Friday, August 29, 2008

Hey, it's Friday, and we're on the cusp of a three day weekend! There was a guy in our local paper who pointed out that Labor Day was originally founded as a response to pressure by the labor unions (specifically, the Central Labor Union of New York City in 1882). There have been several blog posts on our paper's web site recently about how awful labor unions are, so this guy was advocating the idea that all of these anti-union people should demonstrate the strength of their viewpoint by just going to work on Monday, in spite of the holiday (I guess sending their children to work, giving up their insurance, and working 80+ hours a week without a pay raise would also show solidarity with the anti-union view).
Ooookay- in reality I understand that unions have suffered problems in terms of corruption and malfeasance, but I still think that they have a role to play in protecting the rights of workers and making sure that they are treated fairly. I'm not really into the idea of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and I don't believe that this is a case of a few bad apples spoiling the whole bunch. In fact, I really don't understand why so many people seem against unions these days, in an era of skyrocketing CEO salaries, international job outsourcing, benefit and salary reduction, etc.. I know there have been cases of union leadership getting out of control, but unions have also helped to secure a standard of living for middle class Americans in this country that probably would have never occurred without them. (I know you guys don't need to hear me spin yarns again of how my grandfather's union helped to pass lifesaving safety regulations in the iron ore mines and fought to get the miners decent wages and benefits...)
Anyway, all of this to say- enjoy your Labor Day! Labor Day is a celebration of American workers, and they're at the core of one of the most powerful economies in the world (even when we're in a slowdown, we're still an extraordinarily powerful force).

In other news, I watched Barack Obama's speech last night at the convention (transcript here), and I was pretty impressed. I thought he did a good job of better defining himself as a person, giving some concrete examples of plans that he wishes to implement, and pointing out many of the areas where things have wrong over the last eight years and where America needs rebuilding. Mostly, though, I was just impressed by Obama's ability to communicate directly, simply, and intelligently with his audience. He's clearly an articulate man of tremendous acumen, who's able to speak about issues in a clear language that just about everyone can understand.

While I have to admit that I've persistently had some reservations about Obama's level of experience, another part of me responds to the fact that he appears to be incredibly smart, level headed, and seems to have the poise and personality to make an incredibly effective leader. Maybe we don't want someone in office who has simply been worn down into conformity by 20 years inside the beltway. Maybe we want someone who has all of the raw tools (smarts, wisdom, personal presence, etc.) to carry out the job of president, but someone who's fresh and new enough to approach the job in a bit of a different way.

At any rate, I think Obama gave an excellent speech that most commentators would have to admit was impressive, even if they didn't agree with all of the content.

Huh. John McCain just picked his running mate, and it's Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska. That's really interesting. I don't know too much about her. I doubt that McCain picked her because she's a woman, but it's interesting that he picked a woman in the wake of Obama's decision not to include Hillary Clinton as a VP candidate on his ticket. Certainly makes the McCain ticket more interesting, anyway (although, frankly, there are some conservative women out there who make Karl Rove and George W. look like peace-loving hippies- Anne Coulter, I'm looking in your direction). I'm going to have to learn more about Palin...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Hope all of you kids have a kid day."
I don't quote myself too often, but somehow, accidentally, I wrote this as my closing sentence yesterday, and in retrospect, it's sort of interesting. I probably meant to say have a good day, but "have a kid day" is something a little different, isn't it? But maybe I should be advocating "kid days" every once in awhile- just kind of living spontaneously and whimsically for an entire day and taking part in whatever activity strikes your fancy, without planning or premeditated intention. Come to think of it, kid days are the kind of thing that I often have when I wake up on a Saturday without plans and end up down at the spillover with Cassidy. It may not sound like the most productive way to spend your time, but its hard to argue with the wind in your face, the sun on your shoulders, cold water on your feet, and the wagging tail of a happy dog at your side. And the fellow Austinites that I interact with down on the creek are a good lot as well.

Not too much to report on. I played a lot of Grand Theft Auto last night because I'm trying to finish it out. Also watched the Democratic Convention and a wee bit of Ghosthunters. Ghosthunters always sucks me in. I don't really believe in ghosts, but I really want to see one, anyway (and I know people, trustworthy people, who swear that they've seen things). The lady who sold me my house, The Hop-a-Long Lodge, told me that my house might be "a little haunted" when I went to close on it. With real estate agents sitting all around us, paperwork covering the conference table, and a chuckling Jeff Wilson sitting at my side (my own, low rent real estate agent), the prior homoeowner, Kari, told me that her grandmother used to live in my house and had passed away there. Since that time, Kari claimed, she and her daughter had periodically heard the sound of slow-moving, grandmotherly footsteps and occasional whispers coming from empty rooms. She promised, however, that she would take grandma with her when she moved out, and I guess she did, because I haven't heard or seen any sign of anything since moving into the house. Oh well. Probably all for the best. I would hate to think that Cassidy and I were disturbing some poor old woman with our loud music and tomfoolery.

I went and had a nice post-birthday lunch today with Team Bloom (Kim's birthday) and Jennifer at Enoteca. It was good, but I ate too much.

One final note. I didn't watch all of the convention last night, but I did see Bill Clinton speak. Bill has his strong points and weak points, but, man, is he ever good at giving speeches. He just seems absolutely at ease in front of large audiences, and he has the gift of a natural orator (his cadence and rhythm just kind of build as he goes along, and he has a knack for developing devastating arguments and for conveying inspirational ideals). Anyway, there's absolutely no comparison between the intelligence and leadership skills that were on display last night versus the bumbling incompetence that we've been presented with for the last 8 years. Hearing Bill Clinton speak was just a refreshing reminder of how different things can and should be. For those of you who didn't hear any of what he had to say, you can check out a transcript here.
In the last eight years, wages have declined, job growth has declined, pension and health care benefits have been cut, poverty is one the rise, and America's income disparity has grown at a rate that hasn't been seen since the 1920's.
To quote Bill, "[The Republicans] have taken us from record surpluses to an exploding national debt; from over 22 million new jobs down to 5 million; from an increase in working family incomes of $7,500 to a decline of more than $2,000; from almost 8 million Americans moving out of poverty to more than 5 1/2 million falling into poverty — and millions more losing their health insurance... Our position in the world has been weakened by too much unilateralism and too little cooperation; a perilous dependence on imported oil; a refusal to lead on global warming; a growing indebtedness and a dependence on foreign lenders; a severely burdened military; a backsliding on global nonproliferation and arms control agreements; and a failure to consistently use the power of diplomacy, from the Middle East to Africa to Latin America to Central and Eastern Europe."
How many of these issues are not the kind of things that Republicans would necessarily refute, but which they don't even really care about?
We really, really need a change.
Anyway, as I said at lunch today, I'm still very worried. Sometimes it just doesn't seem like there are enough voting Democrats in this country to beat the Republicans without the intervention of a third party candidate. I'm not sure.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Not too much going on. Jamie made a big ol' chef salad last night for Ryan and me (and her, of course). I have to admit that I was initially skeptical about the idea of salad for dinner, but it ended up being really good. Thanks, Jamie!

Over the last couple of days I watched a couple of movies.

One was Redacted, which was a Brian De Palma movie about the Iraq War. Frankly, it kind of sucked. It's not that the movie was against the Iraq War (that doesn't bother me, because I'm against it, too). It was just a lame movie with a stale plot that we've seen a thousand times before (although usually in the context of Vietnam War movies). The soldiers depicted in the movie are pretty much walking stereotypes, and you can sense the American atrocities coming from early on in the film (when these soldiers have their first, predictable argument about the value of Iraqi life). Anyway, the movie had no real insight and wasn't particularly interesting or compelling. It didn't even really make for a very good anti-war movie, because it tries to justify an entire anti-war stance by pointing to the crimes committed by one particular group of rogue soldiers who are involved in one isolated incident (which is sort of like saying that we shouldn't have a police force because every once in awhile you get some bad cops). I'm not saying there aren't good arguments for why we shouldn't be in Iraq (the facts that we went to war under false pretenses and that we're helping to breed a new generation of insurgents come to mind)- I'm just saying that these arguments don't appear in this movie.
Anyhoo, mediocre writing and acting and a predictable, rehashed storyline. Skip Redacted.

Last night I also watched a movie called The Last Winter. It starred Ron Perlman, and it was about a group of people working in some kind of arctic, Alaskan outpost, trying to put in ice roads and conduct survey missions for an oil company who wants to drill out on the tundra. Tensions rise between the oil company's faithful employees and some independent enviromental inspectors who are monitoring the project. Strange weather phenomena begin to occur, people begin to go kind of crazy, and there are even fears that something may be trying to strike back against the exploration team for violating the wilderness that they find themselves in.
It's a strange movie. It has genuinely creepy/scary moments, but the movie manages to build a kind of ominous sense of dread without ever really letting you know what you're afraid of. Then there's a whole, "can't be sure what's real and what's happening in the character's heads" type of thing.
I'm not sure how I felt about the movie. On the up side, there is a specific wendigo reference (hell, there may even be a wendigo appearance- I'm not really sure), so people like Palka should be happy about that.
Anyway, the whole thing is clearly meant to be a cautionary tale about the environment and about nature's power and wrath. I guess it's at least some kind of accomplishment to turn an environmentalist message into a horror movie (I guess).
Anyhoo, The Last Winter was a pretty unique film, so I guess I'm glad I saw it.

On a final note, I watched Hillary Clinton's speech at the Democratic Convention last night. I thought she gave a good speech, and took care of some of the things that needed to be done. In particular, she pointed out that it didn't make sense for people to support her and then to vote for McCain or to abstain from voting just because she isn't the Democratic candidate. She pointed out that Obama shares almost of her policy views, and that he wants to work for most of the same changes that she was seeking to bring about (more universal healthcare, a better energy plan, an end to the Iraq War, and an economy that offers more support for middle and working class families). In the end, she said that the people who were supporting her were actually supporting all of the people who might be helped by her policies, and that to abandon the Democratic Party now would mean abandoning the people that she intended to help.
I think she gave a good speech, and although I'm sure the pain of losing the primary hasn't entirely subsided, I think she was sincere when she told her supporters that Obama was their best and only choice if they wanted to see real change.
If nothing else, I think the strength of Clinton's speech left a lot of people wondering whether Obama hadn't picked the wrong person for his running mate (nothing against Biden, per se, but Hillary really got the crowd fired up last night).
Oh well- I'm sure Hillary Clinton will continue to be one of the most prominent Democrats in the Senate for many years to come, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if she ran for president again the next time she got the chance.

Well, I gotta run. Hope all of you kids have a kid day.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Happy birthday Kim Bloom! (and other stuff)

I'm pretty sure it's Kim Bloom's birthday today (I'm not the best with dates), soooooo.....

Happy Birthday Kim Bloom! Kim's a good friend with a good sense of humor, pretty good taste in movies, and a good sense of rhythm (no seriously- you guys should hear her rap). Anyway, she's been a firend for years, buth inside and outside of the courthouse, and especially in the work world she's been a confidant, ally, mentor, and general protector of my sanity for years. Outside of work, she's fun to watch movies, listen to music, and have cocktails with. She also has a name that's fun to say- just two quick syllables.

Anyway, many happy returns, Kim Bloom!!

A couple of quick reviews-

Death Race. Yes, I saw Death Race. Those of you who know me well won't really be all that surprised. I'm kind of the fan of the original, Death Race 2000, which was starred Sylvester Stallone and David Carradine. The first one sorta fell into that "so bad it's good" category, and I guess I kind of felt the same way about this one. I mean, the dialogue is pretty bad, and the plotline is pretty much summed up in the title, but the movie has lots of cool death race scenes with lots of cool fighting, racing, and general mayhem. I mean, make no mistake about it- this is a dumb movie. But it's also sort of an entertaining one if you're in the right mood for it. But you have to like fast cars, gunfights, and watching stuff blow up.

One fascinating thing about Death Race was that I saw it during the middle of the day, and there were a number of families in attendance who had brought their four and five year old kids to see Death Race. I mean, this is a movie that's pretty much promising you that it's going to be filled with violence and gore, and you're bringing your young children to it? More to the point, I feel sort of guilty and stupid in seeing this stuff as an adult, but at least I'm old enough to recognize it as laughable bullsh*t rather than soaking it in as nightmare fuel. You really should be required to have some kind of license before you're allowed to be a parent....
There was a certain amount of irony involved since the movie kind of satirically pokes fun at the American TV audience, proceeding the upon the premise that only the bloodthirsty American viewing audience really makes the events in Death Race possible (in the movie, people pay for a pay per view subscription service in order to watch the actual Death Race, but the whole thing suddenly seems frighteningly more plausible when you see people dragging their four year olds into the movie theater to watch the carnage).

My other short review was of the My Morning Jacket show from Sunday night. The show was good. The band didn't have an opener, and they played a set that was probably over 2 and a half hours long. My Morning Jacket just kind of do their own thing. They're sort of middle of the road musicans- talented enough to keep things interesting, but not really in danger of moving into the virtuoso category. They write good songs with catchy tunes and strong melodies, and they'll use any means at their disposal to convey the emotion that a given song is trying to capture (including everything from guitar effects, vocal reverb, and drum loops to hypnotic, repeating arpeggios, falsetto vocals, and growls). They're just kind of willing to do throw whatever tricks at a song that they need to in order to make it work, and their unerlying melodies are typically easy to enjoy. (photo from 8/24 Stubb's show off MMJ web site)

Their lyrics range from almost childishly simple musings to more profound insights, but they do a good job of matching the lyrics to the tone of their melodies.

Anyway, in the end, the My Morning Jacket show was good. It was hot out at Stubb's on Sunday night and crowded (they need to make that place bigger or let in less people) and it seemed like an awful lot of the UT Greek scene was packed into the amphitheater, babbling away and getting drunk like they were at a mixer (I'm pretty sure that some of the people I saw there never heard a note of the music), but it was still a good show. The guys from My Morning Jacket showed up focused and on a mission to put on a good, solid rock and roll show for almost three hours. I think they succeeded. Say what you want about the drum machines, effects, and cathedral reverb, it's clear that the guys in MMJ love to play their music, and they put forth a good, honest, sincere, high energy show that many other bands would do well to emulate (it was cool to see them play a longer show with no opening band and to carry the whole thing off with such a high level of energy throughout the performance).

So..... good show.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Well, the weekend was pretty good, although it went by pretty quickly. Among the highlights: a farewell dinner at Suzi's Chinese restaurant with Heather Wagner before she returns to Lubbock to finish her final year of speech pathology school, a trip down to Barton Creek with Cassidy for some swimming and playing around, a trip to Austin Books with Roundball, and the My Morning Jacket concert last night at Stubb's (Mandy, Sig, and Greg in attendance).

And so Obama has picked Joe Biden as his vic presidential running mate. I think Joe Biden is a good guy and a strong leader with lots of experience both in beltway politics and in dealing with foreign affairs issues (areas where Obama has been criticized as lacking), but to be honest, I really don't know that much about the guy. When I've seen him speak, he's always seemed to be pretty intelligent, level headed, and articulate. He also seems pretty comfortable on the attack, which is something Obama doesn't really seem very comfortable with.
I still have a few misgivings about not giving Clinton the nomination, to be honest. I've been supporting Obama all along, but I think the sheer number of Hillary Clinton supporters and their extremely high level of dedication should have been something that was not only recognized but appreciated by Obama. I know that there's been some bad blood between Obama and the Clintons, but it would have shown a tremendous strength of character and a willingness to go to great lengths in order to meet the needs of the people if Obama could have overlooked some of his personal feelings and picked Clinton as a running mate. (Plus, I just think it would have been the best way to unify the party and to help insure a Democrat victory in November-as things stand now I think this thing is very much up for grabs. No matter how much the Democrats crow about unity during the convention, I think there are Clinton supporters out there who just aren't going to vote for Barack. As a matter of fact, I know a few of them. I think that for these people, Obama's refusal to seriously consider Clinton as a running mate probably seems to show an unattractive amount of vanity)
On the other hand, Clinton's attacks on Obama during the primary are now being used as centerpieces for Republican attack ads, so one might see how Obama might not feel that Clinton is his best choice for a running mate. It's kind of hard to put someone on the podium beside you and claim that they support you 100% when that person previously told the entire country that you didn't have the chops for the job. (you'd be setting your VP up for the whole, "Were you lying then or are you lying now?" line of questions)
Anyway, I think Biden's a good man, and I think he will do a good job, but I think a Clinton nomination would have been good for the Democratic party. I'm not sure that a week long pep rally in Denver is going to cure all of the hurt that was caused during the primary.
That being said, hopefully Clinton's supporters can set aside emotion and look at this race rationally. Clinton and Obama always did agree on the vast majority of their policy positions. Their debates oftentime left them repeating that they supported the same positions as each other, with minor details and nuances of their plans often providing only minor points of contention (to a certain extent, I think this is why the primary got sort of ugly- without major policy differences to differentiate themselves, Clinton and Obama turned to attacks on the judgment, experience, and character of the other). If you lay Clinton and Obama's policy positions side by side and compare them, however, they really have very similar beliefs and want to work for the same things. Which would make it a tremendous shame if Obama lost the votes of Clinton supporters because of a personality conflict (because there really are very significant differences between McCain and Obama in many areas).

Anyway, I'm not feeling great today, so I'm going to sign off. Hope you guys had a good weekend.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Hi! How is everyone?
You know, when last week's Newsweek magazine arrived at my doorstep, and I saw that the cover article was entitled, "What Bush Got Right", I think I literally groaned out loud.
"Here it comes," I thought, "The revisionist history written by conservative Bush apologists who are going to try to make it seem like Bush was a misunderstood genius in his own time."
But then I noticed that the article relating to the headline was written by Fareed Zakaria, and my interest was piqued a little. Zakaria does a lot of foreign affairs reporting and analysis for Newsweek, PBS, and CNN, and I've found him to be a writer who has a tremendous knowledge and understanding of foreign cultures and their attitudes towards the U.S. as well as a pretty keen insight as to how America's constantly changing role in the world community impacts other countries.
Anyway, when Zakaria said Bush had gotten some things right, I have to admit that my curiosity was aroused.
And the article, as it turns out, was pretty good. Zakaria went ahead and pointed out that Bush has made a number of very serious gaffes in terms of foreign policy and in terms of protecting America's status as a respected leader among nations (the Iraq War, the manner in which the Iraqi people were initially dealt with during the occupation of Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, the roll back of civil liberties for both American citizens and "enemy combatants", his policy of isolating hostile nations and refusing to engage in dialogue with them, etc.). Zakaria also pointed out, however, that Bush's policies have changed and evolved over time. Bush started his presidency with an apparent determination to try to tear down or reverse almost every policy that Bill Clinton had laid down before him (which resulted in a full fledged invasion of Iraq instead of missile or air strikes and economic sanctions, a termination of relations with North Korea after labelling them as part of "the Axis of Evil", etc.). As his presidency progressed, however, Zakaria noted that Bush had begun to take on a more pragmatic tone. North Korea has been taken off the list as an Axis of Evil and political discussions have resumed with that country, hearings are now being held for detainees at Guantanamo (perhaps of questionable legal value, but at least some progress has been made), we've made attempts at keeping some sort of discourse going with Iran, and now, today, U.S. and Iraqi negotiators are saying they have reached a tentative agreement that would have American troops out of Iraq by 2012. This seems to be quite a policy shift from earlier assertions by the Bush White House that the setting of any timetable for withdrawal would only "lend aid and comfort to the enemy" by letting them know how long they had to sustain themselves before they could make a move to regain control of the country.
Overall, the U.S. seems to have shifted away from its unilateral, "go it alone" approach and moved toward a policy that involves more unilateralism and engagement with both allies and hostile (or semi-hostile) nations (some of this may arise from a more pronounced role for Condoleeza Rice as Secretary of State and less of an emphasis on Vice President Cheneyas a foreign affairs policy advisor).
Zakaria's point (and I'm not just inferring this- he lays this out pretty specifically) is that as hard-headed (and oftentimes foolhardy) as Bush was during the first half of his presidency, he has learned some things in terms of what kind of policies are actually effective and produce results when dealing with other nations. It would be a shame for our next president to go in and tear down all of Bush's current foreign affairs policies (some of which have been gained through hard-earned experience) without closely examining them to see which ones might actually be working (after all, this is the mistake that Bush made when he entered the White House determined to tear down all of Clinton's policies).

Anyhoo, I just saw that headline this morning about setting a timetable for troop withdrawal, and it reminded me of Zakaria's article and his argument that Bush has actually been learning from his mistakes and making progress in terms of becoming a more effective president. Maybe the guy would have gotten the job figured out if we gave him 3 or 4 more terms (oh my lord, that sentence made me shudder even as I wrote it).

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Happy birthday, Dad!

Sooooo..... I wanted to send a happy birthday shout out to my dad! I hope he's having a good day, and that things run smoothly for him today in bean counting world.
My mom and dad are in the process of building a house out in Steiner Ranch with the intention of moving here in a few years after Dad retires from his career of financial ninjitsu. Anyway, as the house has gone up we've been seeing more of Mom and Dad, and it's been nice. It'll be good to have them in town when they finally make the transition.
Anyway, many happy returns to The Admiral! It sounds like I'll be seeing them over Labor Day weekend, so we'll do some more celebrating then, Dad...

For people who don't check the comments section of my blog, my friend Dr. Kevin "The Pope" Palka informs us that he was listening to a Nashville sports talk radio show this morning and heard none other than Crack's Sigmund Bloom talking about football on the radio. Congrats to Sig on spreading his football wushu across the air waves! You Adventurers keep your ears open for Sigmund on your sports-related talk radio. He's everywhere and yet nowhere.

And there was a good op-ed piece on the CNN page today from James Carville (whom I am a tremendous fan of). Carville lent some unsolicited advice to Obama, but I think Obama would be wise to take note of it. One of the most important things I think Carville points out is that Obama needs to get angry. Well, Carville uses the word angry, but maybe that's not the best way to put it. Obama needs to convey an intensity and a sense of urgency to the American people. It may be true that Americans are getting tired of partisan, divisive politics, but at the same time, Americans are facing serious, large-scale problems, and they need to get a sense from their leader that he understands how important these issues are to American households, that he has feasible, effective plans for dealing with these problems, and that he really believes that his plans are much better for the country than more of the same broken policies that the Bush administration has left us with. Obama needs to express a sense of outrage beyond beyond defensiveness about his patriotism or character- he needs to understand and respond to the sense of outrage that Americans feel in regard to a government which has gotten them into a pointless, costly, endless war, created an economic downturn which threatens to substantially harm our standard of living, caused long term damage to our country's reputation and stature within the world community, repealed our civil liberties, damaged our environment, etc.
Obama needs to remind people of exactly how much damage has been done over the last eight years and how angry we all used to be about these things before we got numb. He needs to remind people that although McCain may not cause as much damage as George Bush did during his presidency, he really won't fix things, either, and right now America desparately needs someone in office who will work to bring about real change- get the economy going, get us out of Iraq, restore some American credibility on the world stage, etc..
Carville drives his point home with an attempt to bring out some facts from a book called Unequal Democracy by Larry Bartels- facts that can cut through all of the spin, sophistry, and bullsh*t:
"... since 1900, Democratic presidents have not only "won" but dominated on every economic front: GDP growth, employment, deficit and income equality. Need more? How about a better performing stock market and a more fiscally-responsible spending?" Carville reminds us that, " There's no need to listen to McCain's marginal rates, death tax, deregulation, trickle-down, supply-side shenanigans because historically Democratic presidencies have produced better economies."
Anyway, I've always admired James Carville for his passion, dedication, and his fighting spirit. I know there are some who just see him as a liberal spindoctor, but I disagree. Carville supports his arguments with facts, and whenever possible he tries to seek out nonpartisan or bipartisan sources. He's an incredibly intelligent guy, with a wealth of knowledge regarding various policy positions at his command. He's not afraid of a fight, and he's willing to stand toe to toe with conservative pundits and knock them out in point by point arguments. Frankly, the Democrats need many more people like him- people who don't think they're above the nitty gritty of political argument and who don't mind taking on the task of tearing down the illusions, exaggerations, and outright lies of conservative mouthpieces. The Democrats need more people who relish confrontation rather than fearing it, and they need people who are smart enough to understand the facts behind various policy positions and able to explain them in language that voters can easily understand.
Anyway, Obama probably ought to be listening to Carville as often as the man is willing to lend him advice. I would.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Well, not much to report. I had a nice dinner at Hyde Park last night with Don, Mandy, and Braxton. It was good to see them, and I was really happy to be invited.

Not much else. I've been feeling allergies or a cold or something coming on, so I went to bed kinda early last night.

What else? I just want to say that in terms of my political postings, and my postings about Russia and whatnot- I know I probably come across as some kind of self righteous blowhard when I write about some of that stuff, and sometimes I take a step back and ask myself what right I have to even comment on all of this public policy and foreign affairs stuff at all (I'm certainly not delusional enough to think I'm any kind of expert).
I guess I just write about these things, in the end, because I'm interested in them and because I enjoy discussion about the things that are going on in the world, even when they may not be happening right at my doorstep. I expect people to read the things that I write and to take them with a grain of salt and to know that they're just one person's opinion.
At the same time, I think part of the power of the internet is the way that it can connect people and help ideas to spread.
Another thing that keeps me writing about these things is that I think it's cool that we can apparently get Russians to weigh in on debates about things going on in Georgia, half a world away. I think it's cool that we, as private citizens, can discuss foreign policy with each other instead of just letting our leaders do all of the talking for us. Wouldn't it be crazy if one day the leaders of our countries tried to start a war, but the people refused to fight because they had already made too many friends with people on the "opposing side"?
I know, I know. I'm just a crazy hippie.
I understand that different countries have competing interests, but the more that we talk things out and get to know each other, maybe the more we'll realize that we're more alike than we thought, and the more we'll want to find mutually beneficial solutions rather than trying to blow each other up. Granted, it's a simple concept, but that doesn't make it wrong.
Given the many awful technological advances that we've made in finding ways to destroy each other, I think it's more important now than ever that we find ways to avoid going to war. But it all starts with making peace a primary goal. We need to see the pursuit of peace as a goal that deserves dedication, resolute willpower, and the ferocious support of the people on a global scale.
But once again, just crazy hippie talk.
Still, if crazy hippie talk is one of the best ways to avoid dead bodies and bombed out landscapes, then somebody help me find my Grateful Dead tapes...

In other news, LeRoi Moore, the saxophonist for the Dave Matthews Band, has passed away after developing complications from injuries that he suffered during an ATV accident. Moore was one of the founding members of the Dave Matthews Band, and he was a really good musician.
I haven't listened to as much of the DMB lately as I once did (like a lot of other people, I think I just got a little burned out on them because of overexposure on radio and television), but they really are one of the more musically talented pop musical groups out there, with members who are truly professional musicians- able to perform jazz, funk, etc. in addition to more mainstream rock (I've been playing guitar and bass since I was about 15 or 16, and the music of the DMB is still pretty difficult stuff to learn).
Anyway, it's sad to hear about a good musician passing away early in his life like that. Props to LeRoi Moore for being one of the guys who tried to include talented musicianship as a fundamental ingredient in modern rock/alternative music. Pop music needs more instrumentalists with that kind of focus. Via con dios, LeRoi.

And the U.S. just signed a deal with Poland to put a missile defense shield into that country. I guess that on one level this is an achievement, but on another, perhpas more pragmatic level, I wonder if the costs are worth it. For starters, the Russians aren't at all happy about this. They don't like America messing with the state of the nuclear arms race and trying to change the balance of power by creating this deterrent system. They also see this "defense shield" as but a first step in the U.S. placing missile systems within Poland. So the Russians essentially see this Polish missile shield as a sort of act of aggression, or an attempt to change the balance of power by the United States. In response, the Russians have threatened to invade Poland. So at the very least, this missile shield is putting additional strain on our already frayed relations with the Russians.
In addition, one of the pundits that I heard on CNN this morning was saying that the missile shield technology really isn't prefected yet, and it really wouldn't do too much to stop Russian missiles if they were to launch any kind of serious attack.
So I'm not sure what the missile shield gets us in Poland. I guess that we'll now have permission to have this system in Poland, and we can keep working on improving the technology once the system is in place (because if the shield really did a great job of stopping missiles, that would tend to weigh more heavily in favor of the whole endeavor).
Once again, going back to my crazy hippie theme, it would seem to me that the best way to shield us from Russian missiles would be to try to stay on positive terms with the Russians. I know this is more easily said than done, but there's gotta be a way. Maybe we can bribe them. We've got all these SUVs over here that no one is interested in driving anymore...

Whatever. Way too much babbling. Hope you guys are having a good one.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hey. Happy Tuesday.
Last night I went to the Alamo with some friends and saw Tropic Thunder. Pretty funny, although also pretty violent. That's two movies like that this week, if you count Pineapple Express. Then again, Pineapple Express was sort of a spoof on a buddy movie/crime pic, and Tropic Thunder was a spoof of an epic war movie, so the violence had its place, and neither film seemed to expect its audience to take the violence very seriously. Its just a little strange to go see a comedy where people are getting shot and/or blown up. Americans desensitized to violence? Nah....
Anyway, I enjoyed both Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder, although I probably laughed a little harder during Tropic Thunder. Don't want to give too much away.
What else?

Not much, I guess. NATO is saying that Russia isn't living up to the terms of its cease-fire agreement, but Russia is making counter allegations that the Georgians aren't holding up their end, either. Can't we get some kind of international peacekeeping force in there? I don't get it. Anyway, as I've said before (in the comments section, if not in the posts), it seems less and less likely to me that the Russians are only interested in the safety of the South Ossetians. Of course, in feelings which are undoubtedly echoed by much of the international community, at least one pro-Russian commenter on my blog has pointed out that the Russians had at least as much right to invade Georgia as the U.S. had in invading Iraq. Arrrggghhh!!! We might as well get used to having that thrown in our faces. ( I sort of wonder if that wasn't the first thing out of Putin's mouth when Bush spoke with him at the Olympics)
Incidentally, I also want to point out that I'm not anti-Russia or anything like that. I hope to visit Russia some day. I even have a good deal of respect for Putin, and I believe that he thoroughly believes that he's acting in the best interest of his country. All of that being said, I really do think that we all need to stand up to our leaders and demand that our militaries be used only for defensive purposes and not for aggression. This includes seeing through flimsy excuses in which our leaders launch aggressive strikes and then try to label them as defensive (i.e., the "weapons of mass destruction" argument or claims that you're protecting your fellow Russians right before steamrolling over an entire country). We deserve leadership which works toward a stable, secure world, not leadership which undermines stability by initiating conflict.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hey, guys! Hope everyone had a good weekend. Mine was pretty good. We had a good Crack practice on Friday night. Sigmund brought over the sitar that he bought on his India trip, so I hooked up the pickup that I used for my banjo on it, and we jammed some sitar rock.We had some moments at Crack practice that got really strange, even by Crack standards, and the whole musical superstructure would teeter on the brink of chaotic disaster. Once or twice we crashed and burned, but you have to expect these things when you're trying to fit things together that don't necessarily want anything to do with each other.
Saturday I went and saw Pineapple Express with Team Steans and Griego (pretty good, but not superawesome). After the movie we didn't do much. Hung out with Griego, watched the Olympics and some other random TV stuff, played some XBox. Sunday morning I got up and went and had brunch with my folks over at The Iron Cactus. I really have always thought of the Iron Cactus as a bar and had pretty much forgotten that they even had food, but the brunch was really surprisingly good (we had tried to go to the brunch at Moonshine, but there was about a 45 minute wait. Well, I've eaten the brunch at Moonshine before, and it's good, but the brunch at the Iron Cactus was probably just as good, and the place was only half full, and only a couple of blocks away from Moonshine). Anyway, good to see Mom and Dad and good food as well. Sunday evening I had Mono Ensemble rehearsal and rocked out pretty hard with those guys (All five of us were there. Eric played exclusively keyboard, which is cool because it changes the sound of a lot of our songs, and we did some improvising, jamming on different melodies and themes, which was really cool. Not to say we're on the same level, but there were some Medeski, Martin, and Wood-ish moments in there).
I also worked on my banjo playing this weekend. I think I have a lot of the chords down at this point, but I still have a long way to go in terms of finger picking technique. Anyway, still working on the banjo.
And just as things are finally beginning to look like they're settling down in Georgia (or maybe not), it looks like Pakistan is doing its own part to destablize world democracy. Pervez Musharraf is stepping down from his role as Pakistan's president. Musharraf may have some shady stuff in his past (i.e, coming to power through a bloodless coup, the happenstance assassination of one of his political rivals at what may have been the height of her political power, etc.), but he was fairly predicatable, and he always seemed willing to lend cooperation (or at least the appearance of cooperation) to the United States as it waged its "war on terror" against Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other hardline Muslim fundamentalist groups that enjoyed quite a bit of sympathy within Musharraf's Pakistan (meaning, given the feelings of his consitituency, it wasn't always politically expedient, at least in the short term, for Musharraf to ally himself with the United States, but he has remained a relatively faithful ally of the U.S., nonetheless). Anyway, Musharraf may have had some faults, but apparently American leadership has felt fairly secure with Musharraf at the helm in Pakistan for a number of years (which means quite a bit when you're talking about a country that has its own nuclear weapons stockpile as well as elements of some hostile terrorist groups running around within its borders). I'm guessing that in some ways we should all be sort of sorry to see Musharraf go.
What else? Well, I probably screwed up by not getting tickets to go see David Byrne at the Paramount on the Thursday night before ACL Fest. It'll probably be a good show, but I just didn't think it would sell out so quickly. Anyone who has some tickets to it that they want to unload can feel free to drop me an email or a comment or something.
Well, I guess that's it for now.

Friday, August 15, 2008

N0t much time for blogging today. Hope everyone is looking forward to their weekends. I know that I am. Hoping to do some solid rocking this weekend with Crack and Mono E.

Maybe more later if I have any time.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Well, it sounds like the Russians aren't exactly backing down. On Wednesday President Bush made statements demanding that "the sovereign and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected," but today the Russians fired back with defiant statements, declaring that they are dedicated to supporting the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetian in their quest for independence. So it sounds to me like the Russians might be camped out in South Ossetia for awhile, despite demands for their withdrawal.
This whole thing is so confusing that it's honestly hard to tell who's in the right.
I have some sympathy for the Russians in wanting to lend protection to these separatists, whom the Russians seem to sort of relate to as some sort of subset of the Russian people. There's part of me that thinks that people ought to be just cut free and allowed to follow their own destiny if the people of that region have, as a whole, expressed a desire for independence.
On the other hand, the Russians weren't nearly as quick to support liberty and the desire for independence when Chechnya tried to break away from Russia as a separatist state back in 1999 (i.e., this turned into the Second Chechen War, as Russian troops successfully fought to suppress the Chechen separatist movement and put a stop to the Chechen drive for independence). This move to sternly suppress the separatist movement in Chechnya (without much apparent concern for the will of the people living within Chechnya) sort of lends itself to a serious questioning of the Russians' motives in their dealings with the separatists in Georgia. It seems a bit hypocritical for the Russians to profess so much concern at this point for the independence seeking people of South Ossetia when Russia recently demonstrated how little concern it had for the wishes of the independence-seeking people of Chechnya. It also seems a little crazy that the Russians are taking such a strong stand in demanding that Georgia give up these separatist regions when Russia was so resolutely unwilling to give up any territory of its own while dealing with Chechnya.
So I think that in actuality the whole thing is really just a border/territory dispute and a sort of power grab by the Russians. But who knows? They seem to really feel some sort of affinity for those South Ossetians. But I'm very skeptical.

What else? Well, in terms of the Olympics, at the moment the U.S. is only one medal behind China in the medal count, but China has about 22 gold medals to our 10. I guess it's pretty hard to compete with a country that has state-funded training programs for athletes who single-mindedly train to achieve national sports glory from the time that they're like 3 or 4 years old (I even heard someone on a radio talk show last night saying that the Chinese engage in state-planned marriage and breeding programs to produce better athletes, but this radio guy sounded like he a touch of the conspiracy nut about him. Still, having seen photos of China's monstrous, government-run athletic training facilities, the idea of China breeding people to be athletes doesn't seem absolutely impossible).
Anyway, our country may not have government-sponsored Olympian farms, but we have small armies of half crazy athlete parents who can get pretty fanatical in their own right (I remember this little girl who lived behind us in Houston when I was a kid who trained at Bela Karolyi's gym. She woould miss school to go to meets all the time, trained all day and all night, 7 days a week, and she was never allowed to eat a cheeseburger. She was in about second grade). There's a certain tendency to want to get caught up in the madness of competition, but at some point we've just got to let it go and do the best with the system we've got. I just don't think we should try to compete with a government athletics system like China has. It creates athletes who are sort of warped as people, and a nation which somehow equates winning medals with domination and national self-esteem.
It's fun to see American athletes do well at the games, of course, but we need to keep the whole thing in perspective, and the images of the endless scores of fungible Chinese athletes whiling away countless practice hours in their state-sponsored practice facilities (engaged in what's probably state-mandated practice) sort of makes me realize exactly what it means to have too much of a good thing. When the desire to win kills the joy of competition, one can't help but begin to ask, "Why compete in the first place?"
Anyhoo, I'm still rooting for our athletes, but now, more than ever, I'm rooting for them to enjoy their moment in the spotlight, to cherish their Beijing experiences, to set a world class example in terms of sportsmanship and grace, and most of all, to have some fun.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

So I had dinner with Team Steans last night, and when I got home I watched part of a documentary called Maneaters on the History Channel. The whole thing was about various accounts of lions who were known to stalk and kill humans (as opposed to their normal prey). During the course of the documentary, they told the story of the man eaters of Tsavo, the story of the two lions upon whom the movie The Ghost and the Darkness was based.

For some reason I find the story of the lions of Tsavo endlessly fascinating. It's one of those stories that just couldn't be more entertaining or more incredible if it were written fiction.

Tsavo is a place in modern day Kenya, although in 1898, when the story of the Tsavo lions took place, it was under British control and referred to as East Africa. Apparently in the local African dialect, the name Tsavo is roughly translated to "a place of slaughter". In 1898 Lieutenant Colonel John Henry Patterson, an engineer, was sent from England to Tsavo in order to help build a bridge for a railroad line which was being run through the area. When he arrived in the area he learned that his railroad workers were living in fear and threatening to quit because large numbers of the men had been stalked and killed during the nights by a pair of particularly ferocious, maneless, man eating male lions.

Anyway, Patterson hunted the lions for the better part of a year (the lions left for some period of time, but would always return) and in the end, Patterson claimed the loss of 135 workers who had been killed by the lions (i.e., a combination of Indian and African workers who had been obliged to sleep side by side in tents which were located within the lions' hunting territory- official British records recorded the deaths of 28 Indian workers, but Patterson claims that the rest of the deaths occurred among the African laborers, for whom, sadly, no official records were kept).

Well, Patterson kept memoirs, and they're full of a lot of frustrated, failed attempts to kill the lions (and some scary stories regarding the discovery of dead workers and near misses), but in the end, after hunting the lions for many months, he managed to finally kill the lions one at a time. One of the lions was reported to be 9 feet and 8 inches long, and required 8 men to carry it back to camp.

In the year that it took to hunt and kill the lions, their prowess in hunting men became legendary, and the railroad workers began rumors that the lions were, in fact, evil spirits who had come to visit wrath upon men. They tagged the lions with the names The Ghost and The Darkness- the nicknames from which the movie drew its title.

The dead lions were eventually donated to the Chicago Museum of Natural Science. I guess you can still go see them (pictured here). The story of the Tsavo lions intrigues me because: 1) it kind of represents modern man encroaching into the last of the undiscovered, natural world and being sternly rebuked for it, 2) it's a story of a relatively recent time when humans had to fear animals on this level (I'm just used to things being the other way around), and 3) it presents a real life story of tremendous personal courage (Patterson went out into the African night by himself with his rifle to hunt two lions who had probably already killed 80 or 90 people at the time that he began hunting for them. The story is made more interesting by the fact that Patterson wasn't a thrill seeking hunter, but a railroad engineer who was compelled by his work ethic and his superiors in London to hunt the lions so that the bridge construction could stay on schedule).

Anyway, I'm not sure why I just rehashed that story, other than, as I've said, I find it endlessly fascinating, and I guess I'm convinced that other people will find it interesting as well if they know about it.

What else? Well, the Russians continue to roll their convoys around Georgia, outside of the South Ossetian contested zone. It's not clear that the Russians have hostile intentions at this point, but between the troop movements and reports that "irregular" Russian soldiers (i.e., volunteer fighters who have crossed the border from Russia or South Osseitan separatists who still have an axe to grind with Georgia) are still engaged in fighting, the Georgians are declaring that the Russians are in violation of the cease fire. The Russians, for their part, are saying that the Georgian military has not complied with the cease fire, and that they should return to their barracks.

So, basically, things are still a little bit tense over there in Georgia. I think we need to get an international peacekeeping force in their as fast as possible to just help stabilize the region and to make sure that neither side takes any "cheap shots" at the other during the peace negotiation process.

That's about it. I took a break from Olympics coverage and watched some early episodes from last season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I thought it was probably the best new show on TV last season, and it may have even come close to approaching Battlestar in terms of being one of the best shows on TV. It just has some good writing. I hope it stays as smart this season. I also have high hopes for Season 3 of Heroes. I just watched Season 1 of Heroes on DVD earlier this year, but I thought it was really good. Apparently Season 2 kind of sucked, but Jamie, my sister-in-law, says that the producers took the sort of unprecedented step of coming out during the writer's strike and saying that they realize that the show sort of derailed during Season 2. Apparently they pointed out many of the areas where the show had made some bad turns (which Jamie agreed with- I, personally, haven't seen season 2), and they promised to correct their mistakes and to make the show even better during Season 3. These facts, combined with the fact that Season 3 is supposed to focus on super powered villains (which are always more interesting than heroes, to be honest) may end up making Season 3 of Heroes one of the better viewing options for this fall. We'll just have to see.

Okay. Now that I've made this post painfully long enough....

So a cease fire seems to be holding, at least for the moment, between the Russians and the Georgians. I wrote a little blurb about the conflict last Friday, mostly because I thought it kind of ironic that war was breaking out on the first day of the Olympics (which I'm still naive enough to still kind of consider a celebration of international peace and cooperation). Anyway, some joker over at CNN linked my blog as an opinion relating to their news coverage, and the next thing you know, I have a number of angry Russians criticizing my view of the conflict.
Well, the whole Russia/Georgia/South Ossetia thing still seems pretty complicated, but the comments on my blog post got me thinking about how the same world event can look very different to people who are getting different media coverage and analysis of the same series of events in different parts of the globe. To some degree, we're all just the proverbial ants reporting back on what an elephant looks like- each of us has a different viewpoint, and we're all just seeing bits or pieces of the whole (and different media outlets may have an agenda in deciding what to show or not show you).
Anyway, it also struck me that the people who were commenting on my blog, although argumentative (which is ok), all seemed to have an interest in reassuring people that their country was doing the right thing. Everyone wants to be seen as being on the defensive- Georgia wants to be seen as merely defending its homeland and Russia wants to be seen as defending South Ossetians. And the fact that everyone wants to be seen as being on the defensive- this is a good thing!! There was a time when powerful countries didn't really care about doing the "right thing" or about justifying their actions, and just steamrolled over smaller countries if they decided that they wanted to annex their territory. The ideal of growing a glorious empire ever larger was enough justification for powerful countries to do bad things once upon a time.
So I'm glad that we've reached a point where we seem to be somewhat on the same moral footing and where countries at least care how the rest of the world is going to perceive their actions (I mean, I know that countries are often still duplicitous, but at least they're bothering to try to cover up their bad acts). All of this is encouraging in terms of the ongoing development of a worldwide system of laws and morality which seeks global stability and peace as its ultimate goal.
Anyway, the Russians have stopped shooting. I think now it's time for the Georgians to give more serious thought to the independence of South Ossetia or else provide a compelling reason for not doing so. It appears that the majority of South Ossetia wants independence, so it's probable that armed separatists will continue to be a problem in the region. And if the Georgians are going to continue to engage in military operations against these separatists, then the Russians are probably going to insist upon maintaining a peacekeeping force in the region. In short, the South Ossetian independence issue could easily contribute to an ongoing, perpetual state of near war between these two countries, and I don't really think that's good for anyone (plus, we've already got the whole North/South Korea thing going).
I think that if the Russians could offer something to the Georgians that might help the Georgians to save face a little, that Georgia might just let South Ossetia have its independence (no, I'm not sure what- some kind of oil deal or some other lucrative contract for Georgia? I don't know. There's gotta be something)
Jeez, I'm really rambling. And I'm busy. Bad combination.
Just wanted to show off this pic of my mom, The Karebear, rocking with her friend Peggy (on the far right) and Peggy's son, Bill (who believe it or not, is a pastor of some type). Once Mom masters Guitar Hero we're going to switch her over to regular guitar and work her into the family band with Roundball, Jamie, and I.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Couple of other random things...
One, a couple of people have emailed me links to the news that scientists are apparently closer than even to coming up with some sort of "invisibility cloak" material which would hide 3 dimensional objects by bending light around them. Steanso has already begun to think of dozens of applications for this "invisibility cloak", but unfortunately Steanso isn't in high school anymore, and the criminal penalties for a grown man sneaking into a women's locker room are probably a lot steeper nowadays than they used to be....
In all seriousness- wasn't there some sort of Socratic tale about invisibility and the notion that it just might tend to have a corrupting influence? I think that the government ought to keep a careful reign on this stuff and make sure that the only people allowed to use it are ninjas- class 5 and above.
What else? Well, of course, there are the Olympics. The Olympics are cool to watch, no doubt, but I just don't have much to say about them that hasn't already been said. The human drama of a sporting event that pits the nations of the world against each other every 4 years just can't be matched. Its just amazing to have the chance to repeatedly watch the defining moments of so many people's lives, played out on an international stage- the culmination of countless hours of excrutiatingly hard work. And I love it because it's really not all about the money. Win or lose, American professional athletes (NFL, NBA, NHL, etc.) can always go home and cry into their piles of cash. For many Olympic athletes, however, it's just about the game. Being the best and representing your country. It's very cool. Too bad all of these countries can't manage to coexist on the world stage the way they do at the Olympics- where rivalry and competitiveness are more important than anything other than the cooperative spirit which allows the games to exist at all.
Okay. The obligatory Olympic comment.
But it really is cool.
Hooray for our athletes, I say!
Well, for all of the people who left comments last Friday and over the weekend about how Russia was only acting in a peacekeeping capacity and would never use the current conflict as an excuse for a broader invasion of Georgia, I have some serious questions about what's going on now with the Russian military's continuing drive into undisputed areas of Georgia. It sounds like Russian forces have made moves against cities such as Gori, a city outside the South Assetian contested zone, and other areas which aren't really part of the South Assetian claim.
Anyway, I know that emotions run high on the Russian/Georgian conflict over South Assetia, but the Russians are already on dangerous enough footing when they choose to interfere with the internal political troubles of an existing nation. Attacking parts of Georgia that really aren't in question (as seeking independence) seems to only make the motives of the Russians more suspect.
I still think that the U.S. and probably NATO as well need to step in and lend peacekeeping forces if the Russians continue to drive into Georgia and occupy portions of it.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Does anyone else remember Jim Bakker, and his wife, Tammy Faye? Well, Joel and Victoria Osteen just seem like the new version to me. The Osteens are just much more slick, polished, clever, and telegenic. The Osteens probably should have just quietly settled this lawsuit, though. I have a feeling that this trial might just be the first incident that begins to expose the chinks in their armor. I think that as televangelists who are used to communicating only with their own congregation members, the Osteens are convinced that they can persuade people of just about anything. But they're not used to being cross examined or having their stories challenged. The simple fact that the Osteens already paid a $3,000 FAA fine for Victoria's disruptive behavior is going to make them have some credibility issues. Of course, people don't like frivolous lawsuits, and the fact that this waitress is claiming that she suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder and should receive 10% of Victoria Osteen's net worth because of a push (in which no injury was sustained) is probably likely to offend some jurors.

But the last thing that you want to do when you make your living off of faith and trust is to publicly raise questions that could potentially make you look like a hypocrite, a liar, or an otherwise sketchy person.
But the Osteens are on trial in Houston, and Houston seems to love the Osteens. It'll be interesting to see how this thing plays out.

(p.s.- I initially published this over the weekend, but now it's somehow been saved to my "drafts" folder. This, of course, raises questions as to whether the Osteens are somehow involved in some kind of worldwide anti-blogger conspiracy. Or maybe I hit the wrong button at some point. Anyway, I'm republishing.)

Friday, August 08, 2008

So it's 08/08/08- the same day that the opening ceremonies for the summer Olympics are supposed to take place in Beijing, Russian forces are said to be invading Georgia. Admittedly, I don't know much about the politics in Georgia, but apparently there's a region within Georgia called South Ossetia which has been trying to assert its independence for years, seeking to either become an independent nation or to reunify with neighboring North Ossetia, a move which would place the region under Russian control. Ossetians apparently have a population which is largely descended from a tribe called the Alans, and they share a common language with their North Ossetian neighbors. In 2006 there was apparently some kind of election in which South Ossetians voted (apparently overwhelmingly) for independence. This move was ignored by the Georgian leadership in Tblisi.
Anyhoo, there have been some stories about Russian troops amassing along the border and doing military exercises over the last few months. In addition, the United States has troops stationed in Georgia who have been working on training Georgian troops for quite a while. Apparently the Russians have rolled tanks into South Ossetia as part of some kind of territorial grab, and the Georgians are claiming that they've already shot down two Russian planes (flying over Georgian territory).
I'm not sure how I feel about the whole Russian invasion thing. I saw the Georgian president on TV this morning bemoaning the fact that the Russians were invading his peaceful little country, but that was before I knew that the people in the area being invaded had expressed a desire to gain independence or to become a part of Russia.
I'm pretty sure of one thing, though- it would probably be a good thing if we didn't have so much of our military tied up in Iraq at the moment. If the Russians go ahead and just roll forward to take over all of Georgia (an act which I think would constitute a war of aggression by almost anyone's standards), it would probably be a good thing if we had some troops available to help defend Georgia (since they're supposed to be one of our allies and we're supposed to be helping to support their burgeoning democracy). Of course, Russia still has lots and lots of nukes, so you kind of always have to keep that in mind when you start messing with them (but c'mon, George- you wanted to invade a country that threatens the world with weapons of mass destruction. They should be much easier to find when we roll into Russia. In fact, the Russians might end up being eager to show them to us...).
But seriously- defending our allies and helping to thwart invasions of friendly democratic nations is much more in keeping with what I think we should be doing with our military forces (as opposed to occupying foreign countries that we invaded on the basis of false or fabricated intelligence).
Anyhoo, 8/08/08 is shaping up to be an interesting day.

Maybe more later.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Well, last night I was over at Steans Manor with Roundball and McSteans, and we were watching Nova ScienceNow, and this story came on about space elevators and the construction thereof. Ryan and Jamie were kind of surprised to see me get excited and start mumbling under my breath about stuff like carbon nanotubes and buckeyballs. They had forgotten that space elevators and the possibility thereof are a minor preoccupation (ok, obsession) of mine, which I had periodically discussed and argued with Jeff Wilson about as far back as at least 2005.

Anyway, it was cool to see that scientists and engineers are still hard at work on the space elevator concept. In fact, NASA has been sponsoring a contest with a cash prize for people who can design a lift mechanism that runs on some sort of photoelectric power (I guess the idea is that lasers or other concentrated light sources could provide a wireless energy source for photoelectric cells that could convert the energy and use it to power motors for the elevator's ascending and descending containers). Apparently carbon nanotube technology continues to progress, so experts see the material strength problem being overcome in the near future (meaning potentially in the next few years).

Anyway, I'm glad to see that the space elevator concept is still generating excitement and that people are still pursuing its implementation. I wanna book a ride for Crack or the Mono Ensemble to travel up into space on the elevator while rocking out for the entire ride.

In other news, probably less important than space elevators, it sounds like Brett Favre is being traded to the New York Jets. I, like many other Packers fans, I suppose, have very mixed feelings about this. Favre has been more than just a quarterback to Green Bay- he's been a genuine leader for his team (and to some extent, the whole City of Green Bay) in terms of skills, determination, attitude, focus, etc., etc.. On the other hand, Favre has been sort of jerking around the Packers for years now with his flip flopping views on retirement. It's hard to stay focused and work on preparing your team for a pro football season when one of your central figures can't decide whether he wants to play or not.

I love watching Brett Favre play football, but he's become sort of a distraction to the team, and as I've said before, the Packers are going to have to learn how to play without Favre pretty soon, anyway (he can't have more than a couple of seasons left in him). I think it was sort of smart for the Packers to go ahead and get some decent draft picks out of a Favre trade now, while he still has some pretty strong market value, and use those draft picks to help in their rebuilding process. Plus, it was a strong move trading Favre to the Jets- a team which is out of the NFC North and a team which will have some tremendous challenges of their own to face if they're going to make a run for the Superbowl.

In the end, I guess, I still, of course, think Brett Favre is a tremendous athlete, but the Packers are still about more than just Brett Favre. They were a great team before he showed up, and they'll be a great team again (at some point) after he's gone. The choice that the Packers were faced with was to cling to the last gasps of a fairly remarkable past or to put some faith and confidence into the idea of building themselves a new, solid future. I think they probably took the riskier course of action (at least in terms of this season), but I support the decision. Either way, it's clearly the end of a great era of football in Green Bay.

Completely unrelated: a 25 year old school teacher in Heerlen, The Netherlands, named Hanny van Arkel has discovered a previously unknown astronomical object, dubbed "Hanny's Voorwerp" (Dutch for object). The amateur astronomer had been participating in Yale University's Galaxy Zoo project, which provides archived pictures of galaxies to volunteers (via the internet) and asks for help in identifying and cataloging the objects that they see. Hanny spotted an object that didn't match any of the categories she had been given, and submitted her discovery for classification. To her surprise, the experts weren't sure what Hanny had discovered, either. Their best guess is that the object is probably a cloud of hot gas punctured by a central hole some 16,000 light years across and illuminated by the "dying embers" of a nearby quasar. Still, it was something new, and Hanny got her name attached to it. The Hubble telescope is scheduled to examine it next year.

I just think it's cool that amateur scientists are being given the opportunity to participate in some legitimate research and to contribute to actual scientific discovery. I want to have a star (or glowing gas cloud or whatever) named after me.
Well, I guess that's about it for the moment. I may have more later. Maybe.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Well, I gotta say that I have a little new respect for Paris Hilton this morning. After being included with Brittany Spears in a John McCain commercial which suggested that Barack Obama's campaign was more about celebrity status than leadership potential, Paris Hilton has fired back with an internet clip which is actually pretty funny (in the clip, she repeatedly refers to McCain as the white haired old guy who has dragged her into the presidential election, and then she goes on to propose a shockingly realistic energy policy that balances closely monitored offshore drilling with technological advances in alternative fuel sources- all while hanging out in a bikini by her pool). The clip plays against the media caricature of Paris Hilton, and even though most viewers will definitely get the feel that Paris isn't writing her own script here, the simple fact that she was willing to go along with the joke and seems to be grasping its punchline sort of raises my regard for her a little (granted, she had a lot of room to improve). As one of the commentators on CNN said this morning, McCain should probably have thought things through a little more before pulling Paris Hilton onto the main stage of a presidential race- she's very comfortable being in the spotlight, and no one is more experienced at dealing with media attention than Paris Hilton. McCain knows politics, but Paris Hilton knows pop culture.

What else? Well, here's something else that's strange this week (I mean, we've already had a Canadian bus beheading and the discovery of some kind of giant gorilla city in the Congo). Apparently there's a patch of ground out in Ventura County, California, that seems to have risen in temperature to about 812 degrees. It caught the attention of experts when the vegetation in the area kept catching fire. Apparently the prevailing theories about the hot zone primarily center around the idea that some kind of geothermal event is occurring near the earth's surface in that area. I don't know about you guys, but I think I've seen this sort of thing before....

Not much else to report. I hung out with Teams Steans last night. Ryan is working on his bass guitar skills, and we worked on a few songs, including an Arcade Fire tune (Jamie did a wee bit o' singing).
Tropical Storm Edouard was a big ol' honkin' disappointment. The weather people were promising (yes, when it's a 90% chance, I call it a promise) 2 to 4 inches of rain. I think that at my house, over the course of the entire day and night, we maybe got 1/4 of an inch. Just enough of a mist to remind the plants what they're missing.

Well, I think that's it for now. I hope you guys have a good day.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Hey! Well, we're still waiting for our Tropical Storm Edouard rain here in Central Texas. They're predicting that it will get here this evening or tonight, but I'm still half expecting the whole thing to take some kind of drastic, last minute turn and to head off to the north or somewhere else that doesn't deliver rain anywhere near my South Austin homestead.

And wow! My brother commented on this on his blog, but apparently scientists have just discovered a previously unknown, but relatively huge population of gorillas (up to 125,000) in a northern portion of Republic of Congo. Good news for a species that's been fighting extinction for quite some time. Researchers and conservationists say their next challenge will be to work with the Congolese government in protecting this newly discovered gorilla population.

And Travis County employees may be getting a 3% raise. It's nice to be loved.

Well, I'm not really feeling all that creative today.

On NPR this morning I heard that Ron Suskind has a new book out (Way of the World) in which he claims that the White House ignored specific intelligence about the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (provided by a high level Iraqi intelligence officer) and that, furthermore, the White House collaborated in the fabrication of a letter which attempted to establish false liks between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, claiming that the terrorist organization was facilitating Hussein's purchase of yellow cake uranium from a source in Niger. Suskind claims to have specific high level sources within the CIA and other government organization to support his claims.
I think that if credible evidence is ever produced that George W. Bush and his cabinet members participated in the cover up of legitimate intelligence or actively participated in the production of false intelligence to support the invasion of Iraq, then those people ought to be indicted and tried for war crimes (for perpetrating a war of aggression against another country under false pretenses).

Well, I gotta go. Hope you kids are having a good day.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Well, it's sort of a difficult Monday today after being out at a conference for a week, and then having Friday off. Kinda sorta makes you hungry for some real vacation. And my sleep schedule is all out of whack.
The weekend was pretty good. Spent quite a bit of time down at the creek and at Barton Springs. Had some pretty good meals with friends. Last night we had a pretty good Mono Ensemble practice. We had a few hiccups on some of our songs, but we played pretty well, overall, and in particular, we started out with a really cool improvised jam that we didn't record and will probably never play again. It was kind of an angular thing with irregular beats, but it had a really cool groove and a few melodic solos. Oh well- that's kind of what you get with live music. Sometimes you're glad you're not recording because you make mistakes that you'd rather not have a record of, but then sometimes there are these moments that approach musical greatness that just sort of materialize out of nowhere before fading into the past, and you try to appreciate them as they're happening because you know that you're never going to hear those sounds played in just that way ever again.
Man, I'm rambling. Point is, we had a good practice.

And I don't mean to freak everyone out on a peaceful Monday morning, but did anyone else read about this crazy knife attack/beheading that took place on a Canadian bus this weekend? Ummmm.... what the hell? It seems like one of the strangest crimes that I've read about in a very, very long time (I'm sure that more details will come out, but it seems like a random knife attack against a stranger by some previously mild-mannered, 40ish, Asian guy). I'm not sure why I even find this thing interesting, except that the seeming randomness of it makes me wonder if the defendant, Vince Li, might have been suffering from some kind of severe mental illness or whether he was undergoing some kind of psychotic break. The suspect isn't really in the age range where mental illness often makes its onset, but nonetheless, given the situation, mental illness certainly seems possible. Since I deal with mentally ill defendants on a daily basis, there's always the possibility in the back of my mind that one of them could become violent. Obviously, on the Travis County mental health docket we strive for treatment over simple incarceration or punishment, but stories like this one are reminders that we're also here to protect the public, and that the consequences for failing to get treatment to a person who needs it can be quite severe (granted, I only deal with misdemeanors, but it would be good to catch people like this, if possible, before they do something that gets them on CNN).

And another chance for rain as Tropical Storm Edouard approaches the Texas-Louisiana coast. I guess the people along that area of coastline probably don't need another severe storm mucking things up for them (they already got zapped by Katrina and Rita a few years back), but we could sure use some rain here in Central Texas (my lawn is turning to straw, people).

Well, that's it for now. Maybe more later.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Back from the Conference

I'm back from the Advanced Criminal Law Course, but I have today off (took a vacation day since things at work are going to be really slow today, anyway). The course was pretty good. I learned a few things, ate some pretty good food (in addition to La Fogata, we managed to hit Paesano's, Schilo's, and Tony Roma's during the trip), and got to hang out with some friends.

(Here's Channing, Carla, and Yvonne, kicking it in the bar at the Marriott)

(Here's Brandon, Victoria, and a glimpse of Nancy as they sit in on one of the courses)
Anyway, the course was pretty good, but it's nice to be home and have Cassidy back (she stayed with Ryan and Jamie).
Last night I went to see Step Brothers with Ryan and Jamie. It wasn't exactly the best movie in the world, but it made me laugh really hard, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I have to admit that the humor is pretty stupid, though, and it's definitely not a movie for everyone (come to think of it, I'm not sure what it says about me that it made me laugh so much, but let's not overanalyze that point).
Well, that's it for the moment. Hope everyone's had a good week.