Ground Rules

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Articles of the pirate ship Revenge, captain John Phillips, 1723:

  1. Every man shall obey a civil command. The captain shall have one share and a half of all prizes. The master, carpenter, boatswain and gunner shall have one share and [a] quarter.
  2. If any man shall offer to run away or keep any secret from the company, he shall be marooned with one bottle of powder, one bottle of water, one small arm and shot.
  3. If any man shall steal anything in the company or game to the value of a piece-of-eight, he shall be marooned or shot.
  4. If at any time we should meet another marooner [pirate], that man that shall sign his articles without the consent of our company shall suffer such punishment as the captain and company shall think fit.
  5. That man that shall strike another whilst these articles are in force shall receive Moses’s Law (that is, forty stripes lacking one) on the bare back.
  6. That man that shall snap his arms or smoke tobacco in the hold without a cap on his pipe, or carry a candle lighted without a lantern, shall suffer the same punishment as in the former article.
  7. That man that shall not keep his arms clean, fit for an engagement, or neglect his business, shall be cut off from his share and suffer such other punishment as the captain and the company shall think fit.
  8. If any man shall lose a joint in time of an engagement, he shall have 400 pieces-of-eight. If a limb, 800.
  9. If at any time we meet with a prudent woman, that man that offers to meddle with her without her consent, shall suffer present death.

That’s from Charles Johnson’s General History of the Pyrates, 1724. It’s one of only four surviving sets of articles from the golden age of piracy.

Phillips lasted less than eight months as a pirate captain but captured 34 ships in the West Indies.

Talking

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Excerpt of a letter from British general Philip Howele to his wife, Sept. 15, 1915:

It is VILE that all my time should be devoted to killing Germans whom I don’t in the least want to kill. If all Germany could be united in one man and he and I could be shut up together just to talk things out, we could settle the war, I feel, in less than one hour. The ideal war would include long and frequent armistices during which both sides could walk across the trenches and discuss their respective points of view. We are really only fighting just because we are all so ignorant and stupid. And if diplomats were really clever such a thing as war could never be. Shall I desert and see if any of them will listen on the other side? My little German officer was rather flabbergasted when the first question I asked him the other morning, when the escort had gone out and shut the door, and after I’d put him in a comfortable chair and given him a cigarette, was, ‘Now first of all do you really hate me, and if so why?’ He said he didn’t. But then later, when I asked him what we could possibly do to stop all this nonsense, he had no suggestions to make. ‘I have my ideas’ he said but somehow couldn’t express them.

Goodnight … and bless you.

P.

Wire Bonds

The San Diego Daily Union of April 25, 1876, records a wedding by telegraph. W.H. Storey was the U.S. Signal Service operator at Camp Grant, Ariz. He couldn’t get leave to travel to San Diego, where Clara Choate lived, and there was no minister within hundreds of miles of the camp, so it appeared that the wedding couldn’t take place. But Storey thought, “A contract by telegraph is binding; then why can we not be married by telegraph?”

They were. Clara traveled to Camp Grant, and the pair were married over the wire by Jonathan L. Mann, pastor of the Methodist Episcopal church of San Diego. Lt. Philip Reade invited all managers along the line between California and Arizona to be present at their stations as wedding guests.

At 8:30 p.m. the father of the bride sent this message from San Diego:

Greeting to our friends at Camp Grant. We are ready to proceed with the ceremony.
D. CHOATE AND PARTY.

The answer came back:

We are ready.
W.H. STOREY.
CLARA E. CHOATE.

Then the Rev. Mr. Mann read the marriage service, which was repeated to Camp Grant as uttered, word for word, by Mr. Blythe, chief operator at the San Diego office. At the proper moment, the solemn ‘I do’ came back over the wires signed first by ‘William H. Storey,’ then by ‘Clara E. Choate.’ Then, following the words of the minister, the instruments clicked.

‘As a token of your sincerity you will please join your right hands.’

The answer came promptly: ‘It is done.’

The service was then concluded in regular form, after which congratulatory messages were sent the bride and groom from all stations. Suddenly Chief Operator Blythe of San Diego broke in and telegraphed Mr. Storey that ‘the Silver Cornet band of San Diego is just outside the office, giving you and your bride a serenade,’ a welcome that was warmly appreciated even though it was not heard at Camp Grant, 650 miles away.

Mr. and Mrs. Storey are still living in San Diego and have a happy family of five bright children who will always find pleasure in telling the story of their parents’ romantic wedding.

Listening In

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In 1890, as the telephone’s influence spread across the United States, Judge Robert S. Taylor of Fort Wayne, Ind., told an audience of inventors that the telephone had introduced an “epoch of neighborship without propinquity.” Scientific American called it “nothing less than a new organization of society.” The New York Times reported that two Providence men “were recently experimenting with a telephone, the wire of which was stretched over the roofs of innumerable buildings, and was estimated to be fully four miles in length”:

They relate that on the first evening of their telephonic dissipation, they heard men and women singing songs and eloquent clergymen preaching ponderous sermons, and that they detected several persons in the act of practising on brass instruments. This sort of thing was repeated every evening, while on Sunday morning a perfect deluge of partially conglomerated sermons rolled in upon them. … The remarks of thousands of midnight cats were borne to their listening ears; the confidential conversations of hundreds of husbands and wives were whispered through the treacherous telephone. … The two astonished telephone experimenters learned enough of the secrets of the leading families of Providence to render it a hazardous matter for any resident of that city to hereafter accept a nomination for any office.

In 1897 one London writer wrote, “We shall soon be nothing but transparent heaps of jelly to each other.”

(From Carolyn Marvin, When Old Technologies Were New, 1988.)

Bootstraps

Where does power come from? To be legitimate, a law must be enacted by a suitably constituted authority. But this authority must be constituted by some previously enacted law. This chain can’t continue backward forever; there must be some highest authority that appeals to a basic norm rather than to a foregoing set of rules. But how can the legal existence of this basic norm be established? There seem to be only two possibilities:

  1. The basic norm is enacted law. Since it’s not enacted by any other authority, this means it’s enacted by the highest authority itself.
  2. The basic norm isn’t enacted law. This means that its validity isn’t derived from that of any other norm but is an “original fact” that’s needed to underwrite the validity of every other norm in the system.

“Two, and only two, answers seem possible,” writes University of Copenhagen philosopher Alf Ross. “But both seem unacceptable. That is the puzzle.”

Somewhat related: The United Kingdom’s High Court of Chivalry was created in the 14th century to consider cases of the misuse of heraldic arms. It had been silent for centuries when suddenly in 1954 it was called on to hear a case: The Palace Theatre was displaying the arms of the Manchester city council on its seal, suggesting a link between the two. Before hearing the case, the court first had to rule on whether it still existed. It decided that it did. (And the city council won.)

(Alf Ross, “On Self-Reference and a Puzzle in Constitutional Law,” Mind 78:309 [January 1969], 457-480.) (Thanks, Julian.)

No Waiting

In 1892 … a law firm in the American West came up with the idea of a divorce papers vending machine. For a while, at least, legal divorce papers were items that could be bought from a vending machine in Corinne, Utah. A purchaser could insert $2.50 in coins, pull a lever on the side of the machine, and pick up his papers from a delivery drawer that popped open like a cash register drawer. Those papers were then taken to the local law firm — whose name was printed on the form — where the names of the divorcing couple were written in and witnessed.

— Kerry Segrave, Vending Machines: An American Social History, 2002

Podcast Episode 107: Arthur Nash and the Golden Rule

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In 1919, Ohio businessman Arthur Nash decided to run his clothing factory according to the Golden Rule and treat his workers the way he’d want to be treated himself. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll visit Nash’s “Golden Rule Factory” and learn the results of his innovative social experiment.

We’ll also marvel at metabolism and puzzle over the secrets of Chicago pickpockets.

Sources for our feature on Arthur Nash:

Arthur Nash, The Golden Rule in Business, 1923.

(Undercover journalist Ruth White Colton’s September 1922 article for Success Magazine is quoted in full in this book.)

Jeffrey Wattles, The Golden Rule, 1996.

Arthur Nash, “A Bible Text That Worked a Business Miracle,” American Magazine 92:4 (October 1921), 37.

“Golden Rule Plan at Clothing Mill Makes Profits for Owners,” Deseret News, Dec. 16, 1920.

“Golden Rule Nash Offers 7-Hour Day,” Schenectady Gazette, July 4, 1923.

“Arthur Nash, Who Shared With Employees, Is Dead,” Associated Press, Oct. 31, 1927.

The poem “Miss T.” appears in Walter de la Mare’s 1913 collection Peacock Pie:

It’s a very odd thing —
As odd as can be —
That whatever Miss T. eats
Turns into Miss T.;
Porridge and apples,
Mince, muffins and mutton,
Jam, junket, jumbles —
Not a rap, not a button
It matters; the moment
They’re out of her plate,
Though shared by Miss Butcher
And sour Mr. Bate;
Tiny and cheerful,
And neat as can be,
Whatever Miss T. eats
Turns into Miss T.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle is taken from Henry O. Wills’ memorably titled 1890 autobiography Twice Born: Or, The Two Lives of Henry O. Wills, Evangelist (Being a Narrative of Mr. Wills’s Remarkable Experiences as a Wharf-Rat, a Sneak-Thief, a Convict, a Soldier, a Bounty-Jumper, a Fakir, a Fireman, a Ward-Heeler, and a Plug-Ugly. Also, a History of His Most Wondrous Conversion to God, and of His Famous Achievements as an Evangelist).

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

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 on the support page of the Futility Closet website.

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!

Principle

A Quaker objector in the Civil War:

I was ordered out and required to fall in line with the company and drill, but I refused. They tried to make me and I sat down on the ground. They reminded me of the orders to shoot me, but I told them my God said to fear them not that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather to fear him that is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. The company was then ordered to fall back eight paces, leaving me in front of them. They were then ordered by Colonel Kirkland to ‘Load; Present arms; Aim,’ and their guns were pointed directly at my breast. I raised my arms and prayed: ‘Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.’ Not a gun was fired. They lowered them without orders, and some of them were heard to say that they ‘could not shoot such a man.’ The order was then given, ‘Ground arms.’

After weeks of such punishment, William Hockett was captured at Gettysburg and released to live in Philadelphia. He remained there until the end of the war.

Present Company

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Why do we give gifts during courtship, and what makes a good gift? In 2005, University College London mathematicians Peter D. Sozou and Robert M. Seymour modeled the question with a game. The male begins by offering one of three gifts — valuable, extravagant, or cheap — depending on how attractive he finds the female. After he offers the gift, she decides whether to accept it and mate with him. Afterward, he decides whether to stay with her or seek another partner.

Each is trying to judge the intentions of the other. She must decide whether he wants a serious relationship or only a brief encounter, and he must decide whether she’s really attracted to him or only wants the gift.

According to the courtship game, the most successful strategy for the male is to offer an “extravagant” gift that’s costly to him but intrinsically worthless to the female. This tells the female that he has resources and values her highly, but it protects him from coy fortune-hunters.

“By being costly to the male, the gift acts as a credible signal of his intentions or quality,” write Sozou and Seymour. “At the same time, its lack of intrinsic value to the female serves to deter a ‘gold-digger’, who has no intention of mating with the male, from accepting the gift. In this way, an economically inefficient gift enables mutually suitable partners to be matched.”

(Peter D. Sozou and Robert M. Seymour, “Costly But Worthless Gifts Facilitate Courtship,” Proceedings of the Royal Society B 272, 1877–1884, July 26, 2005.)

The Discursive Dilemma

The employees of a company are trying to decide whether to give up a pay raise so they can afford to install a workplace safety measure. Each employee will vote for the sacrifice if she thinks the danger is sufficiently serious, if the safety measure is sufficiently effective, and if the pay sacrifice is sufficiently bearable. Otherwise she’ll vote against it. The three employees come to this result:

discursive dilemma

This is troubling: A majority of employees supports each of the criteria, and yet each of the three resolves to reject the proposal. If the employees reach their decision by comparing their views about the measure as a whole, then they’ll reject the pay sacrifice. But if they compare their views about each criterion, they’ll accept it.

Princeton philosopher Philip Pettit worries that this phenomenon makes it impossible for us to make confident statements about the beliefs of a group. “Going the conclusion-driven way means adopting a course that is inconsistent with the premises endorsed by the group, and going the premise-driven way means adopting a course that a majority individually reject.”

Both outcomes are undesirable. “Going the first way means sacrificing collective rationality for the sake of responsiveness to individuals, going the second means sacrificing responsiveness to individuals for the sake of collective rationality.”

(Philip Pettit, “Deliberative Democracy and the Discursive Dilemma,” Philosophical Issues 11:1 [2001], 268-299.)