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!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

10 Years After 9/11

There are going to be a whole lot of things written about the events of September 11, 2001, ten years after the fact.  People are going to be typing up their memories of that day, and trying to measure how things have changed or failed to change since that event took place.
9/11 is a huge topic.  Many books will be and have been written about it, trying to put the whole thing into some sort of perspective.  Given all of the attention that the "big picture" 9/11 stories are getting this week, I wanted to just scale things back a bit and give my account of how 9/11 has affected my life.  I knowing full well that I've felt nothing but the most minor traces of the impact of 9/11, and that it only affected me in the most indirect of ways, but I think that 9/11 affected all of us probably more than we realize as we go about our day to day lives.  The attack and its aftereffects have just become ingrained as part of our social fabric, so we don't really think about them unless we take a moment to reflect.
Of course, like everyone else, I find myself standing in line with no shoes or belt in airport security lines.  I occasionally think about the ways that The Patriot Act has made it easier for the government to invade our privacy without much judicial review.  The 9/11 attacks, coupled with several less successful subsequent attempts at attacks on the U.S., have made us all a bit more jumpy and cautious when it comes to unexpected, public incidents.  I remember being at ACL Fest a few years ago when a port-a-potty caught fire.  None of us knew the cause, but we all saw black, billowing smoke rising over the crowded festival grounds, and there were some moments of uneasiness before one of the musicians noted that there had simply been a small accident.  We all sort of breathed a collective sigh of relief.  It's bizarre to realize that some religious wacko sat in a cave or desert hideout somewhere, probably right before the end of the millennium, and planned an unlikely attack designed to take down the World Trade Center.  Years later, we're all worried about the possibility of enemy-inflicted mass casualties when a public toilet catches fire at an Austin music festival.
Another change in my life that can be attributed in no small part to the events of 9/11 deals with my professional life.  I've been working in the veterans court for almost a year now, and I've been going to planning meetings for it that started probably almost a year before that.
The veterans court might have come to fruition without the 9/11 attacks, but then again, it might not have (or it certainly might have taken a much longer time to start one in Austin).  Once again, the chain of events is just strange when you really think about it.
Radical Islamic terrorists launch an attack against the U.S. and take down the World Trade Center.  The U.S. enters into a war on terror, sending troops into both Afghanistan and Iraq to contain threats against the West.  American troops end up fighting nasty counter-insurgency campaigns in both countries.  Troops return to the Austin area after having experienced extremely traumatic events (e.g., friends being killed by roadside bomb, sniper, and rocket attacks; exploding suicide bombers; busloads of Iraqi police being killed by explosions; the identification of bodies in mass graves; etc.).  Our troops suffer post traumatic stress disorder and other conditions related to their combat experiences.  As a result, some of these veterans have anger control issues, self medicate with drugs and alcohol, and display other problematic behaviors related to their combat experiences.  Some of them get in fights or get behind the wheel of a car and drive when they really shouldn't.  These are the people who end up in the veterans court, mostly.  So, somehow we end up with a veterans court twice a month on Thursday evenings because some jackass in a terrorist training center in Afghanistan got an idea to fly a couple of planes into the World Trade Center.
Of course, we might have found a different war to fight if 9/11 hadn't happened.  But then again, maybe not.  Maybe we wouldn't have enough of a population of traumatized vets to justify a veterans court if we hadn't had the two wars spawned by 9/11.  I like my job, but it would be nice to have fewer troubled vets.  It would have been nice if 9/11 hadn't happened and we hadn't ended up going to war.
And it's weird to think about the fact that it was almost exactly ten years ago that we all watched events on TV that would ultimately send our troops off to war.  It's even stranger to realize that enough time has now passed that they've not only gone to war, but have already returned to this country as veterans (many having done multiple tours) and are now working to settle into healthy civilian lives.
So that's my little part of the conversation.  I know it's not the most dramatic 9/11 story that you're going to hear this weekend, but maybe it gives a little peek at how 9/11 had some indirect impact on everyday Joes like me- the people who weren't near ground zero on 9/11, were never first responders, were never in the military, and who never lost loved ones.  I certainly don't mean to say that my story is anywhere near as meaningful as the stories that these people have, either.  I guess my point, if I have one, is just that 9/11 factors into the lives of a lot of us in one way or another.  Sometimes those connections are hard to quantify, but I think almost all of our lives have changed in certain ways, whether we immediately notice them or not, since 9/11.
Anyone who reads this blog will know that I sometimes have quarrel with our politicians and their decisions, but also want to give a big hats off to our troops and the first responders who keep us safe.

Peace.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

City on Fire

This is an image of the Bastop fire (downtown Austin in the foreground) that has, at last count, burned nearly 1,400 homes and killed two people.  I know a few people from the courthouse who live in Bastrop, and many of our officers from the Travis County Sherriff's Department (who work at the courthouse) and even some of the investigators from our office have been out there working on the emergency.  My thoughts and sympathies go out to our neighbors who are struggling through this.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Several Days Without Labor in Phoenix

So this past weekend I took my first trip with Amy out to go visit her family in Phoenix!  (well, technically, I guess, we were mostly in Peoria and Surprise, but for non Arizonians, I think it's probably easier to just call it Phoenix)
It was a really nice trip!  We flew in on Saturday morning and started out by going to brunch at the Biltmore, which is a historic hotel and resort that has been open since 1929.  It's a really cool place, with some interesting architecture and beautiful landscaping and grounds (and the food was really good).
(The Biltmore's a beautiful place.  Even though it's in the desert, for some reason it occasionally conjured up, in my mind, comparisons to one of my favorite fictional hotels...)

Saturday afternoon we just sort of relaxed and took it easy.  We were staying at Amy's grandparents' house (they were on vacation and graciously allowed us to stay there), so we just kind of relaxed for a while.  Thanks to Carol and Jerry for the extremely nice accomodations.
(Amy and I realize that our lifetsyle is actually already pretty well suited for retirement)

Saturday night we went over to Amy's parents house (Jean and Greg's) for dinner.  Heidi (Amy's sister) joined us along with Matt (Amy's brother-in-law) and Scott (Amy's nephew).  It was really great to finally meet all of them!  I'd heard about all of them a lot, and we've even chatted on Skype a few times, but it was very nice to finally meet them in person!  
And dinner was great.  Greg grilled some really good barbecue chicken, and Jean and Amy made delicious potatoes, salad, beans, and probably some other stuff that I'm not remembering (there was good cake for desert!  Oh yeah, and delicious sangria!  How did I forget the delicious sangria?!  Well, I know how I almost forgot about the delicious sangria...). 
Afterward we just hung out and visited and looked at some stars and nebulae through Greg's telescope (which was really cool).
Sunday morning we got up, and all went to the pool over in Sun City where Amy and I were staying (well, except Matt.  Matt actually stayed home to do some work- and on Labor Day weekend!).  The trip to the pool was really nice.  I got to spend some more time talking to Heidi, and we all took turns playing with Scott in the water.  Amy and I both really like the sun and the water, and the pool trip was really pleasant. 
Sunday afternoon we went to the Musical Instrument Museum.  I guess it's a fairly new Museum in Phoenix, and it's really interesting.  It holds over 10,000 musical instruments from all over the world, and features an audio tour that allows you to hear them via audio and video clips that feature live performances that utilize the pieces on display.  The museum has amassed a pretty amazing collection of instruments from various periods in history from all over the world.
 
(in this picture you can see Amy, Heidi, and Matt grooving to the sounds of what I believe to be medieval Chinese hip hop)

(in the Latin American section, Amy and Heidi fail to heed a prophetic warning, issued circa  1987 by Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine. "The rhythm IS going to get you...")


(somehow Ryan made it all the way to Phoenix just to sneak into the back of this picture to photobomb us)

Sunday evening we went to dinner at a restaurant called El Encanto.  It was a really nice place.  The outdoor seating was in a sort of courtyard with a pond (complete with ducks!), and the food and margaritas were very good.  I had a chicken dish that was tasty, but I can't remember the name.  It was a second chance to hang out with the whole Davis/Sinex clan, and it was a really good time!

Monday morning I got up (Amy had gone for her morning walk/run with her mom) and looked out the window to see a number of rabbits and a coyote who wandered in off the golf course to look for his breakfast.  He came closer to the house than it appears in this picture, but it took me a couple of minutes to find my camera...


(strangely, he wasn't chasing a roadrunner, and he didn't demonstrate any proficiency with dynamite)

We went over to Jean and Greg's place for breakfast/brunch, and Amy's mom served up some really good migas (which have become one of my favorite foods over time), coffee cake, and fruit.  Everything was really good.
Jean, Amy, and I went to the pool after breakfast and just swam around and relaxed.  Jean and Greg's neighborhood pool is really nice and has a nice sort of backdrop view of the mountains.
After swimming we went home and pretty much just packed up to head back to the airport.

The entire weekend was relaxing and enjoyable, and it was really good to do some new, interesting, fun things in Phoenix, and, more importantly, get a chance to hang out with Amy's family.  It was great to finally meet Heidi, Matt, and Scott, and I had a really good visit with Jean and Greg as well.  I really appreciate the hospitality and the kindness, and of course, it's great to know that Amy has such a nice family!  Thanks again to Jean, Greg, heidi, Matt, Scott, Carol, and Jerry for making it such a good trip!

Friday, September 02, 2011

Pre Labor Day Hola and Blog Topics

Just wanted to check in with everyone before Amy and I jet off to spend the Labor Day weekend with her family out in Phoenix. 

On Tuesday I went with Amy and a couple of her iSchool friends to see The Apartment at The Paramount.  I'd never seen it before, and I really enjoyed it.  It wasn't quite what I'd expected.  I'd certainly heard of the movie, but with Jack Lemmon and Fred MacMurray starring as the film's leading men, I guess I expected more of a lighthearted comedy. 
And the movie was funny, but it surprised me with its dark undertones.  It's a testament to Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, the movie's writers, that a film involving themes of exploitation, misogyny, suicide, and dysfunctional relationships somehow managed to remain humorous and warm while still giving the audience a chance to relate to and sympathize with the characters in a genuine way.  Of course, the strong acting by the entire cast helped, too (I think it was the best performance I've ever seen by Shirley MacLaine).  Anyway, I'm sure that everyone but me has already seen this movie, so I guess I won't spend too much time dissecting it, but I really enjoyed it.  Thanks to Amy for making sure that I finally saw it!

What else?
I haven't been blogging as much about politics and government lately, but to be honest, it's just because I've been finding the whole topic a little too frustrating and discouraging to even approach.  I'm sorry if I sound negative for saying this, but I just don't have a whole lot that's useful to say.  I'm ideologically opposed to most of the people on the far right, and leaders from far right seem to be controlling most of what goes on within the Republican Party these days (e.g., the Tea Party and people who share a similar mindset).  They have a sort of "make no compromises/take no prisoners" mindset, and Obama and the Democrats are far too weak and conciliatory at almost every turn (on health care, the debt ceiling and fair taxation, terrorism trials and troop withdrawals, environmental protection, etc.).  The Democratic leadership doesn't seem to be able to do much to protect America's middle and working class families other than to try to somewhat limit the damage that the Republicans are doing in the name of the American elite and big business, and genuine progress on most progessive issues still feels frustratingly out of reach.
Meanwhile, the American people seem to be making their political decisions in the sort of unthinking, reactionary manner that I've come to sort of expect.  Mostly just frustrated and frantic about the country's failing economy and the national debt, voters sit poised to pour out their anger by heading to the voting booths to cast their ballots against whoever is in charge.  Having extremely short memories, they seem to have forgotten that the economy had already started its tumble toward the end of an eight year period of Republican leadership, and that the national debt was hugely fueled by an extraordinarily expensive war in Iraq that never related to the events of 9/11 in any legitimate way, prosecuted under the leadership of an administration which mischaracterized intelligence data in order to induce a conflict (costing between 3 and 4 trillion dollars, by most estimates).  People are angry about the economy, and they're ready to take it out on a bunch of elected officials who have mostly been in office a short time, even though the economic crisis has been long in the making and has affected not just the U.S., but almost every country in the industrialized world.
Other voters, perhaps less fueled by anger, are disappointed by the president's failure to make any headway on the economy since taking office.  Even recognizing that he did not create the problems which he inherited, this second class of potential voters is deeply frustrated with and troubled by the president's unending, apparently tireless desire to cast himself as a "uniter"- a fantasy which has led to repeated capitualtion in directions of the failed policies which brought us to the untenable position that we currently find ourselves in (e.g., do we still need the Bush tax cuts for our wealthiest Americans if they helped drive the county into debt and ultimately failed to prevent a recession?).
Annnnnnnyyyyway....
I'm tired.  I'm tired of the economy and tired of the government, and I'm just dreading the looming election year and all of the soundbites, slogans, shouting, and lack of meaningful discussion.  Some people get more bothered by the empty promises and the sales pitches filled with hollow inspiration, but I'm more tired of the factual lies and the negativity.
I'm tired of our leaders, but, sadly, I'm even more tired of an unthinking, apathetic/apoplectic electorate that demands this sort of political process.  I'm tired of voters who don't really make any attempt to gain any independent knowledge or make any sort of objective assessment about what's best for the country.  I'm tired of voters who are so narrowly focused on their own self interest that they fail to see that complete inflexibility is going to ultimately be really bad for us all.
Our elected leaders seem to be in perpetual gridlock, and it feels like they're utterly incapable of getting anything done, but we can't solely blame our leaders for this fiasco.  Congressmen and senators face constituencies who vow to immediately vote them out of office if they show even the slightest inclination toward compromise- no matter how reasonable.  Leaders are hounded to sign pledges and oaths of loyalty, knowing that they'll immediately face a competitor from their own party during reelection if they make even the smallest deviation from strict party doctrine.
There's no way that our leaders can govern in this sort of situation, and there's no mantra or narrow ideology that can correctly inform every decision in every given situation.
I know this sounds hopelessly naive, but in order for Democracy to work, it really does seem like you need to have some level of education in your voters beyond soundbites and campaign ads.  You also need flexibility and a willingness to compromise with neighbors who have differing points of view.  And flexibility needs to come from both ends of the political spectrum.
But it doesn't seem like we're moving in that direction.
In fact, it feels like we're moving farther from it.
So I'm going to keep hanging out with Amy and eating froyo.
I'm pretty happy in my little corner of the world.  But I find myself worrying from time to time that things will get nasty enough in the world at large that, ultimately, the world's problems will become my own.  Given the economy, the job market (mostly for Amy), and my job (I work in a veterans court with war veterans who have been affected by our policies and in a mental health court that deals with health care and social service funding issues on a daily basis), I guess the bigger world is intruding already.
I'm watching, but I just want something new to discuss.  It would be such a relief to hear some real discussion and to see some legitimate change.
So.... just have patience with the ol' blog.
And enjoy the posts about yogurt!  ;-)