Unquote

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

“It is odd that the skeleton of a house is cheerful when the skeleton of a man is mournful, since we only see it after the man is destroyed. … There is something strangely primary and poetic about the sight of the scaffolding and main lines of a human building; it is a pity there is no scaffolding round a human baby.” — G.K. Chesterton, “The Wings of Stone,” Alarms and Discursions, 1911

Resolution

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In June 1918, frustrated novelist Sherwood Anderson sent this letter to his day job at a Chicago advertising agency:

Dear Barton:

You have a man in your employ that I have thought for a long time should be fired. I refer to Sherwood Anderson. He is a fellow of a good deal of ability but for a long time I have been convinced that his heart is not in his work. There is no question but that this man Anderson has in some ways been an ornament to our organization. His hair, for one thing, being long and mussy gives an artistic carelessness to his personal appearance that somewhat impresses such men as Frank Lloyd Wright and Mr. Curtiniez of Kalamazoo when they come into the office. But Anderson is not really productive, as I have said, his heart is not in his work. I think he should be fired, and if you will not do the job, I should like permission to fire him myself. I, therefore, suggest that Anderson be asked to sever his connections with the company on August 1st. He is a nice fellow. We will let him down easy, but let’s can him.

Respectfully submitted,

Sherwood Anderson

He published Winesburg, Ohio the following year.

Finders Keepers

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On June 15, 1936, A. Dean Lindsay of Ocilla, Ga., visited a Pittsburgh notary public and presented a claim for

[a]ll of the property known as planets, islands-of-space or other matter, henceforth to be known as ‘A.D. Lindsay’s archapellago’ [sic] located in all the region visible (by any means) upward, (or in any other direction) from the city of Ocilla, Ga, together with all planets, islands-of-space or other matter (except this world, the Moon and the planet Saturn) visible from any other planet, island-of-space or other matter.

“On a May night in 1936,” he explained later, “I was watching the full moon. It seemed so large and beautiful that I thought of it as real estate, and said to myself, ‘Nobody owns it!’ Then I decided to acquire it by original claim deed.”

He left Earth to its inhabitants but in two separate deeds claimed

All of the property in ‘A. Dean Lindsay’s archapellago’ (commonly called the sky, or heavens) known as the planet ‘Saturn’ and periodically seen from the city of Ocilla, Ga.

and

All of the property in ‘A. Dean Lindsay’s archapellago’ commonly called ‘The Moon’, a planet in the sky.

He sent the deeds and the required payment to R.K. Brown, clerk of the Superior Court in Ocilla, and accordingly on June 28 Brown recorded them in Deed Book 11, pages 28-29, at Irwin County Courthouse in Ocilla.

So that’s that. “Can you believe it?” Lindsay wrote in a letter to Ramon P. Coffman. “That I own the Moon and the Sun, the stars, the comets, meteors, asteroids — everything, everywhere beyond this world?”

Occasionally thereafter he would receive requests to purchase the moon, a constellation, or a star. He sent them all the same answer: “Henry Ford is not rich enough to buy them, so I know that you cannot.”

Summing Up

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In 1932, at the end of a 60-year career studying hydrodynamics, Sir Horace Lamb addressed the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

“I am an old man now,” he said, “and when I die and go to heaven there are two matters on which I hope for enlightenment. One is quantum electrodynamics, and the other is the turbulent motion of fluids. And about the former I am rather more optimistic.”

Dashed Hopes

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Early telegraph operators rejoiced in their secret knowledge of Morse code. In 1876 Chamber’s Journal reported on a popular play called Across the Continent in which a telegraph operator named Oliver sends out frantic messages from a railway station besieged by Indians. After a responding string of dots and dashes sent from offstage, Oliver cries out, “Thank God! We are saved!” After one performance a telegrapher in the audience noted that the response had been SAY, OLIVER, LET’S TAKE A DRINK.

In 1892 a writer for Harper’s Bazaar was riding a train when a groom and his beautiful bride entered the car. Two young men began a conversation by clicking their pocket knives on the metal arm of the seat.

“Her lips were just made for kisses,” one said.

“That’s what they were.”

“Say!”

“Well?”

“When the train gets to the next tunnel, I’m going to reach over and kiss her.”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“Yes, I would. She’d think it was her husband, you know.”

At this the bridegroom took out his own pocket knife and ticked off on the arm of his seat: “When the train gets to the next tunnel, the chump proposes to reach over and hammer your two heads together till your teeth drop out. See!”

Podcast Episode 122: The Bear Who Went to War

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During World War II a Polish transport company picked up an unusual mascot: a Syrian brown bear that grew to 500 pounds and traveled with his human friends through the Middle East and Europe. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll meet Wojtek, the “happy warrior,” and follow his adventures during and after the war.

We’ll also catch up with a Russian recluse and puzzle over a murderous daughter.

Intro:

In 1956, U.S. Navy pilot Tom Attridge overtook his cannon rounds and shot down his own plane.

At Petersburg, Va., during the American Civil War, a Union and a Confederate bullet met in midair.

Sources for our feature on Wojtek the shell-toting bruin:

Aileen Orr, Wojtek the Bear, 2012.

Karen Jensen, “Private Wojtek, Reporting for Duty,” World War II 27:3 (September-October 2012), 54.

The Wojtek Memorial Trust raised £250,000 to build Wojtek’s memorial statue in Edinburgh.

“Scottish District News,” Glasgow Herald, Nov. 21, 1947.

“Smarter Than the Average Bear … by Far,” Edinburgh News, March 28, 2007.

David Sapsted, “Private Wojtek the ‘Hero Bear’ to be Honoured in Edinburgh,” Abu Dhabi National, Jan. 7, 2012.

David McCann, “Soldier Bear Wojtek to Be Given Statue in Edinburgh,” Berwickshire Advertiser, Dec. 28, 2012.

“Krakow Votes for WWII Soldier Bear Statue,” Radio Poland, April 26, 2013.

David McCann, “Prince Street Gardens Statue of Polish Army Bear,” Scotsman, May 29, 2013.

Alistair Grant, “Polish War Hero Bear Wojtek to Appear on Bus,” Edinburgh Evening News, Nov. 11, 2014.

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Wojtek’s unit, the 22nd Artillery Support Company of the 2nd Polish Corps, adopted this design as its emblem. In Wojtek the Bear, Aileen Orr writes, “It was very much 22nd Company’s trademark; the bear logo even appeared on regimental equipment. Within weeks of its being created and approved, shortly after the Battle of Monte Cassino, the Wojtek military logo was everywhere. The bear had pretty much become a legend in his own not inconsiderable lunchtime as curious Allied soldiers from other regiments inquired about the badge’s significance.”

Listener mail:

Some recent photos of Agafia Lykov can be seen on this Facebook page.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was composed by Greg, who gathered these corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

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 we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support. You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us 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!

The Paradox of Musical Description

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Unlike the visual or literary arts, music seems to be impossible to describe in words — we’re forced to choose between the senselessly subjective and the incomprehensibly technical. Rutgers philosopher Peter Kivy cataloged four common types of music criticism:

  • Biographical: a description of the composer rather than his music. “We are allowed to gaze upon a deeply agitated life, that seeks, with strong endeavour, to support itself at the high level of the day.”
  • Autobiographical: a description of the critic’s impressions rather than the music. “I closed my eyes, and whilst listening to the divine gavotte … I seemed to be surrounded on all sides by enfolding arms, adorable, intertwining feet, floating hair, shining eyes, and intoxicating smiles.”
  • Emotive: a subjective description of emotions in composers or listeners. “The first episode is a regular trio in the major mode, beginning in consolation and twice bursting into triumph.”
  • Technical: the coldly clinical: “The joint between the second movement and the third can hang on the progression D-B♭-B♮, which is parallel to F-D♭-D♮ between the first and second.”

There just doesn’t seem to be an adequate way to convey the experience of hearing a piece of music without actually playing it for someone. “Description of music is in a way unique,” Kivy writes. “When it is understandable to the nonmusician, it is cried down as nonsense by the contemporary musician. And when the musician or musical scholar turn their hands to it these days, likely as not the non-musician finds it as mysterious as the Cabala, and about as interesting as a treatise on sewage disposal.”

(From The Corded Shell, 1980.)