A feast of fetching facts

Joseph Gallagher

December 31, 1990|By Joseph Gallagher

READ and Relax." I love that hilarious newspaper slogan. But I did read this past year, and I came up with these items of various relaxicity:

The latest worry: Electricity may give you cancer. Advice: Keep your distance from TV sets, computer terminals, electric razors. (An old joke revives: "You need a shave." "I shaved this morning." "Next time, stand closer to the razor.")

This was the year the earthquake didn't hit New Madrid, Mo. The series of quakes that rocked the area in 1811-1812 caused the Mississippi to roll backward, shook scaffolding at the U.S. Capitol and made church bells ring in Boston. In an average year there are 60 significant quakes (over 6.5 on the Richter scale) causing a total average of 10,000 deaths.

San Francisco is the nation's second most-crowded city, with 14,000 people per square mile. New York has 23,000; the borough of Manhattan, 58,000. The U.S. average is 63 people per square mile.

Men outnumber women in prison, 25 to 1; boys enter mental hospitals twice as often as girls; eight out of 10 patients in drug or alcohol programs are men; three out of four murder victims are men; on the average, women live eight years longer than men.

Is mid-life crisis inevitable? A study by the American Board of Family Practice (which includes 37,000 family physicians) claims that a majority of Americans views the years 46 through 65 very positively. The mid-life crisis is seen as the exception rather than the rule.

Another survey (by the Los Angeles Times) found that nearly two-thirds of Americans over 65 say they are pleased with the way things are going in their lives, whereas only about half of those between 18 and 49 say they are very satisfied with their lives. Those between 50 and 64 are more satisfied than their juniors, though less so than their elders.

The average first marriage today lasts 11 years, the second seven years.

Within a decade of their vows, 38 percent of Americans who had lived together before marriage split up, compared with 27 percent who didn't.

"Build it and they will come." Last summer more than 10,000 people visited the site of the movie, "Field of Dreams." It is located in the town of Dyersville, Iowa (population 4,000). Foreign visitors include Japanese, Mexicans and Australians.

The Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. gets from 35,000 to 50,000 weather phone calls on an average day, 200,000 in severe weather.

One out of every 360 U.S. citizens is a lawyer. In the District of Columbia the rate is one out of every 22.

According to recent statistics, there are 25,900 publishers in the U.S. Each year some 70,000 titles go out of print. If you read 135 books a day, you couldn't keep up with all of the 50,000 titles printed annually in the U.S. Ireland has the highest per capita book consumption of any nation. Missoula, Mont., has the highest per capita number of book stores in the U.S.

As you read this sentence, about 1,000 billion neutrinos are passing through your body, like gnats flying through the Superdome. These electrically neutral particles were released about one second after the theoretical big bang at the start of cosmic history.

Drivers who eat too much chocolate on an empty stomach can significantly raise their blood alcohol levels, thanks to fermenting glucose.

Low-fat diets have been found to make people more aggressive. The British Medical Journal claimed that cutting out cholesterol to avoid heart attacks doubles the risk of violent death.

A leading Soviet economist estimates that up to 30,000 people in the Soviet Union are millionaires, mostly from dealing in the country's thriving black market.

According to a story in Andrei Gromyko's memoirs, Fidel Castro was looking for someone to head the National Bank of Cuba right after his revolution. "Which of you is an economist?" he asked his assembled friends. Thinking Fidel had said communist, Che Guevara responded, "I am." "OK, you handle the economy," Castro said.

Moments before conducting a concert, Arthuro Toscanini was approached by his bassoon player, who nervously explained that he had just broken the bottom key on his instrument. The maestro thought for a moment, then replied: "Don't worry, G-flat doesn't appear anywhere in tonight's program." Toscanini knew by heart the words and music of some 100 operas, and every note for every instrument for about 250 symphonic works.

In 1723 a Ukrainian military leader jailed by Czar Peter the Great died in prison. For safekeeping Colonel Pavel Polubotok had sent a barrel of gold to the Bank of England. A Ukrainian deputy now wants the gold back. He estimates that with interest the treasure is now worth $29 trillion.

In the London subway, the conductor of a stopped train saw that a moving train was accidentally heading for him. He reached out the window, connected two wires on the tunnel wall, shortcircuited the electricity supply and kept the moving train from crashing into him.

Hendrick Goosen died this year at 85. In 1938 he caught a fish thought to have been extinct for 70 million years. The fish was noticed by a museum curator at a dock in South Africa and identified a month later as a coelacanth.

Though the '90s began a year ago, many folks claim that the new decade doesn't begin until 1991.

Prepare for the big fight as to when the new century (and millennium) begins, 2000 or 2001. As Hillel Schwartz documents in his recent book, "Century's End," this battle has been raging for quite a few centuries now.

Joseph Gallagher is a priest of the Baltimore Archdiocese.

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