Sunday, July 07, 2002

Oh, yeah...I'm supposed to write in here that I had a really good birthday a couple of years ago, proving that not all of them have been lackluster events...but now I can't remember what we did for it. As soon as I remember, I'll write it down. It was good, that's all I can say.
9:34 PM

What I freaking hate about Blogger is its archiving function. It *never* works out of the box. I am so sick of fighting with it. Every time I change a template, it takes two weeks to get the archives working. I've never been able to make the hockey journal archive work. Freaking Blogger. I definitely see why everyone is moving to Moveable Type. Why should I pay for Blogger Pro when I can't even make the freaking freeware work?

Oh, in other news, now that I've gotten a little sleep, I finally see where the magenta on my web page is coming from. I can be SUCH. AN. IDIOT. sometimes.

9:13 PM

A very cool Google "mirror."
7:06 PM

Good article on problematic patriotism by Paula Martinac.

I hate the word "tolerance." I refuse to be happy with a society that merely "tolerates" my presence. I want acceptance, nothing more, nothing less.

Otherwise,, a web project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, is a good one. Particularly enlightening (for me, anyway) is their section Dig Deeper: Test Yourself for Hidden Bias. It's always good to remind myself of my own frailties.

3:16 PM

Having re-read my last post, let me just say that I am not *totally* unsympathetic to neo-Confederate philosophy. I actually have a great sympathy for antebellum Virginians (and others I don't know so much about), having to decide in the early 1860s whether to fight for the Old Dominion, or fight for the Union, and today's Virginian culture that grew out of that decision. It's a complicated issue, and it wrenches my gut sometimes when I have to come down on one side or the other, even when talking about current issues in the southern states. And, anyway, a lot of neo-Confederate thought is more about being a Republican (ooOOooo--scary, the party of Lincoln!) than about being a rebel, and just because I'm not a Republican doesn't mean they're all wrong.

That being said, I *do* find (overt and/or elided) racism problematic, to say the least. I am always taken aback by how ingrained it is in some southerners (and probably some northerners that just don't happen to work in my office, since that's generally my social set). It's as if they don't see any problem saying, "blacks do *this*," or "blacks do *that*," as if you could make such a statement about all African-Americans everywhere. All these sweeping generalizations are such a regular part of their discourse that they don't even recognize that visitors are all but recoiling from shock at the end of a conversation. Or...maybe they do recognize it, and figure, "Well, who cares what Yankees and carpetbaggers think, anyway?"

2:28 PM

Yesterday I discovered that you can drive from Sharpsburg, Maryland to Bloomington, Indiana in fewer than eleven hours. You could probably do it in less if the Pennsylvania Turnpike didn't have a double nickel limit. I think that's the quickest I've ever made that drive--I'm usually pretty much a speed limit driver, and really, I wasn't blazing down the freeway yesterday (I don't think!), but was going faster than I usually do. Catherine told me I was in a zone ("it was a beautiful thing to watch"), but I had to break the news to her that what she thought was a zone was merely an intense desire to climb into my own bed before falling asleep (not that that prevented me from taking a cat nap behind the wheel every now and then).

We almost managed to hold true to our decision not to eat at any national chain restaurants. We decided to do this does that song go? Oh, yeah...because Corporate America Bites My Ass (This is Not a Punk Song). We had to cave and eat at an Applebee's on July 4. Otherwise, we did pretty good, and (re)discovered some new favorite restaurants.

Anyway, we finished up our Civil "Wargasm" (as Tony Horwitz would call it) at Antietam/Sharpburg yesterday. I forgot to take my laptop, and Catherine forgot to take the road journal, so I don't have a minute by minute account to cut and paste into my journal. As soon as I sort through the photos, I'm going to post a website chronicling our first, second and third Civil War campaigns, but that probably won't be until after camp (7 days!). A quick overview: we started in Lynchburg (Ft. Early), went to Appomattox Station/Appomattox Court House, then followed Lee's Retreat in reverse through Sayler's Creek and by Amelia Court House. Ended up in Richmond where we took a side trip to Monticello (he was a slave owner, after all), then finished up with the Richmond sites we missed last time (Chickahominy Bluffs, Gaines Mill, Cold Harbor, Drewry's Bluff). We visited Shirley Plantation on our way to Petersburg, then spent a good long time doing City Point, the Petersburg battlefield and the siege line/Five Forks. Then it was north to Fredicksburg, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania, and the Wilderness. Did a drive by of Manassas (we'll have to go back to do 1st and 2nd Manassas justice), then ended up with Harper's Ferry and Antietam. Sort of a reverse tour through the war.

A lot people might wonder what prompted us to do the Eastern Theater of the Civil War for a vacation. Typically, people said, "Oh, neat!" when I told them what we were going to be doing, then tipped their heads as if thinking hard, and I could tell they wanted to follow up their initial response with, "but why?" I haven't always been interested in the Civil War--being from the Pacific Northwest, it was difficult to really get a sense of its importance, or even a sense that it ever really happened, it's just too removed from "the frontier." It's also really a guy thing (I have more to say on that later), and I guess partly that's how I got into it, hanging around with so many guys because of my career choices. It's always amazed me how men have a sort of instinctive knowledge about the Civil War. On our first Civil War trip, we stopped at Gettysburg mostly because it was there, it was historical, and seemed like the right thing to do, and partly because a co-worker had loaned me a book about the battle that I really liked. One day in Gettysburg, and we were both hooked, though.

Why have I become a Civil War freak? We first drove around Gettysburg on a warm, June evening, and really had a lot of the battlefield to ourselves. We stopped at the Union lines on Cemetary Ridge and looked over toward the Confederate lines on Seminary Ridge and saw a path leading across the open space between. We decided to walk from one ridge to the other, doing Pickett's Charge in reverse. It wasn't clear if we were actually supposed to do this--the grass was mowed, and there were no "keep out" signs, but there also weren't any signs saying, "walk the historic Pickett's Charge," so I was a little afraid some park ranger would come throw us out. Anyway, we started trudging across the field. About halfway across, I stopped and looked back at Cemetary Ridge (still nervous and anxious about getting caught) to where some other tourists were standing, and just got the chills. We were completely exposed, if one of those people had taken it into their heads to shoot us, they could have without problem.

And so I stood there for a bit, and looked both directions, and thought, "No fucking way would I ever charge up this hill into Union artillery and rifle fire. No fucking way could I step out into a certain death." It creeped me out, it really did. There's no way those Confederate troops didn't know they were about to die. You just can't stand on Seminary Ridge (or anywhere between there and Cemetary Ridge) and not know what a freaking stupid idea it would be to charge up the hill, especially after two years of the war. It's simply not possible.

So, what I want to know is--what in the hell possesses a boy to do it? You can't give me some story about states' rights or the defense of the institution of slavery, because a nineteen year old farm boy with no formal education is not going to be giving himself a pep talk based on political or moral philosophy before arriving at his death. There are many principles I feel strongly about, but I'm not sure I would ever be able to pick up a weapon and fight for them (I'm more likely to argue for them or flee for them, not kill for them). I cannot imagine myself pinning my name to the collar of my jacket so my family has a chance of identifying my body after I take five bullets during a futile charge at an enemy. It just won't happen.

Thus, my interest in the Civil War can be traced directly to a bone chill.

This trip was great, as much for what we learned about the war as for what we learned about neo-Confederate thought. I really can't add anything to Tony Horwitz's disseration on neo-Confederate philosophy (his Confederates in the Attic is a must read, even if you don't care about the Civil War), so I don't see any point in writing down a lot of what I was thinking about this past week. I have some reactions to his book I want to write out later (more on the "guy thing" of the Civil War), but I don't have them straight in my head yet.

We stayed two nights in Petersburg, an impoverished suburb of Richmond. Petersburg is our favorite battlefield, I think, especially the siege line. But mostly what struck us about Petersburg was its poverty and unofficial segregation. Our friend, BR, definitely a member of the Old South, claims Petersburg went to hell when the blacks moved in (she said this to Catherine, it's just as well I was out running during this conversation). Well, the real story is--Petersburg was integrated in 1970. When African-American families started to buy homes in the central area, whites moved out, yanking out all their money and business and taking it to Colonial Heights. Then they turned around and said, "See? Look how poorly the blacks are doing, look what they've done to Petersburg." And that pretty much summarizes the most benign form of neo-Confederate thought (at its worst, it leads you directly back to the Klan). There are a lot of things about the South that really, really bug me.

Sometimes, we'd be going through a battlefield, and I'd find myself rooting for the South in a particular skirmish, feeling like they'd run into a bad bit of luck, then I'd read or hear something completely racist, and I'd think, "Damn Doris Day! I *hate* the South!" It was an intellectually challenging trip, sorting through the monuments, trying to figure out what they were *really* saying (I hope my photo of the Harper's Ferry monument turns out, there's a dissertation to be written about that one). We had so many great conversations about what the war meant then, what it means now...

We really want to do the western theater of the Civil War, for some reason I've always been drawn to Shiloh. We were discussing in the car last night, coming up with ways to do it in a rental car so we didn't have to drive through the South with Yankee that whacked out or what? But, the Civil War is still going on on various levels. Yesterday at Burnside Bridge (Antietam), we heard a southerner call Harper's Weekly a "Yankee magazine," and he meant it exactly how it sounded, derisively. I've never thought of myself as much a Yankee--I'm from Washington, after all--but after visiting New Orleans, then going back to the South again and again, I've come to really identify as a Yankee (which is not to say that I identify as a Unionist, though). Catherine is really stressed about spending time in the western theater--she had a nightmare last night in which we were chased by a sheriff in Mississippi, and when he caught up to the car, he pulled the door open and grabbed her. She woke up just as he was going to break her arm. So, spending so much time with the Confederacy has made her somewhat anxious, I would say.

It was sad having to leave Catherine at home this morning to come into the office--a little like separating conjoined twins, I guess, since we spent that last nine days together, 24/7. I guess that's a sign of a good marriage, when you can spend so much time together and still like each other enough to want to do it all over again.

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