august 2005

click here for permalink August 26, 2005

We all learned about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in high school — spent extra time on the big Amendments, like the one that freed the slaves — but it's amazing the things you notice when you re-read them as an adult...

The 13th Amendment, passed in 1865 at the close of the Civil War, states:

Article 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.

In the context of 1865, the 13th Amendment guaranteed African-Americans, in fact all citizens, unprecedented legal protection against being forced into slavery. Taken in the context of today's ever-expanding prison system, however, where black inmates represent 38.6% of the prison population but only 13% of the population on the outside, it kind of makes you wonder...

Searching for information, I started thinking about how, before the Internet, if you were curious about something, you only had two options; hike to the library and lose yourself in a labyrinth of legal texts you couldn't comprehend or ask around your circle of friends only to discover after several inquiries that not one of them has actually read the Constitution. I can't imagine (or remember?) not having access to all this... information.

But at least we had the longer attention span back then. Heh.

Anyway, the site where I found the full text of the Constitution has all sorts of links to legal cases throughout history where various amendments have been challenged or used in defense of something. I found several unsuccessful attempts to twist or stretch the meaning of the 13th Amendment but not a single mention of what seems its worst, and most likely, misuse: an absolutely literal interpretation.

Taken to its logical extreme, in southern states where slavery was not so long ago the backbone of their economy, where the law of the land is interpreted and enforced by third-generation segregationists and every-generation rednecks (and it only takes a few), the business of slavery can go on unimpeded, generating a steady stream of revenue and creating thousands of jobs in rural communities, all the while making the streets safer for law-abiding citizens.

According to the United States Bureau of Justice's 2004 annual report, 12.6% of all black males aged 25-29 are in prison or in jail. Compared to 3.6% of Hispanic males and 1.7% of white males.

Louisiana's Angola Prison, aka "The Farm," is the largest maximum security prison in the United States, with an operating budget close to $100 million a year. Bordered on three sides by the Mississippi River, it was built on the site of an enormous plantation (named Angola after the African county where most of its slaves were purchased).

Approximately 80% of Angola's inmates are black and most of them work 40 hours/week on the Farm, which produces more than four million pounds of cotton and sugar, among other things, each year. If I were an inmate at Angola, sentenced to life picking cotton on the old plantation, I probably wouldn't think very much of the US Constitution... or of anyone's self-righteous ideas about my "rehabilitation."

I think I'd be pretty fucking pissed off at whitey, to tell you the truth.

Searching the Internet to gauge public opinion on an issue — or to find "evidence" to support your opinion — is a whole new universe in terms of collective consciousness. It's like tapping the hive mind. More often than not, you find that you're far from alone in thinking anything. But it can also work against you, compelling you to spend hours researching and immersing yourself in the sea of other people's thoughts instead of formulating and expressing your own, a far more solitary, and at least temporarily isolating, pursuit. (The Borg aren't exactly known for their great literature.)

But, not surprisingly, I discovered that I'm not alone in my concerns about the 13th Amendment. Unfortunately, many of those who are concerned enough to take the discussion online — wouldn't you know it — are already in prison.

Back at, some of the cases where a broader interpretation of the 13th Amendment was brought to court, only to be dismissed, involved the "enforcement of those duties which individuals owe the government, such as service in the military (AKA the Draft) and on juries."

The Court's analysis... of the Thirteenth Amendment issue raised by a compulsory military draft was the following: "As we are unable to conceive upon what theory the exaction by government from the citizen of the performance of his supreme and noble duty of contributing to the defense of the rights and honor of the nation, as the result of a war declared by the great representative body of the people, can be said to be the imposition of involuntary servitude in violation of the prohibitions of the Thirteenth Amendment, we are constrained to the conclusion that the contention to that effect is refuted by its mere statement." Id. at 390... [I]ndications are that the power is not constrained by the need for a formal declaration of war by "the great representative body of the people." During the Vietnam War (an undeclared war) the Court, upholding a conviction for burning a draft card, declared that the power to classify and conscript manpower for military service was "beyond question." United States v. O'Brien, 391 US 367, 377 (1968).

Let freedom ring...

click here for permalink August 23, 2005

I heard about this via email (thanks, Yo!) so I'm not sure how the word is spreading but, if this is for real, I'm getting my absentee voter registration started WAY early... this time.

Unlike, um, last time. Sorry everybody.

click here for permalink August 22, 2005

Last night, as I was trying to find some information on XBOX hard drive errors in the hopes of preventing Mr. Pink from electrocuting himself punching a hole through his,* I found another fantastic tribute/memorial/lovefest to Hunter S. Thompson.

(*The XBOX is still intact but no thanks to my ill-focused efforts.)

Near the end of the article, in which the author describes his unexpected meeting with Thompson in 2003, he writes, "He did lay a task on me before I left the Farm, one that I readily accepted then and am proud to repeat today, because regardless of whether Hunter is alive or not, he had one overriding passion that drove him in his last years: that passion was the fate of one Lisl Auman."

(Lisl Auman has spent the last eight years in prison, serving a life sentence without possibility of parole for the murder of a police officer. The simple, uncontested fact that she didn't commit the crime made her case terrifically, insanely unjust; the fact that the crime occurred while Auman was in the back of a police car, cooperating with their investigation of the actual murderer, made it Thompson's last crusade, one that he had championed fanatically before his death.)

I'd read his article in Vanity Fair about the case last June but hadn't heard anything since his death so I was relieved to discover that there were people who had picked up where he left off. I immediately went searching for an update and found out that the Colorado Supreme Court officially overturned her conviction in March, just five weeks after Thompson died.

By beautiful coincidence, official sentencing for the decision was set for today and, in "what should be Lisl's last court appearance associated with this case," it would set the proverbial wheels in motion for her release. No specific word on exactly when she'll be free but, as of today, those wheels are finally moving in the right direction.


The site where I found that first article is also my new favorite movie-geeking out destination, e.g. the following DVD review:

THE BREAKIN COLLECTION (MGM Home Entertainment. $29.98): You know that thing you do when you hear about a pointless sequel and decide that it would be amusing to affix "Electric Boogaloo" to its title — "Barbershop 2: Electric Boogaloo," for example? It isn't funny. It has never been funny and it never will be funny.** The only thing less funny than that is the fact that MGM has issued this box set — collecting the previously released titles "Breakin," "Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo" and off-shoot "Beat Street" — in an edition that only provides the latter title with a widescreen transfer. How are we supposed to appreciate the genius of Boogaloo Shrimp in a cropped format?

How indeed?

(** It actually was a little funny...)

click here for permalink August 7, 2005

Of all the books we read in high school English class, Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury was one of my favorites. So, when I heard about Sam Apple, 2005 winner of the Hemispheres magazine Faux Faulkner Contest, I was excited...

...and not just because Apple made front page news all over the UK and Canada last week for, now infamously, writing Bush into the role of the most eloquent idiot in American literature.

"The Administration and the Fury" is highly recommended for anyone who feels a weird, visceral fondness for Faulkner and still remembers from 10th grade English that "Caddy smelled like trees."