Please visit the new Coyote Mercury Blog.

It's even all up-to-date and everything.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Last Post of 2005

Happy New Year.




Friday, December 30, 2005

Weekend Hound Report: Phriendly Phoebe

The unexpected seems to have occurred. Phoebe, it turns out, is not afraid of people. As mentioned in last week's Very Special Weekend Hound & Cat Report, Phoebe was a mass of tail-wagging excitement for the road trip, and she seemed to really enjoy the company of all the new bipedal apes she met. By my estimate, she was introduced to fifteen new people over the weekend and wasn't afraid of any of them. In fact whenever someone would leave and then return a few hours later, she was thrilled to see them again. When we got her, we were told she was a spook, but she seems to have gotten over that and is now a definite fan of the humans.

On Monday, my mother-in-law followed us back to Austin to hang out with my wife and have her own little vacation for a few days. Phoebe was naturally happy to see her, and greeted her with much tail-wagging and barking each morning. Now, whenever someone comes over, if Phoebe has previously met that person, they get the whole canine welcome routine.

Who'd have thought.


Want to save a greyhound in Central Texas? Check these pups out. Or go here to find a greyhound near you.

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Going West with Ansel Adams

Leaf in Glacier National Park (courtesy of the US National Archives)I've always admired Ansel Adams whose crystalline technique and meditative style capture my imagination, so yesterday we finally made it down to the Harry Ransom Center at UT to have a look at the Ansel Adams exhibit that has been running since August and will end on Sunday.

I’ve read several books and spent a great deal of time studying his work, both formally and on my own, and several years ago I got to see a smaller exhibit of his work at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, but I was rendered speechless (once again) by seeing his work in person. The images jump off the walls; a few appear three-dimensional, and all invite the viewer to step into the American west.

Adams had the uncanny ability to bring the western landscapes to their fullest life in such a way that some of the places he photographed have seemed smaller and more ordinary when I’ve actually visited them. Perhaps the light hasn’t been right for me or the clouds not cooperating. Either way, the captured light on display at the Ransom Center is perfect and provides a wonderful way to visit some of these important American places in a couple of hours.

My favorite stop was Hernandez, New Mexico. I’ve seen (in books and online) and read about "Moonrise over Hernandez, New Mexico" many times, but seeing it in person was staggering. The level of detail that emerges upon close inspection of that particular image is something I’ll never forget. The little graves illuminated by the sun that set behind him just after taking the image stand out so clearly that with my eyes close to the glass, I felt that I was looking at a picture of graves until I remembered to stand back and take in the whole incredible scene.

With over two hundred images on display there are many other memorable stops in the wild and open spaces revealed in some of his most famous work such as the images of Half Dome, the White House Ruins at Canyon de Chelly (which I once foolishly tried to imitate with no success when I was there a few years ago), and the famous aspens that stand out so brightly against the rest of the forest as if spotlit by a focused sun.

One of my favorite things about seeing his work in person is the opportunity to stare into the shadows and see the detail that exists whether it is sediment layers in uplifted rock or leaves in a darkened forest. These kinds of details can’t be reproduced in books; one must see the images in person.

The exhibit lasts until Sunday and it’s free, so if you’re in Austin and haven’t seen it, check it out. It’s well worth the time to travel the west with the master himself.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

More Arrogance! More Power!

I’m not an historian so we’re more in brainstorming and questioning mode than anything else here, but some lingering thoughts about The Arrogance of Power (which I posted about yesterday) come to mind. So here we go.

As a proposed solution to the Southeast Asia question, Fulbright advocated a withdrawal from Vietnam that would have allowed the US to better protect its interests elsewhere while demonstrating that it can be magnanimous as only a great nation can be. We’ll never know if his plan for withdrawal from Vietnam would have worked, but it doesn’t seem that cutting our losses in 1966 would have produced a far different outcome.

I’m not convinced that this is the appropriate solution in Iraq, and this is where the Iraq-Vietnam similarities seem to fall apart because to withdraw from Iraq and leave a power vacuum at this point could actually impact our national security in ways that withdrawing from Vietnam in 1966 would not have.

Our conundrum, of course, is that everyone wants Iraq to be free and democratic while Saddam Hussein pays for his hideous crimes. That's a good thing, but the problem for me is that a nation’s first responsibility ought to be to its own people, so I’m inclined to agree with Fulbright that by ensuring that our own house is in order first, we become a stronger force for peace and change in the world.

Fulbright quotes John Quincy Adams saying that, "America should be 'the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all' but 'the champion and vindicator only of her own'" and suggests that this kind of policy is the way to avoid the traps that come with the arrogance of power. Cold as it may sound, a nation’s first duty is to its people and our people were not served by invading Iraq or even Vietnam for that matter.

Invariably, the favorite question comes: What about World War II? Should we have stayed on the sidelines while so many suffered? My answer is at first no, but then it seems like a false comparison because in that case the threat to our freedom and security was real, it was not a unilateral intervention, and we came to the aid of our allies who were fighting for their lives in Europe. In the case of the Pacific, we properly responded to a direct attack.

This leads to another question: Did we intervene in World War II to stop the holocaust? I don’t think we did, in which case it seems inappropriate to say we were justified in intervening to end the holocaust unless you accept that the end result justifies the original argument whatever it might have been. A strange assertion since we can’t know how things will end. I do think that it would have been an acceptable reason to intervene, but how many Americans would have signed up for that? Does this mean that any humanitarian intervention will require lies and misdirection to get Americans to go along and give up our comfortable lives?

Naturally another question arises: How do we decide where we intervene? Intervening for humanitarian reasons in some places while looking the other way in others is very problematic for me. It’s like sparing some people on death row but not everyone.

So do we intervene only when the people being oppressed have oil? Do they have to be of a certain religious or ethnic group? Do we only intervene when we think the oppressors are weak? How should this be calculated and what should we sacrifice in terms of creating the best possible life for our own citizens?

I don’t support an isolationist foreign policy, but I can’t for the life of me see why we have to have a finger in every pie either. It feels like we’re caught in a vicious circle whereby we maintain a forceful presence overseas to protect our liberty, safety, and way of life which are threatened by people who are angry that we maintain a forceful presence overseas.

There has to be a place in the middle there somewhere between endless wars fought on the whims of questionable leadership and total disengagement from the world and its concerns.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Arrogance of Power

I’ve just finished reading The Arrogance of Power by Senator J William Fulbright, which is at once both timely and dated. Written in 1966, it is first and foremost a critique of US foreign policy, especially our involvement in Vietnam. In that regard, it’s an interesting look at a variety of ‘what-might-have-been’ options that have since been rendered moot by history.

Where the book is timely is in Fulbright’s treatment of the conflict inherent in the dual nature of the American character. He describes this dualism along the lines of humanitarian vs. puritanical, which lately seems to have been simplified to the level of team colors - blue vs. red - now that radical Islam has replaced communism as the core threat to the nation. Of course the extremity of the 9/11 attacks is vastly different from anything that preceded our involvement in Vietnam, but when one separates (as I think one should) Iraq from 9/11, we can see Iraq as just the sort of Vietnam-style intervention that Fulbright advises against.

The Iraq-Vietnam parallel emerges when we view our involvement in Iraq as a policy based on a reverse domino theory (if Iraq becomes democratic then other middle eastern countries will follow) instigated by the puritanical impulses in our nature, which want to fight evil, spread the word and save the world, by force if necessary. With this in mind, Fulbright’s book becomes an excellent jumping off point for studying a dangerous tendency in our national character that when combined with extreme power creates a self-destructive arrogance that unchecked can lead to ruin.

Fulbright argues that the puritan mindset carries a tendency to allow fear to guide decision-making when dealing with our enemies. This fear, Fulbright argues, is a major factor in our implementation of short-sighted and self-defeating policies such as intervening in foreign nations when our interests might be better served by not intervening, to take my-way-or-the-highway positions, to break our own laws, to violate our standards of conduct, to intimidate our citizens, and refuse to engage in real thought about the roots of the problems we face. In the sixties, it was fear of communism that led to the above problems; today, it is fear of radical Islam. We have much to be afraid of today, but I agree with Fulbright that we should let reason and our laws dictate our policies.

In this regard, I think Fulbright’s book provides contemporary readers with a useful tool for analyzing the mindset that led to our invasion of Iraq, which I think Fulbright would say was a direct result of the arrogance of power that plants "delusions of grandeur in the minds of otherwise sensible people and otherwise sensible nations," causing them to engage in policies where more is bitten off than can be chewed, followed by an unwillingness to recognize mistakes.

Unfortunately, the answer to the Iraq question will not be found in a forty-year-old book. It will require much debate including questions about why we went in; however, the arrogance of our current leadership has led us to a place where debate has been reduced to with-us or against-us divisions in which a significant number of Americans have bought the line - the myth - that might makes right and that dissent is somehow unpatriotic when in fact it is, as Fulbright correctly asserts, the highest patriotism.

As Fulbright tried to remind Americans in 1966, we can change polices and directions but only if we see clearly the ways in which flawed polices contribute to and exacerbate our problems. Unfortunately too many of us, so hurt by 9/11 and carrying a hope that our service men and women will not have died in vain, are unwilling even to consider the possibility that we aren’t always right in our actions, that sometimes a great nation such as ours can make terrible errors in judgement and do unspeakable damage when driven by fear rather than reason.

Sometimes a great nation must admit and face its errors and then work realistically to correct them rather than continue them. That ability to see reality for what it is rather than what we want it to be is one of the few things that can save a nation from its own sense of greatness, allowing its people to understand that they can live peacefully and play a part in lifting up mankind by not trying to forcefully remake the world in their image. This would take great humility of the kind that Fulbright advocates and that George Bush promised back in 2000 but never delivered.

Perhaps, Fulbright suggests to those readers of the mid-60s, it is time to listen to the humanitarian side of the American character and vigorously question the ideas and policies advocated by our puritanical half. In this regard, I think he is still correct and The Arrogance of Power still very timely.

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Monday, December 26, 2005


On the way back from Orange today, traffic stopped on US 290 outside Elgin so that the fire department could put out a grass fire that was burning on both sides of the road. I could see the smoke for several miles as I approached and traffic seemed to be moving through it, but then it stopped. The firefighters must have arrived just as I did because there were only a few vehicles between the fire crews and me so I watched them work the fire and was impressed by how quickly they had the blaze under control.

The thing that got me was that while we were sitting there, I watched the moron in front of me flick two cigarette butts out onto the highway while the firefighters were working. I noticed she was reading a newspaper and perhaps didn't notice the flashing lights, smoke whipping across the highway, and firefighters hosing down the results of some other fool's inability to use an ashtry. Maybe she didn't realize why we were all stopped when she casually flicked not one but two butts out her window. I watched them roll around and smoulder on the asphalt. Fortunately they died before the wind caught them and blew them into the dry grass.

When traffic started up again, I passed her. She was smoking, probably looking for a clean stretch of highway to torch.


Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Day: Here's the Tree

The suspense is over. Here’s the tree that we haven’t put up since 1997:

Christmas Tree

Much has changed since then. It’s a different world, and yet the same old tree with some of the same ornaments that Zephyr once chewed up. I was upset when she did it, but now that she's gone, it makes me smile to see her teeth marks on them. It’s added a whole layer of happy memories that dangle from the tree along with the ornaments.

And so amongst decorations, with music playing, food digesting, and A Christmas Story repeating endlessly on the tube, I find myself caught up in the bottom-line (no not that bottom line) magic of this time of year that when stripped of its commercialism, its overindulgence, its manufactured angst and hurry, comes to mean, for me anyway, the acting out of a desire for nothing more than simple peace and happiness, which I think is probably what most people really want. Let it be so.

Merry Christmas.


Saturday, December 24, 2005

One Day till Christmas: A Very Special Weekend Hound & Cat Report: Taking the Show on the Road

I’m not sure it’s that special, but I always wanted to do a Very Special something along the lines of all the Very Special episodes that certain TV shows run this time of year. I also like the fact that the title of this post double categorizes itself. Is this a Days till Christmas post? Is it a Weekend Hound & Cat Report? Is it just a post with an overlong title involving too many colons? Am I rambling too much on this? Probably, so here it is with – oh, what the hell – a colon:

Because there was no room at the inn kennel and not a single shepard watching his flock by night person we know who felt comfortable giving Morrison his insulin injections, he accompanied us on our journey to visit my wife's family in east Texas. He travels pretty well in the car, and considering there were two large greyhounds and one cat, the trip went uneventfully.

Daphne hid under a pile of blankets. Morrison slept mostly in his cat carrier. Phoebe seemed to have had a good time on the road. This was the first time she'd gone farther than the vet, and she was excited about this opportunity to slay the dragon, destroy the One Ring, learn the ways of The Force, and sit in a car for six hours. The excitement lasted about half-way to Houston and then she just curled up and slept through the rest of the drive.

As we progressed down I-10 and into the Golden Triangle, it was nice to see Christmas lights and other decorations on so many buildings and homes despite the FEMA tarps that still cover most of the roofs. East Teaxs still looks "all tore up" but not as bad as the last time we were here, though, I couldn't believe some of the damage in Port Arthur that we hadn't seen last month since we didn't go that way. Port Arthur was the town where Morrison decided the trip was over and began meowing and singing his Blues of the Lonesome Road. Fortunately, by that point we were almost there.

When we arrived, Phoebe was introduced to this side of the family and they all seem to like her, and more importantly she isn't afraid of them. She's exploring, Daphne is hiding, and Morrison is following my father-in-law around. Hopefully they'll all enjoy tolerate the drive home as well as they did the drive here.

Tomorrow...the tree.

Until then, stop off at Ironicus Maximus to find out if greyhounds really are dogs.


Want to save a greyhound in Central Texas? Check these pups out. Or go here to find a greyhound near you.

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Friday, December 23, 2005

Two Days till Christmas: Food & Drink

One of my favorite holiday things is Celestial Seasoning’s seasonal Gingerbread Spice tea. I always forget about it and then Lo! there it appears like angels on high, stacked neatly on supermarket shelves every year around this time. I’m more a coffee drinker than a tea drinker, but I always expand my hot beverage consumption to include this.

The food that for me most signifies Christmas is Mexican food. This comes from my dad’s side of the family, which was based Arizona. The tradition was that when it was your birthday, you got to pick dinner. My aunt was born on Christmas Eve, and apparently she always wanted tacos. Therefore, tacos on Christmas Eve became a Brush family tradition carried on by my dad to his own family, and it's one I aim to keep. So for me, the traditional food of Christmas is tacos, tamales, enchiladas, quesadillas, chile rellenos, and salsa, a menu I find more exciting than the standard turkey, potatoes and stuffing that I do enjoy (immensely) the next day.

Tamales were added to the menu after we moved to Austin (where Tex-Mex on Christmas Eve isn't that uncommon), and are usually supplied by Curra’s or (this year) Rosie’s where Willie Nelson gets his tamales. Sadly, the Balderas Tamale Factory in Round Rock is no more. They made the best hot pork tamales and often commented on how surprising it was to see "a white boy ordering hot pork."

Well, so far we’ve covered food & drink, movies & TV, music, and decorations. Next up, that holiday tradition: travel.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

Three Days till Christmas: Movies & TV

The first time I saw A Christmas Story was during the summer after my senior year of high school. It was one of those few films that made me laugh until I was crying and gasping for air. This one works whether it’s Christmas or not because it deals with such a timeless theme: kids want stuff.

I still laugh every time I watch it and since it’s in constant rotation around this time of year, it’s hard not to miss. Sometimes I try to just catch the best parts, but that’s like trying to assemble a best of CD by the Beatles. Can’t be done. Although, I think the whole episode concerning Ralphie’s use of the F-word around his dad ("a master who worked in profanity the way other artists might work in clay") is a priceless bit as is the image of Ralphie sitting there with a bar of soap in his mouth while he hears his buddy take a beating for his crime over the phone. So I watch it every year. Several times.

The other ones I never miss are How the Grinch Stole Christmas because, let’s face it, the Grinch is cool. And of course, A Charlie Brown Christmas because we all need to be reminded from time to time about the importance of selecting the ugly tree. Besides, the scene in which Linus explains to Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about is just fine filmmaking.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Four Days till Christmas: Music

The decorations are up, and now it's time to break out those once per year CDs and listen to some Christmas tunes. We have hundreds of CDs, but only four Christmas ones, so here they are:

  • Jingle Bell Jazz. It came out of the bargain bin years ago, but it really is good jazz with some cool takes on the classic caroles by Duke, Miles, Brubeck, Herbie Hancock and others.
  • Yule Be Miserable. This one came as a birthday gift a few years back from some friends who know me well. Click here for a good look at the cover. This is a great drunk and passed out in a bar with Santa blues and jazz collection featuring the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, BB King, and Billie Holiday. I look forward to this one every year.
  • Merry Christmas from Yo La Tengo. This one came from Yo La Tengo's website a few years ago, but doesn't seem to be available any longer. It's three Santa songs that rock. I love Yo La Tengo, and I'd go to their Hannukah shows if I lived in New York.
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi. This one is, for me, the sound of the season.
I always look forward to these CDs each year. I suppose I could listen to them at other times than Christmas, but then they probably wouldn't be as fun as they are when I only listen to them for two weeks at the end of the year. Well, the CDs are playing, the decorations are up. What's next? Christmas TV. Yes!

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Five Days till Christmas: Decorating

In order to celebrate the winter holiday of my choice (Christmas) over the next few days, I'll be posting about Christmas and Christmas-related things that I enjoy, starting with decorations.

We usually keep it very simple because we're lazy about such things, but we eventually get it together and do some work just in time to leave it all up for a week or two. We don't decorate excessively since the cat likes to test his gravitational theories by knocking things off tabletops, and the dogs enjoy chewing the tasty Christmas decor. Yes, simplicity is the way of a Brush Christmas.

The tree has been an interesting issue for us. We haven't had one since 1997 when our first dog ate the forbidden fruit from the lower branches of the tree and developed knowledge of the difference between good-to-chew and bad-to-chew. Instead of a regular artificial tree, we've been using these cool wooden trees:

They're simple, set-up and take-down are a breeze, and - I think - fairly hip in their understated way. This year, however, since we now live in a house with a room from which we can exclude the hounds and cat, we've set up a regular tree.

But you have to wait until Christmas to see it. Ha-ha! I can feel the suspense building already.


Monday, December 19, 2005

Searching Is the Perfect Gift

I learned about this over the weekend:

GoodSearch smaller logo

Goodsearch is a search engine that donates a portion of its ad revenue to the charity or school of the user's choice. You simply select your favorite charity on the search page, do your search (which is powered by Yahoo!) and eventually the organization that you selected should receive a check. If your favorite isn't listed, I think you can enter it for them.

I'll be searching on behalf of The Periwinkle Foundation, a nonprofit based at Texas Children's Hospital that provides a free summer camp for childhood cancer patients. I've been involved with Periwinkle for 17 years as a counselor and video producer, and I love having the opportunity to help them out every time I search. Hopefully they will soon need buckets to haul all the cash around.

So give it a whirl. Help out your favorite nonprofit or school and let your search be part of your gift.

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Weekend Cat Report: King of the Ottoman

The greyhounds are taking the week off in order to give Morrison a chance to share some of his adventures. He's a twelve year old black-and-white goodboy who is probably more outgoing and gregarious than either of the dogs. He is also in charge.

Last week, we got an ottoman so as to kick up our feet when watching movies, but Morrison quickly realized that what we had actually purchased was a king-size cat bed. The hounds have attempted to turn it into a greyhound bed, but as much as he likes them and will often sleep next to them, he has had to draw a bright line and make his stand here upon the ottoman. So the dogs have been chased off the ottoman and generally reminded with a good hiss about the workings of the heirarchy around here.

After conquering the ottoman and deciding that the couch is better anyway, we all settled in to watch The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, a thriller in which a group of cruel Catholic school boys set out to poison a beautiful panther with narcotics and then frame it for tearing up their teacher's classroom. The film spends too much time detailing the mundane and trivial lives of the twisted cat-hating altar boys and not enough time focusing on their innocent ("Animals are without sin", we are reminded at one point in the film) victim, the majestic cat. Morrison found himself at the point of tears when the cat succumbed to the drugs, but cheering mightily when the cat's friend came to rescue his buddy and engage the cowardly human in combat. The battle scenes were a bit tame and went by too quickly for Morrison's taste, but he loves movies in which justice is done even when the filmmakers attempt to align the audience's symapthies with the bad guys. Hopefully there will be a sequel that focuses on the panthers attempting to put their lives back together.


Saturday, December 17, 2005

Monument Valley 1/5

This photograph was taken in Monument Valley, Arizona in 1996:

Monument Valley in Color


Monument Valley 2/5

Monument Valley in Color (neg)


Monument Valley 3/5

Monument Valley in Black-and-White


Monument Valley 4/5

Monument Valley in Black-and-White (neg)


Monument Valley 5/5

Monument Valley with Sketch Effect


Friday, December 16, 2005

A Logic Problem

I remember nonsense like this from the GRE many years ago:

Cat and Dog 2 are both black and white. Dog 1 and Dog 2 like to play and roughhouse. Cat has diabetes and so must have access to food 24/7. Human 1 and Human 2 are gone for large portions of each day. Dog 1 and Dog 2 love to eat Cat's food. Cat also has arthritis so his food must be on the floor so he doesn't have to jump if he doesn't want to. Dog 2 can jump over gates that Cat 1 can walk through. Dog 1 gets free run of the house, but would eat Cat's food if given half a chance. Dog 2 likes to chew on things she shouldn't. Human 1 and Human 2 should...

a) become veterinarians and work out of the house.
b) keep Cat confined in a single room while gone knowing that he probably doesn't care since he sleeps all day anyway.
c) confine all three separately in different parts of the house.
d) write silly logic problems about it.
e) both a and b
f) both b and d
g) b, c and d
h) a, b and c

We're going with 'g' for now.


Blogging and Writing

I've been blogging a little over two months now, and it seems a good time to stop and take stock of this new world that I've joined. One thing I love about the blogosphere is that it's such a dynamic world. This is a world that is changing constantly, moving alongside the static internet and the offline world with its own rules, ideas, insights, opinion-makers and landscape. I feel like I'm part of a vast library that is being written as I type this. It's a library in which the texts are all connected and alive like neurons in a brain. It's also a library in which the small stories of people's lives unfold alongside the big ones that make history, connecting and interacting in fascinating ways, either through posts or blogrolls. When I think about this, I feel lucky to be a part of it, though still a newcomer.

I also enjoy reading the daily posts on my favorite blogs. I love discovering the treasures and unknown musings of some fantastic writers and unknown thinkers, publishing their insights in this most perfect DIY medium. That do-it-yourself aspect is my favorite part. Anyone can publish and find an audience, albeit in most cases a small one. Filmmakers and musicians have been putting their work out independently for years, now writers can as well.

I love knowing that sometimes something I've written has moved a fellow blogger to comment or respond through email. That's a great feeling. As is looking at the site stats and seeing regular readers, known only as familiar strings of IP address numbers, emerge in places where I don't know anyone. For a writer, finding readers is a profound and moving experience. So to you who tune in regularly, thank you. You make my day.

I learn quite a bit by reading things that I wouldn't have found on the static web. I'm learning about life, about writing, about the internet, about HTML and CSS, about politics, about everything.

And writing everyday, I learn about myself too.

That's the best part: Writing on a daily basis again, even when it's just quick posts has been great for me. I generally haven't done it for years. I tended to set aside large blocks of time - a few hours a week, a summer vacation, a weekend day. But I never maintained that all important constant practice that is so essential. It feels like part of me is waking up again and that's a nice feeling. I find myself more motivated than ever to either submit or self-publish that second novel that's sitting on the hard drive, to get past page one of the third one that's half-written in my head and in notes and outlines in my drawer.

And so, running the risk of laying it on a bit thick, I throw some Thoreau that comes to mind whenever I think about embarking on new adventures such as the beginnings of this blog and the start of new projects: "Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star."

So there it is. This experiment that I started in part as a way to give myself something to think about other than my dog who passed away a few months ago has gone from being just an experiment to being a regular part of my life, somewhere between a hobby and a way to work on my work.

And now, I promise no more blogging about blogging for awhile.

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Thursday, December 15, 2005


When I used to teach Fahrenheit 451, the classes always got into interesting discussions about the effects of mass culture on local variety. My students found nothing odd about the fact that one can drive from Miami to Seattle and eat in the same highway restaurants and stay in the same motels, all the while listening to the same music that everyone else is enjoying, and if you look at the other travelers in the other cars, most of them, regardless of where their plates say they're from, will be wearing the same clothes from the same stores. One can get this impression from traveling through airports as well. I've often wondered what, if anything, is lost when our whole country develops this kind of paste-pudding sameness (to paraphrase Bradbury).

Many kids found it comforting. I find it disturbing. I like eating different foods, hearing new music and strange accents, but it seems to be quite difficult to find anything uniquely local anymore except in a few places (such as Austin - "Keep Austin Weird") where concerted efforts are made to hold on to what originally made that place unique. If you want to see what some little one-horse town has that makes it special, you have to look pretty hard. Often you'll find relics of what once made it special, but the place will be closed, the event cancelled, the people dead, senile, or moved away.

But then I start thinking about how many of us find our little niches online. How many CDs by obscure low-fi indie rock bands from random cities do I own? I know people from Chicago who've never heard of The Sea and Cake or Tortoise or Sam Prekop. So I start thinking that perhaps regionalism isn't so much dead as perhaps it's moved. Perhaps we still have our regional variety and local culture, but without material landscape. Instead we have sites that we inhabit and with whose denizens we share common interests and concerns be they movies, books, music, politics, religion, philosophy, whatever. It seems oddly comforting to think that we still have our hometowns despite the fact that they've gone digital.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Lyin', the Which? and the War Drove Him on Tour

Marketing is the best way to get people to shell out bucks for inferior goods. Examples abound of products that are heavily marketed but really not worth the investment: Budweiser (not really beer), McDonalds (not really food), the War in Iraq (not really well-managed). It comes as no surprise then that our first-ever CEO president has been engaged in what is, in essence, a marketing tour to support the War in Iraq. Rather than improving the product (competent civilian administration of the military), Bush has instead chosen the cheaper and easier route, which is to change the public's perception so that we will accept his Plan for Victory in Iraq in the same way that we happily buy substandard food and beverages. It seems to be working.

For the past few years, we've willingly consumed bogus and shifting arguments (WMD? 9/11? Democracy? Which was it?) as to why we needed to go into Iraq, so I'm sure it seems logical to administration strategists that we'll probably go for one more attempt (want fries with that?) to justify this mess and show that this time the administration really does have a plan, a strategy, or even a clue. In the real world where accountability matters, people are regularly fired and replaced for mismanagement and incompetence. It's ironic that our MBA president is so unwilling to make these necessary corrections. Instead, the war just drove him out on a marketing tour.

I guess I'm feeling a bit cynical, but I'm not sure we can market our way to victory. Perhaps I should go buy something to make myself feel better.


The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Last weekend, we went to see the latest big fantasy-based-on-literature blockbuster (a genre for which I'm a sucker): The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It's been a few years since I read the book, but I felt the filmmakers did a nice job bringing this story to the screen, which must have been a tricky task. CS Lewis provided great lengths of potential rope for filmmakers to hang themselves: talking animals, Santa Claus, child actors, unicorns. It's all there, potential landmines to raise the audience cringe factor, and yet they pulled it off. Even Santa. It's sometimes cute, but never cutesy.

There has been much made about the politics and religious subtext of this film, but my advice is put that aside and go for the ride because it's quite a ride. If you want a Gospel allegory or a call to destroy evil, it's there for the taking, but it's not so overt that one feels beaten into submission to a message afterwards. First and foremost, this is well-crafted and lovingly-designed entertainment. The battle scenes are exciting and choreographed in the Peter Jackson/Lord of the Rings style that has become the new standard. The sound production at the very start of the big battle is amazing and must be experienced in a theater.

More importantly, though, Director Andrew Adamson does a nice job bringing out the underlying emotions and conflicts within the hearts of his young characters: Peter's desire to fight for a cause; Susan's logical skepticism; Edmund's need for independence from his siblings; Lucy's adventurousness. There are also moments of humor, fear, sadness and horror such as when Aslan upholds his end of the bargain with the White Witch. You know what happens if you've read the book, but it's still terrifying and heartbreaking.

It's a fun movie that gets the story right. If you have read the book, you won't find anything especially new or insightful here, but it's well-worth a trip to the theater and probably a second viewing when it comes out on DVD. I'll be looking forward to the impending string of sequels.

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Monday, December 12, 2005

New Template for Coyote Mercury

I've been playing. Wanting to take my template tinkering to a new level, and because I enjoy fiddling with things, I decided to change the template for my blog, as I'm sure you've by now noticed. The three column template came from Thur's Templates, and was very easy to set up. It took a few hours to insert all the add-ons and hacks I had in my previous template, but now that it's done, I'm happy.

One cool thing about this is that it's very easy to change the colors since Thur's Templates has this in blue, white, and tan in addition to the grey. You just paste in a new CSS section and - Shazam! - a different color.

If things look out of whack with your browser/monitor combination, please leave a comment and let me know. Thanks.


Sunday, December 11, 2005

Weekend Hound Report: Staying Warm

Sweaters arrived just a day late for The Blizzard of 2005... er... The Ice Storm of wait...The Day It Got Below 20 and Some Bridges and Overpasses Froze of 2005:

For you non-greyhound people out there, we're not trying to humiliate our pups by dressing them up. They have no body fat to insulate themselves and so really do need sweaters when it gets cold, but even without sweaters, nobody froze. Phoebe (in red) revealed herself to be something of a scientist, carefully scratching, licking, sniffing and nosing every patch of ice on the back porch in an effort to determine the meaning of it all.

Daphne (in blue), who is a little less intellectual, displayed her alter-ego "dangerous greyhound" and kept trying to run full-speed across the icy patio and up the frozen stairs to the glass backdoor. Happily no bones were broken, and some cat litter on the steps helped her keep traction.

When the sweaters arrived, they tried them on and even though the weather had warmed considerably, the dogs seemed to enjoy wearing them. I suppose they know when they look good.

By the way, the sweaters came from Classy Canine, and they're great.


Want to save a greyhound in Central Texas? Check these pups out. Or go here to find a greyhound near you.

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

It's My Birthday, I'll Blog If I Want To

Today is my birthday so I decided to list a few of the other, more illustrious, Dec. 10ths courtesy of Born Today:
  • Emily Dickinson
  • J Mascis
  • Kenneth Branagh
  • William Lloyd Garrison
  • William Plomer
  • Dorothy Lamour
and somehow left off that list:
  • Ernest Shepard, who so beautifully illustrated some of my favorite books: Winnie-the-Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, and The Wind in the Willows.


Friday, December 09, 2005

Party Pooping

After reading Burnt Orange Report's post concerning speculation that Carole Strayhorn might abandon the Republican party (as she once abandoned the Democratic party) to run for Texas governor as an independent, I half-facetiously commented with this:
I like the idea of someone who has officially rejected both parties considering that joining a party seems to be the first step towards political corruption. Perhaps people who join parties ought to be stripped of their right to run for office. We should still let them vote though, I suppose.
Thinking about it a day later, I like the idea even more.

It seems to me that someone who has officially quit both parties isn't as likely to be told what to do by outside interests. I've always felt that people who believe that one party is more or less corrupt than the other are only kidding themselves. The basic problem is that once politicians get entangled in a party, their loyalties shift from their constituents to the party they rely upon for coin. This seems, more often than not, the root of a number of political problems that we see today ranging from the crooked financial dealing being exposed in congress to Bush family cronyism to actions that hover in the gray world between political revenge and treason.

I have no problem when people say that they are liberal, conservative, libertarian (with a lowercase l), moderate, whatever. I am deeply suspicious, though, of anyone who says he or she is a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian or anything with a capital letter. Now, I'm not saying that everyone who joins a party is a crook or a traitor, but I do think that people who run as a member of a party have taken the first step on that road.

A local example. In 2003, the Texas GOP, under the influence of Tom DeLay, launched an apparently crooked mid-decade redistricting effort that split my home county of Travis into three districts in an effort to eliminate Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat. Incidentally, this is why DeLay now believes he can't get a fair trial in Austin. Doggett kept his seat, but the effort managed to add several GOP congress-stooges to the US House, all of whom, naturally, owe everything to DeLay and the GOP machine that put them there and very little to the people who actually voted for them.

The most appalling thing, though, was the behavior of several members of the Texas House who went against the interests of their Travis county constituents and voted to spilt Travis County into three congressional districts in such a way that the city of Austin now has no US Congressional representative to call its own. I engaged in a thoughtful and interesting email discussion with my local house member, and the bottom line for him was that he had to stand with his "friends" (Tom DeLay) who had helped elect him. In the 2004 elections, the voters of Travis County wisely threw this guy out.

However, to say that corruption is a Republican problem is a fool's paradise. This is why I won't join a party, and will even support a competent candidate who is loyal to his or her constituents over a disloyal or incompetent one, regardless of either hypothetical politician's party affiliation. I usually vote towards the left and since I live in the real world, I find I usually support Democrats over independents. I hate it, but there it is. Joining a party makes one an enabler, so when voting for either party, I'm hurting the state or the country. Of course, voting for independents seems to help Republicans, which in these times hurts us more. The best situation would be the total and simultaneous collapse of both parties, but that doesn't seem likely.

Ultimately, I don't know who I'll support for Texas Governor except that it won't be Rick Perry. I will also sit out the 2006 primaries so that I can sign Kinky Friedman's petition to be added to the ballot as an independent. At least he's trying. If Strayhorn decides to prove just how tough a grandma she is by going indy, that's even better.

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Del.icio.usly Tagging My Blog

After continuing to experiment with categories for organizing blog posts, I broke down and started a account and began to experiment with tags. It didn't take long to get hooked. Then I went back to freshblog's Blogger Hacks and read up on categories using and various other methods. I experimented with this (which was cool but apparently doesn't get picked up by Technorati) and read several other hacks, but ultimately decided I liked the ease of using this method, which relies on this bookmarklet to generate the and Technorati code for my tags.

I then tagged all my old posts (which only took an hour) and will continue tagging in the future. When I get a chance, I'll install the tagroll or some other such tool in the sidebar to make it even easier to navigate.

Though I like the fact that the manual method doesn't rely on an outside service and maintains a consistent feel to using the site, this is so much easier and doesn't require constant re-publishing of old posts. I still wish Blogger would develop a system for internal categories, but for now I will tag. I'll keep the categories link up and may continue to use categories for some of my posts.

In the meantime my tags are here.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Enjoying Arctic Air

Coming from New England it's hard not to smile when everyone freaks out about the occasional ice storms. I know that most people who aren't used to driving in icy conditions can have problems, and it's been seventeen years since I lived in Rhode Island so I'm sort of one of those people now, but I just don't dread these kinds of fronts. In fact, I love them.

Right now, the sky is a dark, hard gray and the trees are swaying gently back and forth. It's nice to go outside for a few minutes and remember how much I wish for days like this when it's 108 degrees in September. Given the choice between heat and cold, I prefer cold, but my brother makes a good case to the contrary when he points out that one never has to shovel hundreds of pounds of heat out of the driveway. Still, I'll enjoy the cold while it lasts.

So I take it all in. The air - damp and cold - rattles my lungs a bit; the wind bites and stings. At first it doesn't feel too cold, and I wonder what the big deal is (The University of Texas closed at 2:00) but then it works its way in, and I start to really feel it. I love staying out past that point, just starting to shiver, before going in for my coat. I wish it would actually snow or at least ice over enough to shut the city down for a day or two, but that's a bit too much to ask. By Friday I'll probably be wearing shorts again.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Looking Up

Last night, I got my telescope out for the first time in years and set it up in the driveway, which gave me a nice view of the Moon slipping below the roof of the house. Low in the sky and in its waxing crescent phase, the Moon looked beautiful to the naked eye. Through the 'scope I just about got lost in the impact craters and mountains thrown into starkest relief by the sun's light raking across its surface. I could have stared at it for hours, slowly tracking the telescope along the terminator, studying each mountain, each crater.

When it finally fell below the roof, I turned the 'scope around to the east to try for a glimpse of the Pleiades, but a street light ruined the view so I'll have to wait until later in the winter (or the night) to catch a better view when it clears the glare. I didn't try for Mars for the same reason, but perhaps if I go to the backyard, I might be able to see it over the house, which might block the accursed light.

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The Sky

We're getting one of those leaden-sky cold fronts that comes through every now and again. Looking out the window, I see that the sky now displays a vaguely striped pattern. The light is very cold, very blue, and finally wintry looking. The trees hardly move, and I can't see a single bird. I love being outside on days like this when everything seems quiet and just waiting.


Hell's Belles Salute Austin

On Saturday, we went to see Hell's Belles, the Seattle-based all female AC/DC tribute band, play Stubb's. As mentioned in a previous post, my cousin, Lisa (Malcolm Young) Brisbois, is in this band and that's what brought us to the show. Now I know my cousin is in this band, so I may be biased, but I'm also not that into AC/DC so I think it balances out.

In a way, not being familiar with much other than AC/DC's most well-known songs allowed me to appreciate the band in their own right. Had it not been for such crowd-pleasers as "Highway to Hell," "You Shook Me All Night Long," "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap," and "Big Balls," I probably wouldn't have known that they were covering AC/DC. But it didn't matter. Hell's Belles just absolutely rocked. I love seeing shows when I know very little of a band's music and still walk away having totally enjoyed the set. This was one such evening.

One of the things that contributes (emphasis on tribute) to the band's show is what comes across as a real love for AC/DC. This is not a parody or a deconstruction act; this is truly a tribute to the energy, excitement and fun of AC/DC's music, and seeing that legendary band's testosterone-heavy swagger performed with such enthusiasm and love for the material by a group of highly talented women is wickedly subversive in its own right, which is exactly what hard rock should be.

Lead guitarist Adrian (Angus Young) Conner and Singer Jamie (Brian Johnson/Bon Scott) Nova maintained an all-out intensity throughout the evening that had everyone on both levels of Stubb's indoor venue rocking, dancing, and having a great time. This was a show where everyone was into the music and having fun. Even the woman who fell and busted her ass while doing what appeared to be an I-used-to-be-a-stripper routine for her husband came up smiling and kept on rocking.

This was one of the most energetic, all-out rockin' shows I've seen in a long time, and I do hope they come back. In the meantime, Conner - who is based in Austin - has a band called Adrian and the Sickness that is surely worth checking out when they play around here.

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Saturday, December 03, 2005

My Interview on The Armadillo Podcast Is Up

Episode 12 of The Armadillo Podcast has been posted. You can hear Steven Phenix interview me about living in Austin, writing novels, and Kinky Friedman's gubernatorial campaign. Check it out.

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Weekend Hound Report: A Whole New Daphne

Since we lost Zephyr, Daphne has been going through changes, but the most pronounced have been in the month since Phoebe came along and Daphne realized that it was up to her to seize the mantle of canine leadership.

For the past three years, Daphne has been generally afraid to go anywhere in the house apart from the living room, our bedroom, and the study, which she only discovered back in June. Shortly after Phoebe came, Daphne started to develop an interest in the kitchen and the mysterious goings-on in there. At first we thought it was cute (look, she's being brave), but then last week as Rachel was making some peanut butter sandwiches, Daphne rose up on her hind legs, planted her front paws on the kitchen island, and took a piece of bread out of Rachel's hand. This was so unexpected that after Rachel regained the power of speech, she could only laugh.

I prefer a dog that doesn't steal food off the counter, at least not while we're watching, but at the same time, I was kind of proud of big Daph because it's so seldom that she asserts herself. I don't know what kind of abuse or neglect she suffered at the hands of the monsters who owned her (she was a black-market greyhound, which means she was owned by people who were engaged either in a) illegal racing, b) illegal rabbit hunting, or c) illegal dog-fighting) before she was saved by a greyhound rescue group, but after three years, we're thrilled to see her coming out of her shell and becoming more of a dog.

Of course that means now she may have to learn some manners.

In other hound news, my parents' dog Nigel (who isn't a greyhound, but we don't hold that against him) wanted to ensure that no ants would be attracted by stray crumbs:


Want to save a greyhound in Central Texas? Check these pups out. Or go here to find a greyhound near you.

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Friday, December 02, 2005

Highway to the Rose Bowl and to Hell

I'm looking forward to tomorrow as it will be a day of football and live music. After the Longhorns sew up their bid to play in the Rose Bowl for the national title, Hell's Belles, the Seattle-based all-female AC/DC tribute band, will be playing a free show at Stubb's, which is especially exciting for me because my cousin, Lisa Brisbois, is in this band. I haven't seen her since 1982 when we were kids, so not only do I get to catch up with my cousin and show off how cool Austin is, but I am about to rock. Salute me! Or come and salute yourself.

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In the Beginning Nothing Exploded

It's a curious fact of the human species that we demand answers even when the evidence seems to say: Don't bother. Our species has such faith in the idea of a higher purpose or power that throughout history every culture has looked up to the sun and stars and believed they saw some reason behind their mysterious paths through the heavens. Ancient cultures, and some modern ones, knew beyond doubt why they existed and could articulate it in their stories, but we are not so lucky. The universe unfolds regardless of our existence.

Our 21st century creation story (not a myth, mind you), our Big Bang, with its eternally expanding and cooling universe completely cuts us out of the deal. In the overall cosmic scheme of things, it appears that our existence is purposeless.

And yet, here we are with our deep need to see purpose in everything. We resist imagining that we're nothing more than animals like the squirrels eating at the feeder in the backyard, and so we continue to probe the mysteries, searching for meaning and reason.

Billions of years from now our sun will expand, consuming our planet, and then die, leaving no trace that we were here with all our scientists and philosophers, artists and writers and, okay, bloggers. If their works and wisdom freeze out of existence along with all artifact and memory of our planet's life, human and otherwise, one comes to a disturbing question: What was the point?

Granted, these are things that are not scheduled to occur for billions of years, and even one billion years is beyond the capability of most of us to truly comprehend, but when the entire universe becomes nothing more than an invisible wasteland of frozen rock and gas clouds, it's hard to accept that anything will have mattered. Without some measure of immortality whether it be our children, our deeds, or our works, how can we convince ourselves that our lives are worth the atoms and molecules with which we are born?

I suppose that what prevents us from giving in to a purely short-term outlook is the fact that our creation story, which as with any good creation story, hints towards a destruction story, effectively pushes our collective demise into the recesses of a future so distant that we cannot perceive it as real.

We have plenty of time to continue that timeless debate between Huck and Jim about whether the stars were "made or just happened," and I can't help but wonder if that debate - that journey - is somehow the point.

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Sucked into Lost

A few weeks ago we started watching Lost (season one) on DVD. I was nervous at first because I try hard not to get sucked in to new TV shows. I only watch a few on a regular basis and as much as I might like a particular show (Seinfeld, King of the Hill, Queer as Folk), I'm always glad to see it go. I guess it's like I get that time back rather than having to schedule a block of TV watching into my life. The best way to watch a show is after it's been canceled as I learned when a friend loaned us Freaks and Geeks on DVD. The series was fantastic, and more importantly, safely cancelled.

So we started watching Lost, knowing that one day we'd catch up and ourselves become trapped on the island. Still, we recklessly blazed through season one (like Locke through the jungle), sometimes putting away three or four episodes in an evening (the way Charlie once put away heroin), and then the first part of season two that we had hoarded (like Sawyer stashing supplies in his tent) on our DVR. It was kind of like watching a very cool movie that didn't end, and now I'm hooked (like Jack pushing that damn button that doesn't do anything). As of last weekend, we're caught up so now it's no longer like a movie. It's TV, albeit very good TV.

Later we'll be watching last night's episode on DVR, but we will have to wait a WHOLE WEEK before we can find out what happens. And what if next week is a rerun? It could be weeks before we find out what happens! We've been spoiled by DVD and a backlog of DVR. For all our new technology, I still can't escape watching regular TV programs. Oh well. I guess there are worse fates (okay last one - like Hurley winning a cursed lottery) than this.


Pepys' Diary

I've recently finished "reading" a second audiobook as a distraction from rush hour traffic. The tape-tome loaned to me by my parents was Pepys' Diary, by Samuel Pepys (read by Kenneth Branagh).

For the most part, Pepys briskly chronicles the ordinary day-to-day events of his life as a Royal Navy administrator in seventeenth century London, and the events are as ordinary as one might expect:
Up and I to the office by water, then home to my wife for dinner, back to the office until dark, and then home and so to bed.
Okay, I'm paraphrasing, but you get the idea. Listening to this, my mind drifted in and out as his ordinary experiences intermingled with mine, the exception being his description of The Great Fire of London (1666), which commands the listener's undivided attention as Pepys laments the destruction and describes his efforts to save his home and property.

Apart from the fire and his business dealings, much of the drama comes from the fact that Pepys was a man with an eye for the ladies. Amusingly, he tends to veer off into a strange Spanglish (with perhaps a bit of French thrown in) whenever he describes his extramarital affairs. I don't know if this is an unwillingness to openly acknowledge what he was doing, since he seemed to feel somewhat guilty about it (at times) or simply a code to prevent his wife from reading it if she should find his diary. Perhaps both.

He discontinued his diary in mid-1669 out of concern for his failing eyesight, but it seems a great source of information for anyone interested in English life during this period. I'm not sure I would have picked this up and read it in book form, but it made for fascinating listening and would probably be a good read (in the traditional sense) as well.

Overall, an interesting window into life in seventeenth century London juxtaposed by life in twenty-first century Texas crawling slowly along outside my car windows. And so I home, and to bed.

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