Friday, December 31, 2010

Next Year

Friends, neighbors, Kentuckians, if I don't see you until we get to the other side: Happy New Year!

Of course, it's not really new year's eve. Or to put it another way, it's only new year's eve because we say it is. To be even more precise, it's only new year's eve because someone else set an arbitrary pattern in motion long before we were born that says this is new year's eve, and we find ourselves currently living in a society that chooses to accept this belief.

Concepts such as "January 1", "six o'clock", and "the year 2011" aren't real. In fact, there is, scientifically speaking, no such thing as a precise "year" anyway, because of orbital eccentricity. Such terms are simply relative constructs that are the result of considerations made and agreed upon by humans. You could proclaim yourself to be the creator of your own one true Pulcovian calendar based on a 17 month cycle with years starting in what we call "summer", and you'd be just as right as anyone else, as far as the lilies of the field are concerned.

And as I've noted elsewhere, some contemporary researchers like Clifford Carnicom claim that drift-rate analysis of our time standard shows unexplained dilation and variation, and that undocumented revisions to Universal Coordinated Time (UTC) may be occurring.

What hope has man of accurately marking time when even atomic clocks are subject to Special Relativity?

And how much longer will marking time even matter, anyway, as the world brain of the internet is well on its way to infecting outer space? NASA and DARPA are currently working on an interplanetary internet that will somehow function despite the spacetime distance issues.

But who the heck are they building this interplanetary internet for, when there's supposedly no other humans on other planets? Do they know something we don't? Answer: of course they do.

Our own most accurate (but not perfect) method of marking time for ourselves - the rising and setting of our sun - is meaningless on other planets anyway. Or is the plan to impose our Earthly Julian Calendar of 365.25 days on the whole universe?

And then there's this to consider.

Happy Pulcovian Summer Solstice.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


The late great Kentucky country-pop chanteuse Skeeter Davis was born on this date in 1931. We here at UnK commemorate one of our state's oddest contributions to pop culture with a few youtube links:

"The End of the World" - on some 60s TV show introduced by fellow Kentuckian Stringbean.

"Walking the Floor Over You" - Skeeter lays down the Ernest Tubb classic rendered in double-tracked harmony with a snappy Go-Go backing, kinda like Johnny Rivers goes Nashville.

"Singin' in the Summer Sun" is a wacky little Dixieland-tinged pop number. Perhaps she thought she was trying for the same ricky-tick vibe as Nat King Cole's "Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer".

"Above and Beyond" - Before there was the duo of Porter and Dolly, it was Porter and Skeeter! Here they boinkity-boink their way through the great Buck Owens tune.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Kentucky Chupacabra?

Now this is news! Mark Cothren, a farmer from Lebanon Junction, KY, has made a shocking announcement: he's killed a Chupacabra in his yard.

What's a Chupacabra? It's a mythical beast that was first posited in 1995 in Puerto Rico, shortly after which alleged sightings swept Mexico, Central America, and South America. Gradually, as happens with all cryptid myths like Mothman, people started reporting it everywhere, even Russia.

Wikipedia describes the commonly shared view of the Chupacabra's appearance (one variant of which is seen in the image above via an artist's model conception):

The most common description of chupacabras is a reptile-like being, appearing to have leathery or scaly greenish-gray skin and sharp spines or quills running down its back. This form stands approximately 3 to 4 feet (1 to 1.2 m) high, and stands and hops in a similar fashion to a kangaroo. In at least one sighting, the creature was reported to hop 20 feet (6 m). This variety is said to have a dog or panther-like nose and face, a forked tongue, and large fangs. It is said to hiss and screech when alarmed, as well as leave behind a sulfuric stench. When it screeches, some reports assert that the chupacabras' eyes glow an unusual red which gives the witnesses nausea.

With that description in mind, let's have a look-see at what Mr. Cothren caught:

Uh... dude. That's it? Really?

What you call "Chupacabra", I call "Chihuahua."

This sighting is part of a new trend in the Chupacabra myth, one in which the traditional description given above is completely ignored, and more and more people are starting to say that Chupacabras can also look like a wild dog. Why? I guess because are catching wild dogs, and wanting to say they caught a Chupacabra, and therefore are retconning an entirely new description onto the concept.

In November 2007, an alleged Chupacabra head was DNA tested and deterimed to be that of a coyote. In January 2008, a "dog-like" animal was seen killing chickens on a farm in the Phillipines and was declared to be, obviously, a Chupacabra and not a dog. In July 2010, a coyote-dog hybrid with mange was called a Chupacabra in Texas.
And now, we have this poor dead critter to add to the list, and it would be hilarious in its absurdity except I don't find dead critters funny.

Cothren was quoted by WAVE3, by way of POPFi: "I was like, ‘every animal has hair, especially this time of year!’ What puzzled me is how something like that could survive through a winter with no hair."

Well, it didn't survive the winter, sir - you shot and killed it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

William Branham

The great Kentucky psychic faith-healer William Branham died on this day, Christmas Eve, in 1965.

Branham was born in Burkesville, KY in 1909 to a Catholic family. As a young man, he began racking up an impressive career as a boxer, with fifteen wins on his record. He coulda been a contender, but something happened that caused him to abruptly change his life's trajectory in favor of the Baptist church. He hung up his boxing gloves, donned a suit, and began preaching the gospel in tent revivals.

Preaching was definitely Branham's calling - he was very charismatic, so much so that he quickly acquired his own church with swelling ranks of devotees. As his congregation grew, so did his messianic nature. On June 11, 1933, while baptizing people in the Ohio River between Louisville and Jeffersonville, he claimed that a bright light descended upon him and a disembodied angelic voice told him, "As John the Baptist was sent to forerun the first coming of Jesus Christ, so your message will forerun His second coming."

As the 20th century progressed, many other thinkers and gifted individuals (including fellow Kentuckian Edgar Cayce) began feeling their way from traditional theology toward what would later be known as "New Age" philosophies. Branham's beliefs went from Baptist to Pentecostal, then gradually became more and more apocalyptic and further out past the fringes of mainstream Christianity.

Branham claimed to be the literal reincarnation of the Biblical prophet Elijah, and that his past lives extended throughout history. Says Branham, he was with Moses at the Burning Bush and saw the parting of the Red Sea. I've always wondered if he ever listened to the folk song "I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago". (I like the Elvis version best!)

Branham was also a major proponent of the controversial "serpent seed" doctrine, which held that the snake in the Garden of Eden was actually a reptilian humanoid who mated with Eve to produce Cain. The idea did not originate with Branham, however; it was once a relatively accepted idea in early Jewish Midrashic texts and in the obscure Rabbinical treatise Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer (פרקי דרבי אליעזר).

Branham's grave is located in Jeffersonville, Indiana. Many of his followers are still active today.

Consult your copy of Weird Kentucky for more Branham revelations!

(Top image: Branham preaching. Middle image: the prophet Elijah, riding his flaming chariot across the sky. Bottom image: poster for a 1956 event with Branham. )

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Freddie's Bar & Lounge

One from our Transylvania Gentlemen blog:

Imagine a bar that hasn't changed its decor in half a century. One where Frank Sinatra's picture hangs proudly without a trace of irony or "retro" consciousness. Where the music on the jukebox plays tunes from a bygone era, and the owner still runs the place at the age of 90, yet is in better shape than me and could probably kick my ass (you probably think I'm exaggerating. Let me assure you, I am not.)

If you have trouble imagining such a paradise, go no further than Freddie's Bar & Lounge at 220 West Broadway, downtown Louie-land. It is truly a haven for the true and discriminating Transylvania Gentleman, and deserves a historical plaque for its weighty value to society, past and present. They're currently celebrating 48 years in business, and it is my fondest hope they go for at least 48 more.

Freddie himself is an amazing Jerry Lee Lewis-like character with a million stories that define the century we just came out of. He can still be found in the place most days, and if you're a boxing fan then you and Freddie will get along just fine. His bar is filled from end to end with classic boxing memorabilia, and was actually a go-to place for all serious pugilists during boxing's golden years.

Among the boxers who have graced the bar stools at Freddie's: Ezzard Charles, Muhammad Ali, Greg Page and Jimmy Ellis, whose gloves adorn the bar. Get thyself a shot of whiskey, friend, sit at the bar, stare into those historic gloves, be still and know.

So famous was Freddie's as a patron of the boxing community that even Rudell Stitch visited the place even though he was a strict teetotaller.

There aren't many places like this left, and you need to stop what you are doing right now and go out and experience them while you still can, before they're all just extinct places you read about on the internet.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cat Mutilator Sought

According to the Courier-Journal, a group called the Shamrock Arrow Fund is upping the ante on a reward previously posted by the Humane Society for information leading to the arrest of whoever killed and mutilated two cats behind the Kroger at 5001 Mud Lane, Jefferson County.

The article says, "One of the cats was an orange, declawed, tiger-striped cat 6 to 8 years old, according to Louisville Metro Animal Services. It had white under its chin, on the tip of its tail and on all four paws. There was an area on its back that appeared to be a site used for administering medication. The second was a gray, declawed tiger-striped cat that appeared to be 2 years old."

If you have any information related to this case, contact the Louisville Metro Police via their anonymous tip line: 574-LMPD. Let's find this psycho and give him the Russell Swigert treatment.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Hand of Fate

While slogging my way on safari through the cemeteries of the Commonwealth (neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays this courier), I've often been curious about the floating hand that appears on many gravestones. For the most part, the hand has a finger pointing upward, presumably to Heaven. But every now and then you find one whose finger is pointing down.

What's up with that, I ask you? Surely they aren't suggesting that the person in the grave is going to H-E-double-toothpicks?

My colleague Joseph A. Citro, in his fine tome Weird New England, delves into the matter but remains stumped by the mysterious omnidirectional hand. And a cursory Google search led to me to a somewhat unsatisfying and specious-sounding explanation on the "A hand with the index finger pointing upward symbolizes the hope of heaven, while a hand with the index finger pointing down represents God reaching down for the soul."

I have trouble believing that the up and down fingers both mean essentially the same thing. If the up-pointing digit means Heaven, surely the people of centuries past saw the obvious logical symmetry implied by the hand pointing down. Then again, I wasn't there so I don't really know, and they're all dead themselves now, so who you gonna ask?

(Both examples of the hand spotted in Bedford Cemetery, Trimble County.)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Before He Was Colonel

We recently observed the date of Harland Sanders' passing; the Colonel left us on December 16, 1980 at the age of 90.

As the march of time travels along its inevitable track, I wonder - as I perenially do - how many kids today even realize that "the Colonel" wasn't just a cartoon or a stylized logo graphic but a real person, who forged one of America's greatest success stories out of sheer self-determinism.

But I also wonder how many older people know about the Colonel's adventures before he became the King Of All Chicken. Even if he had never founded Kentucky Fried Chicken at the age of 40, Sanders lived more in the first half of his life than many men in the entirety of their span. One of my back-burner projects is to write a play about the prehistory of Colonel Sanders, detailing his early exploits.

He literally started with nothing, having run away from home at a young age. And he got from Point A to Point B with an alacrity that is astounding. It is a perfect embodiment of the famous maxim "every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around".

Sanders fibbed about his age so he could join the Army at the age of 16, and served his country. He was a sailor. He was a steamboat operator. He traveled to Cuba. He worked on the railroad. He was a volunteer firefighter. He was a streetcar conductor. He was an Insurance Agent. He ran a very successful farm. He still found time to raise a family (two daughters - Margaret and Mildred - and a son who died at an early age). He owned a gas station, a restaurant and a hotel. What have you done lately?

He was also an accomplished musician, playing bluegrass and gospel on mandolin, and eventually forming his own all-mandolin band. He also released several other albums, including a surreal faux-Latin LP entitled Tijuana Picnic.

One bio of Sanders even states that for a time, he was a "self-taught lawyer". Those were the good old days.

Some negative nellies say that he was not a "real" Colonel, but that's just not so. He was and is a member in good standing of that noble organization called The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, and that's quite real enough for me.

So let's bow our heads belatedly and give a nod of respect not just for that white haired, white suited caricature, but for the accomplished man that Sanders was prior to that. It's inspiring what people could accomplish back in the day, before everyone drank artificial sweeteners and became addicted to Mafia Wars and Petville.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Louisville Judge Advocates "Prison Justice"

It would have been nice if Louisville Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman could have kept her mouth shut and simply sentenced child-murderer Cecil New II to a well-deserved sentence of either life in prison or the death penalty. Unfortunately, she seems to have looked to television's Judge Judy as a role model, and apparently believes her position entitles her to be as irrational and hateful as her whims dictate.

To the astonishment of many, Judge Judith announced that she was giving New a sentence of life imprisonment deliberately, so that he would be forcibly subjected to "prison justice" at the hands of his fellow inmates, as opposed to the relative safety of the isolation that comes with Death Row.

With glee, the Judge told New she chose life imprisonment for him specifically because he will be among "bigger, meaner men who have nothing to lose, or who are armed."

That's all well and good - I mean, New is a scumbag and my own personal views on justice have more to do with the Wild Wild West than modern jurisprudence - but there's just one problem. Even though everyone jokes about "soap on a rope" and "sharing a cell with Bubba", there technically is not supposed to be such a thing as "prison justice". By deliberately using the threat of being assaulted by fellow prisoners as a sentence, she is basically admitting that such things happen in Kentucky's prisons and that's it's just fine with her.

"Or who are armed?" Wait, she's admitting that prisoners get away with having weapons in Kentucky prisons? And she's admitting she's okay with it? And that she's now essentially in collusion with these prison loonies, giving them carte blanche to do anything if they can get away with it?

I can see it now, some thug with tattoos all over his neck kills a fellow inmate and then pleads, "duh, that Judge I saw on the teevee acted like it was a normal part of prison life."

To condone prison violence, and to use it for her own ends, makes this Judge nearly as sadistic, barbaric and inhuman as the psychopath she is sentencing.

Welcome to Your Depot

The Richmond Register is reporting that the Blue Grass Army Depot wants to "give back to the community".

Seriously, guys, you've given us enough already. No, really. We'd like to re-gift some of your previous presents, like nerve gas explosions, broken deadline promises, Raytheon, black helicopters, and as the Los Angeles Times has been reporting, disastrously unsafe conditions and terminated whistle-blowers. Not to mention the Men in Black.

The Depot's latest attempt to put a good PR spin on things: "Lake Buck Lodge", a 4,420 sq. foot building with restaurant, pool and golf course. The Register quotes Col. Brian Rogers:

“What’s important about this plan is that it’s not just big and has a beautiful view and is located smack dab in the middle of Berea and Richmond and that it seats 200 and has a full kitchen, but that we’re reaching out to the community and saying welcome to your depot."

Sounds lovely. But on the exact same day, the same paper also reported that unstable and defective mustard-agent rockets stored there are posing a problem for their eventual disarming and destruction.

The 15,000 mustard-containing artillery projectiles now housed in protective igloos at the depot once were stored outside where they were exposed to rain, heat and snow, according to Jeff Brubaker, the military’s civilian manager of the depot’s destruction program.

Exposure to the elements led to some corrosion that may make difficult removing the chemical warheads of the projectiles from the “bursters” designed to disperse the mustard agent, the project’s citizen advisory board was told Tuesday...

If detaching the warheads from their bursters is not possible in the automated destruction plant, workers would have to enter the building to retrieve them, slowing the process. If the chemical warheads are unstable, the workers, even if wearing protective suits, could be put at risk.

Nevertheless, all criticism and ribbing aside, Lake Buck Lodge does sound a pretty cool place. I do look forward to checking it out; playing golf in the shadow of enough chemical weapons to kill everyone in Kentucky definitely sounds like a destination for some unusual road-tripping. Come spring, I'm so there.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Museum Plaza Breakthrough

In Weird Kentucky, I wrote: "By the time you hold this book in your hands, dear reader, the Museum Plaza construction will be underway." Well, so I was wrong; that does happen occasionally. Very occasionally. The idea of Museum Plaza remains just an idea, but finally, it may indeed be slouching towards Louisville to be born, its hour come round at last.

I just noticed a month-old press release on Yarmuth's website that announces "major progress" in securing make-or-break HUD funding for the project. They've received a letter from HUD officially acknowledging that the process is a go.

Governor Steve Beshear noted, “It is very exciting that HUD is formally expressing its interest in helping finance Museum Plaza. This is a project that will create thousands of jobs for low- and moderate-income Kentuckians and will stimulate the economy across the Commonwealth. My administration will continue working with the development team, HUD, and Congressman Yarmuth to make this project a reality.”

With the receipt of this letter from HUD, the Museum Plaza development team will continue its efforts to complete the financing for this $465 million project. 70 percent of the project’s financing will be secured with this commitment. $140.5 million of the project’s financing still remains to be committed; it is expected that this will be provided in the form of a traditional, first mortgage construction loan representing 30 percent of the project’s cost. However, the development team is pursuing many financing strategies given the current challenging environment for financing new construction projects. The Museum Plaza partners have already invested more than $50 million in the development of the project and are confident they can secure the remaining financing.

Whenever the Plaza does finally exist, it's my intention to have office space and gallery space there. (Who knows, though, by the time the building is ready I may have retired!)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ruined Cemetery in New Castle

I'm not sure what this graveyard in downtown New Castle is called, but it's just a couple of blocks from the town square, and it's a disaster.

I've ranted about the sorry state of many Kentucky cemeteries in the course of this blog before, but this one is perilously close to being past the point of no return. Many of the beautiful ancient headstones are utterly and completely destroyed, and more are well on their way to oblivion. Some of the graves even show possible signs of graverobbing, or at least currently stand as open invitations to it.

How can people drive by this mess every day - including local government officials - and not do something about it? Are people really so spooked by cemeteries that they avert their eyes and whistle past them without bothering to notice that their city's history is being destroyed? Evidently.

In 2011 I plan to push for state legislation that requires cities, towns, municipalities and county governments to follow Cave Hill's example of historical preservationism and security. Cemeteries - all cemeteries - should be fenced in and locked at night to keep idiot kids and sociopathic thieves out, and someone should be designated the official caretaker and groundskeeper of each. This will create jobs as well as put a stop to the historical desecration that has been steadily sweeping the state.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hell's Kitchen Comes to Kentucky

I forgot to blog about this, but a few weeks ago the producers of the FOX-TV reality cooking show Hell's Kitchen sent a casting crew to Louisville's Red Star Tavern to audition a long line of hopefuls. I didn't even know the casting call was going on - I just happened to be strolling out of the Hertz-Starks Building and wondered what all the crowd was lined up for.

The show stars the perenially controversial Gordon Ramsay, he of the alleged death curse. Although I have dabbled as a chef in my checkered past, I opted not to queue up for the chance to be on his show. I seriously doubt my idea of cuisine would mesh well with Ramsay's supersnob sensibilities.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cemetery Within a Cemetery

It's not quite as wacky as a Starbucks within a Starbucks, but I've long been intrigued by this cemetery within a cemetery in Louisville. The perpetually plagued Eastern Cemetery is host to this transplanted family plot, the Coleman Family Cemetery. I'm not sure exactly where on Collins Lane these graves originally were before being dug up and reinterred here, but I guess all involved must have come to regret the choice of Eastern Cemetery. I can't help but note how implausibly close-together these markers are placed, and wonder.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Kangaroos in Kentucky?

One from my writing blog:

Readers of my Unusual Kentucky blog and my Weird Kentucky book already know the lowdown on anomalous Kangaroo sightings in the Commonwealth, but now I've hipped the Kentucky Monthly crowd to the concept in the latest installment of my Commonwealth Curiosities column! Check it out at your local newsstand or bookstore!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Creationist Theme Park

On Wednesday, Governor Steve Beshear held a press conference to cheerfully announce that Kentucky will soon have the dubious distinction of being home to "Ark Encounters", the world's largest Christian Creationist theme park. Stranger still, it may be done with partial state funding.

Is that legal? Not everyone is convinced that the arrangement doesn't violate Church-State separation issues. The Courier-Journal quoted Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, as saying he hasn't decided yet whether or not to sue. But they also quote prominent Kentucky atheist Edwin Kagin stating that he doesn’t think there's any grounds for a lawsuit.

And though I usually don't come down on the same side as Kagin (I don't have much kind things to say about atheism in general), for once, I agree with him. The loophole by which the theme park qualifies for state funding is through tax incentives, and even legal scholars who hate Creationism are grudgingly agreeing that the arrangement is legit.

Personally, I have no problem with the idea of the Ark Encounters park, even though I don't share their beliefs. Nowadays, religion seems to play a much smaller part in the average American's life, and the "separation of Church and State" routine is increasingly wielded as a kudgel against certain religions, and against the idea of religion itself. I say, let there be lavish theme parks for all religious beliefs, even obscure ones. Could be epic, if you think about it.

The park is being brought to you by a for-profit group called Ark Encounters LLC and a non-profit group called Answers in Genesis, the folks who brought you Kentucky's Creation Museum.

You may remember that I wrote about the Creation Museum in a somewhat irreverent style in Weird Kentucky, which prompted Ken Ham to fire back a rebuttal on his site, and also prompted an angry letter to me from one of his faithful. When writing the book, I had sources for each of the points that Mr. Ham takes umbrage to - not even including my firsthand experience - but that's not the point. I knew full well when I wrote it that it would be publicity for the Museum, and as Bela Lugosi said, "there's no such thing as bad publicity." Ham himself even acknowledges this:

Regardless — it is all still advertising! We have met a number of people who have come to the Creation Museum out of sheer curiosity because of hearing things like this—and we praise the Lord that they come! At least they will hear the gospel clearly presented.

And so I find myself in the odd position of supporting Mr. Ham and his enterprises, even though I disagree with the premise they're based on, and even though Mr. Ham himself doesn't seem to get that I'm actually trying to help him despite our differences. There are many religion-hating persons who seek to stop Creationists from spreading their message like this - I am not among them. Unlike arrogant atheists like Bill Maher, I wholeheartedly support what Mr. Ham is doing, even if I do find his Flintstones-esque message to be scientifically incorrect and scripturally unsound.

Ham & Co. probably don't welcome my support, however, since I just don't fall into lockstep with their dogma. Ham is at his most frightening when he says: "The issue we challenge people with concerns not undermining (thus rejecting) the absolute authority of God’s Word!" Ham's idea of God has much more important supporters on his side, anyway - like Gov. Beshear himself, who seems absolutely thrilled about all this. From Forbes:

Gov. Steve Beshear said he favors providing the tax incentives to encourage investors to move ahead with the Ark Encounter project that investors claim would create about 900 permanent jobs and have a $214 million economic impact in its first year of operation. The governor, who is seeking re-election next year, showed little patience with people who object to the project on religious grounds.

"The people of Kentucky didn't elect me governor to debate religion," Beshear said. "They elected me governor to create jobs. That's what we're doing here, and that's what we're going to continue to do."