Saturday, December 30, 2006

Austin to Boston - Part 1

I just got back from a three-day whirlwind tour of Boston and vicinity with Kate. The fast clip of events left no time for posting, but I had a great time visiting there for the first time at the hand of a native New Englander girlfriend.

I caught the year-old JetBlue nonstop to Boston on Wednesday morning. They service the route with Embraer E190 regional jets, which are bigger than most regional jets but smaller than mainliners. Without planes like the E190, Austin probably wouldn't have nonstop service to Boston.

You can watch live TV at every seat on JetBlue flights, which is a decent way to wile away four hours. They're also pretty generous with the Cokes and snacks, going so far as to invite you to ask for seconds. I wish they'd start flying to the West Coast from here. A nonstop to Oakland would suit my personal travel needs quite well.

Kate was already in Massachusetts for the holidays, so she picked me up at Logan Airport. We drove to Cambridge and had a very nice dinner in Harvard Square at a place called Upstairs on the Square.

Although the cold weather didn't exceed the hard freezes we have in Austin once or twice a year, it was still pretty bracing to my Texan frame. Therefore, I had no complaints when Kate suggested a stop at Burdick Chocolate for a cup of the best hot chocolate you can imagine. We also had some fine beer at John Harvard's Brew House. Boston is one of the world's great beer cities and I'd like to go back there and do a little more purposeful sampling one of these days.

As it was, Kate's dad graciously invited us to stay at his new vacation house overlooking Sakonnet Bay in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. The drive down there took an hour and a half. I was plum-tuckered out by 10pm, a function of both a long day of traveling and the fact that it gets dark around 4pm in Boston during the winter. Having the sun retire so early can really do a number on your circadian rhythms.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

President Gerald Ford R.I.P.

Former President Gerald Ford has died at age 93. Betty Ford made the announcement this evening via a statement. He had been in declining health for some time.

Although I think Ford did our nation a grave disservice by granting an unconditional pardon to Richard Nixon, I always had a soft spot for him because he was the only president I ever saw in person. I think he was the most fundamentally decent of all the Republican presidents who have served in my lifetime.

One afternoon in 1976, President Ford's motorcade came down Mockingbird Lane in Dallas. I was six years old at the time. We lived a block away, so we dutifully walked over to Mockingbird and lined the street along with most of Highland Park. After what seemed like dozens of police motorcycles and Secret Service cars (this was less than a year after Squeaky Fromme's assassination attempt), I caught a brief glimpse of Ford waving through the window of his limousine.

After the motorcade passed, my friends and I returned to the sandbox. I recall one of my more outspoken friends said "President Ford is a doo-doo head," or something to that effect. Another friend, apparently mistaking the president for some kind of god figure, then said, "Don't say that. He can hear you, you know!"

One of the more morbid aspects of working for the government is that we usually get the day off for presidential funerals. It'll be interesting to see how they handle the special case of Ford, who wasn't elected president - or vice president, for that matter - and only served from August of 1974 (Nixon's resignation) to January of 1977 (Carter's inauguration).

James Brown at the Apollo for the Last Time

James Brown's body will lie in repose at Harlem's Apollo Theater on Thursday afternoon. That is about as appropriate a memorial for the Godfather of Soul as I can imagine.

The clip above is a classic J.B. performance of "Prisoner of Love" and "Please, Please, Please" from the T.A.M.I. Show at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in 1965. T.A.M.I. is supposed to be released on DVD by Dick Clark Productions at some point in the not-too-distant future, but with its long history of licensing problems, I'll believe that when I see it.

Enjoying That Property Tax Cut? Thank a Smoker!

At the risk of being an enabler, all smokers in Texas should know that now is the time to stock up on cigarettes for the new year.

Beginning Monday, you'll pay at least $1 more per pack and about $12 more per carton for cigarettes in Texas. The new tax scheme, passed by the state legislature earlier this year, is designed to help offset a property tax cut that will primarily benefit the wealthiest among us while starving our public schools.

I'm not sure what happens when enough Texans quit smoking to negate the fiscal bang of this particular sin tax, but as long as they don't start taxing curse words, I'll keep my goddamn mouth shut.

Monday, December 25, 2006

James Brown is Dead

The good feelings of another Bloody Mary Christmas morning with my parents in Houston were tempered somewhat by the sad news of James Brown's death today at the age of 73.

I was fortunate enough to see the Godfather play at Stubb's on May 10 (see review). I knew it might be my last chance to see James Brown and I wasn't going to miss him this time around.

I'd heard his more recent shows were hit-or-miss, but even though he couldn't sing or move like he did at the Apollo Theatre in 1962, there was still plenty of vitality in his performance. I'm not sure I'll ever get to see a more influential musician in the flesh.

Photo by Gary Miller

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Time for the Jews

Anyone who loves the Phil Spector Christmas album will dig this Robert Smigel "TV Funhouse" segment with Darlene Love on vocals from last year's Christmas episode of Saturday Night Live.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Betty Butterfield On Wal-Mart

If you've lived in Texas awhile, you've met at least one woman who closely resembles Betty Butterfield.

Shown here, Betty minces no words in describing the horrors of shopping at the Wal-Mart Supercenter.

*For the record, I don't think Ms. Butterfield's pill-addled hysteria aligns with most of the current opposition to Wal-Mart in my neighborhood.

A Turd in the Ivory Tower

If having the brains of John F. Kennedy splattered on its downtown streets wasn’t enough, yesterday’s announcement that SMU is entering negotiations to build the oxymoronic George W. Bush Presidential Library is sure to make Dallas the undisputed epicenter of American presidential infamy for all time.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Here's to Everson Walls

In the midst of having to stomach yet another installment of Terrell Owens' idiocy, it’s extra nice to hear that former all-pro Dallas Cowboys cornerback Everson Walls is donating one of his kidneys to former Cowboys running back Ron Springs. Springs, 50, has diabetes and has been fighting kidney disease since 2002. He had to have his right foot amputated two years ago.

"A lot of people say you do something like this only for family," Walls said. "Well, we're family."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

DANGER: Seasonal Weather Approaching

All the people who were complaining about it being 80 degrees in Austin this past weekend are about to get their wish for seasonal holiday weather.

A big Arctic blast is headed this way as I write. Things are already nasty in the Texas Panhandle. There's even a remote chance of snow on Christmas Eve.

I wouldn't mind a little dusting of snow for Christmas. Austin hasn't had an appreciable snowfall (i.e., snow you can actually see on the ground) since 2004. I remember it snowing in Houston on Christmas Eve in 2003, too.

The more likely prospect of sleet is decidedly less cheery. You've never seen a bigger bunch of drooling nitwits than Texans trying to drive in icy weather. The resulting TV news footage of vehicles helplessly sliding into one another is almost as big an embarrassment to my home state as our president (who, incidentally, was born in Connecticut).

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Wal-Mart May Eat Itself

According to this article by James J. Cramer in New York magazine, uppity neighborhood groups like Responsible Growth for Northcross are the least of Wal-Mart’s problems.

Between its underperforming stock and flatlining sales growth, the world’s largest retailer is steadily losing ground to more appealing stores like Target and JCPenney. They are beginning to look more like the bloated, pre-bankruptcy K-Mart every day, and we all remember what Rain Man had to say about those guys.

Wal-Mart has a huge image problem on its hands. People don’t feel good about shopping there. Aside from the company’s remarkably screwy ethics, consumers have gotten wise to the fact that Wal-Mart doesn’t “always” have the lowest prices. When you do find a bargain there, it’s often a piece of crap. What good is a $40 DVD player if it breaks in two months?

I can deal with huge crowds and messy stores if I can get a good buy, but if Wal-Mart can’t consistently win the price/quality point after all that, why should I subject myself to everything else that sucks about them?

Cramer has some common sense suggestions for how Wal-Mart might right itself:

First, it has to acknowledge that the wheels have fallen off the Bentonville Bus. Then it has to bring in some savvy merchants from the outside and give them a real chance to improve the quality of the stores—the atmosphere, the merchandise, the service, everything—without raising prices. (And it wouldn’t hurt if Wal-Mart would create, if not a Starbucks pro-labor feel, at least something that makes shoppers feel that it’s not a global retailing bully and its workers aren’t all desperate retired folks.)

The biggest enemies of Wal-Mart are the people running the company who ignore such advice.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Toys "R" Us Animated Christmas Ad

This animated Toys "R" Us spot from the mid-70s is one of my all-time favorite Christmas commercials. It always made me feel warm inside when it came on. The explosion of toys at the end is like something out of a dream.

AA Plans Nonstop Austin-Seattle Flight

American Airlines has released its summer 2007 flight schedule and Austin is scheduled to get nonstop service to Seattle beginning April 10, 2007. AA plans to fly the four-hour route with an MD-80, not a cramped regional jet.

Despite all the high-tech traffic generated by the Microsoft-Dell axis, I'm not sure there's enough "nerd bird" traffic between Austin and Seattle to warrant mainline jet service. On the other hand, American is now codesharing with Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air out of Seattle, which will provide one-stop service to Austin for smaller cities throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Either way, I have friends and relations in Seattle, so I'm glad to see it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Everybody Do the Schism

Several conservative Episcopalian congregations in Virginia (the same state that made whites marrying blacks a crime until the Supreme Court made them stop in 1967) are now scampering into the arms of homophobic African dioceses to avoid having to answer to a gay bishop.

The newly-aligned churches will serve as reverse missionary outposts to bring the not-so-good news about homosexuality to Americans.

Two of these churches sit on tax-free real estate in northern Virginia worth approximately $27 million. I hope the Episcopal Church makes them pay through the nose to leave.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Taco Bueno Taps Austin

Today I received a flurry of e-mails from friends who grew up in the Texas/Oklahoma border region about a new Taco Bueno opening in early 2007 at the corner of Mopac and Slaughter.

Local franchisee EatDrink, LLC out of Texarkana has big plans for the Abilene-born, Dallas-based chain. They eventually plan to open up to 14 locations in Central Texas.

Whether Taco Bueno can steal enough market share from Taco Bell to thrive here is open for debate. There was once a Taco Bueno in Round Rock, but it closed several years ago. The chain has radically altered its concept since then, so they might do better this time around.

Negative publicity surrounding the E. coli scare at Taco Bells in the Northeast probably won't hurt, either.

I Will Not Blog About Wal-Mart Again This Week

I'm getting tired of all Wal-Mart, all the time, but whether you have a horse in the Northcross Mall redevelopment or not, do read Michael King's bigger-picture piece on the so-called "Wal-Mart effect" on our society in today's Chron. Here's just one of the money quotes:

If a Dallas developer and a transnational juggernaut can impose a project this massive and disruptive in the midst of several established, residential neighborhoods, without so much as a public-hearing process to fully address its implications and consequences, then what good is a city government?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Another Year, Another Conference

Over the past several months, the bulk of my government job (I can't really call it a 'day job' anymore now that I've given up on my tap dancing career) has been consumed by preparations for the Texas HIV/STD Conference.

We're closing up shop tomorrow and my feet couldn't be happier. Although I'm glad it's over, it's also a little bit sad to put another conference to bed. Despite the stress of preparing for it, I like to see all my out-of-town colleagues in one place every other year.

You can learn plenty about the conference here, but your Eye on Austin (a.k.a. KEYE-TV) gives you the 15-second version here along with some good news about a decline in breast cancer rates.

Fighting City Hall

About 150 protesters showed up at Austin City Hall this afternoon to speak out against the Northcross Wal-Mart development. I couldn't be there, but the Chron's Wells Dunbar has a report here.

Although Lincoln Properties has now joined Wal-Mart in its 60-day suspension of the project, it wasn't before Lincoln filed a second site plan at the same time Wal-Mart announced the 60-day suspension. In other words, the suspension is nothing but more public relations. Don't let the headlines fool you.

If there's no other reason to oppose Wal-Mart and Lincoln Properties' plans for Northcross, it's because they've dealt with the public in bad faith from the word go. This is how a company becomes the most hated retailer on the planet.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Wal-Mart Suspends Northcross Plans for 60 Days

Wal-Mart announced today that it is suspending its designs on Northcross Mall for 60 days to talk with surrounding neighborhoods.

While the city already approved Wal-Mart's site plan (under somewhat spurious circumstances), they have yet to approve a remodeling or building permit. Richard Suttle, Wal-Mart's attorney for this project, says the company hopes to address some of the points of neighborhood opposition during the 60-day delay.

This is a good public relations move on Wal-Mart's part, but whether it's any more than that remains to be seen.

Northcross Wal-Mart Update

Austin City Council has added the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter at Northcross Mall to its Thursday agenda.

While some council members don't believe the city can legally stop the project, Brewster McCracken told the Statesman he wants to review the site review approval anyway.

"We know that at least one procedural requirement was not followed," he said. "We also know there is great interest in seeing a better type of development on that site. But we're trying to find out what our choices are."

Responsible Growth for Northcross has gathered over 3,500 signatures from residents in the affected neighborhoods in opposition to the 220,000-plus square-foot retail behemoth.

Meanwhile, the Real Estate Council of Austin is urging its members to voice their opposition to Austin's proposed "big box" ordinance that would've required Wal-Mart and Lincoln Properties to notify neighborhoods of this development prior to getting the site plan approved by the city.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Larry Kane and the Smell of Incense

Since I'm right in the thick of helping to coordinate a biennial conference for 800 people, here's some more classic Houston TV for ya.

Up through the Sixties, many local TV stations produced teen dance shows to compete with American Bandstand. In Houston, it was The Larry Kane Show, aired weekdays over KTRK.

This garbled 1968 clip is of Dallas-based Southwest F.O.B. performing a cover of the West Coast Experimental Pop Art Band's "Smell of Incense." The song was a regional hit, but the Stax distribution deal they talk about failed to break "Incense" into the national top 40. Personally, I prefer the original.

They also refer to a place called Catacombs, which was a teen club located at 3003 S. Post Oak Rd. Catacombs later moved to the corner of University and Kirby, which was a Half Price Books for most of the time I lived in Houston. I'm not sure what's there now.

It's pretty hilarious to listen to these guys with thick Texas drawls whip up a psychedelic frenzy. Southwest F.O.B. members Dan Seals and John Colley became England Dan and John Ford Coley in the Seventies, scoring a number one hit with "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight."

Monday, December 11, 2006

Houston's Channel 39 Nears 40

If you grew up in Houston in the Seventies, you probably watched KHTV Channel 39 every day after school.

In addition to Flintstones and Brady Bunch reruns, KHTV showed local shows like Don Mahoney and Jeanna Clare (a low-budget, western-themed kiddie talent show), News Before the Hour (local high school students reading the news) and, of course, Houston Wrestling with Paul Boesch (taped every Friday night at the now-demolished Sam Houston Coliseum).

KHTV stupidly changed its call letters to KHWB in 1999 to reflect its WB affiliation, which means the station had to change names again this year to KHCW.

This CW39 News clip from September 17 chronicles 40 years of Channel 39 with some great old footage from the glory days of UHF.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Chilean Dictator Pinochet Dies

Good riddance to former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who finally died today at the age of 91.

Pinochet led a military coup against democratically-elected Marxist president Salvador Allende in 1973. More than 3,000 people were murdered for political reasons under Pinochet's 17-year reign. His old age and declining health kept him from ever having to fully account for his misdeeds.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

I Love the Smell of Rotting Flesh in the Morning

Now that we’ve got our own IKEA, what else does the Austin area need to make itself a real metropolis? A 50-story skyscraper? Major league sports? Nonstop flights to Europe?

Well, how about an outdoor laboratory for the study of human decomposition?

According to Friday’s Texas Government Insider, Texas State University in San Marcos is thinking about building such a facility to allow researchers and law enforcement officials to observe the decomposition process in order to better predict approximate times of death. Only two other states – California and Tennessee – have similar laboratories.

The facility would require a six-acre tract that could be surrounded by prison fencing and monitored by video surveillance. They’ll also need a lot of Lysol.

Friday, December 08, 2006

North Austin Gets Its Anglo On

Can North Austin support two cheesy Anglo-themed pub concepts right across the street from each other? With this month’s grand opening of Bagpipes Pub & Eatery right across the street from Sherlock’s Baker St. Pub & Grill at Burnet and 183, we will soon find out.

I’m baffled that Bagpipes would choose a location so close to the better-established Sherlock’s, especially in a shopping center facing away from one-way service road traffic where other restaurants have met quick and unceremonious demise. Moreover, Bagpipes is only open until midnight. Sherlock’s stays open until 2am.

On the other hand, Bagpipes has umpteen plasma TV screens and a wait staff dressed up like naughty Scottish schoolgirls, which will go a long way toward pulling in the coveted Boorish Lout demographic – at least until they get sued by the Tilted Kilt under the trade dress infringement precedent set by the 1992 Supreme Court case, Taco Cabana, Inc v. Two Pesos, Inc.

Hell, I may just pop into Bagpipes myself in the coming weeks for research purposes. Any place that has Bass Ale on tap within stumbling distance of my home is worth a cursory visit.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

City Approved Wal-Mart Without Knowledge of City

While there’s no smoking gun, Katherine Gregor’s story in today’s Austin Chronicle gives the best forensic analysis to date on how the Northcross Wal-Mart Supercenter proposal wound its way through city channels with no opportunity for public input until the site plan was approved.

The revelation that city manager Toby Futrell’s husband is employed by Wal-Mart is duly notable (she announced yesterday that she was recusing herself from the case), but I think it’s much more troubling that no city official can explain why the “big box” ordinance and the adoption of improved commercial design standards were hung up in review at the same time the single largest store in Travis County was being approved.

As council member Brewster McCracken stated, “I don't know which would be more alarming, that they knew about it or that they didn't know about it."

Ye Gads, A Twister!

There was a tornado in northwest London today that injured six and damaged several homes.

Tornadoes aren’t unheard of in Great Britain, but they are somewhat rare. They only have about 33 a year on average, according to the Tornado and Storm Research Organization. Central London was struck by a tornado in 1099 that destroyed the church of St. Mary Le Bow along with 600 homes. On November 23, 1981, there was a tornado outbreak in England that spawned as many as 105 twisters.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The New Titter Times

A couple of my Ron Titter bandmates have been up to some pretty cool stuff lately.

Guitarist/keyboardist David Wyatt has composed a percussion piece based on a future RTB song called “Whup Cream” and the Golden Hornet Project’s percussion ensemble will be playing it tonight along with compositions from Josh Robins (Invincible Czars), Graham Reynolds (Golden Arm Trio), Peter Stopschinski (Brown Whornet) and two-time Pulitzer Prize-nominated composer P. Kellach Waddle. The show starts at 8pm at The Off Center at 2211-A Hidalgo. Buy tickets here.

Meanwhile, our drummer/chef Joel Fried just made Texas Monthly’s list of “The 63 Tacos You Must Eat Before You Die” with his “Cowboy Taco,” available at both Austin locations of Tacodeli. He created the taco by combining chunks of tenderloin with grilled corn, carmelized onions, queso fresco and guacamole. Joel’s was one of only eight tacos to be photographed, which gives him the unique license to boast, “There’s a picture of my taco in Texas Monthly!”

Sorry, Joel, it was just too easy.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Tree with All the Trimmings

This past weekend, I ended my self-imposed two-year sabbatical on Christmas trees with a vengeance. Kate and I picked out this six-foot Douglas fir and decorated it Saturday night to the strains of Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas and Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift for You.

I'd planned to put the tree near my front door, but it was too wide and unwieldy to fit there. Instead we placed it in the converted garage den, or as I call it, the Rompus Room. Hopefully I won't accidentally kick it over while singing along with Van Halen's first album.

The other good thing about this year's tree placement is that it's further away from my bedroom. I used to have bad dreams about Christmas trees coming to life and attacking me.

Friday, December 01, 2006

1961 Civil Defense Aviation Grounding

While many people assume 9/11 was the first time U.S. commercial aviation was brought to a nationwide halt, this Universal International newsreel footage narrated by Ed Herlihy shows an admittedly-less-dire 1961 precedent in which all civil planes were grounded for 12 hours while the U.S. and Canada successfully defended North America against a mock Soviet air attack.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Goddamn Shower Pan

That's right, folks. I have just asked God to damn my shower pan, for it has failed me by leaking all over and under my bathroom floor, as well as through the exterior wall of my home.

Because the base of my shower is made of fiberglass, they're probably going to have to rip-and-replace instead of repairing it. I'm told there may even be a jackhammer involved.

Anytime someone has to bring a jackhammer into your bathroom, invoking the lord's wrath can no longer be considered to be an act of vanity.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

San Diego Bans Wal-Mart Supercenters

In order to avoid an influx of 24-hour supercenters like the one currently proposed for Northcross Mall, the San Diego City Council voted 5-3 on Tuesday to ban "big box" stores of more than 90,000 square feet that use 10 percent of floor space to sell groceries and other merchandise that is not subject to sales tax. The ban is aimed squarely at Wal-Mart.

"I have a vision for San Diego and that vision is about walkable, livable communities, not big, mega-structures that inhibit people's lives," said San Diego councilman Tony Young.

Mayor Jerry Sanders says he'll veto the ban if it's reaffirmed on a second vote next year, but the council can override Sanders' veto with five votes. Wal-Mart will undoubtedly be pulling out all the stops to sway at least one of the five council members who voted for the ban.

Of course, this sort of thing could never happen in a bend-over-for-business state like Texas. Austin might have the political will to pass such a ban, but state courts would never uphold it and the state legislature would punish the city with a fusillade of Austin-bashing bills.

Airlines Decide All Men Are Potential Molesters

Although I was sort of kidding yesterday about making parents nervous by climbing around the playscape at NASA, we do seem to be reaching a point in society where childless men are commonly viewed with hyper-vigilant, preemptive suspicion in areas where children congregate.

Now Salon reports that major airlines like British Airways, Qantas and Air New Zealand have policies that prohibit unaccompanied children from being seated next to male passengers in the name of child welfare (or more likely, litigation concerns). Personally, I'd just as soon not risk being seated next to a fidgeting germ factory on a long-distance flight to Christchurch, but the implication that having a penis somehow renders me unfit to be seated next to a child is sexist and disgusting.

Moreover, any parent who feels placated by such a policy is a moron. The overwhelming majority of sex offenses against children are committed by non-strangers. If an airline doesn't feel it can protect your child from inflight molestation without segregating men from children, you shouldn't be letting your child fly that airline alone in the first place.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Man On the Playscape!

My Thanksgiving stay in Houston was all that and a bag of leftover turkey. The day after Thanksgiving, Kate was nice enough to invite me on a family excursion to the Johnson Space Center, or "NASA," as most native Houstonians call it.

When I was a kid, just getting to see the enormous Saturn V rocket and some spacesuits was enough to warrant a trip to NASA for anyone visiting Houston. I'm pretty sure the whole thing was free, too.

Nowadays, "NASA" has been supplanted by something called "Space Center Houston" that charges amusement park prices. We can lament the passing of staid government presentations of space-related knowledge as an ends in themselves, but there's something to be said for bells and whistles, too.

Take, for example, the playscape I'm sitting in here. I don't know if a playscape is really necessary to make space interesting to 21st century children, but there's no getting around how cool it is to sit in a Soyuz escape pod-shaped moving turret perched three stories above a bunch of nervous parents.

You too would be nervous if you saw a childless man funning around in the playscape.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Sex Pistols on WFAA-TV Dallas

The Dallas Observer's Robert Wilonsky points the way toward this WFAA news clip posted by Steve Dirkx about the Sex Pistols' 1978 show at the Longhorn Ballroom. The reporter was predictably nonplussed.

Incidentally, the Longhorn Ballroom was once owned by Bob Wills under the name "Bob Wills' Ranch House." When Wills hit a financial rough patch, he sold the club to Jack Ruby.

Although it usually functioned as a country and western venue, the Pistols' fleeting U.S. tour and subsequent implosion made this the Longhorn's most famous bill. Located at 216 Cornith on the southwestern edge of downtown Dallas, the club continues to host events today.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Atonement with All the Trimmings

Last year, UT journalism professor Robert Jensen climbed into hot water (again) by suggesting that Thanksgiving in America should be a day of atoning for visiting extermination upon indigenous Americans instead of eating ourselves into a big fat stupor in front of the TV.

From an early age, we Americans hear a story about the hearty Pilgrims, whose search for freedom took them from England to Massachusetts. There, aided by the friendly Wampanoag Indians, they survived in a new and harsh environment, leading to a harvest feast in 1621 following the Pilgrims first winter.

Some aspects of the conventional story are true enough. But it's also true that by 1637 Massachusetts Gov. John Winthrop was proclaiming a thanksgiving for the successful massacre of hundreds of Pequot Indian men, women and children, part of the long and bloody process of opening up additional land to the English invaders. The pattern would repeat itself across the continent until between 95 and 99 percent of American Indians had been exterminated and the rest were left to assimilate into white society or die off on reservations, out of the view of polite society.

Jensen's polemic is still making waves today, as evidenced by this post on It's interesting to see how many folks reflexively disavow any connection with less-than-savory elements of our history even though the America they tell us to love or leave was clearly afforded in part by those elements.

Unlike Jensen, I wouldn’t go so far as to do away with Thanksgiving, nor would most who’ve ever tasted a Greenberg smoked turkey. I am thankful for all the good things in this country and in my life, but it wouldn’t hurt us to swallow a little crow with our Thanksgiving dinner every now and then.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Let's Go to the Mall

Despite an overly Friends-ly vibe at times, How I Met Your Mother has really grown on me over the past year.

Freaks and Geeks alum Jason Segel and Buffy vet Alyson Hannigan bring a lot of endearment from previous projects to the show, but even without that, Marshall Eriksen and Lily Aldrin would still make a cute TV couple worth rooting for. The newly uncloseted Neil Patrick Harris is also perfectly (and ironically) cast as amoral poon hound Barney Stinson.

That said, I haven't warmed as much to Josh Radnor's Ted Mosby. Nor do I think the device of Bob Saget as old Ted explaining to his kids how he met their mother is particularly effective. Maybe the producers have a bit too much personal investment in him as a protagonist. Who knows?

Cobie Smulders' Robin Scherbatsky is cute, but her character has been a bit flat as well. At least that was the case until this week, when her "big secret" turned out to be that she led a previous life as a Canadian pop star named Robin Sparkles.

This being the age of the Internet, "Sparkles" #1 fan has a MySpace site where you can hear her minor 1993 hit, "Let's Go to the Mall." It's actually a very funny parody of the short-lived teen pop queen age exemplified by Tiffany and pre-Deborah Debbie Gibson.

And just in time for Black Friday, too!

Responsible Growth for Northcross

Neighborhood opposition to the proposed Wal-Mart at Northcross Mall has swiftly given birth to a group called Responsible Growth for Northcross. The new group, started by residents from the Allandale, North Shoal Creek, Brentwood, Crestview, Wooten and Rosedale neighborhoods, will hold a community meeting on Thursday, November 30 at 7pm at Grace Church of the Nazarene, located at 1006 W. Koenig Ln.

From the group's news release...

Northcross Mall, long an underused shopping center in an area which has improved significantly in recent years, is ripe for transformation. The mall property has the potential for a diverse, mixed-use redevelopment such as those underway at the Triangle and Mueller.

However, current redevelopment plans, strongly opposed by many in the surrounding neighborhoods, threaten to undermine that potential and bring a two-story, 24 hour Wal-Mart into the area. Responsible Growth for Northcross envisions a redevelopment aligned with the city’s new model for urban development and planned in partnership with surrounding neighborhoods.

Personally, I think the Triangle development is architecturally hideous, but it would've been ten times worse without sustained push-back from the neighborhoods surrounding it. When the Triangle was first proposed back in 1997, it included a 60,000 square-foot Randall's and an Act III multiplex. Just imagine what that would've done to the Guadalupe/North Lamar bottleneck.

Whether the Wal-Mart at Northcross gets built or not, surrounding neighborhoods will be better off for having held some feet to the fire.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Spies of Texas

When former University of Texas police chief Allen Hamilton died, his son donated his papers to Half Price Books. The elder Hamilton's papers initially came to light in the context of the 1966 UT Tower shootings, but they also reveal formidable surveillance activities conducted by UT and Austin police on campus area non-conformists during the Sixties.

At the behest of iron-fisted Board of Regents chairman Frank Erwin, UT police infiltrated the campus SDS chapter and also kept tabs on students like Janis Joplin, Lloyd Doggett and Kinky Friedman. With LBJ in the White House, UT had extra impetus to keep a tight lid on dissent.

Another person spied on was Thorne Dreyer, editor of The Rag, an underground newspaper Erwin tried to ban before the Supreme Court stopped him. Dreyer exposes UT’s surveillance in this fascinating Texas Observer story.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Pain in the Pahrump

Recently lampooned as an intolerant backwater on TV’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Pahrump, Nevada did the Hollywood elitist mindset one better last week by banning the display of foreign flags unless Old Glory flies above them.

The law was passed in response to the prominent display of the Mexican flag at last spring’s marches for immigrant rights. Violating this retarded ordinance will net you a $50 fine and 30 hours of community service.

Looks like I’ll have to find another place to pick up snacks and wet-naps after my next perfectly legal sojourn to Sheri’s Ranch (NSFW unless you're the coochie doctor).

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Partridge Family Temple

I've heard about the Partridge Family Temple before, but this Swedish TV clip demonstrates why they're better than any of those silly old Abrahamic religions. Having topless women certainly helps (NSFW outside of Scandinavia).

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Aeromexico Announces Austin-Mexico City Route

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport will truly become international again with nonstop Aeromexico flights to Mexico City beginning December 15. This is the first scheduled international service from Austin since Mexicana pulled its Cancun flight in 2004.

Whether Aeromexico will be any more successful is anybody’s guess. One plus for Aeromexico over Mexicana is that you can earn SkyMiles, which can be used on Delta, Continental and Northwest. Ultimately, though, I’m not sure there’s enough air traffic between Austin and Mexico City to justify such a flight.

Monday, November 13, 2006

It's Wal-Mart, Stupid

I just got back from my first Wooten Neighborhood Association meeting. Last week's announcement about a Wal-Mart Supercenter going into Northcross Mall ensured a healthy turnout.

Approximately 85 percent of those who spoke had negative things to say about Wal-Mart. The familiar litany of complaints included increased traffic, higher crime, adverse environmental impact, decreased property values, damage to existing local businesses and Wal-Mart's legendary history of abhorrent labor practices. Those who spoke positively about Wal-Mart were older residents who want a close-in place to shop. I too would like to see a nearby place to buy groceries. I would also like to see Northcross resurrected from dead mall syndrome, but I don't trust Wal-Mart.

The truth of the matter is that most people don't want Wal-Mart in Northcross because it's Wal-Mart. If H-E-B was coming in (I think they've made a major strategic blunder by not going into Northcross), the for/against percentage in adjacent neighborhoods would be dramatically reversed. All you need to know about Wal-Mart's community relations can be surmised by the way they kept the lid on this project until the site plan had already been approved by the city.

Although Austin is considering a "big box" ordinance that would require public hearings, expanded notice, and conditional use permits for projects larger than 100,000 square feet in a single-occupancy building, the Northcross Wal-Mart will almost certainly be grandfathered in. Someone at the city wanted this site plan issued before the big box ordinance was considered and that pisses me off even more than Wal-Mart's sneakiness.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Texas 4000

In addition to being into fencing and rowing, Kate is an avid cyclist. She recently became one of about 50 riders to be selected for the 2007 Texas 4000 team.

The Texas 4000 is a 70-day, 4,500-mile bike ride from Austin to Anchorage, Alaska that takes place in the summer. One team goes through the Rocky Mountains while another follows the West Coast before joining up in Canada for the final leg into Anchorage. Each rider commits to raising at least $4,000 for the American Cancer Society. The riders also visit hospitals and work to raise cancer awareness in the communities they travel through.

The ride was started in 2004 by 25-year-old cancer survivor Chris Condit. Everyone on the team has experience with cancer, either personally or through a loved one. Cancer came into Kate's life when her dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Fortunately, he's been in remission for six years. I think it's cool that Kate is using her experience as a springboard toward something so proactive and challenging.

You can learn more about the Texas 4000 and make a donation at the team's website. Kate's online rider journal can be found here.

How 'Bout Them Dynamo?!?

Though all we're hearing in Austin is sulking over UT's season-dashing loss to Kansas State yesterday, the Houston Dynamo managed to win the MLS Cup this afternoon on penalty kicks.

Kate is a native of Worcester, Massachusetts, so once she realized that Houston was playing New England, she asked if I cared to make a friendly wager. As much as I enjoyed seeing the Rockets break Houston's long-running pro championship drought back in 1994, the Dynamo won me dinner, which is something I can bank on.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Houston's Got the Dynamo Hum

With the Texans playing like ass, it’s nice that Houston’s new Major League Soccer team made it to the MLS Cup game in their first season in town. The Houston Dynamo, formerly the San Jose Earthquakes, take on the New England Revolution at 2:30pm Sunday at Frisco’s Pizza Hut Park.

The Dynamo started off its Texas residency as Houston 1836, but they quickly realized that calling attention to the Texas Revolution might not help in marketing the team to Mexican immigrants. Now playing in Robertson Stadium on the UH campus, the Dynamo’s long-term goal (ha) is to build a soccer-only stadium complex that also houses youth leagues. Maybe the youth tie-in can give pro soccer the boost it needs to gain a permanent foothold (ha ha) in the U.S.

I played soccer for four years when I was a kid in Dallas and Houston. I wasn’t very good, but all that running around depleted energy that would’ve otherwise been spent setting things on fire. The long-defunct North American Soccer League (NASL) fielded both the Dallas Tornado and the Houston Hurricane at the time. My dad occasionally took me to games and it was a lot of fun. We even got to see the Tornado play an exhibition game against Manchester United at SMU’s now-razed Ownby Stadium.

Andy Warhol and Sonny Liston for Braniff

Dallas-based Braniff International Airlines was all about capturing the style market before a hideously poor strategic response to deregulation caused the once-proud carrier to cease operations in 1982.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Wal-Mart Supercenter Coming to Northcross

Today's announcement that Wal-Mart will begin building a Supercenter at the redeveloped Northcross Mall next year is a disappointment that comes as no surprise. I'm also not surprised by the fact that they waited until the day of midterm elections to slide this announcement under the radar.

Despite the positive quote from the president of the Allendale Neighborhood Association in today's Statesman, Wal-Mart will face significant resistance in North Central Austin. The Statesman article implies that Wal-Mart will effect a water-to-wine retail revitalization at Burnet and Anderson, but demographics are already bringing about revitalization without Wal-Mart in the mix.

The one positive side effect of all this is that H-E-B will absolutely have to improve its sorely-lacking Burnet/Allendale location before Wal-Mart snakes all its customers.

Dem Victory Prompts Rumsfeld Resignation

In a perfect world, Donald Rumsfeld would be perp-marched on live TV from the Pentagon into the cargo hold of a plane and taken to The Hague pending trial for war crimes, but seeing that henny penny scourge on humanity resign in disgrace less than 24 hours after the Democrats take Congress is good enough for now. Let’s see what the Aggie can do.

Things Have Changed

That was one heck of an election last night.

1. The Democrats convincingly captured the House
2. The Democrats appear poised to capture the Senate when all the votes are counted in Virginia
3. South Dakota voted down its draconian abortion ban
4. Arizona (of all places) voted down a gay marriage ban – the first state to do so
5. Missouri passed a stem cell research initiative
6. Rick Santorum and Katherine Harris crashed and burned like photogenic air show disasters
7. All seven of Austin’s bond issues passed
8. Democrat Nick Lampson picked up Tom DeLay’s old seat
9. New York Democrat John Hall, who wrote perennial 70s faves “Still the One” and “Dance with Me,” is now a U.S. Congressman
10. Former Texas Republican state legislator Rick Green was charged with assault after starting a fight at Sunset Canyon Baptist Church with current Democratic state legislator Patrick Rose

George Bush is president for two more years, but his cheese is now flailing in the wind. I’m not na├»ve or optimistic enough to think last night fixed a whole lot of what’s wrong with this country, but at least we have a barrier in place now against the Bush regime’s pursuit of the neo-conservative agenda. Now our spoiled little leader will actually face some push-back for trying to privatize Social Security or start another war under false pretenses. Whether the Dems pick up the Senate or not, that body will remain closely divided and will have a hard time overriding a presidential veto. Still, a larger-than-expected win in the House is a big step in the right direction.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Vote, Dammit!

If you haven't already voted, be sure to get out and vote tomorrow. Don't let long lines, a little rain or a poll observer in a Brooks Brothers suit make you forget what's at stake right now.

Here in Texas, it looks like our Christ-baiting incumbent governor will coast to victory with less than 40 percent of the vote. Since Chris Bell has the best chance of the three spoilers of defeating Rick Perry by most accounts, that's who I voted for.

Despite getting only a fraction of the media coverage given to Kinky and One Tough Grandma, Bell gained a surprising amount of traction this fall while Grandma stalled out (despite premature teacher and state employee union endorsements) and Kinky's once-hopeful candidacy degenerated into a sideshow of tired quips and stupid gaffes.

As much as I detest the two-party system, after what happened in 2000 with Ralph Nader, I think it's better to try and slow the bleeding with an imperfect Democrat than vote for someone who has no chance in hell of winning. A "protest vote" is a self-indulgence I can't afford anymore.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Chicken Fried Birthday

In honor of having slipped softly off the coil of my mid-30s today, Kate and I met my folks in Round Top for lunch. I'd been having a hankering for good fried chicken and it just so happened that Royer's Round Top Cafe was having a Sunday chicken dinner special.

We each got four pieces of chicken, mashed potatoes and creamed corn. The corn would've been replaced by green beans if I ran the show, but the buttermilk and garlic-battered chicken was both crispy and succulent in all the right places. Then we had apple pie a la mode for dessert. You can't have a much more American birthday than that.

I don't eat fried chicken all that often because it's not healthy and I'm almost always disappointed by it. Popeye's is okay for a chain store, but I've yet to find a really good down-home fried chicken dinner anywhere near Austin. Does anyone out there know if such a place exists outside of my extra-crispy dreams?

Friday, November 03, 2006

A Bird in the Bush Gets Bus Driver Fired

When I first heard about the middle school bus driver who was fired for flipping off President Bush in Seattle last June, my initial reaction was to begrudgingly side with the school district. Even though being flipped off is the least of what Bush deserves, it’s inappropriate for a school employee to make such a gesture in front of students. Now, though, we have Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) taking credit for the bus driver's termination at a GOP rally on August 12.

As the motorcade went by the President and I drove by on I-5. The President was having a great time. He was waving at everybody. And waving at the kids he got the biggest kick out of the kids leaning out the window to say hello to the President of the United States. The sad part of it is, though, we got to the last bus...the bus driver flipped the President off (loud boos). So the very next day, you know what I did? I called the superintendent of that school district. And that bus driver no longer works for that school (loud cheers). That's the old sheriff part of me still around.

Up until the tape surfaced, Reichert and the school district both denied that he had anything to do with the firing. No word yet on how they’re going to reconcile the conflicting accounts. Regardless of what really happened, Reichert either wielded his political influence to get a school bus driver fired or falsely took credit for the firing to boost his image for the red-meat crowd, which makes him an all-around horse dick no matter how you slice it.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Rent Boy Alleges Fling with Pastor Ted

Pastor Ted Haggard of the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs resigned leadership of the National Association of Evangelicals today because of his alleged ongoing patronage of a male prostitute.

While Haggard denies the allegations, it would be strange for him to resign if there was nothing to the claims made to the Denver Post by former prostitute Mike Jones.

You may remember Haggard from the movie Jesus Camp. While Haggard had enough public relations sense to avoid asking children if they were ready to "die for Jesus" like the sweet-heartedly insane Pastor Becky Fischer, the fact that he has (or had) a standing weekly phone call with the President of the United States ought to scare the unholy crap out of anyone who doesn't want to live in an iron-booted theocracy.

If I was the down-low pastor of a browbeating evangelical congregation whose apparent life-or-death issue is keeping the gay folks from getting married, I think it would be wise to avoid sleeping with the same male prostitute over and over again. Sooner or later, you're bound to leave some tracks. If Ted did have a thing going on with Mr. Jones, I'll bet he now wishes he would've settled for getting sucked off through glory holes.

While I sympathize with good people who struggle with sexual identity, leaders of the religious right who sublimate their homosexual tendencies with gay-bashing sermons and legislation deserve no quarter whatsoever. May they all be exposed for the hateful hypocrites they are.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Bob Barker Retiring from "The Price is Right"

If you haven’t made it out to CBS Television City in Hollywood to see a live taping of The Price is Right with Bob Barker, time is running out.

The 83-year-old host announced Tuesday that he will be be retiring in June 2007 after 35 years of hosting the popular price-guessing show. Once Barker steps down, unbridled American consumerism will never be celebrated so unironically ever again.

Even worse, calling in sick will never be as much fun and our nation’s unwanted pet population is sure to spiral out of control.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Horrors of Ron Titter

Don't forget to wash that candy down with beer at tonight's Ron Titter Band Halloween extravaganza at Hole in the Wall. We'll be playing 'round midnight, the Meshbanes play at 11pm and former Shindig Melissa Bryan starts us off at 10pm.

Monday, October 30, 2006


My former roommate Kevin Fullerton blew into town from Seattle on Friday with his pal Kelly in tow. After Kate and I met them at the airport, we headed for Trudy’s North Star for margaritas and migas. Trudy’s keeps their kitchen open until 2am on Friday and Saturday, which makes it the natural go-to sit-down eatery within stumbling distance of my house. Eating migas at midnight made me feel like I was in Las Vegas.

Saturday was spent gathering costume elements for the evening’s festivities from Goodwill and Savers. I settled in on a convict Elvis look and Kevin went as a Hot Wheels car. Kate made for an alluringly naughty Catholic schoolgirl and Kelly donned green hair to become the Chicken of the Sea. We made it to two parties and briefly stopped by the Victory Grill to see the Darling New Neighbors and the Unbearables performing as the Zombie Rock Orchestra. Sadly, the Neighbors finished before we arrived, but the Unbearables proved to be a toe-tapping closet pop delight. We were thoroughly enjoying the show until someone started up a smoke machine that smelled like a pee-filled vaporizer.

We drove out to Blanco on Sunday and gorged ourselves at Riley’s BBQ on the town square. I never see Riley’s in lists of best barbecue places, but Kevin and I have always had really good brisket there. The all-you-can-eat beans are a nice touch so long as you don’t mind driving back to Austin with the windows down.

On the southeast side of the town square, there is a paved path to the Blanco River that gets you into Blanco State Park without having to pay admission. The path goes right by the second largest live oak tree in Blanco County. We decided to climb the tree, demonstrating a complete lack of faith in my body’s ability to avoid falling. I was quite visibly petrified and I didn’t even get that far up in the tree. By contrast, Kevin scampered up the 400-year-old trunk like a monkey. I always was kind of an indoor kid.

We walked down to the river as the sun began to recede behind the treeline. It had been a picture-perfect day weather-wise and we couldn’t resist having a go on the swings. Everyone should swing from time to time. It keeps you young at soul if not heart. We finally had to abandon the swings when some actual children showed up.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine

This short-lived Saturday morning live action show aired on CBS in the mid-Seventies. The Seventies were the only decade in which anyone could've pitched a show called "The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine" with a straight face.

Harlem Globetrotter legends like Curly Neal, Meadowlark Lemon, Geese Ausbie and Marquis Hayes appear in the opening credits. Jack in the Box commercial star Rodney Allen Rippy also shows up here.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Crack That Shell

For the sand castle kicker in all of us, here’s your best chance to destroy an office building without being branded a terrorist.

At the ass end of the Nineties high-tech explosion, Intel began building a 10-story chip design center after extracting $10.6 million in incentives from Austin taxpayers. Two years later, the company halted construction and backed out of the deal, leaving an unfinished husk of concrete for all of us to enjoy. After years of negotiations, the much-loathed “Intel shell” at Fifth and Nueces will finally be brought down this fall to make way for Austin’s new federal courthouse.

The Austin Parks Foundation is now selling $10 raffle tickets to destroy the Intel building. One lucky winner gets to set off the implosion, wrecking ball, jackhammer or other means of destruction that wipes the Intel shell out of existence forever.

The winner will also be rewarded with the knowledge that the raffle helps fund improvements to nearby Republic Square Park, but that pales in comparison to the genital-engorging thanatotic fervor of demolishing a hideous symbol of corporate folly.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Boo, It's Titterween!

If you want to rock out on Halloween night without having to deal with the hassle of downtown Austin, come on down to the Hole in the Wall to see The Ron Titter Band (12am), The Meshbanes (11pm) and an extra super-special mystery opening band that will be named shortly.

Best of all, there's no cover and plenty of free stares for all the girls dressed up as sexy nurses, sexy maids, sexy cops, sexy bus drivers and sexy sexy costume vendors.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

10 Stupid Things I Did While Living in Jester Center

1. Drank a half-gallon jug’s worth of screwdrivers, kicked the metal casing off a drinking fountain and urinated in an elevator while returning to my 12th floor room, where I passed out kneeling against my bed in a puddle of vomit.

2. Invited my hall mates to watch me create flash fires with non-dairy creamer in the stairwell, which led to me being a prime suspect when AFD had to roll several fire trucks to Jester because a different idiot set fire to a towel in said stairwell (fortunately I was out of town that weekend).

3. Didn’t lock the door to my dorm room after returning home from a Butthole Surfers show, which resulted in a very drunk unidentified male coming into our room at 3am and climbing into bed with my roommate, where he promptly pissed himself.

4. Smeared the remnants of my 19th birthday cake all over the elevator lobby in a fit of drunken pique.

5. Ate French fries at lunch and dinner every day for two years.

6. Went out of my way to convince my born-again resident advisor that I worshipped Satan shortly after a UT student on spring break was found murdered outside Matamoros by a drug-trafficking cult of Santeria enthusiasts.

7. Smashed a tennis racquet against my suitemates’ bathroom door after they propped a cup of water against my door and knocked, which sent water spilling into my room.

8. Hosted a pretend radio show on KTRD, “Turd 98 FM,” on an alarmingly regular basis until UT’s student radio station gave me a real show.

9. Incurred a constant stream of noise complaints by playing loud music and singing along at the top of my lungs.

10. Tried dipping Copenhagen at my roommate’s insistence, went zooming for about 30 seconds, vomited without honor.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Back to School

Kate had a fencing tournament at UT’s Recreational Sports Center on Saturday. I hadn’t been to the Rec Center since 1990 when I was writing a story about its impending grand opening for UT’s alumni magazine. Between graduate school, playing the punk rock and slapping meat on bread, I didn’t have much time for recreating back then.

I’d never been to a fencing tournament, either. Once Kate gave me a brief overview of the scoring system, though, I could enjoy the matches on a rudimentary level. She won two of the three matches I saw and was pleased with her overall performance. So was I, and I’m not just saying that because she knows how to wield a foil.

I ventured over to the Jester Center Wendy’s in between Kate’s matches to grab a bite and watched some of the nail-biting UT-Nebraska game. It was fun to watch a game on campus again, and even if we would've lost, I still would've been happy to not be standing around in the snow in Lincoln.

I lived in Jester Center from 1987 through 1989. With a capacity of almost 3,000 residents, Jester is the largest dorm in North America. I never had much love for its brutal, Soviet-style ambience.

Walking through the doors, I still recognize the scent of college from two decades ago. If I had to describe it, I would say it’s a cross between dorm food and cleaning fluid. I’d know that smell anywhere.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Michael J. Fox for Claire McCaskill

This is a powerful political ad for Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat trying to unseat U.S. Senator Jim Talent. I think this ad should be run against every member of Congress who opposes stem-cell research.

It's so sad to see what Parkinson's Disease has done to Michael J. Fox, but it's downright disgusting that a fascist-flavored cadre of fundamentalists is blocking research that might lead to a cure in order to violently ram their festering perversion of Christian love down all of our throats.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Friday Night Lights

Though nothing compares to H.G. Bissinger's classic 1988 book about the Permian High School Panthers of Odessa, NBC's Friday Night Lights is engaging television.

I'm not just saying that because they filmed some of it right down the street from where I work. Nor am I just saying that because Minka Kelly, the actress who plays perky, faith-driven cheerleader Lyla Garrity (the one in the middle), makes me feel inappropriate stirrings that God and Johnny Law can't do anything about because she's 26 in real life (ha!).

The pilot episode featured a hilarious cameo from UT coach Mack Brown portraying an obnoxious booster telling the coach of the fictional Dillon Panthers that you "don't need a quarterback" to win in Texas football. I'm sure that part was filmed before the Ohio State game.

I never cared much for high school football when I was actually in high school. I went to a few games in my freshman year, but that was it. Our team was lucky to rack up three wins in a season and there were plenty of other things to do besides watch football, like eating at Pancho's Mexican Buffet.

The fever associated with Friday Night Lights is largely a product of small towns and/or large suburban high schools with a decent enough tax base to build top-notch facilities and hire the best coaches. But it is most definitely a fever in large swaths of Texas, and if you want to have something to talk about with people who reside in those swaths, it doesn't hurt to keep up with who's up and who's down.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV

There are a lot of pathetically bad novelty anti-war songs out there right now, but this variation on Tony Orlando & Dawn's "Tie A Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree" by Austin's venerable Asylum Street Spankers is pretty goddamn hilarious, especially in tandem with their Lawrence Welk-style video.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Guest Room

For nearly three months, the guest room of my new home sat empty and unfurnished except for the obscene amount of vinyl I've crammed in the closet.

That all changed this weekend, courtesy of my folks and my Uncle Mark. They brought an old family dresser up from Houston in Mark's truck and went one better by picking up my new guest bed. Then we all had barbecue and ice cream.

I spent Saturday night buying linens, which may be the lowest-key thing I've done on a Saturday night since 1980.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Near-North Austin Grocery Scene Report

In reading the minutes of the Allandale Neighborhood Association’s August 30th meeting, I came across some interesting information regarding the H-E-B at the corner of Burnet and Allandale. If Knight Real Estate is to be believed, H-E-B is apparently staying put on that corner and has no plans to look at the redeveloped Northcross Mall property.

Knight is the property manager for Allandale Village. H-E-B’s 50-year lease there expired two years ago, but they’re now two years into the first of four five-year lease extensions. They have no plans to renovate or expand the existing store.

Anyone who shops at this H-E-B on a regular basis knows it’s the smallest, least well-stocked and most cramped-up location in the Austin area. I typically drive the extra distance to the Far West location if I have serious shopping to do. Although a bad H-E-B is still beats a middling Randall's or Albertson's on price, the San Antonio-based chain stands to lose its neighborhood allegiance if a marginally better grocery store moves into the redeveloped Northcross Mall.

If H-E-B isn’t moving into Northcross, the only logical contender left for the proposed supercenter there is Wal-Mart. Target has a recently-remodeled store at Ohlen and Research, so I doubt it would be them.

Although hatred of Wal-Mart’s business practices and political leanings will keep a few people from shopping there, it won’t take much effort from Sam’s shock troops to pick off Allandale H-E-B customers. At that point, they’ll have no choice but to expand or wither.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Freddy Fender R.I.P.

Legendary Tex-Mex singer Freddy Fender died today in Corpus Christi at age 69. Fender had suffered from a battery of health problems in recent years. He was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer in January.

Born Baldemar Huerta in San Benito, Fender enjoyed success in the Rio Grande Valley as a regional rock and roller in the late Fifties and early Sixties. After serving three years in Louisiana's Angola State Prison for marijuana possession, he left the music business to become an auto mechanic.

Doug Sahm led a rediscovery of Fender in the mid-Seventies, bringing him to Austin's Soap Creek Saloon. Huey Meaux signed Fender and persuaded him to cut "Before the Next Teardrop Falls," which topped the pop and country charts in 1975. A new version of "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" also topped the country charts and was a top ten pop hit.

In the Nineties, Fender, Sahm, Flaco Jimenez and Augie Meyers became the Texas Tornados, enjoying yet another round of popular success with the Tex-Mex sound. I saw them at the Texas Union Ballroom in 1992. It was a great show that was chock full of hits.

Fender's long career and wide-ranging appeal made him a natural for commercials. He will almost surely go down in history as the only man to do commercials for both the Texas Department of State Health Services (for its hepatitis C awareness campaign) and Pancho's Mexican Buffet.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Theme to TV's Hello, Larry

If you were alive in 1980 and watching NBC on a Friday night, you might remember this infectious little ditty. I love a jingle that sticks to your brain whether you want it there or not.

Hello, Larry was a short-lived and altogether awful sitcom from the Fred Silverman era. McLean Stevenson gave up a sweet gig on M.A.S.H. for this turd and his career never really recovered. Can you imagine how Stevenson must've felt when the producers told him they were bringing in Meadowlark Lemon to shore up the ratings? Kim Richards sure was foxy, though.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Cursive, Foiled Again

Today’s Washington Post asks if the rise of keyboarding equals the end of having to learn to write cursive. God, I hope so.

I never understood the point of learning to write in cursive when block printing is so much easier to read. My elementary school handwriting grades reflected this lack of understanding.

As soon as teachers no longer required me to write in cursive, I quit doing it and everyone was happier. One can only guess at how many kids have their love of writing destroyed by this excessive focus on aesthetic over content.

It’s hard enough for me to turn a thought into a sentence without having to worry about making it look pretty.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Song is Over for Tower Records

Another day, another one-time vanguard retailer down the drain. After struggling to climb out of bankruptcy for years, Sacramento-based Tower Records will be closing all its stores and liquidating its stock.

Austin's Tower location in the former Varsity Theatre at Guadalupe and 23rd closed in 2004 after 14 years. Between the overhead of maintaining a deep catalog in a worldwide chain of stores, deep discounts offered by "big box" stores like Best Buy, Internet retailing and downloading, Tower didn't stand a chance in the long run.

There were four record stores within a block of the Drag when I moved here in 1987 - Sound Exchange, Hasting's, Discount Records and Inner Sanctum. Today there are none.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Stretford and Soles

Saturday night was fun upon fun. I started out at Waterloo Park for the Alamo Drafthouse’s free, inflatable screening of Rock ‘N’ Roll High School. The Mullens (right) came down from Dallas to play some soul-tinged garage punk to get things started.

Toward the end of the Mullens’ set, my Alamo pal Julie took me over to meet P.J. Soles, pictured here (left) introducing the movie with Kier-La Janisse and Tim League. This, my friends, was a teen-age fantasy come true 25 years after the fact, as my sheepish fanboy demeanor undoubtedly demonstrated.

Soles was really nice, indulging everyone in stories about the movie and signing my vinyl copy of the soundtrack album. You know that’s going up on the wall. I learned Soles was 28 in 1979 when she played Riff Randell (her last teen-age role) and that she and former husband Dennis Quaid had the Ramones over for Thanksgiving dinner during the breakneck, three-week shoot. She said they were very polite.

Although I’ve seen R&RHS dozens of times, seeing it in the park on a mild October evening with a crowd of fans was a whole new experience. The Ramones’ concert sequence was played extra loud and everyone cheered when Riff blew up Vince Lombardi High. My only regret is that I didn’t get a photo with Soles.

After wolfing down a couple of fajita tacos, I cruised over to the Longbranch Inn to see Stretford. What a fun show that was. I had an instant familiarity with almost every song they played, even the ones I hadn’t thought about in years. Everyone was pogoing in front of the stage and singing along like it was 1993 all over again.

One thing I’ve finally learned is that you should always bring a camera to reunion shows because you never know who you’ll run into. To wit, here’s me and trumpeter/man about town Bill Jeffries.

Trumpeter Jennings Crawford (who you may recognize from the Wannabes) was the most dapper of the altogether dapper Stretford crew. Here he is (center) looking suave with Melissa Bryan and Bonnie Spanogle.

Photographic evidence of the traditional Stretford audience sing-along can be found here, with good ‘ol Tim Stegall from the Hormones leading the charge. He's the guy with the spikey black hair and white jacket. Tim just moved back to Austin after several years in New York and Las Vegas.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Storehouse Closing Its Doors

When I was a kid, I remember going with my parents to Storehouse and shopping for contemporary home furnishings to the strains of Eumir Deodato's version of "Also Sprach Zarathurstra (Theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey)."

Storehouse opened its first location in Atlanta in 1969. During the Seventies, the company was known for sharp design at accessible prices. As their prime demographic aged, they became more upscale, but it remained a good place to buy furniture.

Sadly, 2006 will be the end of the line for Storehouse. The company began a court-ordered liquidation of its nearly 70 stores on Friday, including the one here in Austin on Burnet Road.

The good news is that you might be able to pick up a nice piece of furniture for a deep discount as the closing date draws near. Right now everything in the store is 15-30% off.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Stretford Reunites Tonight at Longbranch Inn

The vintage Nineties Austin Brit-pop-punk stalwarts of Stretford return to the stage at the Longbranch Inn this evening for a special reunion gig with fellow travelers Richard Head and the Friendly Truckers.

Stretford is the name of the Manchester suburb where bandleader Carl Normal grew up. He wrote some great pop tunes, like "Zerox Love," "It's Over Now" and "I Used to Know," to name a few. If you come across a copy of their 1996 Unclean LP, Crossing the Line, snatch it up.

I think Stretford got together in 1990 and I know they broke up in 2000. I probably saw them more than any other Austin band in the Nineties. Aside from the many bills Cheezus, Noodle and the Peenbeets shared with them, they were always one of my go-to acts for nights when I just needed to get out, drink some beer and not think about shit for a few hours.

As Stretford gradually built up a small-but-loyal following, everyone would crowd around the stage at their shows, singing along on the choruses as trumpeter/court jester Bill Jeffries worked the room into a frenzy. I'm sure a similar scene will be replicated tonight. It'll be kind of like going home again, only I won't be able to drink as much.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Crestview in the Crosshairs

Lee Nichols has a nice article in this week’s Austin Chronicle about how two redevelopments at either end of Crestview might affect the character of the North Austin neighborhood.

To the east, there’s Crestview Station, a huge Trammell Crow/Stratus Properties residential/retail/office project being built on the old Huntsman Chemical Corp. property to coincide with the light rail station at Lamar and Justin Lane. Crestview Station could increase the neighborhood population by some 60%, and not all of those people are going to be taking the train to work.

To the west, there’s the impending redevelopment of Northcross Mall, which is rumored to involve a much-disliked retailing concern from Arkansas. Lincoln Properties, the mall's Dallas-based owner, is presently staying mum on that count, which isn't doing much to quell suspicions.

Though I moved out of Crestview this summer, its evolution continues to be of concern to me since I now live just north of Crestview in Wooten. As Crestview reaches critical mass, at least some of that growth is bound to spill over Anderson Lane into Wooten.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Study Finds Pot May Stave Off Alzheimer's

This is the best news I've heard all week. A study conducted by the Scripps Research Institute finds THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, may halt the progression of Alzheimer's Disease by preserving levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that allows the brain to function.

Now where the hell did I leave my keys?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Now That's the Wright Stuff

I have something good to say about Republicans today, so listen up because this probably won’t happen again for awhile.

Last week Congress voted to gradually scale back the Wright Amendment restrictions that prohibit airlines from flying to distant states out of Dallas Love Field. President Bush is expected to sign the legislation within the next 10 days. This is good news for North Texas, a region that has paid inflated airfares on long-distance flights for years.

The revised amendment will allow airlines to sell through tickets from Love Field to anyplace in the U.S. so long as the flight makes a stop in one of the current Wright Amendment states, which are Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi and Alabama. The amendment will be eliminated altogether in 2014, but gate restrictions at Love Field will always keep the airport from usurping D/FW Airport's role.

This compromise should keep Southwest Airlines firmly ensconced at their Love Field hub, which is good for Dallas' tax base. It may also prompt Southwest to fill in their national route map by expanding into hub airports like Memphis, Cincinnati and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Given current population growth patterns, an increasing proportion of the Metroplex will be closer to D/FW than Love Field by 2014. All of the exploding northern suburbs like Frisco and Allen now have easy access to D/FW via the new George Bush Turnpike, too.

Although D/FW is still hurting from Delta closing its hub there last year, their anti-competitive bellyaching failed to strike a chord with anyone not directly or indirectly vested in American's massive D/FW operations. People who actually have to pay money to fly overwhelmingly supported repealing the Wright Amendment.

Rock 'N' Roll High School with P.J. Soles in Person!

Who needs Texas/OU when the Alamo Drafthouse is presenting a special free showing of Rock 'N' Roll High School this Saturday at 7pm at Waterloo Park?

As the device that introduced me to the Ramones through repeated showings on cable during the early Eighties, the Allan Arkush-directed, Roger Corman-produced RNRHS will always be one of my all-time favorite movies. I've never actually seen it on a big screen, though.

The Mullens will play Ramones songs before the show to get everyone in the mood. Even better, P.J. Soles herself will be at the screening. You may also remember Soles from supporting roles in Carrie, Halloween and Stripes. Her perfectly-pitched portrayal of juvenile delinquent and Ramones superfan Riff Randell struck a major chord in my 12-year-old heart, but who wouldn't fall for a girl who brings the Ramones to class and blows up the school?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Ron Titter's Back in Town

Fresh off a two-month hiatus, The Ron Titter Band returns to the stage this Friday night at 10pm. Actually, we won't be on a stage because we're playing at the Parlor, 110 E. North Loop Blvd., with Many Birthdays (11pm) and a special mystery guest (9pm).

Admission is gratis and the show ends by midnight, which means you can either go downtown or go home and pass out. This is a show that will set North Austin on fire, so wear clean underpants.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sordid IM Scandal Sinks Florida's Foley

I really don't care that resigning Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) likes to hear about how 16-year-old boys jerk off (possibly NSFW).

Sure it's unseemly, unethical and hella dumb, but it's not necessarily illegal (at least not in the District of Columbia, where 16 is the age of consent). Regardless of state-to-state laws, there's a world of difference between getting turned on by 16-year-olds and getting turned on by 10-year-olds.

If I was part of the House leadership, though, I'd probably want to make sure such a guy wasn't co-chairing the Missing and Exploited Children Caucus. That's just asking for trouble.

Amazingly, ABC News is now reporting that Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-NY) told House majority leader Dennis Hastert about Foley's indiscretions months ago. It'll be interesting to see how Hastert tries to spin his blubbery, hate-filled frame out of covering up Foley's penchant for pages.

Maybe the fact that there's a penis involved will finally make people wake up and smell the waterboard.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Well, Are We Better Than This?

The day Bush signs the so-called torture compromise bill into law will be the end of American citizenship as we know it. That’s because this oxymoronic “compromise” will make American citizens subject to being seized as enemy combatants and able to be thrown into military prison (see above).

Here's Bruce Ackerman on Thursday’s Los Angeles Times editorial page:

The compromise legislation, which is racing toward the White House, authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants, even if they have never left the United States. And once thrown into military prison, they cannot expect a trial by their peers or any other of the normal protections of the Bill of Rights.

This dangerous compromise not only authorizes the president to seize and hold terrorists who have fought against our troops "during an armed conflict," it also allows him to seize anybody who has "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States." This grants the president enormous power over citizens and legal residents. They can be designated as enemy combatants if they have contributed money to a Middle Eastern charity, and they can be held indefinitely in a military prison.

But other provisions of the bill call even this limitation into question. What is worse, if the federal courts support the president's initial detention decision, ordinary Americans would be required to defend themselves before a military tribunal without the constitutional guarantees provided in criminal trials.

Americans who worship at the phallus of brutal authoritarianism by supporting torture deserve to live in perpetual fear of terrorist attacks. If this is what the United States is sinking to under the Bush regime and his degenerate Republican enablers, then you're goddamn right I'm “purposefully and materially” against it.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sorkin's Studio 60 So-So

I’ve been trying to get into Aaron Sorkin’s new NBC drama, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, but so far it strikes me as above-average writing and above-average acting in the service of nothing much at all. As Salon's Heather Havrilesky put it earlier this week, West Wing-style gravitas is silly when it’s applied to a drama about Saturday Night Live.

Studio 60 is supposed to be about a faltering live comedy sketch show like SNL, but the second episode lost all verisimilitude once we got to see how unfunny the fictional show was. If nothing else, Studio 60 demonstrates the difficulty of being funny while driving a prestige vehicle.

Unless you think those godawfully smug Mark Russell specials on PBS are the cat's ass, it's impossible to imagine an audience giving a standing ovation to the lame musical number that was supposed to be Studio 60's comeback cue. Are we really supposed to be that impressed at Sorkin getting the term "intellectual reach-around" past the censors?

I did like the irony of having Judd Hirsch interrupt a live sketch to deliver a Network-style rant about the rancid state of American television on the pilot episode. Hirsch’s former Taxi co-star Andy Kaufman actually did walk out of a sketch (with the producer’s blessing) on ABC’s Fridays back in 1981, but Hirsch reportedly found similar Kaufman antics on the Taxi set to be a major source of irritation.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Barbecue, Bastrop and Babies

There’s a new girl in my life these days. Her name is Kate and she’s really cool. We’ve been dating for a few months, but my tendency to be overly cagey in revealing too much about my personal life has precluded me from saying anything about it here. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about Kate in coming posts, though.

Last weekend, Kate and I went on a day trip. We went to Lockhart for barbecue and ate at Smitty’s. For those unversed in Texas barbecue lore, Smitty’s is housed in the original location of Kreuz Market, which moved to a new location several years back because the brother (who owned the restaurant) and the sister (who owned the building) didn’t get along. Once the brother moved out, the sister opened Smitty’s.

I still haven’t eaten at the new Kreuz, but I was very pleased with the meat at Smitty’s. We ordered half a pound of brisket, a pork chop and a sausage link. The meat came without sauce and it didn’t need any. The pit area is still infernally hot, but Smitty’s dining room is much more pleasant than the old Kreuz used to be. You can even order ice cream for dessert.

After walking around Lockhart’s town square for an hour or so, we drove over to Bastrop. I drive through Bastrop on the way to Houston several times each year, but I rarely see anything other than the backlit plastic blight of the Highway 71 bypass corridor. The historic town center of Bastrop is actually quite picturesque.

We stopped off at the visitor’s center, which is housed in an old bank built in the late 1800s, and conversed with the lady running the place. A family of four featuring two adorable boys walked in as we spoke. As they left, the visitor’s center lady motioned to the boys and said to us, “Now you need to do that.”

It took us awhile for what she meant by “that” to sink in. Evidently, she meant we needed to have kids. I wasn’t offended, but I did find it peculiar that this nice lady thought it was her place to tell us such a thing.

What makes strangers think it's fine and dandy to exhort other strangers (tourists, no less) to procreate? I must say this was not what I expected when we stopped by the visitor's center.