Everyone knows that stone walls cover the New England landscape like honeycombs. But far fewer people know about the region’s hundreds of mysterious stone structures. In the 1930s, someone estimated that New England had 250,000 miles of stone walls. In the following decades came inventories of the region’s stone structures, which some believed to be ancient. Some of those ancient stone structures are oriented to the stars and planets. They also stand near megaliths, cairns or dolmens. A few have what are probably stone beds or sacrificial altars.

Ancient stone structure in Leverett, Massachusetts

Speculation now runs rampant about the origins of the mysterious stone structures. Did medieval Irish monks, American Indians or Vikings build them? Or did the English colonists just built them as root cellars? Most noteworthy, just three Northeast counties account for the majority of stone structures in North America: Putnam County, N.Y.; New London County, Conn.; and Windsor County, Vt. Massachusetts has the densest concentration of beehive-shaped stone chambers like those built by Culdee monks in Ireland. The state has 105 sites containing stone structures.

Connecticut also has quite a few at 62, New Hampshire has 51 and Vermont  has 41. Tiny Rhode Island has only 12 stone structures, but still more than Maine, which has only four. Some speculate that perhaps ancient voyagers frequently traveled the Merrimack, the Thames, and the Connecticut rivers.  They then built their stone structures along those routes.

Ancient stone structures — Gungywamp

Here, then, we bring you ancient stone structures (or maybe colonial root cellars), with at least one in each New England state. New England colonists found many stone buildings, when they arrived. Typically they were one story high, circular or rectangular and as long as 30 feet. Many had roof openings that allowed a little light to illuminate the interiors. As a result, early mercenaries to the Northeast wrote about ‘Indian stone castles.’ Furthermore, John Winthrop the Younger in 1654 received a letter from John Pynchon of Springfield, Massachusetts. Pynchon heard “a report of a stone wall and strong chamber in it, made all of stone, which is newly discovered at or near Pequot.” The 100-acre Gungywamp archaeological site in Groton, Conn.,  contains such stone structures as beehive chambers, petroglyphs, a double circle of stones, cellars and walls. All date back hundreds of years. Some of the structures are thought to be Native American and perhaps had ceremonial functions. Colonial settlers built others with purposes such as root cellars and birthing chambers. Some features of the site suggest they were originally built as fortifications.

There is plenty of speculation about the purpose of the Gungywamp stone structures. Some theorize that 8th-century Irish monks built certain structures. They argue ‘Gungywamp’ means ‘church of the people’ in Gaelic.  Others say it is an Indian word. Gungywamp’s most famous chamber is the so-called ‘calendar chamber.’ Archaeologists suspect the colonists originally used it for storage for a nearby tan bark mill. A vent at one end of the chamber aligns with the spring and fall equinoxes. It thus allows a shaft of sunlight to fall directly on a smaller chamber within the larger structure. Gungywamp is preserved, but many of the structures stand on private land. It can be toured virtually here. Visitors can tour the Gungywamp through the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center. More information is available here.

The Red Paint people of Maine once settled in the Hirundo Wildlife Refuge, a wetland preserve. Archaeologists discovered artifacts from the 7,000-year-old village along the Wabanaki Trail. Among the bogs and ancient burial grounds are at least 18 curious stone piles, clearly made by humans. But by whom and for what? And when? No one know. Most are 6-1/2 feet in diameter and a foot and a half high. The University of Maine owns the Hirundo Wildlife Refuge, which is open dawn to dusk all week long.

The largest and probably best known stone chamber in Massachusetts is the Upton Stone Chamber near Worcester in Upton. It includes a tunnel that connects to a roundish beehive room. A stone slab sits on top.  In 1989, two archao-astronomists concluded that people used the chamber between 700-750 A.D. to study the Pleiades. Around 670 A.D., they used it to view the summer solstice. To see photographs from 1944 of the Upton Stone Chamber, click here. The Upton Heritage Park is at 18 Elm Street.

Upton Stone Chamber — Upton, Massachusetts

Thirty miles away in Acton, an underground stone chamber in the Nashoba Brook Conservation Area is known as the ‘potato cave.’ Residents had long assumed the structure was a root cellar. A 2006 excavation found evidence people stored food in it in the 18th or 19th century. Some argue Indians built it before the colonists arrived. Still others say railroad workers lived in it during the 19th century. You can visit the restored chamber at the Nashoba Brook Conservation Area in North Acton on the easterly side of Main Street (Route 27), toward Westford and Carlisle.

During the summer solstice, a procession of people banging drums softly come to America’s Stonehenge. They aim to honor Mother Earth. America’s Stonehenge is a 30-acre complex of standing stones, underground chambers and stone walls in North Salem, N.H. As the largest collection of stone structures in North America, it includes dolmens, or horizontal stone slabs on vertical stone uprights. It also has cromlechs, or circles of standing stones and barrows, or tombs. There’s a secret bed, an echoing oracle chamber, a sacrificial altar stone and a stone-lined speaking tube that gives the impression the altar is talking when someone speaks into it. Radiocarbon dating confirms that pagans built the structures as many as 4,000 years ago.

America’s Stonehenge – North Salem, New Hampshire

The written record doesn’t mention the ancient stone structures until 1907, in History of Salem, New Hampshire by Edward Gilbert. He wrote that a family named Pattee owned the land, called Mystery Hill, and had many of the stones carted away for construction in Lawrence, Mass. A retired insurance executive named William Goodwin bought the site in 1937. He had it excavated and became convinced Irish Culdee monks built the site about 1000 A.D. The monoliths are astronomically aligned, leading to the conclusion the stones were used as a prehistoric calendar. Mystery Hill was renamed America’s Stonehenge and as a result gets 15,000 visitors a year. The site can still be used as an accurate yearly calendar.

There is much more to read. I subscribed to this site a while ago and it is fascinating, especially since many of these structures are much older than European occupation of North American. One of them, the Upton Stone Chamber, is literally about 10 miles up the road in the middle of Upton — right here in the Blackstone Valley.

Please do check out the original site. If you think North America lacks its own ancient history, this will be an eye-opener.

Source: Six Mysterious Stone Structures of New England – New England Historical Society


Tzu Hsi – The Last Empress and the Rape of China, by Pearl Buck

This is the story of Tzu Hsi, a woman who rose from obscurity to rule first as regent to her son, the boy emperor, then ultimately as the last Empress of China from 1861 to 1908. Her death heralded the end of the old China. The empire collapsed only three years after her death, in 1911. First chosen as one of many concubines to the young emperor – no more than a child himself – she manipulates herself into position as his favorite, cultivates his favor until he depends on her completely. Still in love with her childhood sweetheart, a single night of love produces a son, the next emperor.

Intelligent, highly (self) educated Tzu Hsi makes herself essential to her debauched, physically weakened, opium-addicted husband. His early death leaves her regent to her son. She is forced to preside over the destruction of Chinese culture. Her fight against white imperialism is hopeless. As the representative of the last Dynasty, she tries to find her way while the China she has known is assaulted by wave after wave of western imperialist pirates under the guise of missionaries, traders, and ambassadors.

Once the rape of China begins, she is powerless to stop it. Even the rare victory is no more than a holding action. Despite all evidence, she cannot believe China can lose to these invaders and she never loses her unyielding belief in the superiority of Chinese culture … the ultimate irony given the unyielding belief of the Western powers of their superiority. The unstoppable force meets the immoveable object and the result is – as might be expected – tragic.

In a way, she was more right than she knew. The old China collapsed but from its ashes, the new China has gained more power than the old ever had. There are a number of ways to read this book. It’s a brilliant, detailed picture of a vanished civilization … beautiful and to modern minds, bizarre. And, it’s the story of Tzu Hsi, her life, her deeply flawed, complex personality. Her bad decisions based on the logic of a world already gone to which the rules no longer applied.

You can also read Imperial Woman as a much larger story, how the western nations took the oldest culture on earth and destroyed it so we could plunder it for opium. How we destroyed thousands of years of art and cultural treasures so each country from the west — who had no right to any of China — treated the Chinese people as if they were the barbarians because they did not want to become just like us.

Portrait of the Qing dynasty Imperial dowager Empress of China –1900s

The European powers with the help of the United States transformed China into a monster. Then we have the gall to complain we don’t like the way it turned out. China would never have become what it is today or taken the path it did without the brutality and devastation wrought by European imperialism. And of course, look what opium and all that has followed in its wake has done to improve our society? Karma is a nasty bitch.

Written in 1956, the story is probably more relevant today, 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent to the transformation of Communist China into the world’s biggest, baddest economic superpower. On many levels, for a lot of different reasons, it serves us right. We destroyed China. Now, in its own way, China is destroying us. One good turn deserves another.

I read Imperial Woman not long after it first came out. I was in my early teens and it was just a story. I read it as an interesting, even fascinating story. But at the time, it meant no more than that. Reading it now meant a lot more not only because of the changes in my perspective, knowledge, and interest in China’s history, but because the world has changed.

Imperial Woman was written at the peak of the Communist witch hunts in the U.S. and during the hottest part of the Cold War. The world in which we live today different yet weirdly similar. If you have a reasonable knowledge of history, a sense of destiny and fundamental belief in Karma, you will find Imperial Woman contains many layers of meaning. It’s elegantly written, not even slightly dated.

Imperial Woman is available on Kindle. It’s also available on and as a paperback. It’s probably available at your local library. It’s a classic and absolutely worth reading as much now as ever.


Autumn dropped by early this year. It’s not the usual Autumn. It just got cold one afternoon dropping from the 70s to the 40s in just a few hours. It stayed that way for a few days. Today it’s warmer but with the crazy, unpredictable weather, there’s no avoiding the harvest. If we wait, there’s a chance we’ll get a hard frost and that will finish it. You can delay many things, but not a harvest. We’ve seen frost lying on the ground. While we may get some warm days, the nights are cold. We had a harvest to bring in.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I never wanted to be a farmer. It always looked like massive amounts of work for painfully little reward. I can understand those who love doing it, but my back is nicely broken already.

But Owen and I were out there with the scissors and buckets, trimming and separating. Some stuff will be dried, more will be jarred. I found a wholesale jar and bottle company (Fillmore) with good prices and even with high prices for shipping (if you aren’t buying in quantity, shipping is expensive), it’s still cheaper than Amazon. I also discovered this is a bad time of year to be ordering 32-ounce jars and lids because everyone else is ordering them too and a lot of them were out of stock.

Corn being cut in the fall

Now, I have to go back out and continue the harvesting. It’s not a fabulous harvest. It’s early. Everything needed a couple more weeks of growing to reach full size, but I don’t trust the weather. I promised to make banana bread tonight, but I think I’m too tired. It will have to wait until tomorrow. I have the bananas and in one more day, they will be riper and better for bread.

I think of all the movies I’ve seen of aging farm women, past my age who are still out in their fields cutting and trimming and storing food for the winter. This has been a bad year for growing. We haven’t had even a light rain and are 10 inches too  low in water, making us an urgent drought area. As we worked, we kept hearing the crackling and banging of huge falling acorns.

So now, I have to go and finish today’s harvest. Sunset doesn’t come late anymore. No more 7pm sunsets. We are at the Autumnal Equinox, so if you want to get anything done, you need to get up early.


JerusalemOldCitySepia-3It was an ordinary day in the suburb of Jerusalem where I managed a weekly English-language newspaper. I had fallen into the job when the previous editor quit — after his paycheck bounced. Twice. Me too, but I wanted the paper to succeed, and was willing to work for free if we might save it. Most of us kept working without pay. We were optimists in the midst of disaster.

The newspaper was broke. No money to pay anyone, but I loved running a newspaper. It was the most fun I ever had — professionally. I had an editor, a proofreader, and an art director … and a bankrupt publisher. Her money had kept us in business for a year. We hadn’t gotten the advertisers or investors. Not surprising. The Israeli economy was a disaster.

The lira was in free fall. 180% inflation is hard to imagine. The value of your paycheck disappears between breakfast and lunch, so your best bet is to spend every cent immediately, then spend more.

Israel was in turmoil, Years of bad blood between Arabs and Jews, an awful economy, soaring temperatures. The predominantly Arab areas were seething. The Jewish population was none too happy either. It was bad, but when has it been otherwise?

Jerusalem’s diversity is part of what gives it its unique character. The Jewish population is diverse — from secular and anti-religious, to ultra-Orthodox and everything in between. There are also Christians of every stripe, every flavor of Islam. Bahai, Samaritans … and sects I never heard of plus more than a few wannabe Messiahs. I sang along with the Muzein when he called the faithful to prayer. I loved the chanting, loved the traditions, the clothing, the markets, everything. Not everyone loved me.

French Hill, where I worked is a pleasant neighborhood at the northeastern edge of Jerusalem. Good schools. It’s atop a hill so you can catch a breeze, if there is one. In the summer, Jerusalem simmers as the khamsin, super-heated sandy air masses from the Sahara, turns the city into a sauna.

It was August, perhaps the 10th day of an extended khamsin. Almost nobody had air-conditioning in those days. Under normal weather condition in the desert, when you step into shade, the temperature drops 25 or more degrees. The air is so dry it doesn’t hold heat.

During khamsin, heat never eases. The air is thick, hot, sandy. Night is as bad as day. Airless. Fans make it worse. If you can’t get out-of-town, find a pool or get to a beach, your best bet is to close your windows and lie on the tile floor wearing as little as possible trying not to breathe. People get crazy when it’s that hot, even people who are normally friendly to one another.

Trying to keep the newspaper alive, there was no escape for me. Except for my car, which was air-conditioned. It was a Ford Escort with a tiny 1.3 liter engine, but the A/C worked pretty well. Which is why I volunteered to take the pages from the office to the typesetter in Givat Zeev.

Jerusalem sits atop a mountain. There’s a rumor the city has just one road, but it winds a lot. If you keep driving, you’ll get there eventually. Not quite accurate. You can get close — but close can be far.

I’ve no sense of direction at all. When I hear the words “You can’t miss it,” I know I will miss it. This is how I wound up in downtown Ramallah in the middle of a mini-uprising in late August 1983  I didn’t know what was going on, but I was pretty sure I shouldn’t be there. Fight? Uh, no, I don’t think so. Flight? I was lost. Go where? I stopped the car, pulled to the curb and sat there. No idea what to do next.

Baka, Jerusalem

A few moments later, two Arab gentlemen jumped into the car with me. That’s right, I didn’t lock the doors. If they wanted to break into my car, they might as well use the doors as break the windows. Was I about to be murdered? Abducted?

“You are lost,” the man in the front seat said.

“Oh, very much,” I agreed. The two men conferred in Arabic. I picked up a couple of words, one of them being “American.”

“Okay,” said the man in the front seat. “You need to leave. Now.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” I responded. We swapped places. He took the wheel and drove me back to French Hill.

“You must be more careful,” he chided me. “You mustn’t go into dangerous places.” I thanked him with all my heart. He smiled, and the two of them headed back, on foot, to Ramallah. Offering them a lift didn’t seem quite the thing to do.

I never felt endangered, though probably I had been. It was the end of the times when Arabs and Jews could talk to each other, even be friends. I am sad when I think of friends I had in Bethlehem who asked me to stop visiting them because it put them in danger to have an Israeli in their house. There came a time when I could no longer go shopping in the Old City or Bethlehem, when Jewish children could no longer safely play with Arab children.

I lived there for nine years. There has been so much wrong on all sides for so many years it’s impossible to figure out a solution to which all would agree. I don’t see peace on the horizon. There are not just two sides to this conflict; there are an infinite number of sides. I chose to come home to the U.S. The longer I stayed in Israel, the less I understood.

I arrived in Israel in 1978 believing I had some answers. I was sure I knew something. By 1987, I knew there were no answers … and I knew nothing.


“And that’s the way it is” by Rich Paschall

With so many questionable sources of news in the world, who do you trust to give you reliable and up to date information?  At one time there was a radio, television, newspapers, and your grandma’s gossip across the back fence. You may also have had a few barroom buddies who seemed to be pretty up to date on the happenings in the nation and even the world. Now that there are so many more options, how do you know who to trust and what to believe? Network news? Cable news? Twitter posts?

Perhaps you still rely on Aunt Mildred. She always seems to be well-read and has a tidbit of news on everything. When she shows up at family gatherings she can easily dazzle those who would sit down to listen. She always shows up early to the parties and is willing to stay until the very end, as long as there are snacks and highballs around. Her whiskey-fueled news items show the great recall she has from the supermarket publications she picks up regularly. Sometimes she also gets the Sunday papers, but that is more for the store coupons than the news.

Then there is cousin Billy, also a regular at the family gatherings. He tries not to get into arguments with Aunt Mildred because her vocabulary is better than his. However, you just know he is right about his views of America. His sources may seem a bit murky, but if you can not trust someone you practically grew up with, who can you trust?

Your nephew Chad is probably much more up to date than the others because he is on social media all the time, reading up on politics, rock bands, and underwear ads. He often shows you those clever memes that contain some of the best quotes for your education on the latest issues.  If you mention a topic, Chad can find a meme, video, or highly respected blog that will educate you on what you need to know. At least the blogs are highly respected by Chad, and you respect Chad, don’t you? (Chad respects this blog.)

When I was younger (much younger) and staying with my grandparents, dinner had to be finished by 5:30 PM so that my grandfather could get to his favorite chair. We lived in the Central Time Zone and the CBS Evening News came on early. It was OK because it fit right into their retirement schedule. My grandparents had been farmers and were used to early breakfast and lunch, so 5 PM dinner did not seem too early. Their main source of news was a Monday through Friday evening broadcast.

It was not just that it was a news program. There were others at that time. He could have watched the venerable team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. He could have tuned to Howard K Smith and Harry Reasoner. But my grandfather only followed the man who came to be known as the most trusted man in America. Many years of news broadcasting had led one man to the top of his field.

Walter Cronkite Jr. was a broadcast journalist who started his career in 1937 covering major news events around the globe. Later he covered NASA and brought us all the early successes and some failures of the space program. You could rely on Walter to describe the event and educate you on space all at the same time. It was the facts that he brought to broadcast, not the spin.

Real journalism

In 1962 he became the anchorman of the CBS Evening News and the main face of the news division. If there was an important story, Walter told us about it. With a confident and authoritative tone and a grandfatherly face, people came to trust him with the news. In fact, as his tenure on the evening news went on, polls began to show that it was not a politician or entertainer that people trusted most, it was Walter.

In 1963 I recall watching Walter as he told us all about the assassination of President Kennedy and the events that followed. No, I did not see the earliest broadcasts live, I was in grade school.  But I did see all that followed. I have seen the early footage many times since in documentaries, as Walter had to tell a nation that the President was dead. To this day that broadcast will evoke tears.

"President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time."
“President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time.”

Walter advised us of what was going on in Viet Nam. Did it help turn a nation against the war? Walter told us about Watergate extensively. Did it help lead to the downfall of a President? If he influenced public opinion, it was not because he twisted the facts or spun their meaning, it was because he reported them.

After 19 years, Walter Cronkite retired from the CBS Evening News. CBS had a mandatory retirement age of 65 then. Today they would probably let him go on as long as ratings were good. He lived to be 92 and remained active for many years after “retirement.”

Are there any broadcasters today that enjoy the trust of American people like Walter Leland Cronkite Jr.? Yes, I know the answer to that. Everyone seems to be interpreting rather than just reporting. They all appear to have a point of view and we may trust them about as much as we trust Aunt Mildred. Of course, there are a few that trust Aunt Mildred a lot, “and that’s the way it is.”


Once upon a time so many years ago, Americans had national fit of self-righteousness.We decided alcohol was the root of all evil. To rectify the perceived problem, the nation rose up on its collective hind legs and passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. and amendment which established a legal prohibition of the manufacture and consumption of recreational alcoholic beverages in the United States. The separate (but closely related)  Volstead Act specified how authorities would enforce Prohibition, including the definition of “intoxicating liquor” — for anyone who needed an explanation.


The folks who needed an explanation were not your average Jill or Joe. Jill and Joe knew how to get drunk just fine, but apparently lawmakers, politicians and gangsters-to-be needed clarification. The gangsters needed to know what they had to do to cash in on this opportunity and the others, how to persecute people in the name of the law. Many beverages were excluded for medical and religious purposes. It was okay to get drunk as long it was accompanied by an appropriate degree of religious fervor. Or a doctor’s note.

That left a lot of room through which an entire generation strolled. Many people began drinking during Prohibition. Those who had never imbibed before were so titillated by the idea, they had their first alcoholic beverage while it was illegal. This, no doubt, made it more fun Whereas previously, alcoholism had no social cachet, during prohibition it became fashionable. As with most things, making it more difficult, expensive, and illegal made it more desirable and sexy. Regular folks, society leaders, and criminals all basked in the glow of illegality. A whole criminal class was born from prohibition. If that isn’t clear proof that legislating morality doesn’t work, I don’t know what is. It didn’t work then. It won’t work now. Whether the issue is booze, drugs, abortion, prayer, same-sex marriage, or term limits … law and morality don’t mix.


Passing a law limiting how many times you can elect a candidate rather than voting for a better (or at least different) candidate won’t improve the quality of legislators. You’ll just wind up voting for a bunch of clowns and opportunists who don’t give a rat’s ass about government while dedicated potential candidates won’t bother to run because there’s no future in it. Take a look at our current GOP and you can see the results in full color with flashing lights. Making drugs illegal, especially marijuana, has created an entire drug culture — exactly the way making booze illegal created the underworld of crime. Now that it’s (mostly) legal, the prices have dropped and it’s not such a big deal after all, though it’s a great calmer downer for dogs. The knee-jerk “lets solve social issues by making bad laws” causes considerable pain and suffering. As often as not, you end up legislating your way into a vast sea of exciting new problems you didn’t have before and quite possibly never imagined.

Throughout history, “morality” laws have failed. Monumentally and spectacularly. You’d think we’d have already noticed this, but ignorance being bliss, we don’t.

If you never drank before, bet this picture could change your mind.

We haven’t learned anything, maybe it’s because no one recognized that history is repeating itself. Many people don’t know any history, so why would they notice?The 18th Amendment was ratified on January 16, 1919 and took effect a year later, on January 17, 1920. Immediately, the demand for liquor increased. Producers, suppliers and transporters were turned into criminals, but drinkers were not prosecuted. What could go wrong with that? The entire justice system — courts, cops and prisons — was buried under a landslide of booze-related busts. Organized crime went from a minor issue to a major social force. Now that is progress!

Having achieved results way beyond the wildest dreams of the amendment’s creators, prohibition was repealed in 1933 via the Twenty-first Amendment, the only time in American history an amendment has been repealed. Today, whenever I hear someone declare how we need a constitutional amendment to solve a political or social problem, I contemplate how successfully we got rid of booze in 1919.

No one has had a drink since.


Last week I realised that it was exactly a year ago that I completed my Welsh Castle Quest, and I’ve been looking back through that epic journey and all the adventure and discovery it entailed. After the Quest, we stayed on in Wales for a week’s break and, inevitably in this ‘land of castles’, we found a few more. But those we visited during our wind-down week were no great English fortresses born of Edward I’s Welsh Wars, but more modest castles built by the earlier, native princes of Wales. One in particular jumped out from my trawl through the photos for several reasons: it’s in a spectacular setting, it had a walk-on part in the Welsh Wars and it was built by one of greatest Welsh rulers of the middle ages.

This was the first day of our post-Quest holiday, and we’d actually set out to explore the magnificent mountains. But as we drove through Snowdonia on the A470, I caught sight of a handsome tower in such a commanding position I just had to investigate. Pulling into a car park, we realised that we’d stumbled across Dolwyddelan, one of the most impressive Welsh castles built by the native princes. The castle sits proudly in its rock-cut ditch atop a high ridge, and access to it entails a climb up the hill on foot, so realising that we’d already spent two weeks on a castle quest I gallantly offered to forego a visit and press on into the mountains. Luckily though, everyone felt this intriguing edifice was too good an opportunity to miss, so we set off.

For the rest of the story see The Little Welsh Castle of a Great Welsh Prince by Alli Templeton


Definitely worth a reblog!

Seeking Serendipity


Location: A campfire in Vietnam near Saigon.

Year: 1967.

1967 and 1968 were very intense years for me. I had jumped directly from college and small time commercial radio, to ABC Network News. The time was right and the opportunity was there, but I was a kid thrust suddenly into the big leagues. My journalistic baptism started with the 6-day war in the Middle East which began on my first day at ABC. My professional life continued with the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, the volatile 1968 Presidential campaigns and a long visit to Vietnam, the first of several.

At headquarters in New York, my assignment was to receive reports from ABC’s field correspondents. I’d speak with them over static-riddled phone lines. Difficult to hear for anyone, harder for me. The daily MACV — or war front reports — were often significantly different from what the Pentagon reported. It was disturbing, worrying. Then, they sent me to Vietnam.

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Today (August 9) is a historical anniversary that, while I’m sure won’t go un-noticed, may well go unappreciated. Forty-six years ago today, on August 9, 1974, Richard M. Nixon resigned as President of the United States, the only president (thus far) to do so. Gerald Ford took over as the nation’s 37th President that afternoon. This was a pivotal event in U.S. political and social history. Nothing was ever quite the same, but perhaps for reasons that are under-appreciated or outright misunderstood.

Nixon, of course, resigned because of the Watergate scandal. In 1972, as he was running for re-election, a group of political spies paid by the White House broke into some Democratic Party offices to snoop around, and they got caught. This wasn’t really what got Nixon into trouble. What happened was, three days later, he told an aide, Bob Haldeman, to call the FBI and tell them to stop investigating the case. With those words, Nixon committed a crime–obstruction of justice–and the crime was caught on tape. In 1973 it was revealed Nixon recorded many of his conversations in the White House. He fought a year-long battle to keep the tapes, and especially this one, from coming out, but the Supreme Court ruled he had to turn them over. His political support drained away. To forestall impeachment and conviction, you might say Nixon “ragequit.”

I think the emotion he was feeling was more sorrow and shame than rage. Look at this, the full recording of his farewell speech to the White House staff. It’s 21 minutes long, but I’ve cued it up to 19:06 so you can hear his interesting advice to those who want to continue in government.

“Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty, always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”

The rest of the story: “Those who hate you don’t win”: thoughts on Nixon’s resignation.


Cover of "Imperium"

Imperium, by Robert Harris
Random House
Sep 7, 2010
Fiction – 496 pages

It’s déjà vu all over again as we travel back with author Robert Harris to Republican Rome just before it became Imperial Rome.

In America, we complain of corruption. Lying politicians. Fearing the end of our Democracy. We wonder about conspiracies. We brood darkly on the failure of the government to address issues of inequality.

We deplore the bribery of officials. The world, we say, is going to Hell or, depending on our point of view, has already gone to Hell.

Except that the government went to Hell a long time ago and you could easily argue that government — all government — was always hellish. Compared to Rome, our government is a clean machine, as clean as a fresh snowfall. It’s a matter of perspective.

English: Bust of Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Rom...
Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Roma Italiano: Bust of Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Rome (Photo: Wikipedia)

Reading history puts the world in which I live into perspective. Whatever problems we face, we — the human family — have faced them before. We survived. It’s important to remember our ability to survive is greater (for the most part) than our ability to screw up.

Imperium, by Robert Harris, is about a guy named Cicero. You’ve undoubtedly heard of him. Famed as a lawyer, more famous as an orator, Cicero rose to power during a critical cusp in history as Rome was about to change from Republican to Imperial. Julius Caesar had just stepped onto the stage of history.

It was the beginning of the greatest imperial power the earth had ever seen … and the end of the greatest republic the world would ever know.


Marcus Cicero started his journey to power as an outsider from the provinces. His first significant legal case put him head-to-head with the dangerous, cruel and utterly corrupt Gaius Verres, governor of provincial Sicily. Using his stunning oratorical abilities and displaying a dogged determination and persistence in the face of impossible odds, Cicero beats Verres in court. He then goes on to triumph over many powerful opponents, making friends — but more enemies — along the way.

Cicero seeks ultimate power — imperium. His allegiance is to the Republic. Cicero’s secretary and slave, Tiro, is the inventor of shorthand and has become the author of this biography of his master. Tiro was at Cicero’s right hand throughout his career, by his side, through triumph and catastrophe. Through his voice, the world of ancient Rome is brought to life.

It’s a fascinating story. Pompey and Julius Caesar stride across the stage of this deeply corrupt, depraved, dangerous and strangely familiar society.

imperium audibleRobert Harris is a brilliant story-teller and author of historical fiction. He lures us into a violent, treacherous world of Roman politics simultaneously exotically different from and startlingly similar to ours.

This is part one of a duology.  The second volume in the American printing is titled Conspirata. In Great Britain, the same book is titled Lustrum.

Both books are available on Kindle, paperback, and


Every nation revises history. They leave out the bad bits  — slaughters of the innocent, unjust wars against minorities and civilians. They invent heroes, turn defeats into victories.

Landing of Negroes at Jamestown from a Dutch Man-of-war, 1619. In this image, the Dutch sailors, who have captured slaves from a Spanish ship, are negotiating a trade with the Jamestown settlers for food. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

American history is no different. It’s relatively easy to make our history match our myths when such a large percentage of U.S. citizens haven’t learned any history since third grade. There’s some question about how well third-grade lessons were absorbed. Recent studies show a troubling pattern of ignorance in which even the basics of history are unknown to most of our natural-born citizens.

Ironically, naturalized citizens are far better educated. They had to pass a test to become citizens. The rest of us got a free pass.

Battle of Lexington & Concord

College students don’t know when we fought the Revolution, much less why. They can’t name our first president (George Washington, just in case you aren’t sure). Many aren’t clear about what happened on 9/11.  I’ve been asked which came first, World Wars I or II — indicating more than ignorance. More like deep stupidity. All over Facebook, morons gather to impress each other with the vigor of their uninformed opinions. They proclaim we fought the Revolution to not pay taxes and keep our guns. Saying that’s not how it happened is insufficient. I lack the words to say how untrue that is.

Why did we have a Revolution? How come we rebelled against England rather than peaceably settling our differences? Wouldn’t it have been easier to make a deal?

The Tea Party wharf

Yes, it would have been easier to make a deal and we tried. Unfortunately, it turned out to be impossible. We fought a revolution when we exhausted every peaceful option. Petitions and negotiations failed, but we kept trying, even after shots had been fired and independence declared.

We didn’t want a war with England. There were lots of excellent reasons. Our economy was entirely dependent on trade with England. Through English merchants, we could trade with the rest of the world. Without them, we were stuck with no trading partners or ships. We were ill-equipped to fight a war. We had no navy, no commanders. No trained army. We barely had guns. Our population was too small to sustain an army. We had no factories, mills or shipyards. We relied on England for finished goods other than those we could make in our own homes, including furniture, guns, clothing, cutlery, dishes, porcelain. We needed Britain to supply us with anything we ate or drank (think tea) unless we could grow it in North America.

All luxury goods and many necessities came from or through England. We had some nascent industries, but they were not ready for prime time. It wasn’t until 1789 we built our first cotton-spinning mill — made possible by an Englishman named Slater who immigrated from England and showed us how to do it.

Our American colonies didn’t want to be Americans. First of all, there was no America to be part of … and secondly, we wanted to be British. We wanted the right to vote in parliamentary elections as equals with other British citizens. The cry “no taxation without representation” (remember that?) didn’t mean we weren’t willing to pay taxes. It meant we wanted the right to vote on which taxes we paid. And how much. We wanted to be heard, to participate in government. Whether or not we would or would not pay a particular tax was not at issue. Everyone pays taxes. We wanted seats in Parliament and British citizenship.

King George was a Royal asshole. His counselors strongly recommended he make a deal with the colonists. Most Americans considered themselves Englishmen. If the British king had been a more flexible, savvy or intelligent monarch, war could have been averted. We would be, as the Canadians are, part of the British Commonwealth. There would have been no war. A bone-headed monarch thought a war was better than compromise. He was a fool, but it worked out okay.

British surrender at Yorktown

We declared war which many folks here and abroad thought was folly. We almost lost it. We would have lost were it not for three critical things: British unwillingness to pursue the war aggressively, French ships and troops, and European mercenaries. Without French assistance and hired mercenaries from central Europe, we would have been squashed by the British who were better armed, better trained. They had battleships with guns and trained seamen to man them.

We didn’t.

Just as we considered ourselves English, albeit living abroad in a colony rather than in England, British soldiers and commanders were not overly eager to slaughter people they considered fellow Englishmen. They didn’t pursue the war with the deadly determination they could have … and if they had? Who knows how it would have worked out?

Did we really win because the British were inept and couldn’t beat an untrained ragtag rabble army? That’s our story and we’re sticking to it. I side with those who think that the British found it distasteful to shoot people with whom a short time before they had been friends and with whom they hoped to be friends again. Many British soldiers had family in “the colonies” and vice-versa. It was a painful fight, not unlike a civil war. Many British citizens sympathized with the colonists including a goodly percentage of troops. Sympathy ran high even in the upper echelons of the British government. Many important people in England were none too happy with King George. So they did as they were ordered but without enthusiasm.

Getting the people excited enough to take up arms is hard work.

Then there was a huge miscalculation. The British did not expect the French to show up. As soon as the French fleet arrived, a few more battles were fought and the British went home. Had they pursued the war with vigor from the start, we wouldn’t have lasted long enough for the French to get here, much less save our butts.

The mythology surrounding the American Revolution is natural. Every nation needs heroes and myths and we are no exception. But as grown-ups, we can apply a bit of healthy skepticism, read a couple of books. Learn there’s more to the story than the stuff we learned when we were eight. Like, the second part of the Revolutionary war known as “The War of 1812.” Part two of the Revolution which we lost fair and square when the British burned Washington D.C.

We did not win the Revolution. We survived it. Barely.

Revolutionary tea party crate-dumping

This is why our current government is more than a mere miscalculation, a bad election. It’s not something we’ll “pull out of” after which everything will go back to normal. I’m not sure we have a normal to go back to. It’s not only how the evil underbelly of America has been exposed for all to see. It’s also that the planet is under attack. Americans — and everyone else — need to fix it if we want to continue to live here. We need to be very careful about how we move “forward.” We have to tread carefully. We have to work with our allies and our non-allies because everyone needs to put their shoulders to the wheel to keep our world livable.

World War 2 tank

We used to have the good fortune to live in a nation of laws but I’m not sure this is a nation of laws anymore. I’m not sure what we are. I’m not sure what the world is or whether there will be a world in another 100 years. Or for that matter, in another thirty.

Ignorance is the enemy of freedom. And our current government is the enemy of education, learning, and truth.


Liebster Award Nomination

I don’t usually do these because they WERE intended for new bloggers to help boost their readership. I’ve been blogging daily — unless I was in the hospital — for eight years with nearly 15,000 followers and just under 11,000 posts. No one could call me a new blogger. But the intent is kindly. and I won’t name anyone. But if you like the questions, please feel free to jump in with your own answers. And if you are a new or newish blogger, grab this nomination and run with it! I did when I was starting out.

And the 11 questions for the nominees are:

1. What’s your reading preference? A physical book or on Kindle?

Actually, it’s audiobooks. I have trouble focusing on print on any page. If my only choice is to read it, I will choose a Kindle where I can at least make the type bigger. Also, Kindles are lighter than books and I don’t need a light because they are backlit.

2. If books could talk what would they say about your reading choices?

That they are magical, or maybe excessively long. Too historical. Or too spacey. I am extremely fond of history, mystery, and wizardry. I get more than enough reality during our news breaks. These days, there is way too much reality lurking around me. I want to get through whatever this thing is that we are going through and then somehow manage to live for a few years that are a little bit more fun. Magical years.

3. Cat or Dog lover? Or some other creature?

Cats, dogs, birds, horses and anything else that lives and breathes, minus insects of which i am sincerely NOT fond. I don’t mind lizards and non-poisonous snakes, but I freak out at spiders. I can’t help it. It’s irrational.

4. What’s your favorite comfort food? Is there a story behind it?

Sushi and Tempura. I love Japanese food. Fortunately, Garry loves it too. Unfortunately, there were two really good Japanese restaurants in the area. One has already closed down since the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t know about the other one. I hope it will still be around when this mess is over. I think it’s possible that other than fast food joints, this town no long has any functional restaurants. We didn’t have much to begin with and now, we have nothing.

The story behind it is that when i came back from 9-1/2 years in Israel, my son and ex-husband said they were taking me out for sushi. i said I didn’t know if i would like it. Raw fish? But they took me out for sushi and it has been my favorite food ever since. Good thing Garry was already a fan.

5. What’s your preference for travel… planes, trains, boats, or automobile?

I love boats, but going out on one isn’t really travel. It’s a fun day sail with friends. i loathe airports and airplanes. There was a time, when I was much younger, that flying was a luxury. Now, it’s a nightmare unless you have enough money for first class and even then, I always get sick when I fly. It’s all that recycled air. All you need is one sneezer or cougher to get their germs into the recycling machinery and voila. Now, with COVID? I’d have to be nuts to fly.

But we do drive. Not very far because I’m afraid of restaurants and public toilets. I’m beginning to sound like my mother.

6. Married or single or in a relationship or non-applicable?

Married, married, and married again. I was married at 18 the first time. Divorced at 30. Remarried at 32. Divorced at 41. Remarried at 43 and still married till the end of time at 73. Thirty years. And we COULD have done it thirty years ago but the husband was so deeply involved in his work, he didn’t have time to be a  husband. Then one day, he realized that something was missing. Me. He says he was too immature to marry me and save me that miserable middle marriage. Hrrrumph.

7. What was your favorite activity as a child?


8. If you had to pick one , would it be a blog entry or a poem for your epitaph, which one would it be?

I really don’t care. Dead is dead. I don’t even care if I have an epitaph, but I hope they have a nice party for me and everyone laughs a lot.

9. Favorite song? Why?

We Didn’t Start the Fire – Billy Joel

Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio

Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe

Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, “The King and I” and “The Catcher in the Rye”

Eisenhower, vaccine, England’s got a new queen
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev
Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc

Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Dacron
Dien Bien Phu falls, “Rock Around the Clock”

Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn’s got a winning team
Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland

Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Krushchev
Princess Grace, “Peyton Place”, trouble in the Suez

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, “Bridge on the River Kwai”

Lebanon, Charlse de Gaulle, California baseball
Starkweather, homicide, children of thalidomide

Buddy Holly, “Ben Hur”, space monkey, Mafia
Hula hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go

U2, Syngman Rhee, payola and Kennedy
Chubby Checker, “Psycho”, Belgians in the Congo

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Hemingway, Eichmann, “Stranger in a Strange Land”
Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion

“Lawrence of Arabia”, British Beatlemania
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson

Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex
JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again
Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock
Begin, Reagan, Palestine, terror on the airline
Ayatollah’s in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan

“Wheel of Fortune”, Sally Ride, heavy metal, suicide
Foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, crack, Bernie Goetz
Hypodermics on the shores, China’s under martial law
Rock and roller cola wars, I can’t take it anymore

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
But when we are gone
Will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it …

Songwriters: Billy Joel

We Didn’t Start the Fire lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

This isn’t my favorite song, but it is the one to which I most relate now, in this time and place. My real favorite “song” is Beethoven’s Sixth “Pastoral” Symphony. I can hum along with all of it.

10. Favorite author? Why?

It’s a list. I can’t pick one. But it’s not a huge list. Well, it could be a huge list, but i’ve got myself roped in.

  • Anne Golon (Angelique)
  • Jim Butcher (The Harry Dresden Series)
  • Gretchen Archer (Davis Way Capers)
  • James Lee Burke (Robicheaux and everything else)
  • Jodie Taylor (The Chronicles of St Mary’s and more)
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin (all her histories are phenomenal)

I think there are a lot more, but this will just have to do it for the moment. I really could go on forever.

11. What makes you smile, no matter how many times you see it? Why?

Bizarro. His comics are the best. I’ve been laughing at them since I was young and living in Boston. I absolutely love his work.