Amerikan Rambler: The Writing Machine

From July 2014: “Thankfully, being a historian cuts down on the tendency toward writer’s block. And even though I don’t get paid much for writing, I love doing it.”

Thankfully, being a historian cuts down on the tendency toward writer’s block. And even though I don’t get paid much for writing, I love doing it.

via The Writing Machine — Amerikan Rambler: Everybody Has a Story

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: New GOP leaders? / Incredible Jessica Williams / The best albums from women / Mooch’s venting about Priebus / Priebus ousted from Trump White House

This week: New GOP leaders? / Incredible Jessica Williams / The best albums from women / Mooch’s venting about Priebus / Priebus freed from Trump White House

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. Can McConnell and Ryan be repaired, or must they be repealed and replaced?
By Jennifer Rubin | Right Turn :: Washington Post | July 28
“Well, wait a minute. You cannot just remove them with no replacements in mind. Can anyone imagine Republicans in each body coalescing around a single replacement for each? I can’t either.”

2. Jessica Williams Is More Than Incredible
By Hunter Harris | Vulture | July 28
“To be a woman of color and a black woman, we are the product of the black women and men that came before us. We are their dreams. They fell on the sword a lot for us to be able to do what I’m doing, what you get to do. ”

3. The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women
NPR and the Lincoln Center | July 2017
“This list, of the greatest albums made by women between 1964 and the present, is an intervention, a remedy, a correction of the historical record and hopefully the start of a new conversation. Compiled by nearly 50 women from across NPR and the public radio system and produced in partnership with Lincoln Center, it rethinks popular music to put women at the center.”

4. How Tattoos Might Affect Your Workout
By Gretchen Reynolds | The New York Times | July 26
“[T]he amount and saltiness of sweat change after skin has been dyed, a finding that might have implications for athletes who ink large swaths of their bodies and maybe even for those of us who sport one or two discreet tattoos. …”

5. Michiko Kakutani, the Legendary Book Critic and the Most Feared Woman in Publishing, Is Stepping Down from The New York Times
By Joe Pompeo | Vanity Fair | July 27
“Kakutani, who helped make the careers of writers from Foster Wallace to McEwan, and put fear in the hearts of Mailer and Vidal, will leave her post as one of the most formidable critics in the Times history.”
Also see: Pulitzer Prize-Winner James Risen Leaving The New York Times

6. Anthony Scaramucci Called Me to Unload About White House Leakers, Reince Priebus, and Steve Bannon
By Ryan Lizza | The New Yorker | July 27
“He started by threatening to fire the entire White House communications staff. It escalated from there.”
Also see: Reince Priebus Pushed Out After Rocky Tenure as Trump Chief of Staff

7. Charlize Theron Has Been Kicking Ass and Taking Names Her Entire Career
By Jake Kring-Schreifels | Esquire | July 27
“She’s a full-fledged action star with the super-charged Atomic Blonde, but she’s been playing tough, complicated women for two decades.”

8. Beheadings, Torture, and Bodies Stacked Like Cordwood in Mexico’s Gruesome Jail Wars
By Jeremy Kryt | The Daily Beast | July 2017
“Inmates in an overcrowded Acapulco facility were beaten to death and decapitated in a turf struggle between rival gangs earlier this month. And that’s not the worst we’ve seen.”

9. ‘Quite odd’: coral and fish thrive on Bikini Atoll 70 years after nuclear tests
By Eleanor Ainge Roy | The Guardian | July 2017
“Scientists say marine life has proved ‘remarkably resilient’ despite the Pacific island being declared a wasteland in the 1950s”

10. Don’t Make Yourself the Hero of Your Own Story
By Elena Lappin | Counterpoint Press :: LitHub | June 2017
“The biggest problem I encountered when writing about myself and the people in my life was the very tangible, palpable, sweat-inducing fear of hurting someone by telling my own truth.”

Loreta’s Civil War: Sadness and strangeness

Velazquez continues her Caribbean tour with a stop in St. Lucia, where she tries to come to terms with her younger self before the Civil War.

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 62: Velazquez continues her Caribbean tour with a stop in St. Lucia, where she tries to come to terms with her younger self before the Civil War.


Being bent upon visiting my relatives and my early home, I purchased a ticket permitting me to stop at St. Lucia until the next steamer, and after a short and pleasant cruise, which was not marked by any incident of note, we reached the island which was endeared to me as being my mother’s birthplace, and on account of my residence on it, being among the most fascinating recollections of my childhood.

As I was preparing to leave the steamer, I was surprised by the steward bringing me a beautiful basket filled with different kinds of fruit. A card which accompanied it told me that it was from Capt. F., who had been obliged to stop at St. Lucia for repairs, having broken a mast. On going on shore, I sent the captain a note, requesting him to call on me at the residence of my cousin, the old family homestead. This he did, and I introduced him to my relatives. His visit was a short one, however, as his vessel was almost ready for sea, and so he said goodbye again, and for the last time. I have never seen him since.

It was not without a certain feeling of sadness and strangeness that I found myself once more domiciled in the old-fashioned stone house where I had lived with my father and mother and brothers and sisters when a little girl. The house and its surroundings were much the same as they were many years before, and yet there was something oddly unfamiliar about them, and it took me some time to reconcile my recollections with the realities. The stone house, built in the English fashion, the marble floor, the ancient furniture of Spanish make, the stone water-pool and stone filter, and the banana and prune bushes which grew at my mother’s window were, however, all as they had been, and as if I had left them but yesterday.

In gazing on these familiar objects, I was forced, in spite of myself, to think of the many years that had passed since I had last seen them and of the many things that had happened. The happy family that had gathered under this roof had been scattered and most of its members were dead, while I, the darling of my father and of my gentle mother, what a strange career I had gone through — stranger far than that of many a heroine of romance whose adventures had fascinated my girlish fancy. I was yet, too, a young woman, and what strange things might not the future have in store for me? It was enough, however, just then to think of the past and of the present without perplexing myself with speculations as to the future, and I gave myself up to such enjoyment as a visit of this kind to a fondly remembered home of childhood was able to afford.

After viewing the old house and its immediate surroundings, I went to the family burying ground in search of the weather-stained vault, which contained the earthly remains of near and dear relatives, among others, of a sister and a brother, whose faces I never beheld after I left Cuba to go to New Orleans to school. The ivy and the myrtle grew so thick about it as almost to hide the inscription, and yet there was something beautiful in the appearance of the spot, which marked it as the fitting resting place for the beloved dead. As I stood by this vault and thought how lonely I was in the world and how unpropitious the future seemed, I thought that if it could be the will of God that my spirit should be taken to Himself, I would gladly have my body rest here beside those of my brother and sister. I was reluctant to leave the place but felt impelled to go on and seek the destiny that awaited me in another land and resolved to be as courageous as ever in meeting whatever fate or position the future might have in store for me. Before leaving the tomb, I knelt down to pluck some ivy leaves to carry away as remembrances, but as I stretched out my hand to gather them, something restrained me, and I went away empty-handed as I had come.

I remained in the old homestead, enjoying the hospitality of my cousins until the arrival of the steamer and then said farewell to St. Lucia — my visit to it having been the happiest episode of my journey.

From St. Lucia, I went to the Danish island of St. Thomas, where one of my friends of the war time, to whom I had written announcing my intention of revisiting the place, was expecting my arrival. When we entered the harbor, the passenger boat, which was to take us ashore, came off to the steamer, and as she neared, I recognized my friend. I waved my handkerchief to him, and he took off his hat, and when the boat came alongside he sprang on board, and shook me most cordially by the hand, expressing, as he did so, the greatest gratification at seeing me again.

When we reached the wharf, I met another of my old war acquaintances, the Italian consul. He also was glad to see me and asked me all manner of questions about where I had been and what I had been doing since the blockade-running business had come to a standstill. I walked between my two friends up to the hotel, where I found that a fine large room had been engaged for me, and, once fairly installed in it, the visitors came pouring in, one after the other — first, the proprietor and his wife, then the Danish commandant’s wife, then half a dozen others, until I was obliged to go into the drawing room and hold a regular reception.

Nowhere during my trip had I been welcomed with a more hearty and sincere courtesy or with a more evident disposition to make a heroine of me. All through the evening people were coming in, some of them acquaintances, who, having heard of my arrival, were anxious to extend a welcome, and others, strangers who had learned something of my adventurous career, were desirous of being introduced to me. One of the most agreeable of my visitors was Mr. English, the correspondent of a newspaper in Manchester, England. He was a fine, dashing young fellow, overflowing with wit and humor, and his lively conversation created a great deal of entertainment.

During the evening, some of the company amused themselves with dominoes, others with cards, while I was surrounded constantly by quite a little crowd of persons who persisted in having me relate to them some of my adventures. After a time, wine, ale, and cakes were brought in, and the gentlemen and some of the ladies, too, regaled themselves with cigars and cigarettes. It was nearly twelve o’clock when the Italian consul, a white-haired old gentleman, arose, and asking to be excused, wished us good night. As I was tired I followed him, asking my kind friends to excuse me, and so the party broke up.

I slept late the next morning and was awakened by a tap at my door. It was Mrs. Capt. B., who wished to know if I was sick. I said that I was quite well, whereat she smiled and said she would send me a cup of chocolate. The girl soon came with the chocolate, and after drinking it, I dressed myself and went down to the drawing room. As I passed the consul’s office, he came out and gave me a “good morning” and offered me his arm to take me in to breakfast.

After breakfast, I was joined in the drawing room by quite a large party of ladies and gentlemen, who proposed that I should go with them through the fort and up to the top of the hill to see the scenery.

The town of Charlotte is built on three hills, from the summits of which beautiful views of the harbor and the island are obtained. One of the features of the scene is a rock, called Frenchman’s Cap. It is almost perpendicular, and is, I believe, considered dangerous to shipping. Scorpion Rock is inhabited only by the horrid reptiles from which it takes its name. They are unusually abundant there, and for that reason it is generally given a wide berth, as no one cares to make its intimate acquaintance.

The principal fortifications of St. Thomas are Fort Christiana, and Prince Frederick’s and Mohlenfe’s batteries. These are occupied by a small force of Danish soldiers, who are clean and tidy looking but otherwise are not remarkable in appearance.

It was under the guns of Fort Christiana that the blockade-runners were accustomed to receive their cargoes and, notwithstanding the supposed vigilance of the United States fleet, most of them managed to get off in safety. On my former visit to St. Thomas, one of the Federal officers was pointed out to me as being in the trade himself. On one occasion, at least, where the consul notified him, he permitted a vessel with a contraband cargo to put to sea and did not pretend to give chase until she was so far away that there was no hope of overtaking her.

As the reader will, perhaps, remember, on the occasion of my previous visit to St. Thomas, I had the satisfaction of seeing the Confederate cruiser Florida come in, and coal, and get away again in safety through a clever trick played upon the Federals. The Florida took in her coal and supplies at the King’s wharf, and when she was ready for sea, one of the sailors pretending to be an Englishman went to the consul, Mr. Smith, and told him that as they were coming in they saw the Florida off to the westward of the island. Mr. Smith, accordingly, gave orders to the Federal man-of-war to go out and look for her, and so soon as the Federal cruiser was out of the harbor, and heading westward. Capt. Maffitt, having steam up, put on all speed and went out after her. Before the Federal commander discovered that he had been duped, the Florida was out of sight and out of danger.

The Danish commandant told me that he was heartily sorry the war closed so soon, for the people of St. Thomas profited greatly by it. He was of the opinion that could the South have held out for another year, the great powers of Europe would have interfered in her behalf and she would have secured her independence.

Loreta’s Civil War: Very beautiful to the eye

Velazquez leaves Venezuela and begins a tour of the Caribbean, visiting her friends from her days as a Confederate blockade runner.

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 61: Velazquez leaves Venezuela and begins a tour of the Caribbean, visiting her friends from her days as a Confederate blockade runner.


The schooner Isabel, in which I sailed for Demerara, had a rather unsavory cargo in the shape of cattle, but being an experienced traveler and accustomed to roughing it, I did not permit myself to be annoyed by my surroundings, and as the weather was fine, I greatly enjoyed this brief cruise along the tropical South American coast.

There were two lady passengers besides myself, whose companionship I found very agreeable, and I had with me a number of pets, whose capers and gambols afforded all on board much amusement. These pets were two monkeys, a young South American tiger, two parrots, and a dozen paroquets. One of the monkeys was named Bob Lee, while the tiger was called Joe Johnston. One of our chief diversions was to get up contests between these animals over their meals. The monkey, being of more mature age and of superior cunning, almost invariably got the better of his antagonist, although the tiger would make a good fight. This tiger was very tame and very gentle, and he liked nothing better than to be taken in my lap and petted.

On landing at Georgetown, we were beset by negroes offering us sapadillos for sale but, disregarding them, I bade adieu to my traveling companions and went to the Prince of Wales Hotel and asked for accommodation. The sapadillo, I may remark here, is a small fruit, shaped something like a pear, the skin is rough, and the flesh inside is of a maroon color, and rather tart to the taste. The Prince of Wales Hotel was kept by a negro, on discovering which I was rather dubious about stopping there. The captain of the schooner told me that there was another hotel kept by white people but, on inspecting it, I concluded that it would be wise for me to take up my quarters at the African establishment.

The hostess of the Prince of Wales Hotel was a mulatto woman of about forty-five years of age. She was quite good-looking and had been the wife of an English sea captain, by whom she had two daughters. Her husband was dead, and one of her daughters was married to a white man, who was extensively engaged in coffee-growing. This woman was very intelligent herself, and she had taken pains to have her children carefully educated. As a hotel keeper, she was much above the average, and during my stay in her house, she did everything possible to make me comfortable.

The captain of the schooner introduced me to a number of prominent people in Georgetown, and I went of my own accord to call on the United States consul. This official was a German by birth, and he was engaged in making a collection of animals for the Zoological Garden of Frankfort-on-the-Main. His wife, a very pleasant woman, took a great deal of interest in his pursuits and devoted a large portion of her time to the care of the numerous pets, in the way of monkeys, dogs, cats, and squirrels, with which the house abounded.

Among the persons with whom I became acquainted was an officer belonging to a United States man-of-war which was lying in the harbor. This gentleman, hearing that I was one of a party of emigrants from the States, and was on my way back, supposed that I must be in destitute circumstances. He accordingly represented my case in such a way, on board his ship, that a considerable sum of money was raised for me, and the commander of the vessel called at the hotel to give it to me and to offer me such other aid as he was able to bestow. The consul, when he heard of this occurrence, was much annoyed that I had not informed him that I was in want of money, in order that he might have assisted me. I had some trouble in making these good gentlemen understand my real position. They were very indignant over the story I told with regard to the manner in which people in the Southern States had been deluded into emigrating to Venezuela and other portions of South America, and [they] promised to use their influence to check the schemes of such men as Johnston and Price.

Having expressed a desire to proceed on my journey northward, the consul introduced me to the captain of a vessel which was shortly to sail for Barbados, and I arranged with him for a passage. …

Like Venezuela, this portion of Demerara is very beautiful to the eye and is very rich in products of the soil. The palm trees grow to a great size and are useful in innumerable ways. The adobe, or mud huts of the poorer classes, are invariably thatched with palm leaves, interwoven with cane, and plastered with mud. This kind of a roof has merits, but it also has some disadvantages, not the least of which is that it affords an admirable habitation for ants, lizards, snakes, roaches, scorpions, and spiders of all colors and sizes. The people, however, do not appear to mind this vermin, and it has seemed to me that they rather enjoyed sharing their habitations with the venomous reptiles and insects. Of the fibers of the palm are made various kinds of cordage, nets, hammocks, lassos, mats, and many household conveniences.

There are a number of different kinds of cactus, some of which grow to a great height. The fruit of the scarlet variety is made into a kind of preserve, which is pleasant eating, resembling in flavor that made from the crab-apple. From this fruit, also, an agreeable drink is prepared, which is very refreshing.

From the candle tree, the natives at certain seasons extract the sap by making incisions in the bark. This sap, which is oily in its nature, is caught in earthen bowls, and after it solidifies, which it does very rapidly on being exposed to the air, is made into candles.

The milk tree is treated in the same manner. The juice, when it is first extracted, is thin and watery, like that of the grape vine. After standing for a short time, it thickens and becomes of the color of goat’s milk. When it is in this condition the natives drink it and are exceedingly fond of it. If permitted to stand a sufficient time, the milk solidifies to the consistency of thick jelly and then twists of cotton are dipped in it and are used for candles.

The guaca is a powerful antidote for poisons and is used to cure the wounds caused by the bite of snakes and insects. It is also said to be an antidote for the virus of a mad dog. The odor is very peculiar but not unpleasant.

The tamarind trees grow to a large size — their fruit greatly resembles the bean of the honey locust of the United States. The tamarind beans, when preserved, make a cooling beverage by being soaked in water, which is useful in the sick-chamber, especially in fever cases.

The pili is used for the manufacture of ropes, cordage, and sacks, and I think would make good paper. Of the divi, cart wheels are made. The nutmeg trees grow luxuriantly without cultivation. These are only a few of the vegetable products of Demerara, but they will suffice to give the reader a general idea with regard to the products of the soil.

The snakes of Demerara are of all sizes, kinds, and colors. One of the most curious is a small snake, which is spotted with twelve different colors — these are chiefly found lodged in the branches of the bamboo. They are said to be harmless — other varieties, however, are exceedingly venomous.

There is a species of red ant which builds its habitations up in the forks of the trees, where they look almost like the prairie dog villages of our western country. The houses are made of mud, which is collected into a ball, and then pushed up the tree by the insect with infinite labor.

The birds of Demerara are as numerous and as gorgeous in their plumage as those of Venezuela. The parrots of all kinds … abound in immense numbers. While I was at Georgetown, my friend Capt. M. shot at some parrots who were in a mango tree feeding on the fruit, and wounded one, which fell and lodged in the fork of two limbs, making such a pitiful cry that he had not the heart to shoot again. The mate of this wounded bird attended to its wants with infinite care, bringing it food and water for several days, until it died. The last day water was brought every hour, and when at length the sick bird died, the mate uttered a most human-like cry of sorrow and despair. The parrots of all kinds go in couples, and like the pigeons they migrate in the rainy season.

The humming-birds appear to be quite as numerous, while there are even more varieties of them than there are of the parrots. They are beautiful little creatures, and I never became tired of watching their motions. Like the parrots, these tiny birds seemed to be gifted with extraordinary intelligence.

My vessel being at length ready, I sailed for Barbados, by way of Trinidad. The weather was very rough for a couple of days, and … I was terribly seasick. I however recovered before we reached Port Spain, and having a tremendous appetite, I made sad havoc between meals with the captain’s sweetmeats, sardines, and crackers. He was a whole-souled, jolly sort of a man, who, in consideration of my being his only lady passenger, paid me particular attention and placed his private larder at my disposal.

When we reached Port Spain, the chief town of the Island of Trinidad, the captain said that we would have to remain there about eight hours, and that I and the other passengers had better step ashore and see the place. We accordingly strolled about the town until it was time for the vessel to leave but were not impressed with its beauty. It was a very dingy-looking settlement, with a very ragged and dirty native population. There were a few Englishmen, but the majority of the people were negroes or half-breeds, whose habitations were disgustingly dirty and squalid.

I was not sorry to get away from Port Spain, although if there had been time I would have taken pleasure in exploring the interior of Trinidad, and especially in visiting the famous pitch lake, in the south-western portion of the island.

A quick run brought us to Bridgetown, Barbados, where I felt at home, having visited the place on blockade-running business during the war and having a number of acquaintances residing there, who, I anticipated, would be glad to see me for the sake of old times. I was not disappointed, for, on taking up my quarters at the Prince Albert Hotel, I soon fell in with friends who welcomed me as heartily as I could have desired, and who exerted themselves to make my visit in all respects a most enjoyable one.

The day after my arrival, Capt. P. of Liverpool came with a handsome carriage and pair and invited me to drive out with him and some other friends on a tour of inspection of the points of interest on the island. We went first to the barracks to see a drill of the British troops stationed there and afterwards drove to Speightstown, over a broad road lined with coconut trees, which presented a truly magnificent appearance. These graceful trees are extensively used in Barbados for dividing the farms instead of fences or hedges, and the use which is made of them adds greatly to the attractiveness of the landscape. On our way, we stopped at two dairy farms, and I obtained some good buttermilk, a beverage of which I am very fond. My companions, however, did not take kindly to it, and in true British fashion quenched their thirst with ale and beer. This trip to the interior was a delightful one in every respect, the country being very beautiful, and I enjoyed it greatly — more, perhaps, than I otherwise would, on account of having just made a sea voyage. …

I said goodbye to my Barbados friends with real regret, for they had been most kind to me and had fairly overwhelmed me with their attentions.

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

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

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

From Dec. 2014: “Don’t ever let celebrities tell you they were never happy to win an award. The Oscars alone bring men to tears. The history trade isn’t nearly as glamorous.”

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

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

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

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

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

From June 2014: “I can say that I survived my first review. It neither made nor ruined my day.”

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

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”

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