Turnabout

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mischa_Elman.jpg

In the early 20th century, communications between a concert manager and his artists were typically charged to the musicians. Tired of paying for lengthy telegrams and long-distance calls, violinist Mischa Elman sent this wire to his manager, collect:

AM SITTING IN THE DINING ROOM OF MY HOTEL HAVING FRENCH ONION SOUP, WHOLE WHEAT TOAST, FILET MIGNON MEDIUM RARE, MIXED SALAD WITH THOUSAND ISLAND DRESSING, FRENCH APPLE PIE A LA MODE, COFFEE WITHOUT CREAM AND SUGAR. WEATHER MARVELOUS. HAVE SPLENDID ROOM WITH MAGNIFICENT VIEW. NOW HOW DO YOU LIKE COLLECT TELEGRAMS? YOURS CORDIALLY, MISCHA ELMAN

In a Word

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hiroshige_Snow_falling_on_a_town.jpg

subnivean
adj. existing, living, or carried out underneath snow

Justice Confused

Suppose that a house is robbed and police find a strand of the burglar’s hair at the scene of the crime. A suspect is in custody, and tests show that the strand matches his hair. A forensic scientist testifies that the chance of a random person producing such a match is 1/2000. Does this mean that there’s a 1999/2000 chance that the suspect is guilty?

No, it doesn’t. In a city of 5 million there will be 1/2000 × 5,000,000 = 2,500 people who produce a match, so on the basis of this evidence alone the probability that the suspect is guilty is only 1/2500.

In a 1987 article, William Thomson and Edward Schumann dubbed this “prosecutor’s fallacy.” Unfortunately, it’s matched by the “defense attorney’s fallacy,” which holds that the hair-match evidence is worthless because it increases the likelihood of the suspect’s guilt by a negligible amount, 1/2500. In fact it drastically narrows the range of possible suspects, from 5 million to 2,500, while failing to exclude the defendant, hardly cause for confidence.

Worryingly, Thompson and Schumann found an experienced prosecutor who insisted that if a defendant and a perpetrator match on a blood type found in 10 percent of the population, then there’s a 10 percent chance that the defendant would have this blood type if he were innocent and hence a 90 percent chance that he’s guilty. “If a prosecutor falls victim to this error,” they write, “it is possible that jurors do as well.”

(William C. Thompson and Edward L. Schumann, “Interpretation of Statistical Evidence in Criminal Trials,” Law and Human Behavior, 11:3 [September 1987], 167-187)

High Hopes

http://books.google.com/books?id=EqwCAAAAYAAJ

American life in 1980, as envisioned by Missouri attorney William McClung Paxton in his 1880 poem “A Century Hence”:

In the midst, at St. Louis, the Capitol loomed,
With lofty and glittering steeple —
The seat of a Nation, where freedom first bloomed,
Containing a billion of people.
“And now,” he exclaimed, “the whole Continent’s ours,
From Panama, North to the pole!
For naught but the ocean can fetter our powers,
Or give to us less than the whole!”

As we walked to the house, my companions reported,
That roads through the land were not found,
That men, on light wings, in the atmosphere sported,
Or walked, as they pleased, on the ground.
With the new motive power, one man could do more
Than fifty, without it, could do;
So people were able to add to their store,
And be generous, noble and true.

An order for supper, by telephone, now,
Had scarcely been made, by my host,
When in sprang a servant, I cannot tell how,
With coffee, ham, biscuit and toast.
He’d come from St. Louis, three hundred miles out,
With dishes delicious and rare;
There were venison, and turkey, and salmon, and trout,
With pine-apple, orange and pear.

When supper was ended, I found it still light;
I looked for a lamp, and found none;
I stepped to the door, and looked forth on the night,
And lo! every house had a sun.
Above me in splendor, surpassing the moon,
A disk, in the heavens gave light;
And neighboring orbs gave the brightness of noon,
And scattered the darkness of night.

By reflectors, the light of these beacons was cast,
On parlor, and chamber, and hall;
And candles and lamps were consigned to the past,
And light, like the air, was for all.
Now worn by the scenes of the day, I need rest,
And find it in slumber elysian;
But rise in the morning, perplexed and distressed;
‘Twas all but a beautiful vision.

More Attachable Mirrors

https://www.google.com/patents/US790537

In 1904 Emmie Alice Thayer lamented that a lady had to hold a hand mirror while attending to her hair or addressing the fit of her garment. The answer, she decided, was to wear the mirror by attaching it to her ears. Kudos.

In the same vein, in 1950 John Kozloff invented a “mirror-attached spectacle frame” (below) to free one’s hands for applying cosmetics or shaving. If you’re nearsighted they can even be fitted with glasses. With a pair of these Narcissus wouldn’t have been tied to that boring pool …

See Self-Regard.

https://www.google.com/patents/US2502224

Self-Reproach

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_gout_james_gillray.jpg

Driven from bed by pain in his toe one October night, Ben Franklin imagined a parley with his tormentor:

FRANKLIN. Eh! Oh! eh! What have I done to merit these cruel sufferings?

GOUT. Many things; you have ate and drank too freely, and too much indulged those legs of yours in their indolence.

FRANKLIN. Who is it that accuses me?

GOUT. It is I, even I, the Gout.

FRANKLIN. What! my enemy in person?

GOUT. No, not your enemy.

FRANKLIN. I repeat it, my enemy; for you would not only torment my body to death, but ruin my good name; you reproach me as a glutton and a tippler; now all the world, that knows me, will allow that I am neither the one nor the other.

GOUT. The world may think as it pleases; it is always very complaisant to itself, and sometimes to its friends; but I very well know that the quantity of meat and drink proper for a man, who takes a reasonable degree of exercise, would be too much for another, who never takes any.

FRANKLIN. I take — eh! oh! — as much exercise — eh! — as I can, Madam Gout. You know my sedentary state, and on that account, it would seem, Madam Gout, as if you might spare me a little, seeing it is not altogether my own fault.

GOUT. Not a jot; your rhetoric and your politeness are thrown away; your apology avails nothing. If your situation in life is a sedentary one, your amusements, your recreation, at least, should be active. …

FRANKLIN. Oh! oh! — for Heaven’s sake leave me! and I promise faithfully never more to play at chess, but to take exercise daily, and live temperately.

GOUT. I know you too well. You promise fair; but, after a few months of good health, you will return to your old habits; your fine promises will be forgotten like the forms of the last year’s clouds. Let us then finish the account, and I will go. But I leave you with an assurance of visiting you again at a proper time and place; for my object is your good, and you are sensible now that I am your real friend.

As the dialogue shows, Franklin had understood the risks he was incurring — at 28 he had written in Poor Richard’s Almanack:

Be temperate in wine, in eating, girls, and slouth;
Or the Gout will seize you and plague you both.

But he accepted the consequences. Three years before his death he wrote, “People who live long, who will drink of the cup of life to the very bottom, must expect to meet with the usual dregs, and when I reflect on the number of terrible maladies human nature is subject to, I think myself favoured in having to my share only the stone and the gout.”

Season’s Greetings

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Der_afrikanische_Elefant.jpg

Apparently bored in December 1936, the eccentric Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners, placed an advertisement in the personals column of the London Times:

“Lord Berners wishes to dispose of two elephants and one small rhinoceros (latter house-trained). Would make delightful Christmas presents.”

When a newspaperman telephoned, Berners took the call himself, pretending to be the butler. “Actually, I haven’t seen the rhino, myself, sir,” he said, “but it’s often about the house. It’s quite gentle, I’m told. The weather was getting too cold for the elephants, so I’m glad they’ve gone. They went on Saturday. I understand Mr. Harold Nicolson has bought one and Lady Colefax the other. I hope they have good homes.”

A bewildered Nicolson found himself insisting, “I have NOT bought an elephant! I do not intend to buy one! I do not want an elephant, and I have nowhere to put an elephant! This looks like a joke. I have known Lord Berners for twenty-five years, but I don’t feel friendly to him this morning. I do not want an elephant, have never wanted one, and I have not bought one.”

More Berners mischief.

“Baby Food”

http://www.julianbeever.net/index.php?option=com_phocagallery&view=category&id=2:3d-illusions&Itemid=7

The baby is real; the lobster and the bowl were drawn in chalk on a Hartlepool sidewalk by artist Julian Beever. Beever draws in anamorphic perspective, so his work appears distorted when viewed from most angles (below) but creates an illusion of three dimensions when seen from one privileged viewpoint.

“I expected more complaints when I posted this on my website of drawings,” he writes, “but surprisingly there have been very few. It shouldn’t be taken too seriously.”

http://www.julianbeever.net/index.php?option=com_phocagallery&view=category&id=2:3d-illusions&Itemid=7

Letters and Numbers

The first 10 letters of the alphabet, ABCDEFGHIJ, form a cipher that conceals the name of a number less than 100. What is the number?

Click for Answer

NYT

Futility Closet is featured on the New York Times’ Numberplay blog this week, with a discussion of the necktie paradox.

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