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Texas is the Reason...
I didn't think I was going to make it, but I did get a free hour so i did make it to Dealey Plaza while I was in Dallas.

I had been told this, but the truth is it is much smaller than it appears in our minds eye, since we have watched so much footage of it, and it is an almost unreal occurrence.

The truth is it is a city block, and a 7 story building is really just a seven story building.

The road is marked with two xs of where the shots occurred. I did not see this, but a friend who went said she saw teen girls rushing out between red lights and taking selfies, which sounds distasteful, but I am not terribly surprised.

They do not let you take pictures from the six floor nor can you stand in the 'spot', but the Book Depository is open and is a museum. You can look outside the sixth floor window and you can take pictures from the seventh floor. Of course, the reason why you cant take pictures from the actual spot Oswald was, is because 'OMG, that shot would be impossible!1!!1!!'.

There are a few hucksters and shysters, informal tour guides who want to make a buck, and at least conspiracy author with a table set up. Though, not enough riffraff that you can't avoid.

There is the grassy knoll, which would most likely not be noticed. I feel like I even know less what a knoll is now, and grassy is pretty subjective. There is a fence that is there, and has been rebuilt, which is where a second gunman would have escaped.

I have read recently in Carlson's Dead Presidents book that Dallas has an uncomfortable history of the assassination, but has finally seemed to make some sense of peace of it. It makes sense as the museum is a celebration of Kennedy, and everything reflects his positive legacy. The conspiracy gets some mention in the museum, but it's minimal and unavoidable, really. The gift shop largely dedicated to JFK with only a few books about Oswald, and none I saw of the 'kooky conspiracy' variety.

I read an Oswald biography in junior high and it was a riveting story to me. It's no big thing to say that you are interested in the assisnation, but I remember being deeply affected by the Oswald bio, which seemed so unreal to me.

Which leads to the obvious questions. The JFK conspiracies aren't as hot as they were 20 years ago. We have moved on to other things (9/11) and as files get unclassified, and people from the era age and pass away without deathbed confessions, I think America is getting back to believing the Warren Commission.

In which case, the shot looks tough given the weapon, but not impossible. To me, that seems completely plausible. More so than the angle of the Grassy Knoll which would also necessitate fleeing the scene. Given the chance to prepare and set up, and a slow moving vehicle, it's not unrealistic to me. Plus, we have also heard a car backfire, so audio can play tricks on the mind.

The sixth floor is a museum, and though most of the artifacts are elsewhere in the type of National Museums one finds in DC, there are some interesting pieces. There's Oswald's wedding ring, the Zapruder camera, a China set which was planned for JFKs use while in Dallas, and the jacket of Jim Leavelle he was wearing in that iconic photo of Ruby shooting Oswald (Leavelle is the most striking character of that photo besides the primary two).

The gun isn't there, but a similar model is on display.

It was well worth while just to see given the attention to this historical event, and was well worth it as a history buff. The road is still used as a main thoroughfare which is also kind of weird.

(Not really a) cool story, bro
I never have great travel stories like celebrity encounters, but I do try to manage have some travel stories.

On my trip from Des Moines to Ames, I travelled with the Women's Big 12 Track and Field Championship trophy.

Which begs the question how do such trophies get home.  In this case, it was won at Iowa State in Ames, and was headed to Baylor in Waco.  The first time the Baylor women have won the indoor track award.

There it was when I was checking in and there it was as I picked up my luggae on landing.  I am not sure if it was in the overhead (I doubt it), but was probably given a comfortable spot on the plane.

In which case, I guess I assumed it might be carried via ground wrapped up in a Fed Ex box.

But there you go.

It looked something like this, which seems like it would be fragile, though I suspect it is probably more resitant than one would guess.

Book Review- Take the Canoli
Take the CannoliTake the Cannoli by Sarah Vowell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sarah Vowell has found a certain niche now and it's likely her books going forward won't stray too far (not necessarily a bad thing) but we all start out once, and so there you go.

This is her second book, and is a collection of pieces she wrote for various publishers and the like. So, topics are pretty random- The Godfather movie, Frank Sinatra, the goth scene, Walt Disney World, the Chelsea Hotel, Andrew Jackson and the Trail of Tears. Indeed, all over the place. At heart, the stories are often drawn by the dichotomies of her being outspokenly liberal and having a very Conservative father and family, and also living in Montana.

To me, this makes for a great book. I am well acquainted with Vowell's work and for me, this is a book I read quickly, enjoyed all the way through and will most likely read again. To me, I really enjoy her observations, and sometimes this book is just plain fun, and sometimes it tries to make a point- whether it is heavy like the Trail of Tears piece or at least gets stuck in your mind like the questions of suffering for art brought by the Chelsea Hotel piece.

I suspect most people who would be interested in Vowell likely have their minds made up about her, and she wears her politics on her sleeve, so any cursory reading of her reviews will show that her rating dips among those who might disagree with her politically.

Otherwise, I certainly recommend it. Fun fact, I suspect it is because of my location, but this is yet another book I found for near nothing that is signed by the author (and has the flyer from the reading). I probably enjoy that more than I should, knowing I have the signed book, and it made its way to me.

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Book Review- Worst. President. Ever.
Worst. President. Ever.: James Buchanan, the POTUS Rating Game, and the Legacy of the Least of the Lesser PresidentsWorst. President. Ever.: James Buchanan, the POTUS Rating Game, and the Legacy of the Least of the Lesser Presidents by Robert Strauss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With its title, cover and premise, I couldn't not pick up this book. Strauss suggests that there are plenty of books written about the guys on Rushmore, but not one writes about the least great Presidents. He also suggest we can learn from that.

Indeed, he says there have only four attempts at a Buchanan biography, and the most recent was part of a complete Presidential set, so he had to be written about.

As much as the book talks about Buchanan, it also discusses how we rate Presidents, and who is truly worst- with nods to Harding, Pierce, Hoover, Nixon, Carter, Dubya and all the others.

Buchanan does have a pretty solid resume in this regard. He had a career of being indecisive- but when he made decisions as President he seemed to make the wrong ones. This included possibly influencing the Dred Scott Decision, making the financial Panic of 1857 even worse, being ineffectual against John Brown and in "Bleeding Kansas" and starting pointless international incidents with Paraguay (!) and Canada (I had completely forgot about the Pig War, which was an I Can Read book by Betty Baker which was available in my grade school.)as well as against the Mormons in Utah.

There is a bit of a nod to 2016 with Buchanan being one of the most President-ready candidates. He had been Secretary of State, a Congressman, an ambassador to Russia and Britain. He had been a surefire candidate for at least three election cycles, though his bumblings made it that he did not get to run as the young firebrand, but instead as a much elder statesman.

Strauss makes an interesting point about the string of Presidents from Jackson to Lincoln, which contains some of our lowest points. Yet, also an era that gave us some of our greatest minds or at least were leaders of men- Henry Clay, John C Calhoun, Daniel Webster, William Seward, Thomas Hart Benson, Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis.

It's an interesting point that he makes that people like Clay didn't win (though Clay, Calhoun and Webster all ran), likely because they took bold stands, and spent their careers making bold stands in Congress.

Whereas the country nominated and elected those that might be considered moderate. Buchanan was obsessed with the Presidency from the start. He often took no stand or both stands on an issue. He grew up in a heavy Federalist district and became a Democrat when the Federalists folded.

Andrew Jackson hated his ambition and sent him to Russia, where Buchanan had a major deal signed with the Czar. As a cabinet member and ambassador, he did not have his stances tied to votes, and won the nomination by being a bit of a waffler.

Buchanan's main reason for success was he could throw great parties. The book does talk about the rumor Buchanan was gay, but the author does not seem to find much evidence there.

The main case against Buchanan was that he did not believe the country should stop succession, or any case did little to stop it. Also, the country was probably going down a path where conflict might be inevitable, but Buchanan instead of taking marked steps like the Compromise of 1850, seemed to think the whole slavery issue would go away. Franklin Pierce was guilty of many of the same things Buchanan was, but he was in favor of keeping the union above all else.

This book was right down my alley. It did get repetitive, and at times was a bit clunky. The book tries to do two things- rank the worst Presidents (or advise against doing that), and Strauss also really wants to write a respectable Buchanan biography. He tries to make it a fun read as evidenced by the title, but he has done his research on Buchanan and wants to make sure he is presenting that as well.

It's hard not to agree with the conclusion. Buchanan was one of the most qualified candidates for the job, but he also was fed by ambition and took stands for personal gain instead of principle. There were some bad Presidents, but his refusal to do much of anything about succession, puts him on top.

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I saw this in St Louis at Lambert Field. For those who don't know, the Rams moved back to Los Angeles after about 20 years in St Louis. The Rams were never all that popular in St Louis to begin with, but after a decade of losing records and an owner who spoke badly about the town, there wasn't a fond farewell. In which case there's not a market for these at 50% off. It is hard to really imagine people taking these for free. It is now a year later and there's no reason to wear St Louis Rams gear. So this seems like much shelf space wasted. They should put these in the back and leave them for 20 years where there might be a nostalgia factor.

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While I was driving in downtown Dallas, I saw an early bicycle being driven. It was such an oddity with its big wheel. I should have been awed, indeed I was, but I kept thinking of hipster jokes. Downtown Dallas has street musicians, hack conspiracy writers, wannabe tourist guides, homeless and other expected sights. So I should not be all surprised. Indeed, in a matter of seconds, I noticed a small tag advertising Cirque du Soliel.

Like the most memorable things from this trip, I didn't get to take a picture because don't text and drive but I did a google image search for the bike and found this.

Also I am fairly certain this is the same guy I saw because well he's sort of memorable.

On the Shelf 178: Foxygen
In 2012, I pegged Foxygen for big things when I first heard what was their first major effort, Take the Kids Off Broadway, a pastiche of the Velvet Underground, David Bowie and Hot Rocks-era Stones, with a tad bit of Prince and other flavors.

Like many bands, that was them just gearing up for the breakthrough second album. Like The Smiths, Radiohead The Pogues, Nirvana, Belle and Sebastian (and can I say Franz Ferdinand), they needed time to gel.

Of course, I am lying, I adored Broadway, but I never pegged that they would be anyone's favorite except mine. Still, indie crowds deservedly fawned over 2013's We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and magic.

Then in that American way, we couldn't be content with recognizing their genius. The indie crowd turned on them over some terrible live performances. Every bad rumor about the band came out. Then, a disastrous third album, that even I have a hard time defending.

...And Star Power is a 24 track Sandinista style mess, which leaves doubts there is even one good record there.

Still, when others would have given up, Foxygen has persevered with "Hang".

is a weird record. Not that it isn't good. It's just not Peace and Magic.

It's again a combination of sounds, but in this case, it's related to Lou Reed's 70s work, and not the Velvets. It's hard to hear this record and not picture it revolving around a record player with an Arista label sticker.

Reed is the most obvious touchpoint still, but it's very steeped in late 70s. I suppose booze and downers. And art. Lots of art rock.

Todd Rundgren for sure. Many critics have said Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman (I hadn't thought of that. i was thinking Alice Cooper's quieter work, but I will concede the point). At times, there's a bit of Elton, a bit of Billy Joel, some Rocky Horror, even Fleetwood Mac, and "Avalon" is clearly has a nod to ABBA.

The album is so seeped in the 70s, it's hard to imagine how they pulled it off.

It also means the critics have given it positive reviews, but no one really seems to embrace it. It has plenty of "B+" and "4 star" reviews, but it's a bit of a downer. Everybody loves when you try to remake "Sweet Jane", but no one knows how to take a serious attempt to recreate Street Hassle.

Indeed, it pales to their earlier singles, but what wouldn't. I love that they're back.

Comic Review- The Wild Storm
The Wild Storm #1The Wild Storm #1 by Warren Ellis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

DC having not done much worthwhile with the WildStorm universe has decided for a big bang by bringing Warren Ellis in to write the relaunch.

I loved the 90s WildStorm books which were of course drawn by people like Jim Lee (the creator) and people who drew like Jim Lee, but also had a great stable of writers. These were great books- WildCATS as written by Alan Moore and later Joe Casey, Stormwatch by Warren Ellis, Authority by Ellis, and later Mark Millar, Planetary by Ellis, Voodoo by Moore, and I am probably forgetting some. These were great, memorable titles. The funny thing is I am not particularly nostalgic for these titles, and I mean insomuch as I don't know that DC needs to bring them back.

I may be showing some of my bias (I should recognize my own bias because I often criticize others' biases)- the main one being I prefer titles about individuals to team titles. I have always preferred that. Also, as much as it pains me to say this, it's hard to compare these characters to their peers in the Marvel universe who are much better known.

But it's also I feel that the time has passed. it was a great time where Moore was cementing his comic legend and Millar and Ellis were building theirs. I am much more nostalgic for some of the other titles Lee put out at that time. I can name a half dozen I loved and barely skim the surface- Promethea, Ex Machina, Astro City, Top Ten, Red, Leave it to Chance, Global Frequency, not to mention Danger girl, the Maxx and Strangers in Paradise.

Anyway, we're here now, so how is the relaunch?

It's pretty dang good. Jon Davis-Hunt is a perfect artist for a work like this. It's a very clean comic, well in line some previous WildStorm stuff, which makes it feel like a movie on comic pages.

It's now 20 years since most of us have been reading Ellis, and so with each subsequent title, we tend to be less shocked and awed. That said, it's a strong start. It's accessible and it leaves with an appropriate cliffhanger. I am unsure where this headed (though I have seen some ideas), but it works perfectly as an introductory work.

The story grabbed me at the beginning and left me at the end wondering where things were going. I no doubt would be buying issue 2 based on his previous work, but it did compel me to see what happened next. It felt fresh even when by the very nature of superhero comics has to travel down some very familiar tropes. I felt that it worked well across the board- plotting, characterization, dialogue, etc. - and again I think Davis-Hunt is a good fit for this particular book.

So with all that said, I was impressed. I am trying to avoid clichés like Ellis still has it (not that he ever lost it), but I feel this one will be a standout. Also, to look at it from the other angle, I doubt this would work as well in anyone's else hands. Now, given his track record, Ellis might move on quickly, so I hope he stays as this is a keeper.

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NBA Developmental League: Iowa Energy
The Iowa Energy franchise is now 10 years old. I made it to only one game this season, but the Energy are one of my favorite local experiences. It is hard to say why- as their competition mimics the NBA in that it often seems like they are only playing for the 4th Quarter and the first 3 quarters are superfluous. However, they keep things high paced with plenty of music and excitement.

Th NBADL isn't really analogous with minor league baseball. Although the NBADL has worked on it, and touts a large percentage of players who appeared in NBADL games, it's hard to say that you will see a future star.

Early in the Energy story, they were loosely affiliated with the Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls and the Washington Wizards. As time went on, they developed into a farm team for the Memphis Grizzlies. Next year, the NBADL expands, and they will be a farm team for the more geographically logical Minnesota Timberwolves.

The current setup of a NBADL team is that they usually have 2 or 3 young players who were just drafted. This ensures that they get plenty of playing time, gain experience and they often travel frequently back and forth to the mother team. Also, there are generally one or more of a journeyman-style player, a local college hero, and a variety of players who are NBA longshots but are using the NBADL to stay in shape. Perhaps they did not go to a major college, or just perhaps they just missed the cut.

NBA rosters are limited, so most of these players will not get the call up. That said, the NBADL provides a great spot to grab someone when an injury comes up, as well as a place for rehabilitating the injured player. Also, if nothing else, it gives these players a chance to get paid for playing basketball, and they don't have to go overseas like many do.

For the Iowa Energy, that rookie is Jarell Martin who was drafted 25th overall in 2015. Martin clearly was the best player on the court with 32 points and 6 rebounds. Troy Williams also has a contract with the Grizzlies, but did not play signifcant time in the game I saw.

The current Energy lineup features Wes Washpun, a Guard who was a star at Northern Iowa, Terry Whisnant, a guard from East Carolina. Amir Williams, a 6-11 center from Ohio State.

Then there are those journeymen who lead the team. Cartier Martin was a star at Kansas State a decade ago and has had a few stints in Iowa. He has played in 243 NBA games in that time, most significantly with the Wasington Wizards and the Atlanta Hawks. Forward Ja-Kar Sampson was named to the NBADL all-star team. He was a star for St John's, and has started in 50 games for the Philadelphia 76ers and started 22 games for the Denver Nuggets.

Book Review: Harry Truman's Big Adventure

Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road TripHarry Truman's Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip by Matthew Algeo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you look at my bookshelf, there’s an inordinate amount of books about Harry Truman (Plain Speaking, Pietruszka’s 1948, American Gunfight, Killing the Rising Sun). Okay, so some people read about vampires, some read about gunslingers. I read about Harry.

Like Algeo’s other books, he finds another great lost historical nugget. After Ike was sworn in and Harry returned to independence, he and Bess decided to take a road trip to Washington DC. It seems unlikely, even in the 1950s, that Truman could travel without being recognized, and despite Bess’s advice to the same, Harry thought he would give it a try. Of course, he was wrong. Every stop he made created a minor buzz. There’s also a funny story about how he got pulled over by a Pennsylvania cop. This was before social media, so Truman may have had some peace, but every where he showed up, it quickly made it to the press.

Another interesting point to this book was that Truman did not receive a Presidential pension. This probably didn’t worry people as rich as Hoover, or with a Supreme Court job like Taft, private as Coolidge, or those who had passed on in office. This was an issue for Truman. Truman thought it was important to keep the prestige of the office, which solves what modern Presidents would have done- taking symbolic Chairboard positions and lecturing for big bucks. Truman liked to keep an office in Independence and respond to correspondence, which was not cheap.
This is a pretty quick book, and can be read in one or two settings if so inclined. Algeo fills the book out by taking the same route and reporting what he saw. It’s a charming contrast between vacationing in the 50s/60s and modern day. For those like me, we have heard those stories from our parents and grandparents, and that will be soon lost. Algeo meets some of those who met Truman or their descendants.

Along the way, he does what he does best, which is pepper in random trivia. In this case, mostly centering around the interstate system and the hotel/entertainment industry and how it has changed. There’s also plenty of local history in the towns he visited. I eat that stuff up, and if that is the type of book you are interested in, it really is a great book. It is short enough for re-reading, but long enough that you get your money’s worth.

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