New Internationalist

Curiosities

Issue 233

new internationalist
issue 233 - July 1992

Questions
...that have always intrigued you about the world will appear in this,
your section, and be answered by other readers. Please address
your answers and questions to ‘Curiosities’.

What were the origins of the Geneva Convention?

. In 1859, a Swiss business person called Henry Dunant (left) witnessed the Battle of Solferino in northern Italy between the French, Italian and Austrian armies. Afterwards, thousands of wounded soldiers were left without assistance and Dunant, with the help of local inhabitants, improvised aid for as many of them as possible. Moved by the suffering he had seen, in 1862 Dunant published A Memory of Solferino in which he described the scenes on the battlefield and put forward ideas to try to remedy the lack of medical care for the wounded in time of war. One of these was the adoption of an international agreement recognizing the inviolability of medical services for the wounded.

The book aroused much interest throughout Europe, and Dunant's ideas were taken up by a committee of five prominent Genevois citizens (Dunant among them). This committee, which later became the International Committee of the Red Cross, convened an international conference in 1863 at which 16 States were represented. The success of this initiative encouraged the Swiss Federal Council to convene, in 1864, a Diplomatic Conference at which the original Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field was adopted.

Michael A Meyer,
British Red Cross
London, UK

Why do men have nipples?

. In addition to the response in NI 232, men's nipples are modified sweat glands, which in women have an important function, responding during puberty to hormonal stimulation. At puberty, about 50 per cent of boys experience enlargement of the nipples, but this usually regresses within a few years.

Diane Somers and Wolfgang Neumann
Dorsten, Germany

. A fuller discussion of 'vestigial' sexual organs is given in Stephen Jay Gould's stimulating 'Male nipples and clitoral ripples' published in Bully for Brontosaurus (Hutchinson Radius, 1991).

Paul Mabbott
London, UK

What is the origin of the term 'Left-wing' or 'Right-wing'?
I have an idea that it dates back to the French Revolution.

. Contrary to responses in NI 230 and 231 the terms 'Left-wing' and 'Right-wing' do indeed date back to the French Revolution, and specifically to the National Convention which first assembled in September 1792. The history of the Convention essentially boils down to the conflict between the Girondists and the Montagnards. The Girondists were the more moderate of the two, favouring the formation of a Constitutional Government and opposing the execution of Louis XVI. The Montagnards, on the other hand, were much more radical favouring the abolition of the monarchy and the execution of the king. The terms 'left' and 'right' derived from where they happened to sit in the Assembly. The more moderate Girondists sat to the right of the chair while the more radical Montagnards sat on the upper benches to the left.

Christine Campbell
Toronto, Canada

Awaiting your answers...

What is the origin of terms such as Dutch Courage, Dutch Auction,
Dutch Oven, Dutch Uncle and Going Dutch?

K McPadden
Lake Cargelligo, Canada

Is it true that unleaded petrol is less efficient and therefore worse for the environment
than leaded in terms of the amount of carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide produced?

Melvin Wailer
Luton, UK

Why is it inadvisable - or dangerous - to allow victims of electrical torture
to take fluids until many hours after the ordeal?

M Morgans
Preston, UK

Who is or was the world's longest surviving dictator?

Paul Wells
Truro, UK.

Cartoon by POLYP

If you have any questions or answers please send them to Curiosities,
New Internationalist, 55 Rectory Road, Oxford OX4 1BW, UK,
or to your local NI office (click here for addresses).

previous page choose a different magazine go to the contents page go to the NI home page next page


This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7

Comments on Curiosities

Leave your comment