Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Curious Observation In Earth Science

Earth science is a relatively new and immensely complex pursuit. We still have much to observe and understand about the piece of space rock we call home. On March 18, the Discovery Channel premieres its new series, Frozen Planet. One of the phenomena explored in the series is the "brinicle." It is a brine icicle characterized as a "finger of death" as it creeps along the ocean floor beneath the Antarctic ice shelf. Brinicles have never been filmed before. The video at the end of the link is amazing.

If the rest of this new series is as dramatic at the brinicle clip, viewers will be in for a blockbuster of a treat.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Who, Who, Who Will Survive?

Is it good policy to kill this owl

in order to save this owl?

Federal policy may be in place later this year that will permit the killing of Barred Owls in order to save the endangered Northern Spotted Owl. A similar policy over the last generation has effectively killed the logging industry in the Northwest. Now current research shows that human modification of the landscape is encouraging the westward migration of the Barred Owl. Given its large size, it has no problem overtaking the habitat of the native species. Interbreeding is underway as well. The new hybrid is referred to as the "Botted" or "Sparred" Owl. 

Some folks say that wildlife management in just about any form is playing God. OTR believes, as with most of life's doings, it is a matter of scale where degrees of success are inversely proportional to the size of the project. That said, the Spotted Owl  project comes into focus as a huge task that raises many questions. We know Mother Nature is a cruel mother. Would she condemn an invasive species? Would she think it folly to stop a natural process? And though our religion may give us dominion over the planet, here we must choose between two beautiful species. What to do? As with all good intentions, these policy decisions will be painful.

Interestingly, OTR had a close encounter with a Barred Owl at sunset yesterday. Huge, silent, almost regal, the visitor spent several minutes perched about forty feet from the patio. This splendid but rather common resident of his woods brought him wonder usually reserved for childhood. Some may say OTR doesn't get out much. Some may laugh. They do so only because they dwell in the Great Illusion.

N.B. OTR may soon start an Adopt-An-Owl program.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Aviation In Film History: The Aviator (2004)

This week's aviation-themed film is The Aviator, a biopic based on the life of Howard Hughes. Released in 2004, this film was directed by Martin Scorsese and starred Leonardo DiCaprio. It won five Oscars out of eleven nominations, including Best Supporting Actress to Cate Blanchett for her superb portrayal of Katherine Hepburn. The Aviator is a fast paced, compelling piece of entertainment. There is crisp editing, an interesting replication of historic color processes, full and scaled models for many of the flying sequences, and a notable score by Howard Shore.

Readers who are familiar with the Hughes story know that it is far from a happy one for a boy born to wealth and privilege. It is the story of the full spectrum of ambition, achievement, and personality. DiCaprio's performance of Hughes's decline into severe mental illness should earn him high respect as one of the better actors of our time.

As for the film's subject, Howard Hughes, it can be said he was one of the most eccentric, diverse, inventive visionaries of the last century. If you enjoy films, you can bet they'll be some of him somewhere in the equipment or the production. If you fly frequently or have anything to do with the aviation industry, his imprint will be everywhere.

Here is the trailer:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sandhill Cranes

Four waves of Sandhill cranes, numbering around 700 in total, passed overhead during three hours of observation this afternoon. They were pushing northwest against a strong southwesterly flow brought on by a warm front earlier in the day that raised Atlanta highs to about 70 degrees. Sandhills are enjoyable to watch with their shapely "v" and wide arc formations as well as their "kettling" in uplifts prior to departure. In our woodland setting we always hear their distant croaking that leaves us hoping they will fly over our clearing. And most of the time they do because they fly high, sometimes into the thousands of feet. At those altitudes it's hard to imagine that you are looking at a bird that may stand five feet tall and soar on a seven foot wing span. Though there is a resident population of Sandhills in Georgia, several hundred-thousand will migrate from their wintering ground in Florida to summer in the Midwest and Canada. Coming or going, they always bring a smile and leave us looking up for more.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bluebirds All Day Long

Yesterday there was one, perhaps two. Today there are dozens of bluebirds in our woods. If we're lucky some of them will stay as they have done intermittently during the twenty years here on our hill. Their activity, along with the brilliant breeding plumage of our purple and gold finches, is a sure sign of a new season coming on strong.

Monday, February 20, 2012

It's A Monday Holiday And Washington's Unbirthday

It's the third Monday in February and time for the holiday we know as Washington's Birthday. Research tell us that George Washington was actually born on February 22, 1732  or February 11, 1731 according to the Old Style calendar. At one time we actually had a Washington's Birthday holiday on February 22, but that changed in 1971 when the "Monday holiday rule" took effect. The rule was a postlude to a torturous twenty year saga of federal bickering, ineptitude, and state's rights issues over the national failure to honor our presidents, in particularly Abraham Lincoln, with their very own holiday. The fallout left us with what is in reality a Washington's Unbirthday holiday.

Never keen to let a good shopping opportunity pass them by, American capitalists liked the idea of a President's Day. They saw the advantage of the patriotic fervor generated by matching silhouettes of Lincoln - log cabins - and Washington - axes and cherries - positioned over merchandise and big red signs reading "SALE." The concept caught on. Today, about all Americans have left with the third Monday in February is the opportunity to buy stuff, mostly stuff they don't need. On the federal level, this leaves us with nothing for Old Abe and the other presidents and an incorrect title for George's big day.

OTR figures one could sooth this insult by shopping the day away. In reality, he seriously doubts shoppers can beat the price, free shipping and no sales tax - usually - that one can enjoy from on a 24/7 basis.  He bets there's a similar site for those big, big ticket items like cars.

So what is one to do? Perhaps it's best to forget the issues of a misnomer and the neglected presidents and return to Lincoln and Washington as our February presidents. And they have more in common as presidents who share the quality of American exceptionalism, a term we've been hearing more often these days as the republic drifts ever closer to its golden years. With that in mind, OTR suggests his readers find a comfortable setting and reflect on these men and their place in the American experience. If readers need a bit of encouragement here are two statements, one so very brief, the other a bit longer, both reflecting the greatness of their authors and the hope they shared for our unique national experience:

Washington's Farewell Address, written in 1796 on his coming departure from the presidency;

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, delivered on November 19, 1863.

What more need be said?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

'Godspeed, John Glenn'

Glenn in orbit, February 20, 1962
Fifty years ago tomorrow (February 20), John Glenn rocketed into history to become the first American to orbit Earth. There was a memorable gathering Saturday at Florida's Kennedy Space Center to honor the unforgettable event and the people who made it so. Glenn, fellow Mercury astronaut, Scott Carpenter, and scores of support staff who made it happen toured  Launch Complex 14 recalling the momentous day. In 1962, Glenn made three orbits then returned to a splashdown about 500 miles northeast of Puerto Rico. Over the years 330 Americans have joined him in space travel.

The NASA website has a fine multimedia presentation on Mercury-Atlas 6, the mission that put Glenn and his spacecraft, Friendship 7, into orbit. Wikipedia has a page on the mission and some excellent recommendations for further reading online. To commemorate tomorrow's event, The Ohio State University has prepared an excellent illustrated biography and description of the flight. OTR also recommends The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe's outstanding 1979 book on the formative days of the American space program and the seven astronauts - including Glenn - selected for the Mercury program. 

When we look back at the American space program, this achievement was one of the nation's proudest moments. It stands in harsh contrast to the present when or leadership seems to show little interest in space exploration let alone definitive commitments to future astronauts, a return to the moon or a mission to Mars. All hope is not lost however, as our inventive reach into space by the private sector is a near-term reality.

College Lacrosse 2012

Maryland Lacrosse Team: The Glory Days
The college lacrosse season kicked off a few weeks ago. For OTR it began yesterday with the opening game for the University of Maryland Terrapins. Though it won't be a championship season for the Terps, they got off to a good start beating Hartford 12-6 in front of a home crowd.

From all indications, lacrosse continues to be the fastest growing sport in the United States, even outpacing soccer, in OTR's opinion, a much slower, more restrictive, and far less entertaining sport. Just thirty years ago, the game was a virtually exclusive sport still heavily anchored in the Ivy League and in the prep schools that supplied them with players. Today, there are more than sixty Division I teams found on the East and West Coasts and at the flagship universities in the flyover country. Each year that number grows by one or two teams. Expansion in other college divisions and at the middle and high school levels is much greater. There is a great future in store for lacrosse.

The increasing popularity of the sport had led to expanded media coverage. In 2012, the ESPN networks will broadcast 49 college games. The new NBC Sports Network broadcast the Moe's Southwest Grill College Lacrosse Classic from Jacksonville today, but the extent of their future coverage of college lacrosse is uncertain. Nevertheless, between local and ESPN coverage this year, lacrosse fans are in for plenty of excitement.

Need more information?

For full coverage of high school, college and professional lacrosse, visit This site has a 2012 schedule of televised games;

For the whos, hows, whats and whys of the game, visit, the home of the national governing body of lacrosse.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Aviation In Film History: Things To Come

Things to Come is a journey into the near future as envisioned by the British science fiction genius, H.G. Wells. Released in 1936, the film was directed by the art direction and production design pioneer, William Cameron Menzies, with Wells as the screen writer. In addition, there is a fine score by the British composer, Sir Arthur Bliss. In the century described in the film, we see war, a future Dark Age, world government, glowing cities, and questions about the meaning of progress. Through it all, Menzies and his staff design a world immersed in the aerodynamic elements of Streamline Moderne. The film is nothing short of a visual feast. At the same time, it is a significant historical statement on the perception of the world living the legacy of the horror of World War I and the uncertainly of the Treaty of Versailles. In addition, film buffs will enjoy placing Things to Come in the great timeline of
science fiction films.

In  summary, there is a lot of content packed into this film. It may well take two or three viewings to fully appreciate the story, its message and the genius of the production. Readers need to be aware that the film is available in several versions. Unfortunately, none of them approaches a "director's cut," and OTR can't offer much guidance other than avoiding any  colorized version. In almost all cases, there's no value added to watching a tinted version of a black and white film masterpiece.

So there you have it, friends, a film full of history, architecture, urban planning, aviation, technology, conflict, emotion, uncertainty, and hope. If you want about two hours of thought-provoking entertainment, readers can certainly find it in Things to Come.

There is no suitable trailer available on YouTube but this excerpt is a good example of what's in store for viewers:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Was It Over When The Germans Bombed Pearl Harbor?

The New York Times education writer, Daniel Slotnik, provides readers with some fun as they ponder his fictional college quiz. It's a nice diversion for readers who happen to be filing scores of applications, drowning in financial aid paperwork or simply recalling those wonderful college years. And if you indeed have enjoyed such ignes eruditionis as Huxley College or Wossammotta U., OTR awards you an honorary Ph.D. in beatus viventium.

Some enlightenment:

H/T: Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Music For The Close Of Valentine's Day

Three love songs by Robert Burns arranged for brass quintet:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Lincoln's Birthday 2012

An 1864 photograph of Lincoln and his son, Tad.

Here is a roundup of thoughts, opinions, and happenings on the occasion of the birth of Abraham Lincoln on this day in 1809:

Lincoln"s Birthday Open House at Ford's Theater, Washington

Remembering Mr. Lincoln, Scott Johnson, Powerline

A Genius For Friendship, Scott Johnson, Powerline

A Birthday, William Katz, Urgent Agenda

A Birthday Wish For Abe Lincoln, Glen Pearson, Huffington Post Canada

Abraham Lincoln or the Progressives: Who was the Father of Big Government?, Allen Guelzo, The Heritage Foundation

Happy 23rd Birthday, Mr. Lincoln, Ann Tracy Mueller, The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Illinois

Why Abraham Lincoln's birthday isn't a federal holiday, Paul Grier, The Christian Science Monitor

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cosmic Consciousness And Climate Change

Galileo had his share of detractors as well
Here's some leading edge reading on the global climate change debate courtesy of a post from Steve Hayward at Powerline. As OTR has stated many times, we seem to know the "whats" and "wheres." It's the "whos, hows, and whys" presenting the greatest challenges for now. Give us another century and we'll likely have it figured out. Until then, we best be careful taking sides lest some of us come across looking mighty foolish.

Friday, February 10, 2012

It Ain't Over Til It's Over

Empires do run their course. OTR's always loved Ben Franklin's observation about George Washington's Rising Sun Chair at Independence Hall. Could the sun be rising or setting? Franklin saw it as rising along with the new republic. Today some may look at that chair and draw a different conclusion. Some don't need a chair decoration to know where they stand. We're approaching 250 years of experience with the American experiment and, compared with the record of things at the heart of Western Civilization, maybe its not so grim after all.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Aviation In Film History: Team America:World Police

Team America: World Police is a wonderfully patriotic film. One could say the characters are somewhat wooden, but that would be accurate as the film features a wild cast of marionettes. The entire production emerges from the minds of the South Park creators. That goes a long way in explaining that this film is not an ordinary film experience along the lines of something one would expect from John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart or Disney. Young readers will easily understand why OTR makes this statement. Older readers may need some additional guidance. In short, readers need to be discretionary in order to enjoy the patriotism. Don't  make the following mistake:

OTR and Mrs. OTR had their niece and her husband as house guests a few years ago. After a wonderful dinner on the grill, we suggested they would enjoy Team America: World Police and proceeded to rent the film as we had seen and enjoyed it earlier. Husband was enthusiastic as he was a military pilot, aware of the film,  but had never watched it. Unknown to us, we rented the unexpurgated version. We didn't know niece and husband that well and were forced to watch their reaction to voluminous amounts of foul language and a mind-boggling episode of kinky puppet sex that will be forever etched in OTR's memory. It was quite an icebreaker.

With that warning, OTR highly recommends that Team America: World Police end up in your Netflix queue or Comcast On Demand list. Just be aware of which version you choose. Either way, you will be rewarded with some of the best satire this side of Derkaderkastan or North Korea. Here are two trailers to whet your anti-terrorist appetite:

Insanity Thriving

While reading his news sources this morning, OTR came across another unsettling story focused on perception, reality and world politics. Apparently there is a new fatwa in Egypt that prohibits the owning or driving of the Chevrolet. It seems a Salafi - read "literalist" and "puritan" - sheik has noticed that the Chevrolet logo is actually a representation of the Christian cross and therefore haram or legally forbidden. Though the exact origin of what has become known as the Chevy bow-tie is lost to history, the "threat" itself has been part of our culture for 113 years.

The greater threat from the Chevy logo may be in our future. It seems the Salafi sheik is not alone in Egypt. In fact, the recent elections tell us that fully 25% of the new parliament can identify with him. Fortunately, the internal link in the Moonbattery story indicates that not all Egyptians are sympathetic with such twisted thinking. That's a good sign because history tells us it is difficult at best to deal politically with rampant paranoia and distorted realities, and downright futile to reason with insanity.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Aviation In Film History: Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb

If you're an older boomer you're likely to have vivid memories from this black comedy classic by director, Stanley Kubrick. It premiered in January 1964, fifteen months after the United States and Soviet Union pulled back from nuclear confrontation brought about by the Cuban missile crisis and twenty years of the Cold War. The plot involves the failure of a "fail safe" nuclear attack system and the personalities fated to deal with it. They include among others, Gen. "Buck" Turgidson, Brig. Gen. Jack Ripper, Col. "Bat" Guano, Maj. "King" Kong, Soviet Ambassador Alexis de Sadesky and President Merkin Muffley.

George C, Scott, and Slim Pickens are in the cast, all led by the comedy genius of Peter Sellers who plays three characters.

Dr Strangelove consistently finds itself rising in "best of" film lists everywhere as it approaches its fiftieth anniversary. There is so much material in this film from dialog to set design to editing that it has become a course subject in many universities across the nation, and not just in those popular culture courses.

OTR's readers may wonder why he feels it necessary to discuss such a well-known film. The motivation here is to reach younger viewers who more and more seems to find little value in anything older than their birth date. Furthermore, the focus on the here and now seems to tighten more everyday. Sometimes it's essential to stop and listen to yesterday if we're going to have anything to say about tomorrow.  The bottom line: don't miss this masterpiece.

Here is the first part of a documentary on the making of Dr. Strangelove. It's a great teaser and has some interesting background on Kubrick and the world setting that shaped the production:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Light Enters The World

Readers undoubtedly will hear something about groundhogs today. They are less likely to learn that February 2 marks a Christian festival day. It is known in the western Catholic tradition as the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin or Candlemas, and more often in the Protestant world simply as The Presentation of Our Lord.

The festival marks the fortieth day following the birth of Jesus. Under Mosaic law, it was a day for temple rites completing the purification of a woman following childbirth. It was also the day to present the firstborn son for redemption in the rite of  pidyon haben.

The Candlemas tradition emerges from Luke 2:22-39 where Simeon prays over Jesus with words that would become known as the Song of Simeon or Nunc Dimittis:

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, 
 you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
   and the glory of your people Israel.

Beginning around the third century following the birth of Jesus, the blessing of candles and their procession about the church on this feast day became a symbol of Jesus as the light of the world. The practice did not emerge in the western church for at least another seven hundred years.
Here is a remarkably beautiful hymn for the day by the American composer, Morton Lauridsen. Nice visuals as well. Click on the "show more" link for a description and translation of the piece:

This day has other interesting attributes. It is the end of Christmas (Epiphany) in the Christian calendar. It is also the mid-point of Winter, a cross-quarter day filled with pagan traditions symbolizing fire and the "return of the light"

In OTR's house, the last of the Christmas greenery will be removed and stored for another time. Later, he'll build a fire in a fireplace that seems naked without its trimmings  of red, green, gold and glass. But there will be light and warmth, both spiritual and physical, as this joyous season comes to a close.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Happiness In What Goes Around Comes Around

Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered with Fast and Furious weapons
Instapundit's Scott Johnson finds a "fantastic" CNN column about the Fast and Furious program by former National Security Agency head, Michael Hayden. With over one hundred congressmen already officially calling for Attorney General Eric Holder's resignation, more posts of this kind may hasten that event. OTR applauds CNN for what seems to be a recommitment to traditional journalism.