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Looking Back: It has to be done


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Today in 1910, Johnnie W. Flores was born near Somerset, Texas, southeast of San Antonio. In 1941, Flores joined the Army, and, as part of the 36th Infantry Regiment in the European Theater, he saw and paid the war’s ultimate price.

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LOOKING BACK
A special series

During my time as a contributing editor to the magnificent Voces Oral History Project at the University of Texas at Austin, I came across some amazing stories. The project, which I celebrated in 2011, collects the stories of Latino veterans and civilians who saw and felt the effects of war, from World War II to Vietnam. This occasional series will highlight a few of these fascinating lives.

Johnnie W. Flores, born on Feb. 10, 1910, was one of seven children living with their parents on a farm near Somerset, Texas. In his mid-twenties, Flores moved to California. He joined the Army in 1941.

His letters home encapsulated the evolution of the man’s character. The soldier faced down the horrific realities of war with practicality. He bought life insurance, and he sent half of his paycheck back to his mother. His letters also captured his romantic entanglements with young women in the U.S.

World War II brought him and his 36th Infantry Regiment to Europe, where he saw in late 1944 how war destroyed French communities and the “very green and beautiful” landscape. His letters captured his horror and his determined justification for such destruction.

By the end of the year, his family received news of the unthinkable. Read about what they learned and how they reacted, and the rest of wonderful profile here.

Visit the Voces website. Like them on Facebook. Follow them on Twitter.

My grand strategy


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Today I turned 41.

The number doesn’t bother me. When I look back on my past accomplishments, both professional and academic, both modest and respectable, I’m comfortably reminded that I’ve always been a late bloomer. The great triumphs — comparatively great — always came right the end of each chapter of my life, just when the time came for me to move on and start over somewhere else. Perhaps for someone like me, with my ambitions, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Every day begins with two thoughts: “There’s still a little time left. Relax.” and “Pretend this is your last day on earth because one day it will be. Work faster.” I’ll stagger through the days wavering between those two sentiments.

Last December, I completed a master’s degree in U.S. history at the University of Texas at San Antonio, topped off with a 190-page thesis — the cherry on the sundae. I never had so much fun — ask the people who know me … “fun” is not a word they ever expect me to use. During that last half of 2014, I attracted the attention of UTSA’s Communications office, which sent a reporter to profile me, perhaps to hold me up as an example to others, perhaps to highlight the interesting and intelligent people enriching and enriched by the UTSA’s wonderful History Department. Perhaps it was just my turn. Nevertheless, I was flattered and honored. I shamelessly shared it throughout social media, as I am now. “We are all very proud of you,” one of my beloved professors wrote me. My heart burst with teary pride — the rarest of my few expressed emotions.

The best part of the article came right at the beginning. The first paragraph captured the grand strategy I set out for my life: “At an early age, [Ortiz] charted the life he wanted to lead: journalist, academic scholar and author.” At some point in my twenties — not sure when, exactly, but probably as I began to seriously study history and biography — I determined to approach life with a larger consideration: How would I be remembered.

My Peruvian great-grandfather was prosperous fisherman who owned a fishing fleet. His son, my grandfather, was an Army general and special forces commander. His son, my father, is a physician. His son, me, was … what? I was blessed with generous and loving and supportive parents, who always pushed my brother and me to succeed. They trusted us to find our own way, within their explicit expectations that we would become productive and honorable men, and perhaps also within their implicit expectations that we would remember who built the comfortable world we inhabited. My interests guided me toward history, literature, and psychology. My mind naturally blossomed as historical concepts, literary theory, psychopathology, and later, the hourly drama of news cycles, caressed, molded, and ignited my growing intellect and imagination. But I realized that some kind of structure was needed. Simply wandering through my interests was not enough — it all had to amount to something in the end, something my descendents would look back on and admire, and perhaps emulate.

In some small way, this blog is an expression of that grand strategy. I’ve written about and shared with my readers my love of podcasts and photography, of the Civil War and fiction writing. I’ve shared with them a plethora of strange stories and documentaries, thoughts about Hemingway, rum cakes, books, and TR. They’ve experienced my passion for “Miami Vice”, Elvis, and a certain Louisiana woman fleeing Union invasion. Each piece fits into the larger plan.

In these later years, I perceive a small but steadily growing pool of wisdom fueling a clear philosophical perspective on the increasingly complex calculus of my life. Every failure becomes simply the moment when a fresh opportunity is revealed to me. Every hard-earned success merely offers a better vantage point on the harsh terrain ahead. As I move into this new year, from my new vantage point I can take in a horridly jagged landscape stretching out before my eyes, seemingly endless, on into the horizon. But that far-off horizon is gleaming. The shimmering edges are only now in sight, the barely perceptible glitter drawing me forward, igniting the ambition filling my heart, and steeling my spirit for the failures, disappointments, setbacks, wrong turns, and frustrations darkening the journey.

My grand strategy, glowing in my soul, burned into my mind, never leaves me. The sweet promise of a final victory — a life well-lived — is my last thought as sleep and dreams wrap their arms around me and carry me away into the silent night.

Kate Stone’s Civil War: Our soldiers were powerless


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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)

Foreign recognition, a cease-fire, slave emancipation: Stone captures the desperate rumors in the air as the Confederacy falls to its knees.

Feb. 1, 1865

Tyler, Texas

An occasional letter from Jimmy. He had just returned from our old home near the river. How strange it seems for the boys to be going home and wandering at will over the whole country, not a Yankee to be seen. The army worms were our best allies. They made the enemy abandon the country when our soldiers were powerless to drive them off. There are rumors of an armistice, recognition by the powers, and emancipation of the slaves.

Raining today. Could not start Jimmy’s boy back. Jimmy must think Henry is never coming. Have nearly finished Jimmy Carson’s gloves. His hands are none of the smallest and knitting the gloves has been a task.

Have been reading the life of Stonewall Jackson. He was worthy to be idolized by all classes as he is. Have just finished The Hour and the Man by Miss Martineau, purporting to be a historical novel with Toussaint L’Overture, the leader of the insurrection in San Domingo, as the hero. He is represented as superhumanly good and great beyond all heroes of ancient or modern times. He and Napoleon were contemporaries and comparisons are constantly drawn between them, all in favor of this darkie saint. Napoleon is completely overshadowed by Toussaint. It is a disgusting book. The Negroes are all represented as angelic beings, pure and good, while the whites are the fiends who entered in and took possession of their Eden, Haiti.

Anna Meagher returned recently and sent for me to come and see her. She saw Jimmy several times. He is quite well. Her only news was about the Terrapin Neck cutoff which, if true, will place all our plantations above possible overflow. The Yankees are all gone and some of the old planters still at home. Jimmy sent by Anna the box of papers left concealed and all are in good order. We have written him to bring out the silver if possible. It is buried there. The old Negroes are still on the place, and Uncle Hoccles and Aunt Liza want to come out to Texas. Mrs. Newman was about to give a Yankee party. Both girls are at home and reported engaged to Yankee officers. One cannot believe that news. Nous verrons. We hear that Annie Newman is a beauty and a belle. Surely the age of miracles has not passed.

The pouring rains continue, and the house leaks dreadfully. We rather wade than walk.

Recommended reading / viewing / listening


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This week: CSS H.L. Hunley emerges / Writing: A job or a calling? / Solving a math mystery / Gaza children with PTSD / What caused her cancer?

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. After 150 years, Confederate submarine’s hull again revealed
By Bruce Smith | Associated Press | Jan. 30
“What [scientists] find may finally solve the mystery of why the hand-cranked submarine sank during the Civil War.”

2. Facebook needs a ‘Sympathy’ button
By Amy-Mae Elliott | Mashable | Jan. 25
” It can mean a feeling of pity or sorrow for someone else’s misfortune, and also an understanding between people — a common feeling.”

3. Is Being a Writer a Job or a Calling?
By Benjamin Moser and Dana Stevens | Bookends :: Sunday Book Review | Jan. 27
Moser: “Even the best writing won’t have the immediate, measurable impact of a doctor’s work, or a plumber’s.”
Stevens: “Of course a writer is going to lean toward saying writing is a calling — that’s our job.”

4. The Pursuit of Beauty
By Alec Wilkinson | The New Yorker | Feb. 2
“Yitang Zhang solves a pure-math mystery.”

5. Hundreds of thousands of children shell-shocked after the war in Gaza
By Robert Tait | The Telegraph | Jan. 29
“Children who saw their siblings or parents killed, often gruesomely, have been left stricken, and around 35 per cent to 40 per cent of Gaza’s million children are suffering from shell-shock according to Hasan Zeyada, a psychologist with the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme.”

6. What Caused My Cancer?
By Shana Bernstein | Pacific Standard | Jan. 29
“Was it bad genes? Bad luck? Or was it the toxins I eat, drink, breathe, and touch on a regular basis because the United States has a policy of putting the burden of proof for product safety on the consumer?”

7. The Fire of 1910 — Why It Still Matters
By Timothy Egan | Inside American Experience | Jan. 29
“Never in recorded United States history has there been anything to match the fire of 1910. For its size, its ferocity, its impact, nothing comes close.”

8. 50 years after funeral, Churchill towers over UK politicians
By Jill Lawless | Associated Press | Jan. 30
“Modern politicians know better than to invite comparisons to the larger-than-life Churchill — a noted ‘bon vivant’ … who kept 10 Downing St. stocked with Pol Roger Champagne.”

9. Seven questions every editor should ask the writer
By Roy Peter Clark | Poynter | Jan. 30
“After asking these questions to hundreds of writers, I have confidence that the answers provided by the writer can guide a coaching editor on how best to help the writer over time.”

10. For Incarcerated Japanese-Americans, Baseball Was ‘Wearing the American Flag’
By Michael Beschloss | HistorySource :: The New York Times | June 2014
“By 1943, when some of those in the relocation camps were allowed to volunteer for war service, some of the ballplayers joined the Army’s almost all-Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which suffered grievous casualties in Europe and came to be called the most decorated military unit in American history.”

Kate Stone’s Civil War: Kindly bestow them


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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 begins the new year with a diary entry — one of her longest — filled with details, cautious hope, and determination to hold out for ultimate Confederate victory.

Jan. 29, 1865

Tyler, Texas

Uncle Johnny and Kate have just gone to their room after a lengthy discussion of the comparative merits of modern poets and novelists. Johnny has kissed me goodnight, Sister is wandering in dreamland, I am alone with a cheerful fire and a wakeful spirit, and so I may as well resume my neglected diary.

Mamma, with Sarah as her maid, started on Wednesday for the prairie to be absent two weeks, and I am left to administer affairs during her absence. The office of housekeeper is not entirely a sinecure now that there are so many to be provided for our family, Uncle John’s, and Mr. Gary’s. We tease Mamma and Mrs. Savage by telling them they are keeping boarding houses, a fact they indignantly deny. But it looks that way to an outsider. We hoped to get Mr. Smith’s house and live to ourselves, but he now declines to rent. But for the hall, we are as much crowded here as at the Ranch, which we had to give up to the owner as he wished to move back. This is a pretty-looking place if the house was painted but new and unfinished, a large yard with the native trees left. Mr. and Mrs. Gary, from whom Mamma rented it, are quite nice people. They have one little girl and they give very little trouble. We rarely see them except at meals, which is a relief, for we did so dread her living in our room. Even Kate leaves us to ourselves sometimes, and so we find it much easier to live together. Though both Uncle Johnny and Kate utterly ignore Johnny’s existence, it is wonderful that they will behave so.

Jimmy and Joe Carson have rejoined their command. It is Jimmy’s first trial as a soldier. I am trying to finish a pair of the prettiest riding gloves to send him by Jimmy Stone’s boy, who will get off Wednesday. I am sending Jimmy Stone a famous pair. Dr. Weir would feel himself awfully slighted and retire in disgust could he peep behind the scenes and see what becomes of the precious gauntlets he forced on my acceptance. He flattered himself I would knit a pair of gloves to them and kindly bestow them on him. But oh no, they go with the best I can make to Jimmy. I have knitted so many gloves, and Mamma knits socks in all her spare time. I wish I had kept account of the numbers of pairs. We froth up old black or blue silk, mix it with wool, and have it spun into a pretty silky thread that makes nice-looking gloves or stockings. …

So slowly news comes in that we have heard nothing since Sherman’s occupation of Savannah more than a month ago and Gen. Hood‘s retreat across the Tennessee River. … Hood is relieved from command and Gen. Johnston reinstated, a rumor that gives general satisfaction. The very air is rife with rumors but nothing reliable. The favorite is that the Confederacy will certainly be recognized by all foreign powers immediately after the fourth of March, and we may look for a speedy peace with much more to the same. But we have been exalted and depressed by these rumors too often to let them weigh with us now. Another topic of general interest is the subject of gradual emancipation said to be under discussion in the lower house [of the Confederate Congress]. …

Ivol | Losing Sight


Originally posted on their bated breath:

Intensity and release. That’s the modus operandi of Ivol’s new song, “Losing Sight”, which appropriately uses rising balloons as the cover image for the single. The song begins with heavy, dirge-like piano chords and a litany of one and two-word phrases about the quotidian activities of waking up from sleep, before the track hits its cathartic and doomed musical and lyrical conclusion: “Wake up / Wake up / Breathe / Step out / Breathe / Wash face …” It’s a fascinating composition by the Australian artist (that sounds influenced by Thom Yorke solo work like 2006’s Eraser) who builds a heavily textured atmosphere with glittery synth, hollow drum sequences, vibrating strings, an intermittent bass beat, computerized blips, a large music drop, and partial rap/spoken words: “I think I’m losing sight / You need to wake up, wake up”. Follow Ivol on tumblr, facebook and twitter. – David D. Robbins…

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Waiting for ‘Mad Men:’ Draper returns on April 5


The Hollywood Reporter noted earlier this morning that the final seven-episode run begins on April 5.

I hope it is worth the wait.

In the meantime, enjoy one of my favorite endings.

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