Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Avengers: Endgame Superlatives (No Spoilers, No Review Just Background)

As mentioned yesterday, tonight's the night.  I'm finally going to get to see Avengers: Endgame.  Jamie is itching for me to see it so we can talk about it.  Avalyn did really good as well not talking about anything she saw, though she wanted to.

It's amazing to think what this movie represents.  It is the culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far.  This is the 22nd film in the saga.  The end of three phases of the Marvel movies.  The conclusion of 11 years of storytelling.  This truly is the modern Star Wars phenomenon.

These are the movies that catapulted geek/nerd culture into the forefront of pop culture.  The ones that made Stan Lee a household name.  That led to three network television show spinoffs, five Netflix programs, one Hulu program, and one Freeform program, as well as various cartoons, comics, books and games.

And so far from the reviews, the movie is living up to the weight of expectations that are put on it.  Endgame has a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 91% audience score.  It has even managed an impressive A+ on Cinema Score.  The general consensus is that this is a movie that has been worth the wait.

Here are just a few of the superlatives Endgame has earned in its opening weekend alone:

  • Biggest Domestic Opening of All Time - At $357.1 million (beating the previous record holder by nearly $100 million)
  • Biggest International Opening of All Time - $866.5 million (doubling the previous record holder)
  • Biggest Worldwide Opening of All Time - $1.224 billion
  • Opening at No. 17 on the All-Time Worldwide Box office chart - and climbing
  • Largest Thursday Previews - $60 million
  • Largest Single Day Gross - $157.4 million
  • Largest Opening Day Gross - $157.4 million
  • Largest Friday Gross - $157.4 million
  • Largest Saturday Gross - $109.3 million
  • Largest Sunday Gross - $90.4 million
  • Fastest Movie to Earn $1 billion - Reaching the milestone in just FIVE days
  • Widest Release of all time - 4,662 theaters
  • Widest Opening Release
  • Widest PG-13 Release
  • Highest Theater Average - at $76,601 per theater
  • Biggest Three Day Gross
  • Biggest Opening Weekend in April
  • Biggest Spring Opening
  • Biggest Global 4DX Opening
  • Biggest Global 3D Opening
  • Biggest IMAX Opening
  • Biggest Opening Weekend in Multiple International Markets
    • China
    • United Kingdom
    • Mexico
    • Australia
    • Germany
    • India
    • Brazil
    • France
    • Italy
    • the Philippines
    • Thailand
    • Indonesia
    • Spain
    • Japan
    • Hong Kong
    • Taiwan
The people have spoken and have done so loudly.  Needless to say, Disney and Marvel are quite pleased at the love that has been shown to this film.

Just a little under an hour now.  Can't wait to see this film and to come back here tomorrow and share my thoughts.  


What a great time to be a nerd!

Monday, April 29, 2019

Marvel Week, Year 2

With the latest Avengers movie kicking off this past weekend (and doing phenomenally), I'm officially kicking off Marvel week, year 2 today.

I'll have more specific thoughts on the hype and metrics surrounding Avengers: Endgame tomorrow and my thoughts on the movie specifically Wednesday (as spoiler free as possible), but wanted to provide a baseline for the week today.

I have been collecting comics basically continually since 1996.  It was Marvel's Heroes Reborn that got me to start my first pull-list at Book Stan' II Comics & Games in Beaumont.  From that point on, every week there was a new collection of comics in my box ready for the devouring.

Though I have read a variety of publishers and comics, my favorites were always Marvel Comics, particularly the Avengers and Marvel Heroes families of titles.  Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Fantastic Four.  The original stable of Stan and Jack titles.  After Heroes Reborn and Heroes Return came Marvel Knights with new interests.  Daredevil, Inhumans, and Black Panther.   And though I have changed formats (digital on an iPad is so much easier than keeping up with multiple longboxes of comics), the love of comics remains.

All that pre-face to say, I am a True Believer and a diehard Marvel Zombie.  If they were options when I was a kid, I would have been a member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society or a Friend of Old Marvel (FOOM).  I cannot wait to see this movie tomorrow night!  Jamie and Avalyn got to see it today and I've sworn them to secrecy.  After all, Thanos still demands our silence.

As a kid reading comics, I could not have imagined this point.  The point where the geek culture becomes pop culture.  Where it's no longer niche.  Where we no longer have to settle for the Generation X pilot on Fox or the Bill Bixby Incredible Hulk tv movies for team ups with a viking Thor and a off-model Daredevil.

These characters are woven into my DNA.  And to see the world that has always been there up in my head as a comic reader up on the big screen is incredibly exciting.

Plus, it has been gratifying to see the people involved in the films seem to actually be enjoying it.  To be a great theater company that has made the most of this universe, has made us a part, and has started to live up to their roles.  To see Chris Evans go from being kind of a goofy teen actor to starting to embody Captain America on and off set because he recognizes the power of his role has been a joy to see.

So throughout the week, I'm going to dig into that love.  Exploring this specific movie and the Marvel Universe in general.  To talk about geek culture. And to celebrate my part in it.

Excelsior!

Friday, April 26, 2019

Let America Be America Again

I recently came across this poem and thought it eerily applicable to today.  It felt worth passing along as food for thought.

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Langston Hughes, 1935

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Easter Worshippers

Much ado has been made over a couple of tweets from this past weekend.  Following the attacks on the worshipers in Sri Lanka on Easter, both President Obama and Hillary Clinton offered their condolences to the "Easter worshippers" affected.

Conservatives latched on to the use of "Easter worshippers" instead of Christians.  They noted the similar misspelling of worshipers in both and viewed it as a reluctance to reference Christians by the left.  It is painted as part of a continuing avoidance of recognizing Christian persecution or suffering.  A part of Christian persecution itself.  Downplaying anything related to Christianity, while playing up the suffering of other faiths, especially Islam.

Let's side step the fact that Easter worshipers is the more accurate term for those affected by the bombings. It conveys the additional fact that victims were actively celebrating Easter when they were killed.  They were worshipers and it was Easter.  If anything, the combination of words put extra emphasis on the religious nature of the attack, pointing out that it happened on a day of special spiritual meaning to the victims.  It puts emphasis on the high holy nature of the day.

It's a construction that has been used in other headlines.  "Finsbury Park Attack: Roses for Ramadan Worshipers" by the BBC.  "Afghanistan Suicide Bomber Kills Eid Worshippers at Mosque, Police Say" from The Guardian.

Why, then, did conservatives latch on to the least charitable interpretation of these sentiments?  Beyond politics?

Perhaps it hit a nerve.  Was the least charitable interpretation of these words a little too close to home?  Easter services are known for attracting a lot of visitors that may only attend once or twice a year.  Further, it's a big assumption to assume that everyone worshiping on a given Sunday is a Christian.  I'm sure there are many people that are just going through the motions every Sunday.  They come, they sit, they participate, but they don't believe.  And maybe they never did.

Beyond everything, why are we consistently looking for the worst in everything?  Why are we looking for persecution wherever we can find it?

Maybe for once, we could could be charitable, as we are called to be.

"My dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry."
James 1:19

"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."
Matthew 7:12

That's my plea, one Easter worshiper to another.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

John William King is Dead

John William King was executed by the state of Texas by lethal injection at 6:40 pm this evening.  He was pronounced dead at 7:08 pm.

King was the second perpetrator executed by Texas for their involvement in the dragging death of James Byrd, Jr. outside Jasper, Texas.  King, Lawrence Russell Brewer, and Shawn Allen Berry, all white, offered a ride to Byrd, a black man on June 7, 1998.  Instead of taking Byrd home, the three men took Byrd to a remote country road out of town where they beat him severely, urinated and defecated on him, and chained him by his ankles to their pickup truck before dragging him for about 3 miles.  The autopsy would later suggest that Byrd would be alive for at least half of the 3 miles, up to the point where his right arm and head were severed when his body hit a culvert.  Berry, Brewer, and King dumped the mutilated remains of the body in front of an African-American church on Huff Creek Road and then drove off to a barbecue.  The police would later find 81 places that were littered with Byrd's remains.

The murder was deemed a "hate crime," though Texas had no specific provision for this type of crime.  King had several racist tattoos including a black man hanging from a tree, Nazi symbols, the words "Aryan Pride," and the patch for the Confederate Knights of America. King was proud of the crime and would write "Regardless of the outcome of this, we have made history.  Death before dishonor.  Sieg Heil!"  Even at his execution, he made no final statement, he showed no remorse.  He simply closed his eyes and refused to acknowledge the family of the victim.

For their involvement, Brewer and King each received the death penalty and Berry was sentenced to life in prison.  Brewer was previously executed on September 21, 2011.  The murder and trial led to the passage of the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act in Texas in 2001, and the national Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009.

This was the hate crime that hit too close to home.  Jasper is a little over thirty miles from where I grew up.  The events of the murder, investigation, and trial all unfolded in the summer immediately following my graduation.  We knew the sheriff investigating and I had a teacher who served on the jury.

The events weighed all over our area in the ensuing months, particularly to show that these events did not reflect the general populace.  That they reflected the sick and twisted minds of only a small sliver of us.

They still serve as a sobering reminder of what we have to fight.  Especially as it seems that hate is on the rise.  We can see it all around us.  Especially on social media.

Islamophobia is on the rise.  New flare ups seem to have occurred in apparent response to prominent Muslim Congresswomen.

Anti-semitism is on the rise.

Transphobia is on the rise, with an increase in violence against transgender people.

White nationalism is on the rise.

Hate crimes in general are on the rise, for the third consecutive year.

How have we come this far and still have these aspects of the worst of us increasing?

Why do we allow leadership that seems to turn a blind eye to it at best or to incite it at worst?

When is enough enough?

Judgment was served tonight, but we still have a long way to go for justice.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Recovery, 1 Week In

This is going to be a fairly frank and open blog about how I'm doing after gallbladder removal, so it is going to include some gross bodily functions.  Understand if you don't want to read beyond this paragraph.  Forewarned is fair warned.

Everything seems to be going well.  No pain in the abdomen, beyond the occasional bruised feeling at the incision sites.  Mostly they itch.  I'm ready for the steri-strips to fall off, especially so I can clean them better.

I'm learning how to deal with food.  Still trying to find out exactly what I can and cannot eat.  Definitely seem to have had the bile salt experience.   I had one day of a messed up stomach all day mid-week last week.  Since then, if my stomach is going to be upset, it will be after the first meal in the morning.  From what I've read, this can be common, as the bile builds up in the stomach over night and is a bit overactive with the first meal.

It's mainly left me tired.  I feel like I'm still in a caloric deficit.  Plus I'm gassy.  I'm belching a lot more as everything is still trying to settle.

The hardest part, though, has been the 10 pound limit on picking anything up.  In particular, not being able to pick up the kids.  Avalyn kind of understands, but Jude definitely does not.  It's been working okay, but I'm ready for that limitation to pass.

My followup is next Monday.  Hopefully then I'll get the full good ahead.

Until then, thank you for all the thoughts and prayers.  They mean more than you can imagine.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Resurrected Monday

With today, the Easter season is over.  And yet, there is more reason to celebrate the Resurrection than ever.

The Resurrection of Christ is the cornerstone of the Christian faith.  If Christ is not resurrected, then what hope do we have.

"But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is worthless, and so is your faith.  In that case, we are also exposed as false witnesses about God.  For we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead but He did not raise Him if in fact the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If our hope in Christ is for this life alone, we are to be pitied more than all men."
1 Corinthians 15: 12-18

The greatest hope of the Resurrection is not that Jesus was raised once.  It's that He remains alive.  He is alive and omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent.  He is alive and at the right hand of the Father.  He is alive and reigning on high.

And that is something we can and should celebrate each and every day of the year!

For too many people, Easter is the one time of year that the Resurrection is given any thought.  It may be one of only a couple of times the enter the church, likely as a responsibility to family.  It's the only time they hear the story of Jesus' death and resurrection.  And with the Monday after Easter, everything is back to normal.  Easter is over.  The obligations are complete.  Reality sets back in.

Sadly, I think this is the case for far too many Christians as well.  

Oh, they can quote the verses.  They sing "My Redeemer Lives," "He Lives," and "Resurrecting."  Their in services every week, and they would say they believe every word of the Easter story.  They believe in Jesus' death and literal resurrection.

They just don't live like it.

For far too many Christians, the Resurrection is brought out at Easter and then celebrated, but then Jesus is put back in the tomb or back on the cross.  

Jesus on the cross is marketable.  It's fashionable.  It can be worn on t-shirts and jewelry.  It can be put on Bible covers, hung on walls, and be used as a easily recognizable symbol.  And when Jesus remains on the cross, when he remains a savior that died for our sins, then we have been saved and our present obligation ends.  Likewise, with Jesus in the tomb.

The resurrection is something different.  If Jesus not just rose again, but is alive today, then we have obligations to him.  We have to recognize him as Lord.  As the ruling King of Kings.  And we have to live accordingly.  Jesus as Lord requires more of us.

"For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake.  For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.  But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.  For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.  So death works in us, but life in you."
2 Corinthians 4: 5-12

Leaving Jesus in the tomb or on the cross misses out on the power that He can demonstrate in our daily lives.  On the mission that He has for us today.  Now.  On the blessings, the comfort, and the LIFE that only He can provide.

So don't let your celebrating end.  Don't let Easter be the end of your remembrance and celebration of the Resurrection of Christ.  Don't keep Jesus in the tomb.

He's alive!

Hallelujah!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Resurrection Sunday

"As the women bowed their faces to the ground in terror, the two men asked them, 'Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; He has risen!  Remember how He told you while He was still in Galilee:  "The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again."'"
Luke 24: 5-7

May the joy and grace of the Easter season be on you and your family!  If you do not know the reason why we celebrate, I pray you find yourself surrounded with friends who exemplify the good news and are overjoyed to share. God’s blessings on you today and continuing through this year.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Why I Love My Church 7: Community Easter Egg Hunt

Today, Stonepoint presented its 8th Annual Community Easter Egg Hunt.  In the church, we often remind the members that the Church is the one organization that exists for the benefit of those that are not members.  And this tradition is one way we prove it.

This Easter Egg Hunt takes weeks of preparation and the entire church getting involved.  Journey Groups filling and stuffing eggs.  Staff coordinating everything.  Many, many volunteers today to rope off the sections for each age group, to distribute the eggs, to cook and serve hot dogs, to serve popcorn and drinks.  Bounce houses, shaved ice, balloon animals, face painting, music, and a photo booth.   Half a days work of set up, program, and tear down.

And the process is repeated for two locations.  All offered for free to the community at large.  

There's no ulterior motive, no "Jesus Juke" as Jon Acuff would say, though we do let them know we have services tomorrow.  It's just an opportunity to pour out love into the community.  Love and fun.  Infectious fun.  

A celebration on the greatest celebratory weekend of them all.

And this is a weekend where it would be easy to forgo this particular celebration.  To turn inward and focus on all the preparations for the "big" services.  We move to the local high school for the services on Easter to make sure there is plenty of room.  This involves again another whole day of setup and preparation of the space for nearly every aspect of our services.  From Sunday School classes to the service.  It would be so easy just to take today to just setup for the services and rest.

I'm glad we don't.  I'm glad we take today and do something crazy.
It's exhausting and overwhelming.  But it is so worth it for the community to see our involvement in it and our love for it. 

It's one of the many reasons why I love my church!

What does your church do that you really love?  What are the strengths of your church that you want to pass along?

I hope you have a church home that enjoys fellowship as well as the praise of, worship of, and service to our God.



If you don't and would like to see what Stonepoint is about, come pull up a chair tomorrow.  We will be at the high school in Wills Point and the Edgewood Middle School Gym. Services at 9:00 and 10:30 at both locations.  We will have plenty of room, but we would love for us to have to drag out more chairs.  

If you are interested in more information on our Easter services, check us out here.

Finally, if you are interested in more information on the church, check us out at http://www.stonepointchurch.com.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Good Friday

Today, for those of faith, represents the darkest day in human history.  The day where it seemed all hope died.  Good Friday remembers the day when Jesus Christ, Son of God, was crucified by the Roman government.

He suffered through the mockery of a trial, in which the prosecution presented trumped up charges to a judge who found no fault but still sided with the mob and gave into their demands.  He was beaten, tortured, and jeered.  Stripped and dressed in a costume designed to mock the charges against him.  He was forced to carry the beam of his cross in a walk of shame through the city where the same people who cheered his arrival now gawked at the parade of criminals as they worked their way to the site of their execution.  He was then nailed to that beam, in both his hands and feet, raised between two criminals and left to die.

Crucifixion was one of the most cruel forms of death that humans have ever created.  It was public and designed to dissuade its witnesses from perpetrating similar crimes.  Victims were sometimes left on display after death as a warning to any other potential criminals.  The death it provided was particularly slow and painful, leading to the term excruciating, or literally "out of crucifying."  The person executed was usually attached to the cross by a range of methods including rope and nails.  The executed could be tied to the cross such that the ropes would cut into his skin.  To support the weight of a body, nails would be driven into the arm just above the wrist, between the two bones of the forearm.  Nails would also be driven into the feet, also to support the weight of the body, usually without the foot-rest or the seat that is placed on our decorative crosses.  The entire weight of the body would be placed on those nails as the body would continue to pull downward in gravity, keeping the person in continual pain.

When the whole body weight was supported by stretched out arms, nailed to that cross, the typical cause of death was asphyxiation.  The executed would have severe difficulty inhaling and would have to draw themselves up by the arms, leading to exhaustion and pain at the nail sites.  This process could be sped up by the soldiers breaking the condemned's legs, preventing them from pushing up, leaving them to die choking for air.  The executed could further suffer cardiac rupture, heart failure, hypovolemic shock, sepsis, acidosis, arrhythmia, and pulmonary embolism.  The scourging before the crucifixion would exacerbate the potential for sepsis.  Add in dehydration and you have a slow, agonizing death on display for all to see.

And Jesus willingly chose that path.  He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, willingly going to cross to redeem his creation.

To his followers, this day marked the end of the ministry they had committed their lives to.  Their leader, their friend, and confidant had been executed.  Now their lives were in danger as well.  Would they be labeled as dissidents and rounded up?  We can see this fear in Peter's denial.

For Jesus, this was also an unprecedented day.  The day when Jesus, the pure, spotless lamb would bear the sins of the world, past, present, and future.  It would be the one time Jesus was completely separated from His Father.  Where God would turn His back on him, for he could not see his son stained with sin.  Eloi; Eloi; Lama; Sabachtha.  My God; My God; Why have you forsaken me?

But we - we celebrate that Friday is not the end of the story.  Things may look at their absolute darkest, but morning is coming.  Friday may be death, but Sunday is resurrection.

No matter the outlook, it gets better.

It's Friday, but Sunday is coming!

Praise the Lord!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

[Redacted]

The Mueller report was released today.  The version made available to the public is partly redacted.  Attorney General Barr described it as minimally redacted, but partly redacted is more correct.  There are some sections of the report that are heavily redacted.  This includes the sections on the Russian "active measures" and social media campaign, as well as on the Russian hacking and dumping operations.

There are four primary categories of the redactions.  First, the materials from grand jury proceedings have been redacted as secret.  The second category relates to intelligence materials, particularly where officials are concerned that public release would reveal how the United States obtained the information.  The third category relates to information regarding ongoing investigations, like the New York City case against President Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen.  Finally, the last category relates to derogatory information about "peripheral" individuals.  This is the broadest and potentially most abused category.  While it is designed to protect people who were part of an investigation but not accused of a crime, it's unclear how high up officials are being protected under this.  It is not clear whether the president's family members or high-ranking members of his campaign have been covered by this exception.  Further, because his family is so involved in his campaign and administration, it is unclear how much protection they should be afforded as public figures.

Redactions can be a very powerful tool in protecting information.  They can be used as a blunt force object, blocking out large sections of material and covering up as much information and context as possible.  They can also be used in a very surgical manner, covering only the information necessary and providing as much context as possible.  It's a delicate balance and there are valid tactics behind each approach.

From what I can see in the overview of the page scans, it seems Attorney General Barr and his team took the blunt force approach, applying mass redactions to large sections of the report.  And to me, that always raises the question of why.  What required such heavy redactions in those sections?  That will be Congress' question now, as they have access to a version with lighter redactions.  It will be in there hands to see whether the extent of redactions was necessary.

Here's what we do know - though though the report does not find collusion with Russia and did not decide to proceed on obstruction, it did find many instances of impropriety in the President's actions.

"We concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a president's corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice."

"Our investigation found multiple acts by the president that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including Russia-interference and obstruction investigations.  The president engaged in a series of targeted efforts to control the investigation."

"Unlike cases in which a subject engages in obstruction of justice to cover up a crime, the evidence we obtained did not establish that the president was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference."

"The injury to the integrity of the justice system is the same regardless of whether a person committed an underlying wrong."

After Trump directed McGahn to tell Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein "Mueller has to go" - "In response to that request, McGahn decided to quit because he did not want to participate in events that he described as akin to the Saturday Night Massacre."

"The President's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or acede to his requests."

So, we've avoided a second Watergate because the President's subordinates refuse to follow his orders.

Thank God for personal integrity.

Let's hope Congress proceeds in the same manner.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Notre Dame

Our lady has burned.

While I am physically recovering (more from the intubation it seems), my heart is broken.  Seeing the fires in Notre Dame yesterday were devastating.  Nearly 800 years old, the structure has seen and survived so much already, but to see it ablaze as it was in the height of the fire was beyond words.

Thankfully today we have seen an outpouring of support for the restoration, the hundreds of millions of dollars already promised and more coming in.  Further, we have learned more about the extent of the damage.  Two-thirds of the roof and the spire had collapsed, but the towers, the primary structure, and the remaining one-third of the roof were sound.  The main rose windows were secure, but some of the 19th century windows were damaged.  Further, much of the artwork and iconography was saved, thanks in part to a human chain of civil servants, emergency responders, and municipal workers.  A priest ran back into the building to save the Crown of Thorns.

We also know that this is not the first time the building has had to be restored.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame was written by Victor Hugo in respond to the deteriorated condition of the cathedral during his time.  Because of the book's success and attention, King Louis Philippe ordered the cathedral restored.


My heart goes out to the city of Paris and those who maintain and care for this beautiful church.  I will never forget being in the cathedral when they were tuning and testing the organ.  A truly moving experience.

She will survive and she will be restored.

Dieu benisse Notre Dame.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Recovering

Short Post - An Update of Sorts

I'm home.  I'm resting.  And I'm sore.

I think most of what I'm experiencing now is gas pain, so while I would like to sleep, I need to move every once and a while to help relieve it.  Right behind the belly button is the worst.  Of course that would be the biggest incision.

Everything went well according to the doctors, so things should start improving tomorrow.  Will look forward to trying a little food then.

For now, juice and water.  And hopefully sleep.

Will keep y'all updated.

Thanks for everyone who sent prayers and thoughts this way.  You don't know what that means to me.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

25 Years of TCM

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the first broadcast of TCM, on April 14, 1994.   The channel was launched in the heart of Times square, with the launch commemorating the exact centennial date of the first public presentation of movies in North America.  The network's first feature presentation was a world television premiere of the uninterrupted and commercial free road-show version of Gone with The Wind.

Over the subsequent years, TCM has remained the most consistently well-curated, well-preserved, and well-programmed television station.  Thanks to the Turner library containing the best of Warner Bros. and MGM, as well as United Artists, RKO, and Fleichser Studios, the network is never at a loss for quality programming.  With original host Robert Osborne and the new stable of hosts led by Ben Mankiewicz, the films have always been in good hands.  The information that the hosts provide is insightful and informative and succeeds in making you feel like you are part of that club.

The network has expanded their focus, creating excellent documentary programming like Moguls and Movie Stars, outlining the early history of Hollywood.  They have further expanded their product to include restorations of classic films from the Turner Library, excellent books on all aspects of classic filmmaking, and one of the best film festivals you can attend.

Jamie and I have attended two of the TCM Classic Film Festivals and cannot wait to go back.  The opportunity to see these films on the big screen as they were intended, with hosts and guests that are tied to the presentation is an experience like no other.  How fitting that the 10th Annual Festival is wrapping up this weekend as TCM celebrates 25 years.

Tonight, TCM is programming with The Sweet Smell of Success, It Happened One Night, The Petrified Forest, and Cat People.

Why not make it a classic film night and settle in for your favorite great classic movie?

I think we will be.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Gallstones

So, about a month ago, my right side started to hurt.  Just occasionally, it would be bothersome, but it would go away.  A wince, then relief.  Then the weekend of March 16 and 17, it started to hurt for longer periods of time.  By Monday, March 18, it hurt continuously.  Particularly after I ate.

Monday led to a stop at the clinic, followed by a visit to my GP, then to a general surgeon.  The prognosis was clear - gallstones.  Thankfully not an inflamed gallbladder, just gallstones.

And of the diagnosis that I was fearing, I'm thankful it was gallstones.  The other option was kidney stones and I really didn't want those.

So, come Monday, April 15, I'll be having my gallbladder out.  Laparoscopic, so it should be outpatient and I should be home by the mid-afternoon.

This should not have been a surprise to me.  Mom and Taylor had theirs out a while ago.  Dad just had his out April 3.  Come Monday evening, Brooke will be the only one of us that hasn't had an issue.

I'll be resting at home Monday evening and working from home at least Tuesday and potentially more depending on how the recovery goes.  Will be posting a followup blog on Monday to let everyone know how it went.  And will also probably be posting a bit on the changes to diet, etc. with the gallbladder removed.

It's been an interesting process so far.  Haven't had anything but water and juice to drink for nearly a month now.  Will be keeping that up following with a few more changes.

We'll see how the next month goes.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Entitled Fandoms

Saw an image/post today that I felt the need to comment on.

The post was pointing out that there were 99 days left to the release of the remake of The Lion King this year and was getting people ready for the premier sing-along by diving out sections of the theater by vocal range.

The post then included a P.S. for "people who still decide to bring your kids to an obvious adult film. [?!?] ...YOU CAN'T SIT WITH US!" and puts the parents with kids in the first few rows.


Excuse me if I cannot take this level of entitlement seriously.

Look, I know it's supposed to be semi-joking, but there's a kernel behind this that is not.  That is very serious.

I'm the first one to praise Disney movies when they are of their best quality.  And I'm also the first to extol the virtues of animation.  To remind everyone that it's a medium, not a genre, and that there are many levels of stories that can be told via animation.

I can also understand not wanting kids to be in a truly adult movie.  The ratings are there for a reason and it's troubling to see a toddler in a movie like Us, for instance (as Jamie and I saw at an evening show of that R-rated movie).

But to call this new Lion King an adult movie - you've got to be kidding.

It is what Disney movies have always striven to be, family movies.  Four quadrant movies.  All-ages.  Kid-friendly, etc.  And that necessarily means they are intending for families and children of all ages, 2 to 92, to be in the theater.

This isn't the first time this type of argument has come up.  It's happened with Finding Dory and with The Incredibles 2.  It's likely going to raise its ugly head with Toy Story 4, as it did with Toy Story 3.  There are these groups of now adults (in age at least, if not maturity) that argue that "I've waited soooo long for this film, I don't want my experience ruined by kids in the theater."  This post today probably wouldn't have bothered me as much, if it hadn't been part of a pattern with these sequels and remakes.

If you're that much of a misanthrope, do us a favor and stay home and watch it on your home theater.  Or plan to go to a mid-night release or a 9:00 pm showing.  Or go to a theater with an age restriction.

Because, here's the thing.  They forget the age they were introduced to these films.  They forget the magic that amazed them to this day, from seeing it at such an early and impactful moment.  And their current attitude would deny the current generation this same opportunity.  Especially on a movie that is essentially an exact remake.

Disney is not putting these movies out to appeal to your nostalgia.  They are releasing these films, remakes especially, to appeal to the newer, younger generations.  They want kids to see these films, over and over again and to be captured by the magic.

I completely understand the challenges of watching a movie with young children in the theater.  I've got one that is generally completely enraptured in the film and one that's fifty-fifty.  We choose what movies they go see very carefully and we choose the times and locations we visit very carefully.  But I cannot deny, there is something magical watching the films through their eyes.  Case in point, the new Dumbo movie and seeing Jude try to blast as an elephant every time Dumbo came on.  Or getting really giddy with the circus scenes.

We're likely going to be there opening weekend for The Lion King.  Because the four year old already knows it and the two year old is going to sing along likely and loves the trailer.

And we'll be sitting near the back.

In the middle.

With the whole screen in view.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Vaccinate, Vaccinate, Vaccinate

If you are an anti-vaxxer, you might just want to unfriend me now.

The situation that flat out ignorance and self-absorbed importance has caused is getting out of control.  Let's just focus on measles for a second.  According to the CDC, measles cases for this year have already topped the total for 2018, with 465 reported cases.  And we're not even half-way through the year.  That number was reported on April 10, 2019, and reflected an increase of 78 cases from the previous week.  This is the second highest outbreak since the measles were eliminated in 2000.  We're on track to have a record year.

This outbreak is occurring across 19 of our states, with particular concentrations of outbreaks in California, Washington and New York.  New York is particularly troubling.  There are 285 confirmed cases of measles in New York City alone, since the outbreak started last fall, the largest outbreak in decades, centering primarily in Hasidic Jewish communities in the outer boroughs.

What's worse, is news of reckless parents hosting "measles parties," where parents bring their unvaccinated children together to purposely help them contract the disease.  Officials in New York City have reported multiple cases of these gatherings.  This mimics old "chicken pox parties," but chicken pox is much less dangerous and those parties are likewise unnecessary thanks to a vaccine.

Here's what we know about the disease.  Measles is highly contagious, infecting up to 90 percent of unvaccinated people who are exposed to it, according to the CDC.  The virus can live in the air for up to two hours after an infected person sneezes or coughs, meaning people can be exposed to it without knowing it.  People can be infected for days before showing signs of the virus, like fever, runny nose, or a rash.

Measles can be especially dangerous for young children.  It can lead to pneumonia, brain swelling, and even death.  Measles can also be extremely problematic for the old and the already sick.  These are the most likely populations that have not and cannot be vaccinated.  For example, in January an unvaccinated cancer patient in Manila died not from their cancer, but complications from the measles.

Further, there have been 11 deaths from acute measles infections from 2000 to 2015.  Measles can also lead to deaths later on in a child's life.  Wild type measles can cause subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE).  About 6 to 8 years after having measles, children with SSPE develop progressive neurological symptoms, including memory loss, behavior changes, uncontrollable movements, and even seizures.  As the symptoms progress, they may become blind, develop stiff muscles, become unable to walk, and eventually deteriorate to a persistent vegetative state.  Children with SSPE usuually die within 1 to 3 years of developing symptoms.  There have been 33 SSPE related deaths since 2000, largely attributed to the last great measles outbreak from 1989 to 1991.  This means our current measles outbreak is going to carry repercussions years into the future.

The good news is that we have a vaccine that works, if we would just use it.

The CDC recommends children get their first dose of MMR vaccine at between 12 and 15 months old and a second dose when they're between 4 and 6 years old.  The combination of doses is 97% effective in preventing contraction of the measles.  One dose alone is 93% effective.  Further, vaccine strain measles has never been found in the brain of anyone who died from SSPE, meaning that the vaccine is likewise effective in preventing that unfortunate outcome.

Before immunization in the United States, there were three and four million cases of measles each year.  The United States was declared free of circulating measles in 2000, with just 911 total cases from 2001 to 2011.  In 2014, the CDC said endemic measles, reubella, and congential rubell syndrome had not returned to the United States.  Prior to the current situation, occasional outbreaks had occurred primarily as a result of cases imported from abroad.

Why are we in such a rush to bring back this disease?  What has convinced us that these vaccines are so bad?

Bad science and outright lies that have linked vaccinations to autism?  Those have been debunked flatout.  Repeated studies have proven there is no link between vaccines and autism, no matter what a mommy blogger or celebrity is trying to peddle.  The only British scientist who has been cited as providing a link, Andrew Wakefield, has admitted to falsifying data in his study and attempting to profit from itSo can we please stop spreading this nonsense.

And even if it were true, even if there were some remote link, using this as an excuse is insulting to people who are dealing with autism or have autism in their family.  As if increased deaths from preventable diseases was somehow preferable to having to deal with a genetic condition.  It's the ultimate offensive "can't be bothered" argument.

Let's also discuss the idea of vaccine overload or the complaint that children are getting too many vaccines at a time.  This whole concept is flawed for many reasons.  First, despite the increase in the number of vaccines over recent decades, improvements in the vaccine design have reduced the immunologic load from vaccines, such that the total immunological component load in the 14 vaccines administered to children is less than 10% of what was in the 7 vaccines in 1980.  Likewise, though the schedule has more vaccines, the number of antigens a child is exposed to by the age of two is less than pathogens naturally encountered by a child in a typical year from fevers and middle ear infections.  Further, studies have shown that vaccinations, even multiple concurrent vaccinations do not weaken the immune system or compromise overall immunity.

There is literally no excuse for not vaccinating unless your child is one of the unfortunate children who cannot receive immunizations because of other medical issues.  And that brings us to the other reason why these vaccinations are so important - herd immunity.  Herd immunity is a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a large percentage of the population has become immune to an infection, thereby providing a measure of protection for individuals who are not immune.  Herd immunity against measles requires that at least 90-95% of the entire population is immune.  Here's the trick though, we know a certain percentage of the population cannot be immunized - those with severe, life-threatening allergies, those with weakened immune systems due to disease or medical treatments, those that bruise or bleed easily, those with tuberculosis, those under 12 months, etc.  Because of this, our actual immunization percentage of the potential vaccination population (those that are eligible) needs to be higher than 95% to account for those that cannot be vaccinated.

And that's the real problem.  People who oppose vaccinations aren't only endangering themselves and their children, they are endangering people who wish they could be vaccinated but are not allowed because of other conditions.  They are literally endangering the most vulnerable of us all.

Again, we're only talking about measles here.  Heaven forbid we see polio, or outbreaks of diphtheria, hepatitis, or bacterial meningitis.  Even worse if we somehow see smallpox brought back from eradication.

So please, please - vaccinate your kids.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

If I Were Disney CEO Part 37 - ESPN

"I think that there's way too much pessimism about ESPN because ESPN is still in demand from three constituents you want to be in demand the most from.  One - distributors.  Two, consumers and three, advertisers.  And the reason it's in demand is the brand is still strong, the product is still good, and we're invested nicely to keep that product as high quality as possible."
Bob Iger, CEO the Walt Disney Company, February 7, 2017

The concept of ESPN was conceived in late May 1978 by Bill Rasmussen after he was fired from his job with the World Hockey Association's New England Whalers.  With land in Bristol, Connecticut and funding from Getty Oil, ESPN launched on September 7, 1979, beginning with the first telecast of SportsCenter.   From that first broadcast to 1.4 million cable subscribers, the channel has continued to grow and grow.

In 1984, the channel was purchase by ABC, greatly increasing the networks ability to compete for major sports contracts and increasing its credibility.  By 1992 and 1993, ESPN had expanded into radio and a second channel, respectively, helping it become the fastest growing cable channel in the 1990s, expanding its national reach to 75 million subscribers.

In 1996, The Walt Disney Company acquired ESPN as part of its acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC.  Over the following years, though ESPN would face challenges in waning cable subscribers, it remained a cornerstone of the Walt Disney Company.

In April 12, 2018, the networks launched ESPN+, a standalone, over-the-top streaming service, which currently has over 2 million paying subscribers.

ESPN's largest challenge relate to the changing form of media consumption and a bit of its overgrowth.  The steps into ESPN+ and direct streaming are a start, but the interplay between streaming, network, and cable is something that is going to need to be further explored.  ESPN should be the name in sports and the movement of the company should keep it in that place.

And it's that space that drives my recommendations for the network.

Primary Goals for the Division:
  • Streamline and Differentiate - ESPN currently offers 8 channels and other services.  I would seek to pare the list down to four. 
      • ESPN - the flagship channel. 
      • ESPNEWS - Just news and commentary.  Heavier on the news with the ticker at the bottom.
      • ESPNLive - A re-branded, ESPN2 focusing solely on live sports broadcasting.  
      • ESPN Deportes - ESPN in Spanish, with its own unique programming.  Recognizing the global reach of the brand.  
    • Each of these channels has a specific niche and reach.  The rest of the content that was previously generated should be pushed to the streaming platform.  This includes pushing classic sports content to the streaming platform. 
  • Coordinate Between the Different Channels - i.e. the Megacast approach.  For the most important, the most watched programs, why not offer a variety of ways and commentary to experience them.  In 2018, ESPN offered viewers 20 different ways, across 11 different platforms, to enjoy Alabama's 26-23 overtime win over Georgia in the title game.  There was the traditional game coverage on ESPN.  There was also the "Homers" telecast on ESPN2.  There was the "Coaches Film Room" on ESPNEWS.  And the "Finebaum Film Room" on SEC Network.  It could have been a mess, but instead it worked wonders as viewers jumped around networks and media platforms and sampled different announcers.  ESPN has a virtual army of announcers, analysts, insiders, and ex-players and coaches.  Why not put them all to use to keep up this kind of MegaCast approach?
  • Focus on Strengths - It's fairly simple.  Live sports programming, sports news, commentary, and documentary.  Work out from these cornerstones and build out each channel from these.
  • Lean Into Streaming - ESPN+, ESPN's streaming offering, has proven to be a great boon to the network.  As of February 2019, the service has over 2 million paying subscribers.  As with the other channels, streaming provides the perfect opportunity to be fed by the network and to feed the network.  It's another opportunity for differentiated coverage, another avenue for original programming like documentary and scripted programming.  
  • Move the Specific University Channels to Streaming - The Longhorn Network and the SEC Network have been more controversial additions to the ESPN roster.  And while they are drawing a large number of subscribers, those numbers are limited by regional limitations, including in streaming options due to proof of cable subscription for streaming access. Were the programming moved to streaming subscription only, this could open these options up to a much larger subscription base.  For example, Patrick Ryan, Policy Counsel, Open Internet at Google pointed out that the reach of the Longhorn Network as of September 2012 was about 10 million potential viewers, whereas if it were online and open, it could reach 230 million viewers in the United States, or as many as 2 billion viewers.
  • Simulcast "Monday Night Football" and potentially other options on ABC - "Monday Night Football" drew the smallest average viewership among the league's five main NFL TV packages in 2017.  The league is already simulcasting most "Thursday Night Football" games on Fox and the NFL network.  Why can't ESPN and ABC take a similar approach?  Yes, simulcasting could play into the problem that ESPN has been facing with regard to subscribers being down, but if played right, it could be a form of brand expansion.  The focus should be on different announcing teams on the simulcast, providing a variety of coverage, leading the truest fans to flip through them all.
  • Flex Scheduling on "Monday Night Football" - Sunday night football on the NFL is able to move games from Sunday afternoon to Sunday night with twelve days notice.  This process is used to ensure that Sunday night provides exciting football with surprise teams getting to play their way onto the prime-time slot.  ESPN, on the other hand, has a fixed Monday night schedule, which can make for uneven prime-time play.  Some sort of arrangement should be sought with the NFL for a certain number of flexible schedule games for Monday Night Football.
  • Resurrect the Wide World of Sports brand - ABC's Wide World of Sports programming disappeared as ESPN branding took over.  The program was one of the longest running television programs and was listed in Time's top 100 television programs of all time.  It was unnecessary to discard the program and should have been worked into ESPN's programming.  It remains a great way to program beyond the NFL, NBA, MLB, etc.  And the "thrill of victory...agony of defeat" byline needs to come back as well.
ESPN can and should remain a vital part of the Disney company.  Like everything else in the company, how it adapts to the changing media landscape will determine how vital it will be.  Hopefully, these suggestions could provide a successful start forward.

Up next in the series: National Geographic.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Higher Price of Prescription Drugs and Those Who Fight To Keep It That Way

It seems Republicans may be willing to fight to keep prescription drug prices high.

The House Oversight Committee has been studying how drug companies set prescription drug prices.  Democratic Chair of the Committee, Elijah Cummings, requested information from twelve drug companies such as Pfizer Inc., Johnson & Johnson, and Novartis AG in January as part of a broad investigation into these practices.

Republicans, though, are warning drug companies not to cooperate with the congressional investigation.

In a report released yesterday, Republicans on the Committee have sent letters to the dozen CEOs of those major drug companies warning that the information they provide to the committee could be leaked to the public by Chairman Cummings in an effort to tank their stock prices.  Representatives Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows write that Cummings is seeking sensitive information "that would likely harm the competitiveness of your company if disclosed publicly."  They then accuse Cummings of "releasing cherry-picked excerpts from a highly sensitive closed-door interview" conducted in an investigation into White House security clearances.  "This is not the first time he has released sensitive information unilaterally."  Though they do say that they "cannot speculate about Chairman Cummings' motives," they relay that the committee should not pursue an investigation designed to impact stock prices.

The belief the investigation is focused on impacting stock prices seems to hinge on a quote from Cummings saying that he has three staffers he calls the "drug team" who work on the high cost of drugs and that their work has lowered drug company stocks.  The letter includes this quote from Cummings, offered at an appearance before the Committee on House Administration seeking an increase in funding for the Oversight Committee. "If you follow the headlines, we have already seen the impact they have had...on stock prices with regard to drugs.  I mean, it has been astronomical."

The letter, deceptively, omits the rest of the quote.  The full quote should read "I mean it has been astronomical saving the taxpayers money."  Without the last phrase, it seems Cummnings is bragging about the astronomical impact on drug stocks.  With the last phrase, it is clear Cummings is referring to the taxpayer savings.  Had Jordan or Meadows bothered to include more context, they would also see that Cummings said, just a minute later "Whatever you give us, we will give it back in savings by rooting out fraud, waste, and abuse."

All noble goals, and all things Big Pharma would rather not be revealed.

The impact of Big Pharma and its power over our lives is incredible.  It's reach is massively impressive:


And there are so many places to start here.

We could first talk about collusion and anti-competitive behavior in the pharmaceutical industry.  We could specifically talk about insulin, critical to more than 6 million Americans with Type 1 diabetes.  Between 2002 and 2013, drug makers Sanofi, Novo Nordisk, and Eli Lilly raised prices in lockstep.  Their insulin more than tripled in price to as much as $300 per patient, per month.  Closed-door negotiations between drug makers, insurance companies, and middlemen pharmacy benefit managers contributed to these outsize price increases.  This is classic price fixing, in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.

Then there's for the unproved medications with dubious benefits, like the prices for necitumumab, a lung-cancer drug. A study conducted before the FDA approval recommended that the drug ought to cost between $500 and $1,300 per treatment based on its likely benefit, giving patients only a few weeks of quality life.  Now approved, necitumumab costs $11,450 per treatment cycle.

Finally, there are also the rising costs on old proven drugs, like Acthar gel, a little known drug prescribed to treat everything from infantile spasms to the effects of Multiple Sclerosis.  The drug was approved by the FDA in 1952.  This drug increased from $1,650 to more than $24,000 per 5 milliliter vial overnight once the drug was acquired by Questcor in 2001.  By 2017, it was  $34,034 for the same amount. Acthar accounted for a staggering $1.3 billion in Medicare payouts between 2011 and 2015.

And that's just a sample.

Further, we also have to look at how many in Washington are in the pocket of Big Pharma, especially many Republicans.  We can look back at the issue in 2016 surrounding imatinib and Colombia's attempts to approve a generic version.  Imatinib is manufactured by Novartis.  In Colombia, the drug is marketed as Glivec.  The World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines last year suggested that the drug was a treatment not only for chronic myeloid leukemia, but also for gastrointestinal tumors.  Currently, the cost of an annual supply is over $15,000, or about twice the average Colombian's income.  The Colombian Minister of Health Alejandro Gaviria announced plans that would eventually result in a generic production of the drug, potentially lowering the cost by 30%.  As a result, Andres Florez, deputy chief of missions as the Colombian Embassy in Washington, D.C. wrote letters about concerns of U.S. retaliation for such a move.  In fact, after a meeting with Senate Finance Committee International Trade Counsel Everett Eissenstat, staffer under Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Florez wrote that Eissenstat said that authorizing the generic version would "violate the intellectual property rights" of Novartis and that if "the Ministry of Health did not correct this situation, the pharmaceutical industry in the United States and related interest groups could become very vocal and interfere with other interest that Colombia could have in the United States."  Blackmail on behalf of Big Pharma.  Florez further worried "this case could jeopardize the approval of the financing of the new initiative 'Peace Colombia,'" an Obama administration era program seeking to bring together rebels and the government to end decades of fighting that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands.

How about US congressman Tom Marino, who was forced to withdraw his nomination for Trump's drug czar when a report by the Washington Post and CBS's 60 Minutes highlighted his role in forging legislation that hindered the DEA's ability to move against drug distributors or pharmacies recklessly dispensing opioid painkillers?

Again, that's just the beginning.

Sadly it's not the most troubling aspect.  Now is the time for the question raised earlier.  Why do we account for 49% of the global pharmaceutical revenue despite only accounting for 7% of the population?

Because our country is specifically setup right now to benefit the pharmaceutical industry, especially in comparison to other industrialized countries.  The global average for prescription drug cost savings is 56% outside the United States.  We pay twice as much as other countries do.  That's the average.  For specific medications, the savings are even more extreme.  This has led 19 million American adults to import medication to save money.  That's 8% of the population.

Let's take for example a blood pressure medication.  One pill the doctors wanted me to take was Bystolic.  In the United States its $4.71 a 10 milligram pill.  In Canada, it's $2.36.  Still high, but much less expensive.

Why does this disparity continue?

Unlike in most industrialized countries, the United States government has no ability to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.  The FDA is tasked with approving medicines based on safety and efficacy, but cannot consider cost or value in its approval process.  Further, there is no post approval process for negotiating or setting drug prices either.  Medicare was forbidden from negotiating prices staring in 2003 as part of the government's compromise with the pharmaceutical industry to get the Medicare drug expansion plan passed.  And unlike other countries, the United States government has taken no steps to interfere with the free pricing system.  In Europe, the government often sets drug prices with those prices dropping over time.

This leaves consumers unprotected, with big pharma possessing patent monopolies on drugs critical to patients' lives and health.  The companies then collude and engage in outright price fixing to set their profits as high as possible, and they're able to charge Medicare whatever they want.

The numbers bear this out.  Spending on prescription drugs has risen rapidly over the past decades, with new drugs and new specialty drugs in particular driving the spike.


Branded drug prices have risen by over 60%.  Commonly used specialty drugs in particular have increased 57% since 2014.

You might say the hope is generic drugs.  After all, prices for generic drugs have dropped 37% since 2014.  And patents generally only provide a monopoly for 20 years (give or take with the Hatch-Waxman Act).  However, even some older generic drugs are becoming very expensive, owing to factors including drug shortages, supply disruptions, and consolidations in the generic-drug industry leading to outright monopolies.  One such generic had a 2,800% increase in price according to a perspective in the New England Journal of Medicine.

So, where do we go from here.

Thankfully, the fights have started.  The federal legislature has been looking to lower prices of prescription drugs.  Even President Trump has recently indicated that he is willing to work with Democrats to lower drug prices.  State level lawmakers are also working to lower prescription prices at their level.  And thankfully we have action in the courts, cases on insulin price fixing.

But we know that pharma will fight each of these measures and will fight hard.

"Does that surprise you?" former Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) CEO Billy Tauzin told NPR in a report entitled "In Election Year, Drug Industry Spent Big To Temper Talk About High Drug Prices. When government responds to voters' cry for lower drug prices, Tauzin state "PhRMA has always responded by increasing its resources."

We can only hope all our representatives will finally put their constituents above their pocketbooks.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Hamilton

Let me tell you what I wish I'd known
When I was young and dreamed of glory
You have no control:

Who lives
Who dies
Who tells your story
Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story - Hamilton


I don't imagine Alexander Hamilton could have imagined his life being a Tony and Pulitzer Award winning hip-hop, sung through musical, and yet here we are.

This past Saturday, April 6, 2019, Jamie and I got to have a date afternoon and see Hamilton for a second time as part of the Dallas Summer Musical 2019 season.   We had previously made a runaway trip to Chicago to see that cast and had loved it there (surprisingly, the actor who played Hamilton in that show is the one who is part of this touring company).  After viewing the performance on Saturday, we know it's on our list to see every time it comes through.  

I've previously written about the best things that I have seen on stage.  And after this second viewing, I can say without a doubt, Hamilton is the most well-crafted and staged musical I have ever seen.  With this viewing, there were so many little details in staging that I was able to observe.  The way the actors trade focus in One Last Time.  The precise moment where everything drops out in The World Was Wide Enough tied to the lyrics.

It still makes me cry.  It's one chord in particular in two separate songs that just turns me into a mess.  And from reading other reviews, I'm not the only one.

It is so well done, it is astounding.

This is the power of theater.  The ability to pull off a hip-hop, sung through musical about our Founding Fathers with color-blind and specifically diverse casting.  And for it to be so impactful.

If you have a chance, do yourself a favor and check it out.  It's worth it.


Friday, April 5, 2019

The Twilight Zone

"You're travelling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind.  A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.  That's the signpost up ahead - your next stop, the Twilight Zone!"
Rod Serling

Tonight, we should finally get to watch the first few episodes of the new Twilight Zone.  High hopes, a little tempered from the false start, but still looking forward to it.

As I said before, in my humble opinion, The Twilight Zone is the greatest scripted television show to have ever aired.  Yes, there are episodes that are just good, but there are more episodes that are simply spectacular.

With that, I thought I would post another Top 10 List, this time focusing on my favorite 10 episodes of The Twilight Zone.  This was tougher than it should have been. A few were no-brainers, but the rest moved off and on the list.  I decided to focus on the ones that moved me the most.  In doing so, I noticed that seven of the ten are written by Rod Serling himself.  That should tell you something about my preferences in the best episodes.

So, without any further ado, my list of my top 10 favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone, in order of air date.

  • The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street (Season 1, Episode 22) - An excellent parable for Cold War paranoia.  I read this script in American literature in high school and the episode still holds up.  Even beyond the Cold War aesthetic, it plays to all forms of prejudice and suspicion.
  • Eye of the Beholder (Season 2, Episode 6) - Such a beautifully shot episode.  The lighting and the camera composition structure this in such a good way, that the twist just works.  A great commentary on beauty.
  • Nick of Time (Season 2, Episode 7) - How would you respond to vague predictions?  Probably one of Shatner's best performances.  A tense bottle episode playing on fear and superstition.
  • The Silence (Season 2, Episode 25) - The ultimate bet, where the stakes were never higher.  The resolution of this episode is heartbreaking.
  • The Obsolete Man (Season 2, Episode 29) - Perhaps the best episode of the whole series.  A frightful dystopia where that which is declared obsolete by the State is removed.  "The chancellor, the late chancellor, was only partly correct.  He was obsolete.  But so is the State, the entity he worshiped.  Any state, entity, or ideology becomes obsolete when it stockpiles the wrong weapons: when it captures territories, but not minds; when it enslaves millions, but convinces nobody.  When it is naked, yet puts on armor and calls it faith, while in the Eyes of God it has no faith at all. Any state, any entity, any ideology which fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of Man...that state is obsolete.  A case to be filed under 'M' for 'Mankind.'"
  • The Shelter (Season 3, Episode 3) - Another parable on Cold War paranoia, now determining who will be saved in a bomb shelter.  Man's inhumanity to man and how to proceed.
  • Deaths-Head Revisited (Season 3, Episode 9) - Serling's statement on the Holocaust, written in reaction to the ongoing trial of Adolf Eichmann.  Haunting and powerful.
  • Kick the Can (Season 3, Episode 21) - The light and hopeful episode on this list.  A reminder that age is a state of mind.
  • Number 12 Looks Just Like You (Season 5, Episode 17) - Another commentary on beauty and individuality.  Something frighteningly prescient.
  • The Masks (Season 5, Episode 25) - The things we will do for wealth.  This episode is all about revealing the ugly truths we hold inside.  Directed by Ida Lupino, the only person to have acted in and directed a Twilight Zone episode and also the only woman to direct an episode.
To any other fans out there, what are your favorite episodes?

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Send to All

So, I've found a new fascination - English comedian Michael McIntyre's Big Show and the segment Send to All.   Michael McIntyre's Big Show is a BAFTA award-winning British variety and stand up comedy television series.  The show is a Saturday night entertainment series for BBC One over the holiday season.

Send to All involves Michael McIntyre taking a celebrity's phone and sending an awkward text message to all of his or her contacts.  At the end of the show, they then check the phone to see what replies come back.  It's a carry over from his chat show where he would do it with audience members.

And the texts are awkward.  It's the live and entertaining version of hitting reply all in an email chain.

Because this is a celebrity's phone, the responses then usually come from other celebrities.  The better ones are those that come from random one off's in the persons phone.  Or their family.

I mean, think about it, how many people are in your phone?  How many people you really know and how many people that you can't remember why the contact is in there?

Can you imagine what would happen if an embarrassing text went out to everyone in your phone?  Something like "Feeling a little insecure.  Do you still think I'm hot?  I mean Harry Styles, Bieber, and that guy who plays Polark...Can I still compete with these guys?" or "I had the weirdest dream last night.  I dreamt you were massaging my things and calling me 'Your highness.'"

I mean, it's the worst version of someone else having your phone.

And it's hilarious.

So, in case you would enjoy something like that -
Michael McIntyre's Funniest Send to Alls from the BBC via youtube.
Plus, a list of 27 different episodes.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Texas Senate Passes Anti-Christian Pro-Discrimination Bill

Tuesday, April 2, 2019, the Texas Senate passed a controversial "religious liberty" bill, protecting professionals licensed by the state from disciplinary action from state boards when they act on their "sincerely held religious beliefs" in their places of business and allowing them to refuse service to anyone whom they disagree with based on such belief.

The text of the entire bill is not long, just over 400 words in its entirety.  In the applicable part, the law provides:
Sec. 57.003. Certain Occupational Licensing Rules Or Policies Prohibited
(a) A state agency that issues a license or otherwise regulates a business, occupation, or profession may not adopt any rule, regulation, or policy or impose a penalty that:
     (1) limits an applicant's ability to obtain, maintain, or renew a license based on a sincerely held                 religious belief of the applicant; or
     (2) burdens an applicant's or license holder's:
          (A) free exercise of religion, regardless of whether the burden is the result of a rule                                generally applicable to all applicants or license holders;
          (B) freedom of speech regarding a sincerely held religious belief; or
          (C) membership in any religious organization.
(b) Subsection (a) does not apply to the licensing or regulation of peace officers by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.
(c) Subsection (a) does not prohibit a state agency from taking any action to ensure that the standard of care or practice for the applicable business, occupation, or profession is satisfied.
(d) This subsection may not be construed to:
     (1) authorize an applicant or license holder to not pay a license issuance fee or renewal fee;
     (2) authorize a license holder to provide a medical service within the scope of the person's license             that is necessary to prevent death or imminent serious bodily injury; or
     (3) limit any right, privilege, or protection granted to any person under the construction and                laws of this state and the United States.

State Sen. Charles Perry, Lubbock, said Senate Bill 17 protects licensed professionals such as doctors, accountants, lawyers, and counselors in acting on consistent with their religious beliefs.  Perry, an accountant by trade, fears Christians cannot practice their faith openly in the public square without facing consequences.  "We're waking up in an era where the Christian faith, specifically, seems to be under attack."

Cue the hysterics over Christian persecution.

Let's be clear what this is about.  It's LGBTQ discrimination disguised as "religious liberty."  If we needed any further evidence, you can look at the bill's history.  Senator Jose Menendez, San Antonio, offered an amendment to the bill which would have clarified that the bill would not allow a professional to decline patients based on their sexual orientation.  It was refused and failed by a 18-13 vote.

And if that were not enough, if it wasn't bad enough that this bill is, quite frankly, purposefully designed to allow for the discrimination against an entire class of people, the bill is poorly designed on several other fronts.

  1. The bill creates a special class of protected people in its text, in violation of the Anti-Establishment clause - The language of this bill clearly sets up protections afforded to religious people that are not available to the agnostic or atheistic.  The bill provides protection of one's "free exercise of religion, regardless of whether the burden is the result of a rule generally applicable to all applicants or license holders."  In other words, it does not matter if the existing laws or rules are fairly designed and are applicable to every person that applies, if you are religious, you can ignore those rules if they conflict with your "sincerely held religious beliefs."  That necessarily creates a division in how existing laws are enforced giving special treatment to the religious, something our forefathers strictly prohibited.
  2. Further, this bill is clearly geared specifically with Christian beliefs in mind - We all know why these type of bills are being enacted.  It's the Colorado gay wedding cake protection bill. So that no Christian is forced to bake a cake for a gay wedding.  The bill as it exists provides much broader protections though, since it cannot Constitutionally be explicitly geared toward the Christian faith.  Let me know what happens the first time a Muslim veterinarian refuses service on a family pet pig.  I mean just look at the outrage each time a Muslim asks for the removal of pork from a menu.  Let's look a little closer to something most proponents of this bill would actually be in support of.  What happens when a Muslim marriage therapist refuses to counsel a same-sex couple under their "sincerely held" belief in the Quran?  If you are uncomfortable with these denials, THEN IT'S NOT OKAY WHEN WE DO IT EITHER.
  3. The belief must only be a "sincerely held religious belief," it need not be deeply held. - How do we measure sincerity?  How do we measure the depth of conviction? If I believe gluttony is a sin, but continue to eat a dozen donuts in one sitting on a weekly basis, do I really believe that?  And if I'm a doctor and believe that gluttony is a sin, does that give me an excuse to skip seeing obese patients because their health problems are God's punishment for their sin of gluttony (provided it's not a medical emergency)?  At what point is that "belief" an excuse?  And why should we allow that to be sufficient to circumvent the policies that we already have in place to prevent discrimination?
  4. There have been a lot of terrible "sincerely held religious beliefs" in our past - Look, we don't have to go back even fifty years to find large groups of Christians who believed in the Curse of Ham and that black people were specifically created by God to be inferior to the white man.  Under this bill, such a believer could have withheld service to any person of color they saw.  Or how about the dying view that a wife needed her husband's (or father's) permission to do anything?  Likewise under this bill, a proponent of such a position could have withheld service from a female without proof of their husband's or father's approval.  We have wisely recognized those are periods that we do not want to go back to and have enacted Constitutional protections for those groups.  What this bill currently allows is is discrimination against groups we have not yet identified for Constitutional approval.  That's not good company.
  5. The breadth of impact of this bill is astounding - This bill applies to anyone who holds a Texas license.  That list includes doctors, dentists, vets, counselors, lawyers, real estate agents, teachers, massage therapists, pawn brokers, pest control, pharmacists, plumbers, pipe-fitters, social workers, accountants, engineers, acupuncturists, athletic trainers, etc.  Does this mean a science teacher that only believes in creationism can refuse to teach the theory of evolution and the accepted science of the formation of the universe?  Can believing teachers decide they no longer want to teach agnostic or atheistic students?  Or can a teacher decide they won't teach LGBTQ students?  How about a public librarian who does not believe in stocking or loaning out anything other than religious or approved material?  Are we okay with that censorship?  Catholic pharmacists who will not fill birth control prescriptions?  Deeply conservative pest control or plumbers refusing to service a house of a LGBTQ couple?  
It's the last point that is the most troubling.  What happens when a counselor decides they will not provide any assistance to LGBTQ people?  Yes, the bill provides a requirement that no medical professional can refuse service that is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury, but where is that line?  There have been numerous stories that have come forward of LGBTQ people contemplating suicide that just needed someone to talk to, someone to listen.  What happens when such a youth makes no indication that they are contemplating suicide or self-harm, to where no one can see the imminent need, but they want to talk to a counselor who has a "sincerely held belief" that they could rely on to avoid such a conversation?

The even bigger question would be - why is that counselor so afraid of having that conversation?

Here's the most important point of why the bill is hogwash.  It's completely un-Christian.  It goes against everything we are taught to love our enemies, to be salt and light to the world.  Of being the Good Samaritan.  It completely misses the point of the illustration of going the second mile.

"If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles."
Matthew 5:41

The second mile was a form of impressment.  In Roman days, Jews, like others under Roman occupation, could be forced to carry a soldier’s bag (100 lb) for one mile.  Regardless of what the person was doing, regardless of where the solider was going, the impressed person was required by punishment of law to carry the soldiers pack.

There were typically two different types of responses to this requirement.  The Zealots, or the religious right/fundamentalists, would dig in and engage in  “civil” disobedience.  Be thrown in jail for refusal.  This type of requirement and response would be part of what led to a Jewish revolution attempt.  On the other hand, the average person might carry the pack, but would grumble the whole way, throw the pack down at the end, and storm off in a huff.

Jesus says do more – do something astonishing.  Don't just carry the pack the required distance.  Go further.  Don't do it begrudgingly; do it willingly.  Do it as service to God.

It's also very important to notice what Jesus does not say.  He also did not give any exceptions.  There is no exception for circumstance.  Of particular interest, there is no exception for the Sabbath.  On the Sabbath, Jews viewed scripture as preventing them from being able to work, regardless of what the work was for.  They had even calculated the specific number of steps that they were allowed to take to prevent them from breaking this rule.  What is very interesting about this situation is that depending on the circumstances, a Jew might be able to carry the pack for one mile and return to his home without breaking the number of steps.  By instructing them to walk two miles, still having the return trip of two miles, without an exception for the Sabbath, Jesus' new instruction would definitely cause them to break the allotted number of steps on a Sabbath.  One further indication showing Jesus cares not for our religious rules we have created, but deeply cares about his people and the instruction to love.

How can we be expected to go the second mile for a lost and broken world if we're not even willing to meet them at mile 0?  At this point, forget something astounding, forget even the first mile, we're trying to avoid being in that situation in the first place.

After a procedural vote, SB17 will be sent to the Texas House, where it has the potential to face real opposition.

And let's hope it does.

Maybe by then, we'll stop trying to cut ourselves off from the world, and get out there and start showing up to do the astonishing work we've been called to.