# Podcast Episode 113: The Battle Over Mother’s Day

Anna Jarvis organized the first observance of Mother’s Day in 1908 and campaigned to have the holiday adopted throughout the country. But her next four decades were filled with bitterness and acrimony as she watched her “holy day” devolve into a “burdensome, wasteful, expensive gift-day.” In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll follow the evolution of Mother’s Day and Jarvis’ belligerent efforts to control it.

We’ll also meet a dog that flummoxed the Nazis and puzzle over why a man is fired for doing his job too well.

See full show notes …

# One World

Malcolm Townsend’s U.S.: An Index to the United States of America (1890) contains this table of absurd racial hair-splitting from 1850s Louisiana:

The source is Frederick Law Olmsted’s A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States, from 1856.

Olmsted wrote, “All these varieties exist in New Orleans with sub-varieties, and experts pretend to be able to distinguish them.”

# In a Word

tenue
n. bearing, deportment

ogganition
n. snarling

A peculiar detail from the Battle of Waterloo:

As the day wore on, the French cavalry became more and more desperate, and charged repeatedly with fierce gesticulations, which became more pronounced as they were so continuously repelled. These peculiar looks and gestures of the French became so marked that when the colonel, Fielding Browne, gave the familiar order, ‘Prepare for cavalry,’ the officers would thunder out the order, and add, ‘Now, men, make faces!’

(“The Prince of Wales’s Volunteers,” Navy & Army Illustrated, Feb. 4, 1899.)

# The Tipping Point

English meteorologist Lewis Fry Richardson (1881-1953) spent the last 25 years of his life trying to establish a mathematical theory of the causes of war. In the first of two books on this subject, Arms and Insecurity, he works out a model of arms races using differential equations and reaches the conclusion that

$\frac{d\left ( U + V \right )}{dt}=\left ( k - \alpha \right )\left \{ U + V - \left [ U_{0} + V_{0} - \frac{g + h}{k - \alpha } \right ] \right \}$

where:

U and V are the annual defense budgets of two parties to a conflict

k is a positive constant representing the response to threat

α is a positive constant representing the fatigue and expense of keeping up defenses

U0 and V0 represent cooperations between the parties, tentatively assumed to remain constant

and g and h represent the “grievances and ambitions, provisionally regarded as constant,” on each side.

The term in brackets is a constant, so Richardson predicted that plotting d(U + V)/dt against (U + V) would produce a straight line. He tried this out using the defense budgets of the Franco-Russian and Austro-German alliances for 1909-14 and got this:

“The four points lie close to a straight line, closer, indeed, than one might expect,” he writes. “Since I first drew this diagram, which was shown at the British Association in Cambridge in 1938, and printed in Nature of 29 October of that year, I have been incredulous about the marvelously good fit. Yet there is no simple mistake. … The mere regularity of these phenomena shows that foreign politics had then a rather machine-like quality, intermediate between the predictability of the moon and the freedom of an unmarried young man.”

The extrapolated straight line hits the x axis at U + V = £194 pounds sterling. “As love covereth a multitude of sins, so the good will between the opposing alliances would just have covered £194 million of defense expenditures on the part of the four nations concerned. Their actual expenditure in 1909 was £199 millions; and so began an arms race which led to World War I.”

(Lewis F. Richardson, Arms and Insecurity, 1949.)

# Presence of Mind

Science teacher Lawrence Beesley was reading a book in his cabin on the Titanic when the engines stopped. Wandering the ship, he heard that an iceberg had passed by but found nothing amiss. But as he was returning to his cabin he noticed something unusual:

As I passed to the door to go down, I looked forward again and saw to my surprise an undoubted tilt downwards from the stern to the bows: only a slight slope, which I don’t think any one had noticed, — at any rate, they had not remarked on it. As I went downstairs a confirmation of this tilting forward came in something unusual about the stairs, a curious sense of something out of balance and of not being able to put one’s feet down in the right place: naturally, being tilted forward, the stairs would slope downwards at an angle and tend to throw one forward. I could not see any visible slope of the stairway: it was perceptible only by the sense of balance at this time.

When the crew began to summon passengers, he returned to A Deck and was accepted on a lifeboat.

(From his 1912 book The Loss of the S.S. Titanic.)

# Ground Rules

Articles of the pirate ship Revenge, captain John Phillips, 1723:

1. Every man shall obey a civil command. The captain shall have one share and a half of all prizes. The master, carpenter, boatswain and gunner shall have one share and [a] quarter.
2. If any man shall offer to run away or keep any secret from the company, he shall be marooned with one bottle of powder, one bottle of water, one small arm and shot.
3. If any man shall steal anything in the company or game to the value of a piece-of-eight, he shall be marooned or shot.
4. If at any time we should meet another marooner [pirate], that man that shall sign his articles without the consent of our company shall suffer such punishment as the captain and company shall think fit.
5. That man that shall strike another whilst these articles are in force shall receive Moses’s Law (that is, forty stripes lacking one) on the bare back.
6. That man that shall snap his arms or smoke tobacco in the hold without a cap on his pipe, or carry a candle lighted without a lantern, shall suffer the same punishment as in the former article.
7. That man that shall not keep his arms clean, fit for an engagement, or neglect his business, shall be cut off from his share and suffer such other punishment as the captain and the company shall think fit.
8. If any man shall lose a joint in time of an engagement, he shall have 400 pieces-of-eight. If a limb, 800.
9. If at any time we meet with a prudent woman, that man that offers to meddle with her without her consent, shall suffer present death.

That’s from Charles Johnson’s General History of the Pyrates, 1724. It’s one of only four surviving sets of articles from the golden age of piracy.

Phillips lasted less than eight months as a pirate captain but captured 34 ships in the West Indies.

# Podcast Episode 111: Japanese Fire Balloons

Toward the end of World War II, Japan launched a strange new attack on the United States: thousands of paper balloons that would sail 5,000 miles to drop bombs on the American mainland. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll tell the curious story of the Japanese fire balloons, the world’s first intercontinental weapon.

We’ll also discuss how to tell time by cannon and puzzle over how to find a lost tortoise.

See full show notes …

# Talking

Excerpt of a letter from British general Philip Howele to his wife, Sept. 15, 1915:

It is VILE that all my time should be devoted to killing Germans whom I don’t in the least want to kill. If all Germany could be united in one man and he and I could be shut up together just to talk things out, we could settle the war, I feel, in less than one hour. The ideal war would include long and frequent armistices during which both sides could walk across the trenches and discuss their respective points of view. We are really only fighting just because we are all so ignorant and stupid. And if diplomats were really clever such a thing as war could never be. Shall I desert and see if any of them will listen on the other side? My little German officer was rather flabbergasted when the first question I asked him the other morning, when the escort had gone out and shut the door, and after I’d put him in a comfortable chair and given him a cigarette, was, ‘Now first of all do you really hate me, and if so why?’ He said he didn’t. But then later, when I asked him what we could possibly do to stop all this nonsense, he had no suggestions to make. ‘I have my ideas’ he said but somehow couldn’t express them.

Goodnight … and bless you.

P.

# Progress

What Did George the Third Know?

He never saw a match.
He never saw a bicycle.
He never saw an oil stove.
He never saw a steamboat.
He never saw a gas engine.
He never saw a type-writer.
He never saw a phonograph.
He never saw a steel plough.
He never took laughing gas.
He never rode on a tram car.
He never saw a fountain pen.
He never saw a railway train.
He never knew of Evolution.
He never saw a postage stamp.
He never saw a pneumatic tube.
He never saw an electric railway.
He never saw a reaping machine.
He never saw a set of artificial teeth.
He never saw a telegraph instrument.
He never heard the roar of a Krupp gun.
He never saw a threshing machine, but used a flail.
He never saw a pretty girl work on a sewing machine.
He never saw a percussion cap, nor a repeating rifle.
His grandmother did his mending with a darning needle.
He never listened to Edison’s mocking machine or phonograph.
When he went to a hotel he walked upstairs, for they had no lifts.
He never saw a steel pen, but did all his writing with a quill.
He never held his ear to a telephone, or talked to his wife a hundred miles away.
He never saw a fire engine, but when he went to a fire, he stood in line and passed buckets.
He never knew the pleasure and profit to be derived from reading Science Siftings.

Science Siftings, 1894

# Misc

• Consecutive U.S. presidents Grant, Hayes, and Garfield were all born in Ohio and served as Civil War generals.
• Travel due south from Buffalo and you’ll reach the Pacific Ocean.
• Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. shook hands with both John Quincy Adams and John F. Kennedy.
• This false statement is not self-referential.
• “When you have no basis for an argument, abuse the plaintiff.” — Cicero

In the 2004 film Shark Tale, the shark Lenny coughs up several items onto a table. Among them is a Louisiana license plate, number 007 0 981. The same plate is retrieved from sharks in both Jaws and Deep Blue Sea.