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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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I’ve been on a pixelated kick lately, digging up examples of early internet GIFs, Video Toaster screencaps, Game Boy sprites and After Dark screensavers. One file I’ve copied from PowerMac G4 to current laptop is a folder full of Simpsons icons, compiled by a website  so long dead its server host no longer exists. The icons are exhaustive, covering even the most obscure characters. Given the extreme gap in translation ability, they look to be the work of several hands and not a single artist. I actually like the ones that look like a 6th grader painstakingly put them together in MSPaint; their lack of shading, poor color choices and bizarre textures make them the folk art of the 90s.


Instead of flat orange/red, Bart’s shirt is Freddy Krueger-colored.

crappy bart



Here’s an example of the gap in ability I mentioned – two different ‘Bart from Treehouse of Horror III’ – note the use of shading, economy of space, and pleasing color scheme of the one on the right.

clockwork bart crappy clockwork bart



Possibly depicting Scratchy’s severed head instead of just a bust shot. I love the wall-eyes, gaped mouth and color scheme.



Grandpa Simpson wearing 90s style Matrix sunglasses.

grandpa simpson


Troy McClure weirdly squished with Bob’s Big Boy checkered hair.

troy mcclure


Checkered Itchy; it looks like he has mousepox.



This Jimbo’s eyes and face are so wonky…there’s a decent Jimbo icon in the bunch, but this one’s more compelling.




When I said these were exhaustive, they really went to the outer limits of obscure characters. These range from ‘Potentially Recognizable’ to ‘Why Would Someone Have That As A Desktop Icon’?

Worker from the lone ‘Worker And Parasite’ cartoon replacing ‘Itchy And Scratchy’ on Krusty’s show.

worker cat



The mutated laser-eyed squirrel from ‘Marge vs. The Monorail’

laser squirrel







Spinal Tap’s Half Inflated Dark Lord

our half inflated dark lord



Bart The Raven from ‘Treehouse of Horror I’

raven bart



Edward The Penitent: actually I might use this one as an icon. “I’m afraid ‘sorry’ doesn’t cut it with this Pope!”

edward the penitent



Llewellyn Sinclair – another appearance of Jon Lovitz as the director of ‘Oh, Streetcar!’

theater guy



Sideshow Luke Perry

sideshow luke perry



Neil Patrick Harris as Bart in ‘Blood on the Blackboard: The Bart Simpson Story’

bart simpson story



“You kids probably know me best as Sgt. Fatso Judson in ‘From Here To Eternity’!

ernest borgenine



Perennial kids’ favorite Garrison Keillor!

garrison keeler



Then there’s icons with no basis in Simpsons canon whatsoever, like this Klingon Homer,

klingon homer


…or Mad Scientist Bart,

mad scientist bart

…or Old Bart, though Older Bart has been shown several times, including as male stripper ‘Bang Bang Bart’ and Supreme Court Justice Simpson.

old bart

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Several nights ago sitting at my computer, I was innocently searching for animated gifs of the ‘Clever girl…’ Jurassic Park scene when Angry Jim walked by. “Hey, look up ‘His Master’s Voice‘”, he said. A moment later the screen went from raptors to variations of an adorable little dog looking quizzically into a phonograph. “Do you know that picture?” Why yes, says I. That’s the logo for RCA records, and it’s a cute puppy named Nipper all confused about technology. He thinks it’s people! “Yeah, he’s sitting on a coffin.”


“He’s sitting on a coffin. His master’s coffin. The recording he’s listening to is his dead master’s voice, and he’s confused because he thinks it’s him.”

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! Nooooooooo! This is even worse than that ‘Bayard of Dogs’ plaque at the top of the Kaaterskills! Noooooo!!! Nipper can never understand his master’s not coming back, especially when you play recordings of his voice! This image has now become an icon of the futility of hope and joy!

…A slight bit of freaking out later, further research revealed the sad story behind ‘His Master’s Voice’ to mostly bear out. A stray taken in by set painter Mark Barraud, Nipper was so named ‘because of his love of people’s ankles’. After Barraud passed away, his brother Francis Barraud took Nipper in. Francis noticed the confusion and interest Nipper had in the playing phonograph, particularly in recordings of his late brother’s voice. He decided it would make an excellent subject for a painting, and in 1899 completed the creatively titled ‘Dog Looking And Listening To A Phonograph’.

Francis first attempted to sell the painting to the Edison company, as it was their cylinder phonograph pictured. They passed, and he decided to cheer up the picture with a brighter horn, the kind seen on gramophones. Not having one, he went to The Gramophone Company, Ltd. to borrow one as reference. Upon finding out about the adorable painting, they asked Francis to specifically paint their latest model, and a classic image was born. Apparently if you look at the original painting from an angle, you can see the original, painted-over Edison cylinder player underneath.

It is important (well, important to record nerds) to note that this is a painting eventually titled ‘His Master’s Voice’, something that would’ve only been possible on cylinder recordings, as they could be both played AND recorded at home. That’s how Francis even had recordings of his brother’s voice, because Barraud likely dictated to the machine. Gramophone players weren’t intended for recording, only playing, which would’ve made it unusual for Nipper to hear ‘His Master’s Voice’, unless his master happened to be Sir Harry Lauder or something. Yes, I am familiar with the many Scots-themed songs of Sir Harry Lauder. That’s what happens when you’re pals with a cylinder collector.

In both Francis’ account and the polished PR story on RCA’s website, no mention is made of the dog sitting upon his master’s coffin, probably because people everywhere would start associating RCA with ‘bursting into tears’. It could be the surface is a tabletop, or some other extremely shiny, narrow, beveled dark-wood surface. Sure, that’s it! But the image of a tiny dog sitting atop his master’s last earthly remains, confused at hearing his disembodied voice but not seeing his comforting hand anywhere, is what I’ll now think of every time I see the RCA logo. THANKS ANGRY JIM.

If you’d like to know more about Nipper, here’s a site for and by ‘Nipperheads’.

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No, not entries in ‘Catholic Heroes and Martyrs’, but sweet delicious imbibibles.

If you’ve ever gone into a fancy liquor store, the kind that carries no Alizé and prominently displays wines from a specific town in Spain, chances are you’ve seen the beauty that is St. Germain glowing on the shelf. It’s the prettiest of booze bottles, an elegant Deco column capped with a touch of burnished silver and filled with the lightest of chartreuse elixers. What heavenly flavors fill this delightsome vessel? According to my roommate, who took a swig straight from the bottle, burning sugar with a heavy dose of cough syrup. Such is the unrefined palette, though in his defense St. Germain’s not intended to be drunk straight or at room temperature.

Indeed, St. Germain works best as a mixer, adding a hint of sweetness and refreshing floral background to any favorite cocktail. It’s an Elderflower liqueur, a beverage which itself has a long and dainty history (particularly amongst the Victorians, who loved them some sweet cordials). I tried it out in a personal favorite of mine, the Margarita (a true Margarita, not the bastard sugar-slush that passes for such), replacing the triple-sec with St. Germain.

This changes it to a St. Rita, an appropriate namesake given the sweet gentleness of St. Germain tempering bold tequila and its reputation as a liquid episode of ‘COPS’. Following the recipe above, imbibing more than one might also result in permanent forehead stigmata.

This delicious liqueur is in good namesake company as well; according to these fellows St. Germain was reincarnated as no less than Francis Bacon, Christopher Columbus, and Merlin! The Count of St. Germain, while an actual historical figure, was no less mysterious or magical – alternately portrayed as a high occultist or blatant fraud, he was a well-liked composer and friend of the court with a sense of humor about himself.

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Reading deeper into Mixtec codices, I have come to the conclusion telenovas are the modern permutation of a remembered history. Far from an excuse for spandex-clad catfights, these over-the-top miniseries are the very lifeblood of the peoples’ past come to dramatic life!

Much as the rich and spoiled Thalia is overtaken by power-hungry scrapper Rosalinda, so do the Mixtec codices show the swift and violent rise to rule of Lord Eight Deer Jaguar Claw against the powerful Lady Six Monkey, ruler of Tilantongo and the lands north of Jaltepec. But I’ve gotten far ahead of myself.

Pohl, John M.D. (2002). The Legend of Lord Eight Deer: An Epic of Ancient Mexico. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-195-14019-2. OCLC 47054677 Pohl, John M.D. (2002). The Legend of Lord Eight Deer: An Epic of Ancient Mexico. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-195-14019-2. OCLC 47054677

Known amongst themselves as Ne’ivi Davi (which despite sounding like a certain tribe from ‘Avatar’ means “People of the Rain”), they were called Mixtec (itself a Nahuatl word meaning “cloud people”) by the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican neighbors. The name reflects their original settlements in the hilltops of Oaxaca, and while the Mixtecs spread to surrounding lands and grew in influence, they never united as one power, instead having several major cities controlled by dynastic families.

Here’s where the telenovas come in – to keep power balanced, the ruling families constantly intermarried to ensure their bloodlines remained in power without resorting to bloody slaughter. Unfortunately, this did not prevent bloody slaughter so much as heighten its gothic brutality, as nearly all rises to power now involved murdering immediate family members in bizarre, ritually acceptable ways. Here’s a brief summation of Lord Eight Deer’s conquering of major city Xipe’s Bundle:

In 1101 8 Deer finally conquered Xipe’s Bundle, killed his wife’s father and his stepsister’s husband 11 Wind and tortured and killed his brothers-in-law, except the youngest one by the name of 4 Wind. In 1115 4 Wind lead an alliance between different Mixtec kingdoms against 8 Deer who was taken prisoner and sacrificed by 4 Wind, his own nephew and brother-in-law.

That’s not even taking into account the ways he killed any of them, which included ‘gladiatorial sacrifice’ and ‘arrow sacrifice’. Oh look, there’s pictures!

From: Stories in red and black: pictorial histories of the Aztecs and Mixtecs  By Elizabeth Hill Boone
(click for a larger image.)

Mixtec codices differ from others in the more straightforward pictoral depiction of events (as opposed to relying on symbols or phonetic images), and their comic-book like division into panels (those vertical lines separating the scenes). Here’s a slightly more Frazetta-ed interpretation of things:
from http://www.crystalinks.com/mixtec.html
(While not explicitly Eight Deer, the fellow on the right sports his iconic jaguar headdress.)

The initial reason I even stumbled across the Mixtec people was due to their colorful naming – most royals were named after their day of birth, along with an attributive secondary name. Unlike their Aztec neighbors, with whom they shared an interlinked 360-day solar/260-day sacred calendar, the Mixtecs did not consider certain days inauspicious, and therefore unsuitable for naming. They also, unlike the Aztecs and us, moved the coefficient and day sign in parallel, resulting in a repeating series of coefficient/day names instead of our and the Aztecs month(coefficient)/day….different month/day loop. You can read all about it here, which I assure you is not as boring as my half-assed explanation makes it seem. This excerpt from Eight Deer’s life features (aside from royal incest and the aforementioned over-the-top drama) a wide assortment of Mixtec birthdate names:

Born on the Mixtec Calendar date from which he got his name, 8 Deer was the son of the high priest of Tilantongo 5 Crocodile “Sun of Rain”. His mother was Lady 9 Eagle “Cocoa-Flower”, queen of Tecamachalco. He also had a brother 12 Earthquake “Bloody Jaguar” and 9 Flower “Copalball with Arrow” who were both faithful war companions of 8 Deer.

He also had a half-sister 6 Lizard “Jade-Fan”. First the fiancee and lover of 8 Deer himself, she was finally married to 8 Deer’s archenemy 11 Wind “Bloody Jaguar”, the king of the city “Xipe’s Bundle”.

The FAMSI website has a fun* feature where you can figure out your own royal Mixtec name. Just go here, plug in your birthdate on the right, and the last sign listed in the Long Count is your name!

*’fun’ is here qualified as something someone who voluntarily trawled through multiple FAMSI pages would find enjoyable.

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