Journal Entry: Broken Alarm Clock

Journal entry, 10/27/13: Justice Minotaur and Mr. Cornwall entertained a lunch guest today, Noachian Hopes, the sheriff of Chestertownboroughville (the original white European settlers of the area must not have realized that the four primary segments of that word all mean, more or less, “city” or “place of”—or else they were playing a joke on posterity). Justice Minotaur asked the sheriff if there was any news from his “precinct.” The sheriff said murders have gone up considerably but embezzlements have gone down. So there was reason for optimism. Minotaur wondered aloud whether with more people being murdered there were simply not as many people left to be doing the embezzling. The sheriff said he was “no stats major” and did not know the answer, but he had not come across any “stone cold” evidence that the murder victims had been planning to embezzle.

Reciprocally, the sheriff asked the justice if the latter had any news. Minotaur said with some feeling that he had discarded his digital alarm clock earlier in the day. It had “repeatedly borne false witness: the read-out was jumping all over the place, like a horse if you shoot it between the eyes with a flaming arrow.”

“For example,” Minotaur said to the sheriff, “give me a time of day.”

“Oh, I don’t know—what time am I supposed to say?”

“Honestly,” Minotaur said, “just say any time—just anything random.”

“Okay,” the sheriff complied, “how about one twenty-three.”

“Very interesting—a sequence of one-two-three. You are not the world’s deepest thinker. Would that be antemeridian or postmeridian?”

“Errr, I don’t know what you are getting at,” the sheriff stammered.

“Like before the noon or after the noon. Like do you mean at one twenty-three of the so-called ‘a.m.,’ the time of day when you might encounter a bloodthirsty vampire or maybe a guy dropping off bundles of newspapers at a gas station for to be sold much later that day? Or was your sheriffy mind fixated on one twenty-three in the afternoon, that time of the day when we would expect that roasting celestial orb, she who presides over all of animal and plant life, to be crossing the skies as on a swift chariot?”

“Let’s say a.m.; one twenty-three a.m.,” the sheriff clarified.

“Very nice, very nice,” Minotaur said. “All right, now you would expect the clock would have said that same time. But instead it will jump forward or back for no reason. So, for example, let’s say you had said the time was three forty.”

The sheriff interjected, “You mean one twenty-three.”

Minotaur replied, “Right, you said one twenty-three, but just for argument’s sake, let’s say you had said three forty.”

“Okay, a.m. or p.m.?” the sheriff queried with a smile on his face.

“Right,” Minotaur said. “I have been exploded by my own bomb. Let’s say you had said three forty postmeridian. That’s not what you said, of course, but just for argument’s sake. Go with me here. Let me run with this. Give me some slack, if you will, my gun-toting and badge-wearing friend. You said one twenty-three of the antemeridian, but let’s just say you had said three forty of the postmeridian. Again, you didn’t say that, you said something as different from that as night is from day, but let’s just postulate it, scientific-wise.”

“Okay,” the sheriff offered, eager to see where this was going.

“All right, so it’s supposed to be three forty of the postmeridian, and the clock–this broken clock fit only for a trash heap, this whited sepulcher, this fallen angel–might have said four forty of the postmeridian or maybe two forty of the antemeridian or maybe eight forty of the postmeridian or any other thing. Do you see what I am getting at here?”

“Yes, I think so,” the sheriff said. “Let me see if I follow you. The clock seems to be jumping about by the hour hand like the wounded steed you mentioned earlier but the minute hand is as pacific as a bear in hibernation.”

“Exactly,” Minotaur said. “You have described the situation with admirable precision–a precision that we can only wish this false chronometer would have exhibited. And theoretically, the clock could even have said, by lucky coincidence, that it was in fact three forty of the postmeridian.

“Wait a second,” the sheriff responded. “How’s that? I thought you said the clock was broken, so how could it possibly say the right time?”

Minotaur spoke slowly. “Well, it seems to be jumping around at random by the hour, forward and back. So with total dumb luck it could land on the right time—in this case, three forty of the postmeridian. Or, going with your original example, which doesn’t work quite as well, one twenty-three of the antemeridian. You have heard that the blind squirrel will sometimes collect a nut, or a million monkeys typing on a million typewriters for a million years will ultimately type one of Shakespeare’s plays. [Mr. Cornwall’s note: see an interesting Wikipedia article for more information on the infinite monkey theorem.] The same is true here. This blind clock will sometimes land on the right time, but a sometimes-accurate clock is worse than one that is never right, because it could encourage false reliance, kind of like when my ex-wife used to say she would be home before dawn to make me breakfast.”

The sheriff seemed satisfied with the explanation, and Minotaur seemed satisfied that the sheriff understood.

The sheriff looked at his wristwatch and appeared to realize he needed to get back to work. “Well, what are you two going as for Guy Fawkes Night?” the sheriff asked as he stood up from the table and and moved toward the door.

Minotaur answered, “I think we will wear the same clothes as now, but we will just get them soaking wet in the sheep trough. And hey–let me ride into town with you. I need to go by the tonsorial parlor. Cornwall, clean up this dump.”

Exeunt the sheriff followed by a Minotaur.


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