Eastern Time

The most outlandish uncle of all was William Strachey. Notwithstanding his having lived in India only five years, and his association with the British empire having been slight and undistinguished, he persevered in upholding Eastern customs with far greater rigidity and a finer disregard for common sense than any other Strachey. Having once visited Calcutta, he became convinced that the clocks there were the only reliable chronometers in the world, and kept his own watch set resolutely by Calcutta time, organizing the remaining fifty-six years of his life accordingly. The results were disconcerting for his friends and family in England. He breakfasted at afternoon tea and lived most of his waking hours by candlelight. In visits to Sutton Court, his strange nocturnal habits earned him a reputation in astrology among the embedded Somerset folk.

— Michael Holroyd, Lytton Strachey, 1995

“Continence”

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In writing the first edition of Scouting for Boys in 1908, Robert Baden-Powell planned to include a section on self-abuse.

“You all know what it is to have at times a pleasant feeling in your private parts,” he wrote, “and there comes an inclination to work it up with your hand or otherwise. It is especially likely to happen when you see a dirty picture or hear dirty stories and jokes. Well, lots of fellows from not knowing any better, please themselves in this way until it often becomes a sort of habit with them which they cannot get out of.”

“The result of self-abuse is always — mind you, always — that the boy after a time becomes weak and nervous and shy, he gets headaches and probably palpitation of the heart, and if he still carries it on too far he very often goes out of his mind and becomes an idiot. A very large number of the lunatics in our asylums have made themselves ill by indulging in this vice although at one time they were sensible cheery boys like any one of you.”

Baden-Powell had consulted with his mother as to whether to include the section. He removed it at the strong advice of his publisher.

“Hop, The Famous Sow”

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This wonderful animal, of New Forest breed, early took a fancy to some pointer puppies that were being broken, and was ultimately trained as an invaluable pointer herself. She would often go out a little way with the puppies, and was gradually coaxed into doing as they did by means of a sort of pudding made of barley-meal. The puppies could be cuffed for misbehaviour, but a pocketful of stones was necessary in the case of the sow. She at length quartered her ground in grand style; backed other dogs when she came on game, and was so staunch as to remain five minutes or more on her point.

Strand, December 1896

Wallflowers

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Images: Wikimedia Commons

Tiny Point Roberts, Wash., is built on a finger of land that extends south of the 49th parallel into Boundary Bay. This means that, though it’s part of the mainland United States, it can be reached by land only by traveling through Canada.

Similarly, Minnesota’s Northwest Angle extends from Manitoba into the Lake of the Woods, and Alburgh, Vt., resides on a peninsula that extends south from Quebec into Lake Champlain.

None of these places are islands; all are part of the 48 contiguous states but are not directly connected to them by land. Among other things, this makes life difficult for students in Point Roberts, whose primary school offers classes only through third grade. From fourth grade on, students must take a 40-minute bus ride through British Columbia to attend classes in Blaine, Wash.

Misc

  • James Buchanan’s niece was his first lady.
  • FIVE THOUSAND is the highest number name with no repeated letters.
  • Ardmore, Tennessee, borders Ardmore, Alabama.
  • 9306 × 2013 = 3102 × 6039
  • “So that’s what hay looks like.” — Queen Mary

If God exists outside space and time, then how can he be omnipresent, present in all places at all times? If he exists within it, how could he have created it? How could a creation (or anything) take place outside time?

Senior Citizen

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When Chinese herbalist Li Ching-Yun died in 1933, newspapers were hard pressed to write his obituary. Li had contended that he had been born in 1736, which would have made him 197 years old.

In 1930, Wu Chung-Chien of Minkuo University had reported finding records showing that Li had been even older, born in 1677 and congratulated by the imperial Chinese government on his 150th and 200th birthdays.

In 1928 a correspondent to the New York Times had reported that the oldest men in Li’s neighborhood insisted that their grandfathers had known Li when they were children and that he was then a grown man.

Tales told in his province held that Li had traveled widely during his first century, gathering herbs to sell, but then had switched to selling herbs gathered by others. He told one pupil that the secret of living to 250 was to “keep a quiet heart, sit like a tortoise, walk sprightly like a pigeon, and sleep like a dog.” He was credited with either 14 or 23 wives; one 1928 account said that he had 180 living descendants.

He was certainly well preserved. The New York Times noted drily that, according to its 1928 report, “many who have seen him recently declare that his facial appearance is no different from that of persons two centuries his junior.”

(Thanks, Francisco.)

The Oklo Phenomenon

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Two billion years ago, in what is now Gabon in West Africa, groundwater seeped through sandstone to inundate a layer of uranium ore, initiating a nuclear chain reaction. When the deposit heated up, the water boiled away, slowing the reaction; when it cooled, the water returned and the cycle began again.

The result was a natural, self-sustaining nuclear reactor that generated 100 kilowatts of power for several hundred thousand years.

French physicist Francis Perrin discovered the phenomenon at Oklo in 1972. “As far as we know, we only have evidence of natural reactors forming and operating at the one site in Gabon,” said Jay Cullen of the University of Victoria, “but that demonstrates that it’s possible, and our calculations suggest it was much more probable earlier in Earth’s history.”

It Takes a Village

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Many persons know the story of the swallow which had entangled its claw, by some means, in a piece of thread fastened to a spout on the wall of the Collége des Quatre Nations, at Paris. Its strength being exhausted, the bird hung at the end of the thread, which it kept raising in the endeavours to fly, uttering plaintive cries. All the swallows from between the Pont des Tuileries and Pont Neuf, and perhaps still further, gathered together, to the number of some hundreds, all uttering cries of pity and alarm. After some hesitation and a tumultuous conference, one of them seemed to have found a means of delivering their unfortunate companion, and no doubt communicated it to the others. They placed themselves in order, and each coming in turn, struck the thread with the beak, somewhat after the fashion of ’tilting at the ring.’ These thrusts, aimed at the same point, succeeded each other every moment, and greatly incommoded the poor captive; but in a short time the thread was severed, and the poor bird set at liberty! The flock remained till night, chattering all the time; but in a tone which had nothing of inquietude, and was expressive only of mutual congratulation.

— Ernest Menault, The Intelligence of Animals, 1869