issue 236 - October 1992
...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’.
I've heard that the croissant is linked to anti-Islamic feeling. Is this true?
. Yes. In 1683, when the armies of Christian Austria stopped the military might of Muslim Turkey at the gates of Vienna, Viennese bakers celebrated the defeat of the 'infidels' by baking the croissant. They shaped it like a crescent because this is the Islamic symbol which was also the Turkish emblem.
Was one of British Queen Victoria's grandmothers an African princess?
. Victoria's grandmother, the German-born Charlotte Sophia, Queen of England and consort of George III (1760-1820), was black of mixed race. Charlotte Sophia's African descent is thought to have come from her mother's side - it was fashionable for white European noblemen to have African women as lovers. For more information consult Black Women In Antiquity, edited by Ivan van Septima and The African Presence in Early Europe by J. Rogers (Sex and Race, Vol.1).
. What sorts of points are questions like these supposed to prove? Is it to try and unearth a past conspiracy to disguise the fact that leading figures in history were black? Such hijacking of white culture and painting it black smacks of contempt for black culture. What if I were to suggest that Martin Luther King was of Anglo-Saxon stock? Would I not be branded a racist revisionist? But it seems quite acceptable to do it the other way round.
Is unleaded petrol more polluting than leaded petrol?
. In response to Shell UK in NI 234, the effect of lead compounds in petrol is to retard the burning of the fuel and air mixture. This allows the mixture to be compressed further before ignition than would be the case with unleaded petrol, so increasing the power of the engine. To get the same engine power with unleaded petrol requires a larger engine, more petrol and hence more pollution.
Regarding catalytic converters, these only work when warmed up, which in an urban situation of slowly moving traffic can take up to five miles. In the UK, 61 per cent of car journeys are under five miles. And while catalytic converters reduce the emission of polluting gases like nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons they actually increase the production of carbon dioxide which causes global warming.
However well-intentioned, the effect of catalytic converters is negated by the projected increase in car use. And however dearly the representative from Shell would like us to believe that there are technological solutions for the pollution produced by the petrol her company sells, all the evidence is to the contrary.
I understand that a waterless WC - using sawdust to produce a high-grade compost - has been invented by a Swede. Does anyone know whether this WC can be sited in a house? How is it ventilated? How is it cleaned? Whether it smells? And where I can find a detailed description of it?
I am told that it is better to leave a fluorescent light switched on when you leave a room, as its initial switching on cost is high compared with its running cost. Is this true and if so at what point does it become more economical to switch it off?
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).