Tuesday, December 18, 2012

the ever pestilent question of the musician...

We sat up all night long, laughing and smoking; manifesting our nostalgia; drinking and talking. All the while, we stared into the fire as if there were nothing else in the entire world worth looking at. As if the controls of our head had been commandeered by moths hellbent on flying straight into the heart of a mesmerizing light. Luckily, no one fell in; likely because our bodies were numb and sunken deep into our chairs with no hope of ever standing back up. There was no will or apparent ability to do so. Our drunk, limp bodies and the chairs in which they sat, melted into one mindless being. Our hearts were heavy with deep, fond feelings for the wonderful moment that we were so blessed to experience together. Friends sharing life and music; fire and drink - a small microcosm of Peace and Sanity in a world of Chaos and Madness.

As the time and the alcohol progressed, the conversations grew heavier. Amidst the barrage of drunken "I love you mans" were ruminations on different human perspectives; the fallacies of stereotypes; circular questions of truth and time; the infinite spans of the universe(s); the potential in future human technologies; the meaning and purpose of life; the dangers and beauties of religion; and then more "I love you mans"...

These wonderful ponderments were interspersed with brief outbursts of idiocy in order to lighten our intellectual load. We wondered if male olympic swimmers shaved their balls? Why mustaches aren't called mouth brows? Are breast implants effective floatation devices? How exactly does corn reconstruct itself after a bowel movement? And don't you dare tell me its cellulose! Can you simultaneously believe in science and magic? Why not?

We solved all of the deepest, most pressing questions of the day. Now, we know why people do the things they do because that is the way of the world. The answer to every why? is because. Our eyes were open, though somewhat slanted. We saw more clearly and more blearily at the same time. A drunken philosopher farts from both ends, and the hot gas exuding from our mouths was equally repulsive to anything that ever came from our rears. 

I grabbed the guitar, and made a few cockeyed strums. The steel strings offered a resistance to my fingers that seemed to emphasize the slowing synapses of my brain. Do I even know how to play this thing anymore? Maybe not. I have an idea in my head, but bringing that idea forth into the world will be a painful birth. Many will suffer. Ears may bleed. This could get ugly.

"Sing one!" the voices on the other side of the glowing embers call out to me.

"OK..." I reply in reluctance.

One simply can't dilly dally on a guitar around the fire. No! A song must be played. And from start to finish too. Don't give me none of this half-assed, I forgot the words; I'm drunk; I don't feel like it bullshit. The people must be entertained! 

The search begins in the song database of my mind for an appropriate number, and the ever pestilent question of the musician pops into my brain, "Do I play what I think everybody wants to hear? Or do I play what I feel like playing right now?"

Of course, there is the third factor to consider, "What am I capable of pulling off right now with my current level of intoxication?"

It never fails. Even in the most comfortable of environments, surrounded by the closest of friends. The struggle persists between the artist and audience on the basis of motivation and purpose. Who am I doing this for and why? Is it for me? Or is it for the approval of others? What drives me to make music? Why do I think about it night and day, yearning to sing out and make noise that will rattle the earth? What is it that I hope to gain by singing songs? Approval? or Release?

"Are you gonna play one or what?" an obvious response to my extended moment of inner conflict. 

I think I'll play one of my tunes... And after the first few strums, the voices inside my head go quiet. 

"Oh," I thought. "That's why I play."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How to get paid at the end of the gig.

What happens when a venue doesn't want to pay me even though they said they would?

I've heard plenty of crazy ideas about what musicians should do to protect themselves from getting ripped off by greedy venues or promoters. We all know that iconic scene in the Blues Brothers where the band goes to get paid and the bar tells them that their drink tab was more than their pay. Of course, they were outnumbered by crazy rednecks and ended up fleeing for their lives with no money to show for a long night of babysitting rowdy drunks. But that was a Hollywood movie. So, what happens in real life? 

My friend told me about one of his experiences at a gig in Austin, where at the end of the night the venue didn't want to pay. So, they casually went and grabbed their tool kit from the van. While the manager was distracted, they proceeded to remove the front doors from the place. Then, like a boss, he said, "If you want your doors back, you'll have to pay us." Now, that certainly might be an effective method, but I definitely don't recommend it because it might be interpreted as extortion... It makes for a good story though. 

But seriously, what can you do? You play the gig. You fulfill your obligation to the venue, and the price was already agreed upon. Then the time comes to get paid, and the promoter doesn't want to pony up. "It was slow tonight... You didn't bring enough people," he says. Or my favorite, "Can I pay you in sandwiches instead?" Well, let me just call my landlord and ask him if I can pay rent in sandwiches this month. 

Listen, unless it was agreed upon beforehand that I would have to bring a certain amount of people in order to get paid, that's irrelevant. 

A deal is a deal. Whether it is in writing or merely spoken, as long as a contract is definite in the necessary terms, has been communicated clearly, and is accepted by both parties, it is a legally enforceable contract. You don't have to be a licensed booking agent to have an enforceable contract with someone. You don't have to be a lawyer either. Anyone can make a legally enforceable contract. Once a contract is accepted, it cannot be changed. In other words, if we agree on a price and I perform my end of the bargain, show me the money! On a side note, if a person is not a licensed talent agent (someone who books multiple artists) they are acting illegally, and no contract made by them is enforceable. You can't legally contract to do something illegal.

That said, I have to let you know that I am not a lawyer. I'm just a musician and this not legal advice nor should be interpreted or construed as such in any way. I'm just putting a few things out there that I've learned over the years playing gigs and doing the research. If you ever run into trouble, you should always consult an experienced lawyer, and make sure that you get the most accurate and up to date information possible. 

Now, my explanation before of a legal contract was the most basic and generic explanation that you can possibly get, so here's a few more details to always consider just to cover your ass.

First and foremost, always write it down! Even though oral contracts can be enforced, they are much harder to prove. So, get the deal in an email or on a facebook thread, both mediums are recognized as legit written communications by a court. You will have proof to show the original terms of the gig. If you can't get an email, have them text you the specific price, location, date, time slot and what sound equipment you need to provide. These are the essential items that you need to have written down. 

As an exception, it doesn't have to be a specific amount of money explicitly stated in the deal. As long as there is a set method of determining that specific number when the time for payment comes. For example: If the promoter agrees to give you $5 per person, that is specific enough. The problem will be with the official head count. Ask for the official print out of ticket sales. Take pictures of the crowds at the show. Ask the door guy how many people showed up. Its always better to be prepared, and if you have some real evidence to prove that the number was not met then you might be able to argue for the difference if you feel like you got ripped off.

Once you have a gig offer in writing from a venue that you have confirmed, you essentially have what constitutes an "offer to make a unilateral contract." A unilateral contract can only be accepted upon the requested performance in the contract, i.e. you showing up at that location on that day and rocking out for that period of time. After you have completed that performance, the venue becomes legally obligated to pay you the money that they promised. 

However, they can withdraw the contract prior to your completion of the full performance because technically, a unilateral contract is not accepted until after the performance is completed. You may be able to collect something on partial performance like the costs incurred by agreeing to the gig and as a result turning away other opportunities as well as cost of gas for driving there or something, but that is a bit more complicated situation. You definitely would want a lawyer to go any further there. 

Another side note, if you don't negotiate for free booze then there is no such thing! Sorry Booze Brothers, don't drink up your paycheck!

Of course, all of this stuff depends on how much trouble it's worth to you to get that $200 or whatever the gig was supposed to pay in the first place. A common misnomer is that the money needs to be a certain amount for a court to acknowledge it. But this isn't true. You can file a claim for breach of contract in small claims court no matter what the amount of money in dispute. The smaller the amount the less likely you will want to go through all the trouble though. 

You can check out the fee schedule for the court in the county where the venue is located and see how much filing fees are. Then call an entertainment lawyer and take those bitches to the house because you may have a number of other claims besides just the breach of contract. That might enable you to really stick it to them if you want to and that would make it more worth the trouble. But you must have solid evidence to back up your claim of an agreement, and that is why you always cover your ass in the first place.

So, we all know that we can sue each other for basically anything right? What else is new?

I hear the phrase "Theft of Services" a lot from musicians who claim that you can call the police if you don't get paid at the end of a gig. This is another common misnomer. As far as I understand, "Theft of services" is a statutory crime that really doesn't exist in Florida. "Theft of services" is considered a civil dispute that must be settled in a civil court. The only remedies of the law would be the ones I discussed earlier, meaning you would have to sue to get anything and there would be no involving the police because it is not a crime to refuse to pay someone for services.  

However, as I was looking at the Florida theft statutes, I came across §812.155, which states,

"Whoever, with intent to defraud the owner or any person lawfully possessing any personal property or equipment of the rental thereof, hires or leases said personal property or equipment from such owner or such owner's agents or any person in lawful possession thereof shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a misdemeanor."

It goes on to say that if the value of the property is over $300, then it is a third degree felony. 

So, how does this apply? Well, I would argue that in situations where you are bringing out your own PA equipment, (typically thousands of dollars worth of stuff that a venue needs in order to have a night of music) for all intents and purposes, that constitutes "renting" of said equipment from you for the night. If you can prove that they defrauded you into renting it to them, that is, they never had any intention of paying you and tricked you in order to gain access to your personal property, then you may have a criminal charge against them. In which case, you could call the police, and potentially have them arrested. 

Now, I'm not a lawyer, and I don't know the odds of success on such a claim. I searched the database of court opinions and couldn't come up with a specific case in which this was argued in the scenario that I'm describing, but it's worth a shot if you are in a difficult situation. 

So, next time you are arguing with a venue owner or a promoter over your pay, and you can back up your agreement with evidence, tell them you will sue them in small claims court. Then, when it gets serious, inform them of FL Statute §812.155, the crime of "defrauding an owner of personal property." Threaten to call the police, and do so if you have to, but make sure you are in a mental condition capable of talking to a police officer, i.e. don't be a drunk ass. 

They will cough up the money. Take it, and don't ever do business with those cheap bastards again.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Meanwhile, There's a War Going On...

Live by the sword, but die by the pen
Smoke clears but will tyranny end?
Consumed by consumption, pride and apathy
The illusion of control fueled by vanity

Revolutionary fervor is overtaking
The people rise up in an Arab spring
Fire will rain, the drones are coming
Far from my view, blood is flowing

We're sitting in comfort, we're falling to sleep
Forgetting our brothers and sisters to keep

We smoke; we drink; we party till dawn.
Meanwhile, there's a war going on; there's a war going on...

Do you fear Islam? Do you fear Sharia Law?
I'm afraid of ignorance and a logic so flawed
Speak out of virtue and of a Prince of Peace
While rattling a saber simultaneously 

Love is patient; love is kind
Love will always keep an open mind
Love does not boast of things it doesn't know
Yet, we make assumptions and try to impose

We're sitting in comfort, we're falling to sleep
Look out for wolves clothed as sheep

We smoke; we drink; we party till dawn.
Meanwhile, there's a war going on; there's a war going on...

The consensus is that we all disagree
Compromise is not a possibility
Because we don't share the eyes to see
But can we diverge respectfully?

Ignore the world's problems maybe they'll go away
Or confront them with violence to maintain our sway
Sending sons and daughters into harm's way
Perpetual war is the American way

We're sitting in comfort, we're falling to sleep
Forgetting our brothers and sisters to keep

We smoke; we drink; we party till dawn.
Meanwhile, there's a war going on; there's a war going on...

Monday, October 8, 2012

Festival Fiend

I woke up in a puddle of sweat inside my steam room tent. The heat eliminated the option of sleeping any longer. Rolling off the air mattress, I step out into the morning light and take a drink of the heavy humid air. I stretch out the ache from 3 hours of sleep; of that last drink I should not have had; of that cold, grilled sausage that I shoveled into my face-hole at 4 am after stumbling my way back to my campsite to crash. The good stretch forces a hearty morning fart. The rooster crows. 

Fog rolls in, and the campground is calm. It's peaceful and serene - a pleasant transformation from the excitement of the night before. I feel good: headaches, no sleep and sweaty dirty underwear and all. Last night I had the jam of my life. I hung out with the most beautiful people I've ever met. I reveled in the delight of musical frequencies divine. I sang my heart out. I learned new ways to play old songs and new songs from old musicians. I listened to the most intimate performances one could ever hope to experience around a campfire, sharing the moment with just a chosen few, late-night survivors. Time melted into a liquid state conforming to the shape I was in. 
I told my life story to five different strangers. I hugged at least 30 people I've never met and will never meet again. I carried on an entire 30 minute conversation about the sound of porta-potty doors and bathroom lines. I drank too much. But it didn't matter because you can get away with it in this other world, where no one drives or cares who you are or what you do for a living. Where the only obligation is to be friendly and love everyone and everything. Have you ever been to a camping music festival? Have you ever left your life behind for a while, and entered into the alternate reality of stranger friends, of sound and nature? Where everyone is smiling so hard that their faces are sore, and sleep is not as necessary as you thought it was before because you just can't accept the idea that you might be missing something? 
Sometimes I look out the window and I long to be there. But I don't get anxious, I know it will come soon, and it will be worth the wait. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Drunken Music

A few years ago, I was playing to a lonely crowd of three or four folks at Margarita Mamas, Channelside on a Sunday afternoon. It was a scorcher and I was not drinking anything but water and changing out sweaty t-shirts every thirty minutes or so. I thought it was going to be another uneventful day at the office. 

Then I heard the rumble below, a herd of frat boys wrestling and high-fiving their way up the stairs towards me. The smell of testosterone and unfettered douchery filled the steamy June air. They overtook the patio, passionately crushing Bud Lights and shots, encouraging each other to reach their fullest potential of drunken asshatness. I was instantly overwhelmed with drinks and Dave Matthew's Band requests. Though my current tone may suggest otherwise, I was actually enjoying myself at the time. We musicians are so vain and desperate for an ego stroke that we will take whatever we can get. I wasn't planning on drinking much that day, but it was hard not to with that crowd. They were giving indian burns to whomever didn't drink fast enough. 

Then the tequila came, and things went sour and fast. Bring on the pissing contest.

One of our fearless heroes had the brilliant idea to put some sweet-n-low into his tequila shot. He challenged his comrades to best this awe-inspiring display of manhood. Upping the ante, his friend decided to add hot sauce to the concoction of doom. Witness man versus booze. Four of them were up to the task and they each threw back a double shot of tequila, sweet-n-low and hot sauce shots, forcing down a swallow. Faces turned white. The brilliant inventor of this idea scooted his chair back and vomited all over the floor right in front of me. His friend, upon witnessing the upchuck, unleashed a vomit of his own. Then the guy next to him and the guy next to him - a vomit chain reaction of epic proportions. The floor of Margarita Mamas' patio was covered in chunky, steaming vomit. It formed a river that was flowing in the direction of my equipment. 

I jumped out of my chair, and started packing up my gear. I moved all my stuff to the corner, while the frat boys scattered, disappearing into the bathroom and running downstairs to escape. Within seconds the patio was empty, and the bar back was left to clean up after them with bleach and a water hose. Looking on the bright side, I got to go home early that day and still got paid in full, but I'll never be the same. I quit drinking at my gigs for a while and was kind of disgusted when belligerent people pressured me to guzzle. 

But the truth is, if you want to cut back on the drinking, nothing will test your resolve like playing music in bars. It's the ultimate bombardment of booze. Half price and often free drinks coupled with an army of drunks standing ready to purchase all the liquid you need to get as obliterated as imaginable; often, it's really difficult to resist the intense peer pressure. The bar flies expect musicians to be hitting the bottle hard. They practically require them to do so. Strange enough, there are those who would prefer to buy the musician a 5 or 6 dollar drink rather than put that cash into the tip bucket or buy a CD to support the music. Ironically, when the crowd gets drunk, the music sounds better. But when the musician gets drunk, well, you never know what might happen. Jim Morrison pulled out his penis and used it to play a piano solo. Steven Tyler stumbled off the stage and broke his collar bone. Grace Slick of Jefferson Starship started a riot after unleashing a drunken verbal lashing on an audience back in 1978. 

But I don't blame them. It's a hard life. Temptation to drink and party comes with the territory of being a musician. Some can handle it better than others, but the pressure is always there, relentlessly begging the musician to have a sip. There are many nights when I just don't feel much like partaking. I might be tired from the night before, or I have to do something in the morning. Maybe I just don't want it, or I'm trying to control myself. On some of these nights, I've been mocked and ridiculed - my very manhood questioned. It is a phenomenon that has baffled me for some time. Of course, it's all relative to the bar you are playing at and the type of people that hang out there. Some crowds are more aggressively alcoholic than others. 

But it makes me think back to being a kid. Back to the time when we didn't have to drink to have fun. We could enjoy the moment without changing our brain chemistry. Observe and enjoy the little things. Entertain ourselves with a stick or dirt pile. Be high on life. What happened to us? 

I'm not sure, but take it easy on the musicians. Sometimes we get drunk and act a fool, but we are trained to think that people want and expect that from us. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The great illusions of Truth and Reason:

"I've no idea what you are talking about. I'm trapped in this body and can't get out." -RadioHead

The old school will tell you that humans are the only animals with the gift of "rationality." Scientists use this supernal virtue to hypothesize and theorize. Lawyers are on a quest to find the "Reasonable Person." Ayn Rand calls it "Man's basic virtue," the source of all his other virtues. 

But I propose the antithesis: that humans are the only irrational form of life on the planet. All other life forms appear to function with efficient purpose to fulfill the necessities of existence. But we need more than necessities. It is this irrationality that guides us, shapes our perceptions, and pushes our species forward or backwards; reason is a farce, a grand illusion constructed by pompous megalomaniacs.

We find that humans are only able to absorb input through their senses and limited to expressing ideas through verbal and physical communication. We are all trapped in our bodies, and checked by the competencies of our senses. All the knowledge and awareness of reality that we possess comes to us through vibrations in the air funneled through our ears; taste bud receptors reacting to chemicals in our food and drink; reflections in the light spectrum absorbed by our eyes; textures felt by our hands. All of these elements come together to be processed in our brain. This idea is called SolipsismEssentially, it acknowledges that we reside in mutually exclusive universes only interacting with each other through superficial verbal and physical contact, which in itself are inputs processed and filtered through our individual senses. According to Solipsists, this process is the only thing we can be sure of that truly exists. 

Philosopher, Thomas Baldwin explains that, “states of consciousness are in fact, and not only in possibility, the only things which exist absolutely.” This egocentric perspective accepts that humans are constantly bombarded by the inputs of their environment, but it presumes that the individual self is in control of processing and reacting to these inputs with objective rationality derived completely from the self. To the extreme, we consider the Cartesian proposal that the inputs of the environment could potentially be mere constructions of our own minds, and that there is no physical reality at all. 

But this idea certainly doesn't conform to my rationality. If all of reality is derived from the self then why can't I control it like I do in my dreams? Why can't I fly, or shoot laser beams from my ass, or be as rich as Mitt Romney? I am but a victim of fate, locked up in a cosmic chain reaction. I can't move the world. I am just a small creature inhabiting it.

I concede, we are constructing reality through our individual thought process, but the inputs we are given to process are supplied by our environment. Because we are humans and thus, social learners. Our knowledge comes from society. Society gives us words and symbols to decipher. If our perception of reality is constructed on an individual basis and derived from our senses then our interpretations regarding the exact definitions of words are equally individualized.

With a degree of separation, our understanding of reality - of the entire universe - is completely reliant on these compressions, called words. We describe and understand our world with these labels. But we all see them a little bit differently. 

"Words are but the skin of a living thought." Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

That is why most arguments usually boil down to definition. What does it mean when one says God? or Liberal? or Freedom? Words do not function alone; they are built up with context, and the context is supplied by the society we inhabit, but yet again we are left to individually decipher that context. 

That is why most of the time, objectivity is a forced effort, an unreachable horizon. I cannot escape the cultural constructions in my brain. My ethno and egocentrisms. As much as I would like to admit that I'm not a racist or a homophobe, or a chauvinist, or a war monger, or a consumerist, or just an asshole in general, I am a product of my environment. I'm stuck being human and with all the shortcomings that come with it. I was born into a society with a history and a value system. So, how do we abandon the primitive ideas?

But therein lies another question, If I am a mere product of the societal values of my inhabitance. Is there any universal truth? Is there such a thing as human nature? Or is this just another ideological illusion created by the discourse of society? And if so, couldn't the paragons of evil in our so called nature be abandoned just as easily as they were acquired?

I accept that my perceptions of reality are shaped by the ideologues of my society, but how did society develop these ideologues to begin with? Where do the stories come from - the tropes, the archetypes, and the narratives? What is the process of etymology? How does it occur? 

The stories that shape our ideologues seem to come from individuals wrestling with their own current place in their own current society - an individual's own rationalization of the stories they have been force fed throughout their lives. So, as each former generation grapples with the issues of their time they create a new discourse for the following generation to grapple with and this process continues forcing the evolution of the human intellect. 

Yet, I must consider that if all my beliefs are mere ideologues and constructions from the past, maybe they developed with reason. Maybe religion, gender roles, and economic systems developed for reasons and purposes that I will never fully understand. Comparatively to the extent that I could never understand time beyond concepts of moments and decades.

This is the never-ending struggle of the writer: the endless task of explaining yourself - explaining or defending your vantage point of reality. 

Here I am now, and this is how I currently see things. 9-22-12 -Jerrod

Monday, September 17, 2012

Thoughts on Constitution Day

Happy Constitution Day My Fellow Americans! 

In honor of Constitution Day, I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on the sacrosanct document of great myth and folklore that defines our ideals as citizens of a great nation. As a first year law student, I have recently had my mind blown about the contents of this document and the implications thereof. Not being one to keep things to myself, I thought I would take the time to share them with you now. 

A most fascinating common misnomer about the US Constitution is the idea that it serves as a mechanism for preserving "freedom and democracy" in our great nation. This is absolutely incorrect, and I will tell you why. 

First, if the Constitution is supposed to preserve our freedom then one might consider it to be the most failed experiment in world history. Consider this: the U.S. has the largest incarcerated population of any country on Earth. According to the DOJ, 7.1 million people or 1 out of every 33 American adults are under the supervision of correctional authorities. 1.6 million of those people are living in prison. Is that because our society is increasingly criminal? Or is it because our system is increasingly overreaching? Maybe it's a sign that our police are really good at catching bad guys and we just so happen to have an unusual amount of bad guys here. Or rather that criminal defense lawyers are lazy and incompetent.

Who knows, but either way, if the Constitution was supposed to protect our society's freedom, how well is it serving that purpose with so many people sitting in jail and Congress continuing to stretch its power by passing laws such as the Patriot Act, the National Defense Authorization Act, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act? 

Granted, these laws are new enough that they haven't made their way through the courts to be struck down on counts of contradicting the constitution. The point remains, while we enjoy many freedoms in this country, they aren't necessarily sanctioned by the constitution. They are sanctioned by the people, and our perceptions of what is ethically, economically and legally right. Ultimately, we decide what freedoms we deserve to keep.

Second, the Constitution makes no guarantee of democracy. In fact, it guarantees otherwise by instituting the Electoral College for Presidential elections, and in what is commonly referred to as the "guarantee clause," Article IV, § 4 states, "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican form of Government." This is designed to ensure a republican form of government, not a democracy. The founders wanted it this way because they knew that pure democracy could lead to chaos. So instead, we have a representative form of democracy called a Republic. Here, the people elect others to do the work of legislating for them in hopes that these politicians will serve the interests of their constituents. This removes government action from the whims of an easily influenceable populace. 

But who is to say what the founders meant by "Republican form of government" anyway? Maybe they were merely abolishing monarchies in the states? Or maybe they simply wanted to say that government should be a public matter, which leads me to the issue of interpretation. 

The most common ways of interpreting the Constitution are: originalism, textualism, and organic. Originalism, sometimes referred to as formalism is most closely associated with conservatism. People in this camp approach every issue with the Founding Fathers in mind. They always ask the question, "What did the framers intend when they wrote this?" They believe that founding principles should dictate the course of action. So, they take what they believe those principles to have been and apply them to the issue at hand. This theory also contends that it is not the role of judges to make law, but only to uphold the law as it was intended to be upheld at the time it was written. 

The theory runs into problems when those who decide the intentions of the founders don't live in the 18th Century. What did the founders think about regulating pornography on the internet, or violent video games? How often did James Madison ponder on the government's role in space travel or drone warfare? What did Thomas Jefferson think about cloning or stem cell research or euthanasia or abortion? 

Furthermore, the theory boldly assumes that there was concurrence among the Founders; that they were all on the same page as to the purpose of enacting amendments; that the Constitutional convention was one big happy family where the parties agreed and shared values. But If you know anything about our history, you know that it was quite the contrary, and that our early political struggles were some of the most epically ruthless in our history. Shockingly enough, the founders were divided on many, if not most of the issues that they tackled. 

Most closely associated with the originalists are textualists. These folks say, if it isn't written, it doesn't apply. They look at the words of the Constitution and apply what is deemed to be the most reasonable interpretation of the written language. It is not necessarily limited to the strict words themselves, since those words gain meaning through the context in which they are used. The result is that a textualist must apply whatever context that he or she deems most appropriate for the terminology used, and they most often reach back to the time that it was written for perspective. A textualist would say that since the words "right to privacy" do not exist in the Constitution, they are not rights that Americans inherently possess. 

The problem with this theory is that it assumes objectivity in interpretation. It also runs into issues commonly referred to as the "scrivener's error". That is, when laws are interpreted literally, they sometimes have an absurd or disastrous consequence due to the incompetence or lack of foresight in the author.

Lastly, we have the organic method of interpretation. This is commonly referred to as the "living document" theory. The idea is that we look at the Constitution from our modern lens, and we apply our contemporary sensibilities in interpreting what it should mean and how it should most logically be applied to our modern lives. This approach leads to trouble through its blatant admission of bias and judicial whim. If the Constitution is subject to change with every new interpretation of it then what purpose does it serve in grounding our ideals as a nation? Why even have elected legislators to make laws when judges could freely interpret those laws subjectively with no foundation on lasting principle? It would also essentially remove the people from making the law by putting it into the hands of judges to interpret for whatever political purpose they see fit. 

Of course, I have mostly pointed out only the criticisms in these interpretation methods without actually prescribing one as the proper and most accurate. That is because I don't feel that I am yet qualified to make such a proclamation since I am still very new to the study of law and politics. Suffice to say, one day I hope to develop my own theory of interpretation that abides most closely to my own personal worldview and principles, and trust me, when I figure that out, there will be another unreasonably long blog post. Until then, I think it is safest to be weary of each method, and to take a little from each to form a well-rounded opinion.   

In ending this long-winded and somewhat irrelevant rant on the Constitution and its interpretive theory, I will conclude by saying that the founders were brilliant and prudent men with great vision and wisdom. They accomplished something amazing when they designed our system of government. But what they accomplished passed on great deal of responsibility to each and every one of us as citizens because the constitution is just a document. In actuality, it is just a fading piece of paper sitting in a glass box in Washington D.C. The task of preserving our rights lies with us because freedom is whatever we want it to be.

Friday, September 14, 2012

You Have No Faith in Medicine!

You have no faith in medicine!
Christopher Gian-Curso v State of Florida

Roger King Mozian was a musician and latin percussionist from New York known as the "Great Gringo" of Latin music. He went to NYU and was a fantastic trumpet player who gained national attention with his hit "Asia minor", which later became somewhat of a jazz standard. He also garnered some fame for his chops as a percussionist shredding marimbas for MGM records. He was crossing into new territory musically by combining elements of Eastern music with Latin and Jazz.

In 1951, in the midst of his career, he was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis, by his physician, Dr. Matis. For ten years the disease lay dormant under the treatment of Dr. Matis. But in 1961, it flared up and Dr. Matis immediately recommended hospitalization and drug treatment. But Mr. Mozian must have lost faith in medicine, or maybe he grew tired of drugs, or maybe one of his friends told him of a new miracle cure through natural health, who knows why or what drove him, but Roger left Dr. Matis and sought out the treatment of a Natural Physician and licensed Chiropractor, Dr. Gian-Curso and his understudy Dr. Epstein. 

They advised him to move to Florida and escape the brutal New York winters and to partake in a different treatment plan that consisted of a vegetarian diet mixed with brief periods of fasting. At first, things were going great, Mozian was feeling happy and healthy. But then 1963, he dropped from 168 lbs to 80 lbs and on May 16, he died in a Miami hospital. 

The State of Florida immediately brought suit against Dr. Gian-Curso and his young understudy Dr. Epstein.

Dr. Gian-Curso argued that he acted in good faith within the established practices of his field of medicine. But the court wasn't hearing it. They cited a previous case where a Chiropractor took a diabetic off of insulin and the patient subsequently died, and another physician related case, Hampton v State, which the Court stated, "criminal negligence exists where the physician or surgeon, or person assuming to act as such, exhibits gross lack of competency, or gross inattention, or criminal indifference to the patient's safety, and that this may arise from his gross ignorance of the science of medicine or surgery and of the effect of the remedies employed, through his gross negligence in the application and selection of remedies and his lack of proper skill..."  

The full force of mainstream modern medicine was trumpeting against Curso and Epstein. In testimony, Roger's former physician, Dr. Matis said that "a balanced diet would be very difficult to plan for a tubercular patient without including meat." Other local doctors testified that if only Roger had been put on drug treatments, he would have lived to play music again.

In his last defense, Dr. Gian-Curso argued that proximate cause was not established. How could we know that it was the change in diet that killed him, and not just the disease flaring up again? This was left up to the jury to decide, and they ultimately said yes it was the diet and treatments of the Chiropractors that lead them to convict Dr. Gian-Curso and Dr. Epstein of Manslaughter.

Reflecting on this case I wonder: how would this play out today? Has there been enough of a shift in mainstream views regarding vegetarianism that a jury would rule differently? And wasn't it Mozian's choice to refuse drug treatment? Curso claimed that he merely discussed dietary philosophy with Mozian, and did not specifically plan out Mr. Mozian's diet. So, should Physicians be held accountable for the advice that they give, or should patients be held responsible for the choices that they make regarding alternative medicines? Food for thought for another day...

One thing is for certain, Roger King Mozian could play a mean mambo, and he will be missed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Thoughts on Patriot Day

We all remember where we were at that moment on 9-11 when we heard the news. It forever changed all of our lives. It changed what it means to be an American, the definition of patriotism, the meaning of freedom and security. People instantly became heroes or villains, and our country found solidarity in mourning the dead, healing the wounded, and hating our enemies. Those enemies, as they told us, were numerous and scattered across the far reaches of the world. We declared war on "terror", and we vowed that justice would be served no matter the cost. 

But justice and vengeance are often very difficult to discern. And if there is a difference, I'm not sure that it mattered to anyone after an attack the magnitude of 9-11. 

The tide of destruction flows blood on the shore
And out of the dust, the people cry war
Lives will be taken that won't return to us
But the words of our leaders soothe sacrifice as a must

But is this the way to end a war? By earning the hate of another million more?

Movement of the mass, the machine is in full force
Bombings of cities done without remorse
Vengeance at last justice slams down her fist
Take your place as her hand checking names off the list

But is this the way to end a war? By earning the hate of another million more?

We are told that only a treasonous coward would question the validity of vengeance after so many died, so many were injured - women and children and innocent lives. But isn't that the way of war? Isn't that the evil of it? Don't innocent women and children die by our hand as well. Haven't they died in the past? Ronald Reagan said, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." And that's just the problem, war is a self-perpetuating monster that reconstitutes itself with each act of retribution disguised as justice served. 

If all the brave and honorable are called to duty, to take up arms in battle, who is left to stand up to the zealous pitch forked masses and tell them, "Wait! Enough death! Enough killing! Enough war!" 

Is there no honor in peace? Is there no valor in diplomacy? 

The tradition of war passes on from one generation to the next as young aspiring heroes, eager to prove their own patriotic virtue, blindly run into battle on the instructions of our leaders. Leaders that tell us that terror exists; that our enemies seek to destroy us; that we must strike before we are stricken.  

Shockingly enough, at one time in our country, we didn't even believe in keeping a standing army. Our Founding Fathers thought that nothing was more dangerous and tyrannical than maintaining a large military. But that sentiment changed forever with Democratic President, Woodrow Wilson. In Wilson's 1916 reelection campaign, he promised the American people that they wouldn't join the bloody slaughter of WWI. The American people elected him, perhaps naively believing that he was telling the truth and that we could actually stay out of a war that we were investing lots of money and goods in continuing. But one year later after our interests were too great to ignore, we joined the fight to ensure that our side would win. And to guarantee that we would have a say in who got what when it was all said and done. But Wilson still had to sell most Americans on the war because at that time, we weren't as blood thirsty as we are today. Mr. Wilson told the people that this would be the "war to end all wars". 

If only George Carlin had been around to tell them that "War for peace is like screwing for your virginity." 

After the war ended, Mr. Wilson declared Armistice Day on November 11. It signified the day that we laid down arms and finally discovered lasting peace. The war to end all wars was finished, and a day to recognize the cause of peace was so proclaimed. What a noble declaration? 

Later in 1954, Eisenhower must have realized that "Armistice Day" was an inappropriate name for the holiday because war was and is perpetual and the rise of the military industrial complex will ensure that laying down arms is a utopian fantasy.

It's our perceptions of bravery, justice and vengeance that urge us to radical violent action. It's our ambition and fervor to spread progress and our idea of civilization to the far reaches of the world that leads us to meddling with the self-determination of other people. It's our malicious leaders in government that channel our patriotic anger into a brutally violent war machine that is directed to exercising dominion all over the world. But it's we the people that sanction it.

What happens to the champions of peace in our history? They meet their fate as a martyrs, victims of assassination, and the cycle of violence continues. 

Will it ever be broken? When will we honor the dead, heal the wounded and end the war?

Fire Away

I wish I could be a bold patriot
without picking up a gun
I wish I could stand up for my country men
without spilling any blood

But is there a hero in our history
who didn't kill or be killed?
If you're looking for glory
you get out on a battle field

and Fire Away
in the name of God and Country
you might go down in history
when you live through hell there's a story to tell
about bravery

Did you ever buy diplomacy?
Was that just some fairy tale?
Do you think that we'll find world peace?
Show me when that hasn't failed

When you look at the page of history
it's written in the blood of men
just when you think we've had enough misery
someone drops a bomb again

and its time to Fire Away
in the name of God and Country
you might go down in history
when you live through hell there's a story to tell
about bravery