Podcast Episode 228: The Children’s Champion

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:251012_Janusz_Korczak_monument_at_Jewish_Cemetery_in_Warsaw_-_05.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Polish educator Janusz Korczak set out to remake the world just as it was falling apart. In the 1930s his Warsaw orphanage was an enlightened society run by the children themselves, but he struggled to keep that ideal alive as Europe descended into darkness. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the children’s champion and his sacrifices for the orphans he loved.

We’ll also visit an incoherent space station and puzzle over why one woman needs two cars.

See full show notes …

Point Pairs

http://www.mscroggs.co.uk/blog/59

University College London mathematician Matthew Scroggs has released this year’s puzzle Christmas card for Chalkdust magazine.

This year’s card contains 10 puzzles, each with a numerical answer. Splitting each answer into two strings of digits will identify two dots on the card’s cover to be connected by a straight line. Drawing 10 lines correctly will produce a Christmas-themed picture.

You can download the card as a PDF or complete it online.

“Hope”

Submitted by Edward Thomas Noonan for Life magazine’s 1915 short story contest:

‘Here’s a pathetic case of chronic melancholia,’ the doctor continued, as we walked among the inmates. ‘That white-haired woman has been here twenty-six years. She is entirely tractable with one obsession. Every Sunday she writes this letter:

Sunday.

Dear John:

I am sorry we quarreled when you were going away out West. It was all my fault. I hope you will forgive and write.

Your loving,

Esther.

‘Every Monday she asks for a letter, and, though receiving none, becomes radiant with hope and says: “It will come to-morrow.” The last of the week she is depressed. Sunday she again writes her letter. That has been her life for twenty-six years. Her youthful face is due to her mental inactivity. Aimlessly she does whatever is suggested. The years roll on and her emotions alternate between silent grief and fervid hope.

‘This is the male ward. That tall man has been here twenty years. His history sheet says from alcoholism. He went to Alaska, struck gold, and returned home to marry the girl he left behind. He found her insane and began drinking, lost his fortune and then his reason, and became a ward of the State, always talking about his girl and events that happened long ago.

‘He is the “John” to whom “Esther” writes her letter.

‘They meet every day.

‘They will never know each other.’

The Clockwork Monk

In the collection of the Smithsonian Institution is this 460-year-old automaton, a robot monk who walks in a square, beats his breast in contrition, raises a rosary and crucifix to his lips, turns and nods his head, rolls his eyes, and mouths obsequies. Its origin is not clear: The story goes that when the Spanish king’s son was ailing the relics of a Franciscan monk were brought to his side, and after he recovered the king commissioned the automaton in gratitude.

But no one really knows. “Many of the earliest automata were commissioned as expressions of religious belief: models of Jesus bled, automata of Satan roared and screamed, moving tableaux of biblical scenes were quite commonplace, coming to life for festivals and holy days,” writes historian E.R. Truitt in Ben Russell’s Robots: The 500-Year Quest to Make Machines Human. “Amazingly, no fewer than three mechanical monks survive: this one … and two more in Munich and Budapest, at the Deutsches Museum and Museum of Applied Arts respectively.”

The Seneca White Deer

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Seneca_White_Deer_On_Army_Depot_Grounds_1.JPG

When the Seneca Army Depot in upstate New York was shut down in 2000 it left an odd legacy: the world’s largest herd of white deer. The fence erected around the facility in 1941 happened to enclose a few white-tailed deer that carried a recessive gene for all-white coats; the depot commander forbade his GIs to shoot any white deer, and eventually the white herd grew to number more than 300.

These are not albinos; they have brown eyes, not pink, and they live alongside some 600 brown white-tailed deer. In 2016 the Army sold the depot to a local businessman, and part of the land has now been established as a conservation park. Bus tours have “turned out to be hugely successful.”

In a Word

I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but I hadn’t realized the source was known: In 1844, British general Sir Charles Napier was criticized in Parliament for his ruthless campaign to take the Indian province of Sind. On hearing this, 16-year-old schoolgirl Catherine Winkworth “remarked to her teacher that Napier’s despatch to the Governor General of India, after capturing Sind, should have been Peccavi (Latin for ‘I have sinned’).”

She sent this immortal pun to Punch, which unfortunately printed it as a factual report:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:18440518-Peccavi_Punch.jpg

This mangled its meaning and credited Napier. Winkworth’s authorship was discovered only by later literary sleuths.

Abstract

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hamlet_play_scene_cropped.png

Prince Hamlet thought uncle a traitor
For having it off with his Mater;
Revenge Dad or not —
That’s the gist of the plot —
And he did — nine soliloquies later.

— Stanley J. Sharpless

The Indecisive Rower

A rower rows regularly on a river, from A to B and back. He’s got into the habit of rowing harder when going upstream, so that he goes twice as fast relative to the water as when rowing downstream. One day as he’s rowing upstream he passes a floating bottle. He ignores it at first but then gradually grows curious about its contents. After 20 minutes of arguing with himself he stops rowing and drifts for 15 minutes. Then he sets out after the bottle. After some time rowing downstream he changes his mind, turns around, and makes his way upstream again. But his curiosity takes hold once more, and after 10 minutes of rowing upstream he turns and goes after the bottle again. Again he grows ashamed of his childishness and turns around. But after rowing upstream for 5 minutes he can’t stand it any longer, rows downstream, and picks up the bottle 1 kilometer from the point where he’d passed it. How fast is the current?

Click for Answer

“Map of the Road to Hell!!”

https://www.loc.gov/item/2013585074/

This is literally the first thing you find if you search the Library of Congress for “map of the road”. I.N. Barrillon drew it in 1858. “Reader! how far have you travelled on this dreadful road? Examine thyself! Turn ye turn ye for why will you die!!”

You can’t make out all the details here (the library has some beautiful larger scans), but it’s amazing what will land you in trouble. The major rivers in Hell are Gambling River, Drunkenness River, and Perdition River, but the tributaries include Chess Creek, Backgammon Branch, Lottery Creek, Egg Nog Creek, Cider Branch, and Lemonade Branch.

In his 1973 Atlas of Fantasy, J.B. Post writes, “The quickest way to the Great Lake of Fire and Brimstone is by the Suicide Rail Road and the Duelist’s Rail Road. One can meander along the road but shortcuts are provided for liars, drunkards, gamblers, and perjurors. All, however, finally go ‘blip’ into the Great Lake.”

“Not shown is the road to Heaven called ‘the Path of Ennui.'”