Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Birthday to Rami!

Almost forgot! It's Rami's birthday tomorrow on Halloween! Happy birthday to everyone's favorite little Halloween monster!

Happy Halloween!! Job Growth and the Stimulus Program; House Health Care Bill; Video for The Vampire Song

I know Halloween isn't until tomorrow, but I know that a lot of you guys don't look at this site on weekends, so I'm going to go ahead and wish you a happy Halloween today! Hope you guys have a good one! It's on Saturday, so you all of you party poopers who don't usually participate have few if any excuses for not getting into the spirit this year. (at least watch some scary movies, eat some candy, and hand out treats to the kiddos. It wouldn't hurt you to put on a costume, either)
I can't believe it's already Halloween, with the holiday season right around the corner. It feels like we just did this, and I can't believe that was a whole year ago. It sounds like some kind of lame cliche, but it's really true that the older I get the faster time just flies by. It's a little unnerving (but I guess it means life is going okay. If I were having a bad time, that's when life would feel like it was creeping along, right?).

The White House has issued a report stating that the federal government's economic stimulus efforts have thus far created and/or saved 650,000 jobs. The White House, in its own statements, aside from this report (which was issued with numbers comiled from state and local agencies) is claiming that the number of jobs created thus far by the stimulus is actually closer to a million. Obama administration economists are saying that the stimulus program is on track to create or save 3.5 million jobs by the time it concludes.
There are certainly ways to criticize these jobs numbers (for one, of course, there are questions about the sustainability and continuing viability of these jobs which were created with an influx of taxpayer dollars- but hey, you've got to stop the bleeding before you can start the healing, right?). Also, I'm sure that some people will try to question the accuracy of the numbers (even though these new numbers are said to be much more transparent and reliable than ealier reports). Anyway, by most measures the job growth that's been spurred by the stimulus seems to be kind of encouraging.
Given the many different ways that people interpret data and read things into figures and trends, I sort of wonder whether anyone is ever going to be able to definitively say whether or not the stimulus was truly effective (as a progressive, I knew since the beginning of the stimulus discussions that if the stimulus was effective, conservatives would try to claim that there was no correlation between the work of the government and the recovery of the economy. This was a foregone conclusion before work even got started). At this point it seems increasingly clear that the stimulus wasn't a catastrophic failure, so at least the Democrats can be confidently happy about that (and personally, I think the Democrats seem to have done a decent job of helping to pull our butts out of the fire).

The House of Representatives has passed a healthcare reform bill that includes a public option and would prvide health care coverage to 96% of the American people. It's got a lot of good stuff in it about capping out of pocket expenses, preventing companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, and create insurance exchanges to make it easier for small businesses and groups to purchase coverage. The plan is also expensive. It's predicted to cost $894 billion and could go as high as $1 trillion dollars. Part of this would be covered by increased income tax on families earning over $500,000. Another part of it would be financed by cutting Medicare expenditures by 1.3%.
Republicans, predictably, are up in arms and expressing outrage over this. They say the federal government is taking over all healthcare in the country and they're freaking out about the tax increase.
Frankly, I don't think there's probably much of a chance that anything like this House bill will survive reconciliation with the Senate, but I mostly like what I've heard about the bill. As for the price tag, I'll admit that the whole thing is expensive, but I feel a heck of a lot better about spending this money on healthcare than I ever did about the $860 billion that we've spent so far in Iraq (a war which Republicans helped get us into, refused to withdraw from, and which they've never seemed to have a problem pouring money into). Somehow the idea of spending significant money to keep our citizens healthy seems a lot more logical than spending money waging war against and occupying a country that really didn't pose any significant threat to America. The point is, sometimes we spend lots of money on certain things. There aren't that many projects which are worth spending almost a trillion dollars on, but universal healthcare just might be one of the few areas that might justify the cost (and we've spent similar amopunts of money in dumber ways before).
As for the tax increases- well, I don't think every program in our country needs to be subsidized by our weathiest members, but let's be honest: they had it pretty good for 8 years under Bush, and there wasn't exactly a whole lot of trickle down money flowing down through the system (the disparity in wealth between the rich and the poor reached record levels under Bush- our economy was still growing and people were still profiting under his administration, but by far the overwhelming majority of the money was flowing to corporations and to the wealthiest parts of our country). Anyway, I'm not ready to storm the Bastille, but I'm also not going to be entirely devastated if the wealthy have to make some kind of sacrifices in order to help make sure that suffering Americans can get health care.
Anyway, rambling, rambling, rambling.....
The House Bill has lots of good stuff in it. It's expensive, but I don't think it's going to devastate our country (plenty of other nations with economies less robust than America's have managed to implement similar plans). Ultimately, though, this exact plan will never get through collaboration with the Senate in this exact form, so we'll have to just sit back and see what happens. I'm kind of proud of Pelosi and her Senate Democrats for getting some meaningful legislation passed that didn't gut the bill in the name of bipartisan compromise. It's nice when the Democrats can take a few steps forward every once in awhile.

Hope everyone has a good Halloween!

Here's a video for a Concrete Blonde song about vampires called Bloodletting (The Vampire Song). I think it's mostly based on Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice, but it still seems pretty appropriate for Halloween. Enjoy!!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Bystander Effect

Once again, not too much going on. Hung out and had dinner with Jamie last night. It was good. I think Ryan's supposed to be back from his business trip tomorrow night.

This is grim, but I have to admit that I've been sort of following the story of this 15 year old girl who was gang raped for over 2 hours in Richmond, California, as other people looked on. I just don't get it. It's one of those things that creates cognitive dissonance within my whole worldview. It's bad enough that some sick bastards did the thing in the first place, but then to have bystanders and spectators who didn't report it? Kinda makes me sick.
Psychologists try to explain this behavior away through what they call the "bystander effect". Apparently this is a combination of people being unwilling or afraid to get involved, people assuming that someone else has already called the authorities or done something about the situation, and/or people who just somehow removed themselves or distanced themselves from the situation, somehow by way of the number of people watching the event.
Personally, I'm not really buying all of that. More than likely, if there were bystanders watching this thing take place, at least some of those people must have had cell phones and the ability to use them to get help. And this assault reportedly went on for hours.
In general, we only hold people criminally culpable in our country for actions that they actively commit. The general rule is that we don't hold people responsible for simply failing to act or help (with a number of notable exceptions, such as failing to render aid in an accident that you were a part of). Maybe we need to reexamine that line of thinking in.
I don't know what I'm trying to say here.
I don't want to extrapolate this thing too much, and I know, logically, that there are some serious logical flaws in holding up something that might be (and hopefully is) an isolated incident while inferring that it must be representative of a larger trend. Nonetheless, I can't help but wonder what this sort of thing says about the value that our society- particularly the younger parts of our society- seems to be placing on the value of human life and the rights of other people.
As I've said, what scares me about this whole incident isn't so much the fact that there were some rapists out there who were ready and willing to commit this assault. Society has always had criminals and predators, and, sadly, I suspect we're going to always have individuals who fall into the most violent and anti-social ends of the personality spectrum. But these sorts of individuals are supposed to be isolated, somewhat rare, extreme examples- people on the far end of some kind of contiuum of bad, nasty behavior
A bunch of people standing around watching a gang rape without lifting a finger indicates an acceptance on the part of non-participants that I find somehow even more troubling than the predation (okay, maybe not more troubling, but more unexpected and almost equally troubling in a different way). How do people become indifferent or desensitized enough to not respond with shock and alarm to this kind of thing? What are we doing to ourselves that creates this kind of reaction from people? Is it just how people are?
I give up. I'm not making much sense.
This case just bothers me.
We need to be helping each other out. I like to think that we can and do help each other out.
Maybe I'm an idiot.
This is the sort of thing Cormac McCarthy writes about when he creates books about well meaning people who just can't make sense of the world.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

short post

Hey. I really just don't have much today. I've scanned the papers and the news sites, and nothing is jumping out at me (or at least nothing that I haven't already blogged about before). I've gotten to the point where I just want the whole health care debate to be over, one way or the other, just so I don't feel the need to keep paying attention to it any more.
Soooo.....
How are you guys? Doing okay? Haven't been getting many comments lately.
I'm keeping it short today because I'm not really feelin' it. Hope ya'll are doing okay.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Public Option: Opt Out v. Trigger; More Bombs in Iraq; A Note on Heroes

Hi. What's up?
Not too much going on.
Ryan's still on a Corpus Christi-Galveston business trip. I think he's actually probably in waders, gigging for crabs along the seashore.

Yesterday Senate Majority leader Harry Reid announced his intention to introduce legisaltion with a public option that allows states to opt out. I think this a good compromise. States that don't want the public option wouldn't necessarily have to get onboard, so this would present a significant compromise that conservatives will have a harder time arguing against. If the public option proves to be a popular, well run system in the states that adopt it, the leaders of individual states that have opted out will have to either get onboard or explain to their own constituents why they don't have it. (on the other hand, if the public option doesn't work very well, I would guess that lots of states might want to opt out).
There's been talk about using a "trigger" for the public option instead of using this state by state opt out model. The trigger would mean that a public option only kicks into effect if insurance companies fail to meet certain benchmarks in terms of keeping down costs and providing coverage to a large number of people. It may just be because I'm a lawyer, but I'm wary of the trigger alternative. 1) I think it will just create new arguments about where the benchmarks are going to be set before a public option kicks in (Republicans will want the governement to have to wait until things get pretty expensive and way too many people are uninsured before the public option can be activated), and 2) if and when the insurance companies fail to meet their benchmarks, I think they'll use every trick in the book to try to hide the facts and deny that they're still raising their costs and denying coverage to people. The trigger seems to just put off the arguments with the health care industry for some future date. If the looming threat of a complete health care overhaul didn't force them to clean up their act, I don't think the trigger will change their behavior much, either. They'd rather just stick to business as usual (highly profitable business as usual), and fight against reform with lawyers and lobbyists.

What else? Bombs went off in Baghdad, killing 160 people and wounding more than 500 over the weekend. That sucks. I guess things aren't going to be all squeaky clean and fixed up as we withdraw from Iraq. I guess that was never really a realistic outcome in the first place. Hopefully we've trained some Iraqi forces well enough that they can begin to deal with these security problems on their own. That's probably the best we can hope for. I'm not that hopeful (and I don't think we should have ever been in that country in the first place), but it sure would be nice to have Iraq as a stable, democratic ally in that part of the world.

Well, I don't have very much, I guess. I watched Heroes last night. I definitely feel like there's way too much chit chat and not enough super powered action. Also, now they're exploring some kind of lesbian relationship between Claire (our super powered cheerleader) and her roommate. It'll probably boost the ratings, but it feels a little desperate. I think the most amazing super power on Heroes is probably its amazing ability to stay on the air.

Ciao.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Weekend Update;

Well, the weekend was pretty good. Friday night I went to see Athens v. Sparta at the Cactus Cafe. Saturday afternoon I went to a very nice baby shower that was thrown for Kim and Sigmund in the anticipation of baby boy Bloom. I meant to take a picture or two, but somehow forgot. Anyway, it was a really nice party with lots of friends coming out to shower the baby.
Saturday night I went over to Ryan and Jamie's house and joined them along with Matt, Nicole, and Julia for the UT-Mizzou game as well as some barbecue and hangin' out. UT had one of its best games of the season, with both the offense and defense firing on all cylinders, but the game actually wasn't very exciting because UT got off to an early lead and never looked back. It wasn't until this weekend that I realized that UT has been playing poorly during the first half all season just to keep us interested in the game. So thanks, Longhorns!
Sunday I went to see an early show of Where the Wild Things Are with Team Steans, followed by a trip to the dog park with Cassidy and dinner at Central Market Cafe later in the evening (also w/ Team Steans).
Ryan's gone on a business trip for this whole week, so that's gonna be weird.

Well, I don't have a lot more, and I actually did some blogging this weekend, so you guys can go back and read that stuff if you feel gypped today.

Peace.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are


I saw Where the Wild Things Are today, and thought it was really good. I'm not going to talk about a whole lot of the details of the movie, but I'm also not going to concern myself too much with avoiding or labelling spoilers, so read at your own risk. (**yeah, having just reread this, it's fair to say that I give some stuff away. If you mind spoilers a lot you might want to skip this)
I don't really know how well this movie will appeal to children, but I really think it was mostly a movie about childhood that's mostly aimed at adults (and it's just as much about the kid we all carry around within us as it is about literal children). I suspect that some kids will probably like it, and other kids won't be all that engaged by it.
First off, from a technical standpoint, I thought the movie was very well done. The Wild Things just looked really cool, and Jonze's effects team managed to do an awesome job of melding the costumed creatures with some CG effects that allowed for extremely emotive facial features and expressions. The music was well chosen and well used, the acting was strong, and the scenery and locations were really cool.
Mostly, though, despite these other well executed elements, I was primarily impressed with the script. The movie is clearly heavy on symbolism and metaphor, and I think it's intentionally left vague enough for audience members to find valid, personal interpretations that relate to their own life experiences (there were some scenes in the movie where Max howls with his adopted family of Wild Things, and it deeply struck a chord in me because of the many times that I've happily howled along with Cassidy [who's a champion howler], Ryan and Jamie's dogs, and sometimes Jamie and Ryan themselves. I'm not sure that the scene would mean the same thing to everyone who watched it, but there was something about the communal nature of the whole little family howling that just rang exceptionally true for me. I'm not sure if that scene hit everyone else the same way). Additionally, of course, I think almost everyone in the movie's audience will recognize aspects of themselves within the Things. Some people will relate to some of the monsters more than others, but there's a Wild Thing in there for almost everyone- and many people will see bits of themselves in almost every single one of them.
Personal interpretations aside, there were a few themes, that I think were a little more solidified within the movie. One was the fact that the whole film was basically a journey of personal growth and discovery for Max. The Wild Things seem to represent a combination of people that Max knows combined with various aspects of Max's own personality and/or his various personality traits (this isn't as jumbled up as it sounds, I think, because some of the same characteristics in the Wild Things that initially make them comparable to other people are also things that Max eventually comes to recognize within himself).
The movie is sort of bittersweet, as I saw it. Through his experiences as king of The Wild Things (and by observing the behavior of his new friend-monsters), Max comes to understand that his family and the people in his life mostly aren't really the source of his problems. Kind of poignantly, Max comes to realize this by gaining an understanding that life is filled with sorrow, fear, anger, and all kinds of dark emotions (he learns that such things are a sort of universal part of life), and that for the most part, the people around Max are, like him, just struggling to get through as best they can. Max watches the Wild Things struggle through their relationships with each other (in their self described family), often lashing out and causing destruction and harm as a response to confusion, fear, and disappointment. As the king who fails to deliver on his promise to bring perfect happiness to the Things, Max realizes that no person can always provide the exact emotional security and support that another person needs (and that there's no way to create magical shields to protect people from ever feeling unhappy). As they comment upon in the film, we're all just trying to get by, and when someone responds to disappointment or sorrow by lashing out, they only make the problems worse (and things are hard enough as it is).
The movie is a sort of epic. Max literally goes on a journey, which, of course, ends up being a journey of self discovery. He goes from respecting the Wild Things for their destructive ways at the beginning of the film to, by the end of the movie, understanding why their pattern of destruction is really only likely to lead to more unhappiness. He moves from a place where he is primarily self interested and concerned with only his own well being to a place where he can better empathize with other people and understand that they're just struggling along and doing the best that they can. In short, the movie takes place only over a brief span of time, but in that time Max grows up an awful lot.
There are some other themes and issues woven in there as well. Jonze makes comments about the environment (parts of Max's kingdom are turning to dust), war (Max instigates a dirt clod war in an effort to cheer everyone up, which, of course, goes poorly), and there even seems to be a brief rumination on mortality (the sun, as it turns out, will someday burn out and extinguish all life, but this is a small problem for people as big and powerful as Max and Carol). These issues are seen through the eyes of a child, though, and they seem to be secondary to Max's primary, immediate concerns about how to deal with his own family. Max, after all, is still a kid, so while he might be starting to notice some of these other big issues, they seem like they're still sort of on the back burner for the time being as he focuses on his own happiness.
Anyway, it was a good movie, but it made me a little sad. Although it's a good thing to gain empathy and understanding for the people around you, it's just a little depressing that many people (children and adults) often come to these qualities through a realization that the people in their lives are also fighting their own struggles. This recognition constitutes a loss of innocence which in turn contributes to the making of better adults, but it's still just kind of a drag that this is part of our human experience.
Nonetheless, Max actually seems like he's gone through something of a transformation by the end of the movie, and it's a testament to both the script and to young actor Max Records (yes, he shares a first name with our protagonist) that by the last scene of the movie we really do seem to see a bit of wisdom on Max's face.
I've loved this book since I was a little kid. It really was my favorite childhood book, and I've always related to Max (I think probably because he was also an energetic but imaginative kid who would retreat into his own mind when he couldn't find a way to make things work in the real world. Also, I always liked the drawings of the Things). I used to make my parents read this book to me all the time, and I read it countless times myself. Although the movie is different than the book in some ways, I think that it's very much in the same spirit. I'm really thrilled that Jonze made such a great movie out of something that I already loved so much.

Safety Patrol Leads to Big Things


This is a picture of Chris Sanchez and his family with President Obama (and one with Michelle). Chris was a friend of mine in elementary school (I still remember whacking on a pinata for the first time at one of his birthday parties), and now he's been working with the Secret Service for quite a few years (he worked with the Bush administration as well- I believe he guarded Cheney for awhile). My mom used to teach at our elementary school, and Chris was in her class.
Chris and I both used to be on the "safety patrol". This meant that after school we got to put on these little orange harness/belt type things that had badges on them, and we used to yell at kids to quit running or quit roughhousing in the halls and whatnot. Kids who were particularly troublesome got "written up" on a piece of paper, and then we'd turn that piece of paper over to the teachers at the end of the day (although I don't actually remember ever really writing anyone up, but ya know- I could have). Chris and I got the coveted bus loading area for our patrols, which we were supposed to take very seriously (we were told by the teacher managing the program that kids would undoubtedly get mowed down and killed by the buses if we weren't paying attention). We were both big kids, so maybe the teachers just thought some of the younger kids would actually listen to us when we yelled at them.
Now that I'm older, it occurs to me that it was a stroke of genius for the teachers to have kids policing the other kids back when we were in school. No one would take the job as seriously as kids who were given a position of minimal authority over their classmates, and the whole program freed the teachers up to do other stuff- like gossipping and drinking coffee.
Wait. Come to think of it, this isn't much different than the relationship between the prosecutors and management at my current job. ;-)
Anyway, as I've been writing this, it also occurs to me that it's kind of funny that Chris and I both ended up in careers in law enforcement (well, I'm a county prosecutor, and Chris is a secret service agent safeguarding the life of the most powerful man on the planet).
See, kids? Safety patrol can really change your life!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Lou Dobbs Under Fire

I've been complaining for some time now about what I consider to be the racist, xenophobic, hypocritical reporting of CNN's Lou Dobbs (who tries to label himself as an independent, but who, in truth, is very conservative, although disappointed with the Republican Party a good deal of the time). Well, the New York Times ran a story today about Latino protests regarding the Lou Dobbs show. CNN recently ran a documentary called "Latino in America", and apparently some Latinos are sort of upset that CNN seems to be trying to capitalize upon and develop a wider Latino audience (maybe even pandering to them a bit) while simultaneously giving Lou Dobbs a soapbox five nights a week where he can spit racist rants (the man spends an inordinate amount of time obsessing about illegal immigration and distorting facts to find ways to blame Latino immigrants for various domestic problems which Americans are facing). Furthermore, a number of Latinos are criticizing CNN for editing out interview comments about Dobbs- statements during interviews for this documentary which were made intended to point out the sort of widely accepted racism and bigotry that Latinos continue to face.
Anyway, supposedly Dobbs is looking for a way to take his show to another network, and in my mind this can't happen soon enough. Dobbs doesn't objectively present facts, and often fails to even cover both sides of important issues, and his selective presentation of facts has always seemed like it would be far more appropriate for Fox News than for CNN (CNN being far from perfect, but generally seeming to strive for objectivity to a much greater degree than on Dobbs's show).
I don't just want to see Dobbs go because he's conservative. I think there's a place on CNN for a good, intelligent, conservative host/reporter (I still think there are strong arguments to be made in favor of personal responsibility, small government, 2nd amendment issues, etc.), but Dobbs just doesn't seem interested in objectivity or in fully exploring issues, and his reporting seems fundamentally biased.
Anyway, the departure of Lou Dobbs is way past due.

Athens v. Sparta at the Cactus Cafe


Just a few pictures that I snapped last night at the Athens v. Sparta show at the Cactus Cafe. The show was really good. Unusual and unique and really cool. With the voiceover narration telling the story of the Pelloponesian War throughout the set, I'm not sure it's the sort of thing that I would listen to casually on a regular basis, but the whole Athens v. Sparta project does have a really cool, distinctive thing that's all it's own going on. I really enjoyed seeing the band perform this thing live. It clearly must have taken a lot of time, practice, thought, and planning to work the whole thing out, and they pulled it off really well. Good story, good music, and, in spite of myself, I might have learned a little something!
Kudos to Charlie Roadman and his posse!!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Maddow v. Fox

Some of you may not care and might want to skip this, but I've been posting about how the White House has finally just gone ahead and declared that Fox News is a just a propaganda machine (i.e., not a real news outlet) and that they're not going to continue to cooperate with them. Fox News has fired back, quite predictably, with allegations that the White House is just playing favorites and that many of the other major news networks are just "in the tank" with the Obama White House. Well, here's a clip from the Rachel Maddow Show where she addresses some of the allegations and accusations made by Fox (not that any conservatives will actually watch or pay any attention to this story). That Rachel Maddow, while clearly a crazy, kooky liberal, is pretty sharp...

Video vs. Text (In Online News); Opting Out of the Public Option; Obama Family Photo

Hola! Happy Friday, amigos!

Well, Ryan's out of town, so having been freed up to actually have some fun for once, Jamie and I went out to dinner last night with Matt and Nicole at Suzi's. It was good to hang out with them. We ate Chinese food until we got sleepy.

In the tradition of using this blog to complain about stuff that annoys me (this thing would probably be more aptly named "The Rantings and/or Lamentations of Steanso"), here's today's gripe: why do CNN and the other web sites seem so convinced that it's better to post the stories on their web sites in video clip format as opposed to in a written text? CNN, MSNBC, and some other news websites (including sites for newspapers and magazines, of all things) seem determined to post a significant number of stories in video-only format, and this practice bugs me. For one thing, it takes longer for me to watch a video than it does for me to quickly read an article and gain relevant information from it. The news videos themselves take longer to watch, and oftentimes viewers are required to watch some kind of commercial before the video plays, which only adds to the viewing time.
Second, personally, I think I tend to assimilate information much more quickly and efficiently when I'm reading something as opposed to watching a video with voiceover narration. Different people have different learning styles, true enough, so some people may learn more easily from watching the videos, but personally I think I tend to not only be able to absorb information more quickly when reading it, but I tend to remember and digest the the details of stories better after having seen them in print. We already have the actual brodcast networks that people can watch for video programming on CNN, MSNBC, and the like, and I've liked the websites, from the beginning, because they provided a written format which I could consume much more efficiently than I could by sitting down to watch an entire video program.
Also, sometimes I just get annoyed by the voices of some of the reporters and by the way that they edit/produce their stories and put them together. Oftentimes there aren't really compelling images that we need to see or which add any particular insight to a story, and yet the story still appears in a video-only format. Granted, there are occasional stories that are best told by way of visual information, but far more often I have to sit through a video in order to get the information in the story, but by the end it has never become lear why the story had to be conveyed through video. And sometimes I just don't like listening to the pseudo gravitas of reporters as they convey information to me that I'm not sure they even really understand themselves.
Maybe these outlets should have a website that contains these individually wrapped video news stories, but I still think that the same information contined in the video stories should be provided in text versions for those who prefer to consume it that way. Preferrably, I guess I'd rather just see separate websites for all-video and all text versions of stories.
Some people (okay, most people) may not care much about this video vs. text format issue, but I tend to read quite a bit of news online (both because of personal interest and so I can find stuff to talk about here in the ol' blog), and the whole video thing slows me down and annoys me. The other day I heard some stupid "analyst" or "expert" on TV talking about how the internet was going to eventually lead to the death of written news as everyone moved to video only formats, and I just couldn't help thinking, "Well, until reporters start talking at a faster speed than I can read, I just can't see how video is going to appeal to me more than print."
We may be moving print journalism away from newspapers and magazines and into an online format, but I still think (and hope) that print is a long way from being dead.

It sounds like senate majority leader Harry Reid has renewed a push for a public option (a government-run insurance plan), a move which has previously been viewed as likely to cause difficulty in passing a health care reform bill in the senate (both Republicans and a number of "blue dog", conservative Democrats have declared themselves to be against such a plan). The new angle neing taken by Democrats in trying to advance such an option would be to allow states to "opt out" of the government plan. It's thought that the ability for states to opt out might appease some centrists who have expressed concerns about the public option.

So now the opposition to the public option seems even more outlandish than before. Opponents say that the public option will evnetually lead to a single payer system, because private insurance companies won't be able to compete with a public option and will go out of business, leaving only the public option standing and thereby depriving consumers of choices. Maybe this is something of a concern, but it's a very remote one, and it's far from clear that this would ever happen (insurance companies have been posting very large profits for quite a while now, and while they may not continue to post record proftis, there's probably still a lot of room in there for viable, well run businesses). In the much more realistic, immediate situation that we're dealing with at present, it is very clear to me that Republicans and Blue Dogs already are striving to deprive the American consumer of choices by depriving them of a low cost, government run alternative. I like this opportunity for states to opt out, because if leaders like our conservative Texas politicians decide to opt out, they're going to have to answer to their own annoyed constituents if people in other parts of the country start receiving low cost, effective medical care, but Texans can't get access to it. If Republicans are so convinced that the public option is going to be a horrible failure, the least they could do would be to allow states that want it to begin to implement it (because in the end, this new plan by Reid is really letting states who want to participate to "opt in"). This would give Republicans the chance to sit back and point at the unfolding disaster they're predicting and say, "this is why we didn't want it." Instead, conservatives seem nervous about even giving the public option a chance to work. And isn't there something a little suspicious about that?

And here's the newly unveiled official White House portrait of the first family! You gotta admit that they're a good looking family.


That's it! Maybe more later. The weather in Austin is still beautiful today. Hope ya'll have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Swamp Thing; Athens v. Sparta; White House and Salary Control; Texting Ban

Well, not too much to report. Last night Jamie made us a chicken dinner (bueno) and we watched Ryan's DVD copy of the 1982 cult B movie classic, The Swamp Thing. That movie is fantastically bad, but still sort of entertaining. It kind of reaches that point where it's worth watching just to see how the awfulness plays out. I don't know if there's a Mystery Science Theater version of this movie somewhere or a Rifftracks version, but if there's not, there should be (we were sort of doing this ourselves last night).
In other news, my friend Charlie Roadman's group, Athens v. Sparta, is playing tomorrow night at the Cactus Cafe. They have an unusual sort of thing going on. Their album tells the tale of the Peloponnesian War, including some voiceover narration and some really cool music. Those of you who want to see something really unique, different, and cool shoudl check it out. Tomorrow night at the Cactus Cafe at 8:00 o'clock on the UT campus.
What else? The White House is taking steps to order pay cuts for 175 top executives at some of the companies that received large amounts of taxpayer funded bailout funds. I'm cool with that. There are some people talking about how this might have bad consequences in terms of these employees leaving to go work for other companies (who didn't take bailout money and are, therefore, theoretically able to pay more), but if other companies are willing to spend a whole lot more money to recruit employees from firms who performed so badly that they needed a huge taxpayer bailout, then let them hire these people. I don't care. The buck has to stop somewhere, and it's ridiculous that many of these executives are receiving huge salaries and bonuses right after their companies had to be rescued from collapse by a taxpayer bailout. The audacity of these firms continues to amaze me. I don't see why they're paying exorbitant salaries to these people for their supposed genius, especially when they really weren't even able to keep their companies afloat.
Also, Austin passed a ban on texting while driving this week. In theory I think this is a great idea. In practice, I don't see how it will really be enforceable. The ban prohibits a person from sending messages, surfing the internet, etc., while driving (but not while stopped), but it doesn't sound like it's going to prevent a person from dialing the phone while driving. I'm not sure how all of the other phones out there work, but on my iPhone you use the same touch screen for dialing purposes that you would use for texting. One click of a button and the screens close, so if a person has any suspicion whatsoever that they're being pulled over for illegal use of their phone, it seems like they could just close their browser and that the officer would be unable to tell whether they were engaged in legal or banned activity.
I think that texting while driving is dangerous, and I support efforts to curb it, but I just don't think this law really has any teeth.
Well, that's all for now. Hope this Austin weather holds up and that all of you Austin folks get a chance to go enjoy it!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hanging with the Fam'; Cronkite and the Future of "Papers"; Stargate Universe

Hi. Hope everyone's doing okay.
Last night I had a nice dinner with Ryan, Jamie, and Ciera (who's my cousin. She's in 7th grade and lives in North Austin with her mom, another cousin, Susan). We went out to eat and then went back and played some video games at Ryan and Jamie's house. Ciera likes the video games (and seems to be pretty good at them). I have to admit that it feels sort of strange to have a kid back in the family, with all of the accompanying interests, activities, and attitudes that go along with someone who's 12 years old (it's just been all of us grumpy, lame, old adults for quite some time), but Ciera is a good kid, and it's good to hang out with her!

What else? Walter Cronkite's personal collection of papers, photographs, and other memorabilia is apparently going to be archived and displayed at the University of Texas. University officials have reported that the papers are scheduled to be exhinbited in May.
So that's very cool. Walter Cronkite commanded a sort of respect and admiration that we just don't see very much in the news industry these days. People of all different sorts of backgrounds and political persuasions just really seemed to trust the guy as a journalist.
Anyway, I heard about Cronkite's papers coming to UT, and it just got me sort of thinking about what sorts of records will be available for future archives in regard to our current leaders, newsmakers, and prominent figures. In an age when so much of our communication takes place electronically, how much of our correspondence, written work, and other "papers" will be available for historical preservation? It seems like we put as much or more stuff into written form as we ever have, but what's going to happen to all of it? Will it all continue to be electronically archived indefinitely? Even if we intend to keep it all archived, will the physical hardware that retains these documents continue to stand the test of time?
Well, even paper tends to fade and deteriorate, and paper documents require their own maintenance procedures, but there's something about having important, historical documents archived in only a digital form that makes me a little uneasy (Ryan, who works for UT's digital library, is probably screaming and pulling out his hair if he's reading this). One obvious question that occurs to me is, what will the Mad Max people do after the apocalypse, when the world no longer has a functioning electircal grid and the world is lit only by fire? How will the Mad Max people be able to read up on historical documents without electricity?
These are the questions that keep me up at night, people.

In other news, I caught a couple of episodes of a new Stargate show called Stargate Universe on Syfy over the weekend and last night (well, last night on the DVR), and it's actually not bad. I say this as a person who has watched a number of episodes of other Stargate series over the years and generally found them to be fairly mediocre, and sometimes downright annoying.
While the themes of Stagate Universe aren't exactly original (the characters are stuck in a ship on the far end of the universe without any clear path home- like Farscape, Star Trek Voyager, Buck Rogers, and even in a slightly different form, Battlestar Galactca), this new SGU show has a different feel than most of the prior Stargate shows. The characters seem to have a darker edge to them (they actually seem self involved, short tempered, and display other negative character traits at times without the appearance of a character flaw becoming a major plotpoint of the episode), the settings seem more menacing and mysterious, and less time is spent on exposition and explanation than it has been on prior iterations of the show (it seems like they're assuming that viewers will already know the basics of how things work in the Stargate Universe, or if not, that viewers will figure out the important aspects in short order without needing to have things explained). It also seems, at least so far, like the show has a slightly larger budget than prior shows, or at least is executed with a little more artistry (the insides of spaceships and so forth don't tend to look like cheap props- or at least not so far). The design and execution of the show, from an artistic standpoint, seem to be more in keeping with Battlestar Galactica than with prior versions of the Stargate franchise (which is a big compliment- in my mind, BSG was one of the best looking sci fi shows to ever hit the small screen).
There are still a few things that are a little annoying about the show e.g., (the inclusion of an college dropout, fanboy-type character among the cast seems to be a move that involves some obvious, heavy handed pandering), but the show still seems to hold some promise.
Anyway, it may be too early to tell for sure, but I'm keeping a hopeful eye on Stargate Universe.

Hope you guys have a good day! You Austinites stay out of the rain!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Growing Impatience with the Democrats, Big Bang

I really don't have anything to report.
I will say that I'm frustrated with the Democrats for not making more progress on this whole health care reform thing. The Dems have a 60 person, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, a sizable majority in the House, and hold the Oval Office, and they still can't get anything done on health care? If the Republicans held this kind of a position they would have already outlawed abortion, created new tax breaks and subsidies for the wealthy and large corporations, turned our national parks into parking lots covered with oil derricks, and started at least two new wars. For eight years I fantasized about a day when the Democrats could get back into power and execute a positive agenda, but now that we have the opportunity, it feels like we're squandering it.
Part of the reason for this is because some conservative, "blue dog" Democrats seem to only really be Democrats in name (not in ideology or action). Man, I'm sorry, but it's time for the White House to start twisting some arms and playing a little hardball in order to make some significant chaanges for the American people. There are ways of applying pressure to these blue dogs who would rather support their lobbyist buddies in the health care industry as opposed to doing the right thing for their constituents, and it might be time for Rahm Emanuel to have some closed door meetings with blue dogs where he discusses plans to support alternate Democrats in their primaries or where he threatens to veto key pieces of legislation that these blue dogs are trying to support (especially bills which directly support pet projects in these people's home districts).
The White House, in my mind, needs to toughen up and show some stronger leadership within its own party.

Oh yeah! Will Wheaton, of Star Trek Next Generation fame, had a cameo on The Big Bang Theory last night. The whole episode was really good. It's good to see that show continue to remain very funny and well written in its second season (and I think they did a good thing by just getting the two main characters, Penny and Leonard, together as a couple rather than trying to play out the tired, old sexual tension angle for another season. They've handled the whole thing very well, and it's actually pretty fun to see them together as a couple- a transition which is rarely executed gracefully on TV). Anyway, the show is still fun this season, so that's great!

Well, that's about it. I hope everyone is doing okay!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Weekend Update

Well, the weekend was good. Friday I took a vacation day and just goofed off. I went to see Zombieland, which turned out to be a lot of fun. It's not exactly a movie with a lot of profound themes, but it has a lot of fun, zombie killin' action, and at least one good cameo. It managed to do a good job of combining horror and comedy elements, providing some genuine laughs while also providing some good, cringe-worthy moments of zombie related gore. Also took Cassidy to the dog park on Friday, and had a really good Crack practice (i.e., Cracktice) with Andy and Sigmund. Crack continues to evolve, devolve, rotate, and undulate. I'm not really sure how many other people out there would enjoy listening to Crack, but I find our stuff really interesting and cool.
Saturday I watched the UT-OU game with Ryan and Jamie. The Longhorns played a pretty

(Jamie shows us "how the dogs sleep" during the UT-OU game)

ugly game, but a win's a win, and we're not too proud to take it. Personally, I think Colt McCoy looks like he's well out of any sort of contention for the Heisman at this point, though. His play has just seemed too inconsistent for him to be a Heisman candidate this year, and we just haven't seen him stepping up to make a lot of big plays (plus, you've got a sort of small but steady stream of fumbles and interceptions coming from the guy). I guess he might still have time to turn things around, though, if he can start to really padding his highlight reel going into this latter part of the season.
Anyway, we also hung out with and had dinner with Heather Wagner for her birthday on Saturday. We had dinner with she and some other friends at Fonda San Miguel. It was a good time. Happy birthday, Heather!

Sunday I went with Ryan, Jamie, and all of the dogs to the dog park. I had dinner with Ryan and Jamie Sunday night, and we watched the 20th anniversary of the Simpson's Halloween special. I can't believe that show has been on the air for 20 years. There are large numbers of kids in our country who have grown into adulthood while the Simpsons has still been on the air (and producing new episodes). Weird.

(can you believe that my lawn grew back from being a dirty dust pit into this after just a little rain? Cassidy is shocked.)

So that was the weekend, for the most part. Maybe I'll post more later. Hope ya'll are starting your week off on the right foot!



Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why So Serious (About Balloon Boy)?

And now the Larimer County Sheriff's Department is talking about pursuing felony charges against the "balloon boy's family", including conspiracy and attempting to influence a public servant. Furthermore, it sounds like both the media and law enforcement have some questions about a possible domestic violence scenario playing out within the Heene family after learning that there was a "suspicious" call about a disturbance at the home ealier this year (the fact that their nervous son, Falcon, was sick enough to know up during interviews on morning talk shows while the parents pressed on, anyway, doesn't help matters). Additionally, CNN has been pointing out at every possible opportunity that Richard Heene, who describes himself as a "storm chaser", is neither a real scientist nor a meteorologist as previously reported (his highest degree is from high school), and has been pointing out some crass rap videos made by the family, implying that the videos are evidence of bad parenting.
Sounds like the jackassery of the Heene family (and I suspect the father to be the main culprit) is bringing them some unexpected, collateral consequences.
People seem a little angrier at the Heenes than this stunt probably merits (well, maybe the anger will turn out to be deserved if there's abusive behavior going on, but I think the current hostility toward the family is a little out of proportion to the hoax itself).
Still, I can't help wondering if a lot of the anger that's being directed at this family actually comes from being a little ashamed that not only did we all got tied up in a sensational, tabloid-ish news story (I mean, in following this story so intently, there's a bit of a "rubbernecking at an accident" analogy to be made, isn't there?), but the whole, ridiculous thing turned out to be a lame hoax in the end. We all not only got fooled, but we got fooled by something which played on a certain amount of morbid curiosity in the first place.
It's enough to make people angry enough for one hell of a backlash.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Balloon Boy Hoax?

Hi, guys! Happy Friday!
And, of course, now it sounds to me as if that whole balloon boy incident yesterday was nothing but a media stunt or hoax perpetrated by the Heene family. After it turned out that Falcon Heene was never actually in the balloon and had been hiding and safe all along, at first everyone was just relieved and grateful. Then, during an interview on CNN yesterday, the young boy who everyone was worrying about responded to questions about why he didn't come out of hiding (when people were calling for him) by saying that he "did it for the show" and seemed to indicate that he had been following instructions. The father, when presented with follow up questions for his son about what he meant by that comment, immediately became evasive and very defensive, stating that he was "appalled" by this line of questioning.
To be honest, the father displayed the kind of behavior that, as a lawyer, you would love to be able to elicit from a witness on the stand because it looked like he was being very dishonest (or at least that's the way I read him).
I think the whole thing was just a scam, and it annoys me. You take a family who obviously have a pretty strong interest in seeing themselves on TV (they've already appeared on ABC's Wife Swap program as participants, and they've got homemade rap music videos [really lame] posted on YouTube) combined with a sort of curious version of events about how this whole thing happened (a questionable story from a brother about Falcon getting into the balloon in the first place, coupled with the nagging question of why this kid wouldn'y have come out of hiding with all of these people yelling for him) and suddenly the whole thing becomes much more suspicious. In my mind, the behavior of the father during his CNN interview sort of seals the deal in terms of thinking it's all a hoax, but I guess everyone needs to watch the video to decide that for themselves.
If it turns out the family was lying, I hope the parents get, at least, charged with some sort of false report charge (yes, it's a crime to make a false report of an emergency to 911). Making people worry about whether your kid fell thousands of feet to his death is not a cool way to get yourself on TV (not to mention the wasted time and resources of emergency responders).
Anyway, maybe more later, but I gotta run.
Hope ya'll are having a good Friday.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Obama in New Orleans; Balloon Story; My Addiction to Ghost Hunters

Hi! Not too much going on here.
Obama's taking some criticism during his recent trip to New Orleans because he's only spending four hours there. Maybe the president could have made this an overnight trip, but this still sounds like kind of lame criticism, right? Are the people of Louisiana interested in the president spending more time at photo ops, or are they interested in having him dedicate the personnel and resources necessary to things done? I mean, things may not be perfect under Obama, but it sounds like he's doing a much better job than the Republicans ever did. He's already sent $1.4 billion in aid to Louisiana (another $160 million having gone to Mississippi), Obama has been to New Orleans five times since Katrina, and there have been 35 trips to the Gulf Coast by more than 20 senior administration officials during Obama's term in office. Republican Governor Bobby Jindal even praised emergency management administrator Craig Fugate in Lousiana newspapers in August, saying Fugate's team had brought "a sense of momentum" and a "desire to get things done" to the recovery effort. Obama, for his part, has reminded everyone that he had been saying that it would take long, hard work to produce substantial change, and promised that he was "just getting started".
Anyway, Obama's political opponents seem to be having a great time trying to criticize the president for the work that he's doing on the recovery effort. Obama, of course, is (wisely) just trying to rise above the fray. If I were in his shoes, I might be tempted to put Michael Brown (Bush's incompetent former FEMA Director) back in charge of the whole recovery effort.

Just had to add this crazy, ongoing story about this kid who floated away in some kind of large, homemade, helium balloon. Short version: meteorologist dad in Colorado builds some kind of large, backyard helium balloon and tethers it the house. Six year old son climbs into balloon (according to other brother), untethers it, and floats away. The balloon covers about 50 miles before coming to a relatively gentle landing, but the boy isn't in it. Right now the authorities are trying to figure out if he jumped/fell out, or if he was never actually in the thing in the first place. Clearly, we're all hoping for the latter.
Such a bizarre turn of events.

Well, not much else. I watched Glee last night (still pretty good). And Ghost Hunters. Can someone tell me why I keep watching Ghost Hunters? (for those who've never seen it, it's a show about a couple of Roto Rooter plumbers who take up amateur ghost hunting- collecting recorded video and audio "evidence" of hantings- and manage to parlay it into their own TV show). I don't actually believe that anything paranormal is really occurring on any of their episodes and yet I keep watching the show. Somehow it's still kind of fun for me. I guess the biggest mystery in my mind is whether the people on the show are actively perpetrating hoaxes, or whether they're just naive true believers who are sometimes hoaxed themselves (most of the places that they visit on the show are historically significant sites that try to attract tourists in one way or another, so it sort of behooves them to try to score themselves an official "haunted" label).
Anyway, I sort of switch between being amused by what I perceive to be a misguided band of true believers versus being entertained by trying to figure out the sort of slight of hand that might be performed by psychics or illusionists. If the people making the show are just hoaxing the whole thing, obviously it would be pretty easy to fake the "evidence" that they gather. If they're being hoaxed themselves, it's tougher to figure out how people are creating some of this evidence.
Either way, I've spent a lot of time watching a show that has done almost nothing to convince me of the existence of anything paranormal. But for some dumb reason I still like it.

Keeping my fingers crossed for that little kid in the balloon.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

O Captain! My Captain!

Crap. Captain Lou Albano is dead. If you're too young to know who he was, then.... oh, never mind....


Questions About Economic Recovery;

Hello. Not much to report from home. Got together last night with the neighbors for dinner. Mandy made some really good chicken tacos for Kate and me.

Well, the economy seems to be rebounding somewhat, with the stock market making gains and corporations once again reporting some measurable profits (unemployment continues to be a problem, but most of the stuff I've read seems to indicate that job growth won't pick up until the economy improves for a while and companies see a more extended pattern of economic improvement).
I was talking a bit about the economy with my dad when he was in town this weekend, though, and he pointed out that we really haven't seen much in the way of new regulations or system controls put into place that could prevent an economic collapse from occurring again. There have been some constraints and conditions placed upon the companies that took advantage of the bailout/TARP money, but those regulatory measures seem like they were really only connected to the bailout money. As far as I know, there haven't been many checks or safeguards put in place to protect against the sort of reckless borrowing and lending practices (on home loans, personal private loans, and within the financial industry itself) which helped to contribute to the recent downturn in the first place. Money was pumped back into the financial sector to prop the banks back up (and to provide money for more lending), but it just seems like we haven't seen much repair in terms of the underlying structural defects which caused the system to falter in the first place.
Which, to my admittedly financially illiterate self, makes me wonder if we haven't just kind of used the stimulus money to create some new form of bubble type of situation (people want to keep making money, so the stock market is flowing again, but does the whole thing continue to rest on a bedrock of bad loans and extremely questionable lending practices?).
I don't know. I could be completely wrong about all of this stuff. But this recovery has left me nervous. It just seems like we took a patient with some kind of serious disease, gave that patient some medication to ease their symptoms and pain, and then walked away and declared the patient cured.
Anyway, I don't know much about the economy, but when The Admiral expressed these concerns to me, they made a lot of sense, and they actually fell in line with warnings/complaints from an economist who I'd heard on NPR about a week ago (I don't remember the guy's name- I was driving in my car when I heard the story).
Sooo.... I'm enjoying watching my stocks climb (I have a few, but just a small amount), but I'm keeping my finger on the sell button.

Man, I don't have much today. Hope you guys are doing alright.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Blue Whales; Health Care Reform Continues

Howdy. Not much to report from home. Had dinner with Ryan and Jamie last night.
Watched most of a documentary called Kingdom of the Blue Whale last night on National Geographic. It was really cool. Blue whales are just amazing. It's just hard to imagine something that large (they're the largest animals to have ever existed on earth- and this includes the dinosaurs) travelling through our oceans and wandering the depths of the oceans. Just the heart of a blue whale weighs 1,300 lbs., with adult whales weighing 150 to 170 tons (often matching the weight of up to 40 adult elephants), and baby whales, at birth, often weigh in at 6,000 lbs (gaining weight at the rate of around 200 lbs. a day). Despite their size, blue whales largely live off of filtered plankton plankton and krill, and the species is fairly docile and peaceful. The whales vocalize at around 155 to 180 decibels (very loud), but most of their calls occur at a frequency below the normal range of human hearing.
Anyway, even though these animals share our planet with us, they just seem very alien and amazing. Huge, beautiful, graceful animals that migrate through the waters of our planet concerned with little more than finding food and raising their offspring. With no natural predators, some of the largest threats facing the whales come from being struck by ships and threats to their plankton food supply caused by global warming and pollution. Save the whales, people!!
Okay. Strange whale tangent, but they're just cool.

What else? The Senate Finance Committee passed a $829 billion dollar health care bill which would extend coverage to an additional 29 million Americans today. I have kind of mixed feelings about the thing. It sounds like it would make health coverage mandatory and that it would help to subsidize coverage for those who could not afford it. The bill also involves caps on out of pocket expenses for covered individuals, prevents companies from denying coverage for people on the basis of pre-existing conditions, and helps establish cooperatives and insurance exchanges to help small groups and individuals purchase insurance. It doesn't sound like the bill really includes a true "public option", however, which would be run by the government, help to set a standard in terms of cost control, and provide access to insurance for the unemployed and for other people who have a hard time gaining access to it.
So I'm of sort of a mixed mind. I really think a public option would be the best way to go, but then again, I'm not sure the public option is something that the Democrats can actually accomplish, and this bill sounds like it at least tries to address many of the concerns that were surrounding health care reform in the first place.
So this bill is better than nothing. Still, I have ongoing worries about whether health care costs will continue to creep up unnecessarily and expand under this bill, and simultaneous worries about whether health care subsidies for the poor will be eventually reduced under this bill. I would feel a hell of a lot better if there were at least a trigger in this bill that would put a public option into effect if the health care companies failed to control their costs. The whole process isn't over yet, though, and we may still get a trigger before we're done (if The House passes a bill that includes a public option and the Senate does not, could a trigger be part of the reconciliation process that produces a final bill?).
Anyway, kudos to Senator Olympia Snow for crossing the aisle to vote for the bill. She was willing to acknowledge, at least, that something had to be done to improve the health care system in this country, and I applaud her for her action in recognition of that fact (and given the fact that the bill was passed without a public option, it's not as if the Democrats didn't make some concessions).

Well, that's about it for now. Maybe more later.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The White House versus Faux News

In the category of events long overdue, the White House declared this weekend that they would no longer be cooperating with Fox News or treating it as a legitimate news network, describing the network as "a wing of the Republican Party", handling Republican communications and research. Anita Dunn, White House communications director, told the New York Times, "We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent. As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave."
Some people have expressed confusion as to why the White House would issue such a statement, but I'm pretty sure it's because they've made a decision to stop entertaining any sort of questioning or requests for interviews from Fox, and they just want to go ahead and explain to everyone why they're not cooperating with Fox before the whining starts.
I'm sure that not only will this White House action fail to change any sort of strategy or behavior over at Fox News, but that Fox will actually probably get a ratings boost among wingnut conservatives because of this announcement.
I don't care. This is long overdue, and the White House doesn't need to be spending its time responding to fabricated controversies and baseless accusations (e.g., Obama is a Nazi and a communist? health care reform involves the use of death panels? allegations that the president's motivational speech to children is actually communist indoctrination? fabricated controversies about the president's citizenship? Not to mention the fact that Fox News has helped to fund and organize numerous conservative rallies and events, and then turned around and covered them as "grass roots" political events. These are just a small example of the lies, distortions, and misrepresentations that I'm talking about). I think that the White House is 110% justified in refusing to cooperate with an organization that has no interest in facts, but which only wants to collect soundbites that it can spin and distort.
Fox News has been nothing but the PR wing of the Republican Party since its inception. The whole relationship was kind made official in a public sense when Tony Snow left his seat at the Fox News desk to serve as White House Press Secretary under George W. Bush (keeping in mind that Snow had already been a speechwriter for the senior Bush and that he had served as a guest host for Rush Limbaugh since the mid nineties).
Anyway, I don't want media who's in the tank with the White House or which leans toward a liberal bias, either, but Fox News is just ridiculous in its clear bias and distortion. As Anita Dunn said, the White House knows that it will receive coverage of its mistakes and errors, and it expects problems to be highlighted by the media. They also, however, expect the media to at least try to be somewhat objective.
Fox's only response to the White House was to say that their political punditry is being confused with its news reporting by the White House. I don't think that's true, though. I think that Fox News is confusing its punditry with news reporting. When you see reporters smiling, laughing and celebrating the fact that we're not getting the Olympics in Chicago (Fox loved this disappointment because Obama advocated for Chicago to host), it just becomes clear that these people aren't really interested in much other than seeing harm befall the Democrats (another one of my favorite, recent Fox moments came when they failed to televise the president's address on health care reform to a joint session of Congress, but then pitched a fit when he didn't show up to debate the same matter the following weekend).
So I think that the White House did the right thing. Fox will stay around and even probably continue to flourish, but let's at least be clear about the fact that Fox is a conservative propaganda machine (much akin to conservative A.M. talk radio) and not a real news source.
Faux News is where conservatives go for their news when they're not really interested in hearing actual news.

Weekend Update

Well, it was a good weekend. Friday night I just hung out with Ryan. We watched some TV, but mostly just ate pizza and talked. Saturday I ran a bunch of errands during the day (car inspected, oil changed, got a new suit, etc.). Saturday night I went to the UT v. Colorado game with Mom and Dad and our friend, Pat. It was a much closer, more interesting game than it probably should have been, given Colorado's losing record. UT tried to get their running game working throughout the first half, but to almost no effect whatsoever, and UT's defense didn't even really seem to come alive until the latter half of the second quarter. Special teams and the defense got some points, though, and everything came out okay. Anyway, I had a really good time. I'm lucky to have the kind of parents who are not only cool enough to be into UT football, but who also have season tickets. Sunday I had lunch with the folks and with Ryan, and later in the afternoon I had band practice, although it was just Reed, Frank, and I.

(here's a pic of Mom and Dad at some sort of pre-game pep rally involving the UT band).
Anyway, it was a weekend with a nice mix of activity and a little down time.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Obama Wins the Nobel Prize?; Letterman Scandal;

Hello. Happy Friday.
So what's up.
Watched another episode of Fringe last night. Leonard Nimoy showed up in the role of a mysterious, powerful character who has been discussed, but never revealed, for over a season now. I dug it.

And Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize? Uh.... what?! And the decision was unanimous and "came with ease"? In general, I'm a pretty big supporter of our president, but I've still got to say that this move seems pretty unwarranted, and it sort of casts the Nobel Prize itself in a more political light, which, in a way, sort of dilutes the significance of the award. Obama has been working hard, and he has a lot of lofty goals in mind, but he's only been in office for 9 months, and his foreign policy actions thus far have been primarily limited to a bunch of meet and greets and some vague threats of additional sanctions against Iran (if they don't get their act straightened up in temrs of allowing UN weapon inspections at their nuclear sites). I guess, more than anything, the fact that this award was granted to Obama indicates to me that the Europeans have been feeling extremely concerned about the sort of aggressive, almost belligerent actions that the U.S. had been engaged in since the Bush years (the Iraq War, the use of torture, rendition of U.S. prisoners to foreign soil, etc.), and I see this award as evidence that the Europeans are just grateful that Obama seems to be adopting a less aggressive foreign policy (he scrapped the missile shield, is removing most of our troops from Iraq, has reinstated absolute rules against torture, and he seems interested in opening better lines of diplomacy with Iran, Russia, North Korea, etc.).
Looking at this thing from an American perspective, though, it's kind of a head scratcher. Obama hasn't entirely shut down the Iraq War, Guantanamo Bay remains open with deadlines for closure repeatedly being pushed back, we continue to wage a difficult (if not futile) war in Afghanistan, the president has recently postponed meetings with the Dalai Lama in order to appease the Chinese, we continue to engage in saber rattling with both Iran and North Korea, and he really hasn't been very involved in the Israeli/Palestinian peace process very much up to this point.
There's been some talk about the fact that Obama may have been granted the Nobel Prize as a means of encouragement, but if that's the case, why not just grant Steanso the prize? I negotiate minor settlements every day at work, and with some kind of Nobel Prize type trophy sitting on my office desk, there's no telling what I might do.
Unfortunately, I think the Nobel Prize committee seems to have been playing politics to no small degree when they made this decision (granting favor toward the side I prefer, so I'll admit that's nice), and now the conservatives in our country are just going to try to wave this thing around and say that Obama is more concerned about pleasing the rest of the world than concerned with aggressively pursuing and defending the interests of his own country. Many conservatives in the U.S. see much of Eurpe as weak in a military and political sense and soft in an economic sense (positions that I don't agree with, but you hear them out there), and they're going to try to spin this thing as showing that Obama is, ideologically, more in line with the Europeans than with his fellow Americans. As the president debates whether or not to send more troops and whether or not to escalate or curb the war in Afghanistan, I'm not sure that Americans are going to be too excited about the implication that their president might be more interested in establishing international peace as opposed to working to preserve our safety and security as a nation (and I'm not saying that's the truth, so much as I'm saying that's the sort of spin that Fox News is likely to try to put on this thing). Furthermore, the Nobel Prize sets the bar pretty high for a president who has less than a year under his belt. If Obama isn't perceived as living up to the expectations that such an award carries, the award could actually be used by Republicans during Obama's second election as conservatives seek to portray him as a leader of style and image rather than substance.
Anyway, strange decision on the part of the Nobel Prize committee, and I'm not sure it does the president a lot of favors.
Nonetheless, congrats to Obama. If nothing else, it's good to see this kind of show of support from the international community (regardless of how conservatives see it), and it's nice to see that people in other countries believe our president has his heart in the right place.

In other news, I have to admit that I've been watching a bit of The Late Show with David Letterman ever since this scandal broke about his alleged workplace affairs and the alleged plot to extort money from him on that basis. Actually, I somehow was watching Letterman on the night that he made his initial admission that he had been involved in affairs and that he had subsequently been the target of an attempted extortion scheme (I used to watch his show with great regularity, but I've barely watched it at all for years now).
Anyway, no matter how you come down on Letter man's conduct involving his workplace affairs and the cheating on his then girlfriend/now wife, there's little doubt that the whole thing has made for some compelling television. Actually, when Letterman gravely announced the whole thing, I thought it was just a set up for some elaborate joke. Somehow I just never thought of Letterman as an affair-having sort of guy.
As it dawned on me that he was serious, though, I was at once annoyed that he had managed to get himself caught up in this sort of situation and kind of impressed that he was being so open and honest about the whole thing with his audience. It was kind of nice to see someone take the situation by the horns for a change, get out in front of the scandal, and lay all of the facts on the table (letting the chips fall where they may) as opposed to getting bullied and manipulated by extortionists (knowing that the whole story would probably leak out eventually, anyway). In short, it sounds like Letterman may have done some dumb things, but at least he didn't allow those wrongs to become amplified and worsened by people who would use them to commit additional bad acts.
I'm certainly not holding out the guy as a hero, but I would go so far as to say that I found Letterman's actions refreshing. And, of course, it was fascinating to watch a celebrity that I've watched for much of my life having to come clean and share some painful, embarrassing aspects of his personal life, but to do so with conviction and a fair amount of dignity (and he seems genuinely contrite about the whole thing, although I guess his wife will ultimately have to be the judge of that). It was good to see someone decide to put an end to bad decision making instead of trying to cover it up with even more bad decisions.
Anyway, crazy deal with Letterman. Who would have guessed?

And I guess that's about it for now. Hope you guys have a good weekend.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Short Post

Not much time to post today. Had a nice dinner with Jamie and Mandy last night. I also put out my Jack-o-lantern decorations last night. I can't believe it's already that time of year. Hope everyone's doing okay.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

New ACL Dates; SNL as Political Commentary

Helllllloooooo. I still feel like I have a little lingering ACL Fest mindset in my brain (which mostly means I just feel like doing fun stuff instead of trying to get other stuff done). It won't go away. That probably means I need a real vacation. Right?
Last night I went out and had some pizza with Ryan and Jamie. Brick Oven. It was good. Afterward we went back to the Fortress of Ineptitude and watched an animated Superman movie called Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. It was pretty good. It's kind of funny that Lex Luthor as the American president somehow reminded me of Vice President Cheney.
Cassidy spent last night and today over there so Lourdes can come clean my place without a lot of three legged tomfoolery occurring underfoot.

And it looks like they've already announced the dates for next year's ACL Fest. Sounds like it's going to take place October 8-10th next year. I'm glad they're keeping it in October. As I've said, I prefer a little rain to all of the extreme heat and dust from years past, and hopefully it's pretty unlikely that we'll once again get the sort of deluge that we got during Saturday's shows this year. Anyway, personally I'm glad that they're not moving it to an earlier date.

And there's just not too much going on that I feel like talking about, somehow. The media has been hyperanalyzing a Saturday Night Live skit where Obama was mockingly portrayed as a "do nothing" president, mostly in light of the fact that many of his campaign promises have remain unfulfilled or only partially filled (e.g., closing Guantanamo, allowing gays to openly serve in the military, withdrawing from Iraq, straightening things out in Afghanistan, etc.). Some of the pundits over on Fox have been clearly, obviously enjoying this- seeing this skit as an attack on the president which is finally giving him the same sort of treatment that they believe George Bush wrongfully received. But I think there's a difference between this sketch and the stuff SNL did making fun of Sarah Palin or Bush. Bush was portrayed as a clown because of the things that he did- "Mission Accomplished!!") and the decisions that he made (and because of the cynical nature of his administration and their dishonesty and so on and so forth). Obama is being satirized because he has failed to deliver on the many very good things that he promised to do. To me, the SNL skit was more of an attempt to light a fire under the president's butt and make him get going on some of these initiatives that he promised to progressives during his campaign. A lot of people on the left are starting to get annoyed that the president seems much more concerned with courting people on the right and trying to reach across the aisle (an effort which has been met with almost zero acceptance, by the way) as opposed to just digging in, taking on a few fights, and working to accomplish the items that he's told us are on his agenda. Granted, the financial downturn and economic recovery have taken up much more of the president's time than he probably anticipated during his campaign, but the decisions that he has made so far don't seem to be pleasing anyone (he's kind of making the mistake of trying to please everyone, which, in the end, is pleasing no one).
Progressives have sat back and watched Republicans fight like rabid dogs to advance their own agenda for about a decade now, and we're looking for a fighter of our own. (whereas, I think, the President has thought- incorrectly, I believe- that he could somewhat endear himself to the conservatives by playing things more toward the middle, thereby earning him easy access to the single goal of almost all first term presidents: getting elected for a second term. He doesn't seem to understand that current Republicans have adopted a sort of "all or nothing" mentality, even as they pay lip service to bipartisanship) So I think that's the sentiment the SNL skit was tapping into (the frustration of people on the left), but maybe I'm just seeing what l want to see.
Anyway, personally, I still think the president's doing a pretty good job, but I also think that he's mostly just spinning his wheels by trying to win many of his detractors on the right. Maybe if the Democrats just forcefully won a few battles (we've got Congress and the Oval Office- if not now, when?) the Republicans might actually be a little more receptive to some of this bipartisanship. The Democrats can't seem to get their act together enough to advance their agenda, so why would the Republicans bother to negotiate with them? I'm opposed to the Republicans from an ideological standpoint, but I have to respect the way they come together and get things done in a relatively disciplined fashion when their opportunities arise.

Well, that's about it for now.

Hope you guys are doing okay!

Sleeping Patterns of the Steans Clan South Austin Dog Pack

this is how Scout sleeps

this is how Cassidy sleeps (although she might open an eye if you move in to take her photo)


The Pope Watches German TV

Somehow this seems more appropriate for my brother's blog, but The Pope sent it to me, so I'm going to go ahead and post it, anyway:



Best.... TV show host.... ever.....

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

One Last ACL Fest Wrap Up

Well, howdy! ACL Fest is officially over, and I'm back to the ol' routines. At some point ACL Fest became part of my internal calendar, and now that it's over it feels like fall has truly begun.

And my posts about ACL Fest were a bit short and sweet, mostly because I wrote them when I was pretty exhausted. I know that it probably sounds like I'm just trying to compensate to justify an experience that other, more mud and rain averse people can't imagine having enjoyed, but I really did have a really good time at the festival this year, despite some moments of meteorological annoyance. The music was really good, and after a while I managed to mostly just ignore the inconvenience of the water and mud (and in comparison to the heat and dust of past years, it really was okay. At least the wetness didn't make me feel physically drained or sick the way the dust and heat have effected me in past years, and we had a relatively unmuddy spot to hang out in each day that was pretty comfortable).
And yes, I agree with Reed's enthusiastic comments from my last post about the Pearl Jam show. As I've said before, I've historically been just sort of a moderate Pearl Jam fan, but their show on Sunday night really did involve some rocking on a truly prodigious level. They were certainly among the best of the closing acts that I've seen at ACL.
And I really enjoyed a lot of the shows. It was good to see Medeski, Martin, and Wood again, I enjoyed the B-52s way more than I thought I would, I sort of discovered the Felice Brothers and really enjoyed them, I enjoyed Flogging Molly a great deal (who've been around a while, but whom I've never seen), and I really enjoyed local favorites Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears. I even really liked The Dave Matthews Band. They kind of verge on being a little cheesy from time to time, but they tend to keep the beats moving, and they're unquestionably excellent musicians. The Walkmen were good, Phoenix was good, Michael Franti was good, Raphael Saadiq was really good. Lots of good stuff.
Anyway, it was a good ACL Fest. Given the combination of the messy rain and the good music, it'll be an ACL that I'll probably remember for a long, long time.
Special thanks to my friends who went to the festival with me! You know who you are- the people that I hung out with, ate with, drank with, talked with, walked with, rode with, and rocked with during the festival. The music was really good, but you friends make the whole experience so much better! (and super special thanks to Andy and Rami, who served as a shuttle service, getting us in and out of the area with relative ease, and who fed us and gave us drinks and shelter on Saturday night)
Yesterday was my post-ACL Fest chill out day, and I spent much of it with Andy and Mandy. It was a nice day to just decompress and relax after marching around for 3 days straight.
Anyway, I'm not up on the news, and I've been out of pocket for a few days, so I guess I'm gonna keep this relatively short. Kind of a drag that Chicago didn't get the Olympics though, huh?

Monday, October 05, 2009

ACL Fest Day 3

The B-52s

friends from college- Richard Warneke, John Villacis, and me

Perry Farrell plays Mountain Song with Pearl Jam

Eddie Vedder and Ben Harper during the Pearl Jam show

mud


Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears


moon over Pearl Jam

mud flats form

front gate

vendors put down hay

Good Day 3. It was very muddy, but didn't rain, and we still had grass where we set up our flag (the mud sort of freaked out some people, but on the whole I think I'd rather have the mud than the heat we've had in the past). Started out seeing Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, and they had a good set. Saw a little bit of Rodriguez, and then went to see the B-52s. They were a lot of fun. After the B-52s I saw The Heartless Bastards, who were also pretty good. Went to hang out at our camp for awhile, and ended up seeing The Toadies. The Toadies played a good, tight set, but they're not exactly my thing. Listened to a bit of the Dirty Projectors. They were pretty good, but I didn't stay long. The Dead Weather were next. They were good, but not as good as either The Raconteurs or The White Stripes. I thought that their lead singer sounded a lot like Jack White, actually, except not quite as cool, which, of course, raises the question of why bother to do the whole thing in the first place (especially for Jack White, who already has at least two other bands). Anyway, they were decent, but not as good as Jack White's other groups. After that I listened to some of Michael Franti & Spearhead. They were really good. I wish I had heard their whole set.
Then, of course, the festival rounded out with Pearl Jam. I'm just sort of a medium level Pearl Jam fan, in general, but those guys rocked. They played a really good, high energy show, and Eddie Vedder just really seems to be just as enthusiastic and excited about playing as he did back when this band got started. All of the Pearl Jam show sounded good, but some highlights included an appearance by Ben Harper, a great version of Mountain Song with Perry Farrell, and a great version of Neil Young's Rockin' in the Free World.
Good ACL Fest. We had some rain and mud to contend with, but there were some really good shows, the crowds were really good and excited, and the bands seemed to appreciate the fact that the crowd was putting up with some weather related tomfoolery in order to hear some good music.