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.

A Litany of Horrors

The Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, when Bangladesh fought to be independent of Pakistan, was in large part prompted by the 1971 Bangladesh genocide. Pakistan had attempted to suppress calls for Bangladeshi self-determination with genocide. They killed between 300,000 and 3,000,000 people and raped between 200,000 and 400,000 Bengali women, who had been declared "public property."

During the subsequent nine-month-long Bangladesh Liberation War there was also ethnic violence between Bengalis and Urdu-speaking Biharis. Biharis faced reprisals from Bengali mobs and militias. Estimates of Biharis killed in ethnicity-based violence range from 1,000 to 150,000 to 500,000. As with any war, there were also refugees. It is known that 8 to 10 million people, mostly Hindus, fled Bangladesh and the violence.

Eventually it became clear that Pakistan was going to lose the war, and control of Bangladesh. Their response was the systematic execution of Bengali intellectuals who they suspected supported independence. Professors, journalists, doctors, artists, engineers, anyone who could potentially help lead the new nation, were targeted. On 14 December 1971, over 200 of Bangladesh's intellectuals were abducted from their homes in Dhaka. They were taken to torture cells in prisons around the city. They were then executed en masse.

The fact that this mass killing was orchestrated by Pakistan is one of the few parts of the Bangladesh Liberation War that is not debated. This is because after Bangladesh was liberated, a list of Bengali intellectuals (most of whom were murdered on the 14 December) was discovered in a page of Major General Rao Farman Ali's diary. It had been left behind at the Governor's House in Dhaka.

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.

Indigenous Woman and Child in Peru

This image appears to date around the 1930s and 1940s, and has been used for a number of book covers. But it was impossible to find the original photographer and credit.

Tracking Time

The Chehalis (Sts'Ailes) people live in southwest Canada and have a rather unique way of keeping track of time. They begin their year with the arrival of spawning chinook salmon (generally October in the western Gregorian calendar). Then they count 10 months from that point, using lunar months, which is generally around 280 days. There is then an uncounted period. The Chehalis have around 70 uncounted days each year until the next chinook salmon appear.

The Wisdom of Crowds

In 1907, Francis Galton famously found that when a crowd were asked to guess the weight of an ox, the average value of their responses was surprisingly accurate. Galton's experiment found the average was within 1 percent of the ox’s true weight. By canceling errors across individuals, the mean response often proves more accurate than individual estimates. This only works if all individuals are allowed to guess independently. If people hear an estimate, it becomes their mental basepoint, and answers then range around that first estimate.

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.

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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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