Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

November 18, 2006

Another rodent



The muskrats have been sitting on the ice for the past two weeks, taking frequent dips to find more food, then coming up to nibble it down.



One doesn't expect such elegance from the common cattail.



Cattails, and aspen: Two of the most common plant species on the face of the earth. (There are about 8 time zones worth of both plants in Siberia.) And still, both are beautiful.


Perfect November Day

I have been bemoaning the gray, dismal weather. There really hasn't been much to photograph for a couple of weeks--until today.



As the sun set, the colors of November really came to life.



The cattail reeds caught the sunshine and contrast well with the pewter color of the ice.



The leaves and grass are still visible beneath the ice.

St. John's cemetery looked austere in the setting sun. And a neighbor took the opportunity of a beautiful day to burn off a swamp of its reeds.



Swamp Drama

I have been outside most of the day today, probably the most beautiful November day one could ever imagine. It is perfectly still. I can hear the trains 10 miles away. And the birds.

While walking around the swamp, I saw a weasel playing in the reeds. I ran and got my camera.



I was happy to get this posed shot. Weasels don't sit still for long, and this one was jumping back and forth.





Suddenly I found out why the weasel was so excited. A big plump vole broke out from the reeds and made a break for it across the swamp floor, which I scraped clean earlier this summer.



Run, vole, run!





Weasel was right behind.



Jump, weasel, jump!



Within fifteen seconds of the first picture above, the weasel had a meal. And I was lucky enough to be there to catch it!


November 17, 2006

Santana wins Cy Young

He deserved it. I still don't think he was as good this year as he was two years ago. He was only comfortable in about half his games. Some of the others featured more walks than usual and a high pitch count.

Santana's just going to get better. I am already looking forward to watching him pitch next season.

Meanwhile, Liriano had surgery on his arm. He will be out for 18 months. Even then, a comeback isn't certain. Most pitchers who return from Tommy John surgery come back better than before, but there are a few who never recover. One reason pitchers might do well after the surgery is that the rehab process is so grueling that it is like they have gone through boot camp--for over a year. Once they get through that ordeal, a bases-loaded nobody-out jam is nothing. They just feel lucky to be pitching!

The Boston Red Sox paid $51 million simply for the right to negotiate with Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. That's nuts. It is also only slightly less than the Twins' annual payroll. My days of rooting for the Sox are over, although I still love Fenway and always will.


November 16, 2006

Comedy, cont.

A weblog reader sends in this fun link to a group which stages public pranks of a harmless but fun nature just to see what the reaction will be. For example, they sent 150 people into a Home Depot. At a predetermined time, all of them went into slow motion.

When I went to college in the Twin Cities, about 10 of us once dressed up in three piece suits and went to Rosedale Mall. We had two briefcases. We split up and walked the mall. When one of us would spot another with the briefcase, we would pass each other and exchange the briefcase without talking.

Well, ten minutes after we started, security was up in arms but was really unsure what to do. The employees from the stores (it was a quiet day) came out to watch.

The funniest moment for me was when I was summoned into a cubicle to take a marketing survey. I had the briefcase at the time. I sat down, and set the briefcase by the door.

About two minutes into the survey, a hand reached in and took the briefcase. The woman administering the survey screamed and pointed at the door. I just said, "that's okay," and motioned for her to go on with the survey. I managed to keep a straight face, and she was flummoxed for the rest of the interview.

One of the security guards later talked to one of the guys. He said, "I thought we had a problem until I saw the guy with the bright red tie. Then I knew it was a joke." Unfortunately, the guy with the bright red tie was me.

After I that school, the same group made a bunch of "welcome home" signs--with no specific name on them, of course--and went to the airport where they waited for somebody to come down the ramp who was obviously alone and had nobody to meet them. No word on how that turned out.


November 15, 2006

Comedy overload

Okay, Borat was a lot of laughs. I had trouble sleeping last night. Just as I was about to fall off, one of the juvenile gags would come back to me and I would start laughing again.

A lot of the humor made me cringe at the same time I was laughing. Borat went after unsuspecting people. He got on a local television show and screwed up their entire broadcast. The producer who was gulled into letting him onto the show has since resigned. The frat boys who Borat filmed drunkenly advocating slavery have decided to sue. Residents of the Romanian village which Borat used at the beginning and end of the film to portray his village in Kazakastan are infuriated. So is the Kazak government, which is taking out advertisements to combat the crazy image of their country Borat has projected.

In another life, if I had about a dozen, I would love to go around the country doing candid camera gags. It is probably a good thing I don't have a dozen lives.

I am reminded of the great writer H. L. Mencken, who toured the country in the 1920s, before there was any national media. Most of the people who came to greet him in the rube states didn't know a thing about him--except that he was a famed journalist. Well, at every stop, he would tout the local politicians for the presidency. They took him seriously. Some started campaigns. Of course, Mencken was joking.

Another time, Mencken wrote up a facetious history of the bathtub, tracing its history to Cincinnati, OH in the 1840s. It was all bunk, but the false history made its way into several encyclopedias. You can still find Mencken's account floating around as fact.

It would get exhausting being a full-time satirist. I couldn't take the backlash. The few columns I have written which were spoofs were almost more work than it was work. You can laugh at people who take things too seriously, but at the same time, creating that stress in the lives of the gullible isn't a particularly charitable pursuit.

But, when I am needing some laughs, I can't get enough of the candid camera style of comedy.


November 14, 2006

Borat

Saw it tonight. It is the funniest movie I have ever seen. I am sore from laughing. And, I recommend that nobody go see it--because I don't want you all to realize how sick my sense of humor is!

The movie is not a scathing criticism of American society, as some reviewers allege. It is just a compilation of some awfully funny gags. In fact, most of the Americans Borat fools come across as tolerant, good-hearted and sweet. I am going to be laughing for days at odd times as scenes come back to me.

Again, anybody with any dignity or taste at all should stay away. You will be offended. But oh man, if you haven't laughed in a while and need a little therapy, Borat is your ticket.


November 13, 2006

Class

An interesting day of teaching. The students who haven't been doing well are starting to panic. I will allow them every chance to turn things around, but some of them are going to struggle. You can't change things 180 degrees all of a sudden.

We discussed slavery. Some interesting points:

--Fewer than 25% of southern whites held slaves when the Civil War started.

--3,700 Freed blacks held slaves of their own.

--One former slave owned her husband as a way of getting around the new law that newly freed slaves had to leave the state. Well, the couple got into a fight and she sold her husband to a neighbor. After they made up, the neighbor refused to sell her husband back.

--To have his legendary dentures made, George Washington ordered teeth pulled from his slaves. That sort of casts a different view on Washington as a benevolent slave-holder.

--Robert E. Lee has generally been viewed as a benevolent slave-holder, but a student uncovered an account where Lee had several slaves whipped and then ordered brine poured over their wounds.

The topic of slavery interests the students. I think we will have a better time going over this time period than we did with the Monroe presidency, a boring time in American history if there ever was one.

A student from Liberia came to one of the classes today. He had prepared a lecture on his country's history. It was fascinating.

Liberia is a country in Africa which was founded by the American Colonization Society, a benevolent organization which in the 1820s decided the best thing to do with freed slaves was to send them back to Africa, even though most of them had spent their entire lives in the United States.

To this day, Liberia is divided. Five percent of the population is descended from the repatriates. The rest of the population is divided between sixteen tribes and 123 languages! The country has been torn by civil war in recent decades. They still exist under a Constitution which is similar to that of the United States, but in fact, Liberia tends toward dictatorship, with frequent coups.

According to David, there were great empires in Africa over two thousand years ago. Their rise and fall caused mass migrations of various language groups which still affect African history today. Of course, little or nothing is said about these empires in our history classes, although the World Civilizations text I taught from two years ago did touch on them briefly.

HAD A NICE VISIT with a janitor at UMC. His father fought in World War II. He is now 95 years old. As he ages, the flashbacks from the war become more frequent and vivid, now occurring nightly. His worst memory seems to be of the time they had to shoot up a church because it was bristling with German snipers.


November 12, 2006

New Yorker

Quite an interesting, somewhat sad little article about Donald Rumsfeld. I keep thinking of Robert McNamara.


Bernie

Before I wrote tonight's column, I decided to call Rep. Bernie Lieder, who recently won another term as the Crookston area's representative in the Minnesota House. Bernie was in the Battle of the Bulge, so I had some questions for him.

Bernie's a wonderful story-teller, so he got going and we had a good time visiting. He's 83 years old, but hasn't lost any of his competitive spark. He loves to win elections! He had a very able opponent, Doug Oman, former mayor of Crookston. Oman ran a positive, clean campaign, but it just wasn't the year for Republicans to unseat incumbent Democrats.

Bernie said that during the Battle of the Bulge, they had two men in his unit who would just dissolve when anything happened. One would disappear into the basements of houses when they got to a new town. The other would curl up and sob uncontrollably. They had combat fatigue, and although there was some understanding that it was mental illness, there was nothing the unit could do but carry the men onward. The higher command refused to take them back, citing evidence that when men in shock get removed from battle, they only get worse.

Although Bernie doesn't feel truly traumatized by the war, he did say that he thinks about it for hours each day. Whenever he isn't busy, he said, his mind goes right back to his buddies that he lost in the war. He had a busy career as an engineer and a busy career in the House, and he credits that busyness with keeping him from being overwhelmed by war memories.

Bernie also said that a book is coming out from the Minnesota Historical Society which includes his story. In that book are some of Bernie's childhood memories, memories which he said he isn't particularly eager for people to hear. Until I see the book, I will leave the issue by saying that Bernie's childhood was anything but typical, and truly rough. I urged Bernie to not worry--it is history now, and nobody is going to judge him by his family's struggles during the Depression. In fact, I hope someday to sit down with him and get his stories on tape. But he's too busy for that now!


Veteran's Day

Last night, we had a spaghetti supper at the American Legion in Fertile to raise funds for the Fertile Veteran's Memorial Plaza. Brother Joe and I played music during the supper.

The supper was well-attended, and over $2000 was raised for the project.

We hauled in all of Joe's sound equipment for the music, including a Roland keyboard he recently purchased from sister Tracie. When hooked up to the sound system, the keyboard really added a lot to the music.

The event inspired this week's column.

Had a good time visiting with my high school biology teacher Marv and his wife Betty. Greetings to Betty's sister, weblog reader Marge in New Ulm!


Rumsfeld

Here is a defense of Donald Rumsfeld's tenure which runs contrary to the present conventional wisdom.

One value of hearings is that we may gradually get a better picture of the truth. How, exactly, did we come to dilute the Geneva Conventions? What was the process which led us to war with Iraq?

It may take decades for the truth to emerge. Oddly, historians may be handicapped by the lack of a paper trail. Emails are easy to destroy, and will likely have been cleared off the hard drives by then.

History is a never-ending debate. Only by weighing competing versions of what actually happened can the reader begin to get an accurate picture of what actually happened. Even then, it is likely that the conclusions will be clouded both by the writer's biases and the reader's subjectivity.

Some people view the study of history to be a social science. You study the facts, test your hypotheses, develop a theory, and then wait for that theory to be contested.

I find the social science model a bit sterile. I think history should be considered one of the Humanities. Historical truth is best captured by great writers, like Carl Sandburg and Winston Churchill, who have a talent for narrative and a big enough personality to transcend petty details.