Monthly Archive: May 2015

The Not-So-Secret Residents Of The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

It’s been almost 30 years since the infamous Chernobyl disaster converted its surrounding areas to some of the most contaminated land on the planet. While it’s fairly common knowledge that Chernobyl has flourished into a wildlife sanctuary, it also plays home to several hundred humans. They are called the Samosely (or “self-settler” in Ukrainian) and are made up of 80 percent women with an average age somewhere in the sixties. Living off the land, they remain fearless under the shadow of the desolate nuclear power plant, ignoring the risk of cancer; instead, they strive for happiness in the homes they love dearly.

The First Female Doctor In The US Was Allowed To Study Only As A Joke

As a young woman in the early 1800s, Elizabeth Blackwell was disgusted by the very thought of studying medicine. However, when a dying friend told her that a female doctor would have made her illness easier, Blackwell applied to medical school. As a joke, there was a unanimous vote to admit her. Although patients and other doctors initially shunned her after she became a doctor, Blackwell went on to establish the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, providing healthcare for the poor and medical training for other women. She also helped to found the London School of Medicine for Women.

When Russia Made Vodka Illegal

During the Russo-Japanese War, the Russian soldiers had a problem—vodka. Not about to let the same problems continue through World War I, Tsar Nicholas II made an incredibly ill-advised decision: He banned vodka. Even though the government tried to spin it as though life was so grand without the drink that even the animals were more happy, there was actually rioting in the streets, along with an increased demand for varnish and furniture polish. It also meant the loss of about one-third of the government’s revenue, and that’s never a good thing, especially during wartime.

The Unlikely Origins Of The Phrase ‘Politically Correct’

You’ve probably come across a variation on the phrase “politically correct.” It’s an insult that implies its target is so bloodless they’ll say the stupidest things to avoid causing offense. It also usually implies they’re a “lefty-liberal” who should be ashamed of their PC attitude.

But the origins of “politically correct” are stranger than its current form suggests. Far from originating as a right-wing insult, it started life as a left-wing term of approval.

Einstein’s Ordinary Brain Was Stolen Against His Wishes

Even though he was a physicist, Albert Einstein was a celebrity during his lifetime. He was so concerned about the public obsession with his genius that he directed that his body be cremated after his death, with the ashes scattered secretly to avoid idol worship. Unfortunately, when Einstein died, a pathologist carried out an unauthorized autopsy, taking Einstein’s brain and having it sliced into more than 200 pieces. For over 40 years, the pathologist kept the brain, sometimes giving pieces of it to researchers for study. However, no one ever found a physical reason for Einstein’s genius. When all was said and done, his brain was quite ordinary.

Africa’s Incredible Tuberculosis-Detecting Rats

There’s a group of rats that are working hard to get rid of their rather negative image, and they’re doing it by sniffing out land mines and tuberculosis. Giant African pouched rats are being trained to stop and point out the presence of certain smells—specifically, TNT and the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. They’re already making a huge impact in clearing land mines in countries like Tanzania and Angola and in diagnosing TB patients with a much higher success rate than the accepted two-thirds.

The Woman Who Lost Welfare For Failing To Work While In A Coma

Unable to do manual labor at a Columbus, Ohio, warehouse after her hysterectomy, Kimberly Thompson, 43, went on welfare to support herself and her 15-year-old daughter while completing a retraining program for computer repair. When Kimberly’s organs shut down from an untreated infection, she was placed in a medically induced coma for a month. The administrators of Ohio’s welfare program terminated her food stamps and cash benefits for failing to attend retraining while in a coma. Advocates for the poor say that US welfare programs are meeting federal goals by using work requirements to throw needy people off welfare or prevent them from collecting benefits in the first place.

The Treacherous And Deadly Race To The North Pole

In 1879, the USS Jeannette and her crew of 33 set sail from San Francisco with the dream of making the USA the first country to reach the North Pole. But the wooden ship had no hope of safely navigating the icy waters. After it was crushed by ice near Wrangel Island two years later, her entire crew struggled to survive their 1,600-kilometer (1,000 mi) trek from the Arctic to Siberia. Twenty died, including the renowned captain, George Washington De Long. Currently, a Siberian adventurer wants to raise the shipwrecked vessel, although it’s unlikely to happen until US-Russian relations improve.

Chaucer’s Day Job As A Swindling Wool Merchant

In 1386, Geoffrey Chaucer took a post at the head of London’s wool trade. It was such a corrupt position that his career ended when the position was abolished for all trades across the board, as it was deemed too broken to fix. At the time, merchants, exporters, and officials were making a fortune taking bribes, skimming off the top of the profits, taking false weights, and running any of a number of scams. Just how involved in this all Chaucer was, we’re not sure, but it definitely puts his stories of The Canterbury Tales in a rather different light.