Archive for November, 2007

Noted in passing

Austin’s Andy Langer singles out the Jimmy Reed classic “Hush Hush” as recorded by Omar Kent Dykes and Jimmie Vaughan for On the Jimmy Reed Highway, listing it first among “The 8 Best Songs You Probably Didn’t Hear This Year” (Esquire magazine, December issue, pag 46). >>> Austin start-up Debix garnered a two-paragraph tout in a half-page article entitled “In ID Theft, Some Victims See Opportunity” (NYT, 11/16/07, byline Brad Stone). As the article describes it, the Debix concept is an interesting and promising approach. >>> And from the “Domain” feature in yesterday’s NYT, we learn that Jimmy Wales, of Wikipedia fame, reports that his favorite band is the Gourds, described as “a band from Austin, Tex., that does an alternative country cover of a Snoop Dogg song.”

H-E-B Reusable Bag Giveaway

I returned from England a few months ago impressed at how most of the grocery shoppers carried their groceries around in reusable totes. While Austinites are still arguing about the environmental impact of paper versus plastic grocery bags, the English have moved on to a third choice, reuse. Since then, I’ve noticed reusable bags for sale both at Central Market and Whole Foods Market but I haven’t seen a lot of people using them.

Today, Texas-based H-E-B tries to get Austin involved in its reuse/recycle philosophy by giving away 20,000 reusable shopping bags. Go to any H-E-B today (Thursday, November 15th) between 10 am and 7pm with 5 plastic shopping bags (any brand) and H-E-B will give you a free reusable bag.

“The more we can encourage people to switch to reusable bags, the better it will be for the environment, ” said Leslie Lockett, H-E-B Director of Public Affairs for Central Texas. “By giving away 20,000 reusable bags for free, we can invite people to give the bags a try and really begin to change habits in our community.”mss_HEBreusable.jpg

If you miss out on a free bag today, don’t give up. You’ll be able to purchase the reusable bags from H-E-B for 99 cents. H-E-B is also providing recycling bins for plastics that can’t go in the city’s recycling bins: newspaper delivery bags, dry-cleaning bags, and six-pack rings.


I got mine and they’re nice. They fold completely flat but when they’re open there is a thin hard piece for the bottom to keep the bag from falling over in the back of the car.

What are the odds?

They’re not calling this the raffle of the century for no reason: a five-dollar ticket buys a chance to win two free nights at the Hotel San Jose or a three-hour private rental of the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. It’s all at Home Slice Pizza and it’s all for a good cause. Buy your raffle tickets at Home Slice, and mark your calendars for this Saturday, November 17, from noon to six. The carnival celebrates the second anniversary of Home Slice, and the raffle isn’t all there is: the promised attractions at the event include silly contests (work up your appetite for pizza between now and then), a dunking booth, and more, much more. Admission is free; buy tickets to pay for games, booths, and beverages (including Austin’s own Real Ale). Last year’s carnival was great; this year’s promises to be even better.

Another clip for the scrapbook

Leslie Cochran isn’t the star of the feature in today’s Wall Street Journal; the spotlight spends most of the time on somebody from the West Coast. Nevertheless, among street personalities across the nation, he must pop up in search results close to the top. I’m surprised that the Leslie fridge magnets aren’t mentioned; nor is his Wikipedia entry. Leslie’s MySpace page is reported to boast 10,775 friends. I make it out to be a mere 10,751. Maybe he suffered a steep decline within the past day or so; those reading this who are so inclined can do their part to bring the figure up to what’s reported.

Update Thursday, 15 November: At 7:45 am today, Leslie’s friend count was up to 10,839.

The Evens at the Compound


Despite a nagging head cold and having spent the day in New Braunfels at the last day of Wurstfest (a family tradition), I headed down to the Compound on East Fourth to check out The Evens for their first Austin appearance. The Evens are Ian MacKaye of Fugazi and Minor Threat fame and Amy Farina. Farina plays drums and sings while MacKaye plays a Danelectro baritone guitar and sings.

I’d never been to the venue and I’m not even sure if it’s going to continue to host live music. MacKaye mentioned that someone lives on the property and the band is known for playing non-traditional rock venues like basements of libraries and churches. They played a gallery in Dallas the night before. It was essentially a yard between several corrugated metal structures. The weather was perfect, something MacKaye commented on several times.

This set list isn’t in the order played (and I may have missed some), but it’s pretty close. They played “Cut From the Cloth”, “Everybody Knows”, “Cache Is Empty”, “Eventually” and “Dinner with the President” from Get Evens. There were several songs from the first record including “Shelter Two”, “All These Governors”, “Sara Lee”, “Mt. Pleasant Isn’t”, “Blessed Not Lucky”, “On the Face of It”, and “You Won’t Feel A Thing”.

Anyone who’s familiar with MacKaye won’t be surprised that the evening was politically charged. The stripped down arrangements of the songs lent themselves to showcasing the message. MacKaye enlisted the audience to sing along during “Mt. Pleasant Isn’t” and “You Won’t Feel a Thing”. The whole event had a feel of a campfire sing-along crossed with a protest sit-in; a bit cliched perhaps, but given the current state of things, not entirely unwarranted. In introducing one song, MacKaye likened the changes in DC to periodic storms, a storm comes in, does some damage and then people clean up and rebuild. To him, the current administration is a particularly nasty storm. Perhaps the 100 or so people in attendance were looking for a respite from the storm and hopefully got what they were looking for. There’s going to be a lot of clean up work to do.

Scholz’s free music today: saluting our veterans

Veterans Day parade, AustinFrom 12:30 until dark today, hear most of the bands that played in the Veterans Day parade this morning, plus more. Only the Del Valle High School marching band, which led off the procession, and the Salvation Army brass trio won’t be at Scholz’s. You are in for a treat, and this is great for the children, too. Hear Los Texas Wranglers, mariachi music from Texas State in San Marcos (heard for ths first time this morning; excellent!), Austin’s own Gospel Silvertones, Los Klezmeros Band from Buda, and another hit from the parade, the Shiner Hobo Band. The calendars are in at Tesoros, too, both at the original store and at the new one, on South Congress where Rue’s used to be, so pick one up on the way to Scholz’s, where there’ll be dance exhibitions, too: polka, Scottish, Irish, ballet folklorico. What a wonderful way to enjoy the bier garten and this beautiful weather!

Power table pecking order

jefftable.jpgJeffrey’s Restaurant has three dozen tables; of these, a national publication rates 17 of them as possessing a power quotient of A (7), A plus (6), or A plus plus (4) (WSJ, 11/10-11, byline Jessie Knadler). This is a continuing feature, describing dining spots around the country, one a week, “Power Tables: where the business elite are eating.” I think that this is the first Austin inclusion. Noted are “recent sightings” and “the regulars.” It’s a good thing we’re not famous or somebody might be reporting what we ordered there, although I partially reported this on myself. You can see that our assigned table this last time out, 33, is reported to be in the A plus category. Part of what’s shown on the diagram was the old Clarksville Cafe of fond memory. I don’t think there’s much to a power-seating theory when it comes to Jeffrey’s. Unless diners have a favorite table, no matter how they’re dressed or who they are, people are seated where there’s a table available that’s right for the size of their party. Table 23, right by the kitchen door, seems to be the last to be used and we have been seated there when it’s the sole remaining table. Austin’s an egalitarian place, and restaurants here don’t play games about seating.

Survey of the week, municipal division

Do you dislike the City of Austin Web site? Maybe my personal acquaintanceship is statistically unusual in that everybody I know heartily detests it. It’ll be possible to respond to a questionnaire on the subject until January 4, but what better way is there to spend those idle moments on a Friday afternoon? There are ample opportunities to provide free-form responses, opportunities to answer those questions that weren’t asked. Here are some aspects of the City site that I dislike or that could be improved. Why require registration of any kind at any site? Isn’t a simple disclaimer that the information there provided may not be entirely accurate or up to date sufficient? Why are so many pages set up to accommodate Austinites possessing large monitors and broadband connections? It’s wonderful that so much GIS information is available, but that doesn’t help those using dial-up connections, and they are myriad. Why is it easier to use Google to find something on the City’s site than it is to use the City’s internal search-engine? Why is there no complete and searchable telephone directory, ideally frequently updated and showing department, physical location, direct telephone number, and title for every employee? State government has made most of this information available for a long time. What’s the big secret? Why is that finding out who is a person’s district police representive resembles going on a quest for the Holy Grail? This is an oft-sought bit of information and finding it should be easy and quick for everyone.

Do I like anything? Yes; availability of streaming video of public meetings is wonderful and so is the fact that this material is, whenever possible, scheduled for replay at times more convenient for those unable to attend the events in the first place, whether in person or virtually. I also like the quick transcripts prepared for closed-caption purposes. As more and more people acquire access to information in electronic form, that information should be ever more copious and easy to find. We all know that reaching a municipal employee by telephone is all but impossible and when it does happen it’s usually only after an extended effort.

The press release is an exercise in something, although I’m not sure exactly what (care is taken to include the phrase “a new era in open government”). This redesign, supposedly in aid of furnishing more information more accurately and in a more timely fashion, was launched in the wake of the failure of the proposed “clean government” charter amendment in May 2006. How many hours and how many brainstormers did it take to come up with “Austin GO,” standing for “Austin Government Online” and the tagline “a new era of open government”?

Fellow Metblogger Tim Trentham alerted us all about this survey. I really do encourage people to answer the questions asked, along with those that should have been asked. At the end of the survey is an opportunity to provide personal information if you’re willing to participate in other aspects of the redesign process, apparently focus groups. Among the questions asked was this one: “What gender group do you identify with?” That’s our Austin. Anyhow, although the questions tend more toward aspects of design, rather than expanded content, as a great American once said, “One never knows, do one?”


Ignite! LearningI wrote about my neighbors, Ignite Learning, back in March of 2006. Well, they’re back in the news this week.

The inspector general of the Department of Education has said he will examine whether federal money was inappropriately used by three states to buy educational products from a company owned by Neil Bush, the president’s brother.

John P. Higgins Jr., the inspector general, said he would review the matter after a group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, detailed at least $1 million in spending from the No Child Left Behind program by school districts in Texas, Florida and Nevada to buy products made by Mr. Bush’s company, Ignite Learning of Austin, Tex. Mr. Higgins stated his plans in a letter to the group sent last week.

Members of the group and other critics in Texas contend that school districts are buying Ignite’s signature product, the Curriculum on Wheels, because of political considerations. The product, they said, does not meet standards for financing under the No Child Left Behind Act, which allocates federal money to help students raise their achievement levels, particularly in elementary school reading.

The Bush administration doing something for political reasons or family considerations? Shocking.

h/t AmericaBlog

Double sawbuck disappears

The $20 dollar project records what that sum of moolah will buy in Metblog cities around the world. What follows is a list of items on an actual sales slip from Saturday’s stocking-up expedition to H-E-B. The H. E. Butt Grocery Company, homegrown in Texas and over a century old, continues to hold its own against the real big guys, with its H-E-B stores and its Central Market stores. Long may it stay that way.

King Arthur unbleached flour, to begin holiday baking now that it’s cooler ($2.34)
El Galindo restaurant chips, unsalted, local brand, our personal favorites, although El Lago and the Whole Foods brands aren’t bad ($2.00)
El Galindo yellow corn tortillas, 10-count, local brand, nothing but yellow corn, water, and lime ($.84)
TV Notas, because I follow the telenovelas and because our favorite Adamari Lopez is on the cover ($2.95)
H-E-B regular eggnog, quart, first of the season ($1.99)
H-E-B fresh sausage, hot ($2.00)
H-E-B frozen baby lima beans; H-E-B Fordhook limas also available ($1.34)
Falfurrias butter, 1 pound, for baking and eating; a Texas brand ($2.44)
spicy Texas slaw, H-E-B made; what used to be called “Spanish cole slaw” and just as good as Luby’s or the Frisco’s ($1.94)
small limes, 8, for margaritas ($1.00)

That’s not quite $20; using pencil and paper, I make it out to be $1.16 short. We do pay sales tax here, though. The list is fairly representative of some of what anybody might head for H-E-B to buy. Also on the sales slip, although not listed above (and taking total purchases well over $20) is a whole lot of H-E-B natural chicken (reported to be Buddy’s Natural in disguise, packaged for H-E-B). The quantity isn’t on the sales slip and it’s unknown, because it’s all been cooked and a lot of it’s been eaten since then and there’s no packaging left. As people who enjoy a classic margarita, straight up, not on the rocks or frozen, we follow the lime index quite closely. At its worst, it has stood at 3 limes for a dollar; at its best, a dollar may be exchanged for a dozen limes.

Fresh vegetables were already in stock, from the South Austin farmers’ market and from Wheatsville. So were eggs from Del Valle, courtesy of the Farm to Market Grocery on South Congress. In looking over the register slip, I was surprised to find how many H-E-B house brands and other local and semi-local items we buy. And those chips? They go with Pace Picante Sauce, Jaime’s Spanish Village Restaurant Hot Tomatillo Jalapeno Garlic Sauce, and homemade pico de gallo. These purchases were made a day before the initial posting about the $20 project and two days before I heard about it and so were not in any way, form, shape, or manner influenced by it. A bonus is that on the back of the register slip is a coupon for Sazon (buy one entree and two drinks, receive the second entree at half price). And that’s why I still have the slip in my possession and therefore was able to recount what became of twenty bucks.

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