Last Resident

When dredging began off the south Devon village of Hallsands in the 1890s, it destabilized the beach, permitting storms to reach the town. A strong storm in 1917 washed away 37 homes, but a single cottage on a hill was left standing, and a single resident, Elizabeth Prettejohn, lived alone in the ruined village for 47 years, until her death in 1964 at age 80.

“I have all my memories here, but it’s no good sitting down moping,” she said shortly before she died. “It was the dockyard that took all our beach. It blew for four days and four nights. The sea was like mountains. I prayed god that the wind would stop. … Once I thought of moving to Dartmouth, but this is where I belong with my memories.”

(Thanks, Cathy.)

Podcast Episode 280: Leaving St. Kilda

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:St_Kilda_Village_Bay.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

1930 saw the quiet conclusion of a remarkable era. The tiny population of St. Kilda, an isolated Scottish archipelago, decided to end their thousand-year tenure as the most remote community in Britain and move to the mainland. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the remarkable life they’d shared on the island and the reasons they chose to leave.

We’ll also track a stork to Sudan and puzzle over the uses of tea trays.

See full show notes …

The Liberal Paradox

If we’re committed to individual rights, then we want a society in which freedoms are not arbitrarily restricted; you should get to exercise your preferences so long as this doesn’t harm someone else. But consider a tiny society of only two people, Lewd and Prude, and a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Lewd would prefer to read the book rather than have it disposed of unread, but even more than that he’d love to see Prude forced to read it:

Prude reads > Lewd reads > no one reads

Prude would like to see the book disposed of but, short of this, would prefer reading it himself to seeing Lewd enjoy it:

no one reads > Prude reads > Lewd reads

How should a social planner rank these three outcomes? If we’re determined to respect individual rights, then Lewd and Prude should each get to decide whether to read the book; Lewd shouldn’t be prevented from reading it, but Prude shouldn’t be forced to. So we’ll let Lewd’s preference decide between the outcomes “Lewd reads” and “no one reads,” and we’ll let Prude’s decide between “Prude reads” and “no one reads.” But that gives

Lewd reads > no one reads

and

no one reads > Prude reads,

so, for consistency, the social planner arrives at the ranking

Lewd reads > no one reads > Prude reads

and gives the book to Lewd to read.

But both Lewd and Prude would have preferred that Prude be given the book! Harvard economist Amartya Sen argues that this challenges the notion that markets can allocate resources efficiently while respecting individual freedoms.

(Amartya Sen, “The Impossibility of a Paretian Liberal,” Journal of Political Economy 78:1 [1970], 152-157.)

Moving Up

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Architect Raymond Hood’s 1927 proposal “City of Towers” would have turned Manhattan into a forest of needles — it would encourage developers to release some land area to public ownership in return for permission to build higher:

Whole blocks would soon develop of their own accord, where two or three towers would provide more floor space than there is in the average block of today, and there would be ten times as much street area round about to take care of the traffic.

He surpassed that four years later with the “City Under a Single Roof,” in which each resident would spend as much time as possible in a single vertical building: “The Unit Building, covering three blocks of ground space, will house a whole industry and its auxiliary businesses. Only elevator shafts and stairways reach the street level. The first ten floors house stores, theaters and clubs. Above them is the industry to which the Building is devoted. Workers live on the upper floors.”

In a later proposal these enormous buildings merge into 38 “mountains,” positioned on alternate avenues at every 10th street. This would finally transcend the “congestion barrier”: The old bustle of the streets would now be moved permanently indoors.

Patriotism

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/File:Flag_of_the_United_States_(1912-1959).svg

On January 3, 1917, L.H. Luksich, a Coast Guard recruiter in New York, spotted a man wiping his muddy hands on an American flag and knocked him down. Luksich was not a native-born American; he was a naturalized citizen from Austria. The Treasury Department sent him an official commendation in which Assistant Secretary A.J. Peters wrote:

The department desires to commend you for the spirit of loyalty and patriotism which impelled your ready defense of the national colors, and in voicing this commendation I am not unmindful that you are a naturalized American citizen, for the reason that the incident is rendered the more conspicuous by this fact, and affords gratifying evidence of your assimilation of the spirit and best traditions of the country of your adoption.

The following year, a Montana mob demanded that local man E.V. Starr kiss the flag to prove his loyalty. He replied, “What is this thing anyway? Nothing but a piece of cotton with a little paint on it, and some other marks in the corner there. I will not kiss that thing. It might be covered with microbes.” Under a state law he was convicted of sedition, sentenced to 10–20 years at hard labor, and fined $500 plus court costs. Federal judge George M. Bourquin called the sentence “horrifying” and compared the mob to “heresy hunters” and “witch burners” but said he was powerless to intervene. Starr served 35 months before Governor Joseph M. Dixon commuted his sentence.

To Your Door

Architect Leroy L. Warner introduced a new concept in 1950: “Park at Your Desk.” The center of the Cafritz office building in Washington, D.C., was a multi-story parking garage with a helical ramp, and set around this core was a ring of shallow day-lit offices. So each worker could drive into the building, drive up to their floor, park their car, and then walk just a few meters to the office.

Why didn’t this catch on? Architect Philip Steadman points out that the design constraints allowed for 150 people per floor but only 29 parking spaces, a bad mismatch. (Also, “One wonders about air quality in the offices.”)

(From Philip Steadman, Why Are Most Buildings Rectangular?, 2017.)

Alternatives

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arithmocracy: rule by the numerical majority
millocracy: the rule of mill owners
gerontocracy: government by old men
polyarchy: rule by many people
angelocracy: government by angels
paedarchy: rule by a child or children
mesocracy: government by the middle class
dulocracy: government by slaves
isocracy: polity where all have equal power
ideocracy: government according to a particular ideology
stratocracy: government by the army
diabolarchy: rule by a devil
chrysocracy: rule of the wealthy
heroarchy: government by people who are widely admired
hetaerocracy: the rule of college fellows
chirocracy: government by a strong hand or physical force
synarchy: joint rule or sovereignty
kakistocracy: government by the worst citizens
cryptarchy: secret government
papyrocracy: government by excessive paperwork
ergatocracy: government by the workers
ptochocracy: government by the poor
nomocracy: government based on a legal code
gynarchy: government by a woman or women
pollarchy: rule by the masses
pornocracy: rule by prostitutes
hierocracy: the rule of priests
merocracy: government by a small number out of the whole
ochlocracy: government by the populace
tritheocracy: government by three gods

“The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself,” wrote H.L. Mencken. “Almost inevitably, he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, and intolerable.”

Wagah-Attari Border Ceremony

Every evening since 1959, the security forces of India and Pakistan have performed a joint military ceremony at the Attari-Wagah border. Soldiers from both sides perform elaborate and highly choreographed maneuvers, including high leg raises, before the border gates are opened and the two flags are lowered simultaneously as the sun sets. The flags are folded, two soldiers shake hands, and the gates close again. For the spectators, the ceremony is a symbol of both the cooperation and the rivalry that exist between the two nations.

Who’s There?

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

In some parts of Amsterdam, residents mount mirrors on the sides of parlor windows in order to monitor neighborly activities. This window bears two, one directed sideward and the other down. They’re called spionnetjes, or “little spies.”

“Little spies are relics of an earlier period when they enabled residents to preview visitors, but they are now used to see what is going on up and down the block,” writes John L. Locke in Eavesdropping: An Intimate History (2010). “At one time, similar mirrors were used in America, including Society Hill in Philadelphia.”

Warning

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Below the Japanese village of Aneyoshi, a 4-foot stone has stood since 1933. “Do not build your homes below this point!” it reads. “High dwellings ensure the peace and happiness of our descendants.” The village had already been devastated by a tsunami in 1896, and after a second blow the residents erected a permanent warning to those who would follow them.

It worked. A record-setting tsunami in 2011 destroyed hundreds of miles of the coast but stopped 300 feet below the Aneyoshi stone. “They knew the horrors of tsunamis,” village leader Tamishige Kimura told the New York Times, “so they erected that stone to warn us.”