Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy old year -- and happy new year

     For the Van Thyns, 2013 was, as Mr. Frank Sinatra sang years ago, a very good year.
     My first year of full retirement gave us plenty of time to read, to watch movies and television, to attend concerts and appearances, weddings and funerals, to travel (highlighted by a two-week trip to my home country in April), and -- best of all, as always -- to enjoy our kids and grandkids.
      Do I miss working? No, I don't. Don't think about it much, either.
      I get my writing fix from this blog -- this is blog No. 192 -- in 23 months since I started it. That's almost two per week, which is my goal.
      So I get enough of sports writing through it, plus what I read on the Internet, and get enough sports through my reading and from television.
      My vision of the blog when I began was to write about my life and career, and about my family's history, with sports and Shreveport-related pieces mixed in. This year it partly turned into a project -- to tell my father and mother's stories in relation to the Holocaust.
        I have done 13 chapters of my Dad's "story," with probably as many chapters to go. My intention is to then recap my mother's story -- although it more familiar to many people who heard her speak publicly over a quarter-century.
        This year another project was to tell Kenneth Harvey's story, the young athlete in Logansport, La., whose life changed dramatically in one instant in the fall of 1964 -- when we were both high school seniors. It was a story I'd always wanted to do, and now I have ... in nine blog pieces in September and a condensed (but not short) story that ran in The Shreveport Times on Oct. 9.
          Meeting Kenneth and the people in Logansport were two of the best days of my year. Thought of him many days, as I did my old, good friend Orville Kince (O.K.) "Buddy" Davis, who is still battling after a stroke in early July. The blog piece I did on him was a popular one, too, and I made two trips to Ruston to visit with him.
          Those guys, Kenneth and Buddy, are gentle and sweet, tough and determined. They are inspirations to so many people -- certainly to me.  
           I wrote blogs on what I think is most important in life (family and love), on my in-laws (Granny and Paw-Paw Shaw), on bullying, on keeping a positive attitude, on anger, on the great days at Woodlawn High School and at the Shreveport Journal, on wiffle ball in Sunset Acres, on Thanksgiving football ("Same Way Turkey Day"), on some of the great coaches and great men I've known, on my mother's place in Centenary's rose garden.
          And guess what the most-read blog this year was? Phil and Terry ... and 4-16? (yes, more than 2,000 views). Just to remind you: Phil Robertson and Terry Bradshaw were struggling quarterbacks at Louisiana Tech in 1966 and '67. Ruined their lives, didn't it?
           My favorite blog topic, though, was the trip Beatrice and I made to The Netherlands (Holland, if you prefer). Got 14 blog pieces out of that one. It was that great a trip.
           The trip of a lifetime? I wouldn't say that; maybe that's still to come. The trip of my lifetime? Yes, because I again got to see those places familiar to me in my first eight years -- my old house and school, my old neighborhood, the trams, the Dam Square in Amsterdam, the beautiful canals. Revisited some of my family's history, visited the Rijksmuseum a week after it reopened after a 10-year renovation,  and tasted the Dutch foods I've always loved.
A visit to the beautiful Keukenhof Gardens
 was one of the many happy days in Holland.
           Plus, we went out in the country and saw places I'd never been and some I'd probably been but was too young to remember (such as The Hague). We did a five-day river cruise, heard more Dutch spoken than even I could handle, toured the flower fields, saw a magnificent concert at the Concertgebouw in  Amsterdam.
            And how lucky, we were there for history -- the first change in Holland's ruler in 33 years, the first king in 123 years.
            After we had booked our trip, Queen Beatrix announced she was abdicating the throne and that her son, Willem-Alexander, would become king on April 30 ... while we were in the country. We saw it all on television as it happened just a few miles away. The next day, we took a flight back to the U.S.
            We again have to thank our host Kitty, my dad's second cousin with whom we stayed in Zaandam, just outside Amsterdam; Peter and Patricia DeWeijs, the one-time Centenary basketball player (1977-78) and his wife who spent a day with us in The Hague area; and my terrific cousin, Heleen Kopuit-Borgenicht and her husband Jacky, who came from Antwerp to Amsterdam on a Sunday for an afternoon with us and drove us to my parents' old neighborhood. (Heleen was back home, too; her father was a newspaper editor/writer in Amsterdam and my mother's first cousin.)
              Don't know if I'll ever return to Holland; hope I do. But to be there this time, with Beatrice -- we'd never been there together -- was very special. The trip was her idea, after all.
               We also relished the six-week period in which we visited family in central Texas and then had some of that family -- including Bea's sister-in-law and niece -- stay a few days with us in Fort Worth. Plus our trip to Arkansas with our son Jason and his two boys where our daughter Rachel and her daughter met us for a weekend, and then Rachel and Josie came back to Fort Worth with us.  Nothing as good as family.
               But there was so much of the year to like. Being retired gave me time to read at least 20 books and listen to a half-dozen more on audio tapes during car trips -- Rachel introduced us to this. Our old book club broke up (the young people moved away), so we found a new one.
              We saw at least 20 movies -- in the theater, on TV (On Demand), the classics on First Sundays monthly at the Fort Worth Central Library. We went to the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra's Bass Hall pop concert series, jazz concerts at the Central Library, the Maverick Speaker Series at UT-Arlington, the Schieffer Symposium at TCU, the Fort Worth museums (yes, I did), the  Jubilee Theater.
               We again relished two seasons of Dancing With The Stars, and another season of Downton Abbey on PBS. We were fascinated when the new Pope, Francis I, emerged on March 13; he is Bea's Man of the Year. The PBS NewsHour remains at the top of our watching list, especially (Mark) Shields and (David) Brooks. PBS also gave us varied entertainment time.
                We took a trip to Aggieland (for LSU-A&M men's basketball) and got a tour of Kyle Field. We made it to one Dallas Mavericks game, via the Trinity Railway Express; I went to one Texas Rangers' game ... much easier to watch on TV.
                Bea was still into her Mavericks and then the NBA playoffs without them, so she adopted Pop and the Spurs. My baseball season didn't go well, much of it without Derek Jeter and with a subpar Yankees team. But Mariano Rivera gave us lots of thrills, including his farewell tour and final appearance. We said goodbye to Andy Pettitte, and hello again to Sori (Alfonso Soriano).
               I don't remember watching the World Series (because I didn't ... under protest).
               Sweated every game of the LSU football season; the Tigers always make it exciting. It's a lot of fun, and a lot of agony.
               We marveled again at two superstars -- Peyton Manning and Dirk Nowitzki (and his "Gameday" promo, which we've seen at least 523 times now). Happy about Kate and William's royal baby George in England.
               We got our car repaired (damaged left side) and, more importantly, got it paid off in full and received the title. Bea carefully nursed a Mother's Day gift from her daughter, a bonsai tree (still hanging in after seven months). A friend helped me get our wireless printer operating again, and I learned to scan photos and copies of my old stories (Mr. Technology).
               More in that line -- Rachel introduced us to Facetime ... in addition to the Skype we already had. So now we can see the grandkids online if we want to.
               I had a second colonscopy, which went well, and it was on Inauguration Day (our year went better than President Obama's).  We again attended the Van Thyn Professorship lecture at Centenary in Shreveport and Holocaust Remembrance Day ... good visits always.
                Had a Sports Illustrated subscription this year, for the first time in 10 years, but won't be renewing. Started receiving my pension from the McClatchy Co. and began drawing my Social Security (welcome to age 66).  My birthday and Father's Day fell on the same day, for the first time since 2002 (a neat double play).
                Had some more great crawfish boils, found Hawaiian Hazelnut coffee, and two good places to shop regularly (Sprouts Farmers Market and Trader Joe's).
               We did our almost daily dips in the apartment pool during the summer, best when our grandkids joined us. We watched our two boys at their swimming lessons, and watched our girl's artistic talent develop as her mother posted them on Facebook.
               We gladly reconnected with some old friends, went to Bea's hometown (Jamestown, La.) for a school reunion, to Shreveport for a 95th birthday party and to Plano for a traditional Jewish wedding, and loved all those events.
               Of course, there were the usual tough days -- the tragedy at the Boston Marathon,
losses of such national icons -- I'd say Stan "The Man" Musial and Fort Worth's own great Van Cliburn topped that list -- and our more personal ones, most notably Frank Thaxton and here at year's end, Frank's wife Ann (she was a Dutch woman who married an American soldier from Shreveport and they became among my parents' clostest friends), and J.W. Cook.
                Plus, the close of my dad's old place of business, the A.A. Gilbert Pipe & Supply yard, and the Barnes & Noble Bookstore right around the corner.
                What we liked most, of course, was watching our kids grow and develop in their jobs -- Ann and Jason's Cajun Tailgators food truck and now the new restaurant, son-in-law Russell taking charge of his radio sports talk show and Rachel the master of her middle-school library -- and seeing those grandkids learn so much and become such personalities.
                 It was a very good year. And as Pete Alfano, the old Brooklyn Dodgers' fan, knows so well: Wait till next year.
                Happy New Year to all of you.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Why all the anger?

      I'm going to write about anger because as our 4-year-old grandson says about the television remote at his house, "I am an expert at it."
      Anger has been part of my life for as long of the 66 years as I can remember. That's no secret; my family, friends, co-workers, some of the rest of the world know that. It's no great honor.
      It's been destructive, devastating, embarrassing, caused me more trouble than I ever could have imagined. Sometimes I used it as motivation, but that was rare.
      Who can explain it? What spurs the thought process, or lack of thought? Hours and hours of counseling, weeks, months of self-examination -- self-loathing -- provided some insight, and maybe age and retirement from work have eased some of the triggers.
      One of my goals the past couple of years has been to ease my anger, and I'm making progress.
      This is particularly so when it pertains to athletics -- my impatience (and sometimes downright fury) with the teams, players and coaches I favor. But even more importantly, much more importantly, I'm not as angry with my family, the people I love.
      I have someone who will vouch for this. She has been my biggest fan, and my biggest critic, for 37 years, and no one can push my anger trigger more quickly or more frequently. That works the other way, too; I can trigger her anger.
      But she's the one who has told me -- repeatedly -- that the world, and issues, are not black and white; there is much gray area, and much room to compromise. It's too much to expect perfection from family ... and from teams and players ... from people.
      (Just so you know: She is proofreading/editing this piece. I am publishing it because she approves the message.)
      So why am I writing this now, why this confessional? Because I am distressed at the negativity, the criticism, the downright anger I see in my world. I see it on TV, I hear it in public, and moreso I see it on Facebook. It leaves me feeling sad.
      Which is why I enjoyed Wednesday, Christmas Day, because Facebook was nothing but positive. And still I couldn't escape.
      I was out on my daily walk, going through a nearly empty section of the University Village Shopping Center parking lot, except for one car. I noticed a young girl, a teenager, slowly walking away and then plopping down on a nearby grassy area ... and she was crying.
      Closeby, where the car was parked, a couple was arguing loudly. I didn't come too close. But in a minute, I saw the man walking toward the girl, yelling, and then I heard her screaming at him. Brought back some unpleasant memories.
      And I walked away from there in tears. It made me think -- again -- about anger. My anger. The world's anger. Writing about it, expressing my feelings.
      I have been among the "haters" in sports -- the arch-rivals of my teams, the players/coaches I despised on those teams, and other sports figures/issues I hated. Now, in my new "maturity" (go ahead and laugh), I see how pointless it is. What a waste of time and energy.
      Look, I'm not going to root for Alabama, Ole Miss, the Red Sox, Orioles, Redskins, Eagles, Giants, Heat or Lakers, the German soccer team. I only really root for my teams. And there are athletes I don't approve of. But I'm just not into "hating" anymore.
      On Facebook, I have seen in the past couple of months more "hate" toward the Dallas Cowboys and, say, Alabama than I care to see. Just this week, there was a sarcastic Christmas greeting for Tony Romo (concerning his back injury) and Jerry Jones that I thought was distasteful.
      I get very frustrated with Romo, and his tendency to screw up in big moments, and I repeatedly have bashed Jerry Jones' ownership -- and more, his general managership. But hate? No, no.
      I feel sorry for the Cowboys' players and for the fans because of Jerry's foolish statements and personnel moves and because the coaches, apparently, are always one Jerry thought away from being fired. As if changing coaches or coordinators, time and again, makes a difference for this team.
      But I don't like the anger I see directed at the Cowboys on Facebook. Saints fans don't have to be jealous anymore.
      Sure I want to see my teams win ... every year. Feels good when it happens. But it's just athletics. In the grand scheme, it's not that important.
      In the real world, I see Facebook posts that are angry about personal setbacks -- job losses, bad breaks, illness, poor service at restaurants, illness/sickness -- and I think most are ill-placed, people just venting or looking for sympathy. Prayer requests for serious physical problems, personal or family, yes, that's  understandable. But people just (pardon the harsh word) bitching ... don't need it.
      It bothers me more, and I have written this before, to see the criticism of the President, of the new health care law, of Congress, of politics in general. Criticism is often valid, but what I see is rancor, spite, meanness.
      My wife reminds me this is nothing new; it was directed -- in full fury -- at the previous two Presidents who served two terms apiece.
      So many people are just so angry. The personal attacks, the belittling posts, are so frequent.
Phil Robertson: He's made a lot of people
angry, whether he meant to or not.
(photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images)
     What are these posts trying to prove? That there's a difference of opinion? That there's a stalemate out there? That there is ineptness? Heck, we know all that.
      Now, that brings me to this recent controversy: Phil Robertson's views on homosexuality and, to a lesser extent, race, and the A&E network suspending him from Duck Dynasty.
       As I wrote in my previous blog, I find it all stupid and sad. So are the many, many, many Facebook posts I've seen.
      Agree or disagree, we all have the right to our opinion. But no question -- Phil has made so many people angry with his expressed views, and so many people are angry about the actions of A&E, Crackel Barrel, the LGBT groups, etc.
      Anger everywhere. And, well, some of what I see I consider bigotry.
      My opinion: Phil is a public figure, so there is going to be a strong reaction. This comes with celebrity.
      I don't believe this anger is what Phil intended. I hope not. But so be it. And Facebook, unfortunately in my view, is one venue where that anger can be expressed.
      People don't have to like the comments or the suspension. But the Robertsons aren't going broke; the show isn't folding, nor is the network. So why are people so upset?
      I could "unfriend" people from Facebook -- I've done it, but not often -- or I could drop Facebook altogether. But I like a lot of what I see, and I prefer to keep friends, and add some.
      What I choose to do is not be angry, try to be accepting of all viewpoints, try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.
      I do have my opinions, and my prejudices ... and I still, unfortunately, have my moments of anger. But I'm trying every day to understand myself and understand my world, and be as non-judgemental and patient and accepting -- and not hateful -- as I can.
      I try to deal with only what I can control. The rest of it? Let it go.

Friday, December 20, 2013

It's Christmas; we should be joyful

     Our girl loves Christmas time, and she always has. Now, so does her girl, our Josie.
     Rachel got it honestly, from her mother, who even when Rachel was little was eager to have her help decorate the tree. Of course, Rachel's favorite part was checking -- and re-checking -- the packages that gradually stacked up under that tree.
      Now we also have two little guys -- Jacob and Kaden -- who are quick to get into the Christmas spirit. And we'll be delivering their gifts Sunday.
      Opa -- that's me -- for many years was not much of a Christmas person. But with the influence of Beatrice, Jason and Rachel, it's grown on me. So today I decided to write a blog piece about Christmas.
      I was going to write on the Phil Robertson/Duck Dynasty controversy; in fact, I did write a piece to tell you some things about Phil's views you might not realize. Oh, relax, it's not what you might think. This is about athletics, not what everyone's talking about.
      Don't know about you, but, hey, I've had enough of it (didn't take much; Facebook is full of posts with people choosing sides). Don't want to go there. Decided I did not want to publish what I'd written; don't want to touch the controversy. I'll just say it's stupid and sad -- all of it.
      (If you want to see what I wrote, I'll be glad to send you a copy; I'm not going to make it public.)

Freddie the elf and Tinker Bell
      This is Christmas week, and I want to feel good about the world and the holidays.
      And mostly my daughter and my wife -- and their Christmas joy make it that way. Rachel each year is eager to buy their tree (I'm sure Russell is just as eager) and get it decorated, and now she has Josie to help her.
       Plus, Rachel a few years ago purchased one of the familiar Freddie the elf figures -- the elf on the shelf -- and he appears daily somewhere in their house. Josie loves it, and the last two times we've done Facetime with them, she was quick to show us where Freddie was -- literally -- hanging out that day.
        (If you check the accompanying photo Rachel posted on Facebook, it appears that Freddie might be making a move on Tinker Bell. I'm just sayin' ...)
        When our kids were growing up, Bea and I had a tree every year. The year I met Bea, in 1976, she and Jason, then 2 going on 3, had a little tree in their apartment. When they moved in with me, the tree came with them.
          It was, I guarantee you, my first Christmas tree. My mother called it a Chanukah bush, of course.
          When my sister (Elsa) and I were kids, we didn't know much about Christmas. In Holland, Saint Nicholas -- Sinterklaas -- Day was Dec. 6; that's when we got the presents. That, and on the eight days of Chanukah. For every day that we lit the candles, we received a present -- some big, some small. But eight days worth.
           That beat the one-day Christmas rush. By the time, almost every other kid in our neighborhood got their Christmas presents, we were done for a week or two. (Each year we also received a chocolate letter -- in my case "N" -- ordered from Holland; it's a Dutch tradition, and it carried on until a couple of years ago. Without my mother, it's not quite the same.)                      
            Bea and I didn't have a Christmas tree this year because we don't have the kids and grandkids coming here. In fact, we got into the Chanukah spirit a little by attending the annual dinner and program at the Beth-El Congregation (reform synagogue), a few miles from our apartment here in Fort Worth.
            But we're still Christmas-ing, too. We love the Christmas-related Facebook posts -- Rachel just today posted photos of the librarian's shirt and book she received ("thank you, Mommy," she wrote); and we love the Christmas music.
             We've been playing our Christmas CDs each day; for the past six years, our friend Ron Nierman has sent us a Christmas CD he put together, two dozen songs on each one. Not bad for a Jewish guy and music aficionado.
              My favorite Christmas songs: Any version of Silent Night, but especially Barbra Streisand's (see, we keep the Jewish theme going); Feliz Navidad, by Jose Feliciano; and A Holly Jolly Christmas by Mr. Burl Ives (that's for you, Dan Fleser). But most any tune will do for me.
              I think Josie likes Rudolph. Who doesn't?
              We are thankful for all the Christmas cards we receive, can hardly wait each day to see what comes in. What a thrill to receive cards in recent days from Ann Thaxton and Lou Gwin, two very special ladies in Shreveport who were such long and great friends to my parents.
               Look forward, too, to the Christmas meal(s), hoping to avoid eating too much, too many sweets. We'll be getting together with some of our oldest, dearest friends from Shreveport on Sunday at Ann and Jason's new Cajun Tailgators cafe in historic downtown Plano (we highly recommend it).

My daughter sent me this blanket -- a
surprise gift for Christmas.
              And, of course, the gifts. What a joy it is to watch the kids -- well, the adults -- be surprised at what they receive. I used to cringe at the abundance of gifts Bea would get for our kids, a little too much I always thought. I was wrong ... but you knew that, didn't you?
              I was never a good gift buyer (or receiver, for that matter). Bea knew what to get everyone, and Rachel and Jason learned from her.
              Three days a package came in the mail for me -- from Rachel -- and when I opened it, I knew right away it was a blanket wrap. We don't really need another blanket wrap ... but when I unfolded this one, it said "NEW YORK (huge interlocked NY logo)  Yankees." Quite a surprise.
              Rachel found it at the school where she is the media-center (library) specialist; the person who bought it -- on a cold night at Yankee Stadium -- didn't want it. Think Rachel didn't know the right person for it?
               Goes very well with my navy blue shirt with that same NY logo on it and "Mantle 7" on the back that a friend brought me from Cooperstown -- the Baseball Hall of Fame.
               So I have my special gifts for Christmas, although I think my wife, kids and grandkids are my everyday special gifts.
                It's the most wonderful time of the year, the happiest season of all. Have yourself a merry little Christmas, and happy holidays from the Van Thyns.    

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Saban-to-Texas? Didn't see it, don't see it

Nick Saban: the most talked-about coach in America (USA Today photo)
       Now that Nick Saban is the University of Texas head football coach and has begun work on his 10-year, $10 million-a-year contract ...
       Oh, that didn't happen? But so many people told me it would, assured me it was a done deal.
       And here is what I said anytime anyone brought it (and that happened so often since mid-September that I am sick of the subject): I'll believe it when I see it.
       Didn't see it then, don't see it now.
       This is an "I told you so" piece. I told you, I told everyone, I didn't believe it would happen. Thank you.
       What I did see was the most hysterical, most overblown feeding frenzy about a coaching situation that I can ever remember. Nothing in my 55 years of following sports in America has ever been speculated about more.
       In my world, the only situation to rival it was the speculation of who would replace Tom Landry as the Dallas Cowboys' coach. That was talked about during his final few seasons when the then-majority owner of the team, H.R. "Bum" Bright, was disenchanted with The Man in The Hat's coaching, the Cowboys were declining, Landry wasn't going to quit, and team president/general manager Tex Schramm wasn't about to fire him.
       That went on for a couple of years. But the stuff didn't really hit the fan until after Jerry Jones swooped into to buy the team -- with very little advance notice in the media -- and replaced Coach Tom with Jimmy Johnson. Then the backlash was enormous.
       But this Mack Brown-out/Saban-in business was blown up well before anything happened ... and perhaps without any substance.
       Everywhere -- TV sports talk shows, radio sports talk shows, newspaper stories, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, my personal e-mail and conversations -- people had Brown fired (some sooner than later) and Saban leaving Alabama for Texas.
       It really did get to the point that I stopped reading the speculation, and I told people that I didn't want to think about it or discuss it anymore. I refrained from writing a blog piece about it because there was so much out there already.
       Hey, I could speculate, but I guarantee you I didn't know any more than any of the so-called "experts," especially those who reported that publicly that, yes, Saban was going to be the next Texas coach.
       The line of people who said that or reported that -- including my old buddies at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram -- could stretch from Tuscaloosa to Austin and included some "who are never wrong about UT athletics."
       But the only way to really know is to hear it from Saban himself and, of course, he was only "focused" on the job he has now and the next game.
       So all the speculation, all the talk -- Mrs. Saban was house-shopping in Austin, Nick could not turn down $10 million a year, Mack was going to be fired after the bad-looking losses to BYU and Ole Miss in September -- in my view, that was all B.S.
       Yes, I know all the arguments were sound -- that Texas is the premier job in the country, that it has the most resources, its own TV network, the most fertile recruiting area, a great city (Austin) that makes Tuscaloosa look remote (well, it is, isn't it?), that it could better any financial deal Alabama can give Saban, etc., etc.
        But it just didn't make sense to me. Saban is already the highest-paid coach in the country, his staff is stable and well-paid, he has all he needs to win national championships -- and he's only won three of the last five there, with great prospects of more to come.
        Alabama is kicking everyone's butt, except its biggest rival, Auburn. And it took a great effort by Auburn, and a once-in-a-century, 99-yard return of a missed field-goal attempt for that to happen. So why would Saban leave a place where almost everything is going his way. He has all the power he could ever need.
        Maybe the challenge of winning a national title at yet another school could have been motivation, maybe he did indeed want a $10 million-a-year job. But you know, the $7.5 million Alabama is about to pay him isn't a bad deal.
        And at age 62, starting over, isn't all that desirable. Then there's a human element -- the moving itself (take it from someone who's moved 14 times in 36 years of marriage). There's family involved -- a wife, kids -- and the coaching staff's families. It's not easy, no matter how much money.
        When he agreed to his new contract with Alabama last week, Saban said he never considered the Texas job because for one thing it wasn't open ... yet. I find that believable, but then I heard a friend say it was "shameful" the way Texas officials handled this situation.
        What Texas officials actually? Mack Brown wasn't talking, other than about the team he was coaching. The outgoing Texas AD and incoming Texas AD weren't ready to discuss it. But here is where the speculation/frenzy/hysteria started, with a Sept. 19 Associated Press report: http://collegefootball.ap.org/article/apnewsbreak-texas-regent-talked-sabans-agent            
        Let's consider the sources for the story: UT Board of Regents member Wallace Hall of Dallas and former Texas Rangers/Stars owner Tom Hicks, also a former UT Board of Regents member whose brother Steve is still on that board.
        Hall told an Associated Press writer that he spoke with Saban's agent, Jimmy Sexton, about the job a few days after last year's national championship game won by Alabama, and that Sexton then spoke by phone to the Hicks brothers about Saban's possible interest.
        Hall's feud with UT-Austin campus president Bill Powers (who has close ties with Brown) was public knowledge, and Hall was being accused of misusing open records laws to force Powers out of office.    
        If you followed Tom Hicks' ownership with the Stars and Rangers for a decade, you know how publicity- and power-hungry he is, and what financial shambles he left for those two franchises.
        So if those are creditable sources for the Saban/Texas connection ... oh, wow.
        I am not arguing that a football coaching change isn't a good thing for Texas. Mack Brown, in my opinion (and most people's, I think), has been a class act and he was a big winner, the Longhorns were national champions once and contenders often.
        But there is slippage, that's obvious from the records the past four years and the things that happen -- injuries, transfers, bad breaks/calls during games, etc. -- that make a contender a pretender. (Cowboys fans have known this feeling for about as long as Brown was at UT.)
        Give Mack and his staff and his players credit for fighting back this season and going to the final game with a chance to win the Big 12 title and a BCS bowl berth. Didn't happen, but they didn't quit like so many of the Texas faithful quit on Mack and the team.
        However, 8-4 and second place in the Big 12 isn't what the Orangebloods think they should have. It is, after all, the University of Texas.
        Maybe Mack was "forced" to resign, or was truthful when he said he'd been told he could stay on but felt it was in UT's best interest to step aside. Whatever, the job is now open -- and Saban isn't taking it.
        So who will be the consolation winner? Seems as if the next Texas coach is destined for that tag, unless he can come in and instantly elevate the program to where Texas fans believe it should be (which means where Alabama is now).
        Saban is a "superstar" coach and the only guys in college football I would put there with him right now are Steve Spurrier and -- maybe, grudgingly -- Urban Meyer.
        You'd think the Longhorns and this job would attract a huge name. But that isn't their history. Think about it. Even Darrell Royal wasn't a "huge name" in 1957, nor were the UT coaches who followed him -- Fred Akers, David McWilliams, John Mackovic, even Mack Brown in late 1997. They'd all had some success, but they weren't "home run hitters" at their hiring.
        This time, because college football's salary structure has gone out of sight, because of all the big money and the media exposure, Texas is looking for a home run. And because of the Longhorn Network, it could use a media-savvy type, too (like Mack Brown).
        What we learned a long time ago is these coaches -- who are supposed to be such as honest and often personable guys and leaders of young men -- are typically not forthcoming about job opportunities. They'll sidestep or deny the speculation.
        Saban? We all remember his Dec. 21, 2006 statement to the media: "I guess I have to say it; I'm not going to be the Alabama coach." Just a flat-out misleading statement (I hate to use the word "lie").
        Now he keeps repeating his total commitment to Alabama and that this will be his last coaching job.
        But I hear people saying, and I keep reading, that he's still a possibility at Texas because these long-term contracts are as flimsy as the paper they're printed on, because buyout clauses really don't stop anyone from making a move they want to make.
        So, yes, until Texas names its new coach, Saban could still be the guy. And I'll stick with my premise: I'll believe when I see it. I'll be glad when all the talk is over, though.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Book this: Closing this store is wrong

Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/2013/09/06/5140153/barnes-noble-to-close-two-stores.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

This cold spell isn't cool

The "cool" view from our apartment ... and this is after it thawed a little.
       We are in the fifth day of our ice-age spell here in Fort Worth and the Metroplex area and I'll be frank: I don't like it.
        Don't like cold weather, period, but especially not here in the Deep South.
        Never have liked cold weather, although my first 8 1/2 years were spent in Amsterdam, where the weather is pretty chilly for much longer than any other place I've lived. But I don't remember it bothering me all that much as a kid.
         However, it did bother my mother, who lived in Amsterdam for most of her first 35 years. She hated cold weather; I can't put it any other way. So when we moved to the United States in early 1956, to Shreveport and the Deep South, the weather suited her fine.
           (It is a wonder how my mother, with her tiny body ravaged by almost 2 1/2 years in a concentration camp, survived a couple of weeks wandering the Polish forest when she was turned loose from Auschwitz. That was in the middle of winter, and those Holocaust survivors didn't have much clothing and no shoes. But that is another story for another time.)
           Back to this past week in Fort Worth. We have ice and snow here before, maybe once a year, and it usually goes away in a day or two, and then we're back to 60-50s degrees during the day.
           This is the longest extended period of cold -- ice -- we've had since we moved here a dozen years ago. The temperature has hardly climbed above freezing. Strangely, we haven't seen any snow, although we heard some people say that there had been flurries in town, and in Dallas and Arlington.
           We spent three days practically house-bound, only  left for an hour or so a day in the apartment exercise room, and the roads finally cleared enough Monday for us to go grocery shopping -- and we needed to because our regular supplies were running low.
             Driving still wasn't easy -- the bridges were a challenge -- and that's the point here in the Deep South. We don't know how to deal with this stuff.
              People who live in areas where snow and ice are commonplace in winter know how it works, know how to handle it. Maintenance crews keep the road in good enough shape, and most people can handle their cars so that it's fairly safe.
             I have a friend from Shreveport who lives in New York City and reported on Facebook this morning that he was looking at a "whiteout," adding the comment, "Wow, it's really coming down!"
             Another friend, from Minden, La., who now lives in Kentucky and is working in Louisville this week, wrote me and said, " ... It is snowing now. Of course, this is a way of life here in the winter."
             Also saw a picture of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram sports crew covering the Cowboys' game at frigid Soldier Field in Chicago on Monday night. My old buddies looked out of their element.
             (Football in that kind of cold, on ice or snowy fields, is not my idea of fun. Don't even like watching them. There is nothing fair about the Ice Bowl in Green Bay, or the AFC title game in Cincinnati all those years ago, or Sunday's Lions-at-Eagles game in a blizzard in Philadelphia. And what if the coming Super Bowl game in the Meadowlands is like this?)
             My sister, also an Amsterdam native, lived in Louisiana until shortly after she married my brother-in-law, who is from New York. They have lived in the North for more than three decades, so Elsa is a converted cold-weather person. I don't think it bothers her like it did my mother ... or me.
             Sure, we got the occasional snow in Shreveport when I was young. When Beatrice, the kids and I moved to Jacksonville, Fla., in 1988, an ice storm hit just a couple of months after we arrived. Same when we moved to Knoxville, Tenn., in the fall of 1995, we got snowed into our neighborhood for four days a couple of months later.
              We did get several snows in Knoxville per year -- and it's kind of beautiful if you're trying to drive through the Great Smoky Mountains area, as we once did. You'd think we would have adjusted to that type weather. But, no. In fact, one of my worst nights there was when, driving home on I-40/I-75 in  snowy/icy conditions,  I was involved in about a 10-car chain wreck.
              Long story short, I skidded into a car in front of me -- got too close, didn't realize the brakes wouldn't hold -- and then got rammed from behind. And then, making it worse, I tried to pull out ... and hit a police car. Oh, that cop was not happy.
              (That wasn't my worst driving faux pas in Knoxville. On a night with flash floods in the area, I "drowned" my nice red Jeep Cherokee in knee-high water. And that's all I want to say about that.)
              Let's just say that driving in snow, or on ice, ranks pretty low on my list of things I have to do. I think I have plenty of company in this area.
              Airline cancellations and loss of power because of weather are problems everywhere, of course, but it's worse here in the Deep South because it happens so seldom.
              Here, at the first report of snow and/or ice coming in, we shut down. Schools are closed; so are many stores, and libraries, and churches. The TV and radio stations are obsessed -- obligated? -- to provide every weather detail they can offer. 
             Our world is practically paralyzed, and this week has been a nightmare of sorts. It's beginning to thaw some today and for the first time in five days, I went out and took my daily walk on the nearby streets, stepping very carefully to avoid the ice patches.
             I much prefer walking the neighborhood to an hour walking the treadmill in the exercise room. I have one word for the treadmill: boring. Good workout, though.
            However, freezing temperatures tonight means that all that slush on the roads might be ice again tomorrow. And there are reports of another ice storm moving in this weekend.
              I'm not sure. But as I'm writing this -- and I'm wrapped in a blanket, as I have been for most of five days -- it is almost 5 p.m. and I need to shut it down, so I can go watch the weather on the local TV stations.
              Get used to cold, the snow and the ice? That'll never happen. Call me a weather wimp -- it's true.
               Our high temp today was 38, which was 20 degrees below "normal," and we went down to 18 last night, which was too close to the record low for this date.
               Hey, at this point, I'll settle for 40-degree weather. Forecasts are that it might get to 50 by Friday, which is a little more like it.
              You guys up north, you can have this stuff. We've had enough. Now, I know there are more blankets somewhere in this apartment.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Go for two and go for the win; it takes guts

Auburn's higher power, and the game-ending return, saved us from overtime.
(photo by Amanda Sowards/Associated Press)
      This is about football, and coaches who go for it. Especially those coaches who have their team go for the two-point PAT at the end of a game -- win or lose on one play.
      More power to them, win or lose. Even if they come up short, they shouldn't be second-guessed. At least -- and Michigan coach Brady Hoke is the latest example, last Saturday against Ohio State -- they went for it, and didn't settle for overtime.
       The scenario: Score a late touchdown, one point behind. The choice: Kick a PAT and almost certainly go into overtime, or go for two points and upset the No. 2-ranked team in the country.
       Didn't work out for the Wolverines, but bless 'em for trying.
       It's terrific when any coach does it, the all-in gamble. Only see it done a couple of times a season.
       It's even better if it's on a fake PAT kick or a trick play, such as Boise State's Statue of Liberty handoff that beat Oklahoma in overtime in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
       And the history of this for me, of course, is LSU and Coach Paul Dietzel going for two near the end of the game at Tennessee in 1959 when the Tigers were defending national champions with a 19-game winning streak. Billy Cannon's run came up short -- at least that's what the officials ruled -- and LSU lost 14-13 despite dominating the Vols all day.
       Even in defeat, it was one of Dietzel's finest moments at LSU. He had his team go for it.
       Les Miles' legacy might be his bold decisions, such as the 5-for-5 conversions on fourth-down plays against Florida in 2007. LSU fans know their guy will go for it. But we'll have to see if he ever makes the end-of-game, two-point PAT call.
       Anyone who's heard me get on the soapbox about overtime in American football knows I am no fan of it. At least not in the regular season, at any level -- high school, college, NFL. I just believe, and have always believed, that it's OK to have tie games.
       (In September 1984, when we worked for the Shreveport Journal, John James Marshall and I had a pro-con column debate about overtime in high school football. I was, uh, the con guy.)
       Because I adapt well in this world, John James and the rest of you will be pleased to know that it's 29 years later and I still don't think overtime is necessary in the regular season.
       The playoffs, yes. You have to have some kind of tiebreaker for the state playoffs, or for the BCS title game (but not necessarily for the other bowl games) and for the NFL playoffs.
       Through the years, I have come to like the college format which has each team taking possession at the 25-yard line and I think the NFL tiebreaker is much better now that each team is assured at least one possession.
        But I still think the high school format, which gives each team possession of the ball at the 10-yard line, is far too easy. In a change from 29 years ago, though, I think it's better than the old most first downs/penetrations tiebreaker.
       I also feel -- and this might be un-American, as the Auburn athletic director would suggest -- that some teams and games are just meant to be tied ... in the regular season. Just figure the ties into the standings. It's not that difficult.
       They still do that in the NFL, if a 15-minute overtime doesn't break a tie. Happened in a game just a couple of weeks ago.
        Yes, my opinions might be a throwback to my European soccer roots where tie games are routine and acceptable. 
        In my opinion, penalty-kick shootouts in soccer -- especially at the World Cup or European Championships level, or in Major League Soccer , but also even in college or high school -- are the worst things in sports. I refuse to watch them.
         If I was in charge of soccer -- and last time I looked I wasn't -- at the end of games tied after regulation and then a 30-minute overtime, I would change the format to (1) take one player off the field for each side every 5 minutes and/or (2) eliminate the offside rule. You'd have a winning goal pretty quickly.
         But it's soccer, so who among my friends really cares?
         I was OK with ties in the National Hockey League regular-season before the days of overtime and then shootouts (just an unnecessary addition). In the Stanley Cup playoffs, if a game is tied after three periods, they just play on until someone scores. That's great.
        Overtime in basketball and extra innings in baseball are more natural because the format of play does not have to be altered. Sure, it can be taxing on the players if games go on and on, but at least it's still basketball and baseball. They don't settle them with free-throw shooting or home-run contests.
        Back to American football, not the world's football. As I said, some games should be ties.    
        For instance, the LSU-at-Alabama showdown two years ago when they were No. 2 and No. 1 ranked in the country. A 6-6 tie that night, such as it was at the end of regulation, seemed right.
        It was that way because Alabama missed four field goals and LSU's Eric Reed made a fabulous interception of a Bama pass that looked as if it was going to be a touchdown. But those teams, and those defenses, were so evenly matched. Seemed a shame to settle in an overtime.
         So they settled it two months later in a national-championship game, which was appropriate because they were the best two teams in the country.
         Now, about two teams evenly matched and coaches going for it, how about Auburn and Alabama last Saturday? If it had ended 28-28, it would've been a statement on how well each of them played that day.
         And while I'm all for the coach who chooses to go for the two-point conversion -- and the win (or loss) -- near the end of regulation or in an OT period, obviously Auburn coach Gus Malzahn's choice to take the tying PAT kick with 32 seconds remaining looks great now.
         He could have settled it right then and had his team go for two, and a 29-28 lead. But he took the easy route.
         This is my biggest objection: Coaches aren't forced to make that really hard win/lose decision, the choice they're paid millions to make. They can simply opt for the tying PAT, and extend the game or the overtime.
         It's the bold coach -- the guy with some guts -- who plays for the win.
         In this case, Auburn has a higher power going for it this season -- its patented last-minute miracle finish. Gus must've known that, must've known that Alabama's 57-yard field-goal try would be short and wide right, and Auburn's return guy would carry it 109 yards to the other end zone.
         Happens all the time.
         Give Malzahn credit and give Nick Saban and his staff credit, though, for "going for it" several times. Alabama threw passes when it was backed up to its 2- and 1-yard lines, once for a first down and the next time for an incredible 99-yard touchdown play. Auburn went for it on 4th-and-1 from its 35 -- and Alabama stopped the play short.  Three minutes later, Saban decided to go for it on 4th-and-1 at the Auburn 13, and the Auburn defense did its job.
          That's the play Saban should be second-guessed on, passing up a 30-yard field-goal attempt ... even with three previous field-goal misses. He couldn't explain that away, especially with his reasoning that his freshman kicker inserted for the last long try hits 'em from 60 yards away in practice and Bama had the wind at its back.
          Then why not have him try the 30-yarder instead of the other kicker who was having the same miserable game he had against LSU two years ago?
          No, not even the great Saban is right all the time. I'll give you an example -- LSU at Arkansas, 2002 -- when he took the easy way out near the end of the game, settling for a field goal (giving LSU a six-point lead) instead of a first down that would've clinched the victory. It took Arkansas two passes to go 80 yards and score the tying TD in front of the winning PAT kick.
          Sometimes coaches go for it and their teams fail; sometimes they take easy street -- and still fail.
          Sometimes, as Malzahn proved last week, you can delay the one-play win/lose option, kick the tying PAT and wait for victory to come some other way.
          He was lucky, and so were we. The game didn't go overtime.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Working in the mines

(13th in a series)
         It wasn't exactly a consolation prize that my Dad went to work in Jawischowitz, a sub-camp to the famed Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, but it beat a couple of alternatives.
         One, he was alive, even to take the grueling 10-mile or so walk that he described in the previous installment of this series. Two, it took him out of the main camp, where thousands and thousands of Nazi prisoners were systematically eliminated -- many on the day they arrived.
The Jawischowitz coal mine entrance
 (photo from tiergartenstrasse4.org)
         So perhaps he felt as if the immediate danger was a bit less being at Jawischowitz. In fact, after he was returned to the main camp after a few months, he volunteered -- I guess that's the word for it -- to return to the coal mine.
         I could add a bit of levity here and say that I have this in common with Loretta Lynn and Mickey Mantle -- my dad was a coal miner. (That probably won't mean anything to my Dutch friends, who might not be familiar with those American celebrities.)
         But this isn't a subject for levity, is it?
         In the many years after he became a Holocaust survivor, Dad (Louis Van Thyn) kept a positive attitude toward life. He really was happy to be here, to be able to have the second chance the rest of his original family didn't get. And he even looked at Jawischowitz as a positive.
          "I started working in the night shift in the coal mines," he told the interviewer in his taped 1996 USC Holocaust testimony.  "Now the night shift was a different shift als [from] the day shift. The night shift was much better than the day shift ... well, you say better.
          "The night shift did the repair work in the coal mines. They did all the extensions from the railroad in the mines, the air ducts. The two day shifts, they shoveled coal all day in the back, they had to work eight hours. We got breaks all the time, you know, om dat [because] it was not a steady job and there was lots less men in the night shift than in the day shift."
          If you knew my Dad, or listened to him, you know his broken English was sprinkled with Dutch words. In this piece, I am leaving in some of the Dutch for effect and because I had to look up the translation. Such as the word "straf," which means punishment or penalty.
          And here's why. Because, as Dad explained in the testimony, "I worked [in the mine] for about a month and one morning I was called out and put in a straf commando. I find that out later, after three days I find out that was a mistake.
          "I had to work on a railroad; I was a special straf commando, and there were two kapos [the trustee inmates the Nazis used to oversee their fellow prisoners) over there. And one kapo came later on -- I talk later with him -- to our camp. I know their names nog [still] -- Otto and Bill, I nimmer [never] forget dat [that]."
          So Dad was able to convince them that he was in the wrong place.
           "I could tell somebody that I was put up in there; they had the wrong number," he explained. "There was one [person] that wasn't working right, and they took my number, the wrong number. For my lucky break, somebody report it, and I was back in the coal mine again."
          And back in the coal mine, he became in effect a railroad worker. Part of the Nazi plan was to build roads and railways to transport the materials coming out of the mines for the war effort.
         "I was working on the railroad," Dad said. "[We] put a new railroad together there. We were with 20 men, and they [the guards] were hitting, and they were real rough with us. Real rough. And it was not the SS; [this] was the German inmates. They had the lead over there."
          Then, it was back to where he started. Unfortunately, it would not last.
           "But they put me back in the coal mines again," Dad said, "and I worked there about six months. ... We saw every day changing people; they were killing [prisoners] over there [in the gas chambers at Auschwitz], and we had to work in the camp again. But the night shift was a little better all the time.
          "Then they took 25 men one morning. They said 25 men have to go on the side, and we were sent back naar [to] Auschwitz. The 25 men were all diamond cutters from Antwerp. They were planning -- and that is what they were telling us -- to go back to Auschwitz and from there sent back to a camp in Germany and go start working on diamonds."
         It wasn't the truth. It was the usual Nazi deception.
        "We were sent back on a truck to Auschwitz and came in the tailor shop in Block One," Dad said. "There I find out what happened in Auschwitz itself met [with] the crematorium and gas chambers. We saw many Dutch men in Auschwitz."
        Asked about his family already being in Auschwitz, he answered, "Yeah, I find that out. Maar [but] I nimmer [never] find where. I find some cousins from my brother's [family]; he was married, and I find a cousin. After I was there a while, we saw some more Dutch transports coming in, and we find things out what happened in Holland. Maar [but] nobody knows what happened with the people.
       "Maar in Auschwitz itself, if you were sick ... in the coal mines, people were being sent back; there were muselmanns [camp prisoners on the verge of death], they were sent back to Auschwitz. They said they went to the sick barracks; that's all what we know."
         The interviewer: How did he know that his family had been in Auschwitz?
        "We knew that already in Malines [the Belgian holding camp]," he said. "There were people there who knew my family ... and they told us they were already sent to Auschwitz before I came back to Malines. And I think we got a letter."
          Interviewer: When you came to Auschwitz, did you think you would find them, you were going to be reunited?
          "No, no," Dad answered. "I find already out there was not much hope over there, that there were people alive. You not saw much people over there at all. You not saw the children; there were no women over there. The first women [were] in Block 10. They came net [just] in ... a week or two weeks before I was sent to the second camp."
            But instead of being sent to Germany [remember, Auschwitz was in Poland], he remained in the main Auschwitz camp. 
            "We find out we [are] not going to be diamond cutting, and they put us in outside commando," Dad recalled, "and we had to work on a street or something outside the camp but still inside the electric fence. We were with three boys, three friends of mine, all from Antwerp, and we stayed together all the time. And we were all sent back."
             Also, they worked inside in the tailor shop in Block One.
           "Block One was the best barrack in Auschwitz," Dad said (again the positive view). "There were 22 barracks, and that was the best one was that want [because] they were all tailors, and they were sitting inside. Now they [the Nazis] did some things, too, in that tailor shop. If somebody did something bad, you had to take a little stool and sit on your knees -- like the catcher here in baseball -- and sit for an hour or two. But I nimmer [never] had to do that."
             Then, another "break," a chance to leave the dismal, devastating days in Auschwitz.
            "One day that we were in the outside commando, in October 1943, they asked us if we wanted to go to a coal mine, if there were volunteers," Dad said. "And we were working already in the coal mines, and I say, I take that job.
           "You know, you took gambling [gambles]. And we were sent on a truck, after we were finished in Auschwitz."
            Dad called the second camp Janina. The official name, according to the Auschwitz-Birkenau web site, was Janigagrube, located in Libiaz, Poland --  but it is also referred to as the Janina mine, and the work camp was established in September 1943.
           It was liberated in January 1945. So was Dad. But there's more to tell before we get to that point.
           Next: The second mining camp