Monday, December 24, 2012

Book Review: The Cloud Forest

The Cloud Forest, with a sub-title "A Chronicle of the South American Wilderness" is a travel book by Peter Matthiessen written in 1961.  It covers his travels in South America for what seemed like several years as he started at the mouth of the Amazon, went all the way south to Tierra del Fuego, up to Machu Picchu, deep into the jungle and out on the the Pampas.  Can we say poisonous snakes, spiders, piranha, malaria and hostile natives?

Of course he meets some real interesting characters en route, from helpful missionaries and industrialists, to a murderer who has receded so far into the back country that the authorities will not pursue him.  A good portion of the book is given over to the search for an elusive lost city somewhere in Peru.  This expedition was to have been led by Peter Cruz, who disappeared with he authors cash deposit and became almost a figment of his imagination.  Just when we think Cruz has absconded for good he re-appears, but he is the classic tour-guide, bad-tempered and violent one minute, charming the next.

In between, Matthiessen devotes a healthy portion of the book to an incredible raft journey down the hellacious Urubamba River.  The raft is home-made, hewn from balsa and piloted by a few natives, a couple of which are dreadfully inexperienced and ready to bolt into jungle at a moments notice.  Apparently the river had never been run during high water before.  There are literally pages describing the ferocious rapids, whirlpools, eddy's and treacherous rocks.  They survive, just about and are heroes (or fools) for their trip. It is part Deliverance, part The River Wild.

Eventually, the author catches up with Cruz and reminds him of their engagement.  The lost city is never found; however, they do stumble upon a massive fossil, the jaw of some huge extinct crocodile, and proceed to trying bring that back to the US.  Unlike the relics from Machu Picchu that ended up at Yale University (and still not returned) their efforts to remove the fossil were thwarted.

Matthiessen travels read like "what is going to happen next?"  It is a page-turner for sure. Undoubtedly, his exploits and the characters he encountered formed the basis for his 1965 novel "At Play In The Fields of the Lord", which was made into a 1991 movie starring Tom Berenger, Jon Lithgow, Aidan Quinn and Tom Waits!  I vaguely remember it but will look for it on Netflix.

Matthiessen is now 85 years old lives in NYC.  The stories he could tell...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Memories of Sandy Hook

The most direct way to Sandy Hook is to take Exit 10 off of I-84 if you are heading east, Exit 11 if coming west. An anomaly or oddity (or maybe both) is that there is no Exit 12.  We all know hotels have no 13th floor due to triskaidekaphobia but if you really want confuse someone, tell them to get off of I-84 at Exit 12.  Now, how many times has that trick been played on in-laws?  I digress... 

At Exit 10, make a left at the light (unless you are in the mood for the Newtown Diner... in which case go right - and to see the famous Newtown Flagpole, continue up the hill).  The road curves a bit, some real old colonial homes to the left and right (1780's?) and then descends fairly quickly down to the small but vibrant heart of Sandy Hook.  It is no more than a small village.

I first made this drive in July 2004 and can still see the Sandy Hook Diner on the right, the Subway on the left with its outdoor deck overlooking the river and the single stoplight that defines all small American towns straight ahead.

Continue through the light (after fording the mighty Pootatuck River) and up the hill for a mile or so and back in the woods on the left is a tiny one room "cottage" that I rented in the summer of 2004.  Let me say it had a certain charm but it was not for everyone.  Bingo and I liked it, it was rustic and manly.  Once you got past the tea-colored water and the noises in the woods...  Sheila and the kids joined me in October and it was a mite cramped.  At night the boys thought the shadow of the small desk lamp was Darth Vader and it was there they experienced their first real New England snow.   The cold drafts that came in in all directions made us long for Texas.  I remember listening to playoff baseball on static-filled AM radio as the Red Sox made an improbable comeback to beat the Yankees and go on to win the 2004 World Series, retiring the Curse.

Back in Sandy Hook I availed of the laundromat, the barbershop and whatever other amenities were on offer.  Every evening I would take Bingo for a walk at Fairfield Hills in Newtown (a) because it had wide open lawns for dog business and (b) it had good cell service for calling back to Round Rock.  The irony of ironies is that Fairfield Hills was once a major psychiatric hospital with over 4,000 patients.  It closed in 1995, some seventeen years before the ghastly events of December 14, 2012.

Back in the "Hook", if you headed north along Glen Road about 1/3 of a mile you will encounter a small machine shop on the right.  It was here that a beagle Mom & Dad consummated their love and Tex was the progeny.  So our courageous little canine is Sandy Hooker.  Continue along Glen Road and  towards the metal bridge, you would be rewarded with a beautiful view if the Housatonic River and pretty wooded hills in every direction.

On Riverside Road and nestled in the woods near the firehouse (almost everything in CT is hidden in the woods) was a small ball field, charmingly under-developed, where Kevin once played baseball.  If a ball was fouled off, it was gone.  The woods were the backstop and we were loathe to challenge the poison ivy.  A Big Papi home-run away (through the woods of course) is Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I drove by it at least twice every day for three months and never gave it a second thought.  It is now on the lips of every American and indeed most of the world. 

It will become synonymous with many of the issues that ravage / define our society: gun safety, mental health, divorce, video games, the Second Amendment, absentee parents, not knowing your neighbor, drugs, alienation, hatred... the list goes on.  Quiet little Sandy Hook has joined Columbine, Aurora, Utoya (Norway), Hungerford and Dunblane.

Our hearts are filled with sadness and we pray for the kids and teachers who died so tragically last week.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

604 Elsbeth Street

The crumbling apartment building that Lee Harvey Oswald called home for four months in the winter of 1962-63 is no more.  The City of Dallas has ordered it torn down, just a year short of the 50th anniversary of the death of JFK.  The building was deemed an  "urban nuisance" by Judge Victor Lander, a man of no vision.

For those who see the historical connection, many salvaged items are available on eBay. One intrepid seller has a brick, a bathtub, a closet and a staircase, all from the apartment, for sale. Whether considered macabre, no longer nostalgic or a sign of tough economic times, none of the items have bids and "jane2559" will have some interesting items in her attic.

The potential Oswald Reality Tour has one less stop.

Oswald's former home - photo from the Dallas Morning News

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Dragon Football Update

2011 was a special year for the Southlake Carroll H.S. football team, going undefeated and winning an eighth State title and the fifth in the last ten years.  To say the Dragons are a football powerhouse is an understatement.

Our 2012 season started with a marquee match-up with the Allen Eagles in their new $65MM, 18,000 seater stadium.  We were flat, they were powerful and beat Carroll soundly.

From then on, we absolutely annihilated the opposition, reeling off nine straight wins and scoring 511 points and conceding only 48.  The onslaught continued into the first two rounds of the playoff's: beating Haltom 56-17 at Cowboy's Stadium (I hate that place) and El Paso El Dorado 73-23.

On Saturday Dec 1, we made the quick trip to Bedford to see the Dragons take on the mighty Euless Trinity Trojans.  They had two losses all season but are renowned for the size, especially their contingent of Samoans, Tongan's etc.  Indeed they like to roll out the Haka prior to the game but we were not intimidated.  The Dragons took the field mid-Haka and the 7,000 or so Southlakers's in attendance drowned out the Euless faithful.

The game was a battle.  The Trojans were much heavier and taller but we countered with speed and some stout defence, including an MVP performance by Junior Steven Bergmark who blocked a field goal, scored our only TD, recorded a sack and an interception.  Not a bad day at the office.  The game went down to the last few minutes and Carroll prevailed 16 to 7.

Next up, the Eagles of DeSoto, who are undefeated (13 wins) and are ranked # 1 in Texas and # 3 in the nation.  Maybe our run will come to an end but I get the feeling we might eke out another victory.  The game is at Ford Stadium at SMU, which between the monsoon game and the fox bowl in 2011, is a happy hunting ground for us.

Saturday Night Lights - Half Time Show as the Sun Sets in Texas
Packed Stadium, Perfect Weather

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Not Everything is Bigger in Texas

So with the Powerball Lottery now over $500 Million, the question is, if you won, what would you spend it on?  For me, a cattle ranch would be the only way to go.

Perusing the available Texas spreads on, I found that the real big acreage for sale right now is up north aways and in Utah.   The Sandy Ranch is a paltry $37 per acre.  The catch is as follows: it weighs in at 253,100 acres... but still seems a bargain at $9.5MM.  Covering 395 square miles (bigger than County Louth, Ireland) it would seem that noisy neighbors would not be a problem.

Of the non-two legged variety, the ranch boasts elk, bison, mule deer, bighorn sheep, as well as the more mundane coyote, bobcat, fox etc.

Per the listing agent:

The ranch is an efficient and modern cattle ranch with housing for owners, guests and employees and numerous cattle handling facilities. The property currently runs 1,000 plus Black Angus natural cattle and all the stock and equipment is included in the sale. The headquarters includes the following:
  • Manager’s home- 1,690 sq. ft.
  • Guest home adjoining managers house -740 sq. ft.
  • Large guest/employee house- 1,640 sq. ft. plus porch
  • Smaller employee house- 1,285 sq. ft. plus porch
  • Bunkhouse- 1,250 sq. ft. plus porch
  • Employee bunkhouse- 1,920 sq. ft. plus porch and 440 sq. ft. guest house
  • King Ranch historic/renovated cedar cabin- 1,200 sq. ft.
  • King Ranch log bunkhouse- 1,250 sq. ft. plus basement and porch
  • Shop with apartment- 5,000 sq. ft.
  • Machine shed- 3,000 sq. ft.
  • Livestock handling and other facilities include: livestock scales, scale house, squeeze shoots, calving barn, horse sheds, barns, and shelters, trailer homes and generator sheds.
One of the largest private landowners in the US is Brad Kelley.  He made his millions not through the lottery but selling discount cigarettes.  He owns over 1 million acres in Kentucky, Florida and Texas.  Recently profiled in the Wall Street Journal, Kelly stated  "I fell in love with the West; the wide-open spaces, the wildlife and beautiful landscapes. I knew immediately that I wanted more land-and lots of it."

If I win Powerball, I will no doubt get into some bidding wars with Brad Kelly.  He doesn't know that I married one and have an inside track on how to best him...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name...

Whatever the combination that induces roses to thrive, we have it in abundance in the back yard.  Must be the cool nights, sunny days and limited rain.  These roses get hardly any attention in terms of fertilizer, mulch or pesticides and still flourish.

This one I know for sure is a Knockout Rose, developed by the fine horticulturists at Texas A&M, and renowned for its blooms and general hardiness.

I have no clue what this one is: Pink Lady sounds like a good name.

And this one, might be the best of all.  Planted and nurtured by our neighbors on their side of the fence, it crept through the slats and bloomed in our yard.  So we will call it Paddy & The Chinese Chicken Rose.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Open Letter To A President

Dear B.O.,

Congrats on getting re-elected. Even though 58.4 million people voted for the other guy, you found enough sycophants and hangers-on on either coast to get you four more years. We can merrily look forward to 48 more months of ill-advised policy, a stalling economy and a divided nation.  Yep, 50% of the voters endorsed you but 48% who do not drink Kool-Aid said "Hell, No".  Think about it, practically half of the people in this country chose someone named Mitt over you.  Not Matt.  Or Mutt.  But Mitt.  58 million people in your own country do not approve of your policies or leadership.  That, Mr. President, is close to mutiny.  We do not begrudge you the win in 2008.  Many bought into Hope & Change.  Somehow, four years later, the large urban sprawls like Chicago, Boston, Miami, NY, DC, and L.A. with tens of millions waiting for the handout, still buy into that.

Good job you were not running for President of Texas (world’s 12th largest economy); you would have been trounced 57% to 41%.  See here in Texas, we don’t like taxes (no state income tax) and we get off our butts and work (6.5% unemployment) and do not expect the Government to give us handouts.  Our legislature meets only every other year and then only for 140 days.  Then our officials go home and work.  No need for big government.  Coincidence between a healthy state economy and absence of meddling politicians?  Hardly. 

Since 1994, Texans have not elected a Democrat to a statewide office.  This is a Red State.  Yes, Perry is a buffoon, but remember he started out as a Democrat...

The First Four Years

I quote Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, "During less than four years under President Obama's leadership, the national debt has increased an astonishing $5.4 trillion. And yet the President persists in pushing his agenda of more spending and higher taxes on job creators that is crippling our economy."

Your crowning achievement: Obamacare. A healthcare plan that most people do not understand or need.  You want healthcare? Get a job that has benefits or pay for it yourself.  It is not the role of Big Government to provide healthcare to able-bodied people.  We already have Medicare and Medicaid for the old and poor.

The $800 Billion Lie: In 2009 you promised that the $862B stimulus package would reduce unemployment to 5.6% by July 2012. Well it didn’t.  Unemployment hovers at 8%.  More ill-advised policy.  No-one really seems to know where the money went.  Solyndra?  States coffers?  Wherever, it certainly did not stimulate much, other than heated discussion.

You and the team did not solve the debt ceiling in 2011; you kicked the can down the road.  The US got downgraded from its AAA credit rating.  Disgraceful.  Now we have the so-called “fiscal cliff”.  Can't wait to see how that gets resolved (let me guess; more taxes, more spending by DC).

Your diary since your so-convincing victory on Tuesday:
  • On Weds, the stock market, a bell weather of all to come, tumbled 2.5%.  The retirement accounts of those I plan to tax through the neck will appreciate that.
  • On Friday, the head of the CIA resigns... timing is everything. Had this happened a week ago, I would be out of a job. I appointed Petraeus and then couldn't shut him up fast enough once word broke of what really happened in Benghazi (mainly CIA operators caught in the attack in Benghazi requested military backup but were denied by the White House).  But it wasn't terrorism, it was that awful movie that made them do it... la-dee-dah.

 Oh, it will be a joyous 1,534 days until Jan 20, 2017.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

It Could Be About The Bike...

With no apologies to DopeStrong.  After pedaling frantically through the Corporate Challenge on a mountain bike, I came to my senses and realized a road bike was the way to go.  262 miles later I am happy with the Fuji and have found a reasonably challenging route that winds 32 miles through Southlake, Keller, Westlake, Roanoke and Grapevine.  The key to success is traffic avoidance.  There are too many jackwagon cyclists that have give the rest of us a bad name and the are too many Chevy Silverado drivers ready to put same cyclist in the ditch.  So far (to use motorcycle parlance) I have kept the rubber side down and the weather the past few weeks has been just about perfect.

Bikes have come a long way from my first full sized bike that I rode to Tulsk cross every day to get the school bus to Strokestown. That was a single speed steel frame affir, probably a Raleigh.

The most modern bikes have an all carbon frame, electronic shifting and even disc brakes and can cost over $5,000.  Insane!  You could buy a very nice used car for that!  I settled for an entry level bike with an aluminum frame and a carbon fork.  So far it has proved to be an excellent choice.
Fuji Newest 1.0

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween 2012

A different kind of Halloween this year.  On a beautiful evening for trick or treating, eldest child got dressed up as cat and then made her way to Chipotle to avail of the $2 burritos - a bargain price for those in costume. 

Middle child at last minute announced he was going to his friends house in a different neighborhood and hastily transformed into a vampire.  Only junior was left and at least his costume showed some originality.  Watch out Daniel Day Lewis, we also have an Abe Lincoln, complete with muttonchops and stovepipe hat. He too disappeared with friends and the auld pair were left at home alone, doling out candy.  First time we had not gone out with the kids in about 15 years.  Getting old...

Abe Lincoln came home first, announcing that at various stages he had been called Babe-raham Lincoln and Abraham Franklin.  Dracula was next with bag full of candy.  Kitty-cat was last, no candy but brought me a big ol' burrito.  Best.  Halloween.  Ever.

Another first, I actually got creative withe pumpkin carving.

The Bat-O-Lantern

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Sometimes all you want is soft spot to lie down, where the warm rays of the sun will lull you to sleep and you can have a peaceful nap.  Even if that special place is the bottom step of the stairs - these people can hurdle, can't they?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

In the Name of Tragedy

This could be our generations "Where were you when...?" moment.  Or maybe not.  But I will always recall where I was when I read that our State Treasure had self-immolated and is now waving Howdy Folks in the giant midway in the sky.  Big Tex is no more.
Big Tex As We Want To Remember Him
He stood 52 feet tall and this was his 60th year.  He welcomed visitors to the Texas State Fair every October with a resounding "Howdy Folks".  He loved Sooners and Longhorns equally.  True, we was strangely proportioned.  The skinny legs, the huge barrel chest, no neck and arms akimbo.  And his face was not handsome.  He looked constipated to be honest. But he was an icon, instantly recognizable and was a fixture every fall.

And now he is no more.  Was it arson, terrorism or angry UT Football fan after the drubbing by OU?  Big Tex was a Dickies man - maybe some Wrangler wearing cowpoke had had enough?  Where was Lee Harvey Oswald? A second lighter theory?  Either way, on that fateful morning of Oct 19 2012, Big Tex burst into flames and was consumed within minutes.  Dallasites and Texans were shocked.  His skeleton was carefully taken down and placed on a flatbed and covered in a tarp, so saddened onlookers could not be further traumatized.  Over the weekend, mourners placed flowers where he once stood.  And yesterday a local funeral parlor held a memorial service.  A pall has descended over the metroplex and even the denizens of Fort Worth cast a misty eye eastward and bid "Adieu" to the mighty cowboy.

So to answer "Where were you when Big Tex burst into flames?".  Well, I had to get the news second hand, from the New York Newsday at Nana's house on Long Island.  It was even worse to be so far away, knowing that Big Tex was probably still smoldering.  Oh he will be replaced in 2013. But there will only be one original Big Tex, size 70 boots and all.

Big Tex As We Will Probably Remember Him

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tour de Dope

"The evidence before the court is incontrovertible, there's no need for the jury to retire"

Finally, after years of what we all suspected, Texan Lance Armstrong, a cheat, a fraud, and all-round dirtbag, is about to be nailed to the wall. 

"The Bernie Madoff of Sports".

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Rock around the Clock

The '61 Bird hit a major milestone recently, the odometer shuffled its way back to zero.  Now it is new again, a fresh start. Just rolled off the assembley line and motoring out of Detroit.  JFK is in the White House and The Beatles play in the Cavern Club for the first time.  Maybe it will do things differently now that it has the wisdom of all those miles.  If that car could talk, what a tale it would tell...

Saturday, October 6, 2012

From Rangers to Strangers: A Cathartic Analysis of 2012

Seriously, who were those guys in Rangers uniforms that in the last few weeks of the 2012 MLB season displayed anemic hitting and pusillanimous pitching? Baseball is a long slog, 162 regular season games and in taht time you get to know your team well. In general, teams play to form. A team that goes 18 and 10 over the course of a month will typically offer up similar numbers over the next 30 days. What the Rangers offered in 2012 was darn near inexplicable. If they started 2012 like they finished it, it would be easier to understand, After all, they were twice two strikes away in 2011 from winning it all - so a hangover and slow start to this season was to be expected. Instead, they came out of the gate en fuego and were by far the best team in baseball in April and May, to the extent that the experts were already penciling them for success in October. But that 162 game season is a killer and a strong start gave way to what is now seen as an epic collapse, ending last night with a home loss to the Orioles. A 13 game lead over the Oakland A's in July was squandered and based on the hangdog looks in the first ever AL Wildcard game, a victory over the O's was never going to happen, despite a valiant effort by Yu Darvish.

It all peaked back in mid-May when CF Josh Hamilton, an unstoppable force at the plate at this early juncture, hit four home runs against the O's - in one game! But even then, only 30 or so games in, the ominous signs were there. Two losses at home to the lowly Royals. A 21 to 8 run debacle in Arlington to the Mariners, another mediocre team. Josh then went into the mother of all funks, his batting average dropping 120 points over the course of two months. He continued to drive in runs, but more often than not they were sacrifice flies. Come September, when it really matters, his at-bats were awful. Numerous times, he struck out on three or four pitches. His body language was terrible. He looked like he wanted to be somewhere else and after striking out would saunter lazily back to the dugout with dumb smirk on his face. A normal player would express frustration, throw the helmet, break the bat. Our God-loving recovering addict appeared to be on another plane, totally indifferent to what was going on.  Granted he hit 43 home runs in 2012 but had none in the last nine games - when it really mattered.

While Hamilton is the poster boy for the swoon, he has plenty of company. For most of the season, Michael Young had no pop in his bat. Ian Kinsler (a/k/a Mr. GIDP) could be relied on to hit weakly to short almost twice every game.  Nelly Cruz could neither hit nor field consistently. Murphy, Moreland and Gentry would get hot for a few games (but never at the same time) and then disappear for ten days. Stolen bases were down. The number of times Kinsler and Elvis Andrus got picked off base was embarrassing. Napoli got injured and his replacement Sota batted an underwhelming .198, with little or no power; and certainly no force to hold runners on base.

Injuries to starting pitching played a role: Feliz and Lewis went down early and their replacements Oswald (his uncle shot JFK!!) and Dempster were poor. Early in the year, the bullpen was very solid. Robbie Ross or Alexei Ogando in the 7th, Mike Adams in the 8th, Joe Nathan in the 9th. But along the way, each picked up a niggling arm or shoulder problem and by September, they were easy targets.

The rest of the starting pitching deserves analysis. Yu Darvish, the rookie from Japan was everything we could have hoped for with his baffling assortment of eight (or is it nine?) different pitches. 16 wins and 221 strike-outs. Matt Harrison was a horse and led the team with 18 wins. Unfortunately, Holland was mediocre and as mentioned the rest were poor. A few bright spots out of the pen: Koji and Tanner Sheppers.

Back on the field, only Adrian Beltre and Elvis can hold their heads up. They had solid seasons. Elvis got on base, hit for average, was mostly clutch and for the most part was solid at short. Beltre was unbelievably good at third, virtually nothing got by him. At the plate, he had an excellent season. Batting .321, swatting 36 home runs and driving in 102. He gave 100% every game, every at bat. He had passion and commitment, something sadly lacking in many of his team-mates.

This brings us to the coaching staff. We have heard that Wash's demeanor on the field is different than in the clubhouse. We know he lets loose behind the scenes with f-bomb and other colorful language. I am sure he tried to motivate this bunch out of their stupor. But he failed. My biggest gripe is that he called up the supposed blue-chip prospects Olt and Profars - both of who initially showed great potential - and then rarely played them. Instead we were treated to the same old tired swings from Kinsler and Young. He should have rested his veterans in the heat of the Texas summer and let the young bucks play. Unfortunately Olt got injured... Others will claim both Wash and Maddux left the starters in for too long. That is a tough one to call.

I am also reasonably sure that Scott Coolbaugh tried to do something with Hamilton but that fell on deaf ears. Did Nolan ever pay a visit to the clubhouse and launch a tirade against the disaster that slowly unfolded from July to September? You would hope so but if he did, it was not inspirational.

The reality is, only one team wins. All that the fans of the other 31 teams can ask for is that their plays with passion and hustle, play for the team and do the little things right, for example, see the 2012 Oakland A's.

Maybe over the coming winter months, someone from the Rangers organization will explain what the heck happened or why the malaise set in.

Earlier in 2012, the Rangers blogger Jamey Newberg wrote an e-book entitled "JD: Building the Team that Built a Winner". It is a good read and suggests the best may be yet to come. The reality is, Jon Daniels faces a daunting off-season. Hamilton needs to go, period. I would not be upset if Cruz joined him. We need a catcher who can hit for power and throw out base-runners. Michael Young is entering the twilight of his career. His at bats and playing time need to be reduced in 2013. What to do with Kinsler? He just signed a long term contract. I am not convinced about Murphy or Moreland. Gentry looks like a keeper. We need at least one and maybe two new starters. Oswald (remember, his uncle shot JFK!) and Dempster need to go. Feliz and Lewis may not be remotely useful following Tommy John surgery.

In 2013, the Angels will be stronger. Trout, Pujols and Trumbo are to be feared. They have great pitching (CJ aside). We now know what the A's are capable of - to think I doubted Moneyball! The bright news is the Astro's will be in the AL West - they were one of the worst teams in MLB in 2012 and will likely struggle again in 2013.

For the Rangers, 2009 was a good year. They came in second in the AL West and the future was clearly bright. 2010 was great, the team finally got play-off wins and to be there when former Rangers A-Rod and Teixeira were retired in the ALCS was magical. 2011 should have been their crowning glory. But Nelly Bleeping Cruz failed to make the catch in right and as mentioned, twice our pitching failed to get the third strike that would have won the World Series. Now comes the debacle of 2012. Something similar happened to the Mets in 2007 and 2008. They have never recovered, although ineptitude and Bernie Madoff have a role in that saga.

Yes indeedy, the coming months will be very interesting in Rangerland.

"Shoegazers - Oct 5, 2012" - photo by Louis DeLuca/Staff Photographer for the Dallas Morning News.

Sunday, September 30, 2012


While watching the excellent film Breaking Away the other night, it dawned on me that while the fine state of Indiana might not be known for much aside from Amber Waves of Grain and the Indy 500, it is the setting for three of the all time great sports movies.

Breaking Away (1979), set in Bloomington, follows four high school boys who have just completed high school and are at a crossroads in their young lives.  The main character is Dave, an avid cyclist who idolizes Italian bike racers with some hilarious consequences.  Largely based on a true story, Dave and his three acquaintances decide to enter the Little 500, an annual bike race held at the University of Indiana.  Against the odds, they win the race - of course they do - otherwise Hollywood would not have come knocking.  A young Dennis Quaid and Daniel Stern are part of the cast.

Hoosiers (1986) tells the story of the Hickory High School basketball team that wins a state total in the 1950's. The script is loosely based on the 1954 state champion Milan High School, who with a tiny enrollment made an unprecedented run through the playoffs and defeated much larger schools along the way.  The film has a solid cast, including Gene Hackman and Harry Dean Stanton.

Lastly is Rudy (1993), maybe the most famous of the trifecta.  It follows the efforts of Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger to not only be the first of his steelworker family to go college but to play football as part of the bargain.  And not just any old college, Rudy was obsessed with the venerable Notre Dame and his efforts to get accepted are the real story, although the fact he made the football team is pretty incredible.

So add three classic sports movies to the state that gave us bushels of corn, Larry Bird and David Letterman.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Corporate Challenge 2012

The Corporate Challenge is an Olympics styled event held every Aug-Sept and pits over 50 Dallas area companies against each other in events like basketball, badminton, volleyball, running and swimming.  For the not-so-athletic, there is even dominoes, poker and bowling.  Me, being somewhere in between, joined the GE soccer and cycling teams.  I figured there was safety in numbers...

We started our soccer practices in the heat of July and the scenes were reminiscent of The Junction Boys.  Blazing heat, bad fields, injuries, not enough water, and so on.  To make matters worse, our average age was 40-something and we scrimmaged against 20 year olds.  All the conditioning paid off to an extent: we breezed through our first three Corporate Change soccer games, winning all by a combined margin of 18-1.  It unraveled in the semis' when the opposition scored three of the luckiest goals imaginable and we went down 3-1.  In the bronze medal game, we lost 2-0, again giving the other team two gifts.  We ended up fourth out of ten teams in our division - no mean achievement given it was our first foray into Corporate Challenge.

I made about 15 new friends from other GE offices in the Dallas area, guys I would normally never interact with.  We are determined to keep the nucleus of the team together and hopefully add some youth next year  (we have plenty of experience).

What stands out in the Corporate Challenge is the athleticism and determination of people who have real day jobs.  Case in point was the bike race.  It was only 9 miles, but was won a 40-something guy who completed the course in a little over 20 minutes.  That's 27 MPH!!!  On average!!!

I was on a big old mountain bike and finished in 32 mins, or about 17MPH and Team GE placed 7th.

The Challenge goes on for about another two weeks and so far GE has two silver medals to show for our efforts.  We will get 'em next year!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Book Review: One Shot at Forever

The last of the three baseball books consumed this summer and the most enjoyable is One Shot at Forever by Chris Ballard (2012).  This is a true account of the incredible achievements of the 1971 Macon (Illinois) High School baseball team.  In Hoosier-like fashion, the Ironmen of Macon, with an enrollment of a few hundred students, make the State playoffs and cause upset after upset, beating much larger schools along the way.

The odds seemed stacked against the Ironmen starting in 1970, when some of the better baseball playing seniors graduated.  The team is made up of farm boys and coached by their eccentric / hippy English teacher, Lynn Sweet.  His unorthodox coaching methods (either no practice, or practice accompanied by the soundtrack to Jesus Christ, Superstar) drove the parents and school administration to such distraction that Coach Sweet was not supposed to be in charge for the memorable 1971 season.  Common sense prevails and Coach Sweet takes charge of his minuscule roster and depleted equipment room - they had about five bats between them and a bunch of mis-matched uniforms.  What the boys lacked in equipment, they made up in skill and determination.

The book is well written and researched, author Chris Ballard spent two years in Macon interviewing players, teachers and fans - even members of the opposing teams.  As the Ironmen win successive games, it is fascinating to see how the town unites and rallies around the team and attendance swells to the point that no-one is at home when the Macon High Ironmen are on the field.

My only gripe is that I borrowed the copy I read - now I need to get my own.

Book Review: The Natural

The second of the baseball summer reading trilogy, The Natural by Bernard Malamud is an acknowledged classic.  Written in 1952, the novel charts the fall and rise and yet another fall of Roy Hobbs and his bat Wonderboy.  Definitely one of the top fictional books about baseball, The Natural was made into a successful movie in 1984 and one I have yet to see but while the book ends on a downer, apparently Hollywood saw fit to change the movie ending to a more upbeat one.

The book shows an uglier side of the game, specifically the pressure to win (and lose), rabid fandom, and the deviousness of team owners.  The passages describing coach Pop Fisher and owner Judge Banner are excellent.  Oddly enough, the Rangers seem to have their own Roy Hobbs in Josh Hamilton, who in his short career has had some terrific stretches offset by horrible troughs.  As a further aside, the Rangers play the theme from the movie when the home team hits a home run in Arlington.

Malamud was not a prolific writer and The Natural is his best known work.  He did, however, win a Pulitzer Prize in 1967 for The Fixer.  I will have to track that one down...

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Book Review: The Last Boy

So far this summer I have read three books, all baseball related   What could be better than the Rangers in first place and reading up on America's past-time?

The Last Boy by Jane Leavy (2010) chronicles the life and sad times of The Mick, one Mickey Charles Mantle, among the all time baseball greats.  Leavy's approach is partially based on personal interviews she did with Mantle long after he retired.  The book does not hold back and flips between the highs of the monster home runs and the bouts of self-destructive drinking binges.

Mantle is a fascinating subject.  Born in 1931, he grew up dirt poor in tiny Commerce, Oklahoma and under the tutelage of his father and grandfather, learned how to switch hit.  The role his father ("Mutt") played in the younger Mantle's early career cannot be understated. Mickey progressed rapidly and was what today is called a "five tool player".  He joined the Yankees in 1951 when the mighty DiMaggio was in the twilight of his career.  (Mantles first major knee injury was partially attributed to Joe D.)  Alongside such legends as Yogi Berra, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, Don Larsen and Hank Bauer, The Mick won seven World Series rings in a career that spanned 17 years.  Mantle's lifetime batting average was .298, he hit 536 home runs and had 1,509 RBI's.  Huge stat's in any era.

The sad thing is he could have posted even better numbers if he was not plagued by injury (initially) and later cursed by alcoholism.  His last years are sad as his body breaks down and while he became closer with his sons, they had their own demons.  Mantle's estrangement from his longtime wife Merlyn also makes tough reading.  Maybe if Mutt had not died so young, Mickey would have been a better father and husband.

I have no basis to compare The Last Boy to the other Mantle biographies that have been written.  Obviously, I have some catching up to do... While Leavy's work was enjoyable, I feel there is probably a better one out there.

Friday, August 31, 2012

It's Back

After an eight month or so hiatus, high school football is back and the reigning 5A State Champions Southlake Carroll Dragons traveled Friday night up Highway 121 to Allen, home of the Eagles.  Allen, like Southlake, has one humongous high school, and they have more than 5,000 students (20% of which are in their magnificent band).  Better yet, they have the newest and one of the largest high school stadiums in the country, seating 18,000.  Since we bring a horde on our travels, 21,766 tickets were sold, meaning quite a few were without a seat.

The stadium is top notch, and at a cost of $60MM, it should be.  It is up there with many mid-level college facilities; indeed with the high school next door, the whole area had the feel of a college campus.

As for the game, despite having our starting QB and RB return, the Eagles were too fired up for us and gave their new stadium a great debut, as the home team won easily 24-0.  Early days yet of course and it will take more than this loss to erase the wonderful memories of the 2011 Championship.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Book Review: Shackleton

At 697 pages (plus notes), it took me almost as long to read Shackleton as it took him on one of his many trips to the Antarctic.  Three expeditions are covered in detail, with the preponderance dedicated to the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914–17. Aside from the last chapter, the book is riveting stuff, never succumbing to hero worship but showing Shackleton's failures and limited successes. 

Ernest Shackleton was born in Co. Kildare in 1874.  By age 10 the family had moved to London and at 16 he joined the Merchant Navy.  His life at sea had begun.  Sometime soon after he was bitten by the exploration bug and in 1901 joined the Discovery Expedition to the Antarctic, alongside Robert Falcon Scott.  There was animosity between the two and their efforts to become the first to reach the South Pole fell short, largely to Shackleton's poor health.  Their trek was beset by elementary errors: wrong clothes, not using ski's, not understanding the impact of scurvy, all compounded by the sled dogs getting sick from tainted food.

These mistakes are repeated again on the Nimrod Expedition of 1907-9 and although Shackleton did set a record in reaching a point furthest south, again he failed to reach the Pole.  In between expeditions, Shackleton tried to make living on the lecture circuit and dabbled in dubious schemes, like bringing Russian soldiers home from their war with Japan...

When the Titanic sank in 1912, Shackleton (now a Sir) gave expert advice on icebergs.  One would think that Amundsen's conquest of the South Pole the same year would have put paid to Shackleton traipsing around the Antarctic.  Au contraire.  He decided that he would lead a party to be the first to cross the Antarctic from coast to coast.  After frantic (read: desperate) rounds of fundraising, so began the voyage of the Endurance and the crew of 28 who comprised the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914–17 (smack dab in the middle of WWI...).

Norwegians whalers stationed at South Georgia (south of Argentina) warned Shackleton that the ice was bad in 1914.  It was over 200 miles north of where it usually was by mid-summer and showing little sign of breaking up.  Shackleton decided to press on and in Jan 1915, the Endurance became trapped in the ice, miles from landfall. The party camped on the ice flow, waiting for the break up that never came.  Instead, the Endurance sank in November and the crew ended up floating / trekking over 300 miles to Elephant Island.

This turned out to be Shackleton's finest hour.  They had no radio, limited food and fresh water and were almost 1000 miles from the nearest humans at the South Georgia whaling stations.  In between lay treacherous open waters, riddled with icebergs, huge waves, gales, whales...  The final third of the book details how Shackleton kept his men united and alive and pulled off the miraculous feat of taking a small lifeboat with a crew of five across the ocean from Elephant Island to South Georgia.  The fact they found tiny South Georgia with limited navigational gear is an awesome feat in itself.  The Norwegian whalers sent a boat back to Elephant Island to rescue the remainder of the Endurance crew. The expedition was an unmitigated disaster; however, Shackleton's ability to lead and not lose a single crew member was nothing short of astonishing.

He came back to a Europe ravaged by war and the English public had little patience for polar explorers.  His time had passed.  Shackleton's finances were in disarray, his marriage in ruins (not helped by his extra-marital affairs). His health was poor but in 192, he mustered up the courage and crew for yet another mission to the Antarctic.  This one was ill-defined and to be his last voyage - he died in Jan 1922, ironically on South Georgia.  He was only 47 but had been plaqued for years by a weak heart.

Beg, borrow or steal Shackleton, it is a brilliant biography of an intriguing but flawed explorer.

Shackelton by Roland Huntford, 1985.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Bonnie & Clyde - The Southlake Connection

A couple of miles northeast of chez Beirne in Southlake stands this simple roadside marker.  I had driven past it countless times, but only recently stopping to see what it commemorated.  Expecting that it was the site of a car accident, I was taken aback when after reading the first few lines on the stone.  It was near this spot on the morning of April 31, 1934 (Easter Sunday) that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow gunned down and viciously murdered two Texas State Troopers.

The lawmen (Troopers Edward Bryan Wheeler and H.D. Murphy) were on patrol and without suspicion, had stopped to render aid to Barrow's car - which was pulled over to the side on Dove Road.   By this date, Bonnie & Clyde were notorious, having commited numerous robberies and murders on a two year crime spree that took them from Illinois all the way south to Texas.  They were hardened fugitives with neither fear nor respect for the law.  Although it is questionable if Barrow, Parker or their accomplice (Henry Methvin) did the actual killing, the consequences left the public further appalled and raised both the bounty and the efforts to see them captured.

Their run did not last much longer.  A famed Texas Ranger, Frank Hamer, and three fellow officers trailed the Barrow gang into Louisiana.  Hamer, aware of his jurisdiction limits, recruited two local officers and the six lay in wait near Methvin's parants house.  At 9.15am on May 23, 1934, the lawmen emptied approximately 130 rounds into Barrow's Ford.  That was it for Bonnie & Clyde, gone to hell in a hail of bullets.

Apparently the memorable final scene in the movie strarring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway is no exaggeration.

Methvin (whose name sounds like a narcotics and wine conconction), was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1935 but through some inexplicable dealings, this was commuted... He was paroled in 1942 and but in 1948 met his maker when in a drunken stupour, stumbled across railroad tracks in Louisiana and into the path of an oncoming train.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Birds of a Feather

By mutual agreement my friend Bruce and I decided to unite his 2004 Thunderbird with mine one Friday.  After lunch it was up to the roof of the garage for the photo shoot.  Aside from sharing the same nameplate, the two do not have much in common in styling or powertrain.

After a 15 year hiatus, Ford revived the T-Bird in 2002 for a four year run and based its looks largely on the First Gen 1955-57.  The last generation (11th) was a modest success, selling 67,518 units and with low mileage can fetch north of $20K today.

By comparison the Third Generation (1961-63) sold 214,375 units and values are all over the map, with mine towards the lower end.
The eight year old with its fifty-one year old uncle.

So the question is: will the 2004 edition still be running and commuting in 2055?  It seems such a long way off.

To quote Billie Jo Spears "They don't build cars like the used to..."

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Six Asses

A couple of weeks ago, meself and a few of the bucks from work were returning from a leisurely lunch, riding along in a big old pick-up, shooting the breeze and in no hurry back to the office. While it was hotter than blazes,  the subject was winter weather.  The highway department in New York uses salt to cope with ice, I shared.  Illinois uses a concoction of grit and salt, according to Brian.  Ed announced that Missouri uses ashes. 

"Ashes!!!?" we all exclaimed in unison.  "Where do they get the ashes from?" asked Dave.

It all came flooding back to me, a non-sensical rhyme that had been buried within my head for maybe 30 years. 

"From Mrs. Nash", I answered.  "They get the ashes from Mrs. Nash".  The other looked at me quizzically.  "You have never heard that one?" I asked.  The other three shook their heads. 

Apparently the lyrical waxing the of the poet laureate from Steil never made it to Texas.  I laid out the rest for them:

Six asses
Drawing ashes
From Mrs, Nash's
Ash hole

Instant classic, the laughter resounded for several minutes.  Search Google, it is not there.  So for posterity, Beirne Brightly has now archived Bollocks the Bore* and Six Asses.  They will never be forgotten while Google keeps blogs.

* See entry May 11, 2012

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Costa Rica (Part 1 of 3): Manuel Antonio National Park

After the overwhelming success of driving an RV around Arizona and Utah last summer, I suggested an encore for 2012 but was voted down.  Other destinations such as Florida, Northern California, Hawaii and even Alaska were debated but the consensus was it was time to leave the friendly confines of Uncle Sam.  We pulled out the atlas.  Mexico was considered and quickly dismissed. As we went further down the North American continent and over Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, we came to Costa Rica and the last stop before Americano de Sud.   Kieran has a friend in school who lived in Costa Rica and loved it.  I had a friend who vacationed there and loved it.  Sheila's nieces had both gone there recently and loved it.  So it was settled, then, we were off to Costa Rica.
One of the benefits of Big D is direct flights to many major cities and San Jose, CR was no exception.  We left on July 4th, foregoing fireworks and the most frustrating part of our journey occurred at the get-go when our incompetent cab driver could not find our house or the departures area at DFW.

We got into San Jose in the evening and did not see much any of the city but temperature wise it felt good to be out of the Dallas furnace and into the 80's, albeit a bit humid.  We grabbed a quick dinner at a soda and devoured the inevitable cosada of rice, beans, plantain and choice of meat.  It was bueno.  We stayed in Hotel Aranjuez, a quirky hotel in a relatively quiet residential part of San Jose.  The hotel is comprised of five adjoining houses (former residences) that have been combined over the years.  This leaves a veritable maze of interconnected hallways, alleys, dead-ends, courtyards, reading rooms, nooks etc.  The rooms were clean and comfy, the breakfast was awesome.  Tons of fruits, cereals and an accommodating omelet man. The breakfast setting is a leafy courtyard brimming with all kinds of crazy colorful flowers,  plants, and trees (including hummingbirds flitting about).  We were quickly being introduced to the fact that everything in CR is lush and green.
Senor Colibri @ Hotel Aranjuez
Behind the hotel.  Many of the houses in CR are small tin roofed affairs.
After breakfast we took a quick walk around the Aranjuez area - mainly to see the local church.  At 10am our shuttle to Manuel Antonio arrived promptly.  Our driver, Cesar, was to be a constant as we traversed the country and he was a great guide, friendly and knowledgeable.  He was quick to point out things we would have otherwise missed and had very good English but was also willing to work with Fiona on her Spanish. The drive from San Jose to Manuel Antonio was uneventful, other than the opportunity to see the giant croc's at Tarcoles and partake in eating some of endless varieties of native fruit from an adjacent roadside mercado.
These beasts were about 12 foot long

We could never remember the name of this fruit (not Fiona). When we opened it up it was like a plum without the skin -  so we called them "eye-balls".  They were delicioso.
Coconut(s) drink(ing)

Manuel Antonio is a small but renowned national park halfway down the country on the Pacific side.  We stayed literally 100 yards from the park and about 400 yards form the public beach.  Since we arrived in the afternoon, we hit the town beach first, saving the park for the next morning.  The beach was nice but busy, with lots of natives hawking chairs, umbrellas, drinks, horseback rides, etc.  The sand was great and the water near perfect.  Dinner that night was at El Avion, a restaurant built around a Fairchild C-123 plane.  Its claim to fame?  It was one of two planes involved in the whole Iran-Contra scandal from the 1980's (remember Oliver North?) and this one ended up being abandoned in San Jose and in 2000 moved to MA. Food was meh, view was awesome, historical setting kind of cool.
I'll have the Sandinista Special
Next morning we were rudely awakened at 5am by the raucous antics of Howler Monkeys in the jungle behind the hotel.  We could not see them but such a racket you never heard.  We scarfed down a mediocre hotel breakfast and tackled Manuel Antonio National Park at 7am and within minutes it lived up to its billing.  Sloths, Capuchins monkeys, Squirrel Monkeys, Iguanas, huge butterflies, spiders, etc. all come at you.  The trees were huge and the dense lush jungle goes right down to the beaches.  And the beaches.  They were the epitome of paradise.  White fine sand, turquoise water, hardly anyone there.  It was like Eden, only better.  Our admission was only good for one day but we met several tourista's who planned on going again and again.  It really is that spectacular.

Various images from inside Manuel Antonio National Park
We left the park by mid-afternoon and signed up for an evening boat tour of the mangroves which allowed even more close-up's of the mono's and snakes.  And of course the mangroves, which somehow survive the brackish estuary water, perched high on roots that seem like stilts.   After another cosado, we retired to our hotel exhausted.  The CR sun goes down by 5.30pm so by 9pm it felt like bed time and we knew the Howlers would be at "it" what ever "it" was, at 5am the next day.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hang 'em high

On more than a few weekends this summer Kevin and I have arisen before it gets too hot and embarked on what has come to be known as the "20 Mile Bike Ride".  Passing through some of the prettier parts of Southlake, Westlake, Roanoke and Keller, we hustle out early and get home by 9am.

Along the route and of particular interest is the Roanoke IOOF Cemetery, which opened for business in 1897 and is still doing trade, sadly mostly infants apparently.  IOOF stands for Independent Order of Oddfellows, an order I never heard of but per Wikipedia (the definitive source for all truth...) has lodges worldwide and counts Charlie Chaplin and Wyatt Earp as members.  Now that would be a fun meeting with those two.  The IOOF's creed to "visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan."  Sounds like a solid plan.

Most remarkable about the Roanoke IOOF Cemetery is that an alleged horse thief was hung and buried here in 1906.  That is how they did it back then.  If they as much as thought you stole the hoss, they hung ya.  Better yet, to save time, the hanging was done IN the cemetery - maybe even over an open grave to save further effort.  And that is how they used to do things in Tejas.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Concert Review: Merle Haggard

A subtitle could be "Tonight The Hag Let Me Down".  His visit to Billy Bob's in Fort Worth came about a week after a good documentary on Haggard was shown on PBS and one night after a friend of mine seen him in Austin and proclaimed him legendary.  His status is undoubtedly cemented - he is one of the stalwarts of "old" country music.  But at 75, it might be time to hang it up.  Maybe it was the venue, the crowd or the sound but the performance was flat and dull.

Sure he played the hits like "Okie from Muskogee", "Fighting Side of Me", "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down" but it was a 60 minute performance with limited banter and no encore.  I get the feeling Merle was counting the gate and figuring out how much alimony he took in - he is on wife # 5 after all.  Speaking of the current Mrs H; she is in the band, along with two daughters and a son.  Just too bad they couldn't put on more of a "show".

I never did get to see Cash.  But I can say I have seen Willie and now the Hag.  And Willie was way better.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Coolest Thing on the Internet

This is the coolest video on ye merrye olde interweb. 

I should know, because I have searched high & low.   Some would call it surfing, wasting time even.  I call it research.  It wasn't easy.  There is a lot of Bieber and Gaga taking up space out there.

But I fought through the nonsense, the ridiculous, the novices and the pretenders. And from the toils of my strenuous labor, here is the fruit.
And this is it.  FIN.  The End.  You can stop here.  I saved everyone a lot of time.  You can thank me later.

Through the magic of YouTube, here is Austinite Gary Clark, Jr. performing his song "Bright Lights" at the Crossroads Blues Festival in Chicago 2010.  Sit back, and crank up that volume.  Loud.

I know... Brilliant, Wunderbar, C'est Magnifique, etc.  Any language you want.  Gary Clark Jr is badass.  Watch it 20 times and you will notice something every time.  And you will fall in love.

He is playing the Belmont in Dallas in August 2012.  The show sold out in three minutes.  He is that good.  You are going to know his name by the end of the night.  Oh yeah.

He is destined to join and surpass such Texas blues guitar greats as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Freddie King, Albert Collins and Blind Lemon Jefferson.  And Leadbelly.  And T-Bone Walker.

And look for his acoustic stuff where he sounds better than Marvin Gaye.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fort Worth Botanical Gardens

A few weeks back before the weather turned too hot, we took a spin south to Fort Worth and spent a couple of very enjoyable hours at the Botanical Gardens.  Spring had sprung and everything was blooming great.  We started out with brunch at their restaurant and it was excellent.  There was a birthday party in session for a fine young man celebrating his 102nd year.  The things he has seen...  My friend Ray's mother is 103.  She lives in Kanas but I told Ray if ever she needs a date I have a young 102 year old in Fort Worth who is fit & able.
The gardens are beautifully cultivated and feature a rose garden, a Japanese garden, and more flowers, shrubs and trees than you can imagine exist. We really enjoyed strolling around taking in the sights and scents in a quiet corner of FW.
A well stocked Koi pond.  Sushi anyone?
The Japenese Garden

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

I Got A Star On My Car...

... and one under my foot.  Not since T.O. spiked the ball at midfield in the old Cowboys Stadium has such talent graced the "Star".  Jerry wanted to sign me but I am holding out for better offers.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Concert Review: Rammstein

The show by which all future concerts will be measured.  The motto "Other bands play, Rammstein burns" is so apt.  Indoor fireworks are one thing; fireworks ignited by some sort of crossbow contraption aimed over the audience is another.  Still not sure how they get the Fire Marshall to sign off on the whole spectacle.  And how none of the band members have been immolated is unclear.  The show is like pantomime with and crazed edge, sort of WWF meets NASCAR.  You know its an act but you cannot look away, waiting for spectacular implosion and ensuing carnage.

Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire
PHOTO BY GROOVEHOUSE, Courtesy Houston Press
Flames that were felt in Row Z.  Flames that were in the wings, flames behind the drummer, flames that shot 30 feet in the air, flames that band members blew through some crazy fire-breathing contraption that Godzilla would envy.  Flame throwers.  Flames under the giant kettle-pot that contained keyboardist "Flake" Lorenz as lead singer Till Lindemann tried to cook him (loosely based on a real-life German cannibal...).

The Grand Entrance
A definite WWF moment, the band members enter mid-stadium to a slow anthem, climb up to a sort of large podium and then make their way along a narrow catwalk above the audience to the main stage.  One guy had a Texas flag, another a Rammstein flag, another a torch.  It was quite a beginning.  "Never in my 23 years critiquing concerts have I seen such an elaborate entrance. Never in my 23 years critiquing music have I seen a show like Rammstein’s" - Mario Tarradell, Dallas Morning News

The Music
Relentless pounding. No song introductions, just ripping from one to the next.  Played for almost two hours, belting out the favorites like "Du Hast", "Feuer Frei", "Ich Will" " “Mein Herz Brennt", "Engel", "Amerika" and so on... Disappointed we did not get treated to "Zwitter"...  Much moshing, although the American Airlines Center was far from sold out.  Apparently there was a significantly better attendance at the San Antonio and Houston shows.  Sound was very good.  Those not chanting along were dazed.

"Flake" dinghy surfing was cool, as were the huge angel wings during Engel - fitted with tips that spewed flames of course.  Over the top moments: the reverse crawl along the catwalk to the small stage in the middle of the floor... and the giant phallic thing that Lindemann rode and spewed foam over the crowd.

The Critics
"I could write three more pages full of words aimed at retelling all that happened during that performance, but this Rammstein show defies mere descriptions. It really was one of those you-had-to-be-there events. I’ll be processing it for several days."  - Mario Tarradell, Dallas Morning News

"In the world of pulsating metal, Rammstein's has no peers. Not even the mighty Slayer, in its glorious days in the mid to late '80s, could match this German outfit's intensity" - David Huff, Jam Magazine

"While their show is heavy on spectacle, it's worth mentioning that Rammstein is actually pretty talented when it comes to writing catchy metal songs. Their music meets nicely in the middle of a spectrum that features Metallica on one end and Depeche Mode on the other."  - Cory Garcia, Houston Press.