Sunday, March 29, 2009

Like Sands Through the Hourglass-So Are....

Well today is my 44rth birthday. If I have done the calculations right at about 10:50 this morning I will have lived 16,071 days and made 44 revolutions along with about 6 billion people give or take a few- around the sun. So much has changed during my short time here-yet in a way so much has stayed the same-and in many cases this is unfortunate. I do have to live like there is a better tomorrow around the corner for all of us-and enjoy the small, magical mysteries and moments in life. Thanks so much for all of the kind and thoughtful people who comment here-I was going to do a post the other day that I've finally done the impossible-creating a blog where the comments are better than the blog itself!:-) I have so enjoyed and hope to continue to enjoy communicating with people on their blogs also! I am a bit stuck about where to go next with this blog. There is a big paranormal case that I think people would enjoy that I have thought of doing. The only problem with this is that if I start on it -I will again have less and less time to work on the novel I am trying to write-although it seems to me that this is hardly coming along like I wanted it anyway-and no matter how I try it seems that creativity can't be rushed. I read an excellent novel about a week ago -the author of that book was at the ripe old age of 26! How-oh how do people do it?? Well enough about this for now-I am going to post a poem by Terry Robinson from his book called A Walk with an Irishman that I hope people will enjoy-I know I did. It is called God's Gift to Me. Peace and be well to anyone stopping by!

To live each day with hope and joy
I must always be on my toes
And each new friend I chance to meet
is an enlightenment to behold
Each sunrise and each sunset
sends heaven's comforters to me
While around the willow banks
the wind echoes to me its call.
The travel bug that drives me on
rash dreamer that I am
Lays my suffering past to rest
as I triumphantly march on.

Friday, March 27, 2009

James Broughton: Bridge to the Innermost Forest

Bridge to the Innermost Forest
I could not match the labels where the span held the patch
in its doubling of layers on the cables of starch.
For the cape on the arch of the statuary perch
exuded all question of door and path.

I would cover it with spank or with shield or with glass,
but the multiforming gate that would never fix
kept hedging its formula for the wiry copse.
And the tensity of pitch could never be disguised.

I could not catch and mix the meaning of this glen
where the wiser and the meagre had already lain.
For the capture of the curtain's thistling stone
excluded all answer of lock and hinge.

I would cover it with fear or with plaster or with noose,
but the multiforming gate would admit of no release
nor admire an oasis in the squamous woods.
And the density of ditch could never be surmised.

I rather enjoyed this -I hope anyone stopping by does too! The book that this is from, "Where the Bee Sucks" informs me that Mr. Broughton's 1971 work -Selected Poems, A Long Undressing will remind me of William Blake. I will have to check that out. This book also informs me that he dedicated his Sorrows of Scorpion to Anais Nin, the famous journalist and eroticist (is that even a word? or did I just make one up?:-) who also appeared in Kenneth Anger's 1954 film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. I am going to check on the release date for Anger's movie-sounds wrong to me-maybe right though-if not I will change it. I hope anyone stopping by has a wonderful and beautiful weekend!!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Meanings, Maps and Territories

Here are some interesting thoughts from Ken Wilber's, The Spectrum of Consciousness: "A map, plainly enough, is constructed by drawing a boundary. Now that is the essential nature and function of all these social maps-to establish meaning, pointers, and values by dichotomizing existence. A map, after all, is something which points to something else, and which has meaning only by virtue of that power to indicate and to point. Realize at once, however, that this dichotomization is not only between signfier and signified, but also between agent and action, cause and effect, before and after, good and evil, true and false, inside and outside, opposites and contraries and contrasts in general-and those in turn are inseperably bound up with our language, logic, taboos, and other social maps.

This implies, then, that meaning, symbols, and maps in general are all of a piece with the illusion that the world is broken. And so, through the internalization of these various social maps, we are eventually persuaded that the real world actually exists as a collection of disjointed fragments, some of which have meaning because they point to others! But the world seems to be this fractured affair only because those are now the terms which we perceive it. We approach it by slicing it to bits and then hastily conclude that this is the way it has existed all along. In a very real sense, our social conceptions have become our individual perceptions.

At this stage of the social game we have thoroughly overstepped the usefulness of the map by almost totally confusing it with the actual territory. Our maps are fictions, possessing as much or as little, reality as the dividing of the of the earth into lines of latitude and longitude or the splitting of the day into units of hours and minutes. Yet social fictions die hard. Useful as they are, untold confusion results when they are mistaken for facts. In 1752 the British government rearranged the standard calendar by changing September 2 to September 14, with the result that Westminster was stormed by people who were absolutely horrified that eleven days had just been taken off their lives! So also, every year in America, when certain localities go off daylight savings time, an unbelievable number of "little ole' ladies" rush City Hall, outraged in their belief that their begonias have actually lost an hour of sunlight.

These fictions are perhaps easy enough to see through, but many others, such as the seperation of life and death and the existence of an objective world "out there", are much more difficult to penetrate. The reason is that we have been thoroughly brainwashed, by well-intentioned but equally brainwashed parents and peers, into mistaking a description of the world as it is in its suchness, its voidness...Once we have accepted the social description of the world as reality itself, it is only with the very greatest of difficulty that we can perceive any other aspects of reality. Our eyes become glued to our maps without the realizing of what in fact has happened. Thus, as we have already indicated, all of these social maps bascially serve to mold an individuals awareness into conventional units meaningful to that society, and disastrously enough, all of those aspects of experience and reality which do not conform to this pervasive social mold are simply screened out of consciousness. That is to say, they are repressed-they are rendered unconscious-and this occurs not to such and such an individual but to all members of a particular society by virtue of their common subscription to that society's pictures of the world-its language, logic, ethics and law.

And so it comes about that, despite its numerous other functions, the Biosocial Band acts, in Fromm's words, as a major filter of reality, a prime repressor of existential or centaur awareness. As anthropologist Edward Hall explains it, "Selective screening of sensory data admits some things while filtering others, so that experience as it is perceived through one set of culturally patterned sensory screens is quite different from the experience perceived through another. Even more revealing, however, is psychoanalyst Laing's comment that "If our wishes, feelings, desires, hopes, fears, perception, imagination, memory, not correspond to the law, they are outlawed, and excommunicated."

Just thought I would throw this out there-if anyone has any thoughts at all about this please comment! I have felt for a long time that the brain is a filter that prevents us from seeing "reality" in its glorious beauty and wholeness. If it takes a bit for your comment to appear-not to worry -lately my computer seems to be dictating the "reality" of when I will be online or off! I am also trying to get caught up with everyone's blogs that I follow or link to. Now to ponder even more important questions -Why does the pop diva "Pink" scare me? Why does my left ear always have more wax than the right ear? Why does my cat like to fetch pens-and steal them also-she has a veritable collection of writing instruments stashed all over my condo-is she wanting to write a book also? Why have I developed a craving for jelly doughnuts that is out of control? So many questions -so little time-peace and be well to anyone stopping by!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The President's Vampire Part Two

The men aboard the barque Atlantic were being treated to a fair day on 23 May 1866, with a pleasant breeze from the southeast. The crews job was to bundle up whalebone that was used for everything from making buggy whips to corset stays. Whalebone was not the main prize that the men sought to catch. Whalebone was just a by-product of the hunting for whale oil. This was found in the head an blubber of whales. Whale oil was the best product at the time to use for mechanical lubricant and lighting. The ships that hunted whales were literally factories with sails. They combined the functions of slaughterhouse, processing factory and warehouse. The Atlantic had a crew of at least thirty men. Two of these men were James Brown and 19 year old James M Foster. What really happened in the James Brown case is that according to the actual court papers is that while Mr. Brown was working at scrubbing a pan, James Foster called him a "damned nigger" and Mr Brown stabbed Mr Foster to death. According to the Boston Daily Evening Transript of 12 November 1866, Brown's 'Nativity' was recorded in the Prison Register as "South Amerika" [sic] suggesting that he may have been a Portuguese speaking native of Brazil. There could already have been bad blood between the men and the racial slur may not have been the single motivation for the stabbing. A whaling voyage could last 3 or 4 years, and when the men weren't working there wasn't much to do except carve scrimshaw (designs on ivory or shells) and get on each other's nerves.

After Brown and the other witnesses were transferred to other ships and taken to Boston, Brown was arraigned, pleaded "Not Guilty" and was tried on 13 November 1866. The trial was short and the jury only took seventy-five minutes to find Brown guilty. He was sentenced to death. Brown was transferred from the Suffolk jail to the Charleston State Prison, where he spend the next twenty -two years. On 14 April 1889, he was sent to the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus. This transfer could have occurred because the Charleston Prison was being renovated. Two years later on 3 November 1892, Brown was taken the the U.S. Government Insane Asylum in Washington D.C. Most likely he spent the rest of his life there.

The most probable reason that this ordinary crime was made into such a blood-curdling tale was that newspapers in the Gilded Age did not exactly have a reputation for faultless reporting and never embellishing a story. This is sad because so many tales that interest people intrigued by the paranormal and fortean appeared around this time. It also seems that 4 November 1892 was a slow news day. "A Human Vampire" was sandwiched on the front page between the obituary of Wheaton A Welsh, "the well known Local Public School Principal" and a shoot-out in Wyoming. We wonder if someone at the Eagle fell to the temptation to spice up a rather uninteresting news item. It is possible, but unlikely that Brown committed two more murders in prison. If James Brown actually did kill two more men in prison this could have been what 'inspired' the copywriter to retrofit the original account, and could explain why Brown was sent to the insane asylum. The story doesn't say where the murders occurred, but if the were committed in Massachusetts, they should be on Brown's record when he was moved to the Ohio prison, and there is record of just one first degree murder conviction in the Ohio Prison Register. Conceivably, Brown could have killed the two men after coming to Ohio. However, by then he had cataracts in both eyes and was almost 50 years old. There is no evidence so far to prove the newspapers claim. One more theory is the James Brown's story became mixed-up-intentionally or not-with another Brown in the news that year, which may just have been what happened.

A few months before Brown was moved to the asylum there was indeed a 'Brown' vampire case in the news. The family of George T Brown of Exeter, Rhode Island was decimated by consumption. He had lost his wife and two daughters, and by 1892 his son Edwin was seriously ill. Brown was desperate to find a cure and came to the decision to have his dead family members exhumed to look for signs of vampirism! The bodies were exhumed on 17 March 1892. Mr Brown's wife and eldest daughter were in a normal state of decomposition. However, the remains of the youngest daughter, Mercy L Brown looked suspicous. Blood was found in her heart and her liver had not decayed. Mercy Brown had been dead two months and was buried in the middle of a New England winter-so this is really no surprise. Just to ensure Edwin's safety, a fire was lit in the cemetery, and Mercy's heart and liver were burned to ashes. These ashes may have been mixed with water and given to Edwin to drink as a cure. I have two sources on this -one says this as a maybe-and the wiki link says it was a definite. Whatever happened, sadly two months later Edwin also died.

Could the story of James Brown the murderer been combined with that of Mercy Brown the vampire? They both have the surname Brown and New England origins (as far as the story goes anyway) so it is tempting to think this and warrants further research. What we can say for certain-almost 100 percent is that James Brown was not a vampire:-) He definitely didn't commit the two shipboard homicides-19 year old James Foster was the only victim, and evidence for the two other murders attributed to him is almost non-existent. I think it would be interesting to know why President Johnson commuted the sentence. Did our seventeenth president have a commutation fetish like the aforementioned blood fetish? Or did he see the aggravating circumstances in the case and decide to commute to life? If he did this would be both strange yet not so strange. Strange because as he believed in slavery-Johnson appeared to care not a whit for racial equality -and perhaps the epithets that went along with it to boot. Not so strange because being from the south -President Johnson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina -he would have come from a culture where he understood that a man should not ever 'lose face' and stick up for himself when in any sort of conflict, even one where the 'weapon' is an insult. Whatever his reasons for being the only president to save a 'vampire' from the noose hasn't done anything to make his presidency more popular.

Some interesting questions remain. Why was Brown sent to the insane asylum-and could this have anything to do with the two additional murders that there is such scanty evidence for? How did his story become so distorted? If Mr Brown wasn't America's first 'real' vampire -then who was? I decided to do an image of a poster for one of those cheesy films as I couldn't find one I liked-hehe -I bet that movie was a 'winner':-) The Mercy Brown incident was the inspiration for Caitlin R Kiernan's short story, "So Runs the World Away", which mentions the affair, and I wanted to mention this as Caitlin Kiernan is one of my favorite writers of short horror fiction. I may have a bit to add to this as there might be some links worth chasing down, it may take a few days and I am not sure yet if I will find enough. Thanks again as always for everyone's thoughtful and intelligent comments!

Friday, March 13, 2009

The President's Vampire Part One

The 17th President of the United States of America, Andrew Johnson, pictured above didn't exactly look like a man with a softer side to him. However, on 3 January 1867 he saved a man named James Brown from the hangman's noose by commuting his sentence to life imprisonment. It is this man's story I want to tell in this and the next post. I doubt this series will go to three posts. First a little more about President Johnson. He seems to have taken a singular pride in using the power of executive clemency. He told a St. Louis audience, "I reckon I have pardoned more men, turned more men loose, and set them at liberty than any other man on God's habitable globe." Abraham Lincoln's assassination made Johnson the 17th president. Johnson was also supposed to have died the same night as Lincoln, but his presumed assassin George Atzerodt spent the day "guzzling like a falstaff " and either the booze didn't give him enough false courage to go through with the plan or he simply drank so much he forgot about it. Atzerodt was one of three men who could have told authorities about the plot against Lincoln, but chose not to. President Johnson enjoyed liquor himself, believed in slavery, had a temper and spent most of his term (1865-1869) fighting with Congress. In 1868 he became the first president to be impeached. He was acquitted in the Senate by one vote. No other president would be impeached for another 130 years, until William Jefferson Clinton who was also acquitted. Freeing men or saving them from the noose wasn't the only evidence of Johnson's softer side. He also used to leave flour out at night for the White House mice.

In Charles Fort's book, Wild Talents, published in 1932, he gives a shocking account of an incident that happened in 1866. "Sometime in the year 1866, a fishing smack sailed from Boston. One of the sailors was a Portuguese who called himself 'James Brown.' Two of the crew were missing, and were searched for. The captain went into the hold. He held up his lantern, and saw the body of one of these men, in the clutches of 'Brown' who was sucking blood from it. Nearby was the body of the other sailor. It was bloodless. 'Brown' was tried, convicted and sentenced to be hanged, but President Johnson commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. In October 1892, the vampire was transferred from the Ohio Penitentiary to the National Asylum, Washington DC, and his story was re-told in the newspapers." The article that Fort used for his book was even more graphic and bloody. From the 1892 Brooklyn Daily Eagle: A HUMAN VAMPIRE AND A MURDERER-The Terrible Record of a Maniac Convict-Removed to an asylum Columbus Ohio, November 4. Deputy United States Marshall Williams of Cincinnati has removed James Brown, a deranged United States prisoner, from the Ohio Penitentiary to the National Asylum at Washington D.C.... He was a Portuguese sailor and shipped on a fishing smack from Boston up the coast in 1866. During the trip two of the crew were missing and an investigation made. Brown was found one day in the hold sucking the blood from the body of one of the sailors. The other body was found at the same place and had been served in a similar manner. Brown was returned to Boston and convicted of murder and sentenced to be hanged. President Johnson commuted his sentence to imprisonment for life. After serving 15 years in Massachusetts he was transferred to the Ohio prison. He has committed two murders since his confinement. When being taken from the prison he believed that he was on his way to execution and resisted accordingly."

If 'James Brown' were alive today he would no doubt be described as a serial killer of the disorganized variety. Of course, he is not around to be given any psychological tests, but depending on other 'issues' he might also be described as mentally ill, sexually sadistic and sociopathic. Serial killing was a scourge that was almost unheard of before the twentieth century. However, the history of vampirism went back for centuries. In the US, New England was the center of belief in vampirism as a supernatural phenomena. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island all had tales of vampirism from the late 1700s to the late 1800s. Dr. Richard Von Krafft-Ebing published a book in Latin called Psychopathic Sexualis which included contemporary European examples of some people excited by blood fetishism. From page 157 of his book, case number 48: he first had to make a cut in his arm; she would suck the wound and during the act become violently excited sexually." We can wonder-was James Brown a blood fetishist? Could he have been a genuine vampire? Brown's story has been told time and again in magazines, books and websites. However the picture they give is often inaccurate, and they provide little information beyond the accounts in Wild Talents and The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. In addition, these accounts were given 65 and 25 years after the events they describe. Can we learn anything new after 142 years? By going back through historical documents maybe we can get a more accurate description of what really happened so long ago. To be continued......

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

William Shakespeare: All The World's A Stage

All the world's a stage
And all the men and women merely players
They have their exits and their entances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover.
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistresess' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of stange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again towards childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound, Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every thing.
From As You Like It

I thought of doing this bit of Shakespeare when I remembered the Voyager 1 photo. The image is a picture of earth, bathed in sun rays, taken from the spacecraft from a distance of about 6.1 billion km or 3.8 billion miles. It occurred to me when I saw this photo, taken in 1990, that we humans are so very small. Just think of it -every love story-every war-every life and death-every hatred-every friendship-every jealousy-every rise and fall of nations and empires and cultures-and so on to infinity has taken place on this incredibly tiny pale blue dot we call earth. When I think of the immensity we are bathed in I just have to wonder-How much do we really know? Where are we going? Are we heading towards some sort of Omega in the evolution of humanity -or a fusillade of ICBMs? So many questions and so little time to ask them all in. For all nerds out there (I include myself) Happy Square Root Day-I do so hope we are all still around for the next one on 4-4-16! For all non-nerds , I hope you have a beautiful day too!