Tuesday, June 30, 2015

National Meteor Day 2015

Perseid Meteor 2012
Today is National Meteor Day, also known as National Meteor Watch Day. It's a fine time to go outside tonight and watch these small bits of space debris put on a show. Most meteors only survive about one second as they hit the earth's atmosphere at around 25,000 to 160,000 miles per hour. The show takes place anywhere from thirty to seventy miles above in the atmospheric region known as the mesosphere. Depending on composition and speed, meteors can appear in a variety of colors including white, orange, yellow, blue, purple, and red. If a meteor reaches the ground it becomes a meteorite. Thankfully, few meteors actually hit the earth intact but about six tons of meteor dust settles on our planet every day.

National Meteor Day is also a good reminder that the Perseid shower, the most reliable of the year, is a little less than six weeks away.  With the moon approaching a new phase - no moon - light conditions will be perfect this year.

Here is a link for more information about the day. For a forecast of what you can expect to see tonight and for the remainder of the week, check out the American Meteor Society's Activity Outlook page.


Photo: Visian ICL Blog, visianinfo.con, Roberto Porto



Sunday, June 28, 2015

Blazing Saddles! Mel Brooks Turns 89 Today

Mel Brooks in a still from Blazing Saddles, 1974.
Care to guess which director has three of the top fifteen films on the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest Comedies?  It's none other than Mel Brooks, performer, writer, director, and producer of some of the finest comedy to grace the American stage, big screens in theaters, and the television screens in millions of our homes. Brooks started in comedy in the Catskills in the late 1940's, became a television comedy writer and performer in the early 1950's, and graduated to film direction with The Producer's in 1968. The rest is history, a laugh track of films including:

Blazing Saddles (1974)   "Pardon me while I whip this out."

Young Frankenstein (1974)   "Abby...Normal."

Silent Movie (1976)  "Non!"

High Anxiety (1977)   "Those who are tardy do not get fruit cup!"

History of the World Part I (1981)   "It's good to be the king."

Spaceballs (1987)   "May the schwartz be with you."

Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)   "Actually Scarlet is my middle name. My whole name is Will Scarlet O'Hara. We're from Georgia."

Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)   "I have been to many stakings - you have to know where to stand! You know, everything in life is location, location, location...."

The Producers (musical) 2001   "Will the dancing Hitlers please wait in the wings? We are only seeing singing Hitlers.

The Producers (film remake) 2005   "My blue blanket! Give me back my blue blanket!"

It's amazing to realize that Brooks has been entertaining us for over 65 years. He has no plans to stop. A musical production of Young Frankenstein is back in the news. What I find even more remarkable is the fact that the Mel Brooks on stage and film is most often the same man one finds in private life. How does he do it?  Regardless, we're wishing one of the funniest men on the planet a very happy birthday.

And now, an unforgettable three minutes and twenty seconds from the film he calls his personal favorite, the 1968 production of The Producers:


n.b.  The American Film Institute list referenced has The Producers at #11 , Blazing Saddles at #6 , and Young Frankenstein at #13.


Photo: breitbart.com

Thursday, June 25, 2015

George Orwell: A Mind For Our Times

Six years ago the American polymath, William Katz - the man behind Urgent Agenda - posted this timely quote from George Orwell's novel, 1984:

The new aristocracy was made up for the most part of bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade-union organizers, publicity experts, sociologists, teachers, journalists, and professional politicians.

It has taken the American experience a bit more than two generations to take on the meaning of government by the "new aristocracy" Orwell described.

George Orwell Press Photo, 1932

So who was this prescient and enigmatic writer? George Orwell - Eric Arthur Blair - was born on this day in India in 1903, educated at Eton College, and through self-study and his experiences in Asia and Europe. Wikipedia defines him aptly as "an English novelist, essayist, journalist and critic. His work is marked by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and commitment to democratic socialism."

Most of us know him only as the author of 1984 but there is much more to read and appreciate from this man who is consistently described as one of the most influential writers of the last century. If you only know him as a novelist, I suggest you read some of his early essays, especially Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), and Homage to Catalonia (1938). These works explore social justice themes in some of the finest, most vivid, and descriptive writing to be found in modern English. For another aspect of Orwell's insight readers should explore his literary criticism, available in several compilations.

For a man who passed away at 46, George Orwell left us an enormous body of work that I am sure will influence social and political thought for a very long time.

For the visually inclined, here is the first part of a seven-part biography available on Youtube:

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The First Single -Engine Round The World Flight Begins In New York In 1931

Wiley Post and Harold Gatty left New York on this day in 1931 on the first single-engine flight around the world.

The two successful ocean fliers during their stopover at the Central Airport in Berlin - Tempelhof about to start their flight to Moscow .
It's hard to believe this event occurred just fifteen years before my birth. We've come a long way in aviation and when you think about all the aircraft in flight around the world at this very minute the Post-Gatty flight seems insignificant. As readers of this blog know, I'm somewhat fond of aviation so I'm perfectly happy to give these pioneers the credit they deserve in a time when history seems little more than an afterthought.

Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine

Lyrics, Charles Anthony Silvestri

Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine…
Tormented by visions of flight and falling,
More wondrous and terrible each than the last,
Master Leonardo imagines an engine
To carry a man up into the sun…

And as he’s dreaming the heavens call him,
softly whispering their siren-song:
“Leonardo. Leonardo, vieni á volare”. (“Leonardo. Leonardo, come fly”.)

L’uomo colle sua congiegniate e grandi ale,
facciendo forza contro alla resistente aria.
(A man with wings large enough and duly connected
might learn to overcome the resistance of the air.)

Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine…

As the candles burn low he paces and writes,
Releasing purchased pigeons one by one
Into the golden Tuscan sunrise…

And as he dreams, again the calling,
The very air itself gives voice:
“Leonardo. Leonardo, vieni á volare”. (“Leonardo. Leonardo, come fly”.)

Vicina all’elemento del fuoco…
(Close to the sphere of elemental fire…)

Scratching quill on crumpled paper,

Rete, canna, filo, carta.
(Net, cane, thread, paper.)

Images of wing and frame and fabric fastened tightly.

…sulla suprema sottile aria.
(…in the highest and rarest atmosphere.)

Master Leonardo Da Vinci Dreams of his Flying Machine…
As the midnight watchtower tolls,
Over rooftop, street and dome,
The triumph of a human being ascending
In the dreaming of a mortal man.

Leonardo steels himself,
takes one last breath,
and leaps…

“Leonardo, Vieni á Volare! Leonardo, Sognare!” (“Leonardo, come fly! Leonardo, Dream!”)


kalw.org, almanac

Deutsches Bundesarchiv, photo 102-11928


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day 2015

We had our differences over the years - a normal course of events - but in the final analysis he was a great and careful teacher and a constant and trusted friend. Most of all he was my loving dad. I thank him every day and will love him forever.

Here is my dad at seventeen, a high school graduate, holder of class medals in English and debate, and a seasoned thespian. The year was 1925. He was a mill town boy with high ambitions tempered by the security of a good-paying, full-time job in the midst of the Roaring Twenties. He never got the college degree he wanted but he was successful, building on his strong faith, a solid marriage, and a remarkable work ethic.When I look at this picture I am reminded that he only had four "good" years before the Great Depression and World War II brought him and the country he loved into sixteen years of hard times. Through it all he survived as a member of the "Greatest Generation" to see his nation prosper. 

Dad's been gone from this world for over thirty years. My children never knew him but I think they know him well. I've done my best to teach them who he was and honor him by carrying on his many traditions.
Dad in Fourth Grade                                                                                             1917-18

At the Home Place                                                          1928

Dressed for Community Theater, May 30                                             1932

Dad and Mom at her family's farm                                  1936

With the end of World War II in 1945, he left  mill town life and became self-employed. Faced with the slowly failing economy of the Rust Belt he moved in 1956 to better opportunities and retired after twenty years in the hospitality and food service industry. It was a field he loved dearly because of his commitment to quality service and customer satisfaction. He was "old school:" through and through and never met a stranger.  He was the greatest.

"...And The Summer Comes At Last."

In the Northern Hemisphere the great arc of the sun reaches its highest point in the sky today. It is the longest day of the year and the beginning of Summer. Tomorrow the solar arc begins its slow retreat toward the southern horizon. Although daylight will decrease the accumulation of heat will continue to raise atmospheric temperatures until late July. As this day marks the end of the season of renewal and the beginning of the season of growth and flower some words and music come to mind.

Summer In The South

The oriole sings in the greening grove
  As if he were half-way waiting,
  The rosebuds peep from their hoods of green,
  Timid, and hesitating.
The rain comes down in a torrent sweep
  And the nights smell warm and pinety,
The garden thrives, but the tender shoots
  Are yellow-green and tiny.
Then a flash of sun on a waiting hill,
  Streams laugh that erst were quiet,
The sky smiles down with a dazzling blue
  And the woods run mad with riot.

Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1903


Title quote, Robert Burns's poem, The Winter It Is Past

Friday, June 19, 2015

Happy National Dry Martini Day

Yes. There really is a national day for that delicious beverage staple, the dry martini. It is a classic though, no vodka allowed. Wikipedia has an informative post about the drink, including a few recipes.

It's after dinner here in the eastern U.S. and about time for a relaxing drink if one is so inclined. If so, here is some perfect jazz to accompany the progression of Friday evening and the close of National Dry Martini Day.


n.b. John Coltrane's Blue Train, released in 1957, consistently ranks among the top jazz albums of all time. Another fine jazz album for even easier listening is John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, released in 1963 and also ranked among the very best jazz vocal albums of all time.

Juneteenth 2015

Emancipation                                                                            Thomas Nast, 1865

It's not a federal holiday but there will be official state celebrations of Juneteenth in forty-three states today. What is Juneteenth? As described by the Library of Virginia...

With its roots in 19th-century Texas, Juneteenth has grown into a popular event across the country to commemorate emancipation from slavery and celebrate African American culture. Juneteenth refers to June 19, the date in 1865 when the Union Army arrived in Galveston and announced that the Civil War was over and that slaves were free under the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the proclamation had become official more than two years earlier on January 1, 1863, freedmen in Texas adopted June 19th, later known colloquially as Juneteenth, as the date they celebrated emancipation. Juneteenth celebrations continued into the 20th century, and survived a period of declining participation because of the Great Depression and World War II. In the 1950s and 1960s Juneteenth celebrations witnessed a revival as they became catalysts for publicizing civil rights issues of the day. In 1980 the Texas state legislature established June 19 as a state holiday.

Undoubtedly celebrations of this historic event will be subdued this year by the tragic killings that took place in Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday. Through our prayers for the survivors of this assault let us also remember the hope that June 19 brought to those in Galveston in 1865. May that hope sustain us as a people seeking equality and justice as we weave this great tapestry called the American experience.


Library of Congress at loc.gov


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Today In 1983: Sally Ride's Historic Journey Into Space

On June 18, 1983 at 7:00 A.M. EDT, the space shuttle Challenger lifted off on the STS-7 mission into space. Sally Ride was on that flight as the first American female astronaut. She loved science, earned her doctorate degree in physics and spent five years preparing for her historic venture.

The crew released two satellites into orbit, used a third instrument package that could operate in the shuttle bay or be released as a satellite, conducted a number of experiments in physics, chemistry, and space medicine. After a bit more than six days and two hours in orbit, STS-7 returned to earth at Edwards Air Force Base in California and later flew to Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the back of a Boeing 747. 

Sally Ride made one more flight into space in 1984 aboard the Challenger mission STS-41-G. In 1987 she retired from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) but stayed active with many of the agency's programs. She also taught physics at the University of California San Diego, and promoted science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to young people - especially girls - through her company, Sally Ride Science, and a number of books.  

Sally Ride passed away in 2012 at the age of 61 after blazing an exemplary trail of achievement for all of us but especially for boys and girls who may wonder if dreams really can come true.




Wednesday, June 17, 2015

M.C. Escher: Impossible Constructs And Tessellations, Too!

Your may know his name.

You surely know his art.

Hand With Reflecting Sphere                              1935

Encounter                                                                                                           1944

Ascending and Descending                                                         1960

Escher, was born in the Netherlands on this day in 1898. The M.C. Escher Foundation and the M.C. Escher Company maintain an outstanding, comprehensive site about the artist and his work. A visit to the store is essential, first, to look at and purchase the quality merchandise, and second, to see a superb example of how to market your goods on the Internet.  The entire site deserves a design award.

By the way, if you merely want to know more about tessellations, go here.

Igor Stravinsky: Innovative Cadence In Sound

Portrait of Stravinsky                               Robert Delauney, 1917

There is no question that the composer, Igor Stravinsky, redefined pattern or rhythm in 20th century classical music. His work led him to be called a leading innovator in 20 century music, an trait traced to his composition of The Firebird in 1910 when he was 27. For a taste of that music here is the finale. (Keep in mind that Henry Ford sold 10,000 cars that year, half the American population lived on farms or towns with fewer than 2500 people, and the flying machine was a rare and thrilling sight.)

In the ninety years since the premiere of The Firebird, its innovative sounds have been re-patterned by the likes of Aaron Copeland, Leonard Bernstein, John Williams and others. The American classical composer who has perhaps carried rhythm as art to its farthest horizons is Philip Glass. Here is one piece that supports that conclusion.

Who knows what is in store for classical music on future horizons? It has been an interesting thread over the last century and one I'm happy to say that Stravinsky, born on this day in 1882, enjoyed into its seventh decade. 

Illustration, Garman Ryan Collection, The New Art Gallery Walsall, West Midlands, England

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

James Joyce Writes Of A Day In The Life Of Leopold Bloom

First edition (1922) copy "unread except for the racy bits"   

In the world of Western literature June 16 is far from an ordinary day. It isn't that a number of significant events occurred or that any event occurred that day. Instead, June 16 (1904) is the setting for a several hundred page descriptive stream of happenings in the life of Leopold Bloom, the protagonist in the James Joyce novel, Ulysses. The Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, said this about the book:

What is so staggering about Ulysses is the fact that behind a thousand veils nothing lies hidden; that it turns neither toward the mind nor toward the world, but, as cold as the moon looking on from cosmic space, allows the drama of growth, being, and decay to pursue its course.

To say the least, Ulysses is an adventure. For some it may be merely pornographic or a huge word puzzle or a unique work of art in its truest form. However you chose to view the novel keep in mind that people are celebrating this work and its author across the world today on what has become known as Bloomsday. And even those who know nothing about Bloomsday, never read the book or know little about the author have likely encountered bits and pieces of Joyce's skill in school and through popular culture. Here is one of those most often quoted pieces:

I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

I came to appreciate that quote so much I used it for several years in a descriptive writing course. Others could have been useful but their playfulness simply made them enjoyable:

Meditations of evolution increasingly vaster: of the moon invisible in incipient lunation, approaching perigee: of the infinite lattiginous scintillating uncondensed milky way, discernible by daylight by an observer placed at the lower end of a cylindrical vertical shaft 5000 ft deep sunk from the surface towards the centre of the earth: of Sirius (alpha in Canis Maior) 10 lightyears (57,000,000,000,000 miles) distant and in volume 900 times the dimension of our planet: of Arcturus: of the precession of equinoxes: of Orion with belt and sextuple sun theta and nebula in which 100 of our solar systems could be contained: of moribund and of nascent new stars such as Nova in 1901: of our system plunging towards the constellation of Hercules: of the parallax or parallactic drift of socalled fixed stars, in reality evermoving wanderers from immeasurably remote eons to infinitely remote futures in comparison with which the years, threescore and ten, of allotted human life formed a parenthesis of infinitesimal brevity.

Rest assured there's more there than the racy bits.

If you want to learn more about the day, the book, and the author, visit these sites: Bloomsday, Ulysses, and James Joyce

Photo, theguardian.com, June 4, 2009, photo by Martin Argles
Quatation, goodreads.com

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Magna Carta: Celebrating 800 Years Of Democratic Ideals

Articles of the Barons (Magna Carta), 1215            British Library

Eight hundred years ago today England's King John set his seal to a document containing ideals that have formed the basis for democratic governments ever since. The document is the Magna Carta. Here is what Michael Wood wrote about it in his book, The Story of England, a companion volume to the BBC documentary of the same name:

In the Magna Carta in 1215 King John had acceded to the barons' demands made in response to his wholesale abuses of power. In essence it was a charter for the ruling class but it embodied the crucial principle that the king was bound by the law. Immediately after John's death Magna Carta was reissued in the name of his successor, and there were several versions up to 1225. Since then it has come to be regarded by English people, and by all who have adopted English law, as the chief constitutional defense against arbitrary or unjust rule. Its most famous clauses express some of the English people's most deeply held political beliefs, and pertain to both rich and poor:

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed, or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals, or by the law of the land . . . To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.
Later lawyers found here the basis for fundamental English rights: equality before the law and freedom from arbitrary arrest . . . .

For a bit more on the Magna Carta, including some excellent links and illustrations, I refer readers to Instapundit's Stephen Hayward and his fine tribute to this historic moment in Western history.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Pentagon Papers, June 13, 1971: The Vietnam Nightmare Turns Very Real

Forty-four years ago today the American public finally began to read some truth about their country's involvement in the political struggle of Vietnam from 1945 through mid-1968. It wasn't pretty. In fact the outrage it, the Kent State murders the year before, and the Watergate scandal in June of 1972 would heighten revolutionary fervor from coast to coast and consume Nixon's presidency in 1974.

Here is a fine summary of the Pentagon Papers story from history.com:

The New York Times begins to publish sections of the so-called “Pentagon Papers,” a top-secret Department of Defense study of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The papers indicated that the American government had been lying to the people for years about the Vietnam War and the papers seriously damaged the credibility of America’s Cold War foreign policy. 
In 1967, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered his department to prepare an in-depth history of American involvement in the Vietnam War. McNamara had already begun to harbor serious doubts about U.S. policy in Vietnam, and the study–which came to be known as the “Pentagon Papers”–substantiated his misgivings. Top-secret memorandums, reports, and papers indicated that the U.S. government had systematically lied to the American people, deceiving them about American goals and progress in the war in Vietnam. The devastating multi-volume study remained locked away in a Pentagon safe for years. In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg, a Defense Department employee who had turned completely against the war, began to smuggle portions of the papers out of the Pentagon. These papers made their way to the New York Times, and on June 13, 1971, the American public read them in stunned amazement. The publication of the papers added further fuel to the already powerful antiwar movement and drove the administration of President Richard Nixon into a frenzy of paranoia about information “leaks.” Nixon attempted to stop further publication of the papers, but the Supreme Court refused to issue an injunction. 
The “Pentagon Papers” further eroded the American public’s confidence in their nation’s Cold War foreign policy. The brutal, costly, and seemingly endless Vietnam War had already damaged the government’s credibility, and the publication of the “Pentagon Papers” showed people the true extent to which the government had manipulated and lied to them. Some of the most dramatic examples were documents indicating that the Kennedy administration had openly encouraged and participated in the overthrow of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963; that the CIA believed that the “domino theory” did not actually apply to Asia; and that the heavy American bombing of North Vietnam, contrary to U.S. government pronouncements about its success, was having absolutely no impact on the communists’ will to continue the fight.

There is more at the site here.

Monday, June 8, 2015

June 8, 1968: An Unsettling Commencement Throughout The Land

On June 8, 1968 I received my B.A. from the University of Maryland in College Park. There were several thousand degrees conferred that day in an atmosphere of uncertainty at Cole Field House. Robert F. Kennedy had been murdered in Los Angeles two days earlier. Martin Luther King Jr. died at the hands of an assassin in early April. Our commencement speaker, James B. Reston, Executive Editor of The New York Times, delivered an address for hope couched in terms of the difficulty and challenge facing the American experience and its response to the war in Vietnam, its most serious internal struggle since the Civil War a century earlier.

In 1968 I had not yet formed a strong opposition to our nation's war against communist influence in Vietnam. My focus that summer targeted a new and narrow direction in graduate study involving geography, cartography and psychology. By early 1969 with no end in sight for what appeared to be a hopeless war many friends decided for radical politics. I watched from the sidelines until my closest friend, a brilliant mathematician, elected to leave the country rather than face the increasingly troubling national crisis unfolding on the home front. The day before he left he asked me to drive him to his family home in the idyllic farm country near Emmitsburg. He wanted to say "good-bye" but didn't want to do it alone. On the hour-long return drive to Washington not a word was shared between us. It remains one of my darkest days.

Much has happened in the decades since that day as our nation passed through almost unbridled economic prosperity that we now measure in unsustainable and dangerous economic overreach. It's nothing new among civilizations as history tells us. The cycle of growth, maturity and decline among nation-states has always been with us. Only the scale changes. It's a matter of how one manages the process that really matters. Today is very much like June 8, 1968 when James B. Reston expressed hope in the face of adversity. It remains for us to see how we manage our national maturity and our nation's place in the great chain of being.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Seventy-One Years Ago Today: The End Of The National Socialist Evil Begins On The Beaches Of Normandy

June 6, 1944, 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. General Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end on June 6, the Allies gained a foot- hold in Normandy. The D-Day cost was high -more than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded -- but more than 100,000 Soldiers began the march across Europe to defeat Hitler.

We don't teach history much in American schools anymore. I wrote a few years ago on this blog that I'd be happy if students could be made aware of the last line of the quote above taken from the U.S. Army's D-Day webpage. In 2004, Instapundit's Scott Johnson, a powerful voice for the American experience, made a similar plea over a decade ago where he addressed our remembrance of a war quickly fading into the dusty archives of the Information Age. He's reposted it again this year- it's full of a number of significant links - to remind us of the meaning of the day and our responsibility to keep that meaning alive well into the future.

Into The Jaws Of Death, U.S. Troops Wading Through Water and Nazi Gunfire

Map, Department of History, United States Military Academy
Photo, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Public Domain Photographs, 1882-1962