Friday, February 29, 2008

Sorry I'm not around, but there's almost no time for blogging today. Enjoy your Leap Day, for it comes only once every four years. Mono E is supposed to be gigging tonight at some party. Let's hope this one doesn't get cancelled.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Happy Birthday, D.K. Punzi!!!!!

Today is DK's birthday, and I almost missed it. It's pretty annoying, too, because on Tuesday I asked her when her birthday was (I had birthdays on the mind because I was already thinking about Mandy's birthday this week), and she wouldn't tell me. I thought that I remembered that it was sometime in the late summer or early fall, and she said, "Yeah- it's sometime around then." Infuriating little ankle biter.... ;)

Anyway, this morning a friend at the courthouse told me it was DK's birthday, so at least I got the chance to take her out to a decent lunch and wish her many happy returns.

What else? I ate at the new Zen restaurant by my house for the first time last night with Ryan and Jamie. Weedo had told me that it was pretty good, and sure enough, it was. It's nice to have a locally owned, relatively healthy place to eat nearby that serves noodle bowls and whatnot.

A new study by the Pew Center on the States says that 1 in 100 adults is behind bars in this country. One in 36 Hispanic adults is incarcerated, and one of every 15 black adults is behind bars. Texas currently has the nation's largest prison population at 172,000, and states are averaging somewhere around 7% of their annual budgets on corrections spending. Critics question whether these massive prison populations and the accompanying dollars required for all of these prison sentences are really translating into safer communities. Texas and other states are beginning to get a little smarter, investing more money into drug treatment programs and rehabilitation programs for drug addicts and nonviolent offenders rather than locking them away for long periods of time. Not only does this free up prison space for the more violent convicts, but hopefully it helps to break the cycle of addiction and recidivism that continually cycles many drug users repeatedly though the system.
Personally, I'm all for treatment and rehab services for nonviolent drug offenders, and I'd like to see nonviolent offenders with mental health problems diverted into treatment as well. Aside from the fact that I think these solutions are more humane than simply locking people up, I think that overall, in the long run, treatment solutions are probably more cost effective than having to repeatedly deal with these people over and over in the justice system. In the same breath, let me say that I still think we need to hold people accountable for their actions- violent offenders need to be locked up, and people who refuse to cooperate with treatment should still face the penalty of incarceration.

And now they're opening an FBI inquiry into Roger Clemens's Congressional testimony, his denial of steroid use. I've heard people say that they should just leave Clemens alone- that this whole Congressional inquiry into the baseball doping scandal is a ridiculous waste of time and money. I kind of agree that the overall inquiry is a strange thing for the federal government to take such an active interest in, but if Clemens really did lie before Congress, I find that perjury inexcusable. Whether you agree with the investigation or not, you don't get to go sit in front of one of the most powerful legislative bodies in the world and lie to them (especially when you're doing so for the simple purpose of self promotion). If Clemens is telling the truth, he needs to be vindicated, but from the testimony that I heard, it didn't sound like he was being honest. Other players, like Andy Pettite, have at least acknowledged that they used performance enhancing drugs and owned up to their mistakes. And you know what? People are pretty willing to forgive when someone is willing to admit and apologize.
I don't think Clemens needs to necessarily be investigated or prosecuted for the use of these drugs- for a time, so many players were apparently using them that it was probably very hard to be competitive without them- but lying to Congress in order to protect your public image is inexcusable (and may prove to be very ineffective as well).

Well, that's about all I've got. Hope you gys are having a good day.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

happy birthday, mandy!!

mandy said she really didn't want to celebrate her birthday this year, so i'm quietly wishing her a happy birthday in all lower case letters, so it will seem like less of a celebration. i hope you have a pretty good day on your birthday, mandy, even if you're not really in the mood to celebrate it.

Other than Mandy's birthday, I don't have a lot to report. I went to dinner last night with some of my neighbors (including Mandy) at Hyde Park. It was a nice dinner, but for some reason we spent an inordinate amount of time discussing rats and mice, and how to deal with the little buggers if they get into your house. There were many anecdotes, ranging from cute to mildly disturbing. Kind of a strange topic for a dinner conversation. There was some discussion about our dogs and other topics as well, but we just kept coming back to those rats.

I didn't watch the debate after dinner. I mostly just hung out with Cassidy and flipped channels.

There's not a cloud in the sky so far today. Hope you guys have a good one. Maybe more later. Maybe.

p.s.- uggggh. I haven't been able to log onto my MSN email account this morning, and now I just read that Hotmail accounts have been down since yesterday afternoon. Microsoft issued a statement saying they've fixed the problem, but a bunch of people are posting comments saying they still can't get on. It's so frustrating. You don't realize how much you depend on your email until you can't get to it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Okay. So I've gotten some of this Nader anger off of my chest over the last few posts, and I just need to let it go. It's going to be a long campaign season if I keep getting riled up every time someone does something that ticks me off.

By the way, in the spirit of occasionally trying to convey and comment on some positive news over here at The Adventures, I'd like to note that the New York Philharmonic Orchestra is performing in North Korea this week. I guess that the orchestra played in Pyongyang yesterday, and their performance, particularly a rendition of "Arirang", a Korean folk song, was met with exceptional enthusiasm, applause, and even some tears. Apparently the crowd loved the Philharmonic, and the members of the Philharmonic were equally moved by the appreciative audience.
Steanso is a strong believer in the power of music, kids, and it's literally awesome to hear that music has the power to bring together people from two countries with such polarized, hostile political viewpoints. Music is just one of those things in life that cuts through rhetoric and argument and gets right down to people's emotional core. Music communicates without words, it speaks to people without the obstacle of language, and its messages and themes are universal, binding us together as human beings when politics and ideology might otherwise drive us apart. I'm not sure, as a race, that we even deserve music, and yet we have it. Thank god. Maybe the performance of the Philharmonic might help pave the way for some thawing of relations between the U.S. and North Korea. Their performance has already begun the process to a small degree, reminding us that as human beings we will always have some things in common- including the appreciation of beauty.

Well, I guess I don't have that much to report. Hope everyone is doing okay.

Monday, February 25, 2008

So Nader's already gone on the "offensive", accusing Obama of selling out minorities in the inner city (by not regulating predatory payday lenders or insisting upon the removal of asbestos in inner city buildings- clearly two issues at the forefront of the challenges facing America) and Hillary of being a corporate shill because she enjoys a relatively high level of support for a Democrat.
Here's the thing- the Bush Republicans, who wouldn't even be in office if it weren't for Nader in the first place, took the first available opportunity to roll back bankruptcy protections and to slash environmental regulations within their first year in office! Nader is a clown who can't see the forest for the trees, and the thing that really, really drives me nuts is that I know that a sizable group will go right along with him- cutting their noses off to spite their faces with their "everything or nothing" mentality. Nader insists that his candidacy will help to highlight his issues, but it seems like the man is utterly oblivious to the fact that there's an entire right wing to this country who isn't going to even listen to a word that he has to say (does he really think that the "every man for himself" conservatives care about protecting people from their own decisions, in taking out bad loans or choosing to live in places that are infested with asbestos?), let alone vote for him. Which leaves his only course of action in trying to divide the voters on the left. Great. So the only people who are actually concerned with the issues that you're presenting aren't going to be able to get into office.
With only Huckabee and McCain remaining as Republicans in the race, I can honestly say for the first time that I can remember that I'd rather vote for a Republican than an egomaniacal, fanatical leftist like Nader. The very fact that he's running at all after what happened in '08 says a lot about his character. And what it says isn't very appealing.
So No Country for Old Men picked up Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor, and There Will Be Blood got Daniel Day Lewis a best actor award. Can't really say there are any surprises there. There Will Be Blood wasn't exactly my favorite movie of all time, but there was no denying that the performances in it were pretty powerful (especially on the part of Lewis).
I'm still kind of surprised that America has wholeheartedly embraced No Country for Old Men. America likes dark movies, so I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised. Still, when I finished up that book, it really left me kind of depressed. I remember thinking about it pretty regularly for several days after having read it- thinking about Chigurh's innocent (and not so innocent) victims, the fact that evil goes unpunished, and about the eventual resignation of Sherriff Bell in the face of such evil. The performances in the film and the cinematography are pretty great, but it's just one of those films where I thought the overall themes and subject matter would have people dismissing it as "weird". I'm happy to have been wrong. Maybe it's one of those films for which the audience reaction is kind of a sign of the times. Maybe Americans are growing increasingly skeptical and wary of being sold happy endings in a world where politicians, corporations, and the world at large all seem be readily willing to lie to us in order to further their own agenda. Even though the proclamation may be disturbing, it's kind of refreshing to hear someone admit that the modern world sometimes presents forms of evil that are so powerful that you just can't fight them, and that the best that you can do is stay out of their way. There's something about that message that is striking a chord with audiences (I think they find it more realistic than the usual "overcome any obstacle in two hours" approach of most movies), and somehow I find that resonance both satisfying and a little depressing.
Anyway, it was a good movie with strong performances all around.

Other from that, I don't have much. The Republicans have launched an attack on Obama, trying to call his patriotism into question. Obama fired back with a retort about soldiers being sent into battle without proper equipment and body armor, a president who sees fit to implement a domestic wiretap program against American citizens, and a question about what patriotism really means (Obama's patriotism was called into question because he failed to wear an American flag lapel pin and was seen standing without his hand over his heart while the national anthem was played). The patriotism issue is a pretty weak ploy, and if that's all they've got, Obama should do pretty well cruising into the general election (if he gets that far).

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Hey! The weekend was pretty good. I meant to go see Barack at the rally on Friday, but I got home and had a couple of beers with Mandy, Rami, and Andy, and I felt a little too mellow to go down there and fight the crowds. It was nice to hang out with friends close to home, anyway.
Saturday I had lunch with Ryan and Jamie at Patsy's Cowgirl Cafe. I guess the place is owned by some of the same people who own Esther's Follies, and it's kind of out near the airport. Well, it seemed a strange location, and I wasn't sure how much comedians knew about cooking, so I was a bit skeptical, but Roundball has been twisting my arm to go to this place, so I thought I'd throw the guy a bone. The food turned out to be much better than I expected, though, and the service was pretty good. The menu is pretty much Texas style, southern influenced, but they had a good selection of salads, sandwiches, burgers, and even fish and fish tacos in addition to the traditional chicken fried steak, meatloaf, and brisket. Anyway, my chicken fried steak was good, and the other food that I saw being served looked surprisingly good as well.
That was more than I meant to write about Patsy's. At any rate, it definitely holds its own in the roadside cafe category.
Saturday night we had Crack practice (i.e., Cracktice), and there was some hanging out at Mandy's house afterward. Mandy made spaghetti, and Kim brought cupcakes, and everything was very good. Cracktice was good as well. We hadn't played together in quite awhile, but it felt good and we slid right back into some pretty cool grooves.
Sunday afternoon I got together and played with Ryan and Lauren again. It went pretty well. We're going to expand out band vocabulary by trying to learn some songs, I think. Anyway, I may have to pull in some reinforcements (i.e., Reed) to teach Lauren some things on drums. She keeps asking me these questions about how to do things, and being the completely inept drummer that I am, I have very few answers for her. But we sounded pretty good, and we had some fun. We also need to write a song or two (mostly so we know we have some material that we know how to play).
Tonight we had Mono E practice. It also went pretty well. But now I'm tired. That's three band practices in 24 hours, kids.
But rockin with my friends is one of my favorite things to do, so it really was a cool weekend.
And I'm glad it was a good weekend. The Mary Dodgen news from Friday just felt very strange to get, so it was cool to have so many friends around all weekend.

By the way, I can't believe Nader is entering the presidential race. That really drives me nuts. I remember when I used to respect that guy- back before it became evident that he cares more about his own ego than he does about making any progress on these issues that he professes to care about. I can't see how anybody who claims to care about the enviroment, consumer and workplace protections, and many of Nader's other causes can still sit there and claim that there's no difference between the two parties. While the Democrats may not get everything done that Nader would like, the Republicans have systematically attacked low income healthcare, enviromental regulations, protections against predatory lending, and many of Nader's other pet issues. At this point I just find the man to be either an egomaniac or a delusional fanatic, and neither one recommends itself to the presidency (another lesson of the last eight years). I hope that people on the left aren't distracted by this man. Pretty much cost us the election in 2000. Huckabee has already gone on record saying that Nader's entry into the race can mean nothing but good things for his party. And he's right.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Well, Mary Dodgen, the lady who hit Jeff, Kim, Sigmund, and others, passed away from cancer last night. There are a lot of mixed feelings among the friends, family, and victims of the accident about Dodgen dying without ever standing trial for what she did. I'm hoping that eventually her death will bring some sense of closure and peace to Mandy, the Wilsons, and the others involved in this thing (myself included), but I know that's going to probably take some time. At any rate, I just wanted to make this post because Dodgen's death marks the closing of another chapter in the events surrounding that accident.

I still miss you, Jeff, and I think about you every day.

Well, last night I went over to Ryan and Jamie's house to watch the Obama/Clinton debate and to eat dinner. Jamie made some really good chicken, and the debate was pretty interesting to watch, even if it didn't really do a great job of highlighting the differences between the two. The newspapers have been saying that the debate was contentious, but given the stakes for Hillary, I actually thought that it was pretty friendly. If the newspapers think that kind of interaction was contentious, they ought to come check out some of the shenanigans that go on up in our courtrooms on a day to day basis (and criminal court is supposed to be relatively friendly compared to civil court). People are so repressed nowadays (I just mean, any little bit of disagreement, and everyone gets all excited).

I like Barack. He's charismatic, eloquent, and he brings a fresh energy to the Democratic party. On the other hand, Hillary's point is not lost on me when she says that Obama tends to speak in terms of general aspirations, rather than appearing to possess solidly constructed plans that he wants to implement. Take that fact and combine it with Obama's relatively short record as a senator, and it could turn out that Obama is a condidate who's more about image than substance. But I hope not. I hope that he can be as effective a leader as he is a politician, and I guess I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, given the fact that he's relatively young and hasn't really had the time to establish a record that's as long and well-established as Hillary's. But the thought that Barack might be a paper tiger has crossed my mind. If we support Obama, we're taking a risk, and I hope that he works really hard to validate the faith that people are putting in him.

I want to go to the Obama rally tonight. It's taking place like two blocks from my office, and it's probably going to be my best and only chance to see the man. Of course, I just found out that the stupid thing doesn't start until like 9:00 p.m.. That sucks. I thought it was going to be at 6:00.. Oh well. Maybe I'll still go. At least I'll have our county parking garage to park in.
Not much else to report. More later?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Protesters are trying to burn our U.S. embassy in Belgrade as I write this. They apparently don't think the U.S. should support the independence of Kosovo.
Tonight there will be a debate between Barack and Hillary on the UT campus. I hope it doesn't degenerate into nastiness, but I fear that it will. The Democratic primary race is nearing its conclusion, and the candidates are getting desperate. Meanwhile, the New York Times is accusing McCain of some kind of inappropriate relationship with a female lobbyist. McCain, of course, denies this. Gotta love an election year.

I had dinner with Ryan and Jamie at Maudie's last night. It was a good dinner. I saw my old office mate, Holly, and she seemed to be doing well.
Last night I also read a National Geographic article about animal intelligence and the animal brain. There was a story in there about a border collie who apparently had learned about 340 words (and counting). I knew Cassidy was smart, but that's almost scary. Now I know why she looks bored so often. She needs more stimulation. Maybe I can train her to trade stocks.

I also watched a documentary about rogue waves. Scary stuff. Apparently these waves grow up to 100 feet tall and can move 40 or 50 miles per hour. That kind of wave can capsize or smash some very large ships, and up until recently (when they were finally able to measure and photograph some rogue waves) many experts thought they were just myths dreamed up by sailors to explain bad seamanship (when sailors lost or damaged their boats). It's scary to think that something as large as a cruise ship or an offshore oil platform could be susceptible to destruction at the hands of a giant, random wave. Also, interestingly enough, the documentary mentioned that the area known as the Bermuda Triangle has a number of characteristics (including prevailing wind patterns, ocean currents, and undersea topography) which seem to make it an ideal location for the generation of rogue waves.

Well, that's all I've got at the moment.

Peace, to all of you Serbs. Peace.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hi. Hope you guys are hanging in there.
Stayed home last night. I watched an episode of Frontline about the Marine Corps shootings in Haditha, Iraq. (I ended up thinking that it was a messed up situation in which some bad decisions were probably made, but that it was nothing like the "massacre", with American troops mercilessly, and cold bloodedly executing Iraqi civilians, that had initially been portrayed in the media)
I also watched an episode of Independent Lens called Banished, which was about the expulsion of black residents from towns across America from the 1860s to the 1920s. Descendants of the black families who were chased out of these towns are now seeking reparations, and a number of the towns which banished black residents remain almost exclusively white, even up to today. Once again, a pretty messed up situation.
I also watched a bit of Anthony Bourdain's show, No Reservations. Bourdain was eating his way across China, and despite the fact that I had already had dinner (i.e., a Subway sandwich), I had to turn the show off because it was making me incredibly hungry.
So, obviously I didn't do much last night.

Obama seems to be continuing to gain momentum in advance of tomorrow night's debate here in Austin. The intricacies of the delegate counts for the Democratic nomination continue to confuse me, but I would guess that the Texas primary remains more important than ever in deciding who the Democratic candidate will be. Anyway, I like Obama, and find him charismatic, energetic, and (dare I say it?) a little bit inspiring. On the other hand, as my dad pointed out on the phone last night, Hillary seems like a bit more of a "safe bet" in terms of the fact that I think most Americans feel like they know her and have a feel for how she would run the country (at least to some extent). So voting for Obama seems to bring the exciting possibility for change, along with the somewhat less exciting possibility that he might be a much better campaigner than a leader, while voting for Hillary gets you more of a proven commodity, but someone who's probably going to carry on very much in the tradition of her husband's presidency (which I don't think is a bad thing, personally).
I gotta go early vote this week.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Well, the three day weekend is over, and far too quickly. Last night I went out to dinner with some friends at Ms. B's on East 11th (I guess they already have a location up on Mesa). It was a nice restaurant, serving Cajun/Creole food, and I had shrimp etouffee and rice with a salad. It's a nice place, and the food was good, but there weren't many people in the place. Maybe they do more of a lunchtime business, or maybe it was just a slow Monday. If not, I hope business picks up. Good food and pretty reasonably priced.

I'm also still watching Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. It continues to be a pretty good, intelligent show. The writers clearly seem to have a lot of respect for and fascination with the source material from the first two Terminator movies. All of those time travel plotlines can get pretty complicated. It's interesting to see a show which embraces time travel as one of the underlying concepts that drives the entire plotline, as opposed to prior shows involving time travel "jaunts" where characters travel through time for a bit, but everything is pretty much returned to normal at the end of an episode or two.
The Terminator storyline is interesting, anyway, in that both the first and second movies are understood to take place almost as only a couple of chapters, or descriptions of two small battles, in a much larger and ongoing war (which takes place in the future) against the machines. The brilliance of these movies, in part, was the fact that they alluded to a much more fantastic, hard-to-imagine, post-apocalyptic future world, populated by sentient machines, but the movies themselves only had to show us small pieces of that world in order to convince us that it did, in fact, exist. And of course, the primary pieces of the future that they showed us were the Terminators, and they were more than scary enough to convince us that the future must be a very nasty place, indeed.
Because so much was left up to the imagination of the viewer in the first couple of movies, plenty of fertile ground remains for plot development in terms of the worldwide war against the machines. (which is sort of unusual- most movies totally stripmine any halfway creative idea and beat it like a dead horse, but the Terminator movies kind of only showed you the tip of the iceberg in terms of what was going on in this conflict between the humans and the machines, and left the rest of the war up to your imagination)
Anyway, it's a pretty decent show, and I like it. Probably not for everyone, but sci fi fans should be fairly pleased.

Anyway, that's it for now. Hope you guys are doing okay.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Let's all give Roundball a round of applause for that wacky guest post from last night. By the way, the Mac version of the Blogger program is smaller and crappier than the Windows version (in case you were wondering). I don't really like Apples, except for Garage Band, which is pretty cool.

The weekend was ok. I have today off for President's Day. Thank you, presidents!!

Mono E was supposed to play a party on Saturday, but it got called off for undisclosed reasons. This was pretty lame and a bit frustrating (especially since we didn't get word until relatively late, and I had already packed all my gear in the car). I think they want to reschedule. We'll see. As long as I'm not doing anything else, anyway, I guess it's fine, but I'm pretty hesitant about scheduling things around a party for some people who flaked on us the first time. (I guess it falls under the old mantra- Jack with me once, shame on you. Jack with me twice, shame on me.)
Anyway, I ended up going out to dinner on Saturday with Ryan and Jamie and Matt and Nicole and Juan and Lettie(sp?). We went to a Cuban restaurant, Havannah, on South Congress, and it was pretty good. Friday night I had gone out with Ryan and Jamie for Vietnamese in some new place in the Southpark shopping center, so it was a weekend of international cuisine (or Americanized international cuisine, anyway).
Last night Jamie and Nicole made shish kabobs, and I helped a wee bit with the grilling. Pretty tasty. We were supposed to go to a party that some friends were throwing, but we were late in cooking dinner for ourselves, and we never made it.

Also yesterday Ryan and I got together with our friend (and Ryan's coworker, at least until he starts his new job in a couple of weeks), Lauren, and rocked out on sunday afternoon. Lauren wants to learn to play drums, and Ryan is learning to play bass, so it's a good match. We actually sounded decent. Lauren did very well for a first time drummer, and Ryan is getting better and better at the bass. We had fun, anyway.

Well, that's it for the time being. It's a nice day, and I have the day off, so I should get out there and enjoy it.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

logged in

sometimes you stay logged in on your sister-in-law's computer, when you should really log off.
They found the Santa guy! He's living with a family in Wimberly. It's nice to get a happy ending. Thanks to Mandy for the heads up!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

I used to see this homeless guy almost daily when I worked for Travis Williamson on an office on South 1st. He used to hang out with his shopping cart down near the Ben White intersection, and was always wearing coats and heavy clothes, even when it was really hot out. Ryan calls him Santa. Now he's disappeared, and people are leaving notes, flowers, and even a sculpture near the corner where he used to hang out. For whatever reason, this story makes me really sad. I hope he's ok out there somewhere.

Friday, February 15, 2008

'Tis Friday, and we're on the eve of a three day weekend!! (or at least I am)
I got to go sit on a panel and give a short talk about the role of my mental health prosecution team at the Central Texas African American Family Support Conference today. It was actually kind of interesting, and I think at least one really good idea came up during the discussion (a woman asked if there was some way to register loved ones with mental illnesses in some kind of APD and/or the sherriff's office database so that family members could be immediately be notified if a mentally ill loved one were arrested and taken to jail- we don't currently have such a system, but it might be very beneficial in terms of cutting down the amount of time that a person with mental illness sits in jail before their family finds out what's going on).

In another apparently stark reminder of the importance of mental health issues, authorities are now reporting that Steven Kazmierczak, the gunman who open fired on a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University yesterday, had apparently been prescribed some type of psychoactive drugs. Kazmierczak had quit taking the drugs recently, however- a decision which had resulted in increasingly erratic behavior. Couple this with last year's Virginia Tech rampage committed by a troubled Seung-Hui Cho (who had received several mental health diagnosises in his youth and who had been ordered into outpatient treatment by a court in 2005) and you get two very tragic cases involving mentally ill people committing heinous crimes.

In no way am I trying to suggest that most mentally ill people are violent. I'm just saying that mental health is very important, and the negative effects of downplaying or ignoring mental health issues can be very costly to society (i.e., the mentally ill are not the only ones effected when they fail to receive treatment). Mental health and addiction issues are something we should all be concerned about, whether such issues directly involve our family or not.

Well, it's been a busy day, the rain is starting to fall, and I have to go. Hope everyone has a good weekend.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy..... oh, just have a nice day

So it's Valentine's Day. Happy Valentine's Day, everyone. Given the number of people that I've heard grumbling and bemoaning Valentine's Day, I guess I'm mostly just hoping that Valentine's Day isn't a particularly bad day for anyone. Seems like a lot of the single people that I know are a little bitter about the holiday, and the people that I know who are in relationships kind of resent the artificial, commercial nature of a public holiday that is supposed to represent some fairly private sentiments (and I think most people are uncomfortable with the expectations and obligations that are created by the holiday, and more specifically, by the jewelry stores, candy shops, florists, restaraunts, and other businesses who rely upon Valentine's Day to drive up their sales- it freaks me out to see all of the jewelry adds this time of year that try to imply that a man doesn't love his woman unless he gets her some kind of diamond for Valentine's Day) . As for me, I guess I don't really care that much one way or another. I'm not really doing anything to celebrate, but I don't feel particularly anti, either. I just take the pieces of candy that people hand out, and go with the flow.
In other news, there's a disturbing report in CNN today stating that Al Qaeda in Iraq has been seeking out female psychiatric patients to be used as suicide/homocide bombers (I'm using the term homicide bombers here because apparently some of these women may not understand that they're carrying bombs- some reports indicate that the women are unwitting participants and that their bombs may be detonated by remote control). There was a suicide bombing this month that killed nearly 100 people in Baghdad, and apparently the two women that carried the bombs were both recent psychiatric patients- one of whom was schizophrenic and experienced command hallucinations telling her to kill herself. Both women were said to have been mentally challenged and probably had Down's syndrome (although the condition had not been formally diagnosed). The director of at least one hospital has been detained due to suspicion that he may have been working with Al Qaeda- scouting for potential subjects who might be used as bomb carriers after their discharge from the hospital.
I just found this story absolutely horrific. Mental illness and its treatment (or lack thereof) is one of the more tragic problems in our own country, with so many patients falling through gaping cracks and holes in the system and barely getting by, often without adequate medical treatment, medication, counselling, and many times without proper housing or nutrition. Mental illness can be truly debillitating, and yet it is poorly understood by the public at large, and resources to address it are often painfully underfunded and insufficient to address community needs.
I can only imagine the state of treatment for the mentally ill in a war-torn country like Iraq.
But now neglect isn't the worst that the mentally ill have to deal with in Iraq. People are actively exploiting the mentally ill in order to use them as human weapon delivery systems. It really does blow my mind.
Even after all that we've seen from the terrorists- attacks on civilians, beheadings, torture, and so forth- it just amazes me that people who claim to be fighting on behalf of a religious cause could use other human beings for such a malevolent purpose. It's so awful that I almost doubt the claims (after all, what better proaganda to show the evil of Al Qaeda than to accuse them of such an act?), but I'm probably just naive. The human capacity to find creative new ways to act inhumanly towards each other never fails to astound me.
How's that for a cheerful Valentine's Day topic?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

So Uno won! Uno is a beagle who won best in show at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show(apparently a first for the beagle breed) yesterday. Uno's handler, Aaron Wilkerson, is from Austin and went to high school in Manor, and one of Uno's co-owners, Caroline Dowell, is a retired Univesity of Texas employee who lives in Travis County.
The whole dog show thing is kind of strange to me. I'm a total dog lover, but I tend to love dogs for their personality and because so many of them love people. The idea of loving dogs or being attracted to them as pets because of particularized breed traits or because of rarified physical characteristics just isn't my thing. My own dog, Cassidy, has only three legs, is some kind of mixed breed (although mostly border collie), and is from the Humane Society. To call her a show dog would laughable, I guess, but I'm still convinced that she's the best dog in the world, and no one's gonna convince me otherwise. (in addition to the love that any owner has for their dog, I really do think that Cassidy is one of the smartest, most courageous, fun-loving dogs that I've ever known. I swear that Cassidy is smarter than some of the people I've met. And she loves me the most)
Apparently Uno enjoys his appearances at dog shows, and on this trip to New York City, he got to experience snow for the first time. Anyway, congrats to Uno, and to Uno's owners and handler!
And the UT men's basketball team managed to beat 3rd ranked Kansas on Monday night. It's good to see UT beating teams ranked in the top 10 (they've already beaten Tennessee and UCLA). It's great to see UT doing so well in basketball. It seems like sometimes they almost get overlooked because of the preoccupation that this state has with football, but those guys really are one of the best basketball teams in the country.

That's about it for the moment. Rap at ya later.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Hey. I got nothing today. I mean, I know I say that all the time, but I really don't have anything to blog on. Last night I had dinner with Ryan and Jamie at Threadgills. Afterward I talked to Dad (aka, The Admiral) on the phone for awhile, and I watched some TV, but that was about it. Took Cassidy for a short walk.
I don't really understand all of this business with superdelegates and so forth (which, I guess, kicks in if neither Hillary nor Obama gather enough delegates to declare a clear cut victory in the Democratic primaries), but it sounds as though Hillary needs to do pretty well in both Texas and Ohio if she's going to have a chance at winning the Democratic nomination. It sounds like Austin is going to host a Democratic debate on the 21st, apparently somewhere on the University of Texas campus. It'll be kind of exciting to have Obama and Clinton in town, especially given how important the Texas primary is shaping up to be. I hope the two candidates do some stump speeches aside from their debate appearances, because I'm sure it will be really hard to get tickets to the actual debate itself (and I'd kind of like to see them speak).
Hope you guys are having a good one. The sun is shining again here in Austin, so enjoy the weather if you live here in the Capital City.

Monday, February 11, 2008

So. Monday. Cloudy, dreary Monday. Blecccchhh!!!
Apparently Roy Scheider died yesterday. He wasn't exactly my favorite actor or anything, but he did an admirable job in a couple of the movies that were fixtures of my youth. Most notably, of course, was his role as sensible police chief Martin Brody in Jaws. That movie still scares the bejeezus out of me, and I try to watch it at least once every summer- typically on or just before a trip to the beach if I'm going on one. The other movie Scheider starred in that was one of the favorites of my youth was Blue Thunder. The movie had a giant, suped up helicopter, and it introduced us to cool, military-style acronyms like J.A.F.O. (Just Another F*#king Observer) and S.N.A.F.U. (Situation Normal- All F*%ked Up). Anyway, thanks for the movies, Roy, and via con dios.
Also in the news, Herbie Hancock managed to win album of the year last night for River: The Joni Letters, which is an album of Joni Mitchell interpretations. I guess the Grammy win caught a lot of people by surprise. I haven't even heard the album yet, but I've been meaning to get around to picking it up. Herbie Hancock is one of my favorite jazz musicians (his album cover from Thrust is hanging in a frame in my kitchen as I write this). I've seen him play live a couple of times, and both shows were really great. Anyway, it's good to see a truly legendary musician (he not only played in Miles Davis's second great quintet, but he's had a tremendous career in his own right) get some of the attention and credit that he deserves. It's also nice to see the Grammys trying to take more of a leadership role- pointing audiences toward musical innovation and recognizing achievement rather than just putting a crown on whoever has gotten the most album sales in a particular year.
What else? The U.S. has announced that it's going to seek the death penalty in cases against 6 Gitmo detainees (including reported mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad) who are accused of having participated in the September 11th terror attacks. I think this whole thing is going to turn into a long, ugly, drawn out legal mess, especially given the fact that I'm sure some of the confessions that these men made were probably the result of intensive or extreme interrogation techniques (i.e., torture) at the hands of U.S. intelligence officials. The question of whether or not law enforcement should be allowed to use confessions which were gained through the use of torture is going to be a legal issue that the federal courts are going to have a tricky time dealing with in this age of "the war on terror". The accuracy and legitimacy of information gained through these techniques is about to be tested and examined in a big way (unless the prosecutors have enough evidence to go forward without using statements that were gained under this kind of duress, but I find that pretty unlikely- CIA Director Michael Hayden has already confirmed that waterboarding techniques were used on Mohammad and tow other terror suspects). I'm really not looking forward to the legal circus that these cases are likely to become.
And Obama picked up some primary victories this weekend in Lousiana, Nebraska, Maine, Washington, and the Virgin Islands. Hillary, on the other hand, replaced her campaign manager over the weekend. Huckabee managed to beat McCain in Kansas and Louisiana, and issued a challenge for a vote recount in his narrow loss in Washington. So McCain still looks sort of vulnerable, with Republican voters looking divided in their support for him, and Obama's strength continues to grow.

As for myself- it was a pretty slow weekend. We had a pretty good Mono Ensemble practice last night. Reed played my new drum set, and he/it/they sounded good. Lots of toms = lots of crazy Reed Shaw drum fills.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Happy Birthday, Larry Lee!!!

Today is the birthday of one of my best friends, Lee Thweatt. It's been a long year for the Thweatt family, filled with many high and lows as they've struggled through battles with cancer with their son, John. Things are looking up, though, and John is doing better, and now Lee is setting sail in a new law office with a friend of ours from college, Joe Terry. I would bet that this has got to be one of Lee's better birthdays, all things considered. Happy birthday, Lee, and much love to you and Sarah and the boys! Hopefully I'll see you guys soon!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Hi. Happy Friday.
Not too much to report. I went to Ryan and Jamie's last night and we had some kind of chicken pasta dish for dinner. It was good. After dinner we rocked out a little bit more. The Steans family musical jamboree is still in its formative stages, but we're sticking with it. Ryan is coming along on bass. I'm not sure we're quite rocking hard enough for him yet, but as I've told him several times, you gotta walk before you can run.
I read an interesting article/column in Newsweek that was criticizing the constant quest of Americans to be happy. The article was arguing, among other things, that happiness is something maybe we should be seeking as a result of a productive and meaningful life rather than simply as an end in itself. It went on to point out that psychological studies have shown that unhappiness or melancholy can lend itself to enhanced creativity, higher levels of cognitive functioning and analytical reasoning skills (note that these periods of unhappiness are to be differentiated from extended periods of clinical depression, a condition which may tend to paralyze a person with feelings of despair or utter hopelessness). The evolutionary reason for this increased brain functioning during periods of unhappiness is to help an individual figure out how to change their life or overcome obstacles, presumably so they can become happy again, but Sharon Begley, the author of the article, argues that these periods of higher cognitive functioning during unhappiness may be part of the creative spark which helps to fundamentally drive our society forward. She makes mention of a number of artists, writers, and leaders who have channeled their unhappiness or feelings of dissatisfaction in order to produce great works of art or literature, or pondered their way into some excellent solutions for various problems that the world had presented to them (included in her list of sad thinkers- Abraham Lincoln, Emily Dickinson, Vincent Van Gogh, Woody Allen, and Smiths frontman, Morrisey).
Anyway, her argument was twofold- one, that maybe we should try to learn something from our unhappiness or explore the thoughts and sensations that accompany our sadder feelings as part of the natural human experience before we seek out a prozac or zoloft prescription (at least so long as these feelings don't become devastating or crippling for us), and two, that people who are naturally predisposed to a more melancholy or somber personality shouldn't necessarily feel pressured by society to pursue happiness all of the time. A more somber outlook may be part of a personality that has some really great things to offer the world.
Anyway, I found the article interesting. Make room for the grumps.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

At the risk of sounding like I'm beating a dead horse, here's a column by George Will, featured in The Washington Post, about how a Hillary nomination will rally conservative voters and about how the Democrats can't just seize upon an easy presidential victory, even when a clear cut path to the oval office is handed to them (i.e., an Obama nomination).
Hey. Well, 'tis Thursday, and I ain't got much to say. Last night I stayed at home, hung out with Cassidy, and didn't do much. I watched an episode of The Blue Planet where they talked about ocean life on the abyssal plain and in the ocean's deep trenches. They pointed out that less than 1% of the ocean's abyssal plain has been explored, and that we probably know more about the surface of the moon than we know about the deeper parts of our own oceans (which is pretty messed up, given the fact that over 60% of the sea lies at least a mile deep or deeper in the ocean). Anyhoo, they showed lots of cool looking bioluminescent fish and squids and creepy looking deep sea sharks and whatnot. Pretty cool.
And I guess Romney pretty much dropped out of the race today. That has to be driving some of these hardcore conservatives crazy, because I don't think many of them are big fans of McCain and/or Huckabee (I've personally heard Rush Limbaugh attacking both McCain and Huckabee on his radio show, maintaining that neither one of them were "real conservatives".

Incidentally, I took a little heat the other day from some friends for saying that I thought Hillary might not be the best Democratic candidate by virtue of the fact that her mere presence might engender enough animosity on the part of conservatives to rally them to the poles, thus bringing out people to vote against the Democrats who might otherwise not even vote if someone like Obama were the democratic candidate. Well, today on his web site Rush Limbaugh has a transcript from his show in which he says that he thinks that McCain's only chance for winning might be because of the anti-Hillary vote (keep in mind that Limbaugh doesn't like McCain because he doesn't think he's conservative enough), and that if Obama gets the Democratic nomination, the Republicans might as well hang it up because there's now way that they can win. Limbaugh basically says that a lot of the hardcore conservatives in the Republican base are going to be disillusioned by their Republican choices in the upcoming election, and that a lot of them probably won't vote unless they feel that they need to come out in order to stop Hillary. The question is whether there's enough anti-Hillary sentiment out there to put McCain in office, but even Limbaugh feels that Obama would probably easily win the election if he were the nominee.
Now before you jump on me and say, "Well, that's just Rush Limbaugh. He's an idiot," let me point out that I'm not agreeing with Rush in disliking Hillary- I'm only quoting Limbaugh because of his analysis of the voting habits of the conservative base in this country (and if he understands anything, it's probably the behavior of the far right).
Conservatives just hate the woman. I'm not exactly sure why, but they do.

Ideally, I guess I might like to see Hillary voted into the presidency just to stick it in the eye of all of these conservatives who've been driving me nuts for the last eight years, but more importantly and more realistically, I just want to see a Democrat win (and then go about making some real changes once they take office). I kind of feel about Hillary the way I sort of felt about Nader back in 2000. I like the ideals and I enjoy the candidate in theory, but not enough to sacrifice an election on their behalf.
At this point, it may sound cowardly, but I want a safe bet. I really do.
Still, if Hillary's the candidate, I will support her 100%. And as I've said, I think she would make a fine president.
But if Hillary gets the nomination, the election is going to be a dogfight. It might do my nerves a lot more good to just see Obama sail smoothly into office.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Hey. So Super Fat Tuesday has passed, and the Democrats are still looking at a neck and neck race for a nominee.
Well, the election is kind of interesting this time around, at least.

Last night I went over to Ryan and Jamie's place, and Jamie made fish and rice and salad (kudos, Jamie). We watched a bit of No Reservations, and Anthony Bourdain was in New Orleans, and between watching him stroll the French Quarter and eat cajun food and having recently listened to tales from my friend Jennifer after her recent return from a trip to The Big Easy, I'm ready to head back to Lousiana for some food, music, and fun.
After dinner the Steanses engaged in a musical jamboree, with Ryan on bass, Jason on guitar, and Jamie on keyboard. We're still a little rough, but we made it through a couple of songs (including an original that we're still working on), and Mel came in and sat with us, enjoying both his pain pill and the music.
Anyway, I'm intrigued by the idea of the Steans family as a functional musical unit, so we're going to keep after it, I hope. I have visions of us eventually quitting our day jobs and touring the country in a brightly colored bus.

Super Fat Tuesday

I just realized that it's Super Tuesday, and I didn't even comment on it. It's also Fat Tuesday. It's Super Fat Tuesday.
Anyway, I'm still not really anti-Hillary, but I guess I'm pulling for Obama because I just don't think Hillary can win in the general election (as I've said before, I think that if Hillary wins that the conservatives will rally, unify, and mobilize simply to oppose her. I think she rubs a lot of independents the wrong way as well). I also think that supporting Obama gives us a chance to get past some of this partisan bitterness that's been going on for decades in this country. Hillary just carries too much baggage from the Clinton years. Obama seems to just radiate the possibility for positive change.
Nontheless, I think Hillary is smart, capable, and tough, and I think she would actually make a fine president. I just don't think that campaigning is her strong area.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Hey. Back in the regular work schedule, but still feeling sort of run down and not quite fully functional. I watched 3:10 to Yuma yesterday. The new one with Crowe and Bale. I never saw the original one with Ford and Heflin. Anyway, I liked the movie a whole lot. Good western. Cool characters, cool fighting seens, and some pretty good writing. I saw a commercial that said it was the best westerns since Unforgiven, and I think that 3:10 probably is one of the best westerns to come along since that film, although I don't think 3:10 is as good as Unforgiven. (But Unforgiven is probably one of my top 10 favorite films of all time, so there's lots of room for a movie to be plenty good, even though it doesn't match up to that movie) I had some serious questions about the ending of the movie, but at least it had the virtue of catching me by surprise.

Anyway, Roundball had highly recommended 3:10 to Yuma, so I was curious to see it. Roundball can be a fairly fierce critic of movies, and he's pretty choosy about what he likes, but you can usually count on a movie being at least worth seeing if Roundball is willing to go to bat for it.

I also watched Eastern Promises, and I liked it a lot, too, although I was feeling pretty achey and congested and maybe even a bit feverish when I watched it (you know that feeling when you get the chills and you just sort of hurt all over? I was feeling sort of like that). Anyway, it was a cool movie, but smaller in scope than I thought it would be. I was expecting some kind of sweeping epic about the Russian underworld, but instead got a fairly tight, straightforward movie about a relatively small handful of characters in London. Still a good movie, but just not what I expected (for one thing, I thought the movie was going to take place in Russia rather than London, and I thought it would be dealing with modern, sports-car-driving, club-hopping Russian gangsters rather than the old-school, family-oriented mobsters that were depicted in the movie). But I reiterate- still a good film and well worth seeing. Viggo Mortensen is not afraid.

Anyway, I'm back at work, but feeling a bit run down.

Monday, February 04, 2008

After spending a large part of the weekend in bed (and on the sofa) trying to get over a cold, I went over to Ryan and Jamie's house. It was the first chance I've had to see their golden retreiver, Mel, since he had surgery on his mouth to have a tumor removed (well, technically I'm not sure it was a tumor, but it was a growth, and it was malignant). Anyway, Mel has half of his head and one shoulder shaved, and he still has bruising and swelling on the right side of his face.
On the up side, however, he's got some pain control meds, and he's got even more love and attention than he got before (and he was doing pretty well for himself even before the surgery). One thing I noticed is that now that the fur is shaved off his face, you can really tell when Mel puts on one of his dog smiles, which he's prone to do when he's snuggled up with some friendly people (even though with all of that bruising on his face, you might think smiling would be the farthest thing from his mind).
Anyway, there's a lesson somewhere in that smiling, beat up dog. I'm not sure what that lesson is, but I'm convinced there's one there. I just found it a bit touching that despite being fairly roughed up, the kind touch of the people he cares about still makes Mel smile.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

dog rumble

Here they come...

Victory howl!!!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Hey. Happy Friday.
Last night I didn't do much. I watched an episode of Gangland that was about MS 13, the Mara Salvatrucha. Apparently MS 13 was established in Los Angeles in the 1980's by Salvadoran immigrants, many of whom who had fled the civil strife and war which was going on in their native El Salvador. The gang was initially established in order to protect the Salvadoran immigrants from the Hispanic street gangs of Los Angeles, but Mara Salvatrucha quickly gained a reputation in its own right for being one of the most violent, brutal streetgangs in the city (police speculate that the Salvadoran immigrants who founded the gang may have been witness to or party to some of the human rights atrocities which were occurring in El Salvador during the early eighties, and they carried this level of brutality with them to L.A. when they took to the streets to defend themselves and their territory).
Anyway, one of the interesting things about MS 13 is the fact that it operates, to some extent, on an international level. U.S. immigration officials have deported a number of MS 13 gang members back to their native countries of origin, and as a result, MS 13 cliques have become active in Mexico, Honduras, and, of course, El Salvador. L.A. gang members have been documented as active in these Central American factions of MS 13, and these members seem to be able to sneak back into the U.S. and into L.A. almost at will when they wish to return. MS 13 factions in Central America have shown to be even more brazen than their U.S. counterparts, occasionally taking it upon themselves to openly challenge law enforcement authorities. In one notorious MS 13 case which occurred in Honduras, an intercity bus was stopped and 28 passengers were executed (including women and children), supposedly in response to an attempted government crackdown on the gang. One of the key leaders in the attack was a former American MS 13 gang member from L.A.. Crimes in the U.S. have been similarly brutal, if not on the same scale as the Honduran bus killing.
Anyway, it's scary stuff, but it's kind of interesting because it throws a spotlight on some areas where immigration issues and criminal law overlap in the U.S.. The majority of MS 13 gang members today are probably American citizens, but the fact that the gang has active cliques in Central America, coupled with the fact that members seem to move so easily across international borders, can be highlighted as yet another critical issue facing U.S. border security personnel.
It's also just kind of fascinating to see the way that a huge gang like MS 13 (which has now expanded across the U.S. as its members flee law enforcement and pursue employment) can organically develop amongst a group of immigrants that start out just trying to protect themselves and survive within the gang-saturated culture of a large, American city like L.A..
Here's an article from October of 2006 off the KVUE site about the increasing presence of MS 13 gang members in Texas (our location on the Mexican border makes Texas an important state for the gang).
Anyway, I'm not sure why I'm writing a story about Mara Salvatrucha except that I watched that story last night, I got interested in it, and I read some stuff about them on the internet.

As for my own, non-gangster life, other than some TV I just hung out and played with the dogs. I still have Lucy at my house as Mel continues to recover from surgery, so I hung out in the backyard and played guitar a bit for the two dogs (they seem to like it when I stay outside with them, and their lack of criticism during my performances makes them a pretty good audience).