No Rest

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

In the 5th century BC, Athens forbade anyone to die or to give birth on the island of Delos, to render it fit for the proper worship of the gods.

In 2005 Roberto Pereira, mayor of the Brazilian town of Biritiba Mirim, proposed a ban on death because the local cemetery had reached its capacity.

The French settlements of Le Lavandou (in 2000), Cugnaux (in 2007), and Sarpourenx (in 2008) have all outlawed death because of limited capacity in local cemeteries. The Sarpourenx ordinance added: “Offenders will be severely punished.”

Since 1878, no births or deaths have been permitted near Japan’s Itsukushima Shrine, a sacred site in Shinto belief.

In 1999 the mayor of the Spanish town of Lanjarón outlawed death, again because of an overcrowded cemetery. His edict ordered residents “to take utmost care of their health so they do not die until town hall takes the necessary steps to acquire land suitable for our deceased to rest in glory.”

“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work,” said Woody Allen. “I want to achieve immortality through not dying.”

An Apparition

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Shortly after conquering the Matterhorn on July 14, 1865, Edward Whymper watched four of his companions fall to their deaths down the mountain’s precipitous north face. Afterward he and his two Swiss guides, the Taugwalders, beheld a remarkable figure in the sky:

A mighty arch appeared, rising above the Lyskamm, high into the sky. Pale, colourless, and noiseless, but perfectly sharp and defined, except where it was lost in the clouds, this unearthly apparition seemed like a vision from another world; and, almost appalled, we watched with amazement the gradual development of two vast crosses, one on either side. If the Taugwalders had not been the first to perceive it, I should have doubted my senses. They thought it might have some connection with the accident, and I, after a while, that it might bear some relation to ourselves. But our movements had no effect on it. It was a fearful and wonderful sight; unique in my experience, and impressive beyond description, coming at such a moment.

What was this? Whymper later called it a fog bow, a bow that forms in fog rather than rain. Unfortunately, we have no photograph, only a sketch and a woodcut. In a 2002 simulation C.J. Hardwick tried to account for the features as Whymper had described them. “A fogbow and ice crystal arcs could have produced a circle and crosses in a direction consistent with the apparition,” he concluded in 2005. “However, while this simulation used a crystal type that can occur, it required an unusual alignment that would be very rare.”

(C.J. Hardwick, “Simulation of the Whymper Apparition,” Weather 57:12 [December 2002], 457-463; Cedric John Hardwick and Jason C. Knievel, “Speculations on the Possible Causes of the Whymper Apparition,” Applied Optics 44:27 [Sept. 20, 2005], 5637-5643.)

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One-Man Band

In the early days of silent movies, large theaters would engage orchestras to play the accompanying music. But starting around 1910, small venues that lacked the money or the space could use a machine instead. In Film Music, music editor Roy M. Pendergast writes, “In addition to music, these machines were capable of providing a battery of sound effects, and they ranged in size from what was essentially a player piano with small percussion setup to elaborate instruments nearly equaling a twenty-piece pit orchestra.” He quotes Samuel A. Peeples in Films in Review:

The crowning achievement of the American Photo Player Company was their Fotoplayer Style 50, only one of which is presently known to survive in operating condition. Among the most splendid automatic musical instruments ever built, it was 21 feet long, 5 feet wide, and 5 feet 2 inches tall. It was capable of recreating the volume of a 20-piece pit orchestra, plus a full-scale theatre pipe-organ, with an incredible range of effects, such as the lowing of cattle, the drumming of hoofs in assorted gaits, several varieties of klaxons, street traffic noises, crackling flames, breaking wood and brush, rifle, pistol and machine gun shots, even the sound of a French 75MM cannon!

Pendergast adds, “One wonders about the quality of genius it must have taken to operate one of these devices.”

Black and White

korolikov chess problem

A curiously ambiguous problem by V.A. Korolikov. Mate in 1. Either side can fulfill this easily — but which has the move?

Click for Answer

The Key to My Future

“Truel,” a mathematical romance by Tom Vaughan.

(This is based on a problem in game theory, but interestingly the hero is named Galois and one of his opponents is d’Herbinville — that’s the name of the man Alexandre Dumas identified as the opponent of Évariste Galois in his fatal duel of 1832.)

Express

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Panegyric to a train, from the Hurutshe people of South Africa:

Iron thing coming from Pompi, from the round-house
Where Englishmen smashed their hands on it,
It has no front it has no back.
Rhino Tshukudu going that way.
Rhino Tshukudu no, coming this way.
I’m no greenhorn, I’m a strong, skillful man.
Animal coming from Pompi, from Moretele.
It comes spinning out a spider’s web under a cloud of gnats
Moved by the pulling of a teat, animal coming from Kgobola-diatla
Comes out of the big hole in the mountain, mother of the great woman,
Coming on iron cords.
I met this woman of the tracks curving her way along the river bank and over the river.
I thought I’d snatch her
So I said
“Out of the way, son of Mokwatsi, who stands there at the teat.”
The stream of little red and white birds gathered up all of its track
Clean as a whistle.
Tshutshu over the dry plains
Rhino Tshukudu out of the high country
Animal from the south, steaming along
It comes from Pompi, the round-house, from Kgobola-diatla.

(Jerome Rothenberg, Technicians of the Sacred, 1968; Ruth Finnegan, Oral Literature in Africa, 2012.)

Photo Finish

In February 1985, British birder David Hunt led a tour around India. One of the stops was Jim Corbett National Park, in Uttar Pradesh, which has a large tiger population. The park provides an armed guard to each group of visitors, and they’re required to stay on the trails. As his party explored the park, though, Hunt heard an unknown call and walked a short distance off the track. Minutes later there was a scream. When his friends rushed to help, they discovered his mauled body in a clearing nearby. His friend Bill Oddie wrote:

When David’s body was recovered, so was his camera. Later on, the slides were developed … The first one is a nice close-up of a Spotted Owlet sitting on a branch … Then he must have heard a noise behind him, or maybe just sensed that he was not alone. Keeping crouched, he turned and saw a tiger pacing to and fro at the edge of the clearing. The next slide is of the tiger. It is some way away, walking to the right. On the next picture it is walking to the left. In the next one, it is facing the camera. In the next, it has begun to move forward, still looking straight at the lens. The next is closer. Then closer. And closer still. The final picture is of a frame-filling shot of the tiger’s head, eyes blazing and teeth exposed in a snarl.

“If David had kept shooting on his motor-drive, the whole thing must have happened in barely ten seconds,” Oddie added. “Crouched behind a camera, looking through the viewfinder and especially when using a telephoto lens, you don’t realise how close your subject has got. Neither, at the time, do you care. All you are focusing on is the picture. Press cameramen in war situations call it ‘camera blindness.’ It has proved fatal before.”

(From Oddie’s Follow That Bird!, quoted in Stephen Moss’ A Bird in the Bush, 2004.)

The Way of Things

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“Pyramid of Capitalist System,” from a 1911 edition of Industrial Worker, a newspaper of the international labor union Industrial Workers of the World.

“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings,” said Churchill. “The inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

Close Quarters

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/16713/16713-h/16713-h.htm

Paulo Guarini di Forli offered this puzzle in 1512. On this tiny 3 × 3 board, which is the smallest number of moves in which the white knights can exchange places with the black ones?

Click for Answer