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October 27, 2009
By Ralph Phillips,  Computer & Information Systems 

A Little Civil War Reading

October 20, 2009

By Nancy Zens, History

Retreat from GettysburgIn thirty years of reading about the Civil War, Kent Masterson Brown’s  Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign (Chapel Hill, 2005) is the best book that I have encountered .  This  publication brings together all of the best scholarship from the past together with vigorous research in primary materials, archives, and careful assessment of terrain to create an image of the problems, chaos, and disorganization of a Civil War army engaged in battlefield conditions.  Beginning with a quick description of the three day clash at Gettysburg, the book follows Lee’s Army of Virginia as it disengages from deadly contact with the Union Army, attempting to move CSA wounded USA prisoners, captured supplies, vast wagon trains, and the surviving Confederate troops along numerous parallel northern roads.  The reality of 19th century travel on roads away from Gettysburg meant traffic jams that stagger the imagination.  For this one engagement, even leaving behind 4,500 Confederate dead and 6,700 Confederate wounded, there was fifty-seven miles of wagon and ambulance trains, tens of thousands of livestock, and 51.000 Confederate troops that Lee needed to return to Virginia.  So often Civil War books cover battles and pay little attention to questions about how men and equipment moved from one place to another.  Rather than the boring list of details with little action that such an approach to the war raises up in your imagination, think of a book that answers numerous questions that you haven’t even thought to ask before and that weaves the stories of fighters, wounded, civilians, pursuit, ambition, greed, fear, accidents, and odd coincidence together. 

Each of the routes leading out of Pennsylvania, back through Maryland by the shortest possible route to finally get back to the safety of Virginia presented difficulties that were compounded by rain, the  break downs of wagons, quickly deteriorating road conditions, exhausted animals pulling too much weight with too little food and water, uncooperative local citizens, pursuing thieves and looters, occasional attacks by pursuing union cavalry, and the mistakes that arose from exhaustion, night travel, little food or water, and competing commanders all seeking to get their own troops back to Virginia in the best possible shape.  Have you ever wondered about the Civil War wounded and how they got from the direct line of fire to those front line field hospitals that emerged a short distance from the most intense fighting, or whether the field hospitals further back (yet still within earshot of the fighting) were any better at easing the suffering of the wounded, or what it meant to be left behind and dependent on the enemy for medical care, or how the traveling wounded endured the long hours riding in crowded jolting wagons down rutted roads, or what it might mean to heavily wounded men traveling without the benefit of pain relievers and suffering from hunger and thirst to be roughly relieved of anything that could protect your own soldiers in coming battles leaving one helpless to fend off those from either side willing to loot the wounded to build their own nest egg?  How many of those who began that long painful journey back home even made it to a reasonably well run hospital?  If you are already deciding that these issues are the last thing you want to know about, many more areas are covered.

Has it ever struck you as odd that books about the war so often describe Lee’s army as “disappearing” from in front of Union positions?  How that could possibly happen when there would be such a clear trail to follow?  How would you hide the movement of (# troops) down roads or across fields or over river crossings in the days of dirt roads, single lane wood bridges, terrain that changed every few miles, through fairly level farmland and towns?   Where his army moved through woods or across mountains you might initially think it would be easy to “hide”, but if the woods are dense or there is only one road, how “secret” can the travel really be and how easy for an opposing force to halt the movement with a skillful ambush? Have you ever wondered if southern officers were gentlemen in the field, or always obeyed orders without questions, or if officers like Lee or Longstreet or Stuart ever made mistakes or found they were unable to motivate fellow officers to do their duty or to accept changes in orders that did not make sense to them.   Did vain, foolish, incompetent officers have any impact on southern troops that fought under Lee’s overall direction?  Did all southern officers unselfishly look after the comfort of their troops or were they more worried about their own comfort, their own reputation, their own postwar position, promoting their own clique of friends into better positions, or economically profiting from the war?  And what about the attitude of the general fighting men, thrown together from different locations, so often fighting far from home, facing scarcity in weapons, food, clothing, shelter?

 In that rush to put distance between Lee’s Army and Union forces did anyone except the hungry troops think to stop and distribute food supplies or set up kitchens?  When troops are so exhausted they fall asleep on their feet, how do you get them moving again?  How do you prevent rumors of the pursuing enemy from spooking the troops resulting in spontaneous entrenching or scattering for better fighting positions or even worse, causing a full scale rout?

This is not a quick little read from a northern viewpoint like Robert K. Sneden’s  Eye of the Storm: A Civil War Odyssey of Robert K. Sneden that provides a survivor’s eye view of several of the war’s battlefields, comments on officers, or story of surviving that infamous prison Andersonville.  It is not a fairly comfortable move into battle through the eyes of Michael Shaara in the best Civil War novel to date Killer Angels. Instead this is a complex, well developed, satisfying exploration of the realities faced by officers, soldiers, and civilians during the most divisive, lethal war the United States has been involved in.

Are You Ready for an E-book? Or, Perhaps a Vook.

October 13, 2009
vook on an iphone

Vook on an iPhone

By Ralph Phillips, Computer & Information Systems

I was an early adopter of the Amazon Kindle, a popular e-book reader. However, I had to come to terms with the fact that I was and am still not the ideal e-book user. You see, I am a fan of libraries and the free books they offer. I’m also a fan of book exchanges and friends loaning me books. As soon as I got my Kindle I became a book purchaser and started spending more than I wanted on books that I could have checked out for free. I’ve come to realize that to warrant the expense of an e-book reader, you need to be…

  • an avid reader (but that’s not all).
  • a regular book purchaser.
  • someone that often has several books going at once.
  • regularly in situations where carrying multiples books is a true inconvenience, like traveling on an airplane.

Although I know people that fit all four of these criteria, I only fit two of them. That is why my Kindle now collects dust on the same shelf that I keep the half-dozen library books I’ve got checked out at any given time.

But there is something new on the horizon that has grabbed my attention–vooks. What is a vook? It is a new format of e-book that integrates video clips into the traditional text. A vook can be read on a normal computer or on an iPhone. The curious reader can visit and download one of four available volumes. Topics include health/fitness, beauty tips, and there is even a romance novella.

Readers are changing, books are changing, and certainly the technology that unites these two groups is changing.

Wellness Rocks!

October 6, 2009

By Julie Downing, Health and Human Performance

fitnessSo I was asked to give a presentation about wellness for the Fall COCC Staff Retreat.  I, of course, said yes because I’m really bad at saying no and I’m a big mouth and like to have an audience, ha.  I thought and thought about what to share with this group of highly-educated, creative, driven individuals.  I decided on presenting a list of the top 15 ways to achieve & maintain good health.  I thought it would be fun to get the audience guessing what the 15 were and I knew that some of the ways I presented would be a surprise to them. 

I was hoping that it wouldn’t be just me in an empty room with one other health nut sitting in the corner.  I was relieved when we actually had to bring in extra chairs since my room was packed with over 40 people.  I don’t know that it was actually that my topic was SO exciting but probably more that the other topics were very academic and staff wanted a session that focused on them and less on work.  I was pleased and nervous at the same time to have the President of the College, Dr. Middleton attending my session, too.  He even took notes.  Dr. Middleton rocks! 

I started out my talk by telling staff that in terms of health education, knowledge is not always power.  I used the example of who in here doesn’t know that smoking is harmful to their health?  It’s not that we don’t know what to do, it’s that we don’t know how to implement it into our busy lives and possibly we don’t know the specifics about what to do.  So, we talked about the trans-theoretical model of health behavior change where one goes from pre-contemplation where s/he is not even thinking about making a health behavior change, to contemplation where s/he is mulling it over, to preparation where s/he starts planning how to make the change, to action where s/he makes the change in their life, to maintenance where s/he keeps doing the new healthy behavior for at least 6 months, to finally long-term maintenance (aka termination stage) where s/he has been doing this behavior now for at least 5 years and it’s just part of who they are.  For example, I’m Julie the runner.

I shared some websites with the group where they could type in data about themselves and the sites would give them guidance on how to get healthier.  The two I mentioned during the session were for over-all health and where they can assess their nutrition.  Both are fun, user-friendly, and informative.  Lastly before I got to the top 15 countdown, I encouraged staff to learn CPR / First Aid making sure they take a class that teaches them how to use an AED (automated external defibrillator).  On to the fifteen…

 I put together this list after doing my homework on all the current research out there.  It is not by any means a stand-alone list, meaning there are obviously many other things one must do to have full wellness but instead items made my list if they had good quantity and quality of research behind them.  Certainly you could argue to add others in to the list but let’s not argue;  let’s just agree that these 15 are important and leave it at that.

  • Coming in at 15:  Be a safe driver.  Don’t talk on your cell phone, don’t multi-task, pay attention, and by all means, don’t text!!
  • 14.  Get enough sleep.  We need 6-8 hours every night as adults, 9 is too much and 4 is WAY too little.  Maintain a regular sleep schedule and get quality sleep. 
  • 13.  Work towards good oral health.  Gum disease is likely linked to heart disease (ADA & AAP).  If gums are inflamed, it is likely the over-all body has inflammation and a greater risk for inflamed, clogged arteries. Curing dental problems can reduce arthritic pain, number of swollen joints and the degree of morning stiffness (as noted in the April 2009  Journal of Periodontology).  There is new research out that Deb Davies (COCC Allied Health Professor) e-mailed me that poor oral health may even be linked to osteoporosis. 
  • 12.  See the MD regularly.  Regular screening such as blood pressure, blood glucose, blood lipids, physicals, clinical breast & testicular exams, PSA screening, mammograms, PAP smears, vision, hearing, etc. are all critical components to maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle. Make sure you have had all necessary vaccinations and boosters for herd immunity.
  •  11.  Perform regular self-exams.  Monthly breast and testicular exams are key – feeling for anything different than before (textural differences, lumps, bumps, thickening, tenderness, etc.).  Breast exams should be performed from a few days to about a week after a woman’s period.  Don’t forget regular skin checks.  Look for moles or skin patches with ABCDs:  Asymmetry, Borders that are irregular, Coloration that is dark brown or black, and a Diameter that is large or growing.  Call a dermatologist right away if you detect any ABCDs. 
  • 10.  Socialize and/or have a pet.  Social support & social embeddedness moderates stress (Karren, et al).  The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that people have exercise partners in order to increase adherence to physical activity.  Finally, think of your dog as an exercise machine with fur.  Being around animals can reduce stress levels as show by biofeedback. 
  • 9.  Prevent Cancer.  Cancer is the #2 cause of death in our country and the most feared.  Educate yourself as to carcinogens (cancer causing agents) that you may be around.  Wear sunscreen when outside as people DO die from skin cancer.  M. Holmes reports breast cancer survivors who spent 3-5 hours / week exercising had best survival rates.  For prevention of breast cancer recurrence, the American Cancer Society recommends that you exercise for 30-45 min at least 5 days / week. 
  • 8.  Challenge your mind.  An active, stimulated brain reduces your odds of developing Alzheimer’s 2008 Wall Street Journal Review.  Try to learn something new every day, practice memorization, solve riddles and puzzles, follow the road less traveled (example – take a new route home). 
  • 7.  Have happy relationships.  According to Science Daily Aug 5, 2008, happiness does not heal, but happiness protects against falling ill.  As a result, happy people live longer.  The size of the effect on longevity is comparable to that of smoking or not!!  Wow! 
  • 6.  Know your family history.  Knowledge IS power when it comes to genetics.  According to the National Cancer Institute, 5-10 % of women who are diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer have a hereditary form of cancer due to mutations in genes.  If you think you may be at risk, go to so that you can do something about it. 
  • 5.  Have a positive attitude / optimism.  While positive attitude alone will not cure cancer, a negative attitude will most certainly doom a patient. 
  • 4.  Manage stress effectively.  Eliminate the stressors you can and learn to effectively cope with the stressors you can’t get rid of.  According to Blonna, laughing, meditating, pet therapy, socializing, releasing (example jogging or swimming), relaxing, (example yoga or tai chi), getting organized, and deep diaphragmatic breathing are all possible ways to help reduce the effects of stress. 
  • 3.  Don’t smoke & Avoid chemicals / drugs / alcohol.  87% of lung cancer is caused by tobacco and greater than 30 % of all cancer is caused by tobacco (Hoeger).  Smoking causes more deaths from cardiovascular disease than lung cancer.  Finally, excessive alcohol consumption is the 3rd leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. today ( 
  • 2.  Eat right.  There’s so much misinformation out there but here are a few accurate, helpful tips for good nutrition:  avoid processed foods with lots of chemicals you can’t read on the label, buy local whole organic foods, take a multi-vitamin, adequately hydrate throughout your day, carbohydrates ARE necessary to eat since they are what fuel you for moderate or high intensity physical activity, decrease consumption of red meat, and increase consumption of “super foods” such as blueberries, green tea, nuts, seeds, lentils, peppers, sweet potatoes, broccoli, etc. 
  • 1.  Get regular physical activity.  If there is any magic bullet out there to good health & well-being, it is regular exercise.  In fact if the benefits of exercise could be bottled, it would be the most widely prescribed drug in the world.  Remember that in prevention of osteoporosis, one needs to perform weight-bearing exercise. For great information on the benefits of exercise please go to: