Listen up, folks.
May 30, 2016
May 24, 2016

Has it occurred to you that President Obama just won the Vietnam War? The point of that conflict was to stop the spread of communism and frustrate Chinese hegemony. Today Vietnam is technically a communist country, and it is governed by a one-party system, but its economy is open and market-based, and the government is only somewhat oppressive—they have dissidents and Obama almost got to meet some of them. Almost. As for China, they're now foes of Vietnam and we are Vietnam's good buddy. We just sold Vietnam a bunch of Boeing airliners and are about to start selling them weapons. We've been doing business there since the late 1990s.

Obama also put an end to the Cuban Revolution a few months ago. They're still making communist noises, but we all know where it's headed. We're going to own that island.

In Iran, Obama did nothing to dent the revolution, but he did open up access for our creepy tentacles. They're going to Westernize, despite fierce opposition from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The mullahs will resist Westernization out of principle; the IRGC will resist out of self-interest and greed. The elite in and around the Revolutionary Guard have become fabulously rich by penetrating every corner of the Iranian economy without competition from outside companies or investors. Because they are the Revolutionary Guard, they can operate in gray and black markets with impunity. The closed and corrupt Iranian economy makes them wealthy enough to purchase Paris villas. So it will take a while for that system to break down.

Of course, President Obama can't take all the credit for these advances. There's a lot of being in the right place at the right time. Vietnam was a no-brainer; Cuba was obviously ripe, but it did take some political cojones. Semi-rapprochement with Iran was controversial and may not turn out well.

We're running out of crazy little enemies, but there's always North Korea.

May 22, 2016

Boerne, like many other towns, promotes itself. We want to draw visitors who will pay sales taxes, hotel-motel taxes, and like that. We hope that they will shop and leave some of their money behind. What I like about visitors is that they increase the chances that our historic downtown district will remain vibrant.

Three or four years ago we invented the Hill Country Mile. It's a stretch of Main Street (the "Hauptstrasse," according to an earlier German-style promotion), that runs somewhat more than a mile, with downtown at the center. The idea is fashioned after the Miracle Mile in Los Angeles. There are also Miracle Mile Shops in the Las Vegas Planet Hollywood, a Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, another in Stockton, and in several other notable places. Or maybe the Hill Country Mile is inspired by the Magnificent Mile in Chicago. Or the Minnehaha Mile in Minnesota (more than a half-dozen resale shops in a mile!). And then there's the Monster Mile at Dover International Speedway. And the Malaria Mile in Tanzania.

Whatever the inspiration, it's clear that the Hill Country Mile is a creative and original idea conceived by people who don't know about alliteration. It does not bother me that if a Hill Country Mile actually exists, it's in Fredericksburg, the heart of the Hill Country. Their very lively and walkable tourist zone runs 1.5 miles; Boerne's is about six-tenths of a mile of tourist shopping; the rest is ambition and imagination. But we're a spunky little town and we thought of it first.

The original version of Boerne's Hill Country Mile involved tearing up Main Street in a half-dozen places and installing brick crosswalks. It not only screwed up traffic, it cost a whole lot of money. Now, a few years later, nobody notices them. It was an all-time dumb idea.

Having created the Hill Country Mile and its designer crosswalks, the city moved on to other matters. Nobody picked up the idea and ran with it. The downtown merchants didn't seem to care, or didn't have a marketing budget, or something. They don't always get along. The Convention and Visitor's Bureau, which is the natural promoter of civic slogans, never got on the bandwagon. The Hill Country Mile faded.

Now the city is taking another shot at propelling the Hill Country Mile into the forefront of regional consciousness. They started by adding a clever sub-slogan: "More than a mile!" Impressive. Then they printed up some red banners and hung them from the light poles. The re-launch ceremony in the town square drew a crowd of nine.

The city has budgeted $30,000 to promote the Hill Country Mile, mostly in Houston and to some extent in Austin, Dallas and San Antonio. It's not only about visitors: the city's press releases make a point of mentioning that there are good infill locations for development in Boerne's downtown. I guess that's smart. I'd like to see a live/shop/work/play district develop in central Boerne, while letting the big boxes go elsewhere.

Leaving aside the dopey slogan stuff, leaving aside the brick crosswalks, spending money on bringing regional visitors to Boerne is a good idea. But it looks like the Convention and Visitors Bureau is in the back seat on this one; city hall is at the steering wheel. Does that reflect a city hall determination that the C&VB dropped the ball the last time?

Meanwhile, the C&VB, which is located in a historic building in the Wal-Mart parking lot (having moved there from greater downtown) now wants to move back downtown. They say that they're tired of finding homeless people asleep on their porch. I think they want to be on the Hill Country Mile, like everyone else.

May 20, 2016

I do not mean to make light of the EgyptAir tragedy, but wasn't it nice to knock Donald Trump out of the news for a day?

Q

May 19, 2016

Speaking of cooking steak on computerized grills (and I was), we finally got around to trying the new BBQ place in town. At the risk of leading with the punch line, I will note that it does not use an actual fire in an actual pit. It uses a big, stainless steel box with rotating flat racks inside. The heat is provided by natural gas. The smoke is generated by throwing a couple of logs in a smoker box and letting them smolder while the natural gas oven does the work. A convection fan blows the smoke around as the meat rotates on the ferris-wheel rotisserie.

Cooking meat this way turns out a meticulous, precise, consistent product. You can knock out thirty identical briskets a day. Dial up your desired temperature, throw a couple of logs in the smoker, set the timer, push the "start" button and go do something else for a while. Bingo, exactly barbecue, exactly on time. No skill necessary.

I trust that you recognize this as food-industrial science gone mad. We have one other BBQ place in town called "Smoky Mo's" that uses the same sort of Frankenstein smoker ovens. Like the meats at the Texas Meat Co., the result is sanitized and lacking soul. It's like imitation freeze-dried brisket delivered to the International Space Station.

Brisket is what I had. It was tender and moist, but not really juicy. It had almost zero fat. The essential smoke ring was there. The meat had a nice smoky taste. If you're marking off barbecue checkpoints on your clipboard, it is high-quality brisket. If you're looking for sexy, sensuous, tantalizing, juicy, barbecue, go somewhere else.

Everything about the place screams "Chef," when it should be drunkenly shouting "Pitmaster." The little sandwiches are pristine arrangements—a tidy poppy-seed po-boy bun with one slice of brisket on the left, one slice of brisket on the right, a splash of sauce, and special pickles and onions in the center. I'm not saying that it was a bad sandwich; I'm saying that it needed a gardenia garnish.

What I like is a big piece of butcher paper with a pile of sliced brisket, a half-slab of ribs, and a sausage link, with onions, pickles, jalapeños and sauce on the side. Get a plastic fork and knife, grab some squishy white bread and go to work.

At this new place there are no pork ribs to be had. There's a pig on the sign, but inside no sliced pork, pork chops, pork tenderloins, spare ribs, baby back ribs, or quail breasts wrapped in bacon. No pork, except something called "Kahlua Style" pulled pork. It's Hawaiian, you see. Whole pigs cooked in a pit topped with banana leaves or something. I'm guessing that in this case the hole in the ground is an expensive oven, the leaves are tinfoil, and the pig is a pork butt. Maybe there's a banana leaf somewhere in there. One catch: "Kahlua" is a liqueur; "Kalua" is a Hawaiian style of pork. So for all I know they're pouring Black Russians on their piggie. I didn't try it. I don't think it's very Texas.

Texas Meat Co., right? There are nine lunch-menu plate choices. Three of them are seafood (salmon, shrimp, oysters). Another is an iceberg lettuce wedge. Coming in fifth is a stuffed baked potato with some chopped brisket. That's five of nine, not meat. What you're left with in the meat department is sliced brisket, a chopped brisket taco (taco, I say), smoked turkey, and the Happy Hawaiian pork. (There are a few more meats available by the pound, such as beef short ribs.)

This whole chef thing has gotten out of hand. These guys do not belong anywhere near a brisket. Here's how bad it is: the place is cleaner than a hospital operating room. Tidy, tidy, tidy. One of my favorite BBQ joints, LC's in Kansas City, has a thin coating of grease on everything. It refuses to be cleaned up. You have to wear sneakers and walk carefully or you'll end up skidding across the room. I'm sorry to say that clean seems to be a trend in barbecue. My generation marks the end of the era of smoke and grease, which is where all the flavor comes from.

Sigh. What it is, is big city barbecue. It's culinary-school barbecue. It's institutional barbecue. It's heartless barbecue. It's mass-production barbecue. It's laboratory barbecue. It's airport barbecue. The owners must have dreams of a chain of these things. What they need is a bunch of Millennial customers, and there are plenty of those to be found. They would like the salmon, oysters and shrimp. I'm not sure about the iceberg lettuce wedge. Kale might be more popular.

May 19, 2016

Lifted from the New Yorker.

May 17, 2016

Back to our recent jaunt to NYC. When I think of New York, I think of the old-style New York steakhouse. Downstairs, dark, white tablecloths, waiters in vests and aprons, and big, juicy steaks. First class all the way. So we made reservations at BLT Prime, a popular steakhouse, one night.

I didn't make it that far. The night before was rainy and we didn't have restaurant reservations, so we ducked into Bobby Flay's Bar Americain. It's supposed to be sort of a French brasserie, but American. The steak craving hit me, so I ordered the New York Strip. The next night, at BLT Prime, I ordered what they called a Kansas City Strip—a bone-in strip that's known in Kansas City as a Club Steak.

At Flay's place I ordered the meat medium-rare, as I recall. At BLT I ordered it rare-plus, which is not quite medium rare. In both cases the steak came out in a sad condition that I shall call "New York Rare."

To make a New York Rare steak, start out with lean high-quality beef, cut two inches thick. Although the menu may declare, as BLT's did, that it is "28-day dry aged Prime bone-in strip," don't worry about the details. In particular, don't serve true Prime beef, because it will be heavily marbled and won't perform well as New York Rare. You want lean beef like round steak you see in Wal-Mart: dark red, solid, not a fleck of fat to be found.

Heat a grill as hot as you can get it. Screaming, blazing hot. Rub some secret stuff on the steak, let it sit at room temperature for a while, then throw it on the grill. Leave it just long enough to sear the outside; flip it, sear again, and plate it. The resulting steak will have one-sixteenth of an inch of cooked exterior surface; all of the interior will be room-temp, dark red, and dense. Give the diner a big, serrated steak knife, because he's going to need it.

A Prime steak is marbled. Properly cooked, a marbled steak is tender and juicy. It needs to be cooked slowly, giving the fat time to render and the proteins time to break down. A rare steak is red and just warm (125 degrees) in the center—in the center, I say. The steak should gradually go from a seared exterior to the red center; the transition should not occur in a sixteenth of an inch. The resulting steak will be noticeably different than the raw steak sitting on the counter.

At BLT I cut off a chunk of the steak and picked it up in my fingers. I gave it a good squeeze. Nothing came out. Where's the juice? Raw meat through and through.

No more steak in NYC for me.

I should point out that both restaurants turned out to be big, corporate affairs without the touch of an on-premises owner-chef. They probably use steak algorithms on computerized grills. Flay's place was tired and two-thirds empty. BLT was a loud, hellish place suitable for drunk young bankers. So I didn't get to try the offerings at what I would consider a traditional NY steakhouse.

I should also point out that I have no business complaining, because I've had two or three steak-cooking fails of my own lately. I caught myself drifting too far toward medium or medium-well, then I overcompensated. I've started using a thermometer.

May 16, 2016

Boerne wants a new city hall. The need has been obvious for a long time. The solution is subject to some debate, mostly over whether to expand the existing building (an old, grand, stone schoolhouse) or to build a new building on a big Main Street tract the city bought a few years ago. I favor the new location for all sorts of potential efficiencies, but I understand why some folks would rather remodel and expand.

At the last city council meeting the city tried to move forward with planning and design for the new building. Staff provided preliminary concept drawings for a monumental city hall straight out of the City Beautiful Movement, surrounded by a Wal-Mart parking lot. They informed the council and the public that the projected price tag had somehow swollen from $12 million to somewhere between $15 million and $22 million (which means $30 million).

I don't think that the public has been paying much attention to the plans, but there were enough critics in the audience to put on a pretty good display of anger. The council backed off a bit, tabling the matter for 30 days.

Our city manager of many, many, way too many years is retiring soon, and I imagine that he'd like to build a dreamy city hall before he leaves, so any delay frustrates him. He doubtless has a vision of a plaque with his name on it, perhaps next to a statue of himself, swimming with the dolphins.

This is yet another insider project where the city tries to do some big spending without getting the public involved. It's how cities work. The folks at city hall will protest that they have raised the issues at other council meetings and held a public workshop and blah, blah, but that's not how the public gets their information, and the city knows that. Boerne repeatedly faces public ire because it fails to proactively and effectively communicate. It's a risk of our insider-game, good-old-boys tactics.

The public gets its information from the newspapers. And Facebook, I guess. Coverage of Boerne affairs in the San Antonio paper is spotty. Our local papers are dreadful. They never go looking for anything, never lob in a few questions, never apply critical thinking. Our local reporters go to the public meetings, take some notes, and write up the usual crap. Anyone who gets their local news from the newspapers is decidedly under-informed.

In a situation like this, the city's public relations coordinator (yes, we have one) should write up a media release about the plans for a new city hall and spoon-feed it to the local papers. She should do that more than once, so the citizens get accustomed to the idea and feel like they're included in the process. Citizens with questions or complaints can contact city hall, or the mayor, or their council member. By the time the matter comes before council for action, it's old news.

The city should take this approach on every big project and on many smaller ones. If they want an informed public (which maybe they don't), they need to push the news out, not assume that our pitiful local information channels will do the job for them.

I've said this to people at city hall directly more than once, but they still whine about citizen complaints arising at what they perceive as the eleventh hour. It's not the eleventh hour, Bub; the peasants just got wind of what you've been working on for the last year. Learn to communicate. Lead the bird.

May 16, 2016

Grumpy-butt Britt Hume solved the overinflated transgender bathroom crisis yesterday with one simple phrase. "Don't ask, don't tell, don't show."

May 14, 2016

Today was the Boerne Art Waddle. It was also the day of the month for Market Days in the town square. It always rains for Market Days, so it rained on the Waddle.

Still, there was a good crowd, especially in the morning before the precipitation event. Around noon, the first massive crack of thunder and lightning pretty well shut the Waddle down. Most artists packed it in by 2:00 or so.

I sold a painting. Surprise!

It's a good local event that's growing every year. It deserves community support and participation.

May 10, 2016

This post has been revised to make it less idiotic.

Here's a wise old cliché: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. This bathroom gender thing flared up because we forgot that rule. Few incidents arise because of bathroom gender cross-pollination. It's just never been an issue. Either very few people do it or very few people get caught doing it. (You're worried about men in the bathroom with little girls? Based on the news lately, I'd be more worried about men in the bathroom with little boys.)

But someone wanted to make a point. A segment of LGBT advocates and supporters wants official printed laws establishing that we can choose our gender and have the legal right to use the bathroom bathroom, locker room and shower that matches our chosen gender, personal plumbing notwithstanding. Result: muchos panties in a wad.

If one North Carolina city hadn't decided to create a solution in search of a problem, the legislature wouldn't have gotten riled up. You never would have seen that birth-certificate business, but someone just couldn't leave well enough alone. Now we have Loretta Lynch attempting an Anaconda Vise Chokehold on the state.

I understand both sides of the issue, which is why my advice would have been "don't touch that thing." That advice would have been spurred, in part, by my perception that it's no big deal either way. Would you like to dress and behave like the opposite gender without all the muss and fuss of a sex-change operation? Fine. Help yourself. None of my business. I don't care. But you look silly in that dirndl.

I went to take a pee at a restaurant in NYC last week. They had two women's rooms and three gender-neutral rooms. If you want to take an unambiguous man-pee, take it outside. Does that obvious man-shaming make me angry? No, it makes me sigh.

Here's the issue that I see. If I can determine my own gender according to personal preference, regardless of biological fact (I'm good with the idea to this point), and receive legal protections based on that decision (wait a minute), do all protections and advantages legally allocated on the basis of sex now apply on the basis of self-selected gender identity? Is a self-selected female with male junk entitled to government contract preferences for women-owned businesses? Can a male biological specimen who identifies as a female—without going through surgery, therapy, and such—bring a lawsuit for some sort of discrimination against women in the workplace? Whoa, better think that through.

If I can access legal rights by self-selected gender, what other self-selected legal rights can I obtain? I'm not making fun of the idea—I'm saying, what other self-perceived identities might I sincerely and wholeheartedly feel that the law should recognize and respect? Remember Rachel Dolezal, the white gal who self-identified as black and headed up the NAACP in Spokane? So what's wrong with that? Should she be afforded affirmative action educational access? Should she count as a minority hire for her employer's workplace diversity?

Elizabeth Warren claimed to be a native American because her grandmother gave her that old line about a Cherokee princess ancestor. If Ms. Warren sincerely believed it, if she felt it in her bones, who are we to insist that her heritage identity align with historic facts? She should be entitled to a share of tribal benefits, right?

The problem is summed up in another old cliché: Slippery slope.