Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Today marks the birthday of two American artists, one recognized by almost anyone, the other an obscure introvert who remains almost unknown outside a small but growing circle of admirers. Both were filled with creative genius.

George Gershwin was born in New York in 1898. He went on to become perhaps the most beloved American composer through his many composition for the musical stage, the concert hall, and what has become known as the Great American Songbook. Gershwin's appeal comes, in part, from his colorful and lively incorporation of jazz motifs in all his music. He died in 1937 with what could only be called a wonderful career ahead of him. I often think what he could have brought to us had he lived.

The second artist, Walter Inglis Anderson, was born on September 29, 1903 in New Orleans. After training at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in the mid-1920s, he spent most of his career associated with Shearwater Pottery, a family enterprise founded in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Though deeply troubled with mental illness for much of his life, he produced thousands of vivid works of art searching to celebrate the unity of human existence with nature. I often describe his work as painted illustrations that play freely with figure and ground and the positives and negatives of visual perception. His realizations of nature explode in the mind's eye. Observing Anderson is a meditative experience.

If I had to choose two personal favorites among American artists, I would choose Gershwin and Anderson. My mother and father enjoyed his music and listened to his work on the radio and records, and later, on television. I discovered Anderson on my own in the 1970s during the dedication of an Ocean Springs visitor center that featured architectural elements incorporating his motifs as well as the display of several of his nature paintings. Studying these artists came much later in my life and, in the last five years, that study led to a startling revelation: I share a birthday with them.

George, Walter and OTR, a coincidence made somewhere in the stars beyond time. I don't want to attempt an explanation. And there's no delusion here; OTR will never approach their genius. Not sure I'd want to. I'll simply leave it at that and listen and observe the greatness knowing that we share a quiet and inconsequential commonality.

Later this week after the Voyage Of Discovery returns to Atlanta, I'll post a bit more about the artists and post some examples of their work.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Yellowstone Territory

The Voyage of Discovery spent two days exploring Yellowstone National Park, a glorious piece of volcanism and geomorphology. A fire in the south central section of the park thwarted our plans for an entrance at West Yellowstone, a circuit tour, easy exit at the north gate, and an early overnight in Gardner. Yes, we did enter at the west gate and overnight in Gardner, but only after a 175 mile detour that required retracing most of our route into the park. We arrived at our lodge well beyond sunset and near exhaustion. The fine accommodations revived us and we were on our way back into the park for an exploration of Yellowstone Canyon and an exit at the east gate. The smoke cloud from the West Thumb fire provided us with spectacular light and color and offered many opportunities for dramatic photography along the route. Our drive into Cody, Wyoming was through equally stunning landscapes under the protection of the U.S. Forest Service. At Cody, we dined at the Irma Hotel, built by Buffalo Bill Cody in 1902. Prime rib, oysters Rockefeller, baked cod, and superb vegetables made a perfect ending to a perfect day.

Iran's Surprise

National Review Online has Victor Davis Hanson's comments on the latest news on Iran's "other" nuclear project. As always, he is spot on analyzing this dangerous situation. Read it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Russell Country

The Voyage of Discovery reached Great Falls, Montana, yesterday. The Lewis and Clark expedition reached this same series of forbidding obstacles to navigation in June 1805 and spent a month portaging around them. A century later, the city that grew up around the falls was the home to artist and writer, Charles M. Russell, one of the finest interpreters of the landscape of the American West, its Indian inhabitants, and the cowboy.

Russell was born in 1864 in St. Louis, Missouri, and developed a fascination with the West as a young boy. It never left him. When his parents sent him to boarding school in New Jersey to overcome his obsession, he merely filled his notebooks with sketches of cowboys and Indians until his parents relented and sent him to the frontier with a trusted friend. As a participant-observer, Russell's interpretations developed depth and detail and by 1910 he was well-known among art circles from coast to coast. When he died in 1926, he left a legacy of thousands of illustrations, paintings, sculptures, letters and other material, much of it displayed today at the Charles M. Russell Museum in Great Falls. Within the museum, visitors can see the nature of the Northern Rockies and High Plains and the full range of those who lived and worked in this beautiful and challenging place. One can see and feel the full range of Russell, the man, from serious to whimsical.

In the last century, any boy or girl who has played "cowboys and Indians," enjoyed stories, illustrations, films and televisions programs with western themes has linked to Russell. He is an illustration of the reality and mythology of a man who has lived his dream and planted the seeds for others to follow in their own way. And for citizens of the United States, he is a national treasure. For Big Sky Montana, he is a beloved favorite son.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Searching South Dakota

Charlie, my great uncle, was a serious arm chair adventurer. He was born in 1878 and grew to adulthood during the great age of American industrial and mechanical innovation. I can imagine his enthusiasm for the Wright Brothers and their flying machine, for Edison and Marconi and their tinkering in early electronics and radio. To feed his interest in the world around him, Charlie became an early member of the National Geographic Society, perhaps as early as 1895. When he died in 1961, I had already inherited his many interests in science and the surrounding world. He also left me hundreds of Society magazines, maps, and miscellaneous items.

Today, a small red dot twelve miles south of White Lake, South Dakota, took on added significance, thanks to Charlie and his sense of adventure. The dot marked the landing spot of a record setting balloon flight made by the Society and the U.S. Army on November 11, 1935. On that day, Captain O. A. Anderson and Captain A. W. Stevens lifted off in their gondola, Explorer II, ascending to an altitude of near 73,000 feet. After eight hours and 225 miles drifting to the east, they descended to a safe landing in the rolling grasslands of White Lake.

I noticed that dot about an hour before we reached the Interstate 90 exit that would take me to this sacred ground. We drove the allotted twelve miles south of town to the end of pavement, then turned east on a dirt road labelled "274th Street" and proceeded slowly west for about a mile looking for what I thought would be a suitable marker or art deco monument marking the site. There were no brown signs marking the way. All of us scanned the fields for any sign of history, but it wasn't there. We drove another mile and still no sign. I had to accept the reality that, for me, this event would be a memory today. On the landscape, it was intangible history. There would be no photograph of OTR, the aviation and space enthusiast, standing by a beloved aviation history monument.

My traveling companions were perplexed at what would drive me to this obscure site, beyond my interest and that red dot in the travel atlas. There are two reasons. First, among the miscellaneous items in my Society collection is a panoramic picture, perhaps three feet wide, taken at Explorer II's highest altitude. The picture is in perfect condition. And second, the Society shared the significance of the flight with its members by sending them a nice sample of the fabric balloon encased in plastic accompanied by a nice description of its accomplishments.

And what were those accomplishments of this piece of missing history? The flight established an altitude record that endured for more than twenty years, well into the Jet Age. It provided the first photographs showing the division between troposphere and stratosphere, as well as the curvature of the earth. In addition, the on board instrumentation and experiments contributed to the study of cosmic radiation, ozone layering, high altitude radio wave propagation, meteorology, and biology. In all, I'd say Explorer II was quite worthy of its red dot and more. Today, the gondola has an honored place in the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington. It is a far cry from the windswept grasslands of central South Dakota.

On my return home, the picture and the fabric balloon will soon be framed and on my wall. What will be missing is my picture at the missing monument on that sacred ground. Sometimes history is like that, only a memory on a waving grassland. The search for this history will always be remembered. And there are plenty of red dots to keep me searching for a long, long time.

Sources: Wikipedia, Smithsonian Institution NASM

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Heartland History 2

Today was our first day in western Iowa and under a brilliant sun. We expected to see thousands of acres of corn and soybeans. We also knew the impact of bio fuel development caused farmers to increase their acreage in these crops over the last few years. How does one measure that increase? For those confined to the highways, it is the brilliant reflections of the sun off what must be thousands of new grain storage bins on farms both big and small. The new corrugated steel bins contrast sharply with their older, drab gray neighbors. With a bit of elevation and the correct sun angle, they glitter like gems set in a quilt of tan, green and yellow spreading to the horizon.

I wonder if these new investments will return a profit over the coming years. They certainly reflect enthusiasm for the new market. If they don't work out, I did see one innovative farmer who turned an older bin into what appeared to be a guest residence, complete with windows, landscaping, and a flag flying in that prairie breeze. Farmers have always been a creative lot, given their industry's high risk.

To be continued.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Unsung Hero

It is a name virtually no one would recognize: Norman Borlaug. His science literally saved millions of lives. He has passed away. Here is his story as posted at Blue Crab Boulevard.

Heartland History

Tonight, I'm posting from the banks of the Missouri River near Nebraska City, Nebraska. It's been twenty years since I traveled much of this route. The cities are much larger today, surrounded by concentric beltways that a generation ago were little more than wishful thinking on the part of city boosters. The most significant change I've noted is the proliferation of brown signs, indicators of recreational or other leisure activities. It seems that history has become a major tourist attraction across much of the heartland. From hamlets to county seats to state capitals, everyone seems to have "hung out a shingle" to capture attention and dollars. In all, I'd say this a great development for the study and enjoyment of popular history. On the other hand, having hundreds of choices requires discretion and preparation; otherwise, a trip could become overwhelming in short order.

More changes are evident along the Midwest's blue highways and interstates, particularly in rural areas and small towns. In the countryside, abandoned businesses and farms reflect the changing patterns of work and life in the United States. If anything, the abandonment appears to have accelerated. The larger towns - 10,000 persons or more - seem to have escaped the decline entirely, actually thriving in spite of the national recession.

Some thing never change. That wonderful sky dome still provides the colorful sunrises and sunsets. Mid morning brings on a refreshing wind that lasts into dark. Late summer wildflowers paint the prairie and every hawk finds a high perch.

To be continued.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Light Blogging: OTR On The Road

Blogging will be light for a few days while OTR gets accustomed to being on the road and traveling with new lap top. All the software checks out here in the den. With some luck and easy access to hot spots across the U.S., we'll be posting commentary every day.

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's Friday Afternoon At The White House

Well, the news dump is right on schedule this week:

Robert Groves, Director, U.S. Census Bureau, has terminated his agency's partnership agreement with ACORN. The agreement would have permitted the troubled, if not outright corrupt, organization to work with the bureau to "promote" the 2010 census. ACORN's baggage is really starting to smell. There are rumblings in several places that the scandal that brought on this break with Obama's former employer is just the beginning. Read more about current developments here and here.

Sources: Blue Crab Boulevard, Michelle Malkin, Washington Post, Fox News


Thursday, September 10, 2009

New Hubble Images Released

NASA has released several new, absolutely stunning images from its refurbished Hubble Space Telescope. It's hard to believe this magnificent instrument is approaching its twentieth year of space exploration. Link source:

Time Running Out On Iran?

According to recent polls, only 4% of Israelis believe the Obama administration supports their interests in the Middle East. This is also a measure of the perception of our effectiveness in extending an olive branch to the Islamic world. It may also create an effective impression that Israel stands alone in any action it takes to eradicate an Iranian nuclear threat, That action may be much closer than we imagine following a clandestine trip to Moscow by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyehu on Monday.

There's virtually nothing about it in the mainstream media or blogosphere, but William Katz (Urgent Agenda) picked up the story and connected the dots.

UPDATE: As of 1:30 EDT, this story is up on the Drudge Report.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Origins That Last

For fifty years, I have walked a rather wide vocational path incorporating history, geography and anthropology and their expressions on the physical landscape. I find the study of human origins, dispersals, and the waves of settlement over time and across the planet simply fascinating. When there's a new bump in what has become the expected order brought on by political correctness, I have always enjoyed watching the jostling for position and reassurance. One of the latest and best examples was the discovery of the 9300 year old Kennewick Man on a bank of the Columbia River in the state of Washington in 1996. Official Native Americans claimed him under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, but their was a problem. Kennewick Man looked very Caucasian. It took nearly eight years to get a federal court ruling keeping the remains out of the hands of the official local tribe and the obscurity that would have followed. When the law says you're "first," there's no place for an interloper with DNA that could ruin your status. After more months of negotiation, a DNA test determined that the remains were most closely identified with the Ainu people of Japan. The results have reopened the debate on the origins of early Americans.

Today, the United Kingdom's Independent reports on a even deeper discovery in the world of paleontology. Could it be that Africa was not the only "cradle of humankind?" The cache of fossilized hominin remains uncovered near Tblisi, Georgia suggests these people lived about 800,000 years before the supposed first migrations out of Africa that occurred about 1 million years ago. If confirmed, such a finding would rewrite the paleontology of the 20th century and the history of man. Read about it here.

I find it interesting that Kennewick Man and the Tblisi remains speak to us as much about the futilty of superlatives as they do about history. When it takes an Act of Congress to make you first, the probability is high that it will not last. Best keep an open mind.

Deconstructing The "Whup Ass"

Victor Davis Hanson dissects the Van Jones mess in this Works and Days post on Pajamas Media. I hear echoes of Tom Wolfe's Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers bouncing everywhere off the edges of Hanson's column. If you're unfamiliar with Wolfe's 1970 classic about the nexus of white liberal guilt and black rage, get your hands on a copy today and prepare to laugh.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Crazy Patsy Cline

The Maryland-Virginia area has produced a number of entertainment celebrities over the years. Just last week, I posted about Arthur Godfrey, a star in early television whose name is rarely recognized today. There was another tremendous star that rose out of the region in the 1950s. This star still shines bright, almost fifty years after her tragic death in 1963.

She was born on September 8, 1932 in Winchester, Virginia. In her early teens, she began singing locally on the radio, in clubs and at special events. By the mid-1950s, she was singing with a young Jimmy Dean on a popular country music show broadcast from Washington. A year after her network television appearance on The Grand Ole Opry, she auditioned for the nationally popular show, Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. The public loved her. Godfrey loved her. He made Patsy Cline a star.

Read all you want about Cline, but the best way to know her is to listen. The voice said it all. The ten minutes of music that follows is some of the best country-pop crossover and early Nashville sound one can hear. It consists of three songs, her first hit, "Walkin' After Midnight" (1957), followed by "I Fall to Pieces (1961), and "Crazy" (1961), her signature song.

Never met Patsy. Never knew anyone who did. But I did grow up with her music often hearing it over the radio all day at our family's summer haunt in Burlington, West Virginia. The village was on U.S. 50, just a dozen ridges and forty miles
west of her first home in Gore, Virginia. Maybe a bit far to claim her as your own, but still close enough to make one proud of a country kid who made it big. And we're still crazy for her after all these years.

Image source: Les Leverett, WSM Studios, Nashville, 1963;

Monday, September 7, 2009

Maintstream Media "Coverup Is Worse Than The Crime"

Andrew Breitbart encourages the mainstream media to overcome its shameful non-performance in the Van Jones issue and return to its proper role as the Fourth Estate. Their failure to do so can only damage the Obama administration. This is a must-read.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Jim Hoff: Gateway Pundit

Jim Hoff blogs from St. Louis as the Gateway Pundit. His eBlogger profile lists his interests as truth, democracy, and faith. Many in the blogosphere are giving Hoff credit for exposing Van Jones as unfit from several perspectives for czardom at the White House. From my very tiny corner of the electronic universe, I heartily agree. Hoff deserves our thanks for sticking with an important story that the state-run, main stream media completely ignored.

UPDATE: And yes, this does make the New York Times and friends look very, very bad. Several of today's entries at NRO's The Corner address this issue.

Sex In The City Future

Imagine a future of enormous interior urban spaces, full of complexity, where anonymity washes away inhibitions and feeds the arousal of the masses. Lawrence Osborne, writing in, takes us to places where the prototypes of such a future have already arrived. Most interesting. Link to Osborne's thoughts on urbanism here.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Complete Left-Wing Nightmare Package

Who do we have in the White House? A self proclaimed Communist. A vulgar Marxist twice over. A supporter of cold-blooded cop killer Mumia Abu Jamal. A 9/11 Truther. A racist hater, whose hatred extends to the United States. And insofar as his current job is concerned, we have a man who sees the "green job" con as a tool for overthrowing capitalism. We have, in short, the complete left-wing nightmare package.

This is Scott Johnson's take on Obama appointee, Van Jones. It should be chilling for any American who respects the values embodied in the Constitution. Then consider that the New York Times, NBC Nightly News, ABC World News and CBS Evening News have not produced one word about this abomination. The Washington Post merely mentions the story today.

Read the rest of Johnson's post here. This administration is being exposed as a serious socialist threat to our way of life and Johnson has the best synopsis around.

Fifty Things Being Killed By The Internet

The Telegraph has an interesting list today illustrating how the Internet continues to shape our lives. Of course, there is a British "list" to the list and a few political cards tossed into the mix. Overall, I think you'll find it an enjoyable way to start your weekend. Source: Outside the Beltway. My favorites:

Fear that you are the only one unmoved by a celebrity's death.

Listening to an album all the way through.

Photo albums and slide shows.

Enforceable copyright.

Mainstream media.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Labor Day And The American Dream

Labor Day comes Monday, but I figured addressing the theme today would make sense as most of us will be enjoying the day with family and away from the Internet. My most memorable Labor Days occurred in the '50s and '60s when I attended the big day-long picnic sponsored by the paper mill that employed my home town. Three to four thousand people attended those picnics and enjoyed carnival rides, swimming, softball, races, airplane rides, and a playground filled with wonderfully dangerous equipment that could never be built today. It all ended with a movie under the stars at the drive-in theater next door.

Although many of the kids I played with those days ended up working at the mill, I imagine a number of them went on to college and enjoyed the greater incomes and opportunities it afforded. In the long run the college graduates made the right decision. Today, the mill employs only a shadow of its former workforce, perhaps fewer than a third when compared to its post World War II heyday. The picnic is a shadow, too, and now held at a mediocre site. The union wages may still be good, but the jobs are few, and the quality of life is wanting in the region now entering its sixth decade of decline.

In my life, I've always made a point to family, friends, and colleagues that all work is honorable. Every employee, from minimum wage to executive salary, contributes to achieving organizational success. That college diploma stills determines in large part where one will fall on the earnings scale; however, the formula may be changing. In fact, opportunities to develop skills beyond the campus have never been greater. Simply put, the American Dream may be closer to more employees than ever. That should make a lot of people very happy, even in the midst of our economic downturn.
If we could just find a way to resurrect a good liberal arts curriculum in high school, I would be very pleased. Tomorrow's happy workers should at least know about the American Experience and its precedents that enabled them.

William McGurn has more to say on work and dreams in his column at The Wall Street Journal's Opinion Online.

A Prediction

I predict that Obama's Green Commie-Czar, Van Jones, could be tossed in tomorrow's White House Late Friday Afternoon News Dump. Remember, this is a holiday weekend, so people have three full days to "forget" Jones if he "resign" tomorrow. Many professional pundits say he won't last through the weekend.

This White House needs serious help vetting out the loonies. And it is frightening to think how many senior positions remain unfilled after seven and one half months into this administration..

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Carrington Event: Shock On A Grand Scale

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the Carrington Event, a "geomagnetic mega-storm" that triggered the Northern Lights as far south as parts of Central and South America. This page at the British Geological Survey shows the original recording made at the Greenwich Observatory, London.

The electronic world we live in would be devastated should a similar event occur today. Perhaps anthropogenic climate change should be the least of our worries.

The Spaceweather page was the source for this story. It's a first-rate site worthy of your attention if you have any interest in our planet and its relationship to the Sun. It's a great site for kids, too. The Satellite Flyby tracker has helped me turn family and friends into compulsive sky watchers.

Van Jones: Obama's 9/11 Truther Commie-Czar

You can't make up this stuff. It's too weird.

I'm not especially happy seeing my tax dollars paying the salary of Van Jones, an avowed communist and black nationalist, to be the administration's Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. His personal political affiliations don't bother me; it's his right. Having a "Green Czar" at the White House works, as well. What bothers me is having another far leftist in a high profile position officially linked to the environmental movement. If you think Joseph Stalin was concerned about pollution because he was a communist, you need a serious, reality-based history lesson.

Our environment, natural and cultural, is something we all share. Having its interests claimed by a political group is unsettling, first, because it is dishonest and, second, because it excludes and alienates those with differing points of view. I would expect President Obama's political appointments to advance the causes for which they are employed; however, this appointment bears all the hallmarks of a hidden agenda. This is the reason why. Although Glenn Beck occasionally needs stronger meds and a rubber room, I think his guest makes good sense here.

There is plenty more on the Internet about Van Jones, especially after his "Republicans are assholes" comment of February 11, 2009, went mainstream in the Washington Post and elsewhere:

Frankly, this really doesn't bother me. I think we all know what Jones was trying to say and to a large extent, he's correct; however, most folks would have exercised more discretion. Perhaps we can just call it a "social justice" moment for someone who never expected to work in the White House. In any case, Van Jones now finds himself monitoring the distribution of $30,000,000,000. All we can hope is that all those greenbacks really go to promote "green."

For more on Van Jones, there is a nicely balanced bio at Wikipedia, including a link to Jones's revealing blog at the Huffington Post. For a conservative POV and the breaking news that Jones was a 9/11 truther - and a believer that hip hop holds the key to social change - check out this link at Gateway Pundit.

I don't think we've heard the end of this story.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Chris Connor: Cool Jazz

This past Saturday, the music world lost Chris Connor, a singer who defined the cool jazz genre popularized in the 1950s and 60s and reignited in the 80s. Here she is with her signature song:

It doesn't come any smoother then that. And once more, I ask, where is this music today?