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Miscellany

Miscellany Freedom

“Don’t take mother’s milk—it’s for young calves,” reads a medieval poem by the blind ascetic al-Maarri, “or thick white honey…the bees didn’t make it just to give it away!” In al-Maarri’s Epistle of the Horse and the Mule, the titular horse complains of “torture from the sons of Eve” and Bedouins’ cruelty toward the “tribes of equus”: “Our lot is to have hardships thrown around our necks and heaped onto our backs!”

Miscellany Freedom

After thousands of dockworkers went on strike in the Los Angeles area in 1923 and the Industrial Workers of the World called on workers in other industries to strike in solidarity, the police announced a ban on public meetings. Upton Sinclair organized a rally in response, saying, “We’re testing the right of the police to suppress free speech and assemblage.” As soon as he took the platform, a police captain threatened, “I’m taking you in if you utter a word.” Sinclair began reciting the First Amendment and, according to a longshoreman who was present, the captain promptly “grabbed the people’s novelist by the collar” and arrested him.

Miscellany Freedom

Primo Levi’s 1971 short story “Heading West” describes a group of indigenous people who refuse to partake in an experiment requiring them to take a new drug purported to end a suicide epidemic; the chief writes that his people “prefer freedom to drugs and death to illusion.” A few years later, after Levi’s German teacher was found hanged, Levi refused to sign a petition claiming that he had actually been murdered, insisting that “suicide is a right we all have.” In a letter, Levi described suicide as “an act of will, a free decision.” His own death in 1987—from a fall down his apartment building’s stairwell—was ruled a suicide, though some contemporary scholars have contested this.

Miscellany Freedom

When an “aggressive, independent woman” rejected his sermons in the fifteenth century, Heinrich Kramer prosecuted her as a witch. After she was acquitted, he and James Sprenger wrote the Malleus Maleficarum, a treatise on witchcraft that courts throughout Europe used to identify and prosecute witches. A century later a German eye­witness observed that “throughout the towns and villages of all the diocese scurried special accusers, inquisitors, notaries, jurors, judges, constables, dragging to trial and torture human beings of both sexes and burning them in great numbers…The children of those convicted and punished were sent into exile; their goods were confiscated.”

Miscellany Freedom

The Chinese Communist Party requires that all published books be assigned a “book number” by the government; between 2003 and 2004 the General Administration of Press and Publication banned around fifty periodicals and dictionaries for using registration numbers illegally obtained from other books. In January 2004 the People’s Daily reported that two men had been sentenced to seven and nine years in prison by a court in Anhui Province for “unlawful operation of a business.” The men had published a book of love poetry using fraudulent book numbers.

Miscellany Freedom

When Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was found guilty of corruption and fraud in 1975 by the Allahabad High Court, she instituted a state of emergency to control the opposition, suspending elections and arresting dissidents. She cabled world leaders to defend her decision, after which the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office declared that “an authoritarian regime is better equipped than a democracy” to “make India less of a burden on the world” and increased British aid to India by over 30 percent.

Miscellany Freedom

A temperance movement “Anti-Saloon Battle Hymn” from 1907 describes the saloon as an “awful, unspeakable monster” that “makes millions of widows and orphans, / and drunkards of millions of men” and asks that “from its shackles, O God, do thou free us, / and for freedom we ever will stand.” In 1914 the song “Emancipation” pleaded for “not one slave” of alcohol to remain in this nation of “true liberty so grand.”

Miscellany Freedom

At the start of the French Revolution, the physician Jean-Paul Marat began publishing an antimonarchical journal in which he called the king’s minister of finance “the cruelest adversary of freedom.” In 1790 the Marquis de Lafayette dispatched thousands of soldiers to arrest Marat, even stationing them on rooftops in case Marat, an aviation enthusiast, attempted to escape by balloon. While the legality of the warrant was being disputed, Marat wrote and published a pamphlet mocking these extravagant efforts before making a quiet escape.

Miscellany Freedom

In The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov fictionalized the well-known New Testament scene in which the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate offers the Jewish people the choice to save either the rebel Barabbas or Jesus Christ from execution. Bulgakov’s Yeshua declares that “all power is violence over people” and that “a time will come when there will be no power of the Caesars.” Pilate is deeply moved by the prisoner’s “mad utopian talk” and finds “no grounds for indictment”; when the crowd chooses to free Barabbas, Pilate feels “incomprehensible anguish” and an escalating migraine at being forced to sentence Yeshua to death.

Miscellany Freedom

One of the earliest known instances of wild carnivores being held in captivity in Meso­america dates to around the second century in Teotihuacán; excavations starting in the late 1990s uncovered the remains of almost two hundred animals—including wolves, eagles, and jaguars—in the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon. The skeletons showed bone breaks, bone fusion, and abnormal growths, as well as indications of a human-controlled diet.

Miscellany Freedom

A public announcement from 156 bc offers a reward of three talents of copper for the recapture of an eighteen-year-old Syrian-born slave named Hermon who has escaped from an Alexandria household; two talents to anyone who “points him out in a temple”; five if he is found “in the house of a substantial and actionable man.” The advertisement notes that Hermon “has taken with him three octa­drachms of coined gold, ten pearls, an iron ring…and is wearing a cloak and a loincloth”; that he has “a mole by the left side of the nose”; and that he is “tattooed on the right wrist with two barbaric letters.”

Miscellany Freedom

“The image you get from reading the Roe v. Wade opinion is it’s mostly a doctor’s-rights case—a doctor’s right to prescribe what he thinks his patient needs,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in a 2018 interview with legal scholar Jeffrey Rosen. “My idea of how choice should have developed was not a privacy notion, not a doctor’s-right notion, but a woman’s right to control her own destiny, to be able to make choices without a Big Brother state telling her what she can and cannot do.”

Miscellany Freedom

In 2011 People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a lawsuit against ­SeaWorld alleging that five orcas were being held as slaves in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution; it is believed to be the first legal filing arguing that the amendment applies to non­humans. The orcas, named as plaintiffs in the case, had been caught in the wild and were being used in performances in Florida and California. “Slavery is slavery, and it does not depend on the species of the slave any more than it depends on gender, race, or religion,” PETA’s counsel said. The following year, the judge ruled that the amendment does not protect nonhumans.