Jul 252014

Skimming through today’s Wall Street Journal, the word “theremin” caught the eye and stumped the brain. It elicited a letter to the WSJ. Posted below is that letter and some explanatory links.

Dear WSJ Editor:

“Theremin”. Now there’s a word to stop a skim-reader in his tracks (“Our Lady in the Middle East”, Television, WSJ 25-Jul-14). For those of us with a 1950’s childhood, the theremin was an integral part of our growing up. Oh, we didn’t know its name but we knew that all authentic spacecraft and trundling robots from outer space made the same eerie, warbling electronic sound. “The Thing; It came from Outer Space” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still” are classics of this early 50’s genre.

I still remember two eerie sounds from that 1951 classic movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still”. The first of course was the “authentic” otherworldly sound out of the studio’s theremin; the other from the horror-constricted throat of Patricia Neal starring up at the looming earth-destroying robot as we all in our theater seats helped by mouthing those immortal, world-saving words, “Klaatu barada nikto!”

Well, we all had a hand in saving the world during that early 1950’s Saturday matinee. Then, spacecraft only came from outer space. But by 1957, the launch of Sputnik changed all that. Now early spacecraft and early examples of the electronic theremin reside in museums.

For those of us of a certain age, that still feels rather eerie.

And here is the promised link, illustrating and explaining the theremin. One sits in the “Sparks Museum of Electrical Invention” in Bellingham, WA


Bellingham, WA itself deserves, may even require some explanation. Inserted below is an article by this author published in Highways Magazine.



Take a detour off the interstate to explore an unspoiled corner of the Pacific Northwest 


Charles P. Dusenbury

GSC Highways

Tuesday January 1, 2008

Bellingham, Washington, a waterfront community of 180,000 just south of the Canadian border on Interstate 5, is more than just an off-ramp on your journey north or south. Beautiful vistas of the fabled San Juan Islands and towering snowcapped peaks, fascinating shops featuring Northwest artisans and a culture of warmth and welcoming combine to make this a pleasurable respite from the rigors of travel.

Whether you plan to spend a few hours or hunker down for a few days in Bellingham, a good place to start is right where people board the Alaska Ferry at the South Bellingham Alaska Ferry Building.

The best way to get there, either by RV or car, is the southernmost of the seven Bellingham exits off I-5. It’s exit 250: Chuckanut, Old Fairhaven Parkway. Follow the signs west to the Alaska Ferry in the south Bellingham community of Fairhaven. Seattle is 75 miles farther south on I-5. Vancouver, British Columbia, is 45 miles to the north. Long-term parking for recreational vehicles is excellent, and there’s plenty of room for maneuvering your rig.

The Alaska Ferry Terminal isn’t just a roll-on/roll-off spot near I-5, so park that rig and, like Captain Vancouver before you, do some exploring. The terminal’s vaulted steel, brick and glass lobby gives the sense that you’ve just stepped off the Orient Express from Istanbul. If the weather’s good, you’ll have sweeping views of Bellingham Bay, downtown Bellingham and the North Cascades’ peak of Mount Baker. Catch it on the right day, and you’ll get a glimpse of the Alaska Ferry with its Jonah-like appetite for boarding vehicles.

Stroll around the interior to find a series of educational displays and informational brochures that’ll help you plan your activities. At the ticket windows near the entrance, you can arrange for excursions such as whale watching, bay tours, evening dinner cruises and passenger ferries to Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands and Victoria on Vancouver Island. Oh yes, and there’s a double-masted wooden sailboat charter for those wishing to relive Washington’s maritime history.

It’s worth repeating that this is a ferry building for vehicles with passage to Alaska. The other vessels here are strictly for passengers. But that’s the whole point: you can take in all that the neighboring islands have to offer without the hassle of transporting your RV there.

The ferry terminal’s Old World ambience extends up several cobblestone-and-brick blocks into the artsy enclave of Fairhaven, brimming with Victorian charm and Northwestern friendliness. Browse the shops and galleries that line the streets for the best from regional artisans. Grab a bite at the converted double-decker bus, smell the roses at the little garden shop across the way or have a quiche and a local Chardonnay. Wine? In Washington? You bet. The state is second only to California in wine production.

Stay out on a summer evening to witness the emergence of a local nocturnal species shepherding their young. They’re easily identified by their fleece blankets, seat cushions, picnic baskets and happy chattering. Follow them as they flock to the central Fairhaven Village Green where the evening’s movie feature projects on a wall. The kid hanging out the window next to the movie is a very realistic painting. That man and woman toasting you from the alfresco restaurant upstairs are happily very alive and all part of the congenial nature of this waterfront village.

On the Waterfront

Fairhaven’s plainer older sister, downtown Bellingham, resides a few miles north around the bay. She’s not a heartthrob at first glance, but dance with her a few blocks and her charms are revealed.

Bellingham’s waterfront has developed into a first-class destination with curving paths among the 1,400 pleasure boats and fishing vessels at the Squallicum Harbor Marina. The Hotel Bellwether, with its distinctive bridal-suite lighthouse tower, serves up fine dining along with two other bay-view restaurants.

A Saturday must-do is the farmers market around Bellingham’s new indoor/outdoor marketplace. Some of the garden-fresh produce and local wines on sale here come from the San Juan Islands. Savor a full-meal crepe as you stroll past local handicrafts while listening to a fine string quartet or a surprisingly mellow bagpipe.

A real find—though it’s seldom found—is the American Museum of Radio and Electricity on Bay Street. On the outside it resembles an old-fashioned radio- and TV-repair shop.

The inside tells a different story. This museum features a detailed recreation of Titanic’s radio room, complete with authentic period communication equipment. Be sure to see the near-priceless original Edison light bulb. Confederate General George E. Pickett’s 1857 wood-framed house still stands just a few blocks away.

Dazzling views are found on Chuckanut Drive, a coastal road heading south out of Fairhaven. A cathedral of overarching trees opens into vistas of the islands. Several turnouts with stunning panoramas lure you to stop and take off your lens cap.

Since the 1920s, a favorite stop on Chuckanut Drive has been the Oyster Bar restaurant. You can’t get shellfish any fresher than this; the oyster farm is just down the lane. The road itself is a bit twisty, but it makes for a charming return to the high-speed straightaways of Interstate 5.

 Comments Off on THEREMIN; a Fast-reader stopper
Dec 042012

As a general public reader of the WSJ, I seldom wander into depths of the Corporate News section. Thankfully this day I did. It brought to the surface a concern that really ought to be making the headlines: “Ship Accidents Sever Data Cables Off East Africa” (WSJ, Feb 28, 2012).

As reported in the article, a ship off the coast of Kenya dragged its anchor and severed a crucial fiber optic data transmission line between Djibouti and Zimbabwe. In itself this is an internet inconvenience. However it warrants more attention when this happens on the heels of the simultaneous severing at a depth of 650 feet of three even more important lines coming out of Djibouti that connects the middle east to much of the world.  It has been almost three years to the day that two of the world’s largest capacity cables, FLAG EUROPE ASIA and SEA-ME-WE-4[1] were severed near Alexandria, Egypt.[2]

The term “cloud computing” may instill the comfort of a “Beam me up, Scotty” satellite technology. The reality is that essentially the entire information highway consists of the “anchors aweigh” technology of over 500,000 miles of undersea fiber optic cables[3]. Its strategic vulnerability exhibited by this, as a spokesman for the affected lines said, “…very unusual situation,” is not lost on our military. Djibouti is a main transmission link for the global choke point of the massive undersea cables running right through the tough neighborhood of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Those serving with the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa[4] there in Djibouti are well aware that the threat of terrorism and piracy exists not only upon the seas, but under it as well.

While globally we have our high-tech computing heads in the clouds, the down-to-earth concerns of a low-tech threat to the very cable web that links our world is very real.

[1] Southeast Asia-Middle East-Western Europe

[3] The demand is growing very fast for long distance communication.

Over 800,000 km (500,000 miles) of fibre optic cable have already been laid on the seabed, and this number is increasing rapidly. International Cable Protection Committee, 2009


Nov 112013


In China, so much of it now looks so familiar, so normal, so “West”. Yet, if one walks behind the scenes, peers through the windows of the many vacant buildings, and opens the financial books, a queasy feeling begins to develop in the pit of the stomach. In Michael Crichton’s 1973 movie, WESTWORLD, people paid to play out their Old West fantasies on a movie set. Today, it is looking like westerners may be playing out their financial fantasies in China. What investors perceive as familiar, be they architectural or financial structures may indeed be elaborate props constructed by the Chinese to deceive the West…and perhaps themselves.

Welcome to EAST WORLD

Recent articles in the ECONOMIST and the WALL STREET JOURNAL reveals a quickening pulse of concern in the banking and securities world: “Auditors Sharpen Queries in China”, “China Curbs Sales of Risky Wealth Management Products”, “Buffett-backed China Venture Falters”, “How China’s Banks Break the Rules”, “How Manageable is China’s red Ink?”, ”How real is China’s growth?”, “China; Rising power, anxious state”. All these headlines sound a sour note in the previous optimistic tune about the “Chinese Economic Miracle”. Suddenly it seems both regulators and investors are starting to hum a different tune… “How long has this been going on?” So what has been going on behind the scenes?

Seduction. A feeling of comfort is essential, be it in the bedroom or the board room, and here the Chinese have placed all the props to make global investors feel right at home. Messrs. Carl Walker and Fraser Howe, authors of the excellent book, RED CAPITALISM describe, “[It] involves a picture that outside observers…feel comfortable with since it makes China resemble other emerging markets.” [Italics added]. “[This includes] developed stock and debt-capital markets, a mutual funds industry, pension funds, sovereign-wealth funds, currency markets, foreign participation, an international central bank, home loans and credit cards, a burgeoning car industry and a handful of brilliant cities.” Thus, as the authors point out, it looks like the West! So it is easy for investors to be both stimulated yet at ease.

Certainly the crowded streets, busy commercial buildings, and humming factories are not all there just for some director to yell “Action” whenever westerners arrive. But the point is; only an estimated 2% of the debt that is financing all this growth and activity is held by foreign banks. Indeed, even accounting for the raising of capital in the stock markets, still 70% of the invested capital is done by the Chinese government itself. In other words, investment risks are not widely distributed as in more developed equity markets but instead China itself is the single most vulnerable to defaults.

While we are on the subject of banks, let’s take a quick look at China’s Big (an only) Four. As the 20th Century came to a close and the China was having one of its ten-year cyclical deep recessions, the banks were left with a whole pile of bad debts on its ledgers. Oh what to do? Hey gang, here’s a great idea! Let’s form four “Bad Banks”, transfer all that bad paper from the four national banks, thus reburnishing the balance sheets and make them the “Good Banks”, then sell equities on the global markets for these bright shining examples of Communist Capitalism.

Recently the SEC has suspended trading on about a dozen or so stocks with connections to China. There has been a recent trend for “reverse mergers”, where Chinese companies have purchased and “merged” with American companies traded on Wall Street. Concerns are being raised that regulators are not confidently able to audit the auditors of those Chinese investors and holdings. Terms such as “Ponzi Scheme” are now being used as Canadian-listed Sino-Forest shares dropped from 18.21 Canadian dollars to 3.19 as short-sellers circled in for the kill. Nine Dragons Paper, controlled by China’s richest woman (Zhang Yin, worth US$5.6 billion) had its Standard and Poor’s rating withdrawn.

Mdm. Zhang, the daughter of a Red Army officer with good contacts within the Chinese government, is a perfect example of what the Chinese refer to as “The Princelings”. This next generation is succeeding the old ruling elite who earned their bones in Mao’s Long March and is now taking over the full reins of governing.

This whole topic of the Princelings, the rapidly expanding and modernizing military, and China’s growing bellicosity as it looks to the South China Sea and yells, “Everybody, out of the pool!” are fascinating topics covered elsewhere on this website and in my current writings and lectures. Stay tuned.

Now, after having had a glimpse behind the Bamboo Curtain, to paraphrase Groucho Marks, “Who are you going to believe, them, or your own eyes?”


Wall Street Journal; active link list of related articles on China

The ECONOMIST, active link list of related articles on China

Amazon.com: Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise (9780470825860): Carl E. Walter, Fraser J. T. Howie: Books

A very readable yet detailed book on the Chinese financial system.

Open link, read book summary with Q&A of authors. Very brief and very informative.


The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers.

By Richard McGregor; This Amazon link also has a good summary and excellent insight into the irredeemable institutional corruption of China’s rule.


China’s Brand New “Empty” City: Ordos, Inner Mongolia

This YouTube video is of a recently built city, beautiful residential area, high-rise condos, and wide avenues, built for one million. It is not really deserted because it has never been occupied! If you are not a regular viewer of Qatar’s Al Jazeera TV, you may be impressed by the quality of this reporting.

It would seem that in this jet Age, Western constucts of reality have been on a Slow Boat to China.



Nov 112013

“Dubbed Osa’s Ark for its definitive zebra paint scheme based on the S-38 filmmakers/authors Osa and Martin Johnson flew over Africa in the 1930s.

Igor Sikorsky’s first flying boat design, the S-38’s maiden flight was in 1928. It was called “The Explorer’s Air Yacht” and “The Flying Yacht,” and a total of 110 were produced and used by adventure seekers and fledging airline companies. Schrade’s S-38 reproduction was built with original Sikorsky plans by the late Buzz Kaplan’s “Born Again Restorations,” of Owatonna, Minnesota.

Beginning August 20, he will make a charity flight from Minnesota to Berlin, Germany, in cooperation with The Wings of Hope, which provides support for other humanitarian organizations worldwide through the coordination of air transport for rescue workers, supplies, and patients. From Minnesota, the S-38 will cross Labrador, South Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, Faeroe Islands, London, Brussels, and Frankfurt, before arriving in Berlin.”


In the early 1950s, this writer recalls watching the B&W TV program I Married Adventure”. Osa Johnson hosted the showing of films that she and her photographer husband, Martin Johnson had made in a lifetime of exploration in Africa and Borneo. Martin was killed in the crash of a commercial DC-3 in Newhall, CA on approach to Burbank Airport.

There is now a display in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Borneo commemorating the couple’s many expiditions there. Interestingly, in WWII that north Borneo town and its neighboring Sandakan were attacked by the B-25 Strafers of the 345th Bomb Group “Air Apaches”. Another episode of interest to this writer.

The home museum of the Martin and Osa Johnson Foundation is in Osa’s home town of Chanute, Kansas. More on the Johnson.s remarkable life in a later blog. It would be fun to do a whole PowerPoint presentation on this fascinating couple.


 Comments Off on “Osa’s Ark”; Sikorsky S-38, Oshkosh July 26-Aug 1
Dec 042012

You know, it appears more and more that fiction is just a novel approach to assembling factual data points into a coherent and hopefully entertaining narrative. This “Milky Seas” is a case in point. Note the ‘glow’ at the bottom right, off the coast of Somalia. It is about the size of the distance from Monterey, to Santa barabara, California. A special thanks to MISSION BLUE and GOOGLE EARTH.

“Milky seas are unusual phenomena which have been noticed by mariners for centuries, but which remain unexplained by scientists. These events are when the surface of the ocean, often from horizon to horizon, glows with a continuous uniform milky light. Although the origins of this light are not well investigated, the most plausible explanation is that it is caused by blooms of bioluminescent bacteria…”

Be sure to go to the link below. It includes Jules Vern’s description of this phenomenon in his “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea”.

A personal note: silly me, I always thought the title referred to depth, rather than distance.


and also:

BL Web: Milky Seas.

Dec 042012

“On a cool November morning in 1917, a young Kansas couple sailed into the South Pacific dawn…” Now how’s that for a great start to a biography? “As the sun rose higher above the horizon, the great banks of mist that had clothed the mountains began to disappear, revealing the high green valleys of the Big Nambas.”

Having come ashore, as Martin and Osa climbed up a heavily forested hill, they were suddenly surrounded by several natives and their leader Nihapat, “…the  most frightful, yet finest type of savage I have ever seen. A magnificent sight—six feet tall, with bushy hair, a full beard, and a stick through the cartilage of his nose…” Perhaps the Martins may have actually been the first to say, “I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” This was only the first of many close calls over the next twenty years of pioneering the production of real-life natural history films in the South Pacific, Borneo and Africa.

Why are Martin and Osa Johnson not very well know these days? Perhaps their successful commercialism and public notoriety was looked down upon by “serious” explorers. Heaven knows they actively sought and exploited publicity; show business was their business. Producing dramatic footage of charging animals and threatening savages certainly added excitement and fulfilled the public’s stereotypes of “Darkest Africa”.

The Johnsons were on the lecture circuit, presenting and narrating their films to live audiences. Just picture the scene in a contemporary movie of the times, “King Kong”. The great white hunter pulls back the curtain to reveal the giant ape to an astonished crowd. No more astonishing really than how two kids from the dusty Plaines of Kansas could have created a lifetime of filming adventure and introducing an astonished public to the wonders of the broader world hitherto beyond imagining.

For the sharp-eyed of my readers, that single engined Sikorsky in the top photo is an S-39. The Johnsons had both models. As an aside, the modern reproduction of the twin-engined S-38 was named “Osa’s Ark” even though originally it was the single engined plane so named.

The quotes in the first paragraph at the beginning of this blog are from the book, “They Married Adventure”:


There exists in Kansas a town of about 10,000 souls named Chanute, which calls itself the hub of southeast Kansas. It is here, in 1894 that Osa was born. It is now home to the Martin and Osa Johnson Museum, called the Safari Museum:


The town itself was named after Octave Chaunute, an aviation pioneer in his own right, was by 1901  exchanging many technical letters with the Wright Brothers:


Photos of  glider-shaped kites flown by the Wright brothers, including one photo by Chaunute on a visit to Kitty Hawk:


The aircraft photos are from a large and interesting collection:


Dec 042012


Is it any wonder why, in our late 20s, my wife and I decided to retire first, live in Florence, La Bella Citta, then earn a living later.

“…No one can say absolutely why Ponte Vecchio touches the spirit the way it does. Why, for instance, did the panorama that the structure dominates liberate the protagonist Lucy Honeychurch Bartlett in “A Room With a View,” E.M. Forster’s novel and later a feature film?

Perhaps it’s because Ponte Vecchio’s architecture of countless fragments reflects this city’s incalculable memory or, more simply, its lovely imperfections touch deep emotions. In fact, the construction we see today is far from the first to grace the site. For some 2,000 years the central bridge of Florence has crossed this narrow point in the Arno—at least since 59 B.C…”

Ponte Vecchio in Florence, a Bridge Over the Arno River That Spans Centuries | Masterpiece by Jay Pridmore – WSJ.com.