Friday, February 27, 2009
D.K. is a fellow attorney, and I've known her for just about as long as I've been practicing law (which, strangely enough, means we've been friends for about a decade now). Although she currently works as a staff attorney for the Travis County judges, D.K. got her start by working as a defense attorney, so we were comrades in arms for many years as members of the defense bar before each of us moved on into different positions.
D.K. is a good friend and a great listener, and she's spent many a lunchtime hour over the years patiently listening to me vent about all manner of topics, ranging from personal issues to problems with clients and problematic cases. She's good at offering occasional advice and solutions, but even more importantly, she's good at just lending an empathetic ear (plus, we both enjoy a good exchange of old fashioned courthouse gossip).
I think DK's really good sense of humor and her short stature sometimes make people forget that she can be a tenacious, aggressive lawyer. She really does know a lot about the law, though, and she's always done a really good, conscientious job of representing her clients (whether she was working to help out indigent, Spanish speaking criminal defendants, or, in her current job, a bunch of busy, demanding judges).
Most importantly, though, DK is just a good friend.
Happy birthday, D.K.!!! I hope you have a good one!!!
Anyway, Mandy is a really great person who has a lot of love for her family and friends, and an innate, admirable sense of commitment to the community around her (which she's shown through by way of doing things ranging from working with our neighborhood association to volunteering in the gardens at MHMR and at Zilker to collecting donations for various charitable organizations and even just by being kind of a nut about recycling).
Sooooo.... many happy returns, Mandy! I hope you have a good birthday, and I hope that your upcoming year is a good one. I'm really lucky to have you as a friend and neighbor.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
"I bet it tastes like Cheese Whiz."
"Dude, it's for dogs. I doubt it tastes like Cheese Whiz."
"Man, it's totally Cheese Whiz. Why wouldn't it be Cheese Whiz?"
"Because Cheese Whiz would probably make a dog sick?"
"Whatever. It's overpriced Cheese Whiz."
Jamie and I looked at each other.
Jamie made a defeated little moan and muttered, "Get the camera."
Did you watch the president's address last night?
I thought he did a good job. He did a nice job of trying to reassure people and providing a kind of optimistic long term outlook in terms of our economic recovery while still being fairly honest about the fact that we continue to face significant difficulties and challenges.
I'm sure there were plenty of things in there that will continue to make the Republicans nervous (Obama has outlined some pretty ambitious programs, including health care reform, transitions to greener energy, improvements in education, etc., and he continues to maintain that further funding will be needed for bank bailouts and other recovery projects, a process which Obama recognizes is not always popular with the public, but which he insists is necessary in order to revitalize the economy). The theory, however, is that the majority of economists seem to think that government intervention through stimulus spending is necessary right now in order to get the country back on track, so we might as well try to institute some programs that are going to provide long term benefits for Americans in exchange for that money.
At any rate, Obama once again reiterated his campaign promise to roll back tax breaks for the wealthiest top 2% of Americans while making sure that taxes for Americans making under $250,000 a year remain either unchanged or get reduced.
So, yeah, it was a pretty good speech, and Obama continued to reach out to Republicans, stating that we wouldn't always see eye to eye, but that we should all keep in mind that both parties, at their core, serve to do what they think is best for the American people.
The Republican response was by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Jindal did a decent job, actually, and his response was far less cynical and caustic than much of the rhetoric that we've seen from the right in recent years, but Jindal just doesn't have anywhere near the charisma that Obama has as a public speaker (but then agian, very few people do). Anyway, I actually liked the fact that Jindal spoke mostly in positive terms- focusing on a fairly positive message about putting power in the hands of individual citizens rather than relying upon the government to fix things. Jindal also took the interesting step of admitting that the Republican party has pretty much failed in living up to its "small government, robust private sector" ideals over the last eight years, but he recommitted his party to supporting that philosophy in the upcoming years. Anyway, I think Jindal was well-served by avoiding a bunch of negative, cynical attacks on the Obama administration and by instead offering an intellectually honest perspective which differs from that of the Democrats. I'm a big ol' Democrat myself, but even I have to admit that I remain wary of wasteful government spending and of continued funding for programs that fail to produce results.
Where the true difference lies, I guess, is in the fact that I still have faith in the goverment's ability to accomplish a great many things- helping people up, not giving them handouts- as opposed to many Republicans who simply assume that the goverment can never do anything right. I've always found it strange that leaders in the GOP campaign for government jobs while at the same time telling people that the government is an ineffective, inefficient body that shouldn't be trusted. I still believe that good, effective, efficient goverment can actually accomplish great things and make tremendous differences in the life of American citizens. Plus, I really don't trust the profit-driven motives of the private sector in doing a good job of taking care of people in many respects. Where Republicans see the private sector as fulfilling all of the needs of private citizens who know best how to take care of themselves, I feel like I too often see the private industry as manipulative, exploitative, and predatory when trying to turn a profit.
Anyway, Jindal did ok, but I think that the GOP is really trying to develop a more positive image for itself these days. We'll see if they stick with it or default back to the more cynical viewpoints that they've always been more comfortable with.
Ooops- I gotta run! Have a good one!
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
There was kind of an interesting editorial today in the New York Times by Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional lawyer and a columnist for Salon.com, about the concept of bipartisanship and whether it's really a goal that's worth pursuing (it was actually one of five editorials on the subject, but I found Greenwald's the most interesting).
Greenwald's main point was that although Americans are drawn to the abstract idea of "bipartisanship" (we like to think that our greatest conquests are to be gained through compromise and cooperation rather than through a ruthless battle of ideas), he goes on to point out that, in practice, historically recent legislative efforts which have been hailed as "bipartisan" successes have been on issues that appeal to the Republican base of the party and to just enough Democrats to create a majority. Greenwald maintains that most "bipartisan" efforts of the last decade have actually supported Republican policies, and that especially during the years of the Bush administration, bipartisanship was, in actuality, little more than a way to reinforce Republican ideals and a method by which Republicans attempted to maintain control over Democrats, even when the Democrats were in a position of power. Greenwald goes on to state that voters in 2006 and 2008 seem to have overwhelmingly voted in support of Democratic ideals, and he argues that the Democrats would be betraying a sort of trust placed in them by the voters if they proved too willing to adopt Republican policies or ideology in the name of "bipartisanship" (the Democrats ran on a platform that promised change from the governing style of the Republicans, Greenwald asserts- therefore, bending too far to the right or watering down Democratic ideals by way of accomodation is something of a betrayal).
Perhaps more convincingly, Greenwald argues that the Republicans have already clearly taken to casting themselves in the role of an opposition party- painting themselves as honor-bound in their quest to lend voice to the millions of Americans who oppose the Democrats and their policies (thus the vote on the stimulus package which received not a single Republican vote in the House and only 3 Republican votes in the Senate). The Republicans have no interest in mitigating any possible blame that Democrats might receive if their policies fail or any interest in helping to ease the job of Democrats as they try to win over support for legislation and various programs. The Republicans seem to be glad to take over the role of opposition party, and they seem intent on laying traps and gathering ammunition against the Democrats (for use in future campaigns) wherever possible.
So Greenwald has me rethinking this bipartisanship business a bit. Like many people, I like the idea of cooperation and of people accomplishing great things by getting along. On the other hand, I hate the feeling of being played for a sucker. If the only real interest that Republicans have in bipartisanship is to cry crocodile tears and disingenuously bandy the term about whenever the Democrats trudge through and make progress without them (while the Republicans simultaneously focus the rest of their efforts on fighting to obstruct the Democrats every step of the way on every single thing that they try to do) then maybe "bipartisanship" isn't really all it's been cracked up to be.
Anyway, it would be great to have our leaders cooperate, get along, and to accomplish great things through compromise and fair negotiation. On the other hand, only a fool would continue bargaining with a man who keeps crying that he is being treated unfairly but who, meanwhile, is unwilling to engage in fair negotiation for his own part (especially if the first person was in a much stronger negotiating position than the second). I guess I'm a fan of the ideal of bipartisanship, but I'm not so idealistic that I would let that ideal be used against me- especially to the point where it began to compromise my other principles.
Well, gotta run.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Here's a tip for ya- Powderfinger is a little bit harder to play than you might think by just listening to it.
I have to admit that I DVR'ed the Oscars and fast forwarded through it to see who won. I was happy to see Sean Penn win an Oscar for best actor in Milk, and I was happy to see Slumdog Millionaire win best picture. I saw both of those movies and enjoyed them a great deal. In terms of the Oscars themselves, I thought Seth Rogan and James Franco had a pretty funny skit about movies that came out this year that didn't get nominated for anything.
Anyhoo, that was the weekend. The weather outside is great again today, and I'm trapped inside at stupid work (ok, I'm really pretty happy with my job, but when the weather's like this it's just hard to be inside). To make matters more annoying, I have these great big windows in my office, but someone painted them shut long ago, so I can't even crack them open to enjoy the fresh air. Grrrrrr.....
Well, I hope you guys are having a good one.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Beeeeeeautiful weather today in the ATX. Hope it holds up through the weekend.
I know I've kind of beat this stimulus package thing to death, but there's a pretty good editorial in Newsweek this week by Jonathan Alter about the stimulus package and the partisan response that it's gotten and why the whole thing is kind of symbolic of a larger problem that we're having in which the most radical members of each party (i.e., the wingnuts) seem to be somehow dictating what the parties do (Alter has a suggestion for trying to remedy this problem by changing the way that primaries work in many states- essentially having multiparty primaries where the top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, end up running in the general election against each other. You'll have to read the article yourself to get the details and see if you think his idea is justified or plausible).
And I guess the Academy Awards are on Sunday. My brother, aka Roundball, aka The League, aka Ryan, seems to have some sort of pathological distaste for the Oscars which he has been attempting to recast as some sort of philosophical, ethical objection. I'm not sure of his exact line of reasoning, but it has something to do with a lack of objective criteria for handing out the awards coupled with an inappropriate amount of focus placed upon movies that come out late in the year combined with a lack of imagination or vision on the part of the judges which results in them picking the same "types" of movies year after year. I guess I understand his basic criticisms, but when he took the next leap of logic into the realm of asserting that these flaws created some sort of moral obligation for people to not watch the show, I parted ways with him.
I will say, however, that I agree that people, in general, take the Oscars way too seriously and give them far too much weight in terms of assigning critical merit to a competing film. The Oscars, at their heart, are just awards handed out to because some questionable group of people (yes, I'm referring to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as a questionable group of people) happened to like them.
Personally, I don't think that the Oscars do a very good job of rewarding innovation or true artistic vision (the academy is much more concerned with choosing safer, more traditional films), and they don't necessarily do a good job of predicting which movies or performances will really stick with audiences and become classic favorites over time (some go on to be classics, but others- not so much. We've all heard of the "Oscar curse" in which an actor or actress never seems to repeat the supposed success they had when they won their Oscar, but in truth, what this often reflects are those occasions when the academy has handed out awards to actors or actresses who just weren't that great in the first place).
Anyway, people should still enjoy the Oscars for what it is- a chance to see the stars come out and party with each other in the most glamorous clothing that Hollywood can produce while watching film clips from some nifty movies. And sometimes the hosts and presenters can be kind of entertaining.
But let's not take the whole thing too seriously, shall we? After all, most of us have spent a lifetime watching movies, discussing movies, and analyzing movies. Many of us have education levels that are higher than half of the people who are part of the voting academy (working in film has traditionally not been one of those occupations which has required higher education in one's background, so you sort of get a mixed bag with people employed in the film industry- the largest segment of the academy voting block is comprised of actors, and there are a whole lotta film actors out there who don't need a lot of wall space for their diploma collection). Some of us rubes out here in the middle American viewing audience even have degrees in film and/or have written our own screenplays (ok, here's your nod Ryan and Jackbart). My point is that significant portions of the American viewing audience is, in many instances, probably every bit as qualified and competent to judge movies as the members of the academy, so I can kind of relate when Roundball gets a little worked up by the pomp, circumstance, and self-promoted gravitas of the Oscars. The academy isn't really qualified to tell us what the best movies of the year were, so much as they've just gotten good at selecting certain kinds of movies (typically something with just the right mix of some artistic integrity, widespread marketability, and typically a touch of a moral lesson thrown in for good measure).
So this year, eat your popcorn, watch the pretty dresses, but try to keep in mind that somewhere out there Roundball is losing his mind because the Oscars are once again rewarding the same old crap.
That's it for now. Have a good one!
Thursday, February 19, 2009
At work today I took part in an interview by the Public Policy Insitute from Texas A&M. It was kind of interesting. They came to check out our mental health docket, and then they're going to be headed to Dallas and Tarrant Counties to examine their mental health courts and to interview their personnel. I guess the end goal is to come up some kind of report that other counties can use when setting up mental health dockets and courts of their own.
Anyway, there's no easier way to get people talking than to ask them to describe something about themself, and such was the case today when they started asking me about the mental health docket. I guess I'm a little more enthusisastic and proud of what we're doing than I realized. The balance between protecting the community (and I don't just mean physical safety, but protecting property rights and the right for people to go about their lives without being hasseled as well) versus making sure that mentally ill people are treated with the special care and attention that they deserve can be a bit of a tricky, nuanced affair, but I think we have good people working on the issue, and I think that it's a great time to be a prosecutor in dealing with these issues (I don't mean to overstate things, but in some ways we're kind of entering a bit of a new age in terms of taking mental health issues seriously within the criminal justice system).
Anyway, it was sort of an interesting interview.
What else? Well, according to a new Fox news poll, 51 percent of Americans support the economic stimulus package that was just passed by Congress, with 40 percent of Americans opposing it. I just want to sort of mark these poll numbers on this day in history, because if things get worse before they get better (or heck, even if they just get better more slowly than people would like) then Republicans are going to try to rewrite history and claim that Obama was some wild-eyed liberal who went off the reservation and forced an unpopular piece of legislation down the throats of Americans against their will. Let the record reflect that more than half of the people in our country wanted this legislation passed and thought it was a good idea- and it ain't easy to get more than half of the people in this country to agree on anything. At least 58 percent, according to the Fox poll, thought that some form of legislation was necessary (although Fox claims that 23 percent opposed the plan that passed congress).
Plus, I just don't understand the simple implementation of additional tax cuts as a reasonable alternative. Economists have largely agreed that tax cuts given during a recession mostly just end up being saved and hidden away by the individuals or businesses which receive them rather than actually ending up being spent in ways that might reinvigorate the economy (and when I've mentioned this to some people, they've kind of discounted this idea, saying- "Well, only the Keynesian economists say that," but for one thing, from the little bit that I understand, I tend to think these Keynesian guys (who support the occasional action of government to correct for privates sector mistakes) understand a thing or two, but even more importantly, I think that there are just a whole bunch of different economists who think that America is currently in an extremely unusual position, and that we need to take some extraordinary measures (which this huge stimulus bill surely is). Here's a list of a bunch of economists and finance experts who support Obama. Check them out. You're going to find some names of people in there who have served under Republican administrations (among them, Paul Volcker, a Democrat who Reagan reappointed as Chairman of the Federal Reserve in 1983, David Ruder was Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission under Reagan, and William Donaldson, who served as S.E.C. chairman under George W. Bush). Also, there are a number of Nobel laureates who support Obama, and Warren Buffet is somewhere in there, throwing support behind our president.
All of this support from the experts doesnt' guarantee that the stimulus bill is going to work, of course, but it at least demonstrates that some of the best and brightest minds in the country think that it's a good idea and worth a shot. And the only alternative being offered is more tax cuts. Seems like we already tried that for 8 years. Plus, the Republicans keep complaining about government spending, but tax cuts are really just a disguised version of the same thing. Cutting taxes costs the government money and takes funds out of the government coffers. That money is going to be needed and need to be paid back at some point. Is it really better to give tax cuts now when you know that future generations are going to have to make up the difference? (a thought which becomes even more depressing when you consider the possibility that tax cuts probably won't stimulate the economy, and future generations may have to try to pay back that money with a damaged economy)
Still with me? I can hear the snoring out there, but my point is just that Obama is doing the best that he can, and the American people seem to still support him so far. I continue to really like our new president and wish him the best of luck.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Look, here's the thing. Undoubtedly this kid was acting up and being disruptive and generally making a big pain in the ass out of himself. On the other hand, this kid was also 18 years old, and fully capable of walking out of school if he didn't want to be there. To be honest, I work with mentally ill people a lot in my current job, and this kid sounds like the may have had some mental health issues (most healthy people don't engage in the sort of decision making processes that Merritt seemed to be exhibiting here). Anyway, if he wasn't old enough to leave or didn't follow the appropriate channels for leaving the school, then a truancy warrant should have been issued so that officers could pick him up later (hopefully officers trained to deal with mental health situations who understand how to de-escalate situations rather than making them worse- at any rate, the same person whom the student just had the confrontation with should not have been the one sent to go bring him back). Admittedly, I don't have all the details, but I really don't see how the correct course of action in this circumstance was for a prinicipal and and a school resource officer to grab a taser and to go looking for this kid (who was clearly kind of out of control and having some kind of emotional outburst in the first place).
There's something about working around kids all day that occasionally seems to put educators and school faculty into sort of an adolescent mindset. It seems like this situation was created more by the attitude of an administrator who couldn't stand to have his authority questioned than by the act of a student who just wanted to escape his surroundings. Clearly the person who was suffering the most harm by walking out of school was Merritt himself. He's depriving himself of an education, but to be honest, his choice to leave the school probably was one of the better things that could have happened for the teachers and other students involved (in terms of getting rid of a distraction). What was the point of hunting this kid down and dragging him back? To throw him in some kind of detention where no one is learning anything and resources have to be expended so that someone can sit and babysit this kid all day? Kids should be sent the message that attendance in school is a privilege with the understanding that failure to participate really just hurts the student and not anyone else. Using our schools to warehouse kids (especially older kids) who don't want to be there is just a mistake- a waste of taxpayer resources and a counterproductive activity for both teachers and students.
The kid is 18. If he's old enough to sign up for the Marine Corps and get sent to Iraq, then he's probably old enough to decide whether or not he wants to be in school.
Anyway, it's good to see ol' Westwood still making headlines.
And I guess Rockstar Games is releasing a new downloadable add on chapter for Grand Theft Auto IV. It's called "The Lost and the Damned", and apparently it's about a motorcycle gangster. I guess it costs around $20.
I want to play the thing, but I currently don't have my XBox hooked up to the internet (I've tried online gaming a few times and have never really found that it lived up to its potential, to be honest), so I'm not sure about picking up a game for my console that only comes in downloadable form.
Anyway, I still haven't managed to complete Fallout 3, so in terms of the videogaming, I've got that...
Well, I gotta run, but maybe more later.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Just wanted to make a few quick notes about the weekend while I had the chance.
I spent some time rocking out with my brother and Reed this weekend. Ryan's still in the preliminary stages on learning the bass, but he's got a pretty solid sense of rhythm and the will to rock, so he's coming along nicely. Anyway, we had a good time. We did a little jamming, and also played a few covers (some Wilco and Radiohead made the mix, as well as some half-assed Spoon). I think the working title for our band is going to be Reed, Jason, and Platypus.
Yesterday I went and saw Slumdog Millionaire. Plotwise, the movie was pretty much what I expected given what I had read about it, but the movie was very well done in terms of direction, acting, story, and cinematography. They did a really good job of kind of showing many different aspects of life in India without getting particularly preachy or judgmental. Anyway, I enjoyed the movie quite a bit.
Well, I've gotta run, but have a good one.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Anyway, I hope you guys are having a good one.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Hey, I've been having some problems with comments not publishing and going into my moderation inbox without my being notified, so I apologize if you tried to comment and it wasn't published quickly. Bear with me. I publish the overwhelming majority of all comments, and I enjoy getting them.
Last night I had a nice dinner with the neighbors. I'm a truly lucky person to have such good neighbors, and to have my brother and sister-in-law so close by. These are the sorts of things that make my house feel like a home.
Do you guys know that My Morning Jacket song, Golden?
(here's MMJ playing Golden at the Parish in the ATX- they make a flub or two, which I can appreciate)
Anyway, I bought a Marco Benevento CD that has a piano-heavy, crazy drums instrumental version of the song, and now I can't get that song out of my head.
I'm sorry to see Judd Gregg leave Obama's cabinet. From what I've heard so far, it sounds like it was entirely Gregg's idea to withdraw his nomination as Commerce Secretary. Gregg stated that he was just "too conservative" to work in the Obama administration, and that he didn't feel like he could be true to himself while holding that position. I guess there are going to be some people who are going to try to portray this withdrawal as some kind of failure on Obama's part, citing this as an example of naivete or inexperience on Obama's part, but in effect, critics who are making those kinds of criticisms are saying that Obama should have been more cynical or distrustful when trying to make some bipartisan selections for his cabinet, and personally, I'm still impressed that President Obama has been willing to try to reach across party lines and include contrary viewpoints in his cabinet. Gregg knew what he was signing on for when he initially agreed to serve as Commerce Secretary, and it's not really Obama's fault that the Republican strategy following the elections has been to circle the wagons and seek to reject any possibility of change. Obama has sought to include Republicans on his cabinet, invited Republicans to the White House and met with them personally to discuss the stimulus bill and other matters, and made sure that significant tax cuts and other Republican concessions were included in the stimulus package. For his efforts he's received little more than scorn and obstructionism from a bunch of Republicans who think they're carrying on a noble effort by insisting upon a bunch of tax cuts (which not only are unlikely to help the current economic situation, but which provide additional wealth to the current generation at the cost of passing the government debt created by the tax cuts on to the next generation- the stimulus spending plan will create debt, too, no doubt, but the Democrats have been much more up front about that and also insist that it will create jobs more quickly).
Anyway, if Gregg was serious about serving his country (and, for that matter, his party) I think he should have stuck things out much longer and sought to advocate for conservative ideals from within the Obama administration. This move, withdrawing his name from nomination at this point, is nothing but a cynical, calculated move meant to shore up Gregg's reputation with hardcore conservatives.
Increasingly it has become clear to me that the Republicans simply are not interested in compromise or any kind of middle ground. When they held power they paid no attention whatsoever to Democratic viewpoints, and now, when they're not in control, their attitude toward bipartisan negotiation is that they would rather take their ball and go home than compromise to any degree on any important issues. The Republicans campaign and govern using scorched earth tactics, and they're kind of pushing the Democrats into a place where pretty soon they're going to have no choice but to do the same. Democrats can't afford to spend a ton of time trying to get the Republicans to play nice, because you can bet your life on the fact that the the Republicans will campaign on the fact that the Democrats didn't get anything done if the Democrats don't just push some stuff through Congress (of course, the Republicans will be crying about a lack of bipartisanship if the Democrats manage to start pushing legislation through, but it seems at the moment that their cries for bipartisanship are, in actuality, cries for an opporunity to obstinately obstruct progress).
Hats off to Republican stimulus supporters Arlen Specter, Olympia Snow, and Susan Collins, who probably don't think that the stimulus bill is perfect, but recognize that concessions have been made in the bill toward conservative interests and who see the need for a timely, bold measure that has a decent chance of helping to revive the economy (plus, supporting this bill is likely to get them some brownie points toward their own projects in the future).
Anyway, I think the president is learning some hard lessons about the combative nature of Washington politics (I already heard him make a comment during one interview where he dryly said that maybe he shouldn't have included any tax cuts in his initial version of the stimulus bill because that way maybe the Republican Senators and Congressman could have claimed a greater measure of victory when tax cuts were later placed in there). I hope he stays patient and persistent, however, and continues to try to foster an air of compromise in Washington (although not to the extent that nothing gets done). The country needs someone who can take a few body blows and still retain the willingness to extend a hand.
Well, that's it for now. Hope you guys have a good one and enjoy your Friday!!!!!
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Have a good one!
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
The documentary was definitely well made and did a good job of chronicling the assassination of Lincoln, as well as the events leading up to and following the assassination, but I still had some weird feelings about watching the thing.
The reason I felt conflicted, in short, was due to the careful attention and the "humanizing"portrayal that John Wilkes Booth received. Now I know that John Wilkes Booth is a somewhat important figure in history, worthy of some study and scrutiny if, for no other reason, than because he was the man who assassinated one of our nation's most important leaders of all time (the historical record should try to document who this man was and what he was all about). On the other hand, the historians interviewed in the documentary seemed to go out of their way to try to make sure that people understand Booth as a "real" person- not some crazy, out of control murderer and assassin, but instead as a disaffected, angry Southerner who saw himself as righteously avenging the crimes and indignities which had been wrought against his homeland. The historians in the documentary go on to tell us that Booth may have been the man who shot Lincoln, but that Booth was far from alone in his rage and his murderous sentiments, and that he was merely acting upon impulses that he shared with many other Southerners.
Okay. Like I said, I understand the need to maintain a record of who Lincoln's assassin was and what he was up to in the time leading up to and following Lincoln's shooting. On the other hand, there's a part of me that is annoyed by the fact that historians are giving this murderer exactly what he wanted when they spend so much time studying the minutia of the man's life and struggling to understand his motives. Assassins, terrorists, and other politically motivated killers often commit their crimes with the intent that the world remember their acts and empathize with their cause. Booth, like most politically motivated killers, was desperate for the world to understand (and hopefully to eventually support) his crime. Even as he camped in the wilderness, fleeing from the manhunt that pursued him, Booth put pen to paper in order to make sure that his rationalizations would be heard and understood by future generations.
And historians have eagerly gobbled such writings up- trying to "humanize" the struggling actor and make his motivations the sorts of things that people can relate to, despite the passage of generations since Lincoln's death.
Here's the thing. I understand why historians engage in this sort of behavior. They want to truly understand every aspect of their subject of study, including being able to relate to the assassin as a "real" person. I can't help but feel, however, that if these same historians were truly seeing Booth as a real person, they'd see him as an arrogant, self-absorbed, a**hole of a man who killed a president who did, in fact, lead The Union to victory over The Confederacy, but who also was one of the staunchest advocates the South as reconstruction and reunification efforts were beginning to take place (there were many Northerners who wanted to take punitive measures against the South in order to punish them for secession, but Lincoln was strongly in favor of forgiveness and in favor of the expenditure of considerable federal dollars in order to reconstruct the battle-ravaged former Confederate states).
I guess I just see there being a bit of a moral conundrum in terms of carefully studying and preserving the historical record of a political murderer. Think about the possibility of political assassination today, and maybe the issue will seem more clear. If someone were to assassinate president Obama because they wanted to draw attention to some kind of political cause or advance some agenda (whether it be the white supremacy movement or the defense of pure capitalism or whatever), wouldn't people be annoyed when the media played right into the killer's plan by immediately focusing a bunch of media coverage on the terrorist's cause or organization? Giving the terrorists that sort of media coverage only exacerbates the problem. Potential terrorists watch the coverage of such an event and immediately realize that violence is a good way to grab the world's attention and get their message out.
Same thing with the historians (who are essentially investigative reporters who are trying to preserve important events in a permanent record). What better motivation for the politically motivated killer than to know that their actions (and hopefully their motivations) are going to resonate throughout history for all time? Lincoln spent his presidential life struggling to maintain the unity of our country, but his death is marked by the dishonorable actions of a man who wanted our nation split in two (and yes, Lincoln's assassination was a dishonorable act. I don't care if Booth thought he was avenging the South or killing a tyrant or whatever. sneaking up behind an unarmed, unaware man during the middle of a play and shooting him in the back of the head is a cowardly, despicable act).
Anyway, there is, of course, an argument to be made that understanding why someone would feel motivated to kill Lincoln might give us some insight into what Lincoln stood for and what he sought to accomplish (i.e., if you understoof why someone felt compelled to kill Lincoln, you might come to a greater understanding of the principles held by Lincoln that threatened his assassin).
In terms of humanizing Booth, however- I just don't have an interest in it. In my mind, humanizing the man means seeing him as the criminal and murderer that he was and holding him in the same contempt that I would today's murderers. I don't think either the passage of time nor the revered status of his victim makes me want to lend him a bullhorn so that he can try to rationalize and romanticize his actions.
I guess I just got turned off by some of the historians who appeared in the documentary who seemed a little too eager and excited to talk about what was clearly one of their favorite subjects- John Wilkes Booth. I'm sitting there realizing how much of their academic lives have been given to studying this guy, and I just wanna say, "But he's just a murderer! He's some mediocre actor who didn't even fight for the South, but who thought he would make a name for himself by hiding in some closet and then popping out to shoot an unarmed man in the back of the head!"
Oh well. It's history. What can you do? It just bothers me that other people might be motivated to do bad things, also with the intent of getting their names and their causes recorded in the history books. On the other hand, I really don't want the historical record devoid of all of the bad people who did bad things, obviously. I guess I just don't need historians trying to help me "relate" to someone like John Wilkes Booth.
Can you tell that I spent some time in ethics classes while getting my philosophy degree? Why do I find it interesting to think about this stuff?
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Last night I watched TV. I watched Obama's address about the stimulus plan (which I didn't intend to watch after having seem him give a very similar speech last Thursday, but it was on just about every channel), watched 24, and yes, I watched Heroes again. Sometime during Heroes I fell asleep, but that's ok. Really.
When recapping the events of my weekend yesterday, I failed to mention the fact that I had watched the Kevin Bacon movie, Death Sentence on cable. Death Sentence (and here there be spoilers) deals with a suburban dad and the disintegration of his idyllic, extraordinarily "normal" family. Everything goes to hell for the family when a stop at an inner city gas station results in the death of his eldest son during a gang initiation. From there, the dad exacts revenge, which the gang bangers respond to by exacting their own revenge, and pretty soon the whole thing is some kind of free for all blood bath mess.
I didn't really care for Death Sentence. It was too depressing to really be an action movie, and the action sequences were ok, but not really outstanding. As a drama, the plot and the acting weren't really good enough to draw me in. The movie was extremely forgettable, and indeed, I forgot about it so quickly (with 48 hours after seeing it) that I forgot to write about it in yesterday's post.
So there ya go.
I don't have much to share, so I'll just shut up. Hope you guys are doing okay out there. It's been awfully quiet lately....
Monday, February 09, 2009
I guess there's an article from The Austin American Statesman today about one of the programs that I work with in my job. The program is called Project Recovery, and it's a rehab program for hardcore, mostly homeless alcoholics who are interested in getting sober and getting off the streets. The program involves 3 months of intensive inpatient treatment during which the patients live at the Project Recovery facility and undergo therapy. Following that there's a three month outpatient component where the clients (i.e., defendants) find themselves jobs and a place to live while continuing to attend group meetings and see their therapists at the Project Recovery facility. The program isn't easy, and many times their are relapses involved before these guys get anywhere near being completely successful (like I said, most of these guys are homeless alcoholics, many of whom have been living on the streets and drinking heavily for decades), but I've also seen some miraculous success stories. For many of these guys, they have arrest records in which they're getting arrested 30 or 40 times a year for stuff like public intoxication and criminal trespass. Sometimes success just means that they've cut their drinking down to the point where maybe they only get arrested once or twice a year. The counsellors tell me that many serious alcoholics have to try to quit many, many times (somewhere between 5 and 10 times is not uncommon) before they're finally able to finally stay sober. Anyway, it's hard to say exactly what counts as a success when dealing with these guys, but I can definitely say that it's been an eye opening experience for me. (My role, incidentally, is to make sure that the guys know that the program has rules, and that the County Attorney's Office is interested in enforcing those rules. Doing things like running away from the program for a couple of days or bringing alcohol on the premises usually results in spending a few days in jail. I make sure to hear them out, and I try to make sure they know that we're continuing to support them in their efforts to stay sober, but I also make it clear that there are ramifications for rules violations, and I'm there to ask the judge to put them in jail when they screw up.)
Anyway, if you want to know how I spend my Wednesdays and Fridays, check out the article.
What else....? The weekend was good, but too quick. Friday I saw Taken with Liam Neeson. Neeson plays some kind of former CIA operative who's daughter gets kidnapped by Algerian sex slave traders while she's on vacation in Paris. One of the writers was Luc Besson, who directed La Femme Nikita and The Professional (both of which I like very much). Anyway, the movie was fast paced and entertaining, but it had very little depth. I mean, the movie was about a skilled government agent who was doing everything within his power to get his daughter back, and there really wasn't much to it beyond that. It kind of reminded me of Man on Fire a little bit, except that at least in Man on Fire the relationship between Creasy (the bodyguard) and Pita (the kid) is slightly more nebulous, so you're not sure exactly how far the protagonist is going to push things. In Taken, the bad guys steal the protagonist's daughter, and there's never much doubt that he's willing to do some crazy sh*t to get her back.
Anyway, Taken is probably worth watching for people who like intense action movies, but it might just be a renter. I would say that it was pretty entertaining, but also kind of forgettable.
I also finally got around to watching Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay on cable this weekend. It had some really funny moments (and was probably, overall, much funnier than I expected), but it also had this weird scene where they meet President George "Dubbya" Bush, and discover that he's really this super nice guy and that all of the bad stuff that he's been doing is because of all of the bad people that Dubbya's daddy forces him to surround himself with (keeping in mind that racist Homeland Security forces are responsible for the titular incarceration of the main characters in the first place). I just wasn't buying that particular plot point (especially since Bush, Sr. seems to have a more level head on his shoulders than his son and has indicated on at least a few occasions that he doesn't necessarily agree with all of the choices that his son has made). Anyway, that plot point aside, it was a pretty entertaining movie (for a dumb comedy).
I also had band practice yesterday with Mono Ensemble. All five us made it, and we had a pretty good practice. It had been several weeks since we had gotten together, so things were a little bit rusty, but we sounded okay, and it felt really good just to be making some music again. I do not take such things for granted, and lately I've really been appreciating the chance to jam with the guys from the band. It's just a good thing in my life.
That's about it. Look like Senators may have reached a compromise on the Stimulus Bill. Just in case no one thinks that the Democrats did any good faith negotiating or weren't willing to compromise on this thing, here's a list of some of the stuff that got cut out of the bill (including money for NASA, school nutrition programs, federal prisons, distance learning programs, the National Science Foundation, Fish and Wildlife, Homeland Security, Head Start, Title 1 [No Child Left Behind], school construction, higher education construction, state fiscal stabilization, etc.). Arrrrgh. Some of these programs are probably desperately in need of money after being squeezed for cash over the last 8 years by an administration that wanted to send all of our money to some pointless war in Iraq. Anyway, next time the Republicans say the Democrats aren't playing ball, I want someone to just kick them in their butts.
Well, that's it for now. Hope you guys are doing okay.
Sunday, February 08, 2009
Auto-Tune definitely has legitimate uses. If someone records a near perfect version of a song, but hits a couple of wrong notes, Auto-Tune can be used to fix the mistakes without having to re-record the entire track. Auto-Tune can also be used in order to help vocals remain consistent throughout a song, which allows for easier "click and paste" editing through Pro-Tools (this sort of editing has its own issues in terms of creating music that musicians may or may not be able to reproduce live, but it's well-entrenched as the industry standard).
Nonetheless, there are some issues with Auto-Tune that ought to be considered in terms of the impact that the software has upon music as an art form. Starting with this: so now you really don't even need to be able to sing in order to be a singer. This is swinging the door wide open for a whole new generation of Britney Spears style performers who really can't carry a tune (most of these pop stars already don't play instruments or write any of their own music), but who have a marketable look and a carefully crafted "style" which is designed to sell records. Apple is currently working on an auto-tune application for their iPhones which will allow users to make perfect recordings of their own voice to share with friends. Home computer versions of auto Tune are available for less than $100 for use in home studios. If they had possessed Auto-Tune at the time, the guys in Milli Vanilli probably wouldn't have needed to lip synch because the engineers in the studio could have just altered their real voices enough to make them palatable to a pop audience. As the article points out, Auto Tune makes it possible for someone like Kanye West to sing while making it sound like he never misses notes (don't get me wrong- Mr. West has got some skills, but perfect singing just isn't one of them). Auto-Tune may also be making some fairly decent singers much lazier, as they know that sub standard performances can just be "run through the box" and fixed through engineering. Some of the blood, sweat and tears involved in making a perfect recording (as well as some of the passion and emotion) may be lost when performers know that the computer can always clean up their mistakes.
Another point, this one probably a more troubling one, is discussed by superproducer Rick Rubin in the article. Rubin argues that Auto-Tune robs singers of a great deal of the uniqueness, individuality, and emotion that comes through in their voices. Aside from the obvious examples of "unique" sounding singers whose voices would probably be all but ruined by bending them to make them consistently in tune (Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, etc.), even singers more well-known for their technical accuracy occasionally sing off-pitch notes, but this adds to the emotional uniqueness of their performance (the article cites some notes in Norah Jones's album recording of "Don't Know Why" as an example).
Auto-Tune puts people in tune, but it robs performances of some of their emotion and personality. Auto-Tune produces technical accuracy, but at the risk of making singers sound like very pretty robots. Recordings with Auto-Tune may sound technically perfect, but lack the emotional impact of an original, unmodified recording of natural human performance.
Anyway, I'm by no means a music professional, but I'm still somewhat sensitive to all of this monkeying around with sound waves in the interest of making music sound "more perfect". The guys in my own band, Mono Ensemble, are generally into making music with a minimal number of effects put on the music between the time it leaves out mouths or our instruments and the time people hear it. We use some distortion on our guitars, but we use very little (if any) reverb, chorus, etc. I'm not sure that this sort of performing technique has been a really conscious decision (every once in a while someone will make a foray into some kind of crazy effects, but it usually doesn't last very log), so much as it's been a product of just wanting people to really here what we sound like (i.e., if people are going to like or dislike our music, we just kind of want it to be because of the songwriting or performance- not because they like or dislike some effect we're using). Of course, we also don't use a lot of effects because we're usually doing things on the cheap, and effects generally cost money.
Anyway, Auto-Tune probably has its place, and eventually producers and engineers will settle down and quit using it on everything they create, but the most important thing, in the interest of simply preserving a little musical integrity, is just to make audiences aware of the fact that so long as producers are pushing the use of Auto-Tune, what people are hearing on recordings is not necessarily what they're favorite singer actually sounds like. Singers who forego use of the Auto-Tune probably deserve a little extra credit, and when people hear a note that sounds out of place, nowadays audiences probably ought to realize that even mistakes are a choice, and listeners ought to enjoy the music for what it is- enjoying the emotion that flows through it, imperfections and all.
Saturday, February 07, 2009
I'm not so sure why I dig the E-Trade baby (now babies). I'm really not one to "ooh" or "ahhhh" over babies just because they're cute. I think that maybe the E-Trade baby is kind of funny specifically because I don't see him so much as cute (remember the one where he pukes everywhere?) as I just see him as a freaky little man who's kind of speaking my language. Anyway, for whatever reason, the whole thing cracks me up.
Friday, February 06, 2009
Hope you guys are having a good day! Not much to report at the moment. I'm keeping a close eye on the stimulus package and the fight going on in Washington to get something done to help revitalize the economy. I think that the Republicans have some legitimate concerns. To be honest, all of the apocalyptic death and destruction warnings coming from the Democrats regarding how fast we have to push this thing through are sort of bothering me a bit. It's all too reminiscent of the way the Republicans engaged in fear mongering after 9/11 in order to rapidly push things through congress quickly (which gave us legislation like the Patriot Act and other messes that we're now still dealing with). On the other hand, President Obama says he is taking his cues from some of the best economic minds in the country, and if the experts say that we need to act boldly and swiftly, then I don't necessarily want to place blame on the Democrats for trying to follow what seems to be the most prudent course of action. At any rate, I think the Republicans have some legitimate philosophical differences with Democrats on the stimulus package, but I also think there's a whole lot of obstructionism going on as conservatives try to make Obama's first major policy initiative a dismal failure. A lot of them just want the Democrats to look bad, and they're not really paying attention to anything other than finding a way to try to do that (which really sucks for the American people).
Anyway, I agreed with most of the points that Obama made last night when he gave a speech to Democrats in Virginia. I think that some Republicans are just playing games with the stimulus bill, and that it's ridiculous to criticize the stimulus package for spending money when that was, along with some tax cuts, a primary purpose of the bill in the first place. We can disagree over some of the specifics of the spending, but unless the programs are entirely frivolous (and I don't think most of them are- they're debatable, but not frivolous), then the important thing is to get programs started and get people working. Put the money back into the economy. Green building programs and hybrid vehicles in government are not frivolous- especially when such programs are creating jobs.
Anyhoo, I still question a bit of the doom and gloom tactics, but I'm definitely onboard with the president overall.
Not much else for now. Have a great weekend!!!!
*** Update: New job loss figures released today showed 598,000 jobs lost in January, with unemployment climbing to 7.6%, the worst figures since December of 1974. The sense of urgency contained in the rhetoric of the Democrats may be exagerrated a bit (I'm not sure), but the situation certainly does seem very serious.
Thursday, February 05, 2009
Not a lot to report. Last night I watched the season premier of Heroes off my DVR. I'm not sure why I stick with that show. It's the kind of show where people suddenly make huge, life-altering decisions that pretty much seem out of character, but they need the characters to make these strange decisions in order to drive the plot forward, so they make them, anyway. Such is the case this season as super-powered Senator Nathan Petrelli suddenly decides that super-powered people can't be trusted (even though he's witnessed his own super-powered family and friends save the world from certain destruction a couple of times by now) and arranges to have them all rounded up and put into internment camps. The series may be trying to make some kind of political statement with images of "specials" all rounded up in "Guantanamo style" orange jumps suits and black hoods, but the metaphor is clunky and ham handed, and the dialogue is frequently filled with the same sort of over-the-top, cliched melodrama that made large parts of last season so hard to get through. I need to quit watching that show. I need to just stop now. Strangely, though, the one true superpower of the Heroes cast is in finding a way to continue to suck me back in time after time, even when I'm ashamed to be watching.
And Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsberg has pancreatic cancer, apparently. It sounds like Ginsberg is facing her illness with both grace and some optimism, but, of course, I'm still sorry to hear that she's sick. Justice Ginsberg has long been known as one of the stauncher liberals on the court, and has had her work cut out for her in recent years as she's done battle with Justices Scalia and Thomas, among others. At any rate, I hope her treatment goes well.
And an unusual case that is making national news is being heard in one of the district courts in our very own Travis County courthouse. Judge Charlie Baird in the 299th District Court (who I practiced in front of a bit back when I was a defense attorney) is holding hearings today and tomorrow in which the Innocence Project of Texas (which I believe is still based out of the UT Law School) is trying to posthumously overturn the conviction of Timothy Cole, who was convicted of a 1985 rape case on the Texas Tech campus. The rape victim, Michele Mallin, and Jerry Wayne Johnson, the (now) confessed rapist, are expected to testify. Cole maintained his innocence throughout his trial and even rejected an offer for parole which would have required him to profess his guilt, but it wasn't until after his 1999 death that DNA evidence and the confession of Jerry Wayne Johnson confirmed his protestations.
Boy, that sucks. That kind of story is a nightmare scenario for everyone who works in the criminal justice system. It also highlights some of the problems with relying on simple eyewitness testimony when making identifications in criminal cases. Reforms are being examined and implemented in some jurisdictions in order to try to increase the accuracy of eyewitness identifications (such as having a person administer the lineup who doesn't know who the true suspect is and having the person making the ID also give a written statement about their level of confidence in the identification), but they haven't been standardized in Texas yet.
Anyway, my sympathy lies with the Cole family and with Timothy Cole. I hope these proceedings bring them some kind of relief.
That's about all that I have. Hope you guys have been enjoying the nice weather this week (at least in the ATX).
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Jamie made some really good lasagna last night with salad and bread, so kudos to her!!! Ryan and Jamie are also housing Cassidy at the moment so that my cleaning lady can come and do her job without having to take direction from a three-legged dog.
And I know it's easy to be cynical and dismissive of President Obama's overtures of hospitality and bipartisan cooperation in Washington, but I commend his efforts. On one level it seems like a pretty small, trivial thing to include some key Republicans when planning a Superbowl Party or get together at the White House, but at the same time, I think such gestures might be important. Obama certainly knows better than to think that a couple of parties are going to change the political ideology or postions of the country's leaders, but he also knows that building human relationships might help to remind members of both parties that they're ultimately working for the good of the American people, and that progress through cooperation ought to be sought wherever possible, as opposed to fostering conflict on the basis of simple party loyalty. Obama has also admitted to making a mistake in seeking to appoint Tom Daschle as secretary of health and human services. Daschle has diclosed tax problems and has taken his name out of consideration, a course of action which The White House insists was made by Daschle alone.
Well, I'm sort of jammed up with a lot of stuff going on. You guys have a good one.
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
And my brother, Ryan, aka, The League, is embracing President Obama's call to service and is trying to get a headcount of people who might be interested in engaging in some kind of volunteer activity on some upcoming weekend. I think it's a pretty good idea, and I'm going to similarly ask people who read this blog to pipe up with a comment or an email if they think they might be interested in helping out at the food pantry or with habitat for humanity or something some weekend. I guess what we're trying to do at this point is to just a feel for how many people might be interested, so if we contact an agency, we have some idea of how many people we might be talking about. It may just end up being Team Steans, but it would be great if we had more. It wouldn't hurt any of us to help out our community for a few hours, and maybe afterward we could grab a beer or something. I don't know. I'm just trying to gauge interest at this point.
Hmmmm..... I really don't have much else. I just hung out last night and watched 24. The president this season is a woman (Cherry Jones doing a pretty good job playing President Allison Taylor). The prior president on 24 was a black guy, so maybe the show's prescience will continue, and out next president will be a woman (please, dear God, don't let it be Palin). Anyhoo, the show's plot also involves the president's husband, who is referred to as "The First Gentleman". Kind of interesting. I had never given much thought to what you would call the president's husband.
Well, I got nothing. Have a good one!