Wells Dunbar

Senior Online Editor

As  online editor for KUT News, Wells Dunbar covers news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond. Before joining KUT, Wells served as staff writer and news blog editor at The Austin Chronicle, and covered the Texas Legislature for Gallery Watch. Hailing from El Paso, Wells is a longtime Austin resident whose interests include technology and social media, film and music, and spending quality time with his wife, child and cat.

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Business
1:25 pm
Sat September 22, 2012

Is Austin’s Apple Maps Experience an Epic Fail?

KUT News eyes two errors in this Apple map of downtown Austin. But despite some hiccups, Austin errors aren't as ubiquitous as they are in several other cities.
twitter.com/rdmurphy

Computing giant Apple has released the newest iteration of its mind-bogglingly popular iPhone. But Apple continues to grab headlines for a less-PR friendly reason: reaction to its new maps program, which replaces Google Maps on the iPhone 5 and in Apple’s latest operating system update.

A complete failure.” “Epic fail.” “Things can only get better.”

Criticism is pouring in on several fronts. While Apple’s maps are lauded for their graphic beauty, including a breathtaking 3D “Flyover” feature, the app is being criticized for receiving a rollout before being fully cooked. Its satellite graphics appear bubbly and distorted in several instances. Directions and details have been ubiquitously downgraded in some areas. And a big dealbreaker for iPhone users in many major cities is Maps’ lack of built-in public transit schedules and directions, which Google Maps has.

But so far, Austin seems to have been spared the worst of the brunt.

Austin’s Apple Maps experience seems to be relatively smooth compared to those in other cities. For starters, it’s rendered in 3D, while many other cities aren’t. Chris Carter, an Austin-based Apple independent developer, says "the 3D technology that they're using actually generates the 3D models from multiple angles of satellite images."

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Business
5:38 pm
Fri September 21, 2012

Coke Workers in Fort Worth Can Union Bid

Had a unionization vote passed in Fort Worth, it would have been the Coca-Cola's company's first union shop in the South.
flickr.com/huffstutterrobertl

Yesterday, Coca-Cola workers in Fort Worth rejected an offer to unionize at their bottling plant.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the vote, which failed 215 to 191, would have made the bottling plant the first corporately-owned Coke plant in the south to unionize.

In that respect, the fact that the vote failed may be less surprising than the fact it made it that far in the first place. (The Star-Telegram notes that the vote represented the second attempt to join the Teamsters in as many years.)

As a “right to work” state, Texas has a low amount of union activity. And like most states around the country, the strongest unionization occurs in the public sector – making the scene in Fort Worth all the more surprising.

“I always tell people we don’t have unions in the Unites States,” says Dan Hamermesh, professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin. “And in the private sector nationwide, we don’t. Eight percent are unionized nationwide. In Texas it’s way below that … but my guess is four percent in the private sector here in Texas. So it’s a very non-union state.”

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Tunisia
4:36 pm
Fri September 21, 2012

Tunisian Students Reflect on Their Time in Austin

Khaoula Nagati and Salma Abed have been with the KUT News room the last few weeks.
KUT News

For the past two weeks, KUT News has hosted two students from Tunisia: Salma Abed, 22, and Khaoula Nagati, 23.

Traveling from Tunsia, to Washington D.C., to Austin and back again, Abed and Nagati are part of a traveling delegation of Tunisian journalism students, sponsored by the International Center for Journalists.

Abed graduated from the Institute of Press and Information Sciences in June 2011, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in electronic journalism. Nagati also graduated from the Institute of Press and Information Sciences.  

We asked Abed and Nagati to describe their experiences in Austin. They accompanied reporters from KUT on a preview of a futuristic design exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center on the UT campus, a event announcing a Formula 1-related scholarship program for the Del Valle school district, and an Austin Police press conference regarding pedestrian fatalities. Their visit also came as protests rocked the Middle East, tied in part to an inflammatory anti-Muslim film, and a bomb hoax on the UT campus evacuated the KUT newsroom.

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Texas
2:06 pm
Fri September 21, 2012

That's A Lot of Cat: North Texas Tabby Weighs In at 41 Pounds

Skinny's size has attracted notice - and a plethora of potential adoptive families.
Richardson Animal Shelter

Cats love attention, but a feline at the Richardson Animal Shelter outside of Dallas is positively gobbling it up.

Skinny the Cat is a five year-old tabby. So far, so normal. But there’s more to this cat – a lot more. Skinny weighs in at 41 pounds.

Skinny’s size attracted the notice of the Associated Press, which reported on the North Texas tabby.  And thankfully, now the animal center is deluged with calls from folk looking to care for the cat.

“We have fielded a lot of calls,” says Dennis Wooten, manager of the Richardson Animal Center.  “The challenge now is sorting throw all those calls to find out what’s best for Skinny.”

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Austin
11:53 am
Fri September 21, 2012

Austin Homeowner's Hanging of Empty Chair Ignites Online

An Austin homeowner's hanging of an empty chair, since cut down, sparked a tense discussion of whether it was a symbolic hanging of Pres. Barack Obama.
burntorangereport.com

When is an empty chair not an empty chair?

A northwest Austin homeowner has cut down a nondescript folding chair hanging from a tree in his yard, after a local blog’s allegations the hanging chair was a symbolic “lynching” of President Barack Obama created a firestorm in the blogosphere.

Liberal Texas politics blog Burnt Orange Report (BOR) first reported on the chair on Wednesday. BOR editor Katherine Haenschen, who wrote that BOR was emailed the photo from a reader, wasted no time expressing her anger with the statement:

Now, one could easily argue "it's just a chair, what's the big deal? That's not racist!"

However, in light of Clint Eastwood's speech at the Republican National Convention, in which he had a largely one-sided conversation with an empty chair he pretended was Barack Obama, this imagery is now associated with the President.

The image of the chair is associated with the President. Now, lynch that chair from a tree, and you've got a pretty awful racist sentiment calling for lynching the first African-American President!

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Business
4:52 pm
Thu September 20, 2012

Are American Airlines Pilots Staging a 'Sickout?'

American jets at Chicago O'Hare International Airport. The Dallas=based company has canceled hundreds of flights this week.
flickr.com/matt_hintsa

American Airlines has one canceled arrival at Austin Bergstrom International Airport this evening. While that may not sound like much – at least not to anyone booked on that flight – it may be symptomatic of a broader problem for Dallas-based American Airlines.

Against the backdrop of a labor struggle, American has seen some 300 flights canceled this week, as according to reports, pilots are calling in sick.

According to CBS News,

American has seen an increase in flight cancelations since early this month, when a federal bankruptcy judge allowed the company to impose new pay and work rules on pilots. The pilots had rejected the company's last contract offer in August.

Those new work rules increase the amount of flying hours on pilots, and allow American to operate more flights through partner airlines instead of American flight crews, according to CNNMoney.

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Arts and Culture
4:11 pm
Thu September 20, 2012

Fiona Apple Arrested in Texas; Austin Concert Canceled

Dan Monick, facebook.com/fionaapple

Update 5 (Oct. 11): A sad denouement in the Fiona Apple saga: Word comes today that singer-songwriter Apple will not be rescheduling her postponed Sept. 20 ACL Live performance; instead, it will be canceled. According to the social ticketing platform Ticketfly, customers who purchased tickets will be refunded the purchased amount in five to ten days.  

Update 4 (Sept. 24): The Fiona Apple arrest saga, in the words of indie music website Pitchfork, "just keeps getting crazier." On Friday, Sept. 22, Pitchfork posted video of Apple's performance in Houston, the day after her canceled Austin concert.  The performer excitedly spoke about her time in jail, making reference to "inappropriate and probably illegal" behavior on the part of four sheriff's office employees, and cryptically referring to secret evidence of her mistreatment she left behind at the jail: 

I'm the only one who holds the key, and you and I will be intimate forever because I will hold that secret forever. Unless of course the celebrity that you had so much interest in but you wanted to accuse me of bringing up while you laughed at me all night? 

You can read more here (some language may not be safe for work.) 

Today, Hudspeth County Sheriff's Department Public Information Officer Rusty Fleming released a statement telling Apple to "just shut-up and sing." The letter also seemingly brags about Hudspeth County's reputation for arresting traveling musicians and celebrities on drug-related charges: 

[Have] you ever heard of Snoop, Willie or Armand Hammer? Maybe if you would read something besides your own press releases, you would have known BEFORE you got here, that if you come to Texas with dope, the cops will take your DOPE away and put YOU in jail...

A make-up date for Fiona Apple's Austin performance has yet to be announced, but her North American dates are currently scheduled through Oct. 21. 

Update 3: KUT News has received this statement from the Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Office: 

September 20, 2012

Sierra Blanca, Texas

On September 19, 2012 at approximately 8 pm. a 2004 White and Blue Prevost Tour Bus traveling eastbound on I-10 approached the U.S. Border Patrol Checkpoint located in Sierra Blanca, Texas. During a routine check of U.S. citizenship the inspecting Border Patrol agent, a canine detected the presence of concealed humans and/or controlled substances emitting from the inside of the vehicle and requested the driver to pull into the secondary inspection lane for further inspection. The agent requested all subjects to exit the bus so that a canine working the checkpoint could conduct an inspection of the vehicle. Upon entering the bus the canine alerted to a blue colored back-pack. A further search produced a glass container containing marijuana weighing 0.010 lbs. Also inside the glass container was a small plastic container holding a brown-clay-like substance that later tested positive for hashish. (Also weighing .010 lbs)

Fiona Apple Maggart, freely admitted that the controlled substances belonged to her and she was placed under arrest by U.S. Border Patrol agents and detained. At approximately 930pm the Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Office was contacted and upon arrival, Ms. Maggart was taken into custody and transported to the Hudspeth County jail. The next day September 20 Ms. Maggart posted a $10,000 bond and was released shortly after.

No other information is available at this time. 

Update 2 : KUT News just heard from ACL Live at the Moody Theater. Tonight's concert has been postponed. Additional information will be posted on the theater's website and on social media this afternoon. The concert will be rescheduled, with all tickets for good for the future performance.

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Austin
9:17 am
Thu September 20, 2012

Photos: Space Shuttle Endeavor Buzzes Downtown Austin

Conrad Stoll

We asked, and you delivered: Several KUT listeners have emailed photos of the Space Shuttle Endeavor flight over Austin this morning. Above, take a look at photos from this historic occasion.

As KUT News wrote earlier this morning, after refueling in South Texas, the space shuttle will continue on its way towards Los Angeles where it will be placed on permanent display at the California Science Center.

weather
4:21 pm
Fri September 14, 2012

Travis County Burn Ban Lifted

Recent wet weather means the end of the burn ban - for now.
National Weather Service

With Travis County receiving several inches of rain in the last 24 hours, a burn ban for the county is no longer in effect. 

Travis County Fire Marshal Hershel Lee lifted the burn ban for the region today. It was initially scheduled to last until Oct. 3. The lift will be in effect until  at least Sept. 18, when the county commissioners court will consider the ban once more.

Officials still remind citizens to abide by state regulations when burning any materials outdoors. You can find more information on the fire marshall’s website

Austin
3:50 pm
Fri September 14, 2012

At Capacity, Austin Animal Center Holding Adoption Special This Weekend

It's a flood of cats and dogs at the Austin Animal Center.
KUT News

The Austin Animal Center is once again deluged with dogs and cats – many of them separated from their owners due to the weather.

“It happens every time. Every single time there’s a storm, we just brace ourselves,” says Sarah Hammond, foster coordinator with the Austin Animal Center. “And sure enough, this is not any different. We were pretty much already running at capacity, so a spike like that is really hurting us.”

Hammond tells KUT News that the center took in 67 animals in the last day, before it even opened. Once their doors opened at 11 a.m., another 25 animals have been taken in.

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Austin
2:39 pm
Fri September 14, 2012

UT Bomb Scare Over; Questions Remain

Photo by Mose Buchele, KUT News

Update (2:30 p.m.): Overview of what happened

People are allowed back into buildings on the University of Texas campus after an evacuation at 9:55 this morning. UT officials received a bomb threat around 8:30 from a man they described as having a middle eastern accent. They said he claimed to have planted bombs all over campus. The caller said they were going to go off in 90 minutes.

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Weather
4:43 pm
Thu September 13, 2012

Cold Front, More Rain for Austin

Tonight’s forecast is mostly cloudy with a good chance of showers and thunderstorms.
National Weather Service

More rain chances and cooler temperatures are on tap for Austin.

The National Weather Service predicts a cold front and continuing rain chances in South Central Texas tonight. By Friday, that will mean lows in the mid-60s and a high in mid-80s for the Austin region. The NWS predicts a high chance of rain for Central Texas as well – an inch to an inch and a half, with two to four inches possible in regions south of Austin. You can always check the latest rainfall totals here.

The rain chances and cooler temperatures are predicted to stick around all weekend.

Arts and Culture
11:24 am
Thu September 13, 2012

Listen to Author Kevin Powers Read From 'The Yellow Birds'

Author Kevin Powers' debut novel has garnered praise for its exploration of war's emotional toll.
Little Brown and Company

The Yellow Birds is a critically acclaimed novel from a young author, Kevin Powers. Listen to him read from his book's opening passage above.

An Iraq war veteran, upon returning to the states, Powers earned a graduate degree from UT’s Michener Center for Writers. A spare but poetic story, The Yellow Birds follows 21-year old Private Bartle as his vow to protect an even younger private amid fierce conditions in 2004 Iraq is tested. But the novel isn’t simply a war story; skipping forward and backward in time, Powers captures the confusion and pain of war on a more intimate, emotional level.

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Arts and Culture
2:53 pm
Tue September 11, 2012

Back to the Future: Major Retrospective of Designer Norman Bel Geddes Opens

Motor Car No. 9 (with tail fin), a 1933 work by Norman Bel Geddes, shows his fascination with futurism.
Edith Lutyens and Norman Bel Geddes Foundation / Harry Ransom Center

Artist, author, city planner, design star and futurist Norman Bel Geddes may not be a household name. But his retro-futuristic designs – most iconically captured in the “Futurama” exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair – inspire an entire generation of artists, designers and filmmakers to this day.

I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America” is a sprawling exhibit opening at the Harry Ransom Center on the University of Texas campus today, charting Bel Geddes’ evolution for an Art Deco-inspired theater set designer to perhaps the most important futurist of his time.

“He is a man of all trades,” says Helen Baer, Associate Curator of Performing Arts at the Harry Ransom Center. “He can do theater design, industrial design; he also gets into city planning and urban planning later on in his life. And he is also a successful author. So he does a little bit of everything, and he’s for the most part self-taught."

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City Budget
2:53 pm
Mon September 10, 2012

With Across the Board Cut Nixed, Slow Going on City Budget

At today's budget deliberation. Mayor Leffingwell's proposal for a two percent departmental cuts was a non-starter
KUT News

Any hopes for a quick adoption of the City of Austin’s annual city budget went out the window this morning, as a proposal from Mayor Lee Leffingwell for a flat two percent cut to departmental budgets created a heated discussion among City Council members.

Citing the impact of a proposed 2.2 cent increase to property taxes – just short of the maximum increase allowed by state law without a special election – Mayor Leffingwell called for a two percent cut to most of the city’s general fund departments, which would create approximate savings of $4.5 million. A 2.2 cent property tax increase would mean an additional $18 each month in city fees and taxes for the owner of a median-valued home (approximately $186,000).

Leffingwell excluded the city’s public safety departments (police, fire and EMS) from the cuts – departments that are the biggest portion of the general fund.

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City Budget
9:14 am
Mon September 10, 2012

City Council Begins Adoption of $3.1 Billion Budget Today

Council members begin bargaining in earnest over the FY 2012-13 budget today.
Callie Hernandez for KUT News

The Austin City Council meets this morning to hash out the city’s budget for the next fiscal year. And with competing needs and limited dollars, council members may need three days to agree on the spending.

The city has an overall budget of $3.1 billion – that includes all city services and programs, including Austin Energy and Austin Water. But when it comes to budget adoption, most attention focuses on the general fund – the pot of money that pays for basic city services such as police, fire and EMS, parks, libraries and more. That amount has risen to $742.5 million this year.

General fund spending will likely consume much of council’s attention – council member Kathie Tovo tells KUT News she’s looking closely at funding for youth programs and recreation centers. But the property tax rate that pays for many city services may be on the table too.

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Health
4:46 pm
Fri September 7, 2012

Third Travis County West Nile Death Confirmed

Another death from the mosquito-carried West Nile virus has been reported in Travis County.
flickr.com/GammaMan

Another Central Texan has passed away from West Nile disease, bringing the total of deaths in Travis County to three. 

The Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department says this afternoon that after a two-week hospitalization, an unidentified individual passed away from West Nile neuroinvasive disease.

As KUT News has previously reported, while there is only one form of West Nile virus, there’s two forms of illness:

One is West Nile fever, a passing, flu-like illness. (The majority of West Nile cases have been just those.) But those with compromised immune systems may be susceptible to a stronger form of the illness – West Nile neuroinvasive disease, which can be deadly. 

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Transportation
2:44 pm
Fri September 7, 2012

At 85 mph, Texas Has the Fastest Road in the Nation

When a Central Texas toll road opens in the fall, drivers will enjoy the highest speed limit in the nation.

A new toll road is opening soon in Central Texas, stretching from Austin to the town of Seguin, outside of San Antonio.

State Highway 130 was built to relieve traffic along neighboring Interstate 35, one of the most congested roadways in Texas. But this stretch of toll road has a draw of its own: It recently had its speed limit approved at 85 mph, the fastest in the nation.

The dream of barreling down an open road at 85 mph is undoubtedly appealing to gridlock-prone Texas motorists. (Portions of SH 130 are already open - with a slightly lower speed - but have seen relatively scant traffic.)

Hoping that dream doesn’t turn into a nightmare is Russ Rader, spokesperson for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a non-profit highway research group funded by the auto insurance industry. He notes that speed limits have been on the increase for some time.

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Transportation
1:17 pm
Fri September 7, 2012

This Austin Street is One of Texas' Most Congested. But Do You Know Where it Is?

You've likely been trapped in its traffic recently, but could you describe where SL 343 is?
Nathan Bernier, KUT News

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) names several Austin roads in its list of the "100 Most Congested Roadway Segments in Texas" today. One of the local offenders, clocking in at 68th worst, is State Loop 343.

Now who can tell us where SL 343 is?

Once you learn, you won’t be surprised by the loop's inclusion on this gridlocked list: SL 343 is the whole of South Lamar Boulevard. Starting at its southern limit at SH 71 and US 290, SL 343 travels north, turning east at First Street/Cesar Chavez, until it ends at I-35.   

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Business
9:55 am
Fri September 7, 2012

General Motors Bringing Up to 500 Jobs to Austin

GM IT employees in Michigan. The company says Austin's talented employee pool is leading them to open a center here.
General Motors

An announcement on the General Motors website this morning says the auto maker is coming to Austin – creating an "Information Technology Innovation Center" that may ultimately employ up to 500 people. 

The company writes on its website:

Austin was chosen for an Innovation Center because the city already has people with the skills GM is seeking -  46,000, according to the May 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Report.

“We anticipate hiring as many as 500 new GM employees in Austin,”[GM Chief Information Officer Randy Mott] said. “We look to the Innovation Centers to design and deliver IT that drives down the cost of ongoing operations while continuously increasing the level and speed at which innovative products and services are available to GM customers."

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