Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Ivins was one of our state's most prominent and outspoken voices of reason in the smug face of white-collared redneck buffoonery. She had the unique gift of being tough as nails as a social critic without losing touch with what it means to be a Texan.
The U.S. 290 store at the "Y" in Oak Hill and the Pleasant Valley/Riverside store will be shuttered on March 11. Liquidation sales could begin as early as this week. This will leave just three Albertson's in the Austin market - and I wouldn't count on them being around much longer.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
While Coahuila is by no means a gay-friendly area of Mexico – some cities there ban public displays of same-sex affection – the new law does grant rights to gay couples that most straight married couples take for granted like familial health benefits and property rights for survivors.
If not for the Texas Revolution, Texas would still be part of Coahuila and gay couples here would now have the right to be civilly united. Stick that in your Texas Independence Day cake and eat it!
Monday, January 29, 2007
Thursday, January 25, 2007
The $1,099 fare is only good in May, which is Australian for late autumn. The zone division forces you to pay extra if you want to go to Uluru (a.k.a. "Ayers Rock") or the Great Barrier Reef (a.k.a., "Holy Crap, Is That A Shark?") from Sydney or Melbourne. Crossing the continent to Perth costs even more, but it's not too bad a deal when you consider that a round trip L.A.-Sydney ticket alone during May will run you about $1,200.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
This 700-foot edifice would easily best the 515-foot Frost Bank Tower for tallest building honors. The 569-foot, 44-story condo tower going up at 3rd and Bowie on the former site of the Electric Lounge will also be taller than the Frost building.
A 1,200 square-foot apartment in the Austonian is expected to set you back a cool half million. So much for bringing the common people downtown, eh?
Although the luxury condo market in this town is likely to be overbuilt by the time this project nears its scheduled completion date in 2009, I sort of like the idea of having some tall buildings in Austin.
That said, if they don’t change the name to something other than the regally retarded “Austonian,” I’ll have no choice but to unleash a torrent of beer pee in the entryway one night when no one’s looking.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
I used to eat at that Buffet Palace all the time. I even went there once or twice when it was the short-lived August Moon Chinese Buffet. When Buffet Palace opened, it was home to the only floating sushi bar in Texas. Diners there had the unique opportunity to retrieve their sushi orders from little boats that floated in a circular moat around the sushi bar.
The floating sushi bar was taken out years ago, and frankly, Buffet Palace’s presentation had become a bit too dog-eared in recent years. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed going there alone once every few months to stuff my face with abandon. I guess I’ll just have to start going to the sleek Westgate location to get my fix.
Monday, January 22, 2007
His results with the Cowboys were ultimately less impressive than the turnarounds he engineered in New York and New England. Parcells' four-year record in Dallas is 34-32 with no playoff victories. Nevertheless, I'll miss his uncomfortably antagonistic press conferences.
Will Jerry Jones find a good coach to pick up where Parcells left off? Perhaps, but I wouldn't bet my stadium taxes on it.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
The show is free and we go on first around 10pm, so don't give me any of that lame, I-gotta-work crap!
Saturday, January 20, 2007
Although John Phillips was considered the group's mastermind (he wrote most of the songs and helped bring 1967's Monterey Pop Festival to fruition), the Halifax-born Doherty was the most distinctive and emotive singer. "I Saw Her Again Last Night," written about a secret affair Doherty had with Michelle Phillips, ranks as one of his finest recorded performances.
"Mama" Cass Elliot died of a heart attack (not by choking on a ham sandwich) and John Phillips died in 2001. Michelle Phillips is now the sole surviving member of the Mamas and the Papas.
Friday, January 19, 2007
I didn't have high hopes for this Pancho's, but it was the closest Pancho's to my home and now it's gone. Once again, I'm forced to contemplate the possibility that I may wind up living longer than the only restaurant I'd truly consider myself to be intimate with.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Body Worlds consists of actual human bodies with the skin peeled off to reveal organs and tissues. The bodies, donated upon death by volunteers, are preserved by a process called “plastination,” which was invented by a rather creepy-looking German fellow named Gunther von Hagens (left).
Having always been fascinated (some might say obsessed) by the digestive system, I was particularly enthused to view a complete set of pipes in the flesh from tongue to anus. Seeing smoke-blackened lungs, cancerous livers and Alzheimer’s-ravaged brain tissue was a bit more odd. Viewed innocuously in the security of a museum display case, it doesn’t seem possible that those very organs were responsible for so much human misery.
Although having the skin peeled away made it impossible to determine the ethnicity of the cadavers, the overwhelming majority of visitors at Body Worlds were white. I don’t know why that was, but the near-total absence of color (other than museum workers) was enough to take notice of. The hordes made it impossible to really contemplate the exhibits, but I found it interesting how most everyone spoke in hushed tones when they first entered Body Worlds. This memorial-caliber decorum only lasted through the first few rooms, though.
While Body Worlds isn’t for the overly squeamish or reverent, anyone with a garden variety curiosity in how the human body works would probably find it worthwhile. My only advice is to try and go on a weekday to avoid the crowds.
We left the world of bodies around 2pm and drove through the rain into downtown Dallas. Kate wanted to see the Kennedy assassination site, so I drove her past the Texas School Book Depository and right over the white “X” in the middle of Elm Street.
We continued through the Triple Underpass into Oak Cliff, where I showed her the Polar Bear Ice Cream shop of my early youth (now a taqueria) and the stately Cliff Towers Hotel building (soon to be condos). We dropped by the too-cool-for-school Belmont Hotel for a drink, but the bar was closed.
Kate still needed a winter jacket that fit, so we headed toward NorthPark Center via the Stemmons Freeway, catching a brief glimpse of the waterfall billboard on Goat Hill that now advertises Coors Light. Goat Hill is facing imminent redevelopment as the Victory Park infill helmed by American Airlines Center creeps northward, but I hope they never tear down that landmark billboard.
Although I usually hate going to the mall, NorthPark is the mall of my youth and an extraordinarily well-designed shopping center to boot. Developer Raymond Nasher – namesake of the new Nasher Sculpture Center in downtown Dallas – strived to create an asethetically-pleasing facility, installing sculptures where most developers would’ve put up a bunch of handbag kiosks.
NorthPark is no longer as egalitarian as it was in the days where Woolworth’s operated alongside Neiman-Marcus, but I still like going there whenever I’m in Dallas. We had a quick lunch at the Corner Bakery Café where Kip’s Big Boy used to be and found Kate a jacket at American Eagle. I’d never been to American Eagle before, but I’m told the young people go there a lot these days.
It was starting to get dark and the roads were starting to ice up a bit, so we headed for Arlington. I’d made reservations at the Wyndham Arlington because our plan was to explore Fort Worth on Sunday before heading home. The Wyndham Arlington is built on the site of the long-gone Seven Seas marine amusement park, right next to Six Flags Over Texas and Ameriquest Field. With Six Flags closed and the Texas Rangers out of season, the hotel doesn’t do big business in the fall and winter months, though that is sure to change once the Dallas Cowboys relocate to Arlington.
Not wanting to brave the renowned idiocy of Metroplex drivers on ice, we had dinner at a nearby Steak & Ale. Despite being a moribund chain that is woefully out of touch with contemporary American dining, I really like going to Steak & Ale – especially when it’s cold outside. The restaurant was almost completely empty, which made the rancid mix of braying ballads blaring over the PA system all the more disconcerting, but I enjoyed my mixed grill and some of Kate’s filet mignon, too.
On Sunday morning, we ignored reports of worsening weather and headed for Fort Worth only to find the Modern Art Museum and the Kimbell Art Museum closed. I should’ve known those artsy-fartsy types wouldn’t have the brass to brave a little ice!
That certainly wasn’t the case at the adjacent Will Rogers Memorial Center, where the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo went on as scheduled. Coming from the Eastern Seaboard, Kate had never seen a livestock show before, so we spent some quality time with cattle instead. The weather scared most of the tourists away, so we were just about the only people there who weren’t showing animals.
Then we walked through the commercial exhibits, where we learned that if you’re going to sell handmade crafts to Texas rodeo fans, you’d better be selling something in the shape of a cross. This holds true even if your medium of choice is barbed wire. I sure hope Jesus is feeling ironic when he comes back.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Combined with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday and Confederate Heroes Day on Friday, I will be clocking in for a total of eight hours this week. I could get used to a schedule like this.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Kate collected a bowl of the frozen granules and doused them in real maple syrup.
Then she built a tiny snowman and destroyed him with terrifying, Cathy Bates in Misery-style ferocity.
Monday, January 15, 2007
We headed up to Dallas Friday afternoon and heard the first winter weather advisory crackle over the radio just north of the IH-35 split. We'd snagged a decent rate through Hotwire at the Hilton Anatole, but my budgetary triumph was quelled by the outrageous $15 parking fee.
I could understand paying that much for valet parking downtown, but the Anatole is on a large plot of land by the Market Center with acres of parking. I felt like asking the desk clerk if my parking spot came with a handjob.
Nickels and dimes aside, the Anatole is a particularly nice Hilton in a central location. We'd just beaten a line of severe thunderstorms to the hotel, so we decided to cool our heels at the Gossip Bar alongside a gaggle of conventioneers wearing knit polo shirts with corporate logos on them. I'm sure paying $12 for a Cosmopolitan doesn't hurt as much when you're paying with Other People's Money.
Although the rain wasn't letting up much, we were hungry, so I fetched the Honda and we drove over to Maple Avenue to eat at Avila's. It was a spot-hitting textbook Tex-Mex meal with a price tag lower than two drinks at the Gossip Bar.
Kate needed a warmer jacket, so we headed for Mockingbird Station, a transit-oriented development at Mockingbird Lane and Central Expressway that epitomizes how far Austin has to go to catch up with Dallas on rail. The Gap was bereft of women's outerwear, but I found a great men's winter jacket marked down from $98 to $20. The sleeves were a bit long on Kate, but it kept her warm. None of the movies at the Angelika Film Center floated our boat, but we did enjoy some hot chocolate from the coffee bar in the lobby.
On the way back to the hotel, we took a drive past my childhood homes and my first elementary school. I showed Kate the precise spot where my kindergarten teacher followed me to my mom's car as school let out, climbed in the front seat and told my mom that I needed to stop cussing in class. Needless to say, that made one hell of an impression on my 5-year-old mind.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Destinations include Cathay Pacific’s home base of Hong Kong along with Bangkok, Bali, Ho Chi Mihn City (that's “Saigon” to you and me), Osaka, Phuket (naw, too easy), Phnom Penh and Tokyo. The base price for this year’s pass is $1,399, which includes your trans-Pacific flight to Hong Kong from Los Angeles, New York or San Francisco.
Adding in the connection from Austin, I’d be looking at about $1,700 plus taxes if I didn't travel during the peak summer period, which entails a $450 surcharge. I suppose I'd need money for lodging, food and tacky postcards, too. Having just bought a house last year, this won’t happen in 2007, but maybe someday...
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Although the Cowboys had already been humiliated by the 49ers earlier in the season, The Catch was the magic moment at which the Niners entered the realm of dynasty and the Pokes began a slow decline that culminated in the unceremonious booting of Tom Landry in 1989. I can now appreciate Dwight Clark’s leap over Everson Walls in purely aesthetic terms (it may be the most photogenic catch in the history of football), but seeing it replayed always makes me feel a tinge of the nauseating shock that enveloped my family’s living room as we watched the game in Houston.
I remember we were supposed to go to the San Jacinto Inn after the game. The San Jacinto Inn was a noisy, family-style seafood house next to the Battleship Texas, not far from the very spot where Santa Anna surrendered Texas to Sam Houston. My dad and my uncle did battle with endless oysters on the half shell while I devoured bowl upon bowl of boiled shrimp. It was the first place I ever heard people clapping after a waiter dropped dishes. All that seafood didn’t come cheap, either. Dinner at the Inn was a rare occasion to be relished.
Unfortunately, The Catch had obliterated my zeal for the meal. I told my parents I’d rather just stay home and maybe eat some crackers. They said I was being ridiculous and ordered me into the back seat of the car. They were right, of course. To this day, I’ve never allowed another adverse professional sports event to destroy my appetite.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
I have no religious tradition and I couldn’t care less about my hypothetical son’s hypothetical penis not looking like daddy’s. However, recent studies in Africa have demonstrated that circumcised men have a lower risk of acquiring HIV. Even though HIV incidence is much lower in the U.S., that’s enough to steer me nominally in favor of circumcision as it might apply to me as a parent for now.
Monday, January 08, 2007
The City of Austin Office of Emergency Management is asking drivers to avoid the area of Congress Avenue from Cesar Chavez to 11th Street and adjacent streets this morning because the roadways are blocked. The city says a public safety incident has blocked access to roadways and buildings in that area. According to the Austin Police Department, at least a dozen dead birds have been found in the area.
The Family Foundation will be lobbying that state's general assembly this year to change current no-fault divorce laws for straight married couples with children. These faith-based busybodies want Virginia law to require both parties to agree to divorce before a marriage can be terminated.
Exceptions would be granted for abuse and cruelty (which is sure to lead to a spike in false claims of domestic violence). Married couples without children wouldn't be affected because marriage is really all about the children, dear. And there's nothing better for kids than one parent wanting out of a marriage while the other parent won't grant a divorce.
I chuckle profusely at the idea of those homophobic Virginians who voted to ban gay marriage not being able to leave their own marriages without their spouse's permission.
Saturday, January 06, 2007
For the record, I wasn't nearly as drunk as I appear to be in the top picture. And even if I was, I didn't call anyone "sugar tits."
Friday, January 05, 2007
After slowly rousing ourselves to wakefulness, we left Shrewsbury for a quick tour of Worcester, which is pronounced "Wister" or "Wista," but never "Wooster" or "Warchester." A good drinking game would be for someone to hold up cards with names of Massachusetts towns for me to pronounce. Every time I horribly bastardized a town's name, everyone would have to drink. We'd all be hammered in no time.
We drove through downtown and walked around Kate’s old school before meeting her mom and stepdad for lunch. I enjoyed meeting them both. Her stepdad is a fount of area history. I regretted forgetting to ask him about the deadly 1953 Worcester tornado.
As it was, we roughly followed the tornado’s path in reverse out of town to visit with Kate’s friend Caitie and her family near Petersham (that’s "Petersam" to all you non-Yankee types). Caitie’s mom and dad live in a restored 18th century farmhouse set against hilly, pastoral terrain that people from Texas don’t often see. Kate, Caitie and I took a walk over the frozen fields and through a dairy farm before dinner. I could only imagine what those fields would look like covered with snow.
Meanwhile, Kate and Caitie’s friend Jess had gotten her rental car stuck in a slushy roadside ditch a few miles away while trying to take photos of the amazing sunset. Kate, Caitie’s dad and I drove down to see if we could push her out. That wasn’t going to happen, so we took turns sitting in Jess’s car and listening to Neil Young until a tow truck came along.
Once everyone was warm and in place, we ate a delicious spaghetti supper preceded by the singing of "Dona Nobis Pacem." Kate and her family called me in Houston on Christmas Eve and sung it over the cell phone. My mom and dad overheard this and assumed Kate's family was at some sort of performance because they sounded so good. My Uncle Mark jokingly suggested calling back to sing the old Buck Owens chestnut, "Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy.”
Anyway, after looking around and noticing everyone at the table was singing "Dona Nobis Pacem" except me, I sheepishly tried to join in, hanging on Kate’s hand directions for dear life. Even so, my lack of religion and formal musical training came through with flying clams. Fortunately, this was a gracious, welcoming group and I didn’t feel the least bit self-conscious about it.
As much as we were enjoying the great food and company, Kate and I had to drive back to Shrewsbury around 8pm. After a few hours’ sleep, we woke up at 3:30am and headed for the airport. When it’s 20 degrees and pitch black outside, you begin to understand why there’s a Dunkin’ Donuts on every corner in New England.
We made our flight with time to spare, but between headwinds and having to fly way the hell out of the way to avoid a storm system, it took over four hours to get back to Austin. That’s a long time to be on a small plane, but it beats having to make a connection. While three days wasn’t enough time to really “do” the Boston area, my ever-growing travel appetite is now extra-whetted for future exploration of the region.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
This is what our president calls a "significant milestone" in bringing democracy to Iraq - executioners in ski masks killing in the name of a tiny god. In reality, the execution was nothing more than a Hatfield/McCoy-style vendetta killing. If the U.S. really cared about fairness, Saddam would've been turned over to a U.N. war crimes tribunal.
Just what the hell was the administration thinking when it handed Saddam over to an Iraqi government that is incapable of sustaining itself without kowtowing to Moktada al-Sadr? Was it Bush's thirst for revenge against the man who tried to kill his daddy? Or was it a ploy to prop up poll numbers before the Democratic Congress was sworn in? I honestly have no idea.
Saddam certainly got what he deserved, but his death does nothing to make us or the Iraqi people any safer or freer. George W. Bush better pray he never winds up on the business end of the vengeful justice his administration so clearly relishes.
Why was Ford wrong to pardon Nixon? Mainly because it set a bad precedent. Nixon had not yet been indicted, let alone convicted, of any crime. It's never a good idea to pardon somebody without at least finding out first what you're pardoning him for. How can you possibly weigh the quality of mercy against considerations of justice? Yet it would happen again in December 1992, when departing President George H.W. Bush pardoned Caspar Weinberger, former defense secretary, 12 days before Weinberger was set to go to trial for perjury. As I've noted before, this was almost certainly done to prevent evidence concerning Bush's own involvement in Iran-Contra (when he was vice-president) from becoming public.
Read the rest of Noah's argument here.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
After a quick breakfast, we headed back up to Boston to do a little sightseeing in the Italian-flavored North End. After years of being cut off from the rest of downtown Boston by an elevated freeway, the massive (both in terms of scale and corruption) "Big Dig" project has rerouted Interstate 93 underground. Nevertheless, parking space remains at a premium.
After parking illegally mere blocks from a police precinct, we walked a sliver of the Freedom Trail past the Old North Church and Copps Hill Burial Ground. Although the North End is teeming with Italian food, we opted for seafood at the Union Oyster House, which purports to be the oldest continuously-serving restaurant in America. I had crab cakes with Newburg sauce and a Harpoon IPA. Then we warmed up with some cappuccino before returning to Kate's blissfully unticketed rental car.
Twilight was fast approaching, but we decided to do one last bit of walking through the 19th century brick row house enclave of Beacon Hill. We located a parking spot right across from the statehouse and hoofed it over the brick sidewalks to Boston Common, which is the oldest city park in the U.S., dating back to 1634. There was no snow on the ground, but looking across the Common's ice skating rink as the sun went down still made for a perfect winter scene. We briefly considered skating ourselves, but the line was too long.
Masspike traffic had abated by the time we left Beacon Hill, so the drive west to Kate's dad's condo in Shrewsbury went relatively fast. Shrewsbury is a suburb of Worcester, which is where Kate grew up. Oddly enough, I knew of Shrewsbury even before I met Kate because it is one of the few U.S. cities with a municipally-owned cable television system, which was the topic of my oft-cited 1993 master's thesis.
After a tasty supper of Christmas leftovers, Kate and I fell fast asleep. My long-overdue examination of Shrewsbury's cable TV offerings would just have to wait.
Monday, January 01, 2007
As a result of Gerald Ford's state funeral tomorrow, the holiday weekend has been extended by one day for me and all my civil servant homies. Between Christmas, New Year's and Ford's funeral, I've turned three days' leave into a week-and-a-half break. Now that's good vacation time value right there.