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Dirty Laundry and Civil War Espionage

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During the American Civil War, the Union Army quickly figured out how to play Confederates’ own prejudices against them. They found that many Confederate troops would speak openly about tactics and troop movements or leave maps and orders out in plain view in front of black slaves and servants. So low were the southerners’ opinions of African Americans, they couldn’t imagine them doing anything useful with the information they heard or saw. Reports from runaway slaves and free African Americans from the North that joined the Army as scouts and spies became so invaluable to the Union that they were placed in a special category by intelligence officers: black dispatches.

The most famous of the spies was Harriet Tubman. But two of the more creative providers of black dispatches were a man named Dabney and his wife, who worked with Union troops around Fredericksburg, Virginia in 1863. The runaway slaves had crossed into Union territory earlier that year, and Dabney found employment in General Joseph Hooker’s camp as a cook. His knowledge of the area also made him a great asset, and he was soon advising troops venturing into enemy territory on routes and terrain.

After a few weeks in the camp, Dabney’s wife left for Confederate territory to take a job as a laundress and personal servant to a southern woman. Not long after she left, Dabney began bringing reports about Confederate movements to Hooker. His information proved accurate: he always knew which units were moving, where they were going, how long they’d been on the march, and what numbers they had. He was quick, too, and Hooker found that Dabney’s information usually reached him just hours after it was discussed by rebel commanders on the other side of the lines.

Useful as they were, Dabney’s reports were puzzling. No one ever saw him leave the camp, abandon his duties, or even talk to returning scouts. Some officers decided to figure out where Dabney was getting his intelligence and questioned him at length. Dabney finally gave in and led them to an elevated point in the camp. From that vantage point, they had a clear view of Fredericksburg and much of the surrounding area.

Dabney pointed to a house on the outskirts of the town, along the river bank. Out in its yard, there was a clothesline where clothing and sheets were hung out to dry. He and his wife, Dabney explained, had worked out their own signaling system using the laundry that she hung out to dry for her employer. Whenever she saw troops moving through the area or heard soldiers discussing plans in town, she would rush to the clothesline and hang items in particular ways and sequences—a red shirt to represent Stonewall Jackson, an upside-down pair of pants to signify westward movement—to send Dabney a coded message.

Until Hooker moved his camp, the cook, his wife and the Confederates’ dirty laundry provided him with some of the best intelligence of the campaign.

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History
A Brief History of Time
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You may have heard that time is a social construct, but that doesn’t stop it from having consequences in the real world. If you show up to a party 10 minutes before it’s scheduled to start, you’ll likely be the first one there, and if you arrive to an interview 10 minutes late, you likely won’t get the job. But how did humanity agree on when and how to observe certain times of day?

In their new video, the It’s Okay to Be Smart team explains how humans “invented” the modern concept of time. The increments we use to measure time, like seconds, minutes, and hours, come from the ancient civilizations of the Egyptians and the Babylonians. Early clocks, like sundials and water clocks, were pretty crude, so people couldn’t pinpoint a time like noon down to the second even if they wanted to. But as clocks became more accurate, the problem wasn’t being unable to tell time accurately, but deciding which clocks qualified as “accurate” in the first place.

In 1884, President Chester A. Arthur organized the International Meridian Conference with the intention of deciding on a uniform definition of time to be followed around the world. The attendees ended up choosing the meridian running through Greenwich, England as the official Prime Meridian, and all clocks would be measured against the clock in the town’s observatory. Greenwich Mean Time is still used as the standard world time today.

Check out the full story below.

[h/t It’s Okay to Be Smart]

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Big Questions
Why Do Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms?
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Basketball and hockey coaches wear business suits on the sidelines. Football coaches wear team-branded shirts and jackets and often ill-fitting pleated khakis. Why are baseball managers the only guys who wear the same outfit as their players?

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball since 2011, it goes back to the earliest days of the game. Back then, the person known as the manager was the business manager: the guy who kept the books in order and the road trips on schedule. Meanwhile, the guy we call the manager today, the one who arranges the roster and decides when to pull a pitcher, was known as the captain. In addition to managing the team on the field, he was usually also on the team as a player. For many years, the “manager” wore a player’s uniform simply because he was a player. There were also a few captains who didn’t play for the team and stuck to making decisions in the dugout, and they usually wore suits.

With the passing of time, it became less common for the captain to play, and on most teams they took on strictly managerial roles. Instead of suits proliferating throughout America’s dugouts, though, non-playing captains largely hung on to the tradition of wearing a player's uniform. By the early to mid 20th century, wearing the uniform was the norm for managers, with a few notable exceptions. The Philadelphia Athletics’s Connie Mack and the Brooklyn Dodgers’s Burt Shotton continued to wear suits and ties to games long after it fell out of favor (though Shotton sometimes liked to layer a team jacket on top of his street clothes). Once those two retired, it’s been uniforms as far as the eye can see.

The adherence to the uniform among managers in the second half of the 20th century leads some people to think that MLB mandates it, but a look through the official major league rules [PDF] doesn’t turn up much on a manager’s dress. Rule 1.11(a) (1) says that “All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs" and rule 2.00 states that a coach is a "team member in uniform appointed by the manager to perform such duties as the manager may designate, such as but not limited to acting as base coach."

While Rule 2.00 gives a rundown of the manager’s role and some rules that apply to them, it doesn’t specify that they’re uniformed. Further down, Rule 3.15 says that "No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club." Again, nothing about the managers being uniformed.

All that said, Rule 2.00 defines the bench or dugout as “the seating facilities reserved for players, substitutes and other team members in uniform when they are not actively engaged on the playing field," and makes no exceptions for managers or anyone else. While the managers’ duds are never addressed anywhere else, this definition does seem to necessitate, in a roundabout way, that managers wear a uniform—at least if they want to have access to the dugout. And, really, where else would they sit?

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