Category Archives: History & Geography

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning

11/1/15: I did not finish this book and right now I have no intention of picking it back up. It’s not a bad book, per se, but it’s not what I enjoy in a history book. I like social history, which to me means lots and lots of personal anecdotes that help describe why things happened the way that they did. I’ve never cared much for political history, which is (again to me) all the wheeling and dealing that goes on behind closed doors within governments that make for the “big” changes like war. Political histories tend to be full of analysis because I’m supposed to walk away with the same conclusions that the author did. This is a political history with, as far as I can tell, not very much social history included. It’s an interesting book, don’t get me wrong, but there are simply too many names to remember and places to keep straight to make it a “fun read” and since I’m no longer in school, I can afford to focus on the fun reads instead of trudging through books that don’t maintain their hold on my interest.

If you like dense political analysis, then you’ll like this book. If you like books that focus on regular people, like I do, you probably won’t make it very far in this book. My conclusion is that you’ll either like it or you won’t. There’s nothing wrong with the research or even the style–it’s just not my cup of tea.

10/10/15: I’ve been slow reading this one. It’s a fascinating book and what I consider to be my first real delve into the history of the Holocaust, but it’s dense. Like, really dense. So much information and detail. I guess I was hoping for something with more first hand accounts and less political discussion. I honestly find treaties to be dull reading, but leading up to WWII, that’s what it was. Still, there is a lot of really fascinating instances here, like how Britain and France handed Hitler Czechoslovakia and how Germany blamed the Kristallnaught on a displaced German (Polish? Russian?) Jew who killed a German minister in France.

Granted, this time was all about political intrigue and shifting border lines and it was complex and we have to really look it instead of making broad blanket statements like “Nazi gun control caused the Holocaust” (–Ben Carson), but what I want to know about the Holocaust is how could non-Jews have let it happen. And that, my friends, has been summed up on page 88: “Of course, it was possible for Germans not to wish to see violence inflicted upon Jews while at the same time not wishing to see Jews at all.” The one common thread between EVERY nation involved in this atrocity (to which I include every country that didn’t open their arms to the Jewish people) is that they didn’t want to have a Jewish population. There was the “Madagascar Plan”, which was the generic name for moving the Jewish people out of what they were currently calling “home” be it in Poland, Russia, or Germany and putting them either on the Island of Madagascar or in Palestine (the two leading destinations though the actual destination didn’t particularly matter). Britain considered going along with this plan (as the owners of Palestine), but decided that it’d be worse to anger the Arabs already living there than the Jews who would be moving there.

This whole mentality of “out of sight, out of my way” disgusts me and as someone who has never been the biggest fan or Israel today, I’m starting to have even less respect for the way they constantly defy current boundaries in their own ambition to have “manifest destiny”. The idea that that is their “homeland” is a crock when in 1938 Jews were being forced out of the HOMES they’d established in Europe–HOMES that they’d hoped to live in for generations! Don’t get me wrong, first and foremost, I believe that EVERYONE has the right to live where ever they damn well please so long as the property is bought legally and doesn’t harm anyone else in the process. That is NOT what’s going on in Palestine where the land in question is under investigation to determine ownership. It’s like a Zombie House (one that the owner has left because they expected a foreclosure, but then the bank decides not to foreclose). It would not be legal to sell the house to a new owner without finalizing the paperwork to establish who the owner really is. Some may argue that the land in Palestine is unoccupied and therefore up for grabs, but when there’s global interest in establishing real boundaries, no one should live in the area until the paperwork is finalized. Otherwise, we should just say “screw it–if one side gets to live there then both sides do” and open the area to ALL migrants (much like the homesteads of the US). Be like, “you’re all one country now, congratulations”. You’d think that the Jews who were forced out of Europe would have more of a claim to those former homes and businesses that they’re family used to own instead of claiming “historic ownership” to land they personally have no tie to.

Anyway, I’m writing the above as I take a break on page 100. I’m hoping that once all the background information is done (and the war finally begins) this book will move faster. But we’ll see…

Heh. I just read a truly interesting view of the alliance between Germany and the Soviet Union. Apparently Evangelical Americans saw it as “the realization of a biblical prophecy (Ezekiel 38) of an alliance between Gog and Gomer that would attack the Land of Israel and thus fulfill on of the preconditions for the return of the messiah.” This is what I meant above about claiming Palestine as “the Land of Israel”–these Americans and probably most Jews as well didn’t view that land as their homeland then, why should they view it as such now?

Also along Biblical lines, aren’t there a couple of passages about how God mandates (or at least doesn’t frown upon) “his people” invading nearby towns and destroying them? That sounds a lot like the way Hitler believed it was his right to completely annihilate the countries around Germany because they weren’t German.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

Sigh. This is one of those wonderfully depressing stories that leaves you crying at 3 am because you can’t put it down. I read it purely on a whim because it was advertised as a “Big Library Read Book” this month on my library’s ebook site (a book which isn’t limited in checkouts by the number of copies the library owns). It’s one I highly recommend.

It’s set in 1918, during the last months of WWI and the Spanish Influenza pandemic. Lot’s of death, lots of sorrow. And yet, finishing it has left me hopeful rather than depressed, which is how the best books are (in my opinion).

The last book I read on Spiritualism was set in WWII Britain (The Strange Case of Hellish Nell) so we know that this phenomenon (I mean the act of believing in spirits) lasted a long time. This book paints a very realistic view of life during this period–no white washing.

WWI Propaganda
WWI Propaganda by Dividenda
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Are you 100% American? Buy Bonds
Are you 100% American? Buy Bonds by parrow1978
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Beat Back the Hun
Beat Back the Hun by Dividenda
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The Cincinnati Red Stalkings by Troy Soos

My dad was the one to first read the Mickey Rawlings Series many many moons ago. He read them out of order depending on what was on the shelf at the library and I kind of read them behind him, but realized that I hated the parts that were missing. I only recently began re-reading this series starting from the beginning and I must say that it’s a better experience.

These books stand alone just fine, but you’ll miss out on the character interactions if you go out of order.

Oddly enough, even though I probably read all of the first 5 books in this series before (this being #5), this is the one that I definitely remembered reading. It didn’t mean I could remember the ending, but I definitely remembered it.

I also remember not particularly caring for it at the time. I still can’t place my finger on why this is my least favorite book in the series, but I suspect it has something to do with Prohibition and gambling/Mob….maybe just the gambling/Mob connections since Prohibition isn’t a new item for this series. Or maybe it is since this one introduces Prohibition (maybe I have read the next book in the series without remembering so). Maybe it’s because the historical connection, since it is Prohibition and the gambling scandals, isn’t as compelling at the earlier dealings with race, unions, etc. I’m not sure. Maybe it’s simply because I read them out of order and couldn’t figure out the characters very well!

I do know that I enjoyed this book this time a lot more than I did the previous time. It you like baseball and don’t mind a murder mystery, this is a great series for you. Soos does a heck of a job researching the games and the real life events! He even responded to a complaint I made about Murder at Wrigley Field, which should have been called Murder at Weeghman Park because that’s what it’s name was during the time that the book was set and that’s the name the park went by throughout the book (Wrigley wouldn’t buy the park until after the end of the book). It turned out that his publishers had insisted on calling it Wrigley on the cover to help it sell better since they were still insisting on the “Murder at…” format. He gave in to the publishers, but had wanted the more accurate title. There’s nothing that annoys me more than facts being made up rather than doing the research.

Baseball Poster Memorabilia
Baseball Poster Memorabilia by cardland
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Norfolk: A People’s History

I ordered Norfolk: A People’s History specificially for the 2015 Reading Challenge as my book that is set in my hometown. Yeah….I realize that I could have searched for a fiction book set in Norfolk, but I didn’t have much patience for it. I’m also not a fan of “manly man military fiction books” which, if it involves the Navy, will at least mention Norfolk, VA.

Speaking of which, BF’s been binge watching NCIS and we are amazed by how they’re able to get from DC to Hampton Roads in 15 minutes or less! There was also an early episode that mentions I-264 (or I-64, I can’t remember which) when they’re clearly on I-564 (564 being the direct route to the base). Anyway, I digress.

But…maybe I’m not digressing too much. I mean, that’s a main theme of this short history: how Norfolk is both defined by the Navy and yet refuses to be defined as anything but “Anytown, USA”. We’re often mentioned whenever the Navy is, but at the same time, it’s an anonymous place. The media can’t even be bothered to get the basic facts right when it comes to portraying this town. Huh, while double checking whether Kevin Bacon’s The Following is set in Norfolk (as I remember hearing shortly before it premiered) I learned that Wikipedia has a page for “Books set in Norfolk”, but the 4 that I checked are all set in Norfolk, England, which is why I gave up (even Mr American). Anyway, back to The Following–I think there was an article in The Virginian Pilot about the show which said that even though it’s supposed to be set in Norfolk, locals would recognize nothing.

This history is short and to the point, which has it’s benefits and it’s downfalls. It’s like reading an article on Wikipedia: you’ll get the gist of the story, but depth and nuances are lost.

For instance, one point I thought was lacking was on how Norfolkians responded to Union occupation during the Civil War. Ms. Rose claims that there was a lot of dislike of the Union Occupiers because Norfolk was Pro-Confederacy. This is inaccurate–the towns of Norfolk and Portsmouth were actually Pro-Union for the most part. Now, the rest of Hampton Roads was mostly Pro-Confederacy and I’ve read the diary of one woman from Chesapeake who hated Benjamin Butler and accused him of all sorts of inhumanities even as he treated her husband fairly enough. But my absolute favorite story of the Civil War in Portsmouth (which was essentially an extension of Norfolk) was of the ladies fainting in the streets as it was announced that Virginia had seceded the Union. They were certain that Lincoln was going to turn the guns of Fort Monroe upon them and blow them to kingdom come. In fact, this idea never crossed any official desk.

A few years ago I was appalled to learn that in Virginia it is perfectly legal to not educate your children (2 or 3 years ago there was a census of like 2000 kids who were not participating in any structured education). While I can support homeschooling and believe that a parent who can educate their children should be able to do so, I do think that it’s society’s obligation to ensure that those children are at least taught the basics and that the Standards of Learning (SOLs–VA’s state tests) should be required of all students to check that they are getting taught something useful! I’d like to think that even without state tests, these children are learning to read and do basic math and are getting an appreciation for science and history, but then I’ve been reading Homeschoolers Anonymous and hearing the personal accounts of what some children went through. There are a few topics where I feel that one person is too many and this is one of those–one child being denied a good education while the government lets it happen is too many.

This history of Norfolk explains that this lack of educating in Virginia stems from not only the lack of importance placed on education prior to the 1950’s, but also was the result of opposition towards desegregation. In fact, in the 1950s, the VA Assembly abolished the law that made school attendance compulsory, which is why it’s legal in VA to not educate your children. Grr.

But it wasn’t until the 1990’s that education became important in Norfolk and I was one beneficiary of the push for pre-school education for poor children. When I got into Pre-K, even though it was taught at what was going to be my elementary school, admittance was limited to poor children who needed extra help. There was a test of basic knowledge that I had to take and according to my dad, the person giving the test had to lie about the fact that I could identify my stomach to get me in so that we could get that little bit of free child care so my mom could work a little more (it was only a half day back then). Even though my parents did a lot to prepare me for school and I didn’t really need the Pre-K classes for education’s sake, besides the child care, Pre-K also got me started in a school environment a year earlier than Kindergarten would have which actually made me about the same age as a Kindergartner. You see, my birthday is in late October, but the cut off for Kindergarten was being 5 on September 30th. I wouldn’t have started school until I was nearly 6 without Pre-K!

I did learn one thing about myself while reading this history: everyone looks Italian too me (my mom’s family is Italian)! I did NOT know that the Deckers and the Doumars are Lebanese–I thought they were Italian! And I thought I was multi-cultured! I was surprised that that infamous Greek Festival wasn’t mentioned even though a basic history of the Greeks in Norfolk was covered. I’ve never been.

Anyway, this is a good overview of the city and I’m intrigued to read more of these snapshots of American life.

Duck Invasion, Norfolk, VA
Duck Invasion, Norfolk, VA by Snowpeaceful
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General Sherman’s Christmas: Savannah 1864

“The quiet grace at tea with Mrs. Cornwell; the “cordial” overnight invitation to Howard; the “kindly” offer of a guard, while nearby residences reportedly burned wholesale; the Cornwell plantation itself confiscated of everything edible and on the hoof, and then ruined; the family left nearly without food for days; and the house threatened with burning, yet protected; the return of household goods–all these juxtapose contradictions not easily reconciled, yet integral to the surreality of the march to the sea.”

A really good read on Sherman’s march. I’m still desperate to read one of the many books written by southerner’s shortly after the war which claimed to tell “the real story”. I ran across a bunch of these as I played around with what my college thesis would be on.

In terms of the depravity that happened in GA during the march, this book seems to make the most sense from what I’ve read. I think that what happened in Baltimore a few weeks ago is a good place to start in deciding where the truth was in the past, if that makes any sense.

Remember the ladies fainting in Portsmouth!

General Sherman and His Staff -- Border Poster
General Sherman and His Staff — Border Poster by parrow1978
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Gen Sherman 'Heat a Peach' Tour 1864 Mug
Gen Sherman ‘Heat a Peach’ Tour 1864 Mug by ThenWear
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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

“>A deeply engaging new history of how European settlements in the post-Colombian Americas shaped the world, from the bestselling author of 1491. Presenting the latest research by biologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians, Mann shows how the post-Columbian network of ecological and economic exchange fostered the rise of Europe, devastated imperial China, convulsed Africa, and for two centuries made Mexico City—where Asia, Europe, and the new frontier of the Americas dynamically interacted—the center of the world. In this history, Mann uncovers the germ of today’s fiercest political disputes, from immigration to trade policy to culture wars. In 1493, Mann has again given readers an eye-opening scientific interpretation of our past, unequaled in its authority and fascination.

This book is awesome! I highly recommend it to anyone who likes social history. There’s plenty of anecdotes from the lives of individuals while overarching themes show that globalization is 500+ years in the making.

Old Ship Map Poster
Old Ship Map Poster by PrettyPosters
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Antique World Map Custom Pillow
Antique World Map Custom Pillow by photosoup
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A drive in the country in Southeastern Virginia

My boyfriend loves to drive. No seriously, he LOVES to drive. Many moons ago (he’s old), he was a long-haul truck driver who went from Virginia to California and back to Virginia once a week. He’s calculated that he’s probably driven 5 million miles. Course, that was before a massive heart attack killed him 14 times when he was 39 years old leaving him with a defibrillator implanted and unable to pass a DOT physical.

Anyway, when he gets stressed, nothing relaxes him more than a drive. I don’t mind one bit–I was born to be in the passenger seat! Last weekend it was hot here and since the AC went out, we went for a 4 hour drive. We live in Southeastern Virginia (also known as Hampton Roads) and in case you didn’t know this, we are like the epicenter of early American historic areas. You can’t throw a stone without hitting something pertaining to early American history (disclaimer: I’m just talking English history post-Jamestown (which we have)–for Native American history, the South- & Midwest have us beat).

So yeah–want the first permanent English Settlement in North America? Historic Jamestown or the Jamestown Settlement. Here’s the insider’s tip: Historic Jamestown is where the settlers first landed and luckily the fort isn’t under the river!! It was only recently that archaeologists discovered that all three corners are indeed still on dry land; before that, they thought one or possibly two were underwater. The Jamestown Settlement is a full reenactment of what the site probably looked like during it’s heyday. It’s where you can see replicas of the 3 ships. Here’s the thing. The Jamestown Settlement is a private business with some state funding while Historic Jamestown is a National Park. There’s a price difference. They are neighbors though, so make sure you enter the correct parking lot.

We took the Jamestown-Scottland Ferry. It’s free and you can see both the Jamestowns (including whats visible of the original fort)! You can also see the recreated boats whose berths are kind of next to the dock (there’s a few trees in the way). The funniest part was having the GPS on the elevation setting and it saying we were 80 miles below sea level while on the ferry.

By the way, the “first” real attempt to settle, down in Roanoke, NC–just a few hours away from here.

Heh–I just learned something! While getting the link to the Jamestown Settlement, I noticed that they have a Yorktown Victory Center. Guess what–this is also not the museum you are necessarily looking for and there’s probably another big price difference. I don’t think I’ve ever been to this one, but I have been to the Yorktown Battlefield and it’s Visitor Center. You can walk this Battlefield for free or spend a few bucks to see the small museum. You can also walk a lovely path to the town of Yorktown or take a free trolley that links the two. Yorktown wasn’t really part of our driving tour, though we did drive through the “Historic Triangle”, so I’ll throw Williamsburg out here as well.

Anywho, back to the driving. He drove northwest where we saw plenty of farm land and what I teasingly call “congested areas”. I kid you not that while driving with my grandma to visit my aunt in Kentucky every time there were 10 buildings close to the road in what might be considered civilization (like, there’s a place to buy groceries and maybe a church), there’d be a sign warning about congested areas. We might see one car in each of these. Here in VA there aren’t any congested area signs like there, but the feeling stuck. I’m looking at Google Maps right now and I guess our route was roughly 258 to 460 to I-295 to 5 to 31 (where the ferry is) to home.

Route 5 is one that I can’t wait to take again. If your a Civil War buff, there are like 5 different plantations all connected by a gorgeous bike path (The Virginia Capital Trail) that starts at Jamestown and will eventually connect to the capital in Richmond (52 miles!). There’s a countdown clock on the website that indicate’s it’ll be done in 4 months (this post being written in late April 2015). Another name for part of Route 5 is the John Tyler Memorial Highway (for the 10th president) and one of the plantations on this road was his Sherwood Forest Plantation. I need to go here! I’ve been to Mount Vernon, Monticello, Montpelier, and the house in Staunton that claims Woodrow Wilson even though he only lived there from age 0 to 1. Still have 4 presidential houses to visit to complete Virginia’s eight. I know I can get my boyfriend to drive us, but we’ll see if he actually wants to tour. He doesn’t like big crowds, which was the downfall of Mount Vernon (I’ll make another post on these later).

Anyway, on this week’s blogging agenda is 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, which has a fascinating take on slavery in the New World (among other things) and reasons why it thrived where it did and not so much where it didn’t. My dad had been taking a course via Coursera on slavery, but since he takes the classes for fun, he thought that required reading too much. I was reading this book at the same time and it ended up being exactly what he needed to better understand his course material.

Hospital Sketches

Hospital Sketches is a compilation of four sketches based on letters Louisa May Alcott sent home during the six weeks she spent as a volunteer nurse for the Union Army in Georgetown. The first of the four was initially published on May 22, 1863 in the magazine “Boston Commonwealth.” The pieces received great critical and popular acclaim making Alcott an overnight success. The four sketches were compiled and published in a single volume by the abolitionist publisher James Redpath several months later.



This is a great introduction to historic writing. Yes, this book was and still is billed as a true story, but if you delve deeper into the story, you can find plenty of evidence of embellishment. But…is it fiction? Or is this embellishment still truth? One could argue that this is actually how Alcott saw and remembered the events. Or she could have intentionally embellished events to increase sympathy for the cause. This is why studying history isn’t about memorizing dates and looking at the world as though it’s black and white.


Become a Nurse notebook

Become a Nurse notebook by ohiohistory

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Sarah Palin, Going Rogue

From Booklist: “No good deed goes unpunished. Just ask Steve Schmidt, John McCain’s campaign manager and the guy who pushed Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate. Now, in Palin’s much-hyped book, he’s just a fat, smoking bullet-head who told her to “stick to the script.” The feeling running through Going Rogue is that Palin has been bursting to take a whack at those she believes didn’t do right by her during the campaign. (Katie Couric, we’re looking at you!) Before readers get to that, however, there’s personal biography. We’re introduced to Sarah the reader—loved to read—the basketball player, hunter, wife, mother. Then lots and lots of Alaska politics, which will probably be a little hard even for people from Alaska to plow through. (Scores are settled here, too.) Once Palin gets into the 2008 campaign, the tone is folksy, but the knives are out. Much has been made of her criticisms of Schmidt and another McCain staffer, Nicolle Wallace. But less has been said about Palin’s comments about Barack Obama. For instance, she notes that when she and husband Todd first heard Obama speak, they saw the wow factor but worried that his “smooth” talk would hide his radical ideas. She also implies that Obama wanted to shield only his own children from the press, though, in fact, in September 2008, he told CNN that Palin’s children must be off limits as well. Ronald Reagan’s name is mentioned by page 3 and invoked regularly throughout. There’s no doubt Palin sees herself as heir to his legacy. But many readers will see the Sarah Palin revealed in these pages as much closer to George Bush, someone you’d like to have a beer with. Or perhaps dinner: “I always remind people from outside our state that there’s plenty of room for all Alaska’s animals—right next to the mashed potatoes.” –Ilene Cooper

I read this because she’s just one of those figures that I needed to read her own words to figure out if she’s just misunderstood or really just nuts. Turns out she’s simply delusional. Here’s the short version for my reasoning: to “go rogue” one must be fighting against “the man”, but this book is filled with “here’s how ‘the man’ wanted to hold me down and see how I let him do that, but I’m a-gonna ‘go rogue’ now by tellin’ ya’ll that when I was letting the man hold me down, I was totally thinking “when I’m vice president, I’ll show you who’s boss”. She gives example after example after example of how she kept getting walked all over in politics while she apparently was thinking how moronic these guys all were. Like I’m going to vote for someone who is man-handled into clothes she didn’t want to wear because internally she’s thinking that it’s stupid and not her fault.

The other reason big why I don’t like Sarah Palin? Because if a vegan came to her house she’d hand them half a head of iceberg and call that dinner while her family eats moose stew. I’ll let you insert all the negative names I’m mentally calling her. I don’t care if she thinks being vegan or vegetarian is stupid, there are a half dozen equally easy ways to not be rude to a dinner guest.

Here’s some gifts that hopefully won’t offend anyone while still catering to a fan of this book. If you’re looking for something a bit more right-wing I’ll leave you to search on your own.

Divide and Conquer 2016 Bumper Sticker

Divide and Conquer 2016 Bumper Sticker by Aurantiaco
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US Flag 1776 Courier Bags

US Flag 1776 Courier Bags by ArtisticFlags
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american flag,united states flag grocery bags

The Strange Case of Hellish Nell

On March 23, 1944, as the allied forces prepared for D-Day, Britain’s most famous psychic, Helen Duncan-“Nell” to her family-stood in the dock of Britain’s highest criminal court accused of…witchcraft. It was a trial so bizarre Winston Churchill grumbled, “Why all this tomfoolery?” But the Prime Minister was not privy to the Military Intelligence agenda fueling the prosecution: Duncan’s séances were accurately revealing top-secret British ship movements. The authorities wanted “Hellish Nell” silenced. Using diaries, personal papers, interviews, and declassified documents, Nina Shandler resurrects this strange courtroom episode and the shadowy world of wartime secrets and psychics. Sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, The Strange Case of Hellish Nell is a true crime tale laced with supernatural phenomena and wartime intrigue.”

“Loose Lips Sink Ships.” Did Helen Duncan really spill WWII secrets with help from the dead? If nothing else, an interesting case study on how far government is allowed to go to protect secrets during wartime.

Spitfire MH-434 Mouse Pad

Spitfire MH-434 Mouse Pad by flyinglegends
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