Fuck Thanksgiving

I don’t celebrate thanksgiving. There are several reasons for this. The first and most personal is that on thanksgiving day of 2011, less than six months after our wedding, my now ex-wife cheated on me with a member of our nation’s armed services. Every year at the end of November I am reminded of the humiliation and confusion I felt around that whole episode. My refusal to observe the holiday is an expression of my resolve to never be fucked with again. But I am also opposed to the idea of thanksgiving and what the celebration represents. Having grown up in the American Midwest and having been taught Lutheran values as a child, I was told always to be thankful for what I have, and thus satisfied with what I have been given. Imperative to one’s happiness and moral rectitude is the proper observance of gratitude. For a Lutheran Christian to be pious and obedient to God’s will, he must be grateful for the life that has been given to him by God. Now, if you believe, as protestants do, that one’s life is determined by an omnipotent and omniscient Father and that He rewards those whom He blesses, one cannot really do anything with one’s life that is of any more substance or value than simply giving thanks to the almighty and praising His works. Adoption of such a view means relinquishing all agency. In means resigning from responsibility over one’s own destiny and conceding to the notion that you are supremely powerless and never free, not in any meaningful way.

Thanksgiving is supposed to be a celebration of the previous year’s harvest, but I ask, is the harvest always good and should we always be thankful for what it has brought us? Isn’t it more useful to us to consider how our condition can be improved than to celebrate our reasons for being content? I think that implicit in the act of giving thanks there is a pernicious kind of complacency. If you profess yourself to be thankful, you are saying that what fortune has presented you is at the very least adequate. Being thankful does not preclude one from wanting more or believing that things could be better, but it does dissuade you from struggling after it. To be ungrateful is viewed as selfish and unwise. We resent the malcontented individual because he or she demands more of us, in addition to what we have already given. Making things better is hard. Leaving them as they are is easier in the short term and safer. Being thankful for what we have allows us a little slack about how we are in the world. It permits us to be lazy about things, makes us feel fine with the gross imperfection that surrounds us because we have made a thin portion of it good. It seems appropriate then that we should celebrate thanksgiving by excessively sating ourselves and passing the day in a sedentary stupor. Thanksgiving is boring. It is the most uneventful holiday on the calendar.

Over the past weekend, I’ve shared by views on thanksgiving with others and challenged a few people to debate me on the matter. I’ve heard it said a few times that thanksgiving is notable because, besides New Years, it is the only holiday celebrated by people in the United States which has no overt religious or patriotic meaning. To this I’ve replied that the religion and patriotism may no be overt, but they are still very much present in the ceremony. As I’ve shown above, it very actively espouses protestant values and ideology. The holiday is uniquely American, more so than any other. What is thanksgiving but the celebration of the bounty and promise of the North American continent? It is an exaltation of US triumphalism and of the improbable ascendancy of the Western Hemisphere. Thanksgiving is the great feast day for modernity, which we have almost deified as the fount of all prosperity in our lives. It is the first modern holiday, and it is the holiday upon which all other holidays are modeled. It signifies a transition in our society from sacrifice to consumption, from anticipation of lack to expectation of plenty, from concern over sowing the field to concentration on harvesting from it. I do revere thanksgiving. I acknowledge its glory and its terrible beauty, but I do not subscribe to it. This year for thanksgiving, I made myself a sandwich and read a book.

Let’s Laugh at Spam

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I work at a law library and people email me reference questions about the law pretty regularly. On rare occasions I get people emailing me their ideas about the law. This past Friday I received one from someone by the name of sdsdfe dsdfewsf (typed entirely with the left hand, if you can believe it) urging me to “fix the legal system.” In the email, sdsdfe unfurls a lengthy and positively astonishing exegesis in which he or she argues that marriage is equivalent to slavery that the government’s control of marriage with marriage licenses and divorce courts should be interpreted as an “act of slavery.” Never mind that marriage is entered into freely by both parties and that the legal essence of the marriage partnership really only pertains to joint ownership of property and joint guardianship over children and that no real restrictions are placed on one’s personal volition or agency. But whatever. It’s an amusing misapplication of logic, and I shall quote it at length below. First, however, I must do my due diligence in pointing out that this message does appear elsewhere on the internet. Some parody news website called thespoof.com published a gag piece in which large portions of sdsdfe’s email are attributed to Justin Bieber. At first the writer splits up the text into quotes like a normal news story, but then, about half-way through he get’s lazy and just copy/pastes the remainder directly into the article. I guess this article’s “author” received the email too.

I looked into thespoof.com and it appears to be a lot of artless link bait generated by about 75 different writers, all of whom became staff writers by providing an email address, username and password. That’s right, the requirements to be a writer for Spoof are about as stringent as becoming a poster on reddit. It’s basically just a content-production scam masquerading as a humor site. This is almost like the automated language production one finds in spam (see Robot Poems) except that it’s made by human beings, at least ostensibly. As that little plagiarism move of sdsdfe’s email demonstrates, not everything here is original content. Still, there does seem to be some amount of curation that’s done because the collection of articles displayed on the home page is at least semi-coherent. It’s actually kind of an interesting exercise in search engine trolling. Associate celebrity names with random concepts and splashy keywords and just watch the organic search traffic roll in. A counter on the site displaying the number of live readers never drops below 150, so I guess they’re doing alright.

Anyway, without further ado…

PLEASE, YOU NEED TO FIX THE LEGAL SYSTEM FOR ALL THE PEOPLE IN OUR GREAT NATION.

s In the constitution it says that slavery will not be tolerated and yet marriage licenses and divorce courts commit the act of slavery when they impose their authority on the union of a man or woman yet the judiciary and the state don’t impose their authority on the union of free animals in the wild.

A man and a woman can unite and separate in any fashion they want and any person or government that stands in between that unity or separation is violating the constitution. A police officer can arrest someone for domestic violence, or for imposing their own form of slavery by not allowing someone to leave the union, but when it is of a consensual nature nobody can dictate what the couple does with each other. Marriage licenses and divorce courts are illegal and the state government needs to be held accountable for their gross violations of the constitution.

When the government gives rights and benefits to married couples and not to unmarried couples the congress is violating the 14th amendment: “nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Rights and benefits are being given to married couples while the constitution is being violated and the state is imposing slavery on men and women who are subjected to laws pertaining to marriage. If a person has to go to court to file for divorce that is a subjugation of a person’s will. If a person is offered a marriage license that is a subjugation of a person’s will because it puts the person under the condition of slavery by the state and the judiciary. If a person is offered a marriage license with the lure of benefits from the government that is double the subjugation of a person’s will because the state laws are used as a snare or trap to place the victim under the subjugation of the state, or under the condition of slavery.

Since the constitution is an active mandate, any spouse can invoke the Constitution at any moment and they don’t have to appear in court for any divorce proceedings and the case would be considered frozen which means no judgment can be given unless the spouse decides to show up in court. The spouse might not show up in court for 100 years and the case would remain frozen without judgment for 100 years. No judgment can be given because the divorce court is in violation of the constitution and it’s considered an illegal court.

They have medical specialist that give people marriage counseling, the courts should deal with law.

The constitution doesn’t authorize marriage licenses, marriage laws, and divorce courts. The constitution does condemn the subjugation of male and female couples through the use of marriage licenses, marriage laws, and divorce courts, because it’s against Amendment XIII, section 1 of the constitution.

Unmarried couples are free from the subjugation and so should other couples be free as well. When the union is of a consensual nature nobody can dictate what the couple can do with each other. Marriage licenses, marriage laws, and divorce courts are illegal and the state government needs to be held accountable for their gross violations of the constitution.

The violation of slavery is even more serious when the courts use the police and the jail system to enforce their illegal marriage laws.

Men and women can engage in any type of marriage they want with conditions set on a paper, but that paper cannot be used in court to separate the couple or to keep the couple together. The courts could solve issues of child custody and financial responsibilities over biological children. The courts could solve issues over personal and real property or joint partnerships in a business, but those issues can not be attached to marriage or unions because it would violate the constitution. In the future, several thousand years from now, this is how these issues will be resolved because it is logical.

Concerning immigration, the department of immigration can protect themselves from illegal immigration by having papers filed to show a union between a person and their foreign spouse. If there is a separation of the union within two years then the foreign spouse would lose their legal immigration status and they would have to return to their country of origin. A person and their foreign spouse would be allowed to unite and separate without restrictions but under the rules of the department of immigration. The purpose of the union is to raise a family and anything out of that purpose would be illegal. There is no slavery because people can unite and separate at will and they would return to their original state before the union.

AMENDMENT XIII

SECTION 1.

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.

SECTION 2.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Slav – er – ry: The condition of being subject or addicted to a specified influence.

AMENDMENT XIV

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.

Spelunky Heroes

The video above captures one of the greatest video gaming feats that I have ever witnessed. Last week, twitch streamer Bananasaurus Rex successfully completed the world’s first solo eggplant run in Spelunky. Since very soon after the game’s initial launch back in 2008, people have known that if you sacrifice a mystery box on a Kali shrine, it produces a hold-able eggplant item that you can carry from level to level. The eggplant itself is very fragile. It cannot be thrown or whipped without perishing. If any little bit of rubble or falling debris can destroy it. And as far as anyone could tell, it served no purpose. The eggplant went largely ignored by gamers until the PC release came out and Spelunkers could begin combing through the game’s source files to learn all of Derek Yu’s secrets. It was discovered that the eggplant could be used to incapacitate Yama, the game’s end boss. Certainly a helpful little easter egg, except that getting the eggplant that far proved immensely difficult. In the 5 years since the game was released, no one has managed to do it. Until now. Back in October two brothers pulled it off in co-op mode. It was a great accomplishment, the first documented evidence of anyone ever doing it, but co-oping the run is far easier than going solo because you can share the responsibility of carrying the eggplant to keep it safe. A week ago, Bananasaurus Rex became the first to go it alone. His was a harrowing journey. There were dozens of instances where it almost ended. But it didn’t Below are some of his amazing run’s more notable points, with time cues indicating where they fall in the youtube video.

5:50 – Rex gives Kali a wrapped gift and is rewarded with an eggplant. As mentioned, the eggplant has no use other than immobilizing the game’s end boss. The eggplant run is on.

15:20 – He gets a dark level. This is especially difficult with the eggplant because he has to carry the torch also to find his way. Eventually, he manages to clear the level to the point where it’s safe enough to ghost all the gems he finds. In the process of doing so, he find the passage to the black market.

35:55 – He angers Kali just for fun and carries the ball and chain through the next two levels.

39:50 – Rex anticipates the eggplant’s vulnerability only a few seconds before it actually falls into harms way. He narrowly avoids losing it to an alien’s ray gun.

40:26 – He discovers from someone watching his stream that he missed a free jetpack on the previous level. The best item in the game, it would have made everything considerably easier. Oh well…

42:30 – The spaceship level is bananas. Because there are aliens constantly destroying pieces of the environment and rubble is flying everywhere. If any little bit falls on the eggplant, the run is over. But Rex has to go the spaceship to free the robot helper. He’ll need it in the Temple to carry the Anubis scepter between levels while he carries the eggplant. He must have the scepter to unlock the City of Gold level. And he must go to the City of Gold to obtain the Book of the Dead, which ultimately allows him to enter Hell. Having to free and then lead the AI-controlled robot helper is one of the most difficult parts of an eggplant run.

55:37 – Once he gets to the City of Gold shit starts getting real. The run is going well. He’s managed to get the wonky robot to carry the scepter without ruining everything. His money is good but he’s resource starved, only 5 bombs and 5 ropes. He knows Olmec will be a problem unless he finds more bombs. He skypes his friend for moral support. His live stream viewership is starting to climb over 500.

58:48 – The battle with Olmec is epic. He finds just enough bombs to dig a hole that is exactly Olmec-sized. There are still blocks at the bottom though, and he would have to spend his last two bombs to remove them, thus forcing him to enter Hell with utterly bombless. To remove the blocks, Rex decides to get Olmec to pound into the hole, which means he has to line the boss up perfectly. He does this by teetering at the lip and then backing away at the last moment. It is a thing of beauty. (1:07:16)

1:16:00 – Hell is non-stop crazy, and with a bomb deficiency Rex has to fight hard to stay alive. His maneuver to get into the exit on 5-3 is marvelous. And he manages to keep his one bomb, which he can use on one of the minotaurs on the Yama level to replenish his supply.

1:19:30 – Rex feeds Yama the eggplant. He’s done it.

Rex’s response to what he’s just done is interesting to me. His friend Doxy is clearly elated, but Rex is mostly just relieved. He did what he set out to do. He had probably been working at this run for months, and now it’s all over. He’s played thousands of hours of Spelunky, literally thousands, and now he’s accomplished the pinnacle achievement of the game. During the credits Doxy asks him what he’s going to do now. Bananasaurus Rex is one of the best Spelunky players in the world. He holds the speed run world record, having completed the game in 2 minutes, 13 seconds. He says he’s going to try for the high score world record. He also floats the idea of killing Yama in new and unorthodox ways. This past week he killed Yama with tiki traps. Pretty neat.

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Tough-Looking Civil War Soldiers

In most Civil War portraits, the soldiers just look like confused kids. But then there are others who you can absolutely tell are rough-souled killers. I find this to be especially the case on the Union side since the North drafted scoundrels and saints alike. On top of this you’ve got career military guys who made a living out of being hard-asses. Here are some historical photographs of Civil War men who look real mean. My sole criterion when I was choosing these is whether or not I would be afraid to get in a fight with the guy in the picture…

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Mustache

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Christ’s Teachings on Divorce

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Jesus professes on the topic of divorce twice in the gospels, once in Matthew 5:31-32 and once in Mark 10:1-12. In either instance, he makes his position clear, saying in Matthew “…whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery,” and in Mark, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.” It would appear that Christ’s teaching is perfectly unambiguous on this topic: divorce is tantamount to adultery. But if we look closer at the passage in Mark, we find that there is some nuance in what Jesus said about divorce, when he said it, and with whom he spoke about it. In Mark 10:10, we are told that Jesus made this pronouncement to the disciples, though no context is given nor any indication as to how the discussion might of went, other than that the disciples had asked him about divorce. In a separate discussion with the Pharisees, Jesus says the following: “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” (Mark 10:6-9) Using language from Genesis, Christ associates the marriage bond to being physically attached to another person as “one flesh.” It is curious then that in Mark this anecdote should follow immediately after the famous ‘if thy hand offend thee” illustration: “And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter in life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched.” (Mark 9:43) Is it possible to draw an analogy between the offending hand and the problematic marital bond? Yes, you and your spouse may be one flesh, but if being joined to a husband or wife should cause you to jeopardize your own salvation, shouldn’t you amputate that part of you just as you would the hand that causes you to offend? It is a similar argument to that which John Milton makes in Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, about which I wrote several weeks ago. It’s difficult to say whether this interpretation can be given any credence. Once could point out, just as Milton’s contemporaries did, the concluding verse spoken to the Pharisees: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Mark 10:9) There is no license being given here that would allow men and women to determine their own separation. But is it permissible to think that while man cannot put asunder the marriage bond, God can? And if so, what would that look like? Can marriages end without anyone ever deciding to end them? Perhaps, independent of any legal petitions or church sanctions, a marriage can just dissolve on its own. Maybe, just as two people are destined to be together, they are also destined to separate.

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The Mastaba of Abu Dhabi

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The artist Christo was in Colorado a few weeks back, presumably to do site work for his Over the River project, which will for a few summer months shroud stretch of the Arkansas River between Cañon City and Salida with 9.5 kilometers of silvery translucent fabric. He spoke to a crowd of about a thousand people on the University of Colorado campus about his past and current works. Not surprisingly, the audience was mostly interested in talking about the Colorado project, and while he did humor them—probably more than they deserved—Christo spent a good deal of time presenting sketches and ideas for a different work about which he was clearly more enthusiastic. And frankly, so was I.

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Christo called this other project the Mastaba. First conceived in 1977, at the height of the oil crisis, the Mastaba is a gargantuan sculpture made up of 410,000 empty oil barrels. The barrels will be standard, 55-gallon containers, the same volume used on commodity exchanges to measure units of crude oil. The sculpture will be erected in the desert outside of Abu Dhabi. When completed it will stand 150 meters tall. Its footprint will be 300 meters long and 225 meters wide. It will be 3.4 meters taller than the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Scale with Great Pyramid

The mastaba shape recalls the earliest monumentalized tombs of the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians. This mastaba made of oil drums will exist as a kind of monument to the powerful oil sheiks of the modern-day Middle East. And it is a fitting monument in terms of its size and grandeur. The Mastaba will be the largest sculpture in the world, and one of the largest structures ever built by man. Myself, I am stuck by the sense of scale that it provides us. When we talk about oil production and consumption, we use figures and volumes that are so vast that they are impossible to conceive. The Mastaba can be used as a substantive expression of quantity made concrete in real space. To stand before it is to be confronted by our own mountainous appetite for resources and capital.

Oh the immensity!

Oh the immensity!

As I was listening to Christo describe the Mastaba project, I started doing a few calculations on my phone. In all, the Mastaba will contain 410,000 barrels. This is the exact equivalent of the daily oil consumption of the country of Pakistan, a country of 180 million people. And it is about 25% less than the daily consumption of the United Arab Emirates, the country where the sculpture will be located. There are 8 million people in UAE; that’s 4.4% of the size of Pakistan. It is believed that 4,900,000 barrels of oil were spilled into the Gulf of Mexico during the summer of 2010. That’s about 12 Mastabas. Total daily oil consumption in the United States is approximately 19,150,000 barrels. Ladies and gentleman, that is a little less than 47 Mastabas.

So you see, even a measure as unfathomably large as Christo’s Mastaba is quickly dwarfed by the breadth and scope of the aggregated market.

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