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During the Civil War, Ohio native Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) fought for the Union with distinction at Shiloh, Chicamauga, Kennesaw Mountain, and elsewhere. After the war, he became a prominent journalist and author.

Bierce is known for both his Civil War writings and his tales of horror and the supernatural. Of the latter, someone said Bierce bridged the literary years between Poe and Lovecraft.

In the late 1890s, while a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, Bierce raised enough public ire to stop a bill being slipped through Congress that would have forgiven massive government loans to the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads. That’s my kind of journalism.

Bierce was something of a Hemingway type. In 1914, at age 71, he announced plans to go to Mexico to see the Mexican Revolution for himself. Perhaps travel with Pancho Villa as an observer. He promptly disappeared, fate unknown.

Like many ex-soldiers, Bierce declined to glorify war in his writings, as the following essay demonstrates.

———

Bivouac of the Dead

Published in The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce, Volume 1, 1909

Away up in the heart of the Allegheny mountains, in Pocahontas county, West Virginia, is a beautiful little valley through which flows the east fork of the Greenbrier river. At a point where the valley road intersects the old Staunton and Parkersburg turnpike, a famous thoroughfare in its day, is a post office in a farm house.

The name of the place is Travelers’ Repose, for it was once a tavern. Crowning some low hills within a stone’s throw of the house are long lines of old Confederate fortifications, skilfully designed and so well “preserved” that an hour’s work by a brigade would put them into serviceable shape for the next civil war.

This place had its battle — what was called a battle in the “green and salad days” of the great rebellion. A brigade of Federal troops, the writer’s regiment among them, came over Cheat mountain, fifteen miles to the westward, and, stringing its lines across the little valley, felt the enemy all day; and the enemy did a little feeling, too.

There was a great cannonading, which killed about a dozen on each side; then, finding the place too strong for assault, the Federals called the affair a reconnaissance in force, and burying their dead withdrew to the more comfortable place whence they had come.

Those dead now lie in a beautiful national cemetery at Grafton, duly registered, so far as identified, and companioned by other Federal dead gathered from the several camps and battlefields of West Virginia. The fallen soldier (the word “hero” appears to be a later invention) has such humble honors as it is possible to give.

His part in all the pomp that fills
The circuit of the Summer hills
Is that his grave is green.

True, more than a half of the green graves in the Grafton cemetery are marked “Unknown,” and sometimes it occurs that one thinks of the contradiction involved in “honoring the memory” of him of whom no memory remains to honor; but the attempt seems to do no great harm to the living, even to the logical.

A few hundred yards to the rear of the old Confederate earthworks is a wooded hill. Years ago it was not wooded. Here, among the trees and in the undergrowth, are rows of shallow depressions, discoverable by removing the accumulated forest leaves.

From some of them may be taken (and reverently replaced) small thin slabs of the split stone of the country, with rude and reticent inscriptions by comrades. I found only one with a date, only one with full names of man and regiment. The entire number found was eight.

In these forgotten graves rest the Confederate dead — between eighty and one hundred, as nearly as can be made out. Some fell in the “battle;” the majority died of disease. Two, only two, have apparently been disinterred for reburial at their homes.

So neglected and obscure is this campo santo that only he upon whose farm it is — the aged postmaster of Travelers’ Repose — appears to know about it. Men living within a mile have never heard of it. Yet other men must be still living who assisted to lay these Southern soldiers where they are, and could identify some of the graves.

Is there a man, North or South, who would begrudge the expense of giving to these fallen brothers the tribute of green graves? One would rather not think so. True, there are several hundreds of such places still discoverable in the track of the great war. All the stronger is the dumb demand — the silent plea of these fallen brothers to what is “likest God within the soul.”

They were honest and courageous foemen, having little in common with the political madmen who persuaded them to their doom and the literary bearers of false witness in the aftertime.

They did not live through the period of honorable strife into the period of vilification — did not pass from the iron age to the brazen — from the era of the sword to that of the tongue and pen.

Among them is no member of the Southern Historical Society. Their valor was not the fury of the non-combatant; they have no voice in the thunder of the civilians and the shouting. Not by them are impaired the dignity and infinite pathos of the Lost Cause.

Give them, these blameless gentlemen, their rightful part in all the pomp that fills the circuit of the summer hills.

———

Bierce’s position that the Confederate dead should have been buried in the National Cemeteries was a minority view. As you probably know, the National Cemeteries did not accept Confederate dead. According to policy, the cemeteries were for Federal casualties, not the enemy.

In 1901, the 482 Confederates who managed to get buried at Arlington anyway were re-interred in a Confederate section.

In 1906, Congress okayed headstones for Confederate soldiers who died in a Union hospital or prison and were buried at that location. Prior to that, the graves were marked by the families, if at all.

The Civil War ended 150 years ago. It amazes me how much genuine animosity still lingers on both sides.

Bierce-1

The green graves of Grafton National Cemetery, West Virginia.

Bierce-2

Bierce in 1896.

 

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The ear tends to be lazy, craves the familiar and is shocked by the unexpected; the eye, on the other hand, tends to be impatient, craves the novel and is bored by repetition.

— W. H. Auden

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If things go wrong, don’t go with them.

Roger Babson

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I am fond of children — except boys.

— Lewis Carroll

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Men are taught to apologize for their weaknesses, women for their strengths.

— Lois Wyse

Auden WH

Auden

Wyse L

Wyse

 

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Quotes o’ the Day

Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

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You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.

— Indira Gandhi

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Better to get hurt with the truth than comforted with a lie.

— Khaled Hosseini

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I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability.

— Oscar Wilde

Emerson RW-2

Emerson

Wilde O

Wilde

 

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Tune o’ the Day

“Mad World,” one of the early hits by the British duo Tears for Fears, has remained a popular song over the years. It’s a pleasant tune, and, in fact, tells a compelling story. Not that people pay much attention to song lyrics.

Consider the line “The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.” Roland Orzabal, who wrote the song, said it was inspired by psychologist Arthur Janov, who believed that intense dreams (e.g., threats of death) are the best at relieving tension.

Bonus fact: Janov also inspired the name “Tears for Fears,” which refers to Janov’s concept of using “primal therapy” to relieve the repressed pain of childhood trauma.

Bonus fact two: Orzabal initially tried to sing Mad World’s vocals himself, but the results were lacking. He finally asked bandmate Curt Smith to try. “Suddenly,” said Orzabal, “it sounded fabulous.”

FYI, “Mad World” reflects the thoughts of a disillusioned teenager looking in despair at life around him. He feels hopeless and insignificant, deciding that life and people have neither meaning nor purpose.

He’s probably right, but that’s a weighty concept for some poor teen to handle.

Tears for Fears

Smith (top) and Orzabal.

Mad World

By Tears for Fears, 1982
Written by Roland Orzabal

All around me are familiar faces,
Worn out places, worn out faces.
Bright and early for their daily races,
Going nowhere, going nowhere.

Their tears are filling up their glasses.
No expression, no expression.
Hide my head, I want to drown my sorrow.
No tomorrow, no tomorrow.

And I find it kind of funny,
I find it kind of sad,
The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.
I find it hard to tell you ’cause I find it hard to take.
When people run in circles, it’s a very, very
Mad world.
Mad world.
Mad world.
Mad world.

Children waiting for the day they feel good.
Happy birthday, happy birthday.
Made to feel the way that every child should.
Sit and listen, sit and listen.

Went to school, and I was very nervous.
No one knew me, no one knew me.
Hello, teacher. tell me what’s my lesson.
Look right through me, look right through me.

And I find it kind of funny,
I find it kind of sad,
The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.

I find it hard to tell you ’cause I find it hard to take.
When people run in circles it’s a very, very
Mad world.
Mad world.
Mad world.
Mad world.

And I find it kind of funny,
I find it kind of sad,
The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.
I find it hard to tell you ’cause I find it hard to take.
When people run in circles it’s a very, very
Mad world.
Mad world.

Halargian* world.
Mad world.

* Curt Smith wrote, “‘Halarge’ was an imaginary planet invented … during the recording of “The Hurting.” I added it as a joke during the lead vocal session, and we kept it.”

The Hurting

 

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

The chocolate chip cookie was invented in 1938 by Ruth Wakefield, owner of the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts. Wakefield used an ice pick to break up bars of Nestlé’s chocolate and sprinkled the pieces onto cookie dough. She named her creation Toll House cookies.

In 1939, Wakefield gave Nestlé the right to print her recipe on its packaging. Nestlé hired her as a “recipe consultant,” her compensation being one dollar and free chocolate for life.

● British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) was half American. His mother was Brooklyn socialite Jennie Jerome, who married Lord Randolph Churchill and thus transitioned to being a British socialite.

● Planned Parenthood has twice as many members as the National Rifle Association.

● Grass was cut with a scythe until the lawnmower came along. It was patented in 1830 by British mechanic Edwin Budding. His device was a push mower with blades in a rotating cylinder.

In 1914, auto industry pioneer Ransom Olds patented a gasoline-powered version of the rotary mower. The self-propelled, walk-behind power mower we use today appeared in the late 1920s.

Lawnmower

Speaking of Ransom Olds, his 1901 Oldsmobile was the first vehicle to be mass-produced on an assembly line. Henry Ford made the auto assembly line famous, but Olds invented the concept.

● Sweden has developed a highly efficient system that combines serious recycling with a national network of incinerators that burn garbage and trash to generate electricity. Today, less than one percent of Sweden’s refuse ends up in landfills. In fact, to keep up with its energy needs, Sweden imports refuse from neighboring countries.

● American painter James Whistler’s is famous for the iconic 1871 painting popularly known as “Whistler’s Mother.” The actual name of the painting is “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1.”

● In 1931, Alfred M. Butts invented Lexiko, a modestly successful game in which players made words out of letter tiles drawn at random. In 1948, Butts sold the game’s rights to James Brunot, who changed the name to Scrabble. Sales were miserable.

Brunot gave up in 1952 and sold out to Selchow and Righter, an established game manufacturer. Sales promptly soared.

Today, the Scrabble trademark is owned by Hasbro in the U.S. and Canada and by Mattel in the rest of the world. In all, about 150 million Scrabble sets have been sold.

Scrabble

In 1792, a small Spanish settlement was established on San Francisco Bay to serve arriving ships. In 1835, English homesteader William Richardson expanded the settlement and named it Yerba Buena after a common plant in the area. In 1847, one year after the Mexican-American War, the U.S. laid claim to California, and Yerba Buena was renamed San Francisco.

An acersecomic is someone whose hair has never been cut. The word comes from the Latin acersecomes, which means a youth with long hair. In ancient Greece and Rome, a boy’s hair often remained uncut until he reached adulthood.

In 2009, for the first time, state-run TV in North Korea aired a feature film made in the decadent West. It was the 2002 soccer film “Bend It Like Beckham.” The film was shown in honor of the 10th anniversary of diplomatic ties with Great Britain.

● Jordan almonds have been a staple at weddings for centuries. The Greeks served them in groups of five (a number that is indivisible, as everyone hoped the marriage would be). In Italy, five almonds represent five wishes for the happy couple: health, happiness, fertility, financial success, and longevity.

In some cultures, the combination of the bittersweet almond and the sugar coating is a symbol of the good times/challenging times ahead. In the Middle East, Jordans are associated with fertility and are considered an aphrodisiac.

In 1502, at the marriage of Italian noblewoman Lucrezia Borgia (daughter of Pope Alexander VI) and her third husband Duke Alfonso d’Este, the wedding guests reportedly consumed 260 pounds of Jordan almonds.

Jordan almonds

 

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Hobbit

Schrodinger

Clowns, jokers

Importanter

 

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A few years ago, I posted two short stories by American author Kate Chopin (1850-1904): The Story of an Hour and Regret.” The first post, in case you’re interested, included a brief bio.

Chopin’s work appeals to me for two reasons.

First, her writing strikes me as more modern than most from her era. She comes across as ahead of her time, almost contemporary.

Second, when reading Chopin, I get the sense that I understand her thought processes and motivations, as if seeing into her brain. It makes her characters and plots seem more genuine. Truer to life. Closer to reality than fiction.

I get that feeling with “The Night Came Slowly.

———

The Night Came Slowly

By Kate Chopin
Published in Moods, Philadelphia, July 1895

I am losing my interest in human beings; in the significance of their lives and their actions. Some one has said it is better to study one man than ten books. I want neither books nor men; they make me suffer. Can one of them talk to me like the night — the Summer night? Like the stars or the caressing wind?

The night came slowly, softly, as I lay out there under the maple tree. It came creeping, creeping stealthily out of the valley, thinking I did not notice. And the outlines of trees and foliage nearby blended in one black mass and the night came stealing out from them, too, and from the east and west, until the only light was in the sky, filtering through the maple leaves and a star looking down through every cranny.

The night is solemn and it means mystery.

Human shapes flitted by like intangible things. Some stole up like little mice to peep at me. I did not mind. My whole being was abandoned to the soothing and penetrating charm of the night.

The katydids began their slumber song: they are at it yet. How wise they are. They do not chatter like people. They tell me only: “sleep, sleep, sleep.” The wind rippled the maple leaves like little warm love thrills.

Why do fools cumber the Earth! It was a man’s voice that broke the necromancer’s spell. A man came to-day with his “Bible Class.” He is detestable with his red cheeks and bold eyes and coarse manner and speech. What does he know of Christ? Shall I ask a young fool who was born yesterday and will die tomorrow to tell me things of Christ? I would rather ask the stars: they have seen him.

The Night Came Slowly

In the last paragraph, Chopin refers to “a man’s voice that broke the necromancer’s spell.” The meaning of that line eludes me. In this case, I’m not seeing into her brain very successfully.

 

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