This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,374) on Friday, April 23, 2021.
The ongoing fight to make public records public traditionally has been led by state press associations and independent members of the news media. As such, it has been viewed by state legislators and the public at large as self-serving. Access to public records has never been high on anyone else’s set of priorities.
What has happened in Virginia recently may signal a much needed change in all that. There, the state legislature has expanded public access to records of criminal investigations. The efforts that resulted in this expansion were led not by media organizations but by friends and family members of the victim of a police shooting in 2019 in Virginia Beach.
Too often public officials regard public records and their official actions as none of the public’s business. That assumption offers them ample cover for actions that are incompetent or worse. We all have an interest in changing that assumption. Public records, with only a few exceptions, should be public and accessible.
Wherever your interests lie, I also urge you to have a great weekend.
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Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space 60 years ago this month
Gargarin, a Russian cosmonaut, became the first human to escape the earth’s bounds by blasting into space aboard a Soviet Vostok spacecraft on April 12, 1961. Prior to the Soviet announcement of his flight, which was made before he had come back to earth, the world did not know that the Soviets even had a manned space program.
The world knew plenty about the space programs of both the Americans and the Soviets. In 1957 the Soviets put the first man-made object into orbit with their launch of Sputnik. During the 1950s, the Americans had made much of their space program, and it was generally believed that they were well ahead of the Russians in this area. The space programs of each nation had become symbols of their Cold War superiority.
Sputnik’s launch shattered American confidence and had deep political and cultural implications. Not only did the government accelerate the space program itself, but new initiatives in science and math education were begun at the high school and college levels.
Gagarin’s flight was yet another blow to American prestige and confidence. The U.S. space program had publicly announced the first class of seven astronauts, one of whom would be selected to be its first man in space.
The Soviets, on the other hand, had kept their manned to space program a secret – even from the 20 cosmonauts who had been selected for the program. These 20 men, a group that included Gagarin, were test pilots who believed they would be learning to fly a new kind of airplane.
Gagarin was 27 years old when he made his historic flight. Born in 1934, he lived with his family in an area that had suffered brutally from the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. In 1950 when he was 16 Gagarin move to Moscow to train for a factory job. His technical skills, however, led him into the Russian Flight Training Program.
Because the Americans had announced their intention of putting a man in space in May of 1961, the Russians accelerated their space program beyond their own technical capabilities. Thus, Gagarin flew into space with only a crude and minimum way of communicating with the Earth and with no real plan about exactly where he would land.
Most of his flight was uneventful. Re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere was where he had problems. His space capsule failed to separate properly, and he was nearly burned to death. It was only at the last minute that the proper separation occurred, and he was able to parachute safely to Earth. The problem then was that no one in Moscow knew exactly where he was.
By a sheer stroke of dumb luck, Gagarin landed in a potato field near the Volga River, a place with which he had some familiarity. A woman and her daughter were in the field at the time, and when they saw Gagarin walking toward them, they ran for their lives. Gagarin was able to make contact with Moscow, and the Kremlin announced that he had landed safely — without giving too many details, of course.
It was a Soviet triumph and another demonstration to the world that the Soviet Union was still ahead in the space race. Gagarin had orbited the earth once, and it would be the next February before American John Glenn became the first of this nation to surpass that feat.
Gagarin was treated like the hero he was. He traveled around the world, flashing a winning smile and making self-deprecating jokes. He was barred from coming to the U.S. by President John Kennedy, but elsewhere he achieved the status of a rock star.
The fame and adulation did little to enhance Gagarin’s personal life. When he went into space, he had a wife and two small daughters. His post-orbit touring left him with a reputation as a womanizer and alcoholic. He cleaned up his life enough to rejoin the Soviet space program but was considered too valuable an asset to the Soviets to go on another mission. The most they would allow him to do was to become a test pilot again.
That turned out to be too much.
In 1968 he died when the plane he was testing crashed. He was only 36 years old.
Heads and Tales podcast: Bob Considine
My latest literary and artistic efforts have come to fruition with the publication of a new book: Heads and Tales: Caricatures and Stories of the Famous, the Infamous, and the Just Plain Interesting. The book is now in paperback and ebook form, but also accompanied by something else: a podcast series.
This week’s episode is about Bob Considine and his journalism.
The book is currently on Amazon and can be accessed with this link: http://bit.ly/headsandtales.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
Anna Ella Carroll, strategic genius or relentless self-promoter
Was Anna Ella Carroll the “military genius,” the “strategic mastermind,” and the “forgotten heroine” of the American Civil War that many of her adherents claim? What she the shadow member of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, unacknowledged because of her gender?
Much time and effort among historians, both professional and amateur, have been spent during the last 150 years attempting to sort out the real story of what, by any measure, this remarkable woman did or did not do in the fight to preserve the Union?
Anna Ella Carroll was born in 1815, the daughter of hey rich Maryland tobacco planter whose family had been prominent in the state’s public life for generations. Her father Thomas Carroll was involved in politics and eventually became governor of the state in 1830. He often took his daughter with him on political trips, and her interest in politics grew as she developed into an adult.
Carroll involved herself fully in the raucous and confusing national and local politics of the 1850s. She supported Millard Fillmore for president in 1856 and wrote numerous articles and pamphlets on his behalf. Maryland is the one state the Fillmore carried during that election, and many people then and later attributed that victory to her influence. At some point during this period, she became an ardent abolitionist, but she did not free her own slaves until after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.
As the nation divided itself between secessionists and unionists, Carroll was a vocal proponent of preserving the Union and again used the power of her written word to persuade Marylanders that secession was a bad idea.
She also wrote articles and pamphlets that clearly set forth Constitutional justifications for many of President Lincoln’s actions in preserving the Union. Her writing established her as a Constitutional thinker of the first order, and many of those who have examined her life since then have concluded that this was her greatest contribution to the war effort.
Lincoln undoubtedly was grateful for all of the help that came from any quarter, but Anna Ella Carroll wanted a larger role than simply that of a Constitutionalist thinker. She inserted herself into the Lincoln Administration and was assigned to accompany an army officer to assess prospects for the war in the West. Here, her role in the administration becomes murkier. She worked out a plan for attacking the South beginning at the mouth of the Tennessee River. She later claimed sole credit for the plan, but such a plan has already appeared in the New York Times two weeks before she had submitted it to the Army.
Carroll also claimed an advisors’ role for Lincoln’s issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and she was an advocate of colonizing freed slaves to locations in and around the Caribbean.
After the war, Carroll made bold, public claims about her role as an advisor to the Lincoln Administration, and she said Lincoln had promised to acknowledge that role once the war had ended. Lincoln, of course, was assassinated, and no such acknowledgment was ever made. Carroll also claimed the government owed her $5,000 for her expenses and as payment for the strategic plan did she had submitted.
Carroll spent much of the next 30 years pressing that claim. Her case was made before various courts, administrative tribunals, and congressional committees. She always received sympathetic hearings and often positive conclusions, but Congress never authorized the money for her.
Her cause was taken up by the burgeoning suffrage movement as yet another case where a woman’s contribution to public life had been ignored or dismissed because of her gender. Sarah Ellen Blackwell, one of the leaders of the movement, even wrote a biography of her: A Military Genius: Life of Anna Ella Carroll of Maryland,
Carroll died in 1894, officially unacknowledged and uncompensated. The stories and myths about her actions during the Civil War grew throughout the next 125 years. Today the state of Maryland has made her a member of its Hall of Fame. She was a forceful and intelligent writer who believed deeply in the sanctity of the Union. Her interest in military matters went beyond simple map-reading.
The lack of documentation and the general dismissal of women from these areas, however, has put her real role in the war in doubt, and those doubts continue today.
Verse and Vision: Poems and painting from a couple of years ago
A couple of years ago a colleague at the Blount County Public Library asked me to record a poem because April is National Poetry Month. One thing led to another, and by September, I had made about 20 video recordings of poems recited as voiceovers for watercolor paintings that had some relationship to the poem or the poet.
Before April 2021 gets away from us, I thought it might be a good idea to reprise that list in honor of this year’s National Poetry Month, and I hereby invite you to revisit any of those videos with the links below:
Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abby by William Wordsworth: http://bit.ly/wordsworth-tinternabby
The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at http://bit.ly/longfellow-villageblacksmith.
Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson here: http://bit.ly/tennyson-ulysses
1492 and The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus: http://bit.ly/lazarus-newcolossus
To Althea, from Prison by Richard Lovelace: http://bit.ly/lovelace-toalthea
The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson: http://bit.ly/tennyson-lightbrigade
The House of Rest by Julia Ward Howe: http://bit.ly/howe-houseofrest
Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott: http://bit.ly/scott-lochinvar
Ole Bert: In His Own Words by Bert Garner: http://bit.ly/ole-bert
In the Highlands and Consolation by Robert Louis Stevenson: http://bit.ly/RLStevenson-2poems
To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell: http://bit.ly/Marvell-CoyMistress
Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer:http://bit.ly/Thayer-CaseyattheBat
The Old Clock on the Stairs by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: http://bit.ly/HWL-TheOldClock
Evening Star and Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe: http://bit.ly
Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray: http://bit.ly
My Heart and I by Elizabeth Barrett Browning: http://bit.ly/EBB-myheartandi
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe: http://bit.ly/poe-theraven
Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare: http://bit.ly/shakespeare-sonnet18
Most of these videos were recorded out of doors on a small porch at the side of my house. I did that because the natural light is better than anything I can set up inside. Now that the weather is turning warmer, I may revive this Verse and Vision series. Any suggestions about poems or paintings would be greatly appreciated.
Vince V.: There are few subjects on which I consider myself well read. Hemingway may be the exception. Other than a few anecdotes from wives #3 and #4, I received no new information from the recent documentary.
I celebrate the writer. The man disgusts me. I have learned to separate them.
Finally . . .
Best quote of the week:
You can’t hold a man down without staying down with him. Booker T. Washington, reformer, educator, and author (1856-1915)
Helping those in need
Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them 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 (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: Sherwood Anderson, deliberate practice, and the stolen Vermeer: newsletter, April 16, 2021
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