Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thomas Covert's Letters Home

Right, so as part of the new plan to revivify the blog, I am going to be posting the letters that Thomas Meredith Covert wrote home to his wife Phoebe. One by one. Each -- with the regrettable exception of the first two, which I have screwed up already -- exactly 150 years after it was mailed (after the manner of Samuel Pepys's blog).

Thomas Covert is my great-great-great-grandfather. His daughter Katie's son Harry Freeman's daughter Jeanne was my grandmother. Covert ended his days in the town of Kinsman, Ohio, where my grandmother knew him. (In an odd bit of trivia for my little corner of the speculative fiction universe, Kinsman is the home town of Chris Barzak, whose wonderful first novel One for Sorrow is set in its fictional analog.)

I'm not sure what town Thomas and Katie called home in 1861, when he left to join the 6th Ohio Cavalry and fight for the Union. Covert was some kind of artisan -- maybe a cobbler; he talks about working as a Saddler, and in the Military Register (which I'll have to scan -- its iconography is fascinating) he's listed as Company A's Artificer. (I believe I've played that class...)

The letters tell a pretty fascinating story, which is one reason I'm posting them. They raise a lot of issues of history and politics and character. It's probably also some small public service to digitize them (what I have access to are Xeroxes of typescripts made from the originals sometime in the 1980s; the originals are at the Western Reserve Historical Society, according to this footnote). And perhaps I'll end up doing something fictionally with them? As Jed observed, "Thomas Covert, who lived in Kinsman. It sounds like the sort of story where everyone has a name that means something."

Anyway, here are the first two letters (I'll offer variant readings of possible typos in square brackets):

Warren, Nov. 8th, 1861

My Dear Wife:

It is with pleasure that I now take this opportunity to inform you that I am well & hope these few lines will find you all in the same state of health. We get along first rate in camp. Our Company is the best Company in camp. This is part of 4 Companys in now. Tell James to send me from 5 to 9 of them old lasts and my tow large insteps & you send those Bristtes & Peg flote[flats?] with them. Tell him to put them in a small bag & send them by the Hack Driver.
Nothing more, but write & let me know how you get along.

T. M. Covert

I would write more but I have to go to be in Camp at 8 O'Clock and it is most that now.

You can see why I think he's a cobbler, right? I find his immediate boosterism for A Company, upon arrival, to be rather sweet, typical of his boyish optimism (I don't know how old he is when the war begins; he's been married for 4 years, though).

Warren, Nov. 13th, 1861

My Dear Wife:

It is with pleasure that I now take this opportunity of writing you a few lines to let you know how we get along. Our Company are all so as to be a round now. James Joiner got hurt a few days ago but is getting along now. I was swinging him and some one came up and twitched the rope and then run so we do not know who it was. Those night caps go first rait. We have a first rate place to sleep. I sleep with Orange Ball & Hoarche Drew. We have Pork Bread and Potatoes and Coffee to eat. I have not time to write now but I think I will be home next Saturday.

Yours As Ever,

Thos. M. Covert

How do you think they were swinging? And doesn't it sound like fun, aside from the jerk who wandered by and "twitched the rope"?

Comments (2)   permalink

Monday, November 21, 2011

On Showing the Things

Once upon a time we were young and wrote things of great aspiration and intensity, and of great and fragile beauty (fragile in that who knew how many minds could look at it before it broke?) and showed them to each other, you know, one by one.

This was in ancient days, o my best beloved, and there were as yet no interwebs. We wrote the things in ink in spiralbound notebooks and we showed them to each other hand to hand, like combat before gunpowder. Or bows. Or something.

Time passed, things changed, and now I scatter words to the wind, and you have read them there. I have sort of got used to this.

Now a dear one from the spiral notebook times is about to publish a First Thing in a Long While, and somewhat belatedly realizing that the publishing-it bit meant that, in fact, people would read it (aargh!), she asked me, "how in the world do you deal with the showing it to people part?"

She said I should blog my answer:

I think partly I have evolved a second self? Or a layering of selves, like an onion. And the stories themselves need to be emancipated, too. The more attention they get, the farther away they move, so that while the unpublished ones ever feel like secret private things, like suckling infants within the shadowy soft concealment of one's clothes, the just-published ones are independent-minded little things making forays out, and one is crossing one's fingers that the first day of school will go well, and the better-known ones begin to have lives of their own, and something like The Orange, now, feels all grown up, its own thing entirely, someone I have some admiration for, but no responsibility any more, hardly anything to do with me. It is hard to remember that I wrote it. I am not sure I entirely believe that I did. It's just something that's out there, part of the world.

I think this is a learned skill, because when I started getting award nominations it was overwhelming, toxic, because I felt like people were talking about me, not about the stories, and that, of course, would be too much to bear.

Comments (0)   permalink

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

We Will Try This Blogging Thing Again Now

Yes, my dears, my little online journal here has languished.

It's difficult keeping a little mom-and-pop shop like this open in a deserted wintry East Coast beach town. Social media has its tentacles in everything, there is even a facebook in your facebook, much as an earlier era brought us nested Starbuckses, and so I am going to have to rig up some contraption to automatically post links to the entries here into Facebook, Twitter, G+, and hUBBUB, for it to be worthwhile to go on. Let me know if you feel like helping with this little software project, or have seen the right tool that I should be using (keeping in mind that this here blog is on my self-hacked variant of an ancient version of Movable Type, practically cuneiform at this point).

But I have some plans brewing, worry not. First, I'm going to post the old crap that's hung around in my Drafts folder, even if it's not perfectly relevant to the moment, because as we know I tend to overthink this blogging thing. And then I am going to post a series of letters home, written by my ancestor Thomas Covert, each one exactly 150 years after it was originally mailed. And I have another plot or two.

Watch this space!

Comments (3)   permalink

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Kiva revisited

This blog is currently under attack from a new generation of comment spambots. (Perhaps this is karmic justice for my having neglected blogging; mea culpa!). They apparently get by the "are you sentient?" question, and they quote bits of the blog entry itself to make their text look reasonable.

I'm cleaning them out, but this has the side effect of my revisiting old entries. I just reread my advice on Kiva vs Grameen from 2007 and realized it's somewhat inaccurate, and I've become a bit more skeptical over time.

It's true that Kiva lenders don't get interest, and that Kiva lives on explicitly marked donations from those lenders. So all the money does flow to the NGOs. Also, I think the fact that the "give money directly to this guy" look & feel is more or less an illusion, and that the money actually funds NGOs (with a loose accounting connection between the NGO's books, your loan, and that guy), is a feature, not a bug.

However, it's also true that the NGOs in some cases charge (what seem in the rich world to be) insanely high rates of interest to the actual borrowers. It may be that in order to make this sort of thing sustainable, given various conditions in poor countries -- difficulties of travel and administration, currency and inflation risks, etc -- these rates make some kind of economic sense. But they change the picture drastically. You are not now talking about giving people in the poor world access to the same kind of credit arrangements that people in the rich world have. You are talking about backing them on a high-risk gamble.

The various NGOs Kiva funds vary widely in how much interest they charge. Kiva does expose this information, but you have to dig for it -- which I consider a serious flaw in their UI.

I still have a bunch of money parked at Kiva and am adding to it, because I like to use Kiva as a "third alternative" between banking and donation -- money I want to put in the service of doing good, and am willing to temporarily forgo interest on, but am not sure I can actually afford to part with in the long term -- I am now very picky about which Field Partners I lend through. I collect those with what appears to be relatively low Portfolio Yield (which equates directly to how much they charge borrowers, I believe) for their geographic region, and reasonable risk.

For those playing along at home, here's my current list:

Loans from CREDIT (Cambodia, 28% Portfolio Yield)
Loans from Imon (Tajikistan, 37.7% Portfolio Yield)
Loans from Kadet (Kenya, 27.1% Portfolio Yield)
Loans from Maxima (Cambodia, 29% Portfolio Yield)
Loans from Ryada (Palestine, 17.1% Portfolio Yield, delinquency issues but progress on them)

Loans from Cooperativa San Jose (Ecuador, 15.2% Portfolio Yield)
Loans from Ameen s.a.l. (Lebanon, 18.72% Portfolio Yield, delinquency 7.52%, loans at risk 15%, default 0%)
Loans from XacBank (Mongolia, 21.2% Portfolio Yield, delinquency 0.07%, loans at risk 0.30%, default 0.11%)

Feel free to let me know if you spot one that should be added here!

Comments (0)   permalink