Notes and shorts from around the world


How black Americans lost
their land
After the American Civil War, freed slaves and their descendants accumulated roughly 15 million acres of land in the US.
Yet today, African Americans own barely any. They comprise less than 2% of the nation's farmers, and only own 1% of rural land. Several factors contributed to this change. Many black farmers sold up to move to another part of the country, or switched to factory work. Another, less acknowledged, explanation is that untold thousands of acres of land have been forcibly bought  from black rural families via an obscure legal loophole. A large majority of early black landowners made no wills, largely due to lack of access to legal resources. As a result, their land often passed down to descendants without a clear title, and thereby became designated as “heirs' property,” which means it is, legally speaking, co-owned by all known heirs, any of whom has the right to force a sale.
Property developers ruthlessly exploit this law.
They track down faraway relatives who may never have even visited their family's land, entice them to sell their share cheaply, then have all the land sold for a big profit, evicting resident families.
Biter bitten
A cyclist from Bristol, UK, got her revenge on a thief by 'stealing' back her own bike in an audacious sting. Just hours after her $1,350 bike was taken, Jenni Morton-Humphreys, 30, issued an online alert, and discovered her bike was already for sale on Facebook. After the police declined to help, she arranged, via an intermediary, to meet the seller. At the rendezvous, on
a street corner, she asked if she could test the bike, and handed the seller a defunct set of house keys as security. Then she quickly pedalled away.
Itchy young smartphone users
Smartphones are being blamed for spreading head lice. A new study has found that youngsters who own a smartphone or tablet are more than twice as likely to be infested with nits, with 62.5% infested at some point over a period of five years. Researchers say that schoolchildren crowding around the devices makes it easy for the bugs to travel from one head to another.
New Maurice Sendak story
Five years after his death, a new story by Maurice Sendak has been discovered among his archives. The previously unpublished book by the author of Where the Wild Things Are was written 25 years ago with his friend and collaborator Arthur Yorinks. The new book, called Presto and Zesto in Limboland, is to be published next year.
Bons mots
“There is no exception to the rule that every rule has an exception.” James Thurber, cartoonist, writer and celebrated wit, USA

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