Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day

Hope everyone is having a good holiday! Take a moment out while you're enjoying yourself to remember our fallen soldiers.

As for me, somehow I've managed to get a bit of a bug (why does it always happen on holidays?), so I've been taking it pretty easy. I did manage to see my family, though, and I took a quick dip in Barton Springs. Hope everyone is having a good, safe time!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Leak Fixed?

Happy Friday! It's Memorial Day weekend. Hope everyone enjoys it. Don't forget to take a moment to remember our fallen soldiers as you go about your barbecues and beer drinking and whatnot! Working on the formation of this veterans treatment docket, I've had a chance to hear a few stories and experiences of recent Iraq and Afghanistan vets, and it just kind of drives home the point that there are some soldiers out there who really are giving up an awful lot in service to our country.


What else? It sounds like BP has tentatively announced that they may have gotten the oil leak plugged out in the gulf***. They're not sure if the fix is going to hold, so people probably shouldn't start celebrating just yet, but it's still nice to know that there's finally some measure of progress. Of course, yesterday came the announcement that the Deepwater Horizon disaster is now, by almost all accounts, the biggest oil spill in U.S. history, so there probably won't be a lot of celebrating, regardless of whether or not the leak is actually plugged.
Last night I watched news coverage of some of the ecological damage that's already occurred on the beaches, in the marshlands, and out in the open ocean, and it was all pretty sad and awful.
Still, if the flow of oil out of the seafloor is finally stopped and at least the problem isn't getting worse with every passing day- well, that would be a nice thing for all of us as we go into this Memorial Day weekend.
And there's been a lot of discussion about whether or not this is "Obama's Katrina". Critics, including a number of prominent Democrats who would probably normally support the president, have said that the president's response to the oil spill hasn't been aggressive or effective enough.
Frankly, there were probably some missteps, but I'm not sure how much more the president could have actually done once the spill occurred. The federal government just isn't really set up to handle a huge oil spill that occurs under a mile of ocean. Maybe he could have deployed a few more boats or something, but he's already got the Navy and the Coast guard on it, and although he maybe he should have been less trusting of BP at times, I'm not sure that he's failed to take any steps that would have ended up making much difference.
Mostly I think there are just a whole lot of angry people out there who are looking for someone to blame, and everyone just feels like we should have known better than to expect more out of BP.
So it now seems like the government might have been too trusting of BP in this deal (it sounds like BP probably minimized and mischaracterized the damage initially and may have made some misleading statements as they handled this situation), but, to be honest, it just doesn't seem like the government had much choice other than to work with BP and hope that they were operating in good faith. BP was the only organization with the resources, expertise, and access to the site, and it has seemed all along that cooperation with BP was really the only viable route available in terms of having a realistic chance of fixing the problem (or they were certainly the organization best situated to deal with the accident and the leak).
Maybe the federal government should have had some deepwater equipment or better response protocols of their own, but in my mind the biggest failure in this situation came long before the leak actually occurred. I just find it pretty shocking that there weren't more well-tested, effective, efficient procedures already in place to deal with these sort of deepwater drilling activities in the event that something went wrong. It seems crazy, in retrospect, that we've been allowing deep water drilling off of our nation's shores, apparently without ever bothering to really evaluate and assess the effectiveness of accident recovery efforts on deepwater wells or without thoroughly examining the preparedness of these companies to deal with this type of emergency. It just seems like the federal government has primarily been relying upon the assurances of the oil companies, taking them at their word when they've claimed that an accident could never occur and that if it did occur, the oil companies would be equipped and ready to handle an accident response. Clearly, at least in deep water drilling situations, the oil companies were overselling their ability to effectively handle a major accident.
So I think we need to see the oil companies actually demonstrate an ability to effectively handle deep water drilling accidents if we're going to let them continue to carry on business as usual (let alone open up new ocean areas to them for drilling). We can't operate on the basis of simple promises- we need to be able to review detailed disaster plans, have an ability to check to make sure they have the proper containment/cleanup equipment on standby, and ideally, we need to be able to see these companies periodically carry out sort of mock or practice repair/containment drills using techniques and equipment that has actually been proven to be effective. Right now I just feel like advancements in the technology and techniques to carry out the actual drilling part of these deep sea operations have far outpaced the ability to effectively deal with and repair the situation if something goes wrong. The oil companies may have reduced the chances of an accident, but clearly accidents can and do still happen, and it only takes one of these things to do huge amounts of damage.
Anyway, I don't think it's all that fair to start calling this Obama's Katrina, but given the extent of the damage, the president may get stuck with that title, anyhow. Still, Obama was holding cabinet meetings and deploying the Coast Guard and trying to keep BP accountable from day one (maybe not aggressively enough, in hindsight, but I think it took a little while for people to understand the extent of the tradgedy- especially given the fact that BP, the only people with access to the actual leak site, weren't entirely honest) . Bush, on the other hand, sat out at his ranch on vacation while New Orleans sank and the rescue effort went awry, and when he finally did address the issue he merely praised his incompetent appointees who were botching the recovery operation (anyone else remember "Heck of a job, Brownie"?).

Hey, I gotta run. Maybe more later!

*** If you're confused about why this link is actually about the ineffectiveness of the "top kill" solution instead of about why the top kill solution is working , well, that would be because by the end of the day BP was announcing that the top kill hadn't been working as well as originally reported, and that they now had doubts about the success of the entire procedure (and the same MYT article I had linked to previously has now been updated to support this). BP says that they didn't mean to mislead anyone, but that it just takes some time to figure out whether the top kill procedure is actually working. Frankly, I'm a little skeptical and don't know what to think. I tend to doubt that BP is being really honest with the public (they lost a lot of credibility in my mind when it became clear that they hadn't initially been honest about the amount of oil flowing into the gulf), but at the same time I wonder if some of this misinformation isn't a product of news organizations who are overeager to be the first to report important developments- prematurely passing along sort of questionable information which is actually little more than speculation on the part of BP employees and government officials.

Anyway, the leak isn't fixed, apparently. Boooo!!!!!!


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Another Former Steanso Housemate Does Interesting Stuff

Hey!
Man, it's already really hot out there, and we haven't even gotten to June yet. I'm afraid this summer is gonna be a scorcher.

There's a really good article in The Austin Chronicle this week about a new book that was written by a good friend of mine from college, Karen Valby. Karen was a year or so below me in school, but she lived with me (and Lee Thweatt and Drew Watson and... uh, I can't remember if Marty or Wendy or Laura or anyone else was living at the Mulberry house at that time- I'm sure that Sarah was around quite a bit) for one summer while we were all working our summer jobs and just hanging out with friends and trying to make a little cash before school started. Karen's apparently been writing for Entertainment Weekly (which sort of cracks me up, since the only argument that I ever remember having with her was about whether or not I was an a**hole for making fun of my roommates for watching soap operas, reruns of Melrose Place, and other crap TV- and yeah, I was probably being a big ol' jackass).
Anyhoo, Karen's apparently just finished a book called Welcome to Utopia: Notes From a Small Town, and she's doing readings from her book next Thursday at Book People (7:00 p.m.). Apparently the book is just sort of a look at the people in the small, Texas town of Utopia- an examination of their lives, attitudes, personalities, and way of life. At first it kind of struck me as a little strange that Valby was writing about small town Texas life, since she grew up out east (I think she's from Maryland), but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. As Valby told reporter Cindy Widner, it's probably good to have an outsider's perspective when you're going to try to create an account of a new place (to help avoid bias) and an outsider's perspective probably makes the most sense in terms of being able to spot the distinguishing characteristics that make a place unique (a lifelong Texan who had spent a lot of time in small towns might not find many details worth mentioning that might strike others as interesting, unique, or even shocking).
Mostly, though, the article just made me chuckle. Karen is kind of a small, extremely friendly person with a very warm smile and an infectious laugh, but (as I remember it) she's also very outgoing and opinionated and pretty strong willed (her father is/was an attorney, so maybe she inherited it). Anyhow, when the article talks about Karen arguing with the residents of Utopia about some of their casual racism (as well as telling them about the adoption of her Ethiopian daughter), it just made me smile, because I can just imagine Karen arguing tooth and nail with these people- and then having the locals walk away from the conversation still feeling charmed and sort of entertained by Karen. She just has a knack for that sort of thing (I remember spending a number of evenings sitting around our poorly air conditioned house house and drinking beer while listening to/participating in friendly arguments between Lee, Drew, and Karen about subjects ranging from philosophy to politics to music).
Huh. College was a good time.
Anyway, I couldn't be happier for Karen. Between her fairly recent move to Austin, the addition of her new daughter to the family, and the release of this book, things sound like they're really rolling her way, lately.
So, if you have any interest in such things, I encourage you to get the book. I'm betting it's going to be an interesting read.
Congrats, Valby!!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Slowpoke on Libertarianism

Kim Bloom sent me this cartoon with a note that said it reminded her of my recent post about Rand Paul and libertarianism. I think the cartoon is pretty funny and sort highlights some of the problematic questions that a strict libertarian ideology might raise. You can check out the Slowpoke comic site here. Thanks for the link, Kim!!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

24 Finale

Hey! Howdy!
Hope things are A okay.

Let's see....
The series finale of 24 was on last night. (some spoilers to follow) Ratings have been lagging for a while, and the show definitely didn't get anywhere near the attention or the hype that Lost received in its final days, but I think the general consensus for a while has been that the show sort of jumped the shark a while back and that it's best days were behind it.
So truthfully, it was sort of time for 24 to come to an end. The show had a really strong start (the first season was really exceptional), but over the last few seasons the show had become more and more outlandish, employing some pretty ridiculous plot twists and using increasing amounts of brutality in order to hold attention of its adrenaline hungry audience (I realized that things had gone just about as far as they probably needed to go as I watched Jack Bauer disembowel an enemy and root around in his stomach for a lost data card during one of the last episodes).
Anyway, I've blogged about the importance of 24 before, and looking back at the series, its pretty hard to deny that the show has had some cultural significance over the last decade. The first episode of 24, a show about government agents who are trying to protect America from terrorist operatives, aired on November 6, of 2001- only two months after our whole country reeled in shock from the events of September 11th. By virtue of an ironic historical twist, the creators of 24 suddenly had a show on their hands which no longer dealt with far fetched, action thriller intrigue, but a show that seemed to shine a light on the hidden evil which threatened the nation and which offered a look at the kind of iron-willed solutions that might ultimately be needed in order to combat those threats.
And 24 never lacked in controversy as it spelled out what sort of action was needed in order to fight the terrorist menace. Lawyers from the Bush administration actually referred to various episodes of 24 on a number of occasions in written briefs and memos, taking the show's ticking time bomb hypothetical scenarios and using them to argue for justification of the "harsh interrogation techniques" employed in America's real world war on terror. Americans watched 24 and bore witness to a modern world of espionage and counterterrorism. They watched intelligent, calculating, and routhlessly evil terrorists and the noble, highly professional, patriotic, efficient government agents who fought against them, and in the wake of 9/11, the whole premise seemed infinitely more plausible than it would have in 2000 or before.
Anyway, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed just about the whole run of the show, although I'll quickly add that some seasons were much better than others (with the best seasons tending to be the ealrier ones).
There was torture on the show and lots of violence and all kinds of other stuff, and sometimes I thought that the show really wasn't doing the world any favors from a humanitarian standpoint (it was definitely the kind of thing that could stoke some xenophobia and paranoia), but it was usually a fun ride, filled with lots of tension and action. Also, I used to get together with Reed to watch 24 back during the early seasons, so I have some fond memories of hanging out and watching it and laughing about all of the crazy things that happened on the show (anyone else remember when terrorists made Jack shoot his boss? That still kills me...).
The show ultimately did its final wrap up with another sort of ambiguous, open ended conclusion (it wasn't all that touchie feelie, and it didn't really seem any more "final" than any number of other 24 season finales), so I'm guessing that the producers might still be thinking about a 24 movie or miniseries at some point. I'll probably go see whatever they come up with next once it comes out. Even if it doesn't make any sense, I'm sure it'll be a fun ride.

And that's it. Sorry for the short post, but that's all that I've got!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Weekend Update;

Hey! Hope everyone had a good weekend! I did, but it went by way too fast.
Let's see, what did I do?
Well, Friday night I hung out with Chris Griego. I'm sorry to say that I missed his birthday not long ago, but at least we got a chance to have dinner and hang out for a while on Friday night and catch up. Saturday I hung out with Mandy and Vikki for a while at their garage sale, and then in the afternoon/evening, I went to Fagerfest. Fagerfest was a big party that was thrown by Patrick Fagerberg, a friend from the courthouse. The party was cool. Patrick has a really big, nice house with a nice pool, and he had several live bands, kegs of beer, and catered barbecue. If Patrick does this again next year, I gotta get the Mono Ensemble to play.




Here's a shot of Barb and McCrimmon, probably trying to plan their route back to a keg of beer.







Sunday I got up and took Cassidy down to the spillover so she could do some swimming and playing with the other dogs. We both had a good time. That afternoon I went over to Mandy's. We had some tasty food, and I got to hang out with friends. I've included a picture of Sig taking a picture of Miles and Kim and Andy (with Vikki looking on). After dinner I had band practice with the Mono Ensemble (and we actually sounded pretty good, given how many chances we've had to practice in recent months).

Sooo.... really good weekend. Too short.

Lost Finale

So, Lost is finally over. (spoilers to follow)

My brother did a pretty decent job of summing things up, at least from his point of view, over here.

Basically, I always liked the show's original premise (I liked the idea of a plane crash onto an island where mysterious things are happening) and I always thought the show had a lot of promise. I guess my biggest gripe is that Lost was a show that seemed to kind of want to swing for the fence- exploring some of life's big existential questions about who we are, why we're here, what our lives mean, and what happens to us when those lives end- but I always just felt a little bit like Lost was pretending to seriously explore those questions while in reality it was just throwing some sort of religious themes and metaphor together and then getting the audience to make the show interesting by projecting things onto it (which can be kind of interesting, but also frustrating if you don't think the show itself has a lot that's especially new or insightful to say). I've always really wanted to like Lost, but in the end, I guess I felt a bit like the show was sort of hustling its audience- playing at exploring deeper questions while, in reality it was just sort of weaving together enough symbols and references to keep its audience intrigued, but without ever really finally delivering on its promise to reach some sort of interesting conclusion.

And I guess that Lost ultimately did reach some sort of conclusions, but were they interesting enough to justify the many years of hide-the-ball storytelling? For most of the Lost viewers (and I guess this is where I part ways with many of Lost's hardcore fans), the plot and characters were enough to keep them engaged. Personally, for me (a fan who kept wandering away from the show, but then returning when I thought they were finally "getting to the point"), the characters were okay, but not all that great. I definitely never found them so interesting that I ever quit asking myself what the heck these people were doing wandering around on a magical island. They just never felt like real people to me.

And I guess the whole mythology of the whole thing bugged me a bit in the end. They created their own sort of pseudo religious mythology and spirituality, but it mostly seemed a lot like various Christian metaphors, with a little bit of new agey, vague, "none of this is specific enough for people to analyze it too closely" gobbledygook thrown in for good measure. In the end, the show seemed to indicate the existence of an afterlife where we get to be with the people who were the most important to us, and then we go into a great white light. We all go into the light together (even the people who haven't died yet) because, although we don't all die together at the same time, we all eventually do die, and the place where we wait to meet up with each other exists outside of time. And, of course, the characters all met up in a church in order to complete their journey, but, predictably (at least by Hollywood standards), the church had stained glass windows which incorporated religious symbols that were not simply Christian, but taken from a variety of different religious traditions- and frankly, I woulda had a little more respect if they had just nailed the ending down as being Christian- we already had Jack playing a pretty clear Jesus figure throughout the final episode with the self sacrifice, leading a group of followers to a place where he saves the world by stopping evil, dying with a wound in his side and being reunited with his father in the afterlife, and the whole communion with water thing).
There's always been this school of thought that the whole island was heaven or hell or purgatory, but in the Lost tradition of trying to have your cake and eat it too, the writers ultimately seemed like they created a separate dimension just so that they could have a clear cut purgatory ending, but also have an ending with a final battle between good and evil for control of the island and in which Jack could become the savior of humanity.

Anyway, Lost ultimately provided some answers, I guess, but I'm just not sure they were answers that I found very interesting.

I know that my saying this will tick a lot of people off, but I actually found the Battlestar Galactica finale (which a lot of people hated) a lot more interesting than the Lost finale, and I would hold the BSG finale up as a demonstration of why I found that show, overall, to be more satisfying.

A lot of people disliked the BSG finale because it had some kind of weird ideas in it, and to many people it seemed like a departure from the rest of the show. But the ideas in the Battlestar Galactica finale were actually ideas which had been present throughout the entire series and which only came to fruition in the finale and the last few episodes. Battlestar Galactica ended with a plotline in which it became clear that the humans and the cylons had been existing in a repeating cycle- a cycle which had been going on for millenia and which would probably be repeated again (although at the end of the series there seemed to be some hope that the cycle might have finally been broken). This idea seemed a little strange to much of the BSG audience, but the concepts were actually taken from Hindu metaphysics and cosmology, a belief system which predates Christianity and which is probably just about the oldest of the world's major religions. In addition, the Hindu themes, which didn't really crystalize until the latter part of the series, were actually contained throughout the run of the entire show, with the lyrics from the show's haunting theme song (or at least the lyrics from the first few seasons) taken famous Hindu mantra, the Gayatri Mantra, which is derived from the Hindu holy work, the Rig Veda. Throughout the series, a theme arose in which characters (and even the voiceover at the beginning of the show) pondered the possibility that "this has all happened before and will all happen again".

So I think that BSG actually had a pretty strong ending, but a lot of people didn't really give it the credit that it deserved because a lot of people just didn't really "get" the incorporation of Hindu theology into a western sci-fi show. Anyway, I'm not here to say that BSG was the be all end all of television, but I will say that it delivered something unique and sort of profound in its final few episodes, and I remember thinking about that finale a bit in the days and weeks after it aired. It was kind of cool to have a show make me think about things in new and interesting ways- to examine ways of thinking that I just hadn't put much thought into since I studied philosophy and Asian religions during undergrad.

With Lost, on the other hand, I just felt like they just touched on a lot of things in order to make the show seem sort of ambiguous and open to interpretation before ultimately falling back on some pretty thick (but pretty run of the mill) Christian metaphor. I suppose that at some point during the series they had realized that their audience was too clever to be kept guessing with direct metaphor, so they sort of came up with a bit of their own mythology (heavily reminiscent of a lot of Christian stories, but not directly corresponding to them) in order to keep the viewers intrigued, but in the end, the story still boiled down to Jack as Jesus. The rest of the show ended up mostly being red herrings looking at themselves through smoke at mirrors that led to rabbit trails.

And I don't want to be too hard on a show for failing to dazzle me with its theology and philosophy (since most shows don't even include those themes in the first place), but at the same time, Lost has never been afraid to tout itself on its ability to explore big questions, so I don't think I'm being too unfair when I take a hard look at what some of the answers that it ultimately presented.

Oh well, at least it made me think and question and debate during the run of the show, so that's a pretty good thing, but I think that in the end, Lost will be remembered far more because of the reaction that the audience had to the show (with the massive internet discussion and buzz and the extensive hyperanalysis) than because of the show itself. But maybe that's okay.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Fringe; Taking a Look at Rand Paul

Hey! Happy Friday! Hope everyone is doing well.

So what's up? Last night I watched the season finale of Fringe, and it was pretty good. That show had a slow start, and it still has moments where it definitely shows its flaws (in particular, it can skew toward melodrama and cheesiness a little more often than I might prefer), but, on the whole, I've been pretty darn impressed with the way that they've developed the characters and plot over multiple seasons. They've done a good job of moving the plot away from a sort of "scary monster/paranormal event of the week" format to a more cohesive plotline that ties all of these strange events together in a fairly interesting and compelling plotline that deals with unorthodox scientists, parallel dimensions, and a possible interdimensional war.
Like I said, the show isn't perfect, but it definitely has its moments.
(Incidentally, I've recently been rewatching Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and even thought that show was cut down in its prime, I think that show had some really exceptional writing- especially for a major network sci-fi show).

What else? Rand Paul got himself into some hot water over the last couple of days, apparently making comments on The Rachel Maddow Show and on NPR in which he said that he took issue with some things in the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which prohibits discrimination under federal law both for government entities and for private business). I saw Paul on CNN this morning, and he was backpedaling quite a bit, saying that if he voted today he would support the Civil Rights Act if it came in front of him today and claiming that cable news television and the twenty four hour news cycle were responsible for taking his comments out of context and making them sound much worse than they actually were. Today Paul followed up yesterday's comments with new claims that President Obama has been acting "unAmerican" by trying to "play the blame game" in taking BP to task and promising to hold them accountable in connection with the oil spill in the gulf.
My personal feeling is that these comments are just sort of the tip of the iceberg in terms of the nuttiness contained within the libertarian political ideology of Ron and Rand Paul. In the simplest possible terms I think that libertarianism appeals to a lot of people because at first blush it sounds like a simple, uncomplicated, straightforward ideology that adheres to an extremely simple, "straightforward" reading of the constitution and an application of its principles. The libertarians basically believe that the activities of the federal government should be limited, almost exclusively, to a few enumerated federal powers that were laid out by our founding fathers in the original constitution (well, they may go so far as to agree that we should abide by the consitutional amendments, but I've heard some hardcore libertarians even quarrel with quite a few of the amendments). Libertarians (at least of the Paul family variety) couple a strong belief in extremely small government (i.e., they think the government should basically be staying out of the way of both individuals and private businesses and allow them to operate in a largely unregulated fashion. They also believe that private businesses should be handling most of the duties that the government currently performs) with a fervent belief that the U.S. Constitution is an almost perfect document (allowing almost no room for the interpretation or expansion of constitutional ideas).
I tend to think that most modern libertarians are attracted so strongly to this ideology because it's a political philosophy that has never really been tested or implemented in the real world.
It's easy to think of libertarianism as a political panacea when it's never really been put into practice and none of its flaws have had a chance to manifest themselves as real world problems.
First of all, let me just say that I've been getting increasingly annoyed for years now with this sentiment that our founding fathers were some sort of divine beings who never made a bad decision and who could foresee and anticipate every single future event and plan accordingly. Our founding fathers did a good job with the constitution- a great job, really, in which they crafted one of the most powerful founding documents the world has ever seen (although our constitution, itself, has ideas that were borrowed from French political thinkers like baron de Montesquieu, English political ideas such as those in the Magna Carta, and ideas on democracy dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans)- but the founding fathers weren't perfect, either, and like any other mortal men, they were creating our founding document within the historical context of their own time period (and aware of their own limitations, they left room for a constitutional amendment process by which their original document could be altered, added to, and changed. They created a national legislature to create new laws pursuant to their new constitution and a court to decide which laws were constitutional. Federal law was declared the Supreme Law of the land and the states were left with whatever powers were not spelled out by federal law as belonging to the federal government). And sure enough, over time we've had to use constitutional amendments to accomplish things ranging from the abolition of slavery (slavery was permitted in the original constitution and not abolished until the 13th Amendment was passed in 1865), to the imposition of taxes on income (16th amendment in 1913), to equal protection and due process under the law (the 14th Amendment, which not only protected against racial discrimination, but which also repealed the three-fifths compromise, a provision of the original consitution which had allowed souther states to count their enslaved black inhabitants as three fifths of a person for purposes of determining representation in the House of Representatives) to protection against discrimination in voting on the basis of sex (the 19th Amendment).
So the founding fathers made some mistakes. (Personally, I think that if they knew the Second Amendment was going to be used for private citizens to stockpile powerful, fully automatic weapons that can take out dozens of people at a time, I think they might have crafted that passage a little more carefully, too, but I'll just leave that one open for debate).

So my point with all of this is that the consitution is a very powerful document, but it's not perfect. Never was. Most legal scholars recognize this and prefer to think of the constitution as a living constitution- a document which provides the fundamental foundation and framework for our system of government, but which allows for the document to be modified and changed through the legislative and judicial process as the need arises over time (they put some hoops and hurdles in place for us to jump through so we didn't go around changing the constitution all willy nilly, but the thing can be changed, and they gave us that power for a reason). Amendments can be passed, and laws can be passed which expand and interpret constitutional powers- just so long as the constitution isn't actually violated (and when this happens, the Supreme Court is responsible for rendering those laws illegal).
So Rand Paul was, in essence, trying to argue that the Civil Rights Act overstepped its authority when it declared that private businesses and insitutions could not discriminate on the basis of race. Paul was claiming that the federal government shouldn't have the power to make those determinations (or that's what he was claiming before the public backlash forced him to retreat). Paul believes that the government should have the right to outlaw discrimination by governmental agencies, but that private businesses should be allowed to do whatever they want, and the federal government should have no power to intervene. He never said he was in favor of discrimination, but he said that the federal government should be powerless to prevent it when it occurs within private organizations. And if you're concerned only with the freedom of individuals to do as they please, it might even has its own tortured logic.
Problem is, we've seen where that sort of thing leads. Segregated bus seating, separate drinking fountains, diners where black people can't eat at the counter, and lynchings perpetrated by a population who's come to see dicrimination as "normal" and something that they have every right to engage in.
We actually studied the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act in law school. The question of whether or not the law has a constitutional basis was decided long ago, and (if I remember correctly) the constitutional basis for the law is premised upon the Commerce Clause of the constitution (Article 1, Section 8, clause 3) which allows the federal government to regulate commerce between nations and among the states within the U.S.. The Commerce Clause was already doing things like allowing the federal government to monitor food and product safety in 1964 (the Commerce Clause also prohibits states from doing things like passing tarriffs against products brought into one state from another for sale), and the federal government used this authority to regulate commerce in a new way, saying that any businesses that were open to the general public for business (meaning open to customers and interacting with other businesses within the sort of larger world of United States commerce) could be regulated in terms of being prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race.
Doesn't matter to Rand or Ron Paul, though. They still want to believe that the federal government shouldn't have any powers not specifically spelled out in the constitution itself, as opposed to allowing the constitution to be interpretted or developed in accordance with the ebb and flow of history.

So the Paul family (and many other libertarians) don't believe that the federal government should really be allowed to make laws or implement orders that aren't specifically delineated in the constitution. Think about the potential implications of this for a moment. No environmental regulation (which, in combination with his views about keeping private industry absolutely free from government interference, pretty much helps explain the comment about why he thinks it's "unAmerican" for Obama to criticize BP), virtually no regulation of business or the private sector (those child labor laws always were a little stupid, and who needs any sort of banking regulations or consumer protections, anyway? Plus, once again, those comments about BP), no medicare, no federal income tax (well, I don't know about Rand Paul, but I've seen Ron Paul talking about how he thinks the federal income tax is unconstitutional), no federal education dollars (why should we be giving the richest states be giving money to those kids in poor states, anyway?), no federal highway dollars (I'm sure it won't be a problem when there aren't any functioning highways that go through our poorest states), no department of the interior (stupid national parks), no Medicare, no social security, no FEMA, no support for the arts, and so on and so forth...
The libertarian theory is that private business would pick up the slack if government wasn't already involved in most of these areas, or that the less important things would fall by the wayside because they're not that important, anyway (once again, the supposition being that the private sector will always take care of the things that are genuinely in the public's best interest- a supposition which I strongly disagree with. We are, after all, a country that gleefully consumes tabloid reality television while educational, artistic, and informative programming constantly struggles to survive through a patchwork of donations and government grants, a country where investment schemers make untold millions by betting against housing schemes that they helped create while consumers have their houses foreclosed upon because of bad lending practices).

Anyway, in truth, I actually kind of have some respect for the libertarian ideology in that it primarily concerns itself with freedom from governmental intrusion and the rights of individuals to protect their own liberty and live as freely as possible. I also like the fact that they generally tend to favor a pretty peaceful foreign policy in which they insist upon only engaging in military action when there's a clear, direct, and demonstrable threat the the United States (they advocate a restricted use of the military for truly defensive purposes). The libertarian ideals strike a positive chord with me in a way that the more traditional, Republican ideologies do not (I'm not a big fan of parts of the Republican worldview which seem to more judgmental and oppressive in terms of their social/moral agenda- e.g., their tendency to try to impose conservative Christian views on the population, their battles against gay rights, their battles against abortion, their arrogant attitudes when making foreign policy decisions, etc.).
I just think that the libertarian worldview puts way too much faith in the private sector and remains unjustifiably paranoid about the activities and intrusions of government (admittedly, I can be paranoid about the government, too, but I don't see every program that's designed to help other people or provide a public service as an affront to my personal freedom).

Like I said, the implications are easy to ignore when the ideology remains hypothetical. Ron Paul is just about the most prominent libertarian in Washington, and the guy still has to function as a Republican because the libertarians don't have enough political clout to really accomplish the sort of things that would look more distinctly libertarian (e.g., doing away with a lot of the government programs and institutions that they consider unconstitutional). Personally, I tend to be a little more accepting of the whole idea of a social contract and a social fabric that we exist within. Having a social contract is the only way a society can effectively function. I don't find our current social structure to be overly burdensome in terms of infringing upon my freedoms. Sure, there are things here and there that annoy me, but I guess that I accept those relatively minor impositions as a small price to pay in exchange for the opportunity to live in a society where I can more or less live my life as I please and in which certain fundamental government actions help to insure my quality of life and provide me with at least some sort of social safety net should some sort of catastrophe befall me (oh yeah- government disability? Also not gonna be covered under the libertarian model).
And I know it makes me a dirty hippie, but I'm also just attracted to the idea that hopefully my government is taking some sort of steps to insure that my neighbors aren't living in pain, suffering or distress- that people in other parts of my country aren't breathing in toxic air or drinking toxic water or suffering from a complete lack of education and so forth and so on.
I like libertarianism more than I like the typical Republican agenda, but, unfortunately I just see it leading to a similar place- an America totally polarized into wealthy and poor segments of society with a disappearing middle class and an affluent upper class who gather increasing wealth while the working underclass receive fewer and fewer services and benefits.
Anger at Obama for criticizing BP just seems crazy, but Rand Paul doesn't want the government infringing on anyone's right to make money- even if those people are making money in a way which directly harms a whole lot of other people and destroys the environment (by the way, I agree that sometimes "accidents happen", but if someone wants to engage in an enterprise which puts a lot of other people at risk, than the person creating the risk assumes the responsibility for that risk. That's just social contract 101, but we all know that the Pauls aren't really big on the idea of a social contract).

Crap, I gotta go.

Hope you guys have a good weekend!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Short Post; North Korea Gets Trigger Happy

Hey there.
It's been a pretty busy day, and I didn't blog last night, so....

Well, it sounds like the South Koreans have put together a pretty strong case demonstrating that a torpedo fired from a North Korean submarine was responsible for sinking a South Korean naval ship on March 26th, killing 46 South Korean sailors. The North Koreans continue to deny responsibility, but seismic data, witness accounts, damage patterns, and recovered torpedo fragments (with North Korean markings) all point to the fact taht a North Korean torpedo sank the ship.
The South Korean government is petitioning the U.N. and other countries for sanctions against North Korea, but I'm not sure what sort of additional sanctions could be taken, given the fact that embargos and strong economic sanctions have already been in place against the country for decades, with China staning out as North Korea's strongest remaining ally.
That whole situation could get really ugly. Well, really, it already has. Forty six South Korean sailors have been killed by North Korea, and now it's apparent that South Korea can't really retaliate in any sort of meaningful way for fear of starting a really nasty war.
Messed up.

Awwww..... I gotta go. Sorry for the lame post, but I'm still pretty busy. Maybe more later.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Prediction for the Conclusion of Lost

By the way, it's clear to me by now that the bright light that's been hidden and protected for so long on the island is the same light that we saw in the briefcase in the movie Pulp Fiction. Lost is going to end with the destruction of the entire island (brought about by the final confrontation between Team Jacob and Team Locke), but not before Desmond steals the light and escapes. In the final scenes we'll see Desmond, still smeared in blood from the island's final battle, delivering the light to Marcellus Wallace, who secures the light in a briefcase and then locks it into a formidable wall safe in his penthouse office. Wallace will make some sort of cryptic comment about trading the contents of the briefcase in order to recover the most valuable thing he's ever owned. Meanwhile, Wallace's slimey little assistant, Brett, looks on with a little too much curiosity...

The Onion Keeps It Real

The following is an article from The Onion, a fake newspaper that writes humorous articles about current events from the news. I hardly ever cut and paste entire articles that I get from other sources (I usually just link to stuff), but I'm including this one on my blog because, even though this article is written in jest, it actually reflects a question that I've actually ended up pondering quite a bit in recent years- namely, why in the world we all seem so shocked that our government, social, and business institutions aren't performing more efficiently when the American people, as a whole, can seem sort of belligerent, self serving, entitled, irrational, impatient, lazy, and/or even a bit cowardly (I know this sounds like a strong indictment on my part, but I'm mostly just pointing these things out in order to examine the hypocrisy between individual behavior and the demands that we put on our goverment). We really are a nation which makes pretty terrible decisions when it comes to everything from our choices in food (we have a big obesity epidemic) to our spending priorities (we have a culture in which a significant numnber of people are willing to pay iPhone bills and cable bills that feed their big high def TVs, but who've never bothered to get health insurance) to our entertainment (our most popular movies draw their audiences off of special effects spectacle, and our most popular television involves the voyeurism of reality TV). People across this country bury themselves in personal debt, but then act shocked and appalled when the government runs into major budget problems. And, of course, long term affairs such as the state of the environment are addressed on a short sighted, impulsive basis, with the value that we place on things like fuel efficiency and conservation rising and lowering in importance in relation to short term factors, such as the weekly price of gasoline (or offshore drilling decisions being made based upon whether there happens to be a massive oil spill occurring right off of our coast that particular week).
Are we not getting what we ought to out of government, or is our representative government just reflecting the fractured, dysfunctional nature of modern American society? I'm not really sure, but it's definitely a question that we should be taking a long, hard look at.

So here's the article. Enjoy!!

Report: Majority Of Government Doesn't Trust Citizens Either
May 19, 2010 ISSUE 46•20

WASHINGTON—At a time when widespread polling data suggests that a majority of the U.S. populace no longer trusts the federal government, a Pew Research Center report has found that the vast majority of the federal government doesn't trust the U.S. populace all that much either.
According to the poll—which surveyed members of the judicial, legislative, and executive branches—9 out of 10 government officials reported feeling "disillusioned" by the populace and claimed to have "completely lost confidence" in the citizenry's ability to act in the nation's best interests.
"All the vitriol and partisan bickering in Congress has caused most Americans to form negative opinions of the U.S. government," Pew researcher Amy Ratner said. "However, over the same time period, the government has likewise grown wary of U.S. citizens, largely due to their utter lack of foresight, laziness, and overall incompetence."
Added Ratner, "And the fact that American Idol is still the No. 1 show on television doesn't exactly make our government burst with confidence."
Out of 100 U.S. senators polled, 84 said they don't trust the U.S. populace to do what is right, and 79 said Americans are not qualified to do their jobs. Ninety-one percent of all government officials polled said they find citizens to be every bit as irresponsible, greedy, irrational, and selfishly motivated as government officials are.
Moreover, according to nearly 100 percent of respondents, Wal-Mart.
"It makes complete sense for Americans to lose faith in a government that has allowed lobbyists and special interests to take over Washington," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters. "That being said, you could see why Washington might likewise lose faith in a populace that apparently still suspects that its president is a secret Muslim who was not born in the United States."
Citing the billions of dollars wasted annually on flavored water and boneless buffalo wings, the number of drunk-driving deaths each year, and the lack of citizen accountability for the rise of Kim Kardashian, government officials registered extremely low opinions of the American people overall.
"This is the same American populace that failed to prevent us from deregulating the banks that almost caused a complete economic meltdown last year," Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) said. "Year after year, they elect terrible officials who make terrible decisions on their behalf. The fact that I, Jim Bunning, am a two-term U.S. senator really shows you just how far Americans have gone off the rails."
"I wouldn't trust anyone who voted me into office," he added.
Government skepticism is not confined to legislators, though. A cross-sampling of the U.S. Supreme Court found that only 1 in 9 justices believe the general populace to be ethical. Their confidence that the American people can resist consuming the newest Burger King sandwich just because it's there or at least keep it to one a week has also fallen to a 10-year low.
"They can't even fill out their census forms, for crying out loud," Gov. Butch Otter of Idaho said. "It's only 10 questions long. We're not talking about taking the SATs here. Jesus Christ, don't get me started on the SATs."
One typical respondent, President Barack Obama, said he found it hard to trust the judgment of U.S. citizens after recent events, including their decision to elect a president who promised health care reform and then come out against health care reform.
"How can I have hope for a nation that regularly protests tax cuts that directly benefit them?" Obama said. "Look, I'm not always perfect at my job, either, but I think I could make a halfway coherent comment on a YouTube video if I had to. Isn't that basically all they do?
Added Obama, "At this point, the only positive thing I can say about the American people is that I'm pretty sure they've never rigged an election in their favor."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

ACL Lineup

Hey! So the Austin City Limits Music Festival lineup just came out, and I'm pretty excited about it. Among the acts I'm interested in seeing: The Flaming Lips, LCD Soundsystem, Broken Bells, Spoon, Cage the Elephant, Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses, M.I.A., Robert Earl Keen, Sonic Youth, The Eagles, Band of Horses, and, of course, Phish.
I know that it's been cool to say how much you hate The Eagles ever since The Big Lebowski (for those who haven't seen it, the main character, The Dude, occasionally has a small tirade about how much he hates The Eagles, though he loves Creedence Clearwater Revival) came out, but the truth is that I actually like some of their songs, and I have a soft spot (admittedly, part of this is nostalgia- it seemed for a long time like you couldn't walk into a smokey bar or greasey diner without hearing Eagles music on the radio or jukebox).
I'm also happy that LCD Soundsystem is returning. I saw them put on a really good show at a previous ACL Fest, and then I became a little more familiar with them when Ryan played some of their music for me while we were driving around the countryside in Costa Rica. Cool stuff.
And, of course, Phish. Most of my friends already really love Phish, and many of my friends have seen them live a number of times (I don't even want to venture to guess how many times Sigmund has seen Phish as he followed them around the country). reed really loves Phish and Jeff Wilson was a huge fan- the fact that I listened to Phish was one of the things that originally led to a friendship between Jeff and I (some of our earliest conversations up at the courthouse were about Phish and how they had done cool Halloween shows where they had covered Talking Heads and Pink Floyd albums). Anyway, Mandy, Jeff, and Sigmund have all travelled to their fair share of Phish shows, and with so many of my friends having a longtime love affair with this band, it's great that I'm finally going to get a chance to see them. Some people love Phish more than others, but just about anyone who has listened to them (especially recordings of their live shows) will agree that they're great musicians.
So, it's long overdue, but I'm really happy about finally having an opportunity to see Phish! (and wouldn't you know that if I just waited long enough, eventually Phish would come to me... ;-))

Anyway, there's lots of good stuff this year. Should be fun! Now let's start doing our good weather dance for next October!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Weekend Update; Supreme Court and Sex Offender Incarceration; Small Victory for BP

Hi. Hope the weekend was good.
Mine was good. Went by too fast. Highlights included breakfast with Ryan, Jamie, and Heather, a Saturday crawfish boil that was put on by Ken Gibson's office (which was really nice- good food, live music, and a chance to hang out and talk with courthouse people without having to argue about the ridiculous tomfoolery of criminal defendants), and some hanging out with Mandy and Vikki over at Mandy's house. I also spent some time recording/editing music, and I took Cassidy to the dog park.

What else? Well, I don't really talk about matters involving criminal law a whole lot on this blog (or at least not a super lot, given that I practice criminal law for a living), but I found this sort of interesting: the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal law today which allows inmates who are considered "sexually dangerous" to be held in custody indefinitely on civil commitments, even after these inmates have completed their initial prison terms (so after they complete their original sentence for whatever crime they initially committed, the federal system may continue to hold them in custody if they are deemed to still be "sexually dangerous" at the time when they normally would be released).
I find the ruling interesting because I have some very mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I find it troubling that law enforcement/prison/mental health officials can continue to hold a person in custody indefinitely, even after a person has served out the maximum amount of time for which they've been sentenced. The skeptical, suspicious, paranoid part of my mind immediately wonders how many sex crime inmates are going to be held for indefinite periods of time, not necessarily because they legitimately continue to pose a significant risk to society, but because law enforcement officials didn't think that a particular inmate got a long enough sentence in the first place, because the inmate has been a pain in the butt to deal with while they've been in custody, or for any number of reasons. Hopefully, in practice, these determinations of "sexual dangerousness" will be conducted by some sort of independent, qualified mental health/behavioral science experts who operate separately and make their assessments without undue influence from law enforcement officials (who may have their own, unrelated reasons to favor or oppose continued custody). Also, there's part of me that worries about a system which may take a less serious offense (perhaps a case where an inmate tried to commit a sexual assault, but never actually did), and then holds a person in prison indefinitely for it (with the inmate spending more time in jail than people who have committed actual murders and other serious crimes).
So part of me is pretty wary of a system which can continue to hold an inmate long after the sentence handed down by the judge or jury has expired.
On the other hand, back when I was doing work as a defense attorney, I worked on some sexual assault cases, both as a lead attorney, and, on some particularly bad cases, as a second chair. (People used to ask me how I could handle working on those cases, and while it wasn't easy, I always felt like there would be almost nothing worse to be accused of than sexual assault if you didn't actually commit the crime.) Anyway, in most of my other defense work, I usually felt like the defendants were just people who made some really bad choices and did some dumb things (sometimes insanely dumb, and often fueled by drugs and/or alcohol), but at least most of the time I felt like I could understand where my clients were coming from, in one way or another (i.e., drug dealers usually want to make money and feed their addiction, the assaults were usually the result of fighting over money, drugs, gang stuff, or members of the opposite sex, burglars wanted to steal stuff and sell it, etc.).
The sex offenders, though, were often a breed apart. Once you really got into a serious conversation with them, you often realized that they just had a different view of other people and the world than a normal person might have. Not only did they often have a sort of predatory mindset, but they had a compulsive desire to do bad stuff, which a number of them admitted was beyond their ability to control (defendants will tell their lawyers all kinds of crazy things if the lawyer is willing to just sit there and be nonjudgmental while they tell their story). The behavior on these sex cases was even more troubling and difficult to comprehend on cases where children were involved (yup, I was involved in a few of those cases, too- not exactly my favorite things to work on).
All of this to say that while part of me is wary of this Supreme Court ruling, another part of me thinks its probably a good idea to take these predators away from society and just lock them up until some kind of expert can give us assurances that they're not going to hurt anyone again. Sexual predators can really, truly be some dangerous, damaged folks. They can suffer from compulsions that they have a really difficult time controlling, they can seem totally harmless even when they're actually pretty dangerous (I had a number of cases where the defendant's family and friends were totally outraged by accusations, insisting that there was no way the defendant would ever do such a thing- even though, privately, the client had already admitted his guilt to me), and sex offenders can be very good at covering their tracks (preying upon children and other people that they think are unlikely to report the crimes or that no one will believe).
Anyway, I know it's an area of study with a high "ick" factor, but we really actually need a lot more research regarding predatory sex offenders. The problem with simply locking all of them away for life is that sometimes the person may not really have actually done a whole lot wrong when we first get ahold of them (and we don't really lock people away in this country simply for having bad thoughts). It might not be feasible to lock away a person for life when he gets caught spying on or talking to children inappropriately for the first time, but from everything I understand, these are the people who are most likely to continue to reoffend, and to increase the egregiousness of their behavior over time. If we could actually treat sex offenders for their dysfunction and find a way to get them to control their impulses (hopefully even before they start acting on them), that might be an important step in terms of public safety. Plus, it could help to alleviate the need for locking people up for almost indefinite periods, regardless of their actual crime.
Anyway, sorry to start out your week with talk about sex offenders, but I've thought about some of these issues before, back when I was doing defense work.

What else? BP finally got a tube inserted into the massive oil leak at the Deepwater Horizon well site, but they're reporting that this device is only recovering about 1,000 barrels of oil a day (the apparatus takes oil from the leak site and funnels it up to an oil recovery vessel at the surface). Given the fact that BP has reported a flow of 5,000 barrels of oil a day from the well site and that other experts are claiming the flow could actually be much higher, I don't feel all that comforted by a fix which is addressing, at best, maybe 20% of this huge oil spill. I'm glad BP has come up with something, but... keep working, guys. You still have a long way to go in getting this thing fixed (let alone cleaned up).

Well, I guess maybe that's about it for now. Maybe more later.
Once again, I apologize for sex crime talk on a Monday. I promise not to kick off next week the same way.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bomb Scare; R.I.P. Law and Order

Hey! Happy Friday!
What's up?
Not too much here.

We had a bomb scare today at the Travis County criminal courthouse. Because of the bomb scare, I had a meeting cancelled as well as one of my dockets. So it's been kind of a weird (and somewhat unproductive) day. Maybe I should have been more worried about the chance of a bomb, but mostly I was just a little annoyed because I just found it extremely unlikely that anyone had smuggled a bomb into the building (we do have security checkpoints and whatnot). Maybe I'm not taking the threat seriously enough (Joe Stack is still in the back of my mind after all), but in the end it was just a fake bomb, and I guess that I'd rather take sensible precautions and not worry too much as opposed to letting would-be bombers freak me out.

Also, Law and Order is being cancelled- not all the spin offs (like Special Victims Unit and the new Law and Order Los Angeles), but the original series.
That's too bad. It's had its high points and low points, but over the years they've mostly managed to avoid the melodrama and a soap opera feel that many legal shows fall into, instead focusing on just police work and prosection. Plus, by and large the law on the show is pretty accurate. To this day, I still credit Law and Order with helping me to get a decent grade on my evidence exam during law school (for almost every question asked on the final, I could think of a Law and Order episode that involved a corresponding rule of evidence). Sometimes they portray certain workings of the justice system inaccurately in order to increase the sense of drama (e.g., defendants in real life are almost never present for plea bargain meetings between prosecutors and defense counsel), but by and large, the show is fairly realistic (and, of course, the show was always famous for basing its fictional cases upon ntotorious real life crimes and criminal trials from across the country).
Anyway, I'll miss you Law and Order!!

Well, I don't have much else, and I have little time, anyway. Maybe more later!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

No Time to Post; Veterans Treatment Courts

Sorry!

p.s.- Well, I heard this story on NPR yesterday about veterans treatment courts, and I thought I would share it. I've been working with a group of people here in Travis Couty who are working to set up a veterans court. Still in progress....

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lost; Oil Companies and the Blame Game

Hello.
Well, I still don't have too much to report. I watched Lost last night. Maybe I shouldn't discuss it too much (it seems like I just piss off the Lost fans when I do), but I wasn't super impressed. They may end up still pulling off some kind of amazing ending to the series, I guess, but so far I haven't found these final episodes all that great (and yet, having watched the show for a number of seasons, I still feel compelled to watch the show through its conclusion). They could still turn the whole show around, though, if it turns out that the bright light from the cave from last night's episode turns out to be the same mysterious, glowing thing from the briefcase in Pulp Fiction.
What else?
Oil industry execs continued to testify before a House subcommittee on Energy and Commerce oversight today. I never doubted for a second that this whole accident was eventually going to result in congressional hearings and a whole lot of big lawsuits and whatnot, but somehow I just didn't think we'd already be engaged in all of this fingerpointing while the actual disaster was still unfolding and before the leak was even contained. I'm not saying their should be any avoidance of responsibility and accountability, but can't we at least find a way to plug the 200,000 gallon a day oil leak before we move into the blame and recriminations stage? I know, I know- even I was typing that last sentence I knew that it sounded hopelessly naive. Still, the spouting oil is an ongoing problem, and it just sort of seems like we ought to have everyone's attention focused on putting a stop to this mess at the moment. It all really makes my head hurt.

Well, that wasn't much, but I'm not feeling very inspired these days. I'm sorry.

Peace.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

JC Brooks and The Uptown Sound play Wilco

Hey there!

Here's a video from Wilco's Facebook site (obviously, the guys from Wilco must dig it). JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound cover Wilco. I really like this cover a lot. They did Wilco proud.




I don't have a lot today. At least I gave you the video.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Weekend Update; Iron Man 2; Kick-Ass; Elena Kagan








Hey! Hope everyone is starting off the week on the right foot. My weekend was pretty good. These pictures are from a barbecue that Matt and Nicole had at their place on Saturday. It was a good time. Once again, we find Ryan hunched over a fire, poking a piece of meat with a stick, and in the other pic that's Jeff chatting it up with Ryan and Laura while Matt hangs out in the background (I think maybe there's someone out of frame that Matt's talking to, but it's also quite possible that he's just awkwardly lurking and hoping to be included in the conversation). Anyway, it was nice to hang out with folks at the barbecue.

What else? Well, I went to the spillover with Cassidy, spent a lot of time playing guitar, did a bit of recording, ran some errands, and went to see Iron Man 2 with Ryan and Jamie.

I liked Iron Man 2. I thought that it dovetailed really nicely into the first Iron Man movie (the characters, with all of their concerns, motivations, and personalities, remained realistically consistent between the two movies), and although most of the big battle action sequences didn't happen until near the end of the movie, I actually really enjoyed most of the character driven storyline stuff that led up to the shooting and the exploding and the aerial acrobatics.
I mean, Iron Man is basically a popcorn movie, to be sure, but it's still a really fun ride, and it remains smart and clever. I've read a few reviews from critics who didn't like the movie (although lots of critics do like the movie- it was at about 75% on Rotten Tomatoes when I checked last), but many of the negative reviews sounded like the rationalizations of people who probably weren't ever going to appreciate a summer blockbuster superhero movie in the first place (and who were probably sort of dismayed when the popularity of the first Iron Man movie sort of forced them to take the whole premise more seriously than they wanted to in the first place). When it comes to summer action movie blockbusters, I think that Iron Man 2 holds up pretty well. I think that most people who liked the first one will probably like the second one. If you didn't really see what all of the hubbub was about the first time around, though, Iron Man 2 probably isn't going to be the movie that wins you over.

Oh yeah, I also saw Kick-Ass on Friday (why does Friday always seem like such a distant memory by Sunday night?). For those who don't know, Kick-Ass is a superhero movie about a kid with no super powers (well, he gets beaten up, and somehow, in the process, his nerve endings become deadened somewhat- not much of a power, anyway) who decides to become a superhero and fight crime. In the process of becoming the world's first real superhero, Kick-Ass figures out that there are some very real bad guys out there and some really violent, crazy, vigilante-style superheros who are already waging war against them.
Kick-Ass is a weird movie. It's pretty darn violent, has some very vulgar language (made more shocking because it's coming out of little girl's mouth), and it has a sort of extremely flexible internal logic which makes it feel sort of realistic one moment, but then totally implausible the next (yes, I think a couple of armed street muggers would probably make short work of some self proclaimed superhero in a scuba suit; no, I do not think an eleven year old girl could take out twenty odd members of an organized crime syndicate- even if she was raised by a crazy father who constantly trained her to fight).
Basically, there are a lot of reasons you can criticize Kick-Ass, and plenty of reasons why the movie could fail, and yet somehow I was entertained by it, anyway. The movie is quirky and fun and it doesn't ever take itself too seriously (sometimes maybe not even seriously enough- at least two times during the movie there are kids whose parents get killed, but the kids just seem to shake these events off as if they were relatively minor inconveniences).
I think that part of the reason I ended up enjoying the movie was because of the cast. From Aaron Johnson to Chloe Grace Moretz to Nicholas Cage to Mintz-Plasse, I thought that there were a number of good actors in the film who did a good job of developing their characters and having fun with them.
Anyway, I have a bit of a hard time heartily recommending Kick-Ass to everyone because I know that it's not going to be up everyone's alley, but I enjoyed it.


What else? Sounds like Obama is going to select Elena Kagan to be his Supreme Court nominee. While I'm cautiously supportive, to be honest, I just don't know a whole lot about the woman. While she's never been a judge, Kagan's current post in solicitor general, meaning that she represents (or manages the team which represents) the United States on most cases that are heard before the U.S. Supreme Court.
So Kagan doesn't really have judicial experience, per se, but she has lots of experience with the U.S. Supreme Court, and a thorough understanding of how the court operates and decides cases.
Kagan's also the former dean of Harvard Law School, formerly served as White House Counsel under Bill Clinton, and was a law clerk for Thurgood Marshall.
At any rate, if Kagan makes it onto the Supreme Court, this would be the first time that three women have ever sat on the court at one time (Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor already hold seats), so that would be cool.
Anyway, I'm sure we'll learn much more about Elena Kagan as the confirmation process moves forward.
I have to say that I'm a little disappointed that I wasn't nominated. Oh well. I'll get 'em next time.

And I was frustrated and disappointed to see that BP wasn't successful in containing their offshore oil leak with a dome over the weekend (apparently some sort of ice crystals formed when they tried to use the thing, making it too buoyant and possibly plugging up the oil flow into an evacuation hose).
I'm not sure what other implications this whole mess is going to have, but at the very least, I think it's clear that they're going to need a much better back up plan in place to deal with accidents and disasters if we're going to even consider to allow continued drilling in deep water off of America's coastlines (it feels like all of the attempted remedies that are going on now are sort of experimental fixes that haven't been tried in deep water before. I understand that things rarely go wrong this badly on deep water rigs, but given the consequences of an accident, it seems like contingency plans probably should have been better developed. I find it not at all reassuring that all of these "fixes" are now being tried for a first time at this depth in the midst of a potential ecological crisis.).
Well, that's about all that I have today. Hope you guys are having a good one!


Friday, May 07, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!!

Hey! Hope everyone is doing ok. There's not really gonna be a post today because I'm just too tied up with stuff, but I wanted to wish all of you mothers a happy Mother's Day, and a happy weekend to the rest of you as well. Hope everyone has a good weekend!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Stomp;

Hey! Hope things are going okay for everyone.

Last night I went to see Stomp at The Paramount with Mandy and Kellie. I'd never seen it before, and it was pretty darn cool. Those Stomp dancers not only have an incredible sense of rhythm (a number of them seemed able to execute rhythms that were on a par with any number of really good drummers), but they have a tremendous amount of coordination and physical ability. And, of course, the coordination that's involved with both the music and the choreography was extremely impressive. Not only does the troupe manage to produce intricate rhythms, but they rely upon one another to hit individual notes in the correct sequence (while dancing around and whatnot) lest their songs fall apart.
Growing up, I took a stab at the church bell choir at least once or twice. It was much more challenging than I expected. You stand there, sometimes for a long, long time as other people are playing their parts, and then you're expected to hit your particular note when it goes racing by. If you miss your one little note, the whole song is screwed up. I just really had a hard time only hitting those single notes without playing the contextual notes around them- the notes leading up to your particular note and following it. Well, Stomp is a little like the bell choir on overdrive. Really complicated rhythms played by a number of different people, with all of these individual notes sort of interdependent on each other. And, like I said, there's also the fact that they're dancing around (sometimes even swinging on ropes) while doing this stuff.
I remember one of my band directors telling us at some point that all musicianship is actually dancing (you have to physically move parts of your body in particular ways in order to make music on pretty much any sort of instrument, after all), and Stomp kind of almost turns that whole idea on his head. The Stomp troupe basically turns their dancing into a musical instrument. The movement of their dance creates the sound that keeps the audience engaged.
Admittedly, Stomp is sort of a one trick pony (by the end of it I was starting to yearn a bit for a melody in all that rhythm), but it's a really good trick, and the Stomp crew executes it pretty flawlessly.
Anyway, I enjoyed Stomp. Thanks to Mandy and Kellie for letting me tag along!

What else? They're starting work on lowering that oil containment device over the well at the Deepwater Horizon accident site. So that's gotta be a good thing. Good luck to the crews working on that operation.

Well, that's it for me for now. Sorry, but it's another hectic day.
You guys take care!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Phoenix Keeps it Real;

Hi. Halfway through the week. Dig it.

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Hope you guys get a chance to have a margarita or something.

So what's up? Not too much here. The Phoenix Suns have announced that in tonight's playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs the Suns will be wearing jerseys that read "Los Suns", a uniform change meant to protest the new Arizona immigration bill and honor the Arizona Latino community on the Cinco de Mayo holiday. The team is reported to have conducted a locker room vote on the matter and unanimously decided to wear the jerseys in order to protest the new bill (which allows the police to demand people to produce documentation that proves their citizenship in various "suspicious" situations).
As insignificant as this change of wardrobe sounds, I think it actually took a bit of courage. This move by The Suns is probably going to really piss a lot of people off, especially, but not limited to, people in Arizona. First of all, the law has a fair amount of support in Arizona, and second of all, the NBA probably isn't going to be too happy about the players and the team owner, Robert Sarver, potentially hurting their ratings and/or risking a boycott with this sort of overt political action. Sarver attempted to mitigate the controversy a little bit by pointing out that this flawed state immigration law was only passed because the federal government has failed to assume any sort of effective leadership role in tackling immigration issues (this should slightly pacify a few conservatives- if there's anything they like even better than worrying about illegal immigrants it's hating on the federal government). Still, in a state where former GOP presidential candidate John McCain is now having to watch his back because he's not conservative enough, it seems awfully risky for a professional sports team to be taking a stand on controversial laws regarding illegal immigrants.
And I know that a lot of people are going to be saying that professional sports are simply not the proper place for a political protest. But I guess I disagree with that sort of thinking. For one thing, these "Los Suns" jerseys are normally worn as part of "Noche Latina", a marketing gimmick that the NBA has been using on designated nights to try to appeal to their Hispanic, Latino fan base. If the NBA is willing to pander to, and try to make money off of, a Latino audience, then they probably shouldn't shy away from some involvement with issues that effect that community.
Also, to be honest, I think that part of the problem with the political discourse in our country is that such a large percentage of the population simply opts out of any participation in the political process. It just seems like we have way too many people in this country who sit on the sidelines while much more vocal elements from the more extreme ends of both sides of the political spectrum are the ones who end up dominating the political landscape. Anyway, I know that many people just want to watch their basketball without having to ever give a thought to issues about illegal immigration (or any number of other issues), but given the fact that the illegal immigration debate is having a life changing impact on significant other segments of our population (legal and illegal immigrants, their families, their friends, and their communities), I think that more people should be giving this matter some thought. Raising the consciousness of the sports viewing audience might not be a bad idea. If a change in uniforms by the Suns is enough of a catalyst to make people put down the beer and pretzels for a moment and have a brief conversation (or at least a moment of thought) about immigration issues, then I think that The Suns have accomplished something worthwhile (and I think it can't hurt for a bunch of sports fans to realize that these issues aren't just for lame, old suits and politicians- even famous basketball players care about this sort of stuff).
Anyway, I can see how political protest at sporting events could quickly get out of hand (I'm not sure I'm ready to see a litany of different political grievances appearing on various basketball jerseys every week), but this Arizona immigration law is sort of a unique situation. It's a state law (meaning that in some ways it's sort of a regional issue), but it's attracted a whole bunch of national attention (and international attention, for that matter), and I think that the Suns players just felt like they needed to do something to demonstrate that not all Arizona citizens are in support of this law. In effect, they're just trying to represent the views of a certain part of their home state- a group of people who feel like their voices really haven't been heard in light of the new legislation.
I'm a Spurs fan, so I'll be pulling for them, but I'm pretty impressed with the Suns. If nothing else, it's nice to see them acknowledging the fact that there are some things going on in the world that people ought to be just as interested in, if not more interested in, than sports.

What else? I don't know. And today has been kind of crazy.

Maybe I better just say adios for today. I'll rap at you guys tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

N.Y. bomber from Pakistan; Pollution Containment Gambit; Flooding is Bad

Hey! How's everybody doing?

Well, not too much to report.
They arrested a guy named Faisal Shahzad last night as he was trying to leave the country to fly to Pakistan (by way of Dubai). Furthermore, apparently Pakistani police forces arrested two or three people in a house in Karachi, hours after Shahzad's arrest here in the U.S..
Okay, obviously I was a little off base about this whole thing being an act of domestic terrorism, which was kind of a dumb claim on my part, anyway, in retrospect. I thought it was domestic terrorism because of the amateurish nature of the whole thing, but we've had international terrorists try to launch some half-assed attacks before (e.g., shoe bomber and Christmas bomber), and some of the domestic terrorist attacks have been startlingly effective (Oklahoma City, Joe Stack, etc.). In fact, even before they arrested Shahzad last night I heard a British security consultant on CNN talking about the fact that this attempt was almost certainly international terrorism because domestic terrorists tend to attack specific, designated target (like government offices and whatnot), while international terrorists are more likely to see the American people, in general, as their target, and they tend to be more likely to want to inflict mass casualties on highly visible, but random civilian targets. As soon as I heard this guy say this, it sounded intuitively correct, and I realized that I was probably wrong about the whole domestic terrorist angle (although, at the time, I continued to think that this guy might be some sort of independent, "lone wolf" extremist who was acting on his own, but sympathizing with the cause of some sort of international terrorist group).
Anyway, kudos to all of the members of law enforcement who made this arrest happen so quickly. It seems like Shahzad didn't do a great job of covering his tracks, but it was still really impressive to see law enforcement track him down so quickly. And snatching the guy off the plane right as he was getting ready to leave the country? That was something right out of a movie.

And BP is getting ready to try to lower a four story tall "pollution containment chamber"over the well in the Gulf of Mexico that's been causing the giant oil slick. Apparently this particular sort of containment with this particular sort of mechanism has never really been tried in this way before (containment vessels of this type have never been used before in water this deep- about a mile below the ocean's surface). If this thing works as its designed, it could reduce the flow of oil into the ocean by 80% (not exactly perfect, but it would be a lot better than what's happening now). So I'm really pulling for BP and for all of the engineers and workers who are involved in this containment effort. I just can't imagine trying to maneuver and set up a device of that size when you have to do the whole thing with remote control robots and your work site is a mile beneath the ocean.

Also, I know that there was terrible flooding in Nashville over the last few days. I have a few friends there (the Blood family, The Palka clan), and I hope they're doing okay. Other from that, though, I just don't have much to say about it other than it really sucks, and I wish people the best of luck as they try to rebuild.

Well, that ain't much, but it's all that I've got today, kids.

Peace to ya.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Weekend Update; Times Square Bombing; Obama's Katrina?















Well, it was a good weekend, all in all. On Saturday I celebrated the fanboy high holiday, Free Comic Book Day, with a trip to Austin Books with Ryan, Jamie, and our friend, Paul. There was quite a crowd in attendance for Free Comic Book Day, including a few costumed fans (I saw a couple of Spidermans, a Batman, and I think a Black Cat and a Batgirl in the mix, although I heard Black Cat and Batgirl were just doing a plug for Lucy in Disguise, the costume shop on South Congress). Anyway, I picked up a bunch of free stuff as well as the trade paperback of a series called Scalped, which is essentially a variation on a sort of crime noir theme, but taking place on a South Dakota Indian reservation within a Native American organized crime syndicate (which is kind of interesting).

Sunday, Cassidy and I took out first trip of the year down to the spillover at Barton Springs. Cassidy was really happy to be there, and the weather was really great.
Other from that, the weekend involved a lot of guitar playing and a bit of reading and some Sunday evening Mono Ensemble practice.

Once again (as with the shoe bomber, the Christmas Day bomber, and others) Americans managed to dodge a bullet (in a metaphorical sense), mostly because of the ineptitude of the attackers. I'm guessing that this Times Square deal was the work of domestic terrorists who were more or less amateurs in terms of setting off nasty bombs in crowded places (there were propane tanks, gasoline cans, fertilizer, and M-80s in the car, but the fertilizer was "nonexplosive grade" and the police are now thinking that the devices in the car may have ignited or begun to burn prematurely, causing the bombers to hurriedly abandon the operation).
Anyway, a tee shirt vendor noticed the vehicle and contacted a policeman who smelled gun powder and began to immediately evacuate the area. Hats off to those two guys for being on top of things so quickly. We can yell and cry all that we want for increased Homeland Security measures, better surveillance, and so forth, but, in the end, the awareness and quick thinking of these sorts of average people are going to be the sort of thing that can really help to keep us safer (just go ask the people in the U.K. who lived with IRA attacks for years or people in Israel and the West Bank who've been dealing with terrorist attacks for decades).
And that whole oil spill mess just continues to get worse out in the Gulf of Mexico. On CNN this morning, several different times I heard reporters asking people if this whole thing was "President Obama's Katrina". Well, if you keep asking that question that way (Rush Limbaugh, I believe, was one of the first people to characterize the oil spill with that term) over and over again for long enough, then people might start to see it that way, but I think the parallels are minimal, at best. The governmental failures of Katrina were largely compounded by the fact that the unorganized response was headed up by Bush's new director of FEMA, Michael D. Brown, an appointee who received his position by way of political maneuvering and nepotism, with little expertise or experience in coordinated disaster response and relief.
Obama critics have attempted to say that the president's response didn't come quickly enough (an accusation which was levelled at Bush in the wake of Katrina), but in the case of this oil spill, the U.S. Coast Guard has been on the scene since just about the beginning of the whole thing, and additional resources (including the Navy) have been deployed as their need has become apparent. If anything, the recovery effort may have initially been slowed a bit by a lack of appreciation regarding the scope and size of the spill, but early reports from BP (who had the greatest understanding of the accident and the most technical knowhow regarding the site) now seem like they were either inaccurate or that they initially attempted to minimize the scale of the disaster. Bush's folks, on the other hand, failed to mobilize even as news of broken levies and flooding began to fill the airwaves.
Anyway, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that Obama's critics are immediately going after the president and the way that he's handled this ordeal, but it annoys me to know that many of the same people who have been stout defenders of offshore drilling in the name of "American energy independence" are now going to try to criticize the president for not cleaning up the oil industry's mess fast enough when disaster occurs. (and this right after the president sort of went out on a limb with his own political base by lifting the moratorium on offshore drilling along the East Coast and Alaska- although we'll see if that changes now)
Give it a rest, people.
Well, that's all that I have for now. Hope you guys are starting a great week!