it’s time to stop pre-ing everything

We all have pet peeves. I have a friend who gets unreasonably annoyed at people that wear mismatched outfits. Seriously, it bothers him in a way I don’t pretend to understand.

I feel that way about the use of the prefix pre-. It’s being abused and it has to stop.

Pre- has its important uses, so don’t think I’m coming down on the prefix itself. We need precautions and the ability to preclude things. We need to know our predecessors, and of course without the prefix pre- there would be no word for prefix! Without it we couldn’t have premonitions or premeditated anything, and we certainly couldn’t establish prerequisites.

Having said that, we need to stop preheating. An oven cannot be preheated. It can only be heated or unheated.  If it’s unheated, you need to heat it, and if you’re following a recipe, you need to heat it to a specific temperature.  You should do that ahead of time, which is why we say preheat, but step 1 in any recipe requiring the oven should just say “Heat oven to 350 degrees” (or whatever temperature you need) and stop involving pre-.

You cannot pre-board an aircraft. You are either on the aircraft, getting on the aircraft, or not on the aircraft.  If people with special needs are to be allowed on the aircraft ahead of people without special needs, that should be “boarding first,” not pre-boarding.

There is no such thing as a pre-made meal. It’s either ingredients to make a meal or a meal. If you have a friend who has been in the hospital and you make something for them to stick in the freezer as a way to help them out, that’s a meal. When you buy a meal in a box at the supermarket, it’s not pre-made. It’s made. It’s already a meal, you just have to heat it up.

Similarly, you cannot pre-adapt anything. If you adapt something ahead of somebody else needing to use that thing, it’s been adapted. You haven’t pre-adapted. You’ve adapted.

There is no pre-purchasing, only purchasing. No pre-admission, because you’re either in or you’re out. I’ll give a little leeway on preamplify, but I’m standing strong on pre-allocate. There is no pre-arranging, pre-assigning, pre-booking or pre-focusing.

You might believe in predestination, but you need to let go of prefabricating. Seriously, what you’re making either exists or it doesn’t. If it does, it’s fabricated. If it doesn’t, it needs to be fabricated.

Drop your willingness to preformat, prehire and prejudge. Get rid of premanufacturing, premodification and premoistening. These are binary concepts! Something is either dry or wet. If it is wet, it is moist. If it is not wet, it is dry. Period. Just because somebody else moistened your towelette does not mean it is premoistened – it is moist! MOIST I TELL YOU!

You can be preoccupied, but you cannot preoccupy a building. You’re either occupying the building or you’re not. There are no pre-packaged goods. They’re either packaged on unpackaged. You don’t look at a single cigarette and say, “Oh, that’s prepackaged” because it’s not – it’s a loosie. Unpackaged. Again, just because somebody else does it for you does not mean we should be using pre- to define something’s state of being.

Eliminate prepayment, preplanning and prepreparing (that one especially galls me – how the hell do you get ready before you get ready? PREPARE ALREADY HAS THE PREFIX PRE- IN IT FOR THE LOVE OF PETE!! There’s no preprinting, preprocessing or preprogramming. No such thing as prepunched anything, prequalifying for anything (I heard this a LOT during the home-buying process and it rankled me every time – “Are you prequalified for a mortgage?”  “No, I am qualified for a mortgage, I have the qualification paperwork right here. Sell me the damn house already!”) and you certainly cannot prerecord.

Think about how utterly stupid that word – prerecord – is for a second.  When you see something on TV, it is either happening right now (a live broadcast) or it is not happening right now (in some way the event – whatever it is, a sitcom or game show). If it’s not happening right now, you’re watching a recording of it.  We have to stop calling it prerecording because the recording took place before the broadcasting. WE KNOW THAT – THAT’S WHY WE CALL IT A RECORDING IN THE FIRST PLACE!

If your kid goes to school, it’s not preschool – it’s school. Oh sure, they may be four years old and not in kindergarten, but it’s not preschool. I realize fighting this one is a losing battle, but I’m a proponent of prekindergarten over preschool.  Seriously, if the kid is AT SCHOOL it is not preschool.  It’s school!

No prescreening, no preselecting, and no preselling. You can’t presettle, preshrink or preslice. No presoaking, prestamping or presweetening. Absolutely no pretaping (see prerecord, above), pretesting or pretraining. Forget about pretreating, pretrimming and prewarming (see: preheating).

Prewash? Nope, nope, nope. Forget it. If it’s clean, it’s washed. If it’s dirty, it’s dirty. If somebody else washes it for you, that doesn’t make it prewashed – that makes it washed!

I feel much better now and am putting my dictionary – and my high horse – back on the bookshelf, right next to the CD that has the George Carlin routine that inspired this little rant.

10 science fiction books you should read before you die

I saw a list the other day with this same title – “10 sci-fi books you should read before you die.”  I thought, well, that’s a serious challenge, especially since I’m already 45. I could go at any time.

As I looked through the list, however, I noticed that several of the books were fantasy novels – not sci-fi.

“What?” I hear you cry. “Aren’t they the same thing?”

No, gentle reader, they most certainly are not.

Perhaps I’m a bit more stringent in my definition of science fiction than most people. Clearly, novels directed at people are going to have people like us in them, so they could be any genre. Fantasy, to my mind, involves people in fantastic situations. Maybe those situations are believable, maybe they’re not.  Maybe they’re utopian, maybe they’re dystopian.  If it’s got elves and shit like that in it, it’s not sci-fi. Period.  Magic?  Probably not sci-fi.

George Orwell’s 1984 is quite often on lists such as these, as is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. To me, neither of these books are sci-fi.  They’re fantasy – dystopian fantasy.  Why?

No spaceships.  No ray guns.  No aliens.

To me, it’s not sci-fi unless it has at least one if not all three of those things. A book like William Gibson’s Neuromancer is an absolutely great book, but to me it’s on the fringe of sci-fi because it’s all just plain humans. Fantastic, modified, souped-up humans, but just plain humans nonetheless.  To me, it’s a fantasy novel.

Here, in no particular order, is my list of 10 sci-fi books to read before you die, then, and they all contain at least two of those things.

  • Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The whole series is fun, but the first book is the one that will really blow your mind. It contains so many sci-fi tropes that you’ll finally understand where most of them come from.
  • Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles.  One of Bradbury’s best collections of short stories, and all on the theme of humans colonizing Mars. Utterly brilliant.
  • Frank Herbert, Dune. I only read this just this year and I totally see why it’s a giant of sci-fi literature. Reviewed not too long ago in this very blog.
  • Isaac Asimov, I, Robot. If you read my blog, you know how much I dig robots. This is a collection of short stories and a really fantastic book.
  • Philip K. Dick, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. This book was the inspiration for two movies, both of which are pretty good, but only one of which features the trip to Mars.
  • H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds.  Possibly the best really old sci-fi novel around.
  • Alan Dean Foster, Lost and Found. A funny and poignant book I only recently discovered. It’s good enough to make my list, and one of the main characters is a talking dog.
  • Robert A. Heinlein, Have Space Suit, Will Travel. There’s a lot of Heinlein books involving the three sci-fi criteria, but this is the most accessible and most fun of all of them.
  • Harry Harrison, The Jupiter Plague.  Not the book the movie Soylent Green was based on, but still a great read.
  • John Scalzi, Old Man’s War. Another book I only discovered just this year, and WOW! what a great book!  I love his book Redshirts, too, but Old Man’s War is a more traditional sci-fi novel.  You can go back through my blog to find my review of this book.

If your favorite sci-fi novel isn’t on this list, I either don’t consider it sci-fi, I haven’t read it, or if I have read it, it didn’t resonate with me – like Asimov’s Foundation. I’ve heard dozens of times what a great book this is, but when I read it, all I could think was … meh. I really just didn’t do it for me.

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summer book exchange #7: How To Be a Woman

I am not, nor have I ever been a woman. I have, however, known many women, slept with a few, married one and fathered two.

Until I read this book, I don’t think I ever really knew anything about what it takes (or means) to be a woman. After reading it, I probably don’t KNOW – but now I have a bit of a clue.

photo 3How To Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran (2011)

This is, without doubt, a feminist manifesto and Moran’s test to determine if one is a feminist is quite simple.

“So here is the quick way of working out if you’re a feminist,” she writes. “Put your hand in your underpants. A) Do you have a vagina? and B) Do you want to be in charge of it? If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist.”

By now, you’re probably thinking, “Why the hell would Wes read a feminist manifesto?” and “Once he read it, why on earth would he write a review of it? After all, he said he was only going to review the Summer Book Exchange books he LIKED.”

Liked it? LOVED IT. This is hands down the funniest nonfiction book I have ever read in my life. Ever. Nonfiction. Period. I started laughing – and learning – on page 1 of chapter 1 and while the laughing peters out late in the book, Moran’s style is so easy, so free and so utterly funny that you can’t help turn the page to see what kind of mischief she’s going to get herself into on the next page.

Her approach to feminism is what appeals to me. It’s not about separating the sexes, it’s about bringing them together.

“Don’t call it sexism. Call it ‘manners’ instead. When a woman blinks a little, shakes her head like Columbo and says, ‘I’m sorry, but that sounded a little…uncivil,’ a man is apt to apologize, because even the most rampant bigot on earth has no defense against a charge of simply being rude.”

In Chapter 1, 13-year-old Moran gets her first period and explores the relationship she has with her sister Caz and her mother. We meet most of her family – all 7 or 8 of her siblings and her clearly tired parents. Neither her mother nor her father are particularly helpful (or useful) in her journey to learning how to be a woman, but we certainly can’t hold that against them. They’re also fat, as is Moran, something which she reminds us of quite often.

Chapters 1 (I Start Bleeding!) to 14 (Role Models and What We Do with Them) are funny and poignant, and it’s easy to follow Moran’s feminist narrative throughout. I feel it’s important to note that she’s not a man-hating feminist – she says so herself – but that’s because she feels a man-hater isn’t a feminist, really, and needs to figure out better their place in the world. The funny comes to a screeching, crushing halt in Chapter 15, when she discusses her abortion and the final chapter isn’t really a barrel of laughs, either, though it is a reprieve from the rather loaded topic of abortion. If I’d stopped reading after chapter 14, I’d give this book 5 stars easy. As it is, I have to pull back to 4.75, because even though I think abortion needs to be discussed more openly in our society, it really is a total bummer to do so and the previous chapters are so funny that it’s a real left turn as far as the book goes.

I think the abortion chapter is so …abrupt… simply because Moran has brought us along so merrily and willingly in her free flowing style that when it stops (and it DOES stop), it’s just hard to see it as a cohesive total. The last two chapters of the book stand out, stand apart from the rest of the material, so much so that they give the last quarter of the book a disjointed feel. This doesn’t mean they’re not well written, because they are. For example:

“I cannot understand antiabortion arguments that center on the sanctity of life. As a species, we’ve fairly comprehensively demonstrated that we don’t believe in the sanctity of life. The shrugging acceptance of war, famine, epidemic, pain, and lifelong, grinding poverty show us that, whatever we tell ourselves, we’ve made only the most feeble of efforts to really treat human life as sacred.” (author’s emphasis)

Not even George Carlin could have said it better, and it’s a sentiment that somehow has more power coming from a woman. Perhaps that’s because women are the source of life, sanctified or not.

Humor aside, the two best chapters in the book are the companion chapters 12 and 13 – Why You Should Have Children and Why You Shouldn’t Have Children. Moran’s insight into the human condition – for men AND women – is so acute and powerful that these two chapters alone make the book worth reading.

The most powerful chapter, however, is 14: Role Models and What We Do with Them. In this chapter, Moran viscerally excoriates somebody called Katie Price, of whom I had no knowledge until I read this book. (I had to google her to get a basic rundown.) Moran holds Price up as the worst kind of woman, or at least the worst kind of feminist – one who has turned her looks and her marriages into her “career.” She contrasts Price’s existence with that of Lady Gaga, who – if you’ve been paying attention to the book up to this point – is clearly the best kind of feminist, male OR female. Not being a fan of Gaga’s music, I developed some respect for her just reading about some of the things she’s done and the way she expresses herself. It’s an eye-opening part of the book for a lot of reasons.

The joy and laughter in reading the books comes from Moran examining her own life and describing how it all comes together even while it’s falling apart. Her description of the 48-hour labor leading up to the C-section that brought her older daughter into the world is horrifying, but you barely have time to be horrified because you’re so busy wiping tears off your cheeks because you’re laughing so hard you can hardly breathe.

Yes, that’s right, I just said her horrifying description of birth is side-splittingly funny. This is how Moran reaches you – man or woman, child or adult (not that I’m recommending children read this book). She lays open the human condition so well that you follow her right down the rabbit hole, holding on for dear life, and the book is so good you’re compelled to ride the wagon all the way to the bottom.

I highly recommend this book – for adults. Maybe older teens if they’re very mature. There’s a lot of frank discussion of risky behavior, including smoking (heavily), drinking (heavily), and sex (um… heavily?) of all sorts and Moran’s vocabulary is quite vulgar (of which I heartily approve). I think men especially could benefit from reading this book – it may not turn a man into a feminist, but it will certainly allow a man to gain a little insight into how many women are affected by bras, menstruation and bridesmaid’s dresses.

summer book exchange list

I’ll update this list (hopefully I’ll remember to do it) with all the books that I’ve read this summer.

(Italics means I’ve received it, but haven’t read it yet.)

  1. The Dogs Don’t Bark in Brooklyn Any More, by Eric R Nolan
  2. World of Warcraft: Arthas: Rise of the Lich King, by Christie Golden
  3. Among Others, by Jo Walton
  4. The Children’s Story, by James Clavell
  5. Killing Mr. Griffin, by Lois Duncan
  6. Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
  7. How To Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran
  8. The Name of This Book Is Secret, by Pseudonymous Bosch
  9. Christmas Truce: The Western Front, December 1914, by Malcolm Brown & Shirley Seaton
  10. The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror, by Christopher Moore

Exchanged books sent (or planned to be sent):

  1. Jennifer Government, by Max Barry
  2. Christine, by Stephen King
  3. The Cursing Mommy’s Book of Days, by Ian Frazier
  4. Marc Antony’s Heroes, by Stephen Dando-Collins
  5. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

summer book exchange #2: Arthras: Rise of the Lich King

As some of you know, I have opened myself up to being pummeled with books to celebrate my birthday this summer.  You send me a book, I read it, I review it, I send you a book.  Over and over until I’ve read all the books sent to me.

I will only be writing positive reviews.  If you send me a book and I hate it – or at the very least don’t have anything pleasant to say about it – I will not write a review.  I want this to be a largely positive experience!  If you see that my running tally skips a number, you’ll know I read a book I didn’t review.  (Note that my first review is book #2, so that already tells you something!)

For my first review, then:

World of Warcraft: Arthas: Rise of the Lich King, by Christie Golden

If you told me a month ago that I’d read a book based on a video game, let alone enjoy it, I’d have probably laughed at you. Yet read one I did, and enjoy it I did as well!

I have never played the computer game World of Warcraft (or WoW, as I’m sure its fans refer to it) – not once. I tried another game of its ilk, Elder Scrolls, but found it unfun in a most thorough fashion. All that running – and I got killed by rats!

While I have played and greatly enjoyed other RPGs, I like to look forward into the future, to embrace my sci fi consciousness and revel in it. Mass Effect. BioShock. Fallout. Those kinds of games.  I played Fable and enjoyed that, but it’s far more cartoony (and easier) than Elder Scrolls. In short, Fable was fun, but ES was not.

My brother Jeremy gave me this book, saying, “You have to read this. Really.” I was kind of stunned, to tell the truth. He knows I’ve never played WoW. I did play (twice, I think) a version of WoW that is a board game – a very long (and pretty good) board game, with lots of little plastic monsters to use.  Plus, I don’t picture my brother reading for pleasure, and if he did, I didn’t imagine him reading novels like this.

See, my brothers used to pick on me incessantly when we were younger due to one of my hobbies – playing Dungeons & Dragons. If you ever played D&D, you’ll probably really dig this book. I know absolutely nothing about the WoW world and found the book engaging. It’s a well written tale of swords and sorcery, rife with magic users (mages), demons, zombies, kings, elves, dwarves, orcs, banshees and cavaliers (paladins).

The core of the story is the life of Prince Arthas Menethil, who starts as a boy and becomes a paladin – a type of warrior/priest that draws upon the Light for his strength, stamina and healing abilities. Arthas embraces the Light as a young man, then falls from grace in spectacular, gruesome fashion. The Light exists in this book as an unexplained, unexplored, fully established religion; in a lot of ways, it reminds me of the Force from the Star Wars universe. It simply is, and we’re given no explanation of its intricacies.

No matter, though, because the rest of the world is utterly familiar. Villages, farms, castles, cities, frozen fortresses, giant spiders – all of it is eminently understandable to anybody who’s read any amount of fantasy. The elves are tall, lean and beautiful; the dwarves are short, stout, bearded (possibly even the women) and inexplicably speak with a Scottish accent.

Golden weaves Arthas’ life experiences into both his rise and his fall; his most significant path takes him through gaining, losing, regaining and re-losing the love of a powerful mage, Jaina Proudmoore, who, though not royal, is a noble and a leader in her own right.

While the story contains a lot of fantasy/D&D cliches (like enchanted swords), it’s a solidly written, well paced book that was quite an enjoyable read. It’s well placed for a sequel, and I understand that there are several other books tied into this world that explain more about the other characters and some of the events they refer to.

I’ll leave you with one quote that I think sums up how the story ends:  “All that remained of him was the bitter keening of the wind scouring the tormented land.”

There is one very passively described sex scene and a lot of violence, including the brutal killing of children and animals.

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Beavis & Butt-Head issue statement on health of AC/DC’s Malcolm Young

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Beavis & Butt-Head express concern for concern about health of AC/DC guitarist Malcolm Young

malcolmyoungReached in the bathroom between classes at Highland High School, both Beavis and Butt-Head expressed concern for the widespread concern over the health of AC/DC rhythm guitarist, songwriter and founding member, Malcolm Young.

“You said ‘member’,” Beavis said.

“Yeah,” Butt-Head added, continuing, “That was cool.”

Butt-Head stated, “I don’t know why everybody’s so upset he had a stroke. I had a stroke this morning and other than having to change my shorts after, I’m OK.”

“You said ‘stroke’,” Beavis said.

Butt-Head then shouted, “AC/DC ROCKS!” and both boys began headbanging while air-guitar-playing and grunting out the tune of “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.”

At that point, Principal McVicker entered the boys’ bathroom and shouted that reporters weren’t allowed on school grounds, chasing representatives from the press out of the school.

why gay marriage isn’t unconstitutional

I’m going to out myself as a supporter of same-sex marriage.

Punchline: Why shouldn’t they be as miserable as the rest of us?? Har-dee-har-har!

But seriously, folks, I do indeed support gays being allowed to get married. Why? Well, because it’s not prohibited by the US Constitution, of course!!

To thoroughly address this issue, I have to start with a bit of a history lesson. Power through, dear reader, it’s important.

Most people remember the Civil War. It’s also called the War Between the States or even the War of Northern Aggression. No matter what it’s called, why you think it was fought speaks to where you were raised.

  • If you were raised in the North, you say the Civil War was fought over slavery.
  • If you were raised in the South, you say the Civil War was fought over states’ rights.
  • If you were raised in the West, you say “Whoa, dude. There was a Civil War?? Heavy.”

The truth is, the Civil War was fought over states’ rights – the RIGHT of these UNITED STATES to engage in self-determination. The self-determination issue in question was slavery. See? Both groups are right.

What the southern states wanted was to continue using slaves as their primary labor force. They felt very strongly that the federal government should have no say in that, despite some southerners recognizing the abhorrent nature of a culture that not only allows, but thrives upon the dehumanization of an entire group of people based on the color of their skin.

As a result of this war, the concept of states’ rights was dealt a series of crippling blows. First and foremost was the war itself, which the North won. The winners of a war earn the right to enforce their system on the losers. This is a time-tested tradition dating back before written history. When you lose a war, the winning team gets to tell you what to do. Period.

Slavery was therefore abolished by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

The southern states, stinging from their loss in the war, set about finding ways to perpetuate the traditions to which they’d grown accustomed. If they couldn’t own people, they’d marginalize them, forcing them into all sorts of situations that looked like slavery but were – according to the letter of the law – not actually slavery. This included all sorts of efforts to restrict the rights of the black population of the South, a collection of laws that are called Black Codes.

Black Codes were largely addressed by the Civil Rights Act of 1866, but these efforts at marginalizing southern blacks were dealt a fierce blow by the 14th Amendment, which states in Section 1: All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. 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; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Pay attention to the bolded section.

Right there.

Read it again.

That is the last nail in the coffin of states’ rights. The federal government is laying its collective dick on the table (BAM!) and saying “States can’t make laws we don’t agree with.” Period. Done. Over. This happened in 1868. Every state law passed since then has existed at the whim of the federal government.

Of course, the southern states had to push the boundaries, so they started making new laws that made it nearly impossible for blacks to vote.

In a Republic (…and to the Republic for which it stands…) voting is the ultimate expression of citizenship. WE THE PEOPLE, people! THIS MATTERS.

When you take away somebody’s right to vote – it’s called disenfranchising – you are, in effect, taking away the one pure expression of citizenship to which they have access. You marginalize them completely by denying them their vote.

OF THE PEOPLE. BY THE PEOPLE. FOR THE PEOPLE… or at least the people we approve of, right?

The federal government came back with the 15th Amendment: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

BAM! Again!! States’ rights? WHAT STATES’ RIGHTS?? States will do what they’re told by the federal government! It’s right there in the Constitution!

I hear you saying, “But Wes, doesn’t the 10th Amendment modify Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution – you know, the Full Faith and Credit Clause – somewhat, in that it assigns to the individual states any rights which are not enumerated in the rest of the Constitution?” That’s an excellent question.

The 10th Amendment states: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. What this means is that if the Constitution doesn’t address it, the States can, and the States can do so by putting these issues to the people. That’s exactly why we have seen states put same-sex marriage bans up for votes in the recent past.

Basically, what we’ve ended up with is a swirl of conflict.

1.  The Constitution does not address same-sex marriage, or indeed ANY form of marriage at all.

Go ahead and look – the word “marriage” isn’t anywhere in the entire Constitution. Promise.

2.  The 10th Amendment assigns to the States any issue/right not addressed by the Constitution.
3.  The Full Faith & Credit Clause requires the laws of one State to be honored by every other State.

Wait for it… (aka see below…)

4. Some States have passed gay marriage bans, others have legalized gay marriage.
5. There was a federal law (stay tuned) that effectively banned gay marriage.

Now, let’s jump back into more modern times and take a look at that federal law that banned same-sex marriage.

The so-called Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, passed Congress in 1996. It’s a law, not a Constitutional amendment. This means it is subjected to the strictures of the Constitution, but is itself NOT a part of the Constitution.

Conservatives Republicans wrote the DOMA in 1996 – Bob Barr from Georgia and Don Nickles from Oklahoma. The House Judiciary Committee freely (openly?) admitted it was meant to be a statement expressing moral disapproval of homosexuality.

Here’s the important part of the DOMA is Section 2: No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.

What this means, effectively, is that each state in the union is under no obligation to respect the marriage laws – and ONLY the marriage laws – of any other state in the union, but only if those marriage laws specifically address a same-sex couple. This is directly and specifically in contradiction to the part of the US Constitution that requires (yes, REQUIRES) every state to honor the laws of every other state.

This clearly violates the Full Faith and Credit Clause, otherwise known as Article IV, Section 1 of the Constitution of the United States: Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof.

Section 2 of the FF&CC goes on to say: The citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states.

It’s Section 2 of Article IV of the Constitution that Section 2 of the DOMA is specifically contradicting.

There’s more, however; Section 3 says: In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

What the Supreme Court effectively said when it struck down Section 3 of the DOMA was that Congress cannot define “marriage” as being legal only between one man and one woman, nor can it restrict the definition of the word “spouse.”

What. The actual. Fuck?

The Supreme Court is now, apparently, in the dictionary business, deciding how Congress can define specific words. By ignoring the unfairness of Section 2 of the DOMA and focusing on the easy-to-strike-down Section 3, the SCOTUS failed to serve the American people, allowing the opponents of same-sex marriage to continue discriminating against other American citizens.

Note that I said “unfairness” and not “unconstitutionality” when I talk about Section 2 of the DOMA. That’s right, Section 2 is NOT unconstitutional. Why? Because right there in Article IV, Section 1, it says that Congress can decide how State laws will be “proved.” In this context, “proved” means “established.” “Prescribe” in this context means “to lay down as an action to be followed” – in other words, Congress can determine how state laws are enacted. This establishes the constitutional basis for SCOTUS leaving Section 2 of the DOMA intact.

Remember my mantra:  WORDS MEAN THINGS.

It’s this conflict between the Full Faith and Credit Clause, the 10th Amendment, and the Defense of Marriage Act that has us in the position we’re in now.

The whole reason I started writing this post is because last week, Judge Arenda Allen, speaking for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban. This overturns a state constitutional amendment voted on by the citizens of the state in 2006. She also overturned Virginia laws that prohibit state institutions from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal – these laws clearly violate the Full Faith & Credit Clause and are therefore unconstitutional. Expecting an appeal, however, Judge Allen stayed the overturning pending an appeal in the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, based in Richmond.

If the 4th District Court upholds Allen’s striking of Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriages, Virginia will become the first former Confederate state to legalize same-sex marriage. The 4th Circuit includes North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia – so striking down Virginia’s ban would set the precedent to strike down those state’s bans as well. Maryland is part of the 4th Circuit, but it legalized same-sex marriage not too long ago.

Eventually, the issue of same-sex marriage WILL end up in front of the Supreme Court, and then we’ll have the decision once and for all. I have read the Constitution over and over and OVER, and I have yet to see one single mention of marriage in its entirety.

Be an American. Support the Constitution. Support same-sex marriage.

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pondering the use of “tragic” in re: the death of philip seymour hoffman

Scotty-J.-in-Boogie-Nights

Though his autopsy hasn’t been completed as of this writing, everyone from his family to police officials in New York City are saying Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a heroin overdose.  He was 46 years old when this happened – yesterday, 2 Feb 2014.

I’ve been a fan of PSH for quite some time. He’s a good actor, perhaps even crossing that line into great. He’s an everyman, but a true everyman that can submerge, subordinate his own personality to the role. His acting career encompassed everything from bumbling dunderheads to over-the-top villains, and the most excellent thing about him is that you believed him in every single role. You committed to his character as much as he did.

When I first heard of his death, then heard it was most likely due to a heroin overdose, I have to say the only thing that surprised me was that he was dead – not the method of his demise.  Even though it’s not really cool to OD on heroin in 2014, ODing on heroin seems like a completely appropriate way for PSH to check out. The quotes “It’s better to burn out than fade away,” as gurgled by Kurgan in Highlander, and “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long – and you have burned so very, very brightly,” uttered by Tyrell in Blade Runner immediately popped into my mind.  PSH is one of those people that burned very, very brightly and I believe he died at his peak – a burnout if ever there was one.

I cannot, however, bring myself to call his death “tragic.”

I didn’t really have a problem with PSH ODing on heroin when I first heard about it.  Later, I heard that he had three kids.

Now I have a problem with it.

What’s tragic is that three children lost their father for no good reason. There is no good reason, absolutely none, to continue doing heroin after you become responsible for other human beings. Yes, I know, people get addicted. You beat those addictions because your children are more important than heroin.

Those of you who know me know that I do not ascribe to the fetishization of children, the idea that children are the ONLY and MOST important thing EVER in the history of anything, so I do not utter the statement that children are more important than something lightly.

PSH’s death, while untimely, was entirely avoidable – and therefore, not tragic.  Sad? Absolutely.  Tragic? Nope.  Same with Heath Ledger, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, or any other celebrity that chose drugs or alcohol over their children.

You know whose death was tragic? Stevie Ray Vaughn’s. There was a supremely talented guy who was just riding in a helicopter when – boom, crash – he’s dead. THAT is tragic.

None of this means I’m not saddened by his death and won’t lament a bit for the roles he’d have brought to us in the future. It does mean, however, that I’m sadder for his children and that they’ve got to live their lives without him, knowing that his passing could have easily been prevented.

DWYL… YOLO… please, STFU!

Americans are nothing if not fond of cliches and buzzwords. You hear them all the time and they flow past so fast that, if they register at all, you often overlook the deeper meaning that could actually change your life.

There’s a couple I want to talk about today, because they really irritate me.

YOLO: You only live once
DWYL: Do what you love

Please STFU already.

How about this one? IIWFTWCIW: If it was fun, they wouldn’t call it work.

“You only live once” seems to be the rallying cry of the young & hip these days, usually right before they do something incredibly ill-advised. Back in my youth, we prefaced the same behavior with “Hold my beer” or “Does this look fatal to you?”

While it is indeed true that you only live once, the real message behind that sentiment shouldn’t be “let’s engage in this risky and/or dangerous behavior,” it should be that the best way to live is in the moment. Be where you are, be who you’re with, and – to introduce another buzzy term – engage.  Stop wishing you were anywhere else doing anything else.

If you do it right, living once is enough.

Now let’s move on to “do what you love,” one of Steve Jobs’ favorite sayings.

Though he’s dead, so I can’t interview him for clarification, I can extrapolate from other things he said that what Jobs may have really meant here was “be passionate about what you do” – and there’s a difference between love and passion.

Passion makes you take chances.  Passion makes you think outside the box.  Passion drives innovation.  Passion inspires leaps of faith.

Love gets the job done, day after day, no matter what. Love pays the bills.  Love puts food on the table.  Love clothes your children.

Being passionate about your work makes you want to go every day, to see what new adventures are in store.  That coding problem you couldn’t figure out last night that you dreamed about?  Passion solves that.  Passion keeps you excited about your job, and that, my friends, is what DWYL really means.  “Be passionate about your work” isn’t as catchy, though.

Throwing around “do what you love” actually belittles every person who isn’t passionate about their job.  Every man or woman (or teenager) that slogs in a low-wage, low-expectation job because the rent’s got to get paid is diminished every time you utter DWYL.  Every office worker that rides the train and changes shoes in the break room gets a slap in the face when you say DWYL.  Every tech support agent you talk to on the phone that has a head full of knowledge and walks you through fixing your problem suffers a fresh humiliation when you chant DWYL.

There are millions of people in this world doing thankless, boring, mundane jobs.  They do not love being farmers or construction workers or cab drivers – but they love their families.  They get up every morning and go to work – back-breaking, mind-numbing work – so their children don’t go hungry, so their wives (or husbands) don’t go without shoes.

It’s tough to be passionate about doing the same thing for your entire career.  It was easy for Steve Jobs to be passionate – he never had to do the same thing twice.  He got to come up with groundbreaking ideas for cool new gadgets!  If you thought up the iPod (and I’m not saying he did, himself, but you know what I mean), you’d be pretty goddam passionate about your job, too.

Put Jobs in a corn field and maybe he’s the same passionate dude, dreaming up a new reaper attachment that makes getting the crop in faster and easier.  Maybe, though, he subordinates his dreams to the realities of life, of taking care of his family and making sure the lights come on when somebody flips the switch.

I’m unlucky in that what I’m truly passionate about – teaching – pays for shit in this country. For all the lip service thrown around about how education is important, the painful, simple fact is that education is as much a business as McDonald’s or Best Buy and the only way to make it successful is to reduce the overhead while increasing the numbers, which they do by driving down wages as far as possible and making classes larger every year.  It’s smart from a business perspective.

However, I’m lucky in that I don’t have to rely on teaching for my living. I have a day job that pays the rent, puts food on the table, and provides health insurance benefits. Unlike many people in this world, I have the luxury of living indoors and being able to be passionate about my job.

Well, one of my jobs, anyway.

Here’s the bottom line, then:  Stop saying “do what you love” and you’ll go a long way towards embracing the realities of this hard world. If you’re one of those people that’s truly passionate about what you do, then more power to you. Unlike Steve Jobs, for the vast majority of the world, our passions don’t translate into giant paychecks.

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taking back Thanksgiving

Fist…and I’m not just talking about wishing all the stores like Walmart, Target, Best Buy, etc. stayed closed so their employees could enjoy some time off spent with their families.

I’m talking about this trend to remind everybody how shitty Americans are because we forget/ignore/marginalize Native Americans on Thanksgiving (and, incidentally, Columbus Day, but perhaps that is fodder for a separate post).

Not forgetting your past isn’t the same as trying to assuage your own sense of cultural/social guilt over something you had no connection to, no involvement with, and yourself have only read about in books.  The popular term for this is “white guilt,” because apparently only white people ever do anything shitty to any other group of human beings.

Now, before you start throwing out terms like “racist,” let me assure you that I’m pretty sure I’m not racist.  As of right now at this exact moment, I can’t think of an entire group of people that I hate just because they are some specific nationality or ethnic group.  I certainly don’t hate or engage actively in the oppression of Native Americans in any way, shape or form, so at the very least, I think we can agree that I’m not racist towards them and have that read into the record.

There’s only two things I hate in this world: People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures and the Dutch. –Nigel Powers

It’s widely known that the colonists* that came to the Massachusetts Bay area in 1620 were ill-equipped for survival.  As “Puritans,” they had been kicked out of most of the good countries of Europe due to their religious beliefs – these people were Calvinists, and not mainstream ones at that.  It has to do with Elizabetha-era religion & politics, which again, is probably best left to another post.

* Note that I do not use the PC term “settlers,” specifically because “settlers” is what people who think they’re without fault call themselves; “colonists” are people invading an already-populated area and staking claims for themselves – it’s not necessarily a pejorative term, but it has become taboo enough that we don’t use it much any more.

“Puritan” in this sense does not mean the “opposite of impure.”  There was no questioning these peoples’ loyalty to their beliefs, and, with Calvinism being the more dominant form of Protestant theology in England, these specific Puritans that came from England were part of a wider group of ostracized European Calvinists that wanted a return to the early days of Calvinism, when things were simpler and clearer.  Let’s leave it at that, and accept the understanding that, especially in England, they were not a particularly popular group of people.

These Puritans, whom we refer to as the Pilgrims, reached what they called Cape Cod late in November 1620. (Legend has that they named it such after catching a bunch of cod during a fishing expedition; I tend to believe this because, after all, they WERE on a boat and why be on a boat unless you’re fishing?)  They were ill-suited and ill-prepared for a Massachusetts winter, but the local tribe of what Europeans called Indians & what we now call American Indians or Native Americans (which is a misnomer – their people are no more native to this continent than are white people – they just got here long before the white people did) helped them survive that first, typical Massachusetts winter.  It is perfectly rational and correct to say that without the Wampanoag Indians, the Pilgrims would have been nothing more than a brief object lesson in a book about failed colonization attempts.

OK, so, after the Pilgrims got themselves on a more sustainable footing, they celebrated survival by having a big dinner party (or so the legend goes) after their first big harvest in 1621 and inviting the Wampanoag to the table to share in the bounty.  I’m assuming they played football in the town square after dinner, because that tradition had to start somewhere.

As we all know, the leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in subsequent years, proceeded to pit the Indian tribes of New England against each other and, indeed, killed many of the natives themselves.  In fact, I think we can all agree that what the European colonists and later United States population did to the American Indians should be classified as genocide.  Some of it was unintentional, such as the initial introduction of influenza and other virulent diseases that happened with the first contact events of the 15th century.  Much of it, however, was wholly and clearly purposeful, with Indian tribes being forced out of their ancestral homelands and massacred by the tens, of not hundreds of thousands.

However.

If that is where you stop thinking about the legends of Thanksgiving, then you are selling yourself – and the United States – short in many important ways.

Sidebar:  You may or may not know this, but the co-opting of one holiday or festival for some other purpose has a long, storied history in the western tradition. It was one of many tools used by the early Roman Catholic Church to entice barbarians (i.e. Celts & Germans) to convert to Catholicism.  For instance, it’s clear, historical fact that Jesus was not born on 25 December, yet that is the day Christians celebrate his birth.  The reason that happens now is because one of the early popes (Pope Gregory I, or Gregory the Great) was a big fan of turning pagan festivals into holy days for saints & martyrs. One of the many legends about the establishment of Christmas involves Gregory overlaying the celebration of Jesus’ birth with the pagan festivals begging for warmth to return to the earth, which center around the winter solstice.  The point of this is simple: Everybody knows Joseph & Mary, Jesus’ parents, were in Bethlehem because the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, had ordered every Roman subject to return to the city of his birth to register for the census and pay his taxes.  Joseph was born in Bethlehem, so that’s where they went.  Jesus was actually born on 15 April, which as we all know is the day people pay their taxes, but it’s inconvenient to celebrate Christmas in mid-April, because everybody is stressed about paying their taxes and, after all, it’s spring and we’re kind of committed at this point to Christmas being a winter holiday… at least in the northern hemisphere. I don’t know what the hell Australians are doing, having Christmas in the middle of summer like that.

On 3 October 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued what is known as his “Thanksgiving Proclamation.”  (It was actually written by Secretary of State William Seward, the same guy responsible for us buying Alaska from Russia.) In this proclamation, Lincoln ordered that government institutions close so Americans could celebrate a “day of thanksgiving and praise” on the last Thursday in November.

With this in mind, then, and remembering that Lincoln’s highest priority was the restoration of the United States, Lincoln’s establishment of Thanksgiving as a holiday can clearly be seen as an expropriation of an American legend as a way to promote togetherness and healing in a nation that was being ravaged and torn apart by civil war.

I’m not saying you should forget the terrible things that white people did to the American Indians.  I am saying that maybe, in the Thanksgiving spirit of togetherness, peace and understanding, you could focus on something other than death & destruction when you celebrate what is a genuine, uniquely American holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving.