Archive

Miscellany

Miscellany Intoxication

Primo Levi wrote that at Auschwitz “a large amount of alcohol was put at the disposal of” members of the Special Squad, inmates of the concentration camp who were forced to work the crematoriums, “and that they were in a permanent state of complete debasement and prostration.” One such inmate said, “Doing this work, one either goes crazy the first day or gets accustomed to it.”

Miscellany The Future

By the end of the century, a report by the National Science Foundation in 1982 predicted, 40 percent of American homes will have “two videotex service”—a term describing the emergent conjunction of communications and computing. A U.S. Census report found in 2000 that 42 percent of American homes used the Internet. The first year the census started tracking U.S. computer usage was 1984.

Miscellany Scandal

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement returned nearly four thousand ancient Iraqi artifacts in 2018 that Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma City–based chain of craft stores owned by an evangelical Christian family, had purchased from dealers in the United Arab Emirates. A year later investigators alleged that the Museum of the Bible, founded by the same family, had in its holdings thirteen artifacts belonging to the Egypt Exploration Society. The museum said it would return the artifacts.

Miscellany Music

In her journal about life as a lady-in-waiting at Heian court, Sei Shonagon expresses her delight in men who keep a transverse flute tucked away in the breast of their robes. “There really is nothing more marvelous,” she writes. “And it’s delightful to discover beside your pillow at daybreak the handsome flute that your lover has inadvertently left behind him.”

Miscellany Friendship

A 2013 study involving American college students found that participants were more likely to deem a face more attractive if it was presented amid a group of faces than if it was displayed alone. This “cheerleader effect,” scientists ventured, was “due to the averaging out of unattractive idiosyncrasies.” Two years later a similar study conducted with Japanese participants failed to replicate the results of the initial study.

Miscellany Scandal

Saint Augustine based his definition of original sin on a misinterpretation of the Greek in Romans 5:12. According to Augustine’s misreading, sin is contracted and passed through the human race like a venereal disease. “We all were in that one man,” he wrote of Adam, who Augustine believed contained the nature of all future men, which was transmitted through Adam’s semen. The human race is therefore a “train of evil,” headed for destruction. The monk Pelagius argued against this concept, known as seminal headship. The Council of Orange accepted Augustine’s doctrine of original sin in 529.

Miscellany Comedy

When a former leader of the Tijuana cartel was shot in the back of the head by a man dressed in a clown costume, five hundred clowns from around Latin America joined together at the International Clown Meeting in Mexico City and staged a fifteen-minute laughathon “to demonstrate their opposition to the generalized violence that prevails in our country.”

Miscellany Family

Alfred D’Orsay Tennyson Dickens, Henry Fielding Dickens, Edward Bulwer-Lytton Dickens, Walter Landor Dickens, and Sydney Smith Haldimand Dickens were among the names of Charles Dickens’ sons. Among the brothers of Walter Whitman were George Washington Whitman, Andrew Jackson Whitman, and Thomas Jefferson Whitman.

Miscellany Happiness

A study of U.S. Supreme Court oral transcripts from 2004 to 2005 tabulated every instance the court reporter described a justice’s remarks provoking laughter. It found that Antonin Scalia had caused seventy-seven such episodes, while Clarence Thomas had caused zero.

Miscellany Discovery

Members inducted into the U.S. National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2010 included Yvonne Brill, whose electrothermal hydrazine thruster keeps satellites in space orbit, as well as Arthur Fry and Steven Silver, who created sticky notes (Fry, the concept; Silver, the glue). “Note: It took one woman to invent a rocket thruster,” wrote a Washington Post reporter about the induction ceremony, “and two men to invent Post-its.”

Miscellany Youth

Thomas Edison received three months of formal education at the age of eight before his mother homeschooled him. Benjamin Franklin quit school at age ten, Charles Dickens at twelve.

Miscellany Memory

“There is one thing at which I cannot sufficiently wonder,” wrote Pliny the Elder, “that of some trees, the very memory has perished, and even the names recorded by authors have passed out of knowledge.”

Miscellany Water

“Waters from snow and ice are all bad,” opined Hippocrates of Cos around 400 bc. “Once frozen, water never recovers its original nature, but the clear, light, sweet part is separated out and disappears.” Such melted waters, he declared, “are the worst for all purposes.”

Miscellany The Sea

In 1906 Congress passed “An Act to Prohibit Shanghaiing in the United States.” One section made unlawful the inducing of a man “intoxicated or under the influence of any drug” to perform labor aboard a foreign or domestic ship.

Miscellany Swindle & Fraud

In 2014 the Federal Trade Commission charged the operator of Jerk.com with improperly obtaining personal information from Facebook to create 73 million profiles that identified people as “jerk” or “not a jerk” and then offered them the option to change their profiles for $30. According to the FTC, consumers who paid the fee often got nothing in return.