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The Fez

Though it’s named for the city of Fez, Morocco, the fez is a man’s hat that dates back to ancient Phoenicia.  The Phoenicians were active traders and colonizers all over the Mediterranean, including in what is today Morocco, so it’s not surprising that the fez caught on there.  What is remarkable is that it’s still worn today.
Like all fashions, the fez has come and gone in different parts of the world.  It disappeared from the eastern Mediterranean, where it originated, but was reintroduced centuries later.  The fez caught on in the Balkans sometime around the Renaissance, possibly inspired by a kind of military cap resembling the fez that was common in the Mediterranean at the time.
In 1826 the fez got a real boost when Sultan Mahmud II banned the turban throughout the Ottoman Empire.  His thinking was that he wanted to modernize Turkey, and saw the turban as a symbol that separated east from west.  “Modernization” in 19th century Turkey often meant “becoming more like Europeans”.  Th…

The World Since 4004 BC

We often hear religious Christians claim that the world is 6,000 years old (or 6,024 years old, plus six or seven weeks, to be exact).  I won’t weigh in on the veracity of that claim, but it does raise an interesting question: where do they get that number?  The Bible provides exactly zero dates, so how can anyone claim to figure it out?
The first man who claims to have figured it out was James Ussher, the Protestant Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland in the middle of the 17th century.  A scholar and influential churchman, Ussher studied the Bible and concluded that the famous creation of the world, in the Book of Genesis, must have taken place on October 22, 4004 BC, at around 6:00 PM, local time, according to the Julian calendar.
It seems arbitrary, doesn’t it?  But Ussher didn’t just throw a dart at a calendar.  It was based on a literal reading of the Old Testament, and incorporated a broad knowledge of ancient history and Biblical languages.  He gave his treatise the c…

Pennies, Bad Pennies, and Common Cents

In English, we say a bad penny always turns up.  Today we use it to refer to a person we’d rather not see but who keeps coming around anyway.  We don’t think of it as referring to a literal bad penny, a counterfeit penny.  Really, how many of us have ever seen a counterfeit penny?  I’ve been collecting coins for most of my life and I haven’t run across one, or even heard of anyone counterfeiting them.  Why bother?  They wouldn’t be worth the effort you put into making them.  If you’re going to counterfeit, go for $20 bills, or even quarters, at least.
There was a time when pennies were worth a bit more, and were worth the effort to counterfeit.  In 15th century England.  At this time, the English penny was a silver coin, not copper.  (There were coins called farthings which were smaller than pennies, and these were made of copper.)  The penny was a fairly valuable coin—more valuable than we think of pennies today, anyway.  It makes a kind of sense, then, that people would counterfeit t…

Obsolete Bellwether States

Every presidential election season, you’re liable to hear pundits and other prognosticators make bold predictions about how the upcoming election is going to hinge on how one or two certain states vote.  It’s certainly true that in most election years, everything tends to hinge on a handful of states.  In the 2016 election, there were six or seven states that were watched and analyzed and pondered more than any of the other forty-some states, and in the end, the election really did come down to how those few turned out.  Talking heads made the same conclusion about this year’s presidential election, and while recently talk has moved away from that as new variables begin to change the dynamics of this election in most atypical ways, the fact remains that there are certain states that we usually regard as bellwethers.  In the past, there have been other states that have lost their bellwether status.  Today’s fact, then, will be a handful of facts, looking at these statuses, both curren…

Synanon: Self-Help Through Shame and Berating

In 1958, a recovering alcoholic named Chuck Dietrich discovered he had a talent for public speaking.  He was always a big hit at his Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, so he figured he’d take his talents and his $33 monthly unemployment check and try to give back to society.  Dietrich found he’d benefited greatly from A.A., but he was concerned about drug addicts, who weren’t admitted to the organization, because, as A.A. says, drug addiction is fundamentally different from alcohol addiction, and thus would require wholly different kinds of treatment.  Dietrich set out to help drug addicts and anyone else who needed support and organization in their lives.  That’s why he founded a two-year program called Synanon.
The idea behind Synanon was to hold nothing back, because your chemical dependency was probably a symptom of your repressed emotions.  Synanon’s main activity was something Dietrich called The Game, which was designed to release these emotions.  To play The Game, all you did was s…

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

The ancient Greeks were the ones who first came up with the concept of the Seven Wonders of the World.  These Wonders translated from the Greek word θεάματα, meaning sights.  To call them Wonders sounds more impressive than calling them sights.  (Sometimes something is actually gained in translation.)  Since it was a Greek list, it’s no wonder that everything on it is either in Greece proper or somewhere in the Greek world at the time.  Since the list dates from about the 3rd century BCE, that was a pretty big world; it included what’s now Egypt, Persia, and even part of Afghanistan.  Of the Seven Wonders, five have been recorded as destroyed by some kind of disaster, either natural or manmade.  The only one that still exists is the Great Pyramid of Giza, and even it has been worn down some by time.
That accounts for six Wonders.  There’s one more on the list that doesn’t currently exist, nor does it have a date of destruction: the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.  The Hanging Gardens were …

Carrie Nation

In 1846, a woman was born in Kentucky by the name of Carrie Amelia Moore.  Her father, George Moore, was a successful farmer who did well enough for himself to own several slaves.  Not long after her birth, though, did the Moore family fall on hard times, losing the farm and moving around the commonwealth until finally settling in the state of Missouri.  Due to Carrie’s family’s circumstances, she was not only poor in health but poorly educated, as well.  On top of that, mental illness seemed to run in the Moore family.  Mary Moore, Carrie’s mother, was institutionalized several times, allegedly believing that she was Queen Victoria.  The Moores moved to Texas in 1862, looking for better farming prospects and keeping in stride with George’s Confederate sympathies.  Texas didn’t work out well for the Moore family, either, so they moved north again, this time to Kansas City.
Carrie’s sickly childhood had ended, and by her late teenage years, she was a healthy young woman.  She had a larg…