June 23, 2015 by libroshombre
We’re forest dwellers, and our annual war with the carpenter ants has begun. This year’s invasion put me in mind of an old article I’d clipped for my file of possibilities I collect for columns Digging it out revealed an intriguing array of trivial tidbits that didn’t make the cut, as well as the article about vampire ants. Posted in 2012 on YourWildlife.org under “Halloween Horrors in the Front Yard,” the latter describes vampire ants as “specialist predators on soil anthropods, specifically centipedes, that also sometimes feed on the body fluids of their own larvae … they drink the blood of their babies.” It explained that the ants do this when food is scarce, and doing it doesn’t kill their babies since it’s “type of vampirism called ‘nondestructive cannibalism’ [that] does not harm the young.”
The very next article, from Discover Magazine, described the Chinese soft-shelled turtle that “looks like someone glued the snout of a pig onto the face of a fish.” It lives in saltwater marshes and can’t drink enough of the briny water to utilize its kidneys without toxic levels of salts accruing. So it “gets rid of most of its urea through its mouth instead of its kidneys, via gill-like studs in its mouth. It can breath and get rid of waste through the same structures.”
Along those lines was a news story forwarded by the retired librarian from Kodiak, who attended my “Potty Talk” lecture on public library restroom security at the Alaska Library Association conference. The article, titled “Over or Under: Toilet Paper Debate,” included Seth Wheeler’s 1891 patent for toilet paper that states “My invention consists of a roll of wrapping paper with perforations on the line of the division between one sheet and the next, so as to be easily torn apart.” Attached is his diagram clearly showing the paper unspooling over the top of the roll, not below. So now we can all move on. A related article dealt with the “Aryan Code of Toilets.” In 1500 BCE Aryan scribes compiled of list of rules governing everything to do with toiletry. Typical strictures require that before the act, one must roll a sacred thread into a ball and put it on the right ear, and if one’s head isn’t covered, the other end of the thread should be placed over the left ear.
There were library-related articles, too. One described how Suetonius, my favorite classical author who died in 130 CE, and the author of the wonderfully ribald history “The Twelve Caesars,” was also a librarian, being named director of the Library at Alexandria by the Emperor Tiberius. Tiberius loved libraries and had a large one built beside his palace. He called its director Procurator Bibliothecarum, which I wish was on my resume.
Another file item, an excerpt from “The Library: An Illustrated History,” described the libraries in the Kingdom of Aksum. Not only was this city-state home for the Queen of Sheba and the reputed current location of the ancient Ark of the Covenant, its rulers spoke and read Greek and “put great store in written documents and in libraries to keep them.” Around 350 CE Aksum was “the first significant empire to accept Christianity” when Frumentius, a Greek Phoenician slave-teacher to King Ezana, converted him. Although declining three hundred years later, “Aksum would be more commonly referred to by medieval writers as Ethiopia, [and] remembered as an educated, literate society that cherished libraries.”
There’s more to libraries than hoarding information. The Aksumites, like many ancients, didn’t do a good job of sharing their books. A Chinese proverb in the column file spoke to this: “a book tightly shut is but a block of paper.” Some chocolate will help you remember that. A NY Times article from 2014 titled “A Bite to Remember? Chocolate Is Shown to Aid Memory,” said that flavanol chemical compound found in chocolate “improved blood circulation, heart health, and memory in mice, snails, and humans.”
I can’t resist collecting such fascinating factoids and agree with Harvard business professor Joseph Badaracco, who said “In today’s environment, hoarding knowledge ultimately erodes your power. If you know something important, the way to get power is by actually sharing it.”