Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hey. Hope you guys are hanging in there. It seems like it's been sort of a rough week for some people. Midwinter can kind of put me in a funk, and it seems like it sort of has that effect on other people as well. Anyway, you Adventurers keep your chins up and try to focus on the fact that spring isn't too far off (and things always seem better in the spring, somehow).

Not a lot new in the last 24 hours. I watched an episode of Frontline last night that was about the resurgence of the Taliban along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. Those guys really are a bunch of hardline religious fascists with no tolerance for any behavior that isn't in keeping with their own brand of Muslim fundamentalism. They're intolerant and violent, and they're sheltering Al Qaeda. The real problem is that they're pretty popular among the native people over there (especially in tribal areas), and both Pakistani and Afghan leaders run the risk of alienating their constituencies by taking up arms against the Taliban or its leaders. In fact, many government officials in Pakistan are Taliban sympathizers, and even the Pakistani intelligence service has had to undergo several purges in the attempt to rid itself of Taliban influence. Pakistan's President Musharraf has walked a tightrope for years, pledging allegiance to America in its war on terror, while simultaneously trying to appease the many hardline Muslim militants (many of whom are Taliban sympathizers) who are scattered throughout his government.
The Frontline episode that I watched was first broadcast in October of 2006, and I was wondering how things had changed since that time, and then on my drive in to work today on NPR I heard a report about how the U.S. military is having an increasingly difficult time keeping Afghanistan under control, primarily due to Taliban forces which keep migrating back and forth across the border into Pakistan in order to evade U.S. military units. The Frontline update on their web page reported that in early January our Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, and CIA Director Michael Hayden travelled to Pakistan to try to convince Pakistan's President Musharraf to allow for an increased American presence in Pakistani tribal areas, either through unilateral covert CIA operations or through joint operations with Pakistani security forces. Musharraf is said to have refused, apparently still fearful of the alienating the Taliban and Muslim extremist sympathizers within his own government. The U.S. diplomatic effort is said to have been instigated by the American belief that the Taliban is intensifying its efforts to destabilize the Pakistani government. Given the recent assassination of Benazir Bhutto (which is still not really solved, but which is assumed to have been carried out by Muslim hardline extremists), this threat seems like it might not be far from becoming a reality.
Let me tell you how excited I am about the prospect of a destabilized, nuclear-armed Pakistani government falling under Taliban control. Yeah!!!!

Other from watching Frontline last night, I played with Cassidy and Lucy and went to dinner at Hao Hao with Ryan and Jamie. I think I tried to play some Bioshock on the XBox, but the dogs wouldn't leave me alone, so I gave up.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Quick note for those who care (and those numbers are probably pretty small):
Duane "Dog" Chapman, the famous bounty hunter who has his own show on A&E, has been freed from criminal charges in Mexico and no longer faces extradition to and possible imprisonment in that country. This has to be good news for Dog. At the very least he can go back to bounty hunting, I guess. His show is still on indefinite suspension from the A&E network after Dog was surreptitiously recorded using some racist language during a phone call with his son (a tape which was later distributed to the media).
(for those of you who are newcomers to the blog, for some reason I spent a lot of time watching Dog's show with Mandy in the weeks and months following Jeff's accident. This is also the reason I know an inordinate amount about Project Runway.)
Well, I guess Edwards is dropping out. I'm disappointed (and I know the Karebear is, too). I like Edwards, and I thought he had a strong, positive message about buoying up middle class America- providing health care, improving education, and cleaning up Washington so that lobbyists and special interest groups don't get their voices heard over the voices of America's middle class constituents. Anyway, the race has been framed as a showdown between Hillary and Obama from the get go, and Edwards just never seemed to be able to get much traction with the media spotlight shining on those other two frontrunners. Oh well. Maybe he'll join on someone else's ticket as a VP candidate. We'll see.

Giuliani will probably be dropping out, too. Don't care about that as much. I'm glad to see Huckabee losing some steam behind McCain. I like the fact that Huckabee plays rock and roll and is willing to pal around with Stephen Colbert. I'm less excited about his proposed constitutional amendments to ban abortion and to ban gay marriage. I think people should have a right to control their own bodies and make their own decisions on reproduction, and I don't like it when someone who's running for president tells a whole class of people (which includes a number of friends of mine) that they don't deserve the same rights as others.

Last night I went over to Ryan and Jamie's house for some chicken burritos. They were good. Thanks, Jamie! I took Lucy, Team Steans's black lab, home to my house so that Mel can have some quiet R&R time when he gets back from his surgery today. Lucy is a very sweet, affectionate, and surprisingly intelligent dog, but she's also extremely hyper and a little ADD (Remember that kid growing up who couldn't sit still for more than ten seconds and who bounced from one activity to the next at breakneck speed? The kid who would demand that you play GI Joe with him, but then was off doing something else and already bored with GI Joe by the time you got your toys out? That's Lucy. High speed. Intense.) Anyway, Lucy makes Cassidy's happy, hoppy personality seem downright mellow. I'm hoping Cassidy and Lucy are managing to entertain each other in my house today without tearing the place apart. Cassidy can have a tendency to feed off of Lucy's frenetic energy.

I also watched a movie last night. Talk to Me. It was a biopic starring Don Cheadle about Ralph "Petey" Greene, a Washington D.C. radio talk show host and community activist.
The movie was medium. (spoiler alert) It had a few strong moments, such as Cheadle's broadcast following the shooting of Martin Luther King, Jr., but on the whole, the movie had a lot of stereotypical melodrama pertaining to censorship and Greene's struggles to "keep it real" during his attempts to reach out "to his people" in the black community of Washington, D.C.. There were scenes involving Greene having to convince Dewey Hughes, a black station manager, to put him on the air, and then there were other melodramatic scenes in which Hughes helps Greene to broadcast a show, despite the fact that the white folks in upper management are literally trying to break in the door to stop him.
I kept having flashbacks of Good Morning Vietnam, Private Parts, Pump Up the Volume, and other movies where a renegade, mildly shocking DJ has gone on the air, fighting the strength of the powers that be, in order to eventually triumph once the DJ has connected with "their people" by speaking "the truth".
Anyway, it was, I guess, a medium movie, and worth watching if it comes on TV or something, but I wouldn't strain myself rushing out to rent it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hey. Not a lot going on today. Mel is in surgery today, having a malignant growth removed from his mouth. Mel is my brother's golden retriever, and his gentle nature and fondness for people made him a family favorite many years ago (taking Mel swimming and taking naps on the sofa with Mel are, personally, two of my favorite Mel activities). Anyway, I'm thinking Mel will be fine after this surgery, but we wish him best of luck, nonetheless. Here's a repost of a pic of Mel at the park from a couple of weeks ago.

What else? Not a lot. Here's a column from Michael Kinsley in Time Magazine about this possible recession and this new economic stimulus package. Kinsley's column sort of articulates some of my worries about the whole thing. As I've said before, I'm not economist, but it just seems crazy to me to try to solve an economic crisis that was triggered by irresponsible borrowing and spending (I'm mostly talking about the subprime mortgage schemes and other, similar poor lending and borrowing habits) by dumping more money on the public (free money, this time, at that) and asking them to spend it. As the column says, it feels kind of like rewarding an alcoholic for his hangover with another drink.

Republicans want to finance this cash handout by cutting government programs, and/or by borrowing from other countries (this second, more embarrassing option, the one which simply digs our country into deeper debt and fiscal irresponsibility, is not discussed nearly as proudly as the first). Republicans believe that only the American public and private businesses know how to properly invest money, so we should pump the money back into the hands of American consumers. Problem is, our current crisis developed because both the American consumer and American lending institutions got greedy and a little irresponsible. Seems like true conservatives should just want to let the market make its natural correction (trusting in the market to make its own adjustments- to reward wise, smart investing and to weed out some of the riskier or more foolish behavior), but our neocons in the White House and on Capitol Hill aren't willing to put the country through the sting of letting a natural market correction happen. Thus, the rush to hand out free money and the attempt to artificially reinvigorate the economy.

The column touches upon the more Democratic option of actually increasing government spending in order to get the economy on track (building bridges and infrastructure, for example, would employ more workers who would then bring home a paycheck and pour more money back into the economy with their spending), but it doesn't discuss this in great depth. Like I said, I'm not an economist, but if responsible government spending was feasible enough to help get us out of the Great Depression (e.g., most famously, the Works Projects Administration of the 1930's), then maybe we ought to at least show the idea some respect.

And in the end, don't get me wrong- I'm not going to be turning down any kind of government check that shows up in my mail. My question is, if I blow all of that money in a month or two and the economy still isn't turned around, do I get more free money to do some more stimulating? If so, this is looking like it's going to be one of the best recessions ever!!

Monday, January 28, 2008

By the way, I also saw There Will Be Blood this weekend, and I gotta say I was pretty underwhelmed by it. (spoilers a comin'. skip this if you ain't seen the movie) Before everyone jumps on me- yes, Daniel Day Lewis did a good job in playing the part of the main character, Daniel Plainview. But I found the storyline of the movie fairly uninteresting and the main character pretty uncompelling. It felt like a long, slow-moving biopic that didn't have the benefit of being based upon anyone's real life story, and I felt like, sadly, the movie played out very predictably, given the theme of ruthless oil man struggling with the church and his own soul that I had already gathered before going into the thing.
Maybe the whole movie is meant to be a cautionary tale for neocons. Given the themes of ruthless financial ambition and tactical partnerships with those who claim to be of devout, religious faith, it would probably make as much sense as anything (and there's some kind of gag in there to be made out of Plainview abandoning his son when he develops a handicap that might slow down his quest to build his financial empire, but it would be crude of me to go there with the neocon metaphor, right?)
I guess I'm just not all that captivated by the idea of a character who is tortured by having to choose between making a whole lot of money or living as a decent human being. We've just seen the whole thing too many times before, so I'm pretty impatient with characters who face that sort of decision as their main conflict. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Americans are fascinated with such characters, though (Americans being the money-grubbing types that they are, and often guilt-ridden, as well, about the things that they may be giving up in the pursuit of their professional lives and wealth).
I don't know. I probably should have seen the flick before it got all of this Oscar hype. Might've made me less judgmental.
Oh yeah. I enjoyed the film's music. The score was eerie, atmospheric, and helped make the music more interesting than it otherwise might have been.
This endeth my critique. I think.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Weekend

Mono E played a party at Mike's house. Eric drank tequila from a blue bottle .

Some birthday boy put his shirt on a stick and set it on fire. It was that kind of party.

On Sunday, altruistically, patriotically, in order to help bolster America's sagging economy, I bought this drum set for $200. It'll make the Kessel run in under 12 parsecs.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Happy Friday.
Here's something from yesterday's paper that I meant to comment on, but never got around to: Austin's police chief, Art Acevedo, is recommending a plan that would call for the installation of surveillance cameras on 6th Street, and along 12th Street, Chicon Street, Rundberg Lane, Lamar, and Montopolis in East Austin soon after.
I have some seriously conflicted feelings about this. On the one hand, the whole scheme kind of conjures up Orwellian images of a police state with no privacy for its citizens and government surveillance that monitors each person's actions every moment that they're outdoors. I have paranoid visions of a future in which vans wheel up to the curb and whisk citizens off to government detention every time someone spits on the sidewalk. I think of state agents sitting in darkened rooms, watching video monitors and keeping track of the connections between citizens, tracking who has been seen with whom in order to protect against potential anti-government collaboration. The idea of ongoing street level surveillance makes me nervous.
On the other hand, it would be nice to be able to respond in a timely fashion if a person were suffering some emergency and needed immediate assistance (but for some reason wasn't able to call it in). Similarly, it would be nice to be able to cut down on street crime (particularly violent crime, and/or property crime) by virtue of having more eyes available to spot such activities and to dispatch officers.
My paranoia may seem sort of far fetched, but keep in mind that once a video system is installed, it probably isn't going away (I imagine that the equipment will be maintained and upgraded, but once it's in place, I would guess that it's probably there to stay), and there's really no telling how the police or the government will be using their surveillance tools 10 or 20 years down the road (if someone had told me that all of the stuff in the Patriot Act was going to be legal ten years ago, I wouldn't have believed them). And how useful would these devices be for day to day police work, anyway? Do we really have that many citizen emergencies occurring that don't get called in by cell phone or landline? Are we going to be able to prosecute street level drug deals that we see on camera when all we can really see are some small, hidden objects changing hands? Can we positively identify prostitution activity just because we see two people conversing?
Surveillance of Sixth Street might seem to make the most sense, given the relatively high number of drunken assaults and other alcohol-induced tomfoolery that goes on down there every weekend (people tend to do dumb things down there, and are probably too intoxicated to realize or care that they're on camera when they're acting up), but I would bet that conclusive evidence of most street crime will be difficult to catch on video once the defendants figure out that surveillance cameras are trying to record their actions.
Like I said- I'm conflicted. I'm a prosecutor, and it sure would be nice to have a nice, clear, close-up photo of the guy breaking into your car or taking a drunken swing at you outside of some bar, but the civil libertarian in me isn't crazy about the idea of the government documenting every moment that I'm outside, recording who I'm with and what I'm up to. I don't need a government video existing somewhere that shows that I occasionally litter or pee behind a dumpster after a concert (these are, of course, merely hypothetical examples...).
Anyway, Austin's a pretty well-educated city with a lot of citizens who are attuned to the pros and cons of these sorts of issues, so it'll be interesting to see how the whole thing plays out. I hear that London already has pretty comprehensive video surveillance, and Londoners have just come to accept it and deal with it as a fact of life. I really have no idea whether the surveillance has had much of an impact upon their crime rate, though.

Not much else to report. I had dinner with Team Steans last night. The Mono Ensemble is supposed to play at a party this Saturday, so that's cool.

That's it for now. Maybe more later.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What's up? Not much here.
Last night I watched an episode of Frontline on PBS about the influence of technology upon the lives of the current generation of high school and junior high kids. It was pretty interesting. The show made me realize that there really is a generational rift between people my age and these kids who have grown up with the internet, cell phones, and text messages. I consider myself a borderline competent computer user, but despite my blog, the internet has never played any kind of central role in my social life. When I want to talk to a friend, I might email them, but I'm probably more likely to pick up the phone, or maybe even pay them a visit. The kids on this Frontline program were serious users of social networking sites, constantly checking Facebook and MySpace for messages and updating their profiles, typically many times per day. Furthermore, the kids on the show seemed much more comfortable communicating with their friends through text and instant messages rather than through traditional phone calls that involve actual human voices. One high school senior on the show explained that he was getting ready to attend the Coast Guard Academy in the fall, but that he had been riddled with anxiety since finding out that the academy did not allow cell phones or computer access during a cadet's first couple of months of school. The kid's parents said they honestly weren't sure that he would make it- that he was in the habit of constantly checking for and sending text messages, even during mealtimes or while watching programs on television, and they weren't sure how he would respond to a life without electronic communication devices.
Anyway, I'm not saying that all of this technology is either good or bad (although in the extreme case of this kid headed into the Coast Guard, it feels strongly negative to hear of some kid being unable to function without the technology), but the role that technology is playing in these kids lives is undoubtedly making life for them different than it was when we were growing up. Given the profile-based nature of these social networking sites, every kid is a celebrity (just check out the profile pics on MySpace and you quickly come to understand the importance that people place upon portraying the proper "image" for the public), and every kid is available to be easily contacted by almost every other person on the internet. Kids amass hundreds of so-called "friends" who they keep track of on their profile ticker, but kids are probably more likely than ever to spend time alone in their rooms, their attention locked onto a computer monitor, and their conversations taking place through impersonal typing rather than face to face, or even on the phone.
Anyway, the show was interesting. Kids spend lots of time online and apparently have pretty active, complex social lives online which their parents typically know very little about. Kids have always kept their social lives fairly private, so that's nothing new, but the strange combination of anonymity and intimacy that the internet creates is making for a whole new social dynamic that we may not fully understand yet (kids online may tell intimate details of their lives to people that they have commiserated with, but who, in reality, they don't really know. Pictures and stories are traded in ways that kids might be hesitant to engage in in "real" life. Cause and effect seem to sometimes blur in an online setting, and kids seem to see their online actions as less permanent and more private than they really are (i.e., kids seem willing to post pictures of themselves engaged in questionable behavior or post regrettable statements when in real life they might be hesitant to engage in such things. The irony, of course, is that the internet leads at least a semi-permanent trail which is potentially accessible by millions, while a momentary indiscretion in real life is often fleeting and may go virtually unnoticed by anyone).
I've gone on about this way longer than I meant to.
My only point is to say that the internet is changing the social fabric of our country, and the generation of kids coming up through high school right now is probably the first one that is really going to fully feel the effects and the implications. Of course, being the first generation to come of age in such an enviroment, they're also uniquely positioned to understand technology and deal with it (as some of the kids on the show pointed out, they've been using computers since they got out of diapers, and they're pretty well versed in how to deal with people and avoid pitfalls on the internet). An interesting topic. At least to me.
Well, the economy may or may not be going into the crapper. I'll be the first person to admit that economics isn't really my strong point. Somehow I doubt, however, that this "economic stimulus package" is really going to do much to stop or slow a recession, if we're truly headed into one. If people's homes are losing value (realizing that homes are one of the biggest investments and largest assets that most people own), if oil prices continue to climb, and if the U.S. dollar continues to lose value against various forms of foreign currency, I doubt that a handout of a few hundred dollars to the middle and lower classes is really going to turn the U.S. economy around. It just feels like weak medicine against a potentially serious ailment. (I know I sound cynical, but a stipend of $300 isn't even going to fill up the gas tanks of most SUVs 4 times)
This has been a totally random post. Oh well. I'm having a pretty random day.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Well, first off, let me say that, yes, Heath Ledger's death was tragic, and as a blogger, I guess that in some way I feel obligated to comment on it, but, in truth, although I think the guy's a talented actor, I'm not sure I've really been a big fan of any of his films, so I don't think I'm in a very good position to comment on his passing. I am, however, looking forward to see him portray The Joker in the upcoming Batman movie, which I guess they've already finished shooting, but which hasn't been released yet (I guess it's in the post-production stage).

In other news, I caught this story on CNN, initially, and then looked it up on the interwebs this morning: apparently Sasquatch is alive and well, but has retreated to Mars in order to avoid the human paparazzi. NASA's Spirit probe, a six-wheeled robot, managed to catch a picture of the reclusive big guy during its three month mission to study the surface of Mars. It's not clear exactly how Sasquatch spends his time on the surface of the Red Planet, but I, for one, am happy to see that he's finally managed to find himself some piece and quiet, even if he had to switch planets in order to do it.

What else? Last night I had dinner with Ryan and Jamie (thanks for the spaghetti, Jamie!!), and watched an episode of Gangland on the History Channel when I got home. The episode was interesting, if a bit disturbing, in that its topic was gang membership within the U.S. military. Apparently a lot of inner city gang members from across the country have been joining the military (which isn't all that surprising, I guess, given their situation and the opportunities which the military presents for them). What's surprising, I suppose, is that these gang members don't give up their gang affiliation or allegiance once they're in the military (and the military doesn't really have an effective way of screening out "active gang members" when recruiting). The show included a bunch of graffitti representing quite a few different gangs, with the graffitti painted on buildings and military equipment in Baghdad and other places that U.S. troops have been deployed. Home videos taken by U.S. military personnel both at home and abroad show gang signs being thrown at parties, clubs, and other events. Even more disturbing, the law enforcement personnel interviewed on the show talked about how some gangs have encouraged their members to join the military in order to gain discipline and combat training. Gang members who have returned from military service have reentered gang society upon their return to civilian life, and the show included evidence that military strategy, training, and tactics have been employed by gang members while committing crimes after having left the military (this evidence included some pretty shocking security camera footage of one gang member, a former marine, who planned and executed an ambush against several armed police officers, specifically taking advantage of a number of techniques that are taught during Marine Corps combat training).
Anyway, the show was intersting simply by virtue of the fact that I had never even thought about the possibility of gang members in the military before. But as one of the gang experts said, for many of these recruits, the gangs are involved in their lives long before the military gets ahold of them, and given the neighborhoods that they come from, the gangs are likely to be a part of their lives long after they discharge. I guess the Pentagon says that less than one percent of the U.S. armed forces have any sort of gang affiliation, but that still allows for over 10,000 gang members in the U.S. military. Freaky.
Well, I gotta run, but I hope you guys have a good one. It's cold and a little damp here in Austin today, so everyone stay warm!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

By the way, Larry Lee Thweatt popped in for a surprise visit at the office today. Lee was in town doing a deposition on a criminal case, so he stopped by before heading back home to Houston. It was good to see Lee, and I wish we'd had longer to catch up. It's always good to see friends, but sometimes even moreso when the visit comes out of the blue and you're having a bad day. Good to see you, Lee!!!
Hey. Hope everyone had a good MLK Day and a good three day weekend (for those who had it).
My weekend was low key, but pretty nice.
Friday night was rainy and crappy, so I stayed home and watched TV and hung out with Cassidy. Saturday I got up and ran a few errands, and then went to see Cloverfield with Ryan, Jamie, and Julia.
Cloverfield was pretty good. I mean, the dialogue wasn't spectacular, and the plot was pretty much a one trick pony, but insofar it was a movie about a giant monster attacking New York City that was meant to scare the bejeezus out of you, it was about as effective as I probably could've hoped. The idea of making a monster movie from the point of view of the man in the street (who really has no idea what the heck is going on), is a pretty good one. And of course, the images in the movie are fairly reminiscent of 9/11 footage and the combat footage shot by embedded military reporters in Iraq. The familiar feel of the footage lends realism to what is otherwise a pretty fantastic movie and lends some emotional weight to a bunch of characters that the audience has only a passing acquaintance with.
Anyway, I liked the movie. I'm a sucker for movies about giant monsters, though. As a kid I used to wrangle up a PB&J, some pretzel twists, and a glass of chocolate milk (thanks, Mom!), and plop myself down in front of the TV on Saturday mornings for some Godzilla vs. monster of the week movie madness. I don't know, maybe it was because I was always the biggest kid in my class, or maybe it's just because I always loved the idea of being able to smash entire cities if you're in a bad mod, but I've always had a soft spot for those big, misunderstood monsters.

Anyway, Saturday was Cloverfield, and then Saturday night our family friend, Heather Wagner, ventured into town and joined us all for some South Austin Asian cuisine at Hao Hao. It was good to see Heather. We hung out after dinner at Ryan and Jamie's house for awhile and watched an episode of Monster Quest where they were talking about rods (flying, torpedo-like creatures which move faster than the human eye, and which can only be captured on camera or with other high tech means). Ryan now thinks that rods are just some sort of camera trick created when bugs ro birds fly past an open lens very quickly, but I'm pretty sure that invisible, interdimensional, hyperkinetic, flying animals are all around us.
Sunday I got up and went to the dog park with Cassidy, Mel, Lucy, Jamie, and Ryan. There was a lot of dog wrangling involved. We had a pretty good time (us humans). The dogs had a very good time. There's something kind of magical about seeing a whole bunch of dogs together (well, the butt sniffing isn't that magical, but the general air of excitement can't be beat).
Sunday evening we had Mono E practice. Practice went pretty well. In addition, Sunday was Eric and Reed's 35th birthday (yup, same age, and they both share the same birthday). Happy birthday to those guys.
Anyway, we rocked a lot, and then I watched the Packers game on the DVR. Actually, I watched the game all the way up until it went into overtime, and then I realized it had been cut off, and I had to check the internet to find out the Packers had lost. What a gyp!
Monday it rained a lot. I did a little laundry, played some guitar, went to Target, and had dinner with Ryan and Jamie. Not too exciting, but it was a decent way to spend my free day.

Well, today's been crazy, so I gotta run, but I just wanted to check in. Hope ya'll are doing okay.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Happy Birthday, Reed and Eric!!!!

For those of you not in the know, Reed Shaw and Eric Gottula (our drummer and our lead singer/guitarist from the Mono Ensemble) both share a birthday today! Congrats on 35 fast trips around the sun, boys!

Sunny January Sunday at the Dog Park

Cassidy ruins a Kodak moment.
Ryan and Mel prepare to play some fetch.Cassidy and Lucy play chase.

Melbotis, king of all he surveys.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Hey there. So glad it's Friday. It's cold and rainy and bleak here in the ATX, and I'm ready for my three day weekend.
Last night I went out and had some barbecue at Rudy's with Ryan, Jamie, and Nicole. It was good to hang out with those kids.
Afterwards I went home and watched Transformers. I had rented it on Netflix because I enjoyed it in the theater, but Ryan pretty much hated it (ok- strongly disliked it), and I wanted to see it again and figure out what the deal was.
It's kind of another schizophrenic movie that isn't sure what it wants to be. The movie opens with a really cool action sequence with a big ol' transformer attacking a U.S. military compound in the middle east, but the scene is fairly violent, with American troops and vehicles getting tossed around like rag dolls. Another scene, occurring shortly later in the movie, includes the fairly casual killing of a few people aboard Air Force One when a much smaller Transformer sneaks aboard. This violence is okay for an adult audience, but later on the movie feels like it's much more geared toward kids (I'm mostly thinking of the behavior that some of the Transformers exhibit- breakdancing and peeing on people spring to mind as obvious examples-as well as some of the over-the-top acting and dialogue). Of course, maybe I'm just confusing juvenile writing for a script that was actually written with young people in mind.
Anyway, I still liked the movie, even though I pretty much classify it as a kids movie (in spite of the violence). I like the special effects, I like the overall storyline, and upon this second viewing, I noticed that I really liked the score (which helped to add a lot of dramatic tension and a bit of an epic feel which probably wouldn't have been present otherwise).
Anyway, I still like the flick.
Not much else going on at the moment. Maybe more later.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Thursday. Hope all's well.
Last night I watched Shoot 'Em Up, a Clive Owen action flick that was, in the end, little more than ridiculous gun porn. Don't get me wrong, I love a good action movie as much as any red blooded American male (despite my on-blog persona as a wild-eyed, gun-hating liberal, I gleefully devoured Schwarzenegger and Stalone action movies in my youth and am still embarrassed to admit that I enjoy the digital bloodlust of the first person shooters when the hankering for a videogame strikes me). Shoot 'Em Up sounded like a fun movie in theory (the lone hero taking on the bad guy army with his legendary gunfighting skills), but it ended up feeling like a movie that thought it was a lot more clever than it actually was. Shoot 'Em Up was filled with all kinds of tongue-in-cheek action movie jokes and completely ridiculous, over-the-top fighting sequences, but I just didn't find these elements all that funny or amusing, so the movie kind of fell flat. The movie suffered from some kind of weird split personality- the desire to be a really cool, fast-paced, kickass action movie, and the simultaneous need to apologize for and make light of the exact sort of revved up action flick that the movie was apsiring to be. The stylized, absurd violence of Shoot 'Em Up was, I suppose, meant to allow viewers to enjoy the action and violence without having to take the film very seriously, but I think this kind of over-the-top goofiness robbed the film of any kind of real, dramatic tension, which only left the possibility of enjoying the movie from a comedic standpoint. But as I've said before, the movie really wasn't very funny (I don't know, is the idea of delivering a baby or having sex during a gunfight funny? Seemed kind of stupid to me).
So, basically, Shoot 'Em Up sucked. I want those two hours of my life back.

Other from that, sadly, I don't have too much.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hola. How's everybody doing? Okay? I hope so. Feels like we're kind of settling into the mid winter blahs (the holidays are over, and there's just not a lot to do but start the countdown for spring).
I had dinner over at Ryan and Jamie's last night. Jamie made some kind of breaded pork (I think it was pork tenderloin), and it was really good. Cassidy came with me, and she spent most of her time playing with Lucy. Ryan and I have been contemplating a trip to Costa Rica, so we spent some time after dinner looking at some travel guidebooks that Mandy lent me. We're open to suggestions or helpful tips from anyone who's been to Costa Rica.
What else?
Looks like Major Applewhite will return to UT as a running backs coach for the Horns. That would be really cool. I always like Applewhite a lot. He wasn't as physically talented as Vince Young or Chris Simms or some of these other guys, but Applewhite was a smart quarterback who typically made good decisions and played with a lot of heart. I think he would probably be not only a good coach for these younger players, but a good role model as well (it may seem strange to say that college football players need role models, but given the number of UT players who've had legal problems in recent years, it couldn't hurt to bring someone to the UT program who might help to instill some maturity and wisdom in the players).
Also happy to hear that the city is considering the recommendations of some consultants who are studying ways to make sure that some affordable housing remains available in the downtown Austin area. Currently the typical price of a one bedroom condo downtown is approaching $500,000, a price that is well out of reach for many one or two person households (the median incomes for such families in the are being somewhere between $50 and $60K). The consultants suggest subsidies and the construction of mid-rise buildings (amongst other things) to help make downtown residences affordable.
I guess some people may not see the need to provide subsidies in order to provide affordable housing downtown, but, personally, if we're going to convert downtown Austin into a residential area (a process which has been well underway for some time now), I'd like to see some social and economic diversity in the process. The idea of turning downtown Austin into an exclusive enclave for the wealthy just doesn't sit very well with me, especially since developers have been rushing to tear down affordable housing all over town and replacing it with much more expensive condominiums and lofts. I'm not saying people at the median income level should be given a free ride, but I think that there should be places available for them to live in the downtown area if they choose to do so. Placing value on concepts such as diversity within our community should be part of what makes Austin an enlightened city rather than simply an affluent one.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Hey there. So...... it's Tuesday.
I wish I had more to report, but I just don't.
Yesterday I attended a forum down at City Hall about dealing with mentally ill people in the criminal justice system. It was surprisingly well attended (lots of policy and advocacy groups, plus people from the justice system, including judges, probation, the police chief, the mayor, etc.). The main issue that seems like it needs to be addressed in Austin is the need for more bed spaces for inpatient residential treatment. We fall woefully short in that area, although we seem to have a lot of people working on the problem. Of course, we need bed spaces to treat mental illness, and we need bed spaces to treat drug and alcohol addiction, and frequently the two things overlap. My experience thus far has been that a lot of people seem interested in wanting to provide help for the mentally ill, but people (and I'm talking about Texas taxpayers here- not people in the healthcare industry) are somewhat less excited about funding inpatient drug treatment. The problem is that we get a lot of mentally ill people who self medicate with illegal drugs, and, of course, drug users whose prolonged use of some drugs may result in mental deterioration which ends up with people in conditions pretty similar to traditional mental illness. So the issues of drug addiction and mental illness are not as easily divisible as you might guess.
Anyway, the meeting was pretty interesting, and if nothing else, I came away from it recognizing that there are a lot of people in Austin who are interested in advoctating for the mentally ill and who are very concerned about their well-being and the services that they're receiving. It's good to see. The more troubling side is that there are limited resources available to address the problem of the mentally ill, and for many of them, sadly, the best treatment that they receive is when they're in jail.
Not a lot else to report. Went to bed quite early last night because I'm still battling cedar allergies.

Monday, January 14, 2008

By the way, I watched both Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and the first part of the Comanche Moon miniseries (prequel to Lonesome Dove) last night, and I actually enjoyed both shows. I thought that The Sarah Connor Chronicles did a decent job of maintaining the overall feel and flow of the Terminator movies (the small handful of clunky, dumb lines on the show were delivered by Terminators, sadly, but that's also kind of in keeping with the movies), and I was glad to see that the producers didn't try to "lighten up" the mood of the overall Terminator storyline. Some people will undoubtedly have problems with the casting of Summer Glau as a cute, young, female Terminator (I have my reservations about this as well), but the focus seems to be primarily upon Lena Headey as Sarah Connor, and I thought that she carried off the role of the paranoid warrior/mommy pretty well.
Comanche Moon was pretty good, too. Steve Zahn as a young Gus McCrae was a strong bit of casting, I thought. You can just kind of imagine young, weird Steve Zahn morphing into crazy, old Robert Duvall over the years. There were a few awkward moments in Comanche Moon (acting wise), and Karl Urban's Woodrow Call isn't as strong as Steve Zahn's Gus, but I've read the book of Comanche Moon, and I think the miniseries does a decent job at putting the story on screen. Plus, it's funny to see the Hollywood version of "old west", 1800's era Austin. Not sure how they're going to get away with the portrayal of native Americans that took place in the book. Some of the Comanches in the book get into some pretty nasty hijinks, and I'm not sure that the whole thing is going to be seen as very politically correct.
Man, I just noticed that I never actually posted the blog entry that I wrote up for last Friday. It wasn't very interesting, anyway, (it was mostly about how everyone up at my office, myself included, is struggling to deal with their allergies as the cedar pollen counts continue to jump off the charts).
The weekend was very laid back and restful- purposefully so, given how I've been feeling a bit run down with the cedar fever. I finished watching season 4 of The Wire (which was muy bueno), and I watched some football (go Packers!!!!). I also got together with my brother, Roundball, a few times and played some music. It may seem like a small thing, but I've been playing music since I was about 14, and it's taken until I'm in my mid 30's for Roundball to express an interest in playing music and to pick up an instrument. Anyway, we had some fun, and Roundball's a pretty quick study on the bass. Won't be long now before the Steans boys will be rocking at a venue near you.
What else? We also went over to Reed's house so Ryan could peruse Reed's comic collection and give him a rough idea of how much his stuff was worth (apparently it was a surprisingly good collection), and I finished out one of my Xbox360 games, and almost finished another (I finished out Call of Duty 4, which has got to be one of the best videogames that was released last year, and almost finished out The Darkness, which has been less impressive from a technical standpoint, but still a lot of fun).
Anyway, I spent the weekend trying to stay inside to avoid cedar pollen.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hey. Busy day. Sorry.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

There's an excellent article in Time Magazine this week about the HBO television series, The Wire. The Wire is, quite simply, one of the best TV shows to ever be put on the air. At first blush, it looks like a police procedural, but it's much deeper than that. It's basically about crime in Baltimore, and all of the different people that it involves and effects- from streetcorner drug dealers to the longshoremen's union to politicians and junior high students. The characters on the show are shockingly realistic, with a fair number of the actors pulled from the streets of Baltimore by the show's casting staff. The city's problems are portrayed realistically, without being romanticized, from the surprisingly complex internal workings of the city's drug networks to the bureaucracy and internal politics of Baltimore's sizeable police department. The show is about race and class, but not overtly so. Baltimore, being a predominantly black city, has African Americans occupying every rung of the social ladder, from drug dealers and junkies up through police chiefs and mayors (so the show isn't just about white cops picking on black criminals). The Wire portrays a spectrum of life within Baltimore's black community, and apparently it has developed a large black audience as well, but there has been speculation (as noted in the Time article) that the show's focus on black characters may be part of the reason why the show has never managed to reach a wider audience. If that's what's going on, white folks are missing out.

Anyway, you should check out the Time article, but more importantly, you should check out the show. It's not the kind of thing that will necessarily immediately blow you away. It's the kind of show that makes you listen carefully to every word of dialogue and get to know the characters. It's a TV show that employs nuance and subtext. Watching each season of the show is like reading a good book, where the importance of all the individual pieces and scenes may not become evident until later in the story. And it's created by people who intimately know and love the city of Baltimore- people who think the story of their city is worth telling, especially if doing so carries with it the possibility of change.

So that's it. I can lead you to water, but I can't make you drink. Kim Bloom, Kevin Palka, Jennifer, Sigmund, and I have all been watching the show for awhile, and it's the kind of thing that constantly generates conversation. I know that I run the risk of annoying some people or scaring them off just by endorsing the show so strongly, but I don't care. Ninety five percent of the things that we see on television are complete trash, and most of the remaining five percent is merely passable. I really believe that this show is a true work of art (and I'm not saying the show is flawless, but I maintain that it's definitely true art) that is representative of a certain part of American reality as it exists today. Whether people understand that fact now, or come to understand it fifty years from now, The Wire will continue to exist as one of the most important stories told through a television or film medium for the era in which it was created.

Ooookay. I'm done now. I bet you don't get another rant out of me for quite a while that's admonishing people for not watching more TV.
Hello. Well, the New Hampshire primary and the Iowa caucus are over, and the only thing that really seems to have been established is that no one is going to just steamroll through this election season. I'm happy to see that Hillary isn't going to just run away with the Democratic nomination. I like Obama. I like Edwards. I probably like both of them a little more than Hillary, although I think Hillary would still make a good president (I think she has her priorities in the right place and I think she's a smart lady, but I think she lacks charisma and that her general presence musters a lot of opposition from the Clinton-hating right).

And McCain is leaping to the forefront among the Republicans? This could turn out to be a pretty interesting election year.

Well, things are hectic today, and I'm not all that inspired (when inspiration hits, I can usually crank out some fairly long blog posts at a remarkably rapid rate). Maybe I'll talk with ya'll later.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

By the way, apparently someone set fire to Austin's KOOP radio studio this weekend. Apparently the KOOP radio studios have already burned at least twice before, including a big fire in February of 2006 that forced the radio station to move into a new location.

Admittedly, I don't listen to all that much KOOP radio, but I love the idea of it (you know, radio by, for, and of the people), and occasionally I tune in when I have a hankering for eclectic music or some political discussion. Which brings me to my point- I sure hope that there's not some jackass out there who's burning down KOOP radio just because he disagrees with some of the political discourse that's occurring on it. For one thing, that would be terrorism (meaning an act of violence meant as coercion- in this case, intending to influence or stifle free speech), and for another, it would run contrary to the entire purpose of KOOP radio. If you don't like what someone is saying on KOOP radio, it would seem that the appropriate response would be to try to get a show with a countering viewpoint put on the air, or to at least call in and express your views when you hear people express things that you disagree with on the air.

I wonder if it will turn out that the arsonist was someone who had volunteered at KOOP radio, but then felt snubbed or slighted for some reason. Maybe the arsonists motivations were more personal than political. Who knows?
All I know is that Rush Limbaugh's idiotic diatribes get me plenty annoyed almost every time I listen to his show, and yet I still manage to turn the channel and listen to something else before the urge to burn down the 590 KLBJ studios overwhelms me. And Rush has it coming.

By the way, my favorite bit of Rush B.S. for the day was an attack on Huckabee in which he says that Huckabee does all evangelical Christians a disservice when he uses religious faith to promote a "liberal, populist agenda". I love the notion that only the most conservative members of the far right have cornered the market on religious faith in this country- that they're the only ones who understand the mind and will of God, and that they're the only ones who understand how to implement it. Limbaugh is attacking Huckabee for raising taxes in order to support schools [especially since, god forbid, some of those schools may have the children of illegal aliens in attendance?] Heck, I guess I'm just amused by the notion of a Jesus who is more concerned about getting a good break on his taxes than he is about healing and helping the people around him. Up is down. Black is white. Listening to Rush Limbaugh is the best way to understand the will of God. I probably won't vote for Huckabee, but, personally, I think it's nice to see someone who's religious faith leads him to care about things like the environment and education for all children. But, obviously, I just don't get it.).
Well, I even heard the news woman on KLBJ this morning say that it was a slow day (she was speaking in reference to the news, but I'm applying it in even a broader context). There just ain't a lot going on. I watched parts of the national championship game last night, but I ended up flipping channels a lot and not really paying attention. I guess I just don't care about LSU or Ohio State all that much, and I'm not sure whether to even believe the fact that these are really the best two teams in the country playing each other.

I watched both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report last night, and they were both very strange. They're back to doing new shows, despite the writers strike, but they're having to do their shows without their usual bits (the fake correspondent pieces on The Daily Show and Colbert's segments like The Word, and so on, and so forth). Both Colbert and Stewart seemed sort of uncomfortable in moving forward in spite of the writer's strike, with Stewart declaring that this was merely A Daily Show (rather than The Daily Show) and Colbert mispronouncing the name of his own show. In addition, each show spent the entirety of their time explaining the writer's strike and having it analyzed by on-air experts in labor relations and collective bargaining. It made for fine programming for one night's show, but I'll be interested to see how they proceed from here on out. Are the hosts really going to be responsible for writing everything they say each night? That's going to get tiring in a hurry, I would think.

On the other hand, apparently there's no end to this strike in sight, and these are people who really seem to love what they do and who hate being off the air, especially when there's an election occurring that they could be making fun of. And to keep matters in perspective, Jon Stewart pointed out that the last time his show had been taken off the air was after the 9/11 attacks, and that was only for a week. Now the shows have been off the air for months, and it's all because the writers and the studios can't seem to agree on the appropriate math equation to use when dividing up profits. Stewart indicated that he had tried to approach the Writer's Guild to reach some kind of separate agreement concerning the profit sharing for writers on his show, but they didn't go for it.
Whatever. I think the screenwriters are important, but maybe they should be careful about overestimating their importance. Between the deluge of reality programming that the networks have been inundating us with in recent years and the countless waiters and busboys out there who are actively wanting to sell scripts to people (and criminal prosecutors, for that matter), the writers guild may not have the leverage that it thinks it does. It'll be interesting to see how these late night shows fair without writers. I bet there are a lot of writers wringing their hands and hoping these shows can't pull it off.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Mono E and Crack Immortalized in Luckenbach

Well, our good friend and number one fan, Stephanie Gottula (okay, she also happens to be married to The Mono E's lead singer, Eric), has honored both The Mono Ensemble and Crack with a set of stones in the hall of fame walkway in Luckenbach. As I told the bands in an email, it makes me smile to know that countless longhaired rednecks will read those bricks and scratch their heads in confusion. I'm also happy to know that in some small way we'll be immortalized in a place that's a bit of a legend in Texas music. So next time you're in Luckenbach, look for us in the bricks, friends. Heck, it might be worth a road trip. It's not like you've got anything better going on.

"Let's go to Luckenbach Texas with Waylon and Willie and the boys,
This successful life we're livin' has got us fueding like the Hatfields and McCoys
Between Hank Williams' pain songs, Newberry's train songs, and blue eyes cryin' in the rain,
Out in Luckenbach Texas ain't nobody feelin' no pain..."
Hey there. Well, my break from work is over, and it's back to work. Oh well. It just went by so darn fast....

Not too much to report. I went over to Team Steans's headquarters last night for some burgers and a viewing of the new American Gladiators show. Roundball and I used to watch the old
American Gladiators show in our youth because it used to come on around midnight or so, and because, frankly, there wasn't much else on. Plus, it was always fun to watch those steroid-fueled Gladiators throw the normal-sized weekly competitors around.
Anyway, it's not exactly thought-provoking programming, but it's still pretty entertaining if you want to see people wail on each other for money.

Other from that, no big news. Roundball and I are talking about planning a trip, but it's probably too soon to go into much detail on that (too much iffiness still involved).

Well, I guess that's about it, for the moment. The Iranians have been messing with our Navy a bit, but no one seems all that freaked out by it yet. Still, you gotta wonder what they're thinking. Talk about the wisdom in letting sleeping dogs lie.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Hey, guys. I'm enjoying having some time off. Yesterday I went and saw Juno, and today I went to see The Orphanage. I thought Juno was pretty good, although I'm not sure it lived up to all of the hype that it's been getting. It just felt to me that the main character, who was supposed to be sixteeen, kind of talked like a 30-something hipster, even though the writer occasionally threw in lines about how she was dealing with things that were way beyond her maturity level. You wouldn't have known she was immature from the way that she acted. She handled the whole thing better than most 30 year olds would when dealing with a completely unplanned pregnancy. Plus, I'm just tired of these movies where there's some cute, witty, funny kid who's into really cool music and movies and stuff, but then for some reason we're expected to believe that they're social outcasts at their school. The kids at my school who were social outcasts weren't witty. Kids at my school who were clever were at least respected, if not admired (which is, I think, part of the weird universality of high school movies- I think that most people who weren't at the absolute top of the social strata in high school like to look back on their high school experience and think of themselves as outcasts, but it just isn't true. I think high school had a few really popular kids and a few kids who were actively unpopular, and a whole lot of kids milling around inbetween. There really are kids at the very bottom, and their lives were pretty painful, and I don't think many of those kids grew up to write successful movie scripts). On the other hand, the performances in the movie were pretty strong (it was just the writing that I had some issues with), and there were some funny scenes.
Like I said- I also saw The Orphanage. It was a Spanish film, and I guess Guillermo Del Toro helped produce it or something, because his name flashed across the opening credits at some point, and it made me cringe. Guillermo Del Toro makes beautiful, fairly creepy movies, but ultimately, his films (well, his less commercial films) tend to be morose, melancholy examinations on the way that people deal with death rather than just scary movies. I'm thinking Pan's Labyrinth and The Devil's Backbone here- not Blade 2 or Hellboy 2. Anyway, The Orphanage was, for me, more depressing and extraordinarily sad than scary (although there were a couple of scary scenes). Even depressing wouldn't bother me if it lent some insight into the human condition, but The Orphanage, like Pan's Labyrinth, seemed to have an underlying theme about how fantasy (and ultimately, perhaps, delusion or borderline madness) are ultimately one of the more satisfying and beautiful ways of dealing with the pain of death. I'm just not sure that I'm ready to get onboard with that message, and since I don't find the overall theme very convincing, it just kind of leaves me feeling depressed at the end of the movie (it's like he walks you into this really dark place, with the promise that there's going to be some kind of reward at the end of it, but at the end, I just don't find myself buying into the message that seems like it's supposed to be the big payoff). I guess that to me it just feels like Del Torro romanticizes death in some weird way, and I'm not all that big a fan of it.

Anyhoo, I know I just pounced on both of those movies, but the fact that they both even generated thought and discussion (I've talked about Juno with several people already) means that they had some merit and are probably worth checking out. The Orphanage, in particular, was a really beautiful movie, and definitely has some haunting (no pun intended) scenes. It's just damn sad, and I was in the mood for creepy and scary without all of the accompanying angst and depression that this film brought with it.

What else? We went and saw Hillary and Stuart's band, The Flyin' A's, last night at Artz Rib House. They sounded good.

I'm a little surprised that Barack did so well against Hillary in Iowa , and I'm really happy to see that John Edwards did so well. Frnakly, I'd be happy with a win by any of the three in the general election, but Hillary just seemed like she was going to steamroll over everyone in the primaries, and as I've said before, I have some issues with the way that I think she'll galvanize the conservative base in the general election.
Huckabee is making his run, but I was listening to Rush Limbaugh the other day (I do that sometimes during lunch- know your enemy and all that), and the neocons and the far right really don't like him a whole lot, so now I'm thinking he may be a decent choice within the Republican camp. I think he'll be more of a consensus builder, if he takes office, than Bush's administration has even been (well, he really couldn't be worse about it, but you get my drift).

Well, I gotta run. I'll rap at ya later.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Hey. Hope your 2008 is going okay. Mine had a bit of a bumpy start. I have this week off from work, and I managed to get myself into a small fender bender yesterday when I was out running errands. No one was hurt, and the damage was minor, but it was still a drag. As the other guy said when he got out of his car, "Well, happy 2008..."

Not much else to report, really. New Year's Eve was low key, but very nice. Thanks to everyone who came. Thanks to the members of the 2008 Superjam who helped craft some excellent grooves to bring in the new year.

What else...? I went and saw I Am Legend on Tuesday with Ryan and Jamie. Not exactly an uplifting movie, but I enjoyed it. It's funny that you can make a movie about the sole survivor of a zombie-creating apocolypse, and, ultimately, still not have a movie that's quite as dark or nihilistic as the Coen brothers' neo-western about one really mean Mexican. I guess it all comes down to the possibility of hope, and that's not exactly a quality that Cormac McCarthy is overburdened with.

I guess that's it for now. I'm on break, after all.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year's 2008

The traditional New Year's fire. Kim, Reed, Jim, and Sigmund.

Team Steans gaze into the fire.

Andy, Sigmund, Kim, Chris, Mandy, and Rami.

Andy bolts on. Like Michael. With stolen party supplies under his hat.

It was a nice New Year's Eve. I want to thank all of the friends who made it over for coming and celebrating with me. You guys rock.