Thursday, June 17, 2010

Leaving Cimarron -- Edna Ferber Style

by Ken Brown
Springfield, MO

Yesterday (make that three days ago--a time warp occurred at the Brown house), I finished Edna Ferber's book, Cimarron, an epic story that began with the 1890s land run into present-day northern Oklahoma and ended with the area's oil boom in the 1920s.  The Ozark Uncle became aware of the book during his 2010 Lonesome Road Trip that took him across northern Oklahoma--the same as the setting for Ms. Ferber's book.  While total immersion into the history of this area would be rewarding, the Ozark Uncle shall let the Ferber book reading and this blog post bring an end to the topic so he can pursue his many other writing projects.

Accompanying photos

Edna Ferber -- One can find several biographies of Edna Ferber online.  All of them will say that she was a great writing talent and also suggest that she walked to the "beat of a different drummer."  Her well-known works include Giant, Ice Palace, and Show Boat.

Temple Lea Houston -- A fascinating pioneer lawyer who was the son of Sam Houston of Texas fame.  He is the person on whom Ferber based her Cimarron fast-drawing lawyer and publisher, Yancey Cravat.  Unlike, Houston, whose roots and life can be traced, Ferber left Yancey's past only to speculation.  Her Yancey was almost mystical and more of a spirit than a person.  (Note: Houston is also the basis for Jeffrey Hunter's 1963-64 TV series, Temple Houston).

Glenn Ford and Maria Schell -- The Ozark Uncle had almost finished Ferber's book when he looked to see who had been cast as Yancey in the 1960 film Cimarron.  Understandably Glenn Ford brought people to the movie theatre but he didn't fit my vision for the part--perhaps in a perfect casting world, a Tom Selleck body with a Charles Bronson personality.

Summary Thoughts
  1. Ferber's main characters, Yancey and Sabra Cravat, were incredibly unique both individually and as a married couple.  I simply have to put my perceptions of them in writing.
  2. Through Ferber's book, the Ozark Uncle learned about the use of conflict in fiction writing--something necessary in writing if one is to keep a reading audience.
  3. The Oklahoma chaotic oil boom and Ferber's description of the strife and ironies included has caused the Ozark Uncle to wonder about the new-found mineral wealth in Afghanistan.  No doubt, as I write, individuals are gearing up a plot, scheme, and steal their way to that wealth.  
Ah, Google Earth (a God-like view)

For the last couple of years, Google Earth has provided the Ozark Uncle with a visual aid for his book reading.  Try this if you haven't--as you read a book, go to Google Earth and find the locations mentioned in the book.  One can get a geography lesson while at the same time enjoying a good book.

Identifying the Caribbean isles and related hide-a-way bays helped me overcome boredom with Jimmy Buffett's A Salty Piece of Land.  Jimmy's book often mentioned and led me to read Rudyard Kipling's short story, A Man Who Would be King--one that became a 1975 film starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine.  The story takes the reader through 19th Century India and Afghanistan.  The main character in Kipling's story was Daniel "Danny" Dravot.  In a different way, he was ever bit as unique a character as Ferber's Yancey Cravat.

Google Earth wasn't needed for Ferber's Cimarron because the territory was still etched in the Ozark Uncle's mind from his 2010 Lonesome Road Trip in late May and early June.  Ferber states that her fictional town "Osage" could have been one of five existing cities.  I'm guessing that I traveled through some of them with possible candidates being Enid, Ponca City, Pawhuska and Bartlesville.

Fact Stranger Than Fiction

In her preface, Ferber states that her characters (like the town of Osage) are fictional but the events, although sensational, are none the less true.  Her model for the almost mystical Yancey Cravat was Woodward Oklahoma's gun-toting lawyer, Temple Lea Houston.  Temple was the son of Texas's Sam Houston, and he came  to the newly sprouted village of Woodward in northwest Oklahoma right after the land run.

Yancey Cravat's courtroom adventures were actual occurrences from Houston's past.  One that Ferber didn't use but gives you an idea of the pair's eccentricity is the following::

Once a judge persuaded Houston to represent a penniless horse thief and Houston promised, "I'll provide the unfortunate gentleman the best defense I can." Houston asked the judge for a private office in which he could confer with his client. Sometime later, a court official decided to check on Houston and the horsethief. He found Houston sitting alone in the room with the window wide open. Houston smiled and remarked, "I gave him the best advice I could." From 

Main Character?  Yancey or His Wife?

On the Ozark Uncle's "Must Watch" list is the 1960 movie version of Ferber's book with Glenn Ford as Yancey--although probably already seen, it was really not on my radar when I watched it years ago.  Without even seeing the movie (again?), I'll wager that Glenn Ford is definitely "the star" lest his agent would never have signed the contract.  Yet, when I think about the book version and even Edna Ferber's own life, her 1929 novel really had Yancey's wife Sabra as the main character.  She was the person who not only held Yancey's life together but all the glue that held the book together.

Edna, with a journalist background, wrote the entire book from Sabra's point of view.  She didn't write in first person but almost like Sabra's shadow.  There is no scene in the book where Sabra wasn't present.  We learned Sabra's thoughts and views.  On the other hand, Yancey was but a story book character described to us. Sabra kept couple's newspaper, the Osage Wigwam, alive and eventually quite successful.

In the book, Yancey would be gone for years only to resurface at an opportune moment when some area crisis or event was occurring.  In just a few moments after his arrival, Sabra would melt in his arms and forget all the hurt caused by his absences.  He would take over the editorial page and unlike current media, he would espouse a point of view that could be quite divisive and unpopular particularly with the white settlers.  Yet, it never really hurt the newspaper--if anything, subscriptions would surge after one of these episodes.

Edna Ferber never married and some suggested she wasn't the "marryin' kind."  The book would not have worked had the Cravats divorced, but probably the most incredible of all the incredibles in the book was that the couple's love for each other never wavered.  What is most credible, however, was the accomplishments attained by Sabra entirely on her own.  To me, she was the real story.

Well, the Ozark Uncle is hooked on Edna Ferber for the time being.  The Springfield-Greene County MO library will have to find him a couple of Ferber's Giant.  Oh, I've seen the movie version with Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean more than once.  But how did Ferber tell the story originally -- that's the question.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Dangers of Extreme Anchoring

by Ken Brown
Springfield, MO

The Ozark Uncle is a retired accountant and accounting professor. Some feel that people with my background must be very smart and know a lot. Yet, many others are probably more accurate when they sense that the Ozark Uncle doesn't know very much at all--particularly as it relates to some topics being covered in this blog. But accountants are, for one, historians (i.e., they record the business events that have already happened), and second, they are information providers whereby they are supposed to inform stakeholders about an entity's finances.  That background relates to this blog.
To you grammarians including my lovely wife of 45 years, please don't let the Ozark Uncle's constant switching back and forth from third person to first person bother you. I do it on purpose but the Ozark Uncle can't tell you why I do it. [I'm now holding up an audience response card that says LOL].
Cartoon Descriptions--these cartoons were scanned from recent issues of Newsweek. Click on a cartoon to see it full sized and see the credit line of each one. Here is the context of each:
The "Don't Ask-Don't Tell" cartoon really hits home that all of our regulators (e.g., financial markets, banking, or natural resources [mines, oil, etc]), have been asleep at the wheel. The Ozark Uncle feels there is a kind of double twist captured by the artist to perhaps suggest that we as a people spend so much political energies on social issues like gays and abortion while a collapse of our economy, energy and banking systems could put us in a worse way than during the Great Depression.

The "Damn it Obama" cartoon picks up on our current paradox as to whether we want "Big Government" to step in or not. Even the Ozark Uncle (a fiscal conservative who wants someone with ideas to step up) is wringing his hands with indecision also.

 The corporacracy" cartoon was in response to the Supreme Court decision handed down that treats a corporation as a citizen like individuals. The Ozark Uncle has come to terms with this strange decision--some academic circles have suggested that the Supreme Court realizes the United States (with its special interests and lobbying influences) already is no longer a democracy of the people and it is simply acknowledging reality--we are run  by big business.

Executive Summary for this Post on Anchoring--Essentially the points are as follows:
  1. Be cautious and critical when choosing information sources.
  2. Be forever critical of one's own conclusions and beware of one's level of "anchoring"
  3. A wise person will pass on to the next world with more questions than answers.
  4. This post is pretty academic -- however, please try to plow through if your time permits.
Gasping for Breath in a Flood of Information
In the late 1980s, the Accounting Review, an academic journal that in my mind is barely readable, actually published a readable and enlightening interview with Nobel laureate and artificial intelligence expert, Herbert Simon of Carnegie Mellon University.
Herbert Simon
 The World Wide Web was in its infancy but one could see the massive storm clouds of digital information forming on the horizon. Dr. Simon's advice to information users like you was to " very selective in the information sources that one tries to follow. One should not feel that every information source should be absorbed" [paraphrased]. Dr. Simon's message to us accountants as information providers was to recognize that [direct quote] "...the scarce resource is not information but human attention." In other words--we accountants should not overload our target audience with all the wonderful data we possess.  The readers who have been trying to follow my rather lengthy blog postings prior to today have no doubt sensed the Ozark Uncle continues to have a problem with Too Much Information (TMI).
Anchoring: A Bias Toward Certain Pieces of Information
Here in 2010, we have cable and satellite television containing scores of channels, and high speed internet that use incredible search engines. For example, enter the words "ozark uncle" into Google from anywhere in the nation and a link to my web site appears. Thus, Dr. Simon's advice about information source selection is not easy--particularly if one has anchored into a set of biases whether they be religious, moral, cultural, or even racially discriminatory.

According to, "...anchoring or focalism is a term used in psychology to describe the common human tendency to rely too heavily, or 'anchor,' on one trait or piece of information when making decisions." Furthermore the site's article indicates that, "...bias is distortion in the way we perceive reality." While, the internet will provide many more sites with a similar description, the Ozark Uncle deliberately chose the site with a "science" connection. Because of anchoring against the field of science, some readers and certainly the Texas School Book Commission (my current whipping post) may consider this source to be either unreliable or even false just because of the word science in its address. If so, just pick another site, duh!

(Now, true believers in the Holy Bible or the Koran or the Book of Mormon anchor and should anchor on their chosen source because they know it in their head and heart to be true--the definition of a belief." The Ozark Uncle admires and is actually envious of those who have reached and are maintaining that pinnacle of belief. With regard to the topic in this blog, however, remember that the New Testament Bible says to "beware of false prophets" (Matt. 7:15)  A more modern paraphrased version might be reworded to say "beware of false emails, news anchors, and talking heads with hidden agendas.")

Psychologists have a research interest into the degree to which we anchor ourselves and then how much contradictory information we must receive before we will alter our anchor. For example, a family to which I'm related have for years only bought gasoline at Conoco or Phillips stations because of a "bad gas" experience 20 years ago at a "no-brand" station. The family's members even today will drive miles out of the way to be sure they get only Conoco or Phillips gasoline. The problem with their anchor is that they are not allowing any new information about today's "no-brand" stations to either substantiate or debunk their original decision.

What are the Ozark Uncle's anchors you might ask? Well, he's thought of a couple and he intends to keep assessing myself. Here are two:
  1. Formerly Anchored onto daily CNBC financial information In the year 2000, the Ozark Uncle retired from paid work. Now he still works but just doesn't get paid! Well, he had a little more money to play with then, and he began to watch the CNBC stock channel several hours a day. He felt so well informed and entered into investments with great confidence. Well, it took about 18 months of losing money before the Uncle realized that he was being misinformed by the analysts and guests on the network.  Included in the contradictory information that finally caused the Ozark Uncle to "pick up my anchor on CNBC" was an academic study which found one would have made money by going short on every stock that the CNBC guests suggested that one buy. So, I guess CNBC is my "bad gas" experience, and I hold an incredibly negative bias against that information source almost a decade later.
  2. Currently Anchored on the Resilience of America's Young People There is an academic field called futurology. No doubt Herbert Simon applied his genius to the field somewhat. Futurists try to make educated guesses about the direction of the world twenty or thirty years from now. They probably wouldn't take issue with my saying that our world in 2110 will be as different from 2010 as 2010 is from 1910. And America's young people, while confronted with incredible economic, political, and cultural challenges, will adapt and will carry on. They will live, eat, drink, work and worship differently, but they will survive. Remember that The Only Constant is Change. Hericletus said that in 500 B.C. Is the Ozark Uncle just filled with knowledge? No, he just Googled that 30 seconds ago and found the author. God in the heavens, I love 2010 technology!
In the 1990s, the Ozark Uncle had his faculty office across the hall from a deeply religious man. It was in that period when the "Moral Majority" became mainstream, and the "liberal bias" and similar terms surfaced to help its followers stay anchored to the socially conservative boat.  My across-the-hall colleague testified long and often to me about abortion, gun rights, drugs, traditional male-female roles--well you get the idea. It so happened I had problems in my life then, and looking back, I remember him as being arrogant with his simplistic but ever-present judgmental answers to all my problems.

One day my colleague made a fatal slip; he said: "Don't you wish you had all the answers like me?"  Then I woke up--I started thinking about the guy and realized that he did not possess a single view that had not been fed to him by someone else. Although a very smart and highly educated man, he had allowed himself to be someone's pawn. He was tuned into a set of talking points that had been provided to him. If he hasn't changed--I have not seen him for years and don't really want to--then I feel sorry for him.

In closing, think about your anchors, challenge and double-check your information sources, and look for those hidden agendas which are so prevalent any more.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

2010 Lonesome Road Trip Ends

By Ken Brown
Springfield, MO.
The Ozark Uncle perceives that a few of his blog readers will read every word in his posts while others will read a paragraph or two, look at the accompanying pictures and then hit the back button. We live in an era with so many information sources, we all must make choices. Still, please read the picture descriptions and a summary at the beginning of this and future posts.
Seminole OK with its brick roads still in fine shape after many decades of use.
Dust bowl era house between the towns of Kingfisher and Woodward OK somehow hoisted on a pile of trees and brush for later burning.
Plains Indians and Pioneer Museum in Woodward Oklahoma.
Isaac Brown's Hilltop Homestead in northwest Oklahoma near Quinlan, OK.

  1. The little Ford Escape delivered the Ozark Uncle back to Springfield MO from his Arkansas-Oklahoma 2010 Lonesome Road Trip one week ago. Yes, this first blog post since arriving home has been fermenting all week. Watch out!
  2. This post is brought to you by the color GREEN. Ozarkers love the green grass and the green forests. My perceptions of Oklahoma are currently positive probably because it was green this time of year.
  3. Oklahoma, also called "Native America," is a great state--only decent thing the white man did for the native Americans was to give them Oklahoma (before taking much of it away, that is). I'm currently interested in the history of the state. Currently, I'm reading Edna Ferber's 1929 book entitled "Cimarron." It was based on characters involved with the Cherokee Strip Land Race in current northwest Oklahoma.
  4. The Ozark Uncle Sez we all should perceive more and believe less. Casual readers, before leaving the blog, remember why this blog is about the Ozark Uncle's perceptions, not beliefs. A belief held by a person is something s/he just knows in heart and soul is true. Unfortunately, beliefs can cause a living hell for someone who feels the pressure to profess a belief while internally aren't so sure. I perceive that politicians in America are fundamentally good people, but most must play the belief game particularly on social issues. John McCain, right now, is going through a living hell in Arizona trying to come up with a list of beliefs that will get him re-elected.
Home is sweet but quite an agenda-changer. The core of this post was in my head and heart last Saturday afternoon when the The Ozark Uncle's 2010 Lonesome Road Trip ended. At Vinita OK, the Ford Escape saw the entrance to an Interstate for the first time in weeks and said "...let's get home, my tires are tired" in a pitiful car talk voice.
The Roads Now Taken
In general terms, the route of 2010 Lonesome Road Trip was as follows: down through the Arkansas Ozark Mountains to the Ouachita River valley (southwestern Arkansas), then back up to eastern Oklahoma around Sequoyah County across the Arkansas River from Fort Smith. Then west-bound Oklahoma Highway 9 took the Escape and me across central Oklahoma while staying south of Tulsa and only on the outskirts of the Oklahoma City before finding old El Reno west of OC for a glance at it's historic sights and a night's rest.
Eventually my westward migration ended in northwest Oklahoma's Woodward County, an area "alloted to the white man" as part of the 1893 Cherokee Strip land race. The three days spent in Woodward County were educational, informative, and motivating. Having filled my cup with historical research information, U.S. Highway 60 brought me eastward through northern Oklahoma through cities like Enid, Ponca City, Pawhuska and Bartlesville. While Hwy 60 could have brought me directly in to Springfield, MO, that plan was aborted at Vinita in favor of the Will Rogers Turnpike (I-44).
My General Disdain for Interstates
To choose the Turnpike on Saturday, May 29, was an act of expediency and nothing more. You see, an interstate highway provides almost no informational value to its users and is generally useless to sightseers like yours truly-- all one's time is spent watching the two lanes assigned to one's general direction of traffic.
Interstate driving strategies are few. One can be on the offensive by choosing the fast lane or play defense over in the slow lane. For a couple of years now, the Ozark Uncle has perceived that it's in his best interest and that of his riders if he chooses the slow lane. Furthermore, he has made a pact with the Ford Escape that its maximum speed be 65 MPH.
Well, the Will Rogers Turnpike has a 75 MPH speed limit, and my fellow Americans in the other vehicles treated my little Escape with some disdain. Once, a Mack truck came so close to the Escape's rear bumper that I could count on its grill. Really the only negative perception I had of Oklahoma was that its speed limits were a little too high for my comfort zone. Even two-lane state roads without shoulders were posted at 65 MPH. Within the cities, however, speed limits ranged from reasonable to a little on the slow side. Not knowing which villages were speed traps, I honored every speed limit sign, even going well below to gawk at some building or scene.
On the Interstate, the Escape and I struggled with the chaotic environment we’d put ourselves in and both agreed that the cool and shade tree laden rest stop between Joplin and Springfield was our only chance to regain our collective sanities. The local post of the Springfield Purple Hearts had set up a tent with drinks. After using the restrooms where I met an old Springfield acquaintance and chatted a few minutes (I never really liked the guy too much), I returned to the Veterans' tent and visited with the two Purple Heart recipients there. By definition, the members of this Veterans Post had to have been injured in action and awarded a Purple Heart--they were the real deal. No wonder some politicians have been trying to enlist themselves in their ranks without ever having served.
These Purple Heart guys are a set of veterans who deserve a special dose of respect beyond what is already deserved by all Veterans. Failure to serve in the military is probably one of the few regrets the Ozark Uncle saddles himself with.  One of the veterans had Douglas County Missouri ties, and we talked about Civil War Veterans and my current interest in bronze markers for my Union Army ancestors and Joy’s Confederate Army ancestors. It was a nice visit and the coffee was good; but alas, it became time to move on.

Other People's Problems
Well, the Ozark Uncle arrived home in Springfield about mid-afternoon on Saturday, May 29th. Not surprisingly, some of the problems in Springfield that can only be solved by someone other than myself still existed. Yet, the road trip had helped me to realize that I should help if possible and do it with a willing and cheerful heart. Interestingly, little fifteen-month old Skye Baby and a bad fever and was very sick. Joy and I took her in to help her recuperate away from her sister and step-sister.
Besides medicine, little Skye Baby perceived that sitting in Grandpa's lap while watching Wiggles tapes would be quite therapeutic. She applied this remedy for two solid days this past week. She's all better now, and maybe I helped a little.
Oklahoma, an Ironic Land
The Ozark Uncle arrived home in a euphoric state following his loop through Oklahoma. Truly, off the Interstate, Oklahoma is a beautiful area. Probably the Ozark Uncle's perception was greatly influenced by the greenness of the landscape. Also, it was influenced by the historically preserved condition of the business districts of mid-sized cities on the byways that were traveled.
Perceptions are flexible (while beliefs are rigid), and my perceptions of Oklahoma could be greatly modified if the trip were replicated say two months from now. But late May of this year presented the state at its optimal point--storms had pelted the state earlier in May. The torrents of rain left the stock ponds full, and the fields green even in western Oklahoma. Roadside wildflowers were in bloom and blue skies with soft fluffy clouds provided an ever pleasant horizon.
These excellent land conditions made it difficult for me to form an image of that same land during the dust bowl years of the 1930s--back then, this same land was stripped of vegetation and became a landscape of brown sand and dirt for the winds to "reallocate" across the distance at will. (Yet, we're living through another dust-bowl like crisis right now -- the gulf oil spill. This latter man-made calamity can't be solved by some rain falling from the heavens. In the 1970s, our family enjoyed the beaches of Dauphin Island off the Alabama coast. I fear that it might be 2070 before a family could enjoy that little land mass --maybe never).
The Ironic Fate of the Red Man
Sarah P, come sit down and let's have today's little history lesson. The first white man's land race into the area we now know as Oklahoma was in 1889 and various areas were opened up in succeeding races until the final one in 1896. Here's a quick timeline:
  • 1834-1889 Native Americans were alloted areas of Oklahoma as their reservations. The area was known as the Indian Territory.
  • 1889-1896 White settlers participate in land races.
  • 1890-1907 The area became known as the Oklahoma Territory.
  • 1907 The territory was admitted into the Union as a State
READERS BEWARE -- the following source was used for the above timeline:
and it has not been edited by the Texas School Book Board. My chosen source speaks of injustices excised on the native Americans' land rights just after the end of the Civil War. Some may BELIEVE this entry to be inconsistent with their whitewashed view of our American past.
Cynicism set aside, I could see remnants of native American culture everywhere across Oklahoma. In many ways, it seems like a source of state pride. Road signs inform the traveler when leaving or entering the reservation of the various tribes. The business districts of the towns included headquarters, clinics, or license bureaus for a particular tribe. Some cars sport licenses issued by a tribe not the state. But it seemed like those cars were generally were old clunkers that weren't hitting on all four cylinders (now that's the type of perception that could be absolutely wrong--it remains my perception but very open to alteration upon further observations).
The Ironic Source of Oklahoma's Wealth--Oil and Gas
Few of the dust bowl era houses were apparent along the roadsides. Many fields sported lush crops of alfalfa or wheat. Others contained healthy looking cattle or horses. Generally though, the land seemed not to be heavily populated with humans. Still, the towns were bustling, and the downtown areas were like a walk back in time--a time in the 1920s with some building capstones revealing dates as early as the 1890s. But by coincidence or design, these wonderful business structures had not been defaced by aluminum siding facades or other attempts to modernize. The town of Seminole (pop. 7,000) still had its original brick streets downtown and El Reno (pop. 2,000) (a major stop on old Route 66) still had streetcar tracks downtown. Pawhuska (pop. 3,600) had a downtown area with multi-story structures built for a population that was once very much larger.
Bartlesville, OK was a disappointment to me. The original home of Phillips 66 Petroleum, Bartlesville Ok had a downtown of modern white plastered buildings, and an original building was hard to find. Frank Lloyd Wright's 1920s art deco skyscraper was still there that I used to call the Johnson & Johnson building. Now it is called "Price Tower" and is some kind of community center.
The wealth that built these cities came from oil and gas exploration. While the Ozark Uncle doesn't wish bad times on the Sooner State, he so wants us to make a serious effort to find alternatives. That's not anti-capitalist, is it? But, the Ozark Uncle does have some awfully socialistic tendencies. An unbiased Christian would probably have to admit that Jesus teachings are filled with socialistic ideas.  From what I've learned recently about native Americans, their distinct tribes were socialistic. The receptionist at the Cherokee Nation Office in Sallisaw explained to me that one of the problems the State of Georgia had with the resident Cherokees was that the tribe held its lands in common not as individuals.
Ah, that brings up an interesting topic for a later post--the sanctity of individual land rights in America. Also, I want to study up on some ism words (e.g., Fascism, Socialism, Deism) being tossed about by people who probably, like me, don't really know what they mean.
With this post, I put into the past my 2010 Lonesome Road Trip that started on May 9 and ended on May 29. But the perceptions it provided the Ozark Uncle will no doubt crop up in other posts. I'm now moved to write about the Saga of Lacey Pahl's Quonset Hut. Readers have probably forgotten the context of that story; so it will be reintroduced at the outset.