Archive for March, 2012

Theodore Roosevelt – King of Pets

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Theodore Roosevelt was a nature lover who loved animals and loved to hunt them too.  His father was a co-founder of the American Museum of Natural History, and a young Theodore donated his personal collection of specimens to the museum.

The Teddy Bear was named after him.  And his rambunctious children also loved animals.

Roosevelt beat other presidents by a long shot when it came to pets.  The Roosevelts owned nearly 30 animals.

Here’s a partial list:

Jonathan Edwards, a small bear
Bill, a lizard
Admiral Dewey, Dr. Johnson, Bishop Doane, Fighting Bob Evans, and Father O’Grady, guinea pigs
Maude, a pig
Josiah, a badger
Eli Yale, a blue macaw
Baron Spreckle, a hen
a one-legged rooster
a hyena
a barn owl
Peter the rabbit
Tom Quartz and Slippers – cats
Jonathan – a piebald rat
Emily Spinach, daughter Alice’s garter snake (named “because it was as green as spinach and as thin as my Aunt Emily”)
Algonquin, a calico pony

Among their many dogs were Sailor Boy, Jack, Skip, Pete, and a small black Pekingese named Manchu, which Alice received from the last empress of China during a trip to the Far East.

We suspect it was a hard time to be a White House janitor.

Presidential Pets

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

It’s animal month on the PhLog, and today’s post focuses on the pets of U.S. Presidents.

Woodrow Wilson's sheep

The tradition of having an animal companion in the White House goes back to before we had an actual White House, when George Washington was president.  Not only was Washington the father of our nation, he was also the father of the American Foxhound.

No first family is complete without a first pet.  Just as all presidents have to be folksy and love babies and the “common people,” no one would elect a president who didn’t like pets.

There were a few pet-less presidents (Arthur, Pierce, Polk), but one of them, Millard Filmore, gets a pass because he was a founder of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Benjamin Harrison and his goat "Old Whiskers." Plus his kids and a dog.

Some interesting White House pets:

John Quncy Adams and Herbert Hoover owned alligators.  Adams kept his in the bathtub.

Presidential parrots go back to Martha Washington, and White House parrot owners include Grant, McKinely, and Theodore Roosevelt.  Kennedy had parakeets.

James Buchanan had a herd of wild elephants given to him by the King of Siam.

Abigail Adams had a dog named Satan.  So, yes, Satan has slept in the White House.

Andrew Johnson didn’t have a pet, but during the dark days of the impeachment process, he befriended and fed a family of mice he found in his bedroom.

The last cow to live in the White House was during the Taft administration.  And no, that is not a fat joke.

Pauline Wayne, the last White House cow

Woodrow Wilson had a flock of sheep that grazed on the White House lawn.  Their wool was sold to collect money for the Red Cross in World War I.  The flock included a tobacco-chewing ram named “Old Ike.”

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy held his son John’s Welsh terrier in his lap during many tense moments, petting him to relax.

Mr. Lincoln “was fond of dumb animals, especially cats. I have seen him fondle one for an hour,” wrote Treasury official Maunsell B. Field.  His son Tad had a pet goat he would drag around the White House.  You can read more about Lincoln’s wide love for animals here.

Calvin Coolidge had a virtual zoo in the white house. Besides a whole slew of dogs, they had birds, cats, raccoons, a donkey, a bobcat, lion cubs, a wallaby, a bear, and a pigmy hippo.

White House pets have not been free from politics.

While running for Vice President, Richard Nixon used the story of his dog Checkers in an important speech.  And FDR, who loved his Scottish Terrier Fala so much he was buried next to him, struck back against Republican criticism with the so-called “Fala Speech.”

And who can forget the national debate about what kind of dog the Obama family was going to get.  The measured, public, thoughtful discussion that captivated the media.  Much more interesting than healthcare.

But one presidential family was the pet champion, and they’ll get their own post on Wednesday.

You can read about these animals and more at the Presidential Pet Museum website. (Yes, there is a Presidential Pet Museum, which is where these photos come from.)

Truman's dog Feller


The Beauty and the Beasties

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

It’s time for another post for animal month!

Marilyn Monroe’s best friends weren’t diamonds.

Like other glamorous people and the Nazis, Marilyn Monroe was an animal lover.  She liked them better than people.  When she broke up with Arthur Miller, the hardest thing for her was losing custody of the dog.

Monroe loved dogs.  She said: “Dogs never bite me. Just humans.” And “I like animals. If you talk to a dog or a cat it doesn’t tell you to shut up.”

You can see a list of her pets here.

Jofi Freud: Dog Therapist

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

It’s animal month on the PhLog!

Today – the story of a man named Freud and his dog.

Sigmund Freud became a dog lover late in life when his daughter, and acclaimed psychotherapist, Anna, bought a wolfhound (uncreatively named “Wolf”).  Freud was nearly 70 at the time, and was so taken with the dog that Anna would give Freud poems in Wolf’s honor on his birthdays.

Freud then became the owner of a series of Chow Chows.  The one he had for the longest stretch of time was named Jofi.  Jofi often sat through therapy sessions and Freud noticed that the presence of his dog helped reduce tension in the room.  Patients would open up more when Jofi was there, especially children and adolescents.  Jofi was non-judgmental and a focused and silent observer.  Jofi was also a good gauge of the mental state of Freud’s patients; he would sit farther away from the couch depending on how anxious the patient was.  If a patient was depressed, Jofi would sit close to him or her, available for petting.  Jofi was also a surprisingly accurate timekeeper, yawning and walking to the door at the 50 minute mark.

“Dogs love their friends and bite their enemies, quite unlike people, who are incapable of pure love and always have to mix love and hate.”
– Sigmund Freud

Monday Morning Monkey Chase

Monday, March 19th, 2012

It’s animal month on the PhLog, and in that spirit and courtesy of a post we saw on Facebook by artist and author Mark Newgarden, we present a Monday Morning Monkey Chase!

It’s Animal Month – St. Patrick and the Snakes

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! Or at least all you Irish people, Catholics, and Americans-who-celebrate-any-holiday!

It’s Animal Month on the PhLog, and no St. Patrick’s Day would be complete without telling the story of St. Patrick and the snakes.

St. Patrick is believed to have converted the Irish to Christianity sometime in the 400s.  One of the legends associated with him is that he banished all snakes from Ireland by throwing them into the sea.

Of course, natural history proves that there have never been snakes in Ireland.  Ireland was under water when snakes evolved.  Plus there was a pesky ice age that would have killed any snakes off that could have crossed a land bridge when it was above water.  Snakes generally don’t like swimming for miles and miles in icy water.  There are also no snakes in Iceland, Greenland, or New Zealand for the same reason.

One way to read the St. Patrick story is that the snakes are symbols for paganism.  (Snakes are pretty evil in the Judeo-Christian tradition, but not in others.  Druids, for example, used serpent imagery.)  Patrick banished the pagan “evil” from Ireland, but rather than tell a story about St. Patrick throwing heretics into the sea, snakes make a nice substitute.

St. Patrick banishes some snakes. And naked people. Who also couldn't survive in Ireland's chilly climate.

So this St. Patrick’s Day, why not hug a snake and hate a heathen?  Snakes, as any ecologist or farmer will tell you, are our friends. Don’t fear the snake – respect it!

And while we’re celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, here’s a question: Do leprechauns exist in other dimensions? Ask a Philosopher!

UPG Guestperts: Matt Carman and Kseniya Yarosh

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

This month we interviewed Matt Carman and Kseniya Yarosh, writers and editors who produce a biannual zine called I Love Bad Movies. In each issue, more than two dozen writers, artists, comedians, critics, and nerds examine their favorite bad films.

photo by Meredith Wallace

UPG: What made you decide to edit a publication about bad movies?

Matt: When you start watching bad movies on purpose, it becomes clear that they are often more fun than good ones. They’re strange, flawed, and rewarding to varying degrees.

We’ve found many of our favorite bad movies via friends’ recommendations, video store cast-offs, or neighborhood trash cans (as with our VHS tapes of Lifeforce and Graveyard Shift 2). I Love Bad Movies is our way of sharing the joy of discovering these great-bad films, through intelligent and entertaining essays & comics. This way, you don’t have to dig through actual detritus to find the good ones.

UPG: How bad does a movie have to be to be included in I Love Bad Movies? What qualities elevate a movie from mediocre to (entertainingly) bad?

Kseniya: Not as bad as you might think. We’ve included plenty of flops, but we’re also open to movies that just didn’t age well or have an element of ‘wrongness’ about them that is worth investigating. We shy away from the rich mines of classic b-movies that have been covered by Mystery Science Theater 3000 and numerous publications/blogs, and focus on less-campy selections from the 1970s to the present that tried harder and failed bigger.

One way a mediocre movie can be elevated to “bad” (the kind we like) is if it suffers from genre confusion. For instance, the reason movies like Gigli and Old Dogs are hilariously bad is that they both started out as dramas but were eventually converted into… what someone at the studio thought was a “comedy.” They are laugh-out-loud funny but for all the wrong reasons.

UPG: Have you encountered bad movies out there that are so bad they remain completely unlovable?

Matt: Oh my word, yes. It’s All About Love: Claire Danes and Joaquin Phoenix’s divorce proceedings are hampered by her being cloned against her will. She is a famous ice skater and he occasionally has an accent. African people float into the air, everyone else catches heart attacks like a common cold, and Sean Penn spends the entire movie on an airplane narrating an incomprehensible e-mail to no one. Eventually Danes and Phoenix freeze to death in the arctic wilderness. It is the slowest, moodiest, worst junk.

Our contributors are careful to note when it’s more fun to read or write about a particular movie than actually watch it. In I Love Bad Movies #3, comedian Matt Koff explains that while his Robot in the Family essay might make the movie sound wacky and fun, viewing it will be an unpleasant, harmful experience. We should have listened.

UPG: What can “bad” art offer us that is enjoyable or insightful in ways that “good” art can’t?

Matt: Everyone likes feeling superior to something. Having a humdrum day? Looking at a Monet will probably remind you that you haven’t done anything with your life. Laughing at a dumb movie, on the other hand, will help you feel better about yourself. At least you could’ve done better than this.

UPG: In a hyper digital age in which each topic has its own blog and niche subset blogs, and print media of all kinds suffer financial and identity crises, what lead you to publish this zine in paper form?

Kseniya: Because we want people to relax, get a cup of coffee and actually read I Love Bad Movies. We strongly believe that reading printed text on paper is a more enjoyable and satisfying experience, and we wanted to make that a reality. There are so many things that we read online everyday, and only a fraction of them stick. We hope people’s experience with I Love Bad Movies is special.

Since our contributors put so much time and thought into helping us publish this zine, it’s important that we reward their work with a tangible finished product. Plus, aside from the police blotter, this is the easiest way for Matt and myself to get our names in print.

UPG: Each issue of I Love Bad Movies has a theme (“children’s movies,” “visions of the future,” etc.) Your current issue’s theme is “before and after they were famous.” What prompted you to explore this?

Matt: Among some more forgettable actors, our first four issues are riddled with bold names — stars who, way back when they were struggling young things or long after they’d peaked, made choices they probably aren’t proud of. We wanted the fifth issue to be packed with those fresh-faced/wrinkle-faced mistakes. Nicole Kidman, Amy Adams, and Spielberg’s favorite cinematographer Janusz Kaminski at the start of their careers (BMX Bandits, Cruel Intentions 2, and Cool as Ice, respectively), or Mae West and Orson Welles at the end of theirs (Sextette and The Transformers: The Movie).

Like a case of the flu, bad movie roles seem to affect otherwise famous people when they’re either very young or very old. This issue explores the fringes of fame and what results when talented people make untalented choices.

Nicholas Cage and Audrey Hepburn in bad movies at opposite ends of their careers.

UPG: You are co-organizing the Brooklyn Zine Fest along with writer/contributor Eric Nelson. Tell us about the event.

Kseniya and Matt: The Brooklyn Zine Fest, like I Love Bad Movies, was born out of a desire to showcase people and projects we love and support. Many of the literary/art-book festivals that take place throughout the year in New York come with either high brows or high barriers to entry. Until now, there has been little opportunity for smaller and scrappier publications like ours to reach the public on a larger scale.

On Sunday April 15th at Public Assembly in Williamsburg, more than 60 independent writers, artists, publishers, thinkers, doers, and maybe one candlestick maker will come together to celebrate what Brooklyn does best: create interesting, entertaining, and occasionally weird stuff. We’ve curated a wide variety of zine makers, so there will be something for everyone who likes at least one thing. Pick up a zine, grab a “marzini” at the bar, and of course, stop by our table and say hello!

To purchase issues or find out about bad-movie screenings and other live events, visit  Find and Like I Love Bad Movies: The Zine by K&M on Facebook at

Matt and Kseniya are offering a special discount code for PhLog readers!  For a limited time, you can use code UNEMPLOYED20 at for get 20% off all purchases!

Matt Carman is the author of Taken for a Ride, a collection of essays about his game show experiences. He hosts movie screenings with his co-editor, gives unwarranted scholarly credence to films like Gigli and Mac and Me, and is currently mapping the geographical setting of every U.S. prime time television show from 1946 to the present.

Kseniya Yarosh is a writer, illustrator, and researcher in Brooklyn whose zines have been featured on Flavorwire and Syndicated Zine Reviews. Kseniya’s presentation on “Love Story Disease” examines “dying girl” movies of all eras, and she is currently working on a zine about the ’90s Russian rock band Бра́во (Bravo).

Discontinued Product Memory Lane: The Mooing Cow Pillow

Monday, March 12th, 2012

It’s Animal Month on the PhLog so we decided to go for an animal theme for our installment of Discontinued Product Memory Lane.

Our featured product this time is our Mooing Cow Pillow.

As is name implies, the mooing cow pillow was a fuzzy cow-patterned pillow that emitted a mooing sound when squeezed.  Sales of this pillow flourished for several years in the early 2000’s.  It even had an offshoot — the Mad Cow Pillow, that giggled when squeezed.  Now, only one remains at the UPG office (pictured above).  It no longer moos, so the full effect of the pillow lives on only in our memories.

It’s Animal Month! – Animals and Science

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

It’s Animal Month on the PhLog!

The Unemployed Philosophers Guild offers magnetic finger puppets featuring two animals of science: Schrödinger’s Cat and Pavlov’s Dog.

Schrödinger’s Cat is in fact not a real cat, but a cat used in a thought experiment by physicist Erwin Schrödinger to illustrate one of the principals of quantum mechanics.

The experiment places a cat inside a box along with with a radioactive substance. If a single atom of the substance decays, it triggers a mechanism that kills the cat.  An observer of the closed box has no way of telling if the cat is alive or dead, so the cat exists in a state of being equally alive and dead until someone opens the box.  This is quantum indeterminacy – the observation of a quantum event makes it one thing or another, but without observation it is impossible to know the outcome.

This is of course a greatly oversimplified version of Schrödinger’s experiment, but it points nicely to how unverifiable science gets once it goes quantum.

Why a cat?  Well even a thought experiment about locking a person in a box and possibly murdering him or her is a little repugnant.  And do you really think that Schrödinger’s experiment would have gained traction with a lizard?

Lizards: greatly under-appreciated by physicists.

Click here to play an interactive online version of the experiment.  And yes, it is just as exciting to play as you imagine!

Our Schrödinger's Cat puppet. Note the expression – this cat is equally alive and dead!

Our Pavlov’s dog represents the many dogs Russian scientist Ivan Petrovich Pavlov worked with over the course of his career.

Pavlov studied the mechanisms underlying animals’ digestive systems, which lead to his Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1904.  But he’s most remembered for his work in the study of animal reflexes, now known as “classical conditioning.”  Pavlov noted that dogs would automatically salivate when presented with food.  Through a series of experiments, Pavlov would ring a bell every time he fed a dog, and eventually, once the dog associated the sound of the bell with food, the dog would drool at the sound of the bell whether or not food was present.

There’s a Pavlov’s Dog game you can play on the Nobel Prize website of all places.

Here’s our dog in puppet form. Note the felt bell around his neck - he must be constantly salivating.

In addition to these great animals of science there have been so many more.  From Dolly the sheep to Able and Baker the space monkeys to the unknown lab rat, scientist have worked with animals for centuries.

What is your favorite animal of science?  Post in the comments below.

The Carl Kasell Doll

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

The Unemployed Philosophers Guild is happy to introduce our newest Little Thinker, in the likeness of radio personality Carl Kasell.

We made this guy for our friends at NPR and liked him so much that we had to also offer him for sale ourselves.

The photo above may very well be the only photograph of a living person along with a Little Thinker in his or her likeness.  (Unless this photo of Obama hasn’t been doctored.)