All posts by tim

Some Brief Writeups

Theater

“There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom” UT Department of Theater and Dance – saw this last night. Well done show. One of those shows for 5th graders that really resonates no matter what your age. Like the kids movies from your youth that they don’t make anymore. It treats the kids in the play seriously and parallels their troubles with bullying with the adults in the play. There are some truly cringe-worthy scenes coming from parents where you just want to run up on stage and protect the kids.

The dramaturgy at the end of the show should be seen by anyone who has ever done a talk-back (and really anyone involved in producing theater). It was focused, funny, engaged the audience and ended at a set time. Really great work.

As with most UT performances their were some weak performances, but not from any of the kids or adult leads. And there were puppets which always make me happy. This is a dark horse to check out. I get burned out watching so much theater and this one really kept me engaged the whole way through.

Tickets (careful, they have no show tomorrow night due to the football game)

“The Collection” Hyde Park Theater – If you want to see this one you should probably get your tickets within the next few minutes. They’re pretty much sold out. And for good reason. The story revolves around marital infidelity. Or not. There are Kafka-esque phone calls and strangers showing up at the door. And yet it’s a great comedy. Joey Hood and Ken Webster are great. My only problem with the show is that I wasn’t sure at the end whether infidelity had occurred, and probably more importantly I wasn’t 100% convinced the actors knew. But all in all it was a concise, hilarious, and intriguing night of theater.

Tickets

“The Jungle” Trouble Puppet – Trouble Puppet’s production last year of “Frankenstein” was my favorite show of the year, so I had very high hopes for their production of “The Jungle”. By and large the puppetry was flawless. Trouble Puppet mixes puppetry styles, but it’s mainly Bunraku. In this case it was seamless. The puppeteers were dressed like the puppets as factory workers and renacted some of the puppets tasks in real life which really made it seem like their was no real barrier between the two. That said I felt like it didn’t have as much of the horror as Frankenstein (which seems odd considering the source material). Also, it felt like it was simply reaffirming the audiences views. It’s hard to find someone now who doesn’t feel like turn-of-the-century factory conditions were horrific. Their production of Frankenstein put a fantastic feminist spin on the story, and I would have liked to seen the same thing here. That said, it will probably still be one of my favorite plays this year. Can’t wait to see Connor Hopkins do the puppets for “Evil Dead: The Musical”!

Closed

Restaurants

Zoe’s Kitchen (arboretum area) – Had a Pimento Cheese Sandwich, Fresh Pasta Salad with Basil, Izzi Soda, and Chocolate Chip Cookie. My entree was free due to a promotion they’re running right now. The place was fresh, but not excessively healthy. The bread was toasted in some sort of oil. The pasta salad was a bit bland and dry. That said, for restaurants South of 183 and West of MoPac this is one of the best. Probably only beat out for me by the Hub.

Woodland (south congress) – Had two of their cocktails which were both fantastic. The Socu was nice and cucumbery (which is one of my favorite flavors in cocktails). It was not sweet and the cayenne did a great job of getting the scent of the drink into your nose (can you tell I don’t write food reviews). I can’t figure out what my second drink was anymore. For mains I had the woodland veggie burger. It is beet based, which was suprisingly tastey, but about 3/4 of the way through the burger I was done with the taste. The cocktails were good, but it didn’t inspire me to want to go back and try the rest of the menu.

La Reyna (south first) – great margaritas, and they have super tender ribs that fall off the bone and you can roll into a taco. Our new favorite Mexican place.

East Side Show Room (east 6th) – worth the trip just to see how built up East 6th has become. The drinks were good, but both Julie and my food were exceedingly simple. Mine tasted like beef that had come out of a crock pot, and Julie’s was merely good. Our chatucherie plate was like something out of a commercial making fun of gourmet food. It was a regular sized app plate with one tiny slice of pate, a tiny dollop of some sort of mouse, and various other tiny things. There was far more white showing than there was food. All in all, we were underwhelmed. We might go back for cocktails, but we were not inspired to try the food again.

Frank (Colorado and 4th) – tasty hot dogs. They have specialty sausages made daily. Definitely one of the food bargains in downtown Austin and just a really satisfying lunch. Kid friendly for well behaved children. They have Maine Root root beer on draft which makes them probably the closest to my vision of heaven that’s possible. I’ve had a sausage stuffed with portobellos and shallots, and one topped with daikon and they were both perfectly balanced dogs. Highly recommended. We’ve already been twice.

Taverna (2nd street) – pretty decent italian. Julie got a really tasty pizza covered with fresh veggies and I got a risotto. It was good, but at the end of the day it was a risotto. I don’t understand the fetishization of that dish, I wanted to try it somewhere upscale to see if I could figure it out. It was good, and it was nice to sit on the sidewalk and people watch, but I think we’ll probably stick with Primizie as our favorite Italian restaurant in Austin.

Uh… what’s for dinner?

Kind of freaking out over here. Apparently Conde Nast is shuttering Gourmet Magazine. This is bad. That’s the magazine I use for recipes for everything. How am I supposed to keep cooking? You going to teach me to cook without recipes Conde Nast?

And what about my grandmother? She’s been passive-aggressively insulting Julie and me year after year by sending Julie a subscription to Gourmet and me a subscription to Smithsonian. I’ve cooked her Christmas dinner for the past two years. From recipes out of Gourmet. I have no clue what she’s going to do.

Or what I’m going to do. I might need to buy some paper cookbooks.

Why Variances Can Be Good

So there’s been a bit of talk lately about the Grayco Development along Lakeshore. Save Town Lake is against it because they believe that the 40′ height limit should be absolute. Chris Reilly (one of our new council members) has weighed in on why he supports it. His argument is that they are only asking for a height variance and they are offering a massive number of incentives to the city in return (public plazas, preserving trees, park improvements, sidewalks, etc).

I’ve become somewhat pessimistic about development in Austin. It seems that these initial offers are generally their best offer, and they tend to get to build what they want in the end. The Northcross debacle is just one of many where we were going to get something pretty nice from the developers, but in the end the city is quite a bit poorer and we’re getting a generic Walmart. As far as initial offers go, this is a great one, and is completely in keeping with the ideals of the new East Riverside plan. But while the pro/anti development track is a pretty common argument, I don’t really want to address it in this case.

I also don’t want to address it in the sense of ugly vs. nice developments. One of the things that being on a Neighborhood Association Board convinced me of is that you cannot create rules to avoid ugly. You can create rules for well-kept. You can create rules to effectively use space, but you can’t avoid ugly.

That said, I wanted to compare the two properties that are side by side. The Grayco Development and the Amli development next door. You can view a map at the Chronicle’s writeup on the issue. I want to compare them simply from a lakefront utilization perspective.

Here’s a view of the where the Grayco development will be from across the lake. It will be behind the second tree line (per the variance agreement those trees stay). There’s an existing two story apartment complex there. You’ll need to expand the picture and look very closely to see it.

Here’s a view of the area from the actual hike and bike trail. It’s taken from right next to the water fountain which is halfway between Lakeshore Boulevard and the closest the Hike and Bike trail gets to the water.

Next look at the Amli complex. This is a project that did not request a variance and is within waterfront overlay height limits:

That large concrete building is a parking garage. Don’t get me wrong. I actually like the Amili development. Looking at the way it integrates with Riverside you can imagine how Riverside is going to become a nice strollable boulevard of shops and apartments, rather than a bunch of run down strip malls:

But is “Save Town Lake” right to contend that the Grayco development is some sort of monstrosity that will destroy the spirit of the lake? That development is going to be behind the treeline. It’s going to have a lot of units, which means more people who can enjoy the lake, and it’s going to preserve the Hike and Bike trail (something the Amli development is not extending, you still get to run by it on the sidewalk). There will be a plaza to engage the public and bike routes and sidewalks through the development to make getting from Riverside to the Trail easier.

Is a parking garage really the best utilization of a waterfront view? Shouldn’t people be enjoying the view instead of a concrete wall? Shouldn’t we encourage developers to seek variances when following the rules would lead to something that is obviously not the best utilization of a site?

I think we need to take variances to get what we really want. Keep the views for the people. Keep density in the East Riverside area and bring in new commercial development to a historically under-served community.

Goodbye Affordable Housing in Austin

Check out the newest provision in the FHA guidelines. You know, the loans that make it easy for first time home buyers to buy affordable houses with little to no down payment. Julie and I bought our first house with one.

– Because of noise worries, FHA insurance will be unavailable when properties are within 1,000 feet of a highway, freeway, or heavily traveled road; 3,000 feet of a railroad; one mile of an airport; or five miles of a military airfield. Projects must take action to avoid or mitigate such conditions before completing the loan review process.

What does that leave? There are million dollar homes in Austin less than 3000′ from a railroad. Most of the affordable housing in Austin is that close. Have you looked at the affordable developments in South Austin? The ones that pretty much run along the tracks?

The major flaw in "No Child Left Behind"

So we went to a meeting about Becker, an elementary school in our neighborhood last night. We’re considering sending Stella there, due to the extreme overcrowding at our local elementary (> 120%, highest in AISD). Plus a lot of our friends are in the neighborhood. There was talk of a daul-language program, which was interesting, but one thing that struck me was their academically unacceptable rating and their small class size. Linder (the overcrowded school in our neighborhood) has been academically acceptable since the creation of “No Child Left Behind”. That seemed a bit odd to me. But first a word about averages.

Steve Crossland of the excellent Crossland Blog has often spoke about how useless averages are in real estate (and really in much of life). When someone asks you what the average home price is in Austin, you don’t actually tell them the average. You tell them the median. Thanks to the million dollar homes the average home price is probably around half a million. The median is probably in the high 100k’s. When we say average we generally mean median. And when we see averages we generally extrapolate them to the median in our head. When I was in school, if I saw an average grade of 75% in one of my classes, I would assume pretty much everyone got a C. Yet, depending on the size of the class it could have been 2 unprepared lunkheads who got no answers right, and the rest of the class aced the test. Averages tell you very little about individual performance.

With that in mind I decided to look at test scores in town. I decided to compare against 3rd grade, but the numbers are pretty consistent. Here’s Becker (all numbers are number of kids who failed the test):

Becker

Grade Average Class Size Reading Math Writing Science
3 12.8 4.1 4.22 3.2 3.07

I was shocked. So academically unacceptable in this case means that 3-4 kids failed the test in each class? That’s not so bad. And when you consider averages are at play here it’s possible that there are a few bad teachers dragging the rest down. So I decided to see what academically exemplary means. This is a school that does not have a lot of english profeciency problems, economic disadvantage, or section 8 housing:

Kiker

Grade Average Class Size Reading Math Writing Science
3 21 0.21 0.42 0.21 1.05

So the difference is 2-3 kids per class? Not as much difference as you would expect from the terms “exemplary” and “unacceptable”. I finally decided to look at Linder to see how it stacked up:

Linder

Grade Average Class Size Reading Math Writing Science
3 22.4 4.93 6.5 2.46 7.39

So, Linder, which is an academically “acceptable” school actually has more kids failing per class than Becker which is “unacceptable”. The law of averages at work. So this means that school districts are rewarded for having over-crowded schools. It explains why suburbs that can’t seem to build enough schools to keep up with demand don’t seem to have the same problems their inner-city counter parts do. And it shows me that realistically most of the schools in Austin are quite good and after meeting some teachers last night, I have to say they’re really dedicated to voluntarily go to meetings until 7pm on a work night. I’m looking forward to sending Stella.

Here’s my spreadsheet if you want to check my work.

A Neighborly Conversation

Just listened to “A Neighborly Conversation” on KOOP. A discussion between Jeff Jacks and Chris Bradford (Austin Contrarian). Not a lot of new ground. Jeff Jacks does appear to be absolutely against new development in neighborhoods which is interesting. I wouldn’t have thought he’d put it quite that strongly. But he did bring up that we’re not pushing for density in the new development in Austin that’s not in existing neighborhoods. South Park Meadows is suburban sprawl. West Austin is nothing but sprawl. 969 is sprawl. That’s a real failure. While we can’t change what Round Rock, Cedar Park, or Buda are doing, we can change what we’re doing as a city. We really need to view the entire City of Austin as being “downtown”. Because it will be shortly. The fact that all of our new construction within the city limits isn’t at least as dense as Mueller (which isn’t very dense) is a real failing on our part.

What do you think the solution is to getting more people into Austin without sprawl?

The Real Problem with Republicans

No room for your dumb ass

I was reading the Alcalde this morning. The Alcalde is UTs Alumni magazine. They recently did a profile on the lack of alumni engagement from those alumni who went to UT in the 1980s. Letters came in this month and a lot of people mentioned that the reason they didn’t get involved was that their kids were going to another school thanks to the 10% rule. One letter in particular said he blamed UT’s political correctness more than the legislature for creating the problem. Which is really the problem here.

So Republicans hate the 10% rule? A rule that was enacted because affirmative action was unfair. A law that was needed thanks to a court case pursued to the supreme court by Republicans. A case that was pursued to end political correctness in admissions at UT. A law created in response to that decision by a Republican legislature, signed by a Republican governor. Yeah, you’re right. It’s those politically correct liberals at UT who are keeping your kid from getting in.

We really need a new party so we can have honest discussions between the informed adults left in this country. And we can leave the Republican party to attract all the morons. It really sucks that politics is about winning votes and you have to appeal to these jackenapes.

Now I’ve Got To See It

Just finished this article on Salon about Inglorious Basterds, Quinten Tarrantino’s new movie. It has some really fascinating statements. About this movie:

Pitt and Roth’s characters “behave like butt-ugly sadists,” Wells writes, while the German soldier, despite cursing out his tormentors as “Jew dogs,” behaves like “a man of honor,” accepting a brutal and painful death rather than ratting out his comrades. In Sammel’s brief performance, Wells says, he depicts the German as “a man of intelligence and perception” with “a certain regular-Joe decency,” while Raine and Donowitz come off as unhinged horror-movie villains.

This is fascinating because it seems taboo to say. But yet. There are Jews who behaved horribly. And German’s who behaved decently. And both Jews and Germans who behaved like angels after behaving like monsters. We like to frame the Holocaust in these expressionistic black-and-white terms, but human beings are never black and white.

Hollywood scholar Neal Gabler to ask why Tarantino “conventionalizes Jews, puts them in the same revenge motif as everyone else.” Doesn’t that risk creating audience sympathy for their Nazi victims? (One should of course say “German victims”; it’s intellectually lazy and historically inaccurate to assume that German soldiers are all Nazis, but that level of ambiguity does not register in the Tarantino universe.)

How fascinating that anyone would assume that Jews could somehow avoid conventional revenge narratives. Why? Because there’s a certain threshold where revenge becomes acceptable? A really good read unrelated to the movie. I think it lays bare a lot of attitudes, and explains why for some people the phrase “never again” does not apply to say Rawanda or Srebernica.

Redeveloping the Warehouse District


Ahh… feels like junior high.

“Downtown Austin” wrote a post about the battle to redevelop the warehouse district.

I think there’s a lot of nostalgia about the area, but what’s left to be nostalgic about? Aside from the gay clubs it’s become increasingly an area with a ton of chain restaurants and bars that are a pain to walk to. Waterloo’s gone. Ginger Man was a chain. It’s going, if not gone. The Spaghetti Warehouse will be fine I’m sure. There will still be a place to take a date with horrible food and piss-poor atmosphere. Never you fear. If this had been proposed in the nineties, I might have complained, but now? I think land owners trying to make money on their underdeveloped properties have already caused a lot of damage to the area.

If I’m going to dress up and go out drinking I’m going to West 6th or Second Street now. Thanks in large part to the fact that I don’t have to worry about getting hit by a car, or Julie wearing heels and falling down a flight of stairs with no handrail.

I think that you could probably come up with a design for that neighborhood that would be more “warehousey”, but that had actual walkable sidewalks. I’m interested though, is there anything anyone thinks is left in the warehouse district that they’d be sad to see go?

Prolicide

I submited this to for the Muses project. I just got the final list of playwrights, so I guess it was rejected. In any case, I really liked it. It comes out of all the horrible worries I have to push out of my mind every night as I try to go to sleep. Being a parent definitely introduces a new level of worry into your life (or a level of worry at all in my case). Dramatic liberties have been taken. This is not autobiographical.

<!--
    @page { margin: 0.79in }
    P { margin-bottom: 0.08in }
--><strong><br />

Prolocide

(FATHER is washing his hands in the sink. He uses a nail brush. Meticulous. He finishes, and dries his hands)

FATHER

When I was in college, I was a professional house sitter. I loved it. I loved the first time you opened up a house. There were signs of the past everywhere. Generally they were clean. Immaculate. Awaiting their owner’s return. Perhaps a cereal bowl in the bottom of the sink. A wet towel on the bathroom floor, but otherwise clean.

I loved looking at the past. The furniture. The books. The photos. I loved imagining the future. Would they ever be able to make it through that case of fiber supplements? Would they finish the 7 pound book, marked 135 pages in, currently languishing on their bedside table? And what of the large pile of bricks just outside their French doors?

(FATHER contemplates a box of macaroni and cheese)

But when I was house sitting, it was as though time had stopped. There were the mementos of the past. And there was the potential for the future. But the house had been stopped in time. And I had walked out of time and into this twilight.

(he gets out the pot, and fills it with water, he puts it on the stove and turns on the burner, then considers the box once more)

I guess I must have thought about the future too much when I was young. That’s the reason I should never have kids. I can’t handle the suspense. You know the statistics. You know all the statistics. You know that the world has never been safer. That there is very little to fear. But too much of my youth was spend idling about in the future.

I am- was- married.

(he gets out a calculator and pen and paper from a kitchen drawer. He reads the box and reduces the amounts down to one person)

I got married. I was in love. I am in love. I don’t know how it’s possible to get out of that once you’re truly in it. Once you have love, you have all this past that will forever contain the person you love. Your history will always contain them, and that love. I could maybe love another woman. Maybe. But I don’t think that could ever change the past. But sometimes even if we love someone we do things that make them not love us back. Things that we think they won’t ever understand. And they won’t understand. One of the reasons I should never have kids. How could you ever see them fall in love, and know the risk they’re taking. Think of their hearts. Know the highs, but also know the lows. Know the days and months of anxiety. The constant fear that it’s all slowly unraveling, and the feeling of having your stomach in your throat for months as the drama unfolds. And the legal events unfold. And the couch unfolds.

(he fills a cup with