Friday, November 30, 2007

Evel Knievel R.I.P.

Evel Knievel, Greyhound bus-jumping hero to all American boy-children of the 1970s, has died at age 69. For a man who lived like he did, making it to 69 is roughly equivalent to a mild-mannered salaryman living to 112.

Despite the “don’t try this at home” mantra that accompanied every TV broadcast of Knievel’s stunts, you don’t have to look far to find men of my generation who still bear scars from trying to jump something on a bicycle. For me, it was a rusty chain about two and a half feet off the ground that blocked a driveway at West University Elementary School in Houston.

Emboldened by Knievel-style visions of my bike sailing over the chain in a graceful, photo-worthy arc, I attempted this brave feat at age 8 without the aid of a ramp. Unfortunately, the laws of physics conspired against me. I crashed straight into the chain, flew over my handlebars and landed on the pavement in a heap of ignominy.

Although no bones were broken and no organs were ruptured, I sustained a nasty cut to the elbow. When the school principal applied hydrogen peroxide to the cut, it stung my wound as well as my ego. Then he summoned my horrified mother to pick me up from school. She rushed me to the pediatrician, where I received stitches of some sort.

To this day, there remains a scar on my left elbow to remind me of my failed attempt at daredevil greatness. Tonight, I will pour some alcohol on that scar in honor of the man who inspired me.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Who Cares About Them Cowboys?

Although I’ve been a Dallas Cowboys fan for years, I’m not all that broken up about the fact that Time Warner Cable isn’t carrying tonight’s showdown with the Green Bay Packers on the NFL Network. Screw ‘em if they’re going to make it hard for me to enjoy their product. There are plenty of other things I can do with my free time.

The Dallas Cowboys are just another business that doesn’t really represent anything but their own bottom line. It’s fun to pretend otherwise on occasion, but the magical childhood construct of die-hard sports fandom is ultimately best consigned to the Santa Claus file.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Time of the Season

I wish I could say I’ve been too busy to write lately, but the truth is I’m just feeling more unmotivated than usual these days. I’ve been dragging ass at work and coming home with little initiative to do anything other than watch reruns and surf the net.

Perhaps I’m subconsciously conserving psychic energy for the holidays. I’ve noticed my energy levels often drop off precariously when I’m preparing to engage in a higher-than-usual amount of social activity. Even when there’s good times and fellowship to be had, part of me would rather stay at home.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Tale of the Fleeting Taco

This past Tuesday I was taking my regular mental health walk around the periphery of the Austin State Hospital campus when I spied a discarded beverage cup game piece from Taco Bell near the corner of 45th and Lamar. The game piece read, "Free Crunchy Beef Taco."

I was moving at a decent clip, so I kept walking another two or three feet before my brain clicked to the fact that I'd walked right past a free taco. At that point I came to a dead halt, turned around and returned to pick up the game piece. I quickly scanned the small print until I came to the words, "expires 11/13/2007." What had been a free crunchy beef taco one week ago was now useless garbage.

I don't have a word that approximates the noise that accompanied this realization, but I think it sounded a bit like Charlie Brown's "Aaarraugh!"

Whatever the noise was, it attracted the attention of a woman idling in the left turn lane with her window rolled down. We made eye contact and it was clear she took me for less than sane. I thought about showing her my ID badge to prove I was merely a cheap state worker and not a furloughed mental patient, but she'd already driven away.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Return of Yacht Rock

Actor/director J.D. Ryznar (Michael McDonald) recently announced that the long-awaited 11th episode of Yacht Rock is now in production. This is the first new episode since 2006.

Episode 11's world premiere is scheduled for Thursday, December 27 at New York's Knitting Factory.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Royal Blunder

Kate: I first noticed this billboard while driving on I-35 south, where it stood out because of the dazed expression on former UT football coach Royal's face. The poor guy, I thought, probably didn't expect to end up looking like that in this ad campaign. But not being a native Texan or a particularly huge football fan, I didn't notice the sign's most glaring error until I showed Greg the billboard. His exclamation "They misspelled his name!" almost caused me to swerve off the road - not because I was appalled by the copy editing error so much as the volume of the observation.

Greg: Well, what do you expect, Kate? This is Darrell freakin' Royal we're talking about. The Longhorn brain trust loves this man more than Jesus and the Beatles. They put his name ahead of our nation's war dead on the football stadium and he's not even dead yet. I thought the worst local copy editing error one could make was to spell Stevie Ray Vaughan's last name "Vaughn," but this is worse. The deer-in-the-headlights look on the man's face makes me feel sorry for him even though he undoubtedly scored a rather large check for his services and probably doesn't care that one of the world's largest media conglomerates can't spell his name right.

Kate: The thing that gets me about these billboards - that's right, there are at least two of them in Austin - is that Time Warner has been making a point in their recent campaign of stressing their local connection with the "we think like you" messages. Here's what I think - someone needs to do some basic fact-checking.

Greg: I never thought I'd find myself defending the honor of Coach Royal, but I hereby challenge Time Warner to a dual!

This post simultaneously appeared on Lone Star Kate

UPDATE (12/2/2007): My pal Kent B. pointed out another typo on the Royal billboard. The "K" in "Darrell K Royal" is not a middle initial and therefore should not be followed by a period. The "K" is a tribute to Royal's mom, Katy, who died of cancer when he was still a baby. So not only did Time Warner misspell Royal's name, they insulted the memory of his mother.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Calling All Batchelosers

The Austin Chronicle is now searching for our fair town's least eligible bachelor in its Batcheloser contest.

You can learn more about the candidates and vote here. The winner gets a SXSW wristband (which, honestly, is probably the last thing such a man needs).

What makes a Batcheloser? Is it serial unemployment, involuntary celibacy, hobbyism-as-compensation, social paralysis or bad hygiene? Nah. I think these factors are merely symptomatic.

To truly embody the ideal, you must knowingly squander potential in an inelegant manner before shrugging your shoulders and saying, "Fuck it" to no one in particular. To that end, many of Austin's foremost would-be Batchelosers can't even be bothered to enter a contest.

And when that happens, ladies and gentlemen, we all lose.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The World's Saddest Cubicle?

Wired has posted a photo gallery of the winning entries in its saddest cubicles contest.

Not surprisingly, the “winner” is in the employ of a public institution. Pictured is the workspace of David Gunnells, an IT guy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Although his cube is smaller and more despressingly-lit than my own, I too use filing cabinets to surround my government job box. I like it that way. The fewer people who can see what I’m doing (or not doing), the happier I am.

What really sets the winning cube apart is its proximity to both a microwave oven and a toilet. Thankfully, I’m far enough away from both to avoid the stench of buttered popcorn commingled with morning coffee shit.

Monday, November 12, 2007

CONELRAD Revisits the Daisy Ad

To this day, the Democratic National Committee's 1964 “Daisy Ad" for LBJ is the most controversial political TV spot in history. No Advertising 101 class would be complete without showing the little girl counting flower petals juxtaposed with a mushroom cloud.

Given his escalation of the war in Vietnam, it’s ironic to see LBJ portrayed as a candidate of peace, but Barry Goldwater gave Johnson plenty of ammunition by publicly discussing the use of low-yield nuclear weapons against the Viet Cong. With just one paid airing, the ad achieved its objective – fairly or not – of casting Goldwater as an unbalanced loose cannon whose finger didn’t belong anywhere near The Button. The longtime Republican senator from Arizona was handily trounced in the 1964 election.

The Cold War obsessives over at CONELRAD have put together an engrossing history of the “Daisy” ad, from its conceptual genesis clear through to the (ahem) fallout that ensued after its one paid airing on September 7, 1964. There’s even an interview with the “Daisy” girl herself, Birgitte Olsen.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Cactus Records Returns to Houston

A year and a half after shutting down its last location on S. Shepherd in Houston, Cactus Records has reemerged in the form of a new 6,000 square-foot store near the corner of Shepherd and Portsmouth.

Former Cactus manager Quinn Bishop bought the store name when former owners Bud and Don Daily retired in 2006. Their father, H.W. "Pappy" Daily, left an accounting job at Southern Pacific Railroad in 1933 to sell jukeboxes in downtown Houston. He opened Daily's Record Ranch in 1946 and sold it to Bud and Don in 1959. They opened Cactus in 1975.

Bishop's partners in the new Cactus are Saint Arnold Brewing Company founder Brock Wagner, New West Records owner George Fontaine and Bruce Levy.

I bought a lot of vinyl at the old Cactus when I was a lad. I may have even applied for a job there once. These are not good days for music retailers, but perhaps Cactus can take a cue from venerable independent stores like Austin's Waterloo Records and thrive in spite of the industry's ongoing woes.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Even More New Drugs

Here's some YouTube footage of the New Drugs (Awesome Cool Dudes + Oh, Beast! + Dustin Boes + me) collectively channeling our inner Huey Lewis at Beerland on October 30.

Yes, we really did stretch "Hip to be Square" out to five minutes.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Abstinence-Only Education Fails Again

The Bush administration remains gung-ho about dropping a cool $141 million on abstinence-only education next year despite mounting scientific evidence that such programs do not delay sexual debut.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy released a report Monday and the best thing they could say about abstinence-only education is that two programs in Ohio and Arkansas showed “weak but encouraging results.” Contrast that with several studies showing that two-thirds of 48 programs which combined abstinence with honest instruction on contraceptive methods actually resulted in delayed sexual debut and increased condom use.

Moreover, a five-year, $8 million study completed in April found no difference in the age of sexual debut between teens enrolled in four abstinence-only programs and teens not enrolled in the programs.

The Dallas Morning News headline for the story about this study is, “Teaching only abstinence not certain to curb teen sex.” I’m fairly certain that nugget belongs on the short list for understatement of the decade.

And how do abstinence-only proponents respond to these findings? By crying “faulty science,” of course.

Despite having no evidence to refute the research piling up against abstinence-only education, Kyleen Wright of Texans for Life says this is all just an attempt “to discourage parents from supporting what they feel in their gut is right for children.”

By law, the only way condoms and other forms of contraception can be discussed in federally-funded abstinence education is in terms of their failure rates. So not only does abstinence-only education omit discussion of condoms, it actively discourages their use.

The core principle of abstinence-only education is that sex outside marriage always has negative consequences. Anything that might reduce the odds of this ordained fate is viewed as sending a harmful message. Kids who don’t get pregnant or infected with an STD because they used condoms can’t be used as cautionary tales, so abstinence-only education simply pretends they don’t exist.

Schools in Texas are overwhelmingly wary of comprehensive sex education. Who can blame them? We live in a country where a surgeon general serving under a Democratic president lost her job because she suggested telling kids that it’s normal to masturbate.

To introduce comprehensive sex education is to invite religiously-induced histrionics into school board meetings that will be duly covered by local news outlets on the hunt for sexy sweeps fodder. It’s easier to just keep your head down because the faces of children failed by abstinence-only education will eventually morph together into an ambiguous, self-perpetuating social problem that no one will be held accountable for.

In the course of my job, I’ve talked to more than a few teachers and school nurses who do their best to get around abstinence-only education. When students ask questions, they answer honestly at the risk of being reprimanded or even fired. They do what they can within the system they’re dealt, but piecemeal efforts like this are not enough to turn the tide.

The only way comprehensive sex education will ever be widespread in Texas is if parents who support it recognize what they’re up against and demand changes in a sustained, organized manner. All the social scientists in the world can’t hold a candle to the proverbial angry mother waving a rolling pin over her head.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

H-E-B Goes New Wave

When I was growing up, the only songs you heard at the grocery store were peppy canned instrumentals pseudo-scientifically designed to entice you into buying more foodstuffs.

During two lunchtime stops in as many days at the H-E-B at the corner of Burnet and Allandale, I've heard the following songs over the store's public address system:

I Wanna Be Sedated/Ramones
Making Plans for Nigel/XTC
Rock Lobster/B-52's

Since when did supermarket music and 101X's flashback lunch playlist become one in the same?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Geez, 39

Today I am 39 years old. Only one more year of youthful indiscretion left and so much remaining to be accomplished.

Over the next 365 days, my plan is to drink, drug, gamble and philander my way into a rock-bottom moment of clarity before turning to religion in a fit of sanctimony. Then I’ll hire some well-starched consultants to rehabilitate my image and join the Republican party.

I’m also thinking about getting a puppy.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Want Some New Drugs?

Getting to perform the music of Huey Lewis & the News with the New Drugs at Beerland was way more fun than anyone should be allowed to have on a Tuesday night. Between feeling the power of love and feeling the power of Pabst Blue Ribbon, I was a lukewarm lump of nothing at work on Wednesday.

And let's not forget the strain of listening to nothing but Huey Lewis for a week. This was the psychological equivalent of eating nothing but cotton candy for a week. I'm sure the military could extract lots of good dirt from enemy combatants by locking them in a room with speakers blaring "Hip to be Square" over and over.

My esteemed co-vocalist Dustin Boes (left) sent me this photostream of the show. Go there now to relive the magic all over again.

Mixed-Use Mania in NE Austin

Kate has a big front-page story in today's Austin Business Journal about more than three million square feet of mixed-use development planned for the intersection of U.S. 290 and SH 130 in Northeast Austin. Read it now while it's still on the free side of their website.

Though I don't doubt that Northeast Austin will grow to support this cluster of development, my main concern is the long-term fate of the Austin Country Flea Market. It's still the best place in town to wolf down Frito Pies to the strains of Tejano music after purchasing an bootleg T-shirt of Calvin pissing on Iraq.