Unquote

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“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” — Neil Armstrong, 1969

“Better if he had said something natural like, ‘Jesus, here we are.’” — Edmund Hillary, 1974

Planning Ahead

Excerpts from the diary of 16-year-old Pauline Parker of Christchurch, New Zealand, 1954:

February 13th: Why could not mother die? Dozens of people, thousands of people are dying every day. So why not mother, and father too? Life is hard.
April 25th: Deborah [her 15-year-old friend Juliet Hulme] and I are sticking to one thing. We sink or swim together.
April 28th: Anger against mother boiled up inside me. It is she who is one of the main obstacles in my path. Suddenly a means of ridding myself of the obstacle occurred to me. If she were to die …
April 29th: I did not tell Deborah of my plans for removing mother. The last fate I wish to meet is one in a Borstal. I am trying to think of some way. I want it to appear either a natural or an accidental death.
June 6: We are both stark, staring mad.
June 19th: We practically finished our books today and our main “ike” for the day was to moider mother. This notion is not a new one, but this time it is a definite plan which we intend to carry out. We have worked it out carefully and are both thrilled by the idea. Naturally we feel a trifle nervous, but the pleasure of anticipation is great.
June 20th: We discussed our plans for moidering mother and made them a little clearer. Peculiarly enough, I have no qualms of conscience (or is it peculiar we are so mad?).
June 21st: I rose early and helped mother vigorously this morning. Deborah rang and we decided to use a brick in a stocking rather than a sand-bag. We discussed the moider fully. I feel keyed up as if I was planning a surprise party. Mother has fallen in with everything beautifully and the happy event is to take place tomorrow afternoon. So next time I write in the diary mother will be dead. How odd, yet how pleasing.

On the afternoon of June 22, Parker and Hulme ran into a Christchurch tea shop, crying that Parker’s mother had tripped on a plank and hit her head on a brick. “Mummy’s been hurt terribly,” Parker said. “I think she’s dead.” Police found the body of 45-year-old Honora Mary Parker on a secluded path in nearby Victoria Park. An autopsy found “forty-five discernible injuries, twenty-four being lacerated wounds on the face and head.” Parker quickly confessed under questioning:

Q: Who assaulted your mother?
A: I did.
Q: Why?
A: If you don’t mind I won’t answer that question.
Q: When did you make up your mind to kill your mother?
A: A few days ago …
Q: What did your mother say when you struck her?
A: I would rather not answer that.
Q: How often did you hit her?
A: I don’t know, but a great many times I imagine.

It transpired that Hulme’s father had planned to take Juliet to South Africa, and both girls knew that Mrs. Parker would refuse to let Pauline go with her. “These girls are not incurably insane,” the prosecutor told the jury. “They are incurably bad.” They were sentenced to five years in separate prisons.

Miquel’s Theorem

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Draw any triangle, pick a point on each side, and connect these in pairs to the vertices using circles as shown.

The circles will always intersect in a single point.

Further, the angles marked in green will all be equal.

Higher Learning

Unusual dissertation titles from the University Microforms International dissertation database:

  • “Electrical Measurements on Cuticles of the American Cockroach”
  • “Determinants of Flossing Behavior in the College Age Population”
  • “Classification of Drinking Styles Using the Topographical Components of Beer Drinking”
  • “”More Fun Than Anything” (about cyclopropenium salts)
  • “Creep of Portland Cement Paste”
  • “Garage Sales as Practice: Ideologies of Women, Work and Community in Daily Life (Volumes I and II)”
  • “Finger Painting and Personality Diagnosis”
  • “Communication Use in the Motorcycle Gang”
  • “‘Santa Claus’: A Mime-Opera Based on The Morality by e.e. cummings”
  • “Ritual Drama in American Popular Culture: The Case of Professional Wrestling”
  • “Things That Are Good and Things That Are Chocolate: A Cultural Model of Weight Control as Morality”
  • “Acute Indigestion of Solipeds”
  • “The Making of a Hippie Self”
  • “Jock and Jill: Aspects of Women’s Sports History in America, 1870-1940″
  • “An Adaptive Surfing Apparatus”
  • “The Function of the Couch in Stimulating Altered States of Consciousness in Hypnosis and in Psychoanalysis”
  • “I Am You, You Are Me: A Philosophical Explanation of the Possibility That We Are All the Same Person”
  • “You Can’t Just Plug It In: Integrating the Computer Into the Curriculum”

One dissertation’s acknowledgment page read: “Yes, Mother, I am finally done; and no, Mom, I don’t know what good a doctor’s degree is either if I can’t fix you when you’re ill.”

(From a UMI press release, quoted in The Whole Library Handbook 2, 1995.)

The Rich Are Different

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Episodes from the friendship of the eccentric Sir George Sitwell and Henry Moat, the 16-stone Yorkshireman who served for 42 years as his butler-valet:

Sitwell: Henry, I’ve a new idea — knife-handles should be made of condensed milk!

Moat: Yes, Sir George, but what if the cat gets at them?

Sitwell: (when his dinner guests were 90 minutes late) Henry, it is now 8:30. If they don’t arrive in 10 minutes’ time, I intend to sit down to dinner — if necessary by myself.

Moat: Well, Sir George, you couldn’t ask for more cheerful company, could you?

At Sitwell’s 200-room Tuscan palace, the chauffer, the son of the bailiff, and the plasterer were all named Guido.

Moat: Any orders for the motor today, Sir George?

Sitwell: Yes, Henry. Tell Guido to drive into Florence to help Guido with the painting. Guido can wait while Guido has luncheon, and then Guido will go back to Florence and fetch Guido here.

Moat: Sir George, if you are going on like that, I had better give notice before my mind gives way.

Edith Sitwell described Moat as “an enormous purple man like a benevolent hippopotamus,” and Moat called Sir George “the strangest old bugger you ever met.” (Sitwell had once designed a tiny revolver for shooting wasps; his History of the Fork remained unpublished.) “He and my father [were] mutually critical and at the same time appreciative,” wrote Osbert Sitwell.

And Moat himself could be odd. When Sitwell’s 4-year-old grandson visited Italy, he was attended by a beloved Jamaican nanny whom the butler found inquisitive and bossy. When she asked what was for lunch, “Let me see,” he said, “slices of cold boiled missionary it is today.” At that, wrote Osbert, she became “notably more subdued in manner.”

Fleeting Panic

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But many observers have commented on what seems to be the fact that fear plays a much smaller part than we should think it must in the life of an animal who lives dangerously. Terror he can know, and perhaps he knows it frequently. But it seems to last only a little longer than the immediate danger it helps him to avoid, instead of lingering, as in the human being it does, until it becomes a burden and a threat. The frightened bird resumes his song as soon as danger has passed, and so does the frightened rabbit his games. It is almost as though they knew that ‘Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.’

– Joseph Wood Krutch, The Twelve Seasons, 1949

Truth in Labeling

lequeu cowshed

A cowshed shaped like a cow, by the enigmatic French architect Jean-Jacques Lequeu, 1795. He labeled it simply “The Cow Byre faces south on the cool meadow.”

Elsewhere he proposed a henhouse shaped like an egg. Perhaps he was simply literal-minded.

Black and White

adolphi chess problem

By Heinrich Leonhard Adolphi. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

Jury Duty

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From Gábor J. Székely’s Paradoxes in Probability Theory and Mathematical Statistics, via Mark Chang’s Paradoxology of Scientific Inference:

A, B, C, D, and E make up a five-member jury. They’ll decide the guilt of a prisoner by a simple majority vote. The probability that A gives the wrong verdict is 5%; for B, C, and D it’s 10%; for E it’s 20%. When the five jurors vote independently, the probability that they’ll bring in the wrong verdict is about 1%. But if E (whose judgment is poorest) abandons his autonomy and echoes the vote of A (whose judgment is best), the chance of an error rises to 1.5%.

Even more surprisingly, if B, C, D, and E all follow A, then the chance of a bad verdict rises to 5%, five times worse than if they vote independently, even though A is nominally the best leader. Chang writes, “This paradox implies it is better to have your own opinion even if it is not as good as the leader’s opinion, in general.”

The Easy Way

Ludwig Schlekat bought a bank with its own money. Over the course of 17 years, starting in 1936, he embezzled $600,000 from the Parnassus National Bank of New Kensington, Pa. Then he invented two fictional investors and arranged for them to buy the bank and make him president.

In his new position he earned $800 a month, four times the salary he’d been getting as a teller. He bought a $19,500 home, $13,000 in furnishings, and a $1,000 diamond for his wife. When regulators pounced on these he resisted, saying they’d been bought with earned rather than stolen money. He went to jail for 10 years.