Futility Closet book ad

Fact and Fancy

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

As readers, we remain in the nursery stage so long as we cannot distinguish between taste and judgment, so long, that is, as the only possible verdicts we can pass on a book are two: this I like; this I don’t like.

For an adult reader, the possible verdicts are five: I can see this is good and I like it; I can see this is good but I don’t like it; I can see this is good and, though at present I don’t like it, I believe that with perseverance I shall come to like it; I can see that this is trash but I like it; I can see that this is trash and I don’t like it.

– W.H. Auden, A Certain World, 1970

Penmanship

In 1942 Niels Bohr was asked to give an address on the 300th anniversary of Isaac Newton’s birth. In discussing with Abraham Pais the themes that he might address, he wrote the word harmony on a blackboard:

bohr handwriting - harmony

As they continued to talk he grew dissatisfied with this. At last he said, “Now I’ve got it. We must change harmony to uniformity.” And he did so with “one triumphant bang”:

bohr handwriting - uniformity

Pais called this “the most remarkable act of calligraphy I shall ever witness.”

See Letter From New York.

Black and White

ognjanovic chess problem

By Zarko Ognjanovic, 1912. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

Refracted Glory

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

After Hart Crane’s death in 1932, scholars discovered that his poem “Emblems of Conduct” was largely a collage of lines borrowed from an unsuccessful Austrian poet named Samuel Greenberg, who had died of consumption in a New York hospital in 1917.

Critic William Murrell Fisher had shared some of Greenberg’s work with Crane in the early 1920s, noting that “when his eyes lighted on some of the poems, he became very excited. He flared up in a corner with it.” Crane later called Greenberg “a Rimbaud in embryo” whose work radiated “a quality that is unspeakably eerie.” To a friend he praised the “hobbling yet really gorgeous attempts that boy made without any education or time except when he became confined to a cot.”

Crane borrowed Greenberg’s notebooks from Fisher and began to arrange his favorite lines into a collage, which he called “Emblems of Conduct” after Greenberg’s poem “Conduct,” and Allen Tate and Malcolm Cowley persuaded him to include it in his first book of poems without knowing its origin.

Discovery of the debt raised charges of plagiarism against Crane, but there’s little indication that he intended to take credit for Greenberg’s work, and “Emblems of Conduct” brought attention to Greenberg that he might never have found otherwise. “All artists are plagiarists until they become transcenders,” wrote Clive Fisher in his 2002 biography of Crane, “but the fact remains that although we can never know what Greenberg might have achieved in a fairer world, there is nothing in the corpus of his work to equal even the secondary achievements of his famous admirer.”

Buoy Howdy

From Russian puzzle maven Boris Kordemsky:

Two diesel ships leave a pier at the same time. One travels upstream, the other downstream, each with the same motive power. As they depart, one drops a lifebuoy into the water. An hour later, both ships reverse course. Which will reach the buoy first?

Click for Answer

In a Word

andabatarian
adj. struggling while blindfolded

Specialists

I don’t know who came up with this — it’s been bouncing around science journals for 50 years:

hydromicrobiogeochemist: one who studies small underwater flora and their relationship to underlying rock strata by using chemical methods

microhydrobiogeochemist: one who studies flora in very small bodies of water and their relationship to underlying rock strata by using chemical methods

microbiohydrogeochemist: one who studies small flora and their relationship to underlying rock strata by using chemical methods and SCUBA equipment

biohydromicrogeochemist: a very small geochemist who studies the effect of plant life in hydrology

hydrobiomicrogeochemist: a very small geochemist who studies wet plants

biomicrohydrogeochemist: a very small, wet geochemist who likes lettuce

Triangle

Suppose we agree that everyone has a right to life, but that a person forfeits this right when he threatens the life of another — in that case it’s permissible to kill him.

Now consider three people, A, B, and C. A aims a gun at B, B aims a gun at C, and C aims a gun at A. When A takes aim, he’s threatening another person, so he loses his own right to life. Normally in that case C would be justified in killing him, since this defends B. But B is aiming at C, which means he forfeits his own right to life … which means that A can kill him, and that C can’t kill A.

There seems no way to resolve this under the rules we’ve laid out. “Each actor has a right to life if he or she lacks a right to life and lacks a right to life if he or she has a right to life,” wrote University of Tulsa law professor Russell Christopher, who offered the puzzle in 1998. He uses it to suggest that subjective factors such as motive, belief, and knowledge must be considered when making these judgments.

(Russell Christopher, “Self-Defense and Defense of Others,” Philosophy & Public Affairs, Spring 1998)

See The Bystander Paradox.

O Beautiful

https://www.google.com/patents/USD51415

What’s more patriotic than Uncle Sam or a bald eagle? A bald eagle with Uncle Sam’s head!

This appalling statuette, patented by Mary Harris in October 1917, was so inspiring that it actually ended World War I. Apparently.

Comment

mcalpine folly

In 1976, when the United Kingdom’s Labour government was threatening to institute a wealth tax, Conservative Party treasurer Alistair McAlpine installed a new column at West Green House, his Hampshire estate. The inscription read:

HOC MONUMENTUM MAGNO PRETIO QUOD ALITER IN MANUS PUBLICANORUM QUANDOQUE CECIDISSET ÆDIFICATUM EST

Or:

This monument was built with a large sum of money which would otherwise have fallen, sooner or later, into the hands of the tax gatherers.

“The placing of the column so near the public road could with justice be called provocative,” wrote Clive Aslet in his 1986 biography of Quinlan Terry, who designed it. The tax was abandoned.

Page 70 of 795« First...10203040...6869707172...8090100110...Last »