Concluding that he and Bertrand Russell possessed irreconcilable “value judgments,” Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote Russell on March 3, 1914, to suggest that a continued correspondence could only be achieved by “restricting our relationship to the communication of facts capable of being established objectively, with perhaps also some mention of our friendly feelings for one another.”
“Utter damned rot!” is what William Berryman Scott, a former president of the American Philosophical Society, said in response to Alfred Wegener’s theory of continental drift, first proposed in 1912. “Wegener is not seeking the truth,” said a doubtful geologist, “he is advocating a cause and is blind to every argument and fact that tells against it.”
When asked why he didn’t use intelligence agents, Alp Arslan, sultan of the Seljuq Empire in the 1060s, replied that his favored subjects would trust the spies, while his opponents would curry favor and bribe them; he’d end up hearing damaging reports about his friends and positive ones about his enemies. “Reports good and bad are like arrows,” Arslan said. “If you shoot enough of them, at least one will hit the target.”
Union general William T. Sherman believed newspaper correspondents to be liabilities. “A spy is one who furnishes an enemy with knowledge useful to him and dangerous to us,” Sherman wrote in an 1863 letter. “I say—in giving intelligence to the enemy, in sowing discord and discontent in an army—these men fulfill all the conditions of spies.”
A Spanish gallant in the sixteenth century who followed the contemporary fashion of padding his trunk-hose with quantities of bran was surprised to learn while entertaining ladies that a nail on his chair had opened a hole in his hose, and bran had started trickling out. The ladies laughed. He continued, encouraged, but bran soon was pouring forth. The ladies’ laughter increased. Finally, the gallant noticed the bran, bowed, and left in shame.
To label a program conceived in 2007 that declared as its purpose the tracking of “every user visible” on the Internet, collected data from over a trillion Web events in a repository called the Black Hole, and targeted sites broadcasting recitations of the Qur’an, the UK Government Communications Headquarters chose the name Karma Police, after a song by the band Radiohead whose chorus is: “This is what you’ll get / when you mess with us.”
Questions asked in TV commercials aired in 1993: “Have you ever borrowed a book thousands of miles away? Or sent someone a fax from the beach? Have you ever paid a toll without slowing down? Have you ever watched a movie you wanted to, the minute you wanted to?” The answer: “You will. And the company that will bring it to you? AT&T.”
“I look at the jury and they won’t look at me,” testified Charles Manson during his 1970 trial for conspiracy to murder. “They are afraid of me. And do you know why they are afraid of me? Because of the newspapers. You projected fear. You projected fear. You made me a monster, and I have to live with that the rest of my life.”
Analysis of lead pipe from the buried city of Pompeii revealed in 2017 that the Roman water supply may have had high levels of antimony, a toxic element likely used to increase the pipes’ strength. “It’s bigger than the diarrhea,” said an expert in archaeological chemistry about antimony’s possible effect on the population. “It’s the decline of the Roman Empire in 476.”
According to the twelfth-century-bc Judicial Papyrus of Turin, Pharaoh Ramses III was assassinated in a conspiracy led by one of his wives. The trial documents state that thirty-eight people were condemned to death for the killing. The pharaoh’s body was not believed to betray any signs of violence until 2012, when a team of researchers analyzing CT scans discovered that his throat had been slit—straight through to the vertebrae.
“But soft! what light through yonder window breaks?/It speaks, and yet says nothing.” An apt description of TV, Marshall McLuhan said, when he quoted Shakespeare in Understanding Media. Romeo’s line is in fact “She speaks, yet she says nothing,” and refers to Juliet, who is likened to light—and it actually occurs in the play ten lines after the first.
For the treatment of “delirium and mania combined with shameless behavior,” ninth-century Persian polymath al-Razi offered a remedy by medical theorist Simʿun: “Bathe the patient’s head with a decoction of elecampane and sheep’s trotters, pour milk over him, put dung upon him, make him snuff sweet violet oil and breast milk, and feed him anything that is cold, fatty, and fills and moistens the brain.”
In 1891 Erik Weisz began using the stage name Harry Houdini—the first name deriving from his nickname “Ehrie” and the surname from the great French magician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, who himself had taken the surname from his wife, Josephe Cecile Eglantine Houdin, in order, he wrote, “to distinguish me from my numerous homonyms.”
A riot erupted in Constantinople in 532 that forced Justinian and his advisers to consider fleeing. Procopius wrote in History of the Wars that the emperor’s wife, Theodora—the only time in the work in which she speaks—told her husband, “If now it is your wish to save yourself, O Emperor, there is no difficulty.” On hand, she noted, were money and boats.