Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Rage Against a Forgetful Machine

I fought the law, and I won. Yesterday was my court date for my alleged moving violation, in which I allegedly disobeyed a stop sign. I opted to appeal to the court about the ticket because (a) I was already driving on a ticket and didn't want another one on my record and (b) I wanted to defend my reputation as a driver to my friends and family. So, filled with righteous indignation, I sped from my house to the county courthouse for my 8:30 am court appointment.

I got there at 8:20 to discover that my 8:30 appointment was shared with about two hundred alleged traffic code violators. We herded ourselves into a white room with no ventilation and lots of fluorescent lighting, where we sat in silence under the stern watch of one security guard and one translator. On each wall (in English only) were the rules of the room: NO check in, gum chewing, reading materials, electronics, talking or hats. I didn't even say hello to the people who sat next to me, out of fear that the security guard or the translator would hold me in contempt of court.

As you might imagine, a room filled with about two hundred alleged traffic code violators gets a bit gamey. The woman who couldn't come up with childcare during her 8:30 scheduled court appearance ultimately had to ask for a continuance so her infant wouldn't suffer heat exhaustion. The rest of us took our chances.

At 8:30 we all rose to welcome the judge, and the bailiff started calling our names. We were mocked and derided as a group whenever someone didn't verbally respond to the bailiff, as though an alleged traffic code violation is the clearest evidence of gross stupidity. The judge worked with remarkable efficiency moving people through the line, so that once I was called to stand in line, I quickly made my way to the bench.

"Good morning, Mr. Zimmerman."
"Good morning, your honor."
"Mr. Zimmerman, you're charged with disobeying a stop sign. How do you plead?"
"Not guilty, your honor."
"Have a seat."

I sat back down to wait another forty-five minutes for the processing of all the guilty folks. Somewhere along the way my ticketing officer showed up, which gave me some worry: police officers are not accusers in such cases; they're witnesses. I had come to dispute my accuser, but he had come to offer his eyewitness account. The police were in full uniform, which made me sad for them, since the room was unbearably hot. But they were also sitting right next to the only fan in the place, so I think they were all going to be OK.

While the hundreds of other accused were streaming through the bureaucracy, I once again heard my name being called, this time by an assistant state's attorney, who offered me a deal: court supervision (keeping my ticket off my record) in return for a morning of driving school, a slightly increased fine and a second court date. Tempting, especially since the big mean police officer had driven all the way across the county to sit in a stiflingly hot and gamey room in full uniform just to nail my butt to the wall. But I--I was convinced of the righteousness of my cause. I had not only been misjudged, I had been wronged. The state of Illinois had been wronged. Justice had been misserved. So I declined the deal and took my stinky seat.

Barely a minute had passed before the assistant state's attorney called my name again. As it turns out, the ticketing officer didn't remember me, and memory is a key element in an eyewitness testimony. I was mildly offended, since he's ticketed me twice for the same offense--I thought we were becoming friends, in a cat-and-mouse sort of way--although in the officer's defense, I've recently grown a beard and so no longer resemble the picture on my driver's license or the mental image he might have of me whimpering bald-faced in my driver's seat. All this to say, the state was dropping its case.

I was mildly disappointed, as this meant I wouldn't get my chance to rage against the machine, to point out the inherent hypocricy and systemic flaws I observed in my ticketing experience. But at least my insurance wouldn't go up. I was advised to get back in line, so that the judge could officially close my case and I could get my license back.

By this point the room was still hot, sticky and stinky, but the line had slowed down considerably. The judge had dispensed with all the quick decisions and had now taken the throne of Solomon, mustering up as much wisdom as he could while sitting in a heavy robe in a hot, sticky and stinky room and adjudicating the complaints and pleas for mercy and terms of punishment for the no-longer-alleged traffic code violaters ahead of me. I occasionally stole a glance at my accuser, trying to determine if he would have a last-moment resurgence of memory before I made it to the front of the line, or whether he would follow me out into the parking lot to trail me back to the scene of my alleged crime. But finally the judge called my name, closed my case and directed me to the bailiff, who handed me my license and told me to have a nice day. Which I did.

That night I went to our church's elder session meeting, which involved a similar amount of bureaucracy but considerably less gameyness. And while I am mildly disappointed that I didn't get to voice my rage at the system that had stolen my reputation for a month, I am appreciative that I live in a country governed by the rule of law and guided by the presumption of innocence, and I am thankful that I live in a culture that sees encounter and dialogue as an effective means of settling disputes, and that strives to settle those disputes decently and in order.

I'm also thankful for my friends hovering around Loud Time, who gave me advice and encouragement about how to proceed when I wanted to dispute this traffic code violation. I owe my exoneration in no small part to you.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A New Kind of Journal

Someone just asked me how blogging compares to journaling, and I got really smarty-pantsy about it for a while before thinking, This would be a good question for a blog. So let me put it to you, my few and far between readers: In what ways is blogging like journaling, and in what ways is it not? What would you be sacrificing by journaling online rather than privately, and what are the positive side-effects of such a practice?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What Color Is Your Pair of Fruit?

Today I dissed my friend Stacey's choice of lunch item. She was standing innocently by the microwave, just making conversation, commenting that she'd never tried this particular brand of pre-fab food before. So I looked and noticed that her particular selection of pre-fab food had been titled "Orange Beef." So I said, out loud, "That sounds gross."

It was a purely visceral response, and she received it with great aplomb, but a comment such as mine is only the beginning of a conversation--never should it be the ending. Together we figured out that what she was interpreting as a fruit, I was interpreting as a color. I, of course, quickly agreed that orange as a flavor is delicious, and presumably would taste good glazed over a nice chunk of pre-fab beef. Stacey also quickly allowed that she would eat orange-colored beef only under duress.

I should also say that I'm not really in any position to judge anyone's eating habits. While I was mocking Stacey's entree, I was heating up an ad-hoc combination of my Monday night's dinner (beef and spiral pasta with an onion-based sauce) with my Wednesday lunch leftovers (chicken and shells in a pesto sauce). My meal was an odd mix of earth tones--green chicken, brown beef, and a mix of tan and green noodles of varying shapes. What can I say--I was hungry.

Anyway, that's not my point. My point is that there's an odd history of blurred boundaries between fruits and vegetables, on the one hand, and colors on the other. My brother has luggage that isn't blue or purple but eggplant. My sister-in-law introduced me to the joy and frustration of blueberry picking, and she has a blackberry bush in her backyard. Banana-flavored candy doesn't taste like bananas; it tastes like crap. It's only called banana-flavored because it's yellow.

So now I'm intrigued by how fruits and vegetables and colors get commingled in culture, so let me cherry-pick your grey matter a bit:

What are your favorite cultural artifacts, mental images and cliched metaphors that employ fruits, vegetables and colors?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Spin Boldly

I was looking for a birthday ecard for Margaret Feinberg (happy birthday, Margaret!) and stumbled across these awesomely jaded, sardonic videos, available as free podcasts from iTunes. Check it out and defuse your impending eruption of postal rage. Based on the book The Art of Demotivation. Very funny.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

RIP, CAP

Captain America is dead. Read about it here.

I devoted a chapter of my book to Captain America as a symbol of the journey from idealism through disillusionment to conviction. And while to kill a superhero is not necessarily to end his life, the death of Captain America is unavoidably a statement. He died once before, in the 1940s, as short-sighted comic publishers failed to grasp a vision for the character beyond the immediate jingoism of World War II, but his death this time is an indictment not of comic publishing but of the American experiment: the world, it suggests, has moved beyond America, and America will ultimately be left behind.

It's funny, because before I heard about this development I rewatched Superman Returns, in which Superman, um, returns after a five-year unexplained absence. In the interim, Lois Lane has moved on, giving birth to a child of dubious parentage, entering into a long-term committed romance and authoring the article "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman"--for which she wins a Pulitzer prize. Superman isn't dead per se, but in the eyes of Lois, in the eyes of the world, he might as well be.

By the end of the movie, of course, Lois has saved Superman, Superman has saved her; she has saved her son, he has saved her; she has saved her boyfriend, he has saved her. Superman has saved the world, and the world has saved him. Lois sits down to write another article: "Why the World Needs Superman." She's moved from idealism, through disillusionment, to conviction.

It's funny, because I'm also three months into the Year of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who writes on Christianity in the aftermath of the death of Christianity. He is leading me from idealism, through disillusionment, to conviction.

So I'm hopeful that Captain America will be resurrected. The world may not need him today, but tomorrow is another story.

***

In other news, my book just came out in an Indonesian edition. I can't read it, but it sure looks sweet.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Tax on My Plunder

Check out this article by Chris Heuertz, director of the justice mission Word Made Flesh. I can only imagine finding out that the slave labor of a friend is on your back, but Chris is fortunate to have made such a friend, and we're fortunate that Chris has the means to share this story and organize a response.