Miscellany The Sea

“I am not exactly pleased with the Atlantic,” Oscar Wilde is said to have remarked to a fellow passenger aboard the Arizona in 1881. “The sea seems tame to me. The roaring ocean does not roar.” A newspaper subsequently ran the headline: “Mr. Wilde Disappointed with Atlantic.”

Miscellany Youth

Discussing the “secret and more adult” appeal of Shirley Temple, Graham Greene wrote in his review of Wee Willie Winkie in 1937, “Her admirers—middle-aged men and clergymen—respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialog drops between their intelligence and their desire.” He also noted her “neat and well-developed rump” and “dimpled depravity.” Twentieth Century Fox sued for libel, Greene fled to Mexico, and a court ordered a settlement of 3,500 pounds.

Miscellany Happiness

In 2016, Better Business World Wide hired “mystery shopping providers” to evaluate customer service around the world. The results were compiled in a Smiling Report, which found that Ireland scored the highest: 100 percent of customers received a smile. Shoppers in both Spain and Switzerland were greeted with a smile 97 percent of the time, while the lowest score was recorded in Hong Kong, where smiles occurred in only 48 percent of customer interactions.

Miscellany Climate

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.”

Miscellany Democracy

Paul Biya has been president of Cameroon for forty-four years—the second-longest tenure for a nonroyal elected leader. Biya won his seventh term in 2018, with 71 percent of the vote. Since taking power in November 1982, he has placed his country 148th in the world in terms of economic output per capita and 163rd in the World Bank’s Doing Business rankings. The longest-serving leader is Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, president of Equatorial Guinea since 1979.

Miscellany Home

In the fourteenth century the communality of monastic life was on the decline. A 1360s remodel of Westminster Abbey’s infirmary added individual chambers and parlors. Though they were intended only for the “transient sick,” healthy monks soon occupied the spaces permanently, claiming nooks by decorating them with cushions and curtains.

Miscellany Technology

Ellen Eglin, a housekeeper working in Washington, DC, devised a clothes wringer in 1888 to make washing and drying more efficient. Instead of patenting her invention, she sold the rights to an agent for eighteen dollars, bringing the new owner “great financial success,” according to an 1890 article. “If it was known that a Negro woman patented the invention, white ladies would not buy the wringer,” she told the reporter.

Miscellany Intoxication

“Bomb the shit out of them!” was reportedly a drunken President Richard Nixon’s conclusion as to what should be done about Cambodia. Henry Kissinger recalled in an interview in 1999 that “two glasses of wine were quite enough to make him boisterous, just one more to grow bellicose or sentimental with slurred speech.”

Miscellany Fashion

In 1993 Estelle Ellis, Seventeen magazine’s first promotion director, gave a speech at the Fashion Institute of Technology titled “What Is Fashion?” Ellis gave her answer. Fashion is a perpetual-motion machine expressed in four areas: “mode—the way we dress; manners—the way we express ourselves; mores—the way we live; and markets—the way we are defined demographically and psychologically.”

Miscellany Epidemic

According to Thucydides, before the plague of Athens, the Athenians were divided over whether the disaster predicted by an oracle would be a limos (famine) or a loimos (plague). “In the case of unwritten prophecies,” wrote one classicist, “it would be impossible to determine which word the speaker meant to use. The ambiguity of the sound would have been its chief recommendation to the soothsayer.”

Miscellany Climate

“When a vision comes from the thunder beings of the West,” the Lakota heyoka Black Elk explained in 1932, “it comes with terror like a thunderstorm; but when the storm of vision has passed, the world is greener and happier; for wherever the truth of vision comes upon the world, it is like a rain. The world, you see, is happier after the terror of the storm.”

Miscellany Luck

The Cincinnati Commercial complained in 1871 about the game of fly loo, a “detestable canker that destroys men’s souls.” Players selected sugar lumps and bet on which would attract a fly first. “Every afternoon from twenty to thirty of the very flower of our mercantile population retire to a private room and under locks and bolts give themselves up to this satanic game,” the article noted, “while the deserted ladies are languishing for a little male conversation below.”

Miscellany The Future

In 1963, having left bread, butter, and milk for her sleeping children, Sylvia Plath stuck her head inside an oven. In 1974, having turned on her car in a closed garage, waiting for the carbon monoxide to kill her, Anne Sexton sat and drank vodka.

Miscellany Rule of Law

Inspired by Catherine the Great’s 1767 assertion that law should promote general happiness, Jeremy Bentham brought his own massive law code with him to Russia in 1785 to present to her. But the single time Catherine visited the western district where the utilitarian philosopher had rented a cottage, Bentham remained inside—“stubbornly diffident,” according to an account—and the two never met.

Miscellany Foreigners

To avoid the wrath of his lover’s father in Poland, Tadeusz Kościuszko went to America via France in 1776, later helping the colonists win the Battle of Saratoga and construct fortifications at West Point. At the end of the war, he was given U.S. citizenship and the army title of brigadier general.