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Sunday, 7 October 2012

Black Sportsmen

The cyclist Marshall Taylor was the first widely recognised black American athlete. He won national championships at the height of cycling's popularity from 1899 to 1904 overcoming racial discrimination.

Galveston “Jack” Johnson (below) became the first black world heavyweight boxing champion on December 26, 1908 when he beat Tommy Burns over 14 rounds in Sydney, Australia. Two years later, on July 4, 1910, Jack Johnson knocked out white boxer Jim Jeffries in a heavyweight boxing match, sparking race riots across the United States.

Lucy Slowe became the first black woman tennis champion in the US when she won the women's singles title at a tournament in Baltimore in 1920.

The New York Renaissance was the first all-black professional basketball team. Established February 13, 1923, the Rens won 88 consecutive games, a mark that has never been matched by a professional basketball team.

The New York Renaissance basketball team was founded by Robert L. "Bob" Douglas (November 4, 1882 – July 16, 1979). Nicknamed the "Father of Black Professional Basketball", Douglas owned and coached the Rens from 1923 to 1949, guiding them to a 2,318-381 record. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor on February 5, 1972, the first African American to be enshrined.

At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Hitler publicly acclaimed the first two winners but then snubbed the black American Jesse Owens who won four gold medals. "The Americans ought to be ashamed of themselves, for letting their medals be won by Negroes," he said.

When Jesse Owens won the 200-meter dash at the Berlin Olympics, his teammate, Mack Robinson, finished second. Mack’s little brother, Jackie, later would break the color barrier in major-league baseball when he played for the Montreal Royals, the AAA affiliate of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. He was the first black player in a major-league baseball game since brothers Moses and Welday Walker played for Toledo in 1884.

Jackie Robinson of the Kansas City Monarchs signed a contract for the Brooklyn Dodgers on October 30, 1945 to break the baseball color barrier.  He made his major league debut on April 15, 1947,  at the relatively advanced age of 28 at Ebbets Field before a crowd of 26,623 spectators, more than 14,000 of whom were black. Although Robinson failed to get a base hit, he walked and scored a run in the Dodgers' 5–3 victory.  He had a successful season for the Dodgers and was the recipient of the inaugural MLB Rookie of the Year Award. 

Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954

Robinson had an exceptional 10-year baseball career. He was an All-Star for six consecutive seasons from 1949 through 1954, and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949—the first black player so honored. 

Emmett Ashford (1914-80) became the first African-American umpire in organized baseball, when on February 20, 1952, he was authorized to be a substitute umpire in the Southwestern International League. 

Ashford became major league's first black umpire in 1966. He gained a reputation for his flamboyant calling of balls and strikes.

Emmanuel Ifeajuna became the first black African to win at a major international sports competition when he won the high jump at the 1954 British Empire and Common­wealth Games.

When Althea Gibson won the Wimbledon championships on July 6, 1957, she became the first black athlete to do so.

Althea Gibson, World Telegram & Sun photo by Fred Palumbo.

Afro-Canadian Willie O'Ree was the very first black player in the NHL. Signed by Boston Bruins he made his NHL debut with the Bruins on January 18, 1958, against the Montreal Canadiens. 

O'Ree appeared in two games that year playing as a winger, and came back in 1961 to play 43 games, scoring 4 goals and 10 assists. O'Ree is referred to as the "Jackie Robinson of ice hockey" due to breaking the black color barrier in the sport.

Ethiopian marathon runner Abebe Bikila became on September 10, 1960 the first sub-Saharan African to win an Olympic gold medal. 

Abebe decided to run the Rome marathon without shoes, the way he'd trained for the race, so he won in bare feet.

Bikila near the finish line at the 1960 Olympics

Basketball player Bill Russell served a three-season (1966–69) stint as player-coach for the Boston Celtics, becoming the first African American NBA coach.

Emmett Ashford (1914-80) became major league's first black umpire in 1966. He gained a reputation for his flamboyant calling of balls and strikes.

Arthur Ashe was the first black player to win the US national singles and open championships in 1968. While actively protesting apartheid in South Africa, he was granted a visa in 1973 to become the first black professional to play in that country.

 Arthur Ashe at the 1975 World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. By Bogaerts, Rob /Wikipedia Commons

On July 5, 1975, Arthur Ashe became the first black man to win Wimbledon, beating defending champion Jimmy Connors three sets to one.

Black Sea

The Black Sea was a freshwater lake until about 7,500 years ago.

During Catherine The Great's reign. Russia added 200,000 square miles giving it access to the Black Sea and 7 million people to her empire.

Black Hole

A black hole is an object in space whose gravity is so great that nothing can escape from it, not even light. . Black holes can be detected because gas falling towards them becomes so hot that it emits X-rays.


The term black hole for a collapsed star was opposed by the French, as its literal translation into French is a rude term.

At the centre of our Galaxy lies an object that has a mass four million times that of the Sun and is almost certainly a black hole.

Black holes don't suck up everything nearby—they sit dormant and if a star approaches it and gets too close, the black hole becomes active.

No matter how long you watch an object slip into a black hole, you will never actually see the object enter it due to time dilation.

If you were near a black hole and facing away from it, you could actually see the back of your own head due to the light bending.

A black hole the size of a hydrogen atom would exert a pull from 2,000 feet away.

A black hole emits a deep b flat sound.

Over billions of years, black holes become white holes and they spit out all of the things they sucked in. the atoms are completely jumbled, so no one knows what will ever come out. 

The black hole inside RX J1131 was the first black hole to have its spin directly measured.

The supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy has four million times the mass of the Sun.

The largest known black hole is in the Holmberg 15A supergiant elliptical galaxy It has a diameter of 1 trillion kilometers, more than 190 times the distance from the Sun to Pluto.

The supermassive black hole at the center of the quasar OJ287 has been measured as weighing 18 billion times the mass of the Sun, six times heavier than the previous record holder.

In the 2014 science fiction film Interstellar the depiction of a black hole required completely new CGI rendering software and was so accurate that it provided enough insight to publish three scientific papers.

Source Hutchinson Encyclopedia © RM 2012. Helicon Publishing is division of RM

Black Death

The Black Death was a terrible epidemic of plague, mainly the bubonic variant, that ravaged Europe in the mid-14th century. The cause of the plague was the bacterium Yersinia pestis, transmitted by fleas that infested migrating Asian black rats.

Originating in China, the disease followed the trade routes through India into Europe, travelling at a rate of ten miles a day.

Symptoms were violent headache; dark blotches caused by bleeding under the skin; and buboes, massively swollen lymph glands that could grow to the size of an orange in the groin or armpit. Buboes were variously described as black pustules, boils, and abscesses. Few victims lived longer than four to seven days, though there were rare cases of survival if the buboes burst.

The plague arrived in Sicily, Italy, in October 1347, reached southern France in January 1348, and was first recorded in England in August 1348, after two fishing boats from France docked at Weymouth, Dorset.

The Black Death arrived in Norway on a ghost ship that just so happened become beached near a major port. Even tho all the crew had died the surviving rats and flees managed to spread the disease throughout the country and later to Sweden and Russia.

Strasbourg, part of the Holy Roman empire, was the scene of the first mass holocaust of Jews in Europe. Collectively accused of causing the Black Death by poisoning the local water supplies, 2,000 men, women and children were herded into a circle and burnt alive.

Contemporary estimates that it killed between one-third and half of the population (about 75 million people) are probably accurate. Britain’s population decreased from 3,700,000 in 1350 to 2,000,000 seven years later. Among those lost to the plague was the King of England Edward III’s daughter, Joan.

The Fifth Siege of Gibraltar came to a sudden end in March 1350 when King Alfonso XI of Castile became the only monarch to die in the Black Death.

Many people feared the Black Death was God’s judgement on a wicked world. Dice-makers turned their dice into beads for prayer and the Archbishop of York ordered solemn processions to ask for God’s mercy. One particular group who subscribe to this judgement theory were the Flagellants, groups of hooded men who marched with their white robes emblazoned on both sides with a red cross. They marched in parties of around 100 in a funeral procession from town to town with a combination of hymnal singing and sobbing. Throughout Europe they preached against church corruption and persecution of the Jews. Twice a day they performed a ceremony in public where they whipped themselves or beat themselves with iron spikes. The general public had tremendous regard for them as they see their acts as symbolizing man’s remorse for his wicked ways in a period when God’s judgement and wrath were manifestly evident.

The Black Death may have reduced the world's population from an estimated 450 million in 1340 to between 350 and 375 million in 1400

The Black Death resulted in a stronger and longer-living human population. Scientists examined the bones of those who died before and after the plague and determined that its survivors and their descendants were healthier and longer-living.

The Black Death  produced a religious revival aimed at atoning for whatever sins may have caused the tragedy. This revival leads to an increase in charitable works and the founding of many new hospitals across Europe.

Also many people paid money to their priests to dedicate Masses to them and their families, believing that this will ensure divine protection on Earth. The result of this was a large income for the church that was spent on intricate decoration and liturgical music. Most churches had at least one resident musician whose task was to produce music on a weekly basis for both the Mass and the choir.

Feudalism died out largely thanks to the Black Death, which made labour scarce and gave workers power to demand more money and transfer their skills from one lord to another.

The name Black Death was first used in England in the early 19th century due to the dark discoloration of the skin.

Sources Hutchinson Encyclopedia © RM 2012. Helicon Publishing is division of RM.

Georges Bizet

Georges Bizet was born in Paris on October 25, 1838. His father was a singing teacher, and his mother, a gifted pianist. Young Georges was a child prodigy and when only nine, he entered the great Paris Conservatory of Music and rapidly developed into a brilliant pianist.

At the age of 19 Bizet won the Grand Prix de Rome, a government scholarship. He studied in Rome for three years where he completed a two-act opera buffa, Don Procopio (not heard until 1906), and a Te Deum.

After returning to Paris, Bizet refused offers of a teaching position at the conservatory and a career as a concert pianist. Instead he devoted his efforts to composition. However his efforts to achieve a reputation as an operatic composer were largely unsuccessful, and he never remained free of financial worries.

Georges Bizet in 1875

Bizet's last work was Carmen, an opéra comique about a passionate but self-destructive gypsy girl and her dramatic murder at the hands of her pathologically jealous soldier lover. Bizet based his work on Prosper Mérimée's short novel, Carmen, which had appeared in October 1845.

Despite its popularity today, Carmen bombed at its premiere at the Opéra Comique of Paris on March 3, 1875 as the audience found the risqué plot, with its robbers, gypsies and cigarette-girls, too hot to handle.  By the end of its first run of 48 performances, the theatre was giving tickets away in order to stimulate attendance.

Bizet was devastated by the failure of Carmen and died of a massive heart attack three months later on June 3, 1875 aged just 37. Five months after the composer's death, it was produced in Vienna, to critical and popular success, which began its path to worldwide popularity. Since the 1880s Carmen has been one of the world's most performed operas and a staple of the operatic repertoire. Tragically, Bizet never knew of the opera's eventual success.

Source Songfacts

Otto Von Bismarck

Otto Von Bismarck was born on his family estate at Schönhausen, a village on the Elbe, North West of Berlin, on April 1, 1815. His father, Ferdinand Von Bismarck, was a landowner and a former Prussian military officer; his mother, Wilhelmine Mencken, originally belonged to a prosperous bourgeois family. Otto had several siblings, but only an elder brother (Bernhard) and a younger sister (Malvina) survived into adulthood.

A very mischievous child, as a youth Otto was an indefatigable duellist. He was known as the mad Junker.

Bismarck was ungainly, physically dominating, stern in expression, prematurely bald. Small hands and feet, clear and ruddy complexion, sparkling eyes, bushy eyebrows. He had a bushy upside v moustache.

Bismarck in 1873

His brain weighed 4lb 3oz.

Bismarck liked to wear informal, simple Prussian country gentleman attire, with a soft hat, neckerchief, coat, trousers and double soiled boots. His formal uniform was that of a Prussian military officer.

Bismarck had a wily and calm temperament. Once in the Prussian Diet he was howled down. He calmly leaned against the tribune, took out a newspaper from his pocket, and read it until everything was calm.

After leaving university, Bismarck entered government service but could only obtain minor administrative positions in Aachen and Potsdam. As his work proved monotonous and uninteresting, he soon resigned as a civil servant.

Bismarck placed his civil service career in jeopardy after falling in love with an English heiress in Leicester and outstaying his leave trying to win her.

Bismarck married the noblewoman Johanna von Puttkamer (1824–1894) in 1847 on 28 July 1847 in Alt-Kolziglow, near Reinfeld. Their long and happy marriage produced three children, Herbert (b. 1849), Wilhelm (b. 1852) and Marie (b. 1847). Johanna was a shy, retiring and devout Lutheran. She helped iron out some of his madder tendencies.

Bismarck nearly enrolled in the British army in India whilst in England but he decided against it as he couldn't work out what the Indians had done to warrant what they had coming.

In 1862 he was offered a place in the Russian diplomatic service after the Czar misunderstood a comment about his likelihood of missing Saint Petersburg. Bismarck courteously declined the offer and instead was made sent to Paris to serve as ambassador to France.

During his time as ambassador to France, Bismarck spent as much time as possible in Biarritz as he greatly disliked Paris.

In 1862, King Wilhelm I appointed Bismarck as Minister President of Prussia, a position he would hold until 1890 (except for a short break in 1873).

Bismarck provoked three short, decisive wars against Denmark, Austria, and France, aligning the smaller German states behind Prussia in its defeat of France

During the Battle of Sadowa in 1866, the King of Prussia exposed himself to danger from gunshot and refused to withdraw in spite of military advice. Bismarck remained silent during arguments, but he gave the king’s horse a sharp unnoticed kick in the flank that caused the animal to go back. With victory at the Battle of Sadowa he warded off Austria and allowed Prussia to take an important place in the confederation of North Germany.

The 1870-71 Franco- Prussian War was engineered by Bismarck by means of an alteration in the famous ems telegram. He tricked the French into this war by altering a telegram from the king of Prussia in which he struck out the king's conciliatory words so that the telegram sounded belligerent. As a result the French declared war.

A chronic insomnia sufferer, the Iron Chancellor would nightly devour caviar to give him a thirst for strong beer to help him to sleep. His favorite tipple was Black Velvet, a mixture of champagne and Guinness. He was also partial to burgundy wine.

In 1878 Bismarck presided over the division of Africa by the colonial powers at the Conference of Berlin while eating pickled herrings with both hands. By 1883 he was very bloated, over 17 stone, which made him ill and very bad tempered so for months he lived on a diet of herrings. By 1885 he was down to 14 stone. So the lesson that can be learnt from this is, if at first you don't recede diet, diet again.

The idea that the age of 65 is officially "elderly" was originated by Bismarck when he wanted to get rid of some ageing army officers.

Bismarck in 1881. By Bundesarchiv, Wikipedia Commons

He was the first leader to introduce between insurance schemes for illness, work related accident and chronic invalidism. In 1889 he introduced pension schemes.

The phrase ‘Dropping the Pilot’ meaning to dispense with a valued leader originated in Prussia in 1890 when a Punch cartoon showed Kaiser Wilhem II leaning over the side of the ship as Otto Bismarck dressed as a pilot walked down the steps to disembark.

Otto Von Bismarck died on July 30, 1898 at the age of 83 in Friedrichsruh, north Germany, where he is entombed in the Bismarck Mausoleum.

Bismarck on his deathbed,

Bismarck changed Germany from an unruly collection of states dominated by Prussia to a rich powerful country by provoking wars with Denmark, Austria and France. The ensuing patriotic fever united all the states and in 1871 Bismarck founded the new German empire.


The word “biscuit” comes from "bis coctus," twice baked. Originally developed as ships’ rations for Roman sailors, these biscuits were called "panis nauticus" or nautical bread. The dough of seasoned wheat flour and water was baked in moulds twice or even more times for long voyages. They were very crunchy, indeed the sailors were recommended in order to avoid losing their teeth they should soak the biscuits in soup or water.

In Commonwealth English a biscuit is a small baked product that would be called either a "cookie" or a "cracker" in the United States. In America, a "biscuit" is a savory quick bread, somewhat similar to a scone, though sugar is not used in the dough.

A Bath Oliver is a large, hard, pale unsweetened biscuit, invented by Dr William Oliver (1695–1764), a leading physician in Bath who believed that his patients were overeating and needed something nutritious but not rich. On his deathbed he gave his coachman the recipe, £100 and ten sacks of the finest flour. The coachman made a fortune and the biscuit remains to this day the favourite of a few to accompany cheese.

A typical seaman’s evening meal at the turn of the 19th century meant ships biscuits with butter or cheese. The biscuits were usually infested with weevils, but hungry sailors would bang them on a table to knock out any inside.

Thomas Huntley who run a confectionery business in Reading, England and George Palmer a mechanically minded Somerset miller joined forces in 1841 to manufacture biscuits as Huntley & Palmers. Cousins by marriage and committed Quakers within 30 years they were producing over 100 different types of biscuit.

George Palmer built the first continuously running machine for biscuit manufacture but unfortunately it exploded, nearly killing him and several other employees.

Digestive biscuits were invented in 1892 by Mcvitie’s employee Alexander Grant. Mcvitie’s Digestives got its name because the baking soda in them is thought to be good for indigestion.  When they were first manufactured in the late 19th century, they are mixed by hand, by hundreds of women using huge mixing bowls.

The chocolate flavored bourbon biscuits have no connection with the French royal house of Bourbon apart from bearing its name, which is first recorded for them in the 1930s.

A biscuit taken from the Titanic before her ill-fated maiden voyage (see below) fetched £3,525 at an auction in London on September 25, 2001. It was taken from a party held on the Titanic in Southampton by Captain Morris Harvey-Clarke, before it sailed in April 1912. The biscuit, which has a diameter of 6.2 centimetres, was described in the catalog as “in almost perfect condition with signs of moulding”.

The chocolate on a Hobnob is on the bottom of the biscuit, not the top.

Sources History WorldFood For Thought by Ed Pearce

Friday, 5 October 2012


The earliest known example of writing in Latin by a woman is a birthday invitation from 100 AD.

Until the late 18th century “birthday” was written with a hyphen or as two separate words.

The earliest known reference to a ‘birthday cake’ was in 1785.

Instead of a birthday cake, many children in Russia are given a birthday pie.

The Chinese celebrate their birthdays only once every ten years.

Jehovah's Witnesses don't celebrate birthdays because the only two accounts of birthday parties in the Bible ended in murder.

Shirley Temple received 135,000 presents on her 8th birthday.

The song "Happy Birthday to You" was originally written by sisters Mildred and Patty Hill as "Good Morning to You." The words were changed and it was published in 1935.

George Washington is the only man whose birthday is a legal holiday in every state of the US as of a few years ago.

From 1834-1837, the US President and UK Prime Minister had the same birthday: Andrew Jackson and Lord Melbourne were both born on March 15.

Birthday cakes only became popular in the UK after 1836 when the Births and Deaths Registration Act demanded a record of birth rather than just a church register of baptism, and people began to know their birthdays.

November 2nd is the only day of the year that was the birthday of two US presidents: Warren Harding (born 1865) and James Polk (1795).

Both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on February 12, 1809.

The first washing machines designed for use in the home was built by William Blackstone of Indiana as a birthday present for his wife.

All racehorses in the U.S. celebrate their birthday on January 1st.

On his 100th birthday the jazzman Eubie Blake (1883-1983) said: “If I’d known I was gonna live this long I’d have taken better care of myself.”

Horror movie stars Christopher Lee and Vincent Price both had May 27th birthdays. Peter Cushing missed joining them by one day: his birthday was May 26th.

For his 11th birthday, Elvis Presley asked for a bicycle. Instead, his father bought him a guitar.

Taylor Swift's birthday is December 13th. She has a Christmas-themed birthday party every year.

The Curiosity Mars Rover sings "Happy Birthday" to itself every year on August 5th, which is when it landed on Mars.

You share your birthday with about 19 million other people around the world.

According to some 2012 research at Harvard University, September 16 is the most common birthday in the USA. Thee years later, research by the greetings card company Moonpig  confirmed that the same is true in the UK.

The least common birthday date in both the UK and USA (apart from February 29th) is December 25th. 

In North Korea, people don't celebrate birthdays on July 8 and December 17, since those are the dates that Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il died.

Jehovah's Witnesses don't celebrate birthdays because the only two accounts of birthday parties in the Bible ended in murder.

 If 23 people are in a room, there is a greater than even chance that two share a birthday.

Here's a list of songs written for birthdays.

Source, Daily Express

Birth Control

Queen Anne's Lace was used for birth control in ancient Greece. Recent studies have confirmed that Queen Anne's lace has post coital anti-fertility properties and the plant is still used today for birth control in India.

American anarchist political activist and writer Emma Goldman was arrested on February 11, 1916 for giving speeches explaining birth control. Refusing to pay a $100 fine, Goldman spent two weeks in a prison workhouse.

Emma Goldman

Public health nurse Margaret Sanger opened the first U.S. birth-control clinic at 46 Amboy Street in Brooklyn, New York on October 16, 1916. She was arrested and jailed for 30 days. In 1953 Sanger became the first president of the International Planned Parenthood Foundation.

Margaret Sanger

Having experienced a wretched first marriage to an impotent man, the Scot Marie Stopes wrote the book Married Love, in which she advocated birth control not only to save women from constant childbearing but also to improve the human race by selective breeding. Despite the protests from Christians, especially Roman Catholics, who were shocked at the book’s frank look at sexual relations she believed God personally directed her.

Marie Stopes

On March 17, 1921 Stopes opened her first birth-control clinic at 61 Marlborough Road, Holloway, North London. The Mother's Clinic offered mothers birth control advice and taught them birth control methods and dispensed Stopes own "Pro-Race" brand cervical cap.

The United States Food and Drug Administration announced on May 9, 1960 that it would approve the use of Searle's Enovid for birth control, making it the first oral contraceptive pill.

The first widespread book detailing contraception was created and published illegally by some Canadian students in 1968. The Birth Control Handbook rapidly gained popularity with its critical information and, within a year, millions were distributed across the US and Canada.

Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, reaffirmed the Catholic church’s historic denunciation of artificial birth control. Many Catholics were disappointed by this as it was felt that after the modernisation of the church in Vatican Two, the church would take heed of technological advances such as the pill and allow Catholics to practice contraception.

September 26th is World Contraception Day, devoted to raising awareness of contraception and improving education about sexual and reproductive health.

The "99% effective" label on birth control pills means that out of 100 women who use the pill in a year, one will get pregnant.

Human birth control pills work on gorillas.

The German word for 'birth control pill' is "antibabypille."