Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Joy Of Small Town News

I've always enjoyed reading the news from the small towns in my life. It's not only to keep up with family and friends, but also to enjoy the sense of pride and ownership in places where change comes slowly, if at all. Reading articles about emergency responses are the best way to appreciate that concept of ownership. Granted, "warm fuzzy" pride stories contribute but the emergencies usually make it to lead status. Sometimes these stories come with high humor value. One of them appeared today in the Cumberland [Maryland]Times-News. Here's the important news:

One housed burned, 
One house damaged,
No injuries.

Here is the rest of the story:

Maryland State Fire Marshall's Office responded,
Allegany County Fire Police attended,
Bowling Green FD managed the fire,
LaVale FD assisted,
Bedford Road FD assisted,
Corriganville FD assisted,
District 16 FD assisted,
Cresaptown FD assisted.
Bowman's Addition FD assisted,
Frostburg FD assisted,
Shaft FD assisted,
Mount Savage FD assisted,
Midland FD assisted,
Rawlings FD assisted,
Ridgeley FD assisted,
Short Gap FD assisted
Frostburg Area Ambulance responded,
LaVale Resuce Squad responded.

The newsy part required 61 words. The list of responders took 77 words. The building was a total loss. Not so for the story.

My only personal experience - a tragic one - regarding "emergency ownership" actually occurred in suburban Washington in my early days as a ranger on the shore of the Potomac River in Maryland. Earlier in the week, a visitor fell into the river from the Virginia shore and drowned. The United States Park Police were notified of a body in the river three days later and radioed our office to meet them at a boat landing. Local fire and rescue squads are always listening to the radio. We arrived at the site to find the body in the Park Police boat and the Montgomery County Rescue Squad approaching fisticuffs with the Cabin John Rescue Squad over who had the "rights" to collect the remains. Park Police officers resolved the issue after we departed the scene. A draw-and quarter ritual crossed our minds, and we left with images of dressed-out firemen strutting around their side-by-side boats landed near their side-by-side boat trailers supported by a dozen fire engines, ambulances, and assorted official vehicles scattered around the access point like so many toys, Clearing the site had to be an object lesson in traffic planning and management. 

Readers may think caring people should not find a reason to smile when tragedy occurs, but humor often gets first-responders through their saddest tasks. This event came with its ready-made humor. 

I have to admit that the towns of Cabin John and Potomac (Montgomery County Rescue) had a greater sense of independence and ownership in 1972 than they do today. Washington swallowed them years ago, so I can't say how they would respond to a body recovery today. I'm sure our honored fire fighters and rescue squads in the greater Cumberland area would perform admirably and deserve praise and all notice for their ownership and performance. I wouldn't mind a bit more balance from additional information on the incidents themselves. At the same time, I'd hate to miss the credits. Too bad they don't come with music like in the movies.

Appalachian Piedmont Spring

We spent the day reading, writing, and dreaming into the woods and sky on our Piedmont ridge. Here is a perfect capture of the experience:

Thank you, Aaron Copeland!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Pigford: Good Intention To Gigantic Fraud

A black farmer in the rural south  USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service

When Andrew Breitbart's Big Journalism expressed concern about the class-action settlement called Pigford, he was ridiculed by the usual media suspects. That was last year. A few days ago, The New York Times verified that Breitbart had every right to be outraged at what has become an extraordinary fraud on taxpayers brought to us by our elected officials and their appointees in Washington. I won't belabor readers with my take on this one. All I ask is that my liberal readers read the NYT article before declaring Pigford just another target of unhinged conservatives. If liberals can't handle the news from their flagship source, here is a shorter version of the story from the editors of National Review Online.

If we keep spending money - taxpayer or Chinese loan - like this the country will not survive.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Donald Kagan: A Scholar Retires

When I attended college in the mid-1960s, a history major was a rather common pursuit. And the subject itself was a rather common focus on the "big picture," being subdivided mostly by geography and a few broad themes. Specialization really didn't occur until graduate studies. A decade later, the undergraduate study of history had been dissected  by the "Me Decade" mentality into a series of narrow, highly politicized  studies of gender, race, and class often dumping on the historical "glue" that held the field together. Today, it's just about impossible to find the kinds of introductory history I was exposed to in college. In fact, it's hard to find a university requiring a single history course as part of its core curriculum or even for graduation. This is a tragic circumstance for liberal arts and for American culture. Who will carry the tradition into the future?

One of the torchbearers has been Donald Kagan, a liberal turned conservative in 1969 partly in response to the surrender of the academy to the student mob. He went on to become one of the nation's most beloved, controversial, and respected scholars. Kagan, Sterling Professor of Classics and History at Yale University, is retiring at the end of this semester after a long, distinguished career. Obviously, Kagan has specialized over the years, but he remains a valued teacher/scholar who understands the value of the traditional "big picture" approach to who we are a people.

Power Line's Scott Johnson has a brief tribute to Kagan containing a multitude of links either written by Kagan or related to his work. Check it out if you have an interest in the future of the study of history and the liberal arts or just want to enjoy reading what an extraordinarily fine writer has to say about our world.

A Mid-Point Birthday Celebration With Ella Fitzgerald And Duke Ellington

Ella Fitgerald, 1950    Carl Van Vechten
Today marks a mid-point between two significant birthdays in the world of American jazz and popular music. Indeed it is a week of "firsts." On April April 25, 1917, Ella Jane Fitzgerald, the "First Lady of Song" arrived on the American scene in Newport News, Virginia. Earlier, Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington, was born on April 29, 1899 in Washington, DC. According to a Jazz at Lincoln Center bio, Ellington was "the most prolific prolific of American composers in terms of number of compositions and variety of forms."

In 1934, Fitzgerald wanted to dance at an amateur night at the Apollo in Harlem, but was intimidated by other dancers and decided to sing instead. It was the beginning of a career that took her magnificent voice through the big bands, to jazz, bop, and the Great American Songbook. With a voice ranging from smoky to bright she put her signature on every note and sharp diction on every word. For people who like to immerse themselves in lyrics, Ella was unbeatable. And when she forgot those lyrics or let the spontaneity flow, the scat singing was priceless.

I saw her perform once in an overcrowded, hot venue in Washington. After a few songs, the crowd didn't mind the environment. She had us wrapped in music for over two hours and left us wanting more after several encores. Everyone had a great time that night, especially Ella. Looking back on that concert, I realize how significant it was. Ella had turned 50 and completed her famous songbook series a few years earlier. And though her peak years were coming to an end, what she had left exceeded the best of what most 20th century singers ever offered. She went on to perform another quarter of a century dazzling audiences everywhere. Ella passed away in 1996, but she's still making her mark, living on through a huge discography and video record. In all, it is an immense,iconic legacy.

Throughout her very public life, Ella Fitzgerald remained a private, if not shy, person. Were she receiving a birthday cake today, I can envision a broad, approving smile and nervous glances from squinting eyes behind those big bottle bottom glasses. She'd respond with a heart-felt "Thank you, thank you," and move into the comfort and safety of song.

Happy birthday, Ella. What a lady, that First Lady of Song. Thank you! Thank you!

Here is part one - of four parts on YouTube - of a the superb BBC bio of Fitzgerald produced for its "Legends" series.

And here is Ella at her best with a Johnny Mercer standard:

Smooth, high brow, faultless, sophisticated, American. All of these words describe the music that came out of the world of Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington as a composer, performer, and conductor. For fifty years he defined jazz in his own way with his superbly talented jazz orchestra, surviving the onslaught of bebop, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll. His discography includes over seventy hit records out of hundreds of releases spanning seven decades.
Ellington at the piano in the early years. Elegant as always
He formed a band while in his teens and played the circuit in and around the nation's capital before moving to New York. There, his creative fervor and gentlemanly demeanor made him an influential force in the Harlem Renaissance. He was a star much appreciated in Europe as well as the United States by the mid '30s. His collaboration with the brilliant composer and arranger, Billy Strayhorn, later in that decade and again in the '60s enhanced his fame and helped him bridge gaps between jazz and other musical genres.

Ellington passed away almost forty years ago and with his passing the nation lost both a legendary technician at the piano and its strongest advocate for the American musical invention called jazz. To learn more about this extraordinary entertainer visit the Official Website of Jazz Legend Duke Ellington. The Duke Ellington Society website is another excellent information source, including the significant story of the contributions of Billy Strayhorn.

"It don't mean a thing" if OTR posts about music but fails to give his readers an opportunity to hear it. Here are some examples of the Ellington expression in action:

Ellington was an amazing force in American music. When you put him together in performance with the First Lady of Song...


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Who's Watching The FBI Watching The Radical Islamist Loonies?

I wonder how the FBI front liners who investigated Tamerlan Tsarnaev two years ago feel about the intervening months between that investigation and his alleged participation in the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2012. "Failure" comes to mind, and I'm sure they are sickened by the progression of failures within their agency that led to terrorism.  The FBI's performance in the battle to protect us from terrorism may need a review more thorough than we suspected. Even the most redundant intelligence cannot protect us from every assault on our free society. At the same time, we do not help our efforts by ignoring reasoned observations in the course of an investigation.

Here is how the story progressed as reported by Instapundit over the past week - latest post at the top of the list.

Suspect followed a radical religious agenda

Why was the suspect not on a watch list after a six-month visit to Chechnya ? 

"FBI training manual purged all references to Islamic terror."

America has "a false confidence over the terror threat."  This article appeared in the British press

Naming the suspects "foils racialist, sociological agendas."

What's the Boston bombing all about: Islamic ideology.

The "T" word.

Federal officials name the suspects.

The media meltdown

Politicization of the attack

Photo: Tim Davis, New York Times

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

For Margaret Thatcher

Selections from the Order of Service for Margaret Thatcher as published by The Telegraph.

What we call the beginning is often the end 
And to make an end is to make a beginning. 
The end is where we start from. 

We die with the dying: 
See, they depart, and we go with them. 
We are born with the dead: 
See, they return, and bring us with them. 
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree 
Are of equal duration. A people without history 
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern 
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails 
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel 
History is now and England. 

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling 

We shall not cease from exploration 
And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time.

"Little Giddings" (1942) from Four Quartets - T. S. Eliot (1888 - 1965)

The Iron  Lady was a welcomed swing in the pendulum of politics for Great Britain. She will be remembered fondly in the coming centuries.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Charlie Chaplin: A Tramp Is Born

If you took a photograph of the "Little Tramp" to almost any corner of the world touched by Western culture, chances are, someone would recognize it. That's a powerful statement given that the character hasn't appeared in a film for over seventy years. Greatness persists. And so it is with Charlie Chaplin, born on this date in London in 1889.

In his 88 years, he graced the world of entertainment as a performer, director, producer, businessman, and composer. His concern for everyday people and their often difficult lives was a common theme in virtually all his films as well as his private life. Such humanitarian sympathies led him to ally with well-known leftist in the U.S. and eventually leave the country in the early 1950s. Through it all, his endearing, bumbling, yet refined, tramp brought laughter and awareness to millions.

Take some time today to visit Chaplin's official site. The biography page is especially useful, providing information about nine "masterpiece features" and a complete filmography.

Below, watch Chaplin at his best in the famous "globe scene" from The Great Dictator (1940), where he portrays Adenoid Hynkel, dictator of Tomainia, as he contemplates ruling the world. Any resemblance between Adenoid Hynkel and Adolph Hitler is completely intentional. 

If you're not familiar with this masterpiece - Chaplin as writer, producer, director and star - add it to your queue today. It's timeless and you'll love it. And you'll enjoy comparing Adenoid to all the contemporary dictators contending on the world stage.

A version of this post first appeared in 2009.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Jonathan Winters: The Passing Of A Great American Comedian

The text in this post originally appeared in 2012. The videos are a new addition.

Winters appearing on the NBC Comedy Hour in 1956

When OTR began his search for a comedian for this performance series, he thought at first that the honor belonged to Robin Williams. After watching what seemed like hours - enjoyable as ever - of Williams routines and interviews, he realized that this versatile comic owed so much to another comedy genius who is still with us but rarely performing. That individual is Jonathan Winters. In the last decade, he has appeared in and provided the voice of characters for a few films; otherwise, he is not well known to younger generations. To appreciate fully this remarkable talent, OTR's readers need to look back through the last fifty years of his career. Once they do, they will understand why Robin Williams has identified Winters as his mentor and inspiration.

So...if you want entertainment instead of warblers, screamers, low-rent vaudeville, obnoxious and over-rated pseudo-star panelists and eight minutes of commercials every half hour, here is something you can really enjoy:

Winters died today at age 87. He is indeed a treasure in the world of American comedy, and now he brings laughter to the angels.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Best Tribute To Margaret Thatcher

I read a lot of tributes to Britain's Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher. None of them was better than this one from the editors at National Review Online.

And there's no better 150 seconds of Thatcher in action than this video made during her last speech in the House of Commons.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Lowcountry Boil

In honor of last night's dinner guests, the Birkholzes:

Fish and seafood boils are popular foodways in many parts of the country. The regional variations are as striking and numerous as the definitions of the regions and subregions themselves. In the lower Chesapeake Bay area, where I lived from the age of nine into early adulthood, we had a variety of seafoods including oysters on the half shell and fried, as well as clams and assorted fish. The signature of the Bay table was the blue crab, often enjoyed at "crab feasts," be they a gathering of five or five hundred. A steamer, blue crabs, apple cider vinegar, and plenty of Old Bay seasoning. Haven't attended a crab feast in the Bay area in almost forty years, but the wonderful aroma remains fresh in my memory.

It wasn't until the late 1970s that I attended my first seafood boil in the Lowcountry or Sea Islands of the South Carolina-Georgia coast. There's no doubt this food had its origins in the Gullah-Geechee culture among the residents of African descent who have occupied these islands for generations. Cast your net for shrimp and crabs, gather corn and potatoes, slice some sausage, throw in a few onions and seasonings and dinner is ready in about an hour. Not only is dinner quick, you can clean the table in a flash because the food is dumped in the middle of a table lined with plastic trash bags and covered in newspapers. No need for plates or utensils either. When everyone is through, just roll up the debris and dump it in an outside trash can.

Lots of Lowcountry folks use propane cook pots so they can make a big batch of boil outside in the garden, a picnic park or at the beach. We're satisfied using a four-gallon pot on the stove for up to about eight servings unless you add extra shellfish as we often do. If you want to take a journey to the Sea Islands without leaving home, here's what you need:

To prepare four servings:

Dump the following ingredients into two gallons of water:

1/3 cup of Old Bay

Six cloves of garlic, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

One shot/shake Tabasco sauce

One lemon, halved, then squeezed over the pot and dropped in

Bring the pot to a boil and add the following:

One pound Kielbasa sausage, quartered

Twelve medium red potatoes

One Vidalia (sweet) onion

After ten minutes, add:

Four ears sweet corn, halved

Four blue crabs

After eight minutes, add

Two dozen mussels

Two dozen cherrystone clams

2 1/2 pounds uncooked shrimp

After four minutes - the shells are open and the shrimp is pink - drain the pot and scatter the contents on the table while your guests gasp in awe of your talents.

Lowcountry boil pairs nicely with beer. Fresh-brewed ice tea works as well, but it's a distant second. Cole slaw makes for the perfect side. Warm French bread spread with garlic butter - real garlic, real butter - adds a nice complement to the seafood.  Around our house, we accompany the feast with the music of Savannah's favorite son, Johnny Mercer. This bit of Mercer magic evokes images of his childhood spent at the family's summer home at Vernon View, about ten miles south of Savannah.

I'd write more but I'm hungry!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


On an early Spring day in 1977 I was hiking one of the small ridges that sits astride the North and South Carolina line near Charlotte. Climbing out of one of the steep ravines and reaching the highest point on the trail, I was suddenly surrounded by thousands of bluebirds moving through the woods and brush. The show continued for twenty minutes as wave after chattering wave passed by. In the 36 years since that encounter, only two events compare with it: seeing nearly a dozen bald eagles relaxing in a tree next to a convenience store in Anchorage We were leaving for a tour and some of the folks wanted to stop for snacks before we left town. As we pulled into the parking lot, someone - obviously a lower 48 type - said, "Hey, are those bald eagles?" The driver said something like, "Yeah, happens all the time here." Amazing. The second event occurred over our patio in Atlanta when hundreds of sand hill cranes "kettled" before continuing on their way north to summer in the Great Plains and Canada.

Today the bluebirds returned to our woods in Atlanta. They have been here before, and in greater numbers, but even sighting a few of them is a sure sign of the coming summer. This year we have several small snags in the rear woods that will make excellent housing for any of those birds seeking to set up housekeeping. If we're lucky, they will be close to the patio where they will provide us with hours of entertainment in both song and behavior.  Here's an observation I made in 2009 when a pair of bluebirds decided to inspect the housing potential in our woods:

This pair spent an hour scoping out apartments in a small dead tree trunk about 50 feet from my patio. First, the male would inspect the premises, then look inquiringly toward the female in a nearby branch. After a few minutes, he would fly to a neutral branch; she would inspect, then fly to her neutral branch. They would meet to discuss on yet another branch, then repeat the cycle. Again. And again. The setting sun made it hard to follow their house hunting and soon they disappeared over our ridge. Will the rising sun lead them to return and make a home in our tree? 
I don't recall if the pair actually moved in. The snag they inspected fell a few years ago. Still plenty of apartments waiting for young families though.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Happy Birthday, Emmylou

Emmylou Harris, my "sweetheart of the rodeo," was born on this day in 1947. She played many of the local clubs and coffee houses in and around DC when I was there around 1970. Unfortunately, I wasn't into the folk-blue grass sound at the time and, therefore, not in the audience. Still, it was impossible not to see and hear the advertising in and around Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Silver Spring. Eventually, she moved to Los Angeles to work with Gram Parsons and his band, The Grievous Angels. When he died in 1973, she was devastated, but carried on Parsons's search for the fusion sound he called "cosmic American music." Two years later, with the release of her album, Pieces of the Sky, she was on her way. The sound Harris and Parsons produced in their short time together would have a significant impact on decades of folk, rock, and country music to follow.

Here is the song she wrote with Bill Danoff as a tribute to Parsons:

Harris's career as a songwriter and entertainer just seems to keep going and going without an end in sight.  And she keeps getting better year after year. May her beauty and sound go on forever.

UPDATE: Scott Johnson has a fine birthday tribute to Harris on his post at Powerline, plus a link to more comments and videos on a post by Norman Geras..

This is an edit and improvement on a post that first appeared on this day in 2009.

Monday, April 1, 2013

"...He That Hath No Stomach For This Fight, Let Him Depart."

Odysseus and the Sirens                                                               British Museum

It is unfortunate that political correctness has infected our culture to the point where the classic literature of Western civilization must be cleansed for nine year olds. That is the case in Seattle where the parent of a third-grader has objected to some phrases  that were to appear in the class's production of an abridged version of Homer's Odyssey. The parent certainly has a right to object. Furthermore, I admit that staging this production for third-graders is ambitious. I also acknowledge the learning potential from such an opportunity and find it unfortunate that we must restrain the reach of all by cancelling a play because one person objects. The principal made a serious administrative error. Far better to seek compromise - apparently the play will be revised -  rather than cancellation.

We may be quite surprised about learning if we could only move beyond the boundaries we erect around ourselves and our children.

We always taught our children to reach for their personal infinities, then go beyond. And we think Buzz Lightyear would have made a great teacher.

A big hat tip to Sippican Cottage for posting the video. Sip's blog is well worth your time - superb writing, compelling subjects, admirable politics.