In a Word

poculation
n. the action or practice of drinking alcohol

eclaircissement
n. the clearing up of anything which is obscure or not easily understood; an explanation

plerophory
n. full persuasion or confidence; perfect conviction or certitude

In a 1952 speech before the Mississippi house of representatives, lawmaker Noah S. Sweat addressed the question whether the state should continue to prohibit alcoholic beverages:

My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:

If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

“This is my stand,” he said. “I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.”

From Beyond

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Graphophone1901.jpg

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, via the Ohio Law Reporter, Aug. 17, 1908: During a dispute over a will in Vienna, a phonograph record was introduced into evidence so that the dead woman herself could explain her intentions, which she’d recorded during her lifetime:

Prof. Sulzer stated that he had a phonographic record that would settle beyond question the point in dispute and asked the court’s permission to introduce it as evidence. The permission was granted and Mme. Blaci, the decedent, told in her own voice of her affection for her brother and his family and announced her intention of providing before her death so that her nephew, Heinrich, would be well cared for after she had passed away.

Heinrich testified that the record was made on the twenty-first anniversary of his birth. Mme. Blaci, he told the judge, had said at the time that she wanted the words she had spoken to her brother, Heinrich’s father, put on record as a souvenir of her affection that could be handed down to her nephew.

“After hearing the record, the court immediately awarded Heinrich $120,000 as his share of the estate, which was the full amount claimed by him.”

Mr. Big

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mansudae_Grand_Kim_Jong-Il.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Epithets used to describe former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in state media:

  • Superior Person
  • Dear Leader
  • Respected Leader
  • Wise Leader
  • Brilliant Leader
  • Unique Leader
  • Dear Leader, Who Is a Perfect Incarnation of the Appearance That a Leader Should Have
  • Commander-in-Chief
  • Great Leader
  • Father of the People
  • Sun of the Communist Future
  • Shining Star of Paektu Mountain
  • Guiding Sun Ray
  • Leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces
  • Guarantee of the Fatherland’s Unification
  • Symbol of the Fatherland’s Unification
  • Fate of the Nation
  • Beloved Father
  • Leader of the Party, the Country, and the Army
  • Great Leader of our Party and of our Nation
  • Great General
  • Beloved and Respected General
  • Great Leader
  • Beloved and Respected Leader
  • Ever-Victorious, Iron-Willed Commander
  • Sun of Socialism
  • Sun of the Nation
  • The Great Sun of Life
  • Great Sun of The Nation
  • Father of the Nation
  • World Leader of the 21st Century
  • Peerless Leader
  • Bright Sun of the 21st Century
  • Great Sun of the 21st Century
  • Leader of the 21st Century
  • Amazing Politician
  • Great Man, Who Descended From Heaven
  • Glorious General, Who Descended From Heaven
  • Supreme Leader of the Nation
  • Bright Sun of Juche
  • Leader of the Party and the People
  • Great Marshal
  • Invincible and Triumphant General
  • Dear Father
  • Guiding Star of the 21st Century
  • Great Man, Who Is a Man of Deeds
  • Great Defender
  • Savior
  • Mastermind of the Revolution
  • Highest Incarnation of the Revolutionary Comradeship
  • His Excellency

Wikipedia keeps a list. When Kim died in 2011, he was named “General Secretary for Eternity.” According to the state-run Korean Central News Agency, the decision was based on “the unanimous will and desire of all the party members and other people.”

That Good Night

https://www.flickr.com/photos/shemp65/7907130676
Image: Flickr

There’s a statue of Lenin in Seattle. Originally sculpted by Bulgarian artist Emil Venkov, it was installed in Poprad, Czechoslovakia, in 1988, just a year before the Velvet Revolution. Visiting American English teacher Lewis Carpenter found it lying in a scrapyard waiting to be melted down; he offered $13,000 for it and shipped it home to Issaquah, Washington.

When Carpenter died in an auto accident, the statue found its way to Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, where the local chamber of commerce has agreed to hold it in trust until a buyer can be found. The current asking price is $250,000.

For now the founder of the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class stands at the intersection of Fremont Place North, North 36th Street, and Evanston Avenue North, where he is regularly decorated with Christmas lights. Six-year-old Colin Sackett told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “It just makes me remember Christmas is coming. And it makes me remember Hanukkah, too.”

No More Pencils

school's out

School’s out for summer, Belleville, Illinois, 1974.

“There is, on the whole, nothing on earth intended for innocent people so horrible as a school.” — George Bernard Shaw

“It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty.” — Albert Einstein

“I have not the least doubt that school developed in me nothing but what was evil and left the good untouched.” — Edvard Grieg

“I hope we still have some bright twelve-year-olds who are interested in science. We must be careful not to discourage our twelve-year-olds by making them waste the best years of their lives on preparing for examinations.” — Freeman Dyson

“Education has become one of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought.” — Bertrand Russell

“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.” — E.M. Forster

Boys’ Club

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Athos_grenze_frangokastro_01.jpg

No women are allowed on Greece’s Mount Athos, the site of 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries, because they would hinder the monks’ progress toward spiritual enlightenment. Mary alone represents her sex on the mountain.

The ban has been in place since an imperial decree in 1046, with a few colorful exceptions:

  • In the 1300s a Serbian emperor brought his wife to the peninsula to protect her from the plague. She was borne in a hand carriage the whole time, her feet never touching the ground.
  • French writer Maryse Choisy snuck in in the 1920s, disguised as a sailor. She published her adventure under the title Un mois chez les hommes (“A Month With Men”).
  • In 1953 Ohio Fulbright Program teacher Cora Miller landed briefly with two other women, creating a furor.
  • In 2008, five Moldovan migrants arrived by way of Turkey; four were women. The monks forgave them.

The rule extends even to hens, cows, nanny-goats, and sows, which means that dairy products and eggs have to be brought in from outside. Female cats, insects, and songbirds are admitted.

In 2003 the European Parliament passed a resolution saying the ban violated “the universally recognised principle of gender equality,” but it remains in place — even female sightseers must stay at least 500 meters offshore.

Riposte

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wilhelm_Steinitz2.jpg

Chess master Wilhelm Steinitz was having a heated political argument.

His opponent said, “Do you think you understand politics because you can play chess?”

Steinitz said, “Do you think you understand politics because you can’t play chess?”

Detente

In his Book of Good Love (1330), Juan Ruiz tells of a silent debate between Greece and Rome. The Romans had no laws and asked the Greeks to give them some. The Greeks feared that they were too ignorant and challenged them first to prove themselves before the wise men of Greece. The Romans agreed to a debate but asked that it be conducted in gestures, as they did not understand the Greek language. The Greeks put forward a learned scholar, and the Romans, feeling themselves at a disadvantage, put forward a ruffian and told him to use whatever gestures he felt inspired to make.

The two mounted high seats before the assembled crowd. The Greek held out his index finger, and the Roman responded with his thumb, index, and middle fingers. The Greek held out his open palm, and the Roman responded with a fist. Then the Greek announced that the Romans deserved to be given laws.

Each side then asked its champion to explain what had happened.

They asked the Greek what he had said to the Roman by his gestures, and what he had answered him. He said: ‘I said that there is one God; the Roman said He was One in Three Persons, and made a sign to that effect.

Next I said that all was by the will of God; he answered that God held everything in his power, and he spoke truly. When I saw that they understood and believed in the Trinity, I understood that they deserved assurance of [receiving] laws.’

They asked the hoodlum what his notion was; he replied: ‘He said that with his finger he would smash my eye; I was mighty unhappy about this and I got mighty angry, and I answered him with rage, with answer, and with fury,

that, right in front of everybody, I would smash his eyes with my two fingers and his teeth with my thumb; right after that he told me to watch him because he would give me a big slap on my ears [that would leave them] ringing.

I answered him that I would give him such a punch that in all his life he would never get even for it. As soon as he saw that he had the quarrel in bad shape, he quit making threats in a spot where they thought nothing of him.’

Ruiz writes, “This is why the proverb of the shrewd old woman says, ‘No word is bad if you don’t take it badly.’ You will see that my word is well said if it is well understood.”

(From Laura Kendrick’s The Game of Love, 1988.)

Podcast Episode 149: The North Pond Hermit

https://www.flickr.com/photos/38976602@N05/4806329064

Image: Flickr

Without any forethought or preparation, Christopher Knight walked into the Maine woods in 1986 and lived there in complete solitude for the next 27 years, subsisting on what he was able to steal from local cabins. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the North Pond hermit, one man’s attempt to divorce himself completely from civilization.

We’ll also look for coded messages in crosswords and puzzle over an ineffective snake.

Intro:

Disneyland’s Matterhorn contains a basketball goal.

Two tombstones in the Netherlands “hold hands” across a cemetery wall.

Sources for our feature on the North Pond hermit:

Michael Finkel, “Into the Woods: How One Man Survived Alone in the Wilderness for 27 Years,” Guardian, March 15, 2017.

Associated Press, “Christopher Knight: Inside the Maine Hermit’s Lair,” April 12, 2013.

“Hermit Caught After 27 Years in Maine Woods,” Guardian, April 11, 2013.

Wikipedia, “Christopher Thomas Knight” (accessed April 6, 2017).

Nathaniel Rich, “Lessons of the Hermit,” Atlantic, April 2017.

Michael Finkel, “The 27-Year Hunt for Maine’s North Pond Hermit,” Toronto Star, March 26, 2017.

Betty Adams, “‘North Pond Hermit’ Knight Balks at Paying Costs Related to His Remote Campsite,” Kennebec Journal, April 26, 2016.

Craig Crosby, “After 27 Years of Burglaries, ‘North Pond Hermit’ Is Arrested,” Kennebec Journal, April 9, 2013.

Brian MacQuarrie, “In Rural Maine, a Life of Solitude and Larceny,” Boston Globe, May 26, 2013.

Michael Finkel, “The Strange & Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit,” GQ, Aug. 4, 2014.

Leonard Dawe and the D-Day crosswords:

Michelle Arnot, Four-Letter Words: And Other Secrets of a Crossword Insider, 2008.

Nicholas Lezard, “One Hundred Years of Solvitude,” Independent, Dec. 16, 2013.

Michael E. Haskew, “In Spite of All the Preparation, D-Day Remained a Gamble,” World War II 16:2 (July 2001), 6.

R. Murray Hayes, “A Beach Too Far: The Dieppe Raid,” Sea Classics 44:4 (April 2011), 18-22, 24-25.

George J. Church and Arthur White, “Overpaid, Oversexed, Over Here,” Time 123:22 (May 28, 1984), 45.

Val Gilbert, “D-Day Crosswords Are Still a Few Clues Short of a Solution,” Telegraph, May 3, 2004.

Tom Rowley, “Who Put Secret D-Day Clues in the ‘Telegraph’ Crossword?”, Telegraph, April 27, 2014.

Fred Wrixon, Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Languages, 1989.

Gregory Kipper, Investigator’s Guide to Steganography, 2003.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Dave Lawrence.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Good Night Lights

Six years ago, Providence restaurant The Hot Club started the custom of flashing its lights each night at 8:30, as a way to say good night to the children in the six-story Hasbro Children’s Hospital across the Providence River. The club would flash its neon sign, and patrons would gather on the waterfront deck to wave flashlights and cell phones.

Now hotels, boat traffic, skyscrapers, and police cruisers have begun to join in, some with permanent signals but many using handheld lights. About two dozen children are in the hospital on any given night, and they’ve taken to flashing back with lights of their own.

“No one knows who’s on the other side of the gesture,” hospital cartoonist Steve Brosnihan told the Associated Press. “People often say, ‘I get goosebumps hearing about this.'”

“They don’t know me; they could skip the step of flicking the lights, but they do it anyway,” said 13-year-old lupus patient Olivia Stephenson. “I hope they saw the thank you.”