Cruel and Unusual

I couldn’t believe this when a reader first reported it — in July 2010 a Russian tourism company forced a donkey to parasail over the Sea of Azov as part of a publicity stunt.

“This is a little town and we all know that donkey well,” a local woman told reporters. “He worked for several years on the beach, being photographed with tourists. As soon as his ordeal was over, a lot of the people on the beach ran forward to soothe him.”

After worldwide outrage at the stunt, the donkey spent its last months in a sanctuary near Moscow, eating fruit and vegetables, spending time in a solarium, and getting massages. It died in December.

Animal-rights activists tried to prosecute the owners, but no charges were ever filed.

(Thanks, AnneLaure.)

Carry-Out

http://books.google.com/books?id=TbUvAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&rview=1#v=onepage&q&f=false

The small spaniel shown in the photograph is the heroine of a remarkable aerial adventure. The dog belongs to Wm. Marshman, who has a ranch on Cow Creek, near Encampment, Wyoming. Marshman happened to be in the barn while the dog was running in the pasture close by. On coming out of the barn a little later he saw a large bald eagle swoop down upon the spaniel, seize her with beak and talons, and ascend slowly into the air. He went to the house and returned with his rifle, and by this time the eagle had ascended about one hundred feet, but the dog becoming quite heavy and struggling continually caused the eagle to gradually descend until he came within twenty feet from the ground. A hasty shot from the rifle caused the eagle to drop the dog and soar away before Marshman could get within range for a telling shot. The dog was considerably lacerated by the beak and talons of the eagle, and the bald spot on her head is one of the scars.

Strand, July 1906

Roll Call

More unusual personal names:

From John Train’s Remarkable Names of Real People (1988):

  • Ave Maria Klinkenberg
  • Gaston J. Feeblebunny
  • Humperdink Fangboner
  • Larry Derryberry
  • Mary Louise Pantzaroff
  • Norman Icenoggle
  • Primrose Goo
  • Rapid Integration
  • Verbal Funderburk

From Barbara Fletcher’s Don’t Blame the Stork (1981):

  • Bobo Yawn
  • Louise Ghostkeeper
  • Constance Stench
  • Naughtybird Curtsey
  • Rat Soup
  • Sir Dingle Foot
  • Consider Arms
  • Craspius Pounders
  • Gizella Werberzerk-Piffel
  • Barbara Savage Machinest

The most impressive specimens come from H.L. Mencken’s magisterial American Language. In 1901 Loyal Lodge No. 296 Knights of Pythias Ponca City Oklahoma Territory Smith was baptized in Ponca City, and in 1949 John Hodge Opera House Centennial Gargling Oil Samuel J. Tilden Ten Brink was interviewed for the Linguistic Atlas in upstate New York. I don’t know what he said.

Nice Try

COMMON PLEAS — Yesterday Barton, an attorney, was brought from the Fleet prison. It was stated that the prisoner had written a very violent and voluminous libel on himself. This he procured to be printed, and then brought his action against the printer for defamation; but in this he was non-suited, and sent to prison for costs attending to the prosecution.

Observer, Nov. 11, 1798

A Virtue of Necessity

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boll_weevil_monument.jpg

Enterprise, Ala., has the world’s only monument to an agricultural pest.

In the 1890s the Mexican boll weevil arrived in the American South and began ravaging Alabama’s cotton crop. By 1916 the insects had infested the whole state, inflicting $20 to $40 million each year in economic damages. Insecticides, controlled burning, and innovative planting schedules were tried, but nothing worked.

So local businessman H.M. Sessions convinced indebted farmer C.W. Bastion to try planting peanuts instead of cotton. When Bastion produced 8,000 bushels that year, neighboring farmers followed suit, and in 1917 Coffee County brought forth the largest peanut harvest in the nation.

Because the new, diversified crops proved more profitable than cotton, in 1919 local businessman Roscoe Fleming proposed dedicating a statue to the pest that had proven a “herald of prosperity,” and an $1,800 classical statue was commissioned from an Italian sculptor. Thirty years later, one Luther Baker fashioned a large weevil to place atop her outstretched arms. Might as well be explicit.

The Zink Womanless Library

When Iowa attorney T.M. Zink died in 1930, his will disinherited his wife and daughter and left a sum to be invested for 75 years, when Zink calculated it would total about $4 million. This would be used to endow a rather unique library:

  • “No woman shall at any time, under any pretense or for any purpose, be allowed inside the library, or upon the premises or have any say about anything concerned therewith, nor appoint any person or persons to perform any act connected therewith.”
  • “No book, work of art, chart, magazine, picture, unless some production by a man, shall be allowed inside or outside the building, or upon the premises, and this shall include all decorations for inside and outside the building.”
  • “There shall be over each entrance to the premises and building a sign in these words: ‘No Woman Admitted.'”
  • “It is my intention to forever exclude all women from the premises and having anything to say or do with the trust estate and library. …”

Evidently this was a considered decision. “My intense hatred of women is not of recent origin or development nor based upon any personal differences I ever had with them but is the result of my experiences with women, observations of them, and study of all literatures and philosophical works within my limited knowledge relating thereto.”

If Zink’s plan had gone through, the library would be opening its doors just about now. Unfortunately for him, his daughter Margretta had him declared of unsound mind — and the court gave everything to her.

Going to Town

A fine tortoiseshell cat was on Friday morning the 27th ult. seen approaching London Bridge, peaceably seated in a large bowl-dish. As she advanced towards the fall, every one present anticipated that she would be overturned, and precipitated into the stream. She kept her seat, however, with great presence of mind, and amidst loud cheers shot the centre arch with as much dexterity as the most experienced waterman. A boy hearing her voice shortly after she had made the hazardous attempt, and fancying she wanted a pilot, rowed towards her, and took her into his wherry, when he found around her neck a parchment scroll, stating that she had come from Richmond Bridge, and directing, if she should reach London in safety, that she should be conveyed to a Mrs. Clarke, in High-street, in the Borough, who would reward the bringer. The boy, in pursuance of these instructions, conveyed poor puss to Mrs. Clarke, who seemed to be apprised of the circumstance, and rewarded the messenger with half a crown. It turned out that the voyage was undertaken for a wager between two Richmond Gentlemen, and that puss embarked at the turn of the tide in the course of the night, and happily reached her destination without sustaining any injury.

Caledonian Mercury, Sept. 2, 1813

Heartburn

Toads are associated with some wonderful myths, and my scepticism was naturally great when my friend Mr. H. Martin Leake assured me, while on a visit to Cawnpore in October of 1915, that toads would eat red-hot charcoal. An after-dinner demonstration, however, soon dispelled my doubts. Small fragments of charcoal heated to a glowing red were thrown on the cement floor in front of several of the small toads (usually Bufo stomaticus) which so commonly invade bungalows at that time of year, and, to my surprise, the glowing fragments were eagerly snapped up and swallowed. The toads appeared to suffer no inconvenience, since not only did they not exhibit any signs of discomfort, but, on the contrary, several toads swallowed two or even three fragments in succession. A probable explanation of the picking-up is that the toads mistook the luminous pieces of charcoal for glow-worms or fireflies, the latter being numerous in the grounds of the Agricultural College at Cawnpore in October; but this does not account for the swallowing of the hot particles–the absence of any attempt to disgorge. I repeated the experiment at Allahabad in August, 1916, with the same results (the toads even attempting to pick up glowing cigarette-ends), though I have never observed glow-worms or fireflies in Allahabad at any time of year.

— W.N.F. Woodland, in Nature, September 1920

Inner Views

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Greatglobe_sectional.png

Mapmaker James Wyld gave London an enormous gift in 1851 — a 60-foot globe fitted with an internal staircase from which visitors could view the surface of the world, complete with rivers and mountains sculpted in plaster. More than a million guests filed through the exhibit in 1851, which promised “the whole extent, figure, magnitude, and multifarious features of the world we live in, as if it were one vast plain.”

“It has been suggested to us that the interior should be fitted up as lodgings for foreigners,” Punch enthused. “By this arrangement a foreigner would feel himself perfectly at home, though really abroad.”

In the same spirit, in 1831 the skeleton of a 95-foot bowhead whale was displayed in a pavilion at Charing Cross, as part of a tour that had also touched Ostend and Paris. Visitors could ascend a flight of steps to a stage set within the ribcage, where they could sit at a table and write puns in the guest book. (“Why should we be mourned for if killed by the falling of the bones of the whale? We should be be-wailed.”) Jokers called the pavilion “the palace of the Prince of Whales.”

http://books.google.com/books?id=W7oRAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

The Linda Problem

Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.

Which of the following two alternatives is more probable?

1. Linda is a bank teller.
2. Linda is a bank teller and active in the feminist movement.

Rationally, statement 2 cannot be more likely than statement 1, but in a 1983 study by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, fully 85 percent of respondents said that it was.

Why this happens is a matter of some debate. Tversky and Kahneman argued that in making this kind of judgment we seek the closest resemblance between causes and effects (here, between Linda’s personality and her behavior), rather than calculating probability, and that this makes statement 2 seem preferable.