Monday, October 31, 2011

Guest Post: Jenkins, With a Call to Reason

     It’s hard to remember my past life. It’s as if I have woken up from a twenty-something year long dream and it disappeared back into the mists of my mind the second I awoke. Sometimes, in my wanderings, I stop and catch myself staring blankly into space, trying to recall just who I was.
     Speaking of waking up, I came to in this life in a strange school’s boarded-up cafeteria. Mega-spooky. The woman that was there must have known me and not been a huge fan, because my earliest memory is her looking into my opening eyes and crying. I tried to ask what was happening and where I was, but I was so tired (God, I felt like I was dead for awhile), only a gurgle or mumble came out.
     It didn’t seem to improve her spirits. The woman started crying and pulled a gun on me. I sat up slowly, trying not to make any sudden moves. On the ground, I saw another man laying facedown, in a pool of blood, dead. This woman had killed him with that revolver she was holding. The gun was so hefty it looked like it would do just as much damage to her slender shoulder as any of its bullets would do to me. I urged her to put down the gun, but once again, only a mumble.
     It must have been something I said. She sniffed once, and cocked the hammer on the revolver back. Now, I’m not a violent guy, but I’d much prefer to stay alive, so I pounced on her. I tried grabbing the gun, but she was uncommonly strong, as if she was panicking. Her hand mashed into my face, and reflexively I bit it. All the fight went out of her, and she simply stopped and looked at her hand. I tried to apologize, but my words hadn’t had the best effect on her mood, so instead I lamely got up and left. I should have taken the revolver away from her, but guns make me uncomfortable.
     Occasionally, I see her wandering out with the rest of us. She must still hold a grudge, because she won’t acknowledge me. I’m not going to be the one to patch things over either, I mean, she’s the one who pulled a gun on me.
     People have gone crazy all over, it seems. A couple days ago I walked over to a nearby mall in order to pick up a new shirt. The one I’ve been wearing for awhile until I get home has a huge stain on my collar bone, which has been sore for awhile. But first of all, the mall was packed. Didn’t these people have jobs? The economy must have really tanked. That must be why nobody was driving. Well, except for those crazy Hummer owners that seem not to care about anything. Gas prices, mufflers, open carry laws, whether or not they were about to run me over, those sort of things.
     Sorry, I’m shambling. I mean, rambling. I got to the packed mall and finally fought the aimless crowd till I found a nice clothing store. A guy was there already, so I asked if I could get some help shopping. I must have startled him with that damn gurgle mumble thing, because he jumped and spun around.
     Naturally, he had a shotgun in his hands. You know, as you do. I tried being the calm one, slowly walking at him, trying to be non-offensive. He said some one liner I don’t care to repeat here, and pumped a round into the chamber. Luckily, a fellow shopper of mine popped up behind him to save me. Unluckily for my good taste, he chomped onto the man’s neck instead of just hitting him in the back of the head. I shouldn’t judge, he saved me.
     Perturbed, I forgot about my shirt purchase, and fought the curious crowd streaming into the store in order to get out and into some fresh air. Once I got there, I saw a bus with chainsaws sticking out of the windows drive by. There must have been a heavy metal show in town or something.
     I don’t know why some people hate my friends and wandering buddies. All we want to do is enjoy the fresh air and get some exercise. Sometimes we want to go to the mall or pay our respects to the fully dead in graveyards. You people do that all the time, too.
     I’m sorry, I shouldn’t say you people. That’s the intolerance I’m fighting against. But when others call my people derogatory names like “zombie” and “undead” it really hurts my feelings. I prefer things like Dead American. We’re not evil, we’re just different! Even though you may be Homo Sapien and I am Homo Decomposiae, we still have much more in common than you’d think. If you see me staring off into space or into the sky, please, just let me be. Isn’t a rose by any other name smell as sweet? I mean, I know I smell rotting, but you’ve boarded up all the pharmacies and I can’t get deodorant. Do I not have a heart that beats like… well, bad example. Just please, learn how to live with us. Those that get close enough come to like us and even join us! It’s a pretty great life. Thanks for your time.

-Jenkins the Dead American

"Are you okay, man? You took a nasty fall!"

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Passionate Eruption... Not Like That.

     I don’t know if you guys have noticed in these 50 POSTS I'VE WROTE, but I kinda like history. It’s one of my many passions, along with pipes, scotch, and finely-bound books. Okay, so maybe only one of those things is true (it’s history), but I’m going to tell you how I got to be so passionate (about history, which I’m going to tell you about).
     The scene is Pompeii, Italy in the first century AD. The Romans living beneath Mount Vesuvius wake up one day and start to go about their business, conquering the know world, persecuting Jews, those sort of things. But from underneath their besandaled feet comes a rumble. Well, the resortish town lives beneath a volcano, these things happen. So, they go on beating slaves and stealing culture from the Greeks, choosing to ignore it. Then BAM- Vesuvius full on erupts and covers the entire ancient city in ash, lava, and firey, firey death. No matter how fast they fled, tens of thousands of people died.
     And that’s why I love history.

     No, just kidding, there’s more to it than that. When this volcano erupted, it covered the town so fast that many people were caught doing their day-to-day lives. The best part is that the town was preserved from weathering almost completely by being covered in debris from the eruption. So, almost two thousand years later, an archeologist was digging around when he found a rooftop. “That’s odd,” he probably said, while his eyes changed to large, cartoonish dollar signs. Digging further down, this archeologist finds an entire town, preserved almost to perfection. You know, except for all those fossilized dead bodies.

"Can somebody cover that with a blanket or something?
It's starting to creep me out."
     Remember those people that died two millennia ago doing their day to day activities? Those nearest to the base of the volcano were pretty much frozen in stone doing just that. Those further away had time to die in horribly depressing ways, like holding hands in bed or fleeing in the street. But by using these fossilized dead people and their possessions, we learned an amazing amount of information about the way ancient people lived and behaved.
     But I’m not even to the best part. Pompeians and Romans at large wrote on walls as a sort of public advertising or an extremely large bathroom stall. Apartment classifieds, job opportunities, and more commercial advertisements littered random buildings.
      There was a political campaign going on in Pompeii at the time of the eruption. Just like our campaigns today, political ads littered the walls of the town. One of them read along the lines of “Vote for Tiberius, who is backed by thieves, liars, and those who are asleep.” That’s a legitimately funny mudslinging political ad! As long as two thousand years ago, Romans had perfected satire in their most serious establishments.
     Remember how I said the walls were like the world’s largest truck stop stalls? Well I hope so, it’s only a paragraph above this one. Stop smoking that refer, and get some memory back. I’m worried about you, I hardly even know you anymore. Where was I? I’m rambling so much… I need to ease off the wackee tobackee.
     Anyhoo, bathroomish things. The Pompeians wrote such things as “Maximus had sex with a girl in the butt here during the Ides of March,” cause, you know, men still existed at that time. Others talked about their poops or listed sexy contact information. I assume it included a phone number, which, if cartoons are to be believed, worked by having a pterodactyl relay information before exchanging pithy comments to the camera.
     But we’re not even to the best part. The one thing that drove me to a life of crime history. The statement that sent me down a path of which I would never look back:
         “Everyone writes on walls but me.”
     That simple, scrawled message changed my life like I’m in Inception. Somebody wrote that. A man woke up, safe and warm in his Pompeii bed, and decided to hit the town, but today was different. A smile played on his lips as he fingered the chalk in his tunic pocket. He had woken up with this idea, and he was going to finally do it. Checking both ways, he wrote out his little joke, and with a small nod of approval, moved on to live the rest of his life. Two thousand years later, a thirteen year old, living on a continent the writer never would have dreamt existed, read the joke, on a machine that would surpass the imagination of the joker, and laughed.
     The guy that wrote that existed. He had hopes and dreams. He had an asshole boss and crazy ex-girlfriends. Most likely, he sometimes had weeks where he couldn’t poop very well and got crabby because of it. He thought everyone else could grow facial hair better and got laid more often than he did. Then one day, he got up, basically tweeted onto a stone wall, and was lost to history forever after. In a totally different world, this guy lived the same life as we do today.
     People throughout recorded history complained about their crazy kids and how they didn’t respect their parents like they did when they were young. Even Vikings, who laid waste to an insane amount of Northern Europe, thought their daughters’ way of dressing was becoming too scandalous.
     The point I’m making with the Pompeii writers and the complaining is this; While others study history as a way to recognize how different the world is, I study it because it amazes me how much humans have overcome to never really change. While worlds may come and go, human nature will always be the same.
     Also, I’m egotistical enough to hope maybe something I write will make a kid laugh 2000 years after I die.

Everyone writes blogs but him,

Mick Dickinson

Friday, October 14, 2011

Morning Constitution

Warning: educational content follows.

     You guys. I don’t care if it takes away all my cool guy cred I’ve stacked up from getting kinda good at Call of Duty (I have that, right?), but I’m going to say what’s on my mind. I love the Constitution. Not in a “WOO AMURRICA” kinda way, but a more refined, “Excellent, America,” kind of way.
     The Constitution represents America in a multitude of ways. It’s relatively new, but made a definite impact on the rest of the world. It’s profound, but widely misunderstood. And it’s wonderful, but undercut by its most fervent supporters.
     First and foremost, let’s discuss where the Constitution came from. If the Revolutionary War ended in 1783 (full disclosure: I had to look that up) and the Constitution was written in 1787, what happened in between? A little hilarious failure called

            The Articles of Confederation
     Okay, so America has always been “The Great Experiment” and yes, nerds, I know an experiment can’t technically fail. So I guess I should say the results came back negative. But the Articles were the inept rules for the newly freed 13 colonies. Some highlights include: Congress (the only branch of national government) needed a unanimous vote to pass EVERYTHING, and you know Rhode Island would vote opposite just to be a dick, like the juror who would rather disagree for the free deli sandwiches. Congress didn’t have the power to tax, and instead had a tip jar if the states felt like donating some money. Also, states printed their own money. Exchange rates everywhere!
Also the males are laying eggs!
     The federal government was almost non-existent, and much like its modern day opponent Ron Paul was forced to stand on the sidelines, lamely suggesting courses of action. You can’t exactly blame the people for choosing such a non-central form of government. They had just come up from under the thumb of an oppressive monarchy, which is about as central as one can get. So, in their complete humanness say “Well, that sucked, let’s try the other end of the spectrum.”
     When a rebellion re-erupted in the New York countryside, Congress was tugging on the shirt sleeves of the states like a small mustachioed man holding his hat in his free hand. That is, until George “Ax-Man” Washington decided he’d had enough of these farmers’ BS and marched on in to shut the business down. So some politicians decided they’d meet and OVER THROW THE FREAKING GOVERNMENT.
"Damn it feels good to be a gangster," G.W. , 1784

            Overthrowing the Freaking Government
     So these guys decided what they were doing wasn’t working. Imagine the balls that that takes. I can’t admit that maybe I’m not going to land that 360 degree backflip on the motorcycle in GTA after five minutes of trying, but yet the same men that fought the strongest military force in the world to earn their freedom stopped, looked at each other, and said “Well, we sure screwed the pooch on this go around.” But, you know, 18th century-er. I will fall into the lava three times in a row trying to get one piece of coal in Minecraft, and these legislators realized they were pushing the wrong stone, and decided they’d just let that one roll back down the hill, and start with a new one. But how did they come to this realization?
     The delegates from Virginia said “Hey, guys, party at our statehouse! BYOB, or let Samuel Adams hook you up, I guess. Also, we can maybe fix these Articles, you know, brah, if we feel like it.”
     So all the states show up, except for Rhode Island, who probably had better things to do than create one of the most powerful documents in the world. Also, being contrarian is just kinda Rhode Island’s thing. In a world where Maine is still part of Massachusetts, Rhode Island needed a claim to fame other than the smallest area and most misleading state name, so they chose being the biggest “That Guy.” You know, That Guy who will disagree with you on everything, like attending the Constitutional Convention or ratifying Prohibition. That Guy.
    Anyhoo, almost all of the states show up with a “Let’s fix these pesky Articles of Confederation!”attitude when Virginia asks if bros can just be bros and they’ll keep the whole proceedings quiet. With what I imagine as nervous exchange looks, the delegates responded with a resounding, “Uh, sure, man, whatever you want.”
    But Virginia wasn’t there to ask if sometimes you check out other guys’ butts, they got down to all business and said, “Alright, brosefs, it’s time to fix these bogus Articles. We, the delegates of Virginia, suggest pitching the whole thing out and starting anew.”
     There was much harrumphing and wig-picking-up and even probably a fancy tea spit take or two at this suggestion. Throw out the Articles of Confederation? The thing that had saved the states from an infestation of pirates for going on a decade? But after the last bowtie had stopped spinning, they finally decided maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea.
     So Virginia says “Let’s have a publicly elected legislature based on population. That House of Representatives (sound familiar?) will appoint another, higher house. Then these will appoint an executive leader for the new executive branch. Also, a judicial branch will exist, I guess. Oh, and, uh, this Congress will have the power to tax, regulate interstate commerce, and supersede the judgment of the states. We call it the Virginia is Super Awesome Plan, but Virginia Plan will work too.”
     The delegates were stunned. Bicameral legislature, based on population? Executive branch? Any separation of powers at all?! Letting average citizens vote!?!? Once again, much hurrumphing. All the large population states couldn’t see the problem with an entire government either directly or indirectly controlled by whoever had the most people, while small states though maaaaybe that was unfair. But you know what didn’t come up as an option? The Articles.
     So New Jersey fist pumps its way to the stage and pitches its own plan, “Okay chiefs, we like the taxes and interstate commerce and even the separation of powers thing, nah I’m sayin’. But we, the mad phat delegates of NEW JOISY, say we should go back to a unicam- unicam- one house legislature, all states even, right?”
     So these two plans were fought over in 103 degree summer weather in a hot room with men wearing wool and fancy wigs. What I’m saying is, things got sticky. And for awhile it looked as if things would fail almost as hard as the Articles had originally.

            Connecticut Does Something for Once
     That is, until Connecticut comes in and says, “Dear lord, good chaps, can’t we agree? Obviously EVERY STATE HERE wants the power to tax, regulate interstate commerce, and the ability to supersede states, and we’re all quite enamored with this ‘separation of powers business.’” So they cooked up a plan to take Virginia’s two houses idea, but separate them, making one by population, voted in by the public, and another, with each state getting the same amount of representatives as the others. Finally, a publicly elected executive and some sort of judicial branch (that nobody really cared about, I’m beginning to guess). You may recognize this as the organization of THE GREATEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD. Please hum the Stars and Stripes while imagining waving flag.

     So here lies the first lesson to be learned from the Constitution. This blueprint for our 240 year old nation was born of compromise. The large states and small states can be considered the first political parties. And, on the eve of the most important decision since the one to split from England at all, the parties decided to put aside most of their disagreements and compromise for the good of their new nation. A compromise leaves nobody completely happy, of course, but these men realized that agreeing to some other person’s ideas doesn’t mean your ideals ‘lose’. It only means you understand something is better than a firmly standed nothing.
     So, then, it was up to hammer things out. I’m not going to delve into huge detail because not even the most entertaining writer (which I don’t claim to be) can make these legal documents exciting for the common reader. Suffice to say each branch gets its own article in the Constitution, and the legislative was certainly meant to be the main branch, coming in first and longest. Also, the judicial branch was almost an afterthought. After the whole thing was written by tiny man James Madison, it was up for ratification. Fun fact: not every state ratified the Constitution. Guess which state was one of those who didn’t. I’ll give you a hint. It rhymes with Chode Island. Heh. Chode Island.
     But! At the end of the Constitution comes the Bill of Rights and the following amendments. One thing you wouldn’t think would happen is the fight over including this Bill of Rights. We take it as nothing less than a certainty it would be there, but many people at the time saw it as an unnecessary indulgence. Federalists and the imaginatively named Anti-Federalists were the first official political parties, fighting over these ten amendments.
     Here is the second lesson to learn from the Constitution: it is constantly changing. The Framers believed they were making a country to last, and knew the rules would change, like the pronunciation of two f’s. Congreff?! So they wrote their rules vague, gave a lot of outs, and included an entire device to change the very rules of the document. They made it extremely difficult to do, of course, but that’s to prevent rash decisions, which is why there are only 17 amendments in addition to the original ten in all 240 years, and one has been cancelled out with another, so that’s like 15 actual things. Show me a legitimate Constitutional scholar that believes in a strict interpretation of the 240 year old document, and I’ll show you an illegitimate scholar. If we only went by what the actual Constitution said, blacks would still count as 3/5 of a person, and state legislatures would still elect the Senate.
     The Framers weren’t perfect. They wore Capri pants which was SO 1750’s. But they have, do and always will represent the best of America. They came together, and even with all their differences, made a success out of a failure. They built a country to last, not pretending like they could see and control the future. So the next time someone says “Constitution” make sure you listen to what they’re talking about. Unless they’re discussing a walk or something, in which case stop being such a history nerd.