The Whole Earth Catalog

WEC

The Whole Earth Catalog won the National Book Award in 1972. One of the award’s judges thought that it would “probably be the only book published in 1971 that anyone remembers one hundred years in the future.”

It’s too early to see if that prediction comes true but the big book was for a time a very popular counterculture magazine and product catalog promoting self-sufficiency, ecology, alternative education, “do it yourself” (DIY), and holism. Its slogan was “access to tools.”

It was published by Stewart Brand several times a year between 1968 and 1972. After that, it was updated occasionally.

The 1968 catalog divided itself into seven broad sections: Understanding Whole Systems, Shelter and Land Use, Industry and Craft, Communications, Community, Nomadics, and Learning.

sample page

The book did look like a catalog and it was rather confusing in its clearly cut and paste early layouts.

sample 2

An interview with Steward Brand’s biographer, John Markoff, at archive.org discusses the WEC’s origins.

I had an early copy. It seemed like the thing to do and I did have fantasies of living off the land and being self-sufficient in that hippie mixed with Thoreau way that many of us felt during that era.

My copy of the catalog vanished over the years but I found a number of the Whole Earth series on Amazon, and I also found a lot of it freely available at the Internet Archive.

Stewart Brand is a life-long conservationist, defender of Native American rights, and a chronicler of early computers. He became a counter-culture icon.  Though he is best known as the editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, he founded a number of organizations, including The WELL, the Global Business Network, and the Long Now Foundation. His most recent book is Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto.

A Day to Go Down a Rabbit Hole

chapter 1

On May 4th of some year long ago, a young girl went down a rabbit hole and entered a wonderland, and began an incredible adventure.

That girl was Alice and she descended into Wonderland on the birthday of Alice Pleasance Hargreaves (née Liddell), who was her inspiration as a character. The Liddells were friends with the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (pen name Lewis Carroll). Alice and her two sisters heard the first versions of the story on a “golden afternoon” in 1862, in a rowboat with Dodgson.

The story was originally titled Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, but was published as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in November 1865. It was hit and called “the publishing sensation of Christmas 1865.”

Alice's Adventures Under Ground - Lewis Carroll - British Library Add MS 46700 f45v.jpg
A page from the manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under      Ground, 1864. Public Domain, Link

The book has never gone out of print. It has been translated into more than 100 languages, including Latin.

It is one of those “children’s books” that offers other things to adult readers, such as linguistic puzzles, contradictions, and jokes.

Alice is not frightened as she falls down that hole after following a rabbit. In fact, as she makes that long descent, she talks to herself and analyses what is happening and may happen. In Wonderland, she is constantly trying to make sense of nonsensical things and is forced to rethink many of her assumptions and view things differently.

“Alice had no idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either,
but thought they were nice grand words to say.”

Thinking she may fall through the Earth to Australia or New Zealand, she wonders (as one will do in Wonderland)  “How funny it’ll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downward!”Today, we still fall down “rabbit holes” – especially online. To aid your own trip down Alice’s rabbit hole, here are a few links.

I am a fan of The Annotated Alice which helps with many of the references that I missed as a child and as an adult.

The Alice in Wonderland Omnibus has Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass with the original John Tenniel Illustrations because, as Alice said, “What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?”

Wikipedia has very good articles about the original book, the sequel, Through the Looking Glass, and Lewis Carroll.

If you are fearful of falling down a rabbit hole, you might try Through the Looking Glass (full name Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There) where  Alice climbs through a mirror into a world where everything is reversed. This is the book that includes the poems “Jabberwocky” and “The Walrus and the Carpenter”, and introduces the new characters such as Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Places That Aren’t There

wessex map
Map showing the Wessex of Thomas Hardy’s novels.

“It is not down on any map; true places never are.”
– Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

There are places that we have heard of, read about, and perhaps even seen on a map, but they don’t exist. Or, at least, they don’t exist in the world we walk through today.

These places appeal to me. You are reading now about a place called Paradelle that exists online but cannot be found (yet!) on maps. Maps and imaginary places have fascinated me since I was a kid. It started with places in novels (like Treasure Island) which led me to love maps, which led me to draw maps and write about my own imaginary places.

When I was teaching middle school, I had my students create maps of the fictional settings of novels they read. Even if the setting was a “real” place or based on a real place, the maps needed things that you wouldn’t find on existing maps – the empty lot or the church that burns down in The Outsiders; the roads and ranches in Of Mice and Men; Scout Finch’s hometown and Boo’s tree in To Kill a Mockingbird or where Romeo, Juliet, Benvolio or Friar Lawrence lived in Shakespeare’s play.

I started a novel years ago that was set in Camptown, New Jersey. That is a town that did exist on maps at one time. It changed its name to Irvington. But my Camptown is a blended town that mixed my hometown of Irvington with other places I have lived along with things I wish were included in the place where I live. The river that runs through the town is all the rivers and creeks and streams I have known. It is the Elizabeth River that I knew as a boy, the Peckman River that runs through where I now live and the Passaic River. That river cuts across New Jersey and is sourced from a now-swampy glacial lake that dinosaurs edged up to for a drink. It spills spectacularly over the Great Falls in Paterson and on to Newark Bay, New York Harbor, the Hudson River and out to the Atlantic Ocean.  As I wandered along riverbanks and paths such as the Lenape trails around me as a child and adult, stories were always coming to me from the past.

All this came to mind back in 2015 when I saw ads for the film Paper Towns which is based on a novel by John Green.  You’ll see the novel and maybe even the film labeled as for “young adults” but that is a term I never liked. Are Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird young adult novels just because they are often read by young adults? Green is a very popular novelist among teenagers, but a lot of adults know his writing either from his book, The Fault in Our Stars, or the film version of his bookJohn Green tweetedCelebrating the release of #papertowns with a road trip to a place that wasn’t, then was, then wasn’t, and now…is?”

In that novel, the character Quentin loves, loses and searches for Margo.  Clues lead Q to believe that Margo may be possibly hiding out (or buried) in one of the many abandoned subdivision projects (also known as “pseudovisions”) around Orlando, Florida. Those turn out to be dead ends, but he does find a map in an abandoned strip mall which he then connects with another map he made in an attempt to locate her. He matches up the holes from the pushpins in the mall map to his map and this leads him to believe that she is hiding in Agloe, New York.  He and some friends skip graduation and head to Agloe to find her.

I read the novel and since I first wrote this post in 2015, I have seen the film. I liked both of them and it led me to dig deeper into these imagined towns.

map
Fictional “copyright trap” showing Agloe, New York. This is a real 1998 Esso state map of New York, United States.

The Agloe in the novel is/was a fictional place in Delaware County, New York, that became an actual landmark, if not a real town.

In the 1930s, two mapmakers (Otto G. Lindberg and Ernest Alpers) made an anagram of their initials and placed it as a town at the intersection of NY 206 and Morton Hill Road, north of the real town of Roscoe, New York.

Were they merry pranksters? No. The town was meant as a “copyright trap.” It turns out that mapmakers sometimes place a fictitious place on their maps so that if someone plagiarizes it, they have a way to easily check.

However, in the 1950s, a general store was built at that intersection and was named the Agloe General Store.

agloe store-001

The fictional town appeared on Esso (now Exxon) gas station road maps that were widely distributed. Agloe appeared on a Rand McNally map and Esso threatened to sue Rand McNally for copyright infringement. But that never happened because Rand McNally pointed out that the place had now become “real” and therefore no infringement could be established.

That store went out of business, but Agloe continued to appear on maps until about 25 years ago when it was deleted.

But – update –  it appears in Google Maps and the very official United States Geological Survey which added “Agloe (Not Official)” to the Geographic Names Information System database in February 2014.

Places that aren’t there are nothing new and there are lots of examples.  There are the ones created by writers, such as Stephen King’s Castle Rock and Derry, Maine, and Thomas Hardy’s Wessex. In my abandoned novel, I considered placing Camptown in the county of Wessex in New Jersey as the western portion of the real county of Essex.

There are also places created by mapmakers.  Besides the paper towns, another copyright-protection technique is to include a “trap street” on a map. This fictitious street on a map, often outside the area the map nominally covers, has also been used as a way of trapping copyright violators. Alternatives are nonexistent towns, rivers or perhaps a mountain with the intentionally wrong elevation inserted for the same purpose. Of course, you don’t want to add something that confuses users or just looks like an unintentional mistake. The mapmaker may add nonexistent bends to a street, or depict a major street as a narrow lane, without changing its location or its connections to other streets.

Phantom settlements are settlements that appear on maps but do not actually exist. They can be accidents or copyright traps. Some examples are Argleton, Lancashire, UK and Beatosu and Goblu, Ohio, USA.

map
The Zeno map of 1558 shows Frisland – a phantom island in the North Atlantic

As a lover of islands, I have always had an interest in “phantom islands.”  They are islands that appeared on maps for a period of time (sometimes centuries) during recorded history, but were later removed after it was proven not to exist.

These are not copyright traps. They often came from reports of early sailors exploring new waters. Some were purely mythical, such as the Isle of Demons or Atlantis. Sometimes actual islands were mislocated or just a plain old mistake. The Baja California Peninsula appears on some early maps as an island but was later discovered to be attached to the mainland of North America. Some phantom islands were probably due to navigational errors, misidentification of icebergs, or optical illusions due to fog or poor conditions.

An interesting subset are islands that existed and were destroyed by volcanic explosions, earthquakes, submarine landslides, or rising waters and erosion. Pactolus Bank, visited by Sir Francis Drake, may fit into this category. It was discovered by Captain W.D. Burnham on the American ship Pactolus on November 6, 1885.

It has been postulated that this was the sunken location of Elizabeth Island, discovered by Sir Francis Drake’s ship the Golden Hinde in 1578. Drake anchored off an island which he named “Elizabeth Island,” (for Queen Elizabeth I) where wood and water were collected and seals and penguins were captured for food, along with “herbs of great virtue.” According to Drake’s pilot, their position at the anchorage was 57°S. However, no island has been confirmed at that latitude. A map was drawn by a priest that accompanied Drake, Francis Fletcher.

Elizabeth Island might be a good setting for another novel – or for my Paradelle.

Francis Fletcher’s map of Elizabeth Island

In this video, John Green talks about finding Agloe on an old Esso road map

Detective Edgar Allan Poe

Poe
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) by Félix Valloton 

I saw mention that an upcoming Netflix limited series, “The Fall of the House of Usher” which is based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, lost its lead actor, Frank Langella, when he was fired following a misconduct investigation. The item got me thinking about Mr. Poe.

Edgar Allan Poe’s story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” caused quite a stir in the literary world when it appeared in 1841. Because of it and some subsequent stories, Poe is credited with inventing the modern detective story.  There had been mysteries and crime stories written before that with clever people and police but the modern detective tale is from Poe.

His story is about a case of a gruesome double-murder in a home along the fictional Paris street Rue Morgue. Witnesses’ stories don’t match and each clue seems to undo the previous ones. The police are baffled. Enter Poe’s detective, C. Auguste Dupin.

Dupin solves the mystery not by going over the ground as the police would do or interviewing witnesses or looking for blood or physical clues. He solves it from his home by reading the details in the newspaper. He is an “armchair detective.”  His key clue in “Murders in the Rue Morgue” are just two words allegedly spoken during the crime – “mon Dieu!”

Poe only used Dupin in two more stories, “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt,” and “The Purloined Letter.” If Dupin’s method sounds like Sherlock Holmes, that makes sense.

Arthur Conan Doyle would later write about how he was influenced by Poe. In reference to Poe’s detective stories, he said that “Each is a root from which a whole literature has developed… Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?”

Dupin narrates his cases to his good friend in the same way that Dr. Watson is the recorder of Holmes’ cases. (Dupin’s chronicler is an anonymous first-person narrator while Watson actually becomes involved directly in the cases.) Watson actually says when he first encounters Holmes’s methods of deduction ’‘You remind me of Edgar Allen Poe’s Dupin. I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories.” (“A Study in Scarlet,” 1887)

Holmes actually seems a bit insulted by the reference. “No doubt you think that you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin. Now, in my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior fellow. That trick of his of breaking in on his friends’ thoughts with an apropos remark after a quarter of an hour’s silence is really very showy and superficial. He had some analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine.” Of course, that is Holmes’ and not Doyle’s opinion.

Both detectives are very methodical in their discoveries and use rational means. The stories become puzzles for both detectives and for readers. The game is afoot.

Poe called Dupin’s process “ratiocination.” Poe wrote in a letter “These tales of ratiocination owe most of their popularity to being something in a new key. I do not mean to say that they are not ingenious—but people think them more ingenious than they are—on account of their method and air of method.”

Poe engraving

There are a number of parts of Poe’s own life story that are mysteries. I haven’t read a very complete account of his one year at the University of Virginia other than he was a boozing and gambling freshman who clearly was not much interested in academics. But the biggest mystery of his life are the very odd circumstances of his death. There are multiple theories – none definitive.

On October 3, 1849, Poe was found wandering the streets of Baltimore. He was delirious and rambling. He was wearing someone else’s clothes. The attending physician John Moran described his clothing as “a stained, faded, old bombazine coat, pantaloons of a similar character, a pair of worn-out shoes run down at the heels, and an old straw hat.” Taken to a hospital, he slipped in and out of consciousness and was never coherent enough to tell what had happened to him. He died on October 7.

At first, it was assumed he had either drunk himself to death or it was drugs or a combination of the two things that brought him down. A more modern theory is that he was a victim of cooping.

Cooping was a 19th-century method of voter fraud. Gangs would kidnap unsuspecting victims and through beatings, booze or drugs would force them to vote for a specific candidate. This would be done multiple times under multiple disguised identities.

A very new and less likely but entertaining theory is suggested in the film The Raven. In this fiction, there is a serial killer targeting Poe by reenacting some of his stories.

As with Stephen King today, some people assumed that the mind that created Poe’s strange stories must have been equally strange. “The Fall of the House of Usher” is about the end of a family tormented by their own tragic legacy. The delusional murderer in “The Tell-Tale Heart” will betray himself with his madness. And the worlds in the stories such as “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Cask of Amontillado” are full of fear and hate. Poe’s image to many people is of a madman.

Doyle took Poe’s new genre much further than Poe. Perhaps, if Poe had continued writing Dupin stories he would have had a hit series and have been more financially secure. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was published in Graham’s Magazine where he worked as an editor. They paid him $56 for it, which was a big bump from the $9 he was paid for his poem “The Raven.”

Cabin Fever Dream

Readers of this blog will know that I have a long time longing to own a cabin in the woods. That longing probably started when I was a teen and read Walden and imagined myself a Thoreau in my little cabin in the woods writing something great.

Over the years I have written here about cabins in different forms – building a cabin, living in one (or in a tiny house or even a treehouse) or just living in a much simpler way. I also recognize that you shouldn’t need a cabin on some mountain to be a writer – but I stillthink it might help.

So, I had to read n article that I came across titled “I Moved to a Remote Cabin to Write, and I Hate It.

It is a cautionary tale for all of us cabin dreamers. I especially get my cabin dreams in spring and autumn. Though a snug cabin with a fireplace surrounded by snow seems Romantic, it’s not my dream.

From the article, Blair clearly was feeling some cabin fever. That term describes a state of mind that can develop when a person is confined to their home (cabin or not) because of the weather or whatever and unable to have social interaction.

She writes “I haven’t written anything. I’m bored with the little trail by my house, and the only wildlife I’ve watched are geese. I don’t know anybody here. My plan was to be self-sufficient, a one-person retreat, but I didn’t plan on the kind of loneliness that would make me want to text my ex.”

Cabin fever involves feelings of restlessness, irritability, or loneliness. None of those things are what I associate with my dream cabin in the woods. Maybe I should just keep writing from the deck by the garden and the couch.

Photo: Johannes Plenio

Astrology as Data Science

     Libra

Is there a code hidden in the tree of life? Can the movement of the stars or where they were when we were born tell us something about ourselves and our future? Humans like matching patterns. Astrology tries to match the universe’s patterns.

I listened to a program about searching for order in the universe and one interview was with data scientist Alexander Boxer. In his book, A Scheme of Heaven: The History of Astrology and the Search for Our Destiny in Data, he looks at the history and “science” of astrology.  He argues that astrology is humanity’s first attempt to predict the future with algorithms. 

Algorithms – which we now associate with computers – are a set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations.

Is there any science in astrology?  Boxer looks at classical texts on astrology and especially at the underlying scientific and mathematical framework. Astrology is a very ambitious applied mathematics problem. It is a huge data-analysis project to which scientists from Ptolemy to al-Kindi to Kepler contributed data. And there are rules. Algorithms.

astrolabe for calculating the position of the stars

The early astrologers used complex astronomical calculations. On his website, Boxer has several calculators including one where you can plug in a date and time (such as your birth) and find where the planets and Moon were located. He does it in his book for dates such as Caesar’s assassination as viewed from Rome, and the Apollo 11 lunar landing as seen from the surface of the Moon. Why? To test these horoscopes using modern data sets and statistical science.

Is Boxer out to prove or disprove that astrology is legitimate science? That’s not the point. It is intellectual history. It is more about the technology the ancients developed for tapping into astrology’s “predictive powers.” Astrology has an effect on our lives today not because the stars affect us or can predict the future but because it is part of our scientific and cultural history.

PISCES Top and bottom illustrations, via Wikimedia Commons, are hand-colored zodiac constellations from Uranographia Britannica, 1748, The atlas relied on the work of Dr. John Bevis, a London physician who had devoted a year to recording the nightly transits of stars from his observatory in Stoke Newington.