A Brilliant Foreign Policy Success

by Steve Hartshorne on July 26, 2014

If there’s anyone out that who doubts the efficacy of our foreign policy in Libya, they should read the most recent State Department Travel Advisory for that county. Clearly our decisive intervention has brought about another resounding foreign policy success:

“The security situation in Libya remains unpredictable and unstable.  The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security following the 2011 revolution.  Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.  Crime levels remain high in many parts of the country.

“In addition to the threat of crime, various groups have called for attacks against U.S. citizens and U.S. interests in Libya.  Extremist groups in Libya have made several specific threats this year against U.S. government officials, citizens, and interests in Libya.  Because of the presumption that foreigners, especially U.S. citizens, in Libya may be associated with the U.S. government or U.S. NGOs, travelers should be aware that they may be targeted for kidnapping, violent attacks, or death.  U.S. citizens currently in Libya should exercise extreme caution and depart immediately.”


Grant Takes Command

by Steve Hartshorne on July 25, 2014

Sometimes I like light reading in the summer, especially from my favorite authors like Georges Simenon, Sue Grafton and Rex Stout, but sometimes I’m ready for heavy reading, a big ol’ hefty tome that tells you more than most people know about some period in history. Barbara Tuchman is in this category, and I recommend every book she ever wrote.

I also loved The Armada by Garrett Mattingly, which taught me much more than I ever knew before about that epic battle, and C.V. Wedgwood’s The Thirty Years War, which gave me innumerable new insights into the history of Europe in the 17th Century.


I was looking for some heavy reading this summer, and at a tag sale last week I found a copy of Grant Takes Command by Bruce Catton. It’s the third volume in a biography of Grant begun by Lloyd Lewis and continued by Catton, one of the great historians of the Civil War. It begins just after Grant’s victory at Vicksburg and the opening chapters describe the Battle of Chattanooga, which, together with the ‘lucky’ victory at Gettysburg, marked the real turning point in the war.

For a reader like me, this means that I don’t have to read about thousands of men dying, only to have their sacrifice go for nothing because of massive incompetence by Union generals, which was the story of the war up to that point. At Gettysburg, things just seemed to go the Federals’ way, partly because they were on their own ground defending their own people, and partly because the Confederate generals started making the same kind of stupid mistakes the Union generals had been making for years. And in my opinion, it showed that Lee’s army was not the same without Stonewall Jackson.

But in the West, Grant was making his own luck, and the Battle of Chattanooga is a great example. The layout of the battle was much like Gettysburg in reverse, with the Confederates entrenched on Missionary Ridge, but unlike Pickett’s fatal charge at the Union center at Gettysburg, which failed utterly, Thomas’ charge at the Confederate center was a brilliant success because Grant had mounted massive attacks on both flanks.

The Confederate commander, Major General Braxton Bragg, thought his center was invulnerable and dispatched more and more of his troops to meet the attacks on his flanks. General Joe Hooker (born in Hadley, Massachusetts) having taken the heights on Lookout Mountain, was attacking on his left and General William Tecumseh Sherman was attacking on his right.

Both attacks were stalled, and Grant ordered General George H. Thomas to attack the Confederate center and take the rifle pits at the base of Missionary Ridge. This was the Union equivalent of Pickett’s charge, and it could have failed just as miserably as Pickett’s, but when the troops took the rifle pits at the base of the ridge, they found they were easy targets for the Confederate gunners above them. They were like the US troops on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion. Every soldier could see that they were dead where they were and the only way to save themselves was to move forward.

At Chattanooga, Thomas’ army scaled the ridge, drove off the Confederate defenders, and drove Bragg and his army back into Georgia. It was a miraculous victory, and I really think it gave the people of the North the feeling that God was on their side for a change. But General Bragg, besides sending troops to oppose Sherman and Hooker, had previously sent two divisions off to East Tennessee to harass General Ambrose Burnside. Had he not depleted his center in this way, he could easily have held his center on Missionary Ridge.

I love this book because it talks a lot about logistics. Courage is great in war, and strategy, but really it is logistics that really count in the end. When Eisenhower met the Russian generals after World War II was over, they didn’t ask him about tactics or strategy. They asked how he supplied his troops in his whirlwind advance across France, and he told them about the Red Ball Express — but that’s another story you can read about in his book Crusade in Europe.

The Union army in Chattanooga was crippled by a lack of pack animals. The mountainous country thereabouts couldn’t supply an army with provisions, and the troops could only carry a few days rations in their knapsacks. It took many months to supply them with horses and mules to carry supplies and artillery, and, of course, the thousands of pounds of forage to feed them.

I also like the way that Grant, after his great victories,  turned down all the imbeciles that wanted him to run for president. Everywhere he went he was greeted with public acclaim. Lincoln was at that time one of the most unpopular presidents in history. “It’s not my job to make speeches,” he said. He even refused to deny that he was a candidate, because that would sound like he was asking to be drafted.

Unquestionably, Grant caused the death of hundreds of thousands of his soldiers. Lincoln chose him to command the Union armies because he was the only one who could see that this sacrifice was the only way to bring the war to an end.

I have to mention here that when Lee saw the terms that Grant offered at Appomatox, he was surprised. Lee actually thought that he and his officers would be tried for treason and executed. One has to ask why he wasn’t told before that he could have surrendered under these generous terms. It would certainly have ended the war many months earlier and saved hundreds of thousands of lives.



Beating the Heat

by Steve Hartshorne on July 15, 2014

Here’s my method for beating the heat:

When I go swimming on a really hot day and keep my bathing suit on, I’m uncomfortable in a wet bathing suit, even though it’s really hot.

BUT, if it’s really hot and I put on a damp shirt, it cools me off. I discovered this one day when I took a damp shirt out of the laundry and put it on.

My conclusion is that bathing suit areas of the body don’t like damp clothes, even when it’s hot.

So my solution is to jump in my kiddy pool with my clothes on, and then put on a dry bathing suit under my wet clothes. Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it. Keeps me cool all day.

Of course the “nuclear option” on a hot day is to jump in the kiddy pool with my clothes on and take a ride on my scooter. Don’t try this at home unless it’s really, really hot. You’ll freeze your ass off.


Atlanta Botanical Gardens

by Steve Hartshorne on July 10, 2014

The Four Seasons Maquettes, portrait busts by Philip Haas, based on the artwork of 16th-century artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens

The Four Seasons Maquettes, portrait busts by Philip Haas, based on the artwork of 16th-century artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Just got back from a week in the Great Smoky Mountains in Georgia and North Carolina with my friends George and Abby and Dana and Rob and Holly.

My trip started out in Atlanta, which is a happening town, as you probably know. It’s got a great public transit system known as MARTA — fast, clean, smooth and inexpensive — a fantastic international market with aisles and aisles of local food, as well as items from all over the world, and lots of great restaurants, cafes and clubs.

One highlight of my trip was a visit to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, where they have made some brilliant sculptures of people, animals and monsters out of plants.





Goddesses: Maia, Dana, Abby







George and friend



My little pony












MARTA – fast, clean, smooth and cheap






Maxfield Parrish and Photography

by Steve Hartshorne on June 29, 2014



If you’re a fan of Maxfield Parrish, I’m sure you’ve seen the definitive work about him by Coy Ludwig. What you won’t find in Ludwig’s excellent collection of Parrish’s art is the real story of his life and his technique.

Maxfield Parrish Jr. allowed Ludwig to publish many of his father’s magnificent paintings, but he refused to allow Ludwig to tell the whole truth about Parrish Sr.’s relationship with Sue Lewin, and he refused to allow Ludwig to reveal the degree to which Parrish Sr. used photography to create his paintings.



Last summer I took a tour of Vermont with my friend Edward, and we stopped at the Quechee Antique Mall, and I picked up a copy of Parrish and Photography by Alma Gilbert for five bucks. I looked it up on Amazon, and it turns out it’s worth almost seventy bucks.

Since this blog is about great reads for a quarter, I guess I can’t talk about it. Just kidding. You can get it in paperback for twenty bucks, or you can buy any one of Alma Gilbert’s many other books, especially The Make Believe World of Maxfield Parrish and Sue Lewin, which you can get for three bucks. All Gilbert’s books tell the real story, which has the ring of truth.



I toured Parrish’s estate with Alma Gilbert more than 30 years ago and got the real story, and I think the whole world, especially the art world, is deeply indebted to her for the lawsuits and vilification she endured for telling the truth.

Like many other great artists, including Vermeer and probably Rembrandt, Parrish used the principles of photography. He really had to see something to paint it. That goes for all the urns and pillars in his paintings, and the clothes and the landscapes as well.




In his famous Old King Cole mural, the steward has a giant ring of keys on his hip. I’ve seen that ring of keys. Parrish made it (he was a machinist) and photographed it to include it in the mural.

Does this diminish his stature as an artist? Not at all. This book shows all the photographs that Parrish used to create his paintings, including Daybreak, the single most reproduced piece of art in US history.

The model facing forward is Parrish’s daughter Jean, and the prone figure is Kitty Owen, the granddaughter of William Jennings Bryan! That ought to win you a bar bet, if you have any imagination at all.




But what I love most is all the photographs of Sue Lewin, Parrish’s model and mistress for more than half a century. In The Lamplighters, every single model is Sue Lewin. It’s a picture of Parrish’s ideal universe.

Sue Lewin first posed for Maxfield Parrish in 1905 in the Land of Make Believe. In 1960, when she was seventy and he was ninety, she left him to marry her childhood sweetheart. For some people, that’s a beautiful story.




But more beautiful still is the story of their life in the Cornish Colony, in the company of artists like Augustus St. Gaudens, and their explorations of all the fairy tale people that Parrish depicted in his art.




The book includes photographs of Parrish mugging for all kinds of illustrations, including the Pied Piper of Hamlin, the subject of one of his most famous murals.

There’s even one where we see Parrish posing nude with a string to click the shutter. I guess nobody else was around.






Henry Ward Beecher, sleazebag extraordinaire

I really enjoyed Henry Ward Beecher: An American Portrait by Paxton Hibben, which I’ve been reading for many months, a little bit at a time. It’s hard to take in, at one sitting, how loathsome one human being can be.

Hibben has lots of interesting facts about Beecher’s upbringing in Connecticut under his blue-nosed father Rev. Lyman Beecher: he never owned a toy or celebrated Christmas or went to a birthday party.

His only friend was a black servant named Charles Smith, who read him the Gospel.

Beecher was the pastor of the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, and was known in his time as the greatest preacher in America, yet he was a craven coward, an admitted adulterer and a blowhard of cataclysmic proportion.

When Beecher was a young preacher in Indianapolis and an elderly black man, who had purchased his freedom, was murdered by a mob for no good reason, and an abolitionist printer was pursued by the same mob, Beecher said to the abolitionist printer:

“Get out! Run! You have no friends here.”

You can see how hypocritical it was for Henry Ward Beecher, later on, to style himself an opponent of slavery and racism. He was happy to hold forth against slavery as long as he was safe.

Henry Ward Beecher came around to the cause much later when, inspired by Salmon P. Chase, he found how popular it was to auction off nearly white women who were being sold into slavery because they had a single black grandparent. His congregations would buy their freedom to save them from depravity, but what of the women who weren’t nearly white?

When he became the pastor of the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, Beecher bilked this device for all the titillation value he could muster, but when it came to granting blacks the right to vote or other less glamorous subjects, he was mute.

Now you might have read that Beecher was accused and tried on charges of adultery, and that this was a famous “he said, she said” situation.

Don’t believe it. He was as guilty as can be. He himself confessed on numerous occasions to adultery with the wives of his closest and most trusted friends.

The man who founded Plymouth Church, who paid Beecher’s expenses in moving there, heard his own wife confess, on her deathbed, that Beecher had had relations with her.

Later Elizabeth Tilton, the wife of another close friend, confessed the same thing. Beecher took advantage of her just after she had a miscarriage, at a time when her husband was on a lecture tour.

But don’t take my word for it. Ask her best friend, Susan B. Anthony. Elizabeth Tilton was friends with all the leaders of the suffragist movement.

Victoria Woodhull, who had ten times more class than Henry Ward Beecher could ever muster, the first woman stock broker on Wall Street and the first woman to run for president, spent a month in jail for exposing the truth about this vile hypocrite.

That Beecher was exonerated at his trial, and that his congregation at Plymouth Church stood by him, was evidence that they believed these women should never have accused him in the first place. Not one of his parishoners could possibly have believed he was innocent.


Paxton Hibben

They all believed that this kind of thing was his right because he was such a superstar and his wife Eunice was such a bitchy sourpuss.

If you want to gauge how low a human being can sink and still be extolled as a preacher of the gospel, this book is for you.

I myself am interested in finding out where Henry Ward Beecher is buried so I can go piss on his grave.

Henry Ward Beecher, with the full support of his gullible sister Harriet Beecher Stowe (who was nearly bankrupted by his legal expenses) did more to destroy the power of religion in America than any atheist subversive could possibly have hoped to do, and Paxton Hibben does a great job explaining how he did it.

And speaking of atheist subversives, I have to admit here that Paxton Hibben was a friend of the Bolsheviks, who were famous for being unable to distinguish between right and wrong, and for slaughtering the Romanov princesses, and many millions of other innocent people.

But Hibben, along with Herbert Hoover, saved more than five million people during the great famine in Russia, and it’s hardly fair to tar him with all the crimes of Bolshevism when clearly, his heart was in the right place.

This famous famine, and the role of Hibben and Hoover, is clearly a subject for another entry.


Rhododendron State Park

by Steve Hartshorne on June 11, 2014


Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire

With all the ornamental rhododendrons in full bloom here in the valley, I decided to head up to one of the largest rhododendron forests in North America in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire. Silly me. Most of the ornamental rhodies you see in people’s yards are imported varieties which bloom sooner than the native ones. Not only that, I could have saved myself a trip by checking the Rhododendron State Park Bloom report at the park’s website.


An ornamental rhody on Route 32 in Royalston

But it was a beautiful drive up Route 10 through Northfield, Winchester, and Richmond, and I took another scenic route back on Route 32 in Royalston and Orange. And there’s a wildflower trail at the park maintained by the Fitzwilliam Garden Club where I saw some ladyslippers, always a delight.


Special thanks to Miss Mary Lee Ware of Boston and Rindge, New Hampshire, who bought the land in 1901 to save it from logging and donated it to the Appalachian Mountain Club, which gave it to the state in 1946.


Ladyslippers and partridge berries



Names on the Wall at Woolsey Hall

by Steve Hartshorne on June 8, 2014


Names on the wall in Woolsey Hall


Reunions are a great opportunity to study history, society, and the stages of human life because the cohorts of graduates are segregated by age and on display in their distinctive plumage.

I remember one day when my daughter Sarah was little and we went to the swimming hole at Deerfield Academy on reunion weekend, and the different classes showed up to swim in chronological order.

First there were the boisterous seniors, jumping and roughhousing, with the boys splashing the girls and throwing them in the water.

Then came the young marrieds, and the boys were less boisterous and DID NOT splash the girls and throw them in the water.

Then the parents with little kids, then the parents with big kids, then the grandparents with little kids, and finally the old ladies and gents who just took off their shoes and waded in the river with a faraway look in their eye.

This year marked a kind of sad transition for my college reunion, because our class (1974) was sceduled for the “old” weekend. We used to reune with the classes that came after us in five-year increments. This year we reuned with the classes who went before.

So instead of looking back over the various stages of life that we had all passed through — young marrieds, parents with kids — we got a look ahead down the corridors of time at the thinning ranks of grey-haired gents in blue blazers, growing ever more frail, five years at a time.

And since our class was only the second to become coeducational, there were no single women.

For our 20th and 25th and 30th and 35th, when the party died down in the Class of 1974 courtyard, we could always move on to the class of ’79 and on to ’84 and ’89, getting ever more raucous as the evening progressed.

This year no one I knew very well showed up and I high-tailed it over to my friend Edward’s in East Haven.

I went back the next day, and it was fun to roam around the city and visit old haunts. I went to the Peabody Museum, which I had never got around to visiting in my undergraduate days.

And I went over to the corner of College and Chapel Steets to pay my respects to Adelbert Hay, who fell to his death there in 1902 from a window in the New Haven House at his second reunion. He was smoking on a windowsill in the wee hours of the morning.

Then Saturday, I found myself in a line at Woolsey Hall in a sea of silver-haired gents waiting to hear an address by the president of the university, followed by a program of a capella singing.

The walls of Woolsey Hall are inscribed with hundreds and hundreds of names of graduates who died in America’s wars, listing the dates and the places where they died.

I looked at the 225 names of those who died in World War I and tried to imagine what it would be like to lose hundreds of your classmates in just two years.

Then there are 514 names from World War II.

“Memory here guards their ennobled names.”

I was about to take me seat, when I heard myself saying to myself, “What the heck am I doing here?” and took off for the Valley to put in my garden.


The City of Falling Objects

by Steve Hartshorne on May 11, 2014


Adelbert Hay

Later this month I’ll be off to my 40th college reunion down in New Haven, Connecticut, which will always be, for me, the City of Falling Objects.

Back in my college days, I was playing bridge with some friends of mine in the basement of a building constructed by Cornelius Vanderbilt to house a chapter of the Delta Psi fraternity, known generally as St. Anthony’s Hall, St. A’s for short.

This was in the 70s, said the crotchety old dude, but it still felt like the 60s. We had liberated the fraternity in the name of the revolution and opened its membership to anyone who cared to join.

Before that, and since, I’m afraid, it was one of those clubs where you had to wait to be ‘tapped,’ a custom which, I suppose, gave its members a feeling that they were part of an elite, as if they weren’t already as students at Yale.

It was a delightful foursome: Kristina Pickering, Geoffrey Walker, Larry Maloney and myself, and we played all night.

We emerged from ‘the crypt,’ as the basement room was known, to get breakfast across the street, and found that in the night a student had been locked out of his room and tried to get in through a fourth-story window.

He had slipped and fallen and landed right on Pickering’s Audi and was lying beside it in the alley. He had no pants on, and his body was blue.

The following week I was studying in a room that overlooked the same side street, and I saw a puppy on the roof. That’s a typical goofy college thing to do, let your puppy out on the roof.

I thought I ought to tell whoever it was to bring it in, but when I looked again, the puppy’s body was lying lifeless in the street.

And then, to make a very long story short, we (the crew at the liberated St. A’s) had a friend who had once been a student at the Yale Divinity School, a giant guy, immensely strong, named Sam the Sham, who spoke in rhyme. He was the Arian from Darien, coast to coast with the Holy Ghost.

Sam the Sham was being “treated” for a mental disorder with a dose of lithium that was thirty (30) times the dose recommended today. He wound up killing himself by jumping off a cliff known as East Rock.

As fans of this blog know, I have been lately immersed in a book called The Five of Hearts by Patricia O’Toole. One of the ‘hearts’ was John Hay, a close friend of Henry Adams.

In 1901, Hay’s son Adelbert was about to take a job, at the White House as secretary to President McKinley, a job his father had held under Abraham Lincoln.

Before assuming his post, he went to his third reunion at Yale and fell to his death from a window at the New Haven House. Apparently he was sitting on the windowsill having a late-night cigarette. More here.

Adelbert Hay was named for his uncle, who drowned at Yale on a geological expedition.

Is it any wonder, then, that New Haven will always be, for me, the City of Falling Objects?


The Dog Stars

by Steve Hartshorne on May 10, 2014


There’s an excellent book making the rounds of our little poker circle called The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. Heller is a close friend of my cousin Max Hartshorne, who loved the book, and it was also very highly recommended by our buddy Ed Valerio, a combat veteran and military historian.

It took me more than three weeks to read The Dog Stars because I became completely absorbed in the apocalyptic hellscape that Heller has created.

Again and again I would start reading and doze off into fevered dreams about the central character, a guy named Hig, his dog Jasper and his partner, a trigger-happy fellow appropriately named Bangley.

Hig and Bangley have been holding off Mad Max-style invaders from their little airport in Colorado because Hig has an old Cessna with which he patrols the perimeter and Bangley is a gunsmith and marksman and combat tactician.

They live in a world where most intruders are intent on killing you, and even if they aren’t, they’re probably carrying a deadly blood disease, so unless you shoot first and ask questions later, you’re probably dead meat.

That’s about all I’ll say about the specifics, because you really should read this book, and I don’t want to spoil it, but I have to add that besides creating a realistic universe where the characters have to shed their basic humanity to survive, Heller has also done a truly masterful job creating the characters and describing the interplay between and among them.

Hig, for example, is basically a kindhearted soul, but he knows that without Bangley he would have been dead long ago. When he sets out on some adventures of his own, Bangley’s voice becomes part of his own internal dialogue, and it saves his life more than once.

This internal dialogue, which comprises the narrative of the novel, kind of reminds me of Samuel Becket’s story about the guy walking up and down the beach switching rocks from one pocket to another.

It’s a commentary on how the human mind works and, in a larger sense, what makes us behave as we do, and, in an even larger sense, what it is that makes life worth living.

Back in 1974, I read a story called “Game” by Donald Barthelme with a similar internal dialogue:

“Shotwell and I watch the console. Shotwell and I live under the ground and watch the console. If certain events take place upon the console, we are to insert our keys in the appropriate locks and turn our keys.

“Shotwell has a key and I have a key. If we turn our keys simultaneously the bird flies, certain switches are activated and the bird flies.”

This story was the inspiration for my own story, “Aboard the Mothership,” which was published in the Yale Literary magazine.

I sat down and typed it in twenty minutes without a single pause, as if I were taking dictation from some supernatural source.

It had a similar internal dialogue. Instead of Shotwell, I used Weston, a character borrowed from C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra series, which I don’t recommend.

“Weston is getting edgy. He clips and files his nails with a pocket manicure kit.” The narrator and Weston fly in the mothership to the mountain, which opens to receive them.

The last line was: “Smoke comes from the mountain sometimes. I hope it will not be Weston.” I have no idea where that came from.

Shotwell, Weston and Bangley are all kindred spirits in the life of the mind, and I have to hand it to Peter Heller for a ripping good read.

As I said, he creates a universe in which the characters must shed their basic humanity to survive, but then he shows us how they can regain their humanity and create a life worth living.