“The Sentimental Law Student”

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Writing in the Territorial Enterprise in 1863, Mark Twain claimed to have found the following letter atop Sugarloaf Peak, Nevada. It was addressed to Miss Mary Links of Virginia City from Solon Lycurgus, “law student, and notary public in and for the said County of Storey, and Territory of Nevada”:

To the loveliness to whom these presents shall come, greeting:–This is a lovely day, my own Mary; its unencumbered sunshine reminds me of your happy face, and in the imagination the same doth now appear before me. Such sights and scenes as this ever remind me, the party of the second part, of you, my Mary, the peerless party of the first part. The view from the lonely and segregated mountain peak, of this portion of what is called and known as Creation, with all and singular the hereditaments and appurtenances thereunto appertaining and belonging, is inexpressively grand and inspiring; and I gaze, and gaze, while my soul is filled with holy delight, and my heart expands to receive thy spirit-presence, as aforesaid. Above me is the glory of the sun; around him float the messenger clouds, ready alike to bless the earth with gentle rain, or visit it with lightning, and thunder, and destruction; far below the said sun and the messenger clouds aforesaid, lying prone upon the earth in the verge of the distant horizon, like the burnished shield of a giant, mine eyes behold a lake, which is described and set forth in maps as the Sink of Carson; nearer, in the great plain, I see the Desert, spread abroad like the mantle of a Colossus, glowing by turns, with the warm light of the sun, hereinbefore mentioned, or darkly shaded by the messenger clouds aforesaid; flowing at right angles with said Desert, and adjacent thereto, I see the silver and sinuous thread of the river, commonly called Carson, which winds its tortuous course through the softly tinted valley, and disappears amid the gorges of the bleak and snowy mountains — a simile of man! — leaving the pleasant valley of Peace and Virtue to wander among the dark defiles of Sin, beyond the jurisdiction of the kindly beaming sun aforesaid! And about said sun, and the said clouds, and around the said mountains, and over the plain and the river aforesaid, there floats a purple glory — a yellow mist — as airy and beautiful as the bridal veil of a princess, about to be wedded according to the rites and ceremonies pertaining to, and established by, the laws or edicts of the kingdom or principality wherein she doth reside, and whereof she hath been and doth continue to be, a lawful sovereign or subject. Ah! my Mary, it is sublime! it is lovely! I have declared and made known, and by these presents do declare and make known unto you, that the view from Sugar Loaf Peak, as hereinbefore described and set forth, is the loveliest picture with which the hand of the Creator has adorned the earth, according to the best of my knowledge and belief, so help me God.

Given under my hand, and in the spirit-presence of the bright being whose love has restored the light of hope to a soul once groping in the darkness of despair, on the day and year first above written.

(Signed) Solon Lycurgus

“The End of the Line”

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In the spring of 1934, as police closed in on her and Clyde Barrow, Bonnie Parker left a poem with her mother:

You’ve read the story of Jesse James
Of how he lived and died
If you’re still in need of something to read
Here’s the story of Bonnie and Clyde.

Now Bonnie and Clyde are the Barrow Gang,
I’m sure you all have read
how they rob and steal and those who squeal
are usually found dying or dead.

There’s lots of untruths to these write-ups
They’re not so ruthless as that
Their nature is raw, they hate all law
Stool pigeons, spotters, and rats.

They call them cold-blooded killers
They say they are heartless and mean
But I say this with pride, I once knew Clyde
When he was honest and upright and clean.

But the laws fooled around and taking him down
and locking him up in a cell
‘Til he said to me, “I’ll never be free,
So I’ll meet a few of them in hell.”

The road was so dimly lighted
There were no highway signs to guide
But they made up their minds if all roads were blind
They wouldn’t give up ’til they died.

The road gets dimmer and dimmer
Sometimes you can hardly see
But it’s fight man to man, and do all you can
For they know they can never be free.

From heartbreak some people have suffered
From weariness some people have died
But all in all, our troubles are small
‘Til we get like Bonnie and Clyde.

If a policeman is killed in Dallas
And they have no clue or guide
If they can’t find a fiend, just wipe the slate clean
And hang it on Bonnie and Clyde.

There’s two crimes committed in America
Not accredited to the Barrow Mob
They had no hand in the kidnap demand
Nor the Kansas City Depot job.

A newsboy once said to his buddy
“I wish old Clyde would get jumped
In these hard times we’d get a few dimes
If five or six cops would get bumped.”

The police haven’t got the report yet
But Clyde called me up today
He said, “Don’t start any fights, we aren’t
working nights, we’re joining the NRA.”

From Irving to West Dallas viaduct
Is known as the Great Divide
Where the women are kin, and men are men
And they won’t stool on Bonnie and Clyde.

If they try to act like citizens
And rent a nice flat
About the third night they’re invited to fight
By a sub-gun’s rat-tat-tat.

They don’t think they’re tough or desperate
They know the law always wins
They’ve been shot at before, but they do not ignore
That death is the wages of sin.

Some day they’ll go down together
And they’ll bury them side by side
To few it’ll be grief, to the law a relief
But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.

That May they were ambushed on a Louisiana backroad, where police fired 130 rounds into their car. She was 23, Clyde 25.

Going Places

Early in his dancing career, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson performed on a custom double staircase that added drama to his act, increasing his visibility to the audience while amplifying his steps. In What the Eye Hears, Brian Seibert writes, “What the stairs did for Robinson was reveal how he played with the structure of the music through how he played with the structure of the staircase.”

Robinson went through 20 to 30 pairs of clogs a year with footwork so impeccable that a listener under the stage couldn’t distinguish his right foot from his left. A less efficient dancer might have found the narrow steps daunting, but Robinson danced effortlessly “up on the toes,” keeping his feet neatly underneath him while displaying dazzling control and timing.

“As generations of imitators would learn to their grief, the properties of the staircase that magnified Robinson’s mastery equally magnify the slightest imperfection,” Seibert writes. “Dancers tell a story in which he had his musicians cut out for three and a half minutes while he continued dancing. After the allotted time, the musicians came back in, cued by a metronome that Robinson couldn’t hear. He was exactly on beat.”

Counsel

Sydney Smith to Miss Lucie Austin, July 22, 1835:

Lucy, Lucy, my dear child, don’t tear your frock: tearing frocks is not of itself a proof of genius; but write as your mother writes, act as your mother acts; be frank, loyal, affectionate, simple, honest; and then integrity or laceration of frock is of little import.

And Lucy, dear child, mind your arithmetic. You know, in the first sum of yours I ever saw, there was a mistake. You had carried two (as a cab is licensed to do), and you ought, dear Lucy, to have carried but one. Is this a trifle? What would life be without arithmetic, but a scene of horrors?

You are going to Boulogne, the city of debts, peopled by men who never understood arithmetic; by the time you return, I shall probably have received my first paralytic stroke, and shall have lost all recollection of you; therefore I now give you my parting advice. Don’t marry anybody who has not a tolerable understanding and a thousand a year; and God bless you, dear child.

Sydney Smith

Podcast Episode 194: The Double Life of Clarence King

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American geologist Clarence King led a strange double life in the late 1800s: He invented a second identity as a black railroad porter so he could marry the woman he loved, and then spent 13 years living separate lives in both white and black America. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll consider the extraordinary lengths that King went to in order to be with the woman he loved.

We’ll also contemplate the dangers of water and puzzle over a policeman’s strange behavior.

See full show notes …

The Hadwiger–Nelson Problem

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Suppose we want to paint the plane so that no two points of the same color are a unit distance apart. What’s the smallest number of colors we need?

Surprisingly, no one knows. In the figure above, the hexagons are regular and have diameters slightly less than 1. Painting them as shown demonstrates that we can do the job successfully with seven colors.

Can we do it with fewer? In 1961 brothers William and Leo Moser showed that it’s impossible with three colors: They devised a graph (the “Moser spindle,” overlaid on the hexagons above) each of whose edges has length 1. The vertices of the spindle can’t be colored with three colors without both ends of some edge having the same color.

So we don’t need more than seven colors, but we need at least four. But whether the minimum needed is 4, 5, 6, or 7 remains unknown.

04/13/2018 UPDATE: By an amazing coincidence, there’s just been some progress on this. (Thanks, Jeff.)

Applications

In 2004 University of Bristol mathematicians Hinke Osinga and Bernd Krauskopf crocheted a Lorenz manifold. They had developed a computer algorithm that “grows” a manifold in steps, and realized that the resulting mesh could be interpreted as a set of crochet instructions. After 85 hours and 25,511 stitches, Osinga had created a real-life object reflecting the Lorenz equations that describe the nature of chaotic systems.

“Imagine a leaf floating in a turbulent river and consider how it passes either to the left or to the right around a rock somewhere downstream,” she told the Guardian. “Those special leaves that end up clinging to the rock must have followed a very unique path in the water. Each stitch in the crochet pattern represents a single point [a leaf] that ends up at the rock.”

They offered a bottle of champagne to the first person who would produce another crocheted model of the manifold and received three responses in two weeks (and more since).

Of their own effort, Osinga and Krauskopf wrote, “While the model is not identical to the computer-generated Lorenz manifold, all its geometrical features are truthfully represented, so that it is possible to convey the intricate structure of this surface in a ‘hands-on’ fashion. This article tries to communicate this, but for the real experience you will have to get out your own yarn and crochet hook!” Their instructions are here.

(Hinke M. Osinga and Bernd Krauskopf, “Crocheting the Lorenz Manifold,” Mathematical Intelligencer 26:4 [September 2004], 25-37.)

In a Word

ignoration
n. the state of being ignorant

debarrass
v. to disembarrass; to disencumber from anything that embarrasses

succedaneum
n. a substitute

arride
v. to please, gratify, delight

A ludicrous story is told of a great naval function which took place during the reign of the last Napoleon and the Empress Eugénie. Several American vessels were present, and they were drawn up in line to salute the Empress’s yacht as it passed. The French sailors, of course, manned the yards of their ships, and shouted ‘Vive l’Impératrice!’ The American Admiral knew that it was impossible to teach these words to his men in the time left to him, so he ordered his crew to shout ‘Beef, lemons, and cheese!’ The imperial yacht came on, and as it passed the fleet there was a mighty roar of ‘Beef, lemons, and cheese.’ And the Empress said she had never received such an ovation before.

Current Literature, August 1893

UPDATE: Swansea poet Nigel Jenkins wrote an English phonetic version (not a translation) of the Welsh national anthem, so that Welsh people who don’t speak Welsh can join in:

My hen laid a haddock on top of a tree,
Glad barks and centurions throw dogs in the sea,
My guru asked Elvis and brandished Dan’s flan,
Don’s muddy bog’s blocked up with sand.
Dad, Dad! Why don’t you oil Aunty Glad?
When oars appear, on beer bottle pies,
Oh butter the hens as they fly.

I’m told this sounds convincing when sung with a Welsh accent in a crowd. Maybe they should just adopt these lyrics outright!

(Thanks, John.)