Cyclopedia of Factoids - The Letter F

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


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Iraq and Jordan were once one country under a united Hashemite throne. The two monarchs - Hussein of Jordan and Faisal II of Iraq - created a federation in 1958. It lasted a few months - until Faisal II of Iraq was deposed and killed in a military coup.


Syria and Egypt proclaimed in a federation in February 1958. It lasted till September 1961. It was called the United Arab Republic (UAR) and had the hallmarks of a unitary state: single flag and anthem, shared armed services and common foreign policy. Egypt retained the name - UAR - until 1971.


Ukraine was nominally independent even during the heyday of the Soviet Union. It maintained its own delegation to the United Nations, for instance. The USSR was a federation between Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and the Transcaucasus with a formal right to secede granted to each of the constituents.


Lagos - today, a state within Nigeria incorporating the largest city in the country and, for a long time, its capital - was made a separate British colony in 1886. It was administered from Freetown, Sierra Leone. Nigeria is a federation of 36 states and a federal capital territory (similar to the United States).


Texas (originally, Tejas) was an independent republic between 1836 and 1845. It was recognized by the United States and by many countries in Europe - though not by Mexico, from which it seceded. Its annexation by the USA led to the Mexican War between Mexico and the United States.


For centuries, Hawaii was a monarchy. The last queen, Liliuokalani, was deposed in January 1893. An independent republic was declared and immediately sued for annexation. The republic survived 5 years as an independent entity and was annexed by the United States in 1898.




Fictophilia: falling in love with a fictitious character in a novel, film, or work of art.

Human brains are hopeless at telling reality and fantasy apart: the same cerebral areas light up and with the same intensity whether you are merely thinking about coffee or actually drinking it. Porn and actual sex are indistinguishable in the brain (hence porn addiction). So, our wetware makes no distinction between real people and imaginary ones. We can easily fall for a digital or printed protagonist and have a crush on him or her that rivals any torrid passion.

Erotomaniacs straddle the twilight zone: they maintain utterly concocted and intricately elaborate love affairs with real persons who they never have met or communicated with.

But the truth is that even "real" people are figments of our creative imagination: they are phantasms, narratives, the blood and flesh equivalents of fictional characters. We idealize them our love interests or objects of infatuation, we fill in the gaps, project onto them our inner world, and interact only with the outer layer, the shell.

We use sex and language to try to penetrate the inaccessible minds of our loved ones, but to no avail: it is always skin-deep and ultimately deceptive. More than half of all intimate partners admit to cheating on each other: the ultimate form of betrayal and deception. The real figure is probably much higher. That is how real our relationships are and how well we know our significant others. When push comes to shove, we all inhabit our bubble universes, doomed to the silent solipsism of our humanity.



Filibuster is a term common to all the procedural techniques employed by members of a legislature to delay legislation they oppose. Thus, filibuster includes the introduction of dilatory motions, intentional absence from the assembly to prevent a quorum, or lengthy speechmaking. Even speeches completely unrelated to the issue are allowed. Filibustering members hope to kill a legislative initiative or obtain concessions from the majority.

In the United States, members of the House of Representatives cannot filibuster as debate there is limited in time. At the behest of President Woodrow Wilson, cloture rules were adopted by the U.S. Senate in Rule 22 in 1917 (and amended in 1949, 1959, and 1975). Debate now can be limited to a further 30 hours with the vote of three-fifths (originally two thirds) of the full Senate membership. In the British House of Commons, cloture was introduced in 1822 and requires at least 100 affirmative votes.

In August 1957, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes in opposition to a civil rights measure. This is the American filibuster record. In 1964, a group of southern senators led by Russell Long of Louisiana extended the debate on the Civil Rights Act for 74 days.

Filibuster is originally a Dutch word meaning "pirate, hijacker". In Spanish "filibustero" meant "freebooting" and applied to 16th century privateers. Irregular military adventurers, mercenaries and guerrilleros in the 19th century were also called "filibusters".




Fingerprints were first used to identify criminals in Bengal, India in the 1890s. The London Metropolitan Police introduced them in 1901. The Illinois Supreme Court was the first to rule that fingerprints are admissible as evidence. The FBI currently holds the fingerprints of more than 80 million people, close to 40 million of them in a computerized database.


In January 2002 a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled that fingerprint examiners testifying in his courtroom will have to convince the jury that fingerprints discovered in the scene of a crime belong to specific defendants. In other words, fingerprints are no more reliable than other types of evidence. The claim that the error rate in matching prints is zero has never been proven scientifically.


Latent prints lifted off crime scenes with the application of special chemicals or ultraviolet light are often incomplete or indistinct. The matching of prints requires an overall "impression" of similarity (in other words, it is an art, not a science). The minimal number of points of similarity required in more demanding jurisdictions varies wildly and arbitrarily from one jurisdiction to another.


It was Francis Galton, a 19-century statistician, who pegged, in 1892, the probability that the prints of two individuals would match at 1:64 billion.  This calculation was based on 35-50 "Galton details" - features related to ridges in the fingerprint. 


In forensic practice, only 8-16 such points are used.  No one knows to calculate the probability of matching fragments of two individual fingerprints - though most fingerprints recovered from crime scenes are partial.


In the case of Byron Mitchell, in 1998, two latent prints were said to substantiate his guilt. The FBI sent the latent prints and Mitchell's inked fingerprints to the laboratories of 53 state law enforcement agencies. Of the 35 that bothered to respond, fourteen failed to find a match for one of the two latent prints. America’s National Institute of Justice (an arm of the Department of Justice) is conducting a study of the reliability of fingerprinting - finally.


Fleming, Ian

Ian Lancaster Fleming (1908-1964), the author of the James Bond 007 novels, was the grandson of a Scottish banker and the son of a Conservative MP (Member of Parliament). His father died in the first world war. In his will, he bequeathed his property to his widow on condition she never remarries.

Ian's youth was inauspicious. He was expelled from Eton following a sexual liaison with a girl. He left Sandhurst without obtaining an officer's rank, having been caught violating the curfew. He continued his education in Kitzbuhel, Austria, in Munich and in Geneva where he studied languages. But the chain of disappointments continued apace. He failed in a Foreign Service exam and had to join Reuters as a journalist. There he successfully covered a spy trial in Russia (1929-32).

He then joined a British investment bank as a stockbroker and moved to live in a converted temple in Belgravia, a fashionable district of London, where he entertained the members of the Le Cercle Gastronomique et des Jeux de Hasard.

In 1939, Fleming took on an assignment for The Times in Moscow - in effect a cover. He was spying for the Foreign Office and later for Naval Intelligence where he attained the rank of Commander.

During the second world war, he worked from room number 39 in the Admiralty building in Whitehall as assistant to Admiral John Godfrey. He was involved in the evacuation of Dieppe in 1940, in the smuggling of King Zog out of Albania and in setting up the Office for Special Services, the precursor of the CIA.

As commander of the 30th Assault Unit, he sometimes operated behind the German lines, trying to secure important documents and files from destruction. But, mostly, he directed the Unit's operations from London.

When the war was over, he built a house - Goldeneye - in Jamaica. He worked for the Kemsley group of papers and vacationed every winter in the island.

While awaiting the divorce of one of his numerous paramours - the pregnant Lady Anne Rothermere - the 44 years old Fleming wrote "Casino Royale" published in 1953. It was the first of 12 James Bond thrillers, translated to 11 languages and with total sales of 18 million copies. James Bond novels are now being authored by a new generation of writers.

In 1961, John F, Kennedy, the newly elected president, listed a James Bond title as one of his favorite books. Many movie plots were loosely based on Fleming's novels and have grossed, in total, more than $1 billion. The 007 trademark was merchandised and attached to  everything, from toys and games to clothes and toiletries.

But Fleming was also renowned for his non-fiction: tomes like "The Diamond Smugglers" and his "Atticus" column in The Sunday Times where he served as foreign manager (1945-9). He successfully branched into children's literature with "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (1964), also made into a movie.

Ironically, his mother died and left him a fortune in 1964 - when Fleming was already wealthy and dying. The trip to her service may have done him in. His son committed suicide in 1975 and his wife died in 1981. He left behind one heir: James Bond.

Foreign Accent Syndrome


The brains of stroke victims play odd tricks on them. A small group of stroke survivors develops a speech impediment known as "Foreign Accent Syndrome". In the first known case, in 1941, a Norwegian woman spoke in a German accent. All the elements of pronunciation shift - pacing, rhythm, intonation, and stress. The New York Times cites the case of a BBC producer in London who spoke in a Scottish - or, at any rate, foreign - accent. The impediment is aided and often completely cured through speech therapy.

French Revolution

The monarchy was far from absolute prior to the French Revolution. Laws had to be approved by the regional parlements - and, increasingly frequently, were not. King Louis XVI abolished the parlements in May 1788. This led to widespread attacks on royal officials and emissaries, civil disobedience, and a tsunami of pamphlets against the king's despotism. The revolution started, therefore, much before July 1789.


The disaffection cut across class lines. Many noblemen spoke for the commoners. French nobleman Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau, for instance, sought to be elected to the Estates-General, a consultative assembly not convened since 1614, as a delegate of the "third estate" (people who were neither aristocrats, nor clergy).


The revolution itself may have been set off by a misunderstanding.


The representatives of the third estate joined forces with dissenting delegates from the other two estates to form the National Assembly. One day, officials of the king locked the regular meeting place of the Assembly in order to prepare it for an address by the king. The members of the Assembly wrongly concluded that they are about to be crushed.


On June 20, they regrouped in an indoor tennis court and vowed not to disband until France had a constitution and the king's powers are drastically curtailed. This became known as the "Tennis Court Oath".


On July 14, 1789 crowds stormed the Bastille - a fortress prison in east Paris - in response to ominous movements of royal troops in and around the capital. Contrary to later myths, the Bastille was virtually decommissioned and housed, at the time, only seven aging inmates. They missed the Marquis de Sade by weeks. He was moved from the Bastille to the Charenton lunatic asylum in 1789, after having incited the crowds outside his window in the impregnable fort.


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