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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mark Twain Autobiography

The new Autobiography of Mark Twain is a whopper. It weighs a ton. All 800 pages..... but in any case the subject was known for telling whoppers. And a wonderfully skewed and satirical sense of humor.
As you may know, Twain wanted his writings on his own life to be unpublished for a hundred years after his death. The team of "friends," that published this monster, took numerous pages to explain Twains complicated reasoning for his 'don't publish till death wish." Then, on top of all this, Twain did not believe a chronological life story was the way to go. Another fifty pages by the editors, were required to unravel this convoluted reasoning . Then there were the several authors whose previous biographies of Twain violated his wishes on this subject and using his voluminous notes and discarded autobiographical attempts published anyway. The editors of the current biography required much tut tuting and footnotes to show why the previous authors had screwed up. I figure about half the book is comprised of this kind of editorial gobbledegook. All of that might possibly appeal to those in depth literary experts and analysts who make a career of deciphering hieroglyphics and the like. Not for me though. I ended up skipping thru most of it.
Now as to what Twain actually wrote himself, it's as you might expect wonderfully interesting. I had to laugh out loud (lol) many times and then read it to my spouse who kept on giving me that "so what’s so funny look." There is much here in the way of little anecdotes and short sketches of people, famous and not so famous, that the author knew. Is the book worth purchasing? For the average reader, like myself, probably not. The parts that I read and really enjoyed I got from the book which was obtained at the public library. I reasons why I skipped about half of this book , I’ve already explained. I think Mark Twain might have chuckled at that.....

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Pacific

The Pacific by Hugh Ambrose was written as a companion to the HBO series of the same name. Ambrose follows five Marines to trace the character of the Pacific War. The vast and complex nature of that part of WWII makes the effort to give it depth, continuity and the personal touch to it much more difficult than the authors father faced when he described the European part of the war, by following a company of the 101st Airborne from training ground to victory. I rate this book "good" rather than excellent. The narrow scope of the narrative makes it difficult to follow the big picture....but to be fair it wasn’t supposed to do that anyway. Guadalcanal, Midway, Peleliu, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, etc. was war, which is always ugly and brutal, at it's very worst. The Japanese invariably chose death over surrender, offering no quarter. They did not accept any of the restraints of the Geneva Convention. The Marines often were forced to respond in kind. Take a look at a few pictures from the battle of Iwo Jima.... then and now.

Mount Suribachi overlooks the landing beaches. During the battle for Iwo Jima, Mt Suribachigave the defending Japanese forces a perfect vantage point from which to direct lethalartillery fire on the Marines' hastily dug positions on the beach.
Futatsune Beach, today known by visiting Marines as Invasion Beach, is where on19 February 1945, the Marines landed on D-Day of the invasion of Iwo Jima. This picturewas taken from near the top of Mt. Suribachi. Forward Observer's dream!
Marines race across the beach to experience a fraction of the experiences the Marines whofought for Iwo Jima might have had on D-Day of the Battle. The major difference betweentoday and 1945 is that today no one is shooting at them!
The guide for this trip asked the Marines to rush this dune to get an idea of what the Marineswho took Iwo Jima faced. Every step you take up, you slide down and into the dune. Youhave to work hard to get to the top. Imagine doing it with 100 lbs on your back while beingshot at and artillery raining down on you.
At this place at that time "uncommon valor was a common virtue." Admiral Nimitiz

Saturday, December 4, 2010


No, it’s not War & Peace, although not happily married Patty identifies with Natasha. The enemy is not at the city gates of Moscow, yet there is an "enemy" that lurks within. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen is a rare best seller in the old tradition of classic nineteenth century novels. It has both style and substance. I believe Freedom does compare favorably with all those classic novels of the past. The book is a family socio-cultural tale that begins slowly and then draws you deeply into the hearts and minds of four people who struggle with their own versions of freedom. This serves to not only illuminate the society we now live in but also provides numerous opportunities for self examination. What could be worth more than a book that can help a reader look more closely into their own values and ideals? Some years ago, I’d given up hope on most contemporary American novelists. This was because I felt many history and biography authors had replaced them in terms of both quality of writing and substance. In the last fifty years, with few exceptions, American novels have diverged into those which have won critical acclaim and those which made the best seller lists. Franzen, the best American novelist of the 21st century (so far), has given me some hope for the future. Of course, their still is the disgracefully degrading and overwhelming mass impact of television on our culture....but that’s a subject for another day.For another bloggers wonderfully thoughtful outlook on freedom (both the concept and the book)you might find the following link interesting.....

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Morning Glory

There we were in the early afternoon have just completed a morning checkup at WFMC. For the uninitiated that would be the World Famous Mayo Clinic. "How about a movie," she said. "Ok dear," was my reply. Settling in to the afternoon matinee, popcorn in hand, I figure there were about 60 people in the theater. Me, my spouse, one other "senior" looking couple and.......the rest all female. A chickflick no doubt. Oh well. If it's funny as they often are I can handle it. It was.

Some of the critics didn't think it was worth anybodies time . "It's trying for the same mixture of romance and repartee and social observation, but it's pretty light on all three. Directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill), from a script by Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada), the movie would like to be the Broadcast News of happy-talk morning shows, but it isn't just the setting that's sillier and more superficial; the whole film is really just a chintzy work-family sitcom. Yet I suspect that Morning Glory will find an audience, if only because as mediocre as the picture often is, it features the sort of tasty, ham-on-cheese movie-star overacting that's undeniable lowbrow fun." ( Owen Gleiberman)
Others saw an updated version of the Mary Tyler Moore shtick. "Rachel McAdams (Sherlock Holmes) stars as Becky Fuller. She makes like Mary and buzzes upbeat through the role of a TV morning show producer. Her unenviable task: ramp up the ratings of the nation’s least watched network morning show. Through heroics found only on sitcom TV, and a predictable love story, Becky cajoles, inspires and propels her staff and the movie toward the expected and non-surprising conclusion.
McAdams teams with a dour Harrison Ford and a perky Diane Keaton. They play her morning show team. The film’s focus is Becky babysitting Ford’s Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. He’s on the downward side of a glorious career." ( Gary Wolcott)
Worth your time? On a slow chilly afternoon in early Minnesota winter a little warm humor and some decent over the top acting. Why not. I enjoyed it. Hey we're not talking Citizen Kane here. A far as much of TV goes these days the morning Today type news/entertainment shows are about as honest as you get.

Friday, November 12, 2010


Having just returned from our trip to Ireland I went to the local vets office to pick up my big puppy Baron. They have boarding facilities there which always seemed to be a good worry free combination. It proved to be so in this case as I learned the big guy had required a tooth extraction while we were gone.

It seems the bad doggie breath I had noticed before leaving had been caused by an abscessed canine tooth. I had requested a tooth cleaning when I brought him in and the problem was discovered then, as he was also not eating and had lost ten pounds since a previous visit.
He is eating fine now, getting antibiotics and seems as chipper as ever. Looking up the function of the upper canine tooth I found it is used to capture and hold prey. Since Baron is fed regularly here at home, I don't believe the loss serious. Well, on second thought, it may reduce the rate of his squirrel captures, but he'll just have to tough it out.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Welcome to the eleventh annual High Plains Chautauqua, a living history festival that recreates the traveling tent Chautauqua tradition of the early 20th century. This year’s unique blend of theatre, history and the humanities will feature portrayals of fascinating Americans who delight us, infuriate us, scare us, dare us to think big, inspire us to stand up for what we believe, challenge us to rethink our preconceptions, and make us laugh. Can we rise to their challenge? Can we learn from these extraordinary Americans? Can we chime in with them, giving voice to a new American chorus of limitless possibility?
Thomas Edison• Helen Keller• Amelia Earhart• Michael Jackson• Annie Oakley• George Washington• Clara Barton• Roald Dahl• Martin Luther King• Bessie Coleman
President Theodore Roosevelt once called Chautauqua the "most American thing in America". The traveling Tent Chautauquas were an outgrowth of the lyceum movement and evolved in the early twentieth century to bring to rural America the same quality of entertainment, history and culture that was available to city dwellers. The Circuit Chautauquas were modeled after the Chautauqua Institution in southwestern New York state, a community with summer long programs by politicians, writers, theologians, and musicians.
I was very excited to learn that our eldest grandson was portraying George Washington in one of the many Chautauqua events in Greeley this summer. Living history at its best. This old history teacher couldn't be more pleased.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Visitors From Colorado

Our son Tony, Kari and the grandkids in Kilgali Rwanda from whence Leonard was adopted.Later, having there picture taken in Colorado. Earlier this summer they all came to Minnesota to visit. A great time was had by all. Here are a few highlights:
Visiting Dick & Sharons farm for 4 wheeling.

Tony, Troutbirder, Tensae & Ethan overlooking The Father Of Waters near the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota
We also took a fishingboat ride on the backwaters of the Mississippi looking for alligators. None were spotted (perhaps a little to far north from there usual habitat), however, numerous snapping turtles soon appeared. Here Tensae is getting ready for our lunch stop at Slipperys, the famous restaurant movie home of the "Grumpy Old Men." As I recall Ann Margaret was a professor at nearby Winona State University. Not in my time though.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Home Waters

I just started reading Home Waters edited by Gary Soucie. It's a fly-fishing anthology. Home waters would be that place or places which the flyfisherman considers his own. Not in the literal sense, of course, but in the sense of being at home there. The place with which he is most familiar and most comfortable. A place to which he returns most often in body and spirit.
For me, it is the spring fed limestone creeks and rivers of Bluff Country, the karst region of southeastern Minnesota. There are several rivers and innumerable streams and tiny brooks in this unglaciated countryside. Over a forty year period I have fished most of them. The South Branch of the Root River is closest to my home and heart. It is the place to which I now return in my retirement years.
This is where I first learned how to entice the wily brown trout with the fly. Then taught my two sons the same art. Later, as they grew up, we wandered far afield to the fabulous waters of Montana and Yellowstone National Park. The Boulder, the Gallatin, the West Fork of the Madison, The Big Hole, The Lamar, Slough Creek and countless others became part of our vocabulary.
Here son Ted and I standing confidently above the Lamar having caught and released our share of giant cutthroat trout.Those days of memory are long gone now.

Son Tony lives with his family in Colorado and only rarely are we able to find the time and place to share our common interest in fishing for trout. Grandson Ethan, though, is learning to love the outdoors and perhaps someday.....
My "Home Waters" the South Branch of the Root River.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

They Fought For Each Other

Your right . It is hard to read. I paused and took deep breaths many times at every twist and painful turn. And yet if a book can be a "must read" about this ongoing war....this is it. Half of the heroes of Charlie Company 1/26th infantry Charley Company were killed in Iraq. Many came home after 15th month broken in body and spirit. PTSD was only one of many problems.

A reporter for the Army Times, author Kelly Kennedy developed the book from Blood Brothers, a series of articles she had written. A former soldier herself , she tells the story of a Charley company's fight against insurgents and terrorists in a Bagdad neighborhood. Somehow it reminded me of a yearlong version of the day long fight for survival in Blackhawk Down. The following link to the final chapter of the Blood Brother series by the author in Army Times will introduce you to some of the men whose stories are told in the book.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention this unit was the only one to mutiny (refuse orders) during the war. Of course, you didn't know that nor did I before reading their story. Soldiers were rotated as units rather than individuals in this war as opposed to Korea and Vietnam. The consequences of this cuts to the heart of this story. You won't be disappointed in finding out why they did what they had to do.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Up North

There was a time when the phrase "up north" meant going to a mom and pop resort for a week or two of a fishing vacation in Northern Minnesota. That tradition has faded quite a bit over the years. Today, fancy resorts with tennis courts, golf courses, computer game rooms and "conference centers" dominate. Ah for the good old days.
Here I am checking out the beach with my Aunt Pearl and my mom (on the right) sometime during WWII.

A few years later, can you believe the striped pants my mom made me wear. The cabins were always "rustic." But what fun. I was an only child in those days as my little brothers didn't show up till I was almost ten.

This sudden dash of nostaligia may have been inspired by getting my Alumacraft fishing boat ready for the season yesterday. The images of long past fishing lakes "up north" kept flashing through my mind. They are far away in time and distance but not in memory. Farm Island, Ball Club, Potato, Sawbill, Mantrap, Battle Ax, Lida, Hoot Owl, and on and on. Those were the days my friends.....

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Shack

The Shack by Wm. Paul Young is a publishing phenomena. It's subtitled "Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity. It is a novel about faith. A father loses a child. The question comes to him as to presence of God in a world filled with evil and unspeakable pain. In his search for answers he finally visits the the shack where his young daughter was murdered. There he meets God, who is a black woman who makes really good pancakes. Huh? Jesus a young middleaster fellow with a big nose. Very understanding and kindly is he. And The Holy Ghost, who likes purple, appears to be of Asian extraction and is otherwise quite undescribable.

Obviously it's a fairy tale. An allegory of the quality of Pilgrims Progress? I think not. Fairy tales though, can provide wonderful moral lessons or be just plain silly. Millions of people have, apparently, felt this book to be a life altering reading experience. At least many, who might be of a less than a traditional Christian point of view, have recommended it to their friends. That's how I got it. Perhaps it's a derivative of the "Emergent Church."

The writing is weak at times and the lengthy dialogue seems trite at points. Yet, to many the underlying questions and answers must be profound.

I don't believe in fairy tales. I know all about losing a child. A good book reviewer should be able to tell his readers whether a book is worth reading or not. I can't do that because, theologically speaking, quite simply this book was way beyond my understanding. You see in the end, it is a matter of faith.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Growing Up

When I was growing up in St. Paul in the 1950's:
A little house with three bedrooms, one bathroom and one car on the street. A mower that you had to push to make the grass look neat.

In the kitchen we only had one phone,And no need for recording things, someone was always home.

We only had a living room where we would congregate, Unless it was at mealtime in the kitchen where we ate. We had no need for family rooms or extra rooms to dine, When meeting as a family those two rooms would work out fine.

We were the last kids in our neighborhood to have a TV. We only had one set, and channels maybe two or three, But always there was one of them with something worth the view. My dad thought he got a bargain from "Mad Man" Muntz you see. It was a giant 17 inches and black and white indeed.

For snacks we had potato chips that tasted like a chip, And if you wanted flavor there was Lipton's onion dip. Store-bought snacks were rare because my mother liked to cook, And nothing can compare to snacks in Betty Crocker's book.

Weekends were for family trips or staying home to play, We all did things together -- even go to church to pray.
We all loved to go camping then, here my mom is helping pack the stuff and to this very day, Mrs. T and I like still like the woods as long as we can stay. Sometimes we would separate to do things on our own, But we knew where the others were without our own cell phone.

Then there were the movies with your favorite movie star, And nothing can compare to watching movies in your car.

Then there were the picnics at the peak of summer season, Pack a lunch and find some trees and never need a reason. Get a baseball game together with all the friends you know, Have real action playing ball -- and no game video. Now they speak of the Boyz In The Hood. Well, here we all were then. Boys and girls together playing Robin Hood. That's me, lower right hand corner, getting ready to shoot. The game never tired for us as it always was a hoot.

Remember going to the store and shopping casually, And when you went to pay for it you used your own money? Nothing that you had to swipe or punch in some amount, Remember when the cashier person had to really count? The milkman used to go from door to door, And it was just a few cents more than going to the store. There was a time when mailed letters came right to your door, Without a lot of junk mail ads sent out by every store. The mailman knew each house by name and knew where it was sent; There were not loads of mail addressed to "present occupant." There was a time when just one glance was all that it would take, And you would know the kind of car, the model and the make. One time the music that you played whenever you would jive, Was from a vinyl, big-holed record called a forty-five. The record player had a post to keep them all in line, And then the records would drop down and play one at a time.

Oh sure, we had our problems then, just like we do today, And always we were striving, trying for a better way. Oh, the simple life we lived still seems like so much fun, How can you explain a game, just kick the can and run?

This life seemed so much easier and slower in some ways, I love the new technology but I sure miss those days. So time moves on and so do we, and nothing stays the same, But I sure love to reminisce and walk down memory lane.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

George Clooney

Some weeks ago I posted a review of the movie Up In The Air. The review was somewhat less than highly favorable. Apparently his appearance in a film automatically makes it Academy Award material. I don't get it?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Korean War Memorial

After I had (in the previous post) misidentified the Washington monument as a high rise hotel, we saw the new Holocaust Museum, and then headed down the mall to pay our respects at the Vietnam Memorial and to President Lincoln. On the way back up the from the Lincoln Memorial we noticed a large crowd was gathered around some statues. They represented some soldiers walking carefully across a rice paddy.

It was the memorial to the veterans of one of America’s forgotten wars. Korea. Unfortunately, I must admit I was unfamiliar with the memorials very existence. Of course, I had read many books about the war itself. I had also talked with my retired Marine Corps brother-in- law about his experiences there as an 18 year old. He had gone straight into the thick of the battle from high school in Mississippi.

As we approached the crowd it was apparent some sort of ceremony was taking place. TV and movie cameras were everywhere. Reporters gathered around a distinguished looking elderly gentleman. I asked a member of the crowd who the gentlemen was.
"You mean the man wearing the Congressional Medal of Honor," he replied. This is America's highest decoration for valor in defense of our country.

"His name is General Ray Davis." Raymond Gilbert "Ray" Davis (January 13, 1915 – September 3, 2003) was a highly decorated Marine Corps officer, serving in World War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. His single most notable endeavor was the salvation of hundreds of trapped Marines during the 1950 Battle of Chosin Reservoir while commanding the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
History. It's all around us. You just have to keep you eyes open.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Year Of The Flood

I needed a fix. Having exhausted my cache and spring gardening seeming very far away, I visited my local small town supplier. She said "we’re short as well." "Limited funds," she added. Where have I heard that tune before? I was standing in front of the new books section of the public library.

History and biography are my favorite books. On that day, I’d already read most of those choices on the shelf. A change of pace came to mind, so I began perusing the book jackets in the new novels section.

A "dystopian novel" one of the jackets said. This genre is not exactly the science fiction of monster robots and alien invaders. It’s more like bad dreams, projecting the ugliness of the present, into the nightmare of the future. Plausible speculation, as it were. 1984, Brave New World, A Clockwork Orange and similar classics came to mind. I took the book home.
Settled in my easy chair, I noted the title for the first time: The Year Of The Flood. The author was Margaret Atwood. That name finally rang a bell. She wrote the The Handmaid’s Tale.

That book was a classic. One of my all-time favorites. Sometimes, in blindly picking out a novel, you just have to get lucky. I was.
The social and environmental fabric of life on earth is falling apart. It’s a very different world yet entirely recognizable. The seeds of that future world are with us now. God’s Gardeners, who combine religion and science, and try to preserve all life, are predicting a human made disaster that will alter earth forever.

In rich and earthy prose and poetry, Atwood take us to a place that is dark and violent. Yet kind and thoughtful people are trying to hold back the march to human extinction. Can God’s Gardeners save humanity from the final precipice? A really good novel of this type melds a realistic present into an intolerable future. Atwood does that. There are no strawmen here. The very best ones also draw you in by reminding you that the present has some redeeming qualities. The author falls a little short there. Still if your brave and open minded enough to read about this not too distant world, I’d highly recommend it.

In the meantime, I think I’ll start going thru my seed catalogues to get ready for my gardening.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Scary Pills

I recently ran across an ad for a certain pill. It contained, in part, the following "warning."
AMBIEN CR is indicated to help you fall asleep and/or stay asleep.
AMBIEN is indicated for short-term treatment to help you fall asleep.
AMBIEN and AMBIEN CR are treatment options you and your doctor can consider along with lifestyle changes. When taking either of them, don’t drive or operate machinery. Plan to devote 7 to 8 hours to sleep before being active. Sleepwalking, and eating or driving while not fully awake, with memory loss for the event, as well as abnormal behaviors such as being more outgoing or aggressive than normal, confusion, agitation, and hallucinations may occur. Don’t take it with alcohol as it may increase these behaviors.
True. How true.

It seems Mrs T was recovering quite nicely from major surgery at a world famous local clinic and hospital. On that particular night, however, her roommate was having a particularly rough go. There was much coming and going of the nursing staff. At that point one of the nurses suggested the Mrs. take a sleeping pill so she could get some sleep. Mrs T agreed with the suggestion.
She quickly fell asleep, only, I learned later, to have bad nightmares concerning her prison status and the fact that someone was going to "take all my blood." Upon being awakened in the middle of the night, a nurse did indeed want to take her blood. Later, according to her roommate, my spouse categorically refused to allow this procedure three times. Also, she was unable to give the nurse her name or where she was. However, she did insist on speaking to me.
It's more than a little upsetting when your wife is in the hospital, and a nurse calls at 2 a.m. It took me a few seconds to get up to speed. The nurse said, "Your wife wants to talk to you." The bottom line though was when the nurse added, "basically Mr. Troutbirder, you wife is being incoherent and uncooperative." I replied, "So what else is new?" Nah, I didn't really say that. Just bit my tongue. My wife then got on the phone and repeatedly said, "I love you."
On a more serious note, she later told me she had never been so frightened in all her life and couldn't remember what she said. Truth to tell, we have both had experiences where being told of possible side effects of a drug might have altered our uninformed choices. I had a near death experience once, which later cost, a unnamed by legal agreement, multi-zillion dollar "big pharmo."