In 1999 an Inuit organization complained that representatives from Donna Karan International had come to the Canadian Arctic and paid between $10,000 and $15,000 for handmade Inuit clothing. “They went to the bar up in Yellowknife,” the group told the Ottawa Citizen, “and people just sold them their clothes.” Items purchased later appeared in Donna Karan’s Madison Avenue store.
Tacitus reports in his Annals that Nero’s “passion for extravagance” brought disrepute and danger in the year 60 when the emperor went bathing in the spring that fed the Aqua Marcia, the aqueduct believed to deliver Rome’s healthiest drinking water. Nero “profaned the sacred waters,” complains Tacitus, and “the divine anger was confirmed by a grave illness that followed.”
Researchers at the MIT Media Lab recently determined that all cultural products “follow a universal decay function.” People and things are kept alive through “oral communication” for about five to thirty years. “Biographies remain in our communicative memory the longest (twenty to thirty years),” according to their report, “and music the shortest (5.6 years).”
When a boat of carousing European sailors on the Bosporus awoke the sleeping Sultan Selim III one night in 1790, the Ottoman leader issued an emergency order to his administration against night revelers: “Warn all ambassadors and Europeans never to perform this shameless act again. I will mercilessly kill whoever does it.”
In Natural Theology, published in 1802, William Paley posited that there was a difference between finding a stone and a watch on the ground. He wrote, “the inference, we think, is inevitable, that the watch had a maker: that there must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer: who comprehended its construction and designed its use.” Paley used the watchmaker analogy to justify the existence of God.
Using symbolically coded messages hidden in beer barrels, Catholic conspirators communicated with the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots, about a plan to kill Elizabeth I. Francis Walsingham, the queen’s spymaster, obtained a message, employed a codebreaker, and found evidence that Mary approved of the assassination. She was beheaded for treason in 1587.
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.”
In 2012, twelve zoos in the U.S. and Canada introduced iPads for use during the enrichment times allotted to orangutans as part of a program called Apps for Apes. Richard Zimmerman, director of Orangutan Outreach, said of the animals in the program, “We’re finding that, similar to people, they like touching the tablet, watching short videos of David Attenborough, for instance, and looking at other animals and orangutans.”
In 2012 a revenue office in Uttar Pradesh received an official-looking notice addressed to the Hindu storm god Indra, ordering the deity to provide written justification for a drought caused by insufficient rain during that year’s monsoon season. “If the Lord fails to give a satisfactory explanation within the stipulated period,” the notice warned, “it will be presumed that he has nothing to say, and stern action will be taken.”
According to philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, “Writing was an invention which took about two thousand years to make its effect felt. Do you recall, even in Plato’s dialogues, the discussions are seldom if ever about what the participants have ‘read’ but almost invariably about what they ‘remember’?”
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.
In 1745 a German cleric by the name of Ewald Georg von Kleist tried to pass an electrical current into a bottle through a nail and was shocked for his efforts. From this accident came the Leyden jar, an electrical condenser that allows electricity to be stored. The following year the abbé Jean-Antoine Nollet discharged a Leyden jar in front of Louis XV, sending electrical current through 180 Royal Guards, who jumped at the sensation.
Although many New York City theaters closed during the influenza pandemic of 1918, Broadway’s Plymouth Theater went ahead with its October 3 premiere of Leo Tolstoy’s Redemption. Frustrated by the audience’s coughing at one performance, lead actor John Barrymore returned to the stage after intermission and threw a “fair-sized sea bass” into the crowd, shouting, “Busy yourselves with this, you damned walruses!”
Paul Cézanne’s father, a banker, was fond of telling his son, “Young man, young man, think of the future! With genius you die, with money you live.” At least this is according to Émile Zola, who recalled the words of admonishment in one of his letters to his friend Paul. The two had first met as teenagers at boarding school in the 1850s.