"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

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ah, the Good Old Days

Hilzoy has a wonderful post on this article by Rod Dreher. If you read this blog regularly, you know that I'm not terribly impressed with Dreher's analytic skills, and this time is no exception. There are some huge holes in his reasoning here.

What could that mean for conservatives today? That we should consider what I’ve come to call the “Benedict Option”—that is, pioneering forms of dropping out of a barbaric mainstream culture that has grown hostile to our fundamental values. The case for traditional conservatives to make a strategic retreat to defensible perimeters, so to speak, has become even more appealing since 1999, when Paul Weyrich issued his famous fin de siècle call for conservatives to pull back radically from “a [cultural] collapse so great that it simply overwhelms politics.”

If you buy Dreher's assumptions -- and there is really no reason you should, and I don't -- this perhaps makes a modicum of sense. The first red flag, of course, is the appeal to "fundamental values." I hear a lot about these things, and no one ever seems willing to tell me exactly what they're talking about. Backtracking a bit:

The Catholic philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre famously ended his landmark 1982 book After Virtue with a gloomy meditation about the collapse of a common moral sense in the West. He suggested that we were too far gone into nihilism and relativism to save and that those devoted to the traditional virtues should consider hiving off, as Benedict and his followers did in Rome’s final days, to build communities that can withstand the incoming tide of chaos and despond.

"Common moral sense." I wonder when we've ever had such a thing. Of course, Dreher is quoting a Catholic philospher, so I guess we are supposed to figure that the world hasn't changed at all since the Reformation except for now, when it's all coming unglued. And of course, the assertion that we're all sunk in the cesspit of "nihilism and relativism" should be an automatic response by now, except that we're not. Not even most of us. Let me put it this way: I'm not Catholic, nor even Christian, and yet I don't think I'm bereft of morality. In fact, I think I'm a lot more deliberately and consciously moral than an institution that has regularly condoned completely appalling behavior throughout its history.

Dreher goes on to recount a dream involving the poet Constantine Cavafy, whom he professes not to know much about at all, which is probably what leads to one of those blinding ironies that so beset conservative pundits: Cavafy, as anyone who knows anything about the poet's life knows full well, was gay. And quite unapologetically so, at least in his verse.

The nut of this article, for me, and the part that throws into relief the major flaw in these sorts of screeds, is here:

Conservatives have worked so hard over the past few decades to fight for civilized standards against a short checklist of modern barbarisms—abortion, gay marriage, political correctness, and so forth. What we failed to consider was that we had become barbarians ourselves.

With the possible exception of abortion, I fail to see how anything else he lists counts as "barbarism." It seems to be another case of being Humpty Dumpty: "It means what I say it means --until I change my mind."

Trouble is, MacIntyre really is right, and so was Weyrich. From a traditionalist perspective, we truly are living through an astonishing, and astonishingly rapid, cultural collapse, living as free riders on the residual vestiges of Christianity.

There is a tendency on the right (that is to say, among "traditionalists") to view any time of cultural ferment as the final collapse of Western civilization. That is, as far as I can see, a matter of choice: you can take it as ruin, or as a chance at transformation. Traditionalists such as Dreher seem to have, somewhere in the back of their minds, the idea that what they imagine the world to have been like in the past is some sort of Eden, and anything that's happening now is by definition a disaster. Of course, the history they imagine never existed.

Hilzoy's commentary comes from a different direction than this one, but I think we're arguing the same point. In my view, Dreher's "fundamental values" are those of exclusion, privilege, hostility toward the Other, a readiness to condemn, and unquestioning obedience to authority.* Those are qualities you would have been as likely to find among the followers of Atilla the Hun as among the defenders of the Empire. And frankly, for my part, he can keep them. I don't consider myself a barbarian, although I'm starting to consider that he might be.

* By way of comparison, I was raised with what I like to consider real traditional values -- and I think one can consider them true values, not merely a fixation on centuries-old tribal taboos -- that have served me in good stead. They include respect for others, acceptance of their differences, delight in their virtues, independence and self-reliance, generosity in helping others, and grace in accepting their generosity. That's just a start. Frankly, if I and those like me are barbarians, the world is in good hands.

Tooting My Horn

The latest issue of Green Man Review is up today, including a mini-story by me I'm very pleased with (it starts right after the introduction).

And if you scroll down to the reviews listing, you get to read my three (yes, count 'em, three) reviews of The Books of Magic, a pretty wonderful graphic novel series by Neil Gaiman, John Ney Rieber, and others.

It's an interesting issue anyway -- be sure to read our recommendations on best fantasy/science fiction series.

I've also updated the Epinions listing in the sidebar -- quite a few new yaoi reviews there.

Reviews in Brief: Youka Nitta's White Brand

Continuing my tour of the works of Youka Nitta, I recently got hold of her collection White Brand a group of stories first published in 1998. It's a bit of a mixed bag.

One problem with this collection is that there's not much to tie it together, except the various neuroses on prominent display. The two parts of the title story involve Keshiki and Izuru, cousins who were best friends as children, until a tragic accident took Keshiki's father and ruined their friendship. Keshiki came away from the trauma with an aversion to dark things, and Izuru is dark: dark hair, dark eyes, and brown skin. Now they're attending the same high school, and Izuru has decided enough is enough.

White skin figures in "Teal End," about Keith, an American who has come to Japan to learn lacquer painting. Keith really wishes he were Japanese -- although his talent is remarkable, he's not truly accepted by his fellows, except for Takeshi, the master's son, who himself has no aptitude for his father's trade. Even though all obstacles are eventually overcome, this one has a funny little coda that throws the issue into sharp focus.

The remaining three stories are all quite strange and not so satisfying as the first two. I think, however, this is largely because they're as much sketches as anything else: more development would have solved most of the problems here: they're all kind of bare bones and elliptical, and all could use more development.

The graphic style is gorgeous -- not so finished nor as rich as later works such as The Prime Minister's Secret Diplomacy -- at this point, in a class by itself -- but still tremendously appealing. Nitta's characters have smiles that light up their entire faces. And of course, they're all gorgeous. Her sex scenes tend to be fairly explicit, but that's not much of an issue here -- there's very little sex.

I'd recommend this one simply because it's Youka Nitta. It is very interesting to see earlier work by an acknowledged master of BL manga. From Juné.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sotomayor: A Brief Comment on the Opposition

So let me see if I'm understanding this correctly: you've got a convicted criminal and a draft-dodger with a drug history leading the attack against Sonia Sotomayor, and the MSM are uncovering their lies and deceptions.

Well, no. The first part is right. The MSM are just doing what they've been doing for the past fifteen years: acting as stenographers for the right.

So of course, the Obama administration decides that the correct way to counteract this is to pull a Clinton.

Prop 8: The Fallout

Andrew Sullivan's first post on this immediately got my hackles up.

It would have been dreadful if voters were retroactively told their valid vote was somehow null and void - it would have felt like a bait and switch and provoked a horrible backlash.

What part of "limited sovereignty of the people" do you not understand? That has always been an intrinsic part of the process of this republic, from the time the Constitution was adopted. Sullivan twists the comment by prima facie naming the vote "valid." In spite of the Court's ruling, there are serious questions as to whether the rights of a minority can be granted or revoked by a plebiscite, and most legal scholars are going to tell you "No." This is Sullivan buying into the hypocrisy of the radical right in the face of legality and of history. (Does anyone remember any of the anti-gay groups, when the first Arizona amendment was defeated, saying "Oh, well, the people have spoken. Time to pack up." Don't hold your breath waiting for that reaction when they lose.) The fact that the Court chose to make the narrowest possible interpretation of the language of Proposition 8 should be a clue that this is a political decision, not a legal decision, and that the politics involved are not of the grand, broad, theoretical kind that Sullivan seems able to deal with.

Andrew Koppelman has a much more intelligent take on the decision

The bottom line is that sexual orientation remains a suspect classification in California. Same-sex couples can’t be disadvantaged in any tangible way without a compelling reason. And a constitutional amendment that restricted their rights more than Proposition 8 did might – the Court won’t say – be invalid. Not a good day for same-sex couples, but hardly a disaster.

If the Court found it political inexpedient to overturn the Proposition, Koppelman's comments seem the best on-the-spot analysis: cut the effect to the bone and let it stand. (I don't think it's outside the realm of possibility that the justices were happy to hear about a federal case in the offing -- that moots the whole thing.)

Eugene Volokh has a persuasive comment on the amendment vs. revision question, and the mechanics of what happened:

In any event, what makes those provisions wrong is not that they are legally "revisions" rather than "amendments" and thus illegal. What makes them wrong is that they are morally wrong and thus immoral. But ultimately that judgment about what is morally wrong, as I mentioned, is under the California Constitution left to the sovereign people, and not the sovereign's servants in the state supreme court.

Dale Carpenter's comment is also worth reading.

There's plenty of ground to question the decision in Marriage Cases, and to support today's decision in Strauss as correct on the revision/amendment distinction. And I think the protections provided to gay families under the rubric of "civil unions" or California "domestic partnerships" are a huge advance that can't fairly be likened to a new form of segregation. But it seems to me that, given the rationale and rhetoric of the first decision, the court disingenuously minimized the deprivation in the second.

I have to go along with this -- on the strict, limited grounds that the Court chose, I think they were right, but it's worth pointing out, I think, that this decision in no way closes the issue -- it just punts, and leaves a major hole in place. See Timothy Kincaid's analysis, which it pretty much the way I feel about it -- except I see it as a major vulnerability to the decision in Strauss standing for any length of time.

Via Autumn Sandeen has put together a link dump of reactions -- looks like no one's happy.

As for the central question -- rights granted/revoked by plebiscite, the federal case filed by Ted Olson and David Boies should be clue enough that there are substantial questions here.

My initial reaction echoes that of Dale Carpenter:

As for the timing of the suit, Olson said that recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court “make it clear that individuals are entitled to be treated equally under the Constitution. I’m reasonably confident that this is the right time for these [injustices] to be vindicated.”

I doubt Olson is right about the timing, but no doubt this ups the ante on any future Supreme Court vacancies for Obama. (There's already a challenge to the federal DOMA in the First Circuit.)

Of course, by the time this case gets to the Supreme Court, who knows who will be listening to the arguments? (Although I doubt that Obama will feel any particular pressure on gay issues from this case.) It's rather sad, actually, that the Supreme Court is in such a state that we can no longer count on it to defend basic civil rights. That's what we get for "up or down votes."

Pam Spaulding has a fairly complete post on this, with a very interesting communication from a law professor that points out something that may torpedo the federal suit right off the bat: there is a ruling precedent that precludes the court from hearing suits of this nature.

There's more to come on this -- especially some comments on the reaction of the national gay rights organizations to the federal suit -- but I have to run off and do something with a time limit on it right now.

Later. . . .

Friday, May 29, 2009

Prop 8 Round-Up

I decided, since the news was coming so fast and furious and I needed time to digest the Court's opinion in upholding Proposition 8, to make it this week's Friday Gay Blogging.

Building on my original post, here's the opinion.

Prop 8 Ruling -

One thing to keep in mind in this discussion, which Eugene Volokh quotes Chris Geidner as stating quite clearly:

First, this is not a ruling about whether marriage equality is correct or just. This is a ruling about whether the California Constitution allows a measure like Proposition 8 to be voted into the Constitution by the people. Even if there is some overriding federal claim that marriage equality is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, it was not raised by the parties here....

Here's Geidner's post in full. The bulk of it is a plea for -- I'm not sure what to call it: restraint, I guess, although I note that his call for restraint is directed toward the gay community and its allies, while the religious conservatives, much more prone to violence in pursuit of their aims (see this post by Sara Robinson [and this follow-up, which provides some much-needed (apparently) definitions], which strikes me as somewhat alarmist, but not outside the bounds of reality -- I mean, look at who our domestic terrorists have been over the past 10-20 years.). I'm tired of being told to calm down when faced with opponents who have no standards, no ethics, and no morals. (This is not name-calling: this is merely a reasonable conclusion based on recorded fact.)

Mary L. Dudziak makes the same point in her first post on the decision:

The court carved out space for the rights of same-sex couples protected in the Marriage Cases, emphasizing: "among the various constitutional protections recognized in the Marriage Cases as available to same-sex couples, it is only the designation of marriage - albeit significant - that has been removed by this initiative measure." (emphasis added). Taking into account the "actual limited effect of Proposition 8 upon the preexisting state constitutional right of privacy and due process and upon the guarantee of equal protection of the laws," (emphasis added), the court found Prop 8 not to be a constitutional revision.

Andrew Koppelman reaches a similar conclusion. He raises some other points that I will come back to.

Dale Carpenter raises a point in his comments that troubled me as well:

So marriage wasn't really the main issue in Marriage Cases, it was convenient shorthand. Elsewhere, the Strauss court tells us that Prop 8 has only a "limited" effect, carves a "limited exception" to the right to marry, changes the content of a right in "one specific subject area," diminishes only "one aspect" of a fundamental right, and so on. This is another way of saying that what gays lost in Prop 8 -- "marriage" -- wasn't all that important.

Read his whole post -- the contrast between the section he quotes from the decision in In re: Some Marriages and the relevant passage in Strauss vs. Horton (the official title of the new decision) is striking: after building a large portion of its reasoning on the effect of the word "marriage," the Court essentially bent over backward to say that wasn't really what it meant.

(Carpenter also notes that there is nothing in the Strauss decision that prevents the voters of California from revoking domestic partnerships by referendum -- which, I agree, would be the next logical step for the anti-gay right, if they weren't already on alert that they're going to have to go back to the Mormons for funds to defeat the next, pro-marriage referendum), but my take is, that's not going to happen.

Two thoughts on this:

First, the decision in Strauss is a disaster in terms of basic civil rights guarantees. Granted, it will have limited effect, but in California at least, it is now on the table that any well-organized, well-funded group can strip fundamental rights from a minority by the kind of campaign we saw for Prop 8: distortions, misrepresentations, and outright lies all dressed up in expensive ads with lots of air play. (Fortunately, most state constitutions are more difficult to amend. The California method is insane, but it's theirs and they're going to have to deal with it.)

Second, the reasoning vis-a-vis the word "marriage" is fairly scandalous after the effort the Court put into delineating the importance of the word to the status of the institution in Some Marriages. Let's not be fooled by this one: it's as much a political decision as a legal decision, as far as I can see. The acrobatics here remind me of nothing so much as the New York Supreme Court's decision in their marriage case, in which the reasoning was, to put it mildly, strained. It's also worth noting that the California Court is not the only one to recognize the importance of the word as an essential part of the institution.

And the Court has now said that, in California at least, separate is good enough, whether it's equal or not.

And then there are the couple whose marriages are still valid. This is going to be fun to watch. (I can't help but wonder whether the Court is hoping for a law suit that's going to bring the question back to them in a less potentially explosive form.)

There will be more on this. People are still posting about it, and I have a lot more material to go through. But I decided you do get dessert today, a totally fiery treat from Queerty:

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Obama's Promises

From Joe Sudbay at AmericaBlog:

Apparently, your president thought it was kinda funny. He made a joke about the protest during the event, according to the New York Times:
“One of them said, “Obama keep your promise,’ ” the president said. “I thought that’s fair. I don’t know which promise he was talking about.”

See Sudbay's post for the video.

Maybe that's going to be his excuse for not keeping any of them.


I've not commented specifically on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. There's not a lot to say. I don't doubt for a minute that she's at least as qualified as the bulk of the sitting justices, nor that her sex and ethnicity were an important consideration. What's of most -- albeit diminishing -- interest here is the right-wing histrionics that we're going to be subjected to.

The Great Pimple on the Butt of the Republican Party has already christened her a "racist," which, considering his standards, should probably be taken as a compliment. I did note, in my update to yesterday's post on rebranding the Republican party, just how pathetic the attempts to smear Sotomayor have already become. And the real smear attempts have nothing to do with her qualifications or even the "affirmative action" aspects of the nomination. (That's another one designed to play to the base.)

Jeffrey Rosen gets the gold star for dragging the discourse into the muck as quickly as possible -- in fact, he managed to do it before Sotomayor was even nominated. Digby:

But TPMDC missed the one individual who has certainly gained the most in the early going of this nomination - New Republic writer Jeffrey Rosen. After all, his use of gossipy talking points has driven the entire discussion in the media, and made him ubiquitous even if he hasn't graced the camera with his presence. And though his reputation ought to be in tatters for pushing such demeaning talking points into the mainstream, as it turns out, he has the lead story in this week's New York Times magazine.

(There is a problem with Hullabaloo, at least on my system: random YouTube videos get plopped into strange places. In this case, I can't get to the link to Digby's post, but it's titled "The Early Winner in the Sotomayor Battle." If I can get to the link at some point, I'll get it in here. It's worth reading (and it's up today, so you can just go to the blog and look.)

Digby also has her usual incisive look at the question of personal experience shaping judicial decisions. That's one I wonder about myself: is anyone really dim enough to think that white men don't have personal experiences? Or that any judge's opinions are not shaped by those experiences? (Or anyone's anything, for that matter.)

Don't let anyone doubt that this is a political process, and the Republicans are going to attempt to play Karl Rove as much as they can -- granted the sitting senators are in the hot seats on this one, but, as Digby points out, their surrogates are already going full speed ahead. Let's hope they run into some really big torpedoes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Prop 8 Reaction

Look for mine as this week's Friday Gay Blogging post. There's a lot of material to digest, starting with 185 pages of court opinions.

Rebranding a Lost Cause

Here's an article by B. Daniel Blatt (a/k/a GayPatriotWest) on the Republicans' attempts to "reframe" the question of same-sex marriage. I think it suffers from one fatal flaw, as exemplified in this statement:

Many conservatives believe (and judicial decisions in several states bear them out) that liberal jurists have just such a “personal agenda” that these jurists will discover a “right” to government recognition of same-sex marriage in the penumbrae of the federal constitution. By asking the president’s judicial nominees to address this supposed “right,” Judiciary Committee Republicans could reframe the issue not as one of gay marriage per se, but as one of separation of powers — whether the legislature or the judiciary should define gay marriage.

There are a couple of problems I see here. The first is one that I've mentioned any number of times: You need to ask the right question. In this case, the question is not whether there is a "right to government recognition of same-sex marriage," but whether there is a "right" to government recognition of any marriage whatsoever. I've read the Constitution any number of times, especially the Bill of Rights, and I don't recall any such provision. If we're going to concede that the right to marriage (to use a short form) exists -- and the courts have held that it does -- it falls under that "penumbra" that so-called "strict constructionists" love to hate. And if there is a right to marriage, then it must be a right held by all citizens, under the due process provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment -- unless the government can show a compelling reason to limit it. The government has not done so, to my knowledge -- and I've followed these cases fairly closely for years.

This is sort of funny:

The American people would rather courts didn’t resolve such social issues, preferring the matter be left to the elected legislature.

First, all else being equal, the American people would rather not deal with these issues at all -- they're happy with the status quo, which is why it's the status quo. Second, when elected legislatures do take action to approve same-sex marriage, the usual suspects -- the conservative anti-gay "religious" organizations -- start muttering about "elites" taking the decision away from the people. There's an old controversy here between me and Blatt on popular sovereignty: the idea that the "will of the people" is some sort of ultimate authority in this country is structurally indefensible, and I mean that quite seriously. That is reflected in the responsibility of the courts to uphold the rights of disfavored minorities. (It's also implicit in the fact that we have a Bill of Rights -- if the "will of the people" could be trusted, we wouldn't need it.) He and I don't necessarily see eye-to-eye on this (chuckle), and I won't accuse him of the kind of radical anti-Americanism you'll find from the likes of Matt Staver or Peter LaBarbera, but as I see it, that's the basis.

No matter what the American people would rather, it is the courts' job to resolve such issues. One need only do a fast review of the history of the judiciary in this country to realize that. As a pre-emptive counter to the argument that court decisions to not change attitudes, I want to point out that none of these phenomena exist in a vacuum: there is a synergy involved here that partakes of social attitudes, legislative actions, and court decisions, and to try to separate them is a fool's errand: you're not going to come up with a correct analysis. Would the black civil rights movement have happened without Brown vs. Board of Education? Probably -- eventually. But that decision gave the movement a legal rationale. When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, and the Voting Rights Act the next year, most people in the country were opposed. Anti-discrimination laws have generally run ahead of social attitudes, but no one can tell me that they have no effect. Most of those anti-discrimination laws have somewhere in their genealogy a court decision. And as attitudes change, it becomes easier for legislators to do the right thing. (It goes without saying that most legislators don't have the cojones to buck prevailing attitudes, and to think that constitutional considerations are high up on their list of concerns is something worse than ingenuous.)

Back to reframing:

Should the GOP reframe the issue (as many have tried) as one of separation of powers, with our party favoring a legislative resolution, this can turn this issue to their advantage without unnecessarily antagonizing supporters of same-sex marriage.

I think there's a mistaken assumption here. Court actions on civil rights issues are not generally the result of some liberal deciding that it's time to screw the majority. They happen out of necessity: parties to a suit have no other option. And there is the fact that, conservative wishes to the contrary, that's what the courts are for. (Well, one of the things.) The reality is simply that everyone would prefer a legislative resolution but that's not always an option. (Blatt leaves out the fact that the California legislature has twice passed bills legalizing same-sex marriage, only to have them vetoed by the Republican governor. Note that Gov. Lynch of New Hampshire is threatening to veto that state's SSM bill unless it incorporates stunningly broad "protections" for religious objectors. And note also the fact that the legislature in Vermont legalized SSM by overriding the governor's veto. A veto is only one pitfall of the legislative process -- it's subject to a lot of deal-making that has nothing to do with the desirability of a particular bill as policy.) Parenthetical concerns aside, however, yes, it would be a wonderful world if our legislators would just say "OK, this is not fair and we should fix it." The reality is that they have to be goosed.

And in regard to social attitudes, Blatt notes something that I think undercuts his argument:

In 2004, after Massachusetts’ highest court ruled in favor of such recognition, thirteen states voted for ballot initiatives designed to thwart such judicial recognition, with 73% of North Dakota voters favoring the initiative.

Two years later, however, after the highest courts in New York and Washington ruled against such recognition, only 52% of voters in South Dakota, demographically similar to its neighbor to the north, favored the initiative.

I don't see this as a reflection of the voters' reaction to court decisions so much as a general trend that's become more and more prevalent around the country: Prop 22, which the California Court overturned, passed with 62% of the vote. Prop 8 managed to pull 52% after an intensive campaign by the Mormon Church and the Knights of Columbus. The Arizona provision racked up similar numbers: we're long past the days of 70% majorities in favor of "traditional" marriage.

For the GOP to reframe SSM as an issue centered on separation of powers is at best a stop-gap, and not terribly persuasive. And to be quite honest, after the Bush II years, Republicans framing anything as an issue of separation of powers is hysterically funny -- or would be if it weren't so patently self-serving.

I quite honestly see this as a matter of the Republican party having painted itself into a corner: it's become dominated by the socially regressive religious conservatives, who are increasingly losing the support of the Great Middle, and while Democrats have done a half-assed job of it, they've managed to assume at least partial ownership of gay civil rights (in spite of Obama's back-pedaling, and mostly through inertia). I have no solutions for them, because I don't have any particular hopes for their future as a party (although I truly wish I could be presented with candidates who would cause me at least to consider going back to splitting my ticket, which was my habit until about 2000, when I became a "lesser evil" voter) -- the collapse of a political party until it reinvents itself seems to be some sort of natural process. The idea that rebranding gay civil rights as a matter of separation of powers to revitalize the party doesn't really strike me as viable -- unless the party is prepared to toss the Dobson Gang overboard. Good luck on that.


If the Republicans want to rebrand themselves, they've got a long way to go. From Alexander Bolton at The Hill:

Sotomayor also claimed: “For me, a very special part of my being Latina is the mucho platos de arroz, gandoles y pernir — rice, beans and pork — that I have eaten at countless family holidays and special events.”

This has prompted some Republicans to muse privately about whether Sotomayor is suggesting that distinctive Puerto Rican cuisine such as patitas de cerdo con garbanzo — pigs’ tongue and ears — would somehow, in some small way influence her verdicts from the bench.

Curt Levey, the executive director of the Committee for Justice, a conservative-leaning advocacy group, said he wasn’t certain whether Sotomayor had claimed her palate would color her view of legal facts but he said that President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee clearly touts her subjective approach to the law.

“It’s pretty disturbing,” said Levey. “It’s one thing to say that occasionally a judge will despite his or her best efforts to be impartial ... allow occasional biases to cloud impartiality.

I'm not sure if that was satire or not.

Conservative critics say that a willingness to rule on the basis of personal values instead of the law and legal precedent is at the core of judicial activism. And some Senate Republicans have said a nominee with a clear propensity toward activism would deserve a filibuster.

Odds on these are the same people who think Judge Roy Moore is a top-notch legal scholar.

And this landed in my e-mail, courtesy of Bill Wilson's The Dailiy Grind:

Barack Obama needs to go back to the drawing board and see if he can come up with a Supreme Court nominee who is something other than a self-declared racist termagant.

What a pathetic bunch of losers.

Limits on Free Exercise

No, this is not about good deals at the gym. I ran across this post from Andrew Koppelman late yesterday and wanted to comment on it because it touches on a topic I've addressed, although not substantively, in the past.

Koppelman's concern here, as you can see (because you did follow the link and you did read the post, didn't you? And do go back and read the posts Koppelman links to -- they're important here) is religious exemptions written into civil rights laws, specifically laws legalizing same-sex marriage.

Religious exemptions from antidiscrimination laws are fairly costless, I’ve argued: as long as the religious dissenters are idiosyncratic outliers – and they generally will be, based on the scant number of accommodation claims we’ve seen – they’ll have no effect on gay people’s opportunities, and so they can harmlessly be left to live out their ideals in peace.

What Koppelman is missing here is that we are not dealing with a few outliers -- we are dealing with a well-organized and amply funded group ($40 million to support Prop 8; $165 million on the attempt to repeal marriage in Massachusetts) who are not prepared to play fair.

In another post, Koppelman refers to something that bothered me about Gov. John Lynch's proposed amendment to the New Hampshire marriage statute and that directly contradicts Koppelan's assumption:

Some are uncomfortable with the practice of singling out religion in this way, but the narrowness of the religious exemption is precisely why it is so clear that we can afford it. If a broader set of people were able to bring exemption claims, then we would have a less tractable conflict. In the contemporary United States, the claims for a conscientious right to discriminate will almost always be religious claims. Only a small minority of discriminators will be able to defend themselves on this basis. Most employers do not want to announce that they discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and so this defense is unavailable to them. (Emphasis mine)

This is exactly what Lynch's amendment jumped right into, feet first. (For my comments on Lynch's language, see here; scroll down to "New Hampshire Note." A follow-up is here.) I remarked at the time that the language was overbroad, as well as being redundant: in effect, it made any association with any group claiming to be "religious" in nature grounds for legalized discrimination in any aspect of daily life.

Religious freedom is guaranteed in this country under the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, and the courts have generally bent over backwards to accommodate claims of religious discrimination: that's not something we like in this country. By the same token, as I've said any number of times, there are limits to any right, no matter how fundamental it is. Part of the process of democracy is establishing those limits, which is something we've done over the course of time and something the religious right has been challenging. Thus, the Catholic Charities were organized as a separate entity legally somewhat removed from the Catholic Church specifically to enable it to accept government funding to carry out its work without violating separation of church and state. Suddenly, Catholic Charities makes a big deal out of abandoning its adoption services because placing children with gay parents would violate its religious doctrine. (They may have been refusing to do so for years, but the key factor here is that we'd never heard of it until they began screaming "religious discrimination" and bailed, which only happened within the past couple of years.)

To go back to Koppelman's original post, I think he's misreading the situation in New Hampshire:

There are people who are reprehensibly embracing self-aggrandizing fantasies that are hurting real people. But I’m sorry to say that they’re not the Christian conservatives. They are the people on my side, the gay rights side, who are willing to sacrifice the hopes of New Hampshire gays who want to marry, out of pure malice toward their political opponents.

Can I call this an overstatement? My reading of the situation in New Hampshire is not that anyone is interested in beating up the religious conservatives, no matter how much they deserve it, nor to I think malice is involved (unless one chooses to read the legislature's annoyance at being dictated to by the governor as "malice," which is a stretch). I think there is a legitimate concern over extending religious protections beyond what is reasonable or workable. Let's face it, Lynch came up with that language as political cover, and it is overbroad -- including that amendment as written would lay the groundwork for years of litigation, count on it. (And I do not discount the idea that Lynch did it on purpose -- he opposes the statute but doesn't really have any legitimate grounds for a veto.) The limits that I mentioned above seem to me to be perfectly workable -- the distinction between providing a public accommodation that is subject to antidiscrimination laws and one's personal religious beliefs has been fairly clear in the past, and it's only the effort by the religious right to take more and more territory that has blurred it. Koppelman is rather ingenuously buying into this campaign by assuming that religious objections to recognizing same-sex marriages will be few and far between (although I'll be the first to admit he might be correct, which would be wonderful) and all perfectly legitimate, and condemning those who quite rightly want to maintain a workable status quo as "bigots," when the history of the religious right argues just the opposite.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Prop 8

The California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8. Here's the story in the LA Times.

Strangely -- and I think fatally -- the Court left the 18,000 or so same-sex marriages solemnized under the previous law intact.

I don't want to comment further until I've had a chance to read the opinion -- I really have no idea what sort of logic the justices employed to come to this conclusion. If anyone has any insight, I'd love to hear about it -- that's what the "Comments" section is for.

Here's the part that I think makes the Court's ruling fatal:

Even with the court upholding Proposition 8, a key portion of the court's May 15, 2008, decision remains intact. Sexual orientation will continue to receive the strongest constitutional protection possible when California courts consider cases of alleged discrimination. The California Supreme Court is the only state high court in the nation to have elevated sexual orientation to the status of race and gender in weighing discrimination claims.

Update: Andrew Sullivan has the opinion up. He also has a take on the decision that I think is absolutely wrong:

It has been upheld. The 18,000 same sex marriages performed in California are still valid. For my part, I will leave the fine legal analysis to those trained in these matters (and link to them). Politically, this seems to me the perfect decision. It would have been dreadful if voters were retroactively told their valid vote was somehow null and void - it would have felt like a bait and switch and provoked a horrible backlash.

What he doesn't address is the question of whether it is proper for a majority of 50% plus one to strip fundamental rights from a minority -- in this case, a minority that the California Court itself has deemed deserving of protection.

I'll get into this later.

More on Schulman

The man's developed a fan club. Check out this post from Echidne -- one of my points, more fully developed:

First and most importantly. Note very carefully that the piece is not about general kinship systems. It's about PATRILINEAR kinship systems. A matrilinear system wouldn't care about the identity of a woman's (voluntary) sexual partners, because all her children automatically belong to her extended family. It is the patrilinear system which has to guard the sexuality of its women so that inheritance and patrimony can be guaranteed to pass in the male line. This point is crucial. Crucial. Schulman wants to talk about a patrilinear inheritance and kinship system, not about how to protect women.

Second, the systems he so lovingly paints for us are not, in fact, intended to protect women. All those systems allow for prostitution, rape happens in all of them and in many the husband can throw away an unsatisfactory wife as if she was a snotty used tissue. Virginity before marriage does protect women in traditional societies, often from their own male relatives (think of honor killings). But its main objective is to make certain that men know who their offspring are.

Brad at Sadly, No! also has some fun with it.

Jesus Christ. Does Mrs. Schulman know that her hubby considers their marriage to be “the longest journey” that is “attired in chains” and that tragically forces Sam to “surrender” from realizing his “immediate erotic desires?” Does this sound like a well-adjusted person who should be giving marriage advice to, like, anyone?

Jim Burroway weighs in.

And Dougj at Balloon Juice calls it "a true work of genius."

The reaction seems to range from hilarity to -- well, hilarity.

The title of TBogg's piece says it all: "I will keep your vagina safe and warm."

Monday, May 25, 2009

Why Do I Do This To Myself?

I think one of the problems with the "received wisdom" mindset -- and it's a major problem -- is the idea that, if some authority figure says something, it's true. Now, if you're a regular reader here, you know how I'm going to react to something like that -- when I finally stop laughing.

Here is one of the most egregious essays pointing out the inevitable failure of same-sex marriage that I've ever seen, by one Sam Schulman, who seems to have no qualifications whatsoever to address this issue. I'm willing to be generous and ascribe Schulman's comments as an outgrowth of complete and stupefying ignorance rather than any nefarious purpose. (And in the pages of Weekly Standard, why am I not surprised?) I don't usually link to wasted space such as Weekly Standard -- you'll find more intellectual integrity from Dick Cheney -- but this is just too much to pass up.

The train-wreck starts here:

The relationship between a same-sex couple, though it involves the enviable joy of living forever with one's soulmate, loyalty, fidelity, warmth, a happy home, shopping, and parenting, is not the same as marriage between a man and a woman, though they enjoy exactly the same cozy virtues. These qualities are awfully nice, but they are emphatically not what marriage fosters, and, even when they do exist, are only a small part of why marriage evolved and what it does.

Well, no, to put it succinctly. Those qualities are exactly what marriage fosters, and the main reason most people get married.

The entity known as "gay marriage" only aspires to replicate a very limited, very modern, and very culture-bound version of marriage.

That's the only kind there is.

The fact is that marriage is part of a much larger institution, which defines the particular shape and character of marriage: the kinship system.

We'll come back to this one. He throws in a what looks like a series of digressions but is actually the foundation of his argument, which that need dismantling.

The first is the most important: It is that marriage is concerned above all with female sexuality. The very existence of kinship depends on the protection of females from rape, degradation, and concubinage. This is why marriage between men and women has been necessary in virtually every society ever known. Marriage, whatever its particular manifestation in a particular culture or epoch, is essentially about who may and who may not have sexual access to a woman when she becomes an adult, and is also about how her adulthood--and sexual accessibility--is defined. Again, until quite recently, the woman herself had little or nothing to say about this, while her parents and the community to which they answered had total control. The guardians of a female child or young woman had a duty to protect her virginity until the time came when marriage was permitted or, more frequently, insisted upon.

Let's go back to that "culture-bound" part. In this case, the Old Testament patriarchal culture -- or, actually, any patriarchy will do. This is a fairly shallow reading of what's going on in that aspect of so-called "traditional" marriage. (I almost used the German word "sogenannte," which has the proper disdainful ring to it.) It's about property, stupid. The only reason to safeguard a woman's virtue is not that there's anything intrinsically wonderful about virginity -- and there are any number of cultures in which virginity is no big deal in or outside of marriage -- but to insure that a man's own children are the ones to inherit his property.

Second, kinship modifies marriage by imposing a set of rules that determines not only whom one may marry (someone from the right clan or family, of the right age, with proper abilities, wealth, or an adjoining vineyard), but, more important, whom one may not marry. Incest prohibition and other kinship rules that dictate one's few permissible and many impermissible sweethearts are part of traditional marriage. Gay marriage is blissfully free of these constraints.

It's not, really. Incest prohibitions are rather more deep-seated than even hinted at here. There's a biological process called "exogamy" -- the imperiative to mate outside the group -- that exists in a much broader context than human marriage. There also seem to be psychological factors that stem from being raised together that work against seeing a sibling -- whether biological or adoptive -- as a prospective mate (romantic fantasies notwithstanding.) So far, he's batting zero. (Although I have to admit, I'm basing my comments here on observed reality, so they probably don't count.)

There is another factor here that I might as well mention now: implicit in the phenomena I mentioned above is the idea that a kinship system is not a purely biological thing. Keep that in mind.

Third, marriage changes the nature of sexual relations between a man and a woman. Sexual intercourse between a married couple is licit; sexual intercourse before marriage, or adulterous sex during marriage, is not. Illicit sex is not necessarily a crime, but licit sexual intercourse enjoys a sanction in the moral universe, however we understand it, from which premarital and extramarital copulation is excluded. More important, the illicit or licit nature of heterosexual copulation is transmitted to the child, who is deemed legitimate or illegitimate based on the metaphysical category of its parents' coition.

I have to admit, my first reaction to this paragraph was, again, laughter. Let's reprise the "culture-bound" mantra, shall we? Whether sex is licit or illicit is purely a social construct, and whether a child is legitimate or illegitimate depends entirely on the parents laying claim to the child. Lordy! I mean, really -- "metaphysical category of its parents' coition"? Can this man be serious? (Please note that this is a purely religious argument, no more and no less, whether Schulman admits it or not. Outside of dogma, the licit nature of a relationship of any kind is purely dependent on whatever criteria we establish as a group. Actually, that holds true of religious dogma as well. To point to a somewhat wobbly status quo as an eternal verity is more than a little ludicrous.)

Fourth, marriage defines the end of childhood, sets a boundary between generations within the same family and between families, and establishes the rules in any given society for crossing those boundaries. Marriage usually takes place at the beginning of adulthood; it changes the status of bride and groom from child in the birth family to adult in a new family.

Tell this to any Jewish boy who's ever had a bar mitzvah. This paragraph is total bullshit, and there's not a psychologist, sociologist, or anthropologist who can call him- or herself such who would go along with it. I mean, this is so wrong I don't even know where to begin. Check any source you like, and you'll discover that the beginning of adulthood, in almost every culture known, is quite separate from marriage. Both are life stages, both mark the assumption of a new role and status in the group, but they are not the same role or the same status.

Marriage is also an initiation rite. Before World War II, high school graduation was accompanied by a burst of engagements; nowadays college graduation begins a season of weddings that go on every weekend for some years. In contrast, gay weddings are rather middle-aged affairs. My impression is borne out by the one available statistic, from the province of British Columbia, showing that the participants in first-time same-sex weddings are 13 years older, on average, then first-time brides-and-grooms.

Considering that same-sex marriage has only been legal anywhere for less than ten years, this hardly bears comment. What one needs to look at here is not how old the participants in first-time same-sex marriages have been since such were legalized, but how long they had been together before they were able to marry -- in some cases it's forty years or more. And there is also the fact that it's only with the upcoming generation that marriage is on the table -- none of us before now has been able to even contemplate the possibility as any sort of potential reality. Talk to me again in a generation, and see how the statistics break down -- I can easily envision a pair of high-school boys getting engaged at their senior prom.

And can we point out that straight couples are tending to marry later now? Particularly among professionals and others intent on pursuing careers. Schulman's point here is completely meaningless.

Gay marriage may reside outside the kinship system, but it has all the wedding-planning, nest-building fun of marriage but none of its rules or obligations (except the duties that all lovers have toward one another). Gay spouses have none of our guilt about sex-before-marriage. They have no tedious obligations towards in-laws, need never worry about Oedipus or Electra, won't have to face a menacing set of brothers or aunts should they betray their spouse. But without these obligations--why marry? Gay marriage is as good as no marriage at all.

This is simply not true. Let's talk first about biologically based kinship systems. On that score Schulman is totally off base: people have parents. Many of us have brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins (I've got so many cousins I can't keep track of them, and I keep finding new ones). So I have to ask, just what is this mythical "kinship system" composed of? Schulman is at pains never to describe it in any detail, except to point out what gay couples don't have -- except that they do. (You'd better believe that if I ever find a suitable husband, he's going to be saddled with my outrageous and delightful father, my equally delightful step-mother, and my loosey-goosey sister -- and that's just for starters. Remember all those cousins? On the downside, I fully expect to have a mother-in-law.)

And regarding kinship as a non-biological construct, there is a facet of gay culture of which Schulman seems to be completely unaware (make that "another facet" -- the man doesn't seem to know anything at all about gays): we have a history of building our own families. It's not as prevalent now, when being gay is a little less likely to get you cut off from your biological family, but it is still a major factor in our lives. Any husband of mine is also going to wind up having to deal with my friends. (And the term "friends" among gays has a very special and profound meaning.)

If that's not a kinship system, I don't know what is.

The rest of Schulman's essay is drivel, based on the drivel I've commented on here. What matters is that the core of his argument is garbage. The rest is a castle in the air built of -- garbage.

Thanks (I think) to Chris Bodenner at the Daily Dish. Bodenner also cites a take-down by Isaac Chotiner which is worth reading, as are the comments there.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Obama and Gay Civil Rights

A fairly strong OpEd from NYT on Obama's lack of movement on all that stirring rhetoric. Not as pointed as I would be, but for NYT, it's devastating.

The most common rationale for his current passivity is that his plate is too full. But the president has so far shown an impressive inclination both to multitask and to argue passionately for bedrock American principles when he wants to. Relegating fundamental constitutional rights to the bottom of the pile until some to-be-determined future seems like a shell game.

As Wolfson reminds us in his book “Why Marriage Matters,” Dr. King addressed such dawdling in 1963. “For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait,’ ” King wrote. “It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ ”

The gay civil rights movement has fewer obstacles in its path than did Dr. King’s Herculean mission to overthrow the singular legacy of slavery. That makes it all the more shameful that it has fewer courageous allies in Washington than King did. If “American Idol” can sing out for change on Fox in prime time, it ill becomes Obama, of all presidents, to remain mute in the White House.

I have a slightly different take: the most intelligible rationale for Obama's passivity is that he's a Democrat, and as far as gay civil rights go, the Democrats are long on talk and short on everything else. Besides, they're all terrified of the 20% of the country that still call themselves Republicans.

Reviews in Brief: Shungiku Nakamura's Junjo Romantica (anime), Season One

The anime of Junjo Romantica, the very popular series by Shungiku Nakamura, is one of the delights of the medium. It sticks fairly closely to the original manga and, once you've accustomed yourself to the differences in character renderings (and there are differences, but not deal-breakers by any means), it's a delightful few evenings -- although I'll admit I have reservations about some of the characterizations. This is going to be a longish "Review in Brief" because there are three story arcs in this one and twelve episodes. (And note we're doing Japanese usage in names.)

The first, the "main" story, is "Junjo Romantica," about the bizarre and tempestuous affair between Usami Akihiko, 28 years old, famous award-winning novelist (and also the pseudonymous author of a very popular series of BL novels), and over-the-top eccentric, and Takahashi Misaki, 18, a freshman in economics at a prestigious university (although Misaki is no intellectual heavyweight). Usagi is best friends with Takahiro, Misaki's older brother -- and also happens to be in love with him. When Takahiro brings his new fiancee home to introduce her -- and also announces that he is being transferred to Osaka -- Usagi is quietly devastated. Only Misaki picks up on it, and drags Usagi outside on a pretext. He himself is in tears out of sympathy for Usagi, and it's then that Usagi falls in love with him. Most of the rest of the first season for "Romantica" is built around Misaki's denial of one simple fact: he's in love with Usagi, too.

It's not quite denial that fuels the second story, "Junjo Egoist," which begins several years before the Usagi/Misaki arc. Kamijo Hiroki is a literature student who, when his story opens, is reeling under the failure of his overtures to Usami Akihiko (the very same Usagi), his childhood friend with whom he's been in love. He encounters Kusama Nowaki, an orphan who only completed middle school but who wants to go to college to become a social worker. He's also a real go-getter. And he decides that Hiroki is the perfect tutor for him, over Hiroki's vociferous objections -- Nowaki is nothing if not persistent. (Do I need to say that Nowaki has an ulterior motive?) Their affair is as tempestuous as that between Usagi and Misaki, mostly because Hiroki can't bring himself to say "I love you" to Nowaki, although he soon realizes he can't live without him. It doesn't help that Nowaki is a little too reticent about what he's up to at any given moment -- the two don't seem to communicate very well at all.

It's not until episode 8 that we start the third story, "Junjo Terrorist," portraying the romance between Miyagi, a literature professor and Hiroki's office-mate, and Shinobu, his ex-wife's younger brother. Miyagi is taken aback when he runs into Shinobu, who has returned from school abroad and who takes the opportunity to confess that he's in love with the older man.
It's the "older" that bothers Miyagi, perhaps even more than the fact that they are both men. And then his former father-in-law, who also happens to be the dean of Miyagi's college, asks if Shinobu can stay with Miyagi while he is traveling; Shinobu's sister will be home, but she's bringing in her boyfriend. It takes Miyagi a while, but he finally realizes that the boy has wormed his way into his heart.

As I noted, the character renderings do differ from the manga, but I got used to them fairly quickly, and they do have their own appeal. The visuals are generally excellent. The acting is superb: voices are uniformly appropriate, and Usagi in particular is a gem. My major problem with this one is that the uke -- especially Misaki and Hiroki -- are idiots. You want to grab them and shake them for being such twits, although I find myself, on watching it through a second time, having a lot more sympathy for them. It just takes a while to develop. The seme, on the other hand, more than make up for it. Miyagi, I think, shows the fullest development and goes from being a not-very-sympathetic to someone you're rooting for. I love Nowaki just because he's so strange. Usagi, though, is really the prize -- he's a complex and subtly drawn character, spiky and difficult but also vulnerable and utlimately tremendously appealing. There are beautiful, affecting scenes between each couple, but Usagi's are somehow a little bit more so.

There's a second season, which I'm going to go back and watch again. The series is terrific -- I don't even mind the chibi passages (well, not too much).

Junjo Romantica is licensed in America by Kadokawa Pictures USA.

Director: Chiaki Kon
Series Composition: Rika Nakase
Michiko Yokote (ep 10, 11)
Rika Nakase (ep 1-3, 5, 7, 12)
Yoshiko Nakamura (ep 4, 6, 8-9)
Music: MOKA*
Original creator: Shungiku Nakamura
Character Design: Yoko Kikuchi
Art director: Junko Shimizu
Sound director: Hozumi Gôda
Art Setting: Takeshi Takahashi
Theme Song Performance:
pigstar (OP)


Daisuke Kishio as Shinobu Takatsuki
Hikaru Hanada as Akihiko Usami
Kazuhiko Inoue as You Miyagi
Kentarou Itou as Hiroki Kamijou
Nobutoshi Canna as Nowaki Kusama
Takahiro Sakurai as Misaki Takahashi
Kishô Taniyama as Takahiro Takahashi
Noriko Namiki as Eri Aikawa
Ryotaro Okiayu as Kaoru Asahina
Toshiyuki Morikawa as Ryuuichiro Isaka
Ai Hayasaka as delivery clerk (ep 12), girl (ep 7), Shinobu's mother (ep 10), shop clerk (ep 8)
Daisuke Matsuoka as old man (ep 3)
Daisuke Sasaki as Dean (ep 10, 11), old man (ep 3),
Eiji Takemoto as professor (ep 6)
Eri Kitamura as Hiroki Kamijou (young)
Eriko Matsushima as Miyagi's mother (ep 10)
Gen Nakano as old man (ep 3)
Hiroka Nishizawa as Cleaning shop clerk (ep 5)
Hiromi Sugino as Sensei's father (ep 11)
Isshin Chiba as Keiichi Sumi
Kei Shindou as teacher (ep 9)
Kenta Miyake as Tanaka (ep 9)
Kumiko Hashimoto as Kajiwara Manami
Mami Shitara as female student (ep 2)
Mayumi Asano as Risako Takatsuki (ep 11)
Miki Suga as female student (ep 2, 5), Kamijou's mother (ep 9)
Reiko Sasakawa as Sensei's mother (ep 11)
Rina Satou as Akihiko Usami (young)
Shintaro Nakano as man (ep 5)
Shinya Fukumatsu as old man (ep 3)
Shizuka Minamori as shop clerk (ep 8)
Sora KUWAKADO as female student (ep 2)
Yuki Masuda as Sensei (ep 10, 11)
Yuuko Nishihara as clerk in charge (ep 6)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Anime Break

I don't think I've posted this one here before. The soundtrack is another Evanescence song that might have been released on a CD I haven't been able to find anywhere. The anime is Ai no kusabe, which I haven't watched in full yet, but which looks terrific.



That's when the California Supreme Court is handing down its decision on Proposition 8. Here's a thorough legal analysis of the issues at trial, as well as some commentary on how various justices are likely to vote.

My problem with this analysis -- and it's really not a serious problem -- is that it doesn't address the arguments presented by the proponents of Prop 8. I'd like to see those shot down, but don't know where to look. (This is not a problem from the standpoint of the law, but from the standpoint of how those arguments might have been received by the justices -- it seems Ken Starr did a bang-up job, which is not what I wanted to hear.)

Ask and ye shall receive: here's a lot more information from Melissa Griffin at Sweet Melissa.

Hey -- somebody in California e-mail me Tuesday, OK? I'll be at work and won't be able to keep checking. Here's the Court's website.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Joke of the Day: Michael Steele

The joke is this. From Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, the quote of the day is Steele making himself look like an ass (again):

"The problem that we have with this president is that we don’t know [Obama]. He was not vetted, folks. … He was not vetted, because the press fell in love with the black man running for the office. 'Oh gee, wouldn’t it be neat to do that? Gee, wouldn’t it make all of our liberal guilt just go away? We can continue to ride around in our limousines and feel so lucky to live in an America with a black president.' Okay that’s wonderful, great scenario, nice backdrop. But what does he stand for? What does he believe? … We just don’t know," -- Michael Steele.

If you've been following Steele's career to date as chairman of the RNC, you will see the humor here: Steele doesn't know what he stands for. How can he expect to know what anyone else stands for? (Actually, it's been sort of sad to watch Steele flailing around trying to find something firm to stand on.)

And how typically Republican -- "he was not vetted"? By whom? Seems to me he was pretty thoroughly vetted by the people who cout.


Latest favorite song, from Never Gone (which also starts off with my first favorite Backstreet Boys song, "Incomplete"). The live videos all suck, which is why you're getting a slide show:

My one major problem with BSB is that they'll take a song almost as far as it needs to go, but they always pull back too soon. Check out the end of this one to see what I mean -- this could get crazy, but it doesn't.

Friday Gay Blogging

This may be brief -- this is one of those short mornings -- but a couple of things I wanted to comment on. This may become a work in progress, as I discover things to include over the course of the day. (Sorry, it's also a busy writing time -- I'm buried in comic books right now, all of which I have to read and write about by Sunday. Yes, comic books. Don't ask. Just be sure to tune into GMR on May 31.)

First, via Digby (who has a good, strong post on it), the Dallas Principles. I actually saw this on Pam's House Blend the other day (Pam Spaulding was one of the participants). Digby, as always, goes for the heart of it:

Keep the pressure on. This is an issue that affects every single person in this country, no matter what your sexual orientation or attitudes about marriage and the military. The simple fact is that until all Americans are are treated equally, none of us are.

There is the statement of principle:

The following eight guiding principles underlie our call to action.

In order to achieve full civil rights now, we avow:

1. Full civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals must be enacted now. Delay and excuses are no longer acceptable.

2. We will not leave any part of our community behind.

3. Separate is never equal.

4. Religious beliefs are not a basis upon which to affirm or deny civil rights.

5. The establishment and guardianship of full civil rights is a non-partisan issue.

6. Individual involvement and grassroots action are paramount to success and must be encouraged.

7. Success is measured by the civil rights we all achieve, not by words, access or money raised.

8. Those who seek our support are expected to commit to these principles.

I'm going to join Digby and urge you all to sign on.

One thing about this that I find very interesting: the mainstream liberal blogs are picking up on gay issues now -- along with the MSM. While they've been sympathetic in the past, and there were one or two commentators you could figure were going to be paying attention, it's really been a sometimes sort of thing. Until now. I'm seeing more coverge of gay issues in places like Hullabaloo, Obsidian Wings, Crooks and Liars, and their ilk. There's some sort of critical mass that's been reached here. Good.

A note from overseas:

I have a correspondent from Singapore who provided some information on the status of gays there. Although he was not terribly positive about it, this article seems rather more judicious than the sort of crap we get here. I think the government's stance is really quite reasonable (I mean, think about what's happening in Jamaica and Uganda). I'm particularly impressed by this:

He added that as Singaporeans become more educated and informed, and more space is being opened up for people to express alternative views, there will be more tussles between people holding different points of views.

If any group pushes its agenda aggressively, there will be strong reactions from other groups.

As for the AWARE controversy, the government was worried about the disquieting public perception that a group of conservative Christians — all attending the same church, which held strong views on homosexuality — had moved in and taken over AWARE because they disapproved of what the organisation had been doing.

Hence, he was gratified that the National Council of Churches of Singapore issued a clear statement that it does not condone churches getting involved in the AWARE dispute, and that leaders of different religious faiths came out to reinforce the NCCS message.

Mr Wong said the government has to maintain order impartially. It encourages the development of civic society, and gradual widening of the out—of—bounds (OB) markers. But it will not stand by and watch, when intemperate activism threatens Singapore society.

It's a message that I've been espousing here for quite some time: you're free to believe what you will. You're not free to use that as an excuse to make me a second-class citizen.

I'm also impressed by the fact that the Prime Minister actually made a definite statement rather than dodging the issue, which is what we're getting from Obama.

New Hampshire note:

Timothy Kincaid has a post at BTB that echoes my thoughts on the New Hampshire situation:

It may well be that they objected to what they saw as partisan support for protecting a Democratic Governor from risk while they shouldered threats from within their party. They too may be chaffing at being handed wording from the executive office and told to rubber stamp it.

But from the words of these “no” votes, it seems likely to me that wording can be achieved that meets Gov. Lynch’s requirements but also can be seen as originating in the legislature. I think that the delay is simply that - a brief delay in passage.

I've said before that Lynch's move was purely CYA, and that legislatures don't particularly like being dictated to by governors. This seems to bear that out. Also note the quotes that Kincaid includes from some Republican legislators -- very interesting.

Squeaky wheels note:

Looks like it's still true that if you kick and scream, you get results. From AmericaBlog:

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, who earlier in the week said that DOD wasn't doing anything at all with regards to the President's promise to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), yesterday reversed course:
"President Obama has been clear in his direction to Secretary Gates and Chairman Mullen that he is committed to repeal the 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' policy. He has also been clear that he is committed to do it in a way that is least disruptive to our troops, especially given that they have been simultaneously waging two wars for six years now. Although this will require changes to the law, the Secretary and Chairman are working to address the challenges associated with implementation of the President's commitment."

It's like what Digby said in the post I linked to earlier: keep applying pressure. It's the only thing that's going to work.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Break Time

Probably NSFW -- depending. (I'd play it at work with no problem, but then I work with a bunch of dirty, gay-friendly, liberal hippies.)

This is, somehow, so '70s, even though it's not. The music's OK ("Later When You Look My Way" by Gabrielle Anderson), the anime is Mirage of Blaze, a BL piece I haven't managed to see completely yet.


This story's a couple of days old, but I've finally decided to comment on it.

New Hampshire lawmakers unexpectedly rejected a bill on Wednesday that would have made the state the sixth in the United States to authorize gay marriage.

The state's Democrat-controlled House of Representatives voted down the bill in a 188-186 vote, hours after its Senate approved the legislation 14-10 along party lines. An earlier version of the bill passed the lower chamber on March 26.

The legislature had been asked to approve language that would give legal protections, including the right to decline to marry same-sex couples, to clergy and others affiliated with religious organizations.

That wording was added by Governor John Lynch, a Democrat who promised to sign the bill if those changes were made.

The House vote against the governor's amendment means the bill will be sent to a committee that will try to resolve the differences between the two chambers. It remains unclear how the governor would respond to any changes to his wording.

It's interesting to me that the sticking point is the religious exception wording the governor insisted on, which I would have expected to be swallowed whole, flawed as it is. In a way I'm sort of glad to see the NH House balking at that: Lynch's intereference in the intent of the bill is reflective of a trend in this country over the past few years, which is the attempt -- so far successful, unfortunately -- by the religious right (and forgive me, but I think I have ample cause to doubt their sincerity) to make their warped and arrogant concept of "religious freedom" the trump card. Following their logic, any other fundamental right is secondary, and I think if you look carefully, "religious freedom" only applies to those who espouse the sick version of Christianity being touted by the Dobson Gang.

Sorry, that's not the way the country works, nor should it be. Once again, class, there are limits on all rights and freedoms. There have to be, otherwise you can't come up with a society that's actually going to function. I'm not real enthusiastic about living in a religious dictatorship.

I'm also happy to see the NH legislature telling the governor to stick it. Let's face it, Lynch's move was pure CYA, and he doesn't deserve to get away with it.

Footnote to "Profiles in Courage"

A reader at Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish had a reaction to Harry Reid similar to mine, but it took me longer to see the humor.

I have had a bit of a rough week, haven't smiled or laughed nearly as much as I usually do, but that changed when I saw video of Harry Reid maintaining that you can't put accused terrorists in prison without releasing them. I laughed so hard my cheeks hurt afterward and my patient husband had to put up with me backing up the Tivo several times just to see it again and again.

I am in awe over the scaredy-cat crap coming out of our senators' mouths (with the excellent exception of Dick Durbin). What is wrong with these people? They act like the detainees have crazy superpowers, like they are going to transform into a millimeter-high insect and crawl out under the cell door into the shoe of a correctional officer and then ESCAPE.

I have to confess I didn't have much faith in Harry Reid to begin with, but his recent statements on closing Guantanamo just finished it off. WTF?

For some real thought on that whole issue, see this post by Digby.

To say that the "evidentiary thresholds" for trying the detainees in civilian court is "too high" is another way of saying there isn't sufficient evidence on the face of it for the constant invocation that the detainees are terrorists. If it can be proven that a detainee has given material support to terrorists or contributed to an illegal act, he ought to be convicted. If it can't, then a detainee ought to be freed. What would happen in that case? Someone who isn't a terrorist would be free.

The detainees, according to the Supreme Court's Boumediene decision last year, have the right to habeas corpus, full stop. There's no putting that bit of juridical toothpaste back in the tube. As a result, they have to be provided with some sort of trial. Everything else is denying reality. The military commissions represent a method of getting convictions rather than a method of getting justice. Just saying someone is a terrorist over and over again doesn't make it the case.

See also this one. Digby's been on top of this one, so pay attention.

Maybe Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats should remember that they're siding with a group -- Republicans -- who don't believe in things like evidence and facts. Doesn't make them look good, does it?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I think I'm back

It certainly looks like it. We'll see.

Thanks to all of you who stuck with me.

More Questions Than Answers

This post by Victor Maldonado at Pam's House Blend is, as is pointed out in the comments, a little off. It concerns Witt v. United States Air Force, a challenge to DADT that has just had a decision by the Ninth Circuit that looks like a win for Witt: the administration will not appeal that ruling and will allow the case to be retried at the District level, with the requirement that the government produce evidence that Maj. Witt's sexual orientation itself produces problems for her unit.

However, Maldonado is giving Obama too much credit here, as pointed out by commenter Michael Bedwell. It's not Obama who is giving Witt her day in court, but the court itself. Yes, the administration could challenge that ruling, but I suspect it doesn't want to drag this before the Supreme Court yet. Yet.

What bothers me about it is that Obama -- or his Justice Department -- are not only throwing this issue to the courts -- the right's favorite target on alternate Wednesday -- but that they are promsing to defend DADT. Yes, I know Obama's supposed to uphold the law, but he has plenty of options for not doing so when it's a bad law.

Of course, this could be Bush holdovers in Justice -- notoriously politicized under Bush -- running amok.

Interesting to see how this plays out, particularly given the fact that the MSM has finally noticed gay issues. (But really, that's probably only because they see it as a way of sticking it to Obama, yes? Otherwise, they could give a s**t.)

Special Message for The Dobson Gang

And Sarah Palin, and Orson Scott Card, and Ann Coulter, and Michael Steele -- and all your "gay friends."

I love this thing. I just love it. (Definitely NSFW)

From Joe.My.God via AmericaBlog.

This one will go viral, watch for it.

(Did I mention that I love it?)

Profiles in Courage

From Joe Klein:

The Senate Democrats' apparent decision not to fund the $80 million closing of Guantanamo links them, inextricably, to the cheap politics being played by Senate Republicans, especially the most neolithic member of that august body, Senator Jim Inhofe, who has submitted a bill that would prohibit any of the Guantanamo detainees from coming to the United States to stand trial or serve their sentences.

Guantanamo is a symbol of American brutality that needs to be expunged to the extent possible by closure, as soon as practicable. We have a system of military prisons that would be perfectly adequate to handle the detainees who are not returned to the home countries. Apparently, President Obama is going to give a speech on this topic on Thursday--but the Senators just couldn't wait 48 hours while the Republicans and cable newsistas were scaring their constituents. Yet another profile in courage.

OK, Klein's overstating the case just a bit, but it's these damned Blue Dogs who are going to sink the country even further into the muck. With Democrats like this, who needs Republicans?

Here's a more balanced report from Andrew Taylor at HuffPo:

And in a further break with Obama, the Senate's top Democrat said he opposes transferring any Guantanamo prisoners to the United States for their trials or to serve their sentences. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said 50 to 100 Guantanamo detainees may be transferred to U.S. facilities.

"I can't make it any more clear," Reid said. "We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States."

When did James Inhofe start writing Reid's scripts? And Why is Reid still majority leader?

Dday has more background at Hullaballoo. Let's face it, Reid is a freakin' idiot:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) declared in a press conference today, “We will never allow terrorists to be released into the United States.” In several tense back and forths with reporters, Reid said he opposes imprisoning detainees on U.S. soil, saying flatly, “We don’t want them around the United States”:

REID: I’m saying that the United States Senate, Democrats and Republicans, do not want terrorists to be released in the United States. That’s very clear.

QUESTION: No one’s talking about releasing them. We’re talking about putting them in prison somewhere in the United States.

REID: Can’t put them in prison unless you release them.

QUESTION: Sir, are you going to clarify that a little bit? …

REID: I can’t make it any more clear than the statement I have given to you. We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States.

Later, Reid repeated that he would not support Guantanamo detainees being transferred to U.S prisons:

QUESTION: But Senator, Senator, it’s not that you’re not being clear when you say you don’t want them released. But could you say — would you be all right with them being transferred to an American prison?

REID: Not in the United States.

Dick Durbin, my own senator, seems to have come down firmly on both sides of the issue, if this report is correct.

"The administration has not come up with a plan at this point," said Durbin, who is the whip, or No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. He added that Democrats are likely to address the issue on later legislation. "I think Guantanamo should be closed and we have to wait for the president's direction on what happens to the detainees."

Durbin said that he could support transferring detainees to U.S. prisons. "Our prisons are filled with dangerous people, including terrorists. And not a single one has escaped," he said.

So what's your position, Senator? I'm really not sure what these comments actually boil down to, which is probably why Durbin's a senator and Im just a schmoo. (The irony here is that, after eight years of rubber-stamping whatever Bush wanted, all of a sudden the Democrats are showing some "independence." Jeebus. I mean, if Mitch McConnell thinks you're "heading in the right direction", you kow you've fucked up.)

Update: Some amelioration for Durbin. He seems genuinely interested in seeing something concrete from Obama, and is not just jumping on the bandwagon.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Preliminary Analysis

I seem to have gotten on e-mail lists for several so-called "conservative" bloggers and commentators -- or just call them "agitators" -- who periodically send me alarming e-mails that I seldom bother to read. However, I got one today from Adam Bitely decrying one of Obama's appointments. Get this:


Koh wants the Supreme Court to misinterpret the Constitution to embody rules of foreign and international law. He objects to America's "distinctive rights culture," which he complains gives "First Amendment protections for speech and religion … far greater emphasis and judicial protection in America than in Europe or Asia." He also wants to invent new constitutional rights favored by leftist elites—for same-sex marriage and against the death penalty, for example. Under our Constitution, these are matters for us citizens to decide through our elected representatives. But Koh wants to impose on us the views of foreign and international bureaucrats.

Sounds pretty desperate, doesn't it?

That bastion of wild-eyed leftist radicalism, Forbes, has recommended his confirmation, as have such dangerous liberals as Kenneth Starr and Ted Olson.

Per Forbes:

A string of prominent Supreme Court cases dating back more than 100 years is testament to that; on the current court, justices across the political spectrum, from Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Antonin Scalia, have cited foreign law. His stance is, if anything, strikingly orthodox. Koh is an embracer of a storied status quo, hardly the judicial revolutionary he's been made out to be.

The chaos spurred by Koh's nomination has less to do with his own views than it does with his critics' long-term fears. Koh's oft-vaunted potential as a Supreme Court nominee has triggered a frenzied attempt at preemptive discreditation. It has made him an unwarranted symbol in the broader debate over the Obama administration's increasing push against Bush-era isolationist tactics.

Sounds pretty terrible, doesn't it.

When one considers that Koh is being attacked by the likes of Glenn Beck, it makes you want to support his nomination all the more, don't you think?

Maybe I should read these e-mails more often -- sounds like some good snark fodder. Adam Bitely, be looking over your shoulder.

Hell Week

I used to use that term to describe the times we were hosting traveling exhibitions when I was at Sotheby's -- at least one night during those weeks, I wouldn't bother to go to bed: no time, and I would be at O'Hare in the wee hours collecting the show anyway. (I was told after one reception that I was very charming and gracious and helpful in talking about the art. I don't remember that evening at all -- I was completely on automatic.) This week is slightly different: I have a horrific writing schedule over the next couple of months, and right now I'm on deadline for way too many reviews. (But remember to check out Green Man Review on May 31 -- lots of reviews of neat stuff, and the best continuity I've written so far.)

However, I did run across a couple of interesting things at AmericaBlog, both related to health care -- and the site, by the way, is a good place to keep up on that whole issue. Both Chris in Paris and John Aravosis are pretty much up on it, and Aravosis has some personal horror stories that I can relate to very easily.

Read and get mad.