Are looters saving Civil War history or destroying it?

“This button is from the coat of a Confederate soldier–or a Union soldier” is something one might hear at a Civil War relic trade show and sale.

Or perhaps you might hear this at county historical society museum. Civil War relics are often among those items passed down through generations. At a museum, they are displayed in a case for everyone to enjoy instead of being tucked in a box in a bedroom closet.

Guns, cannonballs, swords, bullets, uniforms–if it’s from the Civil War, and you have it, someone wants it. Increasingly, that’s what the U.S. National Park Service is finding out. Yesterday there was a story on NPR about the looting problem in National Parks. People loot the parks then sell their catch to collectors.

Here’s a case in point. At the Fredericksburgh & Spotsylvania National Military Park, a ranger found 467 holes dug in the ground where a battle took place when the Union soldiers led by Grant tried to flank the Confederates.

When the guys who were doing the looting were caught, they had 200 relics with them. Naughty guys.

Although digging holes in national property to steal loot seems like an obvious wrong, there are some who think, dig away. I’m pretty sure those who are pro digging think that digging should be more methodically conducted than destroying the land. They don’t think that relics should be left underground to rot away forever.

Those who say dig it up believe that if the relics are removed, they can be displayed and preserved for everyone to learn from and enjoy. The National Park Service, at least the ranger interviewed in the story, disagrees with the dig it up mentality. He believes the relics belong where they are since they are part of the battlefield, thus part of history as is.

Regardless of the ranger’s desires, it is hard to stop looters in National Parks because there is only one ranger per every 56,000 acres. This means that treasures like petroglyphs, plants and other relics are also in danger of being taken.

Personally, I’m intrigued that under the ground of Civil War battlefields there are still buttons that soldiers once wore. It makes their presence seem more real. [To listen to NPR story, click here.]

By the way, all relics you see are not stolen. This is a problem with some relics.

Buy Oprah’s old clothes

As I’m pawing through warm weather clothes and putting winter clothes away, I’m casting some of them off. Eventually, they may end up on the racks at a charity store in Columbus or in a pile at a market someplace in Africa.

Oprah, though, has enough cast-off clothes that she recently opened a store in Chicago so we can buy them. We can also buy her shoes. I have maybe two pairs of shoes that I could let someone buy. Usually, by the time I get rid of shoes, no one would want them. Oprah, though, has dozens. Clothes range from things she’s worn to some that maybe hung in her closet until she decided they are a no show–except, of course, on you. They are sold in the Oprah’s Closet section of the Oprah Store in Chicago.

To capitalize on all things Oprah, the Oprah Store also has Oprah inspired items–things that a person really needs like items peddled on her Web site. The thing is, I have so many Jamie things, that if I bought an Oprah thing, my house would explode.

If you do buy Oprah’s old things, the money does go to Oprah’s charity–the Angel Network. My stuff is heading to Volunteers of America. They’ll come get it. [Listen to recent Weekend Edition story on NPR]

Hot tamales: the best place to get them

My first tamales, sad to say, where the canned version that Hormel puts out. When I was a child my grandfather owned the grocery store in a small town in Kentucky. We were allowed to pick food from the shelves for our meals when we visited. A can of tamales was my first choice. Pork rinds were my second. Also, sad, but true.

Once I moved to New Mexico, I learned that tamales actually have texture and come in wonderfully flavorful varieties like green chiles and chicken. Today, I heard about the best tamale place in the world, according to the folks on the NPR show “Splendid Table.”

Rhonda’s Famous Tamales, a cafe that also serves soul food, isn’t in New Mexico, but in Arkansas. Located in the Arkansas Delta region of the state in Lake Village, Rhonda’s is one of those places that is worth driving out of you way for. If Arkansas wasn’t so far from Columbus, and I didn’t have so much to do, I’d be there for dinner.

Rhonda cooks her tamales in a coffee can–12 per can. The suggested way of eating them is scooping them out with saltine crackers. If you get the Hormel version, you can smash them up on white bread. Don’t forget to sop up the juice.

Minor league baseball teams and their mascots aim to please

As Aaron wrote in a post today, baseball season has officially started. I was reminded of this also while listening to an NPR story on minor league teams and how they got their their names and mascots. The Albuquerque Isotopes was one of the teams featured. The Simpson’s cartoon show is responsible for the Isotopes name after Homer said something about the baseball team being called the Isotopes during an episode. Fans named it.

I went to an Isotopes game when I visited friends a few years back. Even though the stadium has been gussied up since I lived in Albuquerque and favored the Dukes, there’s still that minor league team feel. I am a minor league fan, particularly because I go to games to watch crowds. There’s much more interaction between the game and the crowd in minor league teams. One gets the feeling that the players and the fans belong together. Plus, there are the cheap hot dog nights, the free bobble head nights and the free tickets that get passed out through local parks and recreation centers for kids. My son is always getting tickets to the Columbus Clippers from somewhere. Minor league teams seem to want to build a relationship with fans.

To me, major league teams aren’t about building relationships with a city and its people. Their games are just not as much fun. They aren’t a yawn, but crowd pleasing is more difficult when some fans are several benches up from the action. That’s my impression anyway. I do admit, I love Jacobs Field where the Cleveland Indians play, even though, the ball park is not called that anymore. There is some other corporate sponsor name that I can’t recall. The view of Cleveland is still terrific from the top bleachers. I like how you can see the seagulls from there.

Eliot Spitzer’s financial transactions flagged him. Could yours?

I heard an interesting piece of news about Eliot Spitzer, the governor of New York’s call girl shenanigans. As one reporter explained in an NPR segment, one of the reasons he got caught is because his financial transactions flagged him. We’ve posted before about how you end up with a file when you travel out of the U.S. It’s been that way ever since 2002. Our money transactions through a bank are also run through systems.

Generally, our transactions, the day to day ones, like when we buy groceries at a store by swiping a debit card, are passed on without a blink of an eye. Most transactions are this way unless we happen to be a PEP. A PEP is a “politically exposed person” who is in a position of power where that person could possibly be involved in suspicious activities. If large amounts of cash are put into bank accounts–ding, ding, ding. We’ve got a red flag. The banks let the IRS know and there you have it, a possible scandal. That’s what happened in Eliot Spitzer’s case.

Those of us who don’t fit this category can benefit from the watch dog approach. Two years ago I got a call from my bank asking if I knew where my ATM card was. As it turned out, I had left it in a machine near a blood bank and a liquor store. Not the smartest move. In a couple of hours someone used the card as a debit card to the tune of almost $1,000. Because I rarely used my debit card, the purchases were at places where I hadn’t been before, and there were a few large ticket items, the bank recognized a problem and contacted me. The end result was that the money did come back into our account, but in the meantime, I had to borrow money from another fund to cover the missing money until everything cleared. In retrospect, it’s great not being a PEP. Life is simpler this way. (See NPR article and listen to the story by clicking here.)