Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Weekend;

The weekend was pretty good.  I was actually a little sad to see Christmas go this year.  Some years I end up feeling like Christmas has worn out it's welcome by the time it's over with, but this year it seemed to sneak up on me a bit, and I felt like I only had about a good, solid week of feeling "in the Christmas spirit" before the whoile thing was over.  Oh well, if Christmas left me wanting a little more this year, that must mean that I had a good holiday!
So this weekend was good.  It was nice to relax, unwind a bit, and get some basic chores done.  Amy did some cooking this weekend (salmon with avocado puree on Saturday night, and baked ziti on Sunday- both excellent), and we potted some plants and ran some errands.  Went to the grocery store.  We've been watching Treme.  I went for a bike ride on Saturday.  We took down Christmas decorations in the house, but left up the outside lights to stay festive into the new year. We played some Xbox (Halo Reach).  Amy and I are both entertained by some video games, and I like playing them with her. 
(Sunday involved potting some houseplants.  Cassidy
provided supervision)

 
 
On Sunday afternoon I rode my bike over to Strange Brew to listen to some music. Which brings me to my next thing.
Everyone out there?  Everyone listening?  I'm going to try to start a new project.  It's gonna be a new blog, actually.  I want to try to focus on Austin music.  I'm going to try to shoot for two entries every month (hopefully at least one) that feature some local music act that I've seen perform in a local venue.  I want to focus on acts that are from Austin, and focus even more on acts that are maybe a little less well known and not well-established.
I don't know- maybe this whole thing will crash and burn pretty quickly, but I want to try it out.  It's going to be called ATX Note Book (get it?  music?  notes?  see what I did there?), and I hope you come over and check it out.  I'm hoping it will be fun, that it will encourage me to go out and see more live shows, and that it will serve as a place to document a part of Austin's live music scene that just isn't discussed as much as it deserves.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas 2013 in Pictures

We had a nice Italian dinner at La Traviata the weekend before Christmas


On Christmas Eve, after church, Amy and I had the family over
to the house for appetizers, drinks, and cookies.  Here's the spread.




On Christmas Day we went over to my parents' house
to celebrate with our family, Dick (Jamie's dad), and our friend, Juan.




The day after Christmas Amy and I went for a hike on the Steiner
Ranch trails with my parents.  This trail looks out
over Lake Austin.

That evening we had a nice dinner with our neighbors, Mandy
and Kate.  Christmas having drawn to a close, we went back to
L-I-V-I-N...



Merry Christmas! Now on to 2014!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Pre-Christmas

So a quick update for the pre-Christmas run up.
It's been busy lately.
Last Thursday we had our office holiday luncheon, and that same evening we had our office Christmas party at Threadgill's.  Both events were pretty fun.  My experience is that if you go into these events with some pretty reasonable expectations, they can be pretty fun.
Anyway, I got a chacne to share some holiday revelry with the co-workers. 
I'm not sure what we did on Friday night.  We ran an errand or two on the way home.  We were both sort of tired.  Amy made some good salmon.  I think we just watched Treme and sort of hung out.  It was a pleasant evening, but pretty low key.
Saturday we ran errands and did grocery shopping and chores.  In the evening we went to La Traviata for a nice Italian dinner with the family.  Amy and I are trying to start a sort of new holiday tradition in the Steans family, we have decided, where we try to go out for a nice Italian dinner at some point around Christmas or New Year's.  We went to Vespaio a couple of years back for New year's Eve dinner, and that was fun, too.  Good food, good wine, and lively conversation.  We had a really nice time on Saturday night.  I had never been to La Traviata before (although it's been around for a long time).  I really liked it.  In addition to having good food (I had cioppino, and it was very tasty), the restaurant is an old-fashioned, kind of cozy space.
Anyway, we had a nice dinner Saturday night.  It was a good chance to hang out with the family.
Ryan and Jamie had ridden downtown with us to go out to dinner, and on the way home we decided to detour and drive around a little bit to look at Christmas lights.  The lights are not exactly densely packed in South Austin, but we did find some lights, and a couple of pretty impressive houses.
Afterward, Ryan and Jamie stopped by the house for a cookie, AND to have Amy and I take part in one of the single worst Christmas traditions of all time.
For those who don't know, my brother, many years ago, created the legend of Santor- some sort of weird, creepy Christmas spirit who is apparently meant to represent everything this is wrong and disappointing about the Christmas holiday.  This year was our turn to take part in the legend...


   

Don't ask me to explain it.  I can't.  I'm not even sure I support it.  And yet there he is.  Santor.  In my house.  With... my wife and my dog.
Ummm....
Yeah.

Sooo....  moving on... 

That was Saturday.
Sunday we did some more shopping and running around.
Amy did a little baking.  Sunday night we ended up (sort of at the last minute) going to see American Hustle at the Westgate movie theater over by our house.
We both enjoyed it.  Good performances all around.  It managed to be dramatic without being melodramatic.  Funny without being ridiculous.  Christian Bale and Jeremy Renner both sort of played against their usual type, and both did a good job.
I'm not sure how closely the plot of the movie mirrored the facts of the actual Abscam sting from the 70's, but it sounds like it must've been a pretty crazy sequence of events if even half of the story from the film is true.

Anyway, we enjoyed the movie.

It was a nice weekend.  Now Christmas.  Try not to think about Santor.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Aidos, Mack Brown!

Just a quick, belated blurb to wish UT's head football coach, Mack Brown, a happy quasi-retirement as he steps down.  I recently blogged about Mack Brown and the possibility that he might step down as head coack or be forced out.
Well, the somewhat inevitable has come to pass (UT fans being the impatient little rapscallions that they are), and Mack Brown will be headed off into the sunset.
Personally, I remain thankful for his service, and I'm still not sure that UT is making the right decision.  As my brother and some other people have pointed out, UT fans have pretty short memories.  For many years before Mack Brown the UT football program was sputtering and coughing along.  Those of us who still remember the Akers, McWilliams, and Mackovic years know that even Mack Brown's performance in recent seasons was not, in the end, all that bad.  By winning a national championship in 2005 and putting together really powerful teams through at least 2008, Mack Brown set a standard for UT football that was simply difficult to maintain. 
I think that a new coach may have the potential to reinvigorate the UT football program, but positive results are far from certain.  Essentially, I think UT has just removed a proven commodity in favor of taking a big gamble, and the university is still going to be stuck paying out significant money to Brown on the remainder of his contract (a process which is, apparently, standard operating procedure in the lucrative world of college football, but which still seems kind of strange, given the fact that the university is struggling with money issues in so many other areas).

Anyway, thank you for your service, Mack!  You us many, many happy hours of college football, including a national championship and some other amazing games.  Your tenure at UT has been a really fun one, and it helped to keep UT fans invested and rallied behind the program.

(Mom, Dad, and I enjoy a game inn October of 2009 featuring Mack Brown's
Texas Longhorns versus Colorado.  The good guys won.  38-14)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Update

Hey!  How's it going?  How are you?  Yes, YOU!  Feel free to post a comment and let me know!  I like to hear from people.
So, it was sort of a weird week last week.  Highs and lows, I suppose.  I mean, I don't mean to be too dramatic.  The big low of the week for me was probably getting a touch of the stomach flu. 
Buuut... the week started well.  Our friend Josh came into town from D.C. for work, and stayed with us for a night.  We took him out to a Monday night football game party over at Adam and Katie's place to watch the Dallas-Chicago game.  There was beer and chili and yelling-  a proper football celebration.

(Chicago fans enjoying their
Monday night)
We had fun, even though Chicago pretty much manhandled Dallas (Josh is a Dallas fan- Katie and Adam pull for Chicago).  I don't watch too much NFL football anymore, but when I do, I'm mostly a Packers fan.  So I kept my mouth shut, since the Packers are pretty much hated by Dallas and Chicago fans.  I keep wanting to become a Texans fan, since I spent most of my childhood rooting for the Houston Oilers, but the Texans have just not been very good...

On Thursday we went to a Christmas party for Amy's new office.  The party was really nice with good food, nice people, and a nice house with festive decorations, but halfway through the party I started feeling kind of sick.  We left the party a little bit early, and things sort of went downhill from there.  I felt pretty awful Thursday night, and missed work on Friday.  I hadn't been that sick in a while.  By Saturday afternoon I was doing fine as long as I didn't eat anything.
We stopped in at a Frito Pie party that a coworker, Erika, was throwing.  I was careful not to touch anyone or eat or drink.  We just stayed for a little while, but it was good to see everyone.

Saturday night we watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  I've heard that movie panned, sometimes fairly harshly, but I've seen it twice now, and I enjoyed it both times.  I feel like it has a few silly moments, but it also has a sense of humor about itself that the Lord of the Rings movies didn't contain.  (I liked the Lord of the Rings movies a lot, but they were fairly melodramatic, and at times, all of the earnestness and nobility started to wear on the cynic in me).  Anyway, we both enjoyed it, and hopefully we'll get a chance to see the new Hobbit movie when it hits theaters.  It's a long movie, but it was a nice way to pass the time, given that I still really wasn't feeling up to speed.

On Sunday we got up and I was feeling much better.  We went to Kerbey Lane and went to Target.  We took care of some chores around the house. 


We picked up leaves, and Amy baked cookies for work, and I got a little exercise.  The sun was out and the weather was nice.  We took Cassidy to our neighborhood park for a little hop, and she hung out with us in the yard while we cleaned up.

Sunday night we ate some fish and green beans, and I went to see Richard, a friend of mine from the courthouse, doing some improv comedy at a place called The Hideout Theater on Congress.  It was a good time and funny.  Richard's been taking some improv classes, so his class was performing last night, and following their performance were two other troupes who did similar bits.  The whole thing was a lot of fun.

And that was about it.

I hope you guys had a good weekend.  Stay healthy.  Wash your hands.  That stomach flu is nasty!!






Monday, December 09, 2013

The Weekend; UT Football 2013

Hey!  How's everyone doing out there?
Our weekend was pretty good.  The weather's been cold, but it's been helping to get us into the Christmas spirit. 
On Friday night we went out to dinner.  We went to Cypress Grill and had Cajun food.  We like that place.  It's just a small, neighborhood restaurant, but it has good food and friendly service.  I think we went home after that and watched an episode of Treme (which has still been pretty entertaining so far in Season 3).
On Saturday we ran errands and did some chores.  Our chores mostly involved accomplishing absolutely essential, critical tasks which were necessary in order to ensure the very survival of our household.  Obviously, erecting a 6 foot tall Christmas cactus in our front yard was one of the top things on that list...


(we've got spirit, yes we do....)




Also on Saturday I watched our Texas Longhorns struggle their way through a season ending defeat at the hands of the Baylor Bears.  It wasn't pretty.  Oh well.  Texas has had a weird season.  Obviously, with an 8-4 record and an unranked finish to their season, Texas wasn't super great this year.  About the best that can be said for Texas is that early in the season it looked like the team would be doing even worse.  When Texas lost its second and third games to BYU and Ole Miss, UT fans had legitimate reason to fear that UT would have a losing season.  Texas managed to put together a six game winning streak after that, though, including a victory over OU.
Anyway, Texas wasn't great, but our season wasn't as bad as everyone had initially feared.  Case McCoy cemented his position as starting quarterback once David Ash became injured, and the defense tightened up a bit once Manny Diaz got sacked and Greg Robinson was brought in to replace him.  In the end, UT wasn't as bad as I feared that they would be, but they were never going to be a strong enough team to be in contention for a Bowl Championship Series slot.  I guess the big question is whether Mack Brown will keep his job.  UT has a new athletic director, Steve Patterson, coming in who will probably feel less allegiance and loyalty to Brown than outgoing director DeLoss Dodds.  Brown has suffered a couple of very rough seasons in the last two years, but both of those seasons were, in the end, winning seasons, and Brown, of course, still has that national championship win from 2005 under his belt that can always be used to deflect a certain amount of criticism.  Brown has shown a willingness to make some changes (e.g., firing both Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis and Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz), but often those changes come long after the damage has been done.  Consequently, Brown's leadership skills fall into question as he always seems to be reacting to disasters of his own making rather than charting a path toward success.
Coming into his job at UT, Brown was touted as an exceptional recruiter.  Part of the means by which he accomplished this was by promising incoming players that he would stand by them and continue to to give them playing time (and room to improve) rather than replacing them at the first sign of trouble.  This philosophy has proven to be a double edged sword for Brown.  When his players have blossomed, it has served the Longhorns well to allow players to learn and grow from their mistakes.  When players have continued to falter and struggle, however, Brown has sometimes allowed them to continue to play long past the point where their continued involvement was causing significant harm to the team and their chances of success (and, of course, when the team isn't doing well overall, recruiting becomes more difficult, anyway).
I don't know what will happen with Brown.  He's given the UT program a lot of success, but the last few years have been difficult.  He makes a ton of money.  Last I checked it was around $5 million a year, and he was one of the highest paid coaches in college football.
But, of course, UT fans are demanding and loud and critical.  We're notorious for it.  I wouldn't say that we're fair weather fans, but when we see things going wrong with our team, we want them to get fixed.  For $5 million a year, it seems fair too have some pretty high expectations.
Anyway, UT will be playing in the Alamo Bowl again versus Oregon. 
We'll see what next season brings.

Saturday night Ryan and Jamie came over for dinner.  Amy made some really good chicken enchiladas with beans and rice.  We had some festive cranberry margaritas, and Ryan and Jamie brought cookies for dessert.  We watched The Colbert Christmas Special and The Nighmare Before Christmas.  We had a good time!

On Sunday we went out for breakfast and ran some errands.  Amy baked some really good cranberry muffins.  Sunday night I had band practice.  Frank, Jim, Reed, and I played, and we sounded pretty good (better on some things than others, but, on the whole, I thought we put up a strong effort all around).  It felt really good to play.

And that's it!  Still cold today in Austin, and rainy as well.  Everyone stay warm and dry!

Monday, December 02, 2013

Thanksgiving; Walking Dead and The State of Nature

Hey!  Hope you guys enjoyed your Thanksgiving.  Amy and I were fortunate enough to have a very nice one.

On the Friday before Thanksgiving, Amy flew out for Arizona.  Her family recently acquired a cabin in Munds Park, about two hours north of Phoenix, so she spent a day or two hiking around with her family and enjoying the snow.  She and her mother also hiked down into and back out of the Grand Canyon after driving up there.  She and Jean took some really nice pictures.  The place looked beautiful.

As I guess I mentioned, I went and saw some movies while she was gone and hung out with some friends and family.

On Tuesday evening I flew out for Arizona. 
I had a really pleasant visit with Amy's family, and we had a really nice Thanksgiving holiday.  Thanksgiving dinner was really good.  Jean and Amy and Greg put together an excellent meal.  We got to visit with Jerry and Carol (including a visit to their house) and Heidi and Matt (including a couple of visits to their house).  We got to spend some really fun time with the nephews, Scott and Nathan.


We went for walks and looked at some Mexican pottery and saw some pretty serious model trains and watched a little football.  Mostly we just hung out and talked and relaxed, which was good.  Sometimes you don't really realize how busy your day to day life has been keeping you until you get a chance to unwind for a minute.

(it's hard not to smile when confronted with very elaborate
model trains, constructed in painstaking detail by jolly,
retired men)





(cranberry margaritas and a picture in
front of the Tree of Life.  These things will
make you thankful!)

So we had a good Thanksgiving out in Arizona.
 
I'm thankful for an awful lot of things this year.  A humbling number of things, really.  I'm extremely thankful to be married to Amy (amazing!), I'm thankful to be in good health and to have a good job, I'm thankful for my family, I'm thankful to have some great friends, and I'm extremely thankful to have married into a family that's as warm hearted, generous, and gracious as the Davis-Sinex-Koffel family.  I've been out Arizona about five times now, and they've been very welcoming and made me feel very comfortable each time.  I know that this isn't always the case when someone gets married, and I feel extremely fortunate to have such great group of people as part of my extended family.  

(a healthy helping of thankfulness from the Davis, Koffel,
Sinex, Steans clan) 
We got home Saturday night.  Unpacked.
Sunday we ran errands.  We did a couple of shopping trips, put up the tree, hung Christmas lights, and exercised.  Amy made a buttermilk baked chicken dish with bread crumbs for dinner and a side of some sort of slaw.  It was great.   
Afterward we watched an episode of Austin City Limits featuring Delta Spirit.  It was pretty cool.  We'd been at the taping for that one, and it had been a fun show the first time around as well.
 
After Amy went to bed I watched the mid season finale of The Walking Dead.

We had a really nice Thanksgiving!  I hope everyone else had a good one, too! 

(Okay- here ends the warm, fuzzy part of the Thanksgiving post.  Those of you who are interested in reading about quality zombie television programming may proceed).

Walking Dead is just relentlessly brutal.  I've never watched a show before that's been so consistently dark.  You keep thinking that the characters are going to turn a corner and that things will start to get better for them, but it never really happens.  At best, any happiness that the characters find is just a reprieve from the relentless tragedy that they continually face.
But the audience wants to see what will become of these people, and the show remains compelling because, but for perhaps one main character, you truly never know who is going to survive and who is going to die. 
Those who haven't seen the show might dismiss it as simple zombie fiction, but fans know that it's probably more about people than it is about zombies.  Zombies just happen to be the plot device that reduces humanity to- and keeps humanity in- what philosophers would call a "state of nature".  The philosopher Thomas Hobbes imagined the state of nature as the condition that humanity would find itself in without civilized society.  Apparently having a fairly cynical view of human nature, Hobbes imagined that humans would instantly fall into vicious combat over limited resources in a world without society's rules, and accordingly, he famously described the state of nature as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short"- adjectives which sound like a fairly apt description for life in America following the The Walking Dead's zombie apocalypse.
John Rawls, however, posited a slightly more positive view of human nature.  According to Rawls, inherent human behavior would naturally lead people, or those found in a sort of nature scenario, to work out rational, equitable agreements that would allow people to exist in a relatively harmonious fashion.  Sensing that widespread combat and violent, pervasive competition would create an environment that would be detrimental to a much greater number of people than the number who would benefit from it, Rawls believed that humans would naturally rely upon their innate sense of logic to create social structures in which people could peacefully coexist.
The Walking Dead uses its zombie-filled setting to dramatically illustrate the tensions between these sorts of competing philosophies.  One group of humans, primarily the group led on the show by Rick, try to reestablish society by way of cooperative labor, a system of rights-based justice, and democratic leadership.  Team Rick seems more in keeping with the Rawls school of thought.  Other groups, including those led by The Governor, struggle to survive by simply attempting to defeat other groups and individuals.  For this second type of group, competition trumps cooperation, victory trumps respect for individual rights, and leadership is won by way of force and/or deception.  The Governor and his ilk seem to represent a more Hobbesian worldview.



(There's nothing more festive than a gun battle in a zombie wasteland.
We can all agree to be thankful for the death of The Governor...)

Annnnyway, all of this to say that The Walking Dead is a good show.  It portrays people in life or death situations with their back to the wall, and it shows such circumstances bringing out the absolute best and the absolute worst in people.
I guess that I was oversimplifying things to say that the Walking Dead tunes in each week to see who lives and who dies.  We don't just want to see who survives.  We're just as interested in seeing how the characters survive.  We want to see the lengths to which they're willing to go, the lines which they aren't willing to cross, and the way that they live with themselves after they've suffered incredible loss and made impossible choices.
Given that it all stems from a zombie survival fantasy, it feels incredibly real.

 

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Weekend; The Hunger Games

Hey!  Hope everyone is doing okay.  It's been rainy and cold here in Austin over the last few days.  I sorta like having an excuse to just sort of hunker down and stay warm at the house for a while.  I can only handle it in small doses, though, and then I start to get restless.

Amy has been out of town since Friday.  She's out in Arizona with her family.  I leave on Tuesday evening to fly out and meet her for the holiday.  I'm looking forward to seeing her!

So Friday I drove Amy to the airport and went to work.  Friday was when the cold and the wet rolled in, so Friday night I stayed home and got caught up on TV shows on my DVR.  I started watching Almost Human, the new J.J. Abrams sci fi show about a future cop and his robot partner. 
The show isn't super original in its ideas, and I think it will either rise or fall on the basis of the acting and the character development.  The show started with a kind of "detective distrusts robot partner" thing going on, but, perhaps sensing that the partner distrust motif is a little worn out in cop dramas (I still think of the first Lethal Weapon movie fondly), the show's creators sort of sharthanded the distrust scenario and quickly moved into a more entertaining buddy story between Karl Urban ( the world-weary human detective) and Michael Ealy (the bright-eyed robot who embraces his electronic emotions).  So far the show isn't particularly thought provoking, but by the second episode it was starting to seem sort of fun.  It could go either way.  It'll be interesting to see where they take it.

On Saturday I got some exercise, ran and errand or two, and went to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  It was a pretty good movie.  Maybe better than the first one.  The movie, like the series of books, is getting progressively darker, and the audience is slowly led to understand that the violence which takes place in the Hunger Games' arena pales in comparison to the potential violence that the nation of Panem may face if a war breaks out between the impoverished, oppressed districts and the illustrious, authoritarian capital. 
I first read the Hunger Games books upon the suggestion (and near insistence) of some friends from work who were reading them.  I was struck, at the time, by the violence in the books and the dark philosophical messages in the novels.  The Hunger Games, both in movie and book form, are not simply tales of an action movie heroine overcoming difficult odds.  The books are actually more of a morality tale, meant to convey the idea that violence, even when undertaken for the most noble of purposes, exacts a high cost for both those who victoriously inflict it and those who are defeated by it.  No wars can be undertaken without sacrifice, and the consequences of battle are often as unforeseen as they are brutal. 
Further, The Hunger Games contains a depiction of a society of vastly unjust society, where the citizens of the opulent, decadent capital live lives of tremendous comfort, supported in their lifestyle by the oppressed suffering of the impoverished, famished citizens in the outlying districts.  The wealthy citizens of the capital are so removed from the lives of the citizens in the districts that they completely lose empathy for them and their plight.  Morality is not so much absent as it is suspended when considering the plight of people living outside of the capital.  While the citizens of the capital aren't exactly bad people, through years of custom they have come to be enthusiastically entertained by a game in which citizens from the districts are forced to fight to the death.  Any potential cognitive dissonance is overcome by government propaganda and habituation.

Soooo... it's been sort of weird to watch this series of movies splash it marketing campaign all over products ranging from fast food soft drink cups to bags of potato chips.  Americans, like the citizens of The Capitol, are drawn to The Hunger Games in search of a visceral thrill and a lot of on-screen action.  While The Hunger Games are obviously meant to be an allegorical work of fiction, we do live in a country that benefits tremendously from the resources of regions of the world where people are living in poverty and very difficult conditions.  We drive SUVs that guzzle oil pulled out of war-torn regions of the middle east and forge alliances with oil rich leaders regardless of their humanitarian or economic policies. We walk around talking on iPhones that are made cheaply in China, knowing that the Chinese govenrment continues to oppress and imprison political dissidents.  We wear inexpensive clothing that's maufactured in Bangladesh- disposable fast fashion constructed in factories with questionable working conditions, unconscionable wages, and spotty safety records.
And speaking more directly to circumstances within our nation's borders, it's hard not to see the decadent citizens of Panem's capital as surrogates for our society's wealthiest members (we do, after all, live in a country still struggling with unemployment but where the top 1% of the population owns 40% of our nation's wealth).
The Hunger Games, in the end, tells a story about the uprising that will almost inevitably occur when the ruling class becomes inured to the struggling and suffering of the people who support them.  The books contain warnings about the moral decay that can occur as one class of citizens loses empathy for anything other than itself.  In a movie that preaches the dangers of what can happen (namely revolution) when a class of people cast aside their moral compasses in favor of bright, shiny baubles and creature comforts, it's kind of ironic to see the advertising for that movie appearing on fast food wrappers and ads for Covergirl makeup.
Oh well.  Even if the movie is being sold as a big, dumb action flick, maybe the underlying themes will sort of sink in with the audience.  Maybe.
Otherwise, I guess, the joke is on the audience.  Our protagonist is Katniss, but we most closely resemble the citizens of The Capitol who made the hunger games possible in the first place.

Saturday night I went over and had pizza and watched Archer with my friends Libby and Jordan.  It was fun hanging out with them,. Archer makes me laugh (even when it turns out to be about cancer).  They have dogs named Omar (a giant Great Dane who is sort of a celebrity by virtue of his size) and Weller (who is less of a celebrity, but equally fun).
Saturday was good.  Thanks to Jordan and Libby for having me.

Sunday I did some chores and exercised.  In the afternoon I went to see the new Thor: The Dark World with Ryan and Jamie.  The Thor movie was just about exactly what I was expecting.  The villains were powerful, but their motivations, and thus, the plot of the movie itself, were vague and sort of nonsensical.  The important thing to know is that they really wanted to destroy the world (well, several worlds, really, but who's counting).  The special effects were pretty cool, and the movie was relatively lighthearted and entertaining.  I enjoyed it, but I couldn''t really tell you what it was about.  Something regarding space elves. 
No, I'm not kidding.

Sunday night I got together briefly with Reed and played some music.  It was fun.  then I watched Walking Dead.  Then I went to bed.

And that was my weekend!  Hope you guys are doing well and staying warm.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Weekend

Hey!  I hope everyone had a good weekend!
(Dan and Danielle.  Or is it Daniel
and Danielle?)
(Greg, Allison, Brandy, Ruben,
and Jordan)
Ours went by pretty quick.  On Friday night some folks from work (especially Libby) put together a happy hour at Austin Beer Garden Brewery for Amy and I in honor of our wedding.  It was a really nice time.  We were both happy and humbled to have our friends come out to celebrate our marriage (we sort of got married in a small, private ceremony, so we didn't really expect anything like this).  A number of people from my showed up for the happy hour as well as people from both Amy's old office (at the Legislative Council) and her new office (the Environmental Protection Division at the Attorney General's Office).  We even got gifts!  Reed and Jen Shaw came out as well.  It was a fun evening.



On Saturday morning Jen came by the house with Sloane.  They dropped off a wedding gift (very nice!) and Sloane got to pet Cassidy.  After they left, I rode my bike down to Pease Park to attend a birthday party that my friend, Ray, and his wife, Lisette, were throwing for his daughter, Camilla.  It was a fun party, and I hadn't seen Ray in years.  They had fajitas and rice and beans and beer, and the kids had pizza and cake.  It was good to have a chance to catch up with Ray.

(Ray cookin' up fajitas)
After the party I rode home to watch the second half of the UT game.  The Longhorns got destroyed by Oklahoma State.  Pretty ugly.  Oh well.  Goodbye Big 12 championship.

Saturday night we went to see Gravity.  It was a visually spectacular movie.  I felt like it was aspiring to be something more than an action movie, but in the end, a really good action movie was all that I thought it really was.  As my dad pointed out when I talked to him, it doesn't seem like the space stuff was super realistic (it's probably not all that easy to just truck back and forth between space platforms using jet packs or escape vehicles and technical support crew members probably aren't cross trained to pilot numerous forms of spacecraft).  The underlying theme of the movie, the reaffirmation of life in the face of painful loss, was okay, but not exactly original.  I guess that the beautiful imagery with Earth in the background lent a little more perspective or meaning to the whole thing, but, honestly, seeing our entire planet as a central feature of many scenes sort of had the strange consequence of making me feel that the plight of a few astronauts might not be, in the grand scheme of things, such a huge deal.  Nothing like an entire world in every shot to remind you that life is going to go on in spite of whatever happens to your main characters.  People use the phrase "a 20,000 foot view" or "a 30,000 foot view" in reference to the notion of keeping an eye on the bigger picture and not getting bogged down in relative minor details or entanglements.  Well, in Gravity the viewers are constantly faced with what is, we're told, literally a 559 kilometer high view.  In a movie where the characters aren't super well developed in the first places, it become sort of easy to feel disconnected from them as you watch the spectacle unfold.  I actually was sitting there thinking, "Well, if you wanna be involved in the sort of exploratory endeavor that actually involves expanding mankind's knowledge of space travel, I guess these are the sort of risks that you have to be willing to take."
Annnyway, that was our Saturday night.  Gravity was amazing to look at.  I will definitely give it that.

On Sunday we got up and went out for breakfast.  We went to Kerbey Lane, and it was pretty good.
We ran errands and did some shopping.  I went for another bike ride.  Stopped in briefly and visited Ryan and Jamie while I was out riding.  Amy went to the gym.  We walked Cassidy and brushed her.  I talked to my dad on the phone and managed to mess up the brakes on my bike while trying to adjust them (my bike is in the shop as I write this).  For dinner, Amy made a really great pasta recipe for a dish called chicken riggie (it uses rigatoni noodles).  It was a little bit spicy and a lotta delicious.  Afteer we ate I washed dishes.  Just so you don't think I'm a total bum!

And that was our weekend.  It was nice.

Hope everyone is doing okay!  As usual, it feels like fall is going by really fast.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Halloween Update

Hey!  So our first week of being married had some very good times, and a few moments that fell squarely into the bummer category.  We had a lot of fun, and managed to roll through the rough patches fairly gracefully.

On Wednesday night we got a lot of rain again in South Austin.  At our house, for the second time in a month, we probably got more than 6 inches of rain within a couple of hours (when this happened three weeks ago we probably got more than 10 inches of rain in our area).  So, anyway, for the second time in three weeks we got some rain seeping into our laundry as the water piled up in our back yard.  In the effort to keep things from getting too wet or damaged, I was up for most of the night with our wet vac, cleaning up water as it accumulated and setting up fans to dry moisture out of the laundry room.
The next day we turned on the news and found out that over a dozen homes in southeast Austin had been completely destroyed.  Five people in Austin and the surrounding community have been reported dead so far as a result of the flood.  So, all in all we got off lucky, but we need to do some drainage work at our place to keep these storms from messing up our house.

(a stone faced astronaut
with a smiley martian)
Thursday was Halloween.  The rain cleared out, and the weather turned nice.  Thursday night we went over to Ryan and Jamie's house to hand out candy with them.  For some reason Ryan and Jamie's neighborhood has an especially high volume of trick-or-treaters.  It's a fun place to be on Halloween.  The neighbors over there all decorate their houses, and they sit in chairs in their front yards on Halloween night and hand out candy.  Ryan and Jamie dress up every year (Superman  and Supergirl, of course), and Amy and I made a sort of half hearted effort as well.  The kids who come by have some really fun costumes.  So we handed out candy and then hung out with Ryan and Jamie a little bit afterward.  It was nice of them to have us.  When we got home, we watched The Haunted Palace on TV.  It's an old Vincent Price movie about the spirit of a dead warlock who inhabits a castle and possesses people.  It felt satisfyingly Halloweenish.

On Friday we took it easy.  We watched West of Memphis, a documentary about three teenagers who were tried and convicted for the murder of three young boys back in 1994.  It was an interesting and disconcerting movie.  Sort of an excellent about what happens when the justice system jumps to conclusions and overlooks evidence in defiance of logic.  It's a tough movie to watch, but I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone do a better job of someone putting together a privately funded investigation.

On Saturday we ran some errands and went grocery shopping and whatnot.  Saturday afternoon I went over to Ryan and Jamie's to watch the UT-Kansas game while Amy went to the gym.  I had a fun time watching the game with them and their gang.  I really enjoy watching UT play football when they're not completely collapsing.

Saturday night we went to a birthday party for our friend Ani.  She and her husband, John, threw a party with a Mad Men theme.  We had a good time.  They made cocktails and served food, and people mostly showed up in sort of dressy attire- some of it with a 60's era theme.  It was very nice of them to have us.





(banana may or may not be telling Cruella
de Vil to "talk to the hand")
After that party we went to a Halloween/Dia de los Muertos party over at Mandy's house.  We had a good time over there!  There were drinks and food and music and dancing.  People were friendly, and in wacky costumes.   



(the lovely lady in the right of this pic
makes the lovely lady on the left even lovelier
because she does her hair!)
(apparently it's TOTALLY possible
to have a meaningful conversation about
Texas politics with a guy in a hot dog
costume!)




 
 
We had a good time at Mandy's party Saturday night and wandered home and happily crawled into bed.
Sometime early Sunday morning Amy woke up not feeling very well.  She hadn't had that much to drink Saurday night, but, nonetheless, I think we both initially thought it might have somehow been from alcohol.  She quickly got much sicker than anything the alcohol alone would account for, though.  She was up for a large portion of the night, and by the late morning on Sunday it was clear that something weird was going on.
Anyway, we ultimately had to take her over to a minor emergency clinic for some anti nausea medication.  The doctor said she was sick from either food poisoning (she and I didn't eat the same stuff the day before- I had eaten at Ryan's when I went to the football game) or some kind of stomach bug. I felt really bad for her.  She was doing better by that evening, though, for the most part (although feeling pretty worn out). 



(I was sleep deprived and sort of out of it
when I walked past this dog wearing sunglasses
outside the pharmacy.  He had the windows down
and was listening to the Spice Girls)




So that was the week and our weekend.  A few ups and downs.  Sunday evening was very quiet.  I watched Walking Dead while Amy did some reading and ate chicken soup.
Hope everyone else had a good weekend!
 
Now let's hope we get some more rain, but that it doesn't flood again in South Austin.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Hitched!

Amy and I got married this weekend.

It's sort of weird to write a blog post about it because there's no way that one of my lame ol' blog posts will do the experience justice.  Still, I have a tradition of trying to document big events in my life on this site, so I feel the need to give it a try.

First off, let me say that it feels really amazing to be married to Amy.  She's a warm, beautiful, funny, intelligent, strong woman, and as we went through the events of the weekend, I looked at her time and time again and felt unbelievably fortunate to be marrying her.  I still can't believe it.  She's the love of my life and my best friend.
I love you, Amy.



Amy's family arrived in town on Thursday from Phoenix.  Along with my parents, we met Amy's family at the airport.  Heidi and Matt, Amy's sister and brother-in-law, stayed with my parents out in Steiner Ranch, so they loaded their kids, Scott and Nathan, into the car and headed out to northwest Austin.  Amy's parents had rented a vacation home in a neighborhood close to our house, sort of in the Barton Hills area.  We headed over to the rental house to meet up with Amy's grandparents, Jerry and Carol, who made the two day drive to Austin from Phoenix.


(post coffee smiles)
We got them settled in, and had a nice dinner at Hyde Park Grill that night.  Afterward Amy's parents and grandparents stopped by our house for some coffee and some pumpkin bread.  I had a nice time catching up with everyone.






(we took Matt the Teacher to see
Matt the Electrician)
On Friday night, Amy and I, determined to give Matt a "true Austin" experience, took he and Greg and my dad over to Strange Brew to hear some music.  We went to see Matt the Electrician, whom we had never seen before, joined by special guest Lex Land.  It was a fun night.  Both performers did sort of singer-songwriter style sets, and they both had interesting music and good voices.  Matt the Electrician's music had lyrics which alternated between earnest, poignant, and funny, and Lex Land had a sort of jazzy vocal style with a catalog of tunes which, she admitted, seemed to dwell on heartbreak an awful lot.
The guys at Strange Brew do a great job of balancing and mixing sound, and the show sounded great.  We had a nice time.  The medium sized crowd seemed happy and entertained.  Hopefully it was a good Austin music experience for Greg and Matt.  They seemed to enjoy it.

On Friday Amy joined her mother, sister, and grandmother out at my folks' house for some hangout time with Scott and Nathan.  I joined, Ryan, Dad, Jerry, Greg, and Matt for lunch at Curra's and then we went to see Captain Phillips.  I enjoyed the movie.  I found the story compelling and the acting solid.  There have been some allegations about the film's accuracy, but I've read the director's response to the complaints, and it sounds to me like he did just about everything that a person could do in terms of trying to preserve the historical integrity of this kind of movie (i.e., all of the crew except one were interviewed for the film, the primary military responders were interviewed.  It sounds likely that any complaints about the film's version of events may be the product of crew members who have filed lawsuits against the corporate owners of the Mersk Alabama- people who might have a financial stake in a different version of events). 
At any rate, it's a pretty amazing story.



(party on the patio!)
Friday night we went out to my parent's house for a dinner with Amy's family and my own.  Ryan, Jamie, Susan, Ciara, and Uncle Donald were all part of the assembly.  Mom and Dad had a local restaurant deliver lasagna and a chicken pasta dish along with salad and dessert.  They even had a guy show up and play steel drums for a while (turns out they had met him at a party they had been to this summer).  We talked and played with the kids and ate food and just hung out.  It was a very nice evening!


Saturday the women from our two families went to get manicures and pedicures.  I went with my dad over to his barbershop and got a pre-wedding haircut and a beard trim.  Saturday evening Amy went out to dinner with her family, and I went over to Ryan and Jamie's house with my parents to watch the UT-TCU game.  It was a good game, but a storm rolled into the Fort Worth area during the first half, and there was a rain delay that lasted almost three hours.  I didn't make it to the end of the game.  Knowing that I needed to get married the next morning, I left before the delay was over and headed home.  Still, I had a fun time hanging out with my family the night before the wedding.  I even drank some Scotch!  (gracias, Roundball!)
Late Saturday night it rained and thundered.  We were a little worried that it would be pouring rain during our wedding ceremony, but eventually the rain stopped and things cleared up.
Our wedding ceremony was really nice.  It was out at Chapel Dulcinea, which is sort of out in the Driftwood Area.  It's a little chapel up on a hillside, and it's quite scenic.  Judge Jan Breland, an old friend of mine since my earliest days of criminal practice, was our officiant.  She did a really good job, and it was nice to have someone who genuinely cares about us doing the ceremony.



(ringing the bell at Chapel
Dulcinea)
Our wedding was very nice.  It was perfect for us.  We didn't want a big wedding, not because we don't value our friends (of course we do!), but, to be honest, because the idea of having performing a ceremony in front of an audience sort of made both of us nervous.  We got married while surrounded by family, and the relatively short ceremony was conducted by an old friend.  The setting was very pretty. 







(Amy celebrates while I respond to
a well-timed congratulatory text
from my friend, Lee)
Sunday afternoon Amy and I joined our photographer in Butler Park to take a few more pictures.  We didn't do engagement pictures or anything like that, but we had hired a photographer for the day, so we figured that we ought to try to take advantage of the opportunity and have some nice pictures taken of us as a couple.  Eventually I'll post some of the wedding and post-wedding pictures (right now the photographer has most of them).










(Sunday Salt Lick with the family)
Sunday evening we went to the Salt Lick and had barbecue with our families.  It was a fun, relaxed meal.  It felt good to just sort of unwind with our peeps after having finally tied the knot and put the ceremony behind us.  We ate and drank and played with the kids, and everyone seemed to have a good time.

And that was basically it.  I had taken Monday off work, so Amy said goodbye to her parents before they headed to the airport, and then we spent some time just cleaning up the house, decompressing, and hanging out.

Our wedding was really nice.  It was small and relaxed, but felt very special at the same time.  We wanted to get married in an intimate setting without a lot of fanfare, but still have the people in with us who have supported us the most throughout our lives.  Thanks to both of our families for being part of the experience and for helping to make it such a great weekend.  We love you guys.

I love you, Amy!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pre-Halloween Ghost Song

So, in the Steanso tradition of bringing you songs of the supernatural and occasionally spooky during October, I bring you "Eli, The Barrow Boy" by The Decemberists.  It's a song of tragic love, premature death, and, of course, haunting.  It sort of falls into a tradition of mournful ghost stories, I suppose.  The instrumentation features the prominent use of the rarely seen (or heard) hurdy gurdy!  Take a moment out and enjoy!


Monday, October 21, 2013

Update

Hey!
Hope everyone is doing well.  Our weather was amazing over the weekend.  Made me feel lucky to be in Austin.

Well, last Wednesday night we went to see The Abyssinian Mass at the Long Center.  It's a sort of modern jazz composition which borrows its theme, structure, and style from the hymns and liturgy of traditional Christian church services (particularly those of black, American churches).  The Abyssinian Mass was composed by Wynton Marsalis, and it was performed by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra along with the Chorale Le Chateau 60 member choir.  Wynton Marsalis himself performed as a member of the JLCO, but he kept a low profile, playing with the orchestra, but never putting himself in the spotlight as a soloist or lead instrumentalist (although he did play a few nice solos).
The performance was different and unique.  I enjoyed it.  The choir was expressive and mostly joyful.  The interplay between the gospel music and the jazz instrumentation sort of highlighted the connections between all different sorts of jazz- from bebop to swing to New Orleans dixieland to even some sort of Afro-Cuban sounding stuff. 
And the choir was powerful.  Occasionally they were mournful or solemn, but mostly they sang with joy and energy.  Put me in a good mood.  Both the singing and the instrumental jazz performances were extremely good.
 
(obviously the Whip In is a
sketchy place to hang out)
On Thursday night Amy and I went to a party celebrating "A Century of Justice" with Danielle and John from my office.  Danielle turned 40 last week, and John turned 60.  They're both prosecutors, thus the "Century of Justice" theme.
We had a good time.  We got together at the Whip In to listen to Gavin's band (Gavin is Danielle's husband) and to have a couple of beers.  Gavin's band was good.  I really enjoyed their music. 
The Whip In is sort of a trippy place.  I used to live in an apartment complex right next to it, and it used to just be a convenience store.  Now they serve Indian food there, they brew their own beer, and they have like a couple of dozen beers on tap and probably 60 other varieties in bottles.  They have outdoor seating and both indoor and outdoor stages. 
But it still basically looks like a convenience store with some bars crammed into the middle of it and a makeshift patio area tacked on outside.  It's weird, but it's fun.  It feels homegrown, random, and funky.  More or less perfect for South Austin.
So that was Thursday night. 



(face painted flowers to celebrate 60 years of rockin'!)
On Friday night Amy and I rolled over to Patsy's Cafe with Mandy for a birthday party for Shirley, another friend from work (Mandy is, of course, a longtime friend and neighbor, and she and Shirley both work together at my office as coordinators).  Shirley was turning 60, so we joined her for some beer and cake and face painting and music.  Shirley's friends, the Therapy Sisters, provided the tunes.  There were a few friends there from work, and we met a few of Shirley's other friends and family as well.  It was a laid back, friendly event, and we had a nice time celebrating Shirley's birthday with her.




(I managed to squeeze in a quick shot with Miguel,
Ruben, and Judge Earle- but Amy was off getting a glass of water
or something)
On Saturday we did a few chores during the day and went for a bike ride.  Amy joined me, and we rode around south Austin, stopping off at Ryan and Jamie's house to say hello.  The weather was beautiful, and I had a really good time riding with Amy.
On Saturday night we went to a wedding ceremony for our friends Ruben and Miguel.  I've been working with Ruben for years now.  I'm proud to say that I was his first court chief when he came to the County Attorney's Office, although he's now a court chief himself.
Anyway, Ruben and Miguel had a really nice ceremony at a place called The Hummingbird House in South Austin.  The weather was really nice, and the setting was idyllic.  The ceremony was poignant and touching and even funny in certain moments.
Ruben and Miguel are travelling to New York next week so they can have a legally binding ceremony in a different state, but the ceremony here in Austin with all of their friends and family in attendance was extremely nice.   We were honored to be invited.  Couldn't be happier for them.

On Sunday we got up and went out for breakfast and ran errands.  We got some shopping done and exercised, and we took Cassidy over for a play date with Mandy's dogs at her house.  Once again, we had beautiful weather.
Sunday night I had band practice with just Reed and Jim.  It was kind of a strange configuration (I'm not much of a lead guitar player), but in true Mono tradition, we managed to plug our way through it and create over an hour's worth of semi-presentable music.

So that was the weekend, mostly. 
We had a nice one.  Hope everyone else did, too!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Weekend Update

Howdy!  Hope everyone is doing okay!  I posted a between-weekends bit about our night out to see Book of Mormon.  Check it out below if you are interested.
We had sort of a weird weekend.
On Saturday we had a good time going over Ryan and Jamie's house to watch the Texas-OU game.  We all sort of went into the game out a sense of obligation, expecting our Horns to get hammered, but determined to grimly stand by them, nonetheless.  Imagine our suprise (and excitement) when our unranked UT team handily beat #12 OU.  While I ended up thinking that OU had probably been ranked much higher than they really deserved, UT still played undeniably well and finally looked like the team of excelent football players that we had been promised in the preseason.
We had a fun time at the game.  Ryan made some burgers and hot dogs.  Amy made queso.  Nicole made cupcakes.  Juan brought veggies.  We had a good time.
For the rest of Saturday we mostly did some chores and just sort of chilled out.  We were taking care of Mandy's dogs while she was at ACL Fest, and we hung out with them a bit.  Saturday night we watched a bit of ACL Fest streaming from Zilker.
It started raining on Saturday night.  And then it started raining harder.  And then it kept raining.
To make a long story short, we ended up having water that came creeping into our laundry room and one corner of our kitchen on Saturday night/Sunday morning.  It was manageable with the small wet vac that I bought on a whim on clearance a few years ago (Jeff Wilson had once told me, "Every house should have a wet vac!"), but it was kind of disconcerting, nonetheless.  When we got up the next day we found out that a number of houses in Sunset Valley, maybe a mile or less from our house, had flooded.  A flood gauge at Highway 360 and Barton Creek, about 1.4 miles from our house, had reported 12 inches of rain the previous night.  The intersection of Jones Road and Manchaca, a major roadway near our house, had been closed, with flood debris and mud strewn across the a nearby bridge.  They had to bring in bulldozers to get the mud out.
So all in all we got off luckier than many, but it was still a weird night.

On Sunday we got up late because the storm had kept us up the night before.  We ate breakfast tacos and did some grocery shopping.  In the evening we joined my parents for dinner at Hyde Park Grill and had a really nice time with them.  After dinner I watched the Season premier of Walking Dead, and then crashed into bed. 

That was the weekend! 
Hope you guys are doing okay!

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Mixed Feelings on Book of Mormon

So, the week before ACL Fest we went to see Book of Mormon at Bass Concert Hall.  For those who aren't familiar, Book of Mormon is a Broadway musical that was created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park, in collaboration with composer Robert Lopez.  The show is billed as a religious satire that lampoons organized religion.  It's received a ton of critical acclaim, garnering 9 Tony Awards, and selling out performances on Broadway and across the country. 
Book of Mormon is, in many respects, the sort of thing you would expect to see from the creators of South Park.  It's vulgar, crass, offensive, and extremely funny.
The plot involves a couple of young, Mormon missionaries who are sent to Uganda to proselytize and convert Africans.  Their mission becomes much harder than expected when the Africans demand to see concrete ways that Mormonism will make improvements upon a lifestyle that includes sadistic warlords, AIDS, poverty, and female genital mutilation.  In fact, the Africans are more than a little bit suspicious of the fact that God might be out to cause them problems instead of wanting to help them.  It's probably safe to say that the creators of most Broadway musicals would avoid a lot of these topics.  Stone and Parker, on the other hand, charge right in.
Book of Mormon will make a good many people laugh really hard.
Personally, I found large parts of the msuical really funny, especially in the first half.  Some of the jokes are offensive enough that your surprise yourself by cracking up.  And as with South Park, many of the jokes are the sort of things where you find yourself cringing and laughing at the same time.

The musical is extremely fast paced and hyperkinetic, and these characteristics work in favor of the style of humor that's presented.  Many of the jokes, particularly about the Ugandans, are making light of things that are so horrible that they're not funny at all if you really stop to think about them (AIDS, warlords, and rape?), but I guess that the audience ends up laughing at, more or less, the absurdity of the whole situation.  If laughter is a defense mechanism, Parker and Stone are the masters of launching an assault on audience sensibilities in order to drum up chuckles.  As with everyday Americans who learn are constantly bombarded with tales of atrocities and horrors in the news media, the Book of Mormon audience has little choice but to sort of shut off the empathy switch and laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. 
And the comedic horrors of Africa are included in the musical to make a point.  The play's protagonists, Mormon missionaries, find themselves struggling to explain the relevance and significance of their religious doctrine when confronted with the harsh (albeit hopefully somewhat exaggerated) circumstances of the Africans whom they are trying to convert.  The Africans, unconcerned with the specifics of particular religious beliefs, essentially want to know "what's in it for me" in terms of benefits that Mormonism might provide.  It's easy to see why they might have such a pragmatic view of religion, given the depiction of their lives as brutal and difficult (but in a hilarious way!).

So, it was sort of weird to sit in a crowded concert hall and listen to a Broadway musical audience laughing at musical jokes about AIDS, sexual assault, and genocide.  The jokes were absurd, but somehow the extreme enjoyment by the audience was even more absurd.  I kept imagining the whole performance as a South Park episode where the audience is ultimately the butt of the joke.

The other thing that I found weird and sort of troubling about Book of Mormon is the way that the play treated Mormonism itself (or, more specifically, Mormons).  I'd heard interviews on NPR and read articles about the musical, and they all generally seemed to indicate that the musical was not really an attack on Mormonism, but actually a critique of organized religion in general.  Well, while I might agree that this was true in the broadest sense, I also feel as if this musical would by singling out Mormonism, in particular, this show was able to get away with criticizing religion in a way that a mainstream audience would accept.  And that made me a little bummed out.
Somewhere through the second half of  the musical, after the intermission, I started thinking about the audience and about how they would react if this play had been satirizing and criticizing a different religion in a similar way.  A few of the jokes were meant to cast jabs at other religions or religion in general, but the vast majority of the jokes were targeted toward Mormonism in a way that was meant to ridicule (for comedic effect!) their specific beliefs and ideology.  Essentially, the entire theological mythology of Mormonism was lampooned.  The musical had a field day with the idea that a legitimate religious leader might appear in 19th century America, with the idea that Mormons will someday inhabit their own celestial planets, and with the evolution of Mormon beliefs as they became more accepting of blacks and minorities over time (there's a part of Mormon religious doctrine that was previously interpreted to say that dark skinned people were descended from an evil tribe).
Now, I'm not a Mormon, and, yes, I'll admit that I find a fair number of their beliefs strange and, to be honest, a little absurd, but that didn't make me feel any better about the fact that an entire theater full of people was sitting there as a group and laughing at the religious beliefs of another group of people.  I'm an agnostic, and I find most religion to be sort of strange and bizarre if you think about it for very long. 
I sat there and imagined a musical in which Christianity and its beliefs might be ferociously (but hilariously!) ridiculed, and I couldn't help but think that there would be offended Christians protesting outside the theater and/or leaving the performance in droves.  The more traditional or conservative Christians who were sitting there guffawing during Book of Mormon would probably be angrily demanding their money back if the musical had been about how silly it is to believe in the teachings of a 2000 year old, Middle Eastern Jew, his nonsensical promises of an afterlife, and claims of a resurrection that were propagated by his followers.
As for the more left-leaning, liberal intellectuals in the room who were enjoying the play, I could imagine their hackles being raised by similar attacks on Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, or any other religion that's practiced by a minority group that they might deem as being more worthy of protection than the mostly Caucasian, conservative Mormon church.  Even liberal atheists tend to get riled up if they believe that religious beliefs are being attacked when those religious beliefs are associated with some minority group that they deem worthy of protecting.  If a Broadway musical had been created which took aim at the specific beliefs of Hindus or Muslims, I don't think that the art-supporting liberal crowd in New York would have ever really patronized the thing enough to keep it afloat.
Mormonism, on the other hand, the offbeat religion of a bunch of white westerners from the United States, was fair game.

So I felt like this Mormon-based humor included a fair amount of bullying.  For a long, long time now the Mormon church has relied on a policy which avoids confrontation and which seeks to advance the Mormon religion by way of neighborly example and friendly proselytization.  Perhaps due to an early history in which members were almost wiped out by angry mobs, the Mormon Church seems to have long ago made a conscious decision not to antagonize or pick fights with the rest of the country.  I think that they know that the rest of the world sees their beliefs as strange, and they try to keep other people from becoming suspicious, fearful, and wary of them by being as friendly, neighborly, and "normal" as they can.  It's a nonconfrontational, peaceful approach, for the most part.
Anyway, my point is that Parker and Stone took a religion that was an easy target and laid the hurt on them pretty good.  Very few people outside the Mormon religion were ever going to come to their defense when Book of Mormon came out, and Mormons themselves probably didn't want to look like angry, weirdo fanatics who couldn't take a joke in response to a satirical musical. 
But this musical actually has songs that systematically take aim at their individual beliefs one at a time and make an effort to point out to the audience how stupid those beliefs are.  And every night a whole new auditorium full of modern theatergoers sits and enjoys the spectacle at the expense of their neighborsas this travelling production crisscrosses the country.  The Mormon Church bought out ad space in the program for Book of Mormon, encouraging people to consider investigating the actual church, but the move seems almost sad when you've been watching a piece of theatre make fun of their beliefs for two hours.

Book of Mormon makes some kind of halfhearted attempt in its closing act to point out that all religion is a little silly and that its most important facet is to be found in the way that it helps people to pull together in aid of one another.
But I think that this overall point is weakly made, probably for fear of alienating religious believers in general, and made half heartedly.  Parker and Stone wanted to lampoon religion, but they probably still wanted ticket sales from the vast numbers of religious people who were in their prospective audience.  They could probably still be successful without the Mormon demographic, though...

Anyway, I laughed during Book of Mormon.  I couldn't help it.  Parker and Stone know how to write some funny stuff.  But after I left I sorta felt like some school kid who just stood by while the class bully did an entertaining job of picking on the awkward kid for everyone else's amusement.  Nothin' to be proud of...

ACL 2013

So, this past weekend we went to the Austin City Limits Music Festival.  Now, in keeping with tradition, a brief recap of what we saw and what we did.

We took off work Friday to go to the festival.  Friday was one of the warmer days that we had this time around, although it still wasn't nearly as hot as some of the days we've experienced during the festival in prior years.  We used our little mini umbrellas for shade at times and drank lost of water (and some beer).




(Thao & the Get Down Stay Down.  Good music. 
GREAT name.)
We started the festival with Thao & the Get Down Stay Down.  It was a pretty good show.  The crowd was sort of mellow because it was early on the first day, but the music was good and interesting and easy to listen to.  Thao Nguyen has an interesting voice.
The second band we saw was Shovels & Rope.  They played on the Austin Ventures stage.  Sort of an interesting two person group.  Reminded me of a kind of bluegrass/folk/country version of The White Stripes.  Cary Ann Hearst has a cool, twangy voice.  During Shovels & Rope we had a visit from our friend, Kim, and a flyby from our friend, Bill.

Next we caught a few songs by Pacha Massive over in the Zilker tent.  They were okay, but I wasn't totally blown away.  Electronic rhythms and a style that reminded me, at least during the little bit that we saw, of a sort of Thievery Corporation kind of thing (except maybe a little less compelling?).
Following that we went and saw fun. (did I mention that I'm not a huge fan of gimmicky punctuation and capitalization in band names?)  fun. were pretty, well, erm... fun...?  They have really good vocals and some catchy harmonies/melodies, but listening to fun., I was kind of left with the impression that I was watching a very pre-packaged production that didn't leave a lot of room for genuine emotion and/or spontaneous artistic expression.  As Amy said, it sort of felt almost like watching performers in some sort of pop/rock musical.  Still, they were... fun.



(Okkervil River)
Next we saw Okkervil River.  I had seen at least part of an Okkervil set before, but this time I was a lot more impressed.  They played with good energy, and the vocals, the lyrics, and the instrumentation just came together in ways that I hadn't noticed before.  The band includes at least 8 people, and they use the different parts to good effect.  I think I might consider myself an Okkervil convert at this point.  I need to get my hands on an album or two by those guys.

After Okkervil we saw Vampire Weekend.  Vampire Weekend is a good band.  Their peppiness and their preppiness might be a bit much for some people, but those guys are good musicians who play interesting music.  Their sound reminds me of Paul Simon to no small degree, but they're different enough to be laying a valid claim to having a unique sound.  Their show was a lot of fun. 

After Vampire Weekend we sort of just hung out at the AMD stage in anticipation of Depeche Mode's Friday night closing set.  A huge crowd gathered at the neighboring Honda stage for a DJ named Kaskade that we had never heard of.  Kaskade sounded pretty good, I guess (I'm not really into electronic dance music- but he sounded as good as anyone else I've heard).  The crowd went nuts for the guy.  Then Amy looked him up on da smartphone, and we were both a little surprised to find out that he's apparently a devout Mormon.    You don't find that many Mormons in the dance club/rave/EDM scene.  Maybe I'm oversimplifying a bit, but I thought that usually that scene was a little more about ecstacy, xanax, and cocktails.  Anyway, good for Kaskade.  He was this year's Dead Mouse, apparently.

Depeche Mode rounded out Friday night.  I've never really been a huge Depeche Mode fan.  I knew a lot of people in high school who were nuts for them, but I never really got it.  Sort of like The Smiths, they always seemed a little too drama club for my taste.  But they were sort of ubiquitous in the late 80's alternative music scene.  Anyway, given the fact that you define yourself as much by what you resist as by what you like, I wanted to catch part of their set.  It's been decades since high school, so I thought that maybe older Steanso would be a bigger fan.
Turns out, not much had changed.  The Depeche Mode fans might've been way into the show, but we were ready to grab something to eat and head out for a shower after about four songs.  I heard that they supposedly got better as they got farther into our set, so maybe we missed something, but I don't think I'll be losing sleep over it.
In observance of National Taco Day we stopped at Torchy's and had some muy bueno tacos on the way home. 



On Saturday we started the day off with HAIM.  Those sisters from California rocked a lot harder than I expected.  They were good.  They know how to play their instruments, and they feel like a legit, organically grown rock band.  They're also fond of dropping f-bombs at their shows.  Actually, A LOT of the bands at ACL Fest were fond of the F word.  I don't know if the bands were just super excited to be there or what, but over the weekend Zilker Park got virtually carpet bombed with what has traditionally been considered pretty bad language.  I'm not a prude.  I don't really get offended by those sorts of things, but by the end of the weekend it was just sort of sounding dumb.  Just throwing out f-bombs as a half assed way of attempting to engage the crowd amounts to about the unwittiest banter that I can imagine. 
Anyway, HAIM was good.  Their music was good.  I will be listening to them again.

After HAIM we saw Junip.  I really liked Junip.  Weird mix of electronic synths, bass, and acoustic guitar.  Jose Gonzalez has a cool voice.  Mellow, but with energy.  Once again, a new band that I would definitely make space for on my iPhone.  Since the show we've already been streaming them on Spotify at home.

Next we saw Portugal. The Man.  (once again the thing with the weird punctuation and capitalization.  That fad must die.)  Portugal. The Man was pretty good.  They put on a good set.  Tight and solid.  People danced.  Good harmonies with solid beats.  Another band that I may have underestimated in the past.

We wandered around after that and watched a little bit of The Joy Formidable.  They were sort of unusual- interesting combination of rocking instrumentation with prettier, more delicate vocals.  More powerful than I expected. 

Passion Pit came on next.  They were like a giant dance party.  Easy to listen.  People were groovin' and bouncin' and shakin'.  Pretty cool stuff.  Passion Pit sort of washed over me.  I remember having a good time, but I don't remember much in terms of  details.  I guess that's good?



(The Mavericks are here to show you
that it's all gonna be okay)
We went over to the Zilker tent next and watched The Mavericks.  They were a lot of fun.  The Mavericks have been around for a while, and they're a pretty traditional band.  Raul Malo has a cool voice.  They have an interesting blend of country, Tex-Mex, and sort of 50's era rock and roll.  They're hard to describe, I'm learning, but very easy to enjoy.  The Mavericks play music that just puts you in a good mood.  They want to entertain.

A cold front blew in, the temperatures dropped, and we closed Saturday night with The Cure.  I've been a pretty big, unapologetic Cure fan since high school.  Robert Smith looks sort of freaky (and always has), but he writes great songs- songs that, at their melodramatic best, sound like heartbreak and confusion and painful longing.  It's hard to pull off that sort of music, but Smith does it exceptionally well.  The songs have the honest, earnest, and naive emotions that often are most associated with youth.  In the end, though, the songs are the sentiments of a person who's laying his soul bare while fully aware that such expressions can end disastrously.  Such a person might be tempted to hide himself behind crazy hair and weird makeup in order to distract people a bit from the content of his music...
The Cure have got some poppier, happier numbers (e.g., "Friday I'm in Love"), but in my mind those aren't the band at their best.
Anyway, The Cure sounded good.  People either get The Cure or they don't.  I'm a Cure guy.  Depeche Mode not really as much.
Saturday night we stopped in at Kerbey Lane on the way home and had a nice dinner.  We beat the rush.  As we were leaving, a small mob of tired, hungry festival goers was filling the waiting area. 

On Sunday the weather was just about as perfect as I've ever had at an ACL Festival.  Sunny and a light breeze and cool.
We started out seeing a band called MS MR.  They were pretty good.  Once again, a bit of an electronic dance vibe, but with some instrumentation.  They were fun.  Their lead singer, Lizzy Plapinger, seemed a little serious and stone faced at first, but as the set went on she seemed to enjoy herself and interacted more with the crowd.  They played a decent version of LCD Soundsystem's "Dance Yourself Clean".  Cool, but not as cool as the original. 
Following MS MR we saw Twin Forks.  They're a sort of folk/bluegrass kind of act, but they also played a Talking Heads cover ("And She Was"), so I guess they can play all kinds of stuff.  I had listened to one of their videos on the interwebs before seeing them, and I'm here to say that they were much better in person than Youtube might lead you to believe (those Youtube videos, for one thing, rarely do a good job of capturing the bass and drums).  They also played a cover of Getaway Gift by Steve Earle, which was kind of interesting because we had seen Steve Earle perform a really great set on that same Austin Ventures stage at ACL the year before.  One of those cool moments that the band probably didn't even know that they were creating.
We hung out with our friend Jessie during some of these earlier sets.  Jessie always manages to get free tickets to things.  It's her superpower.

Next we saw Grouplove.  Grouplove put on a cool set.  They're pretty easy to listen to.  They have some sort of throbbing rhythms, layered with cool vocals and melodies.  I enjoyed them, but sort of like Passion Pit, I don't have a lot of specific memories of the Grouplove set other than just a lot of happy people dancing to the music.  Kinda weird.



Following Grouplove we saw Divine Fits.  They put on a really good set.  They had a technical glitch or two with guitars cutting out, but they got things fixed quickly, and they put on a good show.  They rocked hard and sounded good.  Britt Daniel brings his clean, punchy, impeccable sense of rhythm, and Dan Broeckner lends his unique, powerful vocals and guitar stylings.  Would definitely see again.

After that we wandered over to listen to The National.  I like The National.  I enjoyed their set.  I like Matt Barninger's low voice, and The National are one of those bands that calm me down while still making me feel good.  We were hanging out with a friend, Meagan, and a friend of hers, and I was laying on the grass, listening to The National on a perfect day in Zilker Park with Amy, surrounded by happy people and music all around, the skyline of our fair city in the background, and I had one of those moments when you just realize how lucky you are.  Gotta enjoy those moments and recognize them while they're happening.


 

After The National we sort of listened to Tame Impala from a distance.  They sounded okay, but somehow different than I expected.  A friend had given me one of their CDs, and I liked it.  I guess I liked them live, too, but I can't help but feel that a little something was lost in translation between the recording and the stage.  Maybe the nuance of their sound on the album just didn't translate quite as well into a live setting.  I'm not sure.  They were pretty decent, but...

Next we saw Neko Case.  Neko Case has cool songs, a great voice, and a good band.  We'd seen her backup singer, Kelly Hogan, perform a show of her own during SXSW when we volunteered at our church, and Kelly Hogan was impressive in her own right.  Anyway, Neko Case put on a good show, but I felt bad for her because her set was wrought by technical difficulties.  They had trouble getting sound in any of the monitor speakers, apparently, and the stage lights kept going out, and there was horrible sound bleed over from the Atoms for Peace show, which was happening on the nearby AMD stage.  You could see Neko and her band getting visibly annoyed, and she finally announced that they were going to have to skip some slow songs because of the pounding drums from the other stage.  Still, there were some good songs in the set, and Neko and her crew did a great job of performing.

We finished up by watching a few songs by Atoms for Peace.  Amy didn't like them.  I thought they were okay, but probably not what we were looking for when we were a little tired, hungry, and worn out at the end of a three day festival.  Thom Yorke was engaged in his sort of high pitched, wailing sort of singing, but the pounding drums (and drum machines) accompanied by Flea's slapping, hammering bass just didn't generate the same sense of melody or mystery that Radiohead is able to create.  Conversely, Thom Yorke's drawn out lyrical phrasing doesn't lend itself to the dance rhythms quite as well as Anthony Kiedis's more punctuated, manic singing.

Anyway, we took off a little early and rolled over to Homeslice.  We sat in a cozy corner, Amy bought me some pizza and a beer, and it was the perfect end to a very nice festival weekend. 

Couple of closing thoughts on ACL 2013:

1)  The two weekend thing is not a terrible idea, but I think that this year will prove that it's pretty lame to have two weekends of the same lineup.  When they have the same experience duplicated on two consecutive weekends, it feels much more like you're buying an assembly line product instead of having a unique experience.  Even if you see a good show, it's hard not to wonder if the same band will do it better or worse the next weekend.  Also, with the same bands playing, it makes it feel like the weather is that much more important.  If you paid the same amount of money as people on a different weekend for the same bands, and they got sunshine while you got pouring rain, you're gonna feel like you lost some sort of weird gamble.  Also driving home the weirdness of the repeat scheduling, local news outlets have traditionally gotten really excited about covering ACL Fest as a one weekend, not-to-be-missed Austin event.  It's hard to muster that same level of excitement when you know that they're going to just try to repeat the whole thing again in the same way the following weekend.  You could literally miss it the first weekend without it being a big deal because there are still tickets available for weekend two.  Instead of being about a cool experience, the repeat weekends make it much more clear that it really is, at least for C3, all about the money.  If they were really interested in making it about putting on a world class, interesting festival, I think they'd have two different lineups (like Jazzfest does in New Orleans) and make single day passes available each weekend.
Next year they need to have different bands for each weekend, and they need to bring back single day passes.  If they can't pull off those two things, they should just go back to doing a one weekend event. 

2)  There's been talk of trying to move the festival out the F1 Circuit of the Americas track.  I think that would be a big mistake.  It would ruin the flavor of the festival.  Moving ACL would change the spirit of the city itself.  If Chicago can host Lollapalooza in Grant Park each year and New York can hold performances and concerts (and now the Global Citizen music festival) in Central Park, I think the neighbors around Zilker Park can suck it up a few times a year.  Zilker Park is Austin's backyard, and we strive to be the live music capital of the world.  There should be reasonable restrictions on the activities in Zilker, but, on balance, it's a space that belongs to the people of Austin- not to the affluent few who can afford to live in the neighborhoods around it.

3) Even after all of these years I still really enjoy ACL. Granted, there will always be things to complain about, but when you go down to Zilker each year and see people enjoying the festival who have travelled to Austin and shelled out money to cover all of the expenses of a regular vacation on top of paying for the festival tickets themselves, it makes you feel lucky to live here. It's a vibrant, exciting, enthusiastic city. I like it.  
Of course, it's easier to love it when the weather is nice.

Peace!