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Patti, Mary, and Miriam

After unhappily giving Patti Smith’s latest CD, Twelve, a so-so review (which you can find in Thursday's paper), I found myself a little distressed. It’s hard to give a middling review to someone like Patti Smith, who’s generally delivered stellar work over the years, but these covers were too serious and could have been delivered with more than uninspired devotion to the originals. A redo doesn’t have to be a complete deconstruction, like Smith so famously did with “Gloria” back in 1976, but it should have some bite to it.

Mary Weiss got it right with her remake, “A Certain Guy.” First recorded and written by Ernie K-Doe in the early Sixties as “A Certain Girl,” the song irresistibly bounces along to his easy melody. In Weiss’ hands, it’s still a simple piano-and-sax tune, but her smoky alto makes it pop like a new piece of bubblegum. And like any chestnut, you have to dig to find it – it’s only available on vinyl as the B-side to “Don’t Come Back” or on her MySpace page.

4:24PM Mon. May 7, 2007,Margaret Moser Read More | Comment »

Dying in Committee, Part 5

Time for a real-time death on the floor.

What is it? House Joint Resolution 44, sponsored by Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, et al.

What would it have done? Change the Constitution so that if the Lege ever wanted to pass a change in the business franchise tax rate, they'd need a three-fourths majority.

Why would it have been good? Because Texas needs to secure its reputation as never seeing a business tax it couldn't slash.

What are the odds of it passing? None. Since it just only picked up 93 votes on the floor, it failed to get adopted. A bloody fight in the House (well, they are its stock-in trade) had the numbers bounce between a two-thirds, three-fourths, and four-fifths majority for a rate change. It was all about constitutional philosophy: On one side, there are those like Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, that say that it's unfair to hamstring future legislatures with a supermajority on one tax; on the other, there are legislators like Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson, R-Waco, who believe that businesses shouldn't be taxed. It may have failed this time, but it's a pretty solid barometer on where the taxing proclivities of the House stand.

4:04PM Mon. May 7, 2007,Richard Whittaker Read More | Comment »

Sorry, I Thought You Were Someone Else

Everyone's favorite coal-burner, TXU Corp., is thinking very seriously about its role in the world and has done the only thing that a power-generating company can do in this age of global warming. Yup, it's changing its name.

The Dallas-based energy behemoth will split into three components. First, its production component will become Luminant Energy, then its delivery people (the cables and repairs guys) become Oncor. And don't those just sound like cuddly, nonpolluting li'l corporations?

If you're wondering about the retailers who actually sell to domestic and industrial users, they'll remain TXU Energy. Possibly this is because the experience of electricity deregulation around the state had shown that people hate it when the name at the top of their electricity bill changes.

Does this mean they'll stop shilling the untenable notion of clean coal (the kind that produces kittens and lavender instead of soot and carbon dioxide)? Now that's crazy talk.

3:52PM Mon. May 7, 2007,Richard Whittaker Read More | Comment »


Adaptations Book Club: Persepolis

We Luv Video

Katie Folger: Getting in Bed With the Pizza Man at Ground Floor Theatre


Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves

Here's something you don't see everyday: A skinny lady in her early to mid-20s stuck up the Wachovia Bank at 8045 Mesa Dr. close to 1pm today. "It is believed that the suspect entered the bank and demanded cash. She fled the scene on foot with an undisclosed amount of cash," says the Austin Police Department's Public Information Office.

"Please note the suspect is wearing a white baseball cap with a longhorn insignia on the front," the release continues. We knew tuition was expensive these days, but gosh! Times are tough all over.

3:36PM Mon. May 7, 2007,Wells Dunbar Read More | Comment »

Dying in Committee: Countin' the Days

Tick … tick … tick. Welcome, oh Lege session watchers, to day 119. A pivotal day on the House calendar because, well, this is when a lot of bills really stop counting.

Today is the last day that a committee report, consent bill, or House joint resolution can be reported to the House. Technically, the nonlocal calendar is open until tomorrow, and the Local and Consent calendar until Wednesday. But, like all good bureaucracies, all paperwork has to be submitted a day or so in advance. So, basically, if a House committee is discussing a House bill after today, it's DOA for this session.

The next pivotal date is Thursday, aka the 122nd day, which is the last possible date for a bill to get its second reading in the House. After that, if a House bill isn't in the Senate, then all your local legislator's hard work over the last interim will have gone to waste.

1:49PM Mon. May 7, 2007,Richard Whittaker Read More | Comment »

Dying in Committee, Part 4

More potential legislation is falling by the wayside every day …

What is it? Senate Bill 54, sponsored by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and eight co-authors.

What would it do? Currently, medical insurers often have caps for payouts for prosthetic limbs for amputees; this bill would remove those caps and have insurance cover up to the value of whatever prosthetic the doctors thinks is most suitable for their patient.

Why would it be good? Because insurance companies only pay a fraction of the replacement cost of a replacement prosthetic device. The Lege's own analysis says that most insurers cap prosthetic payouts at $2,500 a year, but the average below-the-knee replacement limb costs $7,500. For families with a growing child with a missing limb, this could mean a choice between multiple replacements a year and a massive financial burden or leaving their child with a painful, ill-fitting prosthesis.

What are the odds of it passing? None for the bill, long for the idea. Chair Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, has left it at the bottom of the to-do list for his State Affairs Committee. However, the near-identical House Bill 223 managed to get out of the House Insurance Committee. It's still waiting to get on the House calendar for debate, so there's still a little hope, but it seems the insurers will win out again.

1:44PM Mon. May 7, 2007,Richard Whittaker Read More | Comment »


Severe Hair Cuts

Even more severe tattoos. Notice Jean Fineberg's very serious forearm crossbones of sax and flute. Helping Deuce mean a different kind of release.

(Thanks to KXM for the album that has made my year. Now if only I could find a close-up on that tatty...)

11:31AM Mon. May 7, 2007,Kate Getty Read More | Comment »

Aquaholics Anonymous

The City Council Notebook's going to be a little sparse this week – seeing as how there's no council meeting Thursday. It's just as well, as the things up last week – the financial forecast presentation and Lee Leffingwell's water-conservation plan – were massive, omnibus measures both.

The most controversial comment regarding the recommendations – which cut peak-day usage by 1% each year – came from Save Our Springs Director Bill Bunch. That's our polite way of saying he dropped trow in council chambers and pissed all over them. His terse, metaphorical monologue got a awkward, icy reception, which made it all the more awesome. We've pulled the relevant portion from the council transcript. Remember, like the awesome picture above, it's all anthropomorphic and sh*t:

"Rather than go into the details here, I wanted to try to just tell you a story about a good friend of mine who I care very deeply about. But she drinks too much. She’s been drinking more and more, too. And it’s really getting to be a problem. She drinks too much all the time, but a couple of days out of the year, she really is a mess. Some of us do that at Halloween or at New Year’s Eve, but she tends to do it in the hot summer months when she’s really thirsty. And it is a sight to be seen …

10:15AM Mon. May 7, 2007,Wells Dunbar Read More | Comment »

Daily - The Austin Chronicle (10)

What Price Freedom of Information?

It's a good thing that Texas is passing a journalism shield law, because reporters may need new tools to redress the hammering that the Freedom of Information Act could take this session.

Today, while the House Judiciary committee will be taking testimony on that very shield law, House State Affairs will be hearing Senate Bill 889. This subtle but radical bill does away with the established idea that a FOIA request should be free (after all, it's your government, paid for with your taxes). Under the bill, anyone making a successful request will get the first hundred pages of documents free. After that, they'll have to pay 10 cents per page, plus "costs of materials, overhead, … and any other cost or expense actually incurred in locating, compiling, and photocopying the public information."

The committee report on the bill says it's a response to citizens using FOIA for "harassment or retaliatory purposes." But the Texas Daily Newspaper Association and the Texas Press Association have both spoken against it for the chilling effect it will have on public oversight.

Is 10 cents per sheet a lot? No. Not unless you're a small operation looking to get access to a large amount of files. Plus those nebulous "extra" charges could mount up, if an agency decided that those files were just really hard to get to.

9:32AM Mon. May 7, 2007,Richard Whittaker Read More | Comment »

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