Thursday, December 30, 2010

Update: Karebear and The Admiral Go to Enchanted Rock With Amy (while I had to go to lame ol' work)

So Mom and Dad (on vacation) took Amy (on winter break) hiking today with our good friends, Don and Judy Neely. Apparently everyone sipped champagne on top of Enchanted Rock while I was slaving away at my desk under the harsh, fluorescent glare of Travis County office lighting. So they had fun. And I got to feel sorry for myself.
Oh well. Tomorrow I get the day off!

Steanso Film Review: The King's Speech; "Don't Talk" PSA at the Alamo

So last night I went with Amy to go see The King's Speech, a new movie by Tom Hooper starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter.
I thought the movie was really good.
The end.

Okay, if you're still reading, then I have every right to bore with you with details about why I thought the film was good. So you're asking for it.
For starters, I thought the acting performances were really strong all around. They managed to strike a nice balance between emotion and understatement, conveying feeling without spilling over into sensationalism or melodrama.
And I liked the themes of the whole movie and the plot. For those who don't know [spoilers to follow, I guess], The King's Speech is about England's King George IV and his struggle to overcome a speech impediment (a pretty serious problem with a stammer, specifically) as he ascends to the throne following the abdication of his brother, King Edward VIII. While I guess it would be pretty important for any king of England to be able to engage in some public speaking, extra urgency and gravitas is lent to King George's struggle by virtue of two important facts: 1) George finds himself coming of age and ascending to the throne during an era when radio and film have been recently invented and have just begun to make it possible to transmit the spoken words (and speeches) of kings and leaders into the homes of millions of people around the world, and 2) George is struggling with his ability to master his speech just as the English people find themselves poised on the brink of war with Nazi Germany- a time when it seems that British citizens are more than ever in need of guiding and reassuring words from their royal leader.
As I said, I liked the movie. On its face, a movie about a guy trying to overcome a speech impediment might sound sort of dull and dry, but in practice, several things work very effectively in the film's favor. One, Geffrey Rush does a tremendous job playing Lionel Logue, George's speech therapist, who proves to be an unorthodox specialist that develops a special and unique relationship with the king. The friendship and trust that Firth and Rush portray seems realistic and meaningful without becoming overly sentimental or sappy, and its really fun to watch them develop their characters throughout the course of the movie.
Second, I just enjoyed seeing a movie that explored themes of courage and loyalty in such an interesting way. Over and over again we've seen films with war heroes and cowboys and police officers and fighter pilots and all kinds of people who prove their courage by facing down bad guys with their guns and their guts. I like those kinds of movies, and they definitely portray people in situations that require bravery and courage, but there was something about the sort of courage portrayed in The King's Speech that I felt like I could relate to on a more personal level. I found it really fascinating to watch someone struggle with a personal demon in such a public forum. I guess I just felt like I could relate to situations where a person might feel compelled to refuse to give in to fears of abject humiliation and embarrassment because of even stronger feelings of duty, and obligation. George might not have been dodging bullets or gunning down bad guys, but the fear of utterly failing at something in a very public way is something which scares all of us almost as much as dying (in some cases probably more), and this fear of public failure is something which most of us can probably relate to much more easily than battling gangsters or shooting down hostile aliens.
Not that I don't like movies about fighting aliens.
Anyway, I liked The King's Speech. It's definitely a character driven human drama, but if you're into that sort of thing, I think it's well worth checking out.

On a different note- a silly, nitpicky complaint to follow. Read at your own risk.
I'm not a huge fan of this new promo that the Alamo Drafthouse is showing at the beginning of its movies where Alamo founder Tim League lectures the audience for 10 minutes about the "no talking" policy at the Alamo theaters and about how he and his wife came up with this strict policy after a long and apparently serious discussion. He follows this up by giving a stern no talking warning followed by a threat of ejection without a refund if the rule is violated.
Don't get me wrong- I totally agree that people shouldn't talk during movies. I totally get the fact that talking in movies can be a self interested act that basically interferes with the enjoyment of other moviegoers.
Nonetheless, I found Tim League's little mini lecture to be self important, condescending, and most importantly, not at all fun. For one thing, the Alamo has managed to use a series of humorous but forceful PSA's about not talking in their theaters for years- promos that I thought both got the point across and managed to be entertaining (off the top of my head I remember clips with Ann Richards, Danny DeVito, and I know there were plenty of others). If people thought that the messages from the celebrities were meant to be more funny than serious, then the giant black and white messages in ten foot script accompanied by ominous violin music (the script also telling people not to talk) probably got the point across. So I think that the Alamo theaters were already doing a pretty strong job of getting their point across in terms of asking people to stay quiet.
Now, though, we get a personal (and boring) message from Tim League before each film where he explains the origin of the Alamo's no talking policy and then goes on to explain why it's not nice to talk in a movie theater where you're surrounded by other people who have paid to watch a movie.
Does anyone really care about the origin of the no talking policy at The Alamo? (he apparently came up with it after attending a showing of Blue Velvet with his wife. Maybe he didn't realize before this that talking during movies was a bad thing?) Doesn't he realize that many of the people who loudly talk during movies aren't doing it because of ignorance or misunderstanding but because they just don't really care if they annoy other people? (at which point, unfortunately for the Alamo staff, the main issue become enforcement of the no talking rule rather than simply being a matter of laboriously repeating the rule before each screening)
Mostly I just don't like the lecture because it makes the whole Alamo viewing experience seem a little more uptight and less fun. I understand that the Alamo wants to be a place where serious moviegoers go to see movies, but this is also a place where waiters and waitresses are regularly ducking back and forth in front of you and frequently end up asking people about their orders in voices which are loud enough to pose momentary distractions. It's a theater which mixes art film screenings with Master Pancake Theater and Big Lebowski Quote a Longs.
Once again, all of this isn't to say that I think people should talk during movies, but, on the other hand, I don't think I should have to feel paranoid about whispering "excuse me" if I accidentally step on someone's toe when I get up to go to the bathroom. The Alamo needs to be quiet and people deserve to enjoy the movies that they've paid for, but there's something sort of self important in League's PSA that annoys me. Maybe if he placed more emphasis on encouraging people to be nice to your neighbors instead of threatening potential talkers I might feel differently. It's still just a movie theater. A warning or two is fine, but the threats seem to be getting a little heavy handed.
Oooookay.... I know, I know. The only thing lamer than a humorless no talking promo is a long blog rant about it. It's just that I go to the Alamo Theaters a lot, and I want them to stay... fun! I think they can deter talking without getting preachy and stodgy.
Here endeth the lesson.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas 2010

So, Christmas this year was a good one. Amy's parents, Jean and Greg, were in town, so I got to meet Amy's dad for the first time and got to know both of them a bit better. We did a number of fun, festive things while they were here, including going out to dinner, going to see The Santaland Diaries at Zach, and going to see Tron (and what could more clearly spell out Yuletide fun than a Tron screening?). They're really nice people, and I really enjoyed my time with them!
My folks got here mid week, and on Friday the Steans clan headed over to the McBride's house (Jamie's parents) for a Christmas Eve dinner.
It was really nice! It was good to see Doug and Kristen (Jamie's brother and sister-in-law), as well as Dick and Judy (who I see a bit more often). This was also the only time I hung out with Ryan and Jamie over Christmas, so that was good, too (and Matt was there, and it was good to see him as well, of course).
Friday night I went with my family and Amy's family to church at St. Martin's downtown for Christmas Eve. Ciara was an acolyte, which is sort of a big deal when the church is as crowded as this one was for the Christmas Eve service, and she did a good job!
Anyway, it was a nice service. I really enjoyed the chance to spend a Christmas Eve with both my family and Amy's family. I got a chance to wish my cousin, Susan, a happy birthday (her birthday gets a little lost in the shuffle since it's on Christmas Eve) and see my Uncle Donald. Later, that evening at my house, Amy and I hung out and watched the first episode of the Battlestar Galactica miniseries and drank a little eggnog. Amy seemed to really like it, which is awesome. :-)
Saturday we had Christmas at my parents house with both of our families. It was the first time they had really spent time together (they met at church on Friday, but without much of a chance to talk), and it was a really nice day.
My mom made a ton of good food
(with Amy and her Mom helping out on appetizer detail), and the whole thing felt really Christmas-y and nice.

Amy also played some cutthroat Banagrams with Ciara and Susan. I suspect that there was hardcore cheating going on, but I would be hard pressed to prove it given the wiliness of the three women involved.

Anyway, we opened a lot of presents and took some pictures and ate good Christmas food (the food seemed particularly good this year).

So Christmas 2010 was really good! I hope that everyone else had a good one as well!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Christmas Letter

Well, I don't really send out Christmas cards or letters, so I thought I'd post something that takes a stab at some sort of brief summary of my year here on ye olde blog.

2010 has been a pretty darn good year, all in all. I mean, there were a few hiccups in there (among other things, I'm looking at you, Longhorn football program), but on the whole, I would have to say that the good far outweighed the bad,

The year started off with the arrival of Miles Bloom, which really got things going with a bang. I'm happy to report almost a year later that Miles is still enjoying his rock and roll lifestyle and taking the world by storm. In fact, in February Miles is kicking off his first world tour- taking Kim and Sigmund to New Zealand for his first taste of international adventure. Anyway, the arrival of Miles and adjustment to life with Team Bloom as a three man unit was definitely one of the hallmark events of 2010.
February didn't have a whole lot going on for me, personally. I know that I was working with the Veterans Intervention Project and various courthouse people toward the establishment of the Travis County Veterans Docket. Don't really know what else I was up to in February.
In March I went to a really cool Flaming Lips concert with Ryan at the Austin Music Hall. It was a great shown where I heard some great music and ran into some courthouse friends. It's still pretty vivid in my mind. Had a fun time with Roundball.
In March I did SXSW with Ryan and had a birthday party at my house that Ryan, Jamie, and friends threw for me. Both events were really fun. More importantly, in March my cousin, Ciara, was officially adopted by my cousin, Susan. It was a big change not only for Susan, but for the whole family! It's been really great to have Ciara join us, and we all really love having her in the clan!
In April I celebrated Easter with my family, did some recording work with my newly purchased Macbook (bought in March or April- I'm not sure), and watched with no small amount of dread as the Deepwater Horizon suffered a catastrophic failure, killing eleven rig workers and starting to spew massive amounts of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Arrgh. On a more positive note, I joined Mom and Dad for Art City, and we had a really fun day of looking at art and having lunch downtown.
In May I went to a party/cookout at Matt and Nicole's place and started my yearly Barton Springs rituals of swimming, sunbathing, and taking Cassidy to the spillover.
In June I went to see the old Batman movie with Ryan and Jamie at the Paramount, which included an appearance by our original small and big screen Batman, Adam West. It was really fun, especially given how much Ryan and I had watched the old Batman show in reruns when we were kids. I also sort of started a much needed break from blogging in June. I think it was a good thing. Helped keep me from burning out.
In July I didn't post very much. I know that I went over to Ryan and Jamie's place to celebrate the 4th, and I went to the Advanced Criminal Law seminar down at a hotel/resort down in San Antonio (which was a pretty good time). In the middle of the summer Ryan and I (and sometimes Jamie) were also doing a pretty good job of attending various classic movies and film noir flicks at both The Paramount (summer classic films) and The Alamo. Sometimes Jamie joined and sometimes our friend, Simon, but we had a lot of fun.
August also didn't involve much blogging. The most important thing that happened in August (by far) was that I got to know Amy better and we started dating. I had met her earlier in the summer while she was interning for the Mental Health Public Defender's Office, but in August we actually started going out. August was a really good month. :-)
In September... I'm not sure what happened in September. I was dating Amy and probably closely watching the UT football program to see if we were going to be any good. I think I was also working pretty steadily at writing/recording music around this time.
In October I went to ACL Fest with Amy and had a really great time. I was really happy to find out that she was a big ol' music fan like me. It was a fun, relaxed ACL Fest where we heard a lot of good tunes and really enjoyed hanging out together.
In October I also took a work trip to New York City with some colleagues from work where we sort of toured the mental health courts in several of the boroughs and got to ask a lot of questions about how their criminal justice mental health program worked. The trip was both informative and entertaining. I heard some good music, ate some good food, and saw an awful lot of New York City, given that it was really just a three day trip. I also went to see UT get beaten by Baylor in October with Amy and her mom. The company was great, but the game was awful. I saw UT lose to UCLA (with Mom and Dad), Baylor (Amy and her madre), and A&M (with Reed) at home this year, and although I have fond memories of hanging out with people at each game, I'm working hard to suppress my memories of the massacres that happened on the field.
In November I went to the Gypsy Picnic with Amy (well, we went and left- it was too crowded), went to Comic Con with Ryan (we met up with Jackbart), went to Wolf Parade with Amy (at La Zona Rosa- really good show!), and celebrated Thanksgiving with the Steans and McBride clans (and with Reed- we went to the aforementioned UT/A&M game). At work we started up our new Veterans Docket in November on the day before Veterans Day. November was muy bueno.
We're still in December, but it's been going well so far, too. Amy and I had a really fun trip to New Orleans once Amy finished up her semester, and we also went downtown to sing Christmas carols and watch the lighting of the Christmas tree on the steps of the capitol.
In addition to all of the stuff I've mentioned, I also had good band practices with both Mono Ensemble and Crack throughout the year, ate a lot of great meals with family and friends, and saw some enjoyable movies, both good and bad.
All in all, it's been a really good year! I feel really fortunate to have Amy, my family, and my friends in my life. You guys make it worth living!
That's about it, I guess.
Not the most earth shattering news letter, but at least I took a crack at it this year!
Hope all of you guys have a great Christmas and a happy New Year! Drop me a line if you get the chance!

A Musical Something

My friend Lisa Stevenson shared this with me. I thought it was pretty cool...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Veterans Court

So the Austin American Statesman ran an article this weekend covering the new Travis County Veterans Court that I'm working with (I've been assigned to be one of the prosecutors for it- I was actually standing just out of frame, to the left of the defendant who is pictured in the photo for this article). I thought that the article was pretty good, but it didn't do a great job in emphasizing that this veterans court is supposed to be a treatment court for veterans who are suffering with PTSD and other mental illnesses.
Some of the reader comments following the article seem to express concern about the idea that veterans might be receiving special treatment from the legal system solely on the basis of their status as veterans. I'm here to tell people that we're trying pretty hard to avoid falling into that trap. Our intention was never to set up a separate legal system for veterans.
On the other hand, when veterans come back from having served in combat with some sort of mental health condition (PTSD, traumatic brain injury, etc.) that eventually leads to them getting themselves into trouble, I really do feel like we have an obligation to take these relevant factors into account and to try to get these veterans connected to services and treatment that will keep them from getting into trouble again in the future.
There were also comments following the article which seemed to suggest that we're only taking mental illness into account on cases when veterans are involved. Speaking as a prosecutor who spends most of his time on regular mental health cases (cases not involving veterans), I'm here to say that this simply isn't true. We try to take the mental health and mental abilities of each defendant into account, regardless of military service, and, when possible, we try to explore care and treatment options for anyone who comes through the justice system (after first trying to make a determination about whether the person's criminal conduct might actually have been related to their illness). The primary thing that sets the veterans court apart is that we have Veterans Administration services available as a means of providing services to defendants with a military background.
Anyway, the veterans court is new, and in a lot of ways it's still taking shape, but I definitely feel like the end of goals of the program are well worth pursuing. Watching/helping the whole thing get off the ground has definitely been an interesting process.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Heads to Obama

So, the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" regarding the service of gays in the American military passed a Senate vote today and is headed to President Obama's desk for a signature.
I've always been a believer in the idea that we ought to respect any person's desire to serve their country, particularly when a person is willing to put their life in harm's way to do so, and that we should respect that willingness regardless of their sexual orientation.
The only coherent argument that I've heard that might mitigate against this decision would be one regarding potentially diminished cohesion and effectiveness amongst units with openly gay soldiers, but most of the things that I've read about the militaries of other countries (many of which have been allowing gays to openly serve for decades already) seems to indicate that the presence of openly gay service members has never created any substantial sort of problem or disruption. So if the effectiveness of the military isn't going to be compromised and if openly gay people are willing to serve, I think the question comes down to a basic human rights policy.
I heard a story on NPR about this issue a few weeks ago, and they had carried out a few polls among U.S. servicemen regarding how they felt about the whole thing. I don't remember the exact results, but I remember that there was a striking difference between soldiers and military leaders of the older generation versus soldiers in the younger one. Large numbers of older service members were against a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but many younger members of the armed forces just didn't really seem to see the service of openly gay individuals as a big deal. The younger members (in their 20's and younger, I think) of the Air Force, Navy, and Army all had a majority of people who didn't oppose a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The Marine Corps still had a majority of younger soldiers who opposed a repeal of the law, but if memory serves, the majority that opposed the repeal wasn't all that large (not as big as I had expected, anyway, given the fact that I tend to think of the Marine Corps as a very conservative, old school branch of the service). I guess I just mention this because I think that as the older generation retires, the issue of gays serving in the military just isn't going to be so controversial among the next generation, anyway.
In the end I guess I mostly just wish that the whole thing just wasn't really an issue at all, and I hope that if and when a transition on this issue arrives, that things go smoothly. I'm sure that we have a significant number of gay individuals serving honorably in our military already, and I think it's a shame that we're asking them to remain secretive and/or dishonest about who they are.
Hats off to all of our service members and veterans, regardless of race, religion, and sexual orientation.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Happy Retirement to Judge Breland!

Well, today was the last official docket day for a very good friend of mine, Judge Jan Breland, so I just wanted to take a moment to wish her well as she moves toward retirement (I surprised her by snapping this picture of her on the bench during her last official docket: a jail call this afternoon in her court, County Court at Law Number 6). Judge Breland has been a great friend to me, a great colleague to work with (well, is she my colleague? She's a judge and I'm just a prosecutor, so I'm not sure that's technically correct, but we're both lawyers, and I've worked with her on a very regular basis for many years now, so she's some sort of coworker if not a colleague). I met Judge Breland on one of the first days that I was practicing law (back when I was working for my first boss, Pat Ganne), and right away she was extremely friendly and warmhearted and perfectly willing to patiently answer questions and help me out with advice (the judge had been elected to the county courts up from the JP bench and had begun serving shortly before I arrived, so we both had a bit of a learning curve in those early days).
At any rate, when I was a baby lawyer and had no idea what I was doing, back when the courthouse seemed much more intimidating and cold, Judge Breland helped put a human face on the place and served as a constant reminder that courtrooms were about people and empathy as much as law and argument. I'll admit that there were times over the years when I got a little frustrated as I stood in line or waited in Judge Breland's court to secure resets, finish pleas, or discuss cases, but when there were delays they were almost always the result of Judge Breland spending time talking to defendants- getting to know them as people, granting them common courtesy and respect, and trying to understand where they were coming from. I can say that, as a defense attorney, even when Judge Breland ruled against some of my clients, at least the clients always felt like they were treated with civility in her court and truly had a chance to have their voice heard.
As a defense attorney, of course, I truly appreciated a judge who was willing to display a little empathy and try to gain an appreciation for the life and circumstances of my clients. As a prosecutor, I try to keep these same principles in mind- holding people accountable for their actions, but trying to come at each case from a starting point that involves some measure of respect and empathy these folks as people instead of just seeing them as fungible defendants. Anyway, Judge Breland's court wasn't always the speediest court, but you always knew that she was going to consider each case very carefully and spend whatever time was necessary to get to really understand each case and know each person involved.
And her compassion and concern extended far beyond the defendants who came in front of her bench. When lawyers, courthouse staff, or anyone else that she came into contact with had a problem or was in need, Judge Breland was always one of the first people to try to extend a helping hand and ask what she could do to help with the situation. From helping me out with job recommendations to providing support for attorneys who were struggling with substance abuse problems to visiting sick attorneys in the hospital to attending funerals and carrying out weddings, I can honestly say that Judge Breland has consistently been one of the most caring, compassionate people that I've known at the Travis County courthouse since the day I met her. She was there in the hospital after Jeff and Kim and Sigmund were hit by a drunk driver, she was willing to give me some court appointments and encouragement when I was laid off from my job and looking for other work, she got childhood pictures of me from my mom and used them to embarrass me a bit on my birthday, and she's just generally been a good friend- always happy to pull up a chair and spend some time listening to gripes, swapping courthouse gossip, and sharing funny stories.
Anyway, Judge Breland is still going to be around and practicing with us as a visiting judge, so I shouldn't get too carried away here with fond remembrances and farewells, but, still, as she leaves the bench I can't help feel like it's kind of the end of an era- not only for the Travis County criminal courts, but for me, personally. Even though I know she'll be around, I'm going to miss the idea that I can just go find her in Court 6 on any given day. And the courthouse really will be a poorer place if it comes to lack the empathy that she brought to the bench. Hopefully her example in that regard won't be forgotten.
At any rate, I wish you the best of luck, Judge, and I hope we still see you around on a really regular basis. (and, courthouse stuff aside, we need to grab lunch/dinner sometime, anyway) I have no doubt that, retirement or not, you'll still be hooked into all of the courthouse news that's worth knowing!
We'll all miss you!

The Health Care Reform Bill and Honest Argument is a nonpartisan fact checking organization which won a Pullitzer Prize in 2009 for its work in fact checking claims and publishing reports about the claims of various politicans during the 2008 election. They publish not only their findings, but summaries of the research and facts which led them to their conclusions (and yes, I read PolitiFact regularly, and they fact check and criticize Democratic claims as well as conservative ones). Their vote for the biggest lie (or set of lies) perpetrated on the American public in 2010? Republican arguments portraying the Democratic health care reform bill as a "government takeover" of health care.
I thought it was an interesting read.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New Orleans 2010

So, Amy and I took a trip to New Orleans over the weekend. I was a little worried about whether the whole trip was going to get off the ground at all, since I spent most of last week battling some kind of nasty cold type thing, but I rested up and drank my orange juice and was only sniffling a bit by the time we made it to New Orleans.
And I'm so glad we made it! It was a really fun trip!
The first night that we were there we just walked down Bourbon Street, and we went to Pat O'Brien's. We had some drinks (Amy had never been before, so we had to get a hurricane), and stopped in some small restaurant for shrimp and boudin.
Friday we went to Cafe Du Monde and wandered around the French Market and the rest of The Quarter. I always like looking at some of the houses down there and wandering around. We walked along the Mississippi just a little bit and visited the aquarium (which was really cool). Friday night we had a really nice dinner at the Pelican Club. Good food and a nice place. I really had a good time.

Saturday we got up and drove out look at houses and just sort of check out the Garden District. We had breakfast/brunch at a small cafe (which was good, but I can't remember the name). We drove by Tulane and visited a cemetery in the Garden District (which was interesting- lots of those really old, New Orleans-style, above ground crypts with dates ranging back into at least the early to mid 1800s). We wandered around the Quarter a bit when we got back, including a visit to St. Louis Cathedral. We had another really nice dinner, this time at Bourbon House, and after dinner we went to Mid City Rock and Bowl to check out Kermit Ruffins and his band. The Kermit Ruffins show was really fun, and the Rock and Bowl was a really cool place (a full fledged bowling alley along with a large stage for music and a big dance floor). And of course Kermit Ruffins was really good. He's got a cool, Louis Armstrong sort of voice (kind of growly and gravelly, but also melodic), and he's a great trumpet player (who takes what have to be some fairly difficult songs and makes them look effortless). It was also fun to watch the New Orleans locals dance. At one point they all did some kind of synchronized dance together, which must have been a tradition because I never heard Kermit or anyone else giving them instructions on what to do (they just kind of all dropped into the thing together. The spontanaeity of the thing made me feel like I was in the middle of a musical- except with more booze). The owner of the place, who had a pretty thick New Orleans accent, got up on the stage a few times to do things like lead us in the national anthem, praise the New Orleans Saints, and announce that Kermit Ruffins is a nice guy who knows how to live in New Orleans better than anyone else in New Orleans. As with the dancing, there may have been some amount of alcohol involved in the speeches. Really fun.
Sunday we went to the Treme Creole Gumbo Festival. We had a good time there, too. There were some locals selling art, and also a number of food vendors who were selling samples (and larger portions) of things like gumbo and po boys. We ate tasty gumbo, listened to some really good music by people like Lucien Barbarin and the Baby Boyz Brass Band, and when Kermit Ruffins showed up (apparently just to eat gumbo and hang out- he wasn't scheduled to play that day), we got to shake hands with him and tell him we had enjoyed his show the previous night. Nice guy.
We wandered back through the Quarter, stopping to look at a condo that was having an open house (cool, but, of course, a lot of money for a small space), and visited a museum exhibit near St. Louis Cathedral that was about Hurricane Katrina (interesting, but sad, sad, sad- it really gave you a greater understanding of exactly how much impact the storm really had upon the city). Sunday evening we went to a Christmas concert at St. Louis Cathedral. Ingrid Lucia, a New Orleans style jazz singer performed. She had a great band, including fellow frontman Glen David Anderson (who's apparently pretty well known in his own right) who played trombone and had a big, booming voice that just filled up the cathedral (without the use of a microphone) as he sang gospel and jazz songs. Ingrid Lucia was good, but, to be honest, I thought Anderson upstaged her a bit her- he sang at least one sang that actually gave me goosebumps. Anyway, it was really, really cool to see such a good jazz band perform in a cathedral. I'm sure I'll never forget it, and Amy was the one who found it, so big kudos to her!
So it was a really good trip. In particular, I had a great time enjoying New Orleans with Amy. She was fun to travel with, enthusiastic, and we just had a great time together. It was her first trip to New Orleans, and I just love that city, so I hope I showed her a side of it that helped her appreciate the place! Such a cool city. I already miss that food!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

PTSD Isn't Just for Americans

Given the fact that I'm now working as a prosecutor within Travis County's brand new veterans court, over the last year or so I've been reading up quite a bit about post-traumatic stress disorder- primarily, of course, the incidence of the disorder amongst our returning troops and the effects that the disorder is having upon the returning soldiers. (I've done some reading on the subject myself, and I've also had a number of interested people forward me informative articles and reading on the condition).
PTSD can be extremely debilitating and difficult to live with. Triggered by the experience of some traumatic event (such as the violence of combat, for instance), PTSD is an extreme anxiety disorder which produces symptoms such as depression, anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, anger, and hypervigilance. People suffering from the condition are often found to report problems with concentration, difficulty in maintaining normal relationships, and have an increased likelihood of drug or alcohol dependence as a result of a tendency toward self medication.
Within our troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, I've read estimates saying that as many as 30% (occasionally I've read as high as 40%) of our veterans may be suffering from various levels of PTSD, putting the number of stateside veterans who are dealing with PTSD well in excess of 300,000.
So I know something about this problem. I've read about PTSD and I've been thinking about its effect on our veterans for at least a couple of years now. I've even worked on criminal cases, ranging from drug possession cases to strange, unprovoked assaults, where I really had virtually no doubt that the root cause of the behavior was related to PTSD. Getting treatment for the veterans who are dealing with these issues is a large part of what our new veterans court is all about.

So PTSD is undoubtedly a very bad thing, and both the Veterans Administration and the civilian population here in the U.S. are beginning to take significant strides in trying to recognize the problem and address it when it comes to our returning troops (we could always do more, but I really do think that legitimate, substantial strides have been taken in recent years).

But, in all of the time that I'd been reading about PTSD I had never really given much thought to its incidence or effect within the population of a country where a war is actually, actively being fought.
There is an interesting article this week by Ron Moreau this week in Newsweek which examined the mental health impact of the war in Afghanistan upon both the country's civilian population and enemy combatants (namely, the Taliban). While it's pretty hard to work up a tremendous amount of sympathy for Taliban combatants (we went to war with the Taliban because they provided a safe haven for Al Qaeda during the planning of the 9/11 operation, and, in the end, don't we want them to just quit fighting?), it's nonetheless strange to wonder and think about what sort of impact the war is having upon our enemies.
With PTSD rates among U.S. forces rising as high as 30%, one might expect that rates among the Taliban (who have limited medical care, less training, and face a vastly superior enemy in terms of firepower and technological advantage) might be much, much higher. Also, while U.S. soldiers can at least hold out the realistic hope of eventually returning to a safe, secure environment back home, the home of Taliban soldiers is actually their battlefield, with their possible outcomes mostly limited to victory, surrender, or death.
The Newsweek article discusses a couple of cases of Taliban soldiers who are suffering with apparent combat related mental illness, citing their delusions, flashbacks, and violent outbursts as anecdotal evidence of PTSD within the Taliban ranks.
More troubling for most Americans would probably be the effects of PTSD upon Afghanistan's civilian population. Having lived for many years within a war stricken, impoverished nation (with very little health care of any kind- let alone mental health treatment), experts are beginning to suspect that the incidence of PTSD and other combat-related mental illness within Afghanistan's civilian population may be as high as 60%. The ongoing stress of living within a country where death is an ongoing, constant possibility (from both U.S. and Taliban forces) has begun to create a civilian population where mental illness is not only prevalent, but extremely commonplace.
The whole thing makes me wonder what sort of place Afghanistan is going to be by the time this war finally winds down (yes, yes- assuming it ever does wind down. I'm aware that the U.S. is now considering the option of leaving a number of permanent bases in Afghanistan in order to provide a continuing military presence). I mean, I know that other parts of the world have suffered horribly traumatic wartime events as well (WWII England, Japan, and Germany all come to mind), but those wounds essentially took a generation to heal, and I'm sure that plenty of the people who lived through those events went to their graves still suffering from periodic nightmares and anxiety from things that happened decades previously.

Annnyway, I guess I didn't really have any grand point to make with this post other than the usual "war is really bad- and we continue to find out on a regular basis that it's bad in new and surprising ways that we hadn't even thought about before!"
In addition to waging a war that's physically destroying a country, it appears that we might be wrecking the place from a psychological standpoint as well. Sure would be awesome if we could find a way to wrap the whole Afghanistan thing up!

Monday, December 06, 2010


So, the recap. The weekend was actually sort of quiet. I don't know if it's a cold or allergies or what, but I've been feeling a bit under the weather this weekend, so as a result the last couple of days have been a bit slow.
Friday night I had the first Crack practice that we've had in quite a while. It was really good to see the guys, and, as usual, Crack rocked ferociously hard. Amy came over halfway through Crack practice and got to experience Crack for the first time- and I think we all know how disorienting and disconcerting that can be.
Saturday consisted of a bunch of errands and minor chores, mostly, but Saturday night Amy and I made it down to the Christmas tree lighting at the capitol. It was pretty cool! John Aielli, a locally famous radio personality from KUT, led the crowd in singing some Christmas songs (although he talked over a few of them- the same way he does with music on the air- and he sang about wanting someone to bring him "piggy pudding" instead of figgy pudding). So we got to see them light up the tree, which was followed by a nice, quiet version of the crowd singing "Silent Night", and then we walked up and down Congress Avenue, where the Downtown Business Alliance had brought in some live music acts and entertainment (the Austin Museum of Art was open late, and the various art bike sculptures from the Austin Bike Zoo were cruising up and down the street). Nice evening.
Sunday was also pretty quiet. We had Mono Ensemble practice, but it was just Reed, Frank, and myself. We had a decent practice, though. We played a few originals that we've been working on, as well as some covers (like "Lucky" by Radiohead, "Duncan" by Paul Simon, and a rough version of "Farmhouse" by Phish).
So that was the weekend, more or less.
Now I just need to get to feeling better. I'm going on a trip with Amy in the latter part of the week, and I need to shake the sniffles before that if at all possible.