Friday, May 29, 2009

A Bit of Unexpected Conference Trip Happiness, The Pope Weighs In

So I went to a legal conference in Dallas yesterday. It was a solo trip, and I got up to Dallas last night and didn't have a lot scheduled for the evening before the conference (well, absolutely nothing planned, to be more precise). I took a walk on the streets near my hotel, and found a local sandwich shop where I grabbed dinner. I also spotted the Dallas Museum of Art a couple of blocks from my hotel, and there seemed to be a bunch of people gathering on its plaza in front of a temporary stage. After a quick chat with a helpful Dallas police officer (he was working crowd control) I found out that I had stumbled across a free "Jazz Under the Stars" concert- one show in a series that the museum puts on throughout the summer. It was a beautiful night, and my evening of potential thumb twiddling and bad TV turned into a pleasant concert experience.
The band was called Barri Pearson & Right Direction, and they were pretty good- sort of a jazz fusion thing (maybe not exactly my usual thing, but pretty good). Barri Pearson was the band leader, and he turned out to be a really good bass player (the saxophone player was also very good, but I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't catch his name).

Little jazz fans.

Barri Pearson & Right Direction

This is the Belo Mansion. It's a restored historical masion that's been renovated by a bunch of Dallas law firms, and it 's where we had our conference. It has an addition built onto the back with meeting rooms.
Just Dallas at night.
So, anyway, the trip to Dallas turned out to be alright. The conference was okay, too (but not really picture worthy).
In an unrelated note, my ol' amigo, Dr. Kevin "The Pope" Palka, weighed in on the homeopathic remedies/chemotherapy discussion in the comments section of my recent Daniel Hauser update. Palka is an oncologist who practices medicine in Nashville, Tennessee, and who works with people with some very serious illnesses. Like myself, Palka isn't always shy with his opinions, but he's a smart guy, and given the fact that this Daniel Hauser situation bears directly upon his field of expertise, I thought that his comments were interesting. Check out some venting by The Pope in the comments section of my Daniel Hauser Update post if you're interested in that sort of thing.
And Pope? Congrats on having another rugrat on the way! Good thing you doctors are trained to live without sleep...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

North Korea Pitches a Fit, Off to a Conference

So howdy.
Last night I had dinner with Jamie (Roundball was working late at a conference he's hosting), and then for some reason I watched a National Geographic Explorer episode about death and dying (a bit morbid, but also kind of interesting- there was some interesting stuff in there, in particular, about how trauma teams are developing new strategies to slow down cellular death as people get close to dying, and then about how medical teams can sort of pull people back from the brink of death through a combination of reduced body temperature and slow re oxygenation).
I also played my guitar a bit and tried to record some new song ideas (with mixed success).

And following my post yesterday about how we probably ought to be paying more attention to North Korea, today North Korea issued a new set of announcements, including promises to attack any ships participating in a U.S.-led coalition to stop and search vessels moving to and from North Korea which might be carrying missiles or components intended for weapons of mass destruction. The North Koreans also announced that they no longer considered the truce between North Korea and South Korea to be valid (the truce which ended the Korean War) and that North Korea was not afraid of international sanctions or additional embargoes.
Anyway, North Korea sure sounds like they're itching for a fight. Hopefully most of this rhetoric is just posturing so they can try to renegotiate for more aid and economic/political leverage. I think the North Koreans were especially ticked off that this last round of international criticism included calls to slow down the weapons development from Chian and Russia. Anyway, sooner or later all of this ramped up military tension is going to lead to some sort of incident that might kick off a real military conflict (there are a bunch of countries apparently signed on for this agreement to help stop boats that might be carrying weapons- it's pretty easy to imagine some kind of fight breaking out as inspectors try to board ships heading in or out of North Korean waters).
Anyway, the world really doesn't need a war with North Korea right now. You know, we've got those other Iraq and Afghanistan things going on right now, so the U.S. military is spread a little thin at the moment.
And where are those SEAL snipers that shot those Somali pirates in the head? If they've got some free time, it seems like we could really use a hand...

Well, I don't have much today. Not sure how the blogging will be over the next couple of days. Tomorrow I'm supposed to go to a legal conference up in Dallas which I won't get back from until Friday night. Maybe I'll blog from Dallas. Maybe not.
Take it easy.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Daniel Hauser Update

Daniel Hauser, the 13 year old boy Minnesota boy with cancer who fled from court ordered treatment with his mother last week, has returned home to undergo chemotherapy treatment. The boy's mother was not arrested, although a police officer was placed outside the family farm to make sure that the boy did not flee again.
I hope that Daniel's treatment goes well and that he feels much better. I'm also glad that the judge didn't arrest Daniel's mother. I can't imagine how hard it must be to go through this kind of thing with one of your children, and I'm sure that she felt she was doing the right thing for her son. Hopefully doctors can find some alternative treatments that can work well with Daniel's chemotherapy to ease his pain, build his strength, and speed his recovery.
Anyway, I hope this story has a happy ending, and I hope Daniel and his family are hanging in there.

Weekend Update, Terminator Spoilereview, Nominating Judge Sotomayor, Those Pesky North Koreans

Howdy. Aaargh. The weekend went by too quickly. It was good, though.
Friday night Mandy had a few of us over to eat burgers and hang out in her backyard. It was nice, and the burgers were tasty. Nice to hang out with everyone.
Saturday I went out to my folks place and hung out with them a bit. I tried to go out to the pools in their neighborhood, but they were both choked full of families with little kids, so I gave up on the idea (it got sort of overcast and nasty, anyway). Saturday night we went to the Iguana Grill and had dinner, and afterward a group of us went back to my parents house where we hung out a bit.
Sunday I started out going to Barton Springs with Ryan, but it rained, so we left after staying about an hour. Lots of reading and lounging on Sunday.
Monday I took Cassidy down to the creek and did some swimming. Nice weather. That night I went to see the new Terminator movie with Reed and Chris.
Terminator Salvation [big ol' spoiler alert] was pretty mediocre. It had some decent action scenes, but it wasn't very satisfying for longtime fans of the franchise. The movie's view of the bleak, dystopian future alluded to in the other Terminator stories seemed to kind of miss the mark (the humans somehow managed to survive nuclear holocaust with a lot of equipment, including fully equipped warplanes?), and the general storyline wasn't very engaging (I was hoping to get a better idea of how John Connor's rise to power, about the "psychology" of Skynet, about the way in which humans managed to fight back after being all but obliterated by a nuclear war, and maybe even more stuff about the relationships which the humans were developing with some of their computer allies as alluded to in the TV series). Instead there was some kind of weird storyline about some secret frequency which could render the machines helpless (seems way too good to be true? Funny you should say that...), a sort of nonsensical (or at least poorly explained) plotline about a convicted murderer who is somehow reincarnated as a Terminator (who seems to have the most overly complicated programming in history- someone still needs to explain to me why the machines didn't just have him twist John Connor and Kyle Reese's heads off as soon as he had the chance), and some sort of totally undeveloped plotline about John Conner's pregnant wife. The movie seemed to overlook most of the interesting concepts behind the Terminator series in favor of a sort of mindless action flick. With some pretty lame dialogue. And the obligatory mute orphan who follows the characters around pointlessly until they need a MacGuffin to get them out of trouble.
The movie just didn't live up to the promise of what it could have been. Skynet and the machines weren't interesting (there are all kinds of questions that could have been asked about what motivates machines once they become sentient), we didn't really get to see how John Conner gained the respect and/or admiration of the remaining humans, and Connor's actual mission was sort of confused and lame (it seemed like they were launching some kind of major offensive early on in the movie, but by the end it seemed like they were just blowing up a factory).
The timing and flow of the movie was wonky as well. Scenes just sort of flew by, and you never got any real chance to know the characters.
Anyway, not a great movie, and now it may well signal the death of the entire franchise (they threw a pretty big budget at this movie, but with the reviews being poor, I don't think it's going to make its money back anytime soon).
[end spoilers]
Oooooh well. Trek was really good. Should have just gone to see that again.

In other news, Obama nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court today. I don't really know much about Sotomayor, but it sounds like she's got some decent credentials. She currently is a judge on the federal 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. She attended Princeton as an undergrad and Yale Law School. She's of Puerto Rican descent and grew up in the South Bronx.
She seems okay from what I know about her at the moment, but I'm sure we'll learn a lot more about her over the next couple of weeks, as the Republicans rake her over the coals, doing their best to find skeletons in her closet and attempting to paint her as a radical, activist, liberal judge. The Obama administration and other supporters are portraying Sotomayer as a mildly liberal, mostly moderate and centrist judge with lots of good experience and a track record which undercuts allegations of judicial activism (they claim that 99% of her rulings have been upheld by higher courts, indicating that her rulings have not been so far outside the mainstream that higher courts might feel the need to overturn them).
In any case, I think that conservatives were poised to vigorously attack just about any name that Obama came up with.
So far Sotomayor looks like a pretty good pick for the court. Hope she's up for the unfortunate crucible of professional and personal criticism that always seems to accompany these appointments.

And with all of this hoopla surrounding the selection of Obama's Supreme Court nominee, the media seems to have sort of taken their eyes off the ball in covering North Korea's recent shenanigans. On Monday North Korea apparently once again tested a nuclear device (having last tested one in 2006), creating an underground detonation which was measured at somewhere around the 20 kiloton range, producing a seismic event that came in somewhere around 4.52 on the Richter scale. They also test fired three missiles on Monday. Today North Korea test fired two more missiles.
Those North Koreans are starting to make people a bit nervous. Even China and Russia, traditional allies of North Korea, issued a stern rebuke today regarding North Korea's ongoing displays of force.
This is one of those situations that seems really difficult to address, even from the confines of one's armchair while playing one of Steanso's favorite games- Hypothetical President. Establish embargos and establish international economic sanctions? Kim Jong Il and his ruling hardliners seem determined to starve their own people to death as opposed to showing any signs of weakness or willingness to capitulate. Launch a military attack against North Korea? Seoul, the capital of South Korea and home to somewhere around 24.5 million people, lies 37 miles from the North Korean demilitarized zone, well within range of nearly instantaneous artillery attack and highly vulnerable to invading North Korean troops who would be expected to stream across the border in the event of war (and this doesn't even take the possibility of a nuclear strike into account). Continue to appease the North Koreans with promises of aid in exchange for the cessation of its weapons development programs? Well, this seems to sort of actually encourage the North Koreans in their weapons development and in rattling their sabers in our direction every few years.
Those North Koreans are problematic.
I think it's a good sign that even the Chinese and the Russians think that they're pushing their luck, though, and are putting pressure on North Korea to just chill the frak out. Maybe, as has often been the case, our best foreign policy option might be to simply try to get along with the rest of the world as best we can and hope that North Korea's allies can help us apply some leverage to those surly kids. Maybe if North Korea sees us having a good time with the rest of the world, eventually they'll decide that it would be better to join in the fun than to sit all alone in the corner with their weapons of mass destruction (fun, in this case, hopefully amounting to economic prosperity, safety and security, technical and medical innovation, etc.).

Anyway, North Korea is worrisome, and, given its missiles and nukes, it probably deserves as much attention as our new Supreme Court nominee (no offense to Judge Sotomayor).

Well, I gots to run. Hope everyone has a great day. Take care.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Happy Memorial Day!

Well, I frequently complain about some of the foreign policy decisions that lead our nation into some controversial conflicts, but I really do appreciate the troops and have deep respect for the sacrifices that they make.
Last night I was watching a documentary about 9/11, and I was disturbed to see some old, pre-9/11 video of Osama Bin Laden talking about how he was planning some terrorist attacks which would draw the U.S. into a military conflict in Afghanistan, a theater for war in which Bin Laden was convinced he could have a strategic advantage.
I watched the video, thought about the fact that the Soviet Union had been unsuccessful in defeating a jihadist insurgency during their nine year occupation of the region, and felt a bit dismayed.
On the other hand, the war in Afghanistan seems like the kind of conflict that we might really not have much choice in fighting. The Taliban and Al Qaeda have already demonstrated quite vividly the sorts of activities that they intend to involve themselves in if left to their own devices, and it seems like leaving them alone (to plan and mount further terrorist attacks against the U.S. and its allies) just isn't a viable option. We may not like the fact that we're in Afghanistan, but it seems like it's probably a war that we really do need to fight.
Anyway, today I'm taking a moment to think about the troops who have given their lives in the effort to keep our country safe and our world stable and about the troops who continue to risk their lives in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. I send them my sincere gratitude.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Ain't Got Nothin' (except Happy Memorial Day!)

So we're on the cusp of a 3 day Memorial Day weekend! Hooray!
The folks are coming to town, so I'll probably be hanging out with them a bit. Not sure what else I'll be up to. I've been wanting to see the new Terminator Salvation movie that comes out this weekend, but it's been getting panned pretty badly by the critics. I guess I still want to see it, but my enthusiasm has been significantly tempered (although, as Jamie pointed out, I probably should have known better. A person shouldn't get their hopes up too high for a movie that's directed by a guy who actually chooses to call himself McG). Kind of a shame because I've really enjoyed the recent Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles TV show.
In other news, it sounds like the bosses are sending me to a conference in Dallas next week about animal law. They'll be talking about laws that protect animals and govern the humane treatment of animals as pets and as livestock and working animals. So that's next Friday.

Man. I just don't have a lot to write about for today. Maybe I'm distracted by the thought of the weekend, or maybe there's just not very much going on in the news that I find interesting at the moment.

I hope you guys all have a nice, safe weekend!!!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wonder Woman, Obama v. Cheney, Jackbart's Poe Comic

Hola! S'up?
Things are just sort of cruising along for me, for the most part. Looking forward to the three day weekend.
Last night I ate some Chinese food with Team Steans, and I watched an animated Wonder Woman movie that came out earlier this year that my superhero lovin' brother recommended to me. It was a pretty good movie with an interesting story, but it was surprisingly violent for an animated superhero movie (I know that Ryan would immediately respond that not every superhero movie is for little kids, which is cool, but this movie seems to be from the same line of Warner Brothers movies that has produced a lot of other movies that were more kid oriented, so I could see how parents might have been a bit confused by the sort of grown up nature of this flick, and miss its PG-13 rating). Anyway, it was pretty cool, with a good storyline, cool art, and solid voice acting. They probably just need to put a big label on the front of the box that says, "People get their heads chopped off in this movie!!!"
Obama has made further statements regarding the need to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and Dick Cheney keeps appearing in the media to tell us how the Obama administration is going to get us all killed. This whole thing is so old and tired that it makes my head hurt, but suffice it to say that I've thought that the Gitmo facility has been suspect since the beginning (Republicans are pitching a fit about bringing those prisoners to this country, but the facility was set up on Cuban land in the first place, I believe, in order to keep away prying eyes away from human rights violations and in order to try to provide footing for legal arguments about the inapplicability of the U.S. Constitution when dealing with foreign prisoners on foreign soil). I don't think Cheney is lending much credibility to the Republican cause, and I'm really not interested in hearing his justifications and rationalizations now that he's out of office, especially since he had almost no interest in discussing or explaining any of his administration's policies to anyone during his 8 years as vice president (plus, if we're going to compare safety records of the two administrations, I want all of the American troops and Iraqi civilians who were killed in the Iraq War included as part of the equation).
The president isn't seeking to put terrorists into American neighborhoods or let them out into the streets. He's talking about putting them into federal supermax prisons- facilities which no one has ever managed to escape from since the prisons were established. Republicans from Colorado, the home of some of the biggest supermax facilities, are squawking about this, but I'm not sure that they really get to make the decisions about where the federal government puts its prisoners- and if they want to start dictating such terms, maybe we should consider moving the supermax prisons (and all of their accompanying jobs and funding) to a state that feels more up to the challenge. I bet Michigan might happily consider taking those jobs right about now.

In other news, my friend Jack Mitchell ("Jackbart" to those of us who dare to call him that) has written a comic book based on Edgar Allen Poe, which I believe will be coming out in July. My brother, Ryan, is a super big comic guy, and he says that the studio Jackbart is writing from, Boom, is a real up and comer (sort of medium sized and growing- a publisher to watch, if you will). Anyway, Jack has written (and sold) some scripts before, so this isn't his first success in writing, but this is a really cool one, especially for a family of comic geeks like the Steans tribe. So we're all really pumped for Jackbart, and even more excited about seeing the finished comic once it comes out. You guys should buy a copy. I've read Jackbart's stuff before, and it's cool!! (especially if you're into action/fantasy/sci fi, which I most decidedly am).

Well, that's all I've got for today. I hope you guys are having a good one.
Catcha later!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Art and Belief, A Bit of Glee, Parental Rights Versus Medical Responsiblity

Hello! Hope all's well.
Last night Cassidy drove me over to Ryan and Jamie's for a really good chicken dinner (some people say that I shouldn't let my three legged dog drive me places, but in our defense, Cassidy really isn't hampered much by her missing front leg. My car, the Blue Bastard, is an automatic, and Cassidy doesn't seem to have much trouble working the turn signals, either. She's not good at parallel parking, but who is?). Anyway, Jamie made a good chicken dinner, and once again, my brother's lack of self control in the Central Market meats section has really worked to my benefit.
We also watched an episode of This American Life, a show which was originally a radio program on NPR, but which has developed into a television documentary series on Showtime as well. Ryan digs the show, and had ordered a DVD. It was good. The episode that we watched was about a Mormon artist in Salt Lake City, Utah, who was producing paintings depicting various Biblical scenes involving Jesus (the episode was titled God's Close Up, and it debuted April 5, 2007). The program went on to describe how this artist had been seeking out men with beards to use as models in recreating various scenes involving Jesus and his contemporaries, but how the general disapproval of the Mormon Church regarding the growth of facial hair had made it somewhat difficult to find appropriate male models. As a result, the artist making the paintings had been required to look outside the mainstream Mormon community for his subjects, and ended up making friends with a number of homeless people, drifters, and dropouts from the Mormon Church (and the larger Salt Lake City community in general) as he spent time with these people, gently persuading them to serve as models for his projects. Many of these people were atheists and agnostics- many of them having been raised in fairly strict religious households before rejecting their religious upbringing and leaving the church.
There was definitely an interesting dynamic created by this Mormon painter and his sort of outcast, rebellious subjects as they worked together to create works of art depicting Jesus.
As the documentary pointed out, it was hard to overlook the fact that Jesus and his disciples were, from a social and political standpoint at their particular point in history, much more akin to the sort of ragtag group of outsiders and wanderers who were working together to make these paintings as opposed to resembling the powerful, wealthy, well-connected group which now represents the Church of Latter Day Saints and/or many other large, well-established churches. The work on the paintings sort of gave the believers and the nonbelievers some common ground and a reason to talk about the similarities and the differences in their points of view.
Anyway, it was a good show.
We also watched part of the first episode of Fox's new sitcom about high school musical productions called Glee. We only saw part of it because somehow Team Steans had a recording failure with their DVR, but it seemed pretty funny. As I told Ryan, though, this show seems to be walking a sort of fine line, and if it starts steering away from the comedy and more into plotlines where it expects me to become invested in these high school glee club characters, I'm gonna pull the plug. I can handle comedy from a show about the glee club, but I'm definitely not down for a soap opera style show about a bunch of high school kids and all of the drama that's not really drama that such stories involve. I know some other people dig that sort of thing, but for me Glee is in a funny or die type of situation.

In the news, a mother and her son have gone into hiding following a court order from a judge that the boy, Daniel Hauser, receive chemotherapy treatment. The boy's mother, Colleen Hauser, has insisted upon treating her son with exclusively homeopathic methods and alternative medicine, and the boy recently appeared in court and told the judge that he believed the chemotherapy would kill him. According to the report I heard on CNN last night, however, doctors have said that there was an 80% to 90% chance that the boy could be effectively treated with proper chemotherapy, but probably only a 5% chance that he would survive without such treatment. The Minnesota judge who heard the case ordered the boy into treatment, stating that the boy's status as a minor, coupled with the fact that the boy was basically unable to read or write (the reasons for this are unclear), suggested that the boy didn't fully understand the benefits and risks of chemotherapy treatment or the ramifications of his decision. The boy's dad was apparently swayed by the reasoning of the judge. The mom took the kid and ran.
It's a troubling case, but I tend to come down with the judge. From what I understand, legal precedent in these sorts of cases requires treatment for minors whenever it stands a reasonable chance of actually helping, and the failure to provide such treatment constitutes neglect. From a less legalistic, more ethical standpoint, I don't really see much difference between the current situation and one where a child is injured in some kind of serious accident, but the parents try to obstruct EMTs or other medical personnel from providing medical aid.
I'm not really against alternative, holistic medicine as a supplement to more traditional medical treatment, but when a course of treatment is available which has been proven to be largely effective, I think it's negligent to allow parents to refuse traditional treatments for their children in favor of stubborn, exclusive reliance upon methods which have not been shown to be nearly as effective.
There's a whole other topic tied up in this that deals with a significant movement (maybe even a subculture) in American society- a movement which rejects scientific testing and methodology in favor of anecdotal evidence, distrust of mainstream science, and an almost religious dedication to the belief that alternative remedies are inherently preferrable to more widely accepted scientific and medical practices.
To be honest, I don't get it. I wish I could think of a way to put this a little more gently, but I think that part of the issue springs from a lack of understanding of basic scientific principles. I'm a lawyer by trade and a philosopher by way of educational background (and a wanna-be musician by way of casual aspiration), but I had enough biology, chemistry, and anatomy in high school and college to have a decent, fundamental grasp of how the body works and what scientists are up to when they formulate different medications or establish treatment regimens. I also had enough science classes to understand the scientific method and to understand how experimental trials and testing work.
Anyway, for the most part I understand how stuff in the body works well enough to understand what doctors are saying when they tell me about how drugs work and about how different treatments are going to effect my body (e.g., how diuretics work, how serotonin reuptake inhibitors work, how opiates and other painkillers work, etc.). The cause and effect relationships between what the doctors are doing and how their treatments effect my body don't seem that mysterious (up to a point, anyway). There may be side effects or some unintended consequences, but I understand that these things are somewhat predictable, and can usually be dealt with.
But I think that modern medicine is much scarier, mysterious, and more intimidating to a lot of people (and, to be honest, I really don't like going to the doctor at all, myself, because I usually think that they sort of overpromise on the results that they can deliver, and because, frankly, when I go to the doctor I start thinking of the million other things that can go wrong with me while I'm there. There's something about going to the doctor which sort of forces me to think about my body, my own mortality, and the fact that even if I'm currently pretty healthy and trying to take care of myself, inevitably the machine which is my body is going to wear out. I'm not sure why going to the doctor takes me down this path of thinking, but it often does). Doctors offices and hospitals can often seem very cold and impersonal, and far too often people don't really understand how their medications work or what those medications are doing to their bodies. Alternative medicine has sort of cornered the market on feel-good, warm and fuzzy treatment, but they've sort of gotten away with that, at least to some extent, because they're not held to the same level of accountability as traditional medicine.
By relying on nutritional and herbal supplements, aromatherapies, meditation, and other treatment methods which don't fall under the same sort of scrutiny that pharmaceutical medications involve, purveyors of alternative treatments are able to "promise" health benefits and positive results which have not been proven through the same sort of clinical trials and scientific testing that more heavily regulated medications have to go through. Most alternative treatments don't really have a risk of being harmful- they're approved as safe through food and nutritional regulations- but the public doesn't really have any true assurances that many of these products actually produce the effects which they claim to bring about. Some of the products make claims which sound like they're based on real science (and many of them really are based on legitimate science), but often the benefits being produced by the products are exaggerated (and, sadly, sometimes all but fabricated entirely). In the hands of some companies which produce herbal and nutritional remedies, scientific knowledge gets the spin doctor treatment in its use as a selling tool. Products which may have small, incremental benefits meant to increase overall health over the long term are sometimes recommended for use in treating acute symptoms, products which may have one specific benefit in strengthening one part or the body may be purported to have benefits in other, unlikely ways, and dramatic results are frequently promised for products which may only create subtle changes, if any.
But many of these products seem better than prescription medications or traditional treatments. The people who market them explain how they work in simple, easy to understand terms, and consumers are convinced that the "all natural" or "holisitic" brand items must inherently be better for them and more effective that their traditional counterparts. The fact that most of these products have few, if any side effects is held up as proof of these claims.
Side effects, however, are often the result of products that actually work effectively, making relatively dramatic changes within the body. I'm not saying that side effects don't suck(because some of them definitely can be very negative), but I will say that side effects are often present because drugs are powerful and because they're actually producing some kind of results.
For some conditions there's nothing wrong with sticking to an entirely holistic approach. Many holistic and/or alternative treatments really do have positive benefits, both as a result of the products and as a result of placebo effects (and I'm not trying to be snarky by saying this- placebo effects can produce real, measurable benefits that can sometimes legitimately contribute significantly to a person's health).
To the extent, however, that a child is dying and there's an established, proven treatment protocol which can save the kid's life, I still say you've got to give traditional science a chance to work. To refuse tested, effective treatment methods in such a case is to engage in ideological fanaticism and zealotry at the probable expense of a child's life, and it just seems wrong. The parents shouldn't be allowed to sacrifice their own child in order to justify their belief system (remember Obama's views on the importance of doubt from his Notre Dame speech over the weekend? I think those ideas are very pertinent here), and a kid who's grown up in a household that has indoctrinated him in that kind of viewpoint just can't be trusted yet to make a rational, informed decision.
Allow the parents to continue to provide alternative treatments for their child, but don't deprive the kid of more mainstream treatment options which have already been shown to be effective.
I guess that's what I'm saying.
Well, I need to run, but I hope ya'll are having a good day!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Credit Card Regulation, Smarter Cars

Hello. Hope everyone is okay today. Really beautiful weather in Austin over the last couple of days. Makes me wonder if this is what it's like to live in California. If so, I'm beginning to understand why so many people want to live in Cali, and why it costs so much to live out there. Anyway, eveyone enjoy the weather because it'll probably be oppressively hot very, very soon.

Not too much to report about. I watched the season finale of 24 last night. I'm not going wander into spoiler territory too much, but suffice it to say that the season ended pretty much exactly how I thought it would. They managed to leave open a few issues for next season, but the show pretty much played out in a pretty standard 24-style way.

What else? The Senate passed a bill to put some new regulation on the credit card industry. Limits will be placed on rate increases and excessive fees. In general, I think that this is a good thing. It's true that consumers need to step up and become more responsible about understanding the terms and conditions of credit card use (well, Americans need to be a lot smarter in general about their borrowing practices), but the credit card companies have a lot of practices that really have a predatory feel (e.g., tricking people into signing up with low rates, but then raising those rates significantly at the first available opportunity), and it seems like a lot of credit card companies could be using business practices that are much more fairminded while still making themselves a very considerable profit. So I'm onboard with some credit card reform.
Obama also rolled out a plan today to increase fuel economy for cars and reduce carbon dioxide emissions (the plan seeks to raise the average fuel economy in the American fleet to 35.5 miles per gallon and is projected to reduce carbon gas emissions by 900 million tons). The plan could cost as much as $1,300 per vehicle, but the Obama administration maintains that the difference in fuel economy should save most drivers as much as $2,800 over the lifetime of their cars.
So I think that this plan sounds pretty good, too, from what little I know of it. I'm sure there will be an initial outcry as people pay more for cars, but eventually people will get used to the fixed cost, and we'll all be much better off because of these changes in the long run.
That's about it, really. No other new and/or exciting news to report.
I hope everyone is doing okay. Get out there and enjoy this weather while you can!!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Weekend Update, TV on the Radio Show, The Soloist, Obama at Notre Dame, Pelosi v. CIA, Obama is a Trekkie

Well, the weekend was pretty good. Friday night I went out to dinner with Mandy, Rami, Andy, Kellie, Damon, and Susan at Maudie's. Some guy came in and started eating food out of the trash. Then the manager kicked him out, and he yelled something at the entire restaurant about using his Jedi powers to kill the staff and all of the customers. Ahhhh, South Austin! Anyway, we hung out at Mandy's afterward. It was a nice night, and it sounds like Mandy had a good trip to Italy.

Saturday it rained and I didn't do too much during the day (I read a bunch of Hellblazer comics I had bought at free comic book day, watched TV, etc.). Saturday night the weather cleared up and I went to the TV on the Radio show with Reed and Chris. The show was good in terms of the band playing well and the crowd getting into it and the weather turning out to be really good (it didn't rain on us, but the rain earlier in the day had cooled things off a lot). The only complaint that I had was with the Stubb's sound system. For much of the show we were standing toward the back third of the audience, and the sound from back there was really muddy and supersaturated with bass (to the exclusion of a lot of the other sounds). I walked around a bit to try to hear better, but the sound in the whole back half of the place was kind of screwed up, which makes for a kind of trying experience when you're listening to a band that's as layered as TVOTR. I went and stood over behind the soundboard guy for a while, and as expected, it sounded better over there (so everything sounded good to the sound guy, probably), but you couldn't see much from behind the sound booth. I noticed that the first time I had seen TVOTR at Stubb's they had used a second set of PA speakers which were mounted about halfway up the hill, which helped to keep the sound from getting so muddy. They didn't use those speakers on Saturday night, and the sound suffered. Anyway, the band was tight and played well, but the sound wasn't great, so that's frustrating. Stupid Stubb's. $30 to stand in a dirt lot at a rain or shine event, and they can't even provide a sound system that sounds good throughout their whole venue.

Sunday I went to see The Soloist, which was a movie with Robert Downey, Jr. and Jamie Foxx about a Juliard-trained cellist who becomes stricken with schizophrenia and ends up living on the streets of L.A.. It was a pretty good movie, with strong performances put in by both Downey and Foxx, but I had two main points that kept bugging me throughout the movie. One was the fact that the movie depicted lots of different homeless people living on the streets and suffering through a lot of bad stuff, but the movie's protagonist, writer Steve Lopez, sort of squarely sets his sights on trying to help Nathaniel Ayers because of his musical talents. The movie does go out of its way to show the plight of a number of mentally ill homeless people, but you can't help but feel some sort of implied message that maybe people with artistic talent are more worthy of being helped than other people (or something like that- I'm being a little too harsh, and apparently some of Lopez's writing did help to get some attention for the homeless/mentally ill population at large from city hall, but I just found it weird that Lopez primarily wants to help this one guy because of his musical talent. I'm not saying that he doesn't deserve to be helped, but it seems strange that musical ability should be the deciding factor). The other weird point about the movie was that I just couldn't get one of Downey's other movies out of my mind while watching this one. In Tropic Thunder Downey plays an actor who humorously (but sort of accurately) ridicules the movie industry by talking about how actors love to play people with mental retardation or mental illness because they think that such roles are an almost surefire way to qualify them for an Oscar. Going further, Downey's character even states that most of the actors are best served by roles portraying a mental illness, but by not going "full retard", which is thought to be going too far. And there's some truth to that. Moviemakers seem to enjoy portraying people with disabilities, but not unless there's some sort of extraordinary skill or talent which offsets that ability. Dustin Hoffman played an autistic person in Rainman, but the character was a savant with powerful mathematical computation abilities. Russell Crowe played a man with schizophrenia in A Beautiful Mind, but he was also a math prodigy. Even Forrest Gump was slow, but he seemed to have some magical gift which repeatedly drew him into some of the bigger historic events that occurred during his lifetime. The Soloist just sort of felt like it fell into that same category. It wasn't enough to focus on the relationship between a successful writer and a mentally ill homeless man that he befriends- the homeless guy had to have savant-like ability in playing the cello.
I'm probably nitpicking, but I just think that there was some truth in that line from Tropic Thunder about the way that actors seem to sort of gently exploit the portayal of mentally ill people in order to so some "serious acting", but it's rarely enough to just show the need for understanding and compassion toward mentally ill people- writers, directors, and actors always want their subjects to have some outstanding ability which seems to compensate for their disability, as if humanity in and of itself were not enough to demand that these people and their situation be taken seriously. Most everyone has something to offer (of course, including the mentally ill), but their gifts and the value of their lives needn't be established by the ability to perform different kinds of tricks. That's all I'm saying.
That being said, The Soloist is based upon a true story, and it was a pretty good movie. It even touches briefly upon the notion that Lopez may have been somewhat exploiting Ayers in order to come up with a compelling subject for his newspaper column, and we do see Lopez struggle with that idea a bit. Ultimately he doesn't let it bother him to much, deciding (pretty correctly) that it's almost always to do something rather than nothing, but it was nice to see such a possibility addressed.
Sunday afternoon I had band practice with the Mono E, which went pretty well.

What else? I watched good portions of Obama's commencement speech at Notre Dame over the weekend. I thought Obama did a really good job of once again taking a controversial, difficult situation and turning it into something which felt pretty positive. The president talked about the need to be tolerant of opposing points of view, about the need to resist the temptation to reduce people with opposing viewpoints into charicatures, and about the positive results that can be accomplished when opposing parties search for common ground and then move forward together (he went so far as to say that the two points of view on abortion may be fundamentally irreconcilable, but that both sides could agree on things like the need to avoid unwanted pregnancies- pragmatic solutions that could allow both sides to move forward together). Obama also made an interesting comment about the value to be found in harboring some small amount of doubt, especially when arguing about political issues. He basically alluded to the fact that there are very few things in this life that we can be 100% sure about with absolute certainty (or at least not on issues which have smart, earnest people making strong arguments on both sides- as with the abortion issue), and that in an intellectually honest argument, harboring some amount of doubt can play a positive role in helping people to avoid self righteousness, zealotry, and dogmatic thinking, and that doubt can force us to acknowledge that opposing views have some amount of merit, even when we find ourselves strongly disagreeing with them.
It's been a while since I've heard much wisdom coming from the office of commander-in-chief, but I was impressed by what Obama had to say. Kind of cool to have a president that can actually make you think from time to time.

As time passes I feel less anger toward George W. (he seems like more of a kind of hapless tool of people who had some seriously suspect motives- I'm looking in your directions Cheney and Rove), but even when I don't feel angry at him I feel like he was, at best, a colossal disappointment. Even by Republican standards (small, efficient government and a strong private sector economy) he failed pretty miserably.

Well, that's about if today. Have a good one!

p.s.- Oh yeah. I think Pelosi may be screwing up. She tried to claim that the CIA never briefed her about the use of enhanced interrogation techniques (claiming she didn't oppose them because she didn't know they were being used), but the CIA has notes from briefings which show the disclosure of just such information as one of the listed items on the agenda. I think the CIA gets ordered to do a lot of questionable stuff, and politicians just sort of ignore it, thinking it will never see the light of day, but when the operations become public they typically try to throw the agency under the bus. Lord knows the CIA has done some very questionable stuff (there's that whole training Bin Laden to fight the Soviets thing and their participation in the Iranian revolution that eventually brought the Ayatollah to power- just for starters), but somehow I just don't trust Pelosi on this thing. The CIA has been through this kind of stuff too many times before and is too adept at covering their butts to have not briefed her about these enhanced interrogation techniques. I'm not sure if it would be more disturbing if she were lying or if she really wasn't paying much attention to what was going on in relation to U.S. torture policies, even when she was briefed on it.

I'm also happy to hear that President Obama is a fan of the new Star Trek movie and Star Trek in general. That's good stuff.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

TV on the Radio

We went to see TV on the Radio. Reed took a few iPhone pictures.

Chris and I.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Lost, Animal Shelters Stepping Up, TV on the Radio

Howdy. Happy Friday! Once again, things are a bit crazy on my end.
Jamie cooked chicken last night, and that was pretty cool.
I never had a chance to comment on the season finale of Lost this week, but I'm not sure I have too much to say about it, anyway. The show continues to be interesting, mostly because the writers keep constantly creating questions and presenting mysterious situations, but then refusing to give too many answers. To me, it's sort of infuriatingly gimmicky, and yet I keep coming back to see how things turn out (which is part of why it's a bit infuriating). The characters keep acting in sort of strange, random ways that seem more driven by a need to keep the plot moving along than by much internal or motivation on their own part. Honestly, there's only a couple of characters that I care about anymore (and they're sort of minor characters- like Hurley and Miles), so the show is kind of in danger of losing me altogether. But there's only one season left, so I'll probably stick with it, hoping for a big payoff at the end.
I try not to spend too much time pondering theories about the show and its meaning, but I think that some Biblical metaphors were made much more clear this season. There was a whole prodigal son thing that seemed to be going on with Locke and Ben this past week, and the fight between Jacob and his unnamed nemesis (at least I don't think he has a name) seems to have some possible overtones of God vs. Satan (there's a whole theme about people getting kicked off the island [i.e., Richard Alpert] in a sort of Lucifer getting kicked out of heaven, Paradise Lost theme).
Anyway, it's all sort of vague, but I definitely see some religious symbolism and imagery going on. I also think Jacob might be back, even though he seems to be dead at the moment.
Roundball wrote a little review of it that makes some good points over on his blog.

TV on the Radio is playing again tomorrow night at Stubb's. They are cool. You should go see them if you like stuff that is cool.

Austin area animal shelters are reporting that they've been able to reduce euthanasia by 50% after receiving grants and funding that has allowed them to increase the number of animals which have been spayed or neutered. That's really great! A grant through the national ASPCA helped to make this possible.
So, if you can, make a donation to the ASPCA or to the Austin Humane Society! They're obviously doing really good work and using their fund efficiently and effectively. Animals make our lives better, and for animals which are meant to be pets, they really depend upon us for support and survival. Help 'em out!!!
Gotta run. Maybe more later.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sorry, but I didn't get around to writing anything last night, and today is pretty busy as well. I posted 3 things yesterday, though, so that should count for something. Check out that video from my last post. I've always really liked that song, anyway, and it's a cool idea- well executed.
Well, more later if I have time.
Mandy should be returning from Italy today/tonight. Welcome back, Mandy!!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Also, Watch This...

This video is a product of PlayingForChange, an anti-war/pro-peace movement which seeks to reduce violent conflict around the world and build global harmony, often using shared, international musical works to share its message. Pretty cool, huh? I think it's pretty awesome.

Meet the New Boss. Same as the Old Boss...

A quick second post. So the Obama administration has now reversed itself on its earlier promise to release photos which showed abuse suffered by enemy captives while they were held in U.S. custody. The White House said that the photos could potentially inflame anti-American sentiment, ultimately leading to more danger for U.S. troops and making it more difficult to accomplish our ongoing missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So much for all of these promises of transparency by our new administration.
My gut reaction to this reversal of policy is, "Geez, those pictures must be a lot worse than anyone expected." And that ain't good.
In the middle of a heated public discussion (okay, argument) about the merits of torture (how is that for a fun phrase? "Merits of torture". We live in interesting times) versus its criminality, and in the middle of a slow, steady process in which the Obama administration seems to be trying to reestablish greater trust with other nations and between the federal government and the American people, it seems like a bad idea to suddenly say that we can't release evidence of some very bad things that American forces have done because it might upset a lot of people. In fact, (and it really pains me to say this) that sort of thing sounds a whole lot like someof the milder B.S. that we used to get from the Bush administration.
If our government is going to be committing some really nasty acts in the name of defending the American people, than the people have a right to know what sort of actions the goverment is taking on their behalf. We can't accurately gauge whether or not we want something done in the name of "protecting" us when we're not allowed to really even find out what's really going on.
I guess there may be a point to make in saying that the behavior depicted in these photos is now clearly prohibited and that the photos don't really need to be seen by the public in order to further debate about the treatment of prisoners (since this behavior has now apparently been declared illegal in unequivocal terms). On the other hand, these abusive acts have been declared illegal for now, but the next time a hardline conservative occupies the White House the policies regarding treatment of prisoners could once again quickly swing back in the direction of the abusive. It might be good to have these photos in the public record in order to remind people what our country is getting itself into before we launch into a bunch of torture and abuse the next time around.
Basically, if the White House thinks that these photos are so bad that we can't even release them to the public, I think we should be pursuing charges against everyone (right up the chain of command) involved in the situation and the activities shown in those pictures. If these photos depict activities which are so shameful and inflammatory that they can't be shown publicly, then the people involved in the photographed abuse (and those who allowed it to happen) need to be vigorously prosecuted.
Anyway, that's my take on the whole thing.
Obama, you gotta quit letting them push you around on these national defense issues.

Hump Day, Pimping the Hubble

Hump day! Do the Humpty Dance!!

Everyone feels better after a little Humpty Dance....

Jamie made talapia last night and cooked up some potatoes from her mom's garden. Muy delicioso! (Is that even close to being correct Espanol?) I got a first look at Roundball's new pontificatin' hat last night, and I have to say that it fits him better than the last one. I'm just not sure that I can get used to the idea of my brother in a cowboy hat, but, whatever floats his boat, I guess (it's a straw hat that keeps the sun off, so it's sort of hard to argue with the practical benefits for events like ACL Fest).

The space shuttle Atlantis is up in space and preparing to link up with the Hubble Space Telescope in order to effectuate some upgrades and repairs. The mission is a little risky because of Hubble's orbit, which is nowhere near the International Space Station, where shuttle crews could normally hole up to make repairs or catch an alternate ride if something went wrong with their spacecraft (also, apparently there's a lot of space junk in Hubble's orbit, which increases the chances of a dangerous collision).
Anyway, I'm a big Hubble fan. For years now I have periodically downloaded Hubble images, just to look at them or to use them as desktop photos or screensavers. I just find it really amazing that there are things like this that actually exist in the same universe that we occupy (we're so used to seeing fictionalized, CG effects of this kind of stuff, that it's almost hard to remember that these are pictures of real phenomena). Some of those pictures that come back from Hubble really fill me with a sense of awe.

So I'm glad they're still maintaining and upgrading the Hubble. I heard on the news a day or two ago that the new upgrades are actually supposed to substantially improve the resolution on some of these Hubble photos, which are pretty incredible already.

Well, I know that isn't much, but I'm sort of swamped today. Maybe I'll write more later.
I hope all of ya'll are having a good day!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Many Happy Returns, Griegor!!!

Well, it's my good friend Chris Griego's birthday today, so everyone send Chris some happy birthday wishes and good vibes!

Chris has been a friend for a long time. I've known him since high school, and possibly even junior high (I honestly can't remember). Chris grew up right across the street from another one of my really good friends, Reed, and Chris and his brother, John, were regular fixtures at Shaw Manor.
Chris works at Dell and lives up in Round Rock, so it can be sort of tricky to pop in and visit the guy. He also really enjoys good music and having a good time. He's been my wingman for... I'm not sure how many ACL Fests now, and we've seen a fair number of other concerts over the years as well. He's surprisingly good at cowboying up and dealing with heat and dust and crowds and whatnot so long as he knows there's some good music and maybe a cold beer at the end of the rainbow. Chris also shares my love of a good, lazy night around the house, maybe having a beer or two and listening to music, playing some XBox, and/or watching some godawful TV show or movie (I remember skipping out of work one afternoon years ago and stopping by Chris's old condo where we proceeded to watch Battlefiled Earth in its entirety. Few men are cut out to watch all of Battlefield Earth, but somehow Chris managed to get me to skip my last couple of hours of work so we could suffer through it. I've rarely laughed so hard at a John Travolta movie.).

Anyway, Chris has a big, nice house filled with fun toys (giant TV, pool table, rockin' stereo, etc.), so I wouldn't really know what to get him. I know that he appreciates him some Milla Jovovich, though, so, Chris, these are for you...

Not much to say, and the day has been kind of nuts. Hope you guys are all doing pretty well. Ryan, Jamie, and I all had dinner last night at a restaurant called Bamboo Garden over on Ben White. Ryan had apparently read some good reviews of the place on the review site, Yelp.
Yelp lies.
The portions were big, and the service pretty friendly, but the food was mediocre. It mostly tasted like heat-and-serve pre-made Chinese food. Pretty bland and unexciting.
Anyway, it's hard to trust customer-generated review sites becuase there are so many people who write biased reviews because they're friends with the staff or the owners or just because a place is close to home and people have decided it's "their place". Also, especially with Chinese food in this town, people often just seem to be poor critics of food. If you've really only had mediocre Chinese food, you're not really going to notice the difference when you have pretty poor Chinese food one more time.
Anyway, the experience wasn't painful or anything, but I just wouldn't really seek out Bamboo Garden for any kind of future dining experience.
Other from that, I just watched 24 and The Mighty Boosh again. The Mighty Boosh is pretty rad. Surreal, and definitely not for everyone, but if absurdity tickles your funnybone, you should check it out. Cartoon Network, late on Sunday nights.
Okay, I gotta run.
You guys keep it real.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Steanso the Quibbler

There's a column in the Washington Post today by Hank Stuever called "The Trouble wiith Quibbles" which is probably worth reading. It uses the public's anticipation of and reaction to the new Star Trek movie as a vehicle to examine the current culture of pop culture consumerism and hyperanalysis.
The column makes some good points. Stuever asks questions about why our current generation of producers, directors, and writers seems incapable of producing new stories or ideas instead of just rehashing old shows or films (and why is that? This question could be a post unto itself. Now that we have so many of our works permanently preserved, is it just that hard to come up with a concept that hasn't already been well-executed previously?). He questions the current nature of film production in which fans constantly provide feedback on movies, generating vast amounts of criticism in dizzying detail about everything from casting choices to costumes to set design before a movie has ever been shown. Bloggers intensely scrutinize movies, analyzing them to the point of acceptance or rejection on the strength of trailers which only show a minute or two of a film.
Stuever also refers to the fact that modern fans seem to possess the ability to kill a movie in the womb- shouting down the very possibility of its success in online forums and/or conventions before a movie gets made.
Stuever sort of mentions all of these things as he builds up to his main thesis- the idea that original or imaginative material is unlikely to get made if moviemakers remain beholden to fans who fear the possibilities inherent in change. Good art, Stuever argues, can't get made in an environment where artists don't have room to independently struggle to come up with new ideas (and execute them).
I get it. I do. I even had some mild disagreements in advance of this Star Trek movie with friends who said that Abrams shouldn't even be attempting to make a Star Trek movie with the original characters in the cast (I argued at the time that some mild changes might be the only way to breathe some new life into the franchise).
All of this being said, I think that the sort of hypercritical audience subculture that's been created by these sorts of films (especially the constant remakes of nostalgic material) is sort of understandable.
For one thing, we're living in a generation whose childhood memories are constantly under fire from people who want to cash in on our nostalgia and fond rememberances, often in a very crass, exploitative way. For every Star Trek remake that's successful, there are a bunch of other Catwomans, Elektra Assassins, and Dukes of Hazzards that are poorly made and seem to have no greater aspiration than cashing in. In a sense, the hypercritical reactions of audiences are a sort of defense mechanism against producers and execs who have no problem exploiting all of this stuff and cranking out worthless versions of well-loved shows in order to make a quick buck. So the fans have, for some of this stuff, appointed themselves the guardians of their own cultural heritage (such as it is). I don't really blame them for that.
Do the fans take some of this stuff way too seriously? Probably, but then again, it takes a lot of passion about something to slow down the big, grinding money machine that is Hollywood.
Also, of course, the internet has created thousands of communities within communities related to this stuff. People talk and talk and argue and argue. Millions of voices all shouting into the blogosphere and various community forums.
And the way to distinguish yourself is to become a clever critic.
People do this in different ways. You have your critics who amass a tremendous amount of knowledge in a particular area, and your critics who focus on simply noticing and pointing out things that other people might overlook, not notice, or not care about. The best critics do both.
The point, though, is that in the age of the blog and the online publisher, criticism has sort of become a popular sport and a national pasttime. Hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people have fashioned themselves critics of one kind or another (yup, here, too). Criticism is a way of turning passive viewing into an interactive activity. It demonstrates something other than couch potato status (at least it seems to), allowing people to celebrate the things that they love and voice their frustrations when things turn out to be a huge waste of time. Given a culture where so much of our time is spent passively staring at screens or listening to sounds come out of speakers, criticism is a way to remain active, alert, and engaged in a culture which would otherwise have us remain passive consumers (sort of like dollar-producing vegetables for our beloved captains of industry).
So I think the drive to become critics is understandable, too.
I guess the biggest surprise is that the movie industry is actually listening to some of our noise.
Anyway, Stuever's column is well written, makes good points about the need for aritistic freedom, and is definitely worth checking out. I'm just not sure that he had enough empathy for us quibblers.

Weekend Update, Marathon Man, Death of the GOP, Dicky C. Keeps it Real (Stupid)

So the weekend was pretty good. Really good, actually.
Friday night, as promised, Roundball and I rolled over to Emo's to see Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears. And it was a really good show! Emo's was pretty packed, and the crowd was into the music. The band was energetic, tight, and sounded good. All of the guys in the band were good, but the horns and the bass were sort of standouts (as should probably be the case with that sort of funk/soul music). Black Joe played guitar for most of the show, and he's actually a pretty decent guitar player (in addition to being a good singer). Black Joe is also apparently a big fan of classic Star Trek, and he seemed a little skeptical about the new Star Trek movie (he made some comments about Abrams pooping all over Roddenberry's legacy right before the band launched into a cool, instrumental song called "Enterprise". Of course, he also admitted that he'd not yet seen the new movie. I've never seen a club crowd all throwing their hands in the air with the Vulcan "live long and prosper" sign before.) Anyway, good show. BJL and the Honeybears just play music that just puts me in a good mood. You guys should really check them out when they play at ACL Fest or whenever they play again.
So that was Friday.
Saturday I got up and took Cassidy down to the spillover at Barton Springs. We had a good time swimming and splashing and playing with other dogs, but the water is really low this year. It's a little discouraging to see the creek so low, because it's fed, of course, by Barton Springs, which is usually pretty reliable in terms of water flow. Supposedly the water flow only really drops off when the aquifer and the underground water tables get really low (meaning we're suffering from a really bad drought), but clearly the springs are flowing much more slowly than usual right now. If we don't get some rain this is going to be a particularly nasty summer, I'm afraid.
Anyway, there's still enough water to get in there and float around and cool off, so that's what we did.
Saturday afternoon D.K. had a party at her house to honor her girlfriend, Liz, who passed away two years ago. D.K. really outdid herself. She had lots of really great food, and lots of beer, margaritas, and other drinks. I hadn't been over to D.K.'s house in awhile, and he house was looking really good, too. She's done a lot of landscaping, and her yeard looked really great. Anyway, it was a really nice party with lots of cool people, and some nice pictures of Lizzie. I know Liz would have been really happy to see everyone come out.
Saturday night I had Crack practice, and that was good, too. I recorded most of it with my new digital recorder, and I put a couple of new tracks from Saturday night up onto our MySpace site. It was good to hang out with Andy and Sig (somehow we ended up talking about things ranging from the Pakistan/Taliban conflict to American tax schemes and global warming), and really good to make music with them. I know Crack probably isn't for everyone, but I think it's pretty great. Somehow it always feels sort of cathartic. Sort of helps clear up some of the emotional static. And although it's an acquired taste, I really do think it's pretty interesting to listen to.
Sunday I went to see the new Star Trek movie with Ryan, Jamie, and Jamie's parents, the McBrides (it was Mother's Day, after all, and I guess Jamie's mom was hip enough to be down for some space battle action on her special day). I already posted my review of the movie, but I thought it was pretty good, overall. Definitely one of the more entertaining Star Trek movies to come along in quite a while. I also called my own mom and talked to her on the phone for awhile so I could wish her a happy Mother's Day.
I rounded out the weekend by going to Maudie's last night with Team Steans for some Tex Mex.
So it was a good weekend. I did a bunch of fun stuff.

In other news, a British soldier who suffered spinal injuries finished the London marathon on Saturday, 13 days after the race started. The soldier, Phil Packer, was told a year ago that he would never walk again because of the injuries that he suffered as a result of a rocket attack in Basra, Iraq, in February 2008. Packer completed the race at a rate of about two miles a day in order to raise awareness for Help for Heroes, a charity that supports wounded British war veterans.
Wow. I gotta quit whining about stuff and get more done.

Also, it seems like the media has been enthusiastically proclaiming the death of the Republican party lately. The cover of Time Magazine this week openly questions whether the GOP is struggling for its survival.
You gotta be kidding me.
I know that the media is primarily interested in generating ratings and increasing viewership, but do we really think that a bunch of Democrats winning one election really signals the death of the Republican party? Of course not.
There are some demographic changes going on in the country that might seem, superficially, to create a tilting of the playing field toward Democrats such as an increasing minority population and increasing population concentrations in urban areas, but there are lots of wealthy, powerful people in the GOP who can bring an awful lot of money and resources to bear, and they aren't going anywhere quietly without a fight (plus, the Democratic mobilization of this growing voter base in minority communities and in urban areas has been sort of hit-or-miss. It worked in the past presidential election with Obama as a candidate, but as the GOP finds itself more minority candidates this advantage may not hold up. Also, will minority, urban voters continue to come to the polls to vote for Democrats in races where the Democratic candidate is just another middle aged white guy?). I also think that the demographics may not necessarily play out in the same way that people assume. I remember arguing with some Latino friends at the courthouse who voted for Bush back in '04 who were supporting Bush over Kerry because Bush was a "good Christian" while Kerry was, in their opinion, not as devout. I wonder if pollsters and analysts would have just assumed that these people would have been voting for Kerry because they were Latinos living in an urban area.
Anyway, neither demographic data nor a few big wins for the Democrats are going to convince me that the Republicans are a dying species. They've just got too much money, power, and motivation. And now they have time to reorganize themselves and to try to rework their image.
Also, I still think that this is a center-right country for the most part. The Republicans had to really screw things up once they got into office in order to lose the trust of the public, but guess what? Bush and his crew actually managed to botch things badly enough to make people who are generally sort of conservative (but mostly moderate) give the Democrats a chance.
But the American voting public has a very short memory, and it won't be long before the Republicans are back with some new, repackaged candidates. All will be forgiven.
Americans like to explore the next, new, big thing, and they love a candidate with charisma. Mostly I think the next couple of elections will be decided by whichever side has the candidate with the most charisma (which bodes well for Obama and some of the Democrats in the short term, but leaves the door wide open for the Republicans if they can produce some charismatic [not just dogmatic] leaders).
Anyway, to paraphrase that tired, old Mark Twain line, I think the rumors of the GOP's death have been greatly exaggerated. Headlines to the contrary are just sensationalist journalism meant to generate false controversy and, subsequently, readership. The really annoying thing is that even though this claim seems silly on its face to me even now, by creating this false sense of the GOP's impending doom, the media is just setting itself to act equally shocked at a later date when the GOP manages to retain power and continue to be a viable source. False expectations creating false surprise.
Oh well.
To be honest, I don't really want the GOP to go away, anyway. I'm a pretty hardline progressive, but even a crusty ol' hippie like me can see the need for some balance in the system (I don't, after all, see all government programs as equal, and I recognize the fact that there are some things that the taxpayers don't necessarily need to be funding). On the other hand, if the GOP feels the need to reinvent itself, and in so doing finds itself needing to be more open to compromise and less committed to scorched earth, take-no-prisoners tactics, I think that would probably be a very good thing.

And speaking of scorched earth, take-no-prisoner Republican tactics, can someone please tell me what the heck is going on with Dick Cheney? The guy goes missing for the better part of 8 years- absent from the media and public discourse while presumably hiding out in a bunker somewhere and planning out new and creative ways to torture Iraqi "enemy combatants"- but now he's everywhere you look. He hits radio talk shows and Sunday morning interview shows and spends the better part of his time perpetuating his old Bush era scaremongering tactics (i.e., Obama's policies against torture and civil rights violations will lead to the ruin of us all) and taking shots at anyone who doesn't agree with his hardline conservative ideology.
The man needs to be tried for war crimes.
The main problem, of course, is that he got W. to endorse most of his hair-brained, disastrous ideas, so now he can just point to the president and say he was "just following orders" if and when the sh*t ever hits the proverbial fan. Let's see.... a war started under false pretenses, the legalization of torture, implentation of a rendition program that allowed for torture of America's enemies in other countries (for those situations, I guess, where waterboarding and slapping people around just aren't enough), selective "interpretation" of intelligence info (i.e., lying), the evisceration of constitutional search and seizure protection for American citizens (this is your Patriot Act, domestic wiretapping, etc.), a cronyism goldmine for Halliburton and other companies that Cheney had connections with, and a lack of oversight in the American economy that helped spiral us into an international economic recession.
After hiding from the people that he was claiming to represent for the last 8 years, now is definitely a good time for Cheney to come out of hiding and start shooting his mouth off.
In retrospect, allowing people like Cheney to keep championing the GOP might actually be the one thing that could end up killing it (or at least setting it back for a long, long time). Keep it up, Dick. Keep taking shots at people like Collin Powell. People clearly love you far more than that... uh... war hero? ... man of integrity?... what other horrible things can I spit out about him?

And that's about it.
I hope you guys had a good weekend.
TV on the Radio next Saturday at Stubb's for those cool enough to care!!!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Yup, it's my Star Trek Review

So I just saw the new Star Trek flick. So this is my obligatory review. I say obligatory just because there have already been about a gazillion other reviews out there, and I seriously doubt I have much to say that hasn't been said before. Nonethless, it won't surprise anyone to hear that I have some opinions, and I feel a bit compelled to record them now after seeing the movie (it could always be fun to look back at this a couple of years down the road after I've had more of a chance to think about the flick- I only saw it an hour before writing this).
HERE THERE BE SPOILERS! (I tried not to totally ruin any surprises, but read at your own risk).
Well, overall, the movie was pretty enjoyable. It was a fun ride. Kind of hyperkinetic and dizzying, but a fun ride. For a guy who's tried to paint the impression that he's not really a longtime Trek fan and doesn't feel beholden to the Star Trek franchise of the past, director J.J. Abrams has a pretty good feel for the characters, and he spends a lot of time developing them and building relationships between them. A huge part of the fun involved with the movie is in seeing the early, formative years of Kirk, Uhura, Spock, Sulu, and the rest, and in seeing them develop some of the relationships between them.
Abrams does a pretty good job of preserving the overall feel of the characters, while leaving open the possibility that things are a little different this time, because the plot, after all, involves shifts in the space-time continuum that are clearly causing some events in this new Trek universe to be different from the one that we're used to (Abrams feels free to destroy some locations in this movie that are important in the other franchises right up to and through Next Generation and Voyager- shows that occur much later in the Trek universe timeline than this movie- so while the movie has a rich sense of tradition, there are definitely some big changes that are made to the Trek universe in this movie). Heck, right in the dialogue of the movie they go out of their way to realize aloud that the timeline has been changed and that an alternate reality has been created.
The special effects are pretty cool, the acting is pretty decent, and the battle scenes are well done.
My main complaint witht he movie is that the overall story arc is pretty weak. Not the background and the character development for our main characters, but the story that provides the conflict- the bad guy and his background and his motives. The whole bad guy agenda just doesn't make much sense (or really any sense at all). His motivation seems to essentially amount to someone who's throwing a tantrum, and it seems hard to imagine someone commanding the loyalty of a crew when they don't have very good reasons for doing all of this dangerous, horrific stuff. Also, we've seen something very similar to the film's antagonist, Romulan Captain Nero, in a prior Trek movie which was largely panned by critics and rejected by audiences- Star Trek: Nemesis. In Nemesis a bunch of renegade Romulans (well, technically members of a Romulan subspecies, if you want to totally geek out) team up with a Picard clone named Shinzon and set course for Earth with a weapon of mass destruction and a plan to destroy the whole planet. To an extent, Nero just felt a lot like Shinzon 2.0 to me.
In our current movie I'm not even sure why the Romulans are attacking Earth. I understand, insofar as a mediocre explanation was given, why they have attacked their initial target (see, not saying what it is- I told you I'd try to avoid spoilers!), but I guess we're just supposed to assume that they're attacking Earth because they're not particularly selective when they vent their anger? The motivation there was sort of murky, and Nero just seemed very, very familiar as a villain.
I'm also still not exactly clear why Kirk remained captain of the Enterprise at the conclusion of the movie. He was given command temporarily, and that sort of made sense, but it wasn't exactly clear why he got to keep it, given that at least one other key player seemed next in line for the job.
And there's other stuff, too (for example, Nero did some nasty stuff to one of the characters, and the outcome of that course of action was never fully shown or explained).
Oh well.
It's a fast, adventurous, whiz bang, golly jeepers sort of ride, and it doesn't really lend itself to overanalysis. On the other hand, Trek fans tend to pick things apart and study them for years and years. Decades and decades. Even though this movie is a roller coaster of a good time (feeling more like Star Wars than Star Trek in many ways, as our waitress pointed out before the movie started), I think that some of the holes that seem to exist in the movie's logic might be the kind of thing that Trekkies talk about for years (dare I say these sorts of flaws in logic could even separate the movie from being considered a Trek classic by the Trek fans as opposed to a more popularly successful film with less staying power over the long haul?).
In the end, though, I think that the character development, action sequences, and the fairly strong acting will probably keep this movie a fan favorite for a long time to come. And Abrams certainly left the door wide, wide open for sequels.
I have a feeling that we'll be seeing more of this Enterprise crew, and if the next movies are as good as this one, I think they'll be received with open arms.
So that's about it.
Live long and... oh, never mind.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!!!

Man, I've had a hard time coming up with something to write about for today. Really.
The news just feels like more of the same today, and I'm sliding off of a relatively mundane work week into what I hope will be a good weekend, but I don't have a whole lot to say about that.
I guess that one thing I can do is go ahead and wish a peremptory Happy Mother's Day to all of the moms out there, including my own mom, The Karebear.
Happy Mother's Day to Mom and to all of you other mothers!!
Mom, I love you lots, and hope you have a great Mother's Day weekend!
For those of you who don't know much about my mom, you can check out a recent post about here here. My mom is a very generous, caring person who's been a great mother to both myself and my brother, and a great teacher to.... jeez I don't even know how to count how many kids whose lives she has personally affected over her nearly 40 years of teaching (mom has taught school at just about every elementary school grade level, worked as a specialist teaching kids who have difficulty reading, mentored new teachers and teaching students, and for the last few years she's been teaching English to adults at special classes at her church). She's also seems to get along pretty well with my dad, The Admiral, so that's probably a good thing...
Anyway, I love her lots and I'm very fortunate to have her for a mother!
Here's a picture of one of my favorite TV moms, Sarah Connor, just getting ready to send her son to school in the morning.

Incidentally, this is also the same way that the Karebear sent Roundball out the door to the bus every day...

What else? Don't mean to beat a dead horse, but don't forget that Black Joe Lewis is playing at Emo's tonight, for those of you who are cool enough to care. ;-)

Well, like I said, I don't have much today. I hope that everyone has a good weekend!!