Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Brief; Leaked Documents

So Thanksgiving has come and gone. Again.
I had a really good one this year. Good time spent with family, good food (really good food), and a UT-A&M game that ended in defeat for the Horns, but wasn't the complete massacre that I feared (sometimes the key to having a fun time involves lowered expectations- plus, it was Reed's turn to enjoy an Aggie victory, anyway). Amy returned to Austin from Phoenix on Saturday, so I got to hang out with her this weekend, and we put up some Christmas lights and holiday stuff. It's really good to have her back!
And now we're back in the thick of it- working and shopping and trying to get ready for the next set of holidays. It's going to get a little bit crazy, but it should be a fun ride.

In other, non me-related news, I think this new set of state department/diplomatic cable leaks is just crazy. For those who haven't been reading about this, the short version is that 251,287 cables were illegally obtained by a person (apparently Pfc. Bradley Manning is responsible for many, if not all of the leaks) and forwarded to Wikileaks, who have currently published 220 of the documents and plan to publish many more. The leaks contain information ranging from transcript-style accounts of interactions with foreign leaders to detailed accounts of weapons transactions and prisoner exchanges.
I have very mixed feelings about the whole thing. I think that it was really bad for someone to leak these cables, but I find their contents sort of fascinating.
For starters, I think this Pfc. Manning needs to do some serious time. Regardless of how a person might feel about the contents of this material, a country just can't engage in serious diplomacy and/or intelligence gathering if the people working within its organizations feel free to disseminate classified, confidential information. I guess there are people out there who might immediately respond that our government and state department should be completely transparent and that everything done on behalf of the U.S. should be done out in the open. The argument for this sort of thing would be that this is the only way to keep our diplomats and officials honest.
Maybe at some point in my life I might have been idealistic enough to think that argument had some sort of merit, but nowadays I just find that line of thinking to be hopelessly naive. Don't get me wrong, I believe in as much government transparency as possible, but I definitely understand that there have to be limits. Through no fault of our own (or mostly no fault of our own) we live in a world where it's pretty much impossible for us to carry on negotiations with various countries without alienating or offending certain other countries (this typically occurs, of course, when we're dealing with two nations who see themselves as adversaries). Other times we need to be able to have frank, confidential, off-the record discussions about other countries or their leaders so that we can objectively assess a situation without offending anyone. There's an argument that could be made for isolationism, I suppose- that we could reduce our relations with other countries around the world in order to avoid the need for any kind of privacy and achieve absolute transparency- but this seems like a sort of ridiculous position to take when you consider all of the benefits that can be gained (economic, political, military, etc.) through a widespread, vibrant interaction with the world community.
So I'm pretty ticked that Pfc. Manning took it upon himself to transfer and make public hundereds of thousands of files, jeopardizing decades worth of diplomatic work and intelligence efforts as well as countless international diplomatic relationships.
But... all of that being said, I have to admit that some of the information coming out of these leaked cables is just pretty darn interesting. Some of the details contained in these messages cast various international leaders in an interesting light- depicting them as relatable human figures with all of the failings (and occasional strengths) that you might expect to find in the guy in the office (or cubicle) next to your own. Similarly, tales of negotiations and arguments regarding prisoners, weapons, and even enriched nuclear materials are a sort of wake up call- a reminder that our government is regularly dealing with a whole host of delicate, complicated issues behind the scenes that the public rarely ever learns about or hears of.
Anyway, as the New York Times article points out, the information that's contined in these leaked cables is the sort of stuff that we usually only learn about decades after the fact- after the people involved are long retired or dead. It's kind of fascinating to read about the secret machinations of international diplomacy in a context that feels a lot closer to real time.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pre-Turkey Day Thankfulness Post

So, with Thanksgiving right around the corner, I thought I'd just list a few things that I'm thankful for (not necessarily in any particular order- I really feel very thankful for a lot of these things).

- My family (including Cassidy)
- Amy
- my good health (like anyone else, I have the minor hiccup here and there, but I'm really so, so lucky)
- my friends (this definitely includes you, Mono E and Crack, but it also includes all of the peopl ein my extended circle that I talk to on a less frequent basis)
- my job (both the satisfaction I take in it and the really good people that I work with)
- the fact that I live in a country where I can pretty much live the life that I choose (or at least have the right/opportunity to pursue that life)
- the opportunity to be able to make music (including the ability to own instruments, own a home where I don't annoy too many people with noise, own recording equipment, and, most importantly, have friends to make music with)
- opportunities to do things like go to music festivals, concerts, football games, and even Gypsy Picnics
- the ability to travel
- my house

I really am especially thankful for the people in my life. I've realized over time that the relationships with the people in my life pretty much trump everything else as far as my happiness goes, so I sincerely want to thank all of the family and friends who make me happy!

Thanksgiving is a good holiday. It's really healthy, I think, to take a step back from the usual desires for more and different things and just appreciate all of the good things that you have.
And I have a hell of a lot to be thankful for!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Remember That Time I Blogged About How Crazy North Korea Is?; Holiday Eve

Oh wait. That was yesterday.
So now today North Korea launched an artillery attack against a South Korean island, killing two South Korean soldiers, in an act that North Korea described as retaliation for an artillery attack by South Korea.
South Korea, for its part, acknowledged that it had, in fact, fired artillery shells in the area, but described its shelling as routine training operations and denied that any artillery shells had fallen within North Korean territory.
What the hell?
Most longtime readers of this blog know that I'm not exactly a hawk when it comes to the use of our military forces, but this is just getting ridiculous. I'm definitely a "force as a last resort" kind of guy, but these North Korean attacks against our allies are definitely moving closer and closer to a "last resort" sort of scenario.
I just can't get over the fact that an entire country can be so paranoid and belligerent and- just weird. Do they really want a war with the U.S. and South Korea? Is China really going to back North Korea if they provoke a full scale military conflict? (I seriously tend to doubt it. China just has way too much to lose at this point in that sort of scenario.) And I know that a lot of people just think that North Korea has been showing aggression as a way of strengthening its bargaining position on the national stage, but don't they realize that there's a point at which this strategy becomes counterproductive? (maybe when they start launching attacks that are actually killing people, for instance)
It's a big ol' mess, and even if we were to defeat North Korea in an armed conflict, South Korea would undoubtedly suffer terribly.

On a note that's way more important to me on a personal level, Amy flew out today to join her family in Phoenix for Thanksgiving. I know she's really excited about the chance to spend time with them, but it's going to be weird to have her gone, and I'm going to miss her a lot.
It's definitely feeling like holiday season eve!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Short Update; North Korea Loves the Bomb

Well, I'll make a quick post, but, to be honest, I don't have a whole ton to post about.
The weekend was fine, but not super eventful. Saturday night Amy and I went with my family and our family friends, the Magsigs (who are like family), out for dinner at Steiner Ranch Steakhouse, which is out near where my parents live (or where they live when they come to Austin). It was a really nice dinner. Good food and good company.
Sunday we were supposed to go see the new Harry Potter, but I got the time wrong, and Amy and I missed it. Oh well.
Not too much else to report.

In world news, there are new reports out about some relatively advanced uranium enrichment sites in North Korea. So that's grrrreat.
We've known for a long time that the North Korean's had ambitions in terms of both nuclear power and nuclear weapons, but most of the stuff I'd read about on the whole issue seemed to suggest that the North Koreans were pretty far behind most of the industrialized West in terms of developing and advancing their technology.
Maybe not so much.
With North Korea testing missiles and experimenting with underground nuclear detonations and sinking South Korean warships, I gotta say that it makes me a little nervous to hear that they're also working to expand their supply of enriched uranium (apparently they're not quite at weapons grade yet, but experts say it's a pretty short, easy jump to get from where they are now to producing weapons grade materials). There's something about the isolationism and sort of national inferiority complex/low self esteem displayed by the North Koreans that I just find troubling. When, as a nation, your foreign policy seems to amount to constantly taking a "wild card" position and belligerently threatening (or in the case of this South Korean ship, actually attacking) other countries, then you pretty much present a legitimate security risk to everyone in the region (or, if you get ballistic or nuclear weapons, everyone in the world).
When a nation has to take a back seat to Iran in terms of presenting a logical point of view that can be reasoned with, things have gotten pretty bad.
I'm not sure what the solution is, but the North Korean threat seems to get worse as the years go by. The North Koreans have pretty much been holding a gun to South Korea's head for decades- with long range artillery batteries ready to rain destruction down on the South Korean capital of Seoul within moments if South Korea or its allies make any kind of move that North Korea interprets as aggressive (a scary prospect, given how paranoid the North Koreans seem to be). The situation's been bad for a long time, but it's getting a lot worse as North Korea continues to move closer and closer to a situation where it holds a viable nuclear arsenal.
Maybe we can get the South Koreans to start slipping farther and farther away from the North Korean border without the North Koreans noticing? Can we get a city of over 12 million to quietly evacuate without the North Koreans noticing? Maybe if they all tiptoe. Anyway, it might give us a chance to get in a sucker punch...
I'm just saying.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wolf Parade

Last night Amy and I went to see Canadian rockers Wolf Parade at La Zona Rosa. Amy really hates Wolf Parade, so I had to really twist her arm to talk her into it. (Okay, not really. She actually loves Wolf Parade to an almost unhealthy degree. Which is actually really fun.)
Here's a picture from before the show of Amy with Spencer Krug in the background. Note the feverish look of excitement on one of their faces!
Anyway, Wolf Parade were really good! I had listened to their music quite a bit since Amy introduced me to them this summer, and I liked their albums a whole lot right from the get go, but their live show rocked a lot more than I was expecting.
I mean, more specifically, I've liked the music ever since I heard it, but in a live setting it had an extra level of energy and intensity that I just hadn't anticipated. The keyboards, which had a cool sound, were used in particularly interesting ways and carried more force than I would have thought (including some songs where they switched to a lineup with two guitars and no bass, with keyboards holding down the bass line). The band is lucky enough to have two really strong lead singers in Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner (each of them are talented enough to front a band on their own- and, in fact, do exactly that with separate side projects- so Wolf Parade feels like a bit of a supergroup even though I think it's actually the central project of all of the guys in it). The songs were driving and fast paced, and the crowd was really into the whole show- dancing and singing and clapping along pretty much the entire time.
Soooo- go check out Wolf Parade if you've never really listened to them. Really good band!

Also, as a sort of corollary, we saw a band called Ogre You Asshole as an opening act for Wolf Parade. I'm not sure that these guys are going to truly catch on here in the U.S., given that they sing pretty much exclusively in Japanese, but their music was really cool, and I liked them a lot. They had a sound which had elements of Modest Mouse, The Talking Heads, and some other stuff that I haven't quite pulled out of my head just yet.
Anyway, they were cool, and they provided a great opening act for Wolf Parade. I need to download their album.
Also, on a final closing note, I forgot how much I like La Zona Rosa. It's smaller than Stubb's, has better sound (or last night's sound was better than I remember hearing recently at Stubb's), has better lines of sight, and it has air conditioning and heat (with a roof!). Also, I just like the intimacy of a place that feels more like a club as opposed to a venue where it feels like you're standing out in some kind of random, crowded, outdoor lot (usually for a price of $35 or more). I've seen some nice shows on some nice nights at Stubb's, but I've been there for some uncomfortable, overly crowded, bad sounding nights as well.
I didn't mean to make that last bit such a downer. Really just meant to make a plea for more cool bands to come to La Zona Rosa.
Long live Wolf Parade! Thanks to Amy for turning me on to them!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Random Act of Culture

I just really liked this. So cool. Random acts of art and beauty that can unexpectedly take your breath away in the middle of an otherwise normal day...

Quick Update

Hey! Just thought I would post a quick update.
On Friday Reed and I worked on recording some stuff (we're trying to get some new stuff together. I'm sure I'll talk abou ti more as it comes closer to fruition. If anyone cares.) The weekend was good, but went by way too fast.
I spent some time going to lunch and hanging out with my parents on Saturday (I did not, however, go to the UT/OSU game with them. I'm not sure I can handle another public execution at DKR Memorial Stadium this year).

Saturday night Amy and I went to Perla's. It was really good! The food was excellent, and I had a great time with Amy. (we tried several different things, and I liked all of it- including oysters, which I don't think Amy had eaten before) Good place, and a really nice evening.

Sunday I went to the Comic Con with Ryan. Jamie had a ticket and didn't feel like going, so I took Ryan up on it.
Comic books really aren't my thing all that much, anymore, but the convention was a good time. There were booths with people selling vintage comics, celebrities who were signing autographs (including Lindsey Wagner- The Bionic Woman, Ray Park- Darth Maul/The Toad, Ernie Hudson- Ghostbusters, Gil Gerard and Erin Gray- Buck Rogers, and Peter Mayhew- Chewbacca), and comic book artists who were selling prints and original art and stuff.
Equally fun were the comic book fans, many of whom came dressed in superhero outfits and sci if costumes. I gotta say that the whole thing is definitely nerdy, but it's hard to not be in a good mood when you're surrounded by people who are so cheerful and clearly enjoying themselves.

I met Captain Marvel and Black Cat.

A random group of superheroes (and villains). Probably trying to decide upon a super place for lunch.

Anyway, Sunday night we had Mono Ensemble practice. To be honest, it might not have been our strongest practice ever, but, as usual, there were some really nice moments, and it felt good to be playing.

Well, I guess that's it for now. Hope everyone is doing well!!

Friday, November 12, 2010

I'll Leave it Alone After This

Just had to post this as a follow up to my post yesterday about the death of Rubicon. A Vanity Fair article entitled AMC Should Have Let Rubicon Live.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Adios, Rubicon

Ugggh! I just posted about how much I liked Rubicon a couple of days ago (along with my fears that the show might get cancelled), and then today Paul Toohey sent me a link about how the show isn't going to be renewed for next season.
I'm not going to lie- I'm annoyed. I'm annoyed that American audiences have such a hard getting behind shows that demonstrate a little bit of intelligence and ask their audiences to think a bit (I guess that Madmen is sort of an exception to this rule, but by all accounts, Madmen has managed to stay on the air at least as much because of the displays of retro fashion and the glamorous look of the actors as opposed to genuine interest in the story lines and events of the show).
I'm also a little annoyed because whenever I finally do manage to find an interesting show, it seems to get yanked off the air in the middle of a fairly complex, serialized story. It's hard to want to keep getting invested in some of the more intelligent, complicated shows when you know that there's not much of a chance that you're ever going to see the show reach a satisfactory conclusion. (right from the get go I was worried about this with Rubicon- from the first episode I suspected that the show would ask too much of a mainstream audience, although I held on to hope that A&E might be a network where the show could find viewers)
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles suffered, Caprica, and now Rubicon, all thought provoking shows, have recently suffered this fate. The networks keep trying to bring us something better, but television dramas with decent writing just have a really hard time surviving- while reality shows (e.g., The Jersey Shore) continue to rocket along in the ratings.
With very few notable exceptions, people just like flashy, bite sized pieces of entertainment that they don't have to think about too much.
Incidentally, I think that a lot of voters operate under the same parameters when deciding who to support. But that's a whole different conversation...

Happy Veterans Day

Hope everyone has a good Veterans Day!
As a county employee, I actually get the day off, which seems kind of strange since my dad is an actual veteran, but he has to work.
At any rate, I hope everyone has a good day and takes a moment to remember that the holiday is meant to honor the service of veterans and the sacrifices that many of them make in defense of our country.

On a related note, we had our first ever Travis County Veterans Court docket yesterday. It was short and sweet, but we placed three veterans into the program and at least finally got the thing started. Hopefully we'll get treatment and services through the VA for these vets, and it'll help them get their lives back on track. The ultimate goal, of course, is to help these guys deal with whatever combat-related issues they're dealing with and to help them move on with their lives so that we never see them on a criminal case again in the future. If we can pull that off, it would be a really good thing.
Anyway, I have high hopes for the program, and it felt good to be helping to get these guys linked in to services, if nothing else.

Anyway, happy Veterans Day!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Stuff I've Been Watching

Haven't done this in a while, but there's been some new stuff out this fall, and like all blowhard bloggers, I can't help but throw in my two cents on a few of these.

Caprica- Well, I read on the internet today that Caprica is going to be cancelled, and that's a real shame. Caprica is a really interesting show, with unusual themes, well developed characters, and complex plotlines. I'm not terrbily surprised that it's being cancelled, though. Caprica is an extremely intelligent and well written show, but it's not terribly heavy on action, and, to be honest, it sort of asks its audience to get excited about ideas and philosophical questions in a way that seems to ask an awful lot from a mainstream American audience (yeah, I realize that might have sounded pretentious or whatever, but I guess I don't care- I remain convinced that the U.S. television audience is mainly obsessed with entertainment junk food).
Key themes of the show revolve around questions of mortality, religion, the nature of the human soul, family relationships, politics, and the ways that technology impacts all of these areas. Given the fact that Caprica isn't really an action-based show, the show's writers have really been banking upon the fact that the audience will find these issues really interesting- interesting enough to keep them engaged. Personally, I found the exploration of these themes to be fairly compelling, but as soon as I realized what the show was up to I began to worry about whether it could find an audience (and I think it probably has found an audience, but that audience is a narrow one).
But what a unique show. Computer rendered avatars and virtual reality explored as a means of trying to achieve human immortality, a polytheistic population who live in fear of monotheistic terrorists (frightened by what they see as the narrow minded view of a religion with "one true god"), the rise of artificially intelligent beings who are fully aware of having been spawned in the image of (and to serve as substitutes for) human beings, economic and political power struggles played out on an interplanetary scale, polygamy practiced as a socially accepted norm in mainstream society, and so forth and so on. The show has so much that's familiar, and yet it manages to feel alien at the same time.
Anyway, it's a shame that Caprica is facing cancellation. I'm glad we got the episodes that we have, and I hope that a lot of people who never watched it will still give it a chance on DVD.

Rubicon- It's on break, but it's a really smart show, and people should give it a chance, or I fear that it may go the way of Caprica in terms of cancellation (although A&E seems to place a little more faith in good writing, so maybe they'll stick things out a bit longer than SyFy did with Caprica). It's a show about spies, but they're actually intelligence analysts (i.e., really smart nerd spies who collect data from Jason Bourne-style field agents and the military and then use the info to figure out what the bad guys are up to). They work for a private intelligence firm (which contracts with the Pentagon, CIA, FBI, and other agencies), and when they get involved in situations that involve action and/or fighting, it's typically not by choice.
I really like this show. The characters are really well written and well developed (some of the better characters I remember seeing on TV in the last few years), the plotlines feel both realistic and compelling, and I just find the show's subject matter to be really intriguing and unusual (it just totally makes sense that these sort of people have to be out there, but we just don't think about them much). Watch Rubicon! (I think Season 1 just came out on DVD, so buy it or Netflix it or whatever) Keep Rubicon alive! Reward good writing!

Fringe- Having gone right over the top in terms of setting up its premise, this season Fringe has done a fairly decent job of working inside the multiple reality storyline that it spent so much time establishing in Season 1. Fringe has done some interesting things, transitioning from an X-Files-style beginning (in which bizarre and paranormal occurrences were mostly just hinted at and existed primarily in the shadows), to a show with a full blown, explicit, sci-fi premise where we see characters moving between multiple realities and bizarre, non-human beings throwing themselves into an interdimensional war. Fringe is far from perfect, and in some moments I think it borders on silly, but it's a show which is willing to risk some silliness because it's also willing to give some concrete answers in response to the mysteries it presents. Personally, I appreciate that. We don't have to have solid answers to every strange thing that happens, but it's nice to occasionally have some concrete payoff for taking the journey with the show's protagonists. And when you spend a lot of time exploring the bizarre and seemingly unexplainable, the answers that you eventually come up with are bound to border on "over-the-top" (which is why I think some other shows- I'm looking at you again, X-Files- have shied away from ever fully exploring the ultimate conclusions reached by show's investigators.).

Well, I meant to write more, but that's all that I have time for at the moment. Everyone watch Rubicon!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Update; UT Football, Naughty Volvo, Gypsy Picnic

Howdy! I don't have a ton to report on, but I thought I'd check in since it's been a while. Let's see....
Last weekend was Halloween weekend, of course. The scariest part of it was watching the Longhorns melt down at our home stadium while playing Baylor. There are just so many things going wrong with UT that's it's really pretty difficult to narrow the problems down to any single area which needs improvement (our receivers keep dropping balls, we've had bad play calling, the defense hasn't met expectations, and Gilbert, despite showing some improvement, just isn't showing himself to be the sort of quarterback that UT had gotten used to during the Young/McCoy years) . Anyway, I went to the game with Amy and her mom, Jean, who was in town visiting from Phoenix, and we had a pretty good time in spite of the poor performance by the Horns.
One curious aspect of the game (aside from people dressed up as giant chockens and so forth in celebration of Halloween) came from repeated ads on the Jumbotron for the new Naughty Volvo.

Really? They showed the ads repeatedly during the game, and as we saw them again and again I (or we, actually) couldn't help but speculate about what made this particular Volvo so naughty. It doesn't look particularly naughty, but maybe it has available naughty options that other cars just don't offer? At first I thought that someone in Volvo's marketing department must have just done a poor job with translating a Swedish name, but upon examining the website it seems clear that the folks at Volvo actually did, in fact, intend to suggest that this particular car is naughty. I can only assume that at some point they'll be offering an offroad SUV version called The Filthy.

Anyway, the game was fun, and it was really nice to meet and hang out with Jean!

Sunday, on Halloween itself, Amy came over and we watched Night of the Living Dead (one of my favorites, which Amy had never seen) and handed out candy. We didn't get a ton of trick or treaters, but there was a bit of a snafu in terms of having the porch light off for a while, so we might've missed a few. Anyhoo, it was a nice Halloween, hanging out with Amy and sharing one of my favorite flicks with her (she's a bit averse to scary movies, so I thought it was really cool that she was willing to watch one for Halloween).
The rest of the week was pretty busy at work. We're shooting for the launch of our first official Veterans Court docket next Wednesday (the courts are actually shut down for Veterans Day the following day), so that's pretty cool. I'm definitely more than ready to move this thing up and out of the discussion stage and start putting it into practice. Hopefully this docket will end up being a good thing for some veterans who are having a difficult time. I know we'll need to make adjustments as we go, but it's time to start getting a real feel for how it's going to actually work, I think.

Not too much else.
I just got back from the Gypsy Picnic with Amy.

For those who don't know, Austin has been developing a sort of unusual food/restaurant scene over the past few years where some really good food is being sold out of various trailers and mobile vending vehicles around town. Menus range from gourmet doughnuts to German food to tacos, pizza, and hot dogs, but a number of these places are good enough to have developed their own little cult followings, and at least one of them has grown into a rapidly expanding business with a number of different brick and mortar locations (i.e., Torchy's Tacos, a tasty taco joint which began as a food trailer on South 1st and Bouldin).
So the idea of the Gypsy Picnic was to allow a bunch of the various food trailers from around town to all sell their food down at Auditorium Shores one Saturday (accompanied, as is the Austin tradition for most public events, by live music). I was really excited about the whole thing because it seemed to offer a chance to check out food and samples from a bunch of these trailers and to see which ones were real standouts.
The problem, as it turned out, was that everyone else in Austin also seemed to think this was a great idea. The weather was great, the people were friendly, and the food smelled good, but the place was absolutely packed and the line for each of the restaurants was a mile long. There really wasn't any way to enjoy the thing in the way that it had been advertised (as a nice, relaxed picnic affair where people could chill out, spread out on a blanket, and enjoy the music while sampling a bunch of different foods). Instead, the place was fairly crowded and in order to try out the food at any given trailer you would have to stand in line for a fairly long time (the lines may have been moving at a decent pace, but they were just soooo long).
Anyway, we left and went to eat at Sazon on South Lamar, which was really very good and not crowded at all (we were also on a bit of a schedule since Amy had a thing to go to later in the day).
I still like the idea of the Gypsy Picnic, but it was kind of a zoo, and I'm guessing that the organizers were a little taken aback by the size of the crowd who showed up (I heard at least one of the trailer operators say she was running out of food- at 3:00 when the event was supposed to last until 8:00). Next year they'll probably have a better idea of what to expect, so maybe it'll be organized a bit better. They need to find a way to cut down on those lines a bit.

Well, that's it for now. Hope everyone is doing okay!