Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: A message from our neighboring star? / The history of Wikipedia / No corset craze / Too much sperm / Causes of the U.S. Civil War

This week: A message from our neighboring star? / The history of Wikipedia / No corset craze / Too much sperm / Causes of the U.S. Civil War

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. Learn more about my academic background here.

1. A post-America world: Biden’s challenges begin at home
The World :: PRI | January 2021
“A majority of Europeans think the United States’ political system is broken beyond repair — and that President Joe Biden will be unable to halt the country’s decline on the world stage as China fills the power void.”

2. Did We Receive a Message from a Planet Orbiting the Nearest Star?
By Avi Loeb | Scientific American | January 2021
“A radio blip, seemingly from Proxima Centauri, where an Earth-size planet world orbits in the habitable zone, is tantalizing—but it’s probably not a signal from aliens”

3. An Oral History of Wikipedia, the Web’s Encyclopedia
By Tom Roston | OneZero :: Medium | January 2021
“It’s hard to imagine the internet without Wikipedia. Just like the air we breathe, the definitive digital encyclopedia is the default resource for everything and everyone — from Google’s search bar to undergrad students embarking on research papers.”

4. Why ‘Bridgerton’ won’t start a craze for corsets
By Luke Leitch | 1843 :: The Economist | January 2021
“Netflix hits are praised for their styling. But the screen no longer dictates how we dress”

5. Disused airport runway takes flight as public park
By Adam Williams | New Atlas | January 2021
“Sasaki has transformed a dilapidated airport runway in Shanghai, China, into a large public park. The project retains elements of the original airport, while integrating sustainable design like recycled materials and a rainwater collection system.”

6. The Sperm Kings Have a Problem: Too Much Demand
By Nellie Bowles | The New York Times Magazine | January 2021
“Many people want a pandemic baby, but some sperm banks are running low. So women are joining unregulated Facebook groups to find willing donors, no middleman required.”

7. Will children be able to get COVID-19 vaccines?
Associated Press | December 2020
“Not until there’s enough data from studies in different age groups, which will stretch well into [2021].”

8. Inside the Indian Independence Movement
By Christopher Rose, Joan Neuberger and Henry Wiencek | 15 Minute History :: UT Department of History | 2013-2020
Also see: Mexican Migration to the U.S. | Causes of the U.S. Civil War (Part 1) | Causes of the U.S. Civil War (Part 2) | Reconstruction

9. How to Find a Lost Hamster
By Malia Wollan | Tip :: The New York Times Magazine | November 2020
“Check small, dark spaces, like under the fridge, beneath a dresser, between couch cushions, even inside a box of tissues.”

10. Solar Wind
By Melvyn Bragg | In Our Time :: BBC 4 | 2013-2020
Also see: Water | Alfred Russel Wallace | Chekhov | Absolute Zero

Loreta’s Civil War: The desolation of the great city

Velazquez tours Richmond, the Carolinas, and New Orleans. The scale of destruction horrifies her.

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 57: Velazquez tours Richmond, the Carolinas, and New Orleans. The scale of destruction horrifies her.

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Finding that there was nothing to be done in Washington, I went on to Richmond, where I took up my quarters at the Exchange Hotel. The news of my arrival soon spread around, and I received ample attentions from many old Confederate friends who seemed disposed to treat me with all possible kindness.

The Richmond I beheld, however, was a very different place from the beautiful city I had visited for the first time in the summer of 1861, just before the Battle of Bull Run. A four years’ siege, ending in a fire which had consumed a large portion of the city, had destroyed its beauty as well as its prosperity, while the inhabitants wore such forlorn faces that I felt sick at heart at beholding them.

I hastened away, therefore, and passed through Charlotte, N.C., and Columbia, S.C., where the same dismal changes were visible. Charleston was badly battered and burned but was not in quite as bad a plight as the other places named. The finest portion of the city was destroyed, however, and it looked very desolate.

I went to the Charleston Hotel, where I met an old friend from Columbia, who invited me to accompany him and some others on an excursion. His married daughter and several intimate acquaintances, who were of the party, were introduced to me, among them a Yankee captain, who had married a fair daughter of South Carolina, who, with all her relatives, were strong secessionists.

This officer attached himself particularly to me and urged me to give my views about the war and the present condition of affairs in the way of an argument with him. We accordingly had a very animated conversation for some time, and he was obliged, finally, to retire from the contest, saying that he could not quarrel with me as I was a lady, and, moreover, had everybody on my side. I did not think him a very brilliant genius, but he was quite a good fellow in his way, and to show that there were no hard feelings between us, we shook hands and declared ourselves friends.

The next day one of the officers had the audacity to call on me simply out of curiosity. He had heard about my serving in the Confederate army in male attire, and he wished to see what kind of a looking woman I was. I thought it a rather impudent proceeding but concluded to gratify him. I accordingly walked into the drawing-room where he was, and after some little conversation, which was conducted with considerable coolness on my side, he invited me to take a ride with him.

I was astounded that he should make such a proposition, knowing who I was and I being where I was, surrounded by the friends of the cause I had served, while he, of course, expected to figure in his Federal uniform by my side.

I scarcely knew what to say but finally told him that I could not go, as I had an engagement. This, however, was a mere pretense and was intended to gain time for consultation with my friends. Some of these, however, suggested that I should accept the invitation and give him a genuine specimen of my abilities as a horsewoman.

I accordingly went to every livery stable in the city until I at length found a very swift horse that I thought would suit my purpose. This being secured, I wrote a challenge for him to ride a race with me. We were to ride down the main street. He, without being aware of what was on foot, accepted, and the next afternoon, therefore, we mounted our steeds and started. When we arrived at the appointed place, I said, “Let us show these people what good equestrians we are.”

He gave his horse a lash, but I reined mine in, telling him that I would give him twenty feet. When he had this distance, I gave my steed a cut with the whip and flew past my cavalier like the wind, saying, loud enough for everyone to hear me, “This is the way we caught you at Blackburn’s Ford and Bull Run.”

This was enough for him, and, turning his horse, he rode back to the hotel to find that a large party there [was] interested in the race and that there were some heavy bets on the result, the odds being all against him. This gentleman, apparently, did not desire to continue his acquaintance with me, for I saw no more of him.

A few days after this occurrence I said farewell to my Charleston friends and went to Atlanta, where I was very warmly received. The surgeons who had been attached to the hospital and many others called, and a disposition to show me every attention was manifested on all sides.

The Federal Gen. Wallace and his staff were stopping at the same hotel as myself, as was also Capt. B., one of the officers whom I had met in Washington and whom I had used for the purpose of getting acquainted and of furthering my plans in that city. I met this gentleman in the hall and passed friendly greetings with him, and shortly after he came into the parlor for the purpose of having a friendly chat. The captain, up to this time, had never suspected in the least that I was not and had not been an adherent of the Federal cause, and not supposing that I had any special interest in the war, our conversation turned chiefly upon other topics. I knew that he must shortly be undeceived, but I did not care to tell him about the part I had taken in the contest or the advantages I had taken of his acquaintance with me.

While we were talking. Confederate Gen. G.T. Anderson came in and called me “lieutenant.” The astonishment of the captain was ludicrous. He could not understand what the general meant at first and thought it was a joke. The truth, however, came out at last, and he learned not only that I was a rebel, but that when I met him in Washington I was endeavoring to gain information for the Confederates.

The captain, being somewhat bewildered, took his departure soon after, and at the invitation of Gen. Anderson I went out to visit the entrenchments. “When we got back, I found that Gen. Wallace had been informed as to who I was and that he was anxious to see me. I said that I would be very glad to meet him, and the general and a number of his officers accordingly came into the parlor to see me. Gen. Wallace was very pleasant, and, as we shook hands, he complimented me with much heartiness upon having played a difficult part so long and so well, and with having distinguished myself by my valor. I thanked him very sincerely for his good opinion of me and then fell into a lively conversation with him and his officers.

One of the officers asked me to ride with him but I begged to be excused, as I did not think it would look well, especially in Atlanta, where everybody knew me, to be seen riding out with an escort wearing a Federal uniform. He understood and appreciated my feelings on the subject and said no more about it.

The next evening I started for New Orleans and passed over a good deal of my old campaigning ground before I reached my destination.

My journey through the South had disclosed a pitiable state of things. The men of intellect and the true representatives of Southern interests were disfranchised and impoverished, while the management of affairs was in the hands of ignorant negroes just relieved from slavery and white “carpetbaggers,” who had come to prey upon the desolation of the country. On every side were ruin and poverty, on every side disgust of the present and despair of the future. The people, many of them, absolutely did not know what to do, and it is no wonder that at this dismal time certain ill-advised emigration schemes found countenance with those who saw no hope for themselves or their children but either to go out of the country, or to remove so far away from their old homes that they would be able to start life anew under better auspices than were then possible within the limits of the late Confederacy.

New Orleans, once a great, wealthy, and populous city, was in a pitiful plight. The pedestal of [Andrew] Jackson’s statue in the public square was disfigured by inscriptions such as those who erected it never intended should go there, which were cut during the occupancy of the Federal army, while the once pretty flower-beds were now nothing but masses of weeds and dead stalks.

Along the levee, matters were even worse. Instead of forests of masts or the innumerable chimneys of the steamboats, belching forth volumes of smoke, or huge barricades of cotton, sugar, and other produce, or thousands of drays, carts, and other vehicles such as thronged the levee in olden times, the wharves were now silent and served merely as promenades for motley groups of poor men, women, and children who looked as if they did not know where the next meal was to come from.

The desolation of the great city sickened me, and I was the more indignant at what I saw, for I knew that this general prostration of business and impoverishment of all classes was not one of the legitimate results of warfare but that ambitious and unscrupulous politicians were making use of the forlorn condition of the South for the furtherance of their own bad ends.

I longed to quit the scene of so much misery and fully sympathized with those who preferred to fly from the country of their birth and to seek homes in other lands rather than to remain and be victimized, as they were being, by the wretches who had usurped all control of the affairs of the late rebel states.

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: The truth of ‘Westworld’ / U.S. interference with other democracies / Einstein’s first wife / A new era of Reconstruction / James Buchanan’s presidential transition

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This week: The truth of ‘Westworld’ / U.S. interference with other democracies / Einstein’s first wife / A new era of Reconstruction / James Buchanan’s presidential transition

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. Trump names Conway counselor to president
By Brooke Seipel | The Hill | Dec. 22
“Conway will continue her role as a close adviser to Trump, working with senior leadership to further the his administration’s goals.”

2. Does ‘Westworld’ tell a truer story than a novel can?
By Stuart Kelly | The Guardian | Dec. 20
“The conventions of prose fiction are bound up with an understanding of life that feels more and more outdated — not so with this box-set drama”

3. The U.S. has a long history of hacking other democracies
By Mariya Y. Omelicheva, Ryan Beasley and Christian Crandall | Monkey Cage :: The Washington Post | Dec. 20
“We examined unclassified Central Intelligence Agency documents and historical academic research on U.S. interventions to identify 27 U.S. clandestine operations carried out between 1949 and 2000. Most U.S. ‘secret wars’ were against other democratic states.”

4. Russia Missing from Trump’s Top Defense Priorities, According to DoD Memo
By John Hudson, Paul McLeary, and Dan De Luce | Foreign Policy | Dec. 20
“Besides placing an emphasis on budgetary issues, ‘force strength,’ and counterterrorism in Iraq and Syria, the memo noted other briefings between the Defense Department and the Trump transition team on China and North Korea. But Russia was not mentioned.”

5. We are witnessing the birth pangs of a Third Reconstruction
By the Rev. William J. Barber II | ThinkProgress | Dec. 15
“We need a moral movement to revive the heart of American democracy and build a Third Reconstruction for our time. This work is not easy, and it will not be completed quickly. But we know what is required to move forward together.”

6. Harmony Amidst Division: The Cabinet of James Buchanan
By Rick Allen | Muster :: Journal of the Civil War Era | Dec. 17
“History never specifically repeats itself, but there are parallels between 1856, 1860, and 2016. As we, like Buchanan and Lincoln, transition from one era in our national history to another, let us remember the only way to achieve true success requires the inclusiveness of both people and ideas.”

7. Analysis: On transgender Texans and bathrooms, a call to stay calm
By Ross Ramsey | The Texas Tribune | Dec. 19
“Some Texas lawmakers were in a hurry to require transgender Texans to use the restrooms that match the genders listed on their birth certificates. But the policy and politics are complicated enough to prompt the governor to tap the brakes.”

8. The Making of an American Terrorist
By Amanda Robb | New Republic | Dec. 15
“Robert Dear shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic and killed three people. Did the right-wing media help turn a disturbed loner into a mass murderer?”

9. The Forgotten Life of Einstein’s First Wife
By Pauline Gagnon | Scientific American | Dec. 19
“She was a physicist, too — and there is evidence that she contributed significantly to his groundbreaking science”

10. The President Attends the World Series
By Michael Beschloss | HistorySource :: The New York Times | October 2014
“Herbert Hoover’s surprise appearance at Game 5 of the Philadelphia Athletics vs. the Cubs in Philadelphia, in October 1929, was one of the last happy moments of his presidency, occurring two weeks before the stock market collapse that ushered in the Great Depression.”

Kate Stone’s Civil War: I was young again

Stone’s last three entries in her diary are from September 1867 and 1868. They form a somber epilogue to her chaotic journey. They capture a bitter reflection of a shattered Southern slaveholding society, adrift, confused, and afraid of a world in which they no longer rule.

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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’s last three entries in her diary are from September 1867 and 1868. They form a somber epilogue to her chaotic Civil War journey. They capture a bitter reflection of a shattered Southern slaveholding society, adrift, confused, and afraid of a world in which they no longer rule.

Read her first entry in this series here.

Sept. 22, 1867

Brokenburn

A long silence and a year of hard endeavor to raise a crop, reconstruct the place with the problem of hired labor, high water, and cotton worms. Mamma had little trouble in getting advances in New Orleans to plant. Cotton is so high that merchants are anxious to advance to put in a crop, and there is much Northern capital seeking investment in that field. … The Negroes demanded high wages, from $20 to $25 for men, in addition to the old rations of sugar, rice, tobacco, molasses, and sometimes hams. Many of the old hands left, and My Brother went to New Orleans and brought back a number of ex-Negro soldiers, who strutted around in their uniforms and were hard to control. I was deadly afraid of them.

During the spring while Mamma and I were in New Orleans (Mamma on business and she took me for my pleasure), and Uncle Bo and My Brother and Jimmy were away for a few hours, Johnny had a fight with a young Negro in the field, shot and came near killing him, and was mobbed in return. Johnny would have been killed but for the stand one of the Negroes made for him and Uncle Bo’s opportune arrival just as the Negroes brought him to the house a howling, cursing mob with the women shrieking, “Kill him!” and all brandishing pistols and guns. It came near breaking up the planting, and it is a pity it did not as it turned out. Johnny had to be sent away. He was at school near Clinton [Miss.] and the Negroes quieted down and after some weeks the wounded boy recovered, greatly to Johnny’s relief. He never speaks now of killing people as he formerly had a habit of doing. He came home when school closed and there was no further trouble.

Then the water came up and we were nearly overflowed. The cotton planted was very late, and when it was looking as luxuriant and promising as possible and we saw ease of mind before us, the worms came. In a few days the fields were blackened like fire had swept over them. We made about twenty bales and spent $25,000 doing it. What most distresses me is that none of that money went for our personal comfort. All of it went to the Negroes. Mamma would buy only bare necessaries for the table and plainest clothes for the family. Not a luxury, no furniture, carpets, or anything. We are worse off for those things than even in Texas and such a sum spent! But Mamma said it was not honest to spend the money on anything but making the crop. All in this section have suffered in the same way, and for awhile they seemed stunned by their misfortunes. But now the reaction has come, and all are taking what pleasure offers.

Old neighbors and new ones have come in and all seemed to be anxious to be together and talk over their trials and tribulations. There has been much visiting and various picnics and fish frys. I would not go at first. I felt like I did not want to see anybody or ever dance again. I felt fully forty years old, but Mamma made me go after a good cry. Once there, I was compelled to exert myself, and soon I was enjoying it all. The burden of some of the years slipped from my shoulders, and I was young again. It was pleasant to talk nonsense, to be flattered though one knew it was flattery, and to be complimented and fussed over. So since then, Mamma, the boys, and all of us have been going to everything and have found even poverty in company more bearable than when suffered alone. …

September 1868

Rose Hill

In January My Brother rented this place knowing that Brokenburn would be again overflowed, and we moved out the latter part of the month. My Brother lost money again last year planting, and this year he determined to farm, planting a little of everything.

Johnny and Jimmy are both at home, and having nothing to do pulled off their coats and rolled up their sleeves and went to work to raise a crop of corn and potatoes for themselves. They have succeeded well as they will clear several hundred dollars.

We all regret so much Jimmy’s refusal to go buck to the hospital. … We fear he is throwing away the best chance of his life. The boys are so hot and tired when they come in from the fields. …

Sept. 28, 1868

Rose Hill

Mother has been in Vicksburg for a month on a visit to Aunt Sarah. It is her first outing for eighteen months. We hope it will benefit her — her health has been bad for more than a year. She is seldom out of bed more than a week at a time. It took great persuasion and the pointed urging of the whole family to induce her to go on this visit that Aunt Sarah has been begging her to take for months.

Jimmy is now on the wharf boat, Johnny at Omega, and Sister, My Brother, and I have it all our own way with but little to do. My Brother is making an excellent crop and is much more cheerful. …

How we wish Sister could be sent off to school for two years, but it has been impossible. No money. … Let us hope that now the current will change and success will be our portion, as the outlook is brighter than for three years.

This is a pleasant neighborhood … and everybody has been kind and polite about calling and coming in at all times. [The other day we] had another of those inevitable dances that have been given so often this summer. Mary and Katie Byrnes, Louise Meagher, and the other girls never seem to tire of them, but they wear me out — such a sameness. I doubt not that I am getting too old for such gaieties. The men and boys about here are so silly and boyish in conversation. …

It has been an enjoyable life since we came here in January. It is a pleasant enough cottage house, after we got it thoroughly cleaned. There is a lovely little flower yard and a splendid orchard, and the kindest and most sociable neighbors with various little entertainments and dances. …We have new books and papers ad libitum, a luxury we missed for years.

My Brother has just sent Mamma money to buy our winter clothes, and Sister and I are jubilant at the prospect of new dresses and bonnets. We have lived on very little of late years, little bought that was not absolutely necessary. They have dressed me better than any of the others. I have not wanted for anything indispensable for a young lady, but the only money I have spent really as I wished was five dollars of the ten Uncle Bob gave me when Mamma and I went to New Orleans three winters ago. …

What splendid fellows my brothers are. They are all so good to us and such handsome boys. Sister looks almost the same, scarcely older than three years ago. We hope she can go to school this fall and make her debut next fall. If not, I shall beg Mamma to put long dresses … on her and bring her out this winter. She has a gay cheerful nature, and I hope will have a happy girlhood.

Mamma’s bright hopeful spirit never change. She is us always the ruling power with us all, the center and light of our home. How much she will have to tell us on her return, and maybe Aunt Sarah will come with her.

Well, this is the last page of the book that has gone with me through all our journeying. Looking back to the beginning so many years ago, I realize what an unthankful, wicked girl I was not to be supremely happy. With youth, health, and everything surrounding me for comfort and happiness. with unmistakable blessings, I was yet an unsatisfied, discontented girl. It has taken trouble to teach me my faults, and how earnestly I try now to enjoy instead of repine, to be thankful instead of fault-finding. I will try always to see the silver lining to the cloud. All my life I have been surrounded with love and care, far more than I deserved, and I will try in the future to be more worthy of the blessings that brighten my pathway.

So this is the end — shall I ever care to write again?

FINIS

Kate Stone’s Civil War: No disorder

Stone makes a casual but chilling reference to enduring racial violence, a hint of what is to come in subsequent years.

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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 makes a casual but chilling reference to enduring racial violence, a hint of what is to come in subsequent years.

Aug. 14, 1865

Tyler, Texas

Mamma is out in the backyard directing the making of a barrel of wine from the native grapes which have ripened in the greatest profusion, hanging in great purple clusters over the blackjack oaks. They are brought into town by the wagonload. Both the boys and Sister are at the writing school where they stay all day, and I, being too lazy to sew … must scribble for amusement.

Mollie Moore sent us over a number of newspapers with full accounts of the imprisonment of our beloved President Jefferson Davis. He pines in his captivity like a caged eagle. Heard directly from My Brother through Hutch Bowman, who stayed with us several days on his way to Kaufman County. We may expect him about the last of the month. … There is a great rush for the river lands. All are anxious to secure a place above overflow. …

Jimmy and Willy Carson spent a pleasant week with us lately, and we gave them much good advice on the subject of flirting, which I hope they will lay to heart. Jimmy is an exceedingly handsome, attractive boy. Jimmy had made a pair of gloves of soft white buckskin and got me to embroider the gauntlets for him in gay colored silks. They were really pretty if not fashionable, a word the meaning of which we have almost forgotten. …

These grey August days we have little to do and little company. Mollie Moore and her two brothers will be over this evening to play cards. …

Our melon patch is exhausted but melons in town are selling for ten cents a dozen. None should go unfed at that rate. Mrs. Tooke kindly furnishes us with plenty of peaches.

Quite a number of Negroes are flocking into town, but there is no disorder. Occasionally we hear of a Negro shot down and lying unburied in the woods.