Friday, September 18, 2015


"It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance."
-Thomas Sowell

Its time for another roundup of misconceptions, factoids (in the truest sense - things people beleive are facts but are not), and mistaken common knowledge.  There are so many of these that I don't suppose I'll ever run out.
First up, Martin Luther King jr. and his politics.  This one gets thrown around by both parties and people opposing each party quite a bit.  MLK jr. was a Republican!  No, he was a Democrat!  See, your side must be wrong because this mascot is on our side!  The truth is, nobody knows what party MLK was a member of, if any.  There isn't any record, and nobody seems to recall.  Its possible he was never registered as a member of a party.  If any its likely he was Republican because most blacks in the 50s and early 60s were - Democrats at the time being the party of Jim Crow and opposing ending slavery in years past.  But there's no way of knowing.
Islam, I've written about it in the past, and probably should do an entry in this series based on the misconceptions and confusion about the religion.  But there's a very odd one among the black community in America that claims Islam is the black man's religion, as opposed to Christianity.  This probably arose because so many black prisoners have taken up Islam and some prominent black celebrities ("leaders") are Muslim such as Louis Farrakhan.  And there is a large portion of Africa which is Muslim.  But that's a fairly recent development in African history - roughly 600 AD was the first introduction of Islam to the continent - and only covers the northern part.  
Islam is an Arabic religion (Arabs being ethnically Caucasian) and indeed borrowed heavily from previous Arabic religions and cultural patterns, blending them with Judaism and Christianity.  If any religion can be said to be from Africa, it would be something like Voodoo or Sangria, although those have been heavily influenced by other religions.
Nowhere in the Koran is there a mention of 72 virgins for martyrs in heaven.  The descriptions of heaven in the Koran do note hot women awaiting the dead, but that's for anyone who goes, not just martyrs.  The 72 virgin line comes from a Hadith (traditional sayings of Muhammad and stories of his life) written after the Koran.
The Wright Brothers did not build the first flyable aircraft.  They did build the first actual airplane, but lighter than air devices were being experimented with and functioning as far back as the late 1700s.  As early as the 1200s, the Chinese have stories of men being strapped to kites and flown, although that's not exactly an aircraft.  However, it was in 1848 that Sir George Cayley built and tested a glider, with a small boy flying it.  In 1853, he tested a full sized aircraft with controls and an adult pilot, although it was still a glider.  His efforts to build an engine using rubber (presumably like a rubber band) did not see any success.
What the Wright Brothers did was invent the powered airplane, something that proved and demonstrated that you could fly on your own, instead of gliding, using the internal combustion engine.  Thus, they invented the first true modern airplane rather than a glider.
Columbus did not prove the world was round.  Few scientists believed that to be the case, and indeed over a thousand years before Columbus was born, Eratosthenes measured the world and proved that it was round.  What Columbus was trying to do was use the round world to find a quicker, cheaper trade route to Southeast Asia by going west rather than east and around Africa.  He had a hard time getting funding because people though the trip was too far, not because they thought he'd sail off the edge of the planet.
Rosa Parks was not just some tired old woman who finally just decided to not give up her seat.  After a long day at work she probably was tired, and she did refuse to give up her seat, its true, but she did so as a deliberate act of civil disobedience and was an activist working with Martin Luther King jr.  That doesn't detract from her significance or the effect on the Civil Rights movement, but this wasn't just some coincidence or some poor old woman being misused (she was only 42 at the time) at random.  She deliberately set about to spark a legal case and draw attention to the ridiculous and oppressive laws of the time.
Marie Antoinette probably never said “let them eat cake.”  In fact, there's no evidence anyone ever said it at the time, and she was smarter than generally portrayed.  The only source for this quote is Jean Jacque Rousseau's biography in which he mentions "a great princess" saying "let them eat brioche" but the work is generally thought to be without historical merit and largely invented to begin with.
Henry Ford did not invent the automobile.  I'm not sure how this one comes up but the automobile's invention is a bit clouded in mystery, but happened in the 19th century before he was born.  There was a guy that claimed to have invented the device and the story of the battle between him and Ford is a fascinating one.  Ford didn't even invent the assembly line, although he did pretty well perfect it to build automobiles.  Ransom E. Olds (the guy behind the Oldsmobile) actually was the first to use it and he probably got the idea from someone else.
Sharks are not immune to cancer.  They tend to get skin cancer more than anything else.
Fatwas are not Islamic death sentences.  They are non-binding legal decisions by Muslim judges.  They do not compel action, and can be about anything, not just calling for death.
Cooking with wine will not remove the alcohol completely.  Even if it is baked for two hours, 10% of the alcohol will remain in the food.
Edelweiss is not the national anthem of Austria.  In fact, it was an original composition written for the film The Sound of Music.  Beautiful song, though.
Mary Magdalene in the Bible is never identified as a prostitute.  The only connection is the mention of a woman with a reputation of sinning mentioned not long before Mary is introduced, but there's no reason to assume that the two women are the same, or even evidence that the "sin" involved was prostitution.
Black soldiers were not segregated in the US military until after WW2.  Blacks served along side whites long before that (even as far back as the Revolutionary war), but the training was generally segregated, and during the first half of the 20th century, blacks were generally put into their own, separate units rather than with whites.  Truman's executive order 9981 in 1948 required desegregation of training and units, blending all servicemen together.  
 The thing is, in practical war fighting, the structures of units were so fluid and in the battlefield so often of little meaning that these separations often disappeared.  There's good reason to believe that the presence of black soldiers next to whites in the battle line seeing each other in action and being bonded by fear, death, and warfare is what lead more to the civil rights changes in later years than anything else.  
Basically, fighting next to a guy bonds you closer than some stupid ideas of race and appearance, and for a lot of these soldiers, this was their first exposure to blacks up close, which changed theory into reality pretty fast.  Coming home after war, they couldn't see any point in the separation and mistreatment of people they'd fought by and knew were just folks.
And that's it for now
*This is part of the Common Knowledge series: things we know that ain't so.

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