Friday, November 28, 2008

Turkey Day at the Hop-a-Long Lounge

We had a good Thanksgiving! Attendees: Mom, Dad, Cousin Sue, Ryan, Jamie, Matt, and Nicole. Thanks to Mom, Jamie, and Susan for cooking. The food was great! Also went to the UT v. A&M game last night with Mom, Dad, and Reed. We all had a good time (even Reed, I think, despite the UT win), but I didn't take pictures.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

Hey! Not sure if I'll post tomorrow, so I just wanted to go ahead and wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving!!! I clearly have lots to be thankful for this year- the health and happiness of friends and family (and myself and Cassidy, of course), having a job which I not only enjoy but which keeps a roof over my head and food on the table, a new president-elect who not only brings the hope for positive change but who I feel like I actually relate to (it has occurred to me lately that I want to see Obama succeed so badly because he's one of the first political leaders that I feel speaks honestly and plainly and who represents a lot of the viewpoints and ideals of my generation- but I could probably make a whole different blog post about that). Anyway, I'm thankful to play in two different bands that I enjoy, with really good friends in each, I'm thankful for my neighbors (both my immediate neighbors, who are my friends, and the overall people of Austin who, despite their occasional faults, make up the population of one of the best towns in the country), I'm thankful that I have the means to go see movies, go to concerts, travel, and do other stuff that I enjoy, and I'm thankful to live in a country where I can consistently talk and write freely about whatever's on my mind without fear of the government coming and dragging me away in the middle of the night.
Anyway, I really am thankful for lots of stuff, and I try not to take the things that make me happy for granted.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hola. Turkey Day is zooming in. The Steans clan is celebrating at my house this year, and I feel a bit underprepared (not that I do any of the cooking, really, but my house needs some tidying and I have to pick up a few things from the store). Everything will come together, though.
Last night I had dinner with Ryan and Jamie. Afterward we watched Stephen Colbert's, A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All. It had musical numbers from Willie Nelson, Feist, John Legend, Elvis Costello, Toby Keith, and John Stewart, and the whole thing was pretty hilarious. I recommend checking it out if you haven't seen it.
I don't have much today, and I'm sort of busy.
Maybe more later.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The weekend was pretty good. Friday night I had Crack practice with Sig and Andy. We hadn't played together in awhile, but we sounded pretty good. We had one or two songs that were really interesting, for sure. Crack is such a weird thing. With most bands you spend most of your time making sure you remember the songs correctly and making sure you play the right notes. With Crack you mostly just have to worry about making sure you're playing something that sounds cool. It's a whole lot of improv, and even though we're not exactly virtuosos on our instruments, we're pretty good at playing together. Anyway, it was a lot of fun.

Saturday I went out to my parents house to help them unload some more furniture. We put a table together, unloaded some stuff, and had some barbecue at Rudy's for lunch (yeah, I like Rudy's barbecue- maybe not the best in Central Texas, but it's pretty darn good). We also celebrated the birthday of our family friend, Barb Smith, who's from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Saturday evening I went with friends (plus Ryan and Jamie) to see Quantum of Solace, the new James Bond movie. I enjoyed the movie. I think Casino Royale may have been a slightly better film, but Quantum of Solace probably felt a little more like a traditional James Bond movie (especially in terms of the crazy plots cooked up by the villains), and both of the two movies are so much better than most of the prior few James Bond movies that came before them that it's easy to overlook the few small flaws that the movie had. Anyway, I enjoyed it. Lots of action, exotic locations, cool cars, attractive women, and Judy Dench as one of the best "M"s to ever hit the screen.

Sunday I got up and had breakfast with Ryan at Casa Garcia. Then I hung out and goofed around until band practice in the later afternoon. Mono Ensemble practice was good, too. All of us made it, and we sounded pretty good. Bob Dylan, Beck, and Radiohead all crept into the practice, almost subconsciously. Anyway, the Mono Ensemble has some pretty strong improv chops in its own right, but we tend to spend a lot more time trying play established songs correctly than Crack does. Just two very different bands.

Anyway, that was the weekend, for the most part. I also finished Mass Effect on my XBox. It was a cool game, but almost too short. I'm sure they'll come out with a sequel.

And last night I watched 24: Redemption. Even for a fan of the show (which I sort of reluctantly admit that I am- I like a good action show, but, jeez, they love to torture characters on 24), it was kind of mediocre. Mostly it seemed to be a plot device to explain why the main character, Jack Bauer, would once again return to the U.S. when he knows that lots of bad people are looking for him here. Anyway, I found the whole thing a bit overly sentimental and contrived (although, strangely, the episode probably did help raise some awareness about the use of children soldiers in African conflicts), but I think it was mostly meant to lay some foundation plotwork for next season. So this 24 movie wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great. They showed the preview for next season, though, and it looks pretty interesting.

And I don't have a whole lot to say about the news, except to say that I really don't understand this sort of ad hoc approach that the government seems to be using in handing out bailout money. Last week Senate leaders seemed almost gleeful as they railed against bailout requests from leaders of "The Big 3" American automotive manufacturers, reprimanding and chiding them for their poor decision making and management skills, and deriding them for having to come to Washington with their hands out (asking for about $25 billion of the Treasury Department's $700 billion economic recovery fund). Then, this morning I hear on NPR that the federal government has agreed to give Citigroup $20 billion in bailout money in addition to $306 billion in loans and securities of its residential and commercial real estate and other assets.

I just don't understand why one industry is being vilified, while the other is being hastily handed stacks of money. One issue is that the automotive industry, obviously, has been more greatly impacted by the involvement of unions and collective bargaining, and this has increased costs, at this point obviously more than the market can bear. But the banks and investment corporations like Citigroup seem equally culpable, having their own problems, albeit different ones. After all, they've supported excessive executive salaries, let greed overcome prudence in their lending practices, and run their business into a position where continued operation may not be sustainable without outside intervention. The solution seems to be allowing the unions to work with the auto industry in order to preserve whatever jobs and benefits that it can for its employees. I know that the automotive unions have a reputation for being tough negotiators, but when faced with the very realistic possibility that obstinance in negotiation may equal unemployment for a large percentage of their membership, the automotive unions are going to have no choice but to be more flexible.

Note that I'm not saying the American car companies did a great job here (their cars still use too much gas, aren't reliable enough, and are too often lacking in aesthetic appeal)- I'm just saying they weren't the only industry that's been mismanaged. For some reason we're taking pity on the banking corporations that employ a bunch of white collar workers, while we seem pretty comfortable leaving Detroit's factory workers in the lurch. Part of this preference for saving lending institutions probably arises out of a need to keep credit available to American consumers (so we can try to keep the economy on the path to recovery), but on the other hand, creating a new "green energy" recovery plan was supposed to be part of economic stimulus plan as well, and refitting our automotive industry to provide cleaner cars with better gas mileage could be an integral part of that plan (not to mention the fact that millions of jobs that will be lost if America's automakers go out of business, and that's going to put an even greater strain on our struggling economy).
Anyway, when it comes to this whole bailout business, I guess I'm really just not getting it.
Well, that's it for now. Hope you guys are having a good one!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Karebear and the Admiral's New Crib

Here's the Admiral trying to figure out why the heater ain't heating (turns out, you have to make sure the power is in the "on" position).

The view from the back porch of Casa de Steans

Mom helps our good friend, Barb Smith, celebrate her birthday.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I take it back. There is something in the news that I've been meaning to blog about, but I didn't think of it earlier. As most of you have probably heard, Nebraska has run into some unexpected problems with its safe haven law. The law was originally designed to allow parents to drop off children at the state's hospitals, thereby essentially making the children wards of the state, in cases where parents thought they were unable or unwilling to care for the child. The law was designed to prevent the abandonment of children, but was primarily meant to protect babies and infants (the law is menat to encourage people to bring unwanted children to a hospital as opposed to abandoning them in places where the children might become sick or injured before eing found). The law was written without an age limit, however, and much to the chagrin of Nebraska state officials, a fairly large number of teenagers and older children, many of whom have emotional and mental disabilities (about 27 of 30 right now), have been dropped off in state custody since the law went into effect.
I saw CNN's Campbell Brown on TV last night just shaking her head in disbelief and scolding the parents of these older children who have been dropped off in state custody.
Here's the thing. I've been working on this mental health docket for a couple of years now, and I pretty much believe that most people with normal, healthy children aren't in much of a position to judge the actions of parents who have children with severe mental health disabilities. These are parents who typically love their kids, but deal with things like constant emotional outbursts (think of the temper tantrums of a two year old- now imagine those taking place in a 15 or 16 year old's body), bizarre, often destructive behavior, physical violence, threats, the tendency to wander off or run away from home at a moment's notice, and the simple, constant, ongoing frustration of dealing with adolescent kids who often aren't able to take care of normal, day to day things like feeding, clothing, and maintaining some semblance of personal hygiene. Kids with mental health disabilties may be low functioning, have wild mood swings, experience regular internal voices and auditory hallucinations, or suffer from a variety of other symptoms. Medications, regular doctor visits, and therapy can go a long way toward fixing some of these problems, but sometimes the symptoms don't clear up, and oftentimes the patients don't like staying on the meds because they don't like the side effects and the way that the drugs make them feel. Patients frequently resist sticking with their medication regimens because they don't like the feel of their medications or because they want to try to deal with their symptoms themselves (many patients don't like the stigma of mental illness, which leads to resistance to treatment). And the parents of these kids suffer the agony of knowing that, for the most part, these kids aren't going to grow out of these symptoms or the diseases that cause them. Most of these kids will be struggling with these problems for most of their life, and there really isn't an end in sight for most of these parents in terms of some end date when they can expect to be able to turn these kids loose and let them have a life of their own. Many mental health patients are unable to hold a job or to function in normal society, and given the absence of mental health hospitals or places that can provide long term treatment for these people, many of them end up living with their parents long into adulthood.
Anyway, Campbell Brown was on TV chastising these parents, telling the story of these kids who were dropped off at Nebraska hospitals, and wondering aloud about what kind of person could give up their child in such a situation. The answer is- parents that are just absolutely out of options, out of hope, and unable to deal with the situation any longer. If I had to guess, I'd be willing to bet money that these parents don't really want to give up their kids- it's just that they truly can't handle their kids or the situations that they find themselves in, and they've finally just come to the awful conclusion that their kids would be better off living with just about anyone but them.
There may be a few truly bad people amongst the group that abandoned their kids in Nebraska, but on the whole, I think that the rush to abandon these kids just shines a spotlight on a big, awful problem in our society. Lots of parents are out there dealing with severely ill children, and they're barely getting by. We need more social workers, many more and much better psychiatric hospitals (more of which need to be geared toward long term care, as opposed to the short term "medicate and release" facilities which constitute most of the health care facilities in our country today), and just a whole lot more understanding, care, and support for families that are dealing with a mentally ill or emotionally disturbed child. Society can't just shake its collective head at these "awful parents" who are abandoning their kids. These parents literally don't know what to do anymore and can't handle the pressure of being income earners, parents, healthcare providers, and babysitters. These parents are at the end of their rope- they've come to the conclusion that the only way to make society sit up and stop ignoring them is to make the entire issue the state's problem by putting their children in the state's care, and although I would guess that this is a very hard decision for most of these parents to make, I would bet that most of them wouldn't be pursuing this course of action unless they truly felt that they had no other choice.
That's it. That's the end of my rant. I've just dealt with too many of these crying, frustrated, suffering parents- worn out, exhausted, well-intentioned people who have been dealing with these problems for years and years- to sit in judgment of them without hearing each and every one of their individual stories. It's a shame that our immediate response to the issue of abandoning older, mentally ill kids is to just close the loophole so that parents can't get away with it. Instead, we ought to be taking a look at why parents are feeling the need to do this in the first place, and work at addressing some of the problems that drive parents to this decision.
Happy Friday. It's pretty nippy out there, with the new cold front that we got last night. Well, I know I say this all the time, but I REALLY have nothing to report today. I was feeling kind of tired and spent last night playing with Cassidy and watching some Law and Order on the DVR. With Thanksgiving just around the corner next week, maybe I just needed a bit of a break before we start to really kick into holiday mode.
I need to get some shopping done for Christmas presents. Online shopping rules, but you have to plan ahead early enough to actually be able to get your presents in the mail.

Well, instead of just droning on about stuff that I don't care much about and which you probably don't want to read, I'll cut this short. Maybe I'll write more later if inspiration hits.

Oh yeah- apologies to The Pope and Roundball. I tried to publish a couple of their comments, and somehow they just got dumped into the "unmoderated comments" folder.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

See if you can watch this before they take it down....

I really dig this band...
And Congrats to Jennifer "Killer" Kraber on getting herself a sweet, new ride. It's an Infiniti, and it's an incredibly nice car (even if she won't let me name it "Shirley"). Adios to her old, smokey car. May it rest in peace.
Hello. Don't feel that much different than Wednesday. Dinner last night with Teams Steans (we went out for Mexican food and I watched some Ghost Hunters with Roundball).

There's been a lot of hubbub and controversy in the media surrounding the "big three" U.S. auto makers (Ford, GM, and Chrysler) and their quest to receive a federal bailout. I have sort of mixed feelings about this. It seems like U.S. automakers have been producing sort of substandard, mediocre cars for decades now (they seem to consume more gasoline than Japanese imports, typically have worse reliability and performance ratings, and cost as much or more than their foreign counterparts). There's certainly a very valid temptation to let these companies fail- to want to let the market do its work in punishing poor decision-making and weeding out weaker businesses in the global market.
On the other hand, letting these automakers fail could potentially create an economic implosion that will leave millions of Americans jobless and drive many secondary, related businesses into bankruptcy (businesses which do everything from manufacturing parts for these cars to feeding factory employees, handling their banking, and even providing healthcare and insurance). On a more sentimental, less pragmatic note, it just feels sort of strange to let these companies fail after we just gave Wall Street a $700 billion bailout. Ford Motor Company, for example, has been in existence since 1903, and has played a pivotal role in not only the overall development of the American economy, but in shaping America's cultural landscape (mass produced Ford cars were a major part of expanding the travel possibilities of the American family and helped turn the U.S. into a country that could be easily traversed by the average person on our highway system- the widespread introduction of affordable automobiles, which Ford was a major part of, literally helped to unify the country). Ford has produced vehicles that have been widely loved and respected for decades- including the Mustang, Ford F series trucks, the Bronco, the Expedition, and even the Crown Victoria. On a more personal note, when Steanso was a very young lad and living up in Michigan, his father, The Admiral, worked for Ford Motor Company, and for some reason Ford became the first word that Steanso could spell (I was quite proud of this ability, and walked around spelling it out- "Ford. F-O-R-D, Ford!").
Anyway, I still think that people would be happy to buy American cars, if only American car companies could get their act together and produce a better product. We need American cars to be more reliable, probably a little bit more stylin', and we need for them to get much better fuel economy. It would really be great if the American auto manufacturers could get ahead of the curve for once and lead the way in producing hybrids and other green energy vehicles with lower emissions and much better gas mileage. We may already be lagging behind foreign auto manufacturers in this regard, but since we're kind of having to rethink automotive design a bit right now, anyway, in order to make automobiles more "green", this might be one of those junctures where we could catch up a bit, make some better products, and get America's auto industry back onto a more competitive footing.
Anyway, I'm not sure the big three deserve a huge bailout, but I know that part of me wants to see America remain in the car making business. Making cars just seems like such a quintessentially American endeavor. Cars are just our thing, darn it.
Ford. F-O-R-D. Ford.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

S'up, peeps? It's another beautiful fall day here in the ATX.
Last night I went over to Steans Manor, and Jamie cooked up some of her very delicious spaghetti. Once again Steanso profits from the culinary talents of his family, friends, and neighbors. (I have a master plan to learn to cook a few things so that I can start repaying some favors to these generous people, but it's still an ongoing project)
While over at Steans Manor, we all watched this week's episode of Heroes. Man, that show just keeps getting dumber and dumber. I watched the first two seasons on DVD, and they were okay (not really great, but good enough to keep me interested), but now the show feels like nothing but a soap opera with really awful dialogue and lots and lots of melodrama. The show has been going downhill for awhile, but Jamie and I have both been sort of separately keeping up with it, even though we both knew it wasn't very good. Last night we watched it with Ryan, and as he groaned and complained about the show, it was just pretty hard to defend the fact that I keep watching it. The overall plotline is cliched, the acting is weak, and the writing hurts my head. I gotta let go. "It might get better," really isn't a good reason to stick with a show when it's in it's third season.
And I know there's been a lot of debate going on about whether Hillary Clinton is an appropriate pick for Secretary of State in the Obama administration. There are people who say that Clinton leans farther to the left than Obama, and that she'll go off the reservation and pursue her own agenda rather than President Obama's if she's selected for the position (this position sort of presupposes that Clinton's popularity and her large amount of domesticn and international support would make it difficult to fire or replace her if she started implementing her own public policy). Personally, I just have a hard time seeing that there would be major problems between Clinton and Obama if Clinton were to be made Secretary of State. I don't think that their political positions are really that far apart, and I think that Clinton has the maturity and wisdom to realize that she's going to be much more effective and credible as a team player than she ever would be if foreign leaders really had reason to believe that there was a substantial rift between she and the president. (I'm not saying that she and Obama might not have disagreements, but I think and hope that Clinton's preferred action would be to try to convince President Obama of the strength of her position- I just don't see her "going rogue"). I think that Clinton's popularity and credibility on the world stage might make Hillary an especially strong asset within the Obama cabinet, and that she might be able to command respect and broker deals in situations where lesser known or less influential individuals might struggle.
Anyway, I could be wrong about all of this stuff, but I think that Clinton's popularity on the world stage might provide opportunities that may just be too good to pass up. If I were Obama, I'd give her the nod and worry about rearranging things later if, for some reason, they didn't work out.
Well, I gotta run. Hope you guys are having a good one.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hi. Hope it's all okay.
I don't have a whole lot going on. Last night Mandy had Kate and I over for ziti. The food was really good, and it was nice to hang out with Mandy and Kate.
After dinner I messed around on the computer and played my guitar way too loud (given the time of night).
I couldn't sleep, which is kind of frustrating, given how tired I was this morning.

Looks like the Round Rock School District is back to banning books. Of course, I'm not a parent, but when I was in high school at Westwood (also a Round Rock school), I remember a bunch of parents approaching the school board and demanding that they take a handful of books out of the high school library, including Invisible Man by Ralph Waldo Ellison, mostly because the parents thought some of the sexual content in the books was inappropriate (for some reason, these outraged parents never seem to care about excessive or extremely graphic violence- they just get bunged up when it comes to talking about sex). I remember going to a school board meeting where they discussed the removal of the books, and there were a whole bunch of high school students who showed up to speak out against the book banning. In the end, the books were allowed to remain, but that decision was only made after several of the books in question, including Invisible Man, were placed on that year's Advanced Placement reading list for college credit in English literature. That meant that while the parents of Round Rock were trembling in fear for the minds of their impressionable, young children, people around the rest of the country had come to recognize that same material as classic art- fiction which carried profound and meaningful messages about American society and the people living within it. The parents, faced with the fact that banning these books also meant that they would be depriving their children of the chance to study college material and to gain college credit (the AP reading list was set by a national collegiate organization which they had no influence over), withdrew their protest of the books.
The books mentioned in the current situation in Round Rock sound like they might have a little less literary merit, but the whole idea of banning books continues to alarm me. I don't like the idea of one set of parents deciding what is appropriate for all students to read or appreciate. Personally, I still have the same opinion that I did in high school- it's up to parents to instill their values and morals in their kids and to encourage them not to read trash (and kids are, of course, ultimately going to make up their own minds about what kind of materials they're going to seek out). Trying to control what kids are exposed to by way of banning books seems almost quaint in an age when people can surf the internet from their cell phones.
And obviously this book wasn't so obscene that it offended everyone, because both a nine member panel and, later on, another six member panel both reviewed the book and decided it was appropriate to keep the book in the library before the Round Rock Superintendent bowed to pressure and removed it anyway. Good thing the children were protected from reading. Now they can go back to watching South Park, listening to gangster rap, and playing Grand Theft Auto.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Howdy! Everyone have a nice weekend? Mine was pretty good.
First off, I rarely talk about my job, but Friday morning was sort of interesting. Friday morning I returned to the hallowed halls of my old alma mater, the UT Law School, to give testimony for the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. I sat in with two other prosecutors and answered questions for a panel of well known defense attorneys (I think I vaguely recognized one of the women as a pundit from Court TV and the Nancy Grace Show). We (the prosecutors) each gave a brief statement, and then they asked us a series of questions about our involvement with "problem-solving courts" (i.e., courts with specialized caseloads, such as the Travis County DWI Court or the mental health docket that I work on). I guess they're travelling around the country gathering testimony and data in an attempt to formulate some proposals, which will in turn be supplied to national or state level legislative groups.
Anyway, I thought I was headed to speak at some touchy-feelie defense attorney conference, and the next thing you know I'm in the witness chair in some big, wood-paneled courtroom, speaking in front of 6 experienced attorneys, and giving testimony that's being videotaped and transcribed by a court reporter (while law students, advocacy groups, and even staffers from a few local politicians sat behind me taking notes). I guess the whole experience was fine (the investigative panel seemed relatively satisfied with my own testimony and the testimony of the other two prosecutors), but the whole thing just caught me off guard a bit. Should have worn a flashier tie.
Friday night I had dinner with Ryan and Jamie at Hyde Park Grill (Ryan flew to Dallas and back for work on Friday, so we caught up with him on his way back from the airport). Saturday I went over to Steans Manor, where Ryan and Jamie had some friends over to watch the UT-Kansas game and Ryan cooked up some sausage and chicken for us on the grill. Pretty good game. Really good food.
Saturday night we went to Red Robin for dinner. As many of you Adventurers know, I generally try to go to locally owned places as opposed to national chains, but sometimes you just sort of run out of new places to try...
Anyway, the burgers at Red Robin actually weren't too bad. The place is decorated with lots of wacky crap on the walls, balloons for the kids, TVs crammed into every corner, and lots of pictures with, well, red robins inserted into them.
Like I said, the burgers were okay, but the restaurant was sort of hyper-manic-forced-cheerful, and the food in the place should have come with cholesterol medication as a side item. One of their big selling points is that most of the items on their menu are "bottomless", meaning that once you suck down your strawberry lemonade and eat your way through a tower of onion rings (and they really do bring them to you on some sort of stacked, two foot tall arrangement), you can always get more (I ordered myself some extra fries, mostly for novelty's sake, but the problem is that once the food showed and was sitting in front of me...).
Anyway, I'm not sure I'll be headed back there very soon, but the burgers were pretty good, I have to admit.
For some reason after eating at Red Robin, we went back to my house and ended up watching The Wizard of Oz. Actually, we watched the Wizard of Oz, but it was on cable, so it was occasionally punctuated by segments of Sin City, which we watched during commercial breaks. Yes, transitioning between the two movies was a little jarring, to say the least.
Anyway, two things about The Wizard of Oz. One, it's truly amazing how much of that movie and references to it have been adopted into our popular culture. Line after line you hear phrases that are repeatedly quoted and/or have been incorporated into other works. It's pretty incredible how the Wizard of Oz just sort of constitutes part of the bedrock of our national psyche.
The other thing about that movie is the flying monkeys. Almost everyone finds them disconcerting, and it seems like eveyone has a story about how they were bothered by them as a kid (or how they knew someone else who was truly bothered by them). I gotta say, even upon a subsequent viewing as an adult I found the flying monkeys pretty scary. Something about the emotionless monkey faces and their dark eyes freaks me out, and then there's the fact that, well, flying monkeys are just scary. No one wants an animal dropping out of the sky onto them, but the fear is even moreso when the animal screeches and has little monkey hands.
So I had fun watching The Wizard of Oz.
Sunday I got up and went to Target and ran a few other errands. I went and had lunch with Mandy, and I played a bit of Mass Effect on the XBox before band practice (Mass Effect is pretty cool- it's cort of a combo of a role playing game and a first person shooter. Anyway, I've found it pretty entertaining, and it's made me glad I got my XBox fixed)
Band practice with the Mono E went pretty well. Kudos to Jim Gillespie for making it to practice, even though he had gall bladder surgery this week. Jim's going to make me think twice about cancelling practice next time my allergies are really bugging me. Anyway, all of us were there, and we sounded pretty good. We've been playing Beck's "Golden Age" at the last few practices, as well as a few other covers, and they're coming along well.
So that was the weekend.
I hear Barack Obama on the radio this morning talking about how he misses some of the little things from before his presidential campaign- going to his favorite barber shop or eating at his favorite sandwhich shop. Anyway, he was just saying that he misses those things, not because of the the products themselves (I'm sure he can have a barber come to him these days or send an intern to go get him a sandwhich), but because those are the everyday activities that just kind of keep a person in touch with reality and remind him who his neighbors are. It was an interesting perspective to hear, and although I know that Obama is still a politician (practiced in the art of saying things that people want to hear), it still made me think that we're dealing with a leader who is kind of qualitatively different than the folks we've been dealing with. I'm pretty sure that missing his neighbors and the people in his community was never even in George W. Bush's constellation of thoughts as he entered the White House (he had previously been governor, and for years before that had been surrounded by the people from his father's staff and cabinet [when he wasn't busy hobnobbing with a bunch of high dollar business contacts that were friends of the family]).
Anyway, I just thought it was kind of an interesting thing for Obama to comment on.

So that's it for now. Possibly more later. Hope ya'll had a good weekend!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Once again, I don't have a lot of time for blogging today, but just wanted to check in. Last night I went to have dinner with Roundball at Mesa Ranch, where our friends, Hilary and Stuart of The Flyin' A's were playing. The food was good at Mesa Ranch, the staff was friendly, and, as usual, we enjoyed listening to the best western folk country musical stylings of The Flyin' A's. You folks should definitely go check them out sometime if you get the chance.
Anyway, like I said, I don't have much time today. Maybe I'll blog some more later on if I get the chance.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

No time for blogging today. You guys be good to each other.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Well, yesterday I didn't really do a whole lot. It being Veteran's Day, I watched parts of several war movies- The Guns of Navarone (which is entirely fictional, as it turns out- somehow I always thought that at least the part about the existence of the guns was real, but apparently it's not. Once again, I stand corrected by The Admiral), The Bridge on the River Kwai, and Saving Private Ryan. Saving Private Ryan is a really depressing movie. I mean, it makes you have a lot of respect for WWII veterans, which I guess was Spielberg's point, but it's a tough movie to watch.
I also had dinner over at Steans Manor last night. Good fajitas, Jamie!

What else? Watched some news coverage of Obama and his family as they visited with George W. and Laura Bush at the White House. It's kind of amazing to see those guys cozying up after Obama pretty much ran for office on a "I'm the opposite of George Bush" platform for the last couple of years (while the Republicans painted him as a crazy, wild-eyed socialist terrorist). It's good that we live in a country where opposing sides can fight things out so forcefully during campaigns, but then come together peacefully once the dust has cleared. I hope some productive stuff came out of those meetings.
For some reason I'm feeling sort of run down, despite having been off work for the last 4 days. Maybe it's due to allergies or something. Maybe I need some more vitamin C (although I did have a glass of OJ this morning). Anyway, I'm signing off. Hope you guys are doing alright!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Howdy. Well, for some strange reason I have Veteran's Day off from work today. I call this strange mostly because I know that most private sector companies are still working today, which means a whole lot of veterans are working while I'm at home sitting on my butt (hi, Dad!!).
Anyway, thanks to Dad, Grandpa Ross, and everyone else who has served in the military to keep our country safe from bad guys. I know I complain from time to time about some of the political decisions that our politicians make regarding wars that our country gets involved in, but those complaints don't extend to the troops. I have a high degree of respect for the people in our military who are doing their jobs and working to keep the country secure.
So happy Veteran's Day!

Yesterday I also had the day off (took a vacation day), and went with Jamie and Mandy to see Role Models. It's a movie about two thirtysomething guys (one the obligatory party animal, the other, the obligatory misanthrope) who get in trouble and end up having to do community service through a sort of big brothers type of program. It was pretty lowbrow comedy, and it had language that would have probably made my parents cringe, but it was also pretty funny and entertaining. If you're going to see it and your expectations aren't too high (and you aren't expecting some kind of G rated family movie), you should enjoy it. I think we all got a chuckle out of it.
Well, I don't have much else to say, and I'm wasting my Veteran's Day on this computer, so.... have a good one!!!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hey! How was the weekend? Mine was good.
Friday night I went with some friends to see Calexico at Antone's. It was a really good show. Calexico is just really good at doing their thing, and they seem to effortlessly blend country, rock, and Mexican folk and mariachi-style music in a natural and seamless kind of way. Hailing from Tucson, Arizona, Calexico is one of those bands that kind of carries the resonance of their home. They just kind of sound very Southwesternish, with their Mexican and country influences combining with rock and rockabilly sounds in a unique sort of way. Anyway, the band seemed to be enjoying themselves, and the sold out Antone's crowd was really into it as well.
Sam Beam of Iron and Wine came out to sing with Calexico during their encore. He's got a great voice, and sounded really good with the band (he's toured with them before, so they're obviously pretty comfortable with each other). I guess he lives in Austin.
Anyway, that was Friday.
Saturday I got up and kind of putzed around (watched part of the UT-Baylor game). Later in the afternoon I went out to my parents new house to help them unload some furniture that they had brought up here from Houston. The house is looking pretty good. Afterward we went out to eat at a small Italian restaurant called Pasta House out near their place. It was pretty good.
Sunday I got up and had lunch with Ryan, Jamie, and Jamie's friend, Rebecca, at Curra's. Afterward, Ryan and I took our dogs to the dog park at Riverside. We ran into my cousin, Susan, over there. She was with her Corgi, Pierre, so we spent some time catching up with her and talking about holiday plans.
After the dog park I had Mono Ensemble practice. All five of us made it, and we sounded pretty good. We experimented with a few new cover songs, and dusted off some of our originals that we hadn't played in awhile. It was a good practice.

So that was the weekend.
Now here's the part where I annoy some conservatives. If you're conservative, but you're waiting to give Obama a fair chance and see how he does as president, please feel free to skip this. For those of you who are dying to see him fall on his face, well, hey- this is for you!!
I also watched some news shows this weekend, and, of course, ended up talking about the Obama election with some people. I'm kind of chagrined to hear some conservatives openly talking about how they can't wait to see the country fall apart under Obama so that they can start blaming him for the problems that the country's facing.
Here's the thing. First- I find it sort of disingenuous for a party who supposedly pride themselves on their patriotism to be hoping that our country falls apart just so they have some good ammunition to use in attacking the Democrats. And another thing- if that's what you're hoping for, you don't really love your country. You just love your party. And second of all- it took a combination of neglect and active destruction over an eight year period by Republicans in order to cripple our economy, lower our esteem in the world community, trash the environment, shred our civil rights, and wreck the national budget (and before someone pipes up- yes, I know the Democrats had a two year control of congress, but it's pretty hard to get any meaningful legislation through when it's just going to be blocked by fillibuster or Presidential veto, anyway [I give you the children's health insurance program as exhibit A]). Even with Obama working at full steam for four years, he's going to have his work cut out for him in just repairing the damage that's been done, let alone making any significant improvements (besides the major issues of the economy, the Iraq War, and our energy issues, he has a laundry list of "minor items" to deal with, including The Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay, readdressing issues of torture and rendition, subsidies for Head Start and SCHIP, readdressing all of the environmental regulations that have been rolled back [even this week, the Bush White House has pulled back laws restricting uranium mining along the Colorado River], issues of global warming and greenhouse gas emissions, and many, many other areas where the Republicans have chipped away at the quality of life in this country and weakened our position as a world leader).
So back off on the attacks, conservatives. And be put on notice now. No- the left is not going to let you sit there and complain about Obama as he seeks to repair damage and make positive changes- not without reminding you with each and every whiny complaint that you guys had eight years to run this country, and all that you did with that time was add wealth to the richest part of the country while driving everyone else into the ground. We're not going to let you rewrite and revise history while we try to clean up your mess.
Hopefully Obama stays true to his rhetoric and reaches across the aisle to try to foster some more bipartisan efforts in facing this country's problems. It would be great if we could all work together. But the first step toward getting our country on track is decidedly not going to come about by sitting back with your arms folded, hoping our country implodes so that you can make fun of the president.
I've criticized the Bush White House a whole lot over the last years, true, but I've been wanting the country to do better- I've donated to causes that I thought were being neglected under his watch (Amnesty International for human rights, World Wildlife Fund and Sierra Club for environmental issues, Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders for people who weren't getting health services, etc.), signed petitions, sent emails, and marched in protest in order to try to get my voice heard on different issues (the war, the environment, etc,), and donated small amounts of my time (to groups like the Capital Area Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, etc.).
Point is, I didn't just sit on my hands and hope the world would come to an end so that I could blame George W. Bush. When I complained about Bush it really was because I was disturbed about what I thought he was doing to the country- I wasn't gleeful about the country suffering so that I could celebrate Bush's failures (and yes, I'm glad The Surge has worked, insofar as it has, and... well, I'm trying to think of something else that has gone really well for Bush...). I'm not so full of hate for Bush that I'm going to begrudge him his victories when he does something really good for the country or the world- I just think those times have been extremely few and far between.
Ooookay. End of Rant.
Once again- that rant was not aimed at all conservatives. Just the haters. You know who you are.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Whazzup, Adventurers? Beeeeeautiful day here in the ATX. Sun is shining, a cool breeze, and not a cloud in the sky.
I've got a 4 day weekend coming up, thanks to Veteran's Day (thanks Dad and Grandpa Ross!!). The best word to describe that is probably SUPERAWESOME.
I didn't write about it because we were in the middle of the election craziness, but Michael Crichton died of cancer this week. Crichton was a complex guy. He had a medical degree from Harvard, he was a political conservative who wrote pieces arguing with the science of global warming (among other topics), and he wrote countless works of captivating fiction, including The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, Westworld, Runaway, The Terminal Man, Twister, Congo, Rising Sun, Disclosure, and Coma, plus many others (he was also the creator of the popular TV series, E.R.). He was also 6'9" tall.
Anyway, I always kind of liked the fact that Crichton had some sort of high minded concepts in his works, but that he kind of executed them with a sort of populist, everyman appeal (for instance, he incorporates scientific concepts and explanations for events in both Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain, but the plots are really driven by the horrific effects that are produced when science ends up failing. It might seem a little complicated to understand how genetic engineering produces dinosaurs or how a strain of germs begins to mutate into a plague, but in both cases it's not hard to understand what you need to do when things go wrong in these scenarios- you need to run away very fast). Crichton was good at creating a sense of wonder and amazement in his books, but still tying them to reality just enough to make you stop and question exactly how much of his stories had the possibilty of becoming reality.
Anyway, I enjoyed reading a number of his books (even some of the ones that were later made into terrible movies, like Congo), and some of the movies that have been made from them (Jurassic Park, Westworld, The Andromeda Strain to name a few). Via con dios, Crichton.

And I didn't really write about this over the past couple of days because, frankly, I didn't really realize what had happened until I spoke with a couple of friends yesterday who are gay, but a number of measures were passed during this past election which limited or stripped rights from gay individuals and couples. Arizona passed a ban on gay marriage that mandated "only a union between one man and one woman would be recognised". It was effectively the same measure that failed two years ago, when John McCain, who at that time spoke his mind rather than channelling the visions of the religious right, came out against it. Arkansas passed a measure banning gay couples from adopting children. Florida passed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and any union that approximates marriage. In California, proposition 8, the ballot measure that literally "eliminates the right" of gay men and lesbians to marry, has been passed. I find the whole thing very sad and disconcerting. I just don't understand denying equal civil rights to anyone in this country in this day and age (okay, convicted criminals may pose something of an exception).
I've heard the whole, "marriage has to be restricted to the union between a man and a woman" argument, but it just doesn't make sense. Are heterosexuals really so insecure in their identities that they're going to feel their marriages devalued if gay couples are allowed to marry? I can't see how someone else's marriage should affect the nature and/or quality of another couple's marriage at all. Maybe straight couples should be more worried about abusive marriages involving physical violence, since I literally see that sort of thing as devaluing marriage as an institution. That might make some sense. (e.g., if you're in a relationship where someone is getting beat, you're not allowed to call it a marriage. Unfortunately, these defenders of marriage don't really seem worried about that scenario.) If the only thing giving your marriage meaning is definition by way of exclusion, then your marriage already ain't worth crap, anyway, people. If two people love each other and want to get hitched, I just can't 1) see the harm in letting it happen, and 2) see how it's anyone's business other than that of the couple involved.
The Arkansas ban on allowing gay couples to adopt is perhaps the most troubling. At a time when we're hard pressed to find loving homes with capable parents who want to have children, do we honestly think that the sexual orientation of the parent is going to make them love their children or care for them any less? There have been no reliable studies whatsoever that have shown that children grow up maladjusted or with behavioral disorders as a result of growing up in a home with homosexual parents, and in fact, I'm willing to bet that children who grow up in two parent households, regardless of the sexual orientation of the parents, probably tend to do better than children in single parent households, just by virtue of being able to receive more attention.
Anyway, the whole thing is sad, and I'm sorry to see it. This kind of prejudice is a thing that, unfortunately, is only going to go away very slowly, as the anti-gay movement seems to be justifying their prejudice in this case through religion, which makes them comfortable with it on a level that I see as completely unjustifed in any sort of rational, moral sense. (If your religion tells you that you have the inherent right to hold yourself above other people, you need to seriously reexamine you religion. That way lies fascism, bigotry, and a whole host of other nasty tendencies.) I do think that things will eventually change in this country in terms of gay rights, as more and more Americans come to be better acquainted with (and less paranoid about) their gay coworkers, neighbors, family members, etc.. But the change could be a slower one than more progressive minds keep seeming to expect.

Anyway, the election wasn't all wine and roses for liberals. One big step forward, and maybe a few steps back...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Okay, this is really not relevant to anything, but I gotta say that the baby on the E*Trade commercials just cracks me up every time he comes on. Here's some E*Trade baby for you guys to enjoy....

Anyway, I'm still feeling good about the Obama win. I was watching Jon Stewart last night on The Daily Show, and he was talking about how people in New York City yesterday were actually making eye contact, smiling, and sometimes going so far as to hold doors open for other people. I wonder if that means people were kicking puppies in Kentucky and Alabama?

In a nod toward some of the bipartisan efforts that he promised during his election night speech, rumors are circulating that Obama is considering several GOP players for his national defense team, including Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, a Vietnam War veteran and fierce critic of the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war, Dick Lugar, R-Indiana, the minority leader of the Foreign Relations Committee who worked with Obama last year to expand a program aimed at destroying weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union, and possibly Robert Gates, Bush's defense secretary.

I find all of this kind of fascinating- I just mentioned to one of my Republican friends a couple of days ago that I thought Obama might do well to include some GOP members in White House positions, particularly in terms of national defense, which is something that the GOP frequently does sort of well (the current White House being something of an exception). Putting GOP members on staff might help build some bridges, and, frankly, the Democrats might benefit from some outside expertise in this area. Anyway, President Bartlet, one of our nation's most effective and honorable leaders of all time, put some GOP members onto his staff on The West Wing, and things seemed to go moderately well for them in fictional TV land, so I figure that's good enough for me.
What the hell?! Give it a try! I think that by now even the Republicans are thinking we need some sort of plan to get ourselves out of Iraq at some point, and we're all concerned about Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and other potential threats to U.S. security. Speaking of which, what's Colin Powell up to these days? If he's just sitting around his house, polishing the silver, we might be able to put the man to work...

Democratic Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, a prior Clinton advisor and part of the Democratic leadership in the House, has accepted a position as Obama's Chief of Staff. Frankly, I don't know much about Emanuel, but he's said to be an intelligent, effective, tough-minded guy.

Anyway, I don't have a whole lot of other news. Didn't do anything wild and/or crazy last night. I watched Ghost Hunters, and once again they produced some evidence of stange happenings that I can't explain. I guess they could just be hoaxing the audience, overall, but that would really disappoint me. I mean, I'm willing to watch a lot of very boring television in order for them to produce small amounts of very questionable evidence, but if they're hoaxing stuff just to make it more exiciting, I would lose patience with the show very quickly.

That's it. Hope you guys are doing well.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

And I normally don't just provide links without going into their contents in some detail, but this is from The Onion, and, as so often happens with The Onion, the article is pretty funny because it's sort of true. Sometimes it takes a major crisis or two before Americans pull their heads out of their collective butts and realize that maybe they should focus on issues that are a little more pressing for the average person (rather than trying to ban gay marriage or fighting to make sure that women can't get abortions, for example).
Also funny was this little piece about the challenges Obama is going to face, titled "Black Man Given Nation's Worst Job".
Anyway, leave it to The Onion....
Well, last night was pretty cool. I thought McCain gave a very gracious concession speech, and Obama gave a really strong victory address. I liked the fact that Obama touched on the fact that we're facing a lot of big problems that aren't going to be fixed overnight (basically underscoring the need for patience and perserverance as we deal with things like our economic crisis), and that we're going to need a new spirit of bipartisan cooperation if we're going to overcome these obstacles. I know that people on the right aren't going to agree with all of Obama's decisions, but hopefully he can at least demonstrate a willingness to make sure their concerns are heard and an ability to compromise when possible. We really can accomplish a whole lot more if we're not expending our energy trying to battle each other.
Anyway, I found Obama's speech moving, and I appreciated what he had to say. Every once in awhile I would have to take a step outside of myself, remember that Obama is, after all, a very good politician, and that in some sense he's just very good at giving speeches. On the other hand, I also realized last night that my pride wasn't just in Obama. A lot of my good feeling last night came from realizing that America was willing to elect a black president, and that Americans are still hopeful and optimistic enough to embrace change as a possibility. Even if Obama's presidency were to turn out to be relatively unsuccessful, I would still be happy with the fact that people in the '08 election were willing to take a chance on someone who really seems to want to make positive changes for the country. We'll see how well Obama fulfills the promise that he has shown on the campaign trail, but at least American voters were willing to give a chance to a candidate whose focus has been on healing our country as a whole.
So I was just as moved by the voters last night as I was by Obama. It's good to see that they've broken out of the mindset of fear and cynicism that I believe got Bush reelected in 2004. It's good to see the country embrace a more optimistic viewpoint, and I hope Obama rewards them for it.

In other news, I stopped by a friend's election party to watch some of the results last night. Thanks for having such a nice party and inviting me, Channing! My coworker, Carla, brought her two young boys, so in some of the slower moments between race results, I got to watch them execute professional wrestling moves off the corners of Channing's furniture. Good stuff.

That's about it. I'm tired. I fell asleep in my chair in the living room while still watching race results and analysis, the TV remote still in my hand.
Hope everyone's having a good day.

The Results Are In....

Well, I'm watching the election results, and Fox News just declared Obama the president elect of the United States. Somewhere outside people are firing off fireworks in celebration. I feel kind of relieved, but knowing all of the obstacles and challenges that lay ahead for Obama, it's kind of a wary and weary celebration. Though I know there are a lot of frustrated, disappointed Republicans out there tonight, I hope people from both sides of the aisle find something to celebrate in Obama's victory. Not only is Obama's election a historic accomplishment (it wasn't so long ago, really, that Rosa Parks was making history by refusing to move to the back of the bus), but I also hope that Obama really does try to govern with a spirit of bipartisan cooperation. I believe that the man is a pragmatist and not a simple ideologue, and I honestly believe that he will seek and try to garner support from both sides of the aisle as he takes on the significant problems that our country faces. I think that he will be more open to compromise than people believe right now, and although Obama is solidly a Democrat, I think he has more respect for some conservative viewpoints than people understand at the moment (some of the things I've read about his decision making processes on everything from offshore drilling to the Iraq War have kind of led me to believe this).
Anyway, McCain is a good man, and I wish him well. Our country owes him a great deal, not only for his military service, but also for his service as a senator.

Anyway, Obama has his work cut out for him, but tonight's a moment to celebrate and breathe a sigh of relief.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Just a quick post for Senator Obama, who lost his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, yesterday in Hawaii. Apparently Ms. Dunham was still able to vote for her grandson through the use of an absentee ballot, although she will obviously never see the results of the election. Obama's grandmother helped to raise him, and he cited her often in his speeches, pointing to her as an inspirational example and as the cornerstone of their family.
At any rate, my thoughts and sympathies go out to Senator Obama and his family as they deal with this loss, even in the midst of the election day hoopla.
It just kind of keeps things in perspective, doesn't it? Even as he faces the possibility of being elected into one of the most powerful offices in the world, we can all relate to the fact that Mr. Obama must be undergoing some personal suffering at the same time. Family and our relationships with them are just one of those great, shared human experiences, and the loss of those who are close to us is always painful- even for the potential President of the United States.



Monday, November 03, 2008

The weekend was pretty darn good. On Friday night I hung out and handed out Halloween candy to the neighborhood kids. This year was the most fun that I think I've had handing out candy. There were a lot of cute little kids, and some pretty funny older kids (I offered one group of junior high kids a bribe- extra candy if they would promise not to terrorize any of the younger kids and take their candy. They laughed way hard to be innocent, but they took me up on it). Later that night I played with the Mono Ensemble at Somnio's. We hadn't practiced in awhile, and we got started sort of late, so the crowd was kind of small, but we played pretty well, and the people who were there seemed to really enjoy it. I had a good time. I dressed, as previously mentioned, as Jason from Friday the 13th. About 15 minutes into our set I realized that my shirt with the fake blood stains on it, a perennial part of my costume, was haunted with the sweat and smoke smell of prior Halloweens, so I changed it for another shirt in order to keep the funk in my music rather than in my aroma.

Saturday I got up and drove out to Steiner Ranch to meet up with the parents (they were having furniture and appliances delivered). Hung out with them and ate at the Oasis with parents + Ryan and Jamie + Jamie's parents. Beautiful day to hang out by the lake and eat Mexican food. Mom and Dad's house looks really nice as well.

Saturday night we celebrated Rami Reid's birthday with some Italian food and hanging out. Friday was actually Rami's birthday, so happy birthday to Rami!!!!

Sunday I got up and ate breakfast with the parents and hung out with them a bit more.
I also went and saw RocknRolla, the new Guy Ritchie movie, this weekend. Guy Ritchie has taken quite a bit of criticism for making movies several movies that contain a lot of similarities (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, and now this one), so I guess at this point you either like his movies or you don't. This is another tale of London's criminal underworld community, and it does have a lot in common with his other films, but I enjoyed it. Ritchie does a good job of infusing humor into his crime movies, and despite the fact that they take place in a big city like London, his films always do a pretty good job of portraying its underworld characters as denizens of a tight-knit, fun-loving, neighborly community- the kind of place that looks so entertaining that you might almost forget that the cost of membership is to potentially subject oneself to all sorts of nasty violence. Anyway, there are all kinds of crazy characters running rampant in Ritchie's films, and as many potential plotlines as there are ways for low level thugs to get themselves into trouble (meaning, seemingly endless possibilities), so even if Ritchie sticks to telling London crime stories for quite some time, I think I may continue to find them entertaining.
And that's about it. I'm all strapped in for the final days of the election season, and I'm more than ready to get the whole thing over with. Now to brace myself for the inevitable crush of Republican blamecasting which will undoubtedly try to immediately make the Democrats responsible for every problem that the country faces, as though the Republicans hadn't been holding the reins of power and digging us into this mess for the last 8 years. As I said to my parents this weekend- I'll be shocked if the Republicans don't have some sort of investigatory witchhunt up and running within Obama's first 9 months in office, as the GOP switches gears from trying to get McCain elected to making sure that Obama doesn't get re-elected after a first term of office. If Obama wins, the Ken Starr playbook will probably be handed to some GOP attack dog within Obama's first 24 hours in office. Aaarrrrgh......
Of course I'm putting the cart before the horse, and hopefully there'll be a few moments that Democrats can step back and enjoy. Then the very hard work of getting the country back on track needs to begin, though, so there's not going to be a lot of time for high fives if we get a win tomorrow night.