Archive for July, 2009

To “Potect and Serve” or to raise revenue?

33081[1]If you drive north on Mopac daily from downtown in the morning, you’ll have no doubt noticed the Starship troopers hiding out on your journey. Recently they’ve been spotted in numerous places, more often up under the Parmer Lane Bridge, Monday there were three clustered together, their broad shouldered appearance in the shadows, standing next to their Star Wars like speeder bikes; Full facemask on, sometimes reflecting the sun and glinting in your eyes as you speed past. Only at the last minute do you spot them holding their radar speed guns rather than litesabers. Sometimes though they are easier to spot, they sit in Texas DPS Cars and are dressed like regular cops

It’s the reality of the daily north bound commute on Mopac, north of the 183 section, up onto the toll road section. Yes, while all you out of towners are sitting in slow moving traffic heading south, it’s perfectly possible to travel at, or greater than the speed limit going north. Now, I’m not for a minute suggesting that you should exceed the speed limit on any road in Austin or elsewhere. For the sake of transparency, I’ve been stopped and ticketed twice this year and realise I’m in the wrong. While I’ve breezed past the speed cops recently, with the cruise control set to 60MPH to accomodate the sometimes confusing, variable speed limit on sections of Mopac, many others have not been so lucky. The question is though, is this really the best use of the cops time ?

I’m not trying to get them off my back so I can speed and break the law with impunity, it just occurs to me that following another death in an Austin neighborhood, sitting on Mopac and picking off north bound drivers really does little good, except raise revenue. It’s an alternative, progressive form of tax, levied and paid unevenly, and avoided by most. If you really wanted to tax speeding drivers on the toll roads, just charge based on the time taken to pass through/between toll booths and be done with it. At least that’s open and transparent. The current system is akin to using the cops as tax/toll collectors.

While from time to time I assume there must be crashes on that section of Mopac, I’d guess they involve few cars, when speeding is possible. Maybe, more when the roads are busy like the evenings heading North on Mopac, but then speeding isn’t so much an issue, just dangerous and careless driving that causes accidents.

So, assuming we are not about to see a big influx of new law enforcement officers and enough to patrol everywhere, then perhaps the cops could be put to use patrolling those neighborhood roads where cars still speed, often with impunity, and when there is an accident with serious and deadly consequences. [Like this one from earlier this month]. To my memory, speed has been cited in at least 5 neighborhood deaths where pedestrians have been killed by motorists this year, have there been any on that section of Mopac in the morning commute?

I assume cops themselves are the only ones at risk of being hit on Mopac, rather than pedestrians, and sadly, it does happen, so another reason not to put them at risk just to raise revenue.  What should we expect from our law officers, to protect and serve, or to raise revenue? Isn’t that a reasonable question ?

Before you vent, again, I’m not saying cops are bad, I’m not saying that speeding is justifiable, or that I or any others breaking the law are in any way safe drivers. The question I’m asking, is, given the choice should the cops be sitting on Mopac and picking off easy hits on variously empty roadway, or actually patrolling and stopping drivers in the neighborhood arterial roads and shortcuts where speeding is just as common but more dangerous?

Don’t hold your breath though for changes, a recent study from researchers at the University of North Carolina suggests that a weak economy will mean more traffic tickets. Net, net: every one percent (1%) loss of local government revenue leads to a .32 percent increase in the number of traffic tickets.

Moonlight by daylight

At Moonlight Bakery on South Lamar I found the only plain croissant in Austin other than the one made by Sweetish Hill that I would ever consider consuming. Another winner is the Italian bread, shaped like a giant bolillo (pointed on both ends, slashed down its “spine,” and coated in poppy seeds, apparently made from unbleached flour and with my favorite kind of crust, not brittle and not soft, just chewy). I loved the homestyle cookies, especially the snickerdoodles and the so-called “refrigerator” cookies, striated with chocolate. These are almost miniatures and are cookies for grown-ups, with true flavors and no over-dependence on just plain sugar. The same is true of the diminutive but flavorful chocolate-chip or Tollhouse cookies. Since I’m a bread and cookie person, I’m unable to report on anything other than the appearance of fancier items. Accomplices in baked-goods debauchery report wondrous things of the fruit pastries, cream horns, small eclairs, coconut macaroons, gingerbread people, kolaches, and many more. Moonlight Bakery is open from 6:30 am to 6:30 pm every day but Sunday, when the hours are from 8 am to 2 pm. Currently on the wall is photographic art by David Jewell, and it is art, not “art.” These small works are available at a very reasonable price. See for yourself. This was my first visit to Moonlight Bakery, but it won’t be my last. The menu promises an entire universe of baked-goods, including cakes, cupcakes. To think that I happened upon it only because someone needed an item from Batteries Plus, next door.

Mysterious noise identified

Some speculated that it was machinery of some sort; others, toads; still others, a bird. Thanks to diligent research and consultation with experts, the producer of the very loud sound that’s new to most of us this summer has been identified as a giant cicada. Here’s a link to some recordings. Warmer weather has apparently encouraged these insects to extend their range northward. Here’s what the San Antonio Express-News reported recently: “Giant cicadas making quite a racket,” byline Anton Caputo. This article has been syndicated by AP but has not appeared in our local daily. We have been seeing the sheddings from the usual cicacadas, not all that large, but have not yet seen any signs of these quite cacophonous creatures, only heard them.

Who knew?

There’s always more to learn about Austin. Here are two info-bits new to me, and maybe to you:

  • Austin Community College offers a personal fitness trainer program. In an article about the role of community colleges generally, ACC is highlighted and there are photo-illustrations showing several Austinites enrolled there. Maybe you’ll recognize someone you know. The print version shows at least a dozen identifiable Austinites. The article appears in the July 20 issue of Time magazine (“Can Community Colleges Save the U.S. Economy?,” dateline Austin, byline Laura Fitzpatrick).
  • Austin is the headquarters of an entity known as the Distressed Property Institute. This was learned from an article in the August issue of Smart Money about how the current market has changed things for real-estate agents: “Do-It-All Deal Makers,” byline Brad Reagan). The current issue is not yet on line, but a co-founder of the Austin-based outfit states that more than 12,000 agents will pay to take a two-day course in selling so-called “distressed properties,” reportedly up from 1,400 last year. Paying for and attending the course apparently enables a person to call use the Institute’s proprietary “Certified Distressed Property Expert Designation.” The linked site shows locations of future course sessions, presumably predicted centers of short sales.


Circo Hermanos Vazquez will offer three performances tomorrow (2, 5, and 8 pm), and one each on Monday and Tuesday (7 pm), worth every penny. It’s comfortably cool under la gran carpa (shown in this picture), and the popcorn is the best found anywhere lately. The location is Krieg Field, 515 South Pleasant Valley Road. Among the outstanding acts are clowns, acrobats, and a “Cossack” horseback-riding thrill act. As is customary, photographs are taken in the stands, with or without clowns, and, during the intermission, little children are photographed atop or next to Minimo, the miniature horse. After the performance, photographs may be taken in the company of the five young showgirls in their spectacular costumes, which include plumes and silver “character” dance shoes. The intimacy of this one-ring show makes it special, Circo Vazquez delights children and adults alike. The lighted and sparkly toy butterfly scepters were great favorites this year with the little girls in the audience. It’s not necessary to know Spanish to enjoy the excellent clowns, but it does enhance the fun. We especially loved the test of strength in which the dog was the clear winner.

All ‘choked up

The title is borrowed from the July/August issue of Texas Gardener magazine. Clicking on the magazine link will take you to the cover photograph.

The similar photo shown here was taken a month ago. Even though the camera is a toy-like Concord 1500, the image is true to life, and the reality is so surreal as to seem unbelievable. These were growing at the Austin Sunshine Community Gardens. I had never seen such a sight.

The magazine reports that A&M has been working in Uvalde on growing artichokes in Texas. I’ve seen with my own eyes that it’s possible right here in Austin.

Random readings

  • The Austin Monthly June issue in its guide for newcomers recommends Web sites, and, under the heading for Austin life, names Austin Metblogs as a resource.
  • The June 29 issue of Business Week, with a cover story “Housing Market 2012,” highlights the Austin real-estate market, naming it “the price magnet” and describing it as “affordable” and therefore attractive to price-conscious buyers from elsewhere. In fact, the on-line version of the segment devoted to our town is entitled “Affordable Austin.” Sound like anyplace you know?
  • Metropolitan Home employs Austin’s SOL development as an example of sustainable subdivisions, highligting the work of Chris Krager and KRDB, his design-build firm (“The New Village Green,” byline Karrie Jacobs).
  • The Atlantic calls its current July/August issue “the ideas issue” or “15 Ways to Fix the World,” and Austinite Bruce Selcraig has something to say about long-distance high-speed rail travel.

I’ve skipped over national coverage of the high-profile Voting Rights Act opinion handed down by the Supreme Court, as well as the sad story of the couple who paid for health insurance but found it to be lacking when they needed it and the results of an appeal in an Austin murder case that continues to make news, plus the lighter story of the couple who married frugally by serving sno-cones to guests at the wedding reception.

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