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NBA Developmental League: Iowa Energy
It wasn't that long ago that I was lamenting that I might not make it to any Iowa Energy games this year, but I did and now I managed to get a second game in.

There are some changes going on in the NBADL next year. The current NBADL provides an exciting product but isn't analogous to other minor league sports. It has gotten better over the years, and NBA teams do like to have their 1st and 2nd year players spend as much time here and in the NBA as they can. Also, though the 'Jeremy Lin' style megastar story is rare, there are a number of players who have used the league as a step to make respectable NBA careers for themselves, if not stars, then at least as consistent role players.

The biggest change next year might be the name and branding as it becomes the G league. The biggest change here is the partnership with sponsor Gatorade. It's doubtful that just the partnership will shake things up that much, but it may open a few doors. More important to the league is that next year the NBA will increase the roster size from 15 to 17. More players means more needs, and as injuries happen, the easiest place to find people to fill those spots is the NBADL. As important is that the League has adopted two-way contracts. This means more money for some players for one, but also mimics what we see in baseball's minor league system. The early DLeague teams had affiliations with the NBA, but now each DL team will have a geographically close team that it will bond too, Need a player? There will be one place to go and it can happen quickly.

This game was not so exciting. The Energy were well over played by the LA D-Fenders. The Energy did claw back within 4 after being outplayed all games, which doesn't do much to dispel the rumor that the NBADL is a more real sport than other performers who play in the same arena like John Cena or the Harlem Globetrotters.

This team was slightly different than the one I saw a month ago. This incarnation had three NBAers- Jarrell Martin, Wade Baldwin IV and Deyonta Davis and they all saw court time. Martin and Davis again showing that they are on the next level. Despite briefly leaving for an injury, JaKar Sampson looked great even when the rest of the team didn't, leading the team with 27 points.

Butler alumni Kellen Dunham played a major role in this game as compared to last and local star (Northern Iowa) Wes Washpun also put up impressive numbers.

I would be somewhat remiss if I didn't mention the half time show was Steve Max, "The Simon Says Guy". If you didn't think you could make a living playing (sorry, more correctly leading) games of Simon Says, you're wrong.

I suppose half game shows are a niche kind of thing, and generally, the Energy uses that time with groups that use trampolines to do diving basketball dunks.

Max is perfect for the time it takes to keep the crowd entertained, and to be fair, he is really good. He has that Willy Wonka/Gene Wilder vibe like a big optimistic kid in a man's body.

Here he was at a NBA game featured on ESPN Sports Center. Many more videos on Youtube

Comic Review: Iron Fist
Iron Fist (2017-) #1Iron Fist (2017-) #1 by Ed Brisson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been failing at my goal of trying to do as many first issue comic reviews as I can. Partially, due to the time required, but also on a bit of a budget cutback- the neverending flow of adding titles to the reading list and blanching any time I go over $20 aweek at the comic shop.

I couldn't resist this one though. I have really liked what i have read from Brisson and this looks like one of those times where Marvel has got a perfect match of underappreciated character and writer.

I will start out with saying I know bare minimum of the character. I am familiar with him, but can't say I have ever read his titles (despite a history of really good writers at times). I know the last couple of attempts with this character have fallen short, which is likely why they launched with Brisson. I do know that they have generalized the character enough that some will not like it.

Issue 1 certainly feels like it's right from the action movies that dominated the late 80s- sketchy underground locations, seedy characters, big action moves, fight clubs, vague mysticism.

The main criticism i have read is that there isn't much content in issue one. That may be fair, but it's also maybe unfair to expect that. The book needs to start off with a boom, so it's wholly appropriate to get that boom early, and end with a cliffhanger. We will see the character development when it is needed. Also, to be fair, I think Brisson does get deceptively a lot in these few pages. He only gets so much to work with, and it would be very clunky if he tried to overexplain. I haven't read issue 2 (which came out this week) but it would appear there's a lot of story content, and not just fight scenes.

I like Mike Perkins art. It is basic marvel and nothing that particularly seems different than what is expected. But in that, it's wholly appropriate, and I probably would have only commented on it, if it was particularly bad. So from that end, I was fully satisfied. Characters were clear, proper mood set and complimented the story. A nod to Andy Troy's color too.

The cover (like the comic's title) is also kept simple. I wasn't sure what I was getting. Either that Marvel wasn't going to invest too much into this, or that sometimes, basic is better.

At this point, I am excited about the book. I will acknowledge that Brisson is keeping it pretty basic (at this point, the character most think of as Danny Rand is fairly unrecognizable), but I liked everything he has done so far in developing the story, I am happy with the art, the dialogue was appropriate (which is tough to do in this genre) and Brisson's version of Rand will have the depth to carry the story.

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On the Shelf 179: Cloud Nothings
The Cloud Nothings are one of my favorite bands of recent years, and they are out with album #4 Life Without Sound.

The band has mined what many would call the great 80s American hardcore scene and its immediate 90s successors- Husker Du, Fugazi, Dinosaur Jr, Wipers, Sonic Youth, Jawbreaker, and Jawbox to name a few. 2012's Attack on Memory was a strong statement, though the harshest critics could argue that even there, as well as 2014's follow up Here and Nowhere Else, they are still a bit short of some of their idols.

Life Without Sound may not help that. Teaming up with producer John Goodmanson, this is a pretty clean alt-rock radio friendly album in line with his work with Death Cab for Cutie, the Posies and Harvey Danger (I dont know if I have ever seen a more scattered portfolio than Goodmanson- Team Dresch, Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, Sepultura, Unwound, Blondie, Hanson, Train, Wu Tang Clan)

That is good and bad. The album is pretty great, and I am going to still put up a fight that this is one of the best bands on the planet right now; still I can't argue that it ever makes a statement that is on par with the best of their best influences. That's hardly a criticism, there are only a few Neverminds,Flip Your Wigs or Daydream Nations a generation.

It doesn't ever sound like a rip-off either, just a nod. The few times that they do venture out of the clean rock singles sound on this record, they are often headed to Mission of Burma territory, which is a good thing. Besides the only reason that we're having those comparisons with the all-time greats is that they are getting closer and closer to reaching that territory.

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.


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