Monday, March 31, 2008
I heard about Pran's death on the radio as I was driving in to work this morning, and they had an interview with Sydney Schanberg, the American journalist who had worked with Pran prior to fleeing Cambodia in 1975. Schanberg described Pran's love and respect for the people of his native country, and said that it was because of his drive to tell the story of his people that Pran had stayed in Cambodia to cover the fall of Phnom Penh, a decision which kept him in Cambodia until it was too late for him to be evacuated. Even at the time of the final evacuation, as Schanberg and others struggled to come up with ways to get Pran out of the country, Schanberg said that Pran maintained a desire to stay in the country and continue to report on the plight of his people as they fell under the control of the new communist regime. Pran ended up being left behind, and under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, approximately 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians died from starvation, execution, forced labor, and torture in a country with a total population that had only been 7.5 million. Pran was forced to work in labor camps, enduring personal torture and starvation before finally escaping to Thailand in 1979.
Pran continued to speak out for the rights of the Cambodian people and in memory of the Cambodian genocide victims until his death.
Anyway, in losing Dith Pran it feels like we've lost a sort of hero, and those types of people aren't all that easy to come by, so I just wanted to send a shout out in his honor.
Speaking of DVDs, one of the movies I watched this weekend was a remake of a Stephen King horror novella called The Mist. I really enjoyed The Mist a lot more than I was expecting to. It had a sort of retro, throwback feel, a bit reminiscent of old episodes of The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone, but combined with a War of the Worlds-style invasion story or an old fashioned panic/escape story like The Poseidon Adventure. The plot deals with, as its name truthfully implies, the arrival of some sort of mist in a small town following a freak storm. The townspeople quickly realize that there are nasty things out there in that mist, and some of them barricade themselves inside the local grocery store. The movie has features of a traditional monster movie, but concerns itself just as much with the psychology of the survivors as they try to figure out a way to deal with their newfound situation. Anyway, it's a movie that's worth checking out. At the risk of providing a bit of a spoiler, the ending of the movie continues to disturb me a bit after having seen the flick a couple of days ago.
So it was a pretty slow weekend.
Not much to report.
Maybe more later.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Friday, March 28, 2008
I'm glad the weekend is here. If nothing else, I'm looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow.
Last night I went over to Ryan and Jamie's for some vegetarian enchiladas (muy bueno- thanks, Jamie). We watched this week's episode of The Big Bang Theory (I think I've mentioned before that a friend of our family, Jim Parsons, stars on this show. And it's pretty funny, too!), and an episode of South Park about kids getting high on cat pee.
Apparently The Mono Ensemble may be playing a gig with Operation Moonpie Face Destroy at Club Deville on April 17th. Details are sketchy at this point, but I'll let you guys know more about it when I find out myself.
I guess that's about it. It feels like I should have more, but I can't come up with anything. Ryan has declared that he's not going to go see Superhero Movie in theaters this weekend, and if he's not going to go see it, I'm not sure who will.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Last night I had dinner with Jamie at Hao Hao while Ryan stayed downtown and had dinner with former coworkers from his last job at Enspire (for those of you keeping track, Roundball recently left his producer job in order to... uh.... well, I'm not sure what his new job is exactly, but he works at UT and he manages projects that deal with the UT computer systems and Windows). Dinner was good.
After dinner I went home, where I was joined by Andy and Sigmund for a long overdue Crack practice. We had a really good practice last night, in the grand jazz-punk tradition that Crack is renowned for (well, it's one of the things we're known for, anyway). I say jazz-punk because as with jazz, we tend to fill spaces and come up with sections of music that may have different instruments playing in different keys or different time signatures at the same time. In normal jazz, the musicians are well-versed enough in their instruments to combine keys and time signatures intentionally, coming up with really cool new sounds that are often far different than the type of thing that you hear in more traditional music. With Crack, we barely know what we're doing. Hence the punk part of the jazz-punk label. We overlap different key signatures and shift tempos, sometimes without meaning too, but we're pretty good at recognizing cool sounds and sticking with them, which creates the illusion of structure and intention amongst the chaos, even when we're pretty much shooting from the hip. Plus, each of the people in Crack is pretty good at sticking with their individual groove, even when it initially might sound strange as compared with what the other guys are playing- when you hear something that sounds like three different songs laid on top of each other once, it sounds like a train wreck. When you hear that same complicated set of combined patterns played several times over again, the thing begins to take shape and music begins to emerge. The trick is knowing when to stick to your groove versus knowing when to change things up in order to accommodate and/or match up with what the other people in the group are doing.
Anyway, our lack of music education is where the punk side of the jazz-punk idea comes in. We don't know ahead of time how our grooves are going to match up, but we know enough to stick to a groove if we've got something good going, and we know enough to listen to each other, and know enough to occasionally, suddenly shift the direction of a song by shifting our focus away from what one person is doing and onto a riff that's being played by someone else.
We struggle and fight and wrestle with the notes, but sometimes really cool things emerge. (What's that saying about 100 monkeys sitting at 100 typewriters for 100 years eventually being able to produce Shakespeare? Well, we're a wee bit smarter than monkeys, and we're big fans of the sort of music that we're trying to produce, so at least we know what we're looking for) We had a few great moments last night. Jeff would've been proud.
Did any of that make any sense?
What else? There's a new X-Files movie on the horizon. I'm really not sure what to think of this. X-Files just feels like part of a bygone, pre-9/11, pre-Iraq, era to me at this point. I guess part of me thinks that all of the government conspiracy, shadow government type stuff almost feels quaint, now, given the activities of the Bush administration over the last eight years. If Bush has taught us anything, it's that the men in power don't have to hide their actions if they decide to detain people illegally, wiretap Americans, start illegitimate wars, torture people, and so forth and so on. If the men in power decide to do these things, they just go ahead and do them. Our so-called checks and balances system has proven to be slow, ineffectual, and virtually impotent when trying to reign in Bush's abuses of power. (by the time we can get court rulings on most of these things Bush will be out of power, and with the federal courts stacked full of conservatives, the chances of getting a ruling that might slow him down are slim to none, anyway) The American people have seemed pretty willing to surrender their civil liberties and to tolerate deception, manipulation, and outright lies on the part of their government so long as the words "national security" are bandied about. (and they're willing to put up with this after being attacked by a small group of men with just a small handful of passenger jetliners- imagine the subjugation that Americans would be willing to put up with if we were facing an actual, X-Files style alien invasion). On a more practical level, X-Files creator Chris Carter says that this X-Files movie is not going to be an X-Files mythology movie. Well, Chris- you're making a movie 6 years after the show has been cancelled, and you're still not going to try to resolve some of the very large issues that you didn't have the time to wrap up during the course of your nine year series? If you're going to make an X-Files movie at this point, I think it's time that we finally got around to battling it out with the invading aliens. The show has been off the air for 6 years. There just aren't that many more golden eggs that this tired ol' goose can lay. George Bush is in office, now, Senor Carter. If this administration had a deal with invading aliens, Bush would just hold a press conference and say, "Americans, it appears that you're going to have to get used to the idea of living and dying to serve your new alien overlords. At first glance this doesn't seem ideal, but we're doing this to preserve democracy and the American way. If you don't like being an alien slave, you are more than likely a terrorist, and you will be hunted down and killed. God bless America." It would go down something like that. Maybe he would throw in a promise to cut taxes or send us a couple of hundred bucks as part of an economic stimulus package. I don't know.
Man, I'm totally babbling. Hopefully the new X-Files movie will be good. Lord knows they've had plenty of time to work on a script.
I gotta shut up. Hope you guys have a good one.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Well, last night I went out with Team Steans, Cousin Sue, Nicole (who's Ryan and Jamie's roommate), and Matt (Nicole's boyfriend and friend of Team Steans) to Romeo's for Jamie's birthday dinner. It was a nice dinner, and I hope Jamie had a good birthday.
And here's a sort of troubling story from Fox News. Fox News is reporting that a recent Gallup Poll has found that 28 percent of Clinton supporters and 19 percent of Obama supporters have said that they would rather vote for McCain than support the rival of their Democratic candidate in the general election. This is some ridiculous crap, people. Obama and Clinton are so closely aligned on many of their views that they frequently have a difficult time even finding legitimate, issue-based points of contention to argue about during their debates, but now Democratic voters are going to forsake many of the ideals of their candidates if their favorite person doesn't get the Democratic nomination? Sounds like some of the worst sort of sour grapes to me. It's no wonder that the Republicans keep kicking our collective asses. We're a bunch of whiney babies.
Look, I voted in the primary and caucused for Obama. I find the man intelligent, inspiring, and refreshing. That doesn't mean that I don't think Hillary is a well-qualified leader with good ideas and views that will lead our country in the right direction if she becomes the Democratic candidate. What happened to that wonderful feeling that we had a few months ago where everyone was so happy to have at least two well-qualified candidates to pick from? I think that voting for McCain if your Democratic candidate loses in the primaries is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. While McCain doesn't seem nearly as bad as Bush, he still stands miles apart from either Obama or Clinton on many key issues (he wants prayer and voucher systems in schools, wants to extend the war and refuses to state that he will make troop withdrawal a priority, he states that he wants to work on a balanced budget and spending control while simultaneously stating that he plans to extend the war, he has a mediocre stance on enviromental issues and animal protection and has tended to favor economic development in wilderness areas, and he's said that the Bush tax cuts unreasonably favored the wealthiest of Americans, but now he plans to keep them, anyway).
Anyway, the bottom line is just that I hate to see such a positive thing for the Democrats (i.e., having two popular, well-qualified candidates) get turned into a negative just because of the name-calling and mudslinging of the primaries.
Mark my words now. If Hillary gets the nomination I will wholeheartedly support and endorse her because I believe that she truly has the best interests of Americans at heart (and I mean all Americans- not just the wealthy, the powerful, and the corporate interests). She's a fighter, for sure, and we're going to need one once we face the Republican campaign machine in the general election.
C'mon, Democrats- pull it together.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Monday, March 24, 2008
My parents were in town this weekend, staying with Cassidy and I at the Hop-a-Long Lounge. I hope they had a good trip. We went out with some friends of the family on Friday night and a had a few drinks at Fado's, went out to eat on Saturday night at Fonda San Miguel (which was really good- I'd heard about it for a long, long time, but had never been there before), and attended Easter church services on Sunday over at Bethany Lutheran, down on Slaughter Lane. In between all of those things we managed to take the dogs to the dog park, I went to a "design center" with The Admiral to look at some stuff for the new house that the folks are building out in Steiner Ranch, and we ate some Easter Bunny cake that Karebear had brought with her from Houston.
It was a good visit, but it was pretty busy, and I can't believe a new week has already started.
And the U.S. death toll in Iraq has now hit at least 4,000, according to the A.P.. This figure is far lower than what the U.S. experienced in Vietnam (almost 60,000) or Korea (recently revised to a figure around 37,000). Iraqi deaths during our ongoing war have been much, much higher, however, with reputable estimates for Iraqi civilian deaths often ranging from 82,000 to almost 90,000. Anyway, the U.S. has done a pretty efficient job of killing Iraqis while suffering a relatively low casualty rate, themselves. This fact has probably been part of what has helped keep a lid on protests and organized opposition to the war. Americans just won't work themselves into a furor when the vast majority of people dying in a war are foreigners and are perceived to be "on the other side", even if many of these people are civilians rather than combatants (although insurgency tends to blur these lines somewhat).
I think it's worth noting, however, that slightly less than 3,000 people died in the 9/11 attacks, and that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by a group (i.e., al Qaeda) that had virtually no presence in Iraq at the time of 9/11 (they were pretty much holed up in Aghaistan, under the protection of the Taliban). We went into Iraq under the auspices of finding Weapons of Mass Destruction and saving the Iraqi people from the cruelty inflicted by Saddam Hussein. Well, Hussein has long since been caught, tried, and executed, there were no weapons of mass destruction to be found, and Bin Laden is still on the loose. The Iraqi people now suffer at the hands of a number of different warlords, tribal, and religious leaders, etc. as sectarian violence and political infighting threaten to tear the country apart in the power vacuum left behind in Hussein's absence (although Petraeus's surge seems to be helping to keep a lid on the violence for the time being). Anyway, we're managing to somewhat control the violence in Iraq (most of which wasn't occurring before we got there), but we're doing so primarily through an outpouring of troops and resources that doesn't really seem sustainable.
In short, I think Iraq is still a really huge problem that hasn't gone away. I think we're just staunching the blood flow with an extremely expensive band aid. Our guys are trying to get the Iraqis ready to govern themselves, but leaders seem extremely reluctant to put any kind of timeline or deadline on saying when the Iraqis will be ready to truly take over for themselves. I remain afraid that a U.S. troop withdrawal will result in Iraq descending into chaos once again, but on the other hand, I'm not really crazy about the idea of leaving a large U.S. troop presence in the area on a semi-permanent basis.
I still think that the best option would be to withdraw most of our troops, but to keep troops stationed in nearby countries who could be called in to assist the Iraqi military and/or police during emergencies.
But no one asked me.
I guess I haven't really said much that's new here, but it's worth turning our attention to the war every now and again since our troops are still over there, risking their lives, operating on our tax dollars, and killing foreign citizens of an occupied country.
It will be interesting to see what our next president does with that whole situation. I don't envy the man or woman who inherits that mess.
Friday, March 21, 2008
I was watching the Fox 7 morning show this morning, and their food critic, Rob Balon, reviewed one of the Steans Clan's local Asian food hangouts, Hao Hao, which is down by Ryan and Jamie's house at William Cannon and Manchaca. Anyway, Rob Balon loved the place and kept talking about how much he wished he lived closer to it so that he could eat their more often. He mostly praised their Vietnamese dishes (going so far as to say that he thought they had the best Vietnamese food in town), but was complimentary of their Chinese food as well. Anyway, we eat there a lot (Dan Hamre turned me on to the place, even though he lives farther away from it than we do), and I really like the place (it's nothing fancy to look at, but the owners and people who work there are extremely nice, and the food is consistently good), so it's always nice to feel vindicated by someone else's opinion.
Other from that, I really don't have too much going on. I hope the weather is nice this weekend.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
I guess this topic is a little overdue, but I'll go ahead and write on it, anyway. Some of you may not be aware that I'm something of a Green Bay Packers fan. I would never claim to be the biggest football fan around, but I like the Packers. My mom is from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and even though they're in Michigan, the people up there in the U.P. tend to root for the Packers (there's some division on this point, but since much of the U.P. is actually closer to Green Bay than to Detroit- and because Detroit usually sucks- people in the U.P. tend to show at least as much allegiance to the Packers as they show to the Lions).
Anyway, as a Packers fan, of course, it brings me a little bit of sadness to see longtime Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre sail off into the sunset this year. I'm a pretty big guy, and growing up in Texas throughout my life I've been asked about whether I played football and why I wasn't playing football and whether or not I realized how good I would be at football. The truth of the matter is that I sometimes enjoy watching football, but it just never really interested me all that much. It's a sport where a good number of the guys on the field never get to touch the ball, and a whole lot of effort goes into helping the ball handlers get a chance to throw and catch and run and do cool stuff while a whole lot of other guys struggle through practice after practice and game after game down in the trenches without getting much credit at all.
Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked, but my point is that football was never my thing (I think I was also quite wary of the stereotypical image of the football player- the dumb as rocks jock who liked to pick on the smaller kids), and it seemed like a lot of the people who were always egging me on to go play it were about half my size and never really had to face the prospect of actually playing- going through all of the work, pain, and monotonous routine of countless hours of practice just to have the opportunity to stand on a line and repeatedly knock heads with some guy who's just as big or bigger than you. When football fans imagine themselves playing football, they always imagine themselves throwing incredible passes or making incredible runs or catching balls and running them in for touchdowns. They don't imagine themselves hiking balls, blocking for other players, or just struggling to hold off pass rushes play after play. They think of playing football in videogame terms- not in terms of spending countless hours in a weight room or in terms of practices where you spend hour after hour just banging heads with the guy across from you.
And that's primarily how I think about football. Or at least how I thought about it growing up. To the extent that I could have been involved in it, I have sort of a lineman's perspective on the game, because when I was younger and less coordinated, but still awfully big for my age (I'm mostly referring to junior high, when the coaches were doing their best to recruit me), I had no doubt that the offensive line (or at best, the defensive line) was where I was headed if I played football. A game filled with a bunch of guys who are content to push each other around in a cloud of dust over and over again for the vast majority of their free time for more than half of the year.
And then there's the fact that people take football so damn seriously. Especially in Texas. In Texas, football holds a position roughly equivalent to the status that gladiatorial games and chariot races were afforded in ancient Rome. We build grand coliseums for it, give players free college educations, and grant reverance and high celebrity status (in addition to fantastic financial wealth) to professional players. Football games are previewed, analyzed, and dissected with an intensity far greater than the attention paid to the progress of the actual wars that our country is engaged in.
All of this to say, I guess, that there have been times when I pretty much just about lost interest in football.
Annnnnyyyway, all of this, believe it or not, is leading me back to Brett Favre. I really like the guy. He always just seemed to truly love football for the game that it is. At the same time he has always been able to seem like he's having fun, keeping in mind that football is just a game, while simultaneously putting forth the best effort that he could possibly produce. He seems to have respected his teammates and gave them credit when games went well (although he's said to have been a little rough on the rookies when they were getting a little too cocky). I guess he just loved the game and had a burning desire to win, but he still seemed like he was really enjoying himself out there. It was always fun to see Favre get the ball when his team was down by a few points and time was running out on the clock, because you knew that Favre wouldn't panic- he saw such moments as opportunities to turn himself and his teammates into heroes, and he relished the moments when big risks were not only permissible but necessary in order to turn a game around.
His ability to love the game and to simultaneously keep things in perspective led him to develop a playing style in which he often took huge risks- throwing risky passes at times when others would have played it safer. He often failed (he threw an awful lots of interceptions), but his failures stood beside amazing successes that were spectacular to witness, and the fact that he was willing to take these risks at all was, in my opinion, a success in itself- a reminder that football isn't a matter of life and death, and ultimately it's meant to be about having fun, no matter how much of your heart and soul you're willing to pour into it. Watching Favre was kind of like watching a really talented kid on a really big playground, and he helped to keep football entertaining during times when it threatened to become a bit overwhelming under the weight of its own intensity. You could just see the joy of playing the game in that man.
So here's to Favre- he helped me find some fun in football when I wasn't really sure how much fun football had to offer. He wasn't about money or reputation or contracts. He was just about football and love of the game. Green Bay will miss him, and the NFL will, too. It's going to be very hard to find another quarterback who has the same magic that Brett Favre had.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Well, last night I went and had dinner with Ryan, Jamie, and Nicole at Hyde Park Grill. It wasn't really a birthday celebration dinner, necessarily, because we already sort of did that on Saturday night, but it was a nice dinner, nonetheless, and they even got me some presents (a David Byrne album, the new Herbie Hancock, and a Wilco DVD). Thanks to all the folks who called or stopped by to wish me a happy birthday!
And for the millionth time, I will readily admit to being totally confused by the economy and by Wall Street. The Fed takes action to help save Bear Stearns and reduces a key interest rate by .75 because the economy is silding deeper into the crapper, and suddenly the stock market reacts by wildly skyrocketing 420 points? It just feels crazy. It seems like the American economy is some sort of seriously ill hospital patient, and then whenever the doctor gives that patient a shot of painkillers to temporarily ease his symptoms, the patient's family immediately rushes out to buy the patient exercise equipment and plane tickets for the patient to travel with them to Europe next month. Is it well-wishing that's driving this behavior or some kind of hope that spending money on future plans will either cure the patient or make him forget his own sickness? I'm all for the power of positive thinking, but doesn't it just seem sort of natural that there might be dire consequences for bad decision-making in a freemarket economy (i.e., the poor investment decisions and overextended credit of Bear Stearns)? Anyway, I don't really understand the stock market. They seem like a bunch of overstimulated, hyperactive little kids who just respond with knee-jerk reactions to the latest news rather than choosing to try to see any kind of big picture and move proactively and purposefully.
Well, that's enough for now. Maybe more later.
But I'm no economist. I took economics from a professor who was aptly nicknamed "Sleepy Joe" because of the effect that he had on his students.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Well, it's my official birthday today, and St. Patrick's Day as well (despite what the Vatican may say)! Any hopes that I may have had of letting the day quietly pass by without notice were sort of dashed when I got to the office. I'm still not sure who was responsible for the confetti, balloon, streamer, decoration explosion, but I have a few suspects in mind. I'm never going to get all of these tiny pieces of confetti out of my computer's keyboard, but it's still nice to be remembered on your birthday!
The weekend was pretty good. Friday night I had dinner with Ryan and Jamie at Jason's Deli. We hung out afterward, but I'm not sure what we did. I guess we talked to Nicole for awhile (she lives at their house, and she was home sick that night).
Saturday I got up and ran a couple of errands and then took Cassidy down to the greenbelt. We went to Gus Fruh and hung out for a little while, but the creek was completely dry. It was a little depressing to see last year's awesome swimming holes reduced to a limestone rock pit. Hopefully we'll get some much needed rain pretty soon that can get the creek flowing again.
Anyway, with Gus Fruh empty, we went over to the Barton Springs spillover and played in the water down there for a little bit with the other dogs. Cassidy loved it.
Saturday night I went out to dinner with a few family and friends at the Maudie's way down on Slaughter (we were trying to avoid the SXSW crowd closer to downtown). It was a nice dinner. Afterward a few of us went back to my house and played some music until it got pretty late. Then we ate some cupcakes that Jamie made, and listened to some Radiohead.
Sunday I got up and went to see Doomsday with Ryan and Jamie. It was a truly bad post-apocalyptic, action flick which pretty much mashed together 28 Days Later, The Road Warrior, Escape from New York, Aliens, and about ten other movies. There was absolutely nothing original about it, and it was dumb as hell, but it was still kind of fun. I kept exchanging high fives with Jamie whenever something happened in the movie that made absolutely no sense or whenever some completely gratuitous piece of graphic violence occurred (we slapped a whole lot of high fives). Roundball has a review on his blog which sums up the movie fairly accurately, although I think he sometimes found a bit less humor in the overall idiocy of the thing than I did. Let's be honest- I love a big, dumb sci fi movie. Of course, I usually enjoy them because they have some fun ideas hidden under the bad acting and awful effects. This movie really had nothing new to say at all, but I was still entertained by the awfulness of it.
Sunday night we had Mono Ensemble practice. To mix things up a bit we had an acoustic practice, mostly without amplifiers or speakers (Jim did use an amp for his keyboard, but that was about it). It sounded really different, interesting, and good. We're not exactly used to doing things quietly in the Mono E, so this was a pleasant change. Eric did some recording, so I'll be curious to hear if things came out as well in the recordings as they sounded when we were playing.
p.s.- now I remember what else Roundball and I did on Friday night! We watched Hot Shots! Part Deux!!!! Wow! They just don't make movies like that any more. That made two awesome movie spectaculars in one action-packed weekend!
Friday, March 14, 2008
Thursday, March 13, 2008
The SXSW activity hasn't really effected me all that much. I'm planning on trying to go see a few free shows at Auditorium Shores tonight (Grupo Fantasma, Del the Funky Homosapien, and Spoon are tonight, starting at 6:00 for anyone who's interested), but other from that I probably won't get too involved.
Don't have a whole lot of news. I went to Ryan and Jamie's last night, and we ate pizza.
Here's an interesting story, or a story that's at least interesting from my viewpoint as a prosecutor. A woman named Janice Warder, a former prosecutor who is now a judge and who is running for Cooke County District Attorney, has been found to have violated the law back in 1986 while prosecuting the murder of Galua Crosby in Garland. For those of you who aren't all that familiar with criminal law, there's a rule called the Brady Rule which requires prosecutors to hand over all evidence to the defense which might tend to exhonerate a client or mitigate his guilt. In Travis County this has led to an "open file" discovery policy in which we pretty much allow defense attorneys to review just about anything that we have in a file that we might be using to prosecute a criminal case (certain witness statements or information may be kept confidential in order to protect witnesses, but that's about the only exception).
Well, apparently Ms. Warder failed to turn over some evidence that might have been fairly helpful to defendant Clay Chabot during a rape and murder trial (such evidence included inconsistent statements that had been made by Chabot's brother-in-law, Gerald Pabst). Failing to hand over Brady evidence is kind of a bad deal for a prosecutor, but in this case it was made much worse by the fact that Chabot was convicted and spent 21 years in prison before being exhonerated by a DNA test which ended up incriminating Gerald Pabst (the guy who made the questionable statements which were hidden in the first place). I'm guessing that Janice Warder probably isn't going to be taking over a district attorney position any time soon. Can't let those competitive instincts get the better of you, kids.
That's it for now. Hope you're having a good one.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Even though I didn't play it last night, I got a pretty cool new (at least new to me) videogame this weekend called Assassin's Creed. The game has a plotline in which you're actually supposed to be a guy named Desmond Miles at some point in the near future, but Desmond is taking part in some sort of study/experiment in which the "genetic memories" of his ancestors are being explored. One of Desmond's ancestors is named Altair, a member of the Assassin Brotherhood, a Muslim sect known for the killing of Sunni leaders and the leaders of other groups which oppressed them, in the Middle Eastern Holy Lands around 1191. The action in the game takes place as you try to carry out the assassinations of a number of men who are said to be exploiting and exacerbating the conflicts occurring during the 3rd Crusade for their own profit (you are sent on these missions by the leader of the assassin's guild). The game takes place in the cities of Jerusalem, Damascus, Acre, and Masyaf, and the depictions of the towns and the surrounding countryside are extremely vivid and well-constructed (the game designers claim that the layouts of the towns are historically accurate, but I would guess that this is pretty much impossible to verify).
Anyway, it's a cool game. Your little dude is good at everything from slipping through crowds, to running and jumping across rooftops, riding horses, pickpocketing and eavesdropping, and, of course, killing people in a number of ways (some stealthy, and some extremely unstealthy, but spectacular to witness). I like the historical context of the game, and the attention to detail. The graphics are pretty incredible, and it's easy to get immersed in it. Despite a disclaimer at the beginning of the game stating that it was created by a multi-ethnic, religiously diverse team, the game is also a sort of disconcerting and not-so-subtle reminder of exactly how long there have been violent troubles existing between Christians and Muslims, both in the Middle East and in the rest of the world (I mean, the game isn't exactly historically accurate, but it does incorporate actual events that occurred in the Holy Land toward the end of the Third Crusade).
Anyway, it's a pretty cool game, although probably not one to share with the young kids at home.
That's all that I have for now. Hope you guys are having a good day.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
No news to report. Last night I had dinner with Ryan and Jamie at Hill's Cafe. It was pretty good.
And the governor of the New York, Eliot Spitzer has been caught up in a prostitution sting. Bad, bad governor. I've talked to a couple of people about this, and mostly everyone just seems curious about what, exactly, it gets you to spend several thousand dollars on a hooker. Then again, I probably don't want to open that subject up for discussion (Wilson would have had a field day with that one).
Well, it's a slow day, but that's a good thing, I think.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Friday, March 07, 2008
Looks like Obama may have actually come out ahead in the delegate race in Texas after the caucus results are tallied up, even though Clinton won the popular vote. I have kind of mixed feelings about this. I voted and caucused for Obama, but it still seems kind of strange to say that a candidate is going to get more delegates even though they didn't win the popular vote. That being said, it took extra time and effort to show up and caucus for Obama, so part of me doesn't mind seeing that effort pay off by giving him an extra edge if he did well in the caucus count (the caucuses, if they have any purpose at all, seem to test how deep the support goes for a given candidate- voting for a candidate is one thing, but caucusing is a bit of a pain in the butt- not a huge deal, but it takes time- so I think it really means something if a candidate has a greater number of supporters who are willing to go out of their way an put in the extra effort to caucus for that person).
Samantha Power, a foreign policy advisor to the Obama campaign and a personal friend of Barack Obama, resigned from his campaign today because of remarks she had made in which she referred to Hillary Clinton as "a monster". I appreciate the fact that Obama's campaign has not been willing to resort to or or tolerate such personal attacks. The Democrats need to keep their primary as respectable and civil as possible, and it would be an amazingly refreshing change of pace if some of that civility carried over into the general election as well. Clinton's campaign has decried demands by the Obama camp for Clinton to turn over tax records, some of Clinton's paperwork from her term as first lady, and a list of donors from the Clinton presidential library among other documents, but given the fact that Clinton has made character, ethics, her experience, and the transparency of government important issues during this campaign, I really don't think that these requests are inappropriate. Calling someone a monster, on the other hand, doesn't really seem to serve any legitimate public interest. Anyway, I really do feel that Obama has been going out of his way to try to keep this campaign pretty clean, and given the cricumstances and the competitiveness of the campaign, I think he's done a decent job.
Stocks dropped to their lowest level in over a year, and job losses in February were the worst that they've been in 5 years. Bush notices something amiss and announces that the economy has slowed. He's still convinced that his economic stimulus package is going to fix things, though. For my part, I think that we're at the beginning of some troubling times that may last for a good long while (as I've said many times, I'm no economist, but from my extremely limited viewpoint it seems like the U.S. is about to start feeling the effects of participation in a truly global marketplace- a marketplace where we're competing with a bunch of developing countries that have cheaper labor, increasing demands for goods, and protective taxation and tariff systems that are making competition increasingly difficult). Outsourcing keeps moving jobs overseas, and it sounds like the U.S. economy continues to move toward "service industry" jobs- but isn't that an economic basis that will become increasingly difficult to maintain if we keep cutting back on manufacturing and other basic areas, and Americans keep tightening their belts and saving their money, attempting to avoid spending money on "service industry" services? Man, it's all really confusing to me, but it feels like somehow things are sliding away from us a bit- that we're beginning to lose some of our economic power as it begins to increase in other nations. Of course, the wealthiest amongst the Americans will just ride this out as their products and services are produced overseas (often in the name of American companies), but the middle class workforce seems like it will be squeezed as jobs move to other nations. I'm totally full of B.S.. I don't understand this stuff, but I'm just trying to piece together theories from the very small pieces of information that I have. I'm just speculating wildly.
Well, that's about it. Hope everyone has a good weekend.
Thursday, March 06, 2008
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
But now I have a dark secret to reveal. A confession that must be made, so that certain truths may see the light of day. This isn't easy to say, and I pray that most of you won't think considerably less of me for having made this admission, but long ago, in my youth, Steanso used to dabble in the role playing games. It's kind of scary to see that in print, but it's true. Roundball and I and a small handful of friends used to play a number of role playing games, including superhero games, sci-fi games, war-based games, etc. And of course, one of the first games we learned to play, like so many other geeky young fools before us, was Dungeons and Dragons.
We played Dungeons and Dragons from the time that I was incredibly young, in retrospect. When I started playing it, I had no idea that the people who played such games would later become stereotyped as socially inept nerds who might be fairly intelligent, but were prone to easily losing their grasp on reality. I think I got started in about 3rd or 4th grade, probably not really understanding what we were doing at first, and it went on for years. For those of you who are cool enough to have never played Dungeons and Dragons or any similar role playing games, the premise is pretty simple. The games essentially involve mathematical, probability-driven models of reality. You come up with characters who have numbers that represent different attributes related to that character (e.g., a certain number for how strong the character is, a certain number for how fast, how smart, etc.). Players describe actions that they want their characters to take, and dice rolls in combination with the player statistics determine whether or not the player is successful at any given attempt at something. One of the "players" typically acts as a sort of referee who does nothing but keep track of how the players are interacting with their fictitious environment (and this guy also controls all of the characters in the story who aren't controlled by characters- the characters who might be more equivalent to computer-controlled bots in modern video games). Keep in mind that these dice games were developed back before computers had really come of age, but the number-based games systems were probably not dissimilar to the type of modeling later used by computers when recreating or simulating "real world" events (as a matter of fact, I think computers have probably taken over a big portion of the marketshare with today's online multiplayer role playing games- which is a bit of a shame because it probably takes a lot of the fluidity, flexibility, and human interaction out of these games).
Anyway, I was a Dungeons and Dragons geek. There. I said it. Let the record reflect that I never crawled through sewers in search of dragons or fired homemade crossbows at my neighbor's cat or paraded around the neighborhood in homemade armor while wielding a sword. What can I say? My brother and I were creative kids, we enjoyed coming up with characters and stories, and these games were a good outlet. In retrospect, some of the stories that we came up with within the context of these games could probably have sold for decent money as screenplay ideas, comic book storylines, or fantasy or sci-fi novels. And that's basically what the role playing games were- fairly detailed, elaborate stories that relied upon dice rolls and probability to determine the outcome. And it was a lot more fun to come up with a story to share with your friends through a game than it was to sit down and write out a story by hand that no one really wanted to read once you were through.
So why, in god's name, am I bringing all of this up today? Why make this admission after keeping my geekiness in the closet for all of these years?
Gary Gygax, one of the co-creators of Dungeons and Dragons and one of the founding fathers of the entire role playing game movement died this morning at his home in Lake Geneva at age 69. Gygax helped start it all, having first formalized the rules of dice tossing, role playing games, and the industry has expanded exponentially ever since he started it. Dungeons and Dragons alone has been the subject of numerous movies, cartoons, novels, comic books, etc.. I have no idea how big the role playing game industry is, but I would bet that it's pretty huge (most people would probably be shocked to find out how many people that they know have played Dungeons and Dragons at one time or another). Gary's wife said that he loved dungeons and Dragons and the people who played it right up until the end- that he was hosting games at his house up through January of this year. I don't know much about the man, but he sounded like a pretty nice guy.
I have a feeling that with the ever-expanding prevalence of computers within every type of gaming, that the traditional role playing games- games with books full of characters and monsters, dungeon maps, and crazily-shaped dice- are probably beginning to become relics of a time before internet connections and computer-generated environments. Traditional role playing games are probably giving way to computer games, and that's a shame. For kids of my generation, Dungeons and Dragons was an interactive activity- something to keep you up late at night, gathered in a room with your friends. It involved junk food and caffeinated soft drinks and lots of laughter and storytelling. I remember getting sucked into the games, hanging on the words of the stories that other players were telling. Kids today sit in darkened rooms alone in front of computer monitors sharing limited interaction with other kids who may be hundreds of miles away. It's just not the same. It can't be.
So I've outed myself in salute to Gary Gygax. I want to thank him for all of the fond memories and good times that I had with my brother and my other friends while growing up. We spent a lot of hours playing those games, and they helped us bond closer together. Gygax helped our imaginations to grow, taught us how to tell good stories, and even gave me some fundamental understanding of the importance of math (hey, even though I suck at math, at least I understand, to a limited extent, how it can be used for simulations and reality modeling). Mostly, he kept us from wandering the streets and getting into trouble.
So via con dios, Gary. And thanks for everything.
Monday, March 03, 2008
Mostly I read some books, played some guitar, and caught up on TV shows that were saved on the DVR.
I finally watched this week's episode of Lost (yes, I've gotten sucked back into that show now that I have DVR again and can keep up with the episodes). The episode was pretty good, but it was immediately very reminiscent of Slaughterhouse Five, given the way Desmond becomes "unstuck in time" in the same way that Billy Pilgrim becomes unstuck in the Vonnegut book. At first I was a little annoyed by this, given as how it seemed to be a blatant rip off of Slaughterhouse, but eventually there was a scene where Faraday makes a direct reference to Slaughterhouse by quoting the famous "unstuck in time" line while running experiments with a lab rat, and then my annoyance turned to... well, pride is going a long way, but something other than annoyance. It's pretty inevitable that a lot of sci-fi or fantasy shows will end up exploring some of the same subject matter, after all, so I guess the best we can hope for is that they will explore the subject matter in new and interesting ways, and that they'll give credit where it's due in acknowledging the works that have come before (this seems to be sort of a new trend in post-modern sci fi, as a matter of fact- Crichton repeatedly referenced Star Wars and Star Trek on Farscape, and I've seen the characters on Stargate Atlantis make references to Star Wars as well). Anyway, Lost is a pretty good show, and if you're going to be borrowing themes from anyone, Vonnegut is a pretty respectable source (and they handled the time travel storyline from this episode pretty well, I might add).
So my weekend was pretty slow, and pretty quiet. Maybe a little too quiet. I was supposed to have band practice with Ryan and Lauren on Saturday afternoon, but they both ultimately proved unfit for rocking and flaked out. I finished up Bioshock, which was a very unusual, although satisfying game (you just don't see that many videogames with Ayn Rand themes and art deco, 1950's-60's undersea cities). It was the kind of game where every once in awhile I would stop fighting or rushing to my next challenge, and I would just wander around, examining the artwork, architecture, and design of the environment.
I guess that's it. I hope everyone is doing okay.