Thursday, June 28, 2007

Drought No More?

For those of you elsewhere, we've had a little bit of rain here in Fort Worth lately. Like we've almost hit our average annual rainfall for the year. Above is Bryce Avenue in Arlington Heights by Ron Jenkins of the Startlegram.

Fort Worthology Update

Couple of interesting notes from Kevin:

  • Ricki Derek's Scat Jazz Lounge appears to have had a change of location. Originally supposed to open in the basement of the Burk Burnett Building, will now be opening in the basement of the Woolworth Building (left) next door. This will put the jazz lounge under the Joseph A. Bank store and the Milan Gallery.

  • Confirmed: The Knights of Pythias Hall is saved and will be redeveloped.
  • Metrognome Collective Art Auction

    Metrognome Collective is still seeking submissions for our upcoming silent art auction. The auction will be taking place on July 14th at the Chat Room on Magnolia in Fort Worth. Tame… Tame and Quiet, Clint Niosi, and several other excellent local bands will be performing. Donated work will be given a minimum bid value, and hung based on space availability. Bidding will stop at midnight, and winning bids will be announced at the end of the evening, and by e-mail on Sunday. The theme for the show is Red, White and Blue; and contributions are due Saturday July 7. For more information, call 817.366.0866.

    Tuesday, June 26, 2007

    Odds and Ends

    I'm on vacation this week so I'm not spending much time rocking the keyboard. Some I'm dropping everything in a catch-all post.

  • Last night: I guy at the bar asked me if I was "one of those re-enactor guys." "No, I just have a fucked up beard." Then a drunk TCU a-hole winged a coaster off my face. Good times. Not.

  • Knocked Up: Supposed to be a funny movie but just made me depressed. The buzz about it being funny was way off base.

  • Pedro: My friend and former boss has needed a heart transplant for years and has been in and out of the hospital for most of that time. The amazing thing about him is that -- even though life has dealt him a tough hand -- he isn't bitter about it. A couple of weeks ago, he almost didn't leave the hospital. He wrote this in an e-mail just the other day: "Minutes before the paramedics arrived, I had lost the energy to keep breathing. I could not speak anymore and I wanted to say goodbye to my family. But I must tell you of the peace I felt. The Lord was at my side and I told Him to do whatever was in His plan for me. I was not scared of passing on. It was a beautiful feeling." I just hope that when it's my time that I can find peace like that too.

  • Big Apple Update: Dominick landed in NYC after an illness delays his exit from Fort Worth for a week. And the best part is that it looks like he's landed some work with the New York Mets. Also, he saw Longwave and he confirmed that they rock. Stay tuned for more.
  • Friday, June 22, 2007

    I Stand Corrected

    So you spend your time working on blog, trolling the Internet, looking for interesting topics to expound upon. You try to make it good. And what happens? Nobody reads it. Your voice is an echo in the wilderness.

    Then, you have days like today, when you get comments like this one on my "Follow The Money" post from April 18:

    I am writing to correct the record to this posting.

    The "Pete Geren" listed is most likely Preston M. Geren Jr. - the father of Acting Secretary of the Army Preston M. Geren III.

    The Acting Secretary of the Army Geren did not make any contribution to the Rudolph Giuliani presidential campaign. He does not make contributions as a matter of practice. He certainly would not make a contribution to a presidential campaign while serving a president.

    Very Respectfully,

    COL Dan Baggio
    Chief of Army Media Relations

    OK then. So I check the Google and find that the Army does have a spokesman named Dan Baggio. So I go back and check my post. Pete Geren, $2,300, Rudy Giuliani. OK. Go back to the database. Preston Geren, $500, Rudy Giuliani. OK, where's the number 2,300 come from? Which Preston are we talking about?

    So I go to the FEC database. We find that Preston M. Geren Jr. donated $500 to the Rudy Giuliani Presidential Committee Inc. on March 27. Research would seem to support the good Colonel's claim. So did the numbers change? Do I just suck at reporting? What happened? I don't know.

    But here's what I have to do -- man up and say I just screwed the pooch. So here goes:

    Dear Secretary Geren:

    Your Chief of Media Relations, Col. Dan Baggio, contacted me regarding my post of April 18 where I reported that you had donated $2,300 to the Rudy Giuliani Presidential Committee. I was wrong. You didn't donate the money. Looks like your dad did. And it was only $500. My bad. I apologize.

    But as long as I got you here reading my blog and all, I'd like to ask you a few questions:
  • What's up with all the Preston Gerens? I know it's a family name and all, but could you mix it up a little for those of us who can't keep y'all straight.

  • Next time you talk to Charlie ... could you ask him for one a those "Life's too short to live in Dallas shirts?" I wear an XXL. Too many Railhead ribs, y'know.

  • Next time you see Col. Dan you might check his computer. He's on the Interwebs a lot. He might be looking at porn. Check his hard drive just to make sure.

  • Regarding Iraq: I know y'all are working on it a lot, and you're spending a lot of money, but could you do one thing for me: please help Pfc. Joshua Calloway. He seems like a good kid who is suffering from PTSD at Walter Reed. And, honestly, it sounds like the Army is doing a horrible job of helping this young man. Please, please get Joshua the help he deserves.

  • Respectfully and sincerely,


    P.S. The next time I see you up at Ocean Rock, I'll buy you a beer. Friends?

    Oh, The Humanities!

    The Smithsonsian may be America's Attic, but the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas is America's crazy uncle with obsessive-compulsive disorder and a fat wallet. It's got a Gutenberg Bible (ca. 1455), the First Photograph (ca. 1826), film archives of David O. Selznick and Robert De Niro, paintings by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and major manuscript collections of James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Tennessee Williams, and Norman Mailer. It's even got Dorothy's ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. The overview of the place in the most recent The New Yorker had me waxing nostalgic a little.

    I've got a soft spot for the place because I used to hang there back in my UT days when I was suffering under delusion that a life in academia would be beneficial. Under the influence of Bill Stott's class on Documentary Expression, I spent many hours going through the James Agee Collection researching Agee and Walker Evans and their book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Kurth Sprague also gave me a private tour of the Tom Lea Collection. Although the U gets some knocks for being an overwhelming environment that doesn't care about undergrads, I always found lots of great academic opportunities and people willing to nurture your intellectual curiousity if you made the effort.

    That said, the HRC gets some knocks because gathering this trove of stuff means throwing down some serious coin. That has some regarding the HRC as a bunch of rich Texans with fat wallets and no appreciation for the significance of the work they are buying. That's selling the HRC a little short. My understanding is they do a great job archiving this material for future generations and making it available to the academics of today. Besides -- to paraphrase Ross Perot -- if God didn't want all that stuff here, he wouldn't have given Texans so damn much money!

    Still others wonder "What are Arthur Conan Doyle's Undershirts Doing in Texas?" Or put another way: why would anyone pay good money for some of that shit? Yeah, maybe they don't need the old sandwich found in one of Isaac Singer's boxes, but you never know what is going to provide the "Rosebud Moment," the seemingly unimportant object that is actually the Rosetta Stone for the secrets and meaning of person's life.

    Thanks to Emphemera for reminding me to get off my duff and write this.

    Take It To The Hoop

    I haven't had a chance to check out the new Polyphonic Spree album, The Fragile Army, but the word on the street is it is crazy good. If that wasn't enough reason to check out their tour kickoff tomorrow night at the Grenada, now Robert Wilonsky at Unfair Park gives me another reason, Jesca Hoop, who is the opening act for the Spree. "She's also an wondrous singer-torch-songwriter, with a debut (Kismet) forthcoming later this year worth a few dozen spins," sez Robert. OK, sounds good. And of note to you Rain Dogs out there, she used to be the nanny to Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan's three kids. If you can't make it to the Grenada tomorrow, check Jesca out on the Interweb.

    A Reprieve for the Knights of Pythias?

    Kevin at Fort Worthology reports that the Knights of Pythias Hall, which appeared to be headed for a date with the wrecking ball, may in fact be saved. Good job, Kevin, for being all over this story!

    Thursday, June 21, 2007

    Um ... Wow

    If you've been wondering what's going to happen to the area east of the Modern Art Museum, get a load of this. For the skinny on this, check out Kevin's report at Fort Worthology. Doesn't look so good for Fred's, does it?

    That being said, there are a couple of other posts over Kevin's way that are worth your attention: his firm support of the TCC Campus downtown (which I would like to throw in a hearty "me too!") and his look at the proposed Trinity Uptown project and throwing around possible names for the development. Name two-cents -- Isla Los Panteras.

    Following the Money - Again

    Two of my former S-T colleagues Randy Galloway and Vince Langford -- among many, many other journalists -- got punked by MSNBC for campaign contributions made over the past several years.

    Is this an ethical lapse? Maybe. When I worked at the newspaper, I never gave money to candidates or political organizations. It didn't seem like the right thing to do. Since that time, I have given money to John Kerry and Kinky Friedman as well as the Democratic National Committee.

    UPDATE, 6.21.07: Star-Telegram editor Jim Witt's take: "Star-Telegram employees, as private citizens, are free to contribute to and work for political parties, causes or candidates and to participate in debate on issues of the day. But it is very important to avoid situations that might raise a perception of bias in the context of our responsibility to report and comment upon such activities. And the contributions cannot be represented to have been made by the company. But because of the inherent conflict of interest, it is expected that no member of the News/Editorial staff will (a) seek election to public office; (b) accept appointment to a public board, commission or panel that makes or carries out policy or that advises elected or appointed officials; or (c) work for a politician or a political organization, either as a volunteer or for pay. So a sports copy editor like Vince Langford or a sports columnist like Randy Galloway would be allowed to make a political contribution under our policy because they don’t have any influence on what we cover, who we cover or how we cover politics. But news executives like myself or our political reporters and editors would not be allowed to do the same."

    UPDATE, 6.22.07: Today's the S-T announced the results of its review of newsroom employees. They found that two news editors bought some Kinky Friedman merchandise. Wow. Earth-shattering.

    Wednesday, June 20, 2007

    FWWeekly-palooza This Sunday

    If you haven't voted yet for the Fort Worth Weekly Music Awards, you still have time to get a ballot in. But if you need to size up the finalists, you can still do that too.

    From 4 p.m. ‘til 10 p.m. this Sunday, 30 nominees of all different stripes, from indie-rock to C&W and rap/R&B, will play five Sundance Square clubs: 8.0, the Flying Saucer, the Pour House, Embargo, and Bass Hall’s McDavid Studio. The event is free, and proceeds from the sale of FW Weekly-related promotional goods, including a compilation c.d. that features songs from select nominees benefit SafeHaven of Tarrant County.

    The awards will be handed out on Sunday, July 8, at Bass Hall’s McDavid Studio at a private party. To check out some of the bands, visit, or, or Thanks to Anthony Mariani at FWWeekly for the tip on this!

    The schedule:


  • 9 p.m.: Pablo and the Hemphill 7

  • 8 p.m.: Jordan Mycoskie

  • 7 p.m.: PPT

  • 6 p.m.: Stephen Pointer

  • 5 p.m.: Sleeplab

  • 4 p.m.: Maren Morris

  • McDavid Studio
  • 9 p.m.: Tame … Tame and Quiet

  • 8 p.m.: Adonis Rose Quintet

  • 7 p.m.: Kyle Bennett Band

  • 6 p.m.: The Campaign

  • 5 p.m.: Carey Wolff

  • 4 p.m.: Dove Hunter

  • Embargo
  • 9 p.m.: The Burning Hotels

  • 8 p.m.: Calhoun

  • 7 p.m.: Holy Moly

  • 6 p.m.: MC Router

  • 5 p.m.: Liquid Bounce

  • 4 p.m.: Swilley

  • The Pour House
  • 9 p.m.: Exit 380

  • 8 p.m.: Josh Weathers Band

  • 7 p.m.: Goodwin

  • 6 p.m.: 100 Damned Guns

  • 5 p.m.: Poo Live Crew

  • 4 p.m.: Guthrie Kennard

  • Flying Saucer
  • 9 p.m.: the cut*off

  • 8 p.m.: Top Secret … Shhh

  • 7 p.m.: Jeff Price

  • 6 p.m.: Darth Vato

  • 5 p.m.: Rob Baird and the Whiskey Reunion

  • 4 p.m.: Eaton Lake Tonics
  • Scat Jazz Lounge Update

    Looks like the projected summer opening of the Scat Jazz Lounge in downtown Fort Worth has been moved back again. Ricki Derek announced on his Web site yesterday that the club development has hit a few delays but is back on track for an October opening. Stay tuned for more.

    Tuesday, June 19, 2007

    Does Anyone Read About Classical Music?

    Apparently, classical music criticism is dying. Who reads classical-music reviews? Very few people. I’m sorry to say that even I read very few classical music reviews, and I actually buy and listen to lots of classical music.

    What’s the issue? Is it that people just aren’t interested? Do newspapers do a crappy job? Or is it that the classical music world needs to do a better job of explaining its relevance?

    Greg Sandow, the author of this article and a classical music critic himself, seems to think that the classical world needs to think more about what it offers and how it talks about what it offers. “Why are we playing Brahms? What does Brahms give us that Mozart, Feist, or Bruce Springsteen can't? And how, exactly, is this week's Brahms performance different from last week's?”

    Sandow also points out that the art playground is getting pretty crowded. The symphony and opera are competing with museums, galleries, dance and theater for the art dollar. But honestly, they are also competing with everything. In a saturated media environment, the symphony isn’t just competing with other art organizations, they are fighting with the Internet, television, books and films for a share of mindspace.

    Once upon a time, people listened to classical music because they thought it was part of being a well-rounded individual. I think that it still is, but I am very much in the minority. I don’t think arts appreciation is what it used to be. And because of that, should any of the arts actually expect coverage?

    The real answer is no, but, at least in Fort Worth’s case, the answer is yes. The fat wallets in West Fort Worth that pay for the opera and the Van Cliburn do expect coverage. And the Startlegram is always happy to oblige.

    And not that it is a bad thing. I don’t read everything that Matthew Erickson writes, but I think he does a credible job. Maybe his other other 10 readers think so, too.

    And, not to be Startlegram-o-centric, the FWWeekly had a great wrap-up of the opera festival that pointed out what I had been hearing through the grapevine – attendance was somewhat lackluster.

    Sez FWWeekly:Madame Butterfly was as solidly cast as anything the company has presented. Surprisingly, it didn’t do as well as expected at the box office. While Frau Margot and Falstaff met expected box-office returns, Butterfly reached only two-thirds of its goal. “We don’t know what happened,” [FWO general director Darren] Woods said. “We sold out three performances of Puccini’s La Boheme last season. Maybe opening Memorial Day weekend had an effect, or [Butterfly] has been done too often, or we were bucking a lot of graduations. We just don’t know.”

    I think late May is a tough time for scheduling with graduations, Colonial and the long holiday weekend. The missus and I had (free) tickets to go to see Frau Margot, but we couldn’t find a babysitter. It’s a tough time of year. Does the festival format deserve some of the blame? Who’s to say? But FWOpera is sticking with it next year, and will screen Puccini’s Turandot, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men.

    I’m really looking forward to Of Mice and Men. My wife and I saw the Fort Worth Opera version of Floyd’s Sussanah a few years ago and it was sublime.

    So, yeah, I think classical music coverage should matter. But it shouldn’t be a loss leader. Give the readers some context, explain its relevance, and you may be surprised to find the readers actually read it.

    Turn Out The Lights

    So much for the tower of light. Kevin at Fort Worthology points out that the lights have been out at the Pier One Building. "No more giant lit up crown or shaft of light shooting deep into the night sky above Panther City - in fact, without the night lighting the building looks rather dead at night now." Yes, it does look dead. Are they really just trying to save money on the electric bill?

    Rockin' LaGrave Field

    Cindy at Fine Line hips us to the fact that there's a storm of good music coming our way on September 22. It's the Wall of Sound Festival brought to you by Spune Productions. One day, three stages, 40 bands, including: Midlake, Eleven Hundred Springs, Pinback, The Weary Boys and others to be announced. Cowtown's answer to the ACL Festival?

    Monday, June 18, 2007

    All Over The Place Dining

    My good friend Dominick has left the building -- or at least Fort Worth. D is now in New York City pursuing his photography full-time, but one of his parting bits of wisdom was to try the all-you-can eat vegan pancake feed at Spiral Diner on Magnolia.

    Well, I'm willing to try new things. I like to eat the animals, but going meat-free for a meal doesn't bother me, so me and the fam dropped in on Saturday morning to give it a try. Unfortunately, I wish I had listened closer to D about the pancake feed -- it's Sunday only. Undetered, we stayed for lunch and I have to say I enjoyed it. I had the Big Taquito, a dollop of Tofu Scramble with diced sausage, onions, red bell pepper, potatoes and avocado, all wrapped, grilled and sealed in a tortilla. This pretty much bolstered my theory that you can wrap just about anything in a tortilla and have taste good.

    That night, we enjoyed a completely opposite dining experience -- M&M Steakhouse on the North Side. It's dark, it's dingy. The walls are covered with deer heads, barbed wire and neon signs. The jukebox is loaded with records (not CDs) from likes of Webb Pierce, Commander Cody and Roy Acuff. There's ain't a non-smoking section. And they cook up a mean ribeye. Happy Father's Day to me.

    Just so my body would be thoroughly confused, we went back to the Spiral Diner for pancakes on Sunday. I must say that was a righteous feed. I had two plates of blueberry pancakes and a side of tofu sausage that was pretty heavy on the thyme, and chased it down with fresh squeezed OJ and a cup a joe. Those were probably the best pancakes I've had in Fort Worth, and I like the ones at Paris Coffee Shop quite a bit. I'm glad they didn't know where I ate dinner the night before. They might have refused service.

    If you think your body can handle it, give the M&M/Spiral combo a try. And if you do, drop me a line. I might join you.

    The Golden Age of Newspapers

    It's not local, but it kind of brings a tear to my eye. They just don't make front pages like this anymore. (sniff) It makes me want to retract my comments about the MySpace prosecutor. Maybe a little prurience isn't so bad.

    Stockyards Rockabilly

    Grandpa Stash hepped me to this -- a monthly rockabilly night at the Stockyard Saloon starting Friday, July 27, with the Two Timin' Four. Brought to you courtesy of Dixie Fried Entertainment.

    Weekend Odds and Ends

  • The Hamburger Pimp is dead! Fort Worth's Vanius Murray "VP" Rackstraw, co-star of the blaxplotation classic Dolomite, died April 14 at age 65. The obit ran in the Saturday Startlegram. Why the delay? Evidently, Rackstraw "remained at the funeral home for a month because the convalescent facility where he died lost his death certificate. His mother had him cremated him May 7, but money and transportation issues kept her from submitting his obituary notice until this week." There are some great moments in this obit, like "Family members said Mr. Rackstraw was a devout Muslim who loved Muhammad Ali, Richard Nixon and, of course, his mother." Nixon?! WTF?! Take some time to read this. It's worth it.

  • Ornette Coleman collapsed onstage while performing at the Bonnaroo Festival this past weekend. Apparently, he was suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration. Coleman was given fluids, taken to a local hospital and released a few hours later.

  • This story about Tarrant Sex Predators on MySpace seemed like the perfect mix of public service and prurience for a Sunday read. But this lead really jumped out at me:
    Tarrant County prosecutor Lori Varnell looked at the teen-age girl’s MySpace page, and a red flag went up.

    The teen had included too much personal information -- enough for anyone, including a sexual predator, to find her.

    With a few clicks of a mouse and an online directory, Varnell quickly had the girl’s phone number and address. Later, Varnell drove to the girl’s home, pulled into her driveway and called her mother.

    “Look out your door,” Varnell told the woman. “See the headlights out here? I’m a prosecutor and I found your daughter from her MySpace page. She is 16. She goes to a school near me. You definitely want her to take it down.”

    Is it just me or does this seem a little wacko? Honestly, if I had been the parent she called, I think I would have thought this woman had come a little unglued. But if 10 percent of this county's sex offenders are on MySpace, who's to say Varnell's an oddball? But this is the kind of scare-the-pants-off-your-readers stories that editors love. It sells papers. And selling papers is important.

  • As we mentioned before, musicians are getting their equipment boosted all over the place. Now, it turns out even dead musicians aren't safe. There's a story in the Austin American-Statesman today about $100,000 in backstage passes, music equipment, photographs and other memorabilia of Stevie Ray Vaughan stolen from the storage unit belonging to his brother Jimmie.

  • Ryan Adams is clean and sober according to the NYT.
  • Friday, June 15, 2007

    Musings on "Opportunity Urbanism"

    I love Fort Worth. I am passionate about this city and I probably tend to overthink it. However, I really believe that the city is on the precipice of a significant change, but most people don't seem aware of it or don't want to talk about it.

    The Trinity River Vision and Trinity Uptown, the new TCC campus downtown, Museum Place and on and on. We're in the middle of a building boom. But is this good for Fort Worth and will it change the character of the city?

    To help wrestle with these questions, I want to refer to this long and wonky paper about "opportunity urbanism" by Joel Kotkin that I found. The concept of “opportunity urbanism” is that a region’s ability to create jobs, offer affordable housing, and present entrepreneurial openings to a growing and highly diverse population are the surest signs of urban vibrancy.

    Kotkin makes an interesting argument. “Superstar cities” like New York and San Francisco have become too expensive for middle class people and in the future will cater largely to the upper classes and to those who serve them. Instead, the model for America's future are the so-called "opportunity cities” like Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin, Charlotte, Atlanta and Phoenix. Why?

    It's all about the “creative class.” Skilled workers are the brass ring and you get them with urban amenities, social attitudes, and cultural offerings. The emphasis here is on the so-called “war for talent.” Cities that win this battle, Kotkin says, will emerge as the avant-garde in technology, culture, and the expanding global economy.

    Sez Kotkin: "These cities are also showing marked gains in attracting high-wage employers and educated migrants, including members of the ballyhooed creative class. These are, of course, the very jobs and workers that are widely thought to be concentrating in more elite places." Yeah, hipsters love all the cool stuff that a New York has to offer, but people are now even being priced out of Brooklyn. As he points out to put it in perspective, $42,000 a year in salary in Houston buys you what $100,000 a year will get you in NYC.

    Because of this widening differences in housing and other costs, there has been a decisive demographic tilt towards cities like Fort Worth. Increasingly, this shift has included a movement of large corporate headquarters and of higher-end jobs to these opportunity cities. Firms that need to compete globally generally expand in business-friendly places that possess decent infrastructure and amenities, and that can accommodate a broad range of employees.

    I'm just happy Fort Worth is even in the mix. People often say, "Fort Worth is a great place to raise a family." That's sort of a backhanded compliment. What's left unsaid is it's not exactly Coolsville. Can Fort Worth loosen up a little? Pete at Cowtown Chronicles was musing along these lines the other day. Basically, is Fort Worth too square to be a player with the creative class? I don't think we're there yet, but I think we're moving in that direction.

    Kotkin also talks about what USA Today recently called the “Be Hip and They May Come” approach. He says this has exerted a strong influence on economic developers. "Often, this has taken the form of promoting the growth of arts districts, entertainment centers, and condominium housing—all believed to be critical in making a city more attractive to the 'creative class.'” We're loading up on museums and condos here in Cowtown, but there's more to it than that. There's an attitude shift needed. Fort Worth will have to do what George Mason University professor Richard Florida calls taking the guy with the tattoos seriously. Are we there yet? Uh, no. But we are working on it? Case in point, Todd Camp told my wife that Fort Worth's Gay and Lesbian Film Festival just had one of its best years ever. People were walking up to him and handing him checks. Progress? Yeah, a little.

    Kotkin lays out some basic things that opportunity cities need to flourish. How are we doing?

  • A good educational system: There's room for improvement, but I'm generally bullish on Fort Worth public schools. For those so inclined, there are a mess of good private schools. But don't give up on public schools. It takes a village, people.

  • An educated and skilled workforce: I think we need more of these people. But so does everyone else. That's what's at stake. The creative class.

  • Affordable housing: I think Fort Worth is a very affordable housing market compared to anywhere, even Dallas and Austin.

  • Parks: I love Trinity Park and the Trinity Trails, but it's not enough. Besides, it wasn't that long ago that Mayor Mikey wanted to run the Southwest Expressway though Trinity Park.

  • Recreation opportunities: There's a lot of great stuff going on around here, but we're not in danger with being confused with Austin anytime soon.

  • Good transportation: Whither light rail? As Kotkin sez: "Physical mobility, as well as the class mobility stressed earlier, constitutes a critical factor in overall growth and as a means to expand individual opportunity."

  • Access to high-speed communications: Whither city-wide wi-fi?

  • Visionary leadership that recognizes what it takes to sustain economic growth: I think that we (Mayor Mikey, City Council, the Basses, etc.) get good marks on this. I don't agree with everything the poobahs do around here, but just look at the trainwreck that is Dallas city government to see how bad things could be.

  • A community spirit for getting things done: I think that is the heart of what makes Fort Worth great. Basically, we're resourceful, we have moxie and we kick ass.

  • So, let me ask the question again: is this development good for Fort Worth? If you believe Kotkin's thesis, yes it is. If we want to be an opportunity city, we need to continue to grow. "It is crucial that cities identify their priorities," Kotkin sez. "We agree that arts, culture, style, and impressive architecture can all reflect a city’s greatness. But we think history shows that great cultural centers—from Athens to New York City—must first work as economic engines for entrepreneurial ventures and for ordinary citizens."

    And if building that engine means a Trinity River Vision, a Museum Place and a Vespa store, then OK. Maybe that makes me yuppie scum, but, you know, I think this is good for Fort Worth. There are things I miss about the old Fort Worth, the way it used to be. But I think we have a chance to see Fort Worth really flourish right now. I want to see that. But I also want to see us ask hard questions about whether we're doing this the right way.

    Will this change the character of Fort Worth? Certainly it will. I'm just optimistic that those things we like about people in Fort Worth -- that spark that puts the funk in Funkytown -- I'm optimistic that won't change.

    Maybe it's the Lone Star. Or the Zoloft. Or maybe you just caught me on a good day. But there you have it.

    Thursday, June 14, 2007

    Odds and Ends from the Startlegram

  • Knights of Pythias Hall Update: The developer claims it is too costly to renovate the Knights of Pythias Hall at Third and Crump that is in danger of demolition. The two-story structure just east of downtown is on Historic Fort Worth's list of Most Endangered Places. John Roberts, a vice president with Historic Fort Worth, said he'd like to see the owners use federal tax credits and other monies offered for preservation projects to save the property. The city's Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission must weigh in before demolition can go forward.The commission's next meeting is scheduled for July 9. Please take time to contact the Commission and get them to prevent this.

  • Fort Worth Rail Meetings: Public meetings are scheduled for next weekon the proposed Cottonbelt Rail Line. The line would run from Altamesa Blvd./Dirks Rd. in Southwest Fort Worth to D/FW Airport. Other Fort Worth stops would include I20/Granbury Rd., Berry St./TCU, Medical District, T&P Terminal, ITC, Stockyards/23rd St. and Beach St.
  • Wednesday, June 13, 2007

    A History of Guns: Part Eight

    This is the eighth in a personal history of guns in my life. Previous entries: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six and Part Seven.

    Crime Fighting
    When people defend their need for guns, invariably they mention two things: protection from government tyranny (although private gun ownership in Iraq didn't stop Saddam Hussein) and self-defense (although studies show a gun in the home increases the chances of homicide and suicide). Of course, why believe statistics?

    I'm not going to spend much time on protection from government tyranny. It seems that's what the Founding Fathers intended the Second Amendment to be (although some disagree). I'm a little amused by the thought of rednecks with shotguns leading resistance from the forest a la Red Dawn. But to me, if people were really serious about protecting themselves from government tyranny, why would they be so quick to throw away other basic civil liberties like habeas corpus and unreasonable searches? But I digress.

    Self-defense would seem to be a more compelling argument for gun ownership. Do guns help protect people from crime? Yes, they do. In fact, I have a scare-the-pants-off-of-you story about that.

    My friend, Sharon, lives in Munger Place, a lovely little turn-of-the-last-century neighborhood in Dallas. It's a great neighborhood if you want an old Craftsman-style house, but it's bordered by some rather rough neighborhoods. People have been murdered in the street very close to Sharon's house. Nonetheless, she takes her dogs for a walk at night. When dogs gotta go, they gotta go.

    One night, Sharon was out with her teen-age son walking the dogs when two guys in a car drove by really slow, asking if they wanted a "ride." Sharon says nothing, turns in the opposite direction and sends her son running home to get her husband. The guys go down the street, turn around and come back. By the time Sharon's husband shows up with his pistol, these guys are trying to drag her into the car. The guys see the gun and take off.

    If Sharon's husband doesn't show up with a gun at the right moment, she's probably a crime statistic. Did guns protect life and limb in this instance? You bet.

    For another example of this, look at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As basic government services like police protection absolutely disintergrated in the wake of the storm, people depended on guns to protect themselves, their family and their property. I never thought I would see the day when the rule of law would so completely and utterly break down like it did then. And if it could happen then and there, who's to say it couldn't happen again?

    So maybe I'm just getting in touch with my inner Archie Bunker, but my attitudes have shifted some regarding guns. I know responsible gun owners and I believe that some people need the protection that guns offer. Is this just me getting older and more fearful of this crazy, fucked-up world? Maybe. But I'm not going to draw any conclusions just yet. I'll save that for the next, last installment. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

    Tuesday, June 12, 2007

    Is Texas Swinging Left?

    Jim Schutze had some interesting musings on this topic at Unfair Park. I actually met Emil Reichstadt at the Lon Burnham breakfast a few weeks ago. Can this guy beat Cornyn? My thought was "Hell, no. This guy is cannon fodder." The Republicans may be dead in Dallas, but Big D is only a very small blue spot in a very red state.

    Wrecking More of Our Heritage

    Kevin at Fort Worthology reports that the historic Knights of Pythias building from 1925 in the Hillside neighborhood faces demolition. Can anything be done to save it? Not unless you happen to have $300k laying around.

    A History of Guns: Part Seven

    This is the seventh in a personal history of guns in my life. Previous entries: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five and Part Six.

    I have been trying to write this story about Larry for several weeks now, but the words just haven’t flowed. I sort of thought that the closer I got to present day, the easier it would be to write because my memory would be fresher, but that hasn't been the case. In fact, it has been the opposite. Because there is not as much distance, the events are actually harder to write about. But this story is an important part of my history of guns because it rolls together the themes of God, guns and Americanism. I don't think it is a coincidence that guns, religion and patriotism get all mixed up together. Guns, for better or worse, are like a religion in the U-S-of-A.

    Larry was married to my wife’s oldest sister, Roxanne. I first met them after my wife and I had been dating for about a year. We were visiting them in Oklahoma City when we passed through on our way out to New Mexico. Larry and Roxanne wouldn’t let us stay at their house because they didn’t want an unmarried couple shacking up in front of the kids.

    Larry and Roxanne belonged to one of those evangelical faiths somewhere to the right of the Baptists –- which is my baseline for how wacko I think any particular denomination is. Quite honestly, since I parted ways with the Baptist church about 20 years ago, I’ve taken a rather dim view of these folks out to the right (which is a whole other post). Snake-handlers and mouth-breathers is how I think of them. I’ve told myself I ought to be more respectful of their beliefs, but I never found these people to be respectful of others, so I didn’t see a need to afford them that courtesy.

    I bring this up to explain how Larry and Roxanne viewed the world. Larry was the head of the family, the breadwinner. Roxanne took care of the home and the children. They believed that they were locked in spiritual warfare against Satan. The kids did not celebrate Halloween. Personal problems were moral failings that could be solved by prayer. Gender roles were to be aggressively enforced: boys did boy things and girls did girl things.

    Part of what boys did was hunt. If you have been following this series, then you know that isn’t that different than my experience growing up. But Larry took it to a different level. He was an honest-to-goodness gun nut. When it was hunting season, he and his son went hunting. When it wasn’t hunting season, he and his son went to gun shows and worked on their deer lease to get ready for hunting season.

    And Larry’s fascination with guns actually led to problems with Roxanne. Time and money went into his hobby rather than his marriage. Inevitably, these tensions led to turmoil with Roxanne. Divorce, of course, was unthinkable. There was a lot of faith-based counseling and prayer – and I actually have nothing against either one of those things – except that they didn’t seem to work in this instance.

    Unfortunately, Larry and Roxanne had their marriage problems worsened by another seemingly unrelated factor -- the Y2K problem. Yeah, I know WTF? But, see, I told you Larry was a gun nut and he was also one of those black helicopter guys who believed that all of those crazy UN, one-world-government-conspiracy-to-take-away-your-guns stuff. The Ruby Ridge and Waco stuff didn’t help matters.

    So Larry started working on turning his deer lease into a refuge from the impending collapse of society. He started storing food, guns and ammunition so he would be ready.

    But one day in the summer of 1999, he realized there was too much left to do. He realized that he would never be ready in time. So he went out to his lease, put a .44 magnum to his head, and shot himself.

    I don't believe that his inability to prepare his apocalyptic hidey-hole was the reason he killed himself. I believe he was a very sick man. He suffered from Depression and probably bipolar disorder. But also, he was a true believer. He was one of those All-American guys – football player, Vietnam vet, family man, pillar of the church – who did everything they were supposed to do. Larry always followed the rules, but life doesn't always go by the rules, does it?

    And while I feel a lot of empathy for him, I also feel relief that he didn’t kill everyone in his family before he killed himself. That was always my wife’s secret fear, and I always thought there was something to it.

    But the real tragedy is seeing the wreckage left behind. Roxanne married again and her new husband seems like an alright guy. But the kids have had a harder time. His son is a very angry, pissed off guy. My wife talks about what a sweet boy he used to be, but I haven’t seen that side of him since before we married. Now he's grown up, and he’s a Marine officer, and that frightens the hell out of me. All I can think of is Neidermeyer -- not a guy I would want to be in a foxhole with.

    And Larry’s daughters are even sadder. His older daughter doesn’t seem to miss him at all, but she's already in a marriage that looks oddly like the one her mother and father had. And Larry's younger daughter was had a pretty tough life because of her father's absence. She's already had a pretty rough time with men who take advantage of her insecurity and need for love.

    So how did all this shape my opinions about guns? In Larry's case, guns became kind of a religion to him that ended up feeding his sickness and paranoia. And, in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, we realize more than ever how dangerous guns can be in the hands of sick and fearful people. Now everyone feels that we need to take steps to keep guns out of the hands of unstable, mentally ill people. But how do you identify those people? Larry certainly looked like an upstanding citizen. The darkness inside of him was hard to see, except for a few people closest to him.

    When I look back on this still-unfolding tragedy, it's hard not to think it would be better to live in a world without guns. There. I've said it.

    Friday, June 08, 2007

    What Does Your Cat Do All Day?

    Ever wondered what your cat does all day when you aren't there? This guy did and decided to get to the bottom of it. He attached a spy camera to this cat's collar and recorded the results. For the record, I believe cats should be indoor creatures and I have a pretty good idea what my cat does all day: sleeps and continues his never-ending battle against his nemesis -- his rear feet.

    More on The Curse of The Colonel

    My brother-in-law Paul -- who used to live in Japan -- just e-mailed me more about The Curse of The Colonel. It was so roll-on-the-floor funny that I decided to post in in its entirety. It's got all of the necessary ingredients -- fried chicken, Shonen Knife, John Waters, the Colonel, and Mel Gibson:

    Oh, that's for real, friend. The Hanshin Tigers are my boys, so this is painfully familiar territory. Did you know that I went to a Shonen Knife concert in Houston and the cute drummer (is there any other kind in a chick band?) happily signed the shirt I was wearing with the Hanshin Tiger logo and propaganda? They're from Osaka, so I correctly guessed that they would represent and bring strong Tiger love, even in America. Anyway, that concert was in 2003, the year that we (almost) went all the way.[ed. note: What's this "we" gaijin?]

    As for the Colonel (and his "wee, beady eyes"), I can't say that I totally blame him. That Dotombori canal is about as clean as the Houston ship channel. To toss in a plastic likeness of someone is just a creative way of burning them in effigy, really. And why mess with the Colonel? That cat is straight-up Deep South Pimpin', with the fly beard and the cane. They should know better.

    KFC has an odd relationship with Japan, actually. They've done a lot better than other American fast food places, with the exception of McDonalds. The KFC teriyaki chicken sandwich is one of the five tastiest things I've ever eaten. Like, ever. They're doing something right over there.

    Another strange and great KFC-related thing: The Japanese have totally screwed up our holidays and traditions, which creates totally new memes and social conventions anchored to our religious and social calendar. The best example is Christmas, which the Japanese really enjoy. Since they aren't remotely interested in Jesus (or in Annual Gift-Giving Man, as John Waters might have you believe from the Simpsons episode), they focus on what they believe is the true meaning of the holiday: Romance. Christmas in Japan isn't about spirituality or religion or even family, it's about sharing some quality time with a girlfriend or boyfriend. I'm not convinced that married couples observe it, by the way.

    Anyway, this brings us to strange Christmas tradition #2: To really observe the holiday, you must have chicken for dinner. I'm guessing this because they've seen enough sappy holiday movie content to have witnessed the prominent turkey dinner American and English families enjoy, but a turkey isn't something one easily finds in Japan. In fact, I believe that most people probably mistakenly believe that a holiday turkey is just a steroidally oversized American chicken. I don't think the Japanese really understand turkeys, anyway. The word for turkey in Japanese is 七面鳥, which translates as "seven-faced chicken." [ed. note: Isn't that King Ghidorah?] Now that sounds like a mythical super-chicken, not it's own proper species. So they don't eat turkey at Christmas, they eat chicken.

    So what happens on Christmas Day, if you are a forlorn, bespectacled salaryman with no love life? You may not have a lady friend to call your own, but you can't just thumb your nose at tradition, so you pick up a bucket of Extra Crispy on the way home to your tiny apartment. Ayako once told me that the distilled image of loneliness is the single man getting chicken at KFC on Christmas Day, and several other Japanese people corroborated this. I think that's awesome. [Ed. note: Me too. I have a new dream Christmas.]

    For one of the most insane KFC ad campaigns you'll ever see, check out this one, which both connects fried chicken to Christmas and cashes in on the (likely poorly-received) Mel Gibson film The Passion of the Christ (by the way, the text in that ad says this: when Christ was killed, Christmas was born.)

    Things I've Learned This Morning

    I'm in the summer doldrums today. I need to crank out another couple of History of Guns segments, but they are getting harder to write. Plus that and all of the Iraq stuff lately has left me in a funk. So let's have a little fun:

  • Tammy Gomez reminds us that no matter how much we work on trying to create art and beauty in a vain attempt to be remembered by posterity, what really lasts is the stuff we throw away. If you have to choose one thing to endure: Shakespeare or chicken bones from lunch, you'd probably bet on the Bard. And you'd be wrong. Wow, I'm starting off on an up note!

  • In trying to find a picture of chicken to go with the first item, I discovered something disturbing: Japan has a history of defacing Colonel Sanders statues. And the Colonel IS PISSED!

  • Austin frets over its Dallasification.

  • Hey, WFAA, this is so, like, two months ago!

  • To lighten things up, a cool blog: Very Hot Jews. They are asking important questions like: What kind of Jew are you, besides hot? Are you observant, just unusually witty and smart, or other? Check it out and get your mitzvah on.

  • One last thing: I like this new Rangers pitcher. He was on Galloway and was talking about pitching for Team USA against Cuba. "Yeah, Castro was there and he's kind of a funky little dude. He looked like one of the GI Joes I used to play with." Awesome.

  • Porter Wagoner is back! I grew up watching his TV show, so it's kind of funny to think of him on the same label at Tom Waits and Neko Case. But it sort of makes sense, too.
  • Thursday, June 07, 2007

    A History of Guns: Part Six

    This is the sixth in a personal history of guns in my life. Previous entries: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five.

    The Working Years
    When I started working full-time at the Startlegram, I did sports agate -- that's the little type like box scores, standings, leaders. It's a Sisyphean task. Do well at it and you can set yourself apart -- one guy who did it before me went on to become sport editor at the San Jose Mercury-News and another went on to win awards for writing about the Iditarod sled dog race. One of the people I supervised went on to cover the UN for The Associated Press and another guy is now a sports editor in North Carolina. But the one guy I remember the most was Brian Shults.

    Brian was a funny guy with a big smile and an easy way about him. His dream was to be the beat writer covering the San Jose Sharks. And he could have done it, too. He won two Gold Circle Awards from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association -- there’s future Pultizer winners on that list. He was that good.

    But Brian was also troubled. He was in recovery for his alcoholism when I met him at age 22. I used to hang with Brian and his other AA buddies Skip and Big Ron at Ol South Pancake House even though I wasn’t a Friend of Bill W. I’d sit and smoke cigarettes and drink coffee with the boys until the wee hours. In fact, I was with those guys at Ol South the first time I met my wife. Brian was neurotic as hell but poked fun at his misery. He even tried his hand at standup and did pretty well.

    One Saturday night, I was finishing up some agate real late -- like 1 a.m. -- when Brian stopped by my desk. He had just filed a review of a standup performance by a comedian I had never heard of named Ellen Degeneres. We shot the breeze for 10 minutes. We talked about him doing standup. He made me laugh.

    I was the last person to see Brian alive. The police found him the next afternoon in a field by his apartment complex. He shot himself with a pistol he bought from a pawn shop on Division Street in Arlington earlier that week. Because I was his supervisor, I got to tell his roommate.

    I think about Brian from time to time. I wonder what he would be doing if he were alive. Mostly, I get angry because I believe he might still be alive if he hadn’t gotten his hands on a gun. But there are lots of ways to kill yourself, and who’s to say Brian wouldn’t have found another one. The experts say men are usually successful when they attempt suicide because they don’t grab a fistful of pills, they grab a gun. They get it right the first time.

    Why do people do these things? What was so wrong in Brian's life that this was the answer? Could I have done anything to help Brian? Those are questions without answers. I accepted that a long time ago. Another question apparently without answer is why guns are a fact of American life?

    Working at a newspaper, you get to hear all the stuff that doesn’t get in the paper and read all of the little three paragraph items that make up the never-ending onslaught of tragedy in urban life. Gang shootings, robberies, kids killed by their father’s guns -- I always read more of those kind of stories than stories where someone used a gun to stop a crime. Those are the things that formed most of my feelings about guns. Go ahead and blame the media. Blame Brian. But it seemed to me then, and still seems to me now, that many gun deaths are needless, stupid and preventable.

    Wednesday, June 06, 2007

    How To Succeed in Advertising
    Without Really Trying

    Hey, Tarrant County, if you're wondering where all that Barnett Shale money is going, rest easy. It's not all going to private jets, shag carpeting and right-wing think tanks. Chesapeake Energy, one of the big players in the Barnett Shale drilling, is funneling some of it back into newspapers, God love'em. CEO Aubrey McClendon placed spent $400,000 placing full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Raleigh News & Observer and Durham Herald-Sun to praise Duke's lacrosse team players for "standing tall during extraordinarily difficult circumstances over the past 15 months." He tried to keep his name from being inked to the full-page ads, but newspapers prohibit anonymous advertising. Now I agree that the entire Duke incident was a miscarriage of justice, but I'm not sure that saluting these young men as paragons of virtue and integrity is appropriate either. But, hey, what am I bitching about? Newspapers really need that money. So carry on!

    Wound My Heart With Monotonous Languor

    That line above is from Verlaine: The long sobs of autumn's violins wound my heart with a monotonous languor. And, although you may not know that line if you are not a devotee of French symbolist poetry, you may know it from the movie about the Normandy Invasion, The Longest Day. The reading of the second line (wound my heart with a monotonous languor) on BBC radio signaled to the French Resistance that the allied invasion would occur within hours. With that, the French set about destroying rail lines, communications, and other German targets to pave the way for liberation.

    On this anniversary of D-Day, that climactic day of World War II, I wanted to share that little bit of poetry, but also a few local stories. If you are interested and are suitable equipped, you may listen to original re-broadcast of NBC newscasts from that day on XM, beginning at 12:41 a.m. Eastern on Channel 4.

    Mark Stevenson and General Roosevelt
    I've known a few D-Day vets through the years. When I was a kid, a friend of my Dad's named Joe Cummings from Waco, a red-haired firecracker of a guy shared his stories about landing in the first wave at Omaha Beach with a unit of combat engineers from the Big Red One. There was also another old friend of my father's who took the time to share his stories, a guy I've mentioned before, Marcus O. Stevenson of Dallas.

    On D-Day, Stevenson was aide to Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the assistant division commander for the 4th Infantry Division -- that's a picture of them together above. They landed in the first wave that morning at Utah Beach. Years later, when I asked him about what I thought going in that day, Stevenson -- by D-Day was already a veteran of landings in North Africa and Sicily -- was succinct in his answer. "I thought we were going to die."

    But they didn't. Roosevelt was the only general to land in the first wave on D-Day. When the general learned that the landing craft had drifted more than a mile south of their objective, he made the decision that typifies the American power of improvisation. "We’ll start the war from right here," he said. And young Lt. Stevenson, who Ernest Hemingway would describe later in the Normandy campaign as looking like a sheriff out of the Old West with his handlebar mustache, was right there by his side as history was made.

    With artillery landing close by, Roosevelt made his way around the beach wearing a knit cap rather than a helmet and using a cane rather than a rifle. He got the men of the 4th moving inland to their objectives and worked as a self-appointed traffic cop, untangling traffic jams of men and material.

    General Raymond O. "Tubby" Barton, the commander of 4th Division, later remembered meeting Roosevelt on the beach that morning: "While I was mentally framing [orders], Ted Roosevelt came up. He had landed with the first wave, had put my troops across the beach, and had a perfect picture (just as Roosevelt had earlier promised if allowed to go ashore with the first wave) of the entire situation. I loved Ted. When I finally agreed to his landing with the first wave, I felt sure he would be killed. When I had bade him goodbye, I never expected to see him alive. You can imagine then the emotion with which I greeted him when he came out to meet me [near La Grande Dune]. He was bursting with information."

    Roosevelt and Stevenson made their way inland with the rest of the 4th and eventually made contact with paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne, commanded by another former Roosevelt aide, Gen. Matthew Ridgway. After their first meeting, Roosevelt remarked that Stevenson and Ridgway had a lot of good qualities, much like Stevenson. "Keep it up, and maybe you can be a general one day, too," he said, slapping him on the back.

    For his courage and leadership on D-Day, Roosevelt would be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on September 28, 1944. However, he didn't live to see the award. He died of a heart attack on July 12, 1944, while commanding troops in the field, and he's buried with many of his men at the Colleville-sur-Mer Cemetery in Normandy. Roosevelt was 56 years old on D-Day. He had been seriously wounded in the First World War and was already in poor health. He could have stayed home and let men like Mark Stevenson fight it. But he didn't.

    The RAF Pilots of Kaufman
    The British, French, Canadians, Russians and pretty much everyone else in the world like to point out -- correctly I might add -- that the Americans didn't beat the Germans alone. So I would like to tell another local story to remind us of that.

    I discovered Monday that the RAF had a training base in Terrell, southeast of Dallas, thanks to a documentary on KERA. During World War II, almost 2,000 RAF pilots trained to fly there and almost a third of those men went on to perish in the skies over Europe and Asia.

    And those young men from England are still remembered by the people of Kaufman County. Many who trained have returned over the years to visit and one cadet, Henry C. Madgwick, returned, became a citizen and served as Mayor of Terrell in the 1990s. Even today, the graves of 18 RAF pilots are tended by locals at Oakland Memorial Park Cemetery with a monument there inscribed with the words of Rupert Brooke: Some corner of a foreign field that is forever England. For those who are interested in finding out more, a book on this subject is available through UNT Press.

    To the men and women of the French Resistance, to Joe Cummings and the men of the 1st Infantry, to General Roosevelt and Lt. Stevenson and the men of the 4th Division, to the RAF pilots who trained in Terrell and the people of Kaufman County who supported them, to all of those people who have passed into history and those who are still with us, thank you for the sacrifices you made and the things you achieved.

    A History of Guns: Part Five

    This is the fifth in a personal history of guns in my life. Previous entries: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four

    The College Years
    I didn’t spend a lot of time hunting or shooting in college. My dad was busy running his business and I was busy trying to stay as far away from home as possible. There was this one quail hunt down near San Saba on one of those December days with a battleship gray sky and a chill in the air. We went with the electrical contractor my dad knew who seemed to kill everything that flew. Later in the day when we were following a covey through a grove of mesquite trees, I thought I accidentally shot my dad, but I didn’t (insert Dick Cheney joke here). And later, when instructing me in the art of cleaning quail, the electric contractor, in an effort to add to the description, asked me, “You ever stick your finger in some ol’ gal’s twat?” Uh, no, sir. Not with my dad standing right there. The awkward moment passed with a lot of laughter at my expense.

    I slept on the most uncomfortable couch in the world that night while my father played poker all night. When we drove off in the foggy morning, my Dad was several thousand dollars richer and earned a hefty “commission” not to say anything to mom. Not 100 yards down the road, we stopped as 100 or so deer silently bounded out of the fog, across the road and disappeared again into the mist. The moment was one of those magic, time stops kind of moments. We never went hunting again.

    Tuesday, June 05, 2007

    Memorial Day 2007

    UPDATE, 6.5.07: I found John Moore's blog item about this photo. Please take a moment to read it. It puts the photo into context and makes it even more raw and powerful (if that's possible). Also, Unfair Park's Robert Wilonsky weighs in on John: "He's a hell of a guy."

    6.4.07: I missed this last week -- a photo from my old UT classmate John Moore that appeared in the New York Times. "Mary McHugh visited the grave of her fiancé, Sgt. James J. Regan, who was killed in Iraq in February. He is buried in the new Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery for those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan."

    Burleson Soldier Killed in Iraq

    I’ve been posting about Fort Worth soldiers killed in Iraq this year. Unfortunately, young men and young women are dying there every day, and one of the many questions I ask myself is this: why do this?

    Honestly, I wanted to provide a brief snapshot of the toll of this war on one city – the one I live in. I’ve primarily focused on soldiers who lived in, grew up in or went to school in Fort Worth. I don’t want to make a political statement through this. I just want to say that these people were members of our community and their lives mattered.

    But city limits are irrelevant -- each death is a tragedy and diminishes us all. Last week, a young man from Burleson named Jonathan Markham died in Iraq. The 22-year-old corporal in the First Cavalry Division died a week ago with five other soldiers in Abu Sayda, Iraq, when their Bradley fighting vehicle blew up from a powerful roadside bomb while they were racing to a helicopter crash. Yesterday, his wife, Stacey, received the flowers that he ordered for her birthday.

    Markham had recently re-enlisted in the Army so he could continue putting his wife through school. Before he left for Iraq last October, he saw his son, Daniel born. He also had asked his wife to ask President Bush to attend his funeral. “He wanted the president to see the cost of war, to know that the men are not just numbers, that there’s a face and a family behind that number,” she told the Startlegram.

    Rest in peace, Jonathan. You were more than a number. You were a member of our community. And you mattered.

    A History of Guns: Part Four

    This is the fourth in a personal history of guns in my life. Previous entries: Part One, Part Two, Part Three

    The High School Years
    Let's talk about Dave, a trailer-park dweller who was slow and smelled kind of bad. I know he smelled bad because I always got paired up to wrestle him in ninth-grade gym class. I didn’t like him, not so much because of anything he did -- he was one of those sort-of invisible people you knew in school who never made an impression on anyone. I disliked him because I hated wrestling him.

    After ninth grade, my wrestling days were over and I didn't think about him at all until the day an announcement came over the loudspeaker at my high school saying that Dave had been killed in an accidental shooting. He was working at pizza place and one of Dave’s co-workers decided to show him his gun. Blam! Lights out. Just like at Freddie’s house, except the gun didn’t go off when Freddie pointed it at me.

    But, that didn't change my desire to have a gun. And I finally did get a gun of my own on my 16th birthday. My father bought me a Charles Daly over-and-under 20-gauge -- a nice gun. My dad took me skeet shooting and -- occasionally -- quail hunting. I enjoyed spending time with my father. There is kind of a macho big dick thing about shooting a gun.

    I remember one day we went skeet shooting at this old gun club out on on Northwest Highway between Dallas and Irving. We ran into an old friend of his who hit every clay that came out of the tower. The only reason I remember this guy is my dad asked him about hunting and he replied that he never went hunting anymore because “he didn’t want to kill anything.” I always thought that was an odd answer. I didn’t understand it at the time.

    Hicks To UEFA: Suck It

    Tom Hicks calls UEFA's William Gaillard "a clown" for blaming Liverpool FC fans for the ticketing problems at the Champions League final. Speaking to Sky Sports, Hicks said: "UEFA did not handle this right at all. To give 17,000 tickets to the two teams, particularly knowing Liverpool is going to bring 40,000 fans is insane." Summing Gaillard up, Hicks said: "I think it is a classic case of a bureaucrat trying to take pressure off himself." There may still be some of those in the UK who don't like a "wealthy Texan" owning their team, but mixing it up with Gaillard should win him a few fans.

    Monday, June 04, 2007

    Interview: Inside a Tom Waits Peepshow

    Ellen Stader and Rick McNulty are the creators of Austin's Broken Clock Cabaret -- A Tom Waits Peepshow. The Peepshow is a small-scale spectacular featuring dance, puppetry, and risqué vaudeville weirdness, set to the music of Tom Waits and played live by Austin's No Salvation Army Band. Ellen and Rick were gracious enough to swap e-mails with this fellow Rain Dog to share a little about their love of Tom Waits and give us the skinny on what to expect from this year's show. They will be playing at the The Parish Room in Austin on Thursday, June 14, and Friday, June 15 -- if you want to go, buy your tickets NOW because they will sell out. They'll also be playing some shows in the Bay Area later in the month for all you Left Coast Waits fans.

    The Caravan of Dreams: Rick, Ellen: who are you guys anyway?
    Ellen Stader: I'm a dancer in Austin who began choreographing dances about 10 years ago, and producing live performances about 5 years ago.
    Rick McNulty: I'm a lapsed musician who dreams of stage shows that teeter on the verge of collapse.

    TCoD: What is the genesis of the Tom Waits Peepshow idea?
    ES: We were driving a rented Lincoln Town Car to a wedding in the Rio Grande Valley, so we were all kicked back on cruise control for hundreds of miles, listening to Rain Dogs and rhapsodizing about what cartoons we saw in our heads during each song. Then we started thinking about a creepy Tom Waits kids' show. We realized it would never work for kids--but we took the images and the filth, and turned them into the script for this show.

    TCoD: How did you become acquainted with the music and persona of Tom Waits?
    ES: I used to work for a cat here in town who road-managed bands; I'd go to his house and feed his lizards while he was gone. One day I grabbed a stack of his CDs to borrow, among them The Black Rider and Bone Machine. Sort of an odd entry point to the whole canon, but I was hooked immediately.
    RM: I was working at a college radio station on the West coast when Rain Dogs came out. The timing couldn't have been better--I was learning to drink gin while shouldering a psychotic girlfriend. Tom saved my ass. I was convinced to move to Chicago.

    TCoD: Do you think Austin is a good town for Rain Dogs?
    RM: Austin is a great town for Rain Dogs. There are so many musically astute people here, and so many weirdos--most often they're one and the same--so there's practically a built-in community in Austin for people who appreciate the arcane and unusual as well as the melodically solid. It's a music town, so the tribute bands are talented and their arrangements are creative, to boot.

    TCoD: How is the show this year different than in years past?
    ES: Every year we change somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of the show, depending on what worked in previous performances--new songs, new dances, stuff that people have asked for in the past. And somehow, the show has gotten progressively filthier in terms of sophomoric humor. Each new edition lowers the bar of tastefulness.

    TCoD: How do you choose the Waits songs you play? Do you use some of the same ones over and over? If so, how do you pick which ones stay and which ones go?
    RM: We focus on the second and third acts of Tom's canon, which is to say, when Kathleen began inspiring and collaborating with him. The Island years are our starting point, not because they're necessarily "better" than the Asylum albums, but rather, they lend themselves to wild visions of a carnival universe. He became less self-referential and more of a madman savant. Not to mention that we wanted to hear "God's Away On Business" live, and he wasn't performing at the time.
    ES: As the choreographer, I like a lot of the "monster" songs, plus the creepier ballads--any songs that provide strong images that I can translate into dance. Some have been indispensable since day one, like "Rain Dogs." I choreographed the best work of my life to that song, and Rick wrote a really striking arrangement for it--so it's always been our strong first-act closer. Others are great songs that we made unwieldy pieces for, and those end up getting cut.

    TCoD: Burlesque obviously plays a big part in the Tom Waits oeuvre. What goes into the choreography of a Tom Waits song? Is it just pasties and a g-string and ass shaking?
    ES: This is actually the first year we've included any actual burlesque--with stripping and all--and everyone's pretty excited... especially the band. It's a classic burlesque ensemble piece--lacy pajamas, sparkly beads, fringe, the whole bit--as directed by Busby Berkeley. When I left Kitty Kitty Bang Bang Texas Burlesque (NSFW) several years ago, I lost my outlet for the bump-n-grind impulse, so I'm thrilled to get back into burlesque.

    For nearly all the other dances, though, I've based most of the choreography on Bugs Bunny. Because as a cartoon, the intentions behind his movements are always instantly recognizable, always funny, and he always comes out on top. What better role model? The kind of work we're doing in this show is technically called modern or post-modern dance, with some cheesy jazz thrown in for fun, but at its heart, it's pretty much Bugs Bunny.

    TCoD: OK, I get the burlesque and vaudeville aspect -- but why puppets?
    RM: You can get away with puppets saying stuff that would never fly with regular actors. We've got a pretty blue script, and it's always hilarious to see and hear a puppet saying something filthy. Our puppetmistress is a Tom Waits fan as well, so she really gets the aesthetic we're going for. The real reason, though, is that you don't have to pay puppets nearly as much money.

    TCoD: Did the Tom Waits movie Big Time influence you in any way? Have you ever seen Tom Waits play live?
    ES: The Peepshow and Big Time are both loosely constructed cabaret-type shows, certainly, but we're using more of a straightforward vaudeville structure than the tumbling, time-and-space-shifting transitions that Big Time used. And we can't burn umbrellas because of the fire code.
    RM: I saw Tom at his "comeback" show in Austin at SXSW in '99. Somehow I ended up with tickets to his Storytellers taping two weeks later; blind luck, I guess. And Ellen and I flew up to Chicago to catch him last August on his 2006 mini-tour. Onstage, he talked about my favorite hot dog joint in town, which was next door to the record store where I bought a used copy of Small Change. That album changed my life as well. I completely lost it when he told the story about the Wiener Circle and launched into "Tom Traubert's Blues." I wept like the drunken Irishman I am.

    TCoD: What is your favorite Tom Waits line?
    ES: "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy."
    RM: "Come down off the cross, we could use the wood."

    TCoD: If Tom Waits called you and said, "Hey, I want to be in the show," how would you incorporate him?
    ES: First, I'd get him a comfortable chair, and I'd sit him down with a good stiff drink. Then I'd ask him if he could mend all of our broken stuff with baling wire.
    RM: I'd see if I could find a place for him in the band.

    Thanks for your time, guys. Good luck with the show!

    Breakfast with Burnham Update

    I wanted to give you an update on the Breakfast with Lon Burnham event from Saturday, and I'll need to start off with an apology. I don't have my notes with me so I'll have to do this off the top of my head.

    I joked with my wife before I left that I was going to have breakfast with the three other liberals in Fort Worth, but actually, the turnout was about fifty people -- many of the them the usual suspects (Democratic Party faithful, activists, labor organizers). When I met Lon on the way in, I thanked him for his efforts to prevent further infrigements on civil liberties in the state. I also thanked him for his work in a hostile environment. "It wasn't hard at all," he said. "In fact, it's a lot of fun."

    He then went on to answer my burning question coming in to the breakfast was this: how can you hope to get anything done for your district when you probably the least favorite House member of the autocratic Speaker, Tom Craddick?

    Lon has long since accepted life in the wilderness. If Tom Craddick could "disappear" one person in the House, it would probably be Lon. So Lon has gotten used to life wearing a bull's eye. His bills will rarely -- if ever -- get out of committee. His life is one of not so much trying to get bills passed to help his constituents as it is trying to stop legislation that would hurt those in his district. And there is plenty of bad legislation to deflect. He used a point of order to derail a bill allowing the state broad use of wiretapping. He also help defeat the Voter ID law -- a 21st Century version of the poll tax -- that would have successfully disenfranchised many poor and minority (read Democratic) voters.

    But his work wasn't all defensive. He managed to get the state to divest from companies doing business in Sudan and pass a law approving a sales tax holiday on environmentally friendly household items like longer-life light bulbs and insulation.

    But he was most upbeat about the possibilities of having a new speaker in the House. Craddick's act has worn thin with Republicans. Lon hinted that the Craddick D's -- the House Democrats that have sold out to Craddick -- will all face tough primary fights in the next election. The foundations that Craddick has built his leadership on are looking a little thin.

    And there was even strong evidence of bi-partisanship with Lon having more than a few positive comments about a couple of House Republicans from Fort Worth -- Todd Smith and Charlie Geren.

    I really left with a sense that there is some sunshine in Texas for those of us on the left side of the political spectrum. Sure, this is still the reddest of the red states. But if we engage and get involved in this next election cycle, maybe we can begin to turn some things around here in the Lone Star State.