Changing Austin

even the sign is new

even the sign is new

I hate that Austin is changing, but when I look at much of the change, I can’t deny that its better. This hiperstercrit blog sentiment and list of changes is one of my favorites.

My poster example of change, is the house opposite mine, a 74-year old Hispanic guy lived there alone, he was so financially broke he couldn’t afford to retire; his hands were twisted and ineffective but he still did plumbing work. His only real pleasure was playing scratch cards, I’d often bump into him over at the corner store. He died last year, my neighbor and I agreed to put a bid in for his home, clean it up and modernize it, and rent it out at an affordable price using the property itself as an investment, rather than the rent as income. It was an old school south Austin shotgun duplex.

His nephew was in charge of the estate wanted $450k for the house. We looked it over, inside was awful, he hadn’t done any real maintenance, decoration, or refurbishment and our contractor reckoned it would cost $150k to sort out the piller/beam, the floors, a/c, electrical etc. We offered $350k but it was refused. They sold for $420k to Sett Studios. The city applied for Historic, the neighbors all wrote in opposition to the Historic zoning, the city withdrew the application. It will likely be replaced some some variant of this, which is two doors down on the same block.

So is Austin changing, do I blame people like me moving in? Yes to a point. I’m part of the problem. On the other hand, would anyone have paid the $450k and refurbished, no! Can I blame the nephew for asking a high price, absolutely not. Could you really ask someone to live in the house as it was, not really, although I’m sure some do it’s really not what we should be aiming for in the USAs fastest growing city, absolutely and totally not. This isn’t change for change sake, it’s necessary regeneration.

The “Welcome to Austin” mural is a perfect analogy of change. Yes, it has changed, although most won’t have noticed. Back in early 2013, I asked Todd Sanders at Road House Relics if he had any plans to repair/refurbish the mural? I introduced Todd to the folks at the neighborhood association, and contacted a personal friend who is in a senior position at the AUSTIN CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU, and a few months later the wall was stripped, and perfectly repainted by a team from Creative Action. It’s new, it’s vibrant, the only way you can spot the change, the new mural says (C) 2013 top-left. Change is inevitable.

of by for

With Senator Ted Cruz and other right wing nutty boyz lining up to be our next President; and yes, I will be a US Citizen by the end of the next Presidents first term, it’s worth asking yourself…

If the US Government has been bought by big business, who sold it?

Of by for is independent and fiercely non-partisan film that looks at how Washington and the US Government works. You can stream it from Vimeo, Amazon instant video and other fine distribution systems (aka iTunes). Of by for was bought to you, in part, with financial assistance of this non-citizen.

insidious greed – HSBC

If you’ve not been following along today, it’s well worth reading back through the BBC Business Live News feed on the HSBC Tax Avoidance scandal. It is indeed the perfect example of the sort of insidious greed that is destroying society today.

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It’s not just the “me” culture that is all around us, but the industry and culture that is behind it. Rather than pay taxes now, there is a whole industry on tax-avoidance. It’s become an accepted practice, mostly illegal, certainly immoral and to deflect interest in their actions, just like with the bully at school, they deflect criticism and investigation away from their own failings, by making a big deal about those who can least defend themselves.

The amount of tax avoided, mostly illegally, by the HSBC 7,000 will have gone along way to dealing with many of challenges that the UK is currently facing, and the austerity measure they are taking.

Add to that the same offshore tax dodges being employed by large companies, and the industry of sleeze ball consultants, awarded for advising, aiding, and making this possibly, doing everything from advising, writing, and ultimately even joining governments to implement tax policy that facilitates this has got to stop.

It’s easier to blame welfare cheats, immigrants, in fact anyone than themselves. Here in Texas we have both past Governor Perry, and current Governor Abbott continually railing against the Federal Government. Under Governor Perry, we had the HHSC(Ed: no relation) contract scandal, with the State going with a no-bid contract, with little oversight and unclear results to again go after the “little people“. It’s much easier to make them the problem than deal with the problem of insidious greed of the wealthy and their legions of shills.

hsbc taxWatch this extract from the BBC Panorama show to get a quick summary, or read the summary here.

Texas as a playground for rich Mexicans

After the recent fuss over alleged Muslim “no-go”  areas in Europe and,  specifically the UK,  which are total nonsense,  Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal better meet with Texas Senator Ted Cruz and start talking about a wall along the Tejas border with Louisiana.

At least down in Southern California, they think swathes of Texas are already a playground for middle and upper classes from Northern Mexico.  Gotta love uninformed,  speculation. Back at ya ‘Merica

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Something for the weekend – Ruby Ridge

I continue to try to get behind some the things held as “norms” here in Texas, and more broadly in America. This week has seen many examples of the gun lobby an the freedom from big government get riled up.

Even as a Brit’ I watched with amazement the FBI “invasion” at the Siege of Waco on UK TV. But the whole episode waas too easily dismissed when you stand back and look at those involved, almost as easy as “nut jobs!”.

I came across the story of a Texas Resident John Joe Gray, who is still holed up as a fugitive after 15-years, in his wooded, 50-acre ranch about 100-miles southeast for Fort Worth. I read into his case to see if that would show how many of the gun, freedom fighters had drawn their fear of being disarmed. Nothing really, if this report in the Houston Chronicle is true, not the cause célèbre I was looking for the cops are ignoring him.

11487373-standard[1]After reading an article on John Joe Gray, I came across a link pointing to the Retro Report and their video on the American Standoff at Ruby Ridge in 1992. Fascinating stuff. Ruby Ridge preceded the Waco Siege by almost a year, and at least for me, was unknown.

Having watched through to the end, I can certainly see the seeds of mistrust in the Federal Government, government overreach etc. It’s easy to extrapolate from there. Hundreds of smaller incidents, someone constantly telling you about the bogeyman, eventually you believe it.

Watch along, if you hadn’t heard of Ruby Ridge Idaho, you will after that. Something for the weekend?

Ruby Ridge: American Standoff from Retro Report on Vimeo.

Two small deposits

I’ve often commented on my absolute disdain for the US Banking system. I’ve been poking around with what I can do to remove some of the barrier to the time delay and inefficiency in the system.

I used my online banking system to add the bank details of a friend. I did it by adding it as an “external account”, providing the ABA routing number and the account number. It informed me that two small deposits would be made into the account, and once I had the details to come back and confirm.

I emailed my friend and said I’d done it and why, and asked to be notified when they arrived and what they were. Once notified, I confirmed with my online bank and immediately did an online funds transfer of $100, it arrived overnight. Next day, I initiated a transfer from my friends account of $50, again, it arrived overnight. I then did another transfer of $50, no problem.

So, while there is no way for me to do any formal set-up or account management, without a single signature, and as far as we can see, no way for my friend to stop me crediting, or more importantly debiting from their account. I’m hopeful that a call to the bank could stop it, surely?

For the record, we bank at completely different banks. Yep, the US Banking system truly sucks, 3rd world at best of function and performance. Out of this world on profits though…

Farewell to “alms”

I wrote to the Austin Chronicle a couple of weeks back to follow-up on their quote of the week, from departing Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

“It is important to remember that there are over 860,000 people living in Austin. Sometimes it can be difficult to keep this in mind when you’re facing 200 loud voices in the Council Chamber.”

My observation, from being one of those 200 8-10x during Leffingwells tenancy, and addressing the dais probably 3-4 times, was

So, our rail or fail Mayor Leffingwell reminds us that there are some 860,000 people in Austin, and it’s hard to remember that when confronted by 200 loud voices in the chamber [“Quote of the Week,” News, Jan. 9].
Perhaps if he’d been more of a leader, less confrontational, and paid more attention to the issues of those various 200 people, he’d have been elected in 2012 by more than a paltry 10% of Austin voters.
Voter apathy in Austin is legend, and you get what you vote for.

Fellow Austin rail advocate, Andrew Clements followed up my letter aka “piled on” in a follow-up letter, it’s a much better summary of the Leffingwell era, or “legacy” .

News of the Weird

The news of the weird column in the weekly Austin Chronicle is an interesting thing. Published by Chuck Shepard, it’s is mostly extracted, printed, and syndicated verbatim from http://www.newsoftheweird.com/syndicate.html. It’s a mix of quirky, surreal articles, many of which you would’t share with your mother or your children.

The case of Richard Rosario though deserves to be on other pages, it’s news of the bizarre. If true as reported, it’s one of those things that shows, you are only one unlucky break from having your life totally disrupted and bellies the truth behind the American system of fare just for all. You can hear the details of the story here.

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Banking like it’s 1985

Every time I deal with my UK bank, I’m reminded how utterly useless, inefficient, and expensive the US Banking system is. I just paid my UK credit card from my UK bank and got this response

The payment has been accepted by the beneficiary’s bank who advise that it will be credited by the next working day.

Yes, I paid it on Saturday from FirstDirect, a subsiduary of HSBC. The payment was sent direct to MBNA Limited(UK) bank, who accepted it and will credit it to my account on Monday.

Old%20Bank[1]I then went and paid my US CapitalOne credit card from my US bank, Austin Texas based Amplify FCU.  The payment process will not be started until banking hours Monday(8am Central), and not received until Wednesday, and if I’m lucky, credited on Thursday…

Yes, I know if I was lucky enough to have a banking account with the same Bank as my credit card company banks with, the payment would be within 24-hours, but that’s just coincidence, not design.

In other news, I set up one of those funky external account transfers this week to a friends account. You know one of those where they make two small deposits, and if you have access to the account, you confirm the amounts to your banking system. After that, you have credit and debit authority on your friends account. Keep banking weird.

A U.S. federal law of 1996 required the federal government to make electronic payments such as direct deposit available by 1999. Shame the rest of the US, ACH backed banking system has caught up yet.

The Disturbance Business

I had a fairly exhaustive discussion about some of the topics I’d posted on here, with one of the guys in the neighborhood recently. He asked why I bother.

It was a pretty simple/easy response for me. I often use these blog posts as a way to organize my thoughts on a subject or issue. Yeah, he said, but why? My answer, well because I’d like to either get things changed or make sure people understood that the status quo isn’t the only way it could be. Yeah, he said, but why?

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I’ve seen a couple of things over the last week that both resonated with me, and I think are the reason why. The first was a quote from Alan Turing, used ne in the movie The Imitation Game, it was used a few times. It’s not that I associate what I write has any real significance, it’s also not that I equate myself with the like of great people like Turing. It’s simply that often, the best ideas come from people you least expect.

More directly though, last night I watched Atul Gawandes’ annual BBC Reith Lectures, “Why Do Doctors Fail?” at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum on October 16, 2014. In the introduction, Sue Lawley for the BBC, referred to the John F Kennedy quote

Too often we… enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought

This seems to me to be a fairly accurate description of a lot of peoples thoughts on a wide range of topics todays pressing topics, local, national and International.

When introducing Gawande, Lawley describes his work as being “as much about attitudes, systems and human behavior as it is about medical research”, Gawande is self described as “being in the disturbance business”. This is pretty representative of my 41-years in Computing/Information Technology, I’ve been in the disturbance business. So, for 2015, I re-confirm to these three things.

  1. Be Thoughtful
  2. Be Imaginative
  3. Challenge the status quo.

Ken Weiss does a good job of breaking down the disturbance business over on the Mermaid’s Tale blog.