United Nations

Excerpts from 112 Gripes About the French, a handbook produced to help American soldiers understand the French after the Liberation:

  • The French are too damned independent. The French are independent. They are proud. They are individualists. So are we. That’s one reason there is friction between us.
  • I never heard people gab so much. Gab, gab, gab. If you understood the language it might be interesting and not just “gab.” An American writer, Ambrose Bierce, said, “A bore is a person who talks — when you want him to listen.”
  • The French are not as clean as the Germans. Perhaps not. If the Germans had had no soap for five years they wouldn’t be as clean as they might like to be. A learned man once said, “An untidy friend is better than an immaculate enemy.”
  • The French can’t drive a car. They can’t keep it up. They ruin vehicles. The French, on the whole, certainly do not drive as well, keep a car up as well, or protect their vehicles as well as we do. Neither do women, compared to men. We have had more mechanical training, more technical experience. And at the present time we have incomparably better maintenance facilities.

The Sentinelese

The Stone Age isn’t quite over — not everywhere. On North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal lives a tribe of about 250 people, the Sentinelese, who have remained so hostile to contact with outsiders that their society is almost entirely free of modern influences.

They have no agriculture, subsisting through hunting, fishing and gathering plants. It’s not even clear whether they can produce fire without an external source like lightning.

The Indian government has made overtures by leaving gifts, but the warlike Sentinelese drove them off. Earlier this year, Sentinelese archers killed two fishermen who came too close to the island. Their bodies still haven’t been recovered — even a helicopter sent to retrieve them was driven off by arrows.

Subtract Line 55 From Line 45

Judge Learned Hand on the U.S. income tax code, writing in the Yale Law Journal, December 1947:

In my own case the words of such an act as the Income Tax … merely dance before my eyes in a meaningless procession: cross-reference to cross-reference, exception upon exception — couched in abstract terms that offer [me] no handle to seize hold of [and that] leave in my mind only a confused sense of some vitally important, but successfully concealed, purport, which it is my duty to extract, but which is within my power, if at all, only after the most inordinate expenditure of time. I know that these monsters are the result of fabulous industry and ingenuity, plugging up this hole and casting out that net, against all possible evasion; yet at times I cannot help recalling a saying of William James about certain passages of Hegel: that they were no doubt written with a passion of rationality; but that one cannot help wondering whether to the reader they have any significance save that the words are strung together with syntactical correctness.

Even Albert Einstein, who died trying to find a generalized theory of gravitation, wrote, “The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.”

Guaranteed Turnout

Countries with compulsory voting:

Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Congo, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Fiji, Greece, Honduras, Lebanon, Libya, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mexico, Nauru, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey, Uruguay, Venezuela

The Sky Falls Again

Remember the Y2K crisis? We thought society was going to collapse because we hadn’t trained our computers for the future.

Well, it’s going to happen again. We’re going to run out of Social Security numbers.

Your number is unique; it’s not recycled when you die. About a billion numbers are possible, but we’ve been assigning them since 1936 and we’ve already used up about a third of the possibilities. According to some estimates we could run out by 2075.

What happens then? Who knows? But if our government collapses, head to South Korea: Their social security numbers give access to online video games.

Anonymous Identities

“John Doe” in other countries:

  • Australia: Fred Nurk
  • Austria: Hans Meier
  • Belgium: Jan Janssen
  • Colombia: Fulano de Tal
  • Croatia: Ivan Horvat
  • Czech Republic: Josef Novák
  • Estonia: Jaan Tamm
  • France: Jean Dupont
  • Guatemala: Juan Perez
  • Italy: Mario Rossi
  • Lithuania: Vardenis Pavardenis
  • Malta: Joe Borg
  • New Zealand: Joe Bloggs
  • Philippines: Juan dela Cruz
  • Poland: Jan Kowalski
  • Romania: Ion Popescu
  • Slovenia: Janez Novak
  • South Africa: Koos van der Merwe

In the United States, John Doe is always the defendant. An anonymous plaintiff is Richard Roe.

Snap, Crackle, Pop

The sound of Rice Krispies in other languages:

  • Finnish: “Riks! Raks! Poks!”
  • French: “Cric! Crac! Croc!”
  • German: “Knisper! Knasper! Knusper!”
  • Swedish: “Piff! Paff! Puff!”
  • Spanish: “Pim! Pum! Pam!”

In 2002, pollster Kellyanne Conway found that most Americans could name the three elves but could not name any three of the nine sitting Supreme Court justices.

The Flynn Effect

Are we getting smarter? IQ scores around the world have been going up by about three IQ points per decade.

Suggested reasons include improved nutrition, smaller families, better education, and the stimulating modern environment, but no one really knows what’s causing it.

It’s called the Flynn effect, after New Zealand political scientist who discovered it.

Miles v. City Council of Augusta, Georgia

If you’re going to exhibit a talking cat in Georgia, you need a business license, according to a court ruling in 1981. Carl and Elaine Miles had been presenting Blackie the Talking Cat to passersby in Augusta; Blackie would meow “I love you” or “I want my mama,” and the onlookers would give small change to the Mileses.

They objected to the license requirement, saying that the law violated their right to free speech and that it didn’t mention talking animals. But they lost the case in district court in 1982, and an appeals court upheld the decision:

This Court will not hear a claim that Blackie’s right to free speech has been infringed. First, although Blackie arguably possesses a very unusual ability, he cannot be considered a “person” and is therefore not protected by the Bill of Rights. Second, even if Blackie had such a right, we see no need for appellants to assert his right jus tertii.

The court added, “Blackie can clearly speak for himself.”