Jul 25, 2009

This Is So Sad

When it comes to the Israeli/Palestinian Crisis, I don't know as much as I should about the conflict, but I tend to side with the Israelis on most issues (it's hard for me to find a way to support those who encourage the suicide bombing of buses full of children). However, I do know that neither side is purely in the right or free of abuses. Israel blockades Gaza for its own security; however, some unfortunate noncombatants that are affected are (beyond the women and children) the animals at the various zoos in Gaza. Beyond it being difficult to fund the feeding and upkeep of the specimens, there is the possibility of missiles raining down and killing them at any moment. Add to that the fact that they smuggle the animals in through the same tunnels that are used to funnel weapons. What it has left is a sad, sad state. Slate has an article about one zoo which, because it doesn't have $30,000 for a real zebra, paints a donkey with black stripes. They are also trying to sell their emaciated lion (for $700--less than a nice computer), since the cost for food is so high.

There are reports
that some Israeli soldiers in the past have simply shot the animals for sport (similar to what the Taliban did at the Kabul Zoo). They claimed it was because Hamas fires rockets from civilian areas. However, most of the animals were simply shot at point-blank range. It's thoughtless carnage like that which I'll never be able to understand. Maybe it's because the natural world fascinates me so much, making it difficult for me to empathize with those who don't have a fundamental respect for wild creatures, but wanton killing and the decrepit states of these animals when they are still alive is really disappointing.

Jul 24, 2009

Reynard update, Part 2 (Fur)

Once I had finished the foam part of Reynard, I moved on to the fur. Since I couldn't find a nice reddish-orange at any craft or fabric stores around me, I ended up ordering a few yards from Israel (go figure) on eBay. Add to that the short, black and white fur and the long white fur that I bought at JoAnn's fabrics, and I was ready to go.

Now, I must admit something. I know that it is important and proper in the puppet world to make patterns of what you are doing so that you can recreate or fix it later. I think that's a great idea. However, I don't plan on implementing it in the near future. I work in an organic fashion (it helps allay the brutality of the rigamarole of my day job), and with the limited time that I have, I don't particularly want spend it making patterns. It will someday bite me in the derriere, but I don't really care right now. Instead, I make momentary patterns, use them as I need them, and then toss them. That's exactly what I've been doing with the fur on Reynard.

I started by making pieces that would have the correct lay of fur and pasting them on the fox.

I went next to the ears. Red foxes have a distinctive looking ear: white fur all around the middle, which is darker. I took the longer white fur and cut two pieces that would go on either side of a black stripe.

I then cut out the black back of the ear (which would fold over the white fur).

And, voilĂ !

I used Prismacolor markers to blend the fur into the ear.

I then put on the white fur for the mouth and added more of the Plasti-dip on the lip.

Once that had dried, I colored the fur and added a few more details. This is how he remains today. I plan to finish work on the eyes (using latex molds and rubber...I've had less than perfect results thus far) and the mouth and nose next. Then I'll go on to the neck and body. Hopefully it won't take quite as long as the head...

Reynard Update, Part 1

Months ago, I posted about a puppet that I'm working on. Lest you think I forgot, here is an update on where I am with it. Ruefully, I've had little time to work on him lately. He has no eyes or nose or inside of his mouth, but they are all in the works, so hopefully, in a few weeks, there will be more to speak of. Here's an outline of the process that I've gone through, though.

I began, as usual, with the wedge method. I then carved a snout and a jaw out of large blocks of foam, yielding this lovely specimen:

A little more adding-on, and he began to look like a fox:

I marked which direction the fur would grow with arrows on the foam, and then I colored darker and lighter areas where different colors of fur would go. I then used Plasti Dip (as far as I'm concerned, one of the puppet-maker's best friends) to 'paint' on the lower lip that canines (and felines) have.

More to come...

Strawberry Swing

Coldplay has a cool new video--animation by chalk. If you want to see a superhero get attacked by a squirrel with a meat grinder, this is the video for you.

Jul 23, 2009

It's Better Late Than Never

I had a hard time with getting Blogger to work on my old computer, but it still won't keep me from belatedly celebrating online that 40th anniversary of the first human footsteps on the moon.

Jul 18, 2009

RIP Walter Cronkite

I wasn't even born yet when Walter Cronkite stopped anchoring at CBS News. However, as a(n amateur) student of history, it is impossible for me not to have seen and appreciated his emotional response to the death of President Kennedy in 1963. It was a moment for him professionally and personally, and it shows how he literally defined journalism for a generation.

Cronkite also did a great short that showed at Walt Disney World for years, at The Magic of Disney Animation. In it, he led Robin Williams (dressed like the Genie at the end of Aladdin) through the animation process, going 'Back to Neverland'. I've never been able to find the whole thing, but here's a clip that I found on YouTube:

How to Take Over the World

There's a new mathematical model (which this article only mentions; it is thirsting for detail) that has been developed that gives clues to how a small group of people can lead a large group to a desired result. Basically, leaders, all striving toward the same goal, need to be sufficiently dispersed amongst the populace so to lead smaller groups into one large, cohesive whole.

It's interesting that there is now a model for it, since we've been doing it for hundreds of years. It's called a political party.

And Then There Were Four

The Daily Mail (UK) has noted that Henry Allingham, the world's oldest man, died at the age of 113. He was also one of two remaining British veterans of World War I. Now, there are only four left in the world (see below; the chart is taken directly from Wikipedia). My Dad remembers how when he was a kid, World War I vets were like World War II vets today: there were literally millions of them. Now, silently, for more than nine decades, they've slowly fallen away. It's sobering to think that the memory of the Great War will soon be both literally and figuratively, history.

Nationality Name Date of Birth Age Residence Force served Notes
United Kingdom Choules, Claude Stanley 01901-03-03 3 March 1901 108 Australia Flag of the United Kingdom Royal Navy Last seaman. Joined in 1916. Last witness to the scuttling of the fleet. Moved to Australia in 1926 and served with Royal Australian Navy in WWII. Lives in Perth, Western Australia.[4][5]
United Kingdom Patch, Henry John (Harry) 01898-06-17 17 June 1898 111 United Kingdom Flag of the United Kingdom British Army
7th Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry
Last Tommy. Last veteran to serve in the trenches and last to be wounded in action. Called up in 1916. Last survivor of Battle of Passchendaele. Lives in Wells, Somerset.[6][7][8]
Canada Babcock, John Henry Foster (Jack) 01900-07-23 23 July 1900 108 United States Flag of Canada First 146th, CEF, then Boys Battalion Last Canadian veteran. Eligible for state funeral. Joined up in 1916. Completed training in UK but did not see action due to age. Moved to US in 1924. Lives in Spokane, Washington.[9][10]
United States Buckles, Frank Woodruff 01901-02-01 1 February 1901 108 United States Flag of the United States United States Army 1st Fort Riley casual detachment
Last Americandoughboy. Eligible for burial at Arlington. Joined in 1917. Ambulance driver near Western Front. Held prisoner in WWII. Lives in Charles Town, West Virginia.[11][12]

Jul 17, 2009

In The Spirit of Apollo 11

I made an animation of JFK to play with lipsync. It's pretty short.

The National Parks: America's Best Idea

Ken Burns has a new documentary coming out! Here's the (long) preview, courtesy of PBS:

Supremes, Cooking Away

Unbelievably irreverent. Courtesy of Iowahawk:

I believe jurisprudence, like cooking, requires many ingredients to make a satisfying meal. In Latina culture we love menudo, the delicious spicy sopa made from simple ingredients. Think of the Constitution as our base ingredient: a bland, tasteless broth of boiled white tripe. Doesn't sound so tempting, does it? Now here's where the fun comes in: all of the cooks gather in the cocina and bring their own special secret ingredients to the mix. Souter salts the pot and Roberts adds Wonder Bread and mayonnaise; Breyer the lox and cream cheese. Thomas drops in fried chicken, and Alito and Scalia spaghetti. Now here comes Kennedy with corned beef and potatoes. Stevens adds the Metamucil. Now we're cooking! Finally, I stir in my special picante blend of Latina legal spices. What started as a boring simple broth is now a delicious crazy justice stew -- that tastes different every time!

NB: It's satirical

Happy 40th Anniversary Apollo 11!

I almost missed it, but no. This will not be like Bastille Day. Today marks the day in 1969 that the Apollo 11 rocket, which first landed a man on the moon, was launched from Cape Canaveral. Hopefully, I'll remember to mark July 20, the day that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin actually set foot on the lunar surface. In the meantime, however, take a gander at a few notable videos commemorating how we even got to that point:

Jul 16, 2009

Tea is Awesome

Exhibit 1:

Kind of Depressing Article

Victor Davis Hanson writes an article about how presidents just aren't what they used to be. It ends on a thoroughly depressing note. His basic argument is that presidents in the first half of the 1900's had less on their plates, had a kinder (or at least less intrusive) media, and were expected to accomplish less. They also came from different, more humble (or in some way more 'real'), backgrounds, though his argument runs aground when you consider the plush Roosevelt upbringing.

The Five Good Emperors, he decides, is an appropriate analogy for the Roosevelt-Eisenhower-Truman continuum. Now, he contends, we are in an age of Commodus. I don't particularly like this, since it assumes that we will someday see the book written, in the spirit of Edward Gibbon, entitled The Decline and Fall of the United States of America. Perhaps we are in the age of Caligula, Claudius, and Nero: still on the rise, though with some significant setbacks. Or, more likely, America's history is and will not be analogous to that of the Roman Empire.

The Logic of Rationing

Today, the New York Times Magazine has an article by Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton, called "Why We Must Ration Health Care." Sometimes, it reads well: he makes a good point that we all, on some level, believe in rationing, since we all will say that at some point, the cost for a few extra months of life is not worth the cost to society. That's true. However, he leaves unaired and unconsidered the hugely important question of who does the rationing??

It is true that we all ration. We ration every part of our lives. I may want pizza tonight. However, if my checking account is running dry, I may not have the money to pay for it. The prices of the market ration me to rice and beans. I may want to spend the next three hours watching a long, involved movie. However, I may have to stop at the bank to make a deposit today before a check bounces. In that case, my time is rationed because of outside responsibilities. However, in both cases, I have the choice of whether to spend or not to spend, even if the limits of the choice are somehow forced on me through price or responsibility. I still have a choice, though.

On the other hand, sometimes, the government makes the choice for me. The government has told me that I am going to ration some of my paycheck and give it away. I must make due with the amount left for myself. Government-run healthcare will do what they do in Britain--the bureaucrats will determine what 'society' thinks a life is worth. In that sense, if you want a drug to extend your life, the government will tell you that the extra few months (or the potential of a cured or remissed disease) is not worth it to them or to your fellow citizens. Your life isn't that important.

I, for one, would rather be told by the price system that I haven't made enough money to extend my life than told by the government that I'm simply not worth it. Our current system has at least some (however minor) incentive to work hard and earn more money, since if I have more, I can afford to pay to live longer.

Government rationing is an insult to life and an insult to human dignity. Sure, you may say, so is poverty, but at least an impoverished person can make the decision to search for a job or to create a good that people may want. That's not saying it will be easy or necessarily successful, but the option certainly remains. Government rationing precludes that. You are told that you aren't worth it. Too bad.

Jul 15, 2009

I missed Bastille Day?

I like to think of myself as someone who notes the oft forgotten American and foreign holidays, but yesterday, I made a major faux pas, and that is not a pun. I forgot Bastille Day.

For those who don't know, Bastille Day--FĂȘte Nationale--is the celebration of the day in 1789 that the poor of Paris marched on the royal prison, the Bastille, and released the prisoners, effectively beginning the French Revolution (at least in the minds of the French). It is their equivalent of Independence Day, celebrated with their own tri-striped red, white, and blue flags being unfurled and parades and fireworks.

For an additional bit of fun info, the Marquis de Lafayette gifted George Washington with one of the keys to the Bastille, which hung (hangs?) in Mt. Vernon.


How did I never realize it before? 30 Rock and The Muppet Show are the same thing!


I can't make links on the lame computer that I'm using right now...

Reflections on Supreme Court Confirmations

One would think, given that I am a (soon-to-be) student of the law, that I would be writing fervently on the Sotomayor confirmation hearings. Instead, I have remained stunningly silent--choosing to write about cars run by pee and academic bias. Why?

Well, the reasons are twofold. The first is simple: I've been too busy to watch the hearings. On Monday, I was flying back from Washington, DC at 5am and finishing up a lot of work before leaving for El Paso, TX on Tuesday, where I shall remain until tomorrow. All that makes for little time to sit down and read the news or to watch C-SPAN.

However, the second is more nuanced. That is, surprising as it may be, that I can't stand confirmation hearings. I think that they are one of the biggest wastes of time in the spectre that is American politics. Not that they have to be; senators could spend their thirty minutes asking questions instead of talking about themselves and the nominees could answer those questions instead of demurring for whatever reason. For every hour you watch of a hearing, you gain at most a tiny grain of how the potential justice thinks. Listening to John Roberts, you gathered that he wanted to judge based on the law, however disconcerting the outcome. With Sotomayor, we can know that she will act on precedent--particularly that of Roe and its progeny. What more, we are unsure, though in the same way that we could assume Justices Roberts and Alito would come down on the conservative side 95% of the time, we can assume Sotomayor will do the same on the liberal side. Will she be a David Souter--a pariah to the system of belief that nominated her? Unlikely.

I read a column this morning on the Sotomayor hearings by Dahlia Lithwick. Her articles are like car accidents (or for the more uppity amongst us, the story in Plato's Republic of Leontius)--I can't bear the look, but I can't keep myself from doing so. It wasn't particularly insightful (since it was more about how she thinks Republican senators are really stupid and Democratic ones are just annoying). However, it led me to look for her writings on John Roberts and his confirmation hearings. What I found was an excellent piece.

She wrote about what she dubbed 'law-plus'; that which is the difference between the Law of the Land and, what she didn't term, but would probably accurately identify as 'Justice'. The Roberts hearings brought her to question the very nature of the system: is it the role of the Court to apply law--fair or unfair as that law may be--or to apply Justice? She left the question hanging, but I think it is fairly obvious. The role of a Court, as an unelected, unpolitical body, is to apply the law of the people, enacted through their representatives. Congress should be given great deference on interpretation of statutes, except for those that run aground of the Constitution, where the Court has the authority to keep Congress from overreaching (see, e.g. 1st Amendment: "Congress shall make no law..." Who stops them from making the law when they try? John Marshall claimed that prerogative, correctly in my mind, for the Court). Justice is not for the Court to decide. Justice is for the people to decide. A law that unfairly harms one--though is faithful to the Constitution--is not to be struck down by the Court. It is to be struck down by Congress when the people decide that they no longer support it. I'm open to other interpretations, but for what it's worth, I'd rather take a society that constantly, though imperfectly, seeks to find what Justice is amongst its citizens than one that has nine unelected people determine what it should be.

So, that is an incredibly long and involved post explaining that a) I haven't had time to pay attention to the hearings and b) I think they are simply theater for Senators to be preachy.

Jul 14, 2009

Good Point, Dan

I don't know who Dan Lawton is, but he has an excellent article in the Christian Science Monitor on the dearth of political diversity in academia.

The saddest thing about an article like this is how many on the left--particularly those within academia itself--will simply act as the professors in his article did: dismissive and offended by the very notion of listening someone who disagrees with them politically ("Her opinion isn't even worth listening to. After all, she's conservative").

At my first weekend at the University of Chicago, the yearly "Aims of Education" address was given by the president at the time, Don Randel. There were many passages that contained such blatantly left-wing statements that afterward, at the traditional 'discussion' of the address (in which one faculty member pairs with one house of a dorm and leads the conversation), Professor Allen Sanderson (econ) asked the question: how many of you are voting for President Bush in November, and how many of you are voting for Senator Kerry (this was in fall 2004)? Three out of 54(ish) people raised their hands to say they were planning to vote for President Bush.

Why isn't there more diversity in the academic world? he asked. It was an excellent question and remains so today.

The fact is, if you are liberal, you will likely a) not notice that your campus is hostile to conservative thought and b) not really care much if it is anyway, since you agree with that. The problem, however, is that it ultimately harms the entire functioning of a university. What has made the Western educative tradition so manifestly superb was its commitment to free, open, and uninhibited debate. Our political systems reflect that fundamental value. Ideas are meant to be discussed, and no matter how much you may disagree with an idea, you have no right to silence that idea. Instead, you are encouraged to meet it on its merits and either support it or reject it based on articulated reasoning. That no longer exists on university campuses, where it is unquestioned truth that America is a fundamentally unjust society, capitalism is fundamentally unjust, Karl Marx has been given a bad rep, religion (and Christianity in particular) are the causes of the greatest human calamities and are only believed by fools, etc.

Those of us who have been through an elite, liberal school and are willing to take an honest look know that it's an issue. Free inquiry must be maintained at all costs, no matter how difficult or unpleasant it may be for professors to have to meet conservative arguments on their merits, instead of with crude distortions that are only acceptable inside their ivory bubbles.

Cars Powered by What?

Indeed...cars powered by human urine. It may be our future; what a strange future it would be...

h/t my girlfriend

Jul 13, 2009

Making Peace with Proximate Justice

This past weekend, I was able to travel to Washington, DC for the wedding of two dear friends from college. The ceremony itself was an experience, given that I have never seen a Russian Orthodox wedding before (and that may be the subject of a future post). However, I came away from the reception with a lot more than I expected.

There were no assigned seats, so I sat with a few of the people that I knew. Across from us sat two older men ('older' meaning that they weren't in their 20's like the rest of us) and their wives. We proceeded to introduce ourselves and begin a fascinating conversation. Now, full disclosure, I must admit that the bride told me to expect something good. She was sitting at the table next to me and gave me a very truncated bio of each, saying that one of them was her parents' priest and that the other was a professor who would engage you with the most intense discussions of your life (his cards, she mentioned, are embossed with the motto "Conversations with Consequences"). That certainly proved to be the case.

The "Conversations with Consequences" man's name was Steven Garber, and most of the time I spent talking with him. He explained that his work was primarily tied to helping those in business, art, culture, and politics understand how they could be both Christians advancing their beliefs and excellent purveyors of their vocations. His example for one group, called the Wedgwood Circle, was the story of its namesake. Josiah Wedgwood, founder of the Wedgwood company, was a fierce abolitionist who sought to use the power of his art to alter his culture. He allied with William Wilberforce and produced the 'Slave Medallion,' bearing the image of a man in mondage asking "Am I not a man and a brother?" Ultimately, the medallions sold handsomely and helped spread the abolitionist cause in Britain. How, Mr. Garber asks, can we accomplish something similar today? How can those in the culture affect it for both the good of the Kingdom (in Christianese) and the common good of society?

He asked about me, and I told him that I am in the midst of a quandry. I for along time have felt a call to some greater social good; namely, justice. I still don't know what exactly 'justice' means, but I do know that though there are many, many attorneys, there seem to be few who are able to stick it out with some amount of idealism intact. Again, that may be an incorrect judgment on my part, but it is what I have seen. However, I also love art and puppetry and animation. If I didn't feel some greater need in the field of the law, I would lunge right in to those things, since I find so much passion in them. Ultimately, I'll have to choose, and hopefully I'll feel a clear call to which I should do. I still think that lawyering is where I should be, but I'm open.

Mr. Garber pointed me to an article that he wrote called "Making Peace with Proximate Justice". It is an excellent read and helps my situation considerably. He asks whether so many lose their idealism because they are looking for perfect justice in a fundamentally imperfect world. Proximate justice is being willing to find the fact that there is something good, even if not perfect. Setting a broken bone, for example, won't make it perfectly new, but it will make it 'like new'. It won't be 100%, but it will be close. It's similar here. In a broken world, having the realism to not lose hope without perfection, but maintaining the optimism of an ultimate perfection worth striving after, can keep one hopeful.

Christianity, I've said before, is a strange paradox in many ways, but notably in this: it leaves the faithful knowing that they are called to seek perfection in an imperfect world. Moreover, they are told that it is impossible to achieve perfection. However, that does not mean it isn't worth seeking. It's the most hopeful hopelessness in existence.

Much more, intellectually at least, than I expected from the reception.

Jul 10, 2009

Look What Amy Showed Me on an Airplane

So, Airtran has free WiFi right now on its airplanes. Add to that, I ran into Amy this morning, and we were on the same flight. Together, it makes for awesomeness.

Jul 6, 2009

Tonight's Conversation

I went out to eat at Chili's with my Dad, grandparents, and brother (who's in town from Alabama until tomorrow). The way back, this was overheard in the car:

Rick: Did you like the tilapia, Grandma and Grandpa?
Grandma: I liked it a lot, except mine didn't have rice. Grandpa's had rice, didn't it, Chuck?
Grandpa: Yep.
Grandma: But Rick, you don't have to have rice. You could've gotten corn if you wanted.
Grandpa: We're going to Meijer tomorrow, we can pick up some corn then.

My grandparents are hilarious, especially when they aren't even trying.

Jul 3, 2009

America's Historian

He has one of the best voices in America. Those who enjoy history have certainly read one, if not more, of his books. He's an all-around good guy.

You may know him as the narrator on Ken Burns' Civil War. You may know him as the big name on the front of Truman and 1776 and Mornings on Horseback. You may know him as that old guy who helped produce the miniseries John Adams.

He, of course, is David McCullough. And Peggy Noonan, a great writer herself, has an excellent piece on the meaning of the American Revolution and on Mr. McCullough. It's worth the read.