Monday, June 28, 2010

Ban on Whaling Survives

Still not really feeling the blogging, but it's been a while, so I feel the need to write something.

There's a good article today in The New York Times about the International Whaling Commission and about how the commission narrowly avoided a repeal of its 24 year ban on commercial whaling last week.
The article discusses new research that has continued to confirm the extremely intelligent and socially complex nature of various whale and dolphin species, and it has a little bit about the international politics that impact commercial whaling (e.g., Japan and Norway have been violating the whaling ban for years, claiming that they engage in whaling practices for scientific research purposes while nonetheless selling the harvested whale meat).
Anyway, I love animals, and I love whales and dolphins. I just can't imagine wanting to kill something that's so smart and graceful and cool.
I went to an animal rights conference last year which was attended by, among others, some lawyers who work with Green Peace and The Sea Shepherds (both are conservation groups), and they discussed the need for international global cooperation in order to preserve whale and dolphin populations across the planet. From a legal standpoint, the work to protect whales involves a lot of work with treaties and international law and a whole lot of lobbying of various governments. It sounded like interesting work, and these guys seemed extremely enthusiastic and dedicated. They also said that they typically earned salaries that would make a first year teacher look really wealthy.
I've heard arguments that more whales might have actually been saved if the whaling commission had allowed quotas on commercial whaling, but tightened up some of these "scientific research" loopholes. I just can't help feeling that that would be a move in the wrong direction. Personally, I don't want to see the rules on whaling restructured. I want to see whaling abolished entirely.
Well, that's it. Make a donation to Greenpeace or The World Wildlife Fund or The Animal Welfare Institute.

Monday, June 21, 2010

More Break

Well, I'm going to continue this break, but I just wanted to check in and say hello. Just haven't been feeling it. Hope everyone is doing okay.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day!

Happy Father's Day to all of you fathers out there. I especially want to wish a happy Father's Day to my own father, of course, who is currently wandering around the Italian countryside somewhere on a trip with my mom and some friends. As I've gotten older I've come to appreciate more and more exactly what's involved in the "job" of being a father, and as time goes by I've come to appreciate my own Dad more and more for what he's done for me and for our family over the course of our lives.
Love you, Dad!!! Hope you're having a great Father's Day! (and yeah, I sent an email to his Blackberry, too. Having hung out with Dad in London, I know that he doesn't let a little thing like the Atlantic Ocean come between him and his email!)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mom and Dad in Venice; Still on Break

Mom and Dad are in Italy, and it looks like they're having a good time. Here they are in Venice.
I'm still staying on break for a while. Strangely enough, after years of nonstop blogging, I'm actually finding that I enjoy just keeping my thoughts private for a while.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Break?

I swear that I haven't intentionally been avoiding the blog, but things have just been sort of crazy lately, and I'm starting to think that maybe my subconscious brain is telling me that I just need a break. I think I might take a little bit of time off. Nothing too dramatic, and I'm going to post if I feel inspired, but the day to day obligation to write a post just isn't working for me very well at the moment, so if I don't pop up for a little while, just consider it a blog vacation. I really appreciate you guys who are still reading! I don't want to let you down, but I just need a little rest...

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

No Post

Sorry there was no post today. It was a really busy day.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Something to Share

Hey. Hope you guys are doing okay. Not really going to post today, mostly just because I'm not in the mood, but Ryan and Jamie have recently shared Steve Brule with me, and I feel like I would be doing you guys a great disservice if I didn't make sure everyone had the opportunity to see it. I think I relate a little bit too much to the good doctor.


Monday, June 07, 2010

Swedish Wilco

I bet my grandma would have liked this...

Weekend Update: Batman; Travis County Mental Health




Well, it was a decent weekend. Went over to Matt and Nicole's house for Matt's birthday celebration, which was a good time. Sunday I went to a screening of the old Batman movie from 1966 at the Paramount(along with Ryan and Jamie and Julia and Bill). The screening featured a replica of the old Batmobile (driven by Batman and Robin, of course), a bunch of live bats that had been brought in by a bat conservation group, and an appearance by Adam West, the original Batman from the 60's TV series (in the picture up above, that's Adam West there on the right in the light colored linen suit). In addition to just being a really good time, the whole thing just had a lot of personal significance to me because the old Batman TV show was one of the first television programs that I ever remember watching and really loving. Batman was on in syndication when I was a little kid, and I used to watch it religiously. In fact, Mom used to plunk down my little baby brother next to me while I watched the show, and one of the first words that Ryan ever learned to say was the word "Batman", which he blurted out along with me as I sang along with the show's theme song (it's a good theme song for little kids, given the fact that it really only has one word).
So, even though there were lots of little kids in the theater who were parroting back the actor's lines and talking at the screen throughout the movie (in his excitement, the little kid sitting behind me actually started climbing up over my shoulder at one point), yesterday's Batman screening was definitely one of those occasions when I was pretty happy to be watching a movie with a bunch of kiddos. It was a really good thing. I hope some of those kids grow up to have some of the same fondness for that original Batman series that I've always felt. Given all of the darkness and violence that fills so many modern superhero movies, it was refreshing to go back to a superhero story that was clearly meant to be taken more lightly and with a sense of humor.
As Adam West, himself, said (paraphrasing), "Today's Batman is all about the Dark Knight. I was, and am happy to be, the Bright Knight!"
West clearly really enjoyed talking to the crowd and was appreciative of a fanbase that packed a large theater on a hot summer afternoon just for the chance to see him and and a movie that he starred in 44 years ago. And we were more than happy to have him in attendance.
Also, there was an interesting article in the Austin Chronicle from last week about the troubled state of the mental health care system here in Travis County. Given the lack of hospital space for the mentally ill here in Travis County and the fact that many of these people ultimately end up in our jail, the topics discussed in the article have a pretty direct bearing on the day to day work that I do as a mental health prosecutor. I would probably write a whole lot more about this whole topic if I hadn't just talked everyone's ear off on the subject last week while discussing the overall population of mentally ill people in jails and prisons across the U.S..
Well, that's all I have for today. I encourage everyone to read that Chronicle article and to support increased services for the mentally ill here in Austin.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Virtual Accomplishment


I just finally finished playing Assassin's Creed 2. It was a good game. The ending was kind of trippy. The game made me want to go to Italy. Or at least time travel to Renaissance Italy.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Jails, Hospitals, and Mental Health

Happy Friday, everyone. It's been a short week, but with having been sick for the better part of it, it's sort of felt like a long week to me at the same time.

So what's up?

A coworker sent me a link to a new study that came out this month, showing that across the United States there are now more than three times as many mentally ill people in jails and prisons than in hospitals. Frankly, that's just awful.
Let me start off by saying that, as a prosecutor who deals with these cases, my job is supposed to be to see that justice is served. We even have a prosecutorial oath which says as much.
But I'm here to tell everyone that the criminal justice system isn't really designed to deal with the sort of issues that involve the mentally ill. At best, the criminal justice system is designed to accomodate the circumstances that surround mental illness (sort of making exceptions and special rules that can be applied in cases involving mental illness), but one of the underlying, foundational premises for the functioning of the entire criminal justice system revolves around the idea of free will, responsibility, and personal accountability. When people are genuinely incapable of acting rationally or control their own behavior, the criminal justice system has a hard time dealing with them (and I'm definitely not here to say that every case of mental illness automatically prevents a person from controlling their behavior and making logical decisions, but part of my job as a mental health prosecutor involves trying to figure out when I should be holding people accountable for their behavior versus those instances where it really wouldn't be fair or rational to do so, and that can be a hard decisions to make- even qualified doctors may not be able to come to an agreement on such matters. And yes, I do rely upon the opinions and expertise of mental health professionals when making decisions.)
One thing that really discourages me about the results of this study is the simple fact that it shows not only how badly the mental health system is broken, but also the damage that's being caused to not only the mentally ill population in this country, but to the general population at large, as well. A key component of my job is to stand up for the rights of victims, and on the vast majority of cases that put mentally ill people into jail in the first place, somewhere out there there is a victim who has been physically hurt, had their property damaged, their safety threateneed, or their quality of life impacted in some sort of negative way. I really, truly do sympathize with people who struggle with mental illness, but the flip side of the equation is that we just can't expect the general population to put up with socially unacceptable behavior and criminal acts that are committed by people with illnesses. The rights and freedoms of the mentally ill population can't be achieved at the expense of the safety and/or quality of life of the general population. First of all, the general population won't tolerate it, and ultimately, we aren't really seeing a successful integration of the mentally ill into the mainstream population if they're constantly being engaging in behavior that gets them arrested, anyway.
So not only are the mentally ill people being held and treated in facilities which were never designed for treating or housing the mentally ill (and which may expose them to a broader population of defendants and criminals), but they're arriving in these facilities by way of generating more and more problems in our communities which have a negative impact upon the population as a whole.
As I've said before, I tend to think (and I'm pretty sure a lot of people more qualified than myself agree) that the source of some of these problems came with the big push for deinstitutionalization in the 80's and 90's. The thinking at the time was (and still is, among many people) that it was cruel and unfair to deprive mentally ill of their liberty and freedom simply on the basis of an sickness that was in no way their fault. At the time, a number of promising new drugs had been developed, and mental health professionals were gravitating toward the idea that mentally ill people could be successfully mainstreamed into the "normal" population and successfully treated outside of mental health institutions. State and local governments, of course, saw an opportunity to save a considerable amount of money by shutting down mental health institutions, and they moved fairly quickly to shut down facilites and send patients out into the community.
I hasten to add that for a fair number of insitutionalized people with mental illness, this was probably a very good thing.
On the other hand, for patients who didn't want to take their medications, patients who refused to take their medications, patients for whom medications weren't very effective, or patients who simply weren't good at taking their medications (medication regimens can be sort of complicated and strict, after all), problems began to quickly develop (and in a side note, we have a serious problem with a large number of mentally ill people trying to self medicate with street drugs and alcohol, so that's a big issue as well). With unmedicated individuals or individuals who weren't being helped all that much by their meds, a trend began to develop in which their inability to comply with social rules and norms started resulting in an increased number of mentally ill people in jail.
Man, I'm getting pretty far afield here, but I guess that I'm going into all of this because I'm leading up to something which is sort of controversial, and I don't want to make it sound like I'm just spouting this opinion off the top of my head without having thought about it.
I think we need to get back to more long term hospitalization or institutionalization or whatever you want to call it.
I know that there are plenty of mental health professionals and mental health advocates who will rail against the idea, and I'm not saying by any means that every person with a mental illness needs to be in an institution, but right now we're really not deinstitutionalizing the mentally ill population, anyway. We're just moving them from dedicated mental health facilities into criminal corrections facilities, and that's just not a good outcome.
Maybe we can build some kind of new, better facilities than were used previously, and I would really only propose the use of such facilities for individuals who have demonstrated an inability to function in mainstream society. But something really has to be done about the sort of revolving door that we've got going at our jails and prisons currently. Over and over again we see the same mentally ill defendants cycling in and out of jail.
The move toward deinstitutionalization was born out of a desire to respect personal autonomy and freedom and self determination, but in cases where patients have demonstrated an inability to function within normal society, I think that the desire to achieve these goals may actually be doing more harm than good.
One of the frustrating things is that many of these people respond fairly well to medication and treatment in the jail. We get them on meds for a few days or a week, and they clear up quite significantly. The hallucinations and much of the delusional thinking and compulsive behavior subsides (or at least becomes manageable), and as inmates many of these people seem to function pretty well. But then they get released and return to the streets (many of them are homeless, and many of the ones who do have homes tend to prefer wandering the streets as opposed to spending time at a residence) and within a short amount of time they've decompensated and fallen right back into the sort of behavior patterns that go them into trouble in the first place.
It's just a bad situation when a person's best, healthiest days are the ones spent in jail.

Anyway, I like my job and I think it's important and I like working on these kinds of legal issues (and I think that the intersection of criminal justice and mental health is a particularly important area right now given the issues and problems with both systems). At the same time I'm in the weird position of wishing that I had a fewer cases on my docket and a lot less to do (and in this case I'm not just saying that out of laziness ;-)). If the health care system were doing a better job in terms of providing help for sick people who aren't arrested or in jail, then we would likely be seeing a lot fewer of these people being arrested, and just about everyone would be in favor of that.

Well, I'm sorry if this was boring to some of you. This study just ties in to what I do in a pretty direct way, so I found it pretty interesting. You Adventurers should support funding for mental health services whenever possible. It's kind of an unusual issue for people who aren't directly affected by it (and the stigma of mental illness makes the whole topic sort of unpleasant for some people, it seems), but it's an important one and it affects an awful lot of people- probably more people in your life than you realize.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Neuromancer as Film; Predators;

Hey! Hope everyone is doing okay. Rainy day here in Austin today. Kind of nice, given the fact that we may be in for a very long, hot summer.

And what's going on? Well, there's gotta be something to talk about besides the Deepwater Horizon leak....

I just read today that director Vincenzo Natali, the director of the upcoming horror film Splice, is currently working on a movie version of the William Gibson cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer. Although I'm not sure how I feel about Natali as a director (don't really know enough about him to have a really firm opinion- I saw The Cube, though, and found it sort of interesting and thought provoking), I'm kind of intrigued by the idea of Neuromancer being made into a movie. I read the novel when I was much younger (I think in early to mid high school), and to be honest, I think the twists and turns of the book just sort of overwhelmed me. The book is very dense and over the top and surreal, blending really advanced computer technology, a dystopian view of a future earth, convoluted and cynical views about future governments and corporations, and some wild characters who often seem to be on the edge of self destruction. The book's complicated plot moves along at a pretty brisk pace, and back when I read it I remember feeling like I had barely come to terms with understanding one part of the book before it had already moved along to something else.
Anyway, Neuromancer was kind of confusing back when I read it, but it always seemed cool. It had a sort of compelling feel and aesthetic to it, and even when I wasn't clear on the implications of every detail, I remember enjoying the read.
So it'll be interesting to see if Natali can adapt the thing into a coherent screenplay, much less a decent movie. If he pulls it off, the movie is sure to be a wild ride.

What else? In keeping with the whole entertainment news theme, it sounds like Robert Rodriguez's production company is getting set to release Predators in July. I'm not really going to go out on a limb and say that this is going to be a good movie (there have been some pretty mediocre Predator movies in recent years, including the extremely forgettable AVP: Aliens vs. Predator), but somehow I stil feel like there's still a possibility that the movie could be fun. It's got sort of an interesting cast (including people like Adrien Brody and Topher Grace), and I still feel like the overall Predator concept could be pretty cool if executed properly.
Anyway, it might at least prove to be an entertaining matinee.

And I know that's not much, but it might be all that I have today. Between still feeling just a little sick and having a lot to do, I just don't have the time.

Hope you adventurers are doing well, though! Sorry about the short posts. It's not you- it's me!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Yup- More About the Oil; Note on the Israeli Raid

Hey! How's everyone doing?
Sorry that the blogging has been so light, but it's been sort of a rough few days. I've been on a bit of a roller coaster in terms of being sick and then feeling better and then feeling sick again. On the whole, I guess I recommend against the whole sickness thing.

So what's going on in the world? Well, there's still oil coming out of the ground. Into the ocean. So much for top kill and junk shot and some of those other operations with cool sounding names. Most recently, they've been using deep water robots to cut through the pipe with diamond tipped saws so they can put a new collection device and pipe on top. It sounds pretty cool, but last I heard they were having problems with the saw getting stuck in the pipe as it was making the cut. Meanwhile, the oil slick is now reported to be moving toward the Florida coastline.
I also read in a recent Joe Klein column from Time that Vice President Dick Cheney presided over the weakening of drilling regulations, including the exclusion of remote-shut-off switches (such as the ones used in the North Sea oil fields), which might have prevented the disaster (assuming that all of the equipment was in proper working order at the time of the accident).
Obama, of course, could have (and should have) acted more aggressively to reverse such deregulation upon entering office, but the fact that the Bush Administration took a leadership role in initially rolling back these safeguards probably ought to give pause to some of Obama's critics who keep trying to lay the primary blame for this fiasco at the president's feet (Klein, in fact, goes so far as to say that this catastrophe isn't Obama's Katrina- it's really Bush's second Katrina).
Anyway, yeah, the whole thing is intensely frustrating and depressing. Truly.

And it was made even more depressing as I watched the Rachel Maddow Show toward the end of May and they talked about the Ixtoc I spill in the Gulf of Mexico in June of 1979. The circumstances were quite similar to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and the attempts at bringing the oil spill under control employed methods which are pretty similar to the methods currently being employed at our new site (they tried containment domes and junk shots and top kills and relief wells). In the end, only a relief well actually allowed the Ixtoc I spill to finally be capped, and even after a relief well was drilled it took 3 months for the flow to subside. All in all, it took about 10 months for the Ixtoc I well to finally be capped. I just can't imagine how much damage American coastlines and the ocean itself will suffer if it takes ten months to cap the current spill.
But my bigger point is that it seems pretty ridiculous that we haven't come up with any new technologies to deal with these sort of disasters in the thirty years since Ixtoc I. We've continued to allow drilling in deeper and deeper water, into areas that are much more difficult to operate in, and we haven't developed any new technology to deal with accidents since the last big one occurred. If we're going to be allowing corporations to create potential disasters, it seems like the very least we should do is expect them to have some sort of viable plan for dealing with the situation if things go wrong. Knowing that all of these same recovery operations (containment domes and junk shots and whatnot) have proven ineffective in at least one big prior disaster (it was a big enough mess to inspire the founding of Earth Day) makes the current situation feel like that much more of a slap in the face.

Okay. That's it with the oil talk. At least for today.

Or wait. I just read that they freed the robot saw! Hope springs eternal....

And Israel is raiding Palestinian aid flotillas, killing about 9 people in the process) and everyone is mad at them because of it. Israel, in their own defense, says that they've established a blockade around Gaza to try to stop the import of rocket launches and other weapons that have been used against Israelis, and that the Palestinians have plenty of other ways of importing supplies, assuming they're willing to pass through land-based security checkpoints. I'm not sure what to think about the whole situation, but I know that I don't like the idea of the U.S. getting sucked into another conflict right now (especially a conflict in which the overall world opinion right now seems to lean toward support of the Palestinians and not the Israelis).

Well, that's it for now. I hope you guys are doing okay.




Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Oops...

Pretty much just never got around to posting today. Still feeling under the weather, so maybe I'll blame it on that. Watching the Daily Show as I type this. Once again, thank heaven for those guys. Never thought I'd be laughing about this oil spill debacle, but leave it to Stewart and Co....