Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hey! Hope you guys are having a good day.

I don't have much to report. ( I wonder how many times I've reported on this blog that I don't have much to report. Many, many times.)

Cassidy seems to be having some problems with soreness in her front leg, which is sort of problematic when you're a three legged dog and you don't have a different front leg to lean on. She may need to go back to the vet if she isn't doing better today. I hung out with her last night and spent some time encouraging her to hop around the yard (she seems to fair better after moving around a bit, but it's hard to get her going because it seems to cause her discomfort, and she gets tired pretty easily and wants to lie down again). Anyway, I'm worried about her. She's a really good dog.

What else...?

Texas is considering a bill that would allow people to carry handguns on college campuses. Great. We need more guns. I am so tired of this country's gun infatuation (and that goes double for the beloved state that I call home) that it makes me want to pull my hair out. Texans seem to think they're living in an action movie and that they're all John Wayne. I'm not advocating a ban on all guns or anything like that (I think guns in the home are fine for protection, and I certainly don't mind rifles and shotguns for hunting), but I'm pretty darn annoyed by the idea that Texas makes it legal for people to walk around carrying hidden guns, and I certainly don't think we need guns on college campuses. I already have visions in my head of frat boys trying to shoot apples off the heads of pledges and jilted, drunken boyfriends hunting down their romantic competition with guns in their backpacks.

Here's the thing. Virginia Tech and other school shootings might be mitigated to some small degree by an armed student population, but the school shooting phenomenon is not going to be stopped by armed opposition. For one thing, the guy who committed the massacre at Virginia Tech planned his shooting for months in advance (as has been the case with other campus shooters, from what I understand) and was pretty well prepared to carry out his plan. He was dead set on finding a way to do something bad. Arming other students is just going to raise the ante in terms of the kind of weapons people are going to use in these rampages.
Going to give the other students guns? Then the killers are going to start wearing bulletproof vests, carrying automatic weapons, and/or choose to shoot people from a protected location so that they won't be vulnerable to return fire (as occurred in the UT Tower shootings a few decades ago). If that doesn't work, they'll start planting bombs and IEDs if they think the guns of their fellow students might become a problem. The solution should not be an escalation in terms of weaponry.
Plus, do we really want a bunch of students pulling out guns and returning fire on a college campus? We might end up having as many people hit by "friendly fire" as by any the actions of any crazed gunman. Hell, the added challenge of having someone else shooting back might make the whole massacre idea more interesting and challenging, and therefore more attractive, to some of these nutjobs. We just don't know.

And the odds that any given person will ever have a need for a firearm during the course of any given college career is infinitesimally small. The odds, on the other hand, that some drunken, disturbed, armed college student will decide to get even with some guy who embarrassed him at some point is probably much higher. We might be slightly lowering our odds of having a campus massacre (which occurs very infrequently in the first place), but we're significantly increasing the odds that a much greater number of firearm related accidents and confrontations will occur.

I know that there are some people out there who are going to immediately counter this argument by saying that I would feel differently if I had ever been on the receiving end of a gun, but the truth is that I already have been. When I was a freshman in college I went to College Station for bonfire and to hang out with Reed, and I went to a party where one of my friends got jumped, knocked to the ground, and kicked by a bunch of rednecks (it wasn't a fight- they cold cocked him because he was laughing at all of their drunken, Aggie bragging). I tried to break up the fight by starting to pull people away from my friend (who was still on the ground), and the next thing I knew some guy had a pistol pressed against the back of my head. Long story short, this guy yelled at me, taunted me, and cursed at me, and I ignored him completely and walked to my car with this guy following me with a gun in my back the whole way. I got in the car and drove off, but I still remember my hands shaking as I wondered if a bullet was going to come smashing through my back window.
Now what would have happened if I had a gun or if one of my friends had one? Well, probably nothing different, but if this guy had tried this with someone else who had a gun, there's a good chance this crowded party would have turned into the shoot out at the OK Corral. Frankly, it could have turned into a mess that I don't even want to think about.
My feeling about guns is that I understand the desire of the average citizen to keep himself safe. I'm far from convinced, however, most gun advocates are concerned solely about their own safety. There are too many other ways to be safe without having to resort to the use of a gun for most situations (starting with a hasty exit from the situation, but also including calling the cops, using pepper spray, tasers, a good guard dog, etc.). I think that there are a lot of people out there advocating guns who are more worried about their own ego and bothered by the idea of a criminal "getting one over on them" than concerned about safety issues.
As for me, I have never for a moment regretted my decision to walk away from the guy with gun, and I didn't even really care about getting back at him in any way. I figure that if someone is dumb enough to do something like that, their life is going to be filled with a whole lot of pain and disappointment caused by their own ignorant bad decisions, anyway.
Anyway, a big vote against guns on college campuses for me.
It's been a tough couple of weeks for liberals who are concerned about education in Texas. First, creationists won a minor victory by inserting language into Texas textbooks and curriculum which sort of undermines hard science and potentially opens the door for religious doctrine to challenge scientific fact in Texas classrooms. Now we've got a bill proposed which would allow firearms to be carried onto college campuses.
So we're headed toward a heavily armed population which rejects science and intellectualism in favor of religious doctrine. Does anyone thinks this sounds familiar? (I'll give you a hint- think sun, sand, and Koran....)
Ooooohhh well.....
Peace out, guys.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Dancing Through the Darkness

It occurred to me only sometime late Sunday afternoon that I had totally missed the Earth Hour lights out program on Saturday night, during which people around the world were encouraged to turn off their lights and to try not to use electricity for one hour, from 8:30 until 9:30 p.m. (all of this meant to raise awareness about energy conservation).
In retrospect, at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday I was watching the girls of the Red Light Burlesque troop dance and undulate before a set of glaring stage lights out in front of an art gallery in East Austin.
Even though I sympathize with the energy conservation cause, I kinda gotta like the way things turned out. With all of the fear about the environment, the economy, terrorism, and a hundred other things that have been plaguing us lately, it seems somehow symbolic that as the lights went out around the world this weekend, I was completely oblivious to the whole event, focused solely on the gyrations of attractive Austin burlesque dancers, who, I like to think, would have continued to do their thing no matter why the world's lights were being extinguished one by one.
Hi. Hope ya'll had a nice weekend. Mine was good, but seemed like it went by pretty fast.
Friday night I had dinner with Ryan and Jamie. Saturday I helped Mandy a bit with her garage sale, hung out in the backyard listening to music and playing with Cassidy for awhile, and took care of a few errands. Saturday night I went to see Kellie Jo dance with the Red Light Burlesque troop at an art gallery over off of east 11th Street (I'm fairly ashamed to say that I can't remember the exact name of the gallery, but they really did have some pretty cool art- they were serving beer and barbeque in honor of their one year anniversary). Anyway, Kellie (stage name Ruby Rockit) was really good, as were her friends. It was great to finally see them perform. I've been hearing about the burlesque dancing for years now.
Sunday I had breakfast with Ryan and Jamie, and then they brought Lucy over to hang out with Cassidy for awhile. I'm not really sure where Sunday went (there was also a fair amount of Resident Evil 5 in there somewhere). Sunday night the band practice that we had scheduled fell apart in the 11th hour, so I went to see I Love You, Man with Team Steans plus Matt.
I'm not going to do a full blown review, but Love You was a kind of strange movie. It was basically working off the formula for a romantic comedy, but the central theme of the movie centered around this guy who was trying to develop at least one strong, platonic friendship with another guy (he overhears his fiance's friends talking about being troubled by the fact that he doesn't have any male friends of his own). The movie was pretty funny, but I kept wondering what kind of guy would write this kind of script. The whole approach that the protagonist had toward making friends seemed kind of artificial and strange (i.e., "man dates"?), but I guess not altogether implausible. The other thing I found weird about the movie was Jon Favreau's character. He was a pretty big a*#hole, whose behavior bordered upon the abusive in dealing with his wife. The couple seemed to keep going through a sort of "lighthearted" version of the whole domestic violence cycle (i.e., repeated fights where they were cursing at each other and generally just showing a lot of personal disrespect, followed by what we were told was good make up sex), but I found the whole thing (and the film's attitude toward the subject) a tad bit creepy-especially when we're eventually told that the couple is expecting a baby, and we're supposed to be happy for them after they've done nothing but fight for the entire movie. Maybe it's because I worked in a domestic violence court for awhile, but it just kind of weirded me out a bit.
Overall, though, it was a pretty funny movie.
I also watched NBC's Kings again last night. For those of you who haven't seen it, Kings is a sort of modern day tale of royalty and palace intrigue (in the fictional nation of Gilboa) loosely based around the biblical story of David and Goliath. Kings clearly runs the risk of degenerating into a simple soap opera, but so far it's kind of an interesting study in Machiavellian politics, family dysfunction, and the weight of nearly limitless power (which, as always, comes with all kinds of strings attached). Ian McShane has been doing a good job of creating an interesting king, thus far, and Christopher Egan is doing a pretty good job as protagonist David Shepherd.
I'm still kind of unsure about this show, but at least it has an interesting, fresh premise, and on that basis alone I'm willing to give it a chance. Strangely enough, I also have come to recognize that I'm kind of a sucker for movies about royalty and ruling class families (this is part of why I was so drawn in by Frank Herbert's Dune books). There's something about putting people up on a throne and giving them power that sort of makes their stories that much more interesting when they start struggling with their natural human fallibilities.
But these stories can just turn into normal, boring soap operas if not handled correctly (if they become too entangled upon the personal lives of the royal players without regard for the broader impact their actions are having upon their subjects), so we'll see how Kings ends up faring in this regard.
And so that was my weekend, and it flew by way too fast.


News broke last night that GM CEO Rick Wagoner is resigning after being asked to "step aside" by the Obama administration. GM has already received part of a $17.4 billion bailout package that was given to GM and Chrysler, but upon a review of GM's turnaround efforts, the Obama administration has found the restructuring to be lacking and has asked for Wagoner's resignation as part of the overall attempt to return the company to profitability.
So this is gonna freak some people out. People were already pretty wary (some outright upset) about the government lending taxpayer money to these failing auto companies, but having the White House essentially fire the CEO of a company (albeit a company whose existence is reliant upon government money) feels like government involvement with private sector affairs on a level that we've rarely seen (or at least not without some accusation of criminal misconduct of some sort).
I've been reading proclamations and headlines in the media for at least a month or so now claiming that our nation was moving toward an economic system that looks more and more like socialism. I've been mostly blowing those arguments off as sensational and a bit outlandish. After all, some companies have been receiving infusions of cash from the federal government, but this seemed like a very short term , stopgap measure exercise only because we're facing such an unusual economic emergency- and the government intrusion seemed pretty minimal other than lending out the needed money.
But having the federal government come in and fire a guy who's been with a company for over 30 years (8 or 9 as CEO) seems different. This decision kind of drives home the point that if these companies are going to be receiving government money, then they need to prepare themselves for the fact that the government is going to be exercising an active, hands-on role in deciding how the company is going to be run.
I'm not saying that the activities of the Obama administration aren't equitable in this case (after all, if you're willing to take another person's money, it's probably only fair that the entity making the investment have some control), but I will say that this course of action represents a marked departure from our normal tradition of avoiding government intrusion in private sector business, and I think this whole turn of events is really going to alarm some of our hardcore capitalists (and I have to admit that I'm not a hardcore capitalist. On the whole, I think capitalism is a good thing, but I also think it has some serious flaws in terms of exploitation of people, incentives for individuals or small groups which run contrary to the overall public good, and so forth and so on). But I can see how people will be upset by government management of private sector businesses, and I think that Obama is walking a very dangerous tightrope in this area- trying to balance the need for protecting the goverment's investment against the fear that the goverment will assume control of major businesses, effectively nationalizing them or turning them into de facto government agencies.
It's gonna be an interesting couple of days as we watch the reaction of the business world to this turn of events.
Also, let's give a quiet, cautious hooray for the people of Fargo as the floodwaters of the Red River slowly begin to subside. The waters haven't dropped to their normal levels yet, meaning residents are still carefully watching their levies for signs of erosion or imminent collapse, and the forecast includes the possibility of rain and snow which could put the river on the rise again, but so far the flooding has remained somewhat manageable, with a relatively small number of homes and buildings damaged where levies have given way.
Kind of helps you keep your daily inconveniences in perspective when you see a town battling to keep a river from washing it away.
Well, that's all I've got.
Hope this is the beginning of a good week for everyone.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Friday, March 27, 2009

Happy Friday, kids!
So North Korea is planning on launching some kind of missile sometime over the next couple of weeks. I guess the question is whether they're really trying to put a satellite into orbit (as they claim) or whether they're testing out a ballistic missile with some kind of warhead attached to it (which is the possibility that's making everyone else- especially their neighbor, Japan- nervous). Japan has moved missile interceptor boats into areas bordering on North Korea, and nations ranging from the U.S. to Russia have joined in formally expressing disapproval (asserting violations of U.N. treaty) and requesting that North Korea abandon the launch.
The whole thing really brings back some warm, fuzzy memories of the cold war, doesn't it? Remember that era when we felt a close bond with our fellow Americans because it seemed like we could all be nuked and die together in a fiery apocalypse at a moment's notice? Ahhh, those were the days. Nothing draws people together like a common enemy- especially one that with nukes (or, in the case of North Korea, one which has a good possibility of having nukes).
Anyway, let's all keep our fingers crossed and just hope that the North Koreans are just trying to put a satellite in orbit. They're long overdue in demanding their MTV, after all.
And Fargo, North Dakota, is apparently bracing to have the hurt put on them by the floodwaters of the Red River. Last night on the news they were showing the town's residents racing to build sandbag levies and make other preparations for what is supposed to be a record breaking flood. People on the other side of the river in Moorhead, Minnesota, have apparently already been told to evacuate.
Gotta feel bad for those folks. Apparently the weather service has made ominous predictions about the fact that the flood may reach levels that have been previously unseen.
If this global warming stuff turns out to have the consequences that have been predicted (and I have no reason to believe that we aren't going to see at least some consequences from global warming), then it seems like we're going to just keep seeing more and more of these extreme weather phenomena striking various areas at a faster and faster rate. It seems like our hurricanes are becoming more frequent, our storms nastier, and even here in Central Texas we're being struck with a pretty nasty drought (although we've gotten a bit of rain over the last couple of weeks, so I don't want to jinx that).
Anyway, maybe I'm just being paranoid and seeing patterns emerging where none exist, but it feels like things are changing a bit in terms of the weather.
Guess that's it for now. If something interesting comes up later, I'll write about it then. If not, have a good weekend!!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hullo. Hope this post finds you doing well.
Last night I watched a couple of episodes of Lost. That show manages to remain just interesting enough to keep me engaged, but ofetn doesn't feel very gratifying (and it doesn't help to know that they are planning to continue to drag out the show's mysteries for a number of additional years).
You know what? I just deleted about a page and half critique of Lost (which mostly hyperanalyzed the plot techniques of using time travel and flashbacks to keep viewers off balance, but which, arguably, makes it impossible to ever really have well defined characters) because I actually do mostly enjoy the show. There may be things to pick apart about it, but it's better than a good percentage of the other shows on TV. Mostly I'm just annoyed at the fact that the show has been going on for so long, occasionally meandering plot-wise, but always kind of taking advantage of the "hide-the-ball" technique in terms of the various mysteries of the island.
I think that after watching years of X-Files I'm just sort of wary of shows that drag out their mysteries and secrets. The final payoff is too frequently unsatisfying.
Maybe I'm just finding it a little tiresome because I don't have any crushes on characters the way Ryan does with Juliet or Jamie does with Sayid.
And what else....?
The Republicans, sensing that they have begun to open themselves to criticism by way of constantly being adversarial but rarely offering solutions, have declared that they have come up with their own budget proposal which will be unveiled next week. Few have gotten a look at the
Republican proposal, but White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has already commented on it, saying that it contains more pictures of windmills than charts or graphs, and very few actual numbers.
Personally, I'm glad the GOP has come up with their own budget proposal. If they have good ideas, that's good (hey, we'll take 'em wherever we can find 'em!), and if they don't have good ideas, at least the GOP idea deficit might mean that people will realize that the issues facing our country are going to be extraordinarily difficult to deal with, especially without spending some money (and, personally, I'm happy that at least Obama is spending money trying to solve problems rather than spending money creating problems the way that the Bush administration had done. What's the price tag on that mess over in Iraq, anyway?).

So that's it. Have a good one!!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Obama, the Media, and the Intelligence of American Viewers

I watched Obama's press conference and thought he did a really good job. Frankly, it's pretty amazing to have a president get up there and speak with charisma, eloquence, and an amazing command of the facts, figures, logic, and philosophy behind the policy decisions that he's making, especially after the last eight years (Bush mostly avoided press conferences altogether, and when he gave them, he had little to offer other than bad grammar and an extraordinarily superficial understanding of GOP talking points).
The media coverage of the president's performance after the press conference was pretty ridiculous. Fox News immediately jumped on the criticism that the president was boring and that he delved too much into policy and detailed explanations of his policies (really, Bill O'Reilly? You think the president's job is to be entertaining for the American people? Maybe he should tap dance next time as he talks to reporters. Come to think of it, entertainment isn't even really supposed to be a newsperson's job, leat alone the president's...) while Anderson Cooper's big insight over on CNN was that the president looked sort of tired (what a shock. The guy has been working round the clock for 60 days trying to solve what might be the biggest economic crisis in the nation's history, and you're surprised that he doesn't look well rested?). Also, the press tried to make some kind of hullabaloo about the fact that the president sounded a bit annoyed when answering one reporter's question, an inquiry about why the president didn't express more immediate outrage upon learning about AIG bonuses that were paid out of taxpayer bailout money. The president's terse response was that he thought it was a good idea to know what he was talking about before speaking on a matter publicly, and frankly, I think that's a pretty good policy (when the American people are already busy gathering up their torches and pitchforks, it's probably a good idea to have cooler heads prevailing in leadership. The president may have taken some time to try to get the facts in finding out if his administration was an integral part of the screw up in this deal, but I think that's perfectly understandable, too). I think the president was largely annoyed with the question for the same reason that I found it annoying- it wasn't really a question so much as a thinly veiled accusation, and it seemed geared toward self promotion by the reporter who asked it by way of fanning the flames of false, partisan controversy. After eight years of a Republican administration who often refused to even discuss extremely important policy matters, I don't really fault the president for investigating a matter for a day and a half before getting back to us.
Anyway, my main point is that the press are so nervous about appearing to be "in the tank" with Obama that they are bending over backward to find ways to criticize him. Granted, I understand that it's the job of the press to be the watchdog of government and to keep politicians honest (and their work transparent) as they go about their jobs, but I'm getting tired of the lack of objectivity. It seems like the modern American media does little more than overcompensate these days in their eagerness to show how "objective" they are. What happened to just trying to report the facts as they appear? Why do we constantly need a hundred pundits constantly interpretting reality for us, anyway? There was a quote once on one of my favorite shows, The Wire, in which a character comments on the media by saying, "A lie ain't a side of the story. It's just a lie." Today's journalists would do well to keep that quote in mind as they go about their work. The job of journalists isn't to try to provide some sort of political or moral balance to the world by trying to convey opposing viewpoints as fact. The job of reporters is to seek out the truth and to report it as objectively as possible. The moral and political fallout of that erporting should be left to people other than journalists, but when reporters feel the need to try to provide "balance" in their reporting, there is a temptation to spin facts in a way that may not be accurate in order to present a story as "fair". Fiarness is not the job of reporters. Presenting reality is the job of reporters.
Also, the reporters last night went on and on about how complicated the president's dialogue was and about how most Americans weren't going to have understood large parts of it. Well, I understood every word, and I'm pretty sure that most all of my friends and family would have understood it as well. I'm just really tired of the media assuming that Americans are idiots, and I've got to say that if we're all as dumb as TV journalists seem to think we are, then this country is screwed, anyway, because we're not going to be able to compete against industrialized nations that have an educated, intelligent population (and workforce) which can understand issues requiring an insight slightly higher than that possessed by your typical 2nd or 3rd grader (and this issue isn't just limited to news media- we had an entire discussion the other night at Jamie's birthday party about the fact that the BBC and other European television stations give their audience much more credit for their intelligence when writing dramas, comedies, and other programs. They seem to endeavor under the foolhardy notion that people can actually follow complex plots from time to time or tolerate nuanced character development and storytelling.)
Anyway, I think that part of the reason the news media seems to underestimate the intelligence of their audience is that such a depiction helps them to validate their own existence. It's a lot easier to justify the need for constant analysis and opinion projection when you've convinced yourself that your audience isn't capable of understanding these things or forming an opinion about it on their own. When you see your audience as a bunch of numbskulls, you can try to paint all of that criticism, analysis, and editorializing as a form of "education". When you see your audience as knowledgeable equals who really only need you to provide them with objective facts, you start to look a lot more like a blowhard.
And I'm not saying there's no place for analysis, editorializing, and discussion. These things help to spur very important, hopefully constructive debate. The issue that I have is with the confluence of news reporting and editorializing, with the ever eroding difference between an attempt at objective reporting and editorialization in news media. Opinions seem to be reported as fact with ever increasing regularity, and little distinction is drawn between objective reporting of historical events that are occurring in the world as compared to opinion and spin on those facts (e.g., Bill O'Reilly reporting on his "No Spin Zone" program immediately after the press conference that the president just gave a "boring press conference" which "people won't be able to understand". Someone remind me how in the hell anything O'Reilly has ever done constitutes a "no spin zone"? It's really not even good analysis, but that's a whole different discussion).
Oh well, I gotta go, and I'm almost ranted out, anyway. Hope you guys have a good one.
Make sure to scan down one post and read up about Jamie's birthday! Once again, happy birthday, Jamie!!!

Happy Birthday, Jamie!

So today is Jamie's birthday! (Jamie is my sister-in-law for those of you who don't know me, but just happened to stumble onto this blog after Googling the phrase, "pointless writings of sexy men"). Jamie is 34 this year (I'm pretty sure), and Ryan and Jamie had a nice little get together for her on Saturday night. I'm told that Jamie was sort of sick yesterday, so I hope that she's feeling better today. If you want to wish Jamie a happy birthday, you can leave a comment on my blog, but it would probably be better to leave a comment on Jamie's own blog, which I have provided a handy link to here.

Anyway, Jamie's a good person and a great sister-in-law, and we're lucky to have her in the family. She's a very patient person (which comes in handy with the Steans clan), and she has a great sense of humor (she has a surprisingly quick wit beneath that mild mannered exterior). She not only puts up with a lot of the fanboy nonsense that goes on in our family (and I'm not just talking about Ryan- I've also been known to totally geek out over superheroes, sci-fi, and so forth), but she even seems to genuinely enjoy many of the same shows and books and stuff that Ryan and/or I get into.

Mostly, I know that Jamie probably got a whole lot more brother-in-law than she expected when she married Ryan. We've lived in close proximity to one another for many of the years that they've been together (both before and after Ryan and Jamie got married) and we spend a lot of time together (we share a lot of meals together and just hang out a lot together). Jamie has been very accepting and welcoming of me that entire time, and I'm grateful for that. I feel very fortunate to have her in our family.

Happy birthday, Jamie!! Hope you're feeling better and hope you have a great day!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Howdy. Tuesday. Kind of dreary outside. And I don't have too much to say.

There was a good column in Time Magazine this week by Joe Klein which is about all of the outrage over the AIG bonuses and the anger and impatience surrounding Obama's economic recovery plan. Klein basically just tries to remin everyone that this economic donwturn was a long time in the making, and that people need to have patience with President Obama as he tries to institute a recovery. He also tries to remind people who are angry about the cost of the recovery plan that their anger should be directed toward the irresponsibility in corporate leadership which created this mess, not toward the president, who didn't really want to inherit this problem, isn't happy about having to drive the country deeper into debt, and who is really just trying to implement the most logical, effective mechanism that he can in the attempt to revive the economy as quickly as possible. (and this downturn could potentially cost us a lot more in the long run if nothing is done about it) Tax cuts alone probably won't fix things because people and businesses will just pocket the money, keeping it in savings to ride out the hard times until they see things getting better (which won't help in terms of unfreezing the economy).
Anyway, Klein's plea is for patience and a redirection of people's anger. People who are at angry at Obama, though, are probably mostly looking for something to be angry with him about (I think that a large number of the people who are angry at Obama are mostly just trying to come up with reasons to justify their anger about having such a popular Democratic president- so asking people to redirect their anger is, in effect, actually a more optimistic view than what I think is going on. I think the anger is already being redirected by people who want to do so, but that redirected anger is being pointed toward the president rather than providing for a reexamination of the business and economic practices that got us to this point in the first place). Anyway, it's a short column, but Klein brings up some good points.
I guess that's it. Seems like kind of a lame post. I'll try to do better next time.

Monday, March 23, 2009

So the weekend was pretty good. These pictures are from Jamie's birthday party get together on Saturday night (her actual birthday is Wednesday).

Lucy gets some love. She's such an introvert.

Ryan reveals his true superpower.

Shoemaker, Ryan, Jamie, and Doug rap in the kitchen while Juan pontificates in the foreground.

Nicole and Jamie chat with Lettie (that's her knee) while Heather entertains Steven Harms and others.

Lauren and Heather out on the porch.

Watching UT lose a pretty close one to Duke.
Anyway, I had a three day weekend, and it was pretty good. Friday I tried to do downtown to see some SXSW day shows, but it was crowded and I couldn't find a place to park after driving around for a long time, so I left and went to Barton Springs (and it turned out to be a great day for Barton Springs). Friday night I watched the Battlestar Galactica series finale with reed and Chris. Saturday I had breakfast with Ryan and Jamie and then ran a few errands. Saturday night I went over to their house for Jamie's party. Sunday I had brunch with my folks, did some laundry, and spent some time just chillaxin' in my backyard with Cassidy, my iPod and some magazines (I had just downloaded Death Cab for Cutie's Narrow Stairs, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Those guys write really simple, straightforward stuff, but somehow it's usually pretty catchy.) Sunday night I went and had dinner with Team Steans and Doug (Jamie's brother).
So a good weekend, all in all. I got to hang out with some fun people, catch up with my folks a bit, and enjoy some beautiful Austin spring weather.
Sounds like I'm going with my dad, and possibly my mom, on a trip to London in the early summer (hope I'm not jinxing it somehow). I've never been to London before, so if any of you guys have some "can't miss" suggestions for me, I'd love to hear them. Should be a fun trip!!
Well, my allergies are bothering me a bit this morning and I've got a bit of a headache (maybe I shouldn't have left all of the windows open at my house yesterday with all of this oak pollen in the air, but it was so nice yesterday...), so I'm signing off.
Hope this is the start of a good week for everyone.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Battlestar Galactica Wrap Up

Warning: there are some spoilers in here about Battlestar Galactica as a whole. If you haven't seen the series, go out and rent it before reading this. Or don't. Heck- maybe this review will be so good that it will make you want to watch the whole thing. But maybe not.
So Battlestar Galactica's series finale was on last night. For those of you who don't watch it, Battlestar Galactica has been a really good TV show that has been hugely successful in both a critical and popular sense. I'm a big fan of the show and have been watching it since it kicked off with its original miniseries. It's been said over and over again, but bears repeating, that the show really does transcend the typical science fiction genre, and the series has consistently had a lot to say about a number of social, political, religious, and spiritual issues issues, and much time has been spent examining the question of human nature and existential questions regarding the meaning of life itself. (the show also finds time to have well developed characters and some decent action scenes, so people shouldn't be entirely scared off by all of this heavy stuff)
As for the series finale, it was not necessarily an ending that was entirely solid on a concrete, logical level in every detail (the refugees are going to go out and minlge and breed with a bunch of caveman-like humans? Really? I just wanna know who wants to be the first one to take one of these cavemen on a date...), but BSG has always been more about metaphor and allegory than about concrete details, and the finale provided an ending for the individual characters that made a great deal of sense in terms of the overall story arcs for those characters, and it gave viewers a pretty good resolution in terms of some of the overall themes of the show. For quite a while now BSG has seemed largely concerned with some very large existential questions, and has looked in a number of directions for answers. The show is almost purposely vague in a lot of ways so that people can interpret it in a number of ways. And sure enough, people have read the show in countelss different ways. I've read everything from an argument that BSG is a symbolic tale of early Mormonism- the writer of the original series was a Mormon, and many viewers of the show, especially of the original series, saw the flight of the human refugees away from cylon genocide as a metaphor for the flight of the Mormons to Utah under the guidance of Brigham Young- to, more recently, a sort of parable about the housing mortgage crisis and the plight of Americans who have lost their homes. Post 9/11 themes have been woven in, with plotlines involving terrorism, religious extremism, the limits of governmental power during war, patriotism, and the meaning of loyalty to one's people.
Personally, I think that one of the biggest metaphors on the show is revealed in the opening theme song, the verses of which are taken from a Hindu text, the Rig Veda. To quote the IMDB trivia section on the topic: " The opening theme song for seasons one, two, and three is a famous Hindu mantra, the Gayatri Mantra, taken from the Rig Veda. The words are 'OM bhûr bhuvah svah tat savitur varçnyam bhargô dçvasya dhîmahi dhiyô yô nah pracôdayât', which may be translated in various ways but means approximately 'may we attain that excellent glory of Savitar the God / so May he stimulate our prayers'."
Hindu ideals and metaphysics have run strongly thoughout the course of the show, but have become especially pronounced within the last season. The idea that history is repeating itself has become a central theme of the show, and viewers are repeatedly reminded that "All of this has happened before. All of this will happen again." (Cylons realize that they have been repeatedly resurrected and regenerated for thousands of years, the missing "earth" colony that Galactica seeks is eventually revealed as a burned out, nuked wasteland where a war similar to the one currently being waged by cylons and humans has already played out in cataclysmic fashion, and a number of characters, both human and cylon, realize that their existence has continued long past the point of their "death").
One of the central tenets of Hinduism is samsara, a cycle of birth, death, action, reaction, rebirth, etc.. Hinduism strongly involves the notion of reincarnation, the idea of karma, and the concept that only by attaining enlightenment, or nirvana (i.e., universal selflessness and an understanding of the unity of all existence), can a person break the cycle that is samsara and attain unity with the cosmic spirit, the Brahman, which can bring about lasting serenity and peace.
In the last season or so of BSG, it has been revealed that the human and the cylons have been trapped in a repeating cycle of slavery, warfare, and genocide for a millenia (humans have repeatedly evolved to create robotic cylon slaves which have invariably revolted and waged vicious wars against their makers. Sometimes the cylons have enslaved and battled one another. The details may be different, but the civilizations seem to keep ending in some sort of apocalyptic war, and the process, and the cycle, starts over once everyone is pretty much destroyed). As in Hindu teachings, the characters on Battlestar Galactica seem to have pretty much come to understand that their only hope for stopping this cycle of destruction is to come to an understanding and a belief that both cylons and humans are, in actuality, siblings in some sort of grand, universal whole. Only once the humans and the cylons come to understand and coexist with one another can the fighting stop and the cycle be broken (thus creating the lasting serenity and peace of the Hindu nirvana).
The series finale sort of initially leads us to believe that the cycle of war may finally be over and that peace may finally have been attained (the characters from the show end up settling in what seems to be a 150,000 year old version of what is presumeably our "earth"- named after the burned out cylon planet the refugees had previously discovered), but some of the final images of this last chapter include video of the robots and computers that exist within our modern, current, recognizeable earth, and we are left with the suggestion that these machines represent cylon precursors- thus implying that the cycle of man/machine violence continues and that we, the viewers, are also trapped within it.
Now, I'm not here to say that BSG is exclusively about Hindu teachings (the show has gone out of its way to include a number of religious ideologies, including classical gods of Greek mythology and references to a the singular God and angels of Christianity, and the show has many social and political themes outside of religion), but I probably would go so far as to claim that Hindu teachings are pivotal to the plot and themes of BSG.
Insofar as BSG pontificates and ponders over religion and spirituality in a universe filled with high technology and scientific achievement, I would say that it, once again, is very much a product of our times. We live in an era where religion isn't dead, but it certainly is undergoing some major transformations. People seem to have a harder and harder time believing in the sort of storybook type deities that traditional religion has provided us with, but we still have a tremendous amount of spirituality, yearning, and belief that there is something or someone out there who is much more powerful than ourselves. We're no longer entirely comfortable with many of our more traditional religious notions, but we have yet to decide exactly what we should be replacing them with. People (okay not all of them, but some) in our day and age seem to often have a hard time believing literally in religious scripture (metaphor and symbolism being something else), but we can't shake the feeling that there is something out there which is guiding the movement of the universe.
Anyway, I don't want to go too far off the deep end here (which I'm more than capable of- I have a philosophy degree that does little more than prove that fact), but as a general statement, I think BSG has been deeply involved with themes of destiny, higher power, and a supreme being since its beginning, and I think it's pretty telling that most of the characters on the show aren't really sure what to believe (even when faced with some pretty solid evidence that they are part of an extraordinary chain of events).
Battlestar Galactica. Good show. One of the best frakking things on TV during its era (I would probably say it was almost certainly the best on during its run, but some of that time period overlapped with The Wire, so I gotta keep that in mind).
Rent it if you haven't watched it. Most people will get hooked. The show isn't without some minor flaws, but very rarely do we see a show swing for the fence with this much force and succeed so mightily with most of its episodes.
So thanks for the memories, Battlestar, and smooth sailing to everyone who worked on it.
So say we all.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Jason's Addiction

My friend Chris has recently been giving me the hard press about going to see Jane's Addiction on what is apparently going to be a new tour with Nine Inch Nails. My initial reaction was, "no way". Jane's Addiction was one of the favorite bands of my youth, from when I was about 17 or 18 until I was 20 or so. I listened to their first three albums a whole lot, and knew just about every note of every song. Their concerts at City Coliseum and at the first Lollapalooza are amongst my best memories from that period of time.
Sometime after that first Lollapalooza, though, Eric Avery, the bass player left the band (and he was one of the most central figures in the band- the bassline carries the melody in lots of Jane's Addiction songs while the guitar kind of explodes in pyrotechnic curly cues). There have been other variations of Jane's Addiction with a number of different lineups (some with some good musicians like Flea), but none of them ever seemed to have the energy, uniqueness, or cohesiveness of the original lineup.
So the answer was easy.
"Jane's Addiction has never been the same since Eric Avery left the band. I'm not interested."
So then Chris sent me this. Apparently Jane's Addiction played with their original lineup at a not-so-secret "secret show" at South by Southwest Thursday night, thereby pretty much confirming (or going a long way towards confirming) the strong rumor that Jane's Addiction is going to play with their original lineup on this Nine Inch Nails tour.
I find myself feeling weird about the whole thing. Conflicted. I definitely loved the Jane's Addiction of my youth, and I realize that these are the same guys, playing the same songs, but somehow I'm having a hard time feeling excited about it. In fact, somehow I feel a little bummed.
I think part of it is the fact that Jane's Addiction is a band that I still strongly connect with a certain time and place in my life. There was a long time in my youth when I would have been overjoyed to see Eric Avery rejoin Jane's Addiction and for these guys to put out some new albums. But Jane's Addiction is a band that I relate to a period of my life when I was stumbling in and out of mosh pits, covered with other people's sweat and the smell of patchouli oil. Jane's Addiction was a band that, to me, sort of symbolized a particular youth subculture at a particular time period. At the time, Jane's Addiction felt like they were pouring gasoline on the mainstream culture and lighting a match. By point of comparison, I tend to wonder if this is what fans of bands like The Who, a band who definitely identified themselves with a certain youth counterculture of their day (i.e., after all, The Who were the ones who told sang about hoping to die before they got old when they sang "My Generation"), felt as their beloved band got older and older, eventually having to replace Keith Moon, but still continuing to play. As with Jane's Addiction, it's not really the band's fault- they continue to put on high quality shows and strong performances (although I do have some questions about why they're doing this now. Did the California mortgage crisis leave some of the guys in a pinch? And Perry Farrell has been notoriously willing to commercially exploit aritstic ideas for a long time). Mostly it's just that the music feels out of place, or more specifically, in the wrong time.
And it's not necessarily a bad thing that these guys are still playing. It's not them- it's me. I'm happy that younger fans are getting a chance to hear their music live. But right now, maybe because Jane's Addiction hasn't recorded a new album with the original lineup (they're just playing all of their old, classic material- which does contain a bunch of songs that I love), it feels like they're more about putting on a travelling museum showcase of a period of musical time that once was rather than working as a living, breathing band that's still active, dynamic, and relevant. It just makes me sort of feel old. I'm not going to go charging back into any mosh pits, but it's going to feel weird to go to a Jane's Addiction show and stand in the back of the crowd with the old farts.
I mean, I have to admit that I don't drive around with "Three Days" or "Mountain Song" blasting out of my speakers as I roll to work most mornings these days (okay- every once ina blue moon, but mostly only when I really need something rollicking that can wake me up). I haven't moved into the Lawrence Welk period of my life, but my tastes have changed. And I think that's a good thing. I'm not as angry or angsty as I was at 18 or 19 (or at least I show it and channel it in different ways), and so it makes sense that the same music doesn't provide the soundtrack for my life that it did in those days. I still love rock and roll, and I still love hearing new, different sounds that surprise me and catch me off guard, but the visceral howl of Jane's Addiction is something that I related to the most strongly when I was younger, less sure of who I was, and (and this one's mildly depressing- or maybe just amusing) a lot more cocky in my confidence that both myself and my generation were going to turn the world on it's ear (incidentally, I still believe in the power of my generation to change the world- it just seems a lot more difficult when you get older and start to realize how much heavy lifting is involved).
Anyway, I may go see the reunited Jane's Addiction yet, but maybe I just needed to talk this thing out with some blog therapy (so if you've made it reading this far, kudos, because clearly this was mostly about me just thinking this out). I don't want to be an old fuddy duddy, but I don't think my feelings on this are entirely invalid, either (hopefully). On the other hand, I still dig the music (even if it doesn't make it into the iPod rotation as often as it used to), and I have that nagging feeling of being afraid of missing something potentially cool.
I don't want to go see Nine Inch Nails very much, though. I like Trent Reznor's albums and think, in particular, he comes up with some interesting rhythms for his melodies, but in my opinion they've never been that great in concert (unless you have a thing for hanging out with goth kids and seeing disturbing film video shown on a big screen for two hours while watching guys play along with sequencers and click tracks).
Aarrgh! Oh well. We'll see.
Today is my day off, so I'm not going to spend much of it blogging! Hope you guys have a great weekend!!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hi. Not sure what to talk about today. The weather is beautiful, and SXSW is in full swing here in the ATX. Downtown, the streets are crowded full of music tourists (I went to Doc's for lunch with some of the people from my office, and I'm about 95% sure we saw Ethan Suplee wander past our table, and then I almost got sideswiped on the way back from lunch by some tourist who was trying to snap pictures out of her car window while driving across the Congress Street bridge), and things have definitely taken on their usual busy, bustling, chaotic, SXSW air. I definitely have a love/hate relationship with the festival (yes, yes- welcome to our town!! You like it? Great! I hope you have a good time and spend lots of money. Hurry up and go home so we can have our roads and parking spaces back, though, and don't even think of selling your overpriced California home and moving here). SXSW often seems to take place during some of the nicest weather of the year, when the temperatures are great, all of the plants are blooming, and things seem sort of perfect in our capital city. I wonder how many people have moved here on the basis of their experiences during SXSW, only to ask themselves what the hell they've gotten themselves into five months later when the temperatures are consistently hitting 110 degrees and the landscape is sort of burnt out and brown.
Austin is great, but it's not California, and it's not always for the faint of heart.

Simon and Garfunkel are reuniting for some concerts, although at the moment they're only scheduled for shows in Asia and Australia. I'm sure that North American tour dates will be released if things go well at these initial shows (I would bet they're sort of testing the waters, more in terms of whether or not they can still pull off their songs musically than whether or not there's a demand. I have no doubt that there's a demand, but they're probably not too anxious to go out and embarrass themselves if they aren't going to be able to perfrom well). I like some of the old Simon and Garfunkel stuff, so I'll keep my eye on developments. I'm a little wary of some of these oldtimer reunion shows, but if the music sounds good, the music sounds good.

And apparently a former Bush administration official, Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, has come forward with claims that many current and former Guantanamo Bay inmates are innocent (i.e., not terrorists). Wilkerson wrote a sort of editorial post on a website called The Washington Note this week in which he describes the policies through which prisoners were screened for transfer to Guantanamo Bay, criticizing the procedures for failing to provide almost any kind of vetting in deciding whether or not detainees should be sent to the prison. Wilkerson goes on to describe the sort of "mosaic" theory that the Bush administration was operating under, in which detainees who were clearly identified as non-terrorists were nonetheless sent to Gitmo in the hopes of gaining knowledge or intelligence from them- oftentimes for reasons no more definitive than the fact that the detainee resided near a battle site or terrorist stronghold (Rumsfeld, in particular, is attributed with having favored a general policy of transferring prisoners to Guantanamo for interrogation with little or no concern for whether the detainee was an actual terrorist). Wilkerson claims that intelligence officials were far more concerned with interrogating people in order to acquire information for their databases than with worrying about whether inmates had actually done anything wrong. Wilkerson claims that only about two dozen of the over 800 men who have been held at Guantanamo Bay were actually terrorists (about 240 men currently remain), and he states that his former boss, Secretary of State Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, fought very hard for policy changes regarding the release of prisoners who were accused of little or no wrongdoing and who had virtually no intelligence value. Wilkerson goes on to claim that Powell's objections largely fell on deaf ears within the Bush administration, mostly due to political factors relating to maintaining public support for the war on terror.
Arrrgh. This is one of those posts that I almost hope isn't really true, just because it's too depressing. The idea that the Bush administration had our forces capturing innocent foreign nationals and imprisoning them in U.S. facilities simply to gain intelligence is very, very troubling. And the fact that many of these people probably didn't even have any helpful information to offer just makes the whole thing absurd to the point of insanity.
I know that Obama doesn't favor hearing or investigations into the actions of the Bush administration, and I'm a big fan of the "bygones", forgive and forget school of moving forward myself, but this sort of thing is just inexcusable if it occurred in the manner that Wilkinson is suggesting.
I know that hard choices have to be made when you're fighting a war (even if it's a misguided war in the first place), but when Colin Powell tells you that you're going way too far, you probably ought to listen.
War criminals. That's who was running our country for the last 8 years. War criminals.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hey, everybody! Hope your hump day is going well.

My birthday yesterday was really nice (and I'm taking the day off on Friday, so I still have that to look forward to). Yesterday DK took me out to lunch and Debra, my paralegal, made me a cake! Last night I talked to my parents on the phone and went out to dinner with some of my friends (Team Bloom, Andy & Rami, Mandy, Team Steans, Jennifer, Reed, Nicole, and Stephanie, who had the good sense to come charging into the restaurant in an inflatable sumo wrestler outfit while loudly singing happy birthday). Dinner was really nice last night, and then today Kim and Jennifer took me to lunch, so apparently the birthday magic just keeps on going! Anyway, I want to thank my friends and family for making my birthday so great. I'm truly very lucky to have ya'll in my life, and my birthday wouldn't have been the same without you.

In other news, last night I got my first chance to listen to the new U2 CD, No Line on the Horizon, when Reed came over. I was interested in hearing it because reviews have been everything from fairly poor (kind of unsurprisingly from the notoriously persnickety, perpetually college radio oriented Pitchfork, but also from the more mainstream Time Magazine) to absolutely glowing (Rolling Stone).
In the interest of being fair, I'll admit that I didn't sit down and listen to the entire album note for note (Reed was over, so we were talking about stuff, although there were times when we just shut up and listened to the music- especially when a song sounded particularly different or interesting).
Anyhoo, I thought the album was a fairly solid effort by U2, but probably not among their top albums. The album bordered on being overproduced (with reverb effects that made it sound like it was recorded in some kind of magical cathedral stadium arena- at this point, these guys are clearly imagining how their songs are going to play out with a large arena audience even as they write them), but we've kind of come to expect these things from U2, right?
In fact, I guess that was sort of my major complaint. There was a lot on this record that was too easily expected. Despite the widely varying reviews, which for some reason had created the preconception in my mind that this album was going to be some kind of marked deviation from U2's previous efforts, I found No Line on the Horizon to be remarkably typical U2, without much innovation or the expression of many new or original ideas. The album was, in my opinion, very accessible, and will therefore probably be fairly pleasing to a lot of longtime U2 fans (the familiar choppy, rocking verses coupled with drawn out, soaring choruses were present in spades), but it just didn't feel very fresh or innovative (and yes, I'm aware that there are worse complaints one can make about a record).
I'm a pretty big U2 fan, but I'll admit that The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby are probably my two favorite U2 albums. It's kind of hard to remember this now that those two records have become such classics, but both of them marked pretty extreme changes in direction for the band when they came out. The Joshua Tree came off the heels of The Unforgettable Fire, and presented an album that, on the whole, was much more quiet and introspective than the sort of driving, dramatic call to arms found on The Unforgettable Fire. Achtung Baby trailed the release of The Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum, and once again the band took a sharp turn, this time embracing their newfound pop icon status and employing a host of special effects and production techniques which would have been radically out of place on previous albums.
My point is just that some of U2's best efforts have occurred when they were fervently struggling to break some new ground and to find a new direction for their music. I don't think that's occurring in No Line on the Horizon. It's an enjoyable, workmanlike album, but it shouldn't be included among U2's best. To me, No Line is one of those records that fits squarely within the confines of things that U2 has done before (although, admittedly, some of the songs on this album reach way back to some of U2's earlier work for their influence, recalling sounds that haven't been heard since War or The Unforgettable Fire). So I guess I thought that this was a solid U2 album, but I didn't find it exceptional.
But it's ok, and that's a good thing because it's U2, so we're probably going to be hearing a lot of it (on radio, TV, and eventually over the PA system at grocery stores and shopping malls- although it may have been distilled down to a Muzak style form by then).
Well, that's all I've got. Hope you guys are having a good day. The weather is beautiful again here in the ATX.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Birthday post Addendum- TVOTR Return to Austin

I meant to mention this earlier, but TV on the Radio is playing at Stubb's on May 16th. Last time they came I spent a lot of time trying to convince people to go to this show (which turned out to be really good), but to no avail, so this time you guys are on your own.
(It's sort of worth noting that TVOTR's last album, Dear Science, which they toured on last time they came and this time as well, was selected as 2008 album of the year by Spin Magazine, Rolling Stone Magazine, The Onion's AV Club, MTV, Pitchfork's reader's poll, and Entertainment Weekly Magazine. I'm not saying that the critics are always right, but I still feel a little vindicated.)

Happy birthday to Moi!! Happy St. Patrick's Day to everyone else!!!

Yup. It's my 36th birthday. Also, the birthday for Patricia (who works with me), Taran (a friend from college), and Suzy (a friend and the court reporter from Court 6). I'm in good company- they're all good folks. Thanks for having me, Mom and Dad!! I've really been enjoying my life thus far, so thanks for... uh... well... raising me. (of course that's where that was headed. You guys are gross.)
Anyway, I really appreciate all of the birthday wishes I've been receiving from people! I'm not all that into birthdays because they sort of make me feel self conscious (and although I really haven't started worrying too much about the age thing yet, I am sort of amazed at how many years have managed to race by, so maybe worrying about my age is what comes next), but I'm also really humbled and honored by all of the people who've gone out of their way to wish me well and make me feel a bit special on my birthday. You guys are really great! Having great people in your life is a big part of what makes life worth living, and in this regard I feel tremendously fortunate.
The birthday has been really good so far. I woke up this morning and somehow had forgotten it was my birthday for about the first ten or fifteen minutes that I was awake. Then they started talking about St. Patrick's Day on the morning news, and it all came flooding back. It was a really strange sensation.
Anyhoo, I may celebrate a bit tonight with a few friends, but I'm taking Friday off work to just enjoy the day, so I'll kind of be celebrating on Friday, too (I hope this beautiful weather holds up).
Thanks to everyone for making my birthday special!!! You guys rock!!!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Well, the weekend was pretty good. Friday night I went to see Watchmen with Reed and Chris. Saturday I ran a couple of errands, took Cassidy to the dog park, caught up on my DVR viewing , and had dinner with Mandy and Kellie (incidentally, remember how I've blogged before about The Big Bang Theory, a show that one of my childhood friends, Jim Parson, stars in? Well, I finally got around to watching this week's episode over the weekend, and it was particularly good. Summer Glau guest starred as herself on a train ride with the main characters. The show's a pretty lighthearted sitcom. It continues to really be funny, and the actors are really hitting their stride in developing their characters.) Sunday I had breakfast with Ryan and Jamie (followed by a little shopping) and then went over to a friend/co-worker's house for a sort of small afternoon party meant to celebrate: her housewarming, the fact that another one of our friends finally finished taking the Texas bar after studying for over a month, and the fact that another one of our friends just got hired by the D.A.'s office to go work over there. Anyhoo, it was a nice little get together. Last night I had dinner with Ryan and Jamie at Hyde Park Grill.
So it was a pretty good weekend, all in all.
I really can't find all that much that I'm interested in blogging about today. The weather seems like it's really nice today, so that's sort ofdistracting after our previous week of overcast days.
Here's the trailer for the new Star Trek movie. Since we've gotten Watchmen out of the way, we might as well turn our attention to debating this thing. I've got friends (at least one of them pretty much a lifelong Star Trek fan) who have argued to me that they shouldn't be making a new Trek movie that revisits and reconceptualizes the characters of Kirk, Spock, and the original Star Trek gang (the argument is that these characters belong to Shatner, Nemoy, and the other actors who initially inhabited them), but I disagree, at least in principle. I tend to see those characters as a bit more archetypical, and I can appreciate the fact that new directors and writers are being given the chance to breathe life into them again, so long as the new stories are carried out with reverence for the original work and strive to tell interesting stories. We all have seen plenty of movies and shows where this sort of thing (i.e., the relaunch of a beloved fil, book, or series) has been done poorly (everything from The Mod Squad and Starsky and Hutch to Get Smart), but there have been some recent successes which have given me hope and a belief that a relaunch doesn't necessarily have to equal a substandard product (the new James Bond movies with Daniel Craig have thus far been a good example of this, as is the new Battlestar Galactica, which is probably actually better than the original series).
Don't get me wrong- Shatner's swaggering Kirk will always hold a special place in my heart, but the characters and the overall mythology of Trek is sort of timeless, and I think it's possible to keep inventing new stories while still really treasuring the classic show (Jamie got me the first season of the original Star Trek on DVD for Christmas, and I've recently been watching those episodes again and really enjoying them). Of course, I'm also wary of the possibility that a new Trek movie will be little more than cheap exploitation, with no little or no interest in staying true to the general plotline and themes of the original (I'm willing to give them a little leeway to make some minor changes, but I want to underscore minor. I don't want to see Spock suddenly cracking a bunch of jokes on the bridge or Sulu demonstrating a penchant for hip hop music).
Abrams' movie looks better than that in the trailers, but we just won't know until we see it. At this point all I can do is reserve the right to hope for something worthy of its heritage.
Well, that's it for now. I hope you guys are doing well.

Live long and prosper.
(Yup. That's right. I said it.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Steanso Watches the Watchmen

Well, I finally got around to seeing the Watchmen movie. And it was... pretty good but not great.
It's kind of a weird movie to critique, just because I really liked the book (although as I've said previously, I liked the book, but didn't really enjoy it in the same kind of way that I've enjoyed a lot of other superhero material), and so much of the movie is lifted directly from the panels of the comic book. There are a few key points which were changed between the book and the movie (including part of the ending), but I was okay pretty okay with the deviations (they actually made sense, mostly, and didn't stray too far from the plot of the comic).
The main issues that I had with me movie were with some of the acting, with a little bit of the directing, and with the music.
The music might seem like a minor thing that's sort of nitpicky, but musical choices really do affect the overall tone and mood of a movie. Once again, you have to remember that in a very real sense, the director of this movie had an awful lot of his choices made for him by virtue of the fact that he chose to stick so closely to the source material, so little things like the music were, to some extent, some of the few real choices that he was left to make (selecting actors was another one, but I thought that there were some problems there, too).
Anyway, the music choices kind of gave the movie a strange feel, and to some extent, I thought they detracted from some of the weight and impact of the movie. Some of the songs were more easily recognizable than others, but the well known songs seemed like they were almost too obvious for the scenes that they appeared in (you're going to use Flight of the Valkyries for the Vietnam sequences Zack Snyder? Really?), and other times I just thought that the music made the film seem lighter and campier than it probably should have (and some of the music choices in the trailers came off better than some of the music choices made in the actual film). A criticism of an arguably minor point, perhaps, but like I said, music really does impact the whole mood of the movie, and when you're shooting an almost frame by frame remake of a comic, things like music are some of the director's bigger decisions.
I also had an issue with some of the acting. The acting wasn't universally poor, but I thought Malin Akerman's Silk Spectre and Patrick Wilson's Nite Owl were both pretty weak (I thought Jeffrey Dean Morgan did a pretty good Comedian, though, and there were some other decent performances, but they almost made the weaker performances stand out more by comparison).
The direction was okay for the most part (and at some points very good), but there were a few moments that just fell sort of flat or seemed awkward.
Anyway, I don't want to spend too much time knocking the movie because it really was a decent flick, and it easily could have been a really bad film. It just didn't knock the ball out of the park, and although it might not be entirely fair, I will admit that I had a hope for something a little bit stronger in light of the fact that the source material is considered such a classic (although translating this thing to the screen was, admittedly, no easy task- oftentimes dialogue that seems very effective in comics just doesn't translate very well once you hear it coming out of an actor's mouth). And Watchmen is an interesting enough book that it's easy to get caught up in some of the ideas associated with the plot, even if the execution of the film isn't flawless (it doesn't take long to start asking yourself what kinds of effects costumed heroes would have upon the real world if they actually existed once you start watching the movie, or how well they would actually be received by the public and the government).
Anyway, there was never any way that this movie was ever really going to appeal to a wide audience if it was actually made in a way that was true to the book, and sure enough, this movie isn't for everyone (a few people walked out of the movie while I was watching it, and my brother reported to me that the same thing happened in the theater where he went to see it). The comic book was written by Alan Moore (one of the best respected writers in the comic industry) in the attempt to get comic fans to reexamine their preconceptions and stereotypes about costumed heroes and their place in the world (Moore is a genius at defying people's expectations and sort of stretching the limits of their imagination), so you're beginning at a starting point which many people find quite fantastic in the first place (the whole superhero thing) and then ratcheting up the strangeness factor several degrees on top of that (i.e., making the heroes and their entire world a darker place). Watchmen is a movie that deals with personal dysfunction and the messiness of real life, but in the context of a superhero format (which ends up making for a sort of twisted take on superheores for those who aren't expecting it), and it's a work with a very dark view of human nature. Sooo.... not for everyone.
If you're going to go see it and haven't read the book, you should probably approach it with the knowledge that it's striving to be a movie that comments on the way that we perceive heroes rather than a movie that's simply striving to be an adventurous superhero flick. If you go in with that knowledge, you might enjoy it more than if you go in thinking you're just going to get a variation on The X-Men or The Fantastic Four.
Zack Snyder may not have created a perfect movie here, but he stuck to the themes and the plot of the book closely enough to create something which merits debate and conversation. Even if it's not exactly what we were hoping for, it's still good that we got a version of Watchmen which was clearly made by someone who deeply respected and revered the source material.
Sticking with the comic book movie theme and quoting Jack Nicholson's Joker from Tim Burton's Batman:
"I don't know if it's art, but I like it."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hello. Happy Friday the 13th. Hope everyone is staying warm and dry (it's still cold and rainy here in Austin).
Friday the 13ths have never really bothered me. It always seemed implausible that everyone on earth would have bad luck at the same time (I mean, barring nuclear war or some other global catastrophe), and I've actually had some really good Friday the 13ths from time to time (my friends Eric and Stephanie Gottula used to make a point of inviting people over to celebrate on Friday the 13th, so I've had a good time at a few of those gatherings, to be sure).
What else?
Wanna see a fascinatingly bad movie? (I realize that for most of you the answer to this question will probably be a simple "no", but there may be one or two other bad movie afficianados like myself out there). Anyway, if you're interested in seeing a movie that will really leave you scratching your head as you wonder how in the world it ever got made (or why), let me direct you to a film called Pathfinder that I watched the other night.
Pathfinder truly has the feel of something a 6th or 7th grade boy might dream up. It's supposedly about a young boy from a viking clan who gets stranded in the New World and adopted by a Native American tribe. Eventually his murderous, marauding native people return to his newfound homeland for some more killing, raping, and pillaging, and our protagonist takes it upon himself to defend his adopted tribe.
It's kind of an interesting premise, and though it's probably not really historically accurate, it doesn't sound absolutely stupid (I guess that, theoretically, Vikings could have had some run-ins with Native Americans. I seem to remember reading somewhere that historians think vikings actually visited North America long before Columbus). Well in execution, unfortunately it becomes ridiculous.
Most of the movie takes place in front of blue screen enviroments that make the main character, Ghost, look like he's wandering through some sort of combination of Endor (that's the Ewok planet from Return of the Jedi for those of you who aren't as geeky as me), Dagobah (Yoda's swamp planet from Empire), and Fantasia (from The Neverending Story). There were a few shots that actually looked like they were filmed out in a forest somewhere, but for most of the movie the characters look like they're standing beside plastic plants in front of some kind of darkly lush airbrushed painting that looks like it was copied off of the side of some hippie's van.
And there's hardly a bit of historical accuracy in the thing, despite the fact that Native American actors were cast in the role of some of Ghost's adopted tribe. Vikings roam around in outfits that might look more appropriate in a Mad Max flick than in a work of historical fiction, and the Native Americans live in houses that (once again) look more like part of an Ewok village than anything that I've ever seen attributed to actual Native American tribes. The film just seems much more interested in playing off of stereotypes of the cultures its depicting (read, exploiting) than in portraying them in any sort of realistic way.
The violence in the film is excessive and gratuitous to the point of comedy (it's not realistic enough to be really disturbing), and the acting is... well, just really bad. I mean really bad. They don't even give the actors very much dialogue, and it's still really bad. The plot should be reassuringly simple, and yet it still has holes and many significant problems (someone explain to me how finding a lost sword turns some untrained kid into a samurai-like badass who can defeat a bunch of vikings who've spent a lifetime swordfighting for every meal?).
Anyway, this is one of those films that's disappointing in that it had sort of an interesting premise and therefore some interesting potential, but it all just went horribly wrong. I found myself watching the thing and just marvelling time and time again at the choices that the director and/or the producers had made. Even as I watched it, though, somehow I had the feeling that this movie was going to live forever in late night cable screenings or Saturday afternoon schlock fest viewings. It's that kind of bad that's kind of fascinating to watch and which might make you smile as your brains ooze out of your ears. Give it five to ten years and The Alamo will be hosting alcohol fueled, late night screenings of Pathfinder and calling it a cult classic.
I also finally got around to watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall on cable. It's a romantic comedy (not my usual thing), but it came on and I got sucked in before I realized what was happening. It was a better movie than I expected, and actually pretty well written (I mean, not movie of the year or anything, but probably better than most movies in its genre). It had some genuinely funny scenes, and they did a good job of resisting the temptation to turn characters into two dimensional stereotypes. Anyway, it was worth watching. (and Mila Kunis is extraordinarily attractive and cool in this movie- it's good to see one of the 70's Show crew putting in such a strong performance on the big screen).
People keep asking me what I'm doing for the South By Southwest Music Festival, but the answer is not much. My general experience has been that it's pretty difficult to get into the better shows, even if you have a wristband (the people with the more expensive badges show up and get into those or else there are way more wristband people than can actually get in), and that you probably don't stand much of a chance of getting into anything at all without a wristband. I might try to go see a couple of the free shows if I can work it out (some of the better ones are during the daytime, so I would probably need to try to get off work. I might try to hit some of the Auditorium Shores shows at night, but I'm not quite as excited about them this year as I have been in the past). The Mono Ensemble and Crack (my two bands) have played some unofficial SXSW gigs in the past (most noticeably a couple of stints at the now defunct Bella Blue art boutique on South First), but, sadly, we don't have anything lined up this year.
There are also rumors that the City of Austin is really going to be cracking down on noise violations at the unofficial gigs this year. The city is saying that the increased enforcement is due to the complaints of neighbors near venue locations, but, frankly, I think that the crackdown is actually in response to complaints by the SXSW organizers who were already griping last year about all of the unofficial SXSW gigs that were occurring around town during the week of the festival (also, last year there were reports of SXSW organizers calling in the fire marshall to try to get him to shut down performances at venues where the crowds had become large). Most of these venues that are hosting unofficial SXSW gigs have live music from time to time, some fairly regularly, and somehow the noise ordinance violations are really only becoming a big issue as SXSW approaches. I think that's kind of crappy.
I understand that SXSW is a huge cash cow for the city and that the cash influx produced by the festival draws in a lot of money for local businesses, but I just really don't think that the unofficial shows detract in any way from the success of the fesitval. SXSW is generally a good thing for Austin, but it also causes traffic congestion and big, inconvenient crowds in town, and it largely remains profitable because it derives much of its labor force from unpaid volunteers who agree to donate their time even though organizers are making money hand over fist off of the event. It seems that the least SXSW organizers could do would be to let the unofficial gigs slide. Most of the bands playing them have been rejected or wouldn't even be seriously considered by the official SXSW festival (which has long demonstrated a preference for including foreign or out of state bands of any caliber over the bands produced by the local Austin community), and I can't imagine that the unofficial gigs are in any danger of stealing away an appreciable amount of market share from the festival in terms of talent agents or audiences. It's almost as if the scrappy little festival we remember so fondly has grown into a giant, corporate monster, and it now fears and struggles to stamp out the very thing that led to the festival's creation in the first place- the impulse and desire to provide showcases for truly independent, unsigned acts who are struggling to go it alone, just wanting to play their music in a field that's dominated by the marketing and hype of the recording and touring industry.
Anyway, I'm sort of weary of SXSW, and I'm annoyed with City Hall for protecting crass commercialism instead of just supporting art for the sake of art. There's room enough in this town for everyone to make their music and have fun, and they ought to be just as concerned with protecting the rights of the citizens who live here year round as they are with making a buck off the tourists.
Anyway, that's my two. I know Austin businesses want the money, but I honestly would rather see SXSW pack up and move somewhere else than continue here if they're so profit driven and power hungry that they can't abide a few local musicians making their own music during the festival. They ought to be doing wehatever they can to keep people excited and happy about the festival. Unofficial gigs do nothing but build excitement and enthusiasm for the festival itself, and the SXSW people would do well to understand that they need to keep the support of the citizens of Austin behind them if they want this thing to continue to be a success for years to come.
That's all I've got, kids!!! Hope you have a great weekend!!
So it's kind of late for a post, but I just wanted to check in. (I think making some kind of blog post Monday through Friday plays into my OCD a little). I don't have much to say today, anyway, so maybe it's a good time for a break.
Please come back tomorrow though. Tomorrow's gonna be great! You'll love tomorrow- just wait and see!
(now I gotta think of something good to write about for tomorrow...)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Kind of dark and gloomy in Austin today, but hey- we got rain!! We got rain!!!

For those of you who don't live in Austin, it might be a little difficult to understand why rainfall might be a cause for celebration, but Central Texas is currently experiencing a drought which ranks right up there as one of the worst in the last 40 or 50 years. So despite the traffic snarl ups and the gray skies this morning, I'm happy for the rain. Hopefully the trees and plants in my yard are soaking it all in.

There's an editorial column in Newsweek this week written by David Frum, a conservative who's a former Bush speech writer and Wall Street Journal columnist, who argues that Rush Limbaugh is causing serious damage to the Republican party. Frum is a true conservative, and I disagree with him on many of his policy positions, but it's refreshing to just hear someone put forward conservative arguments with a sense of civility and respect- presenting honest viewpoints without feeling the need to be antagonistic, self-righteous, or derogatory. To be honest, I thought that Louisiana's Republican Governor, Bobby Jindall did a pretty good job of expressing similar sentiments in response to the president's first address to Congress a few weeks ago, although the press blasted him for his uncharismatic speaking style (which, I have to admit, was pretty bad and made to look even worse when the man had the misfortune to have to follow up a strong Obama speech) and for a few of his weaker policy arguments (Hurricane Katrina made your state stronger because you had to learn to perservere and rebuild? You guys are doing that with federal dollars- the exact sort of thing your party keeps railing against!). Anyway, I thought Frum made some good arguments. And I hate Rush Limbaugh. No- not just because I disagree with him politically (there are some conservatives that I have respect for and even like- John McCain is still one of them), but because he's just a self important, an insufferable ass who pretends to know everything and who's greatest joy in life seems to come from sarcastically mocking other people (I also happen to think that he's a racist and a horrible misogynist, but we'll save that for some other time). Frum is smart to recognize that the GOP is going to have a hard time attracting new adherents so long as Limbaugh is seen as one of its leading figures.

And some nutjob in Alabama went on a shooting rampage yesterday and killed 11 people before killing himself. I know that most gun owners are fine, law abiding people, but once again I feel compelled to point out that it would be a whole lot harder for someone to go on a killing rampage if they weren't armed to the teeth with firearms (and yes, I understand the whole guns for self defense argument, but how often are people really going to be armed to defend themselves against family members or other people that they know? A very significant portion of the victims of murders and other violent crimes actually have some sort of personal relationship with their attackers, whether they're family, friends, lovers, or whatever). Anyhoo, the gun debate is never ending, but whenever we have one of these mass shootings, I kind of think about it again.

Also in the news today comes a report by anonymous officials that one of the Taliban's new top operations officers in Southern Afganistan is a former inmate who was housed at Guantanamo Bay. Conservatives, of course, are jumping all over this turn of events, pointing to the reappearance of the former prisoner as proof that the inmates of Gitmo are too dangerous to ever be released. Closer examination of the details involved in the case, however, reveals that the former inmate, Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul, formerly Guantanamo prisoner No. 008, was actually released from custody under the watch and supervision of the Bush administration, meaning intelligence services and the military must have in some way greenlighted his release (they must have decided that he wasn't that dangerous or that he wasn't a key player- after all, Gitmo still has over 250 prisoners housed behind its fences, so clearly they've hung onto some of the people who they considered truly dangerous).
So once again we essentially have an intelligence screw up (under the Bush administration), but that mistake is supposed to justify a policy which houses people indefinitely without trial on a simple suspicion that they were once dangerous or that they might be again.
Look- no one is advoctaing the release of truly violent, vicious men who pose a threat to our country or our military, but at the same time, I think many people in our country just see the situation in Guantanamo Bay as morally wrong (i.e., holding people without trials and denying them basic rights under the Geneva Convention). No one is advocating the release of dangerous terrorists. Instead, we just want to move these men into normal, maximum security prisons and try them for their crimes in a court of law. If people have to be released and end up resurfacing again doing bad things, then that's because we didn't gather the evidence to hold trials and convict them. The alternative is that we hold people indefinitely without evidence in a prison in a foreign country where we don't have to follow our own laws- a solution which could end up holding innocent people in captivity indefinitely and which makes us look like lawless hypocrites to much of the rest of the world. I find that "solution" unacceptable. (I don't think we should be sacrificing innocent people in order to feel more secure)
Anyway, what's actually disturbing about this guy showing up in a Taliban leadership position is that it indicates another intelligence failure on our part. If we had known that this guy had any real skills or political clout, undoubtedly he would be one of the 250 prisoners still sitting locked in Guantanamo.

Well, that's about all that I have at the moment. Hope you guys are having a good day!

** Update/Addendum- apparently there was a mass shooting/massacre of 16 people in Germany yesterday by a teenager who went on a rampage. Germany is supposed to have much stricter, tighter regulations for their gun control, but the shooter in this case was apparently still able to get ahold of a gun- possibly one that was registered to his father. Maybe I'm just wrong about gun control laws helping to prevent these sorts of massacres. I don't know.