Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas 2011

It was a good Christmas!  Here are a few photos.  The crowns are a tradition that my parents picked up from some English friends.  I've Googled the meaning behind the crowns, but it seems like there are a lot of different explanations for them, and I can't seem to find a consensus on which one is correct (maybe English royalty presiding over celebrations?  maybe symbols of the birth of Christ the king?  maybe just a marketing gimmick created by the makers of the Christmas crackers that the crowns come in?)
Anyway, Dia de los Muertos in October.  Crowns and crackers for Christmas.
It's been a good year for some very cool new traditions.
Thanks to Mom and Dad for hosting!









Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Merry Christmas, Guys!

Thanks to Amy for sending me this!  Very cool!

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Weekend

The weekend was a good one!
On Thursday evening I had Veterans Court, and afterward I met up with Amy and a few friends at Polvo's for a few drinks and some food.
On Friday I took the day off, and Amy and I went to San Antonio for a short weekend trip.  We drove down on Friday morning and came back on Saturday evening.  On Friday we went over to Trinity (my old alma mater) so Amy could see the campus.  There's a lot of construction going on at Trinity, but the campus mostly looks the same.  It's a nice place, and Amy seemed genuinely interested in seeing it, so it was fun to show it to her.  In the evening we went over and had dinner at Mi Tierra in El Mercado.  I hadn't been there in many years, and the food was good!  After dinner we went and had drinks on the Riverwalk.  We stayed at the Menger Hotel.  It's a really cool, historic hotel.  I had recently read All the Pretty Horses, which included a reference or two to The Menger, and there are some cool, old pictures of Babe Ruth and other notable figures who've stayed there hanging up in the place.  Teddy Roosevelt recruited some of the Roughriders in the Menger's bar, which, as it turns out, is still a pretty cool place to have a beverage. 
On Saturday we got up and ate a bagel before heading to El Mercado for a little bit of shopping (we bought a spoon holder.  Yes, thanks to Amy's influence there's now an attractive item in my house that holds spoons).  After the market we went to the McNay, which is a really cool art museum that's built in a mansion (or at least one wing of it is a mansion) in Alamo Heights.  The McNay is a really cool place, both in terms of its art as well as the building and the grounds that surround it.  After the McNay we visited Mission San Jose on the south side before grabbing a sandwich and heading out. 
Things lighting up around The Menger

Strangely, trees always light up for Amy when she
walks by

Here I am feeling grateful that I never had to live
in a mission
It was a very nice trip.  Only a couple of days, but it felt longer to me.
Thanks to Amy for going!

Yesterday we went to see a production of the Nutcracker.  Reed's daughter was in it, and it was really fun (I'm not printing her name here because aren't you supposed to avoid mentioning the names of little kids in public pages on the internet?).  Anyway, she was a mouse and an angel and did a good job!  It was a nice production.
Last night I had Mono Ensemble practice.  Which was good.

So that's it!  Hope everyone is doing well! 
Hang in there.  Be good.  Santa's watching.  ;-)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Update

Well, the past week has been pretty good. 
On Tuesday Amy and I joined a couple of her friends from the School of Information for a screening of The Ice Storm at The Blanton.  The event was a charity function for The Bat Cave, an Austin program aimed at mentoring young writers.  Rick Moody, the writer of the novel upon which Ang Lee's film was based, was in attendance.  It was a really nice evening.  I had never seen the film before, and I enjoyed it quite a bit -  the experience undoubtedly enhanced by having Moody around to explain some themes and nuances of the story and to field some pretty thoughtful questions from the audience.
On Wednesday Amy and I had dinner with Ryan and Jamie at 1st Wok, a pretty good Chinese place on Stassney that holds some real promise in terms of becoming one of the regular spots on our South Austin rotation.  It's always nice to find a good place near the house that we can get to with minimal hassle. 
Friday I went to an iSchool Christmas party with Amy where I met a few more iSchool folks, including both students and professors.  They seemed like a very likeable, amiable group.  We rocked to the sounds of The Banned Books (get it?  Band Books?  Nothing like librarian humor!) and had a drink or two.
Saturday I ran a few errands, and that night, after going out to dinner with Amy, I went to Ryan and Jamie's holiday party.  It was a nice evening.  Caught up with some folks that I hadn't seen in a while, and met a few new people.  It was a nice, festive evening, and the elves were merry.
Sunday involved some Christmas shopping (Amy and I went together- it's a whole different experience when you go with someone who actually likes to shop!), and then a whole lot of just cozying up at the house.

Anyway, that's the update, more or less.  It's been a good week!  Hope everyone is doing okay! 

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Bloodbuzz Ohio

The concert was Sunday night, but I've still got The National ringing in my ears...

Monday, December 05, 2011

Weekend; Dad's Retirement Party; The National

Well, our weekend was pretty good.  I already posted about the Wilco show on Thursday night (which was really, really good).  On Friday night we just stayed home and relaxed.  We're watching Six Feet Under (neither one of us had ever seen it), and we've both been really enjoying it. 

On Saturday we went to Houston for my dad's retirement party (my dad is Rick Steans, for any readers who might not be in the know).  It was a really nice event.  Over three decades at Cameron!  We had dinner at Morton's Steakhouse near the Galleria, and a number of my dad's friends and coworkers from over the years were in attendance, along with their significant others, to give Dad a final, friendly send off.
My dad has worked with a number of these people for many years, having travelled with them, attended social functions with them, and having gotten to know their families.  My mom is good friends with most all of them as well, having also travelled with them, attended events with the group, and having invited many of them over to my parents' home for gatherings.
(here Dad receives the ceremonial retirement
 from his friend, Kevin Fleming)
(here Ryan surprises Dad with the news
that he also plans to retire soon!)
At any rate, it was obvious that my dad counts his coworkers among his good friends, and it was nice to see that his career has been about personal relationships and friendships as much as anything else over the years.  I will consider myself very lucky if I find myself retiring after working with a group of people who enjoy each other's company so much and who have such a strong sense of camaraderie.  I know that Dad is going to miss the people at Cameron quite a bit as he transitions into life in retirement.  Hopefully he can stay in touch with those friends and continue to see some of those folks periodically.  They've been an important part of his life for a long time.

We spent the night at a hotel right down near the restaurant before getting up and driving back to Austin in the morning.  Amy made some really good tortilla soup.  Come to think of it, she also made some really great stuffed peppers last week.  I'm really winning out with the Amy food!


(The National)
After dinner we braved a bit of chilly, damp weather and went to see The National at Austin Music Hall.  The place was packed, and it wasn't exactly easy to see everything from our spot in the balcony, but the music sounded pretty good (not as great as Wilco, but pretty good), and the crowd was really into it.  I like The National.  Good mix of rockin' and mellow. 
(here's Amy, happy, but ready for the
show to start!)
Anyway, Local Natives opened.  I'd never really listened to them before, but they were pretty good.  Nice harmonies, in particular.  They had a couple of songs of their own that I really liked, and they did an interesting version of Warning Sign by The Talking Heads. 
I didn't really mention it in my earlier post, but Nick Lowe opened for Wilco the other night, and that was really good, too.  I really enjoyed him.  He did a really cool version of What's So Funny About Peace, Love, & Understanding.  The Mono Ensemble has covered that song for a long time, and it was cool to see the man himself performing it.  I felt like Nick Lowe was definitely head and shoulders above your typical opening act.

Anyway, that's it.  I'm a little tired today after this weekend, but it was all worth it.  Congrats again to my Dad!  Thanks to Amy for making the trip to Houston with me.  :-)

Peace. 

Friday, December 02, 2011

Wilco at ACL Live


We went to see Wilco last night at the new ACL Live theater.  It was a really great show.  I've seen Wilco before, but they played really well last night.  The crowd was really into the show, and, probably even more importantly, the sound last night was the best I've heard at any show in years.  The people who built that new ACL venure really knew what they were doing when it came to putting together a place with great sound and great acoustics (and it seems like they must have had great people on the soundboards as well).  You could hear all of the instruments and vocals very clearly, and the sound was really well balanced (in stark contrast to the Phantogram show at the Mohawk where everything was drowned out by the drums and low end). 
So just a really great show.  There were definitely a couple of goosebump moments (listening to the audience sing along with the chorus on "Misunderstood"comes to mind).   Wilco is probably one of the best rock acts playing live shows right now, and they were at the height of their powers last night. 
Thanks to Amy for going with me! 
Wilco, may you continue to rock for many years to come!

Friday, November 25, 2011

UT/A&M Game

Well, Thanksgiving was good.  I went to Mom and Dad's house for Turkey Day dinner (which was very nice- thanks Mom and Dad!).
After dinner I went to College Station to attend the UT/A&M game with Reed and his brother-in-law, Brian.
It was an ugly game, but a surprisingly good one in terms being an entertaining contest.  Neither team played particularly well, but they both fought pretty hard.  UT's offense, once again, had some significant problems, and A&M made some tough mistakes (especially in the second half) that UT was really able to capitalize on.  It was a fun game.  I know that it's easier to say that as a UT fan when the Horns walked away with a last second victory at Kyle Field, but it was a powerful experience, I think, no matter how you look at it.  The fans at Kyle Field were extremely energetic and loud, and given the uncertainty about if and when this matchup will happen again (because of the A&M move to the SEC), there was a sense of something special happening before the game even started.
And I swear that even if Tucker had choked that last second field goal, I would have been very happy with that game because it just symbolized so many of the things that we've come to expect in a Texas-Texas A&M matchup:

Both teams have had sort of disappointing seasons, and both hoped to sort of relieve some of the pressure with their fan base by winning this crucial game.

The game was sort of ugly, and there were serious mistakes made by both sides, probably as a result of both nerves and the roar of the Aggie crowd during the game (A&M had turnover issues, but UT had a number of false starts, late hits, horse collars, and other damaging penalties).

The fans were way into the game.  The jumbotron at Kyle Field reported that there were something like 88,000 people in attendance (I think it was their second highest attendance ever), and they were extremely enthusiastic.  The student section cheers constantly- even through timeouts.  Whenever UT had the ball, especially in the second half, the crowd was deafening.

The rivalry was fierce, but there was a certain undercurrent of affection and poignancy, I think, as well.  The UT band spelled out a thank you message to A&M on the field during halftime, and the A&M band created the image of a longhorn- before promptly cutting the horns off of it.  The A&M fans who sat around us were friendly with us, and after the game one of them even came up to Brian and I urge us to encourage all of our UT friends to try to help keep the rivalry alive.

Thanks A&M!

The Aggie band tries- really tries- to be nice to the Horns in return

And it's just sort of impossible to imagine this rivalry coming to an end.  UT has other rivalries, for sure, but the UT/A&M game is definitely family affair.  Half of my high school went to A&M and half went to UT.  Many, many families in Texas (including Reed's) have one kid who went to one school and another kid who went to the other.  Lots of Longhorns are married to Aggies.  UT teases A&M a lot, and it seems like almost every yell, chant, or song that A&M uses contains some sort of shot at UT in it, but when the bonfire tragedy happened in 1999, UT students were one of the first groups outside of College Station to set up prayer vigils and look for ways to help out.  UT has other big rivalries, but I'm not sure I know three people who went to OU.

Anyway, I just think it would be a terrible shame if the fans got lost in the mix as big business college football (mostly meaning a bunch of politicians and bazillionaires) kill the rivalry with squabbles over television rights, conference memberships, ego, and money, money, money.  Yeah, I know you can't get away from the money issue, and I know it's probably naive to think that these people can rise above their own pettiness, but the flip side of the equation is this:  if the government were to outlaw college football and athletic scholarships tomorrow, if they made it so that college football couldn't be on TV, if they halted ticket sales, ended merchandising rights, and dismantled all of the athletic conferences... if all of these things happened tomorrow I still think that a couple of interested athletes from UT and a bunch of interested jocks from A&M would probably pick up a couple of footballs and go find themselves an empty field to play in so they could prove to one another who was best.  And I think the first set of interested fans would show up about ten minutes after that.
Maybe a dysfunctional family, but still a family





Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!
 
It's been a good year, and I have a lot to be thankful for.

(Somehow we worked our way from this to parade floats on 7th Avenue and lots of good football)

Here's the short list of stuff I'm most thankful for in 2011:

I'm very thankful to have Amy in my life.  She's a smart, funny, beautiful, fun person, and she's made my life better in so many, many ways.  I'm extremely thankful to be sharing my life with her.  I love you, Amy.

I'm very thankful for my job this year.  There are a lot of people out there who are struggling and suffering painfully during our economic downturn, and I'm very thankful to have a job that I both find find satisfying and which pays the bills.  I've liked my job for quite a while now, but the current economy makes me appreciate it even more.

I'm thankful for my friends and family.  Another couple of friends of mine, Laura Bennett Hague and Debra Goodlett, passed away this year.  I was extremely saddened to lose each of them, but, as with all deaths, it reminded me not to take any of the relationships and friendships in my life for granted.  It's fun to buy stuff and gratifying to achieve professional or personal successes, but our relationships with the important people in our life ultimately make us happy or unhappy, I believe. 

I'm thankful for the people I make music with.  Yup, I said it.  I don't care if it makes me a wuss.  As I've gotten older I've realized more and more that the opportunities to do what you really enjoy can be rare, and those chances can be even more infrequent when it takes a group effort to pull them off.  As of this year, the guys in Mono Ensemble have been playing for about twenty years together, and I've been playing with them for about twelve.  I've been playing with Crack for at least six.  Every time I play with either one of these bands I walk away from the experience just feeling in a better mood.  Music does many things for me, but at its base it provides an emotional release, and when you can pull off a tune in a satisfying way with a group of other people it just makes you feel good.  So thanks to the guys in Crack and Mono E, mi hermanos and musical teammates.  I hope we all keep making music together until we're old and gray and even more ridiculous.

I'm also thankful for Cassidy, who helps remind me that true happiness can always be found in the simple things.

That's it for now, I guess.  I'm thankful for other stuff, too, for sure, but this is a good start, and I should probably wrap it up while I'm ahead.

I hope everyone has a good Thanksgiving!  No matter how you celebrate it, take a moment out to be thankful for the good things in your life!  Peace!!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Update; Steanso Freaks Out About Mind Reading

Just a quick word to say hi.  The weekend was good.
Friday night I had Crack practice with Andy and Sig while Amy went out to look at art, drink wine, and otherwise hang out with her friends.  At Cracktice we drank cheap beer, made cheap art, and hung out with each other.
Saturday we ran some errands, worked out, and went out for a nice dinner.
Sunday was a trip to Red Bud with Cassidy, Amy studying/Jason reading, exercise, and Mono E practice.
A nice, quiet weekend before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Not too much else going on. 

Here's something I read recently.  I'm not sure how seriously to take it, although it sounds sort of intriguing and a little disturbing.  Paul Root Wolpe recently had a piece on CNN about advances in neuroscience which may soon make it possible for the government (or maybe any other organization with the proper equipment?) to employ brain imaging technology in a way that lets other people detect our thoughts.
I'm not exactly sure why, but I find this, on a visceral level, to be intensely creepy.
I can't say exactly why it bothers me so much.  Of course, on one level the mind immediately conjures a future where such devices could be used surreptitiously against a person.  In addition to obvious crime interrogation applications, one can imagine scenarios where clandestine technology is used for applications ranging from business negotiations, to the detection of honesty in a romantic partner, to parenting (wouldn't it be nice to just know whether your kids were being honest with you?).
Of course, in reality I'm guessing that the most immediate use of any sort of brain scan thought detection technology would involve fairly large machines and a more or less clinical, controlled environment.  I envision an interrogation facility where something like a CAT scan or MRI is used by law enforcement or military intelligence professionals to find out what a person is thinking or whether they're telling the truth.
This sort of secenario bothers me, also, but I'm not sure why.  After all, as a part of the war on terrorism the government has already admitted to engaging in "enhanced interrogation" techniques which, by many estimations, constitute a form of torture.  Can a brain scan be any worse?
Shouldn't I be more satisfied if our military can extract information from unwilling subjects without having to inflict serious pain or injury?
But for some reason I'm not.
I guess my hesitation occurs, of course, when I imagine the roles being flipped, and I imagine one of our own soldiers (or even myself) being subjected to an interrogation system in which ideas, feelings, or concepts are pulled from a person's head against their will.  Maybe even more than being forced to give up information, there's something disturbing about the idea that thoughts could be stolen from you.  It's something that's sort of horrifying to imagine in a military interrogation scenario (picture a POW's fellow soldiers being hunted down after their location has been extracted from his head), and perhaps even more disconcerting to picture in the less likely scenario in which a person might be clandestinely scanned (e.g., military or government personnel having tactical or security information stolen out of their heads without even knowing that they've given it up).
Another part of my unease undoubtedly is just a certain discombobulation that comes with the very idea that mind reading might be something that we have to deal with in the actual, foreseeable future.  How do you adjust your worldview to accommodate the notion that your thoughts may no longer be privately your own?  What does it mean to be an individual when your thoughts are no longer certain to be protected as separate and apart from the rest of the world?
If the ability to scan thoughts actually became available, viable, and widespread, I think it would have implications for our culture, our society, and our way of life that we really can't begin to predict.
Future shock- meaning the inability of the human mind to assimilate drastic changes brought about by rapid advancements in technology- is a phrase that might be appropriate to describe contemplation of widespread use of this technology (and without an abundance of hyperbole, I think).
Would the collective unconscious become a collective consciousness if brain scanning became widespread?  Would the technology be outlawed, tightly controlled, banned, and rarely used (maybe even taboo?) or would it become widespread and commonplace?  And if thought scanning became common and people became used to the idea that none of their thoughts could ever be truly private, how far would we be from a society with a sort of collective hive mind instead of being a human species comprised of billions of chaotic, unique, disruptive, imaginative individuals?
I know I'm overdoing it.
Like I said, future shock.

Anyway, the article got me thinking.

Hope everyone is doing okay!
Happy Thanksgiving week!

Friday, November 18, 2011

American Censorship Day

Okay, so I dropped the ball on this American Censorship Day post that I tried to make  a couple of days ago.  My blog was scheduled to automatically make a post on the 16th in order to make everyone aware of American Censorship Day, but somehow I messed it up (or, less plausibly, blogger might've screwed it up), and the post never appeared.  So I missed the official American Censorship Day.
But I feel like this day was meant to draw attention to an important issue, and I still think people should know about it.
The issue being addressed with American Censhorship Day deals with the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)that recently went before the House Judiciary Committee (on the 16th- the day I meant to make my post).  SOPA is nominally designed to protect intellectual property, but it's opponents say that the bill is overly broad, affects too many individuals who aren't engaged in any sort of intentional, profit-driven piracy, and implements penalties which may be far too harsh to fit the severity of any infringement.  The bill would place responsibility on social networking host companies to make sure that users of their sites are not posting materials that infringe upon copyrights.  The bill also makes unautohorized streaming of content a felony.
The bill apparently would give the government the power to require host providers to shut down web sites after an allegation that intellectual property rights have been violated.  The accused site would then have an opportunity to respond to the accusation, but it's not clear how long it would take to restore access to sites if there's been a misunderstanding and/or if no actual legal infringement has occurred.  Companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and AOL have joined forces to oppose this legislation.  Understandably, I think, they don't want to be held responsible for policing the content of their patrons.
I have some sympathy for the film and music companies who are undoubtedly losing revenue due to online piracy and streaming, but I think the bill has problems.  To being with, it works by threatening lawsuits against every host site that fails to block a user whom an allegation is made against.  Without some kind of due process occurring first, individuals with personal sites (sometimes which help them make a living) could be blocked even though the claims against them aren't valid.  Host sites are likely to be put in the position of having to be overly inclusive if a large number of claims pop up, because they won't want to risk all of the lawsuits that they'll otherwise incur.  The host sites may not be able to refuse to block sites even if allegations don't sound valid because the host would still potentially incur the cost of litigation (even if they're utlimately in the right).
Mostly, though, I just feel like this bill is a poor response to the way that the internet has organically developed.  I strongly suspect that this bill won't stop the people who are making real money off of piracy (who will find a way around the internet protocols or restrictions placed on host sites), and instead we'll end up with a bunch of sites that end up blocked because they used a piece of a song or a part of a video as part of some legitimate discussion. 
There needs to be balance, for sure.  People shouldn't be able to freely generate profit off of other people's work without reimbursing the creators for it (especially if the creator is losing marketshare in the process), but I'm just concerned that legitimate discussion about media will end up being stifled and that smaller sites and blogs that never really turn much profit at all will be impacted more than the true pirates (many of whom operate overseas) who are making money directly by stealing intellectual property.  Annnd, I guess at this point in my life I'm more worried about the censoring of internet content than I am about whether or not Hollywood is able to make enough money off whatever new CGI spectacular they're cranking out next.
That's it.
Any thoughts?

ALSO,  Amy made amazing gumbo last night!!  Amazing!!!


Monday, November 14, 2011

Update

So it's been a pretty good week.  I already mentioned that Amy and I went to Paul Simon last Saturday.  On Wednesday night I went to dinner with Amy and Ryan and then we went to see Phantogram at the Mohawk.  I like Phantogram.  They have an interesting mix of synthesizers, loop tracks, live guitar, and now drums.  The show was pretty good, but the sound guy had the drums and bass up way too high in the mix.  I expect a lot of drums and low end from a band that leans toward the electronic, but I think that some of the distinguishing features of Phantogram as a band are the vocals by Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter, and, unfortunately, their vocals got drowned out quite a bit by the overwhelming pounding of the rhythm section.
Still, it was a good show, and it was fun to see Phantogram live.  I enjoyed them quite a bit (I've included photographic evidence documenting our enjoyment in case you're not convinced).
On Friday night we went to see the UT Jazz Orchestra at Bates Recital Hall.  Amy found out about the show, and it was a really good experience.  Much of the concert was made up of performances of student compositions (I think a number of the orchestra members are grad students), and the songs were really good.  Excellent musicianship, and some interesting tunes (Slush Pump Truck Stop springs to mind as one of the more creative pieces).



On Friday morning I stopped by the Veterans Day Parade and commemoration in front of the capitol.  It was a nice event.  I heard Lloyd Doggett speak, as well as several decorated veterans who had served in conflicts ranging from World War II up to Afghanistan and Iraq.  

Sunday we had Mono Ensemble practice, and Amy and I finished watching Season 1 of Treme, which we both enjoyed quite a bit.  Aside from that, the weekend involved some good meals (Amy one again made some delicious chilquiles on Friday), some errands, and a trip to the dog park.

So that's it!  Just wanted to say hi to everyone, mostly.  Last week was a pretty good week.  Between Paul Simon, Phantogram, The UT Jazz Orchestra, and Mono practice, it was a great week from a music standpoint.  For those who are interested, the UT Jazz Combos are going to be streaming their live performance tonight.  You can pick up the feed through this page.  









Veterans Court

Here's a piece that a coworker forwarded to me about the Veterans Court that I've been working in for the past year. We just had our one year anniversary on November 10th!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Veterans Day!

Happy Veterans Day to to my dad and all of the other veterans out there.  The entire country owes them a debt of gratitude for their service.

(here's Amy's Great Uncle Herb with a small, unidentified kid who wants to be like Great Uncle Herb)


On a more personal note, we had our one year anniversary and first graduation from our Travis County Veterans Court yesterday.  It was a nice occasion, and I'm really happy for the veterans in our court who've been working hard as they progress through the program.
Hope everyone has a good day!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Paul Simon

By the way, Amy and I went to see Paul Simon out at the Cedar Park Center on Saturday night.  It was a really good show.  Simon has been writing and performing great songs for a long, long time, and he's definitely earned his place in the pantheon of truly great American musicians. 
He played a good mix of old songs and new songs, and even threw in a few covers (including a cool version of "Here Comes the Sun").  It was a cool show, a nice evening, and we both really enjoyed it.  I've been thinking of this song ever since the show...



Sunday, November 06, 2011

Good Gig! Thanks!

Just a quick note to say that we had a really good time playing at the Carousel Lounge on Friday night. Thanks to everyone who came out to hear us play.  We hadn't played in a long time, and you guys really made it a cool experience!
We hope to do it again sometime, hopefully in the not terribly distant future.




Saturday, November 05, 2011

Technology and Jobs

I caught an interesting story on NPR yesterday while I was driving in to work.  The topic was about the intersection between machines and human beings in terms of technological advancement and its impact upon the job market.
For a long time we've known that certain machines have been competing with human workers for jobs.  Typically, I think most people envision this in terms of factory automation, companies using robots or similar devices to help fasten bolts, weld components, or perform other relatively uncomplicated tasks on assembly lines (personally, when I've thought of technology stealing jobs, I've usually conjured up images of big robotic arms busily attaching parts to one another in car factories).
This NPR story talked about a conference held by economists and technologists at Harvard and M.I.T. recently called Race Against the Machine.  One thing that I found interesting about the story (and apparently, by extension, about the conference) was that part of the discussion dealt not simply with the fact that machines are still taking over human jobs, but that machines have begun to take over more and more jobs that require a higher skill set-  jobs that had traditionally been reserved for the middle class.
When automation first began to take over some human jobs it seemed like it was mostly taking over jobs that were monotonous, often involving physical exertion, and which were sometimes danger.  Robots were replacing human workers on the factory floor, and many blue collar jobs fell victim to machines.
With the advent of increasingly sophisticated computer programming, however, the new technological threat to human employment seems to come more from areas such as data compilation and/or straightforward application of logic- and many of these jobs tend to be white collar.
Bank tellers, actuaries, accountants, ticket agents, and even lawyers (especially those previously engaged in document review and other high volume tasks) are being replaced in droves by computers as one employee with a decent machine and the right software achieves results that once required dozens of people.  (the NPR story says that for attorneys engaged in document review, it now may sometimes be possible for one attorney to complete the work that formerly would have required 500 attorneys)
recent article by Rana Foroohar in Time Magazine about the decline of upward mobility in the United States similarly pointed to technology as a thief of middle class jobs.  It's not that computers and robots steal all jobs, Foroohar pointed out.  Sales clerks, janitors, and maintenance people are needed on one end of the spectrum in order to perform relatively low skill level jobs in order to maintain the machines and put a human face on certain tasks, and on the other end of the spectrum, higher level, strategic decision makers and executives have been relatively unscathed by increased implementation of technology.  The middle class, however, has been squeezed pretty hard by the use of machines and robots in many cases.  In an economy where American workers are already struggling to compete with outsourcing and cheap foreign labor, job losses due to technological utilization can feel that much more devastating.

I'm not exactly sure where the solution lies.  That same Foroohar article from Time pointed out that some of the European nations which seem to be faring pretty well during the global economic downturn are nations who have placed significant emphasis upon higher education in order to stay ahead of the curve in terms of technological innovation and development.  With an investment in education (especially math, computer science, engineering, chemistry, and other sciences), some of the European nations have managed to avoid both the outsourcing of jobs (it's much more difficult to outsource jobs that are on the cutting edge of technological development) and job loss due to technology (if the jobs are things that are right ion the cutting edge of what's being developed, machines won't have been developed yet that can replace them).  Essentially, if you can maintain a workforce that remains on the forefront of development and innovation, then those workers will consistently remain in demand for businesses that are creating new technologies.
And that's where we want to be.  We want our citizens to be building new machines.  Technology can and does create jobs, but your workers have to be at a skill level that allows them to help develop processes, components, etc. for these new machines.  The theory is that if your population can stay one step ahead of the curve, then the advances in technology can drive your economy as you work to build new and better machines instead of primarily taking away jobs and leaving people unemployed.
So that's the good news.  People are holding up investment in and emphasis upon education as a potential solution to this whole jobs/technology dilemma.
Buut... I'm not entirely sold on this line of reasoning.  To me, it still feels like we're just not going to need as many innovators, designers, strategists, etc. (no matter how well educated they are) to compensate for the relatively vast number of people who are losing jobs to computers and machines.  Annnnd (and I'm not sure how to put this delicately enough) there may be issues with trying to fix an employment gap by simply stating that we'll educate our way out of it.  Science, math, computer science, engineering, etc. are some pretty difficult disciplines to master, and can we really count on the fact that we can simply school the middle section of our workforce into being highly skilled in some extremely difficult subject areas?  We might be able to pull this off, but we're not going to pull it off by simply emphasizing different things in college.  Our students have to be better prepared in the first place to study more difficult topics when they get to college.  For such a plan to work, we need to educate our system from the elementary education level on up so that we can compete with countries who have long had wealthier, more homogenous populations and a stronger cultural emphasis on education.

I don't like to write a post that  worries about something without sounding hopeful about some kind of viable solution, but the whole middle class American jobs topic is tough.  Greater education is certainly a big part of the solution, but if we're going to rely on education to keep us ahead of the curve, then we need to get really serious about educating our students in a manner that makes them significantly more competitive on an international scale, and we need to be willing to make the financial investments and sacrifices that are necessary to reform our schools in a meaningful way.  Most of all, maybe, we need to really work at changing the way that Americans, in general, look at education.  We can't keep just looking at schools as baby sitters and free day care, and we need to have high expectations for our teachers and administrators while simultaneously giving them all of the support that they need to improve the learning process.
Nothing new in my pitch for an emphasis on education, I guess, except maybe to say that it might be the only thing that can save a lot of jobs from skilled foreign workers and machines.  I really think we need nothing short of a cultural shift in terms of our approach to education if American is going to remain one of the most dominant economies in the world.  In order to protect the economic standing of the American middle class I think we need PR campaigns and a renewed social awareness about the importance of education that's every bit as strong or stronger than the push for environmentalism and green energy has been in recent years.

I guess that's it.  Support your schools.  Support your teachers.  Don't be afraid to expect more out of the education system, and make sure kids understand why education's important for their own futures and the future of their whole community.

I'm done.  I'm done.
Stay ahead of the robots.

Peace.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Mono Ensemble Tonight!

Come on out to the Carousel Lounge tonight at 9:00 to see my band, Mono Ensemble, in all of our musical glory!  We want to see you out there!  We really do! 

Mono Ensemble is supposed to play from about 9:00 until 10:30, and then our friends in Venus Fixer will play from 10:30 until midnight!  Come out just to hear Mono, or stay for the full shebang!  You've got a DVR.  You're not going to miss any of your shows...

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Dia de los Muertos

 (this is Muchacho the sugar skull.  Amy made him, but he is a friend to us all!)

Amy and I went to our first ever Dia de los Muertos party this weekend, hosted by our friends Mike and Meg, and their son, Finn.  Although I remember community events celebrating Dia de los Muertos, mostly from my time in San Antonio, this was the first time I'd been to a Dia de los Muertos party, and it was a really nice gathering.  For those who aren't familiar with it, the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrates family, friends, and loved ones who have passed away.  The invitees were asked to bring a food or drink that was a favorite of a loved one who has passed, and a picture of a deceased loved one or a small favorite item for placement on a decorated "altar".  The food was labeled with cards which explained:  "This is (fill in the food).  He/she loved (the person's name)!"  The pictures on the altar weren't labeled, but people actually really did gather around the altar to look at the pictures and to explain to each other who the people in the pictures were.  There were some really good pictures, some items that reminded people of loved ones, and a few small crosses and candles.  I heard a few good stories related to the pictures, and people clearly enjoy the opportunity to tell stories about people who have passed.
Also, in keeping with Dia de los Muertos tradition, there were sugar skulls that the kids and adults decorated, and, in general, the party had lots of bright colors and decorations.
I've known about Dia de los Muertos for a while, but somehow it all made a little more sense after the party.  For most Americans, I think it seems a little strange to have happy, positive feelings about skulls, skeletons, and thoughts of dead loved ones, but Dia de los Muertos is, at it's root, about remembering and honoring people that have been important to us and recognizing the fact that death doesn't truly remove them from our lives.
Anyway, there were lots of small kids roaming (i.e., racing) about at this party, and it made me happy to think that these kids will hopefully have some memories of celebrating a holiday that honors family members and loved ones who have passed.  It kind of formalizes remembrance in a celebratory way, and it just seems like a really positive, cool thing.
And the food was great, too!
Thanks so much to Meg, Mike, and Finn!  It was great a great party, filled with fun, warm people!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!!

Happy Halloween!  I hope everyone has a fun, happy, safe holiday!
I've been to a couple of fun parties (although one was actually for Dia de los Muertos- more on that tomorrow), seen some creative costumes, and still have trick or treaters to look forward to tonight!
I like Halloween.  I'm not always a big fan of gruesome scariness, but I like the Halloween celebration of things that are a little imaginative and wild.  I hope everyone has a good one!  Just remember to take care of each other!

Also, my dad is retiring today after working for as long as I can actually remember.  I'm not going to write too much about it because my brother has already done an admirable job on his blog.
Congratulations on your retirement, Dad!  Looking forward to hanging out with you in the "post work" era!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

We Are the 53%?

(I wrote this yesterday, but just getting around to posting it today)

So now, most inevitably, counterprotests have popped up that are meant to serve as a refutation of the themes and messages of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  The "We Are the 53%" moniker refers to the 53% of Americans who pay taxes, and these counterprotesters argue that messages of personal accountability, responsibility, and work ethic are missing from the themes being expressed by the Occupy protesters.
Well, maybe the Occupy Wall Street movement might win over more adherents by including messages of personal responsibility.  This is America, and, of course, we want our citizens to stand on their own two feet and be self reliant whenever possible.  In general, though, I think that the "53%" response just isn't really on point in terms of responding to the central messages that are beginning to solidify within the Occupy movement.
Perhaps I've been missing a big part of the Occupy message, but I haven't heard many demands for government handouts or insistence upon welfare programs as a key part of their message.  Instead, what I've mostly heard from them is a certain frustration over what they see as a lack of a level playing field when it comes to the influence exerted by corporate America, the financial sector, and the absolutely wealthiest percentage of the country, especially as compared to the rules that middle class citizens and everyone else are expected to play by.  Recent Supreme Court decisions (see Citizens United) have recently given corporations almost unfettered rights to engage in political lobbying and involvement in the political process (thereby granting unprecedented first amendment rights to metaphysical "persons" which are, in fact, only powerful profit making machines), and there's a corporate tax structure in this country which allowed General Electric to owe no money in taxes in 2010 despite generating $10.3 billion in pretax income.  Banks have been engaging in extemely risky practices in areas like derivatives and the mortgage markets, and tax dollars have been the ones bailing them out when things went south.
So yeah, we can always do with a greater sense of responsibility, self reliance, and principled behavior, but I think that the Occupy protesters would probably argue that large parts of Wall Street, Washington, and corporate America have been failing to live by those same responsible principles themselves for a long time, and, in fact, in recent years the American tax payers have been the ones bailing out corporations and the wealthy when they engage in irresponsible behavior- not the other way around.
I'm not saying that there isn't room for people to encourage personal responsibilty during the Occupy protests.  I'm just saying that I don't think that the search for fairness expressed by the Occupy protesters and the expectations that individual citizens will strive to be self reliant are really mutually exclusive goals.  I really do believe that there are plenty of hard working American citizens out there who have done their best to play by the rules who have ended up being seriously harmed by an economic downturn brought about, in large part, by companies who weren't held to reasonable rules of fairness.

I guess, like some of the people out their protesting, I just don't want to see the same mistakes repeated that led to our economic deterioration in the first place.  It seems like now might be a good time to reassess and move forward in a healthier way.

That's all I've got.  I hope everyone is doing okay!!
       

Monday, October 24, 2011

Hi!

Man, I really do not have a lot of earth shaking news to share with you guys, but I just wanted to say hello.  Keep in mind that Mono Ensemble has a gig coming up on November 4th at The Carousel Lounge at 9:00 p.m.!

Hmmmm....
What to write about....?
Well, the McRib is back again, so Ryan should be happy.  I guess that's all that I have to say about that. 
Yup, it's gross.  He loves it.  Me's my brother.

What else?  I'm scheduled to be a judge this week for an advocacy skills trial at the law school over at UT this week.  So I'll be sitting as a judge for law students in a mock trial.  It should be an interesting experience.  Amy seems to think that I can get through it without damaging any young, aspiring, enthusiastic legal minds, so I'm going to give it a try and do my best! 
Amy is pretty good about encouraging me to try out healthy new things.  But if the law students all hate me, I'm going to have them file their complaints with her!  ;-)

Not too much else to report.  We had a good weekend.  It went by far too fast.

Hope everyone is enjoying their run up to Halloween! 
Watch an old scary movie, eat some candy, and make yourself a costume! (or at least enjoy watching other people wear theirs)

Take care! 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Goodbye, Laura

Many of you probably don't know Laura Bennett Hague, but a a few of the people who read this blog definitely know her.  Laura was a good friend of mine and housemate from my Trinity days back in college.  She passed away this morning after a long battle with cancer.  She was an extremely lively, caring, energetic person who was filled with boundless enthusiasm and an endless love of life.  She had a tremendous sense of humor, loved entertaining people, and loved being entertained by them.  She was fiercely loyal to her friends.
During college, Laura loved nothing more than organizing parties, planning outings, and thinking up fun things to do with friends.  Her eyes would light up with excitement whenever someone would suggest anything from a houseparty to a spring break trip to a group dinner.
I hadn't seen Laura in a number of years, but I've been exchanging some messages and emails with her over the last couple of years, and it's also been quite evident to me for some time (although maybe this wasn't something that I initially picked up on in college) that she was a person of extraordinary strength, bravery, and faith.
Although I haven't seen her in a while, it makes me immensely sad to know that she's gone.  She left behind her husband, Josh, and her daughter, Katy Jayne.
My sympathies and love go out to Laura and her family.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Some Halloween Spirit Coming at You!!



Do the mash!  It'll make ya feel good!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Update, A Bit on Occupy

Hey!  How are you guys?  Just wanted to check in.
Amy was out of town this weekend.  It was only a few days, but I missed her.  After my having been away to Tulsa the week before last, and then Amy being gone this weekend, well... I just missed her.  Glad she's back.
Friday night I hung out with Jamie and Ryan a bit.  Saturday I went with my parents and with Reed to watch UT play OSU.  UT lost, but the game was better than I expected, and, I thought, better than the score reflected.  Fozzy Whitaker and Malcolm Brown both did a better than expected job with the running game.  I'm still not entirely sold on the idea that we ought to be 100% committed to David Ash over Case McCoy as our primary quarterback, but I do think that Ash is getting better.  He's got a good arm and he runs pretty well.  He's young, and he needs to develop a little more awareness out there on the field (both in terms of pass coverage and pressure in the pocket).  Hopefully he'll learn these things.  On the other hand, if he doesn't learn (and sometimes college quarterbacks just never seem to develop an ability to quickly make good tactical decisions), I hope the coaches don't give up on the possibility of using McCoy.  The coaching staff at UT is willing to demonstrate a lot of confidence in their players (which helps recruiting), but I think that sometimes they assume that a plaeyr needs time to grow when, in fact, the player has peaked (e.g., Garrett Gilbert).  Obviously we haven't gotten to that point with Ash, and he's done pretty well, but I think the coaching staff should keep all of their options open.

What else?  One month after they started, the Occupy Wall Street protests have spread to Austin and a lot of other places.  The messages of the protests are sort of amorphous and the agenda varies a bit, depending on which protester you talk to, but the broad themes of the movement seem to deal with frustration regarding the American corporations, the government, and the ways in which the two things intersect.  Among other things, people are angry about corporate influence in the American political process (lobbying and paid political ads by companies) and taxpayer bailouts for companies that helped to create the recession in the first place (with very risky investment strategies and bad lending practices).  Companies which have taken assistance government assistance are felt to have had too little accountability and have done very little to create new middle class jobs (while overall corporate profits have done just fine).  People may not really understand the intricacies of the linkage between the financial, corporate, and government realms, but they see the middle class in decline, poorly run companies repeatedly receiving taxpayer help ("too big to fail"), and corporations continuing to make really good profits, although many of these same companies (particularly in the financial sector) were responsible for the decision making that put the American economy in the hole in the first place.
The Occupy protesters have a long way to go in terms of advocating solutions instead of just voicing complaints, but I can see why people are irked.  In particular, I think the focus on the private sector is long overdue.  The government isn't the only boogeyman contributing to America's problems, and I think that Occupy's focus on the financial system is a good start.  (I'm not sure that encouraging everyone to move their money to credit unions will really fix our problems, but it's at least bound to get the attention of the private sector.  Predatory lending practices have helped lead to our recession, and with national banks slipping in stealth fees in areas like access to checking accounts- which banks are holding for free and loaning out to others at interest- it's easy to see why consumers are annoyed).
Anyway, Occupy needs to get more cohesive, organized, and eloquent if they want to create real change.  With all of the disparate elements that they've collected under one tent, it might be difficult to bring focus to their agenda.  But I understand the frustration.

What else?  Hope you're still reading because Mono Ensemble has a gig on November 4th!  Come on out and see us rock at 9:00 at the Carousel Lounge.  Mono Ensemble will be playing from about 9:00 until about 10:15, with our friends Venus Fixer playing from 10:30 until midnight.  Hope everyone can make it!  More reminders to come!

Take care!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lunacy

If anyone's reading this today, I just want to remind you that tonight is a full moon. A hunter's moon. Jupiter is supposed to be visible somewhere near it.
It's October.
There's a full moon.
Go howl.
:-)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Back in the ATX

Just a quick update.  Well, after a fairly productive week in Tulsa, I got back into Austin kinda late Friday night.  It was really good to get home and see Amy (and see Cassidy, and sleep in my own bed).  The whole weekend was good.  It was kind of rainy and overcast, which can sometimes get me down, but after months of severe heat and constant sunshine the clouds and drizzle made for a nice, cozy, lazy weekend.  We ran some errands, hung out around the house a bit, and went to see a movie (we saw Drive, but neither of us cared for it all that much).
The UT-OU game was unpleasant, but as with any other traumatic experience, I'm working hard to suppress that memory.  Thanks to Ryan and Jamie for having a few of us over.  Aside from the events that were taking place on the TV, it was a pleasant experience.
I don't have too much to report in terms of the veterans court training trip to Tulsa.  The National Drug Court people kept us really busy with classes and workshops and stuff about trauma and drug treatment and other related topics.  In the evening our group went out to dinner a few times.  We went to a place with pretty good  barbecue and a blues band (Back Alley Blues & BBQ) in the Blue Dome District.  We also went to a really good pizzeria (Andolini's) and a pretty good Irish pub (Kilkenny's).  Tulsa seems like a nice enough town.  The locals gave us a lot of razzing about the upcoming UT-OU game, but I would expect no less when a rivalry like that is involved.
Annnyway, it's good to be back.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Tulsa

The conference is okay. Tulsa is okay. If we want to use the Internet in our hotel it costs $13 a day, so I'm making this entry from my iPhone.
I miss Amy.
Hi, Amy!
I'm not sure how Ryan travels for business and doesn't get grumpy.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Hello Tulsa, Goodbye White Chair

Well, I'm off to Tulsa this week for a Veterans Court training.  I'm not super excited to be going to spend a week in Oklahoma (I'm going to miss Amy, and the fall weather is starting to get nice in Austin right now), but I'm trying to stay positive about it.
Amy and I have had a good weekend.  On Friday night we went to Lambert's.  Neither one of us had ever been there, although both of us had read some good things about it, and I thought it lived up to its reputation.  Amy had a pork chop, and I had shrimp and grits.  We also had a chick pea appetizer, brussel sprouts, and a pumpkin brulee for desert.  It was a really nice dinner, and I had a really nice time.  I'll definitely go back there again.

(big happiness at Lambert's!  And people wonder why I'm not thrilled about heading off to Tulsa)

Yesterday we just did some house stuff, and then last night we went over to my parents house to watch the UT-Iowa game.  It was a nice evening.  Not a great game, but it's always better to be on the winning end of a blowout!  
And today I've been getting ready to go out of town.  Also, we moved the trusty (and kind of grungy) ol' white chair out to the curb for bulk pick up.  I sat in this chair a lot more back in the pre-Amy days (it's now been dubbed the "Jason is Alone" chair), but it served me well for a time.  Via con dios, chair!

(This is Amy's new post as official guest greeter for the Hopalong Lounge)

At any rate, maybe I'll blog while I'm gone.  Things might be slow in Tulsa.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Update

The weekend was pretty good.  Amy and I mostly ran errands and sort of puttered around the house on Saturday (Amy took her first trip to Garden Ridge Pottery, so that was a milestone moment that I got to share with her).  We went to a nice baptism and brunch for Mary, Ani and John's daughter (friends who I met through Amy), and I rocked out with the Mono Ensemble (sans Eric) yesterday while Amy went to the gym.  She seems fully committed to being in really good shape, thereby consistently remaining stronger and faster than myself (as well as smarter, but I'm not sure that happens at the gym).  

We also watched the first two episodes of Sherlock, which is a BBC miniseries that puts a modern, updated spin on the character of Sherlock Holmes.  The show stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (Freeman is recognizable from the BBC version of The Office).  Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat (Doctor Who) are creators.  I know that some Sherlock Holmes fans might initially be skeptical of the idea of a new, contemporary Sherlock Holmes (to be honest, I was initially a little wary), but the show is really well done, both in concept and execution.  It's pretty clear that the writers have a great deal of respect and admiration for the original source material, and the show does a solid job of preserving the important personal characteristics of Holmes and Watson.  I'm a big fan of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, but I've also really enjoyed this new version where you get to see the characters navigate the modern world (computers and cell phones) and the busy streets of today's London.  And the list of characters from the original novels isn't limited to Holmes and Watson.  I don't want to give too much away, but a number of supporting characters from the books appear as well, and it's really fun to see their depictions in this new version.
Anyway, the first season of Sherlock is comprised of only three episodes, although each is about 90 minutes long.  They're supposed to be starting season two in early 2012, so I think people should check the show out now before the new season comes out.  Amy and I have both been really enjoying it.

And in the category of new stories that I don't really understand but which sound really important, some CERN researchers in Europe have measured the speed of neutrinos recently and determined that they seem to be moving faster than the speed of light.  Now I'm not going to pretend to understand all of the implications of this potential discovery (which still needs to stand up to a lot of peer review), but I do remember reading a  layman's book or two on physics and hearing that the speed of light was more or less a universally held upper limit and that it's pretty much been held as being inviolable.  I don't understand exactly how things will change if we find out that particles are moving faster than the speed of light, but it sounds as if some fundamental rules will have to be reexamined if it proves true.
On the positive side, it goes without saying if things can move faster than the speed of light, then that puts us one step closer to a Star Trek-like universe where we can zip around the galaxy one day in our space transports.  So I'm all for that.  Strap me in for a ride on the space bus!

Well, that's all that I have for now.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

R.E.M. Breaks Up

So R.E.M . announced today that they're breaking up.  It seems like a respectable decision.  The band has been around for a long, long time, but they still have some artistic integrity and, not wanting to eventually become caricatures of their former selves, they're choosing to break up the band.  I can respect the decision to end an artistic project- especially such a long running one- if you no longer feel that you have new, meaningful, interesting contributions to make.  It's always better to leave your audience wanting more.
Still, I fee a little sad about the end of the REM era.  One of the first concerts that I ever went to (and maybe the first one where I just got dropped off and got to see a show with no parental supervision) was REM's Green tour back in 1989.  My friend Tim Choy was with me at this show, and I'm pretty sure that Ryan was there, too.  I remember that Michael Stype didn't talk much between songs, and the rumor was that REM had come through Austin on one of their last tours and the crowd had rushed the stage.  A couple of fans had supposedly been injured, and after that Michael Stype (and maybe the rest of the band) had decided that they weren't big fans of Austin, TX.
Anyway, I have good memories of that concert, anyway.  I had been listening to the album a lot, and I was really intrigued by the sound of Stype's voice, the trippy, ambiguous lyrics, and the way that the songs did such a good job of creating mood and atmosphere without resorting to a lot of solos or self indulgent riffing.  REM wrote songs for people who wanted music that they could actually think about a little bit.  The rock scene had the booze, drugs, and sex covered, and the pop stars had a good grasp on disposable dance singles.  With REM, the songs had a range of topics, but there was a slightly deeper attempt to match music to mood and lyrics.  REM was band that wrote their own songs and played their own music, but they were (or seemed) more interested in writing interesting songs than in just being celebrities. 
In today's musical climate this seems like a more fairly obvious concept, but REM was gaining popularity at a time when most of the stuff on the radio or MTV (yes, MTV still played music videos back then) involved disposable, danceable tracks that were mostly meant to just be a pretty background for attractive pop stars to dance (e.g., Bobby Brown, New Kids on the Block, Paula Abdul, Debbie Gibson, Milli Vanilli, etc.).  And the bands that actually played rock music seemed to mostly be clowns in tight clothes (often leather), sporting big hair and a compulsive desire to flex their musical muscles in front of anyone who would listen (Poison, Great White, Aerosmith, etc.).  REM helped usher in an era of alternative music in which the songs themselves were meant to be more important than the celebrities performing them. 
Or at least that's the way it started.
Eventually, of course, alternative music became co opted.  REM and other college radio/alternative bands led the way, and Nirvana, almost inadvertantly, broke down the wall between mainstream and alternative music.  All of the wanna-be celebrities found their way into a new genre that had initially been developed to avoid their influence. 
The thing that made REM and some of the earlier "alternative" rock bands great was the originality and imagination that they brought to the music.  They didn't necessarily rely on prodigious musicianship in order to create songs (mileage sort of varied in terms of technical ability from one band to the next), but they were really good at conveying ideas.  Once alternative music got co opted though, you found people with very little creative energy cranking out extremely simple and often boring songs that just tried to imitate the sounds that other people had created. 
And alternative music, unfortunately, is a good genre for hiding poseurs.  The music doesn't have to be technically demanding.  Alternative music bands, often wanting to differentiate themselves from the glitz and phoniness of glam rock and top 40 teenie bopper music, had often attempted to dress and act a lot more like "normal people" than mainstream rock or pop stars (okay, maybe the alternative bands wore a lot of flannel or looked like they needed a nap or shower, but at least they weren't wearing tight leather leggings and sporting long, quaffed hairdos with ridiculous amounts of hairspray).
Annnnyway, all of this to say.... Yeah, I get it.  In a lot of ways the alternative movement led to an army of hipsters who don't have an original sound, only know three chords, wear black glasses, skinny jeans, and plaid, and sound whiney on every song. 
I've been to SXSW.  I know this happens.
But at the beginning, alternative music had a lot of creatve energy, and it was a major departure from the plastic, artificial, ridculosity that was going on at the time.  At the beginning, the various sounds that made up alternative music were really something different, and some creative people were really attracted to working within alternative rock as an independent genre.
In some sense this is still a very good, healthy thing.  On the whole, the alternative music movement reminded people that you didn't need to be able to play hypertechnical guitar solos, be able to hip hop dance, or dress like a glam rocker in order to make interesting music.  The alternative music scene, at its core, was a reminder that anyone with an interesting sound or good song should be worthy of a listen.
REM were right at the forefront of this movement.
They had good ideas, an interesting sound, and enough drive and determination to claw their way out of the underground college radio scene and into the mainstream (wayyy into the mainstream- when I lived in San Antonio during college they shut down one of our major highways for the day and tied up the city's traffic so REM could shoot a video for "Everybody Hurts".).
I still like REM.  I saw them for the last time at ACL Fest in 2003 (jeez, was that in 2003?!), and they put on a really good, fun show.  They seemed like they were really enjoying themselves.  It was cool because my memory of them from high school involved a much more sullen, sulky band.
Anyway, I gotta wrap this up, but I like R.E.M. and I'll miss them.  They had some great lyrics (lots of great imagery, metaphor, and even humor), cool tunes, and they're an important part of the musical landscape in my life.
Peace.

Monday, September 19, 2011

ACL Fest 2011

Well, my tenth year of ACL Fest has come and gone.  I had a good time again and heard some good music, but the victory was a little more hard won this year.  I've been sort of sick with allergies or a cold or something, so that brought my energy level down a little bit, and then the lineup was just a little weird this year.  There were still some good acts, but there weren't as many bands on the lineup that I was looking forward to ahead of time, which I guess can be be attributed to a my own lack of knowledge about some of the acts (especially the newer ones) combined with a number of repeat performances from the bands that I was more familiar with (Ryan Bingham, Coldplay, Cold War Kids, The Walkmen, TV on the Radio, and Arcade Fire, for example, have all played the festival before, and this year's headliner, Arcade Fire, has, I believe, played the festival on at least three occasions when I've personally seen them). On top of that, I don't know if Kanye West blew out the sound system on the main stage the first night or what, but the sound for Stevie Wonder was pretty awful (it sounded like there was a great show going on somewhere, but we just couldn't hear it very well, so we ended up leaving earlier than we had planned), and Arcade Fire was kind of muddy as well.  The sound problems bugged me, and I'm mentioning them because they're an issue that really needs to be addressed if ACL Fest is going to continue to market itself as a festival for serious music fans, especially when you're talking about the headliners at the end of the night.
On the whole, though, it was a good festival.  I don't mean to sound down on it (I only mention things like sound problems because they seem like they could and should be fixed in future years).  It was a fun weekend, and we're lucky to have a musical festival in our town!  We had a little bit of light rain, but it didn't get too hot, and the weather, on the whole, was really very good.

Quick recap of who we saw:
Day 1- Delta Spirit, the Smith Westerns, Ray LaMontagne, a bit of Kurt Vile and the Violators, Gary Clark Jr., Mavis Staples, and a bit of Kanye and Coldplay.
Day 2- Iron and Wine, Fitz and the Tantrums, a little bit of Cut Copy, TV on the Radio, and part of the Stevie Wonder set.
Day 3- Ryan Bingham and The Dead Horses, Elbow, Manu Chao, a few Social Distortion songs, and Hayes Carl (we tried to see Randy Newman but left because of sound issues), and part of Arcade Fire.

Standouts for me included Gary Clarke, Jr., Fitz and the Tantrums, TV on the Radio, Ryan Bingham, Manu Chao, and, kind of surprisingly, Hayes Carl (didn't know much about either Hayes Carl or Gary Clark going into this).  I also liked Elbow more than I expected to.  Actually, when I think about it, most all of the music I'm listing here was good.  We didn't stick around long for stuff we didn't care for, and we found some really good music to listen to.

Anyway, it was a good three days!  Thanks to Amy for going with me and helping me have fun and thanks to Dan for giving us some nice parking!!





It's hard to believe it's been ten years.  I remember Jeff Wilson sort of talking me into going to my first ACL Fest, and I haven't missed one since.  Even though the festival experience can occasionally be a bit trying in its particulars (there were especially hot years, the year of dust, and the year of the mudbowl, etc. etc.), I'm really glad to line in a town that has such a strong community atmosphere and a commitment to live music.  I'm not sure I'll make it to all three days of every festival for the next ten years, but I'll keep going, and I'll continue to be glad that ACL Fest has become an enduring part of Austin culture.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Weekend

Well, it was a good weekend- a nice, relaxing couple of days off, which was a good thing, given that we were in Arizona last weekend and we've got ACL Fest coming up this upcoming weekend.
I don't even remember what we did on Friday night.  I really don't.  Seems like we had some frozen yogurt at some point.  I guess we watched the last episode of Deadwood
Amy and I have really enjoyed watching Deadwood.  The characters are pretty well developed and well acted, and they have long, interesting arcs that allow you watch them actually change and grow (or fail to grow) in a plausible way over the course of multiple seasons.  The show explores interesting subject matter and themes, looking at topics like justice, immigration, gender roles, politics, and business, all played out against a backdrop where a newly formed civilization is struggling to rise out of the chaos and lawlessness of a more primitive environment.  Deadwood was ultimately cancelled, but I think that the show still holds up really well.  It would have been nice to have had a few more episodes to tie up some loose ends, but, on the whole, the show concluded in a way that was in keeping with its overall spirit.
On Saturday we got up and went walking around Lake Lady Bird (I still think of it as Town Lake, but I'm trying to get with the times).  It was a nice walk.  We did a lot of people watching, and the weather was nice.  Saturday afternoon we ran a couple of errands.  Saturday evening I went and watched the UT game over at Ryan and Jamie's while Amy got caught up on some stuff for school. 
I feel a little bad for saying this, but I breathed a big sigh of relief when the coaching staff pulled UT quarterback Garrett Gilbert.  He didn't really deserve to get booed, but he's had his chance, and UT has at least two other quarterbacks in the wings who show promise (and I know I wasn't the only UT fan who thought both Ash and McCoy performed more capably on Saturday).
Saturday night Amy and I joined Jaci, Josh, Heidi, and their friend Blake for some trivia at Opal Divine's.  Our team was called "College Football is a Ponzi Scheme", and we came in second out of 27 teams!  It was a nice night, and I enjoyed both the hanging out and the trivia.
Sunday was Uncle Donald's 83rd birthday, so the Steans clan (and Pearce clan) went to Cover 3.  It was nice.  We got some food, watched some football, and ate a little cake.  I'd never been to Cover 3.  It was pretty cool. 

(Uncle Donald examines the menu and wonders when they started serving seared Ahi tuna and jerk shrimp salads at sports bars)

Sunday afternoon we ran a few errands, and that night Amy made some good chicken pesto pasta, and we just took it easy.
So that was it!  Hope you guys had a good weekend!  Amy and I enjoyed ours!