Last Barnstormer:

Flying through the Great Depressions


Saturday, Apr. 18, 2009

1:30 p.m.

Room 111-A Chancellor’s Complex, UCSD Campus


Al Christman

Through narrative and slides, Al Christman will take us on an open-cockpit ride through the exciting early days of aviation in the 1920's and 1930's.

There will be loop-de-loops,  spins, and snap rolls aplenty as we follow the flying career of Christman’s daredevil father, Upside-Down Jim Christman.  After barnstorming from pasture to pasture and town to town offering "hops" into the sky, Jim became successively chief performer in his own flying circus, test pilot, airport manager, and celebrated stunt pilot.

Through Jim, we witness not only the progress of aviation in its heyday but also the difficulties the barnstormers faced when struck by the Great Depression and then by regulations to curtail their daredevil antics.  Also included: the sacrifices, triumphs, and tragedies of Jim's family.

Al Christman is a longtime SDIS member and two-time Helen Hawkins recipient.  As Jim's son, he witnessed aviation's transformation from curiosity to major industry.  He and aviation went through adolescence together.  Christman received BA and BJ degrees from the University of Missouri and an MA from CSU, Dominguez Hills.  He served as Historian of the Navy Laboratories.  In 1998, the Naval Institute Press published  his book,  Target Hiroshima: Deak Parsons and the Creation of the Atomic Bomb.When the Enola Gay was dispatched to Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, Parsons assembled — in flight — the triggering device of Little Boy, the first atomic bomb used in combat.



Francis Bacon is not the true author of Shakespeare’s plays. That’s Cathy Blecki’s judgment, and she gave us a perfectly plausible reason: he was just too busy. In her reprise of the paper she delivered at the NCIS meeting in Berkeley, Blecki revealed Bacon as an independent scholar, scientist and philosopher. He was a polymath, writing about just about everything. Bacon grew up in the heady environment of Elizabeth England, with parents who inspried his love of learning. At 15, he was an aide to England’s ambassador to France for several years. Bacon dropped out of Cambridge University, turned to the law and was admitted to Gray’s Inn. He scrounged for money for much of his life, because his father’s estate was insufficient. In her paper “Francis Bacon and ‘The Advancement of Learning,’” Blecki showed us a man whose mission in life was to reform learning. He rejected the limits of scholastics and alchemists, who reigned over academic pursuits, and turned to empirical methods based on observation and experimentation. Bacon considered “all knowledge to be my province.” Although Bacon began gathering notes for “Advancement” in 1592, he waited nearly a decade before beginning to write and finished the work in 1604.  He was a brilliant marketer, distributing the book widely to libraries and influential persons. Ahead of his time, Bacon encouraged the establishment of public libraries, foundations and grants to fund learning, and endowments for museums. He also promoted the arts and sciences at large. His encyclopedic view of learning was humanistic, focusing on men and women as individuals.  —Cathy Robbins



Ron Stadsklev, our February speaker, reports that some members have asked to know more about simulation gaming. If you Google his name, you will find about 1500 citations specific to him and his works, including one from NASA and another from SDIS!




Works in Progress

This group will not meet in April.

Colloquy Café

Sam Gusman will host the next meeting on Wednesday, Apr. 15, at 1 p.m., at his home, 8515 Costa Verde Blvd., Apt. 1808. The subject of the meeting is Truth. Sam reports that the group has grown and he is running out of room. So be sure to contact Sam before heading off to the meeting:


Pat Terry will host the next meeting of the Literature group at 10:30 a.m., Wednesday, Apr. 29, at her home, 14868 High Valley Rd., Poway. The group will have its second discussion of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. They are using the Pevear-Volokhonsky translation. Contact:


The Science Group, now in its ninth year, will meet on Monday, Apr. 20, at 3-5 p.m., at the home of Bea Rose, 8515 Costa Verde Blvd., #1909,  The members have finished their long consideration of Patricia Churchland’s Brain-Wise: Studies in Neurophilosophy and related ideas. Now they are turning to Stephen Hawking’s A Briefer History of Time, a popular science book published in 2005 that reprised Hawking’s earler Brief History of Time from 1988.Bea notes that the limit of comfortable seating in her apartment has been reached.  The group is limited to 10 participants. Call Bea for more information about attending at 858.458.9263.

Living Systems

Would you like to explore ideas that apply systems principles to the human experience? This new study group will do just that. The systems approach is standard practice in physical and biological sciences, but seldom mentioned in the social or human sciences.  Such an investigation could begin with James Grier Miller’s Living Systems, or with one of Pulitzer Prize winner Jared Diamond’s books.  If this topic intrigues you, contact Elaine Parent (858.558.0122), Sam Gusman (858.202.1877), or Donna Boyle (619.296.4055).  Elaine will host a meeting to consider how we can approach this study, and what texts and resources are available.


From the President

Where are we going, and will we know when we get there?  That’s life’s basic conundrum.  The glib response, of course, is just to enjoy the journey. 

SDIS members do enjoy the journey: each other’s company and shared intellectual enthusiasms.  This enjoyment most keenly manifests itself in our study groups – congenial company engaged in the vigorous exchange of ideas.  But these study groups “fill up,” meaning their memberships exceed the hospitality capacity of their hosts.  And stimulating conversations don’t really work in larger gatherings. So you may feel left out, or you want to invite a friend but fear there won’t be space.  We have plenty room to grow. 

The board recently created a new task force to consider just that – how to cultivate and expand SDIS’s vitality.  Starting with the strength of our study groups, we wonder if everyone’s needs are met.  Perhaps you have an interest not already explored in our existing small groups.  What piques your curiosity: art, criminal justice, archeology, writing, psychology, mathematics, philosophy?  Would you like add to the list of groups currently under our umbrella?  Contact one of the Board members about creating one.  We have plenty room to grow. 


Science in the News

One of the more impressive science stories is also about the marriage of science and community action.  In an article titled “The Guy Who Defeated DDT,” interviewed Art Cooley, “the guy.”  The battle against DDT began when Cooley, a high school biology teacher on Long Island, NY during the 1960s, complained about the destruction of salt marsh wetlands there. Some of his students asked, “What are you going to do about it?”  That question put Cooley, who described himself as “young and naïve,” squarely into the environmental movement. From there it was a short hop to declining osprey populations and DDT. In 1967, he and colleagues established the Environmental Defense Fund after a meeting in his living room. Cooley now lives in La Jolla and in the story, he talked about changes in the environmental movement. As Cooley points out, it is now more complex and more substantive, requiring scholarship, subtlety, and dedication. Read the entire story at

--Cathy Robbins




Mark your calendar!

This will be our annual business meeting,

and we’ll be electing officers.


About SDIS

San Diego Independent Scholars (SDIS) supports unaffiliated writers and researchers and welcomes everyone who appreciates creative and intellectual activities in the humanities, science, and the arts.  SDIS is a non-profit organization and an affiliate of the National Coalition of Independent Scholars.

Donna Boyle,


Scholar’s Notebook is the newsletter of SDIS. Please send your news for the Notebook to Cathy Robbins, the Notebook editor: or 3720 First Ave., San Diego, CA 92103. The deadline for submissions is the 25th of the month prior to publication date

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