The Best Man

Lewis Carroll demonstrates a problem with deciding an election by plurality of votes:

carroll simple majority

Four candidates are ranked by each of 11 electors, and each elector votes for his first choice. “Here A is considered best by three of the electors, and second by all the rest. It seems clear that he ought to be elected; and yet, by the above method, B would be the clear winner — a candidate who is considered worst by seven of the electors!”

“It is a matter for the deepest regret that Dodgson never completed the book he planned to write on this subject,” writes Michael Dummett. “Such was the lucidity of his exposition and mastery of this topic that it seems possible that, had he published it, the political history of Britain would have been significantly different.”

See The Voting Paradox, The Referendum Paradox, and Stump Trouble.

Nothing Doing

Deluged with mail after his discovery of the double helix, Francis Crick began sending a printed card in response to invitations:

crick demurral

He modeled it on a similar one made by Edmund Wilson:

wilson demurral

In 1976 freelance writer Betty Eppes managed to talk to J.D. Salinger for 20 minutes. “He said he didn’t believe in giving autographs. It was a meaningless gesture. He told me never to sign my name for anyone else. It was all right for actors and actresses to sign their names, because all they had to give were their faces and names. But it was different with writers. They had their work to give. Therefore, it was cheap to give autographs. He said, Don’t you ever do it! No self-respecting writer should ever do it.”

See Pen Fatigue.

“Office Mottoes”

Motto heartening, inspiring,
Framed above my pretty desk,
Never Shelley, Keats, or Byring
Penned a phrase so picturesque!
But in me no inspiration
Rides my low and prosy brow —
All I think of is vacation
When I see that lucubration:

http://books.google.com/books?id=7lNLAAAAIAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s

When I see another sentence
Framed upon a brother’s wall,
Resolution and repentance
Do not flood o’er me at all
As I read that nugatory
Counsel written years ago,
Only when one comes to borry
Do I heed that ancient story:

http://books.google.com/books?id=7lNLAAAAIAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Mottoes flat and mottoes silly,
Proverbs void of point or wit,
“KEEP A-PLUGGIN’ WHEN IT’S HILLY!”
“LIFE’S A TIGER: CONQUER IT!”
Office mottoes make me weary
And of all the bromide bunch
There is only one I seri-
Ously like, and that’s the cheery:

http://books.google.com/books?id=7lNLAAAAIAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s

— Franklin Pierce Adams, Tobogganning on Parnassus, 1913

Life and Limbs

An old philosophical friend of mine was grown, from experience, very cautious in this particular, and carefully avoided any intimacy with [captious, overcritical] people. He had, like other philosophers, a thermometer to show him the heat of the weather, and a barometer to mark when it was likely to prove good or bad; but there being no instrument invented to discover, at first sight, this unpleasing disposition in a person, he, for that purpose, made use of his legs; one of which was remarkably handsome, the other, by some accident, crooked and deformed. If a stranger, at first interview, regarded his ugly leg more than his handsome one, he doubted him — if he spoke of it, and took no notice of the handsome leg, that was sufficient to determine my philosopher to have no farther acquaintance with him. Every body has not this two-legged instrument; but every one, with a little attention, may observe signs of that carping, fault-finding disposition, and take the same resolution of avoiding the acquaintance of those infected with it. I therefore advise those critical, querulous, discontented, unhappy people — if they wish to be respected and beloved by others, and happy in themselves, they should leave off looking at the ugly leg.

— Benjamin Franklin, 1780

Royal Jelly

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Benjamin_West_King_Lear_Act_III_scene_4.jpg

“Last night Mr. Creston Clarke played King Lear at the Tabor Grand. All through the five acts of that Shakespearean tragedy he played the King as though under momentary apprehension that someone else was about to play the Ace.” — Eugene Field, Denver Tribune, c. 1880

Upstairs Downstairs

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Richard_Feynman_Nobel.jpg

When Richard Feynman won the Nobel Prize in 1965, CERN director Victor Weisskopf worried that he would be driven out of physics and into administration. He goaded Feynman into signing a wager before witnesses:

Mr. FEYNMAN will pay the sum of TEN DOLLARS to Mr. WEISSKOPF if at any time during the next TEN YEARS (i.e. before the THIRTY FIRST DAY OF DECEMBER of the YEAR ONE THOUSAND NINE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY FIVE), the said MR. FEYNMAN has held a ‘responsible position.’

The two agreed: “For the purpose of the aforementioned WAGER, the term ‘responsible position’ shall be taken to signify a position which, by reason of its nature, compels the holder to issue instructions to other persons to carry out certain acts, notwithstanding the fact that the holder has no understanding whatsoever of that which he is instructing the aforesaid persons to accomplish.”

Feynman, who once called administration an “occupational disease,” collected the $10 in 1976.

Worldly Wise

Proverbs from around the world:

  • A shroud has no pockets. (Scotland)
  • No one is a blacksmith at birth. (Namibia)
  • The absent always bears the blame. (Netherlands)
  • One cannot make soup out of beauty. (Estonia)
  • Bad is called good when worse happens. (Norway)
  • When the mouse laughs at the cat, there is a hole. (Gambia)
  • Under trees it rains twice. (Switzerland)
  • Everyone is foolish until they buy land. (Ireland)
  • Every head is a world. (Cuba)
  • The only victory over love is flight. (France)
  • Don’t look where you fell, but where you slipped. (Liberia)
  • Many lose when they win, and others win when they lose. (Germany)

And “It is not economical to go to bed early to save the candles if the result is twins.” (China)

Presumption Rewarded

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lewis_Thompson_honeymoon_1928.jpg

Sinclair Lewis received this letter from a lawyer in a Midwestern city:

Dear Lewis:

Have read a few of your works and would like to ask a few favors. Please send me a list of your stories, your autograph, picture, and a letter describing your life. How many children have you and their names.

Thanking you, I am

Yours very truly,

J.J. Jones, Esq.

He responded:

My Dear Jim:

There was only one thing about your nice letter that I didn’t like. It was so sort of formal. True, we have never met, and somehow I feel we aren’t likely to, but, isn’t this a democratic country? So let me call you Jim, and you call me Fatty, or any other friendly name.

Now Jim, I haven’t got a photograph of me here, but I’ll go right down to the junction and have one taken. I’m preparing a letter about my life, but it’s been a pretty long one and a bad one, and that will take me several weeks.

But in the meantime, Jim, I’m awfully interested in lawyers. Kindly send me your picture, picture of your home and office, a list of your assets and liabilities, average income per month, list of the books you have read since 1914, if any. Kindly inform me whether you have ever defended a bootlegger and why. Should be glad to have any other interesting personal information for use in a story. How do you get along with your wife? Kindly explain this in detail.

Thanking you in advance, I remain,

Yours affectionately,

Sinclair Lewis

Tough Love

Irritating sayings of parents, compiled by students ages 12 and 13 at Toot Hill Comprehensive School, Bingham, Nottinghamshire, England, in 1978:

Isn’t it time you thought about bed?
It must be somewhere
You speak to him, Harold, he won’t listen to me.
Who do you think I am?
You’d better ask your father
It’s late enough as it is
Don’t eat with your mouth open
In this day and age
Did anybody ask your opinion
I remember when I was a boy
And after all we do for you
You’re not talking to your school friends now you know
Why don’t you do it the proper way
I’m only trying to tell you
What did I just say
Now, wrap up warm
B.E.D. spells bed
Sit up straight and don’t gobble your food
For the five hundredth time
Don’t let me ever see you do that again.
Have you made your bed?
Can’t you look further than your nose?
No more lip
Have you done your homework?
Because I say so.
Don’t come those fancy ways here
Any more and you’ll be in bed
My, haven’t you grown
Some day I won’t be here, then you’ll see
A chair’s for sitting on
You shouldn’t need telling at your age.
Want, want, want, that’s all you ever say

“I don’t think my parents liked me,” wrote Woody Allen. “They put a live teddy bear in my crib.”

The Whistle

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BenFranklinDuplessis.jpg

When Benjamin Franklin was 7 years old he was charmed by the sound of a whistle owned by another boy, so he went to a toy shop and volunteered all his money for one. He played it all over the house, annoying his family, until they told him that he had paid four times its price. At that he cried with vexation, and “the reflection gave me more chagrin than the whistle gave me pleasure.”

For the rest of his life, Franklin recalled this episode as a warning to reckon the cost of every attainment:

When I saw one too ambitious of court favor, sacrificing his time in attendance on levees, his repose, his liberty, his virtue, and perhaps his friends, to attain it, I have said to myself, this man gives too much for his whistle.

When I saw another fond of popularity, constantly employing himself in political bustles, neglecting his own affairs, and ruining them by that neglect, ‘He pays, indeed,’ said I, ‘too much for his whistle.’

If I knew a miser, who gave up every kind of comfortable living, all the pleasure of doing good to others, all the esteem of his fellow-citizens, and the joys of benevolent friendship, for the sake of accumulating wealth, ‘Poor man,’ said I, ‘you pay too much for your whistle.’

When I met with a man of pleasure, sacrificing every laudable improvement of the mind, or of his fortune, to mere corporeal sensations, and ruining his health in their pursuit, ‘Mistaken man,’ said I, ‘you are providing pain for yourself, instead of pleasure; you give too much for your whistle.’

If I see one fond of appearance, or fine clothes, fine houses, fine furniture, fine equipages, all above his fortune, for which he contracts debts, and ends his career in a prison, ‘Alas!’ say I, ‘he has paid dear, very dear, for his whistle.’

When I see a beautiful sweet-tempered girl married to an ill-natured brute of a husband, ‘What a pity,’ say I, ‘that she should pay so much for a whistle!’

“In short,” he wrote, “I conceive that great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by the false estimates they have made of the value of things, and by their giving too much for their whistles.”