Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A Little Hopeful Arm-Chair Theology

"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." I think about this Proverb often as I watch my childhood friends, one by one, drift from the Faith. Is that axiom really true, or is this one of those "generally speaking" proverbs that happens "most of the time." Will my friends really come back; can I count on it? How old is old? How long do we have to wait to see results? What to do in the meantime?

Then again, the author doesn't say anything about turning away in youth and then coming back in old age. No, he just says, "Hey, at least she won't turn from the path when she's old." What about those that lose their way in youth? My gut says there's hope for them, too. But I don't think that gut feeling is founded on that proverb. Rather, I think it's founded on a kind of Platonic notion that a soul really cannot unlearn what he already knows. I'm almost certain that once God gets under one's skin, he's impossible to shake, but I don't know how to argue that theologically. So maybe this isn't arm-chair theology. Maybe it's philosophy. Or wishful thinking.

Can one really unlearn the truth? I mean sure, go to school, learn a completely different epistemology with no room for true religion, but you'll always be trying to prove your old knowledge in terms of the new, I'd like to tell 'em. As if that proves something. Still, I know that friends A, B, C, and D will come back around, someday. Maybe I only feel that way because sometimes I suspect I'm following them down that road, but at a more cautious, reasonable speed. I had this conversation with a buddy on Thanksgiving, and we parted with hope, but never nailed down exactly why we hoped.

A few days later, I came across something Flannery O'Connor once said: "Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not." I think maybe she's saying the same as the author of that proverb, but she says it in a way that puts the question outside of the worrisome dimension of time. I'm pretty sure she's right. I hope she is.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Peter Singer on Obama's Phone-a-Friend Shortlist?

Firelance posts an interesting, provocative bit about how Barack Obama, as an Illinois state senator, helped kill a bill that would have required attending physicians to give medical attention to aborted fetuses born alive. In fact Obama voted "present" the first time the bill came up (it failed to pass) and "no" the second time a year later (it failed again). After Congress passed its own Born-Alive Infant Protection Act in 2002, the Illinois senate sent another version of its bill to the Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Mr. Obama, where it died.

The only senator who took the floor against the 2001 version of the bill, Obama argues, "Viability is the line that has been drawn by the Supreme Court to determine whether or not an abortion can or cannot take place." In other words, doctors only give medical attention to human persons. Conversely, by law, we do not abort viable human persons. It makes no sense to pass a bill that requires doctors to give medical attention to a fetus that has already been determined to be previable. Obama argues that the bill up for discussion represents an attempt to define previable fetuses as viable human persons, which would, essentially, make it an anti-abortion bill.

I think his argument works. But I think he arrives, brilliantly, at the wrong conclusion. 1093 was written as a result of one nurse's effort to make medical attention available to fetuses aborted alive. She noticed that wanted babies born at the same developmental stage as those being aborted were given medical attention. She wanted the aborted children to have the same shot at life as those whose parents wanted them. Read her story here. Read the context of Obama's statement here, and the entire discussion of SB1093 here.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Henry's Story

As part of my training at Houston's, I had to write a short bio on one of my co-workers. Hank/Henry is one of our better servers. He gets a lot of crap because he's Colombian; he gives me a lot of crap because I'm the newbie. But what makes Hank Hank? I rolled silver with Henry a couple nights ago and asked him a few questions. Here's what I learned.

Henry left Colombia after a friendly game of dominoes went south, way south. Nineteen, high on life, Henry had gone all in against the neighborhood jefe, keys to his prize possession—a 1984 baby-blue Honda moped—on the table. Only Henry didn’t know that his buddy Tellez had been paid off by the jefe, who had been pressuring Henry to sell. The fix was in, and Hank knew it as soon as he drew double nines and double sixes back to back. He peered through the rich Cohiba smoke at his friend’s eyes when that double six came up; he saw the weakness. The guy who was supposed to be rounding this game with him had sold him out—probably for a couple of chickens and sack of rice. Hank did the only thing he could—he flung his burning habano into the jefe’s face and fled on the Honda. He never looked back, kept it cranked wide open, through the colonial streets of La Candelaria, around San Felipe de Barajas, past Ciudad Perdida. All the way to Venezuela.

Venezuela would be where Hank made his first million—his first legal million. He sent for his girl Blanca, and she arrived a week later on the bus with the $180,000 pesos—barely a hundred bucks—Hank kept hidden below the cajica carpet. They moved into a hotel and Hank got a job delivering pizzas with the Honda. That lasted a week, enough time for Henry to meet the right kinds of people on the west side of town. Hank got into the oil drilling gig just long enough to learn the ropes and save up enough for a down payment on a drill. Henry had always been more lucky than charming, and he struck a big, untapped field within a month. Mind you, this was long before Venezuela nationalized its oil; Henry savored his first true taste of capitalism. But Henry came home one night to find Blanca in the arms of another man, watching Amores de Mercado. Henry calmly lit his Cohiba, then kicked over one of the many barrels of crude that he happened to keep in his living room. He tossed the cigar into the inky mess and walked away. A hard year’s cash was tucked away in the nooks of that house, and the Honda was parked in the garage, next to a couple more drums. But Henry just didn’t give a damn.

He had to get away. He withdrew all his savings from his Swiss bank account and bought a sloop with a Bermuda rig. Shoved off at El Tablazo, cursed the waves, spat into the wind, let the sails do the rest. He landed at St. Martin, on the French side. He didn’t speak French, at least not at first, but he quickly found a job shaking appletinis for American tourists on one of St. Martin’s thirty-seven gorgeous beaches. Island life proved calm, lazy even. Henry grew restless. One night, a year after he’d landed, Henry locked up the cabana bar, threw the keys up on the roof, and hopped into his sloop. But this time, Hank knew where he was going.

The land of opportunity. The United States of America. Specifically, Florida. He’d heard about Texas, fuerte entre los fuertes, as the Venezuelan oilmen had called it, and he knew that he’d fit right in. But his little sailboat wouldn’t take him that far, so he had to settle for the Keys. Henry didn’t know a soul in the States, but at twenty-one, he knew two English words: appletini and adventure. He had no problem meeting people. He missed his family often, but he became so tight with his peeps in Miami that he couldn’t tear himself away. Spent seven years there, but never gave up on his dream of moving to the America of America, the Republic within the Republic: Texas. He gave all his belongings to a family of Haitian refugees and bought a one-way ticket to Austin.

All the pieces were finally falling into place for old Henry. What’s more Texan than Austin? Just to be sure he was completely immersed in Texas culture, Henry got a job at a joint named after another Texas city, Houston. And dammit, Henry loved it. Loved everything about Austin, couldn’t believe his good fortune. Hank figured there were millions of people out there who would kill to be in his position, but Hank had grown weary of his expat status. The choice to become a US citizen came as no real decision at all to Henry. As far as he could tell, only benefits awaited him, and hey, he didn’t have to renounce his Colombian citizenship, so why the hell not? The process proved difficult, but as of two weeks ago, Hank’s a bona-fide United States Citizen. Took the oath and never looked back.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Now I'm Paying Attention

No more Mavs or Stars playoffs action for now, and our beloved Bulls haven't had a prayer since the whole program was sold for parts...but I like the NBA post season this year. Lakers and Spurs, the past decade's most dominant WC teams--classic match-up. Detroit, yeah, sure. Every story needs a villain.

But Boston? Man, I hate that town's other teams, but I kinda wanna get behind these guys, especially if it means more Gino.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Word to the DFW Crew

Somebody please go dance your socks off with Z-Trip at Suite. I can't. I have two exams the next day.

Things that Make Me Go "Hmm"

This passage contains one of the most apt (aptest?) metaphors for time that I've ever encountered. I thought I'd share it with you; this comes from William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily."

"They held the funeral on the second day, with the town coming to look at Miss Emily beneath a mass of bought flowers, with the crayon face of her father musing profoundly above the bier and the ladies sibilant and macabre; and the very old men --some in their brushed Confederate uniforms--on the porch and the lawn, talking of Miss Emily as if she had been a contemporary of theirs, believing that they had danced with her and courted her perhaps, confusing time with its mathematical progression, as the old do, to whom all the past is not a diminishing road but, instead, a huge meadow which no winter ever quite touches, divided from them now by the narrow bottle-neck of the most recent decade of years," (emphasis mine).

Augustine argued that one couldn't measure time because it's always slipping into the past--it "pertains to non-being." A few hundred years later Einstein came along and explained its slipperiness as relativity to space. Those guys dealt with the mechanics of time, if you will, but I think Faulkner tells us something about the meaning of time. He tells us how time works not in objective terms, but in subjective terms--as it pertains to the only creatures that consciously experience it: human beings. We all experience time like those old men; only the size of our meadows differs.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My Monohybrid Cross to Bear

Here's the problem that's been getting me down at least since the Cup came to Austin to visit: How in the hell do I reconcile biology with theology?

As a child, I was taught a literal, miraculous, six-day account of creation. God spoke the world into existence one literal twenty-four hour period at a time. If one takes the Bible literally (whatever that means), it seems like a stretch to take "evening and morning" to mean anything but a calendar day. Evolution was dangerous and at the same time a mere "theory."

But in scientific parlance, a "theory" is a pretty big deal. A theory "summarizes a hypothesis or group of hypotheses that have been supported with repeated testing." Evolution is not just one hypothesis, but a unified system of hypotheses, each supported by evidence. And as it turns out, the evidence for the evolutionary theory is overwhelming. Bacteria evolve to become drug-resistant, alleles become fixed or lost, DNA mutations occur at predictable rates (varying across locii), natural selection lurks in every corner, etc. In any case, I don't think I want to debate the merits of creationism vs. evolution vs. intelligent design here. The point is, I'm convinced. Perhaps more to the point, it's depressing to be convinced.

But before I tell you why it's depressing, I feel like I have to make a preemptive defense against anyone who supposes that maybe the liberals at Richland College and the University of Texas have somehow corrupted me and stolen my faith. Not so. I don't remember when I began to doubt creationism, but I do know that I chucked a literal interpretation of the Genesis account in church. I took a Genesis Sunday school class a few years ago taught by a DTS professor. Forget geology, paleontology, and biology. A close textual criticism of Genesis lends some pretty strong evidence to the notion that the Hebrew creation story is fundamentally theological--not historical--in nature. Thank God--I think we're all better off with a Bible that aims to teach us something about the Creator rather than the creation.

It would seem I've answered my own question. The first few chapters of Genesis employ myth to teach the truth of YHWH's cosmological authorship. So science and theology are discrete disciplines, and gosh darn it, they probably complement each other somehow. But things start to get sticky right around Romans 5: "For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ." If you're a DTS professor teaching a Sunday school class, you solve the problem by saying that yes, evolution occurred, but there was an actual Adam. Science meets theology and the two play nicely.

But the scientific community begs to differ. Probably the population of Homo sapiens sapiens that displaced all other hominids consisted of about a thousand individuals. No literal Adam. Can we have original sin without Adam? (Do we even need it?) And what about H. floresiensis or even H. sapiens neanderthalensis? Were they not created in the image of God? Do we push Adam farther back in the fossil record, perhaps even before hominids developed the genetic basis for language? Does it seem likely that such a creature could sin?

Maybe what really gets me down is that the magic rug of teleological biology has been yanked from underneath me. There is no "purpose" in biology, only "function." And H. sapiens is just one link in the chain. Hard to draw a line between the morally accountable "us" and the animal "them." Even harder to make sense of a theology that seems to lean heavily on sin entering the world through one actual man. I mean, if there's no Adam, I feel bad for Paul for making that embarrassing analogy. (Oh, and Never mind Scriptural inerrancy while we're at it, but can we still have infallibility?)

So, theologian and arm-chair theologian friends, what do you got for me? If you're a six-day creationist, I wonder, could you suppose for a moment that the Evolution wins in the end?

Because the BIG question is this (assuming, as I do, that Evolution turns out to be not just theory, but reality): if Christianity can't tackle the evolutionary theory head on and come up with a theology that accounts for it, then what is it worth?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mo' Music Mo' Music Mo' Music

...and mo' everloving music.

Welp, I saw the Shackeltons again tonight. They played an altogether too-short show at Beauty Bar here in Austin--just a little over an hour of rockin' and emotin'. Even with an encore, I think the smallish-but-enthusiastic audience would have stayed for another forty or so. I would have.

What I didn't realize when I saw these guys the first time is that two of the band members aren't even old enough to drink. That's right, bassist Justin and drummer Sean were sporting big black Xs on their hands tonight. Justin graduated high school this year, and Sean's only 17. The latter played most of the show in nothing but boxer-briefs. Not sure how that relates, but it seemed significant.

I'm gettin' behind these guys. I've seen 'em twice. I bought the CD. Dallas people, get on board with me for the sake of your own souls. The Shackeltons play the Double Wide tonight (Tuesday the 22nd). Give 'em some love.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Break for Book Meme

The 123 Book Meme (thanx TRP):

1. Open the nearest book to page 123 (No 123? Get a bigger book.)
2. Skip the first five full sentences
3. Post the next three

And away we go:
"Hence, by repeated and serious reflection, try to acquire a firm and felicitous habit of being on guard against the springs and inner promptings of your false and deceptive modalities. No endeavor is more worthy of a Philosopher. If we distinguish the replies of inner Truth from what we say to ourselves on our own, if we distinguish what comes immediately from Reason from what comes to us by way of the body or on occasion of the body, if we distinguish what is immutable, eternal, necessary from what changes at every moment, in short, if we distinguish the evidence of light from the vivacity of instinct, it is almost impossible for us to fall into error."

From Nicolas Malebranche's Dialogues on Metaphysics.

Friday, April 11, 2008

SXSW Recap: Day 3

Or: "One Helluva Night in Austin"

Black Joe LewisDay 3 actually started during the day. I met my buddy Ben White and a few of his coworkers down at the Hotel San Jose to hear Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears. With a name like that, it has to be good, right? Yes, especially if every member of the band wears a Star Trek uniform. With songs like "Bitch, I Looove You," Black Joe Lewis's James-Brown-infused blues kept us smiling.

Once one has listened to funky soul-blues in a small venue, what's the next logical step? How about a hip-hop show with 20,000 people in attendance? We walked down to Auditorium Shores for an evening with Talib Kweli and Ice Cube. That's right, Kweli--the lyrically creative, socially-aware rapper--was opening for the star of Friday. We missed Kweli and caught some in-between act. Didn't matter, because when Cube took the stage, it was on.

Now, the extent of my previous contact with the Ice Cube oeuvre had been the films "Three Kings" and "Barbershop." I didn't know much about his musical contribution to the world. But early on in the show, Cube posed the question, "Nigga, we started this gangsta shit, and this the mothafuckin' thanks I get?" Now that I could relate to. Seriously. Dr. Dre drops that line on "2001" when he's commenting on what gangsta rap has become since his days with NWA (Niggaz With Attitude, of "F*** the Police" fame) with Easy-E. Then I put it together: Ice Cube was the third member of NWA. OK, I guess he has some credibility.

Not that his set was meaningful, but it was really fun. The performance was laced with so much profanity it became comedic. The attempts at dramatic effect only upped the comic ante. AtIce Cube one point in the show, Cube implored the audience to "get your dubs up!" (make the west-side "W" hand sign). All the lights went down except for a spotlight on Cube. When they came back up, there were two ten-foot-tall inflatable hands on stage making the W-sign.

Nobody really wanted to stay for the whole show, so our little group disbanded. My disappointment at not seeing the whole show would turn into the promise of an extra-fun evening, however, because when I left the Shores, I hopped on a bus to get back home, and that bus was where a certain happy sub-plot of my SXSW experience started. I think I'd rather tell you the details in person, but let's just say that there's even more to South By than great music and free booze.

Let's get back to the music (and the booze). Ben met me at the Moon Tower for what I'd been told would be the best night of them all. I was certainly looking forward to it; the Cool Kids were gonna play a set. I had heard of the Cool Kids, and I had seen pictures of them, and sometimes that's enough to know a group's going to be legit. The Cool Kids dress like it's 1989: real Nike hightops, slim-leg jeans (or sweat pants), neon colors, etc. Ben and I moved up to the barrier. Mikey and Chuck came out and ROCKED. Well, technically, they rapped. Their beats are nice and fat, and theirThe Cool Kids rhymes are carefree and funny. Even their guest MC, Mickey Factz, could hold his own. Ben was impressed. I was eager to buy the CD.

In between shows, on a drink run, I spotted a guy, a white guy, standing off to the side sporting a huge afro and dressed in footie pajamas. This was no small dude, either; he had to have been six feet tall. And these were no regular footie pajamas, they were ass-flap pajamas, the holy grail of PJs. I told Ben what I had seen. Turns out, Mr. Pajamas was part of the next group.

He went by the name of Fat Jew, and he along with Fonda and Machine comprise Team Facelift. Team Facelift's music played less like hip-hop and more like party fuel. You might say they are to hip-hop what early Chili Peppers were to rock. Their beats bumped and so did the crowd. And everything that came out of their mouthsTeam Facelift proceeded entirely tongue-in-cheek. They pleaded "I wanna have your baby" as sincerely as if they didn't know that men can't get pregnant. And all the while, Fat Jew's butt-flap hung unfastened, revealing the flesh-colored boxers underneath.

Next up: Crystal Castles, a guy-girl duo. He provided huge beats laced with alternatively sweet and chaotic 8-bit blips and boops. She sang from beneath a hooded sweatshirt with an abandon that the strobe lights and sound system amplified to incomprehensible proportions. This was the loudest show I have ever heard in my life. I wore earplugs and the beat still managed to punch me in the brain. Ben moved to the back. I made for the bar. Crystal Castles blew a fuse, and the stage went silent for about thirty seconds before a couple of roadies ran back and reprimed the aural violence. Would have been a great show, I'm sure, but I could not hear it for hearing it.

Finally, at about 4am, DJ Z-Trip took the stage for the final set of Moon Tower '08. Every record he threw on upped the adrenal and emotional volume. He started out with typical DJ fare, but quickly moved on to more meaningful mashups and sophisticated programming. I mean programming in the sense that Z-Trip seemed to be constructing a plot, a dance narrative with broad strokes of ecstasy entwined with moments of quieter passion. At one point, the beats hushed and Cash's "Ring of Fire" trumpeted forth. Gradually, Z added beats until the crowd was jumping even more than before. When he threw on "Smells Like Teen Spirit," the crowd whipped into a frenzy. We were soaked with other people's drinks. No matter, we kept dancing. (And by "we" I don't mean Ben and me; he had left to take care of his dogs.) Z-Trip could do no wrong; every track he played fit the moment perfectly. I understood why he went last. This DJ's musical epic was not just a story in itself; it was the climax of the meta-Moon Tower. At about 5:15, with no signs of stopping, Z put on Rage's "Bulls on Parade," and the crowd went absolutely nuts. He knew exactly what he was doing. We received another round of flying drinks and a few body checks. It couldn't get any better; we made for the exit.

About an hour later I got a text message from Anthony, who had been valeting downtown all night. "Wanna go for a ride in a Porsche?"

photo credits
Black Joe Lewis: Birkley3030
Ice Cube: RickyRicky
The Cool Kids: Miss35mm
Team Facelift: USB TourCo

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

SXSW Recap: Day 2

I think I stayed in bed until noon on Friday; I didn't even try to go to any day parties. The Auditorium Shores concert didn't interest me, either. And even though nobody I knew could make it for Night 2 of the Moon Tower, I sure as hecks wasn't about to miss out.

When I got there at around 11pm, the line was about 100 deep. TABC had made a surprise visit and was hanging around to make sure only adults got free adult beverages. Friday night got rolling with American Bang, a Nashville band so good I broke the promise I'd made to myself that if I ever found myself at a show where a dude in a band rocked shirtless, I'd leave on principle. No, I stayed, and American Bang reminded me of just how much of a good time a good-natured, no-frills rock concert can be. Between shows I met the singer from Delta Spirit whilst talking to some Red Bull friends.

My favorite new band of the night were the Shackletons, a kind of neo-punk band from Chambersburg, PA. I stood in the front row for this one. I've always found small-town Pennsylvanians to be some of the most agreeable people on earth, and by golly, the Shackeltons didn't disappoint. Adding to the greatness of the music was the ecstatic, trembling performance of singer Mark Redding. He spent half the show bouncing around on the precariously tipsy subwoofers that stood immediately in front of the stage - talk about tension. They held, though, and at one point he reached out and shook my hand.

White Ghost Shivers took the stage next. These guys I can't say enough about. They are at the top of the Austin music heap and draw huge crowds--and their music sounds like it should be about 80 years out-of-date. Instead, it's entirely fresh. They call their style "hokum," a mix of Dixieland jazz and Vaudevillian theatre. The theatre is the thing; listening to a recording of the Shivers doesn't capture the sheer joy of the performance. It's more musical revue than anything. The Cast of Characters (among others):
-Cella Blue - Vocals and skirt-lifting
-Smokebreak Slemenda - Vocals and lead guitar (actually, he never ever takes a smoke break; he plays the entire show with a lit cigarette stuffed between his pick-hand fingers)
-Shorty Borgasm - A seven-foot tall banjo player with a predilection for fake moustaches and the brier.
I've seen the Shivers twice now, and I would gladly pay to see them again.

Anthony showed up at about 3:30, but was only able to catch Dragonette, the last act. Time of departure: 4something.

A couple of day 2 highlights @ my Tumblog.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

SXSW: Romancing the Sound

From now until I'm done, I'll be posting musical highlights from SXSW on my Tumblog and have the finished product on my Muxtape.

I made the mistake of driving downtown during South by Southwest the first day I went. I spent 45 minutes and $10 before I found a spot and missed DeVotchKa at MPR/the Current's showcase. Oh well. First real stop: the Paste/Stereogum Dell Lounge for performances by Colour Revolt and Delta Spirit. Colour Revolt didn't impress, but Delta Spirit put on a worthy show. Of course, by the time Delta Spirit went on, I had discovered that the good people from Paste were offering free Southern Comfort cocktails, so perhaps I was more receptive.

After Delta Spirit, I wandered down to Auditorium Shores--an outdoor venue situated on the river/lake with an immediate view of downtown Austin as the backdrop--for Del the Funky Homosapien and the main event: Spoon. As the sun went down and the lights of downtown Austin came on, I stopped watching the band and focused on the big screen. Almost every shot featured the illuminated downtown skyline as the backdrop. Captivating.

After Spoon, I met up with my roommate Anthony to head down to the Red Bull Moon Tower. What's a Moon Tower? We weren't sure. We did know, however, that this was to be an exclusive, private party, and we were on The List. The Moon Tower turned out to be an all-night showcase of good music, fun video, and free adult beverages. Musical highlights: a DJ called BT and a trio known as Brazilian Girls. Brazilian Girls took the best of electronica, drum&bass, and pop and smooshed them together into a thumping good time. It was impossible to stand still. Brazilian Girls are a keyboard/laptopist, a really sick live drummer, and a female singer in a tutu (we agreed that tutus are really quite underrated). Irresistable.

Time of departure from the Moon Tower: 4:30am.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Quick Plug for the Pure

Dudes, I just found a sweet company serving up DRM-free mp3: Puretracks. Now, I know that there are other DRM-free sites out there (including Amazon), but allow me to make a case for the Pure and suggest that you look 'em up.

Here's why I like Puretracks:

1. They encode EVERYTHING at 192kbps. 192's the place where storage economy and sound quality meet and play nice. It's what I use for ripping CDs.

2. DRM-free means I can put their mp3s on my iPod with ease. No compatibility issues; no problems at all. Also: unlimited burning.

3. The songs download lighting-fast. I pulled down Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" (a 5.3MB file) in one second. One Friggin' Second, ya'll. No exaggeration.

4. Puretracks is Canadian. That means
(a) now that the USD is back on top of the Canadian dollar, a 99-cent song only costs 97 cents. And it can only get better right?
(b) The licenses are legit. This ain't grey-market, quasi-legal Russian stuff; it's easy on the conscience.
(c) And this is the kicker: Awesome customer service. They respond quickly (sometimes within 10 minutes). They're super friendly. I screwed up my order twice, and they fixed it for me both times. The first time, they emailed the song I needed directly to me as an attachment. The second time, they gave me a PIN number for a free download. Excellent.

UPDATE: Now for the bad news--it's hard to tell whether you're getting the clean version or the original. I ended up with the sanitized version of Winehouse's "Back to Black." Now I gotta buy it AGAIN.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Falling in Love Again

March 8 & 9, 2008: My little bro Caleb gigs with the Des Moines symphony, playing a bit part in a classical concert as part of an orchestral experiment known as Sympho. The conductor: Paul Haas, a young classical director who's quickly making a name for himself. Sympho's mission: make classical relevant again. The execution: REWIND, a 90-minute, non-stop stream of pieces blended almost seamlessly to keep the audience engaged. "Almost," because at wholly appropriate intervals, the live instrumentation yielded to the electronica stylings of Paul Fowler, who recorded the live sounds, replayed and remixed them with fly-by-wire distortion. The show--for it was a show; with the main orchestra on stage, Mr. Fowler lurking below with his laptop and board, and a small breakaway ensemble sitting behind the audience--was nothing short of wonderful.

And I was there. That was Sunday. Little did I know that Sympho would be the first of many musical coquettes that I would meet this past week. After a couple days in Des Moines, I drove back to Austin with the hope of catching some free day parties at South by Southwest. That hope would be surpassed by the most incredible week of courting live music I've ever experienced. After years spent lacking much in the way of real passion for music, I think I'm falling in love again.

Next time: the Paste Magazine/Stereogum Lounge, Del the Funky Homosapien, and more.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sundry Austin Updates

1. Housing: I haz it. My buddy Ben White, the only friend I had in Austin, hooked me up with some nice Christian dudes in the north ATX. I embodied Guy-on-the-couchdom for a few weeks, then painted, added furniture to, and moved into an actual bedroom. Currently sleeping on an air mattress borrowed from Ben.

2. Classes: The day after initial registration, I went back to my department advisers, found that the classes I wanted now had open spots, and rearranged my sched to be much more useful. The times ain't exactly ideal, but the classes themselves are, at least in terms of getting a degree. I really enjoy my Chaucer and biology classes.

3. Job: No job. (It's time for another Good Idea: Bad Idea). I all but sealed the deal at Houston's (where I needed the "Five" words--and had to take an intelligence test), but my funky class schedule is such that they can't get me thru training. The manager invited me to come back once class gets out, and even recommended a few other restaurants for me to try. But the rigors of room remodeling and spring-breaking have prevented me from getting something else.

4. Fun Texas fact: The Texas capitol building in Austin is taller than the US Capitol in DC. Do you suppose that's intentional, hmm?

Saturday, February 02, 2008


I'm applying for a job at a restaurant in Austin. Question #1 on the application: What five words would you say describe you best? "I want to work here"?

Help me get a job! Click here: My Johari Window.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Ultimate Mail-Rental Service

How many times has this happened to you: you've watched all your Netflix movies, played all your GameFly games, and now you're sitting around the house bored out of your arse. "Movies and games are great," you think, "but I could go for a book right now. Yeah, something to knead the old noggin would be great." But you've read all the books you own. What to do?

Well, wonder no more. Now there's a Netflix for books! Yessir, now you'll never get bored as you rent books through the mail with! Can you believe nobody's thought of this until now? What an epoch we live in! But wait, How much does cost you wonder? Well, fear not for thy financial portfolio; plans start at just $9.99 for unlimited book rentals. That includes paperbacks! The literature of the ages is all yours for less than ten bucks a month at!

As cool as this sounds, I gotta admit, sometimes I wish there was a low-tech solution to burdensome post-modern problems like where to get my book fix. You know? Gosh, it'd be nice if there was a brick-and-mortar place like where one could rent books. Call me a dreamer.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

25,000,000 Songs - Free

From the London Times:

"After a decade fighting to stop illegal file-sharing, the music industry will give fans today what they have always wanted: an unlimited supply of free and legal songs.

With CD sales in free fall and legal downloads yet to fill the gap, the music industry has reluctantly embraced the file-sharing technology that threatened to destroy it. Qtrax, a digital service announced today, promises a catalogue of more than 25 million songs that users can download to keep, free and with no limit on the number of tracks.

The service has been endorsed by the very same record companies - including EMI, Universal Music and Warner Music – that have chased file-sharers through the courts in a doomed attempt to prevent piracy. The gamble is that fans will put up with a limited amount of advertising around the Qtrax website’s jukebox in return for authorised use of almost every song available.

The service will use the 'peer-to-peer' network, which contains not just hit songs but rarities and live tracks from the world’s leading artists."

Get it here starting at 11pm tonight:

Sadly, no Mac version until March, and no iPod compatibility until April.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Logging on as a Longhorn, Part II

I've been in Austin for a few days now, and although I'm exhausted, I'm excited. Finding an apartment in this town is a pretty rigorous task, and registering for classes today was absolutely draining. But dang it, Austin is cool. Austin makes you feel like YOU are cool.

My housing budget doesn't buy much. Everything I can afford is either...

(1) in an area with 2-6 times the crime of the average neighborhood, (check out the handy Austin census map with corresponding crime statistics sheet; Tract 23.11 is where all the student "resort" apartments are located),

(2) an apartment complex that has changed ownership several times in the last few years and gets no better than 38% recommendation on (I saw the phrase "My own death would be better than living in this hell of hells" at least once),

(3) many, many miles away from campus in a city with an acute traffic problem and no rail system,

(4) a place where there is dirty dancing every Thursday night and "skankin' is mandatory" or

(5) some combination of the above.

However, I have a friend or two asking around on my behalf, and there may be options with trusted individuals.

Several elements of the UT registration experience made it one of the best (read: worst) registration experiences of my life. All the classes I need to take are only offered MWF 9am or TR 9:30am. Seriously. One cannot take a full load that way. Also, very, very few classes meet at the same time in the same room every class period. Most go something like this: MW 9am room X, R 9:30am room Y. Of course, I am only speaking of the approximately .01% of classes that are not closed or waitlisted. This is the easy part. But I like a challenge, so I neglected to have Wheaton send my transcript to UT, and the two courses I took at Wheaton that are absolutely critical to my major(s) at UT are in limbo. Maybe they'll transfer, maybe they won't. So I get to plan two schedules: one for if the Wheaton classes transfer, another for if they don't. Hooray!

But the UT campus is great. It actually has a (mostly) unified architectural theme! The library is among the biggest in the nation! There's a Chick-fil-A on campus! The girls are gorgeous! The quality of the faculty is pretty impressive (the late Robert Solomon taught here). It's pretty easy to avoid taking classes from grad students. The UT advising staff is top-notch. The lone philosophy adviser is especially cool and laid-back.

Laid-back is a way of life in Austin. That phrase appears more often in Austin housing classifieds than "grace" does in the Pauline epistles. I've met some pretty interesting people in the past week, among them an ambitious director from Monterrey and a writer attempting to create a "secular urban monastery" near downtown. It always feels like there's something fun or interesting just around the corner, whether it's a coffee shop that buys its beans from the Dominican Republic and actively supports education there or a Patricia Vonne concert at the Continental Club. I've found myself listening to KUT, the NPR-affiliated station where at midnight you will hear the seasoned voice of Larry Monroe say, "I'm Larry Monroe, and I'm here to play some records for you." I've never really been able to get into NPR until now. It just seems appropriate, a fitting soundtrack to the Austin experience. Austin makes you feel cool.