Not Hunting Bigfoot

Those who frequently read my personal blogs are aware of my fondness for different types of videos [1].  One of the people whose videos I often watch is Anthony Fantano, the self-described “internet’s busiest music nerd.”  On his personal channel, I saw a video he had posted about his beef with Wikipedia, and I figured I was in for an enjoyable and thought-provoking experience, and so it was.  In his video, Fantano described how video links of his reviews have been taken down because Wikipedia’s gatekeepers consider him to be a Bigfoot chaser and not a respectable authority.  In an effective apologia for his professionalism, he then cited his experience hosting a successful syndicated radio chart show on NPR and the fact that he has a professional staff and is, in fact, a professional music reviewer and online music and culture pundit.  In watching his video I had to agree with him that he was in fact a viable critic in terms of videos.  Being at least a semi-professional book reviewer (as my blog gives evidence to), I can recognize the level of professionalism in his reviews, even where our opinion occasionally differs on specific albums and artists.

After all, as someone who frequently visits Wikipedia for research on music history, some of which ends up in my entries and some of it which is subjected to the vagaries of my memory, I often find parts of articles on songs and albums which treat the critical response to the work.  This category in particular would appear to be perfectly suited for the video reviews of songs and albums by YouTube’s content creators, and those on other platforms as well.  If a song can rise to popularity based on its YouTube and internet streaming views, which are taken into account as part of the methodology for the Billboard Hot 100, it should be noted, then the response to those songs on those same platforms is itself worthy of note and recognition.  Even if the people who review songs are known by such monikers as Todd In The Shadows or the Rap Critic or Anthony Fantano or Mr. 96 or The Secret Agent or Spectrum Pulse and many worthwhile other ones besides this, the videos are often made with a high degree of professionalism in their video and sound editing and in their content, and their opinions are certainly worthwhile.  One bad song may run afoul of dozens of these critics, all of whom are competing to write the funniest or most biting epitaph for a particularly poor excuse for a song or album or artist in order to get the most views, likes, and subscribes and the corresponding ad revenue, and this individual and combined critical mass forms a lot of the thinking about such music.

It is particularly ironic, if not hypocritical, for Wikipedia to look down on on music reviewers like Anthony Fantano.  Wikipedia, after all, prides itself on its openness to crowdsourcing its writing and editorial duties to volunteer nerds like me who update articles, add links and research, and aid in making the source a better recognized authority.  Although some Wikipedia articles suffer from notable bias, usually of an unfriendly kind, overall I would say that the website does an admirable job at providing worthwhile information and links to sources.  It is remarkably blind and short-sighted, though, for the website to lose sight of the fact that the same phenomena that make its own website work are also responsible for the proliferation of critical content on the internet at large that is worthy of recognition and credit.  To be sure, I am a part of this proliferation, as a reviewer of books and other written material for scholarly journals and publishing firms, and so my defense of Anthony Fantano and others like him is an act of self-defense, but it ought to be an act of self-defense for Wikipedia as well.  To the extent that high-quality material that appears on blogs or online videos receives recognition for its quality, such authority raises the worth and esteem in which online distribution channels of content are viewed as a whole.  It would appear that Wikipedia, in denigrating the work of people in online media, is cutting off its own nose to spite its face.

There is a popular joke about lawyers that claims that sharks will avoid eating shipwrecked lawyers out of professional courtesy.  Other cliches warn about the impropriety of pots calling kettles black and people in glass houses starting stone-throwing contests.  These jokes and cliches are repeatedly mentioned because they speak to a truth that is easy to ignore, and that is that we need to be aware of who we are so that we do not attack the ground of legitimacy that we depend on for ourselves.  Online bloggers like myself, YouTube critics like Anthony Fantano, and online references like Wikipedia are all peers in contemporary online culture, voices of quality judgment and taste in the sometimes anarchic and largely democratic world of the internet.  Given the egalitarian nature of this medium, it often takes a great deal of time and effort for quality to be recognized and rewarded with views and (occasionally) revenue.  In a world where nearly everyone is a potential content creator, one must rise from merit, whether that merit includes skills at clickbaiting others, SEO optimization, or merit at creating compelling content that draws people back time and time again and that influences their opinions by one’s rhetorical abilities.  Anthony Fantano is clearly an online reviewer of a high degree of skill and influence, a benchmark for other music reviewers to compete against.  There are others like him, and those who reach such levels of skill and recognition are clearly not hunting bigfoot, but are cultural arbiters whose willingness to engage with the larger culture and its innumerable offerings help influence the cultural discourse that takes place online.  Surely Wikipedia could stand to benefit from recognizing this larger cultural discourse, if for no other reason than it increases its own relevance.

[1] See, for example:

Posted in Musings | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Council Of Dads

The Council Of Dads:  My Daughters, My Illness, And The Men Who Could Be Me, by Bruce Feiler

Of all of the books I have read by this author, this is the first that I can give an unreserved recommendation to.  The reason for that is instead of talking about areas where the author has marginal qualifications at best and a clear ideological ax to grind, in this book the author talks about his own health, a crisis involving a rare type of cancer, and his concern for the well-being of his daughters in case he should die while they are young.  As concern for fatherless children is something I share, this book definitely was relatable to me [1].  Any loving father, or someone who could conceivably see themselves as one, who is reflecting on mortality and seeking to help children overcome the absence of their father in their lives, is likely to get a great deal out of this book.  This is a large potential audience, and it makes for probably about the most sentimental book written by a man for a male audience that I can imagine reading at least.  This will not be to everyone’s tastes, but it certainly has a strong appeal for me.

The almost 250 pages of this book are divided into 24 short chapters that deal with the author in a deeply personal way.  Seven of the chapters are chronicles of the lost year of the author’s life when he struggled with a leg injury that prompted aggressive treatment of a cancer that had metastasized from the author’s femur into his bloodstream.  In these chapters, and the rest of the book, the author is pretty unsparing and brutally honest about his own feelings and concerns and the context of his troubled and complicated family background.  The author also spends a great deal of time talking about his council of dads, a group of people with varied lives and backgrounds themselves that are able to share different parts of his life with his daughters as a way of giving his girls a context of his life and an appreciation of who he is in case they are unable to learn it through personal observation.  As someone with particularly gloomy and melancholy thoughts, the way the author prepared for his potential demise was definitely something I found congenial, a way of acknowledging the potential of death and seeking to make the best of it rather than denying it.

There is a certain type of audience this book is aimed at.  If you are the sort of guy who has children and has at least some concern that you may die before they are fully grown, and if you are the sort of guy who is, in modern parlance, “in touch with your feelings,” this is likely to be a very worthwhile book.  As the account of a man who was told that he had a disease that may be fatal and decided both to fight the disease with no holds barred while also making preparations for making sure that his two young daughters, this book is a very powerful work that demonstrates the way that lives are haunted by what came before, but that even while being haunted that people can make the best of the existence they live, even where conditions are less than ideal.  As a man with a lifetime of experience wrestling with God and with the conditions of my existence, I found this book to represent the approach of someone who was not so far from me in terms of his heart after all, however different our belief systems.

[1] See, for example:

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Secrets Of Happy Families

Secrets Of Happy Families:  Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out And Play, And Much More, by Bruce Feiler

One of the occupational hazards of coming from a terribly dysfunctional family is that one reads a great deal of books about what happy families are supposed to look like, in hope that one might do better than the family of one’s birth [1].  Given that I am somewhat familiar with the author and his perspective, I was not particularly surprised or disappointed that the author’s approach to family tended towards the trendy more than the timeless.  The author has shown himself in other works to be a person with a critical attitude to what was traditional, and this book is of a piece with his other books in that regard.  If you are a reader looking for the author to defend traditional models of the family, you are going to find this book to be an immensely frustrating one.  If you are at least willing to read about what the latest research (at least as of the writing) has to say about families even if much of the information is faddish and likely not to endure, this book at least can provide some thought-provoking observations, some of which may be of value.  If you set your expectations low enough, this book is not a bad one.

This book contains a bit more than 250 pages of contents and is divided into three parts.  The first part of the book encourages families to be agile and adaptable, with a flexible attitude towards the timing of family meals while making sure to have them and developing family mission statements.  The second part of the book encourages families to talk a lot, fighting smart, setting an allowance like Warren Buffet does, working on how to have difficult conversations, having open and honest conversations about sex, looking at a simple way to save families, taking care of elderly relatives, and working on rearranging furniture to suit the family’s goals and personalities.  The third part of the book looks at play, making family vacations more fun through checklists, how not to be a bad parent of athletic children, and working on how to have better family reunions.  Throughout the book the author looks at families by applying research from successful businesses and other organizations (like the military), which is an unusual approach but not necessarily a bad one.  Those people who enjoy reading about successful/trendy business approaches adapted to the context of families will find a great deal to appreciate here.

It is difficult for me to give a clear recommendation for a book like this.  I took the book as more like an attempt to toss a bunch of darts at a board and see what sticks, encouraging families to be somewhat open to family councils and checklists and being more formal and organized in their operations.  Being a person fond of business-derived strategic thinking and being a somewhat formal person in my own dealings with other people, I found the approach to be a good one.  As a child, for example, I would work out covenants with my brother in an attempt to resolve our mutual needs and concerns, but my brother tended not to appreciate having expectations set down in writing, and tended to find that what he most wanted to do were things that were formally forbidden to him, and that created a great deal of dissatisfaction towards me.  In other words, while the approach of this book was reasonably congenial at least in the broad approach and a few of the suggestions, not everyone will be pleased or satisfied with what this book has to offer and may be offended at the idea that their families are organizations that should be treated like businesses.  So, I am aware that without giving a recommendation or even my approval to the author’s mindset, I wish that having laid out the book’s contents and approach that people can decide for themselves whether this book is worth their time.

[1] See, for example:

Posted in Book Reviews, Love & Marriage | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Zones Of Disaffection

For whatever reason, I tend to often think of matters of space.  Those who have any degree of personal familiarity with me are likely aware of the fact that my views of space are somewhat complicated.  For a deeply private person, I am extremely public, and for a friendly person I am surprisingly awkward when it comes to issues of affection and intimacy.  Many of the most vexing questions in my life have related to space in one form or another, mostly on levels of spiritual, mental, or emotional terrain [1].  As is often the case, I wish to give this sort of context because our internal terrain is often mirrored in our external lives.  If we find it vexing to live in a world that is so deeply divided and is so much more complicated than many of the maps we see, it is because just as we wish to present a certain face before the world, so too the maps of our world are created with certain intents and purposes in mind, purposes which may not always be clear to see or openly acknowledged.

I watch a lot of videos of maps for fun.  Some of my favorite online cartographers discuss issues such as forgotten and half-formed logistical plans for the city of London, or provide looks at maps over time and examine regional or military history.  I was struck, for example, by how indecisive the Crimean War was, which cost half a million lives or so, when compared with the Civil War.  I have also been struck at the ephemeral nature of so many revolts and so many governments, which rise up and then vanish with rapidity.  What strikes me the most, tough, is that the lines we draw around realms often hide a great deal of information of great value.  One of the tenets of nationhood, for example, is that a government should have exclusive control over the territory it claims for itself.  Yet this has seldom been the case throughout history.  Most nations, and this is especially true of empires, have a far more complicated geography than what appears on this map.

Why is this the case?  I remember looking at an old map when I was a child that showed the various Bantustans of the South Africa of the time.  Although these various regions were not recognized as independent nations by anyone else, they represented an attempt by the apartheid-era South African government to reduce internal tensions by providing for autonomy of the majority black population.  We may laugh about such areas ourselves, but the United States includes within it large amounts of land that is not so different from Bantustans that offer a high degree of autonomy to various recognized tribes which have a treaty relationship with the United States.  The United Kingdom has a wide variety of dependencies with varying degrees of self-government, and so do most nations when one takes a closer look.  Given that most nations include areas of other cultures and religions and ethnicities and regional histories, most nations have this complicated history showing on their maps, whether it is being perforated with minor states like Italy or whether there are restive autonomous areas like the Basque region and Catalonia in Spain.  Examples like this could be multiplied.

What is the way in which we define zones of disaffection?  Such lines are all over our hearts and relationships and the world in which we live.  We build walls, secure our ports and gates, and declare certain areas as no-go zones.  We draw lines on the ground and boundaries in our heart to keep those we do not trust from getting too close to us.  Any boundary is a recognition of difference between one area and another.  At times these boundaries may blur, as the state boundaries in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States with the growth of the massive conurbanations there.  Yet the boundaries exist when it comes to laws and cultures.  We ignore such zones at our peril when we assume that cultures will spread without ceasing over the terrain of hearts and minds without any complexity.  If there is one thing that we can know for sure when we deal with human beings, is that things will get complicated.  Of that we can be certain.

[1] See, for example:

Posted in Musings | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Last Of The Blue And Gray

Last Of The Blue And Gray:  Old Men, Stolen Glory, And The Mystery That Outlived The Civil War, by Richard A. Serrano

I have to admit that I was surprised by how interesting this particular book was.  The author, who appears to focus on somewhat dark historical mysteries, writes about the attempts of various people–most of them Southerners–who attempted to steal glory and fraudulently receive pensions by claiming to be aged Civil War veterans.  In discussing the story and its repercussions, the author reminds us that the Civil War has not ended and that our efforts to remember the Civil War often lead to hostility that reminds us that the war is not yet over [1].  Yet the author himself, while he is good at telling the narrative of the (mostly fake) soldiers and their efforts at deceiving themselves and others, does not necessarily draw all of the connections between these tales and the larger social context of the civil war as well as the treatment of the elderly in the time of the Great Depression and afterward.  The author leaves the reader to connect some of the dots that make this story compelling and relevant, but it is certainly an intriguing tale on its own.

As a whole, this book has a somewhat scattered narrative that jumps around a good deal from person to person, giving a biographical history of those who claimed to be the last surviving soldiers of the blue and the gray and finding the vast majority of them to be fakers.  The last surviving Union solder of the GAR, who lived in Duluth, was the only one to have actually served among the last handful of claimants, most of whom were too young to participate in the Civil War and just missed their chance for glory, some of whom even passed themselves off as others in order to claim some valor decades after the fact and ended up the subject of extensive journalistic efforts at exposing the truth.  Why the South should be the subject of so many more frauds than the North is something the writer does not speculate on but leaves it to the reader to ponder over for oneself, even as the author notes that the increased availability of documentation has made it possible for pension applications and family clams of military service to be looked at with much greater scrutiny.

Overall, this book presents a picture of old people claiming Civil War service late in life, around the time of the Great Depression in many cases, as a way of obtaining a pension in old age.  The author does not say whether there was a social obligation of one kind or another to support the elderly poor, for example, although readers can make their own conclusions.  Of interest as well is the way that the author connects claims about Civil War service to simmering racial tensions and the meaning of the Confederate battle flag, which remains contentious.  The author also points out the way that the centennial of the Civil War also served to increase tensions about segregation and served to embarrass South Carolina during early commemorative events.  Although there are no more Civil War veterans alive among us, the Civil War brings up unfinished business about the relationship between federal, state, and local authority, the lack of uniformity of culture across all areas of the United States, and questions of racial and economic justice.  In light of this unfinished business, the story reminds us of he way that the Civil War gets connected with so many other social problems and difficulties within our country that the truth is not always easy to untangle from the layers of misdirection and deception.

[1] See, for example:

Posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Case Of Abraham Lincoln

The Case Of Abraham Lincoln:  A Story Of Adultery, Murder, And The Making Of A Great President, by Julie M. Fenster

It should go without saying that there are a lot of books about Abraham Lincoln [1], many of which I have read and reviewed.  Perhaps some might argue that there are far too many, but I have generally found the books to be worthwhile and this book is no exception.  The author here follows a familiar approach–find something little well known or recognized about Abraham Lincoln’s life that is nonetheless well-documented, pour over texts that others ignore, and create a worthwhile book that offers something new to readers.  As familiar as that approach is, it is a worthwhile one and pays off here.  The biggest issue I have with the book is its title, which would indicate to those who like reading about legal cases that Abraham Lincoln was somehow a party to the case in question rather than an advocate who was part of a superstar defense team.  The contents of this book are excellent and the author has an excellent style, but unfortunately this book suffers greatly from having an ambiguous title that would seem to put Abraham Lincoln in the middle of a sordid drama of his own, rather than one that he was a belated participant in after it had already reached sensational levels.

In a book that pays a great deal of attention to the much ignored legal career of Abraham Lincoln on the 8th circuit, the author manages to deftly weave a story of Lincoln’s behavior in 1856.  Coming midway between two unsuccessful attempts at gaining a seat in the US Senate, the year is most notable in Lincoln’s political history for showing him as having developed enough of a national reputation to get the second highest number of votes for Vice President at the first Republican convention.  Likewise, the year shows him becoming an indispensable figure in helping to fuse the Republican party out of its disparate elements of Northern Whigs, free-soil Democrats, and anti-slavery nativists and make it a contender in Illinois politics as well as throughout the North.  This book captures the dual track of Lincoln as a lawyer at the top of his game but frustrated by a lack of progress and aware that the legal culture is moving to a more professional and bookish model and as a frustrated political insider seemingly relegated forever to the backbenches and minor leagues.  And yet Lincoln’s strong integrity and interpersonal skills are shown in both his legal and his political work in ways that would shape him in the not-so-distant future.  The author captures Lincoln towards the end of his period of obscurity and it makes for a compelling and deeply sympathetic read.

That is not to say that the book its perfect–its title is certainly a drawback, but it is a very good book that looks in chronological order over the course of about 200 pages during a decisive but often-ignored year in Lincoln’s life and political maturation.  Readers of this book will get a glimpse into how Lincoln’s well-tuned lawyerly mind influenced his later presidential behavior–specifically the Emancipation Proclamation–and get at least some reasonable and solid interpretations for the influence of Lincoln’s career on his behavior as president, and the way that his ambition was fired in ways that were increasingly obvious to the general public at large and especially his own neighbors and rival lawyers.  Particularly noteworthy is the way that the titular sensational (and still unsolved) murder is handled by Lincoln, who defends two suspects and keeps suspicions of possible adultery from providing the necessary motive and moral outrage for a murder conviction, a clever strategy and one that befits a person of rigorous public virtue and restraint.  This is a worthy addition to the large body of works on Lincoln.

[1] See, for example:

Posted in American History, Book Reviews, History | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Blast Of Desert Heat

As I woke up after far too few hours of sleep this morning [1], I pondered about some of the matters I had not written about in my nocturnal rant about the heat.  There had been different prognostications about the weather today, with some claiming that it would be as hot as yesterday and the Weather Channel correctly noting that it would be about twenty degrees cooler today than yesterday, which was definitely a relief as far as I was concerned.  Although I was more than a bit tired this morning as I blearily went off to work, the fact that it was somewhat cool gave me a sense of renewed hope and encouragement and it is with a spring in my step that I walked to my car and began my drove for work.  After all, my satchel was full of books, I had my lunch and my snacks for the week, and it was not too late in the morning.  I knew I was not on top of my game because of my lack of sleep, but it was not a disastrous morning.

When I arrived at work, and waited for the elevator, one of my coworkers made a humorous comment about how hot it was upstairs.  He wasn’t joking.  When I got off the elevator and made it into the office, I was met with a blast of desert heat (a desert because the temperature was a good twenty or more degrees hotter than the outside, with correspondingly lower relative humidity) that was barely if at all helped by all of the open windows that allowed in the local wildlife, including at least one bird.  I reminded myself that Reese’s chocolates were probably not the best snack for a day like this, and our group soon scattered to cooler areas.  I went down to my old computer for the rest of the morning until lunch to do my reports where it was a bit cooler, and it was much nicer by the time I returned upstairs to eat lunch and do some reading, managing to finish an entire 250-page book during the course of a normal lunch break.  It was nice to know that if the air conditioning game was not very strong and I was not at my best that I was still able to read at my accustomed level of skill.

What had happened to make the office to hot?  To be sure, it was hot this weekend, but why wasn’t there at least some cooling by the time work began this morning?  As it happens, I found the answer to that question today, and that is that there is no automatic thermostat in the entire building.  All temperature controls are manual, and so when there is no one in the office, as was the case this weekend, no cooling is done at all.  Having lived in areas where mold is a serious problem, it became very clear why this is such a consistent problem.  If no one is on duty during the weekends to make sure that the air is on to at least some level, then the first people who know that there is a problem are going to be those who show up for work on Monday morning, when it takes ours for the air conditioning to fully kick in to bring the internal temperature to its normal acceptable limits.  To say that I and my fellow coworkers were deeply puzzled by this revelation is a deep understatement.

This brought to mind another question.  How is it that an office building was built and permitted in the first place without having any automatic thermostat?  Perhaps I am a bit biased because I grew up in Central Florida, but anyone who designs a building that does not keep the temperature to a certain level ought to face some sort of capital punishment.  In Europe, the lack of consistent cooling in older houses leads to the deaths of tens of thousands of people during particularly bad heat waves.  In an office building that is only a few years old, there are no excuses for not having the benefit of such temperature control devices.  Is it so expensive to keep a building within its proper temperature control that one can sensibly forego air conditioning that would at least keep the office building at eighty degrees, which would be pretty warm but at least not overwhelmingly so.  Is it worth the possible damage to computer equipment to allow a building to heat up without limit?  Did no one think of this when the building was being constructed?


Posted in Musings | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Civil War And The Limits Of Destruction

The Civil War And The Limits Of Destruction, by Mark E. Neely, Jr.


This book is revisionist history in the best way, and looks at some elements of the question of logistical warfare in the Civil War, an area of strong personal interest [1].  At its heart, this is a book that seeks to refute the charge that the North in particular engaged in the sort of total war against the Confederacy that one hears about from those who slander Sherman and Sheridan, among others, and that the Northern armies were rapine armies of vandals who sought to exterminate the South.  This overheated but not uncommon statement turns out to be fairly easy to refute, and the author then turns to the question of the assumptions by which American armies fought in the mid-19th century, which turns out to be immensely instructive and also useful as a commentary on contemporary morality.  To oversimplify the point slightly, American soldiers fought based on how closely they viewed their enemies in terms of “race” and culture, where the closer other nations were viewed, the kinder the treatment in war and the greater restraint shown to civilians.  Where enemies were viewed as savages by those who fancied themselves to be civilized, warfare was exceptionally barbaric in nature, as on the Plains and with the French in Mexico, and however heated the rhetoric behind Union leaders, there was a great deal of restraint on their part despite Southern atrocities against black Union soldiers and terrorist and guerrilla warfare.

This book, with a bit over 200 pages of text and a lengthy section of notes befitting a book that seeks to appeal to evidence to make a novel or controversial argument, consists of a series of related essays that deal to different aspects of logistical warfare within the context of the Civil War and its times.  The author looks first at the Mexican-American War to look at whether American republican ideals influenced American conduct there, and found that racism trumped political ideals in how Mexico was judged.  The second chapter looks at the limited and civilized warfare that accompanied Price’s raid in Missouri, showing that the ferocious guerrilla warfare there was not generalized in a more conventional campaign in the same territory.  Next the author examines the complicated American response to Maximilian’s black degree that ordered (and enforced) savage treatment against Mexican liberals opposed to his French-backed government.  The author then shows the striking delicacy and moderation of Sheridan’s behavior in the Shenendoah Valley of 1864 and showed how there were serious attempts to preserve the subsistence of farmers there even while ruining the surplus that supported rebel armies.  The author then turns to the brutality of the Sand Creek Massacre and how it marked a watershed in the slow process by which civilized conduct influenced the political discourse of warfare on the plains, which would become increasingly problematic up to Wounded Knee and beyond.  The last chapter looks at the rhetorical advocacy of retaliation concerning rebel treatment of Union prisoners at Belle Isle and Andersonville in contrast to the lack of retaliation that occurred.  The author then concludes with a harsh criticism of the glorification of largely nonexistence brutality in the Civil War that skews our own perception and that encourages a hardness and brutality within ourselves.  Overall, the book is exceptionally well done and argues its points persuasively.

Those wishing to write revisionist history on the Civil War would do well to examine this book and its approach closely.  For one, the author makes sure he has command of his sources–he cites everything from memoirs to obscure diplomatic writings to orders and congressional debates.  The author explores the gulf between rhetoric and practice, and the moral blind spots of Americans in the age of the Civil War, as well as the way in which historical writers worked against sentimentalism in treating the Civil War and may have gone too far in response.  What makes this a masterful work of revisionist history is that it forces readers to confront their own harsh and bloodthirsty principles concerning warfare and our own sense of brutality, which stands in marked contrast to the admirable and striking restraint that was shown during the Civil War.  In pointing out the flagrant and offensive racism of the time and how it influenced conduct in war, the author simultaneously manages to shine a light on how we are often more savage than those whom we criticize for their Civil War conduct.  Instead of turning every savage massacre into honorable conflict, we have become more savage ourselves in striking at the logistical and economic elements of societies with whom we are at war to a far greater extent than soldiers like Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan.  This is a striking and unpleasant realization to come to for many readers, I imagine.

[1] See, for example:

Posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History, International Relations, Military History | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Civil War: Strange & Fascinating Facts

The Civil War:  Strange & Fascinating Facts, by Burke Davis

This book mostly lives up to its name.  The anecdotes and comments in this book are certainly strange and fascinating, although they are not necessarily facts.  The author passes along some old canards about the rebels looking for shoes in Gettysburg, for example [1], and the fact that the author gives false facts does not exactly inspire a great deal of confidence in his veracity, as does the fact that he declines to cite his sources.  This is an entertaining book on the Civil War, and it is certainly odd, and contains a great deal of interest.  However, it should be noted clearly that this book is not reliable and therefore must be considered as a lesser work.  The fact that the author operates from a clear pro-Southern bias, which he is at least honest enough to admit, suggests that there may be some general reliability concerns based on the slant that the writer has.  It is especially notable, for example, that the author praises both the gallantry of rebel soldiers as well as their inventive use of landmines, which would appear to be in tension with each other, and example of an a priori bias on the part of the author.

The oddities and curiosities of this book, which is between 200 and 250 pages and was published in 1960, are divided into various chapters according to the whim of the author.  The chapters deal with firsts, with divided families, with areas of special interest to the writer–Abraham Lincoln’s beard, the grammar of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the machine gun, riots, the Rains brothers, youth, the Albemarle, whether or not Stonewall Jackson was a hypochondriac, the widow Fritchie, submarines, sex and the Civil War, atrocities, the human side of Robert E. Lee, and so on.  As a book this volume is wildly inconsistent in tone, as it shifts from a high-minded discussion about documentary evidence concerning the health of generals to a salacious discussion about the ubiquity of prostitutes and women of low virtue in the armies to a praise of military technology and its development.  One does not really know where the author is going to go from one chapter to another, and whether the discussion will include often-forgotten sources of a high degree of historical value or whether they will include unsubstantiated rumors which are in fact inaccurate.  There simply is no way to tell.

It should go without saying that this book is not a scholarly reference about the Civil War or the sort of book that a professor or even high school teacher would consider worthwhile as a reference material.  If one is reading this book for entertainment and is not offended by the author’s pro-rebel boosterism, then this book can be read with at least some enjoyment, but one should temper one’s expectations and not demand too much from it.  The lack of citations means that the quality of the author’s sources is impossible to tell even when, as is sometimes the case, the author himself comments that he did a great deal of original research to find obscure and neglected areas of Civil War technology to recount.  Since the book isn’t too long and the bias is not nearly as offensive as is sometimes the case, I still found this book to be at least moderately amusing and slightly enjoyable, as I tend to be somewhat hostile to pro-Southern writings.  Even so, most readers will probably be a good deal less picky about such matters than I am, and probably more interested in the author’s fascination with prostitutes and dueling and people hiding out trying to escape capture.

[1] See, for example:

Posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History | Tagged | Leave a comment

Beating The Heat

How do you beat the heat on a day like today?  Well, considering it is after midnight and I am writing this, the answer is that I probably did not do a very good job at it.  It is not as if I am entirely unfamiliar with this sort of day [1].  That said, these sorts of days disrupt all kinds of plans.  I tend to feel best in life when I am able to do things.  Action distracts me from much in the way of thinking, and burning calories through at least some motion tends to make me feel as if I am doing something productive, either through physical action or, more commonly, intellectual labor.  Days like this make it hard to do anything, especially when air conditioners and even fans are at a premium.  This is by no means a mere first world problem, as I have witnessed this problem from Florida to Ghana to Thailand, all of which offered their own solutions to the difficulty.

In Florida, for several months of the year, no sane person wants to be outside for months of the year during the daylight hours without going from one air-conditioned place to another.  At night one was a feast for mosquitoes, which discouraged a great deal of nighttime outdoors activity as well.  In Ghana, we had fans running constantly, although there were long hours during the day where the fans didn’t work, and so it was necessary to drink water to stay hydrated.  Although the power worked better in Thailand than it did in Ghana, we adopted much the same strategy in Thailand to keep the worst effects of the heat under control.  In all of those places, though, the high degree of heat tended to create a certain amount of repose for many of us, myself included, although there were occasions that drove us to engage in some activity, although it took a lot out of us.  So it was too today, in that I had expectations of what I wanted to do only to find myself without the energy to do very much of it not from a loss of blood as is sometimes the case but simply because it was too hot.

The only remotely productive times of the day were early in the morning, when I wrote two blog entries, the several hours I spent drinking iced tea camped out at Panera after doing my grocery shopping, where I wrote two book reviews and read a book, and now, after midnight, where I type away at this entry and may read the book sitting beneath my right leg.  It is the sort of day I would have swam had I enjoyed company and an accessible pool, and no doubt many other people felt the same way from those I encountered during the course of my day.  Clearly, this was not the sort of day to wear layers, unless one had fabric that breathed particularly well and covered one from the harsh glare of the sunlight.

So, how does a day like this become more successful?  Well, more sleep would help. More writing or reading would have been nice too.  But one does not have the days that one would want–or else I would not have many of the days I do–but one has to make the best of the days that one has, behaving as honorably and decently as one can regardless of the circumstances, especially when they are less than ideal.  Hopefully at some point I will be able to cool myself down enough to be able to enjoy a peaceful sleep, for however few hours that is, but in the meantime, I try to rest as best as I can this night.  Perhaps it is the same for you also.

[1] See, for example:

Posted in Musings | Tagged , | 1 Comment