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Saturday, March 30, 2013

  The book is Days Of Destruction Days Of Revolt. It is a team effort between Chris Hedges (writer/journalist and Joe Sacco, (writer/cartoonist) showing us the down and awful of daily life in four centers of 21st-century American poverty. Hedges’ is the muckraker with facts and opinion. . Sacco’s contributes words of real people  whose story  ivisualized in a dramatic cartoon form.  Both authors had reported on the ugly effects of various wars around the world.  In Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt they take us to the bombed-out and collapsed areas of  our own country. Sacco’s part, I think is the better of the two. You see the people and their surroundings, read their stories and draw your own conclusions.  Hedges fills in the background and then opines in a very forceful manner. For one, I mostly agreed with his conclusions. They ownly fueled my anger. Perhaps, I am a revolutionary at heart. You own reaction would, no doubt, depend on you present political views.
If you’ve seen your town fade and then crumble with jobs shipped overseas, unions’ broken, corrupt and bribed government taken over and drugs and violence endemic like Camden, New Jersey you’d be angry too. Perhaps you live in the “rust belt.”
Anyone who grew up near a postindustrial area — who has seen a middle-class town become a pocket of destitution — will not find any one chapter in this book too shocking. What is shocking is the degree to which this depth of poverty is found everywhere, from rural Indian reservations to near-slave conditions in Florida tomato fields. These are not pleasant stories. They are the very sort of thing we all prefer to forget so that we can focus on our daily lives, and this makes it all the more important that they are recorded.
Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is split into five chapters focusing on different regions within America.  There is the life of the Native-Americans in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, a reservation where the average salary can range between $2,600 to $3,500 a year. Alcoholism, violence, and sexual abuse are a regular part of their lives. Their current plight finds its historical roots in a policy that can only be described as genocide

Coal mining and its dehumanizing effects are the subjects of another chapter, taking place in Welch, West Virginia: "Disease in the coalfields is rampant... More than half a million acres, or eight hundred square miles, of the Appalachians have been destroyed... Along with an estimated one thousand miles of streams."
Joe Sacco doesn't glamorize his drawings of the miners, emphasizing gestures, wrinkles, poses brimming with both resignation and defiance. They sweat tears, covered in grime, struggling against both the planet and their supervisors to eke out a meager living.
What makes this section so damning is what Julian Martin, a seventy-four-year-old retired high school teacher, says about the reasons for the coal mining and the devastation that has leveled the region. They consider it "...a sacrifice zone. It's so the rest of the country can have electric toothbrushes and leave the lights on all night... and shit like that."
If I felt bad about lights, I felt even worse about eating tomatoes with the fourth chapter that takes place in Immokalee, Florida. Illegal immigrants have a tough life, and this because they chase their dreams of making enough just to support their family. Farm work is one of the toughest professions around, and pesticides and chemicals make their already rigorous tasks deadly. With no legal rights, their lives verge on bondage with unbearable living conditions that they are forced to bear. We see this with Ana who started her life in Guatemala. Her husband came to the States first and she crossed the border afterward. The illegal smuggling is depicted in harsh illustrations with corpses and snakes littering the way. She trudged through the desert, clinging to the hope of something better. When she met her husband in Philadelphia, she was shocked at the poor condition of the house they shared with many others. Moving to Immokalee was supposed to be better. But, as she says: "...In the trailers where we had to live there were rats and cockroaches... The reality is we're not free; we're treated badly... Americans don't look at us as human beings. They look at us as tools for work."

 These are tough chapters to read. This isn't just some distant region Hedges is describing. This is our own backyard, these are the people who walk invisibly among us, persecuted and denigrated as the cause of our economic woes when, in fact, they are the labor force that contributes to making our produce at markets so cheap.
Hedges makes the "corporate state" out to be the primary culprit of all that has gone wrong. "The virus of corporate abuse -- the perverted belief that only corporate profit matters -- has spread to outsource our jobs, cut the budgets of our schools, close our libraries, and plagues our communities with foreclosures and unemployment."

I found myself respectfully disagreeing, not on the symptoms, which are clearly disastrous, but the medicine he proposes, particularly the more extreme calls he makes. Call me naïve, but I still believe in the American system and its capacity to change, however slow it might seem. I also thought that his demonization of corporations was too general, because even with all the examples of corruption, there are still many companies that don't follow that path. Of course I don't want to get into a political discussion. I only mention my disagreement to emphasize the point that this is where the book might risk alienating certain readers. The quotation about revolt as the only hope, taken out of context, could also turn off potential readers. But that would be a big mistake because this book should be read, regardless of the readers' inclinations and beliefs. Hedges carries the mantle of Upton Sinclair, Howard Zinn, George Orwell, and all the agitators in fighting for the soul of nations when so many have forgotten what that means. His eloquence is in the eloquence of the lives he presents, and Sacco lovingly animates them. It's rare that a book carries so much courage and conviction, forcing reflection and an urge to immediately rectify the problems.
Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, is a memoir not just of the impoverished, but one of all of us. It's a call to start rewriting the forthcoming days by redressing these issues now. I imagine Hedges's hope is that we can eventually all have new chapters, ones we can proudly draw out with the brush strokes of our own lives.

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco.....


Monday, March 25, 2013


Bernard Cornwell, the "master of martial fiction" (Booklist), brings Thomas of Hookton from the popular Grail Quest series into a new adventure in 1356, a thrilling stand-alone novel. On September 19, 1356, a heavily outnumbered English army faced off against the French in the historic Battle of Poitiers. In 1356, Cornwell resurrects this dramatic and bloody struggle—one that would turn out to be the most decisive and improbable victory of the Hundred Years’ War, a clash where the underdog English not only the captured the strategic site of Poitiers, but the French King John II as well. In the vein of Cornwell’s bestselling Agincourt, 1356 is an action-packed story of danger and conquest, rich with military strategy and remarkable characters—both villainous and heroic—transporting readers to the front lines of war while painting a vivid picture of courage, treachery, and combat.
Here is a fascinating mixture of fact and fiction with an underlay  of the mysterious. Go with God and Fight Like the Devil is the subtitle.  And surely we do as we follow a  fascinating hero and the pursuit of a sword with mythical power.....

Friday, March 22, 2013


Tis passing strange those tidy events which drift  thru our lives and inspire us to read the bard…J  It was a losing season for my boys basketball team. We had lost every game that season and as we faced our final game against a team which had beaten us by 35 points earlier in the season.  My friend the band instructor, paused to give me some coaching advice.  “It is time to read your team a passage from Henry V,”  he advised. And so I did.

"Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,

But he'll remember with advantages

What feats he did that day: then shall our names.

Familiar in his mouth as household words Harry the king,

Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,

Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.

This story shall the good man teach his son;

And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remember'd;

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition:

And gentlemen in England now a-bed

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."

 William Shakespeare

I recently finished a book by Bernard Cornwell titled Agincourt. It is the story of a young forester brought by his Lord to serve in Henry V's army. That army characterized by Shakespeare in Henry V as "we band of brothers.”

Agincourt: Fought on 25 October 1415 in northern France, it is one the greatest battles in history.. In August 1415, Henry landed on the Normandy coast near Honfleur and set up his big guns in front of what was supposed to be an impregnable walled city. The bombardment destroyed the main gate completely, and the garrison surrendered.

But then an outbreak of fever seriously depleted his forces. Despite this, he set off across France with what was left of his army - 6,000 men, mostly archers. This was a very risky venture, for a French army of 14,000 was now shadowing him. When the French blocked his route, he had no alternative but to fight, with the odds against him more than three to one.

Henry knew that a general in command of a comparatively small but disciplined army had a good chance of bringing off a tactical success, provided he knew what he was doing. And he did. He chose to fight on a muddy field, with thick woods on either side. When the enormous French cavalry force hesitated to charge into the mud, Henry ordered his archers to advance within bow shot - 250 yards - and open fire. It was a maneuver that suggests they had had first-class training in battle conditions. The French tried to wheel their horses and back off, so turning the ranks of horsemen behind them into total confusion. The great struggling mass became an easy target for endless volleys of arrows.

The main plot, English archers versus the iron clad knights of France follows history very well. The sub plot of the young forester and his French maiden brings it all to life. I have never seen a book that so realistically describes the nitty gritty, down and dirty, aspects of medieval warfare like this. If the book was a movie I would rate it R for extreme violence, rough language, and sex. Still the book accurately reflects those times.

Actually it’s been a movie several times. Henry the Fifth starring Sir Laurence Olivier. And more recently there is a new version starring Kenneth Branagh. Both outstanding films.

As to my Shakespearean inspired team. Well, they had a tough act to follow. The previous two years had seen their predecessors, two undefeated teams,  winning 57 straight games.  In the final game of the season, they  took the Stewartville Tigers in a slowdown,  hold the ball game (run and gun would have led to another crushing defeat) to the final minute with the score tied. We took a good shot and missed. The Tigers rebounded  and rushing the ball down the floor shot and missed with about ten seconds left.  Bigger and stronger they got the offensive rebound and put back.  We lost but I’ve never been prouder of a team.  They fought to the end, never giving up to a much stronger more athletic team. btw Our schools mascot is a knight.  King Henry V would have been proud too….

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Darwin Awards

It's that magical time of year again when the Darwin Awards are bestowed, honoring the least evolved among us.

 Here is the glorious winner:
1. When his 38 caliber revolver failed to fire at his intended victim during a hold-up in Long Beach California , would-be robber James Elliot did something that can only inspire wonder. He peered down the barrel and tried the trigger again. This time it worked.

And now, some of the honorable mentions:

2. Some would be petty juvenile criminals, practicing up for their future careers, broke into a local gas station during a snowstorm.  The local police, alerted by an alarm, tracked their footprints back home to recover the loot.

3. A man who shoveled snow for an hour to clear a space for his car during a blizzard in Chicago returned with his vehicle to find a woman had taken the space. 'Understandably', he shot her.

4. After stopping for drinks at an illegal bar, a Zimbabwean bus driver found that the 20 mental patients he was supposed to be transporting from Harare to Bulawayo had escaped. Not wanting to admit his incompetence, the driver went to a nearby bus stop and offered everyone waiting there a free ride. He then delivered the passengers to the mental hospital, telling the staff that the patients were very excitable and prone to bizarre fantasies. The deception wasn't discovered for 3 days.

5.  A man walked into a Louisiana Circle-K, put a $20 bill on the counter, and asked for change. When the clerk opened the cash drawer, the man pulled a gun and asked for all the cash in the register, which the clerk promptly provided. The man took the cash from the clerk and fled, leaving the $20 bill on the counter. The total amount of cash he got from the drawer..... $15. [If someone points a gun at you and gives you money, is a crime committed?

6. A gang of precocious middle school students made a late night break in of their local schools office, which they promptly trashed. Some of the crew,  enamored of their access to the schools copy machine,  began copying some private bodily parts.  However, in the process, some faces were also captured….

7.  As a female shopper exited a New York convenience store, a man grabbed her purse and ran. The clerk called 911 immediately, and the woman was able to give them a detailed description of the snatcher. Within minutes, the police apprehended the snatcher. They put him in the car and drove back to the store. The thief was then taken out of the car and told to stand there for a positive ID. To which he replied, "Yes, officer, that's her. That's the lady I stole the purse from."

8.  The Ann Arbor News crime column reported that a man walked into a Burger King in Ypsilanti , Michigan at 5 A.M., flashed a gun, and demanded cash. The clerk turned him down because he said he couldn't open the cash register without a food order. When the man ordered onion rings, the clerk said they weren't available for breakfast. The man, frustrated, walked away.

9. When a man attempted to siphon gasoline from a motor home parked on a Seattle Street , he got much more than he bargained for. Police arrived at the scene to find a very sick man curled up next to a motor home near spilled sewage. A police spokesman said that the man admitted to trying to steal gasoline, but he plugged his siphon hose into the motor home's sewage tank by mistake. The owner of the vehicle declined to press charges saying that it was the best laugh he'd ever had.

Methinks it's not evolution we're noting here but devolution. BTW can you guess which two examples Troutbirder contributed?  :)

Friday, March 15, 2013


For years, several of our former students played Irish folk music. They were well known throughout Bluff County as the Irish Minstrels.  Still, time marches on and we were so very pleased to see them opening with a new group recently in Rochester, Minnesota. The groups’ new name is Ravensfire. They warmed up St. Joe’s coffee shop before a packed audience last weekend. On the right, in the picture, are Melissa and Larry Schmidt.  Cheering them on, to the right, are the Troutbirders sitting next to friend Loretta on their left   Coffee cups in hand, what fun it was on a chilly Bluff Country night!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


I took the handle of Troutbirder from two of my hobbies. I’d been trout fishing since I was 21. Mostly I fell into flyfishing  because my first teaching job took me to the only county in Minnesota without a lake. I was already a dedicated canoeist and lake fisherman. Fillmore County it turned out had lots of spring creeks brimming with trout.

The second reason was because of an arthritic knee.  I had to give up upland bird hunting. Falling repeatedly with a loaded shotgun didn’t seem like a good plan.  Upon my retirement I took up birding under the mentorship of a colleague.  Then when I started my blog,, I ran across a picture of an Osprey with a rainbow trout in its talons….   Voila!  It’s been several years now since I started birding. I do keep track of the birds I see (listing).  When I identify a bird  for the first time it’s a "lifer."  I don’t "chase birds, "  meaning  to follow up on a report of a sighting some distance away.  Still there are dreams……. 

Many serious birders dream of doing a "big year", but what does it take to follow  that dream as you chase more than 700 bird species across North America? In The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession, author Mark Obmascik brings readers into the heart of the most frenetic big year competition in birding history, the 1998 battle between Sandy Komito, Al Levantin and Greg Miller. From January 1 to December 31, from easy yard birds to rarities blown into Alaska, Obmascik creates a captivating read that is both inspiring and cautionary for every birder while simultaneously giving non-birders a glimpse into the obsession that drives every competitive birder.

Obmascik provide background to the history of birding, and the three men who made history in 1998. In the process we learn of some great birding hotspots and their natural history. In reading this particular book, I reversed my usual pattern of reading a book and then see the movie if one followed.  The movie was lots of fun. So I downloaded the book on my new Nook and enjoyed it as well.

Only a handful of birders have seen over seven hundred birds in North America in a single year. The photo below shows three of the members of the “seven hundred club. “   That’s  Al Levantin  facing you on the left, Greg Miller front and center, and Sandy Komito. on your right.

For these three men in particular, 1998 was a grueling battle for a new North American birding record. Bouncing from coast to coast on frenetic pilgrimages for once-in-a-lifetime rarities, they braved broiling deserts, bug-infested swamps, and some of the lumpiest motel mattresses known to man. This unprecedented year of beat-the-clock adventures ultimately led one man to a record so gigantic that it is unlikely ever to be bested. In an unbelievable but true  275,000-mile odyssey  these three obsessives fought  to win the greatest -- or maybe worst -- birding contest of all time. And the winners were….   Well being birders we did enjoy the book and the movie.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Chocolate Chip Cookies

It seems I'm pretty well trained. The smell of freshly baked cookies, cakes, pies and other assorted desserts doesn't do much for me anymore. I know, by the very smell, that either the Red Hatters, Bridge Club, Church Ladies, Kiwanis, Book Club, Birthday Club, coffee klatchers, and other friends, and neighbor women will be soon arriving for dessert. DON'T TOUCH is the rule. Leftovers might possibly be available later. This brings to mind the following only slightly apocryphal story.
A very old man lay dying in his bed. In death's doorway, he suddenly smelled the aroma of his favorite chocolate chip cookie wafting up the stairs. He gathered his remaining strength and lifted himself from the bed. Leaning against the wall, he slowly made his way out of the bedroom, and with even greater effort forced himself down the stairs, gripping the railing with both hands. With labored breath, he leaned against the door frame, gazing into the kitchen. Were it not for death's agony, he would have thought himself already in heaven.. There, spread out on newspapers on the kitchen table was literally hundreds of his favorite chocolate chip cookies. Was it heaven? Or was it one final act of heroic love from his devoted wife, seeing to it that he left this world a happy man? Mustering one great final effort, he threw himself toward the table. The aged and withered hand, shaking, made its way to a cookie at the edge of the table, when he was suddenly smacked with a spatula by his wife. "Stay out of those," she said. "They're for the funeral."