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This week: Miss you, Sean Spicer / Black Americans’ past via genetics / View from Mars Rover / The Pentagon’s pollution / One father, 200 children

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. We’ll Miss You, Sean Spicer
By Erin Gloria Ryan | The New York Times | July 21
“Mr. Spicer was alternately rude and outright dismissive to reporters. He told April Ryan to stop shaking her head. He made Jim Acosta of CNN and Hallie Jackson of MSNBC into household names. Still, Americans tuned into Mr. Spicer’s pressers in such numbers that their ratings topped the soap operas that shared the time slot. Call it ‘As the World Burns.’ ”

2. How African Americans Use DNA Testing to Connect With Their Past
By Ed Yong | The Atlantic | June 2017
“Genetic tests have ushered in a new era of root-seeking and community-building, says social scientist Alondra Nelson.”

3. The Public Editor’s Club at The New York Times as told by the six who lived it
By Andy Robinson | Columbia Journalism Review | July 20
“The editors often found themselves in disagreement with colleagues, and even with direct access to the publisher at all times, the job was never easy. But all agreed the job was a testament to the integrity of the Times. Over the last six months I’ve photographed and interviewed all six who served as public editors of the most influential newsroom in the world.”

4. Trump’s desire for private infrastructure money will narrow his choices
By Tom Scheck, Curtis Gilbert, and Will Craft | APM Reports :: Marketplace | July 19
“An analysis by APM Reports has found that at least 46 transportation and water-related projects in 23 states and the District of Columbia presented to the White House could rely on private money to be completed, including investment opportunities in Alabama, drinking water pipelines in California and New Mexico and a massive transit project in the New York City area.”

5. From Mars Rover: Panorama Above ‘Perseverance Valley’
Jet Propulsion Laboratory :: NASA | July 20
“NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity recorded a panoramic view before entering the upper end of a fluid-carved valley that descends the inner slope of a large crater’s rim.”

6. Open Burns, Ill Winds
By Abrahm Lustgarten | ProPublica | July 20
“The Pentagon’s handling of munitions and their waste has poisoned millions of acres, and left Americans to guess at the threat to their health.”

7. The man who may have secretly fathered 200 children
By Joanna Moorhead | The Guardian | July 15
” A daughter, Lotte, now 23, was born in 1994. Almost two years later, in 1995, Heij gave birth to a second child, Yonathan; Karbaat assured her the sperm was from the same donor.”

8. The unhappiness of the US working class
By Carol Graham | Brookings | July 2017
“A critical factor is the plight of the white blue-collar worker, for whom hopes for making it to a stable, middle-class life have largely disappeared.”

9. Home Girl
By Michael Hall | Texas Monthly | January 2007
“1. Erykah Badu Sings and Dances 2. Raises Her Children 3. Grows Herbs 4. Rides a Skateboard 5. Saves Her Old Hood in Dallas 6. And Works on Her New Album, Which Will Be Finished When It’s Finished”

10. My Beautiful Oubliette: The Difficulty of Being a Writer in Prison
By Dean Faiello | LitHub | June 2017
“Prisons are not set up to inspire writers; I have few choices of where to put down my piece of paper and write. That’s the whole idea of prison rehabilitation — limit the choices and temptations that daily life offers, and hopefully, men will learn to make the right decisions. But the reality is that many of us simply find a way to get what we want. Prison makes us smarter criminals.”


Amerikan Rambler: Writing a Book, Part III: Awards

Historians don’t write for money. But like everyone else in this rat race of a country, it doesn’t hurt when you get some cash for something you worked hard on. And in many cases, the books that win the “minor” prizes are better than those that win the Pulitzer.

via Writing a Book, Part III: Awards — Amerikan Rambler: Everybody Has a Story

Loreta’s Civil War: Warning them and all others

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 60: Stranded in Venezuela, Velazquez sends a message to her friends in New Orleans, warning them not to follow her south.


I remained in the city of Bolivar for several months, making occasional excursions into the country in the neighborhood and going up the River Orinoco as far as San Fernando. My object was to find out all I could about the natural resources and climate of Venezuela for the purpose of advising my friends in New Orleans, and through the kind assistance of my Venezuelan acquaintances … I was, ere long, in possession of ample information to enable me to form an opinion as to the desirability of people from the United States seeking new homes in this part of the world.

The expedition, of which I was a member, was followed not a great while after by another one of equally shabby character under the charge of a Dr. Price. This was made up of poor families who had scarcely anything with them, which would have enabled them to start farming or business of any kind in a strange land. These people were sent on shore by Price, who immediately slipped away and left them to their fate, not caring what became of them.

It was an outrage which cannot be denounced in too-strong terms to take these poor people out to Venezuela without capital and without any means of support and no punishment I can think of would have been too severe for the men who did the deed.

As for the emigrants, they were indignant at the treatment they had received, and having nobody else at hand to vent their grievances upon, fell to blaming the United States consul and the Venezuelan authorities. They would not acknowledge the consul, and some of them abused him in the grossest manner. This made him powerless to act for them. I interested myself as much as I could in behalf of such as were disposed to be tractable, and succeeded, through the consul’s influence, in procuring passage back to the United States for several of the unfortunates. The rest scattered over the country, some of them died, some found precarious employment of one kind or another, and some tried to make their way home again.

After the arrival of Price’s expedition, I considered it my duty to communicate with my friends in New Orleans without more delay for the purpose of warning them and all others who were disposed to emigrate not to think of doing anything of the kind. I accordingly wrote a letter advising those who thought of emigrating to Venezuela, to let it alone and denouncing Johnston and Price for holding out inducements to poor and ignorant people which they had no assurance whatever would be realized. I said that it would be useless for any persons from the States to come to Venezuela without plenty of capital to carry on any such operations as they might engage in, and that if they did come they would have to submit to the laws of the country and take their chances with its citizens.

One great objection to any emigration schemes, however, was the instability of the government, and the fact that Venezuela had no national credit. The governor of Bolivar said that Venezuela would be glad to have industrious people come to it from the United States or any other country, and that facilities would be afforded for them to take up lands at low rates, but he had no supplies to give half-starved men and women who might be landed within his jurisdiction and was anxious that no one should come under any misapprehensions as to what reception they would be likely to have on their arrival.

I stated the facts within my knowledge plainly and reviewed the situation in such terms that there could be no misunderstanding of my meaning, and before sending my letter had it countersigned by the governor, his brother, the consul, and a number of Americans who were in the city.

This duty having been performed, I felt free to enjoy myself, and having by this time quite a large circle of acquaintances, I found very little difficulty in the way of having a good time.

Two young gentlemen, Senor Sayal and Senor Rodriguez, both became very attentive to me and very jealous of each other and very jealous also of Maj. G., a gentleman whom I esteemed very highly. I was afraid at one time that Sayal and Rodriguez would have a serious difficulty and perhaps kill each other — the last named, especially, was very violent and declared that any man who stood in his way should die. As for myself, the party chiefly interested, I cared nothing for either of them except in the way of friendship and had no intentions of marrying again. My matrimonial experiences hitherto had been so unfortunate that I came to the conclusion I had better live single and travel about to see the world, relying upon myself for protection.

While residing in Bolivar I conformed to all the customs of the place and endeavored to see all that was worth seeing. A number of families welcomed me most cordially to their homes, and in company with my friends of both sexes I went on several pleasant excursions. It was quite a popular custom to go up the river on a Sunday morning to Marichal or San Rafael to bathe. At these places there were regular bathing grounds, resorted to by the people of Bolivar, and the washer-women also went there to do their work. The method of washing clothes was peculiar — they would be thrown over smooth stones and beaten with sticks while drenched with water. This process, it is scarcely necessary to say, is terribly destructive to the clothing.

The city of Bolivar is a very beautiful place. It is built on the brow of a hill, overlooking the River Orinoco on one side and a lagoon on the other. Behind the city are the Marichal Mountains, in which gold is to be found but scarcely in paying quantities.

The people of Bolivar are hospitable and agreeable in their manners, and those with whom I became acquainted did all they could to make my time pass pleasantly. I attended several fandangos with Senor Sayal and Senor Rodriguez, as as well as other entertainments.

After having resided in Bolivar for several months, I concluded to visit other portions of the country and accordingly made a trip around by sea to La Guyra, and from thence to Caracas. To my great surprise Rodriguez came after me by the next steamer and began to be more attentive than ever. He introduced me to his relatives who resided in the neighborhood of Caracas and appeared to be resolved to make sure of me, now that he had his rivals at a distance. I, however, gave him very little encouragement, although, had I felt anxious to marry again, I perhaps would have done well to have been more gracious to him. He was one of twelve sons, and his parents were very wealthy, owning immense estates and large herds of cattle, which must have yielded them a great income.

With this visit to Caracas concluded my Venezuelan experiences, for, notwithstanding the assiduous attentions of Senor Rodriguez, I could not be persuaded to remain and made my preparations to return to the United States. Taking passage on a schooner bound for Demerara, in British Guiana, I said adieu to my Venezuelan friends, having made up my mind that my own country was the best to live in after all, and that in it thereafter I would seek my fortune. My Venezuelan trip, however, was, notwithstanding the ungracious auspices under which it was commenced, a source of gratification to me. It made me acquainted with a portion of the world that was well worth looking at, and it was the means of bringing me in friendly relations with a number of excellent people, for whom I shall always have a warm regard, and to whom I shall always feel indebted for many unsolicited kindnesses.

The personal gratifications which the trip afforded me amply repaid me for all the expense and trouble I was put to in making it, but, beyond this, I have the satisfaction of knowing that … I was the means of preventing a great number of persons in the Southern states from being swindled by speculators who, taking advantage of the [weakened] condition of the South after the war, and the discontent of a large portion of the people, were endeavoring, without proper means or facilities for carrying out their proposed objects, to organize colonization parties to go to various places in South America.

My experiences in Venezuela convinced me that it was no place for poor Americans to go to. For people who had capital and the skill and energy to use it properly, it held out many inducements but no more and no greater than were held out by the Western portions of our own country.

Portions of Venezuela are very beautiful, and the scenery along the banks of the Orinoco, especially, is lovely in the extreme. The country is, much of it, fertile, and its mineral wealth is very great, but it is undeveloped, and those who attempt its development will be tolerably certain to have a hard time of it and to expend a great deal of money before they get much return, either for their cash or labor. Apart from everything else, the climate is very trying, especially to strangers, and this of itself is a good and sufficient reason why residents of the United States would do well to tempt fortune elsewhere.

Along the banks of the Orinoco and its tributaries the vegetation is most luxuriant, and all kinds of tropical fruits abound in the greatest profusion. The forests contain mahogany … and the chinchona tree, from which quinine is made. In the interior are to be found the Caoutchouc or India-rubber tree, and half a dozen varieties of the cottontree. Some of the latter are, I think, especially worthy of the attention of those who are interested in cotton-growing, and with proper cultivation they might be made to yield far more valuable results than they do. Tobacco grows wild, and is cultivated to some extent, but the natives, although they are inveterate consumers of the weed, do not understand how to cure it properly.

The diet of the Venezuelans is largely made up of fruits, of which they have a great variety, such as the banana, of which there are half a dozen different kinds, coconuts, figs, mangoes, manzanas de oro, or golden apples, marma apples, guavas, oranges, grapes, and pomegranates. The melons are very plentiful, and, although small, are sweet and well flavored.

Sugar is made to some extent from the cane, which bears a strong resemblance to the maple sugar of the United States. Yams and sweet potatoes are very abundant, and there is a hardy species of cabbage which grows on the edges of marshes and which sometimes attains a height of eighteen or twenty feet. The calabashes grow to an enormous size and are used for carrying water. The onions are numerous but small.

The flowers grow in great profusion and are very beautiful. The mariposa attains to the height of the oleander and has gorgeous white and scarlet blossoms. The zueco is a bright little plant and is very fragrant. The people of Venezuela are exceedingly fond of flowers and always have a great number of them about their dwellings.

The birds of Venezuela, for the most part, are of very rich plumage. There are several varieties of parrots, of which the macaw and the green and gray parrots are the talkers. The paroquets are very diminutive, and are beautiful little birds. … The ayax is a bird that is heard last in the evening and first in the morning; it has a very peculiar cry, and the natives are exceedingly superstitious about it, thinking that should they kill it some misfortune is certain to happen to them.

The lizards and other reptiles are too numerous for description. In the huts of the poorer classes, lizards, scorpions, roaches, and other livestock live on the most intimate terms with the human inhabitants and do not appear to interfere very materially with their comfort.

The forests and jungles are filled with panthers, jaguars, and South American tigers. The last named are very ferocious, and the natives stand in great fear of them.

The people of Venezuela are very superstitious and are exceedingly particular about their religious observances. In their manners they are courteous and unaffected, and some of their household ways are very primitive. Their meat is cured in strips, and their corn is ground between two stones, the under one of which is hollowed out to some extent. This kind of work is chiefly done by the women. The men make hammocks out of grass, bark, and cotton, and employ themselves in the cultivation of the ground and in the care of livestock and the pursuit of game. In the summertime the hammocks are swung out in the open air between two trees or in rude huts with no sides to them. The milk of the ass is preferred to that of the cow or goat. Most of the cooking is done in earthenware jars or pipkins. Earthenware jars of a peculiar make are also used for keeping water for drinking purposes in.

The principal exports of Venezuela are cattle, hides, tallow, and coffee from the La Guayra and Jaracaybo districts. The United States consul at Bolivar, while I was there, was interested to some extent in gold mining. The quartz was brought from the Caratol Mountains, nearly two hundred miles distant, on the backs of donkeys and was purchased by the consul from the natives with merchandise. Having obtained the quartz, he crushed it and extracted the metal, which was forwarded to the mint in Philadelphia. The mineral wealth of Venezuela is very great — gold, silver, copper, and tin abounding in large quantities. The mines, however, are, for the most part, far distant from the commercial centers and are very inefficiently worked. It would pay capitalists to go into the mining business in Venezuela if they could get some railroads built or even if they could get some good common roads made.

The country away from the seaboard or the watercourses is thinly settled, and there is not likely to be any great increase in the population until the facilities for easy traveling are much greater than they are or were at the time of my visit. The roads to the mines are mere paths, not larger than cattle trails.

The natives in the interior suffer many hardships and privations, and anyone going to Venezuela without ample capital must expect to do the same. One great source of annoyance to the country people is the jigger, a species of worm which buries itself in the feet, generally under the skin near the toe-nails. It is very painful under any circumstances, and it not infrequently causes the loss of the toes.

As in nearly all of the South American states, the government of Venezuela is very unsettled, and the schemes of ambitious politicians, who are ready at any moment to resort to arms for the accomplishment of their ends, render both life and property to some extent insecure. To be sure, the revolutions which occur there from time to time do not, as a rule, cause any great amount of bloodshed, notwithstanding the commotions they make, but they have the effect of leaving a sense of insecurity on the public mind and of preventing improvement which otherwise might be made. The white people are, for the most part, well educated and intelligent, but they do not appear to understand the art of self-government, while the negroes, Indians, and half-breeds seem to be incapable of doing anything to advance their own condition or to promote the interests of the country. With such a heterogeneous population as resides within its borders, and with the educated whites so greatly in the minority as they are, there is not much prospect of Venezuela speedily attaining the position her agricultural and mineral resources would seem to entitle her to.

Loreta’s Civil War: No earthly paradise

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 59: The expedition to Venezuela is a disaster, and Velazquez loses her young and handsome husband to the “black vomit.”


A small schooner was finally procured, and preparations for our departure were pushed rapidly forward. Just as we were on the point of sailing, however, the owners of the vessel, who had not received their money for her, attempted to regain possession. We were all arrested, therefore, but after a long investigation of the case, were released, and the schooner delivered into our hands. This was a disagreeable and discouraging commencement, but it would have been well for the entire party had it been the worst misadventure that befell us.

As the time for departure drew near, I lost confidence in Johnston more and more, and almost at the last moment endeavored to persuade my husband to refrain from embarking, suggesting that we should seek a home somewhere in the West. He, however, was resolved to go, and I yielded my better judgment to his wishes and went aboard, very much against my inclination.

The expedition consisted of forty-nine persons, including children, all of whom were stowed away in the hull of a small schooner without regard to decency, and without many of the necessities of life. I did not find out how badly provided we were for a voyage until after we were at sea but when I did discover what treatment was in store for us, I was boiling with indignation. There were no conveniences of any kind, scarcely provisions enough to sustain life, the water was foul from the impure barrels in which it had been placed, while the conduct of some of the persons on board was an outrage on the very name of decency. Our diet was beans and hard tack for breakfast, the same for dinner, with the addition of duff for dessert, and this bill of fare was repeated, day after day, until we entered the River Orinoco.

It was a terrible voyage, and although I had passed through some rather rough experiences in my time and was accustomed to hardships, it will always live in my memory as one of my most painful experiences. My sufferings, however, were nothing in comparison with those of some of the poor women and children who were with us, and I was indignant beyond expression at the idea of their being victimized in the manner they were.

At length, after a cruise that, brief as it was, was fast becoming intolerable, we entered the mouth of the Orinoco, and the despairing band of emigrants began to pluck up their spirits, for now they were fairly in sight of the paradise which had been promised them.

The sight of the promised land, of which such glowing accounts had been given them, filled our company with extravagant joy. Alas, they little knew what was yet in store for them but the prospect of being able to leave the wretched little schooner was such a pleasant one that they scarcely thought of the future, and almost any fate seemed preferable to remaining on board of her.

We had not been in the neighborhood of the mouth of the river long before a small, light canoe put out towards us, and its occupant, hailing us in Spanish, asked whether we did not want a pilot.

I was the only person on board who understood him, and as he came alongside the captain refused to let him come on board. Some of the men, thinking that he had hostile intentions, produced their pistols, and for a time there was a prospect of trouble.

I accordingly went to Johnston, and said, “Now, Capt. Johnston, you are in a nice fix. This man is a pilot, and you cannot go up the river without his assistance. If you attempt anything of the kind you will be considered a pirate.”

This frightened Johnston, and I laughed in my sleeve to see the perplexity he was in. After leaving him to his reflections for a few moments, I said, in a whisper, “This man is a government pilot, and your vessel and crew are in imminent danger. It won’t do to trifle with these Spaniards, I can tell you, for if you do, they will make short work of the whole party.”

Johnston saw the point, and telling the captain of the schooner who the man was, he was permitted to come on board. The arrival of the pilot created quite a commotion, and no little surprise was expressed at the fact of his being a negro. The man, however, understood his business and managed the vessel very skillfully. Without his assistance we would never have been able to have ascended the beautiful Orinoco or have steered the schooner among the numerous islands.

The scenery along the river was truly beautiful, and all admitted that, whatever else the country might be, it was certainly fair to look upon. I had not much confidence, however, that, on closer inspection, it would prove to be the earthly paradise we were searching for but kept my thoughts to myself, for I knew that there would not be much use in expressing them.

The first village we came to was Coraeppa, where we took on board another pilot, Antonio Silva by name. He was a bright colored half-breed, and, like the negro, was skillful in his business. When he boarded us, the captain exclaimed in disgust, “Good Lord, are all the officials in this country niggers?” A good many of the emigrants were quite as much disgusted as the captain and seemed to think that if the negroes were of as much importance as they seemed to be in Venezuela, it would have been just as well to have remained at home and fought the battle for supremacy with the free negroes and carpetbaggers on familiar ground.

That night we anchored at Baranco with a great uncertainty before us as to whether we would be permitted to proceed any farther or not. At this place I caught the first fish, which was a grateful addition to our bill of fare. Some of our people went in bathing — a performance which astonished the natives, who were afraid to venture into the water on account of the alligators, which abounded in rather startling profusion. Others obtained permission to go on shore and created a sensation by doing so. The ignorant natives, who had no idea who we were, promptly abandoned their houses, and, leaving everything behind them, fled to the forests.

They imagined that we were a band of pirates who were coming to take possession of the country.

A messenger was now dispatched to the city of Bolivar to notify the governor of our coming, and, with considerable uncertainty as to the reception we were likely to meet with, the next morning we resumed our slow progress up the river.

At Los Tablos we were commanded to stop, and a most primitive piece of artillery was pointed at us, which excited some derision in my breast but which appeared to inspire terror in that of Capt. Johnston, for he was in much agitation lest the authorities on shore should take a notion to fire on us.

After some parley, however, we were permitted to pass on to the city of Bolivar unmolested. On arriving off that place, the order was given that nobody should go ashore, much to the dissatisfaction of every one, for there was not a man, woman, or child on the steamer but was anxious to leave her at the earliest practicable moment.

After a time, the United States consul, Mr. Dalton, boarded us. He denied being the consul when my husband spoke to him and said that he was heartily ashamed of such a shabby expedition. In spite of his denial, however, I knew that he was the consul and determined to demand his assistance in case it should be necessary.

I now resolved to land and look out for myself and appealed to my husband to come with me, saying that I had money enough about me for all our present needs, although the other members of the expedition were not aware of the fact, and that I could draw more, if it should be wanted, through the consul.

My husband, however, refused to go and said that he would stick by the expedition to the last. I suggested that they would be far from sticking to him in case he was left destitute, and, thoroughly disgusted with the whole business, I left the schooner and went to the hotel.

At the hotel I met several very nice people with whom I was soon on friendly terms and was rejoiced to find myself once more in reasonably comfortable quarters, after what I had gone through with. The hotel was kept by a German who had married a Venezuelan woman, and it was very well managed.

Once on shore, and free to do as I pleased, I proceeded to carry out the purpose I had in view when I started. I called on the consul and explained matters to him, and through him obtained an introduction to the governor and his family. By all the persons I met I was well received, and a general desire was shown to give me such information as I needed with regard to the country and the inducements which it might hold out for emigrants from the United States.

While I was thus employing myself on shore my husband stuck to the schooner. Finally, however, he too became so much disgusted that he concluded to take my advice and abandon Johnston and his whole enterprise. In a day or two he left and started for the gold mines to find that the black fever was raging there to such an extent that it was dangerous for him to remain. He therefore returned and went to Caracas, where, shortly after his arrival, he was taken ill with the black vomit and died.

Amerikan Rambler: Writing a Book, Part II: The First Review

In my last post about “Marching Masters,” I discussed the early stages of writing a book, which involved much research. After the research comes the writing, a discussion of which I will have to skip this time. Because recently, while searching online, I read the first review of my book.

via Writing a Book, Part II: The First Review — Amerikan Rambler: Everybody Has a Story

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Iran’s conquest of Iraq / Great Texas beach reads / Watermelon feta mint salad / What China truly fears / Corey Flintoff on Russia

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. Iran Dominates in Iraq After U.S. ‘Handed the Country Over’
By Tim Arango | The New York Times | July 15
“From Day 1, Iran saw … a chance to make a client state of Iraq, a former enemy against which it fought a war in the 1980s so brutal, with chemical weapons and trench warfare, that historians look to World War I for analogies. If it succeeded, Iraq would never again pose a threat, and it could serve as a jumping-off point to spread Iranian influence around the region. In that contest, Iran won, and the United States lost.”

2. Brexit followed by Corbyn in No 10 would put UK flat on its back — Blair
By Peter Walker | The Guardian | July 15
“[Former Labor prime minister] Tony Blair has warned that the combination of Brexit followed by a Jeremy Corbyn government would soon leave Britain ‘flat on our back,’ arguing that a deeply divided country needs a fundamental rethink of its political ideas.”
Also: Read Blair’s article here.

3. Why China’s leaders are so terrified of dissent
By Fred Hiatt | The Washington Post | July 13
“The answer, I believe, has something to do with the story China’s rulers tell their people, and maybe themselves, to cling to power.”

4. Wonderful Political Tales for Beach Reading
By R.G. Ratcliffe | BurkaBlog :: Texas Monthly | July 10
“Books that will take your mind off of Russians and Special Sessions”

5. A Conversation with Corey Flintoff: The Resurgence of Russia
Texas Public Radio :: YouTube | July 12, 2017
“TPR, in partnership with the World Affairs Council of San Antonio, hosted [the discussion on] June 23, 2017, at the McNay Art Museum.”

6. Maryam Mirzakhani, groundbreaking mathematician and Fields Medal winner, dies at 40
By Omar Etman | The Rundown :: PBS NewsHour | July 15
“She won the prize for a 172-page paper on the trajectory of a billiards ball around a polygonal table that has been hailed as a “titanic work” and the “beginning of a new era” in mathematics. Mirzakhani studied the complexities of curved surfaces such as spheres, doughnut shapes and hyperbolas.”
Also: Read her award-winning paper here.

7. Spain’s King Felipe VI addresses the British Parliament
SkyNews :: YouTube | July 12
The Spanish monarch’s speech followed a visit with Queen Elizabeth II.

8. Watermelon Feta Salad with Mint | June 2011
“Even those of you who don’t like sweet, fruity salads may appreciate this one — the flavor is truly unique.”

9. How to Write an Internet Essay to Support Your Novel
By Gabe Habash | Coffee House Press :: LitHub | June 5
“You should probably write something about your book, now that it’s being published. But you are worried because you don’t have anything left to say about your book.”

10. Uncovering the brutal truth about the British empire
By Marc Perry | The Guardian | August 2016
“The Harvard historian Caroline Elkins stirred controversy with her work on the crushing of the Mau Mau uprising. But it laid the ground for a legal case that has transformed our view of Britain’s past”

Loreta’s Civil War: More bombast than true enterprise

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 58: Velazquez decides it is time for a fundamental change in her life. She marries again, and she joins an expedition of Southerners ready to start over in the Venezuelan wilderness.


Taking advantage of the condition of mind and pocket which a great many people were in, a number of emigration schemes were started, most of them, I am confident, by swindlers. Many persons were so anxious to get away that they did not exercise even common prudence in investigating the facilities that were offered them, and the result was that they did much worse than if they had remained. The sufferings endured by some of these emigrants cannot be estimated, and the story of their attempts to find homes for themselves and their children in some land where they could live in peace and quietness and enjoy the fruits of their labor without fear of being plundered is one of the saddest and dreariest pages in the history of the country.

I was much interested in these emigration schemes when I first heard of them and was extremely anxious to investigate them, for my own sake as well as for that of my suffering fellow-country people of the South. Venezuela was one of the countries which it was proposed to colonize, and representations were made to the effect that the Venezuelan government would extend a cordial welcome to emigrants and would aid them in establishing themselves.

I consulted with a number of wise and prudent men with regard to this Venezuelan project but did not get much encouragement from them. They said that they would prefer to see the country for themselves and to find out exactly what the government was willing to do before they would care to invest any money. They thought that the country was rich and fertile but that many of the reports about it were palpably exaggerations, having been gotten up in the interests of speculators. It would consequently not be a prudent thing for anyone to emigrate there unless some trustworthy person should undertake to go and see what was to be seen, for the purpose of making a strictly truthful report. …

It having been announced that I intended to go to Venezuela, I was called upon at the City Hotel, where I had my quarters, by Capt. Fred. A. Johnston, who was fitting out an expedition. He gave me a most glowing account of the country, describing it as a perfect paradise, although I speedily judged, from his conversation, that he knew nothing about it except from hearsay.

I had no difficulty in reading Capt. Johnston’s character, and what I saw of him subsequently only confirmed my first impressions. He was a nervous, excitable man, with more bombast than true enterprise. He was anxious to make money, and to make it very quick, and was consequently not particularly scrupulous about the means. He had a tolerably good education but was not smart enough to put it to good use, and he was always engaged in some wild speculation or other, but never could accomplish anything. He was a plausible man, however, and a good talker, and, considering how many people felt at the time, it was no wonder a number were deceived by him.

After a long conversation with Johnston, I made up my mind to go with him, and in the meantime secretly advised my friends not to put any money in his or any other expedition until they heard from me. I was visited by a number of persons, who, on being informed that I proposed to go with Johnston’s expedition, said, in effect, “We will depend upon the report you make as to the climate and the country, for we have families to support and we do not want to run the risk of going to a foreign land, about which we know absolutely nothing.” I promised to make a faithful report. …

I commenced making my preparations, and Johnston, who was apparently beginning to consider me a valuable ally, came and invited me to go over to Algiers, across the river from New Orleans, with him for the purpose of meeting the others who were going. I found a number of proposed emigrants at Algiers who were waiting for the vessel which was to convey them to their new homes. They all seemed to be in a cheerful mood and well satisfied at the prospect of speedily getting away from a land where there was so much suffering. A meeting was called for the purpose of consultation with regard to chartering a vessel and arranging for supplies, and Johnston greatly desired me to deliver an address. This I declined to do but I took occasion to say, that while it might be well enough for single men to engage in an enterprise of this kind, it was, in my opinion, rather too risky a thing for those who had families dependent upon them.

After my return to the city I reviewed the situation in my mind more clearly than I had hitherto done. I was becoming less and less satisfied with the way things looked and could not help asking myself. Why should I make any attempt to leave the country I had fought for and give it up to the carpetbaggers and negroes? Why should I interest myself in such an enterprise as this one of Johnston’s merely for the purpose of gaining information for people whose duty it was to look out for themselves? I called, in my perplexity, on an old gentleman who had been a good deal in California and asked his opinion of the Pacific slope and of the advisability of those who wished to emigrate from the South going there.

He said that there was not a country in the world equal to California, and it would be vastly better for those who wanted to find new homes to find them there or in some other portion of the far west rather than to go to South America. As for Johnston, he said that he would not take his own family to Venezuela until he had looked at the country himself, and it was doubtful whether he would then.

The poor people whom Johnston had enlisted in his scheme, however, had their hearts set upon going to Venezuela, and nowhere else, and though my heart ached at the disappointment and perhaps severe suffering that was in store for them, I saw that it was useless to attempt to turn them from their purpose. They had their new homes all pictured in their imaginations, and Venezuela appeared to them like a second Garden of Eden, where all was peace, happiness, and prosperity, with no free negroes or carpetbaggers to intrude upon them.

Many of this band of emigrants were most estimable people, but, as I speedily discovered, there were some worthless ones among them, and I dreaded more and more the execution of the task I had set myself to do. Having, however, announced my intention of going, and having excited the expectations of my friends, I concluded that it would not do to back out, and so determined to go through with the thing, no matter what the consequences might be.

Among the emigrants who had enlisted in Johnston’s band was a young Confederate officer, Maj. Wasson. He was a remarkably fine-looking man, with long, wavy, flaxen hair, which he wore brushed off his forehead, blue eyes, and fair complexion. The day before going over to Algiers with Johnston I had seen him on one of the street cars and was very much struck with him. At Algiers I had some conversation with him and invited him to call on me at the hotel. This he did, and I discovered that he was a stranger to all the rest of the band of emigrants, that he was anxious to get out of the country, and that, attracted by Johnston’s representations, he had resolved to go to Venezuela with his expedition.

After that I saw a great deal of Maj. Wasson, and a strong attachment sprang up between us. A few days before we were to sail, he asked me to accept his hand, and I did so willingly, for not only did I admire him greatly but I felt that it would be better in every way that I should accompany the expedition as a married woman.

We were accordingly married and for some days kept the matter secret, it being our original intention not to say anything about it until after we were out at sea. As I was, however, pursued by the attentions of several other gentlemen, we finally concluded that the fact of our being husband and wife had best be announced.

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