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.

Aug 17, 2009

Nature Art

One of the sad (or maybe good) things about the modern era is that there are so many people who are so good at so many things. It used to be that photorealistic paintings or sculptures were limited to a few master artists who had studied for entire lifetimes. Now, works of art are a dime a dozen, some excellently rendered, some...well...not so much. I can appreciate many types of art for their 'artistic' merit (whatever that means), but sometimes I take the simple statement of "I don't know art, but I know what I like" to heart.

That said, I like wildlife art. I wouldn't really classify any of it as 'great art' (though I'm certainly willing to be convinced by someone more knowledgeable than I), but I like some artists. Two of my favorites in the realm of photorealism are Terry Isaac and Robert Bateman. Terry Isaac wrote a book that I bought back in junior high called Painting the Drama of Wildlife Step by Step. The book is very well done: full of vivid pictures of his own art, detailed enough in its advice to be helpful, but not so detailed to be oppressive. I've only looked at Bateman's works in books.

Below are two examples of their work, the first, Catwalk, by Terry Isaac and the second, By The River by Robert Bateman.

Aug 16, 2009

Señor Jaguar

I am working on a new puppet (fox on hold for a little while). He is a jaguar, made from the basis of the melonhead pattern from Project Puppet. I plan on coloring in his spots and whatnot once the whole body is done. Here he is thus far. I used taxidermy lion eyes for his eyes to add a little realism.

I made a nose and tongue out of Sculpey then cooked and painted them.

Here he is as of today. The next steps are the body and arms.

Chicago Government Closed on Monday

Go figure...this is where an eighty year single-party monopoly on power will get you.

Aug 13, 2009

Orca Update

Here is the rig and animation setup for the orca:

And here is the first video, where I sort of tried to do a rough camera-tracking effect and make him move somewhat convincingly (very, very rough; please bear with me as I learn the program):

Update: I messed up on the rigging. You can see at 0:03 that the tip of the right flipper becomes pointy and moves back. That's a mistake, and I need to figure out which bone is doing a little more than I want.

Aug 9, 2009

Guess What Happened 35 Years Ago Today?

Answer: America's "long, national nightmare [was] over," according to brand-new President Gerald R. Ford. Richard Nixon had just departed Washington on what until that moment had been Air Force One, leaving behind the tattered remains of his presidency.

Thirty-five years later, America still doesn't quite know what to do with Richard Nixon. The man was an enigma in life, in office, and in death. He was one of the most brilliant presidents we have ever elected--on par (or at least comparable) to Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt. He was steely and hard-bitten. Unfortunately, those very virtues helped produce the vices that proved to be his unbecoming. His intelligence and quick uptake of political situations gave him an aristocratic erudition on the Congress and on his fellow citizens. Nixon, by God, knew that he knew best, and he'd be damned if anyone tried to tell him differently. His lower-class upbringing, however, gave him an inferiority complex that would plague him the rest of his life. John Kennedy, who so famously defeated Nixon by a hair in 1960, was the opposite personality: he was rich and bright, and he was perfectly comfortable with himself (probably too comfortable).

Nixon was a fighter, though, and he fought to the last. He famously remarked in his resignation announcement that he had "never been a quitter". It is true. That same man had gone from being a freshman congressman to Vice President of the United States in six years. He had run for president and lost eight years later, ending what many said would be a promising career. His obituary was supposedly sealed when he lost the governorship of California (famously announcing to the media that they wouldn't "have Nixon to kick around any more"). However, he made a comeback. The 1964 Democratic landslide was short-lived, and by 1968, the country was ready for someone calmer and more trustworthy than Lyndon Johnson. It thought the answer was Richard Nixon. His election in 1968 culminated his fourth campaign on a national ticket; his total would be five, tied with Franklin Roosevelt as the highest for anyone in American history. He won 49 of 50 states in the election of 1972, but that election included the Watergate burglary, and the rest is history.

Nixon remains notoriously difficult to decipher
. His foreign policy and domestic victories came at a raucous time in our history and in the face of extreme Democratic opposition. Measured without Watergate, he was remarkably successful. However, that hypothetical is impossible, because with Nixon's resignation, America was struck again by strong cynicism for its leaders and distrust for its pinnacle institutions. That alone mitigates many of those successes.

Nixon continued to advise every president after him--specifically on foreign policy. He was a trusted (though secret) confidant; interesting personal traits for a man who so brazenly betrayed the public's own trust in him. I imagine that history will never quite know what to do with him. Memories are still too fresh to give an honest look; there are still those who worked with him and loved him and those who fought him and hated him. Those firsthand opinions will need to pass before any real assessment can happen.

Today, however, it is important to remember what President Ford said after the resignation. The "national nightmare" was over, but, "my fellow Americans....Our Constitution works." Though presidents may fall, the nation still stands.

Aug 8, 2009

Thought of the Day

Kevin's a girl??

Smart Bird


Project Puppet Contest 2009

The folks over at Project Puppet have put up the announcement for the Puppet Contest 2009. This year's theme: The Jungle. Grand Prize is $200; all entries are due by August 23 (photo entries, that is). Good luck to all who enter!

Orca, Textured

I have now finished modeling and textured my orca. The next step will be to rig him for animation. Here's my workspace, as it looks right now:

And here's a sample rendering. Ain't he just the cutest?

Next step will be making a tongue and teeth for inside the mouth. Right now, if you open his mouth and peer within, you'll find the backs of his eyeballs. That should be remedied, I daresay.

Another New Project

I'm going to talk more about Blender, the amazing free 3D program later. I downloaded it a few weeks ago, and I've been playing furiously. Right now, I'm in the midst of modeling a killer whale cartoon. Here is the character (in progress; no fluke yet):

As I complete it, animate it, and begin new projects, I'll post them, too, but right now, I'm just really excited about the possibilities here.

Daniel Hannan is Awesome

Have you heard of Daniel Hannan? Really? You should. He is a British Member of the European Parliament (MEP; Tory), and his very-public smackdown of Prime Minister Gordon Brown in Brussels became viral earlier this summer:

Today, he had a great blog post about the American 'idea'. I always like it when foreign folks understand why Americans are proud in a way that I believe is very different from other nations. The president said a few months ago that he believes in American exceptionalism just as that Britons believe in British exceptionalism and Greeks in Greek exceptionalism. If he spoke rhetorically to not insult our neighbors and allies, I might be able to hear an argument for it. If he spoke what he believes, then he is, quite simply, a fool. America is an idea, and a good one at that. It is an imperfectly executed idea, certainly. We have had slavery and limited suffrage; we have propped up tin-pot dictators while waxing on about freedom; we have sometimes bullied our friends and overthrown democratically-elected leaders. I have no illusions about the sins of my nation. However, what makes America a great idea is the fact that we believe, as we have always believed, that the ultimate ordering of human society should be based on freedom. By that I mean the liberty to believe what you will, speak what you want, associate with those whom you choose, use your talents as you may, and reap the rewards--or suffer the consequences--of your own actions. We are not a nation because we have a culture that has been forged over many thousands of years, the way that Britain and Greece do. We aren't 'Americans' because we were born in 'America.' We are a nation because we share the ideal--and seek to spread it to the rest of the world--that men are equal in worth and cannot be ruled by anything other than that to which they consent. Mr. Hannan understands that. I wish more Americans, including our own president, would as well.

But, off of my soapbox: Hannan's post is interesting. It shows that he is a learned but engaged man. He has always viewed Thomas Jefferson as a luminary. Someone pointed out to him, however, that Mr. Jefferson may not be the best hero. Choose John Adams instead, the person pushes. I certainly fall into the camp that thinks Jefferson is overrated. He wrote beautiful prose and left us with many excellent precedents, but he was also patrician, theoretical, and hypocritical. Adams was aware of his own weaknesses (thanks largely to his blunt wife), though he couldn't control them to the extent that he desired. He was still a man of principle, though. And, like his predecessor George Washington, he wanted a system of belief that was rightly organized, with no snags. Washington realized that freedom of man meant something for the slaves he owned. Adams recognized that early on. Jefferson gave lip service to the point but never seriously entertained it. Mr. Hannan seems genuinely interested to know whether he is right or wrong. The more I learn about this man, the more I feel myself wondering if the Tories in Britain have chosen the right man to lead their party in David Cameron. He will certainly be Prime Minister soon, barring any major developments. However, he has conceded far too much to Labour in the past in an effort to appear more reasonable. Barry Goldwater said it best: extremism is worthwhile when in defense of that about which we should be extreme (in his case, liberty). Hannan seems worthy to be an extremist for the rights of Englishmen. Are there any others left?

Aug 6, 2009

Sotomayor Confirmed

Vote just finished a few minutes ago. 68-31 (I'm assuming that Kennedy was the final vote not to be present). Congrats to her. I look forward to the new term, beginning in October. I hope Justice Souter enjoys his retirement.

UPDATE: I was right; Kennedy was not present.

Puppet Blog Lineup

Hello, all. I haven't been posting anything for a while because last week, I was with friends at Walt Disney World. When you are experiencing so much magic, blogging just isn't something you do.

However, now I am back, somewhat rested (since, you see, my family doesn't 'rest' at Disney, we conquer it and return more exhausted than when we left). I have been looking at a bunch of puppet blogs (some that I've known of for a while, some that I have just discovered). I thought I'd link to them for anyone who is interested. In no particular order:

Furry Puppet Blog. This blog is really, really impressive, and the website is brand new (as of, I think, two or three days ago). I don't know much about the company (and I'm using a computer without Flash 10, so I can't view it). However, take a look. They also do custom-made 'mini-me' look-alike (hyphen-hyphen) puppets, so you can send them an email and some pictures of yourself or a loved one, and they will send you a quote for the puppet. I haven't tried, so I don't know what kind of costs we're looking at.

Puppet Mart's Blog.
The blog is kind of ghetto, but it has good video links for a lot of amateur projects and for all different styles of puppetry.

James Wojtal Puppets. This guy has done a lot of work for different companies, and here is his personal blog. His most recent post of all the different characters he has done for different New York City zoos is cool; it shows off his variety.

Jarrod Boutcher Puppets.
From Australia. Very impressive. He has made his own version of Muppet characters, which look like they are straight out of one of the Muppet movies.

PuppetFix. Fisticuff Puppets, run out of Chicago (I think...though maybe out of multiple places). I honestly don't know too much about them, but I follow their blog, and I like what I see. Check out Toby the Zombie Baby; it's probably my favorite.

PuppetVision. This has been a great blog for puppetry of all styles and levels of professionalism for a while, I believe (though I've only followed it for the last six months or so). Andrew from Canada runs it (he also does, which has gone back and forth between being accessible and not). However, due to family issues, he hasn't updated it much and recently said that it will be changing a lot. I'm not sure what that means, but I wish him all the best. It's still certainly worth checking out the older posts.

I'm sure there are many, many more, but this is a short compilation of what I've seen. Feel free to send any more along!