Sunday, November 30, 2003

So it reached the end of its useful life early

The turkey was great, not frozen, but the disposable aluminum roasting pan was another story. Talk about rivers of grease! So whatever cleaning couldn't take care of, baking, baking, and more baking is getting rid of a little at a time. How many weeks before the house smells less like turkey and less like the site of a major conflagration and more like home, sweet home?

Saturday, November 29, 2003

I wanna know

We hated to miss the art walk and studio tour. At least we caught up with the Chuy's parade and went along with the Hardin-Simmons Cowboy Band from 11th and Brazos all the way down to Sixth Street. There must have been a lot of tourists in town, because people kept asking, "Who are they?" The band's "new" director seems to have made himself at home with the ensemble. The band still plays the only arrangement of Jingle Bells that I can stand to hear in any form. Ray Benson was a sport, up on a float with twin fiddles, a stand-up bass, and a drum kit. It's getting harder to find parking downtown anywhere, even on a weekend, but most people still don't seem to know about the Teacher Retirement System parking lot across the street from St. Elias Church. On the way home, the scenic route through the east side, in keeping with our goal to visit every library branch, we visited the Oak Springs Library for the first time. Even though most of the books were obviously bought with the African-American community in mind, except for a couple of elementary-school kids, the populace was pretty much Spanish-speaking. We did find some books and then went on to the City Market, which had the best zucchini in town and the best price on limes, plus the latest Villager and Nokoa. Now we've just gotta cook and cook and cook.

Friday, November 28, 2003

All about the movies

Having already forgotten most of the home-viewing done lately, courtesy of Vulcan Video, here are the items that have stuck in the memory. All About the Benjamins was a wonderful surprise: a treat to the eye and very funny, with Cube as a bounty hunter. Nobody, but nobody, among the critics likes it half so well as we do. Legally Blonde 2 really is almost as bad as people would have you believe, one of the worst things seen in ages. Too bad for all concerned. We very much enjoyed Alma's Rainbow, which, although it at times has the air of a filmed play, is quite charming and with a cast full of personable actors. Costume credits don't seem to be up anywhere, but the designs were very creative and evocative. Was the movie filmed in Fort Greene? No; now I remember there were thanks in the end-credits to the residents of Mount Morris Avenue, so the park must be Marcus Garvey Park. I never realized that Marcus Garvey was Marcus Aurelius Garvey. In one branch of the family there was alternating naming of Marcus Aurelius and Philip Marcus. We could see about three minutes of Best in Show, because the tape was defective, but we certainly want to try it again.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Neighbors at ease

The turkeys in this house are never roasted on the Day, whatever the Day may be. So it was off to Luby's, which was open, so we didn't need to go on a Grand Quest. It wasn't due to open until 11:00, but there was quite a line ahead of us already at that time (we were hungry!) and the doors had been opened ahead of time. There were lots of neighbors there dining, and lots of other neighbors picking up everything from a pie or two to the Complete Everything package to take home. We hardly saw an unfamliar face. We've always known that it's a great place to take little kids, because of the highchairs on wheels and because the staff will carry food to the table for those burdened with babies or on walkers or crutches. It turns out that the line works well for people in wheelchairs, also, which we hadn't ever known. It was tough to pick vegetables because there were so many that looked so tempting. The cornbread and the salsas were good as ever, and K. indulged in at least one pie. We saw tiny old ladies eating two and three different kinds of pie. There were several very large family groups seated at multi-tables pushed together. What a happy and convivial company we were and, as we left, we saw even more jolly folks waiting to enjoy their feast.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Hot off the curb

That's how some folks like to get their newspapers. In keeping with our household policy of spending all discretionary income on reading matter, we subscribe to three daily newspapers. It used to take three different delivery outfits to get them to us, but these days the local daily, no doubt printing them locally, delivers them all at once. Nobody has ever filched all three. Nobody has ever absconded with the WSJ. From time to time, however, somebody gets there before we do and takes either the local or the NYT or both. A missed issue must be reported in one of three different ways, depending on the publication, even though all three are delivered by one carrier. It's not permitted to report a missed issue or request redelivery before 6:30 am, either. Since the papers are delivered these days by a pair of young women, and at 4:00 am, roughly, we knew, seeing two papers there, that the third was gone. It was really our own fault, because the trashcan wasn't out at the curb and we arose late by an hour or two, so somebody just naturally assumed no one was home and felt free to help himself. The on-line customer service site was out of commission. The CSR (or should we say "customer care agent") was very pleasant and reported that there'd be a redelivery between 10 am and 2 pm. The paper was not delivered. The Statesman struck again. The second CSR said that the missing issue would be included in this morning's delivery, and it was. The outsourced customer service center is one of the better ones, with very personable agents.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

He's still funny

When looking for a link to the great P. J. O'Rourke article in the December Atlantic magazine (called "The Backside of War," it's not available free on line, but it alone is worth the newstand cost of the magazine), this interview popped up in the search results.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Of little importance?

The transcript for the city council meeting taking up proposed rezoning of a certain parcel of land in South Austin at the headwaters of Blunn Creek inspired the following correspondence:

The transcript of the November 6 council meeting highlights the repeated use of vocabulary to belittle and try to render insignificant the importance of the land in question. The word used over and over again is “sliver.” Secondary or tertiary meanings of this word are “scrap” and “particle.” In addition to calling the parcel in question “little triangle,” “little tract,” “little 1.3 acre tract,” “little piece,” and “remnant,” the Wal-Mart representative calls it a “sliver” 11 times, including “little sliver” 3 times and “little bitty sliver” once.

So pervasive is the use of the word “sliver” and so successful as a rhetorical device that, once it was introduced into the public discourse, two members of the council were each inspired to echo the word 3 times. Of the 6 uses other than by the Wal-Mart representative, one was “just a sliver.”

The Wal-Mart representative explicitly stated that there will be a Wal-Mart with the sliver or a Wal-Mart without the sliver. Certainly you must have read recent extensive and unflattering coverage of Wal-Mart business practices and their effects on our economy and on society in general. The spotlight has been bright and unrelenting, beginning with the Business Week cover story and encompassing lengthy articles in Forbes, Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. There is no need to smooth the way for the behemoth of Bentonville. Wal-Mart can take care of itself. So if there is to be a Wal-Mart at Ben White and the Interregional, let it be without the “sliver.”

Blunn Creek” is the nature preserve, Big Stacy Park, Little Stacy Park, and drinking water drawn from Town Lake. Blunn Creek and the public lands through which it flows represent the gift 90 years ago of the parkland and the investment every year since then of community labor dedicated to such projects as a children’s playscape and the cleaning and maintenance of the waterway and its banks and native vegetation, donations by and for the benefit of people from all over Austin.

Before you vote, please visit the nature preserve and walk the length of Big Stacy and Little Stacy parks. Please read in its entirety the engineer’s report paid for by the neighborhood through whose heart Blunn Creek flows.

As a body the city council has shown itself willing to preserve what is in fact a “tiny sliver” of the Edwards aquifer; surely it can and will protect and preserve for the future this “tiny sliver” for the sake of what it is in truth: a large, substantial, and crucial portion and percentage of the headwaters and recharge zones of Blunn Creek, a treasure in the heart of Austin.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Ping, Pang, and Pong funny at last

They were; and Liu elicited the customary tears. For some unaccountable reason, it's just possible that Turandot is this household's most-seen opera: several times, and in Houston, in Dallas, and in Austin. Every time until this one, the set was the one with the giant gilded dragon holding a pearl in one claw and a perch for the old emperor in the other. Did the dragon belch smoke? Perhaps-faulty recollection seems to suggest that it did. The set this time was modest; the costumes were imaginative but not over-expensive, one would guess; the cast sang very well, the orchestra was under the baton of Peter Bay (his first opera to conduct, apparently) and sounded better than it has since the days of Walter Ducloux. So staying up late was worth it. The audience was genuinely appreciative and enthusiastic. We were surprised to see Holton Johnson as the old emperor. We've been to Gilbert & Sullivan productions in which he's had prominent roles, most recently Frederic in Pirates of Penzance. According to the Austin Lyric Opera program, he's gainfully employed with ALO as a database administrator. The opera chorus has its own website. The chorus has sounded snappier at times in the past; the children's chorus was wonderful. Never before had Ping, Pang, and Pong seemed the least bit humorous--just another first at the Austin Lyric Opera.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Publication money well spent

Huston-Tillotson College just issued an edition of Ram magazine that will serve well as a fund-raising tool. The layout appears to be from a canned template, but is appropriate. The paper is a good choice, particularly for not being heavily coated and shiny slick. Why people invest their money in that stuff isn't easy to understand. It's out of fashion and not good reading for those with aging eyes. The content of the publication, intended for alumni/ae, as well as contributors and potential contributors of all sorts, is excellent. I read every word. Travis Heights Elementary School produced a one-sheet four-page insert for the newsletter of South River City Citizens. If there's a credit for editing and layout, it's not prominent. The Travis High School mariachi Rebeldes del sur were recently at some Disney establishment and met and were photographed with Pedro Fernandez (the "Yo No Fui" guy). This would make good publicity but hasn't been disseminated. While trying to find an on-line presence for the mariachi I found this great resource about Austin bands.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Your sworn officers on duty

Those Austin police officers disciplined for fishing while on "homeland security" duty all had expired fishing licenses, although most had bought them in the past. K. says there'd be some doubt in any event whetner a license would be needed to fish on private property (well; make that public property, a water-treatment plant, not open to the general public). According to Sam and Bob, one of our local TV stations caught footage of a DPS officer watching a DVD in an official vehicle while on "homeland security" duty "guarding" the Capitol grounds. Others have reported sleeping on duty, which we've observed ourselves on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The old ParKings saw everything (see entry for October 25). Then there are tax dollars at work escorting a movie shoot on a public street where there's never any traffic enforcement. Even if the four motorcycle cops and two patrol cars (and perhaps more of each) were being retained privately on their off-duty time, they were still in uniform and still using taxpayer-furnished vehicles "to serve and protect."

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Checking in soon at these locations

These are current reads, mostly, but not entirely, Austin-centric: Gwenworld (Houston? candid); blue-eyed souljah's journal (with dogs in Austin and funny); Trailer Park Girl (what is the name of that restaurant?); Eileene (found this for the first time, when checking information on a typeface: the October 29 entry with links to great font sources); Xenon (a jolly astrologer headquartered in a South Austin trailer park; this is tough these days for dial-up people, because only a few lines show up front before a second page must be downloaded in order to continue on with the entry); and Zanthan (a South Austin garden, with beautiful photographs).

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

"A tax on the honest"

If the library's still acquiring any books at all, it's to be hoped that this will be one of them: Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World (Bruce Schneier). This is the Economist review that caught our eye. The review mentions the idiocy of having identification checks at front desks. Having been employed at an entertainment mecca and at two outfits with misleading names that serve as big-time attractions for loonies, I completely agree. All three of these outfits were visited daily by VIPs who expected to be recognized. Some would be recognized by anyone; others were big frogs in their own small, though of course very important, ponds. Even the unbalanced were often members of families or constituencies or an entourage trailing a VIP and not to be ignored or given less than full deference. And of course harmless members of the general public have never expected to run a gantlet unless visiting someplace more important than those.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Book lookin'

In the course of the never-ending quest for reading matter to go to CCH, The Last Noel (Michael Malone) was borrowed from the Terrazos branch of the library. Review in brief: great title, slight book; for the ladies, but only those of a certain sort; very sentimental; not for CCH. The author is the same Michael Malone who has written fat novels of small-town humor, plus, evidently, murder mysteries and scripts for television soap operas.

Monday, November 17, 2003

The color of money

This is the title of an article in Forbes magazine about Pantone. I love my Pantone color-selectors. What never-grown-up person wouldn't? Too bad that reflex blue is always the cheapest spot color.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Big use of small budget

We're glad we saw Pieces of April. We recognized scenes and landscapes right away. We had to go all the way out somewhere near the evil Aboretum (the former Great Hills movie house?). Some chain called the Cheesecake Factory is at the old Arboretum Theater. The kids working there were very cleancut; the pleasant kids at the new Arboretum (old Great Hills) were also cleancut, of course, but not so spick and span; it was the old blond (mostly blond by choice, and expensively) versus brunet contrast. Anybody can guess which haircolor populated cheesecake city and which the movie house. The popcorn was bad--not fresh and not well popped. We stopped at Gardens but did ourselves little damage, since there were no Grand Primo bulbs there. The guys that own it have always seemed to be excellent business people and they're far from overstocked right now, a sign of one outfit's predictions for the future.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Charter subscriber

How many of us could there have been who subscribed to the New York Review of Books from the very beginning, forty whole years ago? The NYRB reissues are great, also; unfortunately, we've long owned all the ones in which we're interested, but at least others have a chance to enjoy these mostly long out-of-print treasures. It's odd about Richard Hughes: A High Wind in Jamaica was acquired as a Signet paperback (what an odd choice for Signet; what an odd purchase by me, from the grumpy old guy who sold cutout and former jukebox records, probably acquired in a shady way from a shady rack-jobber) and The Fox in the Attic (hardback from the bookstore at Silver Bay; the clerk behind the counter was a very tall student from some part of Africa, complete with facial scarification).

Friday, November 14, 2003

More reading from this week in Novembers past

During this approximate week in 1976, the following were read, but carried over into the succeeding week: Lord Hervey's Memoirs of the Reign of George II, in three volumes. This was borrowed, but from what library can't now be recalled. These are very nasty and entertaining. This writer agrees on the character of the memoirs. Too bad the edition wasn't recorded on this reading list. In 1977, in all of November only two items, both by Maria Edgeworth, are recorded: Almeria and Vivian. In 1978: Redburn (Melville), Ancient Stories and Other Tales (Algernon Blackwood), The Habit of Loving (Doris Lessing), One L (Scott Turow--what a junky book, but I bet he cleaned up on it), and Henry James: The Untried Years 1843-1870 (Leon Edel). In 1979 there were novels by Pamela Hansford Johnson set in Bruges (the list just notes Pamela Hansford Johnson series, a trilogy, I think; and the Austin library has since unceremoniously deaccessioned them). Also read was Modern Love (George Meredith). In 1980 there were: One of Ours (Willa Cather), and two Angela Thirkells. In 1981: Old Glory: An American Voyage (Jonathan Raban; bought for REH), plus In Ethiopia with a Mule (Dervla Murphy; the Austin Library has since deaccessioned most accounts of travel; it would be interesting to see if her books are among them). In 1982, dates weren't entered into the record after the first week in August. In this record, there's a separate list of murder mysteries and suspense books read, but there aren't dates attached. As a placekeeper there's a reserve request for Venturi's Learning from Las Vegas, which the library didn't own, but offered to obtain on inter-library loan. Over three quarters of this cloth-bound book (from Charlottestown? Halifax? Toronto? definitely somewhere in Canada) is used as a commonplace book, with a great many quotations and other notes copied out. It's a surprise to find this; maybe later there'll be time to look at it a bit more closely. The back pages are "to read" and included on the list are lots of the following sorts of books: on architecture, memoirs of nineteenth-century worthies hard to find without inter-library loan, out-of-print Edwardian novels, various local and regional histories. This little record has not been looked at for at least two decades. Every entry is made with a fountain pen. How much one forgets!

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Books in November (from an old reading record)

How was there so much time? Read this week in 1973 (really reread): Barnaby Rudge (Dickens), The Princess Casamassima (James), The Bertrams (Trollope), Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park (last three, of course, J. Austen). Could we have been on vacation? Was Thanksgiving early? Talk about a nineteenth-century state of mind! This week in 1974: The Vicar of Wakefield (Goldsmith), Dr. Wortle's School (Trollope), An Old Man's Love (Trollope, again), and The McDermots of Ballycloran (from Trollope's Irish period). Of these books, only the last was read for the first time. In 1975: Chance (Conrad), The Pelican History of Canada, Doctor Thorne (Trollope), Quentin Bell's biography of Virginia Woolf, and Uncle Silas (LeFanu). This will be continued tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Either you did or you didn't

People who've ever collected stamps hate to use generic issues, but it's getting more and more difficult to find a stamp window open around town on Saturdays. Evidently the folks over at Westlake Hills enjoy an open and staffed post office from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm on Saturdays; the rest of us around here are lucky that the South Congress branch is supposedly open from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm (although it wasn't, last time we checked). There's nothing downtown on Saturdays, even though the branch there was always extremely busy. The bat stamps are especially appropriate for use in paying bills. At any rate, buying stamps on line is a good deal: fast, and only a dollar for shipping and handling.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Monogram discrimination

Tough luck if you have four initials. It's a two- and three-initial world.

Monday, November 10, 2003

New scent for laundry detergent

Since there aren't many white items in this household's laundry, there's no need to pay the premium for Tide detergent. Tide used to have a great scent, but then it changed. The closest approximation was in Albertson's higher-priced store brand. Then Albertson's started stocking a lower-grade store brand, which has a decent scent. We happened to be at H-E-B when we next bought detergent. The H-E-B store brand has a scent that recalls fresh corn tortillas. What's with this? Was it stored at whatever location produces H-E-B's house-brand tortillas? Maybe it's time to go back to Duz ("Duz does everything").

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Austin anglers make national news

At least a half dozen police officers face disciplinary action because, though posted to the power plant on "Homeland Security" duty, they spent time fishing (evidently successfully, it's intimated). It must have been pretty good, because one of the allegations is that security guards were told by the police to admit off-duty cops and their friends. Somebody snitched, and the guess is that it was a miffed security guard. In fact, some of the stories indicate that at least one cop was spotted at least once cleaning fish while in uniform. I bet there's not a cop in town who hasn't had to answer the question "caught any lately?." Our local humorist used the tag line, "One if by land, two if by Evinrude." The Austin Police Association site appears to be an active one, but does not seem at this time to be focusing on fishing.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Saline

In searching for bamboo-roasted natural mineral sea salt to indulge K., we learned from the proprietor of the Korean grocery on Riverside that the men are more handsome in South Korea and the women are more beautiful in North Korea. He said there are a lot of Korean romantic comedies right now that use this truth as a plot element. We saw one video or DVD promo that showed a northern woman angling and hooking a southern man. By the way, buried in a website about salt in general is this description of bamboo salt: "Korean bamboo salt is sea salt that is poured into bamboo cylinders which are then plugged with loess clay and roasted over burning pine resin. "

Friday, November 07, 2003

In the realm of factoids

Someone else has noted the WSJ piece on marketing Mott's Clamato Joice in Mexico as an aphrodisiac (we'd seen it added to beer in the past. NARAL is using the bill-signing photo as a fund-raising device, but the photo's cropped, cutting the numbers of smirking old white men in half. The more panoramic view seemed to stretch from some old fool through enough to make a half-dozen on one side, to the Signer himself, through another half-dozen or so, ending up with somebody appearing in profile to be DeLay. This was an AP photo and it probably won't be up there long, but it seems to have caught the attention of many, not just this household. The NYT covers it and no doubt there has been a lot of reading into the Congressional Record about it. I wish REH were around to read the David Owen piece in the New Yorker about concrete. I remembered more than I'd have thought, but had never known about Edison concrete houses. Owen found somebody in Ohio living in one and loving it. This is the only photo found, and it's of a model, although there's a photo of a house under construction. On the Washington County site, I looked at Easton, Argyle, Dresden, and a couple of other township pages but couldn't find any photos of the old lime kilns.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

A fortune to be made

The first person to devise a simple and excellent method for cleaning vinyl records (or who offers a good service for doing it) should really clean up. There are all sorts of cleaning systems out there, but it's a pretty good bet that they don't work any better than DiscWasher, which doesn't really seem to do much good.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Squirrel mortality

Because pecans have been bountiful, squirrels have been dying. They just can't resist crossing the street to get to the good trees, and this has been a very good year for pecans, even in our yard, and even with the better bearer gone. So there's lots of work for the carrion-eaters. This year the black vultures have moved in. Nearly always we see a turkey vulture on the pole, but this year two black vultures have been taking turns knocking one another off this fabulous vantage point. Black vulture information was fullest on a Georgia bird site, but the best pictures were taken in Texas.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

In the garden this weekend

Sweet pea shoots have appeared, but they're so tasty and appealing that they probably won't last long. The nasturtiums summered over in pots have begun to bloom again. There are blooms on the clockvine (thunbergia alata) of three different varieties so far: orange with black center, yellow with black center, and orange with chartreuse center). And we've seen the first two migrating monarch butterflies, attracted to the loquat blooms. We're seeing a few gulf fritillaries and lots of baby toads.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Where'd they get that cake pan?

This week's Sunday NYT had a special food and entertaining section. There was a photo of a Bavarian cream that had been made in a cake pan like the one that wouldn't give up my chocolate pound cake. The credit was for a prop-supply company, so maybe the pan just plain is no longer in production. The capacity was said to be five cups.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Foraging

The shelves at H-E-B were pretty much picked clean, and this is at the end of the month, when State workers don't get paid for October work until the first working day in the month of November. There'd been a bargain the house brand of paper towels, which are truly the best paper towels in the land, so there were none of those to be had. All El Galindo corn tortillas had been sold. All cut flowers and most potted flowers had been sold (el dia de los muertos). We mailed the necessary-to-be-mailed inside the post office, so everything should arrive in time. K. was nearly persuaded to see Kill Bill, but not quite. So it was School of Rock. What a shame we could get out to see City Hunter, a fave, at the Alamo Drafthouse.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Halowe'en aftermath

Even as the sun was rising, there were still people in costume at the bar and dining at Katz's. The fact that there's a happy hour beginning at 7:00 am probably doesn't hurt business. No! Wait; that's the rival Houston Katz's! I'm hungry for a potato pancake right now . . . BTW, beginning at 4:00 am, seven days a week, Hill's Cafe is selling Round Rock donuts baked on the premises.

Tragedy and comedy

Our two pumpkins, once carved, looked like the masks. The local church pumpkin patch seemed to be doing very good business this year. There seemed to be some sort of campaign for public safety in all the press, so perhaps too much caution in wielding the knife led to less expressive and imaginative faces. No teeth or eyeballs were attempted this year. We ran out of treats a little after 8:00 p.m. I think business must have been heavy because others ran out sooner. The only duplication in costume was that there were two Superman wanna-bes. The most original costume and the most difficult to get around in was a very good and elaborate replica of a milk carton (organic, of course). The father of one little boy was carrying his costume and said, "Just imagine that he's a pumpkin; it's too hot for this thing!."