Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

by J.S. Holland

Happy 4th of July!

In no particular order and off the top of my head, these are some of the things I'm working on for the future, goals for the next few years:

First and foremost, more books. Lots of them. Over the last year, the requests I've received for e-books has increased exponentially. I've not been a fan of e-books myself, but there's no denying that this is the way things are headed. And though I lament the death of paper, if people tell me they want e-books, I listen. I'm talking to several different publishers right now, assessing my options, trying to decide if I want to go through them or if there's any reason not to just start my own e-publishing imprint and cut out the middlemen. I continue to welcome your opinions on the subject of e-books and e-readers.

There are a lot of writing projects cluttering up my desk these days - a couple of crime-detective-noir novels I've been working on, plus projects devoted to specific local subjects like Springheel Jack, The Pope Lick Monster, and Kentucky artists. Theoretically Weird Cemeteries for Sterling is still a go, but it seems to be held up in Development Hell for reasons known only to my editors and publisher. My cemeteries book will see the light of day, however, in the next two years one way or another.

I'm still very excited about working for KyForward, a news website focusing on the Bluegrass area (Lexington and surrounding counties) with a consciously positive, upward-toned sense of civil discourse. Which, as you must know, is all too rare on the internet these days. If you'd like to support such a venture, potential advertisers, please contact them and inquire about ad rates! We're also kicking around the idea of doing video content, including an interview show hosted by yours truly.

And I still love Kentucky Monthly magazine! You can find my column, Commonwealth Curiosities in each issue. If you don't see it at your local newstand or bookstore, bug 'em till they stock it! (Having said that, though, it's a hugely popular magazine and getting more popular all the time; I don't think I've ever seen a reputable store that didn't carry it.)

I'm still a painter first and foremost, although hyping my primitive neo-expressionist outsider-folk-art flavored canvases has taken a back seat in the last couple years to everything else. I aim to rectify that in the weeks and months ahead, with a renewed drive to get these paintings in the hands of as many people as possible, by any means necessary. Do you want a JSH original in your home or office? Talk to me. It's so doable. I offer interest-free payment plans for every budget. (And my Happy & Froggie painting that was featured in the film When Happy Met Froggie is still available, although its price has gone up since the movie was released.)

Something else I've been slowly putting together over the years is material for an Unusual Kentucky museum - something that would be not only a legitimate educational and historical museum, but also take a truly "Weird Kentucky" spin on the whole thing, showing cultural artifacts of the Commonwealth that might be a little - okay, a lot - fringier than what you might see at the Frazier. There have been some nibbles of interest in the concept from parties in both Louisville and Lexington, but I'm holding out until I get a guaranteed deal that gives me control over the place if it's going to be using my name. There are some recent rumblings that give me hope this thing will actually happen, and sooner than later. Keep your fingers crossed with me; it's gonna be a lot of fun.

Those are the primary projects on my front burners, but there's plenty more still bubbling under. My interest in Kentucky's horse industry is going to manifest in some way sooner or later, we'll see. A couple more goals I have: I intend to operate a Steampunk-themed bar and a hillbilly/exotica miniature golf course (the crazy over-the-top kind with giant statues and weird gimmicks like you see down in Pigeon Forge) before I die. All in time. Wait and see. (And when that retro bar does come to life, my bartending blog Transmissions from Agent J will be pressed back into service.)

There's still more. A lot more. This'll do for now though. Stay tuned to JSH News for the latest updates on my dreams and schemes! And remember, I can always be reached, by anyone on the planet, at You can also text me on Twitter or just pick up the phone and call me at 502.649.3378. Find me.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

That Was Then, This Is Now

"You loved me as a loser, but now you're worried that I just might win.

You know the way to stop me, but you don't have the discipline.

How many nights I prayed for this, to let my work begin.

First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin."

================- - Leonard Cohen.

Tomorrow, July 4th, will be my last post on any of my blogs, for some time to come. I'm increasingly busy with a lot of exciting real-world projects that demand my full attention, and I just don't have as much time to devote to the internet.

That may sound odd, since my internet presence has always been rather over-the-top. But the fact is, this is not the same Internet I originally signed on for. I won't bore you with the details and you'll find I've belabored the point suitably elsewhere, but suffice it to say I'm bored with the internet and I don't like the direction it's going - and by extension, the direction it's taking most of us.

And ever since the recent announcement by NASA of a confirmed Space-Time Vortex around the Earth, that's pretty much been my indicator that we've reached the point where this blog is no longer necessary and I'm starting to feel, as Tom Lehrer once said, "like a resident of Pompeii being asked to provide witty commentary on lava." You either already know what to do with the pieces I've presented here or you don't. If the implications of the things that have come to pass in the last two years haven't turned your normal everyday life upside down since you learned them, then you didn't really learn them.

When you start really grasping these concepts with the same part of your brain that you think about your day-to-day life stuff - and not just quickly filing it away in the "gosh, how bout that, aint that somethin" part of your brain - you might start caring a lot less about the little things on this rock that so many people waste their entire brief existences obsessing about (sports, politics, scrapbooking).

Click here to read more about which blogs are going and which blogs are staying. (Different blogs have different versions of this same post.)

Tomorrow, on the fourth of July, we'll get into the good news - all the fun things that I'm working on that'll be better than blogging, and things that I want you, dear reader, to feel free to get involved in! As Jack Lord used to say, "Be here! Aloha!"

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Reason Why

Just two months short of two years ago, on September 1, 2009, I instituted this blog as a side outlet for that special body of subjects near and dear to my heart that strayed too far afield of my other online venues. It's all one interconnected body of work to me, of course, but it's just the way of things that my friends who love Kentucky weirdness, old-school theatre, and gentlemanly pursuits may not have as much of a frame of reference for my observations on pirates, aviation, astronomy, and Victoriana. Not to mention my little mini-tributes to those very few elements of modern pop culture that I find illuminating from my peculiar sense of perspective.

Terms like "Steampunk" and "Dieselpunk" have never been big enough to hold me (and certainly not "Cyberpunk".) I'm looking at a much bigger picture than those narrow-scope enthusiasts, but they're handy terms to use to help explain to someone why I am so interested in a worldview that mixes elements of the past and the future, of science and science fiction. Then fold in the sheer determination of Steampunk types to grab speculative fiction/fantasy and drag it kicking and screaming into reality, right here, right now. Speculative living, if you will. I have a lot of respect for that.

Then again, much of my adult life has been shaped by instructions given to me by an "imaginary friend" when I was a toddler, and by past-life memories accidentally triggered in 1982 while watching one of the goofiest 1980s music videos ever made, so you may not want to cherish my advice too closely. Or maybe you will.

Nevertheless, my research is about to go into its next major phase. Stay tuned for an important announcement here tomorrow.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Frequency

One month ago I issued a memo about my refusal to co-exist in the same space with CFL bulbs, and now comes some information that would seem to indicate I'm righter than ever in so doing:

It's bad enough that a broken CFL bulb in your home will result in a toxic hazmat situation costing a fortune to have cleaned up professionally, but now some people are implementing a plan to invisibly transmit data through household lights. How is such a thing possible? It's simple, actually - so simple I'm surprised this wasn't done long ago - specially modified ceiling lights are now transmitting data to computers on desks below by flickering faster than the eye can see. By reducing these flickers to a binary code that literally moves at the speed at light, you soon will never know what secret coded information is whizzing through the air all around you, whenever and wherever there are electric lights nearby.

Similarly, broadband-quality communications can be sent literally through the electrical charge that flows through your home's wiring and through your neighborhood's power lines. So, between computer hackers commandeering data from your home remotely in any number of ways, your own home's wiring and the very beams of light shining from your lamp could be additional means to aid spying on you and me.

Do we really know whether the invisible flickering of this light-traveling data will affect human brains adversely? We already know that more and more people are reporting sensitivity to the subliminal strobing that occurs barely-perceptibly on all computer and TV monitors. And now, according to Patent #6506148, "Nervous System Manipulation by Electromagnetic Fields from Monitors", you don't even have to be looking at the TV screen to be affected by them - they can be made to radiate any kind of field that is needed to have a desired affect on anyone standing nearby.

All this rapid advance in technology comes at a time when the U.S. Government is about to initiate a foolhardy experiment in altering the traditional frequency of North America's power grid. At the very least, according to MSNBC, it will screw up appliances and devices in households nationwide:

"A lot of people are going to have things break and they're not going to know why," said Demetrios Matsakis, head of the time service department at the U.S. Naval Observatory, one of two official timekeeping agencies in the federal government.

Do all these seemingly disassociated fragments add up to anything greater than the sum of their parts? I think you know the answer to that already.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Egmont is the Key

Egmont Key, a somewhat distant island in the keys off Florida's gulf coast, has had an illustrious past - much of it military.

During the Seminole Wars it was used to detain Seminole prisoners until they could be transported to the reservation in Arkansas. Early in the Civil War, it was a Confederate base until Union forces captured it in July 1861. A cemetery for Civil War dead existed on the island from 1864 to 1909, when the bodies were moved elsewhere. It was a U.S. military position during both World War I (as a National Guard training center), World War II (as a radio beacon and ammo dump), plus the Spanish-American War - during which Fort Dade was built. Dade was decommissioned in 1921 and subsequently fell into ruin.

What I like best about Egmont is that it's deserted. No one lives there, and other than its historic lighthouse, there's not many signs of civilization. No stores; not even a bait shop or a snorkel supply. No restaurants, no bars. No restrooms. No nothing. And best of all, it's only accessible by boat, which really separates the shoppers from the hoppers. If you have no seafaring vessel to call your own, you can charter a ride with Hubbard's Marina out of Tampa Bay, Captain Snow from Pass-a-Grille, Captain Hal Batey of Charlie's Charters out of Treasure Island Marina, and my personal recommendation, Captain George's Mystic Dolphin Island Cruises.

But my interest in Egmont Key goes back to earlier times. According to some sources, it was first explored by the Spanish in the 1500s, and in 1759 it was called Castor Cayo after a mysterious Caribbean pirate - about whom I can find very little information. Supposedly, if internet chatter is to be believed, this Castor the Pirate buried treasure on Egmont Key and and near Sweetwater Creek at Rocky Point, and held his own pirate community called Castortown on the East end of the key. Nothing remains of Castortown today.

Castor was, as legend has it, captured and beheaded by the Spanish government. I wonder where this took place. I wonder what they did with his body and head. I wonder if he was buried someplace, or dumped into the ocean. I wonder where Castor's spirit is now and what his next move is.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

West of the Fields

Lately, I've been watching Stanley Kubrick's The Shining with the subtitles on, and just noticed that in the final scene where Jack is dying of exposure in the Overlook Hotel's famous hedge maze, he's singing "San Francisco, here I come, back where I started from". His gutteral noises in the film are so indistinct, however, that you'd never ever know this without the assistance of the subtitles.

This is actually a modified version of the Al Jolson song "California, Here I Come". Why would Kubrick have Jack singing this as his final words? Puzzling evidence indeed. And why specifically San Francisco?

That Jack's swan song would be a Jolson number may be, in part, tying in with the undercurrent of racism that the movie provides subtextual commentary on, regarding both African-Americans and Native Americans. (Jolson is, as you must know, infamous for continuing to perform his blackface minstrelsy routines long after they fell out of social acceptability.)

San Francisco is, of course, also the location where Hitchcock's Vertigo was filmed and is the setting. (Aficionados of both the film and the city can view images from the film constrasted with identifying shots taken of each location today, by clicking here.) Though the two films are linked in some small way in the private gin-soaked geometry of my mind, I doubt Kubrick had any Vertigo reference intended.

But I'm betting my Hell Money that Kubrick was thinking along LaVey lines, since the film repeatedly suggests that Jack, in a previous life, made a deal with the Devil that is continuing over into subsequent incarnations. San Francisco was the location of the original Church of Satan, founded by frustrated circus calliope player and lion tamer Anton LaVey.

I also noticed today that when Jack finally sits down and dies, he is clearly leaning against the wall of the maze. In the very next shot which cuts presumably to the morning, he is no longer positioned there. What's up with that? And we know that the deleted and destroyed true final scene of the film had Ullman mentioning that Jack's body had disappeared and was never found. Had the scene remained intact, we would have been presented with three different circumstances of Jack's death position within seconds of each other.

And Kubrick didn't pull the final scene because he changed his mind about its content and its meaning, he only pulled it because test audiences responded poorly to it, and the studio suggested that maybe it was just too confusing for the masses - even for a Kubrick production.

Lastly, I should take this moment to mention something I already knew about but haven't mentioned before on any of my Shining rants: there's a scene where Danny and his mother are watching the 1971 film The Summer of '42 on an impossible television that has no electrical cord coming from it. Since the TV is in front of a pair of glass doors, there's absolutely no chance of there being a wall socket obscured by the TV itself. I don't even know how Kubrick did the shot. Did he construct a battery-powered TV because having a cord would upset his obsessive-compulsive sense of symmetry?

The Summer of '42, by the way, is a film (based on a true story) about an adult woman's sexual tryst with a 15-year-old schoolboy on Nantucket Island, and the subject matter is treated with surprising nonchalance. This would seem to connect with another of the film's subtexts, which implies that Danny has been sexually molested.

Monday, June 20, 2011

George Ohr

During the years when I was actively in the antiques biz, ceramics and art pottery was one of my specialties, and my holy grails were to obtain a piece of Teco and a piece of Ohr.

I did indeed succeed in the Teco department, finding a small green Teco urn (value at that time, in the mid-90s: $800) for only a couple bucks at Sammy's Flea Market on the edge of Richmond, KY. But I still have yet to actually lay my hands on a George Ohr product, and as time marches on I begin to think it's only as likely at this point as finding a Jackson Pollock at a yard sale (though some have claimed to have done exactly that.)

Why Ohr? Well, his pottery was fantastic, but mainly, I worship the man himself. With his trademark mustache, his wild and creative designs, and his flair for showmanship and eccentricity, George Ohr was truly the Salvador Dali of ceramics. He quickly earned the reputation as "The Mad Potter of Biloxi", and we most likely will not see his kind pass this way again.

George married Josephine Gehring of New Orleans on September 15, 1886, in Biloxi, and had 10 children: Ella, Asa, Clo, Lio, Oto, Flo, Zio, Ojo, and Geo. He's buried in Biloxi City Cemetery.

The Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art is celebrating George's 157th birthday, July 15, 2011. They're located at 386 Beach Blvd. in Biloxi and are open to the public, Monday thru Sunday, 9am-5pm.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Vanishing Vessels

In July 1909, the SS Waratah disappeared without a trace somewhere pff the coast of South Africa between Durban and Cape Town. There were 211 passengers and crew on board. There have been many efforts to find the wreck ever since, but to no avail - even modern-day searches using the latest technology have turned up no clues. In 2004 treasure hunter Emlyn Brown, who spent the last 22 years searching for the Waratah declared that he was giving up: "I've exhausted all the options. I now have no idea where to look".

In A. Bertram Chandler's science fiction story "Into the Alternate Universe", a spaceship accidentally falls into "a crack between the universes", a vacuum without any matter except other people who had fallen there earlier. Being a spaceship, they are equipped to travel through the vacuum, unlike most other entities that fall into the crack. In their journey through the vacuum, they discover the SS Waratah, its crew and passengers suffocated.

The doubly-ironically-named Tempest sailed eastward to Glasgow from New York City on February 13, 1857 with crew, cargo and one passenger aboard. It never arrived in Glasgow, vanishing without a trace.

The L'Acadien II was a Canadian vessel that struck a wall of ice and sank on March 29, 2008 while being towed by Canadian Coast Guard ship Sir William Alexander off Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Recovery efforts have surprisingly failed to locate the sunken ship, even though the area in which it sunk is fairly specifically known. The search, now abandoned, covered an area of approximately 9,800 square nautical miles and yet has turned up nothing.

The L'Acadien II had been on a seal-hunting expedition, and Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society stirred some controversy when he announced: "The deaths of four sealers is a tragedy but Sea Shepherd also recognizes that the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of seal pups is an even greater tragedy."

Watson went on to say: "One of the sealers was quoted as saying that he felt absolutely helpless as he watched the boat sink with sealers onboard. I can’t think of anything that defines helplessness and fear more than a seal pup on the ice that can’t swim or escape as it is approached by some cigarette smoking ape with a club. This is a seal nursery and these men are sadistic baby killers and that might offend some people but it is the unvarnished truth – they are vicious killers who are now pleading for sympathy because some of their own died while engaged in a viciously brutal activity."

Because of Watson's statements, Elizabeth May (the leader of the Green Party of Canada) resigned from the advisory board of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

At least 50 German U-Boats are unaccounted for after World War II. Mechanical failures and other accidents have been posited as possible reasons for their disappearance. Less likely is the possibility that they were sunk in circumstances of battle that somehow failed to be logged and reported by Allied forces. (And then there's the "Last Battalion" theory to consider.)

The Ångermanelfven was a steel 1,322 ton cargo steamer built in 1914. It was acquired by the Hudson's Bay Co. in 1921 and subsequently renamed the Baychimo. The ship was abandoned in the winter of 1931 when it became repeatedly stuck in ice. It was expected that the ship would soon sink, but instead it kept going, traveling a little further with each ice melt.

Over the years, there have been many sightings of the Baychimo, mostly by Eskimos, Inuit, and other sailors. Some even boarded the ship but could see no easy way to reclaim her. The last recorded sighting of her was in 1969, stuck once again in ice in the Beaufort Sea northwest of Alaska. In 2006 the Alaskan Government finally decided to capitalize on the folklore popularity of "the Ghost Ship of the Arctic", and set about to retrieve it. But it was nowhere to be found, and despite extensive searches, the ship has not been seen again.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


I'm looking forward to the next project by TRON Legacy director Joseph Kosinski - it's called Oblivion, and it's coming out as both a film and an "illustrated novel" that comes close to the realm of painted comics, but is actually more akin to a copiously-illustrated storybook.

The illustrated novel will be written by Kosinski himself and Arvid Nelson, and drawn by Andree Wallin.

The story centers on Jak, an ex-soldier who lives on a barren world and repairs drones that patrol the planet's surface. The drones are out to eradicate what's left of a savage alien race known as "the Scavengers". Jak's female partner Vika works as his "eye-in-the-sky," scanning for damaged drones and monitoring Scavenger activity. But one day when Jak rescues a mysterious woman from a downed spacecraft, her story turns his life upside down as he begins to realize that the truth of his circumstances is not what he has been led to believe.

The film has suffered Development Hell for awhile. Disney fought hard to get the rights, but then once they got it, they changed their minds and decided the story wasnt "family friendly" enough for them. But now the film is a go with Universal Pictures and has a very tentative release date of July 2013. Can't wait!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Ninth Configuration

One of my favorite films of all time, William Peter Blatty's The Ninth Configuration, is all but unheard of today even though it won a Golden Globe award for best screenplay in 1981 and was nominated for best picture.

And in fact, it's probably the ultimate Jeffrey Scott Holland picture - it takes place in a spooky castle in a remote setting (like The Shining), it's anti-psychiatry, anti-war, pro-spirituality, blurs the line between reality and hallucination, blurs the line between sanity and insanity, and has Shakespeare, Nazis, astronauts, bikers, people who obsessively communicate through quotes from films and literature, and people who may not be who they say they are. There's even an Al Jolson musical sequence, and a surrealist crucifixion on the Moon. Not to mention some brilliant Richard Condon-ish dialogue ("I am convinced that we can walk through walls. Not just me, but anyone - Cops. People. People in Nashville.")

The film takes place during the Vietnam War, in a castle in America's Pacific Northwest. The U.S. Government, convinced that the increasing number of soldiers who have seemingly gone insane in combat are faking, has secretly set up this location to study them. Also being kept here is a NASA astronaut named Cutshaw who had a nervous breakdown just before being sent on a manned Moon mission.

A mysterious military psychiatrist named Colonel Kane (Stacy Keach), who is so soft-spoken it makes Rumble Fish's Motorcycle Boy sound like the Aflac Duck by comparison, arrives at the castle to try to sort out whether the men are faking. But we soon see that Kane himself is troubled by violent, bizarre nightmares. The inmates quickly catch on that something's not right with Kane ("I'm telling you he's like Gregory Peck in Spellbound!"), and in a bit of hammer-into-anvil they try to mess with his mind.

A patient, who runs a canine theatre company from inside the asylum, is producing Hamlet with an all-dog cast. In the midst of a rant about Hamlet to Col. Kane, he deliberately plants ideas in Kane's mind with a theory that Hamlet had to act crazy in order to keep from actually going crazy, as a way of letting off steam. (Cutshaw conspiratorially asks him later, "Did he buy it?" and he replies, "Hell, I bought it.") Kane, convinced that this Hamlet theory is the answer to the men's problems, encourages the asylum to descend into anarchy.

From there I'll lay off the plot spoilers. It's on youtube in its entirety, and I beseech ye to view it.

Interestingly, Blatty has stated that he considers The Ninth Configuration as a sequel to The Exorcist, and that the astronaut in that film who Regan warns, "You're going to die up there" is intended to be Cutshaw, foreshadowing his appearance in The Ninth Configuration. Presumably then, his irrational fear of going into space was triggered by Regan's warning.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

17th Century Flea

From the great historical archives of the Chemical Heritage Foundation: antique editions of Robert Hooke's Micrographia (1665) and van Leeuwenhoek's Arcana naturae (1695), laid open to immaculately detailed illustrations of fleas.

Hooke's book is famous for being the place that the term "cell" was coined - Hooke, studying the cells of plants, was reminded of the prison-cell-like quarters that a Monk sleeps in.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Double Slit Experiment

Here in what Art Bell called "The Quickening", we constantly receive new and shocking quantum revelations of how the world we are living in is not the world we thought we were. But we actually got our biggest heads-up about the true nature of reality back in 1801, when Thomas Young performed the original "double slit experiment" to determine the properties of light.

Here's how it works:

A beam of subatomic particles is directed at a surface that will record the impact of said particles. A screen with two slit openings is placed in front of that surface, and these slits can be opened to allow the particles to pass through or closed to keep them out.

Now, common sense would tell you, like aiming a firehose at two openings in a wall, that if both slits are open, twice as many particles will pass through. But bafflingly, that is not the case. More particles get through if only one slit is opened.

You get an Moire-style interference pattern when you have two slits open, and stranger still, when you reduce the light source to only one photon at a time, it still makes the interference pattern, one dot at a time, if you repeat the experiment over and over. But if you close one of the slits, the pattern disappears. This shouldn't make any difference. And yet it does.

How does the particle know that one of the slits will be opened or not opened?

And that's not the crazy part. The crazy part is this: if you try to track the photon so you can witness which slit it actually chose to go through, the pattern disappears. Placing a detector even in just one of the slits will result in the disappearance of the interference pattern. Again, this shouldn't make any difference whatsoever to how the particle behaves. And yet it does.

The act of looking at something changes it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Your Temporal Extension

"I watched as her fingers drew a perfect line in space, I watched as she looked on through into another place." - Devo, "The 4th Dimension"

There's a quantum-physics notion that Time is either a key part of the Fourth Dimension or actually is the Fourth Dimension itself. With that view, some startling things about life, birth and death inevitably rear their head.

Viewed from the Fourth Dimension, some posit that you and I are actually worm-like entities that represent the "us" as we see ourselves from birth to death, like a series of Muybridge photographs showing a runner proceeding from A to B. Even though the runner was at point A and then moved on to point B, quantum theory says his actual self is at both those points simultaneously and both are expressions of the same entity.

As you sit there reading these words on your computer monitor, imagine that the "you" who was getting turkey slices out of the fridge half an hour ago is part of a greater entity that includes the "you" that sits here now. From a 4-D perspective, we are an entity that extends into our past and our future. We think that our future "hasn't happened yet" but this is an artifact of our limited consciousness, as is our perception of what we call Time.

J.H. Brennan describes it best:

"It is the focus of our consciousness that creates the sensation of time passing, rather as looking through the window of a train creates the sensation of scenery passing, although we know the world outside the train is in fact standing still."

Meanwhile, science has finally caught up with what philosophers knew all along - that everything we have experienced in our life is permanently recorded and nothing is ever truly forgotten - which also fits in perfectly with four-dimensional theory.

Looking into the future, now that's a little trickier. But it can be done. And philosophy, once again, has the leading edge over modern science with their zillion-dollar particle supercolliders.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Common Sense

Thomas Paine is one of the best-known among the Founding Fathers of the USA even though he never held a political position. His main claims to fame are Common Sense, Rights of Man and Crisis, booklets that helped to incite colonists into overthrowing the British Government and starting a new civilization. I remember reading about this booklet in school, but we didn't actually read it. Had we done so, it would've been most illuminating, I think, to hear that the seeds of the American Revolution had proto-capitalistic motives even then:

"What have we to do with setting the world at defiance? Our plan is commerce, and that, well attended to, will secure us the peace and friendship of all Europe; because, it is the interest of all Europe to have America a FREE PORT."

There are a lot of aspects of Paine that didn't make it into my high school civics class, in fact. Our textbook by Daniel Boorstin didn't mention that after helping to found America, Paine high-tailed it to France, palled around with Napoleon, and advised the French government on methods to conquer America. Eventually he ended up pissing off the French as well, and found himself in a cell awaiting the gullotine. He very narrowly escaped being beheaded and got a reprieve.

He published a diatribe against Christianity and religion in general, called The Age of Reason. In so doing, he turned almost all of his former friends and allies against him. When he died in 1809, only six people attended his funeral.

His contradictions and excesses must be taken with the giant grain of salt necessitated when assessing any truly great man; he ping-ponged around the globe like a pirate philosopher, doing whatever he needed to do to survive, and for his ideas of free-thinking to survive. Somehow, in the midst of all his revolutionary activities, he found time to be editor of Pennsylvania Magazine, architect of bridges (one of which was unique enough that he received a patent on its design), developed a smokeless candle, and worked with John Fitch in inventing steam engines. What have you done lately?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Nernst Lamp

The more I hear well-meaning but misguided souls blather about the "carbon footprint" of incandescent bulbs and how it will "obviously" help save the Earth if we switch to pet-killing toxic Mercury-filled CFL bulbs, the more I think it's time somebody went back into the Nernst Lamp business.

The Nernst Lamp, invented in 1897 by the German physicist Walther Nernst, was twice as efficient as carbon filament bulbs and emitted a superior natural-color light. Unlike tungsten-filament bulbs, it did not require a vacuum to function, which means anyone could make one in their garage if they knew how. The only reason they're enclosed in a bulb at all is to protect users from touching the workings.

They operated by way of a ceramic rod that is superheated until it glows, giving off a more effective light source than you might expect. The device has an elegant and ingenious built-in heating element, which gets the ceramic hot enough to begin conducting electricity on its own.

George Westinghouse saw the potential for Nernst's invention, obtained the U.S. rights to the patent, and set about manufacturing them himself, from his newly-formed Nernst Lamp Co. based in Philadelphia. To obtain sufficient quantities of the best Gadolinite to manufacture the ceramic rods, he ended up in a competition with his (and everyone's) evil arch-enemy Thomas Edison for a place in Texas called Barringer Hill. This was an amazing treasure trove of rich mineralogical specimens, which was tragically and stupidly flooded permanently when the construction of the Buchanan Dam in 1939 turned the area into what is now Lake Buchanan.

By then, Westinghouse had given up on the Nernst bulb anyway, and had fallen in line with everyone else moving toward vacuum-sealed tungsten-filament lighting anyway. Nernst's magic lamp, which had been used for everything from microscopes to early fax machines to dazzling crowds at the Paris Exposition of 1900, was all but forgotten, except for a few lab-coated monks of research who continued to invoke the term "Nernst Glower" to describe other applications of the glowing-ceramic-rod concept.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Cairo, Illinois

The Victorian author Anthony Trollope, writing in his non-fiction travelogue North America, 1863, devoted a chapter to his ill-fated visit to Cairo, Illinois.

Trollope did not have a good time in Cairo, and he didn't have much nice to say about the population: "Fever and ague universally prevail. Men and women grow up with their lantern faces like spectres. The children are prematurely old; and the Earth, which is so fruitful, is hideous in its fertility... No faces looked out at the windows of the houses, no forms stood in the doorways. A few shops were open, but only in the drinking-shops did I see customers. In these, silent muddy men were sitting, not with drink before them, as men sit with us, but with the cud within their jaws, ruminating. Their drinking is always done on foot. They stand silent at a bar, with two small glasses before them. Out of one they swallow the whisky, and from the other they take a gulp of water, as though to rinse their mouths. After that, they again sit down and ruminate."

Curiously, he notes that the area called Cairo lay in a broader general area popularly known as "Egypt". What was the purpose for the Egyptian motif in the region's nomenclature? No one seems to know now, nor did they then. As Trollope notes: "Who were the founders of Cairo I have never ascertained. They are probably buried fathoms deep in the mud, and their names will no doubt remain a mystery to the latest ages."

The truth is somewhat less flowery. Cairo was founded in 1818 by a fellow named John G. Comegys of Baltimore, Maryland, but it wasn't until 1837 that it really amounted to anything, under the leadership of a Bostonian named Darius B. Holbrook. Prior to Mssrs. Holbrook and Comegys, the area had a few false starts. Lewis & Clark had explored it in November, 1803. Before that, a Frenchman named Charles Juchereau de St. Denys had operated a tannery here in 1702 but soon his enterprise was wiped out by Cherokee. And before that, a French Catholic Priest named Father Louis Hennepin camped here in the Spring of 1660. Seems like only yesterday.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Hear me well, the gauntlet is now laid down: if you're using CFL bulbs in your home, I won't be coming over for tea anymore.

No, I'm not excessively paranoid about the toxic mercury that resides inside said bulbs, although that certainly is an important consideration for the sake of the environment. Then again, the recent disastrous release of highly radioactive material from Fukushima has rendered that point a bit moot at this time. (Most citizens are apparently too dense to even wrap their head around the implications of that, let alone CFL-mercury in landfills.)

It's a matter of mythic resonance, of aesthetic principles. As devotees of the innovations developed during mankind's true golden age, we must fight the future - especially when evil men are trying so hard to make these annoying CFL bulbs part of that future. Ask yourself why it is so important to President Obama and others to phase out the incandescent bulb. Of all the battles worth fighting, why pick this one?

And yet people are laughing at Rand Paul for opposing the ban (and yes, it does amount to what is practically a ban). God forbid I should be on the same side as Rand Paul on something, but his particular Aspergian adamance for his cause serves us well on this one. At least give the public a choice about how they light their home, rather than strong-arming the world into acceptance of a toxic and inferior light source that no one really wants (that is, except morons. I apologize if you are a moron, dear reader - I do have acquaintances that are - and I pray for you to regain your senses and sensibilities in the coming radioactive days ahead.)

Of course, as far as we're concerned, the incandescent light bulb (which, media to the contrary, was NOT invented by Thomas Edison!) is actually a lightsource-come-lately to the big picture. What about gaslight? What about oil lamps? What about candles? Hell, what about just going to bed when it gets dark, like real people used to do in agrarian times?

The battle against creeping technocracy starts with yourself. I will no longer tolerate CFL or other fluorescent lighting any more than I can get away with avoiding. It's enough that I must tolerate it when shopping in excessively-lit stores like Target, but if you've made your choice and sided with the enemy in your own home, I will not darken your doorstep, good sirs and madams.

You're welcome to come over to my plantation, however, to remember what it looked like to live amongst incandescence before the migraine-inducing, false-color-giving and toxic-for-pets advent of the new world order's CFL bulb.

Make it quick, though: I'm about to start an investigatory pilot project to assess returning completely to oil lanterns and candlepower in my home, in solidarity with our allies in the Dark Sky Movement. Seriously.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dark Skies

All Transylvania Gentlemen (and ladies) are urged to join us in supporting The International Dark-Sky Association, a noble unit devoted to decreasing human-generated electic light pollution at night. As their website puts it:

Once a source of wonder--and one half of the entire planet’s natural environment—the star-filled nights of just a few years ago are vanishing in a yellow haze. Human-produced light pollution not only mars our view of the stars; poor lighting threatens astronomy, disrupts ecosystems, affects human circadian rhythms, and wastes energy to the tune of $2.2 billion per year in the U.S. alone.

But most importantly, perhaps, our interest in their efforts are twofold:

For one, we prefer a night sky uncluttered by electric lighting because, simply, that's the way things used to be and is therefore better.

And secondly, because light pollution clouds out the details of the night sky and tends to make it easy to forget that we're actually standing on a tiny rock hurtling through outer space on the edge of a giant galaxy that itself is speeding at unfathomable speeds through an infinite Universe. We don't want people to forget that - we want them to be more cognizant of it than ever.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Scent Box

Scent boxes, also known as vinaigrettes, were tiny boxes made of silver or sometimes wood, in which a tiny perfume or oil-scented sponge lay in repose under a hinged grill or screen. They were universally used by men and women alike in the 19th century and earlier, this being before the advent of the atomizer spray bottle (invented in 1887 for medical purposes but not popularized for perfume and cologne until after the turn of the century.)

Then, as now, a gentlemen needed a lot of pockets to hold all his stuff. In addition to a scent box, you would also have your snuff box, your silver cigarette case, your silver cigar tube, a spare stickpin for your cravat, several cloth monogrammed handkerchiefs, keys, a pocket watch, a small flask of brandy or bourbon, boxed vestas (matches), Maybe a deck of cards, some hand-carved bone dice, and a condom made of cloth linen or animal bladder.

I'd love to bring the concept of the scent box back, but I frankly already have way too much stuff to lug around in my coat pockets as it is.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Known and Not-Known

There once was a time I regarded Donald Rumsfeld as one of the most evil men on Earth.

After all, at a glance, it seems a no-brainer, right? He was a key player in the Nixon, Ford and Bush II administrations. In the Watergate tapes, Nixon praises "Rummy" for his ruthlessness. His complicity in the "weapons of mass destruction" lie, and in the Gitmo atrocities - including continued defense of them even after the human rights violations were made public - would surely drive any sane person to condemn him. Right? And the mission statement and member list of his Project for the New American Century read like a virtual instruction manual and Who's Who for fascism, right?

And yet... and yet. Rage against the machine though we rebels may, let us never lose sight of the fact that Rumsfeld and his ilk do indeed have access to classified information that we do not, and that we cannot truly know why these sort of people do the things they do without knowing what they know. Without apologizing for the atrocities committed under Rumsfeld's watch, at least let us entertain the remote possibility that he knows something that, if we knew it too, would change everything. But like imagining what the fourth dimension is like, we can't even begin to speculate on things that we don't even know that we don't know about.

One of the best indicators to me that old Rummy is less of an Illuminati-esque power-broker and more like a subservient victim trapped like a cog in the gears of a greater beast, is his statement made on public television on February 12, 2002, in which he actually attempted to educate the masses on that very mindset I just spoke of. One might even call it a cry for help via a very telling shibboleth. What he said was:

"There are known knowns; there are things we know we know.

We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.

But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know."

This is one of the most algebraically elegant, illuminating, and jaw-droppingly truthful things I've ever heard come out of a politician's mouth, and here it is coming from a conservative Republican generally regarded as a shill for the military and mega-corporations.

Most people, however, couldn't even make sense out of Rumsfeld's statement, and immediately his comments became the butt of jokes around the water cooler and among the media talking heads, who said he was talking gobbledygook. That's about the beginning of when I really started feeling like I was living in John Carpenter's They Live and I'm the guy with the special sunglasses. Or at the very least, glad I don't consume the dumbing-down artificial sweeteners that keep people from seeing the Fnords.

Am I ready to join the Donald Rumsfeld fan club? No, far from it. I doubt he and I could ever see eye to eye on much of anything, though the more I learn about him, the less I thought I knew. And I have great difficulty convincing myself that any man is truly evil incarnate - they may do horrible and wicked things due to some sort of mental aberration, or because they were acting on bad information. Old Rummy was, it must be said, a fighter for civil rights in the 60s and 70s, which sets him squarely in a different league than the gray-faced old racists in the Nixon administration that he ended up servile to. The man was an Eagle Scout - which is an organization I hold in high esteem - and he was close personal friends with, of all people, Sammy Davis, Jr., hardly the kind of chum you'd expect from a man reputed to be slightly to the right of Attila the Hun.

Even more eye-opening, there is a possibility that Rummy was actually making a sort of reference to a similar statement made in the 14th century by the Islamic mystic poet Ibn Yamin Faryumadi:

آنکس که بداند و بداند که بداند

اسب خرد از گنبد گردون بجهاند

آنکس که بداند و نداند که بداند

بیدار کنیدش که بسی خفته نماند

آنکس که نداند و بداند که نداند

لنگان خرک خویش به منزل برساند

آنکس که نداند و نداند که نداند

در جهل مرکب ابدالدهر بماند


One who knows and knows that he knows: This is a man of knowledge; get to know him!

One who knows, but doesn't know that he knows: This is a man who's unaware, so bring it to his attention.

One who doesn't know, but knows that he doesn't know: This is an illiterate man; teach him!

One who doesn't know and doesn't know that he doesn't know: This is a dumb man; and would be dumb forever!

I also find it worth mentioning that Rummy's autobiography, Known and Unknown: A Memoir, depicts him standing in Taos, New Mexico with the Plaza Blanca mountains behind him. This general area is a paranormal/conspiracy nut's wet dream, what with the Taos Hum, the Taos Vortex, the nearby UFO crashes, the spooky volcanic Ice Caves, and the haunted Taos Inn.

Friday, April 22, 2011

JFK Demanded UFO Files Just Before Death

Not long after the announcement of a memo to J. Edgar Hoover about a crashed UFO, now comes information about two memos from President Kennedy - instructing the CIA to turn over all available UFO intelligence.

Kennedy never saw that data, however. He was assassinated just ten days later.

What does it all mean? The Daily Mail suggests that JFK was worried that the Soviets would mistake actual alien UFOs for U.S. spy craft. suggests that the word "Unknowns" in JFK's memo is actually code for the aliens, and that the phrase "defensive responsibilities" refers to our need to defend ourselves from aliens, not the Russians. They also host scans of the "Burned Memo" which, although lacking the provenance of the other JFK UFO docs, does seem to add corroboration - in it, the CIA director notes that "Lancer" (code word for the President) "has made some inquiries regarding our activities, which we cannot allow."

The burned memo also alludes to Project MAJESTIC, Project JEHOVAH, Project EVIRO, Project PARASITE, and Project PARHELION.