Sunday, January 31, 2010

Save the Cactus Cafe - somebody please!

The Austin music scene is in shock after hearing the news that the University of Texas is planning on closing the Cactus Cafe due to a cost-cutting decision made by the Board of Directors. Normally the Cactus (and "Informal Classes," another program they are closing) are self-sufficient, but in this recession they have been costing the University ~$120K per year to run. In other news, UT football coach Mack Brown became the highest-paid coach in college football history as of last month - bringing in over $5 million per year. Yes, you can point out that he is not paid from the same fund. It's not going to make any of us feel any better or be any less mad about this. [source 1][source 2]

The Cactus is one of the best listening venues in the country. It holds 150 people... 150 people intently paying attention to the music. It's quite a phenomenon. I was trying to make a list of people we've seen there just since 2001 when we moved to this area. It's not complete by any means:
Johnny A, Eliza Gilkyson, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jimmy LaFave, Infamous Stringdusters, Michael Fracasso (with Patty Griffin and Charlie Sexton), Eric Johnson (2X), Adrian Legg, The Greencards, South Austin Jug Band, Teddy Thompson (2X), Beth Orton, Marty Stuart, Glen Phillips, Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers, Sara & Sean Watkins (ex-Nickel Creek), Sarah Jarosz, Alasdair Fraser, Brobdingnagian Bards, Chris Thile & Mike Marshall (2X), Band of Heathens, Marshall Ford Swing Band, Sonny Landreth (with Cindy Cashdollar and Redd Volkaert), Patterson Hood (Drive-By Truckers), Alejandro Escovedo...

We've got wonderful memories from there. The Cafe goes back 25 years. Townes van Zandt and Lucinda Williams were regulars there. Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen would play there for free on weeknights before they could bring in a cover charge. Townes Van Zandt played there more than 100 times, according to Griff Luneberg (the man in charge of all things Cactus Cafe - except for ordering it closed) Here's a nice writeup in the paper from 2004, with some historical background.

Interested in following this?
[website: Save the Cactus]
[Facebook group]

We normally didn't shoot video at the Cactus so as to not violate house rules, but when Sarah Jarosz took the stage for guest spots it seemed to be given a nod of OK.

Sarah with Sara and Sean Watkins (My Morphine, Gillian Welch cover)

Sarah with The Punch Brothers (Blue Night, Bill Monroe cover)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rifles and Religion

Heard this commentary from Benjamin Busch on NPR earlier this week: Hold The Hallelujah: The Perils Of Rifles And Religion [audio and transcript]. Busch was an infantry officer in the United States Marine Corps. I thought it was an excellent essay regarding the recent discovery of New Testament scriptures on rifle scopes. Check it out.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Madalyn Murray O'Hair, a hero worthy of song

I remember back in the early 60s when Madalyn Murray O’Hair was instrumental in getting mandatory prayer and Bible readings removed from Public School practices. As Christians, we (my mother and I) were absolutely shocked! Mother was always open-minded and curious about diverse religious beliefs. She avidly collected and read books: the writings of Josephus, The Satanic Bible, Lost Books of the Bible (anything on the fringes or that was no longer canon), Dead Sea Scrolls, Egyptian Book of the Dead, Edgar Cayce, Numerology, Palmistry, Tarot, all kinds of Mythology, Book of Mormon (we studied with the Mormons for awhile during the endless quest for the Truth that will be Found in the Next Religion, a journey that included Baptists, charismatics like Assembly of God and Pentecostal, and many others including several years spent as Jehovah’s Witnesses). She openly welcomed friendship with Pagans, Satanists, and all manner of Christians [eh… Catholics? Not so much. Catholics were viewed as lost. I accompanied my Catholic friend to church once, and she was very worried that my soul might be damaged by the Holy Water.] I was interested in her list of studies too, and added on a bit of Eastern thought and astrology.

But Atheism? The very idea of it was unthinkable. Shocking. During that time period, some other things that were shocking and unthinkable to the populace were interracial relationships and sex-change operations, so if you didn't live through it you can get the general idea how restrictive our society was then.

Here is an hour-long documentary called Godless in America (broken up into six 10-minute videos) telling Madalyn's story.

| Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 |

Madalyn Murray O'Hair was called "the most hated woman in America," and because of my religious background and history, I understand that very well. We hated her too. Now that I have grown up, I deeply appreciate the bold moves that she made then. I would even compare this initial act of battling religious indoctrination in schools to Rosa Parks' refusing to sit in the back of the bus. One of the main differences is that atheists are still fighting for legal equality. Madalyn and her family had to endure death threats and open scorn for the rest of their lives... until they (all but son Bill) were murdered (although that was not the motivation for the murders).
[article on Crime] O'Hair herself told Life magazine back in 1963 that it would only take one crazy person to end her life: "These death threats are no picnic...I think sooner or later some night some nut is going to get a message from Jesus Christ and I'm going to have had it. But as long as I'm still round I'm going to keep on being a squeaking wheel."

She went on to found the American Atheist Society and the American Atheist Press right here in Austin, Texas.
[Bio source material] The purpose of the center she created was to provide support for practicing atheists, and give them the necessary materials to defend their views. She also created the Charles E. Stevens American Atheist Library and Archives. O’Hair published a magazine, American Atheist, and broadcasted information about her cause on the radio and television. She appeared on shows hosted by personalities such as: Steve Allen, Mike Douglas, and Johnny Carson, trying to reach the largest audience possible. She also gave lectures at various campuses such as Dartmouth, Harvard, UCLA, and the University of Pennsylvania. By the early 1970s, O’Hair had become the leading proponent for Atheism in the United States.

Probably the most ironic part of her tale is what happened with her son, named William "Bill" Murray. He drifted as far away from his mother as possible, becoming a born-again preacher whose organization seeks to establish Christian dominance over all things, a grossly mis-named organization with a deep misunderstanding of the word freedom: Religious Freedom Coalition. He tells his side of the story in this bitter editorial piece.

You can learn more about the murders, and the bodies that were cut up and buried for 5 years before one of the killers directed the police to them, in the quoted links and videos above. I don't know if it's true or not that Wm Murray gave his mother a Christian burial against her wishes (at the end of the video series above, it shows their unmarked graves), he claims it didn't happen, but it sounds plausible to me that someone else would have held prayer over her. In this video is one of our local singer-songwriters, Gurf Morlix with a song called "Madalyn's Bones." He talks about her in the intro some, what he says about her personality is not meant to be mean, it's just true. She was not exactly known for politeness, to say the least. The song itself has some dark humor here and there, but given Madalyn's attitude about death, I think she would have appreciated this homage a lot more than the prayers.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cats cats cats. Cats cats!!

I'm still here! Working on a more lengthy and serious post, but in the meantime, here's a fun video with a song that will get right into your head and not leave.

found via FlickFilosopher

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wacky faith-based charity

An Albuquerque-based Christian charity is sending 600 audio Bibles to Haiti, which cost $157 each according to their website. That's $94,200 in aid going to Haiti - and all in the form of talking boxes (and not even the kind of useful talking boxes that allow essential communications, it's a talking box that reads the Bible out loud). This is way beyond tragic when you consider what sort of relief that much money could bring. It could save many lives. But it won't.

Found via J-Walk.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Freezing their tops and bottoms off

We have a yard loaded with cacti and agaves, and although they are suited to this climate, they didn't come out of this recent freeze in such good shape. We had a cold snap (a couple of weeks at least) that was below freezing at night and close to freezing sometimes even at noon (coldest extended temps for a decade... following the hottest summer on record. Hello climate change.). MrB explained that what happens to the cacti and succulents is that the leaves (or ears or what have you) are loaded with water, and when the water freezes the poor things just wilt and collapse. So sad. I hate it when the yard beauties get so distressed. They aren't dead. Well... this aloe vera looks close, but it might make it...

Spent the afternoon (of a gorgeous 60° cool sunny day) bagging all the poor, unfortunate prickly pear ears. Tomorrow we saw agave leaves off the bottoms. It's pretty tough yard work. There will be blood.
Think of it as a Spring haircut, all you distressed succulents.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Doc is In

We seem to be on a documentary kick lately. I’ve written about a couple of the music-related ones recently here and here. This bunch are all slices of life, some with tasty toppings and some with whatever is available.

The Order of Myths (2008)
I really had no idea what this one would be about. Turns out it’s about Mobile Alabama and its Mardi Gras festivities and history. I am pretty ignorant about this topic, I didn’t realize that Mobile not only has a big Mardi Gras, but that they had it before New Orleans did. This film cannot focus on these events without saying a lot about the history of segregation in this country – especially the forms it still takes since it was officially banned. Tradition is often the opposite and the enemy of progress.

Grey Gardens (1975)
This was recommended to me by someone who knew I would like something that features truly eccentric people. The women in the movie are mother and daughter, both named Edith Bouvier Beale (closely related to Jackie Kennedy Onassis). They began as aristocrats, and after that lifestyle was no longer possible they kept hold of their stately home (Grey Gardens) but reclusive tendencies, total lack of housekeeping (as in being overrun not only with garbage, but with cats and raccoons), and a kind of Baby Jane delusional complex on the part of “little” Edie spun the home environment into something truly surreal. It made me really glad that I moved away from my mother right after high school (for my own sanity’s sake). I was also an only raised by an eccentric mother, and I had my own quirkiness too – I’m proud and happy about both of those things, but we were both infinitely better off without each other’s constant company. MrB, having been endowed with a much more typical family background, mostly reacted by going out and buying a new vacuum cleaner. I’m sure we are both more convinced than ever that feeding raccoons in the house is a horrible idea. Anyway, this is pretty fascinating. I really have no desire to see the dramatization of this story that was made for HBO. Here (and also on a followup film called “The Beales of Grey Gardens” and a separate work "Ghosts of Grey Gardens") you have the real thing.

49 Up (2005)
This is part 7 of a documentary that has taken 50 years to make, and presumably is still underway. It began in 1964 with a project to cover the entire lifespans of a group of children in the UK via extensive interviews conducted every 7 years. The first one was called "Seven Up" (well, duuuhh) and each subsequent one is named appropriately. As of 49 Up, they still has 12 participants, having only lost 2. It was captivating, and really more interesting than the premise sounds.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

At Long Last... a Catblog.

These poor cats have not been given their due here at the Oasis lately, no regular posts for awhile, followed by being upstaged by a rodent [link]. It doesn’t mean that they don’t continue to run the household and pretty much control everything that happens in it. They are Cats after all.

This is Jax being a very good boy. Still honing his controlling skills and is now Alpha Cat in the household, followed by Henry and then us.

Jax has mastered the “ruling by annoyance” common cat tactic. During the day (when we are gone M-F) he is a most excellent, cuddly, sleepy cat (see photo below). From 5pm to 10, when he’s not getting his way, he goes down his checklist of annoying behaviors. The more annoying, the quicker we will do his bidding and tuck him in for the night in his private residence (the former guest bathroom) with food, water, bedding, litter pan with privacy screen (the bathtub/shower enclosure – and don’t ask me who he thinks might be watching him), plus a heater.

Henry pretty much keeps to the same activity all the time, laying in a comfy bed. He is 18 years old - really, really old. This is one of the many convenient cat donut beds in the house, but most of the time, Henry is in one of those fleecy foam beds with the walls. We have gotten to where we just pick up bed, cat and all, and carry him from place to place like royalty (when he needs to be relocated). It seems to reduce his stress on being moved. If it is at all chilly, Henry will be in a room with extra heating. He gets 2 to 3 different kinds of meds administered each day. Luckily for all of us, he is easy to pill. He even tolerates his asthma inhaler very well.

Henry is a perfect cat, and I wish we could afford to clone him.

These cats have gotten to be a little like teenagers. They want their own room and they want the door closed. Neither one wants to share our room at night.

If you don't have a cat, you can watch some daily cat activities on this CatCam. Not exactly action packed most of the time.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sad family reality

My cousin, who was as close to a sister as I had growing up, is dying of cancer, and has been given maybe 2 more weeks to live. Here is my post from 2007 where I refer to her as "L," it is a long post where I tried to tell her very sad history within a blog post - from her hellish mother to the psycho, abusive survivalist she married and literally escaped from, although not without permanent injuries.

I've talked to her on the phone quite a bit, and it's really hard to know what to say to a person in a situation like this, other than "I love you". I thought about looking for a card to send, but they really don't make cards for this occasion. She has a very sweet, childlike personality, and is assured that soon she will be in the arms of Jesus. That's one way of saying that the pain will be over. I will grant that.

Her Uncle/Daddy (yes, he was both) just died this past June, the only Uncle I have ever really mourned.

Blagojevich: I'm 'blacker than Barack Obama'

This guy might have a career as a comedian if the things he said were not equally pathetic and funny, and if he realized that people think that everything he says is stupid. [LINK]

It's such a fine line between stupid and clever.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Guitar in the blood, and vice versa

It Might Get Loud is a documentary film featuring a meeting of 3 guitar gods from 3 generations: Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White. It’s not a concert film. They brought the three together (and it appeared that they either hadn’t met before or didn’t really know each other) and let us hear them sharing stories with each, as well as gear talk. There’s a lot of archival historical stuff on each one too, pics, clips, and revisiting places where things got started and important events happened.

I am really late coming around to bands & musicians sometimes, often I know of them but the music just takes awhile to drift into my brain, and that describes Jack White. MrB bought White Stripes Elephant when it came out, and I listened once and mentally left in the rack. Really no sparks caught fire until the last few months (seeing him on video several times) when I begin to see that Jack White is not only driven by the same stuff that drove my music idols in the sixties, he’s inspired and extremely passionate. He really gets it. He's raw. He's all over the map. One of the clips in the movie shows him playing with bloody fingers. Later you see the guitar with his blood all over it. This guy has got a lot of soul and balls to match. I bought Van Lear Rose when it came out, the record he made with Loretta Lynn. It's one of the weirdest combos I've ever heard, but it's addictive. I love it.

I really loved that The Edge was included in this, I love his style. U2 is not known for their instrumentals. I don’t know their whole discography. Do they have instrumentals? That’s a real question, I would like to hear one. Bono gets more on my nerves all the time, I wince when I hear or see him. Don’t ask why or attack me in comments, it’s just a personal preference issue and I am entitled to my own opinion. I really admire and enjoy Edge… and U2… except Bono. {yes, I know, that sounds like nonsense.}

Jimmy Page is a guitar god of my own generation. I was a big fan of The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin, first saw LZ in 1969 and again in 1970 (the latter from center stage front [click for pic]). He is amazing and brilliant, very glad he was selected to be in this.

If you really aren’t interested in the processes of music from the driving force behind it all the way through the birth of something that has its own legs, including some technical stuff, then you may just want to watch a concert film instead. This one might leaving you wanting the film to just stay focused on one instead of shifting back and forth, or make you wish it was a whole film on one guy, but the bigger picture to see here (and what I think the filmmakers were trying to show) is the level of passion, devotion and sacrifice along with talent that it takes to do what they do – and how circumstances (negative or positive) can move you in direction or another. They’ve been lucky in that music has paid off well for them, there are so many other brilliantly gifted and driven musicians around who’ve been less lucky. Sometimes it’s as simple as “right place, right time, answered the right ad” as much as anything else.

El Arroyo sign trash talkin'

Found via

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Corporate retail greed

Found this story on HuffPo which is sourced at NYT here. It’s a report of how retail clothing sellers routinely destroy and trash merchandise that is being replaced by more current styles rather than donate them to the needy. The article specifically talks about Wal-mart and H&M's habit of slashing and cutting the items to make them unusable if found, and putting them in the dumpsters - where there are scavengers waiting to sort through them.
In the bitter cold on Monday night, a man and woman picked apart a pyramid of clear trash bags, the discards of the HM clothing store that reigns in blazing plate-glass glory on 34th Street, just east of Sixth Avenue in Manhattan.

At the back entrance on 35th Street, awaiting trash haulers, were bags of garments that appear to have never been worn. And to make sure that they never would be worn or sold, someone had slashed most of them with box cutters or razors, a familiar sight outside H & M’s back door. The man and woman were there to salvage what had not been destroyed.

This story focuses on 2 retailers, but this practice has been around for awhile and I believe it is common. My first husband was a manager for that sports merchandise chain in the mall, the one where the employees wear the striped referee-looking shirts, you know the one. They were routinely ordered to pull certain old shoes and shirts off the racks, and cut them up so as to make them unusable before discarding - in case a dumpster-diver would find something then it would not be wearable. I guess the thinking is that for people to be motivated to buy the stuff, the company doesn't want potential customers just holding out until they can luck onto it in a dumpster.

He did what he was told, but it really bugged him, and quite a few times he broke the rules and kept some items, either for us to wear or to give away. He would have been fired on the spot for doing that. These were high-quality, pricey items that had been deemed out of style or no longer a hot seller.

Followup: H&M is now saying that they will not longer slash and discard their obsolete merch, but will donate to charity instead. Well, that’s one down. Bottom-line-driven corporate entities have no heart and soul. They will do something for the common good only if it coincides with avoiding bad PR.

Advice in the InBox

This is one of those things that gets forwarded around, and in the office it arrived in an allstaff email from someone. I think people liked it. I saw it printed out on the printer tray, and it probably got push-pinned to some bulletin boards. I took it way beyond that and decided to pick it apart and throw it out there for discussion. [My comments are in brackets and italics]

1. Drink plenty of water
-- [I don't drink enough water, for sure. Water is good. Plastic bottles are not so good though.]
2. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a beggar
-- [Good advice, I think, but there's no way I can do it this way except on weekends.]
3. Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less food that is manufactured in plants
-- [Agreed! But I'm not going to make my own pasta. I also like v-8 juice, cereal, pickles, beer and chips.]
4. Live with the 3 E's -- Energy, Enthusiasm and Empathy
-- [What could it hurt? Eh?]
5. Make time to pray
-- [Define "pray." will meditation work? OK. Let's move on.]
6. Play more games
-- [Games? Not head games, or violent real or video games, or games where something dies in the end, or died to make the game possible. I guess I reject this advice without some clarification.]
7. Read more books than you did in 2009
-- [Read, read, read. It doesn't have to be books. Read instruction manuals, nutrition panels, contracts, liner notes and movie credits.]
8. Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day
-- [This couldn't hurt. Really.]
9. Sleep at least for 7 hours
-- [Great. Not going to happen though. I'm doing well to get 5 hours.]
10. Take a 10-30 minutes walk daily. And while you walk, SMILE
-- [I am pretty sedentary. That's bad. I know.]

1. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about
2. Don't have negative thoughts or things you cannot control. Instead invest your energy in the positive present moment
3. Don't over do. Keep your limits.
4. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
5. Don't waste your precious energy on gossip.
6. Dream more while you are awake
7. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
8. Forget issues of the past. Don't remind your partner with his/her mistakes of the past. That will ruin your present happiness.
9. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. Don't hate others.
10. Make peace with your past so it won't spoil the present.
11. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.
12.· Realize that life is a school and you are here to learn. Problems are simply part of the curriculum that appear and fade away like algebra class but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime.
13. Smile and laugh more.
14. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree...
-- [I am not sure any of these are worth picking apart. They are all reasonably OK. What do you think?]

1. Call your family often.
-- [OK, I think this really depends on the family relationships and the reason for the calls. If you have a functional family and are calling to express love and/or support, go for it.]
2. Each day give something good to others.
-- [...unless it's a Bible tract, a Watchtower magazine, advice on their love life. One man's treasure is another one's trash.]
3. Forgive everyone for everything.
-- [Wow, that's loaded. Should there always be forgiveness? for everything? That's a real question.]
4. Spend time with people over the age of 70 & under the age of 6.
-- [The age of the person doesn't matter. All ages have something to offer, and all ages need others.]
5. Try to make at least three people smile each day.
-- [My mother would say she didn't care if people were laughing at her or with her, as long as they laughed. Not sure if she really meant that.]
6. What other people think of you is none of your business.
-- [Now, that's a good point.]
7. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch with them.
-- [If you have friends who will take care of you when you are sick, then you are lucky.]

1. Do the right thing!
-- [Of course!]
2. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.
-- [Another loaded one. Can "necessary" be exchanged for those 3 terms?]
3. GOD heals everything.
-- [I am taking the atheist exemption on this one.]
4. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
-- [Seems true enough.]
5. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
-- [...unless it's the flu, then stay home, and hopefully nobody will force you to work while too sick. Seriously, I have my doubts on this one. Sometimes being in bed, slobby, and home is preferred.]
6. The best is yet to come...
-- [We can only hope.]
7. When you awake alive in the morning, thank GOD for it.
-- [...again, I waive participation... and how do you awake dead?]
8. Your Inner most is always happy. So, be HAPPY ALWAYS
-- [Happy is great. Sadness has its virtues too. I'm generally happier than I used to be. That's because I'm older and more resigned that I'm probably living in the midst of my destiny, and it's OK. I'm also fine with not having the answers. Nobody else does either.]

Any thoughts?

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Giant hamster, last seen at Petco

You don't see this every day. It's a pet capybara! And yes, it's at Petco and caused quite a stir with everybody wanting to pet it and take pics. It was adorable and very docile. It makes really cute little squeaky whistles and whinnies. I love those feet! This one is named Caplin Rous, and he is reasonably famous, as capybaras go. His website is, and he also has a book written about him, a YouTube channel, and Twitter.

{Now my cats are getting upset because not only have they not been featured here at the Oasis in awhile, they have to wait their turn behind a giant rodent.}

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Polar Bare

Polar Bear New Year's Day Plunges are common a tradition now (or as one YouTube vid title put it, "A Celebration of Shrinkage").

This icebreaker in Ottawa does not look fun at all. This is just crazy. Temperature probably in single digits. Yikes!!!

In Ft. Wayne they are at least having a good time with it. Temperatures probably in the teens. Link via John Good.

They do it Austin too, and it was an extra-chilly 45° that morning. 70° temps are not unusual for this time of year but we've had a few cold fronts go through. Barton Springs, though, is always 68° (spring-fed). That's still too cold for me though, even when it's over 100, I can't get in that water. I'm a super-sissy.