The Danger of Side Effects

One day, a man living in the city of Minsk in Poland, little concerned with the wider world, raised suspicions with his remarks about Italy and was thereupon arrested.

As everybody knows, volcanic eruptions have long since ceased to be attributed to events in the earth’s crust. Everything is simply chalked up to arson. Now Vesuvius was active again at the time, and everyone was asking, Who started the fire?

At the home of the above-mentioned individual from Minsk, who led a quiet, withdrawn life and had expressed the opinion to neighbors that the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius was of no concern to him, in Minsk, there was found an entirely emptied matchbox as well as a large quantity of still-unburned newspaper pages. He was unable to give a satisfactory explanation of either the used matches or his plans for the bundles of newspaper.

Finally, under cross-examination, he confessed to having started the fire. Why? His interests were scientific. He was pursuing the topic of remote ignition. He had already tried several times to ignite Mt. Vesuvius or some other volcano from here in Minsk; he had never been able to do so. Only now had he learned, from the newspapers, that he had been successful.

Further investigations revealed that he had in fact been in Minsk at the time the deed was committed. He did not want to reveal how he had done it. He said people could cause too much mischief if they knew. The tsar’s central authorities in Petersburg, led by Posadowsky and Stokowski, ordered the incident hushed up, for political reasons and also because Italy could otherwise claim all kinds of compensation for damages from Russia every time Mt. Vesuvius erupted again.

The man was thus released from custody. He had to pledge that his further efforts would be restricted to remote volcanoes, for instance in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. A suitable cluster of volcanoes was suggested to him.

After the fire was started, the volcano belched fire for weeks. Then it merely smoked. During this period, the man from Minsk, it was discovered, began to smoke too.

Eventually the whole affair was forgotten.

The man himself tried other things, since this one hadn’t paid off. He emigrated to Smolensk, then to Poltava. Eventually he settled along the Berezina. His project, he said, was to annul famous old battles retroactively. No one knew why. He was a hermit who lived deep in a world of his own.

“The Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius” by Alfred Döblin, 1947–48, tr. Damion Searls 2016

In all seriousness...In light of commentary of recent negative threads I wanted a fun reminder on the other side of counterproductivity. I enjoy the threads here with different solutions to toy problems. Any ideas on how the man from Minsk could be refactored into pure functions.

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