Foul Play

On Aug. 17, 1957, in a game against the New York Giants, Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Richie Ashburn hit a foul ball into the stands and hit Alice Roth, the wife of Philadelphia Bulletin sports editor Earl Roth.

The game was stopped, and Roth received emergency medical treatment for a broken nose.

As she was being carried out on a stretcher, Ashburn hit a second foul — and hit her again.

Extended Tour

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In 1938, 18-year-old Korean soldier Yang Kyoungjong was conscripted into the Japanese army to fight against the Soviet Union.

He was captured by the Red Army, which pressed him into fighting the Nazis on the eastern front.

In 1943 he was captured by the Germans, who forced him to fight the invading Allies at Normandy.

There he was captured by American paratroopers in June 1944.

This means he fought for three different armies during World War II, and was captured each time. He died in Illinois in 1992.

The Indiana Pi Bill

In 1894, Indiana physician Edwin J. Goodwin published a one-page article in the American Mathematical Monthly claiming to have found a method of squaring the circle — that is, of constructing a square with the same area as a given circle using only a compass and straightedge, a task known to be impossible. He proposed a bill to state representative Taylor I. Record, laying out the “new mathematical truth” and offering it “as a contribution to education to be used only by the State of Indiana free of cost by paying any royalties whatever on the same, provided it is accepted and adopted by the official action of the legislature of 1897.”

Apparently flummoxed, the House referred the bill to its Committee on Swamp Lands, which transferred it to the Committee on Education … which approved it. Whereupon the whole house passed it unanimously.

The bill, which the Indianapolis Journal was already calling “the strangest bill that has ever passed an Indiana Assembly,” moved on to the senate, which referred it the Committee on Temperance. (Chronicler Will E. Edington writes, “One wonders whether this was done intentionally, for certainly the bill could have been referred to no committee more appropriately named.”) Equally flummoxed, the committee recommended that it pass.

The bill might have achieved full passage had not Purdue mathematics professor C.A. Waldo happened to be visiting the House that day. “A member … showed the writer a copy of the bill just passed and asked him if he would like an introduction to the learned doctor,” Waldo later recalled in the Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science. “He declined the courtesy with thanks, remarking that he was acquainted with as many crazy people as he cared to know.”

That did it. “Representative Record’s mathematical bill legalizing a formula for squaring the circle was brought up and made fun of,” reported by Indianapolis News on Feb. 13. “The Senators made bad puns about it, ridiculed it and laughed over it. The fun lasted half an hour. Senator Hubbell said that it was not meet for the Senate, which was costing the State $250 a day, to waste its time in such frivolity.”

“Senator Hubbell characterized the bill as utter folly,” added the Indianapolis Journal. “The Senate might as well try to legislate water to run up hill as to establish mathematical truth by law.”

Trinity

In 1959, psychologist Milton Rokeach assembled three mentally ill patients each of whom believed he was Jesus Christ:

Leon: “People can use the same Bible but some of them will worship Jesus Christ instead of worshiping God through Jesus Christ.”

Clyde: “We worship both.”

Leon: “I don’t worship you. I worship God Almighty through you, and through him, and him.”

Clyde: “You oughta worship me, I’ll tell you that!”

Leon: “I will not worship you! You’re a creature! You better live your own life and wake up to the facts.”

Clyde: “I’m living my life. You don’t wake up! You can’t wake up!”

Joseph: “No two men are Jesus Christs.”

Leon: “You hear mechanical voices.”

Clyde: “You don’t get it right. I don’t care what you call it. I hear natural voices. I hear to heaven. I hear all over.”

Joseph: “I’m going back to England.”

Leon: “Sir, if the good Lord wills only.”

Joseph: “Good Lord! I’m the good Lord!”

Leon: “That’s your belief, sir.”

Rokeach intended the study as an inquiry into the nature of identity: If there is only one son of God, how would these men react on encountering one another? He found that they explained the disagreement by calling one another crazy, duped, or disingenuous, but that the conflict was less damaging psychologically than might have been supposed. In his 1964 account of the experiment, The Three Christs of Ypsilanti, Rokeach writes, “We have learned that even when a summit of three is composed of paranoid men, deadlocked over the ultimate in human contradiction, they prefer to seek ways to live with one another in peace rather than destroy one another.”

Cameo

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I beg to send you the enclosed photo, as a contribution to your ‘Curiosity’ pages. A brother of mine tried to step through a long window, thinking it was open. He found it was closed, but succeeded in opening part of it, leaving the profile of Sir Wm. Harcourt in the gap. This is just as the glass remained when the noise subsided. — Mr. Arthur R. Mills, 38, Billing Road, Northampton

Strand, February 1902

Reflected Glory

The town of Viganella in the Italian Alps receives no direct sun for 83 days each year. So in 2006 mayor Pierfranco Midali commissioned a 26-by-16-foot mirror to be placed on a nearby mountainside at 3,600 feet. Tracking the sun with computer-controlled motors, the mirror throws light into the town square for six hours each day.

The illuminated area measures 300 square yards. “I can already see my little old ladies coming out of the church after mass and just standing there, enjoying a bit of sun,” Midali said.

The Candy Desk

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In 1965, California senator George Murphy began keeping sweets in his desk on the Senate floor, and he offered them to colleagues who passed by. Because Murphy sat near a busy entrance, the “candy desk” became well known, and when Murphy left the Senate after one term the tradition was maintained. In the ensuing years Slade Gorton, John McCain, George Voinovich, and Rick Santorum have all sat at the candy desk, each stocking it with confections from his home state. (In Santorum’s case, this was a bonanza — Hershey shipped more than 400 pounds of chocolate each year from its Pennsylvania headquarters.) The seat is currently occupied by Illinois senator Mark Kirk, who stocks it with Wrigley’s gum, Garrett’s popcorn, Tootsie Rolls and Jelly Bellys.

Though by tradition the candy desk is always occupied by a Republican senator, the physical desk that’s used may vary. The current desk was once occupied by Barack Obama.

Handiwork

In a 1965 story on the accidental death of a local millworker, Charlotte News police reporter Joseph Flanders wrote, “It was as if an occult hand had reached down from above and moved the players like pawns upon some giant chessboard.”

This struck Flanders’ fellow reporters as hilariously purple, and they founded the Order of the Occult Hand to immortalize him by sneaking the phrase into as many stories as possible. This has evolved into an in-joke among American journalists:

  • “It was as if an occult hand had somehow palmed the film.” — Deborah Caulfield, “Disney Pulls ‘Wolf’ From Mann in Dispute,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 7, 1983.
  • “As the show wears on, your eyelids may slam shut, as if tugged by an occult hand.” — Jay Sharbutt, “FBI’s Untold Stories Told, James Earl Jones Seeks A Few Laughs,” Associated Press, Sept. 26, 1991.
  • “It was as if an occult hand was at work, or maybe a screenwriter for one of Mel Brooks’ slapstick comedies.” — Paul Greenberg, “Warren G. Clinton’s Bad Week,” Tulsa World, May 28, 1993.
  • “One morning last week, while pondering the daily question of khakis vs. jeans, it was as if an occult hand reached down and plucked the baggy green pants from the hanger and thrust them at me.” — Dennis Rogers, “Snug Fat Clothes and Other Realities of Pre-Boomers,” Raleigh News & Observer, Aug. 3, 1993.
  • “It was as if an occult hand had pointed you out to each other.” — Florence Shinkle, “Fated Attractions: How Our Minds (and Our Glands) Make Us Fall in Love,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 14, 1994.
  • “Nails, screws, small tools and thingamajigs accumulate and then relocate as if moved by an occult hand to some new hiding spot.” — M.R. Montgomery, “A Place for Everything,” Boston Globe, July 6, 1995.
  • “It was as if an occult hand had guided the black sphere down the narrow lane and into the triangle of pins.” — Linton Weeks, “Spares and Strikes,” Washington Post, June 5, 1997.
  • “It was as if an occult hand had reached down to throw beleaguered Democrat Donald S. Beyer Jr. a wee crumb on an otherwise bleak night.” — Sean Scully, “Barry vs. Plotkin,” Washington Times, Nov. 7, 1997.
  • “When he plays the blues, it is as if some occult hand is guiding his hand over the guitar, channeling the essence of the blues through Clapton.” — Eric Fidler, “Sound Bites: ‘Pilgrim’ (Reprise) – Eric Clapton,” Associated Press, March 23, 1998.
  • “We like to think we have earned success, after all, and discount the occult hand of fate.” — David Mehegan, “The Story of E,” Boston Globe, May 14, 2000.
  • “It was as if an occult hand had taken Chuck Klosterman’s radio, tuned away from the Top 40 ear candy of Duran Duran and the Stray Cats, and tuned into the satanic debauchery of Motley Crue.” — Eric Hanson, “These Books Rock: ‘Fargo Rock City’ Lauds Metal as Refuge for Teens,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 15, 2001.
  • “It is as if an occult hand placed Calvino in our country so we could appreciate our own eccentricities,” John Skoyles, “The ‘Hermit’ Emerges in Calvino’s Writings,” Associated Press, April 21, 2003.

“It’s a phrase that has that sense of journalese about it, sort of a campy phrase,” Greenberg told James Janega of the Chicago Tribune in 2004. He holds a Pulitzer and has used the phrase at least six times, “just to keep my standing in good order.”

But Montgomery told Janega that in the modern era the occult hand might be coming to an end. “There’s so much bad writing and so much pretentious writing,” he said, “I’m afraid it would get lost.”

Lies Within Lies

A singer sings this song:

I’m a stockman to my trade, and they call me Ugly Dave.
I’m old and gray and only got one eye.
In a yard I’m good, of course, but just put me on a horse,
And I’ll go where lots of young-uns daren’t try.

He goes on to brag of his skill in riding, whipping, branding, shearing: “In fact, I’m duke of every blasted thing.”

There are two fictions here: The singer is pretending to be Ugly Dave, and Ugly Dave is telling boastful lies. But why doesn’t this collapse? How are we able to tell that the fictional Ugly Dave is lying (which is essential to the song’s meaning), rather than telling the truth?

“We must distinguish pretending to pretend from really pretending,” writes David Lewis in Philosophical Papers. “Intuitively it seems that we can make this distinction, but how is it to be analyzed?”