Tuesday, July 30, 2013

It's "The Old Perfesser's" Birthday

Casey Stengel playing the outfield for the Brooklyn Dodgers, 1915
For a kid born in 1946 and growing up in Lefty Grove's Georges Creek Valley, playing baseball was supposed to be a natural. It didn't work out that way. Rotten vision and Coke bottle bottom glasses rendered me useless on a baseball diamond, so I didn't play organized ball with my pals. On the other hand, I followed the sport just as fiercely, collecting my hundreds of baseball cards, listening to - later watching - the Washington Senators and the Baltimore Orioles, and arguing about those Yankees, love 'em or
hate 'em.

Whether you love or hate the Yankees really doesn't matter today. It's simply a great day in baseball history for a beloved man of the game who happened to do well - very well - with the Yankees. His name was Casey Stengel, born on July 30, 1890, in Kansas City. Stengel took over as the Yankees' manager in 1949 and won the World Series championship. They won again in 1950. And 1951, 1952, and 1953. It's a record of consecutive wins that still stands. Stengel went on to win two more championships with the Yankees in 1956 and 1958.

He retired in 1960 only to return to the game two years later as manager of the "Lovable Losers", the New York Mets. Fans loved them and their "Old Perfesser" coach who captivated the press and broadcast media with his quips and comments, delivered in his famous "Stengelese" style, nurtured over his rich career.

To learn more about Casey Stengel, visit his Baseball Hall of Fame page here. The page links to some good multimedia features, as well. Link to Wikipedia's more extensive biography here. The Official Casey Stengel Site has a great list of quotes here.

I left the Georges Creek Valley in 1956 and have no idea what happened to my baseball pals. For certain, most of them left Appalachia in search of a better life. But regardless of their destinations, I imagine they never left the joy of baseball far behind. Though we are pulled in many directions, and obligations place demands on our leisure, the old pastime is still with us, thanks to icons like Stengel. If you want to honor the old man, get to a game today. If that can't happen, gather the men and boys in the family - and the girls who'll understand - and sit them down to watch the film, Field of Dreams (1989). Chances are, Casey will drop by.

On second thought, I think the girls can find something else to do.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Oshkosh: The World's Greatest Aviation Celebration Starts Today

The EAA gathers annually with a few of its closest friends for planes in the air and brats on the grill

The Experimental Aircraft Association's (EAA) annual gathering is better known as "Oshkosh" to aviation enthusiasts and every one of them has the event on the bucket list. And for good reason. Imagine a fly-in attracting 7500 airplanes. Imagine 2500 aircraft exhibits, 800 commercial exhibitors, daily world-class airshows, and 500,000 attendee who are "plane" crazy. What organizers call "the world's greatest aviation celebration" will kick off it's sixty-first version today. This map gives readers an idea of the scope and scale of Oshkosh and indicates why the event turns a rather sleepy Wittman Field into the busiest airport in the world for one week each year.

For scale, the runway at the top of the map is 8000 feet long

OTR had the privilege of attending Oshkosh several times in the last decade of his career. Energizing, informative, and significant, the show was a great vehicle for delivering an organizational message to a large, captured, and enthusiastic audience.

Believe me, if any readers have the slightest interest in flying, EAA's AirVenture needs to be on your bucket list.  The event website has plenty of streaming links that will bring you lots of the excitement in real time. I wonder how many hardcore readers who find themselves stuck at home will arrive via Flight Simulator.

Here's wishing everyone at AirVenture 2013 a safe and enjoyable experience. Sure wish I could be there! Next year looks very promising.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Season Sings A Song Of Summer

In the midst of summer, be it morning, evening, in the mountains or on the coast, there is no better symphonic capture of the season than A Song of Summer, by Frederick Delius. This performance by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is under the baton of Eric Fenby who as a young man was captured by Delius's music.

 By 1928 the composer was blind and almost completely paralyzed. Fenby responded by moving to France to become his amanuensis. For the next six years - Delius died in 1933 - Fenby dedicated his life to writing compositions from Delius's stream of often overwhelming dictation. Out of all the stress, frustration, and endless revision came some of the most evocative music of our time.

Frederick Delius in 1907

Without Fenby, I'd say it is safe to conclude we would be without A Song of Summer.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Jean Shepherd: Finding Ralphie's Christmas Story In All Of Us

If you mention "Ralphie" and "Red Ryder BB gun" in the same breath, I'd say most people could make an immediate connection with the film, A Christmas Story. On the other hand, most people probably know very little about the remarkable personality behind that story. His name is Jean Shepherd  (1921-1999). He was born on this day in 1921 on Chicago's south side and raised in nearby Hammond, Indiana.

Following service in World War II, Shepherd went on to a career in broadcasting, writing, film, and live performance. In radio, he was the voice of a late night show for over twenty years - all unscripted - on New York's WOR where he entertained listeners with his humorous stories, interviews, and practical jokes. Shepherd hosted a television show for WOR as well, but he is best remembered in video narrating a number of productions based on his stories of growing up in the Midwest. Many of the scripts were so popular they later appeared in print.

Of course, his best known contribution to American humor is A Christmas Story, a compilation of stories and characters drawn from his earlier work. It was originally produced as a feature film in 1983 and made the transition into a television classic, thanks to the persistence of Ted Turner. Almost any man born before 1950 has lived some or all of Ralphie's childhood. Each man's path to adulthood is his own, but the markers are identical. Jean Shepherd was a genius at capturing them. And his skills as a narrator made him a natural at weaving the common threads into humorous and entertaining listening.

Jean Shephard, 1970
I find Shepherd's personal path in the American experience a most interesting one. Although he surely had the talent to become a well-known national treasure, radio did not provide him coast-to-coast exposure available with the new medium of television. He was fiercely independent, a maverick, and one not to take life too seriously. I can imagine he was a threat to the ego of more than one radio executive. Furthermore, he was a "night owl" on radio, broadcasting to a dedicated but smaller audience, and in direct competition with televised local news and the likes of Johnny Carson and The Tonight Show. In fact, a Wikipedia entry, not verified, notes that Shepherd was in line to take over The Tonight Show with Steve Allen's departure in 1957, but Jack Paar had the right of first refusal with the NBC network. Paar unexpectedly accepted, thus, denying Shepherd his big break on one of television's most popular shows. Finally, from my research, it seems Shepherd maligned his radio work when he moved into writing film for television in the '70s. Indeed, it apparently was a clean break - maybe the execs were happier without him - and he did go on to success with films, including The Phantom of the Open Hearth, The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters, and Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss. Still, I think the fates denied Shep the opportunity to become a big television star in the 1950's and much better well-known in his lifetime. This strikes me as unfortunate because humorists should enjoy the recognition while they're alive because psychologists tell us much of their success originates in past hardships. I do hope he was happy with his professional life as it most certainly overshadowed his four marriages and two children.

Jean Shepherd died fourteen years ago in Florida, known primarily for one film produced in 1983 when he was 62. There's much more to him than that. I hope more people come to enjoy his work as it ages into fine wine expressing one man's harvest of life in 20th century America.

An earlier version of this post appeared in 2009.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Detroit: The Intellectual, Moral, and Fiscal Rot Finally Won

United Artists Theater, Detroit               Photo by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre

Readers know that Detroit is a continuing topic here at OTR. Time has been precious lately with few observations on my part, so I'm deferring to Scott Johnson's link-filled post on Power Line to address the city's bankruptcy.

I never saw Detroit as a prosperous city, only as a cold, tarnished, crumbling, seemingly uninhabited place in 2003. On the other hand, I knew many of her siblings, including Cleveland, Akron, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and more, long before they became part of the Rust Belt.  Some of those cities did well over the past generation by adopting fiscal realism and reinvention instead of persisting with the collectivist liberalism that consumed Detroit.

There's a lesson here screaming to be learned. We can only hope our current crop of "leaders" listen.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Charles Sheeler: An Explorer Of Abstraction And Realism

Born on this day in 1883, Charles Sheeler became one of the founding members of the Modernist arts in the United States. He was trained as a draftsman as well as an artist and comfortable in the world of photography as well as paint on canvas. If we were to use one word to describe his work, it would be "precision."

A class visit to the Phillips Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in the early 1970s introduced me to the artist and I've had a growing appreciation of his his work since then.  Below are some examples. I hope you enjoy them.

American Landscape                                                                                        1930
Pertaining to Yachts and Yachting                                                                 1922
Yankee Clipper                                                                                                  1939

Golden Gate                                                                                                        1955
"I favor a picture which arrives at its destination without the evidence of a trying journey rather than one which shows the marks of battle."                                 
                                                                               Charles Sheeler                              

'Now I Am Become Death, The Destroyer Of Worlds': The Atomic Age Begins

Sixty-eight years ago today, the nuclear physicist, Robert Oppenheimer, uttered our title quote from the Bhagavad Gita on watching the world's first atomic bomb explode in the New Mexico desert. In the quote, Vishnu, the supreme god in Hinduism, speaks of his incarnation as Shiva, the Destroyer or Transformer.

Shiva as Lord of the Dance [of life]                    India, ca 1000

No one at Trinity Site that day really knew what would happen. To a few of our nation's brightest nuclear experts, the word "nothing" came to mind, not even a explosion. Others were concerned that the chain reaction from a successful ignition would continue unrestrained with the potential of destroying the planet. Our planet and its world would survive that day, but both would be changed forever for both good and evil.

Today, the Atomic Age seems almost an afterthought as the Information Age rushes us toward technological singularity and a new age of being. On the other hand, when mushroom clouds in the desert were new, the subject filled the air with more than fallout...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Hail, Columbia, Happy July 4, 2013

The 1861 music score cover for, 'Hail, Columbia'

Prior to 1931 and the selection of The Star Spangled Banner as an official national anthem, the United States used any number of patriotic songs to meet the need on holidays and other special occasions. One of the most popular of these was "Hail, Columbia," composed by Phillip Phile in 1789 as The President's March for George Washington's inauguration as our first president.  Lyrics by Joseph Hopkinson were added in 1798. Today, Hail, Columbia is the official song for the Vice-President of the United States.

In honor of Independence Day, here is your opportunity to listen to the song honored as America's own for almost 150 years.

And here are the patriotic and powerful words that every rousing march deserves:

Hail Columbia, happy land!
Hail, ye heroes, heav'n-born band,
Who fought and bled in freedom's cause,
Who fought and bled in freedom's cause,
And when the storm of war was gone
Enjoy'd the peace your valor won.
Let independence be our boast,
Ever mindful what it cost;Ever grateful for the prize,
Let its altar reach the skies.


Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.

Immortal patriots, rise once more,
Defend your rights, defend your shore!
Let no rude foe, with impious hand,
Let no rude foe, with impious hand,
Invade the shrine where sacred lies
Of toil and blood, the well-earned prize,
While off'ring peace, sincere and just,
In Heaven's we place a manly trust,
That truth and justice will prevail,
And every scheme of bondage fail.


Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.

Behold the chief who now commands,
Once more to serve his country stands.
The rock on which the storm will break,
The rock on which the storm will break,
But armed in virtue, firm, and true,
His hopes are fixed on Heav'n and you.
When hope was sinking in dismay,
When glooms obscured Columbia's day,
His steady mind, from changes free,
Resolved on death or liberty.


Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.

Sound, sound the trump of fame,
Let Washington's great name
Ring through the world with loud applause,
Ring through the world with loud applause,
Let ev'ry clime to freedom dear,
Listen with a joyful ear,
With equal skill, with God-like pow'r
He governs in the fearful hour
Of horrid war, or guides with ease
The happier time of honest peace.


Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July!

Reference: Wikipedia

Gettysburg At 150 Years

The Old Ranger and his dad at Gettysburg National Military Park, 1954

Today marks the conclusion of the Battle of Gettysburg, fought July 1-3, 1863, and the beginning of the end for the Confederate States of America. A year later, in August 1864, the Union unconditionally controlled the Mississippi River and relentlessly pressed Confederate forces in Virginia. In the Deep South, General Sherman's army devastated Atlanta. Six months later, he would be in Savannah and poised to destroy the remains of the Confederacy as he moved north through the Carolinas.

The American Civil War is a perennial topic in our history. Indeed, it did preserve the Union as President Abraham Lincoln intended and left us with any number of consequences in our national experience, both good and bad. Regarding those consequences, we should not expect otherwise as that is the way events unfold in the great wheel of history. And so it is with our great wheels of personal experience. Approaching  my seventh decade immersed in all of this I'm a bit surprised and certainly privileged to experience Gettysburg at 100 and 150. The place is a personal holy ground because three people cared.

First of all. my parents always loved being in nature and its historical overlay. Living in the Potomac River watershed afforded our family many opportunities to enjoy any number of places of national significance. As is often the case, first impressions become lasting ones. I was seven years old when we spent a long weekend exploring almost every foot of Gettysburg National Military Park. It was a fascinating experience and I still have the souvenirs to prove it. About six years later I met George Landis, the third person in this story. Landis taught middle school history and social studies on the eve of the Civil War Centennial. A Pennsylvanian with a love of history and basketball, he devoted an entire school year to the study of the Civil War. He was a superb teacher, highly animated and far ahead of his time. He focused on learning that took his students beyond lectures into the world of role-playing, performance, critical thinking and more.  I recall fondly seeing every chalkboard in his classroom filled with detailed maps of battles, each carefully drawn and labelled with colored chalk. A little more than a decade after my year with Landis, I began a long and rewarding career immersed in experiential learning in the sacred places and histories in our national parks.

There will be tens of thousands of people visiting Gettysburg this week as well as many thousands of volunteers recreating and commemorating the events that took place there. There will be lasting impressions made this week about the sacrifice, the consequences, and the wheels of history both national and personal. And somewhere in the crowd is a seven year-old with a new enthusiasm for a defining moment in our national experience. The commemorative landscape at Gettysburg will wait with pride and serenity like an old veteran to welcome him on his return visit in 2063.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Music For An East Coast Flood Watch

The Avenue in the Rain                  Childe Hassam, American, 1917
Yes, the National Weather Service has issued a 72 hour-long flood watch covering the East Coast from central Florida to Maine. It's going to rain, my friends, on lots of Independence Day celebrations. In order to  look on the brighter side of this event - you know you'll enjoy the holiday anyway - here is a song about rain and why, deep in our souls, we cherish it.

Cloudburst is sung in Spanish and based on a poem by the Mexican writer, Octavio Paz. Here is a translation:

The rain ...
Eyes of shadow-water
eyes of well-water
eyes of dream-water.
Blue suns, green whirlwinds,
pecks of light that open
pomegranate stars.
But tell me, burnt earth,
is there no water?
Only blood, only dust,
only naked footsteps on the thorns?

The rain awakens ...
We must sleep with open eyes,
We must dream with our hands
we must dream dreams of active rivers
Searching for their cause
Dreams of the sun dreaming of its worlds
we must dream aloud,
we must sing till the song
casts roots,
trunks, branches, birds, stars,
we must unearth the lost word,
and remember
what the blood, the tides,
the earth, and the body say,
and return to the point of departure

Monday, July 1, 2013

July: Messidor Gives Way To Thermidor

Allegory of the Month of  Messidor                           French, author unknown
The arrival of July always reminds me of the heat of mid-summer, early evening cicadas, distant lightning and blueberries. Odd as it may sound, I'm also reminded of the French Republican Calendar. Maybe it's the flare-up of the revolutionary within, but I really do like a calendar that represents the climate, weather, and everyday life surrounding me at the time. It's not so much that I dislike Julius Caesar -  Mr. July - or other representations in our current calendar, I simply enjoy elements like wind in the face, a colorful garden, and other experiences more. After all, who wouldn't like Vendemiaire? In any case, my excursion into Thermidor actually begins in mid-July. It is proceeded by Messidor, the month of harvest.

Interestingly, I think our transition into July and Thermidor has a place in the current political juggernaut aimed at the "fundamental transformation of America."  The last week or so has been a real "Thermidor" for our president. The term is derived from the time during the French Revolution when the Reign of Terror - the guillotine - was replaced with a more stable, conservative government. I think we're in the midst of that kind of shift where Americans are looking fondly on the early part of this century and apprehensively at the advent of Obamacare and its uncertainty. There is no question a malaise has set in across the left leaning political landscape. There are few rainbows these days and the unicorns are barren.  Regarding the Edward Snowden affair, the only thing Obama will be extracting on his return from Africa is the administration's reset button Vladimir Putin inserted deep in his backside.

As for future months and days, I am looking with more enthusiasm on 2014 as a positive opportunity to affect change in my county's direction. Until then, I'll be pleased to enjoy the summer heat. And the wine and the elements.

Allegory of the Month of Thermidor                                       French, author unknown