Friday, May 30, 2008

Hey, guys! Well, yes, Costa Rica was really great and beautiful, and we had a really nice time. If anything, the trip was too short, and I could have happily stayed down there for another few days or a week. Roundball was a fairly pleasant travel companion, and we only got into two or three arguments that degenerated into full-blown knife fights. Anyway, I'm back in the regular swing of things now that I'm home, and the trip will soon become some kind of hazy, dream-like memory.

In what's sure to be a sign that the end times are, in fact, near, apparently Condoleeza Rice was seen hanging out with members of the rock band KISS in Stockholm, Sweden, this week after finishing up a dinner with the Swedish foreign minister. Frankly, I'm struck speechless by this distasteful, shocking turn of events. What kind of image are we, as Americans, portraying for the world by allowing Rice to be seen hanging out in public with Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons? After all, these are legendary rockers who have a reputation and credibility to maintain...

Here's something kind of interesting. David Byrne, singer, rocker, and former Talking Heads frontman (who, incidentally, will be playing at ACL Fest in September), has apparently been recently engaged with an art project involving the fusion of a Weaver pump organ as attached to various features of the Battery Maritime Building in Manhatten. The pump organ has been outfitted with air hoses, magnetic knockers, and the like, which in turn blow across, knock on, and otherwise interact with the girders, pipes, and other features of the building in order to make sounds. The art project is meant to make a sort of musical instrument out of the 99 year old ferry terminal, and is entitled "Playing the Building". Pretty cool. I look forward to seeing Byrne again in September.

Well, I guess that's about it. The trip was great, but it really is nice to be back in Austin. I really dig this town.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tropical Storm Alma

Looks like we may have dodged a bit of a bullet. Tropical storm Alma formed off the coast of Nicaragua yesterday, with effected areas including the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica and El Salvador. Since Costa Rica is already under a tropical storm warning, and they're waiting to see if this quick-forming storm is going to become a hurricane, the brothers Steans may have made their escape at just the right time...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano from the Observatory Lodge

Ryan takes a pic with Lake Arenal in the background

Ryan does the robot to appease the volcano gods

Hanging bridge near the lodge

Playa Samara
they call this "typical" food. pretty good.

Playa Carrillo (down the road from Samara)

This guy was from Venezuela, but living in Samara. He said it was just about the best place on earth. Pura vida.

Our vessel of discovery
Hotel Don Carlos in San Jose

Roundball catches up on some reading

so tired

The trip was muy bueno.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

First off, let me tell you guys that there probably won't be much blogging for the next week or so. I'm scheduled to jet off to Costa Rica tomorrow with my brother for a week of tequila drinking and monkey smuggling. Since we'll be navigating the country without a working knowledge of Spanish and since we're planning on sleeping at the foot of an active volcano, I guess you guys better keep your fingers crossed for us. If we're not back in a week, send a search party (provisioned with Elvis costumes, UT football tickets, and tiny American flags).

And with the primary race winding down, Hillary Clinton has been chastising the press, maintaining that she has faced a tremendous amount of sexism during her campaign which has gone unreported and uncriticized. Clinton has gone on to say that while racism is no longer tolerated in this country, she has been unfairly targeted during her candidacy by misogynists and others who have made sexist comments that have gone uncriticized in the mainstream media.
Here's the thing. I absolutely do believe that Clinton has faced sexism and unfairness during her bid for the Democratic candidacy. I remember seeing the clips where people yelled sexist comments during some of her rallies, and apparently there have even been people at some rallies who went so far as to hold up signs saying things like, "Iron My Shirt". I've also listened to a few Rush Limbaugh shows where he has unapologetically said some insanely sexist things about Clinton, but, well, that's Rush Limbaugh (who's also been pretty comfortable implying that Obama is a Muslim with potential terrorist ties).
But in all fairness, racism hasn't entirely been absent during Obama's campaign, either. In locations with largely uneducated white populations (places with few college graduates), Obama has had a very difficult time making inroads, as he's struggled against very thinly disguised racism. In West Virginia, voters cited the fact that Obama was a Muslim when asked why they wouldn't vote for him (even after admitting that they knew he had sworn that he was not). Racial slurs have been painted on Obama campaign headquarters in places like Longview, Texas, and further vandalism has occurred in campaign offices in Indiana. Furthermore, conservative talk show hosts and pundits have tried to make use of Barack Obama's middle name, Hussein, to vaguely imply that the senator is, in fact, a Muslim, or has some sort of ties to the Muslim community (the fact that such an implication might be seen as overwhelmingly negative might, of course, be considered racist in itself, but the truth is that Obama is not a practicing Muslim and has considered himself Christian for many years). People in this country may not be as comfortable making racist statements in public as they once were, but in the privacy of the voting booth I think that racism is probably still a very real force. (all of this to say that I think Clinton's statements regarding the death of racism in this country might be a little bit premature)

Anyway, I don't want this to become some kind of argument about whether sexism or racism is worse (I think we can all agree that they're both pretty bad). My only point here is that presidential politics is obviously a full contact sport, and opponents are going to exploit any weakness (or perceived weakness) that they can find in order to gain an advantage (and if the opponent himself doesn't exploit these things, than people who simply don't want a minority candidate in office may still make an appeal to these baser instincts). Until a woman or a black man actually wins a presidential election, their minority status, on some level, is going to be seen as a possible weakness that others will try to take advantage of. As a society, we can try to minimize ridiculous, unfair criticisms, but we live in a land of (relatively) free speech, and to some extent sexism and racism are always going to be out there, and are just going to have to be overcome. Criticisms based on gender occur alongside a hundred other potential issues that the opposing side will try to use- some fair and some obviously unfair. Candidates get criticized because of the way they talk, because of their hairstyles, because of their religion (I'm looking at you, Mitt Romney), because of their place of origin, because of their backgrounds, because of their education, because of their wealth, because of their age, because of their health, and in at least one bizarre turn of events, because of the fact that they served on a swift boat during the war. And you know what? Unfair criticism is not going to end if and when a minority candidate takes office. There's still going to be criticism on the basis of minority status once a woman or black man takes office, so they might as well figure out how they're going to deal with these things while they're running for office. The president is going to have to make a decision about whether to get defensive and complain about the fact that they're being picked on unfairly (a tactic which probably isn't going to win them too many points), or they're going to just have to realize that they're always going to receive criticism, that some of it is always going to be unfair (and that this would be true regardless of their skin color or gender), and that the best way to counter such criticism is to lead by example.

I have literally been seeing press coverage for years now about how Hillary Clinton was the presumptive presidential candidate for the Democratic Party in '08, and in the early days, before Barack picked up steam, she seemed to have been all but annointed as our leader. Ever since she won her senate seat people have been talking about how Hillary was the presumptive democratic candidate (and this is going back for a number of years - I remember groaning about Newsweek magazine covers with Hillary on them shortly after the '04 presidential election- groaning because I felt that there was enough dislike of Clinton within the conservative base to mobilize them against her if she should run, although back in those days I thought she was really our only contender). Where was all of this sexism back then? It was certainly there, but obviously Clinton didn't think it was enough of an issue to allow it to dissuade her from persuing her political agenda.
I guess that if Hillary hadn't drawn such a strong opponent in Obama, that the sexism argument would have been heard only during the general election.
And last but not least, isn't it possible that Hillary picked up some percentage of the vote simply because she is a woman? There are certainly people out there who are voting for her primarily because they want to see a woman in the White House (people who know little about her as a person or about her proposed policies as a candidate, but who simply want to see a woman in the White House).
So is there sexism out there? Yes. Do I think it's the only reason Hillary isn't leading the primary race? I don't think that it is, and I think that it does Barack Obama a great disservice to claim that the only reason he's winning is because our country is sexist. I think Hillary is a strong leader and a fiercely capable woman who would make a fine president, but I think that right now she symbolizes a return to divisive Washington politics as usual at a time when the country is desperately craving something new. Obama may or may not deliver on that promise, but at least he offers an opportunity for something different. Ideally, actually, I'd like to see Hillary on the ticket with him (no, I'm not one of those Barack supporters who has turned rabidly anti-Hillary), but we'll see how this plays out.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Congrats to the San Antonio Spurs as they advance to the Western Conference Finals, advancing in game 7 past the New Orleans Hornets. The Spurs started off this series by going down two games, but they've had a lot of experience in the playoffs, and they managed to battle their way back to a win. Lots of people here in Austin seem to tend to cheer for the Mavericks over the Spurs, but I've got to stick with my boys. They play good, solid, fundamental basketball, and they're one of the best things that the City of San Antonio has going for it (my beloved alma mater, Trinity University, notwithstanding).

Apparently Ted Kennedy has a malignant brain tumor. That's a real bummer. Being at the age that I'm at, John and Robert Kennedy were both out of the picture before I was ever really old enough to understand who the Kennedys were, and "John John" (i.e., John F. Kennedy, Jr.) never really seemed very impressive (my basic understanding of the man was that he failed the bar exam a bunch of times, but that women found him attractive. Eventually his family connections managed to land him a figurehead position with a political magazine). Anyway, Ted Kennedy has always been the real face of Kennedy political power during my lifetime, and as far as I've been concerned, he's always seemed to lend a sort of gravitas to his position as a senator (setting aside a few jokes about his fondness for booze), and has fought hard for the ideals and positions of the Democratic party (and for what's right for the country, as a whole). Anyway, I wish him well and hope he comes out alright following these health problems.

Well, that's not mcuh, but that's about it for today. Unless I think of something else. We'll see.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Radiohead- Woodlands Pavillion 5/17/08

Here's another bright, fuzzy cell phone blur. This particular bright, fuzzy cell phone blur is a picture of Radiohead.

Here's a photo of Jennifer, Andy, Sigmund, and Kim.

Here's Jennifer and Kelly Higgins.

Jennifer and Kim get fired up for Thom.

Kim and Feral Andy at the Drury after the show.

The show was really good. The music was great and the weather was perfect. We also saw Charlie Roadman, Reed, Chris, Heather, and Anna (and my brother and Jamie were there with their friends Lauren and Steven, but we never saw them at the show). Thanks to the Admiral and Karebear for hosting Jennifer and I (along with Ryan and Jamie).

Friday, May 16, 2008

So it's Friday. I'm still not super pumped up about the blogging (taking a few days off has been pretty nice, as it turns out- I enjoy writing, but it's a bit of work, also), but I wanted to comment on a thing or two.

First off, let me say how infuriating I find it that Bush has the gall to be critical of Obama's foreign policy stance. Bush has done nothing but get us into a pointless war and implemented countless policies that have overwhlemingly turned international global sentiment against the U.S. (including human rights violations, disastrous enviromental policies, and a demonstrated willingness to have our leaders lie stand on the floor of the U.N. security council and lie to the entire world) , and now he deems himself fit to be critical of a more open, honest dialogue as part of our foreign policy? I am literally counting down the days until Bush is out of office, and I will be throwing a party to celebrate his departure if I have any money left to do so once he's done driving our economy into the ground.
If the U.S. is going to actually demonstrate an ability to perform a leadership role within the global community, the lines of communication with other countries have got to remain open. This doesn't mean we have to buy into ridiculous rhetoric or tolerate unethical behavior on the part of other nations, but we have to show a willingness to listen. The willingness to listen is part of what constitutes the difference between an equitable leader and a self-serving despot. (a distinction which Bush may have some difficulty in recognizing) It's pretty hard to maintain the position that we're trying to be fair and equitable when we're not even willing to listen to what the other side has to say.
Anyway, just for the record, I fully support Obama's position in seeking an open dialogue with Iran and other "problem" countries. I know that I'm just a wild-eyed liberal, but it sort of seems like it's at least worth the effort to try to resolve some of our difficulties through conversation before we start sacrificing American lives in a full blown war (which Bush seems intent on having, by the way- I'm not sure how statements that compare other countries to the Nazis can really be seen as anything other than inflammatory. I don't get it. Do we need another country to invade? Are Halliburton stock values dropping off?).

In other news, the California Supreme Court has rolled back their ban on gay marriage, and I think that the ruling constitutes a civil rights victory, not only for gay people, but for anyone who's interested in living in a country where all people are treated equally and fairly. Obviously the ruling doesn't effect me, personally, (or maybe it's not that obvious to anyone who reads this blog but who doesn't know me personally- I'm not gay- I'm just another straight, white, boring ol' middle of the road American male), but it just has always bothered me that any group of people in this country are singled out on the basis of something like sexual orientation and are then told that they don't have the same rights as everyone else. I just think all people deserve the same civil rights as everyone else (unless they've actually committed a crime or done something that hurts other people). I've heard the argument that marriage is a special commitment that's only meant to be shared between men and women, but I think that argument carries with it, by implication, the assertion that gay relationships are not as meaningful as straight ones, and, therefore, the implied assertion that gay people are sort of second class citizens when compared to straight people because they're not capable of having relationships that have the same level of meaning as straight relationships. I really don't care for that line of reasoning, and I've been witness to some gay relationships that were as strong as any straight marriage that I've seen. It disappoints me that none of the three people currently running for president supports gay marriage. I know that Obama's position is that he would like to maintain marriage as a right reserved for straight couples, but that he supports civil unions (with all of the lagal rights that accompany marriage) for gay people. Civil unions are better than nothing, I guess, but the whole thing sort of smacks of the "separate but equal" mindset, doesn't it? (I mean, black people were still getting the same water as white people when they had to drink out of a different water fountain than white people, but the implication that they were second class citizens was still sort of there, wasn't it?)

Anyway, that's it for now. I guess blogging sucks me in sometimes, whether I mean for it to or not.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hey. Still on semi blogging hiatus. Glad to see that Obama finally got Edwards's endorsement (now that he pretty much already has the race sealed up). Way to go out on a limb for the candidate that you believe in, Edwards.
We had a big storm last night, but no discernible damage at the Hop-a-Long Lounge.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hey. I think I need a bit of a break or slowdown from the blogging again today. The thing about blogging (at least for me) isn't that the writing is all that hard. The thing that makes it sort of difficult sometimes is that when I'm just not in the mood to blog (or when I'm just having a bad day) I still feel the need to try to be relatively upbeat (well, maybe upbeat is the wrong word, but I try to avoid sounding like a depressing lump, anyway), or at least I feel the need to try to be somewhat entertaining with the blog entries. This can be tiring, and it doesn't make for very honest writing, but sometimes I do it anyway.

All of this to say that I just need a break.
I hope you guys are doing okay out there.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Well, today is especially busy, so the blogging will be especially light. Hope you guys are having a good one.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Oops. Almost forgot to mention the fact that the Spurs were picking up another win against the Hornets last night while I was at the Wilco show (and such an omission surely would have brought them bad luck). So now the series is tied, and the Spurs have to pick up a win back in New Orleans in order to advance in the playoffs. Good luck, guys.

Happy Birthday, Chris! (I think) / Weekend Update

The weekend was pretty good. Friday night I had dinner with Ryan and Jamie. Reed came by after dinner and we watched an episode of Battlestar Galactica and drank a couple of beers. Saturday I had breakfast with Ryan and Jamie. I'm not really sure what I did Saturday afternoon. I was going to go to Barton Springs, but I think I ended up helping Mandy with an errand or two instead. Saturday night Chris Griego came over. We went and ate Chinese food and briefly played some Halo, and then Anna and Reed came over. We all hung out and talked and listened to Radiohead. I'm pretty sure Chris's birthday is today (it's either today or tomorrow), so happy birthday, Chris!! Yesterday I got up and went to the dog park with Ryan, Jamie, Lucy, Mel, and Cassidy. We all rode in one car. We learned at the dog park that although Lucy and Mel will chase tennis balls until the cows come home, apparently neither one of them is the slightest bit interested in chasing a frisbee. After the dog park we had a late lunch at the Central Market Cafe. Following that I ran to the store to get some new shorts, and briefly talked to Mum on the phone to wish her a happy Mother's Day. Then last night I went to Stubb's with Mandy, Susan, Greg, and the gang (we met the Blooms, Andy and Rami, Ellie, and probably someone else that I'm forgetting) to go see Wilco.

Mandy, Sigmund, Kim, and Susan assess the lay of the land after entering Stubb's.

The Wilco show was really good. I'm not sure what to say about it, other than it was just a classic Wilco show. (If you've seen Wilco before, you kinda know what I mean- they have a sort of style that alternates between rocking pretty hard and being pretty mellow and laid back, with Jeff Tweedy rambling just enough to remind you not to take the whole thing too seriously).

Having just seen The Raconteurs last weekend, it was kind of interesting to compare the two shows. The Wilco show that we saw was a great show, and I would guess that it would probably appeal to a wider audience base, but the Raconteurs had a much higher energy level and sort of blasted their way through their set in a way that kind of left you stunned (but still pretty amped up) when it was over. The Wilco show left you more with the kind of warm, fuzzy feel good feeling that you get after having a good backyard party with friends.
I might go see Wilco again tonight. Maybe.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Last night Ryan, Jamie, Nicole, and I went to Cypress Grill over on William Cannon. Cypress Grill makes some pretty good cajun food. I used to go there quite a bit a couple of years ago with Mandy and Jeff, often accompanied by our other neighbors, Kate and Judy. Well, time rolls on (Jeff's gone and Kate and Judy are no longer together), but Cypress Grill still has some pretty good food, and a friendly staff. Last night they even had a little three piece zydeco group kind of quietly playing some tunes over by the bar. Anyway, I like that place. Good etoufee.

I haven't really watched any professional basketball this year, and I'm not sure that I'm going to start now, but it's interesting to note that the Spurs are still showing signs of life during the playoffs. We had talked about them a bit on the way to dinner last night, with Ryan and Jamie telling me that things weren't looking very good for them in this matchup against the Hornets, but I guess the Spurs managed to win one in San Antonio last night. I know that people get tired of them (to be honest, they would probably drive me nuts if I hadn't been cheering for them since my first year of college), but it's just really hard to ever count the Spurs out during the playoffs. They've got a lot of talent, a lot of patience, and they're just used to being there (in the playoffs, that is). Anyway, it would be pretty cool for New Orleans to win a championship, but I gotta support the good ol' Spurs. Sounds like Ginobli and Parker are en fuego.

And I guess there's fighting going on in Lebanon. I don't really understand the positions of the two clashing sides, but apparently Hezbollah is angry because (among other reasons) the government declared that it couldn't have its own phone/communications network. As I said, I don't really understand the conflict, but it's a shame to see images of fighting in Beirut on the TV. It seems like throughout much of my childhood (at least throughout the eighties) that Beirut was constantly a combat zone (Lebanon was undergoing a civil war from 1975-1990), and the images of blasted out buildings and guerrilla fighting in the street sort of made the name Beirut synonymous with "war-torn hellhole" while I was growing up. Anyway, things seemed to have stabilized over the last decade and a half or so, and I had even seen some news coverage that made more recent Beirut look like a decent place. But now they're back to blowing each other up. (sigh)

And in the attempt to provide a more positive, uplifting topic of conversation on the blog, I think it's kind of cool to note that a "retired" Canadian business exec named Howard Weinstein has started up a little company that's producing inexpensive, solar-powered hearing aids for use in Africa. Apparently the normal cost of purchasing hearing aids, and then, just as importantly, the cost of continuing to buy batteries for them, has made hearing aids cost prohibitive for a lot of people in Africa. Weinstein is working his way around these problems, coming up with inexpensive hearing aids with batteries that can be recharged through the use of conventional wall sockets or solar power. Part of the strategy of Weinstein's nonprofit business involves the use of deaf people in the actual construction of the hearing aids. Weinstein has found that many deaf people, already trained in the somewhat complicated use of sign language, are quite dexterous and have proven adept at manipulating the tiny parts used in constructing the hearing aids. He hopes to employ about 1,000 deaf employess over the next 3 to 5 years, with operations not only in Africa, but in South America and India as well.
I find it fascinating that so many different innovations have been coming out of Africa over the last few years as entrepeneurs and humanitarians work to find low cost solutions that might vastly improve the quality of life for many impoverished African people (things like water rollers, water purification straws, solar-powered computers, and highly nutiritious, low cost food supplements, to name a few). It's kind of heartening.

Well, that's it for now. Hope you have a good weekend if I don't catch up with you again.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

So hi. How is ya?
I haven't really blogged on this Myanmar cyclone and its accompanying devastation because, as bad as it is, I didn't really have much to say about it. But 100,000 dead? Still don't have much to say other than that's real, real bad. Here's a link to a web page for Doctors Without Borders, who are helping to spearhead some of the relief efforts going on in that region. There's a link on their web site to make donations to the relief effort if you're so inclined.

And here's an example of how I think the Democrats have been hurting each other with this ongoing primary race. Everyone knows by now about how Obama has been suffering a lot of criticism because of his affiliation with the church of Reverend Jeremiah Wright (Wright made some insensitive comments about white people, including allegations that the CIA had manufactured the AIDS virus in an attempt to wipe out black people and statements about how the U.S. had brought the 9/11 attacks on itself). Somehow in the midst of the furor over Wright, the mainstream press entirely failed to pick up on some of the crazy things that have been said by a San Antonio pastor named John Hagee- a televangelist who not only endorses McCain, but whose endorsement McCain actively pursued for over a year, including trips to Hagee's church in San Antonio and breakfast meetings with the man in order to woo him over to the McCain camp. What sorts of public comments has Hagee made that McCain might need to worry about? Well, for starters, Hagee at one point went on record (on NPR, to be exact) telling a national audience that Hurricane Katrina had amounted to "the judgment of God" sent to punish New Orleans for its "level of sin". At other times Pastor Hagee has referred to the Catholic Church as "the great whore" and "a false cult system". Both of these statements were later recanted by Hagee when he was put under pressure to explain them, but the Catholic Church has nonetheless asked McCain to reject Hagee's endorsement, citing a list of "slurs" that Hagee has made against the church. (Hagee has also maintained that the U.S. has a "Biblical" obligation to support Israel and has proposed unilateral strikes against Iran in order to protect the Jewish state) McCain, for his part, has recently distanced himself from Hagee, but has refused to reject Hagee's endorsement.
Is this really the kind of thing that would have gone unnoticed by the Democrats if Hillary and Barack weren't so busy chewing each other apart? (especially at a time when Obama is coming under so much fire for the rhetoric of his own pastor?)

Well, I gotta run. You kids play nice.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Update: GTA IV

Well, I posted a little while back about the new Grand Theft Auto game, and about how I think that the Grand Theft titles have included some pretty revolutionary game design and graphics and whatnot, despite the fact that they have repeatedly received criticism for their violence and the questionable morality of their lead characters. I just wanted to post a quick follow up.

Apparently Grand Theft Auto IV earned over $500 million in its first week of sales. To put that in perspective, the new Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, is predicted to be the highest grossing summer blockbuster at the movie theater this year, and it's expected to make maybe $355.9 million (which is an awful lot for any movie). GTA IV crushed that in its first week.

Also, as expected, GTA IV has met with some criticism, including complaints from Mothers Against Drunk Driving about the fact that there are parts of the game where the main character can get behind the wheel and drive around in an intoxicated state as part of the game (I guess the screen gets blurry and its harder to control the vehicle when you've been drinking). MADD says that this aspect of the game glamorizes drunk driving and makes a game out of it (the implication being that gamers will want to try out this behavior in real life since they've tried it in the game). Even though I'm obviously against drinking and driving, I'm not sure that I share the viewpoint of MADD in this instance. The main character in this game also drives around shooting people, blowing up vehicles, and engaging in lots of other nasty activities, and I don't really think that the game designers intend for players to go out and engage in these activities in real life. I think they put these things into the game because they're a main part of telling the main character's story, and because, nasty as they are, these activities are part of what makes the story interesting. And if designers are trying to make the game as realistic as possible, isn't it better to make it harder to drive after your character has been drinking? (portraying the character as drinking heavily, but then driving without difficulty might, arguably, send a worse message)

Once again, I think the real issue here is that Americans still haven't really come to the understanding that videogames are works of fiction, just like books, movies, or TV programs, and that simply playing a game doesn't mean that players necessarily want or plan to go out and emulate the actions of the game's characters. You can be interested in a character without wanting to be that character.
Wednesday. What do I talk about on a Wednesday?
Last night I went to dinner with Ryan, Jamie, Nicole, and Julia at Hyde Park (after getting a little exercise and taking Cassidy for a walk). Dinner was pretty good, but nothing particularly notable occurred.
Here's something that's alarming and confusing in an X-Files sort of way. Apparently bees are disappearing in large numbers. Beekeepers and bee experts aren't sure why, but about 36% of the country's commercially managed hives died off last year. About 29% of the hive failures could be attributed to colony collapse disorder- a mysterious condition in which bees suddenly abandon their hives. This is the second year in a row that the bee industry has seen a substantial die off, and beekeepers aren't sure how they're going to maintain their bee colonies if the trend continues.
What the hell? It's weird that this is happening, and even stranger that they can't figure out why. It's even more disturbing that a significant part of this problem is apparently attributed to the fact that bees are simply fleeing from their hives without any discernible reason. Do the bees think they're fleeing some infectious disease? Have bees, as a hive mind, developed some sort of mental defect or social disorder that's preventing them from functioning together effectively? Are the bees reacting to some sort of environmental change that we're not even really aware of? Or have the bees just been summoned to serve some sort of alien overlords in advance of an imminent invasion of earth?
Anyway, the bee thing is freaky. We need bees. Even if you don't like honey (and I don't, really), we need bees to help polinate all different kinds of plants. Even though most people don't give them a lot of thought, bees seem kind of important, in the grand order of things, just by virtue of the fact that they help so many plants to reproduce. We should really try to figure out what's going on with the bees.

In other news, Obama won the North Carolina primary fairly decisively, while Clinton won Indiana in a much colser race. I guess my feelings remain unchanged since yesterday. I just want the primary race to come to an end. I don't feel like Clinton really pulled off the kind of results that would mathematically put her back in the race, delegate-wise, but she managed to eek out a victory, so that'll give her enough hope to drag out the race even longer. The news outlets love the opportunity to cover this whole debacle, so I think they're helping to perpetuate the fiction that Clinton still has a realistic chance of winning, even if, in truth we're long past the point where she has any hope of gaining a delegate lead. And I think it would be fairly disastrous for the superdelegates to vote in a way that runs contrary to the results of the popular vote. That's the kind of thing that really could end up damaging the party. So now I think we're at the point where we're really just dragging this thing out to the detriment of the Democrats. McCain is having a tremendous opportunity to sell himself, attack the Democrats, and get his message out without anyone rebutting him or explaining why many of his proposed policies are flawed, plus I saw a news story on CNN last night about how McCain's camp is actually collecting campaign data from the Democratic primary race to be used later against Obama or Clinton (data regarding how well the respective candidates perform in certain regions and so forth) in the general election.
Anyway, my point is that the Democratic party leaders need to find a way to make this end.

Did I mention that I'm a little annoyed with Clinton's gas tax holiday idea? (well, I guess it's not entirely her idea, since McCain is pushing a similar plan) The whole thing seems political pandering that gives, at best, a very small amount of temporary relief to American drivers while providing a chance for the oil companies to simply raise prices yet again, while taking away federal tax dollars that are needed for the construction and maintenance of our roads (including the loss of a number of jobs), and while discouraging Americans from the actual need to find more efficient, energy- conscious ways of travelling. The Clinton campaign hasn't been able to find a single energy or economics expert (at least oustide of the inner circle of her closest campaing strategists) who endorses her plan, because they almost universally believe that a temporary cessation of the federal gas tax is a bad idea.
Anyway, I expect this kind of cheap pandering from the Republicans. Using tax cuts in order to help promote bad ideas is part of their stock and trade. Democrats are supposed to be a little more honest and a lot more brave than that. Being elitist, egghead, out-of-touch liberals, we're actually supposed to look at the big picture, try to advance long term goals, and do what's genuinely right for the country (even when such choices are not immediately politically expedient). I think Obama has shown a lot of character by taking a stand on this issue and actually standing up to say that, although the energy industry needs some reforms and America needs new solutions to its fuel needs, the gas tax holiday is just a cheap political trick with no long term benefit, and it probably creates as many problems as it solves. At a time when Obama was already under fire, with people trying to brand him as an out-of-touch elitist, I think his stand against the gas tax holiday was a bold move, but the right thing to do.
Even though I still have questions about his experience and about whether he's got solid plans in place for all of the issues that he's going to face when he gets into office, I still like Obama. I may be getting hoodwinked (I hope not- but there's no doubt that the man is smooth), but still I like him, and I hope he continues to try to do the right thing, even when it's not the easy thing.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Hello. I guess it's a fairly typical Tuesday. Last night I had dinner with Ryan, Jamie, and Nicole at Waterloo Icehouse. We tried to go to Serrano's, it being Cinco De Mayo and all, but the wait was too long, so we left. I was fine with an American food dinner, though, since I'd already had a Mexican lunch with Jennifer and Kim Bloom at Curra's (which was very good).
In following a thread from yesterday's blog, the NYT ran a sort of op-ed piece today about horseracing injuries and their prevalence throughout the entire sport (not just among the extremely high dollar circuit in which the Kentucky Derby takes place). Apparently 15 horses at 39 racetracks across the country failed to finish races this past Saturday due to medical reasons. According to trainers and some of the more knowledgeable people involved in the sport (as opposed to myself, who admittedly knows next to nothing about the care and training of horses), there are, in fact, steps that can be taken to significantly reduce the chance of injuries (including, apparently, simply allowing th horses to get older and more mature before beginning to train and race them). The author of the article notes that it will be difficult to get owners and trainers to change their ways, but it sounds like a lot of race fans are very interested in seeing some positive remedial actions take place. I hope that the media and the fans continue to put pressure on the sport in a way that helps to protect these animals. I hope.

And it's primary day again in North Carolina and Indiana. Truly. You know what? If one of the Democratic candidates was willing to drop out of the race today, for the greater good, in support of the party, and in order to help fulfill the goals of Democrats as a whole (in giving us more time to prepare for the general election), I would say that we should instantly give the nomination over to the candidate who was willing to step down. That's the kind of wisdom that worked for King Solomon, and I'd say it's appropriate today as well (you know- reward the person who shows that they're really into this to help the party and the people rather than themselves).

On a more pragmatic note, I don't really understand the math involved in all of this, but is there even still any chance that Hillary is going to pull ahead in the actual delegate count? If not, then that means that, at best, Hillary's just fighting to close the gap so that she'll lose by an even slimmer margin, and people are going to be even more pissed off when a final decision has to be made (and I've heard that she's just trying to sway superdelegates, but I think that if the superdelegates actually end up producing a result which is contrary to the result of the popular vote, than that could be something which truly will create a schism within the Democratic party). Barack might do well to consider a vice presidency role, though, too (I'm just saying that Hillary's not the only one who might want to consider bowing out). He's young, he could build up immeasurable good will by showing that he's in this for the greater good, and he might build up an impressive record for himself before making another run for the presidency in his own right (then again, eight years is a long time to wait, and a lot could happen in that time). I don't care. I like them both just fine. I mostly just want it over. We still have a long way to go, and it's going to be pretty sad if the whole party is too tired (or too poor) to take the fight to the Republicans because of all the energy that was expended in the primaries.

Gotta run. You guys be good.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Happy Cinco De Mayo!!

Hey, guys. Happy Monday (although I admit that it's a little hard to be excited, given the gloomy weather thus far this morning).
Not much to report on since yesterday. We had Mono E practice yesterday, and everything went pretty well. We did some improvising and jamming, and it sounded pretty good (which is how it works- if we're not recording, we're always sure to come up with some cool, new stuff that we'll never be able to replicate).

Anyhoo, I don't have a lot today.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is calling for the suspension of Eight Belles's jockey pending an investigation into the death of the animal when she broke two of her ankles in achieving her second place finish at the Kentucky Derby this weekend.
I'm not necessarily against horse racing, but I think that maybe the sport needs to be reexamined if horses are going to continue to get injured in these sorts of ways while racing (I mean, first Barbaro has to be put down after being injured in the Preakness, and now this?). We need to do a better job of protecting these horses if life-ending injuries are going to begin to become commonplace in the sport. It's been said that more than two racehorses die for every 1,000 starts in dirt track racing, and that modern veterinary medicine may be returning injured horses to the racetrack before horses have time to truly and fully heal.
I'm not looking for an end to horse racing, and I'm one of those people who feels like racehorses really are meant to run (and may seem happiest when doing just that), but there may be a greater need for oversight to prevent these injuries. Everyone loves to see a great race, but not at the epxense of the horse's life.

Well, I gotta run. Hope all's well.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Friday I went to see Iron Man with Ryan and Jamie. It was really good. I mean, it's not exactly Citizen Kane, but it's a very enjoyable superhero movie. Robert Downey Jr. does a really good job of playing Tony Stark, and the cast, on the whole, turn in strong performances (Terrance Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges). The special effects seem more believable than the cartoonish computer graphic work appearing in a lot of movies lately (although this is probably because it's easier for computers to render inorganic objects like an Iron Man suit than flesh and blood objects like monsters, dinosaurs, and people), and the action scenes are very cool. Mostly the movie is a little more interesting than some of the superhero stories we've seen lately just because the main character is a bit older, and although he's going through a process of seeking redemption, he's not some teenaged kid who's still trying to figure out who and what he is. Tony Stark already has the confidence and skill of an extraordinarily talented engineer and businessman, but the film is about a time period in his life when he decides that he wants his legacy to be about more than being a simple weapons manufacturer. Anyway, as a person who's had his own reasons to seek redemption, Robert Downey Jr. brings both humor and believability to the role.
On the whole, Iron Man easily falls within my top five superhero movies of all time. Go check it out.
Saturday I went to Barton Spring during the day. Ryan and Jamie came down there with me, and Matt and Nicole showed up later. It was kind of cool and breezey, so I didn't feel that hot, but I managed to pick up a bit of a sunburn, nonetheless. A very nice day to be outside.

Saturday night I went to see The Raconteurs at Stubb's. They were really, really good. They just rock really hard. You can hear a combination of influences churning around in their songs (everything from Led Zeppelin to more country/bluegrass stuff), but most all of their songs have a sort of launchpad energy (each one launching you into the next) that makes for a great live show. They've got a bunch of great instrumentalists, and two amazing singers in Brendan Benson and Jack White. As I watched them I couldn't help but feel that this is a band that people are going to be talking about for a very long time, and it was nice to see them live just as they're really hitting their stride.
Anyway, I was originally going to see this show with Team Bloom and Eric Gottula, but they all ended up dropping out, so I ended up seeing it with Stephanie Gottula and Reed. Thanks for coming out, Stephanie and Reed! I thought it was a really fun show. For those of you who didn't make it, be sure to catch these guys at ACL. I bet they put on a better show than some of the headliners.

And here's Cassidy from a trip down to Auditorium shores this morning. She did a little swimming, and a lot of goofing around with other dogs. Cassidy is happy to live in a city where a bluesrock guitar virtuoso is our patron saint. All heil Stevie Ray. All heil Austin.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Last night I went to a going away happy hour for one of my co-workers, Crystal. We went to Dona Emilias and had mojitos and some pretty tasty appetizers. I'll be sorry to see Crystal go. She was one of the fun kids at the office. Nonetheless, I wish her well as she starts her new job (which involves licensing for teachers).

I finally finished reading World War Z, which I've been picking up and putting down since about last December (or maybe before). It was a pretty engaging, easy read, but I can't help feeling like the author, Max Brooks, intended for the book to mean something more to the readers than it ever meant to me (the book just has a fairly serious tone to it for a novel about zombies). I guess the movie just feels really heavy because its written in the format of a bunch of interviews and/or stories conveyed by survivors of a worldwide zombie war, and Brooks does a pretty good job of conveying the pain, sorrow, and horror that a survivor of any war would probably feel, although in this case the combatants have been waging a war against the living dead. Strange book.

Now I'm rereading a graphic novel (i.e., big, long comic book) by Alan Moore called The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It basically takes characters from a bunch of different novels and stories involving Victorian England and teams them up together, superhero style, to fight gathering forces of evil which are threatening Great Britain. Characters include Captain Nemo (from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), the Invisible Man (from the book fo the same name), Dr. Jekyll (and Mister Hyde), Allan Quatermain, and Mina Murray (from Bram Stoker's Dracula). Anyway, the stories in the novel are clever, complex, and make reference to countless works of literature set in the Victorian Age. I've read this book before, and it's really good. They tried to make a movie of the thing a few years back with Sean Connery, and it was pretty awful. Don't let the movie put you off from the book, though.

Well, it's not a lot, but that's about all that I have at the moment. Hope you guys have a great weekend.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Hola. Hope everyone is doing okay.
Yesterday I had a couple of beers and dinner with Larry Lee Thweatt over at The Tavern. Lee's been one of my best friends since the time I was in the sixth grade. He's in town attending some sort of conference about advanced civil litigation. Lee's younger brother, Joe, who's also a very good friend, showed up and joined us for some beers as well. Lee seems to be doing pretty well, and we regaled each other with lawyer war stories and bullsh*t. (Lee is a plaintiff's attorney in the dreaded civil law arena, while I, of course, work in the criminal justice world) There were also various stories about our respective families and different people that each of us has kept up with from college and high school. Anyway, it was good to catch up with Lee and Joe.

What else? Not too much. My brother, Ryan, who rarely has a word to say about politics and who almost never mentions politics on his blog, somehow got a bee in his bonnet yesterday and made a sort of random post about the Austin City Council race. Sure enough, following Ryan's first (and to my memory only) political post, city council candidate Randi Shade popped up in the comments section of his blog to express a few views and to wish him well. Now Adventurers, Steanso has been ranting about politics for years without an honest to god politician, spokesperson, or pundit popping up on his blog. (granted, I usually talk about national politics, but still....) And here comes Roundball and he scores a city council candidate on his first trip out. To be honest, when I first read Ryan's post I assumed it was written more in the vein of, "Hey, I'm out of work, and that City Council gig sounds sort of interesting..." than anything else. Roundball has been working as a project manager for awhile now, so it's probably not a big stretch for him to see the whole city of Austin as just one big project that needs fixing (plus, he just saw that movie, The Unforseen, which kind of got him fired up about irresponsible development in Austin, and with all of the SimCity experience that he has under his belt...). Anyway, good job to Roundball for drawing in the comments of our city's political candidates with his unique perspective on the local political scene. Interesting that this event occurs right after The League and I had a mildly heated discussion in the comments section of his blog about the obligations of citizens v. journalists regarding "getting at the truth" and holding our politicians' feet to the fire when presented with an opportunity to demand answers from them about their policies.... I will be curious to see if this leads to more blogging about local politics on The League of Melbotis.

Well, I'm busy and I don't have a lot going on. Hope all's well.