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Did Americans Really Call French Fries "Freedom Fries"?

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Taylor writes: I'm a high school student and my history teacher just told us about how the United States once called French fries "freedom fries" to spite France. Please tell me he's joking.

Yes, there was a time when some Americans decided to call French fries "freedom fries"—embarrassingly, a number of those people happened to be elected officials in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In early 2003, the United States was in the midst of a (rather unsuccessful) attempt to drum up worldwide support for a potential war with Iraq. While cobbling together a "coalition of the willing," many historical allies of the U.S. said, "Nope." One notable dissenter was France, whose officials had been vocally opposed to the imminent conflict. "As we’ve said from the outset," French Foreign affairs Minister Dominique de Villepin said in January 2003, "we will not join in military intervention that did not have international support... We believe that military intervention would be the worst solution."

By March, the course had been set. The UN couldn't find evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but the United States made it clear that invasion was inevitable. War fever grew, and "with us or against us" found its way to the U.S. House of Representatives cafeteria. Rep. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican who was chairman of the House Administration Committee and therefore in charge of operations for the Capitol complex, ordered that the word "French" be removed from all affiliated menus. French fries would become "freedom fries," French toast "freedom toast." According to the New York Times, "The action was unilateral."

Barely a week before U.S. forces (along with troops from the U.K., Australia, and Poland) officially invaded Iraq, a sign was placed in the Longworth House Office Building food court that read, ''Update: Now serving in all House office buildings. Freedom fries.''

"This action today is a small, but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure of many on Capitol Hill with the actions of our so-called ally, France," Rep. Ney said at the time.

The idea for the change came from North Carolina Representative Walter B. Jones, who was inspired by Cubbie's, a restaurant in his home state that had earned a little bit of press after deciding to rename their fries. Jones passed the suggestion on to Rep. Ney, who instituted the change.

When reached for a statement by the Times, a French Embassy spokeswoman said, ''I wonder if it's worth a comment. Honestly. We are working these days on very, very serious issues of war and peace, life or death. We are not working on potatoes.'' She also noted that French fries are, in fact, Belgian.

This wasn't the first wartime name-switch in U.S. history. In the late '50s, the Cincinnati Reds became the "Redlegs" in light of the McCarthy era and the Red Scare. During WWI, German measles were dubbed "Liberty Measles."

Neal Rowland, the owner of Cubbie's, said his decision to update the menu was inspired after learning about some of these decades-old name-switches. He is pictured above, outside of Cubbie's. According to Yelp, his Beaufort, N.C. eatery no longer exists.

Rep. Bob Ney resigned from Congress in 2006 for his role in the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal. (Ney was eventually sentenced to 30 months in jail.) Upon leaving his post as chairman of the House Administration Committee, all the menus in the Capitol and connected buildings were changed, and French fries were finally served again.

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Big Questions
How Do Aerial Skiers Perfect Their Jumps?
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Cameron Spencer, Getty Images

If you've ever watched an aerial skier in action, you know that some of the maneuvers these athletes pull off are downright jaw-dropping—and you've probably seen more than a few of these skiers land on their rear ends at some point. The jumps are incredible, but they're also so technical that one seemingly insignificant motion can drop a skier on his or her tail.

Given that the skiers can fly up to 60 feet in the air and come down on a 37-degree grade, it seems like just going out and trying a new trick would be a good way to break your neck. That's why you'll need one unexpected piece of equipment if you want to start training for aerials: a towel.

Instead of perfecting their flips and twists over the snow, aerial skiers try out their new maneuvers on ramps that launch them over huge swimming pools. The U.S. national team has facilities in Park City, Utah and Lake Placid, New York that include specially designed pools to help competitors perfect their next big moves. The pools have highly aerated patches of bubbles in their centers that decrease the surface tension to make the water a bit softer for the skiers' landings.

If you're an aspiring aerial skier, expect to get fairly wet. New skiers have to make a minimum of 200 successful jumps into water before they even get their first crack at the snow, and these jumps have to get a thumbs up from coaches in order for the skier to move on.

This sort of meticulous preparation doesn't end once you hit the big-time, either. American Ashley Caldwell, one of the most decorated athletes in the sport, is competing in her third Olympics in Pyeongchang, but failed to advance past the qualifiers on February 15, as she wasn't able to land either one of the two triple-flipping jumps she attempted. Still, it's this very sort of risk-taking that has brought her to the top of her game, and caused friction with more than one of her past coaches.

"Why win with less when you can win with more?" Caldwell said of her competition mentality. “I don’t want to go out there and show the world my easiest trick. I want to show the world my best trick, me putting everything on the line to be the best.”

You can check out some of Team USA's moves in the video below:

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
Is There Really Such Thing As 'Muscle Memory'?
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Is there really such a thing as 'muscle memory'? For example, in the sense of your fingers remembering where the keys of the keyboard are?

C Stuart Hardwick:

Yes and no. There is no literal memory in the muscles, but the thing people call “muscle memory” exists, though the name is a misnomer.

A better name might be “subconscious memory,” as the information is stored in the brain, but is most readily accessible—or only accessible—by non-conscious means.

What “non-conscious” refers to here is the brain’s enormous capacity to train up what might almost be called “subroutines,” that exist outside our conscious experience. I like the term for this that at least one researcher in the field uses: “zombie agency.”

Zombie agents are non-conscious, or sub-conscious (in the literal, not the Freudian sense) that can do essentially everything you can do except make value judgments. So, for example, you don’t consciously know how to control your muscles in order to walk —in all likelihood, you wouldn’t know where to begin—but your zombie agents do, and they’ll take you wherever you want to go, dodging curbs and puppies, and “waking you” when appropriate to decide which babies to stop and kiss.

Zombie agents can be rather startling things. When you suddenly become aware that you’ve driven halfway across town in the direction of the office instead of going to the shoe store Saturday morning, you have zombie agents to thank. You “wake” as if from slumber, and with the frightening realization that you’ve been flying down the highway at prodigious speed while your mind was on other things. You feel as if you’ve been asleep, and in a way you have—but a very funny kind of sleep in which it is only the uppermost layer of abstract reason that is disassociated from the rest of conscious experience. Your zombie agents have been driving to work, responding to traffic, adjusting the radio, noting the check engine light, all the things you think of as “you, driving the car,” except the big one: deciding where to go. That part was on automatic pilot (which is another good way to think of this).

This is at the advanced end of the spectrum. Typing your friend’s phone number using “muscle memory” is at the other, but it’s the same phenomenon.

We didn’t evolve to remember phone numbers, so we aren’t very good at it. In fact, we are so bad at it, we invent all sorts of mnemonic devices (memory aids) to help us [in] relating numbers to words or spacial memory, either of which are closer to the hunting and gathering we are evolved for. The illusion of “muscle memory” arises because we are supremely well adapted to manual manipulation and tool-making. We don’t need to invent a memory aid to help us remember what we do with our hands, we only have to practice.

So the conscious mind says “dial Tabby’s number,” and our fingers—or more correctly, the zombie agent which learned that task—do it. Similarly, after sufficient training, we can do the same thing with tasks like “play a major fifth,” "drive to work,” or “pull an Airbus A380 up for a go-around.”

It feels like muscle memory because the conscious mind—the part you experience as being you—is acting like a coach driver, steering the efforts of a team of zombie agents, all harnesses to collective action. But it isn’t muscle memory, it's just memory—though it may be stored (or at least some of it) in the deeper, motor cortex parts of the brain.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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