Marrying for love is a luxury few succeed in affording. Like many other big ticket items, it's much more a matter of upkeep than initial investment. While I'd never trade my 25 years with Sandahbeth for anything, I'd be the first to admit what they've cost us both. Not the least of that expense has been our status as a zebra couple.
I've had occasion to reflect on the fact that what we're engaged in was illegal in a number of states as recently as ten or so years before we got hitched. Certainly our social status, earning power, even the way friends and family treated us were all impacted by our cultural mashup. We knew going in that it wasn't going to be a walk in the park, but we were willing to take that burden on, even in the face of being far less than certain that we could make it.
But at least we had the right to try. Nobody in blue with a sidearm was going to tell us what to do with our private life. Our messy little attempt at social engineering was nobody's biznis but our own. Right now, here in the Land of the Nominally Free, we're seeing one bongo of a dustup over the very same right that S and I so gladhandedly exercised.
Oh yeah, right, gay marriage. Here come the warm jets.
On the face of it, there's absolutely nothing to discuss here: citizens can marry, gays are citizens, QED and pass the syllogism. That the law in its majesty can even involve itself in this issue is prime evidence of the Beadle Bumble Principle ("The law is an ass!"). However, like the eight hundred pound gorilla, the law can sit its ass wherever it likes. And no man is above the law -- except the man who makes the law. And the culture that makes the man is above all of it, bearing down.
America is, as has been noted here before, altogether too much of a Christian nation, both in its mores and its legal underpinnings. But two decidedly different ideas are locked in desperate struggle for supremacy here. One of them is part and parcel with the foundations of our government, the other is legacy firmware embedded in its moral manager. Their conflict is in danger of durn near crashing the system.
In this corner, laaadies and gennlemen, weighing in at 200 plus years of lip service -- individual rights! "All men are created equal." "Life, liberty and the perfuit of happineff." Good ol' Papa Rousseau. While most of the framers of the Constitution may have had in mind an invisible footnote to that "men" that said "ie, free male white landowners," still, individual equality stands as one of the chief reasons Paul Revere and the Raiders bothered running King George and the Redcoats out of town in the first place, and it continued to be a dominant thread in the march of jurisprudence. Right on through from slavery to women's plebiscite to Miranda, whenever individual rights have been challenged, individual rights have kicked booty. The champ, fans.
But over here in this corner, the challenger, tippin' the Toledos at a good thirty-thirtyfivehunnert years of blood guts and piety: religious dogma! All right everyone, quiet down. Any more panty throwing and the guards gonna get vicious.
Organized religion is painfully dependent on unquestioned authority. Once it gets its shit straight, it doesn't dast change it. Which was a good thing, at least back in the day. Freezing the spec used to be the only way to keep every Tom, Dick and Innocent IX from overwriting the preferences file to read "I get all the loot and my descendants run things forever" or whatnot. If you want no man above the law, especially Tom, Dick or Innocent the IX, it helps to have the law carved in stone tablets by divine intervention.
But what started out as a commendable attempt at stability has turned into concrete overshoes. Having created their Great and Powerful Oz -- 'scuse me, Yahweh/Jesus/Allah/Hoohaw -- the glory that is the church is stuck with It. Great stories, sure, and a lotta nice poetry, absolutely, but also a lotta antique micromanagement doctrines increasingly irrelevant to modern human life. And there's nobody behind the curtain -- the Wizard's gone home to Kansas and all that's left is the stage and the screen and the big dumb empty voice. There is no amendment process for revelation, no editing the Word of Gawd.
And as so many know-nothing fundamentalists are gruesomely eager to point out, Gawd's word is real specifical about fags, boy. No ambiguity here, no. No wiggle room. No sir. Sez kill 'em. What it sez. Tellin' ya. Richeer in black n white.
Despite the tremendous impact of sweet reason on the church in the last five centuries -- look! no more witch burning! -- when the music stops, religious leaders are still left holding their fat fluffy Pretty Good Book and all its leftover scheming, bloodthirsty, self-contradictory, bigoted, hideously antihumanistic boilerplate, with no hope of relief short of another Council of Nicaea or a brief but unpleasant visit from The Eraser Of God. A new and improved revelation that would disassemble the robot warriors of the past is exactly the kind of destabilizing event that the whole process was invented to prevent.
Christianity in particular and America in general may indeed have reached a thorny crossroads in the matter of gay marriage: whether the dusty words of 2500 years dead prophets will continue to clog the consciences and deaden the common sense of the church and state, or whether the principle of scriptural infallibility is about to receive a fast sap up side the noggin and get dragged by the heels under the backdrop of the Big Religion sideshow tent, while the guy in the white suit shouts "Look! An airplane!"
In any case, keep a hand on your wallet, Clem.
After years of careful, rigorously clandestine research, my darkest suspicions were confirmed recently when a trusted confederate smuggled out to me the secret list of Star Trek's Default Story Lines, the one the writers reach for when even the smart guy with the hornrims is too hung over to come up with anything new. It is a revelation of the most shocking nature, and I advise those of sensitive temperament to exercise the greatest discretion in continuing with this article. Of course, this information is also highly restricted, its very possession grounds for a midnight visit from the formidable Trek Squad and detainment in the sinister Star Trek Dungeons located in the abandoned salt mines deep beneath UPN headquarters in Pasadena. But what care I of the Trek Squad? Ha! I snaps me the fingers at the Trek Squad! Snat! Haha!
So, In the interests of public disclosure, I now present to you:
THE TOP TEN STAR TREK HACKNEYED OVERUSED PLOT CLICHES LIST
10. For whatever reason, the Enterprise gets blown to smithereens. Sometimes if things are really slow, the Enterprise gets blown to smithereens two or three or four or five times in a single show, or even more if it's a two-parter. Viewers are assumed to get a nasty shock from watching the show's whole premise shot out from under it. Perhaps the first time they did. By the end of the show it turns out to be a dream or a time paradox (see #3) or some entity undoes it.
9. An alien/entity/computer program/ whatEVer takes over a member of the crew. If female, it may have inappropriate sexual relations with some fellow crew member (see #6). If male, it may attempt to take over the ship (see #8). By the end of the show the alien/entity/computer program/ whatEVer is driven out or destroyed or demodulated or convinced of the error of its ways and to leave voluntarily.
8. An alien/entity/computer program/rogue crew member/whatEVer takes over the ship. It may communicate using the computer's dull flat hideous female voice, imparting unspeakable horror to crew and viewers alike. It may try to destroy the ship (see #10). It may do something else. By the end of the show the alien/entity/computer program/rogue crew member/whatEVer is driven out or destroyed or demodulated or convinced of the error of its ways and to leave voluntarily or detained in the brig or jettisoned into space to weave evermore through uttermost darkness, turning slowly, slowly to the starlight.
7. The entire ship and crew (or portion thereof) goes back in time and ends up wandering around on present-day Earth (generally in the Bay area). They may or may not have inappropriate sexual relations with the locals (see #6). They may or may not reveal their true nature to the locals. They may or may not send NORAD into a screaming DefCon 5 alert. By the end of the show they're all back on the Enterprise and in the XXIVth century with nobody on present-day Earth the wiser except for the mindnumbing headaches they get every time someone mentions Mister Spock.
6. Two members of the crew have inappropriate sexual relations, or a member of the crew has inappropriate sexual relations with some external party. Crew member may be young and giddy or (occasionally) older and too smart for this shit but succumbs anyway. Protection is virtually never discussed. Merriment, tragedy and/or interspecies offspring inevitably ensue. By the end of the show the romance is so over and interspecies offspring (if present) are disposed of ethically but permanently.
5. For whatever reason, the Captain/Alpha Lieutenant/some poor schlub of a mate is forced to choose between violating the Prime Directive and death/damage/never getting home again/destruction of the Enterprise. Generally chooses the Bad Thing over dishonor and is vindicated, is occasionally (if some poor schlub of a mate) killed or (if the Captain/Alpha Lieutenant) killed and brought back to life. Very occasionally chooses to violate the Prime Directive and discovers that it doesn't matter/it wasn't really a violation of the Prime Directive after all/ whatever species is violated is actually grateful (but whoever did it gets their butt kicked anyway).
4. Without warning, Enterprise runs full tilt into a weird space anomaly/energy field/particle field that nobody on board for all their vaunted advanced Starfleet Academy technical training has a clue in a Twangbatskian glitterforest of the nature of ("it's a surge of phased boogyrons sir/ma'm, nobody quite understands what they --" BALOOIE!), which brings the ship to a screeching halt/starts to eat the hull/causes the crew to have inappropriate sexual relations (see #6)/turns everyone inside out and tattoos "Who's Your Daddy" on their small intestines (infrequent). Crew tries this that and the other thing, none of which work until the last five minutes of the show when everything's back to normal. End shows Enterprise proceeding as before, sometimes with the odd hull breach under repair.
3. The crew (or portion thereof) voluntarily enter or are transported/captured/stunned and taken to/hallucinate being in a place/parallel world/planet/simulation where they're forced to assume the costume and customs of some period in Earth's history/some movie, tv or pulp fiction genre/some embarrassing or vaguely naughty sexual proclivity (eg crossdressing, S/M). Crew (or portion thereof) cavorts about in said costumes/customs until five minutes before the end of the show at which point they all change back into their stylish and conservative skintight lycra bodysuit uniforms and chorus "Thank goodness everything's back to normal!"
2. A temporal paradox caused by some inadvertant chronological accident wreaks untold havoc on the fabric of history and forces the crew (or portion thereof) to stagger about through time trying to undo the damage of their last passage, invariably making matters worse and worse until the last five minutes when some impossible event squares the circle and everything's back to normal or the Time Police show up and give everyone a Paradox Ticket and send them home.
1. Something goes terribly, terribly wrong with the holodeck.
Revelations don't just come bouncing in the door every day. Good thing, too, otherwise we'd be spending our lives ricocheting from one overpowering vision to another with scarcely enough space in between to breathe deep and get a grip. It takes time and perspective to make sense of a telegram from the Cosmic Wha? and puny humans don't have a lotta spare ponderage available. But when a royal message from a royal messenger does show up, it's generally considered wise and prudent to take notice.
Last weekend, Amber Tide had a gig. Not just an ordinary run of the mill coffeehouse/ farmer's market/ nursing home gig, but a real gig. An important gig. A gig in a genuine theater. A gig we'd booked six months in advance. A gig with an arts group with a real PR person and a tech crew and everything. You know, a gig.
For a while now, S and I had discussed the possibilities of moving our work into more legitimate venues like theaters. What we do is at least as much performance art as it is pure music (though we've toned it down considerably from the days when I broke cinderblocks on her belly), and we felt that staging and setting and lighting and a marquee outside might somehow convey that better to the spectators than, say, a canopy on a windy craft fair corner. And while we've never been great at the biz side of our art, we hoped and imagined that presenters in charge of a place with four walls and a floor and a mortgage might just put some back into attracting and holding an audience for us to convey that to.
Needless to say, we approached the event with trepidation, even a touch of stage fright. After all, this would be a crowd that was used to highly crafted dramatic events, connoisseurs of the thespian. Would we measure up to their lofty standards? We rehearsed, we honed our edge, we took the liberty of making up a setlist. On the appointed night, we rested, meditated, dressed with taste and care, arrived at the theater early, instructed the light and sound people in the subtle detail of our needs, laid out our Fell Instruments of Musical Pursuasion with the precision and taste of a formal garden in an ancestral manse and waited trembling in the wings for our moment of glory.
And nobody came.
That's nobody. As in n-o-b-o-d-y. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Squat. Nada. Nil. Swabo. Bumpkis.
The House was not half full. The House was not half empty. The House was not almost not empty or sparse or thin or small but doughty. It was a perfect vacuum. We'd received the Ungig Grant, a pie in the face without even the grace of a filling.
Well, it wasn't as if our mortgage was riding on that particular job, thank the lady. We waited a decent length of time after curtain, played a tune for the loyal crew, packed up our Fell Instruments of Musical whatever and trotted our pathetic esthetic selves back home.
Actually, there was even a certain relief mixed with the distress of having been well and truly skunked. S hasn't been as healthy as she could be of late, and while we were ready and willing to tackle whatever rarin' tearin' crowd we might have been faced with, the sad fact of the matter was that we weren't in the peak form we used to maintain on a regular diet of street performing and college jobs. And given that by all appearances the cash customers would have been thin in any event, better a total wash than a tepid, half-hearted group outnumbered by the show.
In the disgruntled coda, there's any number of remonstrations and excuses available for salving the ego-bruise of a failed performance, from the practical (needed more PR) to the esthetic (need a new image) to the self-indulgent (nobody comes out these days). But for us, the event forces a whole other level of enquiry: just what business do we have doing this stuff anymore?
While we've languished on the Magic Mountain of S's innumerable infirmities, the entertainment world has gone wagging on without us. Every year there's a new crop of eager young contenders for the wormy golden apples, earnestly holding forth their own particular takes on the great American song, slugging it out metaphor-to-simile with last year's slightly less fresh and minty batch. The ranks grow thicker all the time -- even the self-parodying gray and balding veterans of the Great Folk Scare rise from their coffins to haunt us on public television. It's the Graveyard Of Lost Artistes, the roach motel of music -- singer/songwriters check in, but they don't check out.
And while we were never much more than a block or two above the desert wastes on the show biz pyramid ourselves, even that slight elevation was the result of near-superhuman efforts on our part, years of sleeping in cars and screaming over traffic and funneling every ounce of our energies into anything that looked even remotely likely to take us somewhere. No remorse -- we were in love, we traveled in our work, we had fun. But it's a lifestyle we're in no shape physically or logistically to tackle again, however game we might be in our hearts to ram our fool heads just once more into the brick wall of the Industry.
Like many another almostcould or nearlydid or usedtowas, it may be time for us to let go of our delusions of success waiting just around the corner, beyond the horizon of the next gig/ the next CD/ the next town/ the next break, time to kick back, time to sit down with a paper and pencil and enumerate the other ten thousand things we're sorta kinda good at with a view to finding out, once and for all, what we're really going to be when we grow up.
I sure hope not, though.
In his book The Two Cultures, CP Snow bemoaned what he saw as an understanding gap between the humanities and hard sciences. It was a matter of public record that egghead lab researchers couldn't be bothered with the rudiments of history, but even professional laymen had no notion, as he exampled it, of the importance of the Laws of Thermodynamics either.
Such was not always the case. As late as the 19th century, science was a muddled field, bleeding into theology on the one hand and raw tinkerage on the other. Thinkers like Mach, nominally a physicist, delved into perceptual psychology, cosmology and aerodynamics with no thought to specialization. Even Einstein had a philosophy rep that rivaled his props as a theorist.
Probably the present compartmentalization of knowledge is as much a product of the industrializing of the education system as increasing speciation, and hence the need to concentrate on a narrow band of very dense information in order to stay current in a field. But there are still generalists around, smart folks with short attention spans who cherry-pick the various disciplines and cross pollinate results. Some of them get genius grants and some of them end up as janitors, but they exist.
Economics has gotten a boost of late by getting its very own Nobel category. As a result, there are lots more mondo-intricate math theories pasted onto the Dismal Science, since that's what seems to attract Stockholm's attention. And even a cursory google of the subject will inform you that there are oodles of peculiar concepts from the sciences being dusted off and given a ride on the Green Machine too -- like those aforementioned Laws of Thermodymagic, f'rinstance.
Well, the notion is an attractive one, at that -- econ is such a messy arena that imposing any sort of order on it is infinitely preferable to the horror that is the unbridled real world galloping off the nearest convenient cliff. And that very chaotic nature fairly cries out for the sort of theories developed to understand the random spew of energy and particles and the ways in which they interact in -- dare we say it? -- populations.
Now, I'm not a physicist, no matter how much trash I talk, and I'm not gonna bone up on differentials and theory just to pretend that I am for a few hundred words. I mean, what's the percentage in that? But I do have a kinda mild acquaintance with both thermo and econ, met em at a party y'know, and I can really see the possibilities. Econ already had its share of pseudo-mathematical principles even back when I took the 101 course (but I was going to Reed, and at Reed, 101 courses take you). Good ol' Gresham's Law -- "Bad money drives out good," as if money must always go from a condition of different values (low entropy) to one of equal values (high entropy) -- fairly leaps to even my late for lunch mind.
But there's at least one area where the whole entropic/economic model crosses the line from theory and turns into a geopolitical argument, and that's the problem of foreign labor. In our country tis of thee we see this in two forms: workers arriving and jobs leaving.
It's a classic thermo situation: two regions, contiguous to one another (in this case economically), with a big differential in energy/order. The inevitable result is that the area of greater entropy is going to degrade the order of the lower. Which is exactly what's happening: workers from foreign countries are attracted to the greater wealth and possibilities in America. Their arrival decreases the wealth and possibilities within the occupations in which they compete (mostly shit-flipping and dreck-checking, but there's doctors and lawyers in that crowd too), especially because, like the Chinese miners during the Gold Rush (thank you Ken Burns), they're willing to take the jobs nobody else wants and by sheer energy squeeze value out of them .
At the same time, US companies are performing the same action in reverse: shipping jobs offshore to places where the labor is cheap and the livin' is easy, for the corps anyway. Again, the result is the decay of career profitability in the sector affected (all you techies out there, can I get a big amen?).
A prominent economist I heard on the radio once ventured the opinion that, far from being quaint, arbitrary theories like in most of the social sciences, the laws of economics were more like the laws of physics -- facts of nature that you violate at your peril. It's apparent that in the last hundred years America has attained wealth and lifestyle vastly superior to the rest of the world. How and with what degree of morality we've achieved it is open to discussion (and violent fisticuffs -- the Sweet Dismal Science?), but get the goods we have, whilst the getting was good. And now it appears that we're reaping the whirlwind we've sown in the form of a zillion impoverished Others coming (fade in Neal Diamond) to America -- they're coming to America -- THEY'RE COMING TO AMERICA -- TODAY!!!! Not to rape our women or steal our horses, but worse -- to dilute our standard of living.
We have our share of moral pedants who claim that the sacred market, free and unfettered, produces the greatest good for the greatest number and is in fact the ultimate touchstone of morality and justice. While I have my doubts about that, given the existence of all the weaponry in the world, in this case I can provisionally accede to their creed. Whether we're guilty of greed or arrogance or habitual exploitation or just that patent product of all human civilizations past present and most likely future, stupidity, both God and nature seem to agree that baby, we've really got it coming.
Don't bother visiting the Third World this year -- this year, the Third World is coming to you. It's not just a good idea, it's The Law.