Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hi, guys. Shaping up to be a pretty busy day. Last night I had dinner with Team Steans at Hao Hao. As usual, it was pretty good.
I also watched part of a PBS miniseries called Carrier about life aboard the aircraft carrier the USS Nimitz. The Nimitz is deployed in the Persian Gulf, and this documentary was pretty interesting. Mostly life aboard the ship looked pretty hot and pretty monotonous. The monotony was occasionally broken up by things like rescuing sinking fishing boats, inspecting freight ships for weapons and contraband, and, sadly, searching for a man overboard who disappeared off of one of the Nimitz's support ships. It was interesting to hear even the fighter pilots openly questioning the value of the role that they're playing over there. By their own admission, a lot of the sailors and pilots didn't seem to think that a giant aircraft carrier (and all of its accompanying support group) had much of a role in a house to house, guerrilla-style conflict like the Iraq War, and they certainly didn't seem to think that the good that they were doing (or the benefit that they were managing to bestow upon U.S. ground troops) outweighed the tremendous cost of operating a carrier battle group in the region.
Anyhoo, the miniseries has ten different parts to it, but it's pretty interesting. It's a whole different kind of life aboard a big ship, I guess, and you have to feel bad for these guys when they start talking about how much they miss their families back home. I recommend checking out an episode or two if you get a chance.

Obama continues to suffer from some negative press after his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, defended his controversial comments about the treamtent of blacks in America. Obama has gone out of his way to denounce Wright's and his comments and to clearly state that Wright has absolutely no role, advisory or otherwise, on his campaign, but critics charge that Obama should have been more forceful in separating himself from Wright earlier on, and some question whether Obama can separate himself from Wright without simultaneously seprating himself from the black community.
I think it's all a bunch of crap, drummed up because the press doesn't have enough to chew on. The man was Obama's pastor, and that's it. They weren't business partners or drinking buddies or even fraternity brothers. Obama shouldn't have to answer for Wright's opinions at all, but even after he's done so- completely distancing himself from the man and stating that he doesn't agree with Wright's rhetoric- the press refuse to just let the matter drop.
Now I've sat through a number of sermons that I didn't particularly agree with in my time, both in our family church while growing up and at my parents' church as an adult. Church isn't exactly an interactive experience when it comes time for the sermon. You don't get to raise your hand to say, "I like what you said about this, but I disagree with you on this other point," and I don't ever remember anyone ever standing up to just object to the point of a sermon. Point is, there are lots of reasons to attend a church other than a simple love of the sermons on Sunday morning (maybe your family or friends attend there, maybe there are other pastors at the church that you find more agreeable, maybe you enjoy programs offered by the church, etc.), and I find it ridiculous to try to hold someone accountable for the actions of their pastor. In fact, I find this whole thing sort of disingenuous and a little bit suspect. It's as if a large segment of the white population is saying, "See! I knew that there were black people out there who really don't like white people, and sure enough, it turns out that Barack Obama is friends with someone who feels that way. We can't support a man who has friends who have negative attitudes toward whites!"
How hypocritical is this? C'mon white folks. How many of you have a family member, friend, neighbor, or co-worker who has made you uncomfortable by saying some racially insensitive things? Should we all be judged by the statements of our friends or acquaintances? Sure, we ought not stand by while prejudice runs rampant, but the reality of life is that you have to pick your battles (and Obama says that he doesn't even ever remember being in the audience when Wright gave some of his more controversial speeches).
Anyway, let's judge Obama on the words and actions of Obama, and get back to the issues he'll be dealing with as president.

I gotta run, but I hope you guys are having a good day. Maybe more later.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Yarrrrgh! Steanso is at work today, but now my stomach is feeling a little weird (I've slipped back to do some quick post-lunch blogging to round out my lunch hour, and now I just don't feel right). I went to Threadgills with DK for lunch, so maybe it was something I ate. Not sure.

Not too much to report, anyway. I really didn't do anything last night except surf the internet and watch TV. I just want to continue to give kudos to our family friend Jim Parsons for his continuing role as Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory. I really like very few sitcoms, yet I really do find Big Bang to be very funny, and I swear that I'm not just saying this because Jim is on it. Just watch the show a few times and the characters will suck you in (plus, of course, I have a soft spot for geek-related humor, which this show has in spades).

The weather is gorgeous outside, but we're all cooped up at work. Grrrr...

And apparently police and prosecutors at the DA's office believe that the effects of the "Stop Snitching" movement may have reached Austin. For a couple of years now a "Stop Snitching" movement has been gaining momentum through the use of DVDs, web sites, and tee shirts with the intent of discouraging people from cooperating with police when they witness crimes. Basketball star Anthony Carmello has appeared in DVDs supporting the Stop Snitching cause, but the movement largely seems to be born of sentiments arising in urban neighborhoods where gang activity and drug dealing is commonplace. Austin police report that the Stop Snitching movement may have contributed to the difficulty in solving at least three austin homicide cases this year, where a number of people may have witnessed the killings (or at least may have had information which might have helped to solve the homicides), but no one came forward to provide information.
I guess the whole Stop Snitching movement probably seems to make sense to urban, inner city kids who have entire groups of friends and family members who are in gangs. The Stop Snitching philosophy in those communities might be seen more as an oath of loyalty to your friends and nieghbors than as an attempt to actively obstruct a police investigation. And in the case of low level drug prosecutions or minor misdemeanors, I can sort of see the appeal of this line of thinking (it's easy to ake the "screw the police" attitude when you don't see anyone getting hurt or victimized by some crimes). In the case of homicides and major crimes (or even thefts, assaults, and other misdemeanor crimes that still involve victims), however, the failure of witnesses to cooperate with police just leads to much more dangerous, crime ridden communities in which extremely dangerous people come to feel that they can prey upon and victimize their neighbors with impunity. I don't know whether the proponents of the "stop snitching" ideology think that communities without police involvement are going to police themselves, but if that is their logic, it's clearly flawed, as evidenced by the ongoing crime that has led to rise of a "stop snitching" movement in the first place (and as evidenced by violent, unsolved crimes like the three Austin murders mentioned in the article). And even most minor crimes make certain acts illegal in the first place because they're attempting to protect a certain minimum standard of living within neighborhoods and communities.
Citizen cooperation with the police is the only way that certain crimes have any chance of getting solved, and if people want safer neighborhoods to live in, they're going to have to share information with officers and detectives. It's that simple. Other from that, you're pretty much left with resorting to vigilantism if you want to protect your neighborhood, and that's not going to get you very far when you're up against drug dealers and gang members (despite how Death Wish made things look).

Monday, April 28, 2008

Steanso Takes a Stand for GTA IV

And a quick post just to say that yes, Steanso is in fact interested in and sort of excited about the release of the newest Grand Theft Auto game on Tuesday. I'm not sure I'll rush out and buy the game right away (I generally tend to wait until the prices drop off a little), but I look forward to playing it once I can get my hands on a copy.
These games have taken a lot of flack for having some adult-themed content (yes, there are drug dealers and hookers and gangs with machine guns), but the controversy surrounding the content of the games has often overshadowed the fact that these are some of the most well-produced, well-thought out, well-executed games on the market. In addition to having excellent graphics, great soundtracks, and good playability, the games have created a revolutionary playing style in which the environment inside the game (in this newest game, a fictional version of New York called Liberty City) remains constantly open and free for the character to roam around in and explore (industry insiders call this "sandbox style" gameplay). Players can move from one job to another, picking up assignments and advancing forward through the storyline of the game, or they can just wander around the city, finding smaller side missions, interacting with computer controlled characters, or generally getting themselves into trouble (and the city environments of the games tend to have an astonishing amount of diversity and detail- including waterfronts, shopping malls, used car lots, strip clubs, pizzerias, barber shops, and so on and so forth). The point is, as a player you don't have to follow a pre-determined storyline or narrative arc- as in real life, you can amibitiously and hurriedly try to advance your character through the challenges that lay before you, or you can just as easily just wander around the game, spending your time finding hidden "mini games" or creating your own challenges as you go.
Anyway, the Grand Theft Auto games aren't just potty mouthed trash for troubled teens. They're also extremely complicated, advanced games that exist at the highest level of the videogame experience. The Grand Theft games simply are not meant for children (heck, it's probably not even the greatest idea to give some early teenagers access to these games), any more than violent movies like Scarface or Goodfellas are meant for children. The problem with the games isn't so much a problem with the games at all- it's more a problem with American society getting its head around the idea that not all videogames are meant to be played by gamers in every age range. On the whole, parents just need to be much more aware of what they are exposing their children to when they purchase videogames for them. There are many extremely violent games out there which don't seem to attract the same negative attention that the Grand Theft games endure (although in terms of keeping children away from these games, perhaps they should), but I think the primary difference comes from the fact that the Grand Theft games employ violence on a more realistic level than most. The violence in Grand Theft doesn't have characters lopping the arms off of ogres or blowing the heads off of aliens with laser rifles. In Grand Theft you're more likely to end up chasing a gangster or a drug dealer down an alley while spraying bullets out the window of your Corvette with an uzi.
Like I said- the Grand Theft games are not for kids, but that shouldn't prevent adults from appreciating the technical genius that propels the storytelling in these games. The stories may be a little rough, but that doesn't mean they're not worth experiencing.
Well, the weekend was really nice, actually, and, as usual, I can't believe it's already over. Friday night Jamie went to some kind of fashion show with Nicole, and Ryan and I went and ate some barbecue and then went to see The Forbidden Kingdom. The Forbidden Kingdom was pretty good, but not awesome. It had some really cool kung fu, including the work of superveterans Jackie Chan and Jet Li (who reprised a couple of their most famous roles, as the drunken master and the silent monk), but it also had a sort of weak plotline involving an American kid who's a kung fu movie junkie and who basically gets bonked on the head and fantasizes his way into ancient, feudal China (the plotline with this kid isn't all that dissimilar, sadly, to the plotline of 1993's The Last Action Hero). Anyway, the movie had some cool martial arts, some interesting special effects, and some genuinely funny moments, so it was enjoyable despite a sort of weak plotline.
Saturday I got up and went to Curra's with Jamie and Ryan for breakfast (which was cool because normally they eat before I get up). I like Curra's. It's one of my favorite places in Austin for breakfast.
After breakfast I took Cassidy down to the spillover at Barton Springs, and Ryan eventually met me down there with Lucy. We had fun in the sun and water, and eventually wore ourselves out (well, it took over an hour of chasing after tennis balls to sort of wear Lucy out).
Saturday night we had dinner with Team Steans plus Matt and Nicole. It was a nice dinner.
Yesterday I got up and rode all the way out to the Lake Creek Alamo Drafthouse for a showing of the original Superman movie (It was some kind of anniversary of the Action Comics issue where Superman 1st appeared. Or something like that.). Needless to say, I went out there with Jamie and Roundball, and as soon as the pre-movie Superman trivia contest started up, it became clear that Roundball's hand was going to be the first hand shooting up on every question. Well, he still won some passes, but I talked him down so that other kids could have a chance to play (and because we could only win passes to the Lake Creek Alamo Drafthouse, which is like at least half an hour away from our house). There was also a costume contest for people dressed up like their favorite superhero, which was sort of cute since we were at the matinee show and lots of kids were in attendance, dressed up like little Supermans and Batmans and whatnot (there was also one adult who showed up in an absolutely awesome Spiderman costume- seriously, he looked like the Toby McGuire Spiderman from the movies). The superman movie was fun, and I realized part way through it that I've actually seen Superman 2 a lot more times than I've seen the first Superman (Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor really makes that first Superman movie pretty entertaining, even for people who aren't huge Superfans).
Then last night we had Mono Ensemble practice. Frank didn't make it, but we played pretty well, even without him. I'm happy to say that Flightless Birds made a reappearance (and that will mean something to about 1% of you). When we were getting ready for the last gig that we played at Club Deville, I think we realized that we have a lot of older songs that we're just not quite comfortable playing at the moment (some of these have been "on the shelf" for quite some time), so we spent part of practice trying to refamiliarize ourselves with some of those songs.
And that was the weekend. Hope you guys enjoyed yours.

Well, I don't have a lot else at the moent, and I sort of need to run, but mayhaps more later.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Comment Moderation Disabled

Well, I've been back and forth on this issue (an issue which I realize that many of you don't even care about), and I guess I'm going to disable the comment moderation for awhile and see how things go. I really have been publishing pretty much every comment I've gotten since I turned the moderation on in the first place, but Roundball seems to think that the comment moderation feature nonetheless has a chilling effect on people's willingness to engage in discussion, so I'll turn it off for awhile and see how things go (plus, the blogger program is supposed to send me an email letting me know when I have comments waiting to be moderated/posted, and sometimes it just doesn't do that, and then I end up with comments in the queue that I accidentally overlook, and it makes me feel bad because I'm sure people think I'm censoring them when I don't mean to). You guys better behave yourselves, though, or so help me, I will turn this car right around! (Seriously, though- everyone play nice, or I'll just turn the moderation back on. And I still reserve the right to yank comments off my blog for any reason whatsoever. 'Cause it's my blog.)
Now back to your regularly scheduled program. Chat it up, people.

Friday, April 25, 2008

yes, Steanso is a Batman fan....

See, if we lived in a world without rules, then Steanso's enemies would scrawl the word STEANSO in burning letters across the side of our nine story courthouse building.
Hey, guys. Hope ya'll are doing well.
Not too much going on over here. Last night I went out with Ryan, Jamie, Jeff, Keora, and Pat to a place in The Triangle called The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium. We were supposedly just going out for dinner, but The Flying Saucer is decidedly more of a bar than it is a restaurant. The place was pretty packed (it had a mildly yuppie crowd), and I guess I would mostly have to attribute the popularity of the place to the incredibly large beer selection that it has, as well as the trendy, hip location (the food was passable, but not great).
Poor Ryan and Jamie had to listen to my analysis on the way home, and I'm sure they get tired of me being critical of places and wish I would just shut up, but the place just kind of rubbed me the wrong way. The place was decorated and obviously meant to look like some kind of pub-style bar, the walls were covered with all kinds of crazy, collectible junk, most of it apparently selected to try to give the place the feel of a well-established, neighborhood bar. They even had plates on the wall inscribed with about ten names of the bar's most "famous" regulars and a bunch of frisbee golf discs on the ceiling, presumably collected over the years from local disc golf tournaments or ultimate frisbee competitions. The only problem is that the place can't be more than six months to a year old, so all of this stuff is pretty much a bunch of fake crap, hung on the walls to try to make it feel more like an authentic neighborhood bar. The menu also had a few items that had tried to incorporate the names of local landmarks (e.g., Barton Springs burgers, or some name like that- I can't remember the exact example, but I remember chuckling about it).
My whole point is that this place had gone way out of their way to try to feel like a local, Austin neighborhood bar, but in truth, The Flying Saucer is just another chain establishment that has franchise locations in places like Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, etc.. As far as being a true, local pub, it's the McDonald's version, although admittedly with a really, really good beer selection, and with attractive waitresses who are apparently required to wear knee socks and short skirts. There was nothing terribly wrong with the place, but I just couldn't help feeling like it was a bit of a hustle- another facade set up to look like what American consumers think a neighborhood English or Irish-style pub ought to look like, complete with pre-worn wooden fixtures, fictional souvenirs hanging on the wall, and some fairly loud classic rock for background music. There was also something a bit strange about walking into a place which is decked out to look like an older pub when you're in the middle of the hip, trendy, and noticeably new Triangle. The experience was a bit incongruous.
But they had good beer. And I'm whiney. I just like supporting local neighborhood businesses when I can. And I like authenticity, when I can get it.
On the up side, it was good to hang out with Jeff, Pat, and Keora. They're friends via Ryan and Jamie, so I don't necessarily see them all that often, but they're really good folks and fun to hang out with.

Well, I don't have much else going on, so I'm going to shut up, at least for the time being. Hope you guys are having a good one!!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Hi. Happy Thursday.

Wish I had more to report. Last night we grilled a few burgers. The weather was really nice after work, and it was nice to hang out in the backyard and listen to the wind in the trees with the dogs while the food cooked.

Speaking of backyards, The Backyard concert venue is apparently closing its doors after this season and will be looking for a new location to move to. The owners cite traffic congestion and the development of the venue's rustic surroundings (into shopping malls and parking lots) as reasons for moving the venue. The move is long overdue. As many of you know, the accident that Jeff died in (and in which several other people were seriously hurt, including Kim and Sigmund) occurred on Highway 71 near the Backyard as my friends were trying to cross the street at an intersection to get back to their car. The Backyard is obviously not culpable for the irresponsible, drunken acts of the woman who caused the accident, but the poor parking situation out at the Backyard (the official parking lots for the Backyard are currently located a fair distance away from the actual venue, with several stores and parking lots separating concertgoers from their cars) has been sort of encouraging some attempts at creative parking solutions, and such was the case on the night of July 3, 2006, when the Wilsons and Blooms were attempting to cross Hwy 71 to return to their car (they had dined at a place on the other side of 71 before the show at The Backyard, and seized upon the opportunity to leave their car at a location more convenient than the distant parking lots when the waitstaff offered it to them).

Annyway, all of this just to say that the parking and the traffic at the current Backyard location pretty much sucks, so they would do well to find a place where parking is more convenient and safe. Furthermore, I absolutely agree that The Backyard has lost its atmosphere and ambiance since the woodlands and fields around it have been plowed under and replaced with strip malls and parking lots. I really used to love The Backyard back when it truly felt like a part of the Texas Hill Country, enmeshed in a rural enviroment. I remember one of the first concerts I ever went to with Jeff was a Widespread Panic show out there, and it was fun to see the cowboy hat wearin' Widespread crowd out there drinking beers and listening to music with their cars parked between the trees and the cacti. It's not quite the same when now you park in a concrete lot behind a Baby Gap or some such bullsh*t. (and this isn't even to mention that the place used to be surrounded only by trees, whereas now you can see the parking lights from the adjoining shopping centers behind the venue). I hope they find a good, new location that has some wilderness to it, and that this time they buy up enough land to be able to maintain the atmosphere around the venue. Good luck, Backyard.

In other news.... well, I don't have much other news. Well, I take it back. Here's some news that's so good that Crack may have to write a song about it. (hey, if Otis Redding can write Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay to explain how he wastes time....)

And I leave you with a few shots of galaxies literally colliding. These shots were taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, and they've been released today to celebrate the 18th anniversary of the telescope's launch.

Kind of amazing that things like this are going on while we're roaming around down here eating sandwiches and going to Starbucks.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

S'up? So Hillary won Pennsylvania, but Barack still leads in delegates, and nothing, election-wise, really feels any different than it did last week. Clinton won Pennsylvania, but it sounds like Barack closed the gap on her in recent weeks (supposedly three weeks ago she had an 18 point lead, but ended up winning by a 10 point margin last night). Now this thing will clearly drag out into June, and the only clear winner from this Democratic primary ends up being John McCain, who gets to conserve resources and enjoy the show as the Democratic candidates continue to attack each other, each one laying out reasons why the other shouldn't be president.

And it sounds like another light rail plan is trying to work its way onto the ballot here in Austin. The plan is expensive, of course, and it's still not clear how the city would pay for it. The initial 14 miles of the tracks would run out to the airport, through the UT campus, and out to the new development at the old Robert Mueller airport site. The tracks would not take up any existing traffic lanes, and would, therefore, theoretically create fewer traffic snarl ups than the light rail proposal which failed back in 2000 (which utilized existing lanes of traffic on some busy streets).

I have to admitht hat I like the whole idea of a light rail system, although mostly just because I think it sounds fun. It appeals to me on the same level that model trains and race car tracks appeal to little kids. On the other hand, on a more practical level, with gas prices moving closer and closer to the $4.00 a gallon mark and traffic congestion becoming worse by the day, it just feels like we need to do something to implement a more effective mass transit system (and I know we've got the Cap Metro buses whichhelp from a fuel economy standpoint, but I swear that from a traffic congestion viewpoint those buses create as many problems as they solve- every morning my commute along South Lamar is basically limited to one lane of traffic headed into town because the other lane is taken up by buses that stop every half block). Another thing that appeals to me about light rail is that hopefully, one day, it might be convenient enough to take a few intoxicated drivers off the road at night (although this initial phase of the light rail plan doesn't really sound like its going to help out much with that issue).

Well, what else? Ryan and Jamie and I watched Wargames last night. In Wargames, a young Matthew Broderick must teach NORAD's defense mainframe computer (the WOPR) the lesson of futility before the computer self-launches a preemptive nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. As stated in the movie, the most important lesson for this computer to learn is the fact that some contests are, in fact, unwinnable, and, therefore, the only winning move that a player can truly make is to not engage in them in the first place (i.e., the contest itself is futile).
We got to talking about this lesson as a moral, and the fact that futility can sometimes be a more important lesson than optimism. This, in turn, led to a discussion about how studies have shown that depressed people typically have been shown to have a more realistic worldview than optimistic people- in terms of assessing odds and chances of success and whatnot- but that some of the most successful people in the world have been incurable optimists, though deluded they might be. Maybe optimisitic people just take more risks than pessimists, and end up being more successful not because they are any more skilled than the pessimist at any given task, but simply because their outlook leads them to try to do more things (which means that even if they fail at some of these tasks or initially fail, they end up looking like success stories so long as they eventually succeed at one or more of them).
Sometimes, though, optimism can be dangerous. Such is the case, as the movie points out, in the case of global thermonuclear war.
You don't get a lot of chances for "do overs" in nuclear war, and optimism about your chances of winning are not nearly as important as an understanding of the futility of getting involved in such a war in the first place. No one can win. Against a relatively evenly matched enemy, there's no such thing as a "victorious" outcome. The losses that a "winner" will suffer by engaging in such a conflict make any such "win" virtually meaningless. In light of this fact, in truth, the game will always be a stalemate. (in the movie, the computer learns the lesson of futility by playing tic tac toe against itself- a game which will always end in a tie when played by two logical, evenly matched opponents- a game which is futile, because it will never have a winner, and, therefore, might be best approached by never getting involved in playing the game in the first place)

So I was thinking about optimisim and the dangers of it, and it got me to think about some of the "optimism" of the current administration. They were filled with optimism about our ability to quickly win a war in Iraq and quickly extricate ourselves. They expressed such optimisim despite protestations that removing Saddam Hussein would only create a military quagmire and civil unrest that would serve as a breeding ground for Islamic fundamentalists (and that our occupation of Iraq would serve as a rallying point for anti-American activists in the middle east, a fact which might, in turn, only lead to an increased number of future conflicts). Opponents of the war saw an invasion, from the beginning, as an exercise in futility- chop off Saddam's head and three new bad guys were just going to pop up to take his place. (plus, as wicked as the bastard was, Saddam's iron-fisted rule kind of kept Iraq stable- removing him from power opened the door for a flood of sectarian violence, tribal warfare, and civil war)
Sometimes optimism creates opportunity and growth, but optimism meets its match in situations best understood in terms of futility, and at some point, the same deluded thinking which can drive the engine of progress can also lead to insurmountable loss. Sometimes even a "win" isn't really a win, and the only truly winning move is not to begin in the first place.

Anyway, I'm rambling here, but these are the lessons of Wargames where computers learn the lesson of futility more readily than humans. Beware the leader who marches you into a futile situation, citing the need for a more optimistic attitude from his followers.

Also, a penny saved is a penny earned, and you are what you eat. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. A stitch in time saves nine. Neither a borrower nor a lender be. Rock out with your .... ... .

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Nothing to report, really. Tonight, I noticed that AMC is showing Wargames with limited commercial interruptions in honor of the movie's 25th anniversary. I can't believe Wargames is 25 years old. I remember seeing this movie when I was a kid. It made me desperate to get a home computer (and hopefully some kind of newfangled gadget called a modem) so that I could hack into the defense department's mainframe computer. Seemed plausible at the time.

And I guess the Pennsylvania primary is today. Somehow I can't bring myself to care. Seems like the stupid Democratic primary has been going on for years now, and I don't even care who wins it all that much (when it comes down to the issues, I really don't think Hillary and Barack are all that different). Also, it seems like Obama is going to have the lead no matter what happens in this primary, although Hillary could make the race a lot closer with a decisive win today. I just want the whole thing to be over, really. The Democrats are spending way too much time fighting each other rather than focusing on beating the Republicans. It's a stupid way to expend resources, but it kind of highlights some of the problems with the Democratic party. We spend so much time battling each other that we can barely be bothered to put up a fight against the GOP. Meanwhile they rest, relax, regroup, fundraise, and sharpen their knives. Arrrrgggh.

Well, I gotta run, but maybe more later. Maybe.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Hello. Well, the weekend has passed by pretty quickly once again. It was fairly uneventful. We celebrated Mel's birthday, and Chris Griego stopped by for a visit, but other from that it was pretty slow. (I did manage to take in a documentary about he world's most dangerous sharks. I feel compelled to alert my readers that bull sharks came in at number one again, mostly because in addition to being big and mean, they can manage to survive in freshwater rivers and other places where there are lots of people. Beware the bull shark, people.) Now it's Monday again, and it's really cloudy and gloomy. Makes it kind of hard to stay cheerful as we kick the new week off.

Danica Patrick became the first woman to win an IndyCar race yesterday. She won the Japan 300 yesterday in Motegi, Japan, in a race that she described as a fuel-strategy race. I guess this win doesn't come as a huge surprise to me. Being friends with Jennifer Kraber, I've been witness to the use of highly competitive, cutthroat (some might even say ruthless) driving tactics by women for a number of years now. : ) Anyway, good for Danica Patrick. Personally I'm not all that into auto racing, but I think it's cool that there's a professional sport where women are competing directly against men and are more than holding their own (as opposed to sports like basketball or golf, which are cool, but where the women compete in their own leagues and aren't playing directly against the men).

And apparently the ACLU is getting involved in the Yearning For Zion polygamist custody case up near San Angelo. I can see why the ACLU would be concerned. On its face this looks like it might be a case where a certain group is being singled out and targeted because of its unpopular religious beliefs. I hope, however, that even though this raid was carried out in a pretty conservative part of Texas (that's not always friendly to outsiders), that the intervention which is now occurring is truly meant to protect the sect's children from sexual abuse (as well as any other kinds of abuse that may be occurring). As confusing as I find them, I hope that the religious beliefs and lifestyle choices of these sect members are respected. On the other hand, any abuse that's occurring needs to be fully investigated and brought to an end. Such abuse includes statutory rape. People need to realize that statutory rape is a crime which is taken very seriously, even in "normal" cases outside of this cult setting, and that statutory rapists face some potentially serious prison sentences if they engage in sex with minors. Underage minors simply are not capable of legally giving consent to have sex, and this fact is going to become more important as this case progresses and the sect members continue to deny wrongdoing, using the consent of these minors as a defense. (the case is made even more confusing by the religious beliefs that have been instilled in these children, including a religious mandate that they marry and bear children at an early age- but underage kids simply can't give consent to have sex, no matter what their justification)
Anyway, I hope that the ACLU keeps in mind the fact that there are potentially child victims in this case who need to be protected (and this isn't the same as "child victims" in the case of censorship, where censors invoke children in the attempt to further their cause, but realistically the children can be protected by simply flipping the TV channel). I'm all for going out and protecting the constitutional rights of unpopular people or groups, but not to the extent that we make room for the victimization of children.

Well, I guess that's about it for now. I hope things are going okay with you guys. Here's to hoping for a good week!!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Melapalooza '08

Mel turned 10 on Saturday. He had cake.

And he had guests.

And everyone had a good time!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Hi, guys. So The Mono Ensemble gig went pretty well. We got a late start, so I apologize to everyone for the inconvenience (most especially to the people who showed up and then had to sit around while we got our stuff set up- the club owners apparently wouldn't let us start setting up until after 8:00. I have no idea why.) Anyway, we had some sound problems, but I think we played pretty well, and, overall, I hope we sounded ok, too. Thanks, once again, to everyone who came out to see us.

And apparently there's new evidence in the yogurt shop murder case. The D.A.'s office has confirmed that new DNA has been found which was located on one of the four victims, and the DNA apparently doesn't match any of the existing suspects or defendants in the case (the D.A.'s office was quick to point out that DNA evidence has been found before that was not tied to a defendant, but it turned out to belong to the boyfriend of one of the victims, and therefore wasn't really indicative of any wrongdoing in the case). Anyway, now that I'm a prosecutor working for Travis County, it's not really my place to express much of an opinion on this case other than to say I continue to find the whole thing pretty fascinating from a criminal justice perspective. The case has gone on so long and had involved so many players that it's just become sort of epic in scope and in the impact that it's had upon the Austin community. The fact that a 1991 case continues to develop new evidence and take new twists and turns so many years after the fact is pretty remarkable.

Happy birthday to my co-worker and friend, Yvonne Patton, today. She's a good friend, and she's one of those people who makes coming to work a lot more fun. Happy birthday, Yvonne!!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Time Change for Mono Ensemble Gig!!

Well, I just got a phone call a little while ago, and apparently the folks at Club Deville are anticipating rain tonight, so they want us to move our show inside tonight. For some reason this also apparently means that we're not going to be able to start playing until at least around 8:30 or 9:00 instead of our originally scheduled 7:30 slot. So things are going to be starting later, and may end up being a bit more crowded than I originally anticipated (Club Deville has a great outdoor seating area, but their inside space is a bit more cramped).
Anyway, I hope to see you guys out there. but I wanted to make sure that I let everyone know of the time change. Sorry about the inconvenience (this is a major pain in the butt for everyone involved, believe me).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hi! Not too much to report. Doug and Jamie made little pizzas last night, sans pizza sauce, but with cheese and some interesting other things on it, including corn. Dinner was good.

Here's a piece of news that's not exactly cheerful, but sort of interesting for people who are involved in the criminal justice community. The U.S. Supreme Court is supposed to hear arguments today about the constitutionality of implementing the death penalty in child rape cases, even when there hasn't been a murder involved. The court ruled in 1977 that the death penalty was a cruel and unusual punishment for rape cases involving adult victioms, but it left open the question of cases involving children. Lousiana is attempting to execute Patrick Kennedy, a 43 year old man who was convicted of raping his eight year old stepdaughter in 1998.
On the whole, I'm not a big fan of the death penalty, kids. I really just don't trust the infallibility of the court system enough to give it the right to put a person to death. Aside from the fact that I think that there's too much room for error (my main argument against capital punishment), I also just don't think that our government needs to be in the business of putting its citizens to death. There's no doubt that there are murderers and rapists and bad men in the world who do awful things, but I just don't feel that doing awful things to people in return (i.e., keeping people on death row and then killing them) is something that heals victims, helps society, or serves as a deterrent. And it's hard to say that executing prisoners is necessary to the administration of justice when we have life in prison with no possibility of parole as an option.
Anyway, I'm not a big death penalty fan, but the case of child rape presents other, unique questions that don't necessarily exist in your standard murder death penalty case. One issue is whether the use of the death penalty in these cases might have a chilling effect on the number of child rapes which are actually reported. Many child rapes are committed by family members, family friends, or other people that child rape victims have known personally, which is part of what it makes it so hard for these victims to come forward to report their abuse. If victims know that their accusations might result in the offender being put to death, they may be even less likely to report the rape than they were if the offender were only facing prison time. Another thing that bothers me about applying the death penalty in child rape cases is the fact that these cases are often tough cases based on evidence provided by malleable children (I'm not saying that these kids intend to be dishonest, but they have a tendency to want to give the responses that they believe their interrogator is looking for, whether that person be a family member, teacher, police officer, etc.). In addition to the fact that there were a number of well-documented cases of erroneous child abuse allegations at daycare centers through the 1980's and up into the 1990's, I've personally worked on a case where the accusation of a child got the case all of the way into a felony trial (where our defendant was facing some serious prison time), and then suddenly the child changed their testimony on the stand and accused a party other than the defendant of the abuse (this was a case I worked on with my frist boss, Pat Ganne). We didn't even finish the trial. The case was thrown out.

Obviously child rapes really do occur, and I understand that child rape cases produce not only horrible phsyical trauma, but emotional and psychological damage which can cause substantial difficulty for a victim throughout their entire lives (meaning I'm awfully tempted, myself, to just want to say that we should go ahead and allow the execution of child rapists) . The problem is that you might end up executing an innocent person. Child rape cases are extremely difficult, given the age of the victims and their suggestibility (a series of leading questions produces the answer that the questioner is looking for much more easily in children than in most adults). Further, the execution of these people may add even more trauma or confusion to the psyche of a child rape victim, especially if the defendant was a family member or closely acquainted with the victim prior to the rape.
And all of this doesn't even get into examining the question of whether it's ever fair to put someone to death when that defendant didn't actually kill someone himself. (although the rape of a child might be one of the few areas where I can actually understand the desire to execute someone for a crime other than murder)

Anyway, not a very cheerful topic, but still a compelling one from a criminal justice perspective.

In other news, it's interesting to watch the news story unfold regarding the raid on the Fundamentalist Latter Days Saints polygamist compound out near San Angelo. Despite the fact that underage girls were found in the property who were pregnant and who had already had children of their own, the church members from the compound have been surprisingly savvy at "working" the media- addressing the cameramen and news organizations with claims that nothing illegal has occurred at the compound and by making appeals for public sympathy on the basis of religious persecution. I guess we'll see how the evidence shakes out, but the whole thing just seems pretty messed up. Cases dealing with groups that have such a cult-like mentality are often difficult to prove, as victims have often been indoctrinated, well-trained and (for lack of a better word) pretty much brain washed into accepting the rationalizations and justifications of the group members for their own illegal conduct. I'm not sure that's going to get the group out of trouble this time, though, given the fact that there's no consent defense to statutory rape (which seems to be the main allegation here). Anyway, it's going to be one big zoo of a court case.

Well, that's it. Hope ya'll have a good one.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

How's it going?
Well, the 2008 ACL Fest lineup came out today, and I think that overall, I'm pretty pleased (not really blown away, but that may just be a sign that I've become totally spoiled by ACL Fest over the years- and I'm still slightly annoyed that our perennial request, Radiohead, still wasn't added to the bill). With a few exceptions, it seems like ACL Fest is geared toward a slightly more mature audience than Lollapalooza or Bonnaroo or some of the other festivals, and I'm pretty happy about that. I look forward to seeing Beck, David Byrne, and Vampire Weekend, and there are bands on there that I'm definitely interested in checking out, but who sort of normally float on the edge of my musical consciousness (Robert Plant with Allison Krauss, The Mars Volta, Erykah Badu, Yonder Mountain Strong Band, to name just a few). I'm hoping that the weather will be nice and that it will be a sort of laid back ACL Fest this year (or as laid back as it can be in a location with that many people). Anyway, I think there will be fewer "must see" shows for me this year, but lots of really, really good music, so I hope to do more wandering around this year hoping to experience and discover artists that I don't really know so much about (I mean, I recognize that a lot of the groups on the lineup have been around for years and are very well respected, yet there are a number of them whose actual music I'm not all that familiar with).

Other from the ACL Fest lineup coming out, I'm not sure what else to report. I had dinner with Team Steans last night. Jamie's brother, Doug, is in town, so we stepped it up a notch and went to Z Tejas for dinner. The food was pretty good, and the weather was beautiful. Team Steans must have been a little bored and/or stir crazy, because after dinner they actually hung out at my house long enough to watch some Southpark and Futurama.

That's about it for now. Hope you guys are doing alright.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Well, howdy. It's Monday again. Those weekends just fly by, don't they? I already told you guys about the Roundball birthday fiesta on Saturday. Sunday I went with Ryan, Jamie, and Jamie's brother, Doug, to the Red Bud dog park. The dogs had fun swimming, and they seemed fairly thoroughly entertained by the whole park experience. They did, however, get a wee bit dirty (apparently swimming and then rolling in dirt is one of those activities that seems pretty gross to most humans, but which brings great joy to some dogs).
Last night we had a fairly productive Mono E practice in anticipation of the big gig on Thursday. (that's 7:30ish on Thursday at Club Deville- come one, come all!) We sounded pretty good last night. Hopefully that means we can hold it together for the gig.

I really don't have a lot else to report. The weather was beautiful this weekend. I got to eat barbecue, listen to some music, and make some music, so I guess I'd call that a success. Cassidy continues to struggle a bit with some kind of stomach bug, but she seems to be doing better on the new food that I've been feeding her.

Well, I guess that's about it for now. Maybe more later. If you're lucky! ; )

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Roundball's B-Day

Last night we went to Artz Ribhouse to eat some ribs, drink some beers, listen to the country music stylings of the Flyin' A's, and to celebrate Ryan's birthday. Some friends in attendance (and I may leave someone out- don't be offended) included Jeff and Keora, Steven and Lauren, Cousin Sue, Julia, Matt, Natalie, Doug, and Reed (and, of course, Jamie and I). It was a good time, even if the place was a bit crowded and Reed and I ended up sitting at a different table (we had already spent a few hours before dinner rocking as a three piece of at my house, so it was all good). The Flyin' A's sounded really good, and it was good to see Hillary and Stewart as well.

Reed and I got bumped to the kids table near the bar, but we comforted ourselves with beer. Here Reed displays a Shiner Black. I'd never had it before, but it was on special, and it was pretty good.

Anyway, I hope everyone had a good time. I had fun, and it seemed like a pretty good birthday for Ryan.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Missing Liz/ Celebrating Roundball

Hey! Hope you guys are having a good Friday. The weather sure is beautiful here in Austin.

I haven't really talked about it on the blog, but this week has marked the one year anniversary of the passing of my friend Liz, who died of cancer last April. I don't really want to make a huge deal out of the anniversary of her death (Liz was a very positive, optimistic person, and she probably wouldn't be too crazy about marking such a solemn occasion), but Liz was a great friend, and I do want to just take a moment to say that I miss her a whole lot, and I know that a lot of other people do, too. Liz was always a smiling ray of sunshine around the courthouse, and on the way into work today I was fondly thinking back on some of the fun stuff we did together
(Liz cooked some really good dinners for us [with DK's supervision, of course], we watched some movies, Liz and DK helped me move into my house, we celebrated a Thanksgiving or two together, and we took a fun roadtrip to Houston to go see a Rangers/Astros game)

Liz was just a really great, upbeat person. Even when I went to visit her when she was very sick, she always greeted me with a huge smile. Anyway, the point is that I miss you, Liz, and I'm thinking of you!

In other news, also about an important figure in my life, it's Ryan's 33rd birthday this weekend! (tomorrow, the 12th, is his actual birthday) Happy birthday to my bouncing, baby brother!! Despite the fact that one of my pasttimes is picking on him (a skill that I learned early on and honed to jedi-like precision), Ryan "Roundball" Steans really is a great brother and one of my closest friends.
Here are some things that some people might not know about Ryan:
1. He's a very talented artist. Lots of people know that Ryan is a nut for comic books and all things related to them, but a smaller group of people seem to be aware that Ryan is a very good artist (he does pencil and ink sketches and sometimes colors them) in his own right. I've often tried to encourage him to create a comic book of his own (he's also a good writer), but thus far he has remained more interested in reading and analyzing other people's work.
2. Ryan has a degree in film and has made several short films himself. My brother knows a lot about movies and the making of movies and even the history of movies. He made a student film about aliens that was pretty funny, another one that was a sort of stylized gangster piece, and he produced and worked on a short documentary about bathroom graffitti which was very good. As far as I know, all of these films have subsequently disappeared. Which is a shame.
3. Ryan has a history degree. He doesn't discuss it much, but it's true. In particular, he has a tremendous fondness for Theodore Roosevelt. He also just like old timey things.
4. Ryan has a black belt in tae kwon do. Yup. You got it. It's not enough that he's like 6 foot 5 and could kill most people with his bare hands by virtue of his size alone. He's also got a black belt in martial arts. He may not be as nimble as he once was (or who knows, maybe he is), but I bet he could still kick your lungs out.
5. Ryan is a trained thespian. He was involved in a bunch of plays in high school, some of which won some awards, I believe, and in high school he was picked to go to some kind of UT drama camp for talented actors. Nowadays he tends to make light of his history in drama, but as a lawyer I'm here to tell you that it's no small feat to be able to get up in front of a large group of people and speak coherently. Ryan seems to be able to do this without nervousness or fear. Given the fact that studies have shown that most people fear public speaking more than death, this is no small feat. Plus, studying acting has probably made him really good at fibbing (don't get cocky, Roundball, you still have a few tells, but only your brother can spot them... er, maybe your wife as well)

Anyway, I hope you have a great birthday, Roundball, and I hope that this 34th trip around the sun ends up being one of your best years yet!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

One Week 'Til The Mono Ensemble Rocks Austin!!!!

That's right, in only one week, on Thursday, April 17th, at 7:30 p.m. The Mono Ensemble will take the stage to rock Austin at Club Deville. Come one, come all for the greatest show on the western side of Red River Drive occurring between 6:00 and 9:30 p.m.!! I hope to see you Adventurers there!

In other news, Cassidy seems to be doing fine (although I haven't gotten the results of her tests back from yesterday). Last night she ate about half a can of some special chicken and rice food that I bought her at the pet store. I'm going to assume that the return of her hunger can be attributed to the small stomach pills that the vet gave to her rather than to some kind of four day hunger strike because she was tired of her dog food (I have about 280 good reasons for wanting her recovery to be based on the intervention of the vet rather than her own finicky appetite).
Anyway, I'm relieved that she's eating something again.

And I waited for awhile after Favre announced his "retirement" before making my tribute post, just in case he changed his mind, but now it still appears that I may have spoken too soon. Apparently Favre told reporters this week that it might be tempting to accept an offer if Green Bay were to reach out to him becaused they needed help. Favre primarily spoke in terms of helping out if quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down with an injury, but he didn't specifically limit his interest to any given situation. He did comment on the fact that he would have to be both mentally and physically prepared to prepare if he were to consider accepting any call to play, and such a situation might be difficult to imagine, given how much work and effort he typically expended in order to stay in good enough shape to remain competitive at age 38 in the NFL (it was kind of interesting to hear Favre talk about how hard he worked in order to keep himself sharp as he got older, given the fact that he sort of makes things look so fun, if not easy, out on the field- his statements about the effort that it takes to stay competitive in football sort of dovetailed nicely, I thought, with my tribute post and how I always liked Favre because he made football seem like a lot of fun at a time when I had begun to think of football as a sort of gruelling, tiresome activity).
Anyhoo, I don't take Farvre's comments too seriously (I think he'll never really rule out football completely until someone tells him that he's just not allowed to play anymore), but let me just say for the record right now that I'm not writing another full length tribute post. If he plays and then retires again, Favre can just go ahead and reread my post from his first retirement.

Well, not too much else going on at the moment. My brother, Ryan "Roundball" Steans has a birthday coming up on Saturday, so those of you who know him be sure to wish him many happy returns! (and you can vote for his dog, Melbotis, in the "Best Golden Retriever in Austin" contest in the online version of the American Statesman- if you can find him among all of those entries)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Well, I just took Cassidy to the vet and spent a silly amount of money for them to essentially tell me that they really have no idea what's wrong with her. She got some pills to help settle her stomach, and I'm still waiting on blood work. She did eat a little bit of rice when I got her home just now, so that's a good thing.
No big news, obviously. Just taking care of a dog with a stomach ache.

Rosemary Lehmberg won the DA's race, so I guess it's safe to say now that I voted for her. Nothing against Mindy Montford, per se, but I just thought Rosemary had more experience, and to be honest, I've always been pretty happy (on the whole) with the way the Travis County D.A.'s office has been run (most of this experience comes from dealing with it when I was a defense attorney). I think they have their priorities in the right place (focusing on violent crimes as a first priority, and focusing on rehab over incarceration for a lot of drug offenders), and for the most part, they were always pretty easy to deal with. Lehmberg has been a part of keeping that operation going, so I don't see a huge reason to change things just for the sake of change.

I have mixed feelings about the protests that have been occurring around the Olympic torch procession. I certainly understand the desire to see a free Tibet and the need to draw attention China's human rights violations, but events like the Olympics seem like they offer a greater chance to pracitce politics of inclusion- drawing China into an ever expanding role as a neighbor in the world community, from which a sort of "friendlier pressure" can be put upon them to reform some of their policies (obviously, China's ever-growing economy is already helping to accomplish this in some ways). The protests that are occurring seem to serve only as an embarrassment to China, and I think these sorts of things only make them want to strengthen their resolve and prove that they will not bend to external pressure. Also, I like to think that the Olympics still serves, at least to some degree, as an event where nations can come together and participate in a joint activity regardless of differences in ideology or politics (I know this gets sticky when there are human rights issues involved, but like I said, sometimes you can get a lot farther with persuasion than with confrontational protests).

Anyway, I have to run. Maybe more later.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Still Mad

Ready for a rant chock full of stuff that you've heard from me before? Sorry. If you just can't stand another anti-Bush rant, just skip this. I wouldn't blame you. Truly. I'm writing this intro after I wrote the rest of this post, and I realize that this definitely isn't the most articulate thing I've ever written, but it's coming from a place of honest anger and resentment. I really do feel that the Bush administration has done real damage to entire generations of people in terms of what it means to be an American. The best we can do is let the rest of the world know that there are a lot of Americans in this country who still don't condone or accept the behavior of the current administration and want to see real change. But honestly, I really just need a place to vent...

Just watching an episode of Frontline tonight about the Iraq War (the episode is called Bush's War). I'm convinced more than ever that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and possibly others are war criminals and should face charges as such. Just for starters, I think this administration's use of torture, our confinement of enemy prisoners of war without a right to an open and fair trial, and our rendition practices in abducting and transporting enemy prisoners for interrogation/torture purposes (yeah, if you hadn't heard, we snatch people from foreign countries and transport them into the hands of our allies so that we can torture and interrogate them on foreign soil- where no one's watching) should all present a good starting point for trying these men for war crimes.

Amongst the most grievous of war crimes outlined by the Geneva Convention are the use of torture on enemy prisoners of war, the failure to provide enemy prisoners of war with open and fair trials, and unlawful deportation, confinement, or transfer of enemy prisoners. Violation of any of these provisions is considered particularly heinous by the International Criminal Court at the Hague and various other war crime tribunals, as established by the U.N. Security Council and other bodies. More importantly, I'm pretty sure that we would consider any foreigners who performed these actions against American citizens or troops to be war criminals. The Nuremberg Principles, guidelines established following the WW II war crimes trials at Nuremberg, list their number one war crime as the act of commencing a war of aggression. It's worth noting the possibility that the Iraq War might be considered a war of aggression, especially if the justification for the war was predicated upon manipulated or fraudulent intelligence (e.g., the claim that the U.S. had solid, classified intelligence proving that the Iraqi government was in the process of developing weapons of mass destruction- it turned out that many of our claims were based on a sole source, codenamed Curveball, whom the Germans had already warned us was unreliable and untrustworthy. We cherry picked intelligence- including the use of testimony gained through torture by our allies, testimony which was later recanted- and analysts who contradicted the administration's version of events were reprimanded and threatened. So there's a pretty good argument to be made that we basically fabricated evidence in order to justify a war- ergo, we get ourselves a war of aggression).
War criminals. That's who's running our country.
It's a strange time to be an American. Then again, it's late, I'm tired, and maybe I'm just frustrated and need a place to blow off steam (thank you, blog). But something makes me believe that I'm not going to feel much different about these issues in the morning.
What's up? How are you guys doing? Things over here are... medium. I've still been feeling a little run down (maybe that stomach bug hit me a little harder than I first thought), and Cassidy has been refusing to eat her food for a few days and acting sort of droopy, so I'm guessing she's not feeling very good, either. Let me tell you- there's nothing that will make you feel blue faster than having an unhappy three legged dog on your hands.
Last night I had dinner with Ryan and Jamie. It was good to see them, but we didn't get into anything too exciting. Ryan's actually put together some pretty nice looking bookshelves that he got at Ikea a couple of weekends ago. In general I'm sort of wary of Ikea stuff (the whole "assemble it yourself" aspect makes me think that their products are never going to turn out quite as nice in your home as they look in the store), but his bookshelves look sharp, and they were sorely needed (more room for comic books and comic book-related merchandise).

My day has been pretty busy. I hope you guys are doing okay.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Hey. The weekend was good, although it's ended with me having some sort of stomach bug (let's hope it clears up quickly- I'm already starting to feel better).
Friday night we cooked some burgers over at Mandy's (thus the photo of Andy's unorthodox eating style). It was nice. Saturday I got an oil change, took Cassidy down to the creek, helped Mandy with a brief bit of tilling over at one of the MHMR places (she volunteers over there doing some gardening), and hung out with Chris Griego. Griego and I drank some beer and watched some tube, and then wandered over to Buffet Palace right before closing time. That place is evil, and somehow it only sounds good when I haven't eaten in like 15 hours. Anyway, we ate a ridiculous amount of Chinese food (probably the beginnings of my stomach problems) and then waddled back over to my house. I guess, given the fact that the Chinese Palace is so close to my house, I should be happy with myself for not getting sucked in more often. In high school or college if I had lived near a place like that I probably would have been in there once a week. As it stands, I maybe go in there once every 6 months.
Sunday I got up and went down to the Green Mesquite for lunch with Ryan and Jamie (where I stuck to a salad, thank you very much). I came home and hung out in the backyard with Cassidy for awhile and played my guitar. Last night we had a pretty good band practice with The Mono E. We're trying to get ratcheted up for our little gig on the 17th at Club Deville (be there or be square).
After practice I ate some dinner with Reed. About one in the morning I was sitting up in bed, clutching at my stomach and wondering what was going wrong. In a rare display of good taste, I'll forego my description of what happened over the following couple of hours, but suffice it to say that I'm starting to feel better now.

Well, that's it for now. Just wanted to check in. Hope you guys had a good weekend.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Friday, April 04, 2008

The weekend is upon us once again. Last night I went over to Ryan and Jamie's. Jamie cooked us some pork chops (gracias, Jamie), and then Ryan made her go get us some pie. And run around the house so he could see if she waived her arms when she runs. And then he made her wear this cowboy hat.
I tried to get Nicole, their housemate, to do a jig (she claims that, I think because she's Irish, she really knows how to do a jig), but she wouldn't do it.
I guess the big news story of the day is that the U.S. lost 80,000 jobs in March, jumping to an unemployment rate of 5.1%. I'm not sure what to say about that, except that it's clearly not very good. Once again, I'm very happy to have my job. I also hope this whole recession thing is fairly short lived. I know that the economy has natural cycles and that there are a lot of factors that effect it other than government policy, but I still have to say that I hope this economic downturn gives some pause to some of those conservative pundits who are always claiming how much better off our economy would be if we had conservatives in control of our government who would allow for deregulation and support more business-friendly policies and all that. The Bush administration has had 8 years in office, much of it with the support of a Republican legisalture as well, and they've done a whole lot of deregulating and done a whole lot to help American corporations and big business, and at the end of it we're still faced with an economy that's going through a sort of a meltdown (as well as a federal budget that has us wildly in debt). I'm not sure how much differently things would have gone under Democratic leadership (who knows- maybe things would have been worse), but I will go ahead and say that maybe a little more oversight over our lending institutions might not have been a terrible thing, given the mess that this whole business concerning the subprime mortgages turned out to be.
And it's been forty years since Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in Memphis. I watched a CNN special last night on King's assassination. It was pretty interesting. It talked about not only the assassination itself, but about the whole climate surrounding MLK and his closest advisors during the final months, weeks, and days leading up to his death. The FBI was investigating King, and Attorney General Robert Kennedy, in conjunction with J.Edgar Hoover, ordered wiretaps and surveillance of King on a fairly constant basis. FBI memoes described MLK as "the most dangerous and effective negro leader in the country". The FBI believed, somewhat persistently and for a considerable length of time, that King was somehow connected with the communist party and that he might be receiving support and guidance from them- possibly even from foreign sources. The FBI surveillance never turned any real evidence to this effect, although it did catch evidence of King involved in some sexual indiscretions- evidence which would later be used against King in attempts to blackmail or strongarm him.
One thing that the documentary made fairly clear through interviews with MLK's closest friends and colleagues from around the time of his death was that King was living with the full belief and expectation that his death was imminent at the time of his assassination. He told a number of people that he never expected to live to reach the age of 40 (he died at age 39), and his group was frequently required to reschedule events or alter their plans because of bomb threats or other death threats. I guess I knew that King must have faced some death threats as he travelled the country, but I never realized that he had been so brave, but so fatalistic about his own odds of survival during his final days. I know that the man was human and had his faults (the results of the FBI wiretaps on King have been sealed under court order until 2027 because of incidents that might embarrass his family- most likely sexual indiscretions), but he was absolutely heroic in the pursuit of his ideals. He was clearly willing to die rather than backing down on his insistence of equal rights and civil liberties for all Americans (or as he saw it- the fulfillment of the American promise of equal rights for all of its citizens).
Anyway, I'm not saying a lot of new things here, but the CNN special was good in the fact that it sort of humanized MLK, Jr.. I was raised with stories of what a great man he was and how he worked to achieve tremendous advancement through nonviolent means, but the things I learned about King as a kid made him seem sort of legendary and almost mythical. The more I learn about him as an adult, the more human he seems (and, therefore, more fallible), but at the same time those very human characteristics only serve to make his bravery, determination, and passion that much more impressive. He wasn't a wild-eyed zealot who was throwing himself in harm's way without knowing what he was doing, and he wasn't a saint who floated above the earth, untouched by human weaknesses and smug in self-righteousness. He was just a guy who wanted to see our country live up to its promise, but still felt a responsibility to demand those changes through non-violent means.
Anyway, I'm not saying things that haven't been said before. But still, this is how I feel, and sometimes I don't know if or where I'm going to deviate from general public opinion until I start writing on something. Sometimes I don't deviate much from popular opinion at all (which may be true here), but at least I know why I agree with it once I start blogging on it.
Well, gotta run. Maybe more later on. If not, have a good, safe weekend!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Hey. Not too much going on today. I went out to dinner last night with Ryan and Jamie at Zen. That place has really been growing on me. (although last night I was a little annoyed that we were having a hard time finding a table that had been cleaned off, even though the place wasn't all that busy- still, the food was good)
I really don't have much today. Randi Rhodes, a liberal talk show host that I used to listen to on Air America, back when Austin had an Air America affiliate, has been suspended from her show, allegedly because of using obscene language during a public appearance. Rhodes appeared in front of what was said to be pretty much an exclusively adult crowd in San Francisco during an event which had been sponsored by an Air America affiliate station, and she used some pretty rough language. To be honest, though, I personally feel it's quite probable that Rhodes got in trouble more because of who she directed her language toward than because of the language itself. During her speech, Rhodes threw out a couple of F bombs and referred to both Hillary Clinton and Geraldine Ferraro as whores (as well as attacking some other people, including Dick Cheney and Richard Nixon). Apparently Rhodes took exception to some of Ferraro's comments about the Obama campaign being successful solely because of his race, and she was similarly offended by some of the campaign tactics that Clinton had emplyed during her race ahainst Obama. My feeling is that the sponsors of the event, knowing that Randi Rhodes to be a left wing radio personality, were probably more offended by the fact that she was attacking Clinton and Ferraro at a "progressive" political event than by the harshness of the language that was used. I'm not saying that Rhodes' language didn't include obscenities, but Rhodes' speech wasn't being broadcast on the air (at least as far as I know, it wasn't subject to FCC guidelines), it was being given to what seems to have been a fairly appreciative adult audience (who were free to leave at any time), and she was performing at a venue which had hosted, among other people, Dave Chappelle (a comedian whose performances typically include a medium to high level of profanity in their own right- although the club owner claimed that Rhodes level of profanity at least matched the performance by Chappelle). I guess I'm just surprised that the organizers of this event were shocked by a Rhodes speech that included profanities. Anyone who has heard her radio show has heard her completely go off on rants of seething frustration, and it doesn't surprise me one bit that she threw some cursing into the mix once she was in front of a live audience (you can almost hear her wanting to say these things on the air, but being barely held back by te broadcast restrictions of the FCC). I think that the Air America network, which seems constantly on the vergoe of collapse, is just totally afraid of alienating sponsors and/or affiliate stations, and these particular sponsors were probably Hillary friends and supporters. It would be a shame to find out that Air America is a part to censorship that's occurring on the basis of content (I can deal with it if it's really just a profanity issue, but I just sort of doubt that profanity is what this is really all about).
Note that I have virtually no evidence to support my conclusion, but, nonetheless, it's what I suspect is really going on behind the scenes.
Anyway, I kind of like how fired up and impassioned Randi Rhodes gets. She usually seems to have thoroughly researched the topics that she talks about, and she quotes actual media sources when discussing events (rather than just political rags which match her own agenda- I'm looking in your direction, Rush Limbaugh). I hope this event isn't a major problem for her broadcast career (even though I can't listen to her show in my car these days, anyway).

Glaring Omission to The Magical Ladies of Steanso's Youth

Sadly, I forgot about this one, but she really was one of the ladies who held a special place in the young world of Steanso. So much so that I feel the need to give her a special mention, after the fact....

Numero Seis- Catherine Bach as Daisy Duke.
I grew up in a pretty strongly anti-television household. Mom was of the opinion that TV rots the brain and wastes your life (which, as I get older, I agree with more and more), so TV was something mostly reserved for the weekends and holidays and so forth (on weeknights you could very rarely get away with it- the parents quickly learned that the "no TV until the homework is done" rule just led to a lot of fibs about the homework being done). Annnnyway, all of that to say that Friday nights were sort of special, because it kicked off the beginning of the weekend, and we could watch TV until our eyes bugged out if we really wanted to. And Friday night was the night the Dukes of Hazzard came on. Many, many Fridays the Steans clan gathered around the boob tube with pizza delivered from some local place and sat down to watch the Dukes of Hazzard together (afterward Dallas was on, but Ryan and I rarely hung around for that, as it seemed to mostly be about boring business people in cowboy hats). Anyway, we loved the Dukes of Hazzard. We loved the car chases in cool cars, we loved the way Bo and Luke always used their moonshiner wits to outsmart the local sheriffs, we loved the dynamite-tipped arrows that the Duke boys shot at their enemies with compound bows because their probation terms prohibited them from owning guns (and as a lawyer, I have to say that legal reasoning is absolutely infallible), and we loved Daisy Duke. Daisy was clearly the best looking woman in Hazzard County, and she was always willing to help out her trouble-prone cousins, often through the use of her powerful feminine wiles. Men turned into blubbering idiots around Daisy Duke in her short shorts, and it wasn't difficult to see why.
Anyway, Daisy wasn't just hot- she was also good in a car chase, helpful in a bar fight, and a wholehearted supporter of all kinds of Duke family tomfoolery.
So's here's to Daisy Duke and all of the women out there who were subsequently inspired by her shorts. One heck of a southern lady.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

CNN Link Love

My blog sitemeter indicated an abnormally large number of hits over the past couple of days, and I couldn't figure out why, so I went to check the referring URLs, and it turns out that my post about the Judge Arrington story managed to score a link on the CNN page that had covered that same topic (meaning, on the CNN page covering that story, there was a link to my blog in a little section at the bottom called From the Blogs: Blogs Talking About this Topic). Anyway, Steanso's blog does a lot of media analysis and relies on CNN an awful lot (although by no means exclusively), so thanks to the kids over there for showing me some link love.

Ladies in Pop Culture Who Added Magic to Steanso's Youth

Well, some of you may be readers of my brother's blog, The League of Melbotis, and may have even stumbled upon one of his reoccurring special topics: Dames in the Media The League Once Dug. He basically talks about women whom he became familiar with through various media outlets that he became, er, fond of over the years. Well, recently a call went out for his readers to post similar lists of their own. Never one to pass up on the chance to take up some much needed blog content with a cheap gimmick, I have decided to throw my 2 cents in over here on my own blog (rather then sending my list to him so that he could use it to fill space on his own blog).

Obviously the list of attractive and entertaining women who have appeared in the media is a long one, so I've tried to narrow down this particular list to some of the women who I really remember catching my attention during my formative years. While I'm sure I will come up with more of these women over time, here are a few of the ones that managed to catch my eye very early on- some of them early enough on that I knew that I found them interesting, but I hadn't worked out all of the details on just why quite yet.

Numero Uno- One of the first women that Steanso has a distinct memory of from television was Julie Newmar playing Catwoman on the old Batman television series. Batman used to run in syndication when I was a kid, and when I was really young, I couldn't get enough of it ("Batman" was actually Roundball's first word, since he used to try to sing along to the Batman theme song with me). Anyway, right from the get go I knew there was something magical about that woman in that skintight cat suit, and I could never figure out why Batman used to always let her slip away, when he knew that she was just going to show up again later....

Numero Dos- Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. I was hooked right from the beginning. It didn't even take the slavegirl outfit from Return of the Jedi to convince me. Right from the get go, Princess Leia always seemed cooler, smarter, and more confident than most of the action star men around her (which was saying something when she had to carry one of the only female roles in one of the biggest sci-fi franchises in film history). Anyway, all of these factors combined with the fact that she was also extremely attractive, and childhood Steanso didn't stand a chance. I was mesmerized.

Numero Tres- Pamela Hensley as Princess Ardala. I don't know how many of you ever watched the Buck Rogers TV show, but the producers and directors of that show definitely weren't shy about putting their actresses in skimpy outfits. I guess that Buck Rogers' main love interest on the show was always supposed to be the very attractive and talented Erin Gray (playing Buck's friend and colleague, Col. Wilma Deering, who was also frequently clad in skintight outfits), but even as a kid I always found Buck's enemy, the scantily clad and consistently evil Princess Ardala, to be more interesting. Princess Ardala would kill people and do evil things without a second thought, but she seemed more interesting than Wilma just because she had this evil streak and you never knew what she was going to do next just to satisfy some crazy whim (plus, you gotta hand it to any kind of intergalactic despot who chooses to parade around her kingdom in her jewel-encrusted space bikini). Anyway, Buck was always running away from Princess Ardala and/or foiling her plans, but I never understood why. Sure, she had a few hangups, but she always seemed like a lot more fun than boring ol' Wilma.

Numero Cuatro- Patricia McPherson as Bonnie. Bonnie was the super genius girl from the Knight Rider TV show who was KITT's personal mechanic (KITT is the name of the talking car, if you aren't cool enough to know that). She was cool and smart and understood how awesome super powered cars are. She was pretty and friendly and sort of tomboyish, and she was comfortable hanging out with the guys and doing guy stuff. In short, she was everything you might want in a girlfriend. When you were, like, 10. Oh yeah- she also had a giant, armored semi truck with a high tech garage in the back that could fix or upgrade KITT (while driving the whole time, mind you) at a moment's notice. Best makebelieve girlfriend ever.

Numero Cinco- Randi Oakes as Officer Bonnie Clark.
The freewheelin' bachelor lifestyles of Officer Francis "Ponch" Poncherello and Officer Jon Baker included a host of different women who floated in and out of their lives, but Officer Bonnie Clark was more of a mainstay, and always a bit more special than the string of women who were involved with the two main characters. Anyway, as a kid I liked Bonnie because she was a woman and she was a cop, for God's sake! There just weren't all that women playing police officers on TV back then, and even though Bonnie mostly took a backseat to the antics of Ponch and Jon, you often got the feel that she had her own adventures going on when she wasn't sharing screen time with our heroes. The fact that she was an officer at the same rank as Ponch and Jon seemed to entitle her to a bit more respect than the other women that they had on the show (many of whom were victims that Ponch and Jon saved from car accidents and other dangerous calamities), but Bonnie was always just as good looking, if not better looking, than the discotheque/roller skate girls that Ponch hung out with (I think Bonnie may have gone out on a few dates with Jon, but I'm not sure).

That's about it for now. Funny that there are two Bonnie's on this short list. Did it used to be a more popular name? Anyway, since these are picks from EARLY in my life, and this is a really easy way to blog when I can't come up with anything, I may do another list later (if nothing else, I think I may need a list that represents my high school years).
Talk to you Adventurers later!
Well, I noticed today that a few recent comments had gotten hung up in the "comments moderation" feature of my blog and had not been published, despite the fact that I meant to publish them. My apologies to Diva (thanks for the birthday wishes) and Roundball for their missing comments.

Last night I ran some errands, did some housekeeping, talked on the phone, and... well, it was a pretty mundane Tuesday night.
In a follow up to my post from yesterday, Atlanta Judge Marvin Arrington is now publicly stating that he believes he made a mistake when he asked the white people to leave his courtroom so that he could speak privately to some black defendants and their attorneys. As I kind of tried to say yesterday, I think that it was a mistake to ask anyone to leave a courtroom based on their race, but I also think that the judge was trying to do the right thing, and that he had the best interests of the defendants at heart. (So am I personally offended that he asked the whites to step out of the courtroom? Not really. Do I think that it was the right thing to do in a court of law? Absolutely not.)
What else?
Well, apparently the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, thinks that things are going to get worse with the U.S. economy before they get better. He said he expects unemployment to rise, payrolls to shrink, home construction to fall, and inflation to "remain a concern". He went on to state that he has confidence in the long term outlook for the U.S. economy, but that the economy was likely to stagnate or contract over the first half of 2008.
Personally, I'm not sure what to make of all of this talk about the economy (especially with the stock markets bouncing around like a pinball), but I'm sort of glad to have a government job at the moment (not that it's an absolute protection against a struggling economy, but it helps).
I haven't got a lot else to blog on at the moment. Hope you guys are doing well on this overcast Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Hey, guys. Hope everyone is having a good Tuesday. I didn't do a whole lot last night. Certainly nothing interesting enough to merit any real discussion.

In a kind of interesting legal note (or at least interesting to me because it involves the criminal justice system) I saw on CNN today that a judge in Georgia, Marvin Arrington, Sr., has drummed up a bit of controversy for himself. Apparently last Thursday the judge (who is black) excused all of the non-black people from his courtroom in order to give some kind of mini-lecture to the black defendants, attorneys, and onlookers about the behavior of some of the black defendants in his court and about whether or not it was fair to blame their problems on whites (ok, the content of the speech was not exactly clear, but it was something along those lines).

Anyway, the judge's actions seemed to have drummed up controversy for several reasons. At least one of them involves the legal idea of courtrooms as open forums and tribunals which are meant to be open to all people, regardless of color or race. The idea here is that in order to keep everything above board, equal, and fair when implementing the law, the legal process should not occur behind closed doors. In this case, whites may have been made suspicious of some kind of special treatment that's occurring when they're forced to leave, or black people may feel that they've been singled out for some sort of rare and unfair punishment and attention because of their race.

Personally, I'm not sure how to feel about the matter. From a strictly legal perspective, I think the judge was in error because I don't think any judge should ever be allowed to exclude people from a courtroom on the basis of race (closing a courtroom should be a rare thing, anyway, but I definitely think the judge was out of bounds when he selectively removed some people on the basis of the color of their skin). On the other hand, anyone who's worked in criminal courts knows that things go on in them that fall outside of the textbook implementation of the law, and I'm pretty sure that Judge Arrington meant well and truly thought he might be helping some people when he chose to selectively lecture the black people in his courtroom. I guess that, ultimately, I feel like the judge may have been doing the right thing, but that he picked the wrong forum to do it in. If the judge wanted to deliver his lecture to a select audience, he could have done this at any number of other venues (political meetings, church, etc.), but our courts need to remain accessible to all people at all times in order to preserve a feeling of equality and transparency.

I remember when I first started practicing law- I was standing with one of my clients, who happened to be a young black guy, in front of one of our more intimidating, felony level judges, who also happened to be black, and the judge stared my client up and down. My client was wearing a tee shirt from some rap group and baggy pants, and the judge looked him over and launched into a speech from the bench about how, as a young black man "in America today" my client needed to be aware of the fact that he was going to be judged on the basis of his appearance, and in many cases, he would be judged more harshly than whites, who might wear the same types of outfits or clothes but not necessarily suffer the same negative perceptions because of them that a young black man might suffer. The judge went on to state that young black men had to try a little bit harder and present themselves a little bit better than non-blacks if they wanted to receive the same benefit of the doubt that people of other races were afforded. My client left the courtroom being plenty pissed off about the whole thing, and probably a little bit embarrassed.
I think I just ended up resetting our client that day, but I left the courthouse flabbergasted. I was kind of shocked and a little bit outraged that a judge would be willing to bring up questions of race in such a (seemingly) unfair way, and I was sure that my client must have felt that he had been singled out for unfair treatment on the basis of his race.
Steaming, I returned to my office and vented to my boss, Pat Ganne, who had already been practicing for at least 20 some odd years and who had known this particular judge for decades.

"He can't do that! He can't single someone out in court just because they're black!"
Pat just laughed at me.
"He can do whatever he wants. He's the judge."
This was true, but extremely unsatisfying.
"Look, the judge isn't picking on your guy- he's just explaining the facts of life to him. He's telling that kid how the world works, and the judge has seen enough of it to have learned some of those lessons the hard way. And if we go to jury trial on that case, the judge is right- that kid needs to be dressed in a shirt and tie."

It played out something like that. Or at least that's how I remember it.

Anyway, that particular scenario has stuck with me, vivid in my memory for about ten years now. I'm still bothered by disparate treatment on the basis of race, especially in a courtroom, mostly because as flawed as the courts are, they still represent an ideal- people treating each other with respect and dignity, trying to resolve conflicts over extremely important matters (or matters that are at least very important to the parties involved) that might be settled through much less civil means (possibly even violence) were it not for the presence of the legal system. In the legal system, people really need to be able to believe that everyone is going to be treated equally and get the same, fair treatment from the courts, regardless of age, race, skin color, religion, or ethnic background. Without this belief the system loses credibility, and without credbility, it can't really operate effectively.
On the other hand, over time I've seen that the court system doesn't operate in a vacuum, and that the life experiences, viewpoints, and sometimes even the prejudices of the lawyers, judges, and court personnel all play their parts in effecting the operation of the system as a whole.
That judge on that felony case may have embarrassed my client a little, and he may have pointed out real world prejudices that I didn't like seeing in a courtroom, but what that judge may have already understood (and what I was still maybe a little too green or foolish to understand at the time) was that those prejudices were already there. The judge wasn't creating anything new or pandering to baser human emotions that otherwise wouldn't have found their way into the courtroom. He was pointing out things that the prosecutors, jurors, probation officers, etc. had already consciously or subconsciously taken note of. Despite the fact that my young, freshly-trained legal mind wanted to see jurors as purely logical, rational beings who would merely observe the presented evidence, listen to rational arguments, and fairly apply the law, the truth was that the prejudices of the real world were already present in the courthouse. Jurors, attorneys, and judges use their life experiences when analyzing cases and drawing conclusions, and it was unrealistic to expect them not to (thus the "white kids in rap tee shirts are just into music but, to a lot of people, black kids in rap tee shirts look like gangsters" lecture). I think that judge was just trying to prepare my client for the suspicious eyes of the jury, and perhaps more cynically (but still realistically, given the recidivism rate that we see for young defendants who have charges in felony court) for the suspicious eyes of a different judge that this defendant might one day stand in front of on some future case.
Man, once again I am totally rambling, but the point of all of this is that as a big ol', average, middle class white dude, I've mostly been raised and trained to try to deal with issues of race by avoiding them (by and large). I was raised under the kind of unspoken belief that if we avoid talking about racial issues, there will be an unspoken presumption that we're all seen as equals and that we will all be treated fairly. The black experience is, obviously, not my experience, but I have come to question whether I would have that same presumption if I were black. If no one discussed race or matters of racial equality in my presence, would I assume that I was being treated the same way that white people were, or would there always be a nagging doubt about the possibility that I was being treated differently, with that different treatment being politely undiscussed? Maybe these black judges are addressing issues that need to be addressed and discussed if black people are going to really accept the justice system. Maybe its just a lot more honest to openly discuss the weaknesses in the justice system and the steps that black people ought to take to overcome those weaknesses rather than pretending that such weaknesses don't exist (maybe the judge on my case was just trying to help my client get treated fairly, and he thought that dressing more appropriately would help give him that chance- even if it was an extra step that white defendants didn't necessarily need to take).
On the other hand, are the judges perpetuating stereotypes or reinforcing the differences in treatment between blacks and whites by singling blacks out?
Man, I am totally unqualified to answer those types of questions, but the issues intrigue me and trouble me a little. I'm convinced that both of these judges thought they were doing the right thing, and I'm not sure that I'm in any position to second guess their actions (although clearing the court of non-blacks has just got to be illegal or unethical on some level).
Okay. End of post. Hope you guys have a good one. I hope this post didn't some off poorly. This story today just reminded me of one of those moments from my early legal career that I've always been kind of troubled by, so I took the opportunity to ramble on it a bit.