13 May 2010

Humorously-Titled Newssheets and Sundry Gazettes

Hello again, so soon! Why are you awkwardly nosing around outside of my estate? Perhaps there is a hobo sign for a kindly woman who gives handouts drawn on my fence. Well, no matter. Let me invite you in for a peanut butter sandwich and a tale or two.

I thought I would subject the Cabinet to a bit of a "Spring clean" today. I ran across some interesting items that I had forgotten, including my collection of Humourously Titled Newsheets and Sundry Gazettes. Let me share some of those still publishing, including their place of origin, arranged in a special, secret order known only to me:

The Log Cabin Democrat    Conway, Arkansas

The Mining Journal  –  Marquette, Michigan

Laramie Boomerang   Laramie, Wyoming

Oregonian  Portland, Oregon

Ashland Daily Tidings
–  Ashland, Oregon

The Plain Dealer   Cleveland, Ohio

The Repository  –  Canton, Ohio

The Inter-Mountain   Elkins, West Virginia

Walla Walla Union-Bulletin   Walla Walla, Washington

The Virginian-Pilot   Hampton Roads, Virginia

Barre Montpelier Times Argus  –  Montpelier, Vermont

The Richfield Reaper  –  Richfield, Utah

The Mineral Wells Index  –  Mineral Wells, Texas

The Orange Leader  –  Orange, Texas

Alice Echo-News Journal  –  Alice, Texas

The Alpine Avalanche   Alpine, Texas

Beeville Bee-Picayune   Beeville, Texas

Jefferson Jimplecute   Jefferson, Texas

The Eldorado Success  –  Eldorado, Texas

Jasper Newsboy   Jasper, Texas

The Leaf-Chronicle   Clarksville, Tennessee

Watertown Public Opinion   Watertown, South Dakota

Huron Plainsman   Huron, South Dakota

The Call  –  Woonsocket, Rhode Island

McKenzie County Farmer  –  Watford City, North Dakota

The Blowing Rocket  –  Blowing Rock, N. Carolina

The Yadkin Ripple  –  Yadkinville, N. Carolina

Pharos-Tribune  –  Logansport, Indiana

The Elkhart Truth  
–  Elkhart, Indiana

The Palladium Item  –  Richmond, Indiana

Golden Transcript  
  Golden, Colorado

Steamboat Pilot & Today   Routt Co., Colorado

Well, I hope that list gave you a good laugh or two. You've had your entertainment and TWO peanut butter sandwiches at my expense --- now kindly vacate my premises!

The Cabinet is closed for cleaning and maintenance until further notice.

12 May 2010

The Ancient Scale Tree: Or, The Saga of the Giant Club Moss

Figure I: Highly Technical Diagram of the Lepidodendron from an Important Paleobotanist

Good time of day, loyal subscribers!

It is I, your Humble Scribbler, back to rummage around my le Cabinet de CuriositiĆ©s to find an entertaining and crypto-factual story to tell you. Today I bring you a tale from the darkest antediluvian past, another installment of my "Un-natural History of Plants" series. No, it is not "
Coffee: Years of Change," nor even "The Humble Century Plant Redux."

Instead, I shall regale you with the saga of the 
Lepidodendron, King of the Carboniferous Forest. Perhaps you know our tree-like friend better as the Scale Tree, or maybe this is your first acquaintance with the greatest of Club Mosses. Mosses, you say? This fossilized behemoth looks no more like the north side of your favorite key-concealing rock than your Humble Scribbler resembles a classic, 1950s-style robot programmed to exterminate. It is, in fact, more closely related to those infamous fern-allies, the Quillworts.

Figure II: Cleverly faked waffle-iron replica for the black market or genuine Lepidodendron fossil destined for a museum? Only Dr. Mark A. Wilson, the Lewis M. and Marian Senter Nixon Professor of Natural Sciences at the College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio knows for sure!

But no matter. The Lepidodendron was the dominant tree-sized plant 300 million years ago, during the Paleozoic ("old-animal") era. Not actually a tree in the modern sense, it was closer to a giant herb, lacking rings or even real wood but making a great garnish to giant, dinosaur-sized Flintstone salads. Much like that friend-of-man, the fern, the Lepidodendron reproduced by spores instead of seeds. Because of their prolific reproduction, these towering flora grew in large stands of at least a thousand specimens per acre. Their "bark" had pores that absorbed carbon dioxide, and was green, unlike the rough-skinned yet tender-hearted "modern" "trees" that we know and love.

The Earth began to yield its six-thousand-year-old antediluvian treasures in the nineteenth century, including the fossilized bark of the Lepidodendron. Unearthed by enterprising carnival barkers, many of whom were also amateur paleontologists, traveling fairs across our fair continent exhibited these relics of the ancient past as the fossilized SCALY SKIN of GIANT PREHISTORIC SNAKES as part of their own similarly misinformed and pseudoscientific cabinets of curiosities.

Figure III: A nineteenth-century midway advertisement for the Giant Snake Tree, infamously promoted by Victorian carnival barkers

Ascribing to the "live fast and die young" model of behavior, Lepidodendron lived only for around ten Human Earth Years. The Scale Tree was eventually crowded out in the Darwin Olympics by the new kids on the block, gymnosperm (seed-bearing) trees like that boon to the elderly, Ginkgo Biloba, and the two-leafed Namibian curiosity Welwitschia. But mourn not for poor Lepidodendron! Its relatives, the qullworts and club-mosses, survive down to this very day. (I have some in my greenhouse!)

Figure IV: A Scale Tree for the modern age.

Well, I'm going to put some Lepidodendron logs on the fire, prepare some pine-needle tea, and sit back for a nice, relaxing evening of alchemical experiments. May your fern always be your ally, dear readers!

07 May 2010

Fun Facts about the Prime Ministers

Walpole: First among P.M.'s, but only 14th in his family!

G'day, reading mates! I am currently "down under" the Equator, researching something very important called "the bush." But more on that later.

In commemoration of this week's general elections in Great Britain, I fancied that I would bring my readers some strange and interesting facts from the Cabinet about the men (and woman) who have held the post of Prime Minister.

The first prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745; served 1721-42), had sixteen brother and sisters, the most of any Prime Minister. And his family wasn't even Catholic -- just secret Swedenborgians!

The youngest P.M. ever, the appropriately-named William "
L'Enfant Terrible" Pitt,  (1759-1806; served 1783-1801, 1804-06) was one of the first trainspotters in Britain, personally bankrolling Richard Trevithick's experimental locomotive The Rotten Borough in 1804! 

The ill-fated steam locomotive The Rotten Borough, demonstrated at a "steam circus" in (pre-Woolfian) Bloomsbury, London. The track layout, though quite a profitable spectacle, proved, to the great surprise of Pitt and other investors, completely useless for passenger or freight travel.  

In commemoration of his tenure as prime minister, in 1945, Topps Commonwealth issued a special set of bubble-gum cards called "Stars of Downing Street" starring Winston Churchill (Conservative, 1874-1965, served 1940-45; 1951-55)!

Limited-edition autographed "Brotherhood of Living P.M's" card from the 1945 Topps set "Stars of Downing Street". From left, Clement Atlee, David Lloyd George, Churchill, Stanley Baldwin, and the reanimated body of Neville Chamberlain (seated).

As you might have guessed from the above, one of my interesting facts is that the British government reanimated the body of Neville Chamberlain (Conservative, 1869-1940, 1945-????, served 1937-40), who, during his first life, invented the popular billiard-like game of snooker!

Scotsman Ramsey MacDonald (Labour, 1866-1937, served 1924, 1929-35) was, during his interregnum, reduced to the life of a common Glaswegian tramp!

MacDonald in 1927, hoping, as he said in an interview with the Daily Mail, to "hop a steamer to Brazil" and "make it big" there.

In 1834, William IV accidentally appointed a loaf of Beef Wellington (Conservative, November 13-December 10, 1834, served Nov. 14-Dec. 10, 1834) Prime Minister, and it served for almost a month before anyone noticed (or ate) it!

Mistaken for Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852) by the "Sailor King".

Benjamin Disraeli (Conservative, 1804-81, served 1868, 1874-80) kept a lion, given to Queen Victoria as a gift by African entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes, as a guard-dog at 10 Downing Street -- and called the lion Prince Albert!

Disraeli with Prince Albert (at the family "dry goods" store, John Bull's Mercantile and Novel-supply) trying to sink the Bismark!

William Gladstone (Liberal, 1809-98, served 1868-74, 1880-85, 1886, 1892-94, 1895-1895, 1898-1911) secretly owned a corn plantation, Hawardan, with fellow P.M. Sir Robert Peel on the Isle of Man, ostensibly under the stewardship of the Manx liege lords the Stanley Family (led by the 14th Earl of Derby, Edward Smith-Stanley, thrice P.M. himself), which used imported Black Irish slave labour! Is coincidental intersection of the British aristocracy even possible?!

Bathed in the golden light of a Manx midsummer afternoon, Gladstone (center) and Peel (far right) meet with three of their estate overseers on the pastoral grounds of their corn plantation, 1897.  

Although two feet shorter than his subject, John Russell, the Earl Russell (Whig-Liberal, 1792-1878, served 1846-52, 1865-66) moonlighted as an Abraham Lincoln impersonator whilst Prime Minister, delivering comic orations of the Gettysburg Address to rapt British audiences (an act his grandson, the philosopher Bertrand Russell, later condemned as an act of supreme illogic), until his second career was discovered and he was recalled by the House of Commons!

Russell in costume, backstage at the 1865 Royal Albert Hall Christmas Charity Concert.

The popular tea blend Earl Grey was named after the eponymous prime minister (Whig, 1764-1845, served 1830-34), who, when in the Far East investigating the actions of East India Company official Warren Hastings, was given some of the tea by a grateful Chinese man that he had saved from drowning in the silty waters of the Yellow River only a few hours earlier!

Earl Grey tea-flavored chocolate confection briefly sold in the Far East during the First Opium War. (I'm not making this one up! Check the Kanji!)

And, last but not least....

Current (not for long?) P.M. James Gordon Brown (Labour, 1951-2010?, served 2007-?) is actually a Doctor of History, but was forced to close his Edinburgh practice after being appointed the menacing-sounding Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1992! Now I wish I would have voted Labour instead of for the No Candidate Deserves My Vote! Party.

Also, did you know its called a "Hanged Parliament" because, the day after the election, the monarch personally hangs the current P.M. in the Commons chamber? Could it really happen?!?

Everyone loves a hanging!
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