Jewish World Review Nov. 19, 2003 / 24 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Jeff Elder

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Consumer Reports

Did Betsy Ross sew the first official American flag?; Do the 9 numbers in our Social Security number have special meaning? Will they run out of numbers or have to re-issue them?; more | Q: Did Betsy Ross sew the first official American flag? - Layne Thompson

A: Nobody really knows, Layne.

She did make flags for the young government at her Philadelphia upholstery shop. Historians believe she made the one called the Cambridge flag, the flag of the Continental Army.

One of her grandchildren, William Canby, said in 1870 that he had heard Ross tell this story:

Gen. George Washington brought a rough sketch of a flag to Ross in June 1776 and asked her to make a copy of it for the nation that was about to declare independence. She suggested a few changes and sewed the flag in her back parlor.

Other Ross descendants supported the claim, and no contrary evidence was ever presented. The Ross home in Philadelphia is preserved as the flag's birthplace.

Ross had a fascinating personal life. Not only was she a young woman who aided the revolution, her love life was touched by both tragedy and coincidence.

Betsy Griscom eloped at 21, married John Ross against the rules of her church and was disowned by friends and family. John Ross, a patriot, was killed by a gunpowder explosion in 1775. At the age of 24, Ross was a widow.

A year later she married Joseph Ashburn, first mate of the U.S. ship the Patty. Ashburn's ship was captured by the British, and he was sent to prison in England. Ross never saw him again. But her marriage to Ashburn brought her another love.

Ashburn's cellmate, John Claypoole, traveled to Philadelphia to bring news of his friend's death to Ross. The two fell in love, married and had five daughters.


Q: Do the 9 numbers in our Social Security number have special meaning? Will they run out of numbers or have to re-issue them? - Miriam Pittman

A: Miriam, Social Security numbers are like fingerprints. They follow you through life. In our society, they're a huge part of our computerized identity.

I could change my name. I wouldn't mind being LeBron James. There's room in the world for two people with that name. (And maybe I'd accidentally get one of his checks!)

I could change my face. I think George Clooney's a cool-lookin' dude. With my $20 million LeBron check, I might be able to buy me a George Clooney mug. Maybe.

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But I can't get a new Social Security number unless I object to my old number for genuine religious or cultural reasons. The Social Security Administration makes a judgment on this based on information and documentation you provide during an in-person interview.

Even if my plan to get rich and handsome somehow fails, I'm stuck with my Social Security number. Might as well know what it means. The first three numbers are based on geography. On cards issued since 1973, the first three digits are determined by the ZIP code of the applicant. On cards issued before 1973, the first three digits just reflect that the card was issued in a certain state.

The middle two numbers are called the "group number" and are assigned in a way that helps Social Security in administrative ways.

The last four digits are called the serial numbers. They're assigned consecutively from 0001 through 9999.

Social Security does not reassign a number after the number holder's death. Even though the administration has issued more than 407 million numbers so far, and assigns about 6.million new numbers a year, the current numbering system will provide enough new numbers for several more generations.

No Social Security numbers that end "0000" have been assigned.

No Social Security numbers that begin "666" have been or will be assigned. Source: Social Security Administration



"A shin is a device for finding furniture in the dark." - Colin Bowles, novelist

"My uncle Sammy was an angry man. He had printed on his tombstone `What are you looking at?'." - Margaret Smith, comedian

"After we made love he got a piece of chalk and drew an outline of my body." Joan Rivers, comedian



Oh no! Not a punctuation quiz!

Oh yes. For too long you've been on a grammatical sabbatical.

1. The three dots that end this sentence are called ...

2. An irate reader called me a few months ago to say @ is an ampersand. Was he right?

3. How does the Spanish language use a question mark differently?

4. What kind of phrase is this (right in here)?

5. What's this? (ASTERISK) Spelling counts!



1. An elipsis

2. No. & is an ampersand. @ is the "at" sign.

3. An upside-down and backward ? precedes a question. A regular ? sign follows one.

4. A parenthetical phrase

5. An asterisk.



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Jeff Elder is a columnist for The Charlotte Observer. Comment or try to stump him by clicking here.


11/11/03: How to be a Nielsen rater; Why did Charles Schulz name his comic strip "Peanuts"?; Was Chef Boy-ar-dee a real person?; Why are Georgetown University teams called the Hoyas?
11/05/03: Decoding the laws of buoyancy; What actually happens when you crack your knuckles?; origin of the expression "three sheets to the wind
10/30/03: Buttoning on the 'correct' side; when you breathe on your hand it feels warm, but when you blow on your hand it feels cool?; Why do dogs eat (and enjoy eating) dirt?; more
10/23/03: 'American Pie' explained; Why are tennis balls seamed like baseballs?; more
10/14/03: Origins of comic strips and hush puppies; a college football quiz; dogs that don't bark
09/24/03: Why do snooze alarms go off every 9 minutes?
09/17/03: Glad You Asked: Fun with college football
09/09/03: What's so great about Wiffle Ball?
09/03/03: What kinda wine goes best with heartache?; What did people do before alarm clocks were invented?; which has more caffeine: coffee or tea?
08/26/03: These inventors were just toying with us
08/12/03: Why do wheels appear to turn backward on film?; showdown over high noon
08/07/03: Wood'n you know it? Money doesn't grow on trees; all we are is dust in the wind
08/05/03: Where have you gone, Calvin, Opus and Cow?; fine feathered friend pecking on itself
07/31/03: How a dashing hero became a notorious traitor
07/29/03: Little red caboose rolling outta sight; From my 'I'll be a monkey's uncle' file
07/24/03: Road scholar: A lesson on asphalt; when identical twins marry
07/23/03: The sweet science of Life Savers' sparks; how do Pop Rocks work? ripping newspaper

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