Sunday, June 28, 2009

Steanso Checks In

Hey! The trip to London has been going very well. We've been seeing the sights and last night we went to see a really fun production of Hairspray at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Tomorrow Karebear and I are going to Paris for a couple of days while the Admiral goes to some business meetings. I hope everyone is doing well at home (great trip, but I miss you guys!).
Anyway, I'll post pics when I get back.
You guys take care of each other!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Steanso on Holiday

So I'm off to Houston today, and jolly ol' England tomorrow. I'm not a very good traveller in the sense of enjoying riding on planes and in cars and whatnot, but I typically enjoy my destinations once I get there.
I know it will be difficult, but you Adventurers try to entertain yourselves in my absence. While I'm gone, I would appreciate it if you guys could: help UT win the college baseball world series, fix the economy, and bring democracy to Iran. Oh yeah- see if you can also get North Korea to chill out with those nukes. I guess that's it.
Everyone have a good time while I'm gone!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Weekend Update, Mimic 3, More Iran, Smartphones and the Slow Death of Focus

The weekend was pretty good. Dinner with friends on Friday night (which was good both in terms of food and company). Saturday I got up too early, considering how late I got to bed on Friday, and I took Cassidy down to the spillover by Barton Springs. There was some frollicking, some roughhousing with neighborhood dogs, some doggie paddling, and the occasional howl of joy. Cassidy had a good time as well. Saturday afternoon I ran some errands (mostly involving a little bit of shopping). Saturday night I went out to my parents house. My Uncle Donald and Cousin Sue were there, as well as our family friends, the Neely family. We had shish kabobs, I got to see Mom's pictures from her recent church trip to Kenya, and we celebrated Father's Day. 'Twas a pleasant evening. Sunday mostly involved laundry and more errands.

I also watched some TV this weekend. One of the things that I watched, strangely enough, was Mimic: Sentinel, which was essentially Mimic 3 (the 2003 third installment in a series of movies derived from the 1997 original horror movie, Mimic, which was only moderately successful itself). I don't want to go too far in praising Mimic 3 (it had some flaws, to be sure), but I actually found it sort of entertaining. I think that I might be going too far by calling it truly "good", but it was an interesting movie, and the writer and director were willing to take some chances and do some sort of unusual things with it.

For those of you who don't watch bad sci-fi/horror flocks, the whole idea behind the Mimic movies is that these giant, roach-like creatures have been created as an accidental product of human experimentation on normal roaches, and they're really mean, nasty buggers who can sort of make themselves look human-ish when they sort of stay in dark shadows and stand upright (thus, their ability to mimic humans. Get it?). They live in the sewers, but come up into the city above to find people to feed on.

Anyway, the first Mimic movie was directed by Guillermo del Toro and starred Mira Sorvino, whom Steanso has always been quite fond of.

[spoilers, if anyone cares] Mimic 3 was kind of a departure from the first movie, with the writer and director kind of trying to take the basic concept of the first movie and do something new. What really caught me off guard, in a move that some viewers will sort of appreciate but others will find annoying, is that Mimic 3 is a clear and obvious homage to Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 movie, Rear Window. Instead of having Jimmy Stewart in a wheelchair, Mimic 3 gives us Karl Geary playing a man who's trapped in his family's apartment by a disease which makes him extremely allergic to almost every form of environmental contaminant (smoke, perfume, etc. all send him into wheezing and coughing fits). Anyway, this "bubble boy" protagonist spends much of his time watching and photographing his neighbors through his bedroom window, and in a movie where giant, human-like cockroaches sneak up on people and eat them, you can see where things are headed.

The monster roaches themselves are, strangely, not entirely central to much of Mimic 3. It's a movie which is largely about the characters. The film seems as much about Marvin, his sister (Rosy), their mother (Simone), and Carmen (Marvin's almost-a-girlfriend from next door) and the dynamics of their relationship, at least as much as it's about the big bugs. The actors in the movie do a pretty good job, especially given the fact that they're in a C level movie, and the dialogue is actually okay. You kind of find yourself liking the characters enough that you sort of care about what happens to them when the bugs show up. And then the screaming starts. And the blood starts splattering.

It's kind of crazy how many horror movies totally miss the character development part of the scary movie equation. So many "horror" movies just aren't scary because the audience is given no reason to care about the characters. Some horror movie fanatics probably don't care about characters because they're just there to see the gross out splatter effects and the movie monsters, but movies without good characters rarely have much crossover appeal for a broader audience. Mimic 3 might have some problems in terms of falling between demographics, though. Horror movie fans might not like it because there's so much time spent on character development and plot without a lot of action or scariness going on, and more mainstream audiences might not like it because, inevitably, giant bugs eventually show up and start attacking everyone in sight.

I found it entertaining, though. Shia LaBeouf starred in a 2007 movie called Disturbia which was essentially a modern revisiting of Rear Window, and although that movie made a lot more money than Mimic 3 and drew a larger audience, I actually think this Mimic 3 flick is a better, more interesting movie (partially, Mimic 3 was more interesting because it incorporated parts of Rear Window but ultimately used them in a new way and to create a movie of a different genre- Disturbia seemed a lot more like just a lame remake of the Hitchcock classic).

Well, I spent too much time reviewing that movie, didn't I? It's funny- a whole group of people spent a lot of time and money making Mimic 3, and the review on my blog is probably now one of the longer reviews that that movie is ever going to get. Movies are strange as an art form because even when they're really bad and ultimately pretty insignificant, you still know that it took a relatively large number of people a bunch of time and effort to make the thing.

In other, very different news, the Iranian government took steps to disrupt and end protests this weekend, with unconfirmed reports putting death tolls as high as 150 on Saturday. On Sunday there were still some protests and some clashes between protesters and police, but I didn't really hear about any more deaths. Apparently, in addition, it sounds like there were thousands of people who suffered moderate to severe injuries.

(Here's a little side note, I'm not sure if it sounds callous to be saying this in the middle of a violent struggle for democracy, but has anyone else noticed that a lot of these Iranians that keep popping up on these internet videos of the protests are a well-dressed, fashionable bunch? I mean, they're not all movie stars or anything, but they're a much swankier group than I was expecting, somehow.)
I heard on CNN this morning that Iranian women, in particular, have played an extremely prominent role in the protests in Iran, making a hard push for greater rights, including the ability to hold high ranking government office. There were even reports that some of these women were among the most aggressive protesters in terms of confronting police and holding the line when government troops showed up to disperse the crowds, supposedly yelling at their male counterparts to show more bavery when the men began to retreat.
One woman, referred to as 'Neda' by the crowds which have now been invoking and chanting her name, was shot to death while protesting with her father in Tehran when a pro-government militia open fired on the crowd, shooting and killing her. The shooting and the woman's subsequent death were caught on video, and the footage has become a rallying point for opponents of the government and supporters of women's rights in Iran.
The deaths are very distrubing. At the same time, I'm kind of filled with admiration for these people who continue to protest in Iran despite the danger and potential violence. The whole thing makes me wonder what I would do if I were placed in a similar situation. It's one thing to sit behind a computer and criticize the government and talk of rights and democracy (or to sit around talking to your friends while doing the same thing), but it's another thing entirely to go out and face people who are carrying clubs and guns.
I'd like to think that I would take whatever nonviolent actions were necessary in that sort of situation, but I guess you just never really know until you're actually placed in the middle of it.
Anyway, once again, Steanso supports all of the Iranian people who are putting themselves in harm's way to demand fairness and true democracy from their government.
Incidentally, there's been some rumbling from various people about the fact that President Obama hasn't been more vocal about the situation in Iran. Personally, I think he's probably taking the right approach. Obama has made public statements about supporting free speech and about supporting all of the Iranians who are engaged in it (while condemning the Iranian government for trying to suppress speech), but he has stopped short of making any overt threats toward the Iranian government or in making any specific allegations about the legitimacy of the Iranian election.
So I'm satisfied with Obama's present course. Not only does this outcry for democracy feel more powerful coming directly from the Iranian people as opposed to an outside source, but I actually think that a more verbal role on the part of the U.S. would play into the hands of the Iranian government, who are already trying to paint this uprising as a product of outside American influence as opposed to a challenge presented by the Iranian people themselves.
Anyway, this Iran thing is pretty fascinating.
In other news, there's an article in the New York Times about the etiquette of Blackberry, iPhone, and/or smartphone use in the middle of meetings, conversations, and other real world, face to face interactions. The whole matter is, of course, up for debate, but personally I find it really annoying when people spend their time at meetings on their handheld devices, and I generally find it even more annoying when people use the devices in the middle of conversations.
I was with a group of 7 people the other day who were engaged in a conversation, and at one point I looked around and realized that 4 of the 7 people were actually doing something else on their phones. Sometimes phones can be used to look up info that actually contributes to the discussion, but more often, the user is just doing something that they consider more interesting. I guess at that point the question starts to become whether its worth bothering to have the conversation in the first place. At some point I'm just going to start turning and walking away from people who start texting while I'm talking to them, and everyone will consider that to be rude, but I really don't see how it's any different. I know. I suck.
The phone use during meetings bugs me, too. Personally, I don't really love having to get up and talk in front of people in the first place (great for a lawyer, I know, but there you have it), so if I see someone on a phone the whole time while I'm making the effort to stand up and try to convey some information, it's going to bug the crap out of me (I don't really like being in meetings or presentations, either, but I think the whole point is sort of defeated once everyone is on their phone doing other things in the middle of them).
Anyway, I know. I'm the lame, old scrooge. Whatever.
Well, that's it.
Not sure how the blogging is going to be this week and the next. I'm heading off to jolly ol' England on Wednesday by way of Houston on Tuesday. I'll be back in the States in time for July 4th, though. Part of me thinks I should have just stayed in England for it, though, so I could light some sparklers and run drunkenly through the streets singing patriotic American songs.

p.s.: I also, for some reason, watched Babylon A.D. this weekend. It had Vin Diesel, Michelle Yeoh, and Melanie Thierry, and it was so bad that I forgot about almost entirely within 48 hours (which is why I didn't post on it initially). Nonsensical plot (especially the ending) with some pretty bad acting (except Michelle Yeoh). I got the feeling that it might have been based upon a script or story that started out as something interesting, but the version that reached the screen just seemed like bits and pieces of a coherent story. Thumbs down.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Happy Father's Day; Iran, North Korea, and Steanso Ponders International Security

Freeday! Everything's a bit better sliding into the weekend.
And it's Father's Day this weekend! Hope you Adventurers haven't forgotten. At the very least, give your dad a call, and thank him for not turning your childhood into a reality show and then divorcing your mom on national television (yes, a Jon & Kate Plus 8 Father's Day joke. I'm that lame.).
Anyway, my own dad, The Admiral, is scheduled to be in town this weekend, so hopefully I'll get to have some good food with him and drink a beer or something like that.
And Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made an announcement at Tehran University on Friday in which he strongly denied any fraud or wrongdoing in the Iranian elections, criticized public street protests, and urged people with complaints to pursue them through proper legal channels. He accused enemies of Iran- the U.S., England, and Israel- of undermining the Iranian political process and of trying to cast doubt upon a decisive victory by Ahmadinejad. Khamenei went on to say that if the "political elite" wanted to continue to break the law and take "wrong measures", they would be held accountable for the bloodshed and the rioting.
So, for the Iranians, I guess this is where the rubber really meets the road. The Ayatollah is supposed to be the ultimate governmental authority in Iran, as well as the country's leading religious figure. He claims to derive his power from Islamic law, and therefore, by implication, from God. For many of these Iranians, I would guess that defying Khamenei feels like defiance of not only a political leader, but defiance of a powerful religious leader as well (it would be a little like a bunch of strong Catholics having to decide whether or not to disobey the Pope).
In essence, for the people of Iran to continue to defy Khamenei at this point would be to reject not only the credibility of the elections, but credibility of the entire system of Iranian government (i.e., if the Supreme Leader declares the election to be fair and valid and the people still reject that assertion, they are basically saying that they don't trust in either his religious or political judgment and don't respect his authority. Given that he's their foremost leader and holds a position higher than that of their president, this is sort of a big thing. ).
I think that this proclamation by the Ayatollah is probably the precursor to a major government crackdown on the protests and public opposition to the election.
It'll be interesting to see how this thing unfolds in the days ahead. I fear that there may be more widespread violence.
I heard a reporter on CNN last night discussing rumors that significant numbers of Iranian military personnel and police were planning to ignore any orders they receive which would require them to use force against the Iranian people. But those were just rumors. I guess we'll see.
Anyway, I'm still not really sold on the fact that Moussavi is such a great guy, but I certainly sympathize with the Iranians who just want to see fair elections and know that their voice has been heard. For what it's worth, my support goes out to them.
What else....?
I don't care.
In the midst of all of this Iranian election coverage, there hasn't been much talk about rising tensions with North Korea. Apparently the U.S. military is tracking a North Korean ship which is believed to be carrying missiles, missile parts, or nuclear material. All of this stuff is in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions (which apparently carry about as much weight as the "commands" that I issue to Cassidy at the dog park). The U.N. really hasn't given the U.S. the authority to forcibly board vessels for inspection purposes, so right now we're just sort of tailing the boat and watching. A few people have speculated that we may try to get our allies to deny the North Korean vessel the right to refuel their ships in their harbors.
The North Koreans are a pesky group, and it's not really clear what we should (or can) do about them. They've got a pretty big military, and they could quickly do some serious damage to South Korea if any sort of conflict were to break out. On the other hand, letting them continue to develop their nuclear program seems a bit dangerous.
Anyway, the whole North Korea thing seems at least as troubling as this Iran thing, but it's getting a lot less attention at the moment.
Between Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, and Iraq (not to mention the occasional Somali pirate attack and the fairly recent military activity of the Russians in Georgia), we sure seem to have a lot on our plate from a national defense/international security standpoint. I'm glad that I'm too old and worn out for the draft, because I could see a real need to grow the size of our military in the coming years. If another one of these hotspots blows up into another full blown conflict, we could have wars going on in three or more countries at the same time (say, hypothetically, Iraq starts to destabilize as we try to draw down our troops and we end up having to keep people there, the battle against Al Qaeda and the Taliban continues to intensify in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and then we have to deploy troops to deal with possible nuclear threats from Iran or North Korea). Anyway, it just feels like there's a lot of instability going on right now, and it feels like we're already stretched pretty thin with our current military commitments.
To spin even farther off the deep end and increasingly into future-gazing hypothetical land, I think that we're just beginning to see the type of problems that we're going to have as more and more countries develop nuclear programs and develop nuclear technologies (and they will- the money is there and the know-how is there, so it's just a matter of time). North Korea and Iran have been developing nuclear programs for a while and Pakistan (who's central government seems a bit unstable and who's population has recently been suffering from a lot of internal political strife) already has nuclear weapons.
I wonder who's next? Venezuela's Hugo Chavez seems like the sort of guy who would really enjoy some nukes if he could get his hands on them. Basically, I see the whole issue of foreign nuclear programs the same way I see gun ownership in the U.S.. Everyone wants to claim the right to have them, and although while some nations seem to handle nuclear power responsibly (France, for example), the problem is that ownership of these weapons often appeals to neurotic little guys with Napoleon complexes who feel like they're not being taken seriously and who have something to prove.
Anyway, as technology leaps forward in ways that outpace the world's ability to responsibly handle it, I foresee a day when there are a whole lot of nations around the globe who possess various weapons of mass destruction, any one of which could set off a cataclysmic disaster. (I'm not just talking about nukes, here. Apparently biological and chemical weapons can be much cheaper and easier to produce, and can produce effects which are almost as catastrophic.)
As advancing technology makes it easier and easier to produce such weapons, we're really going to have our hands full if we're going to try to police these things on a global scale.
In fact, I'm pretty convinced it won't work. We can't do it- at least not alone.
The U.N. is going to have to bet a lot more powerful and effective in addressing these threats if there's going to be much hope of containing them. The divisiveness, infighting, bickering, and protection of self interest within the U.N. security council has to come to an end in order to address global threats in solidarity with an internationally united front.
Sadly, I don't think the members of the U.N. are going to really get serious about this until something pretty bad happens that clearly illustrates the need for cooperation. It's a shame, but the only thing that's probably going to get the U.N. move beyond toothless resolutions (their specialty) will probably be some kind of awful attack and the subsequent media images of irradiated or infected civilian populations.
Anyway, I didn't mean to get so heavy on a perfectly pleasant Friday, but this North Korea situation and the ineffectiveness of the U.N. in dealing with it (as with many of the conflicts they address) just kind of got me thinking about all of this.
Uggh. I've managed to sort of bum myself out a bit.
So.... how about those Astros?!? Oh wait, that's even more depressing.... (last again, Astros? Give me a break!!!)
Well, maybe more later. Have a good weekend. Happy Father's Day to all of you fathers, and happy, uh, weekend to the rest of you!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Goodbye Joann, Fly Us Back to the Moon, Iranian Election Raises Questions

Hey guys. What's up?
My Aunt Joann died yesterday. I really didn't spend very much time with her while I was growing up, but she lived out in Phoenix, and once Ryan and Jamie moved out there a few years back I had the chance to visit with her a bit more during their Arizona tenure.
She was a nice lady with some interesting stories (she had stories about travelling around the U.S. during her life, stories about distant members of our family who lived in Amstredam, and other stuff). Ryan was a bit closer to her than I was, given the fact that he lived out in Phoenix and saw her more often than I did.
Anyway, I just wanted to post to say that I was sorry to hear of her passing. I wasn't super close to her, but she was always very nice to me, and she was family.

Apparently we're going back to the moon and planning on putting astronauts up there for months at a time (in preparation for later attempts to send people to Mars). I'm not sure that going back to the moon is the most exciting objective that I can think of for the space program (in light of the fact that we've already been there), but nonetheless, it's good to see the space program building up some momentum, and if these moon missions set the stage for us to put some people on Mars, then so much the better.
Apparently thousands of Iranians took to the streets today to protest what they claim was an illegitimate election in Iran and to mourn for protesters who had been killed during demonstrations earlier in the week. The protesters wore black to symbolize both mourning for fallen protesters and as a symbol of perceived injustice in the face of an allegedly fraudulent election.
This Iranian election story has been really interesting, not just because Iran has been seen as an adversary of the U.S. in recent history (and unrest in countries that may have nukes is almost always a little bit interesting), but also because of the spectacle provided by a populist uprising against what we've been told is a fairly rigid, authoritarian Islamic government.
Personally, the election and subsequent protests have piqued my curiosity on at least two fronts. One, I now question the political and social demographics of Iran as a country in a way that I hadn't considered before. I guess I hadn't really given the matter much thought, but if pressed I guess I would have assumed that there was a whole lot more solidarity among the Iranian people in support of the government and in obedience to its rule. I would have thought that the Iranian population was comprised of sufficient numbers of obedient, conservative Muslims so that the populace would be generally accepting of the dictates handed down by its leaders (who claim to derive much of their authority from Islamic religion and law- thereby, in effect, claiming that their authority is derived from God). Second, I'm a little surprised that the Iranian government has been suffering these protests and demonstrations without cracking down more forcefully. Granted, the government hasn't exactly taken a stance which supports free speech (they've been limiting phone and internet communications, placing foreign reporters under house arrest, etc.), but they've been relatively tolerant with the Iranian people themselves. There have been some shootings and some violence during deonstrations, but these seem to have been isolated incidents by unofficial militias and/or the actions of security forces who were acting independently. It doesn't sound like we've heard reports reports of the military rolling in to violently put an end to the protests or of them staging Tianneman Square style suppressions of the demonstrations. At least not yet.
Maybe the Iranian government just feels like it's going to be easier and wiser to let the protesters blow off some steam, and that enventually doing so might help to settle things down. Trying to put a lid on the protests too forcefully might just end up creating a situation involving homegrown Iranian jihadists and insurrectionists. The Iranian government probably isn't too excited about the possibility of turning this whole thing into a military security problem that could last for decades (or at least they'd rather avoid that scenario if possible).
Anyway, this whole election situation was the first time I realized that there's so much political discourse and contention within the population of modern Iran.
Well, I gotta go.
Maybe more later.
If not, enjoy your day!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Quit Picking on my Friends, Universe; Bias, the Media, and Obama

Well, in the last two days I've found out that two old friends, one from high school and the other from college, have both been fighting cancer. That really, really sucks. One thing I've already learned that I really don't like about getting older is having to see bad things happen to your friends and family. Hopefully both of these people will pull through and go on to live happy lives (they're both very strong people and both are fully engaged with treatment, so that's a good thing). Anyway, it really sucks just knowing that they're going through this. I wish them both the best of luck, and I'll be thinking of both of them.

No profound insights there, but I just needed to vent some frustration.

Speaking of venting frustration, President Obama unloaded about Fox News this week when he sat down with CNBC for an interview. When asked if he thought that he had been getting favorable, biased treatment by the media, the president quickly responded that there was an entire twenty four hour news channel out there which was determined to never say a positive thing about his administration. When the interviewer implied during follow up questions that the president was referring to Fox, the president didn't deny it, saying that the network had a "pretty big megaphone" and that "you'd be hard-pressed, if you watched the entire day, to find a positive story about me on that front."

While I'm sure the Fox audience will just chalk Obama's comments up as whining about well deserved criticism, I'm still glad that the president went ahead and called the network out on their biased reporting. Fox News (i.e., Faux News) is pretty much just a right wing propaganda machine which doesn't even bother to try to report news in an objective way anymore (if they ever did). I'm a Democrat and, in general, an Obama supporter, but I still want to hear about it when the president makes mistakes or makes questionable decisions which are subject to rational debate. That being said, I rarely watch Fox News because I just don't trust them to be unbiased, objective, or in many cases even accurate. When I do watch Fox News it's always with an eye toward seeing how people on the right are going to spin a particular story or twist it in a way which will appeal to their target audience. The whole network reminds me of a sort of privatized version of the Ministry of Truth from Orwell's 1984, the organization had the novel's protagonist rewriting news pieces and historical records in order to make them match the government's party line.

So that reminds me of the relationship between the conservatives and Fox News.

And no, I don't think the mass media, in general, has a big liberal bias. I think there's occasional bias in both directions by the media, but I think a lot of conservatives try to blame the media when events in the actual, real world don't seem to fit well within their ideological framework. In short, I think there's a whole lot of "shoot the messenger" going on within conservative circles when it comes to the media (I think you do get a bit of bias from time to time, some of it slanted toward a more liberal viewpoint, but the inadvertent bias that you see in the mainstream media positively pales in comparison to a lot of the warped "reporting" that you see on Fox).

By the way, I don't always think Obama gets a free pass from either the media or from his fellow Democrats. Just today Rep. Barney Frank criticized the Obama administration fairly openly for continuing to support the Defense of Marriage Act- particularly the portion which says that states do not have to acknowledge gay marriages which were performed in other states (which, personally, I think should fall under the "Full Faith and Credit" clause of the constitution- the clause which requires states to legally recognize public acts, records, and the judicial proceedings of other states). Frank wasn't too happy with Obama on this issue.

Liberals have criticized Obama pretty strongly for some other decisions as well. Some of his environmental protection decisions have been unpopular (his choice of Ken Salazar- a Senator with a reputation for placing an emphasis on farming and ranching interests- as Secretary of the Interior was unpopular, as were some decisions which allowed for a certain amount of offshore oil drilling), liberals aren't overly thrilled with the perceived lack of progress in shutting down Guantanamo Bay and ending the Iraq War, they're annoyed with Obama's failure to overturn the "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding gays in the U.S. military, and a lot of people were angered when Obama failed to release promised photos depicting the abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody. Plus, of course, I think there's a whole lot of nervousness and second guessing from both sides of the aisle about these expensive bailout and stimulus packages. In some ways, Obama's popularity has only remained intact with people on the left because our new president seems so much more reasonable than our last president.

So I'm not sure Obama's really getting a free pass. The conservatives have built themselves up a significant number of right leaning media outlets which do nothing but criticize the president (in addition to Fox News there are a whole host of conservative talk radio programs and conservative pundits who appear on all kinds of shows), and I don't think the more mainstream media is really letting him off the hook, either. I think the president is smart, he's pragmatic, and he's picking his battles, which is what he should be doing, especially at this point. (You know what every new president wants on his first day in office? A second term.)

Anyhoo, I'm rambling. The point is that we still live in a country that has a whole lot of pretty conservative people, and I think that the president is trying to take their viewpoints into account a bit while still trying to move forward with some significant items on the progressive agenda (e.g., improving foreign relations, working on universal health care, moving forward with green energy, putting an end to torture and other wartime activities that violate human rights, etc.).

Well, that's all I've got for now, which is sort of lame. Sorry about spending so much time about the anti-Fox rant. That was sort of negative, wasn't it?

Here's a cool picture of a happy chimp to help counteract the negativity...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Revolution (in 140 Characters or Less); Palin and Crew Keep it Stupid; A Chance to be a Ghostbuster (Finally)

So not too much going on at the moment.
Protesters have been filling the streets in Iran by the tens of thousands, despite yesterday's shooting of at least seven opposition party supporters (demonstrating for candidate Moussavi), either by police or by pro-Ahmidenijad supporters. One strange development relating to the coverage of the upheaval has been the role played by social networking programs, such as Twitter and Facebook, in getting news out about what is going on in Iran. The U.S. really doesn't have any formal relations with Iran right now, so we don't have an embassy or state department personnel within the country to monitor developments (which seems sort of foolish), and the Iranian government has banned most news coverage of the civil unrest, including shutting down many web sites and restricting the activities of news crews.
So people are Twittering. I'm not sure why they're Twittering instead of emailing, but they are. Twitter was supposed to shut down for temporary, scheduled maintenance over the last couple of days, but the U.S. government asked them to remain up and running so that Iranian citizens could continue to communicate information about what's going on within the country.
So we've got a country on the verge of chaos and because the U.S. wanted to be tough and take a hardline stand against potential enemies, we don't really have people on the ground who can monitor the situation. So we've got a country on the verge of a full scale revolution who have missiles and a very active nuclear program,..... and we're monitoring the situation via Twitter. Grrrrreeeeaaaat....
Similarly, on CNN this morning I saw a lot of footage that had been shot by Iranians using their cell phones. Apparently the police and military were seizing cameras from people in order to support the media blackout, but there were just too many cell phones out there for the police to confiscate them all.
These are strange and interesting times that we live in, Adventurers. It's a revolution! LOL!!! ;-) WTF?

And the whole stupid Sarah Palin v. Letterman thing keeps going, even after Letterman made an extensive and seemingly sincere apology. I really don't get it. The righteous indignation is clearly just a chance to drum up some publicity at this point. I'm not going to spend much more time on this whole issue, since that's clearly what Palin and her supporters want, but suffice it say that Bristol Palin DID get knocked up, it was by someone a lot less talented or prestigious than Alex Rodriguez, and then she had the audacity to offer herself up as a spokesperson regarding family planning and abstinence. Up is down. Black is white. The Palins are a bunch of ridiculous clowns, and so are the people who are supporting them in this charade.

Ghostbusters: The Video Game is being released this week as the original film celebrates its 25th anniversary, and it's being billed as a sort of sequel to the two Ghostbusters movies. Initial reports are that the videogame is actually pretty good (which is sort of unusual for games which are based on movies- a lot of them are really bad). I think Roundball ordered it, so I look forward to playing it on his Wii.

I guess that's about it. Hope you guys are doing okay.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Weekend Update, Barton Springs Receives a Blessing, Iranian Election Tomfoolery

Friday night I went over to Mandy's house for some barbecue, a few beers, and some hanging out with friends, including Candace, Mandy's spring/summer roommate who's now heading back to Beaumont . The burgers were good, as was the company. I gotta say I just get tired on the Friday nights, though. I hung in there 'til sometime well after 1:00 a.m., and then staggered home.

Saturday I went and had some Chinese food with my Uncle Donald, who was in town, and Cousin Susan. I also went and got me some new shoes at a store called Big Shoes, which is down on 6th Street. It's kind of a small store, but still, I can't believe that there's a store that sells shoes for big people here in town (I guess it's been there a couple of years), and that I had never been there. Anyway, I got me some walkin' shoes in time for the upcoming London trip.
I also went to see The Hangover with Ryan and Jamie. I enjoyed it a great deal. Probably even something of a comedy classic, at least in terms of party movies (and kind of an interesting premise, given that it focused on the party aftermath instead of the party itself). Roundball posted a review of it over here.
Sunday I met Ryan and Jamie down at Barton Springs. It was a good time. I had read in the paper that a Tibetan Buddhist monk, Khen Rinpoche, second in leadership behind the Dalai Lama, had visited Barton Springs on Saturday. He bestowed a blessing upon the springs, calling the site a "divine place" and asking that it help to inspire altruistic minds and happiness in the people who come to visit. Rinpoche has been visiting various churches and meeting some local religious leaders, and Reverend Dr. Sid Hall, a minister at Trinity United Methodist Church, expressed agreement with some of Rinpoche's thoughts, stating that all of the world's religions are like individual wells that flow to the same river.

So that was on my mind a bit as I hung out at the springs on Saturday. As I've remarked before, the springs really do feel special to me. I used to hang out down there with Jeff, and after he passed away I used to go there, especially on relatively quiet weekdays, and just sort of hang out by the water and think about things. Also, we had a little goodbye ceremony for Mel, Ryan and Jamie's dog and one of our favorite furry family members, down on the creek after he passed away last winter. That cold, clear water in the middle of our dusty, heat-baked central Texas landscape has always seemed a bit miraculous, and it was nice to hear that someone from half a world away saw the place and felt the same way.

So what else? I've been watching this Iranian election and the post-election controversy with a moderate amount of curiosity. The election pitted incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi. I don't know all that much about Moussavi, to be honest, except that he has been promising to clean up some of the corruption and abuses of power that have been occurring under Ahmadinejad's regime (alleagtions being that the corruption is fairly widespread), and he has promised to try to improve Iran's relationships with foreign countries.
The election was on Friday, and the government quickly announced that Ahmadinejad had reclaimed the presidency in a landslide victory of 63.29% of the vote (the victory announcement took place a little too quickly to be credible, according to many people, given that Iran uses hand counted ballots and over 80% of the population is thought to have voted).
Anyway, I guess no one really knows for sure whether the election was rigged at this point, but it definitely looks a little questionable (suspiciously uniform vote totals across the country and a lack of oversight at polling locations also contributed to questions about the election's validity).
Anyway, I just find the whole thing interesting. I recently watched an episode of Independent Lens about a young American couple who chose to get married in Iran (the groom's family was originally from Iran but had left after the Iranian Revolution in 1978-79) which got me thinking a bit about Iran and how it's changing.
The U.S. has been sort of linked to the political situation in Iran for a long time. In 1953 the U.S. launched an intelligence operation, Operation Ajax, which helped to remove Iran's elected prime minister and replaced him with the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (this move was largely meant to protect oil supplies, which had been nationalized under the previous prime minister). Pahlavi consolidated his power and crushed most political resistance to his rule through the use of his intelligence agency. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a conservative Muslim, became a central figure in denouncing the rule of the Shah and was imprisoned for 18 months and then sent into exile (he ended up in France). In 1978 the Iranian people began to demonstrate against the Shah, and by 1979 the Shah had fled the country and Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran. By April of 1979 the Iranian people had voted to officially make the country an Islamic nation, with Khomeini as Supreme Leader of the country. While the country didn't backslide entirely, there was a certain move away from the modernity experienced under the Shah's rule once Islamic Law became absolute and the Ayatollah took power (and once the country became more isolated under its new leadership).
So.... another big foreign policy success for the U.S.. Between this story and the story about how we helped to train Bin Laden to fight (trained as an insurgent to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan), it's not too hard to see why a lot of people think that maybe we should be just staying clear of the Middle East altogether (I know that's easier said than done, espcially after 9/11).
[By the way, is anyone besides me worried about the fact that our military is now training a bunch of Iraq troops in more efficient and effective combat techniques? Seems like history might indicate that this could be a bad idea. We spent time, money, and energy training Afghanistani freedom fighters to battle Soviet occupation forces, and now they're using the strategies that they learned against American forces.]
So I know there's going to be a temptation for the U.S. to stick its nose in the middle of this thing (especially since we don't particularly like Ahmadinejad and all of his anti-Israel, pro nuclear ambition rhetoric), but I just think that when we get involved in politics over in the Middle East, sooner or later things just come back to bite us in ways we didn't expect. Supporting Moussavi seems like a good idea at the moment, but I tend to think that the U.S. should just stay out of the whole thing. For one thing, it seems a little unethical for us to insert ourselves into the internal political processes of other nations (maybe democratic, autonomous self determination is a naive goal, but it's still one that I cling to), and second, I'm not sure that we really know exactly what kind of a leader Moussavi will end up being. He's had some promising campaign rhetoric, but we don't know how this will translate into leadership policy. If he were to take office and turn into some kind of megalomaniacal nutjob, wouldn't it be nice if the U.S. wasn't really part of the whole equation?
Anyway, so I've remained pretty interested in this whole Iranian election process. (Incidentally, some of the things I've been reading and watching lately give an interesting view of Iran. The more I read, the more it looks like an intriguing, sometimes beautiful place, with some colorful- and apparently often friendly- people. I'm getting a sense that there's a disconnect between the general impressions of Iran that we get as Americans- in part because of the rhetoric put forth by the Iranian government- and the reality of life within that country).
Not much else to say at the moment.
Hope everyone had a good weekend. It's supposed to be reaching 100 most days this week here in Austin, so, as always, you Adventurers just try to stay cool out there...

p.s.- Almost forgot. Did anyone else watch Whale Wars last night? Once again, I gotta say that I continue to question their methods, if not their goals (i.e., putting a stop to whaling). The crew seem utterly untrained and incompetent (they had a very difficult time launching their smaller boats, and were unable to navigate even once the boat was finally launched- it would have been funny if it wasn't so scary), and then some questionable navigation decisions got the Steve Erwin caught in a field of sea ice that came very close to puncturing their hull (you could actually see the hull bend and pop as huge ice chunks smashed against it). I just don't get it. Even if you're using volunteers, it seems like they should be trained in procedure like launching boats and navigation. The Sea Shepherds seem like they're putting both their crew and the effectiveness of their mission at risk when they carry out these activities in such an untrained, haphazard way. Anyway, it's still one of the more interesting reality TV shows that I've seen.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Overblown Storms; Palin v. Letterman

So we got some rain last night. The way that the newspeople were carrying on, I thought Austin was going to be wiped off the map in a barrage of lightning, hail, and tornadic wind, but instead my neighborhood mostly just got a good, soaking rain, which we really needed, anyway. For those of you who were really grateful for the rain, you really have Steanso to thank. I spent about 30 minutes hand watering a bunch of my trees and shrubs when I got home last night. On those rare occasions when I put forth that kind of effort, rain is almost always sure to follow.
I watched the last episode of The Colbert Report from Iraq last night. Colbert really did a good job. There's an article in the New York Times today which talks a bit about the four shows that Colbert did in Iraq and compares them with some of the U.S.O. sponsored comedy shows that Bob Hope in conflicts dating back to World War II. Anyway, it was a good thing that Colbert did, and his shows were really funny, too.
And Sarah Palin is expressing outrage and demanding an apology from David Letterman after the talk show host made a televised joke about Palin's daughter, Bristol, in which he suggested that the young woman had gotten "knocked up" during a recent visit to New York by professional baseball player Alex Rodriguez. A couple of things lept to mind when I heard about this. First, Palin must be seeing this as an opportunity to put herself back in the national media spotlight. Is she really surprised that late night comedians are poking fun at her family (even if the joke is in bad taste, this sort of stuff isn't really new). Second, Bristol Palin, who, of course, is an unwed teenage mother, has recently been giving public talks and going around offering herself as some kind of spokesperson for family planning. Sarah Palin has never had any problem parading her family and her children out in public when she thought that doing so would serve her own political ends (her kids have been right out there in the spotlight since the time she was announced as a Vice Presidential candidate), but given her candidacy, that sort of thing might have been somewhat unavoidable. The fact that Bristol continues to speak publicly and independently as a spokesperson about family planning, however, has kind of turned her into a bit of a public figure in her own right. She could have chosen to go off and quietly live her life away from the public eye, but she hasn't gone that route- she put herself out there as a public spokesperson (ironically, largely advocating abstinence among teens- while also occasionally talking about how cool it is to be a teenage mother), and in my mind, once you start doing something like that, you sort of open yourself up to public criticism and comment.
The Palins have tried to have it both ways since the beginning- holding themselves out as a supposed example of a classic American family with good ol' traditional values (and parading the kids out in support of this agenda), but whenever anyone has tried to address any of the real family dynamics facing the Palin family or whenever people have made comments (comedic, critical, or otherwise) about the realities beneath the family's thin, PR spun veneer, Sarah Palin rises up in righteous indignation, questioning how anyone could be critical of the loved ones that she has so eagerly thrust into the spotlight.
Letterman's been doing his job for a long time, and he's been making fun of a lot of people in sort of tasteless ways for decades. Bristol isn't off limits. She's been a part of the media spotlight for a long time by way of choices that her mother has made, and she has continued to make her own personal choices that keep her in the eye of the media and the public. Jokes about getting knocked up might be off limits if she were some virginal child who shunned public attention, but at this point Bristol's an 18 year old mother. She actually has gotten knocked up before by some Alaskan teenager (as opposed to a hypothetical pregnancy with one of baseball's biggest stars as the father), and if she's old enough to take responsibility for raising a child, she ought to be able to handle a couple of jokes here and there (I would have had a lot more respect for Bristol and Sarah if they had just called a news conference and then shot the bird at Letterman in response).
The Palins are just living in some sort of delusional bubble. Either that or Sarah Palin is just an extremely cynical media grubber who's willing to exploit her daughter in order to get coverage- this whole thing would have passed without much fanfare within the span of a 10 second joke if Sarah hadn't drawn attention to it.
Damn it. Somehow Sarah Palin has gotten me thinking about her and her stupid family again. I'll never get all of these wasted moments of my life back, will I?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Spellbound Keeps Me... Entertained; Homey Home Crib

Late post today, but things have been busy. Last night Jamie made a really good chicken dinner, and I watched Spellbound with both she and Ryan. It was a 2002 documentary about kids who were competing in the 1999 national spelling bee, and it was pretty good. The film did a good job of covering the lives of some extraordinarily intelligent kids who were engaged in an extremely competitive situation, and the film's focus on their lives outside of the contest kept it more interesting than I expected. Thanks to DK and Suzy for recommending it (and loaning it to me).
Well, since I didn't have much time to write for today, I'm going to include something I wrote a while back but never bothered to post....

10 Reasons I Like My House a Lot (A Tribute to 4604 Tejas Trail- "The Hop-a-Long Lounge")

1. Windows- my house has windows in the front and windows in the back, and when I open the blinds, the light sort of shines through. I also love to watch the light and shadows bounce around the rooms as the sunbeams pass through the leafy trees outside and through the wooden blinds.

2. My yard- I don't spend a lot of time doing yard work or sculpting my shrubs, but I like my yard, and it's brought me a surprising amount of happiness. Before I bought my house I was dreading the idea of taking care of a yard, but I've sort of let nature shape it (it gets mowed on on a weekly or biweekly basis, and nature pretty much takes care of the rest), and now it has a quasi natural feel that just seems like home. I planted a few trees this winter through the City of Austin's Neighborwoods program, and I'm just trying to keep those things watered enough to get them through the summer. I like my shaggy, natural yard. (now grow, trees!!)

3. Cassidy- in an apartment, it's really hard to have a dog. Living in a house with a yard has allowed me to have a dog and to keep her much happier than she would have been if cooped up in an apartment. We hang out in the yard together on nice nights, and she listens to me play guitar. Cassidy has been the only audience present during some of my finest performances. Anyway, having a house made it easier to have a dog. And that's a good thing.

4. Neighbors- I have some nice neighbors who are good people, and some of them are great friends. Mandy lives right across the street with Gene and Laurie just a few doors down from her, Kate lives right around the corner, and Mike and Meredith live right next door and seem to be cool with letting my band practice at the house at least once a week (we try not to push it too late). Anyway, the neighbors are good folks. They're friendly, and they seem concerned with the well being of the community. Also, when some entrepeneurs decided to open some kind of brothel on our street a few years back, the neighbors rose up in solidarity to discourage the parade of prostitutes and johns from wandering up and down our street. So we look out for one another a bit.

5. Band Room- It's nice to have a place where I can make music with my friends without (hopefully) pissing anyone off too much. Ever since I moved into my house I've had a dedicated "band room" full of drums, amplifiers, guitars, and other musical equipment. We try not to play very late at night, but the neighbors have always seemed pretty cool about the whole thing. Anyway, I lived in an apartment for many years, and I could never play my instruments very loudly (and drums were pretty much out of the question entirely), so it's great to have a place where I can join my friends in doing something I love.

6. Tile Floors- Much of my house has tile floors. In addition to being easy to clean, I really like the feel of cool tile on my bare feet (especially in summer). My three legged dog slips and slides a bit on the tile, but I've strategically positioned runner rugs around the house to help her out. The tile also provides for some good acoustics when I play my guitar.

7. Friends- The living areas of my house are sort of arranged in sort of open areas (living room next to family room with both opening onto the kitchen), so my house is good for having people over. I've got a backyard with a patio that's good for hanging out on with some cold beverages. In addition to that, it seems like my friends feel really comfortable at my house. I like having a place where my friends enjoy hanging out. From parties to band practices to just hanging out to watch movies, it's nice to have a place that can accomodate a few friends.

8. History- I grew up in houses which were pretty much brand new and that no one had ever lived in before. My current home was built in 1961. I live on a street with big, shady trees that took decades to mature. I like the fact that my house has some history to it, even though I don't know what much of it is (I bought the house from a woman who inherited it from her grandmother. Apparently the grandmother passed away in the house, and I was warned of a possible ghost when I moved in, but so far no sightings. I think this lady doesn't pop up much because she knows that I'm cool with her being there, and because I try to treat her house with respect).

In addition to the pre-Steanso history of the house, I've already got quite a few powerful memories of my own in the place. My good friend Jeff Wilson helped me pick the place out and helped me with all of the purchasing arrangements (he served as my real estate agent). I've got great memories of hanging out there with Jeff, I've got great memories of Crack and Mono E practices, some great party and dinner memories, memories of simply hanging out with good friends, memories of bringing home Cassidy and spending time with her, and memories of a few Thanksgivings and other holidays spent in my house. I've also got a few memories of some really hard times that occurred while I was living in this house (Jeff passing away and Liz passing away leap foremost to mind), but those are still important memories that make up part of who I am, and all of these experiences taken as a whole somehow feel at least partially tied to my house (if I didn't experience all of these events right in the house itself, I was living there when they happened).

9. Part of Austin- Owning my house for some reason makes me feel a little more connected to the city that I live in. My house isn't exactly downtown, but downtown is just a short drive away and really easy to get to. I also feel that to some extent owning a house in this city makes me a little more invested in the things that are going on in the community around me. There's something about apartment or rental life that feels more temporary and transient (the upside of this is can be a certain sense of freedom, but home ownership has the benefit of making you feel a bit more settled). It's mostly just a mental thing, but owning a home has made me feel like I've put down some roots.

Anyway, Ryan and Jamie live a couple of miles down the road to the south, Cousin Sue is in North Austin, and my parents have bought a place out near the lake. I've got friends all over this burg ,and a job which funnels a majority of the mental health defendants in Austin through my caseload. I live a short drive from Barton Springs, the Alamo Drafthouse, and very close to Central Market.

So I feel connected to Austin, I really like Austin, and the house is part of what makes me feel connected to this place.

10. It's just home- Places take on personalities of their own, and the more time you spend with them, the more personality they seem to develop. Good times, bad times, and the places associated with those memories lend a feel to a place. My house feels like a place of refuge and a place where I can just be myself. It's not a mansion, and maybe it's not perfect, but I think it's a nice place, it's comfortable, and at this point it sort of feels like a part of me. Without Jeff Wilson to kick me in the butt and make me go through the home buying process I'm not sure I would have ever purchased my own place, so I'll always be grateful to him for that (and to he and Mandy for taking me in and feeding me several times a week for the first couple of years that I was in my house and helping me to feel settled into my new home).

So that's it! Come on by and drop in on Cassidy and me sometime over on Tejas Trail. We both enjoy visitors, and would like to see your smiling faces.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Colbert Keeps It Real, Steanso Questions Mercy

Hello. Once again, not much to report going on at home. It seems like lately it takes the better part of the evening just to get my basic stuff done, which doesn't leave a lot of time for just relaxing ("basic stuff" = working out, taking the dog for a walk, watering the plants a bit, getting something to eat for dinner, plus laundry or any other random errands I need to accomplish). I don't know what's going on, but lately it feels like the time is just flying by faster than usual.
Has anyone else been watching these Stephen Colbert episodes that he's filming with the troops in Iraq? They've been really funny and good, and it's nice to see an entertainer who typically gets categorized as "liberal" (even though he plays a satirical character who's an egocentric right wing TV personality) going out of his way to support the troops and to remind everyone that we still have military forces who are in harm's way over there in Iraq (Colbert has repeatedly pointed out that the media seems to have all but forgotten about our troops in Iraq, having shifted their focus to other issues like Afghanistan, North Korea, and the recession). Anyway, not only is Colbert doing a good job of shining some light on this issue, but the episodes are really funny.
Now here's a weird tangent. File this under "Steanso Goes Off the Deep End":
I was just joking around with a couple of defense attorneys the other day right after I got to court, getting myself organized and ready to discuss cases, and by way of getting our work going for the morning I asked the casual (and kind of smartass) question, "Who's ready for some justice?"
One of the defense attorneys, looking at me completely straightfaced and staring me in the eye, responded, "Oh, no. We're not here for justice. We're here for mercy."
We all had a good chuckle and went on about our business, but later as I walked back to my office, that offhand comment sort of got me thinking about mercy as a philosophical concept, and what exactly it entails.
The whole idea of justice is sort of premised upon the idea that the people enforcing the law will be objective, impartial, and treat all people equally (don't get all worked up- I 'm stating an ideal here, and I know that our ideals are lived up to with varying degrees of success). Anyway, the justice system is made up of laws and appropriate punishments for breaking those laws, and in order for society to remain confidence in the integrity of the system, it's important to enforce those laws in a way which doesn't give preferential treatment to people on the basis of wealth, social status, race, religion, whether or not the accused individual happens to know the prosecutor or judge, or any other irrelevant factors. (once again- this is the ideal)
But even within our ideal system, we have this sort of nebulous concept of mercy. Mercy is a really old, longstanding concept which involves leniency in punishment for a person who is acknowledged as guilty. Webster's dictionary defines mercy as "compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one's power ; also : lenient or compassionate treatment."
So we've got this concept of a justice system and an understanding that punishment should be equal and more or less without exception or special treatment, but we also have this longstanding, widely accepted notion that sometimes we should give a particular person special leniency and not really treat that person in the same way as similarly situated individuals.
Some might argue that mercy is something that simply refers to the act of taking special circumstances and mitigating factors into account when deciding punishment (i.e., "I was stealing food, but only to feed my starving family," or "I assaulted that man, but only because he's been abusing me my entire life."). I don't really think that a consideration of mitigating factors constitutes mercy, though. Mitigation should, in my mind, be part of the consideration involved in determining an appropriate sentence, and therefore mitigation (at least in my mind) falls more squarely within the proper administration of justice itself (aggravating factors such as the presence of a lengthy criminal record play a roll as well). Sentences should take certain external issues into account when sentences are decided in order to reach a just result.
In my mind, mercy feels like something different. Mercy involves the situation where a person is clearly guilty and is seeking a punishment which is less severe than the person deserves, even after you've taken mitigating factors into account. (or to understand things in terms of the Webster's definition, mercy involves people who are subject to the power of the court- typically because they've broken a law- and a plea for exceptional compassion or forebearance from what might typically be considered the appropriate punishment.)
From a logic standpoint, I have a hard time with the idea of mercy. How do you know when it's appropriate? What makes it appropriate for one individual, but not another? How many times can a law enforcement official indulge in acts of mercy before the act of granting it begins to undermine the foundational principles of justice (i.e., how many exceptions can you make before people being to question your impartiality, and, therefore, the integrity of the system as a whole)? Is mercy just about letting people off the hook because you feel like it? Is a plea for mercy just an appeal to the touchy feelie side of one's emotions, or is it something that's more substantial from a logical point of view? (you can always just "go with your gut" or try to do whatever feels right, but I don't have a lot of confidence in that sort of decision making. I think that relying on emotion too often ends up resulting in disproportionate leniency for people who are wealthy, attractive, well dressed, have agreeable personalities, or people that we simply relate to as being "more like us" than people that we don't relate to as well. Many of these factors which tend to sway us emotionally shouldn't really be relevant to guilt or punishment.)
I guess part of what I can't come to terms with about the whole concept of mercy is its impact upon the people to whom mercy is not shown. How is it fair that two people commit the same crime and one person receives a lesser sentence because he or she benefits from a showing of mercy while the other individual does not? In effect, the person not shown mercy is being punished more severely for the same crime, right? How is that fair? Also, it seems like there's some kind of slippery slope argument that's appilcable when it comes to mercy. You show "mercy" to enough people, and suddenly it's not mercy anymore- it's the new standard for what constitutes a just result.
Anyway, I'm not bringing up this stuff because I have any real answers. I'm really bringing the issue up because the more that I've thought about the idea of mercy, the more it feels strange and difficult to get my head around in terms of real world application (which seems sort of important, especially when you work as a prosecutor). Mercy is a word that we're all familiar with and hear from the time of childhood, but I just don't think it's really clear what it means or what the motivation for it should be.
I mean, I don't really want to be a person who's without mercy or merciless, but on the other hand, I want to be fair to everyone, and it seems really hard to know where mercy fits into the equation.
Like I said, I don't have a lot of answers, but I think this mercy thing is an interesting question.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A Win for Terrorism

The family of Kansas Doctor George Tiller told CNN on Tuesday that the clinic operated by the physician would now be permanently closed, as would any other clinics in which the doctor had any sort of ownership or management involvement. Scott Roeder, the man accused of shooting and killing George Tiller while he was attending church on May 31st, declared that the closing of the clinic amounted to "a victory for all the unborn children". Tiller performed late term, partial birth abortions, but he limited his use of the procedure to cases where women were facing life threatening complications, where children were very likely to be born dead or dying, and on women who had been raped (some of these "women" being as young as 10 years old). Critics of Tiller claimed that he was actually performing partial birth abortions in other cases that didn't match his proclaimed justifications, but their evidence seems questionable.
In any case, Tiller's actions aren't very relevant anymore. What's clear is that Scott Roeder took it upon himself to put a stop to Tiller's actions and his life by shooting the man dead in a church on May 31st.
There are a lot of issues in this country that could inspire an emotionally invested person to kill. Some people believe that abortion doctors are killing unborn babies. Other people believe that the U.S. military has needlessly killed countless foreign people during conflicts that we should never have been involved in. Others protest the state-sponsored death of criminals on death row. There are folks out there who believe that people within the federal government are involved in an ongoing consipracy against the American people (e.g., Timothy McVeigh), and some who believe that our government orchestrated the events and deaths of September 11th.
Many of these ideas require further, serious discussion and political discourse. None of them provide justification for an act of terrorism.
Terrorism is, by definition, "the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes."
Killing people in order to further a political agenda is terrorism, plain and simple. It doesn't matter how strongly people feel about their agenda or what the specific complaints a person might have. The use of lethal (or nearly lethal) force against another person in order to express a political viewpoint is terrorism, and it is very, very wrong.
It just made me sad today to hear that this clinic was closing. I don't really like the idea of partial birth abortions (although I tend to understand how they could be a necessity under the sort of conditions that Tiller described), but that really didn't have anything to do with my feelings. I'm depressed about the whole thing because it's almost never a good thing when someone manages to successfully (or semi-successfully) express their viewpoint by killing another person.
There are lots of ways to oppose people who are doing things you don't like. Political means, protests, lawsuits, persuasion in the mass media, and even non-violent civil disobedience (some of which might not exactly be legal). I'm for most all of those things. I encourage them. Why? Because even the most obnoxious, disruptive protest or harrassing activity is preferable to the sort of violence we got from Scott Roeder. Democracy and the voicing of opinion can be annoying to the point of seeming almost intolerable, but these things are also the safety valve, releasing the pressure so that things like this shooting don't occur.
It's just a big country that we live in with a ton of different people in it with a billion different viewpoints, and when we start killing people in order to make ourselves heard, that really is the sort of thing that can just tear the fabric of a society apart.
Anyway, I guess I didn't have much that was new to say here, but I just felt the need to say something.
It's my form of protest and it keeps me from going crazy.
Maybe Roeder should have gotten himself a blog.

Hillary Clinton as Ambassador; More Arguments About Secrets and National Security

Howdy, guys. Not much to report from the home front.
Last night I watched The Colbert Report in an episode taped over in Baghdad with the troops. It was a good episode. Colbert declared that we had officially won the Iraq War, and the troops seemed to appreciate that.
I heard on CNN this morning that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has an approval rating of 71% in the general population and even getting a surprising 50% approval among Republicans! The CNN report said that Clinton is also getting some pretty rave reviews from foreign leaders that she's been working with.
It's just crazy to think that a year ago this time Hillary was announcing that she was bowing out of the presidential primary race against Obama. A lot of people thought that her political career might even be over. Instead, she threw her support behind the president (White House insiders have said that Clinton has been surprisingly agreeable while working within the team enviroment of Obama's cabinet), refocused her considerable talents on some different goals, and reinvented herself in what's beginning to look like a very impressive career in international diplomacy.
I hope that her success continues to hold up, and although I know that some people were disappointed with her loss to Obama, I feel very fortunate to have her in her current position. I also really couldn't be happier for our country. The international community wasn't exactly holding the U.S. in high regard following the Bush years, so it's been extremely critical that we have someone that foreign nations trust and respect in the role of Secretary of State. Clinton not only appeals to foreign leaders, but she's a smart, savvy woman who has a keen understanding of U.S. interests and how to defend them.
I'm sure that Clinton is going to have her challenges cut out for her as she works toward the peace process in the Middle East and other daunting challenges, but it's good to know that we have such a strong person representing the U.S. in these situations.
Anyway, mostly I'm just making this post because I'm incredibly impressed with how quickly Clinton has managed to pick herself up and resolutely rededicate herself to a new, extremely important job. She's obviously a woman of tremendous willpower and determination, and it's inspiring to see someone suffer a campaign defeat and then bounce back quickly and very effectively into a difficult role. She may not have won the presidency, but she's an extremely inspiring person. Maybe she'll run again at some point. And then there's Chelsea Clinton- a very intelligent, articulate woman who seems like she's been learning an awful lot by watching her parents...
What else?
The CIA is arguing to a federal judge that Bush era documents that detail the contents of secret, videotaped interrogations of suspected terrorists should not be released for review. In general, I find all of this off-the-record, secret, sneaky stuff that we're doing with prisoners to be very troubling. I'd like to see a much greater amount of transparency in order to insure that the CIA isn't engaged in activities which constitute human rights violations or war crimes. One argument that the CIA is making against the release of these records is that their contents might be disturbing enough that they could be used as an effective Al Qaeda recruiting tool. As the ACLU pointed out in response, this sort of position implies that the worse the behavior is, the more important it is to keep it secret (which seems like a very dangerous and troubling precedent to set).
That being said, the CIA keeps insisting that the release of these records would threaten national security and could end up helping our enemies (by way of giving away our levels of intelligence and our methods of obtaining this intelligence). Maybe we need a different system- something like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is comprised of 11 judges, and it reviews cases involving investigations of suspected foreign intelligence agents which are operating within the United States (there are laws which are supposed to protect American citizens from being spied upon by its own government- this court reviews warrants which seek to place surveillance on people in the U.S., deciding whether there is sufficent justification to believe that a suspect is an agent, and thus, whether it is legal to surveil that person). The FISC operates primarily in secret (so as not to tip off suspected agents), but it nevertheless provides some level of checks and balances in terms of potential overreaching by the federal government (or it's supposed to, anyway).
Maybe we need a special, secret set of judges (people that we know and trust, hopefully, but who would presumably operate in secret) who have the power to review classified information and decide whether it should be made public and sent to a public court for review. Or maybe the secret court should even have the power to issue injunctions to stop the use of certain procedures or punishments to deal with the use of secret, illegal tactics- this way human and/or civil rights violations could be monitored and dealt with, even in situations where public scrutiny might be adverse to national security interests.
I'm just not comfortable with this whole veil of secrecy thing. It seems like we currently have a situation where every once in a while an administration is going to come along which doesn't seem to care about internationally recognized human rights or civil liberties, and as long as that administration remains in office we'll have the potential for a free-for-all in terms of rights violations by the CIA and military. If we find that sort of thing unacceptable in other countries (against any person, but particularly when these other countries might be violating the rights of American citizens), I'm not sure why we think it could be okay when performed by the U.S..
I know people get tired of hearing me complain about this stuff, but I've been a little disappointed by the Obama administration's reluctance to take a hard line against human rights violations. I want our country to be protected and safe, but I also want to live in a country that's worthy of protection for reasons other than the fact that we're the biggest, meanest kids on the block.
Well, I guess that's it for the time being.
You guys have yourselves some fun out there!!!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Weekend Update; Whale Wars; Drag me to Hell; Happy Birthday, Sloane! Welcome Back, Karebear; Metropolis and The Golden Hornet Project

Hey there, guys!

The weekend was pretty good! Friday night I went to Brick Oven with Ryan and Jamie and had some pizza and hung out a bit afterward. We watched some tube at their house. We watched a little bit of Whale Wars, which I have to admit fascinates me a bit. Whale Wars is a sort of documentary style show that follows the exploits of Paul Watson and his Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. They have a big boat called the Steve Erwin (named after the famous Crocodile Hunter), and they basically sail the waters near Antarctica with a mission of interfering with and harrassing Japanese whaling boats which are trying to harpoon and process whales. International law generally protects most whales from commercial whaling, but the Japanese have continued to engage in the practice, citing exemptions in international law which allow for limited whaling for the purpose of scientific research. The Sea Shepherds claim that the Japanese are actually just engaged in commercial whaling, but are carrying out those activities under the false pretense of research (since international law allows for the commercial sale of whale meat and other products which are obtained after an animal has been killed for research purposes).

Anyway, Watson and the Sea Shepherds do things like throwing stink bombs (balloons filled with putrified butter) and other foul products onto the decks of the Japanese ships (to make it hard for the Japanese sailors to work, and to contaminate the whale carcasses so the meat can't be used) and sailing directly into the paths of the Japanese whaling boats.

I respect Paul Watson's agenda, and I support his goals (not financially- I've donated to several animal protection groups, but the Sea Shepherds have never been one of them), but I seriously question the man's methods. He seems fairly negligent to the point of being willfully reckless in issuing orders to his crew. He regularly puts them in harms way- ordering essentially untrained personnel to pilot small, inflatable Zodiacs through icy Antarctic waters in order to board Japanese ships full of angry sailors so that they can serve self-styled "warrants" that cite U.N. whaling treaties. He mocks and sort of berates his crew when they express what sound like perfectly appropriate safety concerns (he is fond of citing an agreement that he makes his crew sign in which they state that they understand that their lives will be put at risk during the Sea Shepherd's mission to protect the whales), and he engages in grandstanding and spin doctoring that seems to undercut his own credibility and the credibility of his cause (toward the end of last season's campaign, Watson claimed to have been shot by the crew of a Japanese whaling boat- a bullet proof vest having supposedly saved his life, but it seemed pretty clear to me that the supposed shooting was a staged, fictional event meant to garner sympathy for the cause and to turn public sentiment against the Japanese fleet). All of this on top of the dangers posed by Watson's propensity for sailing his ship through dangerous ice fields which the ship's hull simply isn't designed to withstand).

On the one hand, I think Watson just might be taking the kind of steps that are actually necessary in order to prevent people from fraudulently violating international whaling law (i.e., since the Japanese seem willing to take advantage of loopholes in the law, Watson is retaliating with different legal loopholes- harrassment of Japanese whaling ships and interference with their operations in ways that aren't designed to get anyone hurt). Honestly, though, having watched the show for awhile, there's part of me that thinks Watson sort of wants someone to get seriously hurt or killed because that would help to draw much more media attention and public awareness to his cause.

So Whale Wars is a strange show, but one that I can't help but feel fascinated by.

Saturday I got up and took Cassidy down to Auditorium Shores. She did some hopping and some swimming until she tired herself out. Then Saturday morning I went to see Drag Me to Hell. It was a good horror movie, and fun in a way that we just haven't seen in a while. Drag Me is a very straightforward, traditional horror movie. It's definitely got some scariness to it, but this movie is Sam Raimi, amusement park, haunted house style horror- not the kind of horror that we've gotten recently from a lot of directors where the overall goal seems more about making disturbing and troubling films as opposed to the more scary type of fun that I grew with as a kid

[spoiler alert] Drag Me to Hell is filled with gypsies and hauntings and possessed animals and lots and lots of gross out scenes that are scary but border on the silly. This was a welcome change from some of the recent trends in horror movies. The last Halloween remake that I saw, as well as the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, both had some very disturbing scenes (the rape scenes were what really bugged me)- I ended up fast forwarding through parts of both of those films- and then there's there's all of those movies that just pass off situations with hopeless victims being tortured and killed as horror- Hostel, Saw, The Last Door on the Left, and so forth and so on. Those sorts of movies may be genuinely horrifying, but they're often not very fun (it seems like there's some kind of weird machismo involved in recent horror movies in which directors sort of challenge their audiences to see how much awfulness they can sit through. Either that or people are just so desensitized to violence that this sort of junk is the only way directors feel like they can get a reaction out of their audience. Either way, those movies really annoy me.)

So I've been waiting a while to see a horror movie that didn't have either: a) bizarre, nonsensical, Japanese ghosts (e.g., Shutter, The Ring, Dark Water, The Grudge, etc.) or b) torture as entertainment.

Drag Me to Hell draws from a more traditional form of horror movie, although one which feels like it may be kind of dying out. Drag Me relies upon aspects of popular Western mythology (curses, demons, fortune tellers and seers, mystical gypsies, etc.) combined with lots of symbolism (Rami's a master at using things as innocuous as a single housefly to begin building a sense of decay and dread) and a sort of twisted sense of moral justice.

So Raimi has a lot of classic horror movie elements in this movie, and he executes them well. He does a really good job here (as he did in the Evil Dead films) of balancing scary with outlandish absurdity and fun- a weird combination of scariness with comic effect.
The only minor issue that I had with the film was one that exists as the flip side of the "good traditional horror movie" praise. The movie wasn't very innovative. It told a very traditional story using techniques which Rami's fans have seen several times before (once again- if you haven't seen the Evil Dead flicks, go rent them tonight and check them out. They're really fun). There's really not much wrong with sticking to your guns, I guess, especially when you're as talented at making a particular kind of movie as Raimi is, but I had just seen the film get such extremely strong reviews that I thought I was going to be walking into a really good movie which would also somehow be something different that I hadn't seen before- the curse of raised expectations.

Anyway, Drag Me to Hell is worth checking out if you like horror movies. I think it'll probably become at least a cult classic favorite (if not a mainstream one) in the horror movie genre.
Saturday night I hung out with Chris Griego. We ended up eating Mexican food (and having some margaritas), watching most of Apocalypse Now and playing some Resident Evil 5.

Sunday I got up and went to Barton Springs. It was good. Ryan and Jamie showed up after I'd been there a little while, and we had a late lunch at Shady Grove after swimming.

I also found at some point during that morning that the Shaw family had welcomed a new baby into the fold! (this is my drummer and longtime friend, Reed, along with his wife, Jen, and their daughter, Meredith) Sloane Julianne Shaw was born Sunday morning around 8:30, and it sounds like everyone is happy and healthy. So welcome to the world, Sloan!! And congrats, of course, to the entire family.

(Ryan, Jamie, and I were talking about the name Sloane at lunch. I like the name, but haven't heard it many times before. Jamie pointed out that it was the name of Ferris Bueller's girlfriend, though, so maybe Reed and Jen were paying homage to their love of eighties movies. Wonder if the name would have been Ferris or Cameron is this had been a boy...?)

Sunday evening I had a brief chance to talk to my mom, who just returned from a church trip to Kenya where she worked with an eyeglass clinic, helping to get people fitted for glasses. It sounds like Mom had a good trip, and she said that she plans to go on a return trip, either in the fall or in May of next year. She said that the people were very warm and friendly, and it sounds like she enjoyed having the opportunity to interact with people from other cultures and places. I've said it before, but I really am proud of her for going, and, of course, I'm happy that she's back home safe and sound!

Sunday night I went with Ryan to the Alamo Drafthouse to see a screening of the 1927 silent movie Metropolis which was accompanied by the live performance of an original soundtrack by The Golden Hornet Project (the GHP is an Austin group which composes and performs independent classical/jazz music). It was a really cool, enjoyable experience. I had seen Metropolis before, but it's been years. It's an amazing film to look at, and I thought that The Golden Hornet Project provided a score which was really powerful and interesting. Metropolis is a movie that involves Marxist class struggle, robots, exotic dancing, mad scientists, lots of art deco, the angel of death, and Biblical parables. It's a pretty amazing movie which still remains thoroughly enjoyable and fairly accessible, despite having been made in 1927. The show was totally sold out. I really mean it when I say that I'm glad I live in a town where you can barely get a seat to a screening of a silent movie from 1927 which is accompanied by a live performance by local musicians (and at the Alamo you can get yourself a turkey sandwich and some popcorn while enjoying the show!). The whole thing was a lot of fun.

And that was it. I hope you guys had a good weekend. I thoroughly enjoyed mine!

p.s.- I heard some stuff this morning on NPR about Obama gearing up for a big push for health care reform over the upcoming months, but I don't really know enough to post on it yet. Sounded really interesting, though.

p.s.s.- Check out this little bit about Stephen Colbert's trip to Iraq to visit the troops. Apparently he's already shaved his head to show his solidarity with them, and congratulated them all on having so much fun in Iraq that many of them have come back to visit multiple times. He's taping shows and sending them out during his trip to visit the troops. I think tonight's show is the first one that will be broadcast.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Benefit Gig Benefits the Mono E, Flight 447 Still Mysterioso

So the gig at the Alligator Grill last night went pretty well! Thanks to everyone who came out. I'm told that the Texas Advocacy Project ended up raising over $2,000, so that's a really good thing. The weather was really nice, the music sounded pretty good, and there were lots of friendly faces who seemed happy to listen to us. A very nice night, all in all. I was standing there playing with the band during our cover of Beck's "The Golden Age", and I had one of those weird sort of transcendental moments where you're sort of flashing back to the past, but living in the present all at once. I suddenly had this vivid memory of standing in a music shop in Houston with my parents way back when I bought my first bass guitar in high school. I was just a dumb kid who had tried out a thousand other hobbies before that, most of them not lasting more than a few weeks, probably, and my folks probably had no idea whether I was serious about this bass thing, or whether it would just be another momentary, passing phase. Flash forward through the next 20+ years of my life, and I think about all of the different people that I've played music with, and all of the different places that I've played (my first band in high school, several different bands in college, Mono E and Crack in my post-college years, plus all of the informal jam sessions and sing alongs at various house parties and open mic type events- in a bunch of different venues and places in at least three different cities over a couple of decades). Anyway, I was standing there playing this Beck song on a beautiful night last night with some friends listening and mi hermanos, the Mono E standing beside me, and I felt extremely fortunate and happy to have the opportunity to be doing what I was doing in that moment.
Since I'm not a parent, I don't give out parenting advice very often, but to all of you Adventurers out there who have kiddos (or heck- even to all of you Adventurers who have younger nieces, nephews, and other loved ones) here's a nugget of Steanso wisdom: support your kids in whatever activities they seem to show an interest in and which have the potential to become a lifelong passion. Like I said, I took part in a whole lot of activities while growing up, and 95% of those activities didn't really stick with me into adulthood, but my parents were willing to buy a kind of confused, uncertain teenage kid a moderately priced bass and amplifier, and as a result of that purchase, I'm still enjoying making music, one of the activities that I truly love in life, at age 36. I'm not playing professionally, I'm not going on tour, and I'm not selling out arenas, but I'm making music, and I love it (and frankly, the road-weary, constantly gigging life of a professional musician probably isn't for me, anyway).
Anyhoo, listen to the kids and help support them in the things that they may grow to love, whatever those activities may be. There were some activities that Mom tried to steer me toward while growing up because she sort of liked them (like joining the swim team- I was just never into it. I always liked the water and enjoyed swimming, but I could never understand the attraction to the monotony of swimming in repetitive lines) and its good to try to get kids to experience things that they might otherwise never try, but it's definitely just as important to pay attention to the things that they do take any sort of self-motivated interest in, and be willing to add some fuel to that spark).
Okay, that's the end of my after school message of the day. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for fostering my interest and being willing to shuck out some money on a bass guitar that might have just ended up in the closet, unused, if purchased for a different sort of kid.
So the gig went well.
Thanks again, to everyone who came out. The Mono E doesn't play that many public gigs these days, so it was a really fun opportunity, and we had a good time.

Another strange turn of events in the case of Air France flight 447. The plane disappeared, having presumably gone down Sunday night on a flight from Brazil to France, and Thursday afternoon Brazilian search and rescue teams were announcing that they had found debris from the plane. Today, however, that announcement has been declared false, with officials advising that the recovered ocean debris had not, in fact, originated from the Air France flight.
So this thing continues to remain a bit mysterious.
I've said this before, but I just can't seem to reconcile the disappearance of a plane that size with GPS systems, transponders, and modern communications technology (and I've been told that the planes are actually not in constant communications with air traffic control- but shouldn't air traffic controllers still have a pretty good idea where these planes are most of the time? I mean, isn't that sort of one of the main points of having air traffic control? To track the movements of planes?).
Well, I'm going to wrap up for the moment. I may write more later if I have time. Hope you guys have a good weekend, regardless.It's supposed to be hot out there, so wear your sunscreen!!!
It's obviously very sad and feels almost equally weird.