Thursday, February 23, 2006

Flash News

Given my last few posts, it'd be easy to think this is about a guy who runs real fast. But this is more about my liberal leanings and the fact I'm a recovering journalist. The news has been piling up lately, and it's much too complex to comment on all of it, so here are some stories you shouldn't let slip through the cracks:

Violence After Mosque Attack Kills 111

By ALEXANDRA ZAVIS, Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Gunmen shot dead 47 civilians and left their bodies in a ditch near Baghdad Thursday as militia battles and sectarian reprisals followed the bombing of a sacred Shiite shrine. Sunni Arabs suspended their participation in talks on a new government.

At least 111 people were believed killed in two days of rage unleashed by Wednesday's attack on the Askariya shrine in Samarra, a mostly Sunni Arab city 60 miles north of Baghdad.

This makes me sadder than I can say. And while the story uses the phrase "sectarian violence," "sectarian reprisals" and so on, what we're really talking about here is civil war. What is almost as appalling as the deteriorating situation in Iraq is the total lack of leadership in the United States.

Christian Movement Moving Into Palmetto State

By Ron Barnett, USA TODAY

Turning the state into a promised land for conservative Christians will be easier than he had thought, he says.

Burnell, a 30-year-old financial adviser and founder of Christian Exodus, believes thousands of religious conservatives across the USA agree with him when he says their influence on government is diluted by liberals and Republicans who have failed to do what mainstream Americans elected them to do.

The answer he came up with in late 2003: Move like-minded Christians to one state: South Carolina.

This is funny and scary all at the same time, especially when they let it drop that secession from the U.S. is an option they're willing to consider. So, they want to form their own nation based on religious dogma. Don't they know we've already got an "Iran?"

Mysterious Ball Lightning Created in the Lab

Ker Than
LiveScience Staff Writer

Ball lightning is one of the most mysterious phenomena in nature. Now scientists have created a laboratory version of the eerie floating orbs using technology taken from a common microwave oven.

OK - that's just cool.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Birth of a Salesman

Tell me if this sounds familiar: A preciously cute little urchin comes up to you - to your front door, in your office, whatever - and viciously kicks you in the nuts.

Ha! No, I kid. Actually, the tiny ragamuffin is carrying a bulky cardboard box with built-in handles and filled with cheap-ass chocolate in a familiar white-and-foil wrapping.

It's fund-raising time again.

And it's a little misleading to say "cheap-ass chocolate" when this relatively thin brick of cocoa sets me back a buck. A buck! As Lopez pointed out, I could get a couple of Kit Kats out of the machine for not much more. Heck, a Twix even.

But I understand - kids need T-shirts. I needed T-shirts too, y'know. A bright yellow one, and a dark red cap to bring the whole ensemble together because I would've looked pretty dorky to be the only one in the parade wearing Garanimals. It was bad enough looking dorky in seventh and eighth grade anyway (I won't even get into the high school years), but looking dorky while tooting on your trombone is even worse.

I wish that last part was just a euphemism.

To pay for all this spiffy wardrobe, I had to sell candy. Lots and lots of candy. And, amazingly to me, the exact same candy Little Frankie just shook me down for! If anyone from the World's Finest Chocolate company is reading, I'm ready. I want to be a part of your worldwide choco-mafia. I want to give the word to my middle school lieutenants, sending my little soldiers to the streets armed with our humorously misnamed wares and almond bombs. Like your wrapper says, you've been fund raising since 1949. Time-Warner and Ticketmaster are a bunch of amateurs. Teach me, my dark masters ...

Back to the story: In my day, I sold a lot of chocolate. It's not that I was a great salesman or anything, I just did a lot of walking. And I'm sure my parents and family and all their friends did their part. And I sold a lot to people at school, who were supposed to be selling their own candies. Honestly, I don't know how we made any money.

But I suppose we did, because when the Thanksgiving parade came around we knew how to play "Cherry Rock" and bravely wore our thin yellow T-shirts under our heavy coats because it was snowing. We got a little pin of whatever instrument we played, too, and that was kind of cool.

It was better than Spring, because that's when we suddenly dropped chocolate for laminated posters. Lame, lame posters. That didn't sell for crap.

So when I see a kid trying to unload a box full of overpriced sweets, I'm only too happy to shell out some bucks if I've got it on me. Even though I've been called ... what's the word? ... oh, cheap. Memory has faded on many things, but not on days filled with sweaty dollar bills and the stress of a closed door. Frankie didn't say why he needed the dough, but he's welcome to it.

Besides, there's a coupon for Sonic on the back of the wrapper. And that's better than a kick in the nuts.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Err ...

One of us will write something soon. I swear. Probably tomorrow. I'm working on answering those e-mails, too. Honest.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Diabetes and tooth decay rolled into one

I was going to write this long - probably long-winded - post, but when I thought about it, it really boils down to one simple thing. It's this:

I love my wife. I love her very, very, very much. It's a million individual things that, if I told you about them, probably wouldn't seem very significant but, for me, add up to her. And that's everything.

Love is too small a word.

I just wanted to say that.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Was he a Democrat?

Pastel asked when I told him about the VP's unsuccessful attempt at human hunting. 'I don't know,' I said. 'All I know is that he's from Austin.' So, probably ... yes.

And now the facts (the Al Franken way):

Cheney Shoots Guy

Over the weekend, Vice President Dick Cheney shot a man in Texas. Asked why he shot the man, the Vice President said, "Just to watch him die."

Seriously, it was an accident. There is nothing funny about the Vice President of the United States shooting a guy.

You know who's doing a "there but for the grace of God go I?" Scalia.

Bush is confused. He thinks Wittington is just fine. He thought he read a headline saying "Wittington Dodges Bullet."
Now, I imagine that Cheney and the President have hunted together. What would have happened if Cheney had shot the President? I think if he shot Bush this way, Bush isn't 78 and he's in pretty good shape, and he's kinda macho. I think he would've gotten up and shot Cheney back. And I think they would've started blasting each other like in a Tarrantino movie.

By the way, Cheney shouldn't be allowed to hunt again, should he? You get one of these, right? I mean he came very close to killing the guy.

Anyway, be sure to listen to the Al Franken Show tomorrow - noon to three EST. And Vice President Cheney will be our special guest. And guess what? He's bringing his shotgun!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Is it just me?

I'm no math guy, but doesn't this seem to add up to "kinda slimey?" You always hear people saying someone "has no shame," but to actually see it in action is amazing.

From the AP:

Indicted Rep. Tom DeLay, forced to step down as the No. 2 Republican in the House, scored a soft landing Wednesday as GOP leaders rewarded him with a coveted seat on the Appropriations Committee.

DeLay, R-Texas, also claimed a seat on the subcommittee overseeing the Justice Department, which is currently investigating an influence-peddling scandal involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his dealings with lawmakers. The subcommittee also has responsibility over NASA — a top priority for DeLay, since the Johnson Space Center is located in his Houston-area district.

DeLay was able to rejoin the powerful Appropriations panel — he was a member until becoming majority leader in 2003 — because of a vacancy created after the resignation of Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif. Cunningham pleaded guilty in November to charges relating to accepting $2.4 million in bribes for government business and other favors.

Yeah, that's great. Way to go. I'm going to go drink a gallon of Mylanta now.

Monday, February 06, 2006


So I was listening to NPR and something occured to me: When someone asks you for your ID it's innocuous, but if someone tells you they need to see your Identity Card it would be downright Orwellian.


Friday, February 03, 2006

The needle and the damage done

Before me and Lopez! moved from El Paso to Austin, we owned a house. And in spite of all the ass-centric pain that comes with home-ownership, I loved that house. I never watered its lawn, but I loved it

It was a few minutes drive from Downtown, in a historic neighborhood that was quiet and urban at the same time. Wood floors, high ceilings, huge backyard, a sunroom and a half-basement – even more than we could have asked for, seriously.

Even better, our built-in-1928 house had been almost completely refurbished by the previous owner (crazy nutbar – if you know us, you know the stories) so there weren’t any major repairs we had to make.

You sharpie – you noticed the “almost,” didn’t you? Everything had been repaired and updated EXCEPT for the plumbing. Jeez, that friggin’ plumbing, man. If it wasn’t one thing, it was damn well the other, laughing at us for thinking we’d finally gotten a handle on its copper and steel pipes.

There were two major events with the plumbing; one involved having a trench dug, by hand, from the house to the alley. We’re talking CALICHE here. Damn, I feel like I should put Angel the Plumber’s kid through college or something. The other is what we refer to as the Great Flood.

One morning I wandered down to the basement and … aw, shit. At least, I was pretty sure there was some in there, since all that dirty-looking water probably meant our sewage line had backed up. Crap!

In the end, it wasn’t the washing machine like we really, really, really had been hoping it was, and we had to throw away about three-quarters of the stuff we had been storing down there. Out went old paperwork, knick-knacks in warping cardboard and, worst of all, absolutely worst of all, my turntable.

Don’t get the wrong idea – my record player was a late-80s, early 90s style piece of crap stereo. You know the kind. Hollow-sounding speakers. Dual-cassette. C’mon, you know what I’m talking about. Still, it was the only record player I had, and at the time they were already getting hard to find, and if you could find one it was super-expensive because all of a sudden everyone thought they were freakin’ Beck with their two turntables and a microphone.

I still remember letting out a monstrous, chest-deep sigh when I threw it out. Man, I'm sighing just thinking about it.

For the next – what, six, seven years? – I’d look for a record player whenever I was in the electronics department or, more likely, in a second-hand store. And I always had the same problem. Either it was too expensive (department store) or it was too junky looking to be trustworthy (thrift store). Whatever wax I owned or had access to languished, mute and looking at me with shame in its one eye.

“Don’t you love us anymore, Nel?”

Aw, c’mon, you know I do.

“Then why don’t you ever play us anymore? Is it the hissing? The pops? What?”

You know that’s not it – I love those things about you. It’s just, do you know how hard it is to find a record player nowadays? I mean, everybody listens to CDs now. Nobody listens to records anymo … oh …

" … "

Oh, baby, you know I didn’t mean …

That’s usually the part where I’d start crying, so we’ll leave it at that. The point is that last night we went to First Thursday, a monthly shopping party here in Austin. Along a five-block or so stretch of South Congress, all the shops and boutiques stay open late and people set up booths and blankets and sell their hand-made goods and art. Me and Lopez are pretty addicted to First Thursday, and we go almost every month and poke around our favorite stores.

And what did we find at one of these stores? This.

At first I thought it was an amp – I mean, I had just strummed a Hawaiian steel guitar, so I don’t think I’m totally retarded for thinking it was an amp. Lopez saw me eyeing it and said, “What is it?” I said, it’s an amp, duh, but checked the other side of the “$44” tag while I said it.

Holy shit.

I asked the lady who works there if I could get someone to show this to me, because I did not want to screw this up. So Mustache Guy comes over and tells us how, yeah, he just got this in about a week ago and they really just put it out yesterday. He tested it with an old Searchers 45 and it works great. They get record players every once in a while, but they never stay in the store long.

Of course they don’t.

As he’s talking he’s cracking it open until my turntable Venus is sitting there, pearly and cool in its vintageness. Mustache Guy’s record is still in there so he plugs everything in and starts to play it.

God, I love that first fuzzy pop when you drop the needle, almost as if the record player is clearing its throat.

I turned to Lopez, and she already knew. “If you want it,” she said, “it can be your birthday present.”

I’ve never been happier to lug a heavy piece of former school equipment five blocks in my life. And I’ve never been happier that I don’t have a basement.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Office supplies

And now, for no reason at all, here's a random sampling of some of the toys that live in my office. They come alive at night and plot, I'm sure of it.

Oh, and I apologize for the quality of some of these photos, but I like to pretend my office is a dark cave and growl at people who walk too close to my door.

A lot of people don't know this, but Spider-Man can pop 'n lock like a mutha. Go Spidey! Go Spidey!

In another life, this guy was bad news, nearly destroying the entire friggin' multiverse single-handedly. Now he's got a very tiny head. He's not real happy about it.

Oh, Wampa. How I love you. We'll both pretend that's Luke's legbone, 'k?

Off-screen, Jet and Julia are actually married. Jet just wants to eat his pear, maybe watch a little bit of the game, but noooooo, Julia says he can't wait until after the "Late Late Show" to pick up the kids from day-care. Pfft. Women.

My fleet is mighty and swift and we take no prisoners. I mean c'mon, look at the size of these ships, where the hell would we put 'em?