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Random Fragments

July - September 2011

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Commuter

The Civil War @ 150

Perry-Romney 2012

Hiking the Gems in GC

Random Fragments

Sunday, July 31, 2011

   The Loneliness of the Long Distance Commuter - I recently returned from a trip to the Washington, D.C. area.  I go every few years to visit family.  I usually try to plan some activity that will take me to some Civil War battlefields and this trip was no exception.  But, more on that later.

     While there, I took two metro trips into town.  That's the map to the right.  It seems reasonably efficient and I don't mind riding it.  I don't want to think about how much it cost and whether or not it was worth taxpayer money.  And, I don't want to think about the fact that the government runs this operation.  Indeed, there is a proposal to add another line - the Purple Line - and quite a bit of opposition to it.

     But, what I noticed, once again, was how solitary the riders were.  Virtually everyone, especially during the rush hour commute to work, was a sole rider.  And, while the car was jam packed with people, everyone maintained his/her own distinct eco-vironment (that's probably not a word, so when it is, remember I coined it!).  That is, people were engaged in their own personal activities - reading a book, reading a paper, reading a Kindle,  or doing games, reading, or e-mail on their phones.  And, kept their eyes averted from making contact with anyone else.  It was really quite bizarre.  Apparently, it is a violation of common courtesy to look around at people.  Which is what I did.  But, not that much.  I tended to look out the window a lot.  When you get to the tunnels, that is pretty boring!

     So, why is it that in this place of socialization, people do not socialize?  Sure, there must be some unsavory folks here, but I suspect most are OK people.  I guess it is because people feel like they are forced to socialize because of their need for this transportation.

     You do see a difference during the off-peak hours when there are more tourists.  They are in bigger groups and tend to be much more chatty.  You also see this at the shuttles up at the Grand Canyon (where everyone on board is a tourist!).  So, it must have something to do with how voluntary the experience is - the less so, the more one isolates themselves.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

   The Civil War @ 150 - I was visiting family back in the Washington, D.C. area and, as I am wont to do, I made sure to see some Civil War sites.  As luck would have it, this year marks the beginning of 4 years of events commemorating 150 years since that time, and the biggest kickoff was going to be a re-enactment of the Battle of Manassas/Bull Run.  Over 8,000 re-enactors were participating in this event, and I was able to go.  We arrived early - 

Click on any photo to see a larger image. 

Early morning arrivals at the Union Camp. 

Dawn breaks over the Union camp.

a bit after 6 a.m., caught a shuttle to the grounds (about 2 miles from the actual 1861 battle, but relatively close to the the site of the 1862 battle).  There were bleachers and standing room areas and the place was packed to the gills.  It was a hot and humid week in the nation's capitol, and free water was being constantly distributed.  Since this was the real start to many more such commemorative events, I decided to ask the editor of my local paper if he'd be interested in a story.  He was, and it ran on Sunday, August 7.  Here is the article, along with some of my photos:

The Civil War: Let the re-enactments begin
Dennis Foster

     In the early afternoon of July 21, 1861, Captains Ricketts and Griffin marshal their artillery batteries into position to attack the unsupported flank of Colonel Thomas Jackson’s brigade.  The thunderous roar of the Federal cannon fills the air.  The Confederate cannon respond in kind.  Smoke covers the field as the first major battle of the Civil War rages on over the plains of Manassas.

Confederate forces (foreground, left) trade gunfire
with Union troops in the early morning battle. 

Confederate forces are outnumbered and are
soon to retreat from Matthews Hill.

     During a scorching week this past July, over eight thousand participants have come to a small town in Virginia to help commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Manassas, the first large scale conflict of the Civil War.  They have come to re-enact the battle, wearing period clothing, armed with period weapons and giving the tens of thousands that have come to watch a brief glimpse of life during that turbulent time.  They are living in camps on the grounds and spend time practicing battle formations.  As we walk around the encampments in the early morning hours, you can half close your eyes and feel as if you have been transported back in time.  Some soldiers are starting to get up, while others stoke small fires.  Others are practicing drills, while a blacksmith is already hard at work.

     We marvel at the bravery and courage of men thrust into war.  We know that there are no bullets, and that the cannon fire blanks, but still we feel some of the realism of the actual event.  We follow the successes and failures of both sides, as this is a war among ourselves.  We can extol the virtue of men fighting for what they believe in, for a cause that unites them, even if the reasons for war, as is so often the case, are flawed.

     Earlier in the day Federal forces, commanded by Colonel Burnside, marched around the Confederate left and crossed the Bull Run nearly undetected.  They were slowed down when Generals Bee and Bartow rallied their men to make a stand on Matthews Hill.  With the entry of Colonel Sherman’s brigade, the Confederate lines crumbled and they retreated to nearby Henry Hill, where Colonel Jackson had just deployed his men.  Jackson’s Virginians stopped the Federal forces, earning him the famous nickname of “Stonewall” Jackson.

Last of the Confederate forces engaged in
battle before giving up Matthews Hill. 

Following the Union success at Matthews Hill,
a lull was punctuated by an artillery duel.

     Of course the issue of slavery is unrelentingly entwined into the birth of the Civil War.  Clearly, it was the driving force for secession in the seven states of the deep South that left the Union before President Lincoln even assumed office.  However, this motivation becomes more complicated for four other slave states that refused to secede until hostilities broke out and President Lincoln called for the raising of an army to quell the rebellion by force.  And, even with one-third of the states in secession, there still remained four other slave states that remained with the Union.

     Likewise, when it comes to the personalities involved, the issue of slavery was convoluted in a way that today we can hardly understand.  The sitting Vice President under Lincoln owned slaves at the outset of the war.  General Grant had owned at least one slave in the late 1850s.  Confederate General Longstreet owned no slaves.  General Pickett, who led a futile charge at Gettysburg, not only didn’t own slaves, but was vocal in his opposition to this execrable institution.

     Indeed, if the Civil War had ended with a Federal victory that day near Manassas, it isn’t clear that slavery wouldn’t have persisted for years, or decades, to come, as Lincoln had no initial intention of challenging slavery in the existing slave states.  It wasn’t until the fall of 1862, with the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation that abolishing slavery became a formal goal of Union efforts in winning the war.

     Today, we have the luxury of knowing how the Civil War turned out and that the terrible price, paid in blood, bought an end to slavery.  Consequently, we can be more detached and relive the battles, immerse ourselves in the tactics and strategies of the two opposing armies, while acknowledging Robert E. Lee’s famous words, “It is well that war is so terrible lest we should grow too fond of it.” 

     The battle seesawed throughout the afternoon, but the arrival of fresh Confederate troops tipped the balance and broke the Federal attack.  As their lines came apart, the retreat turned chaotic and Major Stuart led his cavalry in pursuit.  This attack was met by Major Sykes’ U.S. Regular Infantry, which formed an “infantry square,” a defensive formation that ended the attack and allowed the Federal forces to withdraw.  

The battle for Henry Hill with Confederate forces
(under Jackson), on the left, hold off Union advance. 

Union lines begin to break as fresh Confederate
forces are thrown into battle.

     The events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War will continue for the next four years.  They will offer innumerable opportunities for us to study and contemplate this period of our history.  And, at the end of the day, we can recall these words from President Lincoln’s second inaugural address, “With malice toward none, and charity for all . . . let us strive on . . . to bind up the nation’s wounds.”

Dennis Foster has lived in Flagstaff for more than 20 years, but was born in Washington, D.C.  He has maintained a strong interest in the Civil War and has visited many of its battlefields. 

For more information:  

The National Park Service maintains most of the Civil War battlefields and will be offering many commemorative events.  Find out more on their web page:

You can find a more comprehensive listing of Civil War activities here:

Perhaps the most notable re-enactment will occur at Gettysburg, in 2013.  Keep up with this event through their Visitors’ Bureau:

To read more on the Civil War, James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom is an excellent place to start.

To learn about the individual battles of the Civil War, The Civil War Battlefield Guide, published by The Conservation Fund is an indispensable resource.

Cavalry on parade.

The 2nd So. Carolina String Band.

A small unit of Union infantry do
some early morning drilling
in preparation for the
coming battle.

Hard not to root for both sides!

Stonewall Jackson statue.

     A few additional comments . . .

Jackson a general.  I relied on the official program for military rank - Burnsides & Sherman were both colonels at this time.  But, later I read that Jackson had been promoted to general a month before the battle.  So, I missed that.  Also, I identified Bartow as a general, although he was a colonel at the time of battle.  He died shortly after being wounded during the battle and was the first brigade commander to die in the Civil War.  He was posthumously made a general, so I thought it fitting to refer to him that way.

Slavery.  As I point out in my article, slavery was an undeniable motive force in inciting the Civil War.  Yet, today Confederate re-enactors, and those that embrace their southern heritage, would have nothing to do with slavery.  Instead, they focus on other aspects of what is often referred to as the "War of Northern Aggression."  And, I for one, am glad they do.  While some deride Confederate symbols as synonymous with slavery, others have pointed out that slavery existed for more years under the "stars and stripes" than it did under the "stars and bar."  Additionally, if slavery is the one single criteria for judging the moral worth of the cause of the Confederacy, consider that such a criteria would tend to make our victory in the Revolutionary War regrettable.  After all, Britain abolished slavery in the 1830s, and if we had lost that contest in 1776, perhaps slavery would have ended earlier for us.  Food for thought.

Blacks were in attendance.  There were some blacks at this event, and some even participating in period costumes.  Not in large numbers, to be sure, but I think more than you would see at a NASCAR race, or at the Grand Canyon.  At the battle re-enactment site, and for the overall commemoration, there were a number of events that focused on blacks during the Civil War, whether slave or free.  One fascinating story in this regard involves "Gentleman" Jim Robinson, a free black man living on his farm at Henry Hill.

Friday, August 19, 2011

   Perry-Romney 2012 - I don't really know much about Rick Perry, and I can't say that I really trust Mitt Romney to hold to free market principles, but I am rather attracted to the idea of this pairing for the next presidential election.  I haven't really looked around to see if anyone else has opined on this match up, so it is not likely to be much of an original thought with me.  Still, I like the idea of a businessman (or, woman) as a member of the national ticket, and so I like Romney in the supporting role.  I know that the press has taken Perry to task for his recent comments on the Fed and man-made global warming, but I found his comments refreshingly honest.  So, while my enthusiasm may not last (exactly what did happen to Gary Johnson's invisible campaign??), I offer up this preliminary bumper sticker (ah, if only you could download it into your LCD device!) along with some miscellaneous comments:

Prosperity.  I think that the key to the next election will revolve around the economy and what the electorate finds most compelling (again, not exactly rocket science).  I pondered about how to play off the P and R in their names and was considering "Prosperity & Revitalization."  Yuck.  I was put off by the idea of it standing for "public relations," but opponents will probably find that a suitable come back.  In the end, I liked that I could use the P and R together.

Renewing the American Dream.  I was considering "restoring" instead, but didn't like the idea that it just argues for a return to the good old days, since there is plenty to complain about them!  I settled on "renewing" because it allows one to be forward looking and yet argue for a reinvigoration of all that we like about the "American Dream."

The shining city on the hill.  OK, I stole that visual from Ronald Reagan's famous allegory.  In fact, I stole the image (I mean, made fair use of that image) from some Reagan site.  I tried to make the path of "Prosperity" lead to that idealized "shining city on the hill."

The star.  OK, I also stole the star.  From the McCain campaign of 2008.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

   Hiking the Gems in GC - I have hiked the Grand Canyon for over thirty years and covered some pretty spectacular terrain.  Yet, I had never done the so-called "Gems" hike, which is hiking along the Tonto Trail between Boucher Canyon and the South Bass Trail.  This past spring break, I got a chance to do this hike, in no small part due to my continued recovery from an operation to replace my torn ACL.  If you hit this just right, as we did, it can be a magical and pleasant trek that offers lots of grand scenery, brushes with history and ample water.

To read the full hiking blog, go to The Gems:  South Bass to Hermit
located in the Hiking Grand Canyon section of the Kaibab Journal. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

   Random Fragments - I should probably do more of these, but so it goes . . .

If it's not a choice, it's not a problem.  I recently bought a Samsung Galaxy Tab, WiFi only.  I got it because I got my dad the same thing, but with 3G service so he could connect to the web through something other than his obsolete dial up modem and laptop with Windows 95!  I spent a couple of days learning how it works and then drove up to Denver and spent a couple of days with him going over features (he really likes to do on-line banking).  OK, insofar as it goes.  But, when I ask him about it, and he tries to explain what happens when he makes certain selections, I had trouble following him, even though its Android system is quite similar to my smart phone.  So, I got one for me, but I don't need the 3G so I just got the WiFi model.  Turns out to be a bit of a mistake.  Some operating differences, and, as I have come to find out, some connection problems.  Apparently, when my wireless router has to make some IP changes, the Samsung won't figure that out and it gets hung up trying to connect.  From what I have read on the web, I might have to do a factory reset, or I might have to find some special software that will allow me to detect and delete the cached file that the Samsung is storing the IP address in, or something else.  Anyway, after reading about this in three, or four, on-line forums, I went to the Samsung site to see if there was info out there.  Nothing!!?!  So, I decided to fill out an e-mail from their help section.  It required me to identify the type of item, make, and model number.  But, when I chose mobile device and wifi tablet, it wouldn't give me a choice for model number nor let me enter one.  Consequently, it wouldn't take my e-mail!!!  Aargh!!!  So, I chose a Sprint smart phone instead and in my message I wrote that "This is not what I have!!!!  But, you won't let me choose what I have!!!" and so on.  We'll see.  Seems like I should be able to do a work around, but maybe a pain in the  . . . samsung!

NAU 9/11 flag flap.  Some of my students were handing out small American Flags at the University Union last Friday, in commemoration of 9/11.  They had a permit to set up a table outside for this.  Then, it started raining and they moved inside, staying out the way and continuing with their activity.  Then, the powers that be descended upon them.  The quick-witted organizer filmed it and put it up on YouTube.  The story was picked up by Drudge and showed up in a Fox News blog as well as a Townhall blog.  The local paper ran a front page story on it as well.  Much of the local response is both predictable and inane.  This shouldn't even have been an issue.  The school officials should have just found a way to accommodate this group of students - did I mention that there were 3 of them?  Just looking around, there were more students congregating in ad hoc groups than these three.  And, did I mention that these were small flags that you can hold in your hand, or maybe tape to your pencil?  Clearly, they represented a threat to the public order.  I haven't checked recently, but I thought that at Tiananmen Square, the rule was to break up groups of five or more.  Perhaps, officials at NAU can relax their standards and adopt the more liberal Chinese rule?  But, that's not how bureaucrats think.  And, certainly that's not how they think when it comes to conservative students.  It's too bad we can't just have a "Use Common Sense" rule!  Later, I was talking with a student about this issue and was told that in the morning there are usually 20-40 students lined up in this very space, at the Starbucks, blocking the doors and congesting the whole area.  Nobody ever comes out to ask for their permit.

Katrina made me do it!  I was watching John Stossel's most excellent show, Stupid in America.  He raised the point that there are now more kids in charter schools in New Orleans than in public schools.  The reason?  Hurricane Katrina.  It wiped out so much infrastructure that the city was pretty much forced to allow for competition (i.e., capitalism) in order to meet their education needs.  Hmm . . . quite a lesson here, but nobody else seems to be talking about it!  Indeed, he had one commentator remark about how we tend to reinvent ourselves after such natural catastrophes, and he cited the San Francisco earthquake and the Chicago fire as additional examples.  But, of course this is disingenuous.  It misses the point that it takes a natural disaster to finally allow us to throw off the shackles of corrupt government and give the market a chance to bloom, reinvigorating our lives.  If only we could learn that lesson without having the natural disasters!!

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