Friday, January 30, 2015


This blog is only meant to be educational and to inform people on topics of interest which they did not previously know or did not understand. The contents of each article are either common knowledge or from various sources on the Internet. I personally have fact-checked the contents of each article. Under copyright law, if material is educational and the writer does not make money on what he has written, copyrights do not apply. Critical Thinking is an educational blog and I make no money on contents of this blog.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Common Expressions and Their Origins

Shot of Whiskey

In the old west, a .45 cartridge for a six-gun cost 12 cents and so did a small glass of whiskey. If a cowhand was low on cash, he would often give the bartender a cartridge in exchange for a drink. This became known as a "shot" of whiskey.

The Whole Nine Yards

American fighter planes in World War II had machine guns that were fed by a belt of cartridges.  The average plane held belts that were 27 feet (9 yards) long. If the pilot used up all his ammunition, he was said to have given it the whole nine yards.

Buying the Farm

This expression is synonymous with dying.  During World War I, soldiers were given life
insurance policies worth $5,000. This was about the price of an average farm, so if a soldier died, he "bought the farm" for his survivors.

Iron-Clad Contract

 This term came about from the ironclad ships used during the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865).  It refers to something so strong that it could not be broken or destroyed.

Passing the Buck/ The Buck Stops Here

Most men in the early west carried a jack knife made by the Buck Knife Company.  When playing poker, it was common to place one of these Buck Knives in front of the dealer so that everyone knew who he was. When it was time for a new dealer, the deck of cards and the knife were given to the new dealer.  If this person didn't want to deal, he would "pass the buck” to
the next player.  If that player accepted, then "the buck stopped here."

Riff Raff

In the U.S., the Mississippi River was the main way of traveling from north to south. Riverboats often carried both passengers and freight, but the cost was high for both. As an alternative, most people used rafts which were considerably cheaper.  However, all boats had the right of way over
rafts.  The steering oar on the rafts was called a "riff," and this transposed into "riff-raff" which came to mean "low class".


The Old English word for "spider" was "cob."

Ship Stateroom
Traveling by steamboat or steamship was considered the height of comfort.  However, passenger's cabins on the boats were not numbered.  Instead, they were named after U.S. states.  To this day, rooms on ships are called staterooms.

Sleep Tight

Early beds were made with a wooden frame. Ropes were tied across the frame in a criss-cross pattern.  A straw mattress was then put on top of the ropes. Over time, the ropes stretched, causing the bed to sag. The owner would then have to tighten the ropes to get a better night's sleep.


Showboats were floating theaters built on a barge that was pushed by a steamboat. The showboats played small towns along the Mississippi River. Unlike the boat shown in the movie "Showboat," these showboats did not have an engine. They were gaudy and attention-grabbing, which is why we say that someone who is being the life of the party is "showboating."

Over a Barrel

In the days before CPR, a drowning victim would be placed face down over a barrel, which would be rolled back and forth in an effort to empty the victim's lungs of water. It was rarely effective. If you are over a barrel, you are in deep trouble.

Barge In

Heavy freight was moved along the Mississippi in large barges pushed by steamboats. These were hard to control and would sometimes swing into piers or other boats, so people would say that they "barged in."

Hog Wash

River steamboats carried both people and animals. Because pigs smelled so bad, they would be washed before being put on board. The mud and other filth that was washed off was considered useless "hog wash."


The word "curfew" comes from the French phrase "couvre-feu," which means "cover the fire."  It was used to describe the time of blowing out all lamps and candles. The term was later adopted into Middle English as "curfeu," which later became the modern word "curfew." In the early American colonies, homes had no real fireplaces, so a fire was built in the center of the room.  To ensure that a fire did not get out of control during the night, it was required that, by an
agreed upon time, all fires would be covered with a clay pot called a "curfew."

Barrels of Oil

When the first oil wells were drilled, oil drillers had made no provision for storing the liquid, so they used water barrels. That is why to this day we speak of barrels of oil rather than gallons.

Hot off the Presses

As the newspaper goes through the rotary printing press, friction causes it to heat up. Therefore, if you grabbed the paper right off the press, it was hot. The expression came to mean to get immediate information.

Forgotten History

The Boston Massacre 
The Boston massacre was one of the most critical events that led the English colonies of America to revolt against King George III (1738-1820). While it is well remembered in this fashion, the fates of the British soldiers that fired on the civilians are often forgotten. In fact, the Captain that was present and 8 of the soldiers were arrested and tried. What is interesting is that the defender of the soldiers was none other than, John Adams (1735-1826), a founding father and the second President of the United States. No lawyer in Boston would take the case and so the court begged Adams to represent the men. Although, he was hesitant, he so believed that everyone deserved a fair trial that he finally relented. Adams successfully convinced the jury that 6 of the men were afraid for their life and therefore, had the right to defend themselves. Interestingly, two of the men were convicted of murder, however, Adams presented a loophole to the court whereby according to English law, if the men could read then they could claim to be clergy and thereby were not bound by secular law. Adams had the men read out-loud from the Bible and the charges were reduced to manslaughter for which they were punished by a branding on the thumb.

Khalid ibn al-Walid

Few conquests were as startling as the Islamic expansion which followed the Prophet Muhammad’s divine revelations. The first and most decisive decade of this expansion was helmed by Khalid ibn al-Walid (592- 642), a general who was never defeated, but who is now all but forgotten in the West. Remarkably, Khalid originally fought against Muhammad at the Battle of Uhud, the only major defeat of the Prophet’s career. But Khalid soon converted, becoming the preeminent Arab commander. In short time, he had united the Arabian Peninsula, which had never been done before, and turned his sights north to the ancient and powerful Byzantine and Sassanid empires. The Arabs had a unique advantage over their opponents, since many of their troops were mounted on camels. The camels were more durable in desert warfare, and enemy horses were frightened of their smell and bolted when they approached. Khalid first sent his camel corps against the Sassanian armies in A.D. 637, at the Battle of Al-Qadissyah. Khalid’s Arab tribesmen benefited from their longer and thicker arrows, which were able to pierce the Sassanid shields. He used barrages of these deadly arrows to demoralize his opponents, before attacking and scattering the massive Sassanid army. In short time, the 500-year-old empire had fallen and Khalid moved on to the Byzantines. At the momentous Battle of Yarmuk, the Arabs faced off against the cream of the Byzantine military. Khalid used his Mubarizun, professional duelists, to challenge the Byzantine commanders before the battle. The arrogant Byzantines accepted again and again, until they had lost half of their commanders this way. After this, the battle raged for six straight days until Al-Walid’s camels destroyed the enemy cavalry and surrounded the Byzantines. The Byzantine army was annihilated and Khalid soon conquered Palestine, Syria, Egypt, and most of Anatolia.

The Battle of Gibraltar

The Spanish Armada that attempted to defeat the British navy was bested by Charles Howard (1536-1624) and Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596). The Spanish managed to rebuild a fleet of 21 galleons, the largest warships in the world at the time, and intended to use them against the Dutch, who began a revolt in 1568 against Spain, because of Phillip II’s tyrannical hatred of Protestant Holland. You would think the Spanish naval hegemony of the time would have destroyed any Dutch fleet, but it is not enough to be a great navy. You also have to fight well. On 25 April, 1607, the Dutch fleet of 26 small warships and 4 supply ships surprised the Spanish fleet of 21 warships, anchored in the Bay of Gibraltar, and spearheaded their horizontal line, normally a bad move, as will be explained later, but a good one here, as most of the Spanish cannon were unmanned. The result was annihilation. All 21 Spanish ships were sunk in 4 hours. Not one Dutch ship was sunk, and the Dutch lost only 100 men, to Spain’s 4,000. Almost half of the latter were executed by Dutch lifeboat crews sent through the swimming Spanish mass of sailors to kill them with swords, spears, and muskets. The Dutch admiral, Van Heemskerk (1567- 1606) bled to death early in the battle, after a Spanish cannonball took off his left leg at the hip. This battle enabled the Dutch to bring about a 12 year truce with Spain, which by now had very little naval power left and thus could not reach the Netherlands or England without France’s help. But, the French would not give it. When Spain was powerful enough to break the truce 12 years later, the Dutch still won.

Kent State

Because to the iconic photo of a student lying dead and another leaning over his body and weeping, the Kent State Massacre has largely been accepted as a single event that took place in Ohio and resulted in 4 students being killed by the U.S. National Guard. What is often forgotten about the event is the sheer size and scale of the overall national unrest at the time of the shootings. Immediately following the shooting and centered on the common sentiment of, “they can’t kill us all,” 900 college campuses were closed because of violent and non-violent protests. Also, 100,000 people descended on Washington D.C., smashing car windows, lighting fires, looting and barricading streets and freeways. The President of the United States was evacuated to Camp David and the 82nd Airborne was brought in to defend the white house. Additionally, President Richard Nixon (1913-1994) organized a special commission to focus solely on campus unrest. Ray Price (born: 1930), Nixon’s chief speechwriter was quoted as saying, “that’s not student protest, that’s civil war.” Overall, 4,000,000 people took part in the protests. At that time, it was the only reason for nation-wide protest on college campuses
Nguyen Hue

In the late 18th century, Vietnam was split into two feudal kingdoms ruled by the Trinh and Nguyen families. Both families treated the peasantry horribly, and were generally corrupt, awful people. This created a fertile environment for Nguyen Hue (1753-1792) and his three brothers to start the Tay Son Rebellion in 1773. The brothers gained support among the peasantry by redistributing the wealth of landlords and eventually dethroned the Trinh and Nguyen. However, Hue’s truly legendary status stems from his annihilation of the 200,000-strong Qing Chinese army which invaded Northern Vietnam in 1788. At first, Hue feigned weakness and allowed the Qing to take over much of Northern Vietnam. In the meantime, Hue proclaimed himself King Quang Trung and told his soldiers to celebrate the Tet New Year early. Soon after, on January 25 (Tet), Quang Trung launched his army against the unsuspecting Qing. In order to achieve such tremendous surprise, Quang Trung initiated a unique marching strategy which allowed his troops to cover 600 kilometers (375 mi) in 40 days. Soldiers were grouped in teams of three—two soldiers would carry the third on a hammock. Each soldier took a turn in the hammock, allowing them to march continuously. The assault itself was led by elite commando groups which held wooden planks covered in water-soaked straw over their heads, negating the Qing’s incendiary rockets. After six straight nights of assaults, the Qing were completely defeated and Vietnam was independent for the next century.

The Man Who Caught Robert  Kennedy's Assassin

While nearly everyone can name the place (The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles) and perpetrator of the assassination, Sirhan Sirhan (born:  1944), few people recall the man who captured and disarmed the assassin of Bobby Kennedy (1925-1968). That man was Rosie Grier (born: 1932), an American Football sensation (Super Bowl Champion, 2 time pro-bowler, member of the Ram’s “Fearsome Foursome,” and 5 time All Pro defensive tackle.) On the night of the assassination, Grier was the bodyguard for Kennedy’s pregnant wife. Along with Rafer Johnson, an Olympic gold medal decathlete, Grier heard the shots and tackled Sirhan. Grier, then jammed his finger behind the trigger of the gun and broke Sirhan’s arm. Grier then fought off those that were literally ready to rip Sirhan apart. Later Grier, would explain that, “I would not allow more violence.” Additionally, Grier would later testify to Judge Lance Ito (born: 1950) during the O.J. Simpson (born: 1947) trial that he had been present when O.J. confessed to the crimes in prison. Judge Ito however, ruled that the testimony was inadmissible.

Bad Translation

After victory in Europe, the Allied leaders (U. S. President Harry Truman (1884-1972), British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874-1965), Russian Premier Josef Stalin (1878-1953), and Chinese President  Chiang Kai-Shek (1887-1975) called for Japan’s unconditional surrender at the Potsdam Conference. The Allies hoped they could avoid a land invasion of Japan and the slaughter that was bound to follow. Initially, the Japanese government said nothing while they considered their options. But, when reporters hounded Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki (1868-1948) for an answer he eventually uttered a single word, “mokusatsu.” This choice of words is probably one of the most tragic decisions ever made. Depending on context, mokusatsu has several meanings. What the Prime minister meant was “no comment.” Unfortunately, the word was translated to the Allies as meaning “not worthy of comment; held in silent contempt.” The Allies, particularly America, were utterly sick and tired of Japan’s “kamikaze” spirit. They took the word as an insult of the highest order and a rejection of their demands for peaceful surrender. That, in turn, resulted in the U.S dropping two atomic bomb on Japan. Linguists have dubbed the incident “the world’s most tragic translation.”

Henry Hudson

After a successful career exploring the New York coastline, Henry Hudson (dates unknown) attempted to navigate the Northwest Passage in 1610. By August, his ship, the Discovery, entered what is now called Hudson Bay before becoming trapped by ice for the winter. When spring came, Hudson reiterated his desire to discover the passage to Asia. Because he was in charge, he thought everyone else should come too. The crew, on the other hand, had other ideas, and set Hudson and eight others adrift in a small boat before they all sailed in the direction of England. Hudson attempted to keep up with the ship by rowing furiously. In response, the crew of the Discovery  unfurled more sails to put an even greater distance between them. Hudson was never seen again and five of the 13 mutineers died on the trip back.

The 1943 Treblinka Rebellion

About 800,000 to one million people were murdered at Treblinka Death Camp from July 23, 1942 to October 19, 1943 in Eastern Poland; 90 percent of all prisoners were murdered within two hours of arrival. The bodies were then taken by Sonderkommandos to the open cremation pit on a hilltop. The pit had iron rails laced in layers within it like grillwork, on which the bodies were incinerated. Jews were periodically forced to enter the pit and sift through the ashes for any bones that needed to be ground. The SS had been of the opinion that the Jews would be too underfed and overworked to cause a serious problem. They were wrong. On August 2, 1943, the prisoners fought back. About half of the 1,500 inmates allowed to live in the camp invaded the camp armory after three Jews walked up to the two guards at the rear door and stabbed them with their own knives before they could sound an alarm, whereupon the Jews stole small arms from the armory and opened fire on the SS guards  throughout Camp II. The prisoners seized kerosene stores and set fire to every building while the guards and watchtowers began shooting back. The Jews broke into Camp I and armed some of its inmates, and then about 600 men and women broke through the outer perimeter and ran for their lives into the woods. All but about 40 of these were recaptured within a week and executed. Those 40 survived the war.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Facts about The Netherlands, No. 2

Ask the question of what most people know about the Netherlands and you will probably get answers like it is known for its tulips, windmills, wooden shoes, cheese and canals. But, the Netherlands is much more. Here are some facts about the Netherlands.

The word "Netherlands" mean "Low Country" in Dutch.

The official name of the country is the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The Netherlands is a republic with a constitutional monarchy. 

The current reigning monarch of The Netherlands is King Willem Alexander.

The Dutch parliament called the States General has two houses. The 150 members of the Lower House are elected by the people every four years. The Upper House has 15 members who are elected by local councils for a four-year term. The ruling monarch appoints ministers who become part of the cabinet. 

The population of The Netherlands in 2013 was estimated to be around 17 million. 

There are two official languages in The Netherlands, Dutch and Frisian

Netherlands and Holland are not synonymous. Holland is largely the western coastal region of the Netherlands, comprising of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Haarlem, Leiden and the Hague. 

Orange is the official color of Netherlands because of the House of Orange, who led the Dutch revolt against Spain and later became the Dutch royal family.

The national flag of the Netherlands dates from 1572 and is the oldest tri-color flag in the world.

Although the colors of the Dutch National flag are Red, white and Blue as per the royal decree by Queen Wilhelmina in 1937, an orange pennant accompanying the national flag is also flown as a sign of allegiance of the Dutch people to the House of Orange.

The Dutch national anthem, Wilhelmus, is the oldest in the world. It was written and first used from 1568, although it was only officially adopted in 1932. 

The Netherlands also includes islands in the Caribbean named Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba. All three send representatives to the Netherlands' parliament..

The Netherlands has two capitals, Amsterdam and the Hague.

The largest city in the Netherlands is Amsterdam.

Other major cities include Rotterdam, the Hague, Eindhoven and Utrecht.

Rotterdam is the second largest port in the world.

The city of Eindhoven is also known as the "City of Light" because the electronics giant Philips started there with products like light bulbs.

The Netherlands border Belgium and Germany.

The Netherlands has the highest population density in Europe with 487 inhabitants per square kilometer.

A 2007 UNICEF report on child well-being in rich countries ranked the Netherlands as the best country for children to live.

About 30% of all Dutch births happen at home as a result of a large and established network of certified midwives.

The majority of Dutch people can speak more than one language.

86% of the population speak English as a second language. 

The Netherlands was one of the six founding members of the European Union.

As part of the European Union, The Netherlands uses the Euro as its currency. Before that, the country's currency was the Dutch Guilder. 

Because the Netherlands has no mountain ranges or natural borders, it was not able to protect itself from invading neighbors. Foreigners occupied the country for much of its history.

The Romans, Celtic tribes, Germanic groups, Scandinavian Vikings, the Franks, Austrians, and the Spanish ruled parts of the Netherlands for centuries. In the late 1500s, the Dutch tried to overthrow their Spanish rulers. They fought in the Eighty Years’ War and finally gained independence in 1648.

During the Napoleonic Wars, France’s Napoleon took over Holland and put his brother Louis on the throne. In 1814, the people claimed independence from France and for 25 years, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands were joined together as one country called the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

In 1839, Belgium and the Netherlands became independent and Luxembourg became independent in 1890.

The Netherlands was neutral during World War I and attempted to maintain its neutrality in World War II. However, during World War II Germany occupied the Netherlands for five years and killed many people who resisted the Germans or tried to help the Dutch Jews. The then reigning monarch, Queen Wilhelmina, fled to the U.K. and stayed there until the end of the war.

It has more than 4,000 km of navigable canals, rivers and lakes.

Around 20% of the Netherlands is located below sea level and about 50% is less than 1 meter above sea level. So, about 2/3 of the Netherlands is vulnerable to flooding.

The Dutch are the world experts on keeping back water from the sea and rivers.

The Netherlands has an elaborate mosaic of dikes  to hold back the sea. If all the dikes were strung together, they would stretch for nearly 80,000 kilometers.
The U.S. government turned to the Dutch for help during and after the hurricane Katrina disaster.

The Netherlands is windmill capital of the world with over 1,000 vertical mills still in working condition. 

Dutch windmills have been used to pump away water for hundreds of years.

The Maeslantkering, a movable storm surge barrier near Rotterdam, is twice as long as the Eiffel Tower is tall. 

The Schiphol Airport is 4.5 meters below sea level.

The village of Giethoorn, in the province of Overijssel, does not have any roads. All transport is done by water over one of the many canals. It is known as the "Venice of the Netherlands".

The highest point in Netherlands, Vaalserberg, is only 323 meters above sea level. The rest of the nation is as flat.

There are around 20 national parks in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands is a developed nation with strong exports in a number of industries.

Many of the world's tomatoes, cucumbers and flowers are exported from the Netherlands.

70% of the world's bacon comes from Netherlands.

The Netherlands is a tolerant country with liberal policies.

In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize same sex marriages.

Euthanasia, prostitution, abortion on demand and marijuana are all legal in The Netherlands.

The Dutch are the tallest in the world with an average height of 184 cm for men and 170 cm for women. Some believe it is the combined result of DNA and dairy. 

Dutch people enjoy a range of sports including football (soccer), swimming, volleyball, golf, tennis and hockey.

Dutch drivers use the right-hand side of the road.

Gin was invented in the Netherlands. Called "jenever", it was originally used for medicinal purposes in the 16th century.

A person drinks on average 74 liters of beer a year in the Netherlands.

According to The Brewers of Europe organization, the Netherlands exports the largest proportion of beer production of any country in the world with approximately 50%. 

The Dutch brewery, Heineken, is the 3rd largest beer brewer in the world with over 140 breweries in over 70 countries. In the Netherlands, it owns around 50% of the Dutch beer market.

The Dutch were the first to import coffee to Europe on a large scale as early as the 1600s and 1700s.

The Dutch are the world's biggest coffee drinkers after the Scandinavians with an average of 140 liters of coffee a year or 3.2 cups a day.

One of the most popular snacks in the Netherlands is French fries dipped in mayonnaise.

An average of 2 kilograms of "drop" or Dutch salty-sweet liquorices is consumed by each person per year with over 80 "typical" kinds of liquorices available from which to choose.

The Dutch have the lowest incidence of lactose intolerance of any country at only 1%.

The herring with chopped raw onions and pickles is a national dish. The Dutch consume 12 million kilograms every year, which translates to at least 5 fish per person.

There are about 1,000 museums in Netherlands.

The post-impressionist painter, Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), is the most famous Dutch painter.

The Van Gogh Museum and the Kröller-Müller Museum house the largest Van Gogh collections in the world.

One of the greatest painters and print-makers in European art history, Rembrandt van Rijn (1606 -1669), was Dutch. He is also an important art figure in Dutch history, famous for his work The Night Watch (1642), a Dutch national treasure.

75% of the world's flower bulb production comes from Netherlands.

Most graves are leased for 10, 15 or 20 years only and not purchased due to the short supply of grave space. 

Parental leave for both full-time working mothers and fathers, is up to 57 days and can be taken at any time until the child is 8 years old.

There are specially-designated "fietspaden" or bike paths all over the country and pedestrians cannot walk on them.

According to UNICEF, The Netherlands commitment to foreign aid is number 2 among the leading 18 nations in foreign aid.

The Dutch have been making cheese since 400 AD..

The Netherlands is the largest exporter of cheese in the world with a dairy industry selling over 7 billion Euros worth of cheese annually.

The world-famous tulips and tulip fields of Netherlands do not originate from the country. The first tulip bulbs were actually imported from Turkey.

The Netherlands is the bicycle capital of the world with more than 18 million in the country. That's more than 1 bicycle per person.

On average, the Dutch person cycles 2.5 km per day and 900 km per year.

The Netherlands has the highest population density (493 inhabitants per square km - water excluded) of any European country with over 1 million inhabitants. Worldwide, only Bangladesh and Taiwan, among major countries, have a higher density of population.

Wooden shoes or clogs or "Klompen" have been popular in the Netherlands for about 700 years as industrial footwear worn by farmers, fishermen, factory workers, artisans and others to protect their feet from injury and keep them dry.

Despite the rainy weather, the Dutch use raincoats and rain "suits" instead of umbrellas because the windy is too strong and it an acrobatic feat to hold one and cycle at the same time.

The Dutch were the first Europeans to discover Australia and New Zealand in the 17th century. Australia was then named "New Holland". New Zealand was named after the province of Zeeland. Tasmania in Australia was named after Dutch explorer Abel Tasman (1603-1659).

New York City started as Dutch colony called New Amsterdam. Many places names in New York remind of the Dutch origins of the city, such as Flushing, a section of Queens, N.Y.C.,  was named after Flushing in the Dutch province of Zeeland.

The island country of Mauritius was named in 1598 in honor of Prince Maurice of Nassau, the Stadtholder of the Netherlands at the time.

Indonesia was a Dutch colony until 1945. Jakarta was then called "Batavia", after the Latin name for the Netherlands. Dutch language is still spoken by a minority of Indonesians.

The microscope, the telescope, pendulum clock and the mercury thermometer are all 16th or 17th century Dutch inventions.

The Dutch company, Philips, invented the audio tape (in 1967), the video tape (in 1972), the Compact Disk (in 1982) and the CD-ROM (in 1985).

The KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) is the oldest national airline in the world. It was founded in 1919.
The Dutch have a saying: "God made the Earth, but the Dutch made Holland." The North Sea would have washed away The Netherlands if the Dutch had not erected defenses to protect their land.