Podcast Episode 122: The Bear Who Went to War

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

During World War II a Polish transport company picked up an unusual mascot: a Syrian brown bear that grew to 500 pounds and traveled with his human friends through the Middle East and Europe. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll meet Wojtek, the “happy warrior,” and follow his adventures during and after the war.

We’ll also catch up with a Russian recluse and puzzle over a murderous daughter.

Intro:

In 1956, U.S. Navy pilot Tom Attridge overtook his cannon rounds and shot down his own plane.

At Petersburg, Va., during the American Civil War, a Union and a Confederate bullet met in midair.

Sources for our feature on Wojtek the shell-toting bruin:

Aileen Orr, Wojtek the Bear, 2012.

Karen Jensen, “Private Wojtek, Reporting for Duty,” World War II 27:3 (September-October 2012), 54.

The Wojtek Memorial Trust raised £250,000 to build Wojtek’s memorial statue in Edinburgh.

“Scottish District News,” Glasgow Herald, Nov. 21, 1947.

“Smarter Than the Average Bear … by Far,” Edinburgh News, March 28, 2007.

David Sapsted, “Private Wojtek the ‘Hero Bear’ to be Honoured in Edinburgh,” Abu Dhabi National, Jan. 7, 2012.

David McCann, “Soldier Bear Wojtek to Be Given Statue in Edinburgh,” Berwickshire Advertiser, Dec. 28, 2012.

“Krakow Votes for WWII Soldier Bear Statue,” Radio Poland, April 26, 2013.

David McCann, “Prince Street Gardens Statue of Polish Army Bear,” Scotsman, May 29, 2013.

Alistair Grant, “Polish War Hero Bear Wojtek to Appear on Bus,” Edinburgh Evening News, Nov. 11, 2014.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_badge_of_the_22nd_Artillery_Support_Company_of_the_2nd_Polish_Corps.jpg

Wojtek’s unit, the 22nd Artillery Support Company of the 2nd Polish Corps, adopted this design as its emblem. In Wojtek the Bear, Aileen Orr writes, “It was very much 22nd Company’s trademark; the bear logo even appeared on regimental equipment. Within weeks of its being created and approved, shortly after the Battle of Monte Cassino, the Wojtek military logo was everywhere. The bear had pretty much become a legend in his own not inconsiderable lunchtime as curious Allied soldiers from other regiments inquired about the badge’s significance.”

Listener mail:

Some recent photos of Agafia Lykov can be seen on this Facebook page.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was composed by Greg, who gathered these corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

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.

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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!

The Paradox of Musical Description

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Unlike the visual or literary arts, music seems to be impossible to describe in words — we’re forced to choose between the senselessly subjective and the incomprehensibly technical. Rutgers philosopher Peter Kivy cataloged four common types of music criticism:

  • Biographical: a description of the composer rather than his music. “We are allowed to gaze upon a deeply agitated life, that seeks, with strong endeavour, to support itself at the high level of the day.”
  • Autobiographical: a description of the critic’s impressions rather than the music. “I closed my eyes, and whilst listening to the divine gavotte … I seemed to be surrounded on all sides by enfolding arms, adorable, intertwining feet, floating hair, shining eyes, and intoxicating smiles.”
  • Emotive: a subjective description of emotions in composers or listeners. “The first episode is a regular trio in the major mode, beginning in consolation and twice bursting into triumph.”
  • Technical: the coldly clinical: “The joint between the second movement and the third can hang on the progression D-B♭-B♮, which is parallel to F-D♭-D♮ between the first and second.”

There just doesn’t seem to be an adequate way to convey the experience of hearing a piece of music without actually playing it for someone. “Description of music is in a way unique,” Kivy writes. “When it is understandable to the nonmusician, it is cried down as nonsense by the contemporary musician. And when the musician or musical scholar turn their hands to it these days, likely as not the non-musician finds it as mysterious as the Cabala, and about as interesting as a treatise on sewage disposal.”

(From The Corded Shell, 1980.)

Applications

https://pixabay.com/en/frog-frog-prince-crown-fig-cute-1591896/

One day a young man was walking down a road when a frog called to him: “Boy, if you kiss me, I will turn into a beautiful princess.”

The young man picked up the frog, smiled at it and put it in his pocket.

A short while later, the frog said, “Boy, if you kiss me and turn me back into a beautiful princess, I’ll be yours.”

The young man took the frog from his pocket, smiled at it and put it back.

Now the frog was upset. “Boy, what is the matter?” the frog cried. “I have told you that I am a beautiful princess, and if you kiss me, I’ll be yours!”

The young man took the from from his pocket, looked at it and said: “Look, I’m an engineer. I have no time for a girlfriend, but a talking frog is cool!”

(Anonymous, quoted in C.C. Gaither, Practically Speaking: A Dictionary of Quotations on Engineering, Technology and Architecture, 1999.)

One for All?

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Image: Flickr

Suppose that there’s a power outage in your neighborhood. If someone calls the electric company, they’ll send someone to fix the problem. This puts you in a dilemma: If someone else makes the call, then you’ll benefit without having to do anything. But if no one calls, then you’ll all remain in the dark, which is the worst outcome:

volunteer's dilemma payoff matrix

This is the “volunteer’s dilemma,” a counterpart to the famous prisoner’s dilemma in game theory. Each participant has a greater incentive for “free riding” than acting, but if no one acts, then everyone loses.

A more disturbing example is the murder of Kitty Genovese, who was stabbed to death outside her New York City apartment in 1964. According to urban lore, many neighbors who were aware of the attack chose not to contact the police, trusting that someone else would make the call but hoping to avoid “getting involved.” Genovese died of her wounds.

In a 1988 paper, game theorist Anatol Rapaport noted, “In the U.S. Infantry Manual published during World War II, the soldier was told what to do if a live grenade fell into the trench where he and others were sitting: to wrap himself around the grenade so as to at least save the others. (If no one ‘volunteered,’ all would be killed, and there were only a few seconds to decide who would be the hero.)”

The Guinness Book of World Records lists the Yaghan word mamihlapinatapai as the “most succinct word.” It’s defined as “a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other would initiate something that they both desire but which neither wants to begin.”

(From William Poundstone, Prisoner’s Dilemma, 1992.)

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Heady Matters

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Hat-wearing rules in the British House of Commons, 1900:

At all times remove your hat on entering the House and put it on upon taking your seat; remove it again on rising for whatever purpose. If the MP asks a Question he will stand with his hat off and he may receive the Minister’s answer seated and with his hat on. If, on a Division, he should have to challenge the ruling of the Chair, he will sit and put his hat on. If he wishes to address the Speaker on a Point of Order not connected with a Division, he will do so standing with his hat off. When he leaves the Chamber to participate in a Division he will take his hat off, but will vote with it on.

As the century wore on hats grew rare, but technically a Member still had to be properly “seated and covered” to raise a Point of Order during a Division. Accordingly the Serjeant at Arms began to keep two collapsible opera hats for the purpose. In Great Political Eccentrics, Neil Hamilton writes, “Often, several Members wished to raise Points of Order in rapid succession, causing the opera hat to race around the Chamber like a relay baton.”

During one hot spell in July 1893, T.P. O’Connor called Joseph Chamberlain a Judas and a brawl broke out. In the words of Chamberlain’s biographer, “one could see the teeth set, the eyes flashing, faces aflame with wrath and a thicket of closed fists beating about in wild confusion.”

In the midst of this the Serjeant at Arms appeared and addressed himself to a Member standing below the gangway. “I beg your pardon,” he said, “but you’re standing up with your hat on, which you know is a breach of order.”

09/15/2016 UPDATE: The tradition lives on in the Australian House of Representatives: Just two weeks ago MP Christopher Pyne, stuck without a tophat, held a sheet of paper over his head while speaking to Labor’s Tony Burke. Members are required to “speak covered” when the Speaker has called a division.