All God’s Creatures

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:McCormack-MaryEllen_001a.jpg

In 1873, Methodist mission worker Etta Angell Wheeler learned that a 9-year-old girl was being confined by her adopted parents in the inner room of a New York tenement, alternately neglected and whipped, and that neither the landlord nor the city would respond to the neighbors’ pleas for help.

Wheeler was debating what to do when her niece suggested she appeal to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, saying, “She is a little animal, surely.” Wheeler mastered her fear of “what seemed absurd” and approached the organization’s founder, Henry Bergh, who took an immediate interest in the case and within 48 hours had gathered enough evidence to justify the girl’s removal.

At a trial at the New York State Supreme Court in 1874, the child, Mary Ellen Wilson, testified:

My father and mother are both dead. I don’t know how old I am. I have no recollection of a time when I did not live with the Connollys. Mamma has been in the habit of whipping and beating me almost every day. She used to whip me with a twisted whip — a rawhide. The whip always left a black and blue mark on my body. I have now the black and blue marks on my head which were made by mamma, and also a cut on the left side of my forehead which was made by a pair of scissors. She struck me with the scissors and cut me; I have no recollection of ever having been kissed by any one — have never been kissed by mamma. I have never been taken on my mamma’s lap and caressed or petted. I never dared to speak to anybody, because if I did I would get whipped. I do not know for what I was whipped — mamma never said anything to me when she whipped me. I do not want to go back to live with mamma, because she beats me so. I have no recollection ever being on the street in my life.

Her adopted mother, Mary Connolly, was sentenced to a year in jail, and the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was founded the same year.

Business News

What’s unusual about this paragraph, composed by Lawrence Cowan?

Trade was arrested as a base act after federated reserves regressed faster as extracted free trade was saved as extra reverted waste. Deserted as better fates were created, a few brave castes feared effects as excess stargazers were severed. Statecraft fretted, staggered, braced as steadfast braggarts beat state stewards, stewardesses. Tested as a great craze, trade traversed war; zest was dead as a few eager asses abated better treats, detested street fracases. Facts were effaced as we attested a great faded age.

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Untitled

This poem’s title is Untitled –
Not because it is untitled,
But because I am entitled
To entitle it Untitled.

If I’d not titled it Untitled,
It would truly be untitled …
Which would make me unentitled
To entitle it Untitled.

So it is vital, if untitled,
Not to title it Untitled,
And to leave that title idled,
As a title is entitled.

– Kenneth Leonhardt

Orders of Magnitude

http://www.tomvansant.com/id17.html

In 1980, artist Tom Van Sant arranged 90 mirrors in the Mojave Desert at angles precisely calculated to overexpose the sensors on NASA’s Landsat II satellite 600 miles overhead and produce the image of a human eye 2.5 kilometers wide.

Two years later Van Sant commissioned the National Research and Resource Facility for Sub-Micron Structures at Cornell to etch the image of an eye a quarter-micron wide into a salt crystal:

http://www.tomvansant.com/id17.html

The first image was 100,000 times larger than a human eye, the second 100,000 times smaller, two renderings of the same image that differ in scale by a factor of 10 billion.

“So the same artist who made the smallest drawing ever has also made the largest,” Richard Feynman told an audience. “Let’s go up another scale, the same amount again, another hundred thousand, and then try to draw an eye: Where would we have to draw it? Well, it turns out that it’s there — it’s a beautiful eye in the heavens, namely Saturn with her rings!”

More information at Van Sant’s website.

Black and White

roegner chess problem

By Johannes Adolf Roegner. White to mate in two moves.

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First Principles

This prudence of not attempting to give reasons before one is sure of facts, I learnt from one of your sex, who, as Selden tells us, being in company with some gentlemen that were viewing, and considering something which they called a Chinese shoe, and disputing earnestly about the manner of wearing it, and how it could possibly be put on; put in her word, and said modestly, Gentlemen, are you sure it is a shoe?–Should not that be settled first?

– Benjamin Franklin, letter to Mary Stevenson, Sept. 13, 1760

“On Not Being Able to Read My Wife’s Handwriting”

I think of my wife’s penmanship as a race
Of dwarves drowning in a cursive swamp, or
Lost, hands waving, as consonants rush face
To face into unmitigated vowels. On the door
To our refrigerator one early morning note, or
A map of Tasmania with spasmodic X’s
Which might mean kisses or malfunctioning T’s.
Oh, Momma, Momma, why didn’t you warn me:
“Never marry a woman whose handwriting
You cannot read.” Full-blown capital R’s
Turned on their sides. My wife has either
Run off with the plumber (or is it carpenter?)
To inaugurate correspondences from Paris,
Or she wishes me to purchase for supper
Hornet butter, three pounds of javelins, and/or
One large rat to stab behind the arras.
Am I holding her message upside down? Possibly.
Now I shall suffer in suspense all day until night
To discover the full-mouthed truth of her scrawl.

– Louis Phillips

Crowd Control

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CalhounJ.JPG

In July 1968, ethologist John B. Calhoun built a “mouse utopia,” a metal enclosure 9 feet square with unlimited food, water, and nesting material. He introduced four pairs of mice, and within a year they had multiplied to 620. But after that the society began to fall apart — males became aggressive, females began neglecting their young, and the weaker mice were crowded to the center of the pen, where resources were scarce. After 600 days the females stopped reproducing and the males withdrew from them entirely, and by January 1973 the whole colony was dead. Even when the population had returned to its former levels, the mice’s behavior had remained permanently changed.

There were no predators in the mouse universe; the only adversity was confinement itself. Calhoun felt that his experiment held lessons as to the potential dangers of human overpopulation, and he urged his colleagues to study the effects of high population density on human behavior. “Our success in being human has so far derived from our honoring deviance more than tradition,” he said. “Now we must search diligently for those creative deviants from which, alone, will come the conceptualization of an evolutionary designing process. This can assure us an open-ended future toward whose realization we can participate.”

(Thanks, Pål.)

Open and Shut

A man’s wife disappears and he’s accused of killing her. At the trial, his lawyer tells the jury, “Ladies and gentlemen, I have amazing news. Not only is my client’s wife actually alive, but she’ll walk through that door in ten seconds.”

An expectant silence settles over the courtroom, but nothing happens.

“Think about that,” the lawyer says. “The fact that you were watching the door, expecting to see the missing woman, proves that you have a reasonable doubt as to whether a murder was actually committed.”

He sits down confidently, and the judge sends the jury off to deliberate. They return in ten minutes and declare the man guilty.

“Guilty?” says the lawyer. “How can that be? You were all watching the door!”

“Most of us were watching the door,” says the foreman. “But one of us was watching the defendant, and he wasn’t watching the door.”

The Last Resort

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In the control room of each of the United Kingdom’s four nuclear submarines is a safe. Inside the safe is another safe, and inside that is a handwritten letter from the prime minister to the submarine’s commander telling him what to do if a nuclear strike has destroyed the British state.

When a new prime minister takes office, his letters are destroyed unopened, so it’s not clear how extensive the instructions are. According to the 2009 BBC Radio 4 report The Human Button, they include these options:

  • Retaliate with nuclear weapons.
  • Do not retaliate with nuclear weapons.
  • Use your own judgment.
  • Place yourself under the command of the United States or Australia, if possible.

“In that letter,” wrote the Daily Mail in 2008, “Gordon Brown conveys the most awesome decision of his political career … and none of us is ever likely to know what he decided.”

(Thanks, Zach.)