Churchill commands history (or tries to); My Lai; how to avoid sugar; and a bonus: newsletter March 23, 2018

March 26, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (4,260) on Friday, March 23, 2018.

Anniversaries and special days (St. Patrick’s Day, for instance) are good excuses to discuss their subjects, and often I don’t pay much attention to them. I tend to discuss topics as they occur to me. This week, however, there are a couple of anniversaries: one I note here, and one below. The one here is that next week (March 31) is the 333rd anniversary of the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach, to my mind the greatest composer. Period. Pushback on that from my dear reader friends? Let me know.

I have a great story about Bach, but I’ll save it for later.

The other anniversary is that this week marked the 50th year since the massacre at My Lai, Vietnam. It was a shocking, horrible act that had profound and far-reaching reverberations. See below.

I hope that every single one of you has had a very good week.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.

Winston Churchill: politician, statesman, orator, writer

The phrase “his/her place in history” gets tossed around a lot. It’s used by journalists, politicians, and commentators as if it’s a seat on the Number 12 bus, and you need to be in the right spot when it hits Picadilly Circus. History doesn’t work like that, but this fact is something that always seems to elude those who use the phrase or think about the concept.

No one thought about it more than Winston Churchill.

More than a few times, Churchill expressed the sentiment that “history will be kind to me for I will write it.” Through his life and particularly in his later years, Churchill would say that, sometimes as a threat to others but usually just as a comfort to himself. But Churchill went much farther than other famous people in an attempt — futile as it is — to make that happen.

David Reynolds‘ book In Command of History is a 600-page examination of Churchill’s efforts to have both the first and last word about himself and his actions during World War II, and it is a fascinating story.

I am writing a three-part series of posts on on Winston Churchill, the writer. You have just read the introduction to the first one: Winston Churchill’s World War II saga (part 1): Motive and opportunity. You can continue reading it by clicking on the link.

The second part has been posted: Winston Churchill’s World War II saga (part 2): Obliterating the obstacles

Part 3 will be available by next week.

How to avoid sugar

An item in the newsletter a few weeks ago talked about the most nutritious foods(according to a group of scientists who looked into it). In case you missed it, number 1 on the most nutritious foods was almonds. This time we talk about what might be the least nutritious food we consume: sugar.

Is sugar the least nutritious?

No one that I know of has made that argument in those specific terms, but the evidence and awareness of sugar’s potentially harmful effects seem to be growing. There is sugar all around us — in foods where we don’t need it, want it, or realize it’s there.

How can we avoid it?

David Leonhardt, opinion page editor of the New York Times, has written a great guide to cutting out a lot of sugar in our diets. It begins with this:

If you’re like most Americans, you eat more sugar than is good for you. But it’s entirely possible to eat less sugar without sacrificing much — if any — of the pleasures of eating. Surprising as it may sound, many people who have cut back on sugar say they find their new eating habits more pleasurable than their old ones. This guide will walk you through why sugar matters, how you can make smart food choices to reduce sugar consumption, and how you can keep your life sweet, even without so many sweets. Source: How to Stop Eating Sugar – Smarter living Guides – The New York Times

My personal experience echoes what Leonhardt has written. If you want to read about (it’s very short), you can finish this post on


My Lai

A few days ago, March 16, was the 50th anniversary of the day when a company of American soldiers swept through the village of My Lai on the southern coast of South Vietnam. They were looking for Viet Cong soldiers and sympathizers. They were also determined to avenge casualties suffered by the company in previous days. By the end of the day, between 350 and 500 men, women, and children — almost all unarmed — were dead.

When the American public heard about what happened a year later, My Lai quickly became a symbol for America’s tragic misadventure in Southeast Asia. My Lai exposed the lack of clear mission, inadequate training, miscommunication, and less-than-straightforward truth-telling that had characterized the whole enterprise.

Christopher Levesque, a faculty member at Pensacola State, has written an excellent piece for the New York Times’ Vietnam 67 series on My Lai in which he describes what happened as its aftermath. You may also want to look at this article by J. Houston Gordon, the appeals attorney for Lt. William Calley, the only officer convicted for his actions that day. Houston is a long-time personal friend of mine who knows the case intimately and has an impassioned and intelligent take on what it means.

Was your grandmother overlooked by the New York Times?

If she was, you need to let them know. The Times started a series a few weeks ago in its obituary section called Overlooked. It was about women that the Times through its many decades had failed to write obituaries on. They included Ida B. Wells and Charlotte Bronte. They also invited readers to nominate women for this section. Here’s part of what was published on Wednesday:

By now, we have received close to 2,500 submissions. Among these were about 30 from readers who told us of their own grandmothers or great-grandmothers who often fought strong institutional prejudice against them.

We found their stories moving, fascinating and inspiring and wanted to share them with you.

Some of the stories are compelling.

Readers Nominate Their Overlooked Grandmothers for a Times Obit – The New York Times


March Madness — of a sort

It’s March, and it’s about basketball, but that’s where the “March madness” ends. It’s really about art and the National Basketball Association.

James Gurney, an artist of extraordinary talent and energy, has a website that I visit just about every day. He was recently invited by ESPN to attend a New York Knicks game and be an artist-in-residence for an evening. What he produced is pretty amazing. Check out his three-minute video on it here.


The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.


Author! Author! (continued)

A couple of weeks ago, I offered to mention the works of any authors that are in the newsletter email list, and I received this from Jim Stow. (He has given me permission to include his name and email address, Jim is on his way to writing a novel, and what he has sent gives some good insight into the process. I have included the story summary here and a longer description of the writing process below the signature of this email. If you have any reactions, contact Jim directly.

Story summary

The setting is the early 1900’s. The main character is an eighteen-year-old young man who is leaving his family farm in Missouri to strike out on his own. This means separating from his family. They are very close to one another and they resist him leaving.

He is carrying a heavy burden of guilt from having sexual relations with a girl he really liked. He would like to talk with the young lady to resolve the situation but she left the area and he doesn’t know where she went.

As he sets out on his journey, he would like to find forgiveness but is not sure it is available from the girl or from God. He doesn’t know if he can ever forgive himself.


The email bag included the following reactions to items in last week’s newsletter:

Remembering the Sabbath

Victor C.: The root of the word “sabbath” is the Hebrew word for seven: shevah. That word transforms to “shabbat” (emphasis on the second syllable). The dipthong “sh” is the letter “shin” in Hebrew. In most Hebrew texts there is a mark (called a “nikkud”) which indicates how a word or letter is pronounced. In the Torah scroll, such markings are omitted and the reader must learn — either by memory or by understanding the context, the proper pronunciation. The letter “shin” can also be pronounced “sin” which, of course, will change the pronunciation and meaning of the word in which it is used. Things get even more challenging when spoken depending on where the speaker originates (reference Ashkenazi vs Sephardic for more on this.) I am by no means a scholar on the subject (despite years of study at my mother’s insistence) and at one point had to switch from one form to the other. As for the “t” becoming “th” in sabbath, since there is no “th” dipthong in Hebrew,, we can attribute that to Anglicization and, especially, the church. Which in itself raises the question of how that arose since there is no such dipthong in Latin (courtesy of Mr. Knapp, my Latin 1 and 2 teacher in high school back in 1958.)

Apropos of that, the guys (all-boy high school, then) who were taking other languages called Latin a “dead” language to which I responded “it lives on in its descendants, the Romance languages.” I have never regretted taking Latin. Aside from being helpful in the English and Romance languages, it’s great when working on the Times crossword puzzles. My father, by the way, who attended the same high school 35 years earlier than I (and my brothers) took both Greek and Latin.

Linda: I enjoyed your talk about the Sabbath. I know a lot of people who have to work on the weekends. I encourage them to take a day of rest once a week. The Old Testament called the seventh day the “Sabbath” but it can be any day of relaxation & rest. (In Spanish, Saturday is Sabado & Sunday is Domingo. I’m not sure, but in other languages the same types of names for Sabbath & Sundayprobably correspond to the original names. If I ever get the time & Internet connection, maybe I’ll research this.)

Agatha Christie

Jackie T.: Hi. Love Agatha Christie. By number I don’t know how many but probably most of them and have reread some. No favourite, too hard to choose.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Winston Churchill

Bonus watercolor: The Stone Fleet

The Stone Fleet was one of the odder incidents that occurred during the American Civil War. Even if, like me, you’ve read a great deal about the war, you probably haven’t heard of the Stone Fleet. I’ll say more next week. Meanwhile, enjoy this “line and wash” watercolor taken from an image in Harper’s Weekly magazine.

Best quote of the week:

If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy. James Madison, fourth president of the United States (1751-1836)

Helping those in need

This is my weekly reminder to all of us (especially me) that there are many people who need our help. It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here). When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin,and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: New biography of Agatha Christie; loving alliteration; remembering the Sabbath; newsletter March 16, 2018


Jim Stow

How the story came about

This is my first adventure into writing a story. Before I began this story, I wrote some poems, some for kids and some a bit deeper, spiritually.

I woke one morning and the name Tommy John Rose was in my head. I didn’t know anyone by that name and didn’t remember hearing that name. I thought I would try writing a story with that name as the prime character. Tommy gets the nickname, Thorn (from his last name), and the resulting title became, Thorn In The Flesh.

As I started writing, different characters appeared. They seemed to pop up on their own. I sort of had a plot in mind but that has completely turned to a different direction. As I write, I continue to be surprised at the turns the story takes and the things the characters urge me to write or correct me. (I have checked with some other writers and they say the same things happen to them. This is not the standard to judge if I am a bit unbalanced although some think other standards should be used to test me.)

I started writing this story for the fun of it and because I felt prompted to do so. I began the story, assuming it might be of interest to my family members. I found some editing groups in my area and have been taking my work to them. They seem to think I should pursue publishing it and making it available to the public.

This last edit session, I submitted a chapter to my group and I received the same comment from the members. They became so involved in reading the chapter, they forgot to edit. I am astonished and, of course, pleased. Because I was so involved with Thorn, this particular chapter was very difficult to write and to edit.

When I began, I was extremely clumsy with my grammar. I’ve learned a lot of the rules and the plot is clearer. My writing is going faster now and I hope to finish by the end of the year. The story is currently about 40,000 words. I expect it to be in the 60,000 to 75,000 word range when it is finished.

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One comment on “Churchill commands history (or tries to); My Lai; how to avoid sugar; and a bonus: newsletter March 23, 2018

  1. […] Last week’s newsletter: Churchill commands history (or tries to); My Lai; how to avoid sugar; and a bonus: newsletter March 23, 2018 […]

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