Unquote

“I cannot easily buy a blankbook to write thoughts in: they are commonly ruled for dollars and cents.” — Thoreau

A Timely Escape

While lying on his deathbed in 1816, Welsh judge George Hardinge received a bill from his London stationers, Tripeaux and Co. It was addressed to “Mr. Justice Hardinge, if living; or his executors, if dead.” He wrote back:

Messrs. Tripeaux, what is fear’d by you,
Alas! the melancholy circumstance is true,
That I am dead; and more afflicting still,
My legal assets cannot pay your bill.
To think of this, I am almost broken hearted,
Insolvent I, this earthly life departed;
Dear Messrs. T., I am yours without a farthing,
For executors and self,
George Hardinge.

He died three hours later.

Bear Facts

blackmore bear

The Veterinary Record of April 1, 1972, contained a curious article: “Some Observations on the Diseases of Brunus edwardii.” Veterinarian D.K. Blackmore and his colleagues examined 1,598 specimens of this species, which they said is “commonly kept in homes in the United Kingdom and other countries in Europe and North America.”

“Commonly-found syndromes included coagulation and clumping of stuffing, resulting in conditions similar to those described as bumble foot and ventral (rupture in the pig and cow respectively) alopecia, and ocular conditions which varied from mild squint to intermittent nystagmus and luxation of the eyeball. Micropthalmus and macropthalmus were frequently recorded in animals which had received unsuitable ocular prostheses.”

They found that diseases could be either traumatic or emotional. Acute traumatic conditions were characterized by loss of appendages, often the result of disputed ownership, and emotional disturbances seemed to be related to neglect. “Few adults (except perhaps the present authors) have any real affection for the species,” and as children mature, they tend to relegate these animals to an attic or cupboard, “where severe emotional disturbances develop.”

The authors urged their colleagues to take a greater interest in the clinical problems of the species. “It is hoped that this contribution will make the profession aware of its responsibilities, and it is suggested that veterinary students be given appropriate instruction and that postgraduate courses be established without delay.”

Dam Ambitious

sörgel african seas

German architect Herman Sörgel’s plan to drain the Mediterranean was only the beginning — he also wanted to irrigate Africa by creating an enormous pair of artificial seas. By damming the Congo River he would create a gigantic lake in the center of the continent; he calculated that this would cause the Ubangi River to reverse its course, flowing northwest into the Chari River and creating a huge “Chad Sea” that would seek an outlet in the north, a “second Nile” that would irrigate Algeria. Between them, these new seas would cover 10 percent of the continent.

Sörgel also wanted to build a giant hydroelectric plant at Stanley Falls whose power could bring light and industry to much of Africa. But the plans came to nothing. “The scale of such a project is beyond colossal and is utterly unfeasible politically,” writes Franklin Hadley Cock in Energy Demand and Climate Change. “Its hydroelectric power potential is staggering, as are the environmental and human problems building it would cause.”

Side Matters

When pianist Paul Wittgenstein lost his right arm in World War I, he commissioned a “concerto for the left hand” from Maurice Ravel.

When his friend Dick Mohr had a cerebral episode in the early 1960s that impaired the use of his left hand, William Zinsser remembered Ravel and composed a “fantasia for the left hand” that Smolens could type as a recovery exercise:

crazed zebras craved egress
at a garage
scared bats vacated

watered carafe
begat a gaffe
at a cafe

a wet sweater starts a stagger
devastates a swagger

vexed rex
deferred sex
rested testes

ragtag beggars
degraded a revered settee
a reader dazed a referee

drab cad dabbed at a cravat
bad dad
treed a deaf cat

a fezzed Arab
razzed a verger
at Qatar

retarded gaffer basted a stag
braggart ate a garbage bag

crass bastard
cadged faxes
at a data base

saber castrated
sex exerted Exeter cadets
sad tads

saxes reverberate
cabbages vegetate
taxes wax

aged drag star
segregated a sextet

exaggerated breeze
ravaged trees
wafted bees
afar

“Dick Mohr never fully recovered,” Zinsser wrote in his 2012 book The Writer Who Stayed. “But my verses helped to keep us connected and amused a little longer.”

Green Peace

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CAB_1918_Carnegie_Andrew.jpg

In December 1868, having just turned 33, Andrew Carnegie sat down in New York’s St. Nicholas Hotel and wrote a memo to himself. His net worth was $400,000, and with prudent management he could expect $50,000 in dividends each year for the rest of his life. “Beyond this never earn,” he resolved. “Make no effort to increase fortune, but spend the surplus each year for benevolent purposes. Cast aside business forever except for others.”

Man must have an idol — The amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry. No idol more debasing than the worship of money. Whatever I engage in I must push inordinately therefor should I be careful to choose that life which will be the most elevating in its character. To continue much longer overwhelmed by business cares and with most of my thoughts wholly upon the way to make more money in the shortest time, must degrade me beyond hope of permanent recovery.

He kept the memo for the rest of his life, and by the time of his death in 1919 he had given away $350,695,650, nearly $5 billion today, endowing universities, museums, libraries, and initiatives to support science, the arts, and world peace. “The man who dies rich, dies disgraced,” he wrote. “Money can only be the useful drudge of things immeasurably higher than itself. … Mine be it to have contributed to the enlightenment and the joys of the mind, to the things of the spirit, to all that tends to bring into the lives of the toilers of Pittsburgh sweetness and light. I hold this the noblest possible use of wealth.”

The Sourdough Expedition

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

In 1910, four years after Frederick Cook claimed falsely to have reached the peak of Mount McKinley, an unlikely quartet of Alaskan gold miners — Tom Lloyd, Peter Anderson, Billy Taylor, and Charles McGonagall — announced they had planted a spruce pole on the mountain’s 19,470-foot north summit. Though using rudimentary equipment and not acclimated to the altitude, they claimed to have made the final 8,000-foot climb and descent in only 18 hours, carrying the heavy pole and fueled only by hot chocolate and doughnuts.

President Taft congratulated them on the feat, which the New York Times said “was undertaken not for the enlightenment of the world, but to prove the pluck and endurance of the members of the party.” But Lloyd’s exaggerated accounts began to draw skepticism (he claimed to have joined his companions on the summit when it appears he had remained in camp), and these only grew when the party could produce no photographs taken above 11,000 feet.

But three years later Hudson Stuck conquered the main summit and reported that, using binoculars, he had seen a large pole near the north peak. The pole has since been lost, but today it’s generally believed that the Sourdough expedition did succeed in reaching its goal. In 1914 Stuck wrote, “To Pete Anderson and Billy Taylor, two of the strongest men, physically, in all the North, and to none other, belongs the honor of the first ascent of the North Peak and the planting of what must assuredly be the highest flagstaff in the world.”

Black and White

møller chess problem

By Jørgen Thorvald Møller. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

Sporting Timber

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

I may relate an odd incident in the life of Dr. [Thomas] Birch. He was very fond of angling, and devoted much time to that amusement. In order to deceive the fish, he had a dress constructed, which, when he put it on, made him appear like an old tree. His arms he conceived would appear like branches, and the line like a long spray. In this sylvan attire he used to take root by the side of a favourite stream, and imagined that his motions might seem to the fish to be the effect of the wind. He pursued this amusement for some years in the same habit, till he was ridiculed out of it by his friends.

— John Taylor, Records of My Life, 1832

Honorable Prisoners

After John II of France was captured by the English in 1356, he paid 1 million gold crowns for his ransom and promised to pay 2 million more. As a guarantee he offered his son Louis as a hostage. When word came that Louis had escaped, John voluntarily returned to captivity in England, citing reasons of “good faith and honor.” He died there in 1364.

In 1916, after two years in a German prisoner-of-war camp, British Army captain Robert Campbell received word that his mother was dying of cancer. He wrote to Kaiser Wilhelm II asking permission to visit her, and was given two weeks’ leave on condition that he return afterward. Campbell went to England, spent a week with his dying mother, then returned to confinement in Germany, where he remained until the war ended.

“Captain Campbell was an officer, and he made a promise on his honor to go back,” said historian Richard Van Emden, who uncovered the episode while researching his book Meeting the Enemy. “Had he not turned up there would not have been any retribution on any other prisoners. What I think is more amazing is that the British Army let him go back to Germany.”