Nov 30, 2010

So...Have You Ever Been in Gang Crossfire?

Because I have! Kind of.


Yesterday, I called off work because I am getting over a residual sore throat from the weekend. However, I wasn't so out of it to be purely bedridden. My roommate and I decided to go out to one of our favorite diners, Daley's, for breakfast. I've been there about a hundred times, and, even though it's in a sort of shady area, nothing has ever happened.

As we reached the entranceway, though, a car flew by, shots suddenly rang out, and people started ducking into buildings. An older gentleman, my roommate, and I were huddled together, crouched right outside the door. The old man started saying to me, "Open the door, open the door!" So I did, and we all slipped into the restaurant.

I don't think anyone was hurt (thank goodness), but it was pretty frightening nonetheless. I mean, I've been around gunfire before. In fact, I remember being part of a summer program on the West Side of Chicago a few years ago, sitting out on the rooftop sometime around July 4, trying to figure out which explosions we heard were gunshots and which were fireworks (and, fyi, fireworks have more of an echo, gunshots are sharper). But I've never been at the intersection where the stuff was occurring. It really sobers you about what goes on in the city and what some people have to live with every day.

The cashier in the restaurant, as we scuttled in half-crouched, nonchalantly looked out and said "Are they shootin' again?"

Then today, when I told one of my coworkers (a 27 year Navy vet) about it, saying "I mean, I've never been shot at before," he responded--without sarcasm--"Really??" Sorry, dude, but I grew up in Indiana. Shooting at each other is not one of our usual pastimes.

Nov 22, 2010

Remembering The Iron Lady

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of Margaret Thatcher's downfall from the premiership of the United Kingdom. While often forgotten in the U.S. (and not even known by most people in my own generation), the career of 'the Iron Lady' stands out as one of the most impressive dossiers of principled accomplishment this century, perhaps only beaten by Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Even the likes of Ronald Reagan did not accomplish for his country so much as she did for hers. Like FDR and Churchill, Reagan and Thatcher were two extraordinary politicians, united across the Atlantic, each leaving a continually echoing legacy. When Ronald Reagan left the presidency, the country in his wake had been radically altered in the rightward direction. Without Reagan conservatism, you'd have no Bill Clinton declaring that 'the era of big government [was] over'. You'd have no George W. Bush, and you'd have no Barack Obama.

Similarly, without Maggie Thatcher, there would have been no Tony Blair. There would've been no New Labour, no Gordon Brown, and no David Cameron. Most importantly, however, is that the trajectory of the United Kingdom may have gone in an opposite direction from today. The Iron Lady was forced from office in an intra-party no-confidence battle. Unlike her partner across the pond, she wasn't able to retire with popular dignity and a chosen successor. And the reason? It wasn't her local-government conservatism. It wasn't even her fiscal conservatism or her hawkish foreign policy against the Soviets. Instead, it was her policy to what would become the European Union. Ms. Thatcher's Tory opponents wanted the UK to forego the Pound Sterling and join the proposed common European currency. That notion was anathema to Thatcher; she didn't want to give an inch of the United Kingdom's sovereignty to fools on the Continent. It should be the British people who are both liable and responsible for their own currency, not the British people who are liable for but not given any control of the common currency. Given the fiscal demise of Greece and Ireland and the imminent fiscal demise of Portugal and Spain, the Lady's decision to avoid the Euro couldn't have been better. However, in 1990, those in her own party didn't see her precience.

So, on November 22, 1990, after the first ballot for the leadership of the Conservative party showed Thatcher ahead but with less support than expected from her Tory colleagues, the Lady announced that she would not be on the second ballot. She resigned, leaving a party that had thrown itself into needless disarray. It would remain that way until the present--the Tories are now again in power (though barely) after a thirteen year exile. However, the scars that her opponents left on the Conservative Party persist, only lightly plastered over, leaving the party as vulnerable as it has ever really been. What it needs now is a true successor to Thatcher, not the namby-pamby, spineless, career politician David Cameron.

Two excellent pieces on Thatcher's downfall from the Daily Telegraph: one and two.

One of Thatcher's final PMQ's:

Nov 14, 2010


I did this in Corel Painter this evening as a light study.

Muppet update!

Info on the new Muppet movie has just been released to! Below is how they describe it:

"Walt Disney Pictures has provided us with this first look at Disney's The Muppets, to be directed by James Bobin from a script by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller. The December 25, 2011 release will star Jason Segel, Amy Adams and Chris Cooper.

Entertainment Weekly says that the new Muppet in the film will be Walter, who you can see holding the smartphone [above]. He's described as "a sweet, slightly naive twenty-something Everypuppet who, in the movie, is the best friend and roommate of Segel's character, Gary. Both Gary and Walter are die-hard Muppet fans."

"Walter is the kind of guy who faints when he sees Kermit," Bobin told the magazine. "Walter has a little bit of a self-confidence issue because he's the only person like him that he's seen aside from the Muppets," Segel explained. "His dream is to meet the Muppets and be around people who are like him."

EW adds that when Gary and Walter learn that the Muppet Theater is in danger of being torn down, they set out to save it by reuniting Kermit, Piggy, and the entire troupe to stage an old-fashioned extravaganza.

Read more: A First Look at the New Muppets Movie -"

Nov 11, 2010


I just found out today, courtesy of my brother, that Disney Animation will be coming out with a new full-length feature of Winnie the Pooh! It's the brainchild of John Lasseter (seriously...can the man get any more awesome?). They are bringing back everyone's favorite, Christopher Robin,* who they replaced with this monstrosity a few years ago:

Don't let her happy little face fool you. She's really a Gremlin inside.

Guess what, Darby. Nobody likes you!

Here's the trailer for the movie...I can't wait.

*Apparently Christopher Robin was the favorite of everyone except, well, Christopher Robin Milne, the son of the original author of Winnie the Pooh, who hated the stories. He had to learn how to box to protect himself in school, because the other boys would bully him on account of his role in the books.

Veterans' Day

Today is Veterans' Day, and it seems difficult to know exactly how best to thank those who have served us. The holiday is too often forgotten or devolved into simple waving of flags or other patriotic gestures. It's important to remember, however, that each and every veteran is a person with a story of his or her service. Often those experiences are hugely fulfilling. Too often, however, they involve unimagined horror. But that's why we thank them today. They ran into the din so that we wouldn't have to. Below is what I think is an honest, heart-wrenching look at what our men and women in uniform are willing to sacrifice.

Prayers for Peace from Dustin Grella on Vimeo.

Toy Story 3 Explains the 2010 Midterms?

Apparently so, says this L.A. Times article. Strange things, indeed:

Nov 6, 2010

Remember, Remember, Belated!

I am in Michigan for work, meaning that my blogging abilities are severely constrained and will be for a while. However, yesterday was one of the best holidays ever--Guy Fawkes Day. It is altogether fitting and proper on that day to set bonfires alight, burn effigies, make fireworks, and gorge yourself on sausage and potatoes. What a great holiday!

An excellent Guy Fawkes remembrance essay, from John Derbyshire's website:
Please to remember
The fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason, and plot!

Oh, I remember. My very earliest Guy Fawkes Nights were family affairs. Dad would have made up a modest bonfire in the back yard and bought a box of assorted fireworks from our local store, the same place where we got our newspapers, candy, and soda. When darkness had fallen and we could already hear fireworks going off in the neighborhood, we'd put our winter coats on, troop out down the garden, and light the bonfire. It had a rough-made Guy on it, of course, stuffed with back copies of Dad's Daily Mirror, and it was very thrilling to watch the Guy go up in flames and to wonder darkly how things would proceed with an actual person there. You had to have a Guy on your bonfire. The only place that didn't was St. Peter's School in York, alma mater of the actual Guido Fawkes, where it was felt that burning an alumnus in effigy showed poor school spirit.

You got a good selection of fireworks in those boxes. Lamest were the volcanos, conical things that you set on the ground and lit the apex of. They sputtered out varicolored flames and sparks. A small step up on the excitement scale were roman candles, cylindrical and held in the hand (lit end away from you, of course). The Catherine wheel was a long thin tube of paper stuffed with powder and wound in a spiral around a small wooden disk. You nailed the disk to (in our case) one of the poles that supported the family clothes line. Once lit, the thing spun round, emitting a lovely circular display of flames. Then there were bangers, of course: you lit them, threw them on the ground, put your fingers in your ears, and waited for the bang. More exciting was the jumping jack, which banged many times in quick succession, jumping at each bang, everyone knocking in to each other in the semi-darkness to get out of its way. My favorites were the rockets, always on a long stick. You put the stick into an empty milk bottle, lit the taper, and stood back. My sister, in common with most girls, preferred "sparklers" — lengths of wire coated to halfway along with some hard substance that burned with a fizzing white brilliance. In the darkness of a small-town November night you could write your name in the air with a sparkler before it burned down, the light so bright it lingered on the retina. I remember, I remember.

When I was a little older, with the liberty that came to older children in that time, and in every previous time, back to Tom Sawyer and beyond, but which has since been abolished in the interest of, what? I forget — when I was a little older, I say, I joined in setting up the neighborhood boys' bonfire. It was an immense thing, twelve feet high or more, on some waste ground nearby. Scrap wood and old furniture — discarded sofas or armchairs were in great demand at this time of year — had been diligently piled up for weeks before. The great fear was that some idiot from the neighborhood, or some commando squad from a rival neighborhood, would sneak in and torch your bonfire. Sentries were posted, as best this could be managed under parental dinner-time and bed-time rules. In fact I never knew of a bonfire being prematurely lit, though it would have been easy to do. I think the deed was just too dastardly for anyone to carry out. On the Fifth, of course, the thing would go up gloriously, all the neighborhood boys standing round, tossing bangers at each other and sending up rockets. The older element tried to smoke cigarettes and made amateurish attempts to impress the few girls present.

In the weeks before, while fireworks were on sale, experiments were undertaken. Bangers could be dropped into milk bottles (not recommended) or down street gratings, poked up drainpipes, or, in the open fields beyond the edge of the town, imbedded in cowpats. I am proud to say that I went considerably beyond these merely explosive adventures. Inspired by Werner Buedeler's book Telescopes, Rockets, Stars, which I had read from cover to cover a dozen times over, I was bent on constructing a multistage launch vehicle by tying two store-bought rockets together and adjusting the lengths of their fuses. I actually got this to work, and even achieved separation of the two stages, though the development budget wiped out a month's pocket money.

We had never heard of Halloween back then. I am told that nowadays, in the glutted abundance of postindustrial society, English kids celebrate both festivals. In fact, Guy Fawkes and his 1605 plot against King James I notwithstanding, they are both the same festival. Fifty years ago, as Iona and Peter Opie noted in their book The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren: "When darkness closes in on the vigil of All Saints' Day, Britain has the appearance of a land inhabited by two nations with completely different cultural backgrounds …" Half the nation celebrated Halloween, half held off until Guy Fawkes Night.

Both halves were keeping alive a tradition that stretched back to long before the wars of religion, indeed to before religion itself. The pastoralists of the ancient British Isles divided the year not according to planting and harvests but at the points where livestock could be released to graze freely, or needed to be brought in to the homestead stalls. With the coming of winter, cattle could not be left out on frozen pastures to suffer cold and darkness. Neither could the spirits of the ancestors. All needed to be brought in to warmth and light. The economics of winter feeding demanded that many animals be slaughtered. Their meat was salted away, their bones burned in the welcoming fires — bone fires. From a roadside somewhere in France on a hot June evening in 1915, Private John Henry Knowles, my mother's father, wrote to my grandmother: "Dear wife tell my sons we are close to the big guns and people walk about as if it was bonyfire night …" Granddad, though barely
literate, had his etymology right.

The Opies: "The guy has long ago been burnt and forgotten. The last firework has been exploded. The bonfire becomes all-important, and somehow it seems to be a heathen Hallowe'en fire they are attending." I remember, I remember.

Nov 2, 2010

I'm going to bed, but...

Elections, elections, elections!

Republicans take the House. That was expected. John Boehner will probably become speaker. NPR said that he is the new Speaker. That's not true, at least not until January when the new congress convenes. I thought NPR was supposed to be the intellectual station...

Democrats hold the Senate. This was a long shot for Republicans anyway. They needed to have a perfect night (like the Dems had in 2006). It didn't materialize. A shame that, in some ways, Republicans shot themselves in the foot. Harry Reid was dead in the water. Someone like Danny Tarkanian would've smashed him. He would've been a great Republican senator, too. Instead they chose Sharron Angle, it became a real race, and she (with 40% of precincts reporting at writing) lost. Mike Castle would've been a moderate, but that's about all you could expect in Delaware. Instead, it was thrown away the moment Christine O'Donnell won the primary.

Of course, looking back, Republicans wouldn't have been in this situation if George Allen hadn't been a moron in Virginia in 2006 or if Ted Stevens wouldn't've been convicted of fraud in 2008. Elections sure do have consequences!

Biggest disappointment of the night for me is that Barbara Boxer seems to have survived for another term. Someone on one of the blogs put it perfectly: now California is in a huge mess, with bankruptcy looming, a Democratic state government that will refuse the straighten itself out, and a Congress that will refuse to help them.

However, there is a huge shining light. That is Marco Rubio, Senator-elect of Florida. I'm bedazzled by him more than any politician I've seen, probably ever (nb: I never joined the crazy Obama-obsession wagon, and, frankly, I still don't understand it). Not only does Rubio have an incredible personal story, but he has solid, responsible conservative beliefs about restraining out-of-control government in a proper way. As Speaker of the Florida House, he was constantly coming up with and soliciting ideas for how to make government smaller, better, and more representative of the people. I'm a huge fan, and growing. Would I to live in Florida (and to vote for him for a higher office in a few years)!

Instead, I'm in Illinois, garbage heap of idiot politicians and voters who keep electing them. Mark Kirk seems to have beat guy-in-college-you-always-wanted-to-punch-because-of-his-cocky-egoism Alexi Ginnoulias. I guess that's good. Quinn vs. Brady has yet to be called. Lord help Illinois if it goes the same route as California--no money, no plans to cut spending, no support for raising taxes. Bankruptcy, here we come!

And with that, I bid you a fare-thee-well and adieu.

Happy Election Day!