Apr 27, 2009

Cool article about a video hit that shows Disney's continuous recycling of its own past animations. Strange, however, that the only 'recent' movie to be referenced was Beauty and the Beast. Maybe the era of recycling was the end of the era of the Nine Old Men.

UPDATE: I need to get this video back up, since apparently the AP changes the videos it links to. A movie that was supposed to be about Disney was instead about torture. Ironic?

Apr 23, 2009

Cameras in the Court?

Congress asks Breyer and Thomas about it.

Should they have them? Good question. I don't tend to like the idea of live arguments, and as evidence, I submit the chaos of the O.J. trial. At least those who view the Court in the flesh are either (a) lawyers admitted to the Supreme Court Bar or (b) tourists wanting to see the justices and staying in the two-minute rotation line. They aren't pundits who are ready to jump on any two-second soundbite that can be taken out of context. Maybe that's just my cynicism against pundits.

Either way, Clarence Thomas shouldn't really care.

Apr 18, 2009

It's About Time

I've updated the blog's look for spring/summer. The last picture had me putting up Christmas lights. Now, it's an upside-down Medusa head from the Yerebatan Cistern.

I don't usually pay attention to this kind of stuff...

...but I have been going to the gym lately, and it has happened to be during either Family Guy or American Idol. I have seen a few American Idol episodes before, and it's an interesting show. Oftentimes, however, it seems more like a bunch of prima donnas. You watch it, and you see a bunch of young and attractive people who just seem like they fit into the world of celebrity.

Then I saw Britain's Got Talent via a Drudge Report link, and all my criticisms of these sorts of shows were redeemed. It is far better than American Idol, primarily (in my humble opinion) because of its willingness to take anyone into the fold. Witness the two following videos; unexpected people with incredible talents and great stories. It's moving, because in today's world, the first judgment to come out is how something looks. These two people are not gorgeous. They are who you would see any day in a grocery store or at a movie. You pass by them and don't think at all about what may be buried beneath the exterior. But talents certainly abound in this world, hidden away, and through this show, those talents are able to be brought out into the open. The cynical can look at it as a bunch of pop culture smut, which in some way it is. However, it is also a great way to see some people that society has pushed aside push their way right back into the thick of it.

Susan Boyle Stuns Crowd with Epic Singing - Watch more Funny Videos

Apr 14, 2009

Best Historical Paintings

I've been thinking about starting a historically themed painting (ideas still brimming, so I won't talk much about it). I thought it might be good, however, to include some of my favorite pieces with moments in history as their themes. Here, in no particular order, they are:

And when did you last see your father? by William Frederick Yeames
(portraying the questioning of a Royalist's son by Parliamentarians during the English Civil War)

Cicero Denouncing Catiline by Cesare Maccari.
(portraying Marcus Tullius Cicero making one of his impassioned speeches against Lucius Sergius Catilina, who was planning a coup in the late Roman Republic; "Quousque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra?")

Ecce Homo ("Behold the Man") by Antonio Ciseri
(portraying Pilate presenting Christ to the people of Jerusalem before sending him to be crucified)

Ivan the Terrible killing his son by Ilya Repin
(portraying Ivan the Terrible, after having argued with his son and hit him on the head with his staff harder than intended, cradling his body)

Gassed by John Singer Sargent
(portraying soldiers that have been blinded by mustard gas in World War I)

Surrender at Appomattox by Thomas Lovell
(portraying Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House, effectively marking the end of the Civil War; the painting is notable for its accuracy regarding who was there, what they wore, and what the room and furniture looked like)

Apr 12, 2009

Ginsburg Stirs the Pot

Ruth Bader Ginsburg argues for the use of persuasive foreign law in citations by the Supreme Court (you need a free NYT-online subscription to read the piece). Some people howl about this. I think that it is a slippery slope, but when trod carefully, can be effective.

Foreign law can be useful in understanding how the rest of the world views their own statutes and constitutions. If good reasoning is used on similar cases to American ones, then there is no harm in referring to those decisions. What is harmful, however--and here's where it gets tricky--is the notion that foreign decisions can be binding in America. They cannot and should not be. As Chief Justice Roberts is quoted as saying:

If we’re relying on a decision from a German judge about what our Constitution means, no president accountable to the people appointed that judge and no Senate accountable to the people confirmed that judge, and yet he’s playing a role in shaping the law that binds the people in this country.

That would be a bad outcome. Foreign law should be looked at for the value of the argument, like any other argument, but not to be binding in any way on Americans.

Apr 11, 2009

A Thought For This Day Before Easter

Easter does not answer [the difficult] questions by clever-clever logic. Nor is it irrational. On the contrary, it meets our reason and our hearts together, for it addresses the whole person.

In the past, I have questioned its veracity and suggested that it should not be taken literally. But the more I read the Easter story, the better it seems to fit and apply to the human condition. That, too, is why I now believe in it.

Easter confronts us with a historical event set in time. We are faced with a story of an empty tomb, of a small group of men and women who were at one stage hiding for their lives and at the next were brave enough to face the full judicial persecution of the Roman Empire and proclaim their belief in a risen Christ.

Historians of Roman and Jewish law have argued at length about the details of Jesus's trial - and just how historical the Gospel accounts are.

Anyone who believes in the truth must heed the fine points that such scholars unearth. But at this distance of time, there is never going to be historical evidence one way or the other that could dissolve or sustain faith.

Of course, only hard evidence will satisfy the secularists, but over time and after repeated readings of the story, I've been convinced without it.

And in contrast to those ephemeral pundits of today, I have as my companions in belief such Christians as Dostoevsky, T. S. Eliot, Samuel Johnson and all the saints, known and unknown, throughout the ages.

When that great saint Thomas More, Chancellor of England, was on trial for his life for daring to defy Henry VIII, one of his prosecutors asked him if it did not worry him that he was standing out against all the bishops of England.

He replied: 'My lord, for one bishop of your opinion, I have a hundred saints of mine.'

You'll Never Believe This

Random question: what is the earliest serving President of the United States to still have grandchildren living?

It is certainly random. But it is also amazing.

I asked friends this question, and the responses I got were Theodore Roosevelt and Chester Arthur. Nope, I said. I asked my dad, and he said James Polk. Close, but no cigar. It is, in fact, the 10th President of the United States, John Tyler (1841-1845).

How could that be?

Well, John Tyler married his second wife, Julia Gardiner Tyler in 1844. They had a son in 1853. The son had two sons from his second wife, one born in 1924 and one in 1928.

Harrison Tyler is still alive, working at Virginia Tech, and running his grandfather's estate (image below). go figure.

Will Israel Bomb Iran?

Or, should I ask, when will it happen?

An excellent article argues for exactly why Israel will destroy the Iranian enrichment facility at Natanz. Most importantly, it reasons that Iran can't particularly retaliate against Israel (at least in a meaningful sense), since if Israel wanted, it could simply bomb six major oil refineries and cripple the entire Iranian economy. Of course, it doesn't consider what Iran's big friends Russia and China might do to involve themselves in the kerfuffle, which could be an issue.

I'm actually surprised Israel hasn't bombed yet. We knew they wanted to at the end of the Bush administration, since reportedly, Bush wouldn't give them the technological support that they wanted. Now you have Benjamin Netanyahu in charge, there is little chance of Israel taking anything sitting down.

Maybe, though, the author is dead wrong. There might be a lot more going on behind the scenes than we know. Nations act in unexpected ways, so I guess we'll just have to see.

Apr 7, 2009

The Senate Monorail

A friend sent me this link from the Paleo-Future blog; it's pretty cool. The Capitol building used to have a really awesome monorail system. Today, in the passageway between the Capitol and one of the Senate office buildings (the Hart building, maybe?), you can still see one of the original cars. They've replaced the monorail with a more modern trolley thing, which saves congresspeople from any of the office complexes the time and energy of walking.

Here are some photos of the original, courtesy of the Paleo-Future post:

Apr 3, 2009

Cool Seed Animation

Sent to me by a friend:

The Seed from Johnny Kelly on Vimeo.

I've Been to the Mountaintop

Today marks the anniversary, in 1968, when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his final speech--"I've Been to the Mountaintop". In it, he reiterated the civil rights message that he'd been arguing for many years. However, at the end, he included a clear analogy to himself and to Moses--saying that he had seen the promised land. Remarkably, he seemed to prophesy his own death, telling his audience that he may not get there with them, but that African-Americans, as a people, would get there. The next day, true to what he had seemingly foreshadowed, he was murdered.

A Little Bit of Good News

National Geographic reports
that a population of 6,000 Irrawaddy Dolphins were found in Bangladesh. This is a good thing, not only because the dolphins are quite simply adorable (see below) but because they are also one of the few brackish water dolphins left in the world.

This will surely open the door to new research of the coastal areas of the Bay of Bengal where they live:

Few marine-mammal biologists had previously explored the diverse water ecosystem where the new dolphin group was found, which ranges from freshwater mangroves to brackish water to deep ocean canyons in just a small area.

The Irrawaddy dolphin is sometimes called a river dolphin, though it is actually classified as an oceanic dolphin, unlike its South American friend that also lives in brackish water, the La Plata Dolphin (see below), which makes the river dolphin cut.

The other river dolphins include the boto, or Amazon River Dolphin; the baiji, or Yangtze River Dolphin; and the Indus/Ganges River Dolphin. There are very, very few of each of them left in the wild: they don't know how many boto are left, the baiji is thought to be extinct (as of 2004), and the Indus/Ganges dolphin is endangered. They are fascinating animals, so take a look.

Apr 2, 2009

Fitzmas in April!

Many of you may remember that the dear former governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, was unceremoniously arrested by the Feds in December of last year.

Today, Chicago was on 'Blago Indictment Watch'. Why? Well, he basically had to be indicted today. That's because Blago was originally arrested on a 'criminal complaint'. According to the law, upon arrest under a criminal complaint, the U.S. Attorney has 30 days to file an indictment. Pat Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney extraordinaire, filed a motion to extend the indictment requirement by 90 more days, citing the need to go through hours of recorded calls and to talk with many, many potential witnesses. That 90 days would have been up next Tuesday. Since it was expected that Fitzgerald would need some buffer time in case he didn't get a true bill, most media outlets guessed today. Add that today the U.S. Attorney's Office announced that it would have a press release on a 'very important criminal matter', and even the densest among us could figure what was coming.

Blago is being charged under the confusing and difficult "Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act" or RICO (18 U.S.C. §§1961-68), which was created to go after gangs and the Mafia. Along with him are his brother, Rob, two former assistants, and two businessmen that were deeply involved in his doings. The link for the indictment is here. Happy reading!

Apr 1, 2009

Skirmish Drill

So, this weekend, one thing that we worked on was the drill for the civil war skirmisher. When most of us think of a skirmisher, we think of some guy hiding behind a tree, sneakily trying to catch some hits on the other side. During the Civil War, however, units would actually be sent forward in staggered line, alternately shooting (when in front) and loading (when in the rear). They would take cover behind trees or rocks if possible, though if those options weren't available, they would crouch or splay out on their stomachs to avoid enemy fire. An excellent history of the skirmish can be found here.

Below, however, I have placed an excellent drill, made by the 10th Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteers, Co. G. Follow it, and you can see the basics of a skirmish drill in all three steps: deployment, advancing, and retreat. As a note, skrimishers would retreat, usually not because they had lost so many men, but because the rest of the army was coming up from the rear in support.