Quote of the Week "Well, to quote the great Simpsons 'Haa-ha!'" Austin singer Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, channeling Nelson after picking up one of five Grammys Sunday night. The awards were seen as vindication after country radio dumped the Chicks when Maines criticized President Bush four years ago.
Neighbors of the beleaguered Northcross Mall, still fighting to prevent construction of a Wal-Mart Supercenter, succeeded Saturday in entirely surrounding the property in a symbolic Arms Around Northcross protest. They also announced a citywide boycott of Wal-Mart and Sam's Club. For more, see "Developing Stories."
City Council meets today (Thursday) with a heavy agenda, at least some of it spinning off the Northcross debate. See "Beside the Point."
Facing strong community opposition, Austin Independent School District board of trustees on Monday deferred until later this spring a decision on Superintendent Pat Forgione's recommendation to close Webb Middle School. See "Left Behind," and "Webb Games."
The U.S. House is engaged in a weeklong debate on a nonbinding resolution rejecting the Bush administration's current plan to escalate the number of troops in Iraq. The resolution is expected to pass easily Friday, although the White House has shown no inclination to change course and has instead spent the week broadcasting supposed Iranian involvement in the war the technical term is "hypocrisy."
In other education news, AISD released a district report card, which shows that, on average, scores on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test are improving for students in most subjects although writing and social-studies passing scores remain the same as last year. That said, the district still lags 2% to 5% behind state averages in most subjects. The report card was released just as Austin students are gearing up for this year's TAKS test, which students will take beginning Tuesday, Feb. 20. Students in third and fifth grade must pass the test to be promoted, and high school students must pass to graduate. The district asks parents to help students by making sure they get a good night's sleep the night before and eat a good breakfast the morning of the test. The district also emphasizes that attendance on TAKS day is critical because a school will be rated "unacceptable" if less than 95% of students take the test. The test dates are scattered throughout February and April. The exact dates are available at www.austinisd.org. M.M.
The city of Austin has put a price tag on the snow days from the ice storm earlier this year $1.6 million in official city costs. The breakdown goes like this: More than $1 million went to personnel costs, $272,000-plus went to contractors like tree-trimmers and tow-truck operators; de-icing supplies ate up $174,000, while $72,000 in sundry and various other services make up the rest. But it ain't a thang to City Manager Toby Futrell, who delivered the faux-modest quote that the city "ensured the ice storm was kept in the realm of mere crisis, not an out-and-out disaster." Wells Dunbar
On the heels of Sunday's anti-coal demonstration, emerging nonprofit Renewable Energy Institute announced Monday that Austin will be the site for its official headquarters, enthusiastically rebuffing utility claims that energy efficiency and renewables cannot offset the need for new fossil-fuel power plants in Texas today. The institute plans to use private funding (at least $1 million so far) to create a venue where leading statewide academics can collaborate on renewable-energy technologies while preserving intellectual property rights. They'll focus on a wide range of clean energy technologies, including: concentrating solar power, anaerobic digesters, biodiesel, bio-methane, demand-side energy management, utility interconnection, fuel cells, geothermal power, landfill gas, and ocean/tidal energy. Spokesman Mike Logan said the group will "bridge the gap between the private sector and academia" and help the U.S. beat the 25%-renewable-energy-by-2025 goal being entertained in Washington while pursing the urgent need for foreign energy independence. The group will also advocate a 35%-renewable-by-2025 goal for Texas. Institute founder and energy-industry veteran Monty Goodell said that demand-side efficiency measures today "can save utility customers 30 percent and delay the need for new power plants until 2015" and that "the cost for zero emissions power is now less than that of building dirty, uneconomic, and unsustainable pulverized coal plants." Daniel Mottola
Speaking of renewable energy, the South by Southwest Music, Film, and Interactive Festival, co-founded by Chronicle Editor Louis Black and Publisher Nick Barbaro, has announced that it will go carbon-neutral this year, offsetting 100% of the climate-changing carbon-dioxide emissions created by its yearlong transportation needs and electricity use through the purchase of renewable-energy credits from Austin-based Green Mountain Energy Company. Operating director Eve McArthur said the move, initiated by SXSW's UK and Ireland manager Una Johnson (herself an environmental consultant), was made in hopes of facilitating similarly green moves for other entertainment businesses. SXSW partnered with Austin Energy to calculate energy-consumption totals for SXSW's use of the Austin Convention Center and the 70-plus venues it occupies during the event. McArthur said 2007 will serve as a baseline year, after which further CO2 reductions will be sought. Additionally, SXSW has worked on energy efficiency at its Austin headquarters, donated $5,000 to the Austin Parks and Recreation Department to buy and maintain native trees, plans to work with Ecology Action of Austin to recycle all waste from outdoor parties, and pledges to use biodiesel in generators and production trucks. McArthur added that SXSW 07 will offer expanded transit services to deter individual rental-car use and encourages Festival-goers to move about Austin by bike. D.M.
Austin Police are investigating the murder of 27-year-old Steven D. Talley, who was found dead, lying in the street on the 6900 block of Blessing Avenue, early on Feb. 10. Talley suffered "obvious trauma," police say, but reportedly it appears as though he was murdered elsewhere and dumped in the heavily traveled Northeast Austin street. Detectives say they believe robbery was the motive and are asking that anyone who might have seen anything suspicious in the area or who has specific information about the murder call the APD homicide tip line at 477-3588, or call Crime Stoppers at 472-8477. Jordan Smith
In other crime news, the Travis County Sheriff's Office is looking for help finding a teen suspected in the Feb. 6 robbery of the Oasis Mart at 12915 Dessau. The TCSO says a young man between 16 and 19 years old, wearing a blue-and-white hooded sweatshirt entered the store, pulled a handgun out of his pants pocket, and demanded money from the store cash register. He fled on a bicycle, likely into either the Copperfield or Harris Ridge subdivision. Anyone with information is asked to call TCSO Detective Scott Crowe, at 854-3426, or Crime Stoppers, at 472-8477. J.S.
The Corridor Council, which focuses on regional issues along the I-35 corridor, recognizes that at the current rate of growth, someday soon this region will be Austin/San Antonio, the same way the neighbors to the north are Dallas/Fort Worth. In recent recommendations on transportation, still in draft form, a 100-member committee has urged the region to begin some regional-planning efforts similar to D/FW, such as consistent policies across the region for removing traffic accidents from the roadways. The group also supports the 112-mile Austin-San Antonio commuter rail line and the need for more east-west arterials off I-35, which appears to be a problem that plagues San Antonio as well as Austin. Kimberly Reeves
In other transportation news, county commissioners have begun negotiations on an engineering contract to begin extending Frate Barker from Manchaca to Brodie. Frate Barker has been a contentious project, primarily because of the environmental issues, but county officials promise the new alignment on the road bypasses the critical water-quality zone. To make Frate Barker truly work, however, the county will have to see other road projects put in motion, including those out of county control. Those projects include the construction of SH 45 Southwest from MoPac to FM 1626, improvements to FM 1626 from Bliss Spillar to I-35, and possibly using pass-through toll financing and upgrades to the intersections on Manchaca at FM 1626 and at Frate Barker. Manchaca itself also needs to be upgraded, both going into and out of Hays County. K.R.
There's a new car patrolling the streets for the Travis County Sheriff's Office. Outfitted with amber lights on top and the same tan paint as the rest of the fleet, its most distinguishing feature is the logo across the side reading "COPS," an acronym signaling that there are in fact no cops inside the car but, rather, volunteers for Citizens on Patrol Services. On the road as of Jan. 30, these new COPS won't be arresting or even confronting anyone. Instead, says Senior Deputy Vincente Galloway, they'll serve as "eyes and ears" for the department, reporting any untoward behavior they witness. The program has 10 volunteers so far, a lot of whom are retirees, and they've all attended the county's Citizens Police Academy, a program designed to teach regular people what it's like to be a sheriff's deputy. After graduating, volunteers complete 70 more hours of training specifically for COPS, learning things like recognizing suspicious activity, writing handicap citations, and performing CPR. But beyond such skills, their visibility alone should help deter crime. Armed with little more than cell phones and dispatch radios, COPS may be a thrifty alternative to keeping deputies on every corner. Nora Ankrum
Samuel Zbogar, the ambassador of Slovenia to the United States, will lace up his running shoes for the Austin Marathon, Sunday, Feb. 18, as part of a four-city running tour he is doing to raise funds and awareness for the rehabilitation of child victims of land mines and other explosive devices in Southeast Europe. Following his half-marathon outing in Austin, Zbogar will run another half marathon in Knoxville, Tenn., in April; a full marathon in Cleveland in May; and another full marathon in Washington, D.C., in October. Organizations benefiting from his efforts are the Marshall Legacy Institute (www.marshall-legacy.org) and the Slovenia-based International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance (www.itf-fund.si), established in 1998 to help solve the country's land-mine problem and to provide land-mine survivors with physical and socioeconomic rehabilitation. The U.S. Department of State is doing its part by supporting Zbogar with matching funds. For more on the Austin Marathon, see Sports in our Community Listings, p.76. Mark Fagan
Working to stop the needless euthanasia of adoptable pets, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals last week launched the ASPCA Mission: Orange program, aiming for a save rate of 75% or better for unwanted pets entering shelters in four target cities, including Austin. Despite 1997 city and county resolutions to become a no-kill city, more than half of the animals entering Austin's shelters in 2005 15,000 dogs and cats were euthanized, according to the ASPCA. Local participants include the city's Town Lake Animal Center, the Austin Humane Society (a nonprofit, "no-kill" shelter), and spay/neuter clinics Animal Trustees of Austin and Emancipet. Program initiatives include mobile adoptions, improved adoption training, establishing new dog parks, promoting the use of microchips to ID lost dogs, and support of low-cost spay/neuter programs. The ASPCA has pledged up to $600,000 over three years to Austin's program, including $300,000 last week to Animal Trustees of Austin to create new capacity and to educate the public (especially new homeowners) about adoption. Individuals are encouraged to spay or neuter pets and consider local adoption first when searching for a new animal friend. See www.aspca.org for more. D.M.
February is Black History Month; several related events are planned throughout the city over the next several days. For a partial list, see p.76.
The propaganda machine has roared to life in the ongoing war over the construction of 17 new pulverized "dirty" coal plants (expected to exacerbate the state's already perilous pollution and global-warming situation). As Dallas-based TXU (planning 11 plants) aired TV ads explaining how its coal-fired power will "keep the monsters away" through reliable night-light illumination (maintaining energy crisis scare tactics, though they admit none of their plants will be operational before projected power shortfalls), a mysterious group known as the Texas Clean Sky Coalition began running more than $1 million worth of newspaper ads and prominent online spots featuring sooty-faced youths above the message, "Coal is filthy." Neither Environmental Defense nor the Sierra Club, both referenced in the coalition's ads, had ever heard of the group, which has refused to disclose its members. At Sunday's anti-coal rally, the coalition's images appeared on hundreds of T-shirts distributed to attendees and on a massive, airplane-towed banner. Last week, the Statesman and Houston Chronicle reported that the ads were funded partially by Oklahoma natural-gas producer Chesapeake Energy Corp., whose board includes prominent Oklahoma Republicans. Clean Sky Coalition Executive Director Jackson Walker said members prefer anonymity to "avoid jeopardizing business, social, and political relationships," adding that many coal supporters "are pretty heavy hitters in this state." See www.cleanskycoalition.com for more. D.M.
Beyond City Limits
Yikes, more crappy news on the global-warming front. According to a recent report from the National Bureau of Economic Research, "There appears to be an increase in the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic. There are substantial vulnerabilities to intense hurricanes in the Atlantic coastal United States, [and] greenhouse warming is likely to lead to stronger hurricanes." William D. Nordhaus, author of "The Economics of Hurricanes in the United States," concludes, "We estimate that the average annual U.S. hurricane damages will increase by $8 billion at 2005 incomes (.06% of GDP) due to global warming." For more, see econpapers.repec.org/paper/nbrnberwo/12813.htm. Cheryl Smith
Last Sunday came the strange story that Australian Prime Minister John Howard bad-mouthed presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, over his Iraq policy. On an Australian current-affairs show, Howard, a fearless Bush-booster and proponent of the Iraq war, lambasted Obama's proposed withdrawal date of March 31, 2008, even raising the old chestnut that al Qaeda yearns for a Democratic victory in '08. The outburst won the Australian prime minister no friends back home (it's scarcely scientific, but four out of every five respondents to a Sydney Morning Herald online poll said Howard had "put his foot in it"), but the story was pimped in the conservative blogosphere like a death knell for the presidential hopeful. In any case, it's unlikely President Obama will ever meet Prime Minister Howard; his Liberal Party/National Party coalition government faces a stiff challenge from the Labor Party in upcoming elections so he will probably not be prime minister, no matter who wins here in '08. Obama will be in Austin Friday, Feb. 23, 2pm, at Gregory Gym on the UT campus. Admission is free, but tickets will be required if anyone wants to ask him about kangaroos. Richard Whittaker
For more details on the following, and other events this week, see Community Listings.
ALTERNATIVE RADIO: MOLLY IVINS recorded discussing her book Bushwacked: Life in George W. Bush's America. 2pm. KOOP 91.7FM. www.koop.org.
Friday, Feb. 16
GARLAND GREGORY, political-science teacher who studied under Barbara Jordan and author of When Nigger Became Chic, will speak. 2:30-4:30pm. University Hills Library, 4721 Loyola, 929-0551. www.cityofaustin.org/library.
HARVESTING OUR YOUNG, the ninth monthly gathering of the African American Men & Boys Conference. 10am-2pm. LBJ High School, 7309 Lazy Creek. Free. firstname.lastname@example.org.
JAMES FARMER'S FREEDOM RIDE, a short film narrated by the founder of the Congress of Racial Equality. 11am, 1, 3pm. LBJ Library & Museum, 2313 Red River, 721-0200. Free. www.lbjlib.utexas.edu.
MASS MARRIAGE DAY Come on out to City Hall Saturday for a mass marriage ceremony (four-tier wedding cake and music included), and ring your wedding bells loud and clear in support of the right to marry. 2-4pm. Austin City Hall, 301 W. Second.
WHEN RELIGION BECOMES EVIL Author Charles Kimball speaks on Understanding Islam Today: What in the World Is Going On & Why. 6pm. First Baptist Church, 901 Trinity, 476-2625.
Saturday, Feb. 17
LAST SUNDAY This monthly gathering focuses on Iraq and dominance in U.S. policy, with Jim Hightower, Ana-Maurine Lara, Bob Jensen, and the Rev. Jim Rigby. 6-8pm. Saengerrunde Hall, 1607 San Jacinto. Free. www.thirdcoastactivist.org/lastsunday.html.
WOMEN OF AFGHANISTAN DURING & AFTER THE TALIBAN Austin photographer and writer Peggy Kelsey's myth-dispelling presentation. 11:30am-12:30pm. First Unitarian Universalist Church, 4700 Grover, 452-6168. Free. www.kelseys.net.
Sunday, Feb. 18
DEMOCRACY FOR TEXAS screens the documentary The War Tapes (see Special Screenings, p.94). 7pm. Scholz Garten, 1607 San Jacinto, 474-1958. Free.
Sunday, Feb. 18
LAWRENCE LESSIG, Stanford law professor, Wired columnist, and one of Scientific American's Top 50 Visionaries, speaks at 7pm. Hogg Auditorium, West 24th & Whitis, 471-1444. Free (passes available at Texas Union ticket office).
Tuesday, Feb. 20
KLRU SPARK ENGAGING SPEAKER SERIES, with journalists Maria Hinojosa and Ray Suarez. 7:30pm. Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress, 472-5470. $43.50. www.klru.org/spark.
Wednesday, Feb. 21
ASH INSIGHTS ART SHOW & SALE
Thursday, Feb. 22
showcases the work of local artists and patients at the Austin State Hospital, which will use all of today's sales proceeds to increase patient quality of life. 6-9pm. IBC Bank/Crescent Real Estate, 816 Congress, 419-2330. $35. www.ashinsights.org.