Oops

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Andrias_schleuchzeri.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1726, the Swiss naturalist Johann Jakob Scheuchzer mistook the skull and vertebral column of a large salamander from the Miocene epoch for the “betrübten Beingerüst eines alten Sünders” (sad bony remains of an old human sinner) and dubbed it Homo diluvii testis, “the man who witnessed the Deluge.” The fossil lacked a tail or hind legs, so he thought it was the remains of a trampled human child:

It is certain that this [rock] contains the half, or nearly so, of the skeleton of a man; that the substance even of the bones, and, what is more, of the flesh and of parts still softer than the flesh, are there incorporated in the stone; in a word it is one of the rarest relics which we have of that accursed race which was buried under the waters. The figure shows us the contour of the frontal bone, the orbits with the openings which give passage to the great nerves of the fifth pair. We see there the remains of the brain, of the sphenoidal bone, of the roots of the nose, a notable fragment of the maxillary bone, and some vestiges of the liver.

The fossil made its way to Teylers Museum in the Netherlands, where in 1811 Georges Cuvier recognized it as a giant salamander. Ironically, Scheuchzer’s original belief is reflected in the fossil’s modern name, Andrias scheuchzeriAndrias means “image of man.”

Cutting Remarks

Until her death in 2010, film editor Sally Menke edited all of Quentin Tarantino’s films. He called Menke “hands-down my number one collaborator,” saying, “The best collaborations are the director-editor teams, where they can finish each other’s sentences.”

Because these films were edited in rented houses rather than in studio suites, Menke’s work was largely done alone. To keep her from getting lonely, Tarantino invited his cast and crew to address the camera between takes and say, “Hi, Sally!”

Reflected Glory

During a solar eclipse, the splashes of light that appear among the shadows of leaves take on the crescent shape of the sun.

In a pinch you can fashion your hands into a pinhole camera in order to observe an eclipse: Just make a loose fist of one hand and use it to focus the sun’s image onto the palm of your other hand. “The 0.25 cm (0.098 in) aperture f/200 optical system yields a reasonable image of the progress of the eclipse,” writes Peter L. Manly in Unusual Telescopes. “This telescope is easy to use, inexpensive and portable. The tracking system, however, leaves something to be desired.”

Podcast Episode 80: ‘Black Like Me’: Race Realities Under Jim Crow

john howard griffin

In 1959, Texas journalist John Howard Griffin darkened his skin and lived for six weeks as a black man in the segregated South. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe his harrowing experience and what it taught him about the true state of race relations in America.

We’ll also ponder crescent moons, German submarines, and griffins in India and puzzle over why a man would be arrested for winning a prize at a county fair.

Sources for our feature on John Howard Griffin:

John Howard Griffin, Black Like Me, 1961.

Robert Bonazzi, Man in the Mirror: John Howard Griffin and the Story of Black Like Me, 2010.

Maurice Dolbier, “Blinding Disguise in South,” Miami News, Oct. 15, 1961.

Jerome Weeks, “‘Black Like Me’ Just One of Many Roles for John Howard Griffin,” Dallas Morning News, Sept. 19, 1997.

H.W. Quick, “He Finds Bias Blighting North, South,” Milwaukee Sentinel, Jan. 16, 1964.

Karen De Witt, “Oppressor Shown What Being Oppressed Is Like,” Ottawa Citizen, Nov. 1, 1977.

Ray Sprigle, In the Land of Jim Crow, 1949.

Lucile Torkelson, “Writer Crosses the Race Barrier,” Milwaukee Sentinel, Oct. 29, 1969.

Research questions:

Here’s the image of the star and crescent:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Star_and_Crescent.svg

And here are the sources I’ve found that describe the German submarine rescue:

Wolfgang Frank, The Sea Wolves, 1955.

Arch Whitehouse, Subs and Submariners, 1961.

Jacques Yves Cousteau, Captain Cousteau’s Underwater Treasury, 1959.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Lawrence Miller.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

Enter coupon code CLOSET at Harry’s and get $5 off their starter set of high-quality razors!

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Short Work

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:George_Willison_-_James_Boswell,_1740_-_1795._Diarist_and_biographer_of_Dr_Samuel_Johnson_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

F.A. Pottle’s index to the 1950 Edinburgh University Press edition of James Boswell’s London Journal condenses an entire romantic relationship into one paragraph:

Lewis, Mrs (Louisa), actress. JB to call Louisa in journal; receives JB; JB visits; JB’s increased feeling for; JB discusses love with; JB anticipates delight with; JB lends two guineas to; disregards opinion of world; discusses religion with JB; JB entreats to be kind; uneasiness of discourages JB; JB declares passion for; promises to make JB blessed; … makes assignation with JB; consummation with JB interrupted; … JB likes better and better; JB’s felicity delayed; … JB afraid of a rival; JB feels coolness for; … JB incredulous at infection from; JB enraged at perfidy of; … JB asks for his two guineas back …

Puzzling Lines

In his 1943 book The Life of Johnny Reb, Emory University historian Bell Wiley collects misspellings found in the letters of Confederate soldiers. Can you decipher these words?

  1. agetent
  2. bregad
  3. cerce
  4. crawsed
  5. furteege
  6. orpital
  7. perperce
  8. porchun
  9. regislatury
  10. ridgement

Bonus: What does A brim ham lillkern mean?

Click for Answer

The Moralist

la rochefoucauld

More maxims of La Rochefoucauld:

  • “We should often be ashamed of our best Actions, if the world saw all their Motives.”
  • “If we had no Faults ourselves, we should not take such Pleasure in observing those of others.”
  • “The Reason we are so angry with such as trick us is, because they think they have more Wit than we.”
  • “There are Heroes in Ill, as well as in Good.”
  • “There are People who are disagreeable with great Merit; and others who with great Faults are agreeable.”
  • “We easily forget Crimes that are known to none but ourselves.”
  • “To judge of Love by most of its Effects, one would think it more like Hatred than Kindness.”
  • “Our Merit procures us the Esteem of Men of Sense, and our Fortune that of the Public.”
  • “Narrowness of Mind is the Cause of Obstinacy; and we don’t easily believe beyond what we see.”
  • “Quarrels would not last long if the Fault was but on one Side.”
  • “We are not able to act up to our Reason.”
  • “Men are oftener treacherous through Weakness than Design.”
  • “Our Self-love bears with less Patience the Condemnation of our Tastes, than of our Opinions.”
  • “We are almost always tired with the Company of those whom we ought not to be tired of.”
  • “The Mind, thro’ Laziness and Constancy, fixes on what is easy or agreeable to it. This Habit bounds our Knowledge; and no Man has ever given himself the trouble to extend and carry his Genius as far as it was capable of going.”

And “Few People are well-acquainted with Death. ‘Tis generally submitted to thro’ Stupidity and Custom, not Resolution; and most Men die merely because they can’t help it.”