On January 3, 1917, L.H. Luksich, a Coast Guard recruiter in New York, spotted a man wiping his muddy hands on an American flag and knocked him down. Luksich was not a native-born American; he was a naturalized citizen from Austria. The Treasury Department sent him an official commendation in which Assistant Secretary A.J. Peters wrote:

The department desires to commend you for the spirit of loyalty and patriotism which impelled your ready defense of the national colors, and in voicing this commendation I am not unmindful that you are a naturalized American citizen, for the reason that the incident is rendered the more conspicuous by this fact, and affords gratifying evidence of your assimilation of the spirit and best traditions of the country of your adoption.

The following year, a Montana mob demanded that local man E.V. Starr kiss the flag to prove his loyalty. He replied, “What is this thing anyway? Nothing but a piece of cotton with a little paint on it, and some other marks in the corner there. I will not kiss that thing. It might be covered with microbes.” Under a state law he was convicted of sedition, sentenced to 10–20 years at hard labor, and fined $500 plus court costs. Federal judge George M. Bourquin called the sentence “horrifying” and compared the mob to “heresy hunters” and “witch burners” but said he was powerless to intervene. Starr served 35 months before Governor Joseph M. Dixon commuted his sentence.

The UTA Flight 772 Memorial

In 1989 a DC-10 en route from Brazzaville to Paris exploded and crashed in the Sahara Desert, hundreds of miles from the nearest town. Six Libyans were convicted in absentia for planting a suitcase bomb on the flight.

In 2007, the families of the victims used compensation funds paid by Libya to build a memorial at the crash site in the Niger desert. With the help of 140 locals from Agadez, the nearest city, they trucked in dark stones to create a 200-foot circle surrounding a silhouette of the plane and arranged 170 broken mirrors around the perimeter, one for each victim. At the site’s northern compass point stands the crashed plane’s starboard wing, bearing the names of the passengers.

The site can still be seen on Google Earth as it’s slowly reclaimed by the desert.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Dear Sirs

Here’s a letter that might have been received by the Restormel County Council. What’s unusual about it?

Dear Sirs:

I shed no tears to learn that the hill in Mansion Road, close to most locals’ homesteads, is at last considered at least a minor threat to residents in the area. At times in the cold season the ice created on this road is a colossal attraction to the local children. Some slither and slide on the ice on sleds, tin sheets, etc, to their hearts’ content, and create concerns to motorists, and others in the area, in the colder months. It is nice to see that this matter is at last in hand, to note its consideration as an essential element in Restormel’s schemes to decrease the district’s road accidents.

A Contented Resident.

Click for Answer

Knights and Knaves

A logic puzzle by MIT mathematician Tanya Khovanova: You’re visiting an island on which every resident is either a knight or a knave. Knights always tell the truth, and knaves always lie. All the islanders know one another. You meet three islanders, Alice, Bob, and Charlie, and ask each one, “Of the two other islanders here, how many are knights?” Alice says, “Zero.” Bob says, “One.” What will Charlie say?

Click for Answer

The Silurian Hypothesis

Complex life has existed on Earth’s land surface for about 400 million years, and our civilization has been here for only a tiny fraction of that. If another industrial society had arisen millions of years ago, what traces could we still hope to find?

Astrobiologists Gavin Schmidt and Adam Frank point out that, while we might search the geologic record for evidence of plastics, synthetic pollutants, and increased metal concentrations, that expectation is based only on our own history, and a more enlightened civilization might leave a smaller footprint by using more sustainable practices (indeed, such a society is likely to survive longer).

Ironically, a poorly managed industrial civilization may deplete dissolved oxygen in the oceans, leading to an increase in organic material in the sediment, which can serve as a source of future fossil fuels. “Thus, the prior industrial activity would have actually given rise to the potential for future industry via their own demise.”

See the link below for the full paper.

(Gavin A. Schmidt and Adam Frank, “The Silurian Hypothesis: Would It Be Possible to Detect an Industrial Civilization in the Geological Record?”, International Journal of Astrobiology 18:2 [2019], 142-150.)

To Your Door

Architect Leroy L. Warner introduced a new concept in 1950: “Park at Your Desk.” The center of the Cafritz office building in Washington, D.C., was a multi-story parking garage with a helical ramp, and set around this core was a ring of shallow day-lit offices. So each worker could drive into the building, drive up to their floor, park their car, and then walk just a few meters to the office.

Why didn’t this catch on? Architect Philip Steadman points out that the design constraints allowed for 150 people per floor but only 29 parking spaces, a bad mismatch. (Also, “One wonders about air quality in the offices.”)

(From Philip Steadman, Why Are Most Buildings Rectangular?, 2017.)

A Planned And

Martin Gardner offered this curiosity in the August 1998 issue of Word Ways: Roll two six-sided dice. If they show a total of 6 or 8, roll them again. Otherwise, go to the chapter of Genesis (the King James version) that corresponds to the total on the dice. Now turn both dice upside down and go to the verse whose number is now displayed. The first word of that verse will always be And.

(Martin Gardner, “Mysterious Precognitions,” Word Ways 31:3 [August 1998], 175-177.)