Friday, February 28, 2014

Documentary Review: History Chanel: Gettysburg

I thought it must have been me, but this documentary does not start well.  It begins with giving no context, at the railroad cut, and the viewer really doesn’t know what is going on.  I thought maybe my DVD version was missing something; but I have read other reviews which had the same complaint so I guess not.  The History Channel seemed to use this battle to show lots of bloody and gory scenes, while doing a poor job of telling the story.  They focused on the battle through town, as the Union troops pulled back to Cemetery Ridge.  The second day they concentrate on Sickles defense on the Union left.  He had pulled too far forward leaving himself vulnerable.  However it does not mention the far left of the Union line, Chamberlain on Little round Top.   That was a disappointment to me.  They did a better job of explaining Picket’s charge the final day of the battle.  The day started with the largest artillery barrage in history as the confederate artillery tried to chase the Union artillery from the field.  They did not succeed.  The documentary had an excerpt about the Union cannon used, and the shell and shot, and the devastating effect this had on the Confederate attackers.  The Confederate strength was pretty much used up before they reached the Union lines, from facing the artillery barrage across a field of a over a mile.  Just as General Meade did not follow up with the defeated the retreating Confederate Army, this documentary did not follow up well with telling the aftermath of the battle.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Book Review: Rescue of the 1856 Handcart Companies

Rescue of the 1856 Handcart Companies  Rebecca Cornwall and Leonard J. Arrington  Charles Redd Monographs in Western History No. 11  Brigham Young University Press 1981.
This is a very interesting piece of history.  For whatever reason, the last two handcart companies of 1856 were late, and without rescue all would have perished.  When Franklin Richards arrived in Salt Lake with a group of returning missionaries on October 4 he reported to Brigham Young that four companies were still on the plains, two handcart and two wagon, Brigham went into immediate action.  He convened a meeting that night to discuss what was needed, and then introduced the rescue of the handcarts as the theme of conference the next day.  Notes indicate Brigham Young was directly involved in the planning, how much provisions to send and how.  “One brother [Daniel Jones] was impressed that the president was in earnest; he seemed moved by a spirit that would admit of no delay.  Of course the rescuers met the Willie Company first; but not before they hit a significant storm themselves.  Brother Willie went forward, putting his own life in peril, and found the rescuers and encouraged them to come forward.  This lead to the scene at Rocky Ridge, where the handcart pioneers struggled up the rocky hill, and many of them perishing after giving their all.
The Martin Company was still imperiled.  They same storm had stopped them at the Platt, after the last crossing.  Joseph Young, Abel Garr and Dan Jones as the lead scouts, found them in poor condition, and unable to move.  They asked Captain Martin to distribute food to the hungry Saints and informed them they must press on to Devil’s Gate where ten wagons of provisions were waiting.  They made an heroic effort to move on the next day, and after checking on the wagon companies, Dan Jones came back upon them in their struggle, “A condition of distress here met my eyes that I never saw before or since.  The train was strung out for three or four miles.  There were old men pulling and tugging their cars, sometimes loaded with a sick wife or children—women pulling along sick husbands—little children six to eight years old struggling through the mud and snow.  As night came on the mud would freeze on their clothes and feet.  There were two of us and hundreds needing help.  What could we do?  We gathered onto some of the most helpless with our riatas [lariats] tied to the carts, and helped as many as we could into camp on Avenue Hill.”
The provisions for relief were almost exhausted before the Martin Company met the relief wagons, however provisions of clothing and shoes and socks were distributed.  This included “102 pairs of boots and shoes, 157 pairs of socks and stockings, 30 quilts and comforters, 100 frock coats and jackets of various kinds, 36 hoods, 80 petticoats and bloomers, 27 handkerchiefs, 14 neckties, and 8 pairs of mittens.”  The great benefit to the company was one of the young men.  Heber McBride (whose father had passed away a couple weeks earlier) would later say, “…As they were hearty and strong they took upon themselves to [do] all the work about the Camp and the Captens of companies had no more to say….  The men from Salt Lake would clean off the snow and pitch the tents and get wood for all the families that had lost their Father and then they would help the rest what the could.  
Nov 2 Brigham Young expressed in early November, “We can return home and sit down and warm our feet before the fire, and can eat our bread and butter, etc., but my mind is yonder in the snow, where those immigrating saints are, and my mind has been with them ever since I had the report of their start from Winter Quarters on the 3rd of September.  I cannot talk about anything, I cannot go out or come in but what in every minute or two minutes my mind reverts to them.”   

Of note to Isaac’s history is the difficulty it was to pitch tents.  The pioneers were met with another northern storm while at Devil’s Gate.  The temperature dropped to eleven degrees and there were 18 inches of Snow on the ground.   (See p 22)  “Many of the immigrant men were so weak that it took them an hour to scrape clear a space on which to pitch their tents.  ‘The boys’ had to drive the stakes for them into the frozen ground.”  (p 22)   
Even though more provisions had not arrived, the weather improved slightly and on Sunday, November 9 they moved out of Martins Cove.   “Many handcarts were indeed left behind, but only the very weak were permitted to ride in wagons.  (p 24)
November 11, as the immigrants were preparing their camp they were met by Ephraim Hanks.  Ephraim Hanks provided spiritual healings as well as physical.  The company arrived in Salt Lake November 30.  About 20 percent of the company perished, or over 160-170 of 600.  The average loss of life of all the immigrant companies was about six percent. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Book Review: Who Would Win Rhino vs. Hippo (2014)

This is a Scholastic book my first grader brought home. It is one of a series of books on this subject. It is written by Jerry Palotta and illustrated by Rob Bolster.  I like the concept.  It is geared towards getting people interested in finding out about animals by supposing they should have a fight.   It does present some interesting facts.  Rhinoceros is the second largest land animal four tons, hippopotamus the third largest land mammal three tons.  Hippopotamus means water horse.  Both black rhinos and white rhinos are grey.  Hippos also come in pygmy size (a different species of hippo).  Both rhinos and hippos feed on grass.  Hippos graze at night and rhinos during the day.  Hippos have fish that eat their excrement, and clean their teeth.  Rhinos have a bird that eat tics, blood sucking flies and insect larvae and fleas, and ear wax.  Rhinos have three toes, and hippos four.   Hippos have many sharp teeth and tusks which make them a formidable creature.  They kill more humans than any other animal in Africa, and can also kill crocodiles.  The horn of the rhinoceros is not as formidable as a hippo’s teeth, but their size and speed (thirty miles per hour) make them very dangerous, especially if angry.  A human cannot outrun a rhinoceros.  Both rhinos and hippos have thick skin.  A rhino can have skin an inch and a half, while a hippo has skin over two inches thick.  The anatomy of the hippo allows it to swim with its nose, ears and eyes out of the water.  It can also sleep under water, but has to surface every four minutes to breath.  A group of rhinos is a crash of rhinos.  A group of hippos is a bloat of hippos.  The rear ends of both the hippo and rhino are very similar. 
So who would win a fight?  Speed and size or teeth?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Documentary Review: PBS The Mormons

This movie was a great disappointment to me.  I would think PBS could give an unbiased account of the Mormons, instead they gave a sounding board to disgruntled Mormons, or non believers in which they were encouraged to talk about sacred things in a less than sacred manner.  This included so called "issues with intellectualism" and delving into everything which might be considered negative.  It included such statements as...  No I don't think I will repeat them.  Bottom line, as a Mormon I found this PBS program to be offensive, very much so.  The talk about polygamy, and missed the point as to whey Mormons would practice it.  They quoted someone saying that Brigham Young must have ordered Mountain Meadows, because he controlled everything and knew everything that happened in Utah.  It talked about our sacred temple ceremonies, and it quoted excommunicated and disgruntled women as experts on Mormon culture.  There were only a few redeeming things, talking with a woman about what temple marriage meant to her, the comments of an African American woman who converted to the church.  However most of this was offensive.  It turns me off to other PBS programing.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Book Review: Utah: Big Buddy Books: Explore the United States.

This book is written to the second or third grade level.  I grabbed it because I wanted to know what people were saying about Utah.  It was written by Sarah Tieck.  Some of the pictures are very interesting.  Delicate Arch  is on the front, a good picture of the Salt Lake temple and tabernacle are included.  It also has views of Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks.  It also mentions Golden Spike where the railroad lines came together.  The famous people from Utah it mentions are Brigham Young and Donny and Marie Osmond.  There is a picture of the handcart pioneers I had never seen before.  I explains that Utah did not become a state until 1896 because “U.S. Congress disagreed with some of the Mormon beliefs.”  This book was brief, and it spent a few pages worrying about the theme of the nation rather than Utah. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Documentary Review: American Experience: Death and the Civil War (2012)

After the initial fuss was over, the North and the South settled into real war, and the casualty figures were such that neither side was prepared to death with the slaughter, with the dead.  There was no way in tact for getting bodies home, nor was there proper burial details to inter the bodies where they were.  Bodies lying battlefield, and subsequent photographic essays of these bodies brought the carnage home to the citizenry. 
Even though the paper would publish military records of the deceased, often these were incomplete, or mistakes were made.  If it listed someone as wounded, they often later died.  There were demands for change.  This started with volunteer societies, including Clara Barton's, which brought some relief.  Still many bodies were interred in mass graves, and many were left unburied.  There were some improvements, and a Union organization helped with some reclamation of bodies, but even at the end of the war there was much to do.  On the Union side, Clara Barton published stories in papers.  Sometimes this lead to closure.  Money was expended for the recovery of bodies and a commission set up, after convincing the government that they were responsible to see the bodies were returned home.  These efforts lead to the ability to locate many bodies, and the establishment of National Cemeteries on battlefields throughout the country.  Those of Southern extraction, noted that Confederate troops were left out, and eventually provision was made for the search of these bodies as well.  on the Union side 55 percent of the deceased were identified.  The statistics were worse for the Southern soldiers.  Many were left in unmarked graves.
You may also want to review this essay by Walt Whitman
or this previous post on death and the Civil War.
The American attitude toward death, and military death in particular changed as a result of the war.  Since there has been greater effort to get the remains home.  Also Memorial Day was established as a time to remember our fallen soldiers. 
This movie can be graphic, but it does make you stop and think.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Book Review: Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi

Sometimes you come across something which you have never heard of before, and this is one of those times.  Of course I had heard of great Indian mounds, but a city just north of East St. Louis, which rivaled the giant Aztec pyramids of Mexico, that is something new to me.  What is more, this city has been studied by archeologist since the early 1900s and is a State Park.
The story of Cahokia is even more fascinating.  The city began about 1050 AD, or about the same time as a great supernova in the heavens.  There had been others living in the area before, but this structures were torn down, and Cahokia built over the top.  Some of the mounds, for total mass, rival the pyramids of Teotihuacan.  The third largest pyramid of the new world is Monk's Mound.  There is also a grand plaza, on which was laid soil and sand and was likely a place for the playing of Chunky, a game with small rolling stones, and then participants would try to hit the stones with spears.
Many of the structures were burial mounds.  Some of them were built so as to provide theatrical religious shows, and these shows often including human sacrifices especially of women.  Sacrifice may have appeased the gods, but also been used to kill political competitors.
In its heyday the city had a population of 10-15,000 people.  Sometimes they had great city wide feasts, as manifested by junk mounds.  They were also closely ties with neighboring communities, which had poorer economic conditions as manifested by poorer diets.  One of these communities likely supplied young women for sacrifice.
Whether they were influenced by Meso-America or influenced Meso-America is not certain, but they have many similarities, including belief in twin gods (good and evil.) 
The city only lasted a couple hundred years, but its influence lasted much longer.  They perfected warfare by overwhelming attack (there is a site in South Dakota, Crow Creek, where a village of 800-900 was massacred by such an attack in fourteenth century.), there religious beliefs and artifacts are found in many other locations indicating a wide area of trade and interest.  Many Native American groups may be descended from the original Cahokians. 
Another significant find is a rock petroglyph along the Mississippi in Southern Illinois which is an actual map of the Mississippi.
This book is written by Timothy R. Pauketat and published by Penguin Books in 2009.  My only complaint is a few more maps may have been nice, although there are a couple. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Walt Whitman: Prose of the Dead of the Civil War

I hear this prose quoted in a documentary on the Civil War and Death.  It touched me, and so I am sharing it hear.  Whitman had a special view of the war, to which he lent his prose and poetry.
I previously wrote on this topic.
Walt Whitman (1819–1892).  Prose Works. 1892.
I. Specimen Days
100. The Million Dead, Too, Summ’d Up
THE DEAD in this war—there they lie, strewing the fields and woods and valleys and battle-fields of the south—Virginia, the Peninsula—Malvern hill and Fair Oaks—the banks of the Chickahominy—the terraces of Fredericksburgh—Antietam bridge—the grisly ravines of Manassas—the bloody promenade of the Wilderness—the varieties of the strayed dead, (the estimate of the War department is 25,000 national soldiers kill’d in battle and never buried at all, 5,000 drown’d—15,000 inhumed by strangers, or on the march in haste, in hitherto unfound localities—2,000 graves cover’d by sand and mud by Mississippi freshets, 3,000 carried away by caving-in of banks, &c.,)—Gettysburgh, the West, Southwest—Vicksburgh—Chattanooga—the trenches of Petersburgh—the numberless battles, camps, hospitals everywhere—the crop reap’d by the mighty reapers, typhoid, dysentery, inflammations—and blackest and loathesomest of all, the dead and living burial-pits, the prison-pens of Andersonville, Salisbury, Belle-Isle, &c., (not Dante’s pictured hell and all its woes, its degradations, filthy torments, excell’d those prisons)—the dead, the dead, the dead—our dead—or South or North, ours all, (all, all, all, finally dear to me)—or East or West—Atlantic coast or Mississippi valley—somewhere they crawl’d to die, alone, in bushes, low gullies, or on the sides of hills—(there, in secluded spots, their skeletons, bleach’d bones, tufts of hair, buttons, fragments of clothing, are occasionally found yet)—our young men once so handsome and so joyous, taken from us—the son from the mother, the husband from the wife, the dear friend from the dear friend—the clusters of camp graves, in Georgia, the Carolinas, and in Tennessee—the single graves left in the woods or by the road-side, (hundreds, thousands, obliterated)—the corpses floated down the rivers, and caught and lodged, (dozens, scores, floated down the upper Potomac, after the cavalry engagements, the pursuit of Lee, following Gettysburgh)—some lie at the bottom of the sea—the general million, and the special cemeteries in almost all the States—the infinite dead—(the land entire saturated, perfumed with their impalpable ashes’ exhalation in Nature’s chemistry distill’d, and shall be so forever, in every future grain of wheat and ear of corn, and every flower that grows, and every breath we draw)—not only Northern dead leavening Southern soil—thousands, aye tens of thousands, of Southerners, crumble to-day in Northern earth.   1
  And everywhere among these countless graves—everywhere in the many soldier Cemeteries of the Nation, (there are now, I believe, over seventy of them)—as at the time in the vast trenches, the depositories of slain, Northern and Southern, after the great battles—not only where the scathing trail passed those years, but radiating since in all the peaceful quarters of the land—we see, and ages yet may see, on monuments and gravestones, singly or in masses, to thousands or tens of thousands, the significant word Unknown.   2
  (In some of the cemeteries nearly all the dead are unknown. At Salisbury, N. C., for instance, the known are only 85, while the unknown are 12,027, and 11,700 of these are buried in trenches. A national monument has been put up here, by order of Congress, to mark the spot—but what visible, material monument can ever fittingly commemorate that spot?)   3

Documentary Review: Pompeii: Back from the Dead (2012)

This movie is a documentary with historical reenactment, which depicts the final days of Pompeii based on archaeological information and excavation.  It is written and directed by Paul Elston and was presented on Discovery Channel.  The interesting thing about this presentation is the discovery of 74 bodies from a cellar.  It is assumed they took refuge, but later succumbed to the lack of air.  One interesting not is that this group of bones were segregated based on class.  The master was a merchant, who likely make considerable money in the merchant trade.  The other bones are likely those of his slaves and servants.  However is wife is there, and she pregnant, which is probably why they didn't flee the island.  From the excrement they found in Pompeii, they could examine local diet.
Another thing I didn't know, Pompeii was not the only city destroyed by the volcano.  Also Herculanean was destroyed. 
Another, there was warning with tremors and other activity before the big blast.  About half of the residents had left, but many also stayed.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Book Review: Argentina: Enchantment of the World


Argentina: Enchantment of the World,
This is a book which put out by scholastic in 2007 and written by Jean Blashfield  It is a fairly good geography of Argentina.  I has plenty of pictures which talk about some of the wonders in Argentina.  It talks of the water falls, and the high mountains, of the different zones.  One of the things I did not know about was the cave of the hands in Southern Argentina.  This impressed me.  (It is a theme at the first of the movie Croods where they imply the hand means “no”.) 
This book is very thorough, from talk about the animals, to the people, to the landscape, to the history.  It talks about everyday life, including mate, alfajores, carne asado and empanadas.  It misses talking about dulce, but it does point out that over 90 percent of Argentines are of European descent.  The mestizo and indigenous populations are small.  It mentions a large middle class, but then a third of the population live in poverty.   It mentions the slums or villas.  It talks about the love of sport, including soccer and polo.  
ON thing I didn’t like about the book is its portrayal of Che Guevara as a hero.  It only says he thought Communism was the way to go, and does not mention  the in fact he was affiliated with a murderous  dictatorship and murdered people himself. 
It does an adequate job of talking about los desaparecidos (the disappeared) and the history of dictatorships in Argentina.  It includes a little piece on butch Cassidy, which also seems out of place.  It also handles the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) War.