Thursday, April 26, 2007

Further adventures of Dick Cory, retired teacher


Dick Cory tries to offer solutions to the problems ailing modern society.

Take cell phone addiction.

"Constraint induced movement therapy shows promise," he writes. "Tie down the arm that holds the phone, take out the batteries, or duct tape over the receiver. & Producing phones that limit conversations to less than three minutes before going silent for 15 or that give electrical shocks would provide limits. & I can think of more, but you will have to excuse me, someone is calling on the other line."

Cory wrote about growing up in Nebraska in "Six Boys and a Bag of Dirt" and now he reflects on the adult world in "After the Dust Has Settled." Both books are self-published paperbacks and sell for $20 each. Copies can be obtained by writing the author at ubangarang or at Cory's book signing from 1-3 p.m. Saturday at ABC Bookstore, 868 East Ave. in Chico.

In its 70 not-always-politically-correct chapters, "Dust" provides a rich mix of humorous recollections, social commentary and glimpses into the author's sometimes painful personal life. In 1980, his wife of nearly two decades asked for a divorce. "She had found another man," he writes, "and wanted a new life. & Today, I admire her courage to break the pattern. At the time, I felt abandoned, jealous of the intruder, angry, hurt and worried about my new responsibilities."

Time passed, and both Cory and his former wife "found others with whom to share our love. I now understand her frustrations. I'm very proud of our sons and their families. I am also proud of their mother & and the faith she kept for nine years in the battle with cancer, which she lost March 22, 2005."

Cory was single for some five years after his divorce. He writes that "at one time I was trying to 'play the field' with three women concurrently," which left him exhausted. "Good for the ego, but not the healthiest for someone in his mid-40s!" Something had to change. Celebrating after a city league baseball game (20 years ago now) he was pulled over by an officer for "reckless wet." "I survived the night in the tank, bruised pride and all, took the ribbing from my teammates, and the loss of our first game. Somehow everyone forgave me, and Jan and I are still together." Cory, a Democrat, and Jan, a Republican, have been married for 20 years.

Cory writes about politics, his "progressive puzzle" invention, skinning a skunk (on five beers), and kerf (the "lost measure of wood or other material due to the thickness of the cutting blade").

"Dust" begins in somber tones with reflections on 9/11. "Chaos seems to reign supreme in the universe, so maybe we should expect it to be common on Earth."

The last chapter is more personal, as Cory writes about meeting some of his former students (after 36 years of teaching science and math there are a lot). "I appreciate them recognizing me in retirement. It is a validation of life that each of us needs. In fact, I think it is the greatest perk of an educator."

In between, Jan contributes a short essay on winning the KGO Radio cookie contest one year. Thinking about her lucky day, she writes that she then bought a $5 lottery ticket and got back $53. In a world of chaos, that's the way the cookie crumbles.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Navy's wooden boats - North state teacher on the history of minesweepers


Retired Navy commander David D. Bruhn now teaches at Las Plumas High School.

During his naval career he served aboard an ocean minesweeper (MSO) and later commanded mine countermeasures (MCM) ships. When he learned that the minesweeper Excel "had been decommissioned and relegated to the 'ghost fleet' at Suisun Bay, near San Francisco," he began to think of writing her story.

Eventually, his history expanded to include 65 MSOs and MCMs on which some 50,000 sailors served during the last half-century. The result is "Wooden Ships and Iron Men: The U.S. Navy's Ocean Minesweep-ers, 1953-1994" ($37.50 in paperback from, featuring a cover painting by Richard DeRosset of the USS Endurance (MSO 435) during the war in Vietnam. The book, encyclopedic in its coverage, contains numerous black and white photographs and maps and a comprehensive index.

Bruhn writes that "during the past 50 years, a total of 19 U.S. Navy ships were damaged or sunk by missiles, torpedoes, aerial attack, terrorist attack or mines. More startling than total numbers is that casualties to 15 of the ships, nearly 80 percent, were due to mines and not, as one might imagine, by & terrorist-employed explosives." The need for minesweepers seems obvious, though Bruhn notes in measured terms that "if the submarine force is the 'silent service,' mine warfare is the 'unknown service' within the Navy, receiving few resources and little publicity." He adds that "mine warfare has not traditionally been viewed by officers as particularly exciting or noble work, a perspective that is not unique to the U.S. Navy. A First Lord of the British Admiralty once characterized it as 'unpleasant work for a naval man, an occupation like that of rat-catching.'"

The turning point in the development of the MSOs was the Korean conflict in which "the ineffectiveness of older-type minesweepers with metal hulls was illustrated graphically in Wonsan Harbor, where such ships fell victim to magnetic mines. To combat a deadly menace it became necessary to construct a vessel displaying no magnetic characteristics, or 'signature.'" That led to a host of design problems since engines built of non-magnetic aluminum, bronze or brass didn't last very long. The boats leaked in storms.

The book goes into great detail about ship design, how minesweepers were used in salvage operations and the U.S.-manned space program and Atlantic and Pacific operations. (Whereas MSOs tried to locate mines and detonate them, MCMs used sonar to locate mines and steer around them.) Perhaps of most interest to the general reader are the last chapters, dealing with the U.S. involvement in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988 (Operation Earnest Will) and in Desert Storm. Kuwaiti harbor areas had to be cleared of mines and the Persian Gulf kept open for shipping. Mine clearance is tedious and dangerous business and mines continue to be ideal "sea denial weapons" since they are cheap for the damage they can cause and they require a significant investment of "ships, helicopters and divers" to counteract them.

And that has Bruhn worried. What if an enemy were able to place mines near U.S. waters? The Navy, he says, is "woefully short of mine countermeasures ships." New technologies could produce safer and more versatile vessels; the author hopes that one day "sailors who go down to the sea in wooden ships will receive the same level of support and consideration for their service as those who sail in steel-hulls, upon or under the sea."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to
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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Sports journalist Frank Deford comes to Chico State University with novel view of baseball


Sports Illustrated senior writer Frank Deford is also known for his Wednesday commentary on the National Public Radio program "Morning Edition."

Publicity materials suggest Deford knows a thing or three about his subject: "The winner of an Emmy, a Peabody and a National Magazine Award, Deford has been elected to the Hall of Fame of the National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters, and has been voted U.S. Sportswriter of the Year six times."

Deford will speak at Chico State University's Laxson Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Sponsored by Chico Performances, Deford's presentation is titled "Sports: The Hype and the Hypocrisy." Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and $14 for students and children at the University Box Office (898-6333).

Deford is also the author of "The Entitled: A Tale of Modern Baseball" ($24.95 in hardcover from Sourcebooks, Inc.), which is set to be published in May. The quotations that follow, from my advance reading copy, give a flavor of the book but may be revised in the final publication version.

With that said, I can report that "The Entitled" kept me interested from first to last. Engrossed would be the better word, and I really don't know anything about baseball. Years ago, during my stint on the KPAY morning show, Sports Director Mike Baca explained to me the delight he took in watching a baseball game -- not only for the action on the field but especially for the intense strategizing that went on when nothing appeared to be happening. Deford's fictional novel makes that observation a compelling reality.

"You gotta always think ahead," Howie Traveler says to his girlfriend, Margo. Howie, at 57, is the manager of the Cleveland Indians. "You've got to consider the possibilities. Like tonight. Dinky Furlong is pitching for me, and he's getting them out, but Connie and me, we know he hasn't really got his best stuff. They're gonna get to him, for sure, but when do I start warming somebody up? Too early, maybe I altogether waste a guy I might need tomorrow. And Furlong is very insecure. He's like some pitchers: He sees a guy warming up, he takes it personally. But if I wait, maybe then it's too late, and the Yankees are into a big inning."

Baseball is about people, all right, and Howie is altogether (his favorite word) enmeshed in the life of his star player, maybe the best in the game: Jay Alcazar, who Howie calls a "five-tool player": "That means & he can hit, hit with power, run, field and throw." Alcazar also has a way with women, and his one-night stands are legion. But one night, as Howie walks down the hotel corridor to his room, he sees the door to Jay's room open. A woman is trying to get out, but she is pulled back inside and the door kicked shut. Soon afterward, the woman charges Alcazar with rape, and Howie is forced into an ethical dilemma. Should he tell the police what he saw, and maybe lose his star player and his job? Or should he keep quiet?

Deford illuminates the politically incorrect world of Major League Baseball even as he creates sympathetic characters that linger in the memory. An altogether captivating performance.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Friday, April 06, 2007

Chico peace activist spends Easter 2006 as a 'Prisoner of Conscience'


The letters and journal entries of self-described peace activist Dorothy J. Parker have been collected in "You Too Could Go To Federal Prison!" ($15 in paperback from the author's Web site,, or from Lyon Books in Chico). Parker was 76 when she was arrested at Ft. Benning, Ga., in 2005 when she "crossed the line" and purposely trespassed onto the base, sliding under a chain link fence. "Thirty-six of us knelt in prayer awaiting the arrival of the security guards who had spotted our unorthodox entrance into forbidden territory."

Parker and the others, under the auspices of a human rights group called "SOA Watch," were protesting the continuing presence at the army base of the "School of the Americas" (SOA Watch calls it the "School of Assassins"), recently renamed WHINSEC (Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation). According to an article in the Sacramento Bee, SOA "is a school chartered by Congress to provide 'professional education and training for civilian, military and law enforcement students from nations throughout the Western Hemisphere.' ... The school has been a target of protests since 1989, when some of its graduates were linked to the murder of six Jesuit priests and two women in El Salvador."

SOA Watch was founded by the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, a Catholic priest, and (according to a Web site article from The Progressive) has in turn been subject to "counterterrorism monitoring" by the FBI.

Parker herself , active in the Chico Peace & Justice Center, worked for quarter century as a drug and alcohol recovery counselor with what was then called Butte County Mental Health, and since 1989 has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity to build houses in Nicaragua's rural areas. She told a judge after her arrest at Ft. Benning that she was a "Prisoner of Conscience."

The author spent 57 days in the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, Alameda County. Though it is called "minimum security," because of ongoing repairs to some of its facilities Parker found herself spending much of her sentence in the "Special Housing Unit" for women prisoners who had broken the often arbitrary house rules. There she was given no more than a hour a day to exercise outside and found herself frequently shackled and treated with disdain by prison officials.

A deeply spiritual person, Parker draws on the writings of Mary Baker Eddy (in the Christian Science Monitor), the Buddhists Tich Nhat Hahn and the Dalai Lama, and Meister Eckhart. The spiritual center of Parker's book is a meditation on Henri Nouwen's little book on the Stations of the Cross. He writes: "I may become an activist, even a defender of humanity, but not yet a follower of Jesus. Somehow my bond with those who suffer oppression is made real through my willingness to suffer my loneliness. ... We must each take up our own cross and follow Jesus, and so discover that we are truly brothers who learn from him who is humble and gentle of heart."

Parker took communion in "heavy chain shackles! Very moving symbolism for us (and the priest as well)." The feast of the Resurrection, Easter Sunday morning, turned out to be "cold cereal, a cold bagel with grape jam packet, milk and an orange."

I'm not sure I understand all that motivates Parker nor am I comfortable with her politicized brand of liberal Christianity. But if Jesus is risen indeed, maybe my comfort is decidedly not the point.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to dbarnett@ Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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