Monthly Archives: April 2013


So, West, Texas (the comma is important) and I go way back. It’s always been one of my favorite small towns. Most Texas small towns feel like they’re just a step away from being ghost towns. Most of downtown is boarded up and you’re struck by the complete lack of people between the ages of 17 and 70. West wasn’t like that. For years and years, West felt like a little, self-contained time capsule showing what a thriving small town looked like.

West’s downtown was essentially one intersection and a couple of blocks in either direction. There were little grocers, drug stores, barbers, all up and down the street, but the real attractions were the restaurants, bakeries, and butcher shops. West has a strong Czech and the food was always the main attraction. We’d always hit Sulak’s for lunch to get some homemade goulash and fresh-baked bread (and big schooners of beer for dad). We had to be done early, though, because Nemecek Brother’s butcher shop closed at noon on Saturday and you didn’t want to miss out on the bacon that has spoiled me for all other bacons. Oh sure, the summer sausage and hot links, well, all of the meats were spectacular. But oh, that bacon. Finally, we’d wander over to the Village Bakery to fill up a cooler with kolaces. Getting to West was a long haul, so we had to stock up.

More recently, West’s downtown hasn’t been quite as vibrant. I can’t put my finger on it, but my theory is that the Czech Stop on the highway is so convenient that people stopped coming in to town. Sulak’s and Nemecek Brothers are either gone or at least no longer worthy of the the name, but you still want to seek out the Village Bakery if you’re in the area. The Czech Stop is good, but the Village Bakery is magic.

West, Texas is important to me. The recent tragedy hit really close to home, and I wanted to share with you all why West is a big deal. It’s a tiny place, but it’s a good place, and they can use some help. Here are some places in north Texas where blood can be donated to the victims in West. If there’s anything you can do to help, it would be appreciated.

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Let’s talk about the “gun control debate.”

To begin with, it ain’t much of a debate. From what I can see, it looks mostly like two sides yelling at each other and then covering their ears when the other side is speaking. Given the nature of the American ‘presidential debates, I wouldn’t expect anything resembling a classic debate, but what we’re seeing is disappointing even in that low light.

I respect the U.S. constitution, and the second amendment is part of that document. Regardless of what I think of personal gun ownership, the law of the land permits it and suggesting otherwise is dishonest. We can argue whether or not people should be allowed to own guns, but that’s an academic exercise unless the law changes.  I’m also not terribly concerned about the “intentions of the founding fathers.” They wrote a great document, but they weren’t perfect and they certainly weren’t unanimous about much anything, and that includes the meaning of what they’d written.  That, plus the fact that the 18th century was a long time ago and many things have changed since then, makes me very suspicious of any appeals to the intent of the founders.

I’m extremely wary of any statistics citing how many lives are lost to gun-related crime and how many lives are saved by gun-related self-defense. Frankly, I haven’t spent enough time researching the various sources to have a good feel for which numbers are honest and meaningful and which are just being used to push an agenda. I have an opinion that the easy availability of lethal weaponry likely results in more deaths than if these weapons weren’t so readily available, but that’s about as strongly as I’m willing to state that position.

Where I am willing to put my foot down is in an area where gun deaths are far, far greater than in gun-related crime. Gun ownership is a huge risk factor when we’re discussing suicides. People kill themselves with guns. They do this a lot. Half of all suicides in the United States involve guns.  There are 75% more suicides using guns than murders using guns in the U.S.

Now, just like with homicide, a common response to this is “Well, if there were no guns around, people would just find other ways to kill themselves.” That sounds reasonable, but it isn’t true. Small obstacles to suicide are a disproportionately large deterrent. That’s why having a firearm in the home is one of the risk factors. I’m not saying that people kill themselves because there’s a gun around; people kill themselves for a variety of reasons but having an “easy” means of doing it makes it much more likely that they’ll go through with it.

So, look, go ahead and have a debate about gun rights and gun ownership and how much it can be regulated by the government. But please, understand that this discussion should not be restricted strictly to crime and self-defense. We’re also talking about keeping an “off-switch” for human life within arm’s reach in people’s homes. If we don’t consider the impact of gun ownership on suicides, we’re not having an honest debate.

Not that we really were anyway.

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Filed under Personal, Politics

Sympathy for the Devil

Ok, so Brad Paisley isn’t the devil. Not even close. I really enjoyed his work with William Shatner on that one good Shatner album. Paisley’s new song, “Accidental Racist”, has been widely ridiculed on the left side of the spectrum as ham-fisted, missing-the-point, and being a tepid step towards addressing the ugly fact that the Venn diagram of “white Southern country and western fans who fly the rebel flag” and “racists” has a lot of overlap.

I think all of those criticisms are valid, but…

I also think almost all steps in the right direction that go against the predominant cultural grain look ham-fisted and tepid. I’m reminded of “don’t ask, don’t tell” which was recognized, even in it’s time, as an awkward compromise that no one really felt good about. Or look at Kipling’s reviled “white man’s burden,” which was considered quite progressive for it’s time. It looks horribly racist in retrospect because, well, it was horribly racist. I believe that Kipling’s intent was good and he was trying to move the discussion forward, but obviously, he fell well short of the mark.

That’s how I feel about Paisley’s effort as well. Look at his audience: He’s not in a place where he can say “We really ought to stop flying the flag of the one army that genuinely went to war against the United States because they ‘hated our freedom’ .” * It’d be great if he did go there, but I’m willing to give him a little credit for at least acknowledging that there’s some friction here and trying to address it.

* P.S. I have no clue how to properly punctuate that bit and I’m not going to ruin this lovely Sunday by opening up my Strunk and White. Sorry.

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14/04/2013 · 5:21 pm

I Don’t Even Care For Modern Art

We watched this documentary about Herb and Dorothy Vogel the other night and it’s stuck with me to the point that I don’t think I’ll be able to write about anything else until I work through my thoughts on this film. In terms of presentation, it’s a fairly straight-forward film: The life history of Herb and Dorothy, a postal worker and a librarian who collected an jaw-droppingly extensive collection of modern art in their apartment. 

Only, really, they were art collectors who just happened to have day jobs,not the other way around. They didn’t have children, they didn’t seem to have much in the way of hobbies or interests outside of collecting art (with the caveat that the film may have cut corners in some places). They lived to collect art.

There are more documentaries about people who have unusual obsessions than I could watch, or would want to watch, in a lifetime. Jiro Dreams of Sushi comes to mind, but it’s a very different story. Jiro lived for his job and there was no separating his life from his work. He also came across as damaged by his monomania. That’s not the case at all with the Vogels. Their work and their real lives were partitioned off completely. They seemed like nice, normal folks. Their obsession didn’t seem obsessive. It didn’t drive them like it did Jiro; it seemed to make them happy and give meaning to their lives.

I loved this film. The Vogels were nice, pleasant, interesting people who were able to find something to live for and it didn’t seem to consume them. The best bits are interviews with their friends who cannot get their heads around why art is important to the Vogels and what makes them happy. Their friends suggest that the Vogels could live comfortably in a “normal” house if they’d just sell a few pieces of art to pay for it. Watching this film, you completely understand why the Vogels would never do that, and why having a life like theirs friends’ would never appeal to them.

So, there’s lot of art in this film, and there are a lot of interviews with artists, but it’s not really an movie about art. The Vogels are certainly extreme in their desire to collect art, but not in the way that most documentary subjects are. To me, this was more of a literary film. It was about people who found meaning and happiness on their own terms and couldn’t care less if those terms made sense to other people.

I found it very inspiring. It’s on Netflix, and there are far worse ways to spend an hour or two of your time.

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05/04/2013 · 3:14 pm

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was one of the titans of the so-called “dinosaur” media. He wrote a newspaper column about films, he wrote books about films,  and had a television show on the same subject. That’s about as old school as it gets.

So, I was delighted when I discovered his Twitter feed and found him to be one of the most consistently interesting and entertaining writers in the “140 character or less” category. Likewise, his blog was consistently fascinating. He wasn’t an “old media” star or a “new media” star. He was a man who had interesting, thoughtful opinions and had the ability to express them in a way that took advantage of whatever media he happened to be using.

I didn’t always agree with his opinions, but I respected them and he was always my go-to critic when I wanted to know something about a film. I’ll miss him.

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Filed under Film, Personal

Memories of Hummus Past

Dining at a nearby middle eastern restaurant last night, I was reminded of a similar joint in another city. It was an always-busy corner joint that kept weird hours and always had a line out the door. They spoiled me for any other hummus, but, to be fair, everything they served was mindbogglingly good. The late 90’s were a very good time for these folks.

And then, 9/11.

The lines disappeared overnight. What had been one of the most popular restaurants in the neighborhood was suddenly, desperately, empty. It that all restaurants in the area were empty, just the ones operated by The Wrong People. I don’t know that I’ve ever been most disappointed in my countrymen (at least, of those in my immediate vicinity).

There are some big points in there somewhere. Points about how ugly racism is, and how ridiculous it is to blame people who moved to this country because they liked it better “here” than “there” for the actions of a fringe group of terrorists, and stuff like that. But really, I was just stung by the memory of how ashamed I felt that my neighbors, the people who lived directly around me, acted in such a petty fashion in punishing the restaurant owners (who were also their neighbors).

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Filed under Personal, Philosophy