"Take my word for it, kid."

Lies, Damn Lies, and Oral History?

I've been doing history for a short while (when you tend to think in millennia, half a century is chump-change) and the more I do it, the more I get the feeling we're being kidded sometimes.

One of the big deals at the moment is "oral history." This usually seems to involve a senior high school student or college undergrad pestering old farts for the story of how things were when said old fart was about their age. Nothing wrong with this. It keeps the kids out of beer joints and gives the ancients a visitor and something to pass the time. The only problem is when the history that comes from this source is distributed as the GOSPEL TRUTH without being checked against reality (whatever that is).

I realize there are those who maintain all truth is relative. As a certain Roman bureaucrat asked a little while ago, "What is truth?" My opinion only, but I'm inclined to believe TRUTH exists in a single form. It is the interpretation each of us puts on the phenomena that we witness that varies. The story about the six blind men and the elephant is all too true.

The basic failure mode is that people with little experience of life are depending on a bunch of folks who can't remember what they had for breakfast for information as to happenings fifty to sixty years back. Being in that class, I am aware that some things experienced half a century ago can be crystal clear in hindsight. I must admit, though, in my own case, the clear chunks are disjointed in time. Some things stay with you for better or worse (the first deer you killed or the first man). These memories are hard and sharp, sometimes jumping out at you like a jack-in-the-box when you least expect it. But, most of the time, the things between are a blur. Most of life just isn't that interesting and the mind tends to dump such memories. Try this, think way back to yesterday morning when you were driving. Call up the memory and replay it looking at the details. Yeah, what details? For most people they aren't there--you may remember leaving your home and possibly your arrival at your destination but most of the trip (with the exception of the idiot cutting you off as you were cutting him off) most likely isn't there. Women tend to maintain their memories are better than men's of things of years gone by. Possibly this is true--equally possible is that the gentlemen involved don't look forward to a night of torture on that rack known as the couch. The song, "Yes, I remember it well," from Gigi pokes fun at this.

Cops know the longer between the incident and the interview, the more garbage shows up in the statement. And this is with witnesses who want to help. When looking at witness statements, often the best they can do is seek a quorum. Everybody saw something different or remembers it differently and are telling the truth as they know it. Akira Kurosawa explores this in his movie, "Rashomon," with it's story of a crime seen from four different people's perspectives. The investigators usually end up going with the details most appear to agree on and what in the officers' experience seems likely.

The reliability of oral history tends to be uneven. Some things related are close to fact while others launch into fiction. Cross-checking is necessary to back up an account. This requires other witnesses and documentation. Then it has to be run through the researcher's B.S. detector--does it add up? B.S. detectors become better with life experience. They can also fail unexpectedly. As an example, a retired Marine Raider officer once mentioned to me that the Raiders had British Commonwealth made Boys 55 mm antitank rifles at Guadalcanal. Huh? U.S. Marines equipped with Brit antitank weapons?! Happily, I treated the situation as I do most with my fellow humans--just nod, keep smiling, and make sure your escape route is clear. A couple of months later, I'm deep into research and what do I find referenced in two different places backed up by a photograph? Yeah, you guessed it--Raiders carrying Boys guns on Guadalcanal.

If you're using oral histories in your research, be sure to cross-check them. They can be a gold mine or the county dump.

29 January 2010: Feast of St. Aquilinus of Bavaria. "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe is published 1845, American League founded in Philadelphia 1900, USS Missouri (BB 63) commissioned 1944, Hungary recognizes South Korea - first in Warsaw Pact 1989.

Odds and ends mostly.

A voice from the past:

"God damn all mathematics to the lowest depts. (sic) of hell!! May it be capable of bodily suffering & undergo such torments that the veriest fiend in hell shall shrink in horror at the sight."

Scribbled in a West Point calculus book apparently by a cadet sometime between 1832 and 1850. In Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: A Biography of J.E.B. Stuart. Jeffry D. Wert. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008. Kindle.

Who sez soldiers are devoid of religious hope?

Catholic Writers Conference Online

Registration for Free Catholic Writers Conference Online Ends Feb 15

World Wide Web--Are you a Catholic writer? Looking for an opportunity to learn more about writing and marketing, a chance to meet like-minded authors, and get an opportunity to pitch your work? Want it all for free--and without leaving your home? The Catholic Writers' Conference Online, which will be held February 26-March 5, 2010, is for you. Hurry, though--registration ends Feb 15.

The conference is held via chats and forums at http://www.catholicwritersconference.com . Sponsored by the Catholic Writer's Guild, the online conference is free of charge and open to writers of all level who register before February 15, 2010.

"Each year, we have about 300 writers and around 50 presenters participate," said organizer Karina Fabian. "This year, we're thrilled to have added small-group critique sessions with well-established authors and editors, plus more pitch sessions than ever before!"

Publishers hearing pitches include well known Catholic publishers like Pauline Books and Media, large Christian publishers like Thomas Nelson, and small secular presses like White Rose. Thus far, eleven pitch sessions are scheduled, running gamut from Christian romance to Catholic theology.

In a new program, dozens of attendees will have the opportunity to have pieces of their work critiqued by successful editors and writers. n addition, there will be forum-based workshops and chat room presentations covering topics from dialogue to freelancing to how Catholic fiction differs from Christian fiction.

"Even in good times, it's hard for writers to attend live conferences," said Fabian, "but this year, we think it's even more important to help careers by utilizing an online format. We're so grateful that our presenters are willing to share their time and talent."

Although the conference is offered free of charge, donations are accepted; proceeds will go toward future conferences. For a $10 donation, one receives a copy of the conference e-book containing chat transcripts, forum workshop posts, handouts or informational materials from the conference. Non-Catholics may attended, as long as they respect catholic beliefs and the conference's Catholic focus.

To register or for more information, go to http://www.catholicwritersconference.com

As a note, the Catholic Writers' Conference Online 2009 is that which began me writing once more after a hiatus of eighteen years (no doubt, there are those who may see this as an argument against the existence of the CWCO). For those worried that this is purely a collection of Mackerel-Snappers, a number of heavy-duty Protestant writers, editors, and publishers will be present and presenting. On the whole, we get along pretty well.

26 January 2010: Feast of St. Alberic the Cistercian. British First Fleet under Arthur Phillip establishes Sidney - Australia Day 1788, Hooker replaces Burnside 1863, The Mahdi takes Khartoum - "Chinese" Gordon killed 1885, Franco's Nationalists capture Barcelona 1939.

"Gentlemen, it is to be war."

Main battles picked for 150th anniversary observance of the War Between the States/American Civil War.

A mite late for Lee-Jackson Day, but the American Civil War re-enactor groups' leaders have decided which battle re-enactments will be endorsed. Meeting in Chickamauga, Georgia, members of the Civil War 150th National Leadership Convention representing 12,000 re-enactors voted for the following battle observances:


First Manassas/Bull Run -- Virginia

Shiloh -- Tennessee


Second Manassas/Bull Run -- Virginia

Vicksburg -- Mississippi


Gettysburg -- Pennsylvania

Chickamauga -- Georgia


The Wilderness -- Virginia

Atlanta -- Georgia


Bentonville -- North Carolina

Appomattox Court House -- Virginia

I used to take part in re-enacting back when I could move around better. I was a private in a Virginia Volunteer Infantry company or a Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry company (depending on which side was needed more--Federals outnumbered four to one by Confederates is just silly). After a while, I got old and tired and my case of Civil War bloat was just too embarrassing [see note]. Now adays, on those rare occasions I can get outside to attend a re-enactment, I stand on the sidelines with the other gawkers and dream. If I can manage it, I plan to see the sesquicentennial through as I did the centennial, though I admit the bicentennial might possibly be a bit of a stretch.

Note: Civil War Bloat.

Civil War bloat is a condition in which the re-enactor appears to has been dead in the sun for three days during the hot summer of 1863 while still standing up. It is brought on by age, a lack of regular exercise, and a wife who is far too good a cook. It is especially weird looking when the affected soldier is dressed in gray or butternut (putting the lie to the hard times in the South). The overly common amount of gray hair (if any) that often accompanies it also calls into question the fact that the men on both sides normally ranged in age from 16 to 35. This condition effects not only Civil War re-enactors, but those of many other periods. I've noted it at Alesia, Waterloo, Rorke's Drift, the Somme, and Normandy. The problem is old guys are the ones who have the bucks to shell out $600 for their wool trousseau (uniform, equipment, and rifle musket) and the time to burn on summer weekends out in the middle of nowhere (the young guys seem rather more intent on chasing girls for some reason).

Occasionally though, one does run across a unit of young, dirty, sweaty, ragged, skinny men in gray or blue and one realizes he is looking at his own great-great grandfather.

22 January 2010: Feast of St. Brithward of Ramsbury. Ashantis defeat British on Gold Coast 1824, Battles of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift 1879, Commonwealth forces capture Tobruk from Italians 1941, Anzio landings 1944.

Son of a Gun! The Revolver.

"Alright. Company forward rant!"

I'm reading along, it's getting good, the writer's stuff is really flowing beautifully, the hero checks the clip in his revolver and--THUD!...Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! Don't these people do ANY research?

For some reason known only to the All Mighty, there are a large number of writers out there in the outer darkness who apparently believe they can wing it when it comes to firearms. Rather than burn fifteen minutes online, they make fools of themselves. They will obsess about which train enters which station at a particular hour on Tuesdays and Fridays. They will have nine or ten books piled on their reference table covering the bloodlines of Yorkies. They will have maps of every town that they mention from Roman times to the present in New South Wales. But they will not Google or Yahoo search the word "revolver."

If these folks took the same care while writing about other things, their protagonist would walk out of her yurt, climb up on the fender of the Jugo, slide the canopy back, stick the hand crank in the instrument panel, and with brisk turn fire up its rocket motor.

Why is this? One friend is of the opinion that such writers are afraid of guns and can't bring themselves to think about these devices of the devil. Another postulates that they watch shows on TV and figure that teaches all they need to know (no doubt they also pick up tips on interpersonal relationships from the same shows). I'm told that my contention that they are feeble-minded or bone lazy is too harsh.

Just for my own piece of mind and to, hopefully, keep my blood pressure in check while reading in the future, I will be posting tips from time to time for the firearm-challenged in keyboard land.

Lesson 1: Revolvers

Revolvers do not have either "clips" or magazines. What they have are cylinders. The cartridges (not "bullets" or "shells") are loaded into the cylinder. Each time the hammer (the little lever sticking out the back above your hand) is cocked [single action] or the trigger is pulled [double action] the cylinder revolves (get it?) bringing a unfired round into line with the barrel and firing mechanism.

A cartridge, often called a "round," is composed of a bullet, a propelling charge (either black powder [old] or smokeless powder [modern]), and a cartridge casing (or shell casing). A primer in the base of the cartridge case is stuck by the firearm's firing pin and the propelling charge is set off causing the bullet to travel through the barrel and, after exiting said barrel, hopefully putting a hole in the designated bad guy.

Keep these rules in mind: A magazine holds cartridges. It can be internal (always part of the firearm) or it can be detachable (fits in a well on the firearm). A clip also holds cartridges and is usually pushed into a firearm's internal magazine and is either pulled out by the shooter or is kicked out when the last round is ejected.

Silencers and Revolvers:

You're watching a movie or show and you see the highly paid international assassin pull out a silencer and attach it to his revolver--CUT! Silencers (more properly called suppressors) don't work with revolvers. There is a gap between the front face of the cylinder and the rear end of the barrel. This gap will let the noise out when the revolver is fired even if equipped with a "silencer." For a suppressor to work properly, the action or mechanism must be closed when the cartridge is fired. There are such weapons as suppressed machine pistols. If the suppressor is new, one will hear little sound of the shot but there will be a noticeable chatter of the action operating as it ejects the fired cartridge casings. The whole point of a suppressor is not so much to silence the shot, but to make it sound like something other than a shot.

As a note, during the Vietnam War, two weapons that were nearly silent were issued to U.S. forces.

One was, indeed, a revolver made for the use of tunnel rats. The guys going down in VC holes had a problem with using the U.S. military's standard semi-automatic (fires one round each time the trigger is pulled) .45 caliber M1911A1 pistol. Fire one time in the dark and enclosed places and, between the noise and muzzle flash, you hear and see nothing for a while--not a good feeling. A revolver design was chosen because it is inherently more reliable and idiot-proof than a semi-automatic. The revolver that was issued on a limited basis was made so the cartridge casing actually sealed against the end of the barrel. No muzzle flash and little noise.

The other was a suppressed .22 caliber pistol called a "hush-puppy" issued to the SEALs for neutralizing guard dogs and sentries (DoD sometimes displays a fetish for non-loaded terms like "neutralizing"--as in "We neutralized the guy with three 30 millimeter rounds; then graves registration showed up to take care of the body with a sponge.").

There now, I feel much better. That should hold me until the next time.

19 January 2010: Feast of St. Wulfstan of Worcester, Henry V captures Rouen 1419, San Agustin Church completed in Manila 1607, Capt. Charles Wilks USN circumnavigates Antarctica 1840, Prussians defeat French in Battle of St. Quentin 1871.

The Joy of Archetypes.

The other day, my first born IMed me a URL from her computer downstairs. Nothing out of the ordinary there. I clicked on it and found myself looking at me. Well, a pen and ink version of me anyway. Same "birth control" glasses, beard, pocket full of pencils, pot belly, unfashionable clothes, and bemused look (okay, in my case it's more of a thousand mile stare). It seems this is a portrait of the archetypical strategy gamer from an online gamers' comic.

It's interesting; I never thought of myself matching an archetype. I always figured the Lord took one look at me, broke the mold, burnt the blueprints, and blew up the factory.

Archetypes are a part of writing in which something, a personality for instance, stands as a symbol for all such personalities having the same features. Psychiatrist Carl Jung described the idea of archetypes but mythologist Joseph Campbell popularized them with his description of the "Hero's Journey" in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Story tellers have used archetypes as long as there have been stories. Humans are apparently hard-wired to recognize archetypes. Aesop's tortoise and hare are archetypes. Plautus' stock characters, Pseudolus, Senex, and Miles Gloriosus [see "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" below] are archetypes. John Ford and John Wayne dealt in archetypes. In our own time, Luke, Han, Obi Wan, Varder, in fact every character in Star Wars is an archetype that comes from the Hero's Journey, as does the plot of "Star Wars IV: A New Hope" (for my part, The Hero with a Thousand Faces is one the of the few books I'd like seen burned, though only in southern California--with the success of the first Star Wars movie, every hack in Hollywood ran out and bought a copy and writes scripts by just plugging names into the Hero's Journey and mixing and matching time periods and genres).

Archetypes can be used as a form of literary short hand, though best with restraint. When every general is crazed with blood lust, every politician is venal, every holy man is either a saint or the devil incarnate, or every member of a minority is the salt of the earth, archetypes become a cracked crutch for lousy writing.

For those of us who attempt to write humor though, archetypes can be a gift. When the audience detects an archetype they are predisposed to expect certain characteristics. This allows the writer to set them up for the gag and then jerk the rug out from under them. That the evil galactic overlord (is there any other kind?) wants kittens on his new charge card is what makes the commercial memorable. If you do it right, the audience gets a slight case of mental whiplash. Vaudevillians from Plautus to Eddy Foy to Monty Python have made a living off of this for a couple of thousand years.

Like most good workmen, writers need to learn to use these tools in the right situations. That way, there are fewer barked knuckles around the keyboard.

Review: (Note to FTC: I bought this dang DVD myself!)

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. MGM. 1 hour 37 minutes.

This is one of my guilty pleasures (like Larry the Cable Guy until he runs me out of the room). As Zero Mostel sings at the opening of Stephen Sondheim's take on Plautus, "Something appealing. Something appalling. Something for everyone...a comedy tonight!"

"A Funny Thing" is an updating of two of Plautus' better plays, "Pseudolus" and "Miles Gloriosus." Zero Mostel plays the part of Pseudolus, slave in the household of Senex and his lovely wife, Dominia (I had to write that, she had a dagger at my throat), residents of "a less fashionable suburb of Rome." Pseudolus can best be described by eavesdropping on a tavern converstation between procurer Marcus Lycus (Phil Silvers) and Crassus (Jon Pertwee),a newly arrived ship's captain:

Lycus: "He did it to me again!"

Captain: "Who?"

Lycus: The dirtiest, conviving-est, lying-est, thieving-est, crookedest, most underhanded slave in all of Rome!"

Captain: "Oh, you mean Pseudolus."

Basically, Pseudolus hatches a plot to gain his freedom that involves Hero (Michael Crawford), the son of Senex, an attempted dirty old man (Michael Hordern), head slave Hysterium (Jack Gilford), Domina (Patricia Jessel), Senex's frightening wife, Philia (Annette Andre), a rather confused virgin and love interest of both father and son, Erronius (Buster Keaton in his last role) as the dim-visioned slightly punch-drunk retired gladiator next door, Marcus Lycus and his emporium on the other side, and a legion led by Miles Gloriosus (Leon Greene), the man who raped Thrace thrice.

The movie is the epitome of low comedy with its one-liners, double ententes, pratfalls, misdirection, puns, and chases. From this, you might, maybe get the feeling I like it.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is rated A-III (adults) by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: http://www.usccb.org/

15 January 2010: Feast of St. Ceolwulf of Lindisfame, Nebuchadnezzar II besieges Jerusalem 588 BC, Britsh Museum opens 1759, 21 killed in Boston Molasses Disaster 1919, Pentagon dedicated 1943.

An Ersatz Answer to All.

Science is a funny way to waste time. Like many disciplines it sometimes appears to advance through a form scientific Oedipus complex. One often advances by attacking the thought of the mentor who taught one. As soon as the top is reached and one trains the next generation, the trainee begins the climb to supplant the teacher.

One of the sure methods is to build on the mentor's work to come up with a hypothesis that better describes an observed phenomenon than that of the teacher's. Hopefully, the hypothesis works well enough to be accepted by most of one's fellows and take on the status of a theory. If the theory is perceived to provide a lasting solution to a question, it can become a "law," often named for its originator.

Like a parent, the originator of a theory can fall in love with the fruit of their loins--er, mind. Their wondrous idea can be "The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything!" It is tried as the answer to any number of problems, whether it has anything in common or not. As the old saw goes, "If one has a hammer, all things look like nails."

What results is the one-size-fits-nobody sort of answer--rather like the cheap one-size-fits-nobody baseball-style caps the Koreans flooded the market with back in the early 80s. While billed as one-size-fits-all, these sartorial disasters must have been wrongly transshipped to Earth instead of their proper destination of Tau Ceti IV as they were apparently designed to fit no human head. At the very best, the over-high crown tended to make those wearing them look like noted sportsman Elmer Fudd.

The search for the "Unified Law" so far has been science's version of that for the Holy Grail or, more probably, the philosopher's stone. Who says science isn't a matter of faith? Stay tuned.

Review: (Note to FTC: I bought this danged book myself!)

Storm Front: a Novel of the Dresden Files. Jim Butcher. New york: ROC, 2000.

Coming up with a consistent magic system is one of the things that separates the better fantasy from the good. One of the joys of Harry Dresden's art is that there is a feel of consistency as he works through his incantations and uses his ingredients. Rather than the occasional shift of the method that appears in Rowling for instance, Butcher has, so far, stuck to one apparent system in the two volumes I've read (according to the ladies of the house, this holds true throughout his series).

Harry Dresden, based in a less corrupt Chicago (obviously a different dimension), has the charm of the eternal schlub. No matter what happens to this spell-slinging Sam Spade, you know for him, just getting out with a mostly intact skin is victory. It's a cinch he'll never make the big score and retire to Orlando.

While eeking out a living as a wizard for hire (okay, a "consulting" wizard then), he gets to work on the City's tab just enough to keep from starving. His contact, Sgt. Karrin Murphy, head of the Chicago Police Department's Special Investigations Division (think of a "file 13" for anything that doesn't add up on a material plane) is a tough cop's tough cop and, unlike Agent Scully, admits there are things going on she doesn't understand. Harry's version of the Encyclopedia Arkainia, Bob, is an spirit of the air who resides in a human skull (the previous owner doesn't need it anymore) and when not reeling off lists of ingredients, cooking times, and health warnings--generally about Harry's--is a thorough going letch (as opposed to a litch).

I've only read the first two volumes of the series, Storm Front and Fool Moon, but can say, so far, these are keepers. In fact, I'm a little impatient to get through Lee's Lieutenants [mentioned last time] so I can start on number 3, Grave Peril, which awaits on my Kindle (as of this writing, Harry's lamentable effect on technology newer than 1231 A.D. hasn't manifested itself with my Kindle).

A word about Harry's moral place in the world; like most protagonists in mainline fiction, he is vaguely good to neutral. While Murphy is mostly a believer, Harry is controlled more by a fear of the White Council's reaction to him doing anything untoward magically. In fact, Morgan, their slightly mad enforcer, lusts for the day Harry puts a foot wrong and he gets to execute him (it's hard to not to like a guy who enjoys his work so). Comparing him to the evil he fights, Harry is--to use a phrase of an actor/anthropologist from Betelgeuse--"Mostly harmless."

Catholic Writers Conference Online: 26 February to 5 March 2010

A wise gentleman dressed in green once explained to me that if one wants to do something well, one must learn the drill. Here is a free chance to learn the manual of arms for writers--logical construction, plot, characterization, dialogue, grammar, voice, marketing, making contacts, and pitching--and meet and have fun with fellow writers. All of good will are welcome. Here's the link: http://www.catholicwritersconference.com/index.php .

I'll save you a virtual seat.

12 January 2010: Feast of St. Zoticus of Africa Proconsularis, Basiliscus crowned Byzantine Emperor 475, Royal Aeronautical Society founded in London 1866, Hattie W. Caraway first female U.S. Senator 1932, Biafra surrenders 1970.

Of Women, Bucks, and Why They Ain't Got 'Em.

I'm pretty much a guy (quick look down). Yeah, a guy. But I have been known to associate with women (two are asleep a few meters away as I write this). Over the years, I've come to the opinion that they are heavily taken advantage of in this society. Reading an article at oh-dark-thirty this morning reminded me of this (not to mention getting my skivies in a knot). Here's the article: http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/ConsumerActionGuide/dunleavey-why-it-costs-more-to-be-a-woman.aspx

Since I've been married (34 years and counting) I've noticed that women are sold poorly made clothing for much more than well made men's clothing. The coats are thinner, the pants start unraveling on the first wearing, and the socks have toes coming through them before the mates vanish in the dyer. One reason women are always cold--I had a scientific treatise about this on the blog sometime ago you may remember--is that their winter clothes are apparently made of cheese cloth or, at least, cheesy cloth. The only companies I've run across that seem to consistently sell clothing for women to wear outside in temperate and frigid areas at anytime other than summer are Cabela's http://www.cabelas.com and L.L.Bean http://www.llbean.com . The prices are generally no worse than the mall and the quality is a heck of a lot better.

Why does this sort of thing go on? Because women put up with it. Women rarely make a stink about how they're taken advantage of. Yeah, there's some griping to each other, but nothing really gets done other than a bit of venting. The people who make a living out of being women professionally seem to spend a large part of their time pursuing grants and agitating for various amorphous "rights" but never seem to address the fact it costs a woman 50% more to live than a man. Occasionally, one will hear them complain about women being paid 80% what guys are for doing the same jobs (the fastest way to lower payroll costs in any profession is to attract women to it). Okay, but let's hear more about women's other economic problems as well.

I don't think much of anything will change until women vote with their pocketbooks. As long as producers can mold a razor in pink plastic and know they can sell it for 50% more, nothing's going to happen. When women start buying the same razor in white, blue, or even Advantage HD camouflage (which, by the way, is rather fetching), the producer will get the message. As an example, the ladies in my life shop in the Men's department for those things that don't require frilliness: socks, t-shirts, long johns, backpacks, even some of their shoes. Does it make them any less feminine? Nope, just shows them to be women who are too smart to pay more for the sake of their gender. Me? I likes my women smart.

Review: (Note to FTC: I bought this dang book myself!)

Lee's Lieutenants: A Study in Command. Douglas Southall Freeman. Abridged in one volume by Stephen W. Sears. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998. Kindle.

As a general rule, when confronted with an abridgement, I retreat precipitously (yeah, okay, I admit it does usually look more like a rout). Due to a malfunction of my port side manipulator, I'm forced to read on my Kindle as I'm unable to hold a book until I get out of drydock. I felt like reading something on the War Between the States (American Civil War to you folks of a Northern persuasion), but had already read James M. McPherson's book on Sharpsburg, Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, and didn't have the bucks to download Edward Longacre's biography of the Federal cavalry commander who sparked Gettysburg and saved the Union, General John Buford: A Military Biography. I had downloaded Sears' abridgement of Freeman's three volume work published in 1942, '43, and '44 last summer at the same time I downloaded an abridgement of Freeman's four volume Pulitzer Prize winning R.E. Lee, and had never gotten around to looking at it.

Okay, I admit it. I own the three volume set and to be honest, I haven't been able to really tell the difference between the two other than (I think) Sears has kept most of the actual matter on command and dumped some of the biographical detail, necessary redundancies connecting volumes, and notes. He has kept enough of the biographies to give a good idea of the Army of Northern Virginia's general officers. He hasn't touched Freeman's voice or style and hasn't attempted to update him--for which I have warm, fuzzy feelings for Mr. Sears.

James M. McPherson is at his usual best in his Introduction.

Freeman is always a pleasure to read and Stephen W. Sears did a heck of a job lightening Lee's Lieutenants without cutting either bone or muscle.

Note: Amazon.com's free Kindle for PC download is a big help. When I tire of holding the Kindle, it allows me to read any of my Kindle formatted books (including those from Baen and ManyBooks.net) sitting at the laptop or desktop.

8 January 2010: Feast of St. Thorfinn of Trondhjem, Ethelred of Wessex defeats Danes 871, Charles Stuart takes Stirling 1746, Battle of New Orleans 1815, Crazy Horse and Two Moons defeated at Wolf Mountain by Nelson A. Miles 1877.

...tenth, eleventh...Oh yeah, Twelfth Night!

Twelfth Night marks the last of the twelve days of Christmas (no, you heathen, they don't lead up to Christmas--that's Advent). Earlier today, the UPS guy delivers the last box of the twelve gifts your true love gives to you--hopefully charged to his card rather than yours. Your next move is to figure out what your going to do with twelve drummers drumming (as opposed to twelve lords aleaping--if the Brits want to get rid of them that bad, they can ship them to the Falklands).

In civilized places, there's a major blowout involving the Wassail bowl, shoe, canteen cup--whatever holds liquids--while the rosca de reyes or king cake is being baked for tomorrow (which probably explains how beans, coins, Baby Jesus figures, or whatnot end up in them--next year, keep Uncle Julio the heck away from the Wassail bowl or at least brace him and disarm him of the tequila bottle). Tonight before you hit the rack, don't forget to put one shoe filled with hay out for the Wise Men's camels, donkeys, water buffaloes, riding iguanas, or what have you. For tomorrow is Epiphany, Dia de Reyes, or Fastnacht.

In the less civilized places like were my folks come from, there is Berchtenlaufen. This is when several hundred young guys run through the streets cracking whips and ringing bells to chase evil spirits out of town--apparently said spirits are still hungover from the preceding twelve days of festivities. In even less civilized places, such activities mean your team won the championship.

Also, it's bad luck to leave Christmas decorations up after Twelfth Night (this is an update from Candlemas--2 February). A bosun's mate and his family I know seem to live to a rather different calendar. About All Saints, the lights go up and, a week after Easter, they come down. I must admit through, for those five months, the turkey, manger, and rabbit in their front yard make for one heck of a landmark when you're trying to give someone directions (people going from one end of Quantico to the other have been detoured via the Naval Weapons base just so it could be used).

It's also the name of a pretty decent play by some guy named Shakespeare.

Over the Fence

I received another letter from Homer Smute, the world's oldest minor league baseball player, the other day.


The problem with living in the fast lane is you know what you did because of the bills, alimony, palimony, child support, community service, fines and jail time. But you can't remember the fun you had doing it.

I got to admit that Mitch Groengras. the Busters' grounds keeper is no quitter. To keep the grass down, the management let people run their cows on the field. Of course, Mitch had to go around with a shovel before games. But the cows didn't keep the grass short enough, so they tried sheep. Well, this got the grass down to about the right level, but Mitch had to come in twice as early with his shovel before games. Tim Molesight, our Left fielder, told me this morning over coffee at Karina's Good 'nough Cafe that Mitch told management yesterday he'd start paying one of the farmers out of his own pocket to cut the grass with his tractor.

The only problem with turning your cap into a "rally cap" is not only is your team losing, but now you look stupid too.

As team logos go, the Stump Busters' ain't one of the most uplifting. Let's face it, a tree stump, no matter what you do to it, just don't sing.

Now the Washington Wild Things (Washington, PA) has one of the best I've seen.

Note: Homer asked me to put in a link to their website: http://www.washingtonwildthings.com/

I don't know how much longer the team can keep going. The younger guys keep leaving to go someplace where they got a better chance of advancement, like Dundalk.

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5 January 2010: Feast of St. Convoyon, George Washington weds Martha Dandridge Custis 1759, Benedict Arnold commanding British naval forces burns Richmond, VA 1781, Alfred Dreyfus sentenced to Devil's Island 1895, Richard Nixon orders development of Space Shuttle 1972.