King of the Jungle

The mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska, is a cat named Stubbs.

Local merchant Lauri Stec discovered him in her parking lot in 1997 and dubbed him Stubbs because he lacked a tail; he was named honorary mayor of the 900-resident town shortly afterward, and Stec’s general store is now his mayoral office.

“All throughout the day I have to take care of the mayor,” Stec’s employee Skye Farrar told CNN. “He’s very demanding. He meowed and meowed and meowed and demanded to be picked up and put on the counter. And he demanded to be taken away from the tourists. Then he had his long afternoon nap.”

He may require special treatment, but his constituents have been largely pleased with his 17-year reign. “He doesn’t raise our taxes,” Stec said. “We have no sales tax. He doesn’t interfere with business. He’s honest.”

The Ultimate Machine

Marvin Minsky invented this machine at Bell Labs in 1952:

Arthur C. Clarke wrote, “It sits on Claude Shannon’s desk driving people mad.”

Sotto Voce

In 1959, as he prepared the seventh edition of his Textbook of Pediatrics, Waldo E. Nelson enlisted his family to help compile the index. Nelson would call out items from each page and his wife and three children would write them down on index cards.

Only after the book appeared did he notice this entry:

Birds, for the, 1-1413

It was removed in the next edition. The culprit, Nelson’s daughter Ann, later married pediatrician Richard E. Behrman — after he promised never to ask her to help him write a textbook.

In a Word

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zelda_Fitzgerald,_1922.png

redamancy
n. the act of loving in return

Zelda to Scott Fitzgerald, spring 1919 or 1920:

I look down the tracks and see you coming – and out of every haze & mist your darling rumpled trousers are hurrying to me – Without you, dearest dearest I couldn’t see or hear or feel or think – or live – I love you so and I’m never in all our lives going to let us be apart another night. It’s like begging for mercy of a storm or killing Beauty or growing old, without you. I want to kiss you so – and in the back where your dear hair starts and your chest – I love you – and I can’t tell you how much – To think that I’ll die without your knowing – Goofo, you’ve got to try to feel how much I do – how inanimate I am when you’re gone – I can’t even hate these damnable people – Nobodys got any right to live but us – and they’re dirtying up our world and I can’t hate them because I want you so – Come Quick – Come Quick to me – I could never do without you if you hated me and were covered with sores like a leper – if you ran away with another woman and starved me and beat me – I still would want you I know

Lover, Lover, Darling –

Your Wife

STOP

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Fields-WC-LOC.jpg

When John Barrymore was on his deathbed in 1942, he received a wire from W.C. Fields.

It said YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME.

Stet

“In all the proof that has reached me, windrow has been spelled window. If, in the bound book, windrow still appears as window, then neither rain nor hail nor gloom of night nor fleets of riot squads will prevent me from assassinating the man who is responsible. If the coward hides behind my finding, I shall step into Scribner’s and merely shoot up the place Southern style.” — American author Gordon Dorrance (1890-1957), note to his publishers

“By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss-waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will remain split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed and attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have.” — Raymond Chandler, to the editor of The Atlantic Monthly

A publisher once took the liberty of editing an introduction that Mark Twain had contributed to a book on Joan of Arc. Twain returned a commentary on the edits. Some highlights:

  • First line. What is the trouble with “at the”? And why “Trial?” Has some uninstructed person deceived you into the notion that there was but one, instead of half a dozen?
  • Amongst. Wasn’t “among” good enough? …
  • Second Paragraph. Now you have begun on my punctuation. Don’t you realize that you ought not to intrude your help in a delicate art like that, with your limitations? And do you think you have added just the right smear of polish to the closing clause of the sentence?
  • Second Paragraph. How do you know it was his “own” sword? It could have been a borrowed one, I am cautious in matters of history, and you should not put statements in my mouth for which you cannot produce vouchers. Your other corrections are rubbish. …
  • Fifth Paragraph. Thus far, I regard this as your masterpiece! You are really perfect in the great art of reducing simple and dignified speech to clumsy and vapid commonplace.
  • Sixth Paragraph. You have a singularly fine and aristocratic disrespect for homely and unpretending English. Every time I use “go back” you get out your polisher and slick it up to “return.” “Return” is suited only to the drawing-room — it is ducal, and says itself with a simper and a smirk. …
  • II. In Captivity. “Remainder.” It is curious and interesting to notice what an attraction a fussy, mincing, nickel-plated artificial word has for you. This is not well.
  • Third Sentence. But she was held to ransom; it wasn’t a case of “should have been” and it wasn’t a case of “if it had been offered”; it was offered, and also accepted, as the second paragraph shows. You ought never to edit except when awake. …
  • Third Paragraph. … “Break another lance” is a knightly and sumptuous phrase, and I honor it for its hoary age and for the faithful service it has done in the prize-composition of the schoolgirl, but I have ceased from employing it since I got my puberty, and must solemnly object to fathering it here. And besides, it makes me hint that I have broken one of those things before, in honor of the Maid, an intimation not justified by the facts. I did not break any lances or other furniture, I only wrote a book about her.

The full list is in his autobiography. “It cost me something to restrain myself and say these smooth and half-flattering things to this immeasurable idiot,” Twain wrote, “but I did it and have never regretted it. For it is higher and nobler to be kind to even a shad like him than just. If we should deal out justice only, in this world, who would escape?”

Black and White

pierce chess problem

By W. Timbrell Pierce. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

The Right Foot

Letter from Lewis Carroll to Adelaide Paine, March 8, 1880:

My dear Ada, — (Isn’t that your short name? ‘Adelaide’ is all very well, but you see when one’s dreadfully busy one hasn’t time to write such long words — particularly when it takes one half an hour to remember how to spell it — and even then one has to go and get a dictionary to see if one has spelt it right, and of course the dictionary is in another room, at the top of a high bookcase — where it has been for months and months, and has got all covered with dust — so one has to get a duster first of all, and nearly choke oneself in dusting it — and when one has made out at last which is dictionary and which is dust, even then there’s the job of remembering which end of the alphabet ‘A’ comes — for one feels pretty certain it isn’t in the middle — then one has to go and wash one’s hands before turning over the leaves — for they’ve got so thick with dust one hardly knows them by sight — and, as likely as not, the soap is lost, and the jug is empty, and there’s no towel, and one has to spend hours and hours in finding things — and perhaps after all one has to go off to the shop to buy a new cake of soap — so, with all this bother, I hope you won’t mind my writing it short and saying, ‘My dear Ada’).

You said in your last letter that you would like a likeness of me; so here it is, and I hope you will like it. I won’t forget to call the next time but one I’m in Wallington.

Your very affectionate friend,

Lewis Carroll

Q.E.D.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Clement_Vallandigham_-_Brady-Handy.jpg

Clement Vallandigham accidentally shot himself demonstrating how one might accidentally shoot oneself. The Ohio lawyer was representing a defendant accused of killing a man in a barroom brawl. Vallandigham wanted to show that the victim might have shot himself while trying to draw his pistol from a kneeling position.

“I’ll show you how Tom Myers shot himself,” he said to his fellow defense attorneys in discussing the case. He put a gun into his pocket and began to draw it. “There, that’s the way Myers held it,” he said, “only he was getting up, not standing erect.” And he touched the trigger.

“A sudden flash — the half suppressed sound of a shot — and Clement L. Vallandigham, with an expression of agony, exclaimed: ‘My God, I’ve shot myself!’ and reeled toward the wall a wounded and dying man — wounded and dying by his own hands.”

He died of the peritonitis, but he’d proved his point — the defendant was acquitted.

Podcast: Episode 21

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boeing_B-17F_42-29513_in_flight,_1943.jpg

In December 1943, American bomber pilot Charlie Brown was flying a severely damaged B-17 out of Germany when he looked out the cockpit window and saw “the world’s worst nightmare” off his right wing — a fully armed German fighter whose pilot was staring back at him.

In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the strange drama that ensued, in which German fighter ace Franz Stigler weighed the human impulse to spare the wounded bomber against his patriotic duty to shoot him down. We’ll also consider whether animals follow the 10 commandments and wonder why a man might tell his nephew that his dog will be shot.

You can listen using the player above, 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!

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