The right way to lose an argument

In 1857, the Proceedings of the London Royal Geographical Society of London recorded a controversy between the then-sitting Surveyor General of India and his immediate predecessor about what to name Peak XV, the mountain the former had just successfully surveyed. The incumbent, a man named Andrew Waugh, argued that since there were so many local names for the mountain, he should be allowed to pick a single (and English) official name for it. The retired predecessor claimed (and the evidence seems to support him) that the mountain was almost universally called Chomolungma by the locals. Whether it was just the silliness of that name, Waugh’s personal power and prestige, or the appeal of imposing a European name, the decision was made to select a new name, but a bone was thrown to the loser in the debate, the former Surveyor, Colonel Sir George Everest.

Today, Waugh is forgotten and Everest is, well, Everest.

Bonus sneakiness: Waugh surveyed what is now called Mount Everest and calculated its peak was exactly 29,000 feet above sea level. He cannily tweaked his calculation and claimed it was 29,002 feet, so people would not think he was eye-balling it.

The latest measurement is 29,017 (and 2 inches) and it grows about an inch every six years as the Indian Subcontinent continues to thrust itself north into Asia.

The only investment advice you will ever need

One day when my daughter was about seven, we were watching TV together and an advertisement for a psychic came on. Miss Cleo, the ad claimed, could tell you all about your future. “Can I call?” my daughter begged.

“No,” I told her. “Let them call you.”

She was puzzled. “How would they know… Ah.” She got it. If these psychics were so expert at seeing the future, divining a customer’s phone number should be no difficulty at all. She was very impressed by the solidity of this logic. From then on, whenever the ad would repeat, she would rub her temples and intone, “Call me, call me.” A little girl’s mockery, sweetened with a tiny dose of hope. They never called. Continue reading

Action This Day

On May 9, 1970, Air Force intelligence detected an enemy POW camp near the North Vietnamese town of Sơn Tây. From aerial reconnaissance, they estimated that more than 50 American servicemen were being held there.

Action six months later

It wasn’t until May 25th that the Air Force informed Brigadier General Donald Blackburn from Special Forces of their discovery. I don’t know what the fly-boys spent the intervening two weeks doing, but the delay was neither the last nor the worst in the process leading up to Sơn Tây rescue. Continue reading

The End Of Publishing

This article originally appeared on Five Thôt.

There’s a famous story about Dick Rowe and Mike Smith, two well-respected “A&R” (Artists and Repertoire) men for Decca Records, a major British label. In London on New Years Day of 1962, Rowe and Smith auditioned two talented bands. Rowe later recalled, “I told Mike he’d have to decide between them. It was up to him. He said, ‘They’re both good, but one’s a local group, the other comes from Liverpool.’ We decided it was better to take the local group. We could work with them more easily and stay closer in touch as they came from Dagenham [a large suburb of east London].”*

So Rowe and Smith offered the contract to the local boys, the Tremeloes. It wasn’t a completely foolish choice. The Tremeloes were quite popular at the time and in fact are still performing today, 50-plus years later, to enthusiastic audiences.

On the other hand, the band from Liverpool, The Beatles, went on to noticeably greater success. Rowe tried to justify the decision at the time, saying “Guitar groups are on the way out. The Beatles have no future in show business.” Thereby making himself notorious in music history. Continue reading