Happy New Year

Not much to report today. Tommy and I woke up early, played 18 in the mud, scalped a couple of tickets to the Alamo Bowl, and watched Texas eke out a win over Iowa.

I'm not sure how I feel about Saddam's execution. If any man deserved to die for his crimes, it is Saddam - he was an evil dictator who modeled himself after Josef Stalin, from ordering the deaths of hundreds of thousands of dissenters to the way he wore his moustache. That said, since I heard the announcement of Saddam's hanging on NPR this morning, this passage from Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring replays in my head:

What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature [Frodo declares] when he had a chance!"

"Pity? [Gandalf replies] It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that [Bilbo] took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity."

"I am sorry" said Frodo. "But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity for Gollum."

"You have not seen him," Gandalf broke in.

"No, and I don’t want to," said Frodo. ". . . Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death."

"Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, or good or Ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many -- yours not least."

If you asked me five years ago what I think of the death penalty, I would have replied that I supported it on practical grounds as a deterrent that reduced murder rates and actually saved lives in the bargain. Now, I'm not so sure. When it costs more in legal appeals to give someone the death penalty than to give them life in prison, that's not practical (The Iraqis streamlined the appeal process, apparently). When a poor man is much more likely to receive the death penalty than a rich man for the same crime because he can't afford to hire a good lawyer to defend him, it insinuates a real plutocratical bias in our legal system. And putting aside practical matters, is it morally tenable for the state to take someone's life, even if they have it coming. As Clint Eastwood said in Unforgiven, "It's a hell of a thing killing a man; you take away all he has, and all that he is going to have." At the very least, I think we need to look foundationally at how we administer the death penalty in this country, and if we can't do it right, we shouldn't do it at all.

Based on the Bible, I think you can take either side of the death penalty debate, though I think that Jesus was probably against it. That said, I firmly believe that there is a judgement worse than death for unregenerate monsters like Saddam, and the judgement of God is a fearful thing. However, to revel in his hanging seems sick to me, and as a someone who believe that there is no person beyond hope of the redemption that I've experienced in Christ, I wish he had taken what little time he had left to repent. In the end, I guess I do feel pity for Saddam, and I find that little fact strangely encouraging...

Happy New Year, and Godspeed in 2007, my friends.



Christmas Photo Dump

OK, let's try this again...

Wolfy expresses his dominance over my bike.

Wolfy in the looking glass.

This is Eclipse. He is now ten years old, and my mom considers him the best cat she's ever had. I think Wolfy would be more like Eclipse if I lived somewhere where I could let him outside more.

From left to right - my sister Laura, my Mom, and my sister-in-law Erica at my folks' place on Christmas Eve.

My grandmother (raging into her 80's like Vince in the open field), and my dad next to her.

A belated Merry Christmas (and, as it would seem, Boxing Day.). May peace on earth and goodwill to men come right soon.


Blogger Issues

I was going to post some Christmas photos, but Blogger doesn't seem to be cooperating. Maybe later.

Had a good Christmas holiday - we had immediate family Christmas on 24 December, and extended family Christmas on 25 December. The Cowboys game could have gone better, but otherwise, no complaints...

The week between Christmas and New Year's is my favorite week of work all year. Everyone else is out, so it gives me an opportunity to catch up without receiving phone calls requesting help with the latest crisis.

This Saturday, Tommy and I are playing a golf course in New Braunfels, and I'll get to see how a power line I designed last year affects play. We are then going to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, where (hopefully) the Longhorns will defeat a mediocre Iowa team. I'm planning to go to Houston after that to celebrate New Year's with Chris and Eileen Hairel and a few other friends. Should be as much fun as Houston can possibly be...

Happy Boxing Day!


ESPN Story of the Year

The Link

It looks like #10 for Texas beat #10 for France, but no surprise there - Texas is bigger than France. The accompanying video caused it to get a little dusty in here...


Saw Rocky Balboa...

...at Alamo Drafthouse and had a great time. It was better than I expected. Some highlights:

1) When Eric and I walked into the theater, they were playing a scene from Rocky III where Rocky was fighting Hulk Hogan. A solid 85 on the Unintentional Comedy scale. This was followed by a...

2) ...raw-egg drinking contest. A girl from the audience tried to get in on it, but (to the consternation of the crowd) was turned away for want of more boxing gloves. Yeah, it doesn't make much sense to me either.

3) Before the movie, we saw trailers from the first four Rockys (Rockies?), and something called Rocky V (I think it was a spoof or something). I had almost forgot that Rocky pretty much singlehandedly ended the Cold War. This set the perfect tone...

4) ...for Rocky Balboa. Perhaps it's a case of low expectations, but I really enjoyed the whole movie, and wasn't disappointed in any way. The story is uplifting (if predictable), and as odd as Stallone looks as Rocky, you can't help but root for him. I don't mind mentioning that I teared up at least three times, and cheered (along with everyone else) a couple of times too. It's that kind of movie.

5) The fight scene was spectacular. Stallone held his own with former champ Antonio Tarver, and the camerawork was well-done. Due to the decline of the sport, good boxing matches are pretty rare in our time. I have the first Holyfield-Tyson on videotape, and the recent Corrales-Castillo fight (which is worth every penny at $1.99 on iTunes), and both will run chills down your spine. I would put the in-movie fight in the same league.

6) The coup de resistance - On the way out, I took advantage of the opportunity to punch the side of beef. Sporting the Rocky look of a grey sweatshirt and a black toboggan, I put on a good enough performance to elicit some cheers from the people waiting in line. If you ever get the chance, don't punch too hard - apparently, a Drafthouse waitress broke fingers on both hands after working the side of beef yesterday. To me, it felt like punching wet concrete. If my hands weren't made of granite, I could have really hurt myself...

(Don't act like you're not impressed.)

And thus begins the Christmas Holiday. That's all for now - Gonna Fly Now...

Bum Steers

One of the highlights of living in Texas are the annual "Bum Steer" awards, handed out every December by Texas Monthly to honor the most dubious achievements of Texans. Past winners include Anna Nicole Smith, Ross Perot, and George W. Bush. This year's cover is one of the best I can remember. Even if you aren't a Texan (nobody's perfect), I think you'll get a kick out of them.


OK, so I finally saw Grey's Anatomy...

...and I've figured it out - identical premise to Ally McBeal (Centered around angst-ridden yuppie woman, office full of other attractive angst-ridden co-workers, quirky plots and love triangles galore), but in a doctor's office. I liked Ally McBeal (My old roommate Chris Hairel got me hooked on it), but like Grey's Anatomy, it slid in quality after a couple of seasons.

So with that out of the way, allow me to discuss something near and dear to my heart...

The early reviews on Rocky Balboa have actually been pretty good. The first Rocky is probably one of my ten favorite films. It features a gritty mid-70's Philadelphia, Stallone before he became a star and maybe the most effective fight scene ever. It even won an Academy Award. Rocky is the quintessential uplifting underdog movie - it gets dusty in the room everytime I watch it.

Eric and I plan to go see Rocky Balboa Thursday night at Alamo Drafthouse, where they will afford us the opportunity to punch a side of beef, compete in a raw egg eating contest and view trailers from all four of the previous Rocky films (It's a well-known fact that Rocky V never happened, much like Star Wars Episodes I-III never happened.). It may even be a good occasion for a diary. I haven't done a diary in awhile. Hmmm...


A Very Personal Honour

I just wanted to let you guys know of a great honour bestowed on me this week. Apparently, I'm Time's Person of the Year...

...and so are you! Everyone's a winner!

I played golf this morning with Aaron, and I needed it - there's been a lot to deal with this week. In general, I need to take more time to relax. As of Friday, I would say that my job has been crazier than normal every week since March - I've essentially completed four major projects in that time, and have learned more than in any period of my career so far. It's worn me down, though. Fortunately, things will settle down for about three weeks. I may take a couple of days off and play some golf. I love golf...


Here's Some Hump Day...

...Unintentional Comedy for you:

David Hasselhoff in fine form.

A memorable performance by Shatner.

And finally, the volleyball scene from Top Gun.

That's all I've got for now...


This kind of behavior disturbs me...

The Link

Ryan and Eric were talking about this earlier today. Apparently, there are plans to build a mosque in Katy, Texas (a suburb of Houston), and there are many in the community who are upset about it. The man who owns the land next to the mosque is even proposing to hold pig races on Fridays for the expressed purpose of offending those building the mosque.

Where do I begin?

The Pilgrims and those who followed them across the Atlantic came to America to practice religion freely. This right is guaranteed in the Constitution for everyone, including Muslims. So long as they mean me no harm, I support the right for anyone to practice whatever religion they choose, because it means that I will be afforded the same right to freely worship. Many Islamic countries persecute those who practice other religions (and especially Christianity), with jail and even death as consequences. If American Christians would like this to change, one way we can do so is by setting an example in how we treat Muslims here.

Craig Baker should get past this misunderstanding and learn to be a good neighbor.


The Point in the Conspiracy Piece...

...is that no matter who we are, the reasons we have for what we believe are not entirely rational. Whether we believe in evolution or Christianity (and the two are not mutually exclusive), that 9/11 was an inside job, that the world is warming due to human activity, that the War on Terror is a essentially a law-enforcement operation (like John Kerry did in 2004) or a long-term struggle against nation-states (as Dubya did and still does), what we believe is a matter of the heart every bit as much as it is a matter of the head.

That's not to say we cannot marshall evidence to support what we believe - even in my fallacious Delaware theory, I was able to cite accurate information that supported my conclusion. G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis make compelling philosophical cases for the Christian faith in Orthodoxy and Mere Christianity, respectively, but both men, though among the most brilliant who ever lived, became Christians in a moment of revelation (Lewis's happened as he rode in the sidecar of a motorcyle). Their faith was not a matter of mental assent to a self-evident truth - it was a commitment of the heart to the object of their faith, the Creator of the Universe.

One of my favorite Scriptures comes from the book of Ecclesiastes, right after the "To everything, there is a season" passage. It goes, "He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end." I believe that we all possess within us a yearning to experience something bigger than ourselves, and that that yearning was placed there for a reason. It is the impulse that leads us to believe in God, and to seek to understand His nature. It is the desire for transcendance.

I read a report recently that more Gen-Xers are becoming materialistic yuppies, just like their parents. This disheartened me - the defining virtue of our generation has been the rejection of Boomer materialism, and a desire for something genuine in its place - something, dare I say, transcendant (Chuck Klosterman writes a great essay exploring this idea by way of Star Wars in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.). It disheartens me more that, in all honesty, I am one of those yuppies, sitting in a well-appointed living room in a house that is too big for what I need (even if the staircase is imminently suitable for an engineer of my position, being neither too shallow nor too steep.). It's as if we've given up. I wish we could set aside our well-founded cynicism of the world, adopt the position that it can be changed, and as Gandhi said, "be the change we wish to see in the world."

This, in short, is why I want to go into city planning - I have a desire to see more good communities, and that I can help this happen by applying good design, good management practices, and good policy. Of course, unless I know meaning for the word "good," that last sentence ceases to make sense. For philosophers, the "good" is "that for which we aim." Though we all aim for different things, I believe that there are some goods which are transcendant, for we all should aim, and that these goods cannot be discovered solely through practical means. There's a "mojo" factor, a gut feeling, something God places in us that leads us to virtues like goodness, truth, and beauty where pure reason cannot, and to make the tough decision to do the right thing. In other words, "Eternity in our hearts."


Conspiracy Theories

Yesterday, Ralph, our resident conspiracy theorist at work, sent out an email containing pictures he took of jet trails in the sky over Austin at dusk. He contended in the email that some of the jet trails in the picture displayed abnormal properties, and were actually chemtrails, or vapors released from a plane as part of a biological weapon experiment on the American civilian population by the military-industrial complex. This is the latest in a long line of such theories that Ralph has shared with us, most of them centered on the notion that 9/11 was an inside job.

Personally, I see these theories as kooky fantasies pushed by a lunatic fringe with a vested financial interest in selling their theories to those who tired of looking for the man on the grassy knoll, but I can't fault Ralph that much for believing so strongly in these ideas (Even if it takes all of 7 seconds on Google to find information that definitively debunks them). You see, I have my own conspiracy theories systematically developed over many years to explain the world. They make for great dinner conversation, and when the truth is known, I know they will withstand the highest scrutiny. Perhaps I should share a few of them with you...

Armadillos do not exist. You may ask, "How can this be true when dead armadillos are as common as mailboxes on Texas roads?" I believe that armadillos do not exist for two reasons. First, the dead armadillos you think you see are in fact a combination of deer meat and pebbled vinyl. They are planted there by the Texas Department of Transportation as part of a program that controls deer population, feeds buzzards in rural areas, and creates a state icon as compelling as the Loch Ness Monster. Also, if you've ever seen a "live" armadillo scurry through your campsite, you just know that they must be animatronic robots, because no living creature could possibly be that stupid.

Delaware doesn't exist. In my travels, I have met thousands of people from virtually everywhere - Nigeria, Brasil, Finland, Wyoming, and even Lamesa. The one place I have never met anyone from is Delaware. There is a good reason for this - there is no state of Delaware. The history books will tell you that Delaware does exist, and that Delaware of all the states first ratified the Constitution in December of 1787. What that tells me is that our Founding Fathers, many of whom were part of clandestine societies like the Skull and Bones, created "Delaware" for some secret purpose.

What might this secret purpose be? Look at your credit card bill. No matter what kind of card it is, chances are you send your payments to Wilmington, Delaware. I think the Founding Fathers created "Delaware" as a sort of secret financial clearinghouse for the country, perhaps to save on interest payments to the Dutch. Consequently, a class of elites pocketed the profits, and continued to expand their power base. "Delaware" initially resided in a red-brick row house in Philadelphia, and through the next two hundred years moved from city to city. Today, "Delaware" is most likely an enormous warehouse (like one of those Wal-Mart distribution centers) full of computers and situated somewhere near the New Jersey Turnpike. In the future, I'm guessing they move "Delaware" to India to save on overhead.

Starbucks laces their coffee with cocaine. How else can you explain the instant high you obtain from a Venti Nonfat Irish Creme Latte, and that tens of millions of Americans habitually spend $5 for a cup of this coffee everyday?

The Cheesecake Factory Law - This law states that if a restaurant appoints its interior with dark wood paneling and dim light, their prices will be at least double what they would be otherwise. We thought this one up as we were celebrating Larry's birthday at Capitol Brasserie last night. I name it in honor of the Cheesecake Factory for its exorbitant prices and mediocre food. I consider this one a "Law" because I think it's ironclad.

Fry's Electronics models their stores after Casinos. You walk in. No windows. No clocks. Bright, shiny things capture your attention and beguile you to spend your money. You can easily get lost roaming the aisles, and lose any concept of budget to a sense of spatial disorientation. By the time you walk the "Gauntlet of Crap", you will have dropped way more jack than you intended. I wonder how much of the stock in Fry's is held by Harrah's...

There are no unattractive Scandanavians. On the way back from my last Russia trip, we stopped off in Stockholm for the night. I fell in love with the city - clean canals, good food, great climate, impeccable architecture. What struck me most was the fact that all of the people, whether children, middle aged couples, or older women, were really attractive. No one was overweight, and they all had nice skin and sweet faces. It was uncanny, as if the IKEA aesthetic had been applied to the Swedish people too. This theory also applies to the many Finnish people I met in Russia. I don't know if it has anything to do with universal health care, rich grainy breads, or extremely high taxes, but I would love to know why this is so.

By the way, this is what I looked like as I walked the streets of Stockholm:

It would make for a nice Christmas card, no?

The Truth of Roswell. The Roswell "Alien" landing and subsequent cover-up is the granddaddy of all conspiracy theories. It spawned a culture of Spielberg movies about aliens and the better years of the X-Files. However, the truth about the mysterious incident has never been revealed...

...Until now. The alien landing was an elaborate hoax by the Roswell Chamber of Commerce to manufacture a tourism industry. Otherwise, what other reason would there possibly be to go to Roswell? Fifty-nine years later, the Roswell brand name is so well-established that gullible people (like my dad) will eschew time in gorgeous places like Taos or Santa Fe to drag their wives into the middle of the desert to visit "UFOlogists" and buy kitschy alien "merchandise" on their vacations. The periodic (and accurate) government denials of the incident only add to the Roswell Mystique - everyone is convinced that the government is hiding something. No one wonders if the people who are really hiding something are the merchants profiting from the whole thing. As Deep Throat said, "Follow the money."

That's all I've got for today. Try to go easy on that Starbucks...



Jeff left me two messages today. He is doing a Pharmacy rotation at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, and apparently, Chuck Norris came by to visit the burn unit.

That's right - Chuck Norris. I obviously can't go through a day where one of my friends personally saw Chuck Norris and not talk about it. Here's what Jeff had to say about Chuck Norris:

1) Chuck's wife is about three inches taller than Chuck is.

2) Chuck is a fine-looking man.

That's all I've got. Remember, when Chuck Norris falls in water, Chuck Norris doesn't get wet - Water gets Chuck Norris.



I met a few friends and a few thousand fellow Austinites at the Capitol steps last night to sing Christmas carols and light the Capitol Christmas tree. John Aeilli, the host of Eklectikos on KUT, led us, and did a great job. The atmosphere was peaceful and fun - it reminded me of the Christmas parties I went to as a kid.

We strolled down Congress Avenue afterwards and listened to a variety of street musicians, including a techno-rock group performing the Nutcracker, a jazz quartet, clog dancers and a Spanish dancing group. We stopped at the Austin Museum of Art and viewed a collection of New York Avant Garde work from the 1950's to the 1970's. It wasn't our style (I think most people have realized the downside to anarchy in 2006), but I guess all art can't appeal to everyone.

Not too much else going on - I'm working on grad school applications the next few weeks. I've settled on City Planning or City Management for reasons that I'll probably elaborate on later. All advice is welcome and appreciated...