Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Well, I'm blogging to you over a very weak wireless connection at the Marriott Rivercenter Hotel in downtown San Antonio. I'm at the State Bar's Advanced Criminal Law Conference, and we're into day two.
Sunday night I went on a boat cruise on Lake Austin for Mark McCrimmon's 50th birthday. There were a lot of people on the cruise, many of them familiar faces from the courthouse (including a number of people from my office, like Lastovica, Yvonne, Ashley, Brandon, Swaim, Dan, Vicki, etc.). Also, of course, Kim, Sigmund, and Jennifer were on board for the cruise (each of them adveturous seafarers in their own right). Anyway, the cruise was fun and the margaritas were strong. Thanks to Mark for hosting it. It seems like we used to have more of those types of social events involving people from the courthouse, and they really do help to lend the courthouse a bit more of a sense of community than it might otherwise have.
The conference has been okay so far. There's a lot of information in the classes that I've already heard a number of times before, but there are a few new, interesting things in there, too (the problem, of course, being the fact that you have to sit through a lot of stuff that you already know in order to come across a few new bits of information). There was also some presenter this morning from the County and District Attorney's Association who literally stood up there and lectured a room full of lawyers because they weren't awake enough and weren't providing enough questions and audience participation. What a tool.
Last night a group of about 20 or more of us (including Judge Breland, John Lipscombe, Dain Whitworth, Judge Crain, Brandon, Yvonne, Channing, David Escamilla, Vicki Ashley, etc.) went and ate at La Fogata over on Vance Jackson. The food was pretty good, and the company was good, but the service was slow, and we ended up sitting outside on a covered patio that was pretty warm. All in all, though, it was pretty fun, and I had a chance to catch up with some people that I hadn't seen in a while and people that I just don't get that much of a chance to catch up with at work.
Anyway, the conference is pretty good, but on the other hand, 4 days is a whole lotta conference. We'll see how things go as the week progresses.
Everyone keep their fingers crossed that Cassidy is doing well over at Ryan and Jamie's house. They were kind of enough to keep her, but last time my intrepid pup stayed at their casa, she managed to somehow sprain or strain her front leg (she sometimes forgets her three legged limits when wrastling with her cousin, Lucy) and ended up limping around for a week upon her return.
Well, that's it for now. Let's see if this wireless network lets me post....

Friday, July 25, 2008

Well, despite some mixed feelings about it, I kind of wanted to go see the X-Files movie this weekend, but the reviews for it have been pretty shakey, at best (only 29% of the critics on Rotten Tomatoes have been giving it favorable reviews at the time of this posting). Now I'm starting to think that my time might be better spent at Barton Springs or on the greenbelt, and I can just catch the X-files movie when it comes out on video.

In other critically important news, British scientists are conducting DNA analysis on hairs that supposedly come from an Indian yeti (that's abominable snowman, for those of you who don't spend your time on late night cryptozoology shows). The Indian version of the yeti is known as mande barung, or "forest man", and so far ape experts are saying that the examined hairs bear a striking similarity to hairs collected by Sir Edmund Hillary, a famous expeditionary climber of Mount Everest. Furthermore, scientists have excluded Asiatic black bear, wild boar, and various types of monkeys as being the source of the recovered hairs. Scientists speculate that the hairs might come from some new type of primate, even if they're not from an actual yeti, but let's be honest- we're all hoping for a yeti. It may be important to note that scientists are analyizing this new yeti hair right on the heels of the Blooms' recent trip to India. I don't want to jump the gun, but I may have a picture of their mysterious mande barung right here...

Let's see.... what else?

Next week I'm scheduled to be attending the Texas State Bar's Advanced Criminal Law Course down in beautiful San Antonio, Texas. Should be somewhat entertaining and fairly informative. I've been to this thing before as a defense attorney, but I'm sort of curious to attend it as a prosecutor and see how much of the material is still helpful and relevant from a state's perspective (it seemed sort of geared toward defense attorneys when I attended it previously).

Anyhoo, if the blogging is light or nonexistent for much of next week, you kids will know that I haven't forgotten about you and that Steanso still loves you (but who knows- I may end up taking my laptop and blogging, anyway).

Happy birthday to Nicole this weekend (her actual birthday is on Sunday). Nicole is a friend of the Steans clan who lived with Ryan and Jamie for, like, um, I'm going to say nine months before moving out at the beginning of the summer. Nicole is pretty fun and interesting and willing to put up with a surprising amount of tomfoolery (which helps in dating Matt Mangum). Many happy returns, Nicole!!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Well, I don't have much to post on today, but maybe that's good because I'm really busy, and I don't have much time to post.

Last night I went to a birthday happy hour for one of my co-workers (Carla). It was at Moonshine, which is a really good restaurant that I always forget about (Jeff used to like it, and I used to go there with him).

Other from that, I don't have much to report. We're getting a bit of rain today, so that's nice. Hope ya'll are doing okay.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

So it's Wednesday. Hurricane Dolly is apparently roaring ashore down in South Texas, but we'll probably be lucky to even get any rain out it up here in Austin.

And remember when I made a sort of tribute post to Brett Favre? Well, I made that post a while after Favre had announced his retirement, because I really didn't think that the guy was seriously going to leave the game until he either: A) suffered some kind of career-ending injury, or B) pretty much was forced out of the game because he could no longer play at a truly competitive level. Favre had made noise about retiring before, but always backed out. Finally, at the end of last season he said he really was going to retire. I was skeptical, but then he held this weepy, tearful press conference where he seemed to be earnestly saying his goodbyes to his team and to the people of Green Bay. Even after that, I held back a bit, but finally Reed sort of coaxed me into making a post, asking, "Aren't you going to make a post about Favre retiring? He's one of your favorite players."
So I bit the bullet and made the "adios, Brett" post.
But somewhere, deep down I knew that guy wasn't going to be able to bring himself to just sit on the sidelines yet.
And so now we have Favre trying to make a last minute leap back into professional football. The Packers had pretty much come to terms with the idea of life after Brett, and have been sort of working their way through reconstructing the team without Favre as their central figure and leader (a process which is going to be necessary, anyway, given the fact that Favre can't have many seasons left in him). Favre, apparently unhappy with the fact that the Packers haven't immediately reinstated him as their starting quarterback upon his declaration of interest in returning, is now accused of having started conversations with the Minnesota Vikings, the implication being that he might find a starting spot in their lineup (this is problematic because the Packers still have Favre under contract, and therefore the right to play or trade him as they see fit).
I'm not sure what to make of all of this. I would, of course, like to see Brett Favre play some more, but I'm afraid we're working our way into that downward spiral that many great professional athletes face upon retiring. Remember how Michael Jordan did that minor league baseball thing after "retiring", and then returned to the NBA for a fairly lackluster (well, at least in comparison to his earlier career) couple of seasons with the Washington Wizards? Well, I guess I just don't want to see Favre overstay his welcome to the point where people are really glad to see him retire (because of declining performance). Plus, Favre himself said after the conclusion of last season that he wasn't going to try to jump back into professional football if he hadn't been training to play rigorously during the off season (and I haven't heard anything about whether he's been training).
Plus, there's the simple fact that the Packers need to start working on how to build a good, soild team that can function without Favre.
I hate to say it, but if Favre wants to come back into the league at this point, Green Bay might be best off trading Favre for some younger players that they can continue to build their team around in the long term.
Also, admittedly, Aaron Rodgers is no Brett Favre, but the Packers also need to show him a little faith and loyalty. Sounds like he's been working pretty hard with the Green Bay offense, and given Favre's age, there's a pretty high probability that he could get injured during the season. Are the Packers better off using Favre, but then switching to Rodgers if Favre gets hurt, or are they better off getting Rodgers and the offense used to having Rodgers in the quarterback position on a more full time basis right from the get-go, building up the offense from day one with their new quarterback in place?

Well, the only thing certain at this point is that the pressure is going to be intensified for all parties involved in this deal. If Favre comes back, his critics will be watching his performance carefully to see whether his ego exceeded his judgement in his decision to return, and if Favre doesn't return to the Packers, people will be carefully watching the performance of the Packers to see if the team might have faired much better with Favre on it (an analysis which will be further intensified if Favre returns to the NFL, but plays for a different team).
I guess I'm mostly annoyed that Favre "retired" in the first place when I was pretty sure he really wasn't quite done with the game of football.
Oh well, at least we know he must be feeling pretty well and doing alright if he wants to come back and play...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hey, guys.Well, it's another sunny Tuesday here in the ATX. S'posed to hit 103 here today. Hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk. (I remember that once, when we were little, Roundball and I literally tried to fry an egg on the sidewalk during the summer over at a friend's house. The egg kinda, sorta was slowly cooking, but before it could get too far a line of fire ants appeared and made their way onto our egg to start chowing down. I'm not sure what I learned about eggs or temperature or weather that day, but I definitely learned that Texas fire ants are mean, tough little S.O.B.s, willing to walk across a frying hot surface just to get a free lunch).

Not too much to report. Tropical Storm Dolly is churning her way through the Gulf of Mexico, and officials are worried that the storm could damage or destroy levees along the Rio Grande, especially if the storm reaches hurricane strength before making landfall, as predicted. I'm not too crazy about the idea of my fellow Texans (and our friendly Mexican neighbors) getting zapped by a really powerful storm, but it sure would be nice to get some rain up here in Austin. Between the drought and the heat, our plants are starting to look sort of sad.

Sounds like Christian Bale has been questioned in connection with an alleged incident of family violence involving his mother and sister in London, England, on Sunday. I sure hope the allegations are untrue. Wouldn't there be something ironic about making millions of dollars (in just the opening weekend) off of a movie about a character who is driven to become a superhero because of the violence that's done to his own family, when the actor playing that character is getting arrested on his own family violence charges? Crazy world.
Anyway, it sounds like Christian Bale is still a free man (no charges pending), at least thus far.

What else? I thought about writing a rant about how annoying air travel has become after my recent trip to Florida, but I guess you guys have heard it all before (and my brother pretty much covered it all on his blog). One thing my brother didn't cover was the ridiculousness of the airport security checkpoints. They didn't effect us that much on this trip, but they were pretty awful (meaning long, slow, disorganized, pointless, and a little rude) on our trip to Costa Rica.
The thing that bugs me the most about the airport security checkpoints is that they really are pretty darn meaningless, for a number of reasons. First of all, the checkpoints seem set up to stop people from attacking us in exactly the same way that they did on 9/11, but what are the chances of that? They're not going to do the same thing twice if they attack. Even if they were just going to use sharp, handheld instruments (which they won't because nowadays the passengers would be wary of it and rush the terrorists as a group if they used handheld weapons), they would probably use something ceramic or made of hard plastic that wouldn't show up on metal detectors (and yes, there are even guns made of hard ceramics which won't show up on metal detectors). If terrorists are going to use a bomb, they can still just check it into their baggage and bring a detonator into the passenger cabin- how hard would it be to use a cell phone (which you can still carry on) as a detonator? Aren't they just as likely to hit a plane that's taking off with a missile? How hard is it to put a really lethal dose of a biological or chemical agent into one of those three little containers of liquid that you're allowed to bring in you carry on bag? And take a look at the painfully bored, unhappy faces of those airport employees next time you travel- do we really think that these people are all above smuggling some kind of weapon behind the airport security perimeter if they're paid the right price? (and given the number of supplies and equipment that goes into and out of a large airport on a daily basis, such a feat just can't be all that hard to pull off)
The whole airport security thing isn't really about security at all. It's about politics and the illusion of security. If I can stand in line at the airport and think of ten ways to circumvent homeland security just while I'm standing there, how hard is it really going to be for a terrorist to take down another plane if he wants to? Most importantly, the terrorists have already done the whole airplane as missile thing. They know that a new, unexpected method of attack is their best bet. If I were Homeland Security, I'd be keeping a much closer eye on our giant sports stadiums, subway systems, and even our passenger cruise liners.
Anyway, these are the thoughts that flit through my government-protected head while I stand in the interminable security line/cattle chute with the other travellers, barefoot, holding up my beltless pants, waiting to walk through the metal detectors and have the private contents of my carry on bag to be dumped out onto a table. Two hours early to the airport? Are we sure that's enough time? I might want to go on that ride more than once. ;-)

Monday, July 21, 2008

So we're back. Ryan and I flew in from Florida on Saturday night.
The funeral was about as nice as it could be, given that it was a funeral. We had a small memorial service at a funeral home in my grandmother's town of Belleview, in a building that once served as the town hall. There were lots of flowers, some singing by a local gospel guy, and a nice service conducted by a Methodist minister who was about the same age as Ryan and I (Ryan talked to him about video games, comic books, and other stuff after the funeral). A bunch of Grandma and Grandpa's friends and neighbors showed up, and some of the other members of The American Legion, which my grandparents have been involved with quite actively for many years (Grandpa Ross is a WW II veteran from the 82nd Airborne who served in North Africa, Italy, Normandy, and other places).
In addition to attending the service, we got a chance to hang out with my dad's side of the family, who we really don't get to see very often. Uncle Bob and Aunt Linda, my dad's cousin Kirk, and his wife, Terry, along with their kids, Michael and Kathy, and Michael's wife, Becca. We rarely get to see them, but they were all there, and we had a nice visit (as good as could be, you know, given the fact that our larger purpose was to attend a funeral). It was also really good to see my Grandpa Ross and to hang out with him a bit (and, of course, it was good to see my parents- hi Mom and Dad!).
Florida was ok, but it rained quite a bit (not the weather I was hoping for out there in the Sunshine State). Ryan and I ended up renting a Cadillac for our time in Florida (we had a 1.5 hour drive from the airport in Tampa to our hotel in Belleview).
So, anyway, it was a nice goodbye for Grandma Ross. Her family and many of the people who loved her were there, and she would have enjoyed seeing us all together.

So, like I said, I got back on Saturday night. Yesterday I spent a lot of time chillaxin' yesterday, and last night we had Mono E practice. Eric brought his keyboard instead of his guitar, and we spent some time playing songs by Bob Dylan and Traffic in addition to keyboard versions of our own songs.
After the movie, Chris Griego came over, and he and Reed and I went and saw the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight.
I really enjoyed the movie. Christopher Nolan seems to actually take the characters seriously, approaching them in a surprisingly "realistic" way, and the storyline of the movie actually poses some interesting questions and addresses interesting themes, including the nature of true evil and the sacrifices that have to be made in the pursuit of justice and righteousness (and the question of whether society, at large, is worthy of the rewards of such sacrifices). Heath Ledger, as promised, does a very good job of portraying the Joker (although I'm not sure that he ended up being the creepily haunting presence that many people thought he would be- his version of the Joker takes too much joy in the chaos that he creates for the character to really be haunting). Ledger's Joker seems to be, as Michael Caine's Alfred points out, a kind of idealistic villain who commits crimes not for the love of money, but instead, just because he wants to "watch the world burn".
The movie is set in a Gotham which looks much more realistic and identifiable as a major American city than the hyper-stylized Gotham of some earlier Batman movies (I'm pretty sure it's mostly filmed in Chicago), and I think that the realistic setting helps the audience to better see these characters as real people rather than just symbols.
Anyway, I enjoyed the movie. I'm not sure I'm ready to see all superhero movies go this way (this was a grittier, more realistic take on Batman- the kind of computer graphics-assisted, super powered athletics of a Spiderman or a Hulk would have seemed very out of place here, although I've enjoyed them in other movies). Nonetheless, the "realism" of The Dark Knight worked well in Christpher Nolan's hands, and it brought a concern for the moral decisions and the emotional trauma of the characters that we don't get in many superhero movies.
I don't want to oversell the film (maybe this more realistic take on Batman will not sit well with all viewers- after all, the closer to reality you get, the harder it will be for some people to take seriously the idea of a guy running around in a Bat suit- there's the danger, I guess- you either buy it or you don't), but I really enjoyed it.
Now we have only the release of Step Brothers to look forward to in our summer movie lineup...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Grandma Ross's Funeral

Pictures of Grandma Ross from various times in her life.

Dinner with Grandpa Ross.

Leaving the memorial service.
The extended family. Cousins Kathy and Michael, Grandpa Ross, Michael's wife, Becca, Ryan, and Me.

The Clan at dinner.

Becca, Michael, Aunt Linda, Uncle Bob, and Kathy.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Not much to report on. Probably going to be gone the rest of the week, cause Roundball and I are jetting off to Florida for Grandma Ross's funeral.

Last night I watched a show called Hurl! on the G4 network. Hurl! is definitely a sign that the American empire is on the downward slide and that the end times may, in fact, be near. Hurl! is a form of reality gameshow where contestants scarf down insane amounts of food, and then participate in nausea-inducing activities while trying not to vomit (they're aided in their tasks by assistants clothed in hazmat suits). There are two ways of being eliminated- during the food eating rounds you can be eliminated for being the contestant who consumes the least food. During the activity rounds, you can be eliminated if you, well... hurl! The whole show is kind of predicated on the "last man standing" ideal in order to pick a winner. The food portion of the show consisted of watching the contestants scarf down between 3 and 4 pounds of macaroni and cheese before climbing into a set of spherical, steel cages to be spun around and upside down for 5 minutes. Following that, the contestants ate a couple of pounds of pumpkin pie before jumping into the spheres to be spun around some more. Then more pie. Then more steel cage sphere spinning.

In the end, the final three contestants all ended up throwing up, although the winner managed to collect his $1,000 and jump around in celebration a bit before he chucked. That's right. The winner stuffs his face and risks throwing up in front of a national TV audience for $1,000. Cash. (and the losers, of course, do the same for free)
You guys really need to check this out. Or maybe you don't. It really is a horrible, but fascinating spectacle. You almost need your own hazmat suit just to watch it. Nevertheless, I predict the sleeper hit of the summer, and it's debuting on the G4 network, of all places (a low rent network which typically focuses itself around videogames and other aspects of geek culture; I have this whole theory about how G4 may evolve to become the MTV of the current generation, but maybe I best save that for a time when I'm not discussing the fact that they're airing shows about vomit).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

more Middleman

By the way, the television program Middleman continues to grow on me (it's a story about a "Middleman" and his female sidekick who work for a Men in Black type agency that fights to protect humanity from comic book type dangers and villains. For some reason it's shown on the ABC Family channel). The show is really funny and clever, and it gets away with shorthanding a lot of stuff, assuming that the viewers know the basic rules for, say, fighting zombies (you gotta destroy the brain) or vampires (stake through the heart, of course). I also have a small crush on the female lead, Natalie Morales, who plays the intrepid, but sarcastic Wendy Watson, aka Dub Dub (get it- two Ws for Wendy Watson?).
She's cute. She's cool. She makes me laugh.

Anyway, since the show is both clever and buried in a programming slot that puts it deep into the basic cable lineup, I predict that the show will have a short run before being cancelled. Catch it while you can.
Hey, guys. Well, my brother and I have booked flights to Florida for my grandmother's funeral. It looks like we'll fly out early on Thursday morning, go to the funeral in Belleview on Friday, and return to Austin on Saturday. It will be a fast trip, but this is the way of such things, I guess. My parents were supposed to fly out today for Florida, but last I heard my mother was having some airplane difficulties while trying to fly back from Michigan (she'd been up there visiting some old friends). Anyway, I'm really not sure where they are at the moment.
I'm sure that all of you guys are fascinated by this stuff.
Anyway, last night I didn't do much except try to organize travel plans and had a quick bite for dinner with Ryan and Jamie.
Bush has begun to ramp up his political pandering, calling for increased offshore domestic drilling and joining in Republican pressure to open the ANWR for drilling. I've said it before, and I'll say it again- increasing offshore drilling and drilling in our wildlife refuges is not an answer to high oil prices. At best it just allows our country to procrastinate on its energy problems, and at worst it exposes our wildlife areas and coastlines to potential enviromental catastrophe while only impacting the price of gasoline by a small amount (I've read as little as 4 or 5 cents a gallon reduction in prices, and even those results won't be seen for years). Leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Arnold Schwarzenegger have already stated similar positions (along with many other democrats and leaders from coastal states) and have voiced a determination to redouble efforts to find additional alternative fuels and other green energy sources in the coming years.
But I just love it when Bush pressures Congress to jump on the bandwagon with short term, ineffectual, politically expedient solutions without any sort of long term cost/benefit analysis. It certainly worked out well for us when he put pressure on Congress to go to war in Iraq.
Arrgh. I'm tired. And maybe a wee bit grumpy. Can't seem to find much that I want to blog about, so maybe I'd best just sign off for the time being.
Hope you guys are having a good day.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Goodbye, Grandma Ross

Well, the weekend had some highs and some lows. Friday Mandy grilled some great food for a few of us over at her place (thanks, Mandy! It was really good, and I especially loved the boudin!), and I saw Hellboy II with Ryan and Jamie. Saturday my dad came into town to come check out the progress of my parents' new house out in Steiner Ranch. I had a few meals with Teams Steans and Dad (aka, The Admiral), and Saturday night we all went and saw WALL-E. Dad stayed at my house Saturday night. On Sunday he got up, we went over and grabbed some breakfast at the Central Market Cafe before Dad left town. After Dad left I went to Barton Springs for awhile with Ryan and Jamie, and after that I had band practice with the Mono E.
All of that stuff was pretty good, and overall I had a nice weekend, but yesterday evening, right at the beginning of band practice I got a phone call from my mom letting me know that my grandmother had passed away out in Florida (this is Grandma Ross- she's on my dad's side of the family, but had remarried before I was even born, so her last name is Ross). She suffered a heart attack, which may or may not have arisen as a complication of her diabetes.
Grandma Ross was 84 years old, and she and my Grandfather Ross (who's actually my step grandfather, but has been my grandfather since I was born, so he's just my grandfather as far as I'm concerned) have been a part of my life since the time it began. They've stayed at our house for many Christmases and other holidays, and I remember visiting them out in Florida when I was a kid, near Miami.
Grandma loved World War II and post World War II era big band music (I remember the Lawrence Welk tapes in their big ol' car) and Everybody Loves Raymond, and she was always quick to collect on a hug and a kiss from us as we ran around the house as kids. She had many stories about Dad from when he was growing up, and if they were cute or funny enough to embarrass the Admiral just a bit, she enjoyed telling them that much more.
She was my grandmother, and I loved her and I'll miss her.
My heart especially goes out to Grandpa Ross, my Uncle Bob, and my dad, who lost their wife and their mother, respectively. Grandpa and Grandma Ross had many happy decades of marriage together, and I'm sure that this will be very hard on my grandfather. And my dad and uncle, of course, have lost the mother who raised them (and my uncle and my dad's character speaks volumes about the fact that Grandma Ross must have done a very good job as a mother- we're all the accumulation of our life's experiences, but perhaps no experiences mark us as indelibly and shape our personality as firmly as the formative experiences that we have as children). My dad is an amazingly good man who has served as a role model for me throughout my life, and Grandma Ross helped to shape him into the person that he is. So, aside from my own relationship with her, I'm grateful that she gave me my dad- and Uncle Bob (who's had an amazing life and career of his own, and who's no slouch, either. ;-)
Well, the arrangements aren't really solidified yet, but I'll be flying out to Florida this week for her funeral.
I love you and we'll miss you, Grandma, and I'll be thinking of Grandpa Ross, Uncle Bob, and Dad.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Ooops. Just now getting around to making a Friday post. Kinda too late. Hope you guys had a good Friday, and have a good weekend.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I didn't really want to talk about this during the hectic five minutes that I had to write a post at lunch today (plus, I wanted to include a photo, so I needed my home computer), but today marks the two year anniversary of Jeff's passing. For those of you who didn't know Jeff, he was one of my best friends and my neighbor. He was a fun person, a loyal friend, and he still enters my thoughts every day- we did a lot of stuff together, and his thoughts, opinions, and comments bubble up in my mind when dealing with everything from various food items, to movies, to music, to scotch tape (Jeff had a real problem with anything that was sticky. No, I never really understood it.)

At any rate, I just had to say that I'm thinking of Jeff, and I still miss him a lot. My thoughts are with Mandy and with Jeff's family, and of course, with Jeff.

Peace, Crackbass.

(here's a pic of Jeff in the Wilson's backyard near their pond)

Well, there wasn't much time for blogging today. Last night I had a fun dinner with Teams Steans, Heather, and Nicole. We went to Serrano's and ate Mexican food. It was good to see both Heather and Nicole. We don't get to see Heather that much since she's up in Lubbock during the school year, working at becoming a speech therapist, and we haven' seen as much of Nicole since she vacated her room at Steans Manor for her own, new little Hobbit Hole over on the east side.
Well, this is short and a little lame, but I'm pressed for time, and the length of some of my other blog entries this week should more than make up for the brevity of this one.
Hope ya'll are doing well.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Well, I promised everyone bunnies yesterday, so here you go...

Not only did I give you bunnies, but they're driving!! (although judging by the color of the car, they may be on their way to a pride parade)

Ooooookay. Now that I've gotten that out of the way....

I got nothin'. Went over to Ryan and Jamie's for dinner last night. Jamie made some kind of tasty rice shrimp thingy with a salad. We watched some new animated Batman movie called Gotham Knight. It was pretty interesting. Afterward Ryan went to Sonic and got us ice cream. (hooray for ice cream!)

And I guess there was some kind of bizarro shooting attack at the U.S. embassy in Turkey today. Three police officers and three of the armed gunmen were left dead after the gunfight in Istanbul. Apparently the attackers just pulled up in a white car and started shooting at police near a security checkpoint for the consulate.

How very strange (and, of course, tragic). Apparently there has been no claim as to any kind of group affiliation for the attackers, and the motives behind their full frontal assault on the embassy remain unclear. Guess we'll just have to see what the investigation turns up.

And Iran is test firing some fairly long range missiles (with a range of 2,000 kilometers- long enough to hit Israel from Iran). Of course, no one's too happy about Iran increasing its missile capacity, particularly at a time when it has also been known to be experimenting with nuclear energy (they claim it's for electricity production, but we suspect weapons). On the other hand, the Iranians are probably a bit nervous, themselves. The U.S. is in the middle of working on a missile defense shield (we made agreements this week with the Czech Republic to put in a new radar base toward this end), and apparently the Israelis continue to run war exercises with their jet fighters in the area, just to show any would-be enemies that they're good and ready for a fight.

I don't think anyone really wants the Iranians to have long range missiles, but on the other hand, it's becoming easier to see how the Iranians might have arrived at a mindset where they feel beseiged and beleaguered. Obama has proposed having an ongoing political dialogue with Iran, coupled with economic sanctions for any aggressive behavior on Iran's part (while, of course, leaving the door open for military action if any U.S. holdings or that of our allies come under attack).

I think that Obama has a sound strategy for this situation. Contrary to the opinions of some, I think that it's almost always in our best interest to try to keep the lines of communication open with other countries. I don't think this constitutes cowardice or appeasement. I think it's sound foreign policy. Just because we have honest, forthright communication with another nation doesn't mean that we have to give in to unreasonable demands or that we'll lose our resolve to do the right thing if our enemies go too far.

In court, every day I talk to defense attorneys who want me to give their clients less jail time or less probation or to dismiss their cases. Just because I talk to these people and hear them out certainly doesn't mean that I'm going to give them what they want. But sometimes I gain new information or a new understanding of a situation which opens the door for compromise, and even when this doesn't happen, I come to understand the way that the other side views their own case and the tack that they're going to take with their argument in court.
Other times I'm just left with the opportunity to explain to the other side exactly why I think they're terribly, completely wrong. And that can be sort of satisfying when they're being ridiculous.
So, anyway, Iran continues to be problematic. I'm not really clear on why we're making agreements with the Czechs to build bases for this missile defense shield when Israel seems to need the whole thing a lot more at the moment.

And Congress continues to feel pressure to do something about oil prices. It seems like the response that most of these leaders are slowly rallying around is increased drilling off of America's coastlines and opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to more drilling.

Personally, I think that turning to increased drilling in America's wilderness areas in order to fix our energy problems is as bad an idea as invading Iraq was back in 2002.

Last night I watched clips from 2006 on the Daily Show as Bush and McCain both described America's dependence upon oil as "an addiction" that needed to be treated (through alternative fuel sources and energy conservation). News clips from today, of course, show these same men pandering to our same oil-addicted nation with promises of an increased oil supply through increased domestic drilling. Of course, increased domestic drilling is a short term solution given how much oil is available in our domestic supply, but hey- that's the America that I know and love. Less is never an option. Let's go back to having multiple car families driving big, pointless SUVs and procrastinate on this problem until it becomes an emergency again in another couple of decades (while simultaneously pumping more and more carbon emissions into the atmosphere).

Americans are blaming the politicians and keep demanding a quick fix, but the truth is that we, as a population, have only ourselves to blame for our current dilemna. We've known for decades that our dependence on oil was eventually going to lead to problems (both in terms of supply and in terms of enviromental impact), but we've resisted ideas of conservation, failed to invest in alternative fuel technologies, and continued to squander the fuel supplies that we have. People have been shopping for cars for decades with hardly a thought towards fuel economy (I mean let's face it- the SUV/large vehicle trend of the last 15 years has been a move in exactly the wrong direction). Americans (outside of a few major metropolitan areas like New York and Chicago) basically shun public transportation and behave as though their single driver cars are the only way to get to and from work and school (of course, given the ridiculous state of public transportation in some areas, this is sometimes kind of close to the truth).

And oil prices are a global problem that isn't going to go away soon. Third world nations are adding cars to their roads at the rate of thousands of vehicles per day, and we've known about this increase and the accompanying impact, both in terms of oil supply and environmental damage, for decades. Demanding that our politicians "fix the oil problem" shows a certain amount of ignorance on the part of the American consumer, when large parts of the demand for oil are in other countries and completely outside of the control of American leaders.

It sounds to me like most credible experts say that it would take at least 4 or 5 years for us to see any result from an increase in domestic oil drilling, and even when we do finally see an increase in domestic production, the impact on the price of gas at the pumps would be likely to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 cents or less per gallon. I'm not sure that this sort of result is really worth risking damage to our coastlines and our wildlife refuges, and I'm really not sure it's a good idea to go using up what's left of American's domestic oil supply (believe it or not, times may eventually get much tougher than they are now, and it might be nice to know we have something in reserve).

Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is that Americans need to put less pressure on our politicians to come up with more oil and start refocusing their efforts on finding ways to conserve the oil that we already have (or finding new ways of using alternative energy).

This isn't going to be something that we can complain our way out of, ultimately, and it's going to take a nationwide effort to change our thinking, our habits, and our policies on energy consumption in order to overcome this obstacle.

That being said, I have faith that we can work our way through the energy crisis. We're Americans, after all, and we love a good challenge. But first we have to kick our addiction. And our politicians have to possess the courage to stop enabling the addicts.

Well, I didn't really write about bunnies today, but here's another picture of one, anyway. Light and peppy.... ; )

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Hey, guys. Hope ya'll are doing okay.
Not much to report.
Jennifer is going to Amsterdam today, on vacation with her family. I wanna go to Amsterdam.

So we've apparently managed to talk the Czechs into letting us build a radar base for our missile defense shield in their country, and now the Russians have piped up and said that they will feel compelled to resort to military action if an agreement for such a base is ratified and the base is deployed.
I don't really know how to feel about this. I'm not sure how badly we need a missile defense shield, or what the chances are that such a system would really work the way it's supposed to. On the other hand, a radar tracking base for a missile defense shield system doesn't exactly sound like the kind of thing that poses any kind of real offensive threat against the Russians (plus, of course, there's the fact that this is a military defense agreement between The Czech Republic and the U.S., two sovereign, allied nations, so it's really not up to the Russians to dictate whether or not this action is "acceptable").
Anyway, as I said before, I don't know much about this missile shield defense system, but it better be fairly necessary and work awfully well in order to justify the bad karma and ill will that it's stirring up.
What else....?
The number of people in Texas who are applying for a concealed handgun license is at an all time high, apparently. More guns, more guns.
Guns scare me. I had a friend in college who used to keep a loaded gun in the night stand next to his bed. Given the number of times that I went over to this guy's house late at night and found him intoxicated, combined with the number of times that I went over to this guy's house while intoxicated myself, banging on his door to get him to go out with us at one in the morning, it's sort of a small miracle that I never got shot in the head. Of course, it probably helped that I would yell things like, "Don't shoot me!" when banging on his door. I tried to get him to get rid of the gun a few times, but he was dead set on having it. Second amendment. Shoot the robbers. Shoot the government troops who are coming to round us up in the middle of the night. That sort of thing. I asked him if he was concerned about the possibility of inadvertently shooting a friend or about someone getting ahold of his gun at one of the many parties that he threw at his house, but he reassured me that he took precautions against those sorts of things. I'd seen his gun laying around, though, and I sort of doubted it.
And I don't want to freak anyone out, but there's at least one other reason guns make me nervous (besides the possibility of an accident or the possibility of accidentally shooting an innocent person). Shankar Vendantam touches on it in this Washington Post column. Quoting from his article, "There were 32,637 suicides in the country in 2005, the latest year for which statistics are available. That year, the collective homicidal mayhem caused by domestic abusers, violent criminals, gang fights, drug wars, break-ins, shootouts with cops, accidental gun discharges and cold, premeditated murder produced 18,538 deaths.
Even the risk of terrorism doesn't begin to come close to the risk of suicide.
Only a tiny fraction of the 400,000 suicide attempts that bring Americans into emergency rooms each year involve guns. But because guns are so lethal, 17,002 of all suicides in 2005 -- 52 percent -- involved people shooting themselves."
So there you have it. It's hard to broach the topic of suicide without having people immediately want to put you in therapy. I'm going to honestly tell you here and now that I've never given any kind of serious thought to killing myself.
But there have been times when I've been depressed. Very, very depressed (I know some of you know what I'm talking about- those times when it's just really hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel). And you know what? I'm fairly glad I didn't have a gun around during those times. I'm glad that there wasn't the knowledge in the back of my head that there was a weapon somewhere in my house that could make all of my despair go away in an instant.
Those times have been thankfully few and far between, but, nonetheless, they still outnumber the times when I was experiencing a home invasion and wished I had a gun in my possession in order to defend myself (an event which has thus far never occurred- knock on wood).
The reality is that we live in a society which is chock full of people walking around on anti-depressant medication and people who are in therapy for depression. Home invasions, on the other hand, are statistically very unlikely to occur while the residents of the house are actually at home (most burglaries occur while people are on vacation or at work, and sadly, most violent crimes are committed against people by acquaintances, family members, etc.).
I'm not saying that there will never come a time when someone who reads this blog may need a gun to defend themselves.
But I don't like guns.
I will always be of the opinion that they create many more problems than they solve.
I guess if someone breaks into my house I'm just going to have to reach for the baseball bat under my bed and hope for the best. But at least I know I'm not going to be looking to beat myself in the head with my bat if I start feeling blue.

Sorry if this post was a little depressing, but it's sort of hard to write about suicide while keeping it light and peppy. Maybe tomorrow I'll write about bunnies.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Jamie's Blog

I should have mentioned this sooner, but my sister-in-law, Jamie, has started her own blog. Her blog is called Troubles McSteans, which is the somewhat unfortunate combination of two nicknames she has carried with her for some time (Troubles because she's allegedly accident prone, and McSteans as a combination of her married name, Steans, and her maiden name, McBride). Jamie is the fairly mild-mannered, level headed member of the Team Steans equation, so it should be interesting to get her version of the events that unfold at Steans Manor. Jamie really is an extremely nice, fun person who is extremely patient and puts up with an amazing amount of nonsense without too much complaint. If you want to know more about who she is, what she stands for, and what she's up to, just check out her blog. Make sure to scan back to her first entry where she introduces herself if you want to hear a more autobiographical description of Jamie. I'm sure she does a better job than I do.
Also, I'm going to put a link to her blog in my "Hot Links" section so that you guys can easily find your way back there any time you want to see what she's up to.
Good luck with the blogging, Jamie! I hope you stick with it, and more importantly, I hope you find it entertaining! (or at least therapeutic)
Monday. Grrrrrrr....
The 4th of July weekend went pretty well. Saw the parents, hung out with friends, and had a pretty good band practice.
The Mono Ensemble was really clipping along last night. Our practice schedule has been a bit spotty lately, with people being out of town or busy or whatnot, so we hadn't played in a little while. It was really good to get back together and play with the band. Sometimes I underestimate our abilities, I think (probably because I just get so used to hearing us play), but having taken a step away for awhile and then coming back, I get a renewed appreciation for playing with the band. I mean, I've been playing some guitar by myself lately, but the difference between playing by myself versus playing with the Mono E is like the difference between driving a moped versus driving a sports car. There's just so much more power involved when we're playing as a band (well, our guitar amps alone, a Marshall, a Vox, and a Fender, respectively, are enough to shake the walls on my little house, and when you add the drums and the bass you're sure to be able to hear our practices from a block away).
Anyway, practice was fun. We haven't been out of the loop long enough to forget the songs, but we've been on break long enough that they felt a little more fresh when we played them last night.
What else? Friday night I watched fireworks with the family unit down at the Hyatt on Town Lake (no, I'm not going to start calling it Ladybird Lake- it's Town Lake, darn it). The fireworks were nice, and it was a beautiful summer night here in the ATX.
Saturday night I went to a party at Heather Shaw's house. There was music, food, drinks, and even some dancing (which I did not take part in). Thanks for inviting me, Heather!
Somewhere in there I went and saw Wanted. It was..... okay. Had some cool action sequences and a few sort of interesting ideas (e.g., the loom of fate), but it also had some pretty dumb dialogue, a kind of cliched plotline (Star Wars meets The Matrix), and some "plot twists" that seemed pretty obvious from the opening scenes in the movie. Also, we're once again asked to believe that an anorexic Angelina Jolie is some kind of world class martial artist/assassin badass who can beat the crap out of people three times her size. In reality, when I watch her on screen, she's so skinny that I'm always surprised her arms don't break when she punches someone. So Wanted was sort of entertaining, but I wouldn't exactly put it in the "must see" summer movie category.
And I apparently the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri Al-Maliki, has made statements today indicating that he would like to see some sort of timetable or a "memorandum of understanding" regarding the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. Maliki's statements at this point seem sort of hesitant and appear to be aimed more at opening a line of discussion rather than making demands, but things are going to get really interesting if the democratically elected, U.S.-supported prime minister of the "new" Iraq starts getting more vocal in his insistence upon seeing a timetable for American troop withdrawals. It's going to be difficult to maintain the argument that we'rea "peacekeeping force" rather than an "occupying army" if the very government that we're claiming to assist is demanding that we leave.
It didn't really sound like Maliki had specific grievances in mind when he mentioned his request for a withdrawal timetable, other than to say that terminating the presence of foreign governments on Iraqi soil was a necessary step in restoring the full sovereignty of Iraq as a nation. Reports indicate, however, that Maliki has been pressured by political and religious leaders within Iraq, including Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, to seek a U.S. troops withdrawal.

Anyway, I wonder if McCain's position on remaining in Iraq will change at all if the Iraqi governnment starts loudly demanding that the U.S. withdraw its troops. Its hard to claim to be liberators or peacekeepers when the people you say you're protecting keep telling everyone that they want you out of their cities. Of course, if McCain thinks Maliki is asking for troop withdrawal for the wrong reasons, he may simply ignore the request, but I would bet that such a course of action will still lead to further problems for the U.S. in Iraq (it's going to get really messy if we have not only insurgents to deal with, but "legitimate" political protests to our presence as well)
Annnnyway, that's all that I have for now.
Take it easy.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Happy Birthday, Sig!

Well, Kim and Sigmund are still in India, but they've got at least some limited internet access (I've gotten one email from them), so I want to go ahead and send Sigmund a birthday shout out and some well wishes. No reason he shouldn't still be able to absorb a good birthday vibe, even if he is halfway around the globe.
Sigmund is a good man, and more important than that, he's a fellow journeyman in our savante garde supergroup, Crack.
I look forward to Sigmund's return with his electrified sitar, a new cosmic awareness, and maybe, if we're lucky, some form of intestinal parasite (which Sigmund can name and raise as family).
Hope those Blooms are having fun and that Sigmund is raising a glass of... whatever they drink in India (Bombay gin, maybe?).... on his birthday! Many happy returns, Sigmund!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy 4th of July!

Hope everyone is having a good 4th! My parents are in town, so I'm hanging out with them along with Ryan, Jamie, Heather, and Cousin Sue. We just got done grilling some sausages and burgers, and I guess we'll go see some fireworks later.

Anyway, I'm doing this on Jamie's laptop, so I better keep it short, but I hope everyone has a fun, safe 4th!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Jeff's parents, Don and Jajuan, recently had this sign put up out near the intersection where Jeff was killed two years ago by an intoxicated driver(and where Kim and Sigmund and two other people were seriously hurt).
I really do hope that everyone has a good, safe holiday weekend, but please, please, please don't drive if you include drinking as part of your festivities this weekend. Just get a ride or call a cab or find a place to sleep wherever you're celebrating, but don't get behind the wheel if you've been drinking. And although it's even harder to do, keep in mind that other drivers may have been drinking, and be extra cautious on the roads over the holiday weekend.
Let's all just take care of each other and watch out for each other, and I wholeheartedly promise that it'll be possible to still have a really good time, but be safe while we're doing it. Jeff was one of the most fun-loving people that I know, and he loved a good party more than anyone, but he was also one of the most careful people that I knew when it came to drinking and driving. Anyway, he would want us all to have a good time, but at the same time, he would want us to be safe and not put each other at risk.
I miss you every day, Jeff.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Hi, guys!
Well, let's see.... I had dinner last night with Kate and Mandy over at Madam Mam's. It was good to see both of them. Camille is coming into town some time today to collect Mandy and whisk off to Kerrville to visit her parents this weekend. (I hope I'm not giving away details of your personal life, Mandy, but I just thought the Adventurers might like to know, in general, what you're up to) Kate has been working for a new branch office of her lawfirm down in Houston a lot lately, but it sounds like it's starting to wear her out a little bit (of course, when Kate has had free time here in town, she's been working up in her attic, I think on insulation or something, during one of the hottest Junes on record in Austin)
Anyhoo, nice to see Kate and Mandy, and the food at Madam Mam's seemed especially good last night. Maybe it's just because I haven't been there in awhile.

Cassidy is doing fine after her dental surgery yesterday. Somehow she had managed to shatter a tooth that had started to get kind of nasty, so it had to come out. She's got pain meds and antibiotics, and she's doing just fine now, though.

The Karebear and The Admiral are scheduled to come into town this weekend for the July 4th holiday and to check on the construction status of their new house out in Steiner Ranch. I'm sure they also want to visit their Austin friends.

And the U.S. is probably one step closer to war with Iran after issuing a general warning that the U.S. will not tolerate any act by Iran that blocks transport through the Straight of Hormuz, a passageway which 40% of the world's oil is shipped. Now I'm not here to say that we should roll over for Iran or let them bully the rest of the world by manipulating international oil supplies. On the other hand, if there's a sort of belligerent, insecure, angry kid in your class who already doesn't like you and who's made it clear that he's not going to put up with any aggressive behavior from you without getting into a fight (you know this kid- he's kind of a loser, but he's constantly worried about looking like a wuss in front of the other kids, so he's always trying to prove how tough he is), then is it really a good idea to go around issuing challenges and ultimatums to this kid in front of the entire class? Well, this kind of behavior seems to be a good idea in the eyes of the U.S. military. Here's the thing- I'm guessing that the Iranians already understand that the U.S. isn't going to roll over if they blockade the Straight of Hormuz, and, in fact, the Iranians aren't blocking that area right now and haven't really tried to do so in the recent past. Which leads to the question of exactly what the U.S. was trying to accomplish when it issued this warning to Iran in front of an international audience.
My answer is that such statements are simple provocation.
I think that the U.S. is frustrated with Iran over its support of militia groups in Iraq, and the U.S. military is sort of goading Iraq in front of the world community- issuing challenges and hoping to bait Iran into something that can be definitively labeled as a hostile act. And then we'll be off to the races on another Middle Eastern war.

Anyway, that's just the way that I see this thing. I'm not saying that we should put up with any actions by Iran that threaten international security, but let's not throw spitwads at the slow kid in the corner either, ok?

And in other news, actor Dennis Haysbert has been quoted as saying that his role on the TV show 24 may have helped to pave the way for Barack Obama's presidential campaign. A lot of people are going to find that comment laughable, but I bet that most of those people have never watched the show (or at least the first couple of seasons of the show, which strongly featured Haysbert).
Haysbert's character on 24, President David Palmer, was the first black president of the U.S., and Haysbert brought a very believable, presidential quality to the fictional leader. In the stress-filled, anxiety-ridden, disaster-around-every-corner world of 24, Haysbert's character was always a model of grace under pressure, making logical, calm, morally sound decisions in the face of terrorist attacks, assassination attempts, and other chaotic events. He presented a reassuring, inspiring face for the citizens of 24's fictional America, and Palmer consistently acted in the best interests of the American people, providing leadership that people could feel confident in during times of crisis. And it doesn't surprise me that Haysbert was convincing enough in his role to make viewers start to wonder a bit...
I don't think Haysbert single handedly gave Obama the nomination, but President Palmer was a well-loved character, and he presented the sort of president that we wish we could have in the real world, regardless of skin color. I think that seeing a black actor portray the president in this way just sort of fueled the imaginations of a whole lot of viewers and opened their minds to the possibility of what kind of president a black person might potentially be. Haysbert didn't necessarily make people specifically want to have a black president (and his fictional character certainly didn't change the minds of racists or people who actively resist the idea of seeing a black man in the White House), but he may have helped to make the possibility of a black president seem like a much more realistic, viable option for a lot of viewers. And 24 has been an extremely popular show, with millions and millions of people in its audience.

So that's all I've got for right now. Have a good one, and try to stay cool!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Well, nothing to report from last night. Hung out with Team Steans a bit.
Cassidy is having some dental surgery today to have a fractured tooth removed. Everyone wish her luck. (man, that dog really hates going to the vet)

And I normally don't blog a whole lot on the internal politics of African nations (I'm just lazy that way), but has anyone noticed what's going on in Zimbabwe? Apparently President Robert Mugabe may have lost a general election to an opposition party (the opposition party claim that they won the election outright, while Mugabe's party claimed the need for a runoof election), but instead of announcing the results and stepping down, Mugabe declared the need for a runoff election. At any rate, during this questionable runoff election, Mugabe's party proceeded to intimidate and threaten voters in order to get them to vote for Mugabe- while in the meantime, the opposition party leaders who had won the original election pulled out of the race, declaring the runoff a sham and stating that they refused to participate in an election that wasn't an honest part of a working democracy (they also seemed a little upset that members and supporters of their own party had suffered violence at the hands of the Mugabe regime).
Anyway, African leaders at the African Union summit in Egypt this week don't seem very happy with Mugabe (who showed up and acted as if nothing strange were going on), and I would bet that the U.N. isn't too happy with him, either. Given our apparent willingness to rush into other countries to defend their people whenever crimes against democracy occur, (which is what we're doing in Iraq, right President Bush?) shouldn't the U.S. be doing something to put a stop to this (or at least put some pressure on Mugabe to step down). I heard someone on NPR yesterday say that the U.S. might engage in some sort of trade sanctions against Zimbabwe (or something like that), but that always just seems to end with the people of the country getting starved out and deprived of a decent lifestyle while the rulers sort of carry on unscathed (e.g., North Korea or Iraq before our invasion).
Actually, I'm really not a big fan of the U.S. serving as the world police, but it just seems kind of ironic that these types of things are going on in the world and we pretty much let them go unanswered, while meanwhile the Bush administration keeps telling us that we're in Iraq to "protect democracy" and to "defend freedom". I bet that if the people of Zimbabwe can find some oil fields or other valuable natural resource under their soil that we can have some troops there right away to defend their democracy (incidentally, also according to NPR, there are mines for platinum and some other precious materials in Zimbabwe, but I think that British and European companies already have their hands on them- and they're just waiting for this election ruckus to die down so they can figure out who they need to cut their next deal with).

Man, I just erased a page long ramble about Barack Obama's proposal to continue federal support for faith based social welfare programs. My ramble was long and ponderous, and I had covered this stuff before (at least I think I had). Suffice it to say that I have concerns about the government giving money to churches (I think it may have First Amendment Establishment Clause problems), and I also have qualms about whether nonreligious people or people of different religious faiths are going to feel comfortable having to go down to their local Southern Baptist Church in order to get the free food and clothing that the government is helping to subsidize. But I understand that both Obama and the churches are trying to help, and that something needs to be done to help shore up the federal government's social services programs (I also think that incorporating religion into the mix makes welfare programs more palatable to the more right wing conservatives in the country).
Anyway, I'm sort of wary of the church/religion combo (remember when the founding fathers were as well? That whole business with getting run out of Europe because of religious persecution sure has a way of making people nervous about religious oppression), but we need the social services.
There. That's better. Shorter.