Thursday, 31 March 2011

I think I no how to make people or animals alive

In June of 1973, spurred on by the recent discovery of a dying bird in his garden, 9-year-old Anthony Hollander wrote to the presenters of the BBC's much-loved children's television show, Blue Peter, and asked for assistance in his quest to "make people or animals alive." Below is his letter, and the encouraging response written by the programme's editor, Biddy Baxter.

35 years later, in 2008, the very same Anthony Hollander (pictured above), now Professor of Rheumatology and Tissue Engineering at the University of Bristol, played a key role in a record-breaking feat of surgery: the successful implantation of an artificially-grown windpipe into a 30-year-old Colombian woman named Claudia Castillo. He has since said of the letter and response:
If [Biddy Baxter's] letter had shown any hint of ridicule or disbelief I might perhaps never have trained to become a medical scientist or been driven to achieve the impossible dream, and really make a difference to a human being's life. I remember being thrilled at the time to have been taken seriously. Actually, even nowadays I am thrilled when people take my ideas seriously.
Full transcripts of both letters follow.

(These letters, and many other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, More Letters of Note.)

29th June

Dear Val, Jhon, Peter and Lesslie,

This may seem very strange, but I think I no how to make people or animals alive. Why Im teling you is because I cant get the things I need.

A list of what I need.

1. Diagram of how evreything works. [inside youre body.]
2. Model of a heart split in half. [both halvs.]
3. The sort of sering they yous for cleaning ears. [Tsering must be very very clean.]
4. Tools for cutting people open.
5. Tools for stiches.
6. Fiberglass box, 8 foot tall, 3 foot width.


7. Picture of a man showing all the arteries.

Sorry but in number 6 in the list the box needs lid. If you do get them on 1st March I can pay £10, £11, £12, £13 or £14.

Send your answer to me,

Love from Anthony,
London, NW11


Dear Anthony,

Thank you very much for your letter. It was nice to hear from you again after such a long time and we are sorry we have been delayed replying.

We are receiving over 4,000 letters every week and are having difficulty answering them as quickly as we would like.

We were interested to hear that you think you know how to make living people - and your list of necessary items intrigued us!

We are sorry we can't help you at all, but we wondered if you had thought of talking to your family doctor - he might be glad to help you with some diagrams and other information.

We are sending you a photograph of the "Blue Peter" team - it has been signed specially for you.

With best wishes from Valerie, John, Peter, Lesley and all of us on the programme.

Yours sincerely

B (Biddy Baxter)
Blue Peter

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

I may be killed in my attempt to get Reagan

On March 30th of 1981, 25-year-old John Hinckley wrote the following letter to actress Jodie Foster. In it, Hinckley—a man so obsessed with Foster as a result of her role in Taxi Driver that he had previously followed her to Yale University, enrolled in a class, and proceeded to stalk her—made clear his immediate plan: to kill U.S. President Ronald Reagan in a bid to somehow win her affections.

True to his word, later that day Hinckley fired 6 times at Ronald Reagan outside the Washington Hilton Hotel; four people, including Reagan, were injured. At trial the next year, Hinckley was found not guilty by reasons of insanity.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Rawhide Down.

12:45 P.M.

Dear Jodie,

There is a definite possibility that I will be killed in my attempt to get Reagan. It is for this very reason that I am writing you this letter now.

As you well know by now I love you very much. Over the past seven months I've left you dozens of poems, letters and love messages in the faint hope that you could develop an interest in me. Although we talked on the phone a couple of times I never had the nerve to simply approach you and introduce myself. Besides my shyness, I honestly did not wish to bother you with my constant presence. I know the many messages left at your door and in your mailbox were a nuisance, but I felt that it was the most painless way for me to express my love for you.

I feel very good about the fact that you at least know my name and know how I feel about you. And by hanging around your dormitory, I've come to realize that I'm the topic of more than a little conversation, however full of ridicule it may be. At least you know that I'll always love you.

Jodie, I would abandon this idea of getting Reagan in a second if I could only win your heart and live out the rest of my life with you, whether it be in total obscurity or whatever.

I will admit to you that the reason I'm going ahead with this attempt now is because I just cannot wait any longer to impress you. I've got to do something now to make you understand, in no uncertain terms, that I am doing all of this for your sake! By sacrificing my freedom and possibly my life, I hope to change your mind about me.

This letter is being written only an hour before I leave for the Hilton Hotel. Jodie, I'm asking you to please look into your heart and at least give me the chance, with this historical deed, to gain your respect and love.

I love you forever,

John Hinckley

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The tracks sound terrific so far, especially King Bee

December, 1964. An 18-year-old aspiring musician called Roger writes an endearing illustrated letter to his girlfriend, Jenny Spires, in which he describes his band's first recording session. It was, in fact, the first of many, and before long both Roger and his band, The Tea Set, would become known by different names: he, as Syd Barrett; his band, Pink Floyd.

This letter was very kindly supplied by Essential Works, publishers of the recently released Barrett: The Definitive Visual Companion to the Life of Syd Barrett, a truly fantastic and highly recommended book full to the brim with previously unseen photographs, letters and artwork by the late frontman. Images used here with permission of Jenny Spires herself.

Transcript follows.

Dear Jen, you are a little dish.

I'll tell you everything that happened at the recording. We took all the gear into the studio which was lit by horrid white lights, and covered with wires and microphones. Rog had his amp behind a screen and Nicki was also screened off, and after a little bit of chat we tested everything for balance, and then recorded five numbers more or less straight off; but only the guitars and drums. We'r going to add all the singing and piano etc. next Wednesday. The tracks sound terrific so far, especially King Bee.


When I sing I have to stand in the middle of the studio with ear phones on, and everyone else watches from the other room, and I can't see them at all but they can all see me. Also I can only just hear what I'm singing.


I hope you got home alright Jen, and that you had a good time. You wouldn't have been able to come in to the recording and anyway it went on till after midnight, and would have been a whopping drag for you.

It was a nice thing to be which was tra tra la. (do not bother to interupt)

Do what you want Jen. I love you very much and want to hear from you and you are very pretty.

I am a bit fed up with everything today and I want to be in Cambridge or Greece but not in London where all I do is spend money and travel. The sun is shining though.

Love, Roger.

Monday, 28 March 2011

I expect you to correct your work-ethic immediately

Written in 1996, below is a sternly-worded letter from a CalTech chemist — Erick Carreira — to a member of his research team — Guido Koch — in which the former reprimands Koch's supposedly slack work schedule following his absence in the lab on numerous evenings and weekends. Also unacceptable to Carreira was Koch's gutsy request to take a vacation. The now infamous letter was featured on Chemistry Blog last June (2010), very quickly caused an internet-based commotion, and engendered much discussion about the treatment of post-docs. Carreira responded to the delayed uproar in an interview with the Boston Globe.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Chemistry Blog.


July 27, 1996

Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering
California Institute of Technology
Pasadena, CA 91125


I would like to provide for you in written form what is expected from you as a member of the research group. In addition to the usual work-day schedule, I expect all of the members of the group to work evenings and weekends. You will find that this is the norm here at Caltech. On occasion, I understand that personal matters will make demands on your time which will require you to be away from your responsibilities to the laboratory. However, it is not acceptable to me when it becomes a habit.

I have noticed that you have failed to come in to lab on several weekends, and more recently have failed to show up in the evenings. Moreover, in addition to such time off, you recently requested some vacation. I have no problem with vacation time that is well earned, but I do have a problem with continuous vacation and time off that interferes with the project. I find this very annoying and disruptive to your science.

I expect you to correct your work-ethic immediately.

I receive at least one post-doctoral application each day from the US and around the world. If you are unable to meet the expected work-schedule, I am sure that I can find someone else as an appropriate replacement for this important project.



Erick M. Carreira

Friday, 25 March 2011

Society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind

January 3rd, 1913. Former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt writes to the founder of the Eugenics Record Office, prominent eugenicist Charles Davenport, and offers his views on eugenics; a highly controversial movement whose aim - essentially the eradication of "defective" humans in society by way of selective breeding - gained much attention in the 1930/40s when more than 400'000 Germans were sterilised against their will, and over 70'000 others killed, as part of Adolf Hitler's quest to rid the country of "life unworthy of life."

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of the Eugenics Archive.

The Outlook
287 Fourth Avenue
New York Lawrence

January 3rd 1913.

My dear Mr. Davenport:

I am greatly interested in the two memoirs you have sent me. They are very instructive, and, from the standpoint of our country, very ominous. You say that these people are not themselves responsible, that it is "society" that is responsible. I agree with you if you mean, as I suppose you do, that society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind. It is really extraordinary that our people refuse to apply to human beings such elementary knowledge as every successful farmer is obliged to apply to his own stock breeding. Any group of farmers who permitted their best stock not to breed, and let all the increase come from the worst stock, would be treated as fit inmates for an asylum. Yet we fail to understand that such conduct is rational compared to the conduct of a nation which permits unlimited breeding from the worst stocks, physically and morally, while it encourages or connives at the cold selfishness or the twisted sentimentality as a result of which the men and women ought to marry, and if married have large families, remain celebates or have no children or only one or two. Some day we will realize that the prime duty - the inescapable duty - of the good citizen of the right type is to leave his or her blood behind him in the world; and that we have no business to permit the perpetuation of citizens of the wrong type. at all.

Faithfully yours,

(Signed, 'Theodore Roosevelt')

Charles B. Davenport, Esq.,
Cold Spring Harbor, L.I.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

The vilest book that exists in print

In 1874, publishers Chatto & Windus asked their most renowned author, the inimitable Samuel Clemens, for a brief but quotable review of 'Nuggets and Dust Panned Out in California by Dod Grille,' the most recent book by another of their authors, Ambrose Bierce. Given that Clemens and Bierce had known each other since the 1860s and remained good friends, the idea was perfectly understandable; if not a surefire way to generate some positive buzz about a book which had, so far since publication, failed to sell in quantity.

What they hadn't considered was that Clemens would respond with brutal honesty.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Boston Public Library.


Farmington Avenue,



"Dod Grile" (Mr. Bierce) is a personal friend of mine, & I like him exceedingly — but he knows my opinion of the "Nuggets & Dust," & so I do not mind exposing it to you. It is the vilest book that exists in print — or very nearly so. If you keep a "reader," it is charity to believe he never really read that book, but framed his verdict upon hearsay.

Bierce has written some admirable things — fugitive pieces — but none of them are among the "Nuggets." There is humor in Dod Grile, but for every laugh that is in his book there are five blushes, ten shudders and a vomit. The laugh is too expensive.

Ys truly

Samuel L. Clemens

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Don't get pompous with me

Letter removed at the request of Hunter S. Thompson's Estate.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

A promise is a promise!

In 1947, in his book, Secrets Behind the Comics, then-24-year-old Stan Lee offered readers a chance to have their comic book artwork reviewed for the price of $1. 25 years later, shortly after Stan Lee had become head of Marvel, an aspiring artist named Russell Maheras cheekily attempted to take him up on his old offer by sending him his Souperman spoof along with a fee — kindly doubled to take inflation into account — of $2.

Stan Lee stuck to his word. His response can be read below.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Russ Mahera; Image: Stan Lee, via.)

Marvel Comics Group

December 7, 1972

Mr. Russell Maheras

Dear Russ:

Okay, never let it be said that sweet ol' Stan ever reneged on an offer (even if it was made 25 years ago!) A promise is a promise! And besides, I can use the two bucks.

However, rates have gone up in 25 years, so all your buck and the buck for postage will buy you is a footnote! Hence footnote--

Do you have talent? Yeah, it seems that way. Have you a sense of humor? Apparently. Is your artwork of professional caliber? Not yet. Why not? Glad you asked--

Your anatomy is still weak-- practice it, study it, work on it. Don't worry too much about inking yet. That can come later. The pencilling is the important thing to begin with. Your layouts are good. You seem to have the ability to tell a story pictorially-- which is important in comics, obviously. But, if you really wanna become a pro, you're kidding around too much. Nobody's impressed with "Souperman" takeoffs now. We were doing them 30 years ago. Do real serious stuff. For example, pick a character you think you could handle-- HULK for example. Then do a serious, no-kidding story about him-- using your own drawings and layouts (no swipes). That's the only way to really tell if you have the stuff or not. When you think your work is as good as what's already appearing in the mags, send it in to us-- or DC, or anybody. Till then, keep studying.

Worth $2.00?

(Signed, 'Stan')

P.S.-- Your backgrounds are pretty good, too.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Permission to land

Top-left: A Huey thrown overboard; Top-right: Buang-Ly lands safely; Bottom: A rapturous welcome

On April 30th of 1975, with the Vietnam War coming to a close and the U.S. evacuating as many people as possible from South Vietnam in Operation Frequent Wind, crew aboard the USS Midway were surprised to see a small two-seat Cessna O-1 Bird Dog approach the vessel and then circle above. Flying that plane, having just escaped from Con Son Island with his wife and five children — also aboard — was South Vietnamese Air Force Major Buang-Ly. With no other communication method to hand and fuel running low, Buang-Ly soon began unsuccessfully dropping notes from the plane. Before long one hit the deck, attached to a heavy pistol; on it, a handwritten request to land on the carrier.

Noticing a severe lack of vacant runway on deck, Captain Larry Chambers made a quick decision: he immediately ordered all available crew to push as many of the dozens of UH-1 Huey helicopters into the ocean as necessary, thus giving Buang room to touch down. He soon landed the Cessna perfectly, without tailhook, to much applause. Footage can be seen here.

Transcript follows.

(Sources: Images above courtesy of Midway Sailor; Image below courtesy of KPBS. Huge thanks to Nils Enevoldsen.)

Larger image here

Can you move the Helicopter to the other side, I can land on your runway, I can fly 1 hour more, we have enough time to mouve. Please rescue me.

Major Bung, wife and 5 child

Friday, 18 March 2011

Sorry about your tape

Circa 1974: Revered music journalist, musician, and then-editor of Creem, Lester Bangs, writes an endearing letter of apology to an unsigned musician named Steve after misplacing a cassette sent to the magazine for review. After light-heartedly blaming his chaotic work environment, Bangs compares the disorganisation of his office to that of writer Brendan Gill; author of the highly recommended Here At The New Yorker.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Shooting People.

Dear Steve:

Sorry about your tape, but with the sheer volume of stuff that comes into this office--manuscripts, press releases, records, correspondence of all types including tapes--things can and often do get lost. I remember you sending me a cassette--that is, I remember your name and that there was a cassette--and it is quite possible that that cassette is buried somewhere beneath the strata of garbage in the nether reaches of my desk. Which is no comment on its aesthetic merit, but rather on my own housekeeping. I did intend to listen to it, as I always (or usually, anyway--sometimes you can tell strictly from the accompanying letter that you would be wasting you time) try to listen to tapes and records sent in by new and unsigned artists. But unfortunately I don't always have the time, since I am usually so far behind on my own work for CREEM and other magazines that I am constantly chasing my own ass. (?) (Oh, well, literary license or whatever..) But anyway, don't worry about your tape--I've got it somewhere, nobody's copped it or your songs, and someday, unless this office goes up in flames, I may even find it and listen to it. So don't be surprised if you hear from me about its relative merits sometime in 1978. It would merely be par for the course, and right on schedule, in terms of the way things go around this office. For further information, read Brendan Gill's Here At the New Yorker and multiply the inefficiency by ten.

Best regards,


Lester Bangs

Thursday, 17 March 2011

I will always be grateful for your courageous action

The Beverly Hills crash site | Image: Bob McCaffery

On December 23rd of 1946, five months after the plane crash that almost killed him, world-famous aviator and movie producer Howard Hughes wrote the following heartfelt letter of thanks to the man who saved his life: U.S. Marine William Lloyd Durkin. During its maiden flight in July of the that year his XF-11 — a prototype military reconnaissance aircraft designed and piloted by Hughes — had, as a result of an oil leak and subsequent propeller malfunction, lost altitude rapidly; clipped three Beverly Hills houses; crash landed; and then burst into flames. A seriously injured Hughes was soon rescued by Durkin as the fire raged.

According to Durkin's daughter, he subsequently refused all financial reward offered by Hughes.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Swann.

Image: Swann


December 23, 1946

William L. Durkin
Master Technical Sergeant
c/o First Marine Air Wing
Peiping, North China

Dear Sergeant Durkin;

I am writing this letter as Christmas approaches. I can think of no more appropriate time to express once more my gratitude for the aid you rendered me at the time of the accident which befell my company's plane, the XF11.

I'm sorry that your Marine Corps Unit left for China while I was still convalescing, so that I did not have the opportunity of thanking you both personally and in behalf of my company.

I have been thinking a great deal, however, about how to concretely convey this very real appreciation to you. I have discussed this with the officers of my company and with my friends. I have sought to find a way that would be most beneficial to you. I'm somewhat blocked because I know nothing of your hopes or plans, except that for the next few years you wish to stay in the Marines and, at present, you are stationed in China.

Some day, however, you may feel you would like to leave the Marines. So, I would like to propose this plan to you: when that day arrives and you return from China, will you let me know and come to see me? At that time, you may be interested in some phase of aviation or some other activity with which I may be connected.

If so, I may be able to assist you in obtaining some sort of a position which may lead to your achieving the result you desire.

In any event, I would like to see you and discuss your own views of how you feel I may most be helpful.

In the meantime, you may be able to use a little cash, even in China. My company, which feels duly grateful to you, is sending a small check. Another will follow each month until you return here for the discussion I have suggested.

I will always be grateful for your courageous action and am glad that you were uninjured.

I hope you are enjoying yourself out there on the other side of the world. I'll be looking forward to seeing you when you return.

My very best regards,

(Signed, 'Howard Hughes')

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

My Definite Chief Aim

When he wrote the following mission statement in January of 1969, Bruce Lee was 28 years of age and a minor TV star in the United States, having featured in a number of shows which included, most notably, the ill-fated Green Hornet series. With his second child recently born and no financial security to speak of, the clearly determined founder of Jeet Kune Do decided to put his "definite chief aim" down on paper.

The rest is history.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Bruce Lee aficionado, Jake Fillon; Image of Bruce Lee via.)


My Definite Chief Aim

I, Bruce Lee, will be the first highest paid Oriental super star in the United States. In return I will give the most exciting performances and render the best of quality in the capacity of an actor. Starting 1970 I will achieve world fame and from then onward till the end of 1980 I will have in my possession $10,000,000. I will live the way I please and achieve inner harmony and happiness.

Bruce Lee
Jan. 1969

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Part of playing for high stakes under great pressure is the constant risk of mental error

On April 5th of 1993, with 11 seconds of the title game left and his team losing 73-71, acclaimed college basketball star Chris Webber infamously called a time-out when in fact his team, the Michigan Wolverines, had none remaining. The resulting foul effectively sealed their loss. Days later, the incredibly dejected member of the iconic group of players known as the Fab Five received a letter of support from an unlikely source: U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Transcript follows.

(Source: The Chris Webber Collection.)


April 9, 1993

Dear Chris,

I have been thinking of you a lot since I sat glued to the TV during the championship game.

I know that there may be nothing I or anyone else can say to ease the pain and disappointment of what happened.

Still, for whatever it's worth, you, and your team, were terrific. And part of playing for high stakes under great pressure is the constant risk of mental error. I know. I have lost two political races and made countless mistakes over the last twenty years. What matters is the intensity, integrity, and courage you bring to the effort. That is certainly what you have done. You can always regret what occurred but don't let it get you down or take away the satisfaction of what you have accomplished.

You have a great future. Hang in there.


Bill Clinton

Monday, 14 March 2011

Best wishes my dear friend

[Do not read the following if easily offended]

In June of 2008, an autograph hunter named Dan emailed a member of Rik Mayall's management team in an effort to gain a copy of the Young One's signature for his collection. He received the following note, written and signed by Mayall on a printout of his original email, in the post over a month later.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Dan.

Image: Dan

Here you are you cheapskate money-grubbing Welsh cunt — where's the fucking envelope you deformity??

Here you are Daniel, thank you so much for writing. I hope you like the picture.

Best wishes my dear friend

(Signed, 'Rik Mayall')

Friday, 11 March 2011

We are the suicide beat of the NON-GENERATION

In 1988, having just self-financed and produced their debut single, Suicide Alley, the Manic Street Preachers began to send copies to numerous music publications in an effort to spread the word. The following impassioned letter — in which James Dean Bradfield sells the band's vision and disassociates them from those other acts who had "become a stagnant, caricatured voice of grey doggrel and easy piss takes and outrage" — accompanied the copy sent to the NME, and was eventually quoted in part by journalist Steven Wells in his review:
White Rock Rebelboy Single Of The Week! Check the letter this band sent to me – "We are the suicide of the Non-Generation. We are as far away from anything in the ‘80s as possible (eg ‘80s pop automation, the long running saga of the whimsical pop essay and the intrinsic musical sculptures of post modernism)".

This records positively fizzes with Clash Mk I Juice. Eeeee! (pulls muffler tighter and clutches ferret feverishly) I remember a time – long before Crass ruined everything – when fresh faced little boys in gaudy T-shirts made exciting rock ‘n’ roll which they were convinced would shame the world into improvement. Retrogressive, exciting and inspired. You’ll probably hate it.
Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Eil.

Image: Eil



Yes we know that the record has a distinct mono feel to it, we know the songs flounder unless you turn the volume up to ten, but at least it is a total mindfuck with a sound that can only be attributed to burning youth rather than the comfortable protest of cardigans and John Lennon spectacles. We are not part of any eighties institutionalized protest, the likes of fanzines and certain bands have all become a stagnant, caricatured voice of grey doggrel and easy piss takes and outrage, all the while pretending to care and indulge in a certain altruistic belief when all they are actually doing is helping upkeep the status quo by offering an unacessible alternate that inspires apathy in people.

We are as far away from anything in the eighties as possible (eg 80' pop automisation, the long running saga of the whimsical pop essay & the intrinsic musical sculptures of post modernism). We are the suicide beat of the NON-GENERATION. Our suicide reality will strip down everything before it (given the chance) because we know where our anger comes from, and are not afriad to write about our generation directly. Whereas the likes of the pixies and Birdland talk about the nihilism of the mind on "pops shrink couch" and describe the source of any anger as being "external forces." All easy excuses and cowardice as to address wide issues involving the masses instead of personal "wank off" bullshit it takes much more thought and intelligence as the first hurdle is to avoid ranting dogma.

We are in a band together because we cannot accept the culture of money forcing us into the 80' satisfaction of XR3' and fuel injected fucks. Suicide Alley is the [?] vision fuelling our inevitable NEW ART RIOT. The song embodies our attitude. All of the other songs we have aim themselves at specific targets. We should be lining up some nationwide gigs soon so come along if you like the single. If you want to give us a small article I've included our phone number and address, and if you can could you review the single when it's your turn.


Thursday, 10 March 2011

I dare you all, test your strength: Open a book.

January 24th, 1992. Writing to a class of students in an effort to promote the art of reading, legendary animator Chuck Jones urges them to open a book and recalls the literature that helped inspire the creation of Wile E. Coyote and PepĂ© Le Pew, just two of the many cartoon characters he had a hand in bringing to the screen.

Transcript follows. Image kindly supplied by Davey.

Image: Davey

January 24, 1992


Knowing how to read and not reading books is like owning skiis and not skiing, owning a board and never riding a wave, or, well, having your favorite sandwich in your hand and not eating it. If you owned a telescope that would open up the entire universe for you would you try to find reason for not looking through it? Because that is exactly what reading is all about; it opens up the universe of humour, of adventure, of romance, of climbing the highest mountain, of diving in the deepest sea.

I found my first experience with Wile E. Coyote in a whole hilarious chapter about coyotes in a book called Roughing It by Mark Twain. I found the entire romantic personality of Pepe Le Pew in a book written by Kenneth Roberts, Captain Hook. I found bits and pieces of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and all the others in wonderful, exciting books.

I dare you all, test your strength: Open a book.



Chuck Jones

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

If membership is restricted to men, the loss will be ours

Early-1981, following IBM's withdrawal of support due to the organisation's continued exclusion of women within its ranks, renowned astronomer Carl Sagan sent the following impassioned letter to each and every fellow member of The Explorers Club—an international society dedicated to scientific exploration since its inception in 1904—and argued for a change of policy.

Later that year, The Explorers Club welcomed its first female members.

Transcript follows. Image supplied very kindly by Dora Beale.

Dear Fellow Member of The Explorers Club:

Thank you for the opportunity to write to you about the admission of women to The Explorers Club. The human zest for exploration and discovery is the hallmark of our species and one of the secrets of our success. It is a tradition that goes back much further than the 76 proud years in which The Explorers Club has been in existence. When our organization was formed in 1905, men were preventing women from voting and from pursuing many occupations for which they are clearly suited. In the popular mind, exploration was not what women did. Even so, women had played a significant but unheralded role in the history of exploration -- in Africa in the Nineteenth Century, for example. Similarly, Lewis and Clark were covered with glory, but Sacajewea, who guided them every inch of the way, was strangely forgotten. All institutions reflect the prejudices and conventions of their times, and when it was founded The Explorers Club necessarily reflected the attitudes of 1905.

Traditions are important. They provide continuity with our past. But it is up to us to decide which traditions are essential to The Explorers Club and which are accidents of the epoch in which it was institutionalized. Times have changed since 1905. It is very clear that a foolish rigidity can destroy otherwise worthwhile institutions; they are then replaced by other organizations more in tune with the times. IBM's recent withdrawal of corporate support for The Explorers Club because of our "exclusionary policy toward women" should be pondered carefully by every member. Many other former supporters may follow suit.

Today women are making extraordinary contributions in areas of fundamental interest to our organization. There are several women astronauts. The earliest footprints -- 3.6 million years old -- made by a member of the human family have been found in a volcanic ash flow in Tanzania by Mary Leakey. Trailblazing studies of the behavior of primates in the wild have been performed by dozens of young women, each spending years with a different primate species. Jane Goodall's studies of the chimpanzee are the best known of the investigations which illuminate human origins. The undersea depth record is held by Sylvia Earle. The solar wind was first measured in situ by Marcia Neugebauer, using the Mariner 2 spacecraft. The first active volcanos beyond the Earth were discovered on the Jovian moon Io by Linda Morabito, using the Voyager 1 spacecraft. These examples of modern exploration and discovery could be multiplied a hundredfold. They are of true historical significance. If membership in The Explorers Club is restricted to men, the loss will be ours; we will only be depriving ourselves.

The supposed parallelism between our situation and those of other organizations seems to me strained. The Bohemian Club is a resort; The Explorers Club is not. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are for children. Their membership derives almost exclusively from adolescent and pre-adolescent youngsters, who have not yet fully accomodated to the opposite sex. But we presumably are adults, with a special responsibility for interacting with all humans on this planet.

I do not believe that the primary function of our organization is to promote male bonding or to serve as a social club -- although there is certain room for both. I believe that the fundamental dedication of the club is that stated on the masthead of every issue of The Explorers Club Newsletter: "To the conquest of the unknown and the advancement of knowledge." If this is our purpose, then admission should be open to all qualified members of the human species.



Carl Sagan

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Buttocks or Crotch?

Courtesy of Letters from a Nut — an often hilarious collection of "prank" correspondence, written in the mid-90s by comedian Barry Marder to a selection of unsuspecting recipients — comes a letter in which, under his pseudonym Ted L. Nancy, he asks a sensitive question of one Albert Meyer, then-President of the American Seating Company. To his credit, Meyer even manages to respond with a solution of sorts.

Transcript follows.

Ted L. Nancy
560 N. Moorpark Rd., #236
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360

July 10th, 1995

901 Broadway
Grand Rapids, Michigan

Dear Mr. Meyer:

I had a seating question and I was referred to you because I understand you manufacture stadium and arena seating. My question:

When entering or exiting a seat in a stadium which is the proper side to face the person sitting down? Rear to them or crotch to them?

I am always at a quandry when this problem comes up. To hence: last week at a sporting event I had to leave my seat. There were a row of people - ALL FROM THE SAME FAMILY - that were sitting down in a row. I exited my seat, stood up and faced away from this family. Then I moved down the row realizing my buttocks were not 2 inches from this whole guy's family. I had shown an entire family my rear end! But then again If I had turned around and moved down the aisle THAT WAY, wouldn't that be worse?

Stadium seating is the only situation in life where you can show whole rows of people your butt or crotch. And it's acceptable!

Can something be done about this seating? Should the rows be changed? I suggest a single row straight up to the top. You walk into the stadium you simply find your seat number and go up until you get it.

Question: Is there a gracious way to exit?
Thank you, Sir, for your response.


Ted L. Nancy

Albert Meyer's response:


August 3, 1995

Ted L. Nancy
560 N. Moorpark Rd., #236
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360

Dear Mr. Nancy:

Your letter on crotch or butt first was most interesting. In fact, in all 38 years which I have been in this business it is probably the most interesting question I have ever been asked. I have shared your letter with numerous of my colleagues, and they have also found it most interesting.

But alas, we have no good answer. Your idea of a single chair has merit, but unfortunately would greatly reduce the number of chairs which could be put in the building.

The only suggestion we could come up with is for you to come early before anyone has arrived, stay in your seat for the entire time, and wait until everyone else has gone before leaving. This, of course, could cause an even more embarrassing problem.

If you come up with any solutions we would welcome hearing from you.



Albert H. Meyer

Monday, 7 March 2011

Forget the impeachment of President Nixon...

May 23rd, 1974: In a bid to draw some high-profile attention to an issue which is clearly aggravating him, Hollywood director King Vidor writes a letter to renowned L.A. Times sportswriter Jim Murray and speaks of the "disgraceful" public toilets on offer at the Dodger Stadium; public toilets he claims to be the worst in the world. It's an amusing complaint — particularly the closing couple of lines — and a subject all too familiar to anyone who's ever attempted to use such facilities in a crowded stadium.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of The Silent Movie Blog.


May 23, 1974

Jim Murray
L.A. Times
Times Mirror Square
Los Angeles, Calif. 90053

Dear Jim Murray:

Have you ever had to stand in line in the men's room on the lower level of the Dodger Stadium during the playing of a Ball game? I say lower level because I have not done research on the other levels. Without a doubt, I think it is the most inadequate and disgraceful facility of a major stadium in the world. When I say "in the world," I mean just that, because I have attended events in Moscow, Madrid, Zagreb Yugoslavia, Rome and Paris and in comparison, the facilities at the Dodger Stadium are, without a doubt, the most disgraceful.

Here, patrons who have paid three and a half dollars per seat, move painfully up to a common metal trough. The design of these tiolet rooms would be inadequate for the friends and fathers at a Little League play-off.

During a recent game, it was necessary that I avail myself of this unbelievable facility. I believe every man in that shoulder-to-shoulder group, of five across and ten deep, deeply resented the indignity to which he was subjected, the outcome of an obviously penurious attitude in the planning and construction of the stadium. I have heard that drinking fountains (water) are nil or almost so, as a part of a plan to sell more beer and soft drinks. Whether this scheme is true or not, there is something about a two and a half hour ball game that makes bladder relief frequent and imperative.

Jim, (and I feel that I deserve that first name calling privelege because we sat next to each other at an awards banquet a few years ago in Oceanside), do me the favor of visiting the men's room about Row 23, Lower Level, between innings, any game, and see if you are not as fired up by this disgrace as I am. Forget the impeachment of President Nixon. Instead, let's try to gain some sense of humanity for the suffering customers at Dodger Stadium.


(Signed, 'King Vidor')

King Vidor

Friday, 4 March 2011

Seat 29E

Mid-flight on December 21st, 2004, a Continental Airlines passenger — "disgusted" with the location of his seat due to its proximity to the lavatory — humorously wrote the following letter of complaint to the airline's headquarters. The now-famous letter, complete with illustrations and vivid descriptions of the passenger's stench-filled discomfort, found its way onto the Internet soon after being received by the company's Customer Care department in April of 2005, and has since been confirmed as genuine by an apologetic company spokeswoman named Courtney Wilcox:
"The letter is not totally accurate and uses sarcastic humor to make the seat sound a lot worse than it is. But we don't want to pooh-pooh this customer's concerns -- seat 29D is less than ideal. Most flights are not sold out and normally we can easily re-seat a customer who prefers not to sit in this location. However, the Dec. 21 flight was completely full, and we have apologized to the customer who wrote to us about the concerns. If there was a quick and easy solution to this problem we would do it in a whiz. However, the aircraft configuration is fixed and there is little we can do at this point to just flush away the issue."
The victim's identity remains a mystery.

Transcript follows.

FH#888/500 → HOUSTON

APR 13 2005

Dear Continental Airlines,

I am disgusted as I write this note to you about the miserable experience I am having sitting in seat 29E on one of your aircrafts. As you may know, this seat is situated directly across from the lavatory, so close that I can reach out my left am and touch the door.

All my senses are being tortured simultaneously. It's difficult to say what the worst part about sitting in 29E really is? Is it the stench of the sanitation fluid that's blown all over my body every 60 seconds when the door opens? Is it the wooosh of the constant flushing? Or is it the passengers asses that seem to fit into my personal space like a pornographic jig-saw puzzel?

I constructed a stink-shield by shoving one end of a blanket into the overhead compartment — while effective in blocking at least some of the smell, and offering a small bit of privacy, the ass-on-my-body factor has increased, as without my evil glare, passengers feel free to lean up against what they think is some kind of blanketed wall. The next ass that touches my shoulder will be the last!

I am picturing a board room, full of executives giving props to the young promising engineer that figured out how to squeeze an additional row of seats onto this plane by putting them next to the LAV.


I would like to flush his head in the toilet that I am close enough to touch, and taste, from my seat.

Putting a seat here was a very bad idea. I just heard a man GROAN in there! THIS SUCKS!


Worse yet, is I've paid over $400.00 for the honor of sitting in this seat!

Does your company give refunds? I'd like to go back where I came from and start over. Seat 29E could only be worse if it was located inside the bathroom.

I wonder if my clothing will retain the sanitizing odor.... what about my hair! I feel like I'm bathing in a toilet bowl of blue liquid, and there is no man in a little boat to save me.

I am filled with a deep hatred for your plane designer and a general dis-ease that may last for hours.

We are finally decending, and soon I will be able to tear down the stink-shield, but the scars will remain.

I suggest that you initiate immediate removal of this seat from all of your crafts. Just remove it, and leave the smouldering brown hole empty, a good place for sturdy/non-absorbing luggage maybe, but not human cargo.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

The Court would like to balance the scales

In November of 2010, upon realising that the forthcoming birth of his grandchild would probably occur midway through the mortgage-fraud trial on which he was working, Manhattan defence attorney Bennett Epstein wrote the following letter to the judge presiding over the case, Kimba Wood. The reason? To apply for a recess mid-trial so that, should said newborn be a boy, Epstein would be able to attend his grandson's circumcision ceremony (known as the bris.)

Judge Wood agreed to his request, but on one condition. Her handwritten response can be seen at the foot of the letter.

Transcript follows. For those wondering, a boy was born.


NEW YORK, N.Y. 10013
(212) 684-1230

via fax (212) 805-7900

November 17, 2010

Hon. Kimba M. Wood
United States District Judge
Southern District of New York
U.S. Courthouse
500 Pearl Street
New York, NY 10007

Re: United States v. Lacey, et al.
09 Cr. 507 (KMW)

Dear Judge Wood:

I represent Mark Barnett in the above matter, which is scheduled for trial beginning November 29th.

Please consider this letter as an application in limine for a brief recess in the middle of the trial on the grounds known (perhaps not now, but hereafter) as a "writ of possible simcha¹".

The facts are as follows: My beautiful daughter, Eva, married and with a doctorate no less, and her husband, Ira Greenberg (we like him, too) live in Philadelphia and are expecting their first child on December 3rd, tfu tfu tfu². They do not know whether it will be a boy or a girl, although from the oval shape of Eva's tummy, many of the friends and family are betting male (which I think is a mere bubbameiseh³ but secretly hope is true).

Should the child be a girl, not much will happen in the way of public celebration. Some may even be disappointed, but will do their best to conceal this by saying, "as long as it's a healthy baby". My wife will run to Philly immediately, but I will probably be able wait until the next weekend. There will be happiness, though muted, and this application will be mooted as well.

However, should the baby be a boy, then hoo hah!⁴ Hordes of friends and family will arrive from around the globe and descend on Philadelphia for the joyous celebration mandated by the halacha⁵ to take place during daylight hours on the eighth day, known as the bris⁶. The eighth day after December 3rd could be right in the middle of the trial. My presence at the bris is not strictly commanded, although my absence will never be forgotten by those that matter.

So please consider this an application for maybe, tfu tfu tfu, a day off during the trial, if the foregoing occurs on a weekday. I will let the Court (and the rest of the world) know as soon as I do, and promise to bring pictures.

Very truly yours,


Bennett M. Epstein

cc. All counsel

¹ Yiddish (and Hebrew) for "celebration of a happy event".
² Another Yiddishism, found in other cultures as well, that requires we spit to ward off the "evil eye" when discussing an upcoming simcha.
³ As you may have already guessed, Yiddish for "old wive's tale". A "mere bubbameiseh" is somewhat less reliable.
⁴ Yiddish for "a big fuss".
⁵ Jewish law (citation omitted).
⁶ Hebrew for "covenant", for the Covenant of Abraham, i.e. ritual circumcision, joyous to everyone except, apparently, the baby.

Judge Wood's handwritten response:

Mr. Epstein will be permitted to attend the bris, in the joyous event that a son is born. But the Court would like to balance the scales. If a daughter is born, there will be a public celebration in Court, with readings from poetry celebrating girls and women.


Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Is there a Hustler for kids?

Back in 2001, writer and humorist Bill Geerhart posed as a 10-year-old boy and wrote to Larry Flynt, founder of the pornographic magazine Hustler. Below is his letter, and Flynt's response.

Thankfully Flynt wasn't the only recipient of a letter from little Billy, and in fact Geerhart sent similarly amusing missives to a number of notable personalities; many of whom responded. All can be enjoyed in the genuinely hilarious book, Little Billy's Letters.

Transcripts follow.


Billy's request:
July 22, 2001

Dear Mr. Flynt,

My parents said I could subscribe to your magazine when I turn 18. That is a long time from now, my friend Eddie asked me to ask you if there is a Hustler for kids that wouldn't make my parents mad. Please let me know.

Thank you!

Larry Flynt's response:
Larry Flynt

July 26, 2001

Billy Geerhart

Dear Billy,

Your parents are right. You can subscribe to Hustler when you turn 18. Hang in there - you'll be 18 before you know it. Until then, you should read the Sears & Roebuck catalog.



Larry Flynt


The Deck

Today, I am proud to announce that Letters of Note has joined a carefully selected roster of sites that includes the likes of Metafilter, Daring Fireball, Kottke and FFFFOUND! to become a member of The Deck; an ad network helmed by Jim Coudal that I am genuinely excited to be a part of. Essentially, this means that I will finally — after 18 months of running the site — be making money from what is a spectacularly time-consuming project by way of one static, unobtrusive, carefully curated advert now located at the top-left of each and every page of the website.

I honestly couldn't be happier.

Should you wish to advertise, visit The Deck.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The Birth of Steampunk

Writing to science fiction magazine Locus in April of 1987, author K.W. Jeter responds to Faren Miller's review of his new novel, Infernal Devices, and in the process coins the term 'steampunk' to describe the sub-genre of work then-written by just a trio of authors that included, alongside himself, Tim Powers and James Blaylock. As we now know, Jeter's tongue-in-cheek twist on the word 'cyberpunk' soon caught on.

Transcript follows. Image kindly supplied by Locus Publications; reprinted with permission. To read the entire section from which Jeter's letter was cropped - including a missive from an irked Arthur C. Clarke - click hither.

Image: Locus Publications; reprinted with permission

Dear Locus:

Enclosed is a copy of my 1979 novel Morlock Night; I'd appreciate your being so good as to route it to Faren Miller, as it's a prime piece of evidence in the great debate as to who in "the Powers/Blaylock/Jeter fantasy triumvirate" was writing in the "gonzo-historical manner" first. Though of course, I did find her review in the March Locus to be quite flattering.

Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of that era; like "steampunks," perhaps....

--K.W. Jeter

[Thanks for the book! Capsule critique: Morlock Night combines H.G. Wells, Arthurian fantasy, and Victoriana in a strange, entertaining mixture -- less antic than Infernal Devices, perhaps, but a clear forerunner. "Steampunks"? I like it....

--F.C. Miller]