Doodles by Darwin’s kids.
- Today in noble sidelines: in the same way that you or I might go to the gym or take a few shots of Cuervo Gold, Russian diplomats like to write poetry as a means of “blowing off steam.” And they do this intently—there’s a 541-page anthology of poems from Russian and Soviet diplomats. “Poets and diplomats use the same building blocks: the idea and the word,” Vladimir Kazimirov, a former Soviet and Russian ambassador, told the Washington Post. The foreign minister Sergei Lavrov wrote one that goes like this: “And they served the country, feeling its nerves as their own / And learned the art of how to agree and to trade / And they learned how to live, respecting others on merit / And taught others how to respect Russia always … ”
- Last month, Saul Bellow’s desk was up for sale, and it went nowhere. Now J. K. Rowling’s chair, in a move that must have Bellow’s desk seriously pissed, has sold for $394,000. “The unassuming 1930s-era oak chair with a replacement burlap seat decorated with a red thistle sat in front of Rowling’s typewriter when she was ‘writing two of the most important books of the modern era,’ said James Gannon, director of rare books at Heritage Auctions … [The seller] said he would like to see the new buyer display it somewhere where children could see it, perhaps in a museum or theme park.”
- When he wasn’t writing The Origin of Species, Darwin apparently just left the manuscript lying around in conspicuous places—so his children got a hold of it and doodled all over the thing. “At age eight, George Howard Darwin, who grew up to be an astronomer and a mathematician, draws an entire visual taxonomy of the British infantry; Francis Darwin, who followed in his father’s footsteps and became a botanist, draws a warring salad; on a dummy envelope, an unidentified child produces a charming caricature of Darwin himself … From a fish with legs to a fruit-and-vegetable cavalry, these irrepressibly joyful drawings, some inspired by natural history and some by the typical staples of boyhood fantasy, bespeak the inseparability of science and life.”
- At last, we have a scientific corroboration of creepiness: what’s creepy, who’s creepy, where the creepy things are, and why. Two researchers from Knox College “concluded that a person’s ‘creepiness detector’ pings when she encounters something unpredictable or outside the norm, like a person with idiosyncratic behavioral patterns, unusual physical characteristics, or a tendency to over- or under-emote … People were creeped out by those who repeatedly licked their lips; laughed at inappropriate moments; and habitually steered their conversations toward a single subject, particularly sex … Many of the attributes survey participants rated the creepiest—greasy hair, pale skin, ‘peculiar smile,’ bags under the eyes, unkempt hair, dirty clothing, ‘bulging eyes’—seem indicative of a deeper prejudice against people with poor hygiene or conventionally unattractive features … The creepiest occupations, according the survey-takers, are clowns, taxidermists, sex-shop owners, and funeral directors.”
- Is it creepy to listen to the ocean? To really love listening to the ocean? In the seventies, Irv Teibel convinced a bunch of countercultural types that environmental records were “the future of music”: “Pick up a copy of Environments 1, and you don’t see any of its backstory. There’s no sign of the all-nighters, the stacks of failed beach tapes, or the greasy burgers; no credits or place designations … What you do see are promises, and lots of them. The front boasts the track titles, all-caps beneath a long view of a foamy wave: ‘Side 1: THE PSYCHOLOGICALLY ULTIMATE SEASHORE. Side 2: OPTIMUM AVIARY’ … Early test pressings displayed at the Harvard Coop outsold the Beatles at exam time, as students used recorded surf to drown out noisy neighbors. Bolstered by this early success, in the summer of 1970, Atlantic Records & Tapes bought the rights, expanded distribution, and embarked on a small marketing campaign. ‘This album contains no music, no singing, no spoken words,’ one ad begins, before this surprise kicker: ‘ … And it’s one of the Hottest-sellers in the Underground!’ ”