By Mark Howell


The three wealthiest families in the world have more assets than the combined wealth of the 48 poorest nations.



Meanwhile, 50 percent of the population of the world has never made or received a telephone call.



The nation of Denmark, whose total tax take (national, state and local) amounts to 55 percent of its gross domestic product, ranks as the happiest country in the world. The United States, on the other hand, where the total tax take hovers around 30 percent of GDP, ranks only 17th in Gallup’s international poll.



Forty-eight years ago, on Jan. 17, 1966, a U.S. B-52 aircraft carrying four Mark 28 hydrogen bombs and a crew of seven collided with its refueling tanker over the village of Palomares in southern Spain. Four of the crew ejected and survived. Then, recalls the London Review of Books’ latest issue, a search began for the bombs.



Three of them were located on the ground. One of those was intact but the high explosives in the other two had partially detonated, dispersing plutonium across the countryside. The fourth bomb was found intact months later, half a mile deep in the Atlantic Ocean. A manned submarine eventually retrieved it.



The U.S. government declared there was “not the slightest risk” in eating fish, meat and vegetables from the impact zone (more than anyone really knew for sure at that time). The U.S. military collected and burned 4,000 truckloads of vegetables from the area, then dug up heaps of Spanish soil and transported them in steel drums to South Carolina for burial.



Our Welsh ancestry compels us us to share a strange detail sent us by reader Diana Millikan concerning Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak, fourth President of Egypt from 1981 to 2011.



Mubarak’s wife’s mum was a Welsh nurse, apparently. Suzanne Mubarak is the daughter of an Egyptian pediatrician, Saleh Thabet, and Welsh-born nurse Lily May Palmer.



Thabet, at the time a 29-year-old medical student at Cardiff University in South Wales, married the 29-year-old Lily May at Islington, London, in 1934. Lily was a trained nurse working at The Infirmary on Camden Road, Islington. She was the daughter of colliery manager Charles Henry Palmer and grew up in Pontypridd in the county of Glamorgan, Wales. Suzanne Mubarak’s older brother, Mounir Thabet, is a former president of the Egyptian Olympic Committee.



Who knew?



Q. Richard Pearce of Brattleboro, VT. asks, in the February issue of Smithsonian Magazine, how is it that a lightning bolt lasting a second or less can produce a thunderclap lasting 10 seconds or more?



A. A lightning bolt heats the air so that it expands at tremendous speed — fast enough to create a shock wave that travels outward at the speed of sound. The shock wave is what we hear as a thunderclap. When the shock wave hits the irregular ground surface, some of the energy is deflected to create other waves that we hear as a low rumbling after the clap.



Quote for the Week:

“Once upon a time, singing was a part of everyday life as much as talking, physical exercise and religion. Our distant ancestors, wherever they were in this world, sang while pounding grain, paddling canoes or walking long journeys. When one person taps out a beat while another leads into the melody, or when three people discover a harmony they never knew existed, or a crowd joins in on a chorus as though to raise the ceiling a few feet higher, then they also know there is hope for the world.”


                                          ― Pete Seeger


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