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Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Murder Room

Yes occasionally I do go slumming and read a thriller/mystery type fiction or nonfiction. Here's an oldie but goodie from the library or your ereader....  The Murder Room is about the Vidocq Society  a members-only crime-solving club that meets on the third Thursday of every month in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The Vidocq Society is named for Eugène François Vidocq, the ground-breaking nineteenth century French detective who helped police by using the psychology of the criminal to solve "cold case" homicides. Vidocq was a former criminal himself, and used his knowledge of the criminal mind to look at murder from the psychological perspective of the perpetrator. At meetings, Vidocq Society Members (VSMs) listen to local law enforcement officials from around the world who bring in cold cases for review.
VSMs are forensic professionals; current and former FBI profilers, homicide investigators, scientists, psychologists, prosecutors and coroners who use their experience to provide justice for investigations that have gone cold. Members are selected by committee invitation only, pay a $100 annual fee, and commit to attend at least one meeting per year.
The Society was formed in 1990 by William Fleisher, Richard Walter, and Frank Bender. It solved its first case in 1991, clearing an innocent man of involvement in the murder of Huey Cox.
Vidocq will only consider cases that meet certain requirements: they must be unsolved deaths more than two years old, the victims cannot have been involved in criminal activity such as prostitution or drug dealing, and the case must be formally presented to them by the appropriate law enforcement agency. The Society does not charge for its services, and pays for the travel expenses of the law enforcement agents who come to present cases.
The Society was featured in several cases of America's Most Wanted TV series, and was also a plot point in the finale of the 2007–08 season of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. In 2010 it became the subject of a book, The Murder Room by Michael Capuzzo.

While reading the book is not for the faint hearted, I found it quite interesting. The clues of numerous horrific and unsolved murders are not skipped over. Still it gave me some insight into the subject that frightens and frustrates people when murderers appear to get away with their crimes. The new forensics popularized in many recent televisions programs. The subtitle of The Murder Room is The Heirs Of Sherlock Holmes Gather To Solve The World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases. The reference to Sherlock Holmes is appropriate indeed.

Finally, like many of the cases references in this book, the details are scattered and seemingly unorganized. In a word the book needs some serious editing. The author skipped between cases with other topics in between. It all made for interesting but somewhat confusing reading.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Deer Hunting With Jesus Rereviewed

I wrote this review in March of 2009 as an introduction to my new second blog Troutbirder II. I recall finding the book interesting and unsettling.  Around that time a friend had accused me of fomenting "class warfare" by my pro labor union comments.  I responded by referring to "famous" social scientist Paris Hilton having pointed out the war was over.  "We won" she said.  I feared she might be right. I needed more information...... so the picked up Deer Hunting With Jesus.

My take on March 17, 2009
"If you are comfortable with all your political, social and cultural assumptions:
DON'T READ THIS BOOK. It's very upsetting.
If you attack people who suggest that the income differential between those who shower before they go to work and those who shower afterwards has increased
enormously in recent decades by accusing them of "class warfare:"
DON'T READ THIS BOOK. You won't like what you find out.
If you think all blue collar working class people are stupid and worse:
DON'T READ THIS BOOK. If you do you might be shocked.
If you get upset because their are "Reagan Democrats," Limbaugh "dittoheads,"
"Armed Old Testament Evangelicals," and "My Country Right or Wrong Superpatriots."
DON'T READ THIS BOOK. It won't make you happy to find out why they exist."

March 9, 2017  A Second Look
Deer Hunting with Jesus    -  Dispatches' From the Class War  

From the church where his brother preaches in tongues to the Rubbermaid plant that employs half his hometown, Bageant uncovers harsh lessons about how liberals failed the people who do society's grunt work, as well as fight our wars, and wind up with nothing to show for it.  They're bitter as hell, but they "vote Republican because no liberal voice...that speaks the rock-bottom, undeniable truth, ever enters their lives."
Bageant's dead serious and damned funny, as he despairs over his benighted brethren but loves them fiercely and wants justice for them. This book is a fantastically readable explanation of why working-class America has given up on liberalism. Winning it back, Bageant writes, means liberals "are going to have to pick up this piece of roadkill with our bare hands."
Looking back on my first review I can't say we weren't warned.  Instead we lost focus and the result was Trumpism with Trump as President. God help the U.S.A.

Of course, the situation has gotten a lot worse since the book was published.  Miss Hilton's team hasn't won but is winning.  Bill Clinton had it right those decades ago..."It's the economy stupid."

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Patriarch

The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy
By David Nasaw

“I cannot impress upon you strongly enough my complete lack of confidence in the entire [British] conduct of this war. I was delighted to see that the president said he was not going to enter the war because to enter this war, imagining for a minute that the English have anything to offer in the line of leadership or productive capacity in industry that could be of the slightest value to us, would be a complete misapprehension.”   With those words the Joe Kennedy reveals for the umpteenth time his misjudgments about Great Britains capacity to resist Hitlers European conquests.  The how and the why of this appeasement is one of the many facets of this brilliant, compelling book

Kennedy is not without many critics and untrue libels. He and his family had more than a few friends and hero worshipers.  I hoped in reading this giganticus of a book to find the truth. David Nasaw  promises his readers to excise anything that could not be confirmed by primary sources and that the Kennedy family allowed unlimited access to family archives.  I believe this to be true. The result is riveting and striking to say the least.

This book covers the first half of the twentieth century from the inside out.  Joe Kennedy was personally involved in virtually all the history of his time. His isolationism was deep and yet commonplace.  A lot of Americans, notably aviator Charles Lindbergh, wanted to keep America out of another European war. But Kennedy’s relentless drive to appease — indeed, reward — tyranny was monomaniacal, preposterous and dangerous. In his view, Hitler was really just another businessman with whom a deal could be struck. Here his business genius impelled him in a direction that would have led to hell.Does this reflect the seeming approach of the present conman in the White House.  Perhaps…..

The best and most interesting part of this book is family because that's what drove this man the most.  In business, in being a father, government official, a Hollywood insider, and man about town.  Yes, I can sum it all up this way-  real historical biography that’s utterly fascinating.

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@Barrie Summy

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Hidden Figures

Ignorance is not bliss and Mrs. T and I came out of Mayo Clinic after 2 ½ days  better informed if not blissful.  That took us to our favorite Chinese buffet and a movie.  Again after the movie we felt much better informed about an important part of American history.  The Space Race, though we didn’t feel blissful about it either…..
 Hidden Figures is not a blissful  kind of film: It’s a story of brilliance, but not of ego. It’s a story of struggle and willpower, but not of individual glory. Set in 1960s Virginia, the film centers on three pioneering African American women whose calculations for NASA were integral to several historic space missions, including John Glenn’s successful orbit of the Earth. These women—Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan—were superlative mathematicians and engineers despite starting their careers in segregation-era America and facing discrimination at home, at school, and at work.

 Just the fact that our collective culture highlights virtually zip about this platoon of brilliant, dedicated, overworked, under-appreciated, and until recently, never celebrated African-American women who functioned as NASA’s “living computers” to make it possible for Alan Shepherd, Gus Grissom and John Glenn to become national heroes is as humiliating as it is mind-boggling. This is
especially for those of us who grew up witnessing the birth, trials and eventual triumph of our Gemini and Apollo Space Programs.    Yes, Hidden Figures is well worth seeing…..:)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I Could Tell You Stories

Full disclosure requires that while I never met America’s premier memoirist Patricia Hampl  personally , my reading of her books tells me we grew up on the East Side in St. Paul about the same time, my parents knew and patronized her parents florist shop, we both attended the University of Minnesota (where she later taught) and we’re familiar with the hospital where I was born and she cared for her mother.  For more background and a previous review of her book The Florists  Daughter   click on

In I Could Tell You Stories – Sojourns in the Land of Memory Patricia Hampl has written a thoughtful, original study of memoir, both in reflections on her own life and on the works of other notable memoirists over almost two thousand years—including  Saint Augustine, Anne Frank, Edith Stein (a convert from Judaism to Catholicism, who became a martyr under the Nazis), Sylvia Plath, and Walt Whitman. In this era of titillating  memoir as melodrama, Hampl has restored the form to something provocative and serious, at the same time writing a highly readable series of linked essays in which she probes issues of morality and truth and the historical importance of the recorded life. The prose, reflecting Hampl the poet, sings as she meditates.

This book is for writers and thinkers of any genre.  She provides us with a collection of essays which reveal how the even most mundane aspects of life’s experiences can allow us to write thoughtfully and well. This is a profound book as the author shares insights into the views of writers she admires.  She reaches across history, philosophy, poetry, and religion to connect with memory.   For anyone aspiring to the writer’s calling…. This book is a good place to start.




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@Barrie Summy

Monday, January 9, 2017

Last Child In The Woods

The book is Last Child In The Woods by Richard Louv. The subtitle is Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. Louv has two grown sons. He writes in concluding his book: "I feel a sense of pride and relief that they have grown well, and a deep grief that my years as a parent of young children is over, except in memory. And I am thankful. The time I spent with my children in nature are among my most meaningful memories - and I hope theirs."
I felt very close to those words when I read them. Our two sons grew to manhood in the seventies and eighties. I had grown up a city boy. Yet then, we could bike out to visit our country cousins, played mostly unsupervised with the neighborhood kids in the parks, on a cliff overlooking the city of St. Paul and fished in the Mississippi. Our boys grew up in the rural area of southeastern Minnesota where I taught school. They worked on a neighbors farm in their teens, hunted,  fished, went camping and canoeing in the Boundary Waters Wilderness. These were all combined with success in academics, music, and sports activities.

Our boys trapping muskrats

Our son Tony working  a picked cornfield after football practice.

The reasons why so many of todays children have been divorced from unsupervised play in a natural setting are many. Our own experience in watching children grow up in todays world would reveal many of them. From fear of "strangers" and nature itself, to TV & video games, legal fears, and other social and cultural changes have all contributed to a new world for growing up.

Louv details and cites much of the scientific research that reveals new insights into the positive effects that childrens contact with the natural world can have on their development. This shows up in many ways, including intelligence, self-confidence and creativity. He also provides information on groups ranging from parents, churches, schools and communities that are trying to reverse the tide. Along with this are many concrete suggestions as to what parents can do as well.

I would highly recommend this book. Today children and grandchildren are learning about the Amazon rainforest, gulf oil spills, global warming etc. in school. That's fine. They are likely not to know about the life in a local creek, frogs and trees, birds and even where milk comes from..... It's time to change that.
Here, our granddaughter, a recent kindergarten graduate, is getting a lesson in freshwater invertebrates from her dad.

And with her older brother, got to meet Angel, one of the star eagles, at the National Eagle Center

Within the restructions of big city life they do get to go camping and for hikes in the Arizona deserts &Mountains. There mom and dad are doing their best.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Dark Eagle

It was a very hot July day and we were on a vacation trip to Canada’s Maritime Provinces. Heading north though the beautiful Hudson River Valley we made a stop to examine a famous American battlefield. It was tramping through a wooded area that I came upon an unusual monument.   The monument is dedicated to “the most brilliant soldier of the Continental Army” though he is not mentioned by name.   Surely he was wounded though as we see a bullet hole in the boot. His name was……?

The Indians called him "Dark Eagle" out of respect for both his military genius, bravery and his ruthlessness. His men worshipped him as a hero. But as the legendary general of the Continental Army neared the pinnacle of success, things began to go wrong, drawing Benedict Arnold inexorably toward the greatest crime of the age, one that would forever make his name synonymous with the word "traitor". Meticulously researched and brilliantly rendered, Dark Eagle illuminates both sides of the Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1780.

Author   John Ensor Harr traces Arnold's spectacular rise, culminating in his victory at Saratoga and his marriage to Peggy Shippen, the beautiful loyalist daughter of a prominent Philadelphia family, and Arnold's decline, culminating in his plan with Major John Andre and Peggy to betray Washington and deliver West Point to the British.

In the best of historical fiction Harr paints a  complete picture of one of the most despised men in American history. Factually accurate with believable dialogue to draw the reader into the story  makes for a really good read.  No attempt is made to justify Arnold's actions but understanding the circumstances and his personality that influenced him sheds a whole new light on a true story.   The one thing that, at least indirectly, Harr does is reinforce the realization that self-seeking politicians with very large egos are not just a modern day reality in 2016..... 

Friday, November 18, 2016


Mrs. T. wants to go to a movie. "What's showing," she says.  I dunno  but I'll check. I did.  "Mostly the usual trash and a few kids shows. Oh and a sci fi that Time says is "for adults."  " I know you don't like those monster mash ups but maybe...."  Out of the goodness of her heart she agreed to give it a try. :) We went.
Linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) leads an elite team of investigators when gigantic spaceships touch down in 12 locations around the world. As nations teeter on the verge of global war, Banks and her crew must race against time to find a way to communicate with the extraterrestrial visitors. Hoping to unravel the mystery, she takes a chance that could threaten her life and quite possibly all of mankind.
Cutting straight to the chase Arrival  definitely was for adults. Meaning no shoot em ups and bombs going off everywhere. There is plenty of suspense and more than a little tension. Amy Adams is quiet, afraid and strong, clearly the only person who can  ultimately figure out what's going on. I can't believe I'm writing this but Ms. Adams star turn is definitely in the Meryl Streep category. Also, not as a turn off, but I must admit the theme  that communication between alien  races was nigh impossible and potentially catastrophic brought to mind Republicans and Democrats during the recent horrific election season.  But I digress. It's an interesting and thoughtful movie...:)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Steel Wave

A tad late in acknowledging Veterans Day I review The Steel Wave. This book reminds us of the sacrifice of The Greatest Generation. It is the second volume of a historical fiction trilogy that tells the story of the Second World War in Europe.  Jeff Shaara,   following his fathers footsteps in Killer Angels , tells this story  through the points of view of some of history's most fascinating people , The Steel Wave traces the D-Day landing and subsequent days in the Normandy campaign of WWII.  Generals Eisenhower, Bradley, Montgomery,  Rommel are the main characters. The author puts events and opinions into their mouths and thoughts based on his research. For the many who know this story well it’s an interesting sidelight. For those unfamiliar with the history of this shattering event it makes the vast details easy to digest.
But where this novel really stands out is in conveying what this battle, so renowned but now, with World War II veterans dying along with their first hand memories, felt like for the fighters:"The awful noises returned: screaming wails, the air above them ripped and shattered. The shells began to thunder above them, jolting him, the men tumbling again, more dust, the concrete shaking, deafening blasts. He lay flat, held his helmet to his head, curled his legs in tight, felt himself bouncing on the concrete, his hands hard on his ears, his brain screaming into the roar of fire, the terror grabbing him, pulling him into a complete and perfect hell."And here is a pitch-perfect description of what it must have been like to leave the nausea-inducing landing vessels for the nausea-inducing terror of the most nightmarish run on a beach in history: "He . . . looked straight ahead, smoke rolling past, screaming men, more blasts, more fighter planes overhead, wide flat sand, the cliffs so far away."
Shaara wrote in a very interesting introduction: "I realized that the greatest drama here is not the event but the raw and frightening uncertainty for everyone involved. It is easy to view history in hindsight, as though it were a foregone conclusion how the war, or this particular piece of it, would turn out. But for those men whose deeds and accomplishments created this history, there were no foregone conclusions at all."

The reader is left with two conclusions. The first is that William Tecumseh Sherman was right: War is hell. The second is that this is a hell of a war novel. As a matter of fact all three novels in this series are very well done.