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Fiesta Preparations

The Top Shelf

Fiesta San Antonio 2017 opens in a few days.  Final preparations for the numerous events are underway.  Beginning in the 1920s, photographers for the San Antonio Light and San Antonio Express-News newspapers routinely documented behind-the-scenes activities such as building parade floats, setting up booths, and performance practice sessions.  Usually these images were taken to advertise events.  But in some cases, photographs were taken to apprise readers of the tremendous work involved in staging the annual celebration.  Likewise, some of the photos were published as a tribute to certain individuals such as Minna Bel Oland, Cora Watson, and brothers Emile and Marcel Robin, who were involved in the preparation of Fiesta events for several decades.

These are some of the photographs showing pre-Fiesta activities, dating from the 1920s to 1990.

Velma Wolfe, seamstress at Southwestern Decorators, repairs tattered Fiesta flags and banners, April 1938.  (San Antonio Light Photograph Collection, MS 359: L-1778-N)

Minna Bel Oland…

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Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Obama is back / Celebrating Fiesta in San Antonio / Adrift commanders / What ‘The Last Jedi’ might destroy / Intellectual Trumpism / Man Booker Prize shortlist / The fading Rockefellers

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

1. Obama making first public appearance of post-presidency in Chicago
By Jordan Fabian | The Hill | April 21
“It ends a three-month period of relative silence since Obama left office on Jan. 20, much of which he has spent on vacation in Palm Springs, Calif., on a Caribbean island with English billionaire Richard Branson and at an exclusive resort in French Polynesia.”

2. Cascarón Confusion? Your Guide to All Things Fiesta
By Jessica Elizarraras and Bryan Rindfuss | San Antonio Current | April 20
“Aside from urging you to hydrate, stock up on sunscreen and cash, here’s a quick explainer on what you should know about San Antonio’s largest celebration which runs from April 20-30.”

3. Trump Unleashes the Generals. They Don’t Always See the Big Picture.
By Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper | The New York Times | April 20
“Taken together, the episodes illustrate how even the military’s most seasoned four-star field commanders can fail to consider the broader political or strategic ramifications of their operational decisions, and some current and former senior officials suggested that President Trump’s decision to unshackle the military from Obama-era constraints to intensify the fight against terrorists risked even more miscues.”

4. The Knight’s Move
By Gideon Lewis-Kraus | The Nation | April 19
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5. The Man Booker International Prize 2017 shortlist announced
The Man Booker Prizes | April 20
“The settings range from an Israeli comedy club to contemporary Copenhagen, from a sleepless night in Vienna to a troubled delirium in Argentina. The list is dominated by contemporary settings but also features a divided Jerusalem of 1959 and a remote island in Norway in the early 20th century.”

6. Science confirms the incredible story of Lithuania’s Holocaust escape tunnel
By Sarah Birnbaum | The World :: PRI | April 19
“Shortly after the Nazis invaded Lithuania in June 1941, they started bringing groups of Jews from the nearby city of Vilnius, known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania, to the Ponar forest. The Nazis lined them up, shot them at close range, and tossed the bodies into pits.”

7. Will The Last Jedi destroy everything we think we know about Star Wars?
By Ben Child | The Guardian | April 19
“Was Yoda just an old fool? And why is Luke Skywalker calling for an end to the Jedi? Rian Johnson, director of Episode VIII, is veering into dangerous territory”

8. With the death of a patriarch, have the Rockefellers lost their power?
By Michael Kaplan | The New York Post | April 2
“When former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller passed away in 1979 of a heart attack, it was allegedly after having made love to his secretary. Steven Rockefeller shocked everyone by marrying Anne-Marie Rasmussen, his family’s housemaid, in 1959. In 1951, Winifred Rockefeller, great-niece of John D. Rockefeller, killed herself and two of her children inside their Greenwich, Conn., home. Ten years later, in 1961, while hunting down art in New Guinea, 23-year-old Michael Rockefeller was supposedly eaten by cannibals.”

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By Laura Parker | The Guardian | October 2016
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10. Party Hopping
By Dave Mann | Texas Monthly | May 2017
“As they lose sway among Texas Republicans, big businesses should try something radical: an alliance with Democrats.”

Loreta’s Civil War: Villains of the blackest dye

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 46: Despite her frustration with Confederate military setbacks, Velazquez turns her attention to a secret logistical operation that will take her back to Cuba.

******

It was a comparatively easy matter to persuade me to continue to act as a Confederate secret service agent, although I was too angry over the Johnson’s Island matter to be willing to place myself in peril very soon again by attempting to play a double game, as I had been doing with Col. Baker and other Federal officials. I was willing to risk as much as anyone when there was a fair chance of accomplishing anything, but I was not willing to undertake enterprises of extraordinary peril, and to run the chance of being betrayed through either the stupidity or the treachery of those who professed to be working with me. … I did not care to cultivate the acquaintance of Baker and the members of his corps any further just then and was not sorry to have an opportunity to leave the country for a time.

This opportunity was afforded in a proposition that I should purchase a quantity of goods in Philadelphia and New York to fill Southern orders, and should go to the West Indies with them as a sort of supercargo for the purpose of arranging for their shipment to different Southern ports. I was also to supervise the shipment of a variety of goods of various kinds from Europe.

It was thought that, as in the cases of the proposed raid, a woman would be able to do a great many things without exciting suspicion that it would be hazardous for a man to attempt. It was daily getting to be more and more difficult to smuggle goods, especially merchandise of a bulky nature, through the blockading fleet. The tribulations of the blockade-runners, however, did not begin when they approached the beleaguered ports of the Confederacy. There were great difficulties in the way of purchasing goods, especially at the North, and of getting them shipped in safety, and then, in the majority of cases, they had to be taken to some point in the West Indies to be re-shipped, all of which involved trouble, expense, and risk.

The purchase and shipment of goods at places like New York and Philadelphia required particularly discreet management. There were, doubtless, some merchants and manufacturers who would not knowingly have sold to Confederate agents or for Confederate uses in any shape. For such, I had and have every respect, for they were entirely honest and consistent in their opposition to the secession of the Southern States. I am very much afraid, however, that these were few in number, and I know that the prospect of cash payments and handsome profits caused many men — who were loud in their profession of loyalty to the Federal government and bitter in their denunciations of the South — to close their eyes to numerous transactions of a doubtful character when opportunities for making a good round sum without danger of detection were presented.

Some Northern merchants and manufacturers sold goods, either immediately or at second hand, to Confederate agents innocently enough, being deceived as to the nature of the transactions. No dealers could be expected to maintain a corps of detectives for the purpose of watching their customers and of tracing out the destination of the goods purchased from them, and thus the most ardent and enthusiastic supporters of the Federal government were liable to be imposed upon. That some of these men were honest I know, for I am aware of instances where the sale of goods has been refused, on the plea that there was reason to believe that the intention was to send them South. These refusals have been made where the sales could have been effected with entire safety and with perfect propriety, so far as outward appearances went.

These very fastidious people were not numerous, however, and in the majority of business houses the practice was to welcome all customers and to ask no questions. In many large establishments, the chiefs of which were noted for their “loyalty,” confidential clerks could be found with whom it was possible to transact any amount of contraband business, especially if the cash was promptly forthcoming. Some of these people, I am sure, were well aware of what their subordinates were doing. With regard to others, I am in doubt, but think that they could scarcely have been ignorant of what was going on and only wanted to be able to say, in case of any difficulties occurring, that they, personally, were not to blame.

There were, of course, numerous manufacturers, merchants, jobbers, brokers, and others, who were eager to make money wherever it could be made, and whose only object in concealing their transactions, so far as the Southern market was concerned, was to avoid getting into trouble. Some of these people were loyal to the Federal government after a fashion, while others were as undisguised in their expressions of sympathy for the South as they dared to be. Political partisanship was, however, not a very strong point with either set — they considered it legitimate to make money by the buying and selling of goods without regard to what the politicians at Washington and elsewhere might think or do. So long as they bought and sold in a reasonably honest manner, their consciences did not trouble them. With such as these, I and my associates found it easy to deal.

If it was easy, it was not always satisfactory to deal with people of this kind, and during the last year of the war, especially, some of the largest transactions were with houses that had reputations to lose, and that were managed by men who aimed to stand high in the regards of the government. … To do business with such houses required some finesse, but, except in rare instances, it could be done without a great deal of trouble, and … with the approbation of the heads of the concerns.

Looking at this buying and selling from a Southern point of view, it was not only legitimate and proper, but it was a violation of every natural or political right for the Federal government to interfere with it. From a Northern point of view, however, it was giving aid and comfort to the enemy, and it was … sustaining the government in the prosecution of the war.

The sale of goods for the Southern market and the active or surreptitious encouragement of blockade-running were, however, very venal offenses compared with some others that were committed by people at the North, who professed to be eager for the subjugation of the South. Now that the war is over, a good many who made money by supplying the South with contraband articles other than munitions of war can afford to laugh at the perils they then ran … without fear of the kind of business they were engaged in. As the reader, however, will discover, there was an immense amount of evil and rascality going on, and some of the most trusted officers of the government were engaged in transactions concerning which there could not possibly be two opinions.

With some of these transactions I had considerable to do, and I was cognizant of undiluted villainy that unveiled depths of human depravity such as I never would have believed to be possible, had I not been brought in such close contact with it.

It may be thought by some who read this part of my narrative that I was as much in fault as those with whom I consented to associate for the purpose of accomplishing the object I had in view. I do not despair, however, of finding readers, even in the Northern States, who will be able to take a liberal and charitable view of my course. …

These things have, many of them, never been told before, although dark hints with regard to them have been dropped from time to time. … In fact, there is a secret history of the war, records of which have never been committed to paper and which exists only in the memories of a limited number of people. That this secret history will ever be written out with any degree of fullness is scarcely possible for reasons that will readily be understood but some idea of what it will be like, should it ever be written, may be gathered from these pages….

With regard to my associates. Confederates and others, who were mixed up with me in certain transactions, the case, however, is different. I deem it proper, in certain cases, to refrain from mentioning their names, as many of them are still living and might yet get into trouble through my utterances. I kept faith with them when we were acting together, and will do so still, although some of them were villains of the blackest dye who richly deserve any punishment that the law against which they offended is capable of inflicting upon them.

Having consented to make a trip to the West Indies, I commenced my preparations immediately and was soon as deeply engaged in commercial matters as I had recently been in some of not quite so peaceful a character. Having once got started, I speedily found trade — and especially this kind of trade — quite as exciting as warfare, while it had certain attractions in the way of prospective profits that lighting certainly did not possess.

I had some few transactions with Philadelphia houses, but they were none of them very important, and most of my fitting out was done in New York, where I … labored for a number of weeks with all possible zeal, being resolved to make the venture a profitable one for ourselves as well as of advantage to the Confederacy.

The first thing done was the chartering of a schooner and the engaging of a warehouse. In this warehouse our goods were stored until we were ready to load. The watchman was perfectly aware that we were engaging in contraband traffic, but, as he was paid handsomely for holding his tongue, he kept his own counsel and ours. When everything was ready, the schooner was loaded at Pier No. 4, North River, and she sailed for Havana. …

The greatest trouble we had was not in getting our schooner to sea, but in making our purchases without exciting suspicion that we intended to find our market in some Confederate port. To do this required circumspect management but some of those with whom I was co-operating had done this sort of thing before and knew how to go about it, while I was not long in learning all the tricks of the trade. …

According to the plan which we arranged, I was to pretend that I intended opening a store and was to visit some of the largest houses and obtain their prices and terms of payment. The terms varied from sixty to ninety days, or so much off for cash. At one of the most extensive dry goods establishments in New York — Messrs. C & Co. — I inquired for a Mr. B, who, on being informed that I had been sent to him by certain parties, whose names I mentioned, introduced me to a confidential clerk, who undertook to fill my orders and deliver the goods in accordance with my instructions. He understood the whole matter thoroughly, and, from various expressions he let drop in conversation, I had no difficulty in concluding that his firm was doing a big contraband trade, although the principals, like many other prominent merchants, were taking especial good care not to be known as having anything to do with it.

The leading members of this firm were very prominent as upholders of the Federal cause, and it would have been ruin to them had it been found out that they were surreptitiously shipping goods to the South. I never was quite able to make up my mind whether they really knew what was going on or not. At any rate, all the arrangements for carrying on a contraband traffic were very complete in their establishment, and anyone going there with proper credentials was sure of receiving every attention. If these gentlemen did not know what their employees were doing, they were much less shrewd than they had the credit of being, and I am afraid that a love of gain was a more powerful incentive in their bosoms than loyalty to the cause for which, in public, they professed so much devotion, and for which they professed a willingness to make almost any sacrifices. …

Loreta’s Civil War: Things were looking exceedingly gloomy

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 45: Her ambitions for a massive Confederate counterattack crushed, Velazquez decides to resign from her post as a Union spy and regroup her hopes, ideas, and plans.

******

Had it been possible for me to have destroyed the arsenal without loss of life, I would most assuredly have done it but the circumstances being what they were, it has been a great satisfaction to me ever since that I did not attempt anything of the kind, just as it has been a satisfaction to me that I did not kill Gen. Grant when I had an opportunity to do so on the night after the first day’s fight at Shiloh. I doubt, however, whether there would have been a great many men, either Confederates or Federals, who would have been so considerate in similar situations, especially if the deed could have been performed without risk to themselves. I am confident that I could have fired the Indianapolis arsenal without serious danger of being detected, but I do not suppose anyone will think the worse of me that I did not do it.

The great number of letters I received from nearly every quarter within a very brief period excited curiosity and remark. After my first few visits to the post office the clerk began to take notice of me, and he would say something nearly every time I called for my mail about the extent of my correspondence. What he said was in a joking sort of a way, and under some circumstances I should have thought nothing of it but not knowing, from day to day, what might happen, it caused me some uneasiness to attract this kind of attention, both for my own sake and for the sake of my correspondents. I very well knew that did the Federal authorities suspect me the least of being a Confederate agent, there would be no hesitation whatever about opening my letters, and if some of them had been opened, there would have been fine revelations … of the most important secret Confederate operations. …

For these, as well as other reasons, I was anxious to leave Indianapolis at as early a day as I possibly could but was unable to move for lack of orders and also for lack of cash. My funds, in fact, were running very low, so low as to give me considerable uneasiness lest I should be unable to meet my expenses, and I anxiously awaited a remittance, which, as is apt to be the case with remittances that are anxiously awaited, was a long time in coming. Finally, I received information that a money package had been forwarded to me by express but on applying at the office for it I was told that it could not be delivered unless I was identified.

This was a perplexing predicament but I had gotten myself out of worse ones and thought that I would be able to find a way to obtain possession of the precious package. Returning to the hotel, therefore, I selected an envelope from one of my letters, and writing a letter to myself, as if from my brother, stating that such and such a package had been forwarded to me, I took it to the manager of the packing department at the arsenal and requested him to go with me to the express office for the purpose of identifying me. He did this without hesitation but was considerably astonished to see me receive such a large amount of money and said, “Why, your brother must be a very rich man!”

“Oh, no, he is not rich, but he has been thinking of investing some of his spare cash in real estate for some time, and I told him of a good thing in corner lots, which I urged him to try and do something with.”

As an explanation of my money package this was a trifle thin, but it was sufficient for the purpose, especially as it was no concern of his whether I had rich relations or not.

Within a day or two I received orders by telegraph to proceed to Cairo, which I did forthwith, and found, on reaching that place, letters of instruction which directed me to go to St. Louis and to stop at the Planters’ House for the purpose of seeing if I could not find out something about projected Federal movements from the officers who were making it their headquarters.

From the tenor of my instructions I judged that I would not be able to do much by going to the table as a guest, which would also have been inconvenient, as it would have necessitated my providing myself with a large amount of different kind of clothing from that which I was then wearing. I was figuring as a widow woman in greatly reduced circumstances, and, so far as baggage was concerned, was, as the soldiers would say, in light marching order. It occurred to me, therefore, that the best plan to pursue was to try and obtain a situation at the Planters’ House as a chambermaid. On reaching St. Louis, instead of going to the hotel, I took lodgings at a private house for a few days, until I could mature my plans.

On applying for employment as a chambermaid, I was told that there was no vacancy and that there was not likely to be any, and I saw very plainly, from the manner of the individual with whom I conversed on the subject, that he had no intention whatever of giving me a situation.

This rather nonplussed me, and I was unable to determine what device to adopt next. Some of the information which I was requested to obtain was very important, and I had been urged to use every effort to get it. I did not like to give the thing up without having exhausted all my resources. I accordingly tried in a number of ways to find out what I wanted to know but was entirely unsuccessful. All that I succeeded in discovering of any consequence was some knowledge of the personal habits of the officers who were lodged at the Planters’ House, and of the times when they were least likely to be in their rooms. My only chance, therefore, seemed to be to gain access to their quarters when they were out, and to the accomplishment of this I put my wits to work.

When applying for employment in the hotel, I struck up a sort of acquaintance with one of the chambermaids, of whom I made a variety of inquiries as to the nature of the duties and of my chances of getting a situation. This woman had seemed disposed to be quite friendly, and I, therefore, concluded to cultivate her acquaintance. I was not long in becoming intimate with her, and, as I made her a number of little presents, and otherwise displayed a marked liking for her, she speedily took a great fancy to me.

Having, as I thought, secured her friendship, I called upon her one evening and invited her to go out with me. She consented to do this, and we went up to her room together for her to arrange her toilet. While she was dressing I slipped her pass key in my pocket. This being secured, the next thing was to find an opportunity to use it.

When we returned I had no great difficulty in inducing her to extend an invitation for me to stop all night. We accordingly slept together. In the morning she got up, dressed herself, and then, missing her key, began an industrious search for it, I all the time pretending to be asleep. Unable to find it, she went out, and I heard her ask one of the other girls to lend her a key, saying that she had lost hers.

So soon as she was well out of the way, I got up and dressed myself, and when I thought that the officers, whose rooms I wished to visit, were likely to be away … I slipped down stairs to execute my dangerous errand.

Luckily, I met no one and contrived to get into three rooms, where I read a number of dispatches and orders, one or two of which were of some importance but did not succeed in discovering what I was chiefly in search of. I, however, mastered the contents of such papers as I could lay my hands on, for I was bound to have something to show for my labor, even if I did not get all I wanted.

On coming out of the third room, I came very near being caught by a bell boy, who turned into the corridor just as I had finished locking the door. Putting on a sort of bewildered look, as if I had lost myself, I said, in an innocent sort of a way, “Which is the servant’s staircase? I think I must have got into the wrong hall.”

The boy was not particularly bright, and, giving the required direction, I made off as fast as I could, not a little satisfied at having escaped so easily. On the stairway I met the chambermaid, who was bringing me up a cup of coffee. This I drank and then bade her good-by, glad of an opportunity to get away without attracting more attention.

On reaching my lodgings I wrote out the substance of the information I had obtained and forwarded it to the proper agent, with a statement to the effect that it seemed impossible for me to learn anything more. In reply to this note I received a dispatch by telegraph, directing me to go to Hannibal, where I would find a package awaiting me, which I was to deliver according to directions which would be enclosed.

I took the boat for Hannibal, and on reaching that place found Maj. T., of the Confederate army rather anxiously looking for me, as he had received information that orders would be sent him from New York in an enclosure directed to me. Obtaining my package from the express office, it was found to contain a dispatch from Richmond, with orders for the major to treat with the Indians and to aid in the endeavors that were being made to excite them to acts of hostility against the Federal government all along the frontier, from the British Provinces to Mexico.

The delivery of this dispatch to Maj. T. was the last transaction of the western trip which I made under the auspices of Col. Baker. Not more than a day or two afterwards I learned of the failure of the attempt to release the Johnson’s Island prisoners and consequently of the grand scheme, the success of which I had been laboring so hard to promote.

I did not know who was to blame for this failure, but I felt that if all the rest had done their duty as efficiently as I had done mine, success would have crowned our efforts. I, therefore, resolved to return East and to dissolve all connection with my late co-workers, and with more than half a mind to have nothing more to do with such schemes, or schemes of any kind that would require confederates, in the future. I was beyond measure indignant when I learned, as I did before I reached Philadelphia, that the whole thing had fallen through, owing to the blundering cowardice and treachery of one individual. I did not pretend to restrain my wrath, but the agent whom I met at Philadelphia, after I had become cooled off a little, persuaded me that there was no use in getting discouraged by this misadventure, bad as it was, and that there was still plenty of important work for the Confederacy to be done.

I, however, was so decidedly unwilling to engage in any similar enterprise, at least just then, that it was proposed that I should attempt something in the blockade-running line. By doing this, it was represented, I could not only aid the cause but could make a handsome profit for myself if I managed rightly, as my commissions alone would amount to considerable. The proposition made to me looked feasible, and, allowing myself to be persuaded, I wrote a letter to Col. Baker, resigning from the secret service under the plea that I had obtained other employment of a more remunerative and more congenial character.

I really had not the courage to face Baker again after the trick I had played upon him, having no idea what he might know, or might not know, about my connection with the projected raid which had been so effectually nipped in the bud by the arrest of the men in Sandusky who were endeavoring to seize the gunboat Michigan. From the tenor of the letter which he sent me in reply, however, I judged that he neither knew nor suspected anything against me, and I concluded that I would finally have occasion to make use of him again, as I could not tell what work I might have to do before the war was over.

I had proven myself so efficient in managing matters that required to be managed with skill, boldness, and discretion during the time I had been co-operating with the Confederate agents at the North, and especially during my late Western trip, that my associates were more than ever anxious to avail themselves of my services. They fully appreciated my feelings over the failure of the Johnson’s Island raid, after I had performed the part assigned me so successfully, but they contended that I would not be acting an heroic part to forsake the fortunes of the Confederacy just at this juncture, when, although things were looking exceedingly gloomy, there was a chance that success might yet be achieved if all the friends of the Cause would stick together and labor with even more than their old energy to achieve success in the face of every opposition.

TED Ideas: The two kinds of stories we tell about ourselves

We’ve all created our own personal histories, marked by highs and lows, that we share with the world — and we can shape them to live with more meaning and purpose. We are all storytellers — all engaged, as the anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson puts it, in an “act of creation” of the “composition of our…

via The two kinds of stories we tell about ourselves — ideas.ted.com

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Saliva and our history / Research your home’s past / Purging to remake Turkey / Meet Dina Powell / Assad and U.S. presidents / LBJ and the Secret Service

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. What 770,000 Tubes of Saliva Reveal About America
Ancestry.com | April 2017
“This unique map shows this country’s great migrations, the echoes of our pioneer ancestors in our genes today.”

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7. The Assad Family: Nemesis of Nine U.S. Presidents
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9. The spy who couldn’t spell: how the biggest heist in the history of US espionage was foiled
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“Ever since childhood, Brian Regan had been made to feel stupid because of his severe dyslexia. So he thought no one would suspect him of stealing secrets”

10. L.B.J.’s Bravado and a Secret Service Under Scrutiny
By Michael Beschloss | HistorySource :: The New York Times | October 2014
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