The following is a collection of some of the entertaining or thought-provoking bits and pieces, which I came across during the year, mostly in issues of The Week magazine of the UK.
Hopefully, these snippets will stimulate conversation during the Christmas break.
And I begin with the COVID-19 pandemic, which, not surprisingly, is on the front burner everywhere:
A. Of coronavirus matters
1. ISRAEL: Researchers in Israel have developed a reusable face mask that cleans itself using electricity, reports the Daily Telegraph.
Developed at Technion’s Faculty of Materials Science and Engineering in Haifa, the mask contains an internal layer of carbon fibre, which, when heated, destroys any pathogen on its surface, including coronavirus
The device can be plugged into a phone charger and is expected to go on sale initially in the US.
Meanwhile, at the firm Avtipus Patents & Inventions (also in Israel) they recently unveiled a prototype for a mask with a remote-controlled aperture that can be opened and closed, so that people can eat without taking off their mask.
2. USA: A police department in Newport, Oregon, has issued a reminder asking members of the public not to dial the emergency number if they run out of toilet roll. “Do not call 911 just because you ran out of toilet paper. You will survive without our assistance.”
3. AUSTRALIA: An Australian newspaper helped its readers deal with the fallout from coronavirus – by printing extra pages for “toilet paper”. The NT News daily tabloid added an eight-page insert to an edition, as Australians, fearful of shortages stocked up on loo roll.
4. ROMANIA: A Romanian cobbler is making shoes in European size 75 in an attempt to get people to follow social distancing rules. Grogore Lup was inspired to make the shoes after seeing people standing too close together at a market.
“If two people wearing these shoes were facing each other, there would be almost one-and-a-half metres between them,” he explained.
GHANA: I couldn’t resist this amusing, cheeky social media response to President Nana Akufo-Addo’s 20th Coronavirus Update last Sunday, December 20: “Nana Addo says pubs and nightclubs are still closed? Eii na where does he think we celebrated his victory?"
B. Of intrepid animals
6. A US man who was arrested after leading police on a high-speed car chase explained that he was “trying to teach his dog how to drive”. The man hit two cars during the ensuing pursuit. His pit bull (dog) was found in the driving seat when he was arrested.
7. Police in Louisiana are looking for “an aggressive chicken” terrorising bank customers. Walker Police Department issued a warning urging residents to be on the lookout for “a reddish-tan chicken” that had attacked people at an ATM. Police said the fowl was wanted on charges including “assault, attempted battery, attempted burglary (and) terrorising”.
C. Of awesome toilet technology
8. Scientists in America have developed a “mountable lavatory system” which can be fitted onto a standard cistern, and performs a range of urine and stool tests, which it uses to search for signs of disease.
Cameras and motion sensors capture information about stool consistency and “urodynamics” (flow rate, stream time and total volume of urine), while a “dipstick test” records white blood cell counts and protein levels.
The system is also equipped with identification technology: a scanner on the flush handle that reads fingerprints and, lower down, a variant of facial recognition technology that verifies each user’s “analprint”.
The researchers stress, however, that the system will not compromise privacy.
D. Of witty sayings
9. “I believe in an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.” - New York Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger, quoted in the I newspaper
“‘No’ is a complete sentence.”- (Actress) Jane Fonda, quoted in The Times
11. “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” – (Writer) Isaac Asimov, quoted in Forbes
12. “It is of course, a bit of a drawback that science was invented after I left school” – Lord Carrington, 1919-2018; British politician
13. “We still think of a powerful man as a born leader and a powerful woman as an anomaly.” – Margaret Atwood, Canadian author
14. “Never stand up when you can sit down. And never sit down when you can lie down.” – Winston Churchill, (a former Prime Minister of the UK) quoted in The Sunday Telegraph
15. “If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?” – Abraham Lincoln, (16th US President) quoted in the Daily Mail
16. “Be sincere. Be brief. Be seated.” – (32nd US President) Franklin D. Roosevelt’s advice on public speaking, quoted in The Times
17. “It is curious – curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.” – (Author) Mark Twain, quoted on The Bulwark
18. “The past is always trickling under the soil; a slow leak you can’t trace.” – (Writer) Hilary Mantel, quoted in the Financial Times
19. “Love is a lot like a backache. It doesn’t show on x-rays, but you know it’s there.” – (American comedian) George Burns, quoted on BuzzFeed
20. “Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.” – Humourist Erma Bombeck, quoted on CNN
And I give ‘Madiba’ the last word:
21. “A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.” – Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013, South African President (1994-1999)