The indices of Harper’s Magazine

I have been a fan of Harper’s Magazine since the 1980s. In particular, I loved the Readings section, as well as the factoids list (with citations) known as Harper’s Index, near the front of each issue. Here are 100 factoids I’ve researched from over the years, dates not important, but they have been taken from issues since 2000. I have favoured factoids that are not dated, but that was difficult as many good ones with dates crept in. The URL for Harper’s magazine is http://harpers.org, and is available on some newsstands, but not as many these days as in days previous.

  • Cost to produce Safeguard, the only U.S. ground-based long-range missile shield ever deployed: $23,500,000,000
  • Number of days in the 1970s that the system was operational before it was abandoned as inadequate: 135
  • Pounds of fuel required to maintain this year’s 11,500 Olympic torches: 2,029
  • Ratio of the amount of energy generated by 1 gallon of ethanol to the amount of energy required to produce it : 1:0.9
  • Number of times Colin Powell said, “I don’t recall” or, “I can’t recall” during his 1987 Iran-Contra testimony: 56
  • Percentage of global economic activity accounted for by the world’s 200 largest corporations: 27.5
  • Percentage of the world’s population that these corporations employ: 0.8
  • Minimum number of mentally retarded Americans who have been executed by the justice system since 1976 : 35
  • Estimated chance that a U.S. prisoner is mentally retarded: 1 in 14
  • Days after Time named George W. Bush 2000’s man of the year that Russians named Vladimir Lenin man of the century: 4
  • Places by which Russia’s ranking in the U.N.’s Human Development Index of living standards has fallen since 1990 : 31
  • Rank of the United States and Britain among nations whose residents are most likely to be obese: 1,2
  • Rank of Hungary: 3
  • Ratio of the number of pardons George W. Bush has issued turkeys to those he has issued human beings: 2:1
  • Ratio of the average life span of a commercially bred turkey to that of a wild one: 1:7
  • Year in which Disney’s Mickey Mouse copyright will expire if the Supreme Court reverses a 1998 extension this winter (2002): 2003
  • Minutes that a Massachusetts surgeon left a patient with an open incision while he went to deposit a check: 35
  • Percentage change since 1990 (to 2003) in the number of U.S. schoolchildren labeled “disabled” : +37
  • Chances that a U.S. adult does not want to live to be 120 under any circumstances: 2 in 3
  • Chance that an American adult believes that “politics and government are too complicated to understand” : 1 in 3
  • Chance that an American who was home-schooled feels this way: 1 in 25
  • Acreage of a Christian nudist colony under development in Florida (in 2004): 240
  • Percentage of the 13,129 varieties of dirt in the United States that are endangered: 4
  • Years in prison to which two ex-Pentagon officials were sentenced last year for taking bribes of money and prostitutes: 24
  • Number of years a North Carolina man has been in prison for stealing a television: 33
  • Rank, on the Turkish bestseller list in March (2005), of a thriller depicting a U.S. invasion of Turkey: 1
  • Rank of Mein Kampf: 2
  • Average percentage by which the power of the male heart declines between the ages of 18 and 75 : 20
  • Average percentage by which the female heart does: 0
  • Amount a Chinese online gamer made last year (in 2004) by selling a virtual sword he had borrowed from a friend: $850
  • Months later that the friend retaliated by stabbing him to death with a real knife: 6
  • Number of beetles that right-wing entomologists have named after Bush Administration officials: 3
  • Number of times that Mary, Jesus’ mother, is referenced by name in the Bible and the Koran, respectively: 19,34
  • Number of “Wal-ocaust” T-shirts sold by a Georgia man before Wal-Mart ordered him to cease and desist: 1
  • Ratio, in the United States, of the number of Wal-Mart employees to the number of high school teachers: 1:1
  • Portion of states where the projected climate in 2100 will not be able to sustain their official tree or flower: 3/5
  • Number of words spoken by Clarence Thomas during Supreme Court oral arguments since February 2006 (until Aug 2007): 132
  • Number by Samuel Alito, the Justice who spoke the second-fewest words: 14,404
  • Percentage of single U.S. women in their twenties who are “very” or “extremely” willing to marry for money: 61
  • Percentage of women in their thirties who are : 74
  • Percentage change since 1985 (to 2009) in the number of U.S. newspapers with reporters covering Congress : –72
  • Percentage of six- to nine-year-old American girls (in 2009) who wear lipstick or lip gloss : 46
  • Number of poppyseed bagels that could be made with Afghanistan’s annual poppy harvest : 357,000,00
  • Percentage of British elementary-school students who think Isaac Newton discovered fire : 60
  • Number of U.S. states that have more pigs than people : 3
  • Minimum number of birds that die from crashing into New York City windows each year : 100,000
  • Number of Bentleys purchased in Russia in 2000 and in 2010, respectively : 0, 113
  • Estimated portion of registered voters in Zimbabwe who are dead : 1/4
  • Average minutes more exercise per week that a heavy drinker gets than a non-drinker : 21
  • Portion of the total U.S. corn crop that goes to make ethanol : 2/5
  • Projected worldwide surplus of low-skill workers by 2020 : 93,000,000
  • Projected worldwide deficit of high- and medium-skill workers by that time : 85,000,000
  • Rank of China among global beer producers by volume : 1
  • Rank of the United States : 2
  • Percentage change since 1988 (to 2012) in U.S. teen-pregnancy rates : –36
  • In abstinence rates among white teens : +31
  • Among black teens : +56
  • Portion of Americans who don’t walk for at least ten continuous minutes at any point in an average week : 2/5
  • Percentage of American cats that are overweight : 58
  • Percentage of men in dual-income marriages who said they struggled with work-family conflict in 1977 : 35
  • Who say they do today (2013): 60.
  • Average annual cost of detaining an inmate at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay : $900,000
  • At a supermax prison in the United States : $65,000
  • Portion of all online advertising that is never seen by a human being : 1/2
  • Percentage of U.S. children in 1960 who lived in households headed by heterosexuals in their first marriage : 73
  • Who do today (2015) : 46
  • Estimated minimum gallons of water used annually to produce Coca-Cola products : 8,000,000,000,000
  • Ratio of money spent by Britons on prostitution to that spent on hairdressing : 1:1
  • Years in prison to which a New Mexico man was sentenced last year (in 2015) for shooting children with a semen-filled squirt gun : 18
  • Estimated number of people who will be driven into extreme poverty by 2030 because of climate change : 100,000,000
  • Percentage of the world’s civilian-owned firearms that are owned by Americans : 48
  • Number of Americans aged 60 and older who have outstanding student loans : 2,800,000
  • Portion of those borrowers who have taken on debt to pay for a child or grandchild’s education : 3/4
  • Percentage of children’s toys available in Sweden that contain banned chemicals : 15
  • Of sex toys available in Sweden : 2
  • Average number of people who die in avalanches in the United States each year : 27
  • Number of FBI confidential informants (in 2017) who worked for Best Buy’s Geek Squad between 2008 and 2012 : 8
  • Rank of Nebraska among states with the least liked state flags : 1
  • Number of days in January that the flag at the state capitol flew upside down before anyone noticed : 7
  • Number of US states in which fluorescent pink is a legal color for hunting apparel : 6
  • Chance an American has taken an “active shooter” preparedness class : 1 in 10
  • Percentage of US “active shooters” from 2000 to 2016 who were killed by police : 21
  • Who were killed by armed civilians : 1
  • Number of universities in which half of all the US tenured and tenure-track history professors are trained : 8
  • Number of the twenty largest German companies that are headquartered in the former East Germany : 0
  • Rank of Germany in consumption of nonalcoholic beer : 2
  • Of Iran : 1
  • Portion of Hawaii’s drinking water that comes from underground wells : 9/10
  • Gallons of raw sewage that leak into the ground from Hawaii cesspools each day : 53,000,000
  • Percentage change since 2009 in reports of human waste on San Francisco streets (in 2018): +391
  • Chance that a given day is a public holiday in Cambodia : 1 in 13
  • Rank of Disneyland among the happiest places on earth, according to Disneyland : 1
  • Percentage of Disneyland employees who worry about being evicted from their homes : 56
  • Number of dead people Americans have elected to Congress : 6
  • Factor by which a millennial is more likely than a baby boomer to claim they have a food allergy : 2
  • Number of states that allow roadkill to be salvaged for food : 31
  • Rank of Arabic among France’s most spoken languages : 2
  • Factor by which graduate students are more likely to experience depression or anxiety than the general population : 6
  • Percentage of Americans aged 18 to 34 who say they’d like to live forever : 24
  • Of Americans over 55 : 13

The most annoying sound on radio

Related image
This picture was shot at Square One … no, in Vaughan, no, in Scarborough, … Edmonton?, … oh, well… they all look alike.

Why do jewellery commercials have to be so tasteless and annoying? I single out jewellery commericals, since they are more annoying even then furniture commercials, their main competitor for the gold standard of tastelessness.

But no. We have sharpers like Russell Oliver, and others who will go on TV and radio and in the most garish manner known to man, tell you how you can trade in your jewellery for cash, in a way that seems to rob your most prized possessions of all the dignity and memory they once had. But I don’t believe he is the worst.

On the radio station I listen to, which doesn’t play a lot of ads, I admit, there is that infernal commercial from Spence Diamonds. Oh, that Scream! I didn’t know that it has been dubbed the “Spence Scream”, and even hashtagged #SpenceScream since at least 2014. It has even attracted some imitators, and an attempt had been made to vote it out of existence (Spence didn’t listen and it still persists to this afternoon). Since it was Spence that initiated the vote, I believe that maybe they thought it was too memorable, and couldn’t come up with a less annoying idea.

I am annoyed because I am already married, been there, done that. Having been through it, it is a tad degrading to hear it. The marriage (mine, at least), was about love. Clearly, Spence is agaisnt this idea. They want it to be about their diamonds.

Curiously, the comment sections of the YouTube videos of Spence promos have curiously well-worded and lucid critiques of Spence’s advertising practices. These are not your normal trolls. These apparently well-educated and erudite people seemed to have a lot of time on their hands, and are gravely preoccupied with dignity and class.

I think: look, the couple sounds very much in-character on the radio, just get rid of the scream.

Retail sales attention grabber

IMG_20160225_181947883_HDRI was driving to Oakville, and stopping at Tim Horton’s, and this bicycle store sale sign caught my attention. I have heard of “door crashing sales” before, but the Mississauga branch of Cyclepath were not just shooting the bull, they meant it. Due to what appears to be a serious accident, the entire front window to the right of the door was taken out, and parts of the panes separating the windows had to be cut out. And it being winter, they needed to board it up. I would say it was an actual crash, rather than a brazen attempt at attention grabbing, but when I was inside browsing I didn’t ask anyone. In the fact that they saw humor in this to spray paint that message on there, I would guess that no one was hurt. It is unclear when this sale will end, but I guess that it will be over by the time the display window is fixed.

More repair notes on the blog

While this is not the optimal solution, it looks like there is no choice. I had to go into the database to delete all of the comments in order to delete the 130 thousand or so spurious comments from spammers waiting in the moderation queue. So, to this day, there are no comments anywhere in the blog, since they have been all deleted. Sorry if your comment was among the casualties.

Rube-Goldberg Machines V

Another one. A couple of years ago, this was a Honda Accord commercial, and it caused quite a sensation when it got released. It took over 606 takes and cost over 6 million dollars to make. Any minor misfirings resulted in having to set everything up from scratch, all over again. It was a 2-minute ad spot which was released in the UK in 2006.

The most expensive coffee in the world

Bunk Strutts has written up about kopi luwak, which is regarded as the rarest and most expensive coffee in the world. I thought I would comment on it, since I have read a fair bit about it.

Asian Palm Civet Facts, Habitat, Diet, Life Cycle, Baby ...
The asian palm civet.

First of all, when I first heard about asian palm civets, they were referred to as “civet cats”.  But “civet cats” have been used to refer to almost any odd-looking small furry animal, ranging from raccoons to actual cats. The asian palm civet is related to the mongoose.

The asian palm civet lives in the islands of Indonesia, and they eat the coffee berries, which passes through their digestive tract only partially digested. These partially digested coffee beans are what is used to make kopi luwak, the world’s rarest and most expensive coffee.

I first read about kopi luwak a few years ago from a science journal (a brief article by Dr. Massimo Marcone of Guelph U), and from then I was hooked on the idea. I just found the idea fascinating that the “dump” of a mongoose is so sought after as a high-class delicacy.

What could you do with kopi luwak beans with an off-flavour? If you covered them in chocolate, it would make the world’s most expensive chocolate.

I can understand the coffee being expensive. Just imagine: someone has to follow a small mammal through a thick rainforest, and pick coffee beans from their dump. Now these are small mammals, with small digestive systems, so how far and for how long do you need to follow these mongooses (this plural is from Wikipedia) around to get a pound of coffee? This is the reason that the entire Indonesian output of kopi luwak is under 500 kg per year, and that the price of a pound can actually be up to $600. (Wikipedia)

Turbonegro vs Village People – Creepy similarities

Turbonegro is a Norwegian punk band. As I understand it, their sub-genre is something called “death-punk”. It has also been called “glam-punk”, and so on. Many aspects of their brand of punk has been influenced by 70s arena rock bands such as Kiss.

I noticed in one of their more recent videos that each of these depressing looking characters plays a different “character”. One is a Hun, another is a military cop, another is a marine deckhand, one is neaderthal, and the other two … well, I don’t know what they are trying to be. But in a less “depressive” form, there is another 6-member group from the era of 70s arena rock that would appear to have similar taste in clothes.

Ah, yes. The Village People. There’s a cop, another navy guy, a biker, a construction worker, a cowboy and an indian. No neanderthals, though. I am not a fan of disco, but at least they are a little less preoccupied with thoughts of death.

The Crack Spider's Bitch

A funny YouTube video, satirizing those 70s and 80s Public Service Announcements from the Canadian Government regarding Canadian wildlife. It was a great series of PSAs, but they got curtailed in the mid-80s. If you don’t remember them, you can still get a kick out of it. One thing I hadn’t realized previously — the original You-Tube post this is linked to had received over 15 million views of this short film:

Getting My Teeth off My Chest

Don’t put me down for writing this, for if you are reading this, you are counting yourself in the equal company of bloggers who do not have a life. I just want to get this off my chest.

I never thought about being passionate about flossing my teeth, but dog-gone it, there are standards. For one thing, nothing beats the old-school floss that consists of a thin thread of wound unwaxed nylon (or whatever can you buy viagra without a prescription in the usa they use). It is easy, it is a strong thread, it gets the job done.

Recently I made the mistake of purchasing that fancy-dancy floss they have these days which consists of some kind of flavour-coated teflon. The teflon slips past the teeth, and the plaque. Nothing sticks to it. Not the plaque, and nothing else. It’s crap. Expensive crap. There. I’ve said it. OK, you can go to another blog, now.

The rule of "2"

When I was a student on a limited budget, I had some idea, a hunch, that on average, I spent $2 on an item of food at the supermarket. By counting the number of items I purchased, including more than one of the same item, that I would have a fairly accurate idea of the grocery bill before I reached the checkout.

But to apply this rule, I found I had to apply it to every item, including each of the many 33-cent bags of Oriental noodles, each can of soup, each apple and orange, and so on. It saved me a lot of mental effort in having to compute the real total, and I found that I could always stay on budget with this rule.

Mileage on my moped

I refuse to engage in the trend for “hypermiling”. I found a way that beats all of my attempts to squeeze even more mileage out of my BMW: Don’t drive the car. For $1200 I got a used moped, and I expect it to pay for itself within 4 months.

On this moped, I have travelled about 160 km (100 mi) and have used up 3.34L of gasoline (0.8826 gallons). My mileage is thus around 113.3 miles per gallon. In metric, that is 2.09 liters per 100 km. In human terms, that means I can go about 213 kilometers on a tank of gas. The 4.47 L tank costs about $6 to fill with the cheap gas, and about $6.60 to fill with the high-grade fuel. Since the cost is trivial, I always use high-grade fuel. Compare this with my BMW: It costs $95 to fill it with cheap gas, and its mileage hovers around 17 miles per gallon.

My moped. Notice

The specs on a website I visited for this bike says that with the reserve tank, it can hold 1.18 gallons of gas (about 4.47 L).

It is a Tomos LX moped, from 2006. And, while my bike does not say “Targa” on it, I have seen identical bikes from American websites and they say “Targa” over the gas tank, while mine says “Tomos”. I am given the impression that the 49 cc engine is standard on all mopeds. My moped had been fitted with an upgraded muffler, but it does not have any adjustments made to the governor. So, my top speed on this bike with me riding on it (I weigh 220 pounds) on level ground would be about 60 km/h (about 38 mi/h).

Getting rid of the cell phone

Cell phone contracts are easy to get. Companies these days make cell phones very affordable. They are eager to sell you value-added services that you never needed to use prior to the purchase, and you are hit with a bill that can go upwards of $45 per month.

But what if you are like me? You have the cell phone, and now you realise that it is a ball and chain. I don’t just mean the contract; there is also the fact that you can be anywhere and people can get in touch with you. Well, what happened to concepts like privacy? Are there still places left on this planet where people won’t be texting me or phoning me, or emailing me? I need space; I need quiet time. I need a little freedom. I need to get rid of the damn cell phone.

Getting rid of the cell phone takes real mental discipline and concentration. The first time I tried this, I had to get past Emily, the automated Bell Telephone Fairy. The fairy could grant me three wishes, but cutting my cell phone wasn’t one of them. It didn’t understand me when I gave her a voice command to “BUG OFF!” so she sent me to a human.

From then on, I had to endure an onslaught of sales pitches as to how I can improve my cell phone experience by changing my package selections. But they didn’t see the main point: I have a land line, which in effect means that Bell dings me twice each month. I pay them $100 a month just in phone bills. They could not see that this was entirely unacceptable. They also didn’t see that this was my sense of rational decision-making and rational budgeting at work. That wasn’t allowed to enter the conversation either, no matter how rational I tried to sound. Then, they asked me for my password to get into my private account (all this was over the phone after all). I vaguely remembered making this password 6 months or more previous, but I had no idea what it was, and told them.

So, I was told that the only way I could cancel my account was to show up at a Bell shop, and show them some ID. So, weeks passed until I thought once again to go through with it, and when I did, I had to endure yet another sales pitch similar to the telephone ordeal, and finally we got down to business, and I showed them my ID. I brought my cell phone with me, but they weren’t interested in looking at it. They told me that I had to complete the billing cycle, and in 6 weeks, I would be free.

Of course, this 6 weeks did not go by quietly. I got brochures telling me to come back, we’re sorry, we didn’t mean to piss you off; I got a “courtesy” call asking me to reconsider, and after fighting them off bravely, I reached my summit, the top of the hill: NO MORE CELL PHONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dying my wife's hair

The fun thing about colouring my wife’s hair isn’t about the hair so much, but more about the fact that we can talk and share our feelings more. My work keeps me so busy that I had to find ways to cut down on travel time, which is a barrier to things like exercise and finding further spare time to do things.

This morning (Saturday) I got up, went to work, did some heavy photocoying, which by the afternoon left only 1 hour in the gym before church. So I did that, came to church a bit late, then had a small supper and did my wife’s hair.

I think it is healthy for us to do things like that, since we can share our feelings, talk about things going on over the past week, and so on. It’s a great way to share things with each other. Of course, we both tell jokes also. It’s great.

She chose truffle brown.

A shaggy dog

I have always been in stitches every time I read Peter Applebome’s imitation Hemingway:


We were young and our happiness dazzled us with its strength. But there was also a terrible betrayal that lay within me like a Merle Haggard song at a French restaurant. …

I could not tell the girl about the woman of the tollway, of her milk white BMW and her Jordache smile. There had been a fight. I had punched her boyfriend, who fought the mechanical bulls. Everyone told him, “You ride the bull, senor. You do not fight it.” But he was lean and tough like a bad rib-eye and he fought the bull. And then he fought me. And when we finished there were no winners, just men doing what men must do. …

“Stop the car,” the girl said. There was a look of terrible sadness in her eyes. She knew about the woman of the tollway. I knew not how. I started to speak, but she raised an arm and spoke with a quiet and peace I will never forget.

“I do not ask for whom’s the tollway belle,” she said, “the tollway belle’s for thee.”

The next morning our youth was a memory, and our happiness was a lie. Life is like a bad margarita with good tequila, I thought as I poured whiskey onto my granola and faced a new day.

— Peter Applebome, International Imitation Hemingway Competition
Click here for the unedited version Once there, scroll to the bottom.