Monday, June 27, 2011

Perry for Prez?

Hey! How's stuff? My weekend was good. Did a bit of shopping with Ryan, had a nice dinner with Amy and her mother and grandmother, went to Barton Springs, got a chance to do some reading, listened to some music, and so forth and so on.
Very nice. All very nice. Not to be overly weird, but it was one of those weekends that just sort of makes you... I don't know... grateful. Grateful to have a nice life in a nice place with really good people in it.

I'm not sure that I have a whole lot to report on.

One thing that's been catching more and more attention in the national media lately has been the possibility that Rick Perry might make a run for president.
To be honest, I have sort of mixed feeling about that possibility.
I think Perry would have to step down from his interminable reign as governor in order to run for president, so if he lost the governorship and then lost the presidential race as well I guess I'd be pretty happy.
I guess it's clear that I'm not a big Rick Perry fan. On a personal level, I find him obnoxious and possessing a prodigious ability to make our state look ridiculous (remember the comments that he made that about the possibility of Texas secession and his very manly story about supposedly having no choice but to shoot an attacking coyote with a laser sighted pistol?).
On a more important level, I think Perry is touting supposedly huge growth and success for Texas under his leadership, while, in truth, many of the alleged gains that have been made during his governorship have actually proven to be little more than elitist insider cronyism and exploitation. Perry has dished out taxpayer subsidies, tax breaks, and deregulation for Texas businesses (especially to friendly campaign donors), so he's managed to lure some prominent employers to Texas (thereby keeping some of the employment figures up), but Perry has done this at the cost of a reduced standard of living for many middle class and working class Texans. Texas has the highest proportion of minimum wage jobs in the country, and the nation's lowest median wage. The tax breaks, tort reform, and deregulation used to lure companies here have resulted in a state where the richest individuals and businesses continue to make tremendous amounts of money, but the wealth is often built upon an economy with an underpaid workforce, an environment where citizens face pollution and other dangers that are brought on by deregulation and tort reform, and a diminished tax base where the middle class suffers from things like underfunded schools, lack of basic health care services, crumbling bridges, etc.. Big businesses aren't being asked to shoulder the burden of paying taxes to support the people that they are drawing into the state. In fact, Perry has dished out hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to corporations in exchange for promises of job creation, but then he's failed to recoup those dollars when jobs weren't created or when they were outsourced overseas (and some of the businesses benefitting fom these deals have been shown to have political connections to Perry).
On top of this there are large numbers of Texas businesses that profit from an extremely cheap labor pool comprised of our illegal immigrant population. Many, many Texas businesses significantly extend their profit margins by employing undocumented workers (who can be paid substandard wages without any benefits). This almost certainly improves our state's overall economic standing. What bugs me is that at the same time, Perry rarely misses a chance to play to his conservative base by complaining about border control and illegal immigration issue. The hypocrisy is just kind of shameless. Perry claims to want to curb illegal immigration, but not if its going to hurt business in any way. There's never really a word spoken by the governor about stemming the tide of immigration by way of punishing employers who employ undocumented workers.
In short, I think Perry is almost all attitude with very little substance. He pays lip service to a conservative, middle and working class Texas base while practicing leadership that sacrifices the standard of living for that base to the benefit of the very wealthy. I look at Perry's policies while trying to imagine their eventual conclusion, and I see some future Texas that basically looks like a third world country with a wealthy upper class, a fairly poor working class, and ultimately, very little middle class in between. In the end, this sort of model is short sighted and unsustainable. Without a healthy middle class of consumers who have decent salaries and money to spend, the economic engine ultimately sputters. The middle class consumer is what drives the American economy. Frankly, I don't think it's a huge benefit to Texas to have a bunch of companies rush into the state if they're not willing to pay taxes or living wages. Texas could eventually turn into the sort of place that has a fair number of profitable companies (and a relatively small, but very successful upper class), but Texas businesses may end up almost entirely selling their products to people in other places that have more money and a better standard of living.

Anyway, I'm not sure exactly why I felt the need to get in my two cents on Perry at this point (he hasn't even announced that he's running), but it felt good to get some of my concerns off my chest.
On the other hand, Perry has been preaching to converted conservatives here in Texas for far too long. It would be kind of nice to see his ideas and his leadership record actually subjected to a little scrutiny from people from beyond our fair state.

Friday, June 24, 2011


Mostly just wanted to check in with everybody and say hello.

Also, my coworker and good friend, Debra Goodlett, has been in the hospital for almost three weeks after suffering a very serious stroke. I've been thinking about her a lot. Her condition is very grave, and things aren't looking very good at all.
Debra was working the mental health docket since before the time that I started on it, and she worked on mental health issues, both at the Austin State Hospital and at the probate court prior to working for the County Attorney's Office. On a professional level, Debra has been very knowledgeable and good at her job. She taught me much of what I know about the way that the local mental health hospitals, agencies, and service organizations work. She's been really good at talking to victims, in particular, many of whom are family members, neighbors, and friends of mentally ill people, and many of whom are just sort of at the end of their rope. When victims and witnesses have needed someone to talk to someonewho understands the impact that mental illness has upon the people who are living with mentally ill people (and also about the difficulties of navigating the mental health care system and the justice system), Debra has done a really good job at relating to them and making sure that their viewpoint is taken into account as we resolve cases.

On a more personal note, Debra is a really good friend of mine. For years now I've been talking to her every day at work about topics ranging from family and friends to office gossip and food. In a work environment which can sometimes be stressful, she almost always managed to make me laugh or smile. She's even given out some good advice from time to time- not the least of which involved encouraging me to ask out Amy for the first time (which would have happened anyway, eventually, but I'm sort of a wimp, so Debra definitely helped move the process along). On her pop ins, Debra's even been watering the cactus in my office and helping to keep it healthy.
Anyway, Debra's been on my mind a lot lately, and I miss her a whole lot, so I just wanted to say so. She's a good friend, a good/fun coworker, and a great person. My heart goes out to Debra and her family. Everyone here at the County Attorney's Office is thinking of you and yours, Debra.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day

I already saw him today and told him this in person, so maybe this is superfluous, but happy Father's Day, Dad! I love you, and somehow appreciate you more with each year that goes by. You managed to make fatherhood and so much of this whole "responsible adult" thing look easy while we were growing up, while managing to have some fun at the same time...

Happy Father's Day to you other dads out there, too! Hope it's been a good one.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Does Antimatter Matter?

So we've recently learned that scientists at the CERN (a particle physics laboratory in Switzerland that houses the Large Hadron Collider) have been able to trap antimatter and study it for almost 17 minutes.
That sort of blows my mind. As I told Amy, when you hear about certain events, the news just sort of makes you realize how little you understand about a whole lot of other things. I guess that this whole antimatter business sort of fell into that category.
To me, antimatter, to the small extent that I've known anything about it, has always been mostly the stuff of science fiction. I'd heard it described here and there, usually during some sort of cosmological lesson about the Big Bang and the origin of the universe (when antimatter existed in just about the same amounts as matter for brief moments before disappearing), or, more frequently, as part of some sort of imminent disaster scenario on Star Trek. At any rate, antimatter is just one of those concepts that I never quite managed to incorporate into a worldview of "concrete" reality.
The very concept of antimatter- some sort of... something that possesses the opposite properties of normal matter and which destroys regular matter in a burst of energy upon contact- is something that I really have a hard time even getting my head around.
And yet we've been generating antimatter since the 1950's. Since at least 1955 scientists have been creating antimatter in particle accelerators, although until now their ability to study antimatter particles has been limited quite a bit by the fact that previous antimatter particles only existed for fractions of a second before colliding with regular matter and being destroyed.
But now CERN scientists have managed to use superconducting magnets to trap antimatter and keep it around.
I don't mean to keep harping on this, but that's weird. The idea of antimatter itself is strange enough, but the accompanying idea that our scientists are now advanced enough to capture it for a measurable period of time, manipulate it, and study it- well, that's just the icing on the cake. Somewhere in Switzerland, for over a quarter of an hour, a bunch of physicists managed to keep something that I do not understand hung up in a magnetic field- swirling particles of antimatter that possess the mirror opposite characteristics of matter and which more or less violently come to an end when they come into contact with anything that we might think of as a normal substance.
Anyway, I'm not sure what point I'm trying to make other than to say that sometimes something just slips into the newspaper headlines that really makes me take a step back and look at the world in a different way (at least for a little while). This antimatter thing was just one of those stories. It reminds me that I can't possibly hope to fully and accurately imagine the world as it will exist in the future because I really don't have anything close to a full understanding of what we know about the universe around us in the present.

The universe is expanding.
Gravity is caused by the bending of spacetime.
The faster you go, the slower time moves.
And now scientists are studying some sort of thing that has characteristics which are the mirror opposite of normal matter.

The universe isn't really what it seems. And I don't really understand what it actually is.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Mental Health in the Courtroom

Just a quick note to say hi. I'm in day three of a four day seminar on mental health in the courtroom. We have an interesting mix of mental health and legal professionals here. The subject matter is interesting and very relevant to my job, so that's good, but the long days of involved lectures in a windowless room still wear me out a bit.
Good seminar, though. Hope you're all doing well!