Art and Truth

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sandro_Botticelli_-_La_nascita_di_Venere_-_Google_Art_Project_-_edited.jpg

Is the proposition ‘Botticelli’s Birth of Venus depicts the birth of Venus’ true, false, or neither true nor false? If we assume that there never was such an event as the actual birth of Venus (as we safely can), then this proposition would appear to be analogous to ‘Alexander slew the Minotaur.’ But this proposition is true: Botticelli’s Birth of Venus does depict the birth of Venus.

— W.E. Kennick of Amherst College, posed in Margaret P. Battin et al., Puzzles About Art, 1989

Cancel That

Howard C. Saar of Albion, Mich., pointed out an innovative solution to this problem in Recreational Mathematics Magazine, April 1962:

log(3x + 2) + log(4x – 1) = 2log11

Divide each side of the equation by the word “log”:

(3x + 2) + (4x – 1) = (2)(11)

7x = 21

x = 3

… which is correct.

Presidential Misgivings

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

George Washington: “So much is expected, so many untoward circumstances may intervene, that I feel an insuperable diffidence in my own abilities.”

John Adams: “If I were to go over my life again, I would be a shoemaker rather than an American statesman.”

Thomas Jefferson called the presidency “a splendid misery.” He said, “To myself, personally, it brings nothing but unceasing drudgery and daily loss of friends.”

John Quincy Adams called his term “the four most miserable years of my life.”

Andrew Jackson: “I can with truth say mine is a situation of dignified slavery.”

Buchanan to Lincoln: “”If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning [home], you are a happy man indeed.”

Lincoln: “You have heard about the man tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail? A man in the crowd asked how he liked it, and his reply was that if it wasn’t for the honor of the thing, he would rather have walked.”

Ulysses Grant: “I have been the subject of abuse and slander scarcely ever equaled in political history.”

Rutherford B. Hayes, on leaving office: “The escape from bondage into freedom is grateful indeed to my feelings. … The burden, even with my constitutional cheerfulness, has not been a light one. Now I am glad to be a freed man.”

James Garfield: “My God! What is there in this place that a man should ever want to get in it?”

Grover Cleveland: “I believe I shall buy or rent a house near here, where I can go and be away from this cursed constant grind.”

Teddy Roosevelt, to the incoming Taft: “Ha ha! You are making up your Cabinet. I in a lighthearted way have spent the morning testing the rifles for my African trip. Life has its compensations.”

Taft: “I’ll be damned if I am not getting tired of this. It seems to be the profession of a president simply to hear other people talk.”

Taft to Wilson: “I’m glad to be going — this is the lonesomest place in the world.”

Woodrow Wilson: “I never dreamed such loneliness and desolation of heart possible.”

Warren G. Harding: “This White House is a prison. I can’t get away from the men who dog my footsteps. I am in jail.”

Herbert Hoover: “A few hair shirts are part of the wardrobe of every man. The President differs from other men in that he has a much more extensive wardrobe.”

Harry Truman: “Being a president is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.”

Bill Clinton: “Being a president is a lot like running a cemetery: There are a lot of people under you, but nobody’s listening.”

Observations

Excerpts from the notebooks of English belletrist Geoffrey Madan (1895-1947):

Sun sets on 5 May exactly behind the Arc de Triomphe.

There is a social level at which intellect is superfluous; and an intellectual level at which rank is invisible.

The odd fact that one sees Paddington as two such different places when arriving and when departing. [Elsewhere he says this is "perhaps the difference between life seen in youth and old age."]

“Why is no food blue?” — Jane Asquith (aged 7)

“Society of Contradictory Overseers.” — Attempt by the Chinese Ambassador in 1881 to convey the sense of “Protestant Episcopal Church”

Influenza symptoms seem only a slight intensification of one’s ordinary attitudes to life: disinclination to get up, etc.

“Omlet, Omlet, dies is dein Feyder’s spooke.” — Dutch Hamlet

“My dear, you’re the only woman in the world who’d have known the right hat to wear on an occasion like this.” — Oscar Wilde, to Mrs. Leverson, on his coming out of prison

“De Sancta Cruce”

https://archive.org/details/monumen01gese

The English scholar Alcuin devised this remarkable acrostic poem in the ninth century. The text can be read in conventional lines of Latin, and additional phrases are embedded in a symmetrical arrangement of lines that represent the cross inscribed upon the world:

Horizontal, top and bottom:

Crux decus es mundi Iessu de sanguine sancta (“Cross, you are the glory of the world, in Jesus’ blood sanctified”)

Suscipe sic talem rubicumdam celsa coronam (“Accept, exalted cross, from me this scarlet crown”)

Vertical, left and right:

Crux pia vera salus partes in quatuor orbis (“Pious cross, true salvation in the four corners of the world”)

Alma teneto tuam Christo dominane coronam (“Beneficent, take your crown, Christ being the Lord”)

The cross:

Rector in orbe tuis sanavit saecla sigillis (“The ruler of the world saved generations by your sign”)

Surge lavanda tuae sunt saecula fonte fidei (“Rise, the world is cleansed in the font of faith”)

The diamond, representing the world (whose four corners are referenced in the vertical line on the left):

Salve sancta rubens, fregisti vincula mundi (“Hail holy scarlet, you have shattered the world’s shackles”)

Signa valete novis reserata salutibus orbi (“Wonders are manifest, revealed anew to the world in saving works”)

A translation of the full text:

Cross, you are the glory of the world, in Jesus’ blood sanctified.
God the king from the cross conveyed heaven’s judgment.
A victor he reigns, destroying evil and conquering the enemy,
Christ the great sacrifice nailed on the cross for us.
The shepherd by dying redeemed his sheep with his healing right hand.
Glorious, holy salvation from the venerable tree,
he seized the prize, shrugging off the ties of flesh.
Though in bonds the highest king freed us, and he himself
giving his life to the cross triumphed over death,
The kingdom of heaven gaped when the world’s enemy was destroyed.
The sign will be more manifest and all good people will wear it,
praising it with all strength; let all discern more profoundly
so that they may see how many his holy passion frees
from eternal sorrow, and see one thrown down by time
to heal those oppressed by the enemy’s torments; there
may the highest and true Joseph now be our salvation,
who suffered high upon the cross such that error can’t seduce
and poison men and drag them from the light of faith.
The ruler of the world saved generations by your sign.
You, my life, my salvation! For you alone my voice composes hymns,
and shall always sing the highest songs, clear and plain
with the plectrum; for David famous for his song
proves that it is proper for us to testify holiness continually
in elaborate style — accept that which I have just begun, O Christ supernal,
true salvation, great sufferer, you sacred and holy light. Now
the secular nations sing the beneficent sign of the cross,
all the earth trembles and in one accord proclaims
the fame of the cross. In prayer it reveals its inmost heart.
Now hear, vain men, confounded in evil:
The almighty shines forth. May blessed faith fill your hearts
and the serpent not drive them back to their old ways.
The highest and most faithful redeemer has restored us
to his kingdom, and has conquered by this sign the obdurate one,
toppling warlike Satan from the place he hazarded to rule.
Glorious cross, the world should loose its prayers to you.
Accept, exalted cross, from me this scarlet crown.

(From Monumenta Germaniae Historica, part one, 1880, and Jay Hopler and Kimberly Johnson, eds., Before the Door of God: An Anthology of Devotional Poetry, 2013. Thanks, Brandon.)

Podcast Episode 29: The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser

C:\Users\Greg\Dropbox\Podcast\029-The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser

In 1828, a 16-year-old boy appeared in Nuremberg, claiming that he’d spent his whole life alone in a dark cell. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the short, sad life of Kaspar Hauser and ponder who he might have been.

We’ll also revisit the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, encounter some self-landing planes, and puzzle over why a man would bury 15 luxury cars in the desert.

Sources for our segment on Kaspar Hauser:

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, Lost Prince: The Unsolved Mystery of Kaspar Hauser, 1996.

Martin Kitchen, Kaspar Hauser: Europe’s Child, 2001.

Links from listener mail:

Being in the Shadow, Australian psychologist Kate Russo’s site about the psychology of eclipse chasing.

A 1997 NTSB report regarding a Piper PA-24 that “landed itself” after the pilot passed out due to a carbon monoxide leak.

The “cornfield bomber,” a Convair F-106 Delta Dart that landed in a Montana farmer’s field in 1970 after the pilot ejected. When the local sheriff arrived, the jet’s engine was still idling.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle is from Paul Sloane and Des MacHale’s 1994 book Great Lateral Thinking Puzzles. Corroborating links are here and here (warning — they spoil the puzzle).

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. 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. We’re off next week — Episode 30 will go up on Oct. 20. Thanks for listening!

In a Word

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/831303

tonitruation
n. thundering

Finnegans Wake is punctuated by ten thunderclaps, which occur at moments of crisis in the text. “A situation is presented, developed, and subjected to increasing stress until, with the thunder, a collapse, and suddenly a complementary situation that was latent in the first is seen to be in place,” writes scholar Eric McLuhan.

First thunderclap:

bababadalgharaghtakamminaronnonnbronntonnerronnuonnthunn-
trobarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurknuk

Second:

Perkodhuskurunbarggruauyagokgorlayorgromgremmitghundhurthru-
mathunaradidillifaititillibumullunukkunun

Third:

klikkaklakkaklaskaklopatzklatschabattacreppycrottygraddaghsemmih-
sammihnouithappluddyappladdypkonpkot

Fourth:

Bladyughfoulmoecklenburgwhurawhorascortastrumpapornanennykock-
sapastippatappatupperstrippuckputtanach

Fifth:

Thingcrooklyexineverypasturesixdixlikencehimaroundhersthemagger-
bykinkinkankanwithdownmindlookingated

Sixth:

Lukkedoerendunandurraskewdylooshoofermoyportertooryzooysphalna-
bortansporthaokansakroidverjkapakkapuk

Seventh:

Bothallchoractorschumminaroundgansumuminarumdrumstrumtrumina-
humptadumpwaultopoofoolooderamaunsturnup

Eighth:

Pappappapparrassannuaragheallachnatullaghmonganmacmacmacwhack-
falltherdebblenonthedubblandaddydoodled

Ninth:

husstenhasstencaffincoffintussemtossemdamandamnacosaghcusaghhobix-
hatouxpeswchbechoscashlcarcarcaract

Tenth:

Ullhodturdenweirmudgaardgringnirurdrmolnirfenrirlukkilokkibaugiman-
dodrrerinsurtkrinmgernrackinarockar

Like everything in Joyce, the claps’ meaning is open to question, but they’re not arbitrary: Each of the first nine words contains exactly 100 letters, and the tenth has 101. Joyce, who called thunder “perfect language,” had apparently adjusted the spelling of the thunderclaps as the book took shape: McLuhan found tick marks in Joyce’s galley proofs, “the only evidence of actual letter-counting I have found in any of the manuscripts, typescripts, proofs, and galleys.”

(Eric McLuhan, The Role of Thunder in Finnegans Wake, 1997.)

Catch as Catch Can

Claude Shannon, the father of information theory, took an active interest in juggling. He used to juggle balls while riding a unicycle through the halls of Bell Laboratories, and he built the first juggling robot from an Erector set in the 1970s. (The machine above mimics W.C. Fields, who himself juggled in vaudeville before turning to comedy.)

Noting that juggling seems to appeal to mathematics-minded people, Shannon offered the following theorem:

claude shannon juggling theorem

F is flight time, the time the ball spends in the air
D is “dwell time,” the time it spends in the hand
V is vacancy, the time a hand spends empty
B is the number of balls
H is the number of hands

“Theorem 1 allows one to calculate the range of possible periods (time between hand throws) for a given type of uniform juggle and a given time of flight,” he wrote. “A juggler can change this period, while keeping the height of his throws fixed, by increasing dwell time (to increase the period) or reducing dwell time to reduce the period. The total mathematical range available for a given flight time can be obtained by setting D = 0 for minimum range and V = 0 for maximum range in Theorem 1. The ratio of these two extremes is independent of the flight time and dependent only on the number of balls and hands.”

To measure dwell times, Shannon actually created a “jugglometer” in which a juggler wore copper mesh over his fingers and juggled foil-covered lacrosse balls; catching the ball closed a connection between the fingers and started a clock. “Preliminary results from testing a few jugglers indicate that, with ball juggling, vacant time is normally less than dwell time, V ranging in our measurements from fifty to seventy per cent of D.”

Shannon noted that juggling gets dramatically harder as the number of balls increases. He worked out a foolproof solution, at least in theory. A light ray that starts at one focus of an ellipse will be reflected to the other focus. If the ellipse is rotated around its major axis, it will create an egglike shell with two foci. Now if a juggler stands with a hand at each focus, then a ball thrown from either hand, in any direction, will bounce off the shell and arrive at the other hand!

(“Scientific Aspects of Juggling,” in Claude Elwood Shannon: Collected Papers, 1993.)

Close Quarters

John Wilkes Booth attended Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address.

He told a friend, “What an excellent chance I had to kill the president, if I had wished!”

Good Boy

http://www.freeimages.com/photo/1207763

In November 1869 Missouri farmer Charles Burden sued his neighbor, Leonidas Hornsby, for shooting his dog Drum. Hornsby denied it, but neighbors had heard the shot and the dog’s cries of pain on the night in question, and Drum had been found dead of a gunshot the following morning. Furious, Burden sued Hornsby for $50, the maximum amount allowed by law. The two battled back and forth in the courts for a year. Finally, at end of the fourth trial, Burden’s attorney George Graham Vest rose to make this closing argument:

Gentlemen of the jury. The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter whom he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has he may lose. It flies away from him perhaps when he needs it most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is the dog.

Gentlemen of the jury, a man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground when the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he can be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince.

When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in its embrace and his body is laid in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws and his eyes sad but open, in alert watchfulness, faithful and true, even to death.

Burden won, getting $50 and justice for his dog. Hornsby appealed to the state supreme court but lost.

Vest, the attorney, had said he would “win the case or apologize to every dog in Missouri.”

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