Archive for February, 2011

The Great Gun Buyback of 2011.

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Apparently, it went well for the Greater Austin Crime Commission and the Jastrow Family Foundation.

By 11 a.m. Saturday, police had collected about 400 guns and expected to give away $40,000 worth of gift cards, said Richard Hill, president of the Greater Austin Crime Commission .

It looks like it went well for some other people, too:

Pro-gun activists with Texans for Accountable Government protested the program by advertising a counter Guns for Cash program to people who showed up to trade their guns. Outside the church parking lot, they offered 10 percent more than the value of the gift cards.

The Statesman doesn’t tell us (or perhaps TAG didn’t want to discuss with the Statesman) exactly how many guns were bought for cash. Robb Allen also has a post up on the subject: based on his summary and the linked article, it appears TAG was only purchasing functional guns, so the APD ended up with lots of non-functional clunkers. This fits in with what  I saw on the local news last night; it looks like there were a lot of old .22 rifles, some muzzleloaders (!), and not a whole lot of really good stuff.

Keith Bradley is a local gun collector. He and a few others were looking to buy guns Saturday but say in situations where people are giving away their guns voluntarily, the quality of guns isn’t good.

“You’re going to find 80 percent of the weapons being turned in today are non functional. They’re rusted out, they’re garbage,” said Bradley.

“Holly did not go lightly.”

Friday, February 25th, 2011

There’s a mildly funny piece in today’s NYT about Joe Allen Restaurant, specifically about the restaurant’s eastern wall…

Covering its eastern wall are posters for old Broadway shows, about 50 of them, from the mid-1960s on. Their titles will ring few bells except among the most knowledgeable of theater buffs. There is a reason. Each was a notorious flop.

Included are posters for such notorious works as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (closed in previews), the legendary “Kelly” (Lewis Lapham was invited to document the production of “Kelly” from start to finish; “Kelly” closed after one performance. Lapham’s story was reprinted in a wonderful book called Second Act Trouble: Behind the Scenes at Broadway’s Big Musical Bombs.) and “Moose Murders” (closed after one performance: NYT review).

If I ever make it back to NYC, I think I’m going to make it a point to stop by Joe Allen’s place.

Obit watch: February 24, 2011.

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Sometimes there’s just nothing you can say.

Austin restaurant owners Michael and Yoli Amr were found dead Wednesday morning.

The Statesman touches a little on the history of the Amr restaruants. We (and by “we” in this case I mean the regular Saturday Dining Conspiracy group, as well as pretty much everyone else I know) were big fans of the original Gumbo’s on Bratton Lane, and followed them to the Gumbo’s in Round Rock, Yoli’s Jambalaya, and then Mama Roux, which we thought was a swell eatery. Actually, they were all fine places to eat.

I can’t wrap my mind around this. It looks like they may have had financial problems; I’m sure the economy and the Gulf oil spill hurt them some. But this? It doesn’t make sense. I know things like this aren’t supposed to, and I know we don’t know everything that was going on. But…

Commentary from Rob Balon. Commentary from Statesman restaurant reviewer Mike Sutter.

Edited to add: Lawrence, who was an even bigger fan of the Amr restaurants than I was, adds his commentary here.

Leadership Secrets of Non-Fictional Characters (part 6 of a series).

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

There is no way that I can, in good conscience, continue to do this series and not call out Ambulance Driver’s essay “On Teaching, Mentoring, and Stewardship“.

Academics in all disciplines struggle with teaching attitudes and behavior, and few succeed at it. Those that do are easy to spot. Chances are, you’ve seen them yourself. If you think back on all the teachers you’ve had in your life, I’ll bet you could pick out one or two that had the most positive influence.

In your moments of greatest stress and indecision, whose advice do you crave? Who do you first think of when you want to share the elation of a professional triumph? When you feel beaten and discouraged, whose voice whispers your mental pep talk? Who plants the metaphorical foot in your ass when you need the motivation?

Right now, you’re probably smiling, thinking of just such a person.

Your mentor.

Please go read the whole thing. Yes, AD is writing from the perspective of an EMS professional, and there are EMS specific references scattered throughout. But, just as I do with every other “Leadership Secrets” entry, I trust my readers to be able to analyze, synthesize, and apply what’s applicable to their own situation.

The only complaint I feel like I can make about AD’s essay is that he didn’t write it 15 years ago, when I really needed to hear it. Then again, “when the student is ready, the teacher appears”, and I doubt I was ready 15 years ago.

“…the mysterious affair of Lieutenant Chevis and the Manchurian partridge”

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

We consider ourselves to be connoisseurs of murder. Not the drive-by shooting or the street homicide (unless Snot Boogie is involved) but more the kind of murders described by De Quincey’s characters.

Anyway, we were previously unaware of the bizarre murder (or was it?) of Lieutenant Hubert G. Chevis until today’s Dinosaur Comics (really!) brought it to our attention, and we, in turn, commend it to yours.

Your latest Spider-Man update…

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

can be found here. Briefly, they’ve hired Paul Bogaev, who is described as “a veteran musical supervisor and conductor”, to “help improve the performance, vocal and orchestration arrangements, and sound quality of the songs and numbers”.

The NYT speculates that the opening, currently scheduled for March 15th, might be delayed again. The paper also reports rumors that the producers are talking to “script doctors”, and may be looking to hire a “co-director”.

Public service announcement #3.

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

The planned closure of I-35 at Ben White/Texas 71 this weekend is still on.

Even better, the Texas Department of Transportation is also planning to close I-35 the weekend of March 4th as well. Yes, that’s two weekends in a row.

Next to come, [TXDOT spokesman John] Hurt said, will be various weeknight closures for the construction of flyovers linking eastbound Ben White to southbound I-35 and northbound I-35 to eastbound Ben White.


…installing beams for the flyover linking northbound I-35 to westbound Ben White will once again require weekend closures of the I-35 main lanes, Hurt said. It is unclear when that work will occur or how many weekends might be involved.

Is there any good news?

The $26 million project and all four bridges should be done by September.

That would be just in time for the start of the UT football season. Anybody think that’s a coincidence?

A few notes from the music world.

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Marian Elliott-Said is recovering from breast cancer. WCD extends our best wishes to her.

By the way, Marian Elliott-Said is perhaps better known as “Poly Styrene”, front woman for the X-Ray Spex. After the jump, we’ll embed some X-Ray Spex video.

Meanwhile, Lady Gaga claims her new perfume smells “like an expensive hooker”. If someone told her this was an effective advertising strategy, they were wrong.

And something a bit more pleasant to think about than Poly Styrene and Lady Gaga: the NYT has a longish piece about the Internet Music Score Library Project and some of the copyright issues experienced by the site.

The Borromeo String Quartet plays from laptops with downloaded scores instead of sheet music. The digital music library is one of its major sources.

We wonder if the growth of the iPad and other tablet devices is going to result in more groups replacing sheet music with electronic devices. Not that we’re music experts – we tend to rely on other people (ahem) for that – but we can see some possible advantages to going all tablet, all the time.


Happy happy joy joy.

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Oh, look:

The popular “Guns 4 Groceries” program that debuted in Central Texas last year to overwhelming interest will return Saturday, officials announced today.

Yes, once again, the Greater Austin Crime Commission is “co-sponsoring” the event. Oddly, there is no mention of this “co-sponsorship” on their website or in their Twitter feed at the moment. (Edited to add 2: Since I originally posted this at 8 AM, the GACC has updated their website to mention the buyback program.)

Participants can collect $200 for each assault rifle, $100 each for handguns and rifles and $10 apiece for air guns, BB guns or replicas, sponsors said. There is a two gun limit per participant.

Yeah, wouldn’t want anyone hurting themselves by carrying more than two guns. (By the way, they gave out gift cards, not cash, last year. I’m uncertain from the Statesman article if this year’s program is gift cards or cash.)

This year, the program is allotting $25,000 to $30,000, shorter hours and plans for multiple lines rather than just one, [Cary] Robert[s (sic), of the GACC] said.

And where is this money coming from? The GACC is a 501 (c)(3). Might be interesting to get a copy of their tax filings.

Donations have been underwritten by the Jastrow Family Foundation, Roberts said. Former Temple-Inland Inc. Chairman and CEO Kenneth M. Jastrow II is a board member for the commission.

I can’t find a website for the “Jastrow Family Foundation”. I sense a need for more research on this topic.

Although it’s a “no questions asked” program, weapons are still checked to see if they have been used to commit a documented crime, Roberts said. Last year, none of the weapons turned in were connected to any crimes, he said.

Do they check to see if the weapons were reported stolen as well? The Statesman doesn’t say.

Once again, I’d be tempted to go down and offer $125 cash for each Smith and Wesson, but it looks like I’m going to be tied up all weekend.

Edited to add: Neither the “Greater Austin Crime Commission” or the “Jastrow Family Foundation” show up in Charity Navigator.

Lord of the I Told You So Dance.

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Remember Raymond Davis?

“U.S. officials”, “speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter”, have confirmed to the WP that yes indeed, Mr. Davis is CIA.

A former member of the U.S. Army Special Forces, Davis was hired as a contract employee of the CIA’s Global Response Staff, a unit that is responsible for providing security for agency employees and facilities in other countries.

Also worthy of note:

The Washington Post learned of Davis’s CIA affiliation after his arrest, but agreed not to publish the information at the request of senior U.S. intelligence officials, who cited concern for Davis’s safety if his true employment status were disclosed.

I still believe Davis was probably justified in shooting the two guys who attacked him, and will until I see convincing evidence to the contrary (the statements from Pakistani authorities don’t add up for me) but this is certainly even more of a sticky wicket than it already was.

Edited to add: I intended to link to this LAT followup article earlier, and will do so now, even though it has been overtaken by events.

Edited to add 2: The NYT is on things with their own story, also quoting “American government officials”, and stating “The New York Times had agreed to temporarily withhold information about Mr. Davis’s ties to the agency at the request of the Obama administration”.

Crime watch.

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Eric Delacruz and his buddy Fernando Romero were convicted of the murder of Sonia Rios Risken yesterday. Why is this noteworthy? Well, when the LAT article begins

The prosecutor and defense attorneys agreed on at least one thing: Sonia Rios Risken was a loathsome person.

That kind of makes you take notice. At the time of her death, Risken was being investigated by the FBI in the death of her second husband, who was killed while visiting Risken’s relatives in the Philippines.

Her first husband, a retired Marine, was shot to death 19 years earlier under suspiciously similar circumstances.

And then Risken herself was capped; Delacruz was her grandnephew, and apparently expected to inherit Risken’s estate.

It turned out Risken had no will, so much of her money went to her closest living relative — her son.

By way of Balko, we learn that Charles Stobaugh has been convicted in the murder of his wife, Kathy Stobaugh. Ms. Stobaugh disappeared the day before her divorce became final in 2004. I can’t work up the indignation of Balko over this: “despite no body, no physical evidence of a crime, and no proof the alleged victim is actually dead.” All of these things are true, but a murder conviction without a body is not unheard of (see Anne Marie Fahey). In addition:

Witnesses testified that Kathy Stobaugh disappeared Dec. 29, 2004, after meeting Charles Stobaugh at his farm northwest of Sanger to discuss their pending divorce.

If she had a plan to leave that night, [prosecutor Cary] Piel said, her plan had to have started with a phone call. The farm is secluded and Kathy Stobaugh couldn’t have walked. She was 12 hours away from a default divorce, yet she would have had no money, no credit cards and no vehicle.


Cary Piel reminded the jury of all the testimony that showed she had not accessed her bank account, credit cards and cellphone, and had not tried to contact anybody since that night.

Yeah, the evidence is circumstantial. But, to quote Thoreau, “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.”

In other news, the LAPD apparently has a lead in the 2002 murder of two men in Studio City.

As they delved into the case, detectives uncovered an intriguing back story that included a Playboy cover model, a $40-million Wall Street investment ponzi scheme and an ill-fated bid by Tardio to sell as much as $700,000 worth of jewelry purchased with ill-gotten proceeds.

If the $75,000 reward being proposed in this case isn’t enough, surely the chance to see it dramatized on Law and Order: Los Angeles is an additional incentive.

Speaking of Ponzi schemes, we neglected to note the alleged Amish Ponzi scheme yesterday, so let’s fix that now. (This also gives us a chance to tell our favorite Amish joke: “What sounds like this: Clip clop clip clop clip clop clip clop BANG! Clip clop clip clop clip clop clip clop…” “An Amish drive-by.”)

And, finally, it was anarchists who burned down the Texas Governor’s Mansion in 2008. At least, that’s what the Texas DPS is saying now. Hey, at least it wasn’t nihilists. We would post a Crimestoppers!, but the DPS claims to know who at least three out of four of the anarchists are.  So we’ll ask some questions instead:

When seconds count.

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Two stories from the NYT that make for an interesting contrast.

Story #1 involves Anthony Spinelli, who owns a jewelry store on Arthur Avenue in NYC, and is the neighborhood hero of the moment. Why?

On Wednesday, Mr. Spinelli pulled one of two licensed guns in the store, and shot one of the three people suspected of trying to rob his Arthur Avenue jewelry store at gunpoint.

Yes, in NYC. Yes, a licensed gun.

However, Mr. Spinelli was given a summons on an administrative code violation related to the gun he fired; it was licensed in Westchester County, not in New York City.

Story number 2:

A Tucson firefighter refused to respond to the Jan. 8 shooting rampage that wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords because of political differences with his crew, delaying his unit’s arrival at the scene, according to internal department records.

To be clear about this: the gentleman’s unit wasn’t part of the first response, his unit was called out after all the victims had been transported, and the gentleman in question “retired after the rampage as department officials considered disciplinary action”. Here’s a better article from the Arizona Daily Star.

Edited to add: I was kind of hoping for this, so I’ve got to link it: a take on the Arizona story from the guy what drives the ‘bolance.