Maybe NOW we can talk about abolition?

Texas may well be about to admit that when it — scratch that; WE — executed Cameron Todd Willingham in 2004 for murder-by-arson after a 1991 house fire killed his three children, the state was actually murdering an innocent man.

In a withering critique, a nationally known fire scientist has told a state commission on forensics that Texas fire investigators had no basis to rule a deadly house fire was an arson — a finding that led to the murder conviction and execution of Cameron Todd Willingham.

The finding comes in the first state-sanctioned review of an execution in Texas, home to the country’s busiest death chamber. If the commission reaches the same conclusion, it could lead to the first-ever declaration by an official state body that an inmate was wrongly executed.

Indeed, the report concludes there was no evidence to determine that the December 1991 fire was even set, and it leaves open the possibility the blaze that killed three children was an accident and there was no crime at all — the same findings found in a Chicago Tribune investigation of the case published in December 2004.

Willingham, the father of those children, was executed in February 2004. He protested his innocence to the end.


Among Beyler’s key findings: that investigators failed to examine all of the electrical outlets and appliances in the Willinghams’ house in the small Texas town of Corsicana, did not consider other potential causes for the fire, came to conclusions that contradicted witnesses at the scene, and wrongly concluded Willingham’s injuries could not have been caused as he said they were.

The state fire marshal on the case, Beyler concluded in his report, had “limited understanding” of fire science. The fire marshal “seems to be wholly without any realistic understanding of fires and how fire injuries are created,” he wrote.

The marshal’s findings, he added, “are nothing more than a collection of personal beliefs that have nothing to do with science-based fire investigation.”

Over the past five years, the Willingham case has been reviewed by nine of the nation’s top fire scientists — first for the Tribune, then for the Innocence Project, and now for the commission. All concluded that the original investigators relied on outdated theories and folklore to justify the determination of arson.

Even better: the fact that the “experts” who called it arson were full of shit was apparently clear to anyone looking into the facts in plenty of time to save this man’s life. Governor Perry ignored those facts. Thanks, Goodhair! Way to go!

Dept. of Gibsonian Future Scenarios

In La Paz, you’ll find Route 36, a lounge unremarkable except for its primary product:

“Tonight we have two types of cocaine; normal for 100 Bolivianos a gram, and strong cocaine for 150 [Bolivianos] a gram.” The waiter has just finished taking our drink order of two rum-and-Cokes here in La Paz, Bolivia, and as everybody in this bar knows, he is now offering the main course. The bottled water is on the house.

Dept. of “Me Too! Me Too!”

Universal is apparently making a big-screen re-reboot of Battlestar Galactica — with Bryan Singer attached — that will share essentially none of the lore from the groundbreaking, award-winning TV reboot.

It’s really hard to understand this as anything but a craven attempt to mine geek wallets. Of course, that’s what the original BSG was in the 70s — it debuted in the wake of Star Wars’ huge success — so I guess in some ways this is just a return to form.

Sony Wakes Up

They’re being crushed by Nintendo and Microsoft in gaming, and Apple has made them irrelevant in portable music, but their revisions to their eReader line are sure to be a hit with anyone who doesn’t want to rent their books from Amazon.

The kicker: Sony is explicitly embracing open content and multiple sources. This is very smart, and very good for the consumer. (Let’s not give Sony too much credit though; given the Kindle’s position, it’s pretty much the only play left for Sony.) Oh, and now they’re also Mac-compatible out of the box.

Color me interested. They’ve even got a unit with an always-on 3G connection, just like the Kindle.

Joe Klein Nails It

The GOP Has Become a Party of Nihilists.

There have been times when Democrats have run demagogic scare campaigns on issues like Social Security and Medicare. There are more than a few Democrats who believe, in practice, that government should be run for the benefit of government employees’ unions. There are Democrats who are so solicitous of civil liberties that they would undermine legitimate covert intelligence collection. There are others who mistrust the use of military power under almost any circumstances. But these are policy differences, matters of substance. The most liberal members of the Democratic caucus — Senator Russ Feingold in the Senate, Representative Dennis Kucinich in the House, to name two — are honorable public servants who make their arguments based on facts. They don’t retail outright lies. Hyperbole and distortion certainly exist on the left, but they are a minor chord in the Democratic Party.

It is a very different story among Republicans. To be sure, there are honorable conservatives, trying to do the right thing. There is a legitimate, if wildly improbable, fear that Obama’s plan will start a process that will end with a health-care system entirely controlled by the government. There are conservatives — Senator Lamar Alexander, Representative Mike Pence, among many others — who make their arguments based on facts. But they have been overwhelmed by nihilists and hypocrites more interested in destroying the opposition and gaining power than in the public weal. The philosophically supple party that existed as recently as George H.W. Bush’s presidency has been obliterated. The party’s putative intellectuals — people like the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol — are prosaic tacticians who make precious few substantive arguments but oppose health-care reform mostly because passage would help Barack Obama’s political prospects.

No part of this is untrue. What makes it more interesting is how obvious it is in the angles the Right takes in this debate; a frequent go-to position is that the Administration wants something other than what they’re asking for, i.e. that they’re negotiating in bad faith and have a sekrit plan to socialize everything, etc. The Right views everything in terms of party victory or defeat, and cannot conceive that the Democrats aren’t doing the same thing. It’s classic projection.

More on Scalia

Radley Balko found that Alan Dershowitz is also bewildered about Scalia’s anti-innocence position.

The Justice, we are reminded, believes that actual innocence is Constitutionally irrelevant if a person has been convicted in a “fair” trial. Dershowitz then asks:

Let us be clear precisely what this means. If a defendant were convicted, after a constitutionally unflawed trial, of murdering his wife, and then came to the Supreme Court with his very much alive wife at his side, and sought a new trial based on newly discovered evidence (namely that his wife was alive), these two justices would tell him, in effect: “Look, your wife may be alive as a matter of fact, but as a matter of constitutional law, she’s dead, and as for you, Mr. Innocent Defendant, you’re dead, too, since there is no constitutional right not to be executed merely because you’re innocent.”

Dershowitz then explores an angle I neglected in my prior post: Scalia is famously very, very Catholic — and has said in the past that he would have to resign if his duties ever conflicted with his faith. The Vatican is no fan of capital punishment, and surely must view allowing an innocent man’s execution as particularly egregious. How, Dershowitz wonders, does Scalia reconcile these positions?

Dept. of Evil

Originalism — that bankrupt notion clung to exclusively by Catholics and other pro-lifers — aside, it’s still hard to imagine how Scalia can actually manage to support the idea that it’s Constitutionally okay to execute an innocent man as long as there was a trial at some point, regardless of new evidence or proof of innocence.

It really is extraordinary. Imagine: “Sorry, you had a trial, never mind that there’s new evidence now that shows you to be the wrong guy. Say hi to God for me.” Fortunately, his fellow justices (aside, of course, from Scalia’s notoriously taciturn and undistinguished mini-me, Thomas) disagreed.

Ah, the crazy

Noticing how completely off the rails much of the Right is over Obama’s victory and, now, the health care proposals? Yeah, us too. While we on the left complained about specific Bush admin policies (some of which, frustratingly, persist under Obama), the Right is mostly just making shit up.

Here’s two bits worth reading on the subject:

In America, Crazy Is A Pre-existing Condition, from the WaPo, discusses how the right tends to go off the rails like this with some frequency. Kennedy was accused to sabotaging our defense when he pushed for missiles over bombers, for example.

The instigation is always the familiar litany: expansion of the commonweal to empower new communities, accommodation to internationalism, the heightened influence of cosmopolitans and the persecution complex of conservatives who can’t stand losing an argument. My personal favorite? The federal government expanded mental health services in the Kennedy era, and one bill provided for a new facility in Alaska. One of the most widely listened-to right-wing radio programs in the country, hosted by a former FBI agent, had millions of Americans believing it was being built to intern political dissidents, just like in the Soviet Union.

So, crazier then, or crazier now? Actually, the similarities across decades are uncanny. When Adlai Stevenson spoke at a 1963 United Nations Day observance in Dallas, the Indignation forces thronged the hall, sweating and furious, shrieking down the speaker for the television cameras. Then, when Stevenson was walked to his limousine, a grimacing and wild-eyed lady thwacked him with a picket sign. Stevenson was baffled. “What’s the matter, madam?” he asked. “What can I do for you?” The woman responded with self-righteous fury: “Well, if you don’t know I can’t help you.”

The various elements — the liberal earnestly confused when rational dialogue won’t hold sway; the anti-liberal rage at a world self-evidently out of joint; and, most of all, their mutual incomprehension — sound as fresh as yesterday’s news. (Internment camps for conservatives? That’s the latest theory of tea party favorite Michael Savage.)

This is all entirely depressing, since it makes clear that the cynics on the Right have always been willing to exploit fear with lies as long as it serves their interests, and the media is all too willing to feed this cycle because it leads to viewers; they’re entirely too milquetoast to actually label bullshit when they see it.

Conservatives have become adept at playing the media for suckers, getting inside the heads of editors and reporters, haunting them with the thought that maybe they are out-of-touch cosmopolitans and that their duty as tribunes of the people’s voices means they should treat Obama’s creation of “death panels” as just another justiciable political claim. If 1963 were 2009, the woman who assaulted Adlai Stevenson would be getting time on cable news to explain herself. That, not the paranoia itself, makes our present moment uniquely disturbing.

It used to be different. You never heard the late Walter Cronkite taking time on the evening news to “debunk” claims that a proposed mental health clinic in Alaska is actually a dumping ground for right-wing critics of the president’s program, or giving the people who made those claims time to explain themselves on the air. The media didn’t adjudicate the ever-present underbrush of American paranoia as a set of “conservative claims” to weigh, horse-race-style, against liberal claims. Back then, a more confident media unequivocally labeled the civic outrage represented by such discourse as “extremist” — out of bounds.

The tree of crazy is an ever-present aspect of America’s flora. Only now, it’s being watered by misguided he-said-she-said reporting and taking over the forest.

Then, an outsider’s view from the Independent:

Since Obama’s rise, the US right has been skipping frantically from one fantasy to another, like a person in the throes of a mental breakdown. It started when they claimed he was a secret Muslim, and – at the same time – that he was a member of a black nationalist church that hated white people. Then, once these arguments were rejected and Obama won, they began to argue that he was born in Kenya and secretly smuggled into the United States as a baby, and the Hawaiian authorities conspired to fake his US birth certificate.


This trend has reached its apotheosis this summer with the Republican Party now claiming en masse that Obama wants to set up “death panels” to euthanise the old and disabled. Yes: Sarah Palin really has claimed – with a straight face – that Barack Obama wants to kill her baby.

You have to admire the audacity of the right. Here’s what’s actually happening. The US is the only major industrialised country that does not provide regular healthcare to all its citizens. Instead, they are required to provide for themselves – and 50 million people can’t afford the insurance. As a result, 18,000 US citizens die every year needlessly, because they can’t access the care they require. That’s equivalent to six 9/11s, every year, year on year. Yet the Republicans have accused the Democrats who are trying to stop all this death by extending healthcare of being “killers” – and they have successfully managed to put them on the defensive.


This tendency to simply deny inconvenient facts and invent a fantasy world isn’t new; it’s only becoming more heightened. It ran through the Bush years like a dash of bourbon in water. When it became clear that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, the US right simply claimed they had been shipped to Syria. When the scientific evidence for man-made global warming became unanswerable, they claimed – as one Republican congressman put it – that it was “the greatest hoax in human history”, and that all the world’s climatologists were “liars”. The American media then presents itself as an umpire between “the rival sides”, as if they both had evidence behind them.

It’s a shame, because there are some areas in which a conservative philosophy – reminding us of the limits of grand human schemes, and advising caution – could be a useful corrective. But that’s not what these so-called “conservatives” are providing: instead, they are pumping up a hysterical fantasy that serves as a thin skin covering some raw economic interests and base prejudices.


This Just In: Bears Learn

Somebody get Colbert.

This NYT story (nogators/nogators gets you in) has some real gems. Twenty-odd years ago, when I camped some, I knew that the right thing to do with food on a campsite was get it out of reach:

[C]ampers often stored food in bags, typically hung from cables slung between trees, which inadvertently made for one-stop shopping for bears.

“They had learned that when they saw a bag in the air, there had to be a rope someplace and they learned to bite or slice the line,” said Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, a conservation and recreation group.

That alone is pretty cool, but it gets better. Now there’s a company that makes “bear-proof” canisters that are apparently sort of like giant child-proof medicine bottles. They worked for a while, until one Adironback bear figured them out.

No, I’m not making this up.

The BearVault 500 withstood the ravages of the test bears at the Folsom City Zoo in California. It has stymied mighty grizzlies weighing up to 1,000 pounds in the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park.

But in one corner of the Adirondacks, campers started to notice that the BearVault, a popular canister designed to keep food and other necessities safe, was being compromised. First through circumstantial evidence, then from witness reports, it became clear that in most cases, the conqueror was a relatively tiny, extremely shy middle-aged black bear named Yellow-Yellow.

Some canisters fail in the testing stage when large bears are able to rip off the lid. But wildlife officials say that Yellow-Yellow, a 125-pound bear named for two yellow ear tags that help wildlife officials keep tabs on her, has managed to systematically decipher a complex locking system that confounds even some campers.

Also, apparently Yellow-Yellow now has apprentices.

This is both very cool and mildly menacing.

Absurdly Terse Plot Summaries

These aren’t labeled as such, but these “Uncomfortable Plot Summaries” remind me of nothing so much as the asinine blurbs for shows in the old TV Guide. So often did they miss the point of a given show that I used to say they’d summarize the New Testament as “Jewish carpenter runs afoul of Roman law.”

Anyway, not all of these are funny, but any list that reduces Highlander to “Elderly immigrant destroys property” has to have a few other gems on offer.

Dear Dems: Please listen to Barney Frank

Seriously, check this out. You do not try to argue with the nutbird fringe; as someone once said, you cannot reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.

Anyway, when asked why he (Frank) was supporting Obama’s “Nazi” policies on health care, Frank gave both barrels:

“M’am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like arguing with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it.”

Well, that makes sense

Just the other day I was wondering why Robert Novak hadn’t been part of the chattering idiot masses spreading lies about every move of the Obama administration, and now I have my answer.

It’s because Robert Novak, Douchebag of Liberty, is fucking dead.

Sometimes, people use their talents for evil.

I suppose that it’s possible for someone with excellent video editing skills, an encyclopedic knowledge of the original Star Trek, a healthy (?) appreciation for Nine Inch Nails, and a latent Kirk/Spock Slash obsession to combine their interests in a way that’s not evil, but I’ll be damned if I can think of one.

On the other hand, there’s this.

Wait. You did know about the whole “Kirk/Spock” thing within slash fan fiction, right?


Sorry. And this on the heels of having to explain “hentai” on Sunday. I guess I’m just evil. (Though, in my own defense, this showed up on the premier of Mad Men.)

The coolest thing ever

By now you’ve probably at least heard of the Deep Field experiments with the Hubble; basically, scientists pointed the telescope at an apparently vacant spot in the sky, but turned up the sensitivity and looked for a long time — and discovered that the “black” piece of sky was actually home to thousands of galaxies, some as much as 40 billion light years away.

Go here. Read more. Watch the video. Space is huger than you we can imagine, but this video gives us a little glimpse of the larger universe.

John Scalzi is Made of Win

From here:

[He got] E-mail asking me what my opinion about the current state of the health care debate is, and my response is: There’s a debate? Maybe I’m reading an archaic definition, but “debate” is not synonymous with “ignit bellowsacks at public meetings shouting stupidities to drown out discussion because doughy tearsquirter Glenn Beck told them to,” which is what appears to be going on at the moment. I’m sad for the Republicans, conservatives and others with actual, substantive objections to the current health care plan wending through Congress that a genuine debate is off the boards in favor of a strategy of uninformed tools making asses of themselves for the benefit of television cameras, but this is where that side is at right now. I will say, however, that when the whole of your health care debate strategy is to scream down any discussion at all, you’re pretty baldly acknowledging that you’ve got nothin’.

Debunking the Volt

GM’s been talking about the groundbreaking plug-in hybrid Volt for a while, but now they’ve let the ad men and marketers (read: LIARS) start babbling, and as a consequence we’re now seeing press that suggests that the Volt gets a whopping 230 miles per gallon.

Mark Chu-Carroll over at Good Math, Bad Math explains why this is pure, unadulterated bullshit. The Volt’s cool and all, and in some circumstances could get even better mileage than that, but the mechanisms involved make traditional MPG figures pretty much useless.

The Volt leaves your house in the morning charged from the grid, and can go up to 40 miles without using any gas at all; after 40, though, the electric engine is charged by a small gas generator that will apparently produce about 50 MPG on its own. Consequently, people with short commutes might use zero gallons of gas a week, but people driving in from the burbs would use way more. Touting the 230 figure, though, is just a bunch of suits lying.

GOP Senator Inadvertently Engages Reality

This is rich:

At the town-hall discussion in New Hampshire yesterday, President Obama addressed the ridiculous “death panel” argument the right has been carelessly throwing round. He noted, “The irony is that actually one of the chief sponsors of this bill originally was a Republican — then House member, now senator, named Johnny Isakson from Georgia — who very sensibly thought this is something that would expand people’s options. And somehow it’s gotten spun into this idea of ‘death panels.'”

The president’s remark came soon after Isakson told Ezra Klein that Sarah Palin’s attacks on this are “nuts.” Isakson added, “You’re putting the authority in the individual rather than the government. I don’t know how that got so mixed up. It empowers you to be able to make decisions at a difficult time rather than having the government making them for you…. And it’s a voluntary deal.”

The problem, from Isakson’s perspective, is that he’s now inadvertently defended reality, when his party is committed to doing the opposite. Republican senators aren’t supposed to debunk nonsensical talking points; they’re supposed to repeat nonsensical talking points.

So, Isakson is left with an awkward task: walking back honest support for his own proposal.

The episode ends with Isakson proposing an essentially redundant amendment so he can claim he’s tried to fix the whole “death panel” issue — an issue that has never existed, since his amendment is substantially the same as the existing bill.

Yet Another Excaped Facebook Meme

People is talking about concerts, but they’re all just lists. Lists are boring. Lists with context are more fun, so in that spirit, here’s my list.

Glen Campbell

I have no idea of the year, but he was touring for Rhinestone Cowboy, so assume around ’75 or ’76. I was obsessed with the song as a tyke, and Campbell played Jackson (nobody played in Hattiesburg), so up the highway we went. It’s the only time I ever went to a concert with mom and dad. I remember falling asleep during the opener (a standup comic), and being woken up later to hear the only song I cared about.

The Beach Boys

Or something like them; I was too young to know that, quite frankly, without Brian Wilson they’re all harmonizing doofuses. It was sometime in 1980, when I was ten. My mom took me to the Gulf Coast Coliseum, which was a big deal at the time. I don’t remember really wanting to go, but I must’ve.

ZZ Top

I can nail the year a bit better this time; they were touring on Afterburner, and it was spring semester of 1986. I got a ticket to go for my 16th birthday, but my mother – like any sane parent – wasn’t about to let me drive myself to Jackson for the show. So she and my brother came up, too, and we stayed in the Ramada across the street from the venue. At showtime, I walked across to the concert, where I was almost immediately adopted by a pair of young Marines on leave. I was a small kid, and they kept me from getting hassled by the generous redneck contingent — and also gave me beer. And pot. All in all, a delightful experience.

Eric Clapton

Several times in the early 90s, mostly around the Journeyman tours. The most notable show was in September of 1990, just weeks after he’s played with Stevie Ray Vaughan on SRV’s last night alive. There was no opening act; they just killed the lights, and a cigarette ember floated out on stage and proceeded to play the shit out of a guitar.


Also a few times, but the most fun was in 1990 or 1991 when, over spring break, I found out he was playing in New Orleans that night — with Concrete Blonde opening. I got tickets for my brother and I, and called Mike in Florida to taunt him. “Fuck that,” he said, “we’ll meet you there.” And they did. Amazingly, Frank and I ran into Mike, Joy, and Miche in the hallways between Blonde and Sting. It was also at this show that Sting was busily introducing the world to Vinx.

Concrete Blonde

Yes, as an opener for Sting in ’90, but also as a headliner in Atlanta in ’93 or early ’94, and then again, in the early 21st century at Numbers in Houston. I sorta felt like the same people were at both shows, though we’d gotten a lot older in the intervening decade. Less weird hair. More golf shirts. Sad but true.


In 1998 or so, I guess, in Houston. Same kinda vibe as the later CB show — very Goth Goes Grey. Excellent show, though.


Pensacola, Florida, around 1993/early 1994. The other end of a “shit, we’ve already got these tickets” pact I made with my late college girlfriend. We broke up in early fall of 1993, but already had the Rush and CB shows booked (well in advance). The breakup acrimony was put on hold for the two road trips, weirdly enough.

Dave Matthews Band

Initially, for like $5 at terrible Tuscaloosa bars like the Ivory Tusk in the early 90s, when he was just getting started. Eventually, for like $45 for lawn seats out at the Woodlands in Houston. It’s fun to watch a band get big.

Tom Waits

TWICE, bitches. For Chicago in 1999, I took Frank for his birthday. That was really, really cool. Then, again, last year, we went again here in Houston at Jones Hall. The Chicago gig was smaller and more traditionally weird-Waits, but the Houston gig was pretty damn fine, too. Any Waits is good Waits.

Pearl Jam

Do not miss this band. Even if you don’t really dig them. They’re worth the ticket price, and put on a fantastic show.

Foo Fighters

Same here.

When I last saw them, 5 or 6 years ago at Reliant Arena here in Houston, Grohl asked the crowd “Is that club Numbers still here? Man, I played there a long time ago with my other band, and I was on acid, and they were playing the most fucked up shit on the bigscreen projector.”

Numbers is like that.

Big Head Todd and the Monsters

Numbers is also notorious for shitty acoustics, which sent Mrs Heathen and I to the door only about 20 minutes into a 2002 BHT show. Oh well. It doesn’t bite all bands equally, but some of the worst sound I’ve ever heard has been there.

Son Volt

At the dear, departed Satellite Lounge in Houston, ca. 1997.

Sun 60

At the dear, departed Urban Art Bar (a/k/a Urban Aardvark), ca. 1994. I didn’t know this at the time, but liner notes of S60’s records make clear there’s a connection between their and and Vinx.


At Numbers, which comes up a lot, in support of their first record. This was one of those times that the sounds was good, and Shirley was close enough we could’ve touched her.

Cowboy Junkies

Twice, both in Houston. First at a hall at UH that was nearly perfect acoustically, and then again at (wait for it) Numbers a few years later — though this time the sound was good.


I have seen god, and he is short. Sweet Fancy Moses, do not pass up a chance to see him. Hock something. Sell plasma. Seriously. At the brand-new Toyota Center in 2004, on seats so good we could tell what gauge strings he was using. With Maceo Parker on sax, I kid you not.

Kid Rock

Don’t laugh; that rich kid faux-redneck does a pretty good show. Also, free tickets, since I was consulting for this guy at the time.

Rolling Stones

Twice at Legion Field (Steel Wheels in ’89 and Voodoo Lounge in ’94), one time almost at the Superdome. This is like a whole ‘nother post. Seriously.

Counting Crows

Opened for the Stones in ’94. Their act didn’t mesh well with Legion Field.

Webb Wilder

Small act, sure, but worth picking up on. Many times, in many places, but best at the Satellite.

Gillian Welch

Houston’s Continental Club, around 2000. It was a terrible and rainy night, so turnout was low. It ended up being kind of like about 15 people just hanging out with Welch and Rawlings as they played, which was very cool and very intimate.

Billy Joe Shaver

Also many times in many places, but the best was at historic Gruene Hall, Texas’ oldest dance hall. I shook his hand; he did not shoot me in the face.

Joe Ely and Robert Earl Keen

They’re really separate acts, but Keen does a big picnic show every year, and the encore featured both of them. It’s some serious mainline Texasism, let me tell you. And that’s a good thing. Now pass me a Shiner.

Lyle Lovett

A Houston native, Lovett told a story from the stage of playing honkytonks out in the rural wilds north of Houston as a then-unknown. A lady took advantage of a pause to scream “WE LOVE YOU LYLE.” Without missing a beat, Lovett replied “Yeah, but where were you then?”

The Smithereens

There’s a pattern to seeing some bands: once on the way up, and once on the way back to earth. It’s especially true for acts with long lives, like this one. I saw them headline at Alabama in around 1990 or 1991, and they brought the house DOWN. They were just on FIRE.

Then, 5 or 6 years later, they headlined the music festival at Frank’s alma mater, which was a much smaller gig. It was that night I got to drink beer with Pat DiNizio, which remains a pretty cool memory, especially since I wore out a copy of “Especially For You” in high school.

Poi Dog Pondering

Another headliner at Rhodes’ Rites of Spring.

Cowboy Mouth

It’s a shame they’ve apparently married the fucking House of Blues here, because that means I’ll never see them in Houston again. That place sucks enough to keep me away from this band’s magic; that oughta tell you something.

But if you can see them somewhere else, DO. I’ve seen them at Rhodes in a stone pit, at the old Satellite, at Fitzgerald’s, and at Numbers, and they always turn in a great show.

Rev. Horton Heat

Someday, I’ll tell you the story of how I got to be the coolest big brother on the planet for about 20 minutes.

Robert Plant

Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center, 1989, maybe? A then-unknown Black Crowes opened for him. None of us had any idea who they were when they took the stage, but we ALL went and bought that first record the next day.

The Chukker Set

In the late 80s or early 90s, some adventurous types bought Tuscaloosa’s famed Chukker (now sadly defunct). They renewed the place’s tendency to book interesting acts, which is the only way I ever got to see Sun Ra. They also brought in Clarence Gatemouth Brown and local acts yet to break wide like Man or Astroman?.

Big Audio Dynamite

No, really. Opening for the opener at a U2 show at Legion Field in the early 90s.


Sadly, only twice so far. Once at Legion Field in the early 90s, supra, and then again in 2001 on the longest and best first date EVER; that story deserves its own post, too.

Living Color

No, not Jim Carrey. The other one with Vernon Reid and “Cult of Personality.” Lots of fun, but I still don’t understand why Corey Glover insisted on performing in a BodyGlove Shorty. I mean, it’s fucking HOT in Alabama.


Speaking of hot: at the Woodlands in Houston in 1994 or 1995, probably September. It was night, sure, but still stiflingly, blazingly hot — so much so that this is my only really clear memory of the show. This night was a double-bill; we blazed back to the Urban Aardvark in downtown Houston to see Sun 60 (supra).

John Mellencamp

Son Volt was opening.

Elvis Costello

With Tom at Verizon; it was also the first time I’ve ever seen a line at the MEN’s room and not at the ladies’, which speaks to the demograhics of the show.

Steely Dan

Last year at Verizon. Oldest aggregate concert age EVER. Also, if the bathroom line metric holds, just as much of a sausage-fest as Costello.


My erstwhile attorney and I, at Verizon. Tweedy and co. play a good show; see ’em if you get the chance.

Public Enemy

Once opening for U2 in Birmingham (after BAD), and then again in Jackson, Mississippi in a floating bar on the reservoir called The Dock. There are no words for how surreal that was. Chuck D pronounced the crowd “the off-beat-jumpin’est motherfuckers” he’d ever seen.

Daniel Johnston

Either you don’t know and don’t care, or know and care deeply. Speeding Motorcycle Uber Alles.


I’m a box of poison frogs. It’s a wonderful life.

Kathy McCarty

A few times. Once, as a solo artist at Rockefeller’s like 12 or more years ago. Then lots of other times as part of the Speeding Motorcycle affair.

Tori Amos

At Verizon in 2002. I don’t need to see her again, but I’m glad I’ve seen her once.

Rufus Wainwright

He opened for Tori. I would, however, see him again.

Barenaked Ladies

Yet another Verizon show, this time with Mrs Heathen. They do a really good show.

Franz Ferdinand

Scottish punky power pop. I hope you can understand them when they sing, because you goddamn well can’t understand them when they talk.

Warren Zevon

At Birmingham’s City Stages, 1993, with (I think) Mohney and crew.

Indigo Girls

In August of 1989, after they’d broken wide open that summer. The concert had to be moved to a larger venue, and they were still pretty shocked and dazed by their sudden success. At one point, one of the said “You know, this is really surreal, since six months ago we were playing to 8 people at the Chukker.” And I think I may have been there then, too, ignoring them, drinking beer on the patio.

The Alabama Homecoming Triumverate

In a shocking sequence, University Programs booked three years of genuinely good shows: Ray Charles, the Allman Brothers (who played forEVER), and Bob Dylan. Charles gave the best show, actually, in 1988.

Johnny Shines

A million times at Egan’s in Tuscaloosa. Shines was one of the last if not THE last real Delta bluesman; he was a contemporary of Robert Johnson. That you don’t know who he was just makes clear that Shines passed on the deal Robert apparently took at the crossroads.

Oh, awesome

BoingBoing points us to Dara O’Briain:

Jesus, homeopaths get on my nerves with the old ‘Well, science doesn’t know everything.’ Well, Science knows it doesn’t know everything; otherwise, it’d stop. […]

Just because science doesn’t know everything doesn’t mean you can fill in the gaps with whatever fairy tale most appeals to you.

Just so we’re clear

You Do Not Have Health Insurance. Go. Read.

You do not have health insurance. Let me repeat that. You do not have health insurance. (Unless you are over 65, in which case you do have health insurance. I’ll come back to that later.)

The point of insurance is to protect you against unlikely but damaging events. You are generally happy to pay premiums in all the years that nothing goes wrong (your house doesn’t burn down), because in exchange your insurer promises to be there in the one year that things do go wrong (your house burns down). That’s why, when shopping for insurance, you are supposed to look for a company that is financially sound – so they will be there when you need them.

If, like most people, your health coverage is through your employer or your spouse’s employer, that is not what you have. At some point in the future, you will get sick and need expensive health care. What are some of the things that could happen between now and then?

  • Your company could drop its health plan. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (see Table HIA-1), the percentage of the population covered by employer-based health insurance has fallen every year since 2000, from 64.2% to 59.3%.
  • You could lose your job. I don’t think I need to tell anyone what the unemployment rate is these days.**
  • You could voluntarily leave your job, for example because you have to move to take care of an elderly relative.
  • You could get divorced from the spouse you depend on for health coverage.

For all of these reasons, you can’t count on your health insurer being there when you need it. That’s not insurance; that’s employer-subsidized health care for the duration of your employment.

Once you lose your employer-based coverage, for whatever reason, you’re in the individual market, where, you may be surprised to find, you have no right to affordable health insurance. An insurer can refuse to insure you or can charge you a premium you can’t afford because of your medical history.

You do not have health insurance.

Things we couldn’t possibly like more

A monkey in India has started, apropos of nothing, helping a dude herd his goats. Said monkey has had zero training or guidance, and has apparently just picked it up by watching.

“She takes out the goats for grazing and brings them back. A shepherd is usually required to accompany the goats all day long and bring them back in these hills. But because of her, manpower can be spared. She is as good as a shepherd. The only thing is that she does not speak, but otherwise carries out all responsibilities.”

They say they feel confident that the goats will be safe when Mani accompanies them.

Mani is said to make a strange sound when she discovers a goat is missing or when danger lurks.

“She makes a strange noise if she finds a goat missing. Even though such a large number of goats go out for grazing, nobody accompanies them. If Mani is with them, we are confident that she will bring back the goats safely, wherever they might go.”

Dept. of Embarrassing Admissions

I had not, until a YouTube review of Hughes’ work last night, realized that the song playing while Cameron stares at Seurat’s “A Sunday in the Park…” in Ferris Bueller was an instrumental cover of the Smith’s *Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want. By “Life In A Northern Town” one-hit wonder Dream Academy.


John Hughes?


The director of iconic 80s coming-of-age films had a heart attack on his morning walk. He was 59.

This is an excellent time to note how prolific he actually was; while he’s well known for directing Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), Weird Science (1985), and Ferris Beuller’s Day Off (1986), he also wrote National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) (and, sadly, its sequels), Pretty in Pink (1986), and Some Kind of Wonderful (1987), among others. The Heathen Generation’s youth wouldn’t have been the same without him.

Save Ferris.