March 2008

February 2008 -- 2008 -- April 2008

March 1, 2008


Not a lot yet, as it's taking forever to upload anything, but well, it'll have to do until I get back.

March 2, 2008

Today was our last day in Venice, and we're waiting in the hotel lobby for our train to arrive in about an hour. We didn't do much today, just wandered around, got some pizza, and sat along the Grand Canal eating some chocolate.

Yesterday I got my first free time alone during the trip, and got completely lost in the streets of Venice which was quite fun. I also checked out the Doge's Palace, which was the center of Venitian government hundreds of years ago, and was really interesting.

Venice is also unique in that there are no cars to get run over by. Which is quite nice for how I typically handle crossing streets, I feel I would live longer here probably.

After dinner (pizza, of course!) we went out clubbing. Downtown Venice isn't exactly a nightlife hotspot, but we had a lot of fun, and the music here is *way* better than the states. Actually they played quite a lot of American pop, but it was pop, not rap, so it was a lot of fun.

I've been trying to eat as much gelato as I can while I have the chance, I'm really going to miss that stuff. I also wish I would have brought something to read, I figured I wouldn't have time and it'd save room on packing, but I forgot about all the hours on the plane and on trains. The flight back is going to be pretty brutal, it's an 11 hour hop across the pond to Chicago, then to Dallas, and then to Austin, getting in after 19 hours of traveling.

All in all, Rome was by far my favorite place of the trip. I really like huge cities, and Rome has so much to see and do and is such a cultural center of the world. But I also highly recommend Venice, the canals are really pretty and neat, and I love the crazy confusing streets that make no sense and even the maps don't know where anything is.

This will probably be the last update before I get back to Austin, and it'll take me a while to sort through the 1500+ photos I've taken (including about hmmmm 100 shots of just the various canals here) but I promise to get them up soon. Ciao!

March 5, 2008

And I'm back!

And I'm sick :(

I think I caught something on the plane ride home, which was a whole ordeal in and of itself which I'll explain momentarily as soon as I get done explaining being ill. Anyways, I felt sorta sick on the plane, but I chalked it up to being a very long day of traveling, and when I woke up Tuesday feeling much better I figured that was the case. However I started feeling bad again on my way to bed that night, and then when I woke up this morning it hit me full force.

The sure fire way that I know I'm sick is when my hair starts hurting. Sure I was basically hacking up a lung, my entire body was sore, and I needed to pop some cold/flu pills to function even halfway this morning at work before leaving early in surrender. But once my hair started hurting I knew it was game over. So I went to HEB (which I found out actually does not stand for Here Everything's Better, but is actually named after the founder. Marketing has fooled me again!), but the hair is the definative indicator which says I can't live in denial anymore.

I felt bad for the checkout girl, as when you show up with a basket of flu medicine and two cans of chicken noodle soup, it's kinda obvious that you probably don't want to get too close to the customer.

This is the first time I've gotten sick since I moved to Austin, in fact probably in the last 2 years or so now that I think about it. I got sick all the freaking time as a kid, but I suppose that ended up strengthening my immune system in the end. Eating all that playground sand pays off!

So I wasn't sure whether to write about the election stuff or my last day in Italy and the trip home first, but I think it makes more sense to talk about Italy first, although I don't have all the pictures ready yet.

So our train back to Rome ended up being an hour late, and then it was an uneventful 5 hour train ride back. I love being able to take trains places though, it's cheap, fast, easy, and so much better than driving. After an eventful night which included some awesome hot chocolate and dinner, and a cab driver who was apparently bitter at getting rejected from F1 driving school and took it out by going 90 kph down the tiny streets of Rome and darting in and out of traffic, we left back to the States. Immigration and Customs went smoothly, though it was quite interesting to see the huge difference in how easy it was to get into Italy versus the much more detailed and complicated procedure of getting into the US.

Our flight then from Chicago to Dallas was delayed because apparently a passenger had gotten sick on the earlier flight. My seat looked pretty clean though. And then we sprinted through the terminal at DFW to try to catch the flight to Austin (I felt like I was on the Amazing Race, it was awesome (oh which apparently they lost my audition tape, because they never did call me back about getting on the show)) only to find out it was delayed an hour and a half. And then once we got on, it took almost 3 hours(!!!) of sitting on the tarmac before we took off because we had to wait for de-icing. So we finally got in at about 2:30 in the morning, and I had to take a cab home (and this after Candice had driven all the way to the airport to pick me up, only to have to turn back home as my flight got more and more delayed, I felt really bad having to put her through that). So 26 hours after I left the hotel in Italy, I finally collapsed into bed and called it a night, thankful I had already scheduled the next day off.

The main reasoning for that being of course that yesterday was the Texas primary and caucus! I ended up sleeping in until noon, and then grabbed some BBQ for lunch that I'd been craving. But then I headed out to the downtown headquarters to see how they could best use me in the last few hours. They directed me to the East Austin office, and from there I went with a guy from Idaho to go canvas a neighborhood in north central Austin. Canvassing was really fun, I like it more than phone banking and we met some really cool people. And a lot of No One Home's. I took some photos of the East Austin site, and then one of me next to one of the Obama signs we came across.

Then of course came the caucus, which was quite an ordeal. It is supposed to start at 7:15, but it really starts when the last person in line at 7pm for the primary finishes voting, which mean we didn't start the caucus until about 8:15. The lady running it said that she's been doing this since 1980, and the most she's ever gotten was 30 people. Yesterday 768 showed up. I then hung around to wait for the results so we could find out how many delegates we would get. My precinct ended up going for Obama 67% to 33%, which got us 69 of the 103 delegates up for grabs. And since I stuck around for the results (I finally left about 10:45), I was able to secure a spot as an official Obama delegate for the county convention held at the end of the month. It's doubtful I'll make it all the way to the national convention, but democracy in action is fun! There are all kinds of crazy caucus shennigans though, compounded by HUGE crowds and election officials unfamiliar with how the thing works. Anything from trying to take home caucus results to "correct them" to calling cops and even stories of taking up to 1 in the morning to finish all the paperwork.

And the end result? It looks like Obama is going to win the delegate count in Texas by 3 delegates, and at the end of the day, it's still pretty close to impossible for Hillary to win. She lost most of the lead she had just a few weeks ago in both Ohio and Texas, and the next two primaries (Wyoming and Mississippi) are both expected to go heavily Obama, so in the end it still looks like Obama is going to be the Democratic nominee.

March 10, 2008

I'm still working on photos, I've pared it down to about a 1000, but it's still going to take me a while to find all the really good shots and crop and edit them the way I need to. Plus apparently I can't hold a camera straight in portrait mode to save my life, so I'm going to have to straighten out quite a few of them as well.

This week SXSW kicks off, with over 500 bands invading Austin starting Wednesday. Or well they've already started playing, but the official SXSW music events don't start off for another 2 days. 95% of the one's coming I've never heard of, but that's kind of the point of this festival. There's also a film festival going on right now as part of it, but I haven't had the time to catch up with all of that.

This weekend I went to the Austin Chocolate Festival and basically chocolated myself out. It was held as a fundraiser for the Susan G Komen foundation for breast cancer research (which 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer in their lifetime, I had no idea it was that high!). They had 16 different chocolate vendors giving out samples of their chocolate, and not only had traditional bar chocolate, but also hot chocolate, chocolate milk, chocolate covered nuts, chocolate ice cream, chocolate brownies, chocolate cookies, and even a chocolate dessert pizza (a sugar cookie covered in chocolate sauce with apples and banana's on top, it was simply divine). I ate all I could handle and then put the rest in the take home box which is still full of chocolate. This is why I love Austin, we have all these goofy awesome festivals all the time!

And now for some more Obamarama!

Rolling Stone has a really interesting article about the grassroots nature of Obama's campaign and how it all got started. To quote from the piece: "He is still the same guy who came to Chicago as a community organizer twenty-three years ago. The idea that we can organize together and improve our country — I mean, he really believes that."

Europeans and other across the globe sure seem to like him.

And speaking of international news, the foreign policy experience she's claiming in regardless to the Irish peace process? Not so much after all. It's got to be embarrassing to get called out for lying by a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Her other experience claims don't stack up too well either

Here's an older piece by the NYT that is kind of interesting to read now that we're almost a year out from when that was written.

One of the major (non)news stories of the past week was comments by Samantha Power about her personal feelings toward Hillary. And while she really does have no excuse in what she said, it is the kind of thing that happens when you have Pulitzer Prize winning Harvard professors as your policy advisor, instead of political hacks (a-la Bush and Mike Brown, aka the Katrina "Heck of a job Brownie" guy). There's actually an article from October 2007 where she states "That's the one thing that terrifies me," Ms. Power says. "That I'll say something that will somehow hurt the candidate.". There's another good quote in there about how Obama makes decisions that I think is very telling to the kind of person that he is: "He would bring very different people into the office with very different perspectives. He would watch them argue with one another, and he would play devil's advocate and push back. But then he'd make a decision."

March 18, 2008

So first stuff about SXSW, and then all kinds of Obama news, including crazy pastors and one of the best speeches I've ever read in my life.

SXSW wrapped up on Saturday, but I'm still trying to recover from it. Over 2,000 bands descended onto Austin to play at over 50 different venues downtown for the weekend, and I tried to see as many as I could, although it really is quite impossible to see even a small sampling of them.

There is also a lot of strategy involved, since with a wristband I place second in priority to people with badges, and for a "popular" band (popular being a relative term for SXSW, since 99% of the bands are pretty much unknown to the general public) the venue they're playing in can get full fast. So it's a game to figure out which bands you can just show up for right as they start, and which ones (like Vampire Weekend) you have to show up 2 hours before just to make sure you can get in, and then sit through the two bands that play before them. While also weighing in on the bands you're missing by getting to the other venue early, and then of course the problem of what to do when there are 4 bands you want to see, all playing at the same time. And then having to stand up for basically 7 straight hours every night.

But it's still totally worth it and I loved every second of it. So here's the photos from all the bands I saw. My picks of the festival? Vampire Weekend, The Headlights, Meiko, The Hush Sound, and special awards for best live performances for Rocco Deluca (just look at him play guitar) and British Sea Power (which according to wikipedia the trumpet player for that group was knocked unconscious during a show in January after doing a stage dive, but went ahead and played a show the next night)

And speaking of music, here's a list of the weirdest musical instruments ever created, including a subterranean cave.

So in case you've been living under a rock the last week, a few snippets of video from Obama's longtime pastor have been playing on TV basically non-stop over the weekend, which has caused all sorts of uproar, and rightfully so, among lots of people.

But take a step back and actually think about it for a second. First, most of the sermons in his 35 year career are available on the church's website, and out of 35 years of sermons, we get a little over 2 minutes of inflammatory speech of railing against the injustices of black people and how the government has treated them historically. When actually put into context of a full sermon, it doesn't come off as "An hour full of hate speech" like so many of the comment posts on news stories would have you believe, but as part of making a point related to the bible. This is kind of the same attack a lot of evangelical churches take when decrying America for allowing abortion, gays, and immorality. Of course the normal Sunday sermons of loving your neighbor, loving Jesus, and trying to finding hope in God doesn't get any airplay. Or this one explaining why this women chose the church. Or any discussion on the everyday facts about the church.

Not to mention the fact that Obama has has denounced those statements .

Also Rev Wright is a spiritual adviser, not a political one. And as this piece points out, "Such views are supposed to be troublesome because they signal that Obama agrees with them. But if no one believes that Obama agrees with them, then they’re just the views of some dude who knows Obama, and talks to him about spirituality." Because anyone who listens, reads, or looks up anything at all about Obama clearly sees that the comments in that video do not reflect his views at all. We all have our crazy friends or people we know who might expose certain viewpoints we strongly disagree with, but also have their positive attributes too, and no one demands we denounce our friendships.

But then why go to a church that would ever express speech like that? Even Obama realizes it sounds crazy if all you knew the church by was that 2 minute video clip. But as he pointed out in his extraordinary speech this morning (more on that in a second):
The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS. .... Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.
Because when you get involved in a church, and become friends with the members and have a relationship with the pastor, it becomes important in your life. People often disagree with certain aspects of a church or a particular sermon, but still stick with their spiritual family because of the bonds grown over time.

But all of this is complicated, nuanced, and still probably doesn't placate everyone. It's far easier to show someone this clip, claim this is what Obama believes and has been supporting for 20 years, and leave it at that. It wouldn't be honest or true, but it would be an easy hit job and require a nuanced rebuttal that people wouldn't pay attention to, because of the gotcha politics of today. And that was my first thought when I heard this story broke, of these clips getting sent out on email and unlike the "Obama is a secret terrorist Muslim who wants to eat your babies!" emails, this one cannot be dismissed by pointing out it's made up, but must actually be discussed and put into context.

Which then leads in to today, when Barack gave one of the best speeches I've ever read in my life, not only tackling the Rev Wright issue head on, but also expanding to scope to explore the role of race in America today. I implore you to read the speech in it's entirety (or watch it on Youtube), don't let some news organization parse it down to a few sound bites, but really look at what he's saying. And it is his words, he wrote it over the weekend himself. This is exactly the kind of thing I try to convey when I say "He gets it". That is one of the most nuanced, true, and intellectually honest speeches I've ever heard a politician make. And while it might not satisfy everyone in getting past this issue, at the very least it will hopefully have touched people to look at race in a new way, and what we really need to focus on in politics. Again, the "change" he harps on is the change in the way politics is discussed, the way issues are solved, the way policies are debated. Not in sound bytes, hit-jobs, and distortions, but in actual discussions on the issues and in a nuanced light, not the "You're 100% with us or against us" divisive politics of the last 8 years. Or well, Obama says it far better:
For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

And for those who wonder why the youth are overwhelmingly for Obama, this is why:
And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.
Needless to say it's gone over quite well with commentators. Or as John Stewart put it: "And so, at 11 AM on a Tuesday, an American politician talked about race like we're adults."

Of course no one ever said Obama's campaign would be easy. From the smear campaigns that Fox helps set-up to the amazing fact that 13% of voters (bottom of page 26) still think he is a Muslim. I suppose that is one of the good things to come out of the whole Rev Wright controversy, you can't have a crazy preacher and be a Muslim at the same time.

Why can't stuff like this get mass forwarded by everyone? Emails with actual sources instead of going "Trust me, I'm an anonymous email so I must be right!"

Subject: The Real Truth About Barack Obama!

  • Did you know that Barack Obama is a devout Christian? He has been a member of the same United Church of Christ congregation for 20 years, and was married there to his wife Michelle in 1992.
  • Did you know that Barack Obama often leads the US Senate in the Pledge of Allegiance?
  • Did you know that Barack Obama is a strong friend of Israel and has spoken out strongly against anti-Semitism?
  • Did you know his grandparents from Kansas were part of the "Greatest Generation?. His grandfather served with Patton's Army during World War II, and his grandmother, a real "Rosie the Riveter", worked in a bomber assembly plant back home.
  • Did you know that Barack Obama was opposed to the war in Iraq from day one, before we invaded, even while he was running for the Senate, and knowing his opposition might be politically unpopular?

    "I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world and strengthen the recruitment arm of al Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars." --Barack Obama, 2002

  • Also now that the Republican race is wrapped up, there's been a marked shift in support for Hillary from Republicans even though that never occurred while the Republicans were still trying to figure out their nominee. Instead a vast majority of crossover Republicans voted for Obama. And in a state like Texas, where Hillary won the primary section of the vote by 101k votes, that makes a difference when she got 119k previously registered Republicans to vote for her. My own Dad uses this same tactic actually, to vote for the weakest candidate to try to prop them up and give the Republicans the best chance in November.

    On a lighter note, I found this hillarious.

    March 20, 2008

    Shocking new videos of Obama's pastor have just gone up on Youtube!

    Talking about the love of God!
    Jesus can help solve problems!
    On praying!
    And read the sermon Obama named his second book after, because Hope is Anti-American!!!!111oneone

    I never in a million years thought I'd be linking to videos of a Christian preacher being as I'm a non-religious person. But if anyone tries to argue that Obama spent 20 years in church listening to American-hating racist rantings, it's quite clear that they have no idea what they're talking about. Because it would be far too much trouble for the media to report on the actual sermon instead of a 5 second sound byte. Or the infamous post 9/11 sermon whose entire point is that a circle of violence and revenge is only destructive and not to seek blind revenge after those horrendous attacks. When seen in full context, it's appalling that it's being used as an attack now. Yes he might seem to have a chip on his shoulder, as anyone who lived through a segregated openly racist America might possibly have (which as I've written about before, it greatly depresses me every time I realize racism was openly accepted in parts of America as recently as 40 years ago. It's been barely 40 years!). But as Obama said in his speech "The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past."

    And of course the whole controversy hinges on the idea that Obama shares those inflammatory views, which anyone who has spent any time at all looking into him knows isn't true, and Obama himself has denounced the statements. The whole point here is that while people will continue to try to paint Rev Wright (and thus by extension Obama) as a crazy hate filled person, it's not true at all.

    And as Obama's new pastor (as Rev Wright retired last year) explains, "a sound byte is not good nutrition. He also explains why Obama picked Trinity that 20 years ago. But again, when come the Fall a baseless attack ad can be made with the 5 second sound bytes in it, it takes the hope that voters will have actually payed attention in order to combat the lies and blatant mischaracterization of something like that.

    To me this election is a litmus test to see if America can really back up the decades of complaints about politicians being politicians instead of focusing on the real issues. We finally have a politician running who completely agrees with getting past all the BS in modern political discussions, but yet people are still focused on sensationalized made-for-TV controversies created by networks looking for ratings, and only paying attention to the small snippets of whatever the controversy of the day. I have no problem debating issues (such as Obama's speech on the economic toll of the Iraq war or his reasoning for his opposition of it from the start and why we need to get out), but it's all this gotcha pointless politics that is giving me a hernia.

    Annnnnnnnd about 5 minutes after I wrote that sentence, I come across this blog post which describes a Fox News article talking about how the New Black Panthers (a crazy militant black group) has a webpage on Obama's website. And this with the author's knowing full well that ANYONE can create any page they want to on, which is exactly what this group did. Of course the account was deleted by the Obama campaign as soon as it was discovered and in no way reflects the campaigns views. But wow, oh wow, that was some incredibly blatant, indefensible, biased reporting for what is supposed to be a "fair and balanced" national news organization. Not to mention it's quite disturbing that the author spends almost half the article describing all the wacky stuff that group supports, which has NOTHING AT ALL to do with Obama, except to imply that if this group supports Obama, then Obama must obviously support it too!

    I still can't get my mind around that this was written as a serious news article by a national news organization that is trusted by millions of people to get their daily news facts from. I mean I think most claims of media bias are vastly overblown, or at least sort of understandable, or at the very least "they meant well". But this... this is straight up baseless propaganda that the author and editors had to knew was purposely misleading and false, but posted it as real news anyway.

    February 2008 -- 2008 -- April 2008