How Have Plants Shaped Human Societies?


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Britain prospected Peruvian bark trees and grew them in India, having first transplanted them to Kew, one of many botanical gardens that served as a center for medical and colonial botany. In fact, the success of British rule in India depended partly on the control of malaria through the establishment of local Cinchona plantations. In Jules Verne’s 1874 fantasy novel The Mysterious Island, the sulfate of quinine that miraculously saves the life of one of the main characters turns out to be a gift from the reclusive Captain Nemo. Yet far from being a pure gift, Cinchona, like so many other botanical discoveries, was both a cure for suffering and an instrument of power.

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Yota Bataski & Alex HumphreysScientific American

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The Typo That Helped End World War II


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Cryptogamist vs cryptogramist

At some point, it occurred to Tandy that the Ministry may have made a mistake. The exact details are lost to history, but it became clear that someone had mistaken his job of cryptogamist for a cryptogramist—a codebreaker, which is exactly what men like Alan Turing were doing at Bletchley. The mistake led to a moss specialist being deposited into one of the most intense covert operations of the war.

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Jake Rossen — Mental Floss

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Ten photos that changed how we see human rights


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Often, the power of seeing someone very different from ourselves can create a sense of proximity, and the recognition of another’s full humanity. For example, after Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery in Maryland in 1838, he became a leading campaigner in the abolitionist movement in the United States. He believed in the power of his dignified and serious photographic portrait to counter racist caricatures, and became the most-photographed man of the 19th century.

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The Conversation

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What Did Ancient Romans Do Without Toilet Paper?


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Just plain old curiosity.

In the same way that we use an American-style toilet, a Roman user would sit down, take care of business, and watch number two float blissfully away down the sewer system. But instead of reaching for a roll of toilet paper, an ancient Roman would often grab a tersorium (or, in my technical terms, a “toilet brush for your butt”). A tersorium is an ingenious little device made by attaching a natural sponge (from the Mediterranean Sea, of course) to the end of a stick. Our ancient Roman would simply wipe him- or herself, rinse the tersorium in whatever was available (running water and/or a bucket of vinegar or salt water), and leave it for the next person to use. That’s right, it was a shared butt cleaner. (And of course, there were other means of wiping as well, such as the use of abrasive ceramic discs called pessoi.)

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Stephen E. Nash — Sapiens

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WORDS ARE THE DRESS OF THOUGHTS


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This piece was written in 1748. It is about what it takes to be a gentleman.

In every language, pray attend carefully to the choice of your words, and to the turn of your expression. Indeed, it is a point of very great consequence. To be heard with success, you must be heard with pleasure: words are the dress of thoughts; which should no more be presented in rags, tatters, and dirt, than your person should. By the way, do you mind your person and your dress sufficiently? Do you take great care of your teeth? Pray have them put in order by the best operator at Rome. Are you belaced, bepowdered, and befeathered, as other young fellows are, and should be?

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Lord Chesterfield — Vestoj

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History is Written by the Losers


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Those who rule do not have the time to write about it. Occasionally history produces a Caesar or a Mao, men who can lead the masses to war on the one hand, while serving as prolific propogandists for their cause on the other. The greater part mankind is not so talented. Sima Guang would never have finished his history had he not been shunted out of Song court politics. Had Thucydides defeated Brasidas, he would be known today not as a historian, but as a military strategist, a strategist who never had the time to travel the world and collect the material needed to write his history. Even winning historians need time in defeat to write their histories—had Churchill’s party not been kicked out of power by British voters after the Second World War was over, Churchill’s famous account of that war would never have been written.

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The Scholar’s Stage

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Hero or War Criminal? Churchill in Retrospect


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A damning critique.

But the principal victims of Winston Churchill were Indians, ‘a beastly people with a beastly religion’, as he charmingly called us. Churchill’s beatification as an apostle of freedom seems all the more preposterous given his explicit declaration in 1941 that the principles of the Atlantic Charter would not apply to India. Churchill’s notions of freedom and democracy faltered at the frontiers of empire: he was an appalling racialist, one who could not bring himself to see people of colour as entitled to the same rights as himself. “Gandhi-ism and all it stands for,” declared Churchill, “will, sooner or later, have to be grappled with and finally crushed.” He spoke luridly of having the Mahatma tied to the ground and trampled upon by elephants.

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Shashi Tharoor — OPEN

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