Need something to talk about? Here are a few stories that will make you sound like you’re in the know. 

“The Perry gravy train is back on the track”
So said Paul Burka of this week’s news that the Employee Retirement System of Texas had switched health insurance providers, from BlueCross BlueShield to a new four-year, $204 million contract with UnitedHealthcare–a company represented by former Perry chief of staff Mike Toomey.

Toomey was also behind the Perry-supporting (but NOT affiliated) presidential election Super PAC “Make Us Great Again,” and lobbied for Gardasil manufacturer Merck during Perry’s controversial support of mandatory HPV vaccines.

In a story for the Dallas Morning News titled “Lobbyists with Rick Perry ties take a victory lap,” Christy Hoppe added, “ERS made the decision based on UnitedHealth’s assertion that they could save $41 million over four years, although Blue Cross-Blue Shield proponents are skeptical and believe most of that savings would come from health costs passed along to employees.”

In the (very near) future, cars will drive you
University of Texas researcher Peter Stone (pictured above) has been developing “smart intersections” which would work in tandem with fully automated cars, coordinating the direction and flow of all traffic in advance.

“We’ve had a car which can drive itself,” since 2007, Stone told KUT’s Wells Dunbar and Andy Uhler. As Uhler reported in his radio piece, the car is named Marvin, and lives at UT’s Pickle Research campus.

“The vision is that eventually people will be in the backseat working on their iPad, reading the newspaper, texting away, no problems,” Stone said. “The car may not even need a driver’s seat, eventually.”

The “Yoda of BBQ” gets a book deal
No Reservations host and author Anthony Bourdain has a new book imprint with Ecco Press that will be publishing Daniel Vaughn’s Prophets of Smoked Meat, according to the food blog Eater National.

Vaughn, a.k.a. BBQ Snob, (or, to Bourdain, the “Yoda of BBQ”) is the brisket-consuming savant behind the blog Full Custom Gospel BBQ(Editor’s note: He also cross-posts on TEXAS MONTHLY‘s BBQ site and iPhone app.) 

As Teresa Gubbins reports, Vaughn will take a short sabbatical from his regular job as an architect, and is already on the road continuing his research. In fact, Vaughn made new discoveries in both San Marcos and Belton Wednesday: 

Found 2 top-notch TX BBQ joints today. Miller’s Smokehouse in Belton & Hays County BBQ in San Marcos are both worth a serious visit.

— Daniel Vaughn (@BBQsnob) February 23, 2012

Spurs lost a game on purpose 
Those who don’t follow the NBA may see the Portland Trail Blazers’ 137-97 win on Tuesday as a shocking score, especially since the Spurs had won eleven straight games before last night’s loss.

Except that due to the combination of a lockout-compressed schedule and the team’s annual rodeo road trip, head coach Greg Popovich chose to rest two of his three best players–Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. (The third, Manu Ginoboli, is already out with an injury.)

“The NBA is all about positioning for the playoffs. And playing starters for extended minutes in February doesn’t make much sense, particularly when injuries and back-to-back games start piling up during the most  difficult road trip of the season,” wrote Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News.

“Popovich had justifiable reasons for tossing a game,” wrote Daily Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel. “But [he] cheated the game.”

And ICYMI on the TM Daily Post
Samantha Ketcham tries to become Texas A&M’s first female yell leader; TEXAS MONTHLY senior editor Michael Hall on what he calls a rare example of common sense by the Court of Criminal Appeals; Cormac McCarthy helps rid the world of exclamation points; and the best college hockey player in America could be a guy named Austin from Dallas.