Fear, Compassion, and Refugees


I couldn’t help but notice that the internet is abuzz with much discussion on the subject of refugees this week. I’m trying to wrap my head around it, so allow me to generalize my observations of the political debate: Conservatives are opposed to immigration and refugees because they tend to believe that national prosperity and national security trump all else. Liberals, on the other hand, see immigrants and refugees as noble foot soldiers in the battle for multiculturalism and racial equality (and also as easily manipulated idiot voters).

When they argue, they’re completely missing each other’s points, because the conservatives won’t attack multiculturalism for fear of being called racists, and the liberals don’t want to talk about prosperity for fear of sounding like capitalists. But despite being on opposite wavelengths, it’s an argument that both sides really want to have, because conservatives like to deal with things that they are afraid of, like terrorists, and the liberals like to point out things that we all should be afraid of, like mean conservatives.

Then there is the Christian debate. I’ve read a few thoughtful articles and a lot of impassioned comments. I’ve seen memes and verses misused interchangeably, and have had a lot of people ask me which side I come down on: Should America shut down her borders to defend our families from certain death, or should the U.S. bring in any and every huddled mass and set them up with kind, loving Federally-funded financial support? Blind fear, or dumb compassion?

And the answer is: Neither. Let me explain why.

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How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract


This week I pulled these glass bottles of vanilla extract that have been brewing down in our basement since last fall. Vanilla extract is very simple to make, makes great Christmas gifts, and your kitchen will smell like baker’s heaven while you are making it. You only need a few supplies:

1. Vanilla Beans

There are many opinions on which variety of beans to use, and the differences in their flavors, which you can read about more in this interesting article.  I bought mine on Ebay, though you can also find them from Amazon, and many other places.  The main thing to look for is beans that are still plump and moist- they shouldn’t be all shriveled up and dry. You can buy vanilla beans at Costco, but they are overpriced, and in my experience not very fresh.


2. Glass bottles

You can use an old glass vinegar bottle, a wine bottle with a tight fitting lid, these 16 ounce swing top bottles from Amazon, Ikea’s Korken swing top bottles, or check your local Dollar Tree for their their glass Oil and Vinegar bottles for only $1 each.

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Thoughts from the 2015 Freedom Conference


Heidi and I just got back from the Freedom Conference in Iowa. It was a great opportunity to be with friends that we hadn’t seen in a long time, and to make new friends. There were about 1700 people there, including presidential candidates, journalists, legal teams, and families that have been persecuted for their faith.

We heard some great lectures, had some great conversations, and really enjoyed the iron-sharpening-iron experience. We were also encouraged by the fellowship and testimonies of other believers, and a lot of our discussions sparked more questions than answers. I don’t have time to write a nice, neat article, but here are a few scattered thoughts:

Group Rights vs. Individual Rights

In reading various articles about this conference and particularly the criticisms, I noticed a common thread. Most of the critics of Christians gathering to discuss “religious freedoms” made the assumption that we were asking for special rights for our own little group. I can understand why they came to this assumption, since most political action seems to be demanded by special interest groups who want special specific privileges because of their own special minority status.

Opposing editorialists then usually explain that giving Christians “religious rights” would be wrong, either unfair because our special rights to not bake cakes will undercut the special rights of other groups to demand cakes, or unfair because Christians are not a minority. After all, Black pride, Gay pride, and Latino pride movements are good, but white pride rallies or Christian pride conferences are bad.

One of the three protesters that showed up had a sign that read “Religious Liberty is about more than the freedom to be a Christian!” Like most critics, he thought that our definition of “religious liberty” was some kind of exemption list for our special interest group alone; that our conference was trying to take some “religious liberty” high ground, and then Christians could use it to be mean to other religious groups. However, he couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, his slogan could easily have been the marketing tagline for the Freedom Conference.

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At The Freedom 2015 Conference


Heidi and I are in Des Moines today, for the Freedom 2015 conference, a conference focusing on religious liberty in America. There are going to be some great speakers here, a few presidential candidates, and I can’t wait to see what all will be discussed.

This is also James’ first conference, and while I don’t think he’ll remember it very well (maybe the ten hour drive each way… maybe), he is a big part of the reason that we are here. It’s a great opportunity to discuss the future that he will be living in with the friends and families that he will grow up knowing, and the conversations we are having here about liberty are the same conversations about liberty that he will have, and that men have always had.

The Angry Mob and the Internet


The internet, like all technologies, is a double-edged sword. It can be used to edify, educate, and unite people. Of course, it can also be used to corrupt, misinform, and divide people. It is undoubtedly the most powerful communication and teaching tool since the printing press, but it also has incredible power to create emotionally-driven, uneducated mobs screaming for immediate action.

A perfect example of this is the furor that surrounded the SALT Gun campaign that was posted on the crowd-funding website Indiegogo. Last week, Chicago-based entrepreneur Adam Kennedy and his friends claimed that they had invented a brand new kind of gun, the world’s first safe gun. Instead of deadly bullets fired by violently exploding gunpowder, it shot harmless capsules of pepper powder propelled by silent compressed air. They marketed their product as the perfect, child-proof, safe home-defense device that could instantly stop any threat and, for the first time ever, offer a “a fear-free user experience.” However, these claims have a few problems.


The first problem is that they haven’t really invented anything. They are selling a completely unmodified Tippman TiPX paintball pistol; something that’s been sold in sporting goods stores for years at a fraction of the price. The projectile, which they claimed to have developed by “completely rethinking the bullet,” is also an off-the-shelf OC-filled paintball that has clearly been bought from Rap4. This combination of standard paintball marker and pepperball ammunition has actually seen real-world use, usually by law enforcement or corrections officers doing minor riot control outside.

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Welcome to our New Blog!

Isaac, Heidi, and James

We are Isaac, Heidi, and James Botkin, and we live in middle Tennessee. We got married in May of 2014, and our son was born September 2015. Isaac is a designer and filmmaker who has worked in a variety of media in several countries, and now runs his own design firm. He has been writing about culture and ideas sporadically for several years. Heidi is a helpmeet, mother, homemaker, chef, advisor, and she provides the order and structure needed to implement a small number of the crazy ideas Isaac generates. She is learning to enjoy writing, even when the sink is full of dishes. James is a baby. He doesn’t write much yet, since he is only one month old.

We are attempting to create a very simple family-portfolio-commentary-diy-review-design-homemaking-news-theology-art-sewing-debate-photo-security-crafts-guns-cooking-political-technology blog. The reason for such a scattered and diverse set of topics is that we are going to write about the things that we talk to each other about, and the things that we are interested in. It won’t always cover what we are doing, or the most important international news of the day, but it will be based on conversations that we are having with one another, with our friends, and the conversations and lessons that we would like James to be part of or learn from… if he were older.

So if we can’t narrow down the topics that this blog will cover, we can narrow down its purpose. We are trying to accomplish 5 things:

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In Remembrance of Howard Phillips

When I was a very small boy growing up in Washington DC, there were four heroes who shaped my life and how I saw the world. At that time the Soviet Union was a very real and present danger to the United States, and the four public figures most actively engaged in fighting the USSR were Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, John Paul II, and Howard Phillips.

Heroes of the 80s

My father would describe their actions and policies to me, and for three of them, he would do so with caveats. “The President issued a great statement to Gorbachev today,” he would explain, “but remember that the Republican Party is wrong about these four points.” Or, “Mrs. Thatcher is fighting for what is right, but her strategies should be modified this way.” And he communicated how deeply he appreciated the Pope’s fearless stance on Communism before clarifying why our family was not Roman Catholic.

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Thoughts on the VFX Crisis

If you’ve been on Facebook or Twitter lately, you’ve probably seen a number of users who have replaced their pictures with green backgrounds. These people, normally used to being invisible, are trying to give a little extra visibility to a crisis that isn’t getting much attention in the media. While almost every industry is being affected by today’s global recession, a disproportionate number of visual effects studios are shutting down even as their own films set box-office records at home and abroad.

90% of the background and 50% of the Avengers will be added in post.

This year, Bill Westenhofer accepted the Oscar for Best Visual Effects while his employer, Rhythm & Hues, was filing for bankruptcy. To add insult to injury, the Academy organizers cut his mic when he tried to mention that his team of award-winning effects artists were now unemployed. This was a painful snub, since on most of today’s films, visual effects artists put in the majority of the man-hours, represent the largest chunk of the crew, and often create the vast majority of what the audience actually sees on screen.

For example, 2012’s Disney’s Marvel’s Joss Whedon’s Avengers’ climactic battle took place in an entirely digital New York City, was fought against entirely digital alien invaders, and usually involved digital stuntmen protecting digital extras from digital explosions. For Life of Pi, most of Claudio Miranda’s Oscar-winning cinematography was actually shots of flat blue walls that were replaced with completely original renders from the Rhythm & Hues team.

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The Global Election

As the American election cycle comes to a close, I’m looking forward to being able to have conversations about things not related to the White House. In fact, I might even get around to talking to folks about the other offices that we’ve elected people to today.

But in all seriousness, I’ve found it very interesting to follow the progress of the discussion, both here and abroad. The American presidential election is the largest, most popular, and most globally scrutinized political contest on earth, and watching world opinion can be very revealing.

When I lived in New Zealand I had just come from working in American media, and I was amazed at well international television reports from the BBC and Deutch Welle covered some things and how inaccurately they portrayed others. Being away from home provided perspective our own news, and made it easier to compare cultural ideas.

Even after moving back, I’ve tended to follow international coverage of our elections, and there were a lot of international opinions that arose on a recent Quora.com question: “If the current US presidential election candidates (Obama Vs. Romney) were running in your country who would you vote for and who do you think would win?


Of course, some statistics actually exist, and a recent Globescan poll of 21 countries resulted in a final tally of 50% voting for Obama, 9% for Romney, 31% various don’t knows and don’t cares, and an insightful 10% who didn’t believe that there was any difference between the two.

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