Thursday, December 30, 2010

Flew South For The Winter

A Texas winter evening:

Texas is the home of and winter destination to over 600 species of birds, more than any other state in the U.S. They can be a frighteningly overwhelming yet completely fascinating to see flock this way.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Won't A Graffiti Artist Please Change This To "Most Dangerous Place For Children Is In the Wombat Reserve"?

Oh, Travis County. What have you done?

Anti-abortion ads target black women:

This ad is one crazy scare tactic. Banned in Dallas and Houston, but not Austin? WTF!?

The website sponsoring the ad,, poses this fact:

This is a pretty shocking statistic. Before the fervor gets blown out of proportion (like accusing the founder of Planned Parenthood of a secret plan to ethnically cleanse minorities), let's look at some facts. According to Susan A. Cohen, author of "Abortion and Women of Color: The Bigger Picture" (Guttmacher Policy Review, Summer 2008, Volume 11, Number 3),

The disparities in unintended pregnancy rates result mainly from similar disparities in access to and effective use of contraceptives. As of 2002, 15% of black women at risk of unintended pregnancy (i.e., those who are sexually active, fertile and not wanting to be pregnant) were not practicing contraception, compared with 12% and 9% of their Hispanic and white counterparts, respectively. These figures—and the disparities among them—are significant given that, nationally, half of all unintended pregnancies result from the small proportion of women who are at risk but not using contraceptives.


Not only do fertility and not wanting to be pregnant work against women, contraceptives can be messy, uncomfortable, forgotten, misplaced, or incorrectly used.

"For an individual woman who is attempting to avoid a pregnancy, the particular method she chooses and the way she uses it over time also matter. In fact, all of the major contraceptive methods are extremely effective if used "perfectly." In actual practice, however, there are significant variations in a method's effectiveness in "typical use" (i.e., for the average person who may not always use the method correctly or consistently). The IUD has a very low failure rate because it is long-acting and requires little intervention by the user. Coitus-related methods such as condoms are at the other end of the typical-use effectiveness scale, because they depend on proper use at every act of intercourse. The pill, which is not coitus-related but must be taken every day, is usually more effective than the condom, but less effective than an IUD. Factoring together the method choices and the real-life challenges to effective use over long periods of time, women of color as well as those who are young, unmarried or poor have a lower level of contraceptive protection than their counterparts.

Studies by Guttmacher Institute researchers, published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health in 2007 and in Contraception in 2008, sought to shed some light on the reasons women at risk of unintended pregnancy do not use contraceptives at all or use them only sporadically. Geographic access to services is a factor for some women; however, for many, it is more a matter of being able to afford the more effective—usually more expensive—prescription methods.

Beyond geographic and financial access, life events such as relationship changes, moving or personal crises can have a direct impact on method continuation. Such events are more common for low-income and minority women than for others, and may contribute to unstable life situations where consistent use of contraceptives is lower priority than simply getting by. In addition, a woman's frustration with a birth control method can result in her skipping pills or not using condoms every time. Minority women, women who are poor and women with little education are more likely than women overall to report dissatisfaction with either their contraceptive method or provider. Cultural and linguistic barriers also can contribute to difficulties in method continuation."

Shocking: women are human! Acquiring and then correctly using contraceptives can be a financial, emotional, time-consuming, stressful burden. But some of us are lucky to have a doctor to provide them. Others use free clinics, over-the-counter Plan-B, prayer, or the rhythm method.

"Access to health care, including financial access, remains a significant issue that particularly affects minority communities; however, there is increasing recognition of the critical importance of quality of care as it affects health-seeking behavior and outcomes. In 2002, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reported that "minorities are less likely than whites to receive needed services, including clinically necessary procedures." The IOM offered a number of explanations for this finding, including linguistic and cultural barriers that interfere with effective communication between a patient and a provider. The IOM also noted a level of mistrust for the health system in general that exists in minority communities. Mistrust can cause a patient to refuse treatment or comply poorly with medical advice, which in turn can cause providers to become less engaged—leading to a vicious cycle. These obstacles are difficult enough to surmount in cases where a patient is ill and presumably motivated to receive some kind of treatment. In the case of a prevention intervention such as birth control, however, where the need for "treatment" may seem less pressing, the cumulative effect of these obstacles could be daunting."

What does it all mean? African-American women have less access to high-quality health care. The best contraceptives are often the most expensive and difficult to acquire (read: you have to get it from a doctor). The less expensive contraceptives effectiveness rely on "perfect use." Often culture or linguistics can be a barrier to proper care, prevention, or education.
And I haven't even touched on Texas' abysmal sex education policy.

Seems that there are more factors at work than just one evil genius' plan to wipe out an entire race on a purely volunteer basis - you remember choice, right?

Planned Parenthood's full response:

Planned Parenthood's mission is to provide preventive, affordable health care to everyone in the community regardless of their race, ethnicity, sex, religion, sexual orientation, or ability to pay. Planned Parenthood health centers provide health care and education to three million women and men in the U.S. every year—including 33,000 men and women in Austin. Last year, Planned Parenthood in Austin provided 5,944 breast cancer screenings, 5,557 cervical cancer screenings, 16,577 tests and treatment for sexually transmitted infections; 6,578 HIV tests; and birth control for more than 26,000 Central Texans. This expensive billboard campaign generates media attention but unfortunately does nothing to provide critically needed health care and education in the Austin community.

Critically needed health care for the Austin Community. Austin's low-income healthcare provider, The Medcial Assistance Program (MAP) just imploded on itself this summer. Without enough clinics and doctors available to care for the growing number of patients, low-to-middle income residents were denied benefits and their contracts went unrenewed as a means to quell the demand. Right now, to meet MAP's qualifications, you must make under $900 a month. The well-intentioned receptionists at MAP do, however, recommend Planned Parenthood as an alternate source of care.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Texas Store: Exactly Like It Sounds

Finally, a place to get all of my holiday shopping done! A delightful boutique boasting the bounty of the great state of Texas.

Texas Store. No fancy or foreign words to confuse you. Oh, you introduce your nouns with an article? Whatre ya, one ah them ed-you-cated e-leet? They don't even need originality or cleverness to get you in the door. These goods sell themselves, people.

The shirt sale sounded extremely promising! And then I entered the land-of-all-things-porcelain-crap, plus keychains. Finally, a use for my new acronym. OMFGDMWTX!!!!:


Texas has over 200 universities and colleges, including Rice, Texas A&M, Southern Methodist, and Baylor, but as a tourist, you might never realize this. But while only some of you like learning, everybody likes FOOTBALL!!!!! Subsequently the ubiquity of Longhorn apparel takes all precedent over any prestigious school.

Are you noticing the football phone in the top left corner?

And just because I'm an exposer of conspiracy/truth:

Y'all ain't welcome here. Xenophobia with a side of hot sauce, literally.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Texas Economy Kicking Your State's Ass

Great news for Texas: It's economy is doing better than the rest of the country and is ranked 11th worldwide. Susan Combs, Texan Comptroller of Public Accounts, gives us these updated statistics:
  • Texas’ October 2010 unemployment rate was 8.1 percent, the same as the previous month versus the 9.8 percent U.S. unemployment rate in November 2010, a 0.2 percent increase from October.
  • The Texas unemployment rate has been at or below the national rate for 45 consecutive months.
  • In October 2010, the Texas foreclosure rate was one in every 667 mortgages. This was substantially better than Nevada’s one in 66, Florida’s one in 137, Arizona’s one in 143, and California’s one in 190.
  • The Texas region’s consumer confidence index increased from 71.8 in October to 89.7 in November 2010, and is now up 38.2 percent from its level one year ago.
Lucky Austin is the American city least affected by the downturn, ranking as No. 3 in economic performance before the recession, No. 3 during the recession and No. 1 since.

An obvious conclusion to draw would be the correlation between oil in Texas and the sustaining economy. Another surprising and optimistic factor, however, are Texas non-profits and charities. According to the Austin American Statesmen,

One out of 26 people — 3.8 percent of the state's total work force — works at a nonprofit. In 2008, the most recent year studied in the report , 16,389 people worked at Travis County charities — 3.6 percent of all jobs in the county. 403,000 nonprofit employees in the state earned $16.8 billion in wages, according to a study by the Austin-based OneStar Foundation and Johns Hopkins University .

In 2009 , the state created a task force to help it work more effectively with nonprofits. That group issued a variety of recommendations intended to help charities, such as maintaining the current tax policy for the sector and maximizing the state's acquisition of federal funds for grant and contract programs.

Clearly the message is that nonprofits are a key economic force in Texas. After a dismal election in November 2010 gave the Texan Republicans a supermajority, apprehension set in about the effects of certain-to-be government cuts will have on that force. Non-profits have a difficult time lobbying for their own benefits and rights because they are so busy, you know, helping others. The task force will hopefully help city officials and non-profit leaders work to more effectively contract and provide services, so that non-profit organizations can continue to focus on their projects.

Or maybe they should just buy an oil field. Then the government will definitely listen.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sunday Mass, Plus BBQ

This Sunday, I experienced my first Baptist Brunch. What a show. Baptists are the second largest denomination in Texas, with over 3 million practicing, making Texas the true "buckle" of the Bible Belt.

Stubb's BBQ is the place for The Gospel Brunch Buffet - a beautiful hybrid of praising Him while practicing gluttony. According to the restaurant history,

"Stubb was born March 7, 1931, in Navasota, a small town on Texas’ Brazos River, one of 12 children born to a Baptist evangelist preacher and his wife. Some say that Stubb inherited his love for cooking from his father who would feed his congregation barbeque along with the gospel. Stubb recalls revival meetings followed by potluck dinners featuring beef, pork and even raccoon and possum."

Thankfully, they now only serve brisket, sausage, and chicken for breakfast. Stubb's original restaurant was in Lubbock, Texas, a city famous for boasting the most churches per capita in the nation. Unfortunately for Lubbock, for fortunately for me, Austin was destined to be the final home of the music venue/barbecue pit.

"Let’s put it this way," said Stubb, "I got run out of Lubbock ’cause I was broke, busted and disgusted. I can’t fight the IRS with barbeque and sauce."

He started selling BBQ out of the back of another music venue here in Austin in 1985 and was on his way to opening Stubb's BBQ over on Red River Street.

Sunday is really where its at for Stubb's. Besides an all you can eat BBQ brunch, there's a gospel choir/band playing a two-hour show during your meal and a make-your-own Bloody Mary bar to boot. The buffet includes biscuits and gravy, enchiladas, migas, pancakes, pecan pie, grits and fried catfish while the butcher carves you off a slow-roasted choice cut of meat. While you're digesting between rounds one and two (or three and four), you can clap your hands, stomp your cowboy boots and praise Jesus!! And thank Him for giving you barbecue, the breakfast of champions.

The restaurant also hosts a myriad of musical acts from country to pop to dance to bluegrass, and lists Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Linda Ronstadt, and George Thorogood as former performers.

Grammy winner Tom T. Hall even wrote a song about Stubb’s Bar-B-Que—“The Great East Broadway Onion Championship of 1978”—about an early morning pool game between Hall and Ely, where they used an onion instead of a cue ball. Blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan came in regularly, and learned to play Tin Pan Alley by listening to James Reed’s version on Stubb’s jukebox.

I don't mean to be all commercially/proselytizing at you, I'm just saying that if you go there for music or food or both, you won't be disappointed.

You might even get saved.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Slice Of Thin-Crust Charity

This weekend was Austin's 5th Annual Pizza Carnival, hosted by Homeslice Pizza. It was delicious and wholesome. The nice thing about Austin is there is always an option to booze at family affairs. In Texas, minors are allowed to consume alcohol as long as its in direct supervision of their parents, so I suppose this makes sense (these people love their freedom). There were a variety of events besides drinking including but not limited to eating, watching people shovel food into their mouth as fast as they could, tossing dough in the air, a pizza box folding race, holding onto a hoagie for as long as possible (I didn't understand that event), drawing mustaches on children's faces (because, duh, that totally screams "pizza") and a couple of bands and performance acts played. Lots of singing "That's Amore." All the proceeds benefited Habit Young Professionals, a division of Habitat For Humanity. From the HYP blog:

"Habitat Young Professionals (HYP) is Austin’s most engaged, active young professionals organization, offering area professionals the opportunity to make a tangible contribution to Austin Habitat’s vision. Over 60,000 working Austin families live in substandard, overcrowded, cost-burdensome housing. Each year, the financial and volunteer commitment of HYP members results in a safe, affordable home for one of those families. Homes are built with volunteer labor and community funding, and sold to home buyers with zero-interest mortgage loans. Each home buyer participates in financial education programs and contributes approximately 400 hours of "sweat equity". . . offering a hand up, not a hand out."

I will eat pizza for most causes (or none at all), but I'm glad this particular one was so altruistic. The Habitat For Humanity group ran the booths, set up events, worked their magic on stage, and all for a charity. It was wonderful to see such pro-pizza unity in these dark times of partisan bickering. It was a lovely day.

Until The Pizza Monsters attacked:

New band name? CHECK.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Stars At Night Are Big and Bright...AND FALLING

The Leonid meteor shower best viewing this year will be in the two to three hours before dawn Wednesday and Thursday, according to the editors of StarDate magazine.

There is always some uncertainty in the number of meteors the Leonid shower will produce, but viewers should expect to see at least 20 meteors per hour if they have clear skies. The nearly full moon will set several hours before dawn, and therefore not wash out any meteors in the hours immediately before dawn.

-From the Austin American Statesmen

See y'all bright 'n' early!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Weddings Announcements!! And Hate Crime Bummers.

Congratulations to Mark Reed and Dante Walkup, Texas' First Gay Texans married in Texas!

On November 11, 2010, Mark Reed married longitme partner Dante Walkup in Dallas, Texas via high-definition skype by an officiant in Washington D.C., where same-sex marriage is legal and who mailed them their D.C. marriage license. From Dallas Voice:

"It’s called “e-marriage,” and it’s a sort of high-tech version of the proxy wedding traditionally held when one of the parties can’t be physically present — because, for example, they’re in the military stationed overseas."

No, the perfect irony of using a service intended for military personnel isn't lost on me either. The couple, besides celebrating their marital bliss with friends and family in Texas, is now helping bring the genius of e-marriage to the masses:

"The couple is now working with legal experts and legislators from states where same-sex marriage is legal to draft statutes that would solidify the practice. Reed and Walkup traveled this week to Michigan for a symposium on e-marriage. While the couple has no intention of using their case to challenge Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage, Reed said they want to make it more convenient and less expensive for same-sex couples to legally wed. Reed is also in the process of changing his surname in a Texas court, and he’s been fighting The Dallas Morning News — thus far unsuccessfully — to print their announcement in “Weddings” instead of in another section called “Commitments.”

It's completely understandable that the Reed-Walkups have no intention of challenging Texas' ban on same-sex marriage. Who'd want to spend the months after planning and executing a wedding arguing in court battle to give the marriage validity? Besides the unjust system to fight, there's the vitriolic hate from the homophobes.

And the violence. Emmanuel Winston of Austin was a victim of a hate crime last February in Austin's Warehouse District. This sort of behavior exists in the gay neighborhood the most liberal city in the state? From KXAN:

"Winston and his friend were leaving a gay bar on 4th Street last February when they were followed to their car and attacked . "The guys, when they attacked us, it was unprovoked. After they attacked us they screamed just a bunch of slurs, homophobic slurs," Winston said. Police are still searching for their attackers. If caught, statistically speaking there's a good chance they will not be charged with a hate crime."

Why the F not?

"It's very hard to obtain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt based on someone's hate," said KXAN Legal Analyst Mindy Montford. According to statistics from the Texas Department of Public Safety, since Texas enacted its hate crime law back in 2001, more than 2500 hate crimes offenses have been reported. Of those, only 11 have been prosecuted.

"You've got to really have strong evidence to show that's why the crime was committed," Montford said.

State Rep. Marc Veasey , a Democrat from Tarrant County has introduced a bill the state to merely study the law and why it's not used 3 times. The state enacted a law but refuses to use it, then refuses to figure out why it isn't being used. This from the government that hates government. Veasey is quite clear about why he can't get support for the bill/prosecutors aren't using the law:

"You have some people on the right that have said that it is a bill that protects gays and so they are against it for that reason," Veasey said.

Did you know Republicans hold an almost-super-majority in the Texas House of Representatives after the November elections?

Austin, apparently, is addressing hate crimes in next weeks agenda, hopefully with intent to help the city assist in prosecuting them. What about addressing the idea of preventing them? Are we not a tolerant community? Are we not in Austin?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Texas Government Hates Government

The Texas Government is proposing a new solution to the state's $25 million dollar deficit: dropping out of the federal Medicaid program. The New York Times reports,

"Far-right conservatives are offering [dropping out of the program] in impassioned news conferences. Moderate Republicans are studying it behind closed doors. And the party’s advisers on health care policy say it is being discussed more seriously than ever, though they admit it may be as much a huge in-your-face to Washington as anything else."

In your face Obama! In your face poor people! High fives all around!

"The Heritage Foundation, a conservative research organization, estimates Texas could save $60 billion from 2013 to 2019 by opting out of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, dropping coverage for acute care but continuing to finance long-term care services. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which has 3.6 million children, people with disabilities and impoverished Texans enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP, will release its own study on the effect of ending the state’s participation in the federal match program at some point between now and January."

Guess who's poor and gets her health insurance through the Texas Health and Human Services Commission? As opposed to the Heritage Foundation, whose mission statement is "WON'T

"Currently, the Texas program costs $40 billion for a period of two years, with the federal government paying 60 percent of the bill. As a result of federal health care changes, Ms. Nelson said, millions of additional Texans will be eligible for Medicaid."

Including my boyfriend, my friends, and many other people living in Texas who are barely ineligible for Healthcare yet still poor enough to get food stamps and other social services. But I'm sure the thriving economy here will take care of them; they will all pull themselves up by their bootstraps, open their own businesses, dive into piles of money, and live the American Dream by shelling out cash for private insurance. Yay, problem solved! Oh wait. From the Dallas Morning News:

"The government announced [September 16, 2010] that nearly 4.3 million Texans lived in poverty last year, a whopping 11 percent increase. The Census Bureau study released said that Texas' poverty rate last year was 17.3 percent, once again the nation's sixth-highest. The rate among Texas children also has increased since 2008. Poverty now affects almost 1.8 million Texans younger than 18. That's just more than one of every four."

The idea that the Texan government could use Medicaid as a bargaining chip or a ploy to make Obama look bad is despicable. People in Texas desperately need this Medicaid, and perhaps the government should stop giving the government the middle finger and realize that they might actually be shooting themselves in the foot.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

FunFunFunFest 2010

The reigning "UnFest" of Austin, FunFunFunFest 2010 is the most tame yet fun of all the festivals offered in the city. The festival is purposely kept small due to the boundaries of Waterloo Park (which the festival refers to as "bucolic"; I'd consider it "dusty") and never feels panicky-overcrowded. The stages are short spurts away from each other so that it's possible to see multiple bands playing at the same time.

The organizers really pat themselves on the back, touting, "This is a festival created by people in the music scene, that are in it everyday, and are driven by the DIY attitude and work ethic found in the music they love. Broken out into genres, FFF provides unique experiences in the punk/hardcore, indie rock, hip hop/DJ, and comedy scenes. At FFF, you will see 4 core stages of some of the most progressive music and comedy in the scene today.... At this fest, show goers get more for less. They get to catch artists close up and personal before they explode, they get to see some of their favorite bands of the past reunite, and they get to discover music that they have never even heard that they'll love .... [FFF] is a true urban event in the middle of the Live Music Capitol of the World and most importantly it’s a fest that we in the scene would want to go to, without all of the filler that tends to show up at the corporate music carnivals around the world these days. Point is, our fest promoters don’t ride around in golf carts, they stage dive because they can’t help it. Fun Fun Fun Fest: the fest before the fest...where you go to see what’s about to happen as opposed to what's already been happening — booking the biggest fests biggest influences since 2005."

The stages were grouped according to artist appeal: Blue was dancey/electronic, Orange was the big band/main stage, Black was harder, rougher, and had a metal taste, and Yellow was the zanier stuff, including a comedy and video show.

I didn't make it to the Friday night kickoff party but I heard “Weird Al” Yankovic did a lot of new stuff, and Apples in Stereo are always fun.

Here are some highlights.


Monotrix: Not only did they crowd surf their entire band while playing their instruments, gave way for the best joke of the festival. At the end of their set and in thick foreign accents, they petitioned the crowd, "Do you agree that America is a monster?" Austin, normally a political crowd, was more interested in having fun. Festivals bring in a lot of out-of-towners and the answer was mixed. People kind of shrugged, some yelled, "YES!", others, "NO!" but mostly people just scratched their head. "DO YOU THINK SHE IS A MONSTER?" the lead singer tried to rally us. "That's a very complicated question!" was shouted in return.
Then they jumped off a giant boulder into the crowd.

Delorean, Barcelona based electronic dance quartet really brought it for the kids with glowsticks. I enjoyed their zone-y beats and the fact that the band danced so hard while they played. Wavves gave us their stoney San Diego surf rock and mentioned that they were happy to play during the sunny hours. Devin the Dude commanded that everyone in the crowd immediately start smoking weed and sang "I Just Wanna Fuck You" by Dr. Dre, which he is featured on.

Dirty Projectors crooned "oooh" and "ahhh" and the crowd totally dug it. Meanwhile, GWAR melted faces on the Black Stage, but thankfully not their own, as they are very durable plastic. They actually came out to sign autographs in full getup, sans appropriate underwear + fake feet. Amazeballz.

MGMT closed the blue stage and it was to be expected. They played the hits, the people liked it. Everyone goes home happy. RJD2 closed on the blue stage mixing his own beats with old school funk and soul. People on drugs rejoiced, as well as everyone else. The only major WTF moment of the day was a brief appearance by The New Movement Comedy Group, which were terrible. I was so sad for them. Not funny at all.


Ladies ruled the Sunday stages. The afternoon really started with underground rapper Jean Grae, who was was amazing. She rapped about math problems and her backup singer sang quite a lot of the number π. Tots ridic! Best Coast was fantastic, with their sunny lo-fi sing-along pop, and it was exciting to see California well represented in the crowd.

After that, Deerhunter zoned out the crowd, singing lulling melodies with long instrumental interludes while pop sensation Yelle killed it on the Blue Stage with her glittery spandex pants, dancing all over the place like manic pixie dream girl of the European variety. She will definitely be giving Karen O a run for her money. High on Fire brought equal but separate intensity to the Black Stage. Unfortunately, the Yellow Stage experienced what I saw as the only technical difficulties of the festival, showing video clips from the weirdos of Blackmagic Rollercoaster without sound! Very disappointing.

Devo had to cancel due to a hand wound (a cut to the bone!) but The Descendants and Mastodon finished out the day, along with the DJ A-Trak on the Blue Stage.

Along with the hours of music, the festival showcased lots of food, drink, and party. There were also places to ride a mechanical bull, do trampoline bungee jumping, get a hair cut, and of course, consume and shop. Lastly, the Beard-os (Austin Facial Hair Club) of town offered a kissing booth ($3 or less, more for tongue), honorary memberships bestowed, and a challenge to all persons: DON'T SHAVE!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Only Texans Get It!

Sorry for a delay of posts. Summer in Texas is extended. So naturally cramming in the last moments of fun have taken precedent lately. Here's some great exclusively Texan fanfare to tide you over til the coals have cooled.

ZiegenBock Beer, so delicious only Texans can appreciate it. Literally. It's not sold outside of Texas.

According to ICS Brands website: "Brewed in Houston, ZiegenBock is a beer of the South. Only available in Texas, this American-style amber lager, offers notes of roasted grains in the aroma and a sweet, smooth taste with a hop finish. The select imported hops and specialty malts create a taste worthy of a 2006 Great American Beer Festival Bronze Medal."

JEALOUS? Don't be, it's pretty mediocre.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Questionable Intentions And Artifacts In Texas

The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans on the "Must Be 18 To Purchase" shelf at the Borders in SW Austin.

From Reagan High School, NE Austin, in school colors - welcoming Army Recruiters. From this sign alone, can you guess the demographic makeup of the students in this school?

This lamp: Want. No question about it.
From Hobby Lobby in South Austin.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Shooting at the University of Texas

Law enforcement officers position themselves on the University of Texas campus in Austin.

The University of Texas bore witness to a disturbing shooting on September 28, 2010. Colten Tooley wreaked havoc on the campus early Tuesday morning by running down 21st Street with an AK-47, firing a few shots into the air before ducking into the Perry-Castañeda Library. Once in the library, he headed for the sixth floor, where he opened fire again, panicking those in the room and causing them to flee. The SWAT team arrived and cornered Tooley, who then shot himself.

About 9:30am, I was driving to my job on campus when I heard the announcement over the radio warning listeners that the University of Texas was on lockdown and all citizens were advised to stay away. A shooting had taken place inside a University building, and police were searching for a possible second shooter. Driving into the campus was like arriving at a ghost town, instead of a normally swarming tiny neighborhood of 50,000 students. The sun shone brightly but no was out. Emails, Tweets, Texts and a booming, campus-wide loudspeaker announcement warned students to stay inside, lock the doors. School was closed.

The University of Texas and the Police Departments involved should be commended for their quick response time and well-conveyed urgency. Twitter and texts as a means to notify the students? Well done. They proved they are up-to-date on communication technology and willing to employ all means necessary to prevent catastrophe.

Many parts of this story are tragic and upsetting. Eyewitness accounts from students on 21st Street say that they saw Tooley running down the street in a dark suit and a ski mask, once stopping to wave at people frozen in shock. He fired anywhere from 6-10 shots into the air. The taxi cab driver who drove down 21st Street honking and shouting at students to run deserves to be commended. Tooley made his way toward the PCL entrance where he crossed with Lawrence Peart, an international relations junior.

“So I start advancing toward the entrance and a man — pretty tall in a black business suit, ski mask and an AK-47 — runs in front of me, so I froze,” Peart said. “He was running down the 21st Street along that brick wall that’s beside the PCL and he glances over at me. He looked at me in the eyes then waved his arm as if to say, ‘Don’t come in here. Go away.’”

Did Tooley have intent to harm, or was this a macabre, grandiose suicide, a plea for attention in the final hour of his life? Reports say that Tooley had few friends and a family unwilling to comment. School papers reveal he was interested in gun control policy and identified as socially disconnected.

The unfortunate response has been a mixture of repugnant "good riddance" and relief for lack of casualties. While these reactions are understandable, the heart of the matter is that a young, very disturbed boy cried out in only the last hour of life. His family lost a son. Tooley may have suffered from depression, at the very least, isolation. How should we, as a society, address the plight of the young person today? Why are shootings in high schools and colleges prevalent in our country - how does this correlate with wealth, access to resources, exposure to violence? How did a nineteen year old gain access to an illegal automatic weapon? And, in the wake of tragedy, how can move away from fear and prevention techniques to the heart of the matter - why are so many Americans taking out rage and sadness in such malevolent ways?

Crime scene barrier tape is seen on the University of Texas campus near the scene where a gunman opened fire then killed himself inside the Perry-Castañeda Library, on the sixth floor.

Photos from Austin American Statesmen and The Daily Texan.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Being Pro Choice In Texas

From The Austin American-Statesmen, Tuesday, September 21, 2010:

Travis County residents, religious organizations and others took their fight against using public money for abortions to the Travis County Commissioners Court Tuesday, but the court did not relent. The commissioners gave final approval to the $109.6 million Central Health budget, including $450,000 in contracts for abortion services for needy women. The vote was three in favor — Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, Commissioners Sarah Eckhardt and Karen Huber — and Commissioner Ron Davis abstaining. Commissioner Margaret Gómez was absent.

The controversy brought dozens of people on both sides to public hearings on the budget held by Central Health, formerly the Travis County Healthcare District. But only opponents spoke to the commissioners Tuesday, urging them to either vote down the budget or withdraw the abortion funding.Biscoe explained that the court did not have the authority to pull one item from the budget. “It’s an all or nothing proposition for us,” he said.

In fiscal year 2009, Central Health funded 582 abortions; so far this budget year, it has paid for 566, spokeswoman Christie Garbe said. The year ends Sept. 30. With approval of the budget, “we are happy and proud we can provide the full range of health care services for uninsured residents of our county,” Garbe said.

Marie Seale, director of Pro-Life Activities and Chaste Living for the Diocese of Austin, said she was representing 225,000 Catholics in Austin and Bishop Joe Vasquez in asking for a halt to the funding. Travis County is the only political entity in Texas that uses taxpayer money for abortions, Seale said.

Travis County taxpayer Paul Kroschewsky said he disputed arguments from Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region that poor women would be forced to have unsafe, illegal abortions without the assistance. If that were true, he told commissioners, women in other cities would be dying and people would be hearing about it. Biscoe asked what his position would be if Central Health paid for the abortions with money from the state’s lawsuit settlement with tobacco companies — not with taxpayer money. Kroschewsky said his position would be the same: he still would be opposed.

“You know deep down in your hearts it (abortion) is very, very wrong,” he said.

The logic about poor women dying from unsafe abortions and it being public simply isn't sound, and the "wrongness" argument aside: the point is about choice. Women who might not have access to abortions might travel in order to obtain one, obtain an illegal abortion and survive it, maybe even give birth, but most importantly still might want the option available.

Coincidentally, this study finds that women without access to abortions are more likely to go looking for them through other channels then medical professionals. Researchers found "more [Google] searches in states and countries with more restrictive policies or less access to abortion and lower abortion rates."

Amanda Marcotte, RH Reality Check writes:

"The lower abortion rates in more conservative areas are far more likely to be the result of lack of access than they are an unwillingness on the part of women to terminate unwanted pregnancies. If you don’t have a doctor in your county performing abortions, the abortion rate in your county is probably zero. But if you drive to the next county to get an abortion, their abortion rate goes up. We know that women will often travel across many states in order to avoid bearing unwanted children. (In Texas, women will often travel into Mexico, often just to avoid being seen in the local abortion clinics.) Claiming a low abortion rate indicates a lack of desire for abortion services is like claiming teenagers love “Beowulf” because they’re assigned to read it in high school.

We simply cannot correlate lack of service with lack of desire. She also makes the interesting point,

"Women with poor access to abortion services also face poorer access to contraception services that could prevent the need for abortion in the first place. We’ve all been tempted to simply give up and create a system of free states and anti-choice states, but such a system would almost surely increase the rate of unwanted pregnancy."

One thing is obvious: women are at the very least looking for access to reproductive services and family planning. Hats off to the Travis County Commissioners for having the common sense to allow adult women to plan their parenthood as they see fit and for providing such comprehensive health care services for uninsured residents of our county.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Texas Edition

Maybe it's just a way to sell things, but I can't help but notice how many things are marketed "Texan" here - meaning higher quality, bigger, or for whatever reason, generally better.

Lone Star Beer, for example:

The National Beer of Texas? What exactly does that mean?

Take the Ford F-150. Could this truck get any bigger? The Texas Edition can:

Dairy Queen's ad campaign is by far the most puzzling. Their slogan and theme song proclaim, "That's What I Like About Texas!" Dairy Queen? The...national chain?

Texan way of life is constantly preached and sold as best. I'm all for supporting local business, but the businesses all seem to be selling a gimmick, and none of them are headquartered in Texas.
There's definitely a superiority complex going on here.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Tropical Storm That Could

According to The National Hurricane Center, Tropical Storm Hermine has "barely maintained its tropical storm status on Tuesday as 40 mile per hour winds kept lashing south Texas and the storm moved further inland about 15 miles south-southeast of San Antonio, Texas." Does this sound a little contemptuous of The National Hurricane Center? I have been outside today. This is no struggle to maintain.

I've noticed that Austinites are not experienced or properly equipped for severe weather. They simply ignore the dangerous weather (speeding drivers, attempts to ford closed roads:
or life completely halts (drivers stopping in the road; inability [or refusal] to get to work or school; the fact that I've talked about the weather so much that I'm blogging about it).

The roads are incredibly slick, terribly potholed, and lack proper drainage. It doesn't help that Austin drivers have been ranked as some of the worst in the US. The rolling hills that the area is famous for facilitate flash floods all over town, and streets act as gutters gone awry, pooling water into low lying areas - my front yard is under about 2 inches so far.

On a positive note, the rain will revitalize The Greenbelt, Austin's 1000 acre natural park
, and swimming holes and waterfalls will be full for the weekend. And when the sun comes back out, Austin will go swimming. Possibly in my front yard.

Sculpture Falls, The Greenbelt, Austin TX

Tropical Storm Hermine pictures copyright

Monday, September 6, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Lone Star Police State

The reputation of the law and the certain quests for civil liberties in The Lone Star State is well publicized. Gun control, immigration, drugs, church and morality are constantly in political crossfire in Texas. Knowing the laws and your rights can be obviously beneficial, especially after emigrating from a particularly lax state. After witnessing first-hand a very serious, omnipresent police force in Texas, I decided to update myself on laws I might not have realized before. Here are some of the more bizarre illegal activities in Texas:

It is illegal to milk another person’s cow.
So unbelievably weird, but I suppose it's plausible that one might be stealing another's livelihood this way. It's hard to imagine such a cut-throat farmer working on such a small scale.

It is still a "hanging offense" to steal cattle.
Very serious about cattle crime here.

Purchase and Sale of Human Organs is prohibited.
This won't help you when you wake up packed in ice in the bathtub.

One must acknowledge a supreme being before being able to hold public office.

A program has been created in the state that attempts to control the weather.
How can this coincide with the belief in a supreme being?!

A permit costing five-dollars is required to go around barefoot.

Um, hey Texas, have you met Austin?

Lefors: It is illegal to take more than three sips of beer at a time while standing.
Though 18 year-olds can buy shotguns.

Clarendon: It is illegal to dust any public building with a feather duster.
Too dumb for comment.

Dallas: It is illegal to possess realistic dildos.
Who gets to judge this? Is this really what the justice system is for?

El Paso: Appearing in public places wearing a “lewd dress” is prohibited.
Look buddy, I call them "sewing projects."

There is also some random yet oddly commonsensical statures about not be able to eat money or raise alligators in one's house. How do these things become law, especially in an incredibly conservative state that advocates for "less" government control?

Texas is number one in the country for executions of death-row inmates, and 69% of the state is in favor of capital punishment. Texas courts have a tendency to judge conservatively and punishments tend to be harsher, especially for drug offenders. Three of the top ten most crime-addled cities in the country are in Texas: Houston (#4), San Antonio (#8), and Dallas (#9), according to the FBI rankings.

An interesting point: while almost 80% of Texans are high school graduates, only one quarter the Texas population has a bachelors degree or more, according to the 2007 census information on Education Attainment by State (2010 isn't yet available). Without a substantial amount of analytical scholars, who can professionally counter avaricious or self-aggrandizing politicians and dishonorable agendas? Who will fight against discriminatory practices and unconstitutional (not to mention frivolous) rules and regulations?

Check out these laws and more at Texas Constitution and Statutes.