Friday, July 31, 2009

Crazy Hot; Blue Dogs and Health Care Reform; Professor Goes Sci Fi with Light

Well, I've been saying that this year has seemed especially hot here in Austin, and now it's official. This July has now become the warmest month ever for temperatures here in Austin, with average daily temperatures at 89.5 degrees (remember, this includes all the hours at night and in the early morning), and average high temperatures at 102. We broke the old record which was an average daily high of 89.1, a record which was set all the way back in 1860. No one wants to talk about the 800 pound gorrilla in the room, but I think between these record high temperatures and the extreme drought that we've been suffering, there's probably a good chance that there's some kind of link between the whole global warming phenomenon and these weather conditions. I know that it's pretty much impossible to prove a correlation, and that there are other parts of the country that are probably experiencing cooler conditions or more rain than normal, but climatologists have said all along that we shouldn't just be looking for simple warming across the board, but for more extreme weather conditions, with weather patterns pushed farther and farther into levels that would be considered more severe (i.e., pushing temperatures and precipitation amounts away from the median levels and more toward extreme ends of the spectrum).
I could easily be totally, 100% wrong about all of this, and maybe I'm just trying to draw causal connections between random weather events and global warming where no such connections exist. On the other hand, it takes a while to be able to definitively identify a trend, and it may turn out that 5 or 10 years down the road the experts will be looking at these temperatures and this drought and saying that these last couple of years were the beginnings of where Central Texas truly began to feel the impact of climate change. I do feel that people will try to deny the fact that climate change is having an impact until they absolutely can't deny it any more (it's one thing to read about these things in the abstract, but another thing to feel like they're really affecting you personally), and by that point, things will have already gotten really bad.
So, anyway, I guess I'm saying it's the end times. How's that for a happy way to kick off a Friday blog post? (of course, it's not really the end times, but we might need to start rethinking the ways that we're using our water resources and addressing some other issues that could come with a more long lasting shift in climate)

And a bunch of conservative (sort of) Democrats, the so-called Blue Dog Democrats, have been voicing criticism of proposed health care reform legislation. Some of these criticisms and critiques have been legitimate and sincere, as Blue Dog Democrats have fought to make sure that their constituencies, which are often rural, are being adequately represented in terms of getting the health care coverage and service that they need. On the other hand, The Blue Dog Coalition's fund raising efforts have been hitting a record pace as their Political Action Committee has been flooded with donations provided by health care, insurance, and health-related financial financial services industries. Arkansas Representative Mike Ross, a Blue Dog Democrat leader and one of the leading critics of proposed health care legislation, was recently the guest of honor at a special health care industry reception which was funded by health care companies and their lobbyists. Ross has received around $1 million from the health care and insurance industries during his 5 terms in Congress. Further, Blue Dogs have been shown to have been receiving donations from the health care industry at a rate 25% higher than other Democrats- a figure which places them more in keeping with Republicans than with their fellow Democrats in terms of receiving support from the health care industry.
So, the question quickly becomes whether the Blue Dogs really have the best interests of their constituents at heart, or whether they're actually just representing the health care industry and insurance companies.
The whole thing bugs me. Somehow having the Democrats do these things seems troubling in a way that wouldn't bother me as much if it were coming from the Republicans (the Republican philosophy that government never works and free market capitalism can solve most of society's evils gets them a bit more of a pass when it turns out that they're aligned with corporations in the attempt to throw the wrench into proposed legislation).
To be honest, I'm not really even that sure about what it means to be a conservative, Blue Dog Democrat. Maybe fiscally conservative, but more progressive when it comes to social issues? I'm not sure that I know. I want the Democratic Party to have a big tent, but it still seems like the Democrats have some progressive core principles, and health care reform (in general, if not in its specifics) seems to come pretty close to touching on some of them (some of those being that there are certain, fundamental rigths and living conditions that all Americans deserve to be able to live under, regardless of their wealth or social position).
Anyway, I just want to see some form of health care reform passed that ends up making it easier for a lot more Americans to get health care coverage, preferably while helping to reign in rising health care costs at the same time. This is just an area where I think other countries are doing better than the U.S.. I don't think people should have to give up their specialized, more expensive health care plans if they want to keep them, and I don't see why there wouldn't continue to be a market for these plans, but I think we need to do a much better job of providing a minimum level of basic coverage for everyone.

And here's an article from a friend, Steven Harms, about a professor at Harvard, Lene Hau, who has figured out how to slow down and stop light, convert light into matter and back again, and stop light in one place and then retrieve and speed it up in a different place. The whole thing blows my mind, and it sounds like it's calling into question some of Albert Einstein's assertions about characteristics of light and its speed (Einstein and most other scientists thought it was a constant).
Hau's work sort of blows my mind (modern physics amazes me on a regular basis).
It's also really cool to see a woman making this kind of impact in the world of physics, which often seems sort of dominated by males. As society's attitudes continue to draw more and more women into fields related to math and science I'm sure this sort of thing will reach the point where it's not even worth mentioning (things have been getting better, but women have been very underrepresented in engineering and hard sciences for decades), but for right now Hau is one of the foremost researchers in her field and she's making discoveries that are just flat out amazing, regardless of the gender of the person doing the research.

Well, I gots to run.
Ya'll have a good weekend!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Torchwood; ISS Photo; Saving Fishies

Hey there.
Hung out at home last night.
I finished watching a Torchwood miniseries last night called Torchwood: Children of Earth, and it was actually really good. Torchwood, for those of you who aren't nerds, is a spinoff of the BBC's Doctor Who series. Torchwood itself is the fictional (far as I know) secret division of the British government which is charged with the task of protecting the Earth from harmful alien activity (the Earth of Doctor Who being the kind of place that experiences alien visitation on a semi-regular basis, although few of these encounters ever become known to the public). Torchwood was founded by Queen Victoria after she witnessed some aliens doing battle with a time travelling Doctor on a prior episode of that show.
Anyway, I've watched Torchwood before, but the results have been mixed, with some episodes being much better than others. Nonetheless, Torchwood is the kind of show with a fairly complex, well developed mythology (much like Doctor Who), so it has some moments which really pay off for fans who've invested some time with the series.
The Children of Earth miniseries was well written and well executed. I don't want to say too much about it, except that it was sort of creepy and disturbing in a way that I hadn't seen from a television sci fi show in a long time. The aliens don't sneak around in the dark waiting to attack people. They're more in along the lines of the "take me to your leader" sort of aliens, but they're scary- and there's lots of good stuff in the miniseries about how the world's leaders might deal with such a threat.
Anyway, people should check it out. You could probably get the hang of it pretty quick even if you haven't seen the show before. The only important detail you should probably know is that Captain Jack (who's an associate of The Doctor) can't die. He resurrects whenever should die, and he leads a team of alien-fighting secret agents.

There you go. Now go order it on Netflix. If you have an inclination towards sort of darkly themed sci fi.

And here's a picture of the International Space Station taken on July 26th from Orleans, France, as the ISS flew between Earth and the sun. The universe is big, and we are very, very small.

And there's a bit of good news for wildlife conservation supporters. A two year study of 10 large marine ecosystems has yielded some hopeful results, indicating that at least half of the ecosystems sutdied were now beginning to show signs of recovery (i.e., increased fish populations) in response to heightened conservation measures and stricter management practices. The researchers were quick to point out that most of these overfished areas are still in serious need of further recovery efforts, but they also reported that some significant progress was being made.

So that makes me happy. In addition to thinking that the preservation of wildlife populations is a good thing in and of itself (not only saving particular species of fish, but also protecting all of the other parts of the ecosystem that are inextricably linked to these fish populations for their survival), I also like to eat me some fish from time to time, and it would be nice to know that fish populations are being managed in a way that keeps those populations a sustainable resource.

Well, that wasn't much, but it was really all that I have time for.

Take care.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Steanso Amongst Madmen

This is Steanso in the Mad Men universe.
(I watched a couple of episodes of Madmen on the way back from London.
It was a pretty cool show, but those are the only episodes I've ever seen.)

The Freakshow; Jackson's Doctor and the Prescription Drug Thing

And once again, I don't have much going on.
Dinner with Jamie and Ryan last night. For reasons I don't entirely understand, we watched most of an episode of America's Got Talent. It gave me an idea for a reality contest style show called The Freak Show where we just reward people for doing things onstage that the audience can't look away from and/or will never forget. Where shows like American Idol and America's Got Talent reward people from the early round with a chance to compete in final rounds in some supposedly glamorous city (with judges hollaring things like "You're going to Hollywood!!" or "You're going to Vegas!!!"), The Freak Show will send its early round "winners" to descend upon some smaller, less conventional locations with more richly deserving and unsuspecting populations (I was thinking about starting the first season with a finals competition in Midland, Texas). Judges will announce advancement out of the early rounds by hollaring the catchphrase, "Welcome to The Freakshow!!".
Additionally, the panel of judges should largely be made up of some serious freaks, since it takes one to know one. This means we're looking at a panel with people like Charles Manson, Octomom, and Sarah Palin (although, come to think of it, maybe this panel isn't really any freakier than having David Hasselhoff and Sharon Osbourne sitting together on AGT). People on The Freakshow will move on to the next round when they do well. When they do poorly, they will have to try to make their escape through a zoo-like enclosure filled with angry, wild animals.
Anyway, I think of The Freakshow as a sort of catch-all for acts that weren't deemed appropriate for those other, cowardly, family friendly shows. I suspect that on The Freakshow we're going to be seeing a lot of people using their bodies to do things God just never intended.
But that's America. Love it or leave it.

On a slightly more serious note, it sounds like investigators are really ramping up their examination of the activities of Michael Jackson's doctor, Dr. Conrad Murray, who is suspected of prescribing some serious painkillers and/or anesthesia to the performer, partially in response to complaints by Jackson about not being able to sleep.
I don't really, honestly care that much about the Jackson case in particular, but I do think it sort of sheds a bit of light upon an issue that I've seen with growing regularity since I've started practicing law.
More and more doctors, it seems, are prescribing powerful painkillers, anti-anxiety medication, and other drugs that have a high potential for abuse, and they're doing little to counsel their patients about the potentially addictive properties for the drugs, and even less to warn people about the dangers of taking these drugs and then getting behind the wheel of a car. Doctors who are willing to prescribe medication for clients on demand aren't just the privilege of a wealthy few, anymore. We get lots of cases coming through our office that involve people who are on very powerful doses of strong medication (or combinations of more than one medication). Sometimes these medications have been prescribed for a legitimate reason, and sometimes the need for these strong medications is far from clear. Oftentimes, even if the drug was legitimately prescribed, people end up abusing it, and far more troubling is the fact that people who are under the influence of these drugs (to the point of experiencing intoxicating effects) still feel free to hop behind the wheel of a car and drive.
Anyway, I guess my main point was just that I think that a lot of doctors have become pretty irresponsible when it comes to both prescribing medication and talking to patients about the dangers they can create. College and high school kids are popping Xanax, Valium, and Hydrocodone like the stuff is candy, and then they're hopping in their cars and wheeling around town. Oftentimes they're drinking alcohol on top of the drugs that they've taken. I know that doctors can't be held accountable for all of the actions of their patients, but: 1) I think these drugs are being overprescribed in vast quatities (which is why there's so many of them just floating around- being used recreationally), and 2) I don't think most doctors are giving real, effective warnings about the dangers of these drugs when they prescribe them. When defendants get pulled over and can't do their field sobriety tests because of pills, they're invoking their prescriptions as though the things should ward off prosecution, even when the drugs are clearly messing up their motor reflexes and putting other people's lives in danger. When confronted about this, invariably they respond with the phrase, "My doctor didn't say anything about not being able to drive on this stuff."
Some of this is bullsh*t excuse making, but I think a lot of it is true.
I hurt my back a few years ago, and the doctor sent me out of his office with a whole medicine cabinet full of painkillers and muscle relaxers (including hydrocodone and codeine) without saying a word about operating vehicles or the risk of addiction.
And people not only get DWIs on this stuff, but they also get in accidents. (It seems like they get in lots of accidents while hopped up on pills). I really don't recommend popping a bunch of pills, but if you're going to take something strong, just stay home!
Anyway, end of sermon. My main point is just that I wasn't very surprised to hear that Jackson could find himself a doctor who would prescribe anything he asked for. You really don't have to be a millionaire to find that these days.

Well, that's it.
Hope everyone's A-OK!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Goodbye, Judge Aguilar;

Not much to report today. Last night I went to Chuy's with Ryan, Jamie, and Nicole to celebrate Nicole's birthday (yes, we already celebrated it on Saturday, but last night was her real birthday and Matt was tied up with karate, so we took her out). Anyway, it was a nice dinner.

I wanted to take a moment out to memorialize one of my colleagues, Wilfred Aguilar, who passed away this morning at Hospice Austin's Christopher House. I first met Judge Aguilar when I was just out of law school and working for Patrick Ganne here in Austin. Judge Aguilar was kind of an entertaining judge, who had a bit of a sardonic wit. Judge Aguilar enjoyed engaging in a bit of gentle hazing with the new lawyers, so I think I was the benefactor of that treatment once or twice, although I have clearer memories of talking about Mexican food and El Paso with him in his chambers. I only practiced in front of Aguilar for a short period of time before he left the bench and became a criminal defense attorney. I got to know him better once we were both defense attorneys, and I got along with him well over the years. The Judge had a good sense of humor, and we passed a lot of time waiting for our cases to be called by trading jokes and gossip in the courtrooms, jury rooms, and hallways of the courthouse.
Judge Aguilar was a good guy. He really was. He was a sort of no nonsense attorney, who would fight hard for his clients, but who didn't spend a lot of time selling people a line of bullsh*t if he knew that his client had really screwed up (you can still fight hard for your client without always having to convince the prosecutor that your client is a good guy- Aguilar would let you know if his client was a good person. If that wasn't the case, he would stick to arguments that were more grounded in legal issues). More recently I had worked with The Judge on a few cases that involved substance abuse and bipolar issues, and even when he was sick, I noticed that The Judge did his best to try to genuinely connect with and help clients who were struggling with these issues.
Anyway, I'm going to miss having The Judge around. As I get older I'm already noticing that new, less familiar familiar faces continue to fill up the courthouse. Somehow the oldtimers seem more and more important. Aguilar was not only among the first people that I remember from my earliest days of practice, but he was also a good hearted guy who just seemed like one of the more well liked members of the big, dysfunctional family unit that makes up the courthouse community.
So long, Judge. We're gonna miss you.

I guess that's all I'm going to have for today. Hope you guys are having a good one.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Weekend Update; Happy Birthday, Nicole; Military Stops Giving Body Counts; Palin Goes Away

Where did the weekend go? It was one of those weekends that I just sort of sank into in a sort of lazy, useless sort of way.
Here are some things I did:
I saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It was a decent movie, I guess, especially for people who are already fans of the series, but I couldn't help but feel like, plotwise, they didn't really move the whole Harry v. Voldemort plotline along very much (this movie really pretty much lacked a real scene of true conflict- some changes do take place, but there's not really much of a "Harry having to test himself by rising to the occasion" sort of moment). The movie mostly seemed to be about teen romance and about just laying the groundwork for what will be, I assume, the big battle between good and evil in the last two movies (yeah, there's apparently still two more of these things coming. It sort of floored me when Jamie mentioned this after the movie. For heaven's sake, would somebody end this thing? I mean, it's kind of cute and clever and all, but Lord of the Rings was only three movies, for heaven's sake.).
Also this weekend Cassidy and I met Ryan and Lucy down at the spillover by Barton Springs. There was much swimming, splashing, and tail wagging. There's nothing better than a tired, happy dog (except, maybe two tired, happy dogs).
Saturday night we went out for dinner with Nicole and Matt for Nicole's birthday (her birthday is actually today- happy birthday, Nicole!). Anyway, we went to Z-Tejas, and had a good time.
Sunday we had Mono Ensemble practice. We sounded pretty good, I think. I got some of the practice recorded.
Last night I watched what was billed as the 200th episode of Doctor Who, called "Planet of the Dead". I didn't think it was very good. The overall plotline was pretty unoriginal for a Doctor Who storyline (kind of combining elements of Pitch Black and the ol', traditional imminent alien invasion theme of Doctor Who), they introduced an annoying new female character who's probably desitined to be the new sidekick (this one's extreme!), and the usual deus ex machina via MacGuffin conflict resolution of this episode was even more ridiculous than usual (the antigravity clamps from the convenient wrechage of the aline ship allow a London bus to be flown and piloted with the bus's steering wheel?). There was some sort of clunky dialogue in the episode as well.
I expect some cheesey effects and some over-the-top fantasy from the Doctor Who series, but I usually forgive all of that because I like the writing and the stories. Not so sure this time.
Oh well. Hopefully next time will be better.
Other from that, I frittered away the weekend playing some guitar, reading a bit, and watching some more TV.
I know I watched a couple of episodes of Eastbound and Down. I like that show- mostly. It's funny, but it's a weird sort of humor. Sometimes you feel like you're laughing with the main character, sometimes you're laughing at him, and then sometimes the show just isn't funny (the show has this weird way of keeping things sort of lighthearted and goofy, but then occasionally pulling the rug out from under the audience by putting in darker, more depressing scenes). I think that sometimes the show also makes me feel like I'm laughing at the mean, dumb, redneck kid at school who just tried to get laughs by being mean to the people around him. There's something about that sort of thing that makes me uncomfortable (even though, yes, I realize that on the show we're supposed to be actually laughing at Kenny Powers for having that mindset in the first place, but.... it's a fine line). Still, sometimes the show is really funny.
Anyway, interesting series. I have friends who seem to really love it (who have already watched the whole series a number of times). I'm not sure if my admiration runs that deep, but it's definitely different, and worth watching. That Danny McBride is an interesting cat.

The U.S. military has announced that it is going to stop publishing body counts for the people that it kills in Afghanistan. The military explained that the body count figures bore little relevance to the American objective of protecting the lives of Afghans and bringing stability to the region.
Not sure how to feel about this, but, on the whole, I almost never think it's a very good thing when the military decides to provide us with less information about what they're doing.
It just seems like the public ought to know how many people we're killing in a given conflict when we're all trying to decide what sort of impact our military is having and what cost is being paid as we try to accomplish military objectives (and, yes, I definitely do think of any deaths, whether incurred by us or suffered by the enemy, as costs). If we're not making much progress in stablizing or securing a given region, but we're still on the ground and killing lots of people, maybe that's something the American public ought to know about (e.g., if we're not showing progress in terms of meeting our objectives, but we're still killing a lot of people, maybe our work is just creating additional animosity and becoming counterproductive. Plus, there's the goal of saving lives whenever possible- which I think should always be one of our objectives. Anyway, I think the American people probably ought to know how many folks out military is killing, especially with our tax dollars paying the bill for the whole venture.).
One interesting note, though. When I heard that we're not releasing enemy body counts, I immediately assumed it was because we're killing a whole bunch of people, and we don't want people (Americans and Afgans alike) to get riled up because of the high death count in a military engagement where no clear progress is being made. The military, though, sounded almost a bit as though they were moving to cover the low numbers of enemy casualties, with the CNN article pointing out that the military has traditionally released enemy casualty statistics as evidence that we were "winning".
If we are killing a lot of people, on the other hand, and given the fact that we can really only "win" in Afganistan by convincing the local populace to stabilize and support a government that is friendly to Western, democratic governments (mostly us), I can see how it could be counterproductive to continue to publish the number of people that we're killing in Afganistan. It's probably hard to win trust from a group of people when you keep killing their neighbors.
And Sarah Palin had her last day in office as Governor of Alaska on Sunday, holding a press conference to give folksy, nonsensical complaints against her critics, the media, and fans of logic in leadership before finally stepping down (my favorite absurd ploy this time around was to somehow try to tie a need to support the troops to some kind of need to unquestioningly support her ridiculous speech and action without criticism. I'm not sure that most of our troops realize that they're fighting to make sure that no one calls out Sarah Palin on her bullsh*t...). Don't let the door hit ya, Sarah...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mom and Dad in the U.P.

Mom and Dad are on vacation in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan this week (my mom's old stomping grounds). Here's a pic of Karebear sitting on the shore of what I'm guessing is probably Lake Superior. Funny to see the sweatshirt given all the 100+ days we've been having down here.
Here's another shot of Upper Michigan. I haven't been up there in a long time, but I need to go back.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Obama v. the Po-Pos

It's Friday. So that's cool.
So Obama called the behavior of Cambridge cops stupid when they arrested Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who happens to be black, in his own home this week. The president admitted both that he was friends with Gates and that he didn't really know all of the facts before he made this statement.
I'm not really sure whether the police in Cambridge acted stupidly or not (I guess it all depends upon how Gates was acting as the police tried to sort out this strange situation where Gates was breaking into his own house), but this statement seemed like a pretty clear misstep by Obama. You just can't admit that you're biased and that you don't know all of the facts and then go on to say the police acted stupidly.
But given the hundreds or thousands of times that Bush spoke stupidly (anyone else still remember when he justified the Iraq war by saying it was because Saddam Hussein had threatened to kill his daddy?), I think I can probably forgive Obama for succumbing to emotion and speaking sort of recklessly, especially in a situation where a friend of his was arrested after being investigated for breaking into his own home.
Anyway, it's still far from clear that the Cambridge police weren't acting foolishly. I can tell you as a prosecutor who watches the actions of Austin juries on a regular basis that the people here in our town would probably be pretty unwilling to support the police in a case where a man was arrested after being found "breaking into" his own home (and even more suspicious of the police if the man arrested was black). Personally, I'm a little more sympathetic to the fact that the police need to be given a little room to do their job (i.e., figuring out what's actually going on in a given situation) without having to deal with a bunch of verbal abuse and theatrics (if that's what actually occurred here), but still- I don't think the president's comments were necessarily that far outside the mainstream for a lot of Americans. And as he admitted, this was a friend of his who was involved, so you can see why he might be a little touchy about this.
The real problem, of course, is that the president gave an hour long press conference supporting healthcare reform, but all anyone's talking about is this comment (about the police acting stupidly).
Oops, I gotta run. More later, probably.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Way too Much About the Philanthropist

Hola, amigos.
Well, we got some rain last night. Down in the neighborhoods just a very small distance south of me I think it rained even harder than it did at my house, but it was really good just to get whatever rain the sky would offer.

Has anyone else been watching The Philanthropist? It's kind of a unique show. It stars James Purefoy, Neve Campbell, and Jesse L. Martin (as well as Michael K. Williams- Omar from The Wire), and it's basically about this billionaire who spends a lot of his time jetting around the world rescuing people and trying to fight various acts of social injustice. It's sort of a weird show.
Americans have been fascinated for a long, long time about wealthy people, and there have been shows that sort of exploited this fact for decades. The 70's and 80's had shows like Dynasty, Dallas, Falcon Crest, etc., which were essentially soap operas which followed the sort of self involved exploits of some rich, powerful people. Later on, we began to see more reality-based, voyeuristic shows that took advantage of the mainstream audience's fascination with the rich. Early on we had Robin Leach with Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, and as time passed a whole series of reality-style television shows have been developed which do little more than glamorize ridiculously, wastefully, excessively lavish lifestyles . MTV alone has put shows on the air which do nothing but show off the houses and material possessions of celebrities (Cribs), show off the absurdly extravagant sweet sixteen parties of spoiled brat rich kids (My Super Sweet Sixteen), and made reality show stars out of any number of wealthy teenagers who truly seem to have nothing to offer (see talent, personality, and/or intelligence) except very affluent lifestyles which tend to provide good clothes (costumes) and attactive locations (sets) (Yeah, I'm throwing The Hills firmly into this category if anyone was wondering). Other shows (on MTV and other networks) purport to focus on celebrities, but most of the celebrities involved are no longer in the mainstream, so really the shows are just, once again, about rich people behaving very poorly (here you get The Osbournes, Keeping Up With the Kardashians [who just barely qualify as celebrities at all], Gene Simmons' Family Jewels, etc.). Then, of course, there are a whole host of gameshows, some of which involve the wealthy and others involving people doing awful things in the attempt to get wealthy (Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?, The Millionaire Matchmaker, The Millionaire's Club, etc.). Most of these shows involve a bunch of whiney, entitled rich folks who treat everyone pretty badly.
On the one hand, I guess this fascination with the rich is perfectly understandable and as old as human history. People want more money, people very rarely ever feel like they have enough, and people are envious of people who have more money than them.
To some extent, like everyone else, I guess I share a bit of these feelings, but on the other hand, I've known some very wealthy people over the years, and they mostly seemed to go through their lives with the same trials, struggles, and tribulations as everyone else (money being able to help solve some problems, but not necessarily the ones involving human relationships). They have fancier houses and cooler toys than other people, but sadly, like most things in life, as soon as people get used to the things that they own they usually lose interest in them, or at least cease to be impressed by them. Wealthy people, like everyone else, rarely seem satisfied with what they have (they might be even less satisfied than the average person because the type of person who has the sort of ambition that drive necessary to become wealthy may very well be the type of person who is very difficult to satisfy. Their ambition will always drive them to do more and acquire more, and people who have had wealth all of their life often don't appreciate it- they just miss it when it's gone.)
I've gone a bit far afield, haven't I?
Anyway, getting back to this show, The Philanthropist takes the apparently natural curiosity that we have about the wealthy and turns it on its head a bit. The premise of the show affirms your suspicion that, yes, in fact it really is very cool to be rich- but not for the reasons you might think. Teddy Rist, the titular protagonist of the show, is a billionaire divorcee who has recently suffered the death of his son. Teddy gambles, seduces women, buys cool stuff, and jets around the world in his private jet with his personal bodyguard. But despite his immense wealth, he remains deeply affected by the loss of his son. In the wake of that loss, Rist eventually seems to find that while his material wealth does little to fill the void that has been left by his son's death, his ability to help other people and improve their lives somehow makes him feel better.
And that, in a nutshell, is what the show is about. It's about a billionaire with a natural resources development company who uses his own personal fortune and the economic machinery of his corporation to help improve people's lives all over the world.
And Rist doesn't just write checks- a form of philanthropy which would, presumably deprive him of the healing power he gets from working with people in a more hands-on fashion. Instead, he jets around the world bringing expensive medicines to people in inaccessible war zones, helps to forge peace between warring peoples by offering economic opportunities which are contingent upon mutual cooperation, and brings white slave traders to justice by pretending to purchase young, kidnapped prostitutes from them.
The show seems to work for a couple of reasons. First, this Rist character is incredibly rich, and it's still fun to watch him throw around money. Second, although Rist is a philanthropist and a do-gooder, he's not just some egghead liberal or well wishing hippie. He's a womanizing, hard drinking, cutthroat sort of businessman who tries to make a profit on his humanitarian endeavors whenever he can (e.g., what better way to help the economy of a local area than to give the people part of the profits from one of Rist's high dollar mines or gas fields?). A third reason the show is successful, at least in my mind, is that the people on it are good-looking, glamorous people, and we see them doing good things (sometimes in beautiful, exotic locations, but sometimes not).
And I think the show is really positive for at least two reasons. First, the show manages to inform and heighten awareness regarding a number of real-life humanitarian crises around the world on a regular basis, but it does so in a way that's entertaining, fun, and maybe even a tad bit inspiring rather than being preachy or pedantic. The show has already involved humanitarian crises in Nigeria and Kosovo and sex slavery in Paris. Many of the issues involved on the show are very much real world issues, and it's good to raise public awareness about them, even if it's done in an entertaining way (and the show usually runs little public service announcements during the break which encourage people to make donations or get involved in various causes). A second reason that I think the show is positive is that it kind of conveys the message that wealth is not really an objective to necessarily be pursued just as an end in itself. Wealth is cool because of what it allows you to do, and one really cool thing that you can do with wealth is help out other people. Average people, of course, do this too, but the truly wealthy have the ability to help reshape the world in positive ways on a whole different scale.
I don't really know how the audience will respond, and The Philanthropist is still quite new, but I find it really refreshing to see a show where having money isn't just tied to buying yachts and private jets, but where it's also about being able to help other people in ways that normal people just don't have the resources to do (I mean, it can be done on a smaller scale, but Rist is a billionaire).
It would be nice to have a show that makes kids want to be rich not only to get cool mansions and sportscars, but, more importantly, to be able to look out for other people (especially when the theme of so many other shows seems to be about people using their wealth to cynically manipulate or impress others).
Anyway, the other reason I like the show is Neve Campbell. I still love me some Neve Campbell.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Texas Ranch House, Eclipse

Hi! Remember when I said last week that I had gone down to San Antonio to tour Haven for Hope, the new homeless facility and detox center they're building down there? Well, here's a picture of foreman Steanso checking out the construction site and making sure that everything was being done correctly. Also, there's a bit of my friend Karen's finger in the picture. Anyway, just wanted to give you Adventurers a glimpse of Steanso working hard for the taxpayers of Travis County.

I didn't get up to much last night. I had some chicken fajitas with Team Steans (thanks, Jamie!), and watched an episode of a show called Texas Ranch House with Ryan. Texas Ranch House is a PBS show where they take participants and put them into a, well- Texas ranch house. The participants work the ranch for about two and a half months, using only the tools, supplies, clothing, etc. which were available to people around the year 1867 (Ryan explained to me that this was a period shortly after the Civil War, when land was widely available and cheap in Texas, and many inexperienced people moved here to buy up land and try their luck with ranching).

The show was sort of interesting. There was a lot of infighting among the people on the ranch (between the cowboys and the family that owned the ranch, between the cook and the rest of the participants, and between the women and the men). By the end of the episode, the women had decided that the men were all a bunch of sexist pigs, but it wasn't clear to me whether that was actually the case, or whether the women were actually just frustrated with their assigned roles (which, as in 1867, consisted largely of housekeeping, laundry, gardening, and other labor-intensive domestic tasks, while the men did most of the actual cattle wrangling and so forth). I wasn't sure what to make of the claims of sexism from a bunch of people who agreed to go live by the norms and standards of an era which was, yes, undoubtedly sexist (especially in terms of relegating women to particular roles within society). Maybe they thought that they were signing up to go live 19th century style, but with an exception made for gender roles, but if so, I never heard that possibility discussed.

Anyway, it was sort of an interesting show, but the biggest differences that readily became apparent between the lifestyle of the 1860's and today was probably just in the attitudes of the people [not just women- the men, too]. This show had all of the buildings, equipment, clothing, and livestock of an 1860's ranch, but the people on this show had a certain whininess and entitlement which just wouldn't make sense for a bunch of people in the 1860's who found themselves living this sort of life. I think people on an actual ranch back then would have probably found themselves much more inclined to dig in, bear down, and get the work done in whatever way was necessary, cooperating with each other more out of a pragmatic need to survive and make the ranch work than because they all really liked each other and shared common attitudes and outlooks. The people on this show were only committed to the idea of making the ranch work up to a point, knowing that they would be headed home in a few months whether the ranch succeeded or failed. Also, you'd probabloy get less whining and friction from the people on an 1860's era ranch because they simply wouldn't have anywhere else to go. I mean, they might be able to leave and get a job on another ranch, but conditions there were by no means likely to be any better than at the ranch where they were already working. They weren't looking at the difference between Texas ranching life and a life of air conditioning, sofas, and cable television.

Anyway, regardless of these things, the show was interesting. I'm not really sure how successful the experiment was in terms of successful 1860's style ranching, but if nothing else, it got you thinking about what it really must have been like to live back in those days in that sort of environment.

And the longest solar eclipse that will occur this century occurred in Asia overnight.
The eclipse inspired the chanting of monks in South Korea and mass bathing in the Ganges River in India.
The eclipse was cool, judging by the photos. I kind of see it as just a little glimpse at the incredible activity that's going on in the universe around us all of the time, but which we normally don't think about or see. We spin around on Earth, which is constantly spinning, and which orbits round the sun, while the moon orbits Earth- which is, of course going 'round the sun. People don't think about any of this stuff very much. But then the moon casts a shadow for a couple of minutes as it cuts off our view of the sun, and people stare up at the sky and sort of freak out, praying and fearing and generally acting awestruck. Eclipses are reminders that we live in a universe of constantly moving objects and entities- that objects like the sun and the moon are real objects with real motion and real properties. They're not the universal constants that we fool ourselves into thinking of them as.
Anyway, the pics of the eclipse are cool.

That's all I've got for now. You guys be good.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Street Dancing, Jupiter Blemish

Hola. Not too much report. I spent a good part of last night messing around with by 'puter, my digital recorder, and an external hard drive. I also watched another episode of The Mighty Boosh. Long live The Boosh.

I usually drive into the work in the mornings along South Lamar, and for the last few weeks there have been these people who have been standing at the streetcorners and near the crosswalks at Riverside and 5th Street who have just been dancing on the sidewalk- spinning and gyrating and waving their arms in the air. Depending on my particular mood on a given morning, I have found them alternately wonderful ("Look at those people feeling the groove and spreading some joy this morning!") and/or mildly annoying ("What do those pseudo hippies think they're doing? Probably don't have to go to work and slave away under flourescent lights...").
Anyway, they weren't there this morning, and I found myself sort of missing them.
Even though my feelings about the dancing sort of varied, I realized this morning that at least it was usually interesting, and the dancing did a little something to break me out of the usual duldrums of my usual work-a-day commute.
It was weird. I know it's become a bumper sticker here in Austin, and the whole slogan bothers some people, but I sort of like the whole "Keep Austin Weird" mentality (and I think that a lot of what bothers people is just the word "weird". If the slogan was "Support Displays of Individual Expression in Austin" then people might be more accepting, but it's hard to fit that on a bumper sticker). It's really easy to slip into routines and habits and to ultimately end up just sort of sleepwalking through life, and I think things like drivetime streetcorner dancers just kind of snap you out of your own head and make you reexamine what's going on around you. Whether you enjoy any particular act of weirdness or not, at least it takes you out of your normal routine long enough to think about whether you like it or not. I think that, in and of itself, sort of gives these things value.
Also, personally, I enjoy living in a place that's filled with creative people who sort of do their own thing, so I tend to enjoy art and strange goings on even when I'm not that into the particular thing itself.
Anyway, it's probably best that the dancers aren't there every day. Once you start to expect something, it just sort of becomes part of your routine, and it doesn't have the same impact.
I think I need to start a guerrilla art group. Who wants in?

And apparently something has collided with Jupiter and left a mark on the planet that's roughly the size of Earth. I don't know what's stranger- knowing that there are undetected objects flying through the solar system that can leave an impact that's the size of our entire planet or looking at the little black dots on the pictures of Jupiter and hearing scientists tell us that the dot is about the same size as Earth (Jupiter is a big planet, apparently).
Scientists still haven't been able to figure out what sort of object collided with the planet. Personally, I suspect that aliens have been test firing some of their weapons systems, or that some kind of deep space battle is occurring between some superhero and some supervillain. Or it might have been a comet.

Well, I need to run. Hope you guys are having a good day.
Go out there and shake someone out of their rut.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Beastie Boys Cancel ACL Fest Show

Son of a beeyatch. The Beastie Boys are apparently out for ACL Fest. The cancelled their ACL Fest appearance along with some other tour dates after Adam "MCA" Yauch was diagnosed with cancer in one of his salivary glands. Yauch is scheduled to have surgery and several weeks of treatment, and the cancer is considered very treatable, but Yauch is taking time off to recover and heal following the treatment.
Well, that sucks. I'm not really pissed off the same way that I was at Meg White for cancelling the White Stripes show in '07 because of her "acute anxiety", but I am really disappointed. I've never seen The Beasties before, and I was looking forward to it as much or more than I've looked forward to an ACL Fest headliner in a long time.
I'll still be happy to see Pearl Jam, and to a slightly lesser extent Dave Matthews, but the band I was most interested in seeing of the three has been wiped off the schedule.
The brother's got cancer, though, so I'm not gonna really fault the Beasties, but it's just a bummer.
Who knows? Maybe C3 will do us a solid and find some other kind of cool act to fill in the slot.
Kind of ironic that the Beasties cancelled on the same day that the schedule for this year was released. I guess they might be reworking that a bit (someone who's already on the schedule will most likely get bumped up to a headliner slot, I would guess).

Weekend Update, Moon Landing Anniversary

Hey, guys. The weekend was pretty good.
Friday night I pretty much just hung out around the house. I was pretty tired. I watched Whale Wars. Those guys are nuts. The Japanese whalers have lots of money (for things like high decibel LRADs and anti-boarding netting), and they're pissed.
Saturday morning I got up and went and got my hair cut by Kellie. Afterward I took Cassidy and Lucy to the spillover at Barton Springs. We hung out for about an hour and a half and did a lot of swimming and splashing. The dogs seemed to enjoy it. Saturday night there was a wedding party/shower type of thing over at Mandy's for Andy and Rami (who are getting married Labor Day weekend). It was a nice party, and everyone had a good time. Mandy made some good sangria.
Sunday I mostly hung out. I read books and played guitar and messed around with some recording equipment. Sunday evening we had Mono Ensemble practice. Eric played keyboard, so we had a sort of different sounding practice. It was good. I made a recording of the thing with my digital recorder, so maybe I'll post some of that stuff to the internet somewhere at some point.
Ryan and Jamie returned from San Francisco, and it sounds like they had a good time. I'm really glad they made the trip. It's been awhile since they just went somewhere to have some fun.
Anyhoo, we had dinner, and they reclaimed Cousin Dog Lucy, so The Hop-a-Long Lounge is a quieter place again. Lucy is a good dog, and Cassidy is going to be a little down now that she's left, I think.

And today is the 40th anniversary of the moon landing by Apollo 11. President Obama is commemorating the occasion by hosting the Apollo 11 astronauts at the White House.
Speaking as a generation X kid, the moon landings have always felt a bit like mythical events to me. They happened before I was born, and growing up when I did, they sort of symbolized a kind of high water mark in a certain sort of technical/scientific accomplishment that America has never really managed to duplicate or surpass since they took place.
I've listened to my dad tell stories of watching the moon landings (while my mom sort of slept through the whole thing), and even decades later he had a sort of excitement and amazement in his voice that always made me feel like I had really missed out on something amazing by missing that moment in history. People had been gazing up at the moon since cavemen wandered the earth, but Mom and Dad were around to see the first men set foot on it.
And I'm sure that the people watching the first moon landing back in July of 1969 never guessed that we would just make a couple more trips to the moon and then largely retreat from our space exploration ambitions (or at least scale them back in a very big way).
To be sure, our technological and scientific innovation has continued forward at an extremely rapid rate, but it feels like our focus has shifted away from generation-defining, monumental projects like lunar exploration and gravitated toward small, intimate microtechnologies (computer technologies that allow people access to a universe of information through their mobile phones) and scientific breakthroughs that are so complex that they can rarely be understood or fully appreciated by the layman (how much do any of us really understand about what they're doing with particle accelerators or with genome experimentation?). Seeing video of a man standing on the moon that you see up in the sky every night is just freaking incredible. Understanding quantum physics and witnessing the behavior of subatomic particles may be just as incredible, but the problem is that most of us would never understand enough to know what we're looking at, and it sounds like a lot of the "observations" that we make in these areas are actually made by machines, anyway. Computer technologies are really cool, but no matter how cool they initially seem, they quickly become routine and banal, their usefulness quickly becoming combined with trivial applications and irrelevant distractions so that it's hard to hold on to any sense of wonder that you gain from them for an extended period of time (i.e., the iPhone is a neat gadget, but somehow a GPS function and a koi pond app sort of pale in comparison to the achievement symbolized by people walking on the moon).
The lunar landings were scientific achievements that were truly inspirational, and it just seems like we haven't had all that many moments that rivalled them since (at least not on that sort of scale). A lot of hoopla was made when the space shuttles were launched, but the hype surrounding the shuttles was more about the nature of the vehicles themselves than about lofty missions being intended for the vehicles (in the end, the space shuttles were meant to be sort of cost saving measures by way of their reuseable components, which probably was a genuinely important achievement in space travel, but somehow it lacked some of the romance of a lunar landing). We've had the international space station since 1998 at this point (slowly being assembled with bigger and bigger pieces over time), and it's also really cool, but we've had it for about 11 years now, so it's already losing a lot of shine in terms of its "gee whiz" factor (when some of your big stories about the space station involve astronauts dealing with bad smells in the confined space, the novelty has worn off a little bit).
Anyway, it seems that the tendency of Americans (and people worldwide) is to expect an immediate, practical return on dollars spent on projects that are designed for exploration and discovery, and it seems like this has translated into a reluctance to spend money on things like space exploration. I think that sort of mindset is a bit misguided.
Mankind needs goals to collectively aspire to and achieve.
Exploring other planets and putting humans on places like the moon or Mars is the sort of activity that may not immediately pay off in terms of big profits, but these programs represent investments in the overall advancement of our knowledge base on a global level, and ultimately they may allow for innovations and changes which could improve all of our lives.
Sending people to Mars and the moon could eventually pave the way for the establishment of colonies or research outposts. There may be resources which we could access by way of exploration (I'm not sure of extraterrestrial environmental impact, but if we could develop low cost technologies for transport, say massdrivers or space elevators or whatever, then we might be able to access mineral deposits for things we're lacking here on Earth), and the sorts of technologies which we could "incidentally" gain through a larger space exploration program might easily prove to have applications in the "regular world", outside of the original purpose of their design (I read somewhere once that the space program of the 60's and 70's helped to accelerate development in computer technologies, and even if that's not true, we all know that Tang was developed specifically for the space program [not really], but now people enjoy it by the glassful around the world on a regular basis each day! Anyway, there are said to be lots of products and technologies that developed as offshoots of the space program).
Anyhoo, I think we should send some folks to Mars. We're going to need to colonize that place once we get done turning our own planet into an overheated, debris-strewn rock. Or maybe we can terraform it and turn the whole planet into a frisbee golf course.
I just want to know that my generation can accomplish as much as the prior generations in some sort of big, obvious way, I guess. Prior generations did things like fight World War II, churning out fleets of warships and airplanes and other vehicles by the thousands so they could put a stop to Axis invasion. The next generation put a man on the moon. The world sat glued to their TVs, watching Americans put boots into the surface of an astral body that people had been staring at since the dawn of time (as The Karebear quietly snoozed). I just wish my generation had ownership of some sort of achievement on that order of magnitude. I'm sorry, but I don't think Twittering on our cell phones really holds up in comparison.
So let's go to Mars! That's what I vote for. We can go back to the moon, I guess, but we've already been there, so that doesn't seem as impressive a second time around. I would like to see a man or woman (or both) standing on Mars during my lifetime and know that people from my generation helped to send them there.
Everyone look at the sky tonight and quietly chant under your breath with me- "Mars! Mars! Mars!....."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Pope Weighs in on Health Care Refrom

An old friend of mine, Dr. Kevin Palka, (AKA, The Pope) is an oncologist with the Vanderbilt medical system up in Nashville, and apparently now those fools have made him some kind of professor (they don't remember those days of The Pope rhyming and stealing in the ATX the way I do). Anyhoo, he's a smart dude, and he posted some comments about health care reform on my last blog post. I thought they bore closer examination, so I'm moving them up here onto the big kids table. As always, Dr. Palka has some interesting things to say...

The Pope:
Steanso----I agree to some extent about the drug companies inflating costs. But I think the days of doctors getting cruises and golf clubs on the drug companies' dimes are long gone. At Vanderbilt (where I am a professor!!!) the presence of drug companies has been largely curtailed. No free dinners, no free lunches....we are not supposed to use the free pens that were abundant 2 years ago. Is it the same at a private practice? I don't know. I hope not. Not to defend drug companies, but if you want new and better medications, you need to put a LOT (billions) into research. They are going to try to recoup those costs by charging a high cost for a new drug before it goes off patent. Is it fair to patients to do this? That's a question for debate.

And let me add my perspective as a physician.....1. I am currently at a county hospital in Nashville where I see cancer patients who are generally homeless or lower socio-economic status. Do I think they should receive the same quality of health care as the millionaire Titan players? Absolutely. But you also see a lot of people who have no health insurance, yet somehow are driving nice SUVs, carrying around iPhones, etc. There is already abuse of the system. My wife saw a patient who is pregnant and has no private insurance....and she is paying $3500 cash to a midwife to be present at her delivery?!?! (The midwife has no malpractice either.....everything is on the doctor).2. Doctors order unecessary tests to avoid being sued. Some states (Illinois, for one) are worse than others (Texas has a cap these days). I don't think this is the main problem with the health care system....but I see plenty of doctors who order MRIs or PET scans "just in case". 3. There is already a shortage of doctors in the US. Physicians in countries which have socialized medicine (i.e. Canada, Sweden) are not well compensated for there efforts, compared to US physicians. I spent 4 years in medical school (accruing a substantial debt which will not be paid off any time soon), 3 years in residency making sub-minimum wage working 100+ hours a week (which is no longer the case), 4 years in fellowship....not to mention 4 years of undergraduate debt. I am on call for the hospital 22 weeks out of the year, including weekends and holidays. This may all seem very selfish, but my point is this.....if you want people to spend 12-15 years learning this profession there needs to be either a)a pot of gold (kidding...) at the end of the rainbow or b) free medical education and lower compensation. Otherwise, if the US turns into Canada, the number of docs will decrease. Simple supply and demand.And I have worked in an ER in would be surprised how non-interventional the docs are over there. 4. I think there are plenty of health care reforms that need to be placed. There solution is not rushing a mystery bill through ASAP. Frankly, it worries me.

And Here's My Sort of Half Baked Answer:
Yeah, I hear your points, Pope. And I really am not out to torpedo the money making potential of a bunch of doctors or medical industrry people. When I criticize those things its because I'm furstrated with the high cost of medical care and the large number of people not being treated. I have a number of friends who are working, and who aren't spending a bunch of money on toys, but who have a really hard time affording health insurance (with occupations ranging from attorneys to hairdressers to employees at flower shops). And although doctors may not make as much in other countries as some of them do here, when I've had the opportunity to talk to people from England (on my trip and otherwise) about their health care system, they seem pretty satisfied, and you don't get a lot of stories about having a hard time getting in to see a doctor (I don't know what the relative number of doctors is compared to here in the states, but people seem able to receive treatment that they're satisfied with in a reasonable amount of time). And I know it costs money to develop drugs. Lots of money. I respect that fact and I understand that some drugs are going to be inherently expensive because of that. But do I still think the drug companies are taking us for something of a ride? Probably. I go see my doctor every 4 to 6 months for hypertension meds, so I'm there on a regular basis, but not that often, and I see pharmaceutical sales reps come through there on half the trips that I make to that office. The staff tells me about how these people by them lunch several times a week. Not a huge deal, but when you combine that with these same companies running ads for ED drugs every 15 minutes and ads that just encourage people to go bug their doctors for meds that they may or may not need, it just feels like the focus is clearly on maximizing profits (not a surprise- they are private corporations) and not on getting meds to patients at the lowest price possible. My next door neighbors are pharmaceutical sales reps, and the new Infiniti and the Escalade in the driveway coupled with the new 100+ thousand dollar addition they just built onto their house tells me that the pharm industry still isn't too afraid to throw some money at marketing.
And, I know doctors amass a bunch of debt and put in a lot of work to become doctors. Yeah-maybe a subsidization of that is part of what needs to be looked at. Also, you're talking to someone who really, really disliked law school and who spent a whole bunch of money to attend, but I'm working for the government, and I'm not going to be getting rich anytime soon (I do okay, but there are some private sector lawyers making much more). I like my job, though, so I just sort of consider the training part of the deal (although I definitely don't think people should be placed into crippling, lifetime debt just by choosing any professional occpation).
Incidentally, LOTS of private practice criminal defense attorneys don't have insurance because A) there's a lot of criminal defense attorneys out there making a lot less money than most people would imagine, and B) insurance is just frakking expensive- at least in order to buy insurance that's actually worth having. There's an attorney that I've known for 10 years who's dying of cancer right now, and the guy doesn't have insurance. His kids are basically trying to cover (or substantially help out with) the cost of his treatment, but they don't have much money, either. The State Bar offers insurance, but it's expensive, and when people add it to the monthly costs of maintaining office rent and other overhead for their practice, many of them just can't swing it.
Anyway, I'm not sure what the solution should be, but I do feel strongly that something needs to be done. And yes, some people will undoubtedly take advantage unfairly, but I accept that fact and think we need a system, anyway (although we should try to minimize the hustling). People who probably aren't really indigent get free court appointed attorneys to help them on their cases on a regular basis. The court tries to cut down on this, but it happens anyway, and we keep giving court appointed attorneys because people have a right to a lawyer, and its best to make sure the indigent people who really need it get one.
My point, anyway, isn't to hurt anyone financially- doctors, pharm companies, or whoever- but I just feel like we need a much better system to serve our population. I only bring up the points about the money being made in order to point out that I think the rising costs of healthcare probably aren't necessarily translating into better treatment, and they definitely aren't translating into treatment for more people.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Too Hot to Handle, Dems and Health Care

Hey! Well, the weekend is pretty much upon us. Hope everyone has a good one.
Man, the heat is sort of killing me this year. I usually just cope with the heat and don't think about it too much (as a Texan, I just sort of consider it as part of the deal, and I try not to whine about it), but this year I've noticed that I actually have started to feel kind of crappy when I've been out in it. Of course, I think a big part of this isn't just because of the heat, but because of the fact that I'm constantly moving between 100+ degree enviroments and indoor buildings that are about 72 or 73 degrees (even going back and forth between my office and the courthouse in the afternoons I notice this). It's enough to make your body confused, I think. Anyway, it's only mid July and things probably won't really cool down until, the end of September. Jeez.

Sounds like the Democrats are starting to come unravelled on this whole health care reform thing. That really annoys the crap out of me. Although I have some ideas about what form a different health care plan ought to take, mostly I just feel really strongly that we need to just get something done to provide health care coverage for the 43.6 million Americans (under age 65) who are without health insurance and the 8.9% of American children (under 18) who are without coverage. If Democrats can't get something done to help improve the current health care system, I will see that as a colossal failure for this administration and for all of the Democrats holding office on the national level right now.

Well, I know this has been short, but I don't have much to say at the moment, and I need to run.

Hope you guys have a good weekend.
You Texans make sure to drink lots of fluids and try to stay cool this weekend!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Short Post, Jim Parsons Gets Emmy Nomination

I'm feeling a little off today (I think it's either mold allergies- mold being especially high right now, despite the heat- or maybe a mild summer cold), so this is going to be short.
Had dinner with my neighbor friends last night. Good spaghetti.
Cousin Dog Lucy let me sleep in until about 6:00 a.m. this morning before the barking started, so we're making progress.
Our family friend, Jim Parsons, has been nominated for an Emmy Award (Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series) for his portrayal of theoretical physicist Sheldon on the CBS comedy The Big Bang Theory. The article I linked to here says Jim is a lot like Sheldon, but I don't think that's really true (Sheldon has some of Jim's mannerisms, but they're exaggerated for effect, and Jim is a much more normal guy than Sheldon). Anyway, the Steans family couldn't be happier for Jim, and I really think he deserves this Emmy. (Jim isn't just an overnight success- he's been working really hard on his acting for years both on screen and in the theater). This may be the first time I've watched The Emmy's in a long, long time.
Well, that's it for me today.
Hope ya'll are doing okay!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Haven for Hope, Lucy = Furry Rooster

I just spent my work day down in San Antonio, touring a 37 acre campus of a new facility called Haven for Hope. Haven for Hope is a facility that brings together a bunch of different partner agencies in order to serve the homeless population and people with substance abuse issues in San Antonio. The center includes a pretty incredible array of services, including (but probably not limited to) detox and treatment centers, transitional living facilities, kitchens and food service, job training centers, medical and dental treatment clinics, child care facilities, and even kennels where people can house their pets while they're in treatment. A community court is also on the premises, and the facility is located adjacent to the jail, so low level offenders in the criminal justice system can be redirected into services and treatment when the need arises.
It's a pretty incredible facility. A few parts of it are already open, and the rest is scheduled to open over the late fall and winter.
I was honestly pretty shocked to see so much money and so many resources being invested in this sort of a facility here in Texas (especially in a place outside of Austin, which I usually consider our little progressive, blue island in a mostly red state).
Anyway, the place was pretty exciting and I'll be really anxious to hear how everything goes once the place is up and running in a full capacity. The people who designed the place tried to basically take the best, most effective parts of a bunch of other addiction centers and homeless shelters across the country and then combine them into one big facility. A whole bunch of people (maybe 50?) who work on homeless and mental health issues here in Austin went down there to take the tour, so it'll be interesting to see what kind of ideas this thing leads to here in the ATX.

Not much else to report. Jamie and Ryan left for San Francisco early this morning, so Cousin Dog Lucy is staying with us. She's a really sweet dog, but at about 6:00 this morning she decided to start barking and just wouldn't stop. We gotta find a solution for that.

Well, I gotta run. Hope ya'll are doing okay!

p.s.- I finally got around to watching this week's Mighty Boosh last night. Brilliant. I keep showing that show to friends, and they keep not liking it nearly as much as me. Which, of course, leads me to wonder why none of my friends have the same awesome, brilliant sense of humor that I possess. I'm Old Gregg!!!!!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Domestic Surveillance, Sotomayor Confirmation, Team Steans Takes Flight

Let me start out by saying that it's so hot in Austin that my eyeballs are melting. Really.

Man, I'm really not sure what I did last night. I know I went to Cherry Creek with Team Steans, and I played some guitar.

Also, yesterday I tried to make an addendum to my post. I wanted to talk a bit about some new revelations that have arisen about the depth and scope of the Bush Administration's domestic surveillance program (Ryan posted about it on his blog a while back). In short, investigators have been working on behalf of Congress to look into this issue, and they've found that surveillance of U.S. citizens was far more extensive than the White House had previously admitted to, and there was a serious lack of judicial oversight (meaning the goverment was conducting surveillance on just about anyone and everyone that it chose to investigate). The exact nature of the surveillance remains mostly classified, but investigators have already stated that they question its legality.
Anyway, as you might expect, I had a lot of rantings and ravings yesterday about privacy rights, the intrusion of the goverment, etc., but somehow it all got erased.
Oh well. The basic point is that I think the American people probably ought to be a lot more worried about these sorts of surveillance issues. Given the state of constantly advancing technology, it won't be long before the government is literally looking into your home to see what you're up to and listening in on your conversations (with imaging technologies and directional listening devices, I really don't think it'll be long before this can be easily accomplished). Even if you really don't think you're doing anything wrong, do you really want the government having the power to watch everything you do without even having a warrant signed? That thought really creeps me out.

And, of course, hearings are under way in the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge Sonia Sotomayor. It's difficult to really get a measure of a person through media coverage, but from what I've seen of Sotomayor, I really like her. She seems like a smart person who has a sense of humor and a plain spoken, common sense style. From what I've read about her judicial decisions, she seems to be more concerned with following precedent and interpretting the law correctly than with the political ramifications of her decisions. You'd think the Republicans would be a little more pleased with her selection in light of this fact (at most, she seems to be mostly only a centrist with only slightly liberal leanings), but some of the most cynical Republicans just never want to miss a chance to pick a fight, and some of the more sincere but extreme conservatives seem to just see ghosts and goblins around every corner. (did I just open myself up to some pot/kettle jokes?)
Anyway, from what I've seen and read so far I like Sotomayor. Hope she sails right through these confirmation hearings.

Ryan and Jamie will be jetting off to San Francisco tomorrow for some cool weather and good times with Doug, Jamie's brother, and Kristen, Doug's fiance and handler. Hopefully they have a really good trip. Meanwhile, back in the ATX, Lucy, the black lab member of Team Steans, will be kicking it with Cassidy and I at the Hop-a-Long Lounge. I'm sure things will go fine. I think Cassidy is looking forward to having her cousin come visit.

That's about it for now.
Hope everyone is doing okay!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Weekend Update, Expedition Africa, ACC Hits the Big Time

Well, the weekend went pretty well, but definitely went by too quickly. On Friday I hung out with some friends and ate some pizza. Saturday I got up and went to Barton Springs with Team Steans. It was a nice day, and it was good to cool off. There were a few alarming moments involving the lifeguards (a guy collapsed by the side of the pool, and at one point the pool was cleared because there had been a report of a body on the bottom), but everything turned out okay in the end. Jamie wrote about the experience on her blog. Saturday night we had Mexican food with Matt and Nicole. Sunday I got up and took Cassidy down to the spillover by Barton Springs. We went early, and it was nice. Lots of friendly dogs for Cassidy to play with. Sunday evening was Mono E practice. Jim was out of town, so I played a lot of bass. Eric played keyboards instead of guitar, so we were mixing things up a bit. We played at least three Dylan songs.

Then last night I watched the final two episodes of Expedition Africa. I've watched all 7 or so episodes of the show. I'm still not quite sure what to think of it. On the one hand, it was undeniably impressive to see a team of people cross about 950 miles of African wilderness- most of it on foot. The weather conditions and the terrain could be brutal at times, and it definitely wasn't the kind of thing where I sat back watching and saying, "Well, I could do that."

On the other hand, the team of explorers that were picked argued like a bunch of egocentric, whiney little reality show stars. They took turns mugging for the camera and going out of their way to show off the extent of their various areas of expertise (which was funny, because none of them seemed very interested in hearing the information offered up by their fellow trekkers, and although each of them spent time expounding on various animals, plants, rocks, etc., they also each seemed annoyed and referred to the lecturing of their colleagues as a waste of time that slowed things down too much). They spent a whole bunch of time telling us how much danger they were constantly under from animal attacks and so forth, but we never really saw any animals pay much attention to them. The constant warnings started to sound more like reminders about the bravery of the expedition members after a while instead of legitimate warnings (the editors made sure to splice in some kind of stock footage of animals in various scenes in order to give the impression that an attack could be imminent at any moment- even when it wasn't clear that any animals were actually present, and at some point I couldn't help but wonder about how much bravery was involved for these white people on their 30 day trek when local villagers seemed to spend their entire lives in this environment). Mostly, the real dangers that the expedition faced were presented by the harsh enviromental conditions (e.g., extreme heat, lack of water, etc.), disease (one member was stricken with something that might have been malaria at one point), the real possibility of a venemous snake or insect bite (the group actually did come close to some snakes from time to time), and infighting within the group. The members seemed to battle constantly over who was the biggest expert and about which member knew the best way to accomplish various tasks (everything from navigation to selecting campsites to procuring water). Lots of egos and minimum cooperation.

Expedition members constantly went from waxing rhapsodic about the romantic nature of their quest and about the beauty of the African wilderness around them to squabbling childishly about everything from water treatment to firewood. They spent lots of time talking about how much they idolize Henry Stanley and Dr. David Livingstone, but they sort of gloss over less romantic details- like the fact that Stanley had a reputation for beating and whipping the native porters who were members of his expedition (for things like trying to desert or insubordination) and the fact that Stanley's expedition continued on, abated, despite the death of many porters due to tropical disease and harsh conditions (all in the pursuit of a single white explorer).

In short, the 4 members of this new expedition seemed like a group of people who were all technically competent, but they all came to the expedition with ego-driven agendas, mostly involving video documentation and public exposure of their own particular know-how, strength of will, and leadership skills within the harsh African landscape. It kind of amazed me to see it, but there were times when the trekkers seemed far more interested in establising their credentials (usually through arguing about various expedition techniques) as opposed to getting themselves out of whatever precarious situation they managed to find themselves in at the moment (e.g., arguing about the best way to carry water while climbing a mountain, bickering about walking speeds while crossing a broiling desert, etc.).

Anyway, Expedition Africa involved people who pulled off a pretty impressive feat while sometimes displaying some questionable behavior.

There was an interesting article in Time Magazine this week about community colleges, and Austin's own ACC (that's Austin Community College) was featured heavily in it. The article talked about how community college enrollment just keeps on growing (especially in this down economy), and about how community colleges are doing a really good job of preparing their students for technical jobs in the workforce. The article highlights the fact that community colleges are now providing the education that is necessary for a substantial part of America's economy, but they continue to have real problems in procuring funding and remaining viable (federal government dollars, for example, flow into the traditionally more prestigious four year universities at a rate disproportionate to the number of students they actually serve when compared with community colleges).

Anyway, it was an interesting article, and they had some good things to say about ACC. It's cool that we have such a strong community college right here in our own backyard. Makes me want to take a class.

Well, I gotta run. Maybe more later. Hope you guys are having a good day.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Few More Vacation Pics

Yup- more Steans family vacation pics. You can skip them if you want. Dad took these. I like 'em!!!

Tower Bridge as seen from the Tower of London

Me at the Eye of London (displaying some sort of pirate-like facial expression)

London City Hall

British Museum (Greek or Roman antiquities)

Parliament and Big Ben

Trafalgar Square

Me at Westminster Abbey

Friday, July 10, 2009

Moment for Jeff, Not Sure About The Mentalist,

Hi guys. Hope everyone has been doing okay.

It's been three years ago today that Jeff Wilson passed away. Just want to take a moment out for remembering Jeff, Mandy, Don, Jajuan, Diana, and everyone else who misses Jeff. I was thinking about Jeff last night as I was taking a walk. Life has been very different without having him around, and I still miss him a whole lot.
Anyway, just wanted to take a moment out for Jeff today.

I really don't have a whole lot to report. Jamie made veggie enchiladas last night, and they were muy bueno. I also ended up watching So You Think You Can Dance?, which isn't exactly my thing, but... I mentioned the homemade enchiladas, right?
Like I said, not a lot to report.
Has anyone else watched any episodes of The Mentalist? I'm not exacly sure what to make of this show, and yet I find myself watching it...
The show is basically about this guy who used to be a sort of con artist/hypnotist/psychic/fortune teller/magician sort of dude, but his family (I think his wife and kid, maybe?) get killed, and he ends up working as a consultant with the California Bureau of Investigation (who help out local law enforcement with major crimes).
The show is pretty formulaic, and with the basic story arcs being pretty conventional (i.e., murder of the week- connect the dots between dead bodies at the beginning of each episode to grateful citizens thanking our protagonists for a job well done at the end), but the whole show is primarily focused upon Patrick Jane, the titular Mentalist, who is played by Simon Baker, and I find this particular character to be sort of compelling.
Jane employs a combination of applied psychology, deductive reasoning, intuition, manipulation, and honest conversation in assisting with investigations. Anyway, like I said, the sort of lamer, more contrived part of the show is its "murder of the week" style format, but the character of Patrick Jane is interesting and multi-layered, and Baker does a good enough job of playing him that I've ended up watching far more episodes of this show than I ever would have expected (I think I've seen or 5 or 6 episodes at this point).
Incidentally, the show also features Tim Kang, whom I've also come to really like. He does a good job of playing a sort of dry, deadpan detective named Kimball Cho. I think Kang is an up and comer. If I were a director, I'd put him in my stuff.
Anyway, 'nuff said about The Mentalist. Not the best show ever, really, but I can't seem to stop watching it.

Well, the fact that I just wrote about The Mentalist is actually a pretty strong indication that I don't have much to say today. Maybe more will come to me later.
Maybe not.
Have a good weekend, anyway.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

It's Okay to Not Record Practice (Sometimes); Iranian Democracy v. Jacko

Hey! How is everyone? Hot as sheeyat here in Austin. S'posed to get up to 105 or 106 today. Hoo ray.
Last night we had Crack practice over at my place. It was a pretty good practice and we played some pretty cool stuff. I tried to record practice on my digital recorder, but I had battery and memory issues, so it didn't work. Oh well. That's okay.
I have sort of mixed feelings about recording, anyway. In some ways, of course, making recordings is great. Helps you enjoy and share your music, right?
But playing music live and then going back and listening to what you've done later can be tricky business. Sometimes I'll be playing with friends and having a really great time making music, feeling the tempos and sharing melodies and harmonies in a really profound sort of way, but then when I go back and listen to the recordings later, they just don't sound as good as I would have thought (every once in a while something sounds better than you would have thought, but this is more rare- at least in my experience). There are a number of reasons the music seems to sound better live. First, it's easier to overlook mistakes and problems when you're focused on making the music, so you often notice problems during passive listening that you didn't spot while they music was being played. Another thing that happens is that it's often difficult to capture the sort of live sound that you're getting in the place where music is being played when you're reducing the music down to a recording (things like equipment quality, mic placement, sampling rates, etc. can play into this). Additionally, teensie, tiny mistakes which fly by pretty much unnoticed, disappearing into the ether while playing music live, become much more painful and obvious when you listen to them over and over again in a recording. And, of course, there's always the fact that it's easy to become a bit deluded about how good your music is actually sounding when you're just having a really good time making it. I think this last one helps to explain why there are so many musicians out there who are enthusiastic and eager to share their music, even when it's not very good (note: this clearly isn't a reference to Crack. We rock.).
Anyway, recording can be great, but it can take some of the magic out of playing music live.
Live music seems like it should be, at least to some extent, about shared moments between musicians (and their audience, if there is one). Recording takes away the transitory, fleeting nature of musical experiences- moments which traditionally have been the sort of stuff that musical legends have been built upon.
It used to be that an audience member would hear a musician play a particularly moving solo or melody on some song in some club, and that person would go out and tell their friends about that experience, and stories about a particular performance would flourish and spread. Legends about particular performances were built and spread this way. Occasionally there were bootlegs or other recordings, but these recordings were often of lower quality, and they were meant to simply serve as some sort of record of a performance rather than as media through which the exact sound of the performance would later be reproduced.
Now, though, we have small, portable, high powered devices that can record and reproduce music easily and very accurately, and so we've moved into an age where almost everything public performance that occurs is recorded in some kind of format. Now when people hear about a performance that was reported to be very good (or which someone enjoyed very much), people rush out to find the recording and the analyze it piece by piece in excrutiating detail. A solo or improv might have seemed truly amazing at the moment it was performed, but people will go back after the fact and declare it worthy or unworthy based upon a missed note, slight tuning issues, or a phrase which had miniscule tempo irregularities.
Recordings can kill the magic of live music. Recordings often fail to capture some of the all important intangibles- the emotion and energy between people as music is being made (smiles, nods, sweat, tears, and empathic connections), a cool breeze or ray of sunshine on an outdoor stage, and, perhaps most importantly, the magic of being present in a moment of true spontaneity- moments of eruption where intellect, feeling, and agility all come together to convey human emotion in a language of pitch, timbre, and tempo.
Listening to music after the fact can't convey the same emotional impact that occurs as a person witnesses music being born.
So, anyway, I have mixed feelings about recording live music. Sometimes I like to capture every note. Sometimes I still think it's better to just play the music, remember it however I want to, and build stories around my own performances.
Even when the legends are delusion, they're probably still good for the soul.

Sounds like the protesters were back at it in Tehran today, marking the anniversary of the 1999 Iranian student uprising with new protests designed to denounce the allegedly false results of Iran's recent elections. About 2,000 to 3,000 people filled the streets near Tehran University today, but were met with force by riot police who used tear gas and batons to disperse crowds. Seems like this sort of story probably ought to rate up there in importance as compared to the Michael Jackson memorial service, but somehow.... yeah. Americans just don't care about democracy in Iran quite as much as they care about Michael Jackson's death.
Not sure what to do with that.

Well, I think maybe that's it for me today. I just don't have more gas left in the tank.
You guys take care.