Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!!!!

Just wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a safe, happy New Year! My New Year's Eve is shaping up to be a bit quieter than I originally planned (Ryan and Jamie have cancelled their New Year's party because their dog, Mel, who we all love a lot, is having some major health problems). Anyway, it's a sad reason to have to cancel a party, but I certainly understand. I'm sure I'll figure out some way to entertain myself.

Hope everyone else has a fun and safe New Year's celebration. Please be careful with the drinks and driving. New Year's Eve is always one of those dangerous nights of the year for that sort of thing.

2008 has been a decent year, all in all. The economy is kind of in the dumps, but we've got a new president coming in who seems like he'll work hard for us, and I have confidence that things will get better. I'm pretty much enjoying my job (don't tell anyone, or they'll move me to doing something else), and, of course, given the current economy I'm happy just to have a stable job. I've had a good year in terms of having some good experiences with family and friends, and most of the people close to me are in relatively good health and seem to be doing well, so that's all good. Anyway, life has treated me pretty well in 2008, and I remain pretty optimistic about 2009.

So here's to a happy New Year! Peace and happiness to all of you guys!!!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Well, Christmas has come and gone, and although I had a good time with the family down in Houston, I feel that certain sense of relaxation that comes with having gotten through all of the Cristmas hubbub. I never got a chance to see Cousin John and his family (which was a drag), but other from that, Christmas went about as well as I could have hoped. Thanks to Mom and Dad, and I'll catch you Bridenstines next time!
Not a lot going on since I got back. We had Mono Ensemble practice tonight, and all five members of the band showed up (which is very cool). We ran through quite a bit of stuff at practice, and we sounded pretty good. We also talked. Eric got a new hat. Frank's son got Legos for Christmas. I'm glad to hear that the kids are still enjoying the Legos. Jim's daughter isn't allowed outside when Mom and Dad don't know about it. Something has happened to Reed's knee which is requiring him to wear bandage-like patches on it. I'm not exactly sure why.
Anyhoo, that's it for now.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas '08

Christmas was in Spring this year with my parents, Cousin Sue, Uncle Donald, my Grandpa, and our family friends (who are neighbors of my parents), the Blood family. Kelsey is the little girl,and Jonathan is the little boy. Their parents are Kevin and Joanna. Of course, you all know my three legged, furry roommate, Cassidy, who was also in attendance. We had a very nice Christmas, and the whole thing made me feel very fortunate.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas, Adventurers!!!!

I'm not sure when I'll bog next (I'm driving to beautiful Spring, Texas tonight to spend Christmas with the family), so I wanted to take this opportunity to wish each of you a Merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, a festive Kwanzaa, and a super great- whatever I left out. I hope that each of you finds some peace and happiness over the holidays and gets the opportunity to spend some time with friends and/or family. And everyone be careful out there, especially driving around during a time of year when people have been out celebrating with a few drinks. We want Christmas to stay merry.
Thanks to the McBride clan for sharing a very nice Chinese dinner with me last night at Suzi's. Jamie's family always makes me feel very welcome, and I really appreciate it.
That's about it. Peace on earth. Goodwill toward man. Those words sound kind of trite, but by the same token, those sentiments seem as important (if not more important) now as they ever did.
Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Eve Eve

Hey. Grey and cold outside, but they say it's warming up. I'm driving to Houston tomorrow for Christmas, and it's filling me with a little bit of anxiety, just because I don't feel entirely prepared. I still have some laundry to do, a few presents to wrap, I need to pack a bag or two, and then there's the possibility of some tricky traffic on my way over to my folks' house (plus, I have to make Cassidy travel ready- a long, involved process in which I have to sit her down and tell her where we're going, how long we'll be gone, and how she's expected to behave on our trip). Anyhoo, I'm sure everything will work out fine, but I just anticipate a bit of stress between now and the time that I'm singing "Silent Night" from the pews at Trinity Lutheran Church tomorrow night in Spring, Texas.

Not a lot to report. Last night I had dinner with Mandy and started the Christmas prep process, doing laundry and wrapping some presents. I tried to watch some TV, but there was nothing good on, and I mostly ended up playing with Cassidy.

Well, I hope everyone's doing okay! Keep thinking festive, merry thoughts!!!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Top 10 Cool Things of Steanso's 2008

There were some personal moments this year that were probably just as important as anything on this list (certain conversations with friends and family and things like that), but this list is written more with an eye toward popular culture experiences that others might relate to, but which I enjoyed throroughly over the course of the year. I'm sure I'm probably leaving some stuff off this list that I'll regret later, but here's what I've got right now, anyway...

10 - ACL Fest - What can I say? I go every year, and this year didn't have my favorite all time lineup, but ACL Fest is consistently one of the most entertaining events to attend each year, and this year wasn't even unbearably hot!

9 - The Last Season of The Wire - I've said it before, and I'll say it again. The Wire is one of the best shows to have ever been put on television (at least American television), and it came to an end this year with a season that was worthy of the show's reputation. I'm gonna miss those characters, but it's so great to see a show set out with a gameplan (of themes, characters, and plot), stick to it, and then take a bow and take their leave before they've worn out their welcome. The Wire isn't going to be all things to every viewer, but The Wire was a show with as much depth and substance as a really good novel (or series of novels), and by making its focus the workings of modern American inner city life, it couldn't have chosen a more interesting or important subject.

8 - The Raconteurs - I didn't see all that much live music in 2008, but I made it to some shows, and this was undoubtedly the most lively, loudest, rockingest show that I went to this year. The boys from The Raconteurs are obviously careful students of old-school, Zeppelin style rock and roll, and they stake their reputations upon the quality of their live shows. Very cool stuff that left my ears ringing and my mind blown by the end of the show.

7 - Grand Theft Auto IV - It's a really cool game that takes full advantage of the technology offered by the next generation gaming platforms, and it's shown us that videogames can tell stories that are every bit as compelling as the ones we watch in movies and on television. GTA IV introduced us to the most well-developed character to ever appear in a videogame (i.e, Eastern Bloc refugee, Niko Bellic), and it showed us the future of where videogames are headed.

6 - The Dark Knight - The Steans brothers love their comic book movies, and we're longtime fans of Batman, in particular (although one of us still digs Superman an awful lot). Anyway, this was the Batman movie we had all been waiting for- a gritty, relatively "realistic" take on the Batman story, with Heath Ledger turning in a legendary performance as The Joker and Christian Bale roaring through the streets of Gotham on a batcycle from hell. If you like Batman, it's hard to see how you wouldn't love this movie.

5 - Iron Man - Iron Man was "the other" superhero movie that came out this year, but in a lot of ways it was easier to enjoy than Batman. It was funnier, slicker, and less tortured than Dark Knight, but still chock full of fun superhero action. Robert Downey, Jr., turned in a performance that almost let you believe that it might be a good idea to let an alcoholic billionaire fly around the world unchecked in a supersonic suit of armor that contains a small arsenal.

4 - Radiohead - What can you say about Radiohead? They're one of the top ten bands of the last ten years, and they were at the top of their game when we saw them in Houston at the Woodlands Pavillion. Combine the music (which they do a great job of recreating in a live setting) with a concert experience with some of your best friends, and it's pretty easy to see why this ranks up there.

3 - TV on the Radio - It might not have technically been quite as good a show as The Raconteurs, but it was the first time I had seen this band live in concert, and I was mesmerized in a way that you can only get with a new band who's just drawing you in for the first time (and a band that's definitely on the rise in terms of the quality of their music and the critical response they're receiving). TVOTR put in a much better live performance than I was expecting, and their combination of driving rhythms, interesting lyrics, and haunting melodies was hypnotic and energizing at the same time. When your biggest complaint is that the show should have been longer, at least you know you've seen a good show.

2 - Obama Wins the Election - Such a relief and a feeling of joy after feeling ignored and kicked around for the last eight years. I think Sigmund kind of helped sum it when he said, "We've finally got someone in office who speaks our language and who cares about the same kind of things that we care about." Not only was I elated to see Obama make it into office, but I was happy to see the American people finally put their foot down and say that they were tired of arrogant foreign policy, an economy that benefits only our most wealthy, and a government which is more concerned with controlling and manipulating the public than with honestly communicating with them and representing them fairly. We'll see how effective the Obama presidency turns out to be, but demanding positive change is a good place to start, and if nothing else, we can feel good about the triumph of optimism over cynicism that we saw in this election.

1 - The Costa Rica Trip - It was probably one of the best things I did this year. Even when we were lost in the Costa Rican countryside or in the snarled congestion of San Jose, it felt a bit like an adventure, and Roundball was a great partner in the undertaking. The trip came at a good time, and I think it helped me feel better in a way that I hadn't really experienced in awhile. Costa Rica had some really beautiful beaches and some beautiful countryside, and the people there were very friendly and easy to deal with. It took me out of my head and reminded me that the world is a whole lot bigger than the tiny corner of it that I experience in my daily life, and that lesson helped put some things in perspective and helped me clear my thoughts. I'd love to go back, but there are other places I'd like to see, as well. I need to spend more time travelling.
Well, it was a long, laid back weekend at the Hop-a-Long Lounge. Friday night Mandy had a few of us over for tacos, and it was a really nice evening. We spent quite a bit of time just hanging out in Mandy's backyard, and it was really good to just hang out and rap with The Blooms, Andy and Rami, Ellie, Kellie, and, of course, Mandy. The food was good, too.
For those of you who know Andy and Rami, I guess enough time has passed that I can go ahead and publicly announce their engagement on the blog! They've been engaged for a few weeks now, but I didn't want to say anything until they had a chance to tell everyone themselves. Andy and Rami have been together for awhile, and they're both very good friends (with each other, of course, but more importantly, with me), and I couldn't be happier for them! Between having a wedding to plan, and the prospect of moving to a new house sometime in the spring, it sounds like Team Randy is going to have a very busy year! Looking forward to that wedding...
Anyway, on Saturday I got up and went to Juan in a Million with Ryan and Jamie for some breakfast tacos. I'm not sure what I did with my day (I ran a few errands, played some XBox, did a little reading, and played my guitar a bit), but that evening I rejoined Team Steans for some Madam Mam's over on Westgate- Pad Thai and a couple of spring rolls. After dinner we went back over to my house and watched Mars Attacks, a perennial favorite with the Steans clan and a movie which I still think of as a slightly misunderstood classic.
Sunday I did a small bit of remaining Christmas shopping, but other from that, Sunday was pretty lazy as well. I played a bit of Gears of War on the XBox, took Cassidy for a short hop, and watched some TV. Sunday night I went to Threadgill's, where I had dinner with Ryan, Jamie, Lauren, and Steven (we had initially planned on trying to go see The Trail of Lights over at Zilker, but it was just too cold last night). Conversational topics during dinner ranged from the scariness of Alzheimer's to the sociopolitical impact of Fraggle Rock.
So no big news from the weekend.
I hope you guys had a good one.

Friday, December 19, 2008

So it's the last Friday before Christmas. We had a pretty nice office Christmas party last night. Not exactly wild and crazy, but pleasant enough. Today we're having some kind of Christmas luncheon at the church across the street from my office (which seems a little weird, especially for the Jewish kids who work up here, but everyone seems cool with it). I'll be getting some time off the week after Christmas, but I'll be manning the fort up here at the office right up through Christmas Eve. Why the courts are open on Christmas Eve is sort of a stumper, because I can't imagine that anyone's going to really get anything done, but mine is not to question why... (here's a little news flash for those of you who are would-be criminals: don't commit crimes around Christmas time. In addition to being put on Santa's naughty list, the whole court system works at half speed during the holidays, so you're likely to spend twice as much time in jail as normal before getting out if you commit a crime during the time around Christmas and New Year's. There you go. Consider yourself warned.)
Looks like the automakers are getting a bailout, after all. I'm not sure it'll be enough to really turn things around, but hopefully it keeps them alive long enough to do some restructuring and to rework some of their current business plans. Even though gas has once again dropped in price for the moment, I hope American car companies don't go right back to their old habits of building unreliable gas guzzlers (and, yes, I freely admit that the unions are going to have to radically alter their ways of thinking if they want to remain part of an industry that is globally competitive).
And there was a column today in the New York Times about some of the controversy surrounding the upcoming, latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a cornerstone book in the fields of psychology and psychiatry which is used in the diagnosis and classification of mental illnesses, both for treatment and insurance-related purposes (the new version will be the DSM V, and it probably won't come out for another 3 years). The DSM is used widely and almost universally in modern psychology, and the way that the book is compiled and edited sort of fascinates me because in psychology, unlike in most other medical fields, the way that a disorder is defined, in a way, sort of creates or alters the disorder itself. Because most mental illnesses are defined through the identification of symptoms and/or group of symptoms (as opposed to, say, identifying them by way of looking at actual chemical or electrical activity in the brain), certain disorders may literally be defined in and out of existence in the field of psychology. Homosexuality, for example, was designated as a mental disorder prior to 1973. From 1973 to 1987 homosexuality went through a number of different names and a number of different criteria and symptoms were listed as necessary in order to classify homosexuality as a disorder. Finally in 1987, partially in response to growing political pressure and a new societal awareness that homosexuals were every bit as capable of leading happy, fulfilling, productive lives as heterosexual people, homosexuality was removed as a disorder from the DSM. So it's clear that societal norms play a part in defining the existence of mental disorders in the DSM.
Current points of contention include the transgender identity issues as a diagnosis (some transgender individuals don't want this as a diagnosis at all- others think it's important to include it in the DSM so that insurance companies can have a diagnosis to consider when considering whether to pay for treatments such as hormone therapy or gender reassignment procedures). A controversial diagnosis closer to many of our hearts involves binge eating disorders and whether or not to include such a commonly occurring issue as a defined mental illness. Other controversies include the influence of drug companies upon mental health experts as they write the DSM (it has been suggested that the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, once thought to exist exclusively in adolescents and adults, was extended to children in the last edition of the DSM at least in part as a result of the influence of the pharmaceutical industry, which had been developing new bipolar medications), and the controversial fact that the doctors currently working on the latest version of the DSM have all been required to sign nondisclosure agreements while working on the book has also been a point of contention (many doctors in the field question the motivation behind this need for secrecy and insist that transparency would be a far better policy while developing such an important book).
Anyway, psychiatry and psychology are unquestionably vibrant, dynamic, constantly evolving fields, and I've personally seen medications and therapy help people in ways that are nothing short of miraculous (not in every case, but truly amazing things can and do happen). Nonetheless, our relatively limited knowledge of the workings of the brain sort of makes the actual cause and effects part of psychiatry a bit of a mystery. We understand many things about the brain, but much of psychiatry is still a matter of recognizing a problem and then applying a medication or therapeutic technique and watching to see if it works (i.e., whether the symptoms subside). A lot of what occurs inside the "black box" of our minds is still kind of unknown, and it's not always easy to differentiate between different diagnosises. Plus, the reaction that society has to a certain set of behaviors may in large part determine whether we consider something to be a disorder (or determine how serious a disorder it is). You don't really have all of these questions when you're looking at malignant cells under a microscope or when you're looking at CAT scan images of a heart defect.
Well, I'm not sure anyone else was interested in this, but I kind of am.
Anyway, I'll let you guys go. Hope you all have a good weekend.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hello. Well, we keep a slip slidin' toward Christmas, don't we? Last night I had dinner with Ryan and Jamie. Jamie made breakfast tacos for dinner. It was her first attempt at making them, and they were really good. Kind of comfort food for dinner. We watched the new Muppets Christmas special (Letters to Santa: A Muppets Christmas), which was corny and cheesy, but also funny and festive. We also watched an episode of Man v Food on the Travel Channel in which the host, Adam Richman, travelled to Austin, where he ate at Round Rock Donuts, The Saltlick, and Juan in a Million. His excitement over the food at each of these places (especially at The Salt Lick) made me proud of my town once again. I know that some other places in the country try to claim superiority over Texas when it comes to barbecue (I'm looking in your direction, Kansas), but I've gotta say that Texas barbecue is where it's at.
Tonight is the annual Christmas party for my office, so I'm sure there will be some holiday-related tomfoolery going on this evening with the County Attorney's Office staff and friends.

Well, I really don't have any real news to speak of. My first lawyer/boss, Pat Ganne, contacted me this week on Facebook. Pat's a really good attorney, but he gave up his practice back around 2001 to move to Europe (he was a captain in the Navy at the time, but now I think he's working for some sort of private corporation in Germany). Anyway, it was cool to hear from him, and judging by his Facebook page and our brief interaction, it appears that he's doing well. The man gave me my start in Austin's legal community, so I'll always be grateful to him for that (plus the fact that Pat had some really crazy cases- the kind of crazy crimes and trials that'll provide stories for a lifetime).

I guess that's it. You guys keep on keepin' on.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It's been sort of a weird day, kids. I woke up late this morning. I slept through my alarm, and woke up about 20 minutes late, in the middle of having some sort of apocalyptic dream about world war and the end of the world (it involved a bunch of us, refugees, cowering in some kind of large, darkened, damaged, high school type structure as bombs fell outside and the building periodically shook. Every once in a while one of the people hiding in the building would freak out and want to run outside, and they would start attacking the people who were blocking the doors. None of us knew who was attacking us or why, which added to the overall sense of horror. Someone wanna explain what's wrong with me that makes me have dreams like that? Maybe I don't really need to know...)
Anyway, I went from that dream to being late for work and running around like a madman to get to court on time.
I checked the news later on, and saw that Jennifer Gale had died. Jennifer Gale was a homeless, political activist and occasional mayoral candidate who was just one of those people who keep Austin unique. She hung around the courthouse and our office building a lot (our building houses the Commissioner's Court, which makes a lot of budget decisions for the county), and I've talked with her on several occasions while on the elevators and while hanging out waiting for people out in front of the courthouse. Whenever I spoke with her, she always seemed like a very friendly, courteous person, and she was typically quick to advocate a vote for or against some issue that was coming up during an approaching election. I know that she was sort of a regular at the Austin City Council meetings, and she ran for office a number of times. The newspaper noted that she sang "Silent Night" as recently as this Tuesday at a Health and Human Services Subcommittee meeting (she often performed music for the city council and board members, often before expressing some thoughts on a topic on their agenda). Anyway, I was saddened to hear of Jennifer's death, particularly by the thought that she probably died of exposure after sleeping outside over the last couple of nights (which were particularly cold) as the temperature in Austin dropped below freezing. She was found in medical distress outside of the First English Lutheran Church and died a short time later. Anyway, Jennifer Gale was one of those people that make Austin an interesting and lively place to work and live, and there are going to be a lot of people who are going to be sad about her passing. Via con dios, Jennifer.

In less somber news, they've opened up a Freebirds World Burrito right over near my house (in the Brodie Oaks Shopping Center), and last night I went there for the first time for dinner. I'm happy to have the place so close by. Freebirds is still fast food, but it's not really junk food (it's pretty straightforward- burritos filled with beef or chicken, beans, rice, veggies, cheese, etc. Not too unhealthy, at least compared to burgers and fries, and the burritos are really good). Not exactly earth shattering news, but kinda cool, nonetheless (I love it when things that I like move closer to my house).

And maybe that's it. Dreams about the end of the world, the death of Jennifer Gale, and tasty burritos. I've had stranger posts.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hope all's well! It sure has been cold in Austin over the last couple of days! I'm pretty sure that the temperatures yesterday never got out of the thirties, and we'll be lucky to hit 40 today. For people in other parts of the country this may not sound very cold, but you have to remember that Austinites just aren't used to freezing temperatures. We don't have cold weather clothes, our houses aren't really insulated against freezing temperatures (especially our pipes), many of our plants can't survive freezing weather, and Austinites really aren't good at driving on any kind of snow or ice (we don't have snow tires, the roads aren't well-treated to prevent icing, and we're just not used to driving on ice). Before you northerners get too carried away laughing at Texans for being so thin skinned when it comes to dealing with the cold, consider the fact that we regularly deal with temperatures around 103 degrees in the summer, and mostly without much complaint.
Anyway, enough of that. Blogging about the weather. Jeez. Got a little carried away there.
Don't have much to report.
Couldn't sleep again last night. I don't know if it's the weather or what, but I kept waking up over and over, almost every hour.
Roundball proclaimed at dinner last night that he was tired of being the only one who was full of Christmas cheer, and that next year he wasn't putting up any lights or decorating his house. He said he was tired of cheerleading for everyone else's Christmas fun.
I didn't really know how to respond to that. I mean, I put up Christmas lights and place a few Christmas decorations around my house. I enjoy seeing other people decorate their homes for the holidays, I appreciate the charitable work that goes on this time of year, and I even enjoy hearing a few Christmas Carols. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't have my gripes.
I don't mind giving presents, but I'm not a big fan of shopping (the internet has helped out in this area quite a bit), and I really dislike the manic crowds that fill stores around the holidays. It seems like everyone's schedule is filled up around the Christmas, and things become stressful as we try to get everything done before Christmas and try to make sure that we don't disappoint any of the people on our list or leave anyone out (and trying to get "the right gifts" is another thing, in particular, which stresses me out). In the midst of all of the shopping and travel plans, the holiday season usually involves all of the year's parties, kind of shoved into one month long explosion. And for me for the last... well, since leaving for college- Christmas has typically involved travel, which I'm not really crazy about (I don't mind being other places, but both driving and flying are things I'd rather avoid, especially when I'm doing them by myself), and this travel is usually taking place at a time when the roads and airports are kind of crowded and traffic is a chore. Christmas is just... a whole lot to deal with at once.
So there. I vented a little about Christmas. It's kind of a pain in the ass, but without it, life would probably just keep rolling by, and we wouldn't take the time and effort that's necessary to make family and friends know how important they are to us. In its purest form, Christmas is a time of focusing on the needs and wants of other people before our own, and I have to like that aspect of it as well (although as a kid, probably 85-90% of my love of Christmas was just unmitigated greed- no matter how many times adults told me that Christmas was supposed to be about the spirit of giving- a sentiment I really did try to get my head around- Christmas always came back to a sense of wonder about what toys were going to be waiting for me under the tree). As I've gotten older and have been able to buy myself most of the things that I want (and as I've come to realize that the happiness brought by material possessions is typically fleeting and superficial), Christmas has shifted in meaning, and in many ways it now means more to me than it did when I was a kid (I guess that the spirit of Christmas probably means more to me, even as the trappings of Christmas mean less).
But Christmas is still kind of stressful. And it can be difficult. And complaining about it a bit is sort of part of the tradition. But don't try to pin your bah humbuggishness on me, or I'll move you onto my naughty list and exchange your presents for lumps of coal.

I got nothing else, at least for now. Hope you guys all take a moment to take a deep breath and enjoy the company of people that you care about as we careen toward the holidays.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hey! Did you guys have a good weekend? Mine was pretty good. On Friday night a group of us hung out over at Mandy's, and then rolled over to the Continental Club to try to see her sister, Kellie, dance with her troupe, Red Light Burlesque, but the whole thing was sold out and crowded beyond capacity, so Mandy ended up sneaking in while Ellie, Andy, Rami and I went next door and got a drink and some food at Botticelli's. We met up with Kellie after the show, and she looked very glamorous in her outfit for her holiday performance (Kellie Jo has fans, kids- several people came up and asked to have their picture taken with her while we were standing around after the show). Anyway, Kellie, Mandy, Ellie, Andy, and Rami went to see The Diamond Smugglers after that (they're a Neil Diamond cover band), but my stomach was starting to feel funny (I'm not making any concrete accusations, but I'm looking in your direction Botticellis), so I took off.

Anyway, Saturday my stomach continued to feel pretty lousy, so I mostly avoided eating. I managed to plant some trees in my yard (courtesy of the City of Austin's Neighborwoods program), did a small amount of shopping, ran a few errands, and... well, I'm not really sure where Saturday went. I know I watched some TV I had captured during the week on my DVR, and I took a big ol' nap.

Sunday I had brunch with Jamie, Ryan, and Heather Wagner at Curra's. It was good to see Heather. If everything goes according to plan, she should be graduating from speech therapy school up at Tech in the spring, and hopefully returning to Austin. We'd all love to have her back in town to hang out more often. Anyway, after lunch, I went over to Anne Kelso so Kellie could cut my hair (she's not just a burlesque dancer, you know), and after that I had band practice.

Mono Ensemble sounded pretty good last night. We played a bunch of our originals, of course, and then covers ranging from Neil Young to Radiohead to the B-52s. Fun practice.

And so they're throwing shoes at Bush over in Iraq. I'm not condoning the fact that some reporter threw his shoes at our president (an act which apparently carries a symbolism of contempt and disdain within the Arab culture), but at the same time, maybe Bush should have just considered wrapping up his term in office without making a nostalgic farewell tour to Iraq. I think Bush should just be glad that the only attack against him came in the form of thrown shoes. This reporter managed to chuck two shoes in Bush's direction before anyone was able to wrestle him to the ground or before anyone from the Secret Service was able to step in front of the president or shield him from the flying footwear. In response to the incident, demonstrations were staged, flags were burned, and clerics proceeded to label Bush as a devil and to call for the release of Muntadhar al-Zaidi (the reporter who threw the shoe). Maybe they need us more than they think they do, but either way, I think we've worn out whatever welcome we ever had in Iraq.

What else? McCain told reporters on ABC's "This Week" that he wouldn't necessarily support Palin if she were to run for president in 2012. He stated that he had a great appreciation for Governor Palin, and that she helped to reinvigorate his campaign, but McCain stopped short when asked if he would endorse her, stating that there were some other talented, young governors in the Republican party who deserved consideration. Personally, I think Palin probably ended up being a lot more divisive and a bit less competent that McCain originally thought when he picked her for a running mate. Anyway, when your own running mate won't throw his support behind you, you're going to have some problems selling yourself to anyone other than the party faithful.

On a more local note, it looks like police have located the body of Steiner Ranch Steakhouse slaying suspect, Brian Carl Beck. Beck had fled into the woods after the shooting, and police had failed to find him, even after using dogs and search parties (he was eventually found in a ravine lass than two miles from the steakhouse). This, of course, had led me to believe that Beck was camped out in my parents new Steiner Ranch home, sleeping in their new sleep number bed, but this is apparently not the case.

Well, that's about it. Maybe more later.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Well, it's Friday, and not a second too soon. I don't have too much going on, but I'm glad the weekend is upon us.
I've been following the story of the shooting/murder at the Steiner Ranch Steakhouse because the new house that my parents just built is fairly close to that restaurant (I recently saw the steakhouse for the first time when I was out at their house visiting them, and we talked about the fact that the steaks at that place must be a pretty high dollar affair in order to cover the overhead of such a nice bulding, with such a nice view of the surrounding hills and Lake Travis). Anyway, I guess the suspect in the murder walked into the restaurant and shot an employee (Carl Beck, the suspect, was caught on video and was, himself, a former employee at the steakhouse) before jumping into an SUV, driving a short distance away, and then leaving the vehicle and running off into the surrounding woods. Police have treid searching for Beck with both bloodhounds and cadaver dogs, but have come up empty handed (at least at the time of this writing).
Since my parents' house is sitting there empty right now (it's going to be their retirement house, and they stay there currently when they come visit) and since it's not too far from the crime scene, the thought has crossed my mind that Carl Beck may be sitting in their house with his feet kicked up and a glass of their wine in his hand.
Anyway, I called and left my folks a message last night informing them that they've apparently built a house in a "high crime neighborhood", but I never got a chance to fill them in on the specifics.
And despite the fact that the Senate voted down a $14 billion bailout package for auto makers, apparently the Bush White House is considering using a portion of the $700 billion bailout approved by Congress in October to try to help out the auto industry. White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said that a precipitous collapse of the auto industry would have a very negative effect on the U.S. economy as a whole, and that it would be irresponsible to further weaken and destabilize the U.S. economy at this time. Kind of interesting that Bush has apparently decided that he's so unpopular at this point that he might as well go ahead and try to be responsible, even if doing so is going to anger a lot of his fellow Republicans. On the other hand, if Bush is going to back a bailout of the auto industry, maybe I should rethink my entire line of reasoning as to why helping them out is the right thing to do. (not really, but it does feel strange for me to be kind of agreeing with this White House on anything) One thing is for sure- if the auto industry gets this money, they cannot just go back to business as usual. They need to produce better vehicles and they need to find a way to make their production costs more in line with the prodution costs incurred by foreign manufacturers (the unions aren't going to like this, but they're dealing with a sink or swim situation). Anyway, I'm just kind of shocked to hear the White House standing up to some of their fellow Republicans on this (Republican opposition in the Senate was instrumental in preventing the 60 votes that would have been required in order to bring the matter up for a vote). I make no bones about it- this whole auto industry bailout thing could end up just being a waste of money if the industry doesn't change its ways, but I think it's important to the millions of people involved with that industry and important to the American economy as a whole that we try to do help out the auto makers.
That's it for now, I guess. I hope ya'll have a good weekend!

Mad Magazine Declares Sarah Palin Dumbest Person of the Year

They're a magazine geared more toward humor than politics, but they still couldn't pass up the opportunity.

Click on the above image to zoom in (which you need to do in order to get the full effect). Thanks to Roundball for the link.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Well, it's Thursday. Not a cloud in the sky here in the ATX, but it's kind of cold out there. Last night after work I went to a nice Christmas party at Joe Turner's law office. They had some really good food catered, an open bar, and Gary P. Nunn played. Anyway, it was a nice party, and I think the whole courthouse crowd who showed up was quite appreciative.

I really don't have too much to talk about today. This afternoon I'm supposed to go to a meeting of people who are working on veteran's affairs and talk to them about the viability of setting up a special docket at the courthouse that would deal with veterans who get arrested and end up in the criminal justice system. Should be interesting.

Well, I gotta roll. I'll rap at you guys later.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Well, it actually snowed at my house last night. I went out to dinner with Ryan and Jamie, and there was some frozen sleet mixed with rain coming down as I was driving back from their house, but then right before I went to bed the rain stopped and there were big, white, fluffy flakes coming down pretty steadily. We don't get much snow in Austin. It was really cool.

What else? On a sort of personal note, I've just been not sleeping well, and it's been putting me in a sort of bad mood (come to think of it, that might be one of those chicken/egg things). Anyway, I apologize to friends and/or family. I'm working on my PMA (that's Positive Mental Attitude, a phrase I adopted from my cousin, John, a long time ago).

And how about that Governor Blagojevich, huh? You almost gotta admire him for his chutzpah. The guy pretty much openly dares the feds to investigate him and run wiretaps on him, and then he has conversations on the phone where he tells people that he expects favors and compensation (some of it of quantifiable monetary worth) in exchange for the appointment to the Senate seat left open in Obama's absence. I'm really just fascinated to know what was going on in this guy's head. Kind of like with Senator Stevens, you just get the feeling that this guy got so used to having his ass kissed that he lost sight of the fact that it really wasn't okay to just go ahead and do whatever he wanted. Anyway, the jury isn't in, but all signs point toward this guy winning the coveted "Jackass of 2008" award.

And CNN is doing a story today as part of their Planet in Peril series about how humans are killing something like 100 million sharks a year, and a large part of this catch is going to feed an appetite for shark fin soup (which is considered an expensive delicacy in China and other Asian countries). I know that a lot of people probably have a hard time feeling sympathy for the same species of animal that gobbled up beachgoers in Jaws, but the truth is that the mass killing of sharks is leading to major disruptions of ecosystems near Asia and around the world as sharks, which are one of the ocean's largest predators, are removed from the food chain (and let's be honest folks, we're killing millions of sharks for every shark attack against humans that actually occurs). Anyway, humans need to cut way back on the number of sharks we're killing. They may be a little scary looking (I've actually seen sharks while scuba diving a few times, and they were sort of fascinating to watch and not very scary), but sharks have been with us since the dinosaurs roamed the earth, and aside from the important niche that they hold in the ocean's ecosystems, they're also kind of cool animals (they sense electrical impulses from other animals, they have an amazing sense of smell, and I've read that some species are cancer resistant and are being studied in the pursuit of cancer treatments for humans).
So we should be worried about the sharks getting wiped out. Support efforts to save the sharks.

Also, in the category of amazing people falls Dong Yun Yoon, a San Diego resident and South Korean immigrant who lost his wife, baby daughter, and mother-in-law when a Marine Corps F-18 fighter lost power and crashed into their house, killing all three. Yoon publicly stated today that he didn't have any hard feelings toward the pilot who ejected before the crash, that he knows that the pilot did everything that he could, and that he thinks that military pilots are "treasures for our country". He went on to state that he hoped the pilot doesn't suffer because of this event, and he believes that his family is now in heaven. I know that Yoon still probably has to be in shock and that the enormity of this tragedy probably still hasn't sunk in, but it's still amazing to hear someone who has been through such a tragic event showing such grace and a willingness to forgive in the face of such tremendous personal loss. Hopefully Yoon's church, friends, remaining family, and community rally around him to provide support and comfort during this ordeal.

And one last thing. I still keep watching the Rachel Maddow Show, and although I tend to agree with her politically (mostly), her sort of snarky, smart-assed demeanor is already wearing a bit thin. I guess her attitude felt more justified when I was watching prior shows and 1) she had Pat Buchanan to provide a sort of good-natured counterpoint and 2) we were in the middle of a heated election season after suffering through 8 years of dealing with frustrating Republican policies. Anyway, I still like ya, Rachel, but you gotta tone it down a bit. People on the left really aren't looking for our own version of the propaganda-spewing knuckleheads on Fox News, and we really are serious about this whole bipartisan progress thing. The occasional humorous comment that points out the absurdity of a given situation is, of course, more than welcome, but we kinda want to see our spokespeople at least showing some respect for viewpoints that are not our own. After we give their point of view its due, then we respectfully tear it down. I like The Rachel Maddow Show, and I don't want to see it go away, but people on the left don't respect blowhards. Be careful not to become one, Rachel.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Consider how well trained your own pet (or child... or spouse...) is before you watch this.

Thanks to Jennifer for the clip.

Top 10 Things They Wanted Us to Like in 2008 that Ended Up Being Lame

I came up with this list in response to a call for 2008 lists on my brother's blog, The League of Melbotis. I got a little carried away with it, though, and by the time I was done, I wasn't sure that the list was appropriate for his blog, which tends to a lot less political and more pop culture oriented than my blog (and, I would have to admit, probably more upbeat than my blog is, on the whole). Nonetheless, I spent a bit of time coming up with this list, so I feel the need to publish it. Here ya go:

Steanso's Top 10 Things They Wanted Us to Like in 2008 that Ended Up Being Lame

10- Joe the Plumber-
The McCain camp tried to sell us on the fact that Obama's tax plan was going to hurt this "everyman" plumber, who was supposed to represent the average, common working man. The problems were that he wasn't really a plumber (he only had a hypothetical plumbing business that he was going to start), that real plumbers don't typically make over $250,000 a year, and that he already had liens on his property for failing to pay the taxes that he already owed. Joe turned out not to be the "everyman" that the GOP thought he was, but instead demonstrated that the GOP didn't even really understand what a working class American looked like.
9- John Edwards- Early on in the primary season, you really seemed like a viable option, John. I supported you, and thought that you were a smart, ethical guy who had the country's best interests at heart. But then it turns out that you were having an affair with some campaign worker while your wife was battling cancer? While I'm typically of the opinion that the private lives of politicians aren't really anyone else's business, this particular affair seems to have cast doubt, not only upon your moral character, but upon your wisdom and judgement. Did you really think this was the kind of thing that was going to remain quiet as you made a run for the presidency? I mean, if The Enquirer was able to dig this story up, did you really think it would have remained hidden for long? Thank goodness you didn't get the Democratic nomination because that affair is clearly the sort of thing that could have easily cost the Democrats the race. How self-centered do you have to be? Plus, my mom really liked you. Shame on you, John Edwards.
8- the dispossession of the "Big 3" U.S. auto manufacturers- Sure has been fun watching the CEOs of the "Big 3" squirm over the use of their private jets and watching legislators stick it to those union workers who get paid far higher than their other industry counterparts and receive better benefits, to boot. The U.S. auto industry seems to have been making some questionable decisions for a long time, it's true (building unpopular, gas guzzling models and allowing its unions to raise costs to unworkable levels), but given the fact that Washington continues to throw hundreds of billions of dollars at Wall Street, at investment and banking firms which were every bit as mismanaged as the auto industry, the recent, popular game of "let's bash the auto industry" doesn't really seem to make sense. Is it because people love finance executives but resent auto workers? Why do we seem so ready to believe that Wall Street will change its ways, but scoff when the auto industry promises to do the same? No matter how you come down on the question of bailouts for the auto industry, the fact that millions of jobs hang in the balance for working families ought to give us some pause, and the thought that we might be bearing witness to the downfall of what was once one of America's strongest industries, an industry which helped to build the American middle class, ought to be making us feel somber. Somehow the old "misery loves company" mantra doesn't really seem like it makes for strong economic policy.
7- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull- We had hope that Spielberg and Lucas might provide a new chapter in one of the best adventure stories from our childhood, but instead we got a watered-down, pale imitation of the former grandeur that had been Indiana Jones. I'm not saying that every moment of the original three movies was perfect, but those movies were classics because of how much they meant to us when we first saw them. Why bother to put out a new Indiana Jones movie unless you have a really great new story that you're dying to share with the audience? This movie, instead, was just a frantic, less than epic quest for more money.
6- completely computerized voting machines- We've had these for awhile, but why do we still have them? Living in an age where paranoia and fear of voter fraud runs rampant (and an era when even the lowliest computer user understands how easily computer data can be lost, altered, or destroyed), why in God's name do we still have computerized voting machines which don't provide a paper receipt of your voting record after you vote? It's the only way that a person could perform a reliable recount in order to verify the results of an election, and the absence of a paper trail at this point is just downright suspicious. We shouldn't have to question whether our vote is really being recorded anywhere when we hit that "cast ballot" button.
5- Brett Favre's "retirement" announcement- I knew he wasn't going to retire. I really knew he wouldn't be able to sit out this football season once it got fired up. Nonetheless, after suffering through tons of flip-flopping about whether he would retire we finally saw Favre get up and tearfully announce that he was leaving the Green Bay Packers and leaving the game of football. It was the end of an era. A momentous occasion. The exit of one of the greats. We all saluted him for his career, gratefully acknowledged his contribution to the sport, but eventually went on with life, making the adjustments that would be needed in order to enjoy football in a post-Favre era. But then he was back. He wanted back in, wanted his replacement benched, and was willing to do some mudslinging against the team that had supported him for years if they wouldn't immediately, unquestioningly put him right back into the lineup. I was happy to see Green Bay stick to their principles and I didn't mind seeing Favre move on to play with a different team, but I was sorry to see Favre acting like a prima donna, and, at least in my mind, tarnish his name a bit. Mostly I was annoyed with myself for buying into his assertion that he was truly leaving the game, when I never really believed it, anyway.
4- economic stimulus packages- Whether it's a $600 check in your mailbox or a $700 billion Wall Street bailout, none of these economic stimulus packages seem to be really doing much to help revitalize the economy, and worse, they seem to be driving our government into increasingly deeper debt. What's really annoying is that I keep reading lots of articles about the economy, and I still can't seem to understand the roots of our current financial crisis enough to get a strong feel for whether these plans are ever going to really help. All I know is that my new X-Box 360 and all of my video games didn't really seem to turn the economy around.
3- the BCS ranking system- The stakeholders in the current BCS system seem to have too much invested to allow a true playoff system to take shape, so we're stuck with some kind of lame, esoteric rankings system that seems to be based on subjective favoritism as much as anything else. That's how we ended up with a Big 12 championship this year that had two teams competing, neither of which had a better record than UT and each of which were defeated by double digit margins by the Longhorns this year (yep- OU and Missouri). It's hard to get fired up to declare a team a champion when they lost the same number of games as your team, and your team beat them fair and square.
2- Sarah Palin- She claimed to be "just like us", and maybe she was (at least if you're the kind of person who hunts wolves from a helicopter). Maybe she was a little too much like us instead of being smarter than us but still understanding us. She blasted onto the scene with a home run convention speech, a fresh, attractive face, and a lot of attitude. Disappointed that Hillary's not in the race as a viable female candidate? We've got your new and improved Republican equivalent!! But then the cracks started to appear upon the shiny veneer. She seemed clueless about foreign policy, afraid of reporters, and admitted right from the get-go that she wasn't exactly clear about what the Vice President's job actually was. But it was hard to get to know the real Sarah Palin. She claimed to be a fiscal conservative, but it turned out that she had voted for incredibly large numbers of federal earmarks for her own state. She claimed to be a down-to-earth, average, small town American (goshdarnit!!), but she spent hundreds of thousands of GOP dollars on clothes and used her station as Alaska's governor to apply pressure in the attempt to have her ex brother in law fired from the state police because of a personal grudge. She repeatedly attacked the media as being unfair, but she had a degree in broadcast journalism and had previously worked as a TV reporter. She turned out to be adept at giving speeches, dazzling conservative audiences with her folksy charm, but she used her communication skills to make nasty, unjustified negative attacks- working crouds into an angry frenzy by referring to Obama as a terrorist sympathizer and repeatedly questioning his patriotism. Eventually, though the McCain campaign had brought Palin onboard as a female running mate, presumably to represent change and the new ideas of the 2008 presidential ticket, many of us just saw the same old, tired GOP messages dressed up in a skirt and lipstick. Palin was just a George W. Bush for the 2008 election- folksy, amiable, and good at chatting with the people, but without a well-developed worldview or a new set of ideas to draw from. Without a vision of how and where to lead the country, Americans sensed that a vote for Palin would amount to little more than a vote for the continuation of the floundering policies of George W. Bush.
1- the politics of fear- Well, they didn't really want us to like this one so much as they wanted us to buy into it. And it wasn't just the Republicans. Hillary's "3 a.m. phone call" add conjured up fears of a national security crisis, and then implied that Obama wouldn't be able to handle such a situation. The McCain and Palin campaign tried a number of fear-mongering tactics, from accusations that Obama was a terrorist sympathizer (because he had attended events hosted by William Ayers) to allegations that Obama was a socialist to claims that Obama had a militant, separatist black agenda, via his association with Pastor Jeremiah Wright (and there were even claims that Obama was secretly a Muslim, although McCain himself eventually disavowed these claims). Attacks on patriotism and claims of weakness had seemed somewhat effective during the 2004 campaign (the campaign which turned the word "swiftboat" into a verb), but in 2008, in the face of two unpopular wars, a faltering economy, a broken healthcare system, an energy crisis, and many other obstacles, the American people finally chose to opt for hope and to look for change rather than buying into the belief that significant change could only make things worse. Hope finally triumphed over fear. I hope we don't backslide into a place of fearful decision making if and when our next crisis arises. It's not a good place for making rational decisions and keeping the country productive, and ultimately, when we let terrorism or catastrophe significantly impact our policies, we're letting darkness win. Obama's win, in some regards, is the vindication of the idea that something different doesn't necessarily mean something to be feared. So kudos to the people who have refused to resign themselves to fear. U-S-A!!!

So that's it. I know the list is controversial. But isn't controversy the entire point behind end of the year lists? Incidentally, I almost included the "Time Warner Cable campaign to protect its customers" on the list (here in Austin, Time Warner got into a legal battle this year with our local NBC affiliate, KXAN, over whether the cable company should have to pay for the right to broadcast the KXAN signal. Time Warner immediately went on the offensive, claiming that they were fighting to keep costs down for their customers, but in truth, Time Warner constantly raises our fees without warning, jealousy protects the right to use its cable infrastructure so that competitors can't set up shop in many Austin neighborhoods, and charges us exhorbinant fees based on the fact that it provides lots of channels that no one ever watches. Given their fee schedule, Time Warner could have easily absorbed the cost of paying for the KXAN signal without an increase in cost to customers, but they were worried about protecting their profit margin and about setting a precedent in which more content providers would demand fees for use of their broadcasts.) I left the Time Warner/KXAN battle off the list because it was a local issue, and probably not of interest to people outside of Austin.
So that's my list. Once again, it's probably a good thing that I published it here rather than over on The League. My list over there needs to be something more like Top 10 Fictional Women Who Can Kick My Ass, But Who I still Think Are Hot. Wait. That's not a bad idea. I still have time to send in a submission, don't I?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The weekend was pretty good. Friday night I went and had dinner with Mandy, Kamille, and Jamie (Ryan was working late). Saturday I hung Christmas lights and ran a couple of errands. Not sure what I did with myself on Saturday, to be honest. Sunday I had lunch with Ryan and Jamie, and did a little bit of holiday shopping. We didn't have a Mono E practice on Sunday because Reed was dilligently working.
Also, on Saturday I went to the Alamo and saw a movie about a young adolescent who develops feelings for a charming member of the opposite sex who happens to be a vampire. No, it wasn't Twilight, but a Swedish film called Let the Right One In, and although, admittedly, I've never seen Twilight, I would imagine Let the Right One In is clever, poignant, disturbing, and fascinating in ways that Twilight never could be. (If you want to see this movie, you might want to skip some of the rest of this, because there are some spoilers in here). I say this because I've already read about the fact that Edward Cullen, the protagonist vampire from Twilight, has been written as another one of those modern reimaginings of the vampire which misses the point of the vampire legend entirely- the vampire who doesn't kill people (I guess he hunts and kills animals, which, depending on his political leanings, may or may not make him slightly less scary than the average NRA member).

While LTROI may not be as slick or glossy as Twilight, I would argue that it succeeds on a level that Twilight cannot, because it embraces the vampire as the creature and metaphor that it was meant to be- the person who must destroy other human beings in order to survive. The need to kill is a simple feature of the vampire myth which is the single driving force that keeps vampires fascinating as tragic characters and which is the primary source of our fascination with the vampire as a literary and mythological device. The need to kill is what anchors the vampire myth in horror rather than just turning vampires into superpowered goth pretty boys (or girls). What lengths would we be willing to go to in order to live forever? What lengths would we go to simply in order to remain alive? What are the ethical implications of being put in a situation, quite possibly through no fault of your own, in which you must kill others in order to continue your existence? Are there situations where the continuation of your own existence might prove so morally reprehensible that self destruction is the only ethically permissible path available?

Let the Right One In messes with the heads of the audience a little. It never really gets to the point where we might expect or ask Eli (the small vampire who befriends Oskar, our 12-year-old, loner protagonist) to destroy herself, but this is mostly because the movie depicts Eli as a perpetual young adolescent girl who seems trapped in childhood. Because of this, despite the fact that she kills or or causes the death of a number of people (people that the movie sometimes takes pains to portray as fairly good, decent folks), I kind of never got to the point where I was asking Eli to consider ending her own life. Eli is a child, and I think most people would never ask or expect such a thing from a child, even when that child happens to be a vampire (especially when she's engaged in the act of killing out of necessity- others may see this point differently, but I think that's part of what makes the movie interesting). Somehow even when I saw people being killed (so that Eli might live), I kind of found myself thinking that these people had just stumbled into a bit of fatally bad luck, equivalent to having contracted a disease or having been struck by lightning. I didn't feel the sort of injustice at their death that one typically feels in the case of murder. The movie messes with you like that.

The relationship which develops between Oskar and Eli in LTROI has sort of a magical, fairy tale quality to it, and you find yourself feeling kind of touched and enchanted by the young characters in the movie, even as you understand that the magic in Eli's life (and in Oscar's, as he gets to know her) is fueled by her constant thirst for human blood. It's a very clever trick that the movie plays, and a disquieting one. Rooting for characters who are killing good people is not the kind of thing that we're accustomed to doing, but I found it happening before I really understood what was going on. The movie has other plot points and unanswered questions that can keep you engaged, but the movie's central theme comes down to the stark contrast between the magic of the relationship between Eli and Oskar versus the violence that underlies their existence. And then by the time some sort of bad people bring things to a head, you're pretty much ready for.... whatever.

Anyway, it was a cool movie, and I recommend it. I'm curious to hear whether Dr. Palka's seen it, since he knows Swedish (or at least used to know it) and might not have to rely upon the subtitles. I thought Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson put in really strong performances in this movie (Lina Leandersson's eyes are a special effect unto themselves), but I was reading all of their dialogue in subtitles. I'd be curious to hear the impression of someone who understands some of the language.

And that's about it. I couldn't sleep last night, and as a result, today I feel run down. Hate that. Hope you guys are doing alright.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Twinkling Yuletide Lights of the Hop-a-Long Lounge

Cassidy and I are feeling Blue Light Special this Christmas.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Hey! Had dinner with Ryan and Jamie last night. Jamie cooked up some spaghetti (which was good, as usual), and we actually just hung out and talked instead of watching TV, which was sort of a change (of course, conversational topics turned to the meaning of life, death, and the nature of the world's religions, so maybe we're better off eating our spaghetti while watching those game shows where they try to squeeze midgets through a hole in a moving wall).
Not a lot else to report. I got home and tired to watch Christiane Amanpour's CNN special on genocide, called Scream Bloody Murder. I was too tired, and it was too depressing for last night. I still have it on my DVR, and I plan to watch it because I think it's important to understand issues related to genocide and to understand the sort of reactions that political leaders have traditionally had to it (it seems like the favorite tactic of most leaders is to mostly look the other way- the U.S. has followed this route numerous times, from dealing with the Nazi concentration camps to the more recent genocide in Darfur, but we're not alone in failing to respond to genocide- other nations and the U.N. typically initiate weak responses, if any, to these situations as well). Anyway, it's just kind of important to understand genocide as a foreign affairs topic because the time may come again (and probably will) when the U.S. is faced with a decision about committing peacekeeping forces in order to stop the wholesale slaughter of some group of people, and although I'm not a big proponent of the "U.S. as world police" foreign policy model, the traditional "it's not our fight" answer just seems wholly insufficient as a response to the systematic eradication of any ethnic group in this day and age. If we want to be active citizens in the world community (and if we want our country to take an active leadership role), we have to be responsible citizens of the global community.
Anyway, instead of the CNN special, I watched Law and Order. I've been a pretty avid Law and Order fan for years. I watched it before I went to law school, and I watched it in law school. I still credit the show with helping me to get a good grade in Evidence when I was at UT (the show employs New York law, but they do a good job of sticking to the actual rules of evidence and procedure, and much of the law overlaps between states). I like Law and Order because they pretty much just stick to nuts and bolts crime stories. They don't get bogged down with a lot of soap opera backstory stuff about the personal lives of the prosecutors and the detectives. The facts that you pick up about the personal lives of the characters almost always arise during the normal course of their work in doing investigations, and the main focus of the show is almost always the case itself (although they've been spending a fair amount of time, lately, showing some of the behind-the-scenes politics involved in the operation of a big city district attorney's office- but this is still material relevant to the workings of the criminal justice system as opposed to more personal, superfluous character subplots). Although the cast has changed over the years, and some years have been better than others, the show has remained strong, overall, and I think the current season has a really good group of actors.
Last night's Law and Order guest starred Katee Sackhoff, of Battlestar Galactica fame. She played a crime victim, and didn't really get a lot of screen time, but I think she did a good job.
Anyhoo, that was last night.
Don't have much else to report.
Maybe more later.
Have a good one.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Happy Birthday, Andy!!

Well, my good friend and fellow Crack member, Andy Sensat, has a birthday today. I'm not sure Andy will ever see this post, since he's out in New Mexico this week with Rami, but I wanted to send him some positive birthday vibes, anyway. Andy is an "idea man", for lack of a better term, and over the years I've had him pitch a great many ideas to me. His concepts have ranged from airstream trailers that sell stackable treats and also double as operation centers for search and rescue missions to genetically engineered kangaroos with fangs for security work in areas of particularly rugged terrain to multi-level, vertically constructed RV parks with casinos at the top. Andy is also the only one of my friends (that I know of) whose image appears on a commemorative female undergarment.
Anyway, happy birthday to Andy! Hope it's a good one.

What else? Last night I had dinner with Ryan and Jamie and Nicole at Habana on South Congress. The food was really good, and it was fun to catch up. We had tried to go to Homeslice Pizza, farther up South Congress, and although that place has some pretty decent pizza, it had an hour wait. The pizza is good, but we were really hungry, the place was packed with so many hipsters that they were spilling out the door, and the food ain't that special, so we opted for Cuban, which was much less crowded, and probably equally good.
After dinner I went home and just bummed around. I watched Fringe, which was on my DVR from the other night (it's a show about an FBI agent, teamed up with a former government scientist and his son, who are investigating a series of sort of nasty, unauthorized "fringe science" experiments on unsuspecting members of the general public). I know that I was pretty critical of Fringe in its earlier episodes, but I have to admit that it's grown on me a bit since it started. The show has lost some of its clunkiness as the show has progressed and the writers have felt less need to include so much exposition in the dialogue, and the show has become more interesting as the three major characters have become more fully developed (in particular, John Noble has managed to create an interesting character out of the show's "mad scientist", Dr. Walter Bishop). Anyway, the show's still pretty formulaic and not really very scary (the early marketing was clearly meant to appeal to an X-Files type audience, but Fringe rarely manages to strike the same creepy chords that X-Files so often hit), but it manages to provide some interesting twists and turns. I've probably elevated it into the "sort of interesting" category, but not into "gotta see".
And that's about it. Hope everyone's been staying warm (it's been cold in Austin, especially at night).

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

So it's Hump Day. Maybe this post-Thanksgiving week won't be the death of me after all.
Man, I'm not sure what I did last night. I know I spent a kind of ridiculous amount of time wandering around in Target (I ended up buying some picture frames for photos I had taken). I watched part of a Nine Inch Nails concert on that new Palladia channel, but the sound was sort of poor (it seems like the mix was all messed up or something- there were sometimes guitarists going crazy on stage, and you couldn't even hear any guitars in the mix). Anyway, I had forgotten how melodramatic Nine Inch Nails can be in concert. Trent Reznor just loves to show depressing and disturbing footage during his concerts, but given how long Nine Inch Nails have been doing this- the whole black hair, black clothes, angsty demeanor thing- they sort of seem like charicatures of themselves at this point. I still think that Reznor comes up with some interesting stuff- he comes up with some really interesting rhythms in his songs and uses interesting sounds to carry his melodies and harmonies- but from a lyric standpoint, I wouldn't really say subtlety or nuance are among his strong points. Still, any man whose songs Johnny Cash saw fit to cover must be doing something right.

What else? I've been pretty happy with Obama's cabinet picks, by the way. I think Hillary Clinton will make an excellent Secretary of State and I think Obama made a strong choice in asking Robert Gates to stay on as Secretary of Defense (who seems to have done a relatively commendable job in helping to repair some of the damage done under Rumsfeld's watch). I know that there's still a lot of mistrust among conservatives, but I really do think that Obama, so far, is looking like he's going to be a very centrist president with moderate views. We'll see how things go, but Obama seems like he's going to be the kind of president who's more interested in finding solutions than in worrying about whether those solutions originate on the right or the left. At any rate, he certainly seems to be attracting a lot of talent in terms of recruiting his staff. I know that I sometimes get pegged as a crazy liberal, but I'm really glad that Obama appears to be willing to listen to advice from talented, intelligent people on both sides of the aisle rather than allowing himself to become beholden to more extremist views on the far left (for instance, I support an orderly, structured exit from Iraq, but I don't share the view of some on the left who think that we need to withdraw from the country as rapidly as possible, regardless of costs. I think we need to leave in a manner which minimizes the negative consequences that our departure might have upon the people of that country).
Anyhoo, so far, so good.

That's it. Hope you're having a good one.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Howdy. Well, last night I had dinner with Ryan and Jamie and watched Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. It was a good episode (Terminators in the 1920's). I like that show. I also watched Dave Matthews Band: Live at Piedmont Park on MTV's new channel, Palladia, which seems to show a lot of live music (which is very cool). I know that the Dave Matthews Band has sort of fallen out of favor with the cool kids over the past few years, but I think that's mostly because of overexposure on the part of radio stations and television (as opposed to the band making bad music- although, arguably, they have turned a little more toward a slightly cheesier, mainstream sound as they've moved along- but I still think that the band has mostly just been a victim of their own popularity). At any rate, watching the Dave Matthews Band perform live is a strong reminder of the fact that, whether you like all of their songs or not, those guys are extremely talented musicians. The Piedmont concert was especially interesting to watch in that it took place on the day after saxophonist Leroi Moore's birthday, and the band joined the audience in singing him happy birthday. Moore passed away the following year after having an accident on an ATV.
And what else? Oh yeah... the sky is falling. A panel of experts assembled by Congress has concluded that a terrorist attack involving a weapon of mass destruction is likely to occur somewhere in the world within the next 5 years. The experts say that a biological weapons attack is probably most likely, since the construction know-how and the materials are pretty much readily available and development of such a weapon could be concealed fairly easily. An attack by a nuclear weapon is somewhat less likely, but the advances in technology and the ever-increasing availability of component parts for nuclear weapons continues to make a nuclear attack more probable every year.
So there's some good news for an otherwise pleasant Tuesday. The panel of experts concluded by saying that the likelihood of mass destruction terrorist attacks can be reduced, but resources need to be reallocated in significant amounts if world leaders want to get serious about reducing the risks.
Since apparently a few New Age belief systems and the Mayan Calendar all make indicate that the world (or at least the world as we know it) is coming to an end in 2012, all of these predictions seem to be dovetailing nicely.
Anyway, the WMD attack scenrios all goes back to issues of global security, and I think we're at a point in time when we need to start reassessing the way that our military operates and the way that we've traditionally gone about defending our country. The days of large, full-scale military assaults are almost becoming a thing of the past. Once nuclear weapons, biological weapons, and chemical weapons become more prevalent and powerful, it won't make much of a difference how powerful your army is. You can roll battalions of soldiers toward a city, but it won't make much difference if the enemy can set off a nuke or release hidden biological weapons in the midst of the advancing army.
What we seem to need more and more of are the things that George W. and his crew scoffed at over the last eight years (especially in the earlier parts of Bush's term in office). We need to build better relationships with both our allies and our adversaries- keep our friends close, and our enemies closer. We need an intelligence network that has real insight into what's going on in the darkest, most hidden corners of the globe, and that means developing contacts in parts of the world that have traditionally been hostile to us. Building up some trust and goodwill among our friends in global "hot spots" is absolutely essential. Winning over some of our enemies would really be helpful as well. Refusing to carry on open dialogues with adversaries or possible adversaries is just going to result in our being caught offguard again when the next attack comes.
Second of all, we need highly trained, highly specialized international units that can investigate terrorism around the world and take the fight to our enemies with surgical precision. We need to be able to take out bad guys by sepcifically targetting the segments of the population who do us harm, while leaving the innocents out of the fight as much as possible. The clumsy, broad actions that take out countless civilians (many of whom are innocent) while hunting for a much smaller number of hostile targets just results in a public relations nightmare, with the "collateral damage" of major military operations serving as a rallying point that produces new enemies almost as fast as we can kill them.
I remember listening to Bush sarcastically mock the ideas of Iraq War opponents who suggested that we needed to treat our response to 9/11 as a giant police operation rather than a war, and I knew as I listened to him make his case for more of a "shock and awe" type response that we were probably going to play right into the hands of the terrorists. We didn't need tanks rolling across the desert or planes dropping bombs from 20,000 feet up. We needed sneaky, smart people on the ground who could track down the terrorists and kill them wherever they were hiding without embroiling our military in a long, dragged out war that would leave the residents of the entire region enraged at us because of the damage that we were inflicting on innocent civilians.
We still need these people. We need people who know the local languages, who understand the local cultures, who understand forensics and detective work. We need people who can find the terrorists and put a stop to them before they can execute their plans, and we need people who are good enough at doing this sort of thing (i.e., arresting and/or killing terrorists before they know what's coming) that they can create a culture of fear in which terrorists are afraid to operate because they can never be sure when American anti-terror forces are on their trail (or even more ideally, they can never be sure who's working for whom).
Oooops. I gotta run.
Maybe more later.
All of you undecided college undergrads start studying Farsi and criminal justice.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Jennifer's New Ride

So here's Jennifer with her new car, which is some sort of Infiniti (I'm not sure what model). Doesn't she look proud? It's a very nice car, and it suits her well. It also has enough room for me to ride in it, and it has a good stereo, so I give it the thumbs up. I'm not sure she's picked out a name for it yet, but we'll get back to you...

Hey! Hope you guys had a good Thanksgiving weekend. Sure went by fast, didn't it?
My Thanksgiving was pretty good. Aside from Thanksgiving itself, I had a good time hanging out with the family unit over the break. Went to the UT game with the folks, and then I had a couple more meals with them and watched the Florida Gators beat the Florida State Seminoles with them on Saturday (we also watched parts of the OU-OSU game and parts of Baylor-Tech). Yesterday during the day I mostly hung out and watched movies and stuff, although I did go out and take Cassidy down to Auditorium Shores so she could run and play with the other dogs (which made her extremely happy). Last night we had Mono Ensemble practice, and it went pretty well. For like the third time in a row, all of us were there.
And, yeah, I think UT got screwed in the BCS rankings. I saw it coming, but that doesn't diminish my annoyance very much. What can you say, though, really? The BCS system obviously has some major flaws, and this is just another example which highlights them. Two teams that UT beat this season (by double digit numbers) will be playing for the Big 12 championship with UT sitting the game out. Maybe the most annoying thing about the current BCS system is the fact that it rewards teams for running up the score against weaker opponents (under the theory that severely trouncing the opposition makes you look like a stronger team). I'm glad that Mack Brown pulled his first string players early in the 4th quarter against A&M (which from a sportsmanship standpoint was the right thing to do), but it still crossed my mind that running the score up even more severely might be just the kind of thing to catch the attention of voters for the BCS. Anyway, UT had a really good season, and, of course, I'm still very happy with the team. Oh well.
And following the terrorist attacks in India from last week (and into the weekend), relations are apparently strained between India and Pakistan. I mean, India and Pakistan already have fairly contentious relations, but following claims from one of the captured attackers that the terrorists were from Pakistan (trained by Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, a Pakistan-based terror group allied with al Qaeda), tensions have begun to increase to alarming levels. The reactions of the two countries is particularly troubling when you consider the fact that a disruption of relations between the two countries was probably one of the major goals of the attacking terrorists in the first place (for one thing, any redeployment of Pakistani troops to the Indian border would take away troops from the hunt for terrorists in the mountain region along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border). Also troubling, but in a totally different kind of way, is the claim by the captured terrorist that street maps and directions were memorized from Google Earth in helping to plan the attacks and establish targets (there's a feather in your cap, Google!!). Anyway, the whole thing is obviously an awful tragedy, but it would be even worse to see the negative impact increased by emotional, knee-jerk reactions on the part of the involved nations (a phenomenon which we, as Americans, ought to know a bit about).
Well, I guess that's it for now. They say that today is the biggest online shopping day of the year, so everyone get online and go nuts!
Take care.