Magna Carta


Magna CartaMagna Carta: The Birth of Liberty
by Dan Jones

Last year was the 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta. To commemorate the occasion, LibriVox recorded a collection of essays — (Magna Carta Commemoration Essays, edited by Henry Elliot Malden) — which had originally been published on the 700th Anniversary in 1915. I’ve got to admit that this was some of the toughest reading I’ve ever done for LibriVox. Dry, scholarly, and littered with snatches of Latin and French. True, I did learn a lot from it, and found it edifying. But it was learning purchased at the cost of much mental sweat, rather like being back in a tough college course all over again.

Now, months later, browsing through the “new nonfiction” display at my library branch, I discovered this account of the Magna Carta by Dan Jones. This one kept me engrossed all the way through, without ever finding it a struggle. My sister Meg and I used to say that we “liked our history with the people in it” — and that pretty much explains the difference. The book we read for LibriVox last year was all analysis and no people. This new book is filled with people, their desires and activity and personality. Yes, there’s also analysis, but that follows in the wake of the human story.

The story begins with the period of anarchy known to contemporaries as “the Shipwreck”, the two-decade war between rival claimants to the English throne, Stephen and his cousin Matilda. (I mentally “place” this period in my mind as the era which forms the backdrop for Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mystery novels.) In 1154, Matilda’s son Henry Plantagenet became King Henry II. In a reaction against the chaos of the recent past, Henry asserted royal power aggressively, setting the tone for the other Plantagenet kings who followed him. The story of the constant power struggles between Plantagenet kings and English barons and churchmen is the topic of the first half of this book.

Magna Carta King Taxes BaronsIn the chain of feudal obligations which structured medieval society, from the king at the top to the peasants at the bottom, traditional obligations bound each link to the links above and below. Ideally, it should be a two-way street. The vassal owes loyalty and pays his feudal dues to his overlord. The lord protects the vassal and recognizes his traditional privileges.

But in practice, the balance of power can too easily be tipped by a powerful lord who refuses to abide by his side of the expected arrangement. What countering force can prevent a baron from mistreating his tenants? Perhaps a king might, if he chose, force his barons to behave. But then, what force can keep a king from mistreating his barons? Who has the kind of power that could check a runaway king?

Sometimes, the church tried to do that. Popes have excommunicated kings, and independent-minded bishops have tried remonstrating with kings, insisting that the church is not merely another vassal of the king, but retains its independence in matters spiritual. Henry II’s famous battle with Thomas a Beckett was probably the most notable case of such a struggle during this era, but King John’s wrestle with the Pope over the appointment of Archbishop Stephen Langton was another example.

Other than the church, the other potential force capable of checking a king’s arbitrary misuse of power was a determined resistance by a coalition of powerful barons. Uprisings of barons happened more than once during this century, as three Plantagenet kings (Henry II, his son Richard I, and Richard’s brother John)  exercised a heavy hand, consolidating financial and political control in the monarch. Fees and feudal dues demanded of the barons were ratcheted up. An obstinate baron could be destroyed simply by being driven into debt and then stripped of his holdings.

Magna Carta Barons RevoltBy Easter 1215, in the 16th year of John’s reign, disaffection among the barons had peaked, as the king failed to show up for a promised Easter meeting with the barons. Led by such men as Robert FitzWalter and Eustace de Vesci, the barons “concocted a list of demands that they were determined John should concede to if he were to avoid being violently deposed.” John was not inclined to concede, and battle was joined. The barons took London, cutting off John from his treasury, and again pressed their demands.

Archbishop Langton, though his personal sympathies may have been with the rebels, acted as a neutral mediator, while the king’s loyal baron William Marshall, respected by both sides, did what he could to facilitate the negotiations. John had no choice but to go through the motions of conciliation, though by all accounts he was resistant and extremely angry.

As for the barons, their motives were as mixed as their different individual personalities:

They were not only angling to rebel against a king who had treated them roughly and who had failed in war; they were also preparing to challenge a raft of political issues that reached to the very core of the Plantagenet system of government.. … They wished to make a number of specific amendments to policy, setting strict limits to the king’s ability to tax and fine his subjects. But they also sought to set out grand and sweeping philosophical statements concerning the king’s basic duties to church and people. It is unlikely that all of the aims were shared by all of John’s opponents. No doubt some simply wanted to be revenged on a man who had extorted, bullied, blasphemed, and murdered his way through life and kingship for far too long. But others — and there were many — saw in the immediate crisis of 1215 a chance to change their world in a more fundamental way. It was the alliance of these interests that would make the baronial reform movement of 1215 so irresistible and enduring.

Magna Carta RunnymedeIn June 1215, at a meeting between the two sides on neutral ground in a meadow called Runnymede, the king granted his barons a list of 63 promises which have come to be called the Magna Carta. Oaths were sworn, documents were copied and sealed. But the agreement proved to be anything but enduring. Within a few months, the barons accused the king of breaking his oaths, and invoked clause #61, which specified that in such a case, the barons would be absolved of allegiance to the king and free to take up arms against him — which is exactly what happened.

When John died the following year, leaving his 9-year-old son to succeed him, the kingdom was in a tumult and the young king’s position was insecure, as a number of barons were ready to overthrow him in favor of Louis of France.

And here is where the Magna Carta, that dead and broken agreement, was resurrected for the first of many times. As a signal that the new king was willing to recognize and abide by his traditional feudal obligations to his subjects, the Magna Carta was reissued under the seal of the new monarch. There were tweaks and alterations — notably the omission of clause #61 — but the general gist of the document was the same. As an olive branch, it worked. The rebels returned to the fold, Louis returned to France, and Henry III was accepted as king.

After that, it became a custom for a new king to reconfirm and reissue the Magna Carta and other charters upon coming to the throne. The provisions of such charters changed with the years, and kings didn’t always scrupulously observe what they had promised. But the expectation was clearly  that the king should demonstrate some recognition of his subjects’ traditional rights and of certain limits to a king’s power.

The common man, whether free or serf, was barely remembered here. These early charters dealt with a king’s obligations to his own. How much of a fee might be charged for the inheritance of an estate, how much a baron owed in knight’s fees, how far a king might interfere in the remarriage of a nobleman’s widow, all of these issues had no direct bearing on one who lived far down the feudal chain.

But the principle, once established, was hard to flout. Magna Carta meant that there were limits to the ruler’s power, that a king had obligations, that the law bound him as well as it bound his subjects, that the duties which subjects owed to their monarch depended upon reciprocal duties which a monarch owed to his subjects. As the centuries passed, these principles revealed wider and deeper applications than had ever been imagined by a handful of resentful medieval barons and their overbearing king.

[Note: The pictures in this post were created using this delightful Historic Tale Construction Kit at “Bildwirkery von Bayeux”.]


Farm Hands


Farm HandsFarm Hands
by Tom Rivers

The author is a reporter for the Batavia News, located in the middle of Western New York’s multi-county farming region. Agricultural news was a staple of the paper. But as the author realized, this reporting had tended to be focused on the economic impact of the farms, on the $400 million they pumped into the region, on the issues and problems of the farm owners. “Something was missing in those articles: the workers. They were rarely pictured, seldom quoted, and their contributions were largely unappreciated.”

With  about 3,000 migrant workers involved in farm work in Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming, and western Monroe Counties, and about 5,000 scattered through all of western New York, it seemed important to make their voices part of the story. This was particularly essential because, judging from the newspaper’s letters and e-mails to the editor, many readers seemed convinced that the work wasn’t very difficult, that farmers could easily fill their labor force with local labor, that no particular skill or experience was necessary.

So the author wondered — How hard was the work? What demands did it make, in terms of both skill and endurance? Was it something that local workers were avoiding for a reason? The author set out to get his own hands dirty and find out. Over the course of a year, from spring to fall, he persuaded local farmers to let him join their crews and try his ability at farm work, then to write articles for the paper describing what it was like.

He began in April rains, planting onions in the rich muck land, and finished in October, harvesting apples in a variety of western New York orchards. In between, he picked raspberries and cherries, milked cows, harvested cabbage, cucumbers, pumpkins, and organic squash, peppers, and beans, and also staffed a farm stall at the public market.

He learned, first of all, that the work is physically grueling. His back was killing him, his knees and shoulders were stiff, after just one day. He needed to take it easy for the next couple of days, until the pain wore off and he felt like himself again. He compared it to the exertion of running a marathon, except with the realization that you had to get back out there every morning ready to do it all over again.

The men he worked with — and they were almost exclusively men — came from Haiti, Jamaica, and Mexico. Most of them were here through the H-2A program, which allows temporary residents to work legally in the U.S. Most of the farm owners the author spoke to preferred to hire workers through this program, because it relieved them of the worry that their operations might be disrupted by the sudden loss of their workers due to immigration issues. But many farmers remarked on the delays and paperwork involved in this program. Work on a farm is timed on a schedule determined by nature, not by the farmer, and when hands are needed, they are needed at once.

Many of the farm workers who spoke to the author had been returning to farm work in the area for a number of years. They weren’t happy about the regular months-long separations from family and home, but their attitude was, “We do what we have to do for the good of the family.” The steady work enabled them to support parents or educate children. Despite some anxiety about their ability to get back into the U.S. each year, despite the paperwork hassles, they wanted to come back if they could.

A few workers the author met admitted that they were not “legal”, either because they had initially entered illegally, or because their legal work-stay permits had expired. The stories of these men were almost always concerned with a desire to work and the lack of paying opportunities at home. If they could return home to see family, they would have, but because of their situation they feared that going home would make it impossible for them to return here, and here is where the jobs were. The author wanted to hear these men’s stories frankly and honestly, in order to report on their experiences, and that meant he had to keep their confidences. He respected their wishes not to have their real names used or their pictures appear in the articles. As he explains to the reader, immigration enforcement is not his job. His job is to get the story and report it.

Actually working alongside these men, the author learned to respect them for their work ethic, their endurance, their positive attitude in the toughest circumstances. The two toughest jobs the author experienced, in terms of sheer backbreaking labor, were cabbage and cucumber harvesting. Cabbage weighed a ton — it was like lifting and tossing bowling balls all day long, not to mention trying to slash through tough cabbage stems in a single strong swipe without slashing your own fingers. Cucumbers had to be harvested from ankle-level rows, legs spread apart to straddle the row, back bent over almost double, while dragging a 30-pound bucket. The top picker at the cuke farm picked one basket every three minutes, 19 baskets per hour, 202 total for the day. The author picked 10 baskets per hour, putting him dead last among the crew.

Despite his struggles to keep up, the author tried never to quit before the end of a shift. As he said, “They seem skeptical of me. Other local Americans have tried the jobs before and few have lasted more than two hours. I want to at least put in a respectable showing, and not feed the ‘lazy American’ stereotype.” 

The toughest job in terms of skill was the cow-milking operation. Herds of cows are brought into the milking parlor. Their teats are “dipped” in iodine foam to kill bacteria and loosen manure. Then the teats are wiped clean with towels. The cows are then attached to the milking unit. The experienced workers can do this in about five seconds. While the author is struggling to connect all four teats on his first cow, his co-worker has done 18 cows.

Milking cows is wet, dirty work. Even dressed in high boots, waterproof overalls, and carrying a bagful of towels, the milker finishes the shift covered with cow poop, cow urine, iodine foam, and water from the regular washing-down of the floors. Cleaning the poop off the floors and doing laundry (1200 dirty towels per shift) are additional duties, along with changing filters in the tank system, and flushing and sanitizing hoses.

Rich Gibson came from Jamaica at age 16. He began working at Stein’s dairy farm at age 18, after an American worker proved unreliable and failed to show up for shifts. Gibson had milked five cows by hand on his grandfather’s farm at home, and had at first no more experince with a large commercial dairy farm than had the author. But Gibson persisted, proved that he could master the skills needed, and became a valued and versatile employee, able to do anything from cleaning milk tanks to delivering calves. He eventually studied to become a certified HVAC technician and got a job installing furnaces, but continued to work two days a week at Stein’s, where he trains new hires.

Jesus “Chuy” Vallejo first came to work here 20 years ago, as a 14-year-old who knew no English. In 1988, during an amnesty program, he gained legal status. He is now a farm foreman at an apple orchard, managing workers, teaching new ones, and monitoring the quality of the fruit. When the owner was hospitalized, Vallejo saw to the planting of new trees and the spring pruning. The year after the author had worked with him, Vallejo became a U.S. citizen and invited the author to attend the ceremony.

These are just two of the men whose individual stories the author told in his series of articles, now gathered into this little book. These people, their faces and stories, stick with me now that I’ve put the book aside. I’ve learned something about what farm work is like, true. But what I remember most are the people, each with his own reason for being where he is, doing what he is doing.

My dad has told me how he once very briefly attempted farm work, as a summer job when he was in college. He was one of those Americans who quit after only one day. It wasn’t because he was lazy. After all, he lasted for an entire season as a temporary mail carrier, hauling a bag of mail over his shoulder while pounding the sidewalks in all weather. When I ask him “Why did you give up on the farm job after only one day?”, he shrugs, laughs, shakes his head. “Compared to the others, I just didn’t have what it took — whatever that was…”

This book is full of the stories of those who have what it takes, whatever that is.

The Frozen-Water Trade


Frozen Water TradeThe Frozen-Water Trade
by Gavin Weightman

Ice cream is surely the all-American dessert, almost as ubiquitous in winter as in summer. We Americans are known to drink tea iced, beer cold, and mixed drinks “on the rocks”. At first thought, we might assume that these tastes developed in the first half of the 20th century, with the spread of mechanical refrigeration. But they actually began almost a hundred years earlier, in the first half of the 19th century. They were dependent on the exploitation of a natural resource so commonplace that it was taken for granted — Ice.

In the cold winters of New England and the Midwest, ponds and rivers froze regularly and solidly during the heart of winter. The locals would cut the ice and store it in ice-houses, providing themselves with enough to last through the summer. It was a small-scale individual operation which flourished only in regions where nature provided the ice, and even then, only if you happened to own access to your own bit of frozen shoreline.

In 1806, a Boston merchant named Frederick Tudor had what seemed like a crazy idea. He loaded a cargo of Massachusetts ice aboard a ship and set out to sell it in Martinique, confident that it would fetch a good profit in that tropical island. That first improvised and less-than-successful attempt was ridiculed by other New England businessmen. Investors ran the other way when approached about the project.

But Tudor stuck stubbornly to his idea, and committed himself to working the bugs out of the project. Improvements in the insulation of the ice dramatically reduced loss in transit. Arrangements to have ice-houses built and waiting in advance of shipments, and to organize expeditious unloading of the cargo, stopped loss at the destination. Marketing strategies familiarized those who were unfamiliar with the product, demonstrating proper transportation and home ice storage technique. Recipes for such treats as mint juleps and ice cream drummed up demand for the ice. Ice-water dispensers were provided to restaurants and taverns to whet customers’ appetite for cold drinking water.

By the 1830’s, Tudor had created a thriving market for ice in the American south, shipping tons of New England ice to New Orleans, Charleston, and Atlanta. He was shipping ice to Cuba and other Caribbean ports. And in 1833, he tapped the markets of British India, shipping ice over a distance of 16,000 miles to Calcutta, then to Madras and Bombay.

Tudor had launched a business that rapidly outgrew him. By the late 1800s, the United States was home to a huge ice industry. Hundreds of ice companies employed thousands of men to harvest millions of tons of ice every year. Many more were employed in the development and manufacture of specialized ice-harvesting tools and equipment, and in the shipping and handling of the ice.

Ice, which was an imported luxury in other parts of the world, had become a commonplace pleasure to Americans. Every home had its ice-box, and the ice-man’s wagon was a familiar sight on the streets of towns and cities across the country. While in rural regions, many farmers continued to harvest their own ice, the urban dwellers now also expected ready and convenient supplies of ice. Milk and eggs were kept cold, fruits and vegetables fresh and crisp, meats unspoiled. The ice-cream freezer, a small churn with a crank to be turned while the treat froze, was found in kitchens everywhere.

On a larger scale, the availability of tons of ice made possible refrigerated railroad cars, which were the lifeline of the Chicago meat-packing industry. Farmers could tap markets outside their local regions by shipping milk, butter, and fresh produce cross-country. Florida oranges reached New York, and New York apples reached Texas. Hospitals discovered the uses of ice for treating fevers, and began expecting regular supplies.

Ironically, all of this activity was overlooked by the economic bean-counters. Ice was a gift of nature, free for the taking. It didn’t require planting, so it wasn’t categorized as agriculture. It wasn’t a mineral ore, so it didn’t count as mining. Because ice in shipment frequently served as ballast, it tended to be overlooked by shipping statisticians tracking values of cargoes. Although the patent office was seeing many designs for new and improved ice houses, for home iceboxes, and for tools and systems for harvesting and transporting ice, somehow this booming business still remained almost invisible.

Remarkably, [in the 1850’s] this wild beast of an industry … which was growing as fast as, or maybe faster than any branch of commerce in the United States, did not figure in any official statistics. Since it could be classified as neither mining nor farming, it was not subject to any taxes that would have given federal or state governments an interest in it.

It wasn’t until late in the century, when the ice industry had become well-established, that officials recognized what a major factor it had become. In 1880, the very first time the U.S. Census collected data on the subject, it was discovered that the twenty largest cities in the U.S. consumed 4 million tons of ice annually, and that over a million tons of ice were harvested in one season in the state of Maine alone.

Well into the 20th century, after the invention of the electric refrigerator, many homes still continued to use iceboxes, with refrigerator use only becoming really widespread after W.W.II. While reading parts of this book aloud with Daddy, he got started reminiscing about how it had been his chore to help empty the drip pan under the icebox. This was in the old days before they moved to Van Stallen Street, which was where they lived when Grandpa bought their first electric fridge. That fridge was small, similar to an icebox in size, but with the round electric motor perched on top, so the whole contraption looked like a square robot with a round cake-shaped head.

Even when they had the fridge at home, Grandpa continued to use big blocks of ice in his milk truck, because the truck wasn’t refrigerated. Those heavy blankets that I remember seeing stored in the basement were the ones he used in the milk truck. The big ice blocks were broken with a mallet and chisel into manageable sized chunks, and the wooden cases of glass milk bottles were buried in ice chunks, with the blankets keeping everything cold as Grandpa made the milk rounds for the day. When the route was done, the remaining ice was dumped in a heap at the curb to melt, and kids would grab ice chunks to play with on hot summer days.

So it turns out that this book isn’t the story of some long-ago time, but a part of familiar daily life in the not-so-distant past, within living memories.


Your Year in Books

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This is a little game they’ve been playing every New Year over at LibriVox. The fun is to try filling in the blanks on the questionnaire using only the titles of books you’ve read in the past year.

Here is the original set of questions provided in January 2014, with my answers based on the books I read in 2013:

Describe yourself: Working (Studs Terkel)
How do you feel: So Brave, Young, and Handsome (Leif Enger)
Describe where you currently live: On the Map (Simon Garfield)
If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Into the Beautiful North (Luis Alberto Urrea)
Your favourite form of transportation: The Underground Railroad (William Still)
Your best friend is: The Good Thief (Hannah Tinti)
You and your friends are: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows)
What’s the weather like: Winter’s Bone (Daniel Woodrell)
You fear: The Desperate Hours (Joseph Hayes)
What is the best advice you have to give: Warriors Don’t Cry (Melba Pattillo Beals)
Thought for the day: How Can We Keep From Singing (Joan Oliver Goldsmith)
How you would like to die: Long Walk to Freedom (Nelson Mandela)
Your soul’s present condition: Help, Thanks, Wow (Anne Lamott)

They repeated the game with the same set of questions in January 2015. Here were my answers that time around, based on the books I had read in 2014:

Describe yourself: An Excellent Mystery (Ellis Peters)
How do you feel: Quiet (Susan Cain)
Describe where you currently live: An Altar in the World (Barbara Taylor Brown)
If you could go anywhere, where would you go: The Little World of Don Camillo (Giovanni Guareschi)
Your favourite form of transportation: The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float (Farley Mowat)
Your best friend is: A Diary Without Dates (Enid Bagnold)
You and your friends are: In the Company of Cheerful Ladies (Alexander McCall Smith)
What’s the weather like: Snow in the Cities (Blake McKelvey)
You fear: The Inspector-General (Nikolai Gogol)
What is the best advice you have to give: Walk in a Relaxed Manner (Joyce Rupp)
Thought for the day: God Has a Dream (Desmond Tutu)
How you would like to die: One Came Home (Amy Timberlake)
Your soul’s present condition: Small Victories (Anne Lamott)

For January 2016, they’ve freshened up the game a bit by providing a different questionnaire for us to play with. Here’s how I filled it in, using titles of books I read in 2015:

All in all, I would describe last year as being: Windswept (Marq de Villiers)
I could have cried when: When Books Went to War (Molly Guptill Manning)
I would love to have some respite from: The Wreckers (Bella Bathurst)
The most unexpected thing that happened last year: Anything Can Happen (George and Helen Papashvily)
A recurring dream I had last year featured: The Inner Voice of Love (Henri Nouwen)
My non-bookish friends would say I’m: The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine (Alexander McCall Smith)
If you looked under my couch you would see: The San Francisco Earthquake as Reported in the Newspapers of that City
If I could no longer LibriVox, I would probably be: Nothing Daunted (Dorothy Wickenden)
Something most people don’t know about me is: My Discovery of England (Stephen Leacock)
My motto for 2016 will be: Imagine the Angels of Bread (Martin Espada)
I am most looking forward to: The Great Good Thing (Roderick Townley)
I’m tipping that the next big thing in Reality TV shows will be: Humans of New York (Brandon Stanton)

If you’d like to play, feel free to choose whichever set of questions appeals to you, and describe your year in books!


2016 Book List Thread at LibriVox

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Over at LibriVox, the folks have a thread going in which we are invited to keep a running list of the books we are reading. It’s a great way to keep track of titles that would probably get lost in my increasingly porous memory. Over here on my blog, I’m only writing about a random selection of books, not everything I’ve read. For my complete reading list, here’s the link to that LibriVox thread:

LibriVox 2016 Book Lists Thread  (This should take you directly to my book list. By scrolling up and down the thread, you can also read other folks’ lists, which is a great way to come up with other reading suggestions.)

(Book list last updated April 1st 2016).


Books Read in 2015


As you may have noticed, the sticky-post at the top of this blog has changed. The 2015 LibriVox Book List Thread has been updated for the last time. To avoid having to click over to the LibriVox site to see that list again, I’m posting it here for future reference:

(Meanwhile, the new sticky-post above contains the updated link to the current year’s Book List in progress.)

Totals —
57 print books read in 2015 —
and 52 audio books listened to.

What I Read:

Print Books Read From Library:
1. When Books Went to War (Molly Guptill Manning)
2. Sam Patch, the Famous Jumper (Paul E. Johnson)
3. On Looking (Alexandra Horowitz)
4. Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel)
5. Snow in the Cities (Blake McKelvey)
6. Disasters at Sea (Liz Mechem)
7. The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Cafe (Alexander McCall Smith)
8. Encountering Ellis Island (Ronald Bayor)
9. Curse of the Narrows (Laura MacDonald)
10. The Age of Miracles (Karen Thompson Walker)
11. Windswept (Marq de Villiers)
12. The Church of Mercy (Pope Francis)
13. London Under (Peter Ackroyd)
14. A Fatal Grace (Louise Penny)
15. The Zookeeper’s Wife (Diane Ackerman)
16. Disaster: Hurricane Katrina (Christopher Cooper)
17. Imagine the Angels of Bread (Martin Espada)
18. The Warmth of Other Suns (Isabel Wilkerson)
19. All The Men in the Sea (Michael Krieger)
20. Overcoming Katrina (by D’Ann Penner and Keith Ferdinand)
21. Mavericks of the Sky (Barry Rosenberg & Catherine Macaulay)
22. Humans of New York (Brandon Stanton)
23. Flesh and Blood So Cheap (Albert Marrin)
24. The Oregon Trail (Rinker Buck)
25. Silent Leader (Rodney Brown)
26. Nothing Daunted (Dorothy Wickenden)
27. The Wreckers (Bella Bathurst)
28. Sister Wendy on Prayer (Wendy Beckett)
29. 100 Essential American Poems (ed. by Leslie Pockell)
30. The Frozen Water Trade (Gavin Weightman)
31. The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine (Alexander McCall Smith)
32. The Great Good Thing (Roderick Townley)

My Own Print Books Read:
1. Heart Mountain (Mike Mackey)
2. The Princess Bride (William Goldman)
3. Miss Pym Disposes (Josephine Tey)
4. Code Talker (Chester Nez)
6. An Altar in the World (Barbara Brown Taylor)
7. The Franchise Affair (Josephine Tey)
8. The Fellowship of the Ring (J. R. R. Tolkien)
9. The Island of Dr. Moreau (H. G. Wells)
10. The Pushcart War (Jean Merrill)
11. Brat Farrar (Josephine Tey)
12. The Little World of Don Camillo (Giovanni Guareschi)
13. Don Camillo and His Flock (Giovanni Guareschi)
14. Anything Can Happen (George and Helen Papashvily)
15. A Walk in the Woods (Bill Bryson)
16. The Two Towers (J. R. R. Tolkien)
17. God and You (William Barry)
18. The Inner Voice of Love (Henri Nouwen)
19. Kidnapped (Robert Louis Stevenson)
20. That Man is You (Louis Evely)
21. From My Seat on the Aisle (Jack Garner)
22. The Nine Tailors (Dorothy Sayers)
23. View With a Grain of Sand (Wislawa Szymborska)
24. A Child’s Christmas in Wales (Dylan Thomas)
25. The Daughter of Time (Josephine Tey)

Read for LibriVox:
Solos – (I recorded the entire book):

1. They Who Knock at Our Gates (Mary Antin)
2. San Francisco Earthquake as Reported in the Newspapers

Read for LibriVox:
Duets – (I recorded half of the book, GregG recorded the other half. Listened to entire book when finished):
1. The Secret Service (Albert Richardson)
2. History of the Earthquake & Fire in San Francisco (F. Aitkin & E. Hilton)
3. Christmastide (William Sandys)
4. Unknown London (Walter George Bell)
5. The Life of Abraham Lincoln (Ward Hill Lamon) 

Read for LibriVox:
Group Projects – (I recorded some chapters, among multiple other readers. Listened to entire book when finished):
1. BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Report (National Committee Report) 
2. Fathers of Confederation (A. H. U. Colquhoun)
3. Extermination of the American Bison (William Hornaday)
4. All Afloat (William Wood)
5. The Day of Sir Wilfred Laurier (Oscar Skelton)
6. Magna Carta Commemoration Essays (ed. by Henry Malden)
7. The Railway Builders (Oscar Skelton)
8. Final Report of the Committee to Investigate Hurricane Katrina (U.S. House of Representatives)
9. More English Fairy Tales (ed. by Joseph Jacobs)
10. LibriVox 10th Anniversary Collection (Read ten items out of 100. Listened to just about 50 others when cataloged.)
11. Some Eminent Women of Our Times (Millicent Garrett Fawcett)
12. Good Cheer Stories Every Child Should Know (ed. by Asa Don Dickenson)
13. Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule (M. K. Gandhi)
14. Cinderella (George Calderon) (Dramatic work. Read role of Aunt Judy, listened to whole play when done)
15. Helen of Troy and Other Poems (Sara Teasdale)

Listened to from LibriVox:
As Proof-Listener (or editor):

1. Tish: Chronicle of her Escapades and Excursions (Mary Roberts Rinehart)
2. Dot and the Kangaroo (Ethel Pedley)
3. Pillars of Society (Henrik Ibsen)
4. Brewing (Alfred Chaston Chapman)
5. Pearls (William J. Dakin)
6. Confessions (Saint Augustine of Hippo)
7. The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (George Gissing)
8. Dramatic Reading Scene & Story Collection (as editor of four stories)

Listened to from LibriVox:
Just Plain Listened:
1. A Negro Explorer at the North Pole (Matthew Henson)
2. Three Times and Out (Nellie McClung)
3. The American Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (Various Authors)
4. Nurse and Spy in the Union Army (Sarah Emma Edmonds)
5. The Girl at Central (Geraldine Bonner)
6. The Winning of Popular Government (Archibald MacMechan)
7. The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (Version 3) (Charles Dickens)
8. More Tish (Mary Roberts Rinehart)
9. Selected Classics of Washington Irving (Washington Irving)
10. The Day of Sir John MacDonald (Joseph Pope)
11. The Poetry of St. Teresa of Avila (St. Teresa of Avila)
12. The Autobiography of Mother Jones (Mary Harris Jones)
13. Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (James Weldon Johnson)
14. Washington Irving in London (Washington Irving)
15. My Discovery of England (Stephen Leacock)
16. Selected Essays of Samuel Johnson (Samuel Johnson)
17. The Mounties in the News (New York Times)
18. The Call of the Wild (Jack London)
19. The Amateur Emigrant (Robert Louis Stevenson)
20. Men, Women, and Guns (Sapper)
21. Kings, Queens, and Pawns (Mary Roberts Rinehart)
22. Christmas Books (Charles Dickens)
23. Christmas Short Works Collection


All the Men in the Sea


All the Men in the SeaAll the Men in the Sea
by Michael Krieger

“Could not put this down” is what I said about this book to co-workers who saw me reading it on break and asked if it was any good. It’s a gripping true story, told in a way that lets me experience events from inside the skins of the ordinary men involved in them. An anxious teenaged deck-hand, a dogged tugboat captain, a fatherly ship’s-storekeeper, an experienced deep-sea diver — one by one, they become real to me. This was an examination of an accident on a work-site, but it was never impersonally statistical. It stayed grounded in the lived experiences of individuals, and the story is always given to the reader through the eyes of human beings. That may be the reason why it grabbed me the way it did. As my sister has pointed out before, I tend to prefer my history “with the people in.”

There was plenty of general information and factual detail here, too, of course. Written for the general reader without any technical background, the book has to explain what’s involved in the process of laying a pipeline on the bottom of the sea. We get clear explanations of whatever we need to know in order to understand the events, enough to grasp what was involved in the various decisions, without getting too bogged down in reams of data.

The DLB-269 was a 400-foot-long barge built for the job of laying undersea oil pipeline. She carried pipe-laying equipment, including two towering derrick cranes, several tons of cement-coated pipe, a diving bell and decompression chamber for the dive crew, a warehouse of parts and supplies, generators, compressors, lathes, and the living quarters and kitchens to support a crew of 245 men.

Such a massive barge had no motive power of its own, but depended on tugboats to tow her into position and hold her there against drifting. As the welded lengths of pipe were lowered down a slide at the stern of the barge, the divers descended to the sea floor to seal the connections and position the pipe in its trench. Then the tugs would move the barge very slightly to a new position, and the process would be repeated.

In the fall of 1995, the DLB-269 was laying pipe in the Gulf of Mexico when Hurricane Roxanne approached. Instead of towing the barge into harbor to shelter from the storm, the owners decided to have her ride out the storm at sea. Because her position was too shallow for safety, she was towed a short distance into deeper water. Obviously time and money played into this decision, as the time lost in towing the short distance to deep water was less costly than the longer trip all the way to a harbor. When Roxanne had passed, she could be quickly towed back to her original position, ready to resume laying pipe.

But riding out Roxanne at sea had taken a toll on this aging barge. There were leaks — and the pumps were struggling to keep up with them. And then, to make matters worse, Roxanne made a U-turn and headed straight back at the barge for a second time, at increased strength. Caught in the shallower water, with no time to be towed back to a deeper position, and already suffering from serious leaks, the barge was in trouble.

The most impressive heroes of the story, to me, were the crews of the tugboats. The barge’s own two tugs, the North Carolina and the Captain John, fought valiantly to keep the lines secure and hold the barge in towering 40-foot waves, keeping her from running aground in the shallows. A distress call asking for help brought out one more tug, the Ducker Tide, the only one whose captain dared to risk leaving safe harbor. When the lines to the barges snapped, the tug crews risked their lives to re-attach them, working on open decks swept by the wind and sea. Despite all their efforts, the barge finally broke free.

Listing heavily, beset by leaks, the barge began to sink, dragged into the shallows and torn to pieces by the waves which slammed across her deck. The barge crew couldn’t hang on any longer. One by one, two by three, they jumped overboard, into towering waves, powerful winds, blinding spray, bobbing in their life jackets, specks in the stormy ocean.

It would seem, at this point, that these men were surely all doomed. Yet the tugboats never gave up. Though they were themselves being battered by the weather, they kept circling faithfully, the eyes of their crews searching the debris for every hint of a man in the water. One after another, survivors describe being seized by the arm, by the collar, by the strap of a life jacket, by their hair, being yanked into the air and dropped onto the crowded deck of a tug.

The decks of the tugs were awash with waves, the tug crews were sometimes swept overboard and needed rescuing themselves, but they kept going. The Captain John, despite being the smallest tugpulled 89 men from the water, the North Carolina got 54 more, and the Ducker Tide arrived in time to save 79 lives. Of the 245 crewmen aboard the sunken barge, 222 were accounted for at the end of that weary day.

The remaining 23 were presumed to have died, as surely none could live much longer in the sea. But the survival battle was actually not finished yet. Fifteen men, including the teenage deckhand, were still alive, clinging to the only portion of the barge which remained above water — the 260-foot boom of the giant derrick. These fifteen managed to keep their grip on this precarious perch through several days of cold winds and dashing spray until they were finally spotted from the air and saved.

Of the eight who remained missing, only five bodies were ever recovered. Investigations were called to look into reports of faulty life jackets and inadequate training for the support crew, many of whom were landsmen who had no previous experience at sea. Then there were the questions of whether the barge ought to have headed for port before Roxanne’s first approach, or if she had not done so then, whether she ought to have done so during the interval when the leaks were first discovered. Were the leaks an ongoing problem predating the storm, as many of the crew insisted?

But the crew never had the legal backing or resources to battle the company. The Mexican deck hands were given a small settlement and forbidden to sue. The American dive crew were given larger settlements, but also had to agree not to sue. The case ended there.

What stays in my mind, though, are the moments of individual courage and heroism, especially by the tugboat crews. When a hurricane is threatening your own boat, when you have just seen a larger neighbor sink with all hands, when 245 men are just specks bobbing in 40-foot waves, scattering rapidly in the storm, it seems impossible that there would be anything you could do that would make any difference. Yet the tugboats stayed on the job, focused on finding one man at a time, and one by one, they saved the lives of almost every man who went into the sea.

Whoever had messed up, it wasn’t the tugboat captains and their crews.


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