Monthly Archives: September 2011

Bon weekend

I am sorry about the lack of posts these past few days but I took a few annual leave days this week and have been checking email/internet only intermittently.  We do not yet have internet access (or television) at home, which at least saved me the anguish of watching the Sox historic collapse the other day.  The past few days have been less vacation than working from home.  I am writing an article for an online publication and have spent the last few days concentrating on that.  Yesterday I wrote 1,000 words and cranked out an additional 500 this morning before heading out to my local branch library to check email, etc.  The goal is to write 1,000 words this evening and work on the draft over the weekend.  Still, it is not all work and no play.  A friend and I are going to the Bronx Historical Society tomorrow for the final weekend of this.

I will be back on Monday with more posts and will certainly let you know if/when the article is indeed picked up.

Have a good weekend.

PS–Rooting for my old hometown Rangers now that the Sox are gone.

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A day in Green-Wood

Hey everybody, the Hayfoot was out of town this weekend and a friend of mine came to our fair borough to hang out.  Naturally we went to Green-Wood Cemetery on what turned out to be an unseasonably warm and humid afternoon.  Here are a few pics.


One runs into Civil War veterans at every turn.  I have always loved these Grand Army of the Republic markers, which are ubiquitous.  The GAR was an extraordinarily influential lobbying group well into the 20th century.


This headstone is made of metal.  It is the only one of its kind I have seen in the historic cemetery.

(Image/David Monniaux)

I look like I am channeling Rodin here.

This soldier was mortally wounded at First Bull Run and died in August 1861.

The detail on the headstone is magnificent, but sadly the marble has weathered considerably in the past century and a half.  In a few short years the lettering will be gone.  That is why the cemetery’s work laying new headstones is vital.


Young William Rogers, all of twenty, was killed a year later at Sharpsburg.

Samuel Chester Reid: Navy hero, designer of the United States flag

With vistas like these how could it not be a good day?  And afterward it was back home for the lunch the Hayfoot had prepared for us before leaving town.

Thanks for checking in.


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The Confederate Battle Flag

I have not started it yet, but over the weekend I checked John Coski’s The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem out of the library.  I am never quite sure what to make of cases such as this.  Instances like these appear to be a direct provocation, though I do not know the details of this specific case.  I believe that the First Amendment allows symbolic speech and that flying the flag falls under this category.  I would argue that individuals have a right to exhibit the symbol, but should show restraint and wisdom when doing so.  Governments on the other hand are a different story.  This is especially true in states where the symbol was added to state flags during the Civil Rights era in response to desegregation.  I have wanted to read Coski’s book for some time and this article is a reminder of the topic’s currency.

(New Orleans, 1963/Image courtesy Chuck Battles)

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A history of violence


Given the headlines of recent years it is understandable why some believe that our era is one of exceptional violence. In his forthcoming book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined, linguist Steven Pinker informs us that in fact the opposite is true.  Here is a brief excerpt.

(Image of Chancellorsville dead by Andrew J. Russell/LOC)

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What hath Netflix wrought?

Because the Hayfoot and I do not have a television we rely heavily on Netflix for films and, especially, television shows.  Given the intense demands of her graduate school classes and the solemn nature of my reading and writing about the Civil War and slavery, we tend to go for lighter fare.  Sometimes you just have to sit back, relax, and laugh.  Last night I got my credit card statement with its 60% increase in our monthly Netflix charges.  I had been following the story of the company’s restructuring with moderate interest these past few weeks, but it wasn’t until seeing it in print, right there on my bill, that it really hit me.

I believe the company made the right move.  We are moving away from digital content contained on disc.  Someday we will all look back with a laugh at the time when we got our movies and favorite television shows via the mailman.  (I will miss the small thrill of opening the box and finding the little red envelope.)  The other day I mentioned that the Miles Davis set I purchased may indeed be the last compact discs I ever buy.  The Mac Air I bought early last month does not even contain a disc drive.  When I want software I merely log on to the Apple store and download the content, which is on my computer within minutes.  Remember buying Windows 95 all those years ago, driving home, and spending all that time reading the directions and uploading?  Who would want to return to that?  When the iCloud arrives this fall it will take things to an even higher level.

So I don’t blame Reed Hastings for taking his company in this direction.  Even the name changes make sense.  The company does not want to associate its name with the dying industry that is dvds.  Hence Netflix represents the future (streaming) and Qwikster the past (discs via snail mail).  The division of the two services may have been premature because streaming is not yet an option for all.  Moreover, the amount of content available in this medium is currently limited.  Still, the restructuring does make sense.

The problem was in the execution.  The company could have done more to explain the new model and articulate customers’ options.  Personally we do not plan on leaving Netflix anytime soon, though I did modify our plan last night.  What has always made Netflix so great was its quick and convenient service.  If they are not careful the company may lose that.  We’ll see if they learn from their mistakes and regain their footing.  If not, Netflix may go the way of Pan Am and IBM.  I hope not.

(Image/Blue Mint)

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The man with the horn

I walked home in a slight drizzle last night and found this waiting in the vestibule.  I have not had time to listen to the whole thing or watch the dvd.  After I have fully digested its contents I will write a full review.  This might well be the last cd I buy.  From now on I will join the modern world and get my music online.  Doing so makes me a little sad because I have always regarded the album and the compact disc, which is basically an album stored digitally in a more, uh, compact format, as the musical unit of currency.  With today’s individual downloading, kids are losing the experience previous generations enjoyed of sharing and listening to a Sgt. Pepper, Dark Side of the Moon, or Never Mind the Bollocks.

Miles Davis’s estate has issued a great deal of product since he died twenty years ago this month.  (Please, no more remasters of Kind of Blue.)  Based on my listening to cd 1 last night, though, Live in Europe is special.  I never liked the Second Great Quintet as much as first because I found their music too academic.  These recordings from 1967 have changed my mind and I am glad they have reached the light of day.  The subtitle of the package is The Bootleg Series, Volume 1.  We can only hope.

Portrait of the artist as a young man

(Image/Tom Palumbo)


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Wikipedia marathon

Ever wonder how Wikipedia content is generated? Here is part of the answer.

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The mediocre presidents

President James Garfield

The Mediocre Presidents (Song)

We are the mediocre presidents.

You won’t find our faces on dollars or on cents!

There’s Taylor, there’s Tyler,

There’s Fillmore and there’s Hayes.

There’s William Henry Harrison,

Harrison: I died in thirty days!

We… are… the…

Adequate, forgettable,

Occasionally regrettable

Caretaker presidents of the U-S-A!

-The Simpsons

Last week my wife was at her graduate school taking a break when she overheard two profs discussing where President James Garfield was assassinated.  She immediately texted to see if I knew the answer.  (The train station in Washington, D.C.)  I became interested in Garfield after reading Adam Goodheart’s 1861: The Civil War Awakening.  Garfield plays a significant role in Goodheart’s narrative and the author is especially adept at describing the intellectual underpinnings of Garfield’s abolitionist philosophy and how he entered Ohio politics and then the Army.  I was intrigued just enough to read Ira Rutkow’s small biography James A. Garfield, which is part of the late Arthur  Schlesinger’s American Presidents series.  When done well slim tomes such as these serve as part biography and part meditation setting the record straight on the subject at hand.

General James Garfield

Rutkow spends a great deal of time on the assassination attempt and the poor medical care Garfield received afterward that led to his death.  Now author Candace Millard has a new book on the assassination and its aftermath.

One thing I do not think I understood until reading Rutkow’s book was the degree to which the Gilded Age presidents were hampered by the relative newness of the Republican Party.  When Garfield became president in 1881 the party was less than three decades old.  The lack of precedent on such issues as patronage had tremendous implications for the country and hampered governance at a time when leadership was needed most.  It was the patronage issue that led to Garfield’s assassination.  I do not think a wholesale revision of Gilded Age America and its leaders is in order, but it is a richer history than we tend to believe and one that deserves more consideration.  Who knows?  We may even end up giving Garfield, et al more kudos for their modest but hard won accomplishments.

(Images/Library of Congress)

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African American Museum: Coming Soon

This summer the Hayfoot and I joined the Smithsonian.  What I love most about the Institution is the cross-disciplinary nature of its collections.  One thing I am especially looking forward to is the African American Museum of History and Culture, whose progress I have been watching with interest the past few years.  It will be a real addition to the Mall.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

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Filed under Museums, Washington, D.C.

The art of the novel

The smaller the ball the better the writing.  That is the adage when it comes to sports writing.

No sport lends itself to the world of letters more than our National Pastime.  It has always seemed to me, though, that baseball fiction has always lagged behind non-fiction.  Jim Bouton’s Ball Four is Exhibit A.  I think the reason is the dichotomy of the fan base. There is of course some overlap between the groups, but in general fans of the game can be divided into realists and romantics. There has always been a tension between the Bull Durham crowd and the Field of Dreams crowd.  (For the record, I am a member of the former.) Too often novelists have tried to appeal to one group or the other–to the detriment of the story they are trying to tell.  When you throw on top of that the often reactionary elements who run the game and control a great deal of its institutional memory, it is not a good prescription for the creation of fine art.  Mike Doherty of Salon mounts a defense.

(Photo courtesy/Schyler)

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