Widespread electric-car adoption requires a new infrastructure

What was the first thing that I did when I brought my plug-in hybrid car home? I plugged it into the wall in my garage, of course. My family soon realized that we would need a dedicated circuit for charging the car, so we hired a guy to put in a conveniently-placed outlet for charging. Our setup is great! I plug in the car when I get home from work, and it’s ready to go in the morning when I leave for work.

All of this is possible, of course, because I live in a typical suburban home with a…


What will happen when people’s levels of Covid comfort don’t match up?

My wife and I were walking the dog the other day, unmasked, as we have almost every day since the pandemic started. As a couple came toward us on the sidewalk, we did what we have gotten used to doing over the past year — my wife and I moved a couple of feet off the sidewalk to give the other couple a little extra space while we walked past them.

As we passed, the lady said, in practiced Midwestern passive-aggressiveness, “Thanks, I guess, but there’s enough room on the sidewalk for all of us, you know.” Her message: you…


And why that’s a problem

Reading Mark Bittman’s fascinating book Animal, Vegetable, Junk the other day, I happened across this disturbing fact: 3/4 of the Earth’s bird biomass is chickens on farms. That’s right: if you weighed all of the birds on this planet, 75% of the weight would come from chickens. We eat nine billion chickens a year in this country. That’s 74 chickens for every pig killed last year for food, and 231 for every cow that became beef. Chicken flesh is everywhere in American cooking — sometimes as a prized ingredient, but often as bland filler.

The chicken has come to occupy…


American arguments about meat consumption go back to the nineteenth century

In case you haven’t noticed, we don’t live in a society ruled by science and reason — our culture is motivated by emotion and informed by partial truths. So when a group of scientists wrote a paper on the impacts of meat consumption on climate change, the right-wing disinformation machine jumped into action.

First, British newspaper The Daily Mail conflated some random scientists’ conclusions about meat consumption with Joe Biden’s climate plans (which say nothing about meat). Then the “fair and balanced” folks at Fox News jumped in, devoting hours of the channel’s time to claims that Biden was somehow…


The best thing to know is that you know very little.

Socrates may have been the father of western philosophy, but he wasn’t the august, white-marble figure we often imagine. He was, by most accounts, a strange and irritating man.

He spent his life questioning the status quo and teaching his students — many of whom were children from rich families — to do the same. When he was put on trial for his life at age 70, Socrates defended himself in his characteristic style, interrogating the people around him.

Defending himself in court, Socrates acknowledged that he was an unpopular figure in Athens. In fact, he had irritated the Athenian…


Let’s get rid of all those straight lines

Dysfunctional borders create dysfunctional states

American states are incredibly diverse — they include massive, sparsely populated Alaska; tiny, densely packed Rhode Island; and everything in between. Some are dominated by scorched desert, while others feature rolling prairie or forest. Some, like New Jersey, are quite densely populated; other states, especially some in the Plains and the West, have vast, uninhabited stretches.

As diverse as they are, there’s one thing all of the states have in common — straight lines. …


The humble tubers that changed the history of the world

They seem like the most boring food. Unlike the other delicate, colorful fruits and vegetables in the produce section, potatoes are the brown lumps you can buy in a 10-pound sack. They appear as a side dish in the most mundane American cooking, ending up as greasy French fries and colorless mashes. They’re full of carbs. And they’re the only food that appears in the name of a horrific humanitarian disaster — the Irish “Potato” Famine. It’s fair to say that potatoes get a bad rap. …


One entrepreneur created a market, then technology killed it

You’ve probably enjoyed a nice, cool beverage today. If it’s a hot day where you are, you may have even plunked some ice cubes into your glass in order to keep your drink at an optimal temperature. Using ice for our personal comfort — today, among the most mundane of activities — was unthinkable in most parts of the globe a little over two centuries ago. In the nineteenth century, one entrepreneur’s unconventional thinking changed this, as he created a complex and expensive infrastructure for the delivery of ice around the world. …


I Can’t Kill You, It’s Thursday

The phrase the rules of war sounds like an oxymoron — how could an event full of murder and destruction follow an orderly set of guidelines? Nevertheless, many societies have attempted to regulate warfare for the good of combatants and civilians. One early system of rules for warfare was devised in medieval Europe. It exempted large parts of society from warfare and it severely limited when fighting could occur. In its most extreme versions, the so-called Truce of God only allowed fighting on certain Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.

Medieval chaos

These strict rules emerged because medieval Europe had become an ugly, chaotic…


Inside the market for healthy human teeth

In the early 1800s, dentistry was a booming but primitive field. Caring for teeth became a profession with a (somewhat) scientific basis during the 1700s when French surgeon Pierre Fauchard published the first book of modern dentistry, The Surgeon Dentist. At the time, there was no licensure for dentists; anyone could dabble in dentistry if they wanted to. Fauchard made the field more professional — he invented methods for modern procedures like filling cavities and fitting people with dentures. …

George Dillard

Illuminating forgotten corners of history and using them to think about the present. Shorter entries at www.worldhistoryfacts.com. Write me: whfacts at gmail.

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