Sunday, October 29, 2006

Colt McCoy quickly growing into quarterback role

This Houston Chronicle article gets it right. Red-shirt freshman Colt McCoy looked GREAT in UT's comeback win against a jacked up Texas Tech football team in Lubbock last night. At 21 to zip in the first quarter things didn't look so hot. But according the Houston Chronicle:
When things were coming undone in those chaotic early moments, the coach pulled the quarterback aside.

"Come here," Mack Brown told Colt McCoy. "Listen, they've got to know that you think you can win this game. They're going to be looking in your eyes."

And when Texas started its comeback, I'll be damned if you sure couldn't see it in his eyes. The game reminded me a lot of watching Major Applewhite come into his own against Oklahoma. This kid Colt McCoy, who looks like he's about 15, had never taken a snap in a college game before the start of the season. But Texas had plenty of big offensive guns to make a comeback, and when he settled down he did a great job distributing the ball to all of his different weapons. Bien hecho! Very nicely done.

It's a shame Texas scheduled Ohio State so early before McCoy gained a little seasoning. If he played OSU the way he played Tech last night, it would have been a really different game.

That said, Tech exposed Texas' inability to get to the quarterback with four pass rushers, or often even five or six. I don't know what about Tech's blocking scheme baffled the 'Horns, but it didn't look like the same group - they were often just stifled at the line. Maybe Tech's O-line is just that good. Giving Tech's hotshot pass-crazed offense time to run their routes explains the Raiders jumping out to such a big early lead, plus Tech's own QB had an amazing night.

If Texas is lucky to have enough teams ahead of them in the BCS lose and backs into a title shot, they'll have to put more pressure on the passer to beat any of the likely contenders.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Yes, America does

Spin It asks if America owes the Dixie Chicks an apology? I say "Hell, yes!"

The documentary about the Chicks, titled Shut Up and Sing, opens this weekend in New York and Los Angeles. (Why the hell not Austin, BTW? Fans here would have lined up for tickets around the block!) Ironically NBC won't run ads for the movie. I don't know if that makes them bigger cowards or jerks - but it amounts to a ton of free publicity and a complete affirmation of the movie's, and Spin It's, point: America owes the Dixie Chicks an apology.

Ionesco staged five blocks from home

A new local Austin theater has turned the old Jehovah's Witnesses church building a few blocks from my home into a 96-seat playhouse! The Play Theatre Group has teamed up with local theater compnay the Coda Project, and also renting the facility out. They began their fall season with three Eugene Ionesco shorts. Nice!!

The theater's at 12th and Cedar Avenue, about a mile from the highway, due east from the capitol building. For the past 16 years I've lived just a few blocks away in the neighborhood right behind it.

I have to say, the transformation from church to theater is a big improvement as far as I'm concerned. We've already got lots of churches in the neighborhood, and I don't think the loss will cause the religiosity quotient to fall much.

The same couple of Jehovah's Witness ladies came by my house every year handing out literature, and they were always quite friendly. But let's face it. Would I rather have the building occupied by people who once a year send out door knockers to interrupt me while I'm watching football on the weekends to give me religious literature I don't want, or people staging Ionesco? Really there's no competition.

Last weekend I went with my friend Tracey to see the Sunday matinee while Kathy was out of town, but we could only stay for two of the three short plays. I should have written this up right after we saw them so I'd do a better job reviewing the performances; I've forgotten too many details.

The theater itself was cozy, well-designed and audience friendly, not a bad seat in the house. I thought they did a nice job with the performance space, though actors inexplicably used a trailer out back as a changing room - the church building is big enough that it seems like there should be enough space to change inside, but perhaps renovations aren't complete.

If you've never seen or read any of Ionesco's plays, you simply must attend this production to expose yourself to his wonderful absurdist humor. His genius and theatrical legacy are nothing short of a world treasure - a gift from a twisted mind that transformed modern humor as we know it, for the better, and the sillier.

That said, Coda's production was merely adequate - honestly not as finely performed as I might have hoped, but certainly good enough to make for an enjoyable Sunday afternoon. I laughed and enjoyed myself, but perhaps might have wished a bit more from the actors (the staging was sparse, so the acting is everything). None of them particularly wowed me, but neither did I find any of their performances disappointing or poor. It was their first weekend so maybe I should cut them a little slack. I'll probably even go back again to see the third play we missed. The show was well worth the $15 admission, but if you go on Thursday night it's pay what you can.

If you like theater and you like to laugh, I'd encourage you to check out the scene for yourself - the plays are funny and you'll get a chance to visit Austin's newest theater space.

So long, Jehovah's Witnesses ... Play Theatre Group, welcome to the neighborhood

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Friday, October 20, 2006

Decline in Mexican textile jobs changes face of maquiladoras

"NAFTA no longer provides Mexican textiles and apparel much benefit," said the Dallas federal reserve bank last month in this interesting essay.

Competition with China for the US textile market has slashed jobs in Mexico's maquiladora industry, reports the fed, but growth in other sectors partially compensates for the difference.

Competititon with China and other US trade agreements besides NAFTA deflated post-NAFTA growth in Mexican textile jobs, says the fed. Other economic sectors, though, have replaced many of those jobs, dramatically changing the face of the maquiladora industry in the last few years:

The strongest sector has been chemicals, up 67.8 percent since January 2003, followed by services at 45.1 percent, electronics at 25.4 percent, machinery at 21 percent, furniture at 17 percent and transportation at 14.9 percent. By contrast, textiles and apparel declined 15.6 percent over the same time span.

The maquiladora sectors’ varying fortunes have geographic implications. The industry is growing in Mexican border cities that cater to mainstream U.S. manufacturers. Since January 2003, for example, maquiladora employment is up 40.9 percent in Reynosa and 25.8 percent in Ciudad Juárez. Elsewhere, border cities’ maquiladora industries have been held back by various impediments, such as infrastructure difficiencies. Matamoros’ job gains were 2.8 percent. Employment fell by 30.8 percent in Piedras Negras and 13.6 percent in Ciudad Acuña.

Those are large job growth figures for Reynosa and Juarez on either end of the Texas-Mexico border, with maquiladora jobs declining in the central section along the Rio Grande.

I learned when Kathy and I were in Mexico this summer that many maquiladora workers arrive at the border and only work in the plants there long enough to earn enough money to pay coyotes to help them cross the river. So illegal immigration has fueled low-labor costs on the border, meaning the success of the maquiladora plants can simultaneously be blamed, in part, for the failure to control immigration at the border.

On Grits for Breakfast not long ago, I quoted a spokesman for the Texas Border Coalition arguing that "the border region can no longer compete with the Pacific Rim on cheap labor, its historic competitive advantage. The border's emerging advantage compared to Asia, he said, lies in "logistics," i.e., the ability to transform the area into a transportation hub."

These employment figures seem to dispute that. Cheap labor might not benefit Mexico's textile industry as much as it once did, but the Dallas feds' stats tell me the maquiladoras will still thrive on cheap Mexican labor, and on America's failed immigration policies, for a quite a while to come.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Has neoliberalism failed Mexico?

Economist Brad DeLong asks if neoliberalism has failed Mexico. (UPDATE: Marginal Revolution offered additional thoughts.) My view, half-assed neoliberalism has failed Mexico.

Having traveled in Mexico quite a bit before and after NAFTA, I can tell you NAFTA has definitely succeeded in creating a more prosperous middle class there, especially in the larger cities, and this in turn has actually boosted US exports to Mexico, where trade used to be mostly the other direction.

However, other NAFTA policies weren't such a great benefit, in part because they were incomplete and skewed toward American interests. For example:
  • Separate rules for maquiladoras left them unregulated and a source of significant labor exploitation that contributes to border instability.
  • US agriculture subsidies, particularly billions subsidizing corn and soy, have virtually depopulated hundreds of Mexican farming communities, forcing millions of young men either to move to the United States to find work, or for farmers to shift to marijuana or other illicit crops to survive.
  • Finally, but perhaps most importantly, NAFTA liberalized markets for (some) goods while failing to liberalize labor markets, which was a recipe for disaster. Markets don't respect national boundaries, so it behooves nations to create multinational structures to control them - that's especially true for the labor market.
So DeLong's incorrect, in my view, to abandon his faith in markets as a (partial) soution to Mexico's woes, though I'd argue that to be effective, neoliberal policies must be coupled with direct economic and infrastructure development assistance - essentially an industrial policy aimed at bolstering emerging industries the way we've done with high tech in the United States. That'd be better spent money than any fence. In the end, though, IMO the ultimate answers may rely on greater reliance on market solutions, or rather, solutions that respect market forces instead of ignoring the most important of them.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

'The people need good men': Why do we blog?

"The people need good men," said Homer, smiling.

In a chapter of her debut novel, Getting Mother's Body, devoted to a monologue by preacher Roosevelt Beede, Pulitzer-winning dramatist Suzan-Lori Parks offered the best summation I think I've ever read on the struggle between participating in public, political life while maintaining one's spiritual grounding.

Roosevelt's take: Most people can't do it.

He ponders the difficulties internally as he listens to his younger cousin Homer, a wealthier, more educated man with political aspirations, driving west on I-10 during the early '60s. Set in West Texas, the novel tells the story of the family traveling to Arizona to dig up "treasure" supposedly buried with one of their kin, and Roosevelt for a time finds himself riding with Homer in his convertible during their adventure.

This particular quote from Roosevelt Beede in Parks' wonderful book has been ringing in my head, now, for a couple of months:
"The people need good men," Homer says smiling at me. And I know then that he will make a good politician, not a preacher, cause he ain't been called, but a politician, one who ain't been called but, through the force of his own personality, calls others to him. That's largely the difference. A man of God is called by God. A man of the people calls the people. Some men are called by God to lead the people. But that's rare. A man of the people thinks the people are calling him but it's just his own voice, overly loud, shouting his own name and hearing it echo back to him through the open mouths of the people, mouths open in awe and wonder watching a man shout his own name loud. A man of God has his mouth shut until God opens it, forces it open sometimes. And sometimes forces it closed.
Politicians are an easy target, and it'd be simple to focus that quote's venom on the array of stuffed shirts and fools (not exclusive categories) running for Governor, for example, and use Parks' lens to parse their motives.

But as near-daily public writers, I think bloggers dance the same line every time our fingers strike a keyboard, especially those of us blogging on political or policy topics: Is what I'm doing for me, for my own ego gratification, or is it for some higher purpose? If the latter, is that higher purpose the pursuit of truth, and if not, will the truth be compromised? Every blogger answers such questions, consciously or not, each time they sit down to write. (Parks, BTW, advocates standing while writing - "dancing," actually. She says every writer should try it once before they die.)

That said, neither can others answer those questions for the blogger - not the most sympathetic fan nor the harshest critic. One's motives are one's own and frequently more complicated, even, than the writer understands.

For people who generate as much prose as I do on Grits, writing is essentially a compulsion, if we are to be honest. Though it's not an original sentiment, I tell young folks who ask me how to write professionally that they shouldn't if they have any choice. A wise person would never undertake the task unless the compulsion to write is simply so great they cannot not write - that's the only reason to endure the negative aspects of the hazard-filled, isolating life choice that is truth-telling in print.

Parks' prose challenges us to go further, to ask, what is that compulsion's source, and is it healthy and good for everyone or indulgent and narcissistic? Is it self-promoting, or morally and spiritually grounded? A meaningless dalliance or a calling?

As "grassroots media," blogs almost by definition style themselves as the "voice of the people." But don't even, perhaps especially, the most popular bloggers risk that the people's affirmation is really "just his own voice, overly loud, shouting his own name and hearing it echo back to him through the open mouths of the people, mouths open in awe and wonder watching a man shout his own name loud"?

Some days, that's true for all of us. But I'd like to think that, on our best days, bloggers are doing something more important and better than that - providing a reflection on the world instead of a reflection, merely, of our own self-involvement.

Down on the end of the long tail where Grits for Breakfast, Huevos Rancheros and most other blogs reside, certainly there's room for many motives - to co-opt a phrase from Mao: Let a thousand flowers bloom. In one sense there are no bad reasons for blogging, but I often feel there are many unexamined ones, sometimes my own included.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Helping immigrant kids go to college

See this 2-minute video about an educational forum held by the Texas Criminal Justice Coaltion's University Leadership Initative in Austin explaining to parents and high school graduates how, in Texas, children of undocumented immigrants could attend college and qualify for in-state tuition. I know most of the kids working with the University Leadership Initiative, and I'm really proud of the work they're doing.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Saints Alive! And Dead: Rafael Guizar Valencia

I grew up Protestant in the Deep South, Southern Baptist, specifically, so the world of Catholic sainthood always held for me an exotic allure. As a child, I thought of saints as figures from the distant past, mysterious, alien icons that made the Catholic church seem odd and formal compared to the country-fried religion of my youth.

So I was interested when we were in Veracruz to learn one of Mexico's own will soon join the ranks of the Catholic blessed. Everywhere in the state, it seemed, Kathy and I saw images of Rafael Guizar Valencia, the former bishop about to be elevated to sainthood on Sunday. Guizar will be canonized for his work as the sometimes-exiled Bishop of Veracruz in the face of anti-Catholic persecution after the Mexican Revolution.

Huge banners featuring his image adorned the cathedral in downtown Xalapa when we were there in August, and local travel agencies were booking package trips to Rome for the occasion.

Our Spanish wasn't good enough when we were in Mexico to understand everything we saw and heard about the good bishop, so I learned more from recent news coverage than we were able to discern when we were there. Here are a few excerpts about Guizar's life from a recent article in Catholic Online ("Mexican becomes first Catholic bishop born in Americas to be named saint," Oct. 11):
In an Oct. 15 papal ceremony at the Vatican, Blessed Rafael Guizar Valencia is scheduled to become the first bishop born in the Americas to be declared a saint.

As a priest during the anti-clerical era that marked the start of the 20th century in his native Mexico, he often disguised himself as a junk dealer to bring the sacraments to both sides fighting the Mexican Revolution which started in 1910.

After the revolution when anti-clerical measures were adopted by the new government, he lived in exile in Cuba, Colombia, Guatemala and the southern United States to escape persecution. He was ordained bishop of Veracruz in absentia in 1919 while living in Havana. ...

"He lived from 1878 to 1938, and actually survived the Mexican government's persecution of Catholicism – but only barely," Anderson said in a statement.

"One anecdote about him says he returned from a mission with bullet holes in his hat and clothing," said Anderson. ...

Father Maciel has cited his great uncle, who was the brother of Father Maciel's grandmother, as an inspiration for his own priestly vocation.

Writing about Blessed Rafael, Father Maciel, now 86, told of a time when his great uncle took him for a walk in Mexico City.

"He carried an accordion, which he played very well. I had no idea what he was going to use it for. We arrived at a well-trafficked spot. He took out his accordion and began playing popular songs. People gathered around him in a circle. When the number was substantial, he put aside his accordion and began preaching (about) Christ," said Father Maciel.

Blessed Rafael was born to a wealthy family in Cotija de la Paz in the Mexican state of Michoacan April 16, 1878. In 1894 he entered the seminary of the Diocese of Zamora and was ordained a priest for the diocese in 1901.

When the Mexican Revolution started, the Catholic Church was a target of rebel forces because it was considered one of the privileged institutions that dominated society under Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz. The then-Father Guizar became a target because of his defense of the church.

After the successful revolution, the new government ordered Father Guizar shot on sight and in 1915 he fled the country, entering the United States. He then moved to Guatemala, Colombia and Cuba.

Blessed Rafael returned to Mexico in 1920 as bishop of Veracruz and in 1923 joined the local Knights of Columbus council.

As church persecution continued, he founded a clandestine seminary.

"A bishop can do without a miter, a crosier and even a cathedral, but never without a seminary, because the future of his diocese depends on the seminary," he said.

Persecution of the church forced Blessed Rafael to flee Mexico again in 1927. He returned in 1929, after the church reached an accord with the government.

He became known as "the bishop of the poor" and died of natural causes June 6, 1938. Pope John Paul II beatified him Jan. 29, 1995.

More people might aspire to sainthood if you didn't have to be dead to enjoy the honor ... I'm just sayin'. ;)

UPDATE: Here's coverage of Guizar's canonization from the SA Express News and the Dallas News. More from a Veracruz-based expat blogger.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bevo is dead

Long live Bevo.

UT's longest-living rendition of its mascot, Bevo XIII, has passed away. I guess the excitement of beating OU with a freshman quarterback was too much for him.

My father was president of UT's Silver Spurs, the student group that cares for the mascot, when he was in college, so Bevo has always been a big icon in my family.

My own personal favorite Bevo memory: I vividly recall sitting in the end zone of an OU game when I was a child, probably in the late '70s - not great seats, but right next to where the Spurs were maintaining the steer. A Sooner fan crept up and threw crimson paint on Bevo right in front of where my family was seated. The Silver Spurs in response beat the living crap out of the man until police ran from their posts to intervene. By the time they got there the Spurs had really worked the guy over, and the cops dragged the poor Okie away, bleeding and cursing.

You don't mess with Bevo.

Hook 'em.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Agua de Horchata ... in Austin!

Kathy just got back with a batch of breakfast tacos from El Chilito on Manor Road, and in addition to the tacos she brought us each home an agua de horchata, a rice-based drink we had frequently in Mexico that I described in this Huevos Rancheros post. Here's a recipe I found for the drink online.

El Chilito's version was a little sweeter and heavier on the vanilla than the agua de horchata we had in Mexico, but tasty, still.

It's really cool to me that so many dishes from the Mexican interior are becoming available now in Texas - one of the many benefits, IMO, to the current immigration boom.

Dixie Chicks movie out soon

I've been a Dixie Chicks fan since they were a local Austin band and Natalie Maines was still in high school up in Lubbock. For my tastes, I liked their album Home more than their most recent offering, Taking the Long Way - Home really let the girls' instrumental lights shine, and I thought Natalie Maines vocals were given greater range in the album's arrangements and song selection. But even their average performances stand out, to me, as among the best in country music.

The Chicks have a documentary coming out soon called Shut Up and Sing! that focuses on the controversy surrounding Maines' criticisms of President Bush. See the trailer here. They also recently performed and were interviewed on Bill Maher's Amazon Fishbowl; go here to watch that video.

I'm a little tired of that particular controversy, but I'll probably go see the movie. I'd listen to the Chicks sing the phone book. Plus I'm not a huge fan of Dubya nor the Iraq war myself. To me, the boycott of the Chicks by country music radio stations and death threats from irate fans was real low point for free speech in America - the Chicks really got an up-close-and-personal view of this nation's dark, nativist underbelly. But their celebrity also caused the incident to get overblown beyond its real importance - while their victimization got them a Rolling Stone cover and likely boosted album sales, Muslims targeted for sneak and peek searches under the Patriot Act, for example, or abuses at Guantanamo had a lot harder time getting on the national radar screen.

From a musical perspective, I'd like to see the Chicks go back to Maines' father Lloyd, himself a Texas music legend, to produce their next album. That collaboration on Home, for my money, really generated something special and fun.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Hoffbrau

Here's an excellent local blog piece on Austin's Hoffbrau restaurant. I sent it to my father, who fondly and frequently recalls courting my mother on dates at the Hoffbrau in the early '60s. Neither he nor I ever knew the chain was unaffiliated.

Writer Kramer Wetzel nails what's special about the place: Doing one thing and doing it well.

Come home to the armadillo ... in Veracruz

Here's an interesting article about a professional boxer I've seen on HBO before, Cruz Carbajal, who it turns out lives and trains in Veracruz, Mexico. That'll get me to take an extra interest next time I see him. The article's lede describes the prize fighter's odd training and diet regimen:
Former WBO bantamweight champion Cruz Carbajal (26-13, 22 KO’s) chases armadillos to help keep fit when he’s back home in Veracruz, Mexico. “It’s great exercise, I go out with a net and a flashlight, I catch them and bring them home,” said Carbajal from his training camp now located in San Diego, California. Unfortunately for the armadillos, Carbajal also claims that they’re good eatin’. “It’s good for you. I also hunt rabbits and do a lot of fishing. In fact most of my diet consists of different kinds of fish, shrimp and an occasional armadillo,” says Carbajal. It’s all part of Carbajal’s Spartan lifestyle that currently keeps him at a walking around weight of about 125 pounds.
He'd better not eat any American armadillos while he's training in San Diego - a lot of them have rabies in the US, I understand.

Poverty explains Carbajal's many losses, says the writer. "Carbajal is one of many fighters who made a habit of taking fights on short notice, in opponents’ backyards, and even when he’s not at his healthiest. Carbajal, like the rest of us, needs to make money and the cash was usually too good to resist when called in as a late minute, replacement fighter. 'Those losses came early in my career. I was fighting for the money. It made sense to take the better purses during those times,' he explained."

Maybe so, but he's a big-leaguer now. Even if he's still chasing armadillos for exercise.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Support new East side businesses

Two East Side businesses opened in Austin recently operated by friends of friends of mine. Both deserve your patronage.

Treasure City Thrift, 1720 E. 12th St.
  • "Treasure City Thrift is a collectively run non-profit thrift store designed to raise money for small grassroots community groups and projects that traditionally have difficulty finding funding." Stop by to shop, or donate useable furniture, books, clothing, toys, dishware tools, and other items in good condition.
East Side Pies, 1401-B Rosewood Ave. (across from the Carver Library)
  • ESP has been around a few months, but still counts as a new business in my book. Their pizza may well be the best in town. Try the Jamaican pizza which includes jerked chicken (I ask them to leave off the habañeros), or the Austinist recommended the Guiche (spinach, goat cheese, green chiles, sun-dried tomato and roasted garlic). Best of all: they deliver on the East Side!! Hardly anybody does - I live a mile from the state capitol and before ESP couldn't get a pizza delivered. Congrats especially to co-proprietor Noah Polk, who I knew a little when he was roommate to a friend of mine a few years back.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Texas 56, Sam Houston State 3

Sam Houston State!! From Huntsville! You've got to be kidding!

Whoever scheduled this debacle should be shot. Texas needn't lard its schedule with 2A teams just to get to 11 wins (SHU is 2A, right? I mean, there's not a 3A?). Games like Ohio State make or break a program; games like this make nothing but money, and I can't imagine the money is worth the jokes and eye-rolling from even the most commited fans. The TV stations didn't even want it - you had to watch the game on pay per view and I can't imagine who would.

UT Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds should be embarrassed. He's got a world-class thoroughbred in the UT football team. He shouldn't degrade it with races against the local neighborhood hack, the way the UT baseball team did in Coach Gus' final years.

I mean, my high school alma mater Robert E. Lee-Tyler would probably come down for a game, if you paid them enough. UT would win, but what would it prove?