Dec 31, 2009

2009, and the Year to Come

The New Year has always seemed a bit anticlimactic to me. At midnight, everything is pretty much the same as it was before: my job hasn't changed, the weather hasn't changed, my foibles haven't changed. The move from Dec. 31-Jan. 1 is little different than the change from Jan. 31-Feb. 1, Feb. 28 (9th...ooooh)-March 1, etc. However, I think it's a great idea to 'start anew' every once in a while, and Jan. 1 seems as good a time to me as any. This, in the public mind, marks the end of the 00's (actually, 2011 is the end, but whatever). When they began, I was an eighth grader, having just survived an epic battle with E-coli that (I learned later) almost killed me. Y2K was the big worry of the hour. I remember standing in my aunt and uncle's kitchen, watching the ball drop, and thinking "In 2010, I'm going to be 23 years old!"

Well, here I am, and here we are. 10 years older, two presidents (and two wars) later, hair growing on my face, high school and college degrees received, employment attained. Seems strange that 2000 feels like it was so recent. I guess that's what my grandpa is referring to when he discusses how sometimes he feels like he should still be in the 1940's.

Your 20's are supposed to be quite a time in your life. I suppose mine will be, too (though I have a three-year head start already). I welcome 2010 and the next ten years with anticipation. So, tonight, we celebrate. Tomorrow, we pave hell with our resolutions (as Mark Twain so gently put it). Today, however, I leave you with this, courtesy of John Derbyshire:

Someone wants to know if there is anything interesting to say about the number 2010.

Nothing occurs immediately. 2010 has no entry in David Wells's indispensable Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Numbers. Nor could I find a reference in Conway & Guy on a quick leaf-through.

It's a rounder-than-usual number, having sixteen factors, the usual number of factors for numbers of that size being about 4. (Note: the "usual" number of factors of a number in the region of n is (log n)log 2 — natural logs, please — which for n = 2010 comes to 4.081. See Hardy & Wright, The Theory of Numbers, §22.13.)

The OEIS turns up 154 entries for 2010, but none of them really made me jump out of my chair. It's nice that 2010 is the 16th 21-gonal number, and the 35th coefficient of the 6th-order mock theta function ρ(q), and the number of trees of diameter 7 (huh?), and belongs to the happy band of numbers which are the products of distinct substrings of themselves (2010 = 201 × 10, see?). I'm even willing to give a nod of appreciation to the fact that 20103 / 3 is the average of a pair of twin primes. On the whole, though, one is left contemplating the great universal truth that something has to happen, and that there is no number so benighted that there isn't something mildly noteworthy to say about it. (This latter fact can be proved rigorously.) We are all special!

Dec 26, 2009

Merry Post-Christmas!

Well, as was to be expected, I spent the last few days making merry with my family. Chicago/Indiana had a melting Christmas morning, though by afternoon snow was falling again, and it continues to do so, giving us a white Boxing Day.

Of particular note in the Sauerman household this yule was my father's first viewing of one of my favorite Christmas movies, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and my first viewing of Meet John Doe. Also, it was the first Christmas with a baby of someone from my generation--my cousin's six-week-old son, Nicholas.

What follows are a few thoughts on Christmas that I hadn't had time to push out before (which is a shame, given my family's obsession with the holiday).

A) Christmastime in Washington, DC is very neat

From my trip to the capital for work, I was able to see the National Christmas Tree and the Capitol and White House decked out for the holidays. I wasn't able to make it down to Mt. Vernon for their yearly yuletide clambake. It's the only time of year that you can visit the third floor of the building. That would've been neat to see. Anyway, I love Washington and I love Christmas, so the two together us almost too much for me to handle.

B) A Christmas Carol is worth reading, even if you hate Charles Dickens

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.


Enough said.

C) The Swedes really like Donald Duck, or Kalle Anka

Read this article and be amazed. I never knew the Swedes loved Disney. I think that it makes me like the Swedes even more.

D) Christmas is an excellent time for reflection

Unlike Love Actually's assertion that Christmas is the time you tell people what you really think about them, it is a great time to reflect on many things. No contemplation of the season can begin without thoughts on the meaning of the central Christian mystery: God entering the physical world as a child. Many gallons of ink have been spilled trying to understand that mystery, and I won't add my two cents to that here, but it is comforting to do what we did on Christmas Eve and remember the prophecies of the Advent, the birth itself, and the taking of the Eucharist. God didn't enter time and space simply to exist, but to die and to defeat death. It's worth remembering at this time, that while we commemorate the beginning, we celebrate the end of the story.

So, here's hoping you and yours had a Christmas Day full of happiness and merriment and that the upcoming year will be as refreshing as it is new.

Dec 22, 2009

The Oldest Christmas Carol Ever

The oldest known film version of Dickens's classic A Christmas Carol was made in 1901. The British Film Institute has the roughly five minutes of film that remain, including Bob Cratchit letting a customer out of Scrooge's office, followed by the ghosts of Christmas past and present. Here it is:

Dec 18, 2009

Best Disney Songs?

Over at Unreality, they've published a list of what they believe to be the 10 best Disney songs of all time. Though the list is pretty good, I would have to differ on a few.

Theirs is:

  1. Can You Feel the Love Tonight (The Lion King)
  2. A Whole New World (Aladdin)
  3. Beauty and the Beast (Beauty and the Beast)
  4. Kiss the Girl (The Little Mermaid)
  5. Circle of Life (The Lion King)
  6. Part of Your World (The Little Mermaid)
  7. You'll Be in My Heart (Tarzan)
  8. Colors of the Wind (Pocahontas)
  9. You've Got a Friend in Me (Toy Story)
  10. I Won't Say I'm in Love (Hercules)

OK--pretty good list (though I wouldn't count any Pixar songs, especially before they were actually bought out by Disney), though terribly biased towards the "Disney renaissance". There are some classic Disney songs being left out here, including:

Cruella DeVille (101 Dalmatians)



I Wanna Be Like You (The Jungle Book)



Best of Friends (The Fox and the Hound)



Why Should I Worry? (Oliver and Company)



Baby Mine (Dumbo; quite possibly the saddest Disney song ever)



Bella Notte (Lady and the Tramp)



Cinderella (Cinderella)



When You Wish Upon a Star (Pinocchio)



Whistle While You Work (Snow White)



Of course, this list is not exhaustive. There are so many other classic songs ("I've Got No Strings", "Heigh-Ho", "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes", "The Bare Necessities", "Robin Hood and Little John"...I could go on and on). There are also a few in the Disney renaissance that were left out, most notably "Go the Distance" from Hercules, "Belle" from Beauty and the Beast, and "I'll Make a Man Out of You" from Mulan.

I love Disney songs. Trying to come up with a list of the top ten ever would be near impossible. I'll stick with my 100 or so best ever.

Dec 14, 2009

Breaking: Journalist Mad at U.S. System for Working the Way It Was Designed to Work

In the Guardian today, a guy named Michael Tomasky has written an article about why Americans shouldn’t blame President Obama for the morass of a healthcare debate that has been going on for the last three weeks in the Senate, but instead should blame the ‘broken political system’.

Now, I’m only going to mention in passing the idiocy of the premise that if an American president (who, no less, until last January was a member of the Senate, so should presumably know how it works) can’t get a bill through Congress that it isn’t the fault of his inept leadership or the substance of the bill, but is instead ‘the process’. That’s too obvious.

No, instead, I’m going to pass that and go straight for the other reasons that Mr. Tomasky’s argument is illogical and ill-considered. It should be expected that someone writing to the British audience of the Guardian would have the ability to explain how, exactly, the American system is different than the U.K. Parliament. Parliaments are expedient, combining the legislative and executive branches into the office of the Prime Minister. If the PM can get a majority in the House of Commons, then he has a law. The U.S. doesn’t quite work the same way. There are four hurdles to pass in America: (i) the House of Representatives, (ii) the Senate, (iii) the final, post-conference bill in the House and Senate, and (iv) the President. Mr. Tomasky seems, on a cursory glance, to get that. He mentions that “the system has always ensured that the minority party has certain rights and that the executive branch cannot just muscle through Congress any old thing that it wants. Our founders wanted a system that moved slowly.” He thinks that now it’s at a standstill, and that’s the fault of the system. Perhaps he wasn’t around for George W. Bush managing to pass No Child Left Behind or the PATRIOT Act or Medicare Part D or the Iraq War Resolution or TARP. Perhaps he wasn’t around for Obama’s $787 Stimulus. It seems to me like Congress is doing a fine job of passing laws--just not the healthcare bill that he wants so badly.

However, let’s ignore his ignorance and take him at his level.

First, he goes on about the filibuster. Yes, it’s true-the filibuster was rarely used throughout most of our history, saved only for high-profile bills. In recent days, it is put forward all the time, making it impossible to get any substantive bill through the Senate without 60 votes. He tries to blame this on an intransigent Republican minority. However, the last time I counted, Democrats have 60 votes in the Senate, making any Republican opposition utterly meaningless. Even with every single Republican voting against a measure, Democrats should be able to get it through. If they can’t, that’s not a failure of the rules of the Senate; that’s a failure of the Democratic party. I’ll bet his tune would change if there were 51 votes for a bill destroying Social Security. Maybe then, he’d view the filibuster as the gift of the democracy gods, preserving the precious rights of the minority. That’s the problem with arguments against the filibuster; nine times out of ten, they simply come from people whining about the difficulty passing their pet bills. The hypocrisy is astounding. Of course, it’s unfair to indict Mr. Tomasky for something he didn’t say, but I’m sure if I went through the annals of his articles, I’d find nothing arguing against the Democrats’ use of the filibuster on Bush’s judicial nominees.

Moving on, Mr. Tomasky, does admit that “Obama’s problems are not limited to Republicans, of course.” He then bemoans the difficulty of getting the last few votes before 60 and how it is possible for a few Senators to “dictate terms in exchange for their votes.” Isn’t that what’s always been the case in both houses for all bills? Senators (and Representatives, for that matter) vote for a bill for two reasons. Those on the fence-especially in the case of this healthcare bill-are dictating their terms because they want to get reelected (Lincoln, D-AR; Landrieu, D-LA), they disagree with substantive portions of the bill (Lieberman, I-CT; Snowe, R-ME), or both (Nelson, D-NE). “But why won’t they just give it up and vote for a bill that they think is bad and that will cost them their seats?” Mr. Tomasky foolishly implies. Is the answer really that hard to understand?

Finally, he makes a huff about “the nature of the GOP opposition.” There are only ten real moderates in the GOP, he asserts. Now, even if we assume that Michael Tomasky’s definition of ‘moderate’ truly is moderate (which it most certainly is not), it’s a moot point once again. There are over 218 Democrats in the House, meaning that Democrats can pass anything they please without any Republicans. I repeat, Democrats also have 60 votes in the Senate, making them able to pass anything with nary a conservative vote. Any hardships President Obama’s bill is suffering stem fundamentally from his own party not being able to get itself in order. To claim that the American system is ‘broken’ because of that is just plain wrong.

Oh, and maybe congressmen are also against it because the public hates it. Imagine the United States Congress actually listening to the people! If we're not careful, some people might start to think that we live in a democracy...

Dec 8, 2009

The Supreme Court

WARNING: Long post on the law.


So, sometimes a job like mine can have its benefits. Yesterday, I was able to fly to Washington, DC in order to hear today's oral argument at the Supreme Court for two cases, Black v. U.S. and Weyhrauch v. U.S. Both involve 18 U.S.C. 1346--known popularly as "honest services fraud." First, a quick summary of them both.

Black v. U.S.

Conrad Black, former CEO of Hollinger Corp. (owner at one point of over 1,000 newspapers), was charged by the government for depriving Hollinger of his 'honest services' for allegedly hiding personal profit through non-competition agreements during the sale of newspapers. Black continues to contend that (a) no economic harm was suffered by Hollinger and (b) his transactions were a legal way to lower his personal taxes. His argument is that 'honest services' is too vague a standard and much also have as an element a contemplated economic harm to the victim.

Weyhrauch v. U.S.

Bruce Weyhrauch was an Alaska state legislator. When he had decided to not run for reelection again, he began discussions with Bill Allen, CEO of VECO Corp., about a potential job. However, there was still a tax bill directly affecting VECO before the legislature. Though no incriminating statements came to light and there was no state law requiring disclosure of his conflict-of-interest, the government indicted Weyhrauch. He contends that without a state law requirement to disclose, 'honest services' simply becomes a common law crime for the courts to create. This violates the common federal principle that all crimes be clear and unambiguous so that no defendants can engage in illegal activity without the reasonable ability to understand what they did and why it broke the law.

Argument Synopsis


Entering the Court through the ticketed door (on the north side, basement), we were led through a side entrance to the courtroom. At 10 a.m., about 40 minutes after we had sat down, the clerk called out the famous "Oyez, oyez, oyez!" and the justices entered from behind the massive, velvet curtains. Chief Justice Roberts called out Black v. U.S., and Miguel Estrada, the counsel of record (who, incidentally, had been nominated by George W. Bush for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals but was held up because he was too conservative for Democrats in Congress) stepped forward. He was able to get reasonably far into his economic harm argument before the justices began peppering him with questions. Then it began.

Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor seemed, at the outset, most leery of the economic harm principle, while Justices Roberts and Kennedy seemed to be asking him to flush it out a bit, though it was difficult to tell whether they support or oppose the provision. It was pretty uneventful--Estrada stumbled a few times (especially when Justice Kennedy asked him why there was no 'harmless error' in the appellate court's ruling), but he covered that in the remainder of his time, three minutes of which he saved for the end of the argument (though at one point, Justice Scalia did ask him whether he was presenting the issue of constitutionality, which he answered in the affirmative, beginning a snowball that only grew, as you'll see).

When he had sat down, Michael Dreeben from the Solicitor General's office stepped forward. Immediately, he was inundated with questions. It seemed the entire Court (except for the always silent Justice Thomas and a surprisingly quiet Justice Stevens) was arrayed pretty well against the government. Justice Breyer asked if the government felt it could charge a lazy worker who told his boss that he was doing work when he was in actuality reading racing forms with fraud, punishable by up to twenty years. Out of 150 million workers in the United States, he noted, probably 140 million would be committing federal crimes unawares. That was ridiculous, countered Dreeben--because that lacks materiality (that is, even though he lied, it didn't change the actions of the victim--the company). Justice Sotomayor then asked how it would change if it were someone who was supposed to be working (on a big account or something; she didn't specify), but instead chose to ditch work and go to a ball game. In that case, it was a material. Dreeben said that the government would never actually pursue a case like that. Justice Breyer would have none of it; it doesn't matter whether the Justice Department would actually pursue a case. What matters is that the crime itself might be unconstitutional.

That leads me into the other big issue the Court was dealing with. While both Black and Weyhrauch seek a method of interpreting honest services fraud so that the statute remains extant but less vague, the justices seemed prepared to declare the whole thing unconstitutionally vague right now. A problem in scheduling, however, means that the other honest services case, Skilling v. U.S., has neither been briefed (the initial briefs are due this Friday) nor argued (probably in late March). That case may deal with the overall constitutionality of honest services fraud. Justice Sotomayor, however, wanted to talk about that issue now, to which Mr. Dreeben continuously (and correctly) demurred.

The Weyhrauch argument was effectively a continuation of the Black argument. Mr. Dreeben was up again, but a new counsel of record (I don't have his name in front of me) was, too. Again, the justices seemed unconvinced of the ability of the courts to meld some focus out of the 'mess'.

Overall, it was incredibly interesting, though hard to follow at some points. The transcripts have been released (see here and here).

My bets? I'm guessing the votes come in as so (and these may change with the Skilling argument):

Roberts, C.J.: overturn as unconstitutional
Stevens, J.: keep as constitutional
Scalia, J.: overturn as unconstitutional
Kennedy, J.: severely limit
Thomas, J.: overturn as unconstitutional
Ginsburg, J.: severely limit
Breyer, J.: overturn as unconstitutional
Alito, J.: overturn as unconstitutional
Sotomayor, J.: overturn as unconstitutional

Now, some of these are just educated guesses. Neither Roberts nor Alito gave away their hands too much. However, they seemed to ask more questions and have more issues with both the remedies presented by the petitioners and the statute being upheld in the way the government wants it. Stevens wrote the dissent for McNally v. United States, saying that 'intangible rights' such as honest services were definitely constitutional, even without the current statute (1346 was enacted as a response to the Court's decision in McNally). Kennedy seems reticent to ever overturn anything, though he may come out against it, since he had a lot of issues with the fuzzy line of applicability. Sotomayor explicitly said that she didn't know how to apply it, Breyer came up with five or six hypotheticals of people who would be guilty of fraud under the statute but obviously shouldn't be, and Ginsburg didn't really seem to like any of the remedies posited. That leaves Scalia and Thomas. Scalia hates honest services fraud and has made that abundantly clear. His new goal seems to be to have it purged from the tomes of the law. Thomas usually agrees with Scalia, and a textualist (like me) hates this kind of law, which begs courts to create standards from vague legislative language, effectively creating law.

So--that's where I was today. What were you up to?

Goose!


And now two smaller Cratchits, boy and girl, came tearing in, screaming that outside the baker's they had smelt the goose, and known it for their own; and basking in luxurious thoughts of sage-and-onion, these young Cratchits danced about the table, and exalted Master Peter Cratchit to the skies, while he (not proud, although his collars nearly choked him) blew the fire, until the slow potatoes bubbling up, knocked loudly at the saucepan-lid to be let out and peeled.

"What has ever got your precious father then.'' said Mrs Cratchit. "And your brother, Tiny Tim! And Martha warn't as late last Christmas Day by half-an-hour!''

"Here's Martha, mother!'' said a girl, appearing as she spoke.

"Here's Martha, mother!'' cried the two young Cratchits. "Hurrah! There's such a goose, Martha!''


Goose was a traditional dish in medieval times. In England, Christmas--for those who couldn't afford the larger and meatier turkey--meant goose. I, being a traditionalist, determined that I should hearken back to olden days and try one myself for Christmas. My grandmother--a wonderful woman--heard that I wanted to make a goose. So, for Thanksgiving, she surprised my by buying one for me to cook. So, I did. And here it is:


I used the recipe "Roast Goose with Oranges and Madeira", with the slight difference of sherry instead of madeira (which is--go figure--illegal in Alabama). After slicing off the excess fat (which you need to do, since there is SO much fat), you poke the skin with a fork. My goose was about 11.5 lbs., so, following the recipe, I put it into the oven at 350 degrees for a little over an hour. At that time, I drained the fat (once again, there was a TON of it). An hour and a half later, I drained it again, then left it in for a few more minute on a slightly higher temperature, which helped make it a little crispy. Then, my grandpa carved it using the method in the following video, which was helpful since the breast bone is so high, you can't cut it like a turkey:



In the end, it was delicious, and I would advise anyone to try it. The meat is all dark, and gamier than duck. I like that, though some people in my family didn't. The sauce has a strong alcohol flavor, which I also like, as did a lot of other family members. Next time, I plan to try the prune/chestnut recipe.

Well, It's Been A Long Day

OK, I haven't posted much lately, but that doesn't mean I've been idle, so I'm going to make up for it today by posting a bunch of things.

If you're interested in honest service fraud, Muppets, cooking goose, or the National Christmas Tree, then stay tuned...

Nov 11, 2009

11/11/1918, 11:11 a.m., Compiègne Forest

Today, we celebrate both Armistice Day, the end of World War I, and, in America, Veterans Day.

A misquotation George Orwell--but a good one nevertheless--says that
People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.
Those words are very true, so take a moment today to thank a veteran for the service rendered to you and the entire nation.

Nov 7, 2009

House Vote on Healthcare Bill

Does anyone else find it disturbing that a vote in the House to restructure one sixth of the economy was passed 218-214 (with 4 left not voting)?

Shouldn't more people be in support of something this ridiculously massive?

UPDATE: 219-214. One Republican 'yea'--probably Joseph Cao (LA-2)

UPDATE II:220-215
; all votes in. Passes by three.

UPDATE III: It was Joseph Cao. Tough call for him--conservative in a solidly liberal district (only elected because the previous congressman, Rep. William Jefferson, had hidden thousands of dollars of money in his freezer. Cao voted his district, which I believe is the right thing to do, as much as I disagree with the bill. There are many, many other congressmen who just spit in their constituents' faces this evening, though.

UPDATE IV: Reflections on Cao's vote:

Republican Whip Eric Cantor just released a statement expressing his 'disappointment' in Rep. Cao. I have to say that, while I understand Cantor's need to say that to allay the conservative base of the party, the logic doesn't follow. One of the biggest Republican arguments (correct in my mind) against the health reform bill is that a majority of Americans doesn't support it. If Congress is going to truly represent the people, it must respond to their wishes on an issue. Given that over 50% of the electorate continues to be against this one in poll after poll, it seems not only odd, but frankly abhorrent, that a majority of Congress would choose to be for it. That's one of the philosophical underpinnings of the Republicans' opposition.

However, that is exactly what Rep. Cao did, and Cantor should recognize that. He actually listened to his constituents. I thank God that we don't have a system like that in Israel, where you vote for a party instead of an individual. Instead, we choose exactly who we want to represent us. Cao was elected by a very, very liberal district. He is, philosophically, a conservative, but he is also a their representative. It is right that he should listen to them, however foolish their opinions may be.

Now, it's certainly a difficult balance to strike. Sometimes, a representative must vote against what his/her constituents want. That's part of the system. The people at large don't have as good of information as those in Congress. They may not understand all the ramifications of a change in the U.S. Code. However, that doesn't mean congressmen can simply ignore them. I remember a story (maybe misremembered or apocryphal) about George H.W. Bush, while serving as a representative from Texas and having to cast a vote for the Civil Rights Bill. His constituents were dead-set against it, but he voted for it, telling them that they voted for him as a person with a set of beliefs, not simply for a lever to do whatever a majority chooses. It's the difficulty of governing. Rep. Cao had a tough choice to make. In this case, since I believe that especially in the House of Representatives the people should reign, I support Cao's decision, as much as I despise the outcome.

Nov 5, 2009

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November


...the Gunpowder Treason and Plot!
I see no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's mercy he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

Oct 29, 2009

Meet Virgil!


I'd like to introduce you to Virgil, the newest member of my puppet entourage. He is a jaguar. More importantly (for him), he is a vegetarian jaguar. He would have been awfully disappointed in me for having eaten a ham-topped-cheeseburger this evening.

I built him originally for Project Puppet's 'Jungle' contest, but I wasn't able to finish him in time for various reasons. Some facts about him: his eyes are 28mm glass lion eyes from a taxidermy shop, his fur is made from a soft towel fabric I found at JoAnn's (painted yellow with acrylics and covered in spots with black Sharpies and brown/red Prismacolor markers), within his arms and hands are wires to give him a stiff elbow or finger configuration, hidden at the base of his wrists are two metal threads to screw in the arm rods that I made for him, his nose and tongue were made from painted Sculpey molds (I need to go over his nose again, since it's chipping, and then cover it with a clear acrylic protectant). That's about it...if you have any questions, feel free to ask!

Anyway, please enjoy the photos. He took a lot of work, and I'm pretty happy with the results.

front

back

arms up

profile

bling

closeup

pompous

having fun with my roommate, Dan

being goofy with Dan

I also made a puppet stand (two, actually), which I am very proud of. It just took a dowel, a wooden 'clock face' from Michael's, a 1/2" drill bit, and some wood glue (plus black paint and polyurethane).

Oct 28, 2009

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

In a few weeks, the Roald Dahl classic, Fantastic Mr Fox comes to the big screen as a stop-motion feature directed by Wes Anderson. I've never actually read the book (shhhh...), but I would kind of like to before seeing the movie. Maybe I won't. I'll probably just go watch it...

Running Platypus

So, I've got this whole platypus thing going on. I did an animation of him running, so here it is. It of course will require a bit of tweaking, but for a first running test, not too bad.

Oct 17, 2009

Pixar Concept Art!

Sadly to say, I've only recently come to appreciate concept art as its own form. It tends to be beautiful in its own way--especially color and light studies. Concept art evokes feeling in a way that the final product never does. I wonder why more films aren't made with a heavier emphasis on the dramatic looks of concept art.

One of my favorite films from the past few years is Finding Nemo. I remember when I first saw a teaser for it from the Monsters, Inc. DVD--I was sold on the idea from the beginning. The movie has such a strong quality to it: a father learning to deal with his fear of loss, a son realizing the value of his dad, an unexpected journey. What I never realized was how intentional the different moods of the film were. Thinking about it, it is now very obvious, but at the time, it accomplished exactly what it should have: people had the feelings evoked without really knowing it. The beginning of the film is set in warm, light blues for a feeling of safety and security in the reef. As the journey begins, deeper blues set in--symbolizing both distance from home and greater danger. The dark blues of the shark's hideaway and the deep-sea moment are frightening. Then, suddenly, the medium blues of the open ocean don't seem quite as bad anymore. The jellyfish are an inviting--almost dreamy--pink and purple, though the bright red of Dory's wound from them serves as a stark contrast to their seeming safety. Finally, in Sydney Harbor, the dull greens and muckier water show despair: Marlin thinking Nemo is dead and Dory not knowing where she is or what she's doing. Below is an image from Greg Hull, one of the concept artists for the film.


Other films in general (and Pixar films in particular) spend a lot of time getting colors and moods right. A character's environment plays a huge role in an audience interpretation of a scene. A laugh on a sunny day in a park seems light and innocent. Move that laugh to a dark, dank room, and it's either evil or nervousness.

I found a website today which has an OK collection of Pixar concept art. I would recommend the various "Art of" books, particularly from Finding Nemo, Cars, and Ratatouille. I would say Monsters, Inc., but I don't have that book, and it costs around $150, since it's now out of print.

Additionally, for Disney concepts, their "Art of" books (I remember "Art of the Lion King" being really good; also, "The Tarzan Chronicles") and "Before the Animation Begins."

Here are some great examples of the different styles of concept art:

Aladdin (Aladdin's hideaway)

Ratatouille (Paris skyline)

The Lion King (Simba's return to Pride Rock)


Beauty and the Beast (early Beast sketch)

WALL-E (WALL-E and Eve)

Oct 8, 2009

Occam's Razor and Politics

The Conservative Party just finished their four-day annual conference, which culminated in David Cameron's speech to the party. This year's speech is even more significant than usual, since it is likely, given the state of the polls, to be his last conference speech as the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. Next summer, he will probably be the Prime Minister of Her Majesty's Government, describing what his Government is doing to address the problems facing Britain.

I have mixed feelings about the speech, largely stemming from my mixed feelings about the state of the Tories in general. You see, David Cameron, in some ways, has been the John McCain of the U.K.--he's reliably 'conservative' on most issues, though he has decided that the way to win back Parliament is to adopt many of Labour's policies, including civil partnership recognition and benefits, burdensome taxes on the rich, and heavy, heavy funding for the National Health Service.

What surprises me most about Mr. Cameron's speech is that it reflects what ails the entirety of the European polity today, namely, the belief that society's problems can be answered by applying Occam's Razor. Simply put, Occam's Razor states that if there are multiple possible explanations for an occurrence, the simplest is the most likely. In society and politics, this is certainly not always the case.

Sometimes, it is. Take this excerpt from Mr. Cameron's speech, for example:

The truth is, it's not just that big government has failed to solve these problems. Big government has all too often helped cause them by undermining the personal and social responsibility that should be the lifeblood of a strong society.

Just think of the signals we send out. To the family struggling to raise children, pay a mortgage, hold down a job.

"Stay together and we'll give you less; split up and we give you more."

To the young mum working part time, trying to earn something extra for her family "from every extra pound you earn we'll take back 96 pence."

Yes, 96 pence.

Let me say that again, slowly.

In Gordon Brown's Britain if you're a single mother with two kids earning £150 a week the withdrawal of benefits and the additional taxes mean that for every extra pound you earn, you keep just 4 pence.

What kind of incentive is that? Thirty years ago this party won an election fighting against 98 per cent tax rates on the richest. Today I want us to show even more anger about 96 per cent tax rates on the poorest.


It is certainly true: taking away, through taxation, 96% of the income you earn is an idiotic incentive. No one in their right mind would think that would cause anyone to work more. In my current job, if I had to work twenty-four times as much to earn the equivalent of one unit of untaxed work, I simply wouldn't work. That's Occam's Razor. That's common sense.

However, on another issue, Mr. Cameron misses the root causes by applying Occam's Razor to a problem.

We cannot rebuild social responsibility from on high. But the least we can do the least we can do is pledge to all the people who are scared, who live their lives in fear and who can't protect themselves, that a Conservative Government, with Chris Grayling, with Dominic Grieve, will reform the police, reform the courts, reform prisons. We will be there to protect you.

You may not notice the mistake here, because there a few underlying facts. In Britain, gun control laws are among the strictest in the world. This came through the use of Occam's Razor, noticing the problem of crime (oftentimes perpetrated with guns) and saying that the simplest way to solve the problem would be to rid the nation of guns. They did so. That has made Britain one of the places where you are least likely to be shot. However, in the U.K., 26.4% of the country was victimized by crime in 2002 (3rd highest percentage in the world, according to UN statistics). 2.8% of the country was subject to assault, the 2nd highest percentage in the world. The U.S., on the other hand, with much more lax gun control laws (though still with the assault rifle ban in place at the time), came in as one of the most likely places to get shot, but below average in both world crime and assault rates. Clearly, getting rid of guns--though it may be effective in lowering crimes committed with guns--does not lower overall crime. There could be many reasons for this (culture, other weapons available, number of law enforcement personnel, sentencing levels come right to mind), but I think a major one is that, culturally, it is no longer legal to defend oneself. In the end, that is the point of owning a gun (besides hunting). It is a great deterrent to crime. If you know that I have a Glock in my drawer, you probably will be less likely to enter my home to rob it. If you think I might, you will still be less likely to enter my home. If you know I won't (as is the case in the U.K.), then you have no worries at all about robbing me blind (or murdering me with something other than a gun, or assaulting me or my family, or any other number of crimes).

Mr. Cameron thinks that Britain just needs more policing. That may help, but ultimately, police respond to crimes. Frontline police rarely prevent crime. You don't call 911 because a burglar might appear. You call because someone appears to be in the midst of a robbery. Sometimes they can stop something as it happens. However, the best deterrent is having the criminal know that you aren't the one in danger if they enter your home; they are. Britain, I believe, should loosen its gun control laws. That, paradoxically, is how you'll keep people safe.

I look forward to what I hope will be the Tories' trouncing of Labour next May. However, as American seems to be 'Europeanizing' under President Obama, I hope we realize that the simplest ways to solve problems (e.g. people need health care, just make them buy it; people get shot, outlaw guns; I am not rich and am not a criminal, tax all rich people because they must be) are not always the correct ones. Occam's Razor doesn't always work.


Oct 3, 2009

The Return of Cider

Slate has a cool article about the history of (alcoholic) cider in America. It was hugely popular in our early days, waned in the middle of our existence, and has begun a comeback. I'd love it if the phrase could be "as American as apple pie and cider". When I visited London in 2005, I enjoyed their cider a bit more than most of their ale (though both were delicious). It's nice to know that cider is becoming more respected, as it should be, since it is great, and that new cideries are appearing throughout the U.S., aiming to better the craft.

Makes me think about Johnny Appleseed. Do kids even learn about him anymore?



Oct 1, 2009

Muppets in Ramallah

The New York Magazine has a really interesting article on how the Sesame Workshop is working to instill tolerance and understanding to Israeli and Palestinian children growing up in Israel. Their two shows, Rechov Sumsum (Israeli) and Shara'a Simsim (Palestinian), are intended to be both educational (as all Sesame Street shows are) and culturally relevant.

It's well worth a read. Cool to see such out-of-the-box thinking to deal with the Middle East's problems.

Sep 23, 2009

A New Muppet Movie!

Apparently, this past weekend at Disney's D-23 expo, the Muppets showed up on stage and announced that they will be making a new movie, called "The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made", from an idea of Jim Henson's in the mid-1980's.

How exciting!

Quote of the Day

William Saletan:

Today's morality cops are less interested in your bedroom than your refrigerator. They're more likely to berate you for outdoor smoking than for outdoor necking. It isn't God who hates fags. It's Michael Bloomberg.

NB: If you don't get it, see def. #6 here.

Sep 18, 2009

Stupid Road Signs


Driving up to Michigan a few weeks ago, on the interstate, I saw a bunch of signs saying 'This project funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act' (or something like that). I wondered how much those stupid, worthless things cost. Apparently, millions of dollars.

Barbara Boxer, perennial liberal shill, says that being against wasteful spending on the signs means you are against government transparency. Yeah, OK, Senator. She mentioned that $33 million was spent in fliers to voters saying that their taxes were lowered in 2003 because of George W. Bush. For the record, those expenditures were stupid, too. But pointing out Republican hypocrisy doesn't really make your case any better, does it?

I Harbor Great Doubts About This...

So, the President has opted to discontinue the missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, apparently in an effort to take down a barrier for U.S./Russian relations and, probably, to get their help in stopping Iran from going nuclear.

I harbor great doubts about this.

In 2007, when George W. Bush announced the idea* for the sites in Eastern Europe, Russia was none too happy. Russia, you see, has always considered its former imperial/Soviet lands (read: all of Europe east of Germany and north of Turkey) to be its little fiefdom. It has a vested interest for a large sphere of influence (as do all nations). However, what matters is what that sphere means.

Russia, for centuries, has had a strange obsession with autocracy. They had it in the middle ages. They had it until the early 20th century, when the finally sluffed of the czars. Then they had it again, starting about five years after that, when they agve the Reds the reins of government. Again, autocracy lasted until the early 1990's, when it was replaced by oligarchy under Boris Yeltsin. Now, under our dear friend Vladimir Putin and his protege, Dmitri Medvedev, we have it turning back towards autocracy.

The thing about their obsession, though, is this: they like to export it. The United States likes to export republicanism (usually); that's been our mantra for two hundred years. The Russians like to have client states. In the latter half of the Bush presidency, Putin got the Russian Bear running again. The knocked pride of the country from having lost the Cold War and gone into economic turmoil during the 1990's was rekindled. Putin, sensing weakness in the U.S. (both for Bush politically and for the United States militarily with our stretched lines in Afghanistan and Iraq), 'turned up the heat', as it were. Russia began pressuring its former satellites (Ukraine, Poland, Georgia) more than it had been. We didn't like the little guys being pushed around. The missile defense shield, therefore, was a twofer: it made it possible to protect against potential Iranian missiles (long-distance, however; Obama is right that short-distance missiles are better stopped from carrier-based launchers) and it said to Russia that it couldn't bully its neighbors. America would exert the democratic influence in Eastern Europe, whether the Bear liked it or not.

Obama has now foregone that assurance. By making this overture to Russia, he has chosen to appease it in order to get support for his (and Bush's) failing Iran policy of appeasement. Now, maybe, Russia won't exercise its veto power in the U.N. Security Council. However, there's still the issue of China--and the President has recently angered it over tire tarriffs--which, in confluence with Russia, usually blocks harsh sanctions against Iran. The scheme is unlikely to work. Iran is going to get the bomb unless somebody blows up their reactors (Mossad, do your stuff...), sanctions or not; direct diplomacy will simply give them a nice photo-op with the U.S., similar to what Hitler got from Neville Chamberlain when the latter sold out Czechoslovakia. It's a fool's errand to think that with a few smiles and nice incentives, they'll give up the chance to become THE power in the Middle East. And America showed that it won't help Iranian dissidents--probably our best hope of stopping the nuclear march. So that card is off the table.

Instead, what we now have is an America that will be ignored by Iran, NATO allies who know that America's promises aren't worth the paper they're written on, Ukraine and Poland--before willing to stand up to Russia with our help--now being left to cower, knowing that what happened to Georgia may easily happen to them (remember the Georgian oil pipeline? Check out the Russian-Ukrainian gas pipelines), and a supreme Russian diplomatic victory.

So, in the end, what do we get?

Pros:
  • Russia maybe helps with Iran. Maybe.
  • Those who feel like America has been unduly aggressive are assuaged.

Cons:
  • Ukraine under renewed Russian pressure; no effective U.S. backing
  • Poland under renewed Russian pressure; no effective U.S. backing
  • Baltic states under renewed Russian pressure; no effective U.S. backing
  • United States unwilling to exert influence in Eastern Europe, lest it anger Russia
  • No missile defense for long-range missiles in Europe
  • United States caves and looks weak; Russians declare victory
  • Ukraine and Georgia unlikely to be made NATO countries and provide a buffer for Russian expansionism, lest it anger Russia
  • NATO effectively useless (you think we'd act under Article V if Russia attacked Poland? Not under this administration, I would wager. We can't, for one thing, since our military is so overburdened. And Western Europe certainly wouldn't waste resources helping out the East. France and the U.K. will give Poland and Ukraine to Russia the same way they gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler before they willingly put troops into a fight.)
  • Iran gets photo-op with U.S.
  • Iran balks and rebuffs U.S.
  • Iran gets nuclear bomb
Potential pro:
  • Barack Obama either learns that 'discussions' won't stop apocalyptical Iranian mullahs or appease the resurgent Russians; or he gets defeated soundly in 2012 by someone who does.
Now, maybe this is a worst-case scenerio, but a) Russia has given us no reason to trust it for any reason and b) Iran has given us no reason to think that it won't use a nuclear weapon if (when) it gets one. It would be nice to hold hands and sing kumbaya, but the fact is, it's not going to happen. Western Europe won't help Eastern Europe without our cover. Therefore, by abandoning the missile defense program we've effectively told the little guy facing down the bully in a knife fight that he doesn't need a weapon, since we might help out. But we might not. And talking to the bully always helps. Trust us. Yeah.

P.S. Fred Kagan in Slate talks about why it was a good idea. He uses the example of Kennedy ending the Cuban Missile Crisis by removing our missiles in Turkey. That analogy doesn't hold since, a) even though we had to remove the missiles, we won a diplomatic victory that ended up overthrowing Khrushchev because the removal was kept secret (in this case, our caving was very, very public, and it doesn't appear that the Russians gave anything up), and b) even if it had been made public, we removed them because there were nuclear missiles in Cuba pointing at us. There was an immediate danger that needed to be resolved. Here, there is simply the vague promise of helping to stop Iran (maybe). That's not enough.

* I am aware that the link is not the original announcement, but simply more reporting on the shield from 2007.

UPDATE: Even those in the President's own party are confused, since Russia is saying that they aren't going to help with new Iran sanctions in exchange for the missile defense shield being scrapped. Apparently, the President only believes in unilateral actions when it's the U.S. conceding.

UPDATE II: The New York Times has a pretty idiotic editorial, praising Obama for his decision, saying this:

Mr. Obama will meet in New York next week with President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia. He must make clear that this decision is not a payoff for Moscow’s bullying — and that an improved relationship will depend on Russia’s willingness to treat its neighbors and its people better....The president’s critics are right on one point: The Russians will be watching him closely for any signs of weakness. Mr. Obama must be prepared to press Mr. Medvedev hard on all of these issues.

Are you kidding me? Of course it was a payoff. Putin and Medvedev just learned that under this administration, intransigence has benefits. You think they will give in now? We were willing to give up our good hand for nothing.

US: "You must treat your neighbors better, Russia."
Them: "Uh, don't mess with our internal affairs."
US: "They aren't internal. We will protect our allies."
Them: "We just seized a Georgian ship in Abkhazian waters."
US: "Isn't Abkhazia part of Georgia?"
Them: "Not since we annexed it."
US: "Well, we'll protect our allies anyway."
Them: "Oh, and don't you dare let Ukraine into NATO. Otherwise, we won't help with Iran."
US: "So you'll help with Iran if we don't let them in?"
Them: "We didn't say that."
US: "OK. Sorry."

And, are you kidding me (again)? The Russians will be looking for a sign of weakness? They just saw a sign of weakness because we gave them a huge concession for nothing in return. Giving up something for nothing in international relations is a terrible, terrible idea--especially when it is an untrustworthy competitor on the world stage, and we just did it at a time when American hegemony is already being questioned around the world and Russian hegemony is being demanded (by the Russians).

I try to work under the assumption that the NYT editorial staff just disagrees with me, not that they are complete imbeciles, but it gets tougher every day...

Sep 12, 2009

And then there were three...

I didn't know that right after I posted about Henry Allingham, the third-last British World War I vet passing away, his friend, Henry Patch died, too. That leaves Claude Choules as the last remaining soldier for the UK to have seen combat in the 'War to End All Wars'. There are still two more remaining--Jack Babock of Canada and Frank Buckles of the USA. It really is something that they've made it so long.

Sep 10, 2009

Go Ahead...

Call your girlfriend pulchritudinous and see how she reacts.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

The Hillary Movie Case, as it is apparently known within legal circles (or is everyone just saying that's what they call it?), was heard yesterday by the Supremes in a rare summer argument. It was Justice Sotomayor's first go in the big room. Sounds like she jumped right in. Hopefully they'll release the oral argument recording soon.

Until that time, we can settle with this: Dahlia Lithwick (who, for my tastes, I speak of far too much on this blog) has a good rundown of the oral argument, if you can get past her snide partisan remarks (e.g. Scalia "growls" at Elena Kagan, the Solicitor General, while Stevens "browbeats" Ted Olson, former George W. Bush SG; not surprising, given her penchant for hypocrisy in this arena).

I have a hard time listening to people being critical about the Court overturning its own precedent, as if that is in some way a nefarious end in and of itself. The ace in the hole has always been Plessy v. Ferguson, a precedent that was--as it should have been--overturned. According to Lithwick, "the name of the game today is watching the Roberts Five shrink formerly binding court precedent into thin air without being forced to overrule the cases themselves" (referring to McConnell v. FEC and Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, two cases upholding campaign donation limits on corporations). It's kind of disengenuous to treat the Roberts Court like some precedent-smashing, stare decisis-flouting cabal (aside: I found out this weekend that the etymology of 'cabal' is really interesting) simply for the sake of precedent itself. Lithwick, like anyone, I suppose, thinks that all cases she agrees with should be upheld and that all cases she disagrees with should be overturned. Justice Thomas--scourge of 'progessive' jurists--hasn't said it himself, but his colleague Justice Scalia has mentioned during interviews that his friend Clarence doesn't believe in stare decisis. That is, Thomas thinks that if a case was wrongly decided in the past, it is still wrong now and should be overturned. He uses Plessy as his reasoning for that. It sounds like a pretty good one to me... (Now, if Lithwick is worried that the Court will effectively overturn those cases without really saying that they are overturned--which, admittedly, the Chief has done on numerous occasions--I can buy into it. I don't think that's what she's going for, though.)

Also, Will Haun at The Bench on NRO thinks that Roberts is the swing vote in this case (Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas are on the books wanting to overturn McConnell and Austin). E.J. Dionne spends his time at the Washington Post flipping out and being dead wrong about the state of current campaign finance jurisprudence.

Anyway, the case is interesting, Lithwick summarizes the oral argument well, and I look forward to the opinion, which will hopefully be written and released shortly.

Sep 9, 2009

Opposition Responses

I just finished going between the President's health care address and Mythbusters (they were cutting cars in half...uh...awesome?). I must point out, however, now as the Republican 'response' begins, how much I hate these stupid things. Opposition responses are annoying and classless. It's one of the perks of the office of the President to be able to address Congress (it's in the Constitution, by heavens!). It was that way with George Bush. It remains that way with Barack Obama. Opposition addresses just seem childish.

That's Not Very Progressive

Exploration apparently doesn't cut it as 'progressive' enough. You know, since man's continued push toward the unknown isn't progress.

When you can spend trillions on programs that are doomed to fail.

Sep 3, 2009

Late, But Interesting

This week, I've been doing a lot of mindless busywork. Sometimes, I may be frustrated by that, but this week, I discovered the Federalist Society online.

Now, I know that most people have no idea what that is. I know that others will either think it's great or be horrified by it. For you who are going "eh?": the Federalist Society is an organization of conservative lawyers studying law and public policy from a (primarily) 'originalist' school of thought.

I have to say, their multimedia cache is really, really good. Just recently, they finished up their 2008 Supreme Court wrapup, in which they summarize every case that the Court decided. They also have a slew of conferences from months and years past that are very interesting. Today I learned about The Presidency and The Courts and Counterterrorism and the Obama Administration. If you are interested in law and public policy--even if you are a liberal or something else entirely, check it out. It's very informative.

Did This Really Happen?


It's owner, the great-great grandson of a prominent Viennese Jewish political man, says so.

Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin faced off in a chess game in 1909.

The etching that is going up for sale at auction, was allegedly done by Emma Lowenstramm, purportedly Hitler's Jewish art instructor during his stint in Vienna. It is being displayed together alongside the chess board with which they played, distinguishable because of the interestingly shaped bishops and kings. On the reverse are two signatures--supposedly by the two future dictators. Though handwriting analysts aren't positive, they give an 80% chance of authenticity.

The timing would have been right. Hitler, according to Mein Kampf, arrived in Vienna in 1905 at the age of 16. Lenin at the time was meandering across Europe, fomenting socialist rage. It is not at all suspect that he could have been in Vienna, at the home of a Jewish politico.

Hitler, of course, after being rejected by the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, decided to get involved in politics. It was there, once again according to his memoirs, that he began to hate Jews.

So, it's amazing because it was possible. It will be astounding if it actually happened. Jonah Goldberg at the National Review says that if ever there was a time for God to strike a dwelling with a bolt of lightning, that game was it. Together, those two wrought the world and caused millions and millions to die. But one afternoon in 1909, before Hitler was anybody and before Lenin was taken seriously by anyone but the tsars, they may have shared a cup of tea over a quiet game of chess in Vienna.

Sep 2, 2009

Gordon Brown Is Going to get Shellacked


The UK Sun poll has Gordon Brown's New Labour at 28%, ahead of the Liberal Democrats (at 17%), but far, far behind David Cameron's Tories at 42%. Eek. That's the equivalent, the Sun reports, of a 96 seat majority for the Conservatives. That would be--ready--a 254 seat swing.

Good luck, Mr. Brown. Good luck.

Aug 27, 2009

What Do Congressional Staffers Do In August?

Slate has an interesting article on Congressional staffers during the August recess.

The Congressional staff is one of the most interesting aspects of American politics. Unlike the few, the connected, or the simply lucky who become White House staffers by hitching to the right horse at the right time, they are usually ambitious, politically-minded, freshly graduated 20-somethings, ready to take on the world and make a difference. Many only stay for a few years, put it on a resume, and move on to different Beltway interests or law/business school. Some stick around for the long haul, becoming Chiefs of Staff to the congresspeople or members of the staffs of powerful committees. By that time, they'll usually have J.D.'s and street creds, and they'll be doing a lot of the actual writing of legislation. I have a friend who just transferred from working in Sen. Evan Bayh's office after a few years as an assistant to the Chief of Staff. She never realized that around the Hill, his was considered to be an incredibly intense office. Now, when she says to other people working for Representatives in the Cannon House Office Building that she worked on Senator Bayh's staff, she gets the "Wow...that's impressive" treatment.


They spend their days answering calls, telling the congresspeople where to be and when, reminding them how to vote, and driving them between places. Oftentimes, they are there late into the night and sometimes on weekends--long after the elected officials are gone. Ultimately, the work of Congress couldn't happen without them, or, at the very least, the work would be even slower than it already is. In some ways, they are a neat outcropping of our system. In some ways, it's kind of creepy that random, unelected young people are that close to power. No matter, though, because somehow it works, and it has for decades.

Aug 26, 2009

Teddy Kennedy

So, the big news for the day is that last night, Teddy Kennedy died. He's being called the most consequential of the brothers (possibly true) and a lion of a man (definitely true). I've read articles and heard radio shows talk about his oratory skill. There is a very poignant speech he gave many years ago, at his brother Bobby's funeral. Now, the eulogy is largely a summarized version of one of Bobby's speeches. However, I think it fit the moment perfectly as a call to 'snatch the fallen banner.' Of course, I've disagreed with Teddy Kennedy on almost all his political views. However, the speech is an excellent, generalized call to action, especially for those of us who are young:
It is a revolutionary world we live in, and this generation at home and around the world has had thrust upon it a greater burden of responsibility than any generation that has ever lived. Some believe there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills. Yet many of the world's great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant reformation; a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth; a young woman reclaimed the territory of France; and it was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and the 32 year-old Thomas Jefferson who [pro]claimed that "all men are created equal."



Guns, Guns, Guns

SCOTUSBlog is reporting that the Supremes may opt to hear appeals regarding the Seventh Circuit's holding that DC v. Heller should not be incorporated. For those of you who have no idea what that means, here you go: the Supreme Court is deciding whether to hear a case arguing that limits on gun control laws apply only to the federal government or to state and local governments as well. The Seventh Circuit said it only applies to the Feds. The NRA disagrees.

Here is an article at Reason magazine arguing why the Supremes should overturn the decision in NRA v. Chicago. I pretty much agree. Only a few rights have not been incorporated (including the right to be indicted by a grand jury, the quartering of soldiers anywhere other than within the Second Circuit (good luck with that one), right to civil jury trials, and the right to not be subject to excessive bails and fines). In general, I don't particularly like the incorporation process since I prefer federalism over than centralization. I also don't believe that the 14th Amendment gives the Court a carte blanche to destroy the prerogatives of the individual states, as the jurisprudence stands today.

However, I'm on the losing side of this argument, so, if we are going to incorporate pretty much the entire Bill of Rights, we shouldn't treat the Second Amendment as some special case. If it is a right, it is a right that shouldn't be infringed upon by the states or local governments, period. That may anger gun control opponents, but I'm not going to let my personal policy preferences (for one, I don't know any reason why a private citizen would or should ever need an assault rifle, though I'm open to arguments) alter my constitutional interpretation.