Austin Dispatches
No. 115
Aug. 22, 2008
“I’m having trouble sleeping,” she told me at the back entrance to Ruta Maya. Her voice and eyes suggested a pleading vulnerability.

I placed a consoling palm on the bare shoulder of my sometime dance partner, “Padma Botelho.”
Financial difficulty beset Padma only a week after she’d confidently advised me about investing in commodities. “Maybe I should’ve opened a coffeehouse instead.”

We’d been acquainted for several years. But we’d held each other in sweaty clinches more often that we’d had deep conversations. That’s the way it is with my salsa network. The dance venues aren’t conducive to long talk, a lot of the people aren’t native Anglophones, and there’s often not much to say anyway. In fact, once you look beyond the packaging, there’s not much of anything.1 

Nevertheless, several women in this small network have risen in my estimation in terms of potential. But the screening process that “Melanie Ordones Welker” flunked proceeds at a pace far more glacial than the music that brought us all together.2 Padma moved to the forefront in recent months since our brief conversations had lengthened and broadened. I even learned her name and some background.
“Funny, you don’t sound like a Strine sheila rustlin’ wallabies in the outbeck,” I said.

This Portuguese-and-something-else saleswoman from Australia laughed in her exotic but indeterminate accent. Then she jotted her contact information on a cocktail napkin. “Don’t lose this.”

“I’m not so blasé about an attractive woman giving me her phone number that I’m going to inadvertently misplace it.”

I told her about a job fair in South Austin the following week. She suggested we get together for that. She also suggested I swing by her apartment and pick her up on the way, since I knew the location.

I readily agreed. This would allow me to study her in a different setting, wherein facets of her personality might be better illuminated.

In retrospect, that evening at Ruta Maya developed as it did because she was feeling vulnerable. By the day of the job fair, she’d recovered enough from the shock to readjust her psychic armor. She was subtly less receptive to my interest in her. Either she knew what was going on and chose to ignore it, or she really was that oblivious. So the conversation at the après-fair meal didn’t flow the way it would at the start of a romance. For example, we exchanged a lot more rudimentary information about each other. Also, I saw enough subtle personality traits that cumulatively made her a less likely girlfriend.

I’d pushed matters about as far as I dared. Any further, and I might damage my chances with the other prospects on the salsa scene.

As disappointments go, it was one of the most enjoyable at the time. Initially, I was pleasantly surprised any of this happened at all, but I still drifted into a funk afterward, thinking about it as yet another failed opportunity. Plus, I was out 20 bucks. Fortunately, the worst likely outcome is that we’ll just continue dancing.

Pedestrian Priority Collector to Hell

Now that Austin’s Zoning Department has imposed 90 pages of new zoning regulations on my neighborhood, despite my efforts, the bureaucrats want to create a group of neighborhood Nazis to monitor the plan.3 These people never quit.

I learned this at the City staff’s meeting at the Austin Community College Northridge Campus on July 30 and Aug. 20. Of course, the staff phrased its intent more decorously. Their literature describes creating a “neighborhood planning contact team,” whose role is to be a steward of the master plan and work closely with bureaucrats to “prioritize and implement the plan’s recommendations.”

The by-laws template the bureaucrats presented restricts business owners, property owners or employees from voting on amendments to the plan (“conflict of interest”). There’s a one-year moratorium on voting on any sort of amendments. Afterward, any zoning changes must comply with the city’s master plan. These preconditions effectively prevent locals from capturing the team and using it to thwart, weaken or eliminate the bureaucrats’ notions.

Unfortunately, the City will get its way on that, too. From among some 8,500 residents, about 20 gray hairs eager to stick their noses into what doesn’t belong to them attended the August meeting to set up the team. Of course, the presentation photos of what the bureaucrats consider desirable urban planning in Austin are of older areas that predate zoning regulations, and what’s more, are based on a grid pattern.

e115fig2   The master plan is tied in with lots of mass transit schemes. In the real world, these schemes are already plagued with personnel problems,4 ballooning cost projections,5 construction delays,6 union disputes,7 accidents,8 fare hikes,9 cancelled service,10 and lawsuits11  – and that’s just what the papers have reported in the last month. By the time these issues are resolved, I’ll have moved elsewhere.12

Otherwise in the neighborhood, the Austin Diagnostic Clinic Family Practice and Pediatrics Center has opened a new office at 2400 Cedar Bend Dr.13 White Lodging plans construction of a Westin hotel at The Domain in September. Further development is underway nearby along Burnet Road.14  The Freebird’s burrito chain has opened a location in the Austin Commons strip mall.

On Aug. 12, I witnessed the aftermath of an auto incident at the intersection of Capital of Texas Highway and the northbound frontage road of MoPac Expressway.

Austin Death Watch

The Austin Business Journal has concluded that a dozen condominium projects in the area are on hold or have been scrapped.15  The developer of The Austonian condo project downtown hastened to publicly reaffirm the project is continuing.16 

The City is mulling increasing trash collection fees by 36 percent.17 

Media conglomerate Cox Enterprises is selling the Statesman, the Waco Tribune-Herald and other newspapers it owns.18 In response, the Chronicle rubbed its hands gleefully.19  I left the industry just in time.

Software firm Convio has put its debut stock offering on hold.20 The name, of course, is Latin for “the way of the con.” It’s not to be confused with Caanvio (“the way of James Caan”),21 Cannesvio (the way of topless starlets on the French Riviera),22  or Cahnvio (“the way of Sammy Cahn, as ordered by Frank Sinatra”).23

Jerks of 1960

Speaking of Sinatra, his heyday coincides with the time period for “Mad Men,” which first season is out on DVD.24  Based on the proliferating coverage, the creators, and many outsiders who love to opine, think of the sleeper hit as some sort of identity politics morality tale  – an oxymoron if ever there was one.25 Everyone else just enjoys the stylish bad behavior on display from a time when more people knew how to dress better. If anything, the characters should be more manic, as in the “Maudlin’s Eleven” sketch from “SCTV,” until you want to smash their heads in with the liquor bottles from which they’ve been imbibing.26 

Elsewhere in sketch comedy, “Saturday Night Live”’s third season has been released on DVD. Finally, here’s a season that lives up to the retrospective reputation.27 At some point in the season everything gelled and the writing and performances were consistently funny and increasingly ambitious.28 John Belushi, already eyeing the exit toward Hollywood, is absent or in the background more than past accounts indicated.29  The opposite is true for Laraine Newman.30 

The new joint recording by Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis is insufficiently interesting to merit inclusion in any best-of audio releases list for 2008.31 What is interesting is how Nelson is still regarded in the country music realm as a country western singer, even though every time I hear him on the radio, he’s disregarding the conventions to digress into Brazilian rhythms or some such.32 Even more interesting is that Marsalis isn’t being raked over the coals for this collaboration, after years of decrying crossover attempts and generally declaiming on what jazz is or isn’t.33 
Political Follies

Wes Benedict is offering his services as executive director of the national Libertarian Party.34 If he’s lucky, the LP will hire someone else. The party is still deteriorating after the Portland convention and most of the people at the top are in denial about it or else think the symptoms of deterioration are positive signs.  Meanwhile, they’ve managed to undermine presidential nominee Bob Barr’s ballot access efforts in five states. And most of these people favor Barr.35 Moreover, the most active faction opposing this state of affairs is also still hostile to using the LP as a real political party, which means mastering the nuts and bolts of politics, and getting candidates elected to office so they can turn libertarianism into public policy. Wes is good at political mechanics, and solid on theory, but I think this mess is beyond his ability to improve.36 

The ongoing national problems even taint his genuine accomplishments. The Texas LP received a respectful, above-the-fold front-page article in the Statesman’s July 28 edition. Of course, post-Portland, the LP in general no longer presents a disquieting alternative to the Statesman’s worldview. Funny how that works.37 A week later, former Rep. Suzanna Hupp, R-Lampasas, called three LP candidates for the House and urged them to drop out rather than cost Republicans these seats and thus control of the Statehouse.38 

In that story’s Internet edition commentary, Jon Roland, constitutional scholar and former Libertarian candidate, said, “Libertarians can’t be bribed or intimidated. That’s what distinguishes us from the two main parties.”39 That Jon, what a card. The reason the LP doesn’t clearly stand for anything these days is because too many of its members were intimidated by the relentless assaults against liberty by the national security state. 

Whenever I mention this to Libertarians, they bob their heads up and down like Led Zeppelin groupies.40 But as much as they appear to agree with me, I still haven’t seen any correction or turnaround in the party’s operations. Moreover, I haven’t seen any change in the mindset of the factions I’ve analyzed who’re wrecking the party. So even though I’ve written about these matters in six prior issues, I’ll continue to hammer on them until I hear their bones break.41 

Media Indigest

Textbook publishers are fretting over the revenue losses resulting from digitization and file sharing.42 I’m a strong believer in property rights, but as a college freshman I had to purchase the textbook “Economics” by Paul Samuelson, one of the big wheels from the mumbo-jumbo school of economics.43 The book was poorly premised and poorly bound, thus the book fell apart worse than its arguments by the end of the term and I couldn’t resell it.  So let’s consider this trend poetic justice.

Speaking of rip offs, Rolling Stone magazine is shrinking in size, to match its relevance.44 This birdcage liner of a publication, run by a coke-snorting homosexual Boomer45 for his generational peers who wrecked America,46 persists in praising a group of rhythmically stiff performers who aren’t as innovative as their predecessors,47 or as proficient as their successors48  – a middling group that’s sort of the Apple III of music.49 


1 AD No. 81 (July 7, 2005); AD No. 102 (Nov. 12, 2007); AD No. 110 (June 1, 2008).
2 AD No. 100n20 (Sep. 3, 2007).
3 AD No. 37 (Apr. 25, 2002); AD No. 52 (July 13, 2003); AD No. 102n30 (Nov. 12, 2007).
4 Beherec, Sean. “Cap Metro Bus Hijacking Turns Out to Be a Hoax.” DT 6 Aug. 2008: 1-2; Plohetski, Tony. “Police: Bus Hijacking Made Up.” AAS 6 Aug. 2008: B1+; Ward, Justin. “Naked City.” AC 8 Aug. 2008: 15.
5 Liou, Joanne. “Rail Relocation May Lead to Expensive Commute System.” DT 1 Aug. 2008: 1-2; Wear, Ben. ”Rail Plan’s Cost: Billions.” AAS 31 July 2008: A1.
6 Gregor, Katherine. “”Who’ll Take a Streetcar? 32,000 Riders a Day.” AC 1 Aug. 2008: 16.
7 Osborn, Claire. “Transit Union OKs Strike.” AAS 21 Aug. 2008: A1.
8 Liscano, Miguel, and Joshunda Sanders. “Trail Derails Just North of Lady Bird Lake.” AAS 21 Aug. 2008: A1.
9 Ward. “Committee Approves Bus Fare Hike.” AC 8 Aug. 2008: 22.
10 Gregor. “Cap Metro Cancels Shuttle Services.” AC 25 July 2008: 18.
11 Ciolko, Natalia. “Groups Target Cap Metro on Civil Rights Grounds.” DT 1 Aug. 2008: 1-2.
12 Eisler, Dan. Letter to Mary R. Kiser, 11 Aug. 2008.
13 “Community Impact.” CIN July 2008: 4.
14 Novak, Shonda. “Work Set to Begin on Westin at Domain.” AAS 6 Aug. 2008: D1.
15 Kwon, Jean. “The Condominium Conundrum.” ABJ 15 Aug. 2008: 1+.
16 Novak. “Developer: It’s ‘Full Steam Ahead’ for Austonian.” AAS 1 Aug. 2008: B7.
17 Coppola, Sarah. “Trash Fee Rise Could Be 36%.” AAS 7 Aug. 2008: A1+.
18 Wear, Ben. “Cox to Sell Statesman.” AAS 14 Aug. 2008: A1.
19 Brass, Kevin. “Anybody Wanna Buy the Bat Cave?” AC 22 Aug. 2008: 22.
20 Jarzemsky, Matt. “IPO on Hold.” ABJ 15 Aug. 2008: A13.
21 AD No. 56n39 (Oct. 1, 2003).
22 Forbes, Jill, and Sarah Street. European Cinema: An Introduction. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001: 20.
23 Sammy Cahn Songbook. New York City: Warner Bros. Publications, 1986.
24 Levy, Shawn. Rat Pack Confidential: Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter, Joey, and the Last Great Showbiz Party. New York City: Doubleday, 1998; Witchel, Alex. “Smoking -> Drinking -> Writing -> Womanizing.” New York Times Magazine 22 June 2008: 32-39+.
25 “Theater North American.” Second City Television. Global, 18 Nov. 1976.
26 “Maudlin’s Eleven.” SCTV Network. NBC-TV, 23 Apr. 1982.
27 Hill, Doug, and Jeff Weingrad. Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live. 1986. Rpt. New York City: Vintage Books, 1987: Ch. 25-26.
28 Ibid., 275-276, 296-298.
29 Ibid., 276; Woodward, Bob. Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi. New York City: Simon & Schuster, 1984: 123-124, 128, 131-135.
30 Hill and Weingrad, op. cit., 276, 281-282.
31 Nelson, Willie, and Wynton Marsalis. Two Men With the Blues. Angel 044542, 2008.
32 Nelson. “Maria (Shut Up and Kiss Me).” The Great Divide. Universal/Mercury 586231, 2002.
33 Piazza, Tom. Blues Up and Down: Jazz in Our Time. New York City: St. Martin’s Press, 1997: 65-95, 156-170.
34 Benedict, Wes. Application letter to Bill Redpath. 12 Aug. 2008.
35 AP. “ACLU Sues Mass. Election Officials.” 6 Aug. 2008 Boston Herald.com <http://news.bostonherald.com/news/2008/view.bg?articleid=1111541>.
36 D. Eisler. Letter to Mike Eisler, 14 Aug. 2008.
37 Copelin, Laylan. “Libertarian Vote Gains Influence.” AAS 28 July 2008: A1.
38 Mixon, Melissa, and David C. Doolittle. “Libertarians Urged to Quit Races.” AAS 3 Aug. 2008: B1+; Whittaker, Richard. “State GOP Fears Libertarian Upset.” AC 8 Aug. 2008: 26.
39 Statesman.com 3 Aug. 2008 < http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/08/03/0803libertarians.html?plckCurrentPage=3&sid=sitelife.statesman.com>.
40 Davis, Stephen. Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga. New York City: Quill/William Morrow & Co., 1985.
41 AD No. 93, op. cit.; AD No. 99 (Aug. 10, 2007); AD No. 105 (Feb. 27, 2008); AD No. 108 (Apr. 28, 2008); AD No. 111 (June 12, 2008); AD No. 113 (July 12, 2008).
42 Garza, Stephany. “Publishers, Stores Contend With Textbook Digitization.” DT 1 Aug. 2008: 1-2.
43 Gottesman, Aron A., Lall Ramrattan, and Michael Szenberg. “Samuelson’s ‘Economics’: The Continuing Legacy.” JLS Summer 2005: 95-104; Rothbard, Murray N. “Paul Samuelson’s ‘Economics,’ Ninth Edition.” 1973. Rpt. The Logic of Action, Vol. II: Applications and Criticism From the Austrian School. Cheltenham, U.K.: Edward Elgar, 1997: 518-522.
44 Perez-Pena, Richard. “The Classic Rock Magazine Is Switching to a Smaller, Rack-Friendly Size.” NYT 11 Aug. 2008: A4.
45 Carlson, Peter. “How Does It Feel?” WP 4 May 2006: C1; Draper, Robert. Rolling Stone Magazine: The Uncensored History. New York City: Doubleday, 1990.
46 Kunstler, James Howard. “Reality Bites Again.” 19 Aug. 2008 The Daily Reckoning <http://www.dailyreckoning.com/Issues/2008/DR081908.html#essay>.
47 AD No. 89n25 (Mar. 29, 2006); AD No. 98 (June 11, 2007).
48 AD No. 89, op. cit.; EAD No. 9 (Oct. 23, 1999).
49 Cringely, Robert X. [Mark Stephens] Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can't Get a Date, rev. ed. New York City: HarperBusiness, 1996: 34.