More Cluster Fudge HERE
I work in client servicing at a reputable international advertising agency in the Middle East. One day, we had to evacuate because there was a fairly major fire in our building. This is the conversation I had with a long-time client when I called to tell him.
Me: Hi! I’m sorry, but we’ve had a fire emergency in our tower and we had to vacate the premises. I apologize, but I will not be able to send you the designs today.
Client: Oh no! Can’t you just email it?
Me: Sorry no. The designer was finishing it when we had to leave, and it isn’t finished.
Client: Can’t he just access his email, download it and finish it?
Me: Sorry, it was on his desktop and, since it was quite a large file, he couldn’t upload it anywhere before evacuating.
Client: Can he go back to the office and send it now?
Me: Are you asking me to send him back to a burning building so he can finish a little more quickly?
Client: Oh, I guess that isn’t possible, is it?
Me: No. We’re all okay, by the way.
In 1961, irate at receiving a bill for an £85 surtax from the Inland Revenue, A.P. Herbert sent them a check in verse:
Dear Bankers, PAY the undermentioned hounds
The shameful sum of FIVE-AND-EIGHTY POUNDS
By “hounds,” of course, by custom, one refers
To SPECIAL INCOME TAX COMMISSIONERS:
And these progenitors of woe and worry
You’ll find at LYNWOOD ROAD, THAMES DITTON, SURREY.
This is the second lot of tax, you know,
On money that I earned two years ago.
(The shark, they say, by no means nature’s knight,
Will rest contented with a single bite:
The barracuda, who’s a fish more fell,
Comes back and takes the other leg as well.)
Two years ago. But things have changed since then.
I’ve reached the age of threescore years and ten.
My earnings dwindle; and the kindly State
Gives me a tiny pension — with my mate.
You’d think the State would generously roar
“At least he shan’t pay surtax any more.”
Instead by this un-Christian attack
They get two-thirds of my poor pension back.
Oh, very well. No doubt it’s for the best;
At all events, pray do as I request;
And let the good old customs be enforced —
Don’t cash this check, unless it is endorsed.
To his astonishment he received this reply:
It is with pleasure that I thank
You for your letter and the order to your bank
To pay the sum of five and eighty pounds
To those here whom you designate as hounds.
Their appetite is satisfied. In fact,
You paid too much and I am forced to act,
Not to repay you, as perchance you dream,
Though such a course is easy, it would seem.
Your liability for later years
Is giving your accountants many tears;
And ’til such time as they and we can come
To amicable settlement on the sum
That represents your tax bill to the State
I’ll leave the overpayment to its fate.
I do not think this step will make you frown:
The sum involved is only half-a-crown.
He wrote back:
I thank you, Sir, but am afraid
Of such a rival in my trade:
One never should encourage those —
In the future I shall pay in prose.
In Pale Fire, Nabokov notes an “absolutely extraordinary, unbelievably elegant” verbal curiosity:
A newspaper account of a Russian tsar’s coronation had, instead of korona (crown), the misprint vorona (crow), and when next day this was apologetically ‘corrected,’ it got misprinted a second time as korova (cow).
“The artistic correlation between the crown-crow-cow series and the Russian korona–vorona–korova series is something that would have, I am sure, enraptured my poet,” he wrote. “I have seen nothing like it on lexical playfields and the odds against the double coincidence defy computation.”
In Sam Peckinpah’s 1977 World War II film Cross of Iron, a soldier hears a rumbling noise, peers out of his trench, and shouts “Tanks! Tanks!”
The French subtitles read, “Merci, merci!”
In 1942, uncertain whether one of its spies had been replaced by a German impersonator, Britain’s Special Operations Executive hit on a clever plan: After a regular radio communication, the British radio operator signed off with HH, short for “Heil Hitler,” the standard farewell among Nazi operators. His counterpart, “Netball,” responded HH automatically, giving himself away.
They confirmed this at the next session:
Netball was several minutes late for his sked (not significant) and signalled ‘q r u’ (‘I have no traffic for London’). Howell replied ‘q t c’ (‘We have a message for you’), and proceeded to transmit it (the message warned Netball never to send less than 150 letters). Howell then signalled ‘HH’, and Netball immediately replied ‘HH’.
‘Right,’ Nick was heard to say to his companion, ‘that’s it then.’
(From Leo Marks, Between Silk and Cyanide, 2001.)
Cartoon laws of physics:
There are 10 laws altogether, including “9. Everything falls faster than an anvil.” As early as 1956 Walt Disney was describing the “plausible impossible.” In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Eddie Valiant says, “Do you mean to tell me you could’ve taken your hand out of that cuff at any time?” Roger answers, “Not at any time! Only when it was funny!”
Recreations listed in Who’s Who by eccentric Scottish MP Sir Nicholas Fairbairn:
1977: Bunking and debunking
1979: Upholding what’s right and demolishing what’s left
1980: Giving and forgiving
1981: The cure and eradication of British tick fever
1983: Being blunt and sharp at the same time
1984: Philanthropy and philogyny
1987: Serving queens, restoring castles, debunking bishops, entertaining knights, befriending pawns
1988: Snookering the reds and all other proctalgias
1989: Draining brains and scanning bodies
1990: Growling, prowling, scowling and owling
1991: Loving beauty and beautifying love
1993: Drawing ships, making quips, confounding Whigs and scuttling drips
1995: Languishing and sandwiching
In 1973 he listed his recreations as “Making love, ends meet and people laugh.” He said, “I think most people, if they were honest, will admit that those were their main recreations — apart, perhaps, from Ted Heath, who would probably miss out on the first and third.”
(from Neil Hamilton, Great Political Eccentrics, 1999.)
the whole thing is dan’s. all the dimensions too. his roommate had some good ideas about the unit charge of an electron, but like 99.999% of this was dan.
dedicated to my friend liz
“Blasphemy depends upon belief, and is fading with it. If any one doubts this, let him sit down seriously and try to think blasphemous thoughts about Thor. I think his family will find him at the end of the day in a state of some exhaustion.”
— G.K. Chesterton, Heretics, 1906
Wednesday Book Reviews! Yong and Stiglitz were particularly good.
Sept 16 - I Contain Multitudes (Yong) Ed literally wrote the book on Microbes. If you’re curious about the microbes that live in your (or the bodies of other creatures) and how they affect behavior, disease, evolution, and cognition… this is it.
Sept 16 - A Brief History of Misogyny (Holland) Not a bad book, but a better title would be more like “Particularly interesting incidents of misogyny through mostly Western history.
Sept 19 - The Euro (Stiglitz) Stiglitz is always fun. This book is an argument either to eliminate the Euro or fundamentally change it. Part of what makes it interesting is that I usually associate an anti-Euro perspective with right wing economists, but Stiglitz is (by the standards of economists anyway) decidedly on the left.
Sept 20 - But What If We’re Wrong? (Klosterman)
This book didn’t really do it for me. The idea is basically that we are probably wrong about lots of things, even some of which we are certain of now. After that, it’s a few stories and anecdotes relentlessly restating the premise.
In June 1917, the California Olive Association adopted the following rather terrifying size designations:
Olives counting 120-135 olives per pound: Standard
Olives counting 105-120 olives per pound: Medium
Olives counting 90-105 olives per pound: Large
Olives counting 75-90 olives per pound: Extra Large
Olives counting 65-75 olives per pound: Mammoth
Olives counting 55-65 olives per pound: Colossal
Olives counting 45-55 olives per pound: Giant
Over the years they added Jumbo, Supercolossal, and Special Supercolossal. It wasn’t until the the 1970s that the government stepped in to limit further growth: “The Department of Agriculture feels that most people would not be able to figure out which are the larger olives, except at the range of smaller sizes, whose names are the more straightforward.”
While we’re at it — champagne bottles have some impressive names of their own:
0.1875 liters: Piccolo
0.2 liters: Quarter
0.375 liters: Demi
0.75 liters: Standard
1.5 liters: Magnum
3 liters: Jéroboam
4.5 liters: Réhoboam
6 liters: Methusaleh
9 liters: Salmanazar
12 liters: Balthazar
15 liters: Nebuchadnezzar
18 liters: Solomon
26.25 liters: Sovereign
27 liters: Primat
30 liters: Melchizedek
Architect William H. Brown had a curious brainstorm in 1881 — a jail in which moving cells shared a single door:
The object of our invention is to produce a jail or prison in which prisoners can be controlled without the necessity of personal contact between them and the jailer or guard. … [It] consists, first, of a circular cell structure of considerable size (inside the usual prison-building) divided into several cells capable of being rotated, and surrounded by a grating in close proximity thereto, which has only such number of openings (usually one) as is necessary for the convenient handling of the prisoners.
The cell block, supported by ball bearings, could be turned by a single man with a hand crank. While it had a certain efficient appeal, in practice the jail proved dangerous, crushing prisoners’ limbs and raising concerns about safety during a fire. The last rotary jail was condemned in 1939; the only surviving example is in Crawfordsville, Indiana.
(Strangely related: Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. Thanks, Jon.)
having worked in a factory, this is only the beginning