"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Who Would Have Guessed?

You've no doubt noticed that the latest tactic among the anti-marriage crowd is to pretend the courts don't exist, or at least, exist only to take away voting rights and ensconce the "religious beliefs" of corporations into law. I discussed that stance here, here, here, and here.

The latest to jump on the "nullification" bandwagon is Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court:

As Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, I will continue to recognize the Alabama Constitution and the will of the people overwhelmingly expressed in the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment. I ask you to continue to uphold and support the Alabama Constitution with respect to marriage, both for the welfare of this state and for our posterity. Be advised that I stand with you to stop judicial tyranny and any unlawful opinions issued without constitutional authority.

Those "unlawful opinions" he's talking about come from federal courts. It seems to me that Judge Moore should study about the role of the federal courts in enforcing Constitutional guarantees of individual rights, particularly when those rights are abridged by popular referendum, which itself is patently unlawful. (You can get more of Moore's history at the link.)

Do I hear the ghost of George Wallace applauding wildly?

So of course, Tony Perkins thinks that Judge Roy Moore is the cat's pajamas.

Federal judges may have the last word on marriage -- but they won't have the final one. That's becoming abundantly clear in Alabama, the latest state to feel the sting of a runaway court invalidating the will of the people on marriage. In a letter to Governor Robert Bentley (R-Ala.), Chief Justice Roy Moore made that quite clear - explaining that this isn't an issue that the federal courts will resolve. Rather, he said, it 'raises serious, legitimate concerns about the propriety of federal court jurisdiction over the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment.' While some may accept same-sex marriage as they have abortion-on-demand, same-sex 'marriage' will never enjoy universal acceptance as the norm that natural marriage does. We've already seen a decline in public acceptance of same-sex 'marriage' as others have lost their freedoms of speech and religion. Those numbers will increase. If liberals honestly believe that Americans -- millions of whom turned out to protect natural marriage in law -- will stand by while the courts silence their voice, they're mistaken."

It's getting to the point where Perkins' press releases are just funny, if not quite as pathetic as those coming from Brian Brown. Although one has to have a certain amount of admiration for the way he can twist reality to suit his agenda without ever batting an eyelash. I guess that's one of the advantages of having no moral foundation.

And of course, Moore's letter is just getting him all hot and sweaty again.

Culture Break: Corvus Corax, "Twilight of the Thunder God"

I first ran across Corvux Corax several years ago, when I wound up reviewing The Best of Corvus Corax, which was their first American release. (Another one of those "Sure, I can do that" moments.) At that point, they were a hot item in the Berlin club scene, and were still doing medieval music on bagpipes and drums. For this one, they've teamed up with a group of taiko drummers*, Wadokyo, for a performance at the Wacken Open Air Festival in 2013. It's quite a shift from their earlier stuff, and I'm not sure what I think of it.

In case the term "taiko" is jiggling something at the back of your mind, think of Kodo.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Today's Must Read

Ari Ezra Waldman has a very good summary of the framing of the marriage cases to be heard by the Supreme Court on appeal from the Sixth Circuit. The questions the Court will address are:

1. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?

2. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out of state?

The second question is giving some commentators shpilkies, as we used to say in Rogers Park: they see it as an indication that the Court may dodge on a ruling granting nationwide marriage equality. Waldman lays that one to rest quite effectively:
First, recall that there were four cases on appeal up to the Supreme Court and all four cases were consolidated and granted review. But the four cases were not identical. Two of them -- the Ohio case, Obergefell v. Hodges, and the Tennessee case, Tanco v. Haslam -- are exclusively challenges to the states' refusal to recognize valid marriages performed out of state. They are challenges to what are colloquially called "mini-DOMAs."

In other words, that question has to be presented, otherwise two of the cases are left out in the cold.

It's a quick read, has some useful history, and it's nice, concise, and very clear. Do it.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Marriage News Watch, January 26, 2015

There's a big fight underway right now in Alabama, with a Judge overturning a marriage ban and state officials refusing to obey his order to issue licenses. Anti-gay politicians are threatening to ban all marriage licenses if the Supreme Court rules in favor of equality. And one lawmaker even wants to send clerks to jail if they issue licenses to anyone -- gay or straight.

Update: The judge in Alabama has placed a fourteen day stay on her decision.

I'd forgotten about Huckabee's moronic statements. Here's a good take-down from The Atlantic:

Some conservatives seem resigned to the fact that the fight is lost; not Huckabee. Here's what he told radio host Hugh Hewitt Tuesday:
One thing I am angry about, though, Hugh, is this notion of judicial supremacy, where if the courts make a decision, I hear governors and even some aspirants to the presidency say well, that’s settled, and it’s the law of the land. No, it isn’t the law of the land. Constitutionally, the courts cannot make a law. They can interpret one. And then the legislature has to create enabling legislation, and the executive has to sign it, and has to enforce it.

Hewitt seemed a little taken aback: Was Huckabee counseling that county clerks simply ignore Supreme Court rulings and refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?

Well, the point is states would be in a position that their legislatures would have to go into session. They would have to create legislation that the governor would sign. If they don’t, then there is not same sex marriage in that state. Now if the federal courts say well, you’re going to have to do it, well, then you have a confrontation. At that point, somebody has to decide is the Court right? If it is, then the legislation will be passed. It’s not unlike we’ve seen other legislation.

I refer Governor/Pastor (and which do you suppose he prefers? Or does he know the difference?) Huckabee to Article VI, Par. 2, of the United States Constitution.

Read the rest of the article. And see the previous post for more on Alabama and Oklahoma.

And here's the latest map:

Obstruction As Ideology

Well, maybe that's too strong a word -- let's say "political philosophy" -- that seems to work as well. (No, the two are not the same -- "ideology" has come to have religious overtones; "political philosophy" is rather less emotional.)

Now, we're all familiar with this from the actions -- or inactions, to be more accurate -- of Congress over the past several years. The Republicans are still working on making Obama a one-term president. But we're now seeing it at the state level, most notably in the case of the recent pro-marriage decisions in Florida and Alabama. Alabama perhaps throws it into high relief:

"Judge Granade's ruling in this case only applies to the parties in the case and has no effect on anybody that is not a named party. The probate judges were not parties in this matter," Al Agricola, attorney for the Alabama Probate Judges Association, explained. "The legal effect of this decision is to allow one person in one same-sex marriage that was performed in another state to adopt their partner's child. There is nothing in the judge's order that requires probate judges in Alabama to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples."

Judge Greg Norris, President of the Alabama Probate Judges Association, hopes that misinterpretation of Friday's ruling will not cause confusion among the general public.

Ah, yes -- "misinterpretation" and "confusion among the general public." Where have we heard that before? You will recall that someone finally asked Judge Robert Hinkle for clarification. He was not amused.

I have one question for Mr. Agricola: what part of the word "unconstitutional" is it that you don't understand?

And, just to show the sheer inventiveness of the anti-marriage loons, a legislator in Oklahoma wants the state out of the "marriage business" completely:

Marriage licenses would become a thing of the past in Oklahoma under a bill filed by state Rep. Todd Russ.

The Cordell Republican says he wants to protect court clerks from having to issue licenses to same-sex couples. He doesn’t want these workers put in the position of having to condone or facilitate same-sex marriage.

Under his plan, a religious official would sign a couple’s marriage certificate, which would then be filed with the clerk. Marriages would no longer be performed by judges. If a couple did not have a religious official to preside over their wedding, they could file an affidavit of common law marriage.

“Marriages are not supposed to be a government thing anyway,” he said Wednesday.

Russ, a credentialed Assemblies of God minister, is upset with rulings that have supported same-sex marriage.

No shit.

Well, let's see, aside from the 14th Amendment Equal Protection violation -- common-law marriages vs. "real" marriages (oh, and one of those pesky details that seems to elude these assholes: Oklahoma does not, at present, recognize common-law marriages), there's probably a violation of the Establishment Clause in there somewhere -- a religious test to qualify for federal marriage benefits? Does the federal government recognize common-law marriages if they're not recognized by the state?

Oh, and Rep. Russ? Marriage is most certainly a "government thing," in every country outside the Vatican. (Give or take some fundamentalist Islamic states.)

Sort of reminds me of those county clerks in Florida who decided that they would no longer perform marriages in the courthouse.

Actually, it reminds me more of a two-year-old throwing a tantrum.

(Both stores via Joe.My.God.)

And of course Ted Cruz is getting into the act:

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) says he is planning on introducing an amendment that would prohibit judges from overturning state same-sex marriage bans, as he believes that same-sex marriage isn't protected under the Constitution.

Yeah, that's going to go far, isn't it? So far, Cruz has managed to show that he's good at one thing: grandstanding.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saturday Science: You Never Know What's Out There

Which to me is what makes the universe interesting. It seems there just might be another couple of planets in our solar system:
At least two as-yet undiscovered planets as big as Earth or larger may be hiding in the outer fringes of the solar system, scientists believe.

The secret worlds are thought to exist beyond the orbits of Neptune, the furthest true planet from the Sun, and the even more distant tiny “dwarf planet” Pluto.

The evidence comes from observations of a belt of space rocks known as “extreme trans-Neptunian objects” (Etnos).

Orbiting the Sun beyond Neptune, Etnos should be distributed randomly with paths that have certain defined characteristics. But a dozen of the bodies have completely unexpected orbital values consistent with them being influenced by the gravitational pull of something unseen.

What surprises me about discoveries like this, and all the planets we're finding orbiting other stars, is the surprise in some quarters. I mean, it seems sort of inevitable that other stars would have planets, if for no other reason than that there's so much stuff floating around in space looking for a home. And we've known for a long time that our own solar system is a little more complicated than a bunch of planets with their attendant moons circling the sun in a nice, orderly fashion.

And, as it turns out, those who pay attention to such things have been thinking for a while that there's something out there:

Astronomers have spent decades debating whether a hidden planet beyond Pluto remained undiscovered.

The new research, published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Letters, is based on analysis of an effect called the “Kozai mechanism”, by which a large body disturbs the orbit of a smaller and more distant object.

The scientists wrote: “In this scenario, a population of stable asteroids may be shepherded by a distant, undiscovered planet larger than the Earth …”

One problem is that the theory goes against predictions of computer simulations of the formation of the solar system, which state there are no other planets moving in circular orbits beyond Neptune. But the recent discovery of a planet-forming disk of dust and gas more than 100 astronomical units (AU) from the star HL Tauri suggests planets can form long distances away from the centre of a solar system.

The view from out there:

An artist’s impression of one of the two as-yet undiscovered planets. Photograph: Nasa/JPL-Caltech/PA

I've Lost Count Again

Alabama's marriage bans go down the toilet. (Alabama??!! Yes, Alabama.)

Here's the decision.

The attorney general of Alabama is, of course, vowing to fight to the bitter end.

And among the expected reactions is Tony Perkins, with his usual mix of hyperbole, misrepresentation, and fabrication. I'm not going to parse it -- there's enough holes there to accommodate a whole bunch of wedding parties.

Strangely enough, Brian Brown has not claimed a major victory. Perhaps if a stay is granted, he'll have a parade of his dozen followers.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Image of the Week

Another from Bernice, bless her heart. I just love this one:

And no, I've never done a similar image.

Today's Must Read

If you're wondering who's really running the country, it may not be Wall Street. It starts to look like it's the intelligence establishment -- which is not limited to the CIA, NSA, and FBI. Read this post by Digby if you really want to get depressed.

This was essentially a political trial designed to scare the bezeejuz out of anyone who goes anywhere near Anonymous.

A court in Dallas has sentenced Barrett Brown to 63 months in federal prison, minus 28 months already served. For count one in the case, he receives 48 months. For count 2, he receives 12 months. And for count 3, he receives 3 months. He is also ordered to pay $890,000 in restitution.

The government's charges against the intelligence and security reporter stemmed from his relationship with sources close to the hacker group Anonymous, and the fact that Brown published a link to publicly-available copies of leaked Stratfor documents.

The fact that the Department of Justice was pulling the strings on this -- at the behest of private security firms -- does not make me real comfortable, you know?

Republicans vs. The Rest of Us

I know, that could be a title for just about any commentary on Congress or too many state houses in this country. This time, it's a follow-up on this post about Social Security. Josh Marshall has an update/analysis that is nice, tight, and concise. The nut:
Even if you think that severe anxiety disorders and chronic back problems aren't real disabilities, they don't make up anywhere that number of recipients. But the headline isn't really the point. It's the subtext. The score rather than the libretto. The point is that this is taxpayer money for people who don't want to work, people complaining about everyday problems that most of us get by with no problem as an excuse to get a government check.

Every government program, every insurance policy, every industry has fraud. But this shows both a total ignorance of who the program's beneficiaries are and a crystal clear intent to put the program itself on the chopping block. Ahead of that - and here you have the real angle - is a plan to set different classes of Social Security recipients against each other in a zero sum for scarce dollars when in fact the scarcity is manufactured to advance the libertarian - everyone on their own - philosophy of those like Sen. Paul and others involved in the hunt to start slashing away at this program.

He starts off by quoting Rand Paul (R-Fountainhead) spouting the usual lies about freeloaders.

My sister is on disability. She can work, but just barely, and the benefits are meager enough that, even working at what jobs she can handle, she can barely make ends meet. She's hardly a freeloader -- she'd love to be able to work more at a real job, instead of whatever pick-up work she can get, but she can't.

The real issue is that the Republicans are going after Social Security again, using whatever lies they think will play to the base or set one group against another, as Marshall points out. Since most of them are millionaires, at least (Paul's estimated net worth is $2.5 million, with an income of about $300,000 last year), and will have guaranteed pensions from their service in Congress (such as it is), they're not going to feel it.

Frankly, I think one reform we should consider is taking away those government pensions for members of Congress and putting them on Social Security.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Today In Unintentional Irony

From Digby, this choice little bit:

Billionaire Jeff Greene, who amassed a multibillion dollar fortune betting against subprime mortgage securities, says the U.S. faces a jobs crisis that will cause social unrest and radical politics.

“America’s lifestyle expectations are far too high and need to be adjusted so we have less things and a smaller, better existence,” Greene said in an interview today at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “We need to reinvent our whole system of life.”


Greene, who flew his wife, children and two nannies on a private jet plane to Davos for the week, said he’s planning a conference in Palm Beach, Florida, at the Tideline Hotel called “Closing the Gap.”

Do these people ever listen to themselves?

Divine Retribution

Jim Burroway, in today's "Daily Agenda" at Box Turtle Bulletin, has a couple of interesting items that fall under the heading "Moralistic Reactions to Disease." I'm going to mix them up a bit -- he's following the "Daily Agenda" format, which doesn't necessarily lead to a clear narrative.

First, some fairly recent history, in the form of this quote from the ever benign Pat Buchanan, from a New York Post column in 1983, when AIDS was rearing its ugly head:

Through much of the first decades of the AIDS crisis, moralistic preachers, pundits and politicians described the fatal disease as divine punishment for what they saw as illicit behavior. In 1983, for example, New York Post Columnist Pat Buchanan wrote, “The poor homosexuals… they have declared war upon nature, and now nature is exacting an awful retribution.”

That's not a new attitude. Burroway outlines some of the history in both entries, which are concerned with the reaction to venereal disease, as they used to call it, from scientists. Yes, scientists.

In 1916, Dr. Winfield Scott Hall, professor of physiology at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, published a book, Sexual Knowledge, “for the instruction of young people, young wives and young husbands… on the best way and the best time to impart sexual knowledge to boys and girls.”

It contained gems of scientific thought like this:

Nature has devised a retribution for illicit intercourse in the form of venereal disease. If the parties observe fidelity to their marriage vows, venereal disease is experienced in wedlock only on very rare occasions, and then through some accidental infection, as from contact with some public utensil, as a public water closet, a public towel, or a drinking cup. So rare is this unfortunate accident, however, that we may say that intercourse in undefiled wedlock results normally in pleasure and gratification to both parties; while intercourse out of wedlock, or illicit intercourse, is destined, as a rule, to be visited with retribution.

There was pushback, of course -- not everyone was a moralistic asshole, not even in 1916. The immediate response to Hall's book came from Dr. William J. Robinson, who, unfortunately for Hall, was editor of the American Journal of Urology and Sexology. My favorite bit from his review (which Burroway quotes at length):

Venereal disease is Nature’s retribution for illicit intercourse. And what is measles, scarlet fever and diphtheria a retribution for? What is consumption, cancer, heart disease, Bright’s disease, a retribution for?

Some years before, biologist Ilya Mechnikov addressed the same issue, in rather more moderate tones:

In the question of the prevention of syphilis, the moral problem is still more easy to settle. … The certainty of safety from this disease might render extra-conjugal relations more frequent, but if we compare the evil which might come from that with the immense benefit gained in preventing so many innocent persons from becoming diseased, it is easy to see which side the scale dips.

Now, lest you think that this is all a nice little historical quirk, think about the current outcry in some quarters against PReP and the use of a potential HIV vaccine. The surface reason is that these measures will encourage people to be careless. I suspect you don't have to dig very far to uncover an underlying assumption: promiscuity is bad. (Even in Mechnikov's comment, there is the underlying assumption that "illicit" sex is wrong, but we must protect the "innocents.")

This is not an attitude that has left us. Do I need to draw the obvious comparison to the "right to life" anti-abortion activists -- who are now revealing themselves as not just opposed to abortion, but to any form of birth control? Yes, it's heavily involved with misogyny, and it comes from the "Christian" right -- the same group that is so obsessed with gay sex, which is, by definition, "illicit." The assumption is that any sex outside of what they deem appropriate is due for punishment, whether it be some horrible disease or merely an unwanted baby that you can't care for. (I'm not going to go into what sorts of sexual behavior are "natural" for human beings -- going back into history and looking at the behaviors of our closest relatives, there are all sorts of things going on, from monogamy to alpha males keeping harems to free love. I'll let the anthropologists sort it out.)

But it's not only about sex -- it's about the whole idea of disease as a "punishment," which on its face is ridiculous -- unless, of course, you subscribe to the belief that we are all born bad. Needless to say, I don't subscribe to the idea of "original sin." My sins, such as they are, are my own, thank you very much, and I'm not about to ask forgiveness for being born.

And I'm afraid that, try as I might, I can't ascribe this idea to anything other than a world view that tries to dictate to nature how it's supposed to behave. (One of my favorite quotes from former Senator Frothy Mix runs to the effect that birth control, etc., are bad because they lead to sexual behavior that isn't the way it's "supposed to be.")

The problem is, nature isn't listening.

Do read Burroway's entire post -- it's quite illuminating.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Never Say Die!

The "Christian" right never gives up -- I guess because they have God's Truth™ on their side. The downside, of course, is that they get farther and farther away from any recognizable reality. Take this little rant from Brian Brown, which I'm going to parse on the run. You can read the whole thing, if you really want to, at the link.

Fanfare! With trumpets!

Over 50 million Americans who stood for marriage in 30 states will finally have their day in Court! I have to tell you that I am totally pumped to finally get our day in court.

I don't know how to break it to you, but you've had your day in court -- dozens of times. And all but eight times, you lost. Six of those eight cases are going to the Supreme Court, buttressed by a decision that deals with none of the issues the Court wants to hear.

I think the mainstream media is wrong and it will turn out that we win this case!

It's not the mainstream media, it's the 4th, 7th, 9th and 10th Circuit courts. (The 2nd and 3rd are moot -- those states already have marriage equality; the 1st has one case on appeal -- Puerto Rico -- and marriage equality in all other states in the circuit. And based on the reaction of the judges during oral arguments, the 5th looks like a win for our side.)
I just don't see how Justice Kennedy, likely the swing vote, can distance himself from the strong reasoning he used in the Windsor case where he said that states have historically regulated marriage and the federal government could not substitute its judgment for the decision of a state.

1) Exactly -- Kennedy was talking about the Congress overriding the states; and 2) He was also quite clear that those state regulations have to conform to constitutional guarantees of individual rights.

. . . we will never lose marriage because marriage is a universal truth.

Um -- is that supposed to mean something? Because it doesn't.

And regardless, defeatism is a recipe for disaster, a byproduct of the gay 'marriage' lobby's carefully crafted strategic plan: to convince ordinary Americans that the battle is already lost and to give up the fight.

OK, this is funny. Brown seems to think that the "gay marriage lobby" is in control of the federal court system -- mind-control waves or something? Oh, and the majority of "ordinary Americans" support marriage equality.

Some things are too easy.

Oh, by the way -- according to Joe.My.God., there are three separate money begs in that post.

Culture Break: Gurdjieff's "Chant From a Holy Book"

Gyorgy Ivanovitch Gurdjieff was, among other things, a composer, drawing upon the rich musical heritage of his birthplace, the area between Turkey and Armenia (or "around," if you prefer). I reviewed an album of his music* a number of years ago, and there is quite a bit of it on YouTube, from which this piece comes -- it's not one I've heard before, but it does capture the feel of much of his music.

* That's a review that's going to be moved to Sleeping Hedgehog -- eventually, when I get that far. But the GMR link will still be good, until someone gets around to cleaning house.