And how his ban failed miserably

Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes on Unsplash

In 1652, an enterprising dealer started selling a new drug out of an alley in London. The drug promised its users extra energy, focus, and alertness. The dealer made a lot of money — the stimulant he sold was a big hit. Its users soon became addicted and came back again and again. Soon copycats were importing the stuff; the drug was everywhere on London’s streets. Addicts began to organize their social lives around the drug’s consumption, spending their afternoons in special places built just for ingesting it. It’s no wonder that the government eventually moved to ban the stuff…

The English national drink has roots in imperialism and espionage

Photo by Aniketh Kanukurthi on Unsplash

There’s nothing more quintessentially British than a cup of tea. But the British practice of drinking tea has a dark history that begins far from the shores of the British isles. Tea came to Britain through war, subterfuge, and theft; this wholesome beverage is tied up with some of the darkest moments of British imperialism.

For most of history, pretty much all of the tea produced in the world came from China. Even the name of the plant that produces tea leaves — Camellia sinensis — indicates that tea is native to China.The …

What my rescue dog and post-9/11 America have in common

Photo by Robert Gramner on Unsplash

A couple of times a day, my dog valiantly saves our house from attack, or so she thinks. When she hears the distinctive sound of delivery trucks — those dastardly strangers who dare to approach her territory — she leaps into action, running from window to window and barking as loudly as she can. And it works, or so she thinks. Not once has the UPS guy broken into our house and killed us.

Of course, she doesn’t just bark at the mailman and the UPS driver. Motorcycle engines kind of sound like the those trucks, so she tends to…

Which of our current practices will look to the people of the future like slavery does to us?

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

When we look back at history, it’s easy to be judgmental. It’s hard to believe that, in many societies that we otherwise admire, it was perfectly permissible for one person to own another, for women to be given few opportunities in life, or for children to be forced to work at a young age. We’re often horrified at what was commonplace in the past.

We’d like to think that we’ve made moral progress, that we’re more enlightened than people from earlier eras. Society is likely to make more moral progress over the coming decades and centuries. …

Why tech is not the enemy in the climate crisis

Photo by Nicholas Doherty on Unsplash

The climate crisis is technology’s fault. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution (and, really, the second half of the twentieth century) that humanity began to significantly change the chemistry of the atmosphere. Our machines allowed us to do this — the steam engines, the power plants, and the cars and trucks. It’s tempting to believe that, since our technological society is the source of the problem, the solution is to move away from technology. This is at best an ineffectual, and at worst a dangerous idea.

There’s a stereotype of environmentalism as a philosophy that is all about sacrifice. Environmentalists…

These little vehicles could revolutionize how we use our urban spaces

Photo by Gotrax on Unsplash

If aliens landed on earth and looked at the way we transport ourselves every day, they would undoubtedly think that we had lost our minds. The average American spends almost half an hour — each way — commuting to and from work. We do so by ourselves more than three-quarters of the time. This is despite the fact that almost every car sold in the United States is built for four or more passengers, meaning that our transportation network is running mostly empty almost all the time. …

And solved the mystery of sweat

Charles Blagden (public domain)

The 1600s and 1700s in England were a period of remarkable scientific discoveries. Scholars at Oxford, Cambridge, and the Royal Society cracked open countless mysteries of the natural world. Isaac Newton uncovered the rules of physics; Edmond Halley explored the cosmos; Robert Hooke imagined the microscopic world. Sometimes the pursuit of science was weirder and less noble than we might think — sometimes, it involved putting a man and a steak in a really hot room and seeing which cooked first.

This was the scientific contribution of Charles Blagden and Joseph Banks, who repeatedly roasted themselves — and, sadly, a…

Photo by Kenny Sabugo on Unsplash

Valued Ford Customer,

We know that you have been buying our trucks for decades to demonstrate that you are a Real Man. It is, of course, strong and good and heterosexual to drive a pickup truck.

We know that you just drive your truck back and forth to your office job, but you spend good money to imagine that you are the type of guy who might one day haul lumber around! Or tow a boat! Perhaps you will lean against the tailgate and talk about power tools with other men! …

Photo by Mira Kireeva on Unsplash

Hello, 8th grade parents! As Vice-Principal of Nowhere Valley Middle School here in the heart of Texas, I’m excited to have your child here this year. We’ve had a great first week of in-person school! In this letter, I’ve included a few reminders that will help you and your child to make the most of middle school.

First, be ready for your child to take a big academic leap this year. We’re going to be moving into more complex material. Here are some examples:

In eighth grade, we emphasize interdisciplinary learning. …

How circumstance and sloppiness saved a Japanese city and doomed Nagasaki to destruction

The mushroom cloud over Nagasaki (public domain)

Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The two names will be linked forever in history as the only two cities to suffer the devastation of an atomic attack.

What many people don’t know is that Nagasaki only suffered its terrible fate because of a string of errors and chance events during the Americans’ bombing mission on August 9, 1945. This resulted in the Americans’ initial target, Kokura, being spared, dooming Nagasaki to its unfortunate place in history.

After the attack on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the Americans had one more atomic bomb ready for use. This one, utilizing plutonium rather than uranium…

George Dillard

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

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