Hits and Misses

Hits and Misses

Sunday, June 10, 2018

A Singles Ad

I just discovered this singles ad in my files:  you may have read it a few years ago, but it bears repeating.  The ad appeared in the Atlanta Journal.

"Single black female seeks male companionship.  Ethnicity unimportant.  I've a very good looking girl that loves to play.  I love long walks in the woods, riding in your pickup truck, hunting, camping, fishing trips, and cozy winter nights lying by the fire.  Candlelight dinners will have me eating out of your hand.  I'll be at the front door when you get home from work, wearing only what nature gave me.

Call xxx-xxx-xxxx and ask for Daisy."

Over 15,000 men found themselves talking to the Atlanta Humane Society about an eight-week-old Black Labrador Retriever.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Just What Is A Leisenring Lift?

James ("Big Jim") E. Leisenring of Allentown, PA, was a tool maker by trade whose expertise at fly fishing led to him becoming known as the Wet-Fly Wizard of the Brodheads.  He published The Art of Tying the Wet Fly in 1941 and died ten years later. His name has endured among fly fishers because he invented the "Leisenring Lift," a technique of fishing a wet fly or nymph underwater.

I thought I understood this technique: you fished the fly in the typical manner, casting it upstream and letting it drift down as drag-free as possible.  At the end of the drift, you raised your rod tip so that the nymph rose in the water column, thereby imitating a nymph swimming to the surface to metamorphose into a dun.  I had tried this lift from time to time, but never had enjoyed success with it.

Earlier this spring, while reading William C. Black's engaging survey, Gentlemen Preferred Dry Flies:  The Dry Fly and the Nymph, Evolution and Conflict (Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2010), I came across a quotation from Leisenring that stopped me in my tracks. What I thought I knew about the Leisenring Lift seemed to be altogether mistaken, so I decided to read what the Wizard himself had written.  Leisenring's book was reprinted by Crown with additional material by Vernon ("Pete") S. Hidy in 1971 as The Art of Tying the Wet Fly & Fishing the Flymph ("Flymph" is Hidy's coinage for a nymph near the surface or in the surface film that is about to become a dun).

Leisenring describes the lift in his last chapter, "Fishing a Wet Fly". His technique is based on first spotting a trout and then casting a fly upstream some fifteen feet or more above the trout. As the fly sinks to the bottom, the angler follows it with his rod, allowing no slack but being careful not to make the fly move unnaturally.

"Now watch the fly," Leisenring instructs the reader, invoking a dramatic scene: "It is almost to him, and would only have to travel about four more feet to pass right by his nose without his looking at it unless it can be made to appear alive and escaping.  At this point the progress of the rod following the fly is checked, and the pressure of the water against the stationary line and leader is slowly lifting the fly."

As the fly rises in the water current, Leisenring continues, its movement attracts the attention of the trout.  As Leisenring explains, "Now the fly becomes slightly efficient or animated and deadly, and the trout notices it.  The hackles or legs start to work, opening and closing, and our trout is backing downstream in order to watch the fly a little more, because he is not quite persuaded as yet.  Now you can see the fly become even more deadly.  As more water flows against the line, the fly rises higher off the bottom and the hackle is working in every fiber.  It will jump out of the water in a minute, now, and the trout is coming for it. Bang! He's got it" (p. 123).

The Leisenring Lift, then, is not caused by the angler raising the rod tip after the wet fly or nymph has come to the end of its drift.  Instead, the angler stops tracking the nymph's movement with his rod tip  partway through the drift, some four feet or so upstream from a specific trout's position.  Stopping the rod makes the current begin lifting the fly to the surface.  From the trout's point of view, it seems to be alive and to be escaping, and so the trout goes after it.

In the next to last paragraph, Leisenring repeats that elevating his rod tip is not what makes the fly seem alive and therefore desirable to the trout:  "I do not try to impart any fancy movements to my fly with my rod but simply allow the fly to advance naturally with the current over the stones and gravel until I check its progress gently by ceasing to follow it with my rod.  Then the slight tension from the water pressure flowing against my leader and line causes the fly to rise slowly, opening and shutting the hackles, giving a breathing effect such as a genuine insect would have when leaving the bottom of the stream to come to the surface.  The water will do all that is necessary to make a fly deadly if it is properly tied" (p. 124).

Twice, therefore, Leisenring states that checking his rod's movement causes the water current's pressure to move the fly upwards.  He does not elevate his rod tip to perform the Leisenring Lift.

That much seems clear.  One complicating factor is that apparently Leisenring practiced other techniques as well.  Dave Hughes knew Pete Hidy, commenting in Wet Flies (Stackpole Books, 1995) that Hidy had told him that Leisenring and he had meant to write another book on fishing the wet fly.  "'The Lift,' Pete said, 'was just one of many techniques that Jim used.  It's too bad that today everybody believes it was the only method he used'" (p. 29).

I believe we can see another method in an account by Ed Zern. Leisenring gave Zern a demonstration of nymphing one day on the Brodheads. As Zern tells the story in The Masters on the Nymph (ed. J. Michael Migel and Leonard M. Wright, Jr.; Nick Lyons Books, 1979), he was sitting on the bank, fishless, when Leisenring appeared (pp. 257-58).  Zern told him he had been reading The Art of Tying the Wet Fly and didn't understand how one could let the fly drift freely in the current and still maintain contact with it. "I'll show you," Leisenring said.

Leisenring then proceeded to stand quite close to a run and flipped the fly upstream, holding the rod tip high as the fly swept down beside him and then downstream. Zern comments that the fly traveled no more than fifteen feet. It was obvious to him that it drifted freely and Leisenring would have felt, and probably seen, any trout that touched the fly. The demonstration over, Leisenring went on downstream.  Zern stepped into the river, cast as Leisenring had, held the rod tip high, and proceeded to catch one brown trout after another!

Several points seem worth noting about this episode. First, Zern did not ask Leisenring to demonstrate the Lift (perhaps because the term was as yet unknown in the early '40's?). Instead, Zern asked him how he maintained contact with the fly as it came drifting down the bottom. We can't tell from Zern's description whether Leisenring let the water current raise the fly or not. I'd say perhaps not, as the fly continued to drift downstream. He wasn't trying for a specific trout but fishing the water.  So why was the rod tip high? I'd guess, and it's no more than a guess, that first Leisenring and then Zern had to hold the rod high to avoid drag from other currents, much indeed as one must when fishing a dry fly.

It's a shame Leisenring and Hidy never managed to write their book on fishing the wet fly. We have Leisenring's own words describing the Lift, and we can extrapolate from Ed Zern's account that Leisenring also fished a nymph on a short line with rod tip held high when he was fishing the water and not targeting a specific trout. What his other techniques for fishing a nymph or wet fly consisted of is a question that can't be answered.

But now I know that I was wrong about how to do the Leisenring Lift, I'm going to see what happens when I do it the right way. What worked once should work again.  I'd also like to hear from anyone who has used the Lift successfully.  Please comment.  Stay tuned, and tight lines!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

President Trump: The Heat's Getting Hotter

In a column dated April 9th, the New York Times' Matt Apuzzo has given a succinct overview of why Trump is ranting and raving about the FBI's raid on the house, office, and hotel room of Michael Cohen, Trump's personal lawyer for over ten years:

"The searches open a new front for the Justice Department in its scrutiny of Mr. Trump and his associates: His longtime lawyer is being investigated in Manhattan; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is facing scrutiny by prosecutors in Brooklyn; his former campaign chairman is under indictment; his former national security adviser has pleaded guilty to lying; and a pair of former campaign aides are cooperating with Mr. Mueller.  Mr. Mueller, meanwhile, wants to interview Mr. Trump about possible obstruction of justice."

It's important to recognize two points about this FBI raid.  First, the FBI had search warrants, which means a federal judge was convinced that there was probable evidence of a crime.  That means the raid was legal, despite Trump claiming it was a break-in.  Second, although Special Counsel Mueller may have uncovered information that led to the search warrants, it was not his doing.  Instead, the raid was authorized by Geoffrey S. Berman, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York (who, incidentally, was a Sessions' appointee [correction:  a statement the day after I wrote this had Mr. Berman recusing himself for undisclosed reasons.  The person who authorized it was Robert S. Khuzani]).

With those points in mind, take a moment to reread Apuzzo's summary:  "The searches open a new front for the Justice Department in its scrutiny of Mr. Trump and his associates: His longtime lawyer is being investigated in Manhattan; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is facing scrutiny by prosecutors in Brooklyn; his former campaign chairman is under indictment; his former national security adviser has pleaded guilty to lying; and a pair of former campaign aides are cooperating with Mr. Mueller.  Mr. Mueller, meanwhile, wants to interview Mr. Trump about possible obstruction of justice."

The heat is getting hotter.  Given Trump's impulsiveness and irrationality, it's risky to predict what he may decide about being interviewed by Mueller.  But I rather think his overweening vanity may compel him to agree to such an interview.  And since Trump lies as readily as the rest of us breathe, he may well then go up in flames.

Ultimately, however, what is most important is that the legal process goes forward.  Only by careful and methodical application of the rule of law can this nation hope to return to a rational and civil governance, of, by, and for the people.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Speaking Truth to Power: John Brennan, former Director of the CIA

I have mixed feelings about James Comey, the former head of the FBI whom Trump fired, and know little about his deputy Andrew McCabe except that he not coincidentally was fired by Attorney General Sessions immediately before he would have qualified for a higher pension based on his years served.  That strikes me as mean-spirited, flagrantly mean-spirited, and unworthy of the Attorney General of the US.  But I suppose that act by Sessions may have postponed Trump's firing him for just a bit longer, so perhaps it's understandable.  After all, invertebrates should not be criticized for lacking a backbone.

What I do see as uncalled for is Trump's continuing to bad-mouth McCabe.  Here's his triumphant tweet from March 17, 2018:
Verified account


Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI - A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!

No American president before Trump has ever been this concerned to devalue the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  And the more Trump rants and raves, the more he makes many of us wonder what he has to hide.

And so it comes as something of a relief to read John Brennan's same-day response to Trump's tweet.  Brennan was head of the CIA from 3/2013 to 1/2017 and by that alone is worthy of respect.  He knows, probably more than anyone, whose body is buried where.  It's noteworthy that he's not disclosing secrets, though it seems obvious that he knows what the secrets are.  Even more noteworthy is his willingness to speak truth to power.  Here's Brennan's resounding response to Trump's tweet above:

When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will  not destroy America...America will triumph over you.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Handplane Essentials by Christopher Schwarz

In a time when books often provide less than their titles promise, Christopher Schwarz's revised and expanded Handplane Essentials (Cincinnati, OH: P+W Media, 2017) does the reverse:  it is a compilation of his articles from the last fifteen years that goes well beyond what a beginning woodworker needs to know.

Sensibly, Schwarz doesn't go over the history of hand planes, already well described by books like Seth Burchard's translation of Josef Greber's The History of the Woodworking Plane (1991), John M. Whelan's The Wooden Plane:  Its History, Form, and Function (1993), and Garrett Hack's The Handplane Book (1999), which also deals with how to use planes.  Instead, he divides his book into five sections, dealing successively with Basics, Sharpening, Techniques, History & Philosophy, and Reviews of high-end planes.

Because the book is a compilation of articles, there is some repetition.  For example, we read a bit too often about the three essential bench planes, a jack, a jointer, and a smoother.  And there are a few minor inconsistencies in this repetition, as in mentioning the availability of differently angled plane beds for the Lee-Neilson smoothing plane in one place but not in another (cf. p. 41 and p. 178).

But so much information is here, in fact, that a more accurate title would be Hand Planes: Essentials and Beyond.  I can imagine someone who just beginning to use hand tools becoming overwhelmed.  (That person might be better served by John Sainsbury's Planecraft:  A Woodworker's Handbook, 1989.)  Conversely, anyone with some experience is bound to learn some new things from Handplane Essentials.  Including an index would have been useful (and might have called attention to instances of repetition), but one can make notes on the blank end pages.

Handplane Essentials is a relatively large book, 8 1/2" by 12", weighing in at nearly 3 1/2 pounds.  Thankfully, Chris Schwarz's talents as a writer plus the excellent black and white photographs make Handplane Essentials a pleasure to read, if a bit heavy to hold while reclining.  I rarely finish a 350 page book and wish that it had been longer, but I did so here.  Highly recommended.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Knife, by Tim Hayward

Tim Hayward's Knife:  The Culture, Craft and Cult of the Cook's Knife (Quadrille Publishing, London, 2016) is an appealing book, with excellent photography by Chris Terry, first-rate illustrations of knives by Will Webb, and Shokunin Manga by Chie Kutsuwada.  But the more one reads of the text, the more one is put off by its over-the-top rhetoric.  Rather than informative and engaging, Hayward's rhetoric is close to feverish.

Hayward is clear that he intends Knife not to be comprehensive but selective, reflecting his own personal views.  It's not surprising, therefore, that he never mentions the Inuit ulu, a wonderful chopping and cutting tool, nor the existence of ceramic knives, despite his avowed love of technology.  But he seems not to know how handy a small knife with a serrated edge is:  not only does it slice tomatoes easily, it saws through corrugated cardboard and plastic clamshell packaging.

His own views owe less to personal experience than to the desire to write vividly.  The result is pretentiously vacuous. Take the sentence from the last paragraph of his introduction:  "A knife has a beautiful purity of purpose, it's almost the perfect expression of form that precisely follows function, and yet it is at once a seething mess of elusive, impalpable qualities."  Some knives have a purity of purpose, agreed, but knives are too varied (as the book itself illustrates) to be lumped together and then abstracted as "a knife."  Form in a knife can indeed follow function, so what is the quality that calls for "almost" and hinders or prevents that "perfect expression of form"?  And if to some degree these claims are valid, how can "a knife" at once be "a seething mess of elusive, impalpable qualities"?  A seething mess?  In a knife?  Give us a break!

In like fashion, a horizontal cut is described by Hayward as "the utterly lethal and desperate 'last slice' cut, in which a piece of (usually) bread or meat is squashed flat to the board with the palm of the hand, the fingers stretched back and up in fervent but usually futile hope, and the blade sawn between hand and board" (p. 15).  Ever since I first read Marcella Hazan nearly forty years ago, I have been using that cut to slice a chicken breast horizontally in half so it cooks faster and stays tender.  I've never, ever cut myself.  So what are we to make of  "Utterly lethal"?  "Desperate"? "Fervent but usually futile hope"?  This is a seething mess of rhetoric.

Let me just touch on other problems with Hayward's statements:

Steel is not "a metaphor for permanence, solidity and purity" (p. 18).

Slicing a lemon with a carbon blade will not turn the lemon black, as he asserts (p. 45). The citric acid of the lemon will discolor the blade, however, unless you clean it promptly.

Making a knife blade from steel involves two heat treatments, not one:  he ignores tempering the steel.

A newly purchased Chinese cleaver does not arrive "with a lifetime of patina and dripping with butch chic" (p. 78)--at  least none of mine ever has.  

His first rule of carving, "Rest the Meat," contains an amusing mistake:  let the meat rest until its core temperature has dropped to 50 degrees Centigrade or 32 degrees Fahrenheit (my italics, p. 174).

Leaving aside the empty rhetoric, Hayward's major shortcoming is ignorance about sharpening knives:  not only does he misunderstand wire edges, he doesn't realize what steeling and honing a blade accomplish.  As a consequence, he abrades his knives to get them sharp.  That is a waste of good steel.

Sharpening poses a problem for many people, but the solution is not to be found in Hayward.  Rather than spend the money for Hayward's Knife, buy a book or video on how to sharpen knives.  One book I can recommend is Ron Hock's The Perfect Edge (it's also available in video).  You'll learn about steel from a master blade smith as well as learn how to sharpen a knife properly.