Friday, November 30, 2007

Howdy. It's Friday, and it couldn't have come at a better time.
I went to a fundraiser my friend and co-worker, John Lipscombe, last night. John is running for a judicial seat in the new Travis County Court at Law (County Court 8) that's going to be opening up next year. John's a good guy, and if you live in Travis County, you should consider voting for him for judge.
We (meaning myself and some of the kids from my office) snuck out of the fundraiser at some point and wandered over to Joe's to watch the Green Bay/Dallas game. I stayed for about half before Cassidy guilt got the better of me, and I went home to let the dog out and get her some dinner. The NFL network had the game streaming on the internet, so I caught about the last quarter of it at home. Man, Green Bay has just never been able to get it together against the Cowboys when they play in Dallas, and although they put up a decent fight last night, the curse was just too strong. It was still a fun game, though, and it was kind of fun to see all of the people out downtown watching the game. It almost seems like they ought to put the occasional game on pay per view or something more often, because there's just something different and fun about having to go out to watch a game out in public every once in awhile.

Also last night I caught a bit of John Edwards on Charlie Rose. I like John edwards. I liked him when he was on Kerry's ticket, and I still like him, but I've just been questioning whether or not he's really electable in this election. Well, I think he's probably electable, but I doubt whether he can defeat Hillary in the primary. This is kind of a conundrum, because, to be honest, I'm not sure whether Hillary is electable in the general campaign (I still think there's a ton of very strong anti-Hillary sentiment on the right, and quite possibly enough of it that it could motivate a lot of conservatives to go to the polls who might otherwise not vote at all, and they'll vote for whatever Republican candidate who's running, just to make sure Hillary doesn't get into office). Still, I'm not sure whether any of the other Democratic candidates can defeat Hillary in the primary.
Anyway, Edwards was talking about the fact that he sees the influence of lobbyists and special interest groups as one of the largest impediments to the effective implementation of democracy in our country today, and I think I have to agree with him. Large corporations and other special interests have all but drowned out the voice of the average middle American in today's politics, and some major reforms are needed if we're going to get back to a system in which the large, silent majority of middle class America is heard on a variety of issues in Washington. Drug companies, car companies, energy companies, construction companies, insurance companies, banks, and almost every other area of industry all have high dollar lobbyists constantly putting intense pressure upon our legislators in order to protect their profits and interests, and we need someone in office who's not going to forget about the needs of middle class people (fair taxes, a clean environment, affordable healthcare, and other items are important to most of middle America, but it's much more difficult to get those positions voiced without the big corporate lobbying money that many industries have to spend in advocating their positions).
As Edwards said on the program last night, for many of America's most pressing problems, we're not just facing the challenges of making our country better- we're also facing the obstacles presented by lobbying groups who don't want to see change occur. It's going to be hard to get any kind of health care reform accomplished because the pharmaceutical companies have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. It's hard to get enviromental regulations approved when many manufacturing or energy companies are afraid that cleaning up their act will eat into their profits. It's even hard to get laws passed that will prevent people from building their homes in dangerous areas (areas which are subject to flooding, hurricanes, etc.) when the construction industry would rather continue to rebuild homes in those areas (remember my earlier blog about the construction lobby getting floodplains lowered so they could build houses in areas prone to flooding?).

Anyway- you get my point. Any time there's an area where companies are making a profit and they see that profit potentially threatened by change, there's going to be resistance to that change, and in Washington, that oftentimes means pressure by lobbyists to get legislators to do things that aren't necessarily in the best interest of their middle class, lobbyless constituents.

So I liked what I heard from Edwards. He talked about the fact that he thought some major reforms were needed in our country, and the fact that incremental changes weren't enough (especially in health care, economic growth, education, and some other areas). He talked a bit about the death of his son and his wife's battle with cancer. He sounded like a man who had sort of moved beyond the careful development and protection of his political career, and who was finally just kind of ready to lay it all on the line in trying to accomplish the things that he sees as critically important for the country. I think his wife's illness and the death of his son have lent a sense of urgency to his mission. Also, I like the fact that Edwards already has a good deal of political experience, and that he's already shown himself capable of standing up to the scrutiny of a presidential election.

Well, I don't know if he'll win the nomination, but I like Edwards.

Well, that's it for now. I was going to blog about this teacher in Sudan who's been jailed for allowing the kids in her class to name a teddy bear Muhammad, but the whole thing is just self-evidently stupid. Sudan- no one's ever going to consider you a civilized country if you can't develop some concepts of tolerance and diversity.

Hope you guys have a good weekend.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

So last night we had an office happy hour and send off for our friend and colleague, Katie Norris, who is moving to Dallas because her husband got some kind of job up there. Katie's a pretty good kid, and we'll be sad to see her go. She's from Iowa, and she talks about corn more than any other person that I've ever met. She also looks eerily like Reed Shaw's wife, Jen. Maybe the two of them were both spawned in the same test tube before being shipped to different locations in the midwest for insemination.
Anyway, good luck to Katie Norris as she begins her life anew up in Dallas!

And here' an email from my good friend Lee, down in Houston:

"hey brother: I'm curious about the timing of things...

Trent Lott's brother in law, a gazillionaire plaintiff's lawyer named Dickie Scruggs, who earned somewhere around $400 million in the tobacco settlement, was indicted by the feds today in Mississippi for consipiring to bribe a judge. So, Lott announces his resignation Monday, surprising everyone. The FBI raids his brother in law's office on Tuesday. His brother-in-law is indicted today by a federal grand jury. Hmmmmmm...."

Lee, I'm sure there is a perfectly rational explanation for all of this. As a matter of fact, I heard one from the Lott camp on television this morning: It's all a coincidence- an unfortunate but totally random pairing in time of two completely unrelated events.

See? I knew there would be a logical explanation.
And yet, maybe it's just the prosecutor in me, but I'm extremely skeptical of coincidences and "bad timing". We'll see, I guess.

And everyone up here in my office is all fired up for the Dallas v. Green Bay game tonight. Time Warner Cable (which serves the majority of the Austin viewing audience, I would bet) isn't even showing the game because they're in a contract dispute with the NFL over whether or not the new NFL Network should be carried as a basic cable or premium channel. Anyhoo, even though they're going to have to go to a sports bar or find a friend who has satellite TV in order to watch the game, people around the courthouse are more excited about this game than they were about the last couple of superbowls (some of our legal assistants even brought in a Dallas Cowboys cake, with Cowboys cookies and queso in a big ol' Cowboys crockpot). Both teams are pretty darn good, I guess, and there's something kind of cool about a Thursday night game. Anyway, it's kinda fun, I guess. Not sure if I'll catch any of the game myself, or not. In any event...


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

And I guess this may be overdue, but some of you have probably noticed the fact that I've turned on the comment moderation feature on the ol' blog. As Reed said the other night, I've now allied myself with "The Man" in censoring free speech.

In truth, I will probably continue to publish the vast majority of comments that I receive, but I've also just finally decided to start exercising a little control over the comments section.

I like hearing from people, and moderating the comments will allow people to comment again without having to register as a blogger (although I still prefer it when people identify themselves and accept responsibility for their blog comments), but the flip side of the "free speech" argument is that I never meant for this blog to be a forum for endless, ongoing, political arguments (or endless arguments of any kind, for that matter). I still want to foster some discussion and allow for viewpoints that are different from my own on the blog, but I want the ability to shut the comments down when they become repetitive, nonsensical, or when they degenerate into personal attacks.

To be honest, I also have to blame my own obsessive/compulsive tendencies for my decision to moderate the comments. I have an embarrassing tendency to get caught in this cycle where I can't let comments go unanswered when I disagree with them, which often leaves me arguing with people far past the point where anyone has anything new or interesting to say, and far past the point where I'm accomplishing anything other than looking like a blowhard idiot. Still, I get this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that people will read some kind of resignation or acceptance into my silence if I let some comment slide that I don't agree with. So I argue on- way past the point where the discussion has ceased to be interesting, informative, or in any way persuasive.

And I don't feel too badly about the comment moderation because my blog was never meant to be used for people to express every thought they come up with- if people want to do that, they can publish their own blogs or go post on some political forum (despite my political rantings, I still see my blog as more of an online journal of my personal, day-to-day thoughts than as a sort of political persuasion and argument site). I'm not trying to censor free speech, but I am trying to exercise some control over the manner and the extent (meaning, basically, the length and quantity of comments) to which I'm going to allow people to express their opinions. The idea of the comment section is s'posed to be to allow people to make quick responses to things that I say on the blog- not to provide a soapbox. Like it or not, the soapbox belongs to me because the blog belongs to me.

Well, I probably went on too long about this, but it involves issues of free speech and restraints on it, and I tend to take those things sort of seriously. Even when they're just taking place on my stupid ol' blog.
I went to Ryan and Jamie's house last night and we ate lasagna, supplied by their housemate, Nicole, who brought the pasta back from her trip to see her family in Dallas over Thanksgiving. It was pretty good.

I was reading through some of my old blog postings last night, and it was kind of a strange experience. Some of the blogs just don't really sound like me, or maybe they sound like me, but only one version of me. There's something about having to come up with a topic to write about every day that leaves me sounding even more opinionated and argumentative on the blog than I feel like I typically am in my daily life. I feel compelled to come up with some kind of content every day, and nothing's easier than just going through the news and giving my perspective on what I see. But in real life, if I hear someone giving opinions that are contrary to mine, I would probably be just as likely to let their comments pass without argument. It's partially just my laziness, and partially the fact that I don't necessarily relish arguing with people, but oftentimes I would just as soon not expend the energy required to engage with someone in a debate, especially when I'm pretty sure that no one's opinion is going to be changed, anyway (which, when it comes to politics, religion, etc., is usually a large percentage of the time). I mean, there might be times when I find someone's viewpoint actually offensive, and then I usually have a hard time keeping my mouth shut, but for the most part I just recognize that it's pretty hard to get people to change their opinions (Texas juries have taught me the importance of trying to persuade people to a course of action within the framework of their own opinions rather than trying to change those opinions), and so I see a lot of political debate as so much meaningless noise.
Anyway, the blog is a strange creature. I use it to document how I'm feeling about things at a particular place and time, and I'm not necessarily apologizing for or embarrassed by the things I've written, but sometimes I later have a hard time recognizing myself in my own entries. Present Steanso may not entirely see eye to eye with past Steanso on every detail of everything I've ever written. Sometimes it's just the tone of my writing that's mostly different. But then again, maybe that's part of what's good about the blog, especially as the years go by- it's an interesting way of keeping track of how you've changed.

In other news, Musharraf has relinquished his role as the leader of Pakistan's army. He still sits as president, but has voluntarily removed himself as a military leader. Musharraf has also recently released over a thousand political opposition leaders that he had arrested during his recently declared "state of emergency". Anyway, good for Musharraf. He's made some very dubious decisions (and it's got to be hard to admit that you're wrong when you're a self-appointed military dictator), but he actually seems pretty committed to the expansion of democracy in Pakistan. I think. Anyway, let's hope things continue to improve over there.

Well, I gotta run, but possibly more later.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


I had dinner with Ryan and Jamie last night. It was good to see them after a week of going our separate ways (to Houston and Oklahoma). Plus, Cassidy got to see the cousin dogs (Lucy and Mel) after almost a week apart. She was so excited that a little part of me thought that she truly might explode. Cassidy also loves their cat, Jeff, but I'm not sure that the feeling is mutual.

Team Steans has already hung Christmas lights on their house, and they were assembling their tree last night while I was there. I tried to hang Christmas lights on the front of my own house on Sunday, but after having already strung half of them up I decided to plug them in, and as it turns out, half the bulbs were burnt out. So this weekend I'll get new lights and try again.

In other news, Dr. Robert Cade, the inventor of Gatorade and the originator of the entire sports drink industry, died today at age 80 of kidney failure. As it turns out, Dr. Cade went to church with my parents back at the University of Florida when they were in graduate school (shortly before I arrived on the scene), and apparently he was constantly working on different kinds of beverages, even at the time that they knew him. They've told me that he would sometimes bring different varieties of his beverages to church social events and parties to test them out on his friends. I think I remember my dad telling me that Cade even had developed some sort of version of Gatorade that involved alcohol, but I guess it never really took off. Anyway, the original purpose for the sports drink was to help University of Florida football players replenish their electrolytes while working out (thus the Gator in the Gatorade brand name), and I guess that's what it's still best known for today. I'll bet even my parents never knew that Dr. Cade had originally graduated from UT Austin and had gone to UT Southwestern Med School up in Dallas (which also produced Dr. Kevin "The Pope" Palka, I believe).

And Bush is doing something that I actually support in holding this Israeli-Palestinian peace conference in Annapolis. The goal of the conference is to set up a framework for continued negotiations, with an eye toward establishing some kind of peace pact between the two groups by the end of 2008. I'm kind of surprised that the Palestinians agreed to participate, given the fact that many Muslims are a little unhappy with the U.S. at the moment, but nonetheless, I'm glad that the Bush White House has deemed the Palestinian-Israeli peace process to be a worthy endeavor. It would undoubtedly be one of the crowning achievements of the current administration (and, to be honest, a pretty surprising victory, as well) if they could make some significant headway in bringing peace to this conflict. I'm not sure many people would say that diplomacy has been the strong point of this administration, but George and Co. have got a chance to score some big points here if progress can be made. Despite all of the criticism that I've heaped upon Bush's White House, it would be really nice to have at least one big achievement that we could point to as being proud of from this gang before they leave office. So believe it or not, I'm giving some kudos to Bush's crew for pulling off this conference today, and I wish them continued luck as they continue to try to foster negotiation and mediation throughout the upcoming year. This is the kind of stuff I'm looking for when I talk about wanting to see the U.S. as a world leader.

Monday, November 26, 2007

We may not have thought of him in any way, shape, or form for many years (and I'm not sure I ever even knew his name before now), but he still had some kind of small place in the bewildering years of my childhood...
Kevin DuBrow, the lead singer of 80's heavy metal band Quiet Riot, passed away today at the age of 52.
I don't really have any special love for Quiet Riot, in particular (I mena, I didn't follow them over the course of their career, or anything), but their loud, angry sound marked the dark and dangerous end of the my musical spectrum as a grade school kid. Just as I was starting to move away from the Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, John Denver, and Neil Diamond records of my parents into an eager exploration of the world of rock and roll, Quiet Riot burst onto the scene with "Cum on Feel the Noize" and somehow helped to make me understand why bad was sometimes good and how angry sounds could somehow feel liberating. Quiet Riot played a pretty cheesey version of Top 40 style heavy metal, and I guess they stole some of their biggest hits from Slade, but they were just the band that was there in the "scary, angry, heavy metal" slot at the moment that such things began to enter the constellation of my thoughts. I think I bought Quiet Riot's Metal Health album through some kind of Columbia House deal for about a nickel, and I instinctively knew from the get-go that this probably wasn't the kind of music that my parents were going to be really excited about. Nonetheless, I remember hollaring out some Quiet Riot choruses with friends on the bus as we rode home from school (one of the kids on our bus had a radio that she used to play on those bus rides, and I remember Joan Jett, The J. Geils Band, Dexy's Midnight Runners, and others in the mix, with Quiet Riot holding their own, special, wicked place in the lineup). There's something absurd and yet still awesome about a bunch of middle class, white, elementary school kids rolling through our suburban neighborhood in our yellow school bus and singing at the top of our lungs about how we were going to get, "Wild! Wild! Wild!" Ahhh, the 80's....

Later on my music tastes would change, grow, and develop (ok, in the case of Crack, some might say significantly devolve), but Quiet Riot still has a little place in my heart for showing me that being loud, outrageous, angry, and a little bit scary can be fun. (a lesson which would later come in handy while learning to enjoy a host of other bands in a variety of genres)
So here's a toast to Kevin DuBrow. He may not have been the world's greatest musician, but he contributed a verse in our collective musical consciousness, and somehow he managed to play a little part in some of our lives.

Bang your head.
Hey. Is Thanksgiving really already over? I'm sure I had another day in there somewhere....

Anyway, Thanksgiving was good, even if a bit short. I went to the folks house over in Spring. Mom made us a nice dinner, and Cousin Sue also made the trip to celebrate with the folks and me. I never quite made it to see the Thweatts (it was a short trip, and Lee ended up going to College Station on Friday to watch that embarrassing Longhorn defeat against the Aggies), and I didn't quite get the shopping done that I had intended to do. On the up side, I got to see the Bridenstines- John, Julie, and their new baby, Brandy- in a sort of unexpected visit, and we had a pretty entertaining visit from my parents' neighbors, The Bloods, with their kids. It was a fairly quiet holiday, but a nice one. Cassidy came with me, and I think she had a good time, too.

Not too much else to report. Last night Reed and I ventured up to Chris Griego's house (Griego Manor, up in Round Rock) and watched Battlestar Galactica: Razor, which was a two hour movie about the Galactica's sister ship, the Battlestar Pegasus. The movie was an interesting experiment, kind of showing the darker path taken by military leaders who didn't have strong civilian leadership around to advocate for democracy and human rights after the outbreak of war (i.e., the civilian president and the military leadership having worked out a sort of checks and balances system for safeguarding civilian rights in the Galactica fleet, while Admiral Cain of the Pegasus sees fit to unilaterally take any action she deems necessary in defense of her ship, which has some unhappy reults for some civilians). Anyway, Razor was pretty good. I think I'm going to have to break down and get cable or satellite before BSG starts airing new episodes in March.

Well, not too much else to report.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

So here's some photos from Thanksgiving.

Mom with Brandy.

Julie with Brandy.

"Cousin" John without Brandy.

Mom, Dad, and Cassidy enjoy a quiet morning in "the nook".

A rainy, cold drive home.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving, Ya'll!!!!!!!

Hope everybody has a good turkey day! Relax, have fun, be thankful. If you have nothing else to be thankful for, be thankful you're not a turkey.

Well, it's Thanksgiving Eve. I'll be headed to Houston tomorrow to spend Thanksgiving with my folks, but I just want to wish a happy turkey day to all of you Adventurers. Have a happy holiday, and be safe if you're going to travel, ok?

And here's a shocker: Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary, says in his new book that he was directed to tell reporters in a 2003 press conference that neither Karl Rove nor Scooter Libby were involved in the news leak that compromised Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA operative. The problem, as he retells it, is that this assertion was untrue, and yet the decision to publicly assert the innocence of Libby and Rove came from the highest levels of the administration- including Bush, Cheney, Andrew Card (White House Chief of Staff), Rove, and Libby.
So Bush told someone on his staff to be dishonest with the press. I'm not sure that this is exactly an earth shattering revelation, but then again, I didn't think the whole Monica Lewinsky thing was going to end up being a big deal when it first made the news, either. And if you ask me, lying to cover up the criminal act of one of your subordinates is pretty much worse than lying about something as personal as a sexual act between two consenting adults, but then again no one ever asked me.
I'm sure that a full blown character assassination attempt on Scott McClellan is being planned by the White House even as I type this. It'll be interesting to see how vigorous the attacks are, given that McClellan was once part of Bush's inner circle.
OK. Gotta run.
You guys be good.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hey. So with Thanksgiving right around the corner, I'm trying to focus on on the things that I'm thankful for, in order to try to help maintain a jolly, festive, holiday mood. I'm thankful for family and friends and my job and Cassidy and the fact that I live in America rather than in some country that America is occupying and I'm thankful that I have bands to rock in and a roof over my head and I'm thankful that I have too much to eat rather than not enough.

And there's been a breakthrough in stem cell research. Apparently scientists have come up with a way of mixing material from egg cells with other cells and sort of turning back their biological clocks to the point that they're viable for use in stem cell research and transplantation techniques. This is really good news because it helps to remove some of the ethical issues associated with the use of embryonic stem cells while still preserving the overall usefulness of stem cells. So that's good news (or at least news that holds a lot of promise).

Well, I'm pretty jammed up today. (why does it alwyas get the most busy right before holiday time?) Hope ya'll have a good one.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Some surfer guy (he splits his time between surfing in Hawaii and snowboarding in Nevada) has come up with a new theory regarding the way that everything in the universe works. The crazy thing is that physicists are scratching their heads and saying that he may be onto something. The surfer, named Garrett Lisi, has a doctorate in physics, but isn't associated with any university. Now he's come up with a potential theory to explain the workings of fundamental universal forces, their interaction with matter, and a bunch of other stuff I don't understand.
Anyway, the theory may not pan out, but it's testable, and it's interesting enough to be generating some world wide buzz. Kinda cool.
The weekend was pretty good, despite the fact that I felt like I was fighting off allergies and/or a cold the entire time. Not sure where the time went. On Saturday evening I had dinner with Mandy, Andy, and Rami. Mandy made some really good baked ziti and we had cookies. It was good to see them. It had been awhile since I had hung out with the Whiskeetos. Sunday we had a good, if short, Mono Ensemble practice (we cut it short because just about everyone in the band has been feeling a little under the weather).
John Thweatt is apparently now out of the hospital after undergoing what seems to have been a successful set of stem cell/chemotherapy treatments. Anyway, he's at home and doing pretty well, and Henry, his older brother, just turned 5 yesterday. Hooray for Team Thweatt!!!
In local Austin news, Hyde Park Baptist Church was almost responsible for ruining the 23rd annual interfaith Thanksgiving celebration (hosted by the Austin Area Interreligious Ministries) when they rescinded their offer to host the affair after realizing that Muslims would be taking part in the event. The service included worshippers from a number of religions, including Christian, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Baha'i. This was the first year that Muslims were scheduled to take part in the event. The official statement from Hyde Park said, ""although individuals from all faiths are welcome to worship with us, we cannot provide space for the practice of these non-Christian religions on church property." I guess they initially didn't realize that non-Christians would be participating, missing subtle clues such as the title of Interreligious Ministries on the name of the group organizing the event, or the fact that the event is called an interfaith celebration (maybe to them, interfaith meant both Baptist and Southern Baptist). I've been a big fan of Hyde Park Baptist Church since back in my high school days when parents from that church petitioned our schoolboard in an effort to dictate what books we should be allowed to have on our reading lists and in our public school library and since the time that Hyde Park spent a small fortune (also during my high school years) trying to find ways to drive their neighbors from their homes so that they could expand their church parking lot. An oasis of spiritual enlightenment- that's Hyde Park Baptist Church. Congregation Beth Israel stepped in to offer a place at the last minute, so good for them. (Anyone else find it ironic that a congregation of Jewish folks was willing to open their doors to people of the Muslim faith, while somehow the Baptists had a beef with them?)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Friday night there was barbecue and mini golf. Teams Steans and friends went to The Green Mesquite and then Peter Pan down on Barton Springs. Here's Jamie by a castle....And Ryan posing with some kind of hideous putt putt death totem. Anyway, it was pretty fun, and there were a lot of people at the Peter Pan. I forgot they let you bring beer and wine into that place.
Hey there. Not too much to report from the home front. Max the wiener dog seems to be recovering slowly but steadily from the surgery that he had on the herniated disc in his back.

No Country for Old Men will be in theaters this weekend. A bunch of people have told me how much they're looking forward to seeing the movie, and although I want to see the movie as well (I love the Coen brothers, and the book was extremely well written), I'm almost a little apprehensive about seeing it. Cormac McCarthy, as I'm sure most of you know, isn't a big fan of happy endings, and he seems to take great delight in developing fascinating characters and then putting them into impossible situations. Still, the book was almost a sort of Texan parable (there's some kind of message about allowing temptation to lure a person into a world of evil in there somewhere), and its hard to resist the chance to see how the Coen brothers bring McCarthy's characters to life up on the big screen.

I also watched a movie called Bug the other night. Here's a hint: it isn't really about bugs (or if it is, it's only about bugs in a very tangential way). It's another movie where things just keep getting worse and worse, and at the end of the movie I kind of sat there kind of scratching my head and asking myself why I watched the whole thing (let alone why someone would want to make a movie like that). Anyway, Bug had some interesting performances (Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr., and some guy named Michael Shannon), but it sure doesn't do any favors for the public image of the mentally ill.

That's about it. Work's been busy.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Not time to blog today. I woke up late and have been running behind ever since. Maybe more later if time permits.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Hey. Still not really feeling it. Nonetheless, at least I can throw some news stuff at you.

The FBI is now reporting that they have found no justifiable cause in the shootings of at least 14 out of the 17 Iraqi shootings committed by Blackwater security personnel back on September 16th. They are recommending to the new attorney general, Michael Mukasey, that he make the investigation and prosecution of these shootings one of his top priorities.
So chalk up another victory for the U.S.'s civil rights and humanitarian record in Iraq. The only thing that could make this situation worse would be if the White House were to intervene and insist that these military contractors not be held accountable for their actions. So I wouldn't be surprised if things got worse.

Things in Washington are getting ugly as the president vetoed a domestic spending bill, including education, labor, and health programs (the president claimed it contained too much pork). Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has stated that the president will not get a new funding bill for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq unless the bill contains provisions for the beginning of a troop withdrawal by the end of next year.
Personally, I'm guessing that the domestic spending bill probably did actually have some unneccessary pork in it, but I'm guessing that the money going into those pork programs pales in comparison to the amount of money that we've already spent and continue to spend in this pointless war in Iraq (not to mention the fact that Bush is throwing out funding for an untold number of perfectly good programs just to get at a few questionable items). Bush said he objected to about $10 billion in a bill that was trying to authorize funding for over $600 billion in programs (so he had issue with only a small part of the bill) while he has authorized a $459 billion dollar defense bill (increasing our military budget by 9.5 percent) for monies to be used in areas outside Iraq and Afghanistan and asked for $196 billion to be used specifically for war funding. Bush's concerns over saving money for the American taxpayer seem a little disingenuous, to say the least. But we've all heard this kind of thing before.

And in keeping with my new theme of trying to include some good news, here's an article about a surfer who was saved by a pack of bottlenose dolphins from an attack by a great white shark. The surfer was in the water off the coast of Monterey, California, on August 28th when he was attacked by a 12 to 15 foot long shark. The shark tore skin off his back and chomped on one of his legs before being driven off by the dolphins who then stayed with the surfer until he made his way to shore.
Once again, dolphins prove themselves to be cooler than people (hey- they don't hunt us or string us up in nets, and they seem to be pretty down with helping people out when they can).

Also a positive story, another sign of progress in New Orleans as streetcar lines reopen in the Garden District, allowing tourists and locals to travel the St. Charles line and to roll past some of the city's most reknowned historic mansions. The Garden District's streetcar lines have been shut down since Hurricane Katrina hit, but they reopened this past Saturday, apparently with some traditional New Orleans fanfare and celebration.
I really dig that town, so it's good to see signs of reconstruction and rebuilding, even if things are moving pretty slowly and the city really isn't getting enough federal help. Everyone go to New Orleans. Have some drinks. Go to the casino and the aquarium. Hear some music and eat some cajun food. Go boost the economy and party like it's 1999.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Well, I'm back from a 3 day weekend (thank you, America's veterans), but I don't have a lot to show for it. I played some video games, took Cassidy to the dog park, went and saw American Gangster, did some reading, and had Mono Ensemble practice. I kept to myself, mostly, with the exceptions of Mono E practice and a quick trip to the music store with Ryan.
I thought American Gangster was ok, but probably not as good as it could have been.

I hope everyone is doing ok.

Friday, November 09, 2007

My good friend, Jennifer, has accused me of never providing any positive, uplifiting news stories on The Adventures, and I think she may have a point (one of my big reasons for blogging is my need to vent, so I tend to blog about things that are bugging me, but I realize that such matters probably aren't always fun to read about).
Anyhoo, here's just one of the many good news stories that's popped up in the world over the last few days:
A group called The Freeplay Foundation has developed a system of wind-up lights for use in African homes or in other poor, rural areas which don't have a readily available supply of electricity for lighting. The wind-up system helps to alleviate the need for batteries (which may prove too costly for many subsistence level families in Africa) or the need to burn wood fires for light (which is often problematic due to a lack of wood and the health problems that can be created by smoke when wood fires are regularly burned indoors). Anyway, apparently many rural Africans lead lives which have minimal activity after sundown due to the lack of light, and this inexpensive, human powered lighting option may help to improve the lives of lots of people for a very small amount of money.
On a more personal note, over the last year or so I've read about several products which are meant to be widely and cheaply distributed throughout Africa with the hope of vastly improving the lives of Africans through small, inexpensive innovations (such as water purification straws, water transportation devices [they're called hippo rollers], solar-powered computers, and vitamin packed peanut-based food products [called Plumpy'nut] for malnourished children, to name a few). It's heartening to see organizations and corporations looking for (and finding) low cost, effective ways of improving the day to day lives of impoverished Africans, and apparently in ways that seem to be financially viable for the corporations (I'm not sure they're always exactly super profitable, but they seem to be finding ways of at least making tremendous changes with relatively small amounts of money and without suffering losses).
Anyway, I will endeavor to be more positive. On occasion. ;)
A 58,ooo gallon oil spill in San Francisco Bay? Grrrreat. Can we hurry up with those alternative energy sources, please?
And things continue to destabilize in Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto has placed under what essentially amounts to house arrest (the military surrounded her house with barbed wire and barricades, beating back supporters who tried to remove the obstacles). Many members of Bhutto's political party have been arrested or placed under house arrest, news stations have been shut down, and some roads have been barricaded. Muhsarraf continues to state that parliamentary elections will be held in February, and that he will be stepping down as the country's military leader. Meanwhile, the U.S. is probably using its spy satellites and intelligence capabilities to keep as close an eye as possible on Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. And we're still backing Musharraf, who's apparently decided to remind the world why dictatorships are really a bad thing (even when the dictator tries to seem cute and friendly for awhile). You've got to love it when a nuclear power begins to destabilize.

Here's a pretty good piece by Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post about the distrust, resentment, and diappointment that many Americans feel for George W. Bush, and how they came to feel that way. Do some of his points sound familiar?

In news from the home front, we had Mono Ensemble practice last night with our favorite German band member, Frank Dresig. Frank lives in Dresden, Germany, with his wife and son (or at least I think he has just one son) and works for AMD (the current employer of our guitarist, Frank Skowronski and the former employer of our drummer, Reed Shaw). Anyway, he comes over here about once a year on business trips, and we made it a tradition a few years back for Frank to come and sit in on keyboards when he's here in the States. He's a good keyboard player, and he fits into the Ensemble pretty nicely. He also plays with a band of his own back in Dresden (he was telling me last night that there's not a very big music scene in Dresden, so his band has gotten put onto some compilation CDs and gotten some press in local papers without having to work at it exceptionally hard- he also played us some of the music his band has been working on, and it's pretty darn good. He might be selling himself short with the "no competition" story.) Frank's band in Dresden is called hiPhi, and he mostly plays the keytar (the portable keyboard in a sort of guitar shape that was most in vogue here in the U.S. back in the 80's, but which apparently is still going strong in Germany) with them (they have a cool, kind of funky sound, including some horns and occasionally some German rap). If you click on the link to hiPhi's web site, you can see Frank and his keytar in their photos. Anyway, it was good to see Frank again and fun to play with him. He invited us to come rock with him over in Dresden, so we're toying with the idea of cutting back on the limousines and caviar so that we can make the trip.

Well, I guess that's about it for now. Hope you guys have a good weekend, but maybe I'll talk at ya more later.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Hey there. Had dinner last night with Kate and the Gonzales sisters. We went to a new place by us with the fairly questionable name of BJs. BJs is a national chain which has pretty decent food and which brews their own beer. There's the good part. The bad part is that it's kind of cheesey, with a high-ceilinged "warehouse" type atmosphere, loud eighties music, a veritable army of waitstaff (who seem underutilized, so many of them just pace the floor, looking for a half empty water or tea glass to pounce upon), and at least a half dozen giant plasma screen TVs tuned to various sporting events (I guess just to make sure that you don't have to actually talk to any of the people that you've gone to dinner with). Anyway, as I said, the food wasn't bad, but I just couldn't shake the disconcerting knowledge that if I had ordered the same sandwhich in a BJs in Phoenix or Houston that I would have been served an identical plate of food, made out of the exact same ingredients, prepared in the same BJs approved way. The same thing with the beer. BJs is nominally a microbrewery, but if they use identical, probably pre-packaged ingredients and brew their beer in identical equipment in dozens of different locations, does their beer really count as having been microbrewed, or is it really just mass produced beer that's being disseminated from a bunch of different sites?
At any rate, the food tasted pretty good, as did the beer (hey, if it's gonna be brewed on site, it's gonna be fresh, at least, and their beer really wasn't bad).
I guess I just like local stuff. I like knowing I'm supporting local businesses, and I like the feeling that I'm enjoying something that's special, unique, and different. BJs isn't that. BJs is the prepackaged, chain restaurant replication of special, unique, and different. I'd just rather be eating at a place where they're just making the food to come out the way they think it tastes best rather than eating at a place where they're using prepackaged food and preparing it by following laminated flashcards so that it comes out in some kind of corporate pre-approved way. But you know what? It tasted fine and we had a good time. As with many things in life, the company you keep makes or breaks the experience a lot more than the specifics of where you're at.
I'm also just a little bitter because they built BJs in the middle of a shopping center parking lot that used to be a picturesque little farmhouse and meadow about a mile from my house not more than a year ago. Twelve months ago there was grass blowing in the wind, weathered fences, and ponies. Now we've got acres of concrete, and for some inexplicable reason, Petsmart felt the need to move into this location and abandon it's other ginormous warehouse of a space about a block away from the new one. So we've lost a bunch of green space and now we have a giant, empty strorefront to show for it which lies right across the street (and that's not to mention the fact that there's already a big ol' Petco which sells almost identical merchandise and which is located within a quarter mile of both of these Petsmart locations).
Chains stores, chain restaurants, and the relentless advance of impervious cover. Old South Austin gets plowed under to make way for yuppy hell. Jeez.
Oh well. We did get a Zen restaurant and a Jamba Juice. Maybe I should go get myself a bowl of noodles and a smoothie and shut the *%!$ up.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Hello. So all of the consititutional amendments on the ballot passed, including Proposition 15, the $3 billion bond proposal package for cancer research. This makes me very happy. I know that there are people out there who will argue that government (and public tax dollars) shouldn't be involved in things like cancer research and that medicine and medical research should be left up to the private sector. I just strongly disagree. Cancer research is a long, slow, painstaking process by all accounts. I think the nature of cancer research, which seemingly involves a series of small, steady successes (which can take some time), might scare away a lot of pharmaceutical companies that are looking to make larger, more immediate profits by selling drugs that can be developed and dispensed more readily (and which are more likely to quickly produce more profound effects). Plus, there are a number of forms of cancer which effect relatively small portions of the population, but with deadly results. It's not very cost effective for drug companies to develop expensive drugs when they're only going to be able to sell those drugs to a small group of patients, but that doesn't mean that the people who are effected by these forms of cancer suffer any less from their illnesses than people with more common diseases or that they're any less deserving of treatment (my good friends, the Thweatt family, are encountering this issue with their son, John, as he fights neuroblastoma- a relatively rare form of cancer which primarily effects only children).
Anyway, I think that cancer research is exactly the type of area in which government should step up in order to help fulfill the needs of citizens. It's a good example of an area in which profit-driven corporations might have a hard time making the research profitable (because the research may take a lot of time to complete and because the treatments developed may be applied to fairly narrow groups in some cases), but it's an area in which the need for further work may have a tremendous positive impact upon society.
On a more personal note, I'm just tired of seeing friends and family members getting sick from cancer. My mother has battled cancer, my grandmother had cancer, a good friend of mine died of cancer about 7 months ago, and of course, John Thweatt is undergoing therapy for cancer right now). Even the guy who lives across the street from me was diagnosed with cancer last week. I think that many Texans have also had people in their lives afflicted with cancer, and party affiliation and political ideology aside, they just want something done (and I never thought I'd say it, but I'm kind of proud of Rick Perry for going to bat on this one- I know he took some flak from some conservatives over this, but I feel like he did the right thing). It would be pretty great if Texas came to be known around the world as the place where we finally won some significant victories in the war against cancer.

I really don't have a lot of other news today. Mandy's wiener dog, Max, has had surgery for a herniated disc in his back, but I've been told that the surgery went well and that he'll be ok. Max is a really cool dog (we both share a love of loafing, food, sunbeams, and good naps), so let's all wish him a speedy recovery.

Also, there were some school shootings today in Tuusula, Finland. Steanso is half Finnish, and he typically thinks of the Finns as a fairly peaceful, sensible people (although this mental image is mostly the product of interaction with Finnish Americans in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan rather than with actual Finns), so it's kind of sad to hear about something like this happening over there.

Well, that's it for now. Hope all's well.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Howdy. It got a bit colder today in Austin. It's been kind of strange because it feels like it's gotten steadily colder as the day has gone on. Grey skies and cool weather. It's starting to feel a little wintery out there.

Okay. I've really tried to come up with something blogworthy today, but I'm having a hard time. Pakistan contues to be in disarray, with lawyers taking to the streets in protest, but I already blogged about that yesterday. Not too much going on at home or at work (we still miss Kim Bloom over here at the County, but that's not exactly news).

Wait! I know! My friend and former colleague, Rosa, emailed me with news on Friday that she and her hubby, Nathan, are going to be having a little boy. I suggested the names Jason or Steanso, but she said they're thinking they might go with Dashiell. This, of course, produces images in my mind of a tiny baby with a cigar clutched in his pudgy fist and a fedora on his head, possibly spitting out staccato phrases about dames, flunkies, and bagmen. (Oh, c'mon! Work with me, people!)

But I don't have much to say today, I guess. And that's ok, too. Maybe more later.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Problems in Pakistan continue to grow following the declaration of a state of emergency by Pervez Musharraf on Saturday and the imposition of what looks an awful lot like martial law. Interestingly, one of the largest groups to take to the streets in protest against the state of emergency were thousands of protesting lawyers, many of whom were arrested after clashing with police.
It kind of makes me wonder what would happen in this country if the president were to suddenly implement martial law and suspend all of our civil rights. I guess it would be a fair bet that certain groups would take to the streets in protest, but I have a hard time believing that American lawyers would be amongst the people leading the charge. Although the law and the proper implementation of the law are the bread and butter of the legal profession, it seems like most people who become lawyers in the U.S. do so as almost a sort of business decision, with legal practice serving as the product that they're selling. Taking to the streets in defense of their legal system sort of demonstrates to me that Pakistani lawyers may see the legal profession as almost more of a calling- a profession in which one becomes invested in and dedicated to a system of legal rights which their clients avail themselves of. Americans see our legal system more as a sort of malleable tool that's important to us mostly insofar as it serves our own ends. I'm not sure how dedicated American lawyers are to our legal system, in and of itself. Does this differentiation make any sense? I'm having a hard time articulating my thoughts here.
I guess I just see it as a difference in priorities. I think that if the American legal system were to come under attack, American lawyers would mostly file lawsuits and write angry letters. If that wasn't effective, they'd mostly throw up their hands and start retraining themselves for some other line of white collar work. Maybe PR, marketing, or sales. I'm not sure American lawyers would be willing to march or take a baton to the head in defense of our legal system. Well, maybe Jamie Spencer, but not most laywers. Most American lawyers pride themselves too much on being cynical, calculating, and objective to get caught up in some kind of political brouhaha over something as profitless (and potentially risky) as principle.
So hats off to the lawyers of Pakistan. Let's hope that no serious harm befalls them as they try to protect the legal system of their country.
Hey. Not much to report from the weekend. My folks were in town, once again looking at retirement properties (this time, allegedly more successfully- we'll see), so we had dinner with them on Saturday and brunch with them on Sunday. Nice to see them.

Not really feeling the blogging today. Maybe more later.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Ugggh. This can't be good. Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf ordered the arrest of over 500 people this weekend, including opposition party leaders, human rights workers, and lawyers, in a bid to consolidate his power and control the actions of those opposing his regime. Although free and democratic parliamentary elections were supposed to held in January, the acting prime minister released a statement to day stating that the elections might be as much as a year away at this point. Musharraf declared a state of emergency (Bhutto and others are referring to it, instead, simply as martial law), citing concerns that terrorism, judicial activism, and other obstacles were becoming alarming which seemed to be standing in the way of the implementation of a full and fair democracy (let's see, where could he have learned to use language that fear mongers the terrorism issue and promises a greater democracy while he's simultaneously taking actions to limit the civil liberties of his people? I wonder how he came up with that stategy?)
Anyway, since Bhutto is part of the opposition party which is seeking free elections (and in so doing, some of the power which Musharraf has garnered for himself), she probably ought to watch her back. I have a feeling that this whole Pakistan situation could potentially get a lot uglier before it gets better. The most interesting question in all of this, as an American, is probably how long the U.S. is going to be willing to support Musharraf, even as he restricts the civil liberties of his people, simply in order to be assured that a secular government stays in place rather than some sort of Islamic hardliner regime.
The elections really need to stay on track (which might hopefully end up with Benazir Bhutto, a woman who opposes implementation of a fundamentalist Islamic government, sharing some of the country's power and with the people feeling satisified that they have elected someone into office who truly represents their interests). We'll see.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Howdy. Nothing to report from the home front.
And holy cow, this is scary. Apparently a pilot reported on an air safety web site (which allows anonymous posts so that pilots can report dangerous situations without having to put their own careers at risk) that he and his first officer both fell asleep while piloting an Airbus A319 jet into Denver International Airport. The pilot woke up in time to land the plane, but not before flying through checkpoints at more than twice the speed and almost twice the altitude that the plane was supposed to be operating at. The pilot said he was reporting the incident in hopes of changing the way that his airline was scheduling pilot flights (he claimed that he had been suffering from fatigue after flying his third consecutive red eye trip in a row, and that he had been flying for almost eight hours when the incident happened). Anyway, it's just a scary to think that a big ol' jet could be hurtling through the night sky, particularly into crowded metropolitan airspace, with two people sleeping at the controls.
And there's a potential film and television writers strike in the works. Apparently the writiers union wants better residual payments for writers from the money made on reruns, DVD releases, and distribution of works through the internet, cell phones, and other non traditional media.
I gotta kind of side with the writers in this deal. I kind of think that writers are the most unrecognized, underappreciated part of the whole Hollywood equation, and when you're handing out salaries to actors of up to $20 million a picture, it seems ridiculous not to properly compensate the individuals who come up with the actual content of the shows and movies that these actors (and directors and producers) are working on. It doesn't seem like there's a lot of respect for writers in the film industry (directors and producers are notorious for mangling scripts or making them unrecognizable through countless rewrites and editing), so I guess that it's not surprising that writers feel like they're not being given their financial due. Still, people seem to forget that well written source material is the bedrock upon which good programs and movies are made. Good scripts are often made into bad shows, but I'm sure it's far less frequent that good shows managed to be made from bad (or nonexistent) scripts.
Maybe I just sympathize with the writers because I've tried my hand a time or two at writing myself over the years, and I'm here to tell you that it's hard work. It can be fun, but it's hard work, and I know that writers rarely receive the fame or acknowledgement that the actors and directors receive who are standing on their shoulders.
Anyway, cough it up for the writers, Hollywood. I know you think that just anyone can write a script, but then again, maybe it's harder than people realize. Think about the fact that we need to reward people for being better writers next time you see another commercial for a movie made out of a videogame or see the release of another movie that's just a rehashed, kitschy version of some old TV show. Good writers are unsung heroes.
Well, maybe more later. Hope all's well.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Howdy. It's November. I can hardly believe it. I hung out last night over at Mandy's place for Halloween. It was pleasant, but pretty low key.

Well, some disappointing news today about Dog the Bounty Hunter. Apparently he likes to throw around racist epithets, and he wasn't very happy about his son bringing his black girlfriend around (at least this is what it sounded like on the tape of the phone conversation that his son made) because he feared that she might overhear Dog and his family using the N word. It's kind of ironic that on the tape Dog is apparently expressing concern that his use of racist language will somehow bring about his ruin and make him lose everything that he's worked for. Of course, Dog's choice to try to control who might overhear his racism rather than correcting his own habits is a curious decision, at best.
It's interesting to note that while A&E may pull Dog's show, I'm not sure that his racist behavior will have any bearing upon his underlying emplyment as a bail bondsman and bail bond agent (if Dog were actually involved as a government employee in an official law enforcement capacity he would undoubtedly face disciplinary action from superiors, but as an independent bail agent, I'm not sure there's much that the judicial system or law enforcement community can do in this situation). Bad Dog! Bad!

And there's a group called Concealed Campus who are getting ready to lobby the legislature for the rights of college students to carry concealed handguns on campus. Yeah! Now, instead of having students fumbling around in their backpacks and accidentally setting off their cell phone ringers we can have .45 rounds being accidentally discharged instead. Being the calmly rational, well reasoned, extremely careful people that they are, I'm sure that college students will exercise nothing but sound judgment and discretion once they're given a bunch of guns. So for those of you playing along at home, college freshman will now get in trouble for drinking beer and might be expelled if they get caught with any kind of illegal drug on campus, but handguns may soon be legal for them to possess. You gotta love this country.