Wednesday, December 20, 2006

David Garza on iTunes

I don't know how to do the linky thing for the iTunes, but go to the iTunes store and click on their new iTunes Latino store. They've put David's song "Stylee" on as their free single of the week. I was hunting about and I also saw that Patricia Arquette put one of his songs on her celebrity playlist. Props to Joel for the tip.

Monday, December 18, 2006

What Fresh Hell Is This?

The long march that is my house remodel continues.

It was looking like everything was going to be wrapped up by today. That was until my most most recent plumbing contractor (plumber the fourth for those of you scoring at home) discovered a leak and a water pressure problem that may or may not cost me out the ass.

Anyway, I'm talking this problem over with my current and very loquacious plumber and his equally talky son. I get on my phone to tell my contractor to get over quick. Because nothing can happen until my contractor arrives, I am stuck in this conversational vortex with these two plumbers.

My wife and I get the life story. We get everything from Japanese cuisine to hard water to powerlifting to demonstrating martial arts moves. This goes on for like 45 minutes. And I'm thinking a couple of things:

1) Am I paying $100 an hour for this torture?

2) I've got to be nice and listen because I want this guy to fix the leak quickly and not charge me out the ass.

3) This is proof that God has a sense of humor.

Anyway, my contractor finally shows and we devise a strategy. But then this morning, I see this in the New York Times and wonder, Am I just being an insular jerk? Especially when I saw this quote:

“You have a lot of people who are so caught up in their frantic lives and deadlines that they think that any form of extraneous conversation that can’t be used to help them in some way is a waste of time,” Mr. Miller said.

Hmm... I'm as willing as anyone to listen to some plumber's crazy-ass story or martial arts demonstration, but sometimes, these things veer into the realm of get-me-the-hell-outtahere. Maybe my patience is just frayed by this whole process. Maybe I'm just a selfish a-hole. I'm secure in my shallowness and can deal with either possibility.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Jazz Comes Back To Cowtown

Swingmeister Ricki Derek and his pals are opening up a jazz club called the Scat Jazz Lounge in downtown Fort Worth's Burk Burnett Building, which also houses Jubilee Theater.

According to his Web site, the Scat Lounge will be "a classic venue featuring live jazz and a great mix of recorded, old school tunes. No beer signs, no tv's and no juke, just a cool lounge for drinking and enjoying. Similar to NY's Smalls or The Village Vanguard, Scat will be downstairs with a cozy, big city feel." Ricki and his partners expect to open in early 2007.

Michael Price of the Fort Worth Business Press recently had an interesting take on the Jazz History of Fort Worth.

I'm looking forward to the Scat Jazz Lounge, if only for the fact that I won't have to drive to Big D to catch Ricki's act. Bring it.

One thing I'm wondering: is that Ricki on the latest Lotto Texas radio commercial?

Friday, December 01, 2006

This Is What Fell On Tom Waits

During Tom Waits' appearance on The Daily Show earlier in the week, the ceiling of the men's room collapsed on him before the show. Not a few tiles, the entire freaking ceiling!

Like School In Summer ...

Aggies have NO CLASS!

Coach Fran apologizes for the late hit on Colt McCoy from the post-Thanksgiving debacle against A&M. I'm sorry, but this would have been more forceful if it had come out, say, a week ago.

Yeah, I'm not happy about losing a game to the Agoids, but they played a much better game. They were more physical, they made fewer mistakes, they deserved to win. Hats off to you.

However, my problem is this: when a player is seriously injured, you don't celebrate, you don't dance around like you are happy about. You take a knee, show some class and show some concern for the well-being of the other player. That's not how the Aggies reacted. They danced around and acted like they were happy that they sent a guy to the hospital. That's funny. Earlier in the game when an Aggie player went down, the crowd got quiet, put their Horns up, and clapped for the young man when they helped him off the field.

I know that injuries are a part of the game, but cheap shots are not and neither is bad sportsmanship. I want my best 11 to beat your best 11. I want players to hit hard and play fair between the whistles. If someone for your team gets hurt, I'll clap for him as they help him off the field. I want him to be OK. Playing college football is the fulfillment of a dream for so many kids. Most of them won't play on Sundays, but they have a chance to get an education and have a better life. Nothing is sadder than watching a player's career end because of injury. No one deserves that.

Fran could learn a few things about football from Mack Brown. Winning -- and losing -- graciously would be a good place to start.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

I Don't Even Know What To Say

One of my annual client obligations is attending a national leadership conference for one of my clients in the health care industry. All this entails is sitting around all day with a bunch of doctors listening to clinical discussions, about half of which I understand. Then I perform my magic and turn these into newsletter articles for this company’s newsletter.

I’ve been doing this for about six years now and one thing they always try to include is motivational speaker of some type. I freaking hate these guys because I look at them as hucksters. These guys come in, crack a few jokes, spout a few clichés gleaned from the business book du jour and pick up a nice check.

Anyway, my client usually brings one of these guys in soften up the docs for the all-day beating about to ensue. The guy they had this year really ripped it for me.

He’s this mid-fiftyish white guy who is telling us about how his Marine drill sergeant dad kicking his ass made him a better person and how it will work for you too. The part that got me was this:

He picks up this little American flag. “I take this with me wherever I go because I’m proud of this flag and I’m tired of people running down the flag.”

Wild applause.


I don’t know what country he lives in, but I live in the reddest part of the reddest state in the Union and I don’t see anyone running down the flag here. I just see flags in front of lots of houses and flags on every freaking SUV right next to those stupid yellow ribbon stickers. It’s not like the Republic is teetering in the balance around here.

But it gets better.

He then talks about how he’s tired of the media running down the proud American fighting man and he gets thunderous applause. You’ve got to be kidding me?

Here’s a great example of those damn libruls at the LA Times running down the American fighting man.

Here’s another great example from my friend Tom Pennington. He’s been to Afghanistan and Iraq several times. He’s got more combat experience than W or Dick Cheney and he doesn’t carry a gun, only a camera. The same for my old college friend John Moore who hasn’t been afraid to show the war up close and personal.

Never mind that more journalists have been killed covering Iraq than World War II.

What kind of chance do we have as Americans when people don’t want the truth? Journalists put their lives on the line to get the story and are doing just as much to defend the American way of life as any soldier. The Founding Fathers seemed to understand that a free press was essential for democracy, but somewhere along the way, that’s gotten lost.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Message from Bill

I wouldn't be so presumptuous as to call Bill a friend, but I've met him a time or two. He's written an essay in the Star-Telegram about his favorite book, A Message To Garcia.

Take a moment to read it, because although he's talking about someone else, he could very well be talking about himself -- although he would be far too humble to do that. Bill exudes character and integrity like a Frank Capra hero, and, if anything good can come out of Iraq, it will be because of dedicated professionals like him.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Guitar Hero

Funny little Unfair Park item on Clark Vogeler, former Toadies and Funland guitarist who is now nominated for an Emmy for Project Runway.

Now here's my Clark Vogeler story:

I went to see Dale Watson at the Sons about, oh, 10 years ago with my friends Joel and Mary. Mary brought this guy who she used to date freshman year at UT. So we're hanging out in the bar downstairs, shooting pool, having a beer, making small talk, when I ask this guy what he does.

"Oh, I play guitar for the Toadies."

Clark Vogeler.

Now how do you top that one?

Identity Crisis

Mark Cuban says newspapers do "dumb-ass shit." Well, I couldn't agree more.

Actually, Mark is very right on about what's wrong with newspapers -- they don't know what they have or how to adjust to an online delivery platform. The process will be painful, but most newspapers will make it through because they really are indespensible. They can make themselves more so by good writing and reporting.

Day of Reckoning

Forget the mid-term elections and Iraq, global warming and all the other burning issues of the day, Slate has gotten down to dealing with one of the largely ignored topics that we must resolve RIGHT FREAKING NOW: who was the greatest rock band of the 1980s, R.E.M. or U2?

The article reminded me of something from those days. "Either you loved U2, or you liked them fine. Either you loved R.E.M., or you hated them." I liked U2 just fine, but I LOVED R.E.M. I remember buying Fables of the Reconstruction when it first came out in the summer of 1985 and listening to it over and over. Those were the days when finding anything "alternative" was like going on a secret mission. You had to drive to some record store in Dallas like VVV or Metamorphasis or Bill's to find the stuff half the time. The only way you could hear it on the radio was to tune in to KNON or George Gimarc's Rock and Roll Alternative.

And, of course, if you were listening to R.E.M and not, say, Night Ranger or .38 Special, then you were pretty much considered a freak. But when you would tune in to Shaggy on KNON and hear "Driver 8" or "Green Grow the Rushes", I always felt a little less freakish. The music was somehow healing.

To quote the article:

For all of their ambition, in the 1980s, R.E.M.'s music was willfully obscure. Much has been made of Michael Stipe's mumbly lyrics, but it wasn't that you couldn't make out the words of early R.E.M. songs—you just didn't know what the hell they meant. Neither did the band. "I still have no idea what that song is about," Stipe writes about "Pilgrimage," and bassist Mike Mills says the same about "Gardening at Night" (while drummer Bill Berry claims it's based on a euphemism for peeing along the side of the road during an all-night drive). The lyrics could mean anything, and therefore they meant everything, weighted as they were with mystery, resonance, and passion. "It's not necessarily what we meant," writes Mills, "but whatever you think." A friend once gave his sister, for her birthday in 1988, a complete collection of R.E.M. lyrics, painstakingly hand-transcribed from repeated listens to the songs. Were they right? It hardly mattered.

Even R.E.M.'s "political" songs of the era, like "Fall on Me" or "Exhuming McCarthy," are tricky to parse. "Fall on Me" could maybe be about acid rain, or maybe air pollution in general, or maybe, uh, missile defense? Whereas U2's political songs of the 1980s are a little easier to work out: "Pride (In the Name of Love)" is about Martin Luther King Jr., for example, and "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" is about Bloody Sunday. Stirring as those songs are, there's very little a listener can bring to them; they are Bono's take, not yours, unlike "Fall on Me," which, for me, in 1987, was a deeply personal song about the crushing whatever of existence.

To me, the music I listened to then made the crushing whatever of existence a little easier to bear. And know some of that was the oppressed, adolescent worldview that has always been and always will be. But I still listen to R.E.M. today. Fables is still on my turntable at home right now. And I do take issue with the article in one regard, I though Around the Sun was a great album. Michael Stipe is a little less obscure than he used to be, but the lyrics still seem as malleable as ever.

So put me in the R.E.M. camp. No offense, Bono. Love the debt forgiveness and red iPods. I guess I just lean more toward elegies than anthems.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Thanks, Kinky!

Kinky says thanks, but we are the ones who should thank him. Kinky, you made a bunch of Texans proud. Thanks for everything.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Is This For Real?

Scarlett Johansson covers Tom Waits! Believe it! I guess I am the last person on earth to hear this. But this blog's photo of Scarlett (NSFW) makes it worthwhile.

Tom Waits Coming To A TV Near You

Tom Waits will appear on Letterman on Nov. 27 and the Daily Show on Nov. 28 to promote his new album, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards.

The early buzz on the album is fantastic and based on the MP3 posted on the Anti Records Web site, I can't wait to hear the rest of it.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Five Lessons I’ve Learned This Fall

I’ve been flying under the radar for most of the fall, busier than ever with work. That’s good because it has kept me distracted from the travails of a home purchase and remodel that seems like it will never end. Now that I am in a position to come up for air, I want to apply some of this hard won knowledge.

Lesson 1: You can lead a client to water but you can’t stop them from pissing in it. Sometimes a client is bound and determined to take a good idea and completely fuck it up. You can explain your position, give them good reasons not to do it and gently nudge them – all to no avail. And that is why God invented Martinis.

Lesson 2: It’s never the problem you expected that bites you in the ass. I swear I thought those were hi-res photos. I had no idea that my plumbing contractor would take a job in Saudi Arabia in the middle of the project. I swore that mailing called for pre-sort.

Lesson 3: I would join any club that would have me as a member. I’ve gone door-to-door for Kinky Friedman. I’ve made sandwiches at the Presbyterian Night Shelter. I worked a booth at my daughter’s elementary school carnival. I’ve taught Sunday School. I have tried hard to be a good citizen. But I just plain suck at it. It doesn’t come easy, I’m selfish, and I think these people deserve better than me. In my heart, I’m just a crusty old bastard who hates everybody.

Lesson 4: Remodeling is as hard as people say it is. It takes longer, costs more money and frays your nerves more than you expect. I’ve bought existing homes, built a new home and remodeled an old one, and this is by far the hardest.

Lesson 5: Lawyers have nothing on contractors when it comes to being evasive. You can ask a contractor a direct question, like “When will you be finished?” and get a completely inconclusive response. Where do these guys learn this? I only hope that bin Laden didn’t use a contractor to train his guys in interrogation techniques, because no amount of waterboarding will get an answer out of those guys if so.

Red State Blues

A slice of partisan cheese from my friends Russ and Jill.

This Is Why I Am Voting for Kinky Friedman

According to Rick Perry, aka Governor Goodhair, you are going to hell. It's not enough that has taken record amounts of "contributions" from companies looking to "influence" legislation. It's not enough that he consistently puts his personal agenda and party politics ahead of education. It's not enough that he cost poor children in the this state hundrend of millions in healthcare dollars. He wants to send all of those non-Christians to hell, too.

This is Texas. I wish I could say things would be different on Wednesday. But they won't. Kinky is right. This state is morally bankrupt, and you need only to look at the Governor's mansion to see why.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Shale and Farewell

The Barnett Shale and Fort Worth made it into all the news that's fit to print. And it only took them four paragraphs to make a Beverly Hillbillies reference. Dicks.

Evidently, most in Fort Worth are worried about their houses blowing up. No. I'm more concerned about who owns the freaking mineral rights under my house, because I don't think it's me.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Scenes from the Maul

Well, my Longhorns didn’t fare too well on Saturday, but I’m strangely OK with it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m the same irrational prick who has broken a few remote controls across the years. But I just didn’t think my team played that badly. They made a few mistakes and didn’t execute when they needed to. Bottom line: the best team won that day.

And I got to say, I haven’t had a better time at a football game, maybe ever. Yeah, the Rose Bowl was great, but I was so damn nervous that it was hard to enjoy it before the game. This whole past weekend was great. A couple of random thoughts:

  • Saw Dave Alvin at the Continental Club on Friday night and was blown away. I’ve been a big fan for years, but have never seen him before. He played a bluesier set than I would have guessed, but he pretty much own Merle Haggard’s Kern River. And when he plays Fourth of July … all I can think is, man, that’s the best rock and roll song ever.

  • Another band I saw at the Bevo Blvd tailgate was More Cowbell. The lead singer is this guy I only know as Crayon from the Web site. Not exactly Dave Alvin, but a lot of fun and a great band to get drunk to.

  • Everybody loves Mike’s Burnt Orange Chuck Taylor’s

  • Met a lot of nice Buckeye fans and didn’t see one burning couch. Met one guy who was going back to Bermuda. “My wife was pissed because there was a hurricane coming,” he said. “But this is No. 1 vs. No. 2.” Now that’s college football.

  • Met another Buckeye fan named Josh who was incredibly nice (and drunk) who said he’d never had more fun at an away game. Glad you had a good time!
  • Ran into some funny Georgia fans who said, “You guys have class. You’re nice to these Buckeye fans. We’d just be jerks to them.”

  • The only fight I saw was two Longhorn fans getting into it. Quite a scrum.

  • Matthew McConaughey, Matthew McConaughey gets some shit from some Hornfans, but I think the guy is good for the program. He's a superfan living the dream. And if I had a chance, I'd do the same thing.

  • Earl Campbell can’t walk anymore.

  • Eddie George was cool enough to stop and get his picture taken with a cop.

  • I had a great brisket taco from a street vendor at Fifth and Congress.

  • I also saw the most interesting looking girl while I am eating said brisket taco. She was probably 15 and wore a UT t-shirt and camoflage shorts. But what was fascinating was she had long blond dreadlocks and light green eyes and was communicating in sign-language in what looked to be an argument with her friend.

  • Venison sausage with jalapenos and chese esta yummy.
  • Wednesday, August 30, 2006

    Thoughts on Labor Day

    An interesting take on Labor Day from the Washington Post. Or, why the minimum wage has stayed the same since the mid-1990s while CEO pay has grown exponentially. Or why the median income in North Texas has decreased since 2000 and the number of those living in poverty has increased. Or, in a nutshell: Dear American Worker, You're screwed. But you should vote for me because I'll make you safe. Love, W.

    When will America wake up?

    Saturday, August 26, 2006

    I'm Done With August

    Why does August try so hard
    To hoist itself on its own petard?
    -- Purple Avenue by Tom Waits
    Ah, August, a kidney stone of a month. I hate August, or should I say, I hate this August. I’m tired of it. It’s hot, about 185 degrees today, as it has been for every day I can remember. No rain. People are in a foul mood. It’s ugly.

    The news is horrible. I can’t hardly listen anymore. So, as August swirls the bowl toward its inevitable conclusion, allow me to say good riddance. We don’t need you. Bring me the first crisp breeze of September. The State Fair and stroll down the Midway with my daughter and a Fletcher’s Corny Dog. Give me UT football and the fading light of a fall afternoon. Give me the smell of a fireplace and falling leaves. I’ll even take the bitter memory of 9/11 again for the fifth time. Get behind me August. I’m through with you.

    A few thoughts on August from Slate, including an idea to take the month down to 10 days. I’m all for it.

    Horse Sense

    Former Dallas Cowboy Jay Novacek published an op-ed in Monday's Star-Telegram opposing HR 503 to stop the slaughter of horses. I've heard these arguments before and I'm not sure I believe them.

    Another S-T op-ed on Wednesday summarizes my feelings better:

    Of course, if you accept the slaughter industry's line of argument, we would have no laws against any form of cruelty. The dogfighter or cockfighter could just as readily invoke this principle in defense of his own depravities. The argument further unravels when you realize that there are already good federal laws -- including the Horse Protection Act -- that forbid the harming of horses for profit. In fact, historically, it was rank cruelty to horses that first inspired our state laws against cruelty.

    If we are going to slaughter horses like this, why not do the same with dogs. Other parts of the world eat dog, so why not export them for food also? Funny how no one makes that argument. To me, dogs and horses are the same -- noble creatures who deserve better.

    Wednesday, August 23, 2006

    Johnny Cash Reconsidered

    Slate asks the question can Johnny Cash's late works be considered great art and schlocky at the same time? My first though is that even though he was covering Neil Diamond and Depeche Mode, his last recording had a gravitas that can only come with time and experience (much like the work Tom Waits is doing now -- and yes, I know I am delinquent in posting by thoughts on his Chicago show two weeks ago. I'm busy and I want to do it right.)

    Yeah, even when Cash is singing Personal Jesus, it's not schlock. He adds a dimension to the song that I had never considered before -- it's much more personal. When Cash sings it, it sounds like he means it. The Depeche Mode version is good, but it just makes me want to have another drink.

    And when Cash sings U2's One, he takes that song to a whole new level. He took what may be the best song U2 has ever done and completely owns it.

    I'm still waiting for my friend Johnny, the world's biggest Cash fan, to weigh in on this. He did, however take in Rosanne Cash's set recently at the Newport Folk Festival and highly recommends her new album, Black Cadillac. Boston ... er, not so much.

    Monday, August 07, 2006

    CHEZ BEZ: I Can Die Now. I Saw Tom Waits At The Ryman.

    CHEZ BEZ: I Can Die Now. I Saw Tom Waits At The Ryman.After reading this, I am all geeked up to see Tom Waits in Chicago on Wednesday!

    Friday, August 04, 2006

    Sucks Doesn't Suck

    A defense of sucks from Slate which includes theis gem: "Sucks is the most concise, emphatic way we have to say something is no good."


    And in that spirit, I offer you the most creative usage of this work, when Homer Simpson described a team as: "The suckingest bunch of sucks who ever sucked."

    Opera Diva Schwarzkopf Dies

    Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, one of the great sopranos of the 20th Century, went to the big opera house in the sky. If you haven't heard her interpretation of Strauss' Last Four Songs, do so immediately. It will bring tears to your eyes.

    Wednesday, August 02, 2006

    Rational Exuberance

    Tony Bennett turns 80 this week and the New York Times printed an appreciation of his work that included an interested contrast of Bennett and Frank Sinatra:

    Careers that last as long and have been as distinguished as Mr. Bennett’s have something to tell us about collective cultural experience over decades. It has been said that Sinatra’s journey from skinny, starry-eyed “Frankie,” strewing hearts and flowers, to the imperious, volatile Chairman of the Board roughly parallels an American loss of innocence. As Sinatra entered his noir period in the mid-1950’s, his romantic faith gave way to a soul-searching existentialism that yielded the most psychologically complex popular music ever recorded. Following a similar arc, the country grew from a nation of hungry dreamers fleeing the Depression and fighting “the good war” into an arrogant empire drunk on power and angry at the failure of the American dream to bring utopia.

    Mr. Bennett is something else altogether. A native New Yorker and man of the people, he never strayed far from his working-class roots in Astoria, Queens, where he was born Anthony Benedetto. Although he came out of the same tradition of Mediterranean balladry as Sinatra, he retained the innocence and joie de vivre of his youth. Disappointment is not in his vocabulary. We don’t go to him for psychological complexity, but for refreshment and reassurance that life is good.

    Believing in the power of art to ennoble ordinary lives, he sings what he feels with a rare mixture of humility and pride: humility in the face of the daunting popular-song tradition he treasures and pride that he is recognized as its custodian. Gratitude and joy, gruffness and beauty balance each other perfectly in singing that has grown more rhythmically acute with each passing year.

    Wednesday, July 26, 2006

    Stop The Slaughter!

    I am sad to say that even in the great state of Texas, places exist to butcher horses to export their meat as food -- one of the three in the U.S. is right here in Fort Worth. This is wrong and must stop. Please write Congress to stop this slaughter now!

    H.R. 503, The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act has been reintroduced in the US House by Congressman John Sweeney (R-NY), Co-chair of the Congressional Horse Caucus, Congressman John Spratt, Jr. (D-SC) and Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-KY). In the Senate. S. 1915 has been reintroduced by Senator and veterinarian John Ensign (R-NV) and Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA). Last year in the House 228 bipartisan Members of Congress cosponsored the bill, let's reach that number again.

    Seems All American. Who could be against this? Well ...

    "Why is Congress rushing to pass legislation that creates many problems and solves none?" said House Agriculture Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., whose committee has managed to block proposed bans for years. He called the effort "emotionally misguided" and derided the "very wealthy horse owners pushing this legislation" without regard to those who would lose the only financially viable option for disposing of unwanted horses.

    What Makes a Good Bad Movie

    Chuck Klosterman writes about the most overhyped movie ever, Snakes on a Plane, in the latest Esquire:

    Thursday, July 20, 2006

    Defending American Values

    Sen. Lindsey Graham says what I've been thinking and what many, many people seem unable to grasp (from NYT):

    While some other Republicans argue that terrorists do not deserve legal or human rights, Mr. Graham has insisted that only a system grounded in the fundamental rights of the military code and the Geneva conventions will affirm the reputation of the United States abroad and protect American troops when they are captured by enemies.

    “What I’m trying to do with my time in the Senate during this whole debate we’re having is to remind the Senate that the rules we set up speak more about us than it does the enemy,” Mr. Graham said in an interview. “The enemy has no rules. They don’t give people trials, they summarily execute them and they’re brutal, inhuman creatures. But when we capture one of them, what we do is about us, not about them.

    “Do they deserve, the bad ones, all the rights that are afforded? No. But are we required to do it because of what we believe? Yes.”

    Exotic Dining

    And I thought my lunch wasn't sitting well with me ... little did I know.

    Sunday, July 16, 2006

    Kinky Q&A

    The Kinkster talks about immigration, gambling, education and the de-wussification of Texas in this summer's issue of the American Interest.

    Tuesday, July 04, 2006

    Steve's Got Issues

    Steve's Got Issues is the name of my Mid-Century Modern antiques concern ... or should I say my out-of-control avalanche of cool stuff and debt. I exhibit at Lost Antiques at 1201 N. Industrial Boulevard, Dallas, TX 75207 (214.741.4411). Need a lucite coffee table? Got it. A 1930s dental drill? Got that too. 1940s Robsjohn Gibbings step table? Yep. Plycraft recliner? Fully restored. Murano glass chandelier? Rewired even. You want it? I got it. I don't got it? I'll get it.

    It's run by Joey Edwards who is possibly the coolest human being in existence. He has a couple of dozen vintage motorcycles for sale, as well as Art Deco and Machine Age furniture and fixtures and on and on. Come by and check it out!

    Oral History

    Christopher Hitchens can write about anything and make it interesting, even when it is something as tedious as defending W on Iraq. However, give him an interesting topic, such as, say ...blowjobs ... as he does in the latest issue of Vanity Fair, well, watch out.

    Sunday, June 25, 2006

    Personal History Goes Up in Smoke

    Dallas' Arcadia Theater was a former movie theater, vaudeville house, nightclub and porn theater. But I knew it as the the place where cool bands played back in the 80s. The Arcadia and years of memories burned to the ground on Wednesday, 20 years to the day from the Siouxsie and the Banshees show I saw there.

    I found the ticket stub to the Siouxsie show and some other stubs, too: The Lords of The New Church and Lyle Lovett.

    Friday, June 09, 2006

    1 Liter of Diet Coke + 5 Mentos

    Equals fun. Multiply by 100 ... click here to see.

    Monday, June 05, 2006

    Play Ball!

    Played softball for the first time since college. I didn't suck as bad as I thought I would. A list of my accomplishments:

  • My first time playing third base -- ever

  • My first strikeout since college

  • My first hit and RBI since college

  • My first sports injury -- ever.

  • Sprained my ankle sliding into third. Hurts like hell today, but I'm up and moving around. Between that and various scrapes, cuts and bruises, I look like someone went caveman on me. But I still had a great time in delayed adolescence kind of way.

    Friday, June 02, 2006

    The Polyurethane Jungle

    Years in the making, The Polyurethane Jungle is finally complete. It's a dark tale of the gritty reality that is the day-to-day stuff of a toy's life -- a tale broken dreams, redemption and hardcore toy-on-toy violence. Please view, enjoy and tell your friends.

    Thursday, June 01, 2006

    Living The Dream

    Clay Harvey, a 21-year-old from Mesquite, finished second in the Legoland Model Builder Search national competition in Carlsbad, Calif. He's next in line to become one of the guys builds recreations at Legoland. I only wish I had know before they had this little contest. Talk about a dream job.

    Saturday, May 27, 2006

    Leftover Stories to Tell

    A tribute performance of Spalding Gray's work begins in New York this week. Gray's suicide was devastating -- of course suicide always is. However, Gray always seemed so amiable in his performances, like a friend who would always be there.

    Writes the NYT:

    "The show also captures what brought so many fans to Mr. Gray in the first place: a voyeuristic glimpse into the life of a wayward WASP, someone willing to unstintingly report on his own weaknesses and neuroses while using them to create an incisive portrait of relationships, sex, therapy, politics, ambition and family. And he was reliable: always seated at his desk with a shimmering glass of water, always ready to tell a captivating story."

    Friday, May 26, 2006

    Tempus Fugit

    They've finally done it! Those bastards have finally done it! They've invented the alarm clock that will run away from you.

    Wednesday, May 24, 2006

    Bill Lives!

    Bye-bye Coit and Spring Valley. Bill's Records and Tapes, a Dallas music institution for decades, will not be riding off into the sunset soon. He's just moving to the Southside next to the new Poor David's.

    Wednesday, May 17, 2006


    The new Wes Anderson American Express Ad I guess qualifies as the first new Wes Anderson movie in a while. It's pretty funny. Plus, there's another essay about why it takes so long for him and his contemporaries to roll out movies.

    Monday, May 08, 2006

    There Will Be Music Despite Everything

    NPR gave us a wonderful little feature on one of my favorite poets, Jack Gilbert.

    Last week, my daughter read a Gilbert poem at her elementary school poetry slam. Hope you like it:

    Horses at midnight without a moon
    by Jack Gilbert

    Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods.
    Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt.
    But there’s music in us. Hope is pushed down
    but the angel flies up again taking us with her.
    The summer mornings begin inch by inch
    while we sleep, and walk with us later
    as long-legged beauty through
    the dirty streets. It is no surprise
    that danger and suffering surround us.
    What astonishes is the singing.
    We know the horses are there in the dark
    meadow because we can smell them,
    Can hear them breathing.
    Our spirit persists like a man struggling
    through the frozen valley
    who suddenly smells flowers
    and realizes the snow is melting
    out of sight on the top of the mountain,
    knows that spring has begun.

    Friday, April 21, 2006

    Typerotica ... Um, Wow.

    Now, you would think The Virtual Typewriter Museum would be a little bit of a snooze. I mean, I love typewriters as much as the next guy, but come on

    Well, I was wrong.

    Turns out there was a lot more going on that just stenography and a little light clerical. There was some down and dirty going on back in the day behind the old Underwood. And this is the tame stuff. Wowza!

    If more museums were like this, we wouldn't need topless bars.

    There's even a book about sex and typewriters! That kind of research is almost -- almost -- enough to make me go back to grad school.

    Tuesday, April 11, 2006

    Some Last Words About Buck

    I was thinking about Buck Owens today. I’ve been meaning to write something about him since he died recently, but my thoughts hadn’t come together yet. I still don’t know that they have, but I figured I’d take a shot anyway.

    The music of Buck Owens was about sheer exuberance – you can’t listen to his music and not smile. It’s like the old CCR song about sitting on the back porch and listening to Buck Owens. The sound of his guitar generates an emotional response.

    It’s too bad that most people will only remember him for Hee-Haw, a magnificent piece of pop culture cheese that seems almost surreal looking back on it. The man was a guitar virtuoso who managed to blend many opposing musical tangents of the 1960s into the Bakersfield Sound, a sound as American and relevant as bee-bop.

    When you compare him to Johnny Cash, another mega-entertainer of his generation, they may have shared the genre but their art was substantially different. JR Cash was more of a poet fueled by anger and pills and it’s easy to trace an arc of redemption through his life and music. Buck isn’t quite so complicated. He was more of a pure entertainer and was more of a Horatio Alger story of a poor boy making good. He just wanted to put on a good show and make a little scratch.

    Perhaps a more apt comparison would be Merle Haggard. Both Buck and Merle were products of the Dust Bowl and the Okie migration, but where Merle would continue to dwell on this in his music, Buck just kept steaming forward with good-time Honky-Tonk music. The music of Buck Owens wasn’t about rage or introspection, it was the great American postwar music of laughter and forgetting.

    Maybe the lack of deeper themes will keep Buck from assuming his rightful place in the pantheon of country music gods. Now maybe he’s not a poet the way Johnny and Merle are, but if you listen to the bridge of Foolin’ Round, you will hear a caliber of American poetry that would humble Walt Whitman.

    Godspeed, Buck. We’ll miss you.

    Monday, April 10, 2006

    We Are All Little Before Him

    I have a new hero. His name is Eric Harshbarger and not only does he do cool Lego Skylines of Fort Worth (pictured above), he does Lego sculptures of Milhouse Van Houten, Dean Cain, and Conan O'Brien. Check him out!

    Tuesday, April 04, 2006

    Thinking of Walt Whitman

    April is National Poetry Month and I am looking for a poem for my daughter to read at her elementary school poetry slam. And I stumbled on a poem by that grand old man of American poetry, Walt Whitman. It's totally not appropriate for the occasion but thought provoking nonetheless, especially the end:

    I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
    And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.

    What do you think has become of the young and old men?
    What do you think has become of the women and children?

    They are alive and well somewhere;
    The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
    And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
    And ceased the moment life appeared.

    All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,
    And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

    Monday, April 03, 2006

    Walker Evans Wannabe

    I'm giving it my best shot here. I took this in Marfa last summer.

    Saturday, April 01, 2006

    I Like This One The Best

    Abbey Road
    Originally uploaded by Digger Digger Dogstar.
    It has a cool Paint By Numbers quality.

    All You Need Is ... Legos?

    Not quite as cool as the Lego Aircraft Carrier, but cool nonetheless.

    Come Fly With Me

    The ring-a-ding spirit of old time Vegas is alive and well in Dallas thanks to one Mr. Ricki Derek. Ricki and his 15-piece band launched their first attempt to channel the spirit of the Copa at last Saturday night's Supper Club and they were successful -- mostly.

    Ricki is an unbelieveably charismatic performer who doesn't possess a voice as rich as Ol' Blue Eyes but his stage presence establishes him as the real deal. He nailed it Saturday when he covered my favorite Bobby Darin song, More. He has star-power and makes you believe he could hang with Frank and Dino. And his band was as dead-on as any of the Nelson Riddle orchestras from the Capitol Records years. And although he stuck with a vintage set on Saturday, he's not above a loungy cover of The Doors' People Are Strange or The Church's Under The Milky Way.

    All this was hosted at Victoria Hall next to Tucker Restaurant. The place gets its name because it is housed in an old Tucker dealership, but thankfully it's not an automotive-themed TGIFriday's monstrosity, its tastefully done with lots of wine bottles and wood paneling. I suspect the food is pretty good, but the meals didn't reflect it at the Supper Club. Food was lukewarm, hors d'oeurves were MIA, the servers surly. And the band overwhelmed the space and conversation was hard to come by. Ricki's six-piece outfit would have done fine. And I would have preferred to eat first, then see the show.

    I'm hoping they get the bugs worked out because this is an idea whose time has come.

    Saturday, March 25, 2006


    Another photo I took during my Magnolia Street jaunt. It may be immodest to say, but I love this picture.

    Donald Judd Auction Scheduled

    Donald Judd’s children work hard to preserve their father’s legacy.

    On May 9 the Donald Judd Foundation, established after Judd's death at 66, in 1994, will put 35 sculptures up for sale at Christie's in New York, in an effort to create a $20 million endowment for the support of its properties in New York and Marfa, where Judd owned 3 ranches and 15 buildings.

    Friday, March 24, 2006

    Update on the Kinkster

    A thoughtful write-up on Kinky Friedman inthe Dallas Morning News (registration required).

    255-Year-Old Tortoise ... Dead

    A 255-year-old giant tortoise named Adwaitya died at the Calcutta Zoo on Wednesday. The animal had been brought to India from the Seychelles Islands in the mid-18th century as a gift to the British colonial ruler Robert Clive.

    What to do now? Make one big, nasty bowl of turtle soup. Yum.

    What's the Coolest Thing in the World?

    That would be a Lego Aircraft Carrier, of course.

    Thursday, March 23, 2006

    Neko Case Esta Bueno

    Neko Case. Is there anything more to say? Her voice is amazing, clear and haunting. Her new album, Fox Confessor Brings Flood is my album of the year pick. But, my, she has a little bitterness toward her parents. But don't we all.

    Must I Paint You A Picture?

    I love me some Billy Bragg and always have since the 80s. There's an interesting interview with him on the Onion's AV Club. Couple of interesting things about it.

    Says Billy: "I think the politics that we had in the 1980s in America and in the UK were a lot more ideological than they are now. Reaganomics and the essence of what Margaret Thatcher was trying to do was a lot more aimed at pushing back at what had been achieved in the 1960s." Wow. I remember the 80s, too, and I think this is most poisonous political climate in my memory. Not only are there many in the U.S. interested in undoing the Sixties, they want to undo the New Deal. And they're doing it. That is much more frightening.

    However, one thing he said that I completely agree with:

    "One thing that's always impressed me about America is your ability to do things when you set your mind to it, even if it is something fucked-up like invading Iraq. You know, you guys logistically are right up there. None of us have got that capacity for moving shit from A to B. It's very powerful. And I would like America per se really to get back in touch with what you Americans refer to as "barn-raising." You know what I'm talking about? When someone in a community wants to build a barn or a house, everybody in the community gets together and spends an entire weekend to help the person to raise the A-frame of their house or their barn. That ability to go out and help people.

    "You know, if everyone in the Middle East who met an American met one who had come to help them, rather than an American armed to the teeth who had come to police them, I think we could begin to move away from the situation we've found ourselves in. There's a great film to be made, or maybe a book to be written, called Go Home, Yankee, And Take Me With You. So many people out there look to the United States as a place of great opportunity. And I think that maybe your manifest destiny is to help people rather than to hinder people. I would like to see the American people live up to that."

    Monday, March 20, 2006

    Readymade Art

    I love old signs. I look at them as little pieces of readymade art. Here's one of my local favorites, across from Benito's on Magnolia.

    Another Award

    My friend Johnny D. Boggs is my hero. He's a guy who follwed his dreams and has had things work out nicely. He quit his day job wrestling with the elements of style in daily newspapering and became an award-winning writer of western fiction. He just won his second Spur Award this weekend for his book, Camp Ford. Check him out and buy a book.

    Friday, March 03, 2006

    A Picture of Jim

    I like taking pictures of people painted on walls. This is Jim. I snapped this back in January down on Magnolia.

    Thursday, March 02, 2006

    Not Staying On Top of Things

    Today is Texas Independence Day, which I usually celebrate by not celebrating at all. It's usually something along the lines of, "Oh, today is March 2. Texas Independence Day."

    Anyway, I wanted to write about Black History Month, not Texas Independence Day, so bear with me. My daughter read the following poem from Robert Hayden poem "Frederick Douglass" at her school assembly. She's a very articulate, confident reader for an 8-year-old, which is why they asked a blonde-haired white girl to read a poem for Black History Month. And this poem is amazing:

    When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
    and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
    usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
    when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
    reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
    than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
    this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
    beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
    where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
    this man, superb in love and logic, this man
    shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,
    not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
    but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
    fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.

    For a thoughtful examination of this poem, read the Say Something Wonderful Blog.

    Monday, February 20, 2006

    Would You Let This Man Run Your State?

    Although I think one of the biggest problems with the blogosphere is the tendency for people on the left and the right to spew forth about their ideology when in reality they are merely regurgitating the talking points set out by the party or some think tank. Hey, I’ve done it, too. But I’m a lot more interested in a person’s authentic inner or artistic life rather than how effectively a person toe’s the party line. I think that is where the medium becomes an art form.

    With that in mind, let’s talk politics.

    I’m supporting Kinky Friedman in his run for the governor’s mansion because I think he has a point: people get the kind of government they deserve. Something is seriously, spiritually wrong in Texas and it is up to the people to fix it.

    I know that the problem isn’t just Texas. Special interests and their big money have a stranglehold on Washington, D.C., too. But if you live in Texas, you can’t do anything about D.C. This is a one-party state, the reddest of the red. It is going to take someone to seriously rock the boat in Washington and it ain’t coming from here.

    But we can do something about it here in Texas. The Kinkster is an authentic, independent voice who is as fed up as I am and is prepared to do something about it. To paraphrase his talking points:

    An educated workforce and top-notch schools are essential to keeping our state attractive to new business, but we're failing the test.
  • Texas has the 8th largest economy in the world, but we're 1st in drop-out rates and 49th in education spending in the country.

  • Teachers' salaries in Texas are over $6,000 below the national average. This lack of respect for the people who do our state's most important job must stop. As governor, Kinky will work to make sure that teachers are paid what they're worth. Period.

  • The TAKS test and its predecessor, TAAS, were invented essentially to make legislators look good on education. But studies show that rigid enforcement of standardized test scores doesn't help kids learn or make teachers more effective. Teach to the test and kids will learn the test—but not much else.

  • Healthcare
    Texas ranks rock-bottom in providing for the basic needs of its youngest and poorest residents. More than one fifth of Texas children have no health insurance at all. In 2003, Texas legislators slashed the Children's Health Insurance Program, pulling the rug out from under 170,000 kids. Not only did this put more of our children at risk, it ended up costing the state tens of thousands of health care jobs and $16 billion in lost productivity. Kinky believes this is reckless and short-sighted—no way to invest in the future of Texas. We're a state that prides itself on friendliness and responsibility, but the message we're sending our kids is that if you're going to be born poor, you'd better not be born in Texas.

    Renewable Energy
    It's time for Texas to reclaim bragging rights as an energy icon. As governor, Kinky will accomplish that by encouraging investment and innovation in new methods of electricity generation and new fuels like biodiesel.

    Think these are fringe technologies? Think again. Wind power plants, solar power arrays, and landfill gas capture systems are already in operation across Texas in cities from Fort Stockton to Fort Worth. Texas has been called "the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy," and firms from TXU to Kyocera are already clamoring for a piece of the action.

  • Despite our staggering potential, only 0.7% of Texas' energy needs come from renewable sources. That puts us 51st in the nation, behind even Washington D.C.

  • Biodiesel—it's good enough for Willie Nelson’s tour bus, and the city of Denton is using it to fuel their entire fleet of diesel trucks. Biodiesel is fuel you can grow. That's good for farmers, good for the air, good for the Texas energy industry and good for Texans. With biodiesel, everybody wins but OPEC.

  • OK, that’s the party line right there. I’ve never worked on a political campaign before, but I am now. If you live in Texas and are looking to vote for the Kinkster, here’s what you need to do:

  • Register to vote: There’s still time.

  • Don’t vote in the primary: Don’t vote in the Republican or Democratic Primaries on March 7. It’s weird asking people not to vote, but I didn’t make these crazy rules.

  • Sign the petition to get the Kinkster on the ballot: Kinky has 60 days after the primary to get 45,000 authorized signatures. Maybe that doesn’t sound so tough, but consider this: the last person to do this was Sam Houston in 1850. I find a petition, contact me or go to

  • Get Involved: The governor’s race cost $100 million last time around. That money only comes in large chunks from people who have it. If you want to make history and put Kinky in the Governor’s Mansion, please give your time and money to make this happen.

  • Thanks for letting me on the soapbox. Back to your regularly-scheduled noodlings.

    Saturday, February 18, 2006

    Flatiron Building

    I haven't posted a photo in a while so I thought I would post a picture of Fort Worth's Flatiron Building, the only true flatiron building in Texas.

    Modeled after Daniel H. Burnham's 1902 Flatiron Building in New York City, Fort Worth physician Bacon Saunders commissioned Fort Worth architects Sanguinet and Staats to design and build the seven-story building in 1907. Bacon later had his offices in thew building. This building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1971. It became a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 1970 and a City of Fort Worth Landmark in 1994. Although it has been unoccupied for several decades, it has recently been remodeled and restored.

    Friday, February 17, 2006

    Deconstructing Stillman

    I love the movies of Whit Stillman because the characters seem to exude this earnestness that used to be sort of a stereotypical American trait but now seems so foreign and charming.

    Interesting thing about Stilman – other than the fact that he hasn’t made a movie in eight years – is that evidently conservatives love his movies (according to this Slate article) because "Stillman's films insist that there were (and are) true virtues in this class and its ideals."

    Hadn’t really thought that deeply about them. I need to go back and watch Metropolitan, which I loved when it came out in 1990 (but there were a lot of things that I loved in 1990 that haven’t aged that well).

    What I do remember was that the film sort of lamented the end of the upper classes, That sort of ennui was rampant then. I remember the novel Generation X by Douglas Coupland had that same sense of that everything was downhill from here, we’ll be the first generation not to do as well as our parents, etc. And a funny thing happened … actually lots of funny things. The Internet, the Stock Boom, 9-11 and so on. Now here we are in 2006 and the world is a very, very different looking place.

    Point is maybe Stillman’s movies won’t make the jump. But their sweetness and the feeling that they are like a New Yorker cartoon come to life may save them. We’ll see.

    Of course, what really made Stillman's films was Chris Eigeman, who was always the jerk you liked in spite of yourself. He's reason enough to go back and watch all of those films again.

    Saturday, February 11, 2006

    Doing Indefinable Service to Mankind

    Just finished Texas Literary Outlaws by Steven L. Davis, a look at how a small group of writers transformed Texas literature and the state’s vision of itself.

    The nucleus of this group, I’m proud to say, enjoyed its formative years in Fort Worth. Dan Jenkins, Bud Shrake and Gary Cartwright all came of age in the sports department of the old Fort Worth Press under the tutelage of legendary sportswriter Blackie Sherrod. As an old Fort Worth sportsguy myself, I know their presence was still a powerful one even in the 1990s when I was there.

    Although they are probably better know for their gonzo antics fueled by booze and pills, these guys were serious about the words. Sherrod could be a stern taskmaster gave them a strong foundation on which to build their writing. His mantra was this: hook’em with a strong lead, adopt a distinct point of view and hammer it home with a strong angle. That was the Fort Worth School of journalism.

    Sherrod was an old-school, disciplined, hard-ass sports editor. But he also valued the craft of writing. He insisted that his reporter read and discuss literary journalists like Damon Runyon and Mark Twain. They dissected each other’s writing.

    Sherrod believed that the games themselves were only of marginal importance. Years later, he wrote in his Dallas Morning News column that he didn’t believe that quarterbacks and shortstops were real heroes – real heroes were guys who could land a torpedo bomber on the pitching deck of a aircraft carrier. His experiences in World War II gave him a perspective – and perhaps a cynicism – that was a valuable component in his work and once that he passed on to those he worked with.

    His writers learned that lesson well and throughout their careers, Jenkins, Shrake and Cartwright used sports as a departure point to discuss topics that were of far more interest to them. That’s a lot different than the attitudes of sportswriters today. ESPN has poisoned the minds of a generation of sports journalists. Today, everyone wants to be a personality – it’s all about the pose and the blather. The Sportscenterization of America has mangled the craft of sportswriting. No one cares about the words anymore, all they care about is their closeup.

    One ugly truth that these guys dealt with then that hasn’t changed today is the current of anti-intellectualism and conservatism for which Texas is unfortunately famous. This book really helped me place these attitudes on a continuum and see how some things really don’t change that much. There have always been Rick Perrys.

    Like their friends and colleagues Larry L. King and Billie Lee Brammer, their exploration of social, racial, sexual, musical, existential and pharmaceutical issues went against the grain. Spiritually, they had more in common with the Beat Generation than they did their peers in the newsrooms where they worked. They even coined a name for their spiritual fellow travelers – Mad Dogs, Inc. “Doing Indefinable Service to Mankind” was their tagline and their universe included Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Ann Richards.

    The Mad Dogs were aware that something was different in postwar America and they were desperate to define it and discuss it. Objectivity didn’t exist; they put themselves in their stories. They may have tried to stay aloof, but they were there. They were involved.

    But this journey often led them away from Texas. However, even when they left Texas, Texas didn’t leave them. They came back to these themes and topics throughout their careers.

    Brammer’s novel The Gay Place is hailed as “Texas’ first urban novel” and while that is certainly true, it’s also a powerful exploration of not-so-young people grappling with mortality, lost love and broken dreams. It’s a work about existential dread as much as it is about politics and Brammer describes that ennui better than anyone else I’ve read recently.

    The same could be said for another peripheral character in this book, another Fort Worth resident named Jay Milner. His memoir, Confessions of a Mad Dog, hits on all of these same topics and is a valuable supplement to Davis’ work.

    I’m heartened by the perseverance of these guys as writers. Even when it didn’t seem that anyone wanted to read their work, they kept after it – they might have made good bloggers. It wasn’t easy making ends meet with families to feed and day jobs to hold down, but they still managed to make time for their work. And lots of drugs, alcohol and misbehavior which didn’t make family, work and writing any easier, but it sure seemed like fun anyway. Their search for meaning and purpose wasn’t an easy one either.

    How will history judge these guys is the last question this book asks. When their work is separated from their personality, will it endure? That answer seems to be yes for now, if only because they were such keen social observers and chroniclers who record that moment when Texas really changed.

    Thursday, February 09, 2006

    Whitley Benefit

    My wife and I saw Chris Whitley play at The Caravan of Dreams in 1992 or 93 and his music was a significant part of our courtship. He was an immensely talented and troubled soul who died too young. Benefit concerts will be held in NYC, Houston and Austin over the next few weeks to build a trust fund for his young daughter.

    Living the Dream

    Matthew McConaughey is doing exactly what I would do in his position – using his fame and fortune to hang out with the Texas Longhorns. That and shooting tequila with Oprah. And playing bongos naked while baked. I could go on but I think I've said enough.

    Cabaret Royale

    Anyone woman willing to appear pregnant and nude in a major motion picture qualifies as a confident and daring performer. That’s Ute Lemper. According to The New York Times, her cabaret show is pretty dynamite. Wish I could make it up there to see it.

    All That and a Bag of Chips

    Tabloid journalism has its moments. Sure it’s sensational and shallow. But where else can you find stories like this: workers fired from potato-chip factory get a 50¢ bag of the company's chips as severance.

    Wednesday, February 08, 2006

    Do Justice and Let the Skies Fall

    Just finished Christopher Hitchens’ Letters to a Young Contrarian, and I feel motivated and repelled by his philosophy at the same time. The best example of his ethos follows:

    “So I have no peroration or clarion note on which to close. Beware the irrational, no matter how seductive. Shun the transcendent and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will provide plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect them to live for you. (p. 140)

    Hitchens believes in rational, empirical thought. He’s a cogent thinker and lucid writer. He takes no quarter and expects none. He’s a humanist and believes in the dignity of humankind. Liars, charlatans, dictators and anyone of a religious bent are apt to find themselves in his crosshairs.

    But to me, the major flaw in his worldview his absence of the transcendent, the notion that there is something larger than ourselves that tie us together. There’s no God in his universe. He admires Dietrich Bonhoffer and Martin Luther King Jr., but doesn’t understand or appreciate how their faith sustained them through their dark moments. And the Dalai Lama – don’t even get him started.

    A lesser flaw is that he assumes we live in a rational world. After 9-11, Abu Gharib, Hurricane Katrina and – how many seasons of Survivor and American Idol? – forgive me, but I can’t make that assumption.

    Behind his veneer of cynicism, he is an idealist and a bit of a utopian, but I guess you must be in order to be a contrarian. Case in point: he’s especially wary of tribalism and any setting apart of a group for national, racial, religious, political or other reasons because it can “make people accept lethal and stupid conditions” (p. 104).

    I agree with him to a point. As much as I wish everyone could see themselves as citizens of the world, people are going to view the world through the prism of their own experience, and where you are from, how you are raised and the God you pray to (or don’t pray to) will influence that for most people. People choose sides.

    And even Hitchens understands this, but believes that people should choose their sides based on conscience rather than tribe:

    Dante was a sectarian and a mystic but he was right to reserve one of the fieriest corners of his inferno for those who, in time of moral crisis, try to stay neutral.”

    I agree with this to the hilt. But I am also not naïve enough to think that people will always choose the moral high ground over allegiance to the group. We see this today in the moral ambivalence that many Americans have over the use of torture as an instrument of national security. If it keeps us safe, the reasoning goes, maybe a little torture isn’t so bad.

    His world is not one of grays – it’s black and white. “The truth cannot lie, but if it could it would not lie somewhere in between. On some grave questions, there is no difference to be split; one does not look for a synthesis between verity and falsehood….(p. 20)” Me, I’m all about the gray. He’s right, on some questions there is no middle ground. But I think his list of questions is much longer than mine.

    I admire Hitchens for his thinking, his writing and his moral compass. Taking a page out of Rilke’s book, he recognizes the value of going inside oneself on voyages of self-discovery:

    ”I do warn you that if you feel capable of going into internal exile and living against the stream, you can expect some dark nights of – all right – the soul. But then to undertake this and to then seek external or invisible aid would be to miss the point. A degree of solitude and resignation is necessary to begin with. Some people can’t bear solitude, let alone the idea that the heavens are empty and that we do not even succeed in troubling their deafness with our bootless cries.” (p. 66)

    But where I am truly heartened by his example is when explains that being a contrarian is something you are, not something you do. I deal with this impulse in my own life – I see things a certain way and I’m not afraid to share my opinions. I can’t be any other way. It has cost me jobs, but I have never been one to pretend the emperor has no clothes.

    But that’s OK, Hitchens says. Pick a side, dig in, arm yourself with facts and fight like hell. As the Romans would say, “Do justice and let the skies fall.”

    Friday, February 03, 2006

    Search for Meaning

    I’ve never been a Peggy Noonan fan. She’s always seemed like a right-wing sycophant who, like Ann Coulter, doesn’t really believe in what she writes about. She merely does it to sell books and make money. I think she’s a huckster.

    However, her column in the Wall Street Journal raises an interesting and valid point:

    "Conservatives are always writing about the strains and stresses within the Republican Party, and they are real. But the Democratic Party seems to be near imploding, and for that most humiliating of reasons: its meaninglessness. Republicans are at least arguing over their meaning.

    "The venom is bubbling on websites like Kos, where Tuesday afternoon, after the Alito vote, various leftists wrote in such comments as "F--- our democratic leaders," "Vichy Democrats" and "F--- Mary Landrieu, I hope she drowns." The old union lunch-pail Democrats are dead, the intellects of the Kennedy and Johnson era retired or gone, and this--I hope she drowns--seems, increasingly, to be the authentic voice of the Democratic base."

    Conservatives are very good at controlling the language and – as a result – controlling the message. They have managed to turn words like liberal into one loaded with negative connotations through 20 years of consistently branding words though the marketing of their ideas. One of their new products is this: The Democratic Party is Dying.

    Unfortunately, I believe that this is true. Where are the ideas? Where is the passion? Why does the party seem to be afraid to speak passionately about what they believe rather than the fact that they are not Republicans? What do the Democrats believe in? If you are looking to the party leaders for answers, you won’t find any. Most are too busy acting like watered-down Republicans to take a stand on anything that might alienate a potential voter.

    The Republicans are very clear about what they believe to those who are paying attention. They are also very good at obfuscation and motivating groups who might not otherwise be inclined to go along with their schemes to vote for them by sweeping them up with scare tactics like gay marriage and the War on Terror.

    Unfortunately, I think that both parties are decrepit and corrupt. They have been compromised by the big money that they need to mount campaigns – money that flows in volume only from interest groups. The interests of the voter? It’s nowhere to be seen in tort reform, bankruptcy reform and the prescription drug plan. That’s all about payback for campaign contributions.

    Social justice, sound fiscal policy, health care and social security reform, civil liberties, education, science, energy policy? What we get are idle words and ideologically-driven solutions designed to placate an interest group rather than solve a real problem. Let’s focus on intelligent design rather than how American schools continue to fall farther behind in math and science compared to other nations.

    Maybe we Americans get what we deserve. Our attention spans are short and we don’t want to tackle difficult problems. We want to know what’s in it for me. Gimme a tax cut and go drop a bomb on somebody. I gotta go watch American Idol.

    Obviously, the Democratic Party is not connecting with the electorate and doesn’t show any signs of getting it’s act together. Maybe we need a new opposition party. Or maybe we’ll just have to wait until the consequences of the past six years can’t be ignored any longer. Which will happen first?

    Martial Artist

    James Blunt is a Sandhurst product who served with the Queen’s Lifeguard and commanded peacekeepers in Kosovo. I don’t know why it should seem so incongruent that a pop musician also was a British Army officer. But it does.

    This Just In

    Swiss Muslims are angered over the recent cartoon about The Prophet. In other news: There are Muslims in Switzerland.

    Sunday, January 29, 2006

    Someplace Not Like Anyplace Else

    I suppose that one thing you can say about our country is that every place is getting to be like everyplace else. Wherever you go there’s a Starbucks or a Pottery Barn and you could be in California or Minnesota or Texas or New York and you’d never know it. And it doesn’t really matter because that’s the point. Wherever you go, you’ll feel comfortable because it’s just like where you came from.

    The things and places that make our world unique seem to become fewer. Those unique things, those special things are what fascinate me. The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo is one of those things that make Fort Worth the city that it is.

    I know that there are a lot of Texas haters around the country and world, mainly because Texas is the reddest of the red states in this polarized world we live in. If you don’t care for the direction of the United States, Texas becomes a pretty convenient whipping boy for those folks. Fine. Those people are as foolish as the ones who hate France because they don’t march lock step with the U.S. on every issue. Whatever happened to nuance?

    Well, the Stock Show is a very red state activity. It’s red, white and blue and rodeo announcer Bob Tallman giving a shout out to everyone’s homeboy Jesus Christ. The ratio of rodeo audience members to pickup trucks in the parking lot is pretty close to 1.

    But you know what? There is something pretty wholesome and appealing in a Norman Rockwell kind-of-way about the whole deal. Part of it is seeing real cowboys doing real cowboy things. Watching a cowboy leap from a horse running full speed onto a moving quarter-ton steer and then wrestling that moving mass of hamburger to the ground is pretty impressive. What’s more impressive is they can do this without losing their hats or having their shirts come untucked.

    These guys are real athletes. Their sport is dangerous and you earn your paycheck in little tiny pieces. One cowboy came within inches of getting brained by a bull’s hoof. Another one was dragged around the ring three times when his hand got tangled up in the rope on his bronc. A bullfighter (rodeo clown) got boosted 20 feet into the air thanks to an irate bull.

    But that’s what we imagine when we think about the cowboy. This is a real American story right there in front of you. It’s no movie, it’s the real thing.

    The other thing I love about the Stock Show is the setting. They’ve been holding the Stock Show in Fort Worth since 1896, It’s been held at Will Rogers Coliseum since 1944. The Will Rogers complex is an awesome architectural feast for Art Deco lovers. The coliseum was a Public Works Administration (PWA) project completed in 1936. Socialism!

    You’ve got a tower, much like the Main Building at the University of Texas. But you also have some wonderful Depression-era murals that celebrate Texas history from colonization by the Spanish through the 1930s. According to the fantastic book Cowtown Moderne by Judith Singer Cohen, the murals were created by Kenneth Dale and Byron Shrider for the Mosaic Tile Company of Zanesville, Ohio, under the direction of Herman P. Koeppe, chief designer of the Wyatt C. Hendrick architectural firm, who planned the Will Rogers complex along with architect Elmer G. Withers. When they were completed in 1936, they were said to be the largest set of tile paintings in the world.

    When you walk into the Coliseum, there’s great bronze of Will Rogers that greets you. People rub his nose for luck and you can see how it’s rubbed as shiny as a newly-minted penny. Old Will once asked, “If stupidity got us into this, why can stupidity get us out?” With thinking like that, he could get a job in Washington today if he were still alive.

    A big part of the stock show is – of course – the stock. We toured the barns after the rodeo, and much to my great regret, missed a photo op with the Llama Queen, a zaftig blonde with a ball gown, wand, tiara and a llama. My daughter loves to meet the rodeo’s other athletes, the horses. So we go greet them individually.

    But there’s lots of nonsense there too. The midway with all the games. My daughter won a giant inflatable hammer with her feats of strength. She went in every funhouse. We had a time.

    And, for me, that’s worth the price of admission right there. That’s part of the hog-stomping baroque exuberance of American Life and I’m glad to get to share some of that once a year. And no matter what color your state is, you should try it sometime too.

    Thursday, January 26, 2006

    A Big, Fat Nightcrawler of Truth

    I think Stephen Colbert is a really funny guy. But in his recent interview with The Onion’s AV Club he spoke a lot of “truthiness.”

    Here’s an excerpt:

    The A.V. Club: What's your take on the "truthiness" imbroglio that's tearing our country apart?
    Stephen Colbert:
    Truthiness is tearing apart our country, and I don't mean the argument over who came up with the word. I don't know whether it's a new thing, but it's certainly a current thing, in that it doesn't seem to matter what facts are. It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that's not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It's certainty. People love the president because he's certain of his choices as a leader, even if the facts that back him up don't seem to exist. It's the fact that he's certain that is very appealing to a certain section of the country. I really feel a dichotomy in the American populace. What is important? What you want to be true, or what Is true?

    AVC: You're saying appearances are more important than objective truth?
    Absolutely. The whole idea of authority—authoritarian is fine for some people, like people who say "Listen to me, and just don't question, and do what I say, and everything will be fine"—the sort of thing we really started to respond to so well after 9/11. 'Cause we wanted someone to be daddy, to take decisions away from us. I really have a sense of [America's current leaders] doing bad things in our name to protect us, and that was okay. We weren't thrilled with Bush because we thought he was a good guy at that point, we were thrilled with him because we thought that he probably had hired people who would fuck up our enemies, regardless of how they had to do it. That was for us a very good thing, and I can't argue with the validity of that feeling.

    But that has been extended to the idea that authoritarian is better than authority. Because authoritarian means there's only one authority, and that authority has got to be the President, has got to be the government, and has got to be his allies. What the right-wing in the United States tries to do is undermine the press. They call the press "liberal," they call the press "biased," not necessarily because it is or because they have problems with the facts of the left—or even because of the bias for the left, because it's hard not to be biased in some way, everyone is always going to enter their editorial opinion—but because a press that has validity is a press that has authority. And as soon as there's any authority to what the press says, you question the authority of the government—it's like the existence of another authority. So that's another part of truthiness. Truthiness is "What I say is right, and [nothing] anyone else says could possibly be true." It's not only that I feel it to be true, but that I feel it to be true. There's not only an emotional quality, but there's a selfish quality.

    No one agrees on facts anymore and it’s tearing our country apart. If you don’t like what the news says – well, fine. It’s all a bunch of lies anyway. I don’t have to believe that there were no WMDs in Iraq or that FEMA bungled Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts or Gore probably won Florida or the Theory of Evolution holds water or Congressional redistricting in Texas was politically motivated and Tom Delay is corrupt. That’s just what those liberals want you to believe.

    It’s like some people want to take a permanent vacation from reality. The right wing has convinced a huge section of the American population that reality is what they say it is and not believing them is un-American. And it’s easy to believe those words. You’ll be safe. You won’t have to pay taxes. Just go to work, make money and enjoy the security that Big Daddy W provides. As long as you are straight, white Christian, make more than $100,000 a year, don’t have kids in public school, have health care coverage through your employer and never plan to study – or hell even use – science to do anything more than hook up your TIVO to your hi-def plasma sceen, you will be fine.

    Sunday, January 22, 2006

    The Rain Came Down

    It rained today, which may seem unremarkable, but it's not. It's been months it seems since we've seen rain and the whole state is a giant tinderbox. Wildfires have raged across the state. In fact, one day several weeks ago, a mammoth fire burned out west near Wichita Falls and burned up nearly 20,000 acres and several small towns. Ash rained down like snow flurries that day in Fort Worth.

    But today it rained and people talked about it like they had never seen it before. People went and stood in it. People smiled. Even though it turned cold and the rain went on all night and most of the day in a long steady soak, no one minded.

    I was going to write about my trip to the Stock Show, another Fort Worth institution, but I was just so pleased about the weather that I didn't want the day to pass without commenting on it.

    It rained today. Thank you, God.

    Thursday, January 19, 2006

    Peters Brothers Hats

    It’s something of a local tradition to give a hat – usually a Shady Oaks hat – to visiting celebrities and dignitaries. That hat will come from Peters Brothers Hats at 909 Houston Street – a Fort Worth institution. They’ve been making hats for 100 years and they're kind of good at it. President Kennedy spent the last night of his life in Fort Worth and received a Shady Oaks hat before he took his fateful trip to Dallas. (Unrelated sidenotes: Lee Harvey Oswald was a graduate of Fort Worth’s Arlington Heights High School and I used to work with three guys who were pallbearers at Oswald’s funeral – Jerry Flemmons, Jon McConal and Mike Cochran.)

    For years, I have driven by their store and been intrigued by their sign with the Bob Wills-looking guy on it. I always meant to go in there and finally I made the trip earlier this month.

    The Peters Brothers were Greek immigrants who moved to Fort Worth at the turn of the last century and opened a shoeshine parlor before adding hats to their list of services. Although their store has been in its current location since the 1930s, I doubt if a bit of remodeling has been done during that time.

    When my daughter and I walked in with our cameras, the two men working there welcomed us warmly and told us to take pictures of anything we wanted to. The younger of two men, a guy named Matt, was very helpful and loved to talk hats. Even though he’s probably only 20, he knows a lot about hats.

    The best thing about the store in the beautiful old hatmaking equipment – giant chrome instruments for shaping, sizing and steaming. The hats in there are beautiful. They sell a lot of cowboy hats, but also fedoras, straw boaters, top hats and bowlers. And I discovered that there are more ways to shape a hat than seemed possible – the Gus (after Gus McCrae in Lonesome Dove), the Tom Mix (after the silent movie cowboy) and on and on.

    It’s seemingly impossible to take a bad picture in the store because the light was so nice and there are so many interesting things to see.

    Before I left, I asked Matt if there were any ghosts in the building. “We don’t call them ghosts exactly, but there are people who are here.”

    Sounds like another story.

    FWIW, I did buy a hat - a wide brim woven Cowboy hat from Mexico with a Gus McCrae crease. I plan on doing it again sometime soon.