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Why Would Ecuador Appeal to Edward Snowden?

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On Sunday it was reported that Edward Snowden, the whistleblower and former National Security Agency contractor, would seek asylum in Ecuador. (This morning things were a little more cloudy.) Since coming forward last month with documents related to massive dragnet surveillance of American citizens by the U.S. government, Snowden has put on his best Carmen Sandiego impression. Clearly U.S. officials don’t have a copy of the World Almanac available, because so far Snowden has been successful.

On its face, Ecuador doesn’t seem like the best choice for Snowden to relocate, as they have an extradition treaty with the United States. But so far the international community has enjoyed playing Alderaan to America’s Galactic Empire. (President Obama is probably regretting his foolish decision to pass on building a Death Star.) Hong Kong answered the president’s demand for Snowden by booking him (i.e. Snowden) on a one-way flight to Moscow. Everyone knows Hoth is the coolest planet (ha!) in the galaxy, so of course Russia wasn’t going to miss playing the part.

And it turns out that Ecuador is the perfect Yavin IV. In 1872, when the U.S. government signed that extradition treaty [pdf], we were still serious about the Fourth Amendment. So our ambassadors didn’t think much about the clause that reads: “The stipulations of this treaty shall not be applicable to crimes or offenses of a political character.” Today, it’s hard to think of anything more politicized than our sprawling secrecy apparatus.

The Wikileaks Connection

If he does make it to Ecuador, Snowden will be in good company. (Technically.) Since the WikiLeaks release of 350,000 U.S. diplomatic cables and war logs, Julian Assange, the sunlight organization’s founder, has been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has diplomatic asylum. (Indeed, it was WikiLeaks that facilitated Snowden’s passage from Moscow to Ecuador.) President Rafael Correa of Ecuador is a big fan of Assange. "Your WikiLeaks has made us stronger!" he told the activist last year.

"I love and admire the American people a great deal," said Correa. "The last thing I'd be is anti-American, but I will always call a spade a spade."

And let’s face it: The U.S. intelligence community is spadier than ever. So unless Delta Force is sent in to snatch Snowden (which would be an act of war) or all this Ecuador business was a big misdirection, the NSA whistleblower could look forward to long, sunny days of snorkeling in the Galápagos Islands.

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Big Questions
Why Do Fruitcakes Last So Long?
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Fruitcake is a shelf-stable food unlike any other. One Ohio family has kept the same fruitcake uneaten (except for periodic taste tests) since it was baked in 1878. In Antarctica, a century-old fruitcake discovered in artifacts left by explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 expedition remains “almost edible,” according to the researchers who found it. So what is it that makes fruitcake so freakishly hardy?

It comes down to the ingredients. Fruitcake is notoriously dense. Unlike almost any other cake, it’s packed chock-full of already-preserved foods, like dried and candied nuts and fruit. All those dry ingredients don’t give microorganisms enough moisture to reproduce, as Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, explained in 2014. That keeps bacteria from developing on the cake.

Oh, and the booze helps. A good fruitcake involves plenty of alcohol to help it stay shelf-stable for years on end. Immediately after a fruitcake cools, most bakers will wrap it in a cheesecloth soaked in liquor and store it in an airtight container. This keeps mold and yeast from developing on the surface. It also keeps the cake deliciously moist.

In fact, fruitcakes aren’t just capable of surviving unspoiled for months on end; some people contend they’re better that way. Fruitcake fans swear by the aging process, letting their cakes sit for months or even years at a stretch. Like what happens to a wine with age, this allows the tannins in the fruit to mellow, according to the Wisconsin bakery Swiss Colony, which has been selling fruitcakes since the 1960s. As it ages, it becomes even more flavorful, bringing out complex notes that a young fruitcake (or wine) lacks.

If you want your fruitcake to age gracefully, you’ll have to give it a little more hooch every once in a while. If you’re keeping it on the counter in advance of a holiday feast a few weeks away, the King Arthur Flour Company recommends unwrapping it and brushing it with whatever alcohol you’ve chosen (brandy and rum are popular choices) every few days. This is called “feeding” the cake, and should happen every week or so.

The aging process is built into our traditions around fruitcakes. In Great Britain, one wedding tradition calls for the bride and groom to save the top tier of a three-tier fruitcake to eat until the christening of the couple’s first child—presumably at least a year later, if not more.

Though true fruitcake aficionados argue over exactly how long you should be marinating your fruitcake in the fridge, The Spruce says that “it's generally recommended that soaked fruitcake should be consumed within two years.” Which isn't to say that the cake couldn’t last longer, as our century-old Antarctic fruitcake proves. Honestly, it would probably taste OK if you let it sit in brandy for a few days.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?
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For carbohydrate consumers, nothing completes a Thanksgiving meal like stuffing—shovelfuls of bread, celery, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement all of that turkey protein.

Some people don’t say “stuffing,” though. They say “dressing.” In these calamitous times, knowing how to properly refer to the giant glob of insulin-spiking bread seems necessary. So what's the difference?

Let’s dismiss one theory off the bat: Dressing and stuffing do not correlate with how the side dish is prepared. A turkey can be stuffed with dressing, and stuffing can be served in a casserole dish. Whether it’s ever seen the inside of a bird is irrelevant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be met with suspicion, if not outright derision.

The terms are actually separated due to regional dialects. “Dressing” seems to be the favored descriptor for southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, while “stuffing” is preferred by Maine, New York, and other northern areas. (Some parts of Pennsylvania call it "filling," which is a bit too on the nose, but to each their own.)

If “stuffing” stemmed from the common practice of filling a turkey with carbs, why the division? According to The Huffington Post, it may have been because Southerners considered the word “stuffing” impolite, so never embraced it.

While you should experience no material difference in asking for stuffing or dressing, when visiting relatives it might be helpful to keep to their regionally-preferred word to avoid confusion. Enjoy stuffing yourselves.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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