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Miscellany

Miscellany Water

A 1551 municipal law in Lisbon regulated water at the Palacete Chafariz d’el Rei, segregating access across six spouts: the first for “slaves, freedmen, black people, mulattoes, and Indians”; the second for galley slaves; the fifth for “black and mulatto women and Indian women, both freed and captive”; and the sixth for white women and girls. White men and boys got the middle spouts, the third and the fourth.

Miscellany Foreigners

In July 1947, a U.S. Army spokesman in Roswell, New Mexico, issued a press release to announce that the military had found a “flying disc” that had landed at a ranch near an air base. “It was inspected at the Roswell Army Air Field,” according to the army, “and subsequently loaned to higher headquarters.” There were no further public statements about the matter.

Miscellany Animals

The first known “laboratory rat” was used in 1828 in an experiment about fasting. Guinea pigs have been put to scientific use since the 1780s, when Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier measured their heat production. The first recorded usage of guinea pig to liken a person or a thing to a test subject was in 1891, by George Bernard Shaw in his book The Quintessence of Ibsenism.

Miscellany Intoxication

On November 22, 1963, Aldous Huxley, bedridden and dying, requested on a writing tablet that his wife Laura give him a 100 microgram dose of LSD. As she went to get the drug from the medicine cabinet, Laura was perplexed to see the doctor and nurses watching TV. She gave him a second dose a few hours later, and by 5:20 p.m. he had died. Laura later learned that the TV had been showing coverage of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, who had been pronounced dead at 1:00 p.m. that day.

Miscellany Fear

Engineers at the University of Illinois published a paper in 1960 predicting doomsday would occur November 13, 2026, based on calculations of human-population growth; they hoped “some time, somehow, something will happen that will stop this ever-faster race to self-destruction.” One idea was space travel. “It is only unfortunate,” they wrote, “that no reentry permit to earth can be given to these space trotters.”

Miscellany Politics

For publishing an editorial critical of John Adams’ Federalist administration in 1798, Vermont congressman Matthew Lyon became the first U.S. citizen tried under the Sedition Act. He was fined $1,000 and sentenced to four months in federal jail. He ran his reelection campaign from prison, winning by a two-to-one margin. He resumed his post upon release.

Miscellany Youth

Lorenzo de’ Medici once observed a young sculptor complete the head of an old and wrinkled faun whose mouth he had rendered open. While astonished at the craftsmanship, Lorenzo pointed out that old men never have all their teeth. Once the great patron of the arts had left, the artist knocked out one of the teeth; when Lorenzo returned and saw the statue again, he was so taken with the new version that he decided to adopt the artist, whose name was Michelangelo.

Miscellany Disaster

The opening of a particle accelerator at Brookhaven National Laboratory in 2000 inspired fears that high-speed collisions might launch a chain reaction that could turn the earth into a hyperdense sphere about one hundred meters across. A risk calculation determined this to be unlikely; if the collider were to run for ten years, the chance was no greater than 1 in 50 million. “The word unlikely, however many times it is repeated,” wrote concerned scientists, “just isn’t enough to assuage our fears of this total disaster.”

Miscellany Magic Shows

At the end of The Tempest, Prospero relinquishes his “rough magic” and declares, “I’ll break my staff,/Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,/And deeper than did ever plummet sound/I’ll drown my book.” In W.H. Auden’s “commentary” on the play, The Sea and the Mirror, Prospero says at the beginning, “Now, Ariel, I am that I am, your late and lonely master,/Who knows now what magic is:—the power to enchant/That comes from disillusion. What the books teach one/Is that desires end up in stinking ponds.”

Miscellany Rule of Law

Toy company Mattel sued MCA Records in 1997, alleging the hit pop song “Barbie Girl” by Aqua violated trademark. Justice Alex Kozinski (who retired in 2017 while facing allegations of sexual misconduct) argued for the Ninth Circuit that the song was protected as parody. He ended his opinion, “The parties are advised to chill.”

Miscellany The Sea

The world’s largest shipbreaking yard is near Alang, India, where, during the 2011–2012 season, around fifty thousand employees broke down 435 ships for scrap, which had a value of about $2 billion.

Miscellany Communication

Before the entire palette of modern mathematical notation existed, Johannes Kepler relied on musical notation to describe the planets’ rotation around the sun in his Harmonies of the World, published in 1619. The plus and minus signs were introduced in print in 1489 by Johann Widman, and the equal sign in 1557 by Robert Recorde, but the multiplication sign (×) was not introduced until 1631, by William Oughtred; modern exponential notation in 1637, by René Descartes; and the obelus (÷) to indicate division in 1659, by Johann Rahn.

Miscellany Rule of Law

In 1873 elderly sisters Julia and Abby Smith of Glastonbury, Connecticut, were incensed to learn that a local property-tax hike had been imposed only on women. At a town meeting, Abby decried how “liberty is so highly extolled,” yet “one half of the inhabitants are not put under her laws, but are ruled over by the other half.” When the Smiths demanded voting rights, the town seized their cows. The standoff became such a cause célèbre that a Chicago market sold the cows’ tail hair wrapped in ribbons reading “Taxation Without Representation.”

Miscellany Revolutions

“I have just had a close escape from the Soviets, and now I’m happy to say I’m back with the fairies (Fascists to you),” Dawn Powell wrote to John Dos Passos in 1937, having attended the American Writers’ Congress along with many avowed communists. “The front part of the speeches was always good, but when the brilliant writer minds summed up, they all spelled bushwa.” 

Miscellany Food

The G8 met in Hokkaido, Japan, in July 2008 to address the global food crisis. Over an eighteen-course meal—including truffles, caviar, conger eel, Kyoto beef, and champagne—prepared by sixty chefs, the world leaders came to a consensus: “We are deeply concerned that the steep rise in global food prices coupled with availability problems in a number of developing countries is threatening global food security.”