Jan 29, 2009

Because, Really, Who Keeps Promises Anymore?

Slate in a completely idiotic article determines that there's nothing that should keep Congressmen from voting against the blatently unconstitutional D.C. Voting Rights Act:

the only argument I can see against a vote for the D.C. bill is that it could be viewed as violating the oath taken by members of Congress and the president to uphold the Constitution. But with legitimate arguments by credible legal scholars in favor of the bill, the constitutional question is not settled.

With but a little fancy footwork, the congressional oath no longer needs to mean a thing! If only other oaths, like marriage, were so simple to escape from (...oh wait...they are!). The real reason, the author notes, is that by voting for a bill that the Supreme Court will almost certainly find to be unconstitutional, the issue will be raised before the public. Well, that sounds like a great idea. Congress, already the biggest joke of an organization in our happy polity, should be encouraged to break the oath they took because...oh, well...it brings an issue to the fore. Slate would do better if its opinions on breaking the law weren't so blatently biased. You can always find a useful idiot to support any position. That doesn't give an excuse to deliberately disregard the oath you made to the law of the land.

But, who cares about the law, as long as I get what I want?

P.S. Ken Starr's argument that Congress can do anything it wants with DC because "[t]he Congress shall have power … to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever" within the proposed federal district is also ridiculous. A simple path of logic would then say that Congress could give, without an amendment, enough congressmen to give DC itself massive majorities in both houses of Congress, effectively taking away all meaningful representation from all other states. It would also give Democrats massive, eternal majorities.

Jan 28, 2009

Joe Biden Apologizes for Being a Doofus

Good.

A Nice Wyeth Article

From The Weekly Standard; discusses his life and work honestly and eloquently. Good read.

On Cato the Younger

[[Warning: Long post]]

Two summers ago, when vacationing in Florida, I decided to pick up Dante's Purgatorio for some light reading. FYI, the Divine Comedy is not light reading. Nevertheless, very near the beginning, in Canto I, as Virgil leads Dante to the island of Purgatory, Dante notes
I saw beside me an old man alone,
Worthy of so much reverence in his look,
That more owes not to father any son.

A long beard and with white hair intermingled
He wore, in semblance like unto the tresses,
Of which a double list fell on his breast.

The rays of the four consecrated stars
Did so adorn his countenance with light,
That him I saw as were the sun before him.

. . .

Now may it please thee to vouchsafe his coming;
He seeketh Liberty, which is so dear,
As knoweth he who life for her refuses.

Thou know'st it; since, for her, to thee not bitter
Was death in Utica, where thou didst leave
The vesture, that will shine so, the great day.
That man was Cato the Younger, or Cato Minor in Latin (as opposed to Cato Major, or Cato the Elder, his great-grandfather). He was a Roman Stoic statesman, known for both his unflinchingly rigid morality and his full-bore defense of the Republic when Caesar came to power. For this, he has been venerated for generations. Dante made him the eternal gatekeeper of Purgatory (unlike his fellow pagan philosophers, who were forever in the mild sadness of Limbo). The American Cato Institute is named for him (indirectly). George Washington had plays about him read to his troops at Valley Forge to encourage them, even though such activities had been prohibited by the Congress. Even today, the man has fans, and I count myself among them.

To be sure, we know much about Cato (compared to many of his contemporaries), though that which we do have can be difficult to decipher. Plutarch wrote about him in his Lives, but that wasn't for over a century after his death. Cicero wrote a supportive pamphlet about him after his death, creatively entitled Cato, and Julius Caesar responded with his Anti-Cato. Cicero's is lost to us, and Caesar's only exists in fragments. Marcus Brutus was dissatisfied with Cicero's attempt so wrote a different supportive pamphlet, which Octavian (later Caesar Augustus) responded to in the negative, just as his great-uncle Caesar had done.

What we learn from the man is impressive and should be reflected on today. For a time, he served as a military tribune, and Plutarch notes that when he left, "he was sent on his way, not with blessings, as is common, nor yet with praises, but with tears and insatiable embraces, the soldiers casting their mantles down for him to walk upon, and kissing his hands, things which the Romans of that day rarely did." This is because he "willingly shared the tasks which he imposed upon others, and in his dress, way of living, and conduct on the march, made himself more like a soldier than a commander....In this way, without knowing it, he produced in his men at the same time the feeling of good will towards himself. For genuine desire to attain virtue arises only in consequence of perfect good will and respect for him who displays virtue."

He returned to Rome and became a quaestor, fulfilling his role marvelously--hacking away at waste and corruption of the public funds. He was there for a year, and then stepped down, lauded by the public for his incorruptibility. Having been quaestor, he was automatically a member of the Senate as well. He aligned himself quickly with the Optimates, the conservatives who had supported Sulla's dictatorship. He, however, since his childhood, had hated Sulla, and sought to return the Optimates to their pure republican roots. He was elected as tribune of the plebians in 63BC and assisted his friend Marcus Cicero (consul at the time) in rounding up the members of the Catiline Conspiracy. In one of his first debates with Julius Caesar, he argued that conspirators should be put to death, even though they were Roman citizens. Caesar believed that imprisonment and exile would suffice, for taking the life of a citizen was reprehensible and contrary to law. Cato, however, won the Senate to his side by pointing out that were the conspirators allowed to live, they may well succeed in destroying the Republic and the laws for which it stood. Breaking the law was, in effect, the only way to preserve the law.

Cato's and Caesar's personal and political feud began at that point. It was exacerbated when, intent on propriety within the Senate, Cato accused Caesar of reading personal notes from the conspirators while the body was in session. He pulled the paper from Caesar's hands, only to find that the note was from Cato's half-sister, who was also Caesar's mistress. Caesar was known to take in his political rivals' wives and family to gain traction against them. Angered and embarrassed, Cato's and Caesar's mutual dislike only increased.

When Caesar attempted to return to Rome with both a Triumph and a consulship, Cato filibustered, speaking all night so that the Senate could not vote for Caesar to run for consul in absentia. Caesar was forced to enter the city peacefully, foregoing the Triumph, to run for consul. He won that election, to Cato's dismay.

According to Wikipedia (always the best source, I know...):

When Caesar became consul, Cato opposed the agrarian laws that established farmlands for Pompey's veterans on public lands in Campania, from which the republic derived a quarter of its income. Caesar responded by having Cato dragged out by lictors while Cato was making a speech against him at the rostra. Many senators protested this extraordinary and unprecedented use of force by leaving the forum, one senator proclaiming he'd rather be in jail with Cato than in the Senate with Caesar. Caesar was forced to relent but countered by taking the vote directly to the people, bypassing the Senate. Bibulus and Cato attempted to oppose Caesar in the public votes but were harassed and publicly assaulted by Caesar's retainers.

As the Triumvirate formed, Cato and the Optimates attempted to force a schism between Pompey and Caesar. They were ultimately successful, because Pompey feared Caesar's political ambitions. In 49BC, Cato convinced the Senate to strip Caesar of his expired command. Were he to enter Rome again, he would do so without legal immunity. This was to have devastating consequences.

Caesar's army, for its part, was still loyal to him. Though he attempted a compromise with the Senate (which Pompey would have happily given), Cato refused to allow him any power. Forced with the choice between exile and war, Caesar chose to march on Rome. He was declared an enemy of the Republic by the Senate, and many senators, including Cato, soon took to the field with Pompey against him. After Pompey's defeat at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48BC, Cato escaped to Utica. However, Caesar was close on his tail. Finally, refusing to live in a world devoid of freedom and controlled by Caesar, Cato attempted suicide. An injured hand, however, prevented him from properly stabbing himself, and he was stitched up. According to Plutarch, "when Cato recovered and became aware of this [having been saved], he pushed the physician away, tore his bowels with his hands, rent the wound still more, and so died." "Give me Liberty or give me Death" was never so true.

The Republic was Cato's love, and his entire life was fought in defense of it. Though his efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, and Rome fell (or rose) into Empire, it should be remembered what James Stewart says in Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. "Sometimes the only causes worth fighting for are the lost ones." Certainly a fascinating character of history, easily earning his mantle in the pantheon of political greats.

Jan 27, 2009

Please Do Your Civic Duty

Go to http://www.readthestimulus.org/

Usually, Congress spends its happy way a few billion at a time. Sometimes, our monstrous national deficit in a given year will be as high as a few hundred billion dollars. Never, however, has it been in the trillions. This bill has gone from Keynesian stimulus (which I still don't support, but I can at least admire for what it hopes to do) to pork-laden, crap-filled, get-what-you-can-while-the-getting's-good junk. I must say, I love the American system of government and will defend it to the day I die, but I can't stand Congress and the bloviating imbeciles who get themselves elected and forego any and all responsibility to the health of the polity.

Jan 26, 2009

Shrek the Sheep

So, I'm like four years late for this news story, but I nonetheless found it awesome.

Shrek the sheep lived in New Zealand, hiding in the caves whenever the musterers would muster the herd to be sheared. He managed to hide out for six years.

Now, sheep wool, like human hair, continues to grow, and if it is not cut, it will just get longer and longer. Therefore, when Shrek was finally found in 2004, he looked like a giant cottonball:


I think that they just shouldn't shear sheep for six years at a time.

Jan 22, 2009

Obama Needs a Formalwear Lesson

Barack and Michelle Obama are both pretty classy people, and both are (as far as I can tell) pretty stylish. Now, being a guy who would rather wear sweater vests, tweed, and a driver's cap (at the tender age of 22, no less!), I don't know much about fashion. Oscar de la Renta, Gucci, Fabrege (I don't think that's a stylist)...it just doesn't mean anything.

However, I do know something about old-school style. President Obama's people apparently don't.

The President committed a major fashion faux pas when he showed up to the inaugural balls in *gasp* a white bowtie without a tailcoat (see below; Michelle created a tiny stir by wearing white in winter, which is a less well-defined no-no).


To be sure, they both looked very good. However, the President needs to learn a few rules of society. He may know them and have just jumbled them up a bit, since he's done the full formalwear correctly in the past:


Here are the simple rules for the average layman. First, and most importantly, a guest never overdresses for the occasion. The host always sets the standard. Most balls nowadays are 'informal' (which, in society lingo, means 'black tie'). When they are informal, it is rude to show up in full formal attire. That begs the second question. What is full formal attire? Traditionally, for men, full formalwear entails a wing-collared shirt, a tailcoat with notched lapels, a white pique tie and vest (vest must be low-cut, tuxedo style; non of this 'prom' junk that buttons up to your chest), and pants with two thin satin stripes up each leg. A pocket square is a nice addition, as is a carnation or other white flower in the lapel. White dress gloves are also a nice touch.

It is, of course, not that big of a deal. Styles change, and a president (especially one with as much of a pop-culture following as Obama) can play a big part in changing that style.

Jan 20, 2009

Goodbye, Mr. President. Hello, Mr. President.

In case you haven't heard, a peacefuly transition of power will take place today in the capital city of the most powerful nation in the history of the world.

A few thoughts.

First, on the future. President-elect Obama is a charismatic man who gives inspiring speeches. I'm still, however, not sure what he believes. Even today, reports conflict on what he will change or not change with respect to Bush's executive orders, Iraq policy, labor policy, and tax policy. Will he support the Freedom of Choice Act, effectively destroying all restrictions that have been placed on abortion, as he said he would do as one of his first acts? Will he support the Employee Freedom of Choice Act, effectively allowing unions to bully workers into joining their ranks, as he had done in the Senate? Will he once again allow US funding of forced abortions in China through the United Nations Population Fund, as President Clinton did? I guess we'll see. He's seemed to be a pragmatic man thus far, and it seems that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi aren't too happy with him behind closed doors. Since those two are worse than the scum in a dorm bathroom floor, Obama must be doing something right. Here's hoping that Obama succeeds in that which I agree with him on and that he fails in that which I disagree. Here's also hoping that the fair-weather patriots from Hollywood go snivel around a bit for the next few years as the well dries up on luxury spending and decreases their movies' revenues.

The thing that many people seem to have missed today is that George W. Bush is also leaving the White House. The media seems to give him a few token words (CNN is not even mentioning him, though it has a full article about George H.W. Bush saying goodbye to the White House), but no one is really taking the time for a long, even if hostile, memoriam of his presidency.

President Bush came into office in one of the worst possible ways. He had lost the popular vote, eked out a win in Florida, and been given barely over a month for a transition. He had promised to bring people together. Arriving after the debacle of the election, Democrats on the Hill were in no mood for bipartisanship. They believed from Day One that he wasn't their president and that he had 'stolen' the election. Bush got no honeymoon, but he set about trying to enact the policies he had promised during the campaign: Medicare reform, public school reform, and, most importantly, restoring respect to America's highest office. Then came September 11.

Many people roll their eyes now when September 11 is mentioned. To some extent, that's warranted; some people use that day to justify all sorts of terrible things. However, on that day, President Bush became a war president. He acted decisively and impressively, especially in that first year after the attack. He made the decision to invade Iraq.

I agree with Christopher Hitchens. Love or hate Bush's decision to invade, it was, in many ways, housecleaning. For decades, Iraq had been a nagging issue. Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and the rest of the Democratic party establishment said in the 1990's that Iraq would have to be dealt with finally and conclusively. They weren't willing to do it. George Bush was. The intelligence was bad, so the justification for the war was never fulfilled. However, to this day, there is nothing more than the blathering left that can convince me that "Bush lied, people died." The President acted in good faith. It didn't work for a while, the war was executed abysmally, but then, with a bright new general, it turned around. Today, Iraq is effectively a non-issue. Given the state of the war two years ago, that is certainly something.

Certainly, there are issues with civil liberties and with cronyism--particularly in the Justice Department--that were foibles of the President's. There was an arrogance in his administration when their approval ratings were in the 70's and 80's. America had influence to spare, and they spent it. In the end, however, George Bush leaves office having succeeded in the one thing that he desired. He kept another terrorist incident from happening on our soil. History will never know fully what was or wasn't prevented. In that way, there may never be a full rehabilitation in his image. However, he leaves as a man who did his duty as he saw fit, who greatly respected the Office of the Presidency in a way his predecessor never did, and who was and is a profoundly decent man. For all his mistakes, I still like him as a man, and I wish him and his lovely wife a happy and healthy retirement.

Jan 18, 2009

Will a Fiscal Stimulus Even Work?

That seems to be the question that no one is asking these days. For decades, Milton Friedman and the Chicago School have influenced the economic policies of the United States; growth comes through control of monetary policy and interest rates by the Federal Reserve, and short-term stimulus comes from the lowering of taxes, which (in theory) cause people to spend the extra money through the crunch. That's 'supply-side' economics. Keynesian, 'demand-side' style is apparently vogue in Washington right now, since everyone apparently assumes that hundreds of billions of dollars in spending on infrastructure will 'jump-start' the economy.

The Chicago Tribune says 'no, that won't do it'.

Though findings on demand-side stimuli are arguably vague (since many other factors always play into the equation), the general consensus among most economists (at least the most touted ones) is that governments paying to create new roads and pay states' bills and fund all the little pet projects that Congressmen want won't really help the economy. Beyond the obvious fact that having better roads won't save people from losing their jobs or help them in paying their mortgages (since the money saved from fewer car repairs will certainly not cover the cost of your job and benefits), there is a less-obvious one that is probably more important.

For the government to finance infrastructure spending or tax cuts, it has to borrow money. The money is thus unavailable for private investment or consumption. Right now, companies and individuals are having trouble getting credit, which is a big reason for the downturn. But if the government borrows more, they will have an even harder time finding lenders. So the effort could be self-defeating.

Duh. Does anyone remember where the government's money comes from? Ready, ready? It comes from taxes. It comes from your taxes and the taxes of the businesses. You know, those evil businesses that create jobs for you.

John Kerry very intelligently (what else is new?) said that we need a 'new New Deal.' Mr. Kerry, please take some time with your C-average brain to study some history. The New Deal did not end the Great Depression.

WHAT?!?

That's right, all my fellow public school kids. Contrary to every history textbook peddled before you, the New Deal did not solve the problems of the Depression. In 1940, the year that the War Economy began, unemployment still stood at 14.6%. Remember as well that 14.6% is artificially low, since in the last few months of the year, the government drafted millions of people into the workforce. In the end, the New Deal was more of a morale booster than anything else; it didn't solve the economic woes of the time, but it certainly helped people feel as if they had a purpose. This stimulus, if enacted as the Democrats in Congress want it to be, will have the same effect.

Jan 16, 2009

Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009)


Wow...I was really sad to hear today that Andrew Wyeth passed away. Though I am only into art as a hobby and have no professional training, I can still honestly say that Wyeth is one of my biggest inspirations. He took watercolor and egg tempera to a whole new level. His detail work is incredible. He often used the 'dry-brush' watercolor technique, and achieved impressive results; his works somehow blend realism and impressionism. His compositions focused on light, which he did really, really well.

Wyeth, of course, is most famous for Christina's World and for the still famous, though lesser-known, Helga pictures. In 2007, he was awarded the National Metal of Arts by President Bush. It was well deserved.

Wyeth's works were like a still idyllic, though less innocent, Norman Rockwells. He will be missed.

Jan 15, 2009

It Takes a Big Man to Admit He Was Wrong


I am that man. I was incorrect in my belief that planes don't float.

For those who have seen the news, a US Airways Airbus A320, en route from NY LaGuardia to Charlotte, hit a flock of geese. The pilot, executing a truly remarkable feat, managed to land the plane in one piece in the Hudson River. The plane, incredibly, didn't break apart.

For years, whenever I've ridden an airplane, I've guffawed over the stupid assumption that "in case of a water landing" passengers would have any chance of survival. Tubes of metal, I reasoned, don't float.

That's where I should have stopped myself for my faulty logic. Logic would dictate that tubes of metal don't fly either.

Today marks that day, that case of which they spoke, in which a water landing was necessary. I will never laugh at that part of the safety card again.

I will, however, continue to laugh at the funny guy with the cigarette who appears to hitting on the lady in the yellow dress. Dude, ladies stopped finding cigarettes sexy back when bellbottoms were the new 'thing'.

Jan 13, 2009

So, What's Inside the White House Anyway?

With yet another peaceful transition of power on its way in Washington, my interest in our capital city and in its most famous landmark has skyrocketed. Recently, there has been a spate of interest on the web/TV. For those who missed C-SPAN's special "Inside the White House" on Dec. 14, it is now available to buy on their website. Here's the trailer:



If you watch that and don't have goosebumps, then the only explanation is that you are a Communist, or a terrorist, or both. I'm only kidding a little.

Also, The White House Museum is an awesome resource for historic photos of almost all the rooms in the house. It's super cool and updated often, so check it out.

Now, I've been a longtime fan of The West Wing. The show has been praised by former staffers of the Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43 administrations for its realism. The only major complaints seem to be that (i) staffers don't tend to remain that idealistic in the rough-and-tumble world of national politics and (ii) the real West Wing isn't nearly as expansive as the one in the show. In fact, people have made blueprints for the TV West Wing.

And here's the real West Wing:
As you can see, the actual West Wing has a Chief of Staff's office, but it is not adjacent to the Oval Office. Instead, it is past the President's Private Study (see below), the Dining Room (see below), and a Deputy Chief of Staff's office.

President Reagan in the private study, 1987 (h/t White House Museum)

President Bush and Vice President Cheney meet in the president's dining room (h/t White House Museum)

Additionally, there is no 'Mural Room' (it seems to be loosely based on the Diplomatic Reception Room), the Roosevelt Room is far more boring than in the show, and there are no bullpens. Perhaps, however, the most distinctive difference (and, I think, the best) is the lobby. The current West Wing lobby is pretty lame. Aaron Sorkin apparently recognized this, and so he actually reverted it back to the Truman-Johnson lobby, which consisted of a Roman-column facade and classy black and white marble floor tiles (see below).

(h/t White House Museum)

I love the White house--its history, its architecture, and the unique place it holds in the American psyche. It's come to symbolize the eras of our nation--political and cultural--and its character as well. That's why the occupant means so much to us. Through him, we see a reflection of ourselves and the choices we make as a people. There are few things left in this country that are not politicized, but in some odd way, the White House, the center of American politics--and I mean the institution, not the administration inside--remains stubbornly apolitical.

How's Your Big Cats Knowledge?

National Geographic's Big Cats quiz. I got all but one right...so close...

The End of the Tunnel

Senate Democrats cave. Roland Burris will be seated. Harry Reid proves that not only does he fail at stopping the minority Republicans from getting their way, but he also fails in controlling his own caucus.

How did he ever get elected as majority leader?

Jan 9, 2009

Congress thinking about breaking the Constitution

But, what else is new? Honestly, I've got to say that I'm absolutely sick and tired of the way the legislative and executive branches have stopped limiting themselves and punted constitutional interpretation solely to the Courts. As if Congress isn't wasting enough of my money on stimulus packages that won't stimulate much and bailouts that simply prop up failing industries, now they've decided, in the interest of the noble moniker of 'voting rights' to consider giving Washington, DC residents a congressional vote.

Let me begin by saying that I have no problem with DC residents having a congressman. They should have representation in Congress. However, it must be done through the proper means.

Shall we take a little gander through that dusty old document that we call the Constitution? Let's shall.

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution says this:

The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states, and the electors in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature.

Whoa! Did you see the clause that I bolded? The most important word there is--you guessed it--STATES. Hmmm...Washington, DC. Seems kind of like a state, right? Wrong! D.C. is a federal district, created under the Constitution (Article I, Section 8 which gives Congress permission to form a "District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States"). For that simple reason, Washington, D.C. residents do not and, moreover, cannot have the right to federal representation barring admittance as a state or passage of an amendment giving them that right.

This argument is beyond annoying to me, because it shouldn't have to be made. It's one thing to argue about ambiguous constitutional issues (executive privilege, flag burning as speech, abortion). It's another thing for the elected representatives of the people, those same who just swore an oath to uphold the Constitution on Tuesday, to even contemplate something that is on its face unconstitutional.

I've come to expect Democrats to throw out all procedural rules in the Constitution (and before anyone starts snarking, Republicans have their problems, too. They like to conveniently ignore civil protections). But now many Republicans are OK with scrapping the Constitution because it gives Utah an extra seat as well. Yeah, that's statesmanship.

Jan 8, 2009

King Frank II, Queen Brynda, or King Paul I?

Those are our options when we ask the question, who would be the current ruler of the United States had George Washington accepted the offer to be king (ceteris paribus)? An article in Ancestry Magazine from last September (h/t Slate) tries to figure out exactly where we would be now. Slogging through the different types of primogeniture (agnatic, cognatic, agnatic-cognatic) and having to decide at the start whether to go to Washington's elder half-brother (Augustine) or his younger full brother (Samuel), the authors end up trying them all out.

The funny thing is that the claimants, Frank, Brynda, and Paul, probably have no idea that they could be sitting in the White House (or, perhaps it would still be called the "President's Palace"), waving ceremonially, while the Congress, consisting of a Prime Minister leading the executive and legislative branches, argues over a bill on the floor.

What a world it might have been!

Jan 7, 2009

Do You Want to Write Obama's Inaugural Address?

Slate has set up this cool website where you can write your own inaugural address for the President-elect. It gives you rhetoric from all 55 past addresses, and it lets you 'borrow' from those and other amateur writers who are trying their hand at political speech. The thing will be open for two weeks and then Slate will publish the one they like the best.

Jan 6, 2009

New Cheetah Fossils in...China?

photo from Daily Mail

National Geographic is reporting that new fossils out of China have thrown a wrench in the works of the theory that cheetahs originally came from the Americas. There are some arguments over whether this species has been identified before, but it looks to be a pretty big development (for those who care about this sort of thing).

I did a report on the genetic bottleneck of the ancient cheetah populations back when I was a first year in college (when GWB was being elected to his second term...how long ago it all seems). Paleontologists believe that there may have been fewer than ten remaining individuals at the end of the last ice age, resulting in an utter lack of genetic diversity. Cheetahs from different regions in Africa can give and receive skin grafts without rejection of the donor tissue; they are that similar. Cheetahs also suffer from a very, very low sperm count and a very, very high rate of sterility, making their plight more desperate. It's interesting to learn more about how they came to be what they are today.

On another note, there are Asian cheetahs in Iran which are gravely endangered. It's good to see that as wacko as the regime in Iran tends to be, they at least are reasonable enough to seek protection for that treasure.

Jan 5, 2009

This just gets more and more fun

The Senate secretary has rejected Burris's appointment due to a lack of signature from Jesse White, the Secretary of State of Illinois.

Let's see what happens tomorrow, when the Senate (including Burris) attempts to convene.

Interesting Article

I've been on a politics kick lately (puppets and animation will return soon enough). An interesting article in Foreign Policy magazine by Christian Brose, the Secretary of State's Chief Speechwriter until recently. It basically explains why (i) the caricature of Bush's first-term foreign policy is not the status of the world now (though much of the second term was spent trying to fix the mistakes of the first) and (ii) Obama, on most major fronts, will have little wiggle room for how he deals with other nations. The only one that he's probably wrong about is Israel/Palestine, since it was written before this whole Gaza thing happened.

In many ways, an Obama presidency is exactly what George Bush's administration needed--the foreign policy will remain effectively (though not rhetorically) the same, but the world will treat it like it is something brand new. Basically, we will still give Europe the finger half the time, but now, since we'll have such a remarkable president in their eyes, they won't care so much.

Also, no one should be surprised when the rest of the world (and Americans) begins to cool off to Obama. It happens to all presidents, some (George Bush, LBJ) more than others (Clinton or Reagan).

Jan 3, 2009

How to Make a Puppet Pattern, Part III

I was told that it would be a good idea to show an example of me doing this. That is a good idea, so here it is. I'm working on a triceratops puppet now, and I needed to make a body. Ergo, I made an ellipsoid.

Beware--I was making a pattern on a piece of black posterboard (it's all I had) with pencil to make it show up. Hopefully it's not too painful to see.

I determined that the height would be 6 inches (making a=3) and that the width would be 4 inches (making b=2). Following the formulas in this post, I found the height and width of the pattern.










I drew an extended line to the left. Somewhere on that line is the center of the circle that will have a radius making both the top and bottom of the height line and the far right point of the width line all points in the same arc.





I copied the angle on the left and mirrored it on the right. You can see where the two arcs intersect. I drew a line from the top of the height (the longer one; this picture has been rotated 90 degrees), through the intersection of the arcs, all the way to the dotted line. This formed the isosceles triangle that was needed.




Using the line that I just drew, I took a string and a pencil and created an arc, connecting the three points that I needed. Because of my 'simple' compass, the line wasn't nearly as smooth as I would have liked, but it'll work.





I recreated the same arc on the other side, leaving me with a pre-cut pattern.






The pattern after cutting.







I copied it eight times onto the foam.







I then cut out the pieces. The foam had been in my closet for a little while, so it was slightly curved, which actually worked to my advantage later.





I coated the sides of the pieces with contact cement and then began sticking them together. Here, you can see it halfway done.







The ellipsoid, halfway done.







The inside, halfway done.







I finished it off, resulting in this: the final product.











It worked perfectly. I cut off the top and part of the bottom to make the holes for my hand (since this will be the body of my puppet).

So that's how it works in reality, not just in theory.

Jan 2, 2009

In Which I See Shades of Grey

Slate magazine has an article today on why they think that Roland Burris's appointment could be blocked by the Senate. The argument isn't very nuanced, but it makes a pretty good case on the constitutionality of the Senate rejecting Burris. I hadn't seen the greyness of this issue before. My own constitutional interpretation agrees with the authors, though I think it a ridiculous outcome that Harry Reid, et. al. should seek to avoid, since the Senate should not claim a carte blanche as to whether it can approve, through a simple majority, of a governor's lawfully (at least, as of yet) elected pick.

Amar and Chafetz basically say that the definition of 'returns' in Art. I, Sec. 5 of the Constitution gives the Senate the absolute right to refuse any return certification that they wish with a simple majority. That means that the Senate could reject Burris's appointment and certification (assuming that Jesse White is forced to certify the appointment, which he has heretofore refused to do).

McCormack didn't cover anything like this. In McCormack, the House of Representatives refused to re-seat a legally elected incumbent because they thought he was a scumbag. The Court determined that no matter what Congress feels about a particular candidate, it is barred from refusing membership simply because it doesn't like someone. The houses are limited, when judging qualifications, to determining whether an elected member meets the constitutionally mandated requirements. The case doesn't even consider "elections" or "returns", the other two items that each house has the power to oversee.

When weighing the issues present here, I honestly don't know what the Court would do. The Constitution does not lay out a burden of proof for the Senate to meet before refusing a 'return' other than a majority. By that, I doubt the Court would create an arbitrary burden. They don't like involving themselves in the 'political branches' anyway; it's unlikely they'd begin setting random parameters like 'reasonableness'.

However, the Court may consider the case in terms of due process. The due process of the law was followed here: the governor retains his powers and lawfully appointed a replacement. By refusing him, the Senate would be abrogating due process. The limit then placed on the Senate would be that they could refuse anyone who doesn't meet the constitutional qualifications or who wasn't appointed/elected through the due process of the law. Basically, the argument would be that the Senate has the right to refuse an appointment, but even that power must be constrained by the principle of due process. What's the point of elections if the Senate can refuse the results for any bogus reason? However, the rebuttal to that argument is that the Senate's ability to refuse and appointment is simply another step in the process.

I don't know how much water that would hold, but it's an idea.

Ultimately, I agree with Concurring Opinions, which says that [bold mine]:

My best guess is that the Senate Democratic leadership would argue that the Senate's authority to judge the elections of its members extends by analogy to judging the appointments of its members; and that a corrupt election would be cause to not seat someone, so a corrupt appointment should be too. But surely this sort of determination would require some sort of investigation rather than a conclusion that Burris is unfit for office (even if the Senate could get away with this constitutionally, it shouldn't try to). Burris has not been connected to the corruption case as far as I know. What are the odds that Blagojevich would appoint him corruptly in the middle of this investigation?

If I were a leader in the Senate, I would confer with Sen. Durbin and Illinois state officials, and see what they think. I might hold some hearings to find out more about the circumstances of Burris's selection. But I would not say that the Senate can just refuse to seat Burris.

Jan 1, 2009

Billy Mays is a Republican?

That's hilarious! Maybe he can be the new spokesman or the chair of the RNC, since the current candidates seem to be too busy throwing pointy objects at each other.

L.G.: So all those kinds of products are in the $19.95 range or less and your high-end product is ICanBenefit.com. Since we're in the middle of a presidential campaign, I have to ask, would it be possible to use you as a pitchman for a presidential campaign?

B.M.: Well, Chuck Norris does.

L.G.: Right, he did for Mike Huckabee, but that was more sort of a humorous thing, I suppose. A lot of the fundraising is done on the internet, in small increments—indeed, in many cases in $19.95 increments. Could you see a situation where you're selling Barack Obama or John McCain in that way, or is that just too nutty?

B.M.: I think if I was approached by the McCain camp. I'm a Republican.

L.G.: Maybe this is unfair to ask, but how would you pitch John McCain? Would you say, "Billy Mays here for John McCain?"

B.M.: Security. The world's a safer place. Country first. "Billy Mays for John McCain! If you want to keep you and your family safe, vote McCain!" I'd have to think about it, I wouldn't like to bash anything. I'd like to keep things positive.