The booming succulent market is creating wide-scale theft of cacti from national parks. Can microchip tracking solve the problem?
When most people drive through the Cactus Forest in Saguaro National Park, their gazes are fixed skyward. Towering saguaros fill the view on either side of the road, rising 40, even 60 feet high, their human-like arms outstretched.
But on a recent December afternoon, Ray O'Neil was focused on the ground. He was looking for holes. As the park's chief ranger, O'Neil is on constant alert for an unusual menace: cactus poachers. Saguaros aren't just beautiful to look at; they also fetch a hefty price, up to $100 a foot, on the black market, where they are enormously popular with landscapers.
As the sideways winter light illuminated the saguaros with a golden effervescence, O'Neil scanned the scene. "People try to steal all kinds of things from the park, even rattlesnakes," said O’Neil, staring out the open window of his SUV. "But cactus has always been the biggest target."
The national park is not alone. Across the Southwest, cacti are being stolen from public lands in increasing numbers. From soaring saguaros to tiny, rare species favored as indoor house plants, the booming global demand for cacti is driving a shadowy, underground trade that's difficult to police. Moreover, experts say, such trends risk destroying sensitive species forever.
In Saguaro National Park, the situation became so grave it prompted a bold solution. In a scheme that made headlines, park workers began inserting microchips the size of pencil tips into cactus trunks, which could be scanned with an electronic reader. While the effort has so far proven effective in thwarting thieves, it has been a rare bright spot in a problem that remains pervasive yet intractable. More than a dozen cactus experts interviewed for this story–government botanists, presidents of regional cactus clubs, and respected Southwest nursery operators—shared tales of crimes that go largely unprosecuted, fueled by unregulated international trade on the internet.
The scale of the problem
In the last decade, cacti have exploded in popularity, becoming a mainstay of hipster decor around the world—from the homes of China's growing middle class and the meticulous cactus gardens in Japan to the fashionable cafes of Europe.
In the United States alone, sales of cacti and succulents surged 64 percent between 2012 and 2017; a market that is now estimated to be worth tens of millions. But rising demand has met a thorny problem: cacti are extremely slow-growing, with some species taking decades to grow from seed to full maturity. Hence, many opt for the shortcut: pulling them right out of the ground.
For land managers and scientists who work with cacti, the problem appears to be on the rise. While the precise scale is difficult to measure, and catching thieves redhanded in remote deserts is nearly impossible, major busts offer clues. In 2014, more than 2,600 stolen cacti were seized at US borders—up from 411 just a year before. But law enforcement officials and field scientists say that data represents only a tiny fraction of cactus actually being stolen.
"When I first started we rarely investigated cactus theft," said one U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service detective, who asked not to be named due to the undercover nature of his work. He has covered the Southwest region for more than a decade and says the problem is increasing. "Now we are prosecuting cases involving thousands of plants at a time. The demand is so high that I fear we can't stop the illegal trade going on."
While many plants fall victim to underground cactus cartels, a seemingly more benign form of theft has become part of the problem, too. International visitors who come to the Southwest specifically to view rare cactus in the wild sometimes take a souvenir home, and social media is exacerbating the problem.
"We've had Austrian, German, and Italian collectors express strong interest on social media for these plants and they share GPS coordinates," said Wendell "Woody" Minnich, the former president of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America. "Some of these people come to steal, especially when a new species is identified. They hide the plants in their suitcase and take them back to their greenhouse in Europe."
Minnich, 71, has been a cactus grower and nursery operator in New Mexico for 50 years. He said the internet had significantly accelerated theft of rare, slow-growing cactus species over the last decade. A case in point: Sclerocactus havasupaiensis, which is native to one drainage at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, was being auctioned on eBay in early January by a seller in Ukraine. It was just one of more than 365 internationally protected plant species that are openly traded on Amazon and eBay.
"Do a Google search on Sclerocactus and you can find people in Russia selling them," said Minnich. "I have been on public lands in Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado where years ago Sclerocactus were everywhere, and recently I found just a bunch of little holes in the ground."
'If you steal a cactus, we will find you'
Back at Saguaro National Park, the Guardian joined park staff to see the chipping scheme in action. While O'Neil carried a sidearm, park biologist Don Swann packed a yellow chip insertion device resembling a staple gun. With a tiny chip loaded in the barrel, he held the gun flush to a saguaro trunk.
Once inserted, the chip was nearly invisible, leaving only a tiny hole that would eventually scab over. Meanwhile an electric reader, waved over the plant, allowed previous chips to be checked.
Cactus thieves have long targeted the park: One of the most notorious incidents happened in 2007, when a landscaper named Joseph Tillman dug up 17 saguaros with a friend. The pair were apprehended by a ranger while trying to load the stash into a pickup truck, and Tillman was given eight months in prison, one of the harshest sentences ever for a cactus rustler.
Approximately 700 saguaros have been microchipped since the program began, meaning law enforcement can scan cacti at commercial nurseries in search of missing plants. "We are now able to tie a stolen plant directly back to a hole," said O'Neil.
Since the chips have been installed and the program widely publicized, there have been no known cases of saguaro theft in the park. "It is a very effective deterrent," said O'Neil. "We want people to be aware that if you steal a cactus from us, we will find you."
New species at risk
Those who study cactus theft say that changing consumer trends are putting new species at risk. One of the hottest commodities at the moment is Ariocarpus fissuratus, commonly called the living rock cactus. To the untrained observer this little lump of a plant looks completely unremarkable, like a dark green sea sponge. But in the fall, when conditions are right, the cactus is topped with bright pink flowers.
Not-for-profit nurseries across the Southwest often serve as rescue facilities for confiscated wild plants. One of those is the Pima County Native Plant Nursery in Tucson, Arizona. In December last year, the nursery received 200 Ariocarpus fissuratus from a seizure by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. According to Jessie Byrd, the nursery manager, a man was caught with some 2,000 plants, stolen in west Texas, that he was attempting to get across the border into Mexico.
Her greenhouse was filled with living rocks being rehabilitated after their stressful journey. "This was stolen because it is coveted by collectors," said Byrd, holding one of the cacti in her hand. The living rock is extremely slow-growing even by cactus standards: the shriveled, black specimen she held was about the size of a tennis ball. She said it was 30 to 40 years old.
In 2015, US officials made another large seizure of Ariocarpus fissuratus and those plants —all 3,500 of them—ended up at a greenhouse in Alpine, Texas, belonging to Sul Ross State University. "You could tell the people who stole the plants were money lovers, not cactus lovers," said Karen Little, Sul Ross's greenhouse manager. "The plants were just yanked out of the ground and stuffed into garbage bags."
Authorities suspect the plants were stolen from nearby public lands, including Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park. "Cactus theft is a huge issue in the Trans Pecos," said Little, referring to the sprawling desert in west Texas where Sul Ross is located. "We have whole genetic lines of cacti that have been wiped out by poachers."
One of the major challenges for conservationists is that the most endangered cacti are the most vulnerable to theft. "The more rare or harder it is to get, the more valuable the cactus is to collectors," said Steven Blackwell, a biologist for the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.
It's a reality Blackwell and his colleagues have experienced with frustrating frequency. In the summer of 2018, while studying endangered acuna cacti at an Air Force training area in southwestern Arizona, he arrived one day to discover his remote research plot had been entirely obliterated. "All the cacti were gone and the ground was full of divots where the plants had been obviously dug up," Blackwell recalled. He never even reported the acuna theft to land managers, because he figured nothing could be done.
Taking the slow road
Not everyone has given up hope. Gene Joseph, a longtime Tucson nursery owner, believes the best way to thwart illegal trade is simply doing the slow, steady work of raising new cacti from scratch. Joseph's greenhouse is home to some of the rarest, smallest, and slowest-growing species. "When nurseries are producing rare plants from seed, the pressure to steal from the wild goes down," he explained.
Joseph said it often takes up to two decades for a cactus to reach the commercially viable "specimen" size—he currently sells living rock cactus grown in his nursery for 15 years. That's about as long as it takes to raise a child, so understandably, he gets attached. "Sometimes it is hard to let go, but I can't keep them forever," he said.
Joseph's facility is comprised of acres of shade houses and greenhouses. With two golden retrievers at his heels, he methodically tends to thousands of plants each day. After his watering rounds are done, he puts on his reading glasses to pinch off tiny seeds from cactus fruit so he can grow more plants, carefully pollinating the flowers by hand.
At the beginning of the new year, the Sul Ross greenhouse manager, Karen Little, was still working on finding permanent places for 1,500 of the 3,500 stolen Ariocarpus fissuratus she inherited in 2015. Due to international trade protections, the endangered cacti cannot be sold and must rather be given away for safekeeping to responsible stewards or other not-for-profit greenhouses. It has been like trying to adopt out a very large litter of stray puppies. Some have gone to trusted collectors, others to nurseries. "It's been my honor to find good homes for them," she says.
How to tell if you've bought a stolen cactus, according to experts:
- Avoid buying cacti from international sellers without a permit from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, especially from countries where the plant is not native.
- If buying online, seek out domestic sellers that advertise their cacti as being grown from seed.
- When you are in a nursery and there is no source information for a cactus, ask where it came from.
- Is the cactus scrappy looking? Then it may be stolen from the wild. Nursery-grown plants are typically symmetrical and robust in color.
First I made the mini spanakopita I mentioned last time, which somehow inexplicably took THREE HOURS and also my entire ration of cope (toft can vouch for how many times I nearly rage-quit the whole thing. Plus I put the frozen spinach in the fridge to finish thawing, and the (sealed!) bag turned out not to be water-tight, so I also had to clean out a frankly astonishing quantity of melted-spinach liquid and wash half the contents of my fridge.
However, the tartlets were actually not at all bad despite everything. The concept is definitely sound, I just need to work out a way of making them that isn't going to inspire MASSIVE RAGE.
Then yesterday my dinner was inspired by this braised lentil recipe, which mthr_jo recommended, only I didn't have half of the ingredients, although I did have four onions which were casualties of the spinach-water flood so needed eating quickly, so I made it with those and red lentils (because that's what I had) and also a bunch of feta left over from the spanakopita, and I got half of the cooking instructions wrong and forgot to add any salt and pepper (fortunately the feta provided most of the necessary salt). It was thoroughly edible, and I had the second half for lunch today.
Really the nice thing about cooking is that it's relatively hard to really fuck things up - mostly the failure mode is "ok I guess" or "kind of boring" rather than "inedible"
(all this talk about food has spilled into the office, where I just had to convince a colleague that buying two pizza bases and putting ingredients between them was not in fact going to produce a convincing calzone... no, not even if you "glued the edges together with cheese"...)
The attitude to immigrants which is betrayed by the stripping of citizenship from Shamima Begum is truly appalling. A British citizen, born in the UK, is deemed to be a citizen of another country they have never seen, because their immigrant parents came from there. To refuse to accept first generation Britons are Britons, as in Windrush, was bad enough. To claim that second generation Britons are not British, but rather citizens of where their ancestors “came from”, is racism pure and simple.
Begum is not a sympathetic figure. Savid Javid could not have found an easier target for his macho display of vindictiveness, guaranteed to win plaudits from the bigots whose votes Javid needs for his looming Tory leadership bid. Javid knows full well his decision will eventually be overturned by the courts, but he has already achieved his political objective of personal self-aggrandisement.
I do not know everything Begum has personally been doing in Syria and to what extent she has been culpable in any of the crimes of the Saudi backed jihadist group Daesh, originally launched by the CIA as a counterweight to Shia influence in Iraq. Begum, as with other members of the ISIS community in Syria, ought initially to be subject to any legal proceedings by the Syrian authorities on behalf of the Syrian people against whom such dreadful crimes were committed. If of no interest to the Syrian justice system or once any sentence has been completed, she should be returned to the UK and then subject to investigation as to whether any UK crimes were committed. All these processes need to take into account that she arrived in Syria as a minor, has been subject to indoctrination, and may well have severe mental health issues.
In a situation where the government is falling over itself to bring members of the UK-funded jihadist support group the White Helmets to the UK, having no claim to British citizenship; in a situation where jihadist activity in Syria was entirely dependent on finance, supplies and air support from the US, UK, and its Gulf State allies; in a situation where the Royal Navy had evacuated the Manchester bomber en route back to the UK after his Western backed terrorist jaunt in Libya; in a situation where the Manchester, Westminster and London Bridge terrorists all had extensive pre-existing relationships with the British security services; in all these circumstances, the decision to crack down to general applause on a bewildered East London child is a sickening example of the lack of ethics in modern politics.
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What I recently finished listening to:
Some patreon-only podcasts and extras. The latest episode of Underwood & Flinch: Underground, Mike Bennett's current podcast novel, and his most recent "Meanwhile" which is just about him and his life; the most recent behind-the-scenes extra from The Strange Case of Starship Iris, an interview with Jamie Price (Brian Jeeter), and also an interview with Jessica Best, the creator, about the mental-health hiatus she took mid-season. These were the first of the Starship Iris extras I've listened to, and I think I'll go back and download the old ones now.
What I'm listening to/reading next:
The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu, which is the (set much later) sequel to The Grace of Kings, and from the reviews it looks as though it has avoided some of the issues I had with the first.
What I'm reading now:
Educated, by Tara Westover. This is a memoir by a woman who grew up in Idaho with a family of survivalists, preparing for the end of the world by living very off-grid, never seeing a doctor (all home remedies) and supposedly being homeschooled but really just working for her (probably-schizophrenic) father and her abusive (probably at least partly due to repeated head trauma) brother. It's gripping and disturbing and well-written, and I'm enjoying it a lot.
What I'm watching now:
Still Star Trek: Discovery. We're through episode 12 of S1. I like the darkness of the narrative, and also, I really like that it's one story with a long arc, rather than episodic. Still not feeling particularly fannish about it.
This is one where you definitely want to watch the video and not just listen to the song - the antics as the girls try to fix up one of their number with her crush are amusing.
If you like this and want to hear more of April, you should check out their earlier songs "April Story" and "Oh! My Mistake."
Interestingly, there is a Korean version of "Oh-E-Oh," but it was only included as a bonus with the Japanese version, never released as a single in its own right.
Wander into any Brooklyn deli or convenient store, and you may just make a new furry friend. Known affectionately as "bodega cats," many felines live in the small shops, and can often be found lounging on groceries or scuttling across the shelves. Most Brooklyn residents are fond of the shop cats, and some—like illustrator Sunny Eckerle—even celebrate them.
Fandom: The Magicians (TV)
Relationships: Penny Adiyodi and everyone, Penny Adiyodi/everyone (no, really, I do mean everyone)
Length: ~2,800 words
Content notes: Warnings for disturbing content. I keep my warning policy in my AO3 profile and am always willing to answer private DW messages or emails asking for elaboration or clarification on my warnings for a particular story.
Author notes: For both the "Note" challenge and the "Suitcase" square on my bingo card. This was written with a nonzero amount of help from a sort of statistically elaborate though not particularly sophisticated Python script, the details of which don't need exploring at this juncture. Basically I just feel I should disclose that it's partly fanfic and partly, like......... code-based performance art, I guess? Fanfic built on an underlying skeleton of code-based performance art? Something like that, at any rate. I also should mention that while I am doing 39 Graves, this is its own thing and bears no relationship to either my timeline or anyone else's.
Leaving, thirty-nine times.
An introduction and guide to my series of posts "Corpora and the Second Amendment" is available here. The corpus data that is discussed can be downloaded here. That link will take you to a shared folder in Dropbox. Important: Use the "Download" button at the top right of the screen.
This post on what arms means will follow the pattern of my post on bear. I’ll start by reviewing what the Supreme Court said about the topic in District of Columbia v. Heller. I’ll then turn to the Oxford English Dictionary for a look at how arms was used over the history of English up through the end of the 18th century, when the Second Amendment was proposed and ratified.. And finally, I’ll discuss the corpus data.
Justice Scalia’s majority opinion had this to say about what arms meant:
The 18th-century meaning [of arms] is no different from the meaning today. The 1773 edition of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary defined ‘‘arms’’ as ‘‘[w]eapons of offence, or armour of defence.’’ Timothy Cunningham’s important 1771 legal dictionary defined ‘‘arms’’ as ‘‘any thing that a man wears for his defence, or takes into his hands, or useth in wrath to cast at or strike another.’’ [citations omitted]
As was true of what Scalia said about the meaning of bear, this summary was basically correct as far as it went, but was also a major oversimplification.
To see that the statement was an oversimplification, we need only look at the definition by Samuel Johnson that Scalia relied on. What Scalia quoted (“Weapons of offence, or armour of defence”) was only one of five numbered senses Johnson gave; the others are as follows (with example sentences omitted):
2. A state of hostility.
3.War in general.
4. Action; the act of taking arms.
5. The ensigns armorial of a family.
Scalia’s omission of these other senses is understandable: he quoted the sense that he thought was relevant and left out those he regarded as irrelevant. But whether intentionally or not, the omission of senses 2–4 loaded the rhetorical dice. (I’ll give him a pass on leaving out number 5.)
You’ll recall that the whole dispute over the meaning of keep and bear arms was about whether it meant merely ‘carry weapons’ (or more specifically, ‘carry weapons for the purpose of being armed and ready for offensive or defensive action in a case of conflict with another person,’ as Scalia contended) or was instead understood as having what Scalia described as “an idiomatic meaning that was significantly different from its natural meaning”, namely, ‘‘to serve as a soldier, do military service, fight’’ or ‘‘to wage war.’’ If you’re going to rely on Johnson’s dictionary as your authority, as Scalia did, then Johnson’s senses 2–4 strike me as being relevant. Senses 2–4 resemble the idiomatic sense of bear arms that Scalia referred to, in that they were figurative rather than literal. And there was obviously a close semantic relationship between senses 2–4 on the one hand and the idiomatic sense of bear arms on the other.
So Johnson’s dictionary by itself supports my statement that Heller’s short discussion of arms was an oversimplification. But Johnson’s entry is a only vague sketch, compared to the entry for arms in the OED.
By a stroke of luck, the entry for arms was fully updated in 2016, and is now part of the OED’s Third Edition. That’s significant because although the Second Edition was published in 1989, it consisted mainly of the contents of the First Edition, into which were merged the five volumes of supplements that been published in the interim. So the 2016 revision was the first thorough updating of the entry since it had first been published in 1885. Its advantages over the original include not only that it provides more information (especially etymological informations) but also that the information that is carried over from the prior edition is better organized and easier to assimilate.
Whereas Samuel Johnson listed three senses of arms that had something to do with war or the military—“a state of hostility”, “war in general”, and “the act of taking arms”, the OED lists many more, once the many phrasal uses of arms are added in. In fact, it lists such uses going back to Anglo-Norman, the version of Old French that was used in England after the Norman Conquest, from which arms was “borrowed” by Middle English. Among the Anglo-Norman senses that the OED gives for arms (and its variants armys and harmes) are ‘fighting, war’ (dating back to 1155), ‘the military profession’ (second half of the 12th century), and ‘intances of military prowess’ (around 1170 or earlier). And before that, in classical Latin (!), the senses of arma included ‘military service,’ ‘military action,’ ‘fighting,’ ‘armed strength,’ and ‘troops.’
This etymological prehistory is significant (as is and the subsequent history of arms in English), because it may help us overcome the fact that the English we know is not the English that was spoken in the 1790s. When the Second Amendment was proposed (along with the rest of the Bill of Rights), Americans’ understanding of it was a product of the linguistic environment in which they lived. The more we know about that environment, the better the chances that we’ll be able to accurately reconstruct how those Americans would have understood the text. While we obviously have no direct access to that environment, being aware of the linguistic history I’m discussing here will hopefully help us to at least partly make up for that inability.
For example, it’s easy for us to think that use of arms to mean ‘weapons’ was the word’s “literal,” “basic,” or “core” meaning, and the senses of the word having to do with war and the military were extensions of that sense. But the fact that the “extended” senses existed in Anglo-Norman suggests that when arms became part of English proper, all of these senses came along with it. If that’s the case, what basis is there to assume that the ‘weapons’ sense is any more basic or central than any of the other senses?
And the OED provides reason to believe that this suggestion is well-founded. The earliest attested use in English of arms (around 1250) is a figurative use, which the OED gives as “[a]bstract or immaterial things used in a manner comparable to physical weapons.” The earliest known instance of the corresponding “literal” use was from a little bit later, in 1275:
Weapons of war or combat; (items of) military equipment, both offensive and defensive, munitions. In later use esp.: military equipment or weaponry owned, used, or traded by a nation, regime, etc. Cf. arms race n. 1.
Then in the 1300s we see arms being used in additional military-related senses:
Armed combat as a professional activity; the military profession; service as a soldier. [Earliest known use circa 1300.]
Fighting; war; active hostilities. [Circa 1325.]
Brave, skilled, or renowned acts of armed combat; instances of military prowess. [Around 1393.]
(Note, by the way, that all the senses I’ve mentioned so far, as well as those that I’ve yet to get o, are reported by the OED as having been in use at least through the end of the 18th century.)
I’m going to move on now to military-related phrasal uses of arms. The earliest of these that is listed is bear arms, with the first attested use being around 1325. I’ll discuss these in the post dealing specifically with that phrase. Moving chronologically, based on the date of first attested use, we next see the following relevant uses:
to arms!: “collect your weapons; prepare to fight” [circa 1330.]
to take (up) arms: to arm oneself; to assume a hostile attitude either defensive or offensive; to prepare to fight. [around 1420.]
force of arms: “the use of weapons or arms; military or violent means”. “Usually in by (also with) force of arms. [1529 (and possibly as early as 1430).]
man-in-arms: “a soldier, a warrior; a (heavily) armed man.” [circa 1540.]
to rise in arms: “to prepare to fight for one’s country, a cause, etc.; to join or form an armed force.” [1563.]
to lay down (one’s) arms (and variants): “to put down or stop using one’s weapons; to surrender; to stop fighting.” [1568.]
to turn one's arms against (also occasionally towards, and variants): “to wage war on; to attack.” 
up in arms: “Willing or ready to fight; actively engaged in an armed struggle, protest, or rebellion.” [1576.]
to carry arms (against): “to wage war (against)’” [1580.]
to call (also summon) to arms (and variants): “to summon to prepare for battle or armed conflict”. [1592.]
under arms (and variants): “ (of an army, nation, etc.) equipped with weapons or arms; in battle array; ready to fight”. [1637.]
to lie upon one's arms: “to rest while still equipped with weapons or arms; to remain alert or ready to fight, esp. after a battle.” [1690.]
call to arms: “a summons to prepare for battle or armed conflict.” [1702.]
I’ve omitted the example sentences that accompany each of these entries, but a copy of the entries with the examples here (I may not get to it right away, so if it’s not there when you try to download it, check back in a few days.)
AS WE’VE SEEN, Johnson’s dictionary provided reason to believe that when Justice Scalia said that in the 18th century, arms meant weapons, he was oversimplifying things. And the the OED showed that the picture painted by Johnson was itself an oversimplification. In addition to giving a more detailed account of the different ways that arms by itself could be used in referring to various aspects of war and the military, it listed more than a dozen idiomatic phrases enabling the expression of an even wider variety of meanings. And when we look at the corpus data, we see even more variety; there is a profusion of phrasal uses that the OED doesn’t list. More importantly, we can get an idea of the relative frequencies of the different uses, something that dictionaries can’t tell you.
The pattern seen in the data is one in which, outside the unusual context of fighting the Revolutionary War, the “nonliteral” military-related uses greatly outnumbered the uses in which arms simply meant ‘weapons.’ And even in the context of fighting the war, roughly a third of the uses conveyed nonliteral military-related meanings.
I’ll talk about the results in more detail, but first I need to take a detour through some methodological weeds.
The data I reviewed came from two corpora: COFEA (the Corpus of Founding Era American English) and COEME (the Corpus of Early Modern English), both of which are part of the BYU Law Corpora.
- COFEA (the Corpus of Founding Era American English), which includes texts from several sources, dating from the period 1760–1799. Thof which three are significant here: (1) the Evans Early American Imprint Series, which contains books, pamphlets, sermons, and so on, (2) the National Archives Founders Papers Online project, which contains correspondence and other materials from the papers of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison, and (3) Hein, which contains legal materials such as statutes, cases, legal papers, and legislative debates.
- COEME (the Corpus of Early Modern English), which consists of materials that I think are generally similar to the kinds of materials in COFEA from the Evans collection; in fact, some of the texts appear in both corpora. However, COEME differs from COFEA in that, if I’m not mistaken, COEME includes texts that were published in England as well as the United States, while COFEA is limited to American publication. COEME also includes texts going back to 1475, but I limited my searches to the same 40-year period as is covered by COFEA.
In COFEA there were roughly 24,600 hits for instances of arms that had been tagged as nouns, and in COEME there were roughly 51,500 hits from the period I focused on. (From what I saw the accuracy of the tagging was in the range of 99%.) I originally downloaded 1,000 concordance lines from each corpus—a concordance line consisting of a use of arms with a small chunk of the text that immediately preceded and followed it. After eliminating duplicates within each data set and somehow losing 19 lines to gremlins, I was left with 982 lines from COFEA and 875 from COEME. In reviewing the COFEA data it quickly became apparent that it was dominated by results from the Founders and Hein collections (707 compared to 275 from the Evans results), I therefore downloaded additional data, with the source restricted to Evans, so that I had the virtually same amount of data from Evans (706 lines) as I had from Founders and Hein.
In addition to eliminating duplicate concordance lines within each set of downloaded data, I deduplicated the lines that appeared in both COFEA and COEME by removing each overlapping line from one of the corpora. Most of those deletions were made in the COFEA data and are accounted for in the final figures for the COFEA data in the previous paragraph. In the last round of deduping, the duplicate lines were removed from COEME rather than COFEA, resulting in the number of concordance lines from COEME being reduced to 685.
In all cases, the deduped data had confidence intervals below 5.0 at a 99% confidence level and below 4.0 at a 95% confdidence level..
OUT OF THE WEEDS, onward into the results.
In the COFEA documents that did not come from the Evans collection, there were twice as many uses of arms to mean ‘weapons’ (413 concordance lines, plus 13 that I wasn’t sure about) as there were uses that conveyed the broader ‘military/war” sense (213). In contrast, the pattern of relative frequencies in the other documents was reversed, with there being more than twice as ‘military’ uses than ‘weapons’ uses. In the COFEA Evans documents, the ratio of ‘weapons’ to ‘military’ was 75 to 290, making ‘military’ uses 3.8 times as frequent as ‘weapons’ uses. In COEME, the ratio was 112 to 262, so ‘military’ uses were 2.3 times as frequent as ‘weapons' uses.
I think that this striking difference is attributable to the fact that of the COFEA results that excluded the Evans documents, more than 90% of the concordance lines came from the Founders collection. As you’ll recall, that collection consists of correspondence and other materials from the papers of the top six Founding Fathers: Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison. Among those documents was extensive correspondence about the progress of the Revolutionary War—thus my reference above to “the unusual context of fighting the Revolutionary War.” A recurring topic in these documents is (not surprisingly) the procurement, management, and use of weapons. And the word that was used for ‘weapons’ in these documents was arms. (The likeliest alternative, weapons, is much less frequent than arms in the Founders documents, and my impression is that the when weapons does appear, it occur in the same kinds of documents as arms does.)
Here are some examples of the uses of arms that I’m talking about (all of which are from the Founders collection):
About 4000 besides those in the Field will probably be the Number provided they can get Arms Accoutrements & Tents: but there is at present so lamentable a Deficiency in those Articles that I very much fear Difficulties
he found two men recently killed by the appearance of their blood being fresh with their packs and arms lying by them, that he proceeded to Gage ’s Hill, from whence he had a good view of the Lake
of those who may be Collected, there will not be more than one fourth of them that will have their Arms, many of them you [ may ] depend have thrown away their Arms with an expectation of getting Home by it
Your application to Commodore Tilly for arms meets our approbation.
18th 1777Sir I have the Honour to enclose all the Accounts we have in the Office of the State of Arms & military Stores.
Notwithstanding the strict and repeated Orders , that have been given against firing small arms, it is hourly practised, All Officers commanding Guards, posts and detachments, to be alert in apprehending all future Trangressors.
And here are examples of uses from the COFEA Evans documents and from COEME in which arms means ‘weapons’:
This man had, in defiance of the king's proclamation, made a practice of selling arms and ammunition to the Indians, whom he employed in hunting and fowling for him [COFEA Evans]
The indictment also charges him with having assisted in procuring arms, which no doubt were to be employed against the government of the country [COFEA Evans]
Suppose a body of Frenchmen to arrive at Boston, with arms and ammunition, which men may carry for their own defence [COFEA Evans]
THE zeal of the tribe of Zebulun was conspicuous on the occasion. Fifty thousand of its citizens, with arms in their hands, marched to the capital [COFEA Evans]
On a day appointed, the inhabitants, by general consent took their arms, and surrounded a large swamp which they penetrated in every direction, as far as it was practicable; [COEME]
they may, by the same rule, oblige them to furnish cloaths, arms, and every other necessary [COEME]
In contrast to concordance lines I’ve just quoted from, here is a sample of those in which arms is used to in one of its senses related to the military and war-fighting:
I will impose upon myself the drugery of saying something about the transactions of the 28th, in which the American arms gained very signal advantages; and might have gained much more signal ones. [Founders]
I have the pleasure to congratulate your Excellency on the success of the American arms in this quarter, in the reduction of fort Slongo on Long Island on the morning of the 3d instant . The [Founders]
enemy are undoubtedly concentering their force, upon a presumption, that there is imminent danger of an attack by the united Arms of France and America. [Founders]
How far there is a moral Certainty of Extending the American Arms Into Canada In the Course of next Campaign [Founders]
How far there is a moral Certainty of Extending the American Arms Into Canada In the Course of next Campaign [Founders]
to Sir Henry Clinton, on the 12th of May. A series of ill success followed this unfortunate event. The American arms in South Carolina were in general unsuccesful, and the inhabitants were obliged to submit to the invaders [COFEA Evans]
Their feeling remonstrance was answered by contempt, while the cords of oppression were drawn still harder; till the arms of Britain appeared on our shore. Their feeling remonstrance was answered by contempt Their feeling remonstrance was answered by contempt [COFEA Evans]
From this period, the affairs of America assumed a promising aspect, aided by the victorious arms of France, and guided by the unerring councils of that accomplished general, consummate statesman, and most virtuous citizen [COFEA Evans]
an opportunity of asserting their natural right as an independent nation, and who were even compelled by the arms of their enemies to take sanctuary in the temple of Liberty [COFEA Evans]
Finally, I want to point out a finding from the data that was I hadn’t anticipated. The majority of the uses that I categorized as expressing the ‘military’ sense were phrasal uses. And the variety of those uses is truly impressive—I previously described those uses as a “profusion”—and most of them aren’t listed in the OED:
able to bear arms, appeal to arms, appear in arms, arise in arms, arms and arts, bear arms [military sense], bear arms against, bear arms in defense of, call to arms (against), carry arms against, clangor of arms, clash of arms, companions in arms, din of arms, enter into arms, exercise of arms, feats of arms, flee to arms, following arms, force of arms, glory of arms, in arms (against), inequality of arms, into arms, issue of arms, lay down arms, lay/lie on arms, men at arms, profession of arms, recourse to arms, recur to arms, resort to arms, rise (up) in arms, rouse [somebody] to arms, roused to arms, run to arms, rush to arms, science of arms, slew to arms [should probably be "flew to arms,"], sound of arms, stand (forth) in arms, stand to (their) arms, stimulate [some person or entity] to arms, take arms (against), take to their arms, take up arms (against), taken in arms, terror of arms, throw down (their) arms, thunder of arms, to arms, took up arms, train[ed] to arms, try my right by arms, tumult of arms, turn arms against, under arms, up in arms (against), urge [somebody] to arms, victorious arms
Here are examples of some of these uses:
The astonishing Success of the French in overturning every Country into which they have carried their Arms, has not satisfied them, but only proved a new Stimulous to their Greedy ambition of becomeing masters of the World
the British nation , which threatened the destruction of our commerce. The American policy was to negotiate before an appeal to arms was made. An envoy extraordinary to Great Britain was appointed.
therefore the consequence of their attempt to enforce their arbitrary exactions, and Americans indignant fly to arms.
These conquests they have gained incomparably more by intrigue and duplicity than by force of arms. Solemn professions of friendship, and a desire of peace, have been made a shield to cover the dark
the affectionate fears of our friends , to have conducted it prosperously amidst the conflict of a world in arms; is a task , which only the ignorant and thoughtless will deem light . And to have executed this task , without many
How fortunate and happy was it for America that, when she was driven to the dire necessity of recurring to arms in self dcfence, her eyes were directed to this accomplished CAPTAIN, to command her armies and direct the
made toward the bank , the whole party tumultuously crying to order, and, with the directors at their head, rose in arms to defend it
to the dreadful alternative of submitting to arbitrary laws and despotic government; or of taking up arms in defence of those rights and privileges, which thou , in thy goodness , hast conferred upon them as men
are to be carried, and can be carried, only by force of the soldiery, and the terror of arms, it is proof abundant that they are unlawful and unconstitutional.
to cloak his design under the cover of Parliamentary sanction. It may be, he desired to urge America to arms; that being vanquished (which seems to have been taken as a granted point)
COMING NEXT: I previously said that wasn’t going to do a post about keep arms, because I didn’t think I had anything interesting to say about it. After further thought, I no longer think that. So the next post will be a short one about keep arms. That will be followed by a substantially longer post about bear arms and then a post about keep and bear arms. Those two posts will be the most important posts in this whole series, for obvious reasons. And finally I’ll wrap everything up with some general observations.
The Great Cowboy Strike by Mark A. Lause
Unreadably bad, DNF at about sixty pages. I've trudged through a lot of poorly-written non-fiction, but this was something else. Topics jumped wildly between paragraphs, there was no filtering between what details someone needed to know (how the fucking cattle industry worked) and what they didn't (what day a minor character was baptised). I think I got it for free, anyway.
Ike’s Mystery Man: The Secret Lives of Robert Cutler by Peter Shinkle, narrated by Grover Gardner.
Robert Cutler was a Republican from a wealthy Boston family who served in WWII as a logistics type (organised soldier voting, mostly, also holy shit, most southern states didn't let soldiers vote at all! In WWII!), on Ike's election campaign, and then invented and occupied the post of National Security Advisor for most of the Eisenhower years. He was also queer as a three dollar bill, very much in the Wildian grand romantic feelings school, only he doesn't actually seem to have been getting laid that much/at all.
The first main thread of the book is Cutler's homosexuality, which largely took the form of what socially acceptable crossdressing he could pull off, pining in an epic way after a variety of (much) younger men, and various manoeuvrers to keep his job with McCarthy and Hoover sniffing at the door. The book laid out a lot of the social mores of post-War mainstream society, as well as gay male culture's methods of surviving them (moving to Paris was popular). Probably more interesting than Cutler was his primary object of affection, who was (unfortunately for Cutler) of the butch screw lots of guys and have as few feelings as possible school. The love interest also wrote a surprising number of sexually frank letters, considering it was 1948 and he was in intelligence work! The endless unrequited love and angst about unrequited love got somewhat tiresome in the last third.
The second main thread was how the White House intelligence apparatus worked in the '50s. The author is arguing that the system that Cutler developed--wherein the role of the security advisor is to gather people and information and present all sides impartially to the president, usually in form of the president sitting in on debates and reading a lot of papers--is better than the later school where the advisor offers advise, having crunched all that info beforehand. This seems pretty sensible to me, but meanwhile on this system everyone thought listening to the Dullas brothers, starting coups in like five different countries, getting involved in Vietnam, and doubling down on the nuclear arms race were totally the best ideas ever. I mean, I guess it's hard to argue a counterfactual, maybe without that kind of council post-War imperialism would have been worse? Or everyone would have just nuked each other?
The author had a pretty good hand at not trying to excuse Cutler when he was, say, advocating for the overthrow of Guatemalan democracy on behalf of United Fruit (who had him in their pocket). He's probably a little defensive of his subject in some other areas, but overall it felt balanced. Could have used about a third fewer diary entries.
What I'm Reading Now
Audio: The Tango War: The Struggle for the Hearts, Minds and Riches of Latin America During World War II by Mary Jo McConahay, narrated by Elizabeth Wiley. Very much by an American, not by someone from any of the Latin American countries, though at least McConahay worked in Brazil for ten years. She references a fair number of memoirs and histories written by Latin American authors, which I should track down. I'm a little over half way through and it's pretty interesting. Fun fact: the US government kidnapped Japanese families from Peru and put them in interment camps in the US in order to trade them to Japan for US civilians.
Library: Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged a Nation by John Boyko. About half way through this. It is indeed just not going to mention first nations after Tecumseh. However, there's a lot of US/Canada interaction in that period that I hadn't learned about before, as well as retreading the Trent crisis and hitting up Emma Edwards again. Seward: "I definitely think Invading Canada and starting a war with Great Britain would help us defeat the rebels!" Lincoln: "...would it tho?"
What I'm Reading Next
Got a bunch of short canlit things on my e-reader, may try those.
A friend of mine who is an actor in New York volunteered to listen to my pieces and give critique to help improve my performance. They are also a Bleach fan, so we probably spent more of our time together lamenting the ending of the manga. But, it was really neat to finally see them in person (we did a Google hangout) and put a face and a voice to text, as it were. But, knowing I was going to read to Taylor meant that I practiced both pieces several times, even before talking to them over Hangouts.
Then, naomikritzer came over and, my random luck, I made an amazing "pot roast hash" out of some leftover rump roast and some veggies. We chatted for a bit, but both of us had errands to try to get in before the snow started, so we said goodbye early and I headed out with Mason's laptop to Computer Revolution.
I totally recommend Computer Revolution in Roseville to local folks, btw. First of all, they did what we wanted the "Genius Squad" to do at Best Buy, which was test the cord with a voltmeter. The cord, they determined, was shot. It is, of course, still possible that there is more than one problem going on with the ROG, but we have an easy place to start. Shawn ordered the cord as soon as I told her what I'd learned, since she'd already done all the research in case we might need one. I asked the guys, though, if the cord doesn't solve the issue, are there other options that don't involve replacing the motherboard as Best Buy seemed to suggest would be the only other issue (and far too expensive a prospect). They had lots of options, several of which were very potentially reasonably priced. So, that's a huge YAY.
Mason came home a bit early from robotics, despite it being "stop build day," the day they have to literally wrap up their robot and put it away until competition, because he was feeling kind of sick. He seems to have caught a cold.
After picking up Mason, feeding him, etc., I got dressed and headed out.
I got lost at least twice, mostly because I don't know left from right, but I managed to get there by 7:30 pm, which was perfect, as it gave me a chance to find a place to park and get in and get the lay of the land.
Kieran's pub is kind of beautiful. The Not-So-Silent Planet folks managed to have their own private section, a part of the pub that is legit called "The Poet's Room" and it has its own doors, own bar, etc. I was really sad to hear that they will be having to move the venue next season, because it could not be a more perfect place for this kind of event. It's both public, but very intimate and private.
The structure of the show was that the first 3/4th were open mic, which... with erotica was.... kind of hoot? I mean, the first person up did two pieces, the first of which was revenge porn with implied rape and I thought "OH SH*T, MY HUMOROUS STUFF IS GOING TO BOMB" but then they did a second piece which was a clever story about an app that allowed you to experience other people's fetishes.
The whole night was like that--some of the pieces were very INTENSE, some hilarious, several of them were body horror, a number were more traditionally romantic, and then, a few were... well, HOT.
I was horrified to discover, however, that I was scheduled to be the finale. I'm NOT finale material. So. NOT. But, I did my best. I read a sweet/sensual piece from the sequel to Precinct 13, which is the book I just sold to Wizard Tower Press. That seemed to go over well. I only stumbled over one line at the very beginning.
The second piece I read (the first one clocked in at 4 and a half minutes, and I was booked for twelve, so I had to read something else) was actually bit of fan fiction of mine that involves kinbaku, the Japanese art of rope bondage. As noted at the start of this, I get very flushed and flustered reading anything erotic out loud. For a while, when I first starting writing sex scenes as part of my profession as a romance writer, I had to touch type them while LOOKING AWAY FROM THE SCREEN, I was so embarrassed. So, I decided to ask for some help from the audience--audience participation, if you will. So, I asked people to shout out a word for anatomy that starts with "c" and sort of looks like a single finger when I raised one finger, and another part of anatomy that is plural and is usually connected to the first one when I raised two fingers. The audience was very enthusiastic about this.
But what was funny? I think they were quietly getting into the story, which was kind of unexpected? I mean, it's out of context and there's some bits that can not possibly have made any sense, but the first time they did their bit and shouted out the words for me, I tried to make a little editorial comment about how wonderfully enthusiastic they were, but the vibe I got from the audience was very "yeah, yeah, get back to the STORY!!"
Which I mean... I guess it never occurred to me that the audience might be very _into_ the story.
I still think it worked pretty well. Having other people say the stuff that I find particularly difficult to say out loud without giggling or stammering awkwardly certainly made the reading more fun for *me.*
But the unexpected reaction was just sort of funny.
Hopefully, it all worked, I don't know. Personally, I would not have had *me* go last, but people seem to expect great things from me. (You win one second place Dick....) In all seriousness, the other guests were much more polished and professional than I was and I was super impressed with them all. catherineldf read an amazing bit about being a temp worker in an office full of SUPER HOT vampires, which she delivered with her usual style and grace. Laura Packer performed (and I mean PERFORMED) this spooky, mesmerizing retelling of Snow White, where Snow White is the monster of the story. Tom S. Tea read tentacle porn to DIE for.... and then I bumbled in. Still, the show was super. I am seriously considering making Not-So-Silent Planet a regular thing next season.
And now it is snowing buckets.
Oh, and school was cancelled for today. Whee!
I haven't had a hypnopompic hallucination that intense since the snakes when I was a kid. That time, I woke up convinced there was a snake in my bed -- that was more visual, just a smallish snake wiggling down at the end of the bed. I forget how it ended/disappeared, but I suspect it was me whapping at it; this time, I woke up, convinced there was something moving down by my legs. (There wasn't.) As with the snake, I woke up, heart pounding, and it was *really hard* to convince myself it hadn't happened, even though I knew it didn't. (At least I don't fall out of bed? That's apparently common.)
This was at around 5 am, so I think it was that the guy upstairs was rattling around, prepping for work, and I incorporated it into the waking up.
(Hypnopompic: Post-sleep. Hypnagogic: Pre-sleep.)
With the snake, I piled stuffed animals around the bed as guardians. (And since I was about 7, I had no idea what had actually happened. I suspect I told my mom about it in the morning, which would be hilarious since I'm *not* ophidiophobic, and she is.) This time, I just went to the bathroom, did some deep breathing, and then, once I got back to my room, thumped the end of my bed a little as an aid to convincing.
I don't get things like sleep paralysis or exploding head syndrome (and isn't that a term for something one would like not to have), but I do sometimes also have some minor hypnagogic hallucinations, mostly of the "I suddenly feel like I'm falling in a weird direction" variety. Though come to think, I haven't in awhile. I mostly associate them with my parents' house. (Also, they're not autonomously scary. No heart racing.)
Anyone else have stuff like this?
Imgur user, cmk2442, shared a series of heartwarming images of his best friend meeting someone special. Cmk2442 wrote, "My Great Dane is getting older (almost 8) and he doesn't show much interest in other dogs. Today at the park he met a friend. His name was Achilles and he is 13. Immediately they both showed interest in each other. After a 20-minute love/play fest, we had to leave. I had to drag him to the car, his eyes locked on his new friend the entire way. So adorable." Enjoy the photos below!
If I'm counting right it's now a gang of eleven. The new independents must be close to holding the balance of power.
This is getting very interesting.
Fandom: All-New Ghost Rider (Marvel Comics)
Content notes: Cursing.
Summary: Newly-disabled young gangster Guero Valdez tracks down Ramon "El Perro Rabioso" Cordova for an interview for the school paper.
( Read more... )
What I've just finished
Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw, which starts out slow and clunky, but picks up once the plot kicks in for real. I enjoyed it, and I'll probably read the next one eventually, but it didn't grab me (see again, my lack of interest in vampires).
The Armored Saint by Myke Cole. Which was a free Tor ebook download, and I almost always download free books without looking to see whether I'll actually be interested in them. I recognized the author's name - I thought he wrote military SF, but this is straight up fantasy and didn't imo, live up to the cool cover image. It wasn't what I was expecting and that is on me, so it's probably says more about me than the story that I didn't enjoy it much.
I also read a very long fic that I ended up not caring for because the initial premise was super interesting, but there were some serious off notes in the characterization and then it got to the climax of the story and I was like, "who even are these people?" because the characters I know and love would never do this*! So that was a lot of time spent reading something that just made me go WTF? and not in a good way. Sigh.
*Not to go into a big long thing on characterization, but I can believe a multitude of different things for many different characters but some things for some characters I just can't believe, and at the climax, this story hit that point for multiple characters.
What I'm reading now
Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie, which was recommended by one of you? I think? I'm enjoying it so far. Cooking and the mafia and bantery romance! Three of my favorite things to read about!
What I'm reading next
It is, as always, a mystery. But not necessarily a genre mystery? Just...I don't know okay. I don't know why I leave this on here every week!
In other "File under: Cool things" news, Lightsaber dueling is now an official sport in France. C'est incroyable! En garde! (and that is about the limit of my French.) Thanks to tsuki_no_bara for the link!
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Fandom: The Libertines
Pairing: Peter Doherty/Carl Barât
Reader's name: caveat_lector
Author's name: Cobblestoner
Link to text version of story: Pretty Like a Girl
Rating: Mature (for sex and language)
Length/file size: 26.58 min, 24.9Mb mp3
Content notes: Lots of swearing. Implied open relationship.
Podficcer's notes: No sound effects or drastic volume changes. Short intro music (simple keyboard) and a tiny bit of singing. Also for the 'puzzles' square on my bingo card.
Summary: Set in current day. Carl has a breakthrough.
'Pretty Like a Girl' at Dropbox.