Saturday, July 30, 2016

Arstidir: New Music From The Land Of Fire And Ice

I listen to a lot of music from many genres. Done it all my life. Now and then the music is so impressive it begs to be shared. Therefore, when extraordinary musicianship, vocal and instrumental, meets notable arrangments and superb engineering, you will read about it here. The Icelandic indie-folk band, Arstidir, meets all the criteria. Even their website - a must visit - is an immediate indication that you're on an experiential edge. It is visually rich and generously full of music.

Cover of Arstidir's third album, Hvel, funded by a Kickstarter campaign

Arstidir is reaching out for a reason: although known in their home country and much of Europe, they're just breaking into the U.S. music scene having completed a national tour earlier this year. Their big break came when a video of their impromptu a capella performance of an ancient Iceland hymn at a train station in Wuppertal, Germany, went viral. So far it has almost 5.5 million views.

I can only say the music really reaches out and deep. If you feel the same way after listening to these two tracks from Hvel, follow through with your generous support for this band and their remarkable sound.

Here is a review of Arstidir's latest album, Verloren, Verleden, featuring the Dutch singer, Anneke van Giersbergen. 

Echoes From The Old Ball Game

For a kid born in the 1940's and growing up in Lefty Grove's Georges Creek Valley in Maryland, playing baseball was supposed to be a natural. In fact it was so natural it's a strong tradition to this day. It didn't work out that way for me. Rotten vision and "Coke bottle" 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.

Ah, the Yankees. Love or hate for them 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 team. His name was Casey Stengel, born on July 30, 1890, in Kansas City. Stengel took over as manager of the Yankees 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 them in 1956 and 1958.

File:Casey Stengel 1949.png
The "Old Perfesser" in 1949

You look up and down the bench and you have to say to yourself, 'Can't anybody here play this game?' There comes a time in every man's life and I've had plenty of them.

In 1960 he retired from the game only to return two years later as manager of the "Lovable Losers", the New York Mets. Fans loved them and their 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 extensive biography here. The Official Casey Stengel Site has a great list of quotes here.

If you want to honor the man go to a baseball game this weekend. If that can't happen gather the family, especially the grandfathers, fathers and sons, and watch Field of Dreams (1989). Chances are, Casey will enter the conversation.


Photos and Illustrations:
public domain photo, New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel in a 1949 issue of Baseball Digest.


Friday, July 29, 2016

J.R.R. Tolkien Enters The World Of Celebrity

For fantasy fiction fans this day in 1954 has great significance.  It is the day  that J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring first appeared on store shelves in the United Kingdom. Today, a used copy of that first edition with its original dust jacket would fetch an owner at least $6500. I doubt that sum would matter much to true fans. To them the words within are priceless.

In lieu of a typical biography here is a short about the author's life and his creation of Middle Earth. The film comes from the Behind the Scenes series issued in the special edition video package of director Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Tolkien died in 1973. It would take another generation before a cinematic version of his great work would or perhaps could appear. In the interim his imagination gave new energy to a full range of fiction writers. His is a rich legacy and one that will be enjoyed and expanded in the years head.



Text:, J.R.R.Tolkien

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Jean Shepherd: Of BB Guns And The Gift Of Electric Sex

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.

He was born on this day in 1921 on Chicago's south side and raised in nearby Hammond, Indiana. After serving in World War II, Shepherd began a career in broadcasting that expanded into writing, film, and live performance. He was heard on late night radio 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.

Psychology tells us that humorists often do not have the happiest of life stories. Shepherd was no exception. 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 this warm story by a fan notes that Shepherd likely 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 him the opportunity to become a big television star in the 1950's and much better well-known in his lifetime.

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/Shep'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 life's common threads into humorous and entertaining listening.

". . . the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window."

Shepherd died seventeen years ago on Sanibel Island, Florida, remembered for one film produced in 1983 when he was 62. There's much more to him than that and I hope more people come to enjoy his work. The settings now and in the future may be different but the collected experiences from childhood and adolescence often age into fine wine. Thanks to Shepherd we can laugh at past times and enjoy the harvest.

Monday, July 25, 2016

AirVenture At Oshkosh: Another Plane Crazy Week

Airventure grounds - for scale, the runway at the top is 8000 feet
The Experimental Aircraft Association's (EAA) annual week-long Airventure gathering kicks off today. It's better known by its location, Oshkosh, to aviation enthusiasts and you can be assured that every one of them has the event on the bucket list. There's good reason. Imagine a fly-in attracting 7500 airplanes. Imagine 2500 aircraft exhibits, 800 commercial exhibitors, daily world-class airshows, and a total of over 600,000 guests. Organizers call the event "the world's greatest aviation celebration" and this year marks its sixty-fourth presentation. The map above 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.

Airventure is far from your average fly-in

I had the privilege of attending the event several times in the last decade of my career. Energizing, informative, and significant, the show was a great vehicle for delivering an organizational message to a large, captured, and enthusiastic audience. You may ask why the National Park Service would send a dozen or so employees and volunteers to work an air show. First, the agency has almost fifty out of its more than 400 units with a significant link to an aviation theme. In addition, the Service maintains a fleet of fixed and rotary wing aircraft contributing over 20,000 hours of flight time annually in support of park operations, maintenance, and resource and fire management. Add to that interagency cooperation across departments as well as airspace regulation over the parks and the justification become clearer. In summation, it's a grand and demanding opportunity to reach out face-to face to thousands of guests who enjoy and impact our national parks.

Nothing like fly-in camping with thousands of your best friends

If you can't attend Airventure, the EAA maintains a comprehensive up-to-the-second website where you can spend hours reading, watching and listening to the day's/week's events. And if summer in Wisconsin doesn't fit your schedule you can take advantage of Sun 'n Fun, the smaller scaled winter equivalent of Airventure held around April 1 in Lakeland, Florida. Although originally an official EAA event, Sun 'n Fun is now managed by an independent organization, but still has the enthusiasm and excitement of its founders.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Rules For Radicals: A Mid-Convention Booster Shot

With Republicans heading home from Cleveland and Democrats gathering in Philadelphia, the national political convention season has reached its midpoint this weekend. I thought it would be the perfect time to give readers a booster shot of the political tactics we're likely to encounter from now until the election in November. The tactics were developed by Saul Alinsky, long recognized as the founding father of community organizing, and best articulated in his 1971 book, Rules for Radicals. Alinsky was a native of Chicago, trained at the University of Chicago, and a veteran organizer and political activist in Chicago neighborhoods. Alinsky's name may not be familiar to most Americans but they are certainly aware of Chicago's other successful and internationally famous leftist community organizer. Barack Obama.

We've already had an eight-year tutorial on community organizing tactics coming out of the White House. We shouldn't expect the use of such successful tactics to be confined to left wing politics especially given that we have all the ingredients for a vicious presidential campaign in the coming months. 

My copy

To help readers identify, understand, and appreciate the rules as well as respond to their power to influence American voters, here they are as written with supporting information is in brackets:

1. Power is not only what you have, it's what the enemy thinks you have. [Power is derived from two main sources - money and people.]

2. Never go outside the expertise of your people. [It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone.]

3. Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy. [Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty.]

4. Make the enemy lie up to its own book of rules. [You can kill them with this because nobody can possibly obey all of their own rules.]

5. Ridicule is man's most potent weapon. [There is no defense. It's irrational. It's infuriating.]

6. A good tactic is one your people enjoy.

7. A tactic that drags on too long become a drag. [Don't become old news. Even radical activists get bored.]

8. Keep the pressure on. Never let up. [Attack, attack, attack from all sides, never giving the reeling organization a chance to rest, recover, regroup or re-strategize.]

9. The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself. [Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist.]

10. If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive. [Violence from the other side can become a positive because the public sympathizes with the underdog.]

11. The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. [Never let the enemy score points because you're caught without a solution to the problem. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.]

12. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. [Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people, not institutions, people hurt faster than institutions.]

I trust readers will benefit from this information as we face what may well be the most significant national election in our time.

In closing, readers should know that after seven years in Washington in the 1960's I was a lefty radical by 1971.  That's the reason I have a first edition of Alinsky's Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals [1971]. It's been read more than once, a bit yellow here and there, and the dust jacket has a few small tears and scuffs; otherwise, it's in excellent condition. Now I look at the rule book and its players from two quite separate points of view as the tactics have become mainstream in the world of politics. Time and experience has taught me well and I've moved right of center on political and economic issues but liberals young and old will be happy to know that I never once liked Richard Nixon. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

First Round-The-World Solo Flight Completed Today In 1933

Winnie Mae at her place of honor in the Time and Navigation exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington

On this day in 1933, the famed American aviator, Wylie Post, returned to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn almost eight days after he began his solo round-the-world attempt. Two years earlier he flew a slightly shorter route accompanied by his friend and fellow pilot, Harold Gatty. On both trips he flew his Lockheed C5 Vega, Winnie Mae, an aircraft that had become as well known as its famous pilot. In August 1935, he and the American cowboy humorist, Will Rogers, died in the crash of Post's hybrid Lockheed home-built aircraft while exploring the possibilities of an air mail route across Alaska. 

Although Post is best remembered for his adventures as a pilot he made significant contributions to atmospheric research and high-altitude flight technology. His accomplishments include the discovery of the jet stream and the design and development of pressure suits. Read a brief and entertaining biographical sketch here and more information including several links here at

Wiley Post in his third pressure suit

Given the success and extent of our space programs today, it's hard to believe Post's solo occurred just thirteen 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 flight seems insignificant. As readers of this blog know, I'm somewhat fond of aviation so I'm perfectly happy to give Post the credit he deserve as an aviation pioneer in a time when even our heroic history seems little more than an afterthought to most Americans.

I offer this piece by Eric Whitacre to honor the dreams, accomplishments, and memory of Wiley Post. 

Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine

Music: Eric Whitacre
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!”)


Photos and Illustrations:

Winnie Mae, Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum
Wiley Post, National Aeronautics and Space Administration


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ernest Hemingway: There Is No Friend As Loyal As A Book

Ernest Hemingway, one of the 20th century's most significant American novelists and short story writers, was born on this day in 1899. Most of us likely met Hemingway through his Nobel Prize winning 1952 novel, The Old Man and the Sea. It was required reading for me in high school and I trust that it remains a rite of passage for graduation these days. 

Hemingway, his wife Pauline, and their three sons posing in Bimini in 1935

Over a fourteen year period he published four blockbuster novels: The Sun Also Rises (1926), A Farewell to Arms (1929), To Have and Have Not(1937), and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). His body of work includes additional novels, non-fiction, letters, collections of short stories and poems, and one anthology. A private person by nature, his lifestyle and literary themes coupled with fame made him a larger than life and very public personality. In a 2010 paper, Professor Timo Muller (University of Augsburg), writing in the Journal of Modern Literature, noted that Hemingway "has the highest recognition value of all writers world-wide." That value is reflected equally in this quotation taken from the Hemingway entry at Wikipedia:

The extent of Hemingway's influence is seen in the tributes and echoes of his fiction in popular culture. A minor planet, discovered in 1978 by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Chernykh, was named for him (3656 Hemingway); Ray Bradbury wrote The Kilimanjaro Device, with Hemingway transported to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro; the 1993 motion picture Wrestling Ernest Hemingway, about the friendship of two retired men, Irish and Cuban, in a seaside town in Florida, starred Robert Duvall, Richard Harris, Shirley MacLaine, Sandra Bullock, and Piper Laurie. The influence is evident with the many restaurants named "Hemingway"; and the proliferation of bars called "Harry's" (a nod to the bar in Across the River and Into the Trees). A line of Hemingway furniture, promoted by Hemingway's son Jack (Bumby), has pieces such as the "Kilimanjaro" bedside table, and a "Catherine" slip-covered sofa. Montblanc offers a Hemingway fountain pen, and a line of Hemingway safari clothes has been created. The International Imitation Hemingway Competition was created in 1977 to publicly acknowledge his influence and the comically misplaced efforts of lesser authors to imitate his style. Entrants are encouraged to submit one "really good page of really bad Hemingway" and winners are flown to Italy to Harry's Bar.

I've read bits and pieces of Hemingway over the years but nothing cover to cover. Essentially he is a victim of my interest in non-fiction; however, the legacy has prompted our family to visit the Earnest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, Florida. He and his family lived there from 1931 to 1939. There is something for everyone there including a furnished house, colorful gardens, and a fine bookstore. Our children enjoyed the polydactyl (extra-toed) cats that are descended from a white cat Hemingway received as a gift from a local ship captain. It's a good opportunity to glimpse a private life from another time and a literary legacy that will be with us for a very long time.


Photos and Illustrations:

John F. Kennedy Library


Title quote,
Quote and content, New York Times, July, 3, 1961
Hemingway entry,

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

American Eagle 1969

Forty-seven years ago the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle landed on the moon. Millions watched at 10:56 PM, EDT, as Neil Armstrong, the commander of the Apollo 11 mission, descended the Eagle's ladder and made what he called a "giant leap for mankind" with his final step onto the powdery lunar surface. Learn more about the Apollo 11 mission here on Wikipedia where you can find scores of links to more National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reports and multimedia.

Lunar Module Eagle in landing configuration, July 20, 1969  

Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the module pilot, spent almost 22 hours on the moon including their 150 minute walk where they erected an American flag, collected soil and rock samples, and deployed experiments. On their return to Earth much of the material they collected was eventually archived and displayed at the Smithsonian Institution. Some rocks entered our culture in some fascinating ways, including this one at the Washington National Cathedral, where one was embedded at the center of a red planet in what has become known as the Space Window. 

Time is catching up with those first attempts at exploring our nearest celestial neighbor. Neil Armstrong passed away in 2012 at the age of 82. Buzz Aldrin turned 86 earlier this year. Although we hear rumbling of new manned mission to the moon there's nothing firm coming from our government. Regardless of what the future holds, those early years including the mission we commemorate today, were an exciting and almost magical time for science, exploration, and discovery of the frontier "out there."


Photos and Illustrations:, Space Window detail, Space Window, full photo


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Now I Am Become Death, The Destroyer Of Worlds

Trinity explosion at 0.016 second after detonation, July 16, 1945

Today marks the 71st anniversary of the Trinity Test, the explosion of the world's first plutonium bomb and the beginning of the Atomic Age. Expectation among the scientists that morning in the New Mexico desert ranged from a dud bomb to a world-devouring atmospheric explosion. Luckily, the result was reasonable and the success allowed the United States to pursue a quick and definitive ending to war with Japan. I am sure the debate on using nuclear weapons against civilian targets in Japan will be an endless one. Also, I am sure that President Harry Truman's decision to use those weapons saved Japan and the United States and its allies millions of additional casualties. Regardless of your position on this question and the Atomic Age, the greater reality is simply that our world has been transformed by this new power. As a leader of the free world, we have a huge responsibility regarding the use of nuclear power for creation and destruction as well as its proliferation. The events of July 16, 1945 and in the month that followed showed us the awesome power of the atom. Seventy years of nuclear history has only focused us even more on being careful to choose wisely in such matters.

The Department of Energy has a fine mixed media post on the Trinity Test and its context within the Manhattan Project. The Wikipedia entry for Trinity provides additional information, including several illustrations, and many interesting external links. Access the Wikipedia Trinity entry here.

Shiva, the Lord of the Cosmic Dance

Our title for this post is a quote taken from the Bhagavad Gita spoken by J. Robert Oppenheimer on the realization of what he and his fellow scientists accomplished in the Trinity Test. In the Gita, the speaker is Vishnu, a supreme god in the Hindu tradition. Perhaps Oppenheimer's pessimism and quote were justified. I like to recall that Vishnu, as supreme god, had many avatars or incarnations. One of them is  Shiva,  the Lord of the Cosmic Dance. As such, the dancer is the creator, sustainer, and destroyer of the world as he stands on the Dwarf of Ignorance. I wasn't at Trinity that morning, didn't see the flash or feel the heat or wind from the blast. Still, I have no doubt it was quite a dance for all who witnessed this historic event given that some scientists believed nothing would happen while others hypothesized a nuclear chain reaction that would destroy the planet. 

Charles Sheeler: Painting American Destinations

American Landscape, 1930

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. I've had a growing appreciation of his his interpretations since then especially through a career focusing on the nation's finest natural and cultural landscapes. Here are more examples of Sheeler's work. 

Pertaining to Yachts and Yachting, 1933

Yankee Clipper, 1939

Golden Gate, 1953
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

Thursday, July 14, 2016

La Fete Nationale De La France

On this day in 1789 a crowd of 1000 Parisian laborers stormed the Bastille, a 14th century fort and political prison. The event marked the beginning of the French Revolution and the symbolic end of absolute monarchy in France. What followed was eight decades of political and social unrest as France and Europe as a whole struggled with the concept of nationalism. 

July 14 in France is National Day, a holiday know as Bastille Day throughout the English-speaking world. For more information about Bastille Day and the revolution it spawned go here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Andrew Wyeth: Painter Of Land And People

Today we note the birthday of the American painter, Andrew Wyeth. He was born in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania in 1917 and died there in 2009 after a lifetime of painting individuals and landscapes near his home and at his summer residence in Maine. He represented the second of three generations of famous painters in the Wyeth family. His father, N. C. Wyeth, was a renowned illustrator and painter. His son, Jamie, who turned 70 last week, continues painting literally in his father's footsteps in Pennsylvania and Maine.

I can best characterize his work as compelling, thought-provoking dreams on canvas, not quite real, not quite abstract. Here are three painting by Andrew Wyeth offering a comfortable contrast to the season  of his birth. Readers can see the full range of his subjects at his authorized website.

Ice Pool                                                                                                            1969

Branch in the Snow                                                                                           1980

Shredded Wheat                                                                                                 1982

For a biography and more information about Andrew Wyeth visit his wikipedia page here.  

Monday, July 11, 2016

To Kill A Mockingbird At 56

This is the first anniversary of the publication of To Kill A Mockingbird to be celebrated without its reclusive and locally beloved author, Harper Lee. I doubt that her hometown, Monroeville, Alabama, will ever be the same without her. She spent her entire life there living a rather reclusive existence with the help of locals who spent a half century sending curious fans everywhere but to Miss Nelle's place. Between 1960 and 1964 she published a few essays and participated in interviews then quietly "retired" until the publication of her second novel, Go Set A Watchman, in 2015.  

We can only imagine how many millions of American high school students have read To Kill A Mockingbird since its publication fifty years ago this summer. I graduated from high school in 1964 and don't recall if the book was required reading; however, it did make the list in college. In fact, I still have my paperback edition, scuffed, tattered, dog-eared, and browned by age after several readings by me and my children.

For more on the book and it's impact on American culture here is an article in The Huffington Post featuring four defenses of this enduring work.  And here is a link to a more critical review by Allen Barra from The Wall Street Journal. Barra's observations are brief and well worth reading. For a fine summation of the life of the author, here is her obituary by William Grimes that appeared in The New York Times, February 19, 2016.

Monday, July 4, 2016

American Independence On Its 240th Birthday

Happy Independence Day, my friends!

Fireworks over the National Mall on July 4th.

Whilst the last members were signing [the Constitution], Doctor Franklin, looking towards the Presidents chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art, a rising, from a setting, sun. I have, said he, often and often, in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President, without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now at length, I have the happiness to know, that it is a rising, and not a setting sun.

James Madison quoting BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, debates in the Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, September 17, 1787. James Madison, Journal of the Federal Convention, ed. E. H. Scott, p. 763

Friday, July 1, 2016

Gettysburg: Etched In History And Experience On This Day In 1863

Today marks the first day 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 have experienced Gettysburg at 100 and 150. The place is a personal holy ground because three people cared.

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

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. 

The Old Ranger with his mom at Gettysburg National Military Park, 1954

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 in 1959. 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 blackboard 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 preserved 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 sacrifices, the consequences, and the wheels of history both national and personal. Somewhere in the crowd there will be a seven year-old with a new enthusiasm for this defining moment in our national experience. It is reassuring to know the commemorative landscape at Gettysburg, with the pride and serenity of an old veteran, will be waiting there  to welcome him on his return visit in 2066.