cowboys Didn’t Carry Guns

gun

The gun-totin’ cowboy is the only cowboy most of us can picture. He’s Clint Eastwood on the way to a shootout. John Wayne blowing away bad guys. Yet take your Blu-Ray player back to the 19th century and show a genuine cowboy these films and he’d likely look at you askance. Why? Because real cowboys only rarely carried weapons.

Sure, you might need them when you were out on a cattle drive or whatever. But when you got to town? Check that baby at the door. Most towns in the wild west enacted strict gun control, just to make sure the sort of shootouts we see in movies didn’t happen on a daily basis. Even the infamous Tombstone didn’t let its cowboys walk round armed. The Gunfight at the OK Carrol only came about because Doc and Earp were trying to enforce gun laws.

The city wasn’t alone. Dodge City, Wichita, and others all stopped their visitors from packing heat. So how did cowboys solve problems without their pistols? We’re glad you asked…

9. They Almost Never Got in Fights

It’s said that “the true story of the American West is one of cooperation, not conflict.” Although 90 percent of westerns involve people getting shot, a barroom brawl, a violent posse riding into town, or (more likely) all three, the truth of the frontier was that acting tough was a good way to wind up dead. If you wanted to survive, you basically had to get on with your neighbors.

This meant no high noon showdowns, no thuggery, and no murders. Even in the roughest, toughest cattle towns, the murder rate was generally lower than that of most modern American cities. Bank robberies, too, were rare. In 2005, the University of Dayton calculated that there were more bank robberies in modern Dayton in a single year than there were across the entire Old West in a typical decade.

There were exceptions, of course. In the immediate post-Civil War period violence sporadically flared up, and Native American tribes often experienced the brutal side of the frontier. But these were the exceptions. Even notorious outlaws were less violent than their reputation suggests. Billy the Kid, for example, spent way more time rustling cattle than he ever did robbing banks or shooting people.

8. Many Were Ravaged by Venereal Diseases

old west

If your mental image of a cowboy is John Wayne acting all moral and clean-cut, you might not want to read this entry. The reality of cowboy life was dirty from beginning to end. Cowpokes often went days on end without bathing. They were smelly. Often covered in grime and stale sweat. But dirtiest of all was what was happening inside their bodies. Y’see, it’s now thought that many citizens of the frontier were crawling with venereal diseases.

Depending on where you were in the Old West, between 50 to 90 percent of the local prostitutes were likely carrying STDs. And since many cowboys liked to, ahem, avail themselves of these ladies’ talents, that meant a whole bunch of cowboys were riding around with a growing bacterial menagerie between their legs.

Although precise figures are hard to come by today, we know that new recruits to the US Army between 1876 and 1896 were frequently diseased, suggesting many of the general population were, too. Some have even suggested that crazy behavior by guys such as the Wild Bill Hickok might have been due to syphilis, making them act all eccentric.

 7. Plenty Didn’t Do Any Riding Whatsoever

cowboys

Close your eyes. Picture a cowboy. Got him? Right: What animal did he appear with?

Despite the name, almost none of you said ‘cow’. For a good reason. Cowboys in modern mythos are almost completely inseparable from their horses. The image of them riding across the high plains on a long cattle drive is one charged with romance and the spirit of adventure. For many cowboys, that was exactly what life was like.

But not for all of them. For a significant minority, their job description involved absolutely no riding whatsoever.

This was especially true at the end of the era, from about 1885 onwards. A dry summer and a terrible winter had convinced many ranchers to keep their cattle close to home. For a huge chunk of cowboys, that meant the romance of the plain was suddenly replaced with menial labor like mending fences and checking penned cows for disease. If they got to ride anything at all, it would likely be a haymow. Unsurprisingly, most hated such work.

6. Some That Did Ride Rode Camels

camel

Here’s a classic western scene. The sun stands at high noon, baking the lifeless city streets. A tumbleweed blows through the dust. A shadow appears on the horizon. It’s the cowboy. He emerges out of the heat haze, skin like cracked leather… and proceeds to ride into town on the back of his Arabian camel. Wait, what?

It’s true. In certain parts of the Old West, horses were as rare as they are in big cities today. Instead, ranchers had their cowboys ride on the backs of camels that had been imported in the 1850s, and accidentally released into the wild at the height of the Civil War.

Because of the harsh conditions on the frontier, it had been theorized camels would cope much better than horses with the heat. The US Government agreed. At great cost it imported hundreds of camels to Camp Verde, only for war to break out. When the Confederates seized the camp they released the camels. For the next few decades, enterprising ranchers occasionally caught a few, broke them in and gave them to their cowboys to work with.

 5. ‘Brokeback’ Encounters Were Surprisingly Common

brokeback

Remember 2005? That was the year Brokeback Mountain hit cinemas and Heath Ledgerproved he didn’t have to be in clown makeup to provide a magnetic performance. The movie was also controversial among some who thought it was grafting our modern notions of sexuality onto a historic setting (in this case, the 1960s).

Interestingly, this is the one criticism that can easily be refuted. According to historian and author Patricia Nell Warren, gay encounters were way more common in the Old West than we ever realized.

A lot of this is thanks to the conditions cowboys had to endure. Long stretches of time away from women, surrounded by other men, led to occasional ‘one-off’ trysts simply as a way of relieving sexual tension. Within that mix, you had a handful of genuinely gay cowboys, who’d often fled out West as a way of achieving anonymity. Because manpower was scarce, it was impractical for landowners to refuse to hire them due to their sexuality.

As social historians John D’Emilio and Estelle Freedman noted in their book Intimate Matters, there are even surviving love poems written from cowboys to one another. It might have been frowned upon by the rest of society, but on the Frontier, homosexuality was relatively open.

4. Black Cowboys Were Also Surprisingly Common

black cowboys

Quick: how many westerns can you name that feature black cowboys? Most of us can probably only get Django Unchained and Blazing Saddles. As a result, you might think African-American cowpokes were a rarity on the frontier. You’d be wrong. By some estimates, as many as one in four cowboys were black.

It makes sense when you think about it. Cowpunching, as it was often called, was a dirty, difficult, badly-paid, working class job. In the post-Civil War era, those were exactly the sort of jobs newly-emancipated slaves might be expected to do. And as we mentioned above, the Old West was one area where employers couldn’t afford to turn a good pair of hands away, no matter what the color of their skin was.

That’s not to say everything on the frontier was racial harmony. Way into the 20thcentury, black cowboys were expected to do the hardest, toughest jobs of all. They were the ones breaking in wild horses, doing all the cooking on wagon drives, and holding the cattle down at branding time. On the other hand, black cowboys often had a degree of autonomy and responsibility they would have lacked in other jobs. Perhaps that’s why so many ex-slaves chose to head out West.

3. Outlaws Were Shameless Self-Promoters

billy the kid

When you hear that robbers today are live-Tweeting their own break-ins, it’s tempting to assume we’ve hit rock bottom as a culture. Such nonsense would never have happened in the stoic Old West, right? Kinda. Although photographs of Pat Garrett playing on his smartphone have yet to surface, outlaws of the cowboy era were just as narcissistic as today’s criminals. When conducting major crimes, they frequently handed out press releases.

Jesse James was notorious for this. When holding up a train, he’d pass witnesses a carefully-written note, boasting about his own exploits. He wasn’t the only one. Billy the Kid deliberately inflated his kill-count from 8 to 21, and boasted about his violent temper. In fact, the Kid almost never got involved with shooting, robbing or hold ups. The main reason the law went after him was because he kept rustling cattle.

On the other side, the good guys were equally image-conscious. Wild Bill’s nickname actually referred to his gigantic nose, similar in size to a duck’s bill. It was only by effort he made out it referred to his ‘wild’ and dangerous nature, thereby terrifying local criminals.

2. The Rest of the Country Considered Them Suspicious and Dirty

cowboys2

The cowboy is enshrined in legend as the epitome of American values. While other eras and professions have their draws, it’s impossible to think of a historic figure today more beloved by the entire nation. Which just goes to show how times change. In the early days of the Frontier, cowpunchers were regarded as ill-educated vagrants at best, and dangerous carriers of disease at worst.

Around the Deep South, cowboys were considered trespassers who used public land for their own gain. The North generally considered them illiterate (they usually were). Even along the Great Plains, there was much resentment. Cattle drives routinely trampled the crops of farmers and Native Americans, and it was the cowpunchers themselves who got the blame. Many people even feared they would spread dreaded ‘Texas Fever’ throughout the land. It’s safe to say that, during the golden age of the cowboy, most of America regarded them as a smelly nuisance.

It wasn’t really until the early 20th century that pulp novelists and early Hollywood began to transform these tough, dirty, uneducated men into folk heroes. Fast forward to today and that’s the image that remains.

 1. Modern Germans Love Them

german flag

Of all the countries in the world, which do you think has fallen for the cowboy myth the hardest (aside from the good ol’ US-of-A, that is)? Nope, it’s not Canada. Not Australia. Not even Great Britain. The country most obsessed with the cowboy today? Germany.

For some reason, Germans go nuts over cowboy-related stuff. Hundreds of clubs exist across this mountainous European nation, where people go on weekends to dress as cowboys and pretend they’re living in 19th century Texas. It’s estimated that several tens of thousands of Germans do this every single week, with many, many thousands more holding a passing interest in such exploits.

Nor is this a completely modern thing. Back in the 1930s, the Nazis venerated cowboys almost as much as they did genocide. Hitler himself was known to be a huge fan of westerns, often reading cowboy books between bouts of conquest and megalomania. For some reason, this very un-German tradition has taken deep root in a country far more ordered and rule-abiding than the Old West ever was. Which just goes to show, we guess, that you never can tell what the future has in store.


Cowboy Confidential

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– Old West Misconceptions

BS or Truth II – WIF Confidential

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True Facts

That Sound Like

BS

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In a world where fake news and false factoids are rampant, it is hard to distinguish what is true and what isn’t, especially when it sounds so unbelievable. We have gone through some crazy news stories and unbelievable tales from history and culled even more of the most interesting, unbelievable facts that sound like BS, but are completely true.

 10. There’s a Novel That Doesn’t Contain the Letter E

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In 1936 author Ernest Vincent Wright set out1 to write a book that did not contain the letter “E,” which is the most common letter in the English language. He got really excited about the project because other people said it would be impossible to do without ignoring the rules of grammar. Yet, Wright was able to bang out a 50,000 word novel,called Gadsby. To ensure he didn’t use the “E” key on his typewriter, he disabled it. He said that the hardest problem was avoiding words that ended with “-ed.”

 The plot of Gadsby revolves around the fictional city of Branton Hills, which was in a decline. The book’s main character, John Gadsby, leads a group of young people to help rejuvenate it.

The novel wasn’t successful when it was first released, but the book has developed a following in later years and a first edition is now highly collectable.

9. A Woman Paid $10,000 for Invisible Art1

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Oh James Franco, sometimes you seem all right. But other times it’s hard not to figure out where you live, travel there, and then hit you up the backside of your head. Case in point is his the Museum of Non-Visible Art, which, you may have gathered, is full of art that doesn’t physically exist. Instead, the artist imagines a piece of art and explains it to the audience. If that wasn’t ridiculous enough, people can also buy the works of art. The purchaser gets a card with the piece’s name, and then the owner takes it and puts it on their wall. And then they have to explain the art to their audience. Basically, it’s the most pretentious-sounding endeavor you can probably imagine (and then you can sell that imaginary endeavor, if you’re James Franco).

Strangely, Franco is not the most pretentious person in this story. That would be the woman who bought a piece of invisible art for $10,000. Fresh Air was purchased by Aimee Davison, who says her title is a new media producer. We have to say, good choice of giving away your money to a rich movie star like James Franco; we don’t think there are any starving children who could have used that money to, you know, eat.

8. Saudi Arabia Imports Camels from Australia

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The first thing about this factoid that you may be surprised to learn is that Australia has camels. They were imported onto the continent in the 19th century from Arabia, India, and Afghanistan because they were well suited to Australia’s outback. However, when the combustion engine came along, the camels weren’t needed. So they were released into the outback, and today it is a huge problem. There is one roaming pack that has 750,000 camels.

Another thing you may be surprised to learn is that Australia also exports camels to Saudi Arabia, a place you’d think would be plentiful with camels. It would be like Canada importing beavers.

While there are plenty of camel farms in Saudi Arabia, their camels are bred for domestic uses and racing. The camels from Australia are mostly used for meat, which is a delicacy in many countries in the Middle East.

7. Cleopatra was Greek, Not Egyptian

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One of the most famous Egyptian rulers of all time is Cleopatra VII. When she was 18, in 51 BC, she became co-regent of Egypt with her 10-year-old brother and she more or less ruled for the next three decades.

While Cleopatra is a famous Pharaoh, she and the other Macedonian rulers of Egypt were Alexandria-based, which was the center of Greek culture. Cleopatra, like other rulers of the Macedonian dynasty, spoke Greek and observed Greek customs.

What made Cleopatra so beloved among the Egyptians was that unlike other leaders, she learned to speak Egyptian and commissioned art of herself in traditional Egyptian style. As a result, Cleopatra was one of the most beloved of the Pharaohs, even though she was Greek.

6. The Internet Weighs as Much as a Strawberry

You may be wondering how the internet can have a weight, since it is data. Well, it turns out that when you download something to a device, let’s say a song to your iPod, it increases the weight of the device. The reason the device gets heavier is because when data is added to a device, it results in something called trapped electrons and they have higher energy than untrapped ones, and the higher energy increases the weight. However, since the increase is so slight it is impossible to notice.

Using that information, the YouTube channel VSauce figured out how much all the data on the internet weighs. That includes all the cat pictures and pornography, and it is about 50 grams, or roughly the weight of a strawberry.

5. It’s Possible for Twins to Have Two Different Fathers

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The first case of two different men fathering a set of twins happened in 2008. A woman named Regina was on the show to see if her ex-boyfriend was the father of her twins, and he was only the father to one of them.

The second time was in 2011 when 19-year-old Alejandrina went on the show claiming that her boyfriend Jose was the father of her twins. She also emphatically deniedsleeping with anyone else but Jose. Well, the lie detector determined that was a lie, and the DNA test proved that Jose was only the father to one of the twins.

Both times it happened on the show, Maury and the audience were shocked. Mostly by the whole “twins by different parents” thing, but probably at least in part by the fact that Maury is still on the air.

4. The Voice Actors who were Mickey and Minnie Mouse Were Married in Real Life

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Wayne Allwine got his start at Disney in the mailroom in 1966. Over the next several years, he was able to work his way up to the sound department, and became the third man to voice Mickey Mouse, a position he held for 30 years.

In 1985, Disney was starting a new show called Totally Minnie and Russi Taylor was hired on to be the voice of Minnie Mouse. After a recording session, they met in the hallway and hit it off immediately.

The couple was married for 18 years, until Allwine’s death in 2009 at the age of 62. Taylor is still the voice of Minnie Mouse and she also provides the voices of Martin Prince, Üter, and Sheri and Teri on The Simpsons.

3. Guy Gets Heart Transplant from a Suicide Victim, Marries his Widow, Commits Suicide the Same Way

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In 1995, when Sonny Graham was 57, he needed a new heart or he’d die from congestive heart failure. The good news for Graham was that a donor heart had come available, because 33-year-old Terry Cottle had shot himself.

After getting the heart, Graham was grateful, so he sent thank you letters to Terry’s family. This led to Graham corresponding with Terry’s widow, Cheryl Cottle. In January 1997, when Cheryl was 28, she and Graham met. Graham said it felt like he’d known Cheryl his whole life.

In 2001, Graham bought a house for Cottle and her children to live in and three years later, Cheryl and Graham were married. 12 years after getting Terry’s heart, in April 2006, Graham committed suicide. Just like Terry, it was from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

2. The1 Night Before his Execution an Inmate Escaped, but was Killed the Following Night in a Bar Fight

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On November 21, 1973, 20-year-old Troy Leon Gregg was hitchhiking. He was picked up in Gwinnett County, Georgia, by Fred Edward Simmons and Bob Durwood Moore and at some point, Gregg decided to rob the two men. In the process of the robbery, Gregg shot both men to death. He was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death in 1974.

After appealing the sentence, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence and Gregg was scheduled to be executed on July 29, 1980. However, the day before Gregg was to die, he and three other death row inmates escaped by sawing through the bars of their cells, and then wore fake guard uniforms.

However, Gregg’s freedom was short lived. He was beaten to death on the night he should have been executed at a biker bar by James C. “Butch” Horne Jr. The other three escapees were arrested three days later, though it’s unclear whether they, too, met some Final Destination-like fate.

1. Hitler was Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize

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One of humanity’s greatest villains was Adolf Hitler. It’s impossible to figure out how many deaths he and the Nazis were responsible for, but it is in the tens of millions.

Three months after starting World War II with the invasion of Poland in 1939, (and 16 months after being named Time’s Man of the Year), Hitler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Swedish politician Erik Gottfrid Christian Brandt. Another nominee that year was Mahatma Gandhi.

What the Nobel committee didn’t get was that Brandt’s letter nominating Hitler was ironic. Brandt was anti-fascism and he wanted to provoke Hitler and the Nazis. When Brandt realized that the committee didn’t know it was a joke, he immediately withdrew his nomination. We hope in part because he realized that if you have to explain a joke, it’s just not funny anymore.

In the end, no one won the 1939 Nobel Peace Prize because of the outbreak of World War II. But we’re hoping it would have been Gandhi over Hitler.


 BS or Truth II

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– WIF Confidential