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The Criminal Lives of 5 Classical Musicians

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Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day was once kicked off an airplane for wearing sagging pants, which is pretty much everything you need to know about musicians of the last 30 years. As with everything else, if you want to see the right way to stick it to the man, you’ve got to look at the greats of classical music. Here are five classical composers with criminal histories.

1. Ludwig van Beethoven

Charge: Vagrancy

Beethoven tended to get so engrossed in his work that things like housekeeping, grooming, and laundry fell by the wayside. While out for a walk one day in 1820, he found himself lost on the streets of Weiner Neustadt, and began peering in windows to get his bearings. Because he looked like a bum, a policeman picked him up for vagrancy.

“I am Beethoven!” he told the Five-O.

Sure you are, came the response.

Beethoven cooled his heels in the lockup until Herr Herzog, the city’s musical director, could spring him. For the record, Beethoven didn’t take his incarceration well. A constable reportedly went to the police commissioner for help in dealing with the enraged composer. “Herr Commissioner,” he said, “We have arrested a man who gives us no rest, and yells all the time that he is Beethoven.” (Emphasis mine.)

Given enough time, he probably would have started a prison riot.

2. Igor Stravinsky

Charge: Defaming the National Anthem

In 1944, Igor Stravinsky left the doughnut commandos in Boston outraged for his arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner. (Nobody should have been surprised; when he composed “The Rite” his stated purpose was to “send them all to hell”—them being European civilization itself.) How outraged were the cops? They showed up the next day “to make sure he didn’t play it again.”

If you can find a way to stir up the police for a major minor seventh chord, you are not a man to be trifled with.

3. Franz Schubert

Charge: Revolutionary activity

Heads of state weren’t exactly relaxed in 1820. As Johann Senn wrote at the time, “The German struggles for liberation, from 1813 to 1815, had left in their wake a significant spiritual upheaval in Austria too.” Likewise in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars and the earlier French Revolution, students with crazy ideas about liberty were not to be trusted. So when Austrian secret police observed Franz Schubert and his four droogs “inveighing against [officials] with insulting and opprobrious language,” the young artists were rounded up and arrested. Senn, one of the five, spent 14 months in prison. It’s likely that Schubert was saved by his burgeoning reputation as a great composer, though he was severely reprimanded, and in a society where the police had to approve everything from publication to marriage, a police record could cause no end of troubles.

4. Richard Wagner

Charge: Revolutionary activity

While living in Dresden, composer Richard Wagner spent six years writing operas and throwing in with leftist radicals. In the pages of Volksblätter, he incited revolution, and during the May Uprising of 1849 made hand grenades and stood watch for students at the barricades. (If there ever were a time when songs from Les Misèrables might spontaneously occur, this was it.)

When the uprising failed, Wagner found himself wanted by the government, and absconded to Zurich where he lived as a fugitive. (Again, Les Misèrables.) The charges kept him out of Germany until 1862.

5. Johann Sebastian Bach

Charge: “Too stubbornly forcing the issue of his dismissal.”

In 1708, Johann Sebastian Bach took a job as a chamber musician in the Court of the Duke of Sachsen-Weimar. Within five years, he was head of the chamber orchestra and eyeing the position of capellmeister, or director of music. He was pretty much doing the job for the incumbent, who was decrepit and moribund, and ascending to the position itself was a formality awaiting only the capellmeister’s death. Imagine his frustration when the job went to the capellmeister’s idiot son.

The rival Court of Anhalt-Cöthen saw what a terrible decision this was, and asked Bach to join them and serve as its own capellmeister. Bach said yes, and the Duke of Sachsen-Weimar retaliated by having Bach thrown in jail for 30 days, which is a sentence 30 times longer than Johnny Cash ever served, no matter what he’d have you believe.

While in the gray bar hotel, Bach did what any self-respecting master musician would do: he wrote chorale preludes for organ, later published as part of Orgelbüchlein, his first organ masterwork.

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New Plant-Based Coating Can Keep Your Avocados Fresh for Twice as Long
Apeel
Apeel

Thanks to a food technology startup called Apeel Sciences, eating fresh avocados will soon be a lot easier. The Bill Gates–backed company has developed a coating designed to keep avocados fresh for up to twice as long as traditional fruit, Bloomberg reports, and these long-lasting avocados will soon be available at 100 grocery stores across the Midwestern U.S. Thirty or so of the grocery stores involved in the limited rollout of the Apeel avocado will be Costcos, so feel free to buy in bulk.

Getting an avocado to a U.S. grocery store is more complicated than it sounds; the majority of avocados sold in the U.S. come from California or Mexico, making it tricky to get fruit to the Midwest or New England at just the right moment in an avocado’s life cycle.

Apeel’s coating is made of plant material—lipids and glycerolipids derived from peels, seeds, and pulp—that acts as an extra layer of protective peel on the fruit, keeping water in and oxygen out, and thus reducing spoilage. (Oxidation is the reason that your sliced avocados and apples brown after they’ve been exposed to the air for a while.) The tasteless coating comes in a powder that fruit producers mix with water and then dip their fruit into.

A side-by-side comparison of a coated and uncoated avocado after 30 days, with the uncoated avocado looking spoiled and the coated one looking fresh
Apeel

According to Apeel, coating a piece of produce in this way can keep it fresh for two to three times longer than normal without any sort of refrigeration of preservatives. This not only allows consumers a few more days to make use of their produce before it goes bad, reducing food waste, but can allow producers to ship their goods to farther-away markets without refrigeration.

Avocados are the first of Apeel's fruits to make it to market, but there are plans to debut other Apeel-coated produce varieties in the future. The company has tested its technology on apples, artichokes, mangos, and several other fruits and vegetables.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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The Curious Origins of 16 Common Phrases
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Our favorite basketball writer is ESPN's Zach Lowe. On his podcast, the conversation often takes detours into the origins of certain phrases. We compiled a list from Zach and added a few of our own, then sent them to language expert Arika Okrent. Where do these expressions come from anyway?

1. BY THE SAME TOKEN

Bus token? Game token? What kind of token is involved here? Token is a very old word, referring to something that’s a symbol or sign of something else. It could be a pat on the back as a token, or sign, of friendship, or a marked piece of lead that could be exchanged for money. It came to mean a fact or piece of evidence that could be used as proof. “By the same token” first meant, basically “those things you used to prove that can also be used to prove this.” It was later weakened into the expression that just says “these two things are somehow associated.”

2. GET ON A SOAPBOX

1944: A woman standing on a soapbox speaking into a mic
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The soapbox that people mount when they “get on a soapbox” is actually a soap box, or rather, one of the big crates that used to hold shipments of soap in the late 1800s. Would-be motivators of crowds would use them to stand on as makeshift podiums to make proclamations, speeches, or sales pitches. The soap box then became a metaphor for spontaneous speech making or getting on a roll about a favorite topic.

3. TOMFOOLERY

The notion of Tom fool goes a long way. It was the term for a foolish person as long ago as the Middle Ages (Thomas fatuus in Latin). Much in the way the names in the expression Tom, Dick, and Harry are used to mean “some generic guys,” Tom fool was the generic fool, with the added implication that he was a particularly absurd one. So the word tomfoolery suggested an incidence of foolishness that went a bit beyond mere foolery.

4. GO BANANAS

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The expression “go bananas” is slang, and the origin is a bit harder to pin down. It became popular in the 1950s, around the same time as “go ape,” so there may have been some association between apes, bananas, and crazy behavior. Also, banana is just a funny-sounding word. In the 1920s people said “banana oil!” to mean “nonsense!”

5. RUN OF THE MILL

If something is run of the mill, it’s average, ordinary, nothing special. But what does it have to do with milling? It most likely originally referred to a run from a textile mill. It’s the stuff that’s just been manufactured, before it’s been decorated or embellished. There were related phrases like “run of the mine,” for chunks of coal that hadn’t been sorted by size yet, and “run of the kiln,” for bricks as they came out without being sorted for quality yet.

6. READ THE RIOT ACT

The Law's Delay: Reading The Riot Act 1820
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When you read someone the riot act you give a stern warning, but what is it that you would you have been reading? The Riot Act was a British law passed in 1714 to prevent riots. It went into effect only when read aloud by an official. If too many people were gathering and looking ready for trouble, an officer would let them know that if they didn’t disperse, they would face punishment.

7. HANDS DOWN

Hands down comes from horse racing, where, if you’re way ahead of everyone else, you can relax your grip on the reins and let your hands down. When you win hands down, you win easily.

8. SILVER LINING

The silver lining is the optimistic part of what might otherwise be gloomy. The expression can be traced back directly to a line from Milton about a dark cloud revealing a silver lining, or halo of bright sun behind the gloom. The idea became part of literature and part of the culture, giving us the proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” in the mid-1800s.

9. HAVE YOUR WORK CUT OUT

The expression “you’ve got your work cut out for you” comes from tailoring. To do a big sewing job, all the pieces of fabric are cut out before they get sewn together. It seems like if your work has been cut for you, it should make job easier, but we don’t use the expression that way. The image is more that your task is well defined and ready to be tackled, but all the difficult parts are yours to get to. That big pile of cut-outs isn’t going to sew itself together!

10. THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE

A grapevine is a system of twisty tendrils going from cluster to cluster. The communication grapevine was first mentioned in 1850s, the telegraph era. Where the telegraph was a straight line of communication from one person to another, the “grapevine telegraph” was a message passed from person to person, with some likely twists along the way.

11. THE WHOLE SHEBANG

The earliest uses of shebang were during the Civil War era, referring to a hut, shed, or cluster of bushes where you’re staying. Some officers wrote home about “running the shebang,” meaning the encampment. The origin of the word is obscure, but because it also applied to a tavern or drinking place, it may go back to the Irish word shebeen for a ramshackle drinking establishment.

12. PUSH THE ENVELOPE

Pushing the envelope belongs to the modern era of the airplane. The “flight envelope” is a term from aeronautics meaning the boundary or limit of performance of a flight object. The envelope can be described in terms of mathematical curves based on things like speed, thrust, and atmosphere. You push it as far as you can in order to discover what the limits are. Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff brought the expression into wider use.

13. CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE

We say someone can’t hold a candle to someone else when their skills don’t even come close to being as good. In other words, that person isn’t even good enough to hold up a candle so that a talented person can see what they’re doing in order to work. Holding the candle to light a workspace would have been the job of an assistant, so it’s a way of saying not even fit to be the assistant, much less the artist.

14. THE ACID TEST

Most acids dissolve other metals much more quickly than gold, so using acid on a metallic substance became a way for gold prospectors to see if it contained gold. If you pass the acid test, you didn’t dissolve—you’re the real thing.

15. GO HAYWIRE

What kind of wire is haywire? Just what it says—a wire for baling hay. In addition to tying up bundles, haywire was used to fix and hold things together in a makeshift way, so a dumpy, patched-up place came to be referred to as “a hay-wire outfit.” It then became a term for any kind of malfunctioning thing. The fact that the wire itself got easily tangled when unspooled contributed to the “messed up” sense of the word.

16. CALLED ON THE CARPET

Carpet used to mean a thick cloth that could be placed in a range of places: on the floor, on the bed, on a table. The floor carpet is the one we use most now, so the image most people associate with this phrase is one where a servant or employee is called from plainer, carpetless room to the fancier, carpeted part of the house. But it actually goes back to the tablecloth meaning. When there was an issue up for discussion by some kind of official council it was “on the carpet.”

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