There are a few people who have a condition called Familial Dysautonomia (FD), also known as Riley-Day Syndrome, a disease that causes certain nervous systems to malfunction. The first is autonomic nervous system, which controls bodily functions such as swallowing and digestion, regulation of blood pressure and body temperature and the body’s response to stress. The next is the sensory nervous system, which helps the body to taste, recognize hot and cold and identify painful sensations.

The distinguishing characteristic of FD is the lack of overflow tears with emotional crying.  Children with FD may have difficulty feeding. They also may be unable to feel pain, and can break bones or burn themselves without realizing they’ve been injured. 

The disease is caused by a genetic disorder present in one in 30 Ashkenazi Jews. Carriers of the disease do not display any symptoms or warning signs.

There is yet no cure for FD.  Current treatments aim at controlling symptoms and avoiding complications.


It’s a two-stage process. First, its sucks up water into its trunk. Next, it squirts the water into its mouth. The elephant uses its ability to suck up water for other purposes as well. It may direct water over its body to keep cool on a hot day, or it may squirt water full force at those who try to torment it.


The largest urban American bat colony lives in Austin, Texas under the Congress Avenue Bridge.  They are Mexican free-tail bats numbering 1.5 million – about the number of people living in the city of Austin. 

Thousands of people gather at various points to witness the amazing sight presented as every evening from mid-March to early November the bats blanket the sky as they emerge in numerous columns from their roosts under the bridge.  The most impressive flights may be seen from late July through mid-August, as new born pups first set out to forage with their mothers.

The bats arrive at the bridge from Mexico in mid-March and return in early November.


The first African American to receive a Ph.D from Harvard was William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) DuBois. He earned a B.A. at Fisk University, following which he went to Harvard and worked up to his Ph.D. in 1895. His doctoral dissertation was "The Suppression of the African Slave - Trade in the United States of America, 1638-1870." Always a brilliant student, he spent his life fighting racism.


The name octopus means eight feet, and an octopus's tentacles are its feet, often called arms  . The squid has ten tentacles. It is no small fry. The largest creature without a backbone, it can grow to 55 feet in length and weigh 2.5 tons.


Anteaters locate ants or termites with their powerful sense of smell, rip open their nests with the strong hooked claws in their forepaws, then use their long sticky tongues to catch as many of the thousands of scurrying ants as they can. Anteaters have no teeth. Large anteaters have tongues that may be as long as two feet and these are extended up to 150 times per minute. It is estimated that an anteater can eat up to 30,000 insects a day.


In 1926 Louis Armstrong, the jazz trumpeter, appeared on the charts of popular music in the United States for the first time with "Muskrat Ramble." Later, Louis Armstrong had other hits, of course. Over 61 years later, the release of the 1987 film "Good Morning Vietnam", which included Armstrong's "What a Wonderful Word", put Armstrong in the charts in 1988. No other artiste ever had such a long span between first and most recent US chart hits.


The Ashantis, one of the largest ethnic groups in Ghana, have long applied pastes made from stem bark of the African tulip tree (Spathodea campanulata) and the shoot of the Secamone afzelli to wounds to help them heal. A report in September 2003 revealed that doctors had found scientific evidence these medicines work. Researchers from King's College, London, and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana told the British Pharmaceutical Conference in Harrogate in England that their laboratory tests proved this. 

The researchers found that the two traditional remedies were highly effective against four different bacteria and the yeast Candida albicans  and that they act as antibacterial treatments, protecting against infection and tissue damage caused by free radicals. Tests also showed the plants have antioxidant qualities. 

The researchers found that the major compound in the Secamone afzelii was vitamin E, a compound with established antioxidant properties. 

The research was funded by a Tropical Development Research Grant from the Wellcome Trust.

M is for MOTHER

Why is it that in almost all languages used by man, the word for mother begins with an "M"? Very likely because the very first consonant babies can manage to pronounce is "M".


What is common to both of these? Methyl mercaptan. This is a chemical added to gas to make  gas leaks easy to detect by the human nose. It causes the same smell given off by rotting meat - a nasty odor to which the nose is so incredibly sensitive that the average person can detect 1/400 billionth of a gram of it in a quart of air. Methyl mercaptan is also present in bad breath or halitosis.


Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) or Sickle Cell Anemia is said to be the most common genetic condition in the world. It is prevalent among people of African, Caribbean, Central and South American, East Indian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Asian ancestry.

SCD is largely a neglected  problem. It is not normally a part of the doctor's basic training and he may know very little about it. It is estimated that the disease affects one in 300-400 of the world's black population, particularly Afro-Caribbean people, and the numbers may be increasing.

Screening for sickle cell disease is a good idea, especially if your doctor has been treating you unsuccessfully for a persistent condition.

More about Sickle Cell Disease (Anemia)

Sickle Cell Disease Association of America


The cheetah is the fastest mammal in the world. It reaches speeds of over 60 miles (100 kilometers) an hour. That's a mile a minute! Built for speed, they are very tall, slender cats with long, thin and muscular legs.

Cheetahs stalk antelope, like gazelles and impala, then give chase at their incredible speed. However, although they can run fast, most attacks are unsuccessful because cheetahs can only keep up such high speeds for short distances. The typical chase lasts only about 20 seconds. They often lose their kills to lions and hyenas. In addition to losing their kills, they become vulnerable after a chase, as the effort leaves them so exhausted they have no energy to defend themselves against predators.


Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, 1872–1916 is often described as a Russian “holy man,” wielded great influence at the court of Czar Nicholas II. 

His personal magnetism and his seeming ability to control the hemophiliac bleeding of the Alexis, the heir to the Russian throne gave him a powerful hold over the Czarina,  and through her, over the czar. 

He was able to fill high positions with his appointees. During World War I, when the czar went to the front, Rasputin’s influence predominated. Naturally, he had many enemies. 

On the night of  December 16, 1916, three political opponents including Prince Felix Yussupov and the czar’s cousin, Grand Duke Dmitri, conspired to assassinate Rasputin. They first poisoned him, but nothing seemed to happen. The terrified conspirators riddled him with bullets but he still remained standing. Eventually they threw his body into the frozen Neva River, where he drowned. His body was later buried, but exhumed and burned by the mob during the February Revolution of 1917.


The Cherokee Indians living in Georgia were forced by the state government of Georgia to leave the state in 1838. Men, women and children were herded into forts and made to march a thousand miles to Oklahoma. On the long march, thousands died because of indifferent army commanders, disease and the cold weather. The journey and the route taken in this very sad episode in the history of the United States became known as "The Trail of Tears."


When President Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe, he called her "the little lady who started this war." He was referring to the U.S. Civil War, the war between the American North and South, which lasted four years (1861- 1865) and resulted in the deaths of more than 600,000 people. "The little lady" had written a novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, about the sufferings of black slaves in America. It was an instant bestseller in the North and was banned in most of the South.


Back in the 1950s, the fast food giant, McDonald's had a problem. Catholics who did not eat meat on Fridays would not buy burgers on Fridays. Friday sales were therefore poor in Catholic areas.

The solution? The "Hula Burger." Ray Kroc, Chairman of the Board, devised it. It was a toasted bun, covered with a piece of melted American cheese, mustard, ketchup, a pickle, and a slice of grilled pineapple. Note: no meat. And also, no buyers, or not enough. The solution was no solution at all. The Hula Burger died after a few months.

In 1962, the "Filet-O-Fish" finally solved the problem.


William Henry Sheppard (1865-1927) was a black missionary from the Southern Presbyterian Church who set out at age 25 to the Belgian Congo in 1890. He went to Africa as a missionary for the American Presbyterian Congo Mission and spent 20 years there working among the Kuba people.

It was Sheppard who pressed his church to send him to Africa as a missionary. The church agreed, but required that a white man head the missionary effort and Sheppard had to wait until one could be found. The church eventually sent Samuel Lapsley from Alabama. Lapsley was mostly ill and ineffective and Sheppard became the de facto leader of the mission.

 Sheppard became known as the “Black Livingstone” as he traveled widely in the United States recounting his African adventures to packed auditoriums. He exposed the brutal genocide executed by the Congo's 19th-century Belgian leaders in Africa. His relations with the government and with his mission became strained and he was finally brought back to the States in retirement in 1910.

 About the Kuba


There are kangaroos that live in trees. These kangaroos live in the rain forests of both New Guinea and Australia, but they are diminishing in Australia.

 Like all kangaroos, the tree kangaroo is a marsupial. One of the many species of tree kangaroo is large and heavy-bodied with powerful limbs, a long tail equal to length of its head and body, and short rounded ears. Its average head and body length is 26", and maximum weight is about 23 lbs. With enlarged front limbs, reduced hind limbs, and rough foot pads and long sharp claws, it is especially well suited to life in trees. It climbs tree trunks, leaps 10 to 20 feet from branch to branch using, its tail as a rudder.

 The tree kangaroo is equally at home on the ground where it feeds on herbs and grubs. If alarmed, it does not attempt to escape through the treetops; instead, it will quickly, and safely, leap down from a 50 to 60 foot height. It is active at twilight and night, and eats leaves and bark high in the trees. By day it curls up and goes to sleep on a branch.


 The pilgrimage to Karbala, a city Shiite Muslims consider holy, made headlines the world over in April, 2003 when Shiites were able to revive the pilgrimage. The development was made possible as a consequence of the downfall of Saddam Hussain, a Sunni Muslim, at the hands of American forces. Saddam had banned the pilgrimage. 

The media reported that pilgrims circled Imam Hussein’s golden mausoleum at Karbala, a city of central Iraq southwest of Baghdad, ritually expressing their continuing shame regarding the failure of their ancestors to show support for Imam Hussein at the time of his martyrdom. As a result of this failure,  Hussein, the grandson of the prophet Mohamed, was beheaded in A.D. 680 at the battle that split the Muslims into Sunni and Shiite sects. 

In the April 2003 revival, many pilgrims beat their chests vigorously, whipped themselves with chains and gashed their scalps even as flags of black and green (black for mourning, green for Islam) were waved. The men wore white and the women were in head-to-toe black robes. 

Shiites belong to a branch of Islam that regards Ali and his descendants as the legitimate successors to the Prophet Muhammad and rejects the first three caliphs. 

A modified acting out of the pilgrimage survived among Shiite Muslims who went to Guyana and Trinidad and was called Tadjah or Tazia. The observance was discontinued in Guyana but remains in Trinidad.


Have you ever heard of anyone committed suicide by holding his breath? No? The reason is: it's never been done. If you try to do it, the worst that would ordinarily happen is that you will pass out. And immediately, in your unconscious state, you lungs will promptly start breathing again.


Calexico and Mexicali are U.S. - Mexican border cities adjacent to each other. Calexico (for California-Mexico), California is a trade center for the southern part of the fertile Imperial Valley. Mexicali (for Mexico-California) is the Capital of Baja California Norte in Mexico.


 It certainly appears to be red at times, but its normal color is blue-green. However, when a type of algae that is found in the sea blooms then dies off the color appears to change to reddish-brown. The algae is called Trichodesmium Erythraeum. 

The Red Sea is the saltiest life-sustaining sea in the world and contains of the richest concentrations of marine life of all tropical seas.


Kiwi eggs are huge for the size of the bird. This flightless bird, found only in New Zealand, is about the size of a farmyard hen, weighing between three and nine pounds. As the egg grows within the kiwi, she triples her food intake till up to a quarter of her weight is just the egg. Her belly is now bulging so much that it touches the ground. She stands for extended periods in cold water, possibly to relieve the weight or the pain of carrying the egg. She may go hungry for a day or two before delivering her clutch of one or two eggs.

Kiwi dads are generally faithful dads. It takes between 70 and 80 days to incubate the egg – twice as long as most other birds. The male kiwi does it practically alone. He sits on the egg leaving the nest only when he needs to search for food. In the process, he may develop a bare patch of skin on his belly, called a brood patch, where the feathers wear off.


What and where in the world is it? It is in Guanajuato in Mexico, a wonderfully preserved colonial city with its quaint plazas, winding cobblestone streets and unique underground passages that has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  Its colonial buildings are so close together that their balconies almost touch.  The top-floor balconies of two facing homes are therefore close enough for their respective occupants to kiss. It has come to be called Callej n del Beso, or Alley of the Kiss.


Mi Maow Maalin, a hospital cook in Somalia, became the last person to contract smallpox through natural infection when he chose to tend an infected child. The child died but Maalin was declared recovered on October 26, 1977.

In September 1978, Janet Parker, a medical photographer in the anatomy department at the University of Birmingham medical school, was exposed to smallpox following a laboratory accident. She later died.  Investigators concluded that the most likely explanation was the escape of the virus into the air by way of the ventilation system, from the lab in the floor below where it was kept. The virologist Henry Bedson, who headed the lab, felt responsible for her fate and committed suicide before she died.

On May 8, 1980, the World  Organization declared smallpox eradicated. However, some samples remained in laboratories in Atlanta and Moscow. 

Amazing Bollywood

Bollywood (Bombay + Hollywood) is the name given to the Bombay Film Industry in India. Bombay, with its 900 film epics each year, is the most prolific movie production center in the world, far outstripping Hollywood U.S.A.. These films, noted for their elaborate costumes and their choreographed song and dance routines, have a huge audience in India and wherever people of Indian descent live around the world. India’s entertainment culture centers on its film industry. The chart-busting pop music of India, with few exceptions, is film music.

Valentine's Day

February 14 is Valentine's Day. In many countries, candy, flowers, and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine.

The history of Valentine's Day and its patron saint is not certain. One legend says that Valentine, a priest who served during the third century in Rome, defied Emperor Claudius II by continuing to perform marriage ceremonies even after the Emperor had outlawed marriage for young men in order to have them available as soldiers. Married men, the emperor felt, made poor soldiers. The emperor put Valentine to death when he discovered what he was doing.

Another legend suggests that Valentine was killed for attempting to help Christians escape brutal Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.

Yet another legend says that Valentine, while in prison, fell in love with a young girl, his jailor's daughter. Before his death, he wrote her a letter, which he signed 'From your Valentine.' This letter was the first valentine.

Harlem’s Hellfighters

On 17 February 1919 the 369th Infantry, Harlem's Hellfighters, which had fought with distinction under the French flag in World War I, returned in a glorious parade up Fifth Avenue to Harlem. The recognition they received was given mainly by the people of Harlem and like-minded blacks. They and the 93rd Unit had fought side by side with the French in Europe and had distinguished themselves. The French were so indebted to the black troops who fought with them, they awarded the croix de guerre for "gallantry in action" to 171 men from these all-black units. The United States Army was still desegregated at that time and so their gallantry largely went unrecognized by the the Government. The 369th, Harlem's Hellfighters, was originally the New York National Guard's 15th Infantry from Harlem, and was deployed to France in 1917. The unit was renamed the 369th US Infantry Regiment. The 369th served longer in combat than any other US unit and participated in numerous battles. The unit never retreated or lost ground in battle.

Miracle fruit

Imagine slicing a large very sour lime then eating all of it with a straight face because it tastes so good. You can do it, if you first eat a small red fruit and let its fleshy pulp make contact with the inside of your mouth. This African fruit has the unusual quality of making sour and bitter substances taste sweet. No wonder they call it “miracle fruit.” Its scientific name is synsepalum dulciferum.

See also serendipity berries.

Teeth of the great and small

It’s hard to believe what people went through when they lost their teeth years ago. In the time of Queen Elizabeth I of England dentists did not know how to make decent dentures (false teeth). The Queen, who did not have all her teeth in place, filled the spaces in her mouth with cloth. When President George Washington needed dentures, he had a set made of ivory. However, they fit so poorly he ate his food in pain and slurred when he spoke. His false teeth eventually rotted in his mouth. Some of the people who could not afford ivory got their false teeth from the dead and some poor people sold their teeth for the money and made do without teeth. Dentures-wise, we've come a long way.

 More about false teeth

Who owns the United Nations Headquarters?

The plot of land on which the United Nations Headquarters stands is international territory belonging to member nations of the U.N. Its 18 acres are not a part of New York City. They are not even a part of the United States. John D. Rockefeller Jr. bought the plot and donated it to United Nations for the purpose of building the headquarters.

In the limelight

To be in the limelight is to be the focus of public attention, to be in the spotlight. The early theater’s search for good stage lighting included the use of candles, gaslight, limelight, and electric light.  What was limelight? It was a brilliant white light produced by heating lime ( calcium oxide, also called quicklime or caustic lime) to high temperatures, at which time it became incandescent. This was done by heating a cylinder of lime with the flame of an oxyhydrogen torch and using lens to concentrate the light. At the time it was used to provide lighting on the stage, it was the best available means and the term “in the limelight” became an accepted expression.

Serendipity berries - far sweeter than honey

 The champion of sweetness is the serendipity berry. This berry contains monellin, a protein which makes the fruit thousands of times sweeter than sugar – 3000 or 70,000 or 100,000 times sweeter, depending on which authority you consult. The scientific name of the West African plant on which serendipity berries grow is dioscoreophyllum cumminisii.

Cassava Song

(a tribute to cassava, written by Nigerian novelist and poet Flora Nwapa, during the Nigerian civil war) 

We thank the almighty God

For giving us cassava

We hail thee cassava

The great cassava

You grow in poor soils

You grow in rich soils

You grow in gardens

You grow in farms

You are easy to grow

Children can plant you

Women can plant you

Everybody can plant you

We must sing for you

Great cassava, we must sing

We must not forget

Thee, the great one


Diego Garcia is a little coral island in the  Indian Ocean. At 11 sq mi (28 sq km), it is the largest island of the Chagos Archipelago. Diego Garcia was populated by some 3,000 descendants of African slaves and Indian laborers known as the Ilois. They lived a simple life. 

 The Chagos islands are part of the British Indian Ocean Territory. Because they were considered of strategic importance during the Cold War years, Diego Garcia was leased to the United States and later developed as a joint U.S.-British naval base. The base was to help guard the Persian Gulf oil routes and to serve as a counter to increased Soviet military activities. 

While the lease was being negotiated, the United States had indicated that it did not want a "population problem" on the islands and Britain therefore decided to remove the population. To facilitate their plan, Britain granted Mauritius (from which the islands were being administered)  independence in 1965, on condition that it handed the islands over to Britain’s control. 

British officials then made life untenable for the Ilois by withholding essential services and supplies. Those who left the islands for a short period were prevented from reentering. Between 1965 and 1973, about 90 percent were taken away by ship mainly to Mauritius and the Seychelles as part of a £3 million deal. Britain also led the United Nations to believe that there that the island's population consisted of "contract laborers" and that there were no indigenous inhabitants with a right of self-determination on the island. Because of this claim, anyone born on the Chagos during the period of their removal was refused a birth certificate. The British received, in consideration, an $11 million discount on the purchase of the Polaris nuclear weapons system from the United States. 

Diego Garcia was later developed into a formidable, strategic military facility. 

Secret documents released to the Public Records Office indicate that the British government did receive a discount on its Polaris nuclear weapons system and £5 million from the US. The documents contain an April 1969 memo from British Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart to Prime Minister Harold Wilson, which confirms that the agreement was kept secret from the British parliament and the US Congress. 

The Chagos Refugee Group in Mauritius, has been pursuing legal action against the British government. They contend that the islanders were officially British subjects and that their removal violated their human rights, and was illegal. The Ilois say that they were never consulted about the matter and that its implementation condemned them and their families to a lifetime of poverty. They are demanding compensation and the right of return for the remaining 500 islanders and their 3,800 descendants.

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  •  Is it good if a vacuum really sucks?
  • How come "abbreviation" is such a long word?
  • If love is blind, why is lingerie so popular?

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Breaking News

At Melbourne Airport today, an individual, later discovered to be a public school teacher, was arrested trying to board a flight while in possession of a compass, a protractor, and a graphical calculator.

Authorities believe he is a member of the notorious Al Gebra movement. He is being charged with carrying weapons of maths instruction.

From an e-mail by a kind reader.





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