Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Obama's Offshore Drilling Plan

Howdy, folks.
Well, I'm feeling a lot better today (thanks for asking). Still not feeling especially inspired to do a lot of writing, but I'm feeling a lot better.
President Obama announced today that he's got new plans to open up large new parts of the American coastline (especially in the Atlantic) to offshore oil drilling. Uhhhh.... this probably isn't really one of President Obama's initiatives that I'm super excited about. On a personal level, this might come as some pretty good news to the Steans Clan, since my dad, The Admiral, works for a company (Cameron International) which makes offshore drilling and pipeline equipment (so this news may help out Dad's company, and in turn, might even help the value of its stock- which I own a little bit of).
I remain very concerned about the environmental impact of these sorts of offshore drilling operations- particularly when they're taking place right off of America's coastline.
On the other hand, offshore drilling is now supposed to pose much less of an environmental hazard than it once did, with improvements in technology helping to reduce the number of oil rigs needed to extract oil, and technology helping to reduce the risk of an oil spill if some catastrophic accident or failure occurs (Dad will tell you all about blowout preventers if you give him half a chance).
But I'm still not thrilled. For one thing, I see this as another diversion from the path that we really need to be on- that path being the development of new, green technologies which cut donw our dependence on fossil fuels. Even if we drill in America's offshore regions, it really only forestalls our real problems- these problems being the fact that we're still going to eventually run out of American oil and the fact that the carbon emissions from fossil fuels are causing global warming. I also still have serious reservations about the environmental impact of the drilling itself. I know that these offshore drilling operations are much safer than they once were, but even one major accident has the potential to cause huge amounts of ecological damage that could easily last for many, many decades.
By the way, I'm not one of those people who wants to spend a bunch of time demonizing the oil industry or the energy industry. For a long, long time the oil industry was pretty much the only realistic game in town, and our whole country was built on the back of the energy provided by companies that provided us with fossil fuels.
But nowadays we know that fossil fuels are harming our environment and rapidly becoming more scarce. We need to be concentrating our efforts on developing fuel sources that are alternatives to oil. Examined in the best possible light, I think this new initiative by Obama can be seen as little more than a stopgap measure in confronting America's constantly growing energy problem.
And, of course, there's a cynical (or realistic?) part of me that sees this latest announcement as a sort of peace offering to the conservative voting population which became outraged by the recent passing of the health care reform bill. Despite the celebration and high fives that were passed around by Democrats following the final signing of health care reform, in truth Democrats have got to be seriously worried about the political fallout of that action. Given the fact that we live in a country that has a whole lot of conservatives in it (it's often said that they probably comprise a slight majority of the population), it's impossible for any leader to truly disregard their popularity among the people on the right (unless, of course, the leader doesn't care about getting reelected and staying in office). Conservatives were against health care reform, but they're in favor of increased domestic oil production. If Obama thinks that this sort of oil production can be achieved in a relatively safe way (at least safe in terms of ecological disasters- the carbon emissions question remains more questionable), then I guess it isn't that surprising that he's willing to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling along America's coastlines.
Ugggh. I... just... don't.... know....

Well, this post was kind of a downer, but it's really all that I have time for today.
The weather outside is still great, though!
Got to get outside an enjoy it!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Short Post

Hey there!
Well, the weather is still clear as a bell and beautiful here in Austin. I've had the windows open at my house, and I've been really enjoying the weather, but with the flowers in bloom and all of the plants springing back to life, my allergies have been bugging me a bit.
Oh well. I still loves me some Austin in the springtime!

Not much to report, though, and I'm both busy and feeling a little worn out. Gonna keep it short today, but I'll be back tomorrow!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Weekend Update

Well, the weekend was pretty good. The weather was beautiful here in Austin. On Saturday we (Matt, Nicole, Heather, Ryan, Jamie, and I) went and played mini golf (at good ol' Peter Pan on Barton Springs) and then went and had dinner- all in honor of Jamie's birthday! It was a good time. Sunday morning I went and had breakfast with Team Steans + Heather, took the dogs for a short walk with Ryan and Jamie, and then in the evening I had band practice.
I also spent some time messing around with my new computer, including some time making new recordings with Garage Band.
Anyway, I'm going to keep this short for now, but maybe I'll rap at ya later!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Civility (or lack thereof) Following Health Care Reform; Justified

Hi. It's been a long week, and I haven't had a lot of time to put into the blog. Big week, though. Health care reform was finally passed this week (the final fixes to the law having been passed by the House last night). The new reform package may not be perfect, but I think it's a very good thing.
Some Democratic leaders have been dealing with vandalism, threats of violence, and other forms of retaliation after voting in favor of the health care bill. This coming after last weekends health care protesters spit on Democrats, cursed at them, and hurled racial epithets at them as legislators tried to go about the work of getting health care reform passed at the U.S. capitol. Republicans, in response to these attacks (and yeah, I definitely consider them attacks- spitting on people, committing acts of vandalism, threatening them, and even cursing at people and shouting racial slurs are all things that are not only morally reprehensible, but also against the law), have issued a few muted calls for civility, but they're primary response seems to have simply been to accuse Democrats of leveraging these attacks for political gain.
Well, there may be a small amount of truth to the GOP accusations (it made me cringe a bit when I learned that a few Democrats had discussed attacks and threats against them in some of their fundraising correspondence), but I have pretty limited sympathy for the Republican position, especially given the fact that Democrats wouldn't have the opportunity to talk about being victimized in the first place if they hadn't actually been victimized by angry conservatives. And while it's true that the individuals responsible for these attacks may represent fringe elements of the conservative movement, it's also true that the inflammatory rhetoric of the GOP during the health care debate certainly isn't helping to create an environment that fosters civil discourse (remember all of those claims that Democrats are communist, Nazi, death panelling grandma killers?).
When I first heard about these threats and attacks I was pretty much furious. Eventually, though, I just got sort of depressed about the whole thing. It's weird how I can (and do ) have some friends in real life who are very conservative in their political views, and we generally get along pretty darn well, but it seems like, in the abstract, it quickly becomes easy to demonize people with opposing viewpoints and become very angry. With the political leaders that we see on television, it becomes very easy to demonize them because we come to know them only through soundbites and ten second news clips. Media exposure to political figures lets us sort of cherry pick everything that we don't like about a person while ignoring all of the stuff that might mitigate or change our bad feelings, and this way we can build people into monsters that symbolize everything that we stand against.
It seems like it's really mostly a trick of the media and of political parties. The media probably get better ratings when their audience feels compelled to keep track of (i.e., keep an eye on) all of those extremely bad people that they don't like, and political parties probably have an easier job of fundraising and keeping people involved when they have some good ol' political monsters on the other side of the aisle that they can point to as a sort of threat or cautionary symbol of what will happen if the party doesn't receive enough support.
I don't know. I go back and forth. Some days I think that the progressives and the conservatives in this country are actually a whole lot more alike than either group would ever care to admit- that we're all just really quarrelling over differences that are actually relatively minor, but that we make huge mountains out of molehills (after all, the end goal of both parties is to have a country full of happy, prosperous Americans- it's just that we have different ideas of how to achieve that end). Other times I think that we have some groups of people in this country who are extremely different and barely like one another at all, but our deep seated differences are barely covered up by a thin veneer of shared language, some shared popular culture, and little else (this is sort of the way I think of things when people say that it's possible to get along with anyone so long as you don't discuss religion or politics. What does that really say about us? We can all always get along, but only so long as we don't talk about any of the things that are really, truly important to us and which play a defining role in who we are? Is it worth bothering to talk to people at all if we always have to avoid talking about the things that we really find important?).
Anyway, it should go without saying, but the threats, vandalism, and cursing needs to stop. These protesters need to realize that they're not an oppressed people living under an oppressive regime. They're living in a democracy, and they've lost some elections. That's the extent of the oppression that they're enduring. In truth, the refusal of these protesters to accept the legitimate work of duly elected leaders with opposing viewpoints sort of makes the protesters and vandals the ones who are trying to do the oppressing.
Well, I'm all talked out on that.

What else? I watched a new show on FX this week called Justified, and I thought it was pretty good. It's not exactly the most original premise (it's about a U.S. marshall who kills a man in a "justified" shooting, and then gets reassigned to work in the same part of Kentucky where he grew up), but it's a well written show, with well developed characters and good dialogue. Timothy Olyphant (who I know best from Deadwood, but who was recently in a remake of The Crazies and has done a bunch of other stuff) does a good job of playing the sardonic, soft spoken, quick shooting marshall who's the show's main character.

Annnnyway, I don't have much else.

Happy Friday!! Have a good weekend!!

Freelance Whales

Well, as many of you know, last week I went downtown a couple of times to go see some music during South by Southwest. On one of those nights I got home sort of late, but was still sort of wound up and excited and not ready for bed. I flipped the TV on, and ended up watching coverage of more SXSW bands on ME, our cable channel for local music. ME had a band called Freelance Whales playing in their studio, and although they're not exactly my typical thing, I ended up sort of liking them. I watched them until I fell asleep. So, like 'em or hate 'em- here's you some Freelance Whales:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

News Coverage of Stuff Steanso Works On

Hey! Today has been crazy, and I didn't get around to writing anything last night. There's a pretty big article in this week's Austin Chronicle about the various Travis County specialty and treatment courts. Since I work on a couple of specialty court dockets, I thought this was pretty cool. In particular, I work with the Project Recovery Docket (for homeless alcoholics), the misdemeanor mental health docket, and the veteran's court docket, which is just now being formed (there's even a little quote from me in the article about Project Recovery).
Anyway, if you're interested in these sorts of things, check these articles out (or at least the one about Project Recovery and the mental health docket).

Well, not much today, I know, but it's been crazy. Happy birthday again, Jamie!!

Happy Birthday, Jamie!!

Busy, busy this morning, but just a quick post to say happy birthday to Jamie! You're an awesome sister-in-law, and I love you lots, Jamie! Hope you have a great day!!!!!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New 'Puter; Health Care Reform Lawsuits;

Hey! What's up?
Not too much on my end. In case you're wondering, I still have the comment moderation feature enabled because I still keep getting the spam in my comments section with links to Asian pornography. Which is just great. Anyway, hopefully it will subside, but for now the moderation remains on. Because I don't need any of you Adventurers turning my blog site into your personal smut portal!! (you know who you are....)
In other news, I ordered a MacBook Pro, and it arrived yesterday! Big thanks to Andy for helping me to pick out a computer and place my order. Anyhoo, it's a fun machine. I had it out of the box for only a short time before I was already using it to record and overdub some tracks in Garage Band (I know Garage Band is a pretty basic level multitrack recording system, but it really is amazingly easy to use, and produces some pretty good results).
What else?
Lawsuits were filed by the attorney generals of 14 different states to challenge the new health care reform bill this week. All but one of the attorney generals who filed the lawsuits are Republicans. There's a pretty good opinion column on CNN by Timothy Stoltzfus Jost about why none of these lawsuits are really going to go anywhere. In terms of legal theory, I tend to agree with Jost. Simply put, there isn't anything illegal in the health care reform bill, so it's a valid, constitutionally sound law (the federal government has the right to put such a program in place, particularly when there are federal monies attached to it [which there are], and there's nothing illegal about imposing a mandate for insurance coverage, especially when failure to obtain coverage would just pass on an expense to other taxpayers [as is currently the case when people fail to obtain insurance and fall sick]). I think that Jost may be underestimating the extent to which politics have crept into our judicial system, though, and the extent to which activist judges may be willing to break with legal precedent in order to comply with the wishes of the political leaders who appointed them (the Supreme Court has recently demonstrated a willingness to disregard precedent in order to make rulings in keeping with its conservative politcal views, most notably through a terrible decision in which it rolled back well established prohibitions against corporate spending on political speech).
Anyway, I agree that these lawsuits should be meritless, and it annoys me that these Attorney Generals (including our own Greg Abbott here in Texas) are wasting time and taxpayer money on these lawsuits. Given the fact that there's a built in opportunity for some conservative political grandstanding, though, and given the recent willingness of the supreme Court to overrule precedent in favor of political ideals, I'm not at all surprised that these lawsuits have been filed.
This health care debate is truly never going to end.

By the way, there was also an interesting article today in the New York Times today about how this piece of health care reform legislation is one of the biggest attacks on income disparity and its effects on lower income Americans to occur in several decades. I'm definitely cool with that. As I've said before, I'm not in favor of handing out jet skis or plasma screen TVs to poor people, but when you're talking about something as basic as health care, then I can get behind some assistance for lower income folks. Good article.

Well, I don't have much else for now. Maybe more later.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

And Biden Keeps it Real

Apparently Joe Biden dropped the F-bomb after introducing President Obama at the signing ceremony at the White House. Leaning in to embrace President Obama as the president approached the podium, Biden apparently said, in a low voice, "This is a big f___ing deal". Biden kept his voice down, but not low enough to avoid the microphones.

Ha ha ha. I like Biden. I think the Democrats really need Biden, and could probably use one or two other guys just like him. Biden reminds people that the Democratic party isn't just for elitist, egghead liberals. Biden is just a big ol' glaring reminder that the Democratic party really isn't about elitism. It's just as much for everyday folks who just happen to feel strongly about looking out for the well being of their neighbors. I like Biden- gaffes and all.

(note: it's a little hard to hear Biden in the above clip. Here's a link to an LA Times clip where you can hear him a little more clearly- just in case you care.)

Health Care Reform Signed Into Law!!

So Obama signed the health care reform bill into law today. Republicans have been gnashing their teeth and pulling their hair out over this. Senator McCain has even announced that the Republicans aren't going to cooperate on passing anything else through the end of the year (uh... are the Democrats really going to notice any difference? And trust us- we know what it feels like to be ignored. We were made to feel a whole lot more invisible during the Bush years than the Republicans did during the 9 month period in which Democrats struggled to get a little bit of bipartisan cooperation on health care reform from a completely obstinate Republican Party).
And now we've been told that America as we know it is now coming to an end- that a new era of socialist, communist, Nazi/fascist rule is upon us. We've been told by Republicans that the American economy has been completely destroyed with this legislation, that people won't be able to choose their own doctors, and that death panels are going to start killing off our elderly people.
So now I'm wondering what's going to happen when all of this gloom and doom fails to materialize. Given the warnings and predictions of the Republicans, anything less than an complete, unmitigated disaster should leave the Democrats looking fairly good once this bill starts to become implemented. And I really, truly don't think it's going to be anything close to a disaster. I really think this bill is going to end up helping people.
And I'm happy that the Democrats finally got something passed. I'm not going to go into a bunch of specific policy details (about things like how the health care bill should actually save money in the long run).
Instead, I just want to be happy for a little while about the fact that there are still some people in this country who care about the well being of their neighbors and who are willing to fight for the existence of a society that provides for all of its members- especially on something as basic and fundamental as health care (I mean, I'm not willing to start buying jet skis and widescreen TVs for the poor, but we're talking about health care for heaven's sake!). Health care reform is just one of those things that reminds us that living in America is about more than just having the power to triumph over other people through an unmitigated right to amass material possessions.
Anyway, it was also good to see some Democrats standing up and doing the right thing, even though there's a very real risk of some political fallout from this thing (there's a significant chance that some of these people might not be reelected because of support for this bill- the ubiquitous campaign of misinformation and anti reform propaganda put out by conservatives and special interests during this long health care debate has genuinely, needlessly scared a whole lot of people), but eventually our Democratic leadership went ahead and did the right thing, regardless of the political fallout.
Anyway, Republican lawsuits were launched within minutes after President Obama signed the bill into law, and GOP Senators have already vowed to obstruct a bill that includes changes that need to be made to the original bill. The shenanigans are definitely not over.
But for the moment it's nice to ignore the roars of outrage and just enjoy an occasion when progressives took yet another big step forward toward trying to make this a more civil society.
We can fight again tomorrow, but today I'm all smiles.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cousins Susan and Ciara Make it Official!

My cousin, Susan, officially adopted her daughter, Ciara, today! How cool is that?! So now Ciara is officially a member of the family!! (she's been an unofficial member of the family since at least last summer) Judge Hurley presided over the whole thing in the 98th District Court of Travis County. Ciara's sisters came up from El Campo, and some family friends were there along with my brother and myself. Afterward we all went out for lunch. So happy for susan and Ciara!

Health Care Bill Closer to Reality

Hey! So as a crowning touch to an already good weekend, last night the U.S. House of Representatives passed the health care reform bill, so now President Obama just has to sign it into law on Tuesday. The Senate still has to vote to accept changes made in the House bill, and the Republicans are likely to do everything they can to slow or stop the legislative process (including proposing countless amendments which need to be ruled upon), but the Senate will only need 51 votes to accept the changes, and the conventional wisdom at this point is that the bill will eventually pass.
So i think this is a substantial victory. The Republicans are pretty upset at this point, but I think that the vast majority of their fears will turn out to be unfounded (or maybe they knew that they were unfounded all along). Some progressives are still pretty upset that they didn't get the public option. In the end, though, I think that some really good, positive changes were made, and hopefully this bill is going to get a lot more people covered by insurance, increase the number of services that insurance provides, reduce the number of bankruptcies caused by medical expenses, and make some important steps in terms of controlling skyrocketing costs in the health care industry. The bill isn't perfect, but I think that it still represents a big step forward, and if it helps us to become a country where people don't get sick and die due to lack of coverage or go bankrupt because of trying to care for sick family members, then I'm for this bill.
Anyway, watching the final vote pass last night was a nice way to wrap up a good weekend.

More SXSW; Birthday Party

So this weekend I saw a lot of music, had some friends over to celebrate my birthday (thanks for coming, everyone- I had a great time!), and rocked out with the Mono Ensemble. It was a really good weekend. You just have to love Austin in the springtime!! Here are a few pics. They're out of order, but it was a bit of a whirlwind weekend, anyway, so maybe the random order is appropriate.
Roundball lovin' those SXSW crowds!

Woodhands (from Ontario). They were cool and fun.

Phantogram (a cool electronic band from upstate New York. Also from the future)

Jennifer and Donna Rene chat it up at my house

some friends came over to celebrate my birthday!

a band from england called Let's Wrestle. I thought they were pretty darn good.

Generationals (from New Orleans- I wasn't super blown away)

Crack flag birthday cake (if you've ever been to ACL Fest you might recognize this cake- which was awesome!! I'm 7 years old)

The Cassavettes (from Boston, but originally from Dallas- they were okay, but didn't have a very original sound)

A Giant Dog (from the good ol' ATX. Unfortunately, I wasn't too impressed)

Alejandro Escovedo performs on South Congress behind Jo's coffee shop
Anyway, it was a great weekend! Thanks to everyone who helped make it so much fun!

Friday, March 19, 2010


Random robot person.

The studio that made Kickass was totally pimping it. Here are like 6 or 7 SUVs lined up that all were covered with ads for the movie. Saw lots of posters for it, too.

Empires. I think they were from Chicago.

The Effects. Pretty good. From Nashville, I think.

The Crooks. They said they were from England.

Here's some sort of gypsy band that just played out on the street. They were pretty good, and they drew a surprisingly big crowd.

Master Shortie at a British music showcase.

Futurebirds on the roof at Maggie Mae's. I think they said they were from Athens.

Electric Valentine (from LA)

Hey! A friend at work gave me a South by Southwest wristband for my birthday (I know- how cool is that?!), so last night I went down to 6th Street/Red River area to see some music! It had been years since I went to see any music during SXSW, but I really had a good time. I generally employed the ol' Jeff Wilson strategy of trying to keep moving, trying to soak in as many new bands as possible. I saw quite a few bands. I don't really remember the names of all of them (and a few I didn't even bother to figure out), but there were some good ones in there (or at least they put on good live shows- you gotta keep in mind that it's usually pretty hard to make out some little details, like lyrics, when you see a band live for the first time). Some of the interesting acts included The Mynabirds (who had a sort of alt/country/rock thing going on. The woman who sang for them was sort of in the tradition of a Patti Griffin or someone like that, but they had a trumpet player in the mix, and were definitely doing their own thing. I think they said they were from Nebraska or something), Honey and Salt (kind of a nerdy prog rock type of band from Austin), Futurebirds (a pretty fun country/rock band from Athens, GA, who had good three part harmonies and members who were fond of trading off on the drums and other instruments with each other), Electric Valentine (a sort of techno rock band from LA who had a high energy show that drew a big crowd), The Crooks (they were an upbeat, poppish rock band from the UK), Master Shortie (a pretty good hip hop/techno/rock band from London), and The Effects (who were pretty good and just ol' fashioned rock and roll- seemed like they would have fit right into the movie Almost Famous). I also saw a band called The Lifeline who were okay, but then they started playing covers of Smashing Pumpkins songs. Who does that at SXSW?

Anyway, I had a good time! It's been a while since I cruised around and listened to lots of bands at SXSW. It's a fun experience to be part of. Always makes me happy to be in Austin to see people from all over the place coming here because of a love of live music! (I even met a couple of folks from Finland, which was pretty cool- my grandparents on my mom's side are from there, so I'm half Finnish)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Post Birthday

Hey! Hope everyone's doing ok. My birthday was pretty good. It went by pretty fast. I'm very thankful for the family and friends who helped me celebrate!
Still not feeling all that inspired in terms of writing this week. Since it's still my birthday week, I think I'm going to give myself a break and just keep this short.
Maybe more later if something comes to mind.
In the meantime, I hope everyone is having a good week!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy Saint Patrick's Day! Happy Birthday to Me!!

Hey! I hope everyone has a good (and safe) St. Patrick's Day!! And yeah, I'm not above mentioning my birthday on my own blog! I've said this before, but I'm pretty sure I might be the world's biggest leprechaun!!
Anyway, I hope everyone has a great day!!! My birthday wish is that all of you Adventurers just enjoy yourselves today!!

* Thanks to Jennifer, Kim, Sigmund, Miles, Rosa, and John for taking me out for a birthday lunch! I had a great time! You guys rock!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Just About Nothing

So, let's see....
Nope. I've got nothing.
I'm not even really sure what I did last night. Watched some TV and played guitar, I guess.

So there's a big ol' hubbub in the media this week as Democrats try to finally push through the final version of their health care bill. Frankly, I'm just too tired of the whole thing to talk about it anymore. Either pass it or move on. The Democrats have really frustrated, disappointed, and exasperated me with their utter ineffectiveness on health care reform. I still want reform passed, but I just don't want to hear about it anymore until the thing either passes or is finally dead and over with. It should have been accomplished and over with about six months ago.

Eh, I just don't have anything today.
Hope you guys are doing okay.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Weekend Wrap Up; Green Zone; Alice in Wonderland

Well, it was a really good weekend. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Friday night I went to see the Flaming Lips at the Austin Music Hall with Ryan (I also met up with Kim and Sigmund Bloom once we were there, and saw Mark McCrimmon and other courthouse friends once we were there as well).

The Flaming Lips put on a really good show. I've seen them a few times before, but they always just make me happy (the whole theme of their shows, with all of the confetti, lasers, balloons, and constumed dancers, typically revolves around the idea of working really hard to enjoy life as much as you can). In the picture above you can see Wayne Coyne coming out on stage in his giant bubble. My only small complaint about the show is that the sound at the Music Hall is still a little muddy. I like the Music Hall from the standpoint of having balconeys and bleachers and giving people plenty of good ways to get a look at the band, but the place is still essentially still a big, metal warehouse with very little attention paid to the acoustics. The sound was better this time than it's been for some past shows there, though.

What else? Well, in no particular order, I spent the weekend seeing a couple of movies (Green Zone, and Alice in Wonderland), hanging out with friends, listening to music in my backyard while enjoying the beautiful weather, making music, having breakfast with Jamie, and attending a birthday party for a young friend of mine (happy birthday, Dash!). The weather was beautiful, and I got to hang out and have a good time with a lot of good friends this weekend, so it was a great time!

Green Zone was an interesting movie to watch, especially right after Hurt Locker was handed the Academy Award for Best Picture of 2009. In some ways, the movies have a lot in common. They're both movies about the Iraq War which are, in essence, meant first and foremost as action/adventure films (meaning, it felt like the primary goal of both movies was to entertain). Both movies were fairly fast paced and filled with lots of adrenaline-fueled battle scenes and fighting. Green Zone probably felt a little more contrived and artificial than Hurt Locker, but not overwhelmingly so.
The biggest, most readily obvious difference between Hurt Locker and Green Zone was the fact that while Hurt Locker really went out of its way to avoid any sort of overt political message about the Iraq War, Green Zone went in completely the opposite direction- hinging its entire plot upon questions about the reasons we went to war in Iraq and whether our government was morally justified in sending our troops into combat.
Don't get me wrong- Green Zone isn't a movie that centers exclusively around politics (it doesn't just involve a bunch of suits sitting around arguing), but the fast paced actions fight scenes and hyperkinetic battles all serve an ultimate end of uncovering the truth behind our government's alleged search for weapons of mass destruction (a search which served as the pretext for our invasion). We still get to see our soldiers out in the field, fighting hard to do the right thing, but we also see politicians, reporters, and intelligence officials all trying to manipulate the course of the war in order to serve their own ends. While Green Zone may have seemed a little more artificial than Hurt Locker (it's plot was clearly tailored to make a point), Green Zone also made me realize that Hurt Locker really let American audiences off the hook- it allowed them to avoid any sort of moral judgments about whether or not the war should have been fought in the first place while still providing a compelling picture of our soldiers in combat. Hurt Locker made it entirely possible to watch an entire movie about the Iraq War without ever having to really stop and think about the Iraq War in any sort of critical way (except, maybe, to vaguely question the effects that the war might be having on the troops). This doesn't mean Hurt Locker is a bad movie, but its conspicuous determination to avoid "big picture" questions made me a little surprised when the film was nominated for (let alone won) Best Picture.
Then again, I've said that the only thing that keeps the Oscars relevant might be the fact that it serves as a sort of mirror that reflects the momentary tastes and values of the American audience at the time when the awards are handed out every year. Maybe the fact that we picked a film for Best Picture in 2009 that depicts the heroism of the Iraq War without facing its harder, more controversial questions really is pretty telling in showing what the American mindset was in 2009. In 2009 we finally just decided that we wanted to celebrate an American hero or two, and we just didn't want to think too hard about the events that put our hero into the middle of the fight in the first place. Maybe we were worn out by years and years of questions, or maybe we just didn't want to contemplate issues that might undermine America's moral authority.
Anyway, Green Zone runs right at those questions, providing us with another heroic American soldier who is exceptionally good at his job, but this time our hero is every bit as interested in finding the truth and doing the right thing as he is interested in simply carrying out orders (and this message isn't exactly subtle in Green Zone- there's even a line in the movie where one of the characters tells our protagonist, Chief Miller, that, in the end, it doesn't matter why we went to war. Miller yells back at him that the justification for going to war is really the only thing that matters. In some ways, I think that little conversation might sum up some of the differences between Hurt Locker and Green Zone).
Anyway, politics aside, I found Green Zone to be a pretty good, entertaining movie. I wouldn't really call it a great movie, but then again, I wouldn't have called Hurt Locker a great movie, either, and now it's been named as the best movie that America made in 2009.

I also saw Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. It was pretty good, I guess. I just don't feel like I have a whole lot to say about it. It felt a little rushed at times- sort of like you had been dropped in this magical place, but then rushed through it without much of a chance to really see all of it or truly appreciate it. I don't know. It wasn't a bad movie, but I don't think it's going to be one that sticks with me especially well, either. I'm not a huge Disney fan (I mean, I like Disney ok, but I know some people who are huge Disney nuts, and I don't fall into that category), but I still think I like the Disney version better.

Well, gotta run. Maybe more later!

Friday, March 12, 2010

More Skepticism About the Toyota Problems; Glen Beck Tries to Tell People What Their Religion Should Mean to Them

Happy Friday, everyone! Beautiful weather here in Austin!

I know that everyone is probably getting sick of hearing me talk about how I think this whole Toyota recall thing is more media hype than genuine problem, but here's one more thing, anyway. One of my friends on Facebook linked to this column that was written by a guy who used to litigate spontaneous acceleration lawsuits. Basically the guy is saying that the same sort of complaints that are now being lodged against Toyota have been made against other manufacturers before (the most notorious cases prior to the Toyota were made against Audi some years back), and in the end, engineers and scinetists were unable to ever adequately explain a mechanical source for the sudden acceleration problem. In short, what is most likely happening, according to automotive safety experts, is that people are essentially stepping on the wrong pedal. When people don't get the reaction they expect (i.e., speeding up instead of braking), one of the most common reactions for them is not to switch pedals and correctly apply the brakes. Instead, panicked, most drivers tend to stomp even harder on whatever pedal they're already pressing- seeking to get the result that they're looking for by more strenuously applying pressure on the wrong pedal. Frank goes on to also talk about how somehow these spontaneous acceleration problems tend to routinely exist within a population of older drivers (somehow, strangely, they don't tend to have nearly the same effect upon the population of younger drivers who have better reflexes), and about how the media hysteria surrounding these reports tends to cause a sort of snowball effect where drivers who have recently had accidents in the sorts of cars being discussed suddenly all decide that their accidents must have been caused not by their own driving patterns, but by some sort of defect in the automobile. Statistically, Frank points out, Toyotas are still some of the safest cars you can drive.
Anyway, like this guy, I remain skeptical of a situation where no one can find the actual, mechanical source of the problem (aside from floor mat issues, which probably caused problems in a pretty small number of vehicles), but where the media keeps adding fuel to the fires of hysteria and where people are seeking the opportunity to shift the blame for driving mistakes over to the car manufacturer in order to try to make the car company liable for damages. (and that guy who was driving down the highway in California at 90 mph earlier this week in his supposedly out of control Prius? I have questions about him, too. The brakes in that car are strong enough to stop it even when the accelerator is fully depressed, so, in effect, he's claiming a spontaneous acceleration problem and a braking problem. So two completely separate systems in his car would have had to have failed at exactly the same time. We'll see if they actually find anything wrong with the car, but I have my doubts, and now apparently other people are questioning his story as well.)

What else? Here's a somewhat long, but pretty good column by Howell Raines in The Washington Post about Fox News. Raines expresses frustration not only with Roger Ailes (the head of Fox News) and Fox News itself, but also with the rest of the media establishment for continuously allowing fox News to pass off propaganda and opinion as fact and for allowing the Fox News network to operate under the auspices of a legitimate news agency while intentionally (and pretty much shamelessly) spinning and distorting its coverage with almost no regard for journalistic integrity or ethical standards of reporting.
Anyway, I'm not sure that this column has a lot of new things to say, but it makes its points pretty well.

In keeping with the anti-Fox theme, here's a sort of interesting article about an evangelical preacher who has called for a boycott of Glen Beck's show as well as challenged Beck to a public debate after Beck attacked churches which advocated social and economic justice (he compared them to Nazis). I've said it before and I'll say it again: the churches that I grew up in were definitely in favor of social justice and were very interested in outreach to the poor. I know that well-versed conservative Christians could probably swap Bible passages all day long with me, but for every Christian who thinks that the Bible is only about being judgmental and some sort of hard nosed, "pull yourself up by your boootstraps" ideology, there are other Christians who emphasize Bible stories about being a good samaritan with no expectation of reward (Luke 10:25), the divine grace that comes from sharing your possessions with others (anyone else remember the story of Jesus managing to feed a crowd of thousands by merely being willing to share a little bit of bread and fish? John 6:5), and even the advice that Jesus gave in regard to the ethics of paying taxes ("Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things which are God's." -Matthew 22:21).
Given the fact that, nowadays I have quite a few friends who didn't grow up in a religious household or a Christian tradition, it just sort of saddens me to know that when these people think of Christianity, they're often thinking of people like Glen Beck (who's a Mormon, I think- and I don't mean to imply that all Mormon's share his views) and other people who try to make it seem as if Christianity is squarely aligned with a right wing, conservative ideology and worldview. I know that a lot of my friends think of this right wing version of Christianity when they think of Christianity in general, and that's just a shame. Even if a person isn't ever going to be a Christian themself, they should understand that there are large numbers of Christians out there who are a lot more concerned with human empathy social equality than the "I got mine so keep your hands off", materialistic, judgemental, self righteous view of Christianity that many conservative Christians present as the face of the religion.
Whether you're a Christian or not, there are many reasons to have a lot of respect for Christianity as a religion. Of course, it's hard to see that when the nutjobs are getting most of the media coverage.
I guess that's all I'm saying.
Anyway, that Glen Beck is just a fool. I can't believe so many people watch him, and I think that a lot more people should rise up and challenge what he's saying.

I need to run.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Wild Things Gets Snubbed; No Kill at Town Lake

Hey there!
Well, not sure what to write about today.
One thing which has crossed my mind over the last few days is that I'm pretty disappointed that Where the Wild Things Are didn't get nominated for an Oscar. I know that the movie got sort of a lukewarm reception from audiences when it came out, but the film made it onto the yearly top 10 lists for a lot of really good critics, and personally, I really, really enjoyed and appreciated the movie (and I blogged about it in some detail after I saw it).
I might risk sounding sort of pretentious when I say this, but I thought that Where the wild Things Are was one of those movies that might have sort just gone over the heads of the mainstream audience- not in terms of plot complexity or dialogue or anything, but in terms of the overall themes and messages of the movie itself.
In my opinion, Where the Wild Things Are was an extremely well crafted, imaginative look at a theme that just isn't discussed or explored all that often: in particular, it's a look the fact that maturity comes at the cost of a certain loss of innocence. The process of gaining wisdom and truly "growing up" involves the bittersweet realization that, just like us, almost every person in our life is dealing with their own struggles, pain, and hardships. We all do the best that we can, but no one is capable of fulfilling someone else's needs all of the time. It may be sort of sad that children eventually have to realize that just about everyone has their own issues and difficultiues to contend with, but at the same time, this realization brings the wisdom that comes with genuine empathy. The people who never come to this realization often end up being some pretty self-centered, awful adults.
Anyway, I've blogged on all of this before, and you can click on the link if you want to read my original post, but I just thought that Where the Wild Things Are was a movie which was not only well executed (I really liked the landscapes, cinematography, and the actual monsters themselves), but I thought that it dealt with some really interesting themes in some very intelligent ways. I think Spike Jonze might be a bit of a genius.

What else? Well, I guess I don't have too much else, and I don't have a whole lot of time, either.
The Austin City Council passed a plan today to turn the Town Lake Animal Shelter into a "no kill" shelter (which would mean a dedication to adopting out at least 90% of the animals in the shelter and significantly cut donw on the number of animals being put to sleep). I'm really happy about this announcement. Now the hard part will be to make this plan financially realistic and to find homes for all of these animals. Everyone make sure to spay and neuter your pets!!

Well, I have to run. Maybe more later.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Anna Nicole Musical; Massa;

Well, hi!
Not much going on. Last night I watched Lost. They keep promising answers, but it's still muy mysterioso. (does that even really mean anything in Espanol?)

Looks like someone, I think over in London, is going to put on a musical based upon the life (and death?) of late Playboy Playmate, model, and reality television star Anna Nicole Smith. As you all know by now, Steanso is rarely struck speechless, but this might be the exception. I just can't believe that someone wants to put that much time and effort into a musical based on that woman's life. Blows my mind.

What else? Well, in my mind it's pretty clear that Rep. Eric Massa, a Democrat from New York, is pretty much a big ol' piece of crap. First he resigns because of allegations that he was sexually harrassing male members of his own staff (well, initially he said he was leaving for health reasons, but that was right after these allegations started to surface- a House ethics investigation is underway), and then he turns on his own party and tries to claim that he was forced out of office by Democrats because of his opposition to the health care reform bill. The man has given several completely different accounts of the harrassment allegations, and now he's switched tactics entirely and is trying to claim that Rahm Emanuel and other prominent Democrats put pressure on Massa and tried to force him out after he failed to support the health care bill. Emanuel and other Democrats completely deny these charges and say they are completely fabricated.
Just go away, Massa. Your behavior was disgraceful enough before you started trying to save your own ass by sabotaging the rest of your party.

Well, I know that was short, but I need to run. Maybe more later.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

24; Ban on Laptops in the Classroom?

So, after a fairly lengthy post yesterday, I realize that I really don't have much today. Somehow it's always a lot easier to post on Mondays, after I've had c ouple of days off over the weekend to accumulate a bit of material. It seems like I could learn some sort of lesson from that, but..... probably not gonna happen.

Last night I ate dinner with Ryan and Jamie at Madam Mam's, watched a new episode of The Big Bang Theory (the episode was okay, but it wasn't my favorite), and watched 24. I'm not sure why I keep watching 24. Well, I guess I know- it's just a really fast paced thrill ride. The plotlines just keep becoming more and more ridiculous. (I like the fact that they brought Katee Sackhoff to the show this season, but the whole subplot with her secret criminal background and parolee ex-boyfriend has been pretty darn ridiculous. Apparently CTU, the nation's foremost counterintelligence agency, does the world's worst job at running basic criminal background checks of its employees. You think they would have tightened up security a bit after the entire place got blown up in a previous season...)
Anyway, the plotlines on 24 just keep getting more and more outlandish, but I keep watching, anyway, because there's just about no other show on TV that does as good a job at keeping me drawn in for a full hour of TV the way that 24 does. I think it's mostly because of the whole "realtime" format of the show. It just keeps things moving along, keep the tension sustained, and doesn't give you a whole ton of time to think about the plot until the episode is over. Anyway, it's like TV crack- it gets you revved up for a short while, but then afterward the whole experience leaves you feeling sort of stupid and cheap.

There's a sort of interesting article in the Washington Post today about a recent move by professors to ban laptop computers from their college classrooms. Universities including Georgetown (yes, including its law school), George Washington, American University, William and Mary, and the University of Virginia have all begun to make recent moves toward banning laptops in their classrooms. Professors say that students who attend lectures with their laptops simply become too distracted to make their attendance at a lecture worthwhile. Initial studies look like they're starting to bear this sentiment out, with 80% of students reporting that they became more focused after being required to stick to a pen and paper note taking format and test results indicating that students who used laptops in the classroom tend to produce results more in line with students who skip classroom lectures altogether than with students who attend lectures and take notes by hand.
I guess I'm not all that surprised by this move. By the time I was graduating from law school, we didn't really have widely available wireless internet access yet, but laptops were already well establsihed on the scene. And back then, even without the distractions provided by the internet, I remember watching the students with laptops as they played card games and played first person shooters during the middle of lectures (which I didn't really understand- I mean, why go at all?). Nowadays, with the ability to chat with your friends, read magazines and newspapers, check sports scores, play games, and so and and so forth, I can see how students might not really focus on a sinlg eword that's said throughout an entire lecture. I have a hard time concentrating, myself, at times, but I have some friends and family members with some really short attention spans, and I think that the use of a laptop during a lecture would just be an absolutely crippling distraction for some of them.
In a broader sense, this whole laptop in the classroom thing just brings to mind something that I've thought of many times before. In essence, we need to develop a whole new set of customs and etiquette for dealing with communication and computer devices in our wireless, digital age. We've started to move this direction already. Many stores have signs that warn customers not to be on their cell phones while ordering. My local movie theater has warnings before the movie that attempt to not only discourage people from talking during the movie, but which also ask them to stay off their cell phones and to refrain from texting, tweeting, or otherwise using their mobile devices in a way that would distract people (with brightly lit display screens in a darkened theater).
So I guess I just see the laptop computer ban as a sort of extension of this. At most schools students aren't necessarily required to attend lectures, but it just seems like if people are going to bother to attend, they might as well have the common courtesy to actually listen to lectures (or at least pretend to listen to lectures) instead of just screwing around on their computers. It must get a little annoying for professors to make the effort to give a lecture when you know that most of your students are just checking out Facebook or playing video games.
More importantly, people just don't learn very well when they've got lots of distractions. They might think they're "multitasking" (which I never really bought in the first place), but the research is beginning to show that people just aren't very good at learning new things when they're not fully engaged and concentrating on a single subject. Predictably, many students have been pitching a fit about the move to ban laptops in some classrooms, claiming that instructors just don't understand the lifestyle and mindset of the new digital generation, but studies continue to show that, by and large, students who are distracted or engaged in divided attention tasks or multitasking tend to perform much more poorly when it comes to knowledge recall and analysis. I have no doubt that students think that they can effectively and efficiently do two or three things at a time, but the reality for many of these students might just be that they're so used to constant distractions and overstimulation that they have no reference point as to how it feels to function in any other manner. These students are just claiming that they've learned to process information differently, but research results tend to indicate that they might just be getting used to having short attention spans and an underdeveloped ability to focus and concentrate.
So we need to develop new norms and social practices for dealing with these situations. Would it really be the end of the world if students had access to computers at all other times of the day but had to set them aside long enough to concentrate for an hour at a time during class? If that seems like too much of a sacrifice to some students, maybe those are the sort of people who ought to just cut out the classroom lecture scenario altogether and start taking some online distance learning classes instead.

Well, I guess that's about it.

Hope you guys are doing okay!

Monday, March 08, 2010

Hurt Locker Wins Best Picture; The Crazies; Iran's Ahmadenijad Becomes a 9/11 Truther

Hey! Did everyone have a good weekend? Mine was good, but a little crazy. Things that I did, but in no particular order, included hanging out with friends a couple of different times, rocking out with the band, attending Ciera's guitar recital out at La Frontera (Ciera is my little cousin), and going to see The Crazies. I also tried to watch the Oscars last night (or at least part of it), but I just fell asleep intead.
It was my mom's birthday last week and Jeff's birthday last week. So I got together with Mom and Dad to celebrate Mom's birthday, have lunch, and go see Ciera perform. And then one of the first songs that Ciera played was Let It Be, which was a song that Jeff was especially fond of. So it felt like I was celebrating both Mom and Jeff's birthday again on Saturday. It was a good thing.
In terms of The Hurt Locker winning best picture, I still tend to think that it was a really good movie, but not a great film. By this, I just mean that it was a good action/thriller movie, but I really didn't think it had anything to say that I haven't seen before in movies. I've already seen at least one movie about the Iraq War which produced a much stronger emotional and intellectual resonance for me than Hurt Locker (i.e., In the Valley of Elah), but Hurt Locker may be the most entertaining Iraq War movie that's come out so far. At any rate, Kathryn Bigelow seems really cool, and I'm glad she got an Oscar. I haven't seen all of the movies that were nominated, but I think that Bigelow was probably as deserving as any of the directors who were nominated (in a side note, I think about Kathryn Bigelow and Linda Hamilton and I realize that James Cameron really has a thing for strong, powerful women. And he's depicted a lot of strong women in his films over the years as well).
Anyway, Ryan and I were discussing the merits of the Oscars a couple of weeks ago, and I had to admit that the Oscars probably don't really do that great a job of memorializing the movie that was truly the best in any given year (I'm not really sure which movie I thought was the best in this particular year, and I didn't see all of the nominated films), but I still do think that the Oscars do a decent job of sort of catching movies that are both pretty good and which represent something that caught the attention of our cultural consciousness at the time that the movie was released. In this regard, I think that The Hurt Locker was probably a pretty good pick. There have been other movies about the Iraq War which came before Hurt Locker, but Hurt Locker was one of the first Iraq War films which presented audiences with a few questions about the nature of America's involvement in Iraq, but also contained a depiction of a highly competent, admirable hero who manages to successfully navigate his way through a lot of dangerous situations. In short, Hurt Locker was about the Iraq War, but it seemed more about giving Americans someone to cheer for (i.e., the non-policymaking soldiers who are just out there doing their best in the field) than about simply asking grim, somber questions about the war. I think American audiences were ready for that kind of a movie.

In terms of movies that I watched this weekend, I went and saw The Crazies. The Crazies is a remake of a 1973 George Romero movie of the same name (which it seems like I've seen, although for the life of me, I can't really remember it). This new remake was better than I expected, to be honest. [mild spoilers follow] At its heart, The Crazies is really just another form of zombie movie. Where The Crazies tends to stand out a bit, though, is in the fact that the movie actually doesn't put the zombies v. survivors struggle at the heart of the movie. Instead, the real horror of The Crazies comes from the struggle between the survivors and the creators of the zombie pandemic, which turns out to be, of course (spoiler, sort of), the U.S. military. The movie pulls a sort of neat trick by showing that the zombie type of infected people can be fought and dealt with, but the real horror comes from a government which has not only created the epidemic, but which ends up being utterly merciless and ruthless in containing its spread. Of course, not so subtly, by the end of the movie you're wondering which "crazies" the movie's title is really describing. Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, and Joe Anderson all put in some pretty strong performances and create believable, intelligent characters that you actually care about. Not movie of the year, perhaps, but not a bad flick. Anyway, I liked it.

And I guess it was only a matter of time. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has now aligned himself with the ranks of the so-called 9/11 Truth movement, joining the ranks of a small (but possibly growing) number of Americans who have purported that the September 11th attacks were not really foreign attacks against the U.S. at all, but were, in fact, secret operations carried out by the U.S. government against its own people in order to create a false pretext justifying the invasion of Middle Eastern countries by U.S. forces (they sort of gloss over the fact that the 9/11 attacks didn't actually even justify the invasion of Iraq- the U.S. government sort of lamely admitting after the invasion that it never really had any credible evidence that tied Iraq to 9/11 in the first place).
Just for the record, I find the whole 9/11 conspiracy thing to be not only misguided, but sort of offensive. When I first read the claims of the 9/11 truth movement, I found them to be alarming, so I sort of looked them up and did a little research. it didn't take much looking before I realized that just about all of the claims that the 9/11 Truth movement were making were based on flimsy, false, or very questionable evidence that was coming from politically motivated sources (i.e., fellow conspiracy theorists) with very thin credentials and little credibility. Any evidence that was produced to refute the claims of the 9/11 Truthers was immediately brushed aside as having been produced by the same system which had produced the conspiracy (creating, of course, a system of internal logic which only chases its own tail and which is insulated to any source of outside information).
The 9/11 Truthers are determined to create a conspiracy around one of the most widely documented, well studied, best understood terrorist attacks in modern history. There have been numerous studies of the tragedy, from the standpoint of security concerns, building damage and engineering failures, aviation concerns, emergency response concerns, and so forth and so on (starting with, but definitely not limited to, the findings of the 9/11 Commission), and there have even been books published with the specific purpose of debunking the non meritorious claims of the 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Almost none of this has mattered to the conspiracy theorists a single bit. With a religious-like fervor, they've continued to ignore or attack any information which didn't fit into their worldview, and they've gone on to advocate positions which are built upon foundations of fabricated or misconstrued evidence.
Why do I think that 9/11 Truthers engage in conspiracy building? Well, I think there are a lot of reasons, both personal and political, but there's probably not a one-size-fits-all explanation. Some of these people had a big axe to grind for one reason or another with our government before they ever got involved with the 9/11 Truth movement. Some of these people have a natural aversion to anything that they see as authority (e.g., the government). Many have a desire to create a reality for themselves where they know with absolute certainty that they're important, patriotic heroes in a struggle to defend American citizens from their own government. And then there are those who sort of just get caught up in the movement because their family, friends, and/or loved ones are fervent believers, and social pressure ends up leading them to adopt the beliefs of those around them.
Anyway, why would I care at all what these people are saying? Well, for one thing, for some reason, people who intentionally ignore glaring factual evidence while simultaneously, rabidly advocating their own extreme viewpoints- well, these are the sort of people who just annoy me (and these conspiracy theorists are always absolutely certain of the truth behind their claims. I have to say that I'm almost never certain of anything in the same way that the 9/11 Truthers are convinced that they absolutely, clearly understand the intricate details and secrets surrounding this supposed 9/11 conspiracy). Maybe it's the lawyer in me, or more likely, I've just always been this way, and this is one the reasons I become a lawyer in the first place, but I have little tolerance for zealots who ignore evidence and who don't seem to care about the viability and credibility of the claims that they bring to the table.
Second, when people are willing to ignore reality, especially in a situation where a bunch of people have died, I think that puts us into a very dangerous situation in terms of ethical responsibility and respect for human life.
One of the situations that I've always thought was most analogous to the 9/11 Truth Movement was the case of people who seek to deny the occurrence of the Holocaust. These people claim that the Nazis didn't really been commit genocide against the Jews in the concentration camps of Europe during World War II. The Holocaust deniers claim that the Allies made up this story to justify the creation of Israel and to create false moral authority for the nation building and restructuring of countries that occurred in the wake of the war. President Ahmadenijad, who sees Islamic Iran as a natural enemy of Jewish Israel, has long been known to be a very public holocaust denier. Ahmadenijad thinks that by denying the Holocaust, he can essentially undermine the moral justification for the creation of Israel following World War II (Israel having been created on formerly Palestinian land as a new homeland for Jewsish Holocaust victims and as bit of indirect punishment against the Palestinians for siding with the Germans in WWII). As with 9/11 Truthers, Holocaust deniers have no problem ignoring photographs, documentary evidence, and eyewitness testimony while using mischaracterized and fictitious "evidence" of their own to support their claims.
The Holocaust deniers, mostly for reasons related to politics, religion, and ethnic pride, have no problem turning a willfully blind eye toward genocide and steadfastly refusing to accept any lessons that might have been paid for through the sacrifice of millions of murdered Jews.
And I guess that's the same reason the 9/11 Truth movement bugs me. It seems not only disrespectful, but almost obscene to refuse to learn anything from the tragedy of 9/11. I'm not sure what we can learn from such a tragedy, but I know that the first step in learning anything from it is to acknowledge how and why it actually happened. I just think we owe it to the thousands of people who died to at least try to understand how and why the 9/11 attacks happened. Hopefully we can use this knowledge to prevent the same thing from happening again, but at the very least, it seems like we at least owe victims a historical record which is free from the politically and personally motivated distortions of a bunch of conspiracy theorists.
It just seems like it's hard enough for us to learn the lessons of history and to pay proper respect to victims of events like this without people using those events to fabricate fictional storylines that they can be at the center of (as the heroes who are railing to counter this fictitious conspiracy).
And now we can add this new development to the list of reasons to be annoyed with conspiracy theorists- they're writing the political script for crazy political despots who seek to absolve our enemies of any culpability for the atrocious crimes that they've committed against us.
It's bad enough that we sort of lashed out and invaded a country that really had nothing to do with 9/11 (i.e., Iraq) in its aftermath, but now Ahmadenijad and the Truthers would create the fiction that we were never even really attacked by an outside force in the first place.
Hey, conspiracy theorists! When you've got Mahmoud Ahmadenijad in your corner- a man who violently oppresses his own people, advocates the destruction of Israel, and denies that the holocaust ever happened (mostly so he can justify a unilateral strike against Israel)- well, when you've got a man like that in your corner, you might want to start questioning exactly what kind of corner you've painted yourself into in the first place....

There are more than enough bad things out there that are actually happening. There are plenty of very questionable things that the U.S. government has done and continues to do to foreigners and its own citizens without having to fabricate a conspiracy theory (renditions? domestic wiretaps? torture? the near total suspension of civil rights as provided by The Patriot Act? etc.). I don't know why these conspiracy theorists can't go pick a legitimate cause and put their time and energy into something that's grounded in reality.

Friday, March 05, 2010

More Birdemic

Hey! Happy Friday! Hope everyone is enjoying it.
I really don't have a lot to say today, so once again, I'm going to try to keep this sort of brief.

This isn't going to affect many of you, since most of you haven't been commenting much, anyway, but I've turned the comment moderation back on. This isn't because the Adventurers have been misbehaving- it's because over the last month or so I've suddenly gotten a whole lot of spam in the comments section. It appears that the Chinese may be angry with us (or maybe just me), and they've chosen to express their anger by repeatedly posting links to Asian porn in the comments section of my blog. I keep trying to take it quickly take it down, but sometimes the stupid links stay up for half a day before I notice them. So I'm going to moderate all comments for a while and see if it slows down. Please feel free to comment. I'm still going to post all comments that aren't just links to pornography. I realize that this will probably be a problem for Ryan and Reed, but they'll just have to adjust. (just joking, Mrs. Shaw!)

What else? I posted about a movie called Birdemic that I went to see with Team Steans and Jackbart the other night. Well, Ryan doesn't have a blog of his own any more, but he posted about Birdemic on a site called Chronological Snobbery that's run by a friend of his. Ryan does a better job of reviewing the movie than I did (as well as figuring out that the director may have been a lot less deserving of sympathy than I thought), so check it out. It's good to see Roundball writing again!

Well, I gotta run.

Maybe more later. Have a good weekend!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Justice League; Black Holes; Herskovits

Well, once again, I want to wish happy birthday to my mom and to take a moment to remember Jeff Wilson today, on his birthday. I already jotted out a quick note in the post below, but I just wanted to repeat myself in case people didn't see it.

What else? Not much.
I watched an animated movie over at Ryan and Jamie's house last night called Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. It was pretty good. Parallel dimensions where there are alternate, evil versions of Earth's most famous superheroes and where our traditional supervillains are heroes who fight to defend humanity. Pretty cool.
I also watched a show about Supermassive Black Holes on the Science Channel. I just can't believe that those things are actually real. Galaxies filled with stars and solar systems spinning around holes in reality that are just sucking everything into them. Sort of just blows my mind.

I also watched an episode of Independent Lens that was on my DVR called Herskovits: At the Heart of Blackness. Now maybe I'm just revealing my own embarrassing ignorance and everyone else knows this, but I'm not even sure I had even heard of Melville Herskovits before I watched this documentary, but now I'm kind of intrigued by the guy. Melville Herskovits was a Jewish anthropolgist from New York who primarily built his reputation by way of studying and analyzing the culture, society, and traditions of African Americans in the United states. Herskovits is primarily known (apparently) for being one of the first serious anthropologists to seriously study and examine the culture of African Americans in the United States. Prior to the work of Herskovits and a few of his colleagues, it had largely been assumed that black people in the United States had no real culture of their own- that any sense of cultural identity and tradition that they had had been destroyed when they had been snatched for their homeland in Africa and transported, against their will, to the United States as slaves.
Herskovits studied black culture in the United states as well as the culture of black peoples in Africa (he spent much time travelling around Africa and recording his observations), and he came to the conclusion that significant portions of African cultural heritage had survived the Middle Passage to America, and the many elements of African life could still be seen in black culrue in 1941, when Herskovits wrote The Myth of the Negro Past.
Herskovits was controversial. On the one hand, he helped to carve out African American studies as a serious field of intellectual, scholarly knowledge. Herskovits was an early proponent of the theory of cultural relativism (which stated that scholars should be careful not to judge the practices of one cultural using the standards of a different one), and he endorsed a form of anthropolgy which put much more value on cultural characteristics when studying groups of people as opposed to simply trying to categorize and understand people by way of common physical characteristics (this seems pretty commonsense today, but previous anthropological theory had spent a considerable amount of time trying to consistently tie behavior patterns to physical traits). In addition to taking these positive steps, Herskovits truly believed that he would help to improve the self esteem of black Americans, as a culture, if he could show that they weren't devoid of a cultural history (it wasn't as if all cultural heritage was destroyed on the Middle Passage), but that they were, in fact, simply a new branch of a set of ancient, complex African cultures.**
So we have Herskovits, a Jewish anthropolgist, serving as one of the forefathers of African American studies. Even today he ramins recognized as one of the most prominent early pioneers of this field of study.
But the controversy started to get more heated up as black Americans managed to become increasingly educated (as a group) and began to question exactly why it was that a white, Jewish anthropologist had been given the power to define the cultural identity of African Americans as a people. Up through the 50's and 60's, black Americans became increasingly resentful of the fact that the majority of anthropolgists and sociologists who studied black culture were white. Black Americans didn't really want to simply be seen as a subject to be studied. Instead, they wanted to be active participants in studying their own people- in effect, helping to define their own culture. Some black Americans saw the attempt to tie their culture to Africa as just another mechanism by which white people would be able to justify segregation and oppression. If black Americans were really just Africans, the argument went, then white people would feel much more confortable branding black people as outsiders and foreigners who were not to be entirely trusted.
Anyway, eventually black scholars and political activists demanded equal participation in the scholarly study of African American culture, and they won positions that made them at least equal partners in that particular field. This was kind of a big deal, because, to at least some extent the works of these scholars were helping to define exactly what it meant to be a black person in America.
So I really found all of this pretty fascinating. In particular, I was sort of captivated by the story of Herskovits himself. In his own time he was a pretty progressive guy- trying to demonstrate that African Americans came from a cultural history that was every bit as rich and colorful as that of whites, endorsing ideas like cultural relativism, and focusing on the study of race as a study of culture and its influences as opposed to simply focusing on the biological makeup of a given people. On the other hand, I understand why black people might be seriously annoyed by the thought of a white man studying them as subjects (rather than collaborating with them) and then trying to define their culture and telling them who they really were.
Herskovits was a true progressive in his own time and thought that he was doing serious work that might help black people, but by the end of his life Herskovits was looked upon as a man who had held back the progress of blacks to some degree. And their might be some truth to both arguments. I just find it interesting that, while doing largely the same type of work, the man was viewed as a progressive during one part of his life and as something of an outdated anachronism later on (and one who may have somewhat held back the progress of civil rights to some degree, at that).
Well, I gotta go. Sorry to have likely bored everyone. I just found the whole thing really interesting.

** P.S.: It occurred to me later (after writing this post) that I never mentioned the fact that apparently Herskovits was drawn into the study of black American race and culture in substantial part because he felt that American blacks had a persecuted, oppressed history in a way that somewhat paralleled the history of the Jews in Europe and the United States. Being Jewish himself, it's been said that Herskovits developed an interest in African American culture because he felt a certain form of empathy for the prejudice and discrimination that they experienced (anti semitism was fairly rampant in the U.S. and Europe throughout much of Herskovits' career).
I just thought this motivation on Herskovits' part was really important, but I totally neglected to include it in my original post.

Happy birthday to Mom! Remembering Jeff's Birthday;

Well, I'm going to be busy today, but I wanted to wish a really happy birthday to my mom, aka Karen "Karebear" Steans!! I love you lots, Mom!!
Today also marks the birthday of my good friend Jeff Wilson, who passed away in 2006. I still miss Jeff. Life just hasn't really been the same since we lost him. Anyway, Jeff really loved life, so i'm trying to focus on that today (and in general)!
So happy birthday, Mom! Miss you, Jeff!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Birdemic; One Last Push on Health Care Reform; Perry- Now and Forever

So last night I went with Ryan, Jamie, and Jackbart to the screening of a movie called Birdemic: Shock and Terror.

The movie was.... very enjoyable. I mean, it's a movie about mutant birds that attack a seaside community (including a software salesman and his girlfriend- who happens to be an fashion model), apparently because of global warming. What's not to like, right?
Anyway, the movie is ostensibly a romantic thriller, but it mostly ended up delivering a whole lot of laughs because of the acting, the dialogue, the direction, and the script.
The awkward part of going to this screening (at the Alamo) was that the director, James Nguyen, was there. Not only was the director there, but he stood up to explain his film and to field questions both before and after the movie. And it was pretty clear that this guy never meant for this film to be a comedy or to be ironic or anything of the sort. He was deadly serious about trying to make a Hitchcockian thriller with real points to make about global warming and the environment. So here's this guy who's standing up to tell us all about how he's poured his heart and soul (as well as a lot of his own money and a couple years of his life) into the making of this movie, and then we're all there laughing at it. I mean, I actually tried not to laugh in the beginning, but the thing was just too funny to not laugh during large parts of it (I mean, seriously, if the director hadn't been there telling us that he made this movie in total seriousness, I would have thought that the thing had been made with the intention of being funny).
So the experience was sort of weird because I really enjoyed the movie, but felt a little bad for the director.
On the other hand, Nguyen did manage to get his movie made, sold it to a small studio (after living out of his freezing cold van and trying to sell the film to studios during the Sundance Film Festival), and enjoyed a screening where a sold out crowd thoroughly enjoyed his movie (although not necessarily in the way that he intended). There was lots of applause for Nguyen both at the end of the film and after he spoke to the audience. He swung for the fence, and while the product didn't exactly end up being the dramatic masterpiece that he intended, he still succeeded on some sort of Roger Corman-esque, cult film sort of level. On the way out of the theater, I stopped to shake the man's hand and to tell him that I thoroughly enjoyed the movie- which was the absolute truth.
So, weird experience. Everyone watch Birdemic if you get a chance. It might take a little while to suck you in, but it's a pretty good flick.

What else? Sounds like the Democrats are finally going to try to push through their health care reform package by using reconciliation rules (which would provide for an up or down vote, but which is only mean to be used to pass pieces of legislation which are relevant to the budget). Good! This move is way overdue.
The president continues to try to attract bipartisan support, and toward this end he has offered to include some Republican ideas into the final bill. The president is a better man than me. He apparently still believes that bipartisan cooperation is possible and that some consensus can be reached. He also probably believes (perhaps correctly) that strong arm politics and a go-it-alone strategy on the part of Democrats might only make the bitter, partisan divide in this country that much worse. Personally, I've long since reached the conclusion that the Republicans aren't going to cooperate or give an inch unless they're afraid that Democrats can demonstrate Republican ineffectiveness or threaten to hurt them in some more significant way down the line (I guess I've sort of become convinced that the current version of the Republican Party will only respond to a display of force and very little else).
I actually hope that Obama is right and that I'm wrong and that the Republicans at some point might start responding to reason and demonstrate some sort of willingness to cooperate. But I don't believe that's going to happen in the foreseeable future. I think that the Republicans are only going to respect the Democrats and engage in bipartisan negotiation if they think that the Democrats can hurt them in some way. In keeping with this belief, I think that the Democrats should have pushed this health care reform package through long ago- regardless of bipartisan support (and with the arm twisting of conservative Democrats where necessary). I think the only thing thatls going to sell health care reform to Americans will be to see it actually working fairly successfully (without the sky falling and the world coming to an end), and in order to have given the public some time to adjust to the idea of a reformed health care system before the midterm elections, the Democrats should have pushed this legislation through as early as possible. As things stand now, even if health care reforms ultimately prove very popular (and they just might), the public still won't have an idea about whether or not the new system is working come election time. The public may end up lashing out at the voting booth against Democrats for defying the "will of the people" on the health care reform issue, even though, in the end, Americans may ultimately come to appreciate the changes that reform may bring.
And, of course, it's not even clear that this reconciliation thing is going to work. Apparently a parliamentarian or someone gets to decide which parts of the bill can be addressed through reconciliation. So we may only get part of health care reform, or maybe none of it at all.

What else? Elections in Texas last night. Rick Perry is the GOP nominee for governor. I have to admit that he's been in charge while Texas did a pretty good job of successfully navigating its way through a bad recession (our job losses and economic damage have been a lot less here than in other states). On the other hand, Perry seems to develop this economic success by sacrificing the quality of life of his own constituents. Texas has serious problems with its education system (we're in the bottom half of the nation in terms of graduation rates and rank 46th or lower for SAT scores), our health and mental health services are severely underfunded, we lock tons of prisoners away, but then don't have the money to successfully house them, and instead of protecting our environment we spend time doing things like challenging the EPA on whether or not carbon gas and other emissions are harmful (Really? Our leaders are spending their time trying to make it easier for companies to pour more crap into our air? Really?). And in his free time Rick Perry seems to enjoy personally interfering with the justice system in order to obstruct investigations into the execution of men who may have been wrongfully convicted (because, gosh, that might somewhat undermine his pro-death penalty stance).
I mean, working class Texans don't really need to get their children educated or actually be able to hold violent criminals in prison so long as we can lure corporations into our state with the promise of greater profits for stockholders and business owners, right?
Plus, Perry has a great sense of humor- it's second to none! Remember when he "jokingly" hinted about the possibility of Texas seceding in order to pander to a bunch of right wing, anti federal government nutjobs while speaking at a rally? That stuff is hilarious! Especially when that sort of rhetoric inflames anger among the same crowd that eventually start venting their frustrations by flying planes into IRS buildings....
Anyway, there are a lot of people out there who think that Perry is going to be making his run for president in 2012. Isn't that great? Perry has used every available opportunity over the years to make sure that he tries to pin every evil in the world on "Washington insiders", but now he's going to fix our county's problems by moving to Washington to become the most powerful Washington insider in the country! That is so cool! I totally get that!

Well, I gotta go.