Birth of a Nation

American businessman Russell Arundel and his friends were drinking rum in a Nova Scotia fishing lodge in 1948 when they got blearily ambitious: They drew up a declaration of independence for tiny Outer Bald Tusket Island, renaming it Outer Baldonia:

Fishermen are endowed with the following inalienable rights: The right to lie and be believed. The right of freedom from questioning, nagging, shaving, interruption, women, taxes, politics, war, monologues, cant and inhibition. The right to applause, vanity, flattery, praise and self-inflation. The right to swear, lie, drink, gamble and be silent. The right to be noisy, boisterous, quiet, pensive, expansive and hilarious.

Baldonia’s currency, they declared, was the tunar; all citizens who caught bluefin tuna would be named princes; and exports would include empty rum and beer bottles. Women were banned — though an exception was eventually made for Arundel’s former secretary, “princess” Florence McGinnis, because “I was doing all the paperwork.”

Baldonia made a modest name for itself: It was recognized in the Washington D.C. telephone directory, and Rand McNally put it on a map. But Arundel tired of the joke and eventually sold the island to the Nova Scotia Bird Society — he’d spent only one night in the “royal palace,” he said, and found it “windy, cold, and miserable.”

History Confounded

In 1620 the Duke of Buckingham dug a hole at the center of Stonehenge.

John Aubrey, who interviewed local residents about it in 1666, reports that “something was found, but what it was Mrs. Mary Trotman … hath forgot.”

Every Minute

In the 1840s P.T. Barnum found himself a victim of his own success. His New York museum of curiosities proved so popular that it was regularly filled to capacity and could admit no more customers.

Barnum studied the problem and hired a carpenter. Soon a new door appeared in the museum with a sign reading THIS WAY TO THE EGRESS.

Those who followed it found themselves on Ann Street.


A friend of mine, a cosey old bachelor, who has been looking into a prayer-book, says that the Matrimonial Service exactly resembles Matrimony itself, since they both begin with ‘Dearly Beloved,’ and both end with ‘Amazement.’

The Nic-Nac; or, Oracle of Knowledge, May 10, 1823

In the Dark

Here are two principles about shadows:

  1. They don’t pass through opaque objects. Your shadow can fall on a wall, but not through it.
  2. Light must strike an object in order to cast a shadow. If you’re in the shade, you have no shadow.

Right? But now suppose the sun is behind you and you’re contemplating a butterfly:

shadow problem

The shadow under the butterfly is not cast by you (Principle 1), and it’s not cast by the butterfly (Principle 2). So what’s casting it?

“This is a genuine problem,” writes philosopher Robert Martin. “The rules for shadows aren’t inconsistent, but they are empirically inadequate — there are phenomena they do not fit.”

Heated Words

Make the following experiment: say ‘It’s cold here’ and mean ‘It’s warm here.’ Can you do it? — And what are you doing as you do it? And is there only one way of doing it?

— Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 1953