Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 was blessed for us ... Happy New Year

      In preparation to write this year-end wrapup, I had to consult my daily gratitude journal to review the highlights of our 2014. That was fun, and I'll get to some of that in a moment, but I can sum it up: We had a blessed year.
     Didn't need to look up the date of the best day of the year. That was Sept. 19 -- my mother's birthdate and the day Eli Smith -- our fourth grandchild -- was born.
Rachel posted this on Facebook on Tuesday
     That was a "wow" day, a nervous day for me, but what a thrill when Rachel, just a few minutes after delivering beautifully and surprisingly quickly, posted the first photo of Eli on Facebook with Bea and me looking at it while sitting in the waiting room. "There he is!" I exclaimed.  
     It was a joy, too, to see older sister Josie, then about to turn 7, come bouncing into the hospital room a couple of hours later with the Smith grandparents and take her turn holding Mr. Eli. They've made a great pair these past three-plus months, and Josie -- as she reminds us -- can read. Plus, she's writing books and magazines (I'm not kidding).
     But we get just as much joy -- and laughs -- from our first two grandsons. This year we watched them in swimming lessons and play on soccer teams for the first time, and Jacob went to kindergarten and Kaden gets into all kinds of mischief -- and keeps smiling.
     Obviously, those kids and their parents are what make every year wonderful for us. But there's so much more. We enjoy our lives as senior citizens here in Fort Worth.
     And before I go further, I am going to announce that we intend to get younger next year. (More on that at the end.)
     We attended a half-dozen entertaining Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Pops Series concerts at Bass Hall; among the best, the music of John Williams and then Marvin Hamlisch. But the highlight was Bea's favorites (and birthday present), the Gala with world-class cellist Yo-Yo Ma. We went to Sundance Square for a Van Cliburn Tribute on the one-year anniversary of his death.
     We went to UT-Arlington for Maverick Speaker Series sessions featuring Anderson Cooper, James Carville and Mary Matalin, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Nina Totenberg, Bill Rasmussen. Plus, there were old movies and jazz concerts and one piano concert at the Fort Worth Central Library.
    A great year for book reading; between printed books, the Kindle and -- thanks to our daughter's influence -- audio books (on our lengthy trips), plus the Beth-El monthly book club, I probably totaled more books than I have in three or four decades.
    We kept upgrading with new stuff: In our apartment, carpets in the bedrooms; wood flooring everywhere else; bedroom blinds; our first flat-screen TV, boxes for the U-Verse; brown shoes and a beige lightweight suit for me; beautiful scarves, a royal blue dress and a yoga outfit for Bea.
    The biggest change of all, maybe, smartphones for both of us -- Bea's first. This was done much to her dismay, and the (unexpected) change from IPhone to Android wasn't easy. (Now she says she's learned to appreciate her phone.)
    Our big trip of the year -- remember, it was my home country, The Netherlands, in 2013 -- was the long drive to Savannah, Georgia, for the spring wedding of our niece Abby (my sister Elsa's daughter). Beautiful event, beautiful and historic place.
    That also led to the first of three trips to Knoxville (Rachel and Russell's home, and we lived there in the late 1990s). Back in September for the week's wait for Eli; then we had to go back and see him again Thanksgiving week.
    One enjoyable week was Rachel and Josie's annual stay with us. And how about those nights when Jacob and Kaden -- who live an hour away -- were here? Kaden, only 2 then, was a little unsettled a year ago, so he stayed up and watched all of the Sugar Bowl game with me.
    There were a couple of trips to see family and old friends in Shreveport-Bossier. The first, on Jan. 3, I made for the funerals of J.W. Cook and Ann Thaxton on the same day; the second was Aug. 1 when Coach A.L. Williams was among those inducted into an athletic Hall of Fame (his second honor of the year).
    We loved going to an early Shaw Family Thanksgiving in central Texas (Bea was a Shaw). On a few occasions, I reconnected with old friends -- some from Louisiana Tech, some from my newspaper past, some on Facebook -- and we made some new friends right here in the apartments and in Fort Worth.
    We are grateful for our family and friends, always.
    One of the best things of the year was -- I'm sure most will agree -- the rapid fall in gas prices. When they get down to 29 cents a gallon, I know we really will be back in the great decade of the 1960s.
    I have grown to like Facebook -- despite too much negative/political commentary -- and in particular the Throwback Thursday photos. I got into Twitter, too, where news and opinion is instantaneous. And television remains a big part of our lives.
    This year's TV highlights for me: the Barbara Walters retirement/goodbye; the Tony Bennett-Lady Gaga  special on PBS; specials on Bing Crosby, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Big Bands as part of KERA (public TV) fund-raising periods; and the tops: A Football Life on Roger "The Dodger" Staubach on the NFL Network. 
    One special video, found through Facebook (and re-posted): A recap of our Woodlawn High School buddy, LSU quarterback and Vietnam War victim Trey Prather, done by Rick Rowe of KTBS-TV in Shreveport.
    We're still Dancing With The Stars fans and Season 19 this fall provided two memorable moments: (1) the night Alfonso Ribeiro Jr. did "The Carlton" dance he made famous years ago on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and (2) when he and partner Witney Carson won the competition, as I predicted at the first of the season.
     I watched more college football and the NCAA men's basketball tournament than I have in years -- it was as exciting, or more, than I can remember -- and I watched less baseball ... until the playoffs. They were fabulous; the Kansas City Royals were a tremendous story but could not conquer the San Francisco Giants, the every-other-year champions. And Madison Bumgarner did a helluva Sandy Koufax impersonation. 
     For me personally, it wasn't much of a sports year. The only real fun the Yankees had was the year-long so-long for Derek Jeter, a class act to the end of his career. But all-Jeter all the time was a bit much. LSU football wasn't what he wanted -- right through Tuesday's bowl-game loss to Notre Dame -- but Louisiana Tech won nine games and was fun to watch in men's basketball. Plus, hiring Tyler Summitt as the women's basketball coach was an attention getter.
     But The Netherlands gave me some thrills, first with an astounding domination of speed skating in the Winter Olympics -- repeated gold-silver-bronze for the Orange team -- and then in the World Cup of Soccer.
     Didn't win it (those Germans did), but Holland didn't lose a game, only a confounded penalty-kick shootout in the semifinals. And there were some great wins in there -- a 5-1 walloping of mighty defending champion Spain, with Robin Van Persie's spectacular flying-header goal, and finally a 3-0 rout of host Brazil. Yeah, the beautiful game.
     Bea continued to watch, love and support her Dallas Mavericks, no matter what.
     One near highlight, right down the street at Colonial Country Club: David Toms of Shreveport led the Colonial golf tournament going into the back nine on Sunday, looking for his second title there in four years. He faded, but as always, it was fun to follow him.
     Back to the Dutch: One of the best gifts I received all year was a Holland World Cup soccer scarf, sent by Ron Nierman. Another good gift: a CD of 1960s/'70s music, 1,100 songs, from Sid Huff. Another one, from Ron: old clippings -- some of my stories/columns -- from my Dad's desk at his workplace.
     Which reminds me of a project I worked on all year: scanning clippings from my writing career and other clippings I'd saved, going from paper to digital. Lots of room on the hard drive, and there's more to do.
     Other projects: Organizing family photos (especially old ones of my parents) into albums and scanning them in digitally, and working on the family genealogy. That was part of the 34-chapter series I completed on my Dad, centered on his Holocaust experiences. 
     They are on my blog, and I will continue blogging next year, although -- obsessive as I can be -- I decided that two blog pieces every week was no longer necessary. So I will write when I want to write ... and I hope you keep reading.
     Might have a surprise, too, if it works out. Stay tuned.
     No year is without losses, and some were stunning: Robin Williams on Aug. 11 and then Jimmy Moore, son of good friends.
     More personal deaths: High school friends Tommy Watson and Terry Rice; family friends Sylvia Katz and Herb Broughton; the funny David DeFatta; journalism stars Wiley Hilburn Jr., Jeff Fries and Bobby Dower; and Mr. Bill Bradshaw, father of a famous quarterback. Have to add this one: daughter-in-law's old dog Keeley.
     Feel for those friends who became widows or widowers.
     I kept walking, and had some big-money finds: 98 pennies in one place one day, a $10 bill, a bronze dollar one day and a silver half-dollar two days later, and just last week, eight quarters right by the curb on a major street in this area.
     But it's not about money, it's about exercising, which -- finally -- brings me to being younger next year. That's the name of a book Bea has been reading, and on which we heard a presentation, and I have started it, and the emphasis is on mind-set of an active, healthy lifestyle.
     So Bea has stepped up her exercise routine -- including strength work and stamina, and yoga -- and she encouraged me to join the Downtown YMCA, located about a minute's walk from where I worked for nine years (and I'd never been in the building).
     The intention is to work harder and tone up the body and maybe lose weight. Not 30-35 pounds like a certain sports editor I know who has been on the run for three years, but I'd settle for 3-8 pounds, which would get me in the 150-155 range. 
     I know you are laughing now. And by the time you finish reading this, it might be 2016. Have a Happy New Year.                    


Monday, December 15, 2014

Don't knock Shreveport-Bossier -- and the I-Bowl

      Found out last week how to gain Twitter followers: Just jump on the Tim Brando and Paul Finebaum bandwagon.
      Long story short: A conversation on Finebaum's simulcast TV/radio show included derogatory comments by Paul, but mostly by his producer, about Shreveport-Bossier and the Independence Bowl. Brando, like Finebaum, a national TV/radio voice (and face) with ties to Shreveport, quickly took up defense with a series of tweets in which he was critical of Finebaum and the producer.
      I chimed in -- of course -- to side with Brando in defending our hometown and, in my case, more particularly the Independence Bowl.
      (Excuse me if I don't refer to its sponsor name, the Duck Commander Bowl. But we should thank the Duck Dynasty people, the Robertson family, for its involvement.)
      A couple of disclaimers: (1) I almost never tune into radio or TV talk discussions; I've had my fill of them. I have written this before. (2) I have not lived in Shreveport-Bossier since 1988, but it was home for 30 years, and the base of my sportswriting career, for most of 2 1/2 decades.
      So I am not as gung-ho on Shreveport-Bossier as Tim Brando, whose career has taken him from there to ESPN, CBS and FOX Sports but who -- after living in Bristol, Conn., for a time when he worked for ESPN -- returned to live in Shreveport and base his talk TV/radio show there.
     Shreveport-Bossier isn't the same place as when we lived there; what place is the same? The neighborhoods I came up in sure aren't the same.
      We don't go back that often, but I have hundreds of friends and acquaintances there. I am fond of the place, I root for it and the people there, and I don't like seeing it or them criticized nationally. And I don't like the fun that's made of the Independence Bowl.
      I wrote a blog two years ago addressing that:
      Last Friday, either in reply to Brando or a post of my own, here is what I tweeted ...
      -- Cheap shots at Independence Bowl and Shreveport-Bossier are BS. It's not paradise, but it is home. I am with Timmy B.
      -- For years, Independence Bowl people have done a very good job making this game and visit enjoyable. Give them credit.
      -- Shreveport-Bossier not a sports haven. But Independence Bowl is a lot better show (and bowl game) than people realize. To critics, shut up.
      -- This producer, in the words of the great Jerry Byrd, is "GUTLESS."
      Here is the bottom line: I had 94 "followers" on Twitter before those posts, and picked up six more. But I received the usual weekly notice from Twitter today that those posts had more than 10,000 views (10,119, to be accurate). That's because I included the Twitter handles @TimBrando and @finebaum.
      Those guys have thousands of followers. As I'm writing this, Finebaum has 254,812 followers and Brando has 95,271. I have 100. (Please surpress that laughter.)
      Thank you, guys.
      As Brando tweeted, he considers Finebaum "a dear friend." And, other than one bad moment, my history with Finebaum is fine. I wrote about him, too, a couple of years ago:
      I admire Paul's outstanding career, which is still on the rise with his daily talk show on SEC-TV and his appearances on network pregame/postgame shows. But through the years, he has taken his shots at Shreveport-Bossier and the Independence Bowl.
      I think some of it is for effect, to stir up talk. I consider it show biz. But it irritates Shreveport-Bossier people; it infuriates one of my best friends. Another friend says Finebaum "is dead" to him.
      Oh, gosh.
      Brando was really teed off. Here are some examples of what he tweeted Friday:
      -- Beneath contempt!
      -- Hurrying away from the incredibly horrid comments about Shreveport, Finebaum turns to a Sports Business guru to justify the criticism.
      -- ... not when my hometown is defamed AGAIN! NO! I do defend it.
      -- I'll defend my hometown until my dying days. Finebaum made a horrible error allowing his rookie producer to take him down a horrible slope!
      -- Paul's done this before but it's no less CHEAP! A shame.
      -- Cheap shots against communities that have BOWL games has no place in intercollegiate sports.
      Let's consider this last one: I agree. The communities that have bowl games are doing college football programs, and the schools, a favor. Take the Independence Bowl, which is paying each team $1,200,000 this year. There are -- if I count correctly -- 38 bowl games. The I-Bowl pays more, I believe, than 15 others.
      This will be the 39th Independence Bowl. Shreveport-Bossier has a long history of being unable to maintain sports success, but the people who have carried on to keep this bowl game going are to be commended. It ranks, by my count, 11th among the current bowls in longevity.
      The stadium is old (opened in 1925) and even after several renovations could use a remake. But the south end-zone skybox opened in 2008 is a neat and useful addition. Like the city itself, the stadium -- for so long State Fair Stadium -- is my home stadium. It is for many of us from Shreveport.
      In response to Brando, I saw a dozen "critics" calling Shreveport-Bossier names and how it lacks things to do, how gambling is the community's only attraction, etc. Most of those critics seemed to have Alabama-based Twitter handles; some were defending Finebaum, the bulk of whose career has been in Alabama.
      I looked up tweets by a couple of those people and what I saw almost exclusively was sarcasm, criticism and bitterness. I don't like the negativity on Facebook or Twitter in any form or on any subject. I try not to engage with stupid people, but sometimes ...
       So it's BS (see above). People that come to this bowl game can have fun ... if they want to. And, as I pointed out on Facebook, as a friend said to me, if South Carolina and Miami did not want to be in the Independence Bowl, they should have played better.
      Look, there aren't many teams who start the season aiming to play in the Independence Bowl (or in many of the other bowls). But as my friend Patrick Locke pointed out on Facebook: "EVERY team I've talked to, including Nick [Saban] when he was at Michigan State, said the bowl was a great experience. Make no mistake, though, the best thing about the bowls for college coaches is the extra practice time they get a start on for next year. They only work on their game plans a week prior. The rest of the time is prep for the next season."
      We all agree there are too many bowl games, too many what I consider mediocre -- maybe undeserving -- teams. There are, by my count, 12 teams with 6-6 records in bowl games, 17 at 7-5, two at 6-5, one at 7-6, and one (Fresno State) at 6-7. That's a lot of mediocrity.
      But communities (and ESPN) have the funds to pay those teams, and the NCAA will not turn down that money. And among those mediocre records are some nice matchups: Texas-Arkansas, Iowa-Tennessee, Texas A&M-West Virginia and ... Miami-South Carolina in Shreveport.
      I have a friend (Bob Basinger) who has been to all 38 I-Bowl games -- sometimes through rain, cold and one blizzard. He'll be there again Dec. 27. That's supporting Shreveport-Bossier, college football and the bowl game. He, like Tim Brando and me -- and thousands of others have this message: Don't knock the Independence Bowl. We're proud of it.

Friday, December 12, 2014

College football: Good system, with some faults

    I have waited all week to write this piece because I have mixed feelings. But I can tell you that I feel awful for TCU and Baylor football fans, coaches and players.

TCU coach Gary Patterson and Baylor's Art Briles were not all
smiles after their teams didn't make The Final Four (AP photo).
    If that had been LSU -- with the same credentials -- left out of the College Football Playoff's Final Four, I think I would've been furious.
    Ohio State? C'mon.
    If you're a college football fan, I am not going to tell you anything you don't know by now. But I will repeat a thought I offered a month ago: There is no perfect selection system.
    If you're not a college football fan, congratulations and Merry Christmas. There are more important things in this world.
    I offered my two cents' worth of opinions on the College Football Playoff almost a month ago ( And here is two more cents' worth.
    In my previous blog on the subject, I wrote that I like the idea of a playoff, and I've said that for a few years. I also said that an eight-team playoff is much more preferable than a Final Four. I will stick to that, especially after last Sunday's announcement of this Final Four.
    I find it hard to believe The Committee -- the almighty Committee -- gave Alabama a bye into the national championship game.
    I am not a betting man; any time I have ever placed a bet, I have lost. But if I had to bet, I would take Alabama over Ohio State 101 out of 100 times.
    Know this, though: I am only slightly better at predictions than I am betting. No way did I think Oklahoma -- a 17 1/2-point underdg -- not only would beat Alabama in last season's Sugar Bowl, but dominate the game.
    And if you ask me to pick a winner in this season's other Final Four semifinal -- Florida State vs. Oregon in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 ... I have no idea what's going to happen there. But I will say that until Florida State proves it can't come back and win -- as it has so often in its 29-game winning streak -- it is the reigning champion.
    So no question about Alabama, Florida State and Oregon making the Final Four (although I would have kept FSU, even as unimpressive as it was at times, at No. 1). It came down to three teams -- Ohio State, TCU and Baylor -- for the No. 4 spot, proving that six does not going into four.
    (If the committee had had to pick eight teams, it's true that the debate would have been difficult to pick Nos. 7-8. I repeat: There is always going to be some controversy.)
    Fact is, all those teams stumbled some during the season -- and all were resilient to keep on winning. Just an example: Alabama was fortunate to get past Arkansas, LSU and Auburn, but talented enough to do it.
    OK, Ohio State. I not a Buckeyes fan, not an Urban Meyer fan. I don't hesitate to point out -- as I did on Twitter -- that while history should not matter, Ohio State has lost six of its last seven postseason games.
    Yeah, these Buckeyes kept their poise and rallied through adversity. They beat a very good team (Michigan State) and one supposed to be good (Wisconsin). But the Badgers rolled over last week in the Big Ten championship game, and the program is so sound that the head coach quickly moved on to Oregon State this week.
    No doubt -- no doubt -- that 59-0 score swayed The Committee's selection from TCU-or-Baylor to Ohio State. No doubt that two strong, successful football coaches with Big Ten ties on The Committee -- Tom Osborne and Barry Alvarez -- swayed the opinions.
    No doubt it kept The Committee from having to pick one of the Big 12's co-champions. TCU and Baylor fans forever will claim their team was better.
    I've lived in Texas, in the Fort Worth area, for 13 years, so I have many friends who are fans of TCU or Baylor. I don't root for either school (except Baylor women's basketball because of Louisiana ties). I do think both are terrific universities
    But as I am making this argument against Ohio State, I don't think I'm Texas-biased. I watched the teams play -- my "eyeball" test -- and I think TCU was as good as any team in the country. I am on record, on Facebook and Twitter, as saying that a couple of times in the past month.
    My opinion is that Gary Patterson -- whose treatment of some of my Fort Worth Star-Telegram co-workers at times has been detestable -- and his staff have done the best coaching job in the country this year. The Frogs are big, fast, well-coached and ... well, they look like an SEC team.
    I will say that Patterson -- who often mentions lack of respect for his TCU program and whose chip on his shoulder is as big as the fourth green at Colonial Country Club -- publicly was very classy in his reaction to The Committee's selections.
    On one of my daily walks, I had to stop at the TCU Bookstore, where I noticed a man asking about purchasing a TCU Big 12 championship T-shirt. In my usual shy manner, I asked him how he felt about the Final Four selections.
    "We got screwed," he said, not as diplomatically as Patterson. "It's all about money. It's always been about money. Until we get a bigger reputation, we'll get left out."
    And I agree about "reputation." Ohio State has it -- and the ratings (money) power. I am convinced that if The Committee had been given TCU's list of victories this season and been told that it was Oklahoma or Texas, that team would be in the Final Four.
    Committee chairman Jeff Long, the Arkansas athletic director, strongly denied that suggestion and said it was the "body of work" (strength of schedule, maybe) that put Ohio State past TCU and Baylor. Fine, but my biggest complaint -- one I've seen repeatedly this week -- is why did The Committee tease (and deceive) all of us by releasing five weeks of rankings with TCU ahead of Ohio State each time ... and then change it mind/direction the last week?
    That's bunk. Advice to The Committee: Next year don't release weekly rankings. Save it all for the end, and let everyone speculate.
    When the NCAA does make me the commissioner of college football -- any day now -- the first change will be to go to an eight-team playoff ... provided teams return to 11-game regular-season schedules and/or drop all conference championship games.
    In other words, no team should play more than 14 games in a season. Enough already. I do think football players should go to class and work toward graduation. Last I heard college was about earning a degree. (OK, so it's idealistic. I can hear you laughing.)
    But my idea is folly because we all know college football mostly is about finances. And if stadiums at most or many of the major-college programs are full anytime they tee it up, the people raking in the money aren't going to be cutting games.
    Here is what I would suggest for any program wanting to win the national championship or make the Final Four (or Final Eight), drop those Division I-AA (or Football Championship Subdivision, as it's been known since 2006) opponents. Drop those mid-majors (but Division I), too, if necessary.
    Sorry, I know those are "money" games for the smaller schools, games they have to have to make the budget work, to pay for the programs. But those usually easy victories just don't help the big boys.
     Baylor, those games with Northwestern State and Buffalo probably kept you out of the Final Four. You'd have been better off with Northwestern and, say, Maryland.
     TCU, how about Stanford instead of Samford? We'll give you a plus for Minnesota and, well, SMU (also a Baylor opponent) is a traditional game and, well, the Mustangs should be more competitive.
     Why is LSU playing Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe and New Mexico State? Why are Florida Atlantic and Western Carolina on Alabama's schedule (plus Southern Miss isn't as good as it has been in the past)? South Dakota and Wyoming weren't exactly tough opponents for Oregon.
     So maybe The Committee looked at Ohio State's schedule and, yes, Kent State was a breather, but it judged Navy, Virginia Tech (which beat the Buckeyes in Columbus) and Cincinnati as a bit tougher than what TCU and Baylor faced. And Florida State -- other than The Citadel -- had strong "name" non-conference opponents in Oklahoma State, Syracuse and Notre Dame.
     If I'm on The Committee, I certainly think strength of schedule is a major factor in picking the playoff teams. And because I think the SEC is the best, strongest and deepest conference in the country and has been for a decade -- I'll argue that with anybody -- I would advise any possible contenders from other conferences to put at least one SEC opponent on the schedule each year (but Kentucky and Vanderbilt don't count, unless it's Kentucky in basketball).
     Bottom line, I suppose, is that The Committee did the best it could and this is the system we have. We can all complain and debate. We will next year, too.
     I know this: I have taken more of your time than necessary, given you much more than two cents' worth. So I'm done because you need to go Christmas shopping. For football fans, happy bowl season.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

If it wasn't luck, what was the right word?

      In telling the story of her life and her experience as a Holocaust prisoner/survivor, my mother -- Rose Van Thyn -- was a prolific writer and speaker. She wrote thousands of words in stories and poems, spoke thousands in her presentations as a Holocaust educator.
      Here's one thought that sticks with me. She wrote this in a short piece dated January 1991 entitled "I Found a Silver Lining":
      "People tell me I was lucky. That is not really the word. Lucky is when you win a lottery. I did not win anything. I was given something, the most precious gift, a second chance on life."
     Five years later, when she did her interview for the USC Shoah Foundation (thousands of Holocaust survivors did similar interviews), she included the same thought:
Rose Van Thyn felt that her "mission" was to educate
people, especially students, about the Holocaust.
      "... I know people that said to me, 'You're so lucky you came back.' I say you don't call that lucky. I don't think that's lucky. I said lucky is when you win the lottery, not when you come out of the concentration camp. You can't call that lucky. This is more than lucky. I can't find the right word for it exactly.
     "But I don't call it lucky because always if you're lucky you're completely happy. Although we are very blessed, and I'm very happy about that, I still have a background which never leaves me, which is with me. I always said, when people say, oh, we are free, I'm never going to be free completely. I'm never going to be free because I always have 6 million people I talk for."
      My observation: If it wasn't luck, what was it? What was the right word (or words)?
      I'll go with "good fortune" and "strong will" or "determination." But, dang, luck did have a lot to do with it. (More on that in a moment).
      I wasn't there, of course; I'm a second-generation observer, the son of two Holocaust survivors. I have spent time the past couple of years reading the material written by my mother and written by others on my parents, and listening to the recorded versions of their Shoah Foundation interviews.
      So who am I to argue with my mother? Did I dare question her? Well, I am my mother's son.
      She's no longer here to argue with, but I can assure you: Few people "won" an argument with my mother.
       She was fiercely proud of her viewpoint, no matter what the subject. But when it came to the Holocaust, she spoke with even more conviction than on other matters.
       She took herself seriously, but then the Holocaust was a most serious subject. Yet my mother, who could be funny (sometimes wickedly so) usually worked a little humor into her talks and writing.
       -- About the "meals" the Nazis/Germans provided to the women prisoners in Block Ten at Auschwitz: " ... We got one slice of bread and a little thing of what they called soup -- I called it mud, but I always said if you're hungry enough, you eat mud."
       -- About the work commando she was in, assigned to pick blackberry leaves, peppermint leaves, mushrooms (which, when dried, were made into medicine for the German soldiers)  ... "To be honest, we tried to pick poison mushrooms."
        -- When people asked her if she had seen Schindler's List (which she said was "one of the best movies I've seen"), she would answer, "I lived it."
          Back to the "luck" factor. She survived the "selections" -- the Nazis picked out men and women to work in the camps, but many or most ill prisoners and children were sent straight to the gas chambers shortly after their arrival, including -- as my mother would learn later -- her mother and sister.
           She evaded the Nazis' random shooting of people, in Amsterdam after the occupation in May 1940 through the curfews imposed, and then at Auschwitz and later on the "Death March," shootings for any transgression a German soldier might deem worthy of extermination.
            She was small enough to climb onto the top bunk of a three-layer bed, out of range from the attack dogs the sadistic Nazi women guards would turn on the prisoners at times.
           She survived the medical experiments done on her in Block Ten -- hundreds of shots in her chest and further down, with no telling what. She was among the fortunate women who were told they had been sterilized, but instead found after the war that they still could have children.
           She survived almost a year in a transit camp, then 16 months in Auschwitz, then four months of the "Death March" -- walking hundreds of miles in the brutal German winter, with little clothing, walking -- as my mother described it -- in lieu of shoes on pieces of wood tied to her feet with strings.
           There was even more brutality from the Nazis' SS guards, who must have known the war was going to be a lost cause for Germany. If people stopped walking because of fatigue or lack of strength -- there was very little to eat for months -- they often were shot. Many starved to death.
            She survived. And, as you and I might wonder, how? How?
            "I think God wanted me to live," she said in her USC Shoah Foundation interview. "I had the support of first, three other women, and then nine other women, and I really don't know if each of us would have made it without each other."
           "And I guess the will to live and I think my upbringing had to do with it. My father and my mother both had very strong personalities. And I guess it was the will to live. There is really no rational explanation why I came back and 6 million others who were probably better than I was didn't come back."
           She talked, too, of religion.
          "When I went to Auschwitz, I wasn't religious because I wasn't brought up religious," she said. "I prayed more in 2 1/2 years in concentration camps than I had prayed in 21 years before. I talked to God a lot, and there were times that I asked God to let me die, and there were times that I asked God to let me live because I really wanted to live."                       
           In the last 25 years of her life, she honored her survival by telling her story to thousands of people.
            "I really feel I have a mission, that I was saved," she told the interviewer. "I have a mission to fulfill to not only young people, but it's amazing how many people I talk to my age who were not well informed about the Holocaust."
            She would inform them, and I can say that her mission was accomplished.       
            I have been researching the material on my mother because I intend to write several blog pieces on her, as a follow-up to the 35-chapter series I did on my father and his life/Holocaust story.
          What I write on Mom won't be as extensive as Dad's story because much of Mom's story has been printed previously. But there are some compelling stories that should be shared. I'm lucky to be able to do it.

Giving thanks ... 30 times

      Our daughter, and many others, are doing their "30 days of thanksgiving" this month on Facebook.
      At both early Thanksgiving meals we have been a part of, with more to come this week, those at the party shared their particular thanks with the group.
Our No. 1 item on this year's list of thanks:
two-month-old grandson Eli Smith
      Instead of going day-to-day with my thanks on Facebook, I will pack them all into this Thanksgiving week piece. But after I began writing this, hell broke loose in Missouri and other parts of the country and there's no thanks for that. It's distressing and disheartening, and I fervently hope this country can find resolution and peace in its many conflicts.
      On to what I think are more pleasant thoughts. Here are my 30 days worth of thanks in one quick read ...
      1. Start with Bea's thought at the early Shaw Family Thanksgiving meal a week ago deep in the woods of central Texas: Thanks for our beautiful two-month grandson, Eli Smith.
      2. Here's what I added to that: Thanks for Eli and the other three grandchildren -- Josie, Jacob and Kaden.
      Those are easy; those are our greatest blessings. But we should extend it. So ...
      3, Thanks for our kids and our in-law kids -- all smart, talented and motivated. We cherish them.
      4. Thanks for extended family, the longtime ties, spread from Texas to Louisiana to Georgia, Florida, Oregon and New Jersey -- the Shaws, the Chastains, the Woodards, the Wellens, the Brunos.
      5. Thanks for our lives in Fort Worth, the best place of the eight to 10 either Bea or I or both of us have lived, and that includes some places we enjoyed a great deal. But Fort Worth feels like home.
      6. Thanks for our grocery stores -- and with some exceptions -- our Monday-morning shopping routine. We do eat well, and try to eat smart. But ...
      7. Thanks for chocolate. Hard to resist, but we do try to indulge in moderation and we've turned to dark chocolate, which we've read is better than milk chocolate.
      8. Thanks for fruit. We like all sorts; the variety is a healthy plus.
      9. Thanks for the exercise routines, which are intended to offset those occasions when we do eat too much or not healthy enough.
      10. Thanks for the freedom we have to make trips we want whenever we want to or need to, and for the means to do so.
      11. Thanks for the social media outlets we've learned to use. We don't post as often on Facebook and/or Twitter as many people, but we like most (but not all) of what we see there.
      12. In the social-media realm, thanks for Bea's I-Pad, especially the Facetime app, which allows us to talk face-to-face with Rachel, Josie and Eli.      
       13. Thanks for the policemen, firemen and military personnel who serve our cities, towns and country. Tough jobs, lots of danger, lots of scrutiny. We should not take these people for granted.
       14. Thanks for YouTube, which -- with its thousands of videos -- can keep me entertained for hours with music, Johnny Carson clips and sports highlights.
       15. Thanks for books (the print kind and audio versions) and magazines. Reading remains one of our favorite hobbies.
        16. Related to the books, thanks for the Fort Worth Library, which is where we also find the jazz concert series and the First Sunday classic movies.
       16. Thanks for the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra's pops concert series. Great entertainment at a venue we love, Bass Hall in downtown.
       17. Thanks for the sports teams I love to follow. Watching the games can be exhilarating or agonizing, but there's few things that I would rather do. It's been that way for, oh, 60 years.
       18. Thanks that my TV does not carry live NFL games. Can't do it any more. I can handle the recorded Cowboys games; I'm a lot more relaxed that way (even when I don't know the result). Don't care enough about the rest of the league.
        19. Thanks for baseball, the sport I love most. Soccer (voetbal in Holland) was my first love, and I always enjoyed basketball and football, but it's baseball that I still find most interesting. Wish they'd play faster, but I love the strategy and the player transactions. However, my nephew will tell you that I am not into sabermetrics.
        20. Thanks (again) for Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, whose class and character will have Yankees fans headed for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 2019 and 2020.
       21. Thanks for newspapers, diminished as they might be. They're still keeping some of my friends employed.
       22.  Thanks for photos, especially the digital kind, which are easier to manage than the hundreds of photos we have in albums and envelopes in one of our cabinets.
       23. Thanks for some of the smart people we see on television -- Charlie Rose, David Brooks, Bill Moyers, the whole crew on the PBS NewsHour, and locally on KERA, Lee Cullum.
       24. Thanks for the late, great funniest people I can remember -- George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Robin Williams and Carnac the Magnificent.
       25. Thanks for Dancing With The Stars, which has been one of our favorite shows for eight years. That might surprise you, but I think it's an entertaining and creative show. Very happy that Alfonso Ribeiro Jr. (and "The Carlton") won the Season 19 championship -- as I predicted after the first week of the season -- but he had to beat one of the strongest group of finalists in the show's history.
       26. Thanks for our politicians because ... ah, never mind. Seriously, there are so many with good intentions, with compassion, with good ideas. We need them to lead with less conflict ... is that even possible?
       27. Thanks for our friends, especially the close ones we've had for decades with Louisiana ties. But also many more from Louisiana, the ones in Holland and Florida, Hawaii, Tennessee and most recently Texas, and also the additions on Facebook, including voices and faces from the past.
      28. Thanks for this country. Yes, we have a lot of diversity and a lot of diverse viewpoints and contentiousness, but it's still the greatest place to be. Much as I love The Netherlands, I prefer to live here ... and, well, the most important people in my life (see items 1-2-3-4) are here.
      29. Thanks for Beatrice, who knows me so well and adds wisdom and clarity -- and so many other things -- to our family as a wife, mother, aunt and Granny.
      30. Thank God for our lives. Might be difficult times, but life also is a beautiful thing.
      Happy Thanksgiving. (And for my old friends in Shreveport, what time does the Byrd-Fair Park game kick off Thursday at State Fair Stadium?)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Picking a Final Four ... all just anyone's opinion

        I feel compelled and somewhat motivated to write about a matter of national importance.
The new national-championship trophy, the
College Football Playoff payoff. (Actually,
I liked the BCS crystal ball football.)
      I like the College Football Playoff. There, I said it.
      It is so important. I have seen so much written about it for months and months, and have (not) heard so much said about it (because I try to avoid all the sports talk shows, except son-in-law's when I'm in Knoxville). And the interest is only ramping up day by day.
      Who's in (thank you, ESPN).
      Who will be in the first-ever Final Four -- the two semifinal bowl games, with the winners playing for the national championship right down the road from here (Fort Worth) at Cowboys Stadium, JerryWorld or whatever they call it?
      I am not here to debate the Final Four rankings -- the TCU or Baylor question, the Oregon-jumping-Florida State issue, the Alabama in-or-out talk, the what-about-Ohio State/Arizona State speculation.
      I will leave the debates to (1) all my media friends and (2) more importantly, the committee. (More on the committee below.)
      But this CFP is important enough to bring in a former U.S. Secretary of State to help settle matters. It is more important than which party is running Congress, than U.S.-China relations, the fight with ISIS, Russia-Ukraine, the Middle East's never-ending conflicts, immigration reform, gun rights, tax reform. It's more important than the New York Yankees' off-season roster moves; it's even more important than the frickin' Super Bowl.
       That's right.
       I purposely have avoided writing about this, or speculating about it, or talking all that much about it because I figure there is enough of that on TV, radio and the Internet.
       But, really, I love the idea because I love college football -- and the idea of one true national champion, decided on the field after a playoff game or three playoff games is perfect. Beats the heck out of "mythical national champion."
       Here is the gist of this piece, though: There is no perfect selection system. OK, you got that? As long as the human element is part of the selection process, it won't be perfect.
       But humans -- a committee of 12 people deciding the Final Four teams -- is a helluva lot better than computer-based selections (uh, humans do input the info into the computers, don't they?).
       So scrapping the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) system, with its computer rankings as part of the process, was fine with me. I'm glad the bowl-game honchos -- who have had so much control and so much financial clout -- for years and years are willing to play along with the CFP.
        So why am I writing about this now, what prompted me to force my opinion on you? Because there are stories and talk shows all over the place concerning this, and I want to get my two cents in. Because, in my extensive research for this piece, I came across -- on Facebook and AOL search -- two columns by sportswriters who I know and respect and whose work I admire.
         And they are both blasting the College Football Playoff system, and even embracing the much-criticized BCS.
         Matt Hayes, who writes college football for Sporting News and, in my opinion, knows as much about it as anyone and writes it as well as anyone, began his professional career as a prep writer at The Florida Times-Union where he was regularly and enthusiastically advised -- maybe that should read "chewed out" -- by a prep sports editor. Hmmmm.
         This week, Matt wrote: "The best part of this now-spectacular mess is this new, everything-will-be-better playoff is no better than the BCS. In fact, three polls in, it’s mirroring the most controversial product ever used by the sport."
         David Climer is the talented, very readable veteran sports columnist for The (Nashville) Tennessean. He wrote: "Looks like the BCS formula was less flawed than the current committee structure."
         Look, those are one-paragraph items lifted from a whole column, and I'm certainly not picking on Matt or David because there are hundreds of stories/columns/talk-show debates of the same nature.
        Here is what I am saying: What did they expect?
        There is always going to be controversy on NCAA playoff selections or polls/rankings, no matter what sport. There always has been. It's not perfection; it's just subjective.
       The biggest problem I have with the new College Football Playoff system is that I think they should have started with a Final Eight -- four quarterfinal games, two semifinals, one title game. Picking eight teams rather than four might've eliminated a lot of this BS speculation.
        If eight teams were picked, you think the teams left out -- say, the Nos. 9-10-11-12 teams -- wouldn't feel slighted?
         Look at the NCAA men's basketball tournament. There are 68 teams in it now, and every year several teams not selected are unhappy (SMU, for instance, last season). Every year there are debates on the No. 1 seeds. And I can remember when only 24 teams were selected, and then only 32, and there were no seedings.
          Picking a Final Four this season is so much better than the BCS' final two.
          Southern Cal thought it should have been in the national title game in 2003 (LSU was fortunate to be chosen, through the BCS system, to face Oklahoma). Auburn was the undefeated team left out in 2004. TCU and Boise State, both unbeaten and both in "minor" conferences, had to settle for a Fiesta Bowl matchup in 2009.
           And the worst BCS finalist ever was Nebraska in 2001. It didn't even make the Big 12 Conference championship game, having lost to Colorado 62-36 in its 12th game of the season. But a few weeks later it was playing Miami in the BCS title game. That was absurd.
            LSU, of course, was quite fortunate to be in the 2007 season BCS title game. It took final regular-season losses by Missouri and West Virginia to give the Tigers a reprieve. But, no apologies; that was a great Tigers team, which lost twice in triple overtime. If they'd been picking a Final Four that year, LSU would've been one of the teams.
             There is lots of criteria for the College Football Playoff committee to consider, and I hope one thing it can avoid in a Final Four is a repeat of a regular-season matchup.
              In 1996, Florida State beat Florida 24-21 to end the regular season, but the then-Bowl Alliance had them matched up again in the Sugar Bowl (designated as the national championship game). Florida won the rematch 52-20.
             More significantly for me, LSU won on Alabama's field 9-6 in overtime in the classic 2011 showdown and unbeaten LSU won the SEC title while Alabama watched. But the BCS system had them rematched in the national-title game. We know how that came out. Am I bitter about LSU having to replay a team it had beaten on the road? You bet.
              I almost never look at the college football rankings; the rankings don't matter when teams line up to play.
              I have not watched the College Football Playoff show revealing the committee's rankings the past three weeks. I never read one of the preseason and regular-season Final Four speculation stories. My writing buddy Teddy Allen points out all this was "interesting, but not significant."
              But Teddy and I agree that late in the season -- and from this point -- the CFP rankings do matter. I'd be a lot more interested if LSU was in contention. It's not. And it lost its final chance to be a "spoiler" when it let the game with Alabama slip away, despite a great effort, last Saturday.
              No question, though, the CFP and the rankings make for great interest, give the media great fodder. It helps make college football important to millions of people.
              I have no problem with the 13 people selected for the CFP committee, not even with Condoleezza Rice being a member. They're all very qualified, in my opinion, and very willing. Too bad that Archie Manning had to withdraw because of physical woes because few people love college football more and know more about it.
              About Condoleezza: We've all seen the criticism that she "doesn't know football." Such bull. She as smart as anyone on that committee, smarter probably, and more studied. Uh, she's dealt with more serious issues, OK. Sure, she might have a Stanford bias, but I think her opinion on college football (and most things) is to be valued.
                Here is what I'll remind you: For decades and decades, the "mythical" national champion was decided by (1) The Associated Press poll, which means 25 or 35 or whatever the number of media members -- writers and broadcasters -- or by (2) the coaches' poll; football coaches who might have had a bias for their own team or against another coach's team for one reason or another.
                I've been in a group of 25-35 sports media types. Ask them to rank, say, the best college football teams from 1 to 25 ... and you might have 25-35 different rankings. Never seen a media group -- two people or 50 -- who agree on all that much.
              (I'm just thinking -- suppose the committee consisted of Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, Kevin McCarthy, Steny Hoyer, Ted Cruz, Dick Durbin, John McCain, John Cornyn, Elizabeth Warren and Carl Levin. Think they could decide anything with a consensus?)
               Politics, sports ... it's the human element; it's just people's opinion. It's not perfect; it's never been perfect. It never will be.
                 There is much more that can happen in these last few weeks of the regular season (and conference championship games). Hey, I think Mississippi State, Florida State, Oregon and TCU belong in the Final Four right now. That's just me. Next week I might think it's Alabama, Baylor, Arizona State and Ohio State.
                They didn't ask me to be on the committee. But I'm not going to spend much time trying to figure out what the committee has to figure out, and I'm not going to spend time criticizing what they do. I'll leave that to my media friends ... and to you. Good luck.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My mother appreciated Veterans' Day

    "I knew I wanted to go with the wonderful Americans."
       -- Rose Van Thyn, near the conclusion of her USC Shoah Foundation interview, October 1996

Rose Van Thyn, during her 1996 USC Shoah Foundation
interview, telling her Holocaust story
      My mother, who was as patriotic as any naturalized citizen could be, loved the United States Army and was forever grateful for it.
      Veterans' Day is an appropriate time to remember that, to remember how fond she was of the way the American military took in the bedraggled Holocaust survivors wandering in the woods of Germany near the end of World War II.
       Actually, it was the Russian military which first reached my mother and some two dozen other women who had been prisoners in the Nazi work and concentration camps.
        By then, the women were sick and starving and yet somehow had survived more than two months of the infamous "Death March" through southern Poland and eastern Germany. And this was after, in my mother's case, 16 months in the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau camp and then an even more cruel, harrowing stay in Ravensbruck -- the largest women's-only concentration camp.
        The Russians -- the Red Army -- came to the rescue, but it was the Americans that gave the women hope.
        In her USC Shoah Foundation interview, my mother covers many of the gory details of the "Death March," which she said began for her on Jan. 18, 1945, when the Nazis -- knowing the Allied troops were advancing from the west and the Russians from the east -- abandoned the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.
       As my mother recalled, the original group of about 800 prisoners who began the march, was down to a couple dozen. But that, fortunately for Mom, included 10 women from The Netherlands who had stuck together through Auschwitz and all the subsequent adventures.
       People had died of starvation, or had been shot because they could walk no farther, or died of illness, or froze to death (this was in the middle of winter in Germany and no one had much clothing) or were among those the Nazis threw into a tent filled with ice-cold water and drowned. (Mom and others could hear their screams.)
        After days and days of walking, they were at Malchow, which was an extension of the Ravensbruck camp.              
        "... It was the beginning of March and the sun was out and at Malchov we got a rest, we didn't need to do anything," my mother said in her interview. "We sat in front of the barracks in the sun. Don't know how long we were there [but] people were dying of starvation ... It was bad."
        Then it was another walk -- "it was slower and slower, and more people died. They would let us rest, an hour or so, people would get up and they would be shot. You never knew," Mom recalled.         
          And then another train ride to a town in the middle of Germany. (She referred to it as Talken, but looking at a German map, that is much farther north and west of  where she wound up. She might be referring to Torgau, which is where the Allied forces and Russian Red Army first met.)
          "Every day we marched for an hour around this square," Mom said. "I guess they prepared us for what was ahead of us."
          They left there April 13, then "walked in a circle for 14 days between Leipzig and Dresden, crossed the Elbe (by ferry) ... There were thousands of people [in the area]. We heard screaming. We didn't know, but we assumed that they were throwing people into the Elbe. When we crossed, we very scared that this was it."
           During their walks, she said they were shot at constantly from the air by Russian, German and even Allied pilots.
            Then, on a Thursday morning, a huge surprise.
            "They [the Nazis] gave us permission to sit down," Mom said. "We were all so hungry by then. We found the hide of a horse they must've slaughtered and we tore it up and had a piece of the hide and chewed on it." There was a little ditch from which they drew water to drink. And suddenly, "the Germans told us they were leaving us."
           This was in "what you called no-man's land. [But] nobody got up because we had learned already [not to assume safety]. ... We sat there for a long time because in the first place, we were so weak and we were so scared. But we had made it that far. We finally got up, the 10 of us, and we started walking, very, very slowly."
           The odd thing was that many of the SS guards, having given up and given them their freedom, "just sat in the grass and were waving at us."
           They came to a village and "we saw white flags. That's when we knew the war was over for us. It was April 26, a Thursday."
            They found a place to stay, at a farm. "The farmer was an old man, at least 70," my mother recalled, "and he allowed us to sleep in the hayloft. He cooked for us -- pea soup. Hadn't eaten [real food] in months and he fed us pea soup. He was German, but he was anti-Hitler. We didn't know and we didn't care as long as he fed us."
            Finally, the Russian Army caught up with the group and directed the women to a nearby town where the army was based, put them in a building to rest up. But as my mother said, "There was no organization, no Red Cross, no nothing, no place to sleep. We slept outside [and] we begged for food." 
            There was one other problem. "We had to play hide-and-seek with the Russian soldiers because they were after us (for sex)," Mom recalled.
            This was a town divided by a bridge -- the Russians were on one side, the Americans on the other side. Trouble was, the Russians wouldn't let the Dutch women cross the bridge.
             One of my mother's group, "Treess," could speak some Russian because her grandmother had been from Russia before the family moved to Holland. Treess went to the Russian officer in charge several days in a row looking for permission for the group to cross the bridge. He wouldn't relent and finally threatened her safety.
             "An American officer came in while Treess was there," Mom said. "Captain Lee. He followed her outside and asked if there was a problem." She explained the situation and "he told her to come to bridge at 2 p.m. and 'I'll make sure that you go over the bridge.'
             "I don't know what he did, and there were thousands of people who wanted to go over the bridge, and here we are, the 10 of us going over the bridge [at 2 p.m.]."
             That included one woman who had typhoid fever, "but we schleped her with us, took her along," Mom said. "We just couldn't leave her. To come that far, I mean, we had to take her."
             Now, the most beautiful part of the story.
             My mother, in her interview, is at times somber, and matter-of-fact, and emotional when talking about family, but when she talks about the American army, she is joyful.
              "So when we came to the other side, the Americans were waiting for us and, I tell you, it was unbelievable," she said. "They were so wonderful to us ... They gave us all the tender loving care, they were good to us. Nobody had said a good word to us for three years.
             "They took us to hospital, gave us examination from tip of our toes to our head -- I never had an examination like that again. My weight was 65 pounds and I was already free for a few weeks. ... We wanted to go back to Holland, but borders were closed because of all the diseases and the western part of Holland had suffered very much, people died in Amsterdam of hunger in the street."
             So the women were put up in a displaced persons camp for three days, in between Leipzig and Dresden ... (perhaps at Magdeburg).
             "There were all kinds of survivors, all nationalities," Mom said. "After three days, some Americans came in there with jeeps. ... We were sitting on a bench, all of us [and] he  stopped  and asked what nationally we were. One Dutch officer was in the jeep and we said Dutch.
           "[The American officer] knew the borders of Holland were closed and that we had to stay in Germany for a while and he said, 'Would you be willing to work in the officers' mess of the 69th Infantry Division?' We said, 'Of course; that is just what we needed -- food.'
           "And they put us up in two houses where Germans had lived. And I never forget, the first morning we came in this officers' mess to work and they fed us breakfast first. And we got each a stack of pancakes with scrambled eggs and each of us had three pancakes and they asked if we wanted some more and we all said yes. And more and more officers came in because they'd never seen women eating like that.
           "Then we went into the kitchen after we ate -- I think we all had nine or 10 pancakes, which was really very dangerous because there were people who started eating right after they were liberated and died because our bodies weren't used to food -- and, I never forget, we went in the kitchen and they were cutting bread, white bread, and they were cutting the crust off and they were throwing the crust in the garbage can. We thought it was criminal."
              The goodness continued.
              "I mean, it was just unbelievable. They were so good to us," Mom continued. "They took us to Leipzig and there was one department store, C and A, it was called, and it was still open, and we needed some clothes because we had nothing, and the clothes we had were full of lice because in Auschwitz there were clothes lice, head lice, all kinds of lice. And so they bought us dresses and they bought us, I never forget, blue raincoats and shoes and socks, and they were wonderful to us, they were just great."
             Eventually, the borders opened and Mom and her friends returned to Netherlands. But after some years, many of them moved on.
             My family came to the United States in early 1956 -- 10 1/2 years after my mother's liberation from Nazi Germany and Poland. She knew from the time the American military treated her so well that she wanted to live in the U.S.
               In her Shoah Foundation interview, Mom is quite outspoken -- harsh, really -- about her treatment in Holland upon her return, and what the country became in the years after the war. I'll spare you the details, but I will say her attitude was a bit disappointing to me. But that's how she felt.
                "Holland didn't mean anything [to me] anymore," she said. "When I came back, I already knew I didn't want to stay in Holland because I knew I would not have anybody left probably and that I would not have any close relatives. I didn't want to live there any more. I didn't feel that was my home any more.
               "Then when we married, Louis really didn't want to live there any more, either. I wanted to go to America, with my wonderful friends."
                And she did. The U.S. became home, Shreveport-Bossier became home, and my mother became a speaker/educator on the Holocaust, telling her story. She always praised the American military for its role, and among her many speaking engagements, few pleased her more than visits to groups at Barksdale Air Force Base, Fort Polk, La., and Fort Bragg, N.C.
                 She loved this country, and she loved the veterans. You don't have to wonder why.  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

It's Election Day, bring on the pizza

    I give credit to Scott Ferrell, longtime sports editor of The Shreveport Times and now digital editor there, for his post on Twitter this morning:
    "Or as they say in every newspaper sports department across the country, every day is Election Day in sports."
    Oh, so true.
    Guarantee you that all those survivors of newspaper sports desk around the country are thinking, and saying, exactly what Scott expressed. And laughing about the pizza party they'll be having in the newsroom tonight while the election results -- and the stories -- roll in.
    The newsside reporters and desk personnel will be in mild states of panic -- mild early, severe panic late near deadlines. It happens five, six, seven nights a week in sports.
    Yes, elections are difficult to cover and there seemingly are thousands of angles and stories and photo ops to cover. Just like any Friday or Saturday night in sports during football season or in March during basketball season or in the middle of summer in an Olympics year.
    If the people who run newspapers gave us -- the sports department -- pizza for every difficult night that we had, we'd have owned a pizza franchise.
    You think I miss those nights? No way.
    I don't miss 50 to 100 or so high school football games -- depending on how big the market you're in -- being phoned in, and stories or roundups needing to be written, while you're also dealing with the 10 to 25 games from which you have reporters sending in stories (which need to be edited and which need headlines written, and possibly with photo cutlines/captions added).
    Plus, there are -- depending on which month -- major-league baseball roundups to be one, and a Texas Rangers game story/sidebar/notes to be dealt with, and/or a Dallas Mavericks story and notes, and a Dallas Stars' game and notes, and maybe some breaking news on the Dallas Cowboys because they're always making news (some of it even good news), and -- hold up the sports front -- here's a late-breaking Rangers' trade.
    There are Tuesday and Friday nights in basketball season when every high school team is playing all over the area, and there are college games going on at all levels, and there's an NBA roundup to be done.
    And even on "slow" days in summer, when there are no high school sports going, there is almost always a full schedule of MLB games and there's news about the Cowboys and there's the shocking latest development of wrongdoing in the sports world.
    It's been the same in every market I've worked in -- perhaps not as busy in Shreveport or Honolulu or Knoxville as in Fort Worth-Dallas or Jacksonville. It's a circus act more nights than not, believe me.
    Meanwhile on news side, the "excitement" level might hit that kind of warp speed once every two or three weeks ... if that much.
    Don't mean to say that newsside jobs aren't as difficult; they can be. Newsside does have a lot more life-and-death stories, and I would not trade places with the reporters and editors who had to handle those.
    I am saying that night sports departments are much more accustomed to the frenzy most nights.
    My wife, who has had an interesting and varied array of jobs, worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for five-plus years -- mostly in the editorial department -- and saw the frenzied atmosphere (and the pizza rewards brought in) on newsside for Election Day coverage. She would remind the people in the newsroom that the sports department went through this almost nightly. (We've been married a long time, so she knew.)
    She said the newsroom reply was: Yeah, but if we make mistakes (on election coverage), they are not forgotten. What we do is much more important.
    OK, I'll concede that point. It is a little more important who is elected the governor of Texas and which party is in charge of the U.S. Senate than whether or not Tony Romo plays Sunday for the Dallas Cowboys.
      What I am saying? No, it's not. What chance do you think the Cowboys have without Romo in the lineup?
      And, really, does it actually matter when the Democrats or the Republicans have the majority in the Senate? They're not going to get much of anything done in the next two years either way. Plus, Greg Abbott as governor instead of Rick Goodhair (thank you, Molly Ivins)? Makes no difference ... well, no difference to me, anyway.
David Brooks, left, and Mark Shields: The political analysts on PBS are the
guys we watch to make sense of what is going on ... if it makes sense at all?
      Of course, I voted. I rarely miss any chance to vote. And I love reading about politics, and following politics on television, and I will watch the election results with interest.
      If you must know, I think David Brooks -- The New York Times' political columnist and perhaps as well-known for his political analysis on PBS -- should be our next President. He knows more, and is more sensible, than any of the politicians I see.
      But back to the original subject -- Election Night at the newspaper. I once volunteered to help out on newsside; I think it was the 2004 Presidential election, and my job that night at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram was to do a roundup of the biggest election stories in each of the 50 states.
       As I remember it -- and actually I'm trying to forget -- I did briefs item on each state and then updated as the election results came in. When we got to deadline time, I think I had updated some 30 of the 50 states (couldn't get to the Western time zone states).
        Of course, I panicked near deadline time. You'd think with all the nightly sports desk experience I'd had, I could have handled it with ease.
         But I got in on the pizza party. That's what was really important.
         So I'll miss the pizza tonight, but I won't miss the frenzy on newsside. I won't miss the action.
         Besides, here's the benefit of retirement. There's a pizza seller set up just across from our apartment complex, a monthly occurrence here. I'm going over and buy a pizza now, and we'll eat it as we watch the election results on television. Happy Election Day.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Motivational speeches are so often ... silly

     The cynic in me, growing as I get older, is scoffing at coaches' motivational speeches today. Especially college football coaches.
     Sorry, they are just so over the top, So silly. Forgive my irreverence.
     Perhaps not as over the top -- or weird -- as the fire-and-brimstone preachers you and I have seen and heard, the ones exhorting people to heaven and warning of the damnation of hell. Not as earnest as the motivational speakers people actually pay to hear at seminars. Not my thing.
      (I do know our old friend Terry Bradshaw is one of those speakers, and he is a good one -- as good at speaking as he was at quarterback, and he's a Hall of Fame QB. Go hear Bradshaw and you know you've been entertained.)
     But, gosh, what a show some of these coaches can put on. Do I find them entertaining? Not at all.
     Here's what triggered this piece. I turned on the recording of the Alabama-at-Tennessee game -- played last Saturday while I was watching Ole Miss-at-LSU -- and the SEC Network telecast began with the cameras inside the Tennessee locker room.
     Vols coach Butch Jones, the tough-looking, tough-acting guy with the old-fashioned crewcut, was in front of his football team and staff.
From his first day as the Tennessee Vols' head football
coach, Butch Jones was familiar with the seven Gen. Neyland
 game maxims. (Knoxville News Sentinel photo)
     Jones screamed, "WHO'S GOT MY BACK?"
     Tennessee players: "We've got your back."
     Jones again: "WHO'S GOT MY BACK?"
     Players: "We've got your back."
     Jones (loud, intense): "I've got your back tonight. Everyone in orange has each other's back tonight, on every single play. ... Just do your job. If we win the game maxims, it's going to be a great night for the Big Orange."
     Then he turned to a bulletin board that lists the seven game maxims originated by Tennessee football coach/military hero Gen. Robert Neyland in the 1930s. Jones began reciting those maxims and the players dutifully repeated them.
       This is Tennessee football tradition. The Vols have done this before every game since the '30s. All their coaches know this is part of the job. Lane Kiffin, I heard, didn't want to continue the routine, but the players -- in his one year as head coach (2009) -- insisted. Also, I read that many coaches around the country, some with Vols ties, have their team recite similar maxims.
        With that, the Tennessee team stormed out of the dressing room at Neyland Stadium, ran through the "T" formed by the "Pride of the South" band ... received the kickoff, soon gave up a sack, punted ... and promptly gave up an 80-yard touchdown pass on Alabama's first offensive play.
         So much for starting the game fired up and playing with pride and intensity. So much for
that fiery Jones motivational speech and pregame routine.
          Apply Neyland maxim No. 3: "If at first the game -- or the breaks -- go against you, don't let up ... put on more steam." (Put on more steam; how 1930s is that?)
          Alabama had 27 points by the time Tennessee scored. The Vols did make a game of it, closing to 27-17, but no amount of motivation was going to be enough this night. Not enough steam.
          Don't mean to be picking on Jones or the Vols. We have ties to Tennessee; daughter and son-in-law are graduates, who live in Knoxville, work in the area, and we lived there six years (I worked for the paper there). Granddaughter Josie can sing Rocky Top. I root for only one SEC school, but we don't mind the Vols.
          I'm just using the Neyland maxims routine as an example that what said in the locker room often isn't really meaningful when the game begins.
          It's just kind of a show, part of the tradition of the game. Coaches, at any level and in any sport, have been trying to "motivate" their players for forever. It's really the coach showing how much he cares, and how much he wants his players to care.
          We love a lot of college football traditions -- the pregame band show (it's always the same at LSU, and how great is that?), the team touching the banner, or the bulldog/tiger/whatever statue, touching the rock and running down the hill, and now -- in just about every sport -- the team- and student-bonding drill ... jumping up and down together. Love many traditions in all sports, really.
           But the point is, motivation only goes so far.
           What's a heckuva lot more important is how prepared teams are after a week on the practice field, or in basketball, a day or two; in baseball, day after day. What's important is if coaches -- and players -- can adjust to what the other team and players are doing during games.
          We've all heard the Knute Rockne exhortations for his Notre Dame teams in the 1920s and '30s. Lots of Rockne imitators since then. I'm just not much of a believer that it makes a difference.
          Butch Jones is about as intense as anyone, and he's had success in previous stops. Not so much -- yet -- at Tennessee. But one coach who might be more intense, more frantic, more vocal, is having great success now and has had it in the past: the local guy, Gary Patterson at TCU.
          Putting it bluntly -- he is a screaming fool. (I find him hard to watch.)
          Again being recognized as one of the nation's best defensive coaches, Patterson takes every opportunity to "motivate" his team. Even his comments to the media -- and he is, in my opinion, no friend to the media (nor is that his job) -- are calculated to send messages to his players.
          But maybe his motivational tactics work. He'd say so, and so do TCU fans. I'd say his teams' success has more to do with practice drills and time, and a drive for perfection.
          Certainly that's true for Nick Saban at Alabama (and LSU before that). He can go off during games and practices, but I suspect his pregame/halftime speeches are more calculating than high-volume.
           And I can't see Steve Spurrier -- who has been among the greatest of college football coaches in his time -- screaming at his team. He'll get irritated and livid for a moment, but he doesn't seem to be a "yeller." Bobby Bowden (speaking of great success) wasn't, either. But he was a helluva speaker.
           I've heard and read that LSU coach Les Miles is quite the pregame/halftime motivator, that is if the players can understand what he's trying to tell them. But I really like his softer, more low-key manner during games, even talking to players who have screwed up. I prefer that, although -- honestly -- I would have been in the "screaming" category. That's where I am during some games (not all) watching at home on TV.
           I think high school coaches still believe in motivational tactics or speeches, and it's part of many college basketball coaches' makeup, too. But I just can't imagine that very many pro coaches -- NFL, NBA, NHL, soccer and certainly not baseball -- stand in front of their teams and their well-paid players and scream at them.
            No, I think the pro coaches leave it mostly to the players to motivate each other. Certainly that's true in the NFL, where you routinely see the crazy gyrations by players on the field and the sideline -- before and during games.
            Ray Lewis, who is going to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the great linebackers of his time, retired the "honor" of the nuttiest pregame hysteria. His act alone was enough reason for me to turn off live NFL games for good.
           My favorite football coaches were Tom Landry, Joe Aillet and Lee Hedges (you know Landry; my old friends know the other two), and they weren't "motivators." They were teachers, detail-oriented and organized. They calmly told players what needed to be done, and left the high-tone motivational speeches to their assistant coaches ... and to the players.
           My favorite "motivational" coach was the man who inspired the name for this blog; I heard him give hundreds of talks to kids at the high school level (and not just in athletics). Jerry Adams didn't yell his messages, but he talked earnestly and was always focused on mental preparation.
           When I called him at his home in Tennessee the other day to talk about this, we agreed that the key for any team, or any function, is the work done prior to the event ... in football, the work done on the practice field.
           "It's not necessarily a long speech by a coach before a game," he said. "Whatever is done or said, it has to be the right time. It (motivation) can come from one moment, one sentence, or one play, or from a (verbal) challenge by a player or two. ... But you have to have a good game plan; everything has to be in place. You have to be prepared beforehand."
           Back to those college traditions. I love the tradition of players (and the coaches) singing the alma mater in front of the school band after victories; I especially love it for LSU and Louisiana Tech. To me, that's a reason to be motivated to win.
           I'm sure the Tennessee Vols like doing that, too. That should be Neyland maxim No. 8: After you win, go sing the alma mater. Then you can yell.