Cyclopedia of Factoids - The Letter R

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


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Around 2800-2500 BC, Lagash and Umma were two Sumerian city-states located 25 kilometers apart in today's territory of Iraq. Clay cylinders and albast, copper and gold tablets found at the site recount the story of the first revolution in human history: the people rose and deposed officials who kept raising taxes but pocketed the proceeds. The earliest-known written appearance of the word "freedom" (amagi), or "liberty" is in a clay cuneiform document written about 2300 B.C. in Lagash.

Rigor Mortis

The stiff is poised theatrically at the scene of the crime, hand extended to heaven, eyes wide open in unspeakable terror. This is the onset of rigor mortis. Ten hours after death, as the muscles' energy stores - adenosine triphosphate (ATP) - are depleted, the small muscles of the body and muscles that were most vigorously exercised prior to death stiffen. In most cadavers, rigor mortis progresses from the upper parts of the body downward (Nysten law). Three to four days after the event the body's muscles begin to decompose. Some studies suggest that rigor mortis progresses faster in red muscles and in higher room temperatures.

Rigor mortis implies that the natural state of muscles is rigid and contracted. Muscles invest energy in ... relaxing!

Roman Family

The father in the Roman family (paterfamilias) exercised absolute and lifelong power over all other family members (patria potestas): his wife, children, and slaves. If the father's father was alive - then he was the supreme authority in the household. Fathers were even allowed to execute their grown sons for serious offenses like treason.

Each house maintained a cult of ancestors and hearth gods and the paterfamilias was its priest. The family was thought to posses a "genius" (gens) - an inner spirit - passed down the generations. The living and the dead members of the family shared the gens and were bound by it.

Legitimate offspring belonged to the father's family. The father retained custody if the couple (rarely) divorced exclusively at the husband's initiative. The father had the right to disown a newborn - usually deformed boys or girls. This led to a severe shortage of women in Rome.

The father of the bride had to pay a sizable dowry to the family of the groom, thus impoverishing the other members of the family. Moreover, daughters shared equally in the estate of a father who died without a will - thus transferring assets from their family of origin to their husband's family. No wonder females were decried as an economic liability.

At the beginning, slaves were considered to be part of the family and were well-treated. They were allowed to save money (peculium) and to purchase their freedom. Freed slaves became full-fledged Roman citizens and usually stayed on with the family as hired help or paid laborers. Only much later, in the vast plantations amassed by wealthy Romans, were slaves abused and regarded as inanimate property.


It was the British chemist, Joseph Priestley, who gave rubber its name in 1770, when he discovered that it can rub away - erase - pencil marks.

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