Sunday, November 29, 2009

A link to make your head hurt

My favorite gloom-and-doom site, Calculated Risk, is the source of this link about a woman on food stamps buying a house that cost $700k. I keep seeing these stories and understand that the intent is that I should pity the house buyer. I don't wanna seem harsh, but I'm angry at everyone in this business – buyer, appraisers, lenders, Realtors. You name 'em, I'm unhappy with 'em. If the taxpayers of the Republic are expected to bail anyone out of deals like this, then the taxpayers are the souls who deserve pity, and there is something grievously wrong at the top of the heap. I want to read about indictments, trials, long sentences for fraud, not tearjerker stories about lumpenproles deprived of their granite countertops.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, a time devoted to gluttony and not really a time that they try to sell you anything you didn't really want to buy anyhow. A grand success today, with three kinds of wine and four kinds of guests, all well matched – an artist kind of friend and charming wife and a historian kind of friend and engaging ladyfriend, and all entertaining in different ways. My piratical buddy even dropped in and took a copita with us. He was steaming because the Vicad today was $1.50 by the single copy. The editor's rationale was that it was just a great value today because of all those wonderful ads or something like that. Betcha lots of people went to the paper machines with their customary couple quarters and were annoyed to find that they needed more.
We ate the traditional things with only a few kinks and quirks – green beans were seared with garlic and red pepper flakes and the cranberry sauce was a chutney. I made a tub of absolutely traditional cornbread dressing, something I dearly love, and found a fellow zealot among the guests. Between us, we put a pretty good hurt on the dressing. Two kinds of dessert – little pumpkin tarts and some killer pecan-pie muffins. We are grateful for plenty of food and vino and the digestion to enjoy it, for gorgeous days when it's snowing in Chicago, and for friends. I even smoked a contraband Cuban Romeo y Julieta afterward. I hope everyone's day was as pleasant as ours.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


A blog site styled 'South Texas Chisme' takes a slap at the Vicad's bogus Creationism controversy here. Whenever the question of evolution is put out in public, a frightening bunch of grasseaters crawls out with goofy ideas, many of them legally suspect. Appeal to supernatural authority is invalid in an argument. Tangentially but related in a way, I notice that some Muslim movement is seeking to squelch worldwide anything they construe to be disrespectful to Mohammed. Not the way the civilized world operates, Abdul.

Mine, mine, mine

Look at this vid clip for the ultimate evolutionary advantage for Thanksgiving. Wife found it on a science blog.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The unkindest cut &c

We took the smaller dog, Moose/Mousse/Mus, to the vet this morning for that little operation. They called this afternoon asking to have him picked up, though the original arrangement had been to keep him until the morning. This dog has a vocalization that could be called a scream rather than a bark. I worried that his adjustment might raise his range to some equivalent of a canine castrato countertenor, a high note beyond human tolerance, a note that could be used to break up prison riots. Hard to know so far, but his ebullience seems intact.
Went into town this morning for a doc's appt for the wife and decided to catch some testimony in the trial of the guy accused of doing in a kid who purportedly had ripped him off for a few bucks. The defendant, Sebastian Mejia, was up on RICO charges with a lesser of murder. He was described as being a Texas Syndicate boss for Victoria. The accused took the stand, a very rare thing, and handled himself pretty well, an even rarer thing. On cross-examination he sparred skillfully with DA Steve Tyler. Course, the defendant had the advantage of having heard all testimony against him and having some time to dream up explanations and counter stories. I don't know yet what the verdict was.* Visited a bit with Gabe Semenza, who was there for the Vicad. Glad to see they're covering notable local trials again. Trials are as much fun as a news reporter can have, with drama and conflict and, sometimes, life and death on the line. Readers find them fascinating.
*Jury found him guilty, and he'll be going away for a long time. Notice a memorial classified ad today for Polo Conchola, little boy whose murder set off a series of gang trials a little while back.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Nah, not more tangos, but a Vicad complaint. There is a newspaper routine called localizing a story. If a wire story or press release comes in that has local interest, a reporter will make some calls and insert the results into the info furnished from outside. I may have missed it, but I didn't notice much in the paper about the Texas Supreme Court rehearing a case of some local interest. From an Associated Press story featured on Yahoo Finance:
The fight began in the late 1980s after the well-known O'Connor family of South Texas and Exxon failed to renegotiate royalty rates for decreasingly productive wells. After Exxon plugged the wells and left, Emerald tried to re-enter several in 1994. Smaller drilling companies routinely reopen plugged wells after signing new leases with the landowners.
But in Emerald's case, the company says, efforts to re-enter more than 30 wells were blocked by numerous obstructions. Among them were a tool known used to break up well casings that still was loaded with explosives, upside down drill bits and steel debris, according to lawyers and court records.

Read it all here. I believe the only thing in the local paper was a similar wire story without any local embellishments. I emphasize the possibility that they covered it and I overlooked it, but I don't think so. My wife came in from a flying trip to Austin carrying an American-Statesman with the story, asking what there had been for coverage locally. Seems to me that this is a story with enough Victoria interest to merit a couple phone calls by someone in the newsroom, and maybe a story of sufficient local interest to rate the front page. Texas Monthly gave it ink in the November issue, with the High Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor quoted.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


The e-mail footnote that makes me immediately hit 'delete':
Send this message to at least 5 people and your life will improve
0-4 people: your life improves slightly.
5-9 people: your life improves according to your expectations !
9-14 people: you ' ll have at least 5 surprises in the next 3 weeks.
15 or more people: your life improves drastically and your dreams start to take shape.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Carlos G

I knew a guy, Aggie chemist by education, who was in Argentina during WWII, sent to gather intelligence on possible German doings down there. Carlos Gardel was killed in a plane crash in Colombia in 1935, but the guy said that Porteños would say, '¿Por qúe te fuites, Carlitos?' [they say fuites instead of fuiste, I guess, because they talk funny Spanish in Buenos Aires.] Even now, 70 years after his death, Gardel is an icon in the city. You see his image all around. Do you think that in 2040 people will still be going to Graceland?
Listen to him singing 'Mi Buenos Aires Querido,' a beautiful song to his city.
And here, just because I found it, is a couple in a movie dancing to 'La Cumparsita.'

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Oh, well, you'd recognize it if I hummed it to you. It's 'La Cumparista,' and maybe the best known tango extant. The funny thing is that it's a Uruguayan composition. The Argentines swarm all over the tango, but Uruguayans have decent claim to a lot of tango history, though they seem rather staid for such inflamed music. The Argentines claim Carlos Gardel, the main man of tango, whom I have also seen identified as Uruguayan by birth, French by birth, and Italian by birth. Gardel is still a presence in Buenos Aires; we spent a few days in his old neighborhood, Abasto. He was a good-looking guy, always pictured in a snap-brim fedora. I wouldn't venture an opinion about his place of birth. Here's 'La Cumparsita,' along with wonderful old photos of Montevideo. A professional dancer told me that the tango is a fiendishly difficult dance, with complicating hooks and flourishes. To me it always sounded like a straightforward 1-2-3-4 or maybe 1-2, 1-2. But, then again, I can barely cross the livingroom without banging into the coffee table, so what do I know about any kind of dancing? The music knocks me out. We went to a concert in Madrid of music by Astor Piazzola, whom I recommend to you.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Scientist tats

Scientists have a nice take on the world. They are curious, intelligent, willing to be delighted, some of my favorite people. The Loom on the Discover mag site has a bunch of scientist tattoos, and they are a lot more fun than Mickey Mouse smoking a doobie. Lots of Darwin, an inordinate number of trilobites, many formulae, molecules, an archaeologist's trowel. Go here and see them. They are fun.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The oyster boats are a-comin

Oyster season is on, and once again about half the boats on the coast are here because San Antonio Bay is open to oystering while many bays are closed. Sometimes you can count a dozen and a half boats out there working. At sundown, everyone heads for the harbor. We had a pint of oysters last week, and they were very good. I can recommend an oyster from **Adrift anytime.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A question worth asking

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, a panel addresses an point worth considering:
With student debt rising and more of those enrolled failing to graduate in four years, there is a growing sentiment that college may not be the best option for all students.

Read all the piece here. We have worked ourselves into a froth of egalitarianism so frothy that some insist that every single breathing high-school graduate should be going to college. That's absurd; half the population is of below-average intelligence. To force those people into classrooms is to betray them and the ideal of education. And, given the cost of college these days, it's likely to leave a lot of people with joke educations and a big debt. We'd do better with a well-considered program of vocational education, leaving college for the academically adept. It would be of more benefit to the less scholarly of our young and would guarantee us a supply of trained workers to fill useful jobs. Tried to get a handyman lately? Paid a handyman lately?

Sun misc

A couple funnies from comments on blogs:
'25% of all employees are pretty much debt-weight …'
'I spend my days applying for jobs which I don’t get and working at a job I HATE for minimum wage, which involves stalking shelves and not writing.' Oughta be easy to sneak up a a shelf, as they are immobile and insentient. That one, unfortunately, is from a journalism blog. Better the poor fool not get a job in the journalism trade.
And then, a bit of gaudy prose from a cigar site, describing a smoke – '… creamy, rich and mild at the same time it is so smooth to the palate that the smoke actually feels silky like chocolate milk, with hints of honey nuts and Maple.' Dunno if you'd wanna smoke that or eat it with strawberries for breakfast. Some of the silliness of wine has slopped over onto the honest seegar.
And, finally, this morning in the Vicad there was a subhed reading, 'Economic slump means less trees will be bought this year.' My goodness, a copy editor who doesn't know that trees are a count noun and get 'fewer' rather than 'less.' A small booboo but a telling one. I always want to blue-pencil the '10 items or less' signs in some stores, since items are also a count noun.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Vicad today had a short piece on a guilty verdict against an HPL gangster. [HPL is Hermandad de Pistoleros Latinos, not Hermanos Pistoleros Latinos, as given in the story.] It was a noteworthy conviction, and the paper gave the trial not a line of coverage. We had HPL trials maybe five or six years ago, following the shooting death of a little kid in a trailer south of downtown. His daddy was purportedly a Raza Unida member, and a bunch of HPL guys shot the hell out of the trailer and accidentally got the little boy. Then-DA Dexter Eaves tried them on a state RICO approach, so anyone taking part in the operation at any point was considered as culpable in the whole. I think it was a generally effective prosecution. I don't know why this trial got no coverage. Paper had two of us on the earlier trials, one morning and one afternoon, and then we collaborated on the writing. People snapped up the papers. It was a good story, and it's a pity this trial didn't get coverage beyond the verdict. In a bumbling way the Victoria gangs do a lot of harm, and readers are interested to know about this kind of law enforcement.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Welcome home, vets

A wonderful set of videos of dogs welcoming home their returning soldiers here. Awwwwwwww. Beats parades.
Remember, the people who attacked us on 9/11 are people who believe that dogs are unclean … don't tell me that all cultures are the same.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Odd trend in Mexico

Poor Mexico falls ever deeper into moral chaos. The mean hillbillies from Sinaloa state who mostly run the narco business have put their wives to work in the trade or at least put them in the way of danger. It's a very non-Mexican thing to do and makes holes in the social fabric of the country. From the LATimes:
Two days before Christmas, federal police arrested Miss Sinaloa, the state's reigning beauty queen, and seven men, all of whom were paraded before television cameras and accused of trafficking cocaine. A cache of high-powered weapons and tens of thousands of dollars were seized from their vehicle.

Read the whole story here. In many ways, Mexico is as patriarchal and misogynistic as ever it was, but women do a lot better than you would think. At UACJ, I taught a lot of young women who were engineers at maquiladora plants. They were good students, not surprisingly, and most retained that charming way that Mexican women have. Mexican feminism lacks the man-hating edge that you often see here, though Mexican women have a lot more to be angry about.

Monday, November 9, 2009

More newspaper shoptalk

There is a new order in journalism being undertaken here in Texas. Guy who sends me stuff sends me a link to a NYTimes story:
… Led by Evan Smith, the former editor of the highly respected Texas Monthly, The Tribune is a nonprofit attempt to use a mix of donations, sponsorships, premium content and revenue from conferences to come up with a sustainable model for journalism that neither depends on nor requires a print product.
Smith is getting a salary of $315K. Seems to me they could pay him about $65K and hire five more journalists. Fact is that Smith runs me nuts – a slightly prissy-seeming yankee and, worse yet, a vegetarian. Read all here.
On recently there was a list of stressful jobs that are ill paid. High-school teachers claim stress at a 65% rate, while 62% of reporters report stress, but – get this – median pay for teachers is $43,000 while the median pay for reporters is $32,900. Read all that one here. I had a friend who quit reporting to teach. She immediately increased her income by about 50% and bragged that she could afford to order tea when she went out to lunch. I'm appalled that J schools continue to produce graduates with no prospect of decent employment. Of course, J-school profs enjoy decent employment.
Figures released last Monday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations show that average daily circulation dropped 10.6 percent in the April-September period from the same six-month span in 2008. That was greater than the 7.1 percent decline in the October 2008-March 2009 period and the 4.6 percent drop in the April-September period of 2008. Get all that here on Yahoo.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Bye bye jobs

A note on sfnblog about some migration from Canada to India … unfortunately it's jobs doing the migrating as the Toronto Star sends some newsroom staff work to Asia.
The parent company of Canada's most widely read newspaper yesterday announced it would ship more than 100 newspaper jobs overseas, Bloomberg reported. The announcement comes even as Torstar Corp. today posted third quarter gains, according to Editor & Publisher.

Read the story here. I don't see how non-native speakers of a vernacular language can possibly catch nuances of usage. I worked for a lot of years for a typesetting house in Austin that did wonderful work, the finest composition for university presses and textbook publishers. Eventually the jobs went to India, and the company no longer exists. The quest for cheap labor is a curse of the modern world.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

More bird stories

We live by a wooded watercourse, and there are some neat birds hanging around in it. Wife said the other night she stepped out quite late with a dog and looked up to the utility pole where I took pic of the vulture. She said there was a big ol horned owl up there watching the faunal traffic underneath the street light. We have lots of owls, both little screechy ones and the big ones. Horned owl against the sky looks about the size of a garbage can.
Another resident in the woods lately has been a good-sized hawk of some flavor. Haven't caught it sitting to determine exactly what it is. My neighbor said the other day he was outside chatting with a friend when the hawk swooped down on his pup, Prissy, a Chihuahua about the size for a meal for a big hawk. He said he hollered and Prissy squealed, and the hawk let go and went on.
Been perfect weather here in paradise; I hope it continues. This weekend is Breeders' Cup Day, so we'll go up to San Antonio for the holy rites and observances. It's always great racing, the best horses in the world. Two years ago we watched the simulcasts at Maroñas, the racetrack in Montevideo. I even won a couple of bucks.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Punch-up in the newsroom

There's a wonderful story growing at the Washington Post, an actual fistfight in the newsroom involving an older editor and a sensitive reporter with a hyphenated name defending the honor of the WaPo's version of Little Me. Ya gotta read it to appreciate it, but suffice to say it was the last happy act of an old-time news guy against the incursions of the dreary new breed. Read it all here on Rumors on the Internets and hope that editor Henry Allen finds some sort of niche elsewhere. We need his kind as a bulwark against horrible writing.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Niggles & nitpicks

For a start, a funny thing from HuffPo on those odd, 'random' quotation marks used by the benighted. They are funny photos of signs, available for your amusement here. The what-the-hell? quote mark is one of life's little mysteries, along with 's as a plural form.
And then a couple of goofy usages from comment sections on sites:
'They need to have a cattle prawn when we land …' [would that have something to do with the surf-n-turf?] and '… he is just trying to get everyone's goad.' [That one, you suspect the writer was almost in the right neighborhood and just went a little astray.]

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Good morning to you from your little birdy friend

View from my front porch this morning. I always wonder if our loitering zopilotes have got the word on me from somewhere. ['You hear, Tiburcio? That old guy by the bay's gonna drop any minute.'] This one looked so regal drying his wings this morning that you could paint it on the coat of arms of the Grand Duchy of Oklahoma.
Sugar Magnolia came down to dine today. We went to the ArtBoat for their open house. Fun stuff to look at and a good weekend.