Scoops

In London the Standard newspaper, now defunct, had an effective method of ensuring it got news before its rivals. Every messenger bringing material or news reports to the Standard was given, on arrival, a blue ticket if it was a Government or official report and a red ticket for anything else. The tickets (a quart of beer for a blue ticket, a pint of beer for a red one) could only be redeemed at The Black Dog pub next door. This meant the Standard got its material first — and their rivals much later — since the messengers would always redeem their tickets before going on.

— N.T.P. Murphy, A Wodehouse Handbook, 2013

Aiming High

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“Reynolds said that ‘[Samuel] Johnson always practised on every occasion the rule of speaking his best, whether the person to whom he addressed himself was or was not capable of comprehending him. ‘If,’ says he, ‘I am understood, my labour is not lost. If it is above their comprehension, there is some gratification, though it is the admiration of ignorance;’ and he said those were the most sincere admirers; and quoted Baxter, who made a rule never to preach a sermon without saying something which he knew was beyond the comprehension of his audience, in order to inspire their admiration.'” — James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson, 1791

But:

“To write well, express yourself like the common people, but think like a wise man.” – Aristotle

Russell’s Decalogue

In a 1951 article in the New York Times Magazine, Bertrand Russell laid out “the Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate”:

  1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
  2. Do not think it worthwhile to produce belief by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
  3. Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed.
  4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
  5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
  6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
  7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
  8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
  9. Be scrupulously truthful, even when truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
  10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

“The essence of the liberal outlook in the intellectual sphere is a belief that unbiased discussion is a useful thing and that men should be free to question anything if they can support their questioning by solid arguments,” he wrote. “The opposite view, which is maintained by those who cannot be called liberals, is that the truth is already known, and that to question it is necessarily subversive.”

Memorial

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Anthem Veterans Memorial, in Anthem, Arizona, consists of five white pillars representing the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. Each pillar contains a slanted elliptical opening, and the five are arranged so that at 11:11 a.m. on Veterans Day, November 11, the sun’s light passes through all five and illuminates the Great Seal of the United States, which is inlaid among 750 red paving stones engraved with the names of veterans.

Podcast Episode 303: Camp Stark

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In 1943, the U.S. established a camp for German prisoners of war near the village of Stark in northern New Hampshire. After a rocky start, the relations between the prisoners and guards underwent a surprising change. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Camp Stark and the transforming power of human decency.

We’ll also check out some Canadian snakes and puzzle over some curious signs.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 297: A Sinto Boxer in Nazi Germany

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In the 1930s, Sinto boxer Johann Trollmann was reaching the peak of his career when the Nazis declared his ethnic inferiority. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Trollmann’s stand against an intolerant ideology and the price he paid for his fame.

We’ll also consider a British concentration camp and puzzle over some mysterious towers.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 294: ‘The Murder Trial of the Century’

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In 1957, an English doctor was accused of killing his patients for their money. The courtroom drama that followed was called the “murder trial of the century.” In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the case of John Bodkin Adams and its significance in British legal history.

We’ll also bomb Calgary and puzzle over a passive policeman.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 292: Fordlandia

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1927, Henry Ford decided to build a plantation in the Amazon to supply rubber for his auto company. The result was Fordlandia, an incongruous Midwestern-style town in the tropical rainforest. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the checkered history of Ford’s curious project — and what it revealed about his vision of society.

We’ll also consider some lifesaving seagulls and puzzle over a false alarm.

See full show notes …

Our System

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“If x is the population of the United States and y is the degree of imbecility of the average American, then democracy is the theory that x × y is less than y.” — H.L. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy, 1949