Why John F. Kennedy kept a coconut shell on his desk

From Kat Eschner for Smithsonian magazine: “Throughout his brief presidency, John F. Kennedy kept a paperweight on his desk made out of half a coconut shell preserved in a piece of wood. It was one of two mementos Kennedy retained of the most dramatic moment in his World War II service. The other, more constant reminder was his back. During the war, Kennedy commanded a patrol torpedo boat in the South Pacific. On August 2, 1943, his boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer. The future president swam more than three miles to the nearest island, towing an injured crewmate by holding the strap of his life jacket in his teeth. After an exhausting swim, Kennedy arrived at a small unoccupied island with his remaining crew–including the injured companion.”

How the Swiss were cured of a strange disease at the turn of the century

From Jonah Goodman for the London Review of Books: “At the turn of the century, the Swiss were plagued by strange, interlinked medical conditions, which existed elsewhere to a degree, but in Switzerland were endemic in more than 80 per cent of the country. It was a curse that had a mark: the goitre, a bulge of flesh protruding from the front of the neck, sometimes so large that it weighed on the windpipe, giving bearers a characteristic wheeze. It was often disguised by collars and high necklines, but its true extent is laid bare by conscription data. In 1921, nearly 30 per cent of 19-year-old Swiss conscripts had a goitre. In the cantons of Luzern and Obwalden, one in four men were exempt from military service due to goitres so large they struggled to breathe.”

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Khalid Sheldrake: The UK pickle maker who became king of an Islamic republic

From Sharon O’Connor for the UK Archives: “Bertie William Sheldrake was born in 1888, to a man whose father started a pickle business in Walworth. He was brought up in the Church of England but reading free-thinkers like Charles Bradlaugh gradually brought him to Islam. In 1904, aged 16, he was accepted into the Islamic faith, taking the name Khalid, and over the years became well known as a leader in the religion. In 1933 the Islamic Republic of East Turkestan was announced, with Kashgar its capital. When China and Russia ignored the fledgling Islamist republic, representatives traveled to the Sheldrake home in Forest Hill asked: would Khalid become king of the Islamic state?”

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Showing people a doctored photograph makes them create fake memories

From Taylor & Francis: “Can exposure to a doctored photograph of a plausible yet fictitious childhood event create false memories in adults? Participants were interviewed over three interview sessions using free recall and imagery techniques about three true and one fictitious childhood event photos, the latter being a ride on a Viking replica ship. Forty percent of the study participants reported partial or clear false beliefs or memories. The participants who reported false memories reported detailed and coherent memory narratives of the Viking ship ride that were not depicted in the doctored photograph.”

Can you go twenty years without paying taxes? David Gross says he has done it

From Effective Altruism: “About twenty years ago, I stopped paying U.S. federal income taxes. By law, the government has ten years to collect an unpaid tax bill, whereafter a sort of statute of limitations kicks in and the bill becomes permanently noncollectable. I’ve adopted the practice of waiting out this ten-year period and then donating the amount of the uncollected tax to charity, typically the Top Charities Fund organized by GiveWell. Over the past six years I’ve redirected over $30,000 from the U.S. Treasury to charity in this way. It is questionable whether funding the government is even a net positive: worse than merely wasteful and inefficient, the government is often harmful.”

The US army gets $100 million a year from slot machines

From Gabby Means for NPR: “The U.S. military runs more than 3,000 slot machines on American military bases overseas even though the rate of problem gamblers in the military is thought to be around twice that of the rest of the general population, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling, an organization that advocates for services to assist people and families affected by problem gambling. The slot machines, operated by the U.S. Department of Defense, earn more than $100 million each year in the name of “morale, welfare, and recreation” for service members, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office that was written in response to demands from Congress.”

Hemingway’s mother was not a fan of her son’s first novel

Acknowledgements: I find a lot of these links myself, through RSS feeds etc. But I also get some from other newsletters that I rely on as “serendipty engines.” Many of today’s links came from this excellent roundup of facts from Tom Whitwell. Other sources include Today In Tabs, Clive Thompson’s Linkfest, Maria Popova’s website The Marginalian, The Morning News from Rosecrans Baldwin, Why Is This Interesting, Dan Lewis’s Now I Know, Robert Cottrell and Caroline Crampton’s The Browser, Sheehan Quirke AKA The Cultural Tutor, the Smithsonian magazine, and JSTOR Daily. If you come across something you think should be included here, feel free to email me.

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