Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Day Seven of Christmas; Eve of the New Year

Tonight, the finale of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, the Choral Symphony, will be heard as the stroke of midnight races around the world. Listen to An die Freude - "To Joy" - as performed by the NDR Sinfonieorchester, Chor des Norddeutschen Rundfunks, and Chor des Hambergischen Staatsoper, under the baton of Gunter Wand.

The chorus opens with these words, written by Beethoven, in an appeal to optimism and joy:

O Freunde, nicht diese tone!
Sondern lasst uns angenehmere anstimmen,
und freudevollerre
Freude! Freude!

Oh friends, not these tones!
Let us sing more cheerful songs,
And more joyful.
Joy! Joy!

With this, the Romantic Movement began in earnest. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

On the Sixth Day of Christmas . . .

. . . it's time to prepare the punch for Twelfth Night - January 5 - that most ancient festival on the eve of Epiphany.

In 1977, I was introduced to Chatham Artillery Punch at the Lion's Den in the DeSoto Hilton in Savannah. It reminded me of rumtopf, only it was better. Much better. The container - pictured - was as elegant as the beverage. The elite military unit for which it is named, one of the oldest in the nation, has a storied history of defending Georgia and the United States for over two centuries, including service in Iraq. Today, the unit serves as the 1st Battalion, 118th Field Artillery. The punch always graces their celebration of Saint Barbara's Day and Christmas. I can think of no better way to end a traditional celebration of Christmas in Georgia than with one cup of this wonderful drink. And I do mean ONE cup.

In my opinion, the following recipe - derived from several formulations and an archival source that shall remain nameless - captures the historic flavors nicely, although, I'm sure they varied over the years, depending on the ingredients at hand. (A Georgia National Guard newsletter noted that a pair of soldier's socks, the stockings of a soldier's wife, and sand from Iraq were added to the punch in 2006.) We're not going that far.

Chatham Artillery Punch (for 50 guests)

2 quarts of strong green tea (soak about 1/4 pound of tea for a day, then strain)
Juice of 10 lemons
1 1/4 pounds brown sugar
2 quarts Catawba wine (a red muscadine will be easier to find and work just as well)
2 quarts Santa Cruz rum (use Virgin Islands style rum, light or dark)
1 quart brandy
1 quart dry gin (I like the flavorings in Bombay Sapphire)
1 quart rye whiskey
3 pints Queen Anne cherries
3 pints pineapple chunks
3 quarts champagne

To prepare, sterilize a 5 gallon crock or similar vessel. Mix the tea and lemon juice, then dissolve the brown sugar and gently stir in all the alcohol except the champagne. Add the cherries and pineapple chunks carefully. Cover the crock tightly and sit aside in a cool, dark place for at least one week. No sampling allowed. To serve, pour the mixture carefully over a block of ice, add the champagne, and stir gently. Never refrigerate to cool ahead of serving or serve with ice cubes.

This is a deliciously smooth, flavorful and potent drink to be enjoyed responsibly in an appropriate setting. It is not for every party. Also keep in mind that the longer it ferments, the more powerful, deceptive and tasty it becomes. I once brewed a batch for eight weeks. It was legendary.

Monday, December 29, 2008

On the Fifth Day of Christmas . . .

I think it's time for a childhood memory. In days of old, the Potomac Farms milkman made deliveries door-to-door in the early hours of the morning. It was my responsibility to retrieve the milk bottles from the small insulated box the company provided to keep it safe from summer sun and all-season predators. One morning, probably during the week before Christmas in 1953, I popped open the lid to that box and found this around the neck of one of the bottles:

It was a nice gesture on the part of the company, and a treasure to at least one seven year old. Ever since, Santa and his elf have bid their season's greeting to all as a decoration on the family Christmas tree. Today, our adult children are quick to point it out. I have yet to decide how to divide it into three sections so the "kids" can carry on the tradition with their families.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

It's the Fourth Day and First Sunday After Christmas

Time for some music composed especially for this day. For your enjoyment and contemplation, here is the first half of J.S. Bach's Cantata Das neugeborne Kindelein BWV 122.

The newly born, the tiny child,
The darling, little Jesus child,
Doth once again the year renew
For this the chosen Christian throng.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

It's the Third Day of Christmas . . .

and here's a fine Wiener Werkstatte-style card my family received in the '20s or early '30s.

Friday, December 26, 2008

On the Second Day of Christmas . . .

I give you What Sweeter Music, a poem by Robert Herrick set to the stunning music of John Rutter, one of my favorite contemporary composers.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Monday, December 22, 2008

Biology, Physics, and the Defense of Reason

Sometimes, encountering the combination of sound thinking and the art of good writing leaves me with little to say. That is the case with the following articles.

I will say briefly that my first encounter with Leo Szilard came through watching Jacob Bronowski's magnificent television series, The Ascent of Man, back in the early '70s. Read more about Szilard and why we need more people like him at Timothy Sandefur's blog, Freespace - thanks to the link at Little Green Footballs.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that race in the United States is "a firebell in the night." The Bell Curve, written by RichardHernnstein and Charles Murray and published in 1994, reaffirmed the volatility of the subject for me. Now, one of my favorite bloggers, ShrinkWrapped, has updated his readers on race and decoding the human genome.

Whether you are on the left or right of the political spectrum, both articles raise interesting questions for political correctness and a few other afflictions that threaten our mental health these days.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

John Steinbeck

On this day forty years ago, John Steinbeck died in New York. He had a long and varied career as an American writer, but was best known for his Great Depression era novel, The Grapes of Wrath. I know the film and story line very well, but must confess that I have never read the book from cover to cover. In high school, Of Mice and Men was required reading, and I found great pleasure in reading Travels With Charley: In Search of America on my own shortly after its publication in 1962.

Steinbeck was among the best of participant-observers of 20th century America, in general, and the California experience, in particular. His work earned him a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. These days, I don't think students - and teachers - of American history and culture give him the credit and attention he deserves. Perhaps I should be satisfied knowing that history is still taught in the public schools, but that's another essay for another day.

If you don't know Steinbeck or want to know more, start with an electronic visit to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California. If you find yourself near Monterey Bay, the center is a "must see," as is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The aquarium, located on a site made famous in his novel, Cannery Row, is a world-class exhibit of the marine biology Steinbeck enjoyed and studied. Better yet, just pick up one of his books and turn another page of what it means to be an American.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Clipper Flying Cloud Update

Here's a great video I overlooked preparing Wednesday's entry on the Boeing 307 Stratoliner. Has some good pop culture history as well.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pan Am Clipper Flying Cloud

Airplanes have fascinated me almost from birth. If you read my Fall Tradition entry in October, you know I had the good fortune to spend my childhood summer vacations and frequent weekends next to a small airport. I'm happy to report that the apple really doesn't fall far from the tree. Unexpectedly last week, my son called me from the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport during his company's Christmas party. He said he was standing next to a gleaming gem of an aircraft from the 1930s. He thought I would like to hear about it. The aircraft was the Boeing 307 Stratoliner, Pan American Clipper Flying Cloud, the only surviving example of the world's first pressurized commercial airliner.

Indeed, the 307 is a beauty. Thanks to photographer, Kaszeta, and Wikipedia Commons, we can enjoy this shot of the glittering Clipper in her exhibit mode. The aircraft went into service in 1940. Built on a B-17 airframe, only ten commercial aircraft came off the line before World War II ended production.

My son had no way of knowing that I knew this aircraft, inspected her in numerous walk arounds, visited the cockpit, and had a lengthy tour of every inch of her stunning art deco interior. It was 2003, and I was in Oshkosh at the Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture, the world's largest fly-in. I visited Pan Am Clipper Flying Cloud every day for a week. When I watched her lift off the runway to begin her final trip to Dulles Airport, it felt like a summer love had come to an end.

When I realized which aircraft had my son's attention, I got a big lump in my throat, maybe even teared-up a bit. It was for two reasons. First, he shares his father's appreciation for the flying machine. Second, he has a rare eye for the engineered aesthetic. There are scores of aircraft - unique, record-breaking, historic - in that center and he called me about the one I knew well and admired, perhaps loved. There was a time when I would have analyzed a call like that at great length. These days, I smile and let the moment embrace me. Good apples!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Waiting for the Mother of All Ponzi Schemes to Implode

It seems that Bernard Madoff managed to pull of an amazing scam over the last forty years that cost his investors $50,000,000,000. Unless "the government" - that's you if you pay taxes - steps in to restore the funds, a huge number of wealthy folks, charities, universities, assorted non-profits, and other organizations will go bust or near bust. Fifty billion is a really big number and forty years is a long time. I find it hard to believe that a scam of this magnitude and duration could be pulled off without inside knowledge on the part of more than one or two people. Victor Davis Hanson has a bit to say about it here.

The Madoff scam is big news today. It was a classic Ponzi scheme, a fraudulent investment scam that paid profits to its current investors out of funds invested by future contributors. By its very nature, the Ponzi scheme is destined to go broke because the number of new investors cannot grow fast enough to pay the profits required for the earlier investors. This definition should sound vaguely familiar to American citizens because most of them send part of every pay check to the biggest Ponzi administrator of all. It's called the Social Security Administration. SSA doesn't invest your money. Instead, they give your money to current recipients and promise you that you'll get yours, with appropriate cost of living adjustments, when you retire. The only problem here is the 76 million Baby Boomers who started retiring and collecting their social security benefits this year. Their benefits are generated by an ever-shrinking pool of workers. The pool is expected to shrink for decades. So who is going to pay these workers when it's their turn to collect? Bernard Madoff's investors found out the hard way. Don't let this happen to you, my friends. Take careful responsibility for your future. If you plan on using the SSA as your retirement plan, you will be in for a big surprise when the biggest Ponzi scheme of all makes for dire headlines. Bernard Madoff's $50,000,000,000 will look like small change.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas Prep

Blogging has been light these past few days due to Christmas and New Year's decorating in and around the house. The season is full of wonder. We have some long-standing seasonal traditions from my dad's family, including decorating the tree with old ornaments. I scanned a few of them for you. They first graced my family's Christmas tree in Wheeling, West Virginia about 1880 or ten years after my great-grandparents immigrated from Bavaria.

America has been known as a throw away society for many decades. I suppose if anything runs counter to that among families it is Christmas ornaments. Five generations have used them. I'd like to think that, 130 years from now, they will still be cherished.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Shocking Revelations

I've had doubts over the last several years about the integrity of Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr., among others. Time will tell, of course, as Rezko and Blago squeal to the Feds over this latest political scandal that seems to have legs even among the Obamedia. Until we get the rest of the story, this wonderful scene from "Casablanca" will do.

The more change we can believe in, the more sameness we can expect.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Machine

I first saw machine politics at its worst in the person of Mayor Richard Daley at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968. Forty years later, I am appalled that the behavior persists in the person of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Is the Chicago Machine a cesspool of graft and corruption so deep that it has become an every day experience for people in that state? Is our president-elect a product of this thugocracy? Is he tainted by this civic rot? Let us hope not. The future of our republic deserves objective leadership, high integrity, and the selfless pursuit of commonwealth.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Laying Hands on Gold

As late as 2006, the average line worker in the Big Three/United Auto Workers auto industry was pulling down about $74 per hour in wages and costs of benefits for themselves and retirees. That's around three times the national average in the private sector. At yesterday's service at Detroit's Greater Grace Temple, in the shadow of SUVs parked at the altar, the Reverend Charles Ellis prayed for "bread" in the form of a government bailout to save the industry. All I could think of was Charlton Heston hurling the Ten Commandments at that golden calf back in 1954 when I was seven. (Cecil B. DeMille's "The Ten Commandments" is monumental; it's filled with classic special effects.)

I suppose if you're worth $153,000 a year making SUVs, those vehicles really are made of gold. And you'd think any industry capable of compensating workers like that must be rolling in dough. They're not. In fact, they're approaching bankruptcy. The reason is simple: after decades of opportunities to build a better product - and they are getting better - Detroit cannot compete with the other American auto industry called Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Hyundai, BMW, and Mercedes. With a reliable, efficient, and stylish product, these automakers now account for more than 50% of industry sales in the United States. And they're making money. Here's something else: the line workers - happy at what they do - are compensated at about half of what those Detroit workers make.

So the big question here is simply, "Are we really bailing out an industry or are we bailing out an unprofitable segment of an industry that happens to be in Detroit?" My feeling is, and has been for many years now, that the American auto industry is doing fine. It's the Detroit model, an instant gratification love fest between management and its union that doesn't work. Fixing the problem starts with a realization on the part of all Big Three players that they are a failed and unsustainable model. If the Big Three were, indeed, doing well, Detroit would not look like an American Chernobyl. When you're broke, the private jets need to go, along with 73 bucks an hour total compensation for work on the line, the job security program that pays workers almost a full wage to show up and do nothing is out, and the cradle to grave health insurance that costs workers about $200 a year needs to change.

Helping workers and their families while weening the industry from its suicidal business practices will require time, patience, and a careful plan. I like the idea of a radical paradigm shift supported by a loan with airtight oversight or a closely managed bankruptcy. Whatever we do must support a capitalist model. Any drift towards nationalizing the industry and the taxpayers, like Moses those many years ago, will be hurling.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

December 7, 1941

National Archives and Records Service Public Domain Photographs

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mumbai - More Thoughts on Terror

A week ago, ten Islamic terrorists embarked from Pakistan and invaded Mumbai, a city of 13 million, where they killed and wounded hundreds. We will know more about their motive in the weeks to come, but it appears there are primarily two possibilities. First, the attack was intended to destabilize improved relations between Pakistan and India and deflect military operations from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border regions. Second, the assault targeted Westerners, especially American and British; Western values; and allied interests. I spent several hours this week reading the facts and commentary from many sources. A few pundits have hit on a realization that seems to be creeping slowly into consciousness among current reports from the dinosaur media. It is significant.

There were millions of targets in Mumbai when the terrorists hit. They could have killed vast numbers of Hindis and Christians - infidels - along with Westerners as they attacked hotels, restaurants, hospitals, transportation centers, a cinema, and a bank. Their careful planning also included one small, literally obscure target, about one half mile from the Taj Mahal Hotel. It was the Chabad House, a Jewish center. There, the terrorist killed six hostages, but not before torturing them. No waterboarding here. In fact, their techniques were so horrifying that surgeons who received the bodies could not bring themselves to describe what they saw.

Regardless of their larger international intentions, it would appear the Mumbai terrorists were willing to commit half their participants to finding and butchering Jews, a group that made up 0.0384% of the city's population. That is insanity, the likes of which we have not seen since the Holocaust. There is no room for kumbaya in this environment. One cannot reason with madness. America and the West - what's left of it - need to understand, accept, and act on that reality today.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

William Katz: Entertaining Observations

We all know that the entertainment and media industries can have an impact on American culture. Bob Hope made this political jab in the 1940 film, "The Ghost Breakers."

I'm sure it got a great laugh in theaters. Then again, I wonder if Hope, as a die-hard Republican, was attempting more than comedy?

For the past two years or so, William Katz has been blogging about entertainment and politics through his occasional articles at the political blog, Power Line. Believe me, he should be writing books on the subject. He is a gifted writer inspired by a broad background of life experiences that would leave most of us exhausted:

William Katz, during an extensive career, has been an intern for a U.S. senator; an officer in the Central Intelligence Agency; an assistant to Herman Kahn, the nuclear-war theorist; an editor at The New York Times Magazine; a comedy writer for Bob Newhart; an interviewer for The Tonight Show, with Johnny Carson; and an the author of ten novels published in many languages.

In short, he's an insightful participant-observer of the American scene, and still working after all these years. Reading him is a delight, and I'm pleased to see that he has his own political blog at Urgent Agenda. Unfortunately, I don't think he gets nearly the exposure he deserves, and this brief article is my small attempt at spreading the word.

Katz's latest Power Line entry enlightens us on the huge significance entertainers had on the outcome of our recent presidential contest. Don't have any interest in entertainment and its impact on culture and politics? You will after watching the scene from "A Face in the Crowd," available at the link in the last paragraph of Scott Johnson's comments.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Chambliss Check and Balance

Yesterday's run-off election returned Saxby Chambliss to the U.S. Senate by a 14% margin. I'll leave it to you to read the whys and hows elsewhere. The immediate impact of this win is the preservation of the check and balance approach to government that our Founding Fathers asserted in the Constitution. I think it is also a reaffirmation of the centrism of the American electorate. Could it also reaffirm BHO's shrewd political centrism we've seen lately as he selects his team?

I suspect BHO and his advisors knew all along that this race was a real long-shot for Jim Martin. That's why he stayed away. After such a brilliant campaign win, who wants to be associated with a loser? So that left Martin with second and third tier politicos working the state while Chambliss brought in the stars, including the Saracuda herself. Most pundits were predicting a Chambliss victory by 6% or so. Given that several of BHO's executive selections are garnering 80% approval ratings or thereabouts, the blowout win by Chambliss tells us that Obamania has its limits.

Speaking of limits, I think this photo says it all about the Martin campaign. It accompanied a Boston Globe article reporting how tough it was to run the campaign without help from BHO. The smiling Martin is flanked by T.I., Young Jeezy, and Ludicris. Surrounding yourself with three rappers might work in Atlanta, for an election in Atlanta. I doubt this would work in Peoria. I know it doesn't in Young Harris or Hopeulikit or any of the hundreds of other rural towns and counties in the rest of Georgia. As an example of racial pandering, it is unsurpassed. As an illustration of the perils of identity politics, it is an object lesson. But politics is a tough, unforgiving, messy business, where desperation can lead to tactical stupidity. Thus, at the hands of an electorate in search of balance, Martin joins a long list of folks under Obama's bus as it hugs the center line. And the Constitution speaks.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Mumbai - Reality We Can Believe In

The terrorist attack on Mumbai over Thanksgiving weekend should remind us that the United States has gone without a similar assault for over seven years. Defending against terror is difficult in a free society when vigilance and action must be balanced against rights and privileges. Only the most deranged Bush haters can ignore or debase the fact that his administration has provided us with security that works. And that brings us to January 2009, the Obama administration, and the campaign theme of "change we can believe in." I suspect the lefties will be very unhappy.

Later today, BHO is expected to announce that party rival Hillary Clinton - the better candidate, I think - will become his Secretary of State. This follows on the announcement that current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will remain for at least a year, and retired General James Jones will become the senior national security advisor. All of this news comes after a host of old politicos and former Clinton administration types have signed on with the new boss. Even Karl Rove likes the selections. My friends, if this is "change," then I suspect things will remain about the same. If anything has changed, it has been BHO.

He ran his primary campaign as a new revolutionary, wrapping the unhinged, Commie retreads in rhetoric and posture that would have impressed any minister of propaganda. This left Hillary Clinton, the true centrist, with little appeal to the "coalition of the oppressed." By shifting into Clinton's centrist mold for the campaign against McCain, BHO silenced much of the opposition's thunder. And our national popular culture pitted the energetic, articulate, landmark candidate and media darling against a gentleman soldier in the sunset of his career. As January 20 approaches, the fantasy created by BHO as a master illusionist must come to an end. In preparation, the practical, pragmatic manager has emerged, and he is a centrist in a game of political and economic reality. It's funny how things change.

As I see it, the big elephant in the room staring at President Obama next month will be the mass of ecstatic special interests expecting immediate gratification. These affiliates do not function on reason. I think it is safe to assume that collective unrealized expectations will turn to anger and resentment when they realize they've been had. It will be an interesting age if the fawning media cannot suppress reality for these unfortunates.

And so, my friends, it looks like the center will hold. Yes, there will be change, but it will be tempered and come far slower than most of us expected. If BHO is as good at reality as he is at fantasy, he could be bound for greatness. Only time and experience will tell, but at this point, it appears the security and vigilance we have come to know will continue.