By Chris-Rachael O... / Oct 29, 2012
- RSS Channel Showcase 6491648
- RSS Channel Showcase 1065670
- RSS Channel Showcase 1539098
- RSS Channel Showcase 5789212
Articles on this Page
- 10/30/12--10:44: _X-Raying Candy Will...
- 10/30/12--22:27: _DeadBlogging Halloween
- 10/30/12--23:49: _The Four Kinds of H...
- 10/31/12--10:12: _Backlists, Brawls a...
- 10/31/12--11:51: _Helicopters, Pin-Up...
- 10/31/12--18:19: _This Week in Geek N...
- 11/01/12--07:02: _Mayor Ford Ousts Me...
- 11/01/12--13:15: _Free Bus Rides to V...
- 11/01/12--14:53: _Encouraging Texas W...
- 11/01/12--23:40: _Bloody Balloon Batt...
- 11/02/12--08:41: _Day Trip: McKinney ...
- 11/02/12--11:41: _Austin 2012 Bond El...
- 11/02/12--13:46: _Austin Tech Job Rou...
- 11/03/12--08:19: _Pat Dixon’s positio...
- 11/04/12--18:49: _Tech Events Roundup...
- 11/05/12--05:32: _Mark McKinnon: Home...
- 11/05/12--10:40: _Perry Presides Over...
- 11/05/12--13:02: _Austin Post 3rd Ann...
- 11/06/12--05:52: _Mark McKinnon: Home...
- 11/06/12--06:34: _Austin Kickstarter ...
- 10/30/12--22:27: DeadBlogging Halloween
- 10/30/12--23:49: The Four Kinds of Halloween Candy
- 10/31/12--18:19: This Week in Geek Nov 1 - 7: Election Week Edition
- 11/01/12--07:02: Mayor Ford Ousts Mexicans to Keep Slaves Close at Hand
- Banning the practice of masters allowing slaves to hire themselves out for wages
- Banning slaves from living apart from their masters
- Banning masters from allowing their slaves to carry weapons
- Banning slaves from assembling for any purpose without a “respectable” white person being present
- Requiring ministers to devote one Sunday a month to spiritual instruction of slaves
- Banning anyone from conducting any business transaction with a slave without the master’s permission
- Forming a Vigilance Committee of Austin citizens to enforce strict compliance with these resolutions
- 11/01/12--13:15: Free Bus Rides to Vote & Clothing Advice for Election Day
- 11/01/12--14:53: Encouraging Texas Winter Weather Forecast Shifts to Pray For Rain
- 11/01/12--23:40: Bloody Balloon Battle Keeps the Gore Going After Halloween
- 11/02/12--08:41: Day Trip: McKinney Roughs Nature Park
- 11/02/12--11:41: Austin 2012 Bond Election Cheat Sheet
- 11/02/12--13:46: Austin Tech Job Roundup for Nov 2
- 11/03/12--08:19: Pat Dixon’s position on SH 45
- 11/04/12--18:49: Tech Events Roundup Nov 5 - 11
- 11/05/12--05:32: Mark McKinnon: Homegrown Kingmaker on Obama v. Romney (Part 1)
- 11/05/12--10:40: Perry Presides Over 250 Executions
- 11/05/12--13:02: Austin Post 3rd Anniversary Party
- 11/06/12--06:34: Austin Kickstarter of the Week - Pipsqueak
Parents, if you grew up in the 1980s, you were taught that nice old ladies who made fresh baked goods were just as trustworthy as the witch from Hansel and Gretel. In your developing little minds, the only people who handed out anything other than hermetically sealed, commercially made candy were psychopaths who hid razors in apples and poison in brownies. To this day, plenty of parents who grew up scared of Halloween candy won’t let their kids eat anything they trick-or-treated until it’s been x-rayed.
Surely there must be hundreds of cases of tampered candy every year to keep this paranoia alive. Right? C’mon, at least a few dozen.
Try around 80.
Not 80 per year. Eighty total reported cases since 1959. Nationwide. Not one of them resulted in a death. The absolute worst case left an adult needing a few stitches.
If you’re really worried about your kid’s Halloween candy, take a good hard look at your family. According to Snopes, the vast majority of alleged Halloween poisonings were actually clumsy attempts to cover up a child’s murder. In 1974, a man poisoned his son by spiking pixie sticks with cyanide so he could collect on a substantial life insurance policy. In 1970, a five-year-old boy died of a heroin overdose after eating his uncle’s drug stash. The family sprinkled more heroin onto the boy’s Halloween candy to protect the uncle.
The country was hit by a string of non-Halloween poisonings in 1982, including the death of 7 people from adulterated Tylenol. (Modern safety seals on all over-the-counter drugs are a direct result of this tragedy.) Halloween was decried as a deadly attack on the nation’s children. Every urban legend about tampered candy was trotted out as an undeniable fact heard from your mother’s neighbor or the kid in the next classroom. Airports, hospitals and police stations opened their x-ray machines to trick-or-treaters while malls started offering the world’s lamest candy in exchange for the alleged safety of trick-or-treating indoors.
Zero lives were saved.
Joel Best, a sociologist at the University of Denver who studies Halloween, hasn’t been able to find a single substantiated report of a child being killed or seriously injured from candy they were given while trick-or-treating.
In fact, Connie Opheikens, Community Relations Director of Samaritan Hospital in Moses Lake, Washington said her hospital hasn’t found a single contaminated piece of candy in 20 years. To her, the real benefit of x-raying candy is to make kids comfortable with the idea of being in a hospital. "If they have to come to the hospital and maybe they're going to have an x-ray, they might be worried ...We show them that the candy comes out just perfectly fine and if you have to have your arm x-rayed, your arm's going to be perfectly fine, too."
If you’re truly worried about someone trying to kill your kid this Halloween, keep them away from family members. Oh, and also keep them away from traffic. The candy they get from strangers is fine, but due to the sheer volume of people on the streets, pedestrians are four times more likely to be hit by a car on Halloween than any other night of the year.
As long as you stick to the sidewalks and keep an eye on traffic, you and your kids can safely gorge on their Halloween candy until they develop an uncontrollable twitch. It’s not from drugs, it’s just from all the sugar. They'll be fine in the morning. Honest.
Okay, look, I get that some neighborhoods get stupidly competitive about Halloween, but seriously, there’s no reason for this kind of competition over Cadbury Scare Eggs. I love them as much as the next sugar addict, but I’m not going to drag the kid behind the register into the stock room to get me some more.
That sweaty soccer mom bit me! Luckily, I’ve had my hipster inoculations, so I’m not worried about turning into a pink clad were-blonde.
Aw, man. I’m feeling kinda sweaty and nauseated. If I was a good person I wouldn’t give out any candy this year. It’s a good thing my Mad Scientist costume includes rubber gloves.
Is it just me or does everyone on sixth street smell like Chinese food? I’ve read about stores using the scent of chocolate chip cookies to lure people in. This is so much better.
Look, I have nothing against PDA, but that guy in a Looper costume looks like he’s eating Overly Orange Snooki’s face. Get a room, folks. Maybe you can split one with the Hurricane Sandy and Lady Liberty over there who can’t stop feeding one another some kind of sloppy barbecue. I hate to admit it, but the sauce smells amazing.
It seems like every third person downtown is rubbing their head and moaning. Pace yourselves, folks. I know Halloween only comes once a year, but if you’re already hung over by lunch, you won’t be in any condition to hook up with that Sexy Cookie Monster doing shots of Hypnotiq at your party tonight.
There are two guys passed out drunk at the only table in this Starbucks with an outlet. I tried nudging one of them and he just moaned at me. When I tried to reach around him to plug in my computer, the guy licked my face. Weird and repulsive, sure, but then he gave me a bloodshot glare and spat. I’m not sure which offends me more.
My stomach is killing me. Downtown smells amazing, but every time I walk up to a food cart, I’m hit by a wave of nausea. This is really annoying. My only consolation is that whatever I’ve caught seems to be going around. There are a lot of us with grumbly tummies wandering near the food carts, gagging a bit, then wandering off.
Man, this is embarrassing. I just ran into a guy I met at a Meetup. He offered me a couple aspirin, since apparently I look as bad as I feel. He’s pretty cute. I went in for an awkward hug to thank him for the aspirin and, well, I don’t know what came over me, but I licked his neck. I expected him to bolt - I know I would if he’d done the same thing to me - but he rolled his eyes and asked me to let him in on the big joke. Apparently, I’m the third person who’s licked him since noon.
I can’t tell if that’s supposed to be Psy from Gangnam Style or a hipster in an ill fitting suit. Either way, Sexy Bert and Sexy Ernie just dragged him behind the trash cans. Part of me wants to sneak around to see if there’s a Sexy Grouch hiding back there, too, but my childhood has already been scared enough by those costumes. Based on the noises, it sounds like the Sexy Sesame Street crew are having a disturbingly good time. I should care more, but I’m feeling pretty woozy.
Is that a shirtless bearded jogger in a top hat or Sexy Abraham Lincoln? Either way, he’s running like his pants are on fire. Maybe that’s why he’s only wearing boxer briefs and a healthy sweat.
I haven’t eaten anything since those Scream Eggs at the Wal-Greens. Man. I could really go for a Bloody Mary. Or a bloody steak. Or a bloody cosmo. Really, anything in the red food group would hit the spot. Heck, I’d lick the ketchup off that lady’s fingers if she’d let me. No, lady. Don’t waste it on the napkin. Let me help. Hey, stop hitting me.
Seriously? There’s a police blockade between me and my car. I wonder how many blocks I have to walk out of my way to get around it. This is ridiculous.
Whoa! I know Halloween gets a little rowdy on Sixth Street, but there’s no reason to wave some guns around just to keep drunks corralled. I’ve got an injured woman here, officers. Someone bit off two of her fingers.
Someone with a hearty sense of irony set fire to The Aquarium. Whoa. I can’t blame the cops for taking extreme measures to keep Trick or Treaters out of downtown. I was pretty worried about the lady with the missing fingers. I faded out for a little while there, and when I came to it looked like a dog had taken a few bites out of her. Luckily, a couple of EMT’s dressed like Walter White from Breaking Bad took the injured woman off my hands. I hope the police let her past the barricade.
Sirens make my head hurt. Can’t think straight. If I find the damn things, I’m gonna smash ‘em.
Looks like someone is strangling a fat, bearded guy dressed like Honey Boo Boo. What a stupid costume. I think I’m gonna help.
Must’ve passed out. Feeling better, tho. Bearded Boo Boo’s gone. I’m wearing his tutu. Thought it was pink, but really more red up close. Not so hungry now.
Firehouse Lounge is burning. I wonder if there are any...hey, I’m leaking. I think someone shot me.
I have a mildly irrational love of Cadbury Creme Eggs. I’m not one of those people who hoards them in my freezer so I can dole out precious monthly sugary rations until my next Easter fix, but I have invented three different cocktails to imitate the taste and look. Yes, they are amazing. If I can’t have the real thing, at least I can drown my sorrows.
This year, Cadbury realized they can milk a few more precious dollars from me by introducing the Scream Egg. It’s the exact same candy that makes my palms sweat and pancreas panic every April, but with a green yolk. Yes, Cadbury. You win. Now shut up and take my money.
Eating my sugary concoction left me curious about the real seasonal candy. I don’t mean the fun-sized bags of blood-sugar-spiking goodness. You can get a Milky Way in half a dozen different sizes year round. I mean the stuff that you can only get at Halloween. Candy Corn. Popcorn balls. Anything with unnecessary pumpkin flavor.
Sure, the drugstores start filling an entire aisle with Halloween candy in late August because they know gluttons can easily eat a bag a week as they build up sugar tolerance preparing for Halloween night, but you know the season is upon you when the stores start rolling out the hard core stuff - the things they can’t sell a week after Halloween by putting a sale sticker over the tiny ghost drawn onto the label. Gummy body parts. Things unnecessarily shaped like pumpkins. Boo Berry Cereal.
For those of you who want to spend just enough to make sure your house isn’t toilet papered Halloween night, there are four types of Halloween candy.
Things Kids Want
If you like seeing adorable little people in costumes and want the neighborhood kids to like you, pick up a bag that includes some kind of Snicker’s or M&M’s and absolutely no dark chocolate. You’re smart enough to know kids don’t want a toothbrush or a pencil on Halloween. They also don’t want Play-Doh. If they’re young enough to appreciate it, their parents have plenty of brightly colored clay for them to eat at home. Your two ounces may cost more than a fun sized Snicker’s, but they make you look like a miser. If you don’t want leftover M&M’s or Snicker’s tempting you November 1st, you can make due with Kit-Kat, Butterfinger or Twix. If you’re actually contemplating hard candy, just turn off your street light and admit you hate children.
Other Holidays In Disguise
I am onto you, Cadbury Scream Egg. You’re not the first candy to decide you can take on Halloween. Peeps are now available in your choice of pumpkin or ghost shapes. Russell Stover’s Easter Baskets now come in orange. You’re not fooling anyone, Easter Candy. Oh, sure, adults will pick up one or two little indulgences for themselves, but these aren’t the candies we buy for kids. Scream Eggs and Ghost Peeps are guilty pleasures, best eaten alone with a lukewarm six pack as you grimly acknowledge that as a grownup, you can eat all the chocolate you want, but it’ll never stitch up the Easter Basket shaped scar in your heart from the year your dad was laid off in March.
Things Shaped Like Pumpkins
Hey, moms. I know you can’t justify buying a box of Russell Stovers for yourself, and your husband and kids are too darn selfish to see how badly you need a little treat every now and then. Luckily, you can get single serving super sized versions of your favorite boxed candy in a convenient pumpkin shape. A little raspberry creme, a little marshmallow filling, a little bit of your kid’s Adderall, and maybe you can make a Halloween Play costume after all. If you ate a candy bar shaped like a pumpkin before the age of 25, you owe your mother an apology for stealing from her purse. A box each of wine and Russell Stovers are a good start.
Seriously, Who Buys This?
There is no reasonable explanation for Smarties. They have the seductive texture of chalk with the silky flavor of Gatorade powder. Giving these to kids is the fastest way to let them know you hate Halloween and all the little costumed beggars who come knocking at your door. Lollipops are only for bank tellers and family style restaurants that don’t include dessert on the kid’s menu. If you find yourself seriously looking at the bottom shelf bag full of generic butterscotch and off brand Good N Plenty, now is the time to tell your therapist how badly you wanted to set fire to your elementary school gym. Even pencils or boxed raisins are a better choice. At least then you only look self righteous.
There are only two rules of Halloween candy: will you eat it the next day, and will it make you popular with ungrateful kids.
If you’re going to bother handing out candy, don’t cheap out. If you know you only get five trick-or-treaters, go for a bag of something you’ll finish within an hour of turning off the porchlight. Otherwise, pick a candy kids love. Some not too distant day, your company will downsize and one of these kids will be your new manager. Spend an extra $5 and suck up to them now. You’re worth it.
Books, they say, are dead. Publishing, that once sacrosanct institution, is now no more than a burning Gomorrah. And literature, text the tween throngs, “iz ovr fuckn omg g2gpc… r u there…suuuup?” and so on. These are the kinds of portents, which, while increasingly true, are, for one weekend in October, depth-charged and blown to bits.
I’m talking about Texas Book Festival 2012!
Oh, come on. I love skeletons and Krackel and Halloween as much as the next guy, but a Krackel does not (usually) allow one to, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “discover that your longings are universal longings, that you're not lonely and isolated from anyone. [That] you belong.” Fitzgerald was writing about literature, which is like Krackel, but with metaphor and litotes instead of chocolate and crispy rice.
If you were lucky enough to enjoy the offerings of the Book Festival this weekend, you no doubt felt that books, publishing and literature are alive and well in Austin, Texas. As the author of Whore Stories: A Revealing History of The World’s Oldest Profession, which has appeared on countless “Best of” and “Kick Ass” lists taped to my desk, I was privileged to begin the weekend at what promised to be an elegant and refined “Author’s Breakfast” at the Governor’s Mansion.
And there they were: CNN talking head and New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin holding forth on the Supreme Court (or his favorite brand of frozen yogurt, I couldn’t tell). Toobin is known for keeping people at a distance, especially when they’re eyeing his fruit plate with injudicial lust. No matter. As I swept across the lawn, I noticed the eminence gris of political historians, Mr. Robert Caro, who has spent more time writing about Lyndon Johnson than Lyndon Johnson spent being Lyndon Johnson.
“Mr. Caro!” I shouted, feeling stupid and that he probably likes to be called “Doctor Caro,” or “Caro the Sturdy” or something. And alas, as distinguished people tend to do when I yell at them, the Pulitzer-prize winning author slunk around a corner then reappeared with a tray of orange juice.
“Orange juice?” asked Robert Caro, dressed in vest and thick with sweat.
“Thanks. I love your work,” I said.
“Eh?” grunted Caro, no doubt tired of talking shop. I could see I’d get nowhere with the dogged scholar, that perhaps he was more nervous than I, and what’s more, I wasn’t even sure I knew what Robert Caro looked like. This is what differentiates a film festival from a book festival: these people could be anyone.
But one man stood out. That’s right, our own Governor Rick Perry. Now, I’d presumed he might emerge from the gubernatorial balcony to fire grape shot over a posse of post-structuralists then repair to the boudoir, but no. Our man was here. In it. Mixing it up, by God.
I heard him before I saw him. “And then,” said the Governor, “Sam Houston, at the urging of his wife Margaret, who was worried for his mortal soul, tossed the letter into the fireplace.” Governor Perry then tactfully pointed at a fireplace. I remember touring this mansion on a field trip once when I was in 3rd grade. The tour guide also mentioned a Houston throwing a letter in the fire, but in this case it was Margaret Houston doing the burning. Curious. I researched a little more and found that the Houstons were always throwing letters in the fireplace; like it was just a thing they did for the hell of it.
Governor Perry, standing under an enormous mural of Sam Houston, stopped his lecture and said “Tyler Stoddard Smith,” reading my nametag.
“What book did you write?”
“Whore Stories,” I said.
“Uhn-kay,” drawled the Governor, sheepishly, as if he hadn’t even tried to read it, or if he did, he was perpetrating like he didn’t. He just went right on with his lecture.
“…Sam Houston was 6’6”… and so it is of my opinion that had Sam Houston run in the 1860 presidential election, he not only would have won, there would have been no Civil War.” Good old Sam Houston, saving the Union along with his slaves and an unyielding pituitary gland. I should mention that the Governor uttered this pronouncement while wearing a baseball cap and a pair of throwback Oakley razors.
I was tempted to ask the Governor to leave, as this was an “authors only” party, but was then reminded of Fed Up!, Mr. Perry’s 250-page discourse on how everything but horses are unconstitutional, and On My Honor, his creepy book about the Boy Scouts.
Besides, I wasn’t here to tussle over politics and old grudges—I was here to meet authors. I heard someone say that if you threw a rock, you’d probably hit a famous author, so I did, but all I hit was a grackle. I thought of how this was irony, and how the Book Festival was really going to start (irony is a literary technique where the protagonist throws something inorganic), now that I’d helped to create a “literary” vibe.
Part of a literary vibe, is of course, the literary feud. You know the ones: Mailer vs. Vidal, Nabokov vs. Edmund Wilson and most recently, Richard Ford’s loogies vs. Colson Whitehead’s head. The feud is engrained in the writer, much like the fear of giving directions is engrained in the mime, and so you can imagine that when I ran into Ben Fountain, author of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara and, most recently, the National Book Award-nominated Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk sitting on a curb, making dramatic notes on the sidewalk with his corn dog, he was tense and eager to rumble.
“Ben!” I cried. “We missed you at the authors brunch.” He removed his sunglasses. After looking at me for a little while longer he said, “Tyler.”
“Yes,” I said.
“It was early, that author’s breakfast,” said Fountain, grammatically.
“Maybe too early,” I noted.
“Too early for me.” The tension scythed across the barricaded blocks. Ben Fountain was a powder keg and I didn’t want to ruin things again by asking why he was never worried that his titles would run off the page. He got lucky with his first book, but what if people wouldn’t buy Billy Lynn’s Long Half?
If you read Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk upside down and right to left, it’s an erotic novella called Billy Lynn’s Long Half, about a good old boy trying to make it as a small arms dealer in Greenwich Village with nothing but his wits and his abnormally large…process. This is what happens when you doubt a writer like Fountain, FYI.
I tried a different tact:
“So, Ben. You know Junot Diaz is speaking tomorrow?”
“Sure. Sure.” I felt like any second now Ben Fountain was going to snap and impale me with his corn dog pen.
“He got nominated for the National Book Award, too,” I said, and took a step back.
Ben Fountain stared right back at me—bullets. Dude was figureando hard, I thought, plagiaristically. I could tell he was raring to squabble, so I tried to help him out a little:
“You two ought to settle this thing old style, don’t you think? We need a literary feud.”
“A feud?” said Fountain.
Now, I knew that in a previous occupation, Mr. Fountain worked as an attorney, something I had to keep in mind as I proposed to set up a kind of “cage-match,” in which Mr. Diaz and Mr. Fountain would square off to eliminate one another from the National Book Award pool. I threw a little legalese at him, mentioning a “writ of mandamus,” then begin to outline the arrangement-cum-duel. There will be no weapons, but each author will be provided with a mask and, if necessary, some hand chalk. When the gorgon is released from a hydraulic chute looming over the arena, Mr. Fountain apologizes and moves on to speak with an “old friend and colleague” who seems to be asking for spare change.
My dreams of becoming the literary Don King dashed off like some passage of purple prose, insult was added to my injury when I hear that Junot Diaz has cancelled his appearance, citing a tryst with some tornado of a chica named “Sandy.” Does anybody else feel like writers are getting soft? With the author’s brunch wound down, and the panels starting up, I made the rounds of the Capitol and listened to some of today’s best and brightest authors restore my faith in the power of the written word, even though none of these scribes could tell me, pointblank, what that “word” was, exactly. But don’t get me wrong: Geniuses know what they are doing, even when they’re intent on using the term “gestalt” to get out of answering a simple question about whether they think they could best Joan Didion in a battle of wits and knives. Isn’t that right, Jewel?
Perhaps the best way to enjoy the Book Festival, then, was to sit back and let the festival happen to me. It turns out that you can’t just let the Festival happen to you all day, though, because after a while, the police shoo you off the benches if you’ve been snoozing too long, assuming you’re just another drunk author. All the better, I thought, looking at my watch. I’ve got to get to MY panel anyway; to impart my unique extraction of literary wisdom and regale the LitCrawl crowd with some whore stories. I hopped in my car and headed east, set up shop with the rest of my panel at Shangri-La on East 6th and waited to begin.
“Excuse me, everyone. Excuse me!” said the dour event coordinator at my panel’s venue, “I have an announcement.”
The crowd went silent. The author next to me on the panel was huge and I hoped that all my maneuvering to start a writer’s feud hadn’t backfired. He’d also authored a book called Drugs, and for all I knew, could have been on the really good ones that make people fight like champions and feel no pain, or some kind of Lance Armstrong shit. I wasn’t ready to trade blows with this guy, nor was I ready for the rest of the announcement:
“I have a bit of sad news. Everyone shut up—I’m being serious. On the way driving here with the till and the credit card machine, our volunteer hit a deer. Therefore, we apologize to you and our authors, as we won’t be able to sell any books until…until…” and then her voice drifted off, as did she, disappearing behind a tree to pull it together. Everybody felt bad for the deer, which is understandable. My co-panelists and I looked at each other and shrugged. “Who are we to own literature,” we seemed to say to one another, although at the time it was more of a “Can you believe this shit?”
During the panel discussion, I did my best to reply to our moderator’s questions and then those of the audience.
“Yes,” I said, “Steve McQueen used to masturbate into a coffee cup on a moldy stage in Havana, Cuba.”
It was a triumphant night for me. Here I was, a first time author at the Texas Book Festival, even if a deer did try to sabotage my literary career. It’s the words that matter, after all, I thought. Then my head cleared and I recognized that the whole day, the night—right now—was an apt metaphor for what is happening in publishing.
The sting of these hard truths sank in soon after the last complementary bookmark was swept away by the city street sweeps, and I found myself late night at the Driskill hotel where the last of the authors (and even some auteurs) and booklovers hovered over greasy sliders and greasier scotches. I scanned the room to see many of the biggest names in literature talking, exchanging ideas, the flowering of creativity oblivious to the oncoming digital roar. I howled, I pounded my fist and portended apocalypse, overcome with emotion, with sentimentality for the BOOK, the page, the ink, the sweat of it all. We were all that deer and the future was a big angry ball of fuel heading right for us? Would we be fast enough to outrun it? Or would it roll us over into the hot tar of morning?
Literature may be doomed, but you’ll all be delighted to learn that later I found out I it wasn’t a deer that got run over after all. It was a feral hog.
Austin is accustomed to inconveniences when our fair city hosts its major events over the course of the year. During SXSW, it’s impossible to eat, drink or stay downtown without dealing with the masses. During ACL Fest, Zilker Park is closed for a week and MoPac is a parking lot. And now, during Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix races starting the weekend of Nov. 16-18, we’ll be dealing with hundreds of helicopters flying overhead.
Surely I’m not the only one who doesn’t really get F1. I imagine it as a cross between NASCAR and the Kentucky Derby. Folks are simply watching a car go around a track a gazillion times, like in NASCAR (although are they still waiting for crashes?), but they’re doing it in their expensive suits and fancy hats with a cocktail in hand, like at the Derby. That’s what I imagine at least … monocles galore.
Sure, the tickets are fairly reasonably priced – if you want standing room only at $159 per three-day race pass. For a reserved seat in the stands, prices range from $269 to $499 per person, and that’s just for the ticket. The median household income in Austin in 2011 was about $57,000. I’m guessing ticket prices like these aren’t banking on locals filling the stands.
If you’re driving to the race, you’re looking at $200 on-site parking, sold through Ticketmaster. Those coming from out of town are shelling out up to $500 a night just to stay in a Super 8, the Statesman reported earlier this year (Before moving to Austin, I stayed in that same Super 8 for $60).
It seems, like so many other events Austin hosts, that F1 weekends will be a boon to the City’s economy, with area businesses raising prices not only to meet the demand for accommodation, transportation and entertainment but also to take advantage of the deep-pocketed fans for which the sport is known.
The latest news is that local helicopter charter services will be giving race fans a lift to and from the track. Charlie Bravo Aviation will be transporting customers to areas near the racetrack Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with a total of 700 flights planned, 400 of which are scheduled for Sunday, said CEO Rene Banglesdorf. Guests, who will pay between $545 and $645 for the round trip, will be greeted by “calendar girls” (one of the company’s marketing techniques is employing vintage pin-up girls as models) at the helistops. Sure, it’s cute, but isn’t it also a bit decadent?
Some South Austin residents are up in arms about the planned helicopter charters, which are planned for takeoffs and landings on the roofs of tall buildings and parking garages, pending City approval, and who can blame them. It’s one thing to have to avoid traffic on MoPac for a weekend. It’s another thing to spend a weekend at your own home, listening to overheard chopper traffic every five to 10 minutes (Word on the street is that one helipad could be at South Congress and Barton Springs Road, with another at Mopac just south of the river).
I don’t personally know anyone who will be attending the race, watching the race or caring about the race. One out-of-town friend told me he thought about coming for a split second but looked into accommodations and realized that was a pipe dream. F1 is an interesting beast ... with regard to my initial question, “Is it a cross between NASCAR and Derby?”, I guess we’ll wait and see.
It’s a culture and sport with which most Americans aren’t familiar (and, judging by what we’re seeing, can’t afford). Although most Americans can’t afford to own a NASCAR car or a race horse, those are cultural experiences that bring us together. I’ve attended Derby parties in Louisville, and I’ve attended Derby parties in Boston. NASCAR is shown on TVs around the country and isn’t particular to one segment of the population – my educated man-friend, who grew up in a family that bred and showed horses, watches NASCAR.
Whether F1 will turn into a cultural experience that folks from all backgrounds can enjoy, whether or not they can afford to be there, remains to be seen. For now though, it feels like F1 is just turning Austin into a rich guy’s playground.
This week you can watch a Viking invasion at the Celtic Festival, decorate sugar skulls at the Day of the Dead celebration or say goodbye to The Highball during a Joss Whedon Double Feature.
Austin Celtic Festival
Nov 3-4, Noon
2102 Jesse E. Segovia
Viking invasions, archery tournaments and men in kilts. What more could you want on a balmy weekend? This immersive event is full of living history and celtic coolness.
Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Celebration
Nov 3, 1:00 p.m.
Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center
600 River St
This Day of the Dead festival has music and food that could very well bring the dead back to life. Altars, sugar skulls, a classic car show, and other creations made by the community will be available for the living and dead alike to appreciate.
Nocturnis-Amtgard Park Day
Nov 3, 2:30 p.m.
Brushy Creek Park
3300 Brushy Creek Rd.
Cedar Park, TX
If the SCA has too much authenticity and LARPs don’t let you get violent enough, check out this boffer sword fighting group. If you’re not familiar, boffer swords are usually made from PVC coated with foam and duct tape with a nice cloth cover. People get together to beat on one another, drink and go camping. If you’re an outdoorsy geek looking for some good exercise, check them out.
Austin Geeks and Gamers Boardgame Night
Nov 3, 4:00 p.m.
Newk's Express Café
9722 Great Hills Trail #130
Enjoy playing Settlers of Catan, Small World, Bohnanza, Apples to Apples, Kingsburg, Saboteur and The Resistance, just to name a few. These are light, easy-to-learn boardgames great for introducing people bored with Monopoly and Clue to the fun new games that have come out in more recent years.
Geeks Who Drink Meetup
Nov 3, 9:00 p.m.
Opal Divine’s Marina
Trivia lovers can join a team for the chance to show off their smarts and win free drinks.
Central Texas Boardgames Meetup
Nov 4, 2:00 p.m.
Silver Grill Cafe
4005 W. Parmer
Enjoy games like Say Anything, assorted word games, and much more in this laid back setting.
Girl Geeks of Austin Board Games and Brews
Nov 5, 7:00 p.m.
Black Star Co-Op
7020 Easy Wind Dr
Enjoy some microbrewery beers along with Euro style boardgames in the company of your fellow geek girls.
Girl Geeks of Austin Nerdy Knitting and Fiber Arts
Nov 5, 8:00 p.m.
Genuine Joe’s Coffee House
2001 W. Anderson Lane
Enjoy a laid back night of knitting, crochet, embroidery, or whatever fibercraft you love in the company of your fellow nerd girls.
Pathfinder Society Meetup
Nov 5, 7:00 p.m.
Dragon's Lair Comics & Fantasy
6111 Burnet Rd
Looking for some new faces around the gaming table? Delve into ancient dungeons, uncover lost knowledge, and advance the secret goals of your faction--whether it be the freedom-fighting Andorans, the good-hearted Silver Crusade, the shady dealings of the Sczarni, or the strict laws of Cheliax--and gain experience and loot for your character no matter where you game!
South Austin Game Night and Boards and Brews Meetup
Nov 6, 6:00 p.m.
3003 S. Lamar
This weekly gathering of gamers regularly hosts over 40 people playing a dozen different games. New people are always welcome.
Settlers of Catan Meetup
Nov 6, 6:30 p.m.
Dragon's Lair Comics & Fantasy
6111 Burnet Rd
Game ON! It's time to scratch that Catan itch! If you have never played, have only played a few times, or are the King of Catan, come and join us! Bring your boards, your expansions, your snacks, and your wood. We usually have a base game going at one table and either Cities & Knights, Trails to Rails or some other variant at the other table. A third table will be available if enough people show. Come join us for an evening of fun!
Joss Whedon Fan Club’s Last Hurrah at the Highball
Nov 6, 7:00 p.m.
1142 South Lamar Blvd
Guys! The Highball is CLOSING for nearly a year to remodel and Craig is throwing the Whedonyest SAL yet! Come one, come all Joss fans to sing your hearts out at a special Dr. Horrible/Buffy Episode Once More With Feeling double feature! It'd be a real shame to miss out on this hugely fun, FREE, and hilarious special event! What a great way to say sayonara and pay homage to our favorite venue?
Austin Single Gamers Pinball Social
Nov 7, 7:00 p.m.
8940 Research Blvd
join us on Wednesday night, November 7, for a trip through the greatest pinball machines of the last 30+ years (and some classic arcade video games as well). Plus, Wednesdays are "Time Warp Wednesdays" with retro music and retro prices. Members from the North Austin Social Group will be hanging out with us as well!
John “Rip” Ford didn’t want to throw every Mexican out of Austin, just the “unworthy” ones.
“We are in favor of designating the character of persons to be driven from our midst,” wrote Ford, who served both as editor of the Texas State Times and as Austin’s mayor at the time. Ford took pains to point out that his careful discrimination should not be interpreted as support for the undesirables. He advocated expelling all Mexicans who “had been associating and interfering with negroes.” As his rival editor at the Texas State Gazette put it, “We cannot permit a population to remain among us who are dangerous to the safety of our property.”
The problem of “negro stealing” had agitated the minds of Rip Ford and his fellow Anglo Austin residents for some time. In June 1854 Ford’s paper ran an article based on a report from Caldwell County’s Hamilton White. Mr. White had not witnessed the events described, but heard of them from a neighbor. (Such second-hand accounts appear commonly in newspapers of that era.)
According to White, a man named Riley was arrested while traveling “just behind” a black man on the road between San Marcos and Lockhart. At the Lockhart jail Riley confessed to the crime of “negro stealing.” He was part of a gang of ten or fifteen such thieves engaged by a Mexican band south of the border to deliver stolen blacks for $200 each. In Mexico the blacks would become peons, nominally free but in truth contractually bound to a master at starvation wages. Adding credibility to Ford's story, several Lockhart citizens claimed to have recognized Riley as a man they had seen whipped in Arkansas for stealing horses.
A few weeks later the Texas State Gazette fanned the flames by claiming that Mexicans in Seguin were accepting bribes from local slaves to steal them away to Mexico. The reporter added that five slaves had recently been abducted from a plantation on Cibolo Creek. “Could this be traced to Mexicans?” he asked. “It may be worthy of inquiry to the planters of that vicinity.”
This notice appeared in an 1854 edition of Rip Ford's Texas State Times.
The aroused citizens of Seguin did not intend to let such crimes continue. They held a public meeting to adopt several resolutions aimed at preventing Mexican peons from entering Guadalupe County. Anticipating Rip Ford’s protestations, the assembly assured the community that not all Mexicans would be targeted for eviction. A meeting report stated, “The peons to which this meeting refers have no reference to the permanent Mexican citizens, many of whom are worthy men and generally esteemed, but to a vagrant class – a lazy, thievish horde of lazzaroni . . . highway robbers, horse and cattle thieves, and idle vagabonds.” The report concluded by warning the guilty to cease their predatory activity in the interest of self-preservation, for Seguin residents stood ready to inflict summary punishment on anyone caught “tamper[ing] with slave property.”
Two weeks later, on September 23, 1854, an article in the State Gazette highlighted the danger to those suspected of such tampering. Three men, two Mexican and one Anglo, were caught near San Antonio escorting several slaves to Mexico. “It has given rise to much excitement,” wrote the reporter, “and many being disposed to put the perpetrators of the crime to death, such may have happened to them.” A separate item told of a Mexican peon apprehended with an escaped slave near Goliad. Authorities administered 150 lashes and branded the letter T on the man’s forehead.
In a later edition, the State Gazette editor expressed pity for the black slave deluded into thinking that life in Mexico would be an improvement. The peon guiding the slave southward had himself fled poverty and starvation south of the border, he wrote. Only peonage, an even worse condition of bondage than American slavery, awaited the runaway. Whereas American slaves received adequate food, clothing and medical care, Mexican peons suffered their lack. He concluded, “We regard the existence of Peon Mexicans among us as decidedly injurious to our slave population . . . .” The fact that not all American slaves received humane treatment seemed to escape Rip Ford and his Anglo contemporaries.
In one issue of his newspaper, Rip Ford told of Mexicans encamped around Austin enticing black slaves to flee. A Mr. Butts reported visiting one such camp and finding two slaves therein. He attempted to apprehend the runaways but before his wife could fetch a rope they escaped. On another occasion a man named Norvell dropped in on a different camp and found Mexicans and fugitive slaves playing the card game Monte. Ford opined, “Something must be done to prevent the negroes and Mexicans from associating.”
Adding impetus to his call for action, Ford printed a letter he had received from G. W. Keene about two runaway slaves that had been caught and jailed in Austin. With the help of a teenage newspaper boy the men escaped. They hid just outside the city along the river for several weeks, sustaining themselves by selling game to local Mexicans. Subsequently they fetched their wives from slavery and fled to the Medina River, where one man died and the other received a serious wound resisting arrest. The survivor faced a murder charge, having evidently killed one of his would-be captors.
Stirred to action by Rip Ford and his counterpart at the Texas State Gazette, Austin citizens held a public meeting October 7 to discuss a set of resolutions offered by a committee that had studied the matter of Mexican involvement in “negro stealing.” The committee’s recommendations included the following:
Thomas McKinney, namesake of McKinney Falls State Park, acted as Chairman of the public meeting of Austin residents in which the question of expelling the city's Mexican population was discussed.
Furthermore, the committee noted that “we have amongst us a Mexican population who continually associate with our slaves, and instill into their minds false notions of freedom, and make them discontented and insubordinate.” Austin authorities should therefore expel all “transient” Mexicans from the city. A separate resolution called on Austin citizens to refrain from hiring Mexican laborers.
In relaying the outcome of the meeting, of which he was an active participant, Rip Ford reassured his readers that innocent Mexicans need not worry; only those “associating and interfering with negroes” would be targeted. “No matter what may be the nationality of a man,” Ford piously asserted, “it is first due to him as a member of the human race . . . to give him some sort of hearing before you convict and punish him. We shall always contend for that principle.”
Not to be outdone, the editor of the Texas State Gazette wrote, “We do not wish to be understood as favoring the idea of proscribing the entire Mexican population now among us as a class. There are a few worthy Mexicans in every county . . . .” But the editor decried the existence of the “evil” of Mexicans aiding runaway slaves. Painting the runaways as helpless victims, he moaned that, “hundreds of refugee negroes are now residing there [Mexico] in a state of destitution, and degradation, and unable to return to their masters.”
A second public meeting of Austin residents October 14, 1854, resulted in the formation of a 20-man Vigilance Committee to expel Austin’s Mexican population “peaceably if they can, forcibly if they must.” Members included Mayor Ford, Aaron Burleson and hotel owner and ferry operator James Swisher, for whom Austin’s Swisher Street is named. After Chairman Thomas McKinney, namesake of McKinney Falls State Park, adjourned the proceedings the Vigilance Committee performed its duty. The bulk of Austin’s Mexican population moved on.
Hotel owner and ferry operator James Swisher was a member of the 20-man Vigiligance Committee charged with expelling Austin's Mexican population "peaceably if they can, forcibly if they must."
Recent targeting of American Muslims by far-right extremists underscores the difficulty of confining retribution to specific members of a scapegoated class of people. In at least one instance, some Austin residents ignored Rip Ford’s plea for ascertaining character before punishing local Mexicans. In December 1854 a troupe of Mexican showman gave several performances in Austin. Several hours after the last performance, someone cut down the troupe’s tent poles before setting everything on fire.
“We sympathize with the unfortunate Mexicans,” Ford wrote. Labeling the incident an outrage, he added, “[they] should have been protected.”
Capital Metro will offer free rides to polling places on Tuesday via its MetroBus, MetroRail and MetroAccess services. But be careful what you wear.
Last week, Tyler resident Kay Hill was not allowed to vote when she went to the town’s city hall to cast an early ballot in a t-shirt that read, “Vote the Bible,” Fox 7 News reports. A poll worker loaned her a jacket to cover the message and Hill then voted.
But the story didn’t end there. Attorney Jonathan Saenz insists she is owed an apology from Williamson County.
"You've got this woman targeted because of her religious beliefs," said Saenz.
But Williamson County contends that the word “vote” on the shirt violates state law that prohibits electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place. Saenz begs to differ.
"Nothing says that you can't have a shirt that says vote the bible. The last time I checked republicans and democrats, it's not a partisan issue on the bible," said Saenz.
Perhaps that’s not so in the presidential race. After all, Mitt Romney’s holy book is not the Bible but the Book of Mormon.
Back in midsummer, it was expected that an El Nino weather pattern would bring a wetter than usual winter to Texas, especially the western areas of the state where the recent drought plagued farmers. An update now suggests the outlook is drier than previously predicted, an Associated Press story notes.
Texas looked like it would have a strong El Nino in July, but that phenomenon has weakened in the months since, National Weather Service meteorologist Victor Murphy said.
"What seemed like a sure fire El Nino . . . sputtered and fizzled," he said.
West Texas ranchers like Chad Lemke are still holding out hope.
"It is an educated guess, so we're going to hope that they're wrong," Lemke said, referring to the latest forecast. "It's up to the good Lord, not to the meteorologists."
The now normal level of rainfall predicted for the winter months will do little to speed recovery from the drought.
One West Texas farmer said that's why he's not just hoping for rain this winter.
"I want one of those snowfalls about a foot deep in December," said Barry Evans, of Kress.
Locally, this means that the Highland Lakes are hardly expected to refill in time for summer aquatic fun.
On a beautiful, sunny November afternoon you’d normally expect a park to be full of singles walking their dogs, couples pushing strollers and Austin’s ubiquitous joggers doing their thing. However, if you show up at Adams-Hemphill Park around 11 a.m. on November 4th, you’re at risk of walking straight into the middle of a bloody balloon battle.
Over 5,000 balloons filled with top quality fake blood will fly across a grassy battlefield in an epic fight destined to last up to five whole minutes - and if you’re quick, you can join in.
“Last year, it was over in less than two minutes,” said Jason Vines, founder.
The idea for the bloody balloon battle came from a post-apocalyptic sense of efficiency. Vines is a freelance special effects designer. “I was doing effects for a local film and had to make a lot of blood. When we were done, I had a couple of gallons left over. It’s a shame to waste it. Instead of pouring it down a drain, I thought wouldn’t it be fun to pour it into balloons and throw it at one another?”
He invited five Facebook friends to a private little showdown. Thirty five people RSVP’d. Suddenly, instead of using up a couple gallons of leftover blood, he found himself in his living room mixing up enough fresh blood to fill 1,000 balloons.
“It was such a blast. My friends all wanted to do it again, so here we are,” said Vines.
This year, the battle will be even bloodier. Vines and his team of volunteers are making 5,000 balloons for an estimated 100 combatants. “It’s open to anyone who wants to get bloody and have a little fun,” said Vines. “I’m a little bit concerned we might get too many people and won’t have enough balloons.” 50 per person may sound like a lot, but in the midst of battle, the ammo runs out surprisingly fast.
The Vulcan, and The Hitchcock
While most of the balloons are full of fake blood, Vines is sneaking in two special weapons. “The Vulcan” will be full of green blood while “The Hitchcock” will be full of chocolate syrup in honor of the blood used in old black and white films. Anyone hit by the special blood bombs gets a secret prize.
In the spirit of making it look as much like an afternoon massacre as possible, anyone who joins in is encouraged to wear as much disposable white clothing as possible so the blood will really show.
“Be prepared. Everything you’re wearing will be stained and ruined. Either wear something white that’s more or less disposable or a costume. Last year we had someone in a chicken suit. We might have some ghosts or something else cheap and white. I’m doing it after Halloween because then all the costumes will be heavily discounted,” said Vines. He also recommended people leave their cellphones in their car so they don’t end up with moisture damage; wear grubby yardwork shoes; and leave a couple towels in in their cars to protect the seats on the drive home.
Vines also recommended people wear swim goggles for eye protection. “There’s nothing toxic or anything it the blood, but it will stain contact lenses temporarily around the iris. It does go away after a couple days, but you will look funny for a little while. Lab goggles won’t get enough of a seal on there.”
He described the event as a symbolic purging of all the leftover gore from Halloween. “It’s also a way to say hey, you’ve spent all this money on a halloween costume which you can never use again because you don’t want to re-wear it next year. Come out and, get it covered in blood, and now you have a story.”
To get involved, simply join the Bloody Balloon Battle Facebook Event. You can spend quality time in the blood balloon-filling assembly line, help in the cleanup so it looks like a bunch of zombies are hunting in the park for brain scraps, or donate to help Vines defray the $1,500 cost of blood, most of which is coming out of his own pocket.
If a blood soaked flash mob sounds like fun, but you’re not in the mood to get too squishy yourself, Vines also welcomes voyeuristic photographers and videographers.
“It’s over before you know it,” said Vines. “I’d love to see the whole thing in slow-mo.”
McKinney Roughs (not to be confused with McKinney Falls) is located about 13 miles east of the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. When you see the giant squirrel statue at the place that sells pecans, go a little further and turn left just after the Lost Pines Hyatt Resort. You’re there!
The park is maintained by the Lower Colorado River Authority as a day use park for recreational hikers and horseback riders, as well as church and class groups. There’s lodging, a meeting house, a mess hall, a teepee replica and about 18 miles of hiking trails, including some that are designated as mixed-use equestrian trails.
The Bearded One and I have been out to McKinney Roughs three times in the past year, as the hiking trails all present varying degrees of difficulty, terrain and views. The first time we visited, hiking the Riverside Trail to the Cypress Trail, we were lucky enough to see probably half a dozen armadillos rummaging around the underbrush.
This was the first time I’d ever seen a live armadillo before – we’d walked down to take a closer look at the river and this tiny armored pig comes waddling up the side of the riverbed. I must’ve jumped 3 feet in the air. After that, we saw several more armadillos all sniffing out grubs in the dirt. We’ve continued to look for the little guys in the park, but haven’t seen any since. I think sticking to those two trails after a rainstorm might be the way to go for ‘dillo spotting.
Like most parks in the area, McKinney Roughs used to be a cattle ranch. Hiking some of the trails on the plateau, old ranch equipment and ancient barbed wire fences are still visible. Not only does the Pine Ridge trail provide a view of old ranch equipment, it also provides a great view of the valley on the other side of the Colorado River, which is the end of the Great Plains.
We saw several cattle one day, where the Pine Ridge and the Cypress trails meet. Out of the corner of The Bearded One’s eye, the massive black shape looked like a bear. After we remembered that there are no bears in Central Texas, we ventured a little closer and saw three grazing cows. They saw us and ran off. There don't seem to be active ranches next to the park – the closest neighbor is the Hyatt golf resort – which made us wonder if, like pigs, cows go back to feral at some point. They didn’t seem vicious, so we figured probably not.
McKinney Roughs is a really well-maintained park with diverse enough trails on 1,100 acres to make it worth visiting several times. The LCRA not only does a fantastic job maintaining the buildings at the park’s headquarters, but the trails are also clean and well-marked, and there are educational plaques every so often, telling you about the land and fires that burned there in 2008.
This park is well-deserving of a visit or three.
The most important thing to understand when voting on bond issues is that the language on the ballot itself is, in essence, an advertisement. To understand what you are voting for, it’s important to look at all the information provided. In the case of the city bond election on Tuesday, that means the ballot language, the city ordinance behind the ballot language and the marketing materials created by the city to explain, in detail, what each bond will actually go to fund.
Before I go into that, though, let’s just get this out of the way: a bond is debt that you are authorizing the city to take on, in order to pay for something. When you vote YES on a bond, you are voting to allow the city to sell debt on the open market to raise funds. Unlike Kickstarter, though, bond issues are rarely specific and, importantly, do not have ready-to-spend funds for years—sometimes a decade. (Also unlike Kickstarter, the city won't give bond buyers a T-shirt.)
In other words, the city council that is asking for these bonds will almost definitely not be the city council that will spend these bonds. The vaguer the language in the bond, the more leeway that future city council will have in how it spends the money.
And, lest you forget, each of these props specifies that we’ll pay for all this one fine day with sales and property taxes.
Bond by bond, here’s the language you will see on your ballot and what it really means:
Proposition 12: The issuance of $143,299,000 transportation and mobility improvement bonds and notes and the levy of a tax sufficient to pay for the bonds and notes.
Sounds pretty straightforward, but the ballot language doesn’t go into any detail about which transportation and mobility improvements it will fund.
To find out more, we can dig into the city ordinance, which is too long and boring to reprint but which states, in summary, that these improvements could include paying for planning, construction, drainage and land acquisition to make improvements to roads, streets, sidewalks, bridges, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and traffic signals. It also says that they can use the money to build buildings to house to the people working on this stuff. I don’t see anything here saying that they will spend the money on new roads or on extending or widening roads, but that doesn’t mean this language excludes those possibilities.
They’re still casting a wide net in the ordinance. Basically, it boils down to a $143.3 million slush fund for the city’s Public Works department. To find out what they are advertising (but not codifying) a desire to fix, you have to go one step further to the brochure they put out, which specifies that their interests are in I-35, MoPac, North Lamar and Burnet Road, as well as East 51st and East Riverside. The brochure also specifies interest in funding part of the Violet Crown Trail in southwest Austin. A brochure is not a law, however. I wouldn’t hold my breath on seeing your particular pet project funded any time soon.
Of course, none of this means you should vote against Prop 12. Every Austinite knows we need to spend money on the hell that is getting around town, especially by bike or on foot. Just go into it with your eyes open: no guarantees.
Proposition 13: The issuance of $30,000,000 open space and watershed protection bonds and notes and the levy of a tax sufficient to pay for the bonds and notes.
The ordinance language is, again, rather broad, but does specify that the purpose is acquisition of land (or “interests in” land, i.e., easements) to conserve and protect the region’s water quality and natural areas through the construction of flood and erosion control and stormwater drainage. The city’s brochure states that this money will allow the city to purchase land in the Barton Creek Watershed, and the city may well use the money just that way. There is no language, however, on the ballot or in the ordinance to hold their feet to the fire in using this money in any specific location.
Proposition 14: The issuance of $77,680,000 park and recreation improvement bonds and notes and the levy of a tax sufficient to pay for the bonds and notes.
In the most general language offered so far, this is a nice, slushy slush fund for the Parks department. If you like the parks in town then you’ll probably like this bond. The brochure does list several parks that will benefit from the improvements including Emma Long, the Shoal Creek Greenbelt, the Waller Creek Trail and Zilker. It also lists facilities that will use the money including the Barton Springs bathhouse, the Dougherty Arts Center and city-owned cemeteries. It’s a little depressing to consider, however, that although the ordinance specifies that the money could be spent on Austin's unique and magnificent system of swimming pools, the brochure does not suggest that anyone is looking to spend the money that way. This is where that slushy ambivalence could turn the other way, of course—if you don’t like the priorities outlined in the brochure, feel free to lobby this and all future city councils to use this Parks money for your pet project. Assuming it passes, of course, but Parks money usually does.
Proposition 15: The issuance of $78,300,000 housing bonds and notes and the levy of a tax sufficient to pay for the bonds and notes.
You’ve got to love Austin and its big heart. Here you have a program to expand the affordable housing in town and to help homeless and low-income people achieve housing stability. Well, that’s what the brochure suggests. In the ordinance it only says that money will go to plan and construct housing for homeless, low- and moderate-income people, and to “fund… programs” toward that end.
What this means is that the city is looking to duplicate successful affordable rental and ownership programs like the Meuller Homes development and expand facilities to house the homeless, such as the downtown facility on Seventh Street. The brochure suggests these funds could also go toward remodeling for dilapidated homes owned by low-income families, but this is not specified in the official language.
It’s worth noting that the city has had a great deal of success with this type of program in the past, stretching back over a decade.
Proposition 16: The issuance of $31,079,000 public safety facility improvement bonds and notes and the levy of a tax sufficient to pay for the bonds and notes.
Straightforward and actually matching the ballot language, this bond will provide for the improvement, expansion or construction of new facilities for city police, fire and EMS. There are specific facilities listed in the brochure, including Northwest Police Substation, Park Patrol Police Facility, the addition of women’s locker rooms to fire stations and renovations to the training facility for these groups. This one kind of seems like a no-brainer, really.
Proposition 17: The issuance of $11,148,000 health and human services facility improvement bonds and notes and the levy of a tax sufficient to pay for the bonds and notes.
Similar to Prop 16, this one provides for the improvement of facilities for the Health and Human Services Department. The brochure specifies renovations and expansion of the Women and Children’s Shelter, the Montopolis Community Building, the Far South Clinic and the Betty Dunkerley Campus. If you’re voting for most of this, this one just goes along with the package and it’s only asking for a fraction of the rest.
Proposition 18: The issuance of $13,442,000 library, museum and cultural arts facility improvement bonds and notes and the levy of a tax sufficient to pay for the bonds and notes.
Similar to 16 and 17, Prop 18 is looking for facility improvement funds for Libraries and other cultural facilities. Places listed in the brochure include the Austin History Center and seven branch libraries.
Importantly, the brochure also suggests the money will be used to expand Austin Studios, to improve the film production industry in town. A worthy cause and one that will continue to bring business to town of the Ryan Gosling variety. Rawr.
All that’s left now is for you to go and vote—now, we hope, a little better informed than before.
We’ve trolled Facebook, LinkedIn, and odd corners of the internet looking for the tech jobs you won’t find on Craigslist. Most of these come from people at the company in question hoping a friend of a friend can help them find a good person to hire. Luckily for you, The Austin Post is your friend.
Recruiter seeking Senior Software Engineers, Embedded Engineers, QA, Product Management, Sr. Automation Tools Engineer. Contact Cindy Pierce at cindy [at] ppaac [dot] com for additional information.
Seeking a Front End Developer for a permanent opportunity with an awesome company downtown! Please email resumes and portfolios to elena [at] lunadatasolutions [dot] com.
We're still looking to hire a Project Developer at Datafiniti.
We're hiring an Interaction Designer, a Visual Designer and more at Electronic Arts.
Lifesize is looking for a Graphic Design Intern - 40 hours/week ~$16/hr on contract - need advanced InDesign skills as well as photoshop/illustrator. Email jchang [at] lifesize [dot] com.
Element Creative is looking for an experienced iOS developer. Contract or preferably full-time. Contact andreaw [at] elementcreative [dot] com.
We're looking for strong PHP MVC framework freelancer for a 3 week FT development gig. Please hit up mark [dot]courtney [at] affinityig [dot] com.
Looking for a Junior to Mid Level Java Web Developer for a perm position in Austin. Email resumes to elena [at] lunadatasolutions [dot] com.
Tocquigny is looking for a new freelance production artist and a new graphic designer to join our creative team.
Spreadfast is hiring a QA Engineer.
Radically cool Contract Sys Admin opportunity: Would you like to work on one of the greatest franchises in gaming history? How about more than one? Certain Affinity is an exclusive Austin studio; we’re a tightly-knit group of experienced industry veterans working at an entirely independent company. We’ve co-developed games in the Call of Duty, Halo, and Left 4 Dead franchises, and we’ve launched a few of our own games as well.
HomeAway is looking for a SEM Analyst.
Company seeking a full-time SalesForce Developer w/ Apex coding and system integration experience. Start as soon as possible. Location: South Austin. Pay: ~$50k. Please email resume to a [dot] maxilom [at] gmail [dot] com.
Looking to hire graphic designer with experience using Web tools. Projects include Constant Contact email newsletters, image touch-up, sales materials (PDF spec sheets) and related tasks. Ideal candidate would also manage the company's social media presence and take on other MarCom duties. Could be freelance, contract or even FT for the right candidate. Please email jhinsdale [at] usgoldbureau [dot] com.
Email Database Analyst sought for a temp-to-hire role working with the Brand Managers under the direction of the Sr Email Marketing Manager. It is a full-time position, hourly pay with conversion to perm likely after 3 months. Lots of room for growth. Contact traci [at] thirdcoastsearch [dot] com.
Austin Union Metrics is looking for a content marketing specialist, a data engineer, and an operations engineer.
Seeking an Email Database Analyst with 2-3 yrs exp with SQL in an email or marketing capacity. Lots of room for growth at a fun, successful software company. Starting ASAP. Contact traci [at] thirdcoastsearch [dot] com.
Need a Java Web Application Developer ASAP. Email christina [at] lunadatasolutions [dot] com.
Need someone to develop a custom shopping cart app for their printing business. Email lleikeratx [at] gmail [dot] com.
Contract to hire developer for the LIVESTRONG Foundation needed.
If you didn’t see anything that looked like a good fit, other good tech job resources in Austin include:
Launch Pad Job Club
Pat Dixon is the Libertarian candidate for Travis County Commissioner, Precinct 3, running against incumbent Karen Huber.
In my campaign for Travis County Commissioner Precinct 3, I have addressed a lot of issues, but one that has been prominent throughout is the SH 45 extension project. Where do I stand?
The bottom line is that it should be built as a non-tolled road.
Traffic congestion in Travis County is obvious to anyone driving around here. One of the areas of severe congestion is in the southwest part of the county. This is where some residents in Hays county drive into Travis for work. The MoPac freeway transitions from a freeway into a road with traffic lights when it hits this part of the county and dead ends before serving traffic further south. The FM 1626 road connects traffic further south, but the only thing between Mopac and FM 1626 are neighborhood streets or busy commercial streets. This is a major bottleneck.
The SH 45 project was approved by voters 15 years ago. The goal was to provide a connection between Mopac and 1626. People in southwest Travis County, especially the Shady Hollow neighborhood, have been vocal about the delay in getting it started. When I attended the Shady Hollow candidate forum in March with myself and Republican candidates (incumbent office holder Democrat Karen Huber chose not to attend) the use of neighborhood streets as freeways was a big concern.
The Shady Hollow neighborhood feels that Karen Huber either deceived them or let them down. She supported pulling the SH 45 project from transportation plans. Because of this, people were very suspicious of her attempt to remove Shady Hollow from precinct 3 when district lines for her re-election were being redrawn this year.
Yes, Karen Huber tried to have Shady Hollow removed from precinct 3 for her re-election campaign. Rather than dealing with her constituent's concerns, she wanted it to be someone else's problem.
Some have proposed SH 45 be built as a toll road. Although I like the concept of toll roads to have the people using the road pay for it, it turns out to be an extremely expensive and ineffective alternative. The SH 130 project demonstrates that for all of the money spent, it isn’t relieving congestion because people won’t pay the toll.
By sitting idle on a project voters have approved while looking for more unapproved projects to add to the growing Travis County budget, Karen Huber is not serving the needs of Precinct 3.
The core problem is the growing budget and taxation, combined with corporate welfare. Infrastructure and capital improvements lag because growth is not paying for itself. We keep putting more cars on the road without making those who drive the growth pay for their impact.
Consider that in 12 years the population of Travis County has increases 35%. Perhaps you would expect a similar increase in spending and taxation to keep pace. However, the actual per capita budget of the Travis County commissioner’s court has TRIPLED. Property taxes to Travis County, per capita, have DOUBLED. Clearly, this is way in excess of population growth and inflation.
Free Market Sustainability is the only way for growth to pay for itself. This means ending corporate welfare so that those who drive up the demands on our roads and natural resources like water and energy pay for their impact. It also means allowing entreprenuers like John Mackey to emerge and for small business to grow organically into successful companies based in Travis County like Whole Foods.
Let’s build SH 45 as a non-tolled road to make up for past inaction to finally address traffic congestion, and let’s practice Free Market Sustainability to keep pace with growth in the future.
This week, the ever-awesome Tech Ranch hosts another Campfire, Startup Grind presents Josh Baer, another hackathon comes to UT and local high-schoolers show off their Demo Day before launching their Kickstarters.
Startup Grind Austin with Josh Baer
Nov. 5, 6:00 p.m.
701 Brazos St, 16th Floor
Startup Grind is an event series designed to help educate, inspire and connect local entrepreneurs. Each month we welcome an amazing speaker who shares their story with our community and tells us what worked, what didn't, and what they'll do differently next time. Join us as Joshua talks about his extensive entrepreneurial experience - starting his first startup as a student at Carnegie Mellon - to founding Capital Factory and mentoring other startups.
Austin Linux Meetup
Nov. 5, 7:00 p.m.
Pizza Bistro (formally Mangia's Pizza)
12001 Burnet Rd
This month we'll talk about and demo a Nagios installation.
Austin WordPress Meetup
Nov. 6, 7:00 p.m.
701 Brazos St, 16th Floor
This meetup will cover the tools and processes used by different people in WordPress development. There are various editors out there, versioning tools, etc. What combinations work best for you? What might you be missing? Are you using Git? or SVN? It's show-and-tell of a dev variety. Regardless of the tools you use, it's all about finding that magic combination that lets you work most efficiently.
Austin iPhone Developer Meetup
Nov. 6, 8:00 p.m.
Join to learn the location
We introduce ourselves, have a few beers and share iPhone developer tips and tricks. It's also a good time to talk about what apps we've noticed. New SDK easter eggs, etc. If you are an iPhone developer, then feel free to join us. Please no sales people or recruiters.
InnoTech eMarketing Summit
Nov. 8, 9:00 a.m.
Austin Convention Center
500 E. Cesar Chavez St.
The 2012 eMarketing Summit is all about helping you achieve more exposure, receive more qualified leads, offer better customer engagement and, in turn, gain more sales.
Austin PHP Meetup
Nov. 8, 7:00 p.m.
Join to learn the location
This month, in addition to the usual networking and mingling, we’re setting up a great building challenge.
Nov. 8, 7:00 p.m.
8012 Mesa Dr
The Drupal Dojo is for anyone interested in hanging out with other Drupalistas in a "hive mind" environment. There is no set topic or presenter so bring your laptop, a pet project and an appetite.
Come join us for some coding and learning every Thursday night!
Austin Adobe User’s Group
Nov. 9, 1:15 p.m.
New Horizons Computer Learning Center of Austin
300 E Highland Mall Blvd
In November, we teach you how to create an app using Adobe Dreamweaver CS6.
Tech Ranch Austin Campfire
Nov. 9, 3:30 p.m.
Tech Ranch Austin
9111 Jollyville Rd, Suite 100
Campfire is all about connecting you to the larger tech startup community. We bring out lots of interesting, accomplished people from the ecosystem so you can get the introductions, insight, and help you need to move your business forward, while also helping others. Our structured teaming activity facilitates getting know your fellow attendees at a deeper level than a conventional networking event to enable knowledgeable recommendations that quickly get at what you actually need.
High School Startup Demo Day
Nov. 9, 6:30 p.m.
Anderson High Auditorium
8403 Mesa Dr
This summer 20 students gathered for three weeks to learn about startups by actually building new products. Since then, the young teams have been busy interacting with customers, iterating on prototypes and preparing to launch. At Demo Day teams will pitch to an audience for the first time, and launch their Kickstarter campaigns.
WowZapp Worldwide Hackathon for Windows
Nov. 10, 9:00 a.m.
University of Texas at Austin - Welch Hall Room 3.502
Be part of the app revolution! By registering, you’ll be joining thousands of developers worldwide as we build apps for the next generation of Windows. Microsoft app experts, developers and trainers will be available on-site to assist your learning and coding. Learn about building Windows Store apps today – download the info, tools and resources you need now.
Former Austin-based political consultant Mark McKinnon is one of those people who qualifies as “the smartest guy in the room.” Best known as chief media advisor for both of George W. Bush's successful runs for president, McKinnon began political life working media campaigns for Texas Democrats.
Raised in Colorado, McKinnon tried to establish himself as a songwriter in Nashville under the tutelage of Kris Kristofferson before landing in Austin and working on his first political campaign: Congressman Lloyd Doggett’s 1984 run for the Texas Senate. That led him to winning campaign media work for such Democrats as Mark White, Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson and Bob Lanier. On meeting and becoming friends with George W. Bush, McKinnon switched party affiliations, to the consternation of local Democratic pols. More recent clients include John McCain (whose 2008 campaign he left because McKinnon stated he didn't want to oppose Barack Obama), Lance Armstrong and Bono.
McKinnon is currently a Resident Fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, writes weekly columns for The Daily Beast and the London Telegraph, and is the founder of No Labels, an organization that seeks to encourage national bipartisan legislative efforts to “stop fighting, start fixing.”
The Austin Post spoke with McKinnon on Friday (11/2) about the current election, his career and his efforts to encourage nonpartisan problem-solving.
Austin Post: It’s Friday before Election Day. What’s your take on who will win the presidential race?
Mark McKinnnon: I think all the conventional wisdom suggests that Obama is gonna win, barring some sort of wave. [A Romney surge] could happen. There are some contra-indicators. Romney is winning independent voters and you rarely win the presidency without winning independents. And among those swing voters Romney is winning on the top issues: economy, jobs, taxes. But it’s hard to see Romney winning without winning Ohio. No Republican presidential winner has ever done that. So if that’s the case, we may look back and realize that this election was determined by one very specific issue, which was the auto bailout. Think about the move that Obama made, which was not an easy political decision at the time. And then how Romney sought an advantage at the time by writing an op-ed [“Let Detroit Go Bankrupt”], an op-ed I am sure he greatly regrets. But I think on the basis of that one op-ed, Romney may lose this election.
I say all that, and then I read Karl Rove’s editorial yesterday in the Wall Street Journal that you should take a look at, because Karl is still one of the smartest people in politics, and he makes a fairly convincing case that there are things going on in the Republican side that just aren’t being picked up.
Austin Post: It could come down to one candidate winning the popular vote and the other winning the Electoral College.
Mark McKinnnon: We could. And almost any way you cut it it’s not a particularly inspiring outcome. And it concerns me as someone who is more interested in good government that political victories and progress at this point in my life. I worry that the outcome will really not be a mandate for either one of them. That’s why I am doing a lot of work on this No Labels effort, which is where I am spending a lot of my time these days.
Austin Post: Heading into Tuesday can you identify one thing that each campaign has done quite successfully and one thing that has been a huge mistake or has backfired?
Mark McKinnnon: I think the Obama team did a pretty good job of looking at the winning 2004 campaign blueprint and executing it fairly well. They defined Romney early, they did a good job of strategically making the race a choice and not a referendum, which was the key.
I think that obviously the big mistake was a lack of preparation for that first debate.
Austin Post: Being a native of Colorado, what’s your thought on Al Gore’s theory that Obama didn’t have enough time to acclimatize to the thinner air in the Mile High City?
Mark McKinnnon: (laughs) Even if it were true, I would say that it was a lack of preparation as well. He should have gotten to Denver a day earlier. Either way it was a lack of preparation. But I understand that position having worked for an incumbent. I know how much he hated his first debate. Incumbent presidents have had everyone telling them yes for four years, and now they have to fight with somebody on a national stage and they are not happy warriors about that.
Austin Post: And for Romney, the most effective thing he’s done? And his biggest gaffe, mistake or poor act of planning?
Mark McKinnnon: I think the best thing he did was actually prepare for the debates and understand how important the debates would be. I’ve watched him over the years and it’s something that he has really worked on. He has put in the time and the effort to become one of the best debaters in politics. He’s very very good at it. He’s very skilled.
The problem with Romney has been that he’s a huge mystery to people like me – trying to figure out exactly who he is and what his core vision is. And here’s my theory: I think that Mitt Romney is at his heart a very decent and charitable person. And I think instinctively would govern the nation in the way he governed Massachusetts, much in the mold of his father. I think having lost the 2008 primaries, I think he’s a very transactional guy from his business experience and he saw where the Republican party had moved, and made some transactional decisions about how to run in the Republican primaries. It’s hard to argue that it wasn’t successful because it was. The problem is, in my view, the Republican primaries have shifted way too far to the right, require somebody to jump through hoops that drag them way too far to the right, which I think happened with Mitt Romney. And I think what Mitt Romney did was say and do all the things that he thought those constituencies in the primaries wanted to hear and didn’t modulate until only recently to give voters an idea of who he really is. I think had he done that earlier he’d be in much better shape.
Then ultimately and more broadly, I just think this election, to me – I have a distinct view that I don’t think reflects the view of others – I’m disappointed that [the candidates] haven’t made tougher harder choices and made clear the sacrifices that need to be made.
Austin Post: Yeah, but look what happened to Jimmy Carter when he did that….
Mark McKinnnon: Yeah, but I think the times require it. When Mitt Romney, at a time when it’s clear that we have to make budget sacrifices came out and said that he doesn’t think we need to cut the defense budget, I just went, come on! I think that’s ridiculous.
Austin Post: In 2010 you predicted that there would be a third-party presidential candidate in this cycle. That obviously didn’t happen. Is it still possible in 2016 and why?
Mark McKinnnon: Yeah, I really do and am surprised and disappointed that there wasn’t this time. The reason I think there will be is because if you look at the political environment and look at the lack of trust in the Democratic and Republican parties, it’s historic. I went back and looked at the last time that there was a very successful third party effort, which was Ross Perot’s bid in 1992, and people forget that for four months in that race he was beating George Bush and Bill Clinton. And, but for some kind of meltdowns, he could have been President of the United States. So I went back and looked at sort of the environmental and political numbers in 1992 to see what kind of parallels there were. The reality is that it’s a lot worse now, a lot worse now, than it was in 1992. So if it was conducive in 1992 and it’s a lot worse now, you’d think that the environment is even stronger now for an alternative candidacy.
This Americans Elect effort happened, which I thought was a really interesting experiment because the fundamental thing that they did was deal with the toughest issue for any third-party candidacy, which is the ballot access problem. They just took care of that so that you didn’t have to go out and pay $30 million or be rich to do it. Unfortunately they didn’t have any strong candidates step up for a lot of reasons. In part because you have an incumbent president who is fairly popular with his own party. I think this is more likely to happen when you don’t have an incumbent president and an open race like we will in 2016.
Tomorrow, in Part 2 of our interview, McKinnon discusses his unique career working with both parties, speculates on a radical campaign approach that might work wonders, and offers observations on today’s college generation’s relationship with politics.
Photos:Top left courtesy of Mark McKinnon; lower right courtesy of Harvard University Institute of Politics.
Last week Governor Rick Perry helped keep the Lone Star State at #1 in executions when 41-year-old Donnie Roberts was killed by the lethal injection by the state. It’s the 250th execution since he took office in January 2001. In those dozen years, Texas has executed twice as many people as any other state has over the last 35 years, and twice as many as it did in the 24 years prior to Perry’s term. Our state has also executed some 37 percent of all prisoners since the death penalty was restored in 1976. According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s scheduled executions webpage, 33-year-old Mario Swain is slated for execution this week on Thursday (11/8) and two more convicts are scheduled for next week.
In his 2010 book, “Fed Up!” Perry writes: "If you don't support the death penalty and citizens packing a pistol, don't come to Texas." Perry said at the Republican presidential candidates' debate in September last year that he had "never struggled [to sleep at night] at all" with the idea that someone executed under his watch might have been innocent.
We're excited to celebrate our third year as a beacon for citizen journalism and all things Austin!
Get your Saturday night started right with us for an early evening of fun with the staff and contributors of the Austin Post.
We'll have food from Wheatsville Co-op and The Best Wurst, drinks for grownups and kids alike, music from DJ Dave "The Church of Round Sound" Thomson, and door prizes to the first 30 people who swing by.
Best of all, it's FREE!
While you're there, check out the works of Austin artists Jamie Panzer, Allyson Lipkin, Ethan Azarian and Guy Juke.
When: Saturday November 10 4-7 PM
Where: 2514 Wilson St., Austin, TX 78704
Tell us if you're going! Join our Facebook Event Page.
Yesterday, former Texas political campaign operative and George W. Bush media advisor Mark McKinnon shared his prediction for the results of today’s presidential election and concerns about the American political system. Today he traces his political evolution, talks about the practical solutions to end gridlock in Congress being developed by No Labels, the organization he founded, agrees that a bold truth teller could have huge electoral appeal, and gives his take on the generation he is teaching.
Austin Post: It must be rather satisfying as a University of Texas dropout to now be teaching at Harvard University.
Mark McKinnon: It is. I’m a visiting fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard. What makes it even more interesting is that I didn’t graduate from UT, I only attended. This is my third time teaching at Harvard. When I first went through the drill to get qualified to come here and the interview process and then I guess they vote on it, I got in and then I got called by some bureaucrat administrator months later saying, I understand you’re coming to Harvard and I’m just doing all the final paperwork and I notice that we don’t have a copy of your diploma. I said, well, that’s because I don’t have one. There’s was a stony silence at the end of the call and I knew what he was thinking: Oh my God we let one through. But it was too late.
Austin Post: One of my least favorite sayings about political leanings is the Churchill line about how, to paraphrase, a young man who is not liberal has no heart and an old man who is not conservative has no mind. But I suspect that doesn’t apply so much in your case. And wasn’t your conversion to becoming a Republican also in some ways due to the personal relationship you developed with then Governor Bush?
Mark McKinnon: Yeah. It was in part an evolution too. Texas was for years a two-party state, but the two parties were Democrat and conservative Democrat. George Bush came along and I was urged to meet and work with him by the epic Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock [a Democrat], who loved George Bush and was a big mentor to him and together they worked hand in hand in a really bipartisan fashion. The things that attracted me to the then-Governor Bush were issues like immigration reform and education reform – issues that the Republicans had not traditionally talked about at all.
Austin Post: You’ve certainly had one of the most unique careers in the political consulting field by working both sides of the aisle.
Mark McKinnon: I’ve had very unusual arc, none of it by design. I started off as a musician, but always kind of liked politics. So when I realized at one point, tracking my music arc – I was really dedicated to that and thought that’s all I would do in my life; I looked around at all these great musicians around me who were a lot better than I was – I realized that by the time I was 50 I was going to be the second act at the Pflugerville Holiday Inn. So I decided to go to Plan B and went to U.T. and got into journalism and liked to write about politics. And then went to work for the Lloyd Doggett campaign in 1984 and got the bug and loved doing campaigns. And then got the media side of it bug that I really loved and that kinda married up my creative interests and my political side. So that’s what I did for 30 years. I spent 15 years of that working as a Democrat and 15 years as a Republican.
I came to the conclusion that, a) there are good people on both sides of the aisle. And, b) that both sides were pretty screwed up. And increasingly so in recent years. And for reasons we could spend hours talking about, we have a highly polarized hyper-partisan environment that rewards bad behavior and punishes good behavior or what I’d call bipartisan or just cooperative behavior. And so I rededicated myself to trying to establish a more civil dialog and bipartisanship, because I’ve always been kind of a man in the middle either just to the left side or right side of the line. I had to pick one or the other because it was the only two choices we had.
When I get outside of Washington and I’m in Austin or Colorado and talk to my friends and family, they may identify themselves as Republicans or Democrats, but most of them are not radical hyper-partisans and realize that the parties need to work together in order to achieve some consensus and move things forward. That represents easily more than half the country, I think, anecdotally and from a research perspective, I’ve discovered. And so people look at Washington and say, what the hell’s going on up there? That doesn’t seem to reflect my community or the people I know. The reason for that, again, involves a longer discussion that has to do with the way the system has now evolved where you have enormous sums of special interest money, often undisclosed and anonymous, supporting highly partisan interests that are really minority constituencies, but they have huge microphones and big amplifiers. So it’s distorted and gives you the impression that they reflect these huge constituencies, which they don’t.
Austin Post: If Obama wins today, as you believe he will, isn’t it likely that Washington will still be gripped by partisan gridlock?
Mark McKinnon: Yes, I do. It’s not a particularly optimistic picture, although we are doing some things at No Labels to create what we’re calling a problem-solvers caucus of 40 members that will announce in January. I think we’ll be a critical factor and do what the blue dog Democrats did before they were decimated, and Main Street Republicans did before they were decimated, and be a catalyst for the leadership to go and cut deals on big issues. So I think that’s going to be a very constructive pivotal group that can help make some progress.
If Obama is reelected, I hope that he’ll take the opportunity – since he now doesn’t have to worry about getting reelected – to really try to go big and do some big things. As somebody who has great concerns about money and politics and the impact of Citizens United on the political ecosystem, I’ll be comforted by the notion that any Supreme Court nominees over the next four years will be people who will probably be inclined to overturn that decision.
It’s messy but it’s still the best system in the world and we’ll struggle our way through it. I’m still a glass-half-full guy at the end of the day.
Austin Post: One of the goals of No Labels is suggesting how to again “Make Congress Work.” But given your concern about the corrosive effect of money in politics I’m surprised that there isn’t anything about, say, lobbying within that.
Mark McKinnon: There’s also nothing in there about a lot of other things like campaign finance reform and redistricting that we support and think needs to be addressed. Let me just tell you about the evolution of No Labels. I’ve been involved in a number of different efforts in this space. When we started No Labels a couple of years ago, the initial idea was that it would be what would be what I describe as a broad centrist group, which is sometimes called moderate and sometimes called progressive. And we would represent those interests in the middle of the American spectrum. But then we quickly discovered that that is a very slippery slope and that people have very divergent ideas about what centrism means. And it got really unproductive really quickly, and we realized that we would never achieve any consensus about what we were going to do or where we were going to go.
So then we decided, let’s tackle some of the issues you mentioned like lobbying and campaign finance reform or redistricting. And then we realized that there were other groups already doing that. We wanted to find a place where we could make a unique contribution. We didn’t just want to throw rocks over the wall but to try and work in a way that would be a catalyst for change. So we began doing a lot of research with chiefs of staff and legislative aides and members of Congress looking at what I describe as process reforms. In other words, these weren’t big ideological issues like immigration or the fiscal cliff or energy, but they were issues that grease the wheels and put some oil in the engine so the motor could start running again.
Austin Post: Cleaning up some of the strange and arcane procedures and rules that govern the workings of Congress?
Mark McKinnon: Exactly. Things that over time have made it really difficult for Congress to just do the basic work it’s supposed to do. So we came out with two different plans: One is called “Make Congress Work” and the other is called “Make the Presidency Work” that have a lot of what I feel are really good ideas that are starting to get a lot of attention, like “No Budget, No Pay.” If you don’t do your job you don’t get paid. And budget is policy. Budget frameworks create policy. You have a situation right now where the Senate hasn’t passed a budget in three years. They just keep kicking it down the road with continuing resolutions and Band-Aids. And so that means that the policy keeps getting kicked down the road and the problems get worse and worse. So we like this idea where if you don’t put a budget out in time for each day you get docked your pay. That already has tremendous support and a hundred co-sponsors in the House and Senate. And there are a lot of people running on that platform. So we think that has a real chance of getting attention and passage in the next session.
Or “Up or Down Vote on Presidential Appointments Within 90 Days.” There are hundreds of jobs in Washington that don’t get filled. I got appointed by President Bush to the Broadcasting Board of Governors and didn’t get confirmed for three years. And that was just because some Democrat didn’t get appointed so they wanted to hold up a Republican appointment. And that was me. It was this Hatfield and McCoys kind of thing: No one can remember how the fight got started but they had to fight. The President should be able to fill the jobs so they can do the work. Tim Geithner was over there at Treasury trying to deal with fiscal meltdown with a bunch of secretaries and interns because they could get appointments through.
Austin Post: Given how political campaigns have gone from spin and stretching the truth to outright lies, I’ve felt for some time that if a “Bullworth” style candidate came along to run for national office who says I drank this, snorted that, took the money and was found in bed with both a dead hooker and a live boy, so let’s now get past that and talk about what really matters, they’d win by a landslide. What do you think about that?
MM: Oh God, man! You’re talking my talk. I was literally talking with someone about “Bullworth” last night. I was saying that I’d love for it to happen politically, but was also thinking what an interesting screenplay it would be to do basically a “Bullworth” version but have the main character be like Allen Simpson – kind of a wacky old guy who tells it like it is.
Austin Post: My screenplay like that would be Bernie Sanders.
Mark McKinnon: I just think that if someone came along like that, a truth teller, it would just light up the boards, I really do. That’s why I was so excited about that Americans Elect idea. Another guy who was really good on that score was Buddy Roemer. He’s a guy who could appeal to a guy like me but also a guy like you – a Republican who supported Occupy and breaking up the big banks.
Austin Post: How did you come to land in Texas and specifically Austin?
Mark McKinnon: Growing up in Colorado, I grew up hating Texas. Colorado has that weird anti-Texas thing. I thought I’d live in Tehran before I’d live in Texas. But I got in the music business. I ran away from home in the middle of high school and hitchhiked to Nashville and lived there for four or five years and then I came out to play the Kerrville Folk Festival in 1975….
Austin Post: Where you were a winner in the New Folk competition….
Mark McKinnon: That’s right. On my way back to Nashville to Kerrville I stopped in Austin and fell in love instantly. There was no live music in Nashville at the time. I was talking to someone from Austin and they were complaining there were only 87 clubs and 110 bands and I said, “Make it 111. I’m on my way.”
Austin Post: Is there any musical artist who is really floating your boat these days?
Mark McKinnon: I have discovered this great musician up here who has become my favorite musician of all time. His name is Tim Gearan. He’s just phenomenal. He’s very much like Colin Hay if you like that sort of thing, and he’s got this local all-star band. He’s kind of Boston’s version of Bob Schneider – a guy who’s phenomenally talented but hasn’t really broken out of Boston.
Austin Post: Can you summarize the influence Austin has had on your political perspective?
Mark McKinnon: Austin is an open, progressive and tolerant city. No matter where I’ve been on the political spectrum, I’ve always been all of those things. I continue to believe that Austin’s the greatest place in America.
Austin Post: What’s the future hold for you?
Mark McKinnon: I’m trying to downshift. I’m enjoying writing. And teaching. That and No Labels is kind of where my focus is these days.
Austin Post: When you say writing, would that include a book?
Mark McKinnon: I’ve had a lot of conversations about that. I’m just not sure…. Yeah, it’s something I’ve thought about. I’m just not sure that I’ve found a topic that would really be of broad interest. What I would write about is probably in some vein my view of where politics has been and where it might go and the No Labels approach. But I know in the publishing world that those are the kind of books that just die a very quick death.
Austin Post: At Harvard you are dealing with the next generation of the best and the brightest who have an interest in politics. What's your assessment of them?
Mark McKinnon: I’m very impressed with this generation. One thing I have noticed is that they seem to be less interested in and motivated to pursue partisan politics in general. They seem more apt to focus on a single issue or a couple of issues and get very knowledgeable and committed. They strike me as very articulate and passionate about the causes they choose to pursue. Being the glass-half-full kind of guy I am, they give me a lot of hope for the future.
Austin Post: Have you ever considered running yourself for political office?
Mark McKinnon: The only thing I’d run for is the border.
Pipsqueak is one of those products you look at and wonder why it isn’t already on the shelves. Most parents don’t want to buy a cellphone for their kids until they’re at least old enough to lose it at school, but they do want their kids to be able to talk to their grandparents and family out of town. The usual solution is to just hand the kid your phone while they talk to grandma - which means putting a $600 smartphone in the hands of a three year old who’s just getting the hang of how all her fingers work. Good luck with that.
Pipsqueak is a sturdy, kid-friendly bluetooth device that looks and acts like a cellphone. Parents don’t have to sign up for a new cell plan for their kids. Instead, the Pipsqueak syncs with your smartphone just like a bluetooth headset, so as far as your cell provider is concerned, you’re making an ordinary call on your existing plan. Meanwhile, your kid gets to talk on what feels like their own durable phone that can be casually and safely dropped, stepped on, or smeared with jelly.
As an added bonus, the Pipsqueak includes its own MP3 player for your kid and a "wander alert" that loudly sounds off if your child wanders too far from your phone.
The rewards are straightforward. Early contributors can get a Pipsqueak, two interchangable face plates and a wall charger for $50. Bump it up to $75 and you’ll also get kid-sized headphones, a cell phone dangle, and a third interchangeable face plate. At $200, Pipsqueak’s artists will work with you to make a fully customized and entirely personal faceplate for your kid’s phone.
The thought, care and actual tech behind this are impressive. The Pipsqueak is designed to take the hassle out of monthly fees, contracts, and trying to select an appropriate phone for a four year old. They did all the design and prototyping here in Austin then found a manufacturing facility in nearby San Antonio. That means keeping jobs in Texas while also keeping an eye on quality control.
Honestly, I like everything about this Kickstarter. My only concern is that this is, in fact, a Kickstarter instead of an IndieGoGo. They’re asking for an ambitious $187,545. So far, they’ve earned less than 10 percent of that. I’d hate to see an ambitious and useful product like this fail to make it to market because they couldn't pre-sell enough units.
Curious how our previous Austin Kickstarters did?
The Ghastlycrud Zombies is currently 62% funded. They have about a week to make another $1,600.
The Live Action Jem and the Holograms Movie was over 250% funded! Mind you, they were only asking for $200. Go ahead and throw them a couple more bucks just to be part of something awesome.
Jumpshot made an amazing 500% of their goal! They raised more than $147,000, putting them in the top tier of all Kickstarters.
My Education was fully funded! Our instrumental band is set for their European tour.
Rockrgrrl Magazine’s GRL Talk Book was fully funded! They made over 120% of their original goal.
Strange Kid Comix was over 114% funded! They raised more than $,2850 for their taste of pure pop culture nostalgia.
Wholly Kabob was 100% funded. They raised $15,250 to start a tasty new food trailer.
Texas or Die: An Anthology of Horror is about 16% Funded. They have a few weeks to make $5800.
The Anachronist sadly didn’t reach its goal and therefore didn’t receive funding.
Stabil-i-Case sadly didn’t reach its goal and therefore didn’t receive funding.
The Doctor Who Review Project sadly didn’t reach its goal and therefore didn’t receive funding.
Taskbox sadly didn’t reach it’s goal and therefore didn’t recieve funding.
The original Spinferno Kickstarter was cancelled and replaced by a new Spinferno for Android Kickstarter.