The Experts Speak

“The bow is a simple weapon, firearms are very complicated things which get out of order in many ways … a very heavy weapon and tires out soldiers on the march. Whereas also a bowman can let off six aimed shots a minute, a musketeer can discharge but one in two minutes.”

That’s Colonel Sir John Smyth in 1591, advising the British Privy Council to skip muskets and stick with bows.

InfoToday collected a lot of similarly farsighted advice into an online feature, appropriately called OOPS!

Down in Front

George Bush and Dan Quayle are famous for fractured oratory, but the godfather of political malaprops is Sir Boyle Roche, an Irish member of Parliament in the 18th century. Highlights:

  • “Mr. Speaker, I smell a rat; I see him forming in the air and darkening the sky; but I’ll nip him in the bud.”
  • “While I write this letter, I have a pistol in one hand and a sword in the other.”
  • “All along the untrodden paths of the future I can see the footprints of an unseen hand.”
  • “He is the kind of opponent who would stab you in front of your face and then stab you in the chest when your back is turned.”
  • “We should silence anyone who opposes the right to freedom of speech.”
  • “I answer in the affirmative with an emphatic no.”

The best I’ve seen: “It would surely be better to give up, not only a part but, if necessary, the whole of our constitution, to preserve the remainder.”

The Earth Moved

The New Madrid Compendium collects eyewitness descriptions of the worst earthquake in American history. The Richter scale hadn’t been invented in 1811, but this quake would have measured 8.0:

The vibration of the earth shook down trees, thousands of willows were swept off like a pipe stem, about waist high, and the swamps became high ground, and the high land became low ground, and two islands in the river were so shaken, washed away and sunk, as not to be found.

The kicker: This happened in Missouri, rocking the state hard enough to ring bells in Boston. Seismologists say there’s a 90 percent chance of a magnitude 6.0 to 7.0 quake in the same area before 2040, affecting as much as 20 times the area of a West Coast quake. I wonder if their insurance rates reflect this?

Jack the Ripper

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FromHellLetter.jpgThis is the “From Hell” letter, sent by Jack the Ripper to the president of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee that was pursuing him. He included a bloody fragment to prove his identity:

“I send you half the Kidne I took from one woman and prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer”

Whoever he was, Jack certainly had a flair for dramatic horror. But much of his fame is really due to newspapers, which were becoming popular at the time. His crimes, which combined sex, violence, mystery, class warfare and police ineptitude, were tailor-made for cheap sensation. (In fact, it was probably a journalist who invented the “Ripper” nickname.)

Casebook: Jack the Ripper has gathered examples of lurid accounts from as far away as Poland, Jamaica, and Mexico. “All London is ringing with the horror of the thing,” writes one New Zealand editor. “The woman who reads, with hair standing on end, the details of some fresh outrage to-night cannot feel sure that on the morrow she may not be the next victim.” The whole episode is a low point for responsible journalism.

BTW, today the Ripper’s story has spawned a rather unwholesome fanbase, with concentration games, crossword puzzles, and fan fiction. Somehow time can make even serial murder seem quaint.

Self-Defense With a Cane

Here’s a little light reading before you go strolling downtown: “Self-Defence With a Walking-Stick: The Different Methods of Defending Oneself With a Walking-Stick or Umbrella When Attacked Under Unequal Conditions.” It originally ran in Pearson’s Magazine in January 1901.

Apparently those things were pretty deadly: If you use your wrists and swing from the hip, “it is possible to sever a man’s jugular vein through the collar of his overcoat.”

Churchill Anecdote #7

In 1931, George Bernard Shaw wired Winston Churchill: “Am reserving two tickets for you on opening night of my new play. Come bring a friend — if you have one.”

Churchill wired back: “Impossible for me to attend first performance. Would like to attend second night — if there is one.”

Historical Cats

Cats and their owners:

  • Hodge: Samuel Johnson, British writer and lexicographer
  • Selima: Horace Walpole, British writer and historian
  • Langbourne: Jeremy Bentham, British writer, reformer, and philosopher
  • Old Foss: Edward Lear, British poet and humorist
  • Siam: Rutherford B. Hayes, American president
  • Appolinaris, Beelzebub, Blatherskaite, Buffalo Bill: Mark Twain, American author
  • Bismarck: Florence Nightingale, British nurse
  • Cobby: Thomas Hardy, British writer
  • Chess, Checkmate: Alexander Alekhine, Russian-French chess player
  • Taki: Raymond Chandler, American novelist
  • Jellylorum, George Pushdragon: T.S. Eliot, American-born British critic and writer
  • Blackie, Jock, Nelson, Tango: Winston Churchill, British politician and writer
  • Beppo: Jorge Luis Borges, Argentinian writer
  • Gujarat: John Kenneth Galbraith, Canadian-born American economist, writer, and diplomat
  • Fuckchop: Trent Reznor, leader, Nine Inch Nails

Holyoke Rules

Rules, Mt. Holyoke College, 1837:

  1. No young lady shall become a member of Mt. Holyoke Seminary who cannot kindle a fire, mash potatoes, and repeat the multiplication table and at least two-thirds of the shorter catechism.
  2. Every member of the school shall walk a mile a day unless a freshet, earthquake, or some other calamity prevent.
  3. No young lady shall devote more than an hour a day to miscellaneous reading.
  4. No young lady is expected to have gentlemen acquaintances unless they are returned missionaries or agents of benevolent societies.

So Long, Khufu

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pyramids_of_Egypt1.jpgWe need some new wonders. The old ones wore out some time ago, as you may have noticed. Of the seven wonders of the ancient world — the Pyramids of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Statue of Zeus, the Temple of Artemis, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria — only the pyramids are left. The hanging gardens may never have existed.

Well, there are lots of wonderful things in the world. Can’t we just choose a better list? That depends on who does the choosing. In 1994 the American Society of Civil Engineers took a shot at it and proposed these modern replacements:

  1. Empire State Building, New York
  2. Itaipu Dam, Brazil and Paraguay
  3. CN Tower, Toronto, Canada
  4. Panama Canal, Panama
  5. Channel Tunnel, United Kingdom and France
  6. Delta Works, North Sea protection works, Netherlands
  7. Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Not so great. I mean, you can’t compare the Chunnel with Zeus.

Fortunately, now we can all vote on it. In 2001, the Swiss filmmaker, adventurer and explorer Bernard Weber founded the NewOpenWorld Foundation to reach a global consensus on seven new wonders. It hasn’t made a big splash in this country, but it’s been huge in China and in India, which is lobbying hard for the Taj Mahal.

With 17 million votes in, here are the current leaders:

  1. Wall of China (11.01 percent)
  2. Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet (8.52 percent)
  3. Taj Mahal, India (7.70 percent)
  4. Colosseum, Rome (7.00 percent)
  5. Pyramids of Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico (6.33 percent)
  6. Statues of Easter Island, Chile (6.03 percent)
  7. Tower of Pisa, Italy (5.98 percent)

So that’s looking pretty good. They’ll announce the final list next January. I figure if we can get 2 million Americans to vote, we can push Wal-Mart to the top of the list.