Cyclopedia of Factoids - The Letter A

Entries written by Sam Vaknin for the Links and Factoids Study List


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Abdication Crisis

The love affair of Edward, Prince of Wales (Edward VIII) and Wallis Simpson in 1936 is the stuff of romantic dramas. Alas, reality was a lot less inspiring. Even as she was being wooed by her regal paramour  - and while still being married to Ernest Aldrich Simpson, who knew of the Prince's attentions and even discussed the adulterous relationship with him - Wallis had an affair with Guy Marcus Trundle, a car salesman.  

So reveal documents released in January 2003 by the Public Record Office in the United Kingdom. Trundle is described as a "very charming adventurer, very good looking, well bred and an excellent dancer". He lived at 18 Bruton Street in Mayfair, London (a prestigious address).  

Simpson's first husband was Earl Winfield Spencer. The King met her on January 10, 1931 but was not impressed. Even in the months after May 1934, when he met her for the second time, dined with her and her husband in their London flat and invited them to his country retreat - she did not captivate him. He did take her on a cruise, two years later, unaccompanied by her husband. He tried to introduce her in court, but George V was outraged. Upon his death, the Prince of Wales became King on January 20, 1936. Ernest Simpson - who was having a long-term affair of his own - moved out of the Simpson household in July 1936.

Nor was Wallis the Prince's first American liaison. He contemplated marrying one, Thelma Furness, but then dumped her for Simpson. The British media - though perfectly aware of all the goings-on, reported noting almost until the King's abdication. The European and American press, in contrast, provided extensive coverage of the developing romance.

At first, the King did not wish to marry Simpson, merely to make her his consort by changing the law to allow for a morganatic marriage (of people from different classes, with no rights of inheritance). Simpson herself thought of giving up the marriage. Yet, finally, they got married after the abdication, in France. Though Simpson became the Duchess of Windsor, she could not be addressed as "Her Royal Highness".

Additionally, the King was not allowed by the British government to address the British people and the Empire through the BBC.


The government's constitutional experts wrote:


"If the King disregarded it, constitutional monarchy would cease to exist. The King is bound to accept and act upon the advice of his ministers ... for the King to broadcast in disregard of that advice would be appealing over the heads of his constitutional advisers. "The last time when this happened in English history was when Charles I raised His Standard at the beginning of the Civil War on 22 August 1642."


Edward abdicated from the throne on 11 December 1936, making a different speech.


After having abdicated the throne, in exile, not allowed to return on pain of losing their allowance, the couple visited Adolf Hitler in 1937. Simpson was thrilled to be "entertained by Herr Hitler" but there is no proof of further contacts with the Nazi regime with the exception of a telegram from Edward to Hitler, urging peace. Edward was later appointed Governor of the Bahamas. Recently released FBI files identify Simpson as a Nazi sympathizer, though. The FBI suspected her of having an affair with a leading Nazi and spied on her.



Abraham, the son of Terah, Noah's descendent, and brother of Nahor and Haran, first appears in the Bible in Genesis 11:27. He may have been born in Ur, in today's Iraq, near Nasiryah, around 4000 years ago. His brother, Nahor, definitely was born in Ur and, having fathered Lot, also died in Ur Kasdim (Ur of the Chaldeans). Ur was the capital of S(h)umer but the Kasdim - Khaldeans - did not make it to Ur until 1300 years after the birth of Abraham. Why do the Bible call it Ur Kasdim?

Abraham's family are described as pastoral nomads. Wandering shepherds rarely pitch their tents, proverbial or not, next to metropolises. Terah left Ur only to settle near yet another city, Harran, on the current border between Turkey and Syria. He spent the next 60 years of his life there. Harran is 1200 kilometers off the beaten path to Canaan (today's Israel and Palestine). Why such a diversion?

Scholars suggest that Ur is actually Urfa in Turkey - about 30 kilometers away from Harran. It boasts a cave where Abraham is said to have been born.

SOURCE: Bruce Feiler, Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths and Walking the Bible: A Journey By Land Through the Five Books of Moses.


There are 11,000 species of ants. The oldest ant fossil is more than 90 million years old. Ants are closely related to bees and wasps. They are so numerous that in some habitats - the Amazon forest, for instance - their combined weight is four times the combined weight of all other animals in the area. Ants have brains. The main nerve - similar to our spine - runs along the bottom of the ant's body. Ants smell, taste and touch with their antennas. Their cylinder-like heart pumps colorless blood throughout their body.

Ants digest only liquid food or food rendered liquid with their digestive juices. Ants share digested food with each other. They can carry 15-20 times their body weight.

Only the colony's queen breeds. Unfertilized eggs develop into males. The queen also lives much longer - up to 10 years, compared to worker ants which survive on average 50-150 days and up to 2 years in the tropics.

Some ant varieties create no nests. Instead, worker ants link their legs to form a living fabric on which the queen resides and performs her functions.


The appendix is located at the beginning of the large intestine. Many types of animals have it, including rabbits and rodents. It contains gut associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) involved in recognizing foreign antigens in ingested food. The appendix is also helpful in the maturation of certain white blood cells (B lymphocytes) and antibodies (Immunoglobulin, or IgA). Molecules manufactured in the appendix serve as "traffic guides" and direct lymphocytes to other parts of the body. The appendix is not, therefore, useless, as most people think. It is part of the immune system. The GALT disappears after age 60, though.

The appendix has additional functions. Endocrine cells appear in the appendix of the human fetus and produce biogenic amines and peptide hormones, both instrumental in maintaining bodily homeostasis.

Finally, the appendix is used to replace the "sphincter muscle" in urinary a bladder surgically reconstructed from intestinal tissue (after removal of the original bladder). It also replaces removed ureters, leading urine from the kidney to the bladder.

Armenian Genocide

The Armenian massacres in Turkey started in the 19th century and continued well after the Armenian genocide of 1915 in which some 600,000 Armenians perished. The Armenians were also raided by Kurdish tribesmen on a regular basis. An Ottoman military tribunal, convened between 1919-21, even convicted for the crimes members of the administration of the Young Turks, including cabinet ministers.

Many of the perpetrators fled the country only to return, triumphant, after the establishment of modern Turkey in 1923. The Turkish government today denies that an organized, premeditated genocide ever took place and pegs the number of Armenian fatalities at 200-300,000 at the most.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the Armenians formed guerrilla movements in eastern Van (the Armenakans, in 1885) and in Russia. Radical nationalist parties were established by Russian-Armenian emigrants in 1887 (Hunchak or Henchak, "The Bell") and in 1890 in Georgia (Dashnak or Dashnaktsutyun, "Union"). Mass demonstrations in the Turkish capital (in 1890 and 1895) and armed uprisings followed (in 1894-5). The Dashnaks even invaded Turkey from Russia in 1896 - a demonstrative act which resulted in the slaughter of 50,000 Armenians.

The suppression of these revolts claimed 200,000 Armenian lives. In 1909, in Adana, more than 23,000 Armenians were massacred as the warships of the Great Powers stood idly by. In 1912-3 the Great Powers, led by Russia, pressured Turkey to cease its mistreatment of the Armenians. This intervention was resented by the Ottoman authorities. By 1915, Armenian calls for autonomy were deemed a danger to the disintegrating realm, now at war with Russia.

When the first world war broke, Turkey allied itself with the Germans. All Armenian men aged 20-45 were conscripted to the army as soldiers, soon to be disarmed and serve as pack animals or in menial jobs. When Russian Armenians recruited Turkish Armenians for the anti-Turkish Russian Army of the Caucasus, in April 1915, the elite of the Armenian community was arrested and executed. Between May and June 1915 the Armenian population was deported to Mesopotamia. The deportation followed mass executions.

Many more died from starvation, exposure, dehydration, abuse and outright torture. The survivors - less than 300,000 - were subjected to additional slaughter in Syria. People were beaten with blunt instruments, burnt alive or drowned forcibly. The massacres were carried out by military officers with dictatorial powers, aided by criminals especially released from jails and assigned to their gruesome duties.

Armed resistance in Van province, Mussa Dagh, Shabin Karahisar and Urfa - as well as setbacks in the war - prevented the Turks for deporting the urban Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire's major cities. Today there are less than 60,000 Armenians in Turkey compared to at least 1.8 million in 1910.

Art, Modern

We are all acquainted with the tales - many apocryphal, some real - of how art critiques, curators, collectors and buyers were fooled into purchasing "works of art" created by monkeys. The animals "painted" by dipping their paws in pigments and running to and fro over empty canvasses.

There are numerous such striking examples of the fluidity of what constitutes art and the dubious expertise of art "professionals".

There is no other masterpiece so studied, analyzed and scrutinized as Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Yet, when it was stolen from the Louvre in Paris in 1912, forgers passed 6 replicas as the original, selling them for a fortune. The painting was rediscovered in 1915.

Henri Matisse is revered as the father of Fauvism and of modern painting in general. Yet, one of his more famous tableaux, Le Bateau (The Boat), hung upside down for 2 months in 1961 in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Not one of the art critics, journalists, 116,000 visitors, or curators has noticed it.

Perhaps the most famous case of artistic misjudgment involves Vincent van Gogh whose work has hitherto fetched the highest prices ever paid in auctions. Despite his connections with leading painters, gallery owners, art professors and critics - his brother owned a successful art dealership in Paris - van Gogh sold only one piece while alive: "Red Vineyard at Arles." His brother bought it from him. By the time he died he had painted 750 canvasses and 1600 drawings.


Atlantis (or Atlantica) was described in antiquity as a large island in the sea to the west of the known world (the Western Ocean), near the Pillars of Hercules (the Gibraltar Straits?). It was not, therefore, a part of the known geography of the period. An earthquake was said to have submerged it in the ocean.

It is first mentioned in the dialogs Timaeus and Critias written by the Greek philosopher Plato (428-347 BC). An Egyptian priest was supposed to have described it to the Greek statesman Solon (638-559 BC).

The priest insisted that Atlantis was enormous - bigger than Asia Minor (today, a part of Turkey) and Libya combined. It harbored a technologically advanced civilization, recounted the priest, in the 10th millennium BC (c. 12,000 years ago).

Curiously, he also said that the Atlantians conquered all the lands of antiquity, bar Athens (which only came into existence in the Neolithic period, about 3000 years later).

Arab geographers propagated the story of Atlantis and medieval European authors referred to it as fact.

Current oceanographers, scholars and conspiracy theorists place Atlantis all over the map - from an island in the Aegean Sea (Thera, or Santorini it suffered an earthquake in 1640 BC and housed the flourishing Cycladic civilization), through the Canary Islands to Scandinavia. Considering that many ancient civilizations - such as Troy, long considered a mere fable - were unearthed by archeologists, it is not futile to continue to look for Atlantis.

Automatic Switchboard (Phone Exchange)

Almon B. Strowger, an undertaker in Kansas City, faced unfair competition. The wife of a competing undertaker was an operator at the local (manual) telephone exchange. She re-routed calls to her husband, even when the caller asked for Strowger.

In an effort to get rid of her, Strowger invented the first automatic, electromechanical switchboard and, together with his cousin, produced the first model in 1888. He was granted a patent in 1891.

Strowger joined forces with Joseph B. Harris and Moses A. Meyer to form “Strowger Automatic Telephone Exchange” in October 1891. A year later, the first Strowger exchange was installed with great fanfare at La Porte, Indiana. It had less than 80 subscribers.

Strowger died in 1902 but his company still survives as AG Communications Systems.

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