Saturday, August 11, 2018

QuickFacts: Miscellaneous


Taj Mahal under threat: 

Main entrance 

In 1632 the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan commissioned a mausoleum to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth. Known as the Taj Mahal, meaning "Crown of the Palace", it was completed in 1643, although work continued on other phases of the project for another 10 years, the tomb being the centrepiece of a 17-hectare (42-acre) complex, which includes a mosque and a guest house, and is set in formal gardens bounded on three sides by a crenellated wall. The cost in modern terms was $827m (2015) and the construction project employed 20,000 artisans under the guidance of a board of architects. 

Fast forward to the present day: bug poo and industrial pollution have begun to turn its white marble green, black, brown and yellow, and state caretakers have struggled to keep the building clean. The bug poo is from an infestation of a certain bug that is proliferating in the nearby Yamuna River, where pollution has killed the fish that used to keep the numbers down. The poo can be scrubbed off but repeated scrubbing dulls the sheen of the marble. Industrial pollution from nearby oil refineries, a 200-year-old wood-burning crematorium, and other factories have caused the marble to start turning yellow. Though the government has closed dozens of nearby factories, it has not stopped the yellowing of the Taj. Even after cleaning, the yellow returns. 

Taj Mahal and outlying buildings as seen from across the Yamuna River (northern view) 

After the government failed to file plans for restoring the monument, the Indian Supreme Court stepped in and ordered “Either you demolish or you restore it.” 

The Taj draws 70,000 visitors a day so it is a valuable tourist attraction but thereby there is another problem: foot traffic is impacting the foundations of the aging structure and the touch of oily human hands and moist breath is discolouring the interior. Earlier this year the Archaeological Survey of India proposed capping the number of Indian visitors to the site at 40,000 per day. There is also now a 3-hour limit to visits, also an attempt to keep crowd sizes down. 

Some visitors 

The Great Whiskey Fire, 1875: 

The Illustrated London News depicts the fire in the Liberties in 1875. 

Just after 8pm on Saturday, June 18, 1875, a fire began in Dublin that engulfed Reid’s malt-house and Malone’s bonded warehouse in the inner city Liberties. As the Illustrated London News reported: “The former had above £2,000 of malt in it, and the latter, which immediately adjoins it, had 5,000 barrels of whiskey, worth £54,000”. Burning whiskey flowed like lava through the streets and crowds gathered to collect the free hot liquor in every pot, pan and jar they possessed. When these were full they drank it from their hats as it ran down Ardee Street and into the adjoining streets. Two porters, Healy and M’Nulty, were found “lying insensible” in a lane off Cork Street, with their boots off: they had evidently used them to collect the whiskey. 

As houses, buildings, shops and even a pub were destroyed and pandemonium reigned, the Dublin Fire Brigade arrived, under the leadership of Captain James Robert Ingram. He knew that to pour water on the fire would be disastrous as the whiskey would float on top of it like petrol and spread the fire throughout the city. Instead, he sent for soldiers and ordered them to pull up paving stones and pour a mixture of sand and gravel on the whiskey. But he soon realised that wouldn’t be enough as the whiskey started to seep through the sand. Heaps of horse manure lay in depots around the city. Ingram ordered that it be brought to the Liberties by the cartload and shovelled back onto the streets, from where it had once come, to form dams. As the burning whiskey met the damp manure it was soaked up and the fire slowly began to subside. 

The fire proved to be one of the most destructive in the history of Dublin. 

Thirteen people died in the fire. Not from burns or smoke inhalation but because they had drunk burning alcohol: a lethal cocktail of whiskey, manure and toxic effluent from the city’s gutters and sewers. 

In 2015 one Robert Palmer (no, not that Robert Palmer of Simply Irresistible fame, he died of a heart attack in 2003 aged 54), of Washington State, photographed a caterpillar with what appears to be a face on its back. Various people have vouched for the bona fides of the aged Robert Palmer who took the pic. According to him: "I sent a picture to my grandson, he said 'nice photo-shop grandpa'. I said I can't even use my smart phone half the time, much less do some special computer effects. I had to have the girls at the Shell station send the picture . . .” 

The internet has tried to work out who the face looked like. 

One view is that it is Edgar Allan Poe: 

Someone else offered another identification: 

Others see it as Teddy Roosevelt, Marlon Brando and Robin Williams. 

Faces on the backs of caterpillars are often a survival mechanism: 


Whilst on the topic of things that look like other things, people flocked to see a statue that looks like Michael Jackson: 

No, wait, that is a statue of Michael Jackson. The one I am talking about is an Egyptian statue at least 3,000 years old. Complete with a disfigured nose, it has been on display it has been on display at Chicago’s Field Museum since 1988. 


While children of identical twins are legally first cousins, genetically, they are actually half siblings.

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