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.