Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!!!!

I hope that everyone has a safe and happy Halloween! Have a great time, but remember to call a cab or get a designated driver if you're going to be including cocktails amongst your treats! Hope that picture of Jason from the Friday the 13th movies isn't too scary! I had to include him, since he shares my name and since I've dressed as Jason many a year to celebrate the holiday (it's a cheap, easy costume, and hey- we both enjoy being scary big guys on Halloween!).


Well, the TV on the Radio show last night was really very good. You suckers should definitely have had your sorry selves in attendance. The large crowd was really into the show, the music was great, and the weather was perfect. TV on the Radio has that thing going where you can compare them to a bunch of different bands (at different moments, there are sounds in there that range from Peter Gabriel to Radiohead to Arcade Fire to even some Living Color [and no, not just because both bands have black lead singers- I think at times Tunde Adebimpe really does have a bit of Cory Glover in his vocal mannerisms, although at other times he sounds nothing like him]). Anyway, TVOTR tend to incorporate a wide range of styles, throwing in everything from a cappella and jazz sounds to more underlying alternative, techno, groove-based rock. They have incredible vocals, and they did a great job of recreating their songs in a live setting. On their albums they use what sounds like a fair number of loops and sequenced beats, so part of me was worried that there would just be a few guys up there singing along with drum machines, but they mostly seemed to stick to playing everything live with actual instruments. There might have been a few loops here and there, but for the most part, they rocked everything out onstage with live instrumentation, with something like 8 or more musicians, including two guys on horns (saxophones, but even the occasional oboe and flute), a couple of guitar players, bass, drums, and a keyboardist or two (and, of course, a lead singer). They also had someone who came out and danced around in a gingerbreadman outfit (which was cool).
Anyway, it was a really good, high energy show. Probably one of the best since I saw the Raconteurs at Stubb's earlier this year (and that includes all of the ACL Fest shows). TVOTR is another one of those bands that's just now hitting it's stride, and I think people are going to be enjoying them and talking about them for a long time. They're really doing something pretty unique and different, but doing it exceptionally well (and it's not simple music). My only real complaint was that the show was kind of on the short side for a club show, and could have easily been longer without any chance of wearing out their welcome (I think they maybe barely clocked in at an hour and a half, but it may have even been a few minutes shy of that).
Oh yeah- The Dirtbombs opened up for TVOTR, and they were pretty cool, too. They had two drummers, two bass players, and a lead singer who played some guitar. They had fast-paced, driving music that had sort of a dance punk beat to it, and they were fun. I looked at their web site, and it sounds like they've been together awhile (their name sounds sort of familiar), but the lead singer said during an interview that the only reason The Dirtbombs are still around is so he can make extra money to go to comic book conventions (which I thought my brother would appreciate). Anyway, they were cool and I need to check them out some more.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

thursday. I went to dinner with Ryan and Jamie last night and then hung out for awhile and watched some Ghost Hunters. Cassidy was extremely happy to get a chance to hang out with the cousin dogs, Mel and Lucy.

And here's what's bugging me at the moment: voting machines. There seems to be no end to the reports of problems with them, and yet the people in charge of running the elections seem resolutely determined not to acknowledge the problems or to make corrections. Standing in line at the Subway restaurant near my house the other night, I struck up a conversation with a woman wearing a Travis County Elections Volunteer badge, and she told me that the people monitoring the elections in Travis County had already received a number of reports that the machines in Travis County were screwing up- in particular, that there had been cases where people were trying to vote straight ticket Democrat, but when they selected the straight ticket option on the voting machine, the machine was selecting McCain/Palin for the presidential choice (all of the other choices were the appropriate Democratic picks).
So I have questions about how often these machines are recording votes incorrectly or how often software glitches are changing votes.
I also continue to find it absolutely amazing and ridiculous that voters aren't given a paper receipt or print out showing the votes that they had cast. Such a system would be one of the only truly reliable ways to provide for a recount and to allow people to provide proof of how their votes were actually cast.
In addition to simple computer and software malfunctions, which could influence the outcome of an election, computerized voting machines allow for tampering and fraud on a massive scale, and in the absence of a paper trail there's absolutely no way to demonstrate how people actually voted. Literally, for all we know, our votes may never be recorded at all, and some kid in a darkened room somewhere, employed by one party or the other, may be sitting in front of his computer, working to create realistic-looking election results which validate the outcome which his employers have ordered him to produce.
Granted, that scenario may sound a bit paranoid, but at the same time, for the life of me I can't figure out why they won't just provide hard copy receipts of our votes! The failure to incorporate hard copy proof into the voting system is such an obviously simple fundamental omission in the system that its absence is almost enough to make one prone to speculation in the direction of conspiracy theory.
As one of my friends who is a former programmer said, everyone who works with computers for a living (or even just in a personal context) knows that computers are prone to malfunctions and easily susceptible to manipulation by anyone with any degree of technical know how. One of the fundamental goals of any voting system needs to be reliability and a capacity to instill confidence in the voters/users. Anyone who has ever used a computer will know that a vote recorded in only an electronic medium may be altered or erased the moment that it is cast, so the only reasonable way to instill confidence in an electronic voting system is to create a paper trail that the voter can take with them, that can be verified and recounted by hand if the need to do so arises later (people could collect these receipts later, if the need arose, and compare them to the voting record reported by the electronic machines). Without a paper record, the first and most primary goal of the system isn't going to be met- instilling confidence in the voting public.
The only reason I've heard given for not giving voter receipts is that it would use too much paper and create additional costs.
This response seems ludicrous in the face of all of the government paperwork that we receive in the mail on a regular basis regarding taxes, voter registration, vehicle registration, trash collection, and a host of other subjects, any one of which seems less important than protecting the accurate results of our elections (and how much paper would be required, really? a small printout the size of a shopping or restaurant receipt for each voter? I get a large, mutlicolored cardboard notecard every year in my mail reminding me of my watering schedule) I'm telling you people- there's something very suspicious and strange about the very fact that there's resistance to the idea of paper voting records from the election machines.
Anyway, end of today's rant. This voting machine thing has been bugging me for about ten years or more now, but I thought things would have changed by now. If they're waiting for me to get used to the idea of a completely unverifiable election system- it ain't gonna happen. I'm always gonna find the voting process to be one of the few areas of life/business/government where a completely computerized system is unsatisfactory.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Oh yeah- last call for TV on the Radio tomorrow night at Stubb's. Send me an email.

Steanso's Closing Argument

Well, with the election right around the corner, I have a feeling this thing may still end up being much more of a nail biter than the media would have us believe.
I read a friend of mine's blog last night, and she talked about describing the presidential race to her little boys by way of comparison to the David and Goliath story, with, in her version, McCain being equated with David and Obama with Goliath (needless to say, my friend comes down more on the conservative side of the political spectrum than I do).
But after getting a bit of a chuckle over her anecdote, it made me stop, think, and wonder about how many other people see the race in the same way that my friend does. Even moreso, it made me think about how much this country has changed over the last couple of decades. We're now at the point where a black man with three and a half years of Senate experience is seen as a Goliath who's threatening small, heroic John McCain? McCain is a white male from a well-connected family who's been in the Senate for over 20 years and who's running on behalf of a party who's held the White House for the last 8 years and controlled the legislature for 6 of the last 8! Obama favors health plans which will insure more of the nation than McCain's, a tax plan which would benefit far more people in this country than McCain's (and yes, that includes small businesses- few of which make over the $250,000 a year necessary to bump them into a higher paying tax bracket), and economic recovery plans which give incentives to companies that keep jobs in the U.S rather than shipping them overseas (a benefit to American workers that won't be seen under McCain's plan).
Anyway, the David and Goliath thing just killed me because even though I know it was mostly a reference to the lead given to Obama in recent polling numbers, it seems to me that Obama's entire campaign has been about protecting the middle class and "the little guy", while McCain is all about tax cuts for the wealthy and for big business along with continued deregulation. McCain is still proceeding under the "ownership society", trickle down economics model, acting as though helping big corporations and the wealthy is enough to translate into a better standard of living for the rest of the country.
And there could not be a stronger refutation of these trickle down theories than the failures of the Republicans over the last eight years (as jobs have been shipped overseas and income disparities in this country have continued to grow at an alarming rate), including our current economic meltdown (note: I'm not saying that supply side economic theories have absolutely no merit, but the idea that American workers and middle class families will survive and thrive through the use of unregulated free markets and trickle down economics alone just doesn't hold much water anymore).
We need change. We need someone who will not be content to sit back and say that the American economy is strong and everything is going fine while American workers continue to contend with the outsourcing of jobs, salaries being reduced, and benefits (including insurance) being cut, all while wealth continues to "trickle up" to the wealthiest members of our society (and no- I don't hate rich people, but I just think the basic needs of workers shouldn't go unmet while the wealthiest among us get even richer, often off of the product of middle to lower class American labor).
McCain keeps launching attacks against Obama, saying that he's a socialist who wants to "spread the wealth around", but when it came time to give $700 billion of government money to Wall Street firms in order to shore up big business, McCain didn't bat an eye in handing that money out. Once again, it's not so much about the redistribution of wealth for McCain as it is about making sure that the money flows to the right places (which for McCain will always mean to big business and to the wealthy).
Even McCain's symbolic everyman, his "Joe the Plumber", is essentially a fictional character who works as a plumber and makes over $250,000 a year (the actual Joe the Plumber had never actually owned or operated a plumbing business- something like 95% of real plumbers make less than $50,000 a year and would do much better under the Obama tax plan). This is the person that John McCain claims to want to help- a fictional, run of the mill, middle class worker who makes over $250,000 a year. The real people that John McCain wants to help are big businesses and our wealthiest citizens. They make up his base, and they're who he represents- which is ok, but I just wish he would be honest about it.
Anyway, Obama is running his half hour TV spot tonight and making his "closing argument", so I guess, in a way, this is probably mine.
I think John McCain is a good man, but I think he represents policies and theories which are outmoded, and which have proven to be ineffective. I think that if he's voted in to office we're going to see the continuing growth of a radical divide in this country between the rich and the poor with a continually shrinking middle class. I think McCain will continue to extend the war in Iraq far beyond what is necessary, and in the process he will continue to spend tremendous amounts of our nation's resources in a conflict that we never should have gotten embroiled in in the first place, all at a time when we desperately need those resources for everything from healthcare to education to maintaining our national infrastructure (those levees down in New Orleans could still use a lot of work, people).
It's time to move forward with someone who will represent change, not only to the American people, but to the world. We need to regain international trust and rebuild relationships with our allies and potential allies. We need to be willing to have discussions with potentially hostile nations, but with a sense of resolve that lets them know that we are unwilling to waiver on issues of democracy, civil rights, national security, and other core beliefs. The willingness to have a discussion does not equal a showing of weakness. Discussions, in fact, can help potential enemies understand the strength and willpower of the enemy they face. The willingness to listen demonstrates judiciousness, fairness, and a lack of ethnocentrism. These are qualities that we would do well to demonstrate on the world stage at the moment.
So that's it. Vote Obama. I kind of think he's crazy for wanting the job with all of the problems our country is facing, but if he's willing to take it on, I'm willing to support the man and stand behind him.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hey. Hope everyone is doing alright. Today I will skip making a post.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Other from the Thriller dance (see my last post) and lunch afterward, the weekend was sort of uneventful. Hung out with Chris a bit (yes, I got my XBox back, so we're back at it), and had dinner last night with Ryan, Jamie, and Mandy at Hyde Park. Lots of movies and reading with some guitar playing in the backyard (to enjoy the weather and entertain Cassidy). The weekend just sort of flew by. I'm always amazed at how quickly they go.

And I guess Austin's popular music venue, The Backyard had its final, farewell concert last night, with local favorites like Kelly Willis, The Gourds, Grupo Fantasma, Jimmie Vaughn, and Willie Nelson performing. The Backyard is closing down at its current location due to recent development in the area which has caused traffic and parking problems and changed the formerly rustic ambiance of the venue. The owners and management have previously said that they have plans to try to reopen in an alternate location within a few years, but those plans seem to remain uncertain.
I have very mixed feelings about The Backyard and its closing. It was the location where my friends were in the terrible accident that killed Jeff Wilson and seriously injured Kim and Sigmund Bloom. I think a combination of the poor parking situation and the poorly directed traffic at that time probably played a role in that accident (although, ultimately the responsibility will always lie with Mary Dodgen, the intoxicated driver who jumped the curb and hit my friends), so sometimes I have a hard time looking favorably upon the venue because of that accident.
On the other hand, I have some very fond memories of The Backyard as well- some of them with Jeff. Jeff and Mandy got me a ticket to see Willie Nelson at The Backyard for my birthday one year (Jack Mitchell went with us, as well as Chris Perry, who was working at Joe Turner's office with Jeff at the time), and it was a really great show and a good time. Beautiful weather, a great setting, great people, and good music. Definitely the best Willie show I had seen and one of my favorite birthday memories.
I also went to The Backyard with Jeff to see Widespread Panic at one of the first concerts that I ever went to with him. I didn't even have a ticket. Jeff talked me into going down there and trying to buy one from a scalper, but when we got there it was totally sold out and no tickets were available. We went into the restaurant to see if anyone was selling tickets in there, and the next thing I new Jeff was leading me through a side door that went into the venue. Somehow I got into the show without ever buying a ticket, and to this day I'm not sure exactly how we managed to slip past security and into the concert. It was a great show, though. Once again, really good music on a really nice night out there in the Texas Hill Country (this was back when The Backyard was still surrounded by forest and trees rather than strip shopping and parking lots). Before long, Jeff had struck up a conversation with this couple that had come in from Louisiana to see the concert, and they ended up buying us a few beers.
So that's a great memory, and that was classic Jeff Wilson. I swear, if there's a heaven, and if it has a great big gate at the front with a line waiting to get in, I'm sure Jeff will meet me there to sneak me in through a side door.
Anyway, it was easy to turn sour on The Backyard after the accident back in '06, but I have a lot of good memories out there, too (a really great David Byrne concert among them as well). We'll see.

I don't have much else. I wish the stupid election would hurry up and get over with. Given the current state of the economy, the war in Afghanistan, our country's health care crisis, our energy and environmental problems, and a host of other near catastrophes, there's part of me that's almost dreading a win for Obama. Through this election season I've listened to right leaning spokespeople and pundits blame the Clintons and anyone else that they can think of for all of the nation's ills, all without accepting any responsibility for the party that's been in power for the last 8 years. And the moment Obama takes office, they're not going to waste a microsecond shifting the weight and blame for all of the nation's problems to him. It's almost not worth bothering to try for the presidency at all, given the mess they've made of things.
But someone has to try to turn some of these problems around, and if Obama's willing to take on the challenge, I'm throwing my support behind him. I'm not naive enough to cast my vote without realizing that the man is young and less experienced than McCain, but he's incredibly smart, has a good temperament, and he seems to be surrounding himself with a powerful team of advisers.
AND I really do think he's going to do more than people expect to heal some of the partisan fighting among our policymakers. Obama, by most accounts, is a very practical guy, and despite people trying to brand him as a radical or a socialist or whatever during the campaign, I think he's going to enter the White House with a desire to get things accomplished expeditiously and efficiently, and he's going to be open to fair compromise in order to achieve those goals. He's already kind of upset a few liberals by altering his policies to allow for some offshore oil drilling. People accused him of playing politics in making that decision (with Americans struggling for affordable oil, it seemed a bit suicidal to oppose offshore drilling in some capacity), but I think he also made it simply because he became convinced that it could be done while maintaining reasonable assurances of environmental protection, thereby hopefully providing a win-win situation for people demanding energy and for those seeking environmental protection (a more dogmatic ideologue might have resolutely opposed any form of offshore drilling, but after being persuaded that some drilling could be performed safely, Obama was willing to reconsider his position). Anyway, this is an example of why I say that I think Obama is more pragmatic in his approached to finding common ground.
But yeah- ready for the election to be over. Aren't we all?

A Thrilling Saturday

Well, while Ryan went to the UT-OSU game this weekend (go Horns!), Jamie talked me into going to see a bunch of crazy Austin zombie dancers take part in Thrill the World, which was billed as the largest ever synchronized, worldwide performance of Michael Jackson's zombie dance from the video to his hit song, Thriller. While the thing was nominally a world wide event (and did, in fact, take place in cities across the U.S. and a few other countries (mostly Canada and England), in true Austin fashion, we had by far the most zombie dancers of any city taking part in the event (e.g., Seattle had 195, L.A. 114). Once again, I gotta say I find it freakin' awesome that there were about 900 people in Austin who felt motivated enough to get off their sofas, learn a pretty complicated dance (there really were a lot of parts to memorize), and show up in homemade zombie costumes on a Saturday to pull this thing off. Just for the heck of it. I love this town.

Here are a few photos that I took on Jamie's camera. The YouTube video was shot by someone else, who, strangely enough, was apparently standing very close to us (judging by the camera angle).

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Doesn't this picture just symbolize a whole lot of things about this election at this point?

Friday, October 24, 2008

I just read about this crazy lady in Pittsburgh who apparently gave herself a black eye and cut a letter "B" into her face, all so she could call up the police and give them a false story about having been attacked by an Obama supporter who got angry about her McCain bumper sticker. Well, apparently the lady's story had a lot of inconsistencies and she failed a polygraph test before eventually admitting that she made the whole story up. I guess she's just Just another hard core right winger who's freaking out at the thought that Obama is leading in the polls.
The real kicker, though, is that this lady is up in Pittsburgh staying with a friend, but she's not really from there.
Where does she hail from, you might ask?
(Long, depressed sigh)
College Station, Texas.

Texas makes the best crazies.
Howdy, kids. It's Friday, and the weather is shaping up to be just beautiful here in Austin today.

My XBox finally showed up in the mail yesterday, so I would have to say that Microsoft did a pretty good job in fixing my console quickly without giving me a lot of hassle about warranty details. Now let's just hope it stays fixed.

Nothing else on the home front.

Has anyone else watched The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC? I started listening to Rachel Maddow on Air America just before they yanked the whole channel off the air here in Austin, and I typically found her to be intelligent, quick-witted, upbeat, and funny. She's got a decidedly left-leaning, progressive political slant, but she has a good sense of humor and she's not so militant that I think she would offend or turn off most moderates or independents who might tune in. Anyway, I heard a story about her on NPR yesterday, and apparently her new show on MSNBC is getting really strong ratings and some pretty good reviews. She seems to enjoy having Pat Buchanan appear as a guest on her show, providing a right wing counterpoint to her views, and it's kind of fun to watch the two of them go at it (they argue fairly vigorously, but somehow they seem to have a friendlier tone than the dialogue on a lot of these news channel shows- you almost get the sort of good natured debate that might occur at a family dinner table or between friends at some social event rather than the more hostile, acidic agument that you see on many other shows). Anyway, I like Rachel Maddow and I like her show. You know how the left wing pundits on a lot of shows seem completely clueless and unable to respond to ridiculous right wing attacks and accusations? (even though you know the appropriate response at home, and you're yelling it at the television, wondering why this so-called "expert" looks caught like a deer in the headlights) Well, Rachel Maddow doesn't do that. She's smart, she's quick on her feet, and she's articulate. Check her out, if you're interested in such things.
Well, I don't have much else to report on...
Oh yeah!! Operation Moon Pie Face Destroy, my friend and musical co-hort Eric Gottula's other band (he also plays in Mono Ensemble with me) is playing this Sunday at 9:00 p.m. at the Red Eyed Fly on Red River for Battle of the Bands X, an event put on by Raw Deal Productions. I think the whole event kicks off at about 7:00 p.m. and goes until midnight or so, but OMPFD is supposed to play at 9:00. If you don't have much going on Sunday night, you should roll down there and check them out. They really are a fun band to listen to, and they could use the fan support in order to make it to the next round. I think cover is supposed to be $5.
I guess that's it for now. Have a great weekend, and if you're in Austin, get out and enjoy that weather!!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hello. So very, very little to report on today.

I don't want to get overly sentimental because, of course, I don't know the man personally, but nonetheless, I want to send some well wishes to Senator Obama and his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, who is apparently gravely ill in her home state of Hawaii. It must be extremely difficult for Obama to have to deal with a seriously ill loved one (his grandmother apparently played a very large role in raising him), especially in the final weeks before a national presidential election, so I just want to send some positive vibes their way. It's hard to imagine a situation in which people might question your judgment for going to the bedside of the woman who raised you during a time of crisis, but Obama finds himself in that position now. I have absolutely no doubt, though, that he's doing the right thing by going to Hawaii.
And has anyone read this story about a U.S. Air Force pilot who was ordered to shoot down a UFO over England in 1957? It's kind of a crazy story, with an object appearing on radar that was supposedly going over 7,000 miles an hour and which seemed to be as big as an aircraft carrier. After the sighting, an unnamed man in a suit showed up and told the pilot not to discuss the incident. Man, I don't know if I really believe in little green men, but Adventurers, I am here to tell you that some weird stuff has been sighted flying around the skies of this planet, and some of it just can't be explained. My own grandmother once told me a story about seeing some kind of strange, glowing object floating over the skies out above the river near their camp in Upper Michigan (an area which was in fairly close proximity to an air force base that my dad once worked at, by the way). I think I probably chalk up the vast majority of UFO spottings to a combination of optical illusions, misidentified normal phenomena (e.g., weather balloons and such), equipment malfunctions, and imagination gone wild (eyewitness testimony just isn't all that reliable, folks). But I also think there's still a sizeable chunk of it that involves classified military aircraft and equipment testing programs, and coming to this conclusion just leads to a lot more questions. (if we have all of this really cool technology, where are we getting it and why does the government keep it so secret?) Plus, there's always the possibility that some of these things really might not be from around here.... (cue freaky music)
Anyway, I definitely believe in the existence of UFOs. I'm just not sure I'm ready to leap to the conclusion that they're chock full of aliens.
Well, maybe not my best post today, but I warned you at the outset that I didn't have much going on.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hey there, kids. Last night I went over to Steans Manor and had a lovely dinner (thanks, Jamie!) of parmesan chicken, rice, green beans, and corn. My body almost went into shock with all of the nutrition, and everything tasted great, too.
After dinner Ryan and I watched The Howling on FEARnet. FEARnet is an on-demand cable service with a library of free horror movies. There were two or three commercials- one before the movie started, and one or two during the movie itself- but you could fast forward through them if you chose to do so, just the same way you could if you had recorded a program on your DVR. I think that FEARnet and other, similar on-demand cable channels just might be the way of the future for a lot of TV programming, although I wouldn't be surprised to see more commercials in the future (I'm not sure that the small amount of advertising on the FEARnet programming is going to be enough to allow a network like that to survive).
Anyway, I thought I had seen The Howling before, but having watched it last night, I'm not sure. At any rate, it's a movie from 1981 about a television reporter who gets attacked while investigating a serial killer. In order to psychologically recover from the attack, she and her husband attend a sort of retreat out in the countryside, in the woods. Instead of providing a relaxing good time, however, wouldn't ya know that their woodland getaway is infested with werewolves? Bummer.
The movie was pretty good, although it had a few of the idiosyncrasies common to 70's and 80's movies (the pacing was odd at times, and there was occasionally some questionable acting). The screenplay was by John Sayles, though, and the underlying story was pretty interesting. The special effects were pretty cool, even if they seem a little rough compared to the CG imagery we get today. Anyway, it was a fun movie, and it was good for getting into the Halloween spirit!
What else?
The City of Austin is establishing a Live Music Task Force to address issues ranging from noise ordinance enforcement to parking costs for musicians to dwindling audience sizes at some of the more popular venues around town. I think this task force is a good idea and long overdue. For a city that describes and sells itself as "the live music capital of the world", Austin can be sort of a rough town for musicians. The cost of living in this town isn't cheap, and clubs don't pay musicians very much (in their defense, a lot of them can't afford to- aside from big events like SXSW and ACL Fest, audiences for live music in Austin have been shrinking over the last few years and overhead costs keep increasing). Plus, with all of the residential development downtown, it's probably a good idea to have someone advocating for the musicians (when all of these people in their million dollar condos start crying about the sounds of live music downtown, we need someone to remind them that this city was all about live music long before yuppies started moving into the high rises). Anyway, to be honest, I think that the city is much more worried about tourist dollars and SXSW as opposed to the plight of the average local musician, but the city is also smart enough to realize that if Austin doesn't maintain a viable, year-round music scene, then the clubs that provide venues for SXSW aren't going to be around when it comes time for the city to take in its yearly multimillion dollar music tourist windfall every spring.
Anyway, I'm all for any action by the city that might make things easier for musicians and club owners.
And.... India is getting more involved in space exploration, launching an unmanned lunar orbiter today which is meant to study geographic and geological features of the moon. I think this is really cool. I wish the U.S. would put a greater focus back on our space program. It could help create jobs, help facilitate technological advancement, and we might even make some useful discoveries in terms of discovering resources in space.
And its been a rough week for McCain, with Colin Powell coming out to endorse Obama and defending his leadership credentials, but despite lagging behind in the recent poll data, McCain did manage to pick up at least one critical endorsement this week. An Al Qaeda web site posted a column this week which asked its readers to do what they could to support McCain. The password protected site, which has been monitored by SITE Intelligence Group out of Maryland, posted a message this week telling members that in order to exhaust the United States both militarily and economically, it would be better to have the "impetuous" Republican Senator John McCain in the White House, because he would continue the wars in Iraq and Afganistan and continue the "failing march of his predecessor, Bush." The web site went so far as to encourage members to carry out "a big operation against American interests" in order to encourage Americans to elect McCain so that he could "take revenge for them against Al Qaeda", which would in turn allow Al Qaeda to "succeed in exhausting America".
So there you have it- a key endorsement for McCain.
I really don't know what to say when our enemies are begging us to keep fighting because they understand that we lose just by continuing to wage the war, but the meanwhile the warhawks within our own ranks wrap themselves in the flag and refuse to understand.
Up is down. Black is white.

Well, that's it for now. Hope you guys are enjoying yourselves.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Not much going on. Jamie is back from visiting her brother in San Francisco, and it's good to have her back. We all missed her (most definitely including the dogs).

Last night we went to Jason's Deli for dinner and listened to tales of Ryan's new job at UT. He's doing some kind of job with the library system, converting all of their letters and words into ones and zeros (or something like that). At any rate, he's back to working for the university, and he seems to like it so far. So congrats to Roundball on the new job.

Not too much else to report. Now that I've already voted, I wish everyone would just early vote and we could get the whole thing over with. Who are these undecided voters at this point? They either: 1) have to have been living in a coma for the last year, 2) they're being coy and like the attention they get by pretending they haven't made up their minds, or 3) they're just willfully uninformed and kind of stupid. As they pointed out on the Daily Show the other day, most of them probably fall into that last category- just kind of uninformed and sort of stupid. But they're going to vote anyway, at the last minute, after having pretty much failed at every possible opportunity to learn anything about the candidates or their positions on any of the issues. These are the people who fill in those last little blank spots and help to decide elections in this country. We fight wars so people like this can vote. Yeah, democracy!

And I just don't have much else. I've been going through the steps of getting my XBox 360 fixed. I haven't gotten my machine back yet, but supposedly it's being shipped back to me now after having been repaired (the hard drive on the thing crashed). The whole repair procedure has been relatively pain free (big ol' knock on wood), but as part of it, in order to get free shipping, I had to take my XBox over to the UPS store to have it shipped back to Microsoft. When I walked into the UPS store with the XBox, the clerk behind the counter started laughing.

"Another XBox, huh?"

"You get a lot of these, I guess?"

"Day in, day out I ship these XBoxes back."


"Oh yeah- some of my customers are on their 3rd or 4th one. I ship a few of these every day."

Great. I'm glad they're pretty helpful with their repairs and customer service, but it sounds like they have it down to a fine art because they make such a crappy product (practice makes perfect, after all). I've had two Sony Playstations before and never had a problem with either one of them. Anyway, I still have games I haven't finished on my XBox, so I want it fixed, but I don't think I'll be opting for Microsoft XBox products in the future.

Ooookay. Not much else to add, so I'll shut up. The weather is beautiful here in Austin this week, so everyone find an opportunity to enjoy some of it!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Oh yeah. I meant to metion this earlier, but I have an extra ticket to the TV on the Radio show on October 30th (a Thursday). Post a comment or send me an email if you're interested.
Pretty good weekend, but fairly laid back. I played a lot of guitar, ate Mexican food three times (Friday nght with Ryan, Julia, Pat and pals at Polvo's, Saturday afternoon at Maudie's, and Sunday morning with Ryan at Casa Garcia), hung out with Mandy and Rami at Mandy's garage sale, and I saw a couple of good movies.
Appaloosa, starring Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellwegger, Lance Henriksen, and Jeremy Irons is pretty much just a good ol' fashioned western, but a well executed one. It's a gunslinger buddy movie without a whole lot of surprises in terms of plot, but the dialogue is well written, the acting is solid, and the movie is well directed. I definitely thought it was a movie worth seeing, and I would recommend it to just about anyone without much hesitation.

I also rented Mongol, which came out last year, but only showed at the Arbor (and I never made it up there). Mongol is a foreign language film, made by Russian director Sergei Bodrov, and it recounts the early life of Genghis Khan (this film was meant, at least intially, to be the first in a trilogy about Genghis Khan's life). The film definitely veers into the myth-like legend of Genghis Khan a little too often to just be considered a strictly factual biopic, but it's a pretty cool movie, with an interesting story, beautiful scenery, and good acting. It's definitely got some bloody fight scenes, but the movie really is about the story of Genghis Khan's life and isn't just an action flick. Anyway, I would say Mongol is worth checking out, as well, although it probably wouldn't be as widely accepted by American audiences as Appaloosa.
And today is the first day of early voting! (at least in Austin) Get out there and vote people! I prefer the early voting because you can vote at any of the early voting polling locations (I always vote at the courthouse because it's convenient to my work), as opposed to on election day when you have to vote at the specific polling location near your house. Also, my experience with early voting has typically been that the lines are much shorter, allowing you to get in and out much quicker than on actual election day. So go vote. Believe it or not, I'm supporting the idea that everyone get out and vote, regardless of political affiliation or party. Of course, the Democrats have seemed to have a harder time getting out the vote in the last few elections, so I'm really encouraging Democrats to get off their lazy butts and go vote. There's part of me that's sort of worried that Obama's recent lead in the polls will make Democrats lazy and complacent, and then we won't get enough of them out to vote. We don't want to become a victim of our own success, people.
And I guess its already old news, but Obama picked up a presidential endorsement from Colin Powell on Sunday. That's gotta be a good thing. Hopefully Powell's vote of confidence will help allay people's fears regarding Obama's inexperience, particularly in areas of foreign policy and military leadership. Hopefully Obama will have the opportunity to continue to work with Powell in an advisory capacity if he wins the election.
I watched enough of the UT-Missouri game to assure myself that UT had things well in hand (about half of it), and I also watched the Palin clips from this week's Saturday Night Live (had to watch this on the interwebs because crappy ol' Time Warner is still fighting with NBC, so we don't have it on our cable). Palin appeared on Saturday Night Live, and she was sort of funny (she at least did a good job of showing that she has a sense of humor about herself), but probably not as funny as some of the prior Tina Fey skits where she was just being impersonated.
And that's about it. Oh yeah- my parents closed on their new house out in Steiner Ranch on Friday, so they're once again Central Texas homeowners! They probably won't live in the house full time for a couple of years yet because Dad hasn't retired from his job in Houston, but it's a really nice house, and it'll be good to have them back in Austin.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Here's a clip of Obama at the Alfred E. Smith dinner. Pretty funny stuff for a commie, terrorist, traitor.

And here's McCain's bit, cause that ol' man has got some funny, too.

Thanks to Roundball for forwarding the clips.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hello. Hope all of you guys are doing okay.

Jamie left town yesterday for San Francisco, so Ryan came over last night, and in the grand tradition of unsupervised Steans men, we went to a buffet. In particular, we went to Buffet Palace, the Chinese super buffet near my house. I have a total love-hate relationship with that place. Last night I managed not to overeat too badly, so it was okay.

After eating, we hung out at my place with all three dogs and watched Ghost Hunters, Destination Truth, and probably some other stuff that I can't really remember.

It was a pretty typical evening for the Steans men.

I DVR'ed the final debate, and watched a good chunk of that after Ryan left. As expected, McCain came out swinging, but I thought Obama did a great job of keeping his composure and calmly responding to allegations and accusations, while simultaneously scoring some points of his own. There was a lot of talk about some guy that McCain called "Joe the Plumber" who Obama supposedly met on the campaign trail, and who was worried about the effect that Obama's economic plan might have upon the Ohio plumbing business that he was trying to establish (McCain's point in bringing this guy up was to hold him out as a typical small businessman who would suffer a negative impact under Obama's tax plan). Well, even when I heard about Joe the Plumber last night his story seemed a little strange. I was immediately asking myself what kind of plumber opens up a shop that immediately makes over $250,000 (which is probably the only way that the Obama tax plan would have a negative impact for him), and I was wondering if I should give up my law license in order to go seek out a career in plumbing. As it turns out, Joe the Plumber (real name Joe Wurzelbacher) doesn't have a plumbing license, and apparently has never been a member of any plumbers union, although he claimed on his Facebook page to have been a member of the local 189 in Columbus. Joe has a couple of liens on his property because of unpaid taxes, and tax analysts have noted that Joe would have to have a taxable income of more than $250,000 a year in order to face a potential tax increase- not merely $250,000 or more in gross receipts. If Joe's income was less than $250,000, he would likely be eligible for a tax cut. On the campaign trail today, VP candidate Joe Biden was quick to point out that very few plumbers make more than $250,000 a year, and that, therefore, the vast majority of plumbers would probably receive a tax cut under Obama (the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the average salary in 2007 for plumbers and pipefitters was $47,350- Biden claimed on the trail today that 98% of American small businesses make less than $250,00, but I'm not really clear on whether he believed that to be a truly solid statistic).

Anyway, McCain fought harder in this debate, but I don't think he got a victory out of it. I don't think that Americans really care about Ayers, ACORN, or any of the other distractions that he's been trying to turn into major campaign issues, and they didn't really hear any sort of new or convincing details on economic plans from McCain last night. Perhaps, more importantly, they saw one candidate who looked frustrated, angry, and at his wit's end, and another candidate who looked confident, calm, thoughtful, and.... well, presidential.

Anyway, there are still weeks before the election and a lot can happen, but I didn't see last night's debate as changing the momentum.

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Just a quick note. Neal Hefti, the composer who was responsible for writing the theme songs to several notable television series, has died at the age of 85. Why is this worthy of mention? Well, Hefti wrote the theme song to the old Batman TV show. Growing up, my mom (who was generally pretty anti-TV) used to let me watch reruns of the Batman TV show, and she used to plunk down toddler Ryan in front of the TV with me. As a result, my brother's first word was an enthusiastic "Batman!", which we typically shouted out at the television at the appropriate point during the Batman theme song. So, Mr. Hefti, thanks for teaching my brother to talk. Without you he would probably just be a big, dumb, slobbering mute.
Hey! S'up? Well, Jamie is supposed to be jetting off today to go visit her brother, Doug (aka, Dug), out in San Francisco, so that's pretty cool (I've still never been there, but I always hear great things about it, and it's definitely on my list). I wandered over to Steans Manor for dinner last night, and I'm happy to report that Ryan and Jamie's house looks really great following the staining and painting that they had done. The house just looks a lot more.... unique with the different colors (it looks more interesting, less generic, and overall, I think, a lot cooler). Jamie's parents have also given Team Steans their Christmas present a few months early, so they now have some kind of super badass Samsung flat screen high def television. It's an impressive piece of technology. Now you can see every pore and pimple on the actors of whatever sitcom you're watching. What else? We got some rain, yesterday, overnight, and this morning. I'm not sure that my lawn (or the small bits of remaining vegetation in my yard which once comprised a lawn) recognizes the liquid falling from the sky or knows what to do with it. Anyway, it's great get some rain, and it's amazing how quickly the plants around here spring back to life.

And the last presidential debate before the election is on TV tonight. I'm a little curious because I want to see who does a better job of explaining their economic recovery program, and also a little curious to see whether McCain is going to try to go on the offensive with all of this Ayers/ACORN/Obama's-a-fanatical-left-wing-liar-commie-terrorist crap. I don't think any of those attacks have been very successful with anyone outside of the GOP base, and, in fact, I think they've turned some people against McCain. McCain, himself, has defended Obama at some of his rallies, calling him a decent man when people in the crowd became a little too rabid. I thought it was good to see McCain say these things, and it reassures me that despite all of this campaign nastiness, he's still probably a pretty good guy (not saying I agree with him on a lot of stuff, but that's okay). I'm not really willing to give Palin the benefit of the doubt in the same way (I see nothing but ignorance, lies, and distortions from that woman).
Obama needs to come out tonight and retain his poise and composure while getting very specific and clear about his economic recovery plan and any other plans that he has for the country. I think that people want to see the candidates stick to the issues, and they want to be able to feel confident that their candidate has viable, well-defined plans to lead America out of it current problems- most specifically our economic downturn. The more realistic and viable Obama can make his plans and ideas seem, the more likely he is to shore up his lead tonight.

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

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Well, I don't really have anything to post about today, so I'm going to just throw some random thoughts at you that might not seem to flow together very logically. ("How is that different than every other day?" you might ask. To which I might respond, "Oh, be quiet.")
Here's a link to a picture of what seems to be some sort of ghostly human head appearing in a photo of a shark tank at The Deep, an aquarium exhibit on the banks of the Humber estuary in England. The photo was taken by a dentistry student who was visiting the exhibit with her father, but she didn't spot the human-like head in the photo until she got home and was looking at the pictures. Attempts have been made to explain or recreate the image by way of reflections and so forth, but the efforts have been unsuccessful. Apparently the aquarium is built upon the site of a former isolation hospital where smallpox victims were once held, and aquarium staff have previously reported other shadowy figures appearing in the facility.
So I'm pretty sure that what we have there is a picture of an underwater sharkwatching ghost.

In other news, the upcoming election isn't only about McCain and Obama. For instance, one other item on the ballot is going to be Proposition 2, a referendum on whether the City of Austin should continue to give tax breaks to The Domain, a high end retail and residential center located in North Austin. The Domain supports (or has supported) a large number of upscale retail outlets (mostly non-local chains) such as Neiman Marcus, Macy's, Abercrombie & Fitch, Barney's, Tiffany, Victoria's Secret, Anne Fontaine, Lacoste, Apple, etc., and the Domain is expected, on the current tax incentive plan, to receive rebates of $30 to $60 million over the next 20 years.
Kids, it might not surprise you to hear that Steanso is for Proposition 2- meaning he thinks that the tax breaks for these already lucrative yuppie stores need to end. If we're going to give tax breaks, I think we ought to focus them on locally owned, developing businesses. Maybe we could find some businesses even more worthy and deserving of assistance than Abercrombie & Fitch!
Anyhoo, my main point is that these businesses are already well-established, and they're probably not going to pass on the chance to sell products to the relatively affluent citizens of Austin, even if we don't give them massive tax breaks. And frankly, if they're not willing to pay the same taxes that everyone else pays, I say we send them packing back to Dallas or California or wherever.
Get the message out- just because businesses strike up some kind of sweetheart deals with our city council members or other politicians doesn't mean that the citizens of this town are going to stand for it. If you want to do business in our town you need to contribute to our community in the same way that everyone else does. Expensive name brands shouldn't get you out of that obligation.

And... well... geez. I guess I don't have much more. Hope you guys are doing okay. We got a little rain here in Austin today, but not much. Hopefully we'll get more over the next few days.

Monday, October 13, 2008

October at the Hop-a-Long Lounge


UT leaps up to number 1!!!! I really haven't been paying very close attention to UT football up until now (and it sounds like they really haven't been challenged all that much), but since Ryan and Jamie sort of are big UT fans, and since they're without a living room at the moment (having their floors redone and their walls painted), I had them over to watch the UT/OU game on Saturday. In addition, Mom and Dad were in town, doing stuff related to the house that they're building, and they arrived in time to watch the second half of the game with us. It was a really good game, and I'm happy to tell you (in case you've been camped out under a rock) that 5th ranked UT beat #1 ranked OU, thereby paving the way for UT to move up to number one in both the AP poll and the coach's poll over the weekend.

Like I said, I haven't been watching UT much this year, but I really was impressed. Colt McCoy (at least in this game) is showing a lot more composure and poise as a quarterback this year, and UT's offensive line did a good job in giving him time to work. Not to jinx them, but the whole team looked pretty good, actually, and they really seemed more focused and showed a bit more confidence than they did in some big games last season.

Anyway, it a fun game to watch, and, of course, it's nice to be number one. Now we'll see whether this was an anomaly or whether UT can maintain this level of play consistently when they match up against Missouri, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech over the next few weeks. As easy as things were for Texas leading up to the OU game- things are going to be a whole lot rougher for a good while. It's almost enough to suck me back into watching every weekend. Almost.

Saturday night we went out to the Salt Lick to celebrate Lauren's birthday along with Steven, Matt, Nicole, Ryan, Jamie, and a bunch of other friends of Ryan and Jamie's who are also friends of mine. As usual, the Salt Lick was very good and I ate way too much. There was a band of long-haired, 50-something classic rockers called Somebody Somebody (not the real name) and the Wild Cards who were belting out classic rock tunes in the outdoor eating/waiting area with an intensity which was entirely unbefitting of the enviroment. They provided a sort of terrifying glimpse into at least one of my possible futures.

Sunday morning I got up and had breakfast with Ryan and Jamie at Maria's Taco Express. It was tasty. After breakfast they swung by the house and picked up Mel and Lucy (the painting at their house having come to its proper conclusion), thereby ending their week long stay at the Hop-a-Long Lounge.

The rest of the day I read some more of the Watchmen, struggled with people on the X-Box web site while trying to get Microsoft to repair my X-Box, and watched a couple of movies, including In the Heat of the Night (I had been reading about Sidney Portier recently and had never seen this movie, which was very good) and In the Mouth of Madness, a John Carpenter horror movie from 1995 about an author who writes books that drive his readers mad (I had seen this before, but not for a long time- it's a pretty good horror movie).

Other from that, not much to report. I watched a bit of the weekend news shows on CNN and FOX, but I couldn't take much. I wish this stupid election was over already. It doesn't seem like either candidate really has anything new to say about the economy or any issues of substance, so now this thing is degenerating into character attacks and mudslinging that will probably last up until the election as McCain's camp desperately tries to chip away at Obama's lead in the polls. I'm not sure that this strategy will be ineffective, but I sure hope that the voters don't go for that kind of thing. I also have a bad feeling about this last debate. McCain's supporters have gotten so rabid and nasty that I'm afraid McCain will feel no choice but to lower himself to personal attacks during the debates. Uggh. Like I said- get it over already.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

And I kinda sorta hate to do this to good ol' Meredith on the same day that I've wished her a happy birthday, but...

A state investigator in Alaska, commissioned by the bipartisan Legislative Council, has issued a finding that Governor Palin violated state ethics laws by applying undue pressure in regard to the firing of her ex brother-in-law from the state police. Spokespeople from the McCain-Palin camp immediately issued statements decrying the entire investigation as some sort of partisan witch hunt meant to derail the Governor's vice presidential campaign, but the investigation was initiated by a bipartisan committee months before Palin's vice presidential nomination was ever announced, and Palin herself had initially agreed to cooperate with the inquiry and had disclosed in August that her advisers had contacted Alaska's Department of Public Safety nearly two dozen times regarding her ex brother-in-law.

I guess I kind of find it hard to believe that an investigation which was begun before anyone even had any idea that Palin would be a candidate is actually nothing more than part of a left wing conspiracy to smear the governor's name (Were the Democrats so full of foresight that they gazed into the future and predict a VP nomination that even Republican beltway insiders were unable to predict? Such foresight would seem to be necessary in order to set a trap for a VP candidate before her candidacy is even announced.) Also detracting from the witch hunt argument, you've got the fact that this investigation was initiated by a bipartisan council- meaning that before Palin was ever picked as a VP candidate, there were already people, Republicans among them, who were concerned enough about Palin's behavior to think that an ethics probe was in order.
And even if we assume that the investigation got added attention and focus from Democrats once Palin's candidacy was announced, I have sort of a hard time feeling too sorry for the McCain camp. Isn't that sort of the risk that you run when you pick a vice presidential running mate who is the target of an ongoing ethics investigation? Shouldn't you sort of expect that your opponents are going to heighten their level of scrutiny for the target of an ethics probe once they realize that you're seeking to put this person into a position which might one day make her the most powerful person in the free world?

Anyway, the whole thing- the cronyism, the abuse of power, the revision of history, and the whole cover up just serve as big ol' red flags to me that if McCain and Palin get in power, we can expect the exact same crap from their administration that we've been getting from the Bush White House for the last eight years (remember all of those tests of political affiliation and party loyalty that were going on in the Justice Department under the Bush regime? Just one example...).
This woman is not a reformer and she's not to be trusted. She's surely not an appropriate choice to serve as vice presidential candidate behind a candidate who is over 70 years old and who has had health problems. And, sadly, I think McCain's choice of Palin as a VP candidate shows a certain lack of judgement on his part. Not only does she have a tremendous lack of experience and knowledge, but there are also serious questions to be raised about her moral character (this ethics probe included, but not the only example- she seems quite willing to lie about and exaggerate her own accomplishments and to lie in order to smear the Obama campaign whenever she sees fit). Even if this whole ethics probe thing were to come to nothing, from a tactical standpoint, I think it showed an error in judgement on McCain's part to bring someone onboard in his campaign who had the baggage on an ongoing ethics investigation in the first place. McCain just keeps making bad decisions.

On a more personal note, being a government employee myself, it bothers me to see this sort of abuse of power. If you go to work every day and handle yourself in an effective, professional capacity, you shouldn't have to worry about politicians swooping in and trying to oust you from your job for completely unrelated personal reasons (or political reasons or any reasons that aren't related to job performance). Believe me when I say that I would be offended by this behavior even if the person engaged in it was a Democrat. It wouldn't hurt any less to lose your job because of bullsh*t personal squabbles if the person abusing their power and costing you your job was a member of your same political party.

Here endeth the rant.

Many Happy Returns, Meredith!

Oops. Happy birthday to Meredith (that's Queenie to those of you who keep up with the comments section on the blog)! I'm friends with Meredith through my brother, Ryan (aka, The League, aka, Roundball), and I've known her since she was in high school and I had just begun college. Anyway, Meredith's a good friend, and she's good for the blog. She provides a conservative counterpoint while still managing to take all of my rants with a grain of salt and having a sense of humor about them.
She's also a proud wife, mother of three cool kids (all boys), and a turtle keeper, she's training for a triathalon, and she lives in North Carolina! Happy belated, Meredith! Hope you're enjoying the entire birthday weekend!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Hola. Hope everyone is doing okay.
Still got three dogs at my house, but they seem to be settling in. Of course, just as soon as they get used to being in a new house with new rules they'll be headed back home again (kind of a shame, because Lucy seems to be getting the hang of not jumping up at the back door and of laying at the food of my bed until I get up rather than crying and trying to wake me up whenever she's ready to start her day).
I came home from work on Wednesday to find three little flags planted in my front yard and a flyer telling me that my house had been selected for the NeighborWoods Program. The flyer from NeighborWoods told me that my house had been picked for the delivery of up to 3 trees which would be delivered to my home free of charge if I agreed to plant them (preferrably within 10 feet or so of the little flags they had put in my yard) and water them for at least two years. The program is designed to combat what urban planners call the "heat island" effect, in which rooftops, sidewalks, and especially roads all tend to absorb heat from the sun during the day and then hold onto that heat so that it doesn't dissipate very effectively overnight. Heat islands develop around urban areas and tend to keep cities considerably warmer than surrounding rural areas. This leads to higher energy costs for air conditioning (air conditioning, by the way, tends to also increase heat levels in outdoor urban areas), uncomfortable climate conditions, and it may even influence things like local weather patterns (reducing rain totals) and local plants and wildlife.
Anyway, the idea is to plant as many trees as possible, thereby providing a foliage canopy which will help block the sun and stop roadways and rooftops from absorbing so much heat.
I think it's a great idea. Who doesn't like trees?
Anyway, they offered a couple of different trees to pick from, but I picked Mexican Oaks because they supposedly grow fast, live a pretty long time, and, of course, provide good shade.
Anyhoo, I just wanted to blog about the NeighborWoods program because I think it's cool (no pun intended) and it shows a lot of foresight in terms of keeping Austin the kind of town that's great to live in.
And there's a big investigation getting underway into the voter registration activities of ACORN, the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now. Apparently the group has submitted thousands of fraudulent voter registration forms, and is suspected of having done so in a number of states. Voter registration forms have been submitted by ACORN which have, among other violations, the names and information for people who are known to be deceased, forms with addresses for people which are clearly false because there are no residences at those addresses, and large numbers of other forms which all seem to have the exact same signature and handwriting.
The accusations and evidence are both confusing and disappointing. The accusations are disappointing because ACORN seems, on its face, to be an organization with a fairly honorable, noble goal- getting people out to vote (the conservatives aren't a big fan of the program because ACORN tends to focus on registering the urban poor and disenfranchised who might otherwise feel that it's pointless to vote, and this population, once registered and energized, often tends to lean toward the left). The accusations are confusing because it's not really clear what someone might hope to gain by fraudulently registering a bunch of fake voters who are, presumably, never going to show up at the polls on voting day (voters typically have to show ID in order to vote at the polls, so it would be quite difficult for a large number of frauduluent voters to assume the identities of dead people of fictitious people or whatever), and it's equally unclear why someone involved in such a scheme might go about their illegal activities in such an obvious, easily discovered way (I mean, the exact same handwiriting on hundreds of forms is bound to catch someone's attention, as are the use of fake addresses or the identities of dead people).
The whole thing is very strange. I guess I see two major possibilities. One is that I would say that some people working for ACORN got greedy and/or lazy (maybe they get paid more or think they will look more impressive to their peers if they get more people signed up to vote, so they took some large and poorly-thought-out shortcuts). On the other hand, ACORN and similar groups have been facing allegations of voter fraud and corruption for years and you would think that ACORN workers would be aware that they're under a great deal of scrutiny. A second option is that I wouldn't rule out the possibility that someone with an anti-ACORN agenda turned in a bunch of obviously fraudulent ACORN registration forms (how hard is it to get ahold of one of their forms and then photocopy a bunch of them?) in the hopes of getting ACORN into trouble (basically a frame-up). I know that this kind of conspiracy theory probably makes me sound like a totally wild eyed liberal, but Rush Limbaugh and similar pundits have been blasting ACORN and similar groups for years (accusing them of fraud and wrongdoing when they weren't simply bemoaning the fact that ACORN was helping people to register who were "too lazy to do it for themselves"), so it wouldn't take much for me to see some rabid conservative supporters trying to take matters into their own hands to try to derail this organization.
Anyhoo, it'll be interesting to see how it all unfolds. This kid of stuff has been going on for awhile, but the intesity seems to have been turned up through the last few elections. Typically the Republicans accuse people of the left of voter fraud and the fraudulent registration of voters, while the Democrats end up accusing Republicans of voter suppression (i.e., finding ways of making it very difficult, if not impossible, for voters in Democratic areas to vote on election day. Suppression tactics involve moving polling locations at the last moment, intentionally creating extremely long lines which are very inconvenient to wait in, or even spreading rumors that police will be checking for traffic/child support/criminal warrants at the polls). All of this doesn't even take into account the arguments from both sides about ballot manipulation or possible tampering with electronic voting machines. Given how high emotions are running for this campaign, I predict that there are going to be plenty of allegations to go around on both sides before this whole thing is over.

Well, that's about all that I have for the moment. It's looking to be a good weekend, so I hope you guys enjoy it.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

My blogger program seems to be doing some weird stuff. We'll see if this publishes.

Anyway, not much to report on today, and I'm pretty darn busy. I just wanted to say hi to you guys in case I don;t have an opportunity to make a longer post today.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Well, Jamie and Ryan's floors are still being worked on, which means my house is still full of dogs. Last night, for some inexplicable reason, at around 3:30 a.m., their black lab, Lucy, decided to not only leap onto my bed, but she leapt pretty much right onto my head. Being sound asleep, this kind of startled the hell out of me, and I ended up pretty much tossing the dog halfway across the room before I realized what was going on (Lucy bounced right back to her feet, tail wagging- no harm, no foul). It really has been pretty enjoyable, for the most part, having the dogs visit, but we're still working on establishing some boundaries.

What else? Apparently my brother, Ryan, aka Roundball, has secured a new job for himself. He's recently been working on a contract basis for a prior employer, Enspire, but in a few weeks he will apparently be returning to the mothership, The University of Texas, to do some kind of management for projects related to the library system (I'm still fuzzy on the details). Anyway, we're all proud of him for landing a new job, especially in this somewhat difficult economic climate. It's nice to know that your siblings can afford some of the extravagant luxuries in life- like food, shelter, and the occasional scrap of clothing.

I didn't watch the debate last night, but I heard that Obama did okay for himself. Given that the general consensus held that McCain needed a big win last night (his poll numbers keep slipping as the economy gets worse and Americans continue to blame the Republicans), I guess Obama did well for himself just by avoiding any major gaffes and by giving some clear, straightforward steps on how he thought he could improve the economy (e.g., investments in infrastructure and alternative energy systems, tax cuts for middle Americans and the elimination of capital gains taxes for small businesses, incentives for American companies that avoid outsourcing, and trade policies which protect American workers and help increase the export of American goods).

Anyway, I'm sort of glad I didn't watch the debate. I don't really feel like I missed much.

Ryan and Jamie and I also watched a couple of episodes of Scare Tactics on the Sci Fi Channel. For those who haven't seen it, Scare Tactics is a sort of Candid Camera style show, except instead of hiding cameras and playing funny pranks on people in order to make them laugh, on Scare Tactics they play pranks on people in the attempt to basically scare the sh*t out of them. While this is supposed to make the pranks funny for viewers, the people being pranked are often scared silly until it's revealed that the whole situation is just a joke for a TV show. The pranks on the show run the range from being fairly silly (being attacked by a midget caveman, a sasquatch, or a guy in a gorilla suit) to being somewhat more realistic (being led to believe that you've been accidentally contaminated with a fatal dose of radiation or being forced, at gunpoint, to take part in a terrorist plot which might kill your own mother).

It occurred to me last night while watching the show that it's not only kind of funny, but it's a fascinating glimpse into the character of average people- their sense of courage, their adherence to ethical principles, and their sense of ingenuity and capacity for independent thought in a time of crisis.

For example, on one of the pranks that we watched last night, a young woman was taking a ride in a cab when the cab struck a passing pedestrian, and the cab driver raced away (the cab driver and the pedestrian both being actors). The cab driver immediately launched into a speech about how they just needed to cover the whole thing up in order to keep themselves out of trouble, but the woman in the cab insisted on going back to the scene and calling the cops. Despite the fact that the cab driver told her that he had a criminal record and had just gotten out of prison (which was why he wouldn't go back to help the hit and run victim), she got so mad at the cab driver that I really thought she was going to attack the guy before the skit was over. She was practically spitting at him because she was yelling so much. Anyway, I was sort of impressed that she was so committed to returning to help a pedestrian that she didn't even know, especially when the accident wasn't her fault and when the cab driver might have potentially been dangerous for her to argue with.

On the other hand, there was a different skit/prank that involved a guy being unwittingly indoctrinated into a cult group that was in the process of carrying out some sort of suicide ritual, drinking the proverbial poisoned kool aid so that they could be "transformed". Despite the fact that other people were writhing around on the floor, simulating seizures and severe stomach cramps after drinking the poison, the guy who was the target of the prank voluntarily downed the kool aid after watching to make sure that all of the other members of the group had already consumed theirs. What the hell? When asked, after the prank was revealed, why he drank the poison kool aid, the guy had nothing to say except, "Well, if all the rest of them drank it, I thought I had to drink it, too." He had known all of these people for about an hour.

All I'm saying is that Scare Tactics is a sort of fascinating show for reasons that sometimes go far beyond the simple laughs that the show sells itself on. After watching the pranks, you want to give some of these people a medal (another woman tried to fend off a man that she thought was a psychotic lunatic in order to protect a small child), while others make you feel embarrassed and ashamed for the people so much that you kind of wonder why these targets let them use their reactions on national TV (the guy who runs away and leaves his girlfriend behind in the car when attacked by aliens). So, anyway, check the show out. Kind of interesting.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Oooookay. Well, not too much going on. Ryan and Jamie are getting their floors redone and walls painted, so I have their dogs, Mel and Lucy, at my house for a few days. Things have been going okay so far. It thundered last night, so their big, old golden retriever, Mel, came and stuck his nose in my face in the middle of the night and then slept next to my bed for awhile before deciding that, thunder or not, my sofa was comfier than the floor, and heading back into the living room. For some reason I left the dogs in the house when I left this morning, which seems pretty silly in retrospect because it's a beautiful fall day outside, and given the opportunity to choose, I think that even I would rather be outside enjoying the weather rather than being cooped up indoors.
Not much else to report. Dinner last night at Suzi's with Team Steans, and afterwards we watched The Big Bang Theory (a CBS sitcom starring family friend, Jim Parsons). It was funny.
Economy is still tanking, but there's not much we can do about it other than just sit tight. For a few years now I've been feeling like I should have been doing more to invest my money, but at the moment, my lack of initiative is feeling like a good thing. Still gotta work on the investment thing at some point, though.
And there's a second big presidential debate tonight. To be honest, I really sort of doubt that I'll watch it. This presidential election stuff is tiring, I already know who I'm going to vote for (Sigmund Bloom for President), and the reactions to the debates, honestly, seem more important than the debates themselves. I'll probably just DVR it and fast forward through most of it. To be honest, there's also been an increase in the character attacks and the mudslinging lately (we're getting down to the desperate final days before the election), and I just don't want to sit through an event that's likely to include that kind of crap. It's very disappointing and disheartening, no matter which side it's coming from.

Here's an interesting column from admittedly left leaning Keith Olbermann, and about how Sarah Palin probably ought to not start throwing stones when it comes to calling people terrorists and hanging out with people who are on the fringes of mainstream political thought. Apparently Palin's husband has, fairly recently, been part of a political group which wants Alaska to secede from the United States, and one of the pastors that Palin pals around with prides himself on the fact that he had women branded as witches and exiled from their village when he did missionary work in Africa. Olbermann doesn't mention it, but I thought it might be more appropriate to point out that Palin had served as a director for a women's political group organized by Ted Stevens- an Alaskan Senator now on trial for bribery and corruption- and that Palin had received an endorsement from Stevens and filmed a campaign commercial with the man during her run for governor in 2006. Stevens is on trial right now and Palin's connection to him is only a couple of years old (while William Ayers had charges against him dropped about 40 years ago), so it blows my mind that Stevens' name doesn't pop up every time Palin is mentioned. Liberal news media, my a%$. Personally, I don't really go for the mudslinging all that much, but if Palin thinks that "the gloves should come off", then we might as well start airing all of the dirty laundry.
By the way, here's a photo of Palin sporting a shirt that supports funding the $442 million "Bridge to Nowhere"- a measure that she proudly told America she rejected with her "thanks, but not thanks" comments during her first VP campaign speech. No, this isn't photoshopped. It's a real shirt meant to show indignance about referring to sparsely populated Gravina Island as "nowhere".
Ahhhh..... Palin. Kind of hot, but oh so evil.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Help the Critters Out

And I normally don't make two posts in one day, but this New York Times article made me terribly depressed. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, an international network of campaign groups, governments, scientists and other experts, is reporting that an "extinction crisis" is underway, and that 1 in 4 mammal species are in danger of becoming extinct within our lifetime due to hunting, habitat loss, and global climate change.

For those of you who don't know me that well, I'm a huge animal lover. I grew up wanting to be a veterinarian (eventually the fact that I'm strongly allergic to cats, rabbits, and a bunch of other animals sort of forced my hand in terms of choosing a new career path), and I had a ton of different pets growing up (dogs, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, snakes, an iguana, lizards, fish, hermit crabs, rabbits, ferrets etc.). In addition to just being a sentimental softie when it comes to animals, I really do feel like an understanding of animals and their behavior helps us to understand more thoroughly what it is to be human- learning to coexist with animals helps us to understand our own impulses, emotions, thought processes, and to understand the nonverbal connections which tie us all together. The tendency to anthropomorphize animals aside (a trap which every animal lover falls into from time to time), anyone who has spent a good deal of time with a halfway intelligent dog or other animal knows that there are a lot of emotions and thought processes which aren't just limited to the human species, and I think that understanding this fact and empathizing with animals helps us learn to have a greater appreciation of not only the natural world and our place within it, but of other people as well (if you can learn to recognize emotions and reactions in animals, it becomes easier to recognize these features in people, as well).
Heck- animals are just cool. They're an amazing and integral part of what our planet has to offer, and they ought to be treated with much more respect and admiration than what they typically receive. To believe otherwise is not only arrogant on our part as a species, but it's sad for the people who just don't get it.
Anyway, this isn't an anti-hunting or fishing rant or anything like that. I just want to make a plea to preserve and conserve our animals in terms of preventing species from becoming endangered or extinct. Animals deserve a chance to survive, and our succeeding generations deserve to have a planet that has as full and complete a complement of wildlife living within it as possible.
Here's a link to the World Wildlife Fund if you want to help the animals out.
Hope everyone had a good weekend. Mine was pretty nice, but went by too quickly.

It sounds like the economy continues to struggle today, with the stock market sinking amid news of continuing financial problems in Europe and the realization that the $700 billion bailout isn't going to occur overnight. Of course, with the way things have been going lately, the market may swing back up and level off by the end of the day. Who knows? Not me.

And I'm desperately trying to remember a time back before the presidential campaign when I still had respect and admiration for John McCain even if I didn't agree with all of his politics. I remember thinking of McCain throughout most of the Bush presidency as a Republican who was actually willing to stand up to the Karl Rove/Dick Cheney political machine from time to time in order to try to do the right thing (taking stands against torture and legislating for campaign finance reform both spring to mind as admirable moments when he went his own direction). But somewhere along the way McCain started to seem willing to trade honor for ambition and principle for power. He started running smear campaign election adds filled with misleading information and outright lies, and he made a cynical, calculated pick for his VP candidate who was utterly unqualified to hold the office of president, but who would appeal to a far right, religious fundamentalist base (which McCain was having a hard time bringing on board).
And McCain continues to disappoint me. He's smart enough not to do it himself, but he has Palin out there hate mongering and still trying to drum up and prey upon feelings of divisiveness and xenophobia. Just this weekend, Palin made statements accusing Obama of "palling around" with terrorists. Her statements were in reference to Obama serving on a charity board with Bill Ayers, a former member of The Weather Underground (a group which violently opposed the Vietnam War in the '60's, including a series of bombings) who now serves as a professor at the University of Illinois.
Well, there may be an element of what Palin says that is technically correct (depending on what you see as "palling around"), but no more so than saying that McCain spent time in the Senate "palling around" with known racists (I mean, Strom Thurmond, a vocal and unapologetic segregationist, was a Republican Senator at the same time that McCain was serving, correct?). Is it fair to say that Palin is in favor of teen pregnancy because she's against the use of abortion once teens become pregnant? Ayers was a member of a group that did some questionable things, but even when they engaged in criminal behavior, they attempted to avoid any casualties and carried out their activities with an eye toward stopping a massive loss of life (both American and Vietnamese) in a war which they saw as immoral and pointless. There really isn't any evidence that Obama knew about Ayers being involved in these activities or that he supported them in any way.
And yes, I know that Obama runs attack ads against McCain, but Obama's ads, from what I've seen, seem to be more centered around issues and policy standpoints than these fearmongering personal attacks (fighting about healthcare plans is one thing- calling someone a terrorist sympathizer is something else).
Palin's comments about Obama over the weekend are the stuff of a desperate campaign, but worse than that, they're significantly weakening my belief that McCain is still basically a good guy and that he would make a decent president, even if he doesn't share all of my political views. McCain's campaign has also mischaracterized Obama's tax and healthcare plans (which I kind of expect), and tried to stir up wariness and discontent on the right by stating that Obama wants to teach sex education to 6 year olds (he actually wanted a program to teach them how to avoid sexual predators). All of this while the McCain camp continues to fabricate material about Palin's background and credentials (e.g., McCain said on The View that Palin didn't ask for earmarks while governor- this year alone she asked for 197 million, Palin took credit for killing the Bridge to Nowhere when Congress had already killed it, Palin claims that Alaska produces 20% of the nation's energy, when it actually produces less than 4%, and so on and so forth).
Anyway, the election hasn't occurred yet, and even though Obama seems to have the lead at the moment, I really do feel like anything can still happen and that there's a chance that McCain could still end up with this thing. That's why I'm writing this bit. Not necessarily to attack McCain in terms of the election, but because if he does end up in the role of commander-in-chief, I'd like to have somebody in that role that I still respect - not someone who I chiefly remember as running a "win at all costs" swiftboating campaign full of smear tactics and deception.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Happy Birthday, Lastovica

My friend and colleague, John Lastovica, celebrates his birthday tomorrow, October 5th. He came out to celebrate his birthday weekend with the Mono Ensemble at the grand opening party for Somnio's restaurant, so that was pretty cool! Here he is chatting it up with Jennifer at the grand opening party.

My parents were in town, checking on the new house that they're building. In this picture, that's John on the left, Kim, sigmund, Jennifer, and my mom, the Karebear!

And here's a picture of my dad, The Admiral, taking a picture of whoever was taking this picture (it wasn't me), and there's me with the bass, and Reed. I'm not exactly sure who the two guys in the back are.

Anyway, we played pretty well (things went better than on Thursday night in my opinion, all in all), the weather was nice, and it was really great to have some of our friends stop by (thanks to Mandy, Ellie, Sue Ann, and everyone else who came out to see us!!). I had a really nice time and enjoyed the whole thing thoroughly.

Happy birthday, John!!!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Well, I was playing a gig last night, so I was put in the strange position of getting home and listening to some of the commentators and pundits talk about and analyze the V.P. debate before I had watched any of it (I did, eventually, watch significant portions of it, which I recorded on my DVR). When I got home and first heard the commentary, though, the first two commentators that I listened to both talked about how Palin had performed extremely well in the debate, but then they both went on to say that the reason she had done well was because she managed to do things like speak in coherent, articulate sentences and avoid looking confused too often (both of these ridiculous commentators were on CNN- it just slays me to hear conservatives talk about "the liberal news media" and what a hard time they're giving Palin when this is the sort of ridiculously low standard they're holding her to).
Anyway, is this what it's come to in terms of what we can expect from our "leaders"? Are congratulations and claims of success in order because our Vice Presidential candidate can manage to string together coherent sentences? (after weeks of practice, mind you) I understand that our current president has significantly lowered the bar in terms of both oratorical skills and command of facts related to domestic and foreign policy, but I really thought we were going to try to do better this time. I mean, I'm a lawyer who prosecutes misdemeanor cases for county government, and even in my line of work I don't get to declare victory just by managing to get some coherent sentences out of my mouth.
Biden clearly won the debate (and managed to do it in a style that didn't seem to be harshly attacking Palin or beating up on her), but the Republicans are going to try to claim victory just because Palin didn't fall on her face (never mind that we shouldn't have to fear that possibility from a candidate in the first place). Arrrgggh.
On the other hand, in some sense I'm glad that Palin sort of held her own, because I don't want to have a female vice presidential candidate in the race who totally makes a fool of herself (Palin does, after all, continue to set some precedent here), but let's be honest, kids- Biden looked much more capable, intelligent, experienced, and presidential during the debate than Palin. In any case, with two more presidential debates to go and the country facing economic meltdown, I don't think the VP debate is going to hold the public's attention for very long. There are just too many other things going on.

In other news, Mono Ensemble played last night at Somnio's Cafe on South 1st (between Annie and Mary, next to Flashback vintage clothing). I'm going to be honest- it probably wasn't our strongest gig. We were playing in a sort of wooded area off of the parking lot back behind the restaurant, and it was kind of hard to see what was going on (I think I can probably play in complete darkness, but there was something about the weird, low lighting back there that kept throwing me off), and Eric was playing keyboard for the entire evening, so we're still kind of adjusting to having him on keys instead of guitar. I don't really know what was going on, but our feng shui was just all screwed up, and we had a few hiccups.
On the other hand, we also had some nice moments and played some things which sounded really good- and, of course, I think we all still had a pretty good time playing (and most of the mistakes that we made probably went unnoticed by people who were listening).
We're going to take another run at it on Saturday, playing between 5:30 and 8:00 at the same place. Hopefully things will go a little more smoothly. Anyway, we're bound to have a good time. You guys should come out to see us (and thanks to Ryan, Jamie, Heather, Stephanie, and anyone else who came out to see us last night).
And here's a kick in the jimmy- KXAN has apparently gone dark for Time Warner cable subscribers as Time Warner and KXAN argue about whether or not the large cable company should have to pay anything to broadcast the NBC programming people with rabbit ears are getting for free. Apparently KXAN is asking for less than a penny a day per subscriber, but Time Warner is ticked off because they think they should receive the signal for free.
I don't get it. Time Warner cable already costs more than the subscription service for most satellite providers, and they provide me with a whole bunch of channels that I never, ever watch (and I don't think I'll be watching the Golf Channel any time soon). I really don't think that this issue is about keeping costs down for Time Warner customers (they seem happy to continually raise our rates). This negotiation is really about profit margin for Time Warner and their traditional ability to sell their viewers a product which they receive for free. I don't have all that much sympathy for Time Warner since they seem pretty happy to nickel and dime everyone else to death and because the satellite companies seem to have worked this situation out with local network affiliates a long time ago, and still provide their services at a lower cost than Time Warner.
If Austin Time Warner doesn't get this sorted out pretty soon, I'm cancelling my cable and calling a satellite provider. Swear to God. (I only watch a few shows, really, and Heroes, The Office, and 30 Rock are all in that group). I probably should have done it already.

Ain't got much else. It's been a crazy week. ACL Fest left me tired, work has been very busy, and then there's been the gigging with the Mono E. Glad it's the weekend.