Monday, July 16, 2018

In and out

My travel season is about to start.

I leave in the morning to drive across the state to indulge in my musical passion by attending the National Handbell Seminar. My performing group will be featured Wednesday just after lunch. Classes in all kinds of handbell related stuff and concerts by the finest Midwest ensembles will continue morning through evening until Saturday afternoon.

Then I’m home for a couple days before heading to St. Louis and the Reconciling Ministries Convocation. That will last until Sunday noon. Before it starts I’ll have a couple days with my cousin.

Again I’ll be home for only three days before my third trip, the big vacation.

I probably won’t blog at all during the handbell seminar. I may blog during the reconciling convocation (it’s about acceptance of gay people in the church) or write up a summary when I get home.

Watching commercials

I watch the Oscars and the Tonys because I watch movies and plays. But I don’t watch TV or listen to popular music so the Emmys and Grammys are of no interest to me. The Emmy nominations were announced last week and I ignored it all.

But Bill in Portland, Maine and his Cheers and Jeers column on Daily Kos says there are a few Emmy nominations worth noticing in the category of best commercial. Commercials! That’s one reason why I don’t watch TV! But Bill says three nominations are worth our attention. To make it easy he included them in today’s post. The three are:

Earth, Shot on an iPhone has beautiful scenery and the voice of Carl Sagan, so we know it is important.

The Talk in which black parents prepare their children for the abuse they’ll get in white culture.

In Real Life, which is about bullying.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Used to be

I had to look this one up. An administrative law judge (ALJ) presides over disputes of administrative law – the laws that govern how the various agencies within the government work. Got a dispute with the rules of the Social Security Administration? An ALJ will hear the case. They are members of the executive branch and many are assigned to particular agencies. To be appointed they have to go through a rigorous testing process. According to Wikipedia, “Federal ALJs are the only merit-based judicial corps in the United States.”

Alas, we must change the “are” to “used to be.” The nasty guy issued an executive order that eliminates the testing process. Which means the appointment of an ALJ is now as partisan as the rest of the nasty guy’s administration, ready to defend his bigotry.

Tyranny of the minority

In March of last year I wrote a post that discussed the problems with the Electoral College and how the rural states had more influence on the outcome than highly urban states. Wyoming gets three Electoral College votes and California gets 55. But that gives a Wyoming voter more influence over the outcome than a California voter.

Along with that post I linked to a map (with explanation) created by Neil Freeman at Mental Floss. This map redrew state boundaries so that each state has 6.1 million voters rather than the current state boundaries where Wyoming has a half-million and California has 40 million.

My friend and debate partner responded to that earlier post quite simply: “Gerrymandered!”

After doing presentations on gerrymandering I disagree with my friend. Even highly gerrymandered states follow the national law about districts having equal population.

Ian Millhiser of Think Progress says the same imbalance that affects the Electoral College also affects the Senate. And this imbalance is likely to create a legitimacy crisis for our upper chamber. Millhiser pulls out some statistics to make his point.

Because two-thirds of Latinos live in the five largest states, one white voter is equal to 1.7 Latinos. David Birdsell of Baruch College says by 2040 “About 70% of American are expected to live in 15 states.” Flip it around and 30% of the population lives in 35 states or, as Millhiser puts it, “That means that 30 percent of the population will elect 70 percent of the senators.” But we don’t have to wait until 2040 for the problem to appear.

The Senate imbalance will affect the approval of Brett Kavanaugh, the next Supreme Court nominee.
Currently, Republicans hold 51 votes in the Senate, while the Democratic caucus is only 49 senators. Yet the Democratic “minority” represents nearly 40 million more people than the Republican “majority.”

Indeed, this Republican advantage may already be a permanent feature of the Senate. In 2016, when Senate Republicans blocked Chief Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court, the 46 Senate Democrats represented 20 million more people than the 54 Republicans. In 2017, when Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to occupy the same Supreme Court seat, the 45 senators who opposed Gorsuch represented more than 25 million more people than the senators who supported him.
A president who [didn't get a majority of votes] is poised to fill a second seat on the Supreme Court, despite the fact that his party represents only a minority of the country in the Senate. One of those seats, moreover, was only available for him to fill because the party that represents only a minority of the nation stole it from a president who was elected twice.

And if Kavanaugh gets to the Supreme Court, he is likely to put an even bigger thumb on America’s electoral scales, making it even harder for a majority of voters to remove the GOP from power.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Clothes make the character

I visited the Detroit Institute of Arts today for their special exhibit Star Wars, the Power of Costume. The exhibit shows many costumes from the George Lucas private collection (or maybe a Lucas museum somewhere). It also includes concept art, so we sometimes see the evolution of a costume. The audio guide also offered explanations. Overall, an enjoyable show, especially for someone who has enjoyed (most of) the movies.

The commentary talked about the job of a costume – help explain or identify character traits in three seconds. To do that the costume draws on cultural signals – Darth Vader dresses in black because he is evil. Princess Leia dresses in white because she is a good person. But one must be careful. For example, the people who reside in the desert must wear clothes that are appropriate for the desert – but how much is the costume to evoke Arab dress and is the cultural baggage appropriate for the character?

There were many costumes of ambassadors, court officials, and royalty. How to make a royal person look royal? Using a European style crown isn’t going to work. So the costume team looked at the dress of dignitaries from around the world. That headdress is Mongolian, this detail is Japanese, that dress is modeled on Queen Elizabeth I, etc. We get the sense of royalty even if we can’t place what detail came from which culture. That cultural mishmash wasn’t confined to the royals – Vader’s helmet has Samurai influences (sheesh, the thirteen steps to get Vader into his costume had to be written out).

We see Chewie’s costume and told about the 15 pounds of yak hair that went into it. After the first three movies a cooling system was added. In the display Han is standing beside him. Harrison Ford looked at what he was to wear in the first movie and demanded the costume department remove the Peter Pan collar (I had to look it up) and use something simpler. Lucas did not comment. The costume for C-3PO is also there. He was modeled on the malevolent female robot from the silent era movie Metropolis. The actor inside didn’t care much for the costume but loved the caracter.

One display shows characters about to leap into a light saber battle. The commentary talked about how the costumes needed to be constructed so the actor could move uninhibited. The fighting costume for Darth Maul was designed so when he spun about the tunic would flare into a circle. The Jedi costume was to evoke their simple lifestyle such as that of a Buddhist, though it took cues from the Japanese kimono. And Yoda’s costume is a miniature of what the humans wore.

Another display was of the military costumes. The uniforms of the Empire military intentionally mimicked Nazi uniforms (only 32 years before the first movie). The orange of the Tie Fighters were modeled on the orange jumpsuits early astronauts wore. As for the Storm Troopers, their armor looked plastic (because it was), which implied they were all identical, they didn’t think for themselves, and an endless supply could be easily manufactured.

A display towards the end of the tour was many of the outfits Padme Amidala wore in the prequel trilogy. She had the largest number of different costumes and the most sumptuous, suitable for royalty in a wide variety of situations, including a picnic and wedding. Some were amazingly elaborate requiring hours of handwork.

The exhibit will be at the DIA until the end of September.