Other stuff I learned from podcasts

Last week I wrote about some of the things I’ve learned from podcasts, and this is the continuation. While the last was a hodgepodge of things, this post revolves around interesting history-related stuff.

The history of GDP  

The Invention of ‘The Economy’ Planet Money

Last year China’s GDP growth slunk down to around 6.7% from its high of 9.6% and people started talking about a global economic meltdown.

Talk of the gross domestic product is ubiquitous whenever there is speculation of whether a country is about to crash and burn or reach a renewed golden age. We hear about it so much that it’s hard to believe the GDP, as it is known today, didn’t always exist.

It was initially created to explain the Great Depression, when people knew something was going very wrong but couldn’t really name what it was. American economist Simon Kuznets (yes, the Kuznets with the curve that shows income inequality) figured it out eventually and published a paper called “National Income 1929 to 1932”.

He became so well versed in the industries of the United States and their output that he was able to advise Roosevelt during World War II. Some now speculate that the Allied victory was not the result of superior military prowess, but the result of the well-allocated industrial machine that was the United States of America.


Hitler had a drug problem

The wartime SAS and Hitler’s drug addiction BBC History Extra Podcast

Hitler’s mood was heavily dependent on which drug his doctor had put him on for the day. At the time when fellow fascist Mussolini wanted to announce Italy’s withdrawal from the war, Hitler was given uppers so strong the Italian was scared to interrupt him when he was speaking.

During the time of World War II, no one really knew the addictive properties of the narcotics they were feeding the Fuhrer, so the Germans went ahead and patented methamphetamine and cocaine. Later in the war, it also became a policy to feed the soldiers the capsules filled with meth, which explains the lack of fear and ruthlessness the Nazi Wehrmacht became known for.

Tasers were introduced to police forces to be a non-lethal alternative to guns

Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle 99% Invisible

After Los Angeles police had fatally shot Eulia May Love, a 39-year-old mother who had been reported because of an unsettled utility bill, the LAPD decided to look for a non-lethal alternative to guns.

They considered a number of things like rubber bullets, tranquilizer darts and chemical sprays before landing on scientist Jack Cover’s invention: TASER (named after a childhood sci-fi novel entitled “Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle” or T.S.E.R. The A was added to make it easier to pronounce.)

While Cover died thinking he had saved several lives through the taser, it’s being completely non-lethal is debatable. Amnesty International has connected the electricity-based weapon to at least 60 deaths between 2001 and 2012, and the instructions that come with it do say “it may cause death”.

There are other issues now connected to the use of tasers, but I’ll leave that for you to hear about through the podcast.


Monarchs were once believed to be able to heal extra pulmonary tuberculosis

The King’s Evil and the Royal Touch Stuff You Missed in History Class

Everyone in the modern Christian world knows the stories of Jesus laying his hands on the sick to heal them, but there is barely anyone these days who can tell you about the Royal Touch.

Just like how people in the Bible are described to have flocked to Jesus to be healed of their ailments, people who lived in Europe between the medieval period to the 18th century flocked to their monarchs to be touched and healed. But unlike Jesus, monarchs were associated with the healing of one disease in particular: scrofula, or what modern doctors would classify as extra pulmonary tuberculosis.

When news of the Royal Touch first broke out, the cause of scrofula was unclear and different physicians had different theories. Some thought it was hereditary, others thought it was caused by acidic blood or by the person being conceived at the wrong phase of the moon.

Prescribed cures were just as founded in guesswork with the most popular ones being a change in diet or scenery.

How the disease started getting associated with the monarchy is unclear, but certain kings like Robert the Pious of France and Edward the Confessor had become known somewhat for their powers of healing.


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