On the eve of my thirtieth birthday...

...I find out that my favorite thing about Houston (not to damn with faint praise) has died. Rest in peace, Marvin Zindler...

Seriously, look through the videos on the ABC13 website. The man was an unqualified legend, and quite possibly the reason television was invented.


Jackson Browne Playlist

When I was growing up, and my family traveled somewhere in the minivan, more often than not, we were listening to a Jackson Browne mix tape that my dad made. My dad loved Jackson Browne. For the rest of us, our thoughts went something like, "OK, he's decent, but all his songs sound the same, and didn't Daryl Hannah dump him for JFK Jr.?"

As time moved on, and I grew to experience the angst of being a single man in my twenties, I listened to the Running on Empty album (which was released in 1977, incidentally) again, and had two revelations:

1) This album resonates with me, and is one of the best I ever heard.

2) Rosie's has a lovely melody. I wonder what it's about...

After Running on Empty, Jackson Browne turned political with his music, and though his heart was probably in the right place, his music suffered artistically. In his twenties though, when he was struggling with relationships, drugs, and life on the road, the man was brilliant. Therefore, since I'll only be experiencing the angst of being a single man in my twenties for a few more days, I offer this playlist of Jackson Browne songs, centered around the entire Running on Empty album.

1) The Pretender - Browne's ballad of how we too readily give up our deepest desires in pursuit of the American Dream.
2) Running on Empty - The Running on Empty album was a live album of new music, most of which took their subject matter from the life of musicians and their crew on the road. This is another "I'm angst-ridden in my twenties" song.
3) The Road - Browne slows it down on this one, which features the fiddle and acoustic guitar.
4) Rosie - As stated before, a simple, beautiful bout the romantic frustrations of the guy on the soundboard. I will say no more.
5) You Love The Thunder - After two slower tracks, Browne rocks out again on the piano and sings of the travails of love. This one is right in his wheelhouse.
6) Cocaine - An old blues cover with familiar subject matter for a touring rock star.
7) Shaky Town - Pass.
8) Love Needs A Heart - More on the travails of love, though this one is a little more hopeful at the end. Of all his love songs, this one resonates with me the most.
9) Nothin' But Time - Since I have nothing to add on this song, let me mention that Kelly Allen, during her Radio DJ days, got a chance to meet Jackson Browne backstage at a concert, and that he was super-nice, and very down-to-earth. After listening to the recent Solo Acoustic album, he really seemed that way in his interaction with the crowd.
10) The Load-Out (Best song on the album, and not on iTunes?) - The incomparable tribute to the roadies, which seamlessly transitions into...
11) Stay - ...a cover of the old classic. Listen for the reaction of the crowd - they are obviously delighted by the surprise.
12) Tender Is The Night - This is the first of three songs I included from Browne's post-1977 period, where his style becomes more adult-contemporary. As usual, his better songs addressed the travails of love.
13) In The Shape Of A Heart - Another breakup song, and a really good one.
14) Sky Blue And Black - The post-Daryl Hannah breakup song, recorded during Browne's early 1990's renaissance. All it took was more misery in his love life to bring him back to form.
15) Lives In the Balance (from Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1) - Not all of Jackson Browne's political music was that bad. This one, written in the Reagan era, eloquently Browne's cynicism of the motives of the powerful, and mourns the effects their policies often have on the common man. I prefer this recently-recorded live version to the studio recording.
16) The Rebel Jesus - Backed by the Chieftains, Browne criticizes the consumerism that most Christians embrace during the Christmas season, and calls on them to show more concern for the poor.
17) The Pretender - An acoustic version of the song from Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1. Just Browne on the piano with an enraptured crowd around him.

The moral of the story - If you want to triumph artistically, have a dramatic love life, and don't get too political in your work...


Harry Potter - Post Mortem

I bought the book at 1:30 AM on Saturday, and read it straight through, finishing at noon. I may have been a little too paranoid that someone would spoil the ending for me, but at least I got it out of the way. Here are some thoughts:

1) Without giving anything away, I can say that Deathly Hallows tied together all of the loose ends left in the first six books, and brought the story to a satisfying conclusion. The book doddles in spots, but the last 150 pages are the best in the series.

2) I think the Harry Potter books are every bit as good as the Lord of the Rings books, Narnia, and the Oz books (my personal favorite as a kid, and I was completely unaware of the parallels to the Election of 1900). They are well-written while still grade-level appropriate, and they grow more intense as Harry and his friends grow up. The setting is a world that is both fantastic and familiar, where young wizards and witches have schoolwork, birthdays, relationships and don't always get it right.

3) J.K Rowling (who shares a birthday with Harry Potter and me too) elaborates on many conflicts in Harry Potter - Good v. Evil, Institutional Inefficiency v. Individual Initiative, Rich v. Poor, and Pride v. Humility. Ultimately, though, Harry Potter is a great myth about Death - what it is, and the many ways we face it or endure it. The books work best at the many points throughout them where Harry must face death himself, or endure the loss of those most close to him. His foil (and mortal enemy) is Lord Voldemort, whose dearest ambition is to live forever. It is their conflict that leads to the ultimate, face-to-face showdown, which is determined by their respective attitudes towards death.

4) Luna Lovegood was my favorite character. I found myself relating to her better than anyone else in the books.

I don't think I spoiled anything so far, so I'll stop now. I promise this is the last Harry Potter post. New playlist coming soon...


Harry Potter's Eve Predictions

Ryan thinks that Harry lives, but Hermione and/or Ron die. I think that Harry dies a hero to defeat Voldemort, and is reunited with his parents, Sirius, and Dumbledore. Other predictions:

1) Dumbledore's brother makes an appearance, and plays a crucial role (he has only shown up briefly in a photo so far).

2) Harry is not a Horcrux, but he'll find one at 12 Grimmauld Place.

3) Ron and Hermione live, and kiss.

4) At least one Weasley dies. I'll guess both Ginny and Percy do.

5) Hagrid dies a glorious death, much like Porthos (the big burly musketeer he resembles).

6) House elves figure prominently in the outcome.

7) So does Godric Gryffindor.

That's all I've got. Let's see if I'm right...



The seventh and final Harry Potter book comes out this Friday at midnight. When it does, I will be waiting in line at the Barnes and Noble with children in costume, their parents, and (probably) a lot of (slightly) older people like me, who've been swept up in a compelling, well-woven story that we don't yet know the ending of. I will then drive home, read through the night, page-by-page, and by that morning, I will know, and know honestly, before the media inevitably spills the beans, the fate of Harry Potter, Voldemort, Hermione, Ron, and the rest. I will then faithfully keep the secret until I run into someone else who knows it, and, checking to make sure no one else is in earshot, proceed to discuss it for hours.

Why do this? Because surprise is the greatest pleasure God grants us in this life, and it's a scarce commodity these days. Chesterton put it this way in Chapter IV of Orthodoxy:

This elementary wonder, however, is not a mere fancy derived from the fairy tales; on the contrary, all the fire of the fairy tales is derived from this. Just as we all like love tales because there is an instinct of sex, we all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment... The world was a shock, but it was not merely shocking; existence was a surprise, but it was a pleasant surprise. In fact, all my first views were exactly uttered in a riddle that stuck in my brain from boyhood.

(Bunny trail - Here's a good article on why Chesterton loved Jane Austen. My own thoughts on the matter are well-known...)

My first responsibility as an Engineer is to anticipate and manage risks, whether they be risks to safety, budget, or reliability of the system. In other words, I am paid, in part, to eliminate surprise. I'm never terribly successful at doing so, and ironically, that's one of the things I love about working in the world of big men with big trucks - things never quite happen as you expect them to. At these times, I work with a group of resourceful people to solve the problem, thinking on my feet, and so far, almost all has ended well.

And I hope all ends well with Harry in his showdown with Voldemort on Saturday morning, but I'm not sure it will. Voldemort is pure evil, and defeating pure evil demands sacrifice. I don't know how it will turn out, but I can't wait to find out...

(And, worst-case, it can't turn out any worse than the last time I waited in line at midnight for something...)


Not for the faint of heart...

Here are some recent pictures from the Running of the Bulls in Spain. I think it's safe to say that the bulls won...


John Adams on the 4th of July

After the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence on the Second of July in 1776, John Adams wrote the following to his wife Abigail:
The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not. (The Book of Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family, 1762-1784, Harvard University Press, 1975, 142).

I read it at our little 4th of July party yesterday, as the Fourth was the day that the "great anniversary Festival" settled on. For all the flaws in this country, and all the shrill bickering in our nation today, the fact remains that we have been blessed by God to live our days in this time, place, and nation. Sam Harris thinks that the world would be a better place if no one believed in God; I think he's a fool, but I'm glad that he's free to think that, and that I'm free to put my faith in Christ. Two nights ago, Keith Olbermann called on George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to resign after Bush pardoned Scooter Libby; as I wondered why he didn't ask the same of Bill Clinton, I was nevertheless happy to live in a country where a former sportscaster can tell the President to resign and wake up free in his bed the next day to do so again.

And why shouldn't we be proud to be Americans? We won back the hot-dog eating title!


An eventful July

Today is the first day of what should be a busy July outside of work. My plans include:

1) A big 4th of July thing at the Birdwell duplex (Was going to be my house, but Jason suggested the duplex for the newly constructed deck deck and its lack of proximity to Brownsville (I didn't realize South Austin was so far, and I live there, but I digress...).

2) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on July 21st. I was turned on to these books by Michele a couple of years ago, and I was hooked. They are terrific - worthy of a long blog post sometime soon. Curious to see if Harry survives...

3) A long motorcycle ride to Leakey, TX, perhaps on the day I turn...

4) ...30. July 31st (which, incidentally, is a birthday I share with Harry Potter). I'm thinking a big party with a lot of good friends and good beer is in order.