There Goes the Neighborhood Some More

Austin Dispatches
No. 97
Mar. 13, 2007

The Notorious B.I.G. was almost right. I've tentatively determined that mo' problems doesn't accompany mo' money. Instead, the amount of problems stays about the same, but problems themselves change in response to mo' money. For one thing, the problems are more interesting.1  
My car's odometer passed 100,000 miles; coincidentally, I'm contending with some costly preventive maintenance.

Worse, my landlord put me in a bind about renewing my lease. I should've received notice in December, about 60 days before my previous lease expired. Instead, I received this notice, dated Dec. 11, last month. The best rate the landlord offers locks me into a 13-month lease. A shorter lease means a rent increase. I've resisted such long leases before, because of uncertainty about the future.
I was annoyed enough to finally seek new housing, through Habitat Hunters. Jody Lockshin and Susan Speyer were terrific at coming up with some choices, especially with the time limit.2  Unfortunately, my requirements – an apartment about the same size for less rent, within reasonable commuting distance of work – limited the choices to about a half-dozen complexes. One dollar per square foot is the going residential rental rate in the Greater Austin area, with few exceptions. I had to eliminate those half-dozen exceptions for other reasons, mostly ingress, egress, or the surrounding traffic patterns.
One complex I looked at had installed those newfangled talking toilets.3  The one in the unit I visited kept running its mouth at me and the leasing agent.
I turned to her. "Is there any coffee left back at the office?"
When she left, I rolled up my sleeves, pried open the lid, jammed a plunger down its throat and broke off the handle. "It's Giuliani time," I snarled.4
The toilet briefly gurgled. Then it stopped and I knew it was dead.5 
The leasing agent returned. "Forget it," I said. "This place isn't for me."
She checked the toilet. "What happened?"
"Suicide. It told me it couldn't take any more crap."
Neighborhood News
Meanwhile, the local periodicals are gushing over The Domain shopping center, which opened, if not grandly, March 8-9.6 The upscale development, manipulated by city officials, has probably helped increase the local residential rents (although not as much as federally induced inflation),  which is why I went looking for a new apartment.

The City of Austin sweetened the development with tax abatements, which means local tax rates are too high in the first place, while other businesses, especially local, are being taxed at a disadvantage vis-à-vis their more politically powerful competitors.7  Now the mall makes the neighborhood seem “upscale,” which means regular people won’t be able to afford rents. The Statesman’s Feb. 27 business section reports most apartments in the mixed-use project will rent for more than $1,000/month for less square footage than my place.8

But that's OK with city officials, because the area was “on the verge of decline," according to Councilman Brewster McCracken.9  Decline? I've lived here seven years and the only decline was during the recession.  The area has since rebounded, no thanks to any government at any level.10  Some of the other rentals have been set aside as affordable housing, meaning a government-ordered giveaway to people who don’t have their act together (note to self: upgrade car alarm).11  Worse, a law firm will move into Domain office space. No doubt the lawyers will be charging higher fees to cover the cost of their new lair.12

So what do we get for our troubles? A half-complete project that requires more cops than at the state Capitol just to direct visitors through the fenced-in routes wending through the construction debris, whereupon you spend a half-hour looking for a parking spot, then go into big-name stores selling brand-name clothes so ugly the designers must be obliged to export them for their native countries to remain in the European Union. And for all the hue and cry from people who have the clout about not wanting Austin to look like Los Angeles, the completed parts of The Domain looks remarkably Southern Californian, especially at sunset.

In other neighborhood news, the Feb. 23 Austin Chronicle contains an article on Filipino restaurants, including one that opened on Parmer Lane between Tomanet Trail and Limerick Avenue last summer.13

In the early morning of Feb. 18, I witnessed the aftermath of a two-car collision at the intersection of Duval Road and the northeast-bound frontage road of MoPac Expressway. On Feb. 9, News 8 Austin reported an auto collision at Parmer Lane and MoPac.

The Onion confirms that several location shots in “Office Space” were filmed nearby.14

The Dancing Dominatrix, and Other Excursions

Feb. 18: The lingering cough left over from the flu finally ended, so I went out for the evening in the first serious way since New Year’s Eve.  At The Copa, one of the instructors handed out Mardi Gras beads. I wore them inside my silk shirt, so they didn’t interfere in dancing with partners. But to make the beads somewhat visible, I unbuttoned the shirt a bit more. All I needed were some aggressively cheesy pickup lines so I could be laughed out of the club.

Instead, I was invited to join a group, including a former Playboy Bunny, which crashed a private party at Ringside at Sullivan’s for the cast of the stage version of “The Lion King,” playing at the UT Performing Arts Center.15 Good thing I didn’t have to pay to get in.16 We had to find this out surreptitiously in between dancing to the Cuban band, the reason for us crashing. We were the only ones dancing, too, at least until the waiters set up more tables on the floor.

Mar. 1: Attended the grand opening of Cissi’s Market, a frou-frou grocery store on South Congress Avenue, which coincided with First Thursday.17  I had to slip out of the monthly meeting of the Society for Technical Communication, which has become an increasingly tedious imposition on my time since I agreed to serve as a committee chairman – or whatever cutesy title the STC uses these days. 

Mar. 2: The Blanton Museum held a Brazilian-theme version of its monthly party, to coincide with "The Geometry of Hope," an exhibit of Latin American abstract art.18  I thought it interesting the maker of Tinker Toys is moving into the fine arts.19  We visitors were crowded into the first-floor atrium, waited endlessly for drinks or hors d’oeuvres, and talked so noisily the bands were almost inaudible. Lots of officious museum types kept blocking me at every turn when I wanted to get away from the crowd with a drink in my hand. They were worried about the exhibit artwork. I saw it: Food and beverage stains would be an improvement. Upstairs, the exhibits were unchanged from the grand opening.20  

I did chat with an acupuncturist, but I didn't needle her about her work.

Mar. 3: A coltish woman with a blonde crop and a pearl dog collar arrived in The Copa's Buzios Room near the lesson's conclusion. In a brisk Commonwealth accent, Rifa told me she was visiting town and praised my dancing. The song concluded. We murmured pleasantries about dancing together again soon. I escorted her off the dance floor. She moved to the bar. I moved to the next dance.
Soon, I calculated Rifa might be receptive to another twirl.
She paused. "I'm still shopping around."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm shopping around for a Mexican."
"What are you shopping around for?"
She relented and we danced a second time. Soon she demanded I lead her more forcefully. I've danced salsa for about six years and she said she was a novice. I looked at her skeptically.
"Look, I'm a dominatrix."
I looked skeptically at her again.
"Be more aggressive," she insisted. "Boss the bitch around." She accompanied her words with a series of pelvic thrusts.
We don't use riding crops or leather corsets in salsa dancing. Nor do we regularly deploy pelvic thrusts. Certain proprieties are still observed. Regardless, we must be mindful of injury, so I kept leading her the same close way before she started critiquing.
"That's better," she said.
At the finale, she dropped to her knees and thanked me. While I was considering the proper response, she scampered to the bar, to resume draping herself around various swarthy customers, probably in search of rough trade.
Barbie, a mirthful brunette I've danced with, had been watching all this while leaning against the newel. I leaned in to talk to her under the music. "Drunk foreigner," I said.
Barbie laughed knowingly.

Mar. 4: I drove the new 183-A toll road, while it’s still free of charge, to Liberty Hill and back.21 

Later, for $4, I saw Robert Cray perform at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, part of the Texas Independence Day celebrations.22 

At the same event, promoters handed out free samples of Spam. So I tried some, for the first time ever, astounding as it may seem. Then again, I never drank coffee when I was a reporter, either. The Spam tasted bland, with a grainy texture. In other words, a very low-quality lunch meat, of the sort I never bought even during my lowest periods.23 

Austin Death Watch

After years of wrangling, the uncompleted Intel site downtown was blown up to make way for a new federal courthouse. Expect construction to delay your visit downtown through 2012. What’s happened there, of course, is a perfect metaphor for the local ruling elite’s mismanagement of our city.24  The demolition didn’t even happen the way the engineers hoped. Big pieces of the structure still stand, so the contractor had to close Nueces Street between Fourth and Fifth streets.25

Legal wrangling for the infamous 1991 yogurt shop murder continues. The upshot: The man convicted must be retried.26  Back when I lived in Waco, worked in newspapers, and visited Austin often, a couple of libertarians I knew, fairly useless to me, were convinced some sort of conspiracy or frame-up was attached to the crime and wanted me to uncover the real story. I pointed out that I didn’t live in Austin; what’s more, I didn’t do that kind of work for free. “Who’s going to put up the money and make it worth my while to investigate this? You?” I asked. That ended that discussion.

A letter in the March 2 Chronicle mentions the City Council approved fluoridation of the water for $1 million in January. This, the writer says, despite the health problems.27  Of course, the letter can’t mention all the potential problems, such as the possible connection between fluoride and hypothyroidism or hypothyroid-like symptoms,28  and other documented health concerns about fluoride that overlap with those raised by the likes of Murray Rothbard and the John Birch Society.29  The matter could be the focus for a broad-based local coalition.30  Don’t hold your breath.31 

The Austin Police Department faces the prospect of 150-plus cops retiring this year. Naturally, civic leaders are concerned.32  Frankly, we might be better off without so many cops around, given the historically dubious origins of the police, controversies over use of force, abuses of authority, glimpses of possible big, juicy scandals just below the thin blue veneer, and rapid consumption of the overtime budget.33  It’d be cheaper, too.

The Austin fire chief reprimanded two 911 dispatchers for their inaction that charbroiled a longstanding barbecue joint near campus.34 Actually, I’m surprised the ruling elite hasn’t exploited this incident to start a crusade against barbecue – all that smoke, and red meat, and artery-clogging sauce, and people having a good time – akin to the one against smoking on private property.35

The University of Texas added another tentacle of empire this month with the establishment of a chair in national security at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.36  The chair is half-named for Walt Rostow, a Communist fellow traveler37 turned economist and national security adviser to presidents Kennedy and Johnson.38 

As an economist, he came up with the notion of automatic, inevitable stages of economic growth for a nation, provided it already has a strong, centralized state.39 As a national security adviser, he contributed to America’s debacle in Southeast Asia, including manipulation of intelligence reports.40

Comments at the inaugural luncheon from his widow and from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger tip off the observant that this ritual continues the tradition of academics serving as “court intellectuals,” who provide pseudo-scientific rationalizations for the grisly actions of the corporatist, managerial-therapeutic, warfare-welfare state in exchange for pieces of power, pelf and pomp.41

Ironically, the widow spoke against the current administration because – what? – it’s an embarrassing reminder that the same mindset and policies failed then42 and fail now?43 

Similarly, the Feb. 22 Daily Texan carried a paean to the late Barbara Jordan, closet case, former LBJ School teacher, and onetime black Democratic officeholder, who’s treated like some sort of saint by those who currently frame the local civic discourse.44  I saw her once on television and pegged her as a pious fraud. Meanwhile, Rothbard once wrote of her:

… sounding for all the world like a basso Franklin Roosevelt, complete to the Groton accent and the whistled s's, whose call for a "national community" was strongly reminiscent of Adolf Hitler, though Hitler, of course, had a lot more pizzazz.45

We’ll reframe that discourse yet.46 

Cultural Canapés

I passed by a beauty salon poster that exhorted me to “be curly.” So I lobbed custard pies at the customers. Nyuk nyuk nyuk.47

E-mail: austindispatches -at- swbell net

The Notorious B.I.G. [Christopher Wallace]. “Mo Money Mo Problems.” Life After Death. Bad Boy 73011, 1997.
2 AD No. 55 (Sep. 3, 2003); AD No. 56n58 (Oct. 1, 2003).
3 Beveridge, John. “Talking Toilet a Wee Bit Over the Limit.” (Melbourne, Australia) Herald-Sun 26 May 2006, 1st ed.: 26.
4 Brenner, Marie. “Incident in the 70th Precinct.” VF Dec. 1997: 284.
5 Citizen Kane. Mercury Productions/RKO Radio Pictures, 1941.
6 Seetharam, Tara. “Style & Design Guide.” Tribeza Mar. 2007: 111; Terrell, Jim C. “North Austin’s Newest, Sleekest Development Debuts Friday.” NAB 7 Mar. 2007: 1+; Youens, Rachel. “Downtown Living Moves North.” Community Impact Newspaper Feb. 2007: 1+.
7 AD No. 68n24 (June 21, 2004); Novak, Shonda. “Tax Role” AAS 4 Mar. 2007: A1+.
8 Novak. “The Living is Upscale at The Domain.” AAS 27 Feb. 2007: D1+.
9 Novak. “Tax Role,” op. cit.
10 AD No. 37 (Apr. 25, 2002); AD No. 52 (July 13, 2003); AD No. 92 (Sep. 27, 2006).
11 Novak. “The Living is Upscale at The Domain,” op. cit.
12 Mistretta, A.J. “Law Firm, Related Companies to Take Offices at Domain.” ABJ 2 Mar. 2007: 5.
13 Vann, Mick. “As Many Culinary Influences as Islands.” AC 23 Feb. 2007: 42-43.
14 EAD No. 4n2 (March 24, 1999); EAD No. 5n6 (June 1999); O’Neal, Sean. “Austin, They F***ing Shot That!” The Onion 22 Feb. 2007: 29.
15 “Theatre.” AC 16 Feb. 2007: 78.
16 EAD No. 10n22 (Nov. 22, 1999).
17 Wood, Virginia. “Food-o-File.” AC 2 Mar. 2007: 52.
18 Van Ryzin, Jeanne Claire. “Redefining Arte.” AAS 4 Mar. 2007: J1+.
19 Strange, Craig. Collector's Guide to Tinker Toys. Paducah, Ky.: Collector Books, 1996.
20 AD No. 91n13 (July 2, 2006).
21 Humphrey, Katie. “Newest Tollway Opens With Fest, Pomp, Bumps.” AAS 4 Mar. 2007: B1+.
22 Ankrum, Nora. “Calendar: This Week.” AC 2 Mar. 2007: 94; “Roadshows.” Idem., 120; Roberts, Jim. “B.B. and Cray, Johnny and Stevie Ray.” DB Feb. 1986: 30.
23 AD No. 59 (Dec. 2, 2003); EAD No. 1 (Dec. 1998).
24 AD No. 55n24 (Sep. 3, 2003).
25 Coppola, Sarah. “Contractor: Intel Shell’s Remains Not a Threat.” AAS 27 Feb. 2007: B1+; Coppola and Melissa Mixon. “Thousands Watch Shell Buckle.” AAS 26 Feb. 2007: A1+.
26 Osborn, Claire. “Yogurt Shop Case Must Be Retried.” AAS 27 Feb. 2007: B1+.
27 Jacobson, J.J. “Against Fluoride.” Letter. AC 2 Mar. 2007: 12.
28 Shames, Richard, and Karilee H. Shames. Thyroid Power: Ten Steps to Total Health. New York City: HarperResource, 2001: 169-175; Shomon, Mary J. Living Well With Hypothyroidism: What Your Doctor Doesn't Tell You – That You Need to Know, 1st ed. 2000. Rpt. New York City: Quill, 2001: 32.
29 "Fluoridation Revisited." TNA, 14 Dec.1992: 36-39. Rpt. The Irrepressible Rothbard: The Rothbard-Rockwell Report Essays of Murray N. Rothbard. Ed. Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr. Burlingame, Calif.: Center for Libertarian Studies, 2000.: Ch. 59.
30 Eisler, Dan. “Toothpaste.” E-mail to KT Hernandez Woods, 6 Oct. 2006.
31 Doherty, Brian. Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement. New York City: PublicAffairs, 2007: 588-589, 593-595.
32 Plohetski, Tony. “Regtirees Could Put Police in a Bind.” AAS 4 Mar. 2007: A1+.
33 AD No. 80 (June 21, 2005); AD No. 86n8 (Nov. 13, 2005); AD No. 92, op. cit.; Dunbar, Wells. “Solidarity Blossoms.” AC 2 Mar. 2007: 18.
34 Plohetski. “2 Disciplined for Inaction on Bert’s Blaze.” AC AAS 3 Mar. 2007: E1+.
35 AD No. 89n4 (Mar. 29, 2007); Levin, Marc. “Testimony Needed to Oppose Proposed State-Wide Smoking Ban.” AL 11 Mar. 2007.
36 AD No. 76 (Jan. 17, 2005); Sondgeroth, Jessica. “UT Adds National Security Chair.” DT 5 Mar. 2007: 1-2A.
37 Halberstam, David. The Best and the Brightest, rev. ed. New York City: Ballantine Books, 1992: 158.
38 Ibid., 43-44, 123-124, 150, 155-162, 167-169, 356, 626-627, 636-638; Reeves, Thomas C. A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy. New York City: The Free Press, 1991: 152, 183, 282, 288, 451n1.
39 Rothbard. Man, Economy, and State, With Power and Market, scholar's ed. Ed. Joseph Stromberg. Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2004: 972-973.
40 Baritz, Loren. Backfire: A History of How American Culture Led Us into Vietnam and Made Us Fight the Way We Did, 1st ed. New York City: William Morrow and Co.,1985: 268-270; Halberstam, op. cit., 638.
41 Nisbet, Robert A. The Present Age: Progress and Anarchy in Modern America. 1988. Rpt. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003: 26-28, 48-49, 56, 64-74, 78-83; Rothbard. “Revisionism and Libertarianism.” LF Feb. 1976: 3.
42 Baritz, op. cit., passim.; Hackworth, U.S. Army Col. David. H. (ret.), and Julie Sherman. About Face. New York City: Simon & Schuster, 1989: Ch. 14-18; Halberstam, op. cit., passim.; Kwitny, Jonathan. Endless Enemies: The Making of an Unfriendly World, 1st ed. New York City: Congdon & Weed, 1984: Ch. 21; Mann, James. Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet. New York City: Viking, 2004: Ch. 3; McGehee, Ralph W. Deadly Deceits: My 25 Years in the CIA. New York City: Sheridan Square Publications, 1983: Ch. 6, 8, 10; Trento, Joseph J. The Secret History of the CIA. New York City: Forum, 2001: Ch. 43-45.
43 AD No. 93n1 (Oct. 15, 2006).
44 Brown, Angela Faye. “Barbara, Barack and Action.” DT 22 Feb. 2007: 4A; Moss, J. Jennings. "Barbara Jordan: The Other Life." The Advocate  5 Mar. 1996: 38-45.
45 Rothbard. “Democratic Convention Notes.” LF July 1976: 4.
46 Lakoff, George. Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate: The Essential Guide for Progressives, rev. ed. White River Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004.
47 Maurer, Joan Howard. Curly: An Illustrated Biography of the Superstooge. Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press, 1985.