A Ridiculous Yet Funny Calculation

Astronomer Thomas Dick believed that every planet in the solar system, as well as each planet's rings, moons, and satellites, was inhabited by people. In his 1838 book Celestial Scenery Mr. Dick worked out that they contain 21 trillion inhabitants in all. He started from the assumption of “280 inhabitants to a square mile, which is the rate of population in England.” You will be unsurprised to learn that Mr. Dick was an Englishman.

Kerala's Odd Taxes That Reinforced The Caste System

Until 1924, the Kingdom of Tranvancore (in present-day Kerala state of India) had a "breast tax" on lower-caste and Dalit women. It was traditional in the area to bare one's breasts as a sign of submission and respect, and thus, all lower-caste and Dalit women had traditionally gone bare-breasted in public as a sign of their submission to higher castes. In comparison, Brahmin women only bared their breasts to images of deities.

So what was the breast tax? Well, if lower-caste or Dalit women wanted to cover their breasts in public in Kerala, they had to pay the breast tax. Even worse, the tax was assessed as soon as they started developing breasts and could vary based on their size. (To be fair, lower-caste and Dalit men paid a "head tax" for all men as well.)

Good News Friday

Researchers from the National Agricultural Research Organisation Uganda and the International Potato Center have developed a new variety of potato which is resistant to late blight. That's the same blight that devastated Ireland and killed so much of its population that it took until 2016 for Ireland's population to exceed pre-blight levels. Today, late blight is a threat to one of the staple crops in the East African region. Using new molecular techniques, the researchers transferred late-blight resistance genes into the popular East African potato variety Victoria. Currently, smallholding farmers have to use fungicide every 3 days to protect their crops from late blight. This new development can boost crop yields while also reducing farmers' dependency on fungicides which hurt their finances, their land, and the people who live near the fields.

Yet Another Way Freud Was Wrong

Like many medical practitioners in the late 1800s, Sigmund Freud thought masturbation was really, really bad for people. He specifically called it "the one great habit" and advocated for cocaine or tobacco addiction as a substitute.

The Unusual Situation of Eswatini

Eswatini (Swaziland) is the only country in the continent of Africa not practicing multiparty democracy. It is also one of the world's last remaining absolute monarchies. The Swazi king rules by decree and with the help of a Council of Ministers; there is almost no involvement of the people in their government. Why is Eswatini so unique? To no one's surprise, the answer is imperialism: Eswatini was annexed into the British Empire and remained intact for about a century until African countries began retaking control of their homes, at which point, the British decided to give Eswatini first greater self-governance, then its independence. Thanks to the British deciding to treat Eswatini as a single unit, we have the unusual country it is today.

Samurai Children Were At-Risk For Lead Poisoning

A modern scientific study which analyzed 70 remains from a samurai cemetary showed that many samurai children had higher amounts of lead than the women, who in turn had higher amounts than the men. Sadly the young were the worst affected: those under 3 had the highest levels among children. The lead levels were high enough to be causing intellectual and developmental difficulties. In the worst cases, the lead levels were 150 times that which causes problems in modern children.

The study traced the lead poisoning to the lead-based white makeup popular among the children's mothers during the Edo Period. Since such makeup was only worn by kabuki actors, geisha, and samurai women, it is likely poorer children were spared.

Norbert Wiener of MIT (1894–1964) was well known as an extreme example of someone who could get lost in thought. Once while walking on campus, Wiener met an acquaintance, and after a while he asked his companion: ‘Which way was I walking when we met?’ The man pointed, and Wiener said, ‘Good. Then I’ve had my lunch.’ (Quoted from "Loving and Hating Mathematics: Challenging the Myths of Mathematical Life," by Reuben Hersh and Vera John-Steiner.


"Any plan conceived in moderation must fail when the circumstances are set in extremes."

Klemens Von Metternich, an Austrian diplomat who was at the center of European affairs for three decades as the Austrian Empire's foreign minister. He reigned from 1809 in the time of Napoleon, and specifically as Austrian Chancellor from 1821 until the liberal Revolutions of 1848 forced his resignation.

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    HISTORICAL NON-FICTION

    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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