Brynn Holland writes for The History Channel: “James Barry began his military career on July 6, 1813, as a Hospital Assistant in the British Army, and was soon promoted to Assistant Staff Surgeon, equivalent to lieutenant. He then served in Cape Town, South Africa, for 10 years where he befriended the governor, Lord Charles Somerset. Barry was known for his short, hot temper. Patients, superiors, army captains and even Florence Nightingale herself were on the receiving end of his anger. He threw medicine bottles and even participated in a duel. But his medical skills were unprecedented. He was the first to perform a successful caesarean section in the British Empire where both the mother and child survived. Dr. Barry died from dysentery on July 25, 1865. His last wishes were to be buried in the clothes he died in, without his body being washed—wishes that were not followed. When the nurse undressed the body, she discovered female anatomy and tell-tale stretch marks from pregnancy.”
How an accountant in India was recognized as a mathematical prodigy
Stephen Wolfram, who published his first scientific paper at 15 and got a PhD in theoretical physics at the age of 20, writes about the man known as Ramanujan: “I have for many years received a steady trickle of messages that make bold claims but give little or no backup for what they say. But in the end I try to at least skim them—in large part because I remember the story of Ramanujan. On about January 31, 1913 a mathematician named G. H. Hardy in Cambridge received a package of papers with a cover letter that began: “Dear Sir, I beg to introduce myself to you as a clerk in the Accounts Department of the Port Trust Office at Madras on a salary of only £20 per annum. I am now about 23 years of age….” and went on to say that its author had made “startling” progress on a theory of divergent series in mathematics, and had all but solved the longstanding problem of the distribution of prime numbers.”
Note: This is a version of my personal newsletter, which I send out via Ghost, the open-source publishing platform. You can see other issues and sign up here.
Can a billionaire die without anyone noticing?
From Tim Fernholz in Quartz: “Sometimes it seems like billionaires can dominate our lives—or at least the news. A mystery in US tax data, however, suggests at least one super-wealthy individual flew under the radar until the very end. The US Treasury’s daily reports of government financialtransactions turned up a surprising data point on Feb. 28, 2023: The deposit of $7 billion in the category of “estate and gift” taxes. It was the highest collection of that kind of tax since at least 2005. It’s possible that more than one enormous tax bill happened to be processed on that day, but that would still be remarkable. Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of Berkeley whose work has focused on tax policy and the ultra-wealthy, says there are a few plausible hypotheses: “A very rich person who was missed by Forbes, a large gift, a delayed payment by some billionaire who died several years [ago] (perhaps a result of enforcement efforts).” The gift tax can also be triggered by divorces involving spouses without American citizenship, but payments within a year of a divorce are generally excluded.”
How not to get lost in New York City’s Central Park
Daniel Henninger writes: “There is an easy way not to get lost in New York City’s Central Park. Just look for a lamppost. Lampposts in the city’s 843-acre park have a four-digit number on a placard near the base that tells the approximate location of the lamppost to the nearest street and what side of the park it is on, something that would be helpful in an emergency. The first two digits of the four-digit number indicate the nearest street. Central Park runs from 59th street to 110th street, so if the first two numbers were 67, the nearest street would be 67th street, or if the numbers were 08, it would be 108th street. The last two digits indicate if the lamppost is on the east or west side of the park. Even numbers are on the east side, and odd numbers are on the west. A lamppost with the number 6702 would mean you were near East 67th street, which is on the east side of the park. There are tags on all 1,863 lampposts in the park, and they are maintained by the city’s Department of Transportation.”
TV and radio call letters and where they came from
From Lindsay Tuchman, via the Why Is This Interesting newsletter: “According to the FCC, it all began with telegrams and radio. It’s 1912, and an international conference is gathering to set some rules for radio transmissions. The Department of Commerce then issues a memo on May 9, 1913, announcing countries each had their own letters, and the US was assigned W, K, N, and A, with the latter two reserved for government and military stations. Radio stations, and eventually TV, got to pick any series of two or three other letters to differentiate themselves. Some stations, like WCBS in New York and KCBS in LA, are obvious—CBS is the owner of those stations. But some got a little bit more creative: Chicago’s WGN? “World’s Greatest Newspaper,” named after its original owner, the Chicago Tribune. Also in Chicago, WLS? “World’s Largest Store,” that would be its original owner Sears Roebuck. And WBOC? That stands for “we’re between the ocean and the Chesapeake.”
The Canada/Philippines garbage war of 2019
Dan Lewis at Now I Know writes: “In 1989, many of the world’s nations adopted a treaty called the Basel Convention, which regulates the export of hazardous waste. In general, if Country A sends trash to Country B, Country B can refuse to accept hazardous trash that arrives at its ports; if they do, Country A has to take it back. And in 2013-2014, that’s what happened in the Philippines — kind of. A Canadian waste management company called Chronic Plastics shipped 103 containers of what they claimed were recyclable plastics from Vancouver to Manila. But customs agents found that many of the containers didn’t contain recycles at all; dozens of the containers held used adult diapers, household garbage, plastic bags and other waste. The Philippines, citing the Basel Convention, told Canada to take its trash back. Canada refused.”