SCHOOL: Roger and Dagmar Louis give ideal academic cocktail parties. The head of the British Studies program at the University of Texas and his hyper-competent wife live modestly in Tarrytown. Yet their parties are always packed with fascinating folks, mostly there for the chat, but also the killer Singapore slings. Among the guests Monday were former Texas Secretary of State Geoff Connor, now finishing up his PhD in history — he wouldn’t reveal the topic of his diss — and Miguel Gonzalez-Gerth, distinguished author of "Looking for the Horse Latitudes." Lisa Lacy told me about her book on Lady Anne Blunt, who traveled extensively in the Arab world in the 19th century and became a staunch anti-imperialist. Lacy’s mother, Judith McCracken of Waco, recalled for me the charisma of avant-garde theater director Paul Baker, with whom she studied at Baylor University in the 1950s. I spent the most time, however, with student, playwright and Afghan War veteran Johnny Meyer, who researched his diss on early British special ops soldiers at the Imperial War College in London. A few years ago, Johnny made a splash with his award-winning play, "A Veteran’s Voice," and at the party, we spoke warmly of Peter Brook’s "The Empty Space" and Paul Woodruff’s "The Necessity of Theater," thin matching books of lasting wisdom.
TRAVEL: Maria and Eric Groten regaled us with tales of Africa and Boston later that evening. We met at the delightful and surprisingly calm Searsucker, celebrity chef Brian Malarkey’s seriously satisfying Warehouse District eatery (I indulged in two types of pork belly as well as bartender Carter Wilsford’s exquisite negronis). In Africa, the Groten family, including kids, took advantage of spectacular wildlife outings, but they also visited Turk and Christy Pipkin’s Mahiga Hope High School in Kenya. They reported that the Nobelity Project’s most concrete accomplishment is fully celebrated by students, teachers and parents. Maria plans to help out with the Nobility Dinner later this season. An accomplished triathelete, Maria ran in the Boston Marathon this summer and had just crossed the finish line when the explosions sent clouds of smoke — and people like starlings — in every direction. How anyone found their loved ones after that is a miracle. We also spoke of mutual friend Stephen Moser and his spiritual quest out west. I understand the former Austin Chronicle columnist is back in town.
LAW: Answering the crucial question: Who exactly is drawing our new council district lines?: From Sarah Coppola at the Statesman: "A writer with Cherokee Indian roots. A mechanical engineer. A college student who is an Army veteran. These are some of the 14 people who will draw 10 Austin City Council districts — a first-ever effort that could transform the future of city politics. Austin will be the first city in Texas, and one of the few in the nation, to have citizens and not politicians or political appointees decide on political boundaries. It’s a civic experiment of sorts that was written into a plan that Austin voters approved last fall. "I think it’s important that this be done by ordinary citizens," said commission member Anna Saenz. "I love this city. My husband and I raised our five children here. The people (on the commission) are very committed to this and I feel it will be successful." The City Council will change from seven members who each represent the whole city to 10 district representatives and a citywide mayor. The 11 members will be elected in November 2014. http://shar.es/zPqEs(Every single step toward single-member districts should be watched.)
CITY: It appears that compromise can work when it comes to dense residential development in the urban core: From Shonda Novak at the Statesman: "An Austin-based developer plans to start construction early next year on a 260-unit luxury apartment complex on Lady Bird Lake’s south shore, west of Interstate 35. CWS Capital Partners will demolish a 145-unit apartment complex that currently sit on the 4-acre site at 300 E. Riverside Drive to make way for its project, which will consist of a six-story building and two levels of underground parking, said Greg Miller, vice president of investments for CWS, a real estate investment and development company. The building will be about 75 feet tall, although zoning rules would allow CWS to build up to 96 feet, he said. Rents in the new mid-rise building will average about $2,000 a month. Rents at the existing complex to be razed are about $1,300 a month on average, Miller said." http://shar.es/zPrWS(But where are the affordable units?)
TECH: Forget "Law & Order." The technology isn’t there yet on "zoom and enhance": From Omar Gallaga at the Statesman: ""Zoom in. Enhance!" is a lie. The computer geeks from the Counter Terrorist Unit on "24," Tom Cruise’s gadget crew in the "Mission: Impossible" movies and every person who ever sat at a computer on "CSI" and its many variations taught us to believe. If someone is caught on camera doing something naughty, they’ll be identified. It’s only a matter of time. "Zoom in" on that fuzzy footage. "Enhance!" those pixels. Boom. There’s your guy. And he’s standing right behind you! The reality is that in most cases, surveillance video shot in convenience stores and banks, at ATMs, at mom-and-pop businesses and even at Las Vegas casinos is not great quality. In fact, in 2013, the year when more than half of us are carrying around smartphones, many with the ability to shoot high-definition video at an instant, you’d be surprised by how much of security footage is caught on analog cameras, captured at sub-DVD quality resolutions and (brace yourself) stored on videotape." http://shar.es/zP2Yh(Now it all makes sense. Thanks, Omar.)