Monday, June 30, 2008
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Well, despite being plagued by some kind of a stomach bug that had me laid up for most of the weekend, I did manage to make it out of the house long enough to go hear F for Fake on Saturday night over at The Carousel Lounge. They sounded really good, and it was nice to hear them playing again after having been dormant for a while (well, at least in terms of playing public gigs).
But other from that, I mostly hid out with Cassidy all weekend (and I don't think she was very pleased with me- when I'm home on the weekends, she usually gets a trip or two to the park or the greenbelt or whatever, so this weekend when I just wanted to crash, she kept whining and bugging me and looking for her leash). I watched a lot of TV, including The Bourne Supremacy, Gangs of New York, Saving Silverman, and lord knows what else (I know there was a Doctor Who episode in there somewhere as well as an episode of a show called In Plain Sight which was about people in the witness protection program... and the U.S. Marshalls that they love).
So... slow weekend.
My brother, Roundball, (AKA, The League, AKA, Ryan) continued his run of Forest Gumpish luck on his blog last Friday when he reviewed one of the first comics that he had ever acquired- a Batman comic from what had to be the early to mid eighties(?). Well, Roundball had no sooner posted his review (with accompanying nostalgic anecdotes from his childhood) than the author of that particular comic, Paul Kupperberg, showed up in the comments section of the post to thank Roundball for his kind words and to wish him well.
It was really cool, and I know that Roundball had to be excited. After all, Kupperberg not only wrote for Batman (which is, obviously, one of the major titles in the DC Comics Universe), but he also wrote for Superman, which is one of my brother's favorite comics of all time.
But that's the kind of luck my brother has on his blog. He writes about people and then they show up. Maybe we can get him to review the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue this year.
When I write about people it's all lawsuits and restraining orders....
Guess that's it for now. It's Monday today, but at least it's a short week! (at least for those of us who have a holiday on Friday for the 4th)
Friday, June 27, 2008
I know I've written about GTA IV before, but I can't help but come back to it. This is mostly because of the fact that despite the fact that a historic number of professional game reviewers have given it perfect or near perfect scores (IGN, X-Box World 360, Playstation Official Magazine, and many other publications gave it perfect scores), I've read a lot of comments from gamers who are fairly critical of GTA IV, and I've talked to some people who've bought or rented the game and said they just didn't care for it as much as some other games, or even as much as prior versions of the game like San Andreas or Vice City.
Nonetheless, I have to throw my support behind this game (meaning I really don't think it's overhyped or undeserving of its critical praise).
GTA IV may lack a few (although very few) of the bells and whistles that were in some of the prior editions of the Grand Theft titles, but what it lacks in gimmicks and trickery, it more than makes up for with incredible graphics, and, more importantly, with a sense of characters and storytelling which far exceed anything that I've ever seen before in a video game. GTA IV is truly a game for grownups.
This isn't to say that it doesn't employ some adolescent humor at times, but the game has a story arc with characters that you actually come to be emotionally invested in (in the same sort of way you become invested in movie or TV characters) and who grow and change throughout the course of the game. Your actions as Niko Bellic (the game's main character) have ramifications which actually seem to have an impact not only upon the supporting characters around you, but upon the development of Niko himself as he tries to make a life for himself in his new found environment (he starts the game as an immigrant, just off the boat from Europe).
The game may not have some of the more superficial rewards that were presented in earlier versions of the game in order to entice players (e.g.,, sculpting your character's physique or participating in the Monopoly-style collection of various pieces of real estate and businesses around town), but GTA IV has something different which is intended to keep its adult audience hooked and coming back for more- it has a plot.
There are scenes and events in GTA IV which really are much more comparable to things that we've previously only seen in movies, and the gameplay is driven much more by the curiosity around what will happen to Niko next than by a desire to accumulate money or possessions.
GTA IV isn't exactly preachy or over the top, but it actually has dialogue and character interaction which develop themes, and it's one of the few games where you'll hear junkies tell you the pathetic story of how they ended up hooked on drugs, where fast food companies are ridiculed for selling preservative-filled, steroid tainted food that kills people as readily as it sustains them, where immigrants give disgruntled rants about the indentured servitude that constitutes the lifestyle of most Americans, and where gangsters vent about the false advertising that lies at the heart of "the American dream". GTA IV has the prostitution, drugs, and violence that it's taken so much criticism for, but it also shows the negative repercussions of these things and delves into a few of the reasons that they're so prevalent in American big city life.
The game makes comments on everything from the health care industry, to the American political system, to internet dating, and its really got a lot to say (in its smart-assed, satirical way) for those gamers who are playing close enough attention to listen.
It takes a little while to settle into the game and to begin to realize how much you are learning about Niko and the people around him, but eventually you can't help but begin to develop curiosity about the different characters and how their stories will unfold.
Anyway, I like the game. I understand why critics are saying its one of the best games in years. The game may not be perfect, but its shown us a different direction in terms of what games can be, and I think the brilliance involved in taking that step is something that's clearly worthy of recognition. It's a game that asks to be respected and approached on a level that's different than a lot of other games. GTA IV is what video games look like when they start to grow up. And this style of game may well help to open up video games to a whole new audience of gamers.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Hope everyone is doing ok out there. I went to Z-Tejas after work yesterday to celebrate Jennifer's birthday with her and with a number of other friends and co-workers. It was very nice.
Went home last night and just sort of crashed. I've been feeling a bit run down, and I think it's all tied to this stomach bug that I can't seem to shake.
And it looks like the Supreme Court issued a ruling today that defends the rights of handgun owners to possess firearms. This may surprise some people, but I'm not really either surprised or disappointed by this ruling. In general, I'm really not a fan of guns, and I'm pretty much against them, but I think the Constitution is pretty clear about allowing people to own handguns for self defense and hunting (and that whole militia thing). I'll admit that I didn't read this opinion, but I had previously read an article about Washington, D.C.'s ban on firearms (which sounded like an almost absolute ban on handguns), and it sounded pretty unconstitutional to me, even after only a cursory inspection.
Here's the thing. I'm a big fan of the constitution. I like the whole free speech and freedom of religion things and all of those civil liberties that are supposed to protect minority rights from majority oppression. I think the constitution is fairly ingenious. So I'm willing to accept the fact that the right to bear arms is one of those liberties that I don't particularly care for, but which is protected by the constitution for people who wish to employ it (in a perfect country I would just rather not see anyone with guns at all).
I'm still for reasonable restrictions on the right to bear arms (I don't think you should be allowed to have fully automatic machine guns in your house and I don't think criminals or mentally ill people should own firearms). One of the main things that scares me about firearm ownership is that it always seems like the people who are most aggressively advocating gun ownership seem like some of the people that I would trust the least with guns (I know this is just a big, knee-jerk generalization, but it just seems like so many gun advocates are overconfident, "shoot first/ask questions later" type of folks who don't see guns as their last possible line of defense in protecting themselves, but as their first and best option for conflict resolution).
Anyway, that being said, I'm really not against an individual's right to protect himself by owning a gun. I think gun advocates frequently go too far (e.g., suggesting that arming all college students equals viable campus security), but I understand the desire to be able to protect yourself, and in some regard, I even understand the desire to arm and protect yourself against possible tyranny and oppression by your own government (when the government finally gets tired of my blog and comes to come get me in the middle of the night on a rendition operation because they want to waterboard me in some third world country, at least a handgun might let me go down fighting).
So that's all that I have to say about the Second Amendment for today.
Well, I guess that's all I've got for now.
I want it to rain. And cool off. Or cool off and rain.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Sounds like Obama isn't going to let Dobson's comments go unanswered (i.e., Dobson's statements in which he claimed that Obama was misinterpretting the Bible and trying to deprive people of their right to incorporate their religious faith into their political views). Obama responded on Tuesday by saying that Dobson was "making stuff up" when he criticized Obama's viewpoints, and Obama went on to further state that he thought that Dobson might be trying to use religion to divide people, and that Dobson was doing so "maybe for his own purposes".
I'm glad to see Obama responding to these allegations. Even though I generally am not crazy about the idea of a campaign that involves a bunch of bickering, allegation, and response to allegation, I think many of us will agree that John Kerry's attempt to "take the high road" without responding to attacks against him was part of what caused his downfall in the last election. (remember the "swiftboating" ad campaign that somehow turned Kerry's distinguished war record into a hindrance? It just goes to show you that you can't underestimate the power of bad publicity, even when it's just conservative spin with no truth behind it) I think that Barack needs to stick to the issues and, in general, avoid negative campaigning that simply attacks his opponent's character, but he needs to take the Republicans to task for their aggregious policy failures over the last 8 years, and he needs to respond to attacks against himself forcefully and quickly.
I know. More politics. Blah, blah, blah.
What else? The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down the death penalty as an appropriate punishment for child rape. Well, it's hardly a victory worth celebrating (child rapists probably deserve to die), but I am glad to see that we're not expanding the death penalty to include more and additional offenses (besides murder). As I've said before, I'm already pretty solidly against the death penalty, for a number of reasons, but first and foremost among them because I really just don't trust the government to be infallible in convicting people, let alone putting them to death (yes, I know that there's a little irony in that statement given the fact that I'm a prosecutor, but I still am extremely uncomfortable with the idea of the government implementing a sentence that can never be corrected or reversed). Child rape cases are particularly troubling because you're typically having to rely upon the sometimes questionable testimony of a child in order to secure a conviction (plus, child rape cases often involve incest with family members, so you have the whole issue of a child growing up knowing that their testimony might have led to the execution of a family member or acquaintance). Anyway, probably a minor victory, but a good decision by the Supreme Court.
Here's a picture of Jennifer with Kim at Radiohead.
Here's a picture of Jennifer playing pool (which has been, along with poker, one of the big passions in her life).
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Auditors have apparently found that the Justice Department illegally screened applicants (for summer internships and prestigious honors) on the basis of their political beliefs and affiliations, making sure that the political beliefs of applicants mirrored those of White House personnel before recommending them. I'm almost out of energy in terms of complaining about the countless ways that this administration has broken the law, violated the Constitution, overreached in its power grabs, and divided the people of this country. Soon this administration will be gone, and hopefully things will get better. Hopefully.
And Focus on the Family Founder James Dobson is accusing Barack Obama of manipulating and reinterpreting the Bible. I don't really think that Obama is doing those things, but even if he were, it would seem only fair after watching Dobson put his right wing spin on the Bible for decades. Judging from what I've read about Obama's comments to the liberal Christian group Call to Renenewal, Obama did little more than make a plea for tolerance, stating that Christians need to keep in mind that different interpretations of the Bible are possible, that different people choose to focus their attention on different parts of the Bible, and that if Christians are going to be able to effectively promote their ideas in the political arena, they need to be able to defend their religious viewpoints with nonreligious logic that will appeal to nonbelievers or people of different faiths.
I gotta say that I have to agree with Obama on this stuff. Of course different people interpret the Bible differently and focus on different parts of it. That's why we have so many different forms of Christianity in this country, with both conservative and liberal factions within it. And yes, I agree that Christians need to be able to support their beliefs (at least insofar as they want to make them public policy) with logic. It's not fair or right to expect people of different faiths to have to adhere to Christian doctrine just because it's a matter of religious faith for some people. To expect people to adhere to rules that aren't founded on logic just because one particular segment of the population accepts those rules as a matter of nonrational faith (not necessarily irrational, but logic doesn't really need to play into the equation for the faithful) is to impose one group's will onto a group that may not share in their beliefs. I would imagine most people could see how that might go wrong (anyone remember the Inquisition? the Crusades? the endless battles between the Shiites and the Sunnis in the Middle East?). Logic is the only common ground that we have as a race if we're to have any hope of coexisting by consensus. So I find it a little warped when Dobson expresses the sentiment that evangelical Christians should consider themselves above the need for logical arguments so long as the Bible has an appropriate passage that might be referenced for guidance. After all, many Muslims believe just as strongly in the Koran as their Christian counterparts believe in the Bible, and some of them also probably feel themselves above the need for logic (and they are just as surely wrong).
Dobson, of course, tries to maintain that his right to fight for his religious beliefs is under attack. But that's not really what Obama seems to be saying. He just seems to expect Christians to be able to explain rules that incorporate tenets of religious faith by way of rational, nonreligious arguments if those rules are going to be used to govern the lives of non-Christians. Seems fair. I'm pretty sure that a group of evangelical Chrisitans wouldn't be too happy about being governed under laws that were justified by nothing more than Islamic or Jewish scripture.
Annnnnyway, I guess I just think it's good thing to see Obama reaching out to a religious base while still encouraging tolerance and understanding at the same time. Leave it to Dobson to come out of the woodwork and attack him for it.
Monday, June 23, 2008
So the weekend was pretty good. Friday night we had Crack practice at my house. Roundball stopped by and joined Andy, Sig, and I for part of the practice. It sounded pretty good, in a far out Crack sort of way.
Saturday I got up and took Cassidy down to the spillover. She was extremely happy to be there, and there was much hopping and swimming and playing with other dogs until she got tired and I took her home. Saturday afternoon there was some kind of freakishly intense storm in my neighborhood. The wind was blowing so hard that you couldn't see through the driving rain, and after the storm, there were a bunch of trees knocked down, and even the flag poles by a nearby bank had been bent, I suppose because the wind was tearing at the flags so strongly. Mandy had a bunch of tree limbs fall in her front yard. It was a strange storm because places as nearby as my brother's house (a couple of miles to the south) and Ellie's house (a few miles to the north) seemed pretty much unaffected.
Saturday night Mandy had a few of us over for dinner. I got to meet Kellie and Damon's new dog, Pepper, who's a pretty cute little Staffordshire Bull Terrier. I tried to take some pictures of Pepper, but my camera was too slow, and Pepper was too fast, and all I ended up with were pictures of a little darkly colored blur. Mandy made some really good spaghetti.
Sunday I didn't do very much. Had breakfast with Team Steans, and then hung out at their place for awhile. Ryan and I played some kind of airplane game on the Wii where we were shooting down Germans over WWII London, and then after that we watched some Olympic diving tryouts.
Mono E practice got cancelled again last night. We're sort of barely keeping it together these days.
I was sorry to hear that George Carlin passed away yesterday evening. He was not only a funny guy, but he frequently had some interesting insights into human nature and the absurdity of life.
Friday, June 20, 2008
For those of you who've never seen Trapped, it's a long, very involved story about a series of romantic love triangles, eventually involving gunplay, midgets, pimps, clergymen, ex-cons, and- well, hell, you really have to see it if you're that interested in the plot. The entire thing is sung in a long, unchanging (at least in terms of rhythm and, I think, basic musical structure), R&B style monologue which sometimes rhymes (although it often doesn't) and includes R. Kelly impersonating the voices of a number of characters who appear in the narrative.
I saw this thing last night, and I'm honestly still not sure what to make of it. It was definitely different than anything else I've ever seen and a fairly unique project, but I still can't get my mind around whether it was really something worth doing in the first place. There were definitely some very funny moments in Trapped, but I don't think I would call it a comedy, on the whole (or I don't think it's meant to be a comedy).
Not really being a fan of R&B, I'm probably not the best person to sit in judgment of Trapped. But I have questions. It's almost as if R. Kelly knew that he could get away with singing this big, long piece in an R&B style, and that somehow in that genre he could fly under the critical radar in a way that people wouldn't have made allowances for in any other musical style (I think that if some folk or rock singer went off on an unchanging, one rhythm, rambling narrative for over an hour and a half and then tried to describe it as some sort of opera, it probably would have been much more quickly dimissed, but R&B has seemed to have had a trend in recent years, in having extremely literal, typically unrhymed lyrics, focusing almost solely on the voice of the singer, almost to the exclusion of most other musical considerations).
Anyway, my impressions of Trapped in the Closet were mixed. On the one hand, I was intrigued by the whole idea of it and impressed by aspects of its execution (the film that depicts the events in the song was very well done, including some pretty good acting and an appearance by Michael K. Williams, who played Omar Little on The Wire). There were parts of Trapped that were really funny (some more intentionally funny than others, but I laughed really hard at good parts of it). And there's no denying the fact that it took the entire idea and its execution were quite imaginative. On the other hand, there were times when the whole thing really dragged, and when I got confused as to exactly what was going on with all of the soap opera melodrama occurring between the characters (and I didn't feel like I really cared enough about the characters or the fairly ridiculous plot to want to expend a lot of effort keeping up with all of the plot twists). The music also started to wear on me after awhile. Trapped is over an hour and a half long, I would guess, and the tempo and rhythm of the thing never really changed (I was practically hearing it in my sleep last night). R. Kelly sings the thing capably, but without any real melody. He's a talented enough singer, but his lyrics just sound like someone talking in a sort of sing song style (I know- it sounds like a cool idea, but once you listen to it for an extended period, you start to question whether this sort of thing really involves a lot of talent, or whether this is just some way for R. Kelly to show off his voice without having to come up with lyrics that have any sort of literary or poetic quality to them- the lyrics in Trapped are, at their best, just funny, and too often I felt like I was laughing at R. Kelly instead of with R. Kelly).
Well, I've given this way too much of my time. I'm glad I saw Trapped. Not sure I need to see it again, and unless he decides to at least break down the various portions of his future "hip hoperas" into songs that have varying rhythms and a bit more melody, I'm not really sure I need to see his next edition of Trapped (it was an interesting experiment, but once is enough for me, I guess). But now that R. Kelly has beaten that statutory rape case he's been fighting, I'm sure we can look forward to future hip hoperas that he'll be sending our way.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Ryan and I watched the new weekly episode of Ghosthunters (yes, I watch that show- I'm not sure that I believe in ghosts, but that show has a way of creeping me out sometimes, nonetheless) and once again discussed the probability that someone was hoaxing the team. The TAPS team that investigates the hauntings on Ghosthunters just doesn't ever seem to want to really consider the possibility that someone is manipulating them, and, in fact, the only time I've seen them really consider the possibility was when they were faced with such obvious evidence of a hoax that they had no choice but to admit that someone was, in fact trying to fool them. It seems like there are many other occasions when the most logical explanation for the events that they experience is simple human trickery, but the TAPS team rarely seems willing to truly explore that possibility. It's almost as if they just want to so badly to believe that they're helping people that they don't want to acknowledge the possibility that sometimes people just want to get their places declared as "haunted" so that they can cash in on the paranormal tourism industry (and yes, there are people who travel around to different destinations in the hopes of experiencing a ghost). Anyway, it bugs me, and detracts from whatever credibility a team of ghost hunters can have.
We also watched a show that Ryan discovered, strangely enough on the ABC Family channel, called Middleman which is about a "men in black" type team of superheroic detectives that protect humanity from aliens, mad scientists, monsters, and other comic book type stuff. The show is more comedy than drama, but its pretty darn clever and funny, with the main characters spitting out their deadpan reactions to the bizarre events around them with a witty, staccatto delivery. Anyway, I thought the show was fun. I mean, I'm not sure it's going to appeal to everyone, but I thought it was fun.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
I watched some of the American Film Institute's Ten Top Ten last night (top 10 movies in 10 different categories). I was disappointed that Miller's Crossing wasn't listed as one of the top 10 gangster flicks of all time. I know that Miller's Crossing has a sort of cult following that's given it a sort of indie-underground feel (which is largely, I think, because it's a Coen Brothers movie-I certainly don't think it has the look of a low budget, underground movie), but I rate Miller's Crossing up there in my top 10 or 15 movies of all time, and I think that it's consistently underrated and under appreciated (I love the cinematography, the dialogue, the acting, and the direction in this movie- some might say that it's too derivative of other films to earn its own spot amongst the top 10 gangster flicks, but I think that it pays homage to earlier gangster films and perfects many of their techniques. Most importantly, I think it's a story and a script that stands on its own as a remarkable work of art).
There are many questionable calls and potential omissions on AFI's list, but I guess that what makes it fun- having the opportunity to argue about what makes a film great. One thing that occurred to me as I watched this special was that the movies that comprised this particular selection of top tens seemed to be films that might appeal to different generation than our own. I'm not saying that these aren't pretty much all great films, but I think that the movies that constitute the best of a particular category might not be the same for one generation as opposed to another. Maybe Generation X isn't looking for the same things in its mysteries or its gangster movies that the Baby Boomers were looking for. And what's going to count as a category for animation in another 10 years when computer graphics make up a huge part of what we see on screen for a large variety of movies in different genres?
Anyway, I only watched part of the special, but it made me realize that there are still a lot of classic films out there that I haven't seen.
Well, things are busy and I have a lot to do. Hope you guys are enjoying the summer sun.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Monday, June 16, 2008
And the weekend went pretty well. There was some hanging out at Barton Springs (both at the spillover with Cassidy, and inside the fence with Ryan, Jamie, and Matt Mangum). I saw The Incredible Hulk movie (it was pretty good- better than I thought it would be, although, as with the earlier Ang Lee movie, I still couldn't get past seeing the Hulk, himself, as seeming a bit cartoonish. Good story, though, and the computer graphics have improved since the last movie). What else? We grilled some hot dogs over at Ryan and Jamie's last night and watched a good chunk of Game 5 of the NBA Finals (those darn Lakers just won't go away. Kinda cool to have them playing against the Celtics, though).
I also watched Battlestar Galactica this weekend. Does anyone else watch this show? It just keeps getting stranger (I generally think spoiler alerts are kind of lame, but I guess one is appropriate here). I sort of guessed that when all of these refugees finally got to Earth that it was probably going to already be destroyed or nuked or whatever, but after I saw the episode I assumed that things were just about over for the series, and that they might have about one episode left to show the colonists wandering off in search of a different place to live. Instead, I read in an online article (and I can't remember for the life of me where I read it now) that there are like 12 episodes of the show left. I'm curious as to where they're going to take the show next.
Well, that's about it. On to another glorious week of work! More later. Maybe.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Ryan, Uncle Donald and Cousin Sue at the game (against the Memphis Redbirds).
It started out a little warm, but a breeze picked up and it was a beautiful night.
Jamie shared her popcorn with me.
And took my picture.
Rally caps were eventually needed to bring the Express out of their 0-6 hole. Much to everyone's surprise, the rally caps worked, and eventually the Express ended up winning 9-7.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Well, it's Friday. Mandy is off to New York City with Ellie and Vicki, and Jennifer is off to Las Vegas to play in the World Series of Poker. Hopefully they both have fun, and everyone send good vibes of good luck to Jennifer in her first Vegas poker tournament. Also, apparently Kim and Sigmund are planning on going to go travel around India sometime at the end of the month. How cool is that? I'm just back from Costa Rica, and I'm already getting jealous of all of these people heading off on their various adventures.
Not too much going on here. We had a very nice Crack practice last night, with sounds ranging from jazzy to rockin' (there was even a "make you cry" version of the Peter Gunn Theme in there somewhere). Andy says he's going to start reviewing some of the material that he's recorded from some of the more recent Crack practices, and see about putting together a new disc for us sometime soon. I look forward to hearing it.
Sigmund told me about this crazy version of Radiohead's Nude. There's a bunch of seemingly dead space at the beginning while the thing's doing it's thing. Stick with it, cause the song is super cool once it starts. Even moreso if you're a Radiohead fan.
Tim Russert just died. What the hell? He must've just died because this wasn't the headline a few minutes ago. He was 58, and he had a heart attack. I really liked Tim Russert. I've watched Meet the Press on a semi regular basis since I was in high school (I think Russert first took over hosting the show sometime toward the end of my high school years), and Tim Russert was one of a very small breed of television journalists who actually asked intelligent, honest, thought-provoking questions of our political figures and leaders. Plus, he always seemed like a nice guy when I saw him interviewed on other shows. He's going to be missed in a big way. I think that the broadcast news media just lost one of its better players.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Jeez. Was I just blogging about my lawn?
Austin came in at number 8 on MSNBC's top ten places in the country to live. I wish the media would quit putting lists like this together (or quit putting austin on them) so people would quit moving here.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the 9/11 terror suspects on trial in military tribunals in Guantanamo Bay have the right to appeal their cases to U.S. to U.S. federal courts (i.e., civilian courts). I think that this is a good thing. I want to see terrorists convicted as much as the next guy, but I think that this whole military tribunal system that we have set up at the moment just doesn't feel legit (how's that for getting into some hyper technical legal mumbo jumbo?). It's hard to claim that these people are getting the same due process rights with the same civil liberty protections that anyone else would get when we've put them into a special court with different rules than anyone else is subject to (and I'm not crazy about the fact that the military or the justice deaprtment can route anyone that they deem fit into this whole different justice track just by labelling them an "enemy combatant"). It may end up being a harder job and more work, but we need to be able to show the world that these terror suspects got a fair, transparent trial if their convictions are to mean anything. If we're not going to follow the law and do these hearings by the book, then there's really no point in having a trial at all. Much of the world assumes that the U.S. is really just seeking revenge, not justice, for the 9/11 attacks, so if we're going to try to peruade people otherwise, we ought to be able to show that we followed the rule of law, and that the basic civil liberties of the detainees were protected during the course of securing their convictions.
To play the role of an utterly cynical, perhaps somewhat wicked pragmatist, I ask: if we're not going to bother adhering to due process and civil rights guidelines, then wouldn't we be probably be better off just having some of these detainees "disappear"? (I'm thinking some deep, dark, secret CIA prison somewhere) Better to leave our enemies wondering than to give them proof that we're not playing fair. I maybe shouldn't have typed those last couple of sentences, but I kind of think that if we're really going to be hard core about these things, we might as well go all the way. Half measures (and that's sort of what I think these military tribunals are- some sort of half-baked compromise between civil libertarians and people who think that these terror suspects are too dangerous to be processed through our traditional legal channels) only end up with the worst of both worlds (no one will think we're actually conducting fair hearings, AND we end up giving these guys a public soapbox and running the risk of acquittals- theoretically at least).
Anyway, I'm glad to see the Supreme Court stand up to the White House on this issue. It's good to see that even if our justices are pretty conservative, there's still a point (somewhere) where they're going to draw a line in the sand and protect the constitution.
I guess that's it for now. I didn't really cover a lot of new ground in talking about the Gitmo Trials, but with this new Supreme Court ruling coming down, it seemed like a worthwhile topic to readdress. It'll be interesting to see if they still go forward with these military tribunals.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Had dinner with Team Steans last night and played some Grand Theft Auto IV. That game is a real life stealer. It's very immersive (meaning I get sucked in, and suddenly my life has slipped away from me for hours at a time), but it's fun. It's sort of compelling in a way that I typically get more from novels or a really good TV series than from a video game. The developers really emphasized the characters and their development in this game, and there are just a ton of different things to do. Not only do you work security and carry out missions for various organized crime figures (your own character is a recent immigrant from some unspecified former Easter bloc country with a shady but sort of mysterious past), but you have a cousin, friends, and girlfriends to maintain contacts with and entertain. You can do all kinds of things on these "side missions", including going out to eat, going to various bars, attending comedy and music shows (which you can actually watch), throwing darts, going bowling (you actually play mini games where you bowl, play darts, and actually participate in your character's leisure activities), and so forth and so on. Interactions with people within the game help determine the way that they treat you (your cousin may get annoyed with you and refuse to do favors for you if you turn down his dinner invitations too many times, your girlfriend will get feisty and start leaving you nasty phone messages if you ignore her for too long- the various criminals who employ you lose patience very quickly if you're not successful in the assignements that they give you). The goofy little side missions get mixed in between high speed car chases, assassinations, and gun battles that break out when various drug deals go bad (yeah, you hang out with drug dealers- it's hard to make money when you're a new immigrant fresh off the boat with nothing but the shirt on your back).
Anyway, the graphics are great, the storylines are interesting, and the game really sucks you in. Definitely a "next generation" gaming experience, although one that requires a fairly significant time investment once you're involved with it.
Well, I don't have much today. Maybe I'll post later if I feel inspired.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Anyway, Cheddar's was pretty much what I expected. Better than Applebee's, and maybe a step above Bennigan's, but pretty much in the same vein (pretty standard fare prepared in pretty typical ways- the "hook" at Cheddar's is that they bring honey-soaked rolls to your table before you eat, but since I don't particularly like honey, that's not much of a draw for me). Our waiter was pretty annoying, but I'm not going to hold that against the entire restaurant, since waitstaff in Austin can tend to be pretty hit or miss, anyway.
I guess I would go back to Cheddar's, but it's not a place I would go out of my way to seek out, and I have to admit that I'm completely mystified by the huge crowd that was waiting to go into that place a couple of weeks ago when we tried to get in there. I only ordered a sandwich and a ceasar salad, and they were both ok, but I had a bit of difficulty finding things on the menu that interested me.
So that's Cheddar's. It seems to make Jamie happy, so I'm happy to go there every once in awhile, but I kind of doubt that it's going to make my top ten list.
And here's something that looks for all the world like a pseudo news article from The Onion, but I swear to God is real and from the Fox News web site: apparently there's a rumor amongst some of the protest groups which are planning to rally at the Democratic Convention this summer in Denver that a sonic weapon might be deployed by the police for crowd control which allegedly has the ability to make protesters feel disoriented, possibly nauseated, and which is rumored to cause people to lose control of their bowels (and involuntarily defecate). Protesters informally call the device The Brown Note or The Crap Cannon, and they claim that the weapon was already used against protestors in Miami during the free trade agreement protests of 2003. The article points out that the Discovery Channel program Mythbusters investigated the alleged sonicly induced defecation phenomenon in 2004, and found no evidence that particular sonic frequencies lead to defecation.
I love the fact that this article appeared on Fox News's main page. I'm sure that Fox's audience is rolling with laughter at the thought of a bunch of protest hippies literally crapping their pants as they run from the police in Denver.
I've heard of The Brown Note before. It's been a legend in the club circuit for years, with DJs swearing that they could make a dancefloor full of clubgoers mess their pants if only they could find a particular magical, mystical "brown note" to include as part of their song mixes.
Well, on that note, I gotta run, but you guys have fun.
Monday, June 09, 2008
In the course of chillaxin' this weekend I came across a movie on Sci Fi called Rise: Blood Hunter. It's a vampire movie (although I just read on IMDB that the word vampire is never used in the film) starring Lucy Liu, and although it's actually a Samuel Goldwyn Films release that was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival, it was being shown on the Sci Fi Channel as a Sci Fi Channel film. Anyway, it's a small, simple, straightforward movie about a reporter who ends up hunting down a small group of vampires. I don't know exactly why I'm endorsing this movie except that it turned out to be better than I thought it would be (although, admittedly, my expectations going into it were really low). It has some genuinely scary moments, and some pretty good acting on the part of Lucy Liu. The plot is sort of pleasantly simple, with the movie focusing on some of the more horrifying aspects of the whole vampirism phenomenon that other movies seem to gloss over (e.g., how disturbing it is to have to feed on another person for the first time, how messed up it would be to know that you have to murder other people in order to survive, etc.).
Anyway, the movie is much more about interesting execution of existing ideas than about novel new plot innovations within the vampire genre.
That's it. That's my review. Rise: Blood Hunter- it's more interesting than you might think.
I'm sort of confused by this whole fire at the Texas governor's mansion. I'm mostly confused as to how someone could get away with arson on that sight without getting caught. The office that I work in, Travis County's Granger Building, sits less than a block away from the governor's mansion, and I'm here to tell you that the place has some pretty tight security. In addition to having video cameras which cover every conceivable approach angle to the mansion, the building is also usually routinely guarded by Capitol DPS troopers who are assigned to protect the capitol and all of its surrounding, associated buildings (including the governor's mansion). There are quite a few of these troopers, and they usually occupy themselves with things like handing out tickets to people who aren't using seatbelts and stuff like that. It must've taken someone who was either very clever and fairly brave to accomplish this, or someone who was very foolish and very lucky.
Anyway, it's truly a shame to see a historic structure like the governor's mansion burned like that. I'll be curious to see if they can catch the person who burned it, and once they do, to see what his/her motives were. I hope it's not some nutball with a political agenda. The governor's mansion is actually owned by the people of Texas, and it would be pretty shortsighted to torch the place just because you don't like the current "residents" (well, the Perry's had moved out while renovations were being done, so they weren't actually residing there, anyway, and, of course, there's always the fact that arson's a bad thing because you might end up hurting people or accidentally burning down half of downtown).
Well, I gotta run, but maybe more later. Maybe.
Sunday, June 08, 2008
My parents were in town this weekend to check on the progress of their new house. We met them out at The Oasis for lunch on Saturday. My Uncle Donald is also in town right now, visiting Cousin Sue. Here's a picture of Dad talking to Uncle Donald.
Friday, June 06, 2008
It's sort of funny- in the winter the rain just makes me depressed, but in the summer it has sort of the opposite effect; I think just knowing that a little bit of rain will keep the plants from burning out for awhile longer tends to make me happy, and, of course, sometimes the rain can help to keep the heat at bay (although other times it just seems to create a humid, tropical, jungle-like atmosphere, which I hate).
Last night I watched most of a B movie Sci Fi Channel horror flick called Never Cry Werewolf over at Ryan and Jamie's place. It was pretty bad, but in a mildly entertaining sort of way. As someone pointed out in the comments on IMDB, this movie is basically a rip off of Fright Night from 1985, except with a werewolf living next door to the teenager rather than a vampire. I liked the fact that the werewolfs in the movie were actually people in werewolf suits rather than computer generated graphic monsters, but the movie, unfortunately, was still pretty bad. I just don't see why these Sci Fi original movies always have to be so bad. I mean, I know that the effects and stuff are gonna be pretty cheap, but I can forgive that. What I don't understand is why they can't seem to get a decent script for one of these things. They could have a cool little niche market for their Sci Fi Channel movies if they had some scripts that were anywhere near the quality of some of those old Twilight Zone or Outer Limits epsidoes (or even some of the old Creepshow or Tales from the Crypt episodes, for heaven's sake).
Incidentally, there's a new X-Files movie coming out, but I read an interview with Chris Carter a while back where he said that this new movie isn't really going to do anything to advance the whole alien invasion/government conspiracy mythology. Instead, this movie is meant as a way to introduce new fans to the whole X-Files idea.
What?!?! Chris- you don't really have a show anymore, so unless you're going to make a whole batch of these movies, there's really not much point in trying to introduce a whole new generation of fans to the X-Files. What longtime X-Files fans have really been waiting for and deserve is the big budget Hollywood blockbuster where a full alien invasion finally occurs (or something close to it). We want the aliens (or at least one of the types of aliens) to finally come out of hiding and for there to be a full out war between the humans and the aliens. It's what the show always seemed to be leading up to (Mulder's whole career has been about trying to drag the aliens and their human conspirators out into the light), but we never got the big payoff of the final confrontation between the humans and the aliens (not to mention the fact that when all of the romantic/sexual tension that had been bulding for years between Mulder and Scully was apparently finally resolved, it all occurred off screen). Most importantly, what longtime fans really, really want is to have the government/alien conspiracy exposed in a way that forces that whole world to accept the truths that Mulder already knows, and for Mulder and Scully to be vindicated (and the alien invasion could both accomplish this, plus add lots of cool action and special effects that would make for an entertaining movie).
The failure to ever engage in any kind of satisfying conclusions was what eventually made me annoyed with the show (of course, there was the fact that they tried to carry on without David Duchovny, but I think that the failure to ever reach any kind of closure in terms of the show's overarching plotline was even more annoying). Chris Carter has always played a cat and mouse game with his audience, confusing endless cliffhangers with dramatic tension, perpetually open ended questions with real mystery, and long winded protagonist soliloquies with good writing. X Files has always had an awful lot of promise, but it rarely delivers on it because Carter and his writing team seem paralyzed at the thought of actually making their characters go through personal growth or life changes or at the thought of creating meaningful changes within the world in which those characters live. (perhaps this is because Carter wants to see the X-Files world to remain as "realistic" as our own, but the trade off (in inability to advance the storyline) just isn't worth it. Audiences aren't fooled into believing they're going to see Mulder and Scully walking down a "real world" street, and long time fans of the show just get tired of the promise of change without ever seeing that change fulfilled. If you're writing a show about aliens, sooner or later you've gotta really give us some aliens.)
Oh well. I've already gone on about the X Files way longer than I intended to, but I still have some hope for the new movie. Chris Carter has always been much better at beginnings than endings, and since he plans on this movie being the new beginning for a new generation of X-Philes, maybe it'll turn out to be a nice, neat little self contained X Files story that's every bit as compelling as some of the best episodes. I'm just frustrated because it doesn't sound like the big ol' grand payoff that longtime X-files fans always wanted to see.
What else? Not much. Karebear and The Admiral are scheduled to pop in for a daytime visit on Saturday to check on the progress of their new house (they have to drive back Saturday evening so Karebear can fly out to Florida on Sunday morning to see the grandparents).
That's it for now. Hope you guys have a good weekend if I don't rap at you before then.
Thursday, June 05, 2008
And five terror suspects implicated in the 9/11 attacks, including alleged mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, are being put on trial today in a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty in these cases, which primarily involve lending aid and support to the 9/11 attacks and for helping in contributing to their planning. I'm glad to see these men brought to trial, but I wish that they were being tried in a regular U.S. federal court instead of by way of military tribunal. The fact that these trials are occurring in an unorthodox tribunal is going to detract from the legitimacy and credibility of the proceedings. Already the military has stated that these defendants will not be freed, even if they were to be acquitted on all charges (i.e., as designated "enemy combatants", the suspects are to be held until the war on terror is brought to an end- which may not happen for a little while).
In addition, defense attorneys (who are military officers themselves) have pointed out defects in the proceedings which may make them fundamentally flawed and unfair. The tribunals will allow the use of evidence which was gained through the use of "extreme interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation (such evidence would not be allowed in federal court), and the tribunal will allow the use of evidence which was obtained despite the fact that defendants were initially denied their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and their Sixth Amendment right to counsel.
Don't get me wrong. I think that these are bad, bad men, and I want to see them punished as badly as anyone else, but I just think that we need to grant them all of the due process and procedural safeguards that any other prisoners would be entitled to. If we don't do these hearings by the book, it's only going to reinforce a view amongst foreigners that the U.S. is just seeking mindless vengeance rather than justice (which isn't good because it allows for the belief that we don't care whether we're prosecuting the right people). Also, putting these men on trial without taking their civil rights fully into account is going to send a message that it's okay for other countries to take similar liberties with American soldiers once they're captured (and watch how quickly other countries switch from calling our soldiers POWs to calling them "enemy combatants"). Already Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, probably sensing the fact that the rest of the world is watching these trials and judging their fairness with skepticism, has declared that he expects to be convicted and that he is fully ready to accept his fate as a martyr. I think the man knows that conviction and execution by way of this highly controversial tribunal is going to prove unsatisfactory to many foreigners, including many, many Muslims, and that it will only reinforce suspicion of and resentment toward the U.S. in the middle east.
Anyway, it sure would be great if our intelligence forces could actually amass enough evidence against these guys to convict them in a regular court under the regular rules. There will always be some people who will doubt the U.S. no matter what procedures we follow, but I truly do believe that it would make this whole process seem a lot more fair in the eyes of the world if the whole things was more transparent and did a better job of safeguarding basic human rights. (Ideally it would probably be best to see the trial held by an international tribunal, but given the xenophobia of Americans in general and the military in particular, I'm pretty sure that's never going to happen).
Not much else going on. Hope you guys are doing well.
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
There's an interesting article today in the New York Times about sarcasm, and the way that the brain functions in both producing and detecting sarcasm. It turns out that the abilities to employ and recognize sarcasm require some higher level functioning in terms of understanding what other people are likely to be thinking in a given situation. Sarcasm is dependent upon social cognition, which includes the ability to pick up on verbal and nonverbal cues regarding another person's mental state as well as an ability to draw inferences about how they will likely respond to a given situation. People with brain injuries or degenerative brain diseases that effect social cognition (including frontotempal dementia and semantic dementia) will often lose their ability to recognize sarcasm as one of the early indicators of impaired functioning. People with mild to moderate cases of Alzheimer's, however, seem to retain their ability to recognize sarcasm fairly well.
The studies discussed in the article seem to indicate that while the left half of the brain is chiefly involved with many of the processes that constitute language, the right half of the brain apparently helps to process some of the "non-literal" interpretations of language that help process functions such as sarcasm (as well as puns, jokes, etc.).
Anyway, I found the article interesting. I'm sure that each of you did as well.
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
Monday, June 02, 2008
Here's my question, I guess. If kids today don't have a working knowledge of history, geography, literature, and so forth, how are they even going to know when it's important to look up facts in the first place? If a kid has no working knowledge of the Vietnam War, how is he going to recognize the possibility that his leaders are repeating the historical mistakesof Vietnam in Iraq? Wikipedia isn't going to draw this to his attention to this and ask him to make the comparison. If a kid's government is getting ready to put up a fence with armed guards along the Mexican border, how is this kid going to know about whether it's appropriate to compare such a program to The Berlin Wall or The Great Wall of China (unless that kid has a working knowledge of these things)? Will some kid recognize the debatable similarities between the failed "separate but equal" argument of the civil rights movement of the 1960's and the treatment of modern day homosexuals with the right to civil unions while precluding gay marriage?
I guess I can see some of the points that Begley and Interlandi are trying to make, but I think that their article dangerously underestimates the importance of having facts and knowledge in one's mind. It's great to know where to look for facts on the computer, but a fundamental base of knowledge tells us which facts to look for in the first place and directs our attention toward understanding what knowledge is relevant in the first place.
Anyway, I don't know anything about Sharon Begley and Jeneen Interlandi, but their article is definitely written with the sort of defensive tone that one might expect from a couple of protective mothers whose children have just been insulted. Here's the thing, though. Maybe instead of cranking out an article in defense of their kids, defensive parents ought to consider taking away the iPods, cell phones, and laptops for awhile, and asking their kids to sit down and read a book. Kids just aren't going to learn anything about the world on MySpace.
Don't trust anyone under 30.
Well, now that I've gotten that little rant out of the way....
The weekend was pretty good. Friday night I had dinner with Ryan and Jamie. Saturday I took Cassidy to Barton Creek, and Saturday night I went out to go see Operation Moon Pie (see yesterday's post). Sunday I had lunch with Jamie and Ryan and had band practice with The Mono E. Good weekend, all in all.
Good luck to Ted Kennedy today as he undergoes surgery for that brain tumor.