Wednesday, June 16, 2021



A sampler of items of interest from various internet sites. Click on the links provided to access the items for a more detailed look . . .


1,000 year egg:

Ever heard of century eggs or thousand year eggs? They are Chinese delicacies made by preserving an egg, usually, from a duck, such that the shell becomes speckled, the white becomes a dark brown gelatinous material, and the yolk becomes deep green and creamy. The white supposedly doesn't have much flavour, but the yolk smells strongly of ammonia and sulfur and is said to have a complex earthy flavour.

I’ve tried it and the best thing I can say is, to quote Crocodile Dundee: “Well, you can live on it, but it taste like shit.”

Which is all by way of an introduction to an item in this week’s Smithsonian Magazine that scientists in Israel have discovered a 1,000 year old egg preserved in a shit pit.

According to Alla Nagorsky, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA): “We were astonished to find it. From time to time we find fragments of eggshells, but a whole egg is extraordinary.”

Apparently the egg remained unbroken for so long because it was pillowed in soft human waste in a cess pit, which created anaerobic, or oxygen-free, conditions and prevented its decay.

That however did not prevent the archaeologists cracking it in trying to remove it. I love this sentence from the report: “Luckily, Ilan Naor, director of the IAA’s Organic Materials Conservation Laboratory, was able to repair the crack. While much of the egg’s contents leaked out, some of the yolk remained, and the researchers preserved it for future DNA analysis.”

Smithsonian Magazine
June 11, 2021

But what of the big questions:

What is the big deal about an egg 1,000 years old?

Test the DNA for what?

What was the whole egg doing in the cess pit anyway?

Will Woolworths and Coles reconsider their current packaging?


Got asthma? Have a cigarette. . .

Authoritative website, which examines whether news reports, urban myths etc are factual, BS or both, asked whether it is true that in the past, cigarettes were recommended as a treatment for asthma.

As Mythbusters would put it, we (or at least would have to call this one confirmed.

From the snopes item:


Symptoms of the respiratory condition known as asthma were once treated with cigarettes.


Asthma is a respiratory condition marked by spasms in the bronchi of the lungs, causing difficulty in breathing. Today, flare-ups of asthma are typically self-treated through the use of an inhaler that delivers a type of medication known as a bronchodilator (commonly albuterol) which relaxes and opens air passages to the lungs to make breathing easier.

Modern readers might be quite surprised to learn that a common remedy for asthma symptoms was once something that now seems the most unlikely of treatments — cigarettes:

This revelation isn’t so shocking as it might seem, though, because asthma cigarettes were very different than modern tobacco-based cigarettes — they were a delivery system for asthma medication used before the advent of albuterol and propellant-based inhalers.

Back in the early part of the 20th century, when very few effective medications existed for the treatment of most medical maladies, doctors could offer little to asthma patients other than adrenaline injections. In that void, asthma sufferers commonly turned to a type of inhalation therapy dating to the early 19th century, one which involved the use of stramonium leaves:

Products such as Page’s Inhalers — cigarettes containing stramonium leaves and other ingredients such as tea leaves, chestnut leaves, gum benzoin, and kola nuts — were therefore a common treatment for asthma symptoms in the early 20th century:

Despite the development of effective bronchodilating medications such as albuterol in the early 1970s, asthma cigarettes were still being recommended and used well into the 1990s.

June 11, 2021

As surprising as the above may have been, how much more shocking that doctors featured in pro-smoking advertisements from the cigarette manufacturers:

The tobacco industry’s use of doctors in their ads gave a none-too-subtle message that if the doctor, with all of his expertise, chose to smoke a particular brand, then it must be safe. Unlike with celebrity and athlete endorsers, the doctors depicted were never specific individuals, because physicians who engaged in advertising would risk losing their license. It was contrary to accepted medical ethics at the time for doctors to advertise. Instead, the images always presented an idealised physician wise, noble, and caring who enthusiastically partook of the smoking habit. All of the doctors in these ads were actors dressed up to look like doctors. Little protest was heard from the medical community or organised medicine, perhaps because the images showed the profession in a highly favourable light. These ads regularly appeared in medical journals such as the Journal of the American Medical Association, an organisation which for decades collaborated closely with the industry. The big push to document health hazards also did not arrive until later.

Spot quiz:

Which was the first country to mount a nation-wide anti-smoking campaign.
Which leader and which government?
Some clues:
  • This country’s doctors were the first to identify the link between smoking and lung cancer.
  • Following that discovery, a strong anti-tobacco movement developed, which in turn led to the first anti-smoking campaign in modern history.
  • There were other anti-tobacco movements in other countries from the beginning of the 20th century but this country had the only success, the campaign having been supported by that country’s government.
  • The government condemned smoking and tobacco consumption.
  • The government sponsored research on smoking and its effects on health.
  • Anti-smoking measures introduced included:
        smoking being banned on public transport;

        health education being promoted;

        raising of tobacco taxes;

        restrictions on tobacco advertising;

        limiting cigarettes to the armed forces;

       restrictions on smoking in public places, restaurants, coffee houses, schools, hospitals and public offices;
  • Certain occupations were banned from smoking whilst on duty: teachers, police and midwives, as examples.
  • Pregnant women were encouraged not to smoke.
  • Films were made encouraging everybody, but especially women and children, not to smoke.

Click on the following link to a 2010 Bytes post which provides the answer:
It will surprise you.


A lovely feelgood story, words and pics from Amusing Planet . . .

The Maharajah’s Well

Kaushik Patowary

We think that charity always flows from the richer nations to the poorer ones, but sometimes it also flows the other way. When Ireland was starving during the potato famine in the 1840s, the Choctaw Nation of American Indians, despite being impoverished themselves and living in extreme hardship, donated an equivalent of $170 to the troubled nation. More recently, in the aftermath of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the Masai tribe of Kenya sent 14 cows to the United States. Although these gifts, rather than being actually helpful, were simply tokens of goodwill and solidarity, there was one charity they really helped.

Maharajah's well

In the mid-1800s, Edward Anderton Reade, a gentleman from Ipsden, in South Oxfordshire, when serving as the Governor of Benaras, struck a close friendship with the Maharaja of Benaras (now Varanasi), Ishree Pershad Narayan Singh. Reade would often tell the the Maharaja stories from the land he grew up in. One day, the conversation turned to water shortage problems and the frequent drought conditions in his home in Ipsden and the neighbouring parishes in the foothills of Chiltern Hills. Although the Thames run close by, the river is little more than a shallow stream at this place. Furthermore, the hills are dry and chalky, with very few springs that dry up in the summer months. During these long periods of drought, the people of the region relied on water collected in dirty ponds, or they needed to be fetched by hand from miles away.

One story in particular made a huge impact on the Maharaja. When Reade was a child, he came across a boy being beaten up by his mother for having stolen a drink of water in the village of Stoke Row, 3 miles from Ipsden. The story stayed with the Maharaja, and recalling how Mr. Reade had helped sunk a well in the village of Azamgarh, a few years previously, the Maharaja decided to return the favor by financing the construction of well in the parish of Stoke Row, where the incident occurred.

Maharaja of Benaras, Ishree Pershad Narayan Singh

The well, now known as the Maharaja’s Well, is 368 feet deep and 4 feet wide. It was dug entirely by hand under difficult and dangerous condition. To get to the water, workers had to dig through twenty-five feet of clay and gravel subsoil, followed by three hundred feet of chalk, interspersed with two layers of sand, each about eight foot deep. The sand layers were the most dangerous as they were susceptible to cave-ins. The final few feet consisted of a mixture of chalk and shells. The work took 14 months to complete. The Maharaja couldn’t travel aboard to see the work, but he kept track of the well’s progress through the photographs and information Reade sent him.

The well was surrounded by red brick base and iron columns leading up to an elaborate onion domed canopy topped by a gilded spear finial. A winding gear was installed to pull water, and this was adorned by a gold-painted elephant. In addition to the well, the Maharaja also planted a cherry orchard close to the well so that its upkeep could be funded from the sale of the fruit. An octagonal caretaker’s cottage was constructed next to the well, which has been a private home since 1999.

The caretaker’s cottage.

The gilded elephant decorating the winding mechanism of the well.

The Maharaja continued to make additions and modifications to the well, which were inaugurated or commenced on special occasions. A footpath was completed at the maharajah's expense when the Marquis of Lorne married Princess Louise in 1871. In 1882, when Queen Victoria survived an assassination attempt, he funded a ration of free bread, tea and sugar, as well as lunch for the villagers.

The well served the community well for some seventy years until piped water arrived in the 1920s, and that sealed its fate. Use of the well declined and the well fell into disrepair.

The well was restored in 1964 on the occasion of its one hundredth anniversary. The centenary celebration and the restored well’s inauguration was attended by Prince Philip and representatives of the Maharaja. A vessel containing waters from the Ganges was brought in and poured into the well.

Maharajah's well.

The construction of the Maharajah’s Well in Stoke Row inspired many more charitable acts by wealthy Indians in Britain, including drinking fountains in London park and a more modest well constructed at Ipsden by Raja Deonarayan Singh. These acts of charity are testimony to the strange relationship between the British and Indian aristocracies in the mid-19th century. Less than a decade before the dedication of the Maharaja’s Well, India’s first war of independence broke out resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of British officers, civilians and Indian rebels. The massacre committed at Cawnpore was particularly cruel. More than a hundred British women and children were hacked to death by the rebels and their bodies thrown down a nearby well. Stoke Row’s well might thus seem like a peculiar choice of construction project to patronage, especially when the wounds of the massacre were still fresh.

Today, the Maharaja’s Well and the surrounding landscape with the orchard and the cottage is a site of heritage in Stoke Row.

Amusing Planet
June 9, 2011


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