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Kate Stone’s Civil War: Fairy castles in the air


1863

From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

Stone offers a slice of life in Oak Ridge, La., as her caretakers search for a window of safety to escort her back to Texas.

Oct. 15, 1864

Near Oak Ridge, La.

We have kept on the even tenor of our ways with no hairbreadth escapes by land or sea to ruffle the calm. There are still occasional reports of advancing Yankee raids, but all blow over and no Yankees yet, though this country is still defenseless. …

We have little company and pay few visits, but we enjoy the days, and the weeks fly by like magic — no startling events to mark them off. Capt. Wylie and Dr. Wylie are here. They amuse themselves during the day, but in the evening we all assemble, play chess or cards, and carry on long and animated discussions on all topics under the sun. All the older members of the family are very fond of argument and discussion and are thoughtful talkers and well educated, though one must know them some time before finding that last out.

We made a rule fining everyone for each lapse in grammar, which worked famously for awhile, until we found we would soon all be bankrupt in both purse and temper, and by tacit consent it was dropped and grammar is no more alluded to. Mrs. Templeton said she knew she would never be fined. She knew every rule in the book, but she was the first and most grievous offender and hated worst to be reported. … We lounge in rocking chairs building fairy castles in the air, mapping out lives of goodness and noble endeavor, until Mrs. Templeton rouses from her half-doze on the bed and sends us all to rest. …

Our pleasant days are drawing to a close as Mamma writes she will send Johnny at once for me, and we are looking for him every day. Capt. Brigham rode in from Monroe to tell us that the long expected tableau would come off the next evening and that he had come in to escort us out. Early the next morning we three girls and Sally McGraw with Jimmy, Capt. Wylie, and Capt. Brigham as outriders and the maid Henrietta bringing up the rear, made our way to Monroe under many difficulties. We had a most trying time after reaching there, owing to Capt. Brigham’s blundering. We did not enjoy the tableau as we were too worried and were thankful to be all safe at Mrs. Templeton’s next evening.

Oct. 30

The last time I shall write here. Johnny arrived with the carriage two days ago, and we start home tomorrow. This will end a most pleasant visit, or rather visitation, for I have been here more than three months. All the family have been unfailingly kind and have done all in their power to make me enjoy the time. I certainly have had a most charming visit and grieve to leave them. Then I shall have to break off two most promising flirtations. My only comfort is in thinking of the lovely trip Johnny and I are going to have a comfortable carriage well stocked with lunches, a good driver, strong mules, no hurry, and a lodging every night with friends, good roads, and fair October weather.

Recommended reading / viewing / listening


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This week: Enduring sexism / LBJ and the Secret Service / Exercise and depression / The Roman Empire / The political Eva Longoria

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. Jessica’s Feminized Atmosphere
By Jessica Williams | The Daily Show | Oct. 2
“Also, that’s redundant.”

2. L.B.J.’s Bravado and a Secret Service Under Scrutiny
By Michael Beschloss | The Upshot :: The New York Times | Oct. 2
“Not long after President Kennedy’s assassination, President Johnson chafed under his Secret Service protection.”

3. What made Japan’s deadly volcanic eruption so unpredictable?
By Judy Woodruff and Miles O’Brien | PBS NewsHour | Sept. 30
“More than 250 people were out hiking and enjoying a nice fall day, when a surprise eruption littered the mountain with falling boulders, thick smoke and piles of ash. At least 36 people were killed.”

4. This Is How Eva Longoria Is Trying to Win the Midterms
By Asawin Suebsaeng | The Daily Beast | Oct. 1
“From working behind the scenes in the midterms to making a new farm labor documentary, the former Desperate Housewife has emerged as a force to be reckoned with in liberal politics.”

5. How Exercise May Protect Against Depression
By Gretchen Reynolds | Well :: The New York Times | Oct. 1
“Exercise may help to safeguard the mind against depression through previously unknown effects on working muscles.”

6. The Elements of Style
By Sasha Weiss | The Sunday Book Review :: The New York Times | Oct. 3
“Watching other women, seeing how they’re dressed and how they pull it off, is the way most of us learn to become ourselves.”

7. Former Haiti president Duvalier dies
By Mike Wooldridge | BBC News | Oct. 4
“Duvalier was just 19 when in 1971 he inherited the title of “president-for-life” from his father, the notorious Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier. He was accused of corruption, human rights abuses and repression in his rule, which ended in a 1986 uprising.”

8. Catastrophic Coltrane
By Geoff Dyer | NYR Gallery :: New York Review of Books | Oct. 4
“The interest of recordings from this final phase — in which Coltrane’s playing became increasingly frenzied and the accompaniment more abstracted — lies partly in what they preserve and partly in any hints they contain as to where Trane might have headed next.”

9. The Aral Sea’s Disappearing Act
By Anna Nemtsova | The Daily Beast | Oct. 4
“Satellite photos show how the depredations of dictators have turned the world’s fourth largest inland sea into a poisonous desert.”

10. 40 maps that explain the Roman Empire
By Timothy B. Lee | Vox | Aug. 19
“Two thousand years ago, on August 19, 14 AD, Caesar Augustus died. … Under Augustus and his successors, the empire experienced 200 years of relative peace and prosperity. Here are 40 maps that explain the Roman Empire — its rise and fall, its culture and economy, and how it laid the foundations of the modern world.”

The Disco Pall


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The mirage inspired the working class and their tenuous allies toward distant horizons of hope, unaware that only predators awaited them in the night.
A review essay by Fernando Ortiz Jr.

Discussed in this essay:

Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class. By Jefferson Cowie. New York: The New Press, 2010. Pp. 464. $19.58

*****

Jefferson Cowie illustrates in Stayin’ Alive a sad era of American labor’s political and economic strife. The book recounts 40 years of corporations, political figures, and labor’s own leaders undermining, defusing, or ravaging the postwar economic opportunities of working-class Americans, who gradually lost every ally gained during the New Deal era. The working-class identity at the beginning of his story captures their pride and belief in a better future. Their identity at the end is strangled, stabbed, and ground down into a pitiable symbol of social irrelevance, political isolation, and self-absorbed psychic catatonia.1

Cowie divides his story into two sections: “Hope in the Confusion, 1968-1974” and “Despair in the Order, 1974-1982.” He begins with vivid accounts of labor’s role as “junior partners” in a New Deal coalition to re-engineer American capitalism and of a younger generation’s struggles against calcified labor leaders in the 1960s to improve their economic standing. He then moves into the chaos of the 1968 presidential campaigns. Public uproar over the Vietnam War left President Lyndon B. Johnson exhausted. He refused to run for another term, leaving the desiccated corpse of the presidency for Democratic contenders to rip apart like starved hyenas. Vice President Hubert Humphrey emerged from the violent Democratic nominating convention as the last man standing, with only the labor machinery at his side, Cowie writes, making labor the “big boss in the Democratic Party.”2

Labor’s support of the Vietnam War, Cowie explains, meant no alliance with anti-war Democrats. Patriarchal labor leaders rejected civil rights and social movements, which poisoned any relationship with social liberals, women, and minorities. Humphrey’s nomination triumph and labor alliance amounted to little more than a Pyrrhic victory when Richard Nixon, leading a Republican resurgence against divided Democrats, won the election. The cracks in the Democratic lines would also lead to complete political failure in 1972 when Democrat George McGovern challenged then-President Nixon and was obliterated.3

The tragic and foreboding theme of division overshadows every working-class ambition, and Cowie highlights its importance at every turn. The compromised aspirations of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act are two of his best examples. Both aimed for “occupational justice.” The former enabled union formation and opened economic opportunities to immigrants. The latter ensured non-white, non-male, and non-Christian workers would not face workplace discrimination. The former was rooted in the hopes for economic equality. The latter was rooted in the hopes for cultural and gender equality. Some victories required the exclusion of black rights.

Others required the exclusion of women’s rights. Inherent tensions between the governmental and political forces that achieved both victories doomed the unity needed to face foes in the 1970s and 1980s, who exploited “an unbridgeable chasm” between allies fighting over race or over class. Cowie is at his best when he explores these key flaws in the coalition the unions depended upon throughout the postwar decades.4

Nixon cynically targeted that central cultural-vs.-material dichotomy in the workers’ outlook. He lured them into his New Majority, his own coalition of Republicans, conservative Democrats, and white workers disgusted by the civil rights or other social movements. He emphasized his empathy with their frustrations, and he shared their disgust for “effete” Northern elitists and antiwar protesters. He anesthetized their doubts or shame over their support for a Republican with dazzling themes of shared patriotism. Once working-class Democrats were numbed to their own political transformation and suffocated by the rhetorical American flags in which he wrapped them, Nixon added their votes to his victorious totals, laughed at their seeming blindness to his manipulations, and then subsequently did little to justify their support.5

Cowie ends the book’s first half with the convincing contention that in 1973, after years of high earnings and low unemployment, labor’s prospect for further prosperity began to fade. That year was a turning point, he writes, when “a troika of disasters” began to unfold: an oil embargo, the spread of suffocating stagflation, and the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon’s resignation in 1974. Nixon, Cowie argues, “was the last [postwar president] to court labor seriously.” Instead of playing on the old New Deal chessboard, Nixon simply invented a new game with new rules. After 1974, labor faced threats it was no longer armed against, on battlefield on which it had no effective allies, and fought for a place in an economy that no longer valued its contribution or importance.6

If the book’s first half sees the working class feel the unstable shoreline crumble under their feet, the second half sees them slide helplessly into the shark-infested water. Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, defeated Ronald Reagan for the 1976 presidential nomination. Democrat Jimmy Carter then defeated Ford in the general election. Nixon’s and Ford’s defeats emboldened Democratic liberals, and their triumph blinded them to Carter’s limitations as a labor ally. At first, liberals and labor saw new hope in the new president, who could potentially fuse old George Wallace supporters, Southern Democrats, Northern workers, and minorities into a new coalition. Cowie points to hopes for new legislation that would generate more jobs, improve labor laws, and begin a national health insurance. But Carter had little regard for liberal dreams, and his career was not beholden to labor’s support. His narrow and principled vision focused only on particular priorities, and his stiff rudder rarely moved to accommodate labor’s needs.7

Labor needed help more than ever before. Companies laid off workers and moved production overseas. Plants closed. Industries gravitated to regions that rejected union activism, instituted right-to-work laws, and promised tax incentives and low regulation. The general economic malaise acted like a drought, drying up what little hope remained for labor to find economic or political rejuvenation in the Democratic Party’s empty and neglected fountains. By 1980, Cowie explains, “a unionized manufacturing job … had become a rare and coveted source of security” -– a stale scrap from the corporate table crowded with conservative allies.8

Cowie’s pursuit of working-class identity throughout the postwar decades is a powerful intellectual feature of the book. He also argues that working-class identity found itself reflected in TV shows like All in the Family, in ballads from Bruce Springsteen and Devo, and in films like Saturday Night Fever. But the musing quickly turns into bloviating and regrettable tedium. Much of what he wanted to say could have been condensed from two chapters into one, or incorporated into the photos section with enriched captions. The attempt to casually expound on entertainment diminishes the power of Cowie’s serious and informative history.9

Republican Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980. By then, Cowie laments, the “redefinition of the working class beyond its New Deal form” had failed. Postwar attempts to maintain workers in the middle class failed. Conservative enemies torpedoed their legislative and policy accomplishments. Carter and a new generation of liberal Democrats had no shared history with labor and little inspiration to court their rusted and scarred loyalties.10 The working classes had nowhere to go but inward in their search for a credible identity. Ironically, that desperation left them open to another round of Nixonian seduction. Reagan’s New Right vision promised a return to a revitalized America built on the rubble Carter and his Eastern elites had left behind, one nation under God, ruled by white Christian men just as they ruled in their own communities.

The potent, sickening sweetness of Reagan’s nostalgic platitudes — Cowie calls it “symbolic sanctuary” — mesmerized workers who hungered for a time when they mattered to American society. Reagan swung the final major blow to the remnants of the labor movement when he shattered the Professional Air Traffic Controllers (PATCO) union strike in 1981. Cowie calls Reagan’s decision “one of the boldest acts of his administration.” Cowie could have added details of the administration’s decision-making process, internal debates, or recollections from Reagan advisors. Instead, the incident, which signaled to the corporate world how weak and vulnerable the union community truly was, is barely explored in a rush to finish the second half of the book, which ends in 1982. By the 1990s, a globalized economy of union-free service workers emerges, ruled by a conservative coalition descended not solely from conservative victories, Cowie argues, but also from liberalism’s failures and shortsighted divisions.11

Cowie’s sad and fascinating story points to the “internal weaknesses” of the working class when explaining why labor movements failed to sustain cohesion and strength long enough after the New Deal to pose a significant challenge to “[m]arket orthodoxy.”12 Perhaps, he argues, their noble alliance was little more than a “conceptual unity” that never truly existed. The mirage inspired the working class – enthused by their New Deal identities — and their tenuous allies toward distant horizons of hope, unaware that only predators awaited them in the night.


1. Jefferson Cowie, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (New York: The New Press, 2010), 9-11.
2. Cowie, 9, 29, 83.
3. Cowie, 41, 84.
4. Cowie, 236-237.
5. Cowie, 122-124, 132-133.
6. Cowie, 12, 164.
7. Cowie, 14, 266.
8. Cowie, 15.
9. Cowie, 209-210, 357-369.
10. Cowie, 366.
11. Cowie, 362-364.
12. Cowie, 18.

Kate Stone’s Civil War: The flower-wreathed scepter


1862

From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

Stone records the fall of Atlanta along with pitiful rumors of its victorious Confederate recapture. By now the ripples of great battles hardly disturb her social shores.

Sept. 27, 1864

Near Oak Ridge, La.

We hear of the lamentable fall of Atlanta and rumors of its recapture, which we trust may be true. There is no further fear of a Yankee raid as there are very few troops left at Goodrich’s Landing, and everyone seems to look for peace in the spring. …

An amusing letter from Missie Morris in which she utterly repudiates the idea of our giving up as “Old Maids” for two years yet, when she will be willing to lay down the flower-wreathed scepter of girlhood and don the badge of spinsterhood.

Capt. Gillispie came in two days ago and has kept the house in an uproar ever since. He is overflowing with fun and frolic but is rather too familiar and something rude. He does not improve on acquaintance. I fear he is fast, a perfect opposite to tiny Mr. Kurrie, who came with him. We thought him at first about twelve years old, so quiet and solemn. He really is twenty. …

Recommended reading / viewing / listening


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This week: Holder’s exit / Earth’s magnetic flip / Cusack’s Hollywood / The Kennedy Style / Anti-psychopaths

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. America’s New War President
By Michael Hirsh | Politico Magazine | Sept. 23
“With a broad campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, Obama has a chance to remake his legacy.”

2. What to expect from the Earth’s impending magnetic flip
By Annie Sneed | Scientific American and Salon | Spet. 26
“New data suggest the poles could be reversing for the first time in 780,000 years. Here’s how it affects you.”

3. Why Holder Quit
By Glenn Thrush | Politico Magazine | Sept. 25
“The backstory of how Obama lost his ‘heat shield.’”

4. The 8 Best Pocket Parks In Manhattan
By Rebecca Fishbein | The Gothamist | Sept. 25
“[S]mall, public-accessible pocket parks that dot the city are an oft-overlooked joy, a temporary respite from the hustle and bustle of the urban artery.”

5. The Barbarians Within Our Gates
By Hisham Melhem | Politico Magazine | Sept. 18
“Arab civilization has collapsed. It won’t recover in my lifetime”

6. Bad Moon Rising
By David J. Rothkopf | Voice :: Foreign Policy | Sept. 24
“Behind the scenes at the U.N., a more unsettling story emerges of Syria, Iraq, and fighting the Islamic State.”

7. John Cusack: ‘Hollywood is a whorehouse and people go mad’
By Henry Barnes | The Guardian | Sept. 25
“After 25 years as a star, John Cusack has seen the movie industry’s dark side close up — from its misogyny to its treatment of young actors.”

8. Who Would Donate a Kidney to a Stranger? An ‘Anti-Psychopath’
By Melissa Dahl | Science of Us :: New York Magazine | Sept. 25
“If the dark, scary end of the caring continuum is inhabited by psychopaths, way down at the other end [are] ultra-do-gooders who are extraordinarily compassionate, prosocial, and empathetic.”

9. Evolution: Why don’t we have hairier faces?
By Jason G. Goldman | BBC Future | Sept. 26
“Mark Changizi … has an intriguing alternative explanation. … It’s because we’re walking, talking, breathing ‘mood rings’”

10. Nixon and Age: The Kennedy Style
American Experience :: PBS | November 2011
“The Nixon-Kennedy debates would forever change the way Americans chose their presidents.”

Videos I Love: Musical medicine


This never failed to re-energize me.

I’m fighting off a cold. I haven’t been sick in more than year. I spent today pushing myself (and only occasionally succeeding) to compose a literature review so I’m not looking at an unfinished thesis in early November and wondering how I wasted six months.

I’ve dutifully taken medicine and had lots of juice and warm pho (noodle soup with chunks of eye round steak and brisket, lemon chunks, cilantro, basil leaves, and bean sprouts).

I’ve also enjoyed some oldies to keep me awake, just slightly dancing with my shoulders so no one notices. This music video has always been one of my favorites. I love how he drops in Tupac so perfectly.

Back to work.

*****

I’m occasionally sharing some thoughts on a few videos that make me smile, make me think, or preferably do both. Read more from this special series here.

Hurricane Beulah and Dr. Mario E. Ramirez


As some of you may already know, I’m a graduate student in UTSA’s history department. I’m writing a masters thesis on 1967 Hurricane Beulah and Dr. Mario E. Ramirez. Please write me if you’d like to share memories/stories of the hurricane or of the fascinating physician from the Rio Grande Valley. I’d love to hear them.

Fernando Ortiz Jr.

Kurt Brindley

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