Census Data Shows 20% Higher Death Toll In Civil War

Hat Tip to James.

As a Civil war buff this really interested me.  The idea of such an increase in the number of causalities has long been a topic of conversation but the fact newly digitized census data from the 19th century is now allowing for harder evidence to be added to the discussion and bolstering the underlying idea is most remarkable.

For 110 years, the numbers stood as gospel: 618,222 men died in the Civil War, 360,222 from the North and 258,000 from the South — by far the greatest toll of any war in American history.

By combing through newly digitized census data from the 19th century, J. David Hacker, a demographic historian from Binghamton University in New York, has recalculated the death toll and increased it by more than 20 percent — to 750,000.

The new figure is already winning acceptance from scholars. Civil War History, the journal that published Dr. Hacker’s paper, called it “among the most consequential pieces ever to appear” in its pages. And a pre-eminent authority on the era, Eric Foner, a historian at Columbia University, said:

“It even further elevates the significance of the Civil War and makes a dramatic statement about how the war is a central moment in American history. It helps you understand, particularly in the South with a much smaller population, what a devastating experience this was.”

The old figure dates back well over a century, the work of two Union Army veterans who were passionate amateur historians: William F. Fox and Thomas Leonard Livermore.

Development Pressures In Madison Focus On Planning Staff

One of the most vexing issues facing Madison can be viewed when walking about in many areas of the city, but most notably on the isthmus.  The number of cranes that are hoisting up building materials and cement buckets are a direct result of the massive push for more density with construction of rentals with ever-higher stories, some in areas that feel such growth is not in keeping with neighborhood plans and desires.

Just within four blocks of the Capitol Square alone it is calculated that there are 1,200 apartments that are either approved or under construction that will allow for 2,00o more people to live and spend money in the area.  And when one views projects that are several more blocks from the Square the number only increases.

While density is a good thing, and allows for a robust and diverse community there are also pressures about transportation, noise, and attitudes that must be brought into the larger discussion about developer’s wish lists.

And with those questions comes the central one that more and more is a topic at coffee shops, local eateries, and places like my front lawn when folks stop by to chat.

Who at the city level is allowing or even encouraging the wet dream of developers to get a green light at almost every point in the process of building a new high rise?

This week the Isthmus published one of their must-reads (written by Joe Tar) that examines the inner workings of Madison planning staff, focusing on Steven Cover, director of the city’s Department of Planning and Community and Economic Development, and Katherine Cornwell, director of planning.  Over time both of their names have entered the city-wide conversation, both in frustration and angst when it comes to the development issues that are front and center as this city grows.

I felt the segment of the article that best summed up the running conversation among those of us who attend neighborhood meetings, and care enough to engage others in the dialogue appeared towards the end when Alders Marsha Rummel, Mike Verveer, and Lisa Subeck expressed concerns about the process along with top planning staff taking sides on plans.

The whole article is well worth your time, but the following struck a cord with me, based on previous conversations I have been a party to over the past months..

Rummel says planning staff has a tricky job in trying to balance competing interests. She acknowledges that Cover and Cornwell are both new to Madison and busy as the economy rebounds.

But she feels that Cover hasn’t reached out to residents and neighborhood groups the way he has to developers.

“When you’re the director of community and economic development, your job is to balance the real estate development side along with the community development side, the people side,” she says. “I just don’t see a balance there. Maybe everything is much busier, but I don’t see that Steve has taken the time to meet with the community.”

Cover says he has reached out.

“We do neighborhood plans, so staff goes out there. When there are projects that come up, we’ll go to those meetings. I always tell people if you’ve got an issue, come on in. Sometimes communities will tell us we’ve got some concerns about this project, and we’ll meet with them.”

Soglin says the department’s “involvement with neighborhood groups has never been greater.”

But Rummel notes that sometimes Cover doesn’t even respond to her emails (Cover says he responds to all emails). “I’m not saying Steve doesn’t hear people’s concerns; it just seems that he’s not really engaged with us,” she says. “He’s not engaged with alders, he’s not engaged with our constituents.”

Ald. Mike Verveer agrees that the department leaders are much cozier with developers than in the past.

“I haven’t heard any complaints about the front-line city planners,” Verveer says. “[But] through words and actions [of department leaders] the neighborhood activists are feeling less welcome to participate in the process than they once did.”

Verveer also worries that department staff feel stifled by the new regime. “What has concerned me significantly is the low staff morale,” he says. “I don’t see signs of that improving among planning staff I speak with regularly.”

Ald. Lisa Subeck says some conflicts with alders might just be the result of a new leadership style. But she does feel that Cover and Cornwell at times take sides on projects, something she never saw Brad Murphy, Cornwell’s predecessor, do.

“[Murphy] had a talent for presenting the pros and cons without letting on his opinion,” Subeck says.

Subeck loves the outside experience and perspective Cornwell brings to Madison, but adds, “I get frustrated when it feels like she is arguing for one thing or another.”

UW-Whitewater Idea Should Go Statewide

Perhaps it was due to the fact I was reading the newspaper outside in the sunshine under a cloudless sky that allowed me to see the wisdom so clearly concerning the UW-Whitewater’s idea on setting aside a day free of electronic devices.

It might also be the fact that I see everyday over-programmed youngster’s who are juggling school, homework, soccer practice and games, and then other items on their agenda.

It also might be that parents abound with schedules that cram ten pounds of ‘must-do’ items into their five-pound day.

While I understand the necessity of balancing a hectic schedule I also think in many cases there is a willful packing of our lives with so many events that it leaves little time to think and ponder about the important things in life.

In the past year I had a conversation with an aunt who lived close to me when I was a youngster.  Growing up in rural Wisconsin decades ago is a far cry from how most children now experience life.  While our family had one car, and my Dad used it for work, there was never the idea that a whole host of activities could be planned for the kids, even if such an array of such activities had existed in the area.

As my aunt said at the time of our chat, “People just can not realize how it was back then.”   Which does not mean it was so awful in any way, just much different.

While I took a book to the acres of woods behind our home and read under a pine, or explored about the property kids today hunker down with a tablet in their basement or get transported to their next assigned activity of the day.  They seldom, it seems to me, have the luxury of just thinking about life, or planning their own happiness in the immediate space around them.

Without such time and freedom it does limit how one grows and processes life.

The same is true for adults.

Which is why I am truly interested with the notion that a university marketing director at UW-Whitewater made known last week.  She is asking her staff to take a “thinking day” this summer, when employees will unplug from email and cellphones and just think about how they can do their jobs better.

Where are we now, how did we get to this point, and where do we hope to go in the future is not just useful for the academic or professional world.  It is also mighty important that people of all ages contemplate such questions and assess the multiple tentacles that come with such inquiries.

But first we need to step back from the fast paced day-to-day life that we either feel beholden to, or forced in some way to abide with and make a decision to untether ourselves.  Turning off the gadgets, unplugging from the constant ‘need’ to be connected is the first step.

Then find a place to contemplate and ponder all those parts of life that have piled up.  After having been connected and scheduled for so long I suspect there are some long productive hours ahead for many.

But let it begin.

Photos Of Katharine Hepburn’s Estate Which Is For Sale

One of my favorite film stars, when Hollywood really did sizzle, was the one and only Katharine Hepburn.  I love her talent on the screen.

As such it was easy to catch my eye this weekend with a news story about her former estate up for sale in Connecticut.  After three years on and off the market, the Old Saybrook home is now listed at $14.8 million.  The home had been in the Hepburn family since 1913, and Katharine lived there until she died in 2003 at age 96. 

For those with more change in their pocket that I do please note the property is on 1.5 acres of land and has 680 feet of waterfront on the Long Island Sound.

For some amazing photos please click here.  (I might add the classic look of white is nice but can you imagine what James and I who live in color might do with this house…)

living-room-also-with-outdoor-accessthe-entrance-way-to-the-home-with-views-to-the-second-floor the-private-dock-perfect-for-a-summer-getaway




My Dad, Royce Humphrey, U.S. Army 1941-1946

Observing Memorial Day.

Royce 1941 to 1946

Why Is The Flag At Half-Staff?

One reads about people not knowing what Memorial Day means, and why we observe it.  But I must say those stories have always seemed to be about people ‘out there’ and not in my surroundings.

Until today.

I was eating a late breakfast on the ‘coffin door’ porch while reading the newspapers.  From the street a woman asked “Who died?”

I looked up and was not sure what we were talking about.  “Why is your flag at half-staff?  Did someone die?”

(Well, actually many have died.)

I explained that before noon on Memorial Day our full-sized flag is lowered to half-staff, and then raised and flown full staff after that time.

The woman was from Seattle and very conversant and polite.  She told me that yes, after I explained the flag position to her, that she recalled all that from her childhood.  But it seemed to me that there was no further recognition that the day should have a continuing importance to our lives.

Just an interesting observation on Memorial Day 2014.

The Message The NRA And America Needs To Hear

This blog has a few issues that come back again and again as running themes.  The process of government matters, newspapers serve an important role in this country, gay marriage is a civil right, and gun violence must be brought under control in our nation.

On the latter point I have posted over 200 times on the need for gun control.  Over time I have commented at length about ways that goal can be achieved.  I have also asked the question repeatedly how many more deaths must occur, and headlines written about the carnage before America wakes up and demands accountability from the NRA, and the politicians they buy so to end soiling this nation with blood.

This weekend the latest headlines from gun violence were created in California, and one parent bared his soul and made the plea following the death of his son.  It is anguishing to watch, but one that needs to be heard, and then heard again until we come to grips with the fact the NRA must no longer be allowed to set the agenda when it comes to gun policy.



James And I Celebrate 14 Years Of Walking A Shared Road

Sunset on Rim

Today James and I celebrate fourteen years of walking a shared road together.

We met at Borders Books (University Avenue) as I sat at a table with a newspaper, book about Wyoming, and a mug of coffee.  A guy came up and asked “Anything happening in the news today?”  I was having my first conversation with James.

We had nodded and smiled at each other over the weeks as I stopped at Borders where he worked after first coming to Madison following a teaching stint on the East Coast.  But that day as he took a break, ate a cinnamon roll, and chatted with me something remarkable started.

That evening we had our first date that included dinner on State Street and some funny conversation.  I dropped him off at his apartment door with a kiss on the cheek.  Corny perhaps, but true.

Two weeks after we met he attended six weeks of classes at Middlebury College in Vermont.  Each evening we had long phone conversations where we really got to know each other.  By the time he came back to Madison I knew he was the person I wanted to spend time with, and he wanted to call this city home.

Two years to the day after we met we picked up keys to our first apartment.  I had never lived with anyone before, and was pleased to know he had a touch of OCD, too.    Over the years we moved into our Victorian home, did some traveling, planted some gardens but every day there is one constant.  That is laughter.  It abounds here during the day and every night before we fall asleep it bounces off the walls as we just chat.

I really think there is one special person for everyone, and Lord knows I waited and wondered if I would ever find mine.  James has been my best friend, partner, and soul-mate all these years, and I love him very much.   Our shared road continues.