Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Well, it's Tuesday, and I'm still tired, sun burnt, and allergy stricken from ACL Fest. Gotta get myself back into a rockin' mindframe, though. Thursday night, October 2nd, my band, Mono
, will be playing a sort of First Thursday gig at Somnio's Cafe, on South 1st (between Annie and Mary) from 7:30 until 9:30. The restaurant is new and does not have a wine/beer license yet, so the event is BYOB (although we encourage you to buy food and check the place out). Coincidentally, the grand opening for the place is not until the following Saturday, October 4th, and we're supposed to play on Saturday from about 5:30 until 8:00 (we will probably play a little louder on Saturday since we're playing earlier). Anyway, few excuses will get you Adventurers out of attending one of these two shows (c'mon, you can't make it to either one?!?!). And remember, "Your band sucks," is not an excuse, because you can always stop by just to try out the new restaurant.

What else? The Wall Street bailout plan fell apart yesterday in the House, and stocks plummeted. I guess they're doing slightly better today. It's pretty crazy to have all of this stuff going on during an election year. I don't remember another presidential election when the attention of the public has had their attention split between the election and a major national crisis in this way. In a small way, I'm sort of glad that the attention of the public has been returned to fundamental issues that effect the country rather than arguing about whether Palin is a pig who wears lipstick or whether John McCain knows how to navigate Windows.

I recorded the presidential debate last Friday while I was ACL Fest, and after having finally gotten a chance to watch it, I thought the two candidates came across as fairly evenly matched.

Not much else to say, and I'm tired. Dad, The Admiral, is currently jetting around Europe somewhere. I'm not even sure where. It's hard to keep track of that man.

Well, I'll talk to you guys later.
Have a good one.

Monday, September 29, 2008

...and a brief ACL Fest summary

Well, it's over again. ACL Fest #7. 3 days of sound, sun, friends, and fun, and now it's over. It was a good ACL Fest. I saw some favorites, who put on a good show and didn't disappoint (David Byrne, The Raconteurs, Neko Case, Band of Horses, etc.), and I saw some newer faces who I'm becoming a fan of (Delta Spirit, Okkervil River, Gogol Bordello, Black Joe Lewis, Stars, etc.). Gillian Welch was good (and she sang some stuff with Alison Krauss), and Beck was good and played an interesting set, even though it was sort of short (he managed to take a lot of the sampling and looping out of his songs and translated them into a format more befitting a live band for much of his set, but he also had songs where his entire band played handheld electronic instruments from the front of the stage- I thought it was good). I think that The Raconteurs and David Byrne tied for my two favorite sets. They were both really great.
The weather was really pretty good this year, although there was still a lot of dust (I'm still coughing it up today). It was good to see all the friends out there at the festival. Hope you guys all had a good time.

On a final note, this was my third ACL Festival since Jeff passed, and although I really did have a good time, I've come to realize that things are just never going to be quite the same at ACL Fest without his energy and enthusiasm. As I've said before, Jeff had a love of music and of having fun that was just contagious, and although I'll always love live music and the festival (and truly love and appreciate the chance to share it with my friends), I think that ACL Fest is always going to remind me of Jeff. He talked me into going to the first ACL Fest, I had a really amazing time, and I've been thoroughly enjoying them ever since. So, anyway, Jeff- I was thinking about you.

To all the friends (and my brother) who shared ACL Fest with me this year- thanks for making it another really great experience. Wouldn't trade it for the world.


ACL Fest 2008

Chris rocks out

Mandy and Ellie

Reed and Sigmund and Kim

ACLFest at night

Neko Case

David Byrne

David Rawlings, Gillian Welch, and Alison Krauss

Blooms and Channing

Ryan and Julia

Erykah Badu


Dan and Vicki

Heartless Bastards

Bloom Bandits

The Raconteurs


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Well, I wasn't going to post until ACL Fest was over (everything is going well so far with the festival), but Paul Newman died yesterday, and I just wanted to mark his passing. Paul Newman has just always seemed like one of those larger than life actors to me- a true star who seemed as cool off the screen as he was on it (he was not only a great actor, but he had several lines of pretty good food products for sale, the proceeds from which went to charity, and he was always involved in other stuff, too, like racing cars). I always just like Paul Newman for his intelligence, his humility, and his wit. Such a cool guy. Anyway, with ACL Fest going on, I'm going to be busy, but I need to plan some time to watch Cool Hand Luke and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid again very soon. I like The Sting, The Hustler, The Color of Money, and some of his other films as well, but Cool Hand Luke and Butch Cassidy are a couple of my favorite all time movies.

Via con dios, Mr. Newman. They're really just not making actors like you any more.

"I have vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals." -Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Howdy. Today is kind of hectic, and I don't have all that much to blog on, but I just wanted to say hello. I missed the president's speech last night about our current economic situation, but as I understand it, he really didn't put a lot of minds at ease (sounded like a lot of, "This is complicated. Don't ask a lot of questions and don't object to our bailout plan, or we're all going to be going Mad Max by the end of the year.") It still seems like the situation is pretty crappy. It looks like they're going to put some limits on CEO compensation packages as part of the new legislation for this $700 billion bailout, but I haven't heard anything about the money being paid back with interest or about taxpayers (i.e., the government) getting any kind of ownership interest in the firms that are getting bailed out with out money (although, admittedly, I haven't had too much time to read up on this new plan). Anyway, it still basically sounds like the middle class is bailing out a bunch of wealthy Wall Street financiers.
Ryan should be back in town tonight. ACL Fest tomorrow!

Uggh. I gotta run, but maybe more later.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Man, I really haven't got much today. I saw Bill Clinton on The Daily Show last night, and he was, of course, talking about this $700 billion Wall Street bailout. He said that he thought the bailout was probably necessary, but that the American taxpayers ought to be given some serious consideration for the money that's being handed out to these Wall Street firms. He suggested that we either: 1) charge a decent amount of interest for lending out this money and include penalties for not paying it back on time, and/or 2) structure the agreement so that the American government and the taxpayers get some kind of very real interest in the firms that are being helped out with taxpayer money. Clinton also pointed out that we got into this mess by trying to overextend activity in the housing market when we would have been much better served by focusing on creating jobs and infrastructure within the alternative fuels and energy industry. Anyway, Clinton just sounds remarkably knowledgeable and articulate when he's discussing these things, and he presents solutions in ways that make you realize that there really is hope for turning this situation (i.e., our current economic downturn) around if the right people get involved and manage our money and our government in responsible and yet visionary ways. (World War II helped to finally pull us out of the Great Depression- we don't really want another war to help drive the economy, but we need a large, national project to focus our energy and resources and to help grow jobs and develop new products- a large, national push to develop new, green energy solutions might be just the thing we need).
I warned you guys that I don't have too much today. I rewatched much of the two hour premier of Heroes last night after talking to Jamie about it a bit (she seemed to have a better first impression of it than I initially did), and it seemed to settle in a bit better the second time around. I'll definitely keep watching it and see how it continues to play out.
Nothing else to report, really. Mandy's family has finally gotten their power back on and returned to Beaumont following the hurricane, so Dolly and Woody, The Hurricane Dogs, have gone home. Cassidy, in particular, seems a little sad following their departure.
In other news, I traded in our three day ACL Fest passes for wristbands yesterday over at the Zilker box office. The anticipation of ACL Fest continues to build. One way or another we will have the Crack flag out there again this year, so all of you Adventurers be on the lookout for it if you're going to the festival.
Well, I guess that's it for now. Mayhaps more later. Ciao, kiddos!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

So.... not much to report today. Apparently Jamie made it through her tests okay, so I'm glad for that.

Last night I watched the first episode of the new season of Heroes. It was kind of weird. I think I'm going to reserve judgment on it until I've seen another episode or two.

I also watched another episode of Terminator: TSCC. It was good. Apparently Terminators are too heavy to swim.

I'm still following coverage of this $700 billion bailout. I'm suspicious of it and don't really trust all of the players involved, but the experts keep saying that we need to do something, and do it fast. Of course, it seems like the last time we got advice like that we ended up invading a country on the basis of incorrect intelligence. I don't know....

There was a massacre-type school shooting in Finland yesterday. Steanso is 1/2 Finnish (both of my maternal grandparents were Finnish), and I've always thought of the Finns as a pretty tough but fairly peaceful people, so this makes me sort of sad. I guess that this sort of thing can probably happen anywhere, really (although having ready access to guns or explosives probably makes it more likely).

In more upbeat news, TV on the Radio have released a new album called Dear Science, and it's getting really good reviews. I've gotten their last two albums, Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes and Return to Cookie Mountain, and I thought they were both great, although I've never seen the band in concert. I've heard sort of mixed reviews on their live shows, but I'm going to go see them when they come to town next time, anyway. They're one of those bands that just seems like they're doing just the right thing at just the right time (plus, they have a sort of mutual respect thing going with both David Bowie [who did some vocals on their last album] and Radiohead [they named their first album OK, Calculator in homage to Radiohead], so you know they're doing something right).

Well, that's all I've got today.
Hope you guys are doing okay.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

We've all seen the news coverage of Palin giving a bunch of speeches at rallies in front of tons of adoring fans, and we've heard tales of how she's a beloved figure in her home state of Alaska- a governor of the people who truly understand her consituents and who can do no wrong. Well, I guess McCain's strategy for dealing with the media (i.e., whining about how he's treated unfairly until the media are put on the defensive and give he and his running mate far more deference and leeway than they deserve) is working, because this story about the large turnout at an anti-Palin rally in Anchorage last week got almost no coverage. According to this article, the turnout for this "Alaskan Women Reject Palin" rally was one of the largest turnouts for a political rally "in recent memory" in Alaska. It's just kind of funny that while the rest of the country goes along projecting whatever they want to upon Palin (she's a hockey mom! a hunter! a Christian! she's just like us!), the people who know her best- the people of her home state who have lived through her term as governor- seem to find a lot to fear, distrust, and dislike in Palin. Complaints range from her record on the enviroment to her cozy relationship with the oil companies to her extreme, fundamentalist religious beliefs (with accompanying attempts at book banning, creationism in schools, and attacks on abortion) to simple lack of experience and understanding of foreign affairs and other issues that might be helpful to a potential leader of the free world.
Anyway, I just thought that given the love fest that we've seen at so many McCain-Palin rallies, it's an interesting counterpoint to see that there are still a lot of people from Palin's home state who don't trust her and who don't think she's fit to be Vice President (let alone President). And it's funny that the mean ol' media didn't really pick up on this rally. Personally, despite Republican protestations to the contrary, I think the media looooves the whole Palin phenomenon and helps to drive it (they seem a lot more interested in hyping her image than in looking for any kind of substance behind that image).
Thanks to Jen Shaw for sharing some of these rally images with me.
In other news, the weekend was pretty good. On Friday night we had a particularly successful Crack practice. As I said to Sigmund, Crack has that crazy feeling of someone sort of gracefully, and just barely, keeping their balance as they stumble down a flight of stairs. It's sort of exhilarating to observe because you're aware that any moment the whole endeavor could collapse into disaster, but we keep catching ourselves as we're falling, and the motion forward continues, scarcely under control and constantly in danger of falling, until we land, recklessly but still standing, at the end. Anyway, Crack had some moments on Friday, silly and sublime, and once again we became more powerful by some miniscule amount.
Saturday I got up and got my oil changed and went to Barton Springs.
That place is a miracle.
In the Japanese religion of Shinto, beautiful places in nature are thought to be holy and are possessed by spirits called kami- spirits both of nature and spirits of departed ancestors and friends. Shinto encourages its practitioners to go to nature's beautiful places in order to meditate and to commune with these spirits. Barton Springs must possess powerful kami.
It was good to go there this weekend and sort of say goodbye to summer. The sun was warm, the breeze was cool, and the whole place just seemed less crowded and more relaxed than usual (just some quiet laughing and people talking). The water and sun felt great.
Saturday night I hung out with some friends and watched the UT game and talked about the schedule for the upcoming ACL Festival.
Sunday I went to see Burn After Reading. I liked it. It's not necessarily the Coen brothers' best work, but it was really entertaining, nonetheless. It's just one of those Coen brothers movies where a lot of the humor is just predicated upon the idea that you're going to find their quirky characters amusing and interesting. The movie either succeeds or fails for the viewer on that basis (well, there's a complicated spy plot in there somewhere, but as one of the CIA agents points out toward the end, it's pretty hard to find a morality tale or an ethics lesson in the events that unfold). Anyway, the acting in the movie was really good all around, and I especially liked the music (which has an ominous, sinister quality that periodically fools you into thinking you're watching a true spy movie rather than a comedy).
Anyway, the movie falls somewhere between Fargo and Intolerable Cruelty in the spectrum of Coen Brothers movies. Not for everyone, maybe, but I enjoyed it.
Sunday night was Mono Ensemble practice, and we sounded pretty good. We dusted off some old stuff and polished it up a bit, and we had a couple of cool jams. Just a reminder for those who care, but we're still planning on playing from 7:30 to 9:30 on October 2nd at Somnio's, a new restaurant that some friends of ours have opened. We'll also be playing at Somnio's on Saturday, I think sometime in the afternoon, for their grand opening and an art walk. Somnio's is on South 1st between Annie and Mary (map on their web site).
I guess that's about it. Congress is rushing to push through our $700 billion bailout of Wall Street. I feel kind of confused about the whole thing and a little angry that our tax money is going to fix a bunch of stuff that's supposed to be privately run (and to fix a situation which was created by wealthy, greedy, imprudent people in the first place), but to hear the analysts tell it, we really have no choice. So now we're in a position where we have to give more money to people who screwed things up so badly that the entire world economy might collapse if the American taxpayers don't bail these people out. Or apparently that's the situation. I don't know. Grrr......
Ooookay. That's it for now. As a final note, Jamie is in the hospital undergoing some heart tests today, so everyone keep her in your thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Well, it's Friday, and the weather is still pretty darn nice.
This morning on the drive into the office I listened to NPR, and they were playing clips of John McCain at a recent speaking engagement, talking about his new plans for government oversight and regulation of financial institutions and the markets. These clips were closely followed by town hall meetings from McCain speaking during the primaries earlier this year (I think this was in New Hampshire, but I'm not exactly sure) in which he railed against any increased regulation or "government interference" with financial systems and talked about how any such plans on the part of the Democrats could do nothing but lead us into an economic crisis.
I'm not bringing this stuff up just to show that McCain is contradicting himself (which, yes, politicians on both sides of the aisle tend to do). I'm bringing this up to show that there are, in fact, actual substantive differences in terms of economic ideologies between the two candidates. McCain may be talking about reform and greater oversight right now, but the man has been against such things for over 20 years in office, and to pretend that he's going to change now is doing nothing but paying lip service to the issue long enough to get him through the election. At heart, McCain is a "hands off", trickle down economics sort of guy. There's nothing wrong with having that belief (except that, personally, I think that sort of model really doesn't work and ends up screwing the middle class- but I respect the fact that there are people out there who have ther own, very legitimate reasons for thinking its more effective system than a system involving more government intervention). I just wish that McCain would just be honest about his ideology. It's interesting to watch him swing towards the left in order to try to win the election, while simultaneously attacking Obama, claiming that Obama's not really going to be an agent for change, while McCain has had 22 years with the good ol' boys in the Senate to effect change in terms of economic policy, but has shown no interest in doing so (and, of course, has voted with the current administration over 90% of the time). If McCain were really to be honest, he should just admit that he's a trickle down economics, no regulation sort of guy, and just argue that the economy is making a natural correction (albeit a big one) and that we'll eventually work our way through and get ourselves back on track (to a thriving economy where the rich keep getting richer). I strongly suspect that this is what McCain and many Republicans actually believe, but they just don't want to say it when so many of their middle class constituents are losing their jobs, their homes, and their health insurance.
Anyway, I think that the issue of our current economic crisis and the need to repair it is one area where people ought to be able to see a sort of clear choice between the candidates and their ideologies without letting a bunch of character attacks and political spin getting in the way.
If you want to see some of the specifics of Obama's plan to try to revitalize the economy, you can check out some of the details here (for those too lazy to click, it includes greater regulation of predatory credit card practices, greater protection for American workers through international trade agreements, infrastructure investment, tech sector and green industry investments for new jobs, a tax cut for middle class families, tougher regulations to protect against mortgage fraud and unfair lending practices, etc.). I doubt that Obama's plan contains any magic bullets, but I think it's a good start. It doesn't sound like it takes regulation too far, but it sounds like it takes aim at some serious issues that need fixing within our current economy.
McCain's plan for economic reform seems to feature, as a key component, the development of a new agency, The Mortgage and Financial Institutions Trust, whose goals are “to work with the private sector and regulators to identify institutions that are weak and take remedies to strengthen them before they become insolvent.” Pretty much I read this as an organization designed to continue the sort of ad hoc bailouts of poorly run institutions with taxpayer money (pouring more middle class taxpayer money into the top of the system in struggling financial institutions and hope that the benefits trickle down). Unsurprisingly, investors on Wall Street seem to like this sort of plan (mostly, I think, because it promises to throw them more life preservers when they get into trouble rather than trying very hard to prevent them from getting into trouble in the first place).
Anyway, I'm no economist, but I just don't think the policies in place over the last eight years have served us very well, and given his basic political ideology, I don't see things changing very much under McCain.
Thus ends my political rant of the day.

In other news, the season premier of It's Always sunny in Philadelphia was on last night. I haven't laughed that hard at a television show in a very long time. Who would have ever guessed that you could get so many laughs out of cannibalism, waterboarding, and oil prices? Anyway, that show is definitely not for everyone (they label it as MA- television meant for a mature audience, but as I told my brother, I'm not sure that anyone who's very "mature" would actually enjoy it), but it really cracks me up. The guys who write for and appear on that show are quick witted and fearless.

What else? On a more personal note, Eric Gottula, my good friend and the lead singer/songwriter for The Mono Ensemble, has just finished a new CD with his other band, Operation Moon Pie Face Destroy. I got an advanced copy of the CD a few nights ago and listened to the whole thing last night (I'm not sure it has a name yet- Eric just gave me the CD and didn't tell me). It's really good.
It's kind of strange for me, personally, to listen to it because I've been listening to Eric's music in many different configurations for a number of years now (in the Mono Ensemble and solo stuff that Eric has recorded on his own, mostly), so I still hear that sort of classic Eric quality to the music, but now it's as if he's speaking with a different voice- out of a different mouth (well, not literally out of a different mouth, since Eric still sings just about everything, but you know what I mean, hopefully).
Operation Moon Pie Face Destroy plays fun, fast tunes that kind of manage to be rockin' party music while being sort of subversive at the same time. The members of OMPFD and most of their fans tend to be a bit of a younger crowd than us old timers with Mono Ensemble, and the energy and vibrancy of that younger scene plays through in the music. This isn't to suggest that the songs don't have anything to say (the songs, in typical Eric fashion, actually tend to have a surprising weight to them, even when at first glance they may seem to be more simple), but the messages of the OMPFD songs may tend to get lost in the dancing, tequila drinkin', and general tomfoolery that seems to naturally accompany their music (and many of their live shows, if experience is any guide). It's the kind of music that just makes you naturally want to move your feet and dance around. Anyway, the CD is really good. I'm not sure exactly if, when, and how they're going to distribute it, but I'll let everyone know if they put it up on the internet for sale. You guys should definitely check it out.

One other thing. Last night I saw this game show on Fox called Hole in the Wall. The show features, true to its name, a wall with a hole in it that moves toward the contestants as they struggle to figure out how to fit through said hole without getting swept into a watery, slimey pool by the oncoming wall. The holes in the walls come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and oftentimes, when two contestants are on stage at once, teamwork is necessary in order for both of the contestants to make it through the hole (i.e., sometimes contestants may have to pick each other up, hide behind each other, etc. to make it through the hole).
For some reason the contestants on the show wear shiny unitards, and they're accompanied by a screaming cheerleader/host who stands nearby and who gets so excited during the wall-moving rounds that one might realistically expect her to pee herself with excitement before the conclusion of the show. If the moving wall/hole thing isn't enough to intrigue you, the selection of contestants might be what ends up drawing you in. Apparently not satisfied in squeezing people of average size and shape through these holes, the producers for last night's show had assembled teams of unusual sizes and shapes, including a team of little people (am I not supposed to use the phrase dwarf? I'm never clear on that) and a team full of hulked-out, female bodybuilders.
While watching the show's contestants being repeatedly swept off the stage and into the slime pit, I couldn't get past comparing the show to a fictional show called "Ow, My Nuts!!" (you can guess the theme) from the often overlooked modern cult classic, Idiocracy.
It just feels like America is getting dumber and dumber every day. We're literally shoving each other through oddly shaped holes for entertainment now.

Well, I gotta go. Maybe more later. If not, have a good weekend!
Hey. Well, I went and saw Hamlet 2 last night with Team Bloom and Jennifer. I have to admit that I had read some reviews of it that made it sound sort of questionable, so my expectations were low going in, but it actually turned out to be quite a bit funnier than I anticipated. Steve Coogan does a good job of playing the enthusiastic and well-meaning drama teacher who's completely clueless and lacking in talent. Coogan sort of reminds me of Martin Short at times (who I somehow usually end up enjoying, even though I never expect to).

What else? Apparently some hackers from the internet group, Anonymous, have hacked Sarah Palin's personal email account and posted some of its content up on the web. Needless to say, Steanso isn't a big Sarah Palin fan, but I still find this sort of thing to be completely indefensible and criminal (hey- if I don't want anyone else doing it to me, then I don't think it's fair to be doing it to anyone else. In this sort of case I really think it's that simple.) Whoever did this needs to go to jail.

That being said, I find this Anonymous group sort of fascinating. Admittedly, this is the sort of interest that one might have in the Jesse James gang or Al Capone or any other number of notorious criminals, but I find the whole thing kind of captivating, nonetheless.

I've actually heard of Anonymous before, but it seems like the prior news stories I had seen them in involved harrassment of the Church of Scientology and the singling out of certain individual or business sites for attacks on the web. I just don't really get what they're up to. They don't really seem to have any sort of a cohesive agenda, and it's not even clear that there's any kind of coordination or organization behind individuals who are operating under the Anonymous name. It seems like Anonymous is sort of just a faceless mob- a collection of different people with different goals and different agendas who all have come to realize that there's a certain degree of safety in hiding within a nameless, faceless pack of individuals who call attach the name Anonymous to their actions.

People operating under the name of Anonymous do, however, seem to be somewhat creative in their protests (over 7,000 people in V for Vendetta style Guy Fawkes masks protested outside of Scientology centers in a number of different cities around the world on February 10th of this year), and they have some sort of twisted talent in their ability to hack computer systems and otherwise turn technology against its users. Anyway, I know that they're causing some serious trouble. I also know that I don't really want to piss them off.

What else....? Man, I just don't have all that much today. The stock market keeps bouncing up and down. It seems to be doing better today than the last couple of days, but somehow I doubt that really means too much (I've long ago decided that the stock market is subject to the emotional ups and downs of a bunch of overly emotional traders who have all of the discipline and fortititude of a third grade cheerleading squad. Over the short term, the movement of the market just doesn't mean all that much.).
I tried to watch Fringe again last night, and once again it started off fairly creepy, but it quickly devolved into a Scooby Doo-style, formulaic cop show involving mad scientists. The dialogue was pretty clunky, too.

And so I guess that's it. Here's an article from the New York Times about the persistence of goth, as a fashion statement and subculture. For those who care about such things.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

An Open Letter to the Federal Reserve

Dear Treasury Secretary Paulson and friends at the Federal Reserve,

I am writing to ask that you consider giving me a federal bailout of somewhere in the vicinity of $2 or $3 million dollars. It's been sort of a rough year, and I've had a tendency to drink until I black out, and then wake up with all of my money gone. My memories are a bit hazy, but I'm pretty sure that most of my missing funds have gone toward making small business loans to strippers and the occasional ventriloquist (I have promissory notes regarding settlement of these debts, but the whiskey, blood, and tears on the cocktail napkins have made the signatures somewhat illegible). I'm pretty sure that you can understand that each of these investments was soundly made, with an eye toward expanding America's economy and making our country a better place in which to live.
I think $2 or $3 million dollars is quite a bargain, especially when you consider the catastrophic economic collapse that this country would suffer if I didn't have money to spend on booze and lap dances. And let's face it- the American taxpayers pretty much owe me this money for making their lives so much richer with this blog.

Sincerely yours,

First off, let me thank Jamie (that's my sister-in-law for those of you not familiar with my clan) for some excellent lasagna last night! I didn't really tell her this ahead of time (cause I'm a no pressure guy when it comes to people giving me food), but lasagna is truly one of my favorite foods, particularly when it's done well, and her lasagna last night was really good. Anyway, muchos gracias to Teams Steans for having me over and to Jamie for cooking!

What else? I recently reactivated my Netflix membership so that I could rent the last season of The Wire. I've blogged about this show before (to the point where long time readers of the blog are probably tired of hearing me talk about it), but it truly is an excellent show, not only in terms of writing and acting, but in terms of the themes that it conveys about American life in our day and age. Anyway, I love the dialogue, I love the characters, and I just really love the show. It's an American classic, and if you haven't watched it, you're missing out on an opportunity to see television live up to its potential in a way that it very rarely does.

Last night I also read a really interesting interview with Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist who also happens to be a music producer and who spends a lot of time studying how the brain interacts with and interprets music. He spends time discussing several aspects of music, but one of the things he mentioned (and something I have kind of thought and wondered about a little bit on my own) is that music exists as a pattern of sounds that occur over time (as opposed to, say, paintings, which are comprised of a pattern of color over space). As an art form which relies upon a sequence of sounds unfolding, music relies upon recognizable patterns, and then deviations from those patterns. Your brain is trained to sort of sense what the next notes in the pattern are going to be (whether you realize that you're doing it or not). Being accustomed to certain types or styles of music helps your brain to more accurately be able to guess what the next notes of a pattern might be (for instance, Levitin points out that people who are used to hearing Western, tonal music are more likely to look for certain patterns to appear, as opposed to people who are used to hearing a more atonal, Eastern style of music- our brains get used to hearing certain rhythms, key signatures, etc., etc.).
What really interested me was that Levitin went on to say that what makes music good for any given person (meaning music they enjoy) is finding the right ratio of recognizeable patterns in a piece of music versus unusual or "unlikely" notes that fall outside of what is expected (i.e., if the brain basically tries to subconsciously predict what notes are coming up next, some notes will fall into the category of being predictable, versus other notes which unexpected- interesting music has the right combination of the two). Boring music will probably have too many notes which are easily predicted and fall into a sort of generic patternt that your brain is expecting. On the other end of the spectrum, music which seems completely random and which has absolutely no predictable pattern is likely to be unappealing because it's too chaotic and unfamiliar, and the brain will have a hard time making sense of it. Music that a person sees as "good" typically has a mix of predictability and unpredictability that the listener feels comfortable with.

I think that I kind of already intuitively understood music in this way, but it was interesting to hear Levitin explain it so clearly and succintly. Not only does it makes sense that we understand music in this way, but it helps to explain why musical tastes are so divergent between different people. The brain can train itself to be used to many different types of music and to hold many different recognizeable patterns in its memory. A jazz afficionado, for example, would probably be much more used to hearing a much greater diversity of chords and rhythms than someone who listens only to country or blues music (which have their own virtues, but tend to rely on a relatively narrower set of chords and rhythms). The diverse key signatures (meaning the regular use of a wide variety of pitches) and and time signatures (a wide variety of rhythms, as well) of jazz sort of prepares its listeners to expect notes that are outside of the normal or expected patterns that would be found in many other kinds of music, thereby making regular listeners of jazz able to accomodate patterns of sound that would be deemed too chaotic or unfamiliar for enjoyment by fans of other forms of music. Conversely, fans of jazz or other complicated forms of music might become easily bored if only exposed to music that fell into much more traditional, expected patterns (I remember a snobby music appreciation professor in college who used to repeatedly tell us how boring it was to have to constantly hear the typical 4/4 time signature of most country and rock music).
Levitin goes on to discuss the development of music as an evolutionary human mechanism, including ideas about how music helps humans to work together (what better way to keep up the rhythm of marching in formation than through song?), how music has served as a memory aid (people put things into song in order to remember them long before they could write), and how music helps to convey emotion (it might be hard to put feelings into words, but we seem to be able to activate emotions in one another through song even when words fail us).
Anyway, it's a short interview, but it has a lot of really interesting ideas. Well worth a read for those who are interested in such stuff.

In other news, the federal government has announced that we're giving AIG an $85 billion dollar bailout. I have very mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, people are saying that it would be devestating to the U.S. and international economy to have another big compnay go belly up right now, so I don't really want to see that happen. On the other hand, once again American taxpayer money is bailing out a company which has been poorly run and mismanaged. People are all against increased regulation and argue that the free market and Wall Street will take care if itself (heck, to hear many people tell it, the free market is going to cure all of society's problems), but then these companies come running to the government for help when they crash and burn so badly that they put the entire economy at risk. Shareholders and employees benefit, but the rest of us are footing the bill for their mistakes. In the particular case of this AIG bailout, the federal government is at least receiving an 80% stake in the company, but somehow giving the federal goverment a huge stake in the company doesn't really sound very much like capitalism. Funny how the same people who were fighting against any kind of government oversight (or as it was often put- government interference with the operation of a freemarket economy) are now willing to embrace something that looks very much like socialism in order to avoid a collapse (and no, I'm not advocating socialism- I'm just saying that we should have been regulating these industries mre closely up to this point).

And 16 people have died as the result of a terror attack on a U.S. embassy in Yemen. Experts are already saying it has some of the characteristics of a typical Al Qaeda attack. Anyway, between the surge of thousands of U.S. troops and our recent practice of paying off former insurgents to police stop killing Americans and to start policing each other, violence is down in Iraq. It's not clear if that stability is going to be sustainable once we start pulling out U.S. troops and cut off the cash flow to the Iraqis, though, and this latest attack is a reminder that the group who committed the 9/11 atrocities is still out there. Things in the Middle East and North Africa are still a mess.

I guess that's it for now. Sorry to end on such a down note. Go out and find yourself some music that feels kind of comfortable, but that still has enough mystery to keep you interested. Doing this will undoubtedly make your day much better. ;-)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Well, I didn't post about it yesterday, but the economy really took a hit over the last few days as Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, a troubled Merril Lynch was purchased by Bank of America, AIG announced that it was having cash flow problems, and the stock market dropped by 504 points. I'm not exactly a financial analyst, but it sure sounds like things aren't going very well. The Federal Reserve has, however, decided not to cut interest rates.

Soooo..... more troubles for the U.S. economy. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said yesterday in a briefing that some of our economic woes could be blamed on a cumulations of "excesses" (I guess that's a reference to getting greedy and loaning people money when common sense might tell you there's a good chance they won't be able to pay you back) and also upon "an archaic financial regulatory structure" (he specifically mentioned a need for greater oversight of non-bank financial institutions). Paulson had previously agreed to a federal financial bailout of Bear Stearns, but he did not endorse a bailout for Lehman. He also deflected questions regarding his own culpability and the culpability of the Bush White House in the collapse of Lehman and Merrill Lynch by saying that many of the regulatory systems that were in place had been there for a long period of time before his arrival. I guess that's true, but it seems like someone should have started looking at all of this stuff to see if we needed to modify our regulatory practices back when we started hearing all of those rumors about a housing bubble and rumors about how American lending institutions were getting way overextended in terms of their lending practices (I mean, am I wrong here? I'm not a financial or economic guy in any way, but it seems like I was reading articles about the possibility of a collapse long before it happened, but still within the last 4 years or so).

Anyway, why do I have a feeling that once again the middle class working stiffs are going to suffer the most because of this? CEOs with their multimillion dollar salaries will drift off to go find new perches and firms will continue to receive government and privatized bailouts (helping stockholders), but banks will continue to clamp down more and more tightly on their money, making it harder and harder to get a loan (in effect, overcompensating for their recently reckless loaning habits by now making it very difficult for responsible, legitimate borrowers to get mortgages, loans, and credit). Grrrreat...

What else? Richard Wright, one of the founding members of Pink Floyd (one of my all time favorite bands), died of cancer yesterday. Although his name sort of gets lost a lot of the time behind the more recognizable characters of Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, and David Gilmour, his keyboard parts were instrumental (no pun intended) components of the Pink Floyd sound over the years, and it's a shame that he's gone. He was 65 years old at the time of his death.

And they're saying there's a chance that ACL Fest will me moved into the first week of October next year. People have been clamoring for that since the first year. I'll believe it when I see it.

That's all I got. Peace to all of you guys.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Well, some cooler weather has blown into the Austin area overnight, and there's undoubtedly a fall-ish feel in the air today. I'm sure it will heat up and then cool down again several times before fall truly sets in, but nonethless, it's nice to get a reprieve from the heat.

I haven't blogged about McCain and Palin for awhile, but I did find a couple of interesting articles/op ed pieces about Palin in Time magazine over the last couple of days. Michael Kinsley had a piece which did a good job of debunking the myth that Sarah Palin is a true fiscal conservative or that she has shown a preference for anything other than taking as much federal tax money as she could get for Alaska, despite the fact that Alaska already has its own extremely high state revenue stream as a result of taxes placed on the oil drilled from Alaskan soil (of the 50 states, Alaska ranks number one in taxes per resident and number one in spending per resident, and its spending per resident is more than twice the national average). Palin goes on and on about saving us from dependence on foreign oil, but meanwhile, Alaskans tax the bejeezus out of oil that they sell to people in the lower 48 states, with Alaskan residents each getting a yearly check for about $2,000 from oil revenues, plus an additional $1,200 pushed through by Palin last year to take advantage of rising oil prices. Alaska ranks eighteenth in terms of the amount taxes that its citizens have to pay each year (averaging $5,434), but Alaska ranks 1st in terms of the the amount of federal funding that it receives per resident ($13, 950). In addition, although the McCain camp has ridiculed Obama for supporting a windfall profits tax on oil companies who are making record profits (a program designed to help alleviate some of the pain suffered by people who are paying exorbitant prices for gasoline that's being sold by companies which are receiving federal subsidies), Palin herself has supported a version of a windfall profits tax in order to divert more money into the Alaskan state coffers (apparently windfall profits taxes are ok when they support Alaskans, but not so good when they support the rest of us).

Anyway, all of this is just to say that it's fairly disingenuous for Palin to paint herself as a reformer who turns down federal tax dollars and constantly strives for smaller government. Palin has no problem at all turning down federal money when it supports her own constituents (and nothing helps to raise a governor's favorability ratings like handing out money to her constituents).

Another Time article that I read was by Joe Klein, and it was a bit more of an opinion/touchy feely type of article, but I think it still made some interesting (although more arguable) observations. Klein's piece was called Sarah Palin's Myth of America, and it dealt with the idea that Sarah Palin serves as a sort of symbol for much of conservative America. They see her as a white, middle class, Christian, small town working mom with children to raise and a loving husband by her side. Conservatives see her as a symbol of what America is all about, and they relate to her because she's from a small town full of the hard working people who drive our economy, help fight our wars, and who are unfailingly patriotic at all times.
But as Klein points out- the kind of America that Palin represents is mostly a creation of fantasy and nostalgia. America today is more racially diverse than ever, with whites moving closer and closer to being a minority population with each passing decade, and the hard-working people who fight our wars and drive our economy today coming not from the ranks of small town farmers or shopkeepers but from a population of suburbanites and city dwellers who often work for big corporations. More and more families involve single parent homes, and although religion continues to play a major role in American life, it often continues to do so in constantly-evolving and nontraditional ways- through practices that would seem quite unfamiliar to the Pentecostal practitioners of the church that Palin grew up in.
Anyway, conservatives see Palin as a symbol of nostalgic, small town America, but that particular America is more myth than fact. (I also kind of find something strange about people wanting to vote for a candidate just because they think a candidate is "just like me". Personally, if I run into someone who's "just like me", I might think that qualifies that person to be a drinking buddy, but probably not to be the most powerful leader in the free world. For that sort of thing I'm usually looking for someone who's smarter than me, with more education, experience, and a greater understanding of foreign and domestic affairs than I have, and most definitely with a greater understanding of the inner workings of government).

And now for my comment most likely to be described as "Steanso going out on a limb". Just going to make a bit of a wild-eyed prediction here, but bear with me: To be honest, even if the Republicans beat the Democrats in this election, I think that their days are numbered, at least in their current form (meaning, even if Obama loses this particular election, I think his candidacy signals the beginning of the end of some old-school political thought). As the population and the demographics of America continue to change, I just think that Republicanism in its current version will be unsustainable. As things stand, the Republicans have been staying viable because so many lower income and minority citizens don't vote (and, I suspect, also because of the population bulge surrounding the baby boomers- there are a disproportionate number of older people voting right now compared to the younger generation, but that's at least in some part because there's just a big, fat population group in that age range. Older people don't like change. They go for this whole American nostalgia thing that the Republicans have been pushing). But there's an ongoing, substantial rise in the minority population in this country, and as the income gap continues to grow (and more and more of our jobs continue to be outsourced), there will be more and more people who get tired of a government that is run with an eye toward benefitting the wealthiest members of our society. Eventually, unless the Republicans repackage themselves in a major way (which will be possible- fiscal conservativism always will have its place), they're just going to be overwhelmed. Nostalgia for a 1950's-style past just can't compete with the inevitablity of a much more diverse future (and I'm talking race, religion, sexual orientation, and a myriad combination of different lifestyles and family groups). We've already seen the Republicans shifting their positions on some issues (like global warming and the environment, the advisability of cutting off diplomacy with hostile nations, etc.). They're going to have to make similar adjustments in other areas in order stay viable. I think that if the Republicans survive, their party in 30 years is going to be almost unrecognizable in comparison with the Republican party of today (like I said, there will still be a place for fiscal conservativism, but some of their other policy points will probably need to change - they won't be able to just survive as the party of white, affluent, religious conservatives) .
Okay, that was some serious babbling. I'm not even sure I was even making sense there at the end, but it felt ok while I was writing it. Oh well.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

It's been kind of a strange weekend. I went home Friday night and didn't do a whole lot more than watch TV coverage of Hurricane Ike. As I said before, my mom is out in Florida with my grandfather, so Dad was all alone as the storm rolled in. Having discovered some roof damage to his house even before the hurricane arrived, Dad elected to ride out the storm in Houston, putting buckets under his leaks and checking to make sure the elements didn't take hold in other ways. Anyway, I watched a lot of TV on Friday night and watched the hurricane roll in over Galveston and Houston.

Saturday I talked to Dad and discovered that their house had made it through more or less intact, but the power was out, and things were getting sort of uncomfortable. Still, the rain continued to fall, so Dad decided to stay in Spring until he could be sure that water damage wasn't going to be a problem.

On Saturday Cassidy managed to sort of strain or sprain her leg while playing with Dolly, one of the hurricane refugee dog that I'm currently hosting. Three legged dogs don't do too well when one of their legs is out of commission, so I hung out with Cassidy for a lot of the day in order to keep an eye on her (it also gave me an excuse to watch continuing coverage of the news about the hurricane). I also watched Starship Troopers 3 (it was pretty stupid and not all that enteratining- I would avoid it unless you're a diehard fan of the franchise), and I watched a David Mamet movie called Redbelt.

Redbelt was about a jiu jitsu instructor who gets sort of sucked into the world of mixed martial arts fighting (as in tournament style, with television coverage and big cash prizes). Unsurprisingly, David Mamet seems to have developed a newfound fascination with jiu jitsu and mixed martial arts (I say unsurprisingly because he seems to have a keen appreciation for all things macho, and in particular, for subjects that have their own, independent sort of mythology and folklore- the kinds of subjects that seem to organically develop their own subculture). Anyway, Redbelt was sort of mildly interesting, but it's nowhere close to being Mamet's best work, and the dialogue of the film lacks his usual crispness and understated intelligence. If you're a fan of the martial arts, in particular, it's probably worth checking out, and it's worth mentioning that Chiwetel Ejiofor does a really good job as martial arts instructor Mike Terry. The problem isn't with the way he plays the character- the problem simply lies in the fact that we've seen this character- the noble martial arts practitioner who disdains violence for the sake of violence, but who ultimately ends up with his back to the wall with no choice but to fight- we've seen this countless times before. Ejiofor brings humanity and believability to the role, but the overall plot just feels like something dreamed up by some kid who has recently become exposed to and enthralled by martial arts for the first time (not the dialogue, mind you, which isn't among Mamet's best, but is still pretty good, but the plot itself- it just feels like Mamet created the whole enterprise as a show and tell for some cool jiu jitsu moves, and to share some of the dogmatic ethical principles that he picked up at his dojo). Anyway, not the worst movie, but definitely not Mamet's best.

On Saturday night I went out with friends to see Delta Spirit at the Parish. Dr. Dog was playing that night, too, and was actually the headliner, but we were primarily interested in seeing Delta Spirit, and the Parish was really stuffy and hot, so we bailed before Dr. Dog ever took the stage. I thought Delta Spirit sounded pretty good. Not overly complicated, but they have cool, catchy songs (there were little elements of Arcade Fire and the Rolling Stones in there somewhere), and I really like their lead singer's voice. They're playing at ACL Fest on the first day, I think sometime right after Vampire Weekend, so I want to go check them out again.

Today my dad came into town to escape his unairconditioned home, and we went to Steiner Ranch to look at his new house with him. It's coming along very nicely, and it'll be a great place to hang out once he and Mom move to Austin.

Well, that's it for the moment. Just wanted to make a Sunday post since I had the chance.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Well, my three day moratorium on blogging about election politics has come to a close. Ryan and Jamie told me during dinner last night that I had sort of strayed into politics with my 9/11 post yesterday, but: 1) I was told that it was still ok for me to talk about foreign and domestic policy issues so long as I steered clear of commenting on the campaign, and 2) I really didn't mean for the 9/11 thing to be a political rant, per se. I just think that some mistakes were made in our response to the 9/11 tradgedy, and I wanted to point out how I, personally, think we might better respond to terrorist attacks in the future (I just think we ought to have as narrow a response as possible- take out the bad guys who act against us, but try not to expand our response into a broader action that will draw more people into the conflict and create more anti-American sentiment- and yes, I know I'm not an expert, but so far I haven't been too impressed by the plans that our experts have come up with). Anyhoo, not once did I feel the need to reference the names of any political candidates during my 9/11 post.
And speaking of 9/11, I watched a documentary on the History Channel last night about 9/11 called 102 Minutes that Changed America. The show was depressing and scary, but also sort of fascinating in terms of giving a first person view of the events in New York as they unfolded. The program has no narration, and I don't remember it having any music. It was just a collection of videos shot with home camcorders by people on the ground in Manhattan on September 11, 2001. The editors show the videos in real time, following the timeline of the actual morning of 9/11, and they overdub audio clips of phone calls and radio chatter (which are supposed time-synched with the video footage), giving a sense of how people in New York were perceiving these events as they unfolded. And the reaction of the people witnessing the attacks unfold may be the most interesting parts of the documentary. There's plenty of footage of the planes hitting the towers and the devastation that followed as the buildings burned and fell, but most of us have seen these things before. More interesting were the personal reactions of people in their homes and on the streets. I remember, personally, driving around Austin that day and looking up in the sky, knowing planes were supposed to be grounded and that we might be in for big trouble if we saw something up there. This apprehension, however, didn't come anywhere close to the abject fear and panic that many New Yorkers were feeling as they saw their city coming under attack. Reaction footage in the documentary runs the gamut- from people screaming and running to evacuate the city with their most personal belongings and kids, to fiery anger and rage (it amazed me to see New Yorkers on the street talking about how we needed to bomb the Middle East into glass only minutes after the attacks, when everything was still in complete chaos). Almost everyone in the videos, however, shared a look of disbelief and shock. It appeared as though there was a collective understanding that this was one of those moments when the world was suddenly changing beneath everyone's feet. And there's at least one scene with some haunting footage of a bunch of firemen marching toward the remaining tower just after the first one collapsed. You can just see from the look on their faces that they know they're going into a very bad situation, but they keep marching toward the building, anyway- headed into the chaos in order to go an get other people out.
Anyway, it was an interesting documentary. Kind of tough to watch, but it sure brought the memories of that day back into the forefront of my mind. I don't mean to just pursue the 9/11 topic out of morbid fascination, but the events of that day have had a tremendous impact upon the course of history for our country, and its just going to be one of those days that is forever burned into the memory of people in my generation.

What else? You know what? I think I'm going to avoid talking about the election for one more day. Things are kind of slow at the moment, anyway. I watched a bit of Obama last night in a forum sponsored by Time magazine regarding public service. He said some good things about wanting to inspire people to do more in the service of their country. I caught very little of McCain's talk, but he seemed to be saying some similar stuff. I agree. I need to volunteer more.

Ike keeps rolling in toward Galveston and Houston, and it's not looking good. My mom is in Florida with my grandfather (who fell and broke his hip, but is recovering well, apparently), so Dad may be weathering the storm out on his own (my folks live in Spring, in north Houston). So far Dad says he wants to stay in Spring to keep an eye on the house, but those plans may change, and I may have him taking up residence at my place.
Personally, I really haven't stocked up for the storm with any kind of extra provisions or anything. If we have a power out and everyone goes Mad Max, I'm going to have to go over to my brother's place and fight him to the death for his Spaghetti O's and peanut butter (I may share some with Jamie, but Roundball eats too much- he'll have to go).

Well, that's about it. Everyone send out a prayer, positive thoughts, and/or good karmic vibes down to the people on the Texas Gulf Coast. I know that I'll be thinking of them as Hurricane Ike steams toward shore...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Well, it's the last day of my three day challenge, so let's see how it goes.

I had dinner with Ryan and Jamie last night at Cherry Creek. Cherry Creek has pretty good shrimp and catfish, but more importantly, when I eat there it has the comfortable feel of hanging out at a friend or relative's house. It's not fancy at all- it's just a low key neighborhood restaurant with decent food. Comfort food in a friendly, comfortable environment.

Last night I also watched V for Vendetta again. It's still a good movie, and I think I enjoyed it more this time just because I hadn't read the book recently (when I saw the movie before, the book was still fresh in my mind, and it was hard to avoid constant comparisons. This time it was easier to let the movie stand on its own merits, and since I wasn't keeping track of things they had left out or altered from the book, the movie was easier to enjoy). It's definitely a pop culture, action blockbuster sort of movie, but it still manages to carry some pretty profound messages about the role of government and its use of fear and distrust to control people and consolidate power. Pretty powerful themes for a superhero action movie.

Hurricane Ike keeps barrelling toward the Texas coast. I watched a fairly in depth analysis of the hurricane's projected path on the weather channel last night, and I came away from it with the impression that the hurricane's actual course following landfall is going to be pretty difficult to accurately predict (there seems to be a combination of a couple of fronts, including one blowing in from the west, which will change the storm's direction once they collide, but variations in the speed and intensity of the fronts as well as speed and intensity variations in Hurricane Ike make it extremely difficult to tell at exactly what path the storm will take). Anyway, Beaumont already has a mandatory evacuation order, so Mandy will soon have her family back up here, and I will soon have her brother's dogs, Woody and Dolly, camped out in my back yard. If it's true that global warming is causing this increase in the frequency and strength of hurricanes, I probably ought to consider building a guest house out back that I can rent to hurricane evacuees every summer when hurricane season comes. These evacuations might start becoming a regular yearly tradition.

Today, of course, also marks the 7th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. I was listening to some interviews of family members of 9/11 victims this morning on the radio, and the sadness of the whole event came rushing back to me. Aside from feeling bad about the loss of life associated with 9/11, it also occurred to me how much that event has changed our country and our national culture.
In some ways I think we became a smaller country after 9/11. We became scared and more xenophobic. Feeling that the "American way of life" was under attack by fanatical Muslims, American Christians became more defensive about their religion and more aggressive in demanding that religion play a central role in our goverment and public affairs (the Establishment Clause took a few hits). We became a nation less tolerant of dissent and more insistent upon unquestioning loyalty. We began to take on a national attitude that rejected foreign viewpoints and criticism simply because it was from other nations- we took on an almost belligerent mindset toward most foreign countries (and this because we had been attacked by one relatively small group). We redirected our righteous anger toward old enemies from unrelated conflicts and used 9/11 as an excuse to angrily cut off diplomacy with unfriendly nations. We surrendered our civil rights, giving up our privacy and the accountability of government in the face of a continuing, invisible, but presuambly all prevasive, terrorist threat.
To some things up with an overly simple phrase- we overreacted.
It might seem impossible to some people to consider the possibility that there could be an overreaction to a unilateral attack against the U.S. that produced thousands of civilian deaths, but, nonetheless, I still believe this to be true.
I say we overreacted for at least two reasons:
First, I firmly believe that it was Bin Laden's plan all along to get the U.S. to lash out in retaliation against the Muslim world with a broad, nonspecific response that would inflict a large amount of "collateral damage" against the Muslim population of the Middle East. I think that this was Bin Laden's plan when he bombed the World trade Center the first time in 1993, and when that was unsuccessful (he got the explosion, but the buildings didn't fall), he went right back to the drawing board to come up with a new way to accomplish the same mission. Bin Laden knew that he had some very effective places to hide, and he also knew that there was no way the U.S. was going to let something on the scale of the 9/11 attacks go unanswered (and I think he was counting on the fact that we would have an emotional response, rather than a calculated, measured one). Bin Laden knew that the U.S. would end up hurting a whole lot of Muslims in the search for perpetrators of the bombing, and he probably hoped that we would attack some unrelated target (but a Muslim one) once we got frustrated.
Osama probably believed that once America committed large scale violence against Muslims following 9/11 that he would have the perfect rallying issue to pull more and more Muslims into the conflict against the west. Furthermore, the U.S, would have to come to the Middle East to hunt the terrorists, and this would give anti-American radicals a much better opportunity to attack American forces (and the very presence of American military forces during an extended deployment in the Middle East would fan the flames of Muslim indignation and outrage).
Anyway, I think our broad, sweeping response to the 9/11 attacks played directly into Bin Laden's hands. I hate to say it, but it was kind of a typically American response to assume that Bin Laden was in league with Hussein just because both men were Muslim. I think that the ramifications of our invasion of Iraq are just beginning to be felt and that a whole new generation of fundamentalist Muslims are going to grow up with strongly anti-U.S. sentiments etched into their brains. The surge may have worked up to a point, but the final measure of success will come when our forces finally withdraw from Iraq and the country either stands on its own or tears itself apart (and I think we're far from having an answer to that question- we still have an enormous troop presence on the ground, and we're still apparently buying off local militia groups in order to keep them from fighting with us and each other).
The second reason I'd say we overreacted is just as a result of looking at the numbers. It may sound like a cold calculus, but we suffered something like 2,752 deaths as a result of the September 11th attacks. In response, so far we've suffered 4,155 American military combat deaths in Iraq. The number of total Iraqi deaths, including enemy combatants as well as civilians, is apparently difficult to estimate, but reliable reports have put it at numbers around 1,000,000 people. These deaths occurred during a war in a place that had no relationship to the 9/11 attacks, and yet the Iraq War never would have occurred if Bin Laden hadn't kicked it off with the events of 9/11.
Now note that I'm not saying that we shouldn't have had a response to 9/11, and I understand that these war casualties occurred with an eye toward protecting America in the future (although I think it would also be naive to think we weren't at least as interested in avenging the events of 9/11). I'm just saying that we needed a scalpel to take out a malignant tumor (i.e., Bin Laden), but instead we used a sword or an axe and we cut off an entire limb. There had to have been a better, more efficient way to go after Bin Laden, using special units, better intelligence, and with the cooperation and support of ally nations who were sympathetic toward us (at least back then) because of the harm we had suffered.

Anyway, maybe I shouldn't have made this post today because the anniversary of 9/11 is a pretty sensitive time, but this stuff has been on my mind because, of course, the ramifications of 9/11 far go way beyond the tragic loss of life that we suffered (which was, by the way, more than bad enough). I remember the feeling of the country suffering together and pulling together to help one in another in the days and weeks following 9/11 in a way that I really wouldn't have believed possible if I hadn't lived through it myself. I guess that I just want to feel like we, as a nation, took some legitimate lessons away from the 9/11 experience, and I'm hoping that those lessons amount to something more than locked airplane cockpits, increased x-ray checkpoints, and a perpetually yellow Homeland Security threat level.
It just drives me nuts that, to this day, I feel like we not only played in Osama Bin Laden's hands, but that he pretty much got away with his plan. He wanted to spur us into the sorts of actions that would make us look like mosters to large segments of the rest of the world, and he definitely had some measure of success (words like torture, rendition, Abu Ghraib, enemy combatant, and Gunatanamo Bay didn't used to be the sorts of things people associated with America). And the bastard is still out there!!!! Aaaarrrgh.
That ol' Nietzsche quote still seems appropriate when I think about Bin Laden had the reaction that the U.S. has had to his work:

"He who goes out seeking to fight monsters should take care, lest a monster he become."

Man, that's a lot of rambling, and I'm not sure I should post it all. At least it's not about the election. (well, not directly, at least)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Oooookay.... day two of my three day challenge, and I'm still hanging in there. (although not all that easily)

I guess that Hurricane Ike is on its way to the Texas coastline. Although I don't really want to see my neighbors get pounded down on the coast, it sure would be nice for Central Texas to get some decent rainfall so that we could recharge the aquifer and replenish our lakes and rivers.

Last night I watched the series premiere of a new Fox show called Fringe. It's an action/suspense show about an FBI agent who's investigating a series of bizarre occurrences (known as "the pattern") which have led investigators to conclude that someone is engaging in unorthodox experiments, often using an unwitting human population as guinea pigs. The science used in these experiments is the kind of stuff not normally accepted by the wider scientific community (thus the "fringe science" label- get it?), and we're led to believe that includes subject matter ranging from ESP and telekinesis to genetic manipulation and bioweapons.
Anyway, the show definitely has a bit of an X-Files type of feel to it, although perhaps a bit less melodramatic and ominous (there were definitely some creepy/scary scenes on Fringe, but it didn't have the same overall atmosphere of melancholy seriousness that the X-Files always seemed to project).
It's not really fair to draw too many conclusions about a show after only watching its first episode or pilot (I think the writers and directors have too much exposition and character establishment type stuff to do during a first episode to accurately be able to tell how the pacing and flow of the series is going to go as it progresses), but nonetheless, I think Fringe is going to end up feeling a bit formulaic for my taste. It seems like our protagonist, the main character FBI agent Olivia Dunham, has assembled her Scooby Doo-style investigation team, including a mildly insane former government scientist, his brilliant, but not formally educated son, and her tough as nails on the outside, softie on the inside boss (from Homeland Security). There's going to be some kind of creepy mystery each week that's not easily explained by modern science, and apparently there's some giant conspiracy in the works, which we will eventually undoubtedly learn extends into the highest possible levels of government and corporate America.
The first episode had me sort of bored when I was only halfway through it (I fought off the urge to abandon the show, but I'm not sure why), and unless the show takes some major right hand turns or quickly produces some unexpected plot developments, I don't think I'll be watching it very long (although I may still take in another episode, given my "don't judge a series by the first episode" rule).
I will say that I thought Anna Torv did a pretty good job and was fairly likable as the lead character, Agent Dunham. Unfortuantely, we've just seen these types of characters too many times before (the plucky, hard driven cop/agent who will take on any comers, including her own superiors, in order to solve the mystery, get her man, and prove, once again, that any job a man can do, a woman can do better). Torv is facing a major uphill battle if she's going to keep her character interesting.
Well, maybe Fringe will get better. We'll see.

In other news, there have been reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is sick, possibly having suffered a stroke. The North Korean government initially denied these reports, claiming that any stories relating to health problems were nothing more than lies perpetuated as part of an anti-North Korean conspiracy. More recently, however, South Korean intelligence experts have reported that although Jong-il suffered a cerebral hemorrhage last month, the leader's condition is "manageable", and that he is in a stable condition, supposedly conscious and lucid, but not really able to walk around. The condition of Kim Jong-il has become a matter of international concern, since North Korea is a powerful military force in Asia and since it's been in negotiations with the west to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for being taken off the list of nations who sponsor terrorist activities. Anyway, Jong-il has some sons (I think 3, if memory serves), but apparently they haven't really been trained or groomed to assume the mantle of leadership if Jong-il steps down. A power vacuum is likely to occur if Jong-il is incapacitated, and many spectators fear that forces within the North Korean military would gain control of the country if the current leader is forced to step down. This possibility has many concerned, as the hard-line military has been traditionally hostile toward South Korea and the West- a sort of disturbing potentiality given the size of the North Korean army and the fact that North Korea may or may not have been developing nuclear weapons.
It's kind of like the old pre-war situation that we had in Iraq with Saddam Hussein- Kim Jong-il is a pretty crappy leader, but at least he's fairly predictable and he's shown some ability to keep the country stable (he may be starving some of his own people to do this, but at least he's not launching attacks against other nations). Sometimes you're better off with the devil that you know....

Well, I guess that's it for now. Hope you guys are having a good hump day.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Sooooooo..... I'm trying really hard not to mention certain stuff on the blog today (see the comments from yesterday's post if you're not understanding).

But there's still plenty of stuff to talk about. I can talk about lots of things. I'm not obsessive, right? RIGHT?!?!

I watched a good chunk of the Packers/Vikings game last night with Team Steans. The Packers did okay for themselves without Favre. Of course, they were playing at Lambeau Field, which always helps, and I'm not sure that the Vikings defense was firing on all pistons last night, but nonetheless, Aaron Rodgers and the Pack did a pretty good job. It was just nice to see that the team isn't going to roll over and die just because Favre isn't at the helm. Plus, of course, it's nice to pick up a win against a division rival in your first game of the season. Soooooo.....hooray for the cheeseheads!

I also watched the season premiere of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles last night. I watched this show last season and thought it was pretty good. The writing was consistently pretty smart, the show did a good job of actually adhering to the overall storyline from the Terminator movies (while still managing to have a style of its own), and there are lots of pretty cool action scenes. Last season there were a number of points where I feared that the show would go off the rails and turn cheesey or riddle itself with a bunch of dumb plot holes, but so far they've managed to keep it on track and keep it fairly interesting.

Anyway, the season premiere last night was pretty good, and I think they're setting up the show to expand its scope in depicting the war that the humans are fighting against the machines from the future. Probably not the kind of thing that everyone will enjoy, but if you like some kick butt sci fi action adventure with homicidal, super-powered robots, you might want to check it out.

What else...? I'm not one to really shrink away from scientific progress or cower in fear at technological development, but the possibility that the Large Hadron Collider (the world's most powerful particle smasher) might produce microscopic black holes which could, according to some particle physicists, have a small chance of swallowing up the earth- well, the whole idea is kind of giving me pause. The use of the collider could do stuff like aid in our understanding of the existence of other dimensions, and eventually it might produce discoveries which could aid us in areas ranging from telecommunications to medicine to energy, but there are also less appealing possibilities- like the production of these tiny black holes or the recombination of quarks into things called strangelets, which turn everything around them into other strangelets (and that's not even to mention the possibility of monopoles- magnets possessing only one charge which might produce other kinds of havoc).

I guess the issue is that although the risk that something will go wrong may be fairly slight during these particle smashing experiments, the potential outcomes if something were to go awry sound awfully nasty. Lawsuits and injunctions have been filed trying to stop the use of the collider in U.S. federal courts and in the European Court of Human Rights, at least until more safety-related questions can be answered.

I really don't know what to think about this whole deal. I want my cell phone to work better, but I'm not sure that I'm willing to implode the planet in order to do that. And I know that plenty of scientists are downplaying the risks associated with this sort of research, and I don't want to be the coward who keeps the human race from moving forward, but we've all heard these sorts of reassurances before and seen how these things turn out...

Monday, September 08, 2008

The weekend flew by too quickly again. I hung out with Team Bloom, Mandy, and the Whiskeetos a bit, got a haircut from Kellie, took Cassidy down to Barton Springs, and had a pretty good band practice with the Mono Ensemble. It looks like Mono Ensemble may be playing a First Thursday gig at a new restaurant called Somnio's that one of our friends has opened on South 1st on the first Thursday in October (the 2nd). If things work out we'll be playing from about 7:30 until 9:30. The restaurant will be serving some food, but as things stand right now they don't have a beer or liquor license, so it'll probably be BYOB. Anyway, I'll keep you guys posted on that event as things take shape.

It seems like my XBox 360 may have crapped out on me just as I was finally coming close to finishing Grand Theft Auto IV (or I think I was, anyway). Stupid machine keeps freezing up just as it's powering on, when it's still showing the XBox logos and before it even starts playing the game. That sucks. I've had several different Playstations before, and I've never had one just die on me like that (knock on wood). Anyway, that stupid ol' GTA IV game takes like almost 60 hours to finish, which absolutely sucks, because even if I get a new machine I'm probably not going to be able to get my game back. Oh well, maybe it's a cosmic sign that I need to be reading and playing music more and wasting time on videogames less.

Apparently the ol' sister-in-law, Jamie, had a good, safe trip up to Oklahoma over the weekend for a sort of impromptu, Facebook-inspired high school reunion. With Jamie's various health concerns she doesn't get to travel all that much, so I'm glad to see that she had a good time with her old friends.

I sort of scrupulously avoided watching CNN or almost any news this weekend because I just felt like I was sort of overloaded with politics following the conventions of the last two weeks. I did, however, watch The Weather Channel long enough to confirm that Hurricane Ike is currently battering Cuba, but is then predicted to follow a track into the Gulf of Mexico that will likely bring it to the Louisiana or Texas coastline. I tell you what- if Mandy's family has to evacuate Beaumont and come back to Austin again, this time I'm not going to miss my opportunity to meet Mandy's new niece, Lia. (Lia was still pretty much a newborn when she was here last time, but if she comes back I might be able to sneak a peek, and yup- that's Mandy with Lia over there on the left). Anyway, I sure hope Ike doesn't hit New Orleans. Those people just can't take much more of this (and Beaumont ain't loving it, either).

What else? Not much. I read another article by Fareed Zakaria wich kind of offered an interesting perspective on the Russia/Georgia conflict. Zakaria thinks that this recent action by the Soviets will ultimately be seen as a big blunder on their part- that former Soviet countries will be driven into the arms of NATO or seek other Western protections following this act of aggression, and that Russia itself will suffer a number of sanctions and both formal and informal retributions from the international community because if its action (all to eventually gain the citizenship of 70,000 former Georgians). Zakaria argues that we need more diplomatic and business ties with Russia rather than less contact with them at this juncture (i.e., we need to fight the urge to isolate Russia) because the more closely linked the Russians are with the west, the more different types of sanctions we will have available to use as punishments or coercive measures for when they step out of line (short of direct military action).

Ugggh. And I just stumbled upon this article about the McCain camp's latest efforts to shut down the so-called Troopergate probe into Sarah Palin's possibly inappropriate use of pressure to try to get her ex brother-in-law fired. This is what happens when I don't watch the news all weekend. I understand that these kind of investigations are sometimes initiated for political reasons, but this one had already been begun and was well underway when the Republicans decided to put Palin on their ticket. They're making accusations that the probe is now being exploited for political reasons. I think the probe is just drawing a lot more attention than they would like because it calls into question the honesty and character of a woman who's running for vice president (and who could quite plausibly be called upon to step into the role of president), but they should have known that this would be an issue when they nominated someone who had an ongoing ethics probe against her. It was naive and foolish of them not to think that this issue would receive a lot of attention. Bottom line- I think McCain and Palin lose all credibility as reformers, fighters of corruption, and as non-Bush style leaders if the first thing they do, before ever taking office, is to sabotage an ethics probe so that one of them can get elected. To quote The Who, "Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss..."

Friday, September 05, 2008

Well, I actually didn't catch all of McCain's speech. I honestly did try, but I kind of fell asleep while it was on. I'm not sure what that says, exactly, but it's worth noting that I wasn't in any danger of falling asleep during Palin's speech. I took a look at the transcript of his speech, though, and it looked like pretty standard stuff. I don't feel like spending a lot of time analyzing his speech, but I will say that one thing that bothers me is that McCain keeps talking about how he's going to be a uniter and reach across party lines, but then I feel like he keeps making cheap attacks on Obama, questioning his character and patriotism, and even worse, mocking the man's work as a community organizer and as someone who has struggled diligently to help improve his life for the residents of his Chicago community. These don't strike me as the acts of someone who really wants be seen as a uniter.
I also just have questions about whether McCain really understands the problems that much of middle America is going through. He keeps saying that Obama is raising taxes on all Americans, but Obama's paln includes tax cuts for 95% of the population with the only people who may have income tax increases making more than $250,000 (Obama will actually cut taxes for many of the rest of us). Of course, with Cindy McCain wearing outfits to the Republican convention that cost $300,000, the McCain's probably really do feel like everyone in Ameirca is going to be getting a tax increase (they probably know very few people who make less than $250,000 a year). I don't think the McCains understand the problems being suffered by the middle Americans whose jobs are being outsourced, salaries and benefits are being cut, health care costs raised, and whose homes are being foreclosed upon. They think they can fix our problems by continuing to cut taxes and give benefits to the wealthiest members of our nation, but the reality is that that money isn't spreading through the economy. It's creating an income disparity and creating record profits for a limited few while the jobs and benefits that middle Americans used to enjoy (and which, incidentally, are making all of those profits for the wealthiest members of our nation) are being outsourced overseas (which helps increase profits if you're at the very top of the corporate structure, but leaves the American labor force in the lurch). Conservative deregulation and lack of oversight in lending practices helped a bunch of wealthy bankers and mortgage brokers get richer, but that greed ultimately resulted in predatory lending practices, countless home foreclosures, and the beginnings of an economic downturn (I'm not saying irresponsible borrowers didn't play their part in this, but you don't see the bankers being evicted from their homes). I don't want to live in a country with only a very wealthy elite and a poor working class. I'm still one of those suckers who believes that a strong middle class is part of what has separated America from third world, underdeveloped nations.
The Republicans keep talking about bringing change with their campaign, but they talk as though McCain wasn't a member of the party who helped to lead us to our current situation (do I need to quote Obama's favorite statistic about McCain voting with Bush over 90% of the time?).
Anyway, there's a lot to like and respect about John McCain, but I just don't think he has the policies or the beliefs to turn the country around right now.

By the way, there was a story on Nightline last night that was about all of the lobbying money and lobbyist schmoozing that goes on at these conventions for BOTH parties, and it was sort of disturbing. Everything from giving politicians rides to the convention on private jets to golf tournaments and extravagant parties to hip hop concerts with Kanye West (the Republicans had at least one event with a band called Hookers and Blow)- the lobbyists throw insane amounts of money at convention delegates and at elected officials from each party. Spending more, of course, gets the lobbyists more access to elected officials, including exclusive passes to restricted events, and the lobbyists and corporate donors have found some pretty crazy ways of exploiting loopholes in recent lobbying regulations (the Nightline story showed footage of a dinner that was all comprised of lavish finger foods and items served on spoons, since regulations now prohibit lobbyists from serving meals "eaten with forks and knives").
Anyway, the rampant cronyism and preferential treatment was kind of disturbing (on the part of both parties). Clearly wealthy corporations and individuals still have a major leg up when it comes to gaining access to lawmakers and other government officials, and it's worth noting that a number of the companies throwing parties (I'm pretty sure Disney was one) currently had legislation pending before Congress which might significantly impact their businesses. I know this stuff has always gone on, but I thought we were getting better about it.

I just talked to my friend Jennifer on the phone, and she says the politics on my blog are getting old. She's probably right.

Not much else to report, though. Last night I had dinner at Romeo's with Ryan, Jamie, and Jamie's friend, Becca. Dinner was pretty good. Jamie and Becca are driving up to their hometown of Lawton, Oklahoma, today to attend a sort of impromptu, informal class reunion at their old high school. Hope they have a fun, safe trip.

I'm so glad it's Friday, and the weather here in Austin seems like it might be nice for the weekend (knock on wood)!