Author Archive | Haystack

Walter Potter’s Taxidermy Wants to Swallow Your Soul

Walter Potter’s collection of anthropomorphic taxidermy included cigar-smoking squirrels, athletic toads, and a kittens’ tea party. Victorian Gothic writes:

While the preservation of hunting trophies may be the best-known use of the taxidermist’s art, fans of Walter Potter’s anthropomorphic tableaux can attest to the fact that it has its other, more silly uses. Potter (1835-1918) was a self-taught taxidermist who grew up in the rural community of Bramber, Sussex, at a time when stuffing dead animals was considered to be a suitable hobby for young boys. For technical assistance, he would have had any number of popular manuals at his disposal. For inspiration, he had his younger sister’s illustrated nursery rhyme books and the Great Exhibition of 1851, where anthropomorphic taxidermy was first displayed to the British public.

Potter'sRabbitSchool

His first major contribution was an elaborate diorama depicting the death and burial of Cock Robin, which he began at age 19 and took seven years to complete.

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The Lesbian Vampire Story That Inspired “Dracula”

CarmillaIn composing his novel Dracula, Bram Stoker drew heavily upon an earlier, more seedy story in which a young woman succumbs to the attractions of an undead countess. Victorian Gothic reviews J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla:

First published in 1897, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was destined to become the universally-acknowledged masterwork of vampire fiction, but it was not, by any means, the first of its kind. Stokers genius consisted not in having invented the modern vampire monster, but in the imaginative way he synthesized and expanded upon the ideas that prior authors had already been exploring.

One of these was J. Sheridan Le Fanu, whose 1872 tale Carmilla provided a template for many of Dracula’s best-remembered characters and motifs, including the occult doctor (Dr. Hesselius), and the lonely Gothic castle set in a barbarous region of Europe. Many of the proper names in Dracula, in fact, are direct allusions to Carmilla’s characters and settings: “Karnstein” became “Carfax,” “Reinfeldt” became “Renfield,” and so on.

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How the GOP Became the Party of the Rich

An incisive new article by Tim Dickinson of Rolling Stone looks back to the ’80s, and describes how Republican Party came to abandon fiscal responsibility in favor of endless tax subsidies for the rich:

The nation is still recovering from a crushing recession that sent unemployment hovering above nine percent for two straight years. The president, mindful of soaring deficits, is pushing bold action to shore up the nation’s balance sheet. Cloaking himself in the language of class warfare, he calls on a hostile Congress to end wasteful tax breaks for the rich. “We’re going to close the unproductive tax loopholes that allow some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share,” he thunders to a crowd in Georgia. Such tax loopholes, he adds, “sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary — and that’s crazy.”

Preacherlike, the president draws the crowd into a call-and-response.

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Are Fair Voting Systems Mathematically Possible?

voting1To American voters, it’s an all-too familiar dilemma: do you cast your lot with the candidate most likely to win, or risk spoiling the election by supporting the third-party candidate in whom you actually believe? What if, instead of choosing one candidate, voters were instead given the opportunity to rate each potential office-holder, in the same way that Olympic judges score athletes? Brian Dunning at Skeptoid takes an interesting look at the mathematics of voting systems:

In the 1969 film Putney Swope, members of the board of executives were prohibited from voting for themselves, so they all voted for the one board member they were sure nobody else would vote for. Ergo, this free, democratic election produced a chairman that no voter wanted.

In a perfect democracy, everyone gets an equal opportunity to vote, and equal representation. Therefore, we hold elections to let everyone have their say, to either vote representatives into office, or to enact certain laws.

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Before War of the Worlds, the Great Moon Hoax of 1835

Great Moon HoaxLunar man-bats, unicorns, bipedal beavers and a triad of mysterious solar temples featured in a sensational hoax perpetuated by the New York Sun in 1835. This from Victorian Gothic:

Imagine that you wake up one morning, sit at your computer, and you are bombarded with links to a developing story from a major news outlet: Stephen Hawking, by making novel use of Cambridge University’s new quantum supercomputer to analyze data from SETI’s telescope array, has discerned that the universe is awash with signals from intelligent life. It reads like a regular science story, at first, but soon it is revealed that Hawking and his colleagues have tapped into an extra-terrestrial television transmission, and are even now watching, breathless, as the first, dream-like images of alien civilizations display themselves on the Q-computer’s tiny monitor.

You and your friends refresh your browsers compulsively, talking over each new description that emerges of strange alien races and the exotic landscapes they inhabit, as gleaned from upon the wacky sitcoms and low-budget reality shows that they are indiscriminately beaming into space.

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Abolish Student Loan Debt?

Student DebtWriting for the journal Reclamations, George Caffentzis wonders why there is no movement in the United States to abolish our increasingly oppressive system of institutionalized student loan debt:

Debt has had a crushing impact on the lives of those who must take student loans to finance their university education in the US. For tuition fees that have been so notoriously high in private universities now are rising in public universities so quickly they are far out-pacing inflation. Average loan debt per student in the US has been much higher than in Europe (with the exception of Sweden), though recent developments there would indicate that this gap may soon no longer exist (Usher).

We should also take into account the fraudulent way in which the loans have been administered by the banks and the vindictiveness with which those who have been unable to pay back have been pursued by collection agents.

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“Shadow Land”: Memoir of a Medium

Elizabeth d'Esperance as YolandeElizabeth d’Espérance, one of the star mediums of the Victorian era, penned a fascinating memoir filled with rich descriptions of altered states and otherworldly visitations. An often-overlooked, first-person account of the 19th century seance from the perspective of the medium herself, Shadow Land is the subject of a recent review at VictorianGothic.org:

Elizabeth d’Espérance grew up in a tired old house on the East End of London, filled with dark, oak-paneled halls and desolate, forbidden rooms that compelled her to explore. “I was very fond of wandering about from one empty room to another,” she wrote,

“and of sitting with my dolls on the broad low window seats, whence I would be fetched with an exclamation of horror and wonder by our servant, who considered my liking for the haunted rooms as “uncanny” and unnatural, threatening me with the ghosts and their vengeance if I persisted in invading their domains by myself.

“I could never quite understand nurse’s remarks about the lonelines of the rooms, though her threats about the ghosts frightened me.

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U.S. Government Poisoned Booze to Enforce Prohibition

Police & ProhibitionDuring Prohibition, crime syndicates were re-distilling industrial alcohol to supply their speakeasies. In an effort to “poison the well,” the federal government responded by requiring manufacturers to add new, deadly compounds to the industrial alcohol mix, leading to the deaths of thousands nationwide. In an article at Slate.com, Deborah Blum writes:

It was Christmas Eve 1926, the streets aglitter with snow and lights, when the man afraid of Santa Claus stumbled into the emergency room at New York City’s Bellevue Hospital. He was flushed, gasping with fear: Santa Claus, he kept telling the nurses, was just behind him, wielding a baseball bat.

Before hospital staff realized how sick he was — the alcohol-induced hallucination was just a symptom — the man died. So did another holiday party-goer. And another. As dusk fell on Christmas, the hospital staff tallied up more than 60 people made desperately ill by alcohol and eight dead from it.… Read the rest

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