Misconceptions

1

The Real Person Behind The Fat, Laughing Buddha

Siddhartha Gautama, the hedonist who turned to extreme asceticism to pursue the spiritual path before achieving Enlightenment to become the Buddha, is sometimes depicted in art as an emaciated, skeletal figure. Who then, is the fat and jolly Buddha whose statues Westerners are familiar with? It turns out that he is an actual historical person, an eccentric Chinese monk named Pu-Tai, and his story is a heartwarming one.

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When The South Fought Against States’ Rights

In summer 2015, Texas quietly adopted a new set of textbooks to be taught in schools. Among other controversies, the textbooks claimed the Civil War was less about slavery than it was about states’ rights. The logic goes that the Southern states were defending their constitutional freedoms against an encroaching federal government. But a largely forgotten Supreme Court case tells a different story. After a slave escaped to Wisconsin, representatives from Southern states lined up to denounce Wisconsin for not following the federal Fugitive Slave Act. In one way, they were arguing against states’ rights.

2

The Good (And Bad) News About The Midlife Crisis

After the term “midlife crisis” was coined in 1965, it became ingrained in our collective consciousness. But recent studies—some spanning decades—have found that most people don’t go through a midlife crisis. At least, not when they’re in their midlife years. Hitting 40 seemed to be the start of a general upswing in overall happiness and life satisfaction, with much of the soul searching and depression happening to those in their thirties.

9

Why Piranhas Aren’t Nearly As Scary As You Think

Even today, piranhas are known as one of the most brutal of all fish. That reputation is largely undeserved, though. Most piranhas are scavengers rather than hunters, preferring to feed on the dead or on the cast-off leftovers from a fisherman’s gutted catch. Some are even vegetarian. The whole idea of the savage piranha started with Teddy Roosevelt, when he wrote on them for his 1914 book, Through the Brazilian Wilderness.

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The First Records Weren’t Designed For Music

Early record technology was far from good, and it certainly wasn’t good enough to faithfully reproduce music in a way that an artist would be proud of. It was good enough, though, for the spoken word, and the end of World War I meant there was a major increase in blind or visually impaired people. The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) started a program to use new recording technology for the creation of audiobooks. In spite of initial opposition from Helen Keller, the AFB ended up getting the funds needed to get audiobooks into the hands of those who needed them. The AFB also partnered with the Library of Congress to further develop recording technology with Keller’s support.

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The More Likely Explanation For The Origin Of The Sandwich

In spite of the popular legend, there’s nothing that actually suggests the Earl of Sandwich was pulling an all-nighter at the card table when he requested the meat-laden bread concoction that still bears his name. As Secretary of State at the time, he was more likely hard at work when he made the request. He’s certainly not the first to do so, either, and that’s something that’s credited to a Jewish scholar living in the first century BC. Hillel popularized eating a traditional part of the Passover meal—consisting of matzah, lamb, herbs, and nuts—in a form that we know today as the sandwich.

7

The Culture That Invented A Phone 1,200 Years Ago

The Chimu civilization of northern Peru was conquered by the Inca around 1470, but it left behind some intriguing traces of the thriving society it once was. In spite of having no written language and no way to draw blueprints and plans, they successfully built a city of more than 10,000 buildings and nine palaces, using a system of canals 80 kilometers (50 mi) long to irrigate the desert with water flowing through a northern river. They also invented a rudimentary telephone, a simple system of two gourds with a long piece of cotton twine stretched between them, with hide membranes used in the receivers.

2

John Huston’s Fake Documentaries Of World War II

If you’re a fan of classic films, then you’re probably a fan of John Huston. He’s the guy behind movies like The Maltese Falcon, and during World War II, he directed several memorable war documentaries. Only as it turns out, a few of Huston’s war docs were actually fakes.

2

Uranus Had A Different Name For 70 Years

The name of Uranus is probably the first science joke any of us learned. That wasn’t always its name, though. It wasn’t firmly established for 70 years after its discovery. William Herschel originally proposed naming the planet “Georgium Sidus” (“George’s Star”) after King George III. The name was even acknowledged by the Crown, getting Herschel an appointment as the king’s own astronomer. But many weren’t happy with the deviation from the naming traditions that had been set in place, and by 1850, Uranus (properly pronounced YOOR-un-us) was re-named.

6

Johnny Appleseed Was Actually Giving The Gift Of Liquor

We all have a very distinct picture of Johnny Appleseed. He’s the barefoot tramp, walking across America, spreading apple seeds wherever he goes. That’s only part of the truth, and the best part usually isn’t mentioned. The trees that Chapman was planting weren’t the ones that would be used to grow apples we eat. Instead, he was planting the sour apples that would be used to make hard cider. Once America’s drink of choice, hard cider fell out of fashion when Prohibition agents took their axes to Chapman’s orchards, and it’s only recently that hard cider is making a comeback in the states.