Clippings by John McCright: Government savants know it all
Doom and gloom, that’s all we hear about from the government. Hackers breaking into federal databases to steal mountains of information on common Americans, bureaucrats injudiciously spending tax money on poorly thought out projects, lawmakers arguing over the stupidest things while roads crumble, children missing much-needed medical care and so-called regulators letting Wall Street crooks drain our retirement accounts with impunity.
But enough of all that, those folks who run our government do kick back and relax every now and then, and they want you to have some fun, too. Must be that’s why so many government agencies created “Fun Facts” webpages. NASA’s got tons of Fun Facts pages; you’d think that working there was a regular laugh riot.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Science has a particularly fun list of fun facts. Did you know that:
• It is impossible for most people to lick their own elbow. (Try it!)
• A shrimp’s heart is in its head.
• It is physically impossible for pigs to look up into the sky.
• “The sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick” is believed to be the toughest tongue twister in the English language.
• Rats multiply so quickly that in 18 months, two rats could have over a million descendants.
• Cat urine glows under a black-light.
• Rubber bands last longer when refrigerated.
• Almonds are a member of the peach family.
• The characters Bert and Ernie on “Sesame Street” were named after Bert the cop and Ernie the taxi driver in Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
• A dime has 118 ridges around the edge.
• The giant squid has the largest eyes in the world.
The EPA offers these factoids to drop at your next cocktail party:
• If all of the water vapor in the Earth’s atmosphere fell at once, distributed evenly, it would only cover the earth with about an inch of water.
• A gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds; a cubic foot of water weighs 62.4 pounds.
The Library of Congress’s Fun Facts page, not surprisingly, kicks butt. The LOC breaks up its Everyday Mysteries facts into 10 sections. It presents information in the form of questions; here are some of the most intriguing (I’ve excerpted the answers):
• Why does chopping an onion make you cry? (Unstable chemicals.)
• How did the grapefruit get its name? (The name refers to the manner in which grapefruit grows in clusters on a tree.)
• Why do turkeys have dark and white meat? (The active muscles such as the legs store a lot of oxygen and become dark, while less active muscles like the breast remain white.)
• How do fortunes get inside of fortune cookies? (Slips of paper are folded inside while the cookies are still warm and flexible.)
• Can it rain frogs, fish, and other objects? (Yes … sort of.)
• Does your heart stop when you sneeze? (No.)
• What causes a noise when you crack a joint? (Escaping gases, movement and rough surfaces.)
• What is the strongest muscle in the human body? (A long, complicated answer that includes the gluteus maximus, heart, muscles of the uterus, tongue and the external muscles of the eye.)
• Why does hair turn gray? (Still a mystery.)
What’s wrong with the way some government employees think? On the U.S. Census website, the Father’s Day Fun Facts page illustrates the number of hardware and sporting goods stores where you could buy a gift for dad, while the Mother’s Day Fun Facts page illustrates how many children American women are rearing. I guess we know what dads and moms are good for.
Don’t be too hard on the Census; other fun facts show us that in 2012 the state of Oregon had 50 candy and nut stores and 1,933 dentist offices, while Georgia had only 36 candy and nut stores while it boasted 3,437 dentist offices. (Because I know you’re curious: Vermont tallied 12 candy and nut stores and 257 dentist offices.)
Speaking of states, Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson proudly points out on his Fun Facts page that the “Gem State” (who knew that was Idaho’s nickname? I didn’t until I saw it among Simpson’s Fun Facts) is number one in the nation in the production of:
• Potatoes (no surprise).
• Trout (hmmm).
• Austrian winter peas (really?).
• Lentils (wow).
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fun Facts include these fishermen’s superstitions:
• Sailors who wear earrings or have tattoos won’t drown.
• Saying the words “alligator” or “pig” bring bad luck.
• Bananas bring bad luck to fishing and could mean disaster for the trip.
• Disaster will follow if you step onto a boat with your left foot first.
• Cutting your hair or nails at sea is bad luck.
• If you carry a fishing pole into the house before a fishing trip you will not catch any fish.
The Fun Facts provided by the Maricopa County Stadium District, the government body responsible for the Diamondbacks Major League Baseball stadium in Phoenix, offers some interesting insights into how different the Arizona desert is from the Green Mountains. In the stadium:
• 8,000 tons of electric cooling equipment will take approximately four hours to cool the ballpark from 110 degrees to 72 degrees in mid-summer.
• The retractable roof uses a pair of 200 horsepower motors to open and close the roof in slightly less than five minutes
• The field features natural grass and receives sunlight six to eight hours per day. If areas of the field receive too little sunlight, large growth lights are plugged in to provide substitute lighting.
• The Pool Party section beyond right-center field gives about 35 fans the opportunity to see the Diamondbacks play while enjoying a swimming pool, hot tub, fountains, catering and other amenities. When any Diamondback player hits a home run, water cannons will fire streams of water 30 to 35 feet into the air.
What a different world.
Probably my favorite Fun Fact comes from the Library of Congress, which answers the simple question “How high can a nine-banded armadillo jump into the air?” with a long accounting of amazing armadillo facts:
Armadillos can cross bodies of water by either inflating their stomachs and intestines with air and floating across the water, or by sinking down and using their sharp claws to walk across the bottom (they can hold their breath for six minutes or more!). The nine-banded armadillo always gives birth to quadruplets (always the same gender) from a single egg. The Latin name for armadillo, Dasypus, is derived from the Latin word for rabbit; and it is said that armadillos without their shells resemble rabbits.
Oh, and how high can they jump into the air? An amazing three or four feet.