On the strong recommendation of David Foster, the Daughter-Unit and I began to watch: A French Village, that seven-season long miniseries which follows five years of German occupation and a bit of the aftermath as it affects the lives of a handful of characters in a small town in eastern France close to the Swiss border – from the day that the German invaders arrive, to the aftermath of the occupation, in a fractured peace, when all was said and done. (It’s available through Amazon Prime.) A good few of the occupants of that village did not really welcome liberation and had damn good reasons – guilty consciences, mostly, for having collaborated with the Germans with varying degrees of enthusiasm. (A benefit is that this series stars actors of whom we have never heard, in French with English subtitles. Given how the establishment American entertainment media has gone all noisily woke, anti-Trump and abusive towards us conservative residents of Flyoverlandia, this is a darned good thing. Seriously, for years and years I used to only personally boycott Jane Fonda and Cat Stevens, now my list of ‘oh, hell NEVER! actors and personalities is well into the scores.)
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Age and guile, so the saying goes, beats out youth and speed by a long chalk. (As does possession of generous insurance policies.) Age and experience also build up an overflowing reservoir of cynicism about a lot of things; protestations of enduring love, promises by politicians campaigning for election, and belief in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, among a long, long list of other things.

So it is with heartfelt convictions when it comes to media and academic protestations of “OMG, The Earth Is Gonna End and We Are All Gonna Die!” Sorry, if you’ve been around long enough (as I have been, long enough to collect Social Security while it still exists) you have been to this rodeo before. And to a good many performances, usually championed by the national media with their hair on fire; Existential doom – how many are there, shall I count the ways? The biggie when I was myself in grade school and for a goodly few decades thereafter was Immanent Nuclear War and Annihilation. Nuclear Winter afflicting any of us fortunate enough to survive that! Then there was the catastrophe of Global Cooling – the New Ice Age descending on us all! (insert extraneous exclamation points here.) We were all gonna freeze! More »

25. September 2019 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, Luna, Politics, Rant

The homeless, like the poor are, as Jesus depressingly observed, always with us. Admittedly the American poor are darned well-off, when compared to the poor in other times and in other places. It was reported last week on one of my go-to sites, that of all the homeless in the USA, half of them appear to have taken up residence on the streets, alleys and byways of California, although a fair number of the technically homeless are well-adjusted and employed, and merely living out of RVs, vans, trailers and automobiles parked on streets and parking lots because they cannot afford a rental of a dwelling-place without wheels on it. My daughter has brought home some pretty chilling observation of street people in Pasadena, over the last couple of years; the ubiquity of substance-addled and hygiene-challenged street people and their scratch encampments still shocks her, on every visit to family out there.

Not that we didn’t ever see street people, or vagrants here in San Antonio; there always were a handful, panhandling at certain intersections with a cardboard sign, hanging out at the bus station, or wherever there were services of any sort catering to the down-and-out. Sometimes when I had to use the city bus system because my car was at the garage, I’d see some truly odd people at the stops or sometimes on the bus. More »

18. September 2019 · Comments Off · Categories: Geekery, Literary Good Stuff, Local

This last weekend was the start of the fall book market season; I spent three days in Giddings, Texas, as one of the local authors invited to participate in the yearly Word Wrangler Book Festival – which is sponsored by the local library, and supported by practically every civic institution in Giddings, including the local elementary and high schools. Last Thursday, the first day of Word Wrangler, certain of us authors volunteered to go and visit schools for readings, or to just talk about writing. This year, I visited three middle-school classes, to talk to sixth graders about writing, the stories that they liked, and what they could write about. I like doing this with fifth and sixth grade students, by the way – they are old enough to read pretty well, but not so old as to be jaded by the whole ‘visiting writer/storyteller’ thing. The kids were lively and responsive; it helps that they were being taught about plotting, about the narrative voice, and how to create a story. In each class of about twenty or thirty kids, I would guess that two or three are terrifically keen on creative writing, another eight or ten are interested, and the remainder are not completely indifferent. I went around and asked each student what they liked to read the most; adventure stories seemed to be most popular, followed by mysteries. Two boys in separate classes were enthralled by World War II stories. Horror and fantasy seemed to be about equally popular; and there was one girl with quite gruesome taste in exotic forms of murder. Well, it takes all kinds, and I am not her analyst; she’ll most likely grow out of it, once puberty really takes hold …
Then I went around again, asking each one what they would write about; what story would they want to sit down and write. For those who couldn’t think of one, I gave them a character and a situation, and encouraged them to go to town. And one more thing I told them – it is perfectly OK for a writer starting out to venture into scribbling fanfiction. You like a certain movie, book, TV series, videogame, are interested in that world and those characters? Take the characters you really like or identify with and write them a new set of adventures in that fictional world. Saves the time and trouble of building a whole new world from scratch … and isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Go and do it; practically every writer I know did the same. I certainly did; and the reams of juvenilia is something to eventually be consigned to the shredder by my literary executor. Just be careful when unleashing revised fanfiction into the world – chose the venue carefully and file off all the identifying serial numbers. Otherwise, it’s excellent practice, I told the kids; the literary equivalent of training wheels when learning to ride a bicycle.
I’ve been publishing independently since 2007; the first big wave of independent writers, although there were a small number of specialists in the decades before that. There were always writers publishing their works in a small way, mostly through arranging a print run with a local printer and bookbinder, but that method usually cost more money than was available to those of us in that big wave in the mid ‘Oughts’. The development of publish on demand, the ability of printers to do small print runs at a reasonable cost, the rise of Amazon, the popularity of eReaders, and the disinclination of the establishment publishing houses to continue backing midlist authors while pursuing only huge blockbusters … that all left the field wide open to indy writers like the ones I spent last weekend with. It astounded me all over again how very good, and professional the books at Word Wrangler looked. The covers of most books – and they covered the range of kids’ books through adult fiction; adventure, mystery, western, historical – all looked as good as anything produced by mainstream publishers. There is such a wealth of good reading available, through independent and small publishers, and readers in places like Giddings know it very, very well,

11. September 2019 · Comments Off · Categories: General, Luna

“I know that it’s been fifteen years as of last Sunday,” Coach Garrett mused thoughtfully, hardly taking note of the beer in front of him. “But sometimes it’s as clear to me as if it was yesterday.”
It was a perfect, autumn afternoon – a Friday afternoon in mid-September, just beginning to turn cool. The VFW had visitors’ night on Fridays, and now Richard sat outside with Joe Vaughn and Coach Garrett, at the splintery picnic table under the massive sycamore tree that shaded the back of the VFW.
“You were there in New York, weren’t you, Coach?” Joe drank deep from his own beer. “You saw the Towers go down, up close and personal. Man … it was bad enough watching on TV in real time.”
“Another life,” Dwight Garrett shrugged, but something in the look of that otherwise undistinguished, middle-aged countenance warned Richard to embrace tact and circumspection in his further comment.
“It was a splendid day for me,” Richard ventured, reminiscent for the world of just a little ago, but gone as distant now as the Austro-Hungarian empire. “I know … the irony of it all. An evening in Paris – it was mid-evening. I had just won my first cooking contest, and signed with a talent agency. Some of my old Charterhouse pals and I popped over to Paris to celebrate my excellent prospects. We were drinking in a bar in the Rue d Belleville, and wondering why they had a telly on, and tuned to some high-rise disaster movie. It didn’t seem all that big a thing, not at first. The penny didn’t drop until we saw the headlines in the newspapers the next day. In my defense, we were all enormously pissed that evening.”
“I’ll bet your hangover was epic,” Joe said, not without sympathy. “I was at Fort Lewis. First assignment to the Second Battalion … just driving into work, when it came over the radio. Airplane crashed into the World Trade Center tower. Swear to god, everyone thought it must be one of those little private airplanes, ya know – like a Piper Cub or something. The top sergeant said, ‘Oh, man, they must have gotten hella lost!’ And then someone turned on the breakroom TV, and there was this big ol’ gash in the side of the tower and the smoke just pouring out… Top said he remembered hearing about a WWII bomber hitting the Empire State Building, but that was in a fog. Two big honking silver buildings – we just couldn’t understand at first how it could happen by accident.”
“It was such a beautiful morning,” Dwight Garrett nodded. “Cool, crisp … not a cloud in the sky. I had played a concert at the Alice Tully the night before, so I slept in. Gwen … my wife didn’t wake me up when she left for work. She left a note for me … that we should meet for supper at Morton’s on Washington Street, just around the corner, when she was done with work that evening.”
“Didn’t know you were a married man, Coach,” Joe said, and Dwight Garrett sighed.
“Oh, yes – I left it late, sorry to say. Gwen and I were married for six years and three months. A dedicated career woman, and a divorcee with two sons she raised herself. We met at one of those musical soirees associated with a Mozart festival. Gwen was in finance. Did you ever notice that maths and music are deeply intertwined in some people? Anyway, we had a nice little condo in Tribeca, a stone-throw from where she worked.”
“And?” Richard prodded. He had visited New York often enough during the high-flying years of his career as a globe-trotting celebrity chef, and had only the vaguest notion of where Tribeca might me. It was not his favorite city on the American continent; that would be Vancouver, or perhaps Miami. New York was too crowded, too … vertical for his taste.
“She worked at Cantor-Fitzgerald – in the North Tower,” Dwight Garrett replied in perfectly level, dispassionate tones. Joe drew in his breath sharply, but said nothing, and Coach Garrett continued. “Even asleep, I heard the sirens – but so ordinary a sound in the city, I just went back to sleep. Until Gwen’s son Jeff called from White Plains. ‘Where’s Mom?’ he said, ‘Did she go into work, today? Turn on the TV – there’s a plane that hit the building she works in, all the top floors are on fire, and she’s not answering her cellphone.’ I told him to calm down. I’d walk over to the WTC and find her, make sure she was safe, and that everything would be all right …” He took a long draw of his own beer, calm and meditative, as if he were telling a story of another persons’ experience. “The sidewalks along Vesey Street were full of people looking up towards the towers – both of them just gushing smoke. Like water coming out of a fire hydrant. I started walking as fast as I could. I could see nothing moving on the street, but fire engines, lined up as far as I could see, once I got close. I kept trying to call Gwen. I thought sure that they would let me through the barricades once I explained. The South Tower fell before I got to the end of the block. It was … like a tidal wave of black smoke, dust, soot. A policeman yelled at us to run like hell. A bunch of us on the sidewalk ran into the nearest place – a coffee shop on Vesey, to escape it.” Coach Garrett shook his head, slowly. “Outside that window it turned as black as you could imagine. And the lights went out. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face for about five, ten minutes. That policeman was in there, too – he had a flashlight, but it didn’t help. When we came out everything was grey, covered with thick grey dust. We were all covered in it, too. Needless to say, they wouldn’t let me come anywhere near the North Tower. There were too many people. And I think they were already afraid that the North Tower was going to fall as well.”
“Did you find your wife?” Richard ventured. Coach Garrett shook his head.
“No. Not that day, or afterward. Nothing left – everything and most everyone on the floors just above the impact site were essentially vaporized. I accepted right away that she was gone forever, nothing to be done. No good going to the morgue or hanging around as they excavated the pile afterwards. It was almost as if our marriage had been a wonderful, fleeting dream, and she had never been … except for the boys, of course. And her clothes and things in the condo. It was just so … curious, how it happened out of the clear blue in the blink of an eye, on so ordinary day.”
“Sorry, man,” Joe said, after a long moment. “I never knew about your wife, and all of that. That why you left New York and came home to Texas?”
Coach Garrett nodded. “I couldn’t stay. Not without Gwen. The pile of rubble burned for months. The whole place smelled of smoke and death. I packed a suitcase and took the express to White Plains a few days later. I signed the condo over to Jeff and his brother, rented a car and drove back to Texas. I meant to go back to Kingsville … but heard about a job teaching music here. It seemed like a good way to start fresh.”
“You do what you gotta do,” Joe agreed. “Another, Coach? My treat.”
“Sure thing, Joe,” the older man finished off his beer and looked into the distance; the blue, blue sky and the leaf canopy of the sycamores just beginning to turn gold and brown. “There’s one thing I do regret about Gwen. I wish that I hadn’t slept in – that I had fixed her breakfast, kissed her, said that I hoped she would have a good day, and that I loved her. I never for a single moment thought that she would suddenly just not be there. Love shouldn’t end that way, on the flip of a coin.”
“Nope,” Joe agreed, and to Richard, it looked as if Joe had suddenly made up his mind about something. “You want another, Rich?”
“Only if you’re buying.” Richard replied.
“Cheap limey bastard,” Joe grumbled.

Home delivery – the latest trend to hit retail and grocery outlets – is a boon to sick people. I say this as someone who caught the current flu last Thursday. Here I was, innocently going about my usual routine, although I did note than on Thursday morning during the ritual Walking of The Doggles, that I was sniffing and sneezing; as if something had gotten caught in my sinuses. Innocently, it all seemed to pass; at mid-day my daughter and I went up to Bergheim in the Hill Country to meet with a small book club who had done me the honor of choosing the first of the Adelsverein Trilogy as their book selection of the month. More »

Separately, the Daughter Unit and I watched a series on Netflix (don’t hate on us, there’s still some good stuff there, and I don’t want to bail out until we’ve milked it dry) about the last Czars of Russia – specifically the series which mixed fairly serious commentary about the Russian Revolution with interestingly high-end reenactments of events in the life of the last czar and his family. (Seriously, though – I doubt very much that Nicky and Alix made mad hot whoopee on a fur coat underneath his official czarsorial desk, while the household staff made a heroic effort to ignore the amatory noises coming from behind closed doors. Just my .02. She was a Victorian, for Ghod’s sake. Really; Queen V.’s granddaughter. Who privately thought that Dear Alix wasn’t in the least up to the challenge of being Czarina of all the Russians; Alix may have waxed poetically amatory about her affection and trust in Father Grigory Rasputin, but to do the nasty on the floor, in daylight? Even with your wedded husband? Just nope. Nope.)
I will accept that the orgiastic interludes involving Rasputin were likely and wholly believable. And that Nicky and Alix loved each other, that their four daughters and son with medical issues all loved each other with a passionate devotion that lasts through this world and the next. The last shattering sequences in the Ipatiav House rings true. That was the way it was, and that was how it ended. (I reviewed a book on this, here.)
I was meditating on all of this – with a consideration towards royalty; the old-fashioned kind, and the new-mint variety. More »

So it is generally considered not nice to take satisfaction in someone elses’ misery, but when it comes to certain Proggie Established Media outlets, I will cheerfully make an exception. As if it isn’t enough that Washington Post news offices appear to be afflicted with a plague of cockroaches, now it appears that the NY Times – self-revealed last week as a purveyor of vicious propaganda on a level unequaled since the glory days of Der Stürmer – has a bed-bug problem. Pity the poor working-class exterminators who must venture into the offices; as a commenter noted here at Powerline – how on earth will they tell the difference between the vermin and the regular staff, as well as the Dem Party politicians that the Establishment Media fawns upon with such tiresome regularity? More »

It appears that this week, the New York Times, the so-called paper of record, upon whom the self-directed spotlight of smug superiority ever shines – has now taken that final, irrevocable step from the business of reporting news and current events, matters cultural and artistic to becoming a purveyor of progressive propaganda. Of course, as characters in British procedural mysteries often say, ‘they have form’ when it comes to progressive propaganda; all the way from Walter Duranty’s reporting on famine in the Soviet Union through the drumbeat of ‘worst war-crime evah!’ in coverage when it came to Abu Ghraib, and the current bête noir – or rather ‘bête orange’ man bad. It seems that it has now become necessary for the Times to make the issue of chattel slavery of black Africans the centerpiece, the foundation stone, the sum and total of American history. Everything – absolutely everything in American history and culture now must be filtered through the pitiless lens of slavery.
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Trent Telenko has already addressed the free-fall of credibility when it comes to elements of the federal government in the wake of the suspicious death in supposed tightly-supervised custody of Jeffrey Epstein, the Pedo-Prince of Perv Island. The resulting discussion thread provided plenty of food for thought, as well as clarifying the degree of contempt that elements of the so-called ruling classes and the federal justice bureaucracy apparently feel towards those ruled – in that they can’t even be bothered to tell a believable story regarding the last days of the Pimp to the Privileged.
Once upon a time, we had – or at least, thought we had – a national news media which might, with the wind blowing in the right direction, and assuming that the reporters at the top of the national news-food chain weren’t best buddies with the studly, hip, and dynamic president and his glamorous wife – that national news media would cover the important stories. More »

08. August 2019 · Comments Off · Categories: History, Literary Good Stuff

(Miss Minnie Vining, spinster of Boston, is visiting relatives in Richmond, Virginia – and acting as a chaperone for her very much younger cousin, who is being courted by none other than the very raffish Pres Devereaux. On an excursion out into the countryside to look at the summer wildflowers, they are involved in a dreadful carriage accident.)

She couldn’t breathe. All the air was sent from her lungs by the force of that fall over the side of Mr. Devereaux’s Tilbury gig. A constellation of exploding stars blotted out the sky overhead, and Minnie felt herself suspended between not being able to draw a breath and a white-hot agony exploding up to her shoulder and down to her hand, and from her head, which had struck the road with cruel force. Somewhere, a woman was crying out in alarm. She sounded very young, panicky – Minnie felt herself lifted, as limp and powerless as a rag doll in the grip of something. She couldn’t think, only felt – and what she felt was pain, pain and more pain.
“Miss Minnie! Wake up, open your eyes – speak to me!” a voice begged – a somehow familiar voice. A man. Authoritative … and for some curious reason, frantic in concern.
Minnie obeyed the command to open her eyes, although her sight was somewhat baffled by … oh, yes, the brim of her bonnet, now crushed and disarranged, and a flood of something sticky and warm on her face, wetting the collar of her dress. And this was the countenance of … oh, yes – she fished in her dis-jangled memory for a name. Mr. Devereaux, the handsome and raffish adventurer … presently courting the very young Charlotte Edmonds.
Yes. She was supposed to have been their watchful chaperone.
Minnie struggled to recall – yes, an aggravating and contrary man, a whirligig of opinions posed for nothing more than to harass and torment … but he … he was a man … and Minnie fished for knowledge and insight in her present torment.
A man who waged a war on a chessboard and was the most gallant when losing to a mere woman.
“She’s bleeding so awfully!” the younger voice exclaimed in horror – Charlotte; yes, that was Charlotte, daubing ineffectually at Minnie’s forehead with a dainty handkerchief smeared horribly red. Mr. Devereaux replied,
“Her head struck a large rock on the ground, I believe – and it is well known that such injuries always bleed out of all proportion … Miss Minnie, please speak to us!”
“Wha … h’ppened?” Minnie stumbled over the words. It hurt to speak.
“A runaway team, on the road!” Charlotte exclaimed. “The driver could not control them – he had fallen from the wagon, and the wagon struck Mr. Devereaux’s gig … they kept on going! And now the wheel is utterly smashed! What are we to do, Mr. Devereaux? What are we to do, since we are all this way from town? Surely, Cousin Minnie needs a doctor at once!” More »

My initial reaction upon reading of Juaquin Castro ‘outing’ local San Antonio donors to the Trump campaign was along the lines of “oh dear, that was so not a good idea!” Nothing that I have read about the imbroglio in the days since has given me cause to revise that opinion … other than to confirm it. Yes, such information is a matter of public record, but opening up certain of your constituents to harassment, especially in the wake of such things as calls for Republicans to be harassed in restaurants, protested by persons threatening violence at their homes, attacked physically, and going so far as shooting up their softball teams … this does not calm the political passions in any degree. No, it’s as good as spraying gasoline on a bonfire, and the Castro brothers richly deserve every bit of the opprobrium they have earned – especially locally.

There is a rather curious thing about San Antonio; it may look like a medium-sized city to the distant observer, but it is actually the biggest small town in the world. The networks of personal connection are as strong and as intertwined as any small town. More »

On summer nights, in the suburb where I lived in the late 1980ies, I often heard gunfire at night – a regular popping kind of noise, like pebbles dropping into a metal bucket. The every-day noise of the city died away, as well as sounds of traffic on the highway between Zaragoza and Logrono. Very distant, of course – the firing range at Bardenas Reales was at least thirty miles north as the crow flies, but the sounds of artillery, air gunnery, and military war games carried quite well, under certain conditions. I was often reminded then, of accounts from both world wars – recollections of residents in France and England; miles from the front, but who could hear the war, at a distance. The popping sound of distant firing also reminded me of other accounts, like this one – of submarine warfare in WWI, and how pressure worked on the hulls of early submarines, quite often fatally to their crews.
The noise – hissing, popping, creaks and groaning, as the pressure builds, and builds. I cannot help thinking that the shootings in an El Paso Walmart, at a bar in Dayton, and at the Gilroy garlic festival are symptomatic of pressure building to a nearly unbearable level. Those young men, the shooters in each case (as well as earlier shooters like Dylan Roof and Adam Lanza) are the weakest rivets popping loose.

And no, for the hundredth and thousandth time – it’s not guns, their availability, laws governing sales of guns, the Second Amendment, or politicians and editorialists pleading for so-called “sensible gun control” who emerge, like the groundhog in spring, in the wake of horrific events. I have often wished that they would vary the program by suggesting a round of “sensible nutbar control”, just for the sake of variety. I have also come to think that the constant and unsubtle anti-male bashing in intellectual, educational practice and entertainment circles over the last twenty, thirty, or forty years might have a great deal to do with teen and twenty-something men going completely off the rails. The best-adjusted of them settle for low-rent jobs, a meagre social life and turn to on-line gaming, dangerous hobbies involving heights, long falls, and high speed. The worst-off take comfort in the kind of solace and sympathy available among the like-minded in the darker corners of the internet. The very worst-off find a weapon and use it on living, breathing, bleeding targets. Such young men can’t get a worthwhile job or a worthwhile relationship – so much for having a steadying family life and long-term commitments as earlier generations of males did. Adding a heaping helping of social and political contempt for being white, working class, and living in Flyoverlandia is just the topping to this whole rancid dish.

Your thoughts, and insights? We are all damned by our so-called betters as irredeemable, far-right racist deplorables, anyway; may as well speak honestly while we can.

05. August 2019 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic, Home Front

A cookbook, that is – one cookbook to rule them all. A good few years ago, what with the popularity of so many food and cooking websites, we got in the habit of printing out recipes that sounded good, and if they did turn out really, really good – putting them in sheet protectors in a three-ring binder for easy referral. That binder is the every-day reference for putting together an evening meal, only as time went on – the book got terribly random and unwieldy, with the recipes inserted in any old order. There were also pages of recipes that had once looked interesting, but not enough to actually cook them, or that we tried once and went ‘meh’ or alternate recipes for a dish that we had a recipe for that we liked better … and the pages themselves got sticky from use, or being splashed, the binder began falling apart … and I swear that one of the cats (now exiled to the Magnificent Catio) was in the habit of spraying on the back of the binder …so, time to cull, re-print, re-arrange, put into fresh page protectors and a brand-spanking-new binder and also to create a duplicate book for the day when the Daughter Unit has her own domestic establishment.

So that has been the current project, now that Luna City #8 is fairly launched. I started with going through and pulling out all the recipes for chicken. A few of them I had to just copy into a fresh document, most of them I retrieved from the various websites where they had originated, and copy-pasted into a new document. Doing this let me change the size of the font – look, it’s a bear to have to fetch my reading glasses to read a 8 or 9 point font, while reducing the recipe itself to a single page – because flipping over three pages to follow the same recipe is … not helpful, especially when half of it might be taken up with pretty pictures. (No, I don’t need the pictures. Ingredients and instructions are sufficient, thank you very much.)

After a weekend of working at this project, I have gotten all the way through the chicken recipes, and all of the beef/pork/lamb/venison recipes, which I think must have made up more than half of the original binder. The remaining sections – for vegetarian, fish, and miscellaneous side dishes and sauces should go much faster. And that – along with another chapter of the Civil War novel – was my project for the week.
Oh, still waiting to hear from the garage
regarding my poor little car. Getting a replacement side light seems to be the main remaining challenge – it may very well have to come all the way from Japan by special order, although I would think that a little creative metal bending and plastic fabrication, such as Dad used to do in his garage for some of his automobile projects, would do the trick. It absolutely fries me that the idiot whose’ rotten driving caused the accident had no damage at all to his car – whereas I have now been without mine for a month and a half.

Yes, the great science fiction visionary, Robert A. Heinlein (PBUM) an Annapolis grad and serving naval officer who was discharged for reasons of health early on in what might have been a promising naval career at the right time and in the right generation to have made a significant command mark in WWII, generated the concept of the crazy years. But I wonder if he had the slightest clue of the far-frozen limits of bug-house, chewing-at-the-restraints, raving-at-the-moon crazy that current political figures, media personalities, self-styled internet stars, and academic t*ats would achieve … and just in the last week or so. Really, under the old rules of civility, the ones that I grew to adulthood honoring, decent citizens would have just looked away, murmuring polite demurrals and excuses under their breath, while deleting the offending party from their address book and never inviting them to their neighborhood potlucks any more … but now the crazy has got to such an extent that one can hardly keep up.
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Oh, let me count the ways – first, a purely visceral and visual reaction: she’s a snake in a trendy head-scarf. Reminds me of the internet meme of Momo, actually. And the fact that she is a particularly nasty bigot and vocal anti-Ordinary American, and Jew-hater, and might very well have both perpetuated and benefited from immigration fraud.
And … Somali.

I am certain there are some Somali immigrants/refugees who are adornments of wherever they have settled outside of Somalia and taken the trouble to adapt to their new communities. The fashion modal Iman. And Ayaan Hirsi Ali … Seriously, that just about does it for me as far as favorable impressions of the Somali immigrant community goes. I have been given to understand through various local specialty bloggers, that there is a large and indigestible collection of Somalis in Minnesota; indigestible as much of what passes for news regarding that community which appears now and again in media as well as blogs … does not reflect well on Somalis. Systemic welfare fraud. Somali taxi drivers refusing rides to passengers with service dogs and duty-free alcohol. Support and volunteers for the brutal régime of ISIS in Syria. The unprovoked shooting of an unarmed woman by a Somali police officer who never should have given a badge and a gun. There are reports that Ms Omar’s father was a higher-up in a Marxist régime which brutally ruled the place until overthrown, whereupon Somalia devolved into a more or less permanent state of cutthroat tribal war, famine and piracy … and don’t think that I have forgotten about how the US and the UN together got suckered into trying to administer famine relief in the face of a local warlord weaponizing the distribution of food. Taking pity on all those poor, poor, big-eyed starving children with swollen bellies finished up with the bodies of dead Americans being dragged through the slums of Mogadishu and displayed like trophies for the news media. No good deed goes unpunished, in that part of the world, it appears.

You’d think that refugees from all that would be disinclined to create that situation all over again, upon escaping from it, as well as perhaps displaying a modicum of gratitude for a safe refuge. That doesn’t seem to be the case, most notably with Ms Omar, who apparently expected America to be all roses, rainbows and unicorns like a 1950ies sitcom and was most bitterly disappointed when it wasn’t.

Somali refugees were settled there through the good offices of religious agencies over the last three decades, which once had much better results in assisting refugees. I was active in college in a local Lutheran-sponsored local resettlement effort focusing on Vietnamese refugees. This was a very personal, tightly-focused effort by a working-class community in doing our best for a body of people for which we felt an inchoate degree of sympathy, in that most of the refugees that we turned out all effort for were also working and middle-class – whom, moreover – worked very hard to establish themselves in a new country. Those sponsored families and individuals rewarded our homes and efforts; they all became Americans, melting seamlessly into speaking English, educating their children, sending them out into military service, to useful occupations, to whole-heartedly embracing all that America had to offer – while still keeping intact an affection for certain traditions. That is the way that immigrants in previous decades did it, no matter what their national origin – but if Ms Omar is the best the Somali-American community has, I don’t hold out much hope for that community ever adjusting. Discuss as you wish.

A longish and somewhat exhausting morning – this the day that my social security is paid into my bank account – (Yes, I collect it, having put into it for all those working years since the age of 16, and having no more patience for working full-time for other people) so we went up to New Braunfels for the semi-monthly purchase of meats and sausage at Granzins, then a little farther to the new super-HEB for assorted groceries, and then a loop around to Tractor Supply for flea spray, drops and collars for the critters. Who are all afflicted with the summertime plague of fleas, and the most seriously effective yet most reasonably-priced remedies are all available at Tractor Supply, including a carpet/surface spray which has a strong yet pleasing odor of citronella and only seems to be available at Tractor Supply. I wish that I drove a pickup truck – I wouldn’t feel like such a townie, pulling into the parking lot there. I might even pull on those vintage Ariat boots that I bought at a charity thrift shop a couple of years ago.

Anyway, loaded up at Granzins on chicken breasts, quarters, a small steak (which is my monthly treat) and some of their divine locally-made sausage, which makes a splendid main dish when rubbed with a little of Adams Reserve Steakhouse Rub, spritzed with a bit of olive oil and then baked until done. At the super-HEB, a 7 ½ pound pork tenderloin at a good price, to be chopped into roasts and boneless chops … and when returned home, an hour of time with the vacuum sealer, packaging it all up for the freezer – set with meat options for supper for the next month or maybe even longer. Look – we flirt with tasty vegan options at least one night a week, but that’s just for the variety of it. Otherwise, we are unashamed carnivores.
Part of the journey to New Braunfels involved a fitting … for a costume to be worn at a book-launch party in Seguin late next month by one of three – the author and my daughter Blondie to be the other two. I committed, in a moment of weakness and affectionate friendship for another author, to sew frontier ‘soiled dove’ outfits for the launch party bash. Easy enough – a white cotton shift, a flashy skirt with lace trim, and a fitted and laced bodice. The skirts and the shift are simple enough, the laced bodice must be fitted to each individual; the pattern is one I am not happy with, since I will have to add some extra lacing to the back of the bodice to ensure that the shoulder portion will not be slipping down … eh, the outfits will be marvelous when I have completed them.

Tuesday mid-day was likewise consumed by a necessary errand – to the cardiologist at BAMC for the yearly check-up. Yes, I seem to have developed a noticeable heart murmur in the last couple of years. Such was was noted when I was in my twenties, but was written off to a) pregnancy, b) a doctor doing research who apparently wanted to find such in healthy young adults for the purpose of generating a research report, and c) a bout of viral myocarditis discovered during a routine physical required when I was putting together an application for an officer commission – a condition which eventually healed on its’ own, although at the time it scared the bejesus out of my supervisors, my parents and the hospital administrators at the Misawa AB hospital. The comforting thing in the current iteration is that it doesn’t appear to have gotten any worse since being first observed. EKG – same as last year. Sound of it all – same as last year. Barely over the line for concern, according to the cardiologist. Hardly rating any concern, considering the appearances of other patients in the waiting area of the cardiology clinic – yeah, the full collection of canes, walkers, and wheel-chairs. Look – we all die of something. A dicky ticker over the next two or three decades appears to be my fate. I’m OK with that, considering some of the other alternatives.

It was not part of their blood,
It came to them very late,
With long arrears to make good,
When the Saxon began to hate.

I have often jokingly wished that some kind of secret sign existed, like a Masonic emblem or peculiar handshake by which those of us conservatives who do not go about openly advertising our political affiliations to all and sundry might discretely identify a kindred spirit. Those of us in the real world have friends, neighbors, and co-workers who range across the political spectrum; Traditional good manners and consideration for those who didn’t share your beliefs once dictated a degree of ambiguity regarding political leanings, sexual orientation, and religious beliefs. This sense of discretion owed more to conventional good manners rather than cowardice, although a disinclination about being bashed about the head by a member of the Klantifa, harassed out of a restaurant, or a Twitter campaign to get one fired from employment are lately a very real possibility as a result of overtly advertising ones’ conservative sympathies.
More »

18. July 2019 · Comments Off · Categories: Luna, Media Matters Not

*And other formats, too.

Luna City Behind the 8 Ball is now available in Kindle, and on most other ebook formats! Enjoy! The print version will be available later on this month. (And if you really, really enjoy the Luna City series, please post a review somewhere, and tell all your friends!)

I don’t imagine that any sentient human of the center-conservative bent has escaped hearing about how a reporter for the centrist-academic website Quilette had the snot beaten out of him in downtown Portland by the black-clad streetfighters who represent themselves to be anti-fascist. Apparently, this was punishment for Andy Ngo daring to report on their unsavory antics and not being in slavish accordance with whatever political delusion the Antifa-ites hold close to what passes for their hearts. For myself, I prefer to call them the Klantifa, as the natural successor to the KKK as the thuggish arm of local Democrat Party government. (They do the dirty work, while the official Party maintains semi-plausible deniability.)
The Klantifa appear mostly to be a bunch of pasty-faced, dread-locked inhabitants of their parents’ basements with a taste for public live-action role-playing, combined with delusions of street-fighting adequacy whenever they outnumber their targeted opponent at least five to one. More »

02. July 2019 · Comments Off · Categories: Literary Good Stuff

(Miss Minnie Vining is about to venture into the district in old Richmond where the slave markets were held, accompanied by Elizabeth Van Lew, and a pair of male cousins who are friends of the family she is visiting: Captain Shaw, and Preston Devereaux, who has promised Miss Van Lew that he will purchase two slaves for her … slaves that Miss Van Lew will free. Much discussion of the “peculiar institution” ensues.)

The carriage arrived before the Edmonds’ door just before the hour of nine. Annabelle, waiting with Minnie in the front parlor made one last attempt to dissuade her from the excursion.
“It might be dangerous!” she insisted. “You heard what Cousin Peter said – about being recognized as being of abolitionist sympathies, among those whose livelihood depends on perpetuating the peculiar institution.”
“I have no apprehensions, ‘Belle,” Minnie replied. “We will be accompanied by a gallant soldier, and a gentleman who recently returned from the California gold mines; I am certain that both Captain Shaw and Mr. Devereaux have faced such dangers as would make a set of slave-driving ruffians a mere annoyance in comparison.” Outside in the street, the sound of carriage wheels carried to her ears. “I believe that will be the coach … if we do not return for dinner at midday, make my excuses to Susan, dear.”
“Is there nothing I can say?” Annabelle dropped her embroidery hoop into her lap and clasped her hands together. “Nothing to make you consider turning aside from this course?”
“No, nothing,” Minnie gathered up her reticule and tied the strings of her mantle at her throat, as she heard voices at the door – Susan’s housemaid, and that of Captain Shaw. “Not once my mind is set on a course which I have determined.”
“Be most careful,” Annabelle whispered – or that was what Minnie thought she heard, as she left the parlor. Outside, an elegant dark-grey berline carriage awaited, drawn by a pair of matched, dapple-grey horses, whose reins lay in the hands of a coachman – another black slave, in a fine dark grey coat and starched white stock, the elegance of whose attire rivaled that of Captain Shaw himself.
“Miss Vining! Good morning!” Captain Shaw took her arm, going down the steps. “You know, this is not considered an acceptable outing for a lady… But Pres insisted, and he’s a hard man to gainsay.”
“I have been assured of this, solo and in chorus,” Minnie replied, with some asperity. “But I will not be deterred!”
“No, I was afraid not,” Captain Shaw sighed, as he assisted her to step from the ground, onto the narrow carriage step. “You and Miss Van Lew are of a kind, I perceive. I should warn you, though – ladies do not generally attend the auctions. You see … umm … it is the practice among prospective buyers, to assure themselves of the health and fitness of a male slave they are interested in … that they remove their garments, in order that their bodies may be closely inspected.”
“Good heavens!” Minnie exclaimed. “Surely they do not require that of females in public! Why, that is barbaric!”
Preston Devereaux took her other hand, with a mocking grin, and settled her onto the seat next to Miss Van Lew, observing, “Barbarism is in the eye of the beholder, Miss Vining – as I have good reason to know.”
“Not … in that portion of the auction,” Captain Shaw replied, and Minnie could have sworn that the man’s countenance reddened – but that was in the relative dimness of the carriage interior. Captain Shaw tapped on the glass of the window nearest the driver’s perch, and the berline lurched away from the Edmonds’ front door. “But – it is my understanding that such is required now and again, in … a private viewing of the … um… merchandise. Well before the auction and bidding begins.”
“Of a high-yellow fancy, most usually,” Mr. Devereaux, suave as ever. Minnie would be willing to swear that the gentlemen were as determined to discourage herself and Miss Van Lew from the proposed excursion, only that they had chosen a more subtle means of going about it. The carriage rocked gently, as the black coachman in elegant livery clucked to the horses.
From the corner of the closed carriage, Miss Van Lew remarked, as if making a note of the weather, “That would be a woman with a bare minimum of African blood, Miss Vining. Such is the tendency for owners of female slaves to engage in congress upon their bodies. After generations of such conduct … one cannot really tell free from slave. It requires the judgement of a veritable Solomon to tell the difference between a free white woman and a black slave.”
“I see,” Minnie retorted, although she didn’t … not entirely. But untried waters were to be ventured upon, and hopefully without fear or favor. “I perceive that you gentleman both have experience with the matter of holding Negroes in the condition of bondage. I suppose that you both hold slaves.”
“We do,” Captain Shaw admitted, through suddenly thinned lips. “But I can assure you that we treat our people well and fairly. None of Marylebone Hill’s people have ever been sold down the river, not in my lifetime or that of my father.”
“My own family, alas, does not own as many slaves as formerly,” Pres Deveraux admitted, with an exaggeratedly tragic sigh. “The reversals of the cotton trade made it necessary that we dispense of the excess in recent years; they will multiply naturally, you know. Conditions over the last few years were desperately unfavorable for Deveraux crops – insufficient income to support the family and our dependents at the current market price of cotton and tobacco. Do not look so horrified, Miss Van Lew, Miss Vining – our agent arranged private sales, and specified stringently that families would be sold entire, and only to purchasers of whom he approved. Otherwise – what are we to do? In the North, one may merely fire workers superfluous to momentary needs, and one is relieved of all further responsibility for their welfare. Is that not a cruelty, according to your Christian lights? Are we not our brothers’ keeper, after all?”
“But free men possess the inalienable right to order their own lives,” Minnie retorted. “To work at whatever they chose, to travel where they will without hinderance, to contract marriage to a woman of their own choosing …”
“To starve in a gutter, if that is their choice,” Pres Devereaux agreed, smoothly. “Without any notice being taken of their situation. Is it not kinder, Miss Minerva – in the situation of a lesser breed, when sick or old, no longer able to work – to be taken care of? Housed, clothed, fed, to have the attention of a doctor when ill? It is a great responsibility, even greater than that of being a father with children. Children grow up and take charge of their own lives, eventually – but the responsibility for your field hands and house slaves never, ever ends.”
“I admit of no fair comparison,” Minnie was indignant. “Between a slave, subject to the whims of an owner, and the condition of a free man or woman. We are God’s creatures, of His creation, every one of us – and no matter what our native capabilities may be, all deserve that freedom.”
“The African race are like children,” Pres Devereaux spoke with infinite patience – nearly as irritating to Minnie as open condescension would have been. “Would you allow a small child do as they wish, in every respect? That would be careless, irresponsible, unfitting…”
“Mr. Devereaux is provoking you deliberately, Miss Vining,” Miss Van Lew interjected. “Did I not warn you yesterday of his habit of being a dancing whirligig, assuming attitudes merely to tease and provoke?”
“You did, indeed, Miss Van Lew,” Minnie replied, and scowled behind her veil at Mr. Devereaux. The berline, meanwhile, had left behind the relatively smooth streets of Church Hill, and descended into more crowded – and therefore more rutted and pot-holed thoroughfares closer to the river. Minnie craned her neck, at the familiar shriek of a locomotive steam whistle – yes, they were passing very close to the railway lines which threaded Richmond like a ragged spider-web. Here was the hubble-bubble of commerce, of loud voices, the grinding of cartwheels and cracking whips. Over it all floated a distant vision of the white-pillared state capitol building, a classic Roman temple set in a grove of young trees, floating above it all like a white-sails of a distant ship, above a vista of common warehouses, narrow side lanes and a tumbled wasteland piled with trash threaded through by a muddy stream.
“I told Rufus to take us past Lumpkin’s, first,” Captain Shaw murmured to Mr. Devereaux, who absently stroked his narrow mustache, as he nodded in agreement with this itinerary.
“Ah, yes,” he continued pleasantly to Minnie. “Robert Lumpkin – keeper of the most notorious slave-jail in Richmond, familiarly called ‘The Devils’ Half-Acre.’ A man equally notorious for his riches accumulated in his chosen trade as for the brutality he exercises in the conduct of it. Low breeding; such always shows. Although, he has made his slave concubine his legal wife, for what that might be worth, socially.”
“The peculiar institution encompasses curious complications, on occasion,” Captain Shaw murmured.
There was an uncomfortable silence in the coach as the coach continued on, down a rough and rutted alley; Miss Van Lew silent behind her veil, and Captain Shaw looking out from his side of the coach as if he wished to be anywhere else but here. Only Pres Devereaux appeared to relish the company and the occasion. Really, what an appalling man! Minnie thought to herself. And Susan wishes to match hers’ and My-Dear-Ambrose’s Charlotte with him as a husband!
“Ah, yes, there it is; that fortress with a stout wall all the way around.” Pres Devereaux announced, cheery as a cricket with a happy song. “Not as scenic as the Tower of London, or as romantic as the prison of Chillon in Lord Byron’s cheery ditty, is it, ladies?”
Minnie could hardly bear to look upon such a scene of misery: yes, a stout plank wall, encompassing a foot-trampled yard with a single rambling brick building within, farther down the sloping hillside. Iron bars set into every window made it plain that it housed prisoners. Three other buildings stood somewhat closer to the rutted lane in which the berline had paused; buildings which had a look of domesticity about them, especially since there were no bars in the windows.
“As for famous inmates in this place, I daresay you have heard of the escaped slave Burns? He was apprehended in Boston, was he not? And returned to his master by order of the magistrates – backed up by Army troops?”
“Yes, I have heard of that matter,” Minnie replied truthfully – for the matter of Anthony Burns, escaped slave, being arrested in the street, and forcefully returned South to his owner had been the means of metaphorically setting Boston aflame with abolitionist passion all that spring. Her brother George had been suffering his final illness, or he would have struggled up from his sickbed to join with his fellow abolitionists in protest.
“It was a mystery to all good Southerners,” Pres Devereaux confided, “Why those who championed Burns willingly defied the law. And it is the law – that stolen property be returned to the proper owner.”
“There is the law which is written by men, who are not perfect – and those higher laws instituted by our creator,” Minnie stated, for she was truly rankled by Pres Devereaux’s bland self-assurance. “Those fugitive slave laws were created by such imperfect men – who compound the insult to freedom-loving citizens of the North by insisting that we endorse the brutality of slavery. It’s not enough that slave power confine itself to those places which have willingly chosen to endorse the practice – that we could endure and have for decades! But now to demand that we in the North who object to fellow human beings treated as objects to be bought and sold in the marketplace must go against our own conscience, and cooperate with slave-takers on free soil? Is it not as the great Luther himself advised – to go against one’s conscience is neither right nor safe!”
“Bravo, Miss Vining,” Pres Devereaux applauded. “A fine piece of oratory, I must say! You might almost convince a man such as myself to the cause of abolition – almost; but that I am a Southerner, and our fortunes here depend upon exercise of the peculiar institution.”
“Ah, your fortunes,” Minnie nodded – yes, a momentary concession. That would disarm an opponent in the legal hustings, Papa-the-Judge advised, when he had guided Minnie in her studies of his old trials and in his volumes of Blackstone’s Commentaries. “Fortunes which are based primarily on agriculture and the export of cotton. But what of industry? Where are your armories, your factories – why must the raw materials produced in your plantations be shipped wholesale to the mills of England? Why must your fortunes depend on forced labor of Africans, imported under great hardship and cruelty? It is said that a sound tree will bear sound fruit, but a tree with roots in poisoned soil will bear naught but poisoned fruit. I would hold that slavery is the most poisoned soil of all!”
“We do have industry in the South,” Captain Shaw spoke vigorously for nearly the first time in this exchange. “Behold – the chimneys of the Tredegar Iron and Locomotive Works! That must count for something, Miss Vining!”
“And that would be your only example?” Minnie tempered her exasperation, did her best to sound conciliatory. “Has the South nothing to equal the fabric mills of Lowell and Fall River, the Armory of Colonel Colt, a long-ranging transport project such as the Erie Canal, the iron works of Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey? The Tredegar works are a fine one, indeed – the canal and basin for river commerce here in Richmond – but when the North has five or ten such enterprises for every single one in the South, you will forgive me, Captain Shaw, for not being entirely convinced of the advantages of the peculiar institution.”
“Miss Vining’s mind is made up,” Pres Devereaux interjected. “And will only admit such facts as those which confirm her existing prejudice. We should drive on – I had it in mind to see the auction at the Old Fellows’ Hall on the hour of eleven.”
Minnie opened her mouth to object to this – she was perfectly capable of exercising reason, when a sensible reason applied for admission, but at that moment, she recalled again Miss Van Lew’s warning; that Pres Devereaux lived to be provoking.

25. June 2019 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun and Games

Like an unkillable zombie, or Freddy Kruger returning for the umpteenth time, the matter of reparations for slavery shambles out of its’ crypt on a periodic basis. The whole concept has, I surmise, a catnip-like appeal for a certain kind of politician or intellectual, when catering to the never-to-be-satiated ‘gimme that!’ crowd. “Reparations for slavery!!!!!!!!Eleventy!” gets slapped down by practical considerations about as often as Freddy Kruger … and yet, it staggers out one more time. Never mind that current estimations are that maybe only 5 % of the current American population owned slaves pre-Civil War (and not all of that 5% were white, either). Never mind that a good chunk of the then-American population bitterly opposed the institution of chattel slavery of Africans, never mind that we fought a mind-bogglingly bloody war to end it. Never mind that that any surviving pre-1865 slave or slave-holder would have to be well over a century and a half old. Never mind the sheer obscenity of demanding that rich, successful, privileged PoC’s like Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, and Barack Obama deserve a check for ancestral pain and suffering from working class and poor whites (whose’ families may not even have arrived in the US until well after 1865).
In response to this demand, I put forth a modest counter-proposal, acknowledging that yes, IF there should be reparations paid in this day for the institution of chattel slavery, for the malignant practices of the Jim Crow laws, and local law-enforced racial segregation, and the depredations of the KKK, which cruelly impacted Black Americans, such reparations ought to and should be paid by the Democrat Party. More »

22. June 2019 · Comments Off · Categories: History, Literary Good Stuff

Shockoe Creek was a creek emptying into the James River – a creek now mostly channelized and paved over. It lay between two substantial hills upon which the city of Richmond, Virginia, was built; in the earliest days of the city, it was the market district; convenient to the waterfront, the main roads, a transshipment node where goods from deep-water cargo ships were transferred to smaller boats, to wagons, and warehouses. Commerce was the lifeblood of that part of Richmond, within sight of the grand white neo-classical building which was the state capitol. Here was the shipping basin and canal which led to it, the market building housing venders of meat, produce and other comestibles. Nearby was the bridge which crossed the James, the Haxall mill which ground fine white flour for shipment throughout the Americas. Up-river a little way was the Tredegar Iron Works complex, the pride of the ante-bellum industrial South.

And another kind of commerce was centered in the Shockoe Bottom – the trade in slaves. In the decades before the Civil War, Richmond was the second-largest wholesale and retail market in the South: the offices of brokers, agents and traders in slaves, auction houses, and holding-pens – known as slave jails, all were situated in a quarter-mile square area. I have discovered all kinds of curious things about the slave trade as practiced in Richmond – curious to me, that is. I wasn’t raised in the South, the ancestors of my one American-born grandparent was a fire-eating abolitionist; frankly, all I knew about the matter was what there was in the generalist history books pertaining to the Civil War. Nothing much about the nuts and bolts of actual practice, as it were.

I have had to become acquainted with all of this, as I am working on the next historical novel – and this involves a heroine, Minerva Templeton Vining, a spinster of independent means and thinking, who becomes an active campaigner for abolition in the 1850ies, and then a volunteer battlefield nurse during the war itself. The catalyst for all of this is a visit that she makes to Richmond to visit kinfolk – and while she had to that point been of abolitionist sympathies, she is radicalized by what she sees in the course of that visit. So I have to write about what she sees, and create the conversations that she would have had, dealing with what was termed the ‘peculiar institution.’ I don’t think that she would actually have witnessed a slave auction first-hand; so far, all the accounts and pictures that I have found have only men attending the auctions. It seems that male slaves were often asked to strip entirely, so that their state of health and soundness could be judged – I have read one account of a woman slave being stripped for a prospective buyer in private, but not at the auction location. Both male and female slaves often had to show their bare back and shoulders, though, to determine if they had been whipped. The degree and age of scarring would indicate a discipline problem, and downgrade market value in the eyes of a potential purchaser.

I did go into this project knowing that for most Southerners, a slave was a luxury good. A first-rate young field hand was worth $1,500-2,000; something on the order of $25,000 to $30,000 in today’s dollars. A slave who was trained in a particular skill might command an even higher price.
A particular curiosity – which makes sense, once I thought about it – was that the dealers in slaves who kept a slave jail (basically a warehouse/boarding house/dormitory) took every effort to make their sellable human merchandise look good upon being put up for auction, although the actual conditions in the slave jail may not have been very good. Those slaves being held for sale were provided with decent food, medical care if required, and a period of recovery from any particularly grueling travel. On the day of auction, they were provided with means of bathing, were groomed and dressed in new clean clothes. There is a painting by an English abolitionist who made sketches of an auction on the spot and later produced a then-well-known painting: five female slaves, clad in grey dresses and white aprons, with red bows at the throat, with one man, in trousers, white shirt, tan trousers and a red waistcoat. One of the women has a small child in her lap; they sit patiently in a row. They are luxury goods – of course, the vendors want the merchandise to look good. I think that is the most unsettling aspect of it all; not outright cruelty (of which there was some, although not quite as much as the campaigners for abolition would have had it) but the fact that it was just business, the business of selling and buying human beings.

Slaves Waiting for Sale - 1861 - Eyre Crow

Slaves Waiting for Sale – 1861 – Eyre Crow

Finally – an interesting curiosity: one Robert Lumpkin, who kept a slave jail of such notoriety that the compound was called “Hell’s Half Acre” was formally married to a slave woman, who had five children by him – including daughters who were sent to a finishing school in the North. When he died, at the very end of the Civil War, his wife inherited the property … and sold it to a Baptist minister who founded a school for blacks – the Richmond Theological Seminary. The site is half-under a freeway, now; the half that isn’t is an empty lot with an outline of some of the buildings in the compound.

(Minerva “Minnie” Vining, a spinster of independent means, is visiting relatives in Richmond, Virginia, in the early 1850ies)

On her return to the Edmonds house, the maid who opened the door for her whispered,
“Ma’am is in de parlor with Ma’am Vining an’ de girls, Miss Minerva…”
Susan called from the parlor, obviously having heard the bell, and the door open and shut. “Minnie, is that you, dear? You must join us – Mrs. Van Lew just sent a boy with a note saying that she and Miss Elizabeth would be here momentarily …”
“Allow me to change my dress, Sue,” Minnie replied, and hastened up the stairs to the room that she and Annabelle shared, to discover that someone – either Annabelle or one of Susan’s housemaids had already laid out one of her afternoon dresses; a simple gown in the s pale violent of half-morning, with a lacy fichu – all with the creases from having been packed in a trunk neatly pressed out by the unseen hands of Cousin Susan’s Negro maids. Minnie hastily unbuttoned the skirt and bodice of her walking costume and exchanged her stockings and high-buttoned boots and for clean white stockings and plain dainty slippers. By the time she had effected this change, and hurried downstairs, the maid was already opening the front door to admit two ladies. Minnie fairly scampered into the parlor, and settled onto the divan next to Annabelle, who whispered,
“You’re late! We were beginning to despair! Did you lose track of the time?”
“The gardens of Church Hill are so splendid,” Minnie gasped. “I confess that I did – I am sorry, Susan – I was admiring certain of the trees; those with white flowers, of four or five petals.”
“Dogwood trees,” Charlotte piped up, and Susan chided her.
“Dear, speak when you are spoken to. Yes, the dogwood trees are particularly splendid this spring, although you have missed the jonquils at their best. But the magnolias are soon to bloom…Yes, Sadie?” That last was addressed to the maid, deferential in her dark dress, white apron and turban, lingering in the doorway.
“Mrs. Eliza Van Lew, Miss Elizabeth, Ma’am,” she murmured, and stepped aside from the doorway as Susan rose from her chair.
“Eliza, my dear!” she exclaimed to the older lady; a pleasant-faced matron with pink cheeks and very white hair, dressed as modestly as a Quaker in a grey walking dress bereft of any additional adornments. “And Lizzie – we are so pleased to see you today! Come in, come in! I must introduce you to my cousins, visiting from Boston: Mrs. Annabelle Vining, and Miss Minerva Vining – they have come to celebrate Lydia’s marriage with us and then to stay the summer over … the gentlemen will join us shortly.” Susan and the Van Lew ladies exchanged brief social embraces – the older lady with more open affection than the younger. “They traveled by train, all of the way,” Susan added, and the Van Lew ladies chorused their wonder and approval.
“From Boston!” Exclaimed Eliza Van Lew, as she turned her attention towards Minnie and Annabelle. “And on the train – what a marvel the railway has become. Now, I was brought up in Philadelphia, and my daughter attended school there, and now the matter of travel has become so much less onerous than it once was … how welcome you are to Richmond!”
“We have been received with every fond courtesy,” Annabelle replied, while – unobserved – Minnie regarded Miss Lizzie Van Lew, recognizing as if with a secret Masonic handshake, another stubborn spinster of her ilk. Yes, Miss Elizabeth was pleasing in her aspect and person, and fashionably-clad; a perfect blonde rose of the South, with the flaxen hair, unearthly blue eyes, and that fine complexion lauded by every sentimental novelist and fashion-paper … and yet, Miss Van Lew defied that convention, for her nose was a perfect beak and those eyes reflected a piercing and unsettling intelligence.
“Miss Vining,” she said, and her voice was pleasant and cultured. “May I sit with you and converse? I would adore to hear of how the abolitionist cause is progressing in the North. We hear so very little of the matter here in Richmond, you see – only fulminations against such wicked persuaders such as your Mr. Garrison, and the Reverend Slocomb – since he is of Boston, may I presume that you are acquainted with him?”
“But certainly,” Minnie answered, pleased and heartened at encountering a kindred spirit among Susan’s circle. “Mr. Garrison was a particular friend of my late brother, although they had fallen out over … some aspect of campaigning for the cause of abolition. I cannot recall the specific issue as Mr. Garrison is a passionate advocate and not easily brought to compromise. But he and my brother did eventually reconcile. Reverend Slocomb ministers to the congregation which I attend – and I have the privilege of a personal acquaintance with him, as well as a personally-inscribed volume of his sermons …”
“Indeed, I have a copy of that very same book!” Miss Lizzie beamed, radiantly, and Minnie laughed.
“I am reassured in making your acquaintance, Miss Van Lew – I had become convinced that such abolitionist sentiments are most rare in the South,”
“Alas, they are,” Lizzie Van Lew agreed, without rancor. “But I care little, nor does Mama, or my brother John. Among our circle of friends, it is considered – so far – merely an eccentricity peculiar to the Quakers of the northern States, and thus tolerated. My late father left us so considerable an estate as to shelter us well against that public opprobrium which might fall upon those of lesser means, otherwise …”
At that moment in their conversation, Richard and Cousin Peter joined what had become a most pleasant gathering: Susan fussed over settling her father into the most comfortable chair, and Richard took a seat on one of the spindly parlor chairs opposite the divan where Annabelle sat with Minnie and Miss Van Lew. No sooner was the introduction made, than Susan’s maid announced the arrival of another party.
“Captain and Mrs. Shaw, and Mr. Devereaux, Ma’am,” the girl said, and suddenly it seemed that Susan’s parlor was very full, although a large portion of that came from Mrs. Shaw’s fashionable crinoline as she leaned on her husbands’ arm, and the breadth of shoulder of the man who followed the pair into the parlor. Minnie couldn’t help that her eyes were drawn to him, as if by a magnet; tall and fair-haired, with rugged sun-bronzed features and eyes of a particular pale blue hue, a specimen of vigorous maturity, whom she judged to be about the age of her own. He possessed the same arresting quality as the Reverend Slocomb – that of an actor commanding the attention of an audience as he strode the boards.
“Why, Miss Elizabeth!” he exclaimed, in a gentle drawl which Minnie had begun to identify as that trait of those from the deeper south. “You mus’ do me the honor of acquainting me with your charming friends!”
Elizabeth appeared entirely unmoved by his courteous regard, even though it drew the interest of the other women in the room as a sunflower follows the sun. “These ladies are Mrs. Edmonds’ Boston relations,” she replied, in a voice devoid of the least scrap of flirtatious interest. “Miss Minerva and Mrs. Annabelle Vining. This gentleman is Preston Devereaux, lately returned from … where was it? I heard that it was traveling abroad; I cared little for where, although I prayed that it be far, far from Richmond…”
“My dear lady Tongue,” Preston Devereaux returned, seemingly much amused. “I thank you for your courtesy, Miss Elizabeth of Kate Hall. Ladies …” he kissed Annabelle’s raised hand, and then Minnies’, “Consider me to be at your most devoted service!”
Minnie and Annabelle briefly met each other’s eyes.
A rogue, indeed, was Annabelle’s unvoiced comment.
Yes, but an amusing one, Minnie signaled.
“I deduce from your manner of speech that you are from another place than this,” Minnie ventured, for yes, Preston Devereaux’s accent was the most deeply marked in Southern inflection that she had heard thus far.
“Charleston, Miss Vining,” he replied, with a smile which drew her – although not as deeply as it would have, if she had been as young as Charlotte Edmonds. “My family there is said to be descended from a latter sprout on the family tree of that Robert Deveraux, once the Earl of Essex and favorite of Good Queen Bess.”
“Charleston,” remarked Captain Shaw, from across the parlor where he had taken a seat next to Cousin Peter. Captain Shaw was dark of hair and yet had the same pale blue eyes as his cousin. His young wife was deep in converse with the Eliza Van Lew. “Where it is often said that the inhabitants most resemble the heathen Chinee – in that all eat rice and worship their ancestors.”
That bon mot earned a ripple of amused laughter from the ladies within hearing, and a chuckle from Preston Devereaux, who appeared to take no offense, as he regarded the three ladies – Miss Elizabeth, Annabelle and Minnie.
“I trust that you are finding your visit to Richmond enjoyable?” Preston Devereaux inquired, as if he really were interested, and Minnie replied,
“We have only been here for a day, Mr. Devereaux, but we have been warmly welcomed by our kin, and friends such as Miss Van Lew…”
“Richmond is so very different from Boston,” Annabelle echoed, and Miss Elizabeth set aside her teacup.
“We were having the most interesting talk,” she remarked, as every word were a little dagger. “Regarding mutual friends, and an interest in abolition.”
Minnie exchanged a glance with Annabelle; for all the care taken in leaving certain topics of conversation unexplored in the interests of civility among friends and kin, Miss Elizabeth was treading heavily among the conversational caltrops.
“Indeed,” Preston Devereaux raised an eyebrow. “A fascinating topic, Miss Elizabeth – alas, not one of interest to me: I may truly boast of having not a single drop of abolition blood in me.”
“A pity,” Miss Elizabeth observed, acidly “For I daresay that a single drop would make you into a man, rather than your present nonentity.”
Minnie drew in her breath with a horrified gasp, fully expecting Preston Devereaux to react as any ordinary man who had been insulted by a lady in the confines of another lady’s parlor, but instead, he merely chuckled appreciatively.
“Touché, Miss Elizabeth – my dearest shrew. I did invite that hit! Miss Vining pray do not look as if you meant to take offense on my part. Miss Van Lew and I have been in the habit of verbal jousts such as this for years. Such bouts sharpen our relative wits and amuse our friends no end.”
“Be warned concerning Mr. Devereaux’s conversation,” Miss Elizabeth returned, with an air of stark warning. “He assumes attitudes not from any deep conviction, but merely from a desire to provoke and tease. He is a veritable whirligig, turning as the conversational wind blows.”
“I have heard that Mr. Devereaux was abroad on foreign travels,” Annabelle interjected, in a manner intended to be placating, and that gentleman smiled as if he divined her motivation and was prepared to be indulgent of it. “I would like so very much to hear of his adventures – our cousin Susan says that you sought gold in California! So very exciting! What was it like? One hears the most fascinating tales of adventures and riches to be had in the mines. And now California is to be a state, so soon after having been merely a foreign possession! The gold mines are of an incredible richness, we hear tell.”
“I was in China, on an errand of some import for a relative of mine, and on my return, the ship on which I was traveling made port in California … and the news of the discovery of gold caused all of the sailors to desert,” Mr. Devereaux accepted a cup of tea and a plate of cake from Susan’s silent housemaids. Minnie made a private memorandum to herself; make sufficient conversation with Susan’s household slaves to learn their names. It seemed untoward to not know the names of servants, or not even to be able to tell them apart, so alike they all appeared, in their anonymous dark dresses and dark faces, below snowy-white turbans, as if interchangeable human automatons, given into service. Mr. Devereaux continued.
“We were there becalmed, in the port of Yerba Buena – although now it is called San Francisco. Situated on the most marvelous sheltered bay. The word came that gold had been discovered in the foothills of that mountain-range which shelters California to the east … even, that discovery was shouted in the streets, with proof brandished by one of the most respected men of town … I vow that even the few soldiers of the Presidio deserted their posts! All were maddened by the possibility of gold to be had, as easily as you ladies might pluck up and gather flowers from your gardens…”
“And did you find any gold yourself, in those bounteous California mines?” Miss Elizabeth sounded most skeptical, as Lizzie and Annabelle hung on every word. Minnie noted that Mrs. Eliza was deep in conversation with the young Mrs. Shaw – ah, from Philadelphia, she recollected. They must have interests, if not kin in common. Richard and Cousin Peter were likewise deep in converse together with Captain Shaw – matters of military import, both recent and of a historic nature, Minnie assumed. Charlotte and Lydia appeared likewise engaged in a converse most intense with a slender young gentleman who had also been announced. Minnie gathered that he was Lydia’s intended, from the fond manner in which Susan made him welcome to the parlor. She would have been more interested in the lad – but for being fascinated in the tale which Pres Devereaux had to tell.

It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world … but for Wales, Richard?- From A Man for All Seasons

I have been following the Oberlin/Gibson Bakery trial with the same kind of reluctant and horrified fascination with which one might regard a multi-vehicle pileup on the highway; the mass-casualty kind that involves numerous vehicles in every kind of disassembled condition and in every possible position, scattered or crunched together on the roadway or catapulted off on the verge, which attracts the professional attention of multiple fire department engines, ambulances, and every police and highway patrol cruiser for miles around. In the case of the Gibson Bakery suit against Oberlin, extensive coverage of the protests, trial, verdict and local background to the whole messy affair was provided by the Legal Insurrection blog.

One of the nastier aspects to the imbroglio is the revelation that there was an ongoing problem with students shoplifting, at Gibson’s and apparently at other local retailers. A writer for a student publication called it as a “culture of theft.” More »

13. June 2019 · Comments Off · Categories: History, Literary Good Stuff

(This is from the new work in progress: the Civil War novel, about the doings of Minnie Templeton Vining, tireless campaigner for the abolition of slavery before the war, and a nurse volunteer during it. In this chapter, Minnie has been left independently wealthy by the death of her father, and then of her oldest brother. She has decided to travel, and see something of the world.)

“Don’t fuss so, Richie,” Minnie chided Sophia’s seven-year old son, as she and Annabelle waited on the platform of the Lowell Street Station, that magnificent modern temple of commerce on Causeway and Lowell. The clamor of the busy station echoed around them; the shriek of steel wheels on rails, the gasp of steam escaping, newsboys shouting their wares. “We’ll only be gone for the summer. We’ll be back before you know it.”
She and Annabelle were to travel to Richmond by gradual stages and all the way by train, escorted by Cousin Peter and Annabelle’s son-in-law, Richard Brewer. Minnie had impatiently thrown back the black veil that draped her bonnet, and now a slight breeze from the harbor – wandering tentatively between the pillars which upheld the station roof, and the clattering engines with their burden of railcars – blew the ends of that veil to and fro. She and Annabelle wore the deep black of morning – although not the unrelieved shrouds suitable for widows, to Minnie’s great relief. She hated looking through a black fog of a veil.
“Don’t want Grammy to go ‘way!” Richie’s lower lip stuck out, mutinously, and he aimed a kick at the stack of trunks and carpetbags stacked next to Minnie and Annabelle and those friends and kin come to see them away. “Make her stay, Papa!” Sophia chided the boy, without any real conviction, but Richard shot out a swift arm and pulled the lad by his ear away from the luggage. Richie screwed up his face and yelped in pain.
“Stop that!” Richard commanded forcefully. “Behave like a young gentleman, Richie, or you’ll get a good thrashing over my knee!”
“Oh, you’re hurting him!” Sophia protested, while Minnie and Anabelle exchanged glances of mutual exasperation. Richie was a handsome lad, big for his age, well-mannered when he felt like it, but Minnie privately felt that Sophia mollycoddled and indulged him better than was good for his character; a young mother, and to date, Richie was the only chick in the Brewer family nest. Stubborn, willful and thoroughly spoiled, yet Richie was charming … when he wanted to be. Fortunately, Richard Brewer was not inclined toward indulgence.
“I’ll hurt more of him than his ear, if he doesn’t behave, my dear,” Richard sounded exasperated, even as Annabelle murmured, “All he hurt was his own toe, dear – I doubt that our luggage has any feelings at all.”
“It was an unmanly display of temper,” Richard retorted, in lawyerly dispassion. “And Richie is sufficiently old enough to learn not to give way to them. He is supposed to be the man of the house while I am away – not a spoilt infant.”
Minnie privately agreed with Richard – whom she had always found to be a sensible young man, sober beyond his years and yet graced with a puckish sense of humor which somewhat alleviated the solidity of his bearing and the burden of wealth and privilege. Her gaze fell with relief upon a pair off familiar figures, coming along the platform towards their party. To distract what she feared might become an unseemly public dispute, Minnie exclaimed,
“Look, it is the Reverend Doctor Slocomb, accompanying Cousin Peter! Dare I think that he has come to bid us farewell, or a safe journey? Or is he perhaps bound on a journey likewise? I would relish his company, if so – for his opinions and discourse are always so diverting!”
“I doubt that he can be parted so long from his adoring flock! Especially the ladies of the parish,” Annabelle observed, with a mischievous smile in Minnie’s direction. “Perhaps he is making an exception in your case, Minnie! You are, after all, an heiress to no small estate, and the good reverend is yet unwed…”
“Ridiculous!” Minnie snorted – for Annabelle would gently tease her about the handsome reverend – a half-decade Minnie’s junior, but his waving locks of dark hair already touched with gray, making him look as of he was her equal in years. And he was not unpleasing to look upon – nor was Minnie quite without susceptibility to male charms.
For the Reverend Slocomb was a man fully in command of those charms; a rugged physique, tall and broad of shoulder, a countenance in which the features of a classic Greek statue mingled appealingly with lively intelligence and charm. An passionate orator and of an abolitionist sympathies, his sermons in the pulpit of Beacon Street Congregationalist Church riveted the attention of all listeners, packed closely in the private pews and in the galleries – he had even had a collection of them published, and Minnie had purchased a copy from her allowance, although the late Judge waspishly described him as a producer of pretentious windbaggery sufficient to raise a Montgolfier balloon.
Now the Reverend Slocomb had spotted them – the party of three black-clad women, a man, and a small boy, with the towering mountain of trunks and carpetbags piled next to them on a pair of luggage barrows.
“My dearest Miss Vining!” he exclaimed, advancing and abeam with smiles, deftly evading a newsboy with his basket of fruit and sheaf of newspapers. The Reverend bowed over her hand, all honest and friendly affection. “Mrs. Vining, Mr. Brewer – good day to you all! My dear old friend Mr. Peter Vining tells me that you are departing with him on a journey of some time!”
“To visit kin,” Minnie couldn’t help but smile, and hoped that she was not pinkening – for Annabelle would tease her privately over that. “We will be in Richmond for almost two months – the length of summer. We felt the need of a change of scenery, and I am …”
“Tired of Boston?” Reverend Slocomb kept her gloved hand still imprisoned within his. Minnie felt the warmth of his regard, the appeal of his consideration and resisted the impulse to simper like a schoolgirl. Meanwhile, Cousin Peter Vining, advancing at a somewhat slower pace, leaning as he did on his trusty cane, flashed a boyish grin at the party.
“Belle, dear – Minnie! Richard, you young scamp! Here I am, better late than never. They were afraid I would be late for the train, pestiferous invention, yet better than marching all the way! Had you despaired of my arrival?”
Minnie flashed a brief smile at the Reverend Slocomb, sliding her hand out of his with a grace that obliviated any lack of manners. Cousin Peter Vining was over the allotted age of fourscore and ten and increasingly lame from toes lost to frostbite in the bitter cold of a winter encampment when he was a mere lad in the Revolution, although otherwise wiry and spry. Yet, in defiance of those years, and unlike the Reverend Slocomb, Cousin Peter still contrived to appear younger than his calendar age. It was in his eyes, Minnie had always thought – the lively interest and energy of her father’s younger cousin. Cousin Peter was raised in Milford in Delaware, and at the age of seventeen had followed Washington with stubborn devotion, marched south with the Delaware regiments and fought at Cowpens. The spirit of independence burned with a white-hot fervor in Cousin Peter – perhaps that kept him still young, after all those travails in his youth. It was his oldest daughter Susan, and her husband who had invited them all for a long visit – Minnie privately hoped that Cousin Peter was yet strong enough to endure the journey without damage to his health, for all that they had planned to do it in leisurely stages, and rest for a day or so between.
“An adventure!” Cousin Peter kissed Minnie’s hand, and then Annabelle’s. “I have never outgrown a taste for adventure! And Susan is my dearest child, and I long to see her again, one more time. She has six handsome children, and she sent me the loveliest letter some weeks ago – her eldest, Lydia, is collecting a button-string; a button from each of her relations! We can indulge Lydia with the very finest and most personal buttons, I daresay.”
“We can, indeed,” Minnie pushed back her bonnet sufficiently so that she could also kiss Cousin Peter on his age-withered cheek. “And we can present them personally, of course. I am anticipating this visit with such longing! It is not that I am tired of Boston,” Minnie added, with a sideways smile at the Reverend Slocomb. “But one longs, sometimes, for other vistas … other sights! I decline to rusticate away, to the point where I do not dare set foot outside my own doorstep, lest I encounter some unfamiliar sight and swoon out of fright at the strangeness of it all.”
“You were the perfect dutiful daughter, ministering to Ly, and then to Horace and George in these last years,” Cousin Peter murmured, his voice husky with suppressed emotion. “Eh – and you are well-deserving of a holiday, my dear Minnie.”
“A perfect saint,” the Reverend Slocomb added. “A model of daughterly and sisterly devotion – we shall miss your presence at our devotions, and in the good work performed by the good ladies of the congregation, Miss Vining. Hurry back to Boston, as soon as you may … your return will be an event much longed-for … I speak personally, of course. Although I am certain that the other ladies will welcome you home …”
“I am certain that they will,” Annabelle pursed her lips, just barely amending the cynical smirk in which they had originally arranged themselves. “We well know the degree of respect in which Miss Vining is held by the good ladies of the Beacon Street Church.”
Minnie just barely held herself back from sticking out her tongue at Annabelle – her oldest and dearest friend, who knew well where to jab the sharp needle of her teasing. An affectionate tease, for the most part – but Annabelle’s aim was as always, unerring.
“I have no apprehension when it comes to telling ladies like Lolly Bard when they are being silly geese,” Minnie retorted. “And that appears to be the source of the intelligence that I am respected among them,”
“Touche, Aunt Minnie,” Richard Brewer grinned. “A hit, a very palpable hit … I believe that is now our carriage, and now is the time to mount it – that is, if we wish to gain favorable seats for our party.”
“Lead the way,” They made their farewells to the Reverend Slocomb; Richard embraced his son – who seemed now merely sullen – and Sophia, bravely stifling tears. What he murmured to them was private, not for the ears of anyone else. In a spirit of rebellion, Minnie left the black veil hanging back over her shoulders, as Richard offered her his arm, and Cousin Peter did the same with Annabelle. Richard snapped his fingers at the porter with his barrow, already taking up the long handles, as another porter lingered, asking if he could be of service. Now was the moment of departure.

The Daughter Unit and I spent most of Saturday morning in the lovely little town of Wimberley, Texas. Wimberley is situated on a particularly scenic stretch of the Blanco River, in the hills to the west of San Marcos. It’s closer to Austin than to San Antonio and seems to have become even more of a weekend tourist draw, since we first visited it in the late 1990ies. Then there were just a handful of little shops catering to tourists, and one restaurant with had memorable hamburgers and an outside deck which overlooked the riverbank, all grown with cypress trees, great and green. There were a fair number of hippie artisan types; potters, glass-blowers, metal-fabricators and the like, plus the usual number of antique shops, which tended more towards the ‘quaint old country junk’ side of the scale. On the first Saturday of the month, Wimberley stages a mammoth open-air market – something we’ve been to a number of times. It’s supposed to be the oldest and biggest one in Texas.
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