Arkansas: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Part I, The Good

I lived for three years and eight months in Little Rock. I’m in Virginia now. My time in Arkansas was eventful and interesting. My leaving was always likely, but never inevitable. Some things I will miss about it. Others I certainly will not.

Arkansas is a big state, size-wise. Not so much for population. But the place has a fascinating history, and it is woefully understudied in comparison to a place like Virginia. Here are some cool things to see while you’re there. Note that these are only places that I visited. I didn’t hit every site that I should have, such as Fort Smith, Crystal Bridges, and Eurkea Springs.

  1. Fayetteville (northwest Arkansas). Fayetteville is the home of the Razorbacks and Arkansas’s biggest college and flagship of the University of Arkansas system. it has all the cool things you would associate with a college town: used book stores, bars, vinyl record stoes, and strip clubs.
  2. Pea Ridge (northwest Arkansas). This Civil War battlefield isn’t far from Fayetteville. It was one of the most important battles fought in Arkansas. The Rebels lost.
  3. Natural Bridge (northwest Arkansas). This place is worth a stop. Admission was $5 when I was there.
  4. Little Rock/North Little Rock River Trail (central Arkansas). What I will miss about Little Rock was the amazing bike/pedestrain trail that winds along the Arkansas River. I rode 25 miles most weeks on my bike. Because of Little roick’s mild winters, you can bike the trail almost every week of the year, weather permitting. Winter days range from the teens to the 70s. Most of the time, though, it hovers between 45-60 degrees, which is doable on a bicycle long distance.
  5. Hot Springs (central/southwest Arkansas). This old gambling town isn’t what it used to be. The race track is still there, but the city is a shadow of its former glory. Still, it’s worth visiting, especially the gardens not far from the downtown.
  6. Historic Washington (southwest Arkansas). Washington was where the Confederate government moved after the fall of Little Rock in September 1863. The old, and modest, capitol is there, along with many other historic buildings.
  7. Hope (southwest Arkansas). Not far from Washington is Hope. As is true of many small towns in Arkansas, Hope has seen better days. But it is the home of Bill Clinton, Mike Huckabee, and Patsy Montana. The Clinton childhood home, run by the National Park Service, is worth visiting.
  8. Kingsland (south-central Arkansas). Kingsland, which is about 75 miles south of Little Rock, is the birthplace of Johnny Cash. The town numbers only about 500 people. But its’ worth seeing if you’re a Cash fanatic.
  9. Cothams (central Arkansas). About ten miles west of Little Rock is Cothams (pronounced “Cottums”) in Scott, Arkansas. It’s home of the hubcap burger, so called because it’s as big as one. Yet, as huge as this place’s hamburgers are, they are surprisingly not as filling as you might think. And good thing, because you’ll need to save room for the Mississippi Mud Pie.
  10. Scott (central Arkansas). Scott isn’t a walkable community. But it is very pretty in spots, and it has an interesting history.
  11. Dyess (northeast Arkansas). Dyess was created in the 1930s. it was a New Deal experiment intended to help small farmers by giving them a house and 20 acres of land. Nothing in Dyess was free, but it gave a fresh start to many, including Ray Cash, the father of Johnny Cash.
  12. Lakeport Plantation (southeast Arkansas). Lakeport is the only surviving antebellum plantation in Arkansas long the Mississippi River. The place was lovingly restored by Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. The plantation still grows cotton.
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The Funniest Place on Earth: Massachusetts and the Modern Comedy Scene



By Colin Woodward

Massachusetts doesn’t get enough credit for comedy. For some reason, southerners think they have a distinct sense of humor. I can’t remember who said it (maybe Roy Blount), but as one southerner put it, “It’s hard to be funny when it’s cold out.”

Well, maybe not when you’re walking through a blizzard with a -20 windchill factor. But the Bay State ranges from bitter cold to oppressive heat. August days can get to 100 degrees. Bipolar weather can make for bipolar people. And comedy is often born of mental illness. Boston is known for its great sports teams, music, and stranglers. It has also produced some of the best comics ever.


Many of those who have made it in the late 20th century comedy scene were born in Massachusetts. Doug Stanhope and Denis Leary were born in Worcester. If you lived in central Mass, as I did, in the mid-90s, chances are you can quote from No Cure for Cancer verbatim. Now, though, I realize Leary stole his act from Bill Hicks. Score one for Dixie!

That said, Massachusetts has a history of original comedy. Penn Jillette, of the duo Penn & Teller, is not a stand-up comic, but he is one of the best and funniest magicians ever, who mixes heavy doses of comedy into his act. He’s also a bright guy who never stops talking and will go on NPR and use a word like “solipsism.” Penn’s from Greenfield, which is now mostly known for its rampant heroin problem.

Okay, Massachusetts isn’t always funny. I don’t find Dane Cook, John Krasinki, or B. J. Novak all that amusing, but Massachusetts can claim them, too.

Grow up in Mass and being funny is about as necessary to your survival as being a Red Sox or Celtics fan. Those winter nights are long, chief. So go to the packy and we’ll watch Nick DiPaolo (from Danvers) when you get back.

Ever heard of comedian Pete Holmes? He’s funny guy in his mid-30s, has insightful things to say about google and our concept of knowledge, and he’s from Lexington. Bill Burr, regarded as one of the best comics working today, is from Canton. The Boston area can also claim Louie C.K., who was born in Washington, D.C., and lived for a few years in Mexico, but wound up in Boston by the age of seven. Louie C.K.’s dark, self-deprecating, occasionally surrealistic brand of comedy could not have emerged from anywhere. It’s not the stuff of the Blue Collar Tour. It is more fittingly a product of the dark New England mind.



Lenny Clarke, known for his heavy Boston accent, was born in Cambridge. Stephen Wright is also from Cambridge. Conan O’Brien is from Brookline. Amy Poehler is from Newton. You can also add to that list Dana Gould, who is from Hopedale in Worcester County as well as Jack Gallagher, a stand-up who grew up just south of Boston and who played Larry David’s doctor on Curb Your Enthusiasm. If you saw the 2002 documentary Comedian, it featured Jerry Seinfeld. It also tracked the try-too-hard career path of Orney Adams, who’s from Lexington, Mass. Adams was once represented by George Shapiro (played by Danny DeVito in Man on the Moon). Now, Adams has a wikipedia page with no photo.


Paula Poundstone might have been born in Alabama, but her family moved to Sudbury when she was a few months old. Other ladies to emerge from the Boston comedy scene include Rachel Dratch, who is from Lexington and was on Saturday Night Live for years, and whose repertoire included a recurring idiotic Red Sox fan sketch. Mindy Kaling is from Cambridge and went to Dartmouth before she started doing stand-up. She played Boston native Ben Affleck in a play she wrote with a female friend, who played Matt Damon, before going on to The Office (her boss on the show, Steve Carell is from the Boston suburbs) and then her own show. Sarah Silverman, a native of New Hampshire, got her start in Boston at 17.




Some of the funniest people working today were not from Massachusetts, but nevertheless got their start there. Marc Maron, who is a walking encyclopedia of comedy, went to Boston University and stayed in Massachusetts for the early part of his comedy career before moving on to New York and then L.A.. In his latest book Attempting Normal, Maron relates a sad encounter with a Boston hooker, who turned off Maron with her “undeniable and annoying New England accent.”

Maron has had people like Billy Crimmins on his show. Crimmins is known for his social commentary and helped blow the Boston comedy scene wide open back in the 1980s. Also to emerge from the Boston scene were locals Steve Sweeney (from Charlestown) and Jimmy Tingle (from Cambridge). The funniest show on NPR is supposed to be Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. But actually, it’s Car Talk, starring two goofball, wise-cracking mechanics from Cambridge. Boston is to comedy what New Orleans is to music.

President Barack Obama participates in a podcast with Marc Maron in Los Angeles, Calif., June 19, 2015.(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


When he was on Air America Maron sparred–and still does, if you watch the IFC show Maron–with Sam Seder. Seder, who does about equal parts comedy and political commentary, grew up in Worcester. Listen to Maron’s podcast WTF and you’ll also hear a lot about the late Patrice Oneal, who was born in NYC but grew up in Roxbury. Oneal went to jail for 60 days when he was a teenager and said that’s when he learned that being funny helped him survive being locked up. Maron called Oneal a “tremendous force of comedy,” who had “some fucking magnitude.”

Patrice_O'Neal_-_Jan_2006 (1)


Like Marc Maron, Howard Stern also went to BU, where he was influenced by the legendary disc jockey Charles Loquidara’s Big Mattress radio show. Emerson College in Boston, dedicated solely to communications and the arts, can boast many alumni who have gone on to big comedy careers, including Denis Leary, David Cross, and Jay Leno.

The heyday of the Boston comedy scene is over, but Massachusetts still knows how to bring the funny. But is it right to think of there being a distinct Massachusetts sense of humor? Clearly, Massachusetts’s sense of humor is more sophisticated than what passes for funny in the rest of the country. It tends toward the bizarre, the black, the witty, the dry, and the sarcastic. Let’s face it, it can be mean.

It’s doubtful that someone from Alabama will find someone from Massachusetts funny on a regular basis and vice versa. People from Massachusetts have more comedy kin in NYC, L.A., and London than the Deep South.


Why is there such a rich history of Massachusetts stand-up? True American humor goes back to the eighteenth century. The funniest of the Founding Fathers was Ben Franklin who was born in–yep, you guessed it–Boston.



Stand-up is a distinctly post-World War II phenomenon. It thrived in urban areas like New York. America has many urban areas, though, so why did Massachusetts become a hotbed of comedy when Milwaukee and Miami did not? Why would Mass, which some people see as puritanical and humorless when it’s not a bastion of godless liberalism, produce a Conan O’Brien? How can a place that executed people for witchcraft create great comedy three hundred years later?



Well, 300 years is a long time. And though the Puritans were humorless, they were intellectuals. They founded Harvard and a true literary and philosophical tradition–steeped in the Bible though their outlook may have been. Massachusetts has the gold standard for education. It’s the place where the elites from other states send their kids to college. Some are smart. Others are like George W. Bush.

Massachusetts has a tradition as a smart place, a bookish place. Comedians aren’t just funny, they are very, very smart. Conan went to Harvard. So did John Updike, who worked at Harvard Lampoon while he was there. You also need a sense of humor if you’re going to be a lifelong Red Sox fan, who endures six months of winter every year.


Anyone can tell a joke. Not everyone can tell a joke well. And fewer still can put together a set of original material that makes people laugh for thirty minutes or an hour. The best comedians come from the northeast, because it has the country’s strongest intellectual tradition. Northampton, Massachusetts, probably has more used bookstores than all of Arkansas. Massachusetts has far too many colleges and universities to name–despite Spinal Tap’s manager’s claim that Boston is “not a big college town.” As a comic, you could make a living just playing colleges in Massachusetts.

Stand-up comics are intellectuals at heart as well as true individualists. If you’ve heard of a certain comedy troupe, chances are it is not from Boston. Many people outside of New England think Massachusetts is a hotbed of socialism. It’s not. People there are more fiercely independent than other parts of the country. Massachusetters may like big government, but they also like their alone time. They will occasionally seek others out to drink, procreate, and watch Red Sox games, but mostly they want to do everything themselves. They are a stubborn lot.

One of the most unique and scariest things about doing stand-up is that you must do it alone. Should there be more than one person on stage with you, you are doing something else. Comics are brave, vulnerable, angry, and crazy. And for whatever reason, Massachusetts has made a lot of them.

Colin Woodward is an archivist and historian. He is the author of Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army, which is not especially funny.  He is writing a second book on Johnny Cash, who often was very funny.

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Confessions of a (Former?) Book Hoarder


By Colin Woodward

“What is this obsession people have with books? They put them in their houses like they’re trophies. What do you need it for after you read it?”

–Jerry to George on Seinfeld

If you are a historian, you probably have lots of books. The same goes for all academics, historians or otherwise. You might have so many books, in fact, that they have become a problem. A problem to store, a problem to move, a problem to get read. Let’s face it, some of us are book hoarders.

I am a recovering one. Or at least, committed to change. It was easy to buy books when I was in graduate school. Much of my time was spent reading. In my first year at LSU, most of my waking hours were spent reading. And that is not an exaggeration. Grad school is intellectual boot camp and not all enlistees make it. Those that do suffer from a kind of intellectual PTSD.

After the first two years of grad school, I could be more discriminating in what I read. And yet, the books began piling up anyway. After a disastrous fire in the spring of 2000 (a few months before my general exams), I lost most of my books. I tried to replace all those that burned. I bought new and used books with a vengeance. I didn’t have much money, but much of it, too much, was spent on books. I was coping with loss through book buying.

LSU was no help. Baton Rouge wasn’t/isn’t much of a reading town. But the area around LSU was/is an exception. That area has lots of smart people, who love books. The LSU Book Barn, located in the basement of the library–a one minute walk from my office–was a drug den for book addicts, where you could get paperbacks for as little as 10 cents each. Free books were often stacked outside in the hallway. The sweet, smiling, little old southern ladies who volunteered at the Book Barn were like the beaming pushers who give you your first hit of heroin for free at the schoolyard.

It wasn’t their fault, of course. But when you are young and nerdy, you think you have all the time in the world to read all the books you’ve been collecting. Not just history books, either, but memoirs, poetry, short stories, and novels. You become a post-apocalyptic Burgess Meredith.


At some point, you need to stop yourself and say, “Hey, at the age of 23, I probably read more books than most people will ever read in a lifetime. Why don’t I calm down a little?” But by then, the addiction is too strong.

You begin to trace the source of your addiction. I went to a reading-heavy small liberal arts college. Those four years alone were enough to satisfy my reading fix for many years. But it wasn’t enough. And grad school made the book addiction worse.

Should you be lucky, you will graduate from a quiet, introverted book worm to a boozy, loutish intellectual in the manner of Byron or Christopher Hitchens. Most of us land somewhere in the middle. As graduate school grinds on, you’ll find yourself drinking and writing more than reading. But the book buying might continue unabated. Surely, there will be time to get to those books once I have a tenure-track job and summers off, right?

Land an academic job, and you may be a book hoarder for life. After all, that’s what offices are for: a place to hoard more books. What better way to intimidate friends and students than to show them the office of a heavy drinker with a book problem?

I have met several people who claim to have 3,000 books in their possession. Thomas Jefferson was a famous book hoarder, whose collection became the foundation for the Library of Congress. I know of a historian, who shall remain nameless, who bragged that he had books that he would not only never read, but never open.


I suppose it all comes down to a question of comfort. Hoarders like their “stuff,” even if it takes over their lives. The TV show Hoarders depicted the worst extremes of this complex, which is a kind of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (I’m not sure if this is clinically accurate), only much messier. Books become your friends. You spend time with them. Yet, you are control. Or think you are. After all, books are great. They let us travel to distant times and places for little money. They introduce us to amazing people. Until they take over your life, that is. If you understand the complexities of Shakespeare’s Iago more than your parents, you are reading too much.

I began to break out of my book hoarding when moving became frequent in my life. Not just across-town moves, but across the country. The pressures of moving will make you reconsider your hoarding. I mean, am I really going to read Shelby Foote’s three-volume history of the Civil War again? Or even need it as a reference source?

Once you begin weeding your book collection, it may become difficult to stop. Take solace: you still have more books than most people. And why let them tie you down? You’re not going to live forever, no matter how many books you comfort yourself by thinking you’ll get to one day. Besides, giving away is a way of spreading the joy. Let someone else discover the books that changed your life.

Readers don’t ever stop reading, so you will always be buying more, collecting more. But don’t let it get to be too much. Ask yourself these questions:

1. Do I love this book enough to keep it long after I’ve read it?

2. If I don’t love it, do I need it?

3. Does it have any value beyond sentimental attachment?

4. Lacking sentimental value, does it have any monetary value that makes it worth holding onto?

5. Could someone else use it more than me?

6. Does having this book around bother or inconvenience me?

7. Will I ever re-read this book?

8. Am I kidding myself in thinking I will ever get to this unread book in a reasonable amount of time?

When it comes to having books in our house, we should probably think of them like produce in the grocery store. Has having this book around for years made it lose its freshness? Do I no longer want to read it because it stayed too long on the shelf? If so, then it’s time to get rid of it. And like produce, once consumed, it is needs to be gone from our lives.

I knew what you’re thinking hoarder: the book is dying! We need to hold onto them amid the digital onslaught. I don’t think books are going away. I recently saw on amazon a new, two-volume 1,376 page book on the Franco-Prussian War of 1813. When publishers tell you they can’t publish a long book, they are lying. They can’t publish your long book is what they mean.

So, it’s okay to get rid of your books. Not all, but many of them. Relax, you’re still smart.

Colin Woodward is a historian and certified archivist. He is author of Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War, published in 2014 through University of Virginia Press. He is writing a second book on Johnny Cash.

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The State of Race in America: Better, but Still Bad

President Barack Obama participates in a podcast with Marc Maron in Los Angeles, Calif., June 19, 2015.(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama participates in a podcast with Marc Maron in Los Angeles, Calif., June 19, 2015.(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

By Colin Woodward

The massacre at a church in Charleston last month sparked yet another heated conversation about race in this country. In the wake of the murders committed by a young, hate-filled racist, who wanted to start a race war, we have seen the Right and the Left take their familiar posture on race relations.

In the crosshairs, yet again, is the Confederate flag. On the extreme Left, liberals want to remove all public veneration of the Confederacy.  The worst element of the Right denies a problem even exists, views the proud display of the Rebel flag as harmless, and calls racist those who wish to discuss the issue of slavery and the Civil War.

Allow me to weigh in. As far as issues of race go, things have gotten much better in the U.S. than they were 50 or 60 years ago. But things are still bad, and they need to get better. And I will likely say this forty years from now, if I’m still kicking and the robots have not taken over.

Last month, Marc Maron aired his podcast of his talk (Maron doesn’t like to refer to them as interviews) with Barack Obama. To quote the president: “Racism, we are not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public.” I was surprised that Obama used such frank language, but I was not at all shocked by it. Obama was raised having to carry all the wight that comes from being African American. And it was refreshing that he talked openly and honestly about race.

Obama is proof that when it comes to race, African Americans have come very far in the last half century. Blacks no longer live under a Jim Crow system. They are among our wealthiest and most admired writers, television hosts, politicians, actors, athletes, and movie stars. In the last twenty years, we have had two African American secretaries of state (Powell and Rice) and our first African American president.


Little Rock, Arkansas. 2013.

And yet, there are few black members of Congress. No black filmmaker has ever won an Oscar for directing. In the entire history of our country, there have been few black governors, even in states with large black populations. True, we’ve had an African American president for the past six years.

But once Obama–who is as much white as he is black–was elected, he was demonized as unAmerican, literally and figuratively. Jackasses like Donald Trump denied he was born in this country, claiming he was a “Muslim from Kenya.” One need not go far to find the most vile, racist, anti-Obama rhetoric and imagery on the internet.

Until last week, the Confederate flag flew on the Capitol grounds in Columbia, South Carolina. 150 years after the end of the Civil War, which South Carolina began, we are seeing progress on the issue of the Rebel flag.

But when looking at Charleston’s decision to take the flag down, it’s one of those instances of the glass being half-empty or half-full. South Carolina never should have flown a Rebel flag, and it really has nothing to do with preventing mass murder in this country, whether it be racially motivated or not. We managed to turn a gun debate into a debate about southern heritage.

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Oxford, Mississippi. 2013.

Still, a meaningful debate is a meaningful debate. Over the last five or ten years, we have occasionally heard people talk about how we live in a “post-racial society.” And that kids today ;don’t see race.” Really? The same kids who bully other kids to the point of suicide? They’re more enlightened than the Generation Xers or Boomers on race? Doubtful.

As well meaning as the notion of a “post-racial society” may be, it is painfully naive. Racial matters have improved since our grandparents were alive, to be sure. But how much progress, really, has their been in the last twenty or thirty years? How meaningful has change been on core racial matters? Not much. Yes, we have an African American president, but our next president almost surely will not be. Politicians vote to take down the Confederate flag in Columbia or remove a Nathan Bedford Forrest statue in Memphis, but then fools waving Confederate flags greet in Obama in Oklahoma (which wasn’t even a state, let alone a Confederate one, until 1907).

To say racism has ended is as absurd as saying we live in a “postwar society” or “post-sexist society.” Another cliche is that racism is taught, not natural. But because racism is so prevalent and perhaps indestructible, one wonders if it is just a bi-product of the human condition and human nature, not a “social construct,” the result of bad parenting, bad history, or bad legislation. Many parents teach racism. But there’s also a Lord of the Flies element to racist behavior.

The slaughter at the church in Charleston came not long after race riots in Baltimore and a string of high profile killings of black men by police (one in Charleston received national headlines). Trayvon Martin’s killer got no jail time. Last November, Ferguson, Missouri, burned in the wake of a black man killed by police.

Just yesterday, news broke of an African American woman who died under mysterious circumstances while in custody in Texas. The police say she hanged herself. Her family says that was unlikely. The details are forthcoming, but the incident again casts in a bad light the relationship between law enforcement and the black community. Distrust on both sides is deep.

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Oxford, Mississippi. 2013.

Yes, the race problem is alive and well in America. And one wonders if it will ever be made right. We are 150 years away from slavery. But slavery lasted more than 300 hundred years in English North America. The math is not in our favor.

In 1903, the black historian W. E. B. DuBois said, “The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color-line — the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea.” One wonders what would he say were he alive today.

The Confederate flag isn’t dead, nor is the debate about it. Just a few days after the Charleston shootings, I was driving with family through a suburb of Richmond, VA. In front of us at one point was a white jeep, with several white guys in it. They had not one but two Rebel flags flying from the back of their vehicle. The license plate? I kid you not: “RDNECKS.”

The Confederacy is alive and well in the minds of the white South.

Colin Woodward is a historian and archivist. He is author of Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War (University of Virginia Press, 2014). He is writing a second book about Johnny Cash.

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Marching Masters: Response to the Illinois State Historical Society Journal

marching masters cover

To the Book Review Editor of the Illinois State Historical Society Journal:

Allow me to respond to Robert T. McKenzie’s review of , published in the Spring 2015 issue of your journal. Dr. McKenzie’s superficial reading of contains distortions and lapses in logic that I feel need addressing as a means of evaluating the merits of his review and my book. I would also like to use his review as an opportunity to address larger issues concerning the war and the methodology of scholars who write about it.

Allow me to respond to Robert T. McKenzie’s review of Marching Masters, published in the Spring 2015 issue of your journal. Dr. McKenzie’s superficial reading of Marching Masters contains distortions and lapses in logic that I feel need addressing as a means of evaluating the merits of his review and my book. I would also like to use his review as an opportunity to address larger issues concerning the war and the methodology of scholars who write about it.

Confederates as “Slaves”

McKenzie’s review is accurate until the last line of the second paragraph. After discussing why Confederate troops joined the military, he states, “Above all, [Confederate soldiers] feared becoming slaves themselves.” The “above all” comment is McKenzie’s, not mine. A portion of the second chapter of my book examines Confederates’ fears of becoming “slaves” to the Yankees were the Union to triumph. But I do not think a widespread fear of whites becoming “slaves” was a reason “above all” for why men fought. It certainly was an important reason. Slavery for southern whites was not an abstraction. Whites knew slavery firsthand, and because of that, they never went into much detail concerning what “slavery for southern whites” might mean in practice. And yet, worries about becoming “slaves” was not as strong as fears of emancipation, which southern whites believed would cause black men to run wild, committing atrocities. And decades after the war, Confederates continued to decry emancipation.

Class Warriors?

More seriously, McKenzie errs when he states, “Woodward absolutely rejects the position held by some historians that poorer Confederates sometimes resented being enlisted in a rich man’s war on behalf of the master class.” I don’t reject (“absolutely” or otherwise) that Confederate troops “sometimes” complained that it was a “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight.” To reject that southerners did so would ignore the documentary record. I do in fact discuss complaints about the “rich man’s war” in my book. What I reject is the notion that class trumped race in the Confederacy, generally, or in the army in particular.

McKenzie apparently believes serious class antagonism existed in the army. Class played a role in the army, to be sure. But was it fatal to the Confederate war effort? I don’t think so. I won’t get into how class issues often blended into racial ones and vice versa (and have continued to do so). But I will say that more Confederates had stronger views on black people than they did Karl Marx. Southern whites lost far more sleep over what slaves might be planning in the cabins than what planters were doing at the State House.


Marx proved too liberal to work as an editorial writer for the New York Tribune. Needless to say, he was not popular among Confederate soldiers.

Besides, “poorer Confederates” is a loaded term. Unless he is Bill Gates, everyone is poorer than someone else. That doesn’t make him poor or a class warrior. Soldiers complain, that’s their right. In the context of the southern army, poverty doesn’t necessarily make him a deserter or anti-Confederate. McKenzie might believe that Confederates “resented being enlisted in a rich man’s war on behalf of the master class,” but I don’t, for several reasons. I don’t see Confederate soldiers as dupes of the master class. Most Rebel soldiers, being the good Jacksonians that they were, enlisted of their own free will. They didn’t always like army policy, but they put up with a lot of hardship and injustice.

The Master Class

It was my intention in Marching Masters to redefine—or at least suggest—what the “master class” truly was. Defined narrowly, it means slaveholders. More broadly, I see it as including slaveholders and non-slaveholders alike who had white skin. Southern wealth was built on slavery, and non-slaveholders knew getting rich in the South meant owning many slaves. Even those who wanted no part of owning humans wanted to make sure that blacks were kept subservient. Whenever a white man called a black man “boy,” he was employing a weapon of the master class.

Another inaccuracy is McKenzie’s statement that “Woodward finds little evidence that the rebels’ commitment to slavery never wavered.” In fact, my book contains many examples of Confederates confronting the reality of blacks running away, rebelling against masters, and joining the ranks of the Union army. Chapter Five opens with a South Carolina (yes, even South Carolina) slaveholder becoming fatalistic about the survival of slavery amid the destruction emancipation wrought on his plantation.

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The “Emancipation” Debate

In early 1865, a significant number of Confederates (no one knows how many) supported the enlistment of slaves so that they might fight in the Rebel army. The debate over black enlistment in the last few weeks of the Confederacy was only significant in Lee’s army. And the final, weak bill that passed in mid-March 1865 would not have happened without Lee’s and Davis’s strong support. The enlistment debate clearly showed that many Confederates’ commitment to slavery had wavered. But the debate issue was an instance of—as Lincoln might have put it—how to “cut off a limb to save the body.” For most Confederates, even if their commitment to slavery as they wanted it wavered, their commitment to slavery writ large did not break. Confederates thought African Americans were best kept enslaved. The war dictated otherwise, but events showed that Confederates viciously resisted moves toward emancipation.

Proslavery Politics

Southern whites were very adaptable in manipulating free and enslaved African Americans to maintain slavery. They had 300 years of practice in doing so. The so-called emancipation debate of early 1865 (it was not a debate about seriously considering freeing most or all the slaves) showed that much had changed in the South. Obviously by then, many Confederates had altered their views on what slavery must mean in practice were the Confederacy to survive. But they their proslavery principles had not wavered.

McKenzie says, “Woodward’s observations about the connection of slavery to the Confederate war effort are well supported but largely commonplace. His assertions about how a commitment to slavery figured in the Confederate mindset will be more controversial.” I may be misreading this passage, but at best, it contains a distinction without a difference. At worst, it contradicts itself. Perhaps McKenzie believes that slaveholding politicians started a war for slavery that had little support among the general populace.

The point of my book, however, is to show the ideological link between the army’s high command, its lower officers, common soldiers, and Confederate civilians. Democratic armies are supported by the general populace. Sherman understood this, as did many others during the Civil War. The Confederacy consisted entirely of slaveholding states, and therefore, I read the Rebel war effort as an attempt to defend the proslavery interests of those states and their democratic population through force of arms.

Despite the obvious proslavery nature of the rebellion, McKenzie stresses the class based elements of the Confederate war effort, noting my “insistence that class-based resentment of slaveholders was almost non-existent and that proslavery ideology never wavered throughout four long years of war.” To say that I believe class resentment was “almost non-existent” during the war’s four years (whether long or short) is again a distortion. I’m not sure what “almost non-existent” means, but if McKenzie wants to push the idea that class divisions were rife in the Confederate ranks then, I must disagree. And the reason why the war lasted four years (long or short) was because of the strong support politicians had for fighting it, inside and outside the army.


How exactly does class factor into a discussion of this image from the early 1970s, courtesy of the late George Wallace?

How to Lie with Statistics

McKenzie’s next issue with my book concerns methodology. He writes, “Rarely does an academic historian writing for a university press reveal so little about his approach to the evidence.” This is an absurd statement. First of all, I am not an academic (no offense meant to academics), but an archivist who works at a university. To say that I “reveal so little” is disingenuous. Marching Masters is copiously footnoted. All sources cited in the text are included in the bibliography and endnotes. I am not hiding anything. The documentation for the book rested on hundreds of primary and secondary, published and unpublished, sources, many of them familiar to military scholars. I would hope that at this point in his career, Dr. McKenzie understands how historians operate: they read books, they go to archives, they write things down, make an argument, and footnote what they found. This practice has changed little in the last hundred years or so.

What I think Dr. McKenzie wanted me to do was discuss a “sample.” The inclusion of a “sample” has been popular among some Civil War scholars for the past twenty years. In 2010, Kenneth Noe published Reluctant Rebels, which contains a sample of 320 soldiers, with accompanying charts and percentages. Dr. McKenzie objects to my anecdotal approach to the sources, much as Dr. Noe criticized me in a review in the Civil War Monitor published in April 2014.

reluctant rebels

The notion of “sampling” has been popular since James McPherson proudly noted in 1997 in For Cause and Comrades that he “sampled” 1,071 Civil War soldiers, 429 of whom were Confederates. Scholars estimate that roughly three million men fought during the war. Assuming McPherson “sampled” 1,071 of three million troops, he sampled .000357% of all the soldiers who fought during the war. This is hardly a sample that would have great merit among a trained statistician. From a scientific standpoint, what Civil War scholars have been doing with their sampling is closer to the “surveys” one finds on The Family Feud.

I do not wish to diminish the achievements of Dr. McPherson or Dr. Noe, whose scholarship I admire. Instead, I want to suggest how Civil War historians are trying to hammer an anecdotal square peg into a scientific round hole. But to say more about my “approach to the evidence”: I did research for years at numerous archives and libraries. I used facts and opinions to construct a narrative and make an argument. What I thought was important and interesting became the subject of chapters. Much was left on the cutting room floor, and much of that for purely editorial reasons. UVA Press was not going to publish a 500 page book. Instead, I had to do the best I could in 206 pages of text. Endnotes, bibliography, and index took up another 90 pages.

Perhaps I tried to do too much. The task of writing about the Confederate army, rather than a single army or a single regiment or single soldier, was a daunting one. Dr. McKenzie clearly wanted me to make more conclusive statements about what all 800,000-1,000,000 Confederates thought at any given time, perhaps using percentages to do so—37% were virulently racist, 81% liked having body servants in camps, 49% disliked Davis’s views on black enlistment, 99% disliked hardtack, 88% sang “Maryland, My Maryland” during the invasion of September 1862, etc. It is one thing to state percentages about something concrete, such as how many men voted for Lincoln or how many Confederate troops were literate. It is much more difficult to make concrete claims about things as subjective as racism, patriotism, and how one generally feels about the war effort. Statistics are antithetical to nuance.

I don’t believe that scholars of the Confederate army should see historical actors as some kind of polling group or feel that they work for Gallup rather than the world of the humane letters. Military historians of the Confederacy are among a long line of scholars going back to Douglas Southall Freeman and Bell Wiley. Freeman’s and Wiley’s works hold up well (and are still in print), despite the absence of “samples.”

I’m willing to bear criticism for not following the lead of recent historians. But I’m not sure why those who examine the Civil War soldier are held to a standard different from other scholars. Should all studies of the past contain “samples” that come from a “representative” cross section of people? When writing about the civil rights movement, for example, must a scholar make sure that the views of people from all the 50 states be included? Should such a history contain appendices that break down all their sources by state and county, age, and property ownership? I would hope not. It is difficult to make precise statements about even a small group of people, let alone a group as varied as the Confederate army. If Marching Masters is to be criticized for saying “some,” “many,” or “most” at times—which McKenzie found “frustratingly imprecise”—a book critic should at least provide examples of when and why such statements were unhelpful. For surely, all historians make such claims.

To again bring up the late Bell Wiley, Dr. McKenzie seems to agree with the scholarship of The Life of Johnny Reb in its exclusion of politics from the Confederate war effort. Wiley, though, was writing in a Jim Crow South that didn’t think race and slavery were an important aspect of Civil War history. Historiography has shifted quite a bit, yet McKenzie finds odd my emphasis on politics. Despite what his review says, however, I don’t write about politics to the exclusion of personal issues for explaining why men fought. Indeed, it would be impossible to write a book about the Confederate army that ignores personal motivations.

Honor Thy Mother and Thy Father

McKenzie apparently reviewed my book based on what he wanted to read rather than what he read. He wanted a book about “the more personal motives for fighting that many historians have found to be influential, such as personal honor, commitment to place, and loyalty to family.” Scholars can read about such important things in other books, but that was not what Marching Masters, with its supposedly “commonplace” assumptions, is about. Personally, I think the whole notion of “honor” driving southern history is nonsense if one ignores its racial foundation. Nor should we divorce proslavery thinking from the desire to defend home and family. Whether he knows it or not, McKenzie is restating what the Lost Cause said for decades: that the war was not about slavery, but about defending homes, firesides, and family. Defending them from what? The tariff? I think not. Confederates were prepared to shed blood and die to avoid the political advances of Lincoln and his “Negro/Negro-loving allies.”

Stranger vs. Stranger

Dr. McKenzie suggests that the Civil War was really just the old “brother versus brother” conflict as advertised on the Time-Life books TV commercials I used to watch as a kid. As Confederate apologists have noted, “How could it have been about slavery, since most southerners didn’t own slaves?” Well, for the same reasons the U.S. fought a war in Afghanistan and Iraq even those most Americans did not lose a loved one in the 9-11 attacks. Politics. Glory helped correct the notion that the Civil War was only a white man’s war. So did Ken Burn’s 1990 documentary. The war was not simply an exercise in defending personal honor or rival families settling old scores. Nor was it all about, as Shelby Foote summarized it, “I’m fightin’, ‘cause you’re down here.”

Modern wars are fought for political, not personal reasons. To stress the class based nature of the Confederate army contradicts Dr. McKenzie’s belief that the war was more personal than political. Some individuals are in a class of their own. But the whole notion of class is political in nature. Regardless, I don’t necessarily see a clear distinction between the personal and the political in much (most? I don’t know, and neither does Dr. McKenzie) of American history, whether those politics be local or national in scope. As any political observer today knows, people get very emotional, indeed can become hysterical, when it comes to politics. Many (sorry, I can’t be more precise than that) have taken politics very personally (“where’s my bailout?”) since the fall of 2008 and the election of our first African American president.

When it came to fighting, many Confederates surely had reasons more personal than political, communal rather than country-wide, for doing so. Yes, they had many, many reasons for fighting and dying and doing whatever they did. But my book is not about every reason they had for joining and staying in the military. In case the title of my book is unclear, I focused on slavery, which I feel important, indeed, necessary, in a discussion of the Civil War soldier. The Hatfields and McCoy’s? The fact that Jeb Stuart’s father-in-law opposed him during the Seven Days campaign? Not so much.

From the 2012 show “Hatfields & McCoys.”

Blood feuds are relatively small affairs, whereas the Civil War was a modern conflict, where men who did not know one another engaged in mass slaughter over political principles. As we all know, war is politics by other means. Men fought for many reasons, but McKenzie wants to take slavery out of the equation, or at the very least, subsume its importance beneath other motivations. In a way, then, he only shows how necessary a book like mine is, for even among historians, there is resistance to the idea that the Confederacy was fighting to preserve slavery.

McKenzie concludes that “careful readers will question whether the author has satisfactorily proven his sweeping counter-argument.” Readers have a right to question what I say, and I hope many do. But such a statement sounds like the complaint of neo-Confederates who claim that Marching Masters is “re-writing” history. There’s no point in writing history that will not at some level rewrite it. “Well-supported or not,” though, mine is not a scientific proof, but a monograph. I used books and papers, not a microscope and charts, to do my work. Better to write a “sweeping counter-argument” than leave dirt on the historical floor.

Despite taking fifteen years to complete, and using considerable documentary evidence, the central argument of Marching Masters did not convince Dr. McKenzie. That is unfortunate. It is one thing to receive a bad review. It is quite another, however, to have such a review misconstrue and distort your arguments. I hope next time. Dr. McKenzie will be more careful.

Colin Woodward is the author of Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War, published by University of Virginia Press in 2014. He is working on a second book on Johnny Cash.

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I Wanted to Be Wade Boggs, but I’m More Like Bill Buckner


By Colin Woodward

Back in 2009, my then girlfriend (now wife), bought me a pack of baseball cards. I saw the cards of many players I grew up with. Two of them, Wade Boggs and Bill Buckner, played on the infamous 1986 Red Sox team, which came within one strike of winning the World Series. Had the Sox won that game, the team would have broken a 68 year long slump: as of 1986, the Sox hadn’t won a World Series since 1918.

The 1986 Season

That year, Boggs was my hero. For the third time in five years, he led the American league in hits and batting average. Bill Buckner, a former Cub and Dodger, also had a good year. His batting average was much lower than that of Boggs, but he drove in 102 runs–far more than Boggs did. To drive in 102 runs is impressive for any player in any year.Buckner also swatted 18 homeruns and hit 39 doubles. Were he playing today, Buckner’s salary would be in the eight-figure range.


Buckner had had a good year, and the year before that, he had 110 RBIs. In 1986, Buckner played first base most of the year, despite his bad ankles. Buckner was a 36 year old veteran who was in his 18th season, with near-Hall of fame caliber statistics.

It’s easy to forget how good Buckner was. Instead, his career is overshadowed by the error he made in Game 6.

Game Six

Here’s what happened. Leading 3-2 in a best of seven series, the Red Sox went into the bottom of the ninth inning of Game Six with a two-run lead. The first two Mets batters made outs. But then a rally started. The Mets ended up tying the score. Ray Knight was in scoring position when Mookie Wilson hit a routine ground ball to Buckner. Buckner let the ball go through his legs. Knight scored. Mets win.

The Red Sox went on to lose game 7 and the Series. Buckner came to epitomize “the Goat” both in New England and across the baseball world. In 1987, the Red Sox had a losing season. Buckner finished the year with the Angels. Geographically, Buckner was as far as he could have been from Boston and still playing major league baseball. Buckner hit .306 for the Angels, his highest average in five years.

It was easy to call Buckner the Goat, the chump, the guy who brought down every Red Sox fan’s dream of winning the first World Series since 1918. But really, the Red Sox should never have been in the Series at all.

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The 1986 ALCS

In the American League Championship Series, Boston pulled off an amazing come-from-behind win against the Angles in Game 5, in Anaheim. The Red Sox were down to their last strike when Sox outfielder Dave Henderson hot a ball off the end of his bat that had just enough pop to get over the fence. The Sox went on to win the game in 10 innings and take the series in seven games.

What the Mets did to Boston, the Sox had done to the Angels a few weeks before. The Angels pitcher who gave up the homerun to Dave Henderson, Donnie Moore, killed himself in 1989. But there was no curse. The Angels had to wait until 2003 to win their first World Series.



Buckner finished 1987 with the Angels. But Boggs stayed where he was. In 1987, the “Year of the Live Ball,” Boggs again led the league in hits and batting average. He also had career highs in homeruns (24) and RBIs (89). The Red Sox had a lousy year, but not Boggs. My hero was safe. Buckner was gone. And there was always next year. The next year was a good one for Boston. The Red Sox won first place in a weak American League East Division.

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Boggs had another stellar year. He again led the league in hits and average as well as doubles and runs. He was without a doubt, the best hitter in the American League, if not the majors (where his only competition was Tony Gwynn).

Boggs was my hero, the guy whose stance I copied when mine wasn’t working for me in Little League. He was the “Chicken Man,” who supposedly ate chicken before every game. Another one of his superstitions was that he took his final laps at 7:17 at night before a game in the hopes of going 7 for 7 (which has been done only once since 1892 in a 9 inning game). He even had a candy bar: the 352 bar, named after his lifetime batting average of .352.


In 1988, Boggs was at the height of his career. But then scandal hit. And Boggs arguably went through a far greater humiliation than Bill Buckner ever went through.

The press announced that Boggs was having an affair with Margo Adams. Boggs was a married man, and he was shamed in an era before we assumed our best athletes were dishonest and sleazy. In one of the Red Sox yearbooks from the early 80s, Boggs was seated with his wife Debbie in their house in Florida. Boggs looked tan and happy. And maybe he was happy with Debbie. But he was also happy with Margo. Until she told everyone.

The scandal worsened. Adams posed for Penthouse magazine. Rude fans of the Red Sox’s opposing teams began yelling “Margo! Margo!” when Boggs came to bat. Boggs went on Barbara Walters with his wife, and he cried like a little bitch. he had also cried on the bench when the Red Sox lost to the Mets in Game 7 in 1986. Both Boggs and Buckner were in need of redemption. In 1990, Buckner returned to the Red Sox. It was his final season. Buckner didn’t have a great year. Boggs had his worst season up until that time. The Red Sox made it to the playoffs, but they were swept by the awesome Athletics team.


Curse of the Bambino

In 1990, Dan Shaughnessy published his book The Curse of the Bambino, which discussed not just the 1986 season, but all the bad luck that had accompanied the Red Sox since the team sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1918. It was probably the low point in the history of being a Red Sox fan.

At the end of the 1992 season, Boggs signed with the Yankees. His hitting skills had worsened since the Adams scandal. For Boggs to have signed with the Yankees was for me–and many Sox fans–an acts of betrayal. First you cheat on your wife, then you cheat on your team? Buckner committee an error, an honest mistake. Boggs, though, was just a jerk.

With the Yankees

Once in New York, however, Boggs became a better hitter, and he won a World Series ring. He finished his career in his adopted home state, Florida. In 2005, Boggs was inducted in the Hall of Fame. He finished his career with over 3,000 hits, 578 doubles, and a .328 batting average. Boggs wore a Red Sox cap at his Hall of Fame induction. But he didn’t finish his career with Boston. Bill Buckner did, though.

Buckner didn’t make the Hall of Fame. But he came close. He had 2,715 lifetime hits, 498 doubles, more than 1,200 RBIs, and he was a career .289 hitter. His career spanned from 1969 to 1990, but for most of those season, Buckner played fewer than 140 games.  Had Buckner been healthy for two more seasons in his prime, he would have finished his career with 3,000 hits and thus have been assured entry into the Hall. But he didn’t.

And yet, he had a higher lifetime batting average than Hall of Famers Cal Ripken, Ryne Sandberg, Carl Yastrzemski, Craig Biggio, and Tony Perez, just to name a few. He also had far more hits than Sandberg. And unlike Sandberg, the great Cubs second baseman, Buckner came very close to winning a World Series.


Buckner was a very good player, but not a Hall of Famer. As with so many of us, Buckner was good but not great. Memorable but not immortal. The guy hobbling on one leg, trying to win the big game.

Buckner almost caught Hank Aaron’s 715th homerun. But he didn’t. He could’ve made that play in the ninth inning of Game Six. But he didn’t. Maybe if Buckner had fielded Mookie’s slow roller, the Sox would have won that game in extra innings. Maybe not. They could’ve won game seven, but they didn’t.

Life is a series of moments that we can never get back. Maybe we could have gotten into a better school, made first string, first chair, got that raise, caught that game fish. Might have ended that relationship better. Might have done better in the interview. Got the bad guy, found the cure.

Baseball players are lucky. There’s no Hall of Fame for most of us. Just life. Boggs is there. Buckner isn’t. But Buckner never cried.


In 2008, Buckner received a four-minute standing ovation at Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, who had won the World Series the year before. It was the second for Boston in three years. In 2004, the Sox came from a 3-0 deficit to defeat the detested Yankees, winning the last two games in Old Yankee Stadium. “The Curse of the Bambino” was no more.

The Sox went on to sweep the Cardinals in the World Series. That took care of previous defeats at the hands of the Cardinals in the 1967 and 1946 World Series. Boston fans have a long memory. In 2013, the Sox won yet another World Series. Again, the team beat the Cardinals. Game Six and the Buckner error are now just history, just a footnote to one of the most storied franchises in all of sport.


Bill Buckner appeared in one of the final episodes of the great sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry David, a Yankees fan, even wanted to see Buckner redeemed. On the show, Buckner makes a great catch. And Boggs? The last story I heard about him involved him drinking massive quantities of beer on a cross-country flight while he was playing. Was Boggs an alcoholic? I dunno. No one knew about Margo Adams for a long time either.Wade Boggs: Hall of Fame drinker.

I wanted to be like Boggs, but I was more like Buckner. And that’s a good thing. I realize the Hall of Fame is for major achievements in baseball. But someone like Buckner makes you want to reassess our criteria for entry in it. He was a very good player and one who had a major role in the history of the sport. Wade Boggs certainly hasn’t shared the stage with Larry David.

Colin Woodward is the author of Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He is also a lifelong Red Sox fan and baseball enthusiast. He is working on a book about Johnny Cash.

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Arkansas Historical Association Meeting, 2015


Johnny Cash has been good to me.

I was in West Memphis last week at the annual meeting of the Arkansas Historical Association. I was representing my employer, the Center for Arkansas History and Culture at the University of Arkansas Little Rock. I gave a talk on Saturday on James Guy Tucker, Jr., and Vietnam.

In west Memphis, I was also lucky enough to win two awards. They were for articles I had written about Johnny Cash and Arkansas. They both were about Cash, Winthrop Rockefeller, and prison reform in Arkansas. One was published in the Pulaski County Historical Review, and it won best article for 2014. The other award was for best unpublished article submitted to the Arkansas Historical Association.

So, to recap my career. Amount of money I have made from writing a peer-reviewed book that has been available wherever books are sold: $0.

Money from writing Johnny Cash-related articles that were not peer-reviewed: $900.

How many books would I have to sell to get $900 in royalties? I don’t want to know.

Publishers have also been warming up to me. I have written only one entire chapter of my Johnny Cash book, yet I have had two publishers interested in the project.

I was also contracted recently to read a book manuscript on Johnny Cash. In a world of billionaires, $200 is a small sum. But for a historian who is used to writing things for free, a few hundred dollars is a lot. Some scholars can go a very long time without getting any money for their work.

And not just Johnny Cash, but the Arkansas Historical Association has been good to me. This year was the third year in a row that I presented a paper at the annual conference. My first was in Helena in 2013. At that point, I was actually starting to feel that I knew what I was talking about with Johnny Cash. It was only my third academic talk. And it was nice practice for someone like me who is not comfortable with public speaking.

The AHA is a very laid back conference. No one comments on your paper, as they sometimes do at other conferences. Many of the presenters and attendees I’ve met are not in academia at all. In short, it’s less stuffy. It’s very Arkansas in that way. I often appreciate Arkansas’s lack of pretentiousness.


Before heading to the conference, I stopped with my family at Uncle John’s in Crawfordsville. It’s a restaurant in a typical Delta town. Farming is still king in Crawfordsville. It reminded me a lot of Dyess, which I visited twice last year. I liked this decoration that was hanging on the men’s room wall.


I stayed overnight in Memphis for the conference. I didn’t get to see much, but that was kind of the point: I wasn’t going to have much time to look around.

And since I stayed in east Memphis, I saw where people live. Should you only ever visit downtown Memphis and Beale Street, you would never get an idea of where people’s houses are.

Maybe my next trip will Elvis-decadent. I’d love to go back for the Beale Street music festival this year. John Fogerty will be there. Wilco, too. But I have a baby coming around that time. Kids are inconsiderate that way.


The banquet for the AHA conference was held at the Southland dog track. it wasn’t easy to walk past all those slot machines without making a bet. I don’t have money to gamble. But maybe if Johnny Cash stays good to me, I will.

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