Hey! Hope everyone is doing okay. Two more days until ACL Fest!
Had dinner at Ryan and Jamie's place last night. Jamie made some kind of pasta shells and salad, and the food was muy bueno. Thanks, Jamie!
We also watched the first episode of FlashForward, a new ABC show which seems to be trying to capitalize on the same sort of season-long (or maybe even multiple season) mystery plotline that Lost has employed. The show basically follows an FBI agent and a few other people as they, along with every other person on the planet, experience a six minute long period of sudden unconsciousness. While passed out, everyone has dreams/visions of a moment in time six months into the future. The mystery, of course, comes in the form of questions about who or what might have caused the blackout, and what these visions of the future ultimately mean.
The first episode of the show was okay, but not really great. There seemed to be some stereotypical characters (i.e., the cop with a drinking problem who is beginning to have some problems in his marriage to his successful, beautiful doctor wife), and the plot has already taken a few questionable turns (everyone immediately jumped to the conclusion that this was inflicted upon humanity by someone as opposed to being an accident or a natural phenomenon, and lots of people seemed eager to drive cars, fly helicopters, and otherwise just jump back right into life as usual right after this happened when it seems like they should have been worrying about whether it would happen again- and this doesn't even begin to explore issues of why everyone seems to immediately believe that these visions are foretelling actual reality instead of just being some sort of shared hallucination). Anyway, it's often not a great idea to judge a series off of a pilot or first, but there seem to be a few problems with the show. On the other hand, if the mystery behind the blackouts proves to be something that's actually unique and creative and different, I think the show could still turn out to be entertaining. The problem is, I'm not going to be willing to hang around forever, as it feels like I've been doing with Lost, just to start to get some insights into this mystery. There's a fine line there- I like a good, well developed sort of enigma/puzzle, but when I start to feel like the writer/director/producer is simply stretching the thing out and just using the mystery as a gimmick to keep me on the hook (basically, if I feel like real plot development isn't taking place), I get annoyed pretty quickly and even a little resentful. But it's sort of a tightrope- give too much away too soon and you lose the mystery, but string it out too long and the audience can turn on you.
In other news, the Senate Finance Committee voted yesterday to reject two amendments which would have provided for a government-run public option in health care (the public option, for those who don't know, is essentially a government run health insurance plan which would provide cost-controlled health care coverage for people who choose to use it as their insurance system). This defeat really saddens and annoys me because I pretty much see a public option as the best, most realistic way to keep private industry health care costs in check (since people would always have the option of moving to a public system if the private system became unreasonably expensive). I haven't lost all hope, because it sounds like some Democratic senators are still planning to fight for a public option. Also, I've read about a few countries, the Netherlands being one, which have managed to institute what sounds like meaningful health care reform without the inclusion of a public option (they heavily regulate their health care industry, make insurance coverage mandatory, and help to subsidize insurance for the poor). Still, I think that a public option might have been the best way of making sure that insurance companies and health care providers don't just find loopholes and end runs around any regulations that we put in place (the market itself would keep the health care industry in check if there were a public option). As for arguments that a public option would destroy private health care? I just don't by it. The post office certainly hasn't driven UPS or FedEx out of business, and Medicare hasn't driven out all other forms of competition among the populations in which it's available.
The so-called Blue Dog Democrats still strike me as most culpable in this defeat. They claim to stand on principle, but almost every one of them have taken large donations (which I read as bribes) from the health care industry. They're in the back pocket of the industry, and they're playing at being populists. Drives me a little nuts.
Mostly, though, I'm just annoyed with the segment of the American people who have fought so hard against reform that they genuinely need. Politicians will always be politicians, but if the American people demanded change instead of buying into the rhetoric of propagandists, the politicians would be forced to get on board.
For right now my insurance is pretty good, and I'll probably be one of the last people to have to worry about my health care coverage (at least so long as I remain in my current job, which I have no intention of leaving at the moment), so I guess I can take comfort in that. If we don't get reform passed, though, we'll see fewer and fewer services covered by our insurance plans, and costs will continue to rise (which will initially be passed on to employers, but which will eventually hit us in our paychecks or result in substantially reduced coverage).
Why does it seem like every other advanced, industrialized country can get this right, but the United States just can't get it together? We're kind of idiots.
Politicians and the media will put the blame on other politicians, special interests, etc., but they always avoid blaming the American people to any degree. Both the media and elected officials are much more interested in pandering to the American public (wherein lie the votes and ratings that are the lifeblood of these institutions) as opposed to engaging in an honest, open, critical analysis of the way that the American people think and act.
And some of the actions of the American people are becoming tiresome. Once again, I will concede that there are some legitimate reasons to question the direction that health care reform is likely to take (e.g., issues of fiscal responsibility, the intervention of government in a free market system, skepticism about the government's ability to manage a larger health care system, etc.), but within the debate I've also seen some serious bullsh*t. We're not going to become communists by caring for our sick. We're not going to go bankrupt because all of our money is being spent on health care for illegal aliens. People in other countries aren't less satisfied with their systems than patients are with our system here in the U.S.. There aren't going to be death panels.
Part of what annoys me is the fact that people could find lots of information about cheaper, better systems in other countries by just engaging in a quick search on the internet, but people would rather remain ignorant and fearful (and reinforce the political positions of their parties, right or wrong) instead of educating themselves to any degree. People aren't really fighting about health care reform on the merits. They're adopting the party lines that they've been handed and then just fighting this thing out in terms of making it a win or a loss for "their side", regardless of who benefits or suffers as a result of the actual legislation (which is all kinds of ironic for the people strongly against reform who are poor or unemployed and who would stand to benefit greatly if reform was passed). Oh well. In the end, it looks like reform opponents will get what they deserve (and I mean this literally- of course, the sad part is that a lot of people who actually wanted reform will also get what their neighbors deserve).
In totally different news, Sharon Begley has an article in Newsweek about how environmental conditions can apparently effect the activity (or maybe more appropriately the inactivity) of our genes.
I found the article extremely interesting. When I took biology in high school and in college, I was basically taught that genes were really only altered during mutation (which occurred when there was an error or change in the RNA/DNA replication process when new cells were made) or, of course, when DNA from different individuals combined during reproduction. Once you had your set of genes, I thought the conventional wisdom was that you just had this certain genetic code for the rest of your life, and that living things just sort of operated under this same genetic code throughout an organisms lifetime (living things could change in response to activity or environment or whatever, but only within certain prescribed limits that were initially established through a pre-set genetic code).
Now, apparently, the rising field of epigenetics is showing us that certain genes may be turned on or off in response to certain environmental triggers. At a molecular level, a group of atoms known as a methyl can attach to a gene and silence it. Alternately, methyls can be removed from genes, thereby making them active and causing them to engage in certain activities where they once had been silent. The activation or silencing of these genes can apparently take place in response to certain enviromental stimuli (e.g., genes in certain amphibians can be turned on or off in response to the presence of water, thereby allowing eggs to be laid on either dry land or in the water depending on the particular environmental condition at hand. Unfortunately, in a cruel twist of fate, I think Steanso's genes become switched on and start producing fat whenever he comes within 500 yards of a fast food establishment).
Anyway, I just found this really interesting. As I've gotten older I've come to have a greater understanding of the dynamic nature of science. Old, tried and true concepts continue to be modified or completely overhauled, and our understanding of things just seems to constantly become more and more complex (when I was growing up, genes didn't just switch on and off because they were close to water!). Given the scientific knowledge that we currently have at hand, it would seem like you would have to know an awful lot just to teach high school science classes these days.
And that's about all that I've got. Which is probably way too much.
Hope you guys are having a good one!