Lost in Translation

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:North_Korea_Propaganda_Photograph_of_prisoners_of_the_USS_Pueblo,_with_the_Hawaiian_Good_Luck_Sign,_1968.jpg

In January 1968, North Korea captured the American spy vessel Pueblo and held 82 crew members captive for 11 months. During the crisis, the North Korean government released the photo above, claiming that the Americans were apologetic and cooperating with their captors.

The Americans managed to send a different message — three of them are extending their middle fingers. They had told the Koreans this was a “Hawaiian good luck sign.”

Commander Lloyd M. Bucher found a way to accomplish the same thing verbally — he wrote the confession “We paean the DPRK [North Korea]. We paean their great leader Kim Il Sung.”

Podcast Episode 92: The Forgotten Amendment

http://traffic.libsyn.com/futilitycloset/Futility_Closet_podcast_-_Episode_92.mp3

In 1982, college sophomore Gregory Watson got a C on a term paper arguing that a long-forgotten constitutional amendment could still be ratified. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow his 10-year mission to prove his professor wrong and get the amendment added to the Constitution.

We’ll also learn an underhanded way to win a poetry contest and puzzle over how someone can murder a corpse.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

This week’s feature on the 27th amendment was suggested by listener Steve Winters. Sources:

Richard B. Bernstein, “The Sleeper Wakes: The History and Legacy of the Twenty-Seventh Amendment,” Fordham Law Review 61:3, 497-557.

John Heltman, “27th Amendment or Bust,” American Prospect, May 30, 2012.

“Historical Highlights: The 27th Amendment,” History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives (accessed Jan. 17, 2016).

“Amendment XXVII: Congressional Compensation,” National Constitution Center (accessed Jan. 17, 2016).

Richard L. Berke, “1789 Amendment Is Ratified But Now the Debate Begins,” New York Times, May 8, 1992.

Richard L. Berke, “Congress Backs 27th Amendment,” New York Times, May 21, 1992.

“Alumni Notes,” The Alcalde, September-October 1992.

Here’s a video interview with Gregory Watson.

Sources for our feature on underhanded poetry:

“Anecdote Relative to Mr. Dryden,” The Gentleman’s and London Magazine, August 1763.

William Montgomery Clemens, Mark Twain, His Life and Work: A Biographical Sketch, 1892.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener David Elliott, who sent this corroborating link (warning — this spoils the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Last Wishes

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Official_Photographs_taken_on_the_Front_in_France_-_View_of_Gommecourt_as_seen_today_(15560800766).jpg

British Army gunner Frank Bracey wrote this letter to his wife in May 1916 and left it to be opened in the event of his death:

Dearest Win

I am writing just a line Win in case of accidents. Just to let you know how I have always loved you Dear. You are the best little girl on God’s earth have I told you before. But I am writing this because I have a feeling that I shall not come back again. I have most of your letters in this box Dear and I wish you to have them and the cards. You may think I am a bit taped writing this dear but I cannot help it. If I do come back dearest you will never see this letter but I have a strong feeling that I shall never see England again. In case I do pop under the earth I want you to be happy and look out for a worthier chap than your Humble, you have been every thing to me Win. I know your love is mine forever dearest but if I do not come back I wish you the best of happiness and a good husband. I know you told me what you would do for yourself if I did not return but Win for the sake of our love I wish you to be brave, it would be hard for you little girl I know, but do nothing of the kind. My last wish is that you marry a good man and to be happy and to think of your Humble now and then. I felt I must write these few lines Win but whatever happens dear just keep a stout heart and think that your Frank did his bit for the women of this little isle. I expect you will think your Humble crazy but I was never saner than I am now.

Frank

He was killed in Pas-de-Calais that August. He is buried at the British military cemetery at Saint-Amand.

A Hidden Economy

During the American Civil War, enemy soldiers would sometimes meet to barter. Tobacco was hard to get in the North, and coffee was scarce in the South, so, where it could be done safely, soldiers would meet between the lines to trade.

In some cases this was done across distances. If a river or lake separated the lines, a tiny boat would be laden with commodities and sent to the other side, where it would be unloaded and filled with exchange cargoes, as agreed on by shouting and signaling across the water. On the Rappahannock early in 1863 a group of New Jersey soldiers received a shipment “by miniature boat six inches long.” It carried this note:

Gents U.S. Army

We send you some tobacco by our Packet. Send us some coffee in return. Also a deck of cards if you have them, and we will send you more tobacco. Send us any late papers if you have them.

Jas. O. Parker
Co. H. 17th Regt. Miss. Vols.

Alfred S. Roe, who served in a New York artillery unit, recalled that near Petersburg in the winter of 1864, “a certain canine of strictly impartial sentiments” was “taught to respond to a whistle from either side. Thus with a can of coffee suspended from his neck he would amble over to the Johnnies, and when they had replaced coffee with tobacco he would return in obedience to Union signals, intent only on the food reward both sides gave him.”

(From Bell I. Wiley, The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union, 1952.)

Podcast Episode 91: Voyage of the Damned

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:StLouisHamburg.jpg

In 1939, an ocean liner carrying 900 Jewish refugees left Nazi Germany seeking sanctuary in North America, but it was turned away by every nation it appealed to. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the so-called “voyage of the damned” and the plight of its increasingly desperate passengers.

We’ll also discuss the employment prospects for hermits in Seattle and puzzle over the contentment of a condemned woman.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

Sources for our feature on the MS St. Louis:

Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts, Voyage of the Damned, 1974.

Sarah A. Ogilvie and Scott Miller, Refuge Denied: The St. Louis Passengers and the Holocaust, 2006.

C. Paul Vincent, “The Voyage of the St. Louis Revisited,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies 25:2 (Fall 2011).

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, “The Story of the S.S. St. Louis (1939)” (accessed 01/10/2016).

Robert Leiter, “Voyage of the Damned: Survivors of the Ill-Fated St. Louis Recall Their Bittersweet Journey,” Jewish Exponent, June 17, 1999.

United States Coast Guard, “What Was the Coast Guard’s Role in the SS St. Louis Affair, Often Referred to as ‘The Voyage of the Damned’?” (accessed 01/10/2016).

Holocaust Online: Voyage of the St. Louis: Background Information

Jessica Shepherd, “Message in Bottle From Voyage of the Damned,” Evening Chronicle, Nov. 10, 2003.

Listener mail:

Levi Pulkkinen, “City of Seattle Looks to Pay $10,000 for Drawbridge Wordsmith,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Jan. 14, 2016.

Cara Giaimo, “Fleeting Wonders: Seattle Is Looking for a Poet to Live in a Bridge,” Atlas Obscura, Jan. 18, 2016.

Seattle’s application forms for the positions:

Atlas Obscura, Fremont Troll (accessed 01/23/2016).

Wikipedia, Fremont Troll (accessed 01/23/2016).

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Maureen Day.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

Enter promo code CLOSET at Harry’s and get $5 off your first order of high-quality razors.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

A Southern Education

Sentence completion exercises from Levi Branson’s First Book in Composition, 1863:

_______ is a Confederate State.

Gen. _______ reduced Fort Sumter.

South Carolina is the greatest _______ country in the Confederate States.

Louisiana raises more _______ than any other State in the Confederacy.

Abraham Lincoln led _______ people into war.

Jefferson Davis defended _______ country bravely, and deserves great applause for _______ patriotism.

General Stuart _______ started in pursuit; he _______ overtook the enemy, _______ led on the attack in person, and gained a complete victory.

General Lee defeated the Yankees, _______ his army was much smaller _______ theirs.

I saw the Confederate flag _______ from the City Hall.

From Marinda Branson Moore’s Dixie Speller, 1864:

It makes us sad to hear the booming of cannon in time of war. We think of our dear friends who are in the army, and fear they may be killed.

War is a sad thing, and those who bring it about will have much to answer for.

Some people lay all the blame at the door of the rulers of the nation. In some countries this is true, but in our country it is not so. The people elect their own rulers, and they should not choose bad men. If the rulers in the United States had been good Christian men, the present war would not have come upon us.

The people sent bad men to Congress, and they were not willing to make just laws, but were selfish, and made laws to suit themselves.

The Bible says “When the wicked bear rule the nation mourneth, but when the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice.”

People often do wrong, and when trouble comes upon them, they say God sent it.

God has made good laws for man, and if we do right we will be happy; but sin will always bring trouble.

Let every boy learn this lesson, and when he is a man, let him not vote for a bad man to fill an office of trust. — Then the men who wish to be in office will strive to be good, and the nation will be happy.

Podcast Episode 85: Raising Chicago

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Briggs_house.jpg

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

In 1868, visiting Scotsman David Macrae was astonished to see Chicago transforming itself — dozens of buildings were transplanted to the suburbs, and hotels weighing hundreds of tons were raised on jackscrews. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the city’s astounding 20-year effort to rid itself of sewage and disease.

We’ll also learn how a bear almost started World War III and puzzle over the importance of a ringing phone.

Sources for our feature on the raising of Chicago:

David Young, “Raising the Chicago Streets Out of the Mud,” Chicago Tribune, date strangely withheld (retrieved Dec. 7, 2015).

Robin Einhorn, “Street Grades, Raising,” Encyclopedia of Chicago (accessed Dec. 6, 2015).

Josiah Seymour Currey, Chicago: Its History and Its Builders, 1918.

Alfred Theodore Andreas, History of Chicago: Ending With the Year 1857, 1884.

David Macrae, The Americans at Home, 1870.

There’s a very extensive collection of contemporaneous news accounts here.

Listener mail:

Aaron Tovish, “The Okinawa Missiles of October,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Oct. 25, 2015.

Wikipedia, “Norwegian Rocket Incident” (retrieved Dec. 12, 2015).

Wikipedia, “Volk Field Air National Guard Base” (retrieved Dec. 12, 2015).

Chris Hubbuch, “False Alarm: How a Bear Nearly Started a Nuclear War,” La Crosse [Wis.] Tribune, Jan. 30, 2009.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle is from Matthew Johnstone’s 1999 book What’s the Story?

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Putting Words

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hideki_Tojo.jpg

In 1946, when Japanese prime minister Hideki Tojo was being held prisoner by the victorious Allies, he asked for a set of dentures so that he could speak clearly during his war crimes trial.

The dentures were made by 22-year-old military dentist E.J. Mallory. “I figured it was my duty to carry out the assignment,” Mallory remembered in 1988. “But that didn’t mean I couldn’t have fun with it.”

An amateur ham radio operator, he inscribed the phrase “Remember Pearl Harbor” in Morse code into the dentures and delivered them to Tojo.

Mallory and his colleague George Foster told a few friends, but the secret got out and the two had to awaken Tojo in the middle of the night to borrow back the dentures and grind out the message. The next day, when a colonel confronted them, they were able to say truthfully that there was no message.

It’s not known whether Tojo ever found out what had happened. He was executed in 1948.

“It wasn’t anything done in anger,” Mallory remembered in 1995. “It’s just that not many people had the chance to get those words into his mouth.”

Podcast Episode 84: The Man Who Never Was

2015-12-07-podcast-episode-84-the-man-who-never-was

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

In 1942, Germany discovered a dead British officer floating off the coast of Spain, carrying important secret documents about the upcoming invasion of Europe. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Operation Mincemeat, which has been called “the most imaginative and successful ruse” of World War II.

We’ll also hear from our listeners about Scottish titles and mountain-climbing pussycats and puzzle over one worker’s seeming unwillingness to help another.

Sources for our feature on Operation Mincemeat:

Denis Smyth, Deathly Deception: The Real Story of Operation Mincemeat, 2010.

Richard E. Gorini, “Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory,” The Army Lawyer, March 2011, 39-42.

Klaus Gottlieb, “The Mincemeat Postmortem: Forensic Aspects of World War II’s Boldest Counterintelligence Operation,” Military Medicine 174:1 (January 2009), 93-9.

Gerald Kloss, “‘Dead Man’ Trick That Fooled Hitler,” Milwaukee Journal, Jan. 28, 1954.

“The Germans Fooled by False Documents,” Montreal Gazette, April 30, 1954.

Ewen Montagu, “The Debt the Allies Owe to the Man Who Never Was,” Sydney Morning Herald, March 15, 1953.

“Mourner for ‘Man Who Never Was'”, Glasgow Herald, Dec. 24, 1959.

Listener mail:

Highland Titles

“Can You Really Become a Lord of the Scottish Highlands for Less than $50.00?”, HG.org (retrieved Dec. 3, 2015).

Links on mountain-climbing cats:

Peter Glaser, “Die Katze, die das Matterhorn bestieg,” Neue Zürcher Zeitung, July 6, 2015 (retrieved Dec. 3, 2015).

“Hello Kitty? The Curious History of Cats Who Climb Mountains,” One Hundred Mountains, Feb. 25, 2013 (retrieved Dec. 3, 2015).

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle is from Edward J. Harshman’s 1996 book Fantastic Lateral Thinking Puzzles.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

A Last Look

https://books.google.com/books?id=n0EEAAAAMBAJ

On Sept. 26, 1901, 13-year-old Fleetwood Lindley was attending school in Springfield, Ill., when his teacher handed him a note: His father wanted him urgently. He rode his bicycle to the Oak Ridge cemetery two miles out of town and found his father, Joseph, in the memorial hall of Abraham Lincoln’s tomb. The assassinated president, now 36 years dead, was being transferred to a new resting place, and a small group of caretakers had decided to open his coffin to confirm his identity.

The casket had been laid across a pair of sawhorses. A pair of workmen used a blowtorch to unseal the lead panel that covered Lincoln’s upper body, and the small group peered in.

Afterward the coffin was lowered into a hole 10 feet deep, encased in a cage of steel bars, and buried under tons of concrete. Over the years, as the other witnesses passed away, Lindley became the last living person to have looked on Lincoln’s body.

“His face was chalky white,” he remembered for a Life reporter in 1963, three days before his own death. “His clothes were mildewed. And I was allowed to hold one of the leather straps as we lowered the casket for the concrete to be poured.”

“I was not scared at the time, but I slept with Lincoln for the next six months.”