Friday, April 30, 2010

Spurs Win; Facebook in Austin

Hey! So how are you guys?
Jamie made a really nice chicken dinner last night, so I want to send out some thanks and some kudos for that.

Still don't have too much. It's been a tough week for the blogging.

The Spurs beat the Mavericks last night to move to the next round in the NBA playoffs. I haven't really been watching an awful lot of professional basketball this year, but I'm a longtime Spurs fan (going back at least to my days at Trinity, when some friends and I used to buy cheap, nosebleed seats and go watch the games at the Alamodome), and it's always good to see the boys doing well. It was nice to see George Hill rise to the occasion. Also, the Spurs and the Mavericks have developed a fairly potent rivalry over the years, so I have to admit that it's a little extra fun to watch the Spurs take down the Mavericks, especially in a year when most people have been claiming (some fairly loudly) that the Mavericks were the better team.
The Spurs aren't all that flashy, but over and over they've proven that they can get the job done.

What else? Apparently Facebook has leased a location in downtown Austin, and is planning on eventually employing up to 200 people at the site. So that's kind of cool. Of course, it occurs to me that these sorts of companies may sort of come and go, and the whole Facebook phenomenon could dry up really quickly if someone came along with a new, better social media site next month (remember when MySpace was the next, best thing?). Nonetheless, it's cool to have a companylike Facebook moving to town and giving some people jobs. Now if only we could get Facebook to stop playing fast and loose with our privacy (hey Facebook- I don't want you selling or giving away info from my profile page, and I'm not crazy about other people "tagging" pictures of me without my permission, either!!)
Oh yeah, I also think that this new Facebook headquarters should have spaces available for people to get together and hang out with all of the "Friends" that they have on Facebook. I'm not sure what this would look like or how it would work, but Facebook should have some sort of place where people meet up with the people that they keep u0p with online. Maybe they should donate a park to the city for this purpose. That would be really cool... (and a great PR move).

Well, that's it for now. Maybe more later. Either way, I hope you Adventurers have a great weekend!!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Bit More Oil; Stewart v. Apple v. Gizmodo

Hope everyone is doing okay.
Not too much to report.

Seriously. I keep reading different news sites and looking for something thta I want to talk about, but I can't come up with anything new. The oil spill caused by the Deepwater Horizon accident continues to get bigger. Apparently they now think that oil may be coming out of the well at a rate that's five times higher than originally thought. Obviously, that's bad. Pretty much real bad. The president has pledged to use all available resources in the cleanup effort, and Lousiana Governor Bobby Jindal has declared a state of emergency.
I hope they find a way to contain the spill and clean some of it up, and I hope the impact along the coast isn't as awful as I fear it might become. And I don't think we should be doing a lot more additional drilling anytime soon along American coastlines. That's about all that I have to say on that.

What else? Jon Stewart took some shots at Apple last night on The Daily Show. For those who don't know, a new protoype version of a new iPhone was found in a bar out in California recently (apparently some Apple employee left it behind), and eventually the phone ends up being sold to an editor from Gizmodo, an online magazine which writes about computer stuff and tech trends). The guy who originally found the phone says he tried to return the phone to Apple, but he didn't get very far with their customer service folks.
Anyway, this week the police kicked in this Gizmodo editor's door and searched his place. Apparently under California law you can be charged with theft if you find property, know who the original owner is, and fail to return it.
I'm not sure how I feel about Gizmodo buying this phone and then publishing a bunch of details related to the product online (Gizmodo returned the phone to Apple, but not before a formal request was made and not until after they published pictures and information about it). It's probably not such a great thing.
On the other hand, kicking in someone's door and raiding their house, especially after at least one attempt to return the phone had already been made, seems kind of ridiculous. This new iPhone is a neat gadget, but it's not exactly classified, military grade hardware with national defesne implications.
Nope- it's a neat phone with two cameras on it instead of one.
Jon Stewart admitted last night that by criticizing Apple he was really going out on a limb with his young, progressive, hip audience. People just looove Apple.
But people love The Daily Show, too, and I think Stewart's right on this one. Apple needs to chill out just a bit and quit taking itself so seriously. Also, this whole deal they've got going where we're eventually going to have to buy everything that we own from the iStore? They need to chill out on that, too.
And it's good to see Jon Stewart taking a stand, even when he knows that doing so might put him at odds a bit with his audience. Good for him.

Annnnd... I just don't know what else to say today. Seriously, I'm stumped.

I'm going to let you guys go, and hopefully I'll have something better tomorrow.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Justified; Goldman Sachs and Financial Reform; Oil Slick;

Well, I hope everyone is doing okay. Hump day. Do the humpty dance.

Hmmmm..... let's see. What's going on?
Not much. Last night I watched a couple of episodes of Justified, which is a relatively new show on FX that's about a U.S. marshall who's reassigned to his home state of Kentucky after killing a bad guy during an old fashioned quick draw showdown in Miami.
The premise of Justified isn't super original, but I've still been pretty impressed with the show thus far. It's based stories about Raylan Givens, a character created by Elmore Leonard in a couple of his novels (Pronto and Riding the Rap). While the basic premise behind Justified isn't all that new (it's basically a police procedural tied in with a sort of prodigal son story- still fairly interesting, but not all that new), the strength of Justified isn't necessarily the twists of its plotlines, but the quality of the characters and the dialogue. I don't know if the show will continue to hold up, but so far it's managed to do a really good job of making the characters feel both very authentic and very interesting (which is tricky to pull off- sometimes if you're too authentic it can lead to boring, and sometimes if you make characters really interesting they begin to feel less like real people). Both the criminals and the police officers on Justified feel like the sort of people that I might actually run into up at the courthouse. The dialogue is often witty, and yet it still remains plausible. The writers seem interested in capturing the humanity of their characters- exploring motivations and actions without resorting to melodrama or wild flights of fancy. For the most part, the characters talk and act like real people (Timothy Olyphant's character always wears a cowboy hat, for example, but then again, people are always making smart assed comments about it- the writers don't let him off the hook in adopting the old west style lawman look without taking some sh*t for it). The whole enterprise is a testament to the skill of both the writers and the actors (and the show has some really strong actors).
Anyway, I recommend checking the show out if you're at all interested in crime fiction or character-driven drama. I hope it continues to be pretty good.

And what about this whole thing with Goldman Sachs, which, of course, is playing out at the same time that the need for increased financial regulation is being debated in the legislature? (so, for those who don't know, Goldman Sachs was essentially recommending investments in mortgage interest products to its customers while simultaneously involving themselves in schemes that would only profit if those same mortgage interest investments failed. Essentially, there was a huge conflict of interest that was never revealed to its customers). So as Goldman Sachs executives have been hauled in front of a Senate panel this week to explain themselves (and they're mostly still saying they didn't do anything wrong, despite S.E.C. allegations of fraud), Democrats have been trying to advance new legislation that would impose additional regulation, more consumer protection, and tighter oversight on Wall Street. Republicans, for their part, have been opposing this reform, arguing that the Democrats are simply paving the way for new financial bailouts.
I understand that there's probably some room for honest disagreement about increased regulation, but the Republicans have, once again, been attempting to block debate and a vote on the financial reform bill (while, of course, joining the Democrats at expressing popular outrage at Goldman Sachs).
I hope the Republicans don't get away with obstructionism and stall tactics this time. Hopefully the American public will take note of the hypocrisy involved in accusing Goldman Sachs of fraud at one moment and then going over to the Senate chamber immediately afterward to obstruct meaningful debate about financial reform.
I guess we'll see.

And last, but not least, the Coast Guard is supposed to set fire to the oil slick today that's been forming in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster off the coast of Lousiana (which has been releasing 42,000 gallons of oil a day from its uncontrolled well). Not going to say too much about this except- yeah, it's official: I'm definitely against the idea of Obama opening up these new offshore areas along the east coast and Alaska to offshore drilling. We're having to set the ocean on fire.

Well, that's it. Hoep you guys are doing well.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

New Arizona Immigration Law

Hey! I know I've been saying this a lot lately, but I really don't have much time to post today. That's probably okay, since I don't have a lot of time things to write about, anyway.
I'm not a big fan of this new Arizona law that seems to allow state law enforcement officials to stop people that they suspect of being illegal immigrants and force them to produce documentation that proves they are legally present in the U.S.. For one thing, this law seems to swing the door wide open for the police to stop anyone who's of Hispanic descent and demand to see identification at any given time (which raises troubling racial profiling issues). Also, this new Arizona law seems to challenge federal law in on immigration (I guess it's not clear whether it specifically contradicts federal law, but it certainly adds additional state requirements in an area which has traditionally been solely under federal jurisdiction). The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution dictates that federal law trumps state law, and on a more practical level, I think that allowing different states to come up with different laws and regualtions in this are could create a horrible mishmash on differing (and possibly conflicting?) laws that foreigners would have to understand and abide by while visiting out country.
It's just a bad law.
Well, I gotta go, but I hope you guys are having a good one!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Weekend Update

Well, it was a good weekend. Beautiful weather. I went to Art City with The Admiral and Karebear on Saturday. Here are just a couple examples of the really cool art that they had down there.

(Dad and Mom enjoying Art City)

On Sunday the Steans and McBride clans teamed up at Green Pastures to celebrate Ryan and Jamie's 10th anniversary. Congrats to Ryan and Jamie!!

And on Sunday I also ran a few errands with Cassidy. Here's a picture of her helping to keep an eye out for merging traffic.

Going to keep this post short. I'm writing it late on Sunday night, but Monday is supposed to be busy, so I don't know if I'll have time to post. Hope you guys are doing alright!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Criminal Court Talent Show; South Lamar Road Art; Rocket Racing

Hey! Happy Friday!!

I don't have too much to write about, and once again, I'm a little swamped, but I wanted to get a quick post in, anyway.
I have a couple of pictures to post, anyway.
This first one is from last Thursday at lunch time in the 167th District Court (which is felony court- I don't really practice there anymore, but I did for almost seven years before becoming a prosecutor). Judge Lynch has been around Travis county a long time, and he knows that a lot of the lawyers who appear before him have other talents and interests outside the law. Judge Lynch has instituted a sort of talent show type of thing on a monthly or semi monthly basis in which lawyers come and show off their talents or hobbies in his court, and people come eat a sandwhich and enjoy the performance or presentation. This first one involved some lawyers who are really good country/folk singers, all of whom who have performed on a professional or semi professional basis at some point. Left to right you have Bobby Earl Smith, Wade Russell, Polk Shelton, and Judge Leon Grizzard. They had some really good material, both covers and originals, and all four of them were pretty good singers!!
Anyway, it was a really cool experience and a good reminder of why Travis County is the coolest place in the state (and maybe the country?) to practice law. We have a really good community full of cool people who have a wide variety of interests who all get along pretty well (even though we argue with one another for a living). And now we have a felony judge who encourgaes us to make music in his courtroom. So very, very Austin...

And speaking of the coolness of Austin, this week (maybe in celebration of art week?) these colorful, knitted pieces of art appeared upon some signs on South Lamar on my route to work. The original signs (the ones covered up) are supposedly art themselves, but they look like really bland roadway markers. I thought they were just blue warning markers to keep large vehicles from hitting the concrete walls until I read an article in the paper a couple of years back that explained that they were supposedly art, and the city had commissioned them for thousands and thousands of dollars (which is lame). Anyway, I love the new, colorful art, and it's been kind of making me smile this week as I pass it on my way to the office in the morning.

Well, that's it for now, I think. Maybe more later if there's time, but if not, have a great weekend!

P.S.- And I just found out that our good family friend, Jim Bridenstine, is going to be taking part in a demonstration event for his rocket racing team this weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I don't know too much about it, but the rocket racing involves former military pilots (Jim's a former Navy pilot) racing really fast rocket powered planes through a kind of complicated course. It's the sort of thing that I would never, ever attempt outside of a videogame. So here's the link. Looks like they're going to be doing a live video feed to the internet of this thing on Saturday.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Signal Watch; RIP, Deepwater Horizon; Perry and Texas in Newsweek

Hey! Hope everyone is doing okay.

My brother, Ryan, is starting a new blog again. I'm not sure exactly how it's going to look or what it will contain by the time he's done with it (he's just sort of getting it off the ground, and there's not much to it yet), but knowing Ryan, it'll probably be an interesting, entertaining read. It's called The Signal Watch (apparently a reference to the wrist communicator used by Jimmy Olson to call Superman), and you can check it out here.

Well, an offshore oil rig called the Deepwater Horizon caught fire and sank off the coast of Lousiana in the Gulf of Mexico this week. Eleven oil rig workers remain unaccounted for, and oil has been leaking into the ocean following the initial explosion on the rig at a rate of about 8,000 gallons a day.
I don't mean to kick people when they're down, but I gotta think that this can't really be very good for either the oil industry or for President Obama, who recently announced a new plan to allow open up new areas for offshore oil drilling along the Atlantic Coast of the U.S. and in areas around Alaska. Part of Obama's justification for allowing offshore drilling along U.S. coastlines (and part of the reasoning that the president used to try to pacify angered environmentalists) involved the use of new technologies for offshore drilling which supposedly present a much smaller risk of environmental disaster and offer a reduced environmental impact as compared to the practices and technologies which were used for offshore drilling in prior decades.
But now the Deepwater Horizon has gone down, and we're all reminded that even one disaster on a big oil rig can have some really nasty results.
My thoughts go out to the lost rig workers and to the rescue crews as they try to save lives and clean up the mess (and the spilled oil). I've always been pretty wary about offshore drilling, and, in general, I'd rather avoid it if possible, but I also recognize the fact that oil pretty much drives our whole economy, and, in fact, our whole society. Oil has gotten us this far, and I think it would be kind of hypocritical and disingenuous to pretend that we didn't need it (or really, really appreciate it) up until this point. Still, we need to get away from our reliance on oil. Additional offshore drilling is just prolonging our inevitable need to confront our energy crisis, contributing to carbon gas emissions, and, as this incident points out, posing a danger to our environment.
Not sure I'm onboard with Obama on this one. I'm not sure that America is going to get truly serious about clean energy so long as we're also simultaneously working to squeeze every last drop of fossil fuel out of the earth.

What else? Rick Perry was ont he cover of Newsweek last week (or this week? I'm never sure) in a series of articles that covered not only Perry, but a number of other issues related to Texas (from the whole Texas textbook fiasco to the Texas economy to Texas politics). In general, I found the articles a little disappointing. Newsweek has seemed to lean farther and farther toward the left in recent years, which I'm okay with, but the articles just didn't have much depth or analysis to them. They described Texans as being a bit backward, very conservative, fearful of outsiders and "elites" from both the east and west coast, and convinced (without much evidence, according to the authors, of the "exceptionalism" of Texas). The article pointed out that whites are rapidly becoming a minority in Texas, but it also pointed out that whites continued to be a significantly stronger political force than Hispanics and other racial groups which had yet to truly flex their political muscle within the state. Also, the article pointed out that the Texas economy remains one of the strongest in the nation, with more businesses moving to Texas than to any other state over the last few years and with Texas home prices holding their value throughout the recession much better in Texas than in many other places.
I guess that a lot of this stuff is might be new information to the rest of the country, but living in Texas, most of this information didn't amount to much of revelation.
And even though the writers seemed to be enjoying themselves as they pointed out the silliness of talk about a Texas secession or the backwardness of a state which insists upon including the creator of the yo-yo in its textbooks while downplaying the importants of minority rights leaders like Cesar Chavez, I think the authors missed a lot of other, even more important points.
Despite our robust economy, a lot of the wealth in this state doesn't help to improve the lives of its residents- our schools are consistently rated as being mediocre, our healthcare system has serious problems- with mental health services being especially poor, our jails and prisons are terribly underfunded- to the point where we periodically just have to release a lot of prisoners because we can't hold them all, and so on and so forth. Texas is a state where the wealthier just keep getting wealthier, and a lot of the rest of the population just struggles to hang on (while new businesses move to Texas in order to take advantage of the fact that they don't have to pay taxes that mioght fund social services). Essentially, if you've got money and you live in Texas, it's a great place to be, but if you're poor or in need of any kind of social services, probably not such a magical place (and I'm not just talking about unemployed people- there are a whole lot of "working poor" people in Texas who put in 40 or more hours a week and just barely manage to scrape by).
Anyway, I guess I was a little disappointed that the article didn't do a better job of exploring the relationship between the strong economy in Texas and the standard of living that Texas citizens enjoy. A good part of the article just seemed to kind of laugh at Texas for the usual reasons without taking a hard look at why Texas is attractive to so many businesses and people who live outside the state.

Uh... I gotta run.
Maybe more later.
Peace out, kids.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Not Really a Post

Oops. Almost no post today. Things just got away from me again. Not much to tell you guys. Mandy left for Costa Rica today. Hopefully she has a good, safe trip!

I really have have nothing to say. I just dropped the ball today. Sometimes it happens. I have a feeling you Adventurers will get over it. You're a tough lot, and Steanso has faith in you.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Trinity v. Haiti

Here's a short video news clip about a cool event at my ol' Alma mater, Trinity University....

Apparently the Trinity men's soccer team recently hosted a game against the Haitian national team. Very, very cool. It sounds kind of corny, but I really do have a lot of affection for my old university (I had a lot of great experiences there), and it's really great to see the school represented in this sort of event. Anyway, it would have made me proud to see the Trinity men play the Haitian team under any circumstances, but following that catastrophic earthquake that Haiti suffered in January, the opportunity to share some competitive goodwill with the Haitian team seems even more meaningful.

Thanks to Lee for the link!

Short Post; Supreme Court and Animal Cruelty Videos

Hey! Hope everyone is doing okay. Today has just flown by, and once again, I didn't get around to writing anything last night.
The Supreme Court today struck down a law which had been meant to ban videos that contain images of animal cruelty. I was pretty disappointed that the law was struck down, but it sounds like the court was concerned about the way that the law was written. Essentially, the court felt that the law was too broad- meaning, essentially, that the law wasn't specific enough in prohibiting depictions of animal cruelty and that some of the things that the law was banning might be the sort of things that could be legally protected expressions of free speech. The court specifically made reference to instructional videos on hunting and fishing and so forth, saying that under a literal reading of this law, such depictions might be deemed illegal- a result which the court saw as a clear violation of free speech.
So once I read a bit more about the opinion, I sort of saw what the court was saying, but I hope a new law quickly gets written and passed which is more specific and which more clearly defines and prohibits dogfighting videos and other depictions of animal cruelty.
I also thought it interesting that Alito, a conservative, was the voice of dissent in the court's 8 to 1 decision, saying that the court was engaging in the creation of fanciful hypotheticals instead of curtailing the "depraved entertainment" provided by dogfighting videos and other depictions of animal cruelty. I guess even those mean ol' conservatives love their dogs!!
Anyway, someone needs to write a new, better law and not just give up on this issue. I'm convinced that a better law might pass judicial scrutiny.

Well, that's all that I have today. Sorry it's a little lame. I'll try harder next time!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Weekend; Oklahoma City Bombing Anniversary; RIP Buford

Well, the weekend went by way too quickly, and I'm not sure what I did with it. I played a whole lot of guitar this weekend, and did a bit of recording. Jamie's brother, Doug, is in town, and he brought his collection of movies with RiffTrax (which, if you've never seen a RiffTrax movie, involves a film with some very funny people making jokes and comments about it in the soundtrack- yes, it's a lot like Mystery Science Theater 3000), so I ended up watching the fairly awful Terminator: Salvation again- although this time the RiffTrax made it much more entertaining. We also had a Mono Ensemble practice, sans Jim, and things went pretty well. And I made a trip to Austin Books with Ryan.

Also, I'm thinking about my friend (and Mandy's sister), Kellie, today. Her dog, Buford (who's a really cool dog that lots of people know and love) isn't doing so well, so my thoughts are with Kellie and Buford (and Mandy, who also takes care of Buford a lot) and Damon (Kellie's boyfriend, who also takes care of Buford a lot). Just wanted to mention that because I'm thinking about them.

What else? It's the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing today (4/19/95), as well as the anniversary of the tragedy at the Branch Davidian compound (4/19/93). I was in college during both of these events, and remember them quite clearly. My memory of the Branch Davidian standoff involves me standing in front of the TV in our dorm room and feeling a sort of sick feeling in my stomach as the whole place went up in flames on live TV (while my friend Richard commented about how those Davidians had to be crazy fools to do such a thing), while my memory of the Oklahoma City bombing involves my friend Sarah (now married to my good friend, Lee) being over at our house and watching TV coverage of the devastation that had been wrought upong her hometown (her father's office was near the Murrah federal building). In particular, I remember her telling me a bomb had gone off in downtown OKC. At first I envisioned something the size of a hand grenade and thought she was overreacting by worrying so much about family and friends who might have been downtown that day. Then we turned on the TV, I realized that the scale of the disaster, and her fears seemed a lot more well founded.
So now it's been 15 years since the Oklahoma City bombing and 17 years since The Branch Davidian compound burned. I'd like to say that the danger of violence and/or terror attacks as carried out by violent, domestic extremists has subsided over the last 15 years, but I'm just not sure that's true. In February of this year a man who was angry with the IRS flew a plane into a building housing IRS offices here in Austin. Individuals angry about health care reform have inflicted death threats and vandalism against Democrats (yeah- I'm not comparing it to OKC, but it's still an attempt to bring attnetion to political issues through violence and threats). A lone fanatic, angry about our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, shot and killed 13 people at Fort Hood last year. Members of the Hutaree Christian militia in Michigan were arrested last month in connection with a conspiracy which was meant to kill a police officer and then ambush subsequent officers at a funeral procession. A white supremacist shot and killed a security guard at the Holocaust museum in Washington last June.
And I'm sure there's a lot more stuff. This is just the stuff that comes to mind right off the top of my head.
My general point is that, while subsequent attacks may not have been as dramatic or spectacular as the Oklahoma City bombing, the general trend of violence from people on the fringes of our society (people who typically have a combination of emotional or mental instability coupled with some sort of political axe to grind) hasn't really seemed to subside at all. In fact, FBI Director Robert Mueller made statements last week in which he described the threat from homegrown and "lone wolf" terrorists (i.e., people taking terrorist actions on their own, without the backing of a supporting nation or organization) as now being as great as the threat which is posed by Al Qaeda or other foreign terrorist organizations.
So that's great. You know what freaks me out even more than the idea of being blown up by angry foreigners?- the idea of being blown up by one of my neighbors (somehow it seems like the foreigners might be a little easier to see coming, plus there's an added sense of betrayal when . The thought that there are people out there who are just sitting in their homes (many on the internet) and working themselves into a violent frenzy because they can't get other people to go along with their completely off the wall political beliefs? I find that pretty disturbing. I mean, they're already tearing down my Bill White for Governor yard sign!! (yes, that was a joke. Mostly. I mean, someone did tear down my yard sign, but let's hope it wasn't the same kind of person who'd fly a plane into a building.)
The main thing is that I just don't get the escalation to violence, and I don't know what to make of the fact that our society seems to produce a disproportionately large number of these wackos. I mean, we have a society that allows for free speech and participatory democracy. People have the right to all kinds of free speech- demonstrations, participation in elections, and even the right to fill the internet with their views (some even write silly blogs, but most bloggers, despite abysmal readership figures, don't end up physically attacking people ;-)). Anyway, there are all kinds of outlets that fall short of violence. But the people committing these domestic terrorist, lone wolf attacks aren't content to simply express their views. They demand that everyone else conform with their personal set of beliefs.
The problem for these people is that we all have to live together, so everyone gets a voice, but, for the most part, the majority rules. Sometimes that sucks, but out of the available forms of government, it's probably the best that we can do. Most of the nutjobs end up feeling that they're being personally affected and impacted by our government and our society in a way that makes them sepcial or unique. No one else can understand their pain. Even though everyone else in the country is being similarly impacted by the same set of rules.
So there are still people out there who take all of this stuff extremely personally, who feel entitled to live in a world which is taliored to their personal desires and beliefs, and who are willing to resort to violence if they don't get their own way. And given recent advances in technology and the ready availablility of information (especially about how to make weapons and carry out attacks- just Google the phrase "how to make a bomb" and try flipping through the results), we're now living in an age when a single person can inflict massive amounts of damage (i.e., Timothy McVeigh taking out a city block with a homemade bomb or Nidal Malik Hasan killing 13 people and wounding 30 others with a set of handguns) with relative ease. We've entered an age when tyrrany no longer comes only from governments and rulers, but in which individuals may try to forcibly impose their particular political views upon the public (and in which they can use terrific acts of violence as a means of trying to incite other people to similar action). And, of course, given the number of people out there who are fanatically militant about various (and sometimes conflicting) political and religious views, it seems like we could really be in for a nasty ride if this trend toward "lone wolf" violence continues to rise.
I don't know. It's just such a weird phenomenon, and I can't quite get may head around it. I think part of the answer lies within the way that Americans perceive the relationship between society and the individual. We live in a country where we place a huge value upon the uniqueness, importance, and the power of individuals, and in most cases I think that's a good thing, but the flip side is that sometimes I think that individuality is emphasized at the cost of an appreciation for the values and traits that are necessary for us to all coexist peacefully and happily together- values like cooperation, the willingness to compromise, empathy, intellectual and emotional flexibility, etc..
Our democratic process is a good thing, but by it's very nature there are always going to be people on one side or the other who aren't happy with the results.
The one thing that I know for sure is that everyone would be a whole let better off if people would just relax.
Anyway, I hope we get this all figured out because I really, really hate turning on the news and seeing bombings and mass shootings that are carried out against Americans by other Americans (well, I don't like any attacks on Americans at all, but you know what I mean).

What else? I got a text a moment ago. Kellie's dog, Buford, has passed away. So sad. Well, Buford had a really good, full life (or at least the part of it that he spent with Kellie), and he'll be sorely missed. Via con dios, Buford.

Uggh. This hasn't really been my favorite Monday. Congrats to my friend Jennifer for coming in second in her pool tournament this weekend. I know she's disappointed not to have finished first, but second out of 46 contenders is still really, really good!

So that's it. Hope you have a good one.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Obama v. the Tea Party;

Hello. Happy Friday to everyone!
Well, not too much going on.
I liked the fact that Obama asked for a "thank you" from angry, anti-tax Tea Party protesters yesterday. While I'm sure the president's comments will drive a lot of people in the Tea Party crowd crazy (or maybe, crazier), Obama had a legitimate point to make- federal taxes were reduced by $173 billion in 2009, the average federal income refund was about 10% higher this year than last year, and Obama has not increased the federal income tax on anyone making less than $250,000 a year since he took office. Nonetheless, Tea Party activists across the country held rallies yesterday with a key part of their message being an expression of anger toward President Obama, attempting to paint him as an out of control tax and spend president.
By the way-the Fox News coverage of the president's remarks? All it mentioned was that the president had asked for a thank you from the Tea Party (although the headline on the main Fox page said that the president "hit at" the tea party, and the headline on the actual article said he took a jab at them) and said that the president made reference to numerous tax cuts which had been "pushed" by his administration- a piece of coverage which omitted any details about the fact that taxes actually have been lower for most Americans under Obama thus far.
The Fox article also tried to make a point of contrasting the president's call for bipartisanship with his supposedly incongruous "jabs" at the Tea Party (so, I guess, the only way to foster bipartisanship is to signal silent agreement with the people who are protesting against you for things you haven't done?).
Ugggh.... Fox News, you are just so, so lame.

Well, I don't have much else, I guess. I hope everyone has a good weekend! The posting has been a little lame this week, but I've been pretty busy. Maybe it'll be better next week...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Short Post; Obama Shifts Gears on Space Stuff

Well, it's been another busy day with no time for blogging (and I didn't get around to it last night, either).
It sounds like Obama is basically scrapping NASA's plans for a return to the moon and instead is trying to steer the space program toward additional deep space exploration missions, a manned trip to Mars, and the development of new technologies which would make it easier to move supplies and equipment into space (thereby allowing humans to work and stay in space for longer periods of time). I guess I'm pretty cool with that. I like the objectives that the president has laid out, and I'm really not so sure how important it was for us to return to the moon, anyway. Mostly I'm just happy to hear that even in a time of economic difficulty, the president is still willing to expend resources on the space program. Not only do I just find the whole thing fascinating (in terms of the knowledge that we gain from exploring space), but I the program has historically proven to have the capactiy to drive technological innovation, create jobs, and serve as a sort of rallying point for national pride (hopefully a mostly bipartisan one- and we could use that right now).
Just for the record, Obama has managed to hold an international nuclear disarmament summit and spelled out a new strategy for U.S. space exploration - this week. What did I do this week? Ummm.... I played some XBox. That was cool.
Well, like I said, I don't really have time. Talk to ya'll tomorrow. Have a good one!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tax Time Once Again;

Hey! Hope everyone is doing okay!
Watched another new episode of Lost last night. It was pretty good, I guess. Or at least decent. I don't know. It feels like sort of a chore to me to have to keep up with Lost at this point, but we're so close to the end...
Anyway, I hope Jorge Garcia continues to find work after Lost reaches its conclusion. He's managed to create a pretty popular character out of Hurley when that character could have been a complete disaster if played by someone else.

What else? Also watched The Daily Show last night.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
That's Tariffic
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

This segment about American taxpayers and the outrage surrounding those who don't pay taxes makes some really interesting points. Many Americans, particularly (but not exclusively) conservatives, have been expressing anger about the fact that the poorest 40+% of American households don't really pay any federal income tax (a study first published on The Drudge Report). Of course, as Stewart points out, these people only manage to avoid paying taxes through a nefarious scheme that involves being poor and struggling really hard to make ends meet. Nonetheless, the media has glommed on to this statistic and is trying to drum up controversy with it. Stewart goes on to point out the fact that the Exxon corporation, an American company which made $35 billion dollars in profits last year, paid no money whatsoever in taxes to the U.S. government during that time period, instead managing to pay taxes only to foreign governments (probably governments with lower tax rates) by way of a corporate structuring scheme involving offshore subsidiaries and other loopholes. $35 billion in profits without paying a penny in taxes, and people are upset that the poorest percentage of our population isn't having more money taken out of its minimum wage checks! (keeping in mind that these people are, in most cases, still paying things like state income tax, sales tax, property tax, and other taxes)

Well, in a sort of fortuitous turn of events for Obama, taxes are about to increase on some of the wealthiest part of the American population without Obama having to actually call for a tax increase (to date, Obama's tax credits and other programs have actually reduced taxes to some degree for over 90% of the population). Bush's tax cuts are going to expire at the end of the year. This means that taxes will probably go up for some folks who are making over $250,000 a year, and the government can recoup some of the more than $2.5 trillion that the wealthy managed to save as a result of the tax scheme. (the Bush tax cuts gave more than half of their tax savings to the top 5% of income earners) This comes at sort of a good time, as experts like Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke have begun to make serious calls for a new plan to reduce the U.S. deficit. Rolling back the Bush tax cuts certainly isn't going to fix the deficit problem, but it's a step in the right direction, and it's a step which can occur without Obama having to to really be the bad guy (all of that being said, a combination of entitlement and spending cuts along with some form of further tax increase will probably be necessary in order put the federal budget back on the right trajectory).
It will be interesting to watch the Tea Partiers and all of these other so-called "deficit hawks" who've been criticizing Obama (for increasing the deficit as he struggled to do things keep the economy afloat and reform health care) as they all shift gears to fight these tax cut rollbacks. I would imagine that these Tea Partiers are all about keeping the federal deficit under control- but not if it means a move to reinstate a pre-Bush era tax scheme that will most heavily impact the wealthiest part of the country.
Ahhh... tax season. Somehow it seems even nuttier than usual this year., but when you have a recession combined with a paranoid political climate in which the opposition keeps trying to brand the president as a socialist- well, things are just bound to get a little wacky.

Ehh... I don't have much else. Maybe more later. Hope you guys are enjoying hump day. Let's hope the rest of the week involves a nice downhill roll....

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Perfunctory Post

Hello. Hope everyone is doing ok. I don't have a whole lot to tell you guys.
Went out to dinner with Ryan and Jamie last night for Ryan's birthday. It was nice. I hope Ryan had a good birthday.
Ugggh. Just not feeling it today. Hopefully I'll do better tomorrow.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Happy Birthday, Ryan!!

Well, it's my bouncing baby brother's "birthday" today, and this year he's turning 35!! It's hard to believe that it was 35 years ago tonight that our family heard a small explosion near our home and then wandered out of the house to see a strange, green glow in the woods a short ways away. I clung to Mom's hand as Dad cautiously climbed down into that smoldering crater, and a short time later he emerged with the newest addition to our family! (well, I guess technically we weren't sure whether Ryan would really be part of the family until after we got him home and Dad chopped off the tail and tentacles, but once we were sure he would pass for "Steans normal" we knew we had ourselves a keeper!)

Anyhow, happy 35th, Ryan! Hope you've been enjoying these orbits round the sun, and I hope you enjoy the upcoming ones even more!

Grudgingly, since it's your birthday, I guess I'll admit that you're a pretty good brother.... but don't get used to it! These sort of admissions only happen once a year!

Happy Ryan Day; Weekend Update; Assassin's Creed 2; Nuclear Security Summit

Well, it's my brother's birthday (see the other post for today), so once again, happy birthday to him today!
Hope everyone had a good weekend!
Mine was pretty good.
Let's see, what did I do....

On Saturday I went to DK's third annual LizStrong party, in celebration of her partner (and my friend), Liz, who passed away several years back. It was a really nice party, and I'm sure that Liz would be thrilled to see so many of her friends and family gathered together to remember her and have a good time! (note the picture of Ryan entertaining the kids at the party. Kids love a giant. Even a giant who refuses to put down his Smirnoff Ice long enough to play a proper game of catch with them)

Later on Saturday Ryan and Jamie had a few of their friends over to have a few drinks, and I stopped by for that. It was cool! I got to meet some of Ryan's work friends (and other friends) that I hadn't met before, and I saw a couple people that I hadn't seen in a really long time. It was a good time.

Sunday I went to see Hot Tub Time Machine. It was pretty funny, and more or less what I thought it would be, although maybe with a bit more of a dark undercurrent than I was expecting (nothing too major, but the characters had backgrounds that were sort of depressing, and some of the partying was a little more hardcore than I expected). Anyway, it was a fun movie.

We also had Mono Ensemble practice yesterday, and all five of us made it to practice for the first time in quite a while. It was a pretty good practice. For not having all played together in quite some time, I thought we sounded pretty good.

What else? I got a new videogame. Assassin's Creed 2. It's pretty cool. The game's story revolves around Ezio Auditore da Firenze, who lived during the Renaissance period of the late fifteenth century in Italy. Ezio's father and brothers are wrongly executed after ebing betrayed by political enemies of his family, and Ezio takes on the role of an assassin, trained by his family's allies so that Ezio may extract his revenge (and hopefully bring an end to some Italian political corruption in the process).

Anyway, the game has good gameplay, and a plot which is more involved and interesting than the plot in the first Assassin's Creed game. Mostly, though, I'm impressed with the game's art, which is pretty fantastic. The game involves fantastic depictions of cities like Florence and Rome during the Italian Renaissance, and the renderings of both the environments and the characters are just beautiful to look at (and climb over and fight your way through and...). Standing in front of my high def TV and playing this game is an experience that's immersive to the point where it can literally be dizzying (especially as you run along rooftop ledges or whirl your way through chaotic combat sequences).

Anyway, nice game.

Other from all of this stuff, I did a little bit of playing and recording on my own this weekend. Did a little bit of recording with my new computer. I'm not sure how the final products are coming out, but I'm enjoying the song creation process on the new MacBook.

What else? More kudos to President Obama as a he kicks off his nuclear arms reduction summit this week. The President may have been awarded his nobel prize prematurely, but he's really been working overtime to legitimize it lately as he's announced new American policy positions on the use of its nuclear arsenal, made agreements with Russia about reducing the number of nuclear weapons in both countries, and is now hosting this nuclear nonproliferation summit. I guess it's pretty easy to be cynical about how much progress the president will really be able to make in reducing the nuclear threat (it's obviously a pretty daunting task), but at least Obama is moving in the right direction and demonstrating to the world that the U.S. has a very real interest in (and dedication to) nuclear arms reduction and nonproliferation. Keeping the threat of nuclear weapons under control around the world really does seem like a project that's going to require a coordinated effort on the part of the global community (not only in terms of nonproliferation, but also in terms of keeping track of these weapons and preventing them from being trafficked), so I think it's a great thing that President Obama has been determined to keep the U.S. in a leadership role.

And you know what else is good? Just seeing president Obama constantly working so hard on so many things. Seems like a big change from the Bush years, when it seems like all we ever saw were pictures of the president clearing brush and wandering around on his ranch out in Crawford (President Bush made over 65 different trips to Crawford during his time in office and spent more than 418 days at his Texas ranch- meaning he spent at least 1 out of 10 days during his presidency out at the ranch- and that's not counting time that he spent at Camp David or other vacation spots). Anyway, if conservatives were coming to their opinions about the efficiency and effectiveness of government on the basis of Bush's work ethic, it's no wonder that they were so bent out of shape about giving tax dollars to the government. Obama, on the other hand, seems like he's constantly busy and sort of everywhere at once. Whether he succeeds or fails on individual struggles, it's refreshing to see that sort of energy in the White House again.

Well, that's it for now. Hope you guys are enjoying the beginning of your week!

Friday, April 09, 2010

F for Fake; Nuclear Arms Treaty; Gingrich; Stevens Announces Retirement

Hello. Happy Friday to everyone!
So what's up? Last night I went to see Charlie Roadman's band (well, one of his bands), F for Fake, at the Red Eyed Fly. They sounded good! They don't play all that often, and it seems like more recently Charlie has been forcusing more on his Athens v. Sparta project (which is a really interesting musical group that performs a sort of musical narrative about the Peloppenesian War), but I've always really liked F for Fake, and it was cool to see them out and playing their songs again. They have a cool sound that's really easy to listen to. I like Kevin Higginbotham's voice (he also does most of the singing for Athens v. Sparta), the lyrics are cool, and the band plays cool melodies and grooves without becoming too self indulgent or melodramatic. Anyway, F for Fake was good. More people should have come out to see them (and I should have been better about plugging the show on the blog- I meant to mention it yesterday, but then I really didn't have time to write a post).

What else? So President Obama and Russian President Medvedev signed a nuclear arms treaty yesterday. Now the treaty needs to go to Congress for debate and a vote, but Republicans are already saying that they will probably sign off on the treaty so long as their questions and concerns about America's security can be satisfactorily addressed. I think this new treaty is supposed to reduce both the Russian and American nuclear stockpiles by a third, which will likely still leave enough nuclear weapons out there to destroy the whole planet a couple of times over. Still, I think the treaty is a significant and meaningful step in reducing the threat of world annhilation through nuclear armedgeddon.
Of course, there are people who don't see it that way. Sarah Palin has gone on record saying that the new treaty is "unbelievable" in that it prevents America from defending itself. She went on to compare America's participation in the treaty with a kid on a playground who invites physical attacks by other students by promising not to retaliate, and she continued by saying that she couldn't imagine any other presidential administration in American history taking such a step.
Predictably, The Daily Show ran clips last night of President Reagan publicly speaking about the need for nuclear arms reduction and about his aspirations to reduce the American nuclear arsenal by one third.
It's kind of crazy that only a month ago I was literally having nightmares about President Palin starting a nuclear war. When I hear her making the sort of asinine statements that she made yesterday about nuclear arms reduction, somehow my nightmare seems a little less outlandish.

Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich, speaking at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans on Thursday night, described President Obama as a left-wing socialist and described him as "the most radical president in American history". Not sure what Gingrich is up to (trying to test the waters for 2012?), but his statements are pretty ridiculous.
Let's take a look at Obama.
Iraq War- we still have about 98,000 troops in Iraq, and there's really no end in sight for our "security force" in that country.
Guantanamo Bay- still open.
Afghanistan War- still fully operational and funded, with an additional troop surge recently ordered. A draw down date has been announced, but already the president has made comments about the "flexibility" of that date.
Treatment of detainees- torture has been taken off the table, but the Obama Administration seems to be reversing course on its earlier decision to hold terrorism trials in federal, civilian courts. At the very least, it sounds like terror trials will not take place in New York City as originally planned.
Environmentalism- the president recnetly lifted a ban on offshore drilling along the Eastern Coast of the U.S. and in parts of Alaska.
Health Care- Obama helped to pass a plan, but it didn't include a public option, and in many ways, the plan that finally got passed was extremely similar to a plan proposed by Republicans in 1993 as an alternative to the health care reform plan that the Clinton White House was proposing at the time.
Nuclear Weapons- Obama has sought a reduction in nuclear weapons, but his proposal of a one third reduction is in keeping with proposals put forward by pervious Republican leaders like Ronald Reagan (who also proposed a one third reduction).
Taxes- income taxes thus far have not been increased on the middle class by Obama. In fact, for the most part, Obama really hasn't even rolled back the tax cuts for the wealthy that were instituted during the Bush years.
Economic Stimulus- Obama passed an economic recovery package, but there were bailouts and recovery measures that had already been begun by the Bush White House before Bush left office (meaning even the Repoublicans had recognized the need for government intervention in order to prevent a massive economic collapse). Republican claims that recovery could be facilitated by simple tax cuts and nothing else seem fairly disingenuous given the fact that even the Republican president at the time of the collapse didn't follow that strategy.

Soooo... when New Gingrich calls Obama the most radical, socialist, liberal president in American history, it's clearly just more ridiculous Republican rhetoric and windbaggery. Obama has proven to be much more of a moderate progressive, in fact, than many on the left would prefer. I guess the main question is what Gingrich's angle is, but, to be honest, I just don't think he has the political legs to make a run at the presidency.

Sounds like Supreme Court Justice Stevens is going to retire. Not sure there's all that much to say about that. Stevens was generally considered to be more liberal than conservative, so Obama is basically in the position of replacing one progressive judge with another one. I guess the good thing is that Obama is having the chance to make this replacement now (as opposed to Stevens sticking it out past 2012 when [heaven forbid] there's a chance that there might be another Republican in the White House who would be making the appointment). Now, inevitably, Obama will try to pick someone who's not controversial as his nominee, and the Republicans will threaten to block or try to block the appointment, claiming that the person is a wild eyed loon....

Well, hope everyone is having a good day! Enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Short Post

No time today! Sorry! Rap at you tomorrow (hopefully).

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Early Adopters; New Nuke Policy

Well, the complaints about initial glitches with the iPad are already starting to come in. Apparently there are some problems with the Wi-Fi connectivity of the device.
I'm not really pointing this out in order to single out the iPad or to claim that Apple makes inferior products (almost every new gadget has some problems, and I'm sure that Apple will probably get the problems fixed in short order and will eventually be able to make sure that their customer base remains satisfied and happy).
Actually, I'm writing about this just because the whole idea of "early adopters" of new technologies- the kind of people who feel compelled to rush out and buy new pieces of technology just as soon as they come out- is a phenomenon that's really strange and sort of incomprehensible to me.
As I said in yesterday's post, I'll probably eventually end up buying an iPad. But the key word is eventually. With almost every one of these devices that comes out, the initial launch of the product ends up containing unforseen glitches and the price point is higher than where it will ultimately ends up. So, other than the fact that they want to be the cool kids on the cutting edge, I don't really understand people who rush out to buy the initial launch, first versions of new technology products.
To me, the whole deal is almost counterintuitive. Products like the iPad or the iPhone (or heck- even high def TVs or almost any other technology that you can think of) usually are at their highest price points when they're first launched, but this is also the first generation, where the bugs haven't been worked out and the thing doesn't work as well as it ultimately will in the end. (and yes, yes, I know that the price is initially higher because the companies are trying to recoup their R &D costs and whatnot, but I'm just speaking from a consumer's perspective here). It almost seems like their should be a discount for people who are willing to buy the bug and glitch laden first generation models, and then the price should go up a bit as the glitches get worked out.
But people love hype. They devour it like a starving man at a buffet table. With each new product launch (especially for Apple- a company that has truly mastered hype) we see people camping out and waiting in line for hours and hours in order to get newly launched products as soon as they're delivered by the trucks. Others pre-order their products- paying for them ahead of time simply in order to have the reassurance of knowing that they'll have one the moment they become available.
I guess, in the end, I should be happy that these people are out there. They're willing to buy new products at a premium and then report back the problems that need correcting, and in the end, this really helps out the rest of us who wait a little longer and then buy the same products farther down the line.
But I'm never going to be an early adopter. I'm already uncool for so many reasons that I just don't believe that being among the first to own any new product is really ever going to help, and I can usually wait for the chance to play with a new toy until they've come up with one that really works the way that it's supposed to.

What else? Well, in news that's clearly far less important than the release of the iPad, the White House has announced major new restrictions upon America's use of nuclear weapons. Apparently we're now declaring that we won't use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear countries which have signed onto agreements which prevent the proliferation of nuclear arsenals (this means we're leaving the door open to nuke countries like North Korea and Iran which currently may not have nuclear capabilities, but which have refused to abandond the pursuit of their development). The new nuclear strategy also states that the U.S. will abandon the development of new forms of nuclear weapons (or at least the largest, strategic forms of them).
On NPR yesterday it they were talking about this story, they brought up the fact that this sort of action on the part of the U.S. is actually putting Russia into a sort of bind from a security perspective. Russia is fully able to defend itself with the use of nuclear weapons nowadays, but it's conventional warfare capabilities have diminished to some degree since the decline of the Soviet Union. This means that the Russians can hold their own against the U.S. as long as we're matched up against one another from a nuclear standpoint, but the Russians probably wouldn't fare so well against the U.S. in a conflict that involved conventional arms (the U.S. has been sinking lots of money and resources into the ongoing development of new conventional weapons technologies while Russia has sort of lagged behind in that area).
Annnyway, there are lots of different foreign policy implications for this new nuclear weapons policy, but I guess, in the end, it seems like a pretty good thing. Some conservatives have immediately criticized this new policy, saying (among other things) that it sends mixed messages, appears to weaken U.S. resolve, and takes our nuclear deterrent off the table in the case of a nonnuclear WMD attack (e.g., biological or chemical weapon attack).
Well, as they pointed out on NPR yesterday, America still has one of the biggest, most advanced conventional weapons militaries in the world, and I would think that our conventional military could still provide an awfully powerful deterrent against people who would do us harm. Second of all, most of the countries that we're worried about in terms of launching bilogical weapons or chemical attakcs probably aren't the type of folks who are going to be signing onto a nuclear nonproliferation agreement, anyway. These are the kinds of countries who don't want to answer to anyone (and who won't tolerate transparency rules and inspection teams), so it's unlikely that they'll allow themselves to be reigned in by treaties. This means we can still nuke them if they launch germ warfare in the streets of Manhatten. (and we're still keeping all options on the table in terms of countries that possess nuclear weapons)
As far as the message goes, I think we're sending the right one. We're essentially just trying to show that we can be fair. If other countries are willing to promise not to have nuclear weapons, we'll agree that we're never going to nuke them. If this sort of agreement helps to curb the threat of nuclear weapons from expanding around the globe, I would say it's probably a very good thing.
I just tend to think that as time passes and technology progresses we might be facing more and more problems with countries like North Korea and Iran who want to develop nuclear weapons. One way to discourage this sort of growth is to give other countries some form of incentive that discourages them from developing nuclear weapons. Turning the absence of nuclear weapons into a defense strategy for avoiding nuclear attack (for the countries which agree to forego these weapons) seems like a good strategy for curbing proliferation.
Don't worry too much, conservatives. We can still nuke any country that nukes us. For all the good that will do.

Well, I guess that's it for now. Maybe more later. Peace!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The iPad (Again)

Hey! So what's up?
Not too much here. Last night Jamie, Ryan, and I tried to go to this new Thai place that we discovered and really liked. Well, we got inside, and although the sign on the outside was the same, the decorations had changed, the waitstaff had changed, and the menu was different. Our waitress told us that it was a new place (albeit a new Thai place), but their new sign just hadn't changed yet. Unfortunately, the food just wasn't quite as good under the new management.
Oh well. Back to Madam Mam's again, I guess.

The new iPads came out this week, surrounded by tons of hype and media attention. The iPad was on the cover of both Time and Newsweek, which I found fairly ridiculous (the cover story? for a machine that really doesn't do anything entirely new?), especially when I noticed that one of the iPad's big competitors, the Amazon Kindle, had to buy ad space on the back cover of one of the magazines in order to promote their product and took out a full page ad in the other magazine to do the same thing (while Apple landed on the front cover of both of these rags for free). The media just loooooves Apple.
And I, myself, have to admit to happily using several Apple products. I have an iPhone, and iPod, and I recently purchased a new MacBook Pro. They all work just fine. None of them is magic.
I guess that I'll probably be getting an iPad at some point in the future as well. It looks like it will provide a very handy platform for reading (books, periodicals, or just about anything else), watching various types of video material, and even checking email. I can actually see iPads eventually becoming extremely useful in my workplace as well. A handheld tablet that allows you to immediately access and read through a limitless number of documents could be extremely helpful in a courtroom environment (and if you could link the thing to a display mechanism like powerpoint, so much the better).
As I read in one of the articles I read about the new device, though, the iPad seems largely designed to serve as a platform through which content can be consumed, rather than as a platform which is well suited to creating content. Touchscreen keyboards, even good ones, probably aren't ideal for large amounts of typing, and the memory and processing capacity of an iPad probably aren't as good as more tarditional computers at things like recording, editing, and mixing music.
I find this move toward a device that's aimed at passive, content-absorbing consumers to be a little sad. One of the great things about computers, in my mind, has always been the fact that they put a tremendous power to develop, create, and communicate ideas into the hands of a public that previously had much less ability to effectively express itself. Now, instead of having to find an agent and a publisher, writers have the power to publish their writing directly onto the internet without the need for a third party intermediary. Musicians have the power to record music and to distribute it online without the need for big record companies.
The iPad, on the other hand, seems primarily to be a consumer's machine. The big draw for the gadget is that it's supposed to have tons of good content and apps (those are application programs for those of you who aren't so hip to the post-iPhone world). Of course, these products are going to primarily be available through iTunes- a distribution point exclusively owned and controlled by Apple (which is something else that's creepy about this new iPad- the more popular it becomes, the more Apple will cement a sort of death grip on the market for content for personal computing devices. Content developers may end up having little choice other than to play ball with Apple if they want their products to be widely available to consumers. It's weird to realize that Apple can get away with this because of its hip, cool image, but if a company like Microsoft tried to pull the same thing, the computer geeks would be screaming bloody murder about unfair control of the markets and new restrictions being placed upon the formerly free range development marketplace).

Crap. I gotta go. I'll probably eventually buy an iPad (in a little while- after waiting for them to work out the bugs and maybe bring the price down a little). I'll buy content. Probably from their store that offers iPad exclusive apps and videos and whatnot.
But the iPad is feeding into baser consumer instincts, in my opinion- encouraging people to remain passive consumers instead of producing new content of their own. Apple's also doing some dodgy things in terms of hemming in software designers and content developers.

Gotta run!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Weekend Update; The Road Warrior; The Ghost Writer

Had a nice Easter weekend with the family in town. Saturday night Mom and Dad had the McBride family and the Neely family over for dinner, along with Susan and Ciara and D.K.. It was a nice dinner and a good time! Sunday morning the Steans family met up once again for some Easter brunch. That's Ciara and Dad in the picture (and part of Mom) at El Arroyo. It was a nice way to spend Easter.

And the whole weekend was pretty good, except for the fact that I'm still really suffering from allergy problems. I guess the whole town is pretty much suffering from allergies right now, though (the extremely high pollen counts were one of the lead stories on the local news), so maybe I can just take comfort in the fact that I have lots of company in my misery. Somehow that doesn't help much, though.

Other from the Easter festivities, I spent the rest of the weekend doing my usual messing around. I spent some more time messing around with my MacBook, working on some recording stuff (although this weekend I ended up mostly working on upgrading stuff on the technical end so that hopefully I can do some better recording in the future), and I watched a movie or two.

Yesterday, with Ryan and Jamie, I went to see The Road Warrior at the Alamo Drafthouse as part of their classic movie series (IMDB lists this movie as simply Mad Max 2 because, I guess, The Road Warrior was a title really only used to market the film in the U.S.). I've seen that movie a bunch of times, but I had never seen it on the big screen. Despite the fact that I've seen it a number of times, it was really cool to see it again. It's a movie that has a good, tight narrative, and it's actually paced really well. Even though I've seen it many times, it was really entertaining.

And it's kind of hard to say that The Road Warrior is entertaining because it's a grim, grim movie. The last few times I had seen it, I guess I had watched it on television, because I had really forgotten exactly how brutal and ugly some of the parts of the movie really are (and some of the nastiest bits are usually edited out for television).

But the ugliness really is part of the whole point of the Road Warrior, I guess. The whole movie sort of touches on fundamental questions of human nature. In the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max, humanity is reduced to a race of creatures who are wandering around a burnt out wasteland, fighting for their survival over extremely scarce resources. I remember talking a bit about The Road Warrior to one of my philosophy professors at Trinity. This professor brought the movie up as a stark depiction of humanity living in a "state of nature" as defined by philosopher Thomas Hobbes- a pre-civilized form of existence in which life turns out to be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short". The question posed by Hobbes, as well as by the movie, actually, is how to best survive when confronted with this state of existence. The answer, for both Hobbes and for the humans who are struggling to escape the wasteland in the movie, is to develop a new society (i.e., establish a civilization) with a form of social contract that puts an end to the brutality and constant violence of a "survival of the fittest" style of living. Of course, before such a society can be established, people's better instincts have to prevail- they have to come to want such a society and to believe that both the group as a whole and the individuals within it can and will fare better for being a part of such a society.

And Road Warrior sort of shines a spotlight on these themes and philosophical questions. Max wanders the wasteland and develops the skills to be a successful survivor amongst the bandits and marauders of the post-apocalyptic Australian outback, and it takes a while to convince him that the establishment of a new civilization is a plan worth supporting (or, perhaps, that it's even a realistic option at all). Max is sort of a classic figure in the Hobbesian hypothetical- a figure who feels like he has the strength and resources to be successful in the wasteland on his own (while recognizing that "success" in the wasteland may still not add up to a very nice life), and who is weighing that belief against the risks and potential benefits of aligning himself with a fledgling civilization- a civilization which is by no means guaranteed to survive (and in the movie, given the fact that the settlers are beset on all sides by some really nasty bandits and killers, this new civilization doesn't even seem particularly likely to survive).

Of course, in the end Max ends up helping these people escape the marauders so that the settlers can go on to try to create a new life and civilization for themselves, but it's interesting to note that once he's helped them escape, Max doesn't join the settlers. Instead, he returns to the wasteland.

I'm not sure what this means. Most certainly, Max is a conflicted character. He likes the people from the settlement, recognizes the importance of dealing with "honorable" people, and he seems to have a great distate for the marauders. On the other hand, Max has suffered tremendous personal tradgedy (his family was brutally killed by bandits in the first Mad Max movie), and maybe Max has simply become too cynical to really believe that a new society can be established. He might think that the establishment of a new society is ultimately a pipe dream amongst all of the nasty, brutish humans who are fighting for resources in the wake of the apocalypse. Or perhaps, having failed to protect his family in the first movie, he may simply be wracked with guilt and feel unworthy of a new, productive life within a new society. Or maybe he just needs to wander back into the wasteland so he can kick more marauder butt (and make some more money) in the third movie, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

Anyway, it was good to see The Road Warrior again. No matter how many times Mel Gibson does stupid things (gets arrested, makes anti-Semitic and sexist comments, etc.) and no matter how lame he gets (and he's gotten pretty lame in recent years), I'll always have to at least take my hat off to him for The Road Warrror.

By the way, I also saw the new Roman Polanski movie, The Ghost Writer, last week. It was pretty good. For those who don't know, it was about a writer (Ewan McGreggor) who is ghost writing memoirs for a former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan). During the course of writing the memoirs the Prime Minister comes under investigation for possible war crimes, and the ghostwriter uncovers evidence of CIA involvement and political intrigue.

It was a good movie. Polanski still excels at creating mood and atmosphere, and the plotline was pretty interesting. Kim Cattrall plays the prime minister's professional assistant/mistress, and she did a really good job with the role. Olivia Williams did a good job as the prime minister's wife. Anyway, it wasn't the most brilliant movie ever, but it was a good, solid film where the director actually gave his actors some room to work and the plot actually made some sense.

Oh yeah, by the way- even though I liked the movie okay, I still totally think Polanski is a criminal, and I'm not one of those people who thinks we should give him a free pass. He did some bad things (in addition to giving drugs to and having sex with a girl who was under age, the girl also testified that she told him she didn't want to have sex), and he never served his sentence, so I say let him stay a fugitive.

Well, that's it for now. I hope everyone is doing okay. Talk to you later!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Friday, April 02, 2010

Fringe; The Daily Show and Its Criticism of News Media

Hello! Hope everyone is having a...... Good Friday! (yeah. sorry about that)

Well, Mom and Dad are in town this weekend, so I'll be hanging out with them some this Easter holiday. I'm on the lookout for large bunnies and colored eggs!

Also, I watched a pretty good episode of Fringe last night. That show has a few flaws from time to time, but it's been doing a really good job of developing its characters and carrying off an interesting, trippy, somewhat complicated story arc over multiple seasons (I especially appreciate that while it has some mystery to it, it hasn't relied on the same sort of "hide the ball" gimmickry that we've been dealing with for years on Lost).

There was a bit on The Daily show last night in which they talked about the falling TV ratings for CNN and where Jon Stewart criticized CNN pretty harshly for it's news coverage and analysis. Stewart's criticism was essentially based on complaints that CNN's version of "journalistic objectivity" has devolved down into little more than providing a forum where wingnuts and crankpots from both ends of the political spectrum can meet up to duke it out on live TV. With Fox News creating a successful niche for itself among conservative viewers (by way of its analysis and the slant in its reporting) and MSNBC essentially doing the same thing for viewers who lean to the left, CNN has declared itself to be the only independent, objective cable news outlet in the game. And I sort of agree that CNN might be the only news outlet that doesn't really blatantly pander to one end of the political spectrum, but their approach in "staying neutral" involves simply taking the kind of biased, argumentative pundits that might appear on these other networks and then combining people from both ends of the spectrum onto one forum.
Stewart's (or more specifically, The Daily Show's) main complaint is that CNN doesn't really engage in a whole lot of investigative journalism, fact checking, or research on its own. It relies far too much on bringing biased pundits to the table (many of them possessing extremely dubious credentials), letting them spit out extremely questionable facts and figures (which typically aren't fact checked and which, more often than not, go unquestioned and unchallenged), and then lets the two sides battle it out. Unfortunately, this isn't always the best way to get to the facts and the truth (I might go so far as to say this usually isn't the best way to get at the truth). When you're just relying on talking heads and pundits to sort this sort of thing out, then your audience often ends up creating a perception of "truth" based upon the varying skills of the pundits who are making their respective cases. If a particular speaker is unskillful, inarticulate, unprepared, or doesn't bring the necessary facts and figures to back up their claim, the audience will often get a completely misleading piece of coverage in terms of the actual facts involved with a story. Just because a certain pundit or analysis does a poor job of making their case doesn't mean that there isn't a case to be made.
We've all seen this, right? We've seen arguments between pundits on TV where the person who is supposed to be representing a particular point of view just does a terrible job and fails to bring up relevant, pertinent facts and information that could support their argument and/or fails to challenge misleading or false claims that are made by the person arguing on the other side. Sometimes it's truly mind boggling at how bad these supposed "experts" are at conveying a particular point of view. Equally troubling is the fact that people who are coming to the table with little or no facts to support a given position often seem able to "win" the argument through the simple use of charm, speaking skills, or by presenting a more likeable onscreen persona.
Stewart wants CNN (and hopefully other news agencies as well) to step up and do some of their own honest to God reporting. He wants program hosts, reporters, and moderators to have done their research and to have some facts at their command. He wants them to have enough knowledge to challenge guests about their claims and the "information" that they're presenting. He wants reporters to actually go out and do some investigating- to try to find out what the actual facts are about a given situation and to report these facts back to the viewing audience without filtering them or modifying them with political bias.
I know there are people out there who claim that it's impossible to report stories without any bias, but I just strongly disagree with that- or I guess that, at the least, I think reporters ought to be able to do a much better job at remaining objective than the current generation of television reporters and anchorpeople have been doing. Personally, I think that the political bias seems to come from the fact that CNN and other news outlets want to dumb down news stories, cutting out important facts and details so that they can present important stories as small, easily digestible soundbites and headlines. In the attempt to simplify these stories, news outlets want to be able to sum the stories up with a particular "this is good" or "this is bad" sort of sentiment, and when conservatives and progressives can't agree about whether a story will ultimately have a good or bad impact, they put opposing pundits on the air to fight it out.
I guess I respect The Daily Show for wanting better, more in depth reporting with more facts and more details, but the problem, of course, from CNN's perspective (and the problem that The Daily Show is reluctant to acknowledge) is that it's not at all clear that the American public really wants in depth, fact intensive journalism. Fox's ratings have been going through the roof, and they're not exactly a bastion of unbiased, in depth, "just the facts" style news coverage. The American viewing audience seems to like watching its newspeople argue and fight, and it seems to like all of the bias and melodrama. Programs on Fox News have been steadily gaining viewers for years now, while the more fact driven, detailed reporting done by programs like NewsHour (on PBS) seem to struggle for viewership (at least in a relative sense).
Anyway, it's great to see Stewart make a plea for more objective, fact driven reporting that with deeper analysis and a finer attention to detail, but in reality (and hopefully I'm just being too cynical), I'm not sure that a news network could survive if it stuck with a more informative, more objective, less sensational presentation of the news. Some of the failure in reporting surely comes from budget squeezes and a 24 hour news cycle which just doesn't allow for proper research and preparation. But an even bigger problem, at least in my mind, is the fact that the American audience just isn't content with being informed. Like a classroom full of sleep deprived school children on a sugar rush, the American audience has to be constantly entertained- even if that means watching charismatic and/or abrasive people argue about things that they haven't really studied up on.
Kudos to The Daily Show for having the faith in America to believe that we deserve better from our news coverage, but I'm just not sure I'm convinced. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that some of these cable news channels are giving Americans exactly what they want.

Well, have a good weekend everyone! Have a nice Easter!!