If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?

If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it? --Albert Einstein

Saturday, October 3, 2015

General James Longstreet: Defying the Stereotypes

General James Longstreet
What do Civil War General James Longstreet and U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond have in common?

They both served their country, they were both Republicans, and they were both born in Edgefield County, South Carolina. That’s not far from where I live.

On the surface, they seem mighty similar. But on closer inspection, they are radically different.

James Longstreet was second in command to Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg. While he highly respected his superior, Longstreet held a different philosophy regarding war tactics. He petitioned strenuously for Lee to move to a defensive position between the Union Army and Washington, D.C. where they could find “ground to their own liking.”

Lee was an aggressive leader who, like General George Patton of World War II, had much success, yet high casualties. These traits did not serve him well in this pivotal battle. Analysts believe his command style did not suit the situation at Gettysburg, but Lee was unable to adapt. He, against the advice of many of his officers, decided to attack the middle of the Union forces on July 3, 1863.

Longstreet was reluctant to lead an assault he did not believe in, and reportedly asked to be replaced, but Lee refused. The "Gettysburg" film clip below shows Longstreet’s vision of what has become known as Pickett’s Charge. A vision that proved devastatingly true.


After the war, Longstreet committed the unpardonable sin in the eyes of the “Lost Cause Movement,” which romanticized the Confederacy. He publicly criticized Lee’s leadership at Gettysburg in his memoirs. Worse than that, he became a Republican after the war. This was not Strom Thurmond’s Republican Party (the party infamous for its Southern Strategy). No, this was Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party. Longstreet served in the administration of Ulysses S. Grant. He advocated equal rights for blacks. For these reasons, he was vilified by his former compatriots.
Longstreet's statue at Gettysburg
In 1998, the above statue of James Longstreet was one of the last to be erected. Compare it to that of Robert E. Lee. Rather than set upon a massive pedestal as are most generals' statues, it is tucked into the trees and at ground level. 

Robert E. Lee

I wonder which took more courage for Longstreet—fighting the horrific battles of the Civil War or daring to hold unpopular beliefs among his own people.

Strom Thurmond, Longstreet’s fellow native son of Edgefield, fathered a black daughter while he labored to obliterate civil rights for African-Americans. Who showed integrity? Who pandered to white racist fears for his own advancement?

I know whom I admire.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Seamus an Chaca

Don’t dump on the Irish or you may go down in history as “Seamus an Chaca,” translated as James the Shit.
A Catholic monarch in 1688, King James II of England put the Protestant powers in a tizzy by granting all Christians the right to worship as they pleased. A big hit with the Irish, but a job killer for James.

The Protestant establishment called on William of Orange, a Dutch Protestant, to invade and eliminate James the Free Love Hippie Flower Child. Within the elite, James was not a popular guy and had little support. It might've had something to do with him ogling their wives "mightily." Even his daughters, Mary and Anne, jumped ship and sided with William of Orange (Mary’s husband). James lost the throne and moved to France.
Pope Alexander: "What? Louis 14
was a douche."
Two years later, the Dethroned One returned via Ireland with an army of French regiments, bolstered by the Irish, often armed only with farm implements.

In 1690 on the River Boyne, north of Dublin, they hit a formidable wall composed of William of Orange’s forces, the Dutch Blue Guard, along with many Dutch Catholics. The kick in the Irish gut was William’s key ally—Pope Alexander VIII (not a fan of the French king, Louis XIV).
During the Battle of the Boyne, James’s forces were overwhelmed and the French cavalry organized a hasty, but orderly retreat. Meanwhile, King James Two hauled his butt to Wexford, then slinked back to France.

Kiss it, James.
This vanishing act did not sit well with the Irishmen who'd fought fiercely with no more than pitchforks in hand. Hence, on the Emerald Isle, James is forever associated with a stinking pile of excrement.

Sources: "The Battle of the Boyne." BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 01 Oct. 2015. <>.                         
Murphy, Colin. "Seamus an Chaca." The Priest Hunters:. Dublin: O'Brien, 2013. 33-36. Print.    
Photo: "Carfania & Marcolf: Different Positions for Mooning Judges." Purple Motes. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Oct. 2015. <>.                                               

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Seven reasons NOT to time travel to the Middle Ages

Time travel is an intriguing concept that, according to scientists, Einstein’s E=mc2 makes feasible—if you’re heading to the future. Stephen Hawking insists going back in time is impossible. Who knows? However, if the ability exists, when you go to the days of knights and ladies, be sure you don’t become a damsel in intestinal distress. Otherwise, here’s what’s in store:

         1. Should a doctor suspect you have internal bleeding, he might prescribe a tincture of ethanol mixed with a ground-up mummy robbed from an Egyptian grave. Somewhat pricy, in any case.
        2.  If struck by a stroke, however, you could enjoy powdered human skull mixed with chocolate. A little gritty, but yum!
       3. While hobnobbing with England’s King Charles II, he may offer you his personal tincture, “The King’s Drops,” consisting of human skull powder mixed with alcohol. Bottoms up! Yet, the skulls that create these scrumptious cures come from Irish burial sites, so maybe Slainte! is more appropriate.

          4.Wounded during your Gothic Getaway? A bandage soaked in human fat is the Neosporin of the day. 
       5. A good human blubber massage will ease the gout you’ve picked up, pigging out at all those fabulously fatty feasts in the Great Hall.
         6. While not easy to procure, still-warm human blood makes an amazing energy drink. If you’re traveling on a budget, you can linger after an execution and, for a small fee, purchase a steaming cup of hoodlum hemoglobin.
        7.  Before you return, the Franciscan friary’s recipe for human blood marmalade is a marvelous souvenir.

        As Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci said, "We preserve our life with the death of others. In a dead thing insensate life remains which, when it is reunited with the stomachs of the living, regains sensitive and intellectual life." Who are we to argue?


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Freedom of Thought

In 1968, my sophomore year of high school, Huckleberry Finn set me free.

I grew up as a Catholic with lots of questions.  I believed deeply in a loving God, but so much doctrine seemed fraught with injustice. “Why can’t unbaptised babies go to heaven? They can’t help it if their parents don’t go to church.” “If a person lives where they never even heard of Jesus, how can they get to heaven?” “If someone grows up poor and in a bad neighborhood, is it right they are judged the same as someone with good parents and a comfortable home?”
My mother found my questions annoying, maybe even disturbing. Huge sigh. “I don’t know, Mary Beth,” she would say. “That’s something you can ask God after you die.” I was dismissed.

Between my shyness and the distress my mother displayed, I didn’t even broach the subject with the nuns. They might have deemed me a smart-ass or some other variety of troublemaker. There were no answers to be found from my catechism classes, weekly sermons, or family. I learned to keep my thoughts to myself, but the internal struggle continued.

Did God love all his creation or just some of us? Could some have been set up to fail? What about the ones my church taught were definitely going to hell? My heart ached for those people. Did that mean I loved them more than God?

That question disturbed even me. I was horrified by these thoughts and stashed them into all-too-shallow graves. Before long, they would dig themselves out, causing me to cringe in the humiliation of my heresy.

Then came tenth grade English and the thirty-first chapter of Huckleberry Finn, the story of a boy escaping civilization with a runaway slave, Jim. Ken Burns calls Chapter Thirty-One the “moral climax” of the story. Huck learns that Jim has been captured and will be returned to slavery. The boy becomes ashamed that he has done something as vile as helping a runaway slave, that he was “stealing a poor old woman’s n--- that hadn’t ever done [him] no harm.”

He felt certain he would burn in hell. Once he wrote a letter to Miss Watson detailing Jim’s whereabouts, he felt free from sin. Yet warm memories of their trip down the river and the many kindnesses Jim had bestowed on Huck tortured the boy.

“It was a close place. I took [the letter] up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right, then I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up.”

The potency of these words—only powerful because Huck truly believed he would go to hell—slammed me in the heart. What more can you sacrifice for the love of another than your immortal soul? It is the ultimate act of love.

Yet, I saw this through the eyes of one who grew up watching the Civil Rights Movement battle injustices on the daily news. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been gunned down only months before.

The original audience in 1885 had no such perspective; many likely still subscribed to the beliefs about slavery and the nature of black people with which Huck was surrounded. How many early readers still believed Huck’s attitude was sinful?

That led to my moment of enlightenment—Truth is not determined by popular consent. Belief by everyone you know does not constitute Reality. I believed God rejoiced at Huck’s decision and He would rejoice as heartily if I, too, would think beyond what we call “conventional wisdom.” Even Biblical interpretation is subject to human fallacy.

Perhaps God smiled warmly on my questions. I was no longer a heretic. I became free and I remain free. I ponder the nature of God and humans. My worldview does not conform fully to any one religion or denomination, but is always based in love.

Twain’s masterpiece has been controversial since its publication in 1885. Then it was banned as “immoral”, “suitable only for the slums.” They made no mention of the racial stereotypes and epithets that concern censors of today. Yet all these protectors of youth have neglected to examine the permission the book gives its readers to think their very own radical thoughts.

Like Huck. Like me.

NOTE: This article was reworked from a previous post on my private blog.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Word Histories: In Defense of Rush

A Man of the Ages
Off the bat, I admit this defense is slow in coming. The controversy I hope to put to rest occurred over three years ago, but is there any statute of limitations on rectifying slurs against a man’s character?
You may remember 2012 when the question of contraception as a standard healthcare benefit was being hashed out in the public discourse. A law student from Georgetown University, Sandra Fluke, argued passionately that this must be universally covered.
Rush Limbaugh made a simple comment taken completely out of context. Commenting on Ms. Fluke, Rush said—and I quote, “What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right?”
Oh, the flap that followed! So many were appalled at this “attack” on the character of the young woman.
But consider that Rush is a man of the ages. The term “slut” only took on the current sexual context in 1966. Yes, you read that right—1966! And Rush is so much older than that. He, I’m sure, is aware that the word has a wide and varied history that has nothing to do with this vulgar definition.
The word came into being in the 14th century as a description of a “dirty, slovenly, or untidy woman.” Chaucer referred to an untidy man as one. Basically, the word described a lazy slob, man or woman. If a kitchen maid kneaded her bread poorly, the little hard pieces in the loaf were called “slut pennies.” So, come on. It’s not what you were thinking.
In fact, Samuel Pepys, a pretty well-respected guy from the 1600s, wrote in his famous diary, “My wife called up the people to washing by four o'clock in the morning; and our little girl Susan is a most admirable slut, and pleases us mightily, doing more service than both the others, and deserves wages better.”
While some of you with wicked minds might find this strange, Pepys was merely being playful with the word, like calling his child a scamp or a rascal.
Which is no different than the misunderstood Rush Limbaugh. Surely, he was calling Sandra Fluke a “scamp” or “rascal” who pleased him mightily. After all, he’s just a big, cuddly grandfather figure.
Shut up, Rush.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Book Review: The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden

I don’t know what I expected when I started The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, but what I got wasn’t it.

Author Jonas Jonasson’s writing style keeps the reader at a distance from the characters, using minimal dialogue or even names. I was strangely drawn in, nonetheless.
The whole thing was much like Forrest Gump in its absurd situations, that only worked for Forrest, I think, because he was mentally handicapped and of pure heart. He had no idea what he went through was phenomenal.

Here, we have an exceptionally intelligent woman who is able to pull off the most astounding things because she can hide her intellect behind the face of a black woman who grew up cleaning latrines. This enabled her to be invisible. No one in the time frame story could fathom a person like the young South African, Nombeko.

While many of the events in the story challenge common sense, it works because Nombeko is so understated. Nothing much rattles her; she uses logic as she maneuvers among crazy people and emotional basket cases. Her calm manner and dry sense of humor enabled me to swallow it all.
I thoroughly enjoyed the great detail of actual world events starting in the 1960s to the present. Jonasson is either brilliant, a great researcher, or both.

While this book is certainly unusual—quirky really—I enjoyed it.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Robert Todd Lincoln--A Life of Synchronicities

Robert Todd Lincoln as a
young man--rather dashing!
I heard an odd bit of trivia concerning the eldest son of Abraham Lincoln.

I’ve always heard lots about poor Willie, who died while in the White House, and Tad, called a “notorious hellion” by observers. They say he even charged people to see his father, but that’s a bit off-topic.
Robert was the only son to reach adulthood and was enrolled in Harvard during the Civil War years. Mary Todd kept him out of the war until the final months when he was made a captain and served on Grant’s immediate staff. Understandably, this embarrassed young Robert Lincoln. As it should have.

Abe and Mary Todd invited Robert to accompany them to the Ford Theater the night of his father’s assassination, but he declined. Once tragedy struck, the son rushed to his father’s side and was with Abe Lincoln at the time of his death.
Notable, but not odd. On to some eerie coincidences. Robert Todd Lincoln was present at two presidential assassinations and I’m not counting his father’s.

As James Garfield’s Secretary of War in 1881, Robert was with Garfield at the Sixth Street Train Station in Washington, DC when the president was shot. The leader hung on for eleven weeks, then died.
Twenty years later, President William McKinley invited Lincoln to accompany him to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. There, an anarchist shot McKinley in the abdomen, resulting in his death about a week later.

Robert Lincoln was later invited to another presidential event, but before anyone else could say it, he responded, "No, I'm not going, and they'd better not ask me, because there is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present."
There have been four fatal assassinations of presidents of the United States in our history. Robert Todd Lincoln was in attendance or arrived shortly thereafter for three of them.

Now for good measure, one more odd coincidence. While in college, Robert Todd Lincoln was jostled on a crowded railroad platform in Jersey City until he was crushed against the train. In later years he wrote, “In this situation the train began to move, and by the motion I was twisted off my feet, and had dropped somewhat, with feet downward, into the open space, and was personally helpless.”
Run, Robert! Run!
Suddenly, a rescuer grabbed his coat collar and hauled Lincoln to safety. He turned to thank his rescuer, only to find it was the famous actor, Edwin Booth.

Robert told of the incident to a colleague on Grant’s staff who happened to be Edwin Booth’s friend. The friend wrote Booth of the incident, who remembered it, but had had no idea the young man was the president’s son. They say it was a comfort to him in later years after his brother, John Wilkes’s dirty deeds.
Robert Todd Lincoln lived to the ripe old age of eighty-two--not the rock star his father had been, but witness to some of the most momentous events of his lifetime.

An intelligent Forrest Gump, you might say.

NOTE: This article was reworked from a previous post on my private blog.