Archive for January, 2007

Gone, but never to be forgotten: Molly Ivins

One of Austin’s best-known citizens has gone to her great reward. All paths used to cross on the Avenue, and she was one of those often to be seen on one part or another of Congress. It used to be very easy to see and have a picture taken with Willie Nelson, who was always very gracious. The old folks have many of those. But the one they really wanted to be photographed with was Molly Ivins. The Texas Observer, as is to be expected, has Everything Molly on its site, with the official announcement of her homegoing and many personal reminiscences and tributes.

Dell picks up the reins

Rollins is out as CEO; founder Michael Dell is taking that title. Will Wall Street be happy? There will be news and analysis tomorrow in all the media. The reports are numerous on line today. Here’s the Dell press release announcing the changes.

Go Out Tonight, Because There’s Things To Do

After you pay your property taxes, you should go out tonight, because there are two very different but equally interesting things going on tonight. First off, there’s the Responsible Growth for Northcross community meeting tonight from 7 until 9 at the St. Louis King of France Catholic Church. This event is for folks interested in the redevelopment of Northcross Mall.
Secondly, a fantastic Houston-based Celtic band that disbanded a few years ago has rebanded and will be performing in Austin for the first time since they got back together. Clandestine made many fans very sad when they decided to break up and pursue other interests a few years ago. Fortunately for us, they’ve gotten back together, albeit with a 25% lineup change. They’re performing tonight at the Cactus Cafe at 8:30.

Tax Day

January 31st is the deadline for paying Travis County Property taxes. I headed over to Travis County Tax Office at 5501 Airport Blvd and discovered that I’m not the only person who likes to hang onto her money to the bitter end. Temporary signage directed traffic to either a drive-through lane or a drop box to drop off payment. With about 15 cars in front of me, I decided to save gas by not idling my car. I parked and walked into the building. In the lobby a cheerfully energetic young clerk stood next to a drop off box to ensure that my payment was received. I admired his brave smile in the onslaught of grumpy taxpayers. I had a similar job once and it’s not easy to be the public face of the perceived bad guy.

As it’s a matter of public record anyway, I won’t be shy in noting that in 1992 my 2-bedroom house was appraised at $41,078. In 2006 it was appraised at $381,971. Luckily (ahem), this was capped so the taxable value was a mere $277,119. The final bill for 2006, $6,479.55. I now pay almost as much in taxes a month as I did for the original mortgage on the house. Which pretty much gives lie to the financial advice that your housing costs will decrease by the time you retire and your mortgage is paid off.


American Airlines flight 1348 continues its notoriety. This is the one that was diverted on December 29 from Dallas to Bergstrom, where people were held on the plane for over eight hours. Some friends who were to visit us cited this flight as their reason for not making the attempt during our recent “wintry” weather. Today’s NYT column on business travel (“After 8 Hours on the Taxiway, You Might Want a Bill of Rights,” byline Joe Sharkey, page C8) returns to this instance of confinement under bad conditions. One of the passengers stranded, Californian Kate Hanni, is lobbying for Federal legislation for a passenger bill of rights, saying: “We were basically held captive for almost nine hours.” Today’s column reports that eight AA flights were kept confined on planes in Austin for at least three hours. >>> Scott Dadich, responsible for the most recent redesign of Texas Monthly, carried out a redesign of Wired magazine. I like the new typefaces for Wired, but there’s no disguising the reduction in print content and the expansion of white space. I think that the TexMo makeover was much more successful. Wired has gone past tired to expired. >>> Austin’s Monique Pena Johnson is depicted glamorously in the February 12 issue of Woman’s Day (page 105). She has been active on the outreach committee of the local chapter of the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas. >>> Quondam Austinite Lucinda Williams was asked whose music she’s listening to now: “Playlist | Lucinda Williams: A) Sexy, B) Loud or C) Dreamy? Try D) All of the Above,” byline Winter Miller, January 28 NYT. Carrie Rodriguez is among the eight named, and some extremely nice things are said about her and her work. Seven Angels on a Bicycle is in stores now.

A stroke that slays us all

When tragedy occurs at UT, each drop of bloodshed plinks and ripples throughout the campus.

The murder of Jennifer Cave in 2005 was shocking then, even when we didn’t know the full and gruesome story. Youth is on our side at this time in our lives and we are invincible, it seems, so when we heard about her West Campus murder the gossip and confusion spread like wildfire- she was a slut, she was a cokehead, she was a great girl but HE was really messed up, why else would he run off to Mexico OF COURSE he did it, etc. People who knew the suspect, Colton Pitonyak, wrote messages of disbelief and sorrow on his Facebook wall. He was a suspected murderer….but he was still someone they’d shared their life with. He was still their friend.

After the murder Pitonyak and his (soon-to-be-tried) accomplice Laura Hall ran for the border in Hall’s Cadillac. They got into Mexico and tried to sell the car but didn’t have the title, and were strongly averse to going back to Texas for it, according to testimony from the manager of the inn where they stayed. The two were apprehended in Eagle Pass, Texas, as a result of collaboration between US and Mexican law enforcement.

The ensuing trial for Pitonyak has been covered meticulously by the Texan, and today they found him guilty of Cave’s murder, sentencing him to 55 years in prison. It’s not life, but for a twentysomething, it might as well be. The Cave family was there to watch the trial- the end of a 17-month wait for some sort of retribution for what they’d lost, as if anything could be enough.

I’m not convinced he did it, honestly. I’m not. There’s too much unexplained- why did Hall supposedly mutilate the body but not shoot the bullet that killed Cave? Why are there both prints on the gun? The more I read about it the more questions I have. Hall’s trial will yield more answers, and more questions, but the only one certain to be on everyone’s minds will be How could this happen here?

3M Half Marathon and Relay

AJ was up before dawn this morning cajoling me out of bed so I could drive him up to the Gateway Shopping Center to the start of the 3M Half Marathon. The weather was clear and just above freezing, miserable for huddling around the one gas heater like moths to a flame before the start but pleasant enough once the race was on. (Pleasant, that is, compared with last year’s Freescale Marathon which he ran on the coldest day of 2006 after a night of freezing rain and sleet.)

As usual, the bathrooms were crowded sending some of the runners into the bushes and behind walls. AJ quotes physiologist Frances Ashcroft to explain, “Exposure to cold increases urine production.” An explanation of why that is so can be found in her book Life at the Extremes: the Science of Survival. The result is that during these long races in cold weather there are rarely enough facilities to handle the output.

The 3M Half Marathon is considered a fairly fast race–most of it’s 13.1 miles are downhill. The field of 3431 timed runners were split almost equally among men (1734) and women (1697). AJ says that this year’s course, which finished in Waterloo park, avoided the steep, uncomfortable downhill finish of the 2005 course.

This is AJ’s second half-marathon. He was happy to beat his goal of 1 hour 40 minutes by 37 seconds.


In centimeters, that’s roughly the equivalent of 36-24-36 as a bust-waist-hip measurement in inches. Right here in Austin, Devendra Singh, Ph.D., of the UT psychology department, reports that “to understand evolutionary significance of human physical attractiveness” is among his current research interests. The current Economist (January 19; page 72), in an article called “Breathe in, girls,” has quite a bit of fun with this. One of Dr. Singh’s published papers is entitled “Female Mate Value at a Glance: Relationship of Waist-to-Hip Ratio to Health, Fecundity, and Attractiveness.” Another is cited as “Adaptive significance of female physical attractiveness: Role of waist-to-hip ratio.” These represent distinguished products of the great research institution in our midst, equivalent in distinction to the permanent display of a recreation of the study of Erle Stanley Gardner. It used to be that just anybody could peer into this odd exhibit, but now an appointment is required to do so.

Neal Pollack Coming March 8th to Bookpeople

Former Austinite Neal Pollack posted on his blog yesterday that he’ll be at Bookpeople to promote his new book, Alternadad, on Thursday, March 8. Mark your calendars.

He points out that 3/4 of the book takes place in Austin though he moved to Los Angeles a couple of years ago. He also announced that he’ll be at SXSW Interactive this year, but doesn’t have schedule information yet. According to the SXSW Interactive site, he’s scheduled for Monday, March 12 in the afternoon.

Not all that long ago

mattspc.jpgThis post card shows Matt’s El Rancho before it crossed the river, when it was still on First Street (now Cesar Chavez). Austin photographer (and copyright-holder) Jerry Dorf, took pictures for a lot of Austin restaurants and motels that were printed in this exact format, of three images divided in exactly this way. Published by the Dexter Company, this post card identifies the image as depicting “Matt’s El Rancho Restaurants, Inc. ‘King of Mexican Foods’ Austin Texas; World renowned for its authentic and original Mexican Foods. A favorite stopping place for all Texas Travelers. Featuring Mexican Sea Food – Mexican Style Steaks. Always Good. Matt Martinez, Your Host. Seating Capacity: 365. Dining Room Service & Food To Go.” That’s Matt himself with the fancy tie. The addresses are 303 and 311 East First Street. The ice-making machines were large and very, very noisy. In those days, Matt’s attracted customers driving big American cars. That’s still true.

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