Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Sunday, May 25, 2014

"Technical Difficulties"—A Short Story

I'm scribbling this hastily in the linen closet; it's dark in here, with only the light which creeps in under the door, and I know that if they find me, it's all over. But, I may be the only one who knows, and there's nobody in here that I can talk to—nobody I can trust. They're not about to get me that way. So, my only hope—our only hope—is to get this to someone on the outside. Someone who can do something.
My name is ---------no, that doesn't matter—why make it easy for them? For the last six years I've worked security for a local corporation. But don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those law and order types. My job was to sit in front of a battery of monitors and check the corridors and the labs for unauthorized personnel. Only once in my six years did anything untoward occur, and that turned out to be a maintenance man who got off on the wrong floor.
The truth is, I took the job because I love the tube. I guess you could say I'm a video nut. As a kid I spent all my summers glued to the TV while the other kids were out playing. I watched everything: cartoons, game shows, soaps, talk shows, sit-com reruns. But most of all, I loved the old movies, and I watched them whenever they were on. It's a tragedy that they don't show those old black and whites anymore. Too old, I guess; too “phony” for today's kids.
Anyway, that's why I got the job, because it seemed the perfect way to get paid for doing what I like to do best. On the night shift, after all the offices and labs have been closed and everyone's gone home, we hook the front hall monitor up to a TV tuner. The higher-ups know about it, and nobody cares. Anyway, about a year ago, I began to notice something peculiar.
Have you ever been sitting in a theatre watching a movie when words come out, but the person who is supposed to be speaking didn't open their lips? That's called “voicing over.” They didn't used to do it much, but they do it on everything nowadays.
It's very subtle. Most of the time you never even notice, but once in a while a careless cut might throw out the sync and the voice won't fit the lips. Sometimes the levels are wrong, creating a disparity between the different voices. Other times the actors on the screen aren't talking at all, but they're far away, and they figured you wouldn't notice a few extra words.
But, I did! Then, it got worse. Even programs that were supposed to be live began to look dubbed. They're very good. It takes a practiced eye to catch them. Usually, they're only a fraction of a millisecond off. But they're off! Even the news reporters aren't really live anymore.
It all fell into place about three months ago, though, when I was home watching the President on TV.
We all know that the best defense is a good offense,” he said, “And so I am instituting a new program that will show the world, both our enemies and our allies, that we will not stand still and watch our world be imperiled by evil, Godless monsters.” He frowned, to show that he meant business, then he smiled and continued. “Therefore, in order to fight these VICIOUS, GOD-FORSAKEN HOOLIGANS, the following steps will be taken....”
Well, you know all about the steps. The whole world does. But, you see, I was watching the President. They tried to pull back from him and show the the flag and the Oval Office, but I saw it! The President was over-dubbed! The words that we were hearing were not the words that he was speaking.
I couldn't even begin to fathom the implications of that truth. I still don't have it all worked out, but at the time, I about flipped. I burst out of my place and took the stairs to Leo and Melanie's apartment three at a time. Melanie came to the door; Leo was still sitting in front of the set.
Well,?” I said, “Did you see it?”
Sure,” he said, “but it wasn't all that exciting to come running up here about! Besides, I've seen it before a million times. It is a kick, though, when Lucy starts stuffin' those candies down her blouse.” Melanie started giggling and Leo laughed hard.
NO!” I shouted, “I mean the President's speech. Didn't you see the President just now? His 'Cleansing the World' speech?”
Oh, no,” said Melanie. “We always catch him on the Eleven O'clock News.”
But they don't show the whole speech on the news!” I said.
No, but they show you the important parts, and they tell you what he said,” Leo answered and then frowned. “What the hell is all this about, anyway?”
That wasn't the President speaking!” I said, raising my voice. Suddenly, I thought of all the speeches that I'd seen on the news: The anchor smiling sincerely and summarizing what some person said, while a picture of the speaker is superimposed on the background. Maybe they let you hear a few words by the speaker—rarely more than a sentence—before switching to a new story. You don't really get ANY of the speech!
What the Hell are you talking about?” Leo said.
Old Leo can get pretty testy, but I was surprised at such an antagonistic tone.
Yes, Scott, Darling,” Melanie chimed in cheerfully. “Whatever are you talking about?”
But this time I was watching. She was over by the wet bar fixing a vodka water. She had her back partially turned from me; nevertheless, when she spoke, her voice level sounded slightly off, and I could've sworn that the voice started before her lips began to move. Oh, they're very good, as I've said, but I saw.
Oh...I...uh...was just joking,” I stammered. “I mean, it was a great speech ... Better than usual, I mean.”
They're always great,” Melanie said, but she was looking at me queerly, almost suspiciously. Leo wore the same puzzled but accusing look.
Hey, you okay, Buddy?” he asked. His eyes showed concern, but his lips were off. Nearly imperceptible, I'll grant you, but off!
Needless to say, I got out of there post haste. I've tried not to raise their suspicions, but now I realize they must be everywhere. The desk sergeant, the doctor, most of the nurses: they're all a part of it. The terrible thing is, I don't know how they can tell us from them. Some of them are so good that you'd never notice if you weren't really watching, and, of course, watching is a dead giveaway.
So I don't watch their lips, except on the sly. And I don't talk to anybody. I figure that's the most likely way for them to recognize us, and like I said, they're not going get me if I can help it.
I'm going to try to hide this letter in the outgoing laundry and hope that it gets to someone on the outside. I can't give my name or where the asylum is because they could find me. If you're not one of them, though, you've got to warn people. And remember, WATCH THEIR LIPS!

From the short story collection, So, It's All Done With Mirrors; That's No Reflection on You
©1985 Tim McMullen
All rights reserved

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Only MY Gazillionaire, NOT!

  • In reference to a comment that I made about the unintentionally humorous and ironic rationale of Justice Kennedy in the recent 5-4 decision on affirmative action and the opportunity to use that rationale to easily overturn both "Citizen's United" and "McCutcheon" (and all other Supreme Court decisions), an acquaintance from high school with whom I had not conversed in well over forty years (he is not my FB friend, but the "friend" of the FB friend to whom I was commenting), said the following:

    "Oh Puleez. Stop pretending this is principled. The only gazillionaires you want to have free speech are those who agree with you."

    To which, I responded:
  • Tim McMullen Hi, xxxxx. I find it rather amusing that you can infer my desire to stifle one side of "civil discourse" from the comments above. You do not appear to be speaking to anything that I actually said in my analysis of the recent Supreme Court decision, and I am not certain as to which "this" you are suggesting is unprincipled. Nonetheless, I would be happy to attempt to respond to your comment and, hopefully, disabuse you of your erroneous assumptions.

    The original post was about finding a way to overturn "Citizen's United"; you might have rightly concluded from my comment above that I find the underlying rationale of that decision to be either disingenuous, fatuous, or brazenly hypocritical. I am unwilling to claim to know their actual motivation; I can only attempt to consider possibilities. 

    The decision, like so many of this court—including its followup in "McCutcheon," appears to be predicated on "free market principles" (if that phrase is not an oxymoron). I would suggest that thousands of years of history have proven that even if Adam Smith's conjectures about a "freer market," the simple rationale of which boils down to the magic of supply and demand, are true in principle, they are not and cannot be true in fact. More importantly, since Milton Friedman and Arthur Laffer's contributions in the early 70's, like the misappropriated fragments of Ayn Rand's hypocritical idolatry of selfishness, the "free market" rationale is merely code for a social Darwinism intended to bilk millions out of the "suckers," i.e., consumers and citizens, in the name of "free" enterprise.

    I am guessing, from your brief and seemingly unrelated dismissal of my argument about the irony and illogic inherent in Kennedy's affirmative action decision, that you are not really interested in a discussion of the merits of the case. Perhaps I am wrong, and I welcome the dialogue. 

    The Supreme Court has decided that the free speech provision in the Bill of Rights protects the free and unfettered use of money in the political system. I would argue that this interpretation (like Scalia's flagrant, hypocritical and self-serving error in Bush v. Gore) misunderstands the equal protection under the law premise as well as free speech in our political system. Thomas Pinketty's new book (which I have not read; I have only seen summaries, but the conclusions, though based on extensive research and analysis, should be obvious to pretty much anyone who has lived through the last forty years) shows how the moves to deregulate industry have created significantly disproportionate gains in wealth for the few and actual loss for the many. The point is that a true free market is an unachievable fantasy because it will always be manipulated and misappropriated by fraud, misdirection, and political tampering. Always. Therefore, predicating our democracy on the rights of the wealthy to unlimited access to the tools of persuasion and governmental manipulation cannot be based on justice, fairness or equality. 

    Here is an example of a legitimate attempt to make access to political funding more equitable and egalitarian. I offer this only as a simple example. Limit political contributions to $100 dollars per voting age citizen. It can all be given to one candidate or one cause, or it can be distributed to as many as twenty different causes or candidates. Some people will choose not to participate at all merely out of disinterest, and poverty will still be somewhat restrictive on participation, but that amount, if the individual is interested, would be achievable for nearly all. Yes, this will drastically limit the profit of media conglomerates, but why should the political process in a democracy be a profit making enterprise? We have also completely lost track of the premise of "public airwaves" through radical deregulation, again sacrificing the public good on the altar of a profiteering free market. Carve out a brief time, prime time, for a certain amount of weeks or months prior to an election during which candidates and causes can put forth, for example, two minute radio and TV ads at a prescribed time. People can tune in or tune out as they are so disposed. A person running for office has the right to commit the same $100 dollars as anyone else, but no more. They may use it on themselves or on any campaign of their choice. 

    Granted, these ideas are simplistic, arbitrary, and radical, but they come much closer to the democratic goal of "one person, one vote" than either the system as it had evolved either before or after the "Citizens" and "McCutcheon" decisions. As you may have noticed, such a plan does not favor one side's gazillionare over another, and it is, in fact, predicated on an attempt to be principled in achieving a desirable goal. And if my guy wins, more's the better (that's a slight nod to humor), but such a scheme would not favor wealth or poverty, the right or the left or the center. It might actually engender a more active and interested populace, and it might actually promote MORE "FREE" and more creative, thoughtful, and engaged speech in the process. "Puleez."

    "The Greatest Threat to Democracy is Hypocrisy! Seek Truth! Speak Truth!" Tim McMullen