Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day 2013

From the silence of sorrowful hours,
The desolate mourners go,
Lovingly laden with flowers,
Alike for the friend and the foe:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment day.
Under the roses the Blue,
Under the lilies the Gray

The card dates from around 1900-05 and reflects the sentiment of the aging Billy Yanks of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) seeking reconciliation with the Johnny Rebs of the Confederate States of America. The GAR set the groundwork for the national celebration of Decoration Day, later known as Memorial Day, in 1868. Read more about it here.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

This Week's Triple Planet Conjunction

Our Internet friends at Spaceweather alerted us to the spectacular planetary triangle now forming on the western horizon at sunset. Here's your chance to see Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury emerging out of the twilight. The best triangle occurs on May 26. Venus and Jupiter pair up only one degree apart on May 29. This NASA video shows you what to expect:

You can follow the story here at Spaceweather. Expect that site to post some fine photographs and videos of the event over the week.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Don't Be Cowed - Words Will Never Hurt You

John V. Fleming has an entertaining post on the evolution of language at his blog, Gladly Lerne, Gladly Teche. As my title says, don't let the subject lead you to think this is another heavy discourse from just another college prof. No way, for Fleming will have you smiling in no time. Then the ahas start to flow.

If only all of our  formal learning could be this enjoyable!

Monday, May 20, 2013

"I'm Waiting For The Second Coming ... Of John Dean"

Those who remember Watergate know that the story smoked for a long time until it reached the flash point known as John Dean. Once linked to the Watergate crime, he was the insider who did "the right thing" by cooperating with prosecutors thus helping to bring down Richard Nixon. President Nixon had been cultivating the attribute "tricky" since 1950. Fast forward to the unpleasantness surrounding the White House today and we have this from psychiatrist, Jory Goodman:

Notwithstanding the political bent, or bent politics of the MSM, Fox, talk radio, the internet and Drudge, most of what we have now is speculative and circumstantial. So I await the second coming. Will it happen? That's an absolute maybe. But, I'll betcha, among Benghazi, the IRS, Justice, the White House, et. al., there are many people who know the truth and can prove what they know. Will there be one, or a few, with the the cojones to come out, for any of the above reasons, or others (maybe just because they know right from wrong and care about America), and take the savage attacks and accusations they will face?

Thanks to William Katz/Urgent Agenda we have his always astute commentary as well as a link to the rest of Goodman's brief but powerful statement on tipping points and the cost of moral behavior in a hostile world.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

New Thoughts About An Old Airplane And New Wings Over The World

My son called me from Yemen today. His journey there was neither the best nor worst of trips, but was a bit of a challenge given a series of weird layovers. His assignment is fresh and I am left with few questions other than asking about his trip. After some years of this routine, we talk about hotels, cabs and restaurants, but mostly we talk about the airplanes. There will be more news later. I would be much happier having him living in Prague. For one thing, my wife and I would have a place to stay while we visited a new world.

Today's conversation brought to mind a much earlier post about our mutual admiration for heavier-than-air, controlled, powered flight presented in its finest engineered aesthetic, the Boeing 307 Stratoliner:

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

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

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

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

In my humble opinion, the Super Constellation is the only aircraft to give the 307 some competition in the world of commercial aviation. My son has suggested I need to look harder these days. Seems some airlines are restoring luxury to the skies, especially in the Middle East and the Pacific. What goes around comes around.

The bulk of this post was first published in October 2008.

Friday, May 17, 2013

College Lacrosse Championship 2013

With the first round of Division 1 play behind us, the pursuit of the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championship 2013 continues this Saturday (May 18) when Ohio State faces Cornell at 12:30 pm and Syracuse plays Yale at 3:00 pm.  Watch the games on ESPN2 and WatchESPN. The next day, North Carolina squares off against Denver at 12:30 pm and Duke takes on Notre Dame at 3:00 pm. Watch these games on ESPNU and WatchESPN. The winners play in the semifinals on Saturday, May 25 at 2:30 pm and 5:00 pm.  These games are broadcast on ESPN2 and WatchESPN. The championship follows on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27 at 1:00 pm. The championship is available on ESPN.  All times are Eastern.  

From all indications, lacrosse continues to be the fastest growing sport in the United States, even outpacing soccer, in my 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 fine future in store for lacrosse.

Unfortunately, my beloved Maryland Terps will not be in contention this year, but I'll still be entertained by this native American sport descended from our "first" inhabitants. If you like fast and continuous action, high skills, and team play this sport will not disappoint whether you are on the field or in the stands. Check it out.

The Job - Is It Time To View Work As A Human Right?

Engraving encouraging industry                                                      English, 1749

When a man sat at his loom in 17th century England, he wasn't too worried about having a job and a life, meager as they may have been, because he owned his craft and the labor of his hands. Move forward a hundred years and the weaver's life was, as with the political revolutions of that age, a world turned upside down. His worth was no longer in the cloth he made but in the labor of his hands. His pay no longer came directly from the buyer but from the merchant who bought his labor.

For the worker the Industrial Revolution brought both hardship and liberation in the wave of romanticism that swept across the early 19th century West.  By the end of that century the new freedom and sense of selfhood had redefined citizenship and statehood. The United States, a constitutional republic, was identified more as a democracy.  Our weaver's descendants more often than not found themselves on our teeming shore and organized into the earliest labor unions. Those unions would have their greatest national influence  in the first half of the 20th century.

Today, as unions continue their slow decline, the battleground has shifted from the conditions and benefits derived from the work to the work itself. There's no question a discussion about the current economy will end in a discussion about jobs and the origin of jobs. Work has never been a human right, but has the time arrived philosophically to think in those terms?  After all we've come a long way from Marx and Engels. Walter Russell Mead explores this question in his blog at The American Interest.


Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit.

Spring Is Here

What better way to start a weekend than some neat jazz - neither cold nor hot and nothing added. Today, who knows about Bill Evans and his trio, his pain, and his brilliance? Are we too busy to look back a generation and experience one of the finest jazz pianists ever? If we are to have anything to say today, musically or otherwise, we have to stop talking and listen.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Mother's Day Tribute To Miss Lillian, The Mother Of A President

President Jimmy Carter in the White House with his mother, Lillian
These days, I don't have much appreciation for Jimmy Carter's politics. On the other hand, I hold his attitude toward  family and community, and especially his formative years under the parentage of Earl and Lillian Carter as near sacred.  Much of my appreciation is directed to his mother, an energetic, outspoken, compassionate, and dedicated woman who raised a son who suddenly found himself President of the United States. I know this story because I read thousands of pages about the Carter family, interviewed those who knew them, and worked with the site planning team and Rosalyn and Jimmy Carter  - face-to-face a few times -  to plan and design the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site and its operation and management. One of the great joys of the site is the  interpretation of  Plains, Georgia as a small rural Southern town.

If you think about the imagery in Harper Lee's Maycomb, Alabama - the fictional town in To Kill A Mockingbird - you have all the ingredients needed for a glimpse at Plains, Georgia and its inhabitants, great and small. It is in this setting that Lillian Carter married James Earl Carter in 1924, served her community as a nurse practitioner, raised four children. and served as a beacon for racial equality. Later in life, she was a long-time house mother for a fraternity at Auburn University, a Peace Corp volunteer in India, and a national campaigner for her son during his run for the presidency.

In her lifetime, Lillian Gordy Carter played roles deep and broad. And granted, the times do change. Still, her biography is a fine example that women in the U.S. need not settle for "either or" choices in life, but look forward to accepting all the challenges and opportunities that may present themselves. Finally, we should also recognize the millions of American mothers who as ordinary women in the everyday life of the last century  raised honorable men and women.  They -we - are the hope for the future of this or any country. For the most part, I think we can thank our moms for that.

To learn more about "Miss Lillian," go here.  Readers are also directed to the writings of Jimmy Carter, particularly, An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of A Rural Boyhood (2006), and A Remarkable Mother (2010).  Readers should not let politics separate them from Jimmy Carter and his role as an extraordinarily fine writer-storyteller.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Century Of Le Sacre Du Printemps - The Rite Of Spring

Igor Stravinky's Rite of Spring premiered in Paris in May 1913
I enjoy a wide range of music, some of it written yesterday, some of it written more than a thousand years ago. Though it would be a challenge to choose favorites in this broad world of sound, I have no problem  identifying music that leaves me astonished. Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps is such a piece. No question it is primal,  primitive, raw, and vastly different from anything in the concert hall in 1913. It is as fresh in 2013 as it was a century ago. It is a piece of art and, as with all art, will not appeal to every taste. That is to be expected. What may not be expected is the fact that Le Sacre du Printemps is one of the most widely recorded and performed symphonic works in the world. Leonard Bernstein said it is "the most important piece of music of the 20th century."

Below you will find two videos. The first video  is Part One - of three parts - of the Joffrey Ballet's 1987 reconstruction of the 1913 performance featuring the choreography of the legendary dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky, and costume and stage design by Nicholas Roerich. Context is everything, so I think it's important to listen to this music in the medium for which it was composed. If you choose to watch this ballet, be aware that the audience rioted during the premiere.  They were not expecting what the Wikipedia post describes as a piece with "many features that were novel for its time, including experiments in tonality, metre, rhythm, stress, and dissonance."

On the other hand, listeners may prefer to focus on the concert version, first performed in 1914. Over the years, Stravinsky made several revisions to the original score. Here is a 1960 recording featuring the Columbia Symphony Orchestra under the baton of the composer. Readers who are familiar with the music will soon discover that this recording is unlike any other; however, it is the realization of Stravinsky's vision and it is, I believe, the one we should hold sacred.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Orson Welles

Today marks the birthday - in 1915 - of Orson Welles. He was a remarkable entertainment talent as an actor, writer, director, producer and more. Before he was thirty, he had terrified the nation with his realistic Halloween night presentation of H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds (1938) and awed film audiences with Citizen Kane (1941). Welles was already a rather contentious artist when he achieved almost instant fame. Both elements helped label him as a difficult, if not reckless, personality and he never endeared himself to the Hollywood in-crowd. The consequence of "all that" was a limited number of noteworthy films and a long list of unfinished projects, "may have beens." and the question,"Whatever happened to Orson Welles?"

Welles has now been missing from the world scene for over a generation. The film and stage industries will always owe him immensely for what he brought to them and for the treatment his genius received at the hands of the motion picture cartel.

Here is a sample of Welles's cinematic genius, the famous "crane shot" from the opening scene of his film, Touch of Evil (1958):

And here is a brief television obituary including an interview Welles made eight days before his death:

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Special Election Special; Or, Why I Am Not A Republican

House candidate Mark Sanford enjoys a leisurely walk on the Appalachian Trail

A former Republican governor of a deeply Republican state is running for a deeply Republican U.S. House seat, but he is best known for claiming to be walking the Appalachian Trail while he was actually visiting his mistress in Argentina, and he has a court date two days after next Tuesday’s special election because he allegedly trespassed on his ex-wife’s property. His Democratic opponent has never run for office and would be totally unknown, except that her brother is one of the nation’s most popular comedians. They aren’t called special elections for nothing.

The quote above introduces a Sabato's Crystal Ball post by Kyle Kondik about what's cooking in South Carolina. Stranger things have happened in politics and Kondik does a fine job analyzing the outcome of "troubled" races in the House over the past forty years or so. Maybe Anthony Weiner has a political future after all!