Monday, August 30, 2010

Nothing's Ever Built to Last

My DVD player downstairs is giving out on me. It's a DVD/VCR combo and already the VCR has been problematic for years. After too much use (which generally means about 3 hours, now), it starts eating the tape inside it. You can't record on it; it will just give you a chewed up picture with no sound. So I figured, well it's a bit old. It's aggravating because I've had 20-year old VCRs that still worked just fine or were only slightly finicky. But it seems the newer things are, the worse they are at their jobs.

And now the DVD side of it is going, which is just fantastic (read sarcastically). It seems the laser mechanism is dying. You know, one of those times when the disc just spins and the thing makes clicking noises for 10 minutes before telling you "disc error" or that there is no disc in the machine. It stops being able to read the disc. Apparently this is a widespread problem with disc-reading lasers, but one that doesn't get any press. My very first DVD player died this way. It was so temperamental that every now and then you could get it to work. Sometimes if you shook it a certain way, you could jolt the mechanism into reading the disc again, but it wouldn't last. I even took it to a shop, but they said they couldn't fix it, or that it needed a replacement part they didn't make anymore or something like that. And it was only a couple years old.

It's the same with CD players, though these can be a little easier to monkey with, as the laser is more accessible. I had a boom box with a laser assembly that crapped out on me as above. Likewise, if it was sitting a certain way, it just wouldn't read the disc; sometimes it would give up in the middle of the song. For awhile I could get by by holding it and manually shifting it into position, or moving the laser assembly by hand up or down its track to "reset" it into working. But eventually, that didn't work. I've had two CD players die that way.

And it's the same with DVD players. I searched online to see if there were any option for fixing it, but besides cleaning the lens, the general answer is "it'll cost you more to replace the part than to buy a new machine." And there were countless people begging for answers as to why their discs wouldn't play anymore. Seriously, just google "DVD player won't play" and see how many hits you get. It seems all these lasers just crap out after awhile and there's nothing you can do about it. Were we as consumers told that this fancy new technology would get to the point it wouldn't function anymore with no warning? No!

With the advent of blu-ray and all the hype behind hi-def, part of me is really paranoid that all of these machines are built essentially to fail. Like they've all got a built-in obsolescence, and are only designed to operate for a max of 5 years before dying. This ensures the customer HAS to replace the machine (thus keeping money in the coffers of the DVD manufacturers), or spring for a blu-ray player (thus keeping money in the coffers of Sony).

I'd think it just varied player to player or was an isolated incident, but empirical evidence tells me it's clearly not. I bought my first DVD player in the summer of 2001. In the last ten years I have had, no exaggeration, no less than six DVD players, counting the ones I'm currently using. I get that everything dies, and I can even understand it after 10 years. But to go through so many in so short a time seems to me like there's a problem at the source: we the consumers are getting shoddy material. Now, if I pay 30 bucks for a machine, I kinda don't expect much from it, so when it dies, I'm annoyed but at peace. But not when I've spent twice that.

And it's the same with so many products made these days. You would think that in this day when the Enviro-terrorists are pushing recycling and an end to waste that things wouldn't still be so disposable. But they are. More and more electronic waste is generated partially because machines aren't built to last. You'll see it with air conditioners, cars, radios, computers, everything. These things are DESIGNED with a 4-year shelf life, prepped to die just in time for the next big thing. I find that insidious. The VCRs of the early '80s were heavy and clunky, but they worked forever. They were made of metal. They could last with only minor maintenance. The late generation are mostly plastic, and they jam and malfunction much sooner and more often. Never buy one built into a TV; they are guaranteed to die after a few years, and then the TV will no longer function. Typically, a tape jams inside, and the whole unit shuts off when a tape is in limbo. I've had two die on me, one family members' die, and heard several other anecdotal stories of the exact same thing. It's a design flaw.

We're told to trade up for tech that's more modern and better. But is it better for us that everything has some kind of electronic readout (if only a clock) now so that even when its off, it's never done draining electricity from the wall? Seriously, have you noticed how many electronics no longer have "on/off" buttons? They have two settings "on" and "standby". You can't turn things off without unplugging them. Sometimes people scoff that vinyl is still around or making a comeback. But I think that part of what's so trustworthy about it is that it lasts. A turntable from 40 years ago is just as dependable as one bought today. The "laser" of that era is the needle, and though the needles do at times wear out, replacing them is a fairly straightforward and simple matter. If anyone had told you (or your parents, depending on how old you are, dear reader) that when you buy a record player, it would work fine for a year or so, then the needle would wear out so you'd have to replace the entire machine, would you have ever made that purchase? I would think not. Why buy something that's not reliable?

In a recent hit single, Green Day share the following lyric: "Nothin's ever built to last/You're in ruins." Is sad, but true. These days, nothing is built to last, and I find it antithetical to everything the left-wing tree-hugging agenda wants us to stand for. In other arenas, when something is not satisfactory, it gets worked on until it's improved. I think it's time we the consumers demanded better, and got what we deserved: a return on our investment, and a product that lasts. I for one will not stand any longer for shoddy craftsmanship, or for "the next big thing" when it means imminent failure of all that preceded it. Cubans are still driving cars from the '60s, and I can't play a DVD in a machine from six years ago. That to me says there's more than a disc error; what's not loading is this nation's common sense.

It's time we send out the call for a little old-fashioned reliability. In the meantime, I guess I'll be buying a new player soon.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Grossest X-Files Episodes

I'm a big fan of The X-Files and have been since I was twelve or so. But there are some episodes that are just unwatchable, not just because they're terrible (but some are), but because they contain content that I just don't want to see. Not everything on this list qualifies in that category. A show with horror elements like this can be effective with a jarring image or two; some of my favorite episodes have something icky in them. But here's a list of what I think are some of the ickiest things the show ever did. You'll notice that there are more episodes from the later years; you can tell they kept trying to push the envelope with the gore. It's surprising actually the stuff they got away with on a TV-14 rating, while Fox was still running Scream edited with a TV-MA.

15. Colony
There's not a lot that's too gross in this episode, and I almost didn't include it. This was the first time we learned about stabbing Alien Bounty Hunters in the back of the neck, and saw what happens when a hybrid dies. They have toxic green blood that dissolves their bodies. We actually see this. The first time you see the dissolving head in bubbling green goo is a bit jarring, but it's a cool effect. Even that isn't what most disturbs me though. There's a scene where the Bounty Hunter destroys the cloning facility the hybrids were working in, and kills a growing alien hybrid fetus. It's in a bag, we see it wiggling, and then he stomps on it, as its green blood oozes out. What's most shocking about this is that it could be shown so vividly; this is essentially an on-screen abortion.

14. Bad Blood
This is a great episode. It's very funny, and it's fun to see how it toys with the Mulder/Scully relationship. For a story about vampires, it's also bloodless. But then there are those autopsy scenes which are some of the most graphic of any on the series. They are meant to be funny; the over-the-top look at the sort of things Scully REALLY does every time Mulder has her autopsy someone. But even given that tone, it's really gross and jarring the first time you see it, and takes me out of the episode for a second.

13. F. Emasculata
This is bound to be grosser to some than to others. The plot here involves bugs that infect people with these huge bulging pustules all over their skin. Throughout the episode, some of them burst, getting infectious pussy stuff on others, including our hero. Ticking time bombs are great for drama, but when they are made of bubbling flesh... ew.

12. Daemonicus

Not terribly offensive, and a pretty good episode for season 9, but it also has the mother of projectile vomit scenes. Apparently, it wasn't shot to be this way, but when they cut it together they used every take from every angle, making it look like a geyser of gastric gunk.

11. The List
It's a guy on death row who comes back after execution to take revenge on those who wronged him. So people are killed off one by one, and their bodies are left covered with maggots. One of those bodies is the warden, who is decapitated. We first see his headless corpse, only to later discover the head in a can of paint.

10. 2SHY
It's an episode with problems anyway. This is an early television look at internet predators. Only this predator is a monster who has some sort of excretion that liquifies his victims. So we get the image when Scully opens the drawer at the morgue, and all that's left is a skeleton while all the soft tissue is now just a yellowish fluid that spills onto the floor.

9. Patient X
I know some people who were grossed out by the Black Oil when it was first seen floating across people's eyes. Or during the episodes in Russia when Mulder was infected with it, and we see it as little worms crawling under the skin. But Patient X takes all those elements one step further into the truly disturbing. Krycek essentially kidnaps and intentionally infects a Russian boy with the Black Oil, and then sews up his orifices so it can't escape. ...Then the kid eventually pulls the stitches out and it does escape. We also see the alien rebels for the first time, who have no faces because they've mutilated their own to not be infected.

8. Milagro
This is just a bad episode. It's so poorly written. It's about a hack writer who goes around killing people and ripping their hearts out of their chests. It's supposed to be some kind of metaphor, but it's just stupid. So all we're left with is a wasted hour, and hearts in hand a la Temple of Doom. At least some fan with a sense of humor made the above music video out of it.

7. Brand X
A real case for not smoking, here we have cigarettes that infest you with tobacco beetles that clog your lungs until they eat you from the inside. The bit where the doctors are vacuuming beetles out of Mulder's chest is icky enough, but doesn't top the image in the teaser with that first corpse.

6. Via Negativa
Okay, I really like this episode. It's intense, but it's one of the best episodes without Mulder. But to get there, it goes further into slasher film territory. There's a dream image of Doggett holding Scully's severed head, and in another scene a guy slices his own face on a table saw.

5. The Host
One of the earliest of the show's bizarre and disgusting monsters is Flukeman, who is part man, part flukeworm. He's this icky thing with a giant circular sucker mouth and when he bites you, it leaves little baby worms inside you. The worst part for me is when the victim guy goes to brush his teeth...

4. Sanguinarium
There's just so much blood in this one and it's not even an interesting episode. It's about an evil plastic surgeon, so it ends up being all the ickiness of hospitals combined with extreme fantasy visuals. We see fatal liposuctions, people coughing up pins, a literal bloodbath, and a guy peeling his face off. This is one I just hate watching.

3. The Gift
I may have spoken too early regarding vomit. This charming story, and one of the few to feature Mulder in season 8, is about a town who has this being captive. When people are sick, this thing can absorb their sickness. The catch is, he has to EAT YOU ALIVE (feet first), then vomit you up into a giant person-shaped hole, and eventually you will resurrect out of that hole alive, but without whatever was wrong with you; that affliction becomes part of this guy. ...Who writes this stuff?? Also, it really strains credibility at this point in the show that Doggett could be eaten alive, barfed up and resurrected, and STILL be a skeptic to things paranormal. Scully was never THAT stubborn.

2. Badlaa
A little indian man with no legs crawls up inside morbidly obese people, and then explodes out of them. He actually travels by plane INSIDE somebody. Seriously? How can we even entertain the idea? And it's just disgusting. Besides which, the whole point was that the little man wanted revenge for something, but we never find out what, and in the end he's still alive and probably looking for another fatty.

1. Hellbound
This is the most R-rated I think they ever got. It's a story about a serial killer who skins people alive. We see his lair that looks like a butcher shop, only the hanging, dripping bodies are human. And in one of the most horrible scenes ever, we hear the screams as one guy is being flayed, blood dripping to the floor before it mercifully goes to commercial. To top it all off, the evil is never punished in this episode, so we spent an hour being tortured with no resolution. The episode has a bit of technical and dramatic merit unlike the one before, but it's still very hard to watch.

Well, that's my list. Are there any others that you would have put on your list? What gross-out did I leave off?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Engaged to God: a new reading of 2 Corinthians 5:1-9

Christianity has many basic doctrines, and each branch has its own doctrines of interpretation that stem form them. The most universal of Christian doctrines is resurrection after death, indeed one of the most important and significant ideas in all New Testament scripture. But the mechanism behind that age-old question "What happens when you die?" leads to some respectful dissension. The popular idea is that you die and immediately go to heaven or hell (or purgatory, for those Catholics who can't give up that idea). Others pull out scriptures to get a little more specific, saying you go to some "heavenly realm" or holding place or sheol or something where the righteous and unrighteous are still divided, but the final heaven and hell come after the last judgment. There are even those who subscribe to a doctrine commonly called "soul sleep" where you die and your soul is sort of "asleep" or unconscious or whatever until the final resurrection, and then all the souls reach their destinations at the same time. For those souls, it would feel instantaneous, but from the perspective of the living would not be. Like suspended animation of the dead.

Now, I'm not here to argue any one reading. When all is said and done, scripture definitely teaches a resurrection and a reward for the righteous in Christ and punishment for the unrighteous; scriptural evidence is too numerous to cite here. I'm more interested in the justification used to discount the "soul sleep" argument. Again, I'm not subscribing to the idea. I can understand why one might come to that conclusion after reading Paul's epistles. But there are verses that suggest maybe not. The two verses most prominently offered as evidence that there is no soul sleep are Jesus telling the thief on the cross "This day you will be with me in Paradise", and a passage that reads "absent from the body, present from the Lord."

Now, I've been in the church world a long time. And I have heard time and again the phrase "absent from the body, present with the Lord." It is always used in discussions of the hereafter. As in, "When you die, you go right to be with God. Absent from the body, present with the Lord." I knew I had read it in scripture, and it wasn't one of those things everyone thinks the Bible says but doesn't. Still, I wasn't sure the context, since it did seem to be so clear cut, when the rest of the aforementioned Pauline epistles aren't exactly. If the Bible was so clear on this point, why was it so easy to confuse?

In looking for something else today, I found the passage in question in 2 Corinthians 5. The verse in full (verse 8) reads as follows in the New King James version: "We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord." But I have to say, whenever I've seen it in context, keeping in mind the afterlife reading of it, it's always struck me as a sort of digression. In looking at it again, I offer now a radical rethinking of what this passage means. This is not an essay about the afterlife. That was just preamble. Instead, I'm challenging you to consider whether this passage is perhaps NOT one that should be used to support such a position, because it isn't talking about that at all. This piece is not meant to alter your views on what happens when you die; rather it is meant to perhaps alter your reading of this verse and those around it.

At first blush, it might seem very reasonable. Paul opens chapter 5 (I say this knowing full well Paul didn't put chapter breaks in) by discussing how we are trapped in our mortal bodies right now, yearning for the heaven that awaits us when the chains of flesh will be no more. He calls the body "our earthly house, tent". He then compares it to the "house" we have in heaven, not made with hands. This might seem to correlate to Jesus and the "many mansions" he left to prepare. It culminates in verse six: "always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord." Thus, it's easy to see a quick link there. If the "home" is our body, in which we are absent from the Lord, and then absence from the body is present with the Lord, then absent from the body means leaving the body behind, thus dying. There's a certain element of the resurrection tied into it all, yes, but I'm coming to believe that reading is not correct. After the famous passage, look to the very next verse.

Verse 9: "Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him." And in that verse contains the entire shift in meaning. It is loaded with conditionals that must be met if we are to understand the verse properly.
1) Paul uses "we" here, even though he is speaking of both present and absent. Are we to infer Paul is writing this epistle to dead Corinthians as well?
2) The verse suggests a conscious act of pleasing God
3) That conscious act is possible for all "wether present or absent"
4) Nowhere else can I think of where Paul writes of the dead in Christ having to choose to continue to be pleasing to Him.

Therefore, I conclude the "absence" mentioned is not death. It is "our aim", the aim of us, the living, to please God whether present or absent. ...Okay, what does that mean then? Now I'm confused, you say! A little help comes in the verse sandwhiched between 6 and 8. Six says when at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. Eight says "absent from the body and present with the Lord." Verse 7, the important link, reads "For we walk by faith, not by sight." One of many many times Paul says this.

I submit, therefore, the absence which Paul addresses in verse 8 is not the complete leaving behind of the mortal tent, but the act of being in the Spirit. I don't necessarily mean "in the Spirit" in the sense of living as a Christian and not of the world. Not in the same way that it means walking as Christ always. That reading would mean we are always absent from our body when we live as we should! I mean "in the Spirit" in the more prayerful intense sense. Like John's "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day..." (Revelation 1:10). Those times when it's just you and God, in church or in your daily prayer life. You see, in the earlier verses in chapter 5, Paul says that we in our earthly houses groan for what's coming. He uses another image of clothing. That we yearn to be clothed from heaven; not that we are naked now, being clothed with our earthly tent, but that we want to be "further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life" (verse 4). In this sense, Paul's not saying we take off our mortal life and put on the new Spiritual one. There are other passages which are clearly resurrection oriented and do have imagery of that type, but not here. He caps this point by saying that God who is preparing this new house, this new clothing, this new good thing for us "also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee." Now that word guarantee literally comes closer to "down payment." God has given the Spirit as a down payment; an expression in the now of what we will have later. So yes, when we die we will ultimately (whenever you believe) be present with the Lord, but right now we can also be because the Spirit is with us.

When you look at the whole of chapter 5 in the context of the chapters before it, this reading becomes clearer. Paul writes in chapter three of the Spirit of God pulling away the veil, revealing the glory of God which we will be made like. And even chapter 5 itself continues with more hints in this direction. Verse 10 speaks of the final judgment where we will receive the things done in the body according to what was done good or bad. Some would argue "you see! It's about when you die!" but remember the verse before? About how we "we whether present or absent make it our aim to be well pleasing"? The verse only says we are judged by what things are done in the body. But down in verse 12 Paul again juxtaposes the outward life with the inward life, mentioning those "who boast in appearance, but not in heart." That is, the part of them absent from the body, or at least not so much a part of it, is absent from the Lord.

Paul never says "to be absent from the body and therefore present with the Lord", though that's how it is usually read. The verse again reads "We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord." That "rather" in there goes back with walking by faith not by sight. We are well pleased in being absent from fleshly desires by faith, looking to our God.

Let me get to an analogy that I think will make my point clearer, and which lends this piece its title. Picture a man and a woman who are deeply in love, and now engaged to be married. The woman right now lives in her own house, with her own things. She spends a lot of time with her fiance and she loves being with him. But she knows that when their evenings are over, she will return to her own little home with those things that concern her home. And yet, even when not with her fiance, she doesn't live as a different person. She doesn't put all of her attention toward other things or to simply planning to be stuck in that house forever. She's eagerly anticipating the day of their marriage, and as much as she's not neglecting housecleaning or paying her utilities, she's also buying a dress and booking a church and squealing with all her girlfriends just how awesome it's going to be to be with her man all the time. They see each other at least once a week, and on those days it's easy for her to forget everything else. She's only concerned with him, and the problems of her own house or her solitary life don't seem so important. They call each other, text each other, and check each other's Facebook every day. Sometimes when it gets to the middle of the week, or she hasn't called in awhile, she starts to really miss him. She knows that marrying him is what she wants and it frustrates her to wait, or to feel like he's not quite involved in her life yet. But that's not all. The husband-to-be has put a down payment on a big beautiful 4 bedroom 2 1/2 bathroom house that they will move into once they marry. She is most excited because when that day comes, all of those things of hers that are stuck in her little house will be spread out in a new space, and her possessions will be shared with his. The hope for this new home now colors the way she lives in her own house. She's able to concentrate on throwing out the things she's not going to need again, or the things she never should have ended up with in the first place. The time she spends with him now fuels the hope she has for the later, when they have that whole house together.

Now in this little parable, God is the husband and we are the wife. [This is just a metaphor; contrary to popular belief, the church is NOT the Bride of Christ. Revelation (and the gospels) are quite clear that the New Jerusalem is the bride of Christ. But that's a topic for another time.] The wife lives in her own house with her own things, some good some bad, and her own issues, just as we lodge in this "earthly house" of the flesh. The Spirit is the down payment on the life with God that is to come, and it gives hope and helps to get those things in our bodily houses in order while we still have work to do before the wedding, the day we die or are resurrected and spend eternity with Christ. When we're in deep prayer, or at church, or some other very spiritual or Godly event (the dates, the phone calls, the texting), we feel very connected to God, and absent from all the rest of earthly life. But then there are times when we leave and have to think about paying bills or buying groceries. But even in those times, the promise of the Spirit, that notion of the home to come, hopefully keeps us with a different perspective. I like Paul's idea of the new life "swallowing up" the old. Just like the woman in the story would soon be able to move her stuff out of her house and into the new one where there would be more space, all the good that makes us who we are will be translated and transformed into a new place with so much more room to grow. Sometimes it means leaving aside other things you won't need, but it doesn't mean losing everything; who we are is a part of how we've lived. But God wants to help us pack, and then move into grander things with those pieces. If you have an old broken spatula that you barely use, it's time to trust that God has a spatula, and a better one. The sharing of married life is so much better.

That's what Paul's talking about here. It's easier to be "present with the Lord" in the Spirit, and thus in a way absent from the body. Note the wording Paul uses in verse 6: "while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord." That is, if we settle into that earthly tent, see it as our future, and don't budge, then we neglect the presence of God and the better home he has for us. And yes, even in those times when we are going about our earthly business and feel absent from the Lord, we should strive to live to please Him anyway. Isn't that what verse 9 is really saying? That to me is much more special than "I go right to be with Jesus when I die." That says "I can be as close to Jesus as possible now, and it's even BETTER when I die."

I hope I've been able to clearly illustrate something that really jumped out at me this morning, and maybe it will challenge you to reexamine scripture and some of your own beliefs. Start making plans, brothers and sisters, we're getting married soon!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Another doofy song that gets stuck in my head...

It's been a long time since I've done one of these, but today I had another stupid kids' song stuck in my head. It's a classic from Sesame Street. Accept no modern remade substitutes! Only the puppet original is awesome. Behold his mismatched whiskers! Behold Andy, lover of candy! Behold Eddie who cannot beat his pasta fix! All hail the great CAPTAIN VEGETABLE!! Crunch CRUNCH CRUNCH!!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Proposition 8: They're both right

If you've been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you may not know about the controversy surrounding California's "Proposition 8" and the national implications it has. Here's a brief overview. A few years ago, California Supreme Court ruled that homosexual marriage was legal in California; that is, that the rights to the use of the term "married" and all the legal privileges therein contained were afforded to homsexual couples as well as heterosexual. A bunch of Californians didn't like that, and so they got together signatures for a ballot vote as to whether it should be legal or not, believing the country to be a democracy and that matters of such import should be decided by the people and not arbitrated by judges. So this proposal, dubbed Proposition 8 did appear on the ballot last year, and a majority voted against gay marriage. Well, this made the gay marriage advocates (who ridiculed the idea of the bill publicly) angry; how can anyone just vote to take rights away? So the gays who supported marriage, the Hollywood left, and others sued the Prop 8 people essentially. A ruling just recently came down from the California courts: Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, and gay marriage will be upheld.

What should the courts have done? Is democracy dead? Doesn't the will of the people count for something? Who was right here? Well, I've thought about it a lot and come to the unfortunate conclusion that both parties' arguments have merit.

I don't know whether the decision came down to Prop 8 being unconstitutional in regard to the Federal Constitution or the California State Constitution. I cannot speak to the latter, having no knowledge of it. However, I do know a little of the Federal Constitution, and it seems the judge has a point.

It seems to me that the fundamental question of the right to marry rests in two Amendments; the Ninth and the Fourteenth. The Ninth says essentially that the rights expressly outlined in the Constitution are not the only rights that exist; that the people still hold other certain rights that don't disappear because the Constitution doesn't mention them specifically. The Fourteenth is the muddier of the two and frankly the one that I think has caused the most undue harm from poor wording. The clause I refer to is in the first section: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law." The Amendment was born out of the ashes of the Civil War; its primary goal in this section was to grant citizenship to all former slaves, and ensure that the black race was given the same equal treatment as everyone else by law. But of course, the Constitution doesn't want to say we had slaves, so it keeps the language distant and vague. Immediate problems then arise: wording intended for one purpose is now open to interpretation on an infinite number of other unrelated issues. Furthermore, the nation sure didn't enforce this Amendment, since blacks were soon shackled by racist Jim Crow segregation laws in the South and shuffled out of increasingly "whites only" communities in the North.

The biggest trouble with the clause above to me is the use of the word "liberty". What does that mean? What does a citizen's "liberty" include? This word was left undefined, and yet no State is allowed to pass or enforce a law that deprives a citizen of it, nor take it away without due process. Again, the intent here was more to ensure due process of law than to make policy. But that's not what happened. Those few words led to a vast interpretation of what the Constitution's internal view of "privacy rights" might be, and the expressions of personal liberty. Aside from the search and seizure laws, the Constitution really HAS no privacy laws, but that hasn't stopped one from being inferred. It was based on this "right to privacy" and other such interpretations of those above few words that led to the Roe v. Wade decision which has kept America arguing to this day. The Supreme Court never GRANTED abortion rights; they interpreted that there were ALWAYS abortion rights. That's the sort of legal wrangling that gets done because of that one word.

So here we had some homosexuals who wanted to be married for whatever reason. They love each other, they want equal visitation rights for hospital visits and such, they want marital status for filing their taxes, whatever. Does this mean all citizens should be afforded these rights, if married? And if the option is open to the straight people who marry, should it be open to those who chose not to marry an opposite gender? It all comes down to that word "liberty"; does this freedom mean these gay citizens can do as the please and therefore the law must adjust to them? What makes the situation truly sticky is not the initial ruling that allowed gay marriage in California: it's that the Prop 8 vote came after that. Had the Proposition 8 vote been more of a pre-emptive strike before any official decision were made, it might have stood more of a chance. And yet, the "right" had already been extended. Now Proposition 8 was enacting a law that rescinded that right. That would seem to be in direct violation of the clause against the State making laws which abridge the privileges of the citizens.

Let's shift focus back to the other side, though. Considering a matter that is so vague in public law, it makes sense that the populace would like to decide for themselves whether to support something which would represent a major change in the understanding of the law and how it applies in daily life. We are raised to see our nation as a democracy (which it isn't exactly, but that's not quite at issue here, so I won't go much further there). The will of the people bring about what they want. "We the People" proclaims the preamble, and it is the language of many of our Founders and Framers that expresses democracy over tyrannical government. Jefferson even suggested that when the will of the people does not accord with that of the government, it is the right (or duty) of said People to abolish that government. That, in essence, was the drive behind Proposition 8. So neglecting the precedent ruling, let's think about the concept. They wanted to vote about an issue. The people of the state did vote. Then others who didn't like the outcome of the vote decided that the very act of voting was unfair. So often this issue is compared to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, or other movements such as womens' suffrage. But frankly, it's nothing like that at all.

When it came to passing laws that infringed on the rights of blacks or women, the deck was stacked because blacks and women COULDN'T VOTE. So it was a lot of white guys who wanted things their way, decided on them officially, and kept others down. The full populace was never really allowed to choose, despite the unconstitutionality of said suffrage restrictions. However, in the case of California's Proposition 8, there were NO such stacked decks. All citizens aged 18 and up (and even younger if the States decide, but that's another topic) were offered the chance to vote. When the people who SHOWED UP voted, those votes were counted and majority ruled. It wasn't as if they threw out any votes in favor of gay marriage, or refused to let supporters into the polls. Furthermore, the issue is not as clear-cut as the above examples. I don't think there were any black people who were against the idea of equal rights, or women who were against the idea of women having the option to vote. But there are a number of homosexuals who don't support marriage (you don't hear much about them, but they exist), and a number of heterosexuals who do (you hear from them all the time). So we're not talking about one homogenous group who's fighting it out with another homogenous group. It's all the different people with different backgrounds and different views voting their opinions and the majority rules.

I find it really quite fascinating that the so-called Democratic party tends to contain the people most in opposition to Proposition 8. I would think that if you really favored democracy, you would support it fully. But apparently, democracy is only good when it goes their way. I've pointed this out, that the democratic process reached a result fair and square, and been told that "it's not our place to vote on matters of civil rights." That's just hogwash. What is there to vote on besides civil rights? Everything comes down to certain rights of certain people for certain places. We infringe on perceived rights by vote all the time on all kinds of issues from higher taxes on tobacco products to child seat-belt laws. The voting process is a way to gauge on what side most of the people are. So when the judge ruled that it was unconstitutional, what the Prop 8 supporters heard was "Democracy doesn't matter."

So it's strange, but in the end they are both right in their own ways. If every decision that comes to a vote can be overturned by a judge, what's the use of voting? And yet, there are laws, albeit vague ones, that seem to allow for certain rights that cannot be infringed. I'm not here to come down on one side or the other. It doesn't matter which outcome I support. But I think what I'd most like us to take away from this situation is that if this is indeed an issue of personal civil rights, then it cannot be forever left to individual States. We tried that with slavery and it didn't work; that's why we have this messy Fourteenth Amendment in the first place. Secondly, I think it would behoove the nation to consider Amending the existing Amendment. We threw out Prohibition. The trick is that the Amendment only refers to States, not the Federal Government as a whole. So we could push for an Amendment which would properly define marriage however it be. That would then be covered by the Ninth Amendment as enumerated in the Constitution and not left to the vaguer ideas of what belongs "to the people." Or we could Amend the Fourteenth, which I think is the most troublesome Amendment we have. Nearly every issue you can think of comes down to infringing on liberty or such. That language should be made clearer, or restated, or even removed altogether if necessary. Really, if the Fourteenth Amendment says the State can't make any laws that abridge the privileges of the citizens, and the Ninth says that the citizens have all kinds of unspecified rights, then one could argue that nearly ANY law is Unconstitutional. Do I have the liberty to go exposing myself to kids? There are laws against it, but do those laws violate my basic unspecified rights? Or more simply, my right to sit in a car without a seat belt knowing the risks involved. There are now laws against it in nearly every state. See what I mean? The Amendment doesn't work. It provides too many back-door legalizations of hotly contested issues.

In the end, I think it's time we put all of these things to a national vote. There are a lot of existing laws I'm strongly opposed to, but when they were democratically decided I follow them. There are other initiatives I was in favor of, but they didn't get enough votes. Isn't it more an issue of voter turnout than it is the issue being decided, if you really have a problem with it? The best way to know is for every single voter to cast a vote, but that nearly never happens. We only ever are strongly pushed to vote when there's a Presidential election, when our votes don't even matter (that's a whole separate topic too). So I'd like to see a national vote regarding gay marriage. I don't care what the outcome. I would live by the law whether it went my way or not, at least secure that a decision had finally been made, and it was the will of the people.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Hitchcock Nine

One cause (you really can't call it a charity) that I care a lot about is film preservation. So much of our 20th Century history is contained on film, but with time comes decay and many are in danger of losing their luster or being lost forever. I know Martin Scorsese has been very instrumental in the cause for years.

The British Film Institute is currently seeking donations to help restore Hitchcock's surviving silent films. There's a certain urgency there. This isn't like remastering Wizard of Oz for the seventh time. If something isn't done, they will be GONE. Consider that 90% of all silent films are already gone forever. 90 percent. While that does include "realities" or bland sorts of things that wouldn't interest audiences today, it also includes great comedy, Oscar nominees, even a Titanic film featuring a survivor of the event. Nitrate film was highly flammable, and many were lost in fires. Others were used to fuel fires back then sometimes; preservation didn't seem as important then.

Only recently was a near-complete print discovered of Fritz Lang's Metropolis. This seminal science fiction work was for decades seen only in incomplete versions because all other known prints were gone. If it hadn't been for a miraculous find, we would have never known what we were missing.

But now we have the opportunity to make sure that the earliest Hitchcock works are not lost. He is one of the most important British directors, and his silent work influences much of his early sound work. The last of the nine, Blackmail, also bears the distinction of I believe being the first British sound picture. It's England's Jazz Singer.

If you can, or know people who care about these sorts of things who can, please donate to BFI or follow the link to learn more.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Random Thought

Here's a random question for you: what's the etymology of the word "tweezer"?

Did it begin as the verb "to tweeze" and thus the device was a "tweezer"?
Was it just a made-up silly word for a bizarre object?
Was it named after some man named Tweeze or Tweezer?
Is it a combination of several words? I wonder if perhaps "two" is involved, since it has two prongs.
How long has it been in use? I'd guess since at least the mid 20th Century certainly.

At least "squeegee" has "squeeze" in it, so the name has a certain logic. But where's the connection between hair-plucking and "tweezer"?