Thanks for Nothing

Gordon Macdonald was the last British governor of Newfoundland. Despite the island’s fiercely independent nature, he openly campaigned for it to become part of Canada. In 1949 he succeeded, and two days before he returned to England, the Evening Telegram published a congratulatory poem:

The prayers of countless thousands sent
Heavenwards to speed thy safe return,
Ennobled as thou art with duty well performed,
Bringing peace, security and joy
Among the peoples of this New Found Land.
So saddened and depressed until your presence
Taught us discern and help decide what’s best for
All on whom fortune had not smiled.
Remember if you will the kindness and the love
Devotion and the respect that we the people have for Thee

— Farewell!

It was several weeks before the editors noticed it was an acrostic — read the first letter of each line.

Clever Hans

Illusionists know that people are eager to be fooled — some even participate unwittingly in their own deception. A striking example of this is Clever Hans, a trick horse who caused a sensation in the early 1900s. Using his hoof, Hans routinely tapped out correct answers to questions about math, reading, spelling and music. But an investigation showed that Hans’ real skill lay in reading his questioner’s body language, which always showed increased tension as he approached the final, “correct” tap.

In 1907, psychologist Oskar Pfungst actually took the horse’s place and found that he could get the right answer 90 percent of the time simply by watching the questioner’s posture and facial expression. This unconscious cueing is remembered as the “Clever Hans effect.”

Old Folks’ Homes

Countries with highest life expectancies:

  1. Andorra: 83.51 years
  2. San Marino: 81.71 years
  3. Singapore: 81.71 years
  4. Japan: 81.25 years
  5. Sweden: 80.51 years
  6. Switzerland: 80.51 years
  7. Australia: 80.50 years
  8. Iceland: 80.31 years
  9. Canada: 80.22 years
  10. Italy: 79.81 years

Expense Account

The German Bundestag has 614 members, but its official Web site lists 615. That’s because Jakob Maria Mierscheid doesn’t exist — he was invented in the 1920s by Weimar Social Democrats to avoid paying restaurant bills.

Like George P. Burdell, another nonexistent bon vivant, Mierscheid has quite a resume. He served as deputy chairman of the Committee for Small and Medium Sized Businesses in 1981 and 1982, and in 1983 he published a demonstration of the correlation between federal election results and West German industrial production.

Presumably he also goes out to lunch a lot.

Take Your Pick

Frivolous political parties around the world and their campaign promises:

  • Denmark’s Union of Conscientiously Work-Shy Elements promised tailwinds on all cycle paths.
  • Hungary’s Two-Tailed Dog Party promised eternal life, world peace, one work day per week, two sunsets a day, smaller gravitation, and low taxes.
  • Sweden’s Donald Duck Party promised wider sidewalks and “free alcohol to the people.”
  • England’s Death, Dungeons and Taxes Party promised the reintroduction of hanging, the annexation of France, and the reduction of the school leaving age to 9.
  • America’s Guns and Dope Party would replace one-third of Congress with ostriches.

And Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus all have Beer Lovers’ Parties.

“Politicians are the same all over,” said Nikita Khrushchev. “They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.”

Rechtub Klat

It’s not only 007 who communicates in code. Butchers in Australia speak a secret language called Rechtub Klat (“butcher talk”), in which words are pronounced backward.

Why should butchers need a secret language? So they can talk about the customers:

  • Kool, toh lrig = Look, hot girl
  • Doog tsub = Good bust
  • Doog esra = Good arse
  • On doog cuf ecaf = No-good fuckface

Keep your ears open.

Bottoms Up

Beer consumption per capita, as of 2004, in liters per year:

  • Czech Republic: 156.9
  • Ireland: 131.1
  • Germany: 115.8
  • Australia: 109.9
  • Austria: 108.3
  • United Kingdom: 99.0
  • Belgium: 93.0
  • Denmark: 89.9
  • Finland: 85.0
  • Luxembourg: 84.4

Darwin, Australia, has the highest beer consumption of any city in the world. The average resident there drinks 230 liters, or about 60 gallons, of beer each year.

Good Company

Nobel laureates by country, as of July 2006:

  1. United States: 160
  2. United Kingdom: 110
  3. Germany: 92
  4. France: 44
  5. Switzerland: 25
  6. USSR and Russia: 21
  7. Italy: 19
  8. Canada: 18
  9. Sweden: 18
  10. Netherlands: 18
  11. Hungary: 16
  12. Denmark: 14
  13. Poland: 14