Friday, January 30, 2009

I've been blogging a lot less about politics lately, but part of the reason for that is the fact that our current economic crisis is the primary issue facing our new president at the moment, and I will readily admit that I have very little understanding of business or economics, so I've mostly seen little reason to add my voice to the discourse, since I have little to add. That being said, it struck me as strange when the House recently passed the new $819 billion economic recovery package, but without a single GOP vote. The purported reason given by Republican lawmakers for rejecting the stimulus package was that they all thought that tax cuts alone would be a better way to stimulate the economy rather than engaging in a spending plan, and that the economic stimulus package had too much pork in it.
On one level I understand this. Republicans are supposed to be the party of small government (although the Bush administration spent money like crazy and rang up a massive deficit) and as a general rule are not supposed to support heavy goverment spending. On the other hand, however, not one single vote? This seems crazy to me for several reasons.
One, we already passed an economic stimulus package under Bush (as well as providing a number of bailouts to "can't fail" businesses), and that stimulus package was passed with bipartisan support. This indicates to me that at least part of the reason the GOP legislators are resistant to the new stimulus plan has more to do with who's presenting it than whether or not they think a stimulus plan can work (and Obama has made it clear that he's willing to accept Republican input on how the form that a stimulus package should take. The GOP is simply refusing to participate without offering a realistic alternative solution).
Second, we've already had 8 years of tax cuts for big business and the upper class, and those tax cuts certainly didn't keep the economy on track. And now, during a recession, the tendency for both businesses and individuals is going to be to sit on and protect whatever money they receive while riding out the economic storm, including money in the form of tax cuts, rather than spending that money. Without the spending, of course, the economy isn't going to improve. The credit markets are frozen and money isn't available for borrowing, so an injection of cash into the economy in the form of an economic stimulus plan (which would involve money that has to be spent) seems to be at least one plausbile way to get the economy going again. I understand that the GOP sees some of this spending as "pork", but Obama has repeatedly asked for input on how the money should be spent, so Republicans ought to feel free to weigh in on this in order to feel more secure about the bill (they certainly didn't seem to all have a problem spending money when it came to giving Wall Street a big bailout, and they've been pumping money into the Iraq War effort [and, in turn, contractors like Haliburton] for years). I would be open to other ideas (and frankly, the idea of such a massive stimulus plan does make me nervous), but are simple tax cuts a realistic way of approaching the extremely unusual situation that we now find ourselves in? It seems unlikely.
I think that the GOP is simply closing ranks in order to let the president take all of the heat if this stimulus package fails. If the package succeeds, they will find reasons other than the stimulus package to give credit for the nation's economic recovery, and if the plan fails (which, incidentally, means that the country continues to do worse and worse), they will sit back and congratulate each other for the fact that they refused to take part in the recovery effort. A more noble method of proceeding might be to negotiate for terms that the Republicans see as more favorable in the package (tax cuts of $275 billion have already been incorporated into the package, in part as a concession to GOP interests), but the Republicans clearly think that they will gain a tactical political advantage by refusing to participate. I hope that the public keeps in mind the fact that when our country faced this crisis, the GOP did nothing to help (or to offer realistic alternative solutions).
I can believe that there are GOP congressman who are truly, strongly against any more federal spending on a stimulus package on principle alone (I'm looking in your direction, Ron Paul), but I think others are simply falling into lockstep with the GOP plan of passive resistance and hoping that the president fails (which kind of makes me sick, because, of course, the country will have to suffer quite a bit in order for them to try to prove their point).
I wish the president the best of luck with this stimulus package. It's a bold, daring move, and I'm sure he's really not very excited about having to go forward with it (it involves a fair amount of political risk for him), but I respect the fact that he clearly feels that sitting back and letting the country sink further toward depression is not a viable option.

Monday update: I'm much happier with the way that Senate Republicans seem to be approaching this issue. They have said that they're not happy with all of the spending provisions in the bill, but instead of just solidly voting to obstruct the bill, they're saying that they're going to work with Democrats to remove items from the stimulus package that they see as pork. Democrat and Republican senators have already been at work, trimming up the stimulus bill and trying to make sure that the stimulus package directly targets job creation and economic growth.
Still out of commission today. I've made it through what's probably the worst of cedar fever season, and now I've got a nasty cold or a mild flu or something. Anyway, it's pretty lame. Hope everyone has a good weekend.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Not feeling very well today. Cold or allergies- I'm not sure. Anyway, you kids are going to have to fend for yourselves. Hope ya'll are having a good one!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Someone broke into the control boxes for a couple of signs on Lamar Boulevard, hacked them, and reprogrammed them in order to warn the city of an impending zombie attack sometime early Monday morning. Some authorities have speculated that the recent freezing temperatures in Austin may have slowed the advance of the zombie hordes. This is a great town.
Well, last night Jamie cooked some very tasty tortilla soup and some cornbread muffins, so we had a really nice dinner (soup is especially good on cold nights, and last night was especially cold). After dinner we watched part of Conan the Destroyer (you know, with Wilt Chamberlain and Grace Jones and, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger). Conan the Destroyer is sort of in the "so awful it's good" category, and even though I rarely sit all the way through the movie, I usually feel compelled to watch good sized chunks of it when I run across it on cable. You can learn a lot from a guy who gets through life with nothing but a sword and a loincloth.
And, yes, it got cold last night, and I even had ice on my patio and lawn furniture this morning. The sun came up and temperatures are rising, though, so no snow day here in the ATX.

Well, I don't really have much to talk about, and I'm pretty busy (sometimes I write part of these blog posts the night before and then just post them the following day, but I didn't get around to writing anything last night), so I'm going to sign off. Maybe I'll rap at you guys later if something interesting comes up.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hey, all. It's getting pretty cold out there today in Capital City. We may even get some sleet or freezing rain tonight, but it's supposed to start warming back up again already by tomorrow afternoon.
And here's a curious piece of news for you football fans. The Boston University School of Medicine has recently been studying the brain tissue of retired NFL football players (samples taken posthumously), and has been finding that the brain injuries suffered by football players (professional players in this case, although damage is likely occurring in players competing below the professional level) as a result of repeated concussions is much more serious and more widespread than was previously suspected. The damage caused by repeated concussions is referred to as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and it can result in a progressive condition which effects areas of the brain ranging in function from emotion control to sexuality and even to basic functions such as breathing. People suffering with CTE may experience depression, cognitive impairment, and memory problems. Doctors who have studied the brain tissue (and CTE has been found in five out of five NFL players whose brains have been studied thus far) have found that the damage extends much deeper into the brain than they expected, and they've found that some of the damage mimics what is found in much older patients with dementia or Alzheimers (tissue from players who died relatively young, in their 30s and 40s, looks similar to the brain of an 80 year old with dementia).
Even though we're just now gaining medical knowledge about this condition, on some other level it has to sort of fall into the category of common sense (although perhaps common sense which was pushed aside in light of our enthusiasm for the sport). Taking extremely fast, powerful, full grown men and having them bash their heads into things repeatedly just can't really be very healthy when you think about it. (It seemed pretty intuitive to me, even in sixth grade, when the coach explained that I was going to be playing offensive line, and that my main job was to smash headfirst into the guy across from me. Over and over. For hours at a time during practice and games. For months on end every year. Running headfirst into the other biggest guy that an opposing team could find. And other people thought this was fun? I didn't last long in football.)
I know that people aren't going to want to give up the sport of football, so I'm sensing an investment opportunity for the first company that can come up with a new helmet that does a much better job of protecting the brain from injury. (Although I'm not sure of the physics. The padding of the helmet must already be protecting players' heads pretty well or they would walk around with bruises on the outside of their heads all of the time. Maybe the brain injuries and concussions are caused by the sudden jarring and the movement of the brain inside or against the skull? I'm not sure if that's the case, but if it is, that would make it a lot harder to make a safe helmet, I would think. I mean, you can cushion a collision, but it seems like it would be hard to stop the jarring motion of the sudden impacts that occur with football.)
Anyway, if someone can figure out how to make a substantially safer helmet, I would bet that there will be some money in that.
Sometimes I'm pretty happy that I didn't play football.

And is the world is coming to an end in 2012? There are apparently a number of stories about how the Mayan longcount calendar comes to an end in 2012, and predictions that the earth will expire on December 21, 2012. David Stuart, director of the Mesoamerica Center at the University of Texas, states, however, that "there is no serious scholar who puts any stock in the idea that the Maya said anything meaningful about 2012." A number of academics with an interest in Mayan culture have produced books which discount the idea that the Mayans predicted an apocalypse in 2012, but even the authors of those books doubt whether scholarly works can compete against the sensationalism of materials that propagate the doomsday myth. Other tales that have contributed to the 2012 doomsday myth include rumors of a magnetic reversal at Earth's poles, the passing of Earth through the galactic plane of the Milky Way galaxy, and the alignment of the Earth with the sun and the Milky Way's galactic center.
Well, NASA has explained that magnetic poles take thousands of years to shift (meaning some sort of catastrophic magnetic shift on a particular day in 2012 is unlikely), they've verified that we already passed the galactic plane 3 million years ago (meaning we're moving away from the plane at this point, and not toward it), and the alignment of the Earth with the sun and the galactic center is a phenomenon visible only from Earth which will have no greater gravitational or radiational effect than any other solstice (so don't expect fireworks because of this alignment). In short, it seems like the whole 2012 apocalypse thing is pretty much just a series of hoaxes, each one bootstrapping the other. (Then, of course, there are the conspiracy theorists who will say that any number of mysterious forces are colluding in order to refute the theory, but as in the case of all conspiracy theories, facts become meaningless in such scenarios, and that way lies madness.)

Mostly the whole 2012 thing is kind of harmless and indicative, to me, anyway, that there are a lot of people out there who find the thought of the end of the world somewhat appealing. Maybe it's not so hard to understand that impulse. You don't have to worry about the wide spectrum of a bad things that might happen to you if you can just narrow your worries down to one event. And maybe the sting of death is mitigated somehow if you know that you're experiencing it right along with everyone else that you know.
So I think I need to have a 2012 party. December 21, 2012 I need to have a party to celebrate a day in which no one needs to worry about anything, anymore, because tomorrow is never going to come. Someone remind me.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The weekend went by pretty fast. I didn't do very much (other than a nice dinner with friends on Friday), and now it's already Monday, and there's part of me that's disappointed that I didn't do more. That being said, I haven't been feeling too great over the last couple of weeks (mostly cedar fever, but this weekend I had some stomach problems as well), so I probably just needed to rest. Sometimes your body and your subconscious mind are just smarter than the part of you that thinks it's driving the bus.
I finally got around to watching the season premier for Lost. That show just continues to get more and more complicated and increasingly difficult to follow. People have struggled to get off the island, but now they want to get back. Other people are still on the island, but seem to want to leave. Meanwhile the whole island keeps jumping backward and forward in space-time, and it seems that you can only approach (or leave) the island during a particular point in time by entering or exiting on certain specific vectors. Most of the people on the island are stuck in a place where time keeps shifting beneath their feet, but it seems like maybe a couple of special people are moving concurrently with the space-time shifts, but have some kind of knowledge of events occurring outside the normal flow of time.
Arrgh. Throw in a bunch of convoluted subplots involving romance, power struggles, and small children, and the whole thing becomes almost too much to take.
And yet the inevitable draw is to see how and if the writers can tie up all of these loose ends and deliver a conclusion at the show's finale which, if accomplished successfully, will have to undoubtedly be one of the biggest "abacadabra!" moments in television history.
So I'll probably keep watching Lost on and off- not enough to keep up with all of the details, but enough to understand what's going on in the overall story arc.
Battlestar Galactica already has me following enough complicated plotlines.

And in the "it's gonna get worse before it gets better" category regarding our country's economic slowdown, a group of major U.S. companies announced job cuts today that are going to exceed 43,000 positions.* Among the companies listed that are expected to make cuts were Home Depot, Pfizer, Sprint Nextel, and Caterpillar. Caterpillar issued a public statement about its job cuts (the company is planning on laying off around 18% of its global workforce) stating that the company was predicting 2009 to be one of the weakest years for economic growth since World War II, with an expectation that the recession would persist, and that no substantial growth was foreseen in the world economy throughout the upcoming year.
Scary stuff. At the moment, I'm very happy to be in a position of government employment, and even that may not remain stable if the economy continues to slide for a long enough period.
Hang on to your hats, people. 2009 may be a wild ride.

* By the end of the business day, more than 68,000 jobs had been cut. Newspapers are calling it Bloody Monday. They do have a flair for the dramatic, don't they?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Well, the cedar counts are way back off the charts again. We got like one or two days of hope during which they started to fall, and then they went back up. Oh well. I didn't want to go outside this weekend, anyway.

I don't have much to report. I watched an episode of Burn Notice last night and ate a really big Freebirds burrito. I also got on the ol' XBox and played a bit of Fallout 3. Fallout 3 is sort of a mix between an action/shooter and a role playing game, and it's got a pretty interesting story (the main character wanders a post-apocalyptic wasteland looking for his/her missing father who abandoned the protagonist in the underground "vault" where they had been living). There are mutants, monsters, and wasteland marauders to fight, and people that you can meet and interact with. It's a pretty entertaining game. Very Mad Max.

Well, like I said- not a lot going on. Maybe more later.

Oh, by the way, thanks to those of you who signed up on the Followers/Adventurers list! Kind of cool to see my little group hanging out over there!

14 Albums that Had a Big Impact on Steanso

Kenny Rogers- The Gambler/Neil Diamond- The Jazz Singer: The Gambler was the first album I really remember. My mom and dad had this album, and played it relentlessly. I knew all of the lyrics to a number of tracks, including, of course, the title track, The Gambler. I used to sing to The Gambler in the car on road trips when I was little. In addition to enjoying the tune, I think I liked the fact that the song told a story. The Jazz Singer was one of my mom's favorite albums (as well as one of her favorite movies) when I was little. I remember this album playing in the background while I was crawling around on the carpet with my Legos wth Mom running the vacuum in the next room. I think that not only the rockin' beats of songs like "Coming to America" became lodged permanently in my subconscious mind, but also the more melancholy, bittersweet melodies of tunes like "Love on the Rocks" and "Hello Again". Anyway, these were two albums that I remember hearing an awful lot of back before the idea of seeking music out on my own had ever really occurred to me. They're lodged down deep in my brain.

The Chipmunks- Chipmunk Punk, Chipmunk Rock- Yup, my mom, aka The Karebear, bought Ryan and I some Chipmunks albums when we were kids, and yes, we listened to them enthusiastically. The albums, of course, had the silly, high pitched voices of the chipmunks and some really bad comedy bits squeezed in between the songs, but the albums were made up of chipmunks-style cover versions of a lot of popular songs- songs that people still remember fondly today. Amongst the songs on Chipmunk Punk were My Sharona by The Knack, Call Me by Blondie, Refugee by Tom Petty, You May be Right by Billie Joel, and Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen. Not a bad intro to New Wave music, really, for a young kid in the early eighties (although I don't really think of many of these songs as actual punk). Chipmunk Rock followed almost immediately thereafter, with songs like Bettie Davis Eyes by Kim Carnes, Jessie's Girl by Rick Springfield, Take a Chance on Me by ABBA, Whip It by Devo, and Hit Me with Your Best Shot and Heartbreaker, both by Pat Benatar. Anyway, the Chipmunks were kind of stupid and silly, and even as a kid I think I understood that most grown-ups would never listen to this music, but I liked a lot of the songs, and Roundball and I spent some time rocking out and air guitaring to some of these tunes when we were pretty young (in the moments when we weren't fighting over Star Wars figures or whatever).

J. Geils Band- Centerfold/Joan Jett and the Blackhearts - I Love Rock N' Roll: The first real rock and roll albums I remember. I bought them from a Columbia House record club deal, and we used to sing the lyrics to the title tracks to both songs on the bus. I really didn't even understand the subject matter of the music (which is good, seeing as how Centerfold is all about a guy's girlfriend finding herself a career in porn, I guess), but the music sucked me in. These were the albums that pulled me away from the country music and the 50's and 60's oldies rock that my parents were listening to, and kind of brought my attention to the music that was being produced and released at the time.

Genesis- Invisible Touch: Not sure how, but I got sucked in by the mystery of the lyrics and the ability to create moods and soundscapes. I listened to it repeatedly and it became background music in some of my conversations and daydreams. The synthesizers blew me away. To this day, both The Brazillian and Domino strike me as extremely powerful songs.

Pink Floyd- The Wall: I went on a trip with the marching band during my freshman year of high school, and I listened to this album, in its entirety, about 8 to 10 times on the trip. I had never really listened to Pink Floyd much before this. Like I said, I was in freshman band, and one of the older trombone players (I'm ashamed to say I've now forgotten his name) was a huge Pink Floyd nut and demanded that I listen to this album. I had never seen the movie of The Wall at this point, but the songs told a story, and I was immediately sucked in by the depressing beauty of the whole thing. It was clearly a tale of a man sinking into madness, and after an entire extended weekend of staring out a bus window at driving rain and listening to this album over and over, I felt like maybe I was the one who was starting to lose it. But the emotional resonance was amazing.

The Dead Milkmen- Big Lizard in My Backyard/Beelzebubba: You know how people from the '60's say that The Velvet Underground made them aware that they were capable of creating their own music? (the old saying is that The Velvet Underground didn't sell a huge amount of albums, but that everyone who bought one went out and started their own band). Well, the Dead Milkmen were my Velvet Underground. I heard their music in early high school, first Big Lizard and then Beelzebubba soon afterward, and I was immediately a fan of their humor, their catchy tunes, and the fact that, quite clearly, no one in the band could really sing. I heard these guys doing their thing, and I began to contemplate the fact that maybe I could play in a band myself someday.

The Ramones- Rocket to Russia: I discovered The Ramones shortly after The Dead Milkmen, and I loved them for mostly the same reasons (it was now clear to me that I only really needed to learn about 3 or 4 chords). Rocket to Russia was the first tape of theirs that I bought. In addition to being funny, The Ramones clearly didn't care a whole lot about what the mainstream public thought of them (or even their own fans, really), and that was an attitude young Steanso could get behind. The Ramones were all about taking traditional rock and roll and irreverantly turning it on its head. And they rocked.

The Cure- Disintegration: Sure, it seems kind of wussy now, but in high school it was a sort of soundtrack for awhile. It was music that somehow managed to lend a feeling of magic and mystery to life in the work-a-day world of the 'burbs. Great music when you can't get the girl, you're not getting along with your firends, or there's something else that's making you feel sort of sorry for yourself and you're absolutely sure that no one in the world has ever had things quite as rough as you do. I think a whole lot of other bands have been trying to tap into the vibe of this album ever since its release, but few have managed to pull it off successfully.

Jane's Addiction- Nothing's Shocking: I just loved this album from the get go because, at least in my mind, clearly a lot of people were just never going to "get it", but at the same time, it was a magical, amazing piece of art for those who allowed it to seep into their brains. So much of the music filling mainstream radio at the time was commercially driven garbage, and Perry Farrell's voice was a revelation- a primal shriek that cut right through so much of the commercial crap that people were listening to at the time and lent articulation to the frustration, fear, and anger that many kids in the punk and alternative subcultures were feeling at the time that the album got released. Jane's Addiction was a tribal phenomena, drawing together like-minded people who were looking for something new at a particular point in time, and it not only gave us a new sound, but reminded us that so much of the other music out there was just disingenuous crap. The feeling of rebellious energy carried through into the first Lollapalooza. And maybe the second. I'm not sure when they whole thing got co-opted and turned corporate, but by that time we knew that we weren't dealing with the same people or situation that we had started out with...

The Pixies- Doolittle: I loved this album when I first heard it (back in high school) for some of the same reasons I loved Jane's Addiction. It was immediately clear to me that a lot of people just weren't going to get what The Pixies were up to, but for those people who listened closely enough to hear the melodies and lyrics behind the yelling, the feedback, and the furious sound, there was great music to be had (plus, Kim Deal's amazing voice). The fact that the music wasn't very accessible sort of made being a fan feel like you were a member of an exclusive club. Anyway, eventually the secret of their greatness got out, and now The Pixies are thought of as a more mainstream band, but there was a time when only the cool kids knew how much The Pixies rocked...

Of course, there have been many, many other albums that I've really loved and which have had a big impact on me. I think that the albums listed here are just examples of music that sort of impacted me in some sort of developmental way- probably in ways that I wouldn't have expected (thus the fact that these albums have stuck out in my mind over time). I mean, you can go on all day talking about how great Bob Dylan is, how hard The Who or Led Zeppelin rock, or how much you love the music of Jimi Hendrix (and I truly do love those guys), but if you know anything about those names at all, you're going to approach their albums knowing that you're supposed to be expecting something great. Those names are part of the canon of music that sort of forms the bedrock of an appreciation for rock music, but I don't tend to think of them as the sorts of bands that produce the quirks and idiosyncracies in musical taste that help to define us as individuals. In terms of making my musical tastes my own, I think that the great music that has snuck up on me that somehow ends up effecting me the most profoundly. I still keep finding good music and I hope I'm still growing, but only the passage of time lets you know which artists and which works truly stick with you. Blah, blah, blah.....

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Lots of new television out. It seems like we go for weeks or months without anything worth watching, and then suddenly a bunch of networks dump a bunch of stuff on us at once (thanks, writer's strike!). The season premier of Lost was last night (there was much rejoicing from my sister-in-law, Jamie, who really digs that show. Incidentally, I've found myself disappointed that Jamie is apparently not following American Idol this season. Even though I find AI as cheesey and silly as the next guy, I kind of enjoy sort of keeping up with it a little, sort of in the same way that you might want to keep up with a basketball or football season, even if you're not really invested in a particular team. In spite of all the schlock that goes along with American Idol, at it's heart it's just about people in a singing competition, and I kind of like the fact that so many people in this country are entertained by something as simple as hearing another person sing a song. Anyway, maybe Jamie will get sucked back in and keep me updated once they get past the "making fun of the talentless" portion in the early rounds.) I haven't gotten around to watching Lost yet, but I'll probably watch it this weekend (I watched all of last season, but it was an easy feat to accomplish because the writer's strike made it an especially short season). It's a decent show, but so painfully overcomplicated....
I watched the newest episode of Battlestar Galactica last week, and that show continues to remain pretty interesting (which is no small feat after being on the air for over 4 years). Twists and turns abound. If you haven't watched BSG, it's probably the kind of show that's pretty fun to watch on DVD (sometimes when there's a long break between episodes, I kind of lose track of plot points, so it might really be better to watch it on DVD).
Fringe, which I initially found pretty annoying, has continued to grow on me. The characters have become more well developed, and the interconnected relationship between all of the "mad science" experiments that they're investigating is becoming more interesting. Not the best show, but kind of interesting.
And of course there's 24. How we love the sweet sounds of gunfire, the roar of explosions, and the shrill screams of the tortured. Anyway, Jack Bauer's back to keep America safe and the rest of the world praying that he stays away from them. I'll probably keep watching until things get completely ridiculous. Which may mean that I only have a few episodes left in me.

And on Obama's first day in office yesterday, Fox News led their coverage with an article about the outrage felt by the families of 9/11 victims when Obama put a hold on the war crimes trials at Guantanamo Bay. No mention of the fact that only 5 of the over 250 detainees at Guantanamo are accused of having actually been involved in the 9/11 attacks and that these five will undoubtedly still be held in federal or military facilities and tried at a later date, pursuant to federal or military law. The article also failed to comment on the length of time that most of the inmates had been held without formal charges having ever been filed (the Bush administration has held most of these men for a number of years without managing to put them on trial), and it failed to mention that the only trial of an Al Qaeda member held at the prison camp thus far, the trial of Selim Hamdan (i.e., Bin Laden's driver) resulted in a conviction on only the least serious of the charges that he faced, and the Hamdan was sentenced to only five and a half years, including time credit for the five years he had already served. The U.S. Supreme Court has recently made rulings which indicate that inmates at Guantanamo are, in fact, entitled to avail themselves of certain rights provided by the Geneva Convention (the Bush administration had attempted to circumvent these protections by labelling the inmates "enemy combatants" instead of POWs), and has made rulings which indicate that the inmates may be entitled to some constitutional protections and that detainees have the right to avail themselves of the U.S. civilian federal courts in protesting their confinement. In short, the whole Guantanamo thing was unravelling, anyway, because it was clearly illegitimate under U.S. and international law.
Look folks- I'm not saying we should let the bad guys go free, and I'm pretty sure that's not what Obama is saying either (or the U.N., or any number of human rights groups). What the president (and everyone else who opposes Gitmo) is concerned about is the fact that our country has constructed a facility outside of our national borders with the specific intention that civil rights and constitutional protections will have no place there. We're concerned about having a prison where everything takes place in secret- the identities of the detainees have often been kept secret, people are held for years without charges and without any kind of access to or review of the evidence against them, and trials are almost nonexistent (and the prosecution has seemed extremely incapable of providing evidence or procuring convictions where such trials have occurred). These practices violate fundamental human rights, and I find them troubling not only because they're making us look like big, stupid bullies in the world community, but also because of the potential ramifications that such policies might have for America's own people (before people laugh that last statement off, take a second to think about the Japanese internment camps of WWII or about frightening scenarios that could arise with a strong combination of anti-terrorist fear/hate combined with a nice sized helping of xenophobia. If a terrorist were to sneak a bomb across the border from Mexico, how long before we're rounding people up? I'm sure we can find another place outside U.S. borders where we can hold Mexican immigrants without allowing them access to evidence or without having toworry about giving them timely trials...)
Anyway, as I've said, no one wants genuine terrorists going free, but we need to try these people under the legitimate rule of law, in open courtrooms where everyone can see the evidence being laid out against these people. Without the rule of law we're not much better than machete-wielding terrorists who hide in some darkened room and summarily execute their prisoners because of some real or imagined wrongdoing. We need to stop terrorists, but we need to stick to our principles during times of emergency because these are the times when our laws and ethics matter the most.
Put these detainees into real courts and lets have real trials. That's the difference between justice and the mere satisfaction of a vendetta. Justice is supposed to bring order to the world. Revenge is a messy, destructive affair that creates that famous cycle that leaves the whole world blind.
Anyway, I'm sure that the main goal of Fox News was to give their frustrated conservative readers their first glimpse of the difficult struggles that lie before our new president (Obama has, after all, been receiving a ridiculous amount of positive press lately), but perpetuating the bloodthirsty demands of a bunch of grieving families (who, unsurprisingly, may be too emotionally involved to appreciate or care about the difference between things like vengeance and justice) seems like a pretty cheap first shot to fire. It's kind of a disheartening taste of what we can probably expect for the next few years.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


And just a quick note- I've added a sign up list for people who keep up with this blog on a regular or semi-regular basis and who don't mind other people knowing that they follow the blog. The list is, of course, completely voluntary, and you can sign up with your real name or some kind of online pseudonym. Maybe no one will sign up at all, but the hope is that the list will just build a little bit of a sense of community in my tiny little corner of the internet. Look over there to the right under the heading of "Adventurers".
Wednesday. Wednesday comes a little easier when you get Monday off work. Nevertheless, today feels like a bit of a letdown after the Inauguration Celebration that occurred yesterday. It was pretty cool to see so many people getting excited and enthusiastic about the arrival of a new president. It really felt like a historic moment, and I hope that some of this enthusiasm continues to carry on as the president moves forward and begins to tackle some of the country's problems.
Obama has moved toward the center, politically, since winning the election, and I know that this is going to disappoint some of his more liberal supporters. I'm not really one of them. Of course, I would like to see things get accomplished that are on the liberal checklist (increased environmental protections, more gay rights, better protections of civil liberties, an improved healthcare system, etc.), but I think I share Obama's belief that the country has been divided for too long along sharply partisan lines, and that we need to pull together in order to deal with and focus on some of the larger problems that the country now faces (e.g., the economic crisis, the war in Afghanistan, energy independence and a reduction in carbon emissions, etc.). If Obama can demonstrate some successes in tackling some of the larger, more central issues, those successes might help to give him some momentum (and maybe even a little trust and respect) as he goes about trying to push through some of the agenda items that are more popular on the left. And the big issues, such as the economy, need to be fixed anyway if the more progressive issues are going to have much meaning. (people aren't going to really care as much about civil liberties or gay marriage if they can't feed their families or keep a roof over their heads- I guess I just think you have to fix the hull of your sinking boat before you worry about making sure that the radio works or whether the motor is running well)
Anyhow, some of the neocon rhetoric that's been coming from the right over the last 8 years has been so far to the right that it was beginning to take views from the center and make them feel like liberal positions. I'm glad that a Democrat has reclaimed some of this center ground and reminded everyone that most of the positions taken by the Democratic party aren't really extreme leftist views, but straightforward, common sense approaches to the country's problems (note that I didn't say easy or painless) that are undertaken with an eye toward protecting all of the citizens of our country (rather than disproportionately favoring the upper class). We can quarrel about the more controversial stuff later, but for now it would be pretty great if we could all cooperate for a change in just taking care of the basics (getting the economy revitalized would be a great start). With an emphasis on pragmatism and finding solutions that work rather than looking for reasons to disagree because of questions of ideology, we should be able to pull together and make some positive progress.
Anyway, I hope the critics on the left, many of whom are understandably anxious to have their concerns addressed after 8 years of Bush rule, can be a little patient. We gotta get some of these big issues taken care of if we're going to have more than one term in office, and with all of the things that need to be fixed, we really need more than one term. I really hate to say it, but the campaign for the 2012 election starts today.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Happy Birthday Reed and Eric!

Well, in addition to being inauguration day it's also the birthday of two of my close friends and fellow band members from The Mono Ensemble (no, they're not twins- they just share a birthday). I've known Reed since I was in about 6th grade. Reed was in my Reading class, and we got together after school to watch some video tapes that one of my dad's friends had made of wargames exercises when he was in the Air Force (they were pretty cool- gun and bomb tapes that showed whether the crew had "hit" their designated targets during F-111 missions). Then there was Star Trek, comic books, Van Halen albums, driveway basketball, and a bunch of other ways that we found to waste time. Later we played on the same lacrosse team together, and somewhere right around that time Reed started playing drums and I bought my first bass guitar. Along with Robert Hall and Corbin Supak, we had our first band in back in high school (we never even really had a name, and we only played at one party), and I can still remember the songs we covered- Sacred Love by Bad Brains, Light My Fire by The Doors, Type by Living Color, and Somebody to Love as performed by Agent Orange (which was a cover of Jefferson Airplane). Anyway, I've known Reed a long, long time, I still enjoy making music with him, and we've had lots of different adventures over the years. He's a good friend, and I wish him many happy returns and lots of luck in his upcoming year.
Eric Gottula I met much later through Reed. Eric was playing in Reed's College Station Band, Mother's Monkey, when I first met him during undergrad. I saw Mother's Monkey play a few times, and I remember Eric coming out to see a band that I was playing with called Loggerhead downtown Houston (we were on summer break during college) at a funky little club called Catal Huyuk. Anyway, years passed and we went through a lot of twists and turns, but eventually Mother's Monkey moved to Austin and transmorgified into Mono Ensemble and I ended up playing bass and guitar in the band (most of this started by just hanging out at the condo Reed was renting at the time, where Reed had his drums set up and the rest of us had room to set up our equipment).
Eric is a really talented musician, and in addition to getting the chance to play with him in Mono Ensemble, I've also had the chance to hear him play some solo, singer-songwriter stuff as well as having heard him play with some other groups, including the band that's one of his current main projects, Venus Fixer. Anyway, Eric is a great guitar player, he writes cool songs, and he plays like 3 or 4 instruments. In addition to all that he's a nice guy and a good friend.
Anyway, if you're curious to see Reed, Eric, and the Mother's Monkey of old (meaning, playing a bunch of their old songs from 10 years ago, sans Steanso), Mother's Monkey will be playing this weekend at the Ivy Lounge on Saturday night, I believe starting at around 10:00 p.m. (don't hold me to that time, though).
So happy birthday, guys!! Hope you're having a good one!

P.S.- The inauguration was cool, right? Obama's speech was a little heavy, but it probably set the right tone for a president who's coming into office while facing the sort of challenges that Obama will have to deal with. Overall, it was a very impressive event. I had to work this morning, so we watched the inauguration and Obama's speech on a staticy TV in the court 3 jury room, but the courthouse seemed to come to a bit of a standstill (different from the usual hustle and bustle that verges on chaos) for a moment and everyone was pretty quiet as we watched the oath of office and the subsequent speech.

Monday, January 19, 2009

MLK Day / Inauguration Eve

Well, I'm pretty excited about the inauguration tomorrow. I've got court in the morning, but I hope to get done in time to watch it. Plenty of people have already said plenty about the historic significance of Obama's inauguration, and the fact that it comes only one day after Martin Luther King Day only underscores the importance of the event.
With all of the hype surrounding Obama as he enters office, it's going to be very hard for him to live up to all of the hoopla, but hopefully the American people can keep their expectations realistic and exercise a little patience as he begins working to fulfill some of his goals. At this point, I just want the man to remain as honest with us as possible and to try to keep things moving in the right direction (i.e., toward solving our economic crisis and other issues and by trying carefully to avoid creating new problems).
Anyway, I wish President Obama the best of luck as he enters the White House. Lord knows that with the challenges he is facing, he can use all of the support that he can get.

The three day weekend has been pretty good. Friday night I had dinner with Ryan and Jamie and just sort of hung out. Saturday I went and saw Defiance with Jamie over at the Alamo (I think Ryan was at home, chillin' and reading comic books or something). Defiance, for those who don't know, is based on a true story about a few Jewish brothers who escaped the Nazi advance into Poland by hiding in the Belarussian forest. [Few SPOILERS in here] The brothers ended up establishing a sort of refugee camp for fleeing Jews, and by war's end they managed to hide and protect over 1,200 people who would otherwise likely have become Nazi prisoners. Some of the refugees from the camp (including at least one of the Bielski brothers) joined forces with Russian troops who were battling the Nazis and helped to carry out raids against the German forces.
Anyway, Defiance was pretty good, but not great. The story was fairly interesting, overall, but it definitely felt like some of the details were probably fudged a bit in order to give the story a more "Hollywood" feel. I've also learned through the almighty Wikipedia that some of the people associated with the Bielskis are accused of having been associated with war crimes, including the Naliboki Forest massacre, in which 128 Polish people (citizens of German-occupied Poland) were massacred by forces associated with the Russians. Jews from the Bielski partisan were accused of having taken part in the massacre, but they denied this, and no mention of the massacre was made in the movie (although the movie does depict a few incidents in which members of the Bielski partisan attacked local Nazi sympathizers).
So the movie was sort of interesting, but not great.
Sunday I just sort of screwed around. I guess I ran a few errands. Did some reading.
Today I went and saw Grand Torino. It was pretty good. The plot didn't offer a whole lot of twists or turns that I didn't see coming, but Clint Eastwood played a fairly nuanced version of his traditional tough guy, and his character was interesting enough to keep me engaged. It was kind of nice to see Eastwood playing someone a little more realistic after years of gunslinger/Dirty Harry type roles. Anyway, it wasn't my favorite Eastwood movie, but that would be asking a lot (The Unforgiven is probably in my top 5 movies of all time).
I made dinner for Ryan and Jamie tonight as well (it was a chicken/rice/cheese sort of thing). It seemed to go pretty well.
Now I'm going to go watch 24.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Well, I've been having a hard time coming up with stuff to talk about over the last few days, but today I want to take a second just to celebrate the fact that U.S. Airways Pilot Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger managed to successfully land his plane in the Hudson River after some birds apparently got sucked into the engines of his plane, thereby saving the lives of the 155 passengers and crew onboard (the passengers and crew were quickly rescued from the cold waters of the Hudson by nearby ferry boats). Aviation experts, as well as passengers who were aboard the plane, are praising the pilot for his skill in landing the plane, as well as for his clear, calm, thought and action, which included checking the plane twice to make sure that all passengers had gotten out before exiting the plane himself. Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised the pilot personally after speaking with him, and referred to the event as "the miracle on the Hudson" in light of the fact that no one was killed or gravely injured.
They say that being a pilot involves hours of boredom and moments of terror. I guess a lot of things are like that. Well, any one of us will do well to perform half as admirably as Chesley Sullenberger when one of our "moments of terror" arises.
Good job, Sully!!!!
What else? I watched Bush's farewell address last night (well, I mostly watched it- I was talking to Ryan and Jamie at the same time). It's hard not to almost feel sorry for the guy as he more or less leaves office with his tail between his legs (and, yes, this is coming from someone who was repeatedly enraged by the man over an eight year period- well, even longer than that if you count his ineffectual term as Texas governor). I suppose I'm a little annoyed by all of the criticism that's now being levelled at Bush because I was screaming in protest at the time that he was making his bad decisions (i.e, the Iraq invasion, the legalization of torture, the illegal wiretapping, the violations of the Geneva Convention committed during the Iraq War- including Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, rendition programs, the Patriot Act with its nearly limitless government power in the pursuit of "suspected terrorists", the rollbacks of environmental protections, the refusal to support health care for low income children, the botched Katrina response, the tax cuts providing disproportionate help for big business and the wealthy, the refusal to take action to curb carbon emissions, and so forth and so on...). It feels to me now like many people who either previously supported Bush or who stood by and did nothing while he drove the country into the ditch are now using him as the world's biggest scapegoat for every problem imaginable, when some of these critics were the same people who voted for him in 2004 (and he had already made plenty of bad decisions by 2004) or who let his actions go without challenge throughout much of the man's tenure in office. Now, suddenly its popular and fun to dump on Bush, so everyone's getting on board, but guess what? It's too late!! The damage is done, and now the Democrats are left with the cleanup job. It may be fun to use Bush as a pinata at this point, but it isn't very constructive and it doesn't really accomplish anything. If people had expended half as much energy criticizing his bad decisions at the time he was making them as they have in criticizing his presidency after the fact, maybe he might have reconsidered some of these foolish choices.
Essentially, I'm not going to let the American people off the hook for standing idly by for 8 years when people should have been repeatedly marching on the White House or the U.S. Capitol to protest human rights violations, an immoral war, the erosion of our civil rights, a lack of healthcare, and a bunch of other issues. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who supported Bush or who stood by silently while he dug us into this whole (and I'm particularly talking about people who voted for him in 2004 or supported him after that point) is complicit in every bad decision the guy ever made. We should have been demanding more and better leadership all along. Instead, we voted Bush in for a second term of office and then stood around like a bunch of dumb cattle while he repeatedly made bad decisions.
Anyway, personally, my hope for Bush is that even though he had a pretty unsuccessful presidency, maybe he can still do some good things in his post-presidential years. Jimmy Carter was a pretty unsuccessful president, but since he held office he has worked tirelessly in the international community to try to negotiate peace resolutions, support humanitarian efforts, and contribute to charitable causes. Carter was even awarded a Nobel Prize for his work in establishing the Carter Center, an organization dedicated to advancing human rights and democracy throughout the world (the Carter Center involves itself in conflict resolution, brokering peace deals, and helps to monitor elections in developing areas to try to make sure that they are fair).
Maybe Bush can still accomplish some things that will help to redeem himself, but I think it's going to take a pretty big attitude shift on his part in order to make that happen (since he still won't admit to most of his mistakes as president, I'm not exactly sure he's ready to enter into a period of personal growth). Anyway, an ex president still has the ability to make a lot of positive changes in the world if he wishes to use his power in that sort of way. I still hold out a faint hope that Bush can do some good (especially if he gets away from Cheney- that guy, on the other hand, I don't hold out a lot of hope for in the "making a positive contribution" department). I'm not sure that other nations are ready for Bush to start trying to engage in diplomatic efforts (as Carter has done), but there are plenty of other areas that could use help (Bush's recent move to create protected oceanic wildlife "monument" zones is a good start- maybe Bush could get more involved in protecting wilderness areas in other ways).
Anyway, George, it's not too late to shore up your image and help restore a little more dignity to your legacy. But you better get crackin'. You've got quite a bit to make up for.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Well, happy Thurday. Hope everyone is doing well. There was a good column in the Washington Post this week by Bob Woodward about important lessons that can be learned by studying the Bush administration. It struck me as I read through these points that most of them were appropriate not only for the president of our country, but that most of these lessons would apply equally well to any person who finds themself in a mangement or executive position- surrounded by support staff filled with conflicting personalities who frequently provide conflicting, and sometimes erroneous, information (e.g., requiring your subordinates to publicly discuss their differences of opinion rather than engaging in infighting or backstabbing, making sure that you are actually getting honest appraisals from people rather than receiving sugarcoated viewpoints, and insisting upon transparency and honesty when sharing news both inside and outside of the organization are all good rules which might just as well serve the senior partner at a lawfirm or the head of a corporate division office as they might the president). Anyway, the column has some good advice, and Woodward provides interesting historical examples of specific places where some of these guidelines weren't followed (or at least weren't followed very effectively).

I just don't have much to write about at the moment. And I'm busy. And a little pooped.
Hope you guys are having a good day.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

So we're halfway through this week. Why does this week feel so much longer than last week? Well, the weather and the cedar fever aren't helping. It's hard to get out of bed in the morning when it's freezing cold outside and you're all stopped up and congested (end even more difficult to get going when you have a dog who likes to stretch out, yawn, and roll around on the bed, showing off the fact that she gets to stay bundled up in the nice, warm, comfortable blankets while you have to go to work).
And I guess there are new laws on the books intended to help in the prosecution of drug smugglers who are using small, handmade submarines to smuggle drugs into the U.S.. The submarines are actually semisubmersibles, and they're typically built in places such as the foilage-heavy swamps along Colombias west coast (which helps hide the vessels during construction) for costs that sometimes range in excess of $2 million (although their ability to transport up to $200 million in cargo makes the cost of the vessels feasible). Authorities estimate that one third of all seaborne drug traffic coming from South America probably enters the U.S. through the use of drug subs. The subs typically rise little more than a couple of feet above the waterline, with most of their hull (which can be as long as 80 or more feet, constructed out of wood, fiberglass, and/or metal) submerged below the waves. When facing capture, a standard tactic for the crews of these submersibles has been to sink the subs, causing the crew to lose their narcotics cargo, but also destroying the evidence of their crime as the drugs and the subs sank to the seafloor. The new federal law makes it a crime to be caught sailing in such a vessel at all- so now Coast Guard crews and other law enforcement agencies don't have to worry about preserving captured evidence as they fish the smuggler crews out of their sinking subs.
Personally, I'm not really interested in smuggling, but I'd love to get my hands on the blueprints of building one of these subs. They seem pretty cool, especially if you could build one with underwater windows that could actually become completely submerged for significant spans of time. I think my friends would like it. We could party underwater, and then we would blow everyone's mind at the Hula Hut when we pulled up in our submarine to get a cocktail and some nachos.
Bin Laden's trying to rally Palestinians to fight against Israel in Gaza, but- whatever. The guy's been hiding in some hole in the ground for years now. Not exactly a model of courage and a willingness to risk one's life for a noble cause. (I'm not saying that I don't worry about the fact that Bin Laden is still out there. He may be putting men in position to launch a new operation even as I write this, but it seems like he's fairly well beaten and on the run. I'm not sure how effective he's going to still be as a motivating force in the Arab world.)
Well, that's all I've got for now. Maybe more later.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hey. What's up? Hillary Clinton is being confirmed as Secretary of State today, so that's pretty cool. I think she'll do a good job. She obviously has a strong grasp of U.S. foreign (and domestic) policy, I think she's well-liked by many foreign heads of state (many of whom she has previously met during her time as First Lady), and I hope that she'll be able to work well with President Obama to repair some of the alliances with foreign governments that may have soured a bit over the last 8 years. Anyway, she's going to have her work cut out for her (we're getting ready to start pulling out of Iraq, there are ongoing tensions between Israel and the Palestinians in the Middle East, Russia and Iran both seem awfully twitchy and prone to sabre rattling, the war in Afghanistan continues, unabated, with complicity from forces in neighboring Pakistan, there's some nasty fighting going on in The Congo, and North Korea may be destabilizing as Kim Jong Il suffers from reported illness. And these are just some of the things I can rattle off the top of my head.) I wish Ms. Clinton the best of luck as she embarks on this new adventure. It's going to be a tough job, but I think she's up to the task.
Not too much else going on. My allergies haven't been as bad this season as they have some other years (BIG ol' knock on wood), but I'm still feeling some of the cedar fever and have been kind of feeling run down and worn out (in addition to some congestion when I lay down at night). I'll be happy when we get to about mid February and this stuff starts to subside.
Well, that wasn't much, but I had a long post yesterday, so maybe it all balances out.

Monday, January 12, 2009

By the way, you guys know that my sister-in-law, Jamie, has a blog, right? She's still pretty new to blogging (relatively), but her blog is pretty good, so I'm just drumming up a little support for her if I can. Her blog's called Troubles McSteans (two of our favorite nicknames for her). You should check it out if you get the chance.
Well, the weekend was pretty good. Friday night I went to see F for Fake at the Carousel Lounge. As usual, they were really good. F for Fake isn't really about crazy solos or technical pyrotechnics, but they're really good at just creating cool melodies and diggable grooves (and their songs usually have great lyrics). The only problem with the gig was that F for Fake got a late start because the prior bands ran late, and then the bartenders cut them off at midnight, so it was kind of a short set. Oh well. Better to leave people wanting more, I guess.

Saturday morning I went with Ryan, Jamie, and a handful of close friends down to Barton Creek at the spillover by Barton Springs. Ryan scattered Mel's ashes, threw a tennis ball and a few milkbones into the creek, and we all said goodbye. There weren't any speeches or anything. We were the only people down on the creek, and it was very quiet and peaceful (and it's a very nice spot, with the water, and the birds, and the trees). A fitting goodbye for Mel, and we'll think of him whenever we go down there (Mel loved to swim down there, and Cassidy, Lucy, and the rest of us still enjoy the place, so we'll be back in the future many times, I'm sure- although when it's a bit warmer).

After saying goodbye to Mel we went over to Shady Grove and had a very nice lunch with all the folks who went down to the creek. My brother wrote about the experience on his blog if you guys want to check it out.

Saturday afternoon I finally got around to going to see Milk with Ryan and Jamie. It was a really good movie, and Sean Penn put in an amazing performance. While the struggles of the gay rights movement are far from over, it's pretty amazing how much progress the movement has made in a relatively short span of time (I say this in comparison to the civil rights movement for blacks, for example). Also impressive is the fact that their advances have been made without bloodshed (gays have been victims of hate crimes, but there have been few, if any, records of violent riots or other public incidents of explosive rage) and the gay rights movement has often been carried on with a surprising sense of humor and grace. Anyway, Gus Van Sant did a good job of telling Harvey Milk's story in a frank, realistic sort of way, without resorting to melodrama or artificial theatrics, and Sean Penn did a great job of inhabiting the character.

Sunday I just ran errands with Ryan and Jamie and hung out. Got a couple of shirts and some other stuff.

Looks like Carol Keeton Strayhorn is going to be running for mayor here in Austin. I'm not really excited by that possibility at all. First of all, I just don't think she fits the city well. I know that she was Austin's mayor from '77 to '83, but times have changed. Austin is a young, vibrant city which thrives on the exploration of new ideas, and I see Strayhorn as a past-her-prime career politician (mayor, railroad commissioner, comptroller, a run for governor, and now mayor again?) who has switched parties and run for every state job imaginable just in order to stay in the public eye and in order to continue to hold public office. Strayhorn is pretty good at calling out her fellow politicians and "taking stands" on issues, but I just don't see her as a person of vision or someone who seeks office out of a desire to serve her constituency. I remember when she was comptroller, and she enjoyed staging events such as cash seizure raids at Antones when they were behind on their taxes. Such public raids didn't come close to covering the late taxes owed by the club owners and didn't really do much to solve the overall problem of small business tax delinquency (which was an issue at the time), but by taking money out of the registers and taking the cash that was collected at the door she insured that the innocent people who were working at the club (including the bands) that night didn't get paid the money they were owed (or at least not in a timely fashion). Strayhorn's critics said she spent most of her time in the comptroller position trying to set up a run for governor and otherwise looking around for other possible positions to run for. She switched parties in order to run for governor (which I'm rarely in favor of when someone's doing it to try to get a new job- I think it shows a potential lack of commitment to one's principles and a possible lack of loyalty), and she really didn't bring any new ideas of her own to the table during the election (like I said, I haven't seen a lot of strong leadership or new ideas from the woman, but she seems to just love a good ol' negative campaign). Anyway, maybe I'll change my mind somewhat as things progress, but I'm really not excited about the Strayhorn mayoral announcement. I'm open to comments from people who know the woman better than I do and who want to defend her. Maybe I'm wrong.

And finally, I watched the two hour season premier of 24 last night. First off, let me just say that from a political standpoint, I continue to have totally mixed feelings about that show. 24 takes place in a parallel reality where all of the crazy conservative stuff that people like Dick Cheney believe in seems justified. On 24, America is constantly under seige from extremely competent, well-funded, well-trained terrorist cells that are operating within our borders. Situations constantly pop up where torture seems like the only option available in order to retrieve information, and the clock is always ticking in a countdown to some armageddon-like event. Our agents always have the best interests of the country at heart, and they're almost infallible in their reasoning skills and decision-making. On 24, we see the need for decision making of the most brutal kind, but we feel secure in knowing that such power lies in the hands of Jack Bauer- an agent with pure motives, sound decision-making skills, and at least some respect for human life. As a viewer, I'm a Democrat who's fairly left of center, and I still find myself cursing the cowardly hippies who would dare to question Jack's motives in torturing terrorists.
In the real world, however, I can't help but feel that the "clock ticking, world on the brink of the abyss" scenarios of 24 are much, much less common (I would think that such scenarios would appear once in a lifetime, if ever, for most real-life government agents), but that torture will tend to be used as a lazy man's interrogation method in any number of less urgent scenarios by operatives who prefer it over more time consuming interrogation techniques or by people who simply have a lot of hositility toward their captives. And then there's the fact that, frankly, I wouldn't trust most agents the way that we all feel that Jack Bauer can be trusted. Agents, like police detectives, can probably get swept up in the pursuit of their goals or targets, and its probably not in our best interests to put so much unchecked power in the hands of people operating under questionable objectivity (while torture may seem to be absolutely necessary to an involved agent who is pursuing a particular goal, the use of torture in that same case may be highly suspect to an outsider who may question whether it is essential with that particular informant, or who might, in fact, question the value of the entire case in relation to the need to torture people in order to accomplish its ends). An even more cynical writer might imply that some government agents could be more interested in advancing their careers by breaking open a big case than in protecting the human rights of suspected terrorists.
Anyway, its endless ethical conundrums aside, 24 burst back onto the scene this season in its usual high-octane sort of way, and I quickly found myself caught up in it. It's the kind of show that really sucks you in. Every once in awhile I'll take a step back and listen to the swelling, orchestral music and an isolated piece of over-the-top dialogue and think, "Wow! That's sort of melodramatic to the point of absurdity!", but within the context of a real-time show with a ticking clock, world-on-the-brink-of-annhilation style plot unfolding in its second by second rapid fire manner, the melodrama seems to work. There's just not a lot of time available for subtlety or nuance on 24, and those sorts of niceties are pretty much beside the point.
So I'll stick with 24 for awhile, watching Jack Bauer show those peacenik freaks that his way is the only way to get the job done*. Stupid hippies.

* Actually, on last night's show, to their credit, the writers gave Jack some lines in which he said that the intelligence community needed to have greater transparency (i.e., not make all of their operations classified) so that the American people could intelligently decide how far they wanted their agents to go in "getting the job done". Only when people know the truth about what our agents are dealing with (i.e., how close the real world comes to 24-type scenarios) can they make an intelligent choice about how far agents should be allowed to go. So even Bauer admitted that the question of whether or not to torture shouldn't really be left up to agents in the field (they should have strict guidelines). I thought that was an interesting point for 24 to bring forward.

Friday, January 09, 2009

F for Fake

Quick note before I have to run off to court. Chralie Roadman's band, F for Fake, is playing at the Carousel Lounge tonight at like 10:00 or 11:00. They don't play out often, but they rock. Go see them. I plan on trying to be there. Hopefully.
Happy Friday! Hope everyone is doing okay.
Costa Rica got hit with a 6.2 magnitude earthquake yesterday, leaving 14 people dead and 22 missing. Ryan and I travelled to Costa Rica last May and found it to be a beautful place with lots of friendly people. I'm just sorry to hear that they experienced such a disaster, and I wish them the best of luck in their rescue and recovery efforts.
I haven't talked much about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in Gaza, because, frankly, I'm not sure how to feel about the whole thing. On the one hand, I understand Israel's position in not wanting to continue to suffer random rocket attacks being launched out of Gaza. On the other hand, the Palestinian frustration with their living conditions under Israeli rule is also sort of understandable (with checkpoints, curfews, etc.). And of course it's all really tied back to old disagreements about territorial disputes, the ownership of various territories, and ethnic/religious tensions. Like I said, I'm not sure how to feel, other than the obvious belief that the Israelis need to be avoiding civilian casualties as much as possible while hunting down Hamas combatants and the people responsible for the rocket attacks. Arrrgh. I guess it's just stupid to ask whether or not we can't all just get along?
Palin is making public statements about how the media picked on her during the election, but mostly I think it just sounds like whining, and I don't think it's helping her overall image. Most of her complaints seem either untrue, hypocritical, or paranoid (of course Tina Fey exploited you by imitating you on SNL. Have you ever seen the show before? That's what they do with celebrities). Anyway, she needs to put the election behind her and move forward if she wants to stay in the political game at the national level. Her complaints aren't really resonating with anyone but her base.
Well, I gotta run. Maybe more later. Maybe.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Don't have much to say today. I'm having some foundation repair work done on my house, so that's been a focus of much of my attention. It's kind of a pain, and it's fairly expensive, but my house is probably the most important thing I own, so I'm trying to protect it (plus, at the moment- knock on wood- my house is worth quite a bit more than what I bought it for, so I'm trying to protect it as an investment as well as just in terms of being my home).
Cassidy went to the vet this week because she's been limping. Limping is a real problem when you only have 3 legs. The vet didn't seem to find any major problems, and he gave me some nutritional supplements to give her to help with joints and stuff like that in addition to giving her a sort of doggie massage. She seems to be doing okay (she may also have another tooth problem, but that's another whole story), but I'm keeping an eye on her (with Ryan and Jamie's help- Cassidy has been staying over there because of all the jackhammers and construction work going on at my house).
Well, that's about it for the moment. Like I said- nothing earthshattering to report. Maybe I'll write more later if something springs up.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Thankful to Bush?

Is it possible? There was a pro-Bush rally in D.C. at the Washington monument this week, held to give people an opportunity to thank Bush for... well, anything they could think of that they were thankful to President Bush for. So I've been wondering what I would have to say if I happened to find myself challenged with the task of coming up with some things that Bush has done which I'm actually thankful for.

To my surprise, this morning while I was getting ready for work I came up with the fact that Bush extended daylight savings time, thereby giving us four more weeks with an extra hour of daylight than in previous years. And I like daylight. As a matter of fact, darkness and gloominess sometimes make me depressed (I get ornery when we have too many cloudy days in a row- I wouldn't survive in Seattle), so I do appreciate the sunlight.

So that was pretty good. I came up with one good thing the man did that I've been genuinely happy about, and I was kind of proud of myself.

Then today while I was driving in the car, I heard via the FM radio that Bush is creating three "monument areas" in the Pacific Ocean which will essentially be enviromentally protected zones. Within the monuments, commercial and recreational fishing as well as seafloor mining and oil exploration will be limited. These zones encompass 195,280 square miles. Bush will be setting aside more miles of protected ocean territory than any other leader in history by creating these monuments, including the portion of ocean containing the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot on earth.

Bush preserved a lot of natural habitat and unexplored, unspoiled territory with that action.

What's up with that?

On top of that, even though I found the whole thing fairly ridiculous in terms of economic policy, I have to admit that it was kind of nice to get a free check for $600. I'm not sure how much this $600 stimulated the economy, and I don't really understand why it's a good idea to just mail people checks when the average American's portion of our national debt is somewhere in excess of $30,000, but it was nice to get free money (you guys understand my mixed feelings, right? Kind of liking accepting a generous gift from some well-intentioned, but kind of misfit member of the extended family- you appreciate the gesture, but you're kind of embarrassed and feel guilty at the same time because you know they're sort of broke and really can't afford to be giving money away, plus you get the feeling they might be giving you money in the simple hopes that it might make you like them more). Anyway, I'm pretty sure I used my economic stimulus money to buy my XBox 360 which I've enjoyed a great deal, so I guess that in some way I should be thankful to Bush for that, right?
I mean, all of this stuff stacks up against Bush getting us into a fairly stupid war, eroding civil and human rights (torture, rendition, and illegal wiretap programs spring to mind), generally wreaking havoc on the enviroment, destroying our credibility within the international community, violating the Geneva Convention, voting against humanitarian programs like the children's insurance program, and standing negligently by while the economy worked its way into the crapper. And that's just the stuff on the tip of my tongue (so to speak).
Others will point to the fact that we haven't had a major act of terrorism in our country since 9/11, but I'm just not sold on that. I think our response to 9/11 was disproportional to the event, often aimed at the wrong targets, and of questionable effectiveness. We didn't exactly have a ton of terrorist attakcs before 9/11, so I'm not about to give George a ton of credit for putting a stop to something which may have been (and hopefully was) a relatively isolated incident. It's just too hard to prove a negative, and I'm not sure whether Bush has actually made us much safer, or whether he's just made us more paranoid, xenophobic, and hostile.

Anyway, the president makes LOTS of decisions. I guess I was bound to find a few of them positive (what's that quote about a hundred monkeys writing for a hundred years and eventually producing stuff that sounds like Shakespeare?) In all fairness, there are probably other things that he did which have worked out okay that I can't even think of right now. But I'm equally sure that there are a lot of other things that he did which are disappointing, but which I can't recall at the moment (or that I don't even know about).

I gotta say I'm curious as to the motivation behind the ocean monuments. Word is that even Cheney fought Bush on that. I guess the guy is finally worrying a bit about his legacy and what he's leaving behind for the American people. I'm thankful for the daylight, ocean preserves, and the cash. I'm not so excited about him basically left the country in the ditch. We've got two wars, the economy is cratering, our healthcare system has gaping holes, our energy situation is untenable, and foreigners think we're jerks.

Somehow, though, I can't seem to sustain the anger that I once had towards Bush. He seems like kind of a pathetic dupe at this point (although his arrogance undoubtedly helped contribute to many of these problems). Now I'm busy refocusing my resentment toward Cheney.
Well, I'm sure many of you already saw the game (so I'm preaching to the choir), but the Fiesta Bowl last night in Glendale, Arizona, was a really great game. And I have to admit that I wasn't sure UT had it in them. Ohio State took the lead with 2 minutes and 5 seconds left in the game, taking a 21 to 17 lead against the Longhorns, and I turned to Ryan and Jamie and said, "Now's the kind of time when I really wish Vince Young was still on the team. Colt's good, but I don't think he can get us out of this." But, of course, McCoy managed to maintain his composure and stay calm (even in the "hurry up" offense") and march his team down the field. When he hit Quan Cosby for a 26 yard touchdown pass with only 16 seconds left to play, there was much noisy rejoicing at Steans Manor.
Many Texas fans insist that Texas deserves a co-championship with the winner of the OU-Florida game, a ranking that's a possibility in the Associated Press poll, if not the Coaches poll (where voters are obligated to pick the winner of Florida-OU). To be honest, it's kind of a tough call. Texas didn't really dominate Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, and they looked like they were struggling a bit (especially on offense) during the first half. On the other hand, Texas once again proved that they are masters of rising to the meet almost any challenge, and they once agin proved themselves consistently capable of finding the heart and the stamina to get the job done. (even when the clock is running out, they're playing against a really good team, and they need a touchdown to win) Texas has some issues in regard to rising to meet the level of their challenger (as opposed to just consistently maintaining an exceptionally high level of play), but I think that on any given day you can't count Texas out as being able to beat any other team in the country.
So should it matter how a team wins when considering it for the national title? I guess I think that the most important thing is just how many wins a team has and who beat who. I'm not saying this just because Texas failed to dominate last night, but because I also get tired of seeing teams run up the score against weaker opponents just so that they can make a more formidable impression in the minds of the pollsters when it comes time to decide upon their rankings.
Anyhoo, great game. If nothing else, Texas has preserved the right to continue the debate about whether or not they should share the national title.

Other from that, I don't have too much to report. I'm getting some foundation repair work done on my house, but that's about it. I'm tired today because that darn football game got me all wound up last night, and then I couldn't sleep.

Monday, January 05, 2009

New Year's Resolution

Well, so far 2009 has been sort of a mixed bag. In the minus column we have the death of one of our beloved family pets (my brother's dog, Mel, who was just a really great dog), the cancellation of my brother's New Year's party because Ryan and Jamie were busy taking care of Mel, cedar fever, and a new outbreak of violence in the Middle East. In the plus column have been some very nice times spent with family and friends and a chance to relax, away from work, for a week.

I've been reading over some of my posts from the last year, and I'm having my yearly realization that my blogging is a bit of an arrogant, egocentric activity. I don't exactly have tons of people reading this thing, but I'm sort of shocked that people bother to read this at all. What I'm working my way around to is this- I'd like to express my thanks and sense of wonder to the people who do read this blog on a regular or semiregular basis. I know that some people blog with their audience in mind, constantly striving to keep their readers entertained and searching to find new material to seize their attention. I keep this blog more in the spirit of an online journal or diary. I record my thoughts and kind of keep track of what I'm doing from day to day, but I mostly do it with an eye toward keeping a sort of daily record of my thoughts and activities, and because I find that writing down my thoughts sometimes helps me to process things, gives me an outlet for some pent-up emotions, and helps me reflect a bit on the world around me (in a way that I might not feel compelled to do unless I was writing on a regular basis). In short, my blog is more about keeping a record than about entertaining people.
Anyway, since I know I'm not super engaging a lot of the time, it really means a lot when someone keeps up with the blog. It means, on some level, they're actually interested in what I have to say, and I really don't take that sort of thing for granted.
So, thanks, guys.
I wish all of you a really good 2009. I march into it with some optimism, but more importantly, with a bit of determination to make this as good a year as possible for myself, my family, and my friends. I hope that such a sentiment isn't hubris. I just want to make the best of whatever situation I find myself in. And I wish the same for you.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Goodbye, Mel

My brother lost his golden retriever, Mel, to cancer today. Our whole family and most of our friends really loved Mel. We're a family of dog lovers and we have a strong affection for all of our furry friends, but Mel truly stood out as a great, unique dog who will be truly, deeply missed. He was a gentle, affectionate dog who's favorite thing in the world was to be curled up on the sofa between his owners, Jamie and Ryan. Mel just loved love, and he would usually meet me at the door at Ryan and Jamie's house with a toy in his mouth to share with me. He would almost invariably whine with happiness when you gave him a hug and an ear rub.

Anyway, we'll all miss Mel forever, but he had just about the best life that a dog could hope for while living with Ryan and Jamie. He was truly part of the family, and they all loved each other an awful lot. My heart goes out to Ryan and Jamie. I know that this is going to be very hard on them.

We'll miss you, Mel. You were a really great dog and a good friend.