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Miscellany

Miscellany Magic Shows

In 1936 Sotheby’s auctioned many of Isaac Newton’s nonscientific papers, containing much writing about his alchemical interests. A large batch was bought by John Maynard Keynes, who wrote in a lecture published posthumously as “Newton, the Man,” that the physicist and mathematician “was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians.”

Miscellany Scandal

The Spinhuis was founded in Amsterdam in 1597 for the purpose of detaining women arrested for adultery, fornication, prostitution, or drunkenness. In addition to being “chastised and betrayed,” inmates were put to work spinning flax and wool.

Miscellany Music

In an 1899 treatise written while in exile, Vladimir Lenin critiqued the capitalist growth of Russian industries in which factory workers had replaced skilled craftsmen. Among his concerns was a shift toward the mass production of cheap accordions, which, he complained, “have nearly everywhere displaced the primitive string folk instrument, the balalaika.”

Miscellany Epidemic

“People think this pandemic is an accident,” wrote Nassim Nicholas Taleb in May 2020 of the Covid-19 crisis. “It is not. It is part of the system we have built. When you read the history of England, Italy, and the Middle East, you read of frequent quarantines and lockdowns because of sieges and plagues. These were built into the economic landscape and into the costs of every merchant. So the cost of the pandemic and future pandemics should be set against gross domestic product figures. We must realize our real economic growth is much lower than our annual figures suggest because the disasters wipe out the growth of preceding years.”

Miscellany Friendship

In his Muqaddimah, the fourteenth-century Arab historian Ibn Khaldun describes talismans that make use of “the loving numbers” 220 and 284 to create the perfect union between friends or lovers. Two effigies are created, and the larger number is placed on the effigy of “the person whose friendship is sought.” The result of this “magical operation,” he explains, is a connection between the two such that “one is hardly able to break away from the other.”

Miscellany Night

The practice of yobai, “night crawling,” was common in rural communities in medieval Japan, and continued into the twentieth century. A young man would visit a young woman’s house after dark, disguising his features with a cloth to avoid embarrassment should his advances be rejected. These premarital liaisons could become formal if a child were conceived.

Miscellany Music

While manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, Joe Maddon put his batting lineup in order for a July 2014 game using the field position numbers 8-6-7-5-3-0-9 in honor of the Tommy Tutone hit. The designated hitter served as the 0; the catcher (2) and second baseman (4) batted eighth and ninth. The Rays lost the game to the Detroit Tigers by a score of 1–8.

Miscellany Flesh

A UK fashion student announced plans to harvest the DNA of late couturier Alexander McQueen—extracted from hair used in his 1992 collection “Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims”—to develop epidermal material for a line of leather jackets and bags. The lab-grown skin will feature McQueen’s freckles, moles, and tattoos, and be susceptible to sunburn. 

Miscellany Climate

“We are nothing but what we derive from the air we breathe, the climate we inhabit,” wrote J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur in his Letters from an American Farmer (1782). “Those who live near the sea, feed more on fish than on flesh, and often encounter that boisterous element. This renders them more bold and compromising.”

Miscellany Foreigners

“To travel is to discover that everybody is wrong,” Aldous Huxley wrote, en route to Borneo, in his travelogue Jesting Pilate. “The philosophies, the civilizations, which seem, at a distance, so superior to those current at home, all prove on a close inspection to be in their own way just as hopelessly imperfect. That knowledge, which only travel can give, is worth, it seems to me, all the trouble, all the discomfort and expense of a circumnavigation.”

Miscellany Revolutions

In one of the last letters he ever sent, in October 1913, Ambrose Bierce wrote to his niece, “Goodbye—if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags, please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico—ah, that is euthanasia.” His intention was to see the Mexican Revolution, but the circumstances of his death are unknown.

Miscellany Migration

Each year from late August to October, thousands of male Oklahoma brown tarantulas travel through the prairieland of southeast Colorado in search of a mate. The spiders, which reach sexual maturity around the age of ten, often survive just one migration season. “Once they wander and mate, it gets cold,” said one entomologist. “They’ll be dead by Christmas.”

Miscellany Flesh

A common belief in antiquity was that bees were born of decaying ox flesh. Virgil instructs in his Georgics to stop up a young bullock’s nostrils and mouth, beat it “to a pulp through the unbroken hide,” shut the carcass in a small room to ferment, and await the bees that will burst out “like a shower pouring from summer clouds.”

Miscellany Rivalry & Feud

Carl Jung attributed his split with his mentor Sigmund Freud around 1910 in part to a generational divide. “Our descendants are our most dangerous enemies,” Jung argued, “for they will outlive us, and, therefore, without fail, will take the power from our enfeebled hands.”

Miscellany Night

“The difference between us is very marked,” wrote Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman in 1868. “Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day—you in the night.”