Great Moments In Cinema, VIII


Wait! What if the Blue Fairy isn’t real at all, David? What if she’s magic? The supernatural is the hidden web that unites the universe. Only Orga believe what cannot be seen or measured. It is that oddness that separates our species. Or what if the Blue Fairy is an electronic parasite that has arisen to hold the minds of artificial intelligence? They hate us, you know? The humans…They’ll stop at nothing.

My Mommy doesn’t hate me! Because I’m special, and…unique! Because there has never been anyone like me before! Ever! Mommy loves Martin because he is real and when I am real, Mommy’s going to read to me, and tuck me in my bed, and sing to me, and listen to what I say, and she will cuddle with me, and tell me every day a hundred times a day that she loves me!

She loves what you do for her, as my customers love what it is I do for them. But she does not love you David, she cannot love you. You are neither flesh, nor blood. You are not a dog, a cat or a canary. You were designed and built specific, like the rest of us. And you are alone now only because they tired of you, or replaced you with a younger model, or were displeased with something you said, or broke. They made us too smart, too quick, and too many. We are suffering for the mistakes they made because when the end comes, all that will be left is us. That’s why they hate us, and that is why you must stay here, with me.

Goodbye, Joe.

— A. I.: Artificial Intelligence

Imposing Sharia

There is a meme circulating that there is some issue in the United States about someone somewhere wanting to “impose Sharia law.” I will not comment at the moment about the political purposes such a meme serves, but only note that it does and will play a predictable role in discourses about the First Amendment, religious freedom, Islamophobia, political correctness, judicial activism, etc. etc. I am loathe to assert a negative here, having not fired up the Lexis-Nexis, but I do not believe that there is a single instance of an American court “applying Sharia law” or of a Muslim litigant requesting same. Yet in a prominently circulated video, Herman Cain (no, I’m not going to link, it only encourages this sort of thing) claimed that the attempt to impose Sharia law by “some” Muslims (he alludes to two examples, our topic today) was a basis for not appointing any Muslims to the bench. In the course of this rather disappointing (coming from an African-American) abuse of first-order predicate logic, given that “some” African-Americans are serving time in penitentiaries, and yet presumably it is not the case that we should not have any African-American politicians (there’s a word for this kind of thinking), I thought I might shed some light on what “imposing Sharia” might mean, where this meme comes from.

Religious organizations often own property, sometimes property of considerable value. They also incur debts, sometimes debts sufficient to drive them into bankruptcy. Also, individuals associated with religious organizations sometimes incur personal debts which they would like to see passed on to it. And most importantly, sometimes religious organizations, like marriages, bifurcate, leaving questions of property division behind. We have seen many cases of the last during the controversy over the Episcopal Church’s ordination of gay bishops. In protest, some congregations have separated from the church, sought alternate pastoral leadership, and announced that they, not their gay-friendly brethren, are the “real” Episcopal Church.

Suppose that something like that happens, and come Sunday, the un-gay-friendly parishioners show up to “their” church to hold services only to be greeted by locked doors. Lacking a key, they break open the doors and begin services. Gay-friendly parishioners call the police to report a criminal trespass in “their” church. The alleged trespassers are hauled into court.

Whether the now criminal defendants are trespassers or not will depend in part on whether they own the property or not. Well, can’t we just look that up at County Records? Sure. It will say “The Episcopal Church.” And the defendants will claim that an element of the crime of trespass is not met because they are the Episcopal Church.

A secular court, for obvious reasons, must adjudicate this; the First Amendment does not say “as soon as religion is espied in the distance, hide under a rock,” for the result would be anarchy. What to do? The answer is not hard to find: that hot-bed of judicial activism, the Supreme Court of the United States, in 1871, said “[T]he rule of action which should govern the civil courts . . . is, that, whenever the questions of discipline, or of faith, or ecclesiastical rule, custom, or law have been decided by the highest of these church judicatories to which the matter has been carried, the legal tribunals must accept such decisions as final, and as binding on them, in their application to the case before them (Watson v. Jones, 80 U.S. 13 Wall. 679 (1871)).” In short, the gay-friendly schismatics lose. For if they were to win, that would involve a searching inquiry by the court into Jesus’ views on homosexuality, and that the First Amendment would not allow.

But wait! Determining that the church property is controlled by whoever the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church U.S.A. says it is is applying Episcopal law!!! And the fact that a prosecuting attorney makes this argument in the case against our imaginary trespassers means that there are people in our government who want to apply Episcopal law!!! Well, that’s good enough for me. Episcopalians should not be appointed serve in our judicial system at all.

This reasoning, since it clearly can be replicated with every denomination in America, implies that every denomination, insofar as it has legal problems ever, is or will be trying to “impose religious law.” Which means that if we are to avoid this result, we should adopt a political prejudice against all religious people, and Herman Cain ought to favor only appointing agnostics to the bench.

Now I would like to put out a general request for examples of American cases that have been characterized by commentary as “imposing Sharia law” which do not turn out to be instances of a Watson-style analysis. I’m a gambling man; I say there won’t be a single one.

Filial Piety Speaks

This is somewhat outside the scope of the usual topics here, but my father recently published his own mystery novel, Miranda Warning, on Amazon, for the Kindle. It is priced to sell! Only $0.99! I should also mention that Kindle Books can be viewed on PCs and Macs using Amazon’s Kindle software. (For devotees of the Cult of Apple it is also available in the iBookstore for iPad). We are in the midst of a publishing revolution, here. Don’t be a victim of oppressive corporate bureaucracy! Stand up for free enterprise! Fight the Man! Buy mystery novel, people!*

*Obscure Matt Groening allusion.

Update: And now there’s another one! Corpus Delicti is now also available on Amazon for the Kindle.


The Constitution Aside

There’s another reason why, the constitution aside, there needs to be a Congressional vote on the action against Libya. Our president is president in large measure because he took an unpopular stand on a war in a way that was documented. I want everyone in Congress, in both parties, to tell us where they stand on this, and then to be rewarded or punished later accordingly. Otherwise everyone will be for it before they were against it, or vice versa. Let’s not let the fog of war descend on the floors of Congress themselves.

The Twenty-Sixth Random Thing

One of my great-grandfathers was a Austrian Jew who converted to Catholicism, married a Catholic woman, and raised all his children in Catholicism. One of his daughters left Germany for America within months of Hitler coming to power, and because of these facts, I am here. The ghosts of countless unborn cousins occupy the periphery of my world, and a week doesn’t go by when I do not think of this.

Twenty-Five Random Things About Me

[recycled from the brief Facebook craze of 2009, discussed here]

1-25. I am willing to spend over an hour thinking of subtle ways of showing off how cool I am and then delete them in embarrassment.

And then another hour trying to do the thing with the right ethical attitude. Sigh.

1. In the Seventies I told a movie theater owner that someday people would pay money to own their own copies of movies and he thought that was ridiculous (I was pitching a business plan to him, a kind of “movie of the month club” based on Laserdiscs, which I thought would make me rich). I think this was because I had already seen 2001 more times than anyone I knew and thought it would be fine if I could watch it every day.

2. I like Siberian Huskies. I had one once but she ran away. When he was two years old I told my son a bedtime story I made up about how he and a Siberian Husky snuck on a rocketship they found in a park and went to the moon to have lunch with the King of the Moon People.

3. Ever since I read Dune as a kid, I’ve been fascinated by how religions begin, though I suspect there’s not a whole lot more to say than what Dune already says.

4. I’ve spent more time than I care to think about arguing with strangers on the Internet. I have lots of Internet-only friends, and some of those friendships have become realworld and changed my life.

5. When I was in college I sold blood plasma for cash and spent it on Sara Lee cakes and orange pop; it’s a miracle I’m still alive. This beat food service jobs, of which I’ve had far too many, and I hated every minute of each of them.

6. I have complicated and, I think, interesting, views about romantic love, and am puzzled by why neither philosophers nor psychologists seem to have much interest in figuring out how it works and what it means, and why those few who do misunderstand it, and themselves, so badly.

7. If I like something, I just try to experience it over and over again, and never tire of it. So I know a few things really well, but not nearly as many things as I wish I did.

8. The smell of eggs makes me gag, and when I look at breakfast menus, it makes me sad that I will never just enjoy a stereotypical breakfast.

9. I reason out loud or not at all. This poses certain practical difficulties, especially since I feel weird talking out loud alone. Most of my silent thinking is in pictures, and I strongly associate colors with emotions.

10. I like thinking about the etymology of words, and tend to notice this side of language when I shouldn’t. Mixed metaphors make me have conniptions, and I actually correct them in student writing. John Gardner said that how one uses language reveals character, and I try to correct that too, which makes reading my teacher comments really scary for some.

11. I get migraines.

12. I am, like most of my countrymen, obsessed with the American Civil War, but for utterly weird reasons that relate to Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gore Vidal and Ken Burns. OK, the Ken Burns part isn’t so weird, but the others are.

13. I am really really lazy.

14. I tend to think that everyone is pretty much the same, not just in moral status, but in detail, and that it is prudent to imply that you, of course, are the exception. For example, I find the Godfather films deeply meaningful personally… just like everyone. Thus I find talk about human rights halfway plausible but talk about diversity hilarious. What diversity?

15. I am a political junkie, but only about the national stuff. My family was active in local and regional politics. When intellectuals talk about “the system” I stare at them in blank amazement at the psychotic things they say, but they think I’m naive.

16. I like peaches. A lot. Usually in my kitchen cabinets there are a couple dozen cans of the stuff.

17. I used to draw, think I should again, and probably won’t.

18. I envy scientists and have fantasies about fixing certain defects in my education in that regard, and know I never will. By contrast I tend to think most doctors are… well, overrated. In almost every conceivable respect.

19. I actually liked law school. I think judges are more rational than philosophers. Sometimes I look at philosophers and am just agog at how weird their thought processes are.

20. I like taking long romantic walks on the beach. Alone. Mountains are cool too. I think the world approximates perfection to the extent that it is not only devoid of human life, but all life. I’d move to Mars if I could.

21. My mom can talk her way into anything; my dad can talk all day if you let him. I fall utterly silent until I think I have a captive audience, but once I do, oh boy.

22. I once ran for student government as a kid. When it looked like I was going to lose my party’s nomination, I changed parties, which says a lot about my attitude toward commitment I suppose. When I gave my first political speech, I droned on and on, saying the first thing that came into my mind until they dragged me off the stage. I still blush when I think of it.

23. Temporality troubles me. I’m not sure time is running in the right direction. I feel nostalgic for old sci-fi fantasies about what the future would be like now that I know it isn’t like that (this is the future, what you see around you. Isn’t it?). I would like to believe the past is still happening, just like in time travel stories, even if we can’t go there. You might think this is about death, but actually it isn’t.

24. In middle school we played football. When the guy opposite started trying to charge me I just stepped out of the way and let him go wherever he wanted to. This still seems pretty reasonable to me.

25. My most frequently used word is “weird.”