Friday, January 29, 2010

Lukewarm on the iPad

Howdy. Happy Friday to everyone!

I really can't come up with much to say today. I've been thinking on it, but inspirations doesn't seem to want to come. I've been playing Mass Effect 2, and it does, in fact, seem pretty darn cool. I'm just at the beginning, though, so I'll hold off on posting about it until I get further into the game. I've got it hooked up to my new hi-def TV, though, and it looks rad.

Oh, I know. The iPad. What's everyone's take on this thing? My initial response was one of being underwhelmed. That being said, I was one of the people who remained pretty skeptical of the iPhone for a long time (I already had a phone that gave me texting and email and limited web browsing), but now I'm pretty sold on the thing (the iPhone is just much easier to use than the old phone, works better, and has lots of apps that I regularly use which I just didn't anticipate finding a use for until I got the phone). So I'm not sure I should rush to judgment on the iPad until I've used one for awhile, or at least had some friends who used them so that I could sort of see how much use they were getting out of the thing.
All of that being said, the iPad doesn't seem like it's going to really replace either my iPhone or my laptop. When I got my iPhone, the use of my home laptop dropped off by more than 50% (why wait for the computer to boot up and run its security protocols when I can check email, look at websites, blog, and even do some recording and mixing of music with my phone) and the whole thing is incredibly portable. The iPad is definitely portable as well, but it's not the kind of thing you can just have in your pocket and carry everywhere you go.
And for the times when I want to look at an actual screen and use a keyboard? Well, the iPad has a decent screen, but I'm not sure about typing on a touch sceen keyboard, even if it's bigger than the iPhone's. I would imagine that I'm not going to want to type my longwinded blog rants on a touch screen.
So I think the largest advantage of the iPad is going to be in its ability to replace printed materials. Eventually we're all going to need something like a Kindle (Amazon's reader tablet) or an iPad as more and more of our favorite publications move to an exclusively digital format. Eventually I would think that even office paperwork will be largely replaced by devices like the Kindle and the iPad, and people will (eventually) have no choice but to move to these sorts of readers. I look forward to the day when I can copy and share legal documents by simply using a "Bump" feature similar to the application that's currently available on the iPhone (which allows you to share information by placing your iPhone into physical proximity with a compatible device). No more photocopiers. No more fax machines.
But our culture isn't yet at the point where a reader type device has become indispensible, and for now people are still pretty comfortable with their combination of smartphones, laptops, and paper. (even though the screen is a little too small for extended reading on the phones, laptops aren't quite as portable as the tablets, and paper is becoming obsolete)
So, I'll probably wait a little while and let them work out the bugs on the iPad and maybe drop the price a hundred bucks or so. Then maybe I'll reexamine. The time is coming when we'll all need an iPad, but I'm not sure that day is here yet (and, frankly, given the number of high quality smartphones that have recently been released by Apple competitors, I'm not sure that someone else won't come out with a competitvely priced product that's just as good or better than the iPad before Apple has all of the kinks worked out of it).

Okay. That's all that I've got. Maybe more later. Hope everyone has a good weekend!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Me and Miles; State of the Union


Hi!

Not too much to report today. I went to go visit Kim, Sigmund, and Miles during lunch today (with Jennifer), and Kim took this picture of Miles and I chillin' on the sofa. Miles is a cute baby, and he was very sleepy and quiet while we were there. Really good to see Team Bloom doing so well!!

Watched Obama's State of the Union address last night (or most of it, anyway), and I thought it was a pretty good speech. I guess the problem, at this point, is that we all know that The President can give good speeches. It's actual leadership and execution that seem to present more of a difficulty for him.
Also, to be honest, I still thought he spent way too much time trying to appeal to the Republicans for cooperation and help. The president basically said that now that the Republicans have 41 seats in the Senate, they need to feel more accountable to the American people and cooperate more. What planet is he living on? Except for the absolutely noncontroversial ministerial and housekeeping tasks that everyone can agree on, the Republicans will continue to tank every single item that the president advocates, and then blame the White House for failing to get anything done. If Obama thinks voters are going to clue in to the nuances of what it means for the Republicans to have 41 Senate seats, then he's living in a dream world. The Democrats hold The White House, the Senate, and the House, and the American people are going to hold the Democrats pretty much solely responsible for the activities of our executive and legislative branches. And this is the way the Republicans want it. They'll continue to obstruct and attack every initiative and piece of legislation that the Democrats come up with and then, come election time, they'll blame the Democrats for failing to get anything done. Obama is absolutely crazy if he thinks he's going to get anything different. As I've said before, American politics are war these days- not some gentleman's game. The warm fuzzy feelings that the president keeps trying to foster about rallying together to help the American people are just never going to materialize. The Republicans are simply solidly convinced that the only way to help the country is to have stout conservatives in power.
Meanwhile, Obama is dismantling his progressive agenda (hurting middle and working class Americans that he says he wants to help) in the interest of appeasing a voting population which is angry about things which are, ultimately, mostly beyond the president's control (namely, the overall state of the economy). Worse, the voting public has put the president in an impossible position by being angry about the economy while simultaneously being angry about stimulus packages, bailouts, and almost every economic repair that is availiable to the president. Never mind the fact that many experts (I'm not sure if it's a majority, but if it's not, it's darn close) agree that without the stimulus (which was begun with bailouts started under the Bush regime but expanded by Obama once we all knew how much trouble we were in) our economy would be in much worse shape than it currently is (many experts have said that without the stimulus we would currently be in worse shape that the country was during the Great Depression).
The Republicans have no answers. For the time being I think they've realized that simply acting as an obstuctionist opposition party is good enough to gain them some popular support, and they're quite content to continue to say no to things without having to assume the risk of failure which comes with proposing a plan of action or solution. Their only mantra remains deregulation of the private sector and lower taxes. Well, we tried those things. Remember the Bush years? Yeah.... they didn't exactly provide the answers to all of our economic problems. Deregulation (or failure to regulate) led to very risky behavior which got us into the current mess. The Bush tax cuts have mostly remained in place (Obama hasn't raised federal income tax at all for anyone at this point), and experts warned that during a recession, additional tax cuts have historically resulted in people simply saving their money, thereby taking money out of the economy and making the recession even deeper.
So, the Republicans and much of the public are angry, but no one has a solution except to attack the Democrats, who are the only group working on trying to fix our economic problems.
You know what? I'm a progressive, but if anyone- Republican, Democrat, Independent, or whomever- has a better plan on how to fix things, I'd get behind it tomorrow. Seriously.
But simply cutting taxes is, by most accounts, not a viable, realistic plan for improving an ailing economy.
I still think Obama needs to be more a little more fatalistic and more aggressive. I think he needs to be twisting arms in order to get things done and moving forward regardless of the popularity of some of these programs. Voters are nervous and scared right now, and that's just not a good place to be coming from when making important decisions. It's time for some leadership by example. (and as for the fatalism- well, I guess I'd rather see him fail while trying to do implement the Democratic principles that he ran on than watch him fail while trying to pander to conservatives. After all, Obama's plans haven't really been shown to be ineffective- I mean, they're not magic bullets and they don't fix things overnight, but they've help us avoid catastrophe so far and they probably just need more time and support if they're going to work.)
Anyway, Obama is a strong orator. I'll definitely give the man that. I'm still not too worried about the 2012 election (although I may later eat those words) simply because I think the guy is such a strong public speaker and he's so good on the campaign trail. We'll see, though. No telling who the Republicans will come up with in terms on candidates for the 2012 race. I'm still kind of hoping that the Tea Party movement will run its own candidate and split the conservative vote. Given the amount of infighting that's plagued the Democrats (I'm largely thinking of the Blue Dogs on health care reform) it would be nice to be nice to see some Republicans actually break ranks for once (instead of moving in perfectly coordinated lockstep).
Well, I gots to run, but I hope you guys are having a good one.
It was good to meet you Miles! Hope your dreams are good ones, little guy!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Uno Mass



One last bit about Mass Effect 2. This is the trailer they were using to advertise for it at launch. Pretty cool.

Stingers Get Caught

Not much time for blogging today.

Sounds like James O'Keefe and three of his friends got arrested while trying to tap phones in the offices of U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu in New Orleans, Louisiana. O'Keefe is the guy who managed to garner some amount of fame for himself during the Obama presidential campaign by conducting a sting at some ACORN offices, presenting himself as a pimp who was looking for advice on setting up a brothel and avoiding tax complications (while, of course, secretly fliming the entire thing). This time around O'Keefe and his crew dressed up like phone repairmen and tried to obtain access to the phone systems at the office of a U.S. Senator (a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine).
I'm not here to defend ACORN's prior actions involving O'Keefe, but this guy seems like sort of a jackass, and I'm not just saying this because he's a conservative "activist". Even if he were a liberal, I really would have a big problem with the guy trying to tap the phone lines of a U.S. Senator. First of all, even Senators are entitled to some privacy. Second of all, the political divisiveness in this country is already bad enough. The natural response to O'Keefe is for a bunch of progressive activists to go out and try to do the same sort of stings and "gotcha" type exposes, and the next thing you know we're going to have an ongoing war of activists who are spending their time trying to undermine the activities of every elected leader and political organization in the country. Given the distrust that already exists out there in the voting public and the difficulty in sorting out legitimate allegations from those that hold no merit, it just seems like we don't really need the added distraction of an ongoing battle between propaganda producing activists who are working not as reporters who seek any sort of objective truth, but as hacks who are pushing a political agenda- cherrypicking facts and presenting "evidence" in the most slanted, biased way that they can (such as, for instance, seeking out the most clueless, inept, or corrupt members of a given organization and then presenting these people as though they're "typical" employees who represent the organization as a whole).
Plus, there's the simple fact that people, elected officials included, have a right to privacy. People need room to work. Try to imagine the most heated coversations you've ever had with co-workers or the times when gossip and small talk led to people saying things which might be kind of inappropriate for consumption by a wider audience, but which were meant as simple, harmless humor at the time they were said. Think about the conversations that you've had where you complained about other people or other organizations, sometimes in deadly seriousness, but far more often just because you needed to blow off some steam and vent some frustration. Just speaking for myself, I know that when I get mad I tend to rant and rave a bit behind closed doors to blow off frustration. I don't mean half of the things I say, and I certainly don't need them on the evening news.
Anyway, I don't think O'Keefe needs to go to prison for ten years, but I think he needs enough punishment to deter this sort of thing and make people realize that tapping the phone lines of a U.S. Senator is serious business. I mean.... Watergate? Hello? I know O'Keefe is pretty young, but has he heard about what happened to Nixon as a result of eavesdropping?
Finally, I don't really know what O'Keefe thought he could accomplish, anyway. Getting recordings of a Louisiana Senator saying some questionable things on the phone is, sadly, not going to convince me that she's engaged in behavior that's any better or worse than any number of other Senators from both parties. Exposing the bad behavior of any given politician or political group doesn't make me just look at that one group, politician, or even their party and think "oh, shame on them". Instead, more often than not, hearing about misconduct just tends to make me wonder how much more of it is going on with all kinds of other people and groups on both sides of the aisle.
Anyway, I certainly don't know a whole lot about O'Keefe, but he seems to think that this stuff is all just a big game (and, probably, a way to build a reputation for himself and make some money). I'm guessing that he's about to find out the hard way that other people take it pretty seriously.

Peace. Out.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mass Effect 2; No Dungeons and Dragons for People in the Dungeon

Hello. Hope everyone is having a decent day!
The weather outside is absolutely beautiful, but it's a bit of a trick. The blue skies, pleasant temperatures, and sunshine make me want to go out and enjoy the weather, but I know from experience that all of the invisible cedar pollen in the air out there is just waiting to ambush me and mess me all up if I go outside for too long. It's something of a tragedy that these Austin winters, which often have some really beautiful days, are also the time of year when my allergies go completely haywire. The medications definitely help, but over time I've learned that one of the best ways to deal with the problem is to mostly stay inside during the time of year when cedar is especially high. It clears up in time to enjoy the spring, so I just have to hold out for that.

What else? Well, Mass Effect 2 is scheduled to come out this week (I'm not sure if it's Wednesday or Friday or Saturday or when). I'm looking forward to it. The Mass Effect games are video role playing games that involve fairly complex storylines, detailed character development, exceptional artwork, and strong gameplay and action sequences. The first Mass Effect did a pretty good job of blending these elements (which seems like it's sort of tricky- many games have done a good job at the role playing stuff, but sucked at the action portion or vice versa), and the reviews are saying that this new version raises the stakes quite a bit for the entire genre and for videogames in general. The plot of the Mass Effect games is pretty much classic sci fi. A group of pretty mysterious aliens known as The Reapers have appeared from some dark corner of the galaxy bent upon wiping out all life so that they can... well, I can't remember why they want to wipe out everyone, exactly, but I'm sure they must have had some kind of plausible reason (maybe they just want a little peace and quiet?). Anyway, the game revolves around you developing a character who can put a team of aliens together that can stop the invasion (hopefully while travelling from system to system in your cool spaceship, if this game is anything like the first one).

Anyway, the first Mass Effect was already one of my favorite games on the XBox 360, and now they're saying that this new one is much better. So I'm looking forward to it. Normally I just let these games come out and I wait a while to buy them (because they seem to drop in price pretty rapidly after they've been out a short while), but I think I need to get this one sooner rather than later. Anyway, apparently the game takes, on average, more than 25 hours to complete, so it's a bit of a commitment, but if it's anywhere near as cool as it looks, that shouldn't be too big of a problem.
What else? Well, here's something interesting. Apparently the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a ruling that allows Wisconsin prisons to ban prisoners from playing Dungeons and Dragons and/or collecting materials (books, dice, little figures, etc.) used in the playing of the game. Wow. First of all, I must admit that as a kid I have played Dungeons and Dragons. BUT, even as a child I knew that it was a pretty nerdy activity, and I didn't really talk about it a whole lot at school or around other kids. This to say, I can't believe that guys are playing Dungeons and Dragons in prison. The only thing keeping them from getting their butts kicked must be the fact that the other, bigger inmates are too dumb to realize what they're up to.
Anyway, I can't, for the life of me, understand why the prison officials would want to ban this activity. Dungeons and Dragons is essentially a collaborative, imaginative activity that relies on people cooperating to make it work. In this way, it seems far less likely to contribute to rivalry, tnesion, and violence than games which rely upon competition, like say poker (or most card games), dice, or even games of basketball. In fact, it seems like Dungeons and Dragons might really produce inmates who are a correction officer's dream- spending most of their time reading, writing, and geeking out in small groups who are, in reality, doing little more than telling fictional stories to one another. The article I linked to said that the justification for the ban came from prison gang specialists who thought that the game might lead to plans and scheming for escape attempts. Well, I honestly can't see how Dungeons and Dragons might factor into that at all. Any time a group of inmates is gathered, there's a potential that they could be plotting an escape. A stupid ol' Dungeons and Dragons game is more likely to keep them distracted and help pass the time (thereby probably diminishing the chance that they'll be using that time to plan an escape or to get into other trouble) as opposed to having a bunch of smart, bored inamtes just sitting around with nothing to do. The most legitimate reason that I can see for banning Dungeons and Dragons, in fact, is simply that people who enjoy it can really get immersed in it and have fun with it- and that's not exactly the sort of experience that we're shooting for when we send people to prison. It probably annoys prison guards (many of whom probably aren't too happy to be spending much of their adult lives working behind the walls of a prison) to walk past a bunch of inmates who are crowded around a table laughing, having fun, and playing games. And I'm not so sure that the guards are wrong to feel that way, given the sorts of crimes that most of these guys are in prison for. Anyway, it's a strange story.
Well, that's about it. Hope you guys have a good one!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Weekend Update; The Hurt Locker; Lost v. White House;

Hey there. Happy Monday.
Hope everyone had a good weekend. Mine was pretty good.
Friday night I went to a happy hour for a co-worker who's leaving our office. Saturday I mostly hung out with Ryan and Jamie. Last night I had band practice with Mono Ensemble, and we sounded pretty decent for a bunch of guys who haven't had many chances to play in the last few months. After the game I hung out with Reed and watched the Vikings lose to the Saints in overtime. We only saw the end of the game (part of the 4th quarter and into overtime), but it seemed like a hard fought game. As Reed pointed out (Reed being a lifetime Vikings fan), those sorts of losses are just tough on the Vikings because, in spite of never having won a Super Bowl (I'm pretty sure that's right) the Vikings have had a lot of really good teams over the years and have seemed poised to go and win one many, many times.
Anyway, every year is tough in the NFL and there are certainly no guarantees, but if the vikings can essentially reassemble the same team again, I would think that they can probably make another strong run again next year.

What else? I saw The Hurt Locker this weekend with Ryan and Jamie. For those who haven't seen it or heard about it, The Hurt Locker is a movie about a bomb squad in Iraq that spends the majority of its time disarming IEDS (i.e., improvised explosive devices- roadside bombs used by the Iraqi insurgency to blow up American vehicles and troops). The Hurt Locker was a decent movie, but it's been getting really rave reviews, with lots of people talking about how it's the best and most realistic movie about the Iraq war that's been made so far. I thought it was a pretty good movie, and it definitely felt very authentic in terms of setting and look and feel, but it also had sort of your standard loose cannon, hotshot, make my own rules sort of protagonist that we've seen time and time again, and, frankly, his behavior sort of brought the realism of the movie into question as much or more than anything else (this guy has supposedly already disarmed over 800 bombs when we've seem his engage in recklessness that's brought him within a hair's breath of getting killed like 5 times during the course of this two hour movie?). Anyway, Hurt Locker had a realistic look and feel, but I'm not sure that Hurt Locker was much more than an action movie that happened to look pretty authentic. That being said, it was a good action movie. I'm just saying that In the Valley of Elah and Stop Loss were both movies about the Iraq War that did a better job of raising important questions about the war (and I thought Valley of Elah was actually a very well executed movie). And there are almost certainly other Iraq War movies that I'm not even thinking of. Hurt Locker, while really intense, was, in some strange way, probably a more entertaining movie than these prior movies, though.
So... long story short- Hurt Locker was a good movie, but I'm just not sure it lived up to all of the extremely high critical praise I'd been reading about it. I would have undoubtedly been much more pleasantly surprised if I'd walked into this movie knowing little or nothing about it.

What else? Well, I avoided all the news shows this weekend. I didn't really feel like hearing them talk about all of the mistakes by Democrats that led up to the recent loss in Massachusetts and the subsequent failure of any sort of meaningful health care reform. Meanwhile, the American public has successfully lobbied the White House to make sure that the president's upcoming State of the Union address doesn't conflict with the season premier of Lost (because God knows they can't reschedule Lost). So.... the same public that the White House is constantly pandering to and living in constant fear of is also a group of people whose priorities put the president's plans for the future of our country at a level of importance that's somewhere beneath the activities of a bunch of attractive actors on an imaginary, disappearing island. I'm not really saying these things to criticize Lost so much as I'm pointing out that maybe the Democrats should just do the right thing from time to time instead of kowtowing to a public that's more attuned to bright lights and shiny baubles than to the overall condition and direction of the country.
We're a willfully ignorant country (and sometimes the only way to convince people that something works is to show them that it can work).
Okay. Must stop before rant gets out of control (again).

Well, that's about it for now.
Hope this is the start of a good week!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Another Victory for the Machine

Hey!
Well, you would think that I would have calmed down a bit since yesterday's outburst. Or maybe not (those of you who read this blog at all during the Bush years should no me well enough to realize that I can keep the temper simmering for long, long periods of time).
I had just started to settle down after that whole Massachusetts Senate seat debacle when I started cluing in to yesterday's Supreme Court decision which essentially gave corporations the unfettered ability to spend money to oppose or support political candidates. The ruling struck down twenty years worth of precedent (so much for Alito and Roberts promising during their confirmation hearings to avoid judicial activism and adhere to precedent), and it apparently says that corporations have a protected First Amendment right to free speech- a right which the court has held to include the right to make political contributions in just about whatever way it sees fit.
Arrrgh.
Just what our country needed.
This ruling, brought to us by the court's conservative majority, is going to significantly expand the already profound ability of corporations and special interests to affect elections and sway the political process of the country. Corporations are still banned form giving money to candidates directly, but they'll be able to run political television ads which directly support candidates and otherwise engage in activities which directly spend money in support of their favorite candidates.

Here's the thing. I know that for many legal purposes a corporation is considered to be a person (or very much like a person), but I think that the limits of that legal fiction need to be met when we start getting into things like extending First Amendment freedom of speech protections to these same fictional entites (especially fictional entites which are pretty much solely concerned with making a profit). When we've gotten to that point- where profit driven organizations are essentially telling people what to think, who to support, and how to govern themselves- then the entire system has become absurd and been turned on its head.
Corporations are supposed to work for us. They're supposed to be tools for making money. They shouldn't have a place at the table when we have a conversation about how to live. If corporate interests need to be protected, there will be plenty of private citizens who will come to their defense (which I have no problem with- people can privately advocate for positions that support corporations all day long if they want to), but corporations themselves shouldn't get a say. I think that this ruling just reinforces the idea that corporations aren't in existence to benefit American society, but that American society exists for the benefit of corporations.

I know that some people are going to say that a corporation is really just a bunch of people, so there's really no big deal. But I don't think that's true.
Corporations are literally more than the sum of their parts. If any given person doesn't get on board with the overall ideology of the company (ideologies which are all too often driven by little more than the pursuit of profit), than that person can and usually will be replaced. This is how, in a sense, corporations can take on a sort of mind of their own. Furthermore, the nature of a corporation as a group of people means that individual people within it often don't feel morally or ethically responsible for the actions of the corporation as a whole. In practice, this means that employees who may not support a certain political position (or who may, in fact, be opposed to a particular position which the company supports) are helping to generate profits which may end up supporting it, anyway. If a person's best chance for a decent job are at a company that supports (through paid political ads) candidates that the individual employee doesn't support, should that employee have to quit and go find a job with a company who supports a more acceptable candidate? Doesn't this ruling move us another step toward having to consider all corporations to be political organizations?
One other thing that rankles me about the notion of corporations as participants in the political process is the sheer amount of money that they bring to bear. The resources possessed by large corporations (and the advertising power which it translates into) are pretty disproportionate to most individuals, groups of individuals, and political action groups. Other people and organizations stand a pretty good chance of being drowned out by the noise that a wealthy corporation will be able to make come election time (this noise being political ads and mailers and whatever else they can come up with). the only real limitation to the amount of money that will be spent on political propaganda materials will be the acquiescence of the shareholders, but in situations where the corporation's existence is threatened or where the corporation stands to make a lot more profit (imagine attempts to more tightly restrict or regulate a product which has proven very profitable for a company or efforts to overturn environmental protections so that a company can exploit some natural resources), shareholders are basically going to be willing to use their corporation's resouces to go "all in" and flood the electorate with political material.
We've already got lobbyists who work for these corporations running rampant all over our state and local governments, corporations and special interest groups giving money to politicians (although amounts are limited under current law- for now), and television "issue" ads which strongly impact elections (you know all of those ads which support or attack different candidates, but then end with a request for you to call and talk to your representative about a particular issue? That's the way corporations have been skirting the political ad restrictions up 'til now).
Anyway, you get the idea. Corporations are exerting greater and greater control over the American political process, and it just feels like we're increasingly living in a country with a government that's bought and paid for by business interests. If you want to know what kind of country is going to take shape as a result, just imagine the things that corporations don't care about (e.g., the environment, the priority of safety and health over profit, education- at least aside from job training, most forms of crime, poverty, etc.) and picture a world where those things are left to neglect.
Like I said. Arrrgh.

Don't know what else to say. I'm glad it's Friday. That's pretty cool.
I hope you guys have a good weekend.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Just Another Rant

"Now you see that evil will always triumph... because good is dumb." -Dark Helmet, Spaceballs

Well, there's a big article in CNN today about how Obama and other leading Democrats are now rolling back their health care reform efforts because they believe that the reform effort has become unpopular with voters. I don't know what to say to that. Personally, I think that health care reform is a moral issue, and, frankly, I think the voters (who are scared because of the recession at the moment) are just wrong on this. I think about the whole thing and try to put it into the context of other large, morally imperative issues that this country has faced over the years, and I wonder what the Democrats would have done if, for instance, the voters had seemed reluctant to support civil rights for black Americans or women's suffrage or any other number of important issues that probably needed to be supported not because they were politically expedient, but because they were just the right thing to do.
Then, almost equally frustrating, is the fact that the Democrats wouldn't be in this position at all if they had just been able to get organized to get the health care bill accomplished in a timely, orderly fashion (and if there hadn't been so much self interest and infighting within the Democratic ranks).
I know it's just a movie, but there was a line in Invictus where Nelson Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman) tells one of his staff members that on the day when he is afraid to risk his political capital in the pursuit of doing the right thing- on that day he will be unfit to serve as South Africa's leader. Like I said, it's just a movie, but it's based on a true story about an insightful, powerful man, and the line just really rings true for me in this situation.
If the Democrats can't stand up and just do the right thing on an issue as important as health care reform, then not only are they going to continue to fail to gather support from the right, but they're going to lose the support of their base. I feel confident in saying this because I'm part of the party's base, and I've just about had it with all of the kowtowing to conservatives and general ineffectiveness. I'm going to vote for Bill white for governor, but if things keep going this direction.... well, I'm not going to get crazy, but the Dems need to start producing some results, because if the elections were held right now, at this moment, I would have a hard time supporting the Democrats (not that Texas matters that much from a nation wide standpoint, but I'm guessing I'm not alone in this sentiment).
First I just felt extremely disappointed and let down by the ineffectiveness of Congress and The White House. Now, hearing the the president is all but giving up on the health care reform fight (he's talking about how Congress needs to slow down and not push a bill through, and about how The White House needs to turn its attention to the economy), I feel downright betrayed. The Democrats aren't going to pick up many, if any, moderate votes with this milquetoast strategy of trying to please everyone. If they're going down, then they're going down, but at least they should go down swinging. If we at least tried to stand on principle instead of constantly pandering, then when the Republican strategy eventually failed, at least the voters might remember that the Democrats had taken a stand and tried to present a strong, logical alternative. With the Democrats continuing to compromise their way into irrelevancy and pandering to the changing whims of an irrational, frightened public (by the way, good job on completely failing to provide any inspiration, vision, or any sort of moral compass, Dems), then the only two choices that the public is really being offered are either hardcore conservativism or consevativism light. When, down the road, the GOP strategies implode (and they will- the economy was going to suffer much more severely with no stimulus package and a recovery plan that included only more tax cuts, and the health care industry, without cost controls and increased regulation, will continue to spiral out of control until costs are astronomical [or even more astronomical], medicare is unsustainable, the national debt has exploded, and huge numbers of Americans are left with no insurance or with insurance that covers very few treatment procedures) - when GOP strategies implode, the public is going to be reminded by Republicans that the Democrats weren't ever really able to offer any viable solutions or alternatives, anyway. The public isn't going to going to have a problem with giving the Republicans more and more opportunities to lead because the Democrats could never really get anything fixed even when they were given the chance! They just kind of sort of fumbled and muddled around and ultimately decided that it must have been a bad idea to try to improve things because it seemed to make some people nervous.
What we're seeing from the Democrats doesn't really feel like leadership. It feels like really lame politics as usual, and I predict that this new Democratic strategy isn't going to appease anybody (I'm mostly talking about attempts to appease "independent" voters, many of whom have apparently been recently trending toward the right) . The whole thing is just going to lead to a bunch of nasty defeats in the elections next year, and maybe even a defeat in the presidential elections the following year.
Crap.
I gotta run.
I'm just tired of all of this crap, and feeling sort of letdown (and maybe a little betrayed).

Cheers!!!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Happy Birthday Reed and Eric!!!!

Also, happy birthday today to Eric Gottula and Reed Shaw! Both of these guys are in Mono Ensemble (Eric on guitar and vocals, Reed on drums), and both are good friends of mine. Kind of a strange coincidence that they're both the same age and happened to be born on the same day. Reed is out of town on a trip for work, but hopefully he's having a decent time in California.
Anyway, I don't have a whole lot to say, other than to congratulate them and to wish them good luck in the upcoming year. They're both good friends, and we've had a lot of good times together over the years. (and made some decent music, too, I might add)
Hope they have good birthdays.

A Note on Massachusetts; Why Steanso Hearts Sci Fi

Well, in the wake of the butt kicking that Martha Coakley's received from Republican Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate race, I've decided to take what is, for me, a somewhat unusual tactic and try to just forget the whole thing- which isn't all that easy, given the potential ramifications of this loss. If anything good can come out of this thing, maybe it'll be that Democrats will receive a wake up call and understand the need for large scale mobilization before the mid term elections. I'm just not sure that will help. Sadly, I think the only thing that might help people cut the Democrats some slack would to be allow the Republicans to deal with all of these problems (the economy, most of all, I guess, since the Republicans have no interest in controlling health care costs or helping to insure that people get coverage) and then watch the fallout. If we had followed the Tea Party model of just standing by (or maybe cutting taxes) while the economy collapsed, I'm pretty convinced that our economy would still be completely in the crapper and getting worse. Heck, even Bush and his boys recognized that fact. It's why they made their initial bailout payments to AIG and a push for increased regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. So, the only thing that really helps Democrats is watching Republicans screw up, but sadly, Republicans have gotten so good at propaganda that they somehow manage to even make the moderate successes of Democrats look like failures (i.e., actions take to shore up the economy have been painted to look like needless, out of control, reckless government spending).
Wait.
I said I wasn't going to do this.

So.... today's post will instead try to focus on something more positive. I just need to focus on something that makes me happy today. Let's see....

Why I Like Science Fiction (brought to you by Steanso)
People seem to like it when I write things in numbered lists, so here goes:

1) Science fiction tends to challenge it's audience and demand that they take an active role in creating the story. As technology has increased our ability to render alien, but lifelike realities on television and big screen, it's become easier for a mainstream audience to accept and appreciate the fantastic ideas presented by science fiction (the realism of computer-drive special effects makes it easier to accept what you're seeing as real), but true sci fi fans are impressed by the ideas presented in the work- not simply by the realism with which these ideas are portrayed. Although Avatar had some pretty incredible special effects, I think true sci fi fans are every bit as impressed by the old plywood props and blinking lights of the original Star Trek sets or the rubber robot suits of Forbidden Planet. True science fiction fans appreciate the relentless pursuit of storytelling- the determination of directors and creators to get their stories told, regardless of budget constraints or lack of special effects technology or whatever. The ideas within the stories are the important thing. Sometimes the sets, costumes, and effects for a science fiction movie are very realistic and truly outstanding, but just as often the effects have been crude- rough representations of the objects, creatures, or places that they were supposed to represent. Science fiction fans have long since realized that, as an audience member, if you're going to be easily turned off by a prop or special effect that looks a little silly, you might end up missing out on a story or an idea that is truly interesting, and sometimes profound. Science fiction has traditionally called upon its niche audience to have an ability and a willingness to suspend disbelief which is greater than what might be found in the overall general public. Sci fi fans might appreciate certain props or special effects from an artistic perspective, but we try to avoid appreciating these effects on the simple basis that they look "realistic". Sometimes we appreciate the effects and props in a movie just because of their style or the artistic vision involved or simply because of the thing that they represent, but we often don't care whether they look realistic or cool in a way that would please a mass audience. (The Doctor from Doctor Who flies around in a small, blue London police box from the 1960's, but people who watch the show know that this silly blue box represents the ability to move anywhere in time and space. The show does a good job of reinforcing how powerful such a device [known more formally as the TARDIS] would be, and fans have turned the box into a symbol that's more enduring and powerful than any of the fantastic spaceships rendered by powerful computers in the three most recent Star Wars movies). New special effects technologies may be making the genre more palatable to a broader range of fans, but true sci fi fans have always known that ideas were at the heart of these stories. We appreciate the art of the special effects, but realize that it's ultimately not crucial.

2) Science fiction has an almost boundless capacity for metaphor. There's no doubt that some science fiction is meant to be taken extremely literally without having much read into it, but just as often (if not more often), the fantastic events that take place in science fiction are meant to be a comment upon the real world reality of the audience. Science fiction frequently makes very meaningful statements about things ranging from politics to religion to the human condition, and it usually makes these points through metaphor and symbolism- a technique which is often more powerful and effective than a more direct approach (which many people would reject as being preachy and annoying). Anyone who saw last year's District 9 could sit through the entire movie and walk out of it feeling like they had simply watched a story about problems that develop after aliens are stranded on earth. On a deeper level, though, the movie touches on themes of racial segregation, prejudice, and even apartheid. The film was made in South Africa by a South African director and crew, and it's no coincidence (from a storytelling perspective) that the alien ship comes to rest over Johannesburg and that the residential "districts" which are set up to house the aliens bear a strong resemblance to the apartheid era townships which housed many black South Africans (part of a system which made the blacks of south Africa, like the aliens in the movie, truly second class citizens). Avatar, one of the most expensive movies ever made, is a story about human conquest of an alien world in the pursuit of its natural resources. The aliens in the movie, however, have a relationship with nature and their environment which is clearly reminiscent of many Native American cultures, and the activities of the movie's human military and mining corporation easily lend themselves to parallels ranging from the deployment of the U.S. cavalry during America's westward expansion period to more controversial modern contexts involving American military operations in the oil rich Middle East. The Matrix, a movie about a giant, sentient computer system which enslaves humans within an illusory reality while consuming them as fuel, is, for many, an allegory about American middle class life- a reflection of a world in which our reality, for most intents and purposes, is a product of the mass media information that is fed to us in our living rooms while we live out our lives as busy, productive drones who live and work to make the purchases which drive the large machine which is our economy.
Anyway, the general point is that many of our best works of science fiction (especially some of the best ones) have a lot to say, and not all of it is just about the aliens and robots running around on screen.

3) I like the fans. Sure, they're sort of nerdy and often socially awkward, but sci fi and fantasy fans are typically some intelligent, imaginative, creative people. They're the kind of people who are good at "thinking outside the box", and the sort of people who rarely see a problem without immediately trying to imagine some sort of real or theoretical solution for it. The fact that mankind currently doesn't have the technology to implement sci fi solutions is rarely an impediment to the thinking of sci fi fans. People who read sci fi know that the first step in overcoming the impossible is to imagine what a solution would look like. The steps between fantasy and reality are just details for people who've read and watched enough sci fi (and sci fi fans have watched enough fiction become reality over the years- from laptop computers to cell phones to space travel- to reinforce the idea that most things that we imagine can become reality, given enough time). Plus, science fiction tends to reward people who can manage to stay open minded, so people who are fans of the genre tend not to be the sort of people who simply reject an idea or experience simply because it's new, alien, bizarre, or strange. Sci fi fans know that you can't judge a person or an experience simply by appearances. Intimidating, roaring wookies can turn out to be loyal friends. Cute, fuzzy little tribbles can out to be a total menace.

4) I like the emphasis on what's possible, rather than on simply what's currently practical or viable. In high school, I was in a program called future problem solvers. We would be given a topic- say increasing crime rates or pollution- and we would be asked to do some research into that area before the competition. At the actual competition we would be presented with a more specifically designed problem (say, increased juvenile delinquency trends in urban settings or increasing problems with air pollution in developing nations) and we would be asked to come up with a potential solution, making use of real world, existing facts, but extrapolating them into the future (including potential solutions which were currently being developed by experts). I liked the program while I was involved in it, and as an adult, I think that it's one of the smartest competitions that I was ever involved in while in school. The ability to predict future problems and to begin to implement solutions before the problems reach the level of catastrophe is critical to dealing with many of the issues that we're seeing today. I hate to use the phrase "tipping point", but many of the problems that we currently face could have been largely avoided if we'd predicted and addressed them earlier (taking steps to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere a couple of decades ago might have helped to avert climate change). The good thing about science fiction is that it doesn't just address our current and developing problems with existing solutions. It imagines new ways of doing things. It might sound pretty fantastic to imagine a solution to global warming that involves mutant plants that eat up carbon emissions, but now this is just the sort of thing that scientists are working on at Emory University. Floating cities that might be used to house people who've been displaced by rising sea levels? Already being worked on by former Google engineers out in California.
Anyway, most of sci fi isn't about constructing a utopian future or building a better tomorrow, but nonetheless, the genre spurns the imagination and fosters creative thinking in a way that more contemporary, "realistic" fiction often fails to do.

Well, that's it for now. I do like me some ray guns, spaceships, and robots.
Maybe more later.
You Democrats better get this health care bill pushed through. Or I'm gonna pitch a fit.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Republican Scott Brown Wins MA Senate Seat

Hooray. You Democrats better put on your schemin' hats.

Political Irony from Massachusets; Sherlock Holmes

Hello! Hope everyone is having a decent day.
So, apparently the Massachusetts Senate seat that has been held by the Kennedy family since 1953 is looking like it may be lost to the Republicans in an election today. Brilliant. Ted Kennedy championed health care reform for several decades, and then he dies, and the Democrats not only look like they may lose the seat to a Republican, but they may very well lose their health care reform as well. The loss of Kennedy's seat to a Republican is likely to give the GOP 41 votes in the Senate- just enough to fillibuster and block any meaningful legislation that the Democrats might try to pass.
I tell you what, folks. I've been a Democrat for all of my adult life, but I'm, just about fed up with the ineffectiveness of the Democratic leadership and their inability to get anything done. This health care reform bill should have been passed months ago, but the Democrats have lacked the efficiency, foresight, fortitude, and willpower to pass meaningful legislation. The Democrats have had a full year where they've had a fillibuster proof majority in the Senate, a majority in the House, and a Democrat in the Oval Office, and it seems like we still can't get anything done. The White House and the Senate have squandered far too much time trying to make nice with the Republicans- a process which has met with virtually no success and which has achieved almost no bipartisan cooperation. The Democrats spent so much time trying to look enlightened (which in this case meant trying to garner bipartisan support for issues which the Republicans really had no interest in endorsing) that they lost sight of the fact that this is a battle. It's been a long time since the Senate was the gentleman's clubhouse that Senate Democrats apparently still imagine it to be.
These days we elect our political leaders to do battle on our behalf, and in that regard our national Democratic leaders have been really falling down on the job. Millions of Americans may very well end up suffering in very real and measurable ways if health care fails, and I'm going to largely attribute the defeat to the fact that Democrats have been dragging their heals throughout this process. It makes my head hurt.
And, of course, if the Democrats lose in Massachussets, this is likely to be only the beginning of the bloodbath. The 41 Republican seats in the Senate will allow the GOP to use its fillibuster power to hold off any meaningful Democratic bills for the next year, thereby allowing them to hold on until the mid term elections when the Republicans will gain even more seats (or at least the GOP will gain more seats if most current predictions hold up in any meaningful way). And then, once the GOP solidly breaks the majority in the Senate (or gains a majority), we're going to be in a total deadlock through the rest of Obama's first term in office. Nothing will get done. After the mid term elections, Obama may end up having little opportunity to affect legislation at all, other than possibly signing vetos of Republican legislation.
And this slide all begins with the people of Massachusets turning over Ted Kennedy's Senate seat to a Republican, just when the loss of that seat has the potential to cripple a health care reform effort that Kennedy fought for during most of his professional life.
Ironic doesn't begin to describe the situation.
I really find it pretty depressing. Hope that Americans enjoy their continuing lack of insurance coverage and their medical bankruptcies, because I see a whole lot more of that sort of thing coming their way (and, let's be honest- the American people have pretty much demanded this sort of treatment). Coverage is going to continue to increase in cost, fewer things will be covered, more people with pre-existing conditions won't be able to get coverage, there will be more out of pocket expenses, and increasing amounts of our national debt will go to cover health care costs.
Ugggh, I don't know. I'm sort of ranted out.

I don't have much else. I saw Sherlock Holmes over the weekend. I had read a couple of pretty scathing reviews beforehand, so I wasn't expecting much. I guess I ended up finding the movie somewhat entertaining, although it really just didn't feel like much of a Sherlock Holmes story. The movie had lots of action and adventure (probably more action than in most of Doyle's stories), but Holmes' legendary deductive abilities and detective work were shortened down into a series of hyperkinetic flash sequences and snarky comments. It felt like the director, Guy Ritchie, included just enough detective skill to remind a viewer that the action adventure hero before them was, indeed, meant to be the same literary figure who appeared in the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle works, but, on the whole, this just didn't feel like the same person that the Holmes stories describe.
On the other hand, there was some amusing dialogue and fun to be had. If Ritchie had named his characters Bill and Bob (as opposed to Holmes and Watson) and had just made the about two random detectives (as opposed to two of the most well known literary figures in mystery fiction), I think the movie would have felt a lot more satisfactory.
Oh well.
The movie wasn't the greatest Holmes work ever made, but it was sort of fun.

I also watched about 10 minutes of The Phantom Menace yesterday on cable. Having just seen Avatar, I think Lucas could have probably benefitted by waiting a few years before making his second set of Star Wars movies (and he probably should have gotten some help with the dialogue, too, but that's a whole different issue).

Anyway, that's it for now. Hope you guys are having a good one! (the weather has been nice the last couple of days, so try to enjoy it!)

Monday, January 18, 2010

MLK Day

Hey! I'm not making a real post today, since it's MLK Day, and, for me, it's a holiday. I've had a pretty nice day. The weather has been really nice, so I've taken Cassidy for a walk and a trip to the park.
Trying to keep the good Reverend Martin Luther King in mind, though, and all that he lived and stood for.
Anyway, that's about it for now.
I'll talk to you guys tomorrow!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Zakaria on Being Terrorized; Quake Facts; Texas Republican Governor's Debate

Happy Friday!
I wrote a couple of days ago about the need for the U.S. to stop freaking out and panicking as a standard response to terrorism (and the need for American leaders to reinforce the idea that courage is a necessary and almost patriotic sort of duty when we're fighting against people who rely upon terror as a weapon). Well, Fareed Zakaria had a column in Newseek that I came across last night that talked about these same issues. In addition to some of the points that I made, Zakaria comments on the fact that following the Christmas bombing attempt there was an outcry from people on the right that this was exactly the sort of situation where we should be using "enhanced interrogation techniques" (i.e., torture- a practice which has been pretty much abandoned by the Obama administration) on the would-be bomber in order to find out more about the organization and support system which sent him. Zakaria points that the bomber's father actually came forward and tried to warn the U.S. that his son had become radicalized, and he feared what sort of action he might be capable of. As Zakaria points out, this was extremely valuable information (even if U.S. intelligence agencies failed to act upon it in this particular case), but it's unlikely that we'll see friends, family, and loved ones of terrorist suspects coming forward with information in the future if they know that their cooperation is likely to result in the torture or mistreatment of people within their social network. As Zakaria points out, we're much more likely to make progress if we can gain the cooperation of fathers and brothers than we are through whatever small and frequently misleading pieces of information that we gain through torture.
Anyway, I like Zakaria. I thought the article was good.

What else? Also from Newsweek, here's an article which gives a little more insight as to how and why the Haitian earthquake occurred. As I said in one of my earlier posts, I wasn't really aware that the Carribean was an area which was prone to earthquakes, but apparently the area suffers quakes (although not as serious as this recent one) on a fairly regular basis. This article reports that the fault line in this particular quake, however, hasn't really been significantly active since 1770. I find it all really interesting. Kind of a reminder that we're all really just little bugs living on the thinnest surface layer of a big ol' ball of rock and magma that has all kinds of stuff going on down below (plus, the surface itself is moving). Earthquakes, to me, seem devastating, but are simultaneously awe inspiring. Of course I don't want to see people get hurt, but with earthquakes in general it's really interesting to see a geological event take place that people can actually observe and take measure of- especially since the normal timescale for geological activity seems to be measured in thousands or millions of years. Of course, it's cooler to be able to observe this sort of thing in an area that isn't populated by 2 million people who live in poorly constructed buildings.
Anyway, Doctors Without Borders is now on the ground in Haiti and helping out with the relief effort. Give a donation and help out if you can.

What else? I watched the Republican Gubernatorial Debate last night for a few minutes, but I couldn't stomach it for long. It was little more than a big, long contest to see who could prove to be the biggest conservative blowhard and who could pander to the right wing constituency to the greatest degree without any shame or, more importantly, without any basis in reality (I get it. You're all going to keep cutting taxes until the world is upside down and the government is handing out free money to all of us- but no one can explain how they're going to pay for things like roads, prisons, education, and so forth, and heaven forbid we give a realistic model for addressing things that are even less popular on the right- health care, unemployment, etc.). There just wasn't any room for any meaningful, realistic debate about how to address real issues, because any statement that deviated even slightly from the right wing party line was immediately treated as if it were treason. On the whole, I thought Hutchison was much better than Perry (who is a true demagogue, and apparently little more, while Hutchinson occasionally alluded to the periodic need for pragmatism), but talk about choosing between the lesser of two evils.... jeez. I'm really not sure that Rick Perry has a thought in his head that he hasn't heard first from Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh (well, to be fair, Perry probably has some of his own, original ideas on hair care and hair styling).
Anyway, I get that all of these lower taxes are going to help to continue to draw businesses to Texas, and that's a good thing, but we can't continue to do this at the cost of dismantling our basic services and destroying whatever social safety net we have left. Teachers need to get paid, health services need to be provided (especially for people like the mentally ill, who often really can't support themselves- Texas does a really inadequate job of supporting them), prison space needs to be available in numbers sufficient to properly address crime, and transportation improvements need to be made. Anyway, we can't just lure business in here without taking care of our citizens at the same time. The jobs are good, but not at the expense of basic services. Given the statetwide condition of our education system, our criminal justice system, and our health care system alone (especially for things like mental illness), I would say that there are definitely some basic needs which are not being met, and I didn't hear any of those issues really being addressed during the debate.
I actually strongly support Democratic candidate Bill White for governor, and I think he could do a great job, but given the political tendencies of this great state of ours, I thought I should check out the Republican candidates and see how they looked.

Well, I need to run. Hope you guys are having a good day. Three day weekend coming up!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Woman of My Dreams

Hey! I know you're not supposed to tell other people about your dreams because no one really cares that much (well, maybe with the exception of your shrink), but I just can't help talking about the one I had last night. I dreamt that I got to work, was over at the courthouse, and everyone was crowded around the TV watching the news. It was a scene similar to what I remember happening on 9/11. I started asking people what was going on, and they all looked at me like I was crazy.
"Haven't you heard? We launched nuclear missiles against the Russians?"
"The Russians?! Why?!"
"No one's sure. But the news people are saying there's going to be a counterattack."
"But why would Obama do that?"
"Obama? What? No! You mean Palin?"
"What?"
"President Palin."
(it was a dream, so in the dream somehow this wasn't a big a shock as you might think)
"What did the Russians do to us? Doesn't she know they're just going to nuke us right back?"
Blink blink. Shrug.

I literally woke up because of the horror and frustration of the entire situation. I woke up and was laying there, thinking about the fact that Palin now has a new show on Fox News that she will be able to use on a constant basis in order to campaign for herself and to promote herself , I didn't feel a whole lot better. This is a woman who admitted that during the last campaign she never really understood that Saddam Hussein wasn't the one behind the 9/11 attacks (although, of course, she vigorously, unquestioningly supported the war in Iraq), and now I think there's little question that she has ambitions to be president. She keeps referring to herself as "folksy" and "commonsense", but apparently to her those phrases mean that a person doesn't need to be educated or knowledgable about any given topic before forming an opinion and acting upon it.
Anyway, I thought I had kind of forgotten about Palin, but, instead, apparently she's still wreaking havoc in my subconsciousness (although I'm pretty sure that Palin serves as a symbol for me of all the neo conservatives who think that the assimilation of knowledge and careful analysis of facts are the sort of things that only egghead liberals and wussy, no-action hippies engage in. Someone remind me of the exact moment when being ignorant became the same thing as being connected to the people and being a "real American".)
So yeah. I literally had that dream last night. It's kind of funny, but during the dream it didn't seem funny at all. It seemed pretty terrifying.
Well, I gotta run.
Just too busy.
Hope everyone is doing okay. Maybe more later.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haitian Earthquake Relief; Harry Reid a Racist?

Hola! Hope all's well.
Still not a whole awful lot to report.
Last I heard, Team Bloom was still getting along pretty well. Hope things continue to go pretty smoothly as they get used to life as a three piece.
Bad news about Haiti and that eathquake. By all accounts, Haiti was a pretty impoverished, underdeveloped country before the earthquake, so this turn of events is going to be devastating for them not only in the short term, but probably in the long term as well. If you're so inclined, I'm sure that Doctors Without Borders could probably use a donation as they head into Haiti to mount their relief effort. I donate to them on a semi-regular basis, anyway, because they're reported to be an organization which is very efficient in terms of directly translating their donations into actual aid (as opposed to operating, fundraising, administrative costs and the like). Anyway, I'm sure the Red Cross and other organizations would also be good places to help out, but since DWB sends me email all of the time, anyway, I thought I might as well put in a plug for them. They're saying that the lack of medical care, lack of sanitation, lack of food, and lack of remaining shelter are probably all going to contribute to a situation which is likely to continue to get much worse in Haiti, so I'm sure the relief agencies appreciate any help they can get.
And I don't mean to detract from the tradgedy that's going on in Haiti, but I was pretty shocked to hear about such a powerful earthquake occurring in the Atlantic/Carribean Ocean region. When I think of earthquakes I typically think of the Pacific, as it seems like the majority of the tectonic shifts and tremors that we hear about (as well as much of the volcanic activity) occurs along the Pacific rim. This morning someone on CNN was talking about tension and movement between the Carribean and (I believe) North American tectonic plates, but I guess I just didn't realize that those plates were active enough in their movements to create these sorts of occurrences. I think they said that the last major quake that occurred in the region was in 1947 (I believe). Anyway, I'm by no means a geologist, but the whole thing caught me totally by surprise. Apparently at least one notable geologist had predicted that this large quake was imminent, but... no one listened to him all that closely.
What else? Well, there's the whole controversy about Harry Reid saying that Obama was probably more acceptalbe to the American electorate than other black candidates because he had light skin and speaks without a noticable "Negro dialect". The GOP is jumpiong up and down, calling Reid a racist and declaring a double standard for Liberals and Democrats. Although Reid made these comments in an awkward, indelicate way, I think the guy was actually making a statement about the American people and not about black people or about Obama. (and to be honest, I think the sad truth might be that Harry Reid's comments were ultimately accurate) Reid's statement doesn't seem like it's all that offensive to black since it seems to actually be commenting on (somewhat critically) the voters. I definitely don't think this is the same thing as supporting the segregationist policies of Strom Thurmond (which Trent Lott did and which Republicans keep comparing this event with). The fact that Republicans don't really seem to understand what sort of things genuinely indicate prejudice just reinforces to me that they just don't get it and remain out of touch. (i.e., it's okay to talk about the way that whites might react to a black candidate, but it's quite a bit less okay to imply that our country might have been better off if we'd just given good ol' segregation a chance).
Well, this was hastily written and I know it's all that great, but- at least I'm trying!
Things are just zoo-ish lately.
I will talk to you guys later! Take it easy!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Just Another Short Blip

Sorry I didn't have time for more of a post today, but things have been busy (and the arrival of Kim and Sigmund's kid, Miles, is probably just about news enough for one day, anyway).
I hope everyone is doing okay. Colds, the flu, and other assorted bits of health-related nastiness have really been spreading like wildfire around the courthouse, so everyone stay warm and take their vitamin C!
That's about it for today.
Hope everyone has a good one, and I hope Miles enjoys his first night!

Happy Birthday, Miles Chancellor Bloom!!!






It sounds like everything went smoothly. It's just one of those really good moments. So happy for the Blooms! Looking forward to meeting you, Miles!!




Monday, January 11, 2010

Baby Bloom on the Way!; What the U.S. Can Learn from World War II London

Hey! Hope your week is off to a good start.
My weekend was uneventful. It was cold outside, and I've been suffering for either a cold or allergies, so I mostly hunkered down with some books and movies. Took Cassidy to the dog park for awhile yesterday, and we had band practice in the evening.

Team Bloom is scheduled to bring Baby Bloom into the world tomorrow, so everyone be thinking about them and sending good thoughts, prayers, karma, and whatever else you've got their way!! Looking forward to meeting that kid!

Well, among the things I did this weekend was get up and eat my breakfast on Sunday while watching the Sunday morning talk shows. As usual, there was a lot of opinion (some more based on reason than others) and hypercriticism and political posturing under the thinly veiled disguise of objective analysis. One topic that I saw discussed on a number of these shows (it may have been covered on State of the Union, This Week, and Meet the Press) was the White House reaction to the attempted Christmas bombing on that flight bound for Detroit. Republicans have, predictably, tried to seize upon the whole incident, complaining that the president failed to address the nation quickly enough after the near disaster (I think it was 3 days after the arrest was made that the president appeared on television to comment on the incident), and showing video footage of the president golfing on his Christmas vacation shortly after the emergency was averted. Republicans have compared the situation with the criticism that Bush received when he failed to take action for 6 days following Hurricane Katrina, and they're crying about a double standard.
Well, I think that's a little ridiculous. Bush took more than twice as long to respond as President Obama, and this Christmas bombing attempt wasn't a disaster- it was a near miss where no one actually was physically harmed. In Bush's case, over 1,800 people died while untold others were trapped on their rooftops and in their attics as flood waters filled their city. Meanwhile, Bush was out at his ranch playing cowboy for the umpteenth time, and Micheal D. Brown, a Bush political appointee who was largely unqualified for his job as head of FEMA, floundered hopelessly in the planning and execution of a rescue effort. So.... different situations.
Nevertheless, the whole conversation, as well as the sort of frantic media coverage following the failed Christmas bombing, sort of got me thinking. Then last night I was watching a documentary about the bombings of London and Berlin during World War II, and something sort of struck me.
There was certainly a large amount of strategic bombing that went on during World War II as both Allied and Axis forces tried to take out munitions depots and rail yards and other resources that the respective armies would need in order to win the war, but there were also a large number of raids upon civilian population centers which were meant to do little more than lower morale to the point where war would be unsustainable- the civilian population rising up in protest over the death and destruction which had been rained down upon their cities and demanding that their government end the war. Aside from the uncomfortable recognition that American bombing of civilian population centers sounds, itself, a lot like terrorism (striking at civilians so that, out of fear, they might alter the political decision making of their country- does that sound familiar?), I also kind of noticed something else. The leaders of Germany and England, knowing that the goal of the enemy was to terrorize civilians, took pains to explain to the civilian population that the enemy was trying to break their will and bring about their defeat through demoralization. The political leaders of the time didn't invite the criticism and panic of the public by indulging fear, holding press conferences meant only to assuage anxiety and reassure the populace. In point of fact, the danger was real and there was no way to go about denying its existence.
But these wartime leaders, instead, issued a challenge to their civilian populations. Knowing that the enemy was attacking the civilian population in order to destroy their will to fight, the leaders made the strategy of the enemy clear to their populations and implored them not to give in to the fear and horror inflicted by the bombing raids. In fact, the leaders at the time made it a civic, patriotic duty for citizens to go about their daily lives- to continue their business and daily activities, even as the cities continued to suffer periodic attacks. This was a fight for survival, with thousands and thousands of soldiers constantly dying on battlefields in order to protect their countries, and the role that the civilian population was asked to play in the war was to stiffen its resolve and refuse to be cowed by the bombing. The war could only go on, it was realized, if the civilian population continued to support the military, both in terms of politics and morale as well as logistically, in terms of weapons and supplies that were supplied through the efforts of civilians. The leaders made it clear- waging the war wasn't just the responsibility of soldiers who had been deployed to some distant, foreign front. Waging the war also meant refusing to give in to fear at home, even when people were placed under a real, constant threat from the enemy. And to at least some extent, the resolve of the people eventually worked in deterring the enemy (or, at least, both Allied and Axis commanders eventually realized that their bombing campaigns were having little or no effect on either morale or industrial production).
So I'm watching this old, grainy footage of Londoners digging themselves out from rubble and then going back to work following nighttime bombing raids, and it's occurring to me that our civilian population in the U.S. seems (at least at the moment) to have little or none of the commitment that these people possessed. We seem content to wage a war so long as our war is waged by our volunteer forces, and it's carried out far away and in foreign lands, but when the reality of our "war on terror" is brought home, we sort of freak out and panic and demand that our leaders make us 100% safe 100% of the time.
Well, that's just not really the reality of war. It's not the nature of any war, let alone a war against terrorism (when terrorism is, by its very definition, the use of violence against a population in order to instill fear within it and to weaken the will of the enemy nation).
So here's what I think. I think it's time Obama had a "come to Jesus" meeting with the entire country. He needs to have a nationally televised speech where he addresses the whole country and talks about what it means to be waging a war against terrorism. He needs to reassure and reemphasize to the country that our intelligence and security forces are doing the absolute best that they can, but that, in the end, there is and will continue to be, in fact, some amount of risk to our civilian population. Instead of making ineffectual, blanket promises for impenetrable national security, Obama needs to admit that the terrorists will continue to attack us, and that despite our most valiant attempts to thwart them, some terrorists may get through.
Obama needs to say all of this while empowering the American people with the ability to defeat the terrorists by asking them not to give in to fear. The truth is, our soldiers and intelligence agencies are doing a pretty good job at keeping the terrorists on the defensive, but the final target for these terrorists is always likely to be the civilian populations of the U.S. and its allies. We can mostly keep them out, but expecting an absolutely secure system that protects us 100% of the time is just not a realistic expectation if we want to be able to live our lives and move about freely in our society.
But the thing is, I think people might respond well to this sort of challenge. Instead of feeling like helpless little targets, people need to feel like they're fighting back. It might actually help to calm people's nerves if they felt like they were confronting the enemy by refusing to show fear. If people understand that they're serving their country and confronting the enemy by refusing to give in to panic, then I think that will make a big psychological difference.
But there are some important differences between today and the era of World War II. For one thing, we have an omnipresent, 24 hour news cycle nowadays which loves nothing more than to feed panic and hysteria in order to boost its ratings. Nothing boosts ratings more than putting people into a situation where they're scared because when people are frightened, they turn to the news in order to receive information about what's going on. The media feed off fear like vultures, an in so doing, they're the incidental enablers of terrorists. It's harder to remain calm when horrible images from civilian attacks get repeatedly broadcast into your home in high definition. Suddenly people are present not only for attacks which personally effect them, but instead, they feel much more closely to every attack which is meticulously covered by the media. Second, in the highly politicized climate that we've got now, it might be hard for a president to ask his constituents to understand the need to make some patriotic sacrifices. Obama, like Bush, is, at least in theory, a wartime president, but somehow this hasn't slowed down the quantity or the fury of the political attacks against him. Asking civilians to realize that they're at war and that they might need to do their part to support the effort is only going to work if there isn't a sizable opposition screaming that people shouldn't have to make any sacrifices at all. It would be sort of hypocritical, of course, for the Republicans, who have generally been the strongest suppporters of the war on terrorism, to then turn around and tell the civilian population that they shouldn't have to put up with any of the risks associated with such a war, but...who am I kidding? If the Republicans think they can get political mileage out of it, I'm sure they'll try to claim that the only reason that war is unsafe is because Obama is in the White House. Anyway, it may be hard to encourage your population to cowboy up if someone else is shouting to them that they won't have to put up with any of this nonsense if they'll just vote their guy into office. Finally, I'm not sure that the American people really support the war on terror enough to want to steel themselves. I think that our recent wars are just faraway occurrences for most Americans- that they don't think about these things too much because they don't really affect American civilians directly. Asking citizens not to lose their sh*t if a bomb goes off in a subway tunnel or a plane falls out of the sky might make them seriously reexamine how badly they want to wage this war.
Which might not be a bad thing, to some extent. On the other hand, fear isn't really a very good basis for solid decision making. And it's not clear what we would have to do in order to quit the war on terrorism, anyway. Pull all Americans out of the Middle East? Give up on our alliance with Israel? Submit to the supremacy of Sharia (i.e., Islamic holy law)?
Prior to 9/11, most Americans felt like we were pretty much leaving the Middle East alone, but we got attacked anyway. The extremist Muslims, apparently angered by of our defense of Israel, our Western involvement in Middle Eastern business and culture, and our political activities in the Middle East (e.g., our allegiance with Israel, our alliance with the Saudi royal family, and our involvement in the Iranian Revolution, for example), seemed determined to attack us, mostly with the intention of getting us out of the Middle East once and for all.
Anyway, my point in mentioning all of this is that even if Americans don't really feel like fighting the war on terror, I'm not really sure that we have a lot of choice. I don't think we're going to give up our alliance with Israel, and with such a huge part of the world's oil reserves located in the Middle East, I don't think we're about to abandon our business dealing there anytime soon, either. On top of all that, extremist Muslims have probably already stacked up a list of grievances against the United States that could keep them fueled with animosity all the way into the next century, so even if we pulled out of the Middle East tomorrow it would probably do little good other than to provide staging grounds for the next wave of extremist attacks.
So we're stuck with this war. I don't just mean the war in Afghanistan, but the overall war on terror.
And the American civilian population has to get used to the idea that, on some very real level, we're not just observers in this war, but participants. The end game of the terrorists is to effect U.S. policy by scaring the crap out of the American people, so the people have to do their part by not getting thrown into a panic whenever there's an attack or a near miss. The government has to do their part by keeping the citizenry as safe as humanly possible, but citizens have to do their part by refusing to be afraid.
So that's the message that Obama needs to find a way to convey to people. We're a nation at war. Hopefully these attacks don't come often, but if and when they do, we need to demonstrate to our enemies that they're ineffective, and the only way to do this is to strengthen our resolve. This needs to be a message that we don't just role out in the aftermath of calamitous events like 9/11, but it needs to become an attitude toward terrorism which becomes firmly ingrained in the American psyche as a general response to attacks. Terrorism inherently requires an emotional response from the population which paralyzes it and weakens its determination. If we want to discourage terrorism, we need to deny the enemy that emotional response. It won't be easy given oru 24 hour cable news channels and divisive politics, but it's a necessary step if we're going to continue this fight over the long haul.
Ooooookay. Nobody wanted to hear all of that on a Monday, but it was on my mind. More importantly, I couldn't think of anything else to write.
Have a good week! Don't be afraid!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Game Night Pics

After Ryan's "Longhorn Spirit Snuggie" failed to prove successful...

...the Steans clan switched to other good luck charms that would at least make us care about losing a little less.


After the Game

Hey, guys!
Well, that UT game ended up being pretty tough, didn't it? All in all, given the circumstances, I'm really not all that unhappy with UT's performance, but, of course, I was still very disappointed to see things go down the way they did.
For those who might have missed the game, UT's starting quarterback, Colt McCoy, (who has one of the best records in college football history) injured his shoulder after two minutes of play and left the game, never to return. As soon as we all saw McCoy walking to the X-ray room without his pads on, I think most UT fans knew that this game was pretty much over.
I know it's not cool to second guess your players when they've suffered an injury, but I've got to at least get this off my chest. I was a little bit disappointed in old Colt. His injury has been described as a "shoulder sprain", and while I'm sure it might have been painful (actually, after the game McCoy described a feeling of numbness with little pain at all), this game was the national championship. If he didn't have anything separated, torn, or broken, couldn't he have at least tried to come back into the game and play through the injury? You know, just go back in the game for a couple of plays to see how it felt? Maybe the lack of feeling in his arm made Colt just feel like he couldn't handle the ball with any accuracy at all, so he felt he couldn't go back in, but if he wants any kind of a shot at playing in the NFL, he's going to have to show some serious toughness because he's going to reguarly be taking hits that are at least as hard or harder than the one he suffered in last night's game. I guess part of me just wonders if the nerves and pressure of the game last night weighed just as heavily into Colt's decision to stay on the sidelines last night as the injury itself (I think he might have just been afraid to reenter the game if he wasn't playing at 110%, but that's really not the sort of luxury you can afford yourself when you're playing for the national championship). They showed the play repeatedly, and it just didn't look like McCoy got hit that hard. I just can't help thinking that in a similar situation, Vince Young (or even Major Applewhite) probably would have found a way to play through that injury.
Okay. Done with that. Got it out of my system. Colt has served us very well for years and I really am happy and grateful. It's just that I already had those nagging questions about his mental toughness, which I alluded to a little bit in yesterday's post, and so I can't help but wonder how and if psychology factored into last night's events as much as physical injury.
On the up side, freshman backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert came into the game looking like a mess (full of nerves, fear, and confusion), but it was sort of cool to watch him get some control of himself and settle into his role. You gotta imagine that this is a terrifying situation for a second string, freshman quarterback with almost no game time experience- stepping into a quarterback role in a national championship game against one of the best, most powerful defensive units in the country. But by the second half he was putting in an admirable performance. His timing seemed off at times, but that's to be expected given the fact that the entire team has the vast majority of their experience and practice in running plays with McCoy at the helm. Anyway, there were some mistakes in there, but given the fact that Gilbert was asked to step up and play for 58 minutes in a national championship game against an incredibly fast and strong Alabama defense, I thought the guy did pretty darn well. He lacked experience, but he produced some nice passes and plays. And, at one point, he managed to bring Texas back to being within 3 points of the lead. So, not bad.
The Texas defense did a pretty good job as well. They might have had a bit of a letdown toward the very end, but on the whole, I thought they did a pretty good job of containing Alabama in a situation which could have easily turned into a total massacre. We had some sacks and decent pass coverage and stopped them behind the line of scrimmage on a respectable number of plays.
On the whole, I thought this looked like an Alabama team that, given other circumstances, Texas might have really had a pretty good chance of defeating. They didn't look like the unstoppable juggernauts that I thought we might end up facing. Texas did a very respectable job against them, even without our star quarterback.
Anyway. it was a good season with a hard fought ending, and I really don't think the players have anything to be ashamed of. Still quite happy with those guys, and I've really enjoyed supporting them this year.
On to next year! Hook 'em!!!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Go Longhorns!!!



Well, of course tonight is the big national championship game out in California between Texas and Alabama. I watched just about every UT game this season (some at Memorial Stadium and others while watching TV with friends and family), and I'm really pulling for the Longhorns tonight. I have to admit that I'm sort of worried because Alabama is such a powerful, dominant team. If Texas plays at the top of their game, I truly think that we can beat any team in the country, but I'm a little worried because Texas often seems to have a few difficulties when they get into really high pressure situations (the nerves are a problem for Texas). I think problems with nerves are a big part of why Texas has typically been a "second half team", typically settling down and overcoming their anxieties after having been on the field for awhile. Over the course of the season, this problem with nerves (or that's the way I would describe it) has particularly plagued Texas in high pressure games. At the beginning of the OU game, before Bradford went down with an injury, Texas looked particularly erratic and messy. They got their confidence back after Bradford suffered an injury and had to leave, and they finished the game out fine. During the Texas A&M game the Aggies played very well, but once again, in a stadium filled with hostile Aggies and with almost everyone in the state of Texas watching, UT just couldn't seem to really gel and hit their stride. I only saw the second half of the Big 12 championship game against Nebraska, but it seems like in the pressure cooker of the Big 12 championship UT had problems getting their heads screwed on straight once again (although this time the defense really sputtered). Back in the 2005 championship game I remember a moment when the clock was winding down, and UT was locked in a fight for its life and the camera zoomed in on Vince Young, and he was just smiling. Of course, he ended up leading his team on a last minute drive down the field to score and win the game. He was smiling like he was really enjoying being there and he was just sort of in his element and thriving. I really like and admire Colt McCoy, but it just seems like he has to work for it a little more. It seems like he feels more of the weight of his position on his shoulders, and the pressure just gets to him more than it did with Young.
Anyway, I really do think that Texas is a great team, and of course I would LOVE to see them win this game, but if they can pull this thing out, it's gonna be a hard won fight. Alabama is just an excellent team. My parents are Florida alums, so I've been watching some of Florida's games this year, and they were a really, really good team. Nonetheless, Alabama pretty much crushed them when they finally played each other. So watching Alabama handily defeat Florida really made me nervous for UT in this championship game.
But UT can do it. They need strong performances on both offense and defense (not just one or the other), and they need their special teams (who have been sort of problematic throughout the season) to step up and not make any big mistakes. The offense line is going to be key. Alabama has a brutal defense, so the offensive line has to perform at the top of their game and give Colt time to work. Defense has to concentrate on stopping the run, but the secondary has to keep us from getting burned when Bama switches to the pass (which they'll periodically do to keep Texas off guard). Basically, UT needs to be firing on all cylinders if they want to win this game, and I think it will really be the hardest game they've played all season.
But they can do it. They've got all the necessary pieces and tools and talent. And I'm behind them 100%!
TEXAS FIGHT!!