Monday, January 28, 2013

Weekend Update

Our weekend was nice. 
Our weekend sort of started on Thursday when we went out with some of Amy's friends/co-workers to Scholz Garten for happy hour.  They're a nice, entertaining group of folks.  I had a good time.  We stopped at Torchy's on the way home for tacos.  Friday night we didn't do a whole lot.  Amy worked late, and I exercised and took the dog for a walk.  We were both pretty tired (and allergyish), and I think after Amy got home we ate dinner and just sort of did some reading and went to bed. 
On Saturday we got up and Amy made us eggs.  Then I went to the store and did some grocery shopping while Amy worked at the house.  In the afternoon I went on a bike ride over to Ryan and Jamie's house and hung out there for a little while before pedaling home.  Amy went to the gym at some point.  We ate soup for dinner.  We watched an Aziz Ansari comedy special on Netflix.  Not every joke was a gem, but he had some stuff that made me laugh pretty hard. 
Amy said Aziz just reminded her of some funny guy who might sit next to you in school.  This made me think that boys were probably a lot funnier around Amy in high school than than what I experienced.  I'm not sure guys were as motivated to be as entertaining around the smartass 6'6" dude as they were around the really cute blonde girl.
On Sunday we got up and had breakfast at Magnolia Cafe.  The food was good, and it was sort of fun to be out early in the morning on a Sunday.  Afterward we picked up Cassidy and took her for a walk over at Twin Falls.  There's absolutely no water down along that creek right now, but it was still a pretty walk, and nice, cool weather.  Afterward we took care of a few things around the house, and then I went for another bike ride.  I rode down to Amy's office just to try to plot out a convenient, safe route that she can take in case she ever wants to ride in on a weekend or something.
Sunday night Ryan and Jamie came over for dinner.  It was really nice to have them.  Amy made some chicken white chili with cornbread, and chocolate pie for dessert.  Jamie brought a salad.  The food was really good, and it was nice to have a chance to just relax and talk.  At one point the conversation turned to late 80's era professional wrestling.  My brother still has an impressive (alarming?) command of the wrestlers of that era.
And that was pretty much the weekend!  It was a nice one, but it went by a little fast.  Amy's busy, but her work sounds interesting (she has to keep her projects confidential, but some of them have already been in the news).
Hope everyone's week is off to a good start.   

Monday, January 21, 2013


Hi.  Hope everyone had a good weekend.  I have today off for MLK Day.  Amy's at work, though, so even though I have today off, it doesn't feel like a normal holiday or weekend.  Still, I'm not gonna complain about an extra day.

On Friday night we went over to play a computer game called Artemis with some friends (Jim, Reid, Ben, Chantal, and Tim).  Artemis is a starship bridge simulator.  One computer works as a server and shows the main display for the bridge, and there are about 5 other computers that can be networked into the game to accomplish various ship functions (e.g., helm, science, engineering, communications, weapons).  One person gets to act as the captain and doesn't need a workstation.  The captain gives orders (keeping an eye on the main screen) and his crew members figure out how to implement them.
Now admittedly I'm a big ol' Star Trek and sci fi fan, but I found Artemis to be a whole lot of fun.  Of course it's cool to simulate a starship as it goes into combat, but it's also really cool to have a chance to play a multiplayer cooperative game that's designed to be played by a bunch of people who are sitting in the same room.  There aren't that many computer action games that I would legitimately think of as party games, but Artemis actually fit the bill very well.  It's also all team based, with everyone having to work together to accomplish a common objective, and I like that aspect as well.  We played several rounds and we took turns being captain.  Amy and I both had a really good time.
On Saturday I got up and went to the store while Amy worked remotely from home.  After going to the grocery store I took a short bike ride and ran a few errands.  I "discovered" a small, funky coffee shop not too far from my house that's apparently been there for years, but which I've never wandered into before.    It's called Strange Brew, and they have live music and wi fi access and local foods and beer.  I've driven past it many times before, but I don't drink coffee, so I never went in.  They had a sign up this weekend advertising the fact that they had new drinks and beers, so I dropped in to check it out.  Kind of a cool place to have in the neighborhood.
Amy made some really good chicken for dinner on Saturday (it had a green sauce with tomatillos), and Saturday night I had a gig with Mono Ensemble.  We played at Carousel Lounge.  Aside from a slight hitch or two on some songs we hadn't practiced in a while, the gig went well.  Reed and Eric, who share a birthday, both turned 40 at midnight on Saturday, so the show was a sort of birthday celebration for them.  We had a good time, and it was cool to have the chance to be with the guys as they hit a milestone birthday.  Jim, our sax and bass player, has been 40something for a few years now.  He proclaimed Reed and Eric to finally be men.
Anyway, hopefully we'll play another show again sometime in the not so distant future.

Saturday night into Sunday morning I sort of came down with a bit of cedar fever.  My allergies were really bugging me.  I took a nap for a while in the afternoon (Amy went in to the office) because I just felt run down.  Sunday night Amy made a really good bleu cheese pasta.  I had never had pasta with bleu cheese before, and I really liked it.
Sunday night we watched Bernie.  It was a good movie.  It's a really interesting story (based on actual events), and Linklater did a good job of blending local townspeople with outside actors so that it almost becomes hard to tell where the movie stops and reality starts.  As Amy said, Jack Black's performance was great.  He gave both of us new respect for him as an actor.
Anyway, fun film.  Can't remember the last time that I felt so much sympathy for a murderer and so little pity for the victim, but I guess that was the whole point of the movie.  It kind of messes with your head a little bit.  I had to remind myself when the movie was over that Bernie really did need to be convicted of murder.  You can't let a murderer just go unconvicted because his victim is one of the least popular people in town.  I was a little shocked when they gave him life, but once again- it is murder, so....
Went to bed right after the movie because of the allergies.

Today, On MLK Day, I got up and worked out.  Took Amy's bike in to the shop for a free warranty tune up.  I drove down to Ryan and Jamie's house and had lunch with Ryan (Jamie took a nap and didn't go).  Hung out there for a little while afterward while Cassidy played with their dogs.
Now I'm home.  And blogging.

Oh yeah!  I also just finished a book called Bicycle Diaries by musician/artist David Byrne.  Interesting book and a fun read.  Parts of it are about biking, but it's also a travel memoir and a collection of Byrne's thoughts on subjects ranging from modern art to foreign policy to urban planning to (less surprisingly) music.  It's a fun book.  I liked it a lot.  I sort of recommend it if you're not the sort of person who gets overly hung up on things like focus and structure.

That's it!  Happy birthday to Reed and Eric!  Hope everyone else just has a nice week!


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Update; Zero Dark Thirty

Our weekend was a pretty good one.  With the holidays behind us, the Texas legislative session has begun, and Amy is working some longer hours.  The session will be her busiest time as The Lege Council drafts bills on behalf of various elected officials and their constituents.  The next few months should be both very busy and very interesting for Amy.  Our schedule has shifted around a little bit, but it's a kind of exciting time.  It's cool to hear her talk about various work projects and then see them pop up as news stories within a day or two.  Our schedule at home has a little less free time in it, though.
On Friday I went to a going away happy hour for Amber, a friend from work who is leaving to go to the DA's office.  A bunch of my coworkers went, so it was good to spend a little bit of social time with work friends outside the office.
On Saturday I got up and ran to the grocery store while Amy worked remotely from home.
After I went to the store I walked over to the movie theater by our house and watched Zero Dark Thirty.
I went to see the movie knowing that there was some sort of controversy about it regarding the use of torture by American interrogators in the film.  I tried not to read too much about the movie before going to see it because I wanted to try to watch the movie and assess it on its own terms without being exposed to all of the criticism and praise that the film has engendered since its release.
Let me start by saying that I mostly enjoyed Zero Dark Thirty.  I went to see it knowing both that it's ultimately just a movie and probably not a completely accurate, bias-free movie about the killing of Osama bin Laden.  Also, I knew going into it that the creators of the movie (particularly Kathryn Bigelow) have gotten themselves into some hot water by perhaps trying to claim that the movie is more accurate than it actually is.
Having seen the movie, I would first say that I wasn't particularly shocked or appalled by the depictions of "enhanced interrogation techniques" as they're portrayed in the movie.  There's been a lot of uproar about whether the specific torture techniques used in the movie actually took place in real life in the exact ways that the movie suggests.  There have also been a lot of people questioning whether the techniques depicted were actually used with any effectiveness in extracting information during the hunt for bin Laden.  Critics of torture decry the movie because they say that torture was never effectively used in the hunt for OBL, but the movie indicated otherwise (thus, according to critics, making the movie a biased propaganda tool for pro-torture advocates).
A couple of things on this point.  First of all, I just find it sort of misguided that so many people are up in arms about the depictions of torture in this movie.  Whether the instances of torture used in this film historically took place in the exact ways that the movie portrays them is, to me, fairly irrelevant.  The U.S. government has admitted to the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, including the use of waterboarding, stress positions, confinement boxes, food deprivation, extremely loud music over long periods, and other methods.  The Bush administration had lawyers drafting legal defenses to the use of these sorts of techniques (that their use did not violate the Geneva Convention or other international treaties and compacts prohibiting the use of torture).  To me, the question of whether or not these things were used to great effect in the hunt for bin Laden is almost beside the point. 
Zero Dark Thirty depicts the use of torture and shows it to ultimately have some sort of mixed results (e.g., they get the name of a target, but it turns out that they initially misidentify the person using the alias). I have no firsthand knowledge, but I would believe that this is probably true. Some people probably resist giving out information or lie while under stress, and some people probably are so scared and broken that they just give up the information that's being sought. It's probably too easy to say that torture never works, but it's almost certainly untrue that it always does. At best, it's probably a somewhat inefficient, unreliable method of extracting information.
The bigger question is about whether the U.S. is going to remain committed to maintaining some sort of moral authority in its stance against the use of torture.  I know that some people will dismiss the entire question of moral authority as a sort of naive, overly philosophical, or eggheaded response to an the use of torture in situations which are meant to protect the lives of American citizens.  On the other hand, when America tortures our loss of legal and moral authority within the international community means that upon future occasions when we might try to seek protections for our own troops and citizens regarding torture, we have virtually no footing.  Imagine American intelligence operatives being treated in the same way that Muslim detainees were treated in Zero Dark Thirty and you begin to see the crux of the problem.  Given what we've been up to, it would seem a lot harder these days to go the war crimes tribunal or the U.N. with a complaint.  When other countries torture our people they are bound to feel themselves every bit as justified as we have felt while torturing terrorist detainees. 
More important yet is the fact that these things have been undertaken on behalf of the American people (heck, our tax dollars paid to accomplish them), and as a society we need to come to some common understanding about whether the actual use of torture in the real world is an acceptable practice on the part of our government instead.   Becoming outraged by cinematic depictions of torture seems a little bit like shooting the messenger (regardless of whether the messenger got the details of the message exactly right).

So Kathryn Bigelow has taken a lot of heat for her portrayal of the use of enhanced interrogation in the movie and her implied assertion that torture ultimately produces valuable leads that can ultimately produce good information and valuable results.  Others have claimed that torture was never used to any real effect in the hunt for OBL.  In Bigelow's defense, she claims that her movie was based upon firsthand accounts of classified intelligence and military operations.  If she's telling the truth insofar as she understands it from people who were actually present for and/or involved in these events, she would probably not be able to prove her case and silence her critics without disclosing the names of sources who have told her things in great confidence (and potentially at their own legal peril).  If she's actually relying on firsthand accounts provided by classified CIA operatives, she can't turn around and point to her sources as a way of verifying her story.  If she did so, her violation of trust could ultimately result in the federal prosecution of her sources.
On the other hand, if Bigelow is overplaying her hand and playing up the torture angle for dramatic effect and fictionalizing events while still claiming to make a factually accurate movie- well, if that's what Bigelow is doing than she's just being exploitative and cheap and not very interesting.  Even the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, after all, claimed to tell a true story even though the story was enitrely made up.  Claming truth while depicting fiction is a commonly used technique is seeking a greater emotional investment on the part of the audience.  In the case of a B grade horror movie that's probably okay, but when you're depicting a politically charged historical event, probably not so much.*
In the end, I enjoyed ZDT as a movie, but I don't know much about its historical accuracy.  It's also important to  note that the movie isn't just about torture- it's actually a pretty compelling story about a few relentless individuals who doggedly pursued leads for over a decade in order to finally get bin Laden.  The use of torture is only a part of the tale.  Once ZDT was nominated for an Oscar, I wanted to see it because, accurate or not, I knew that it would go down in history as some sort of quasi historical depiction of the hunt for bin Laden.  Movies create mythology out of history (anyone else seen Patton or Lawrence of Arabia?), and regardless of whether this movie accurately reflects truth (or maybe because no one is sure whether it does) I think it might become a long term part of our cultural history.

After the movie on Saturday I went for a bike ride.  It was relatively warm out, and I got a nice ride in.  Saturday night we had dinner and watched an old episode of Sherlock that we had missed back during the regular season.  I like Sherlock.  The show has its flaws (I'm not sure the plot is always strictly logical and that all of their tricks of reasoning and deduction actually stand up to scrutiny), but it's good entertainment.  I like the actors and the characters.
On Sunday it was colder, but I went for another bike ride.  Amy went in to work for a while.  I had Mono Ensemble practice (we have a show on Saturday at 9:00 at The Carousel Lounge- be there!!).  Amy made delicious chili and corn bread.  We walked Cassidy.  We relaxed.
It was a good weekend.
*  There were also some allegations that Bigelow filmed some torture scenes in a Jordanian prison where actual prisoners have been tortured (or perhaps continue to be tortured).  If that's the case, that's just messed up.  Pretty inexcusable.  But once again, the U.S. people allowed our government to work as allies for years with the Jordanian government while knowing that they were engaging in human rights violations.Why would we expect more out of a movie director than we do out of our elected officials?

Monday, January 07, 2013

Update; Lawrence of Arabia

Hey there!  Hope everyone had a good weekend.  Ours was pretty good, although I was sick with a cold on Friday and Saturday.  That definitely kept the weekend a little more mellow than usual.
It was relaxing, though, and I got some much needed rest.  Amy did quite a bit of cooking, and I benefitted from her efforts.  She made a sort of salmon dish with a sort of avocado/mustard puree that was really, really good.  She also made her tinga chicken, which was also excellent.  She baked some dangerously addictive black and white cookies which were the best I've ever had, and she made breakfast on Sunday morning with eggs and lots of bacon- some of which went into a sort of sweet potato soup that she's bound to take to lunch this week.

Not feeling well, I spent much of Saturday taking it pretty easy.  I did manage to join Amy for a quick trip to the store, but other from that I rested.

Since I was feeling better, on Sunday we took Cassidy to Auditorium Shores so she could get some sunshine and exercise.  After a number of cold, cloudy days, it was really nice to get out.  Afterward I went for a short bike ride and tested out this new Strava app on my iPhone (I updated to an iPhone 4S over Christmas).  Strava measures things like your average speed and elevation changes and the maximum speed that you hit during your ride.  If you want to, you can download it all into your computer and compare it against other people who have ridden the same section or segment of road that you've just completed.  I'm not all that interested in getting into online competition against other people, but I like the fact that Strava measures elevation changes and stores data from past rides so you can observe your progress (or lack of progress) over time.

Sunday night Mono Ensemble had practice.  We're trying to get ready for our gig at The Carousel on the 19th.  Everyone made it to practice, and we're pulling some songs together.  It was nice to have everyone there.

Over Saturday and Sunday nights Amy and I watched Lawrence of Arabia.  It's one of my favorite movies of all time, and Amy got me a 50th anniversary collector's edition of the film on blu ray for Christmas. This, especially for me, was a really cool gift!  It comes with a book about the making of the movie and a documentary and the art that just looks really great.
Anyway, Amy had never seen the film, and I hadn't seen it in a while.  The print and the restoration make for an incredible looking blu ray.  The movie has sweeping desert landscapes, panoramic views, and cinematography that drives home the movie's epic themes in a way that few others have been able to accomplish.  In an era when we've grown used to computer generated backgrounds, characters, and scenery, it's amazing to look at a film involving the scenery and scale of Lawrence and Arabia and realize that everything on the screen was actually shot with physical objects, people, and locations.  Watching the movie, it's hard to believe that we haven't lost some of the awe and wonder involved in old school filmmaking through the use of our modern, digital movie assembly techniques.
So I love the way Lawrence of Arabia looks.  I like the story and the acting even more.  Every time I watch the film I get drawn in by Lawrence's story arc.  His journey from swaggering, idealistic, naive adventurer to self styled divine prophet and finally to scarred, damaged, and wizened veteran is a fascinating transition to observe.  Woven into this narrative are complicated issues regarding Lawrence's relationship with Arab culture (both as it actually exists and the perhaps more romanticized version that Lawrence sometimes imagines) and Lawrence's discomfort his own English heritage.  
Peter O'Toole's infuses Lawrence with a mixture of eccentricity, cunning, bravado, and vulnerability that few if any other actors could have delivered.  I love the movie, in part, because of the way that the audience gets to see Lawrence's character genuinely change over time.
The supporting cast is, of course, superb as well.  Alec Guiness's Prince Faisel turns out to be a leader whose sophisitication and intellect belie initial suppositions of what one might expect from the leader of a people that the English (and perhaps the audience?) see as "greedy, barabrous, and cruel".  Omar Sharif, playing Sherif Ali ibn el Kharish, first appears in the film seeming to be a capriciously violent, somewhat backward tribesman, but by the end of the film it is Ali who exhorts Lawrence to avoid a needless massacre of the Turks and to carry on with the more lofty and pragmatic goal of marching on Damascus (pleadings which Lawrence, the once civilized Englishman, ignores).
The film is 216 minutes long.  It has an intermission.  Setting an epic tone, the opening theme plays to a blank screen for several minutes before any action takes place on screen.  The movie was shot in Jordan, Morocco, and Spain, among other locations, and judging by the look of the terrain, filming must have been difficult.  There were problems with everything ranging from stubborn camels to surly Moroccan troops (who played Turks in the movie).  Simply given the size and scope of the film, especially given the desert locations, it must have been a logistical nightmare.  David Lean's directorial choices seem to suggest that his attitude toward the film's creation was perhaps inspired by the character of Lawrence himself- insisting that the impossible is not only possible, but can be accomplished to grand effect by a person who has the audacity to earnestly and tenciously try.
I love the movie. 
Thanks to Amy for getting it for me and watching it with me.  I look forward to watching the bonus features!           

So that's it for now.  Hope you all had a nice weekend!

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Farewell to Judy

Hey!  Hope everyone has had a good holiday season, and I hope your 2013 is off to a good start.

We had kind of an unusual and kind of difficult holiday season in our family.  Judy McBride fell ill in the days before Christmas (with a sort of stroke), was hospitalized, and ultimately passed away in the early morning hours of New Year's Day.  Judy is the mother of my sister-in-law, Jamie.  She was a very nice, warm, smart, and funny lady who was very gracious in welcoming me into her home and including me (and later Amy) in family functions and events (which I recognize as being far from a foregone conclusion when it comes to dealing with your daughter's brother-in-law).  Anyway, Ryan and Jamie have been together as a couple for many years now, and after years of seeing Dick and Judy on visits and as fellow residents of Central Texas, I've long since considered them extended family. 
Our family has had the McBride family in our thoughts a lot lately, and we'll continue to do so.  We're all going to miss Judy very much.  The McBrides will surely feel the loss the most, but Ryan has also grown extremely close to Judy over the years, and I know that he will miss her terribly as well.
Our thoughts are with all of them. 
To the McBrides, Ryan, and Jamie- I'm so sorry for your loss.  Love you guys.