Correcting A Historical Myth

The statement "To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize" is often falsely attributed to Voltaire, the French philosopher during the Enlightenment in the 1700s. The statement is actually much, much younger. It comes from an essay by a racist, neo-Nazi, Holocaust denier, and white separatist American named Kevin Strom which was first published in 1993.

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.

A Historic End

Jabo Ibehre, an English premier-league footballer, had his career ended in an extremely unusual fashion. One might even say it was a first in history. Ibehre had an impact crash in October 2019 during a practice game. Footballers run into each other all the time in games and no one paid much attention. But after two days it was still hurting, with the impact site seeming to be oozing, so Ibehre decided to go see a doctor. The verdict: he had teeth "hovering" in his knee. His opponent's teeth had somehow become lodged in Ibehre during the confusion of the crash. Ibehre's body was fighting the invader, but infection had developed. This sounds comical but it was actually very serious. The doctors said it could have resulted in amputation if Ibehre had waited just another day or two before getting checked. Ibehre's knee required surgery following the injury and was unable to recover sufficiently to continue playing at a professional level. So Ibehre's professional sports career was ended due to getting his opponent's teeth lodged in his knee.

This does not meet the usual "history" criterion of being at least 20 years old. But it is just so strange that it deserves to be remembered. And really, the odds are good that no other professional sporting career will be ended by ... getting bitten? ... in the next 20 years.

The Bishop/King/Patriarch Who Ruled In England

In the late 1200s and early 1300s, English people joked that there were two kings in England. One was in London and wore a crown, and one was in Durham and wore a miter. The second man was Antony Bek, bishop of Durham. He was bishop of Durham from 1284 until his death in 1311.

As bishop of Durham, Bek was the head of the independent "palatinate of Durham." This was a quasi-state with large landholdings recognized by the English crown. The palatinate could mint coins, raise armies, administer justice, and collect taxes. In return for these rights, the palatinate had to protect its territory from the enduring threat of Scottish invasion into far northeastern England. It was a sort of especially independent marcher holding that was headed, not by a hereditary marquess, but by a bishop. This made Bek a military, diplomatic, and religious leader. And not just in England too -- while on crusade with King Edward I he was named patriarch of Jerusalem, a title that made him the most senior churchman in England.

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.

Researchers from the Spiš Museum in Slovakia have announced finding more than 800 artifacts, including a unique Celtic bronze sculpture, at the site of a hillfort in northern Slovakia. “These are mostly Celtic coins, bronze clips and other parts of clothing, products from clay, ceramics, glass beads, and bracelets,” said archaeologist Mária Hudáková. The figurine depicts a man with golden eyes wearing only a neckerchief. It is special because unlike previously-found Celtic sculptures, it depicts the person realistically and with golden eyes. The site has been known since the 1800s but this is the first systematic study of the hillfort.

The jigsaw puzzle was invented in 1766 by Briton Johns Spilsbury. He wanted an educational tool to help teach geography, and the first jigsaw puzzles were cut up maps.

The Bolshevik Writer's New York Sex Scandal

In 1906, the Russian Bolshevik writer Maxim Gorky traveled to the United States where he was given a warm welcome. Gorky had it all. He was a financially successful author, editor, and playwright, who supported an anti-tsarist revolutionary Social Democratic Party (SDP, who would eventually become the Bolsheviks), and contributed to liberal appeals to the government for civil rights and social reform. He was even arrested and spent time in Russia's infamous Peter and Paul Prison. On his release, Gorky completed a successful tour of Europe, before heading across the Atlantic to America in April 1906. His political positions were very popular in the United States. He was scheduled to tour New York, Washington (where a visit was planned with President Theodore Roosevelt), Boston, and Chicago while raising funds for the SDP.

But then a scandal hit. It turned out the woman accompanying Gorky on tour was not actually married to him. She was Maria Andreyeva, a star of the Moscow Art Theatre. Sure, Andreyeva was an ardent SDP member herself. And sure, Gorky had been amicably separated from his wife for years, unable to get a divorce from the tsarist-supporting Russian Orthodox Church. In Russia and other countries they had been to they were even considered to have a common-law marriage. But none of that mattered when New York City newspaper The World decided to play up their "illicit" relationship to sell papers. Gorky and Andreyeva were thrown out of their Manhattan hotel, where they had initially been given an entire floor. Two other hotels then refused them service. They remained in the states for 6 months by staying in private homes but the public shunned them and the trip barely raised US$10,000. By the end of 1906 Gorky was staying in Capri where he stayed until 1913.

The scandal in America had interesting repercussions. Gorky remained famous as an author, and became a five-time nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature. When the Bolsheviks took Russia he initially went back, before being exiled due to opposition to many Bolshevik policies. He eventually returned but soon fell afoul of authorities again and was placed under unannounced house arrest. His death of pneumonia continues to have questions around it. This did not stop the Soviets from promoting hi a great Soviet writer who emerged from the common people. His name graces many streets, villages, stamps, and even a Gorky Museum in Moscow. Which had no mention of Andreyeva or his later unofficial wife, Moura Buberg.

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    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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