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black sheep

I was enjoying The History Blog’s article on President Wilson’s White House lawn sheep-keeping as part of the war effort. While the gesture was well-intended and fleece from the sheep raised did go on to win prizes, the article noted President Wilson’s ram was an ornery, tobacco-chomping terror who frequently butted White House visitors, and that ‘interestingly, he wasn’t the first vicious ram to roam the White House lawns. Thomas Jefferson brought a large flock with him from Monticello…The leader of the flock was a four-horned Shetland ram who took aim at anyone attempting to take a short cut through the property…The ram actually killed a child.


Thomas Jefferson’s ram straight up murdered a kid?! How did no one tell me about this until now? Can you imagine the furor and Weekly World News (R.I.P.) cover if this happened anywhere near today? The History Blog’s source cited an article from The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, and if  you want to learn all about President Jefferson’s obsession with the exciting world of sheep-breeding, I recommend reading it in full. That’s not sarcasm either – President Jefferson refused most gifts of wealth from other countries, the exception being sheep –  the availability of which depended on the American Colony’s relation with the rest of Europe at the time. Countries clashed, personal snubs were made (Jefferson’s prized ‘merino’ ram turned out to be nothing but a ‘common country sheep’ and high society pointed and laughed), smuggling abounded and fortunes were made and lost. Merino sheep’s soft and silky wool was the pride of Spain at the time, and they guarded the breed with extreme caution. If you were a king they liked, maybe you got a sheep.

If you can’t bother to be drawn into the heady swirl that was Colonial sheep-breeding, here’s the particularly juicy bit about Jefferson’s murder-ram:

“By the spring there were almost forty presidential sheep grazing on the square in front of the White House. If it had been the year 2000, there would also have been a flock of lawsuits. Several unsuspecting pedestrians tried to take a short cut across the square, met the Shetland ram, and were vanquished in their encounter. One William Keough wrote Jefferson that “in Passing through the President’s Square  was attacked and severely wounded and bruised by your excellency’s ram-of which [I] lay ill for five or six weeks.” Another of the ram’s unfortunate victims, as we learn from the diary of Jefferson’s friend Anna Maria Thornton, was “a fine little boy killed by the Ram that the president has.”

Unfortunately, the only available online record of Anna Maria Thornton’s diaries seems to be this excerpted collection from the Washington D.C. historical society, which though an informative historical read, includes no further details about the ‘fine little boy’ straight up murdered by a Presidential ram. Did children die with such frequency at the time that a deadly ram-butting on the White House lawn didn’t even warrant mention by the papers? Who was the little boy, and were any reparations made by Jefferson to his family?

What is known is the ram’s fate – returned to Jefferson’s farm, he was put down 4 years later after escaping his pen and murdering two Barbary rams and his own son.

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A number of friends have been asking me about ‘The King In Yellow‘, a series of short stories by author and H.P. Lovecraft pal Robert Chambers. I wouldn’t shut up about it when I read it several years ago, to their mild annoyance, but now that HBO show ‘True Detective’ has made mention of a Yellow King, suddenly they’re all TELL ME EVERYTHING YOU KNOW.

As I haven’t seen one second of the HBO show, I doubt anything I share would be informative, and still recommend reading the book. Do you like Lovecraft, but could do with toning down the purple prose, upping the human psychological factor, moving the action to New York City and adding in a different forbidden tome of mystery you must never read or you’ll DIE?! Then you will love ‘The King In Yellow!’  I’m not claiming any sort of high ground having read it sooner; heck, I only came across the book because it was the name of the last Dead Milkmen album. It’s a really great high gothic read, and I wouldn’t have come across it but for a bit of digging.

In that same spirit, a quick search on Project Gutenberg revealed Robert Chambers was as prolific as his other fiction writing chums, with 43 of his books available free. There’s the one tie I can make – a TV show with a name like ‘True Detective’ seems to directly reference the creator’s love of pulp genre writing. The sheer list of his titles is a joy in itself:

The Gay Rebellion

The  Crimson Tide: A Novel

The Tracer of Lost Persons


My friend asked ‘does it REALLY have three exclamation points?’ when I typed it out for them.

In Search of the Unknown


Who Goes There!

The Slayer of Souls

The Danger Mark

A Young Man In a Hurry (wonder what that’s about)

Blue-Bird Weather

Quick Action

and the extremely exciting-sounding Adventures of a Modest Man.

Best of all, some out-of-context images from the above!

explosion of mammoths dancing with rage The Gay Rebellion


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venn diagram


To clarify, James Brown claims to be a sex machine, while Gary Numan lives in a mental universe where these machines have run of local parks.

Also: why would anyone build a rape machine? Wouldn’t that be like building a stab-bot or Strangulatron 5000 – a bad idea on paper and getting worse moving forward?

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Over the years, I’ve created PowerPoints for many deeply unsavory reasons – to push pharmacological products using sketchy ‘data’ published by the parent company, as part of half-assed attempts on educators’ parts to get hip with technology and liven up rote classroom presentation (one of the few chunks of high school, along with forced learning to type without looking at our hands, that actually had real-world applications), to reinforce big business mentalities I did not believe in. Each of which falls under the standard use of PowerPoint, a program designed with the twofold goal of ‘snappy corporate presentations’ and ‘useability by the computer illiterate’.

In spite of, or rather because of the inherent weirdness at this intersection of Business and Flair, the program’s potential for pure art has been explored by several artists, most notably David Byrne’s E.E.E.I tour. I was going to say ‘accidental’ or ‘ironic’ art, but all that’s ever needed to turn something practical into art is to remove the practicality.

Which brings me to my recent, happier experiences with PowerPoint – created for a friend’s yearly salon of presentations on whatever we wanted, far from the boundaries of desks or logic, these slides were fun to create. No templates! The pure joy of random transitions! Finally using all the sound effects your supervisor expressly forbad! Unfortunately after the small gathering was over, the presentations languished on my computer. No more! I finally figured out how to time slides and export to a movie file, so that you, The Reader, may benefit from my research.

Admittedly quite a bit is lost in translation – no transitions, only one audio track and no sound effects, no me rambling on about a particular subject while accidentally skipping three slides ahead – but I’ve tried to make up for it with a dip into my recently acquired well of 50s instrumental tracks. Enjoy!

Mary Maxim: A Wearable (Mostly Canadian) History from Rarer Borealis on Vimeo.

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Last week, killing time before a lecture, I wandered around the stacks of Columbia’s immense Butler Library. Each regular-sized floor of the building crams two ‘stacks’ in, low-ceilinged warrens filled with racks on racks on racks of every type and subject of book imaginable. Human presences are an interruption in the flow of books, and the absolute minimum amount of space possible is grudgingly set aside for moving through the shelves. Light is on an as-needed basis – tiny squares at the end of rows flick on a light for that row only, and only for 15 minutes. Footsteps and door slams from other floors echo up through old grates blowing stale air. It’s basically an ancient leather-and-paper scented horror movie set, and I immediately fell in love.

As I’d picked a floor, stack, row and shelf at random, imagine my shock seeing the very book I’d just given as a gift (and angrily realized I had no copy for myself to read at home (how do I do that so often?)), Julia Wertz’s ‘Drinking At The Movies’. My wish was granted by a giant sentient haunted library!


( it looks like it says ‘ButtStax’ on the right)


I also found it hilarious someone at Columbia must have filled out all the paperwork and request forms to formally have this added to the library’s holdings. Looking around some more, I realized I’d wandered into the ‘comics’ section – they had EVERYTHING! All the Tin-Tins, even the super-racist ones! All variants and eras of Batman! The entire run of ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’! ALL OF HEAVY METAL!


Someone had to BIND THAT AND GOLD STAMP IT. A quick perusal and I found books by several people I know in real life:

A goodly collection of Tony Millionaire’s work:
(wait, was this donated by a ghost?)

Koren Shadmi and Dash Shaw:


…and Brendan Burford’s collection ‘Syncopated’ (Syncopated #2 was actually out at the time).


Yes, I have access to ancient Medieval chapbooks, rare handwritten notebooks by prominent artists and scientists, and the full writings of the greatest philosophers in human history in every language, but the next months of my life will be spent reading all of ‘Madman’.

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