Happy Buy Nothing Day!

We had a nice Thanksgiving, relaxing with family down here in Crystal Beach. Today I'm in for more of the same - reading, sleeping, visiting. Hopefully I'll make some inroads into ROTK so I can finish it in time for the movie. (Yes, I've read it before, this is just a preparatory re-read.)


Ah, gay marriage. There has been lots of furor about the Massachussets court stating the right of gay marriage recently. And all the conservative Christians cry foul, stating that this develoment will destroy marriage as we know it, and we'll all go to hell in a handbasket. Hmm.

Here's a great piece on Slate that rebuffs the idea that gay marriage somehow "undermines" hetero marriage:
What's really undermining the sanctity of marriage?
I just don't understand why conservative religious folks are so quick to step on other people's rights when those rights don't conform to their own sense of morality. This is a FREE country, not a christian moral state. As long as people aren't hurting each other, they should be able to do whatever they want, however they want, and believe what they want. Tell me, conservative christians: how are they hurting you by getting married? Or more tellingly, what do you get out of preventing them from doing so?

Imagine this - what if I were to start a new religion tomorrow, called Smurfism. (I have the legal right to start a new religion if I want, and it has exactly the same status as any existing religion.) Let's say that in my religion, I preach that only same sex couples can marry. Well, now we're in a bind. My religion states a moral law that is diometrically opposed to Christianity, yet by the laws of this country, they are both equal. Whose side should the US goverment take?

The answer is, neither. In a fair society, "marriage" and "the governmental benefits associated with marriage" should be separate. If the government sets up a precedent whereby a pair of people can declare themselves a family and receive certain rights and benefits therefrom (like visiting each other in the hospital, for example), they can't allow it according to the statutes of one religion and not allow it acroding to another. Call it civil union if you want to, but stop denying it.

What's really at heart here is bigotry, plain and simple. Just because someone is different from you doesn't mean they're wrong.


Big news! OK, well, probably not big news for anybody but me. This message from Rhodes Music Corporation co-founder Joseph A. Brandstetter was posted on the Rhodes Supersite:
I have aquired the world wide trade mark for the Rhodes electric piano and musical instruments. Spread the word that I intend to build the greatest electric piano and would love everybody's input. They can talk with me personally by e-mailing at brandstetterajoseph@msn.com. Brad, thanks for all your years of support for Harold, even though not always the right story got out. Hope to hear from you soon. Maybe you would like an interview for your web site. Joseph A. Brandstetter
That means that, in the possibly near future, I won't have to beg various surly repair people in town to please please please look at my Rhodes and maybe tune it or work on the action. No, this raises the possibility that I could actually have someone qualified work on it, maybe even under warranty, with new parts. Realistically, what it does is move Rhodes from the background of vintage land to the modern day world of instrument creation. Gives it a little respect, and possibly makes it so the immediate reaction of other musicians to the Rhodes is something besides "Wow, cool ... but how do you deal with getting it serviced?". Well, a guy can dream.


The good doctor has been picking up a lot of steam lately. He's ahead in the polls in Iowa (and way ahead in NH). As they say, "nothing succeeds like success". I just read a quote from him that I think really makes sense:
"People basically heal themselves most of the time. The doctor's job for the most part is to set forth a clear plan and recruit the positive part of the patient to execute that plan. And to give confidence to that person that we can succeed again. That's all I'm doing, is giving people confidence." - Howard Dean
He'll be taking part in an 8-way presidential debate today, wish I could watch.


Being sick is no fun. Jill and I have been sick for a week now, and it doesn't feel like we're getting any better. I'm drinking lots of fluids, resting, taking medecine, drinking wheatgrass juice, taking coldeze, renting comedies ... and I'm still sick. Blegh.

I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that I've had a rehearsal or gig every night this week, often not getting home until 1:30 am. Hmm. Health is one of those things I take for granted when I've got it, scheduling myself up to the hilt and throwing caution to the wind. Even this week my illness hasn't really slowed my schedule too much. I generally believe that if you keep a positive attitude, you'll kick illness pretty quick by force of will. I guess this particular bug just has a stronger will than I do. Doh.


Hearkening back to my earlier posts about animal cruelty, here's a great report from The Straight Dope on the question:

Is 'Cage-Free' just another marketing ploy for eggs, or are the chickens really better off?

For those unfamiliar with the Straight Dope, it's a weekly column where Cecil Adams, a Chicago reader columnist, answers those nagging questions like "Why do people say 'Jesus H Christ'" and "If nothing sticks to Teflon, how does Teflon stick to the pan?". Always good for a laugh and generally good for making the world a little bit less confusing. You can even sign up to get it every week by email.


Got this forwarded to me today and found it pretty genius. I guess I'm a bit behind the ball on this guy's site, but what can I say, I'm a busy guy.
i am better than your kids.


This afternoon after work, I'm heading over to a Howard Dean rally here in Houston. I heard Dean talking on NPR yesterday and, as usual, he sounded like a smart, principled, passionate man. And now it's starting to become clear to people that Dean actually has a chance at winning. Here's why I dig him:
  • He's fiscally conservative (balanced his state budget). He's a penny pincher, not a tax-n-spend democrat (or a cut-n-still-spend republican). Read this great story about when a cancelled flight forced the Dean crew to take a ferry across Lake Champlain - Dean made everybody wait while he searched through his wallet for a free ferry pass he had. That rules.
  • He's socially liberal (supports gay rights, the arts, etc).
  • He's a doctor and really knows health care (got universal health care for children in VT).
  • He believes in a strong military and knows we need to finish strong in Iraq (even though he was against the preemptive action). He wants to get help from the international community to do it right, by opening up the reconstruction bids to them (no more Halliburton sweet heart deals) and not basing our international diplomacy on a "my way or the highway" motto.
  • He wants to cancel the Bush tax cuts (aka welfare for the richest 1%), and use that money to fund projects that will actually help improve our country (like helping people get an affordable college education).
  • He wants to focus on renewable energy sources (wind, solar, fuel cells, etc.) and get us off our oil dependency
  • He will help small businesses and small farmers, which are (IMO) the real strength of America.
And there's plenty more. I would be pretty psyched if he gets the nomination - he's the only one I've seen with the ability to generate that kind of excitement. He raised $15 million in donations that averaged $77. He excites people and brings them back to the democratic process, which is a great thing.

So if you're curious, come by the rally tonight (it's at Miller Outdoor Theater in Hermann Park) and make up your own mind.


This just came across the wire from my friend Cam:


A bit of brightness in an otherwise rainy day.


Home again, finally, after a long weekend of travel. Friday morning, the band played a store opening here in Houston (the newly remodeled Specs, which I think might now indeed be the world biggest friggin' liquor store). Then we piled in 2 cars (Ron's wife Tara was along for the trip, thus necessitating 2 vehicles) and caravaned to Baton Rouge. You've got to love Texas. When we pulled up at a drive through burger place in Beaumont for lunch, I said "Have you got any veggie burgers?" to which the woman replied "We've got a BLT burger with bacon lettuce and tomato ... ?"

We made it to Baton Rouge just in time to have a quick interview on the radio station (KLSU). That was pretty neat, right when we walked in they handed us a poster for the next night's show and had us all sign it. What a rock star moment. That rock stardom was quickly dispelled when we got to the venue at 10:30 pm and it was totally empty. Doh. We played for a handful of folks, and they seemed to really like it. Not the screaming throngs we were expecting, however.

Our next day was spend driving around Baton Rouge, watching movies and napping. Fortunately for morale, the 2nd show (at the Mellow Mushroom) was packed, and we had a lot of fun. Almost as much fun as playing was entertaining ourselves with the very drunk clientele at the Mellow Mushroom. One guy had a full conversation with our bass player about what kind of bass he played, etc., and then proceeded to ask me if we had a bass player. He did the exact same thing to the next band as well. The funniest part was that he was a bass player himself. ?? Wasn't playing with all 4 strings, so to speak.

Our trip home was uneventful, though we did have the pleasure to listen to the new (pre-release) CD by Bones (aka Michael Miller), the awesome guy who put us up for 2 nights at his house, made us cookies, and generally took care of us in Baton Rouge. The Bones CD is fantastic, I can't wait to share it with everybody here in Houston (and beyond) once it's released. We also spun the new Galactic record, and old MMW record, the most recent Calexico record, and some Righteous Buddha. Good stuff.

Now I'm settled in at home with a book, a wife, and a thunderstorm. I have much to be thankful for.


After my musings about McDonalds and veggie burgers, I had some good discussions with people about why I am a vegetarian. I realized that while I would never crusade to get anyone else to be a vegetarian (I think it's a personal decision), I would crusade to get people to change their mind about one thing: eating meat from factory farms. Yesterday I found this very clever link:


If you are eating meat from factory farms (i.e. meat that doesn't say "free range"), for the love of God, please switch.


News just arrived that a high school friend of my officemate - an officer named Gary Collins, from Magnolia - was killed this weekend in Iraq. It's the first casualty of anyone I know, even indirectly like this.

Like all of our soldiers, he was fighting for the good of his country and the world, and his bravery and sacrifice makes me proud to be an American. He is survived by a wife and 2 kids.


I recently heard through the grapevine that McDonald's is finally introducing some Veggie Burgers in Texas. Nevermind that they're 15 years behind the ball on this one; good to see them trying. They started in SoCal last April, and now they have arrived here in Houston.

So last night, Jill and I took the plunge and hit McDonald's for the first time in, well, years. Our experience? The burgers were weird tasting, rubbery and kind of lame. (And the fries were soggy.) Sure they're low fat but they probably contained our week's worth of sodium. Not what I would call a stellar experience.

BUT, but, but ... well, we do really want to encourage them to sell these veggie burgers nationwide. There have been many times when a Veggie Burger option at Mikey D's would've come in handy (on the road, in the airport, etc). So following the advice on the bag, I called customer service. Naturally, they weren't answering the phone outside of business hours, but they did indicate that you can send them an email through their web site. So I did:

Dear McDonald's,

Last night, for the first time in many, many years, my wife and I ate at McDonald's. You see, we are vegetarians, and McDonald's has long been a bastion of vegetarian-less-ness. (That's not a word as far as I know, is it?) Anyhow, we heard that Veggie burgers (sorry, "McVeggie" burgers) had been introduced here in America's fattest city, Houston, and we rushed right out to try 'em. (OK, well, I rushed out and dragged my wife with me. She was never into McDonald's so much, or at least, never really lived on the stuff to the degree that I did.)

Our experience was ... meager? Not particularly exciting, in any case. Our main beef (hahaha) was the taste and texture of the veggie burgers themselves. They were going for the "meat" feel, which I can understand, but it came off as a bit rubbery. Being regular fake meat eaters, we know there are plenty of yummy meat-like veggie burgers out there, so I would suggest that perhaps a bit more research would be in order.

Maybe they weren't cooked thoroughly enough as well - that could be a training issue; the Sunday night graveyard shift in Houston may simply have been among the least well prepared to cook these burgers. No offense to the staff at the Westheimer location, it was near closing time and I'm sure they were eager to get home and not very excited by a couple hippies showing up to make 'em cook some veggie burgers. They were courteous, and in the end not really responsible for the quality of the ingredients.

Anyway, here's the meat of my suggestion (hahaha): rather than making it a separate type of burger on its own, why not offer it as a substitution? Like, for 50 cents more, you can have a veggie big mac, a veggie hamburger, a veggie cheeseburger, heck, even a veggie bacon cheeseburger (to each their own, right?) I would guzzle veggie big macs by the plateful. Mmm, special sauce.

In any case, thanks for introducing these, it's right direction. Cows of the universe thank you.

Ian Varley
Houston, TX

I'll let you know if they respond.


I happened to notice that today is the birthday of Paul Brindley, the bass player for one of my all time favorite bands, The Sundays. For those not familiar with the Sundays, they're a Brit band with a floaty female singer and virtually indecipherable lyrics - they had a couple hits in the late 80s (one being "Here's Where The Story Ends"). The singer, Harriet, has a gorgeous voice, and together with her guitar-player husband David they wrote some of the most hauntingly beautiful, dissonant, wrenching songs I've ever heard. They produced three of the albums in my (theoretical) "top 100 albums ever" list, and they've been the soundtrack to some of my favorite moments in life.

So naturally, I was poking around today to see if there's any news of a new album by them in the foreseeable future. The basic answer is, no. Harriet and David have 2 young kids now, and don't seem to be in a rush to put out new material. Sadly, most of the information about them on the web has succumbed to link rot - this list of Sundays links is now almost 100% defunct, and Arithmetic (the closest thing to a fan site I could find) hasn't been updated for almost a year. I'll hold out hope, though.

As for Paul, he's now a consultant and music writer with his own web site. Go Paul.


So, OK, I didn't go see Stryper. :( But I saw something even better...

Raq. They were nothing short of amazing. Opie Hendrix and I were standing around talking about how we felt like we should be seeing these guys in front of a huge crowd at Miller, not in front of 20 people on a Tuesday night at the Rhythm Room. They're similar to Phish in many ways (including the fact that they hail from Vermont), but they play faster than Phish and they've got a more obvious progressive rock bent. Which is great with me! I got their CD and I can recommend it highly.

I was talking to the band after their set, and I mentioned that it was too bad that there was such a meager crowd. The drummer, Greg, said "Yeah, crowds are nice, but it doesn't make a difference to us." That's the kind of attitude that separates the success stories from the failure stories. They're playing at the Vibe in Austin tonight, so if anybody in Austin is reading this, go check 'em out. I will keep tabs on 'em and let you know when they're back in town. Big props to Tapir Productions for bringing these guys in.


Just found out on Houston Calling that Stryper is playing at the Engine Room tonight. HELLO!?! Stryper! In Houston! At the Engine Room! I am so there.


For those of you planning on voting in tomorrow's city elections here in Houston (which should be everybody who lives here, right?), check out this fellow, Thomas Zermeno, who's running for city council at large position #4. I have met him at not 1, but 2 separate local improv music events, and in the "60 Musicians" piece I was talking about before, his musical contribution was: chewing. Into a microphone. I think he might have been chewing carrots, or maybe potato chips. That's not important. What is important is that I want a man like this on the city council in Houston. So make sure you vote for him!

Incidentally, besides his prowess as a performance artist, he's also got a neat idea for direct local representation -- meaning that he'll put all the issues up on his web site, and people can vote directly there, thus influencing his decisions. Probably has some technical flaws, but I think experiments with direct democracy are well past nigh in this day and age, with computers and the internet and all. The founding fathers set up our system of representation well based on the world as they knew it, but I think (hope) we're getting closer to a point where people can literally decide issues for themselves directly. Lots of details to work out, but I think the core concept is a good one.

And while I'm on the subject of voting ... did you know that you can look up online whether you're registered or not, and who else is? Pretty nifty, though I'm glad it doesn't list your phone or email or anything, because I'm sure there are nefarious sorts out there who would ignore the part that says "IT IS A CRIMINAL OFFENSE TO USE VOTER REGISTRATION INFORMATION IN CONNECTION WITH ADVERTISING OR PROMOTING COMMERCIAL PRODUCTS OR SERVICES."
Just added myself to a site called GeoURL, which locates web sites in real space (otherwise known by the charming monker "meatspace"). Take a look at who is near me:

Some pretty neat stuff in there, which I've only begun to explore.


Jill and I went to a really cool short film series last night, at the Axiom theater, an indie theater / punk club. It was a program by Microcinema called Halloweird, and weird it was. The first film, by a local Houston director, wasn't really our cup of tea, but the rest of the shorts - by directors all over the world - were really excellent. Among the highlights were "Pervula", a mock-1920's-silent-film about a perverted cloth-faced vampire chasing a screeching young woman with the intention of spanking her; "Le Corbeau", a french film about a older couple and a crow, and "How To Cope With Death", a cartoon in which the grim reaper comes after an old woman sitting in front of her television, only to have his ass squarely kicked by her, kung-fu style.

Anyway, it's just more proof (to me) that Houston has excellent, interesting, twisted, independent arts events to compete with any other city. The difference is that here, it's just the transplants and French ex-pats who people these excellent events.

Listening to: Ani's double live disc, realizing (again) that she's the best.