Category Archives: History

19th Century Day

On 2.2.22, this guy, who was born in ’61, turned 61. (I’m not sure, but this may make me the antichrist.)

That’s 22,314 days. 22,314 days before that it was New Years Eve, 1899, and people were living the final moments of the 19th century.

For generations of Smith

As my birthday approached, I got to thinking. It’s probably common enough, once you reach a certain age, to reflect on all that has happened in the world during your lifetime. Something made me ask the next question: what about the 61 years before that? Take my birthday as the center-point, and compare the span before with what’s come after.

In 1899, William McKinley was president. Joe Biden would be born 21 years later. My great-grandfather Charlie was eight.

A majority of Americans lived in rural areas. 44,628 days later, there are very real questions about whether the damage we’ve done to the environment is fixable.

Indoor plumbing, telephones, and cars were rare. Only the well-off could afford an automobile, for instance, and the manufacturer options included a variety of household names:

1899 Mobile steam car

Steam: Century, Grout, Kensington, Keystone, Kidder, Leach, Liquid Air, Locomobile, Mobile (pre Stanley Steamer), Strathmore, Victor Steam, Waltham Steam; electric: American Electric, Baker, Columbia (taxi), Electric Vehicle, Quinby, Stearns, US Automobile, Van Wagoner, Woods; internal-combustion: American, Black, Bramwell-Robinson, Gasmobile, Gurley, Holyoke, International, Media, Oakman-Hertel, Packard (Ohio), Quick, Sintz

Ford wouldn’t be incorporated until 1903.

Top tech innovations in the last decade of the 1800s included the escalator, the zipper, the Cinematographe, and the motor-driven vacuum cleaner. The zeppelin and the air conditioner were right around the corner. The first successful radio transmission happened in 1901. Now we engineer genomes and know a staggering amount about the first seconds after the Big Bang. Don’t get me started on quantum mechanics.

The Wright Brothers also weren’t due up until 1903. Last week, a Chinese spaceship crashed into the dark side of the moon.

On Dec. 31, 1899, the US was closer to the Civil War than World War II.

I was lead writer on a “future of cybersecurity” guide recently published by my company. In it, I talk about artificial intelligence, quantum computing and cryptography, deepfakes, a trillion-IoT device world, hackable pacemakers and insulin pumps, flying taxis, autonomous killbots, an “i-condom,” and lots more fun stuff to keep you up at night. Some of it is very near-future (as in, less than a decade). Some of it is already happening.

Why is this important?

Heck if I know. It probably isn’t. We all know things have changed, are changing, and will keep changing. We know the pace is vertigo-inducing, we know the scale is epochal, and we may feel it’s all we can do to hang on.

And we all have our own frames for thinking about it. For managing it.

This is mine, and it’s been a fascinating exercise in personal perspective.

In case you’re wondering, 22,314 days from today is April 9, 2083. It will be a Friday.

If We Shouldn’t Judge the Founders by Our Values, Should We Live by Theirs?

Philadelphia Union honors those killed by police.

Philadelphia Union honors those killed by police.Our recent protests, sparked mainly by the Minneapolis PD’s nonchalant murder of George Floyd – with the cameras rolling, even – are roiling American society. Institutions are challenged. Assumptions are ravaged. The whole of the American metanarrative is seemingly up for review. Read more

Why Am I So Cynical About Mississippi? Consider Georgia.

Recently the Rev. Dickie and I devoted a little time to clowning Mississippi and its decision to remove the Confederate battle jack from its flag. It has since been suggested to me, privately, that I shouldn’t hassle people who are doing the right thing.

Maybe. I mean, better 150 years late than never, right?

But there are reasons to reserve judgment. Consider Mississippi’s friend and neighbor, Georgia. Read more

BREAKING: New Mississippi Flag Design Leaked

Both houses of the Mississippi legislature yesterday voted to remove the Confederate battle jack from the state’s flag. Gov. Tate Reeves has said he will sign the bill.

In anticipation of this move a team of artists and historians have spent the past week working on a new flag design. An anonymous source shared the proposed new flag with Lullaby Pit early this morning. Read more

NASCAR’s Nuts Are in a Vice

NASCAR this week announced they’re banning the Confederate battle jack from all properties and events. Ray Ciccarelli, who was in witness protection on the truck circuit, immediately announced he was quitting in protest. The drama continued this morning as Jimmie Johnson, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch said they were severing their relationships with a helmet designer who decided to double down on heritage racism. Read more

Kent State and 75 Minutes That Changed My Life


I was nine when Kent State happened. I was a very current events-minded kid and read about it in the paper and saw the news. But I didn’t really understand it all.

So I absorbed the narrative around me: buncha damned hippie punks got what they deserved.

The event was never a big deal in my life. I grew up “knowing” what I’d heard.

Then, in college, I had a Sociology prof who, we learned, had gone to Kent. In fact, he’d been on the organizing committee for the rally and had graduated the year before. He had first-hand knowledge of basically everything. We talked him into taking a day and doing a presentation for us.

This was a Tuesday/Thursday class, an hour and 15 minutes. Most students preferred the shorter (50-minute) MWFs, but this one could have held our attention for days. None of us wanted to leave. Everybody wanted to know more.

That 75 minutes changed my life. My time in school had already made clear the world wasn’t always what I’d thought it was. But … armed National Guardsmen opening fire into a crowd of unarmed undergrads. Kids who were a lot like us. Kids heartbroken and outraged that other kids a lot like us were coming home in body bags.

A lot of the Kent State story hadn’t made it through Davidson County, NC’s hillbilly filters. The protesters were nowhere near the Guardsmen and posed no danger. The soldiers weren’t under attack. And if they were, why did they shoot in the opposite direction from where they said they thought they heard gunfire?

Two of the four dead weren’t even part of the protest.

The other two, Sandra Scheuer and William Knox Schroeder, had been walking from one class to the next at the time of their deaths. Schroeder was also a member of the campus ROTC battalion. Of those wounded, none was closer than 71 feet (22 m) to the guardsmen. Of those killed, the nearest (Miller) was 265 feet (81 m) away, and their average distance from the guardsmen was 345 feet (105 m).

Scheuer’s normal path to class took her directly through the area of the protest but that day she’d gone out of her way to avoid it.

I’m not here to belabor you with all the details of the tragedy. If you’d like to know more start here. I just want to mark the occasion – it was 50 years ago today – by remarking on how very wrong we sometimes get the current events and history of the world we live in. And on how very many people there are out there willing to mislead us.

A curious mind. A willingness to think critically. A good-faith acceptance of your own fallibility. The world will fail you, but these three friends never will.


#ArtSunday: What’s the Greatest Book You Ever Read?

My buddy Jim Booth put together a quarantine reading list for our little S&R community this week and it got me thinking. So let’s pose a challenge.

What is the greatest work of literature you’ve ever read?

The Rules

It can be a novel, a collection of short fiction, a book of poetry, a play (yes, Shakespeare is eligible), or a work of creative nonfiction.

You may discuss your criteria and thought processes and you may mention your nominees. No dissertations necessary. Keep it as short as you like.

But you must pick ONE book. No ties, no waffling.

I’ll go first.

I sort of instantly leap to Flannery O’Connor’s collected short stories, although that feels like cheating since it’s kind of a greatest hits thing. Still, goddamn, her insight into the South, the way she manages to develop such distinct characters in such a short period of time, and the enthusiastic meanness of her humor surpasses anything I’ve read.

I may have some sort of bias toward short fiction, too, because as great as The Scarlet Letter and Catcher in the Rye are I’ve always found more essential connection to the short stories of Hawthorne and Salinger.

Even though it’s genre, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon hit me squarely where I lived at that moment in time, as I wandered away from Christianity and toward Paganism. So that’s more about personal relevance.

Yeats. Duh. But again, there’s the greatest hits issue.

Othello. Iago is perhaps my favorite character in the history of writing. There’s a library in there about evil and manipulation and how the powerful destroy the pure and good, and so that one seems especially relevant right now.


But if I have to pick one – and I do, because it’s MY rule – I’m going with The Grapes of Wrath. There’s no overstatting the importance of the Dust Bowl/Route 66 to California story in American history, especially now as the descendants of those dirt-poor migrants have transformed the state into its own emerging nation.

I’m not a reviewer. All I can do is think about Steinbeck delivering one body blow on top of another and the unfathomable perseverance of the Joad clan. For me there’s a psychological wonder in it because I’ve always figured there’s a depth below which I cannot sink, and if I get there I end it. But these people kept going because there wasn’t a choice.

I’m unworthy to even talk about these authors, and fortunately history has done better for them than I can. But that’s my humble take.

Your turn.

The Five Best Things on Facebook

The Vault of the Atomic Space Age

Facebook is a discordant marketplace-of-ideas battle royale unlike anything in human history. Most of it is inane (or worse) dreck. But some of it is brilliant – enlightening, uplifting, empathetic. If we could get rid of the 99.99% that isn’t we’d have a foundation for a better world.

But we can’t. So for now we’ll have to make do with my picks for the best things therein.

Brandon Stanton

Humans of New York

Brandon Stanton is a photographer and storyteller supreme. Or rather, he’s supremely talented at getting people to share their stories. He walks around NYC (and these days he jaunts about the world on occasion, too), takes pictures of those he sees, and lets them talk about their lives. Sometimes it’s harrowing, sometimes it’s informative, sometimes it’s whimsical and funny, but it’s always authentic and 100% free of judgment.

George Takei

George Takei

Actor, writer, and now First Citizen of the Internet. Stanton avoids judgment, but Takei brings an up-front agenda to the table in his campaign to promote fairness, equality, hope, dignity, and basic human decency. You may not agree with all he has to say – he wouldn’t ask you to – but if you engage with him in good faith you’ll come away a better, more thoughtful person.

The Man Must Burn

The Vault of the Atomic Space Age
The Man Must Burn

I present these together because their yin and yang exploration of the Modern Era is, I think, an essential study of a critically important moment in our history.

If I might abstract a bit, The Vault of the Atomic Space Age is dedicated to a presentation of 20th Century Modernism more or less on its own terms. The About brief describes it as “Art, fashion, design, technology, mid-century style, architecture, etc from the Atomic Space Age,” and while that’s true as far as it goes it undersells the sophistication with which the curator presents the vision of a society ascendant, winner of the World Wars and a bit heady on its new status as world leader. Its fetishization of the nuclear sublime and the grandiosity with which it sees its destiny is critical for us today because of the story told by the gap between the vision and what we now know of the reality 70 years on.

There’s a temptation to say the artifacts are presented objectively and unironically, but what we know makes that impossible.

If Vault indulges the techophilia of a supremely self-confident (and self-involved) culture, The Man Must Burn takes a grittier view. Denver’s own Matt Boggs shares his love affair with the 20th century’s dark side, collecting and archiving a staggering array of artifacts from the 1900s (seriously, I have no idea how he finds some of this stuff), focusing on the Mid-Century Modern era – everything from art to celebrity photos to comic books to space and war photography to cars to the sparkling retro-futurism of the 1950s and ’60s. As I look at the page now we have 1940s warplanes, Elvis, a link to a article on the Spanish Flu-incited spiritualism craze and then some. Describing its breadth and depth is nearly impossible, but its visual impact, its persistent raid on the collective psyche of our rage to military, economic, and cultural empire, is everything the Internet ought to be.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Loosely affiliated with NASA, APOD is just what the name says. Each day we’re presented with a photo (usually breathtaking) of some corner of the cosmos, along with a well-crafted narrative telling us what we’re seeing. It’s hard to come away without being awed and informed.

We probably all have our favorites, and we like them our own reasons. These are mine, and I’d enjoy hearing about yours in the comments.

How Are We Making History Today?

Cat White sewing coronavirus masks

Cat White sews coronavirus masks from her home in Cleveland. Photograph: John Bacon.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the defining moment of our generation. The last global crisis of this magnitude was World War II, and with any luck we won’t see anything this dire again for decades. That’s probably wishful thinking, for a variety of reasons (climate, for instance), but we can hope.

We’re living in History – with a capital H.As in, this event is one that will appear in History books for years, decades, perhaps centuries to come. The Black Plague. The Spanish Flu. Coronavirus. With luck we have advanced to the point medically where COVID will claim fewer lives, although late-stage consumer capitalism, coupled with dramatic overpopulation and poverty, has perhaps created a perfect storm of entitled affluenza in the developed world (mainly the US) and lethal squalor elsewhere. It’s early days still, and most of the narrative is yet to be written.

Here’s the thing we should be thinking about, though. Histories tell stories. Stories of bodies stacked in the streets. Of beaches soaked with blood. Of empires brought low by hubris and new empires arising from the ashes.

They also tell small stories, stories of sacrifice and goodwill. Stories of people and communities uniting in the face of existential threats.

Right now some of my friends are rounding up scrap fabric and unused craft remnants, breaking out their sewing machines and making masks for their friends, for emergency workers, for medical professionals. These masks aren’t medical grade, but in a nation that was tragically slow to catch on not-quite-perfect is better than nothing.


In Denver, the British Bulldog is down but hopefully not out.

Here’s another one. My Chelsea FC supporters club, the Rocky Mountain Blues, has been passing the hat for the bartenders and kitchen workers at the British Bulldog, the pub where we stand on matchday. The Dog is more than a soccer bar. Many of us might as well be family and we cherish those who take care of us, even though Samantha supports Liverpool and Drew is a Gooner.

The total so far is over $1500. 10 times that amount wouldn’t be nearly enough, we know, especially in an economy long on me and short on us. But it’s something, especially if we lock arms and multiply it by millions.

Collectively Western society is festering at its core. But at the level of the individual, at the level of the civic group, at the level of the informal gathering of empathetic souls we’re as good as we ever were. Better, even.

The History books will repeat this story. But first we have to write it.

Let’s get to it.

Kristen Wheeler sewing masks

Disabled Army vet Kristen Wheeler is still serving. Photograph: Sarah Wheeler.

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