Monday, March 17, 2008

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Saturday afternoon, Fuzzy and I visited the Holocaust Museum here in Washington, D.C. It is 4 floors of information and sensory overload. There was is so much much on display, so many items to view and media presentations that the brochure suggests that you take 2 to 3 hours to see everything. We stayed just over an hour and that was enough time to see a bit more than we wanted.

The Holocaust Museum sugar-coated nothing. The exhibits include photographs of mutilated bodies, body parts and even bodies of children being used for medical experiments. There are videos of Hitler, Nazi propoganda and murders. When we first stepped out of the elevator onto the 4th floor, the first stop in the permanent exhibit, we heard a woman sobbing. She must have had a personal connection to the Holocaust.

The Hall of Remembrance

The museum is a very solemn place as well. Although the building was crowded, there was very little talking. Any conversation was spoken in whispers as if everyone was afraid to raise their voice to a conversational tone. In a sense, it was out of respect for the dead and in awe of the enormity of such a tragedy.

It is definitely a museum to visit. However, it is best viewed on an empty stomach. But don't worry about being hungry when you leave, because you will lose your appetite, too.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Murder in Miniature by Margaret Grace

Camille Minichino's first work under the pen name Margaret Grace is a great adventure set in the sleepy hamlet of Lincoln Point, California, nestled near Mountain View and San Jose Airport. Geraldine Porter is a retired high school English teacher and, since widowed, has become immersed in her hobby of crafting miniature dollhouses.

During her granddaughter's summer visit, Gerry is selling her wares at a local craft faire when her high-maintenance best friend Linda skips out, leaving Gerry in the lurch and then calls at 2am needing to be picked up at an abandoned gas station just off Route 101. (I think I know where that is!)

The body of a woman is found at the exact spot where Gerry rescued Linda, and Gerry can't keep her nose out of her police nephew's business as she probes the mystery surrounding her best friend.

Minichino, as Grace, seems more at ease in writing about the world as miniature dollhouses or maybe crafts translate to the written word better than physics research. The pace of the book moves at a comfortable speed, and never bogs down or becomes overwhelming. The characters do not seem contrived or two-dimensional, rather believable and realistic.

There are frequent scenes where Grace shows subtle but hilarious comic wit, as Gerry Porter is appalled at the numerous errors in grammar and spelling in a city populated with people she taught. In one instance, Gerry is mortified more at her granddaughter's grammar than she is of her bluntness. Then she fights the urge to correct the spelling on a picketer's sign. Grace's Porter is very lovable as she has to adjust to her ten-going-on-thirty granddaughter, who's more tech savvy than Gerry will ever be.

This is a very enjoyable read and I liked the mystery very much, but I hope Dr. Camille does not abandon her Periodic Chart Mysteries. I am looking forward to The Fluorine Murder.

Monday, March 10, 2008

America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation by Michael MacCambridge

The first three weeks of this year, I had a brief, superficial but more intimate-than-usual glimpse into the hiring process and practices of the National Football League. I came to the conclusion that the owners were spineless, two-faced slugs; the head coaches back-stabbing; the players self-absorbed and self-centered; and the fans thought they knew the game better than the entire NFL organization.

According to Michael MacCambridge, I'm right! His meticulously researched book, America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation is a close look at the history of football from the end of WWII to the present. Like Anya Seton, another author that uses exhaustive research for her stories, MacCambridge starts slow, almost painstaking, in the first two-thirds of the book, stating facts and figures and events in a somewhat chronological order up to ca 1970, about 25 years. He tends to backtrack, spring forward, and then backtrack again within chapters. The pace picks up considerably toward the end of the book, covering more than 30 years in the last one-third.

I understand the need to build a basis for the book, but it seems as though MacCambridge skipped over important football events and information of the post-1970 era. Of all the great accomplishments of coaches, Tom Landry is only mentioned a handful of times. But he fared better than other greats like Mike Ditka, who's name appears once only as a possessive; or Bill Cowher, mentioned twice in the context of an unwritten rule to not sleep at the office. Instead, MacCambridge favors numerous quotes from less-great coaches like Brian Billick.

Deion Sanders (introduced as ushering in a new era of the NFL, which is the self-absorbed, self-centered player era) garnered almost as much print as Roger Staubach, which is very irksome to me. Staubach has always been one of my heroes, on and off the field. Neon Deion will NEVER be the legend or the man Staubach is.

America's Game isn't written for the casual football fan. MacCambridge assumes the reader has much more than a basic education of the sport. I am not one of those readers, and am not familiar with terms such as: "down-and-in pass", "1-2 passing attack", "shallow drag routes", or he hit the receiver "on an out pattern".

I do not have the name of every owner, head coach, and general manager memorized. MacCambridge's tendency to return to a person, identified only by last name pages after last addressing them, made re-reading necessary and enjoying the book harder. Who's Thomas (p. 351)? I had to refer to the index to find a person mentioned on the last page to find the last reference to him in the prologue. He also chronicled games using only players' names and not the teams. More re-reading to find out who won this one or that one.

Another aspect of MacCambridge's writing that makes this a difficult read is his flair for the dramatic. When Frank Borman, in orbit in Gemini 7 in 1965, told Tommy Nobis to "sign with the Oilers", MacCambridge dubbed it as an "interstellar" bidding war. Being in orbit above the earth hardly qualifies as interplanetary, much less interstellar. He describes a Jets-Colts game as a "harmonic convergence of elements"; and an argument over the Properties Trust had the feel of the "Spanish Civil War".

Some sentences just did not make sense, at all. For example,

"On the field, the checkoff system allowed the quarterback to audible to a different play at the line of scrimmage if the defensive formation threatened the one called in the huddle." (p. 201)

Huh? To audible? I know what the sentence means but it could have been worded much more clearly.

He described the midnight convoy of Irsay's Colts defection from Baltimore as "limned in radiation lights..." Baltimore radiated the Colts as they left?

Despite these obstacles, the book offers several funny moments in the form of very candid quotes from players and coaches.

But there are as many instances of two-faced owners: Rosenbloom moving the Rams from LA to Anaheim against the NFL's orders or Irsay trading Elway to Denver without consulting Coach Accorsi.

How about back-stabbing coaches? Bill Walsh found out that the reason he had been passed over for the top position was his own head coach Bill Johnson had been bad mouthing him to numerous interested teams. Al Davis and Jerry Jones, 'nuff said.

Kudos to MacCambridge, however, because he addresses those fans, who think they know the game better than anyone involved with the NFL, very diplomatically:

"Thus one had the great conundrum of pro football's popularity: fans, without access to the team's playbook, scouting reports, game plans, and game films, aren't really given the tools to perfectly understand their team's actions and responses." (p. 412)


The best part of the book for an ex-Cowboy fan like me was the affirmation that I have known for decades is that Cowboy fans are fair-weather! MacCambridge has documented quotes from Staubach and facts surrounding Jones egotism among other stats to illustrate this clearly.
If you're a die-hard, know-it-all about football, you will still find this an interesting read. For the rest of us, it gives us a slightly better insight into the confusing world of football. But at least, when we finish reading it, we are fully cognizant of the fact that we don't know everything.

This review was previously published on

Okla. State Rep Sally Kern - I just washed my brain and now I can't do a THING with it!

Thanks to Scooter, who posted a speech made by Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern on his Blog. The site address is posted below:

In this three minute rant, she talks about the 'homosexual agenda' and makes claims that are so outrageous, they ring false to anyone with an IQ above, oh let's say, 51. She says that gays are recruiting people as young as 2 and that studies show that any society that embraces homosexuality has only lasted for a few decades. Where is she getting this? What studies? Is she for real?

Having been born and raised in Oklahoma, I know there is rampant homophobia, but never realized there was such rampant stupidity! I've seen billboards that scream don't believe the liberal press, but this shows that you can't believe the conservative press either. None of her claims have basis. For example, she claims that the city council of Eureka Springs is controlled by homosexuals, and "do you know what's happened there?" She doesn't tell us. As far as I know, Eureka Springs is still on the map and hasn't been destroyed by fire and brimstone.

I wonder if the Eureka Springs City Council found out she was an illegal alien?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Size Really Does Not Matter (Short Story)

Note: In the past year or so, I remember hearing a news item about a chihuahua who saved its family's child from being bitten by a rattlesnake. The dog was bitten but survived. I wondered what was going through the chihuahua's mind, since this tiny breed has ATTITUDE! I wrote this for the "Wag Your Tail" short story contest on and have been amazed at the response it has received.

The aromas wafting up from the man’s barbecue grill were intoxicating to the chihuahua and his mouth was watering in anticipation.

I’m so hungry, the chihuahua thought. I can’t remember the last time I ate. Look at me. I’m wasting away to nothing. One stiff breeze and I blow away like tumbleweed on the Mexican…

“It’s not going to work, Wally-monster.” The man looked down at him with a smile. “You’ll get fed today at your regular time and then you can have some table scraps. But for now, no begging!” The man scratched Wally’s ears with affection.

It was worth a try, amigo. Wally scanned the area to see if anyone else looked as though they could be taken in by the sad puppy eyes trick and give him a hand-out.

The woman who was always with the man shouted something at a toddler who had strayed too far away from the rest of the family and waded into tall grass at the edge of the picnic area.

Santa Maria! The bambino moves fast, Wally thought annoyed. The NiƱo must have some chihuahua in him.

He trotted to the toddler, scolding him with a few sharp barks.

What are you doing way over here, bambino? If I could I would pick you up by the scruff of your neck and carry you back to your madre just as my sweet madre did when I was only knee-high to a grasshopper!

The toddler turned at the sound of the chihuahua’s barks and squealed in delight. Laughing with childish glee, he touched Wally on the nose. In response, Wally licked the boy’s fingers.

Oh, bambino! You know how to get to me. I cannot stay mad at you. Wally slurped the toddler’s face. All is forgiven.

There was a sound of rustling in the grass behind Wally. He spun his head around, ears up and alert.

Que? Wally sniffed the air. He saw movement in the weeds.

Que paso, snake? It was not a greeting, but a warning. What do you want?

The snake halted at the sight of the small dog, standing in front of the human.

You want to come over here and bite my bambino? You will have to go through me, bendajo! I am your worst enemy! You think you so big. Let me tell you, I have ring worms bigger than you!

The snake coiled up ready to strike. Its tongue flicked in and out of its mouth, and its rattle shook with menace. Wally growled and bared his teeth.

Oh, so you want to lick Wally with forked tongue! You wanna piece of me? You wanna piece of the Wally-monster? I will turn you into snake burrito with snake tacos on the side! You look like big tamale anyway. But you not so big. I got something bigger than you right here!

The snake lunged forward but the tiny dog sidestepped the deadly fangs with the grace and speed of a ballerina.

Oh, ho! Too slow! I am Speedy Gonzales next to you! You move like a gringo who have too much margarita! I will rip off your head and drink tequila out of it! But it is so small, I have to fill it three or four times just to make one shot!

Wally’s furious barking alerted the adults, who noticed that he was confronting something in the grass they couldn’t see. The toddler had been watching the battle with curiosity and moved toward the snake. With another lunge, the rattler struck at the child.

Oh, no you didn’t! With lightning speed, Wally leapt between the snake and its prey. Fangs sunk deep into Wally’s upper front let. He yelped in pain.

Even though the snake had a tight grip on him, Wally clamped his small and powerful jaws around the snake’s body, crushing bone and sinking his teeth into sinewy tissue.

You have bit the Wally-monster! Prepare to die!

Wally’s neck muscles had been strengthened by shaking every single stuffed toy he had been given so violently that the stuffing flew out. With the same fervor, he shook the snake. The rattler was too heavy to flail like a toy, but his efforts resulted in his teeth clamping further into the snake.

Wally twisted his head in a powerful movement and ripped the snake into two pieces. As the battle ended, Wally began to sway as the rattler’s poison took effect.

Mi Dio! Sweet madre! I am coming! Tell the Nino I love him! Wally’s vision went black.

A week later, Wally was curled up in his favorite doggy bed. The last few days had been exhausting with many people taking pictures of him and telling him that he was a hero for saving the little boy from the rattlesnake. A white bandage on his leg was the only reminder of the attack.

The doorbell rang and the man opened it. More people and two toy poodles entered. The poodles ran to Wally’s bed.

Ola, senioritas! You come to nurse Wally back to health?

Wally, we heard! You are so brave and strong! One poodle whimpered.

Tell us everything! The other one barked.

Well, bonitas, it started like this. There I was, surrounded by three giant rattlesnakes…

Word count: 874

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Big Time in the Big Easy!

Fuzzy and I enjoyed a weekend in New Orleans! I was in town to attend PittCon 2008 so he came down with me on Saturday.

We started early by grabbing some beers to go! I love New Orleans! One night, I went to Ryan's Pub and ordered a beer. When the bartender handed me my drink, he said they didn't serve food, so I got my beer in a plastic cup and walked away!)

I just adore a penthouse view! (OK, maybe the 25th floor view from the J. W. Marriott, but it doesn't sound as good).

Jackson Square and the Market are beautiful! No sign of Katrina here.

We enjoyed the local music,

local pot holes (oh, here's Katrina. The most compelling evidence of the hurricane that we saw were the dead trees that died when salt water was mixed with the flood waters),

and locals. (Bar dancer at Bourbon Pub on the left, participant in a bridal dress competition at Oz on the right).