Joint Resolution

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From a letter from George Patton to his son, written on D-Day:

At 0700 this morning the BBC announced that the German radio had just come out with an announcement of the landing of Allied paratroops and of large numbers of assault craft near shore. So that is it. …

All men are timid on entering any fight whether it is the first fight or the last fight all of us are timid. Cowards are those who let their timidity get the better of their manhood. You will never do that because of your blood lines on both sides. I think I have told you the story of Marshal Touraine who fought under Louis XIV. On the morning of one of his last battles — he had been fighting for forty years — he was mounting his horse when a young ADC who had just come from the court and had never missed a meal or heard a hostile shot said: ‘M. de Touraine it amazes me that a man of your supposed courage should permit his knees to tremble as he walks out to mount.’ Touraine replied: ‘My lord duke I admit that my knees do tremble but should they know where I shall this day take them they would shake even more.’ That is it. Your knees may shake but they will always take you toward the enemy.

Testing Tongues

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LSU_Radio_Station_1938.jpg

Applicants for radio announcing jobs in the 1920s had to a pass a diction test — New York Daily News radio critic Ben Gross gives this example in his 1954 book I Looked and I Listened:

“Penelope Cholmondely raised her azure eyes from the crabbed scenario. She meandered among the congeries of her memoirs. There was the Kinetic Algernon, a choleric artificer of icons and triptychs, who wanted to write a trilogy. For years she had stifled her risibilities with dour moods. His asthma caused him to sough like the zephyrs among the tamarack.”

In the 1940s Radio Central New York administered a cold reading to prospective radio personalities to assess their speaking ability — announcer Del Moore found it so entertaining that he gave it to his friend Jerry Lewis, who made it a staple of his annual muscular dystrophy telethon:

Appreciation

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_(1825-1905)_-_The_Difficult_Lesson_(1884).jpg

“Why I began to write for children,” by Isaac Bashevis Singer:

  1. Children read books, not reviews. They don’t give a hoot about the critics.
  2. Children don’t read to find their identity.
  3. They don’t read to free themselves of guilt, to quench the thirst for rebellion, or to get rid of alienation.
  4. They have no use for psychology.
  5. They detest sociology.
  6. They don’t try to understand Kafka or Finnegans Wake.
  7. They still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation, and other such obsolete stuff.
  8. They love interesting stories, not commentary, guides, or footnotes.
  9. When a book is boring, they yawn openly, without any shame or fear of authority.
  10. They don’t expect their beloved writer to redeem humanity. Young as they are, they know that it is not in his power. Only the adults have such childish illusions.

(From his 1978 Nobel banquet speech.)

Black Mischief

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:British_crossword.png

Max Beerbohm was regularly flummoxed by the crossword in the London Times. So in 1940, mad for vengeance, he devised a puzzle that was completely impossible and submitted it to the editors. “No doubt you, like most people, have sometimes thought of some utterly awful thing that you could do if you chose to, some disastrous and devastating thing the very thought of which has brought cold sweat to your brow?” he prompted. “And you may have at some time thought: ‘Suppose I released into the columns of The Times, one of these fine days, a Crossword Puzzle with clues signifying nothing — nothing whatsoever,’ and may have hideously pictured to yourself the effect on all the educated parts of Great Britain?”

They published it. A selection of clues:

ACROSS

9. An insect with a girl on each side (8).
12. The cockney’s goddess appears to have been a slimmer (6).
22. A nudist’s aunt? (6).
26. Not what the wicket-keeper tries for in Essex (6).

DOWN

6. Wordsworth’s fan mail? (8).
8. They are up and going, no doubt, in ‘the sweet o’ the year’ (8).
13. Little Tommy thought it meant a red-faced blacksmith (10).
19. Such buns are eaten on a good day (two words) (3, 5).

The newspaper published Beerbohm’s letter along with the puzzle, so solvers were forewarned. But he did have his revenge: He announced that six of the clues were actually solvable — but wouldn’t say which six.

Side Effects

http://www.freeimages.com/photo/810139

From a letter from Gerard Manley Hopkins to his sister Kate, April 25, 1871:

We were all vaccinated the other day. The next day a young Portug[u]ese came up to me and said ‘Oh misther Opkins, do you feel the cows in yewer arm?’ I told him I felt the horns coming through. I do I am sure. I cannot remember now whether one ought to say the calf of the arm or the calf of the leg. My shoulder is like a shoulder of beef. I dare not speak above a whisper for fear of bellowing – there now, I was going to say I am obliged to speak low for fear of lowing. I dream at night that I have only two of my legs in bed. I think there is a split coming in both of my slippers. Yesterday I could not think why it was that I would wander about on a wet grass-plot: I see now. I chew my pen a great deal. The long and short of it is that my left forequarter is swollen and painful (I meant to have written arm but I cowld not.) Besides the doctor has given us medicine, so that I am in a miserable way just now.

Squaring Accounts

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Ernest Thompson Seton called his father “the most selfish man I ever knew, or heard of, in history or in fiction.” In 1881, on Seton’s 21st birthday, his father called him into his study, took down an enormous cash book from a high shelf, and opened it at E.

In the book he had recorded every expense he had ever made on the boy, including the day and date of each outlay, all the way back to the doctor’s fee for his delivery. The total was $537.50.

“Hitherto,” he said, “I have charged no interest. But from now on I must add the reasonable amount of 6 per cent per annum. I shall be glad to have you reduce the amount at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Stunned, Seton staggered to his feet and left the room, refusing his father’s offer “to furnish without expense a full copy of the indebtedness.”

His father called after him, “God bless you, my son. In the natural course of events, you cannot much longer be an inmate of my house; but I must prayerfully trust that, wherever your lot is cast in the near future, you will never forget the debt you owe your father, who is to you on earth the next to God.”

Seton paid the bill and never spoke to him again.

Podcast Episode 17: An Aircraft Carrier Made of Ice

http://collectionscanada.gc.ca/pam_archives/index.php?fuseaction=genitem.displayItem&lang=&rec_nbr=3237626&rec_nbr_list=3237626

In 1943 German submarines were devastating the merchant convoys carrying supplies to Britain. Unable to protect them with aircraft or conventional ships, the resource-strapped Royal Navy considered an outlandish solution: a 2-million-ton aircraft carrier made of ice.

In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the strange history of the project, which Winston Churchill initially praised as dazzling but which ended in ignominy at the bottom of a Canadian lake. We’ll also discover a love pledge hidden for 200 years in the heart of a Yorkshire tree and puzzle over the deaths of two men in a remote cabin.

Our segment on Project Habbakuk is based chiefly on L.D. Cross’ 2012 book Code Name Habbakuk. In the photo above, research workers cut ice and form it into beams on Lake Louise near the Chateau Lake Louise resort hotel in 1943.

Our post on the Yorkshire inscription appeared on Dec. 18, 2009. Sources for the podcast segment:

John Lindley, The Theory and Practice of Horticulture, 1855, citing the Gardener’s Chronicle of 1841.

“Redcarre, a Poor Fysher Towne,” in the Journal of Horticulture and Practical Gardening, Aug. 4, 1870.

“Local Writers and Local Worthies: William and Cholmley Turner,” in William Hall Burnett, Old Cleveland: Being a Collection of Papers, 1886.

Kazlitt Arvine, Cyclopaedia of Anecdotes of Literature and the Fine Arts, 1856.

Here’s the illustration from Lindley:

tree inscription

The inscription reads:

THIS TRE
LOVNG
TIME
WITNES
BEARE
OF TOW
LOVRS
THAT DID
WALK HEA
RE

Thomas Browne’s poem “The Lovers to Their Favourite Tree” appears in his Poems on Several Occasions, from 1800:

Long the wintry tempests braving,
Still this short inscription keep;
Still preserve this rude engraving,
On thy bark imprinted deep:
This tree long time witness bear,
Two true-lovers did walk here.

By the softest ties united,
Love has bound our souls in one;
And by mutual promise plighted,
Waits the nuptial rite alone–
Thou, a faithful witness bear,
Of our plighted promise here.

Tho’ our sires would gladly sever
Those firm ties they disallow,
Yet they cannot part us ever —
We will keep our faithful vow,
And in spite of threats severe,
Still will meet each other here.

While the dusky shade concealing,
Veils the faultless fraud of love,
We from sleepless pillows stealing,
Nightly seek the silent grove;
And escaped from eyes severe,
Dare to meet each other here.

Wealth and titles disregarding
(Idols of the sordid mind),
Calm content true love rewarding,
In the bliss we wish to find.—
Thou tree, long time witness bear,
Two such Lovers did walk here.

To our faithful love consenting
(Love unchang’d by time or tide),
Should our haughty sires relenting,
Give the sanction yet deny’d;
‘Midst the scenes to mem’ry dear,
Still we oft will wander here.

Then our ev’ry wish compleated,
Crown’d by kinder fates at last,
All beneath thy shadow seated,
We will talk of seasons past;
When, by night, in silent fear,
We did meet each other here.

On thy yielding bark, engraving
Now in short our tender tale,
Long, time’s roughest tempest braving,
Spread thy branches to the gale;
And, for ages, witness bear,
Two True-lovers did walk here.

Browne writes, “There are likewise other letters, which seem to be the initial of the Lover’s names, who appear to have frequented the solitary spot where the tree has grown, to vent the effusions of their mutual passion, and to enjoy the pleasure of each other’s conversation sequestered and unobserved.” The other writers don’t mention this.

Frances Cornford’s triolet “To a Fat Lady Seen From the Train” appeared in her volume Poems in 1910:

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
And shivering-sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?

G.K. Chesterton’s response, “The Fat Lady Answers,” appeared in his Collected Poems of 1927:

Why do you rush through the field in trains,
Guessing so much and so much?
Why do you flash through the flowery meads,
Fat-head poet that nobody reads;
And why do you know such a frightful lot
About people in gloves and such?

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. The show notes are on the blog. 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!

Unquote

“The light in the world comes principally from two sources, — the sun, and the student’s lamp.” — Christian Nestell Bovee, Intuitions and Summaries of Thought, 1862

Flexagons

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hexahexaflexagon_template.svg

Create a strip of 19 triangles like the one above (printable version here) and fold the left portion back successively at each of the northeast-pointing lines to produce a spiral:

Fold this spiral backward along line ab:

Then fold the resulting figure backward at cd. You should be left with one blank triangular tab that can be folded backward and pasted to another blank panel on the opposite side. The resulting hexagon should have six 1s on one side and six 2s on the other.

With some adroit pinching this hexagon produces some marvelous effects. Fold down two adjacent triangles so that they meet, and then press in the opposite corner to join them. Now the top of the figure can be prised open and folded down to produce a new hexagon — this one with 1s on one face and a surprising blank on the second. What has become of the 2s?

Exploring the properties of this “hexahexaflexagon” offers an intuitive lesson in geometric group theory:

When Martin Gardner wrote about these bemusing creatures in his first column for Scientific American in 1956, he received two letters. The first was from Neil Uptegrove of Allen B. Du Mont Laboratories in Clifton, N.J.:

Sirs:

I was quite taken with the article entitled ‘Flexagons’ in your December issue. It took us only six or seven hours to paste the hexahexaflexagon together in the proper configuration. Since then it has been a source of continuing wonder.

But we have a problem. This morning one of our fellows was sitting flexing the hexahexaflexagon idly when the tip of his necktie became caught in one of the folds. With each successive flex, more of his tie vanished into the flexagon. With the sixth flexing he disappeared entirely.

We have been flexing the thing madly, and can find no trace of him, but we have located a sixteenth configuration of the hexahexaflexagon.

Here is our question: Does his widow draw workmen’s compensation for the duration of his absence, or can we have him declared legally dead immediately? We await your advice.

The second was from Robert M. Hill of The Royal College of Science and Technology in Glasgow, Scotland:

Sirs:

The letter in the March issue of your magazine complaining of the disappearance of a fellow from the Allen B. Du Mont Laboratories ‘down’ a hexahexaflexagon, has solved a mystery for us.

One day, while idly flexing our latest hexahexaflexagon, we were confounded to find that it was producing a strip of multicolored material. Further flexing of the hexahexaflexagon finally disgorged a gum-chewing stranger.

Unfortunately he was in a weak state and, owing to an apparent loss of memory, unable to give any account of how he came to be with us. His health has now been restored on our national diet of porridge, haggis and whisky, and he has become quite a pet around the department, answering to the name of Eccles.

Our problem is, should we now return him and, if so, by what method? Unfortunately Eccles now cringes at the very sight of a hexahexaflexagon and absolutely refuses to ‘flex.’

Flash Mob

Pipe plot - 1877 - George Henry Boughton

When Wilhelm Kieft tried to outlaw smoking in New Amsterdam in the 1630s, he brought on a unique protest. Washington Irving writes:

A mob of factious citizens had … the hardihood to assemble before the governor’s house, where, setting themselves resolutely down, like a besieging army before a fortress, they one and all fell to smoking with a determined perseverance, that seemed as though it were their intention to smoke him into terms. The testy William issued out of his mansion like a wrathful spider, and demanded to know the cause of this seditious assemblage, and this lawless fumigation; to which these sturdy rioters made no other reply, than to loll back phlegmatically in their seats, and puff away with redoubled fury; whereby they raised such a murky cloud, that the governor was fain to take refuge in the interior of his castle.

Wilhelm finally gave in — people could smoke, he said, but they had to give up long pipes. “Thus ended this alarming insurrection, which was long known by the name of the pipe plot, and which, it has been somewhat quaintly observed, did end, like most other plots, seditions, and conspiracies, in mere smoke.”

(Thanks, Dan.)

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