Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Sprites Are Early This Year

First color image of a sprite, 1996
Although they have been observed for well over century it wasn't until the late 1980s that scientists photographed a sprite. We aren't talking about the garden variety here, this is a high-atmosphere lightning phenomenon that occurs in the blink of an eye over thunderstorms. Sprites usually appear in summer but they made early appearances over Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico this week. Dr. Tony Phillips at has all the details.

Sprites occur around the planet and are best viewed in open, clear and dark skies where distant thunderstorms sit on or below the horizon. Our friends in the Great Plains have preferred seating for this show. At the same time, OTR wonders what the early appearance of sprites may hold for the rest of us.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Banjo-Pickin' Bluegrass Legend, Earl Scruggs, Died Today

Earl Scruggs - Photo by Tom Pich
OTR never met the man, but Mrs. Ranger had a wonderful evening with Earl Scruggs and friends in a tiny venue in Newborn, Georgia, a year or so ago. He came to listen to music and ended up in long conversations with audience members.  She reported he was most gracious, quite generous with his time, and delivered dozens of stories in a warm, down-home style sprinkled with the laughter of a satisfied man. After some prompting he took the stage reluctantly to perform with several local musicians. She thought everybody had a good time that evening, especially Scruggs who helped turn out the lights and lock the door.

Here is Scruggs performing his Foggy Mountain Breakdown with Lester Flatt, his musical partner for over twenty years, and the Foggy Mountain Boys:

Simply legendary music.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Does A New Reality Threatens Historic Preservation?

Baltimore's Shot Tower (1828) may be for sale or lease
In the turmoil of the present in the United States - it's a permanent condition - the past is a wonderful anchor in time. It tells us who we were, what we accomplished both good and ill, and to a great extent what we are likely to become. As a young nation, we had a limited perspective on elements of our natural and cultural life deserving understanding, appreciation, and preservation. Bits and pieces were saved by singular groups, individuals, corporations and government.  It took the American experience well over a century to establish a national park organization - National Park Service, 1916 - to manage the existing great parks afforded to us by a magnificent wealth and excess of resources. Twenty year later, cultural resources received similar appreciation, but their protection was really not codified on a national basis until 1966 and the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act.

Today, the nation finds itself at an economic crossroad. These are hard times for government decision-makers. The "magnificent wealth and excess of resources" seems no longer with us and the decision-makers may not share the values that moved our forebears to preserve elements of their past. That is the situation today in Baltimore where city officials are considering the sale or lease of fifteen historic structures in order to reduce budget deficits. Twelve of the buildings are designated national landmarks that will requiring careful planning for maintenance and use by new owners or leasees. Still, the thought of divesting public resources that have been a part of the Baltimore landscape for two centuries is unsettling.  OTR and others who have spent a lifetime preserving and interpreting our great national experiment fear the precedent such actions establish for other officials. This is delicate surgery because future values and experiences could be at stake.

N.D. The link has a rather long and interesting comment thread. Reader alert: some content may be offensive.

Aviation In Film History: Airplane! (1980)

David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker  - the ZAZ team - wrote and directed this hilarious Paramount Pictures spoof of the disaster genre.  The year of its release, Airplane! soon became the third highest grossing comedy at the box office up to that date. Today, the film continues to climb high on several "best comedy" lists. It is 87 minutes of slapstick demanding careful attention through bouts of laughter and projectile popcorn. Full appreciation will require at least two additional viewings.

Airplane has a wonderful cast of characters; however, its stars, Robert Hays and Julie Haggerty, met with limited success in their subsequent film careers. That was not the case for three established actors, Leslie Nielsen, Lloyd Bridges, and Robert Stack, who were acting in their first comedy roles. Nielsen's performance established him as a leading comedian, a role he later said he had always dreamed about. Bridges and Stack also saw a significant shift toward comedy in their future film appearances.

Aside from its place in film history as superb entertainment, Airplane! has influenced a new generation of comedy writers and directors. The best example of this impact is the team of Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the duo behind Dumb and Dumber (1994), There's Something About Mary (1998) and and many other laugh-makers.

Here's a taste of the madness:

Saturday, March 24, 2012

More Duke Justice From The Mob?

The Trayvon Martin story in Florida is taking on some characteristics of the Duke lacrosse case in North Carolina in 2006. Once more, the rule of law appears to be displaced by the American race hate industry and a lengthy investigation. Our current political situation has the potential to make the Martin case far more volatile as it develops in the long, hot summer of a pivotal election year.

Information emerging today does not fit the desired narrative of the hate groups. Instapundit's Scott Johnson has the details. 

We are a republic where legal process determines guilt or innocence. We need to let that process unfold. The mob process never leads to peace and justice.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Illusions We Should Know

Here is an optical illusion, a safe and entertaining curiosity:

Here is a political illusion, an instructive and frightening reality:

His name is Herbert Marcuse. If you attended college when history courses were actually a requirement, you likely read about him or even read his book, One-Dimensional Man (1964). If you were a member of the 1960s counterculture, you likely worshiped him.

Robin Phillips has much to say about Marcuse and his legacy in this brief, revealing article in Salvo Magazine. This is essential reading, friends. Phillips's new book, Saints and Scoundrels from King Herod to Jim Elliot, may be of interest as well.

H/T Paul Mehl, Concordia, MO

Friday, March 16, 2012

St. Patrick's Day 2012

From OTR's family to yours, have a safe and happy St. Patrick's Day.

Here is the rest of the story in a Oscar-nominated short:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Aviation In Film History: The Battle of Britain

This film was a 1969 British production released in the United States by United Artists. It's notable for its accurate portrayal of the five month long conflict that ended Hitler's plan for a land invasion of the British Isles. In addition, it is remembered for its extraordinary aerial combat scenes featuring more than 100 period aircraft and scores of scaled models. The final confrontation over London has been described as one of the finest recreations of its kind on film.

There is a dynamite cast led by Laurence Olivier, Curd Jurgens, Trevor Howard, Patrick Wyman, Christopher Plummer, Michael Caine, and Ralph Richardson. The film was scored by Sir William Walton and Ron Goodwin.

Though The Battle of Britain lost out on major awards, it ranks near the top of the list among aviation enthusiasts for its honest portrayal of a signature struggle in Western history, its exciting score, and those 100 original World War II aircraft. Here is the trailer:

Once you hear a Spitfire with a Merlin engine, you never forget it.

Profesora Rita Geada de Prulletti: A Cuban Refugee Embraces The Mother Of Exiles

Rita Geada, Miami, 2010
We sat in high school Spanish class early in the year awaiting an introduction to our new teacher, Rita Geada de Prulletti (1934 or 1937-  ). Weeks earlier, we had heard that she was a most learned woman, a professor, and would impart her native language upon us with great skill.  We expected anything but a deeply shy woman of barely 26 years old, with raven black hair, dark eyes, and a polite and nervous smile. The "profesora" seemed reluctant to meet us. When she spoke, we understood. She knew virtually no English. On hearing her, I'm sure more than one boy began constructing a list of how best to terrorize Spanish class for the rest of the year. As an academic and intellectual - she published her first book of poetry when she was 22 - the year was difficult for her. Where she expected respect and classroom order as in her home country, she was tested repeatedly, one time to tears, but she prevailed. We were immersed in Spanish as there was no alternative and we - most of us - learned it well. Through the profesora's shyness, her search for discipline and respect, the tears, and her perseverance, we learned far more than a second language. We learned about life. 

First, Rita Prulletti was a Cuban refugee from Castro's communist and equally fresh revolution. She was a scholar, having received her doctorate from the University of Havana. The Organization of American States enabled her to complete post-doctoral studies at the University of Buenos Aires. No doubt, she left Cuba in haste, perhaps escaping with the usual suitcase of clothes and leaving family, future and homeland behind. She refused to talk about her experience. A biography mentions her arrival in the United States in 1963 to teach at Southern Connecticut State College. There is no mention of her teaching at Wi Hi.  Was it too painful? An embarrassment? Reasons why are in the past, but they are never really dead.

In mid-October 1962, the Soviet Union attempted to place missiles in Cuba. For the United States, the Cold War suddenly took on a much hotter dimension. Soon, the drone of aircraft heading south from Dover Air Force Base was a daily occurrence. At the first sounds, we  moved to the windows or gazed up from the playing fields to watch the formations of twenty or thirty aircraft overhead. In wave after wave, they flew into the confrontation that, at this point, was beyond our horizon but in our eyes and ears with every evening newscast. Curiously, OTR does not recall if Profesora Prulletti was in the classroom at that time. How odd, he thinks. Could her introversion, the nervous fleeting smiles, have masked her so well that even her presence at the height of such a crisis could go unnoticed? The answer rests in the profesora's need to be somewhere, anywhere, at the time, but not fixed in place. The Cuban revolution forged her into a searcher. Within two years, she moved on from what was a holding pattern. All of us have at some time or another found ourselves suspended between past and future in a necessary but not ideal present. "La profesora" found her physical place in Connecticut and in retirement today in the Cuban community in Miami where she continues to lecture and write poetry.

Rita Geada is recognized as a leading poet, essayist, short story writer, and member of the "First Generation of the Cuban Diaspora." In her work, she longs for the security of place and family she knew in Cuba before her life was uprooted. For Geada, history is not so much forgotten as it is polluted by self-interest and confusion. It is a world drifting with little hope of finding safe harbors in institutions that at one time held humanity together in both purpose and direction. Still, in this dark world, she longs for the lost years in her homeland, for hope in the restoration of freedom, and joy in camaraderie among the exiles. 

In so many ways, Rita Geada, never left the holding pattern that was our Spanish class. Today, she is likely an after-though in the faculty annals at the old alma mater. OTR doubts that very, very few English speaking Americans would recognize her name. Still, a quirky mismatch forty years ago led to five years of academic Spanish on the part of this writer and temporary harbor for a significant participant-observer in the American Experience. OTR hopes that we can learn from Geada's shattered years and their aftermath. A renewed appreciation for family, faith, respectful debate, and national institutions in this difficult time would be a fine tribute to my shy profesora who found her refuge with the Mother of Exiles so many years ago.

For Spanish-speakers, here is Rita Geada discussing her life and work at a conference in south Florida in January 2012:


Paradise Lost or Gained?: The Literature of Hispanic Exile, Fernando Alegria and Jorgo Ruffinelli, Arte Publico Press, 1990;

Handbook of Hispanic Cultures in the United States,  Nicolas Kanellos and Claudio Esteva Fabregat, Arte Publico Press, 1994 has a list of the Spanish editions of Geada's recent publications. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Rearranging The Contraceptives On The Titanic

The Icebergs, Frederic Edwin Church, American, 1861, Dallas Museum of Art
OTR's been rather quiet on the political front lately. The subject depresses him, but he simply has to emerge from his comfort zone to give high praise to the Obama administration for their superb skill at managing the national debate. Here it is, International Women's Day and the hot topic from coast to coast isn't the remarkable accomplishments of women over the past century and longer. Instead, it is a woman's right to free contraception administered - some hope - through a national insurance program . Behind this contraceptive shield - sorry, couldn't help myself - the nation faces gas prices at $5 per gallon and rising, national unemployment rising to 9.2% last month, declining manufacturing orders, hidden inflation that will soon turn to hyperinflation cresting on a $15,000,0000,000,000 deficit, rising dissatisfaction with the nation's direction, Arab springs marching into political realities, and Israel preparing to destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities in a matter of weeks.

If the Obama forces can sustain their control of the national narrative this effectively into Summer, they should have no trouble dispatching a Republican challenge that seems to be philosophically locked in other peoples' bedrooms. Such dramatic irony should be reserved for the fiction of the stage.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

All I Want For Christmas Is A New Railgun

2008 test - the "flame" is plasma, not a chemical propellant
Take a projectile and put it on a small sled, then insert the two into the mother of all straight-line super-duper electromagnetic devices and you have the U.S. Navy's prototype rail gun. This new military toy has been developed  in part by the weapons geeks at BAE, the former employer of OTR's older son. Some test firings took place late last month and the video looks pretty exciting. It isn't every day that you can watch a projectile leave the muzzle at 5000 mph and head for a target that could be one hundred miles away.

Here is a brief Discovery Channel video produced around 2006 that offers us some background on railgun technology. Looks like they have come a long way toward that smaller, faster gun.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Aviation In Film History: The High And The Mighty

This week's flight film was the original Airplane and the model for the series of blockbuster disaster films beginning in the 1970s. The High and the Mighty (1954) was directed by Hollywood great, William Wellman, starred John Wayne, and featured an Oscar winning score by Dimitri Tiomkin. Ernest Gann adapted his novel of the same name for the screenplay. The film received six Academy Award nominations. The film has a running time of 147 minutes, most of it spent on a DC-4 passenger plane with mechanical problems during a flight from Hawaii to California.

The film last appeared on cable television in 1982. By the end of the century, there was growing interest in seeing it again in as originally released. After a long, meticulous restoration involving color, sound, and a lost reel, a home video version reached market in 2005. Though it certainly does not have the cast and the technical values of an Airplane or Titanic, The High and the Mighty remains an important, well-scripted story in the sky. Almost sixty years after its release, it still deserves the attention of aviation and film buffs.

Here's the trailer:

Sunday, March 4, 2012

"I'm Pretty Sure Even Emma Goldman Would Eat Oysters Rockefeller If She Didn't Have To Pay For Them."

Northeastern University has decided to ban a Chick-fil-A restaurant from its campus because the company's foundation has supposedly contributed to anti-gay organizations. This move has created an entertaining ripple of interest on the part of the blogosphere. Nick Gillespie, writing at Reason, provides us with an interesting, humorous post - and a Seinfeld clip, to boot - addressing this development.

OTR interprets this decision as another step toward the understanding that everything rots. We've all heard about the concept of six degrees of separation whereby any person is only six introductions away from any other person on the planet. The principle that everything rots is similar: explore anything deep enough or give it enough time and it will rot. The blogosphere has made it very easy to observe a similar phenomenon OTR calls the Nazification Principle. It reads: any message thread discussing a controversial subject moves to a point where one messenger introduces the term 'Nazi,' thereby rendering the subsequent thread as meaningless.

The Chick-fil-A ban at Northeastern is a nice illustration of nazification in that the donations have been "peeled" many times until the objectors found the rot, no matter how small, that they could interpret as "anti-gay." When we apply this thinking and the idea of six degrees of separation, we find that everyone eventually rots. We are all murdering, slave holding, child molesting, meat eaters! If we were to carry this reasoning into our everyday decision-making, our lives would be paralyzed.

Have we reached absurdity yet? OTR thinks so. He doesn't care what goes on in your bedroom, but he does care that Chick-fil-A makes a damned good sandwich even if they are closed on Sunday.

H/T to Instapundit

N.B. The anarchist and intellectual troublemaker, Emma Goldman (1869-1940),  is one of OTR's favorite characters in the American experience. She was an extraordinary writer and orator with an indomitable personality and spirited independence. She loved to seek out the rot and likely would have made a most interesting contribution as a "founding mother" during our colonial times. Though her political thought was the antithesis of order and stability, and anathema to OTR's center-right thinking, he greatly admires her celebration of the concept of individualism lived to the fullest. For further reading, see her Anarchism and Other Essays (1910), and her autobiography, Living My Life (1931).

OTR also holds the English anarchist, poet and engraver, William Blake (1757-1827), in similar esteem.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Were Europeans The Real "Native Americans?"

For a long time, anthropologists have told us that the first Americans walked across a land bridge from Siberia around 15,000 years ago. The style of toolmaking they brought with them became known as the Clovis culture and for eighty years it has been accepted as the oldest in North America. Now we have a new competitor in the "who's on first" debate. They are called Solutreans, a Stone Age people from Europe who fished and hunted their way west along the North Atlantic ice shelf and sea ice 20,000 years ago. Anthropologists at the Smithsonian Institution and elsewhere have identified five pre-Clovis sites in the Mid-Atlantic states, including the Eastern Shore, featuring "blades, anvils and other tools" from the Solutrean culture. The artifacts match nicely with material recovered from dozens of sites in Spain and France.

Additional research - lots of it - must follow before the Solutrean hypothesis can be confirmed. Still it remains an exciting chapter in the history of human occupation and settlement that is being written in our own time.

For a perspective on why OTR loves the debate, readers are directed to an earlier post that, by the way, is one of the most popular to appear on this blog.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Andrew Breitbart

Whatever your political persuasion, you cannot overlook Andrew Breitbart as an extraordinary individual and founding member of the New Journalism revolution. He died this morning in California, He was 43 years old. The best tribute to this pioneer is a visit to the six Internet sites he created to inform and entertain his fellow Americans:

Big Government

Big Journalism

Big Hollywood

Big Peace

He leaves behind quite a legacy and an army of patriots to carry on.

A Restoration For Washington's Birthday?

Washington's bed - and mattress - at Mount Vernon
A few days ago, OTR lamented the muddling of Washington's Birthday in 1971 when the federal holiday was moved from February 22 to the third Monday of the month. The new holiday quickly morphed into a three day weekend that merged Lincoln's birthday - February 12 - with a weak attempt at honoring all the American presidents, and an opportunity to buy a mattress "on sale." Today, there is a post on Fox News about a Congressional effort to restore the Washington's Birthday holiday to its rightful day. OTR applauds that move. In this age of historical illiteracy we need all the accuracy we can muster.