Monday, November 06, 2006

This Week - Brand Names: Kleenex

Many words in the vernacular English derive from commercial brandnames. This week we will survey a few.

Kleenex: Kleenex is a registered trademark of the Kimberly -Clark Corporation. Created in World War I as a filter material for gas masks, in 1926 the "Kleenex" was finally touted as a replacement for the handkerchief. Nowadays, Kleenex commonly refers to a generic facial tissue.

Friday, November 03, 2006


The grand daddy of all obsolete countries is the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).  The USSR came to existence following a series of foreign and civil wars, as well as revolution in 1922.  There is so much relevent information on the USSR in modern history, it might not be overstated to say that the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 is the most important event of the latter half of the twentieth century.
The political landscape of Modern Eastern Europe and Asia is still largely influenced by the remnants of the Soviet Union.  Numerous countries - from the very small, as in Armenia or Estonia, to the quite large, such as the Ukraine and Turkmenistan - came into existence following the breakup of the USSR.  In addition, the demise of the Soviet Union effectively ended the Cold War, in existence since the end of World War II.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


Zaire was the name of the present day Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Zaire was in existence from 1965, when the new leader Mobutu Sese Seko changed the existing name of "Belgian Congo" to Zaire.  In 1997, a military coup changed leadership, as well as the name of Zaire to its present form. 
N.B. The Democratic Republic of the Congo should not be confused with its neighbor, the Republic of Congo - a former French colony.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

This Week - Obsolete Countries

Throughout history, territories were defined by many things - language, culture, geography, etc.  Countries, as we know them today, sometimes seem little more than solid blocks of color on a map roughly defining a political entity.  It seems that they come and go frequently these days.
This week you'll learn about - or perhaps remember - some recently obsolete countries.
Then - Upper Volta
Now - Burkina Faso
Located near the western coast of Africa, it went by the wayside in 1984.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Tuesday - Philosophers

This week's topic is Philosophers. I will present three philosophers and their basic ideas in each daily email. One from Antiquity, one from the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment, and one modern. Enjoy!

Plato - Plato was a Greek of the 4th century, a student of Socrates, and the founder of the ancient school of philosophy in Athens. A key concept of Plato has been popularly distributed in The Republic. In it and other works, Plato describes two types of reality: the "form," or the true nature of things, and the "perception." Perceptions range along an axis towards the form, however, perception and form can never be equal. This was the metaphor of the cave, wherein observers believed that the shadows they saw were the actual beings, and not a mere reflection of their true selves.

Middle Ages
John Locke - Locke was an English philosopher of the early 17th century, who had a strong influence on the Declaration of Independence - "life, liberty, and the pursuit of property." Property as defined by Locke is the value of one's labor, as manifest by an object of production, and estate, or general wealth. In contrast with contemporary Thomas Hobbes, Locke's idea of a social contract is based on the consensus of the governed and not on the power of the ruling.

Karl Marx - Marx is a German philosopher of the 19th century. Commonly understood to be the founder of social democracy as it evolved into communism, Marx's focus of thought was on class struggles. Steering away from the more common points of departure for intellectual hijackers, Marx has many an original thought. While many philosophers struggled with the question of "nature vs. nurture" (and Plato was probably the first), Mark concluded that based on man's ability to adapt, nurture dictates behavior. Therefore situations and problems of class and economics are learned, and can be unlearned by planning.

Monday, October 23, 2006

New Format - This Week, Philosophers

Instead of a random fact, the new "Get Smarter Every Day" will include 7 daily packets of fact on a single broad topic, that will enhance your general knowledge in a single area in more depth.
This week's topic is Philosophers. I will present three philosophers and their basic ideas in each daily email. One from Antiquity, one from the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment, and one modern. Enjoy!

Socrates - Socrates was a Greek, who was born and lived in Athens in the late 5th century. This period of time characterizes the Classical Greek Civilization. The philosophy of Socrates can be whittled down to a few key tenets. Knowledge was the love of a philosopher ("student of wisdom"), who, recognizing his earthly ignorance, sought to better himself and therefore mankind. Recognition of ignorance and the constant forming of questions that spurred the mind to think formed the basis of the Socratic Method. Socrates had a spiritual side as well, believing that the answers to these reflective questions could be answered by drawing on the spirit, which contained infinte access to knowledge. Politically, Socrates believed that a philosopher -- possessing the aforementioned attributes -- was the only type of leader that an ideal government could have.

Middle Ages
Thomas Hobbes - Hobbes was English philosopher of the early 17th century, called the Enlightenment. Hobbes' main thesis center around the idea that mankind is constrained by the recognition of their own mortality; therefore, the preservation of life through self-preservation drove men to behave they way they do. Authority of civilization was a social contract between the ruling ('the Leviathon") and the ruled, exchanging personal liberty for safety.

Friedrich Nietzsche - A Prussian (modern German) philosopher of the 19th century, Nietzsche is at once one of the most profound philosophers and yet the most misunderstood. His life's body of work contains some apparent contradictions that, more than representing logical errors, reflect the path of thought that he developed throughout his life. The work of Nietzsche has been variously hijacked by social and political movement, giving a somewhat negative perception of him and his work. His thoughts are extraordinarily complex when taken as a whole, and yet there are some key thoughts that espoused upon. Perhaps the most influential and relevant to modern thought is the idea of moral relativism. Rather than believing in the more traditional moral views of universal human "rights" and "wrongs" (as did Hobbes), Nietzsche postulated that power -- the assertion of one's will -- over oneself and others forms the basis of morality. Perhaps one of the strongest reasons that Nietzsche was so misunderstood was his mastery of literature and art as a vehicle for sharing his ideas. Nietzsche was frequently dismissed as a clever writer rather than a true student of wisdom.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Virii and Life

Virii (from old Latin plural of "virus") or "viruses" as used in modern standard English, are strange entities.  They blur the definition of alive for professional and amateur scientists alike.  While they possess certain functions that mimic life, it is generally thought they are in fact not alive.  Viruses exist solely to replicate.  Most viruses will find a host and utilize an innate mechanism of the host to "trick" the host into reproducing the virus instead of itself.
Recently, in the Republic of Korea ("South Korea"), scientists have made a remarkable breakthrough in the fight against cancer.  Using the adenovirus as a base, they inserted human genes and produced a hybrid virus that seems to attack cancer cells. 
The adenovirus, along with the rhinovirus, are are common causes of respiratory illnesses, such as the common cold and conjunctivitis.
Viruses are so small, that many infect only bacteria. 
Many viruses contain protection against harm in the form of an "envelope," making them difficult to eradicate (as opposed to kill).
They are little more than complex protein carrying cases for genetic material - either RNA or DNA. 
Other complex proteins causing illness are prions.  Prions are malformed proteins that are easily mistaken for a common protein, but cause an error in an organism's system.  A common example would be Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis - or "Mad Cow Disease."