Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Versace is back / Women in tech / The history of life after death / The reality of Jack Ruby / Trump and Castro’s Cuba / Puerto Rico still crippled after Maria

This week: Versace is back / Women in tech / The history of life after death / The reality of Jack Ruby / Trump and Castro’s Cuba / Puerto Rico still crippled after Maria

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. Easter Island Is Eroding
By Nicholas Casey and Josh Haner | The New York Times | March 2018
“Centuries ago, Easter Island’s civilization collapsed, but the statues left behind here are a reminder of how powerful it must have been. And now, many of the remains of that civilization may be erased, the United Nations warns, by the rising sea levels rapidly eroding Easter Island’s coasts.”

2. How women got squeezed out of tech
By Manuela Saragosa | BBC World Service | March 2018
“Women dominated the early days of programming — so how did men take over, and what can be done to balance things out again?”

3. Versace: the resurrection
By Luke Leitch | 1843 :: The Economist | April/May 2018
“Twenty-one years after her brother’s murder, Donatella Versace has revived the family brand. She tells Luke Leitch about her journey from the darkness to the light”

4. The Last Days of Jerry Brown
By Andy Kroll | California Sunday Magazine | March 2018
“After more than 40 years in public life, 15 as governor of California, he is as combative and contradictory as ever – and still trying to save the world from itself.”

5. Fine Specimens
By David S. Reynolds | The New York Review of Books | March 2018
“Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century had no sure prospect of resting in peace after death. If their bodies weren’t embalmed for public viewing or dug up for medical dissection, their bones were liable to be displayed in a museum. In some cases, their skin was used as book covers by bibliophiles and surgeons with a taste for human-hide binding.”

6. What 11 Female Authors Read When They’re Fed Up
By Madison Feller | Shondaland | March 2018
“Tayari Jones, Terese Marie Mailhot, and nine other women writers share the books that keep them keepin’ on.”

7. Who Was Jack Ruby?
By Gary Cartwright | Texas Monthly | November 1975
“How a small-time joint operator ushering in America’s age of violence.”

8. Up in smoke: should an author’s dying wishes be obeyed?
By Blake Morrison | The Guardian | March 2018
“Harper Lee never wanted Go Set a Watchman brought out, Sylvia Plath’s diary was burned by Ted Hughes — the controversial world of literary legacies.”

9. As Castro prepares to leave office, Trump’s Cuba policy is a road to nowhere
By Jon Lee Anderson | The New Yorker | March 2018
“Trump’s use of the bully pulpit to upbraid the island for its failings seems as hypocritical as it is counterproductive.”

10. 6 months after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico pleads for help
By Danica Coto | Associated Press | March 2018
“As the six-month anniversary of the Category 4 storm approaches, only a fraction of the $23 billion in congressionally approved funds has actually been spent in Puerto Rico. In February, a $4.7 billion loan approved last year for Texas, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico was reduced by the U.S. Treasury Department to $2 billion for Puerto Rico, none of which has been disbursed.”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: The Mexican War returns / Trump-era patriarchy / A writer’s advice for life / Bob Dylan’s thoughts / Marilyn Monroe and WWII ‘drones’

This week: The Mexican War returns / Trump-era patriarchy / A writer’s advice for life / Bob Dylan’s thoughts / Marilyn Monroe and WWII ‘drones’

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. Will Mexico Get Half of Its Territory Back?
By Enrique Krauze | The New York Times | April 6
“The United States invasion of Mexico in 1846 inflicted a painful wound that, in the 170 years that followed, turned into a scar. Donald Trump has torn it open again. Among the many lies that he has constructed, none is more ridiculous than his attempt to contradict history by presenting the United States as a victim of Mexico. …”

2. Hillary Clinton: misogyny ‘certainly’ played a role in 2016 election loss
By Amber Jamieson | The Guardian | April 6
“In first post-election interview, former Democratic presidential candidate calls for US intervention in Syria and a ‘patriotic’ investigation into Russia”

3. Trump’s Patriarchal Counter-Revolution
By Jeet Heer | The New Republic | April 3
“Sexism is making a comeback under the president and his heavily male administration, sparking a renewed war over gender equality.”

4. Life Advice From Adrienne Rich
By Emily Temple | LitHub | March 2017
“Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work. It means that you do not treat your body as a commodity with which to purchase superficial intimacy or economic security; for our bodies to be treated as objects, our minds are in mortal danger. It means insisting that those to whom you give your friendship and love are able to respect your mind. ”

5. Q&A with Bill Flanagan
By Bob Dylan and Bill Flanagan | BobDylan.com | March 2017
“These songs are some of the most heartbreaking stuff ever put on record and I wanted to do them justice. Now that I have lived them and lived through them I understand them better. They take you out of that mainstream grind where you’re trapped between differences which might seem different but are essentially the same. Modern music and songs are so institutionalized that you don’t realize it. These songs are cold and clear-sighted, there is a direct realism in them, faith in ordinary life just like in early rock and roll.”

6. These sex addicts can’t stop swiping right on Tinder
By Melkorka Licea | The New York Post | April 2
“Unsurprisingly, many of these hook-ups feel more like cold business transactions than meaningful connections with fellow humans. … But it’s the dependence on one-night-stands that can lead to obsessive behavior, depression, and issues maintaining real connections, therapists believe.”

7. Save All
By Jaeah Lee | The California Sunday Magazine | March 2017
“Archiving the Internet in the Trump Era”

8. The power thinker
By Colin Koopman | Aeon | March 15
“Original, painstaking, sometimes frustrating and often dazzling. Foucault’s work on power matters now more than ever.”

9. There is no such thing as western civilisation
By Kwame Anthony Appiah | The Guardian | November 2016
“The values of liberty, tolerance and rational inquiry are not the birthright of a single culture. In fact, the very notion of something called ‘western culture’ is a modern invention”

10. Marilyn Monroe’s World War II Drone Program
By Michael Beschloss | HistorySource :: The New York Times | June 2014
“Working 10 hours a day for $20 a week in a World War II defense plant 70 years ago was 18-year-old Norma Jeane Dougherty, wife of a young United States merchant seaman assigned overseas.”

My grand strategy

Today I turned 43. In these later years, I perceive a small but steadily growing pool of wisdom fueling a clear philosophical perspective on the increasingly complex calculus of my life.

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Today I turned 43.

The number doesn’t bother me. When I look back on my past accomplishments, both professional and academic, both modest and respectable, I’m comfortably reminded that I’ve always been a late bloomer. The great triumphs — comparatively great — always came right the end of each chapter of my life, just when the time came for me to move on and start over somewhere else. Perhaps for someone like me, with my ambitions, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Every day begins with two thoughts: “There’s still a little time left. Relax.” and “Pretend this is your last day on earth because one day it will be. Work faster.” I stagger through the days wavering between those two sentiments.

At the end of 2014, I completed a master’s degree in U.S. history at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), topped off with a 190-page thesis — the cherry on the sundae. I never had so much fun — ask the people who know me … “fun” is not a word they ever expect me to use. During that last half of 2014, I attracted the attention of UTSA’s Communications office, which sent a reporter to profile me, perhaps to hold me up as an example to others, perhaps to highlight the interesting and intelligent people enriching and enriched by the UTSA’s wonderful History Department. Perhaps it was just my turn. Nevertheless, I was flattered and honored. I shamelessly shared it throughout social media, as I am now. “We are all very proud of you,” one of my beloved professors wrote me. My heart burst with teary pride — the rarest of my few expressed emotions.

The best part of the article came right at the beginning. The first paragraph captured the grand strategy I set out for my life: “At an early age, [Ortiz] charted the life he wanted to lead: journalist, academic scholar and author.” At some point in my twenties — not sure when, exactly, but probably as I began to seriously study history and biography — I determined to approach life with a larger consideration: “How will I be remembered?” I knew enough to know that a great legacy was constructed with small pieces, carried one small step at a time, and sometimes at first only imperfectly constructed. I held close to my heart a few simple rules. Never turn away from a challenge. Never shrink away from leaping out of your comfort zone into unknown terrain. Never decline the opportunity to fail. Never fail to learn from those failures. All are easy to say and painfully difficult to follow.

In early 2015, I was honored when Dr. Catherine Clinton, a leading Civil War scholar, asked me to assist her with some special research for a few months. Just as that ended, I was honored yet again with an offer to actually teach U.S. history to college undergraduates at Northwest Vista College and then again at UTSA in 2016. Solitary research and writing — annotated bibliographies, briefing memos, etc. — is ideal for someone as shy as me. Teaching and discussing U.S. history with 70 to 80 young men and women is not. I stood in those classrooms and wondered how I could teach these young men and women. My comfort zone was nowhere in sight. Nevertheless, I knew when I accepted the challenge that I was undertaking the most difficult and the most important job of my life. Perhaps someday I might actually be good at it (though student applause is always reassuring). These are a few of those crucial pieces of the larger something I am trying to build, just as the men and women who came before me struggled to build their own lives, faced down their challenges and fears, and took one more step forward.

My Peruvian great-grandfather was prosperous fisherman who owned a fishing fleet. His son, my grandfather, was an Army general and special forces commander. His son, my father, is a physician. My father’s son — me — is … what? I was blessed with generous, loving, and supportive parents, who always pushed my brother and me to succeed. They trusted us to find our own way within their explicit expectations. It was assumed that we would become productive and honorable men as we kept in mind who built the comfortable world we inhabited. My interests guided me toward history, literature, and psychology. My mind naturally blossomed as historical concepts, literary theory, psychopathology, and the hourly drama of news cycles all caressed, molded, and ignited my growing intellect and imagination. But I realized that some kind of structure was needed. Simply wandering through my interests was not enough — it all had to amount to something in the end, something my descendants would look back on and admire … and perhaps emulate.

In some small way, this blog is an expression of that grand strategy. I’ve written about and shared with my readers my love of podcasts and photography, of the Civil War and fiction writing. I’ve shared with them a plethora of strange stories and documentaries, thoughts about Hemingway, rum cakes, books, and TR. They’ve experienced my passion for “Miami Vice”, Elvis, a Louisiana woman fleeing Union invasion during the Civil War, and a Cuban woman who disguised herself as a man and savored every moment of that same brutal war. Each piece fits into the larger plan.

In these later years, I perceive a small but steadily growing pool of wisdom fueling a clear philosophical perspective on the increasingly complex calculus of my life. Every failure becomes simply the moment when a fresh opportunity is revealed to me. Every hard-earned success merely offers a better vantage point on the harsh terrain ahead. As I move into this new year, from my new vantage point I can take in a horridly-jagged landscape stretching out before my eyes, seemingly endless, on into the horizon. But that far-off horizon is gleaming. The shimmering edges are only now in sight, the barely-perceptible glitter drawing me forward, igniting the ambition filling my heart, and steeling my spirit for the disappointments, setbacks, wrong turns, and frustrations darkening the journey.

My grand strategy, glowing in my soul, burned into my mind, never leaves me. The sweet promise of a final victory — a life well-lived — is my last thought as sleep and dreams wrap their arms around me and carry me away into the silent night.

Kate Stone’s Civil War: At home again

Stone finally achieves her dream of returning to Brokenburn. But what she tries to reclaim no longer exists. War remade her into a woman who can no longer exist in a plantation world.

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From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

Stone finally achieves her dream of returning to Brokenburn. But what she tries to reclaim no longer exists. War remade her into a woman who can no longer exist in a plantation world.

Nov. 16, 1865

Brokenburn

At home again but so many, many changes in two years. It does not seem the same place. The bare echoing rooms, the neglect and defacement of all — though the place is in better repair than most and the stately oaks and the green grass make it look pleasant and cheerful, though gardens, orchards, and fences are mostly swept away. But if the loved ones who passed through its doors could be with us again, we might be happy yet. But never, never, never more echoes back to our hearts like a funeral knell at every thought of the happy past. We must bear our losses as best we can. Nothing is left but to endure. …

Mamma and Johnny went yesterday to Vicksburg. Mamma hopes to make arrangements for planting next year and will buy indispensable housekeeping articles and replenish our wardrobes, now sadly in need, if she can get the money.

We have by dint of much scrubbing and little furniture made the east room habitable. Mamma, Sister, and I occupy that. So vividly it brings back the memory of dear Aunt Laura and little Beverly that I start at the slightest noise and almost fancy I can see them. Jimmy joined us at Shreveport and brought the intelligence of little Elise’s death, poor, frail little flower. No one could look at her tiny white face and fancy her long for the world. She was a dear good baby.

How still and lifeless everything seems. How I fear that the life at Tyler has spoiled us for plantation life. Everything seems sadly out of time. But no thoughts like these. We must be brave, and to give way to the “blues” now is cowardly. … We think we shall be able to pick up enough of our furniture scattered through the country to make two or three rooms habitable and that must suffice us until better. …

Kate Stone’s Civil War: Our pleasant Tyler life

Stone faces the moment she has waited so long for: the return to Brokenburn. And yet, she realizes her time in Texas may be among the best years of her life.

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From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

Stone faces the moment she has waited so long for: the return to Brokenburn. And yet, she realizes her time in Texas may be among the best years of her life.

Sept. 3, 1865

Tyler, Texas

Just rested after our long, warm walk to church. Mollie and I appeared in all the glories of new caps and bodices, and pretty they are. We think the caps would please the most exacting milliner and Olympia would be charmed with my velvet waist. Mamma and I have worked untiringly to finish them in time, and our labors were only completed at nine last night. We never worked harder in our lives, but the combination of white silk, velvet, and embroidery meets with unqualified approval. Mamma fashioned our caps after we made the braids, and I embroidered both waists, mine in bunches of blue flowers and Mollie’s in pale pink roses. They are beauties.

September is here but My Brother still tarries. Mamma is so impatient to be off that she will not wait many more days on him. She wishes to start everything to the prairie next Thursday, and so our pleasant Tyler life will be broken up forever and a day. I fear we will look back to this last year of our life in Texas with regret. The happiest year of my life. …

2014 in review

Thank you for making 2014 the best year ever. Read the year-end WordPress graphical roundup.

Thank you so much for making 2014 Stillness of Heart‘s best year ever.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Step by step

One step at a time. That’s all I have to believe in.

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Slowly but surely, I’m building a full and rich life.

I have to believe that. Maybe happiness comes later.

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

Bush’s storms loom over Obamaland / Heroin labeled ‘Obamacare’ / Life lessons from Pinterest / The Civil War in Florida / A new exomoon

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This week: Bush’s storms loom over Obamaland / Heroin labeled ‘Obamacare’ / Life lessons from Pinterest / The Civil War in Florida / A new exomoon

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

1. Echoes of George W. Bush blues in Barack Obama’s 2nd term
By Alex Isenstadt and Carrie Budoff Brown | Politico | Dec. 19
“They’re two presidents dogged by crises largely of their own making, whose welcome with Americans has worn thin after two marathon elections.”

2. Dick Cheney in Nixonland
By Jon Wiener | The Nation | Dec. 19
“When our most hated vice president visits the library of our most disgraced president, you look forward to a good night.”

3. Found heroin labeled ‘Obamacare’
By Lucy McCalmont | Politico | Dec. 20
“This probably isn’t the Obamacare PR push the White House had in mind.”

4. Important Life Lessons From Pinterest’s Top Pins of 2013
By Erin Gloria Ryan | Jezebel | Dec. 19
Pinterest is to physically impossible crafts, recipes, and photographs for the homebound and quixotic what Cosmo is to physically impossible sex positions for the recently deflowered.”

5. Florida’s Cattle Wars
By Phil Leigh | Disunion :: The New York Times | Dec. 19
“[T]he Confederacy increasingly looked to a seemingly unlikely source, Florida, as a source of beef for its armies.”

6. Our Thirteen Most-Read Blog Posts of 2013
By Nicholas Thompson | The News Desk :: The New Yorker | Dec. 12
“There’s a certain randomness, or at least unpredictability, to Web traffic. You’re never absolutely certain that a blog post will take off until it does.”

7. How Diplomacy Helped Cause an F-18 Crash
By Dan Lamothe | The Complex :: Foreign Policy | Dec. 19
“[A] series of miscommunications and judgment mistakes … ultimately forced the $60 million fighter — call sign ‘Victory 206’ — into the North Arabian Sea.”

8. Astronomers may have found the first-ever exomoon seen by humans
By James Plafke | Geek.com | Dec. 18
“The planet and moon, located 1,800 light years from Earth, are around four times the mass of Jupiter, and half the mass of Earth, respectively.”

9. Auld Lang Syne NYE tradition thanks to cigar firm
The Scotsman | Dec. 19
“Guy Lombardo, a bandleader who was nicknamed America’s Mr New Year’s Eve, was searching for a song to bridge a gap between radio broadcasts.”

10. Afraid to spend money: The psychological trauma of long-term unemployment
By Adriene Hill | Marketplace Your Money | May 2013
“How do you take control of your finances when, after six years of under- and un-employment, you suddenly have a job?”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

How to pack / Voyager 1 / 9/11 myths / Iowa’s ad wars / Thatcher’s 1981 crisis

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism. Read past recommendations from this series here.

1. Guapura 101: How to pack for a long trip
By Sara Ines Calderon | NewsTaco | Dec. 26
“Many of us are either currently on a vacation, or will be taking one soon, and so I thought it would be a good opportunity to share a tip that I learned a few years ago that has made packing much easier.”

2. Iowa ad war: late starting but nasty
By Beth Fouhy | Associated Press | Dec. 29
“At least $12.5 million and counting has blanketed the airwaves ahead of next Tuesday’s Republican presidential caucuses, with hard-hitting commercials awash in ghoulish images and startling claims. Most are coming from a proliferation of new independent groups aligned with the candidates.”

3. Newly released files detail Thatcher’s 1981 crisis
By David Stringer | Associated Press | Dec. 29
“Official records for 1981 released by the National Archives depict a prime minister grappling with violent dissent, rising tensions in Northern Ireland and sharp criticism from her own allies. The papers were being made public just five days before the London premiere of ‘The Iron Lady,’ the film about Thatcher’s career starring Meryl Streep.”

4. Voyager 1 Speeds Toward The Brink Of Interstellar Space
By Bill Chappell | The Two-Way :: NPR | Dec. 28
“The craft is currently in what NASA calls, not undramatically, ‘the boundary between the solar wind from the Sun and the interstellar wind from death-explosions of other stars,’ an area that astrophysicists also call, less dramatically, a stagnation layer.”

5. Baby Bird Alert
By C. Claiborne Ray | Q&A :: The New York Times | July 2009
“When you find a baby bird on the ground, what should you do to rescue it?”

6. How to Stop a Multinational
By Rodrigo Vazquez | Activate :: Al Jazeera | October 2011
“Three Argentinians put themselves in harm’s way as they try to stop a gold mining company destroying their environment.”

7. DWI Versus DW-High
By Brian Palmer | Explainer :: Slate | Nov. 30
“Is it more dangerous to drive drunk or stoned?”

8. Five myths about 9/11
By Brian Michael Jenkins | Five Myths :: The Washington Post | Sept. 2
“We all remember where we were on Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaeda launched its horrific attacks on the United States. In the decade since, no number of commissions, books, films and reports has been able to end the misconceptions about what 9/11 meant, America’s response to it and the nature of the ongoing threat.”

9. Civil War women: Olivia Clemens
Civil War Women Blog | Nov. 14
“Olivia Langdon Clemens was the wife of the famous American author Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, and was a major influence on his writing.”

10. Italian Bombing of Libya – 1911
Witness :: BBC News | May 10
“A young Italian flyer describes in a letter home how he mounted the world’s first ever aerial bombing run during an attack on Ottoman forces in Libya, in 1911.”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

Cold War myths / Classics’ future / Talking to yourself / Boozy writing / Gossipy grandma

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism. Read past recommendations from this series here.

1. In 2012 race, both sides seek middle-class voters
By Erica Werner | Associated Press | Dec. 24
“Fighting to win over unhappy American voters, President Barack Obama and his Republican challengers are seizing on one of the most potent issues this election season: the struggling middle class and the widening gap between rich and poor.”

2. The Forgotten Cold War: 20 Years Later, Myths About U.S. Victory Persist
By Leslie H. Gelb | The Daily Beast | Dec. 23
“This month is the 20th anniversary of its end, but few remember how it dominated our lives. What does stick in people’s heads, writes Leslie H. Gelb, is wrong — that Reagan won the war with big military spending and toughness.”

3. Do the Classics Have a Future?
By Mary Beard | The New York Review of Books | January 2012
“[H]ow do we make the ancient world make sense to us? How do we translate it?”

4. For Joplin, a Love Letter in Ruins
By A.G. Sulzberger | The New York Times | Dec. 25
“The reason this house has so far survived the wrecking ball can be found scribbled on its walls, on its floorboards, in its closets and along virtually every other remaining surface. They are personal messages, thousands of them, handwritten by the volunteers who flooded the community to help sift through and cart out the debris.”

5. Thinking Out Loud
By C. Claiborne Ray | Q&A :: The New York Times | September 2009
“Why do ‘normal’ people talk to themselves?”

6. Barcode Scanning Apps
By J.D. Biersdorfer | Gadgetwise :: The New York Times | Nov. 16
“Once scanned, most apps present a list of places and prices the scanned item can be found, which makes comparison-shopping even easier on the go.”

7. The Dreamers
By Amie Williams | Activate :: Al Jazeera | September 2011
“Roughly two million young people in the US are unaware that they are classified as illegal immigrants.”

8. Does Alcohol Improve Your Writing?
By Brian Palmer | Explainer :: Slate | Dec. 16
“Putting Hitch’s theory to the test.”

9. I can’t get along with my grandma, who loves to gossip, criticize
Troubleshooter :: The Yomiuri Shimbun | Dec. 16
“When we all sit down for dinner, she loves to gossip and speak ill of people, talking about how much money they have or their level of education.”

10. Isherwood in Berlin
Witness :: BBC News | March 18
“The English author Christopher Isherwood lived in Berlin throughout the 1930s. His vision of the city has been linked with the German capital ever since.”