How The World Really Works and Natural GasPosted: February 19, 2023 Filed under: America, America Since 1945, energy, Uncategorized Leave a comment
In my ongoing effort to understand how the world really works, I started listening to How the World Really Works by Vaclav Smil. Smil has a cool origin story:
Growing up in a remote mountain town in the Plzeň Region, Smil cut wood daily to keep the home heated. This provided an early lesson in energy efficiency and density.
Now he lives in cozy Manitoba. Great introduction to the man:
“I have never been wrong on these major energy and environmental issues,” he says, “because I have nothing to sell.”
How the World Really Works can be a tough listen at times, because the gist of it is there are no easy answers, anything’s gonna require tradeoffs. One big takeaway: we’re not getting off fossil fuels any time soon. Sometimes though Smil has a rhetorical flourish that’s sort of fun. Much like Paul Johnson’s Birth of the Modern, however, the book is so overwhelming, so full of information that the result can be a glum feeling as I’m reminded of how much I don’t know, how complex everything is, it can be paralyzing. I see I’m in good company feeling this way:
After reading his first Smil book, [Bill] Gates “felt a little beat up. … Am I ever going to be able to understand all of this?” But he ultimately concluded that “I learn more by reading Vaclav Smil than just about anyone else.”
Natural Gas on the other hand I found quite exciting. Methane, ethane, and propane: you can see why Hank Hill loved the stuff. Smil, impartial though he tries to be, seems to have a soft spot of natural gas.
inhabitants of large northern cities hardly ever think about having their gas supply interrupted because such experiences are exeedingly rare.
Where does this wonderful gas come from?
Methane is produced during strictly anaerobic decomposition of organic matter by species of archaea, with Methanobacter, Mathanococcus, Methanoscarina, and Mathothermobacter being the major methanogenic genera
Here’s some methanobacter:
So we’re talking about the released gases over three billion years or so from prehistoric swamps. It might seem crazy that all that gas comes from the breathing out of life forms. And indeed, some have questioned that:
But what if hydrocarbons were of inorganic, rather than biogenic, origin? That was assumed by Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev, Russia’s leading nineteenth-century chemist, and that has been an alternative to the biogeneic explanation offered by the so-called Russian-Urkanian hypothesis about the abiogenic formation of oil and gas in abyssal environments. … Porfir’yev (1959, 1974) had also argued that abiogenic formation of giant oil fields is a better explanation of their origins than assuming truly gigantic accumulations of organic material that would be needed to create such structures…
The American Thomas Gold got in on the act. An astrophysicist, he pointed out that methane exists on planets apparently devoid of life, and theorized that methane:
can from by combining hydrogen and carbon under high temperatures and pressures in the outer mantle, and after this mantle-derived methane migrates it is then converted to heavier hydrocarbons in the upper layers of the Earth’s crust
After giving that a fair hearing, Smil says
I will note here half a dozen of major realities that undermine the abiogenic hypothesis
Submanticular squeezing, the exhaust of ancient wetlands, either way, it’s valuable stuff! The invention of liquified natural gas and compressed natural gas are remarkable examples of human ingenuity, and there may be more to come, but Smil, as usual, notes that energy transitions take a long time, and it won’t be soon that we convert all trucks to methane.
[Energy transitions] incremental progress can be accelerated or retarded by specific policies – but only rarely do such measures result in truly revolutionary shifts; energy systems are too complex and generally fairly long-lived and hence too inertial to be rapidly redirected by deliberate action designed to change their fundamentals. Grand plans aimed at their basic redesgn thus have a very low probability of success, and we are left trying to do the best we can to nudge the process in what we think is the best direction – but we still must keep in mind that, in retrospect, we may find such actions not as beneficial as we thought them to be at the beginning.
It’s not that we haven’t tried to occasional big swing. Smil notes about natural gas extracting:
one of the methods that was not just proposed, but actually tried several times in the United States is truly incredible (an adjective used with restraint).
That was the Plowshare Program, where we detonated underground nuclear bombs to try and loosen up natural gas.
Source on that. Here they are loading up Gasbuggy:
Reading this four decades later has only increased the sense of incredulity: how could these frequent detonations be ever justified in net energy terms, and how could regular detonation of powerful nuclear bombs underneath the grassland, fields and forests of the American West be accepted by the public as routine means of producing gas used for heating and cooking?
Coming up at ShilohPosted: October 15, 2022 Filed under: America, WOR Leave a comment
The sky had cleared, the clouds raveled to tatters, and at four oclock the sun broke through, silver on the bright green of grass and leaves and golden on the puddle sin the road; all down the column men quickened the step, smiling in the sudden burst of gold and silver weather.
So goes the first sentence of Foote’s book. You hear about things being unraveled, but “raveled” not so much.
From Stuart Chapman’s biography of Shelby Foote:
Faulkner would tell his son-in-law that Foote wrote as if he had been there himself.
He knows what he’s talking about.
We must agree, there are parts of Foote’s novel that are very vivid and feel very real.
Winston Groom is perhaps most notable as the author of the novel Forrest Gump. Don’t sleep on his narrative histories. They are terrific: compelling, clear, human, personal, funny even sometimes. Winston Groom was in the Vietnam War. When it comes to battle he writes like he knows what he’s talking about.
Civil War battlefields can be some of the most peaceful places in America. Some days tour buses or school groups must crowd the roads, but driving and walking around Shiloh in the late afternoon, a random Wednesday some days ago, I had the place to myself. On beautiful marked roads, stopping wherever I wanted to read some information. Walking in the woods, looking at the water, or the mowed fields. I was in a nine square mile park, quiet, undisturbed. Preserved landscape.
That the landscape is spooky, haunted, a burial ground, only adds to the draw. Certain places, certain moments, you can feel the reverie. A break in the veil to the past. Is there something worrying in being drawn to that? This place was the scene, for several thousand people, of the most traumatic event in their lives. At the end of the first day, there were something like two thousand dead bodies on the ground. An even higher number of people with an arm or a leg blown off or other mangling wound. And that’s not to mention the horses. Ambrose Beirce said dead horses were everywhere. Several soldiers in their accounts remembered some pitiful moment or another involving a hurt horse.
At night, after the first day ended, thunderstorms rolled in:
Flashes of lightening showed hogs feeding on the ungathered dead.
as they put it in the PBS Civil War series (holds up, Shiloh is in episode two).
If you want to visit a place where that happened, are you a bit of a sicko?
In War of the Worlds Tom Cruise’s son says:
Dad, I need to see this!
“Seeing the elephant.” Bruce Catton, asked to explain why boys joined the armies, says we shouldn’t overlook the simple fact that they were bored.
Shiloh is the cosmic joke answer to that desire. The twisted reward to a Devil’s bargain. Oh, you want to see what a war is like? Here you go!
One of Abraham Lincoln’s great and compelling qualities was a resolve to find some meaning in these events. Suffering and horror on this scale had to be worth something. Had to be made to be worth something.
Shiloh was decisive. Grant’s army could’ve been driven into the Tennessee River, or surrounded in the swamps and forced to surrender or retreat. Grant or Sherman could’ve been killed. Albert Sidney Johnston was killed. Many considered him the best of the Confederate generals. His conduct on the first day had changed the outcome of the battle, but then he was shot, and not realizing the extent of the wound he bled to death. Johnston has the biggest monument at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.
Sherman was shot three times on the first day. One bullet passed through his hat. In his memoirs Grant gives much credit to the way Sherman conducted himself. Facing disaster the two of them, Grant and Sherman, managed to keep their cool.
At close to the last possible second, Union reinforcements arrived. The second day, their commander dead, the Confederates were driven away.
That would be more or less the furthest the Confederacy got in the Mississippi Valley. Some weeks after the battle, the Confederate army abandoned Corinth, Mississippi. Corinth was key: it was the crossroads where the railroad from Memphis to Charleston intersected the railroad that ran from the Ohio river to the Gulf port at Mobile, Alabama.
The crossroads at Corinth: it all connected here.
In the aftermath of Shiloh, the South was cut in half. Grant, assessing the situation years later in his Personal Memoirs:
The Confederates were now driven out of West Tennessee, and on the 6th of June, after a well-contested naval battle, the National forces took possession of Memphis and held the Mississippi river from its source to that point. The railroad from Columbus to Corinth was at once put in good condition and held by us. We had garrisons at Donelson, Clarksville and Nashville, on the Cumberland River, and held the Tennessee River from its mouth to Eastport. New Orleans and Baton Rouge had fallen into the possession of the National forces, so that now the Confederates at the west were narrowed down for all communication with Richmond to the single line of road running east from Vicksburg. To dispossess them of this, therefore, became a matter of the first importance. The possession of the Mississippi by us from Memphis to Baton Rouge was also a most important object. It would be equal to the amputation of a limb in its weakening effects upon the enemy.
By May 1862, something like this was the situation:
Once Vicksburg fell (not easy, Winston Groom has a whole book about it) it was all over but the crying. Of which there’d be plenty, there are places in the former Confederacy where they’re still crying.
The ground at Shiloh can be confusing. Almost every part of the battlefield was in the hands of different armies at different times. The Shiloh church for instance was the headquarters of the Union’s Sherman and the Confederate Beauregard at different points.
The church at the park today is a reproduction. The original was damaged, bloodstained, torn apart for souvenirs. You’ll notice all the pictures of the church are taken at the same angles. This is because no one wants to spoil the 1862 time travel aspect of their photos by including the modern Methodist church that sits just out of frame.
From the church’s Facebook page.
Everyone who was at the battle of Shiloh found it weird:
Everything looked weird and unnatural
recalled John Cockerill years later. He was sixteen at the time.
Actions took the grotesque form of a nightmare
remembered another veteran. Groom tells us:
At least two soldiers’ accounts report a lone woman walking across the battlefield in the midst of heavy fighting
In one forested part of the battlefield there are old Indian mounds. There were used as vantage points by Forrest’s cavalry, among others. At the time they were widely believed to be burial mounds, thus participants could believe they were fighting on an abandoned Indian burial ground.
It occurred to me that the closest thing to a battle I’ve been at is a huge concert festival. Ridiculous comparison but go with us. Take away the maiming and the killing: there were over 100,000 people at Shiloh. How many times in US history prior had there been a gathering of that size? Ever? I’m not aware of any Revolutionary battle that was close to that size. There were revival meetings, some even in the same area, but they never exceeded 10,000 or so.
Pittsburg Landing, where Union reinforcements under General Don Carlos Buell disembarked late on the first day of the battle, ensuring Grant’s salvation, is stop 22 on the driving tour. The National Park Service must have good reasons for that. But if you want to follow the battle as a narrative, take Pittsburg Landing as the starting place.
Follow the journey of Ebenzer Hannaford. Hannaford was in the Sixth Ohio. On Sunday April 6, they woke up near Savannah, Tennessee, broke camp, and marched ten miles. Late in the afternoon, maybe around five PM or so, an hour before sundown, he and his comrades boarded a steamboat and were ferried across the river. As they got close, they saw probably five thousand Union soldiers who’d taken themselves out of the battle and were huddled by the river, warning the guys coming over that they were doomed:
The same scene was witnessed by Ambrose Bierce, coming the same way as Hannaford:
Along the sheltered strip of beach between the river bank and the water was a confused mass of humanity—several thousands of men. They were mostly unarmed; many were wounded; some dead. All the camp-following tribes were there; all the cowards; a few officers. Not one of them knew where his regiment was, nor if he had a regiment. Many had not. These men were defeated, beaten, cowed. They were deaf to duty and dead to shame. A more demented crew never drifted to the rear of broken battalions.
A detail stuck out to Hannaford, when he wrote an account two years after the event, published as “Coming Up at Shiloh” in The Continental Review :
The antic drummer boy sticks in the mind. Shelby Foote may write like he was there, but in the end it’s pretend. Hannaford was there, and what he remembered was a boy pounding away on his drum, “to what purpose we could none of us divine.”
Travel tip: if you are visiting Shiloh, I recommend approaching via Corinth, MS. The Corinth Civil War Interpretative Center, built in 2004, is a stunning building and the film, exhibits and National Park staff there do a great job putting everything in context. They told me their site is designed to be a starting point on a journey to Shiloh. There’s a tantalizing library there for the serious buff:
The NPS guy in Corinth had so much integrity he would not recommend a lunch restaurant due to “favoritism,” but he allowed that The Rib Shack in Corinth was very popular. I recommend The Rib Shack in Corinth.
Rail listenersPosted: October 9, 2022 Filed under: America, railroads Leave a comment
Trains of cars were heard coming in and going out of Corinth constantly. Some of the men who had been engaged in various capacities on railroads before the war claimed that they could tell, by putting their ears to the rail, not only which way the trains were moving but which trains were loaded and which were empty. They said loaded trains had been going out for several days and empty ones coming in. Subsequent events proved the correctness of their judgment.
That’s U. S. Grant, in his memoirs, talking about skillful rail listeners outside Corinth Mississippi, 1862.
EndorheicPosted: January 22, 2022 Filed under: America, water Leave a comment
Reading up on endorheic basins, places where water does not drain out to the ocean, where what rain falls will be retained or evaporated.
An endorheic basin is a drainage basin that normally retains water and allows no outflow to other external bodies of water, such as rivers or oceans, but drainage converges instead into lakes or swamps, permanent or seasonal, that equilibrate through evaporation.
The Valley of Mexico was endorheic, but now drains through artificial canals.
For the real endorheic enthusiast, Australia is the place.
If you find endorheic basins somewhat eerie, as I do, I suggest you don’t even read up on cryptorheic basins, where the water flows out through subterranean karst.
(source for that map)
Landscape with an Episode from the Conquest of America.Posted: January 21, 2022 Filed under: America Leave a comment
by Jan Mostaert, 1535 or so. (Dutch for “John Most Art”?)
Found that while reading up on Coronado’s expedition.
Upon reaching the top they beheld a landscape unlike anything they had seen before, a vast treeless prairie, as flat as a table, and so became the first Europeans to traverse what later became the Texas Panhandle. Virtually swallowed by the trackless soft grassland, they found it an unnerving experience.
So says James L. Haley in his (excellent, readable) Passionate Nation: The Epic History of Texas, about which I hope to say more when I finish.
This is how the Coronado business got started:
On this thin evidence they set off. Native peoples they came across took the wise strategy of telling them “oh yeah, absolutely, there’s tons of gold and silver, wayyyyyy over that way, super far from here, keep going.”
The expedition was guided by a Native man they called the Turk, who finally admitted he’d deliberately led them into the plains in the hopes they’d all starve and die far away from his people.
At least one member of the expedition, Cervantes, was suspicious of this Turk, and with good reason:
I’d love to read firsthand accounts of the Coronado expedition all day, but unfortunately I’m very busy. You could spend a lifetime working on where, exactly, Quivara was. Some have!
Food scene in HonoluluPosted: March 19, 2021 Filed under: America, food Leave a comment
Our post about the food scene in Papeete, Tahiti was one of the most popular posts ever on this site. The obvious conclusion: I should become a South Pacific food critic. You may think I’m not qualified, because I’ve spent no more than 25 days or so in the South Pacific, and that’s generously assuming we count New Zealand and Australia. You may think a South Pacific food critic should be a big jolly rotund character who loves food, not a picky eater with a skinny frame. But, we must follow where called, so here is our latest dispatch, on the food scene in Honolulu.
Above are the dumplings of the day (a spiced beef, on this particular day) at Koko Head Cafe, Lee Ann Wong’s (of Top Chef) brunch spot in the cool, chill Kaimuki neighborhood. Fantastic for post-hike feasts.
The Don Buri Chen is no joke, and the fish eggs are serious as well.
Shave ice, of course, this is at Kokonuts:
Obama’s flavors are said to be Lemon Lime and Cherry, went with Lemon Lime and cocoanut, maybe because they were toasting cocoanut inside which aromated the strip mall joint in a most pleasing way.
Musubi, Japanese seaweed and rice-wrapped pyramid sandwiches, very solid. I’m not into the classic spam musubi, ground beef and tuna both solid and satisfying:
That’s from Mana Musubi, which was sold out by Friday around 11 am. What a packable food!
Piggy Smalls, offshoot of The Pig and the Lady, is making incredible new Vietnamese food in a former burger joint location:
Failed to photograph the Burmese Tea Salad before devouring. We intended to visit the legendary shrimp trucks of the North Shore, but were stopped by torrential downpour, luckily this hit us just as we rolled up on Aloha Shrimp Truck in Hauula. (Remember when pronouncing Hawaiian words: there are no silent letters).
Simple? Yes. Excellent? Yes.
A beloved Oahu institution is Zippy’s fast food, which has a pretty extensive menu and some baked goods as well. Had to try the Zap Pak and the Surf Pak.
Look, is it delicious? Kind of. Is it convenient? Also kind of.
Fête in downtown Honolulu rules:
Ridiculous Italian food with local Hawaiian-raised meats and ingredients.
The queen of Oahu foodstuffs however must be the poke you can buy by the pound at the counter in the back of Tamara’s liquor store, there are several locations:
You eat that on a cracker and you’re having a great time. This is the classic tuna in Tamara’s sauce. I became a poke convert.
For some Hawaiian food/plate lunch classics, Highway Inn, several locations.
A good poi introduction.
The Oahu institution we failed to try was Leonard’s for malasadas, but Pipeline, around the corner from Koko Head, seemed excellent.
For freshness, invention, and wild array of influences, Honolulu gotta be in the conversation as a food destination. The cuisine skews a bit fatty and decadent, I must say, a salad seems harder to come by than a mai tai, but if you’re cutting loose on vacay and pairing with some outdoor adventures, it’s pretty grand.
Maximum mahalo to friend and local guide Kim H. for knowing all the spots!
Hawaii has kept low Covid #s in part by taking great care in letting people in, you must produce a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours of departure. And not just any Covid test, a Hawaii-approved test. Don’t be like this knucklehead and take the wrong kind of test!
Look, once you get the original Hawaii 5-0 theme in your head, it’s hard to get out, but man, is that the best TV opening ever?
Hold your breathPosted: January 7, 2021 Filed under: America, America Since 1945 Leave a comment
Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, the lone Republican who voted to convict Trump in last year’s impeachment trial, pointed out that there’s little time for either an impeachment or what likely would be a drawn out battle over the Constitution’s 25th Amendment, which provides for the removal of a president.
“I think we have to hold our breath,” he told reporters.
Is that gonna be the plan, in this country? We’re a lucky country, but nobody’s lucky forever. (it’s like this bit!)
(source for that bit: Steven T. Dennis and Billy House for Bloomberg)
I’m no expert on our 21st PresidentPosted: July 14, 2020 Filed under: America, presidents Leave a comment
but somehow get the sense that Chester Alan Arthur did his best. I guess signing the Chinese Exclusion Act would be the ugliest mark on his record. He tried to stop it!
George P.A. Healy (G.P.A. Healy)Posted: June 10, 2020 Filed under: America, America Since 1945, art history Leave a comment
Healy was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the eldest of five children of an Irish captain in the merchant marine. Having been left fatherless at a young age, Healy helped to support his mother. At sixteen years of age he began drawing, and at developed an ambition to be an artist. Jane Stuart, daughter of Gilbert Stuart, aided him, loaning him a Guido’s “Ecce Homo”, which he copied in color and sold to a country priest. Later, she introduced him to Thomas Sully, by whose advice Healy profited, and gratefully repaid Sully in the days of the latter’s adversity.
so far as I know no relation, there are plenty of Healys and Helys from here to Australia.
He painted Tyler
and drew Grant.
He’s got a few that have appeared in the White House, like this one, The Peacemakers.
RIP Larry KramerPosted: May 29, 2020 Filed under: America Leave a comment
stolen from behind a Harper’s paywall and presented to you, the Helytimes reader.
April 19Posted: April 19, 2020 Filed under: America, Boston, New England Leave a comment
We can never let a Patriots’ Day go by without reflecting on the events of April 19, 1775. How did this happen?
The people of countryside Massachusetts at that time were probably the freest and the least taxed people in the British Empire. What were they so mad about?
From my hometown of Needham, MA, almost every able bodied man went out. What motivated people that morning to grab guns and shoot at their own army?
Lately I’ve been reading Rick Atkinson’s book on the first years of the American Revolution. It’s interesting that Atkinson titled his book this, because as he himself notes:
Popular lore later credited him with a stirring battle cry – “The British are coming!” – but a witness quoted him as warning, more prosaically, “the regulars are coming out.”
The word would’ve gotten out anyway, because of information sent by light in binary code: one if by land, two if by sea. (it was two).
Atkinson does a great job of laying out how tensions and feelings and fears and resentments escalated to this point. George III and his Prime Minister Lord North (they’d grown up together, it’s possible they were half-brothers) miscalculated, misunderstood, overreacted.
North held a constituency in Banbury with fewer than two dozen eligible voters, who routinely reelected him after being plied with punch and cheese, and who were then rewarded with a haunch of venison.
The image of a stern father disciplining a disobedient child seemed to guide George III/North government thinking. Violently putting down rebellions was nothing new, even within the island of Britain. Crushing Scottish revolt had been a big part of George III’s uncle’s career, for example.
From the British side, the disobedience did seem pretty flagrant, the Boston Tea Party being a particularly outrageous and inciting example, from a city known to be full of criminals and assholes. The London government responded with the “Coercive Acts.”
With this disobedient child, the punishment didn’t go over well. The mood had gotten very, very tense in Boston when the April 19 expedition was launched.
Everything about it went wrong. Everybody was late, troops were reorganized under new commanders. Orders were screwed up, the mission was unclear. It was a show of force? A search and destroy? Both? The experience for the soldiers in on it was awful: started out cold and wet, ended up lucky if you were alive and unmangled.
What the Lexington militia was up to when they formed up opposite the arriving Redcoats is unclear. Did they intend to have a battle? Doesn’t seem like it, why would they line up in the middle of a field? There’d already been an alarm, and then a weird break where a lot of the guys went to the next door tavern and had a few.
Were they intending just kind of an armed protest and demonstration (as is common in the United States to this day)?
A lot of the guys in the Massachusetts militias had fought alongside the British army in the wars against the French and Indians. Captain Parker of Lexington had been at Louisburg and Quebec. How much was old simmering resentment of the colonial experience serving with professional British military officers a part of all this?
One way or another, a shot went off, and then it got out of hand very fast. When it was over eight Lexington guys were dead.
The painting above is by William Barnes Wollen, he painted it in 1910. Wollen was a painter of military and battle scenes. He’d been in South Africa during the Boer War, so maybe he knew what an invading army getting shot at by locals was like.
Amos Doolittle was on the scene a few days after the events, interviewed participants, walked the grounds, and rendered the scene like this.
But Doolittle had propaganda motives.
After the massacre at Lexington the British got back into formation and kept moving.
They ran into another fight at Concord Bridge.
Information and misinformation and rumor became a part of the day. The story spread that the British were burning Concord, maybe murdering people.
By now minutemen from all over were blasting away. It must’ve been horrific. Atkinson tells us that the British “Brown Bess” musket fired a lead slug that was nearly .75 of an inch in diameter (compare to, say, a Magnum .45, .45 of an inch).
How would history have been different if the British column had been completely wiped out, like Custer’s last stand? It almost happened. The expedition was saved by the timely arrival of reinforcements with two cannons.
The column avoided an ambush at Harvard Square, but several soldiers died in another gunfight near the future Beech and Elm Streets while three rebels who had built a redoubt at Watson’s Corner were encircled and bayoneted. William Marcy, described as “A simple-minded youth” who thought he was watching a parade, was shot dead while sitting on a wall, cheering.
They were able to get back across the river and into Boston, minus 73 killed, 53 missing, 174 wounded. A bad day in Massachusetts.
This event looms large in the American imagination: the gun-totin’ freedom lovers fighting off the government intrusion. But the more you read about it the more it sounds like just a catastrophe for everyone involved.
Back in Needham the Rev. West reported:
In the evening we had intelligence that several of the Needham inhabitants were among the slain, and in the morning it was confirmed that five had fallen in the action and several others had been wounded. It is remarkable that the five who fell all of them had families, and several of them very numerous families so that there were about forty widows and fatherless children made in consequence of their death. I visited these families immediately, and with a sympathetic sense of their affliction I gave to some the first intelligence they had of the dreadful event, the death of a Husband and a Parent.
DinéPosted: March 13, 2020 Filed under: America, language, native america Leave a comment
Sapir’s special focus among American languages was in the Athabaskan languages, a family which especially fascinated him. In a private letter, he wrote: “Dene is probably the son-of-a-bitchiest language in America to actually know…most fascinating of all languages ever invented.”
I’ve been doing some work to learn:
- how it was that Navajo got to be classified as an Athabaskan language and
- what linguistic evidence exists for the northern origins of the Navajo.
This is a good journey, but challenging.
Sometimes it leads me to stuff like this:
which: ok, how much can we trust these linguists? Are we sure we’re on solid ground here?
The big categorizing of native American languages was done by Albert Gallatin in the 1830s.
Could he have been wrong? People were wrong a lot back then.
Well, after looking it with an amateur’s enthusiasm, I feel more trusting.
I feel confident Navajo/Diné is connected to languages of what’s now Alaska, British Columbia, and nearby turf.
Navajo / Diné speakers can be understood by speakers of other Athabaskan languages, and most of the words in Navajo seem to have Athabaskan origin.
Edward Sapir wrote a paper about internal evidence within the Navajo language for a northern origin to this people.
Sapir was wrong* about some things, but no one seems to doubt he was a pretty serious linguist.
How about Michael E. Krauss?
After completing a dissertation on Gaelic languages Krauss arrived in Alaska in 1960 to teach French at the University of Alaska.
Krauss’ largest contribution to language documentation is his work on Eyak, which began in 1961. Eyak was then already the most endangered of the Alaskan languages, and Krauss’ work is all the more notable considering that it represents what today might be considered salvage linguistics. While some Eyak data had been previously available, they were overlooked by previous scholars, including Edward Sapir. However, Eyak proved to be a crucial missing link for historical linguistics, being equally closely related to neighboring Ahtna and to distant Navajo. With good Eyak data it became possible to establish the existence of the Athabaskan–Eyak–Tlingit language family, though phonological evidence for links to Haida remained elusive.
If anyone makes any progress on native American language classifications while under precautionary self-quarantine, let us know
* I’m just teasing poor Sapir here, I don’t think it’s fair to “blame” him exactly for the “Sapir-Whorf hypothesis,” which maybe isn’t even wrong, and as far as I can tell it was Whorf not Sapir who misunderstood Hopi
Grant’s MemoirsPosted: November 3, 2019 Filed under: America, war Leave a comment
“Man proposes and God disposes.” There are but few important events in the affairs of men brought about by their own choice.
So Grant begins his memoirs. Grant’s voice is clear and unashamed and humble. The role of chance, fate, circumstance, God in determining the course of events, and the much smaller role played by character or our actions, is a key theme.
Grant never would’ve gotten to West Point if not for what happened to young Bartlett Bailey:
Finding before the January examination following that he could not pass, he resigned and went to a private school, and remained there until the following year when he was reappointed. Before the next examination he was dismissed. Dr. Bailey [his father] was a proud and sensitive man, and felt the failure of his son so keenly that he forbade his return home. There were no telegraphs in those days to disseminate news rapidly, no railroads west of the Alleghenies, and but few east; and above all, there were no reporters prying into other people’s private affairs. Consequently it did not become generally known that there was a vacancy at West Point from our district until I was appointed. I presume Mrs. Bailey confided to my mother the fact that Bartlett had been dismissed, and that the doctor had forbidden his son’s return home.
Grant later notes:
Major Bailey was the cadet who had preceded me at West Point. He was killed in West Virginia, in his first engagement.
A poignant family story between these lines.
Maybe it’s no surprise that Grant is an excellent, understated writer. Much of his job as a general was to communicate clear, succinct orders and directives under stressful conditions. Many written orders are included in the book. Compact expression of clear meaning must’ve been a key skill to a Civil War general. Probably a military commander in any era.
Then again I tried to read Sherman’s memoirs and can’t recommend them.
Grant didn’t really want to be a soldier.
Going to West Point would give me the opportunity of visiting the two great cities of the continent, Philadelphia and New York. This was enough.
Later he mentions:
a military life had no charms for me, and I had not the faintest idea of staying in the army even I should be graduated, which I did not expect.
Grant says at this time, he hoped to become a math professor.
The Mexican War breaks out. Grant doesn’t approve, but there he is. He rides from Corpus Christi to San Antonio without seeing a single person until he’s within thirty miles of San Antonio. He joins the expedition to Mexico City.
Considering in tranquility some movements during the Mexican War:
It has always seemed to me that this northern route to the City of Mexico would have been the better one to have taken. But my later experience has taught me two lessons: first, that things are seen plainer after the events have occurred; second, that the most confident critics are generally those who know the least about the matter criticised.
Occupying Mexico City he sees a bullfight:
The sight to me was sickening. I could not see how human beings could enjoy the sufferings of beasts, and often of men, as they seemed to do on these occasions.
Grant is sent to California:
Many of the real scenes in early California life exceed in strangeness and interest any of the mere products of the brain of the novelist. Those early days in California brought out character.
He leaves the army. But the Civil War is approaching:
The great bulk of the legal voters of the South were men who owned no slaves; their homes were generally in the hills and poor country; their facilities for educating their children, even up to the point of reading and writing, were very limited; their interest in the contest was very meagre… Under the old regime they were looked down upon by those who controlled all the affairs in the interest of slave owners, as poor white trash who were allowed the ballot so long as they cast it according to direction.
Grant, quickly, is elevated to command, and starts marching down the Tennessee River, taking Forts Henry and Donelson along the way. But his army is almost driven back into the river on the first day at Shiloh.
Shiloh, as you’ve probably heard, was not a good scene. Two big armies ran into each other and murdered each other for pretty much an entire day. The night after the first day, Grant tries to sleep under a tree in pouring rain:
Some time after midnight, growing restive under the storm and the continuous pain, I moved back to the log-house under the bank. This had been taken as a hospital, and all night wounded men were being brought in, their wounds dressed, a leg or an arm amputated as the case might require, and everything being done to save life or alleviate suffering. The sight was more unendurable than encountering the enemy’s fire, and I returned to my tree in the rain.
Yet, he’s confident:
So confident was I before firing had ceased on the 6th that the next day would bring victory to our arms if we could only take the initiative, that I visited each division commander in person before any reinforcements had reached the field. I directed them to throw out heavy lines of skirmishers in the morning as soon as they could see, and push them forward until they found the enemy… To Sherman I told the story of the assault at Fort Donelson, and said the same tactics would win at Shiloh.
After day two:
I saw an open field, in our possession on the second day, over which the Confederates had made repeated charges the day before, so covered with dead that it would have been possible to walk across the clearing, in any direction, stepping on dead bodies, without a foot touching the ground.
Jason Robards read the Grant parts in Ken Burns Civil War
Every one has his superstitions. One of mine is that in positions of a great responsibility every one should do his duty to the best of his ability where assigned by competent authority, without application or use of influence to change his position.
After Vicksburg fell, Grant was almost killed in New Orleans by a horse that was scared by a locomotive and fell on him. But he makes it out, though he’s on crutches for a bit. Imagine all the times when Grant could’ve been killed, and it was a spooked horse in occupied New Orleans that almost got him.
During the movements around Chattanooga, Grant pauses to consider:
There was no time during the rebellion when I did not think, and often say, that the South was more to be benefited by its defeat than the North. The latter had the people, the institutions, and the territory to make a great and prosperous nation. The former was burdened with an institution abhorrent to all civilized people not brought up under it, and one which degraded labor, kept it in ignorance, and enervated the governing class. With the outside world at war with this institution, they could not have extended their territory. The labor of the country was not skilled, nor allowed to become so. The whites could not toil without becoming degraded, and those who did were denominated “poor white trash.” The system of labor would have soon exhausted the soil and left the people poor. The non-slaveholders would have left the country, and the small slaveholder must have sold out to his more fortunate neighbor. Soon the slaves would have outnumbered the masters, and, not being in sympathy with them, would have risen in their might and exterminated them. The was was expensive to the South as well as to the North, both in blood and treasure, but it was worth all the cost.
That’s enough of Grant’s memoirs for now.
HovenweepPosted: November 28, 2018 Filed under: America, desert, Indians, joshua tree, native america Leave a comment
What a name for a place.
between 1150-1350 these structures were built in, around, and above this canyon:
Gotta check that out sometime:
Was this era in the American Southwest something like roughly the same period, the early 12th century in Ireland:
To be glib, early medieval Ireland sounds like a somewhat crazed Wisconsin, in which every dairy farm is an armed at perpetual war with its neighbors, and every farmer claims he is a king.
Or was Hovenweep perhaps something more like a monastery?
Some Anasazi taking the Benedict Option?
Thought this was a good trip report from Hovenweep.
Got to Hovenweep trying to read about traditional architecture in the American desert regions. What kinds of buildings have people with few tools and tech built? What lasts?
This guy took on the challenge of building a pit house and kiva.
Easier than a kiva would be a false kiva:
Woody Guthrie’s birthdayPosted: July 14, 2018 Filed under: America, music Leave a comment
“Woody Guthrie’s childhood home as is appeared in 1979,” from Wikipedia:
Man, you go to read Woody Guthrie’s wikipedia page, and next thing you know you’re looking at a photo of a 1911 lynching (warning: upsetting but are we obliged as citizens to look?)
Even the story of the photo of the lynching is haunting:
James Allen, an Atlanta antiques collector, spent years looking for postcards of lynchings for his Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America (2000). “Hundreds of flea markets later,” he wrote, “a trader pulled me aside and in conspiratorial tones offered to sell me a real photo postcard. It was Laura Nelson hanging from a bridge, caught so pitiful and tattered and beyond retrieving—like a paper kite sagged on a utility wire.”
The book accompanied an exhibition of 60 lynching postcards from 1880 to 1960, Witness: Photographs of Lynchings from the Collection of James Allen, which opened at the Roth Horowitz Gallery in New York in January 2000. Allen argued that lynching photographers were more than passive spectators. They positioned and lit the corpses as if they were game birds, he wrote, and the postcards became an important part of the act, emphasizing its political nature.
Allen’s publication of the images encountered a mixed reception. Julia Hotton, a black museum curator in New York, said that, with older blacks especially: “If they hear a white man with a Southern accent is collecting these photos, they get a little skittish.”
All kinds of wild questions considered in this 2000 LA Times / J. R. Moehringer profile of Allen:
The man’s story enhances the beauty of the shack, Allen believes, and its value. The man’s story makes the shack more than a work of folk art; it’s a sort of monument. When Allen sells the shack, along with some furniture and art done by the old man, the asking price will be just under $100,000.
How about Bryan Stevenson’s project?
How did I get here again?
Learning about Woody Guthrie.
July 2017Posted: June 30, 2018 Filed under: America, America Since 1945 Leave a comment
That was a good month of posts on Helytimes, if you’re one of those folks who likes poking around in the archives.
Bob Marley, John Adams, Bert Hölldobler, Deke Slayton, Amban, Ansel Adams.
Also feel I did fine work in July 2014.
Tom Wolfe observationPosted: May 18, 2018 Filed under: America, America Since 1945, writing Leave a comment
There are, of course, all sorts of gradations of status, of power, of wealth, influence and comfort, but it is impossible to break America down into classes in the old European sense. “But there is a … dividing line, and above that line are those who have bachelor degrees or better from a four-year college or university. Below that are the people who don’t. That line is becoming a gulf that grows wider and wider. “Like the rest of the West, we live in a highly bureaucratic world and it’s impossible today to advance to the heights of ambition without that bachelor’s degree, without being a part of what Vance Packard used to call ‘the diploma elite.'”
Had to go looking for the source of that one, it was in a 2005 Duke commencement speech. How about this?:
For the last four years, you have been trained to be the leaders of an extraordinary nation. There has never been anything like it. … It is the only country I know of in which immigrants with a totally different culture, a totally different language, can in one-half of a generation, if they have the numbers and a modicum of organization, take over politically a metropolis as large as, say, Miami.
As a Tom Wolfe (Ph.d) superfan, kind of disappointed by the tributes and obituaries. Most of them seemed pretty limp. Maybe because so many journalists were so in awe of him, they seemed to sputter on about the same stuff and barely touch on the vastness of Wolfe’s interests and insights.
Best one imo was Louis Menand. (Update: lol whoops hadn’t seen Friend of Helytimes’ Graeme Wood’s.)
Felt literary world scoffed at
but how many 74 year olds would take on a seven hundred page book about college, rap, hookup culture, basketball, and attempts to get in the head of (among others) a nineteen year old female virgin? A little crazy but I thought it was cool! Also came pretty close to predicting the Duke lacrosse scandal.
If you hunger for Wolfe at full Wolfeness might I recommend his 2006 Jefferson Lecture?:
According to Korean War lore, a Navy fighter pilot began shouting out over the combat radio network, “I’ve got a Mig at zero! A Mig at zero! I’ve got a Mig at zero!” A Mig at zero meant a Soviet supersonic fighter plane was squarely on his tail and could blow him out of the sky at any moment. Another voice, according to legend, broke in and said, “Shut up and die like an aviator.” Such “chatter,” such useless talk on the radio during combat, was forbidden. The term “aviator” was the final, exquisite touch of status sensitivity. Navy pilots always called themselves aviators. Marine and Air Force fliers were merely pilots. The reward for reaching the top of the ziggurat was not money, not power, not even military rank. The reward was status honor, the reputation of being a warrior with ultimate skill and courage–a word, by the way, strictly taboo among the pilots themselves. The same notion of status honor motivates virtually every police and fire fighting force in the world.
Wolfe wrote about what was amusing. Even in say crime or war he found the amusement. A serious writer who was also funny. Not enough of those.
Gotta see if I can find this somewhere:
Mississippi Mound TrailPosted: April 1, 2018 Filed under: America, America Since 1945, art Leave a comment
On one of the episodes of Theme Time Radio Hour Bob Dylan himself says that the actual highway 61 is boring now, nothing but ads for riverboat casinos. That may be true south of Vicksburg but north of the Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum and the Catfish Row Art Park, I found the road compelling.
Mississippi Fred McDowell was born of course in Rossville, Tennessee.
It was Dave [David L. Cohn] in God Shakes Creation who said, “The Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg.” He was always welcome at the Peabody; they were glad to see him – he stayed there whenever he was in Memphis – but they never even gave him a cup of coffee, and he thought it was rather amusing that they had so little appreciation of this publicity.
So says Uncle Shelby, of Greenville and Memphis:
Since we’d been to Memphis we steered towards Oxford Miss to visit Faulkner’s house:
On Highway 61 lots of blues type sites, Muddy Waters’ birthplace for instance:
marked by signs for the Mississippi Blues Trail. But many signs tell you you are also on the Mississippi Mound Trail.
Mounds make a thousand or more years ago by some lost culture, perhaps connected to the people who built Cahokia:
And where in the beginning the predecessors crept with their simple artifacts, and built the mounds and vanished, bequeathing only the mounds in which the succeeding recordable Muskhogean stock would leave the skulls of their warriors and chiefs and babies and slain bears, and the shards of pots, and hammer- and arrow-heads and now and then a heavy silver Spanish spur.
So says Faulkner in his essay Mississippi. In Sanctuary he says:
The sunny air was filled with competitive radios and phonographs in the doors of drug- and music- stores. Before these doors a throng stood all day, listening. The pieces which moved them were ballads simple in melody and theme, of bereavement and retribution and repentance metallically sung, blurred, emphasised by static or needle – disembodied voices blaring from imitation wood cabinets or pebble-grain horn-mouths above the rapt faces, the gnarled slow hands long shaped to the imperious earth, lugubrious, harsh, and sad.
You can only listen to so much of that though; when I pulled over for Dunn Mounds I was listening to Maron interview Jennifer Lawrence.
The Raven map tells the story of the Delta. Another flooding bottomland is the Nile delta:
where they also kept slaves, and built mounds.
great tour of the Blues Trail sites here on Wiki by Chillin662.
CowpensPosted: March 16, 2018 Filed under: America, war Leave a comment
Believe me, it killed me to drive across South Carolina and not have time to stop and make a study of the battlefield at Cowpens.
Cowpens is an American story about local amateurs beating foreign professionals, with an A+ villain in Banastre Tarleton.
How satisfying must it been to have kicked this guy’s ass?! Tarleton, a rich boy dandy, was in command at age 25. Very cocky. At Cowpens he charged right into a trap.
conducted a double envelopment of Tarleton’s force, and suffered casualties of only 12 killed and 61 wounded… Morgan’s army took 712 prisoners, which included 200 wounded. Even worse for the British, the forces lost (especially the British Legion and the dragoons) constituted the cream of Cornwallis’ army. Additionally, 110 British soldiers were killed in action, and every artilleryman was either killed or incapacitated by wounds. Tarleton suffered an 86 percent casualty rate, and his brigade had been all but wiped out as a fighting force.
But don’t worry!
Tarleton was one of around 160 British troops to escape.
Tarleton went on, of course, to a career in politics.
He is especially noted for supporting the slave trade, which was highly important to the port of Liverpool. Its ships were deeply involved in slave trading. Tarleton was working to preserve the slavery business with his brothers Clayton and Thomas, and he became well known for his taunting and mockery of the abolitionists.
His romantic life?
For 15 years, he had a relationship with the actress and writer Mary Robinson (Perdita), whom he initially seduced on a bet.
LOL this guy. What? Mary Robinson was at the time a notorious babe and former mistress of the King:
Prior to [Tarleton], Robinson had been having an affair with a man named Lord Malden. According to one account, Malden and Tarleton were betting men, and Malden was so confident in Robinson’s loyalty to him, and believed that no man could ever take her from him. As such, he made a bet of a thousand guineas that none of the men in his circle could seduce her. Unfortunately for Malden, Tarleton accepted the bet and swooped in to not only seduce Robinson, but establish a relationship that would last the next 15 years.
Tarleton was famous for killing prisoners trying to surrender — “Tarleton’s Quarter” – after the Battle of Waxhaws. In Tarleton’s version of the story this was because his guys were so upset that he was hurt:
Colonel Tarleton’s account, published in 1787, said that his horse had been shot from under him, and that his soldiers, thinking him dead, engaged in “a vindictive asperity not easily restrained”.
Then came Cowpens.
The charts and diagrams that are used to explain battles have always interested me but they have some real problems. In a word they are bloodless.
What we’re talking about here didn’t look like a bunch of tidy arrows and lines. It was violent chaos, a bunch of guys murdering each other in fire and smoke.
But a little more reading suggests Daniel Morgan, the Continental commander, with the benefit of some time to plan, made some good moves.
Daniel Morgan turned to his advantage the landscape of Cowpens, the varying reliability of his troops, his opponent’s expectations, and the time available before Tarleton’s arrival. He knew untrained militiamen, which composed a large portion of his force, were generally unreliable in battle, and in the past had routed at the first hint of defeat and abandoned the regulars. (The Battle of Camden had ended in disaster when the militia, which was half of the American force, broke and ran as soon as the shooting started.) To eliminate that possibility, he defied convention by placing his army between the Broad and Pacolet rivers, thus making escape impossible if the army was routed.
Morgan asked the militia to fire two volleys, something they could achieve, and then withdraw to the left, to re-form in the rear
Tarleton meanwhile drove his foodless, sleepless men all night in a damn hurry to get another victory.
John Eager Howard quoted Maj. McArthur of the 71st Highlanders, now a prisoner of the Americans, as saying that “he was an officer before Tarleton was born; that the best troops in the service were put under ‘that boy’ to be sacrificed.”
An American prisoner later told that when Tarleton reached Cornwallis and reported the disaster, Cornwallis placed his sword tip on the ground and leaned on it until the blade snapped.
April 19. Patriots Day.Posted: April 19, 2017 Filed under: America, history, New England, painting, pictures Leave a comment
Worth remembering that the American Revolution started when the federal government sent troops to take away people’s guns and ammunition.
More men from Needham died on April 19, 1775, I believe, than from any other town except Lexington:
The detail in that footnote! What she remembers, the old blind woman: how many of the soldiers had thrown away their coats! It was under the will of this venerable lady that he first received a legacy!
History gets so much more interesting when you get into how do we know this? what is the source? who claims this? who saw it happen?
The Needham Public Library.
Amos Doolittle wasn’t there but he showed up a few weeks later:
My favorite book on this topic is:
Tourtellot is really kind of funny when he rips into his least favorite patriot, vain old John Hancock:
that illustration up top from:
a British book – is there a pro-Redcoat bias?