Category Archives: Ramblings

I’m Green … as long as I don’t have to pay for it

UPDATE: So after reading and talking to people I’ve decided I’ll vote for Galindo. Morrison is too much in the neighborhood associations pocket, and one thing we don’t need are a few neighborhood associations deciding what’s best for Austin as a whole. Not that anyone votes based on my opinion. But just thought I’d put it out there. Still pissed off about so many people’s reaction to the “visibility” and “green home tax” issues.

We just got a mailer for Cid Galindo. It has me irritated. Especially to be sending it out in Austin. It basically says that his opponent – Laura Morrison is for the “Green Home Tax”. This refers to a proposed idea to have homes be required to brought up to current energy efficient standards when they are sold. The group working on a proposal to bring before city council has not indicated whether this would be paid for by the seller or buyer. Of course, that hasn’t stopped the Austin Board of Realtors and talk radio from deciding that it would be the seller and making political hay.

If the buyer pays it’s an inconvenience, and realtors won’t like it since it might lead to lower home prices once the price of repairs is factored in. But if you’re a buyer buying a house from 1980, chances are that you already knew you were going to have to get a new AC, and rolling it into your mortgage wouldn’t be too bad a way to go.

Of course if the seller has to pay that would be a lot of money out of a seller’s pocket before they could put their home on the market. A lot of people couldn’t do it easily. Of course, more than likely the city would have Austin Energy provide more of their 0% interest loans for energy upgrades to make this simple to do without out of pocket expenses for the seller, but this isn’t keeping the issue off of talk radio.

And really I don’t care which side has to pay. Everyone in town says they want a green city, but no one seems to want to make the changes or pay for it. Pisses me off. If you can afford a 180k+ house (which is median in this city), you can afford to get your AC fixed so that it’s not screwing up the atmosphere and wasting huge amounts of energy.

And I’m not voting for Cid anymore, from point 2 of his Building the Greenest City in America plan:

2. Energy consumption matters. Per capita energy consumption should be at the heart of every major policy decision that we make as a city, from the light bulbs we use, to the grass that we grow, to the cars that we drive.

Austin – we want to be the greenest city, as long as we don’t have to sacrifice to get there.

You are what you buy.

So, I had a post about my weekend weeding the yard. It was fascinating, and unfortunately for you was destroyed when my system crashed. I know you’re disappointed. But I can’t muster the energy to rewrite it. So lets talk about this Salon article.

Since I know most people don’t read articles here’s the short summary. Basically the author is talking about those Favorites sections of Facebook and MySpace:

But why do we spend so much time crafting such elaborate summaries of our buying habits? It gets us dates, for one. If a girl posts a halfway-decent photo and expresses a taste for George Saunders, “Lolita” and the Clash, she is guaranteed an e-mail asking her to elaborate over drinks next week. (I speak from experience.) But the prospect of trolling for dates doesn’t explain the zeal with which people throw themselves into perfecting these lists, as anyone who’s received an e-mail notification informing them that a faraway friend has just removed “The Flight of the Conchords” from her list of favorite TV shows can attest. We don’t shill for profit; we post these lists to give people a sense of who we are. We plot points on a graph and hope it — we — will be interpreted correctly.

So true. But what the author doesn’t mention is the shame we feel when we are misinterpreted. I’ve trained Amazon and Netflix religiously. I’ve rated 2550 items on Amazon. 1203 movie ratings on Netflix. And yet I go to the recommendations page on Amazon and they’re recommending “Panic at the Disco”? I’m not a “Panic at the Disco” listener. I don’t listen to that pop-punk crap (except that one song). What are you saying about me? Why does Netflix keep recommending “Fried Green Tomatoes”? That totally doesn’t fit in with my B-Movie, Documentary, and Art Film persona.

Of course, chances are I would actually like these things. But they’d never show up on my Facebook list. People might get the wrong idea about me. I need to go buy the new Douglas Coupland novel to compensate.

UPDATE: I forgot about Which is the ultimate damnation. We craft these ideas about what uber cool music we listen too. But records everything we listen too and tells us what we really listen to.

I thought Julie was the Cure fan…

Moi Racist?

Probably. A bit. I am human. But not in this case. I read a couple local real-estate blogs. I find it fascinating to read the statistics and to watch how Austin is changing. The blog post in question was about a Statesman article that talked about what a great deal East Austin was for investors. The owner of the blog commented that they still weren’t interested in investing in East Austin as there were still a lot of problems in the area. This got into a discussion of what the problems were, comparing and contrasting with the gentrification of South Congress, etc. My comment on this conundrum was:

South Congress the street was bad in the nineties (although not horrible, watch “Last Days of the San Jose” to get a feel for the problems). You’d drive down it and point and stare at the prostitutes, but it was also a street you still drove down, so obviously it wasn’t that bad. I’d say you can point at the closing of the porn theater as probably the turning point for the street. You could actually watch as the prostitutes and drug dealers moved further south. I’m not sure other neighborhoods can be fixed that easily.

The neighborhoods around there were still pretty nice. Travis Heights has obviously always been a fantastic neighborhood. Esther’s Follies’ running gag is that South Austin is known for cars on the lawn, junk sculpture, and garage sales. Which pretty much described the other neighborhoods. Junky, but not dangerous.

East Austin you’re dealing with some entrenched problems. The first Austin city plan in 1928 *encouraged* blacks to move into East Austin (or give up all municipal services). They were pushed out of some of the nicer areas like Clarkesville and Wheatsville. The I-35 divide is entrenched. The black community is built up around it being “their place” and that crosses economic barriers. Much of the local political structures are built around those ideas as well. And it helps to realize this when trying to understand local politics. Austin had mandatory busing into the late eighties I believe and thanks to transfers has fairly starkly segregated schools.

Which is not to say I don’t think it will gentrify. I just think the 3-5 years is a little optimistic.

I got called out today:

Does the blatant racism in this discussion bother anybody else? Tim’s comment about blacks of all ecomonic groups feeling attached to East Austin as an entrenched problem for that neighborhood… WTF? And should we really cheer for the removal of poor people at gun point? I haven’t read all these posts, but it seems like the silence in response to some very objectionable statement is deafening. There’s a moral difference in making money by investing in companies with long term potential (a al Buffet) and investing in making a neighborhood unaffordable for its residents, demolishing their housing, and advocating their dispersal, all so you can sell at a nice profit in 3-5 years.

Thankfully I was defended by the owner of the blog, who pointed out I was merely stating the historical facts. And so my response:

I don’t know where you got a racist attitude in my post. I wasn’t saying that blacks feeling attached to East Austin was a problem. It’s a reaction to the fact that throughout the twentieth century Austin forced its black citizens to move into East Austin, where they systematically denied them services. This has created an enormous amount of acrimony between the community and the city (which I would actually contend is generally well founded). I fail to see how that statement is racist. Go talk to prominent members of the community and see if you get a different story from mine.

I haven’t seen anything about the removal of poor people at gun point in the comments. Gentrification is difficult, but that’s the system we live in. I don’t understand the idea of “investing in making a neighborhood unfordable for its residents”. East Austin is already unaffordable for some of its residents. Heck, it’s already unaffordable for most Austinites. It’s not investors that have made it that way. It’s proximity to downtown. Its the fact that a house a couple miles away from East Austin in Travis Heights goes for $500k+. The only reason the neighborhood is affordable at all is that the city has neglected the schools, businesses have redlined the area, there are perceived problems with crime, problems with police/community relations, and the housing stock is dilapidated. So essentially, every problem that gets fixed that makes East Austin a better place, also raises the values of the homes.

But do we stop trying to improve the schools or lower crime just so the poorer residents can continue to afford their homes? Do we only allow slum-lord investors in, since they’ll help make the neighborhood worse? Maintaining the status-quo seems to me to be even worse.

The lack of affordable inner-city housing is predominantly caused by neighborhoods associations consistently defeating high density projects. There simply is not enough supply of housing in the central core for any of it to be affordable. If we can increase the supply in central austin, it will eventually lower prices. Until we get more housing or some very complex legislation we’re going to keep seeing displacement.

It’s awesome, though because I realize that was me 5 years ago. Very knee-jerk response to a very emotional issue. Calling someone racist is a very effective way to shut them up. I’ve got to stop doing that. It’s really annoying.

Watchin’ the Neighborhood

Went to the Burleson/Parker Neighborhood watch meeting last night with Julie. It’s always interesting.

For instance we learned how to identify prostitutes. They are the women in our neighborhood carrying white styrofoam cups. Which they tip over to show they’re empty to say – open for business. So be careful about wandering around highway access roads with empty styrofoam cups, ladies.

We also learned that the Timberridge HOA had torpedoed a condo project where one of the hotels is currently on the I-35 northbound access road before Oltorf. It was apparently a 30 unit project that was going to sell for about $500k each. They thought that no one would pay those prices and they’d end up having to sell them out to the city as low-income housing. So now they’re going to get another cheap hotel. And more prostitutes. Hopefully this isn’t going to happen with the Riverside condo projects.

I don’t understand the mentality to keep competition away from your property at all costs. A $100k condo sitting next to a bunch of hotels is going to stay a $100k condo. A $100k condo down the street from a $500k condo might become a $200k condo. Although, I do feel for Timberridge. My friend Erin has lived there for 9 years now, and they have consistently stayed one of the nicest condo neighborhoods in Austin. I’m sure there’s a lot of stubbornness involved in thinking that you can have a fantastic community when bordered by rental slums, low-income housing, hotels and gas stations.

Many of you may have noticed that there’s some sort of amazing lot with a big house on the South-East corner of Riverside and IH-35. 1317 E. Riverside Drive. I think it’s been a day-spa and a bed-and-breakfast. According to the Timberridge inhabitants, it’s a Frank Lloyd Wright that’s going to be destroyed for condos. From looking at a list of Wright houses, he never built any in Austin, so it’s probably one of his students. Anyone know anything about it other than it was built around 1947?

Apparently one of the houses on Manlove street got the condo developer to change the buildings so that they would still have their view. Which is awesome. Although the views from those condos are going to be spectacular.

The final thing we talked about was panhandling. Which is such a weird issue. On the one hand I feel like people who are really destitute should be able to ask for help from their fellow man without going to jail. On the other hand, I know from taking the bus that most of the panhandlers in Austin are not homeless. They’re not rich people, but they’re not homeless. Our Neighborhood Association(NA) is going to join with a bunch of other NAs when the new city council is elected to do a letter writing campaign to try to crack down on panhandling. I don’t think it’s the solution to the problem, but we’ll see.

I also pulled up some poison ivy for my mom after the meeting was over, and I’m happy to report that I still seem to be unaffected by poison ivy. It’s fun monkeying with it for me. Because every time I psych myself into thinking, “maybe this is the time that I’ll be affected”. Then for about 2-3 hours afterwards I’m scratching constantly. But always in places that could not possibly be affected (like the back of my head). Then I wake up the next day, happy that it was all just in my head. Of course, writing about it, I’m feeling itchy again. scratch

mouse is playing

So Julie and Stella are currently in Kerbyville visiting Julie’s grandparents. I have low tolerance for spending vacation days traveling to the middle of nowhere to sit around and do nothing, so I stayed at home.

I’m really enjoying the sleep. I just go to sleep at night, and it’s this satisfying solid sleep. I wake up feeling like I’ve been hibernating. So good.

So last night, I was painting the front door and listening to the 2008 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductions on TV.

The front door will be orange. I picked out the color myself. It matches the blue, so it’s not like I picked out a really ugly color, but I worry it might be too bright. Of course, bright was the point. I don’t know. We’ll see. We’re going to water down some black paint and get it into the cracks of the scrollwork to give it an aged look, so that should dim the wattage a bit. On the upside, you can now actually see the scrollwork from the street.

Did anyone else see Iggy Pop performed Madonna’s songs? That was really strange. Talk about covers that sound nothing like the original.

Damien Rice sang Hallelujah when they inducted Leonard Cohen. It was nice, but you could tell everyone there was thinking about Jeff Buckley’s version. Even Damien was channeling it. I really don’t know of a more beautiful song than Jeff Buckley singing it.

I think this might be Leonard Cohen’s acceptance speech. Which is a poem and perhaps the best speech I have ever heard.:

It speaks so eloquently about why we create art and the meaning of it. Beautiful.

you can’t dance to it

So, I was listening to “The Luxury Gap” by Heaven 17 again today. I got it for Christmas. I got introduced to the band with their song “Temptation” which was the club music in Trainspotting. Upon hearing it, I just couldn’t help wondering how this band wasn’t bigger.

Then I got “The Luxury Gap” and it all became clear. The entire album is essentially about the pitfalls of Thatcherism and commercialism. There’s a song about mindlessly slaving away. A song about the dangers of easy credit. A song about trophy wives. The first track on the album is “Crushed by the Wheels of Industry”. Which screams to me “happy-go-lucky dance song”.

I love it. I can see how most people wouldn’t. And I have no clue how they played this in clubs in the eighties. I know people don’t listen to lyrics, but still…

the oil winter

Just read this CNN article on people’s reactions to rising gas prices. It’s fascinating to see that people are starting to get it. It’s starting to hit home. They do these fairly frequently and in the past they’ve had a lot of mixed opinions. This is the first one that has been overwhelmingly negative.

Personally, we’re getting hit by the rising food prices a lot more than gas. We had our first $30 tank of gas recently, but that’s not really that big of a deal. We use about 2-3 tanks of gas a month. So $15-20 isn’t gonna break us. But we did fuel up my parent’s truck last week as part of moving in our set for The Automat, and it was $50. I don’t know how people who commute can afford 4 tanks of gas a month at $50 a pop. You really start to see how moving to the city can become affordable. If you have two sub-20mpg vehicles and two commutes that require filling up a gas tank weekly, you could afford about $40,000 more house for the price of your commute. That’s nuts.

In the past a lot of artists have drawn images of what they imagine suburbia will look like during a nuclear winter. I wonder if we’ll see that in an


So today I got hungry. And I decide to make popcorn.

We had some unpopped pop corn in the pantry from our Oscar party. And I had read on Treehugger how you can make microwave popcorn with the normal stuff. You don’t need to buy the bags. And you really shouldn’t buy the bags, since they can kill you. And not just in laboratory rats. Real-life microwave popcorn eaters have gotten cancer from cooking the fake butter. But I digress.

You’re supposed to put the corn in a brown paper lunch bag. But that doesn’t seem very treehugger-y.

First, I tried a paper boat. Which I realize is also disposable and negates my argument above. But I didn’t have any brown paper lunch bags, so the environmental reasoning came later. It’s one of those boats that they served French Fries in at your school cafeteria. We got about 100 of them when we purchased our house. I don’t know why the previous owners needed so many paper boats (and obviously they didn’t either since they left them). But I like to imagine the previous owner sitting down to lunch every day for a steaming paper boat full of Frito pie. Mmmm… sounds good.

So, I put them in the boat. This resulted in some really cool visuals and a bit of popping, but not enough. I cleaned out the microwave. Put the popped popcorn in a bowl and put the unpopped kernels in another bowl. Then I put a third bowl on top of the unpopped kernels and threw that back into the microwave. This time the popping was more contained, although not as entertaining. Ok, it was still pretty entertaining. I like watching the top bowl, slowly separate from the bottom as the popcorn inside gets bigger and bigger. What can I say, I wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a kid.

This worked pretty well. Still too many unpopped kernels, but a lot more popcorn. The only problem is that it kind of fuses to the bowls. So, I’ll have to work on that. At this point I had enough popcorn to eat, but I’ll return to my experimentation at a later date.

jesus loves parking lots

The statesman reported on my parent’s church this morning. You can read the article here. Seems they’re suing the City of Austin claiming that the city’s rules that keep them from building a new parking lot over our water supply is infringing their right to worship. Because part of your right to worship includes a free parking space.

Austin’s chief of litigation, Anne Morgan, says the church has other options: build a parking garage or ask its members to take the bus.

So in other words, these Christians won’t take a bus. Even though if you look at the route for the 331 it drops off practically in their parking lot. I know this because after much prompting my mother took the bus a few times. It also happens to cross bus routes with the 3, the 10, and the 1, which means pretty much everyone in Austin can get there by bus. Well except West Austinites. Who won’t pay for public transport. And from what I hear are pretty well represented at this church. At some point we should cut those moochers off. Especially since they can’t even be bothered to drive around a parking garage.

And people wonder why I want nothing to do with these “caring” churches. How about giving a damn about the water I drink? How many more missionaries could you send over seas for the cost of this lawsuit? How many people could you feed for the cost of your state-of-the-art sound system? Why couldn’t you build a parking garage on your current land? Or is this just about serving rich people their weekly singing and dancing catharsis so they can endure living one more week with the spouse they hate, at the job they hate, without pulling the plug completely?

I know a lot of people dislike organized religion. Personally I like it much more than this “dis-organized religion” of the evangelicals. Organized religion has shown historically that it’s pretty corrupt. Not having the checks and balances that organized religion has I think can only end badly. Which probably explains why most of these churches are essentially prosperity-preaching country clubs.

Views, VMUs, and Parking

So, on my long run today I got to thinking a lot about parking and these new development communities. I’m sure this was inspired by something AC or M1EK said, but heck if I can remember. I’ve got to say that I think that parking like at the Domain is a really great idea. It would be great if we could make people only go to the Domain via public transport, but that’s not going to happen. So short term that kind of public parking is great. Not just for the Domain, but because other businesses can piggy back on the domain. There’s no reason that you couldn’t buy a plot of land next to a development like that and get walk in customers, building off of their pedestrian friendly environment. We’re going to have cars for some time, so it’s best to plan for them. I’d like to see something like this on Riverside. Put in a big parking garage, and then people stroll up and down the street (hopefully with a light rail running down the middle).

I was thinking about this as I ran past the lake front Radio Shack on Riverside. I’m not normally for the city deciding what sort of things its citizens should be buying by using eminent domain to redevelop property, but this Radio Shack has a lake front view. Except it doesn’t. Because it has no windows in the back! I’d be all about a lake front Radio Shack if they had windows. Look for an obscure cable connector while admiring the beauty of town lake. There’s a Starbucks in Kerrville that is right on the river. And it’s amazing.

But why are we allowing businesses to essentially just block the view? There’s a lake front Jiffy Lube too, except of course, the customers can’t sit by the lake while they’re car is repaired. They get to sit and look at cars whizzing by on Riverside! I realize that there is a plan for the neighborhood and I really want to make sure that some of the cool businesses over here can afford their leases after they transform the area, but for the love of Pete, let’s get rid of these businesses waisting valuable real estate.

Speaking of views. When we bought this house the MLS listing mentioned that there were possible downtown views from a theoretical second story you could build. We’ve had our Christmas tree up in front of our main window, so we haven’t been looking out it at all. Julie took it down Wednesday night, and last night I was walking past our front window when I noticed the Frost Bank tower. And the rest of downtown. We both just stared. There are a lot of trees in the way, and I think it’s going to be a winter only view but it’s really beautiful.

Just mentioning this I noticed that I can see the Frost Bank tower from where I’m sitting right now in my office. It’s a little bit harder to discern during the day, but you can see the shape.

I love this house. I love this area. Everywhere I run there are amazing views of downtown and nature.