Saturday, May 26, 2012

No Horse Hockey, No Bull Puckey, No Games

... Dear Levi, as I am sure you have learned by now, I have followed your public career since August 2008. I realize that you have been absorbed into a world that you did not create. You accidentally stumbled onto a public stage that has increased your public visibility a hundredfold, yet all you ever wanted from life is to be a quiet young man in the northern wilderness.

Unlike most of the millions who are fascinated by your life story and what you might reveal to the world, I am not that far from your viewpoint on life. My dad taught me his favorite skills of hunting and fishing when I was not yet in high school. I sent my lure off the small fishing skiff from my green casting reel with my dad thousands of times when I was a kid. I got my first .22 rifle for Christmas when I was ten, a bolt action from the Sears catalog. My mom used it to keep the squirrels out of her pecan trees decades after I was grown and out of the house. My more modern .22 semi-automatic Remington with a ten-shot clip and scope waits silently in my bedroom closet. I don't get to use it nearly as much as I would like now that I live in the city. You probably even know a few displaced Southerners personally. We may live in the city as adults, but we have always relished the simple joys of country life.

Come home to me, Levi. Tell me your story in confidence. I am not in the game for money. I never have been. I could have written a book about your nemesis for a fraction of the cost in time and effort, and sold a lot more copies for profit. But you know I didn't do that. I told the story of America's sad downfall, its weakness of heart and soul. You know I have little trust of the same people that have repeatedly deceived you. I am an outsider just like you. I want you to tell your story, not for the satisfaction of all the I-told-you-sos that you are so weary of meeting. I want you to tell your story for the deep truth that it holds, for the release of the burden on your soul and your future. You are probably too young to realize it now, but you still have your whole life in front of you.

Your mom was framed, set up, sent to a life of public disgrace solely for the purpose of protecting some very bad people. Her crime was pathetically minimal, but we both know the punishment was meted out to the fullest extent of a very misguided law. There is nothing we can do about that situation now except to move you and your family to another state far away. From my perspective, you should have done that even before your mom was entrapped, but we cannot alter a fate that has already been sealed. We can only do the right thing now. Pick a town and a state far from Alaska and move there, and take Sherry and Mercede with you. Begin a new life for the sake of all of you. No other choice will offer you such hope.

Tell me your story, Levi. Tell me the truth, the whole truth without any games of deception or even accidentally-on-purpose deceit. By all means read Paradigm Shift first. If you do not have a copy, just tell me an address where to send one. Most of what I know about your story is contained in the book, however I know a lot that is not in the book, particularly about the people who have tried to lead you down their many misleading pathways. I can tell you all of it. All you have to do is to trust me and tell me the whole truth as you know it to be. I seriously doubt that we both know the same details. In fact I expect that our knowledge of the subject spans a wide chasm between us. After all, I am about three times your age, so I do not expect you to have an understanding of The Southern Strategy or the Council for National Policy or the severe divisiveness your nemesis has brought to our once great nation. I understand that your viewpoint is much more up close and personal, that you have  a child caught in the crossfire.

Bring your conscience home to me, Levi. I can tell your story without the conflicting motives of your fellow Alaskans. I can publish it in book form so that it remains alive forever. You tell me the truth and I can make it real for your children. They will always have the truth in print, regardless of all the hurtful, shallow dreck published by the blogs and tabloids that have haunted your story since the beginning. Come home to the truth, Levi. We both have been blackballed by those who seek only to control us for the acquisition of personal fame and fortune. Please come home, Levi. Let me tell your story. Let's tell the truth as only we can.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Twelve Seasons of Austin

As we rapidly approach vacation season, I would like to offer a little tourist information about my hometown of Austin and the nearby Texas Hill Country. This candid insider’s viewpoint includes a few places and activities of interest, including a few details traditional sources may accidentally on purpose neglect to mention. You can find the latest commercial hotspots in several print and online publications, most notably The Austin Chronicle. All of these things have been part of the landscape for years, some for decades. The Highland Lakes are emphasized because it’s that time of year, but as the title implies, Austin and The Hill Country offer many fine year-round getaways. All choices and descriptions are solely the opinion of the author. Your mileage may vary, and I mean that literally.

The best thing about Austin is the weather and the worst is the traffic. This was true the first night I drove into Austin in 1977 and it is still true today. Some people, particularly those who do not enjoy 100-degree days and occasional floods and hailstorms, may disagree with my opinion of the best of Austin, but I seriously doubt that anyone who has visited or lived here will question the source of the area’s Achilles heel. The reason for the weather is that I-35 seems to be a dividing line between the East and the West, not only of Austin or of Texas, but of the whole country. East of I-35, all the way to Beaumont, is little different geographically from Alabama or Mississippi. Bastrop, the town you might consider to be the easternmost exurb of Austin, experienced one of the worst wildfires in U.S. history during the Draught of 2011. What was burning was the tall pine forest that begins on the northeast side of Bastrop, similar to the pines that populate the Southeastern U.S. West of I-35 begins to look more and more like West Texas with every mile you travel westward. The Texas Hill Country includes most of the terrain west of Austin and north of San Antonio. The Highland Lakes chain is composed of a series of dams on the Colorado River, from the huge Lake Buchanan located in the sparsely populated area far northwest of the city to the tiny Lady Bird Lake that lazily cuts the city in half. South Austin is generally the diverse section that brought the city its nickname of The Live Music Capitol of the World, while North Austin has boomed toward Dallas with the relatively conservative corporatism of Round Rock and Cedar Park. Technically most of the live music has always been played on Sixth Street, a few blocks north of the river, but who cares? The image of each part of town has stuck tightly over the decades. The temperature ranges between 60 and 90 more often than not throughout most of the year. Twenty-degree changes throughout the day are very common; 50-70 in winter and 80-100 in the summer. Yes, Maybelle, that’s an overnight low of 80, but remember the humidity is relatively low, too. It may not be at Phoenix levels, but it is much drier than Houston only 150 miles eastward. Although ice storms occasionally freeze the city like a Popsicle covered in fender-bent cars, this occurs only about once every third or fourth winter. The possible months for continuous 100-degree days are June, July, August, and September. Believe it or not, this is more likely to occur in September than in June. Cloudy or rainy days are few and far between year round. Snow? Whazzat?

Austin is a town of the car culture. There is a commuter train line that runs north-south, and there are various buses and cabs available, but overall, this is very much a town in which most everyone does his or her own driving. If you are flying into town and renting a car, consider a convertible. Unless you happen to hit one of our rare periods of inclement weather, you will probably have plenty of opportunity to enjoy topless motoring. If you are driving your own wheels you will be cursing the traffic before you even hit your first destination. The problem is that the metro area is humongous and it continually outgrows its road system. More specifically, my opinion has always been that the city fathers continually sell out to the developers. In other words, they allow the corporatism to go hog wild, and then they decide more or wider roads are needed! By the time they get around to doing something about the problem, the traffic in the afflicted area invariably is already clogged up like an old drain. Then the flow of traffic becomes obstructed even further while seemingly endless road development projects are underway. Lanes are added and toll roads are constructed, but new freeways are never built. Austin is probably the largest single-interstate metro area in the USA! Here is the sum total of Austin’s major highways. I-35 is the busiest freeway 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week that I have ever seen. Loop 1/Mopac, which is not a loop but a straight north-south strip with three lanes in each direction, runs from far South Austin to far North Austin. U.S. 183 curves through the city from Cedar Park in the northwest down to Bergstrom International Airport in the southeast portion of the city, and finally, the new Toll Road 130/45 follows a similar path as 183 and features toll prices some would call high. The distance totally across the metro area approaches one hundred miles without an inch of east-west freeway! You can go across the center portion of town on 183 or Highway 71 in the southern part of the city, but these are your only choices. The key phrase here is center portion. Highway 71 connects at Mopac with U.S. 290 West a few miles out to Dripping Springs, but the freeway portion of 71 East turns into an endless parade of traffic lights east of I-35. With only a handful of flyovers connecting the few freeway interchanges, massively backed-up left turns to enter the major roads at many points are very common. Do you see why the worst thing about Austin is its traffic congestion? Now let’s move on to the fun stuff, the reasons people have been coming to Austin for decades.

January is a relatively quiet month for boating, golf, or sightseeing without the crowds. The annual Boat Show in the Austin Convention Center is usually held in January. One of the issues that makes the boat show useful if you are even considering a boat purchase is that most of the boat dealers are scattered far and wide throughout the lakeside areas. You can put a lot of miles through the nauseating traffic just going from one dealer to another, many of which are located along Ranch Road 620 on the northern edge of the city proper. Even with its congestion and seemingly endless traffic lights, you will want to cruise this road at least once for its scenic views of Lake Travis and pathway over Mansfield Dam.

February is about as quiet as January, but possibly with a little warmer weather, combined with a lesser likelihood of sporadic inclement weather. This would be a good month for a cruise out to the Horseshoe Bay Resort on Lake LBJ for a few rounds of golf. There are several courses in the area and some are particularly elegant and scenic. Golf packages are offered with weekend stays at the resort, however the prices are not cheap.

March is when the Mexican Freetail Bats begin to arrive from Mexico, usually in the latter part of the month. Since global warming kicked in, it has become difficult to predict the exact dates the bats, the floods, or the draughts might arrive. The South by Southwest festival has taken over the month of March in recent years. This monster just gets bigger and bigger every year. Unlike the bats or the weather events, SXSW explodes all over town every March. The most important advice I can offer if you want to attend next year’s SXSW is to lock down your lodging and transportation (particularly lodging) as soon as possible. Everything books solid way in advance for all the days of SXSW. That means not only downtown hotels, but suburban motels, local apartments, and even rental houses.

April is the most reliable month to take a Bluebonnet Tour in The Hill Country or visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. Marble Falls and the surrounding areas show an increase in motorcycle traffic every year about this time. The weather is nearly perfect in the early spring for motorcycle touring. The top eatery in Marble Falls is the Blue Bonnet Cafe, established in 1929, where breakfast is served all day. Stop there anytime, but the Southern Pigout Breakfast is the specialty. (I just made up that name. It’s all good at the Blue Bonnet Cafe.)

May is a time when you can still visit the Wildflower Center in Austin or possibly still see wildflowers in The Hill Country, depending on the year, but mainly it’s a time to hit the lakes before the boom begins Memorial Day Weekend. With any luck, the rains have already arrived and Lake Travis has enough water to launch a boat from its many ramps. In draught years, the only ramps open may be the multiple lanes at Mansfield Dam. If that is the case, I would prefer to just stare at the wildflowers, but if you don’t mind crowds, let ‘er rip! You can follow the lake levels at the LCRA website. Anything less than 660 feet in elevation for Lake Travis and you may as well go watch the wildflowers or got to Schlitterbahn. Most boats can barely be launched at that level on the upper areas of Lake Travis. Even when you get in the water, you have to watch out for a submerged rock taking out your propeller. (I knew jet boats were good for something!) If you like cold water, you can launch onto Lake Austin, but you are likely to find a crowd there, too. Lake Marble Falls is a small, rather quiet lake, but watch out for low levels there, too. The only boating done on Lady Bird Lake in the middle of the city is kayaking and an occasional nighttime boat parade for spectators. Lake LBJ an hour northwest of the city offers no-hassle constant levels year round, although there are few public ramps and only one major one on the Austin side. Granite Beach at the edge of Cottonwood Shores, just east of Horseshoe Bay, offers a public ramp, boat and personal watercraft rentals, dry-dock boat storage, a full-service marina, a boat dealership, and a waterpark in a quiet cove of the lake. The only negative I can say about Lake LBJ is that you can ski on very little of it only some of the time. There is not a tall bluff on the south side, as there is along most of Lake Travis, and the southern breeze keeps the lake somewhat choppy most of the time. Most of the boating activity on LBJ consists of towing tubes, cruising near the shoreline and drooling over the many vacation homes of millionaires, or just roaring up and down the lake on jet skis or in various types of boats. These include fishing boats in the lower LBJ area, but the more serious fishing is upstream a few miles near Kingsland. On most any weekday that is not a holiday, even in midsummer, you can just float with the current, which most of the time seems to be overcome by the stiff breeze that blows unanchored boats upstream, and just moo through the quiet like a contented cow.

June usually offers a good swimming and boating season before the water gets bathwater warm and the Fourth of July hordes swarm the lakes. June is often the best month for tubing in the area, since this is when the rivers might be flowing the fastest before the long summer dry months slow them down. Slow, gentle tubing is offered in San Marcos, but the hot action is in the New Braunfels area on the Guadalupe and Comal Rivers. If you visit San Marcos, be sure to allow a little time to tour the beautiful campus of Texas State University. If you are going for the serious tubing near New Braunfels, expect serious crowds, and possibly a bit of rowdiness. The ever larger crowds have made the local news in recent years, mostly over noise and alcohol issues. However, if you have never been tubing before, you owe it to yourself to try it at least once and New Braunfels is the place. Be sure you have sunscreen, water to drink, and appropriate shoes. I highly recommend slip-on deck shoes since you can easily take them off after the initial launching and they offer adequate protection from the rocks. This advice applies to all boating and water activities in the area. These clear waters come at a price: most of the bottoms are quite rocky.

July is the time for midsummer crowds and hot, hot suntan action, but multiple fireworks displays on Town Lake and Lake LBJ offer a once a year thrill. Austin has traditionally presented a big fireworks extravaganza over Town Lake, not far from the bat show emitting from beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge. The Austin Symphony generally adds the soundtrack. Far fewer people are aware of another display happening an hour west of the city in Horseshoe Bay. This one is actually at least two separate shows, sometimes on the same night, but on consecutive nights in other years, mostly depending on the day of the week the holiday falls. The more spectacular of the two is presented by the Blue Lake subdivision of Horseshoe Bay and the lesser one is done near the HSB Resort. The Blue Lake show is shot from the edge of the lake and can be seen from many different vantage points from the hilltops common to the area. Although the HSB show is not placed quite as perfectly for hilltop viewing, both or either can be viewed from the water, and this is one unique advantage if you have access to a boat. The second advantage is that there are so few crowds and so many viewing locations available. Sometimes even a third, smaller display is going on at the same time! For a quiet, uncrowded vacation spot, Horseshoe Bay is a fun place!

August is the peak season for seeing the most bats fly out from underneath the Congress Avenue Bridge. The little winged moms have their babies in June and July, so by August everybody is ready to fly out to catch his own bugs. You may not fully believe that this is the largest metropolitan colony of these bats on this continent until you watch them fly out from underneath the bridge at sunset. The event can continue for nearly an hour, and we’re not talking a few bats a minute, either! There can be up to 1.5 million of them during peak season! The Boat Drag Races on Lake Marble Falls are the second reason to thumb your nose at the heat and visit Austin in August. Book yourself a room way ahead of time in one of the hotels along the waterside or up on the bluff overlooking the lake. All the rooms of the LaQuinta on the hill, for instance, face the lake. Marble Falls is one of the central hubs for the many motorcycle tourists that flock to the area for its curvy roads and pleasant scenery.

September is a good time to visit Schlitterbahn with smaller swarms of kids than during the official summer months. We don’t have a Six Flags or a Disney park in Central Texas, but what we do have are thousands and thousands of large inner tubes. Schlitterbahn is a tubing-based water park in New Braunfels, 45 miles southwest of Austin, down I-35. Schlitterbahn is usually open from May through September, but only on weekends at the beginning and end of each annual schedule. As with Six Flags, unless you enjoy standing around a lot between rides, try to avoid the prime dates such as holiday and midsummer weekends. The most unusual ride at Schlitterbahn is the namesake, in which a person sits on a board suspended in midair until at the blast of a horn a mechanism suddenly drops it to the water and the rider rapidly slides across a pool like a skipped rock. Although there are numerous high-speed tube slides at the park, most adults will particularly enjoy the long, more leisurely inner tube floats.

October is usually the last month for swimming and boating on the lakes. Reliably one of the best adult Halloween celebrations in the country is held annually in the extensive bar scene on Sixth Street. It may not be San Francisco, New York or New Orleans, but neither is the weather! In some years The Texas Book Festival is presented on the last weekend in October. Laura Bush founded the annual event in 1995 and it seems to get bigger every year. The festival in tents set up on streets near the state capitol draws 40,000 visitors annually, according to the TBF website. Senator Obama spoke to a standing room only crowd in The Capitol and signed his book The Audacity of Hope at the 2006 TBF.

November sometimes hosts The Texas Book Festival on the first weekend of the month. The best time to visit is Saturday morning while the weather is cool and the crowds are sparse. November is usually the last month on the lakes, and a nice quiet one at that. Some Yankees may actually enjoy the slight chill in the air. Boats go up and down the lake, even after the time of comfortable swimming has passed. The time to enjoy Austin for its mild winter weather and many indoor entertainments is on the way. The new Circuit of the Americas Formula 1 track debuts its first race this November. With a current expectation of 120,000 visitors, the first F1 race is expected to become Austin's #1 tourist event.

December’s legendary Austin events include the huge Christmas Tree in Zilker Park and the Trail of Lights just across the street. Kids of all ages enjoy getting falling down drunk under the tree at least once! Leave the alcohol at home where it belongs, kiddies. Just hold out your arms, stare upward at the yellow swirls of lights that intertwine with the multi-colors, and spin around slowly until you fall down. The Trail of Lights used to be drive-through entertainment until the event became such a big deal that it had to be turned into a strictly pedestrian affair. If you don’t like traffic congestion, avoid the whole area whenever you see the lights on. These days much of the crowd is even shuttled in like cattle from a remote parking area, yet it is still Traffic Congestion Central on Barton Springs Road every Christmas season.

Although Austin is known as a town of hot sun, warm nights, live music, and its progressive tech culture of what I call Silicon Valley South, the area appeals to those with  wide-ranging tastes, and varied entertainment pursuits year-round. The proximity of its lakes and the unexpected (for Texas) beauty of the nearby Hill Country open up vistas of imagination. Classic and muscle car owners and enthusiasts informally meet in several large parking lots throughout the metro area, most along I-35, on weekend nights of fair weather. Check the schedules for more details. All the shopping, bars and eateries you might seek can be found in Austin. There is so much more to Austin than bragging about its current job market boomtown status!

Dudley & Bob on KLBJ-FM 93.7 will entertain you 6-10 a.m. weekdays. KLBJ is the classic rock FM station that has been serenading the legendary city of music for decades, but the mornings are reserved for a little homegrown Austin humor. Hint: if you are a right-winger whose drawers are a little snug, you might prefer the usual conservative rants emanating from KLBJ-AM talk radio right down the hall.

If the good old boy in your party is whining about too many foo-fooey drives and too much hippy-dippy music, just drop him off at Cabela’s in Buda with a credit card and return to retrieve him in a few hours. He will be entertained. I know it’s just an outdoor sporting goods store, but you have to experience it to believe it. Huge aquariums of local game fish and exorbitant, museum-quality animal displays enrich the 185,000-square-foot store. Take the Niederwald exit off I-35 South in Buda. You can’t miss it. You can tell you are approaching something big by the size of the parking lot.

Threadgill’s represents the heart of traditional Southern specialties with a unique Austin history. Think chicken fried steak or a platter of catfish with black-eyed peas and mashed potatoes… umm-umm good. The menu is varied, but these are my favorites. Threadgill’s is not the place to start a new diet! The original Threadgill’s on North Lamar once hosted Janis Joplin in the early days of her all-too-brief career. The walls are covered with photos and mementos of Threadgill’s extensive history as one of the earliest successful Austin honky-tonks, dating back to the 1930’s. There have never been but two Threadgill’s restaurants, and in this case, I even prefer the newer one on West Riverside. The north location is a treat to experience the first time, but it is located a little distance out of the action of most Austin entertainment and the line to get a table can be long. The South location is an excellent choice when you are planning to visit the bats who fly out from underneath the Congress Avenue bridge practically next door or Zilker Park just a little distance west.

The Salt Lick represents the traditional family-style Southern barbeque as well as any I have ever experienced - in any state or locale. Located out in the sticks near Driftwood, southwest of the city, The Salt Lick is always worth the drive! The original Salt Lick is located near the intersection of FM 1826 and RR 967, quite distinctly out in the middle of nowhere, about thirty minutes west of Buda or south of Dripping Springs. New branches have recently been opened in Round Rock and Bergstrom Airport, but the Driftwood location still has all the charisma. The Salt Lick serves its authentic Texas BBQ in several rambling, rustic, country buildings with no frills. Alcohol is not served and you must pay in cash, but even a simple meal of purely meat and bread will put a broad smile on your face!

The County Line barely makes this list because this is not a restaurant guide and BBQ is already represented by The Salt Lick. However, The County Line is the original, high-quality sit-down barbeque purveyor actually in the city. Although the company has recently branched out to several locations in far away cities, the original County Line is on Bee Caves Road with gorgeous Hill Country views on the north side. The second Austin location is near Lake Austin with a large deck over Bull Creek. Of course if you can score a table with a view, that’s a plus. The County Line menu is more varied and a bit more expensive than that of The Salt Lick. If you really must experience Texas BBQ, I strongly recommend visiting at least one or the other, and I prefer the original locations of both, although my favorite is clearly The Salt Lick.

Conan’s Pizza was the original deep dish pizza parlor on The Drag, the nickname for the commercial district that borders the UT campus with a few blocks of Guadalupe Street that strongly cater to UT students. Conan’s is now located on West 29th Street, just a few blocks northwest of The Drag. Two other locations in North and South Austin serve up much the same ambience. Unlike a few other classic eateries mentioned here, the branch locations are equally recommended in all respects. Frank Frazetta’s classic paintings, as in Conan the Barbarian, line the walls at all locations. Go in with a big appetite and try the Veggie Supreme or the Savage. Although I am deeply a Southern boy who doesn’t care much for Chicago snow or traffic, I have never eaten a better pizza than a Conan’s. Of course your tastes may vary.

El Mercado has been chosen to represent the multitude of Mexican restaurants in Austin because it has been a fixture of South Austin for more than twenty years, its prices and service are reasonable, and its extensive menu is delicious. The original location is still on South First Street and branches are now available in Central and North Austin.

The Kerbey Lane Cafe is the established premier sensitive-and-aware breakfast restaurant. This quaint little restaurant has been a fixture of the weekend late breakfast crowd since 1980. Although the small chain of five outlets serves appropriate meals all day, its claim to fame is clearly its deliciously innovative breakfast menu. The four newer locations each have a design and decor unique to itself, but the little old converted house on the actual Kerbey Lane holds all the charisma. Expect a line at prime time.

A few attractions in the Austin area are obvious and some are unusual. Barton Springs Pool maintains a temperature of 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, but don’t kid yourself, that water is cold, even in July! I’ve seen visitors from Yankeeland revel in the contrast of hot air and cold water, but once was enough for me. There are numerous outdoor concerts annually in Zilker Park, and many are huge events. Attendees are usually shuttled in from designated parking areas. The University of Texas campus has been attracting tourists for decades. The legendary library and infamous tower are notable. As you might expect, free parking spaces are as elusive as snowflakes in Austin. The local IMAX theater is located within the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum just south of UT. A few miles south down I-35, you can take an informal tour of the St. Edwards University campus for a gander at some elegant old architecture. Another sight to see is the reportedly haunted Pemberton Castle, at 1415 Wooldridge Drive in the Pemberton Heights neighborhood just northwest of the UT campus. Built in 1926, Pemberton Castle was featured in the forgettable 1994 Disney romp, Blank Check. The $2 million property was purchased in 2006 by famed Austin movie director Robert Rodriguez.

Mount Bonnell is one of the scenic highpoints of Austin. If you would like just a nice view of the city, try the Barton Creek Mall parking lot overlooking South Austin from just below Bee Caves Road. This is a good cityscape, day or night. One of the most scenic drives that every visitor should take is Lake Austin Boulevard from Mopac west to Scenic Drive along Lake Austin, and on up Mount Bonnell Road. The small mountaintop has steps running up the north side, but the views are on the south, facing Lake Austin far below and the television broadcast towers on the far side. You can take in the view in the daylight, but this is an opportunity to follow Scenic Drive along Lake Austin in the late afternoon so that you arrive at Mount Bonnell just before sunset. (Carefully examine a map to see how to make the connection from Lake Austin Blvd. to Scenic Drive via several short hops on small streets, and then repeat the process on the north end to connect with Mount Bonnell Drive. Just follow your nose, staying as close to the lake as possible. It’s easier than it looks on a map.) Then you climb the steps and watch the sunset. Just sit down on a rock and take in the ambience. Remember that if you have children with you, you may want to visit earlier in the day, before the young adults stake out a rock on which to smoke dope or make out. Otherwise, the sunset time is the best time to go. There is nothing wrong with visiting late at night for an intimate conversation in a cool breeze, either, but you will miss the captivating scenery of the Lake Austin area, where the stars live. You can take a much shorter, quicker route back if you want. Mount Bonnell is actually only about ten minutes west of Loop 1 at approximately 45th Street. I just sent you on the scenic route. I doubt you will be disappointed.

Many routes through The Hill Country provide panoramic views of Lake Travis. These are generally much longer trips further out into the hill country west of Austin. The major roads involved are Ranch Roads 620, 2222, and 2244. Loop 360, which is actually more of a north-south major highway with traffic lights, features the elegant bridge over Lake Austin. Although a tourist should enjoy this view, I strongly recommend the most off hour you can muster, such as 8 a.m. Sunday morning! The three ranch roads host a lot of traffic during primetime, too, but if you simply avoid the common rush hours, the driving will not be unpleasant. The best scenery on RR 2244 (Bee Caves Road) is west of 360 until it dead ends into Highway 71. You may wish to cruise out Bee Caves, turn right on 71, and connect with RR 620 a few blocks away. You can then return back to the heart of the city via Highway 183, Loop 1, or I-35, in that order. Here is a hint: all the good scenery will be over before you reach 183. Are you driving in circles? Good. You are experiencing some of the Austin area’s best scenery. All you really have to remember is that most of that scenery is found on Scenic Drive, Mount Bonnell Road, RR 2222, RR2244, RR 620, and Loop 360.

Floyd M. Orr is the author of Ker-Splash 2: The High Performance Powerboat Book and Timeline of America: Sound Bytes from the Consumer Culture, among others. He has resided in the area for more than three decades. Since he has not left the Austin metro area even once since 2000, he must like it.. except for the traffic.

See Also: Circuit of the Americas by Floyd M. Orr

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fifty Faces

Hunter S. Thompson Cat has his eyes wide open watching out for the fifty faces I never want to see on TV again. No celebrity should be allowed to deface my television set as much or as often as the members of this rogues' gallery have done over the past few years. Some of these are on the screen multiple times a day, 365 days a year. Some have just been on the public stage too damn long, and some have been nauseating from their very first appearance. It's way past time to save my sanity and bring the hook. You may say that I can always turn off the TV or change the channel. That's why I watch with my finger on the channel or mute buttons. Hold your nose. Here comes the parade of stinkers.

50. Anderson Cooper - Of course I know you are not as bad as many on this list, but how many hours a day do we have to get our supposed news from only one person?

49. Larry King - Finally, one of these clowns has already left the stage. He was becoming quite the parody of himself.

48. Ray Barone & the Rest of His Family - Of course you created a decent sitcom, but enough is enough! You are on multiple channels umpteen times a day! I've seen 'em all already!

47. Kevin James - Some of your movies are quite good, but your sitcom earns a C+ on its best day. If it was on only once a week, that would be tolerable. As it is, I am sick of it!

46. Steven Tyler - I have always liked your outfits and persona as America's answer to Mick Jagger, but dude, you are embarrassing yourself!

45. Paul Teutul, Sr. - Does everybody on reality TV have to be covered in tattoos and build ridiculously expensive, but practically useless, products?

44. Will Ferrell - Some of your movies are good, but too many of them are silly trash that are rerun endlessly on numerous cable channels.

43. Dr. Drew - An occasional appearance on MTV was interesting. Now you are just in our faces way too many times a week on way too many channels.

42. Jabbering Sluts on MTV & VH-1 - What happened to the music videos, or at least stories about musicians?

41. Toothless, Tattooed Hicks - Why does every outdoor reality show have to showcase the morons of America?

40. Geraldo Rivera - You were more mentally stable before you joined Fox News.

39. Dennis Miller - You can speak quite intelligently, but how can you stand Bill O'Reilly?

38. Erin Burnett - You are just too damn cute to be taken seriously. Of course I have never taken you seriously in the first place because you came to CNN from The Wall Street Channel.

37. Lou Dobbs - Just go home to your Hispanic wife and shut up. You're a hypocrite!

36. Bill O'Reilly - If you had only stayed with the gossip reporting of your early career, you might still be tolerable. You are lower on the list than you deserve because your trivia quizzes are at least entertaining.

35. Ben Stiller - I am SO sick of your one-trick-pony act in movies endlessly rerun on TV. You may think you are the next generation's Woody Allen, but trust me, one movie released every five years would be plenty.

34. The cast of Hot in Cleveland - Yes, you have assembled a competent cast of famous comediennes, but the canned laughter and endless promotion are overbearing, and most of all, the show is STUPID!

33. Ted Nugent - You once were a rock star and decent guitar player. Get your ass out of politics and go back to screwing as many groupies as possible.

32. Janine Turner - Just because you once played an Alaskan does not make you a political expert.

31. Victoria Jackson - You are a stupid traitor to the sensibilities of Saturday Night Live!

30. Gene Simmons - Just because you washed off your makeup doesn't make you a TV star.

29. Sharon Osbourne - You married a rocker, but that doesn't make you worth watching on TV.

28. Piers Morgan - Take your Bristish snotass back to England, you turd. There are plenty of real Americans who could do a more honest job of interviewing politicians and celebrities.

27. Gloria Borger - You are one of the biggest sellout traitors to the Republican media. You once represented the voice of reason on PBS. Now you are just another CNN right-wing shill.

26. Bay Buchanan - You have always been a nut. Now you are just an old nut.

25. Mary Matalin - Thank your lucky stars that you live in New Orleans and are married to a sane person.

24. Dana Bash - You are married to another Republican on the same damn network. Could you be any less impartial in your reporting?

23. Elisabeth Hasselbeck - You may be easy on the eyes, but your mouth is hard on the ears.

22. Mika Brzezinski - See Hasselbeck above.

21. Mitt Romney - You were boring the first ten minutes you were on. Isn't paint drying somewhere?

20. Ari Fleischer - Can you add anything to the conversation other than Republican talking points?

19. Dana Perino - See Hasselbeck and Brzezinski above. Just because Ari Fleischer is on CNN does not mean that Fox News needs yet another blonde bimbo.

18. Neil Cavuto - You are a Republican supposedly reporting the financial news on Fox. Could you be any more biased, predictable or boring?

17. Joan Rivers - I used to like your humor, but you are on television way too much these days, and like Larry King, your expiration date was up long ago.

16. Mitch McConnell - You may not be on TV that much, but every time you are, you are a certified horse's ass.

15. John Boehner - You are just as big a jerk as McConnell; however, your orange pallor and boo-hooing add an element of entertainment.

14. Greta van Susteren - Get off my TV and take the Church of Scientology with you.

13. Laura Ingraham - You are a bad enough hate monger on AM radio. Do you have to disgrace television, too?

12. Dana Loesch - Who taught you manners, Adolf Hitler?

11. Michelle Malkin - Are you sure you are not a white KKK Southern Baptist in disguise?

10. Grover Norquist - You are doing so much political damage to America that no further explanation is necessary!

9. Wolfe Blitzer - Retire already, you old jackass Republican shill!

8. Barbara Walters - You used to be an intelligent interviewer. Now you are just a hackweasel for Sarah Palin and her family of grifters.

7. Stephanie Courtney (The Progressive Insurance lady) - You may be a talented comedian, but get off every channel of my TV! I am so sick of your stupid face, I could barf!

6. Jerry Stiller - Ditto Stephanie Courtney above!!!

5. Nancy Grace - Isn't there a pretty little white girl missing somewhere? Maybe you could find her sooner if you joined the search and got your snarling mug off the TV!

4. Herman Cain - Only Fox News would have the unmitigated gall to still give a has-been clown like you a microphone.

3. Sean Hannity - You are probably the biggest right-wing blowhard of them all.

2. Bristol Palin - Has there ever been a more worthless, talentless celebrity undeserving of fame in all of American history?

1. Sarah Palin, -  Of course you are #1. Your first screech of code words and sneering expressions back in 2008 was enough for anyone with a brain.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Karma Denial

A story on one of my local news channels a few days ago reminded me of an issue I consider quite relevant as an example of precisely why America is stuck in a morass of indecisive and illogical behavior patterns. The car pictured here is the Fisker Karma, a long, heavy, expensive model built in Finland and first sold in the U.S. last November. The Karma is powered by a pair of 161-hp electric motors that can be supplemented by a 260-hp, turbocharged, 2-liter, gasoline engine. The Karma sits on a 124-inch wheelbase, weighs 5300 pounds, and costs $102,000 for the base model or $116,000 for the deluxe version. The EPA rates the total range available at 230 miles if the battery system is fully charged and the gas tank is full. Due to the car's small interior volume, the EPA rates it as a subcompact. If you want more information on the Karma, Wikipedia describes many facets of the car's development history, specifications, and technical capabilities such as range and miles-per-gallon under various conditions and power modes.

The news story concerned the fact that the Delaware facility that was supposed to produce the Fisker Atlantic, a slightly smaller, cheaper, plug-in electric sedan, is apparently at a stalemate. VP Joe Biden had facilitated a plan that would offer a heavy influx of cash from a government loan to bring the project to Wilmington. Now there seems little hope that the plant will be finished and the car produced there. The Atlantic was slated to begin production next year, but at this point the car's future is open to interpretation.

I find this whole idea not only ludicrous, but a glaring symbol of Americans' deep denial of reality! America doesn't need another silly toy for the one-percenters. It needs a hybrid car for the masses, built in the U.S. and providing jobs with decent wages to Americans! Like the ridiculous Chevrolet Volt, the Fisker models are nothing more than a sham to disguise the fact that Americans have totally lost their minds in a sea of denial! America does not need another overpriced car, no matter how it is powered. America needs its own new Volkswagen Beetle. We need another Mustang, Eurosport, Caravan, Taurus, or whatever. We need a car that requires a lot of expensive pre-production tooling for a line that utilizes established mechanical components, but with a new concept in marketing. We need a new model line of hybrids that will sell hundreds of thousands of units. We need hybrid vehicles the middle class can afford and wants to buy.

President Carter changed our political nation for the worse when he made his legendary "tighten our belts" speech. It was not his fault at all. He absolutely did the brave and right thing. What hurt us was that this speech provided the launching pad for the Reagan Revolution of "greed is good" that has brought our once great nation to its financial knees. Our current Commander in Chief is too paranoid for his own political future to tell us the truth we so desperately need to hear.

Rover invented the SUV is England, but the first U.S. model was the Jeep Wagoneer launched in the 1963 model year. Back in the '60's, International Harvester (yes, Maybelle, the tractor company) was building its Scout. Ford introduced its small Jeep (as in CJ) competitor in 1966. The original Bronco was a more modern and comfortable type of off-road recreational vehicle, with a sleek body offering many options and colors. Chevrolet has been producing its Suburban model for decades. All of these vehicles were purchased by buyers with a specific off-road activity in mind, whether it was slinging mud through the boondocks from the exposed tires of a CJ or Scout, or pulling a boat or camper behind a large Suburban loaded with passengers and cargo.

This all changed when Ford introduced its Explorer in 1990. The Explorer unleashed a monster in America that has been almost as devastating to our national sanity as The War on Drugs. The modern SUV Revolution is nothing less than the automotive symbol of Reagan's greed is good concept. The Explorer was specifically designed to appeal to women, not to drive to the boonies, but to city jobs via long daily commutes on the freeway. The higher seating position allowed women to better see above the many overly aggressive pickup truck drivers who constantly cut in front of them. When these arrogant buttheads are not blocking the ladies' view, they are tailgating. Ask many women what they wanted to drive on their everyday suburban trek and they would say a tank! The new type of SUV was designed to give these ladies all the amenities of a comfortable car enclosed in a big, heavy truck-like package with a high level of outward visibility in traffic. The problem is that these tanks get less mileage than a comparable conventional sedan. Yes, of course with advances in technology they get considerably better mileage than the Wagoneers and Suburbans of old. The problem is that those SUV's were used mostly for their intended recreational purposes, and that meant by a very small percentage of the overall car buying public. The modern monsters of our freeways are mostly carrying no passengers and towing no boats. The accessory most often observed being used inside the cabin is a cell phone! Like The War on Drugs, a little of it is not so bad, but a massive explosion of it is very harmful to the future of our culture.

We do not actually need hybrid or electric cars to lessen our fuel consumption. The same advances that have allowed the Explorer to get much better mileage than you might expect have also been applied to small sedans. Most of the virtual swarm of econoboxes manufactured today get twice the mileage of their ancestors of only thirty years ago. These modern marvels of economy produce far higher levels of performance, comfort, style, and overall driving quality than their ancestors did. The problem is simply that far too few Americans are choosing to drive these fuel-efficient vehicles.

What can we as a culture do to improve our plight? The first step is ridiculously simple. We can demand that our political and media leaders tell us the truth. We can face the obvious fact that population is our problem. The population is causing the fuel supplies to dwindle faster than necessary. The population is bringing global warming sooner than expected. Other nations of the world have a different set of problems caused by overpopulation, but that is no excuse for us not to be the leader in addressing the problem in our own backyard. The second problem is The War on Drugs. What a despicably wasteful use of resources and destruction of an otherwise productive citizenry! This nonsense needed to stop long before the Ford Explorer was even launched to clog our freeways. The third problem is The SUV Revolution and the despicable little man who spawned it, Ronald Reagan. All President Obama has to do is tell us the truth, to tighten our belts.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Tiny Furniture

...And now for something completely different: the preview of Lena Dunham's second movie, Tiny Furniture, that premiered here in Austin at SXSW in 2010. (Obviously I am a fan of Lena's new series, Girls. After writing The Last Horizon, how could I not be?)

See Also: A Short Interview with Lena Dunham about Creative Nonfiction, her first feature-length film premiering at SXSW 2009.
Watch the Creative Nonfiction trailer on YouTube. 

Read an in-depth interview with Lena Dunham from June 2009. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Diabolical Plan

Listen up, ladies and gentlemen. Here is the straight story as I believe it to be. This article is about Babygate, Babygate, and nothing but the Babygate. The photo at right is of President George Bush, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty and three other guys in Washington DC on 2/25/08. Notice that seating cards are placed in front of them, so this seating arrangement was no accident. The event is one of several meetings of the Republican Governors held during the week of 2/22/08 through 2/28/08. These dates and events are covered in The Babygate Timeline in Paradigm Shift, as well as many key issues that occurred in the week prior and after this February week in Washington.This story is so convoluted and detailed, and there were so many individual details and decisions made in this crucial time of which we may never be fully aware, that I feel that I once again must state a review before proceeding further.

1. Anyone outside the creators of the plan who claim to KNOW are only kidding themselves.

2. I have lived in The South all my life and I am no spring chicken. I have had decades to observe exactly how the CINO's (Christians In Name Only) think and operate.

3. I simply do not buy the concept that the big Palin secret is that her teenage daughter had a baby out of wedlock. This is not The Fifties and these are not real Christians we are talking about. Even if the bad joke is that she lied to her supporters, she could have still fallen back on the supporting her daughter and sympathy meme no matter how it all went down.

4. This is why I have been sure from the beginning that the conceptualization of the Trig is Bristol's meme has been a scam or con utilized to baffle us all into accepting the bullshit.

5. Babygate nor The Palin Phenomenon nor The Palin Matrix could have happened at an earlier time. America had to dig itself deeply into this delusional economic hole before such a fraud could be successfully carried out. This is why, in order to explain the story in a truly complete manner, Paradigm Shift had to be so detailed and convoluted.

6. We know that Bristol began disappearing in late 2007. Although we know some of the details of these various no-shows, we do not know the complete origin or intent of this part of the story. We were never privy to the personal conversations that occurred within The Palin Family.

7. We know there were many machinations behind the scenes to prep Sarah for the VP slot. These have of course been detailed in the book. Some of the material I am including here was not included.

8. I have always felt that the Walk Around Juneau video shot on 2/13/08 has been disregarded by too many Babygators in deference to certain key still photos taken a little later in March. I think the way Sarah moves, as opposed to looks, is more important. I also think it is a truer psychological blind test for this video to have been shot before the Babygate plot had been officially unleashed.

9. Has it occurred to any of you how little has been done to stop the still photos from March 2008 from spreading all over the Internet? If the other side did not want these photos to be available, why was Palin's Deceptions left in place? This thought has haunted me for years.

10. Why was The Palinbrat Circus unleashed on us? I have always thought the concept of red herrings and deliberate cons and distractions was the answer.

There was an e-mail exchange on 2/20/08 that many of you have probably seen, but I did not discuss it in my book. (I would post the original document here now, but I do not have time to learn how to embed a PDF in a blog post.) The important point is that Governor Rick Perry, representing the RGA, extends a personal invitation to the governors to attend an affair presented by John McCain immediately prior to the RGA meeting and the Gala event with President Bush on 2/25/08, as shown above. Another photo taken that same day is shown below. As stated in the email message, John McCain was the special guest of the governors at the Statesman dinner on Saturday 2/23/08 and President Bush was the guest of honor at his final RGA dinner two days later. Keep in mind that Tim Pawlenty, and many political power brokers among the Republican establishment, thought at this time that Pawlenty was at the top of the list for the upcoming VP nomination. Note that Pawlenty is right next to Bush in the outside photo and Palin is on the front row (while at least one other pretty lady is not, in case you were thinking that was the reason). Note that Rick Perry is in the back.

In case some of you would like to see it, here is a cropped and blown up shot of SP from this lineup:

You can match the outfits worn by both Bush and Palin and see that these shots were obviously taken the same day. You can also see that the large posed photo included Democratic governors, while the affair pictured at the top included Republicans only. You can't miss Eliot Spitzer two shoulders left of Pawlenty. Sarah is wearing her usual uniform of all-black with a bright blue scarf. Make of that whatever you will, ladies.

The point I am trying to make, as I have presented from several other angles in my book and blog, is that the Repubs were undoubtedly grooming Sarah for the VP slot by the time of these photos and events, at the very latest! When exactly did the process begin? I do not know. When exactly was the plot hatched to involve Bristol? I do not know. Some of you might surmise that she was not yet aware of the Babygate plan when she walked around Juneau on 2/13/08, but here she is wearing her scarf on 2/25/08, so she must have begun the plot by the time of these photos. To make a long story short, I am a man and fashion bores me silly, so I don't care. That is a job I shall leave up to you ladies. Was the plan hatched by 2/25/08? I would say a definite maybe. Was John McCain her already established doorman to national politics? Absolutely. Was Rick Perry privy to some of this stuff? I would say that is a strong probability. Tim Pawlenty was simply clueless. As Geoffrey Dunn explains on Page 190 of The Lies of Sarah Palin, six months after the events detailed in this post, Tim Pawlenty would learn that he was not McCain's running mate from a Fox newscast. They didn't even have the decency to tell him in person! I have never felt more sympathy for Tim Pawlenty than I did when I read that passage. It would now be quite fitting if he becomes Mitt's choice.

As detailed as Paradigm Shift is, a number of issues were omitted just because I could never quite find enough verification. Some of these include the Bud Paxson and Vicki Iseman story and Sarah's attendance at a CNP meeting, most likely in 2007. The problem with the former is that although we know a lot of the public story, we have little verification that Paxson actually blackmailed McCain into selecting Palin. The problem with the CNP is of course the organization's relentless control and secrecy. We know that McCain addressed the Council for National Policy soon after his winning the nomination and we know that most of the CNP members were not happy with McCain's policies, even after he tried to sweet talk them with his speech. After McCain selected Palin, the CNP called a special meeting to discuss her future as the VP candidate and they were thrilled. One of the secrets is that this was far from the first time they had heard of Sarah Palin. As I have stated earlier, the presentation of McCain operatives searching the Internet in August 2008 in the movie Game Change may not have been a lie, but it certainly was not the whole truth and nothing but the truth! At some point after a guest list for a CNP meeting escaped its control, the CNP clamped down much tighter on its secretive, controlling behavior. Like the possibility that Rick Perry offered Sarah Palin the free use of his private jet at the RGA meeting in Grapevine TX on 4/17/08, the attendance of Sarah at a CNP meeting a year or more before most of us heard of her is also a strong, but undocumented possibility.

I believe that Babygate was a very complex scam. I believe that multiple babies were involved, although the precise number of individuals who know the details might be very small. I think there was so much sloppiness involved in the early stages, just because the procedure began in far-away, isolated Alaska, that Babygate began with a stumble and wound up being the biggest forced march in American political history. I think that at a key point in late August 2008, a very powerful Republican operative declared, "Fine... let 'em think that." Because Babygate had begun at least six months prior, they knew they would never be successful in silencing the story completely, so they decided to contain it. What better way to pull off this trick of the mind than to let the media think they had discovered a political secret, one that was too personal to be exploited? The media in this case refers to CNN down to the blogs. The big shots were easily controlled with promises of big salaries in the future, as detailed in "The Blockade" in Paradigm Shift. The little guys were more of a challenge, but what the hell, they were the little guys! And so the circus came to town, bringing Levi and Piper instead of elephants and clowns.

No one cares if you call Sarah Palin a stupid idiot or a compulsive liar. Just don't call her a cunning politician who wormed her way into The Southern Strategy and Tim LaHaye's monster profit machine called Left Behind. Let me close with a direct quote from Wikipedia on its CNP page: "(The CNP) was founded in 1981 by Tim LaHaye as a forum for conservative Christians seeking to strengthen the political right in the United States." Sarah was never protecting Bristol, who is most likely not the mother of Trig, and Levi is probably not his dad, either. Neither the Republican nor the mainstream media have been protecting Sarah Palin. They have been protecting the CNP and their ultimate political takeover of the U.S. by the Christian Dominionists. The babies have been holding their little fingers in the dike, plugging the leak that could expose the biggest, darkest fraud ever perpetrated on the American citizenry purely for political gain.