Archive

Miscellany

Miscellany Fashion

Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan reported on a pink blazer and black V-neck shirt worn on the Senate floor in 2007. “There was cleavage on display Wednesday afternoon on C-SPAN2,” Givhan wrote. “It belonged to Senator Hillary Clinton.”

Miscellany Water

In an experimental paper published in the International Journal of Nanotechnology in 2016, researchers reported discovering a phase of water that is not solid ice, liquid water, or vapor gas. The fourth state is found at around 50 degrees Celsius and behaves a bit like liquid crystal.

Miscellany Water

“To cross a great river,” advises a third-century Chinese alchemical text, you should smear a mixture of mercury, carp gall, and dragon grease on the bottoms of your feet. “When you walk on the water, you will not sink.”

Miscellany The Future

At the age of four, Robert Graves, having said his evening prayers, asked his mother if she would leave him any money when she died. “If you left me as much as five pounds, I could buy a bicycle,” he reasoned. “Surely you’d rather have me, Robby,” his mother said. “But I could ride to your grave on it,” he replied.

Miscellany Food

Thirty to sixty million—the estimate of buffalo in the United States in the early 1800s. 1,200—the estimate some ninety years later.

Miscellany Disaster

A 1959 Chicago Daily Tribune article about Robert Frost, who had recently proclaimed his confidence in humanity’s resilience in the face of missile threats, ran with the headline: HUMAN RACE BOMB PROOF, POET BELIEVES.

Miscellany Fear

Residents of North Yorkshire from the eleventh to fourteenth centuries were so afraid of the dead rising to attack the living that they would dismember, decapitate, burn, and otherwise mutilate corpses before burying them. The process was generally undertaken shortly after death, when the bones were still soft.

Miscellany States of Mind

A CIA report declassified in 2000 revealed concerns about extrasensory perception during the space race in the 1960s: a Russian newspaper argued that cosmonauts “get together mentally with each other easier than with people on Earth,” while a Chicago Tribune columnist worried that the Soviets “may be the first to put a human thought in orbit or achieve mind-to-mind communication with men on the moon.”

Miscellany Spies

To label a program conceived in 2007 that declared as its purpose the tracking of “every user visible” on the Internet, collected data from over a trillion Web events in a repository called the Black Hole, and targeted sites broadcasting recitations of the Qur’an, the UK Government Communications Headquarters chose the name Karma Police, after a song by the band Radiohead whose chorus is: “This is what you’ll get / when you mess with us.” 

Miscellany Death

In May 1953, the TV show This is Your Life honored Hanna Bloch Kohner, a Holocaust survivor, and surprised her with appearances from her closest friend in Auschwitz and a soldier who liberated the camp. It was the first national television show to tell the story of a Holocaust survivor. On the program in May 1955, Kiyoshi Tanimoto, a survivor of Hiroshima, came face-to-face with Captain Robert Lewis, copilot of the Enola Gay.

Miscellany Spies

A sect of violent Islamic agents founded in eleventh-century Persia to fight the Fatimid caliph in Egypt became known as the Hashshashin, which translates as “eaters of hashish”; their grand master supposedly administered the drug to demonstrate the paradise that would follow agents’ service. From the name Hashshashin, Christian Crusaders derived the word assassin.

Miscellany Home

A group of Syrian refugees in a camp north of Athens advertised its tent on Airbnb in June 2016. It’s “the most unique neighborhood in Greece,” they wrote, touting the location’s “free parking” as well as its scorpions, dehydration, and “broken promises.” The San Francisco–based company removed the listing for violating the website’s terms of service. 

Miscellany Music

Hoping to encourage hostages held by FARC during Colombia’s civil war, state negotiators commissioned a local producer in 2010 to create a pop song embedded with a Morse-code message and had it broadcast repeatedly on the radio in rebel-controlled areas. After the lyrics “Listen to this message, brother,” the code sounded as a synth interlude: “Nineteen people rescued. You are next. Don’t lose hope.”

Miscellany Death

On June 4, 1827, Hector Berlioz wrote to his sister Nancy about James Fenimore Cooper’s recently published novel The Prairie, in which the protagonist of Cooper’s Leatherstocking series, Natty Bumppo, is killed off. “I devoured it straight off,” Berlioz stated. “I reached the end at seven in the evening, and was still at the foot of one of the columns of the Pantheon in tears at eleven o’ clock!”

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.”