Saturday, May 13, 2017

Random Illustrated Facts by Mike Lowery

Rating: WARTY!

The facts in this book (an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher) were just a little too random for my taste, and the illustrations are extremely rudimentary (if sometimes amusing), so i cannot recommend this because I see no purpose to it unless you find it amusing to read a mix of true and at best "augmented" or at worst, possibly fictional "facts".

It quite literally does have random facts. The organization of the book is as rudimentary as the printing and illustration, but it does make some vague kind of sense. The facts however, are very short and completely unreferenced so it's hard ot know whether they relaly hard facts without a lot of research. I checked a (random!) few here and there, and most of what I checked seems to be true, but there were some glaring errors that would have been easy to fix has some simple fact-checking been indulged in online. Some, such as the church steeple in Germany which was stuck four times by lightning over several years, each time on April 18th were unverifiable. No, I don't believe that one!

This begs the question as to how some of these 'facts' arose. One I checked on, for example: that it is illegal to fall asleep in a cheese factory in Illinois, while technically true, is misleading. The Illinois statute forbids sleeping in food preparation places which is entirely reasonable, and which I imagine is also forbidden in other state laws, so to single out Illinois, and word the "fact" that way isn't exactly honest. I was more surprised that it was Illinois that was chosen rather than say Wisconsin, than I was impressed by this "fact"!

By the same token the California Fish and Game Code over not eating frogs used in jumping contests is a law aimed at preventing people capturing frogs for food (for which they would need a license), by claiming they were going to use them for a jumping contest (for which they would not need a license). In context, it's clear that the law is to protect amphibians from being eaten to extinction and makes perfect sense, and has nothing to do with "eating a frog that died in a jumping contest" per se. So once again, this "random fact" is highly misleading. I'd have liked this book a lot better if it had been vetted more stringently over the facts which appear in it.

The story of the five-year-old-girl mailed to her grandparents in 1914 is equally misleading. It was a four-year-old-girl named Charlotte Pierstorff, who was accompanied on a train by a postal clerk, so she wasn't exactly put into a cardboard box, stamped and dropped into a mailbox as the illustration suggests. So yes, it did happen, but again the random "fact" doesn't tell the whole story. Mailing children back then (right after the post office first introduced parcel post) wasn't exactly a complete rarity. The first child to be so mailed was a ten pound baby! It was unarguably bizarre and abusive in the extreme to modern minds, but innovative to impoverished families back then!

Yes live scorpions can be mailed, but the regs say nothing about live spiders being banned! They specifically permit "Other small, harmless, cold–blooded animals" which would include most spiders, and scorpions have restrictions ("Live scorpions (only under limited circumstances)"). So once again we find a "fact" that is not exactly up-front about what it purports.

In Serbia, there is a tradition of children tying up their mom on Materice day, but it's as part of Christmas celebrations. On a different day, parents tie up their kids. The idea is to get gifts as a 'ransom' for freeing the hostage. I'm not aware of such a tradition for Mother's Day, but I guess if they do it at Christmas, they might do it then, too. So while, like I said, a lot of what I checked did prove out (at least in part), there were far too many of these misleading ones, or ones which were wrong or uncheckable, so I felt rather disinclined to trust the other facts that I do not have the time spend checking. The book does not strike me as very trustworthy, and there really is no excuse these days for not verifying your 'facts'.

Some of the 'facts' are repeated in slightly different ways on different pages, and overall there are a lot of 'facts'. Some of these are weird and wonderful, others amusing, others not remotely surprising, but overall, I can't recommend it as a worthy read. You may not have these qualms, but for me, in an Internet age where misinformation and blind 'regifting' of trivia through endless, tedious chains of emails is the norm, I think it behooves all of use to not pass on things we don't know to be true, and certainly to not engender materials which are at best suspect.