Archive for November, 2014

  • Blog
  • November 23rd, 2014

Congress’s BM (Boehner-McConnell)

By Joel M. Vance

John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, the human skids marks on the underwear of Congress, are all bent out of shape because the president has used executive order to do what Congress won’t—offer amnesty and a path to citizenship for several million illegal immigrants.

The hypocrisy of these clowns is astonishing—Obama has invoked executive orders far fewer times than all but one Republican president in the past half century—Obama has used executive orders an averages of 37 times each year of office.  But guess what, whining Republicans, Eisenhower  did it an average 60 times a year, Nixon 58 and the sainted Ronnie Reagan 48.   Even the shrubbery almost eclipsed Obama, 41 for Bush One and 36 for Little Georgie.  So for Boehner, in his infinite duplicity to claim Obama is abusing his offices is simple minded bullshit—political grandstanding  on the order of a clown playing to an indifferent crowd in a run down circus.  I suspect he has spent too much time under the sun lamp and it has fried his brain.

Further, those who are keeping score on mendacity, both Reagan and Little Georgie offered amnesty to illegal (ie., those pesky Mexicans) aliens.   Nobody sued them.  Boehner is a puffed up clown who never saw a fact he couldn’t ignore or a lie he couldn’t embrace.  If he thinks Mexicans make disgusting Americans, let him consider his own history

Drop back 100 years and see how popular an immigrant with the name Boehner would be—or any time in the first five years of the 1940s.  I’m assuming Boehner is of German origin.  There was a time when Irish immigrants were considered the scum of the earth, assuming the McConnells originated in the Auld Sod.  Vances came from Ireland and my grandmother was a Warhurst—Irish and German.   Chances are none of them were legal by today’s definition when they lit on our shores, but they got in.  Remember what it says on the base of that French lady in the bay, “Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free/ The wretched refuse of your teeming shore/ Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me/ I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

We’re all wretched refuse.  Not one single human in this country can claim indigenous forebears.  Even those we call “Native Americans” probably crossed a land bridge from, oh, horrors! The former Soviet Union.   Boil it down the reason the right wing is so intent on keeping Mexicans out of this country is because they suspect, with good reason those four or five million immigrants will vote Democratic.  You don’t hear them howling for a wall to keep those nice white Canadians out.  Why not—half of them speak French and you know how goofy the French are.

The influx of Mexicans, legal or otherwise is creating the kind of paranoia not seen since the days of Nazi Germany.  Kris Kobach–the secretary of state for Kansas, which has spawned more than the usual number of creepy politicians, responded to a radio talk show caller who maintained that if Hispanics become the majority, they might begin killing whites: “ “What protects us in America from any kind of ethnic cleansing is the rule of law, of course,” Kobach responded. “And the rule of law used to be unassailable, used to be taken for granted in America. And now, of course, we have a president who disregards the law when it suits his interests. So, while I normally would answer that by saying, ‘Steve, of course we have the rule of law, that could never happen in America,’ I wonder what could happen. I still don’t think it’s going to happen in America, but I have to admit, things are strange and they are happening.”  What’s strange is xenophobes like him getting elected to public office.

The unremitting antipathy of Boehner and McConnell toward Obama is incredible unless you ascribe it to something that is credible and in my mind that can only be racial prejudice.   They have never been able to live with the reality of a black man winning the Presidency, not once, but twice and both times convincingly over traditional white guys.  But they have plenty of company.  The caller who triggered Kobach’s eerie response, said, “When one race or culture overwhelms another culture, they run them out or they kill them. And it’s a bigger issue than just being Democrats. And they know in numbers, once the numbers are so bad, they can pretty much do whatever they want to do.”  You think that guy and his buddies wouldn’t be inside the White House with a rope if they thought they could get away with it.

Obama I think will be judged by history as an able president, crippled by a hostile Congress and by his own reluctance to pick a fight.  It was apparent from the day after his first inauguration that the right wing of this Congress would do anything short of a lynching to hamstring his efforts.  So Boehner brings a lawsuit to cripple the signature accomplishment of the Obama years, the passage of an affordable health care act—something that Congress has failed to do for more than 100 years (the idea was championed by that renegade Republican President Teddy Roosevelt).

It is indicative of how dysfunctional the nation is that voters elected the very people who are dedicated to destroying it.  The overwhelming victory by Republicans, many of whom are ultra conservatives who would gleefully dismantle Social Security, minimum wage, deny global warming until it is too late, abandon all environmental laws and create a plutocracy unrivaled in our history is nobody’s fault but our own.

Liberals had their chance to stave off the onslaught, but the election saw the lowest turnout in 70 years.  Had Hispanics, African Americans and young people voted in numbers that the right wing was afraid they might, McConnell would be a chinless has been and Boehner could return to the bar circuit and his tanning bed, unencumbered by the responsibility to champion bad government.

And had Obama showed the spunk he now appears to have from the get-go six  years ago, become a Give ‘em hell, Barack president in the manner of Harry Truman,we probably would not face a revival of—not the Gilded Age—but  something far more tawdry and tarnished.

It being Thanksgiving, I give thanks for our country of woods and waters, mountains and prairies, but I would be far more thankful if every politician on the national level and their fat cat donors would take their oily money and all just crawl back into the holes from which they oozed and let well meaning people once again rule their destiny.

But that would be ignoring human nature and the long and hard evidence of history.


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  • Blog
  • November 18th, 2014

As The Worm Turns

By Joel M. Vance

Your compost heap and my father’s morning cup of coffee both represent a gardener’s best friend, especially if the gardener also is an angler.  The compost heap is a rich source of earthworms and my father used his coffee grounds to feed nightcrawlers, the Incredible Hulk of the worm world, which he then converted to fish bait.

Earthworms…no finer engineer of good garden soil and no better entrée for a hungry fish.  Why, the solution to life’s persistent questions may even lie in the intellect of the common angleworm.

Charles Darwin was the godfather of earthworm research.  Shortly before his death in 1881 he published his findings about earthworms and how they compost plant material.  He also concluded that they are smarter than we give them credit for, though not on a par with, say, Albert Einstein.  His treatise was ponderously called, “The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms with Observations on their Habits.”

Darwin said, “…worms, although standing low in the scale of organization, possess some degree of intelligence. This will strike everyone as very improbable; but it may be doubted whether we know enough about the nervous system of the lower animals to justify our natural distrust of such a conclusion. With respect to the small size of the cerebral ganglia, we should remember what a mass of inherited knowledge, with some power of adapting means to an end, is crowded into the minute brain of a worker ant.”

Darwin’s discovery that earthworms are nature’s compost engineers went largely unnoticed for many decades, but today’s gardener is well-aware that a stock of earthworms in the compost heap is agricultural gold.  It’s estimated that 50,000 earthworms in an acre produce about 18 tons of castings in a year.   Each worm eats and excretes its weight in a day.

Worm castings are, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, far richer in soil nutrients than other fertilizers—they have five times the nitrate, seven times the available phosphorous, three times the exchangeable magnesium, 11 times the potash and 1-1/2 times the calcium of the best top soil in the United States.

Life underground is not a bowl of cherries.  First, the worm is blind and spends its brief life eating and excreting, not the stuff of inspirational biography. Second, it is the target of protein-loving predators—we’ve all seen the robin at work, cocking its head to listen for faint worm vibrations (although the worm senses the vibrations of the tracking robin, too).

Below the robin’s busy feet may be the equally busy digging feet of a mole,. Moles don’t always eat the worm they overtake in a slow-motion, nightmarish underground pursuit.  They paralyze the worm with a toxic bite, then leave it for a bedtime snack. Right out of Edgar Allen Poe.

But there always are enough worms to insure the health of the worm world.  Earthworms have solved the mystery of dating.  Each one has both male and female sexual organs, so any worm encounter is a potential relationship.

Beyond their tribute to the soil and their alleged edibility, earthworms are said to be medicinal.  Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79) prescribed powdered earthworms for various ailments, like fever reduction, sore throats, toothaches and earaches.  Chances are a prescription of powdered nightcrawlers will make most ailing people claim to feel better the instant you tell them what the medicine is.

So, earthworms would seem to be the perfect citizen of the natural world (except possibly for one scary South African worm that measured 22 feet), but they have a dark side.  While worm castings by the ton have created the rich black soil that farmers cherish, go farther north to where generations of walleye anglers have dumped their leftover nightcrawlers and you’ll find a different perspective.

The Far North is geared to wormlessness.  If there ever were earthworms, they were killed by glaciers and plants there have evolved without earthworms but the increasing presence of alien earthworms is altering the north country ecology.  University of Minnesota scientists Cynthia Hale, Lee Frelich and Peter Reich have found that non-native earthworms (which came to America with the settlers) have invaded Minnesota’s previously wormless hardwood forests to the extent they are destroying many native plants—among them trillium, violets and Solomon’s seal, as well as tree seedlings.

“People have been told worms are good for the environment,” Frelich said.  “So at the end of fishing vacations they dump the leftover worms near the lake.”  Frelich says that in affected areas 99 percent of the native plants will be destroyed.  There now are 15 non-native earthworm species in the state, busily creating an ecological barren where once ground cover abounded.

If that weren’t enough, the theory is that earthworms eating the forest duff may also be releasing a small, but additive, amount of greenhouse gasses—global warming, courtesy of fish bait.

Worms have inspired poetry by the best of them.  Lord Byron paused from his incessant chasing of the ladies to reflect on the worm and its master:

As the lone Angler, patient man,

At Mewry-Water, or the Banne,    

Leaves off, against his placid wish,

Impaling worms to torture fish.


            As good as worms are in angling they sometimes require a bit of fortitude to gather.  A friend is fond of digging in the slimy bank of a muddy stream where he finds what he calls “green worms,” a small earthworm that smells as if it recently had eaten the city dump.  While the worm itself has an eerie iridescent greenish tinge, I think the name comes from the facial complexion of the guy sticking one on a hook.  It takes a strong stomach to dig into a writhing mess of these worms and impale one.

There’s only one reason—they catch fish (or if you’re Byronic by nature, torture fish).

Worms for fish bait date well before Mr. Izaak Walton, whose landmark manual was titled Fishing With An Angle (or, if you’re a fan of Old English, “Fysshynge Wyth An Angle”) and he wasn’t referring to geometry.  Mr. Walton liked his piscatorial sport, but he also liked to eat what he caught.

And worms do catch fish.

Worm fishing, for all its long history, is sneered at by much of the angling community.  Today’s purist fly angler equates the worm fisherman with a valid angler the way a wildlife officer equates a quarter stick of dynamite with a valid fishing method.  And the dedicated bass angler will spurn a wriggling nightcrawler, but stick an artificial worm on a hook in a color never seen in any of the nearly 3,000 species of worm worldwide.

The English, with their long literary history, have colorfully descriptive names for their earthworms—lob worm (which by Walton’s description surely is a nightcrawler), brandling, marish, flag, dock, tagil, spotspere, munck and, the best of all, the gild-tail: “Of all the worms that move in the earth, the gild-tail alone is the angler’s corona,” says an oldtime fishing writer named Cutcliffe.  He said his splendiferous worm is found in an old and cool dung-heap, preferably left by pigs.  The worms are bright-colored and have yellow in the tail, which gives them their elegant name.

Manure piles are a ripe source of fishing worms, but the collection of fish bait doesn’t have to be an exercise in barnyard dung wading.   My son-in-law once collected several dozen nightcrawlers in a supermarket parking lot on a dark night, after a rain. The worms had come to the surface and as they crawled around, had fallen over the curb onto the asphalt.

Once I went with my father to gather nightcrawlers in a graveyard, alleged to be the best spot for such trophy fish bait.  We prowled among the tombstones and while my father seemed oblivious to ectoplasmic phenomena, I was well aware that we were taunting the undead and I glimpsed the Wolf Man and various other Saturday matinee protagonists behind every marker.

My father shone a flashlight on the damp ground where nightcrawlers had left their holes, looking for I-don’t-know-what?  Each other?  I’m not up on nightcrawler dating techniques and I was busy darting my eyes in all directions, alert for the silent flutter of Count Dracula.  The idea was to grab the crawler before it could reverse into its tunnel, then engage in a tug of war which, if the crawler didn’t have a good hold on its vestibule, resulted in enough bait for 20 bluegills or one humongous channel catfish.

My father also raised earthworms in a washtub.  He fed them with coffee grounds and garden leftovers and when fishing fever overcame him, he’d visit his basement wormery and collect his day’s bait.

Because of their angling attributes, fishing worms, especially nightcrawlers, are a lucrative industry.  Wisconsinite George Sroda called himself The Worm Czar.  A turkey rancher, he stumbled onto nightcrawlers (or maybe over a big one) and began to raise them for study and fun.  He was a guest on just about all the late night television shows, with Herman, his Super Worm (Herman was 20 years old and 16 ½ inches long when he went to the Great Compost Heap).

Sroda didn’t sell the two million worms he kept, but he did sell worm bedding and himself.  He wrote a book about Herman which supposedly was written by the worm, although I think Sroda had a hand in it.

And Hugh Carter, cousin of former President Jimmy, raised worms for a living and ultimately produced 15 million a year for eager anglers.  Mr. Carter was fond of (so I’ve read) wormburgers to demonstrate the high protein content and relative tastiness of your basic earthworm.  However, I don’t see a McCrawler in the future for the Golden Arches.

If you’re inclined to surprise your dinner guests with Lumbricus lasagna, here’s how you do it: a cup of worms weighs about a half-pound or the equivalent of an eight-ounce T-bone (and there’s no bone or gristle to get in the way of pure gustatory enjoyment).

Worms eat (and expel) their weight in food every day.  So if you’re concerned about eating what worms have been eating, let your live worms feast on cornmeal or flour for a day.  Discard the dead worms from the live ones (the live ones move) and rinse them thoroughly in a colander with cold water.  Pat them dry and boil them for five minutes.  They can be used whole, chopped or pureed in a blender.  Be advised that the philosopher Aristotle called worms “the intestines of the earth,” which sort of prejudices most people about the idea of a Big McWorm and fries.

They are said to have “an earthy, subtle flavor,” a description which most folks would be inclined to take on faith.

The earthworm is here to stay and anglers of the live bait persuasion are glad.  In the late 1600s, Charles Cotton, invited Izaak Walton, his co-author of The Compleat Angler, to his English estate, Beresford:

“If the all-ruling Power please

            We live to see another May,

            We’ll recompense an age of these

            Foul days in one fine fishing day.”


Oh, and Ike, you bring the nightcrawlers….


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  • Blog
  • November 7th, 2014

America the Beautiful–Mostly

By Joel M. Vance


It was Veteran’s Day and our local symphony orchestra preceded Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with a tribute to the nation’s servicemen and women.  “Bring the house lights up,” said the concert master, “and all those who have served in the military stand up.”

Quite a few men stood, mostly bent with age and various infirmities.  I didn’t stand, although I spent 13 years in the Reserves and National Guard.  But when I was in the Guard we attended weekly drills, and for two weeks each summer we invaded northern Minnesota to keep the nation safe from people named Olson.

I didn’t feel entitled to be showered with the same appreciation given to men who actually did risk taking a bullet for us.

The old men sat and we hunkered down for the musicale.  The first number was a medley of patriotic songs.  “Over There” echoed from the War to End All Wars (several wars ago) and that morphed into “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”  I appreciated the homage to the guys with the long guns in “The Caisson Song,” even though I never saw a caisson during my tenure in the artillery.

And finally they played “American the Beautiful” and I realized that my eyes were wet.  This is a beautiful country, not like any other.  It offers everyone the chance to be something, just like it promises.

Some citizens choose to be evil, mean, obnoxious, bigoted and awful.  Others choose to be saintly.  Some go to church, well, religiously, while others just as religiously avoid it.  Some who go to church would screw you sideways if they got half a chance while some who do not attend the weekly (or daily) services are the Golden Rule personified.

Supposedly Stephen Decatur said, ”… may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” Since, it has been corrupted to “my country—right or wrong” but if every citizen hewed to that philosophy we still would be paying homage to a queen and eating boiled kidneys.

We are a nation founded on civil disobedience, which makes the long-ago shooting of Kent State students all the more heinous, not to mention the maltreatment of 1960s Freedom Marchers, the bludgeoning of the Chicago Seven, and any subsequent harassment of those who don’t think things are just peachy.

My immediate response to bumper stickers reading “My country—love it or leave it” is anger because what they really mean is “my country—love it my way or leave it.”  And it’s not “my” country.  It’s ours, mine too, even when I disagree with the bumper sticker bigots.  And we don’t do things right all the time.  We torture, we abrogate civil rights, we are intolerant, selfish, mean-spirited and sometimes universally unlikable.

We should acknowledge that maybe we aren’t as good as we think we are…and try to do better.  It’s not fruitful to talk only of the glories of the mountains and the prairie and the oceans white with foam…and ignore the ghettos and the mountain top strip mining and the many other abscesses on the face of the nation.

But to concentrate on those open sores at the expense of all that’s right with the land is as wrong as refusing to admit them.  There is no anthem called “America the Ugly” and I hope there never is.  Sure, we have much that is wrong with the country and most of it is of our own making. We can’t control the occurrence of hurricanes, ice storms, floods or, most of the time, wildfires, but we can control the ugliness and despair of human life.  We just don’t try hard enough.

It sounds Pollyannaish, but the alternative is to grumble and carp and create a sort of national dyspepsia.  There is no cosmic Pepto Bismol.  The only solution for social malaise is within ourselves.  When I get the environmental heebie-jeebies, I go outdoors, preferably on a crisp autumn day during the leaf change, and I just enjoy.  And then I go home and write a check to an environmental lobby group.

I hang around with working bird dogs and if we find quail to shoot at I am enriched, but if we don’t it still is a good day afield and I feel better.  I hark back to the Eisenhower Decade, the 1950s when I graduated from high school, college, got married and participated in creating our first child—a momentous time that is accused today of being a national nap.

Maybe so, but it also was the decade when the high speed interstate highways we love today were born, when the Korean War ended and when we enjoyed postwar prosperity, economic growth and that 10-year nap.  Conversely, it also was a decade when we overused pesticides, swallowed the family farm with a corporate one, used the mega-machines developed for war to create environmental outrage, and heard the first whispers of Viet Nam and the racial unrest that would plague the 1960s—evil twins that still haunt us today.

We will always be a nation at war with itself specifically because of our freedom to do so.  For every mining entrepreneur who would rip the top from a beautiful mountain to get at the precious ores beneath there is someone who will tie himself to a tree to prevent it.  For every sodbuster who would upend the last native acre of native prairie with massive plows there is someone who would buy that prairie only to leave it alone to bake in the summer sun and bend beneath winter’s nor-westers.

While diversity can be aggravating, it’s what makes this country the confused whirlwind it is.  It’s no great revelation that we live in a country that embraces every form of human behavior that offers vistas from majestic to dismal.

So once in a while it is helpful to the human spirit to hear a local symphony play “America the Beautiful” and really mean it.


For those who would like to thank veterans I’m partial to the Wounded Warriors(  But beware of scams  Check out charities online before writing a check (  Or Google “wounded veteran charities.”










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