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Remembering Helen Cloud Austin

The Top Shelf

UTSA Special Collections staff was sad to learn of the recent passing of Helen Cloud Austin on February 22, 2016. Special Collections had a long relationship with Austin, beginning in 1997 when she donated the first portion of her papers to the University. However, prior to 1997, Austin had already completed a prolific career in social work in San Antonio and beyond, earning local and national recognition for her dedication.

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Austin was born in 1925 in Kentucky, and earned her Masters of Science degree in 1953 from the University of Louisville’s Raymond A. Kent School of Social Work, where she was only the second African-American to attend. After graduation she began work in Chicago at Cook County Hospital. In 1957 she moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she became Chief of the Outpatient Department at Longview State Hospital. Her husband’s civil service work led the couple to San Antonio in 1962…

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Recommended reading / viewing / listening

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This week: Jeb Bush’s failure / Bloomberg’s hinted candidacy / Obama and Cuba / The accomplishments of novelists Eco, Lee, and Spiotta

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. Inside Jeb Bush’s $150 Million Failure
By Eli Stokols | Politico Magazine | Feb. 20
“His closest aides failed to predict Trump and never changed course, guiding a flawed candidate into a corner he couldn’t escape.”

2. Harper Lee, Author of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ Dies at 89
By William Grimes | The New York Times | Feb. 19
“Lee, like her alter ego Scout, was a tough little tomboy who enjoyed beating up the local boys, climbing trees and rolling in the dirt.”

3. Michael Bloomberg Hints at Reasons for Candidacy, but Doesn’t Announce It
By Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns | First Draft :: The New York Times | Feb. 18
“The most pressing problems in the country, he said, were ‘wage stagnation at home, American retreat around the world’ and a ‘corrupt gridlock and two-party system that answers to lobbyists and special interests instead of the American people.’ ”

4. Obama to Cuba: A gamble to end the embargo
By Ted Piccone | Order from Chaos :: The Brookings Institution | Feb. 18
“It is a big prize for the Castros, but in exchange for what? Why now? What can we expect to see happen on the island before and after he visits? How will the visit impact the relationship?”

5. An Interview with Dr. William Blair, Founding Editor of the Journal of the Civil War Era
Muster :: The Journal of the Civil War Era | Feb. 15
“You were the editor of Civil War History for ten years before founding and editing The Journal of the Civil War Era. Did you have a vision for JCWE that differed from CWH?”

6. The Nation He Built
By Michael Grunwald | Politico Magazine | January/February 2016
“Over the past seven years, Americans have heard an awful lot about Barack Obama and his presidency, but the actual substance of his domestic policies and their impact on the country remain poorly understood.”

7. The Quietly Subversive Fictions of Dana Spiotta
By Susan Burton | The New York Times Magazine | Feb. 19
“Over the course of her career, the author has created a new kind of great American novel.”

8. Umberto Eco, Italian novelist and intellectual, dies aged 84
By Kevin Rawlinson | The Guardian | Feb. 20
“The revered literary critic, author and essayist — most famous for 1980 novel The Name of the Rose — had been suffering from cancer.”

9. Why I love… Winona Ryder
By Bim Adewunmi | The Guardian | Feb. 20
“It’s very difficult to look away when she’s on screen. She looks like a woodland creature, a startled deer — plus, she can act”

10. Historical Lessons for a President Forced to Deal With a Hostile Congress
By Michael Beschloss | HistorySource :: The New York Times | November 2014
“The Democratic nominee of 2016, whoever she or he is, might want President Obama to adopt the [Gerald] Ford veto strategy. … It would give the party’s nominee the opportunity to argue that in 2017, only a Democratic president can hold back the excesses of a Republican-controlled House and Senate.”

The Early Life of Hattie Elam Briscoe

An incredible story.

The Top Shelf

In honor of Black History Month, Top Shelf is featuring a look at the early life and educational accomplishments of Hattie Elam Briscoe.

MS67_01-06_groupphoto-justBriscoe Hattie, upon her graduation from St. Mary’s Law School, 1956.

Hattie Ruth Elam Briscoe was born to Cloral Burton Elam and Willy Perry Elam in Shreveport, Louisiana on November 13, 1916. She was the second of five children. Hattie’s mother taught her children to read and write before entering school, which resulted in Hattie skipping a grade level upon entering elementary school. Her mother also encouraged and inspired Hattie to go to college. Sadly, her mother suffered a stroke and passed away at the age of thirty-three. Hattie was just nine years old. After her mother’s passing, her father moved the family to Marshall, Texas. Her father remarried, but unfortunately Hattie’s new stepmother was not terribly kind to her. When she was sixteen, her father “whipped” her…

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Scalia is dead – who benefits

Initial reaction, and plenty of important questions.

The truth is…

The death of Antonin Scalia will surely create endless Obama-Congress disputes when Obama will present his new choice(s). Also, many cases are to be decided during the elections cycle of 2016 and having 8 judges on board, with one less very conservative judge will make the decisions very close or tied or unforeseen postponements.

It will not be good for Congress, as it will show the American people and the world how even in jurisprudence, the American way is all about politics and personal tendencies instead of the true application of the law.

The Republican debates now will have the added feature of gay marriage at the top of the agenda and Trump is most likely to say stupid things and tweet ridiculous idea that will expose even further the bigotry and racism that are latent in the United States.

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Recommended reading / viewing / listening

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This week: Henry Kissinger / George Washington and whiskey / Scorsese’s love for the Rolling Stones / Beyonce’s hot sauce / The drama of gravitational wave detection

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. The Dawn of a New Era in Science
By Matthew Francis | The Atlantic | Feb. 11
“By announcing the first detection of gravitational waves, scientists have vindicated Einstein and given humans a new way to look at the universe.”

2. Shut Up and Press Play
By Mary-Louise Parker | Esquire Classic | September 2006
“If you want to rock this girl (or yours), these are the songs you need to know”

3. William Shatner Opens Up About Deathbed Rift With Leonard Nimoy and Their Long Friendship
By Katie Wilson Berg | The Hollywood Reporter | Feb. 12
“Shatner spoke … about his respect for Nimoy as an artist and the mystery of why the man he calls ‘the only friend I ever had’ shut him out in the last years of his life.”

4. A History of Martin Scorsese’s Love Affair with the Rolling Stones
By Dan Reilly | Vulture | Feb. 12
“‘My films,’ the man himself once said, ‘would be unthinkable without them.’ ”

5. We All Need Beyonce’s Hot Sauce
By Goldie Taylor | The Daily Beast | Feb. 8
“It’s a flavorful essence — proud, black, and full of social justice.”

6. InstaTexas: The Stars At Night…
By Jordan Breal | Texas Monthly | Feb. 11
“Are big and bright — and ready for their close-up.”

7. George Washington, the Whiskey Baron of Mount Vernon
By Michael Beschloss | The Upshot :: The New York Times | Feb. 12
“It was not exactly in keeping with Washington’s public image to enter the whiskey trade.”

8. Gravitational Waves Exist: The Inside Story of How Scientists Finally Found Them
By Nicola Twilley | Elements :: The New Yorker | Feb. 11
“It took years to make the most sensitive instrument in history insensitive to everything that is not a gravitational wave. Emptying the tubes of air demanded forty days of pumping. The result was one of the purest vacuums ever created on Earth, a trillionth as dense as the atmosphere at sea level.”

9. Henry Kissinger: Good or Evil?
Politico Magazine | October 2015
“10 historians assess the controversial statesman’s legacy”

10. T.R.’s Son Inspired Him to Help Rescue Football
By Michael Beschloss | HistorySource :: The New York Times | August 2014
“T.R.’s intervention … helped lead to … the enforcement of new rules, which included the forward pass, a neutral zone at the line of scrimmage, another referee on the field and later prohibitions against brutal maneuvers like kneeing and punching opponents by using locked hands.”

My grand strategy

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Today I turned 42.

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.

At the end of 2014, 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. I knew enough to know that a great legacy was constructed with small pieces, carried one small step at a time, and sometimes at first only imperfectly constructed. I held close to my heart a few simple rules. Never turn away from a challenge. Never shrink away from leaping out of your comfort zone into unknown terrain. Never decline the opportunity to fail, and never fail to learn from those failures. Easy to say, and painfully difficult to follow.

In early 2015, I was honored when Dr. Catherine Clinton, a leading Civil War scholar, asked me to assist her with some special research for a few months. Just as that ended, I was honored yet again with an offer to actually teach U.S. history to college undergraduates at Northwest Vista College. Quiet, private research and writing — annotated bibliographies, briefing memos, etc. — is ideal for someone as shy as me. Teaching and discussing U.S. history with 70 to 80 young men and women is not. My comfort zone is nowhere in sight. Nevertheless, I knew when I accepted the challenge that I was undertaking the most difficult and the most important job of my life. Perhaps someday I might actually be good at it (though student applause is always reassuring). These are a few of those crucial pieces of the larger something I am trying to build, just as the men and women who came before me struggled to build their own lives, faced down their challenges and fears, and took one more step forward.

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 — is … 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. It was assumed that we would become productive and honorable men as we kept in mind 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 descendants 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.

Hillary Clinton’s Clarification: More Confusion?

Not a great week for Hillary Clinton.

Crossroads

As you might have expected, Hillary Clinton issued a clarification of her controversial remarks about Reconstruction, made in the context of her speculation on what might have happened had Abraham Lincoln not been assassinated:

HRC clarification

Nice try, but strike two.

Ms. Clinton’s statement now indicts the federal government, saying it gave up too soon, and its lack of persistence “led to a disgraceful era of Jim Crow.”

That this was due in part to the behavior of “defiant” white southerners, including terrorist activity, is a link she’s unwilling to make, although one can make it when she reminds us about “racist efforts against Reconstruction.” How exactly a president could achieve “equality, justice, and reconciliation” while protecting black rights — not exactly a good way to reconcile white southerners — remains unanswered. Nor does her response consider the role played by the racism of some white northerners, most of whom were Democrats…

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