The Naturalization Oath Ceremony, and What It Means To Be a U.S. Citizen

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I am now inside an auditorium with hundreds (thousands?) of people waiting to be sworn in

This morning at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium in Lowell, Massachusetts, I underwent the Naturalization Oath Ceremony and, along with 900 other individuals, became a U.S. citizen. I anticipated that it would be more of a chore than a thrill. But as the day went on, I realized that there was something beautiful and special about being able to go through this process, and I left with a greater appreciation of (what I'm now proud to call) my country.

I arrived promptly at 11 AM as I was instructed. I did not know that there would already be hundreds of people waiting to get inside.

The line of people waiting to become american citizens today

Rapidly approaching the door. What indoctrination/brainwashing procedure lies within?

After we were ushered inside, our names were checked off a list and government officials confiscated our Permanent Resident cards (or "green cards") and discarded them into a cardboard box. Kind of incredible to see so many permanent resident cards in one place [I was unable to take a photograph of the box]. Every one was given a packet of various sundries, which featured a few instructional forms about administrative stuff like applying for a passport or knowing your labor rights as a U.S. citizen. We also got novelty flags, plus a "Citizen's Almanac" and a copy of The Declaration of Independence.

Here is the American Citizen Welcome Pack, complete with novelty flag and "U.S. Citizen's Almanac"

Reading material for the wait until the Oath

Then we entered the auditorium, where we waited for everyone else to finish the check in process and awaited the presiding judge's arrival.

Panorama: the view from my seat of the thousands of people about to get sworn in

While I was waiting, I interviewed a fellow Oath-taker, Gustavo:

Listen!

After awhile, the presiding judge entered. The standard legal invocations were delivered, but then we got to the oath almost straight away. Here's video of all 900 people taking the Oath:




Afterwards, the judge gave us a heartwarming speech about how presiding over these ceremonies is one of the greatest joys of his career. These ceremonies are his way of participating in America's promise, of welcoming people into this glorious melting pot, and wishing them the best as we all work together to build a better country.

As a visual manifestation of how diverse the crowd was, the judge read off the names of all the different countries that were represented, asking people to stand up when their country was read. Here is video of that. I can tell you that this grainy, pixelated video comes nowhere close to capturing the awe of this moment:



To close off the legal proceedings, a local fifth grader led us in our "first act as U.S. citizens," reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the gigantic flag on the stage.



The judge and everyone else on the stage filed out. Then came the long and laborious process of distributing naturalization certificates to each of the 900 individuals. Rows were called individually, and I was one of the last ones seated, making me one of the last ones to get my certificate (well over 30-40 minutes. I didn't mind. I've been waiting for over 20 years for this day). The naturalization certificate is proof that you have actually become a citizen. Obtaining it is basically the whole reason all of us went through this process. It allows us to get passports and expedites other activities required of citizens.

Seeing all the naturalization certificates laid out on tables was awe-inspiring. So much promise contained within these certificates, and so many futures that would be inexorably shaped by them. The table was fate. The table was life.

The table of certificates is actually awe-inspiring. So many futures lying on one surface.

Filing out of the hall, the mood was jubilant everywhere. People hugged their loved ones. Families took countless photos. As I wrote on my Twitter account, it was like leaving a wedding, except 900 people got married...to the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Truly a special day that I'll remember for the rest of my life. Here's me outside the hall with my naturalization certificate:

Me outside the courthouse with my naturalization certificate. It's a beautiful day.

***

Today, I am a citizen of the United States of America.

It's strange for me to say this. I've lived in this country for upwards of two decades as a non-citizen. Yet I have gotten my driver's license here, spoken English since birth, paid my taxes every year. For the past five years I've been a Permanent Resident, eagerly awaiting the requisite time period (5 years) to apply for citizenship. And now that the moment has finally come, the one thing I can safely say I feel is "relief," an emotion I'm sure is shared by hundreds of the others who joined me in taking the Oath today.

Some people have asked me what it means to be a U.S. Citizen, have wondered what's different in my life now. I don't think there's any real way to convey the advantages of being a citizen without talking about what it's like to live in the U.S. without citizenship. I'm guessing many of you reading this probably don't think too often about the fact that you are U.S. citizens. And why would you?

There are many words that I think sum up what citizenship means to a former non-citizen, but the ones I keep returning to are Opportunity and Freedom. What do I mean by those words?

Opportunity means never having to worry about how your job is going to pay you, and never being deprived of your hard-earned pay because you didn't have the right government forms. It means never having to get paid "under the table" (unless you want to). It means never needing to worry about being "eligible" for financial aid, when you apply to college or graduate school. Perhaps, more importantly, Opportunity is having the option to vote in local and national elections, to engage in our collective polity, and to do your part to shape our country and the world. It is the chance to make a difference, to take control, to take ownership of your fate, and the fate of the place that you live. It is self-determination in its purest form.

Freedom is the ability to leave the United States without having any fear of not being able to get back in. It means escaping the fate of my father, whose freshly expired visa prevented him from going back home when his father died in Taiwan many years ago. It means never having to give up amazing, incredible opportunities abroad due to complications with your immigrant status. It means being able to settle down here, to live here, to have a home here, without worrying that one day you'll be asked to leave this place you have contributed so much to. In the end, freedom is, perhaps counter-intuitively, a sense of permanence.

These things that have come second nature to the millions of people who are born here have been unbelievably difficult struggles of blood, sweat, and tears for myself and many of the 900 people that were sworn in today. We have waited endlessly in towering, stuffy government buildings to endure never-ending interviews. We have waded through hundreds of pages of complex government forms. We have been fingerprinted countless times. We have spent thousands of dollars on lawyers and on processing fees to have a chance at enjoying the fruits of American citizenship.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.” So I say again:

Today, I am a citizen of the United States of America.

And it means everything.

Brief, Rambling Thoughts on Christopher Smith's Triangle

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[The following contains SPOILERS for Christopher Smith's Triangle.]

Christopher Smith's Triangle just hit DVD/Blu-Ray and Netflix Watch Instantly in the U.S. I first heard about the film on my own podcast, as my co-host Adam Quigley suggested it'd be a good watch for people who enjoy twisty, time-travel flicks. Eight viewings later and I still can't get this film out of my head.

A lot of that is due to Melissa George's amazing performance. I'm also in love with the chilling score by Christian Henson and Dot Allison. Other things I really like about the movie:

  • The use of perspective - The cinematography by Robert Humphreys (dominated by handheld) is brilliant. We're constantly questioning whether what we're looking at is a first-person perspective from Jess's point of view, or just an omniscient third-person perspective. It's a subtle effect, but it is extremely unsettling.
  • The most shocking kill of the year - When Melissa George smashes her own face in...that was brutal.
  • The greatest headfake ever - The film starts out like a generic horror film, only 20 minutes in, all but one of the characters is killed in a brutal massacre. I did not see that coming.
  • The entire concept of leaving remnants of your former self behind - There's a scene when Sally, having been stabbed by Mean Jess, stumbles onto the deck of the ship only to find dozens of dead bodies of HERSELF. The scene is shot brilliantly, and its only shortcoming is the fact that Sally doesn't appear completely shocked and mind-blown at the dozens of corpses...OF HERSELF. LYING NEXT TO HER. DEAD. OF HERSELF.
Right after I saw the film, I called up Adam Quigley to discuss the film, and recorded our conversation. You can download it (Right-click and "Save As") or play it in your browser below:



Since this conversation, I've had a lot more time to think and read about the film, and feel differently about it now. As "The Dude" once said, "New information has come to light, man." One thing that /Filmcast listener Jim pointed out to me was the following:

I only caught a brief portion of Adam and Dave's informal discussion about the movie 'Triangle' and I just wanted to see what your thought about the metaphysical aspects of the film. In short, I came into the discussion at about the point where Dave was saying something to the effect of how he preferred if the movie was more of a literal time traveling narrative while Adam was ok with the concept that the movie had more of a supernatural reasoning about the time manipulation. I, personally, found the supernatural clues in the movie more compelling and the notion that the main character's journey in the movie was punishment or a purgatory.

The main thing I liked was that in the explanation of why Sisyphus was condemned to roll a rock up a hill was that 'he made a promise to Death that he didn't keep'. At the end of the movie *SPOILERS* after the car crash when the main character is shone walking around in a fugue state, a cab driver picks up the main character and she asks him to take her to the harbor starting the individual time loop over again. When she gets there, the driver says 'he'll keep the meter running' and asks the question,'you will come back won't you?" to which the main responses,'yes I promise'. I've always taken this to mean that the cabbie was Death (or Charon, the ferryman of the Dead) and that the main character has promised that she'll be back. Since she breaks this promise by going on the boat, she's forced to re-live a set of time loops until eventually she lives up to her promise to come back to the cab and the afterlife instead of agreeing to go on the boat and life the time loop filled half life she current inhabits.

This is a brilliant explanation that adds so much to the film for me. I'm only angry because I feel I'm a complete moron for having missed it earlier! Of course! Jess breaks the promise to the ferryman and that's what completely screws her over. It puts the entire film in a whole new context.

In addition the Wikipedia entry on the film lays out the following explanation:

**

There are two distinct phases to the total cycle denoted by A and B. Events happening in these phases are similar but not identical. By having an A and B phase the audience is fooled into thinking that Jess is altering the cycle when in fact she is simply playing her proper role in the alternate phase. In each phase there are three versions of Jess denoted by 1, 2 and 3. The phase alternates between A and B each time all the minor characters are killed and the tertiary Jess character is thrown overboard. The surviving two Jess characters advance from primary to secondary and secondary to tertiary, respectively and a new primary Jess character boards the ship.

A phase: (Film focuses on A1-Jess)

Once the group is on the Aeolus they read about the story of Sisyphus at which point A2-Jess drops her keys and the keys are found by the group. The entire group enters the ballroom of the ship where A1-Jess catches a glimpse of A2-Jess. Victor runs after A2-Jess and ends up outside where he is confronted by A2-Jess. A2-Jess accidentally fatally injures Victor. A3-Jess has her character shift and becomes the masked killer.

Gregg and Jess walk away from Sally and Downey and discover the note written in Downey’s blood to go to the theatre. A1-Jess walks away from Gregg and heads for the ballroom.

Sally and Downy are told to go to the theatre by A3-Jess. On their way they see blood trails from where A3-Jess dragged Greg's body out of the theatre. A1-Jess kills Victor in the ballroom after he attacks her. We are tricked into thinking A1-Jess then runs to the theatre but in fact A2-Jess shows up in the theatre. This is because after escaping the theatre unharmed this Jess obtains a knife. This knife is used by tertiary Jess in the next cycle to attack Sally and Downy in the bedroom.

A3-Jess kills Gregg, Sally and Downey in the theatre while A2-Jess flees the theatre and gets the knife. A2-Jess, with the knife, is on the top deck of the ship and is heard running by A1-Jess who is immediately attacked by A3-Jess. A2-Jess has no further role in the A cycle. A1-Jess eventually wins the struggle and throws A3-Jess overboard. The cycle is complete. A1-Jess becomes B2-Jess. A2-Jess becomes B3-Jess.

B phase: (Film focuses on B2-Jess)

B2-Jess resets the skipping record and then sees the new group about to board the Aeolus. In the hallway she drops her keys for the new primary group to hear and runs into the bedroom to see the note to go to the theatre written in Downey's blood. Downey was killed in the theatre in the preceding A phase so this note was made using Downey's blood from the B phase that preceded this B phase.

B2-Jess fatally injures Victor on the deck then goes below deck, scribbles another note “If they board kill them all”, takes a shotgun and loses her locket down the grate. This scene shows the audience that Jess cannot alter the total cycle and is in fact playing her proper role in the B phase of the total cycle.

B2-Jess prevents B1-Jess from killing Victor in the ballroom. B2-Jess then saves Downey and Sally from being killed in the theatre where Gregg is killed. B3-Jess is grazed in the head by B2-Jess.

B2-Jess gives Downey the shotgun and goes to look for Victor. She returns to the ballroom where his body has been thrown overboard.

B3-Jess tricks Sally and Downey into following her into a bedroom where she attacks them using the knife she obtained as A2-Jess. Sally escapes with a fatal wound to her chest while Downey is killed.

B2-Jess searches for Sally who makes the distressed call to the next primary group. She finds Sally amongst a pile of dead Sallies and gives her the brown jacket.

B3-Jess finds B1-Jess and is thrown overboard after a struggle. When Sally dies the cycle resets. B1-Jess becomes A2-Jess. B2-Jess becomes A3-Jess.

A phase: (Film focuses on A3-Jess)

A3-Jess has a character shift when she realizes that she must kill everyone in order to save them. She goes below deck and writes “Go to the theatre” in Downey’s blood before dragging his body out of the bedroom and throwing him overboard. Next A3-Jess drags Gregg out of the theatre. Victor's body has already been disposed of.

A3-Jess tells Sally and Downey to go to the theatre then leaves to get another shotgun and become the masked killer.

When Gregg offends A1-Jess she leaves him alone and A3-Jess confronts him in a balcony above the theatre where Sally and Downey are waiting. A3-Jess kills Gregg, Sally and Downey in the theatre. A2-Jess flees the theatre and gets the knife which she will use as B3-Jess.

A2-Jess is on the top deck of the ship with the knife and is heard running by A1-Jess who is immediately attacked by A3-Jess. A2-Jess has no further role in the A cycle. A1-Jess drops down one level and grabs an axe. A1-Jess attempts to distract A3-Jess by throwing an object. A3-Jess remembers having done this when she played the part of A1-Jess and cuts her off. A3-Jess ultimately loses the struggle and is thrown overboard where she washes up on shore.

Jess goes home and we find out that the real Jess is abusive towards her son. The real Jess is killed by Sisyphus-Jess. In an attempt to escape the loop she puts the body in her car, takes her son and flees. She hits a seagull and throws its body onto a pile of dead seagulls. She gets back into her car and is involved in a head on collision with a truck. She escapes 'unharmed' and is greeted by a taxi driver. Sisyphus-Jess is in fact already dead and the entire film has taken place inside her constructed punishment.

It is likely that the loop started when real Jess, distracted because she was abusing her son, died in the head on collision along with her son. After dying, real Jess becomes Sisyphus-Jess. The cab driver, playing the role of Hermes, escorts her to the harbor where she will join the next primary group about to board Aeolus.

**

I've gone through this explanation (SLOWLY) a few times and I'm not entirely sure that the notations are consistent. But it at least seems as though there's one plausible explanation in which this film could make sense. What do you think?

The Pleasures and Pains of Film Journalism: Deconstructing the Press Tour

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The Sundance press tent, 7:45 a.m.
The press tent outside the screening room at Sundance 2010. Photo by me.

Professionally, what I fear the most and what I struggle desperately to avoid is mediocrity.

I've recently been thinking a great deal about the work I do at /Film. It's been interesting to see the deluge of film enthusiast sites that have sprouted up in the past decade or two, and how that's affected the film journalism industry. For many people, sites like ours have begun to supplant the work done by the trades, such as Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, which traffic in both film news and film criticism. While these trades used to be monoliths, they have been overrun by the democratization of the internet, a glut of writers who have the passion and capacity to write about movies for free. Yet despite our differences, together, we try to bring interesting news and content to the masses.

A lot of this coverage takes place when new films come out, and directors and actors are sent around the country to participate in interviews that promote the film. It's a win-win; the studio gets the word out about the movie, the website/publication gets some theoretically exclusive content that no one else will have.

Perhaps no one has deconstructed this process better than director Jason Reitman. Reitman was recently out promoting his excellent, Academy Award-nominated film Up in the Air. He also decided to document the entire thing, and produced two illustrative pieces of content: A short-film called "Lost in the Air: The Jason Reitman Press Tour Simultaor" and a pie chart detailing all of the questions he's been asked:



Reitman's "Press Tour Simulator" is a mesmerizing assemblage of photos and videos that he took of the 300+ interviews he endured promoting Up in the Air:



I can't speak to Reitman's intention or attitude in creating the pie chart and the video, but I can describe my own reactions to it. The overriding feeling that emerges for me is a stultifying and crippling degree of sameness and monotony. When Reitman joined /Film for a length, in-depth, rambling, and hilarious discussion, it was after he had gone on tour, and we even spoke about how giving an interview for one's film, after awhile, becomes its own kind of performance.

In response to the above video, one of my favorite film people, Alison Willmore from IFC, tweeted that the video demonstrates "It's depressing from the other side too." People might think that meeting Jason Reitman in person might be a thrill -- and they'd be right -- but for many (albeit not all) of those who have been covering the industry for years and decades, the celebrity meeting lost its luster long ago. After watching the video, I had a quasi-existential crisis. "What's the point of all this?" I asked. "What's the point if/when this publicity process is a chore for both parties? Is it ever worth it?"

Insofar as films and the process by which they're made, can provide us insight into ourselves and into our culture, I think it can be.

After my first post about whether or not film criticism is a dying art, a relatively well-known online film critic spoke to me about his own thoughts on the state of the industry. He explained to me that old media actually had some virtues, including editorial oversight. If you wrote about film (or anything else), your words were read over, edited, and critiqued by people who probably knew more about it than you, before they were ready to be printed. With the development of blogging platforms such as Wordpress and Blogger, anyone with a computer and some spare time can be read by thousands almost instantly. The need to be good at writing, to be knowledgeable about one's topic, went away. It was replaced with the need for business savvy, web-savvy, and lots of time and commitment. In this environment, is there any hope for uniqueness, for excellence?

The biggest challenge that I face is to try to conduct these interviews and write this coverage in such a way that provides insight or that spurs meaningful thought in my readers/listeners. It's difficult when there are hundreds/thousands of other people out there who are covering the exact same topic as you are. But excellence frequently requires reinvention, self-reflection, self-criticism, and a strong distaste for being pleased with oneself. I'm grateful to have a platform through which high-quality content is even possible, as not everyone has that privilege and opportunity. But can I use that platform in a way that maximizes the quality of the content? Only my audience can decide whether or not I have succeeded.

May we all strive to be better than we were yesterday. It's what keeps me up at night, what gets me up in the morning, and what will keep me going through the end of this journey, whenever and wherever that my be.

This article is the second part of a series. Here's part one.

iPhone Battery Freedom: The Griffin PowerDuo Reserve and the JustMobile Gum Pro

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Those who follow me on Twitter or on Facebook know that I use my iPhone 3GS an awful lot. Whether surfing the internet, tweeting, reading up on news, or responding to e-mail, I'm engaged with it at all times. This has frequently become a problem due to the iPhone's limited battery life.

The iPhone 3GS is rated for 5 hours of talk time on 3G and 5 hours of internet use on 3G (10 hours on wifi, which is less frequently available to me). As such, if I leave my home with a full charge in the morning, I'm typically in need of a battery boost by mid-day. Finding an outlet and sitting around waiting for my phone to charge is usually not possible and would not be a good option even if it was possible.

Enter portable battery pack options. Today, I'll be describing my anecdotal experiences with two battery packs: The Justmobile Gum Pro and the Griffin PowerDuo Reserve.


The $60 Justmobile Gum Pro comes in a horrible cheap-looking box and looks like the most low-rent knock-off battery pack ever. Nonetheless, it contains a small battery with a pretty powerful charge inside. Rated at 4400 mAh, this thing has the potential to recharge your iPhone to completion more than 3 times. It sounds like any iPhone user's dream come true: Never worry about needing an iPhone charge ever again (theoretically)!

In practice however, the process of using it is actually moderately cumbersome. In order to charge it, you have use a USB cable to connect it to a power source. I had been under the impression that this charging process would just take a few hours, but in my experience, using a variety of USB charging devices plugged into electrical outlets, it has taken about 6-8 hours to charge this thing.

So then you have to carry around the Justmobile Gum Pro with you (it feels like it weighs about 1/3 to 1/2 a pound) and when the time is right, you connect an iPod cable from the Justmobile to your iPhone. This is a little bit difficult to do on the go. I have an elaborate system worked out with the pockets in my jacket that makes this situation bearable; the sight of me holding my iPhone with a white iPod cable snaking out of my pocket is not uncommon. However, those who do not may find that the Justmobile Gum Pro is an embarrassment to take out in public with you. It's also really difficult to hold the Justmobile Gum Pro AND the iPhone with one hand (hence necessitating the pockets).

One other thing: I have found that the Justmobile Gum Pro's battery charge has degraded significantly over time. While it once could charge my iPhone 3+ times, it now struggles to get to barely two full charges before it needs to be plugged in again.


The PowerDuo Reserve package is a different sort of deal altogether. For $60, you get a car charger, an AC adapter/charger, and a small little battery pack that plugs straight into your iPhone.

The AC adapter and car charger have obvious utility, and if you need those items, they alone justify the cost of this package. However, the spare battery pack is a neat little addition that is great at helping you out in a pinch. It has LED indicators that activate when you press the one button located on its face. These indicators tell you how much charge is left. The build quality is great and the best thing about it is that the battery pack is light and not too big, so it won't weigh down on your iPhone connectors. When plugged into your iPhone, the device is virtually unnoticeable.

The big caveat? The spare battery pack only charges your iPhone about 20%. This is a miniscule amount of charge compared to what the JustmobileGum delivers.

In summary...

The Justmobile Gum Pro:
Cost: $60
Advantages:
  • Can completely recharge your iPhone multiple times.

Disadvantages:
  • Packaging does not inspire confidence, looks like it was made in a sweatshop
  • Charge degrades over time
  • Recharging the Justmobile Gum Pro takes a really long time (usually must be done overnight)
  • Requires cable to charge your iPhone
The Griffin PowerDuo Reserve
Cost: $60
Advantages:
  • Lots of charging options (i.e. good value for money), although they require electrical outlets
  • Excellent build quality and packaging
  • Almost completely unobtrusive to your iPhone experience
Disadvantages:
  • Only recharges your iPhone about 20%

CONCLUSION:

Ultimately you will have to weigh what you need most with how much money you have to spend. Need more electrical outlet charging solutions, plus a nice little battery boost when necessary? The Griffin PowerDuo reserve is a good option. Primarily concerned with sheer battery power? Then go with the Justmobile Gum Pro.

As for me? I carry both of these things around with me at all times. Sure, it's a pain in the butt to have to make sure they're both charged at all times. But is it worth never having to worry about my iPhone's battery, ever? Hell yes.

I received a review unit of the Griffin PowerDuo Reserve for the purposes of this blog post. I purchased the JustMobile Gum Pro myself.

Want to send me a product to review? E-mail me at davechensemail(AT)gmail(DOT)com.