When I discovered that my mother was a sex worker

When I discovered that my mother was a sex worker

From The Guardian: "I think I was about 10 years old when I discovered my mother was a sex worker. I arrived home one afternoon from school and caught her at work. Hearing sounds I vaguely associated with sex, I let myself in, then quietly straight back out again. I wasn’t actually sure what I knew for quite a while. Eventually, I put it together: an unusually high level of phone calls, whispered conversations in the hall and a too-young viewing of the film Pretty Baby meant I realised what her new business was. She certainly wasn’t a secretary any more, as I had always believed her to be. She was in her mid-40s, and maybe she had long ago found other ways to support us. I am unsure of much of my personal history – where one lie ends, and another begins."

Note: I neglected to include a link to yesterday's top story about Havana Syndrome, so if you still want to read it, you can find it here.

How Frank Oppenheimer differed from his more famous brother Robert

How the Atomic Bomb Set Brothers Robert and Frank Oppenheimer on Diverging  Paths | Science | Smithsonian Magazine

From Knowable magazine: "During the post-World War II years, the emotionally close ties between the brothers (Robert — the “father of the atom bomb” — and his younger brother, Frank — the “uncle” of the bomb, as he mischievously called himself) were strained and for a time even fractured. Both hoped that the nascent nuclear technology would remain under global, and peaceful, control. Both hoped that the sheer horror of the weapons they helped to build could lead to a warless world. They were on the same side, but not on the same page when it came to tactics. Robert — whose fame surged after the war — believed decisions should be left to experts who understood the issues and had the power to make things happen — that is, people like himself. Frank believed just as fiercely that everyday people had to be involved. It took everyone to win the war, he argued, and it would take everyone to win the peace. In the end, both lost."

Girls around the world were forced into service with the secretive Catholic group Opus Dei

From the Financial Times: "Opus Dei has 95,000 members worldwide, some of them highly influential. Its supporters have been central to the conservative takeover of the US judiciary. Within the Church, Opus Dei members have been in charge of the Vatican’s press office and its bank. Far less known are the women whose labour has propped up Opus Dei for decades. Called “assistant numeraries”, they give their lives to the organisation as domestic workers. In many cases, they have done so without pay and against their will. Anne Marie was one of 16 former assistant numeraries who worked as unpaid domestic servants for Opus Dei from 1977 to 2020. Recruited as young girls from rural and working-class backgrounds, the women said they were coerced into domestic servitude — in effect modern slavery — through a rigid system of psychological control."

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Most of the whales that have been killed by humans were turned into margarine

From Scope of Work: "I used to associate whaling with the era of oil lamps, three-masted whalers, and hand-thrown harpoons, but most whales were actually killed after 1945, by which time we’d forgotten most of our other uses for the products of whaling – spermaceti, baleen, heaps of lean whale meat. By the time we banned commercial whaling in 1986, the leading use of whale oil was in margarine. A huge fraction of all recorded whale hunting took place basically in order to provide the world with something that felt like a luxury as it rebuilt after the war. As Seth Miller memorably put it, “mostly, the whales were spread on toast.” The invention that catalyzed this maritime Grand Guignol was the Wesson process, which deodorizes oil using a combination of superheated steam and vacuum."

Brains are not required when it comes to solving problems, simple cells can do it

Illustration of animal-like cells swimming.

From Scientific American: "The planarian is nobody's idea of a genius. A flatworm shaped like a comma, it can be found wriggling through the muck of lakes and ponds worldwide. Its pin-size head has a microscopic structure that passes for a brain. Its two eyespots are set close together in a way that makes it look cartoonishly confused. It aspires to nothing more than life as a bottom-feeder. But the worm has mastered one task that has eluded humanity's greatest minds: perfect regeneration. Tear it in half, and its head will grow a new tail while its tail grows a new head. After a week two healthy worms swim away. But it's the tail end of the worm that intrigues Tufts University biologist Michael Levin. He studies the way bodies develop from single cells, and his research led him to suspect that the intelligence of living things lies outside their brains to a surprising degree."

The astrolabe was the equivalent of a smartphone in the Middle Ages

The Story of the Astrolabe, the Original Smartphone | Innovation|  Smithsonian Magazine

From Open Culture: "For residents of much of the world in the Middle Ages, the astrolabe was a must-have, all-in-one device, says University of Cambridge historian Federica Gigante. “It’s basically the world’s earliest smartphone,” Gigante said. “With one simple calculation, you can tell the time, but you can also do all sorts of other things.” Franz Lidz and Clara Vannucci add that astrolabes, which resembled large, old-fashioned vest pocket watches, also allowed their users to determine distances, heights, latitudes and even (with a horoscope) the future. Gigante says that when she got the chance to pay the Miniscalchi-Erizzo astrolabe closer scrutiny, she could identify Arabic inscriptions, “faint Hebrew markings,” and Western numerals, a powerful record of scientific exchange between Muslims, Jews and Christians over nearly a millennium.”

Sometimes bumble bees fall asleep inside the flowers they are harvesting

Acknowledgements: I find a lot of these links myself, but I also get some from other newsletters that I rely on as "serendipty engines," such as The Morning News from Rosecrans Baldwin and Andrew Womack, Jodi Ettenberg's Curious About Everything, Dan Lewis's Now I Know, Robert Cottrell and Caroline Crampton's The Browser, Clive Thompson's Linkfest, Noah Brier and Colin Nagy's Why Is This Interesting, Maria Popova's The Marginalian, Sheehan Quirke AKA The Cultural Tutor, the Smithsonian magazine, and JSTOR Daily. If you come across something interesting that you think should be included here, please feel free to email me.