GREENS CALL NEW OIL DRILLING A GLOBAL WARMING RISK, URGE CONGRESSMEMBERS TO DO EVERYTHING POSSIBLE TO THWART ANWR AND ALL NEW DRILLING.You have to admire their absolutism in wanting to prohibit “all new drilling” while simultaneously acknowledging that “the approach of a peak in oil production” threatens the “world economy”. This is logically consistent if the goal is first and foremost to abolish the existing oil economy and the wealth it has created.
Green Party members noted that new drilling not only threatened local lands and wildlife in Alaska, but also risked accelerating the advance of catastrophic global climate change.
"At a time when we're facing global warming and the approach of a peak in oil production, both of which threaten security and the world economy, it is extremely shortsighted and dangerous to expand drilling operations," said Greg Gerritt, secretary of the Green Party of the United States. "The White House and both Democrats and Republicans in Congress are in the thrall of corporate energy lobbies, and their deference to corporate profits is endangering the entire planet."
Thursday, March 31, 2005
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
When the doors open, Fat Maw Rooney is playing from the second floor landing overlooking the entrance lobby. We walk past them as we head up the stairs to claim front row balcony seats. The Orpheum opened in 1927 and the balcony hangs close to the stage with perfect sight lines. Lola holds our spot while I go back to observe the crowd arrive and experience the music. I saw this Milwaukee band for the first time two weeks ago, so this second time around the sounds have an enjoyable tinge of familiarity. When they finish I grab a beer and head back to Lola in the concert hall.
Somewhere in the vicinity of 8 pm, Bob Weir takes the stage in a blue t-shirt, shorts, sandals and guitar, and the band begins playing while two thousand fans listen and responded back with our own sounds appreciation. "Tennessee Jed" is the third song on the set list and as the music finishes the spirit of the Grateful Dead is completely established in the auditorium. The airwaves bounce and blend with each other into the unique and intensely layered complexity of live music.
Jamie and her husband sit next to us, and at set break Rick and I start drifting into the type of esoteric conceptual conversation that occasionally develops between strangers without any pretense to guard. It begins with the usual stuff about the weirdness of quantum mechanics and somehow drifts into the difference between numbers and words.
There is this reality we experience and there are two ways that people attempt to describe it. I’m inside a huge ornate old building with old red fabric on the chairs and floor, and intricate plaster molding on the walls behind the stage drapes and speakers and wires and lights, trying to explain how math is good for refining the validity of the words we choose, but useless for capturing the essence of our understanding of life.
Ratdog begins the second set with Weir singing “Me and Bobby McGee” which is forever about Janis, and he follows shortly thereafter with “Come Together” by John Lennon. I don’t know if it is tribute or adoration, but it is the first time Ratdog performed this old Beatles classic and the crowd is awestruck at the brilliance. What is the smallest aspect of a continuum? It is not perfection. It may be the optimum, the point where a wave reaches it highest deviation above the norm before returning back towards the whole. The show closes with “Sugar Magnolia” which is absolutely appropriate.
Afterwards Lola and I eat Gyros and Fries at the Parthenon because it is tradition when closing down State Street and with that act another Tuesday night concludes in Wisconsin.
Monday, March 28, 2005
Over the last week I have been writing about how beliefs about nature and life on this planet form the underpinnings of political forces seeking to change society. It is a testament to the success of science that every discussion about human life on a living planet is debated using the phrases of science, and since our political future depends on the outcome of these current debates, it is important to have a correct understanding of both what science is, and what science is not. The following article is a good starting point.
All knowledge is not the same. No knowledge is absolutely certain. Knowledge that can be called scientific must be observable, reproducible and above all able to withstand detailed doubt about its validity. Both the academic and corporate scientific communities are big money industries, where individuals have vested interests in cooperation, stability and good outward public appearance, and the media is devoid of critical scientific thought. Without the checking step of continual skepticism, the ideas that become widely accepted as science begin to drift into meaningless wishing or dogmas of faith.
An Introduction to Scientific Thinking Dr. R. Timothy Patterson Department of Earth Sciences Carleton University Copyright © 1997 modified after: Steven D. Schafersman Department of Geology Miami University,
Science is a method of investigating nature--a way of knowing about nature--that discovers reliable knowledge about it. There are other methods of discovering and learning knowledge about nature, but science is the only method that results in the acquisition of reliable knowledge.
Reliable knowledge is knowledge that has a high probability of being true because its veracity has been justified by a reliable method. Please note that I do not, as some do, make a distinction between belief and knowledge. Every person has knowledge or beliefs, but not all of each person's knowledge is reliably true and justified. In fact, most individuals believe in things that are untrue or unjustified or both: most people possess a lot of unreliable knowledge and, what's worse, they act on that knowledge!
The scientific method is practiced within a context of scientific thinking, and scientific (and critical) thinking is based on three things: using empirical evidence (empiricism), practicing logical reasoning (rationalism), and possessing a skeptical attitude (skepticism) about presumed knowledge that leads to self-questioning, holding tentative conclusions, and being undogmatic (willingness to change one's beliefs). These three ideas or principles are universal throughout science; without them, there would be no scientific or critical thinking.
Sunday, March 27, 2005
The landscape was drained of all color and large sections were mostly barren dirt except for the rotting stumps of long dead plants. The trees were without leaves and many showed horrible scars where past violence apparently ripped off limbs from the trunk. In places the once majestic trunks of old dead oaks were just lying on ground where humans had killed and discarded them. Even worse were the grassland ecosystems. Instead of the brilliant colors of native prairie flowers rising from the lush deep green hues of healthy plants, there was nothing but acre after acre where everything was dead, brown and matted down. The air was devoid of bees and butterfly's, and also deathly quiet since no crickets chirped or mosquitoes buzzed.
I did see a few birds now and then. Some were huddled together in small flocks looking scared and hopeless. Some were in solitary flight making a desperate search for any kind of nourishment. There was a dead raccoon and a dead squirrel, killed by the machines of man, and the only free living mammals I observed were two deer standing in field near French Creek on Highway D outside of Platteville. I wondered how much longer they could survive the intrusive human sprawl.
Tragically the only common animals left in the area were herds of oppressed cows on the omnipresent industrial factory farms. In some places, dozens of unfortunate bovines were crowed together in filthy mud filled enclosures, and in other places individual beings were forced into stalls so small the living creature could not even turn around. When the insects die, then the plants die, then the birds and animals go extinct in the wild as nature collapses, and all because humans have killed the ecology of the planet.
Maybe Austin King is correct and the world is in immediate danger of dying because of human greed. After all, how can I deny what I saw with my own eyes on Easter Sunday.
Saturday, March 26, 2005
Madison’s municipal government is currently governed by elected officials that fervently believe political ideologies transcending administration of a medium sized city. The elected official mix contains at least three groups of politicians describable as COWS, Progressives and Greens. All three groups are deadly serious about using whatever government power they can procure to advance their ideology based social agendas.
Notably absent from the Mayors list is any comment about the District 8 race between challenger Kami Eshraghi and incumbent Austin King, who is the most unapologetically Extreme Leftist on the Council. King’s core belief and value system is apparent his admission that he is Alderman Austin King Oil Addict. Kami Eshraghi should question why Austin King believes the oil based American economy is equivalent to alcoholism. As a hypocrisy check, it should also be determined if King has an active driver’s license.
The Oil Addicts Anonymous Group is one of many activities supported by the Rainforest Action Network founded by Randy Hayes. The choice of Madison, Wisconsin for the initial chapter may be due to this town’s concentration of true believers in the Rainforest Action Network Philosophy. The philosophy is derived from the realization that socialism and communism have failed globally, and it is an attempt at a new alternative to capitalism that depends entirely on creating the belief that human activity is killing nature.
Capitalism, as the economic system’s number one rising star, has achieved dominance over other systems such as socialism or communism. It has also become more urgently problematic. The current model of capitalism, expanded greatly by the frenzy of “freetrade” economic globalization, is an absurd economic system rapidly destroying nature, cultural diversity, and decent local life.
We should remember that there is no social equity on a dead planet. There are no economic developments or jobs on a dead planet. There is no stable social order on a dead planet.
The flaws in this reasoning will require greater explanation, but the key point is that nature in entirety can not be simultaneously vibrant and resilient, while being fragile and weak. Austin really needs to take a drive into the country and look at the world as it exists. Madison is a dynamic city with a good quality of life, largely because tax revenue from the entire state is funneled into this government town. Madison is, however, growing into a more economically diverse city, and the serious issues faced by this community deserve elected officials who do not hate and fear the society outside their residential bubble.
Friday, March 25, 2005
Thursday, March 24, 2005
A second theory proposes that as our direct ancestors mastered the ability to throw stones, they gained a tremendous advantage over both their predators and their prey. Individual survival improves proportionately to the distance from danger. The ability of the human brain to calculate spatial distances, and then coordinate the firing of neurons and the twitching of muscle fibers to launch an object and hit a target, may be the decisive reason humans survived into existence.
So kudos to Illinois and UW - Milwaukee for a great basketball game tonight. On to the Elite Eight Fighting Illini, and excellent effort from the beer town boys. Stay tuned tomorrow for the Badgers and let's hope they can hit at least 53% from behind the arc.
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
1. - Walkability
2. - Connectivity
3. - Mixed-Use & Diversity
4. - Mixed Housing
5. - Quality Architecture & Urban Design
6. - Traditional Neighborhood Structure
7. - Increased Density
8. - Smart Transportation
9. - Sustainablity
10. - Quality of Life
Taken together they form a utopian vision of human society that derives from a conceptual mix of fairytale nostalgia simpler times, a absolute conviction that pristine nature is more valuable than human use of the land, and a contempt for the freedom of mobility that has allowed average humans to optimize privacy by escaping crowding. All of the New Urbanism writing is loaded with immeasurable words, like healthy and smart, that sound good but are essentially expressions of desires rather than facts. If you sugar coat crap there will be people that will swallow it whole and believe themselves nourished.
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
“Under his tenure, the country has seen a sustained period of growth and a big fall in unemployment, thanks in part to his audacious introduction of a 35-hour working week and measures to boost youth employment.”In 2001, at the height of Lionel Jospin’s leadership, he gave a speech On the Future of an Enlarged Europe which outlined his socialist vision for the region.
Europe must help devise the regulation which the world needs. To prevent private-sector interests from stifling the general interest, to prevent short-term profit-seeking from ignoring social justice and damaging the environment, "rules of the game" must be defined.How ironic that less than three years later, France dismantles its 35 hour work week as the socialist policy experiment proves a disastrous failure. It seems that intention did not quite match up with effect in the dynamic complexity of the real world.
The only development is sustainable development. The planet is under threat. We are accountable to future generations. Europe, historically an industrial heartland, a region having a high population density and poorly endowed with raw materials, has learned from the two oil shocks that the Earth is not an inexhaustible inventory of natural resources, …Europe, which spearheads the creation of a world environment authority as proposed by my government, should have an ambitious policy aimed at devising and promoting technologies which respect the environment.”
“But with unemployment at 10 percent, politicians of all stripes acknowledge that the country's unique 35-hour law has failed in its original ambition: to force employers to hire massively. What's more, there are strong signs that it hurt living standards as employers froze salaries to make up for lost labor.” “The intention was to spread work around, but the effect was to spread our salaries around,” Thierry Breton, France's new finance minister, said last week.”Something must of gotten calculated wrong in the policy equations. People study history because you can not study the future, and history teaches that all efforts are trial and error. When the experiment involves imposing universal mandatory changes on society, the consequences can be unforeseen, unintended and tragic. I hope this is something the COWS in the Madison neighborhood fully appreciate.
Monday, March 21, 2005
This group functions as a tactical think tank for the ideas of Joel Rogers, the author of How Divided Progressives Might Unite and theorist behind a model of economic development he terms the “High Road”. Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz is a supporter of the principles of this model and cites them frequently in policy discussions. Dr. Rogers is very clear about wanting to test his theory that public policy control of cities can produce greater eco-friendly wealth and justice for the general population.
“A key component of COWS’ work is our advocacy of “high road” economic development strategies – strategies that promote high-quality jobs under competitive conditions, environmental sustainability, corporate accountability, and community revitalization. Our approach runs counter to the conventional model of economic growth, which typically ignores job quality, erodes the tax base, harms the environment, lacks accountability to broader community interests, and is unfriendly to labor.”Experimenting with a real society, with people’s lives and fortunes, is very expensive and it takes willing partners in government to both pass the “reforms” and pony up the necessary money. As the last two centuries have demonstrated, it is hard to control all the variables in a social experiment, and when social experiments go wrong, the results can be tragic.
“COWS prides itself on the “Wisconsin Idea”: the use of University resources — in concert with state government and community, labor, and business leaders — to improve existing social arrangements and policy through bold, informed experiment.”
Sunday, March 20, 2005
Mayor Cieslewicz is part of a sub-group of Democrats united around a belief in the power of municipal government as the best way of organizing human life on earth. These “Municipal Democrats” love cities in the same way that Capitalist Businessmen love corporate organizations. Furthermore, both Corporate Managers and Government Managers want to design, build and grow organizations that match their visions and ideals. Cieslewicz is a true believer as he proudly expresses in his writing.
“Cities are good. Whether the issue is providing quality public services, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, providing affordable housing or creating family-supporting jobs, cities offer policies that can work for America.”
The automobile is the greatest single invention empowering individual freedom of movement, and the rise of car ownership corresponds with the rise in American prosperity. Given the belief structure of the Municipal Democrats, it is not surprising that they must take a stand against all aspects of the automobile culture in America. They must demonize “fossil fuels", they must demonize “urban sprawl”, and they ultimately must demonize the automobile itself.
“Rogers' ideas fit nicely with those of Scott Bernstein from the Center on Neighborhood Technologies in Chicago. Bernstein demonstrated, again with real world examples, how working with poor families to reduce their reliance on cars for transportation and practicing energy conservation could allow them to save enough to buy their first home and start accumulating wealth.”
“His eco-friendly household budgeting combined with Rogers' high road job creation present exciting possibilities to turn large numbers of the poor into the middle class. And it is cities, with their density and efficiency of resource use, that mix it all up and make it all possible.”
Saturday, March 19, 2005
The King Club is a great location, just a block off the Capital and a couple blocks from the brand new county jail. It's in one of the old rectangular box business buildings from a century ago, only now the walls are painted black and the big front window is covered up behind the stage. The place has a time earned urban feel, unlike places where the owners re-finished the wood floors and spent big bucks on new fixtures. Around 1 a.m. there are still about 50 people in the place and the music is rippling the cigarette smoke in the air. I'm giving the nod to Groovulous tonight because I'm a fan, but Fat Maw Rooney did a great job and I'm looking forward to giving them a second listen.
Friday, March 18, 2005
Thursday, March 17, 2005
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
The first statement shows no concern that property taxes are already excessively high and the burden needs to be diminished. The second implies that City Council District 19 needs additional transportation choices beyond walking, biking, busing and driving. I’m guessing this means taxpayer funded local rail systems and not licensed privately owned helicopter taxi service.
“I will promote fiscal responsibility by holding the line on property tax increases near the rate of inflation plus growth in new construction”.
“I will work with others to improve Madison Metro services and bike routes, and to advance regional transportation choices.”
Interestingly his biography does not mention that he was a Policy and Planning Analyst, Senior Special Assistant and Public Liaison for former UW Chancellor David Ward. The best published insight into his true thought process may be found in the story about this Wisconsin Economic Report from September 2004.
‘To increase the state’s academic strengths, the report suggests that the government needs to play a stronger role in pushing these changes forward, reversing the trend of lowered funds and promoting connections outside the university.”Government needs to play a stronger role and money always helps is the conceptual heart of the modern day Democratic Party. Noel Radomski has reached this career point by being a dependable mouth piece for his superiors, and if he continues merely as a predictable vote for the Educational Special Interests and the Democratic Party, he can have a long career as a City Councilman. If he matures to the point where he listens to his constituents and learns to make his own decisions, he may have a future as a political leader.
“We must do a better job, and the state needs to support us in doing a better job,” said Noel Radomski, a policy and planning analyst for UW-Madison. “Support doesn’t always equal money, although I’ve never heard of anyone who said money doesn’t help.”
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Casting about for potential candidates to be the next great crisis I discover to my delight, The Ethics of Face Transplants. To quote: “Some of the issues raised in the paper include society’s inability to deal with the unusual, concerns about confidentiality and maintaining anonymity of the recipient or donor.” How do you recruit a facial transplant donor? Should we have a regional or national facial transplant registry? Most importantly, how can the medical establishment help American society find the ability to deal with the bizarre?
Monday, March 14, 2005
The individual brainless bacteria start acting as if they were part of one body. A slimy amorphous biofilm body where individuals stop acting on their own and start acting for the greater good. To quote the article: “Biofilms have long baffled researchers because of their stupefying capacity to behave like a "super-organism" that vetoes the normal characteristics of a bacterial cell in favor of new group behaviors.” Millions of living organisms surrendering individuality to live as an unthinking part of the greater whole.
Sunday, March 13, 2005
After the game we head to Luther’s for the Marcia Ball show. The place is packed to the legal capacity of the club and seating is non-existent by the time we arrive. The band begins so we take an unoccupied reserved table until the rightful party arrives halfway through the first set. As usual, Marcia pounds the piano and the place rocks then pulls back on the slower soulful ballads. The crowd thins towards the end of the evening, evolving into the intimate uncrowded music box atmosphere that is so special. Well after midnight we finish the outing with the good Mexican food at La Bamba. Mmmm Taco.
Saturday, March 12, 2005
On one hand: “U.S. Senate Republicans want to pass patent reform, a permanent Internet tax moratorium and a permanent research and development tax credit in the next two years, members of the Senate Republican High Tech Task Force (HTTF) said Wednesday.”
On the other hand: “Gov. Jim Doyle wants you to pay Wisconsin's 5% sales tax whenever you pay to download a song, book, movie or piece of art. A little-noticed provision of the Democratic governor's proposed state budget would extend the sales tax to those Internet transactions, officials said Monday.”
Friday, March 11, 2005
This is a true statement but the aspect that creates, establishes or confers the “bad”, is not the self-interest. The bad comes exclusively from the word “heedless”. Self interest rewards peaceful cooperation with other humans. Non-violent, non-dangerous peace is always in a person’s self interest. It is when the self-interest becomes heedless of the consequences to others that the potential to become destructive arises. What is bad for morals and economics is destructive behavior, not self-interest.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
What I find interesting is not the common place hair splitting over the appropriate use of the word “crisis” rather than the word “problem”. Nor is it the infinite speculation over the implications of potential numerical projections. I have no real respect for either the excessive use of emotional words or for calculation based fortune telling. The interesting aspect of the reference above is the confession that it was only in his mid-thirties the financial aspects of the end of his life become a serious concern.
He writes: “At one point, I cashed out what retirement savings I had in an account, and just didn’t re-invest it. Back to square one.” What a brilliant way to capture the essence of the problem. All the time he was working he was paying Social Security taxes and paying into private account. Because he owned the assets in the private account, he had the right to take those assets, convert them to cash and spend it, because it was his own money. He laments that the assets were not re-invested, by which I assume he means at least in US savings bonds or an FDIC insured interest bearing bank account.
Of course the money he earned and paid to the government as Social Security taxes is long gone. If he dies before becoming Social Security eligible there is nothing left of his youthful labor except the comfort his dollars provided the beneficial recipients, either an elderly or disable person, or perhaps a defense contractor. It’s hard to track cash flow in government accounting because anyone paying attention knows that social security tax revenue is “converted” into government bonds, and the cash can go anywhere.
I understand and agree that as individuals we have an obligation to help others. I believe, however, that a person’s debt to society needs to be both quantifiable and limited. In other words, the government should not be allowed to place a debt on an individual that can not be satisfied. As a youth our writer worked at paying his debt to society which is good, however, the indiscretion of youth caused him to neglect his other obligation not to become to great a burden upon others. Perhaps this Social Security debate needs to focus on both aspects of this issue: How much do I owe to others and how much can I ask of others in return?
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
Monday, March 07, 2005
Truthout.org posted an article reaching the same conclusion that the debate is about Values and Convictions. In addition, the site posted the Democratic Senate Letter to the White House. Both Wisconsin Senators signed this document and reading the two items together makes clear the tone and initial tactics of the Democrats and their allies.
First, advocates for the status quo will depend on emotional rhetoric. The article uses the following words: Abolish, Assault, Bluster, Destructive, Drastic, Overwhelmingly, Peril, Propaganda, and Radical. Personally, I am putting these on a Democrat word list and will try not to use them. Emotion is a great way to gain short term action from people. Emotion can persuade young men to run into machine gun fire and young women to turn themselves into bombs. Values and convictions, however, are learned from the history of human endeavor and the ongoing yearning to find logic, reason and justice in life.
Second, the initial tactic will be defining the emotional value of the word privatization as a negative. The article uses variations of privatization six times in one page of writing. The letter signed by 42 Democratic Senators invokes the word seven times and ends by urging the President to “... publicly and unambiguously announce that you reject privatized accounts funded with Social Security dollars ...” Privacy is a good thing in the minds of most people, even the in extreme left, so there is no reason to let the word be turned into a negative. The administration should publicly and unambiguously announce that no reform will allow an individuals tax dollars go into another persons private account. Private means your contribution remains your money.
Sunday, March 06, 2005
Lola and I discuss being polite and calling ahead but it is such a good afternoon just to go with the flow. After a few stops and u-turns we end up knocking on what we conclude must be the correct door only to a neighbor pop out saying they are away for the next few hours. Sometimes drifting takes you where you want to be and sometime it just shows you the sights along the way. This is neither good nor bad in and of itself, for those terms can only be determined in comparison to desires and goals. We stop by Woodman’s for a loaf of bread and head home to eat and finish doing the weekend laundry.
Saturday, March 05, 2005
Vacation begins precisely at 4 in the afternoon as Lola and I settle into a 12th floor room at the Omni Hotel in downtown Austin, Texas. All the stuff during the earlier part of the day: driving to the airport as the radio plays “Stand by your Man”, pulling your damn belt off so the damn metal detector stops screaming, then killing time in the air with solitaire: all that stuff is travel. Vacation begins the moment we start making our own decisions about what to do next.
Casino el Camino is a dark bar on Sixth Street with black walls and Mayan decorations, for example, a patio mural of a priest, a corpse and a heart. Sixth Street is about night life and there is still daylight visible through the front wall of windows just below the ceiling. Lola plays the jukebox and I punch in “Invitation to the Blues” by Tom Waits which causes one of the twelve people present to grumble about unlistenable music. The bartender pours himself four shots as those front windows slowly get darker and then recommends we see the bats. The bats love the Austin nights.
A few blocks back towards Congress Avenue the Rasta boys and beggars are intermingling with the folks just waiting for the bus. In the bright windows of Buffalo Billiards I see the Wisconsin - Michigan State game on a monster screen and the Badgers are getting trounced. Lola chit-chats the locals and I concede defeat to a father and son dressed in green and cheering for State. It’s an early evening after work crowd that is standing in small groups around gaming tables, drinking beers, smacking balls, sliding pucks and paying with plastic. About this time I start looking around for any gold coins on the ground.
Lola says we need to have drinks at the Driskill Hotel which is all opulence and indulgence with bronze statues and light fixtures fashioned like handguns. Champagne and Brandy as the piano player plays to the room. Our young server says he wants a career in “health promotion” and I promptly question how bartending looks on a resume for that field. The discussion drifts into an analysis of prohibition and I caution him never to discount government overreaction to a legitimate problem. After all, this is the very place where Landslide Lyndon waited for the mystery votes that doomed poor Coke Stevenson.
It’s a cool night, the kind that’s good for walking and the Capital of Texas is literally up the street. Lola and I amble towards the dome until we hear singing. In a small room, an old black lady is playing keyboards while she sings with a distinctive voice. “Austin’s Own Legend” according to the table card. The audience is a guy wearing really bad drag, one K. D. Lange body double with entourage, assorted troubled youth and an 80 year old birthday girl. The Thompson machine gun on display means this is two bars in a row using firearms as decoration. On the way out after she finished, we tell Margaret Wright her singing stopped us and drew us in, which is true.
Friday, February 25, 2005
Lola insists that I get out of bed since it’s after 11 AM. The sun is slightly brighter through the cloud cover today and it’s time to eat. She takes us to an old building beside a deep gully that drains into the nearby Colorado River. The Iron Works was once a blacksmith shop in the frontier days of horse shoes and wrought iron fences. Workers on early lunch break keep the staff busy but the food is nothing special. No work calls us back today so when we finish the meal we just start walking down Chavez Street with no particular goal in mind. Upon reaching the Congress Avenue Bridge I coax Lola into walking across. To get to the other side is a legitimate, valid and time honored answer to the question why.
South of the river is a neighborhood retail area known simply as South Congress. In slow incremental stages, with frequent pauses to debate the wisdom of going forward, we eventually walk all the way to that six block cluster of small commercial buildings. Buying coffee at Jo’s we sit outside watching pedestrians dart through gaps in the arterial traffic flowing in and out of downtown. We glance around in stores of brightly painted imported Mexican objects and Lola points out the Continental Club for future reference.
At the end of the district we enter a small house remodeled as a gallery where a talkative young woman goes on in detail about what they have done and what they have for sale. Her husband emerges from a back room and we discuss all the advantages of abandoning cabinet doors and painting the walls red. We have browsed through the art shops and antique stores, plus the boot shop selling every color that can be dyed into leather, and Lola decides this is the place to buy something for herself. Politely declining to sign a guestbook we dash across traffic with our loot to catch the free bus ride back downtown.
As early evening settles in we walk to a section of downtown where old warehouses have been salvaged and transformed into restaurants. Friday night dinner crowds fill the streets and we feel fortunate to get quick seating at a small table in the front room of the Malaga Wine and Tapas Bar. I love brick walls all time worn and weathered and Lola loves being able to sample a variety of flavors, so the place suits us both. A plate of tiny roasted red peppers stuffed with goat cheese in olive oil with capers is among the seven Tapas tonight. We conclude with Flan and Port to maintain the Iberian consistency of the meal.
After dinner Lola walks us around the corner to Antone’s where Marcia Ball is playing a nine o’clock benefit. We already have tickets to see her at Luther’s in two weeks and I really want to explore something new. We walk around the block once and Lola agrees to head back to Sixth Street. I hear a blues band playing at the 311 Club so we settle into a back table to listen. The band is generically blues in the best sense. A bit raw and unpolished but when the guitar’s blend together just right, the sound is healing to the mind. Later on in the night a packed house at B. D. Riley’s Pub gets buzzed by the tighter more electric blues of the Eric Tessmer Band. Walking home I’m real happy.
Saturday, February 26, 2005
It’s a wet raining morning and Lola wants to venture outside for a Tex-Mex breakfast at Las Manitas on Congress Avenue. We hoist umbrellas and sally forth against the onslaught of the environment. Sloshing through the constant drizzle we end up at a crowded little hole in the wall restaurant and move into a freshly vacated booth. It’s all eggs and beans, salsa and juice, and we snarf it down until every last crumb has vanished.
With bellies loaded for the day we wander slowly back to the hotel, stopping in shops to seek refuge from the rain. Stores full of trinkets and junk and stores filled with objects of art, like toy cars made from Pepsi cans. Socialist realist ceramic Chairman Mao figurines are on sale while supplies last. We drink coffee in the lobby of the Frost Bank building so we can check it off a list of sites visited. All the time the rain keeps falling with no end in sight.
In the middle of the afternoon we grab a cab to the Continental Club for the afternoon matinee show. Redd Valkaert has a band playing and Billy Dee is onstage playing bass guitar. Billy used to tour with Dale Watson and I will forever remember the night Billy played the pillar of strength while Dale got blitz drunk on stage at the Club Tavern. The music twangs in the old small room and the waitress passes the hat around gathering offerings from the congregation. The people are giving freely in appreciation of the rapture.
At dark we manage to grab the last two seats at the end of La Traviata’s bar. Lola orders cold roasted beets and sweet red peppers and bresaola for an appetizer. The dried beef reminds her of the Wisconsin farmhouse dried beef Aunt Eileen made in winter from the fall slaughter. An orange labeled bottle of Seghesio Barbera proves fine as all the Seghesio vintages have been. After pasta with wild mushrooms Lola gets the staff talking about their excellent establishment and their recommendations for tomorrow.
Walking back under the cover of our two umbrellas the cold night rain has the buildings dark and the streets glistening. We spend a couple hours at The Vibe while a jam band plays under a covered deck in the open air of the back lot. The place ranks in the top two for worst restrooms in the district, however, the air is chilled and the beer is chilled and the band is playing slow harmonic twisted riffs to a backbeat of natural percussion. We make a few more stops on the way back home because the journey truly is part of the reward.
Sunday, February 27, 2005
It’s just another beautiful day in Austin and the sunshine illuminates the freshly washed city in celebration of Lola’s birthday. A gift of perfect weather is so thoughtful and sincerely appreciated. There is no rush to do anything and we leisurely get ready for the day before taking a taxi over to east Austin looking for Sunday Brunch. The driver goes through the neighborhoods of small houses east of the interstate and pulls into the parking lot of a closed and empty building. Plan A comes to a quick and total halt.
Plan B is nearby and we are dropped off at the front door of Hoover’s Cooking on Manor Road. The restaurant is mostly full and we get a table in a side room that we share with two large groups of black teens dressed in their Sunday go to church best. This place was recommended for authentic local food and we order barbecue chicken and sausage with sides of macaroni and cheese, fried okra and green beans. The beans taste exactly like my mother used to make and the meal is perfectly good home cooking.
When we finish we step outside, look around and decide to just start walking. Heading west we cross under the interstate and find ourselves on the University of Texas campus. The direction we are headed keeps sloping downhill as we pass stadiums and resident halls and bus stops and oil wells. Lola takes a homemade poster offering a reward for the return of a Salsa Dancing Squirrel off a street light. We want the picture to make sure we have the right critter before making any attempt to capture the varmint. Past the capital grounds and federal buildings we just keep walking in sunshine until we are back.
Taking only a few moments to refresh we grab a cab to go hear Dale Watson play the Chicken Shit Sunday show at Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon in north Austin. Ginny’s turns out to be a small white building standing alone on a small city lot. The front door and the back door are open to let the air in and Gene Kurtz, the bass player, is hanging around waiting for Dale to show up. In the meantime people are eating the free hotdogs set out on a table by the front door. At one table a group is playing dominos to pass the time.
Around five o’clock Dale rides up on an Indian motorcycle which he parks by the back door with the other cycles. People are beginning to spill outside, sipping on beers and waiting for the chicken. Lola and I inherit two seats at the bar and we take turns holding the space for each other. The music starts and the joint is packed and the lady tending bar is keeping real busy selling beers and set ups. Every now and then the band breaks and people line up for numbers corresponding to the grid floor of the wire mesh chicken cage. There is always a crowd around that cage waiting for that chicken to answer nature’s call.
The tip hat gets passed around and people chat intently with each other as if the band playing is nothing out of the ordinary. A camera crew from the cable channel A&E shows up and that is outside of the norm. Dale warns the crowd that attendance is consent but think twice if you should not been seen with the person on your arm. Ginny sits on a stool behind the bar and looks over a scene that is the epitomy of all that is good and authentic about real country music and the honky-tonk culture that nurtured the sound. I never did find any gold coins lying around but afterwards I’m thinking, this is as Texas as Texas gets and that’s good as gold any day.