Month: August 2009

Tangled New World

I don’t post on Sugar Frosted Goodness nearly often enough, but this week’s theme (and last) was “New Work” and I realized I DID actually have some things that might sort of qualify. In fact, I realized that my favorite portfolio piece (which does not yet appear in my online portfolio because I have not yet gotten around to updating it) has never been online.

As I was working on putting together all the odds and ends of graduation this spring, the Editor of the Vindicator asked me to do an illustration for an inhouse ad. She left it pretty open, but asked for something that illustrated diversity and interconnectivity. This is what I came up with:

They ended up flipping the image for the ad. I’m not sure why I decided to center the image around knitting, but I liked the idea of having all the cables work as yarn, and, you know, the craft movement is HUGE right now, so it kind of works. For any geeks out there, take note of the OLPC. 🙂

This is sort of the direction my style has been tilting lately, with the interplay of color and lots of white space. It’s far more contemporary than the stuff I did in college, but still lets me focus on my technical strengths (I think). That’s not to say I’m not doing any more black and white, but I’m trying to incorporate a similar feel in my new ink work. Anyway, comments and criticism welcome. Sometime soon I really will redo my website, and there should be a couple new things in there.

Close up:

Posted by Meagan in drawings, 8 comments

Letter of the Law

I have recently decided, based on an opinion I completely disagree with, that Justice Antonin Scalia is nonetheless, not a total ass.

This week the United States Supreme Court ruled that a lower court must hear new (or changed) evidence that could prove a man on death row innocent. I applaud them. Justice Scalia (along with Justice Thomas) wrote a dissent, and I sort of have to applaud him too.

gavelI am 100% against the death penalty. I think our judicial system is corrupt (or at least inadequate), and if Mr. Troy Anthony Davis is innocent, he won’t be the first innocent man (or woman probably) on death row. I absolutely think if there’s new evidence he should have the opportunity to present it. This is another perfect example of the kind of famously ridiculous opinion Justice Scalia is famous for. I wrote an indignant blog post sometime last year outraged at a statement he made stating that it was ok to torture terrorist suspects because they hadn’t been convicted of anything. If they haven’t been convicted, he reasoned, they aren’t being subjected to cruel or unusual punishment. You don’t punish someone who has yet to be convicted. You just torture them, and that’s a-okay according to Justice Scalia.

That combines with the more recent statement that it’s ok to execute an innocent man: “This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.” It really makes Justice Scalia sound like a monster. Maybe he is. But I think I’m beginning to understand his thought process, and while I disagree with the particulars, I sort of get the theory.

justiceIn my high school government class (which was half a lifetime ago, so bear with me if I’m completely wrong) we talked about two different approaches to the constitution. I don’t remember what they’re called. They boiled down to Spirit of the Law vs. Letter of the Law. If you follow the Spirit of the Law, you believe you have to keep in context the reason for the laws in the first place, you have to believe that the laws are mutable. This is the argument, for example, that some use to repute the second amendment. They claim, quite rightly, that the second amendment didn’t actually have a whole lot to do with defending yourself from buglers and rapists. The second amendment had to do with civilian militias, and isn’t particularly relevant (ok, that could be debatable, but let it go for now) today. Letter of the Law proponents however, say that it doesn’t matter what it was FOR, it’s in the constitution and therefore stands. (Note: I realize this issue is way more complicated, I’m just using it to illustrate a point. Ok? Stop yelling. I’m not trying to take away your guns.)

If Justice Scalia is in the Letter of the Law category, he doesn’t necessarily believe that an innocent man deserves to be executed, or tortured. All it means is that he believes the Law, and in particular the constitution, is more important than the fate of a single individual. I hate to admit it, but I kind of, almost, agree with him.

We tend to be pretty casual these days about the constitution. We talk about our “constitutional rights” in reference to things that are not even hinted at in the document, and we dance around with the idea of adding amendments as though they were decorative fonts. All the talk of adding a “marriage protection” amendment scares the spit out of me, and not only because I’m a proponent of gay rights. That people can so easily contemplate adding any amendment at all, much less one that RESTRICTS rights rather than protects them, is terrifying.

Obviously, since the constitution has semi-recent amendments, the constitution CAN (and should) be changed if the circumstances call for it. My point is just that the constitution is important. It is supposed to protect us from the government, corrupt businesses, each other. Even small changes can have unintended consequences. It should not be twisted or taken lightly.

Which brings us to Justice Scalia, and this week’s court case. As far as I remember, the role of Supreme Court is to rule on whether things are constitutional. It is not the role of the Court to rule on whether things are fair. Under the constitution we have the right to fair trial. One. Singular. We can appeal a decision, but we do not have a constitutional right to another fair trial.

Of course it could easily be argued that if an innocent man is convicted, the trial was in someway unfair. In this case there are allegations of police leaning on witnesses and all sorts of shenanigans. The problem is that we can never know anything for sure. Relying on our justice system means sometimes innocent people will be incorrectly convicted of things they did not do, and sometimes guilty people will walk free. It is an imperfect system. A “fair” trial has to be judged by the court having the trial.

I don’t agree with the dissent, I think the court made the right choice. I still don’t think it’s ok to torture anyone, convicted or not, regardless of bombs they may or may not have planted, ticking away. The role of the Supreme Court is not only to read the law, it is to interpret it. If the constitution exists to protect the rights of the individual citizen, it is problematic to claim the paper is more important than the individual. I do however understand the strict, literal reading of the constitution, to the exclusion of any judgment of fairness. The constitution is a big deal, so interpret it, yes, but please do not stretch it all out of shape.

On the other hand, Justice Scalia is still a jerk, and whenever he opens his mouth, he completely weakens his case.

*Photos by Thomas Roche and Ralpe.

Posted by Meagan in commentaries, 4 comments

The Other Cathedral

Matt and I made sure to get to the National Cathedral when we were in DC this May.
church_16I’ve been there before, when I was twelve on a school trip in middle school.

church_10Actually I based a lot of my suggestions of sights we should see in DC on things I’d seen while on that middle school trip. I think we were there for a week, and we saw far more than I could have retained. I guessed however, that anything which DID stick in my memory from that trip was probably worth seeing. After all, most 12 year olds are more interested in hanging out with friends than seeing national monuments.

Probably the most memorable images from that first trip were our tours of the cathedrals in Washington DC. I thought there were several, now I’m not sure how many we went to see. Definitely more than just the National Cathedral.

church_11Matt and my mom and I went to the National Cathedral first, because that was the only cathedral we could find any information on.

church_15In a way, we picked a bad day. We got there at about noon on a day where tours were canceled until one. The reason for this was interesting: there was a graduation in progress.

The National Cathedral has two high schools associated with it– a boy’s school and a girl’s school. On the day we visited, the girl’s school was having their graduation mass. I don’t know if they call it mass at the National Cathedral, which is (I think) Episcopalian. I went to a Catholic school and we called it mass. It made me think of all the small prayer services and holiday masses, and I wondered whether they had them all in the cathedral, vast and beautiful.

church_12It must have been an amazing place to have a graduation. We stood and back and waited until it was done. There couldn’t have been more than fifty girls, so the whole thing seemed rather quiet, and more relaxed than I would have expected for the setting. It was lovely. The architecture of the cathedral makes it a fascinating setting for any service, or just to walk through.

church_13They have continual tours, and though we waited until one for the first tour to begin, we ended up wandering without it, which I think was more enjoyable, if less informative.

church_14We got a vantage point that I never saw on my first tour, because the upstairs floor would be too cramped to bring a large group. I remember being a bit disappointed in the cathedral as a 12 year old, because I’d wanted to see the gargoyles and grotesques, but couldn’t see any close enough to really see them. From the upstairs observatory we could see much better, not to mention a great view of the surrounding area. There’s no doubt that the National Cathedral is awe inspiring. An exhibit on the main floor told us that it took almost a hundred years (83 actually) to build. I didn’t realize when I visited in 1993, construction had only just finished three years ago.

What I really remembered from my first trip was that while the National Cathedral was the stone worked gothic arches that you envision when you hear the word “cathedral,” it wasn’t the one that struck me as most beautiful.

church_4None of the local advisors seemed to know what I was talking about when I mentioned another cathedral, a place full of mosaics and side chapels. For some reason it took us half the week to find the Cathedral of St. Matthew.

church_9St Matthew’s is a Catholic cathedral, and like many Catholic buildings walks the line between beautiful and gaudy. Churches lined with gold tend to annoy me, the overt expense reminds me of a time of dishonestly rich cardnals and popes.

St. Matthews manages to avoid that feeling, though I imagine the piles of marble used must have cost every bit as much as gold plating. Everything is so colorful that it’s almost distracting.

church_7Not quite though. Unlike the flashiness of gold, marble is beautiful but understated, expensive but not braggingly so. The cathedral is full of skillful beauty, with marbled alters tucked away in side corners, and mosaics lined up on the walls like paneling. I could have looked at the art of this cathedral for hours, but Matt and I decided we’d better make it quick instead.

church_1Unlike the National Cathedral, St. Matthews is not so orderly a tourist attraction. I imagine they give tours (I went on one when I was 12) but when we walked in, the building was silent with worshipers. We tiptoed around the perimeter, trying not to disturb anyone. At one point my camera flashed (it turns it back on every time the camera restarts) but I mostly covered it.

church_5I’m sort of conflicted over whether this building should be more of a tourist attraction. On one hand, it’s an amazing sight. I suppose construction probably didn’t take 83 years, and the type of beauty is completely different from the majestic depth of the National Cathedral. Spanish rather than French maybe. The difference I see is that the National Cathedral is a coherent masterpiece, while St. Matthew’s is a gallery of brilliant mosaics. It’s not that they clash, it’s just that they are meant to be seen one at a time, up close. In prayer I suppose, though as a non-believer, I’ll have to appreciate it for artistic value alone.

church_6It seems a shame that more people don’t know about St. Matthews, but on the other hand, part of the beauty may well be it’s quiet. So nice to walk in and see people meditating, praying, thinking, believing, instead of chatting and taking photos. I think they try at the National Cathedral to retain a sense of holiness, they remind you to please be respectful and speak in lowered voices, but they tell you in a tour-guide yell, so it’s hard to take it seriously.

St. Matthew’s is a church first and foremost. I love it because it’s beautiful, but I’m not sure it would be quite so beautiful if it weren’t so respectfully hushed.

church_3The two cathedrals can’t be fairly contrasted. Stone work vs. marble. Architecture vs. mosaics.

church_2One area where you ought to be able to make a straight comparison are the stained glass windows.

In the National Cathedral, each window is different, with a separate burst of color and composition. Oddly, in St. Matthew’s, where each nook and cranny is individually crafted, the windows are very nearly identical. The windows in St. Matthews seem to be made of impossibly thin marble pieces (either that or painted glass to look like impossibly thin marble pieces). The variety of windows in the National Cathedral is breathtaking, but I couldn’t pick a winner between the two.

I’m glad I saw both. For the National Cathedral I’d say it’s worth taking out an hour or more. At St. Matthew’s we felt disruptive, and left after 20 minutes, which was enough to see everything since the space is so much smaller. I won’t claim St. Matthew’s is prettier, or more impressive than the National Cathedral, but I am surprised that one is almost unknown to tourists while the other is a visitor staple.

Posted by Meagan in bulidings, travel, 4 comments