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Queen Silver

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The Godless Girl

While the subject of feminism is flying about, I thought I’d suggest a Queen Silver website. I stumbled on it a while ago while researching something. The site is maintained by one of those (seemingly) dread feminists, Wendy McElroy who has an infrequently updated McBlog. The site is hours of fun for the whole family, including some scans and PDF’s of Queen Silver’s Magazine.

My favorite part is Queen Silver’s Theological Dictionary, which continues in the spirit of Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary. Here are a few examples of her definitions:


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Rabbit Drive, Caruthers Station, Fresno County, March 10, 1892.

I was following some links on New Things regarding rabbits in Australia, and it reminded me of another rabbit story. The photograph above is a scene from it.

The great rabbit drive, described as “one of the most successful and picturesque ever had in California,” was the work of more than 5,000 people and resulted in the slaying of about 20,000 rabbits. This day's "grand sport" had such an impact on fledgling California writer Frank Norris that he later incorporated it into one of the most vivid chapters of his classic novel, The Octopus.


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Botany of Desire

Started another book I need to read for class on Tuesday. I sense a trend. Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire is a fun read so far. It’s a survey of four domestic plants: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. It begins with a rather Foucaultian pronouncement in the introduction:

Our grammar might divide the world into active subjects and passive objects, but in a coevolutionary relationship every subject is also an object, every object a subject. That’s why it makes just as much sense to think of agriculture as something the grasses did to people as a way to conquer the trees.
There are four primary desires associated with these plants: sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control. I’ve only finished the first chapter, but I really liked the excursion into pomology. I had no idea that “as American as Apple Pie” could be so far off. Apples originated in Kazakhstan. Something tells me Americans didn’t invent pie either.

The story of the apple is one of intoxication and sweetness, and to a certain extent, of control. Cane sugar was rare in America initially, and some wouldn’t buy it because of its origins in slavery. The apple was important for its sugar, and for its beverage uses. Johnny Appleseed is painted as the American Dionysus, planting orchards and moving on when civilization approached. His heritage is filled with myth and a controversy— he had his heart broken by a ten year old. The symbol of the vegetarian frontiersman is even more curious if yout think of him as a pedophile.

Most of Johnny’s apples made their way into cider, a cider given to children— the alcohol made it a safer beverage than water at the time. But now, the apple is in trouble. The apple gene-pool is shrinking due to man's desire to proliferate them through cuttings, culled for their sweetness. But I was most taken with the description of the guardian angel of the Appleseed legend, Bill Jones:

Jones is a tall, courtly man with pale blue eyes and fine, parchmentlike skin. He give the impression of being a tightly stretched drum, devoid of any irony and, by his own lights, somewhat out of place in time. He’s dismayed by present-day America— the popular culture, the violence, the “lack of moral compass.” Ohio’s frontier past is vividly present to him, and old-timey expressions like “Cripes!,” “Gee whillikers!,” and “Darn tootin’” come often and unself-consciously to his lips.

Note to Self: Use “Gee whillikers” and “Darn tootin’” in conversation more frequently.

I find it also quite curious that Johnny Chapman [Mr. Appleseed] is described as a nearly androgynous man, nearly female in appearance, who was also a Swedenborgian. He died a rich man, due to his talent for land speculation— he would move into an area, buy land and plant trees— and then move on when civilization caught up with him. Now that’s as American as Apple pie.


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While thinking about a piece of the puzzle I need to write out, I surfed into an amazing discovery: George W. Bush and Andrew Jackson are related. At least the Whitehouse website thinks so. Lets see, pushing people off their land and onto the trail of tears... check. Sporadic education... not too bright... check. Delusions of being king, opposed to personal liberties... check. I’d never quite thought of it that way before. The Internet can be quite educational.

However, unlike Jackson I don’t think Bush would want to eliminate the Electoral College. It seemed to work out quite nicely for him. Elected by popular vote? I don't think so!

*Unrelated postscript*

Now I feel really intimidated. I managed to contact perhaps the foremost expert on Edwin Rosskam out there. He told me that if I made it to New Jersey, he could introduce me to his widow. He’s done an oral history of her, and is also in contact with Ben Shahn’s widow (now 99 years old). He told me that Michael Lesy is currently writing a book on the FSA. I’m glad that I picked a particularly obtuse tangent on the material. There’s no way I’m in the same league.

Old English Pragmatism


Old English Pragmatism

There is a story I’ve been trying to find for a while. I read it when I was doing research on the history of England. In Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People there is a recounting of the conversion of King Edwin in 627AD. I was reminded of it while reading Reason to Believe, as it extolled the virtues of Emerson and the American romantics. It was implied that the Americans were the first to view truth as socially constructed, situational, and important to survival. Even skipping over the obvious Greek precursors, the Sophists, something was nagging me about the English. Insomniac as usual, I found it last night. It goes like this:

Freedom of Information


Freedom of Information

I’ve been distracted lately by library history. Any suggestions of good books on the subject are welcome. As the keywords are common, net searches just aren’t providing much in the way of useful information. I’ve found some compendium sites, but I'm really looking for a more general overview. For the first time in a long time, I actually had to turn to an encyclopedia, and gasp may have to physically visit a library to satisfy my craving. All the books I’ve seen so far seem too tangential, and expensive to add to my personal collection without reviewing them first. I thought a few years ago that I might go into the LIS field, but I got distracted by writing.

The article in Encarta was surprisingly helpful, but filled with vague generalities:

Fundamental shifts in economies and political structures throughout Europe during the 16th century forced libraries to assume new practices and responsibilities. Members of the growing middle class benefited from the emergence of capitalist economies during this period. They soon began to demand access to information that could help them solidify and advance their socioeconomic position. Libraries eventually became a central source of information for most Europeans.
The phrase “began to demand access to information” needs to be substantiated by contemporary references. Who demanded? What tracts are there on the subject? Inquiring minds want to know. This assertion echoes Ian Watt’s version of the history of the novel, where the “middle class” suddenly becomes responsible for everything. I suspect it isn’t that simple.

If the demand for public access to information was so prevalent in the sixteenth century, why did it take until 1850 for public libraries to gain support in England? I’m somewhat familiar with circulating libraries, and the growth of the coffeehouse as an information center as well as a seller of stimulants. What I wasn’t familiar with was the seemingly crucial role of the colonies in fostering the growth of libraries as a public institution. The target of libraries in the US was not just a middle class, but seemingly everyone. The missionary zeal of the Puritans was also applied to increasing print literacy in the new colonies.

The problem of free information is always rests on the question— who pays for it? National libraries and theological libraries are paid for because they feed the egos of the institutions. University libraries are paid for largely through charity, and thus feed the egos of the patrons like John Harvard. England seemed to coast along on dubious business models, somewhat like the modern video rental business, where subscriber support provided for the acquisition of new material. But in the US, the distribution of printed materials was at first, primarily pragmatic— it rested on the consequences of use.

Between 1695 and 1704 clergyman Thomas Bray of Maryland established 70 small circulating libraries of carefully selected volumes meant to convert the natives. This to me just speaks of egotism of a different kind, but his gift to South Carolina did result in the passage of an act creating the first public library in the US in 1700. Rich planters established schools that even the poor were allowed to attend in 1757, and libraries as public, civic institutions seem to be entrenched in the US long before most other countries. These facts shock and amaze me. The first tax-supported public library was formed here in 1833, compared to 1852 for England and 1869 for Australia. The easy access to information seems to be pivotal in the formation of stable social structures, regardless of initial motives.

Business models eventually seem to break down in the face of the demand for access. But they stubbornly cling, in some countries longer than others. This seems worth of consideration in light of the battles over intellectual property in electronic information systems. Free distribution of information is good— from a purely pragmatic standpoint— and produces a promising future. But that nagging question always remains— who pays? I don’t think our present short-sighted republican administration will be willing to pay the bill, and the middle class which elected it doesn’t seem to be too hungry for information.