Archive for June, 2005

A Frightening Power

Thursday, June 30th, 2005

I had jury duty yesterday.

Half of you probably just groaned and rolled your eyes. “Did you get out of it?” The answer is that I was, in fact, not called into a courtroom — I was dismissed, along with everyone else who showed up, at around 3:00pm. But I don’t look at that as escaping some onerous duty — I was actually interested in the potential proceedings.

It’s a powerful thing, to be on a jury. You are the person who, on behalf of your entire society, is making a determination of guilt. No doubt there are cases that are a “slam dunk” — either the defendant is so clearly guilty, or the prosecution has so clearly not proved its case, that the process is little more than going through the motions. But what of the others? What about when the evidence is not so cut-and-dried? What about when the physical evidence suggests condemnation, but the accused’s emotional terrified pleas of innocence struggle to stay your hand? What about when the evidence is not airtight, but the terrible nature of the crime cries out for someone to pay?

That choice is suddenly not some sterile story in a newspaper to be absorbed and accepted — you are it. It is probably the most literal expression of the term “government of the people”. When you sit in that booth, you are the government, and you are making a determination that will shape a fellow citizen’s life — or perhaps end it.

It is power. It is a frightening power; in a way it’s not unlike pointing a gun at someone. In one case you wield the power of violence; in the other the power of law. Ultimately they’re the same thing. Do you pull the trigger?

It is lust for this kind of power that drives some people to become criminals (or politicians) in the first place — they crave the ability to choose someone else’s life and death. It is fear of this kind of power that drives others to fear gun rights — for how can you allow someone else to have such power?

It’s for these reasons that trial by jury is one of the most powerfully just aspects of American society — the guaranteed right to a jury of your peers. You life doesn’t hang on the decision of a government bureaucrat, but on the conscience of your neighbor.

People in our modern society have generally become far removed from the grim realities of life and death. It is why so many people could not conceive of having a gun — they are happier to let others take care of such things for them. Similarly, the idea of making such a decision about someone else’s life — of being the final arbiter of innocence or guilt — weighs heavily on the mind of most people. Thus the strength of the system is multiplied by the fact that people are required, as I was yesterday, to serve in this capacity; a system made up only of people who want to be jurors would most likely become corrupt as quickly as politics do. Normal people thrust into a position of deciding a stranger’s fate tend to tread softly and give serious consideration to what they are doing. The system is strong because it is frightening.

The system is not perfect — mistakes are made, and people are not perfectly logical — but much like the rest of our country, it is probably the best system of justice yet devised by man.

To whom can he appeal?

Thursday, June 30th, 2005

A friend emails me this amusing bit of backlash. Seems that activists want Supreme Court judge Souter’s house to be claimed under eminent domain and turned into a hotel, which would include the “Just Desserts Cafe” and a museum to the “loss of freedom in America”. (Souter was part of the recent majority decision that hugely expanded government’s ability to seize private property under eminent domain and turn it over to private developers.) Though seemingly tongue-in-cheek, I hope they put up a serious fight. It appears that they’re going to.

In light of that, this is my favorite part:

“Am I taking this seriously? But of course,” said Charles Meany, [the town]’s code enforcement officer. “In lieu of the recent Supreme Court decision, I would imagine that some people are pretty much upset. If it is their right to pursue this type of end, then by all means let the process begin.”

I wonder how hard it would be for Souter to get the Supreme Court to hear his case?

More info can be found at Freestar Media.

The outcry against the Supremes’ decision is so strong from all directions that I have little doubt that the decision will be, in effect, overturned by changes in the law. (Personally, I’m hoping for a Constitutional Amendment clarifying the intent of the 5th Amendment). The biggest concern is how many people are going to be burned before that happens. Lets hope our lawmakers move very quickly.

Thursday, June 23rd, 2005

I am beyond words right now. Beyond disgust.

The Supreme Court of the United States has decided today that individual property rights do not exist.

I don’t… I don’t

I can’t find words right now.

But I’m sure the phrase “from my cold dead hand” is in there somwhere. Fuckers.

Update: The Castle Coalition

(via Smallest Minority and several others.)

That was easy

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005

One of the advantages of owning my own Internet domain:

When I get an email from “The Striderweb Support Team” telling me there’s a problem with my email account, it takes me precisely zero time to know I can trash it with impunity. I am the Striderweb support team.

Tax Free

Monday, June 20th, 2005

Most Excellent.

And why didn’t I hear about this until after the fact??? I’m glad other people are paying attention when something like this slips under my radar. Thank you Ron Paul. And Thank God for Texas!

Father’s Day

Sunday, June 19th, 2005

There’s a scene in the movie Waking Ned Devine wherein through a convolution of the plot, a man is put in the odd position of having to give a public funerary eulogy for his best friend, who is in fact not dead, but sitting in the front row.

The man takes a deep breath, looks his friend in the eye, and begins to speak. He starts out by commenting that eulogies are such strange things, because we say all these things about the departed that we really should have said to them when they were alive. Then, with tears forming in his eyes (and the friend’s), he talks about how very dear his friend “was” to him. Though the word is not used, “love” is the best summary description of what he feels for the other.

This has long been one of my favorite character moments in a movie. These men are blessed by the bizarre circumstance of the one being forced to eulogize the other. This is no hesitant “I love you, man”, in that oft-parodied trying-to-stay-a-tough-guy manner; he opens his heart and says things that he has clearly felt for years, but has never expressed openly.

That scene stuck with me, and simmered in the back of my brain for a couple months. Then on Father’s Day, six years ago, I sat down with pen and paper and wrote my father a letter. Forgive me if I do not share with you the specifics of what I wrote (though I can practically quote it verbatim), but suffice it to say that I said a number of things that I have felt for my entire life, but had never fully expressed in words.

Now you should understand that ours is not a particularly “touchy feely” family. In fact, with the exception of my mother, we’re all pretty much a bunch of stoics. (Yet, at the same time, we are all quite close.) But once I had decided to do it, the letter wrote itself, and I meant every word of it, and still do.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you; and I am proud to be your son.

The Post Modern Vampire

Friday, June 17th, 2005

I am part of a email discussion list for “fans of vampiric lore and fiction”, and have been for quite some time now. Recently there has been some discussion on the modern fictional vampire, essentially a “tiger or pussycat” debate relating to the relatively recent transformation of the vampire from a “purely evil” villain to a cypher/totem for the “angsty-goth” ethic.

One poster on the list (who has been on the list roughly as long as I have, which is about 15 years… [hey man, I’ve been on the net since before the net was the net, knowumsayin’?]) posted a truly excellent commentary on the state of the post modern vampire, and with her permission, I am presenting it here for your reading pleasure.

Two notes: if it seems to start abruptly, that’s because I excised a sentence or two of out-of context lead in; in addition, all formatting, footnotes, and [bracketed text] are my additions.

Let’s jump right in. I give you, gentle reader, my very first Guest Blogger, “the SealWyf“:

Vampires, to have any psychological depth at all, have to have something to do with death.

More specifically, they have something to do with the death of loved ones, and the fear and guilt we bring to them. In a primitive society, this will include the anxiety of dealing with the corpse. Here’s the person you loved, and now they are a decaying lump. The beloved has become something disgusting. You want them back… but what if they really did come back, decay and all? Add [vampire lore scholar] Paul Barber’s* observations on the behavior of actual human bodies, and you get the basis of the folkloric vampire.

Now our dead are sanitized for us. You may see them (briefly) in the hospital, but then the professionals take over and they are delivered back to you as a wax doll or a bag of something that looks suspiciously like Portland cement. (So little left of a man….) So the physical horror of the corpse is no longer such a part of our life. But the rage, the guilt, the longing, the regret, are all still there. Perhaps moreso — we no longer send them off with a wake.

That’s not to say you can’t add more layers to the basic emotion. I’ve always maintained that Dracula is about the consent to evil*. (Mina and the Count being the axis of that particular reading.) [Anne] Rice’s Interview is about the loss of a child (her own, the model for Claudia), but also about being alien. (That’s a theme she treated in her non-vampire works as well.) Layers work. Life is complex, and we are complex enough to handle it. A one-note song is boring.

But once you remove death-anxiety from the vampire story, the emotional core is gone. It becomes thin and hollow, hip and cute and shallow and pointless. (“Mosquitoes with a back-story“, as James Lileks would say.)[…]

Been there. Done that. Got the Miskatonic U. tee-shirt.

* Paul Barber is a noted scholar of vampire lore and legend, probably best known for his seminal work, Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality. SealWyf is referencing Barber’s discussion in that book of how the physical processes of decomposition and death, such as the tendency for blood to pool in the body cavity, or of hair and fingernails to continue to grow after death, contributed to the formation of vampire superstitions..

* In college I wrote an research paper on a very similar theme, entitled something like “Evil as a Seductive Force in Dracula“. Sadly I no longer have a copy of the complete work; but I did recently find a partial draft, which I may clean up and post later.

Little-Known Historical Fact

Thursday, June 16th, 2005

an iChat screenshot[D]

Completely orthogonal to the content of this post, the first person to figure out the blurred URL gets a prize of some sort. I dare you to try! (The person on the other side of the chat is, of course, excluded.)

Moonbats make me laugh.

Wednesday, June 15th, 2005

What an idiot.

Not you, Juliette.

Boo! Hiss! Yay!

Monday, June 13th, 2005

At first glance, I hated it. How cheesy! How stupid!

Oh wait, I take that back; it’s probably the most perfect moment in the entire film. Perhaps in all six films.

I’m referring to the scene at the end of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith when the black-armored Darth Vader we all know and love is revealed for the first time. [extremely minor spoilers follow]

By “perfect”, I do not, mind you, necessarily mean “the best”, or “the most exciting”. Certainly not “most realistic”.

In a 1977 Rolling Stone interview, George Lucas said [emphasis mine]:

I was a real fan of Flash Gordon and that kind of stuff, a very strong advocate of the exploration of outer space and I said, this is something, this is a natural. One, it will give kids a fantasy life and two, maybe it will make someone a young Einstein and people will say, “Why?” What we really need to do is to colonize the next galaxy, get away from the hard facts of [Stanley Kubrick’s movie] 2001 and get on the romantic side of it.[…]

I was afraid that science-fiction buffs and everybody would say things like, “You know there’s no sound in outer space.” I just wanted to forget science. That would take care of itself[…]. I wanted to make a space fantasy that was more in the genre of Edgar Rice Burroughs; that whole other end of space fantasy that was there before science took it over in the Fifties. Once the atomic bomb came, everybody got into monsters and science and what would happen with this and what would happen with that. I think speculative fiction is very valid but they forgot the fairy tales and the dragons and Tolkien and all the real heroes.

Now close your eyes and picture it: that long shot of the operating table rotating upright, with the eeee-vil Darth Sidious cackling and wringing his hands in malevolent glee, his unmoving Frankenstein creation newly resurrected and clamped to the table by the wrists and ankles. All that’s missing, truly, are a few tesla coils sparking in the background.

This is the very image of the old Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serials that Lucas wanted to invoke. The only real competition in my mind is the moment in the original movie (that is, Chapter IV), when the dashing young hero fires a grappling hook into the rafters, grabs the beautiful princess in his strong arm, and swings across the bottomless chasm to safety — barely avoiding the approaching hordes of anonymous masked stormtroopers .

This is straight out of the 1930s and 40s. If ever Lucas truly nailed his intended invocation of the old-school high space fantasy adventures, these are the moments. One for the villian, one for the hero.