During World War I the Red Cross solicited contributions by literally sucking them out of a crowd with a vacuum cleaner.
The stunt took place on May 25, 1917, before the New York Public Library. From Scientific American: “While a soldier and a sailor urged the public to hand in their contributions the suction tube of the machine was reached out over the crowd. The suction was sufficient to draw up pieces of money of any denomination and deposit them in the bag of the vacuum cleaner. By this means it was possible to reach the crowd readily and it was unnecessary for a contributor to elbow his way through the jam in order to reach the Red Cross workers.”
The National Archives notes, “So great was the eagerness of the people to have their coins taken in by the cleaner that the bag inside the vacuum cleaner had to be emptied several times.”
The Bronx Zoo unveiled a controversial exhibit in 1906 — a Congolese man in a cage in the primate house. The display attracted jeering crowds to the park, but for the man himself it was only the latest in a string of indignities. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review the sad tale of Ota Benga and his life in early 20th-century America.
We’ll also delve into fugue states and puzzle over a second interstate speeder.
It is like a play. But when the curtain falls, the one who played the king, and the one who played the beggar, and all the others — they are all quite alike, all one and the same; actors. And when in death the curtain falls on the stage of actuality … then they also are all one; they are human beings. All are that which they essentially were, something we did not see because of the difference we see. They are all human beings. The stage of art is like an enchanted world. But just suppose that some evening a common absent-mindedness confused all the actors so they thought they really were what they were representing. Would this not be, in contrast to the enchantment of art, what one might call the enchantment of an evil spirit, a bewitchment? And likewise suppose that in the enchantment of actuality (for we are, indeed, all enchanted, each one bewitched by his own distinctions) our fundamental ideas became confused so that we thought ourselves essentially to be the roles we play. Alas, but is this not the case? It seems to be forgotten that the distinctions of earthly existence are only like an actor’s costume.
On Sept. 14, 1964, a Kuwaiti freighter capsized, drowning its cargo of sheep and threatening to contaminate the drinking water of Kuwait City. To raise the ship quickly, Danish inventor Karl Krøyer proposed using a tube to fill it with buoyant bodies. Accordingly, 27 million plastic balls were airlifted from Berlin and pumped into the freighter’s hold, and on Dec. 31 the ship rose, saving the insurance company nearly $2 million.
Krøyer patented his technique in the United Kingdom and Germany, but (the story is told) the Dutch application was rejected because a Dutch examiner found the 1949 Donald Duck comic The Sunken Yacht, by Carl Barks, in which Donald and his nephews raise a yacht by filling it with ping-pong balls.
Ping-pong balls are buoyant, and the ducks used a tube to feed them into the yacht, so the Dutch office ruled that this destroys the novelty of Krøyer’s invention — it may be just a comic book, but it had made the essential idea public 15 years before Krøyer tried to claim it.
No one quite seems to know whether this story is true — Krøyer, his patent attorney, and the examiner have now passed away; the documentation was destroyed years ago; and the grounds for the Dutch rejection aren’t clear. But it still makes a vivid example for intellectual property lawyers.
In his 1953 book The Impact of Science on Society, Bertrand Russell warned that modern life was subordinating people to the technical requirements of their work. “What science has done is to increase the proportion of your life in which you are a cog,” he warned. “You can only justify the cog theory by worship of the machine.”
In time men will come to pray to the machine: ‘Almighty and most merciful Machine, we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost screws; we have put in those nuts which we ought not to have put in, and we have left out those nuts which we ought to have put in, and there is not cogginess in us’ — and so on.
“You must make the machine an end in itself, not a means to what it produces,” he wrote. “Human beings then become like slaves in The Arabian Nights.”
When Croatian artists Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišic ended their four-year relationship in 2003, they joked about creating a museum to house all their leftover personal items. “We were thinking of how to preserve the beautiful moments we had together and not destroy everything,” Vištica said. Three years later, Grubišic suggested that they do this in earnest, and they created the Museum of Broken Relationships, displaying items left over from breakups around the world.
After ending an 18-month relationship with an abusive lover, a Toronto woman sent in a necklace and earrings he had given her. “The necklace was given as an apology after one night of abuse. He used it as leverage that I should do as he said. I finally broke it off. I keep the necklace as a reminder of what to look out for.”
A Berlin women donated the ax she’d used to chop up her partner’s furniture after she left her for another woman. “Every day I axed one piece of her furniture. I kept the remains there, as an expression of my inner condition. The more her room filled with chopped furniture acquiring the look of my soul, the better I felt. Two weeks after she left, she came back for the furniture. It was neatly arranged into small heaps and fragments of wood. She took that trash and left my apartment for good. The axe was promoted to a therapy instrument.”
Between 2006 and 2010, the collection toured the world and was seen by 200,000 people. It’s now found a permanent home in Zagreb, and in 2016 it opened another location in Los Angeles, next to the theater that hosts the Oscars. “I think in periods of suffering people become creative, and I think this is a catharsis,” Vištica told The Star. “I think that relationships, especially love relationships, influence us so much and they make us the people we are.”
All of Johann Sebastian Bach’s surviving brothers were named Johann: Johann Rudolf, Johann Christoph, Johann Balthasar, Johannes Jonas, and Johann Jacob. His father was Johann Ambrosius Bach, and his sister was Johanna Juditha.
By contrast, his other sister, Marie Salome, “stuck out like a sore thumb,” writes Jeremy Siepmann in Bach: Life and Works. “And they all had grandparents and uncles and cousins whose names were also Johann, something. Johann Sebastian’s own children included Johann Gottfried, Johann Christoph, Johann August, Johann Christian, and Johanna Carolina.”
“I understand that a computer has been invented that is so remarkably intelligent that if you put it into communication with either a computer or a human, it can’t tell the difference!” — Raymond Smullyan