In his irreverent 1906 masterpiece, The Devil’s Dictionary, the 19th-century American writer Ambrose Bierce took aim at all manner of human hypocrisies, sins and shortcomings by penning a lexicon of cynical word definitions for a cynical age. In the latest instalment of The Devil’s Guide, we channel Bierce’s sardonic spirit to explore the true meanings of the jargon and fancy Latin terms that litter the landscape of the law.
This May should also be remembered for its cornucopia of outlandish riches — $900 billion in China’s save-the-world-from-poverty investment, a $350 billion envelope to President Trump to help Muslims defeat each other, and a $250 billion Indian plan to turn its traders into manufacturers of sophisticated weapons.
The naming of diseases has always been as much about politics and the human need to identify a scapegoat, as it has been about accurately labelling a new threat to life. Periodic attempts have been made to remove the subjective from the process. Three United Nations agencies – the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Organisation for Animal Health – play a particularly important role when it comes to infectious diseases, which don’t respect borders.
NEXT TO VESPER martinis, James Bond is best-known for gadgets. Throughout the years, MI6 kept him outfitted in nothing but the best cars, wristwatches, and weapons. Today, Roger Moore, the actor who played Bond through seven films from 1973 to 1985, passed away at the age of 89.
In his essay ‘On Being Modern-Minded’ (1950), Bertrand Russell describes a particularly seductive illusion about history and intellectual progress. Because every age tends to exaggerate its uniqueness and imagine itself as a culmination of progress, continuities with previous historical periods are easily overlooked: ‘new catchwords hide from us the thoughts and feelings of our ancestors, even when they differed little from our own.’
Beyond membership in the Pantheon of Famous Brits, Winston Churchill and George Orwell would seem to have little in the way of common ground. Churchill was a politician. Orwell was a journalist and novelist. Churchill had money and pedigree; the young Orwell lived on the street and raised his own vegetables during World War II.
At the end of the 18th century, a Frenchman by the name of Xavier de Maistre had to undergo house arrest for duelling. He made the best of it and traveled about his room. He was inspired by the paintings, the books on the shelf, his servant, his dog, his lover. And he wrote a book about it. Voyage Around My Room is a stroll across a room where in fact nothing really happens.
Nature’s power enthralled the American writer Edgar Allan Poe, and galvanised some of his most memorable works. He was particularly captivated by the natural world’s ghastly capacity for destruction. In the short story ‘A Descent into the Maelström’, for instance, a sea voyage turns into sheer mayhem when a fierce vortex hurls the vessel toward its briny doom, shattering it into splinters. As if he were a journalist reporting a maritime calamity, Poe describes each stage of the devastation in riveting detail.
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Quick! Name a gum manufacturer. Chances are you chose Wrigley, a gum behemoth that’s been around since the 1890s. But how did the company go from baking powder purveyor to the world’s largest gum manufacturer? As Daniel Robinson explains, it had a little help from some made-up—and quintessentially American—ailments.
Leo Tolstoy opens Anna Karenina with, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” And it’s true: when you see a family squabbling at Disneyland, there are any number of things that could have brought them to that particular moment. An affair? A recent miscarriage? Secret involvement in a drug cartel? A death in the family? An alcoholic older brother? But see a happy family at Disneyland, and your mind goes nowhere.