In 1917, when a young T.S. Eliot was working at Lloyds Bank in London, one of his superiors met the critic I.A. Richards on holiday in Switzerland.

The banker was relieved to hear that Richards thought Eliot a good poet. Some of his colleagues had feared that poetry was a poor grounding for a career in finance, but if the young man really enjoyed his hobby then perhaps it could help him in his work.

In fact, the banker said, “I don’t see why — in time, of course, in time — he mightn’t even become a branch manager.”

The Paradox of Future Individuals

Any large-scale change in human behavior will literally change the human race: Because such a change alters the conditions under which individuals are conceived, our grandchildren in one scenario will be different people from those in another. This is particularly true in sweeping policy matters such as the environment, global warming, etc.

This seems to suggest that we needn’t feel guilty about our poor stewardship. The descendants who would benefit by our reform are different from those who will suffer at our neglect–and we owe a duty only to the latter.

Bird’s-Eye Views


In 1903, German apothecary Julius Neubronner combined his two hobbies, pigeon fancying and amateur photography, into an innovative new undertaking. He fit a 75-gram camera to a pigeon’s breast and released it 60 miles from its cote. The bird flew home along a predictable route, and a pneumatic mechanism snapped an aerial picture.

A stunned German patent office rejected Neubronner’s first application as impossible, but by 1909 his photos were adorning postcards and winning prizes at the Paris airshow. The image below, of the Schlosshotel Kronberg, made a sensation because the photographer’s wingtips are visible at its edges.


Jabberwocky Spell-Checked

`Twas billing, and the smithy toes
Did gyre and gamble in the wage:
All missy were the brogues,
And the mime rats outrage.

“Beware the Jabber Wick, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jujube bird, and shun
The furious Bender Snatch!”

He took his viral sword in hand:
Long time the Manxwomen foe he sought —
So rested he by the Tutu tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in offish thought he stood,
The Jabber Wick, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffing through the tulle wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The viral blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And, has thou slain the Jabber Wick?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O crablouse day! Callow! Allay!’
He chortled in his joy.

`Twas billing, and the smithy toes
Did gyre and gamble in the wage;
All missy were the brogues
And the mime rats outrage.

The Last Wave

On the night of Dec. 12, 1978, the German barge carrier München issued a distress call in the North Atlantic. A week’s search collected four empty life rafts, but the ship itself was never found.

Two months later another ship discovered the München‘s starboard lifeboat. Its supporting pins had been bent, suggesting that a huge force had passed along the München from fore to aft, tearing the boat from its supports.

That boat had hung 20 meters above the waterline. What did the München encounter that night?

Left and Right

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Three of our last four presidents have been left-handed:

Bush I: Left-handed
Clinton: Left-handed
Bush II: Right-handed
Obama: Left-handed

The same would be true if John McCain had won the last election — he’s a leftie too. Indeed, fully half of American presidents since Truman have been southpaws, though only 10 percent of the general population is left-handed.

What accounts for this? Who knows? But UCLA geneticist Daniel Geschwind says, “Six out of the past 12 presidents is statistically significant, and probably means something.”

In the Old Days, We Made Our Own Fun

“The Travelling Egg”

Procure a goose’s egg, and after opening and cleaning it, put a bat into the shell, and then glue a piece of white paper fast over the aperture. The motions of the poor little prisoner in struggling to get free, will cause the egg to roll about in a manner that will excite much astonishment.

— Samuel Williams, The Boy’s Treasury of Sports, Pastimes, and Recreations, 1847

“How to Melt Steel”

Heat a piece in the fire till it is red hot; then holding it with a pair of pinchers or tongs, take in the other hand a stick of brimstone, and touch the piece of steel with it; immediately after the contact, you will see the steel melt and drop like a liquid.

— “Uncle George,” Parlour Pastime for the Young, 1857

“The Gun Trick”

Provide yourself with a fowling piece or musket; permit any one to load it, only retaining for yourself the privilege of putting in the ball. But instead of loading it with a real ball, retain the latter in your possession, having had a recognisable mark put upon it, and load with an artificial one made of black lead. On the application of the ramrod the latter will, of course be easily reduced to powder. When you are fired at, you produce the marked ball, holding it between your thumb and finger.

— Alfred Elliott, The Playground and the Parlour, 1868