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